Arya (Maisie Williams), Hot Pie (Ben Hawkey) and Gendry (Joe Dempsie) decide to head to Riverrun but are stopped by the Brotherhood Without Banners and run into someone who may know who Arya is. Robb (Richard Madden) and Cat (Michelle Fairley) learn of the fate of Winterfell, not knowing that Bran (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) and Rickon (Art Parkinson) are alive and heading to the Wall.
Whilst last week was an episode of reminders, Dark Wings, Dark Words was an episode of introductions, bringing us a host of new characters to get to know. Once again, the casting of the show is impeccable as Thomas Brodie-Sangster's Jojen Reed and Paul Kaye's Thoros of Myr demonstrate. Although we only caught a brief glimpse of him, MacKenzie Crook had the important task of introducing the warg to us so that Bran and Jojen could follow. But of all the new characters, there is one who I have been looking forward to more than most; Diana Rigg as Lady Olenna, Queen of Thorns. Fearsome, forthright and not afraid of anything, she could easily slip into the Dame Maggie 'speak your mind and a dozen one liners' characterisation, but somehow, I think Rigg is going to keep a dangerous edge about her which the Dowager Countess just doesn't have.
Another slower-paced episode, this one seemed to be based around the idea of co-operation and forging new partnerships. 'Dark wings, dark words' is a common warning uttered by the arrival of a raven and so to it proves this week as not only does Cat discover the death of her father, but also the probable death of sons Bran and Rickon, leading to a revelatory conversation with Talisa (Oona Chaplin). The show and Fairley's performance have gone some way to humanise Cat more, who is a fairly reviled figure in the books for, as she observes, pretty much causing everything to go completely wrong for just about everyone. Here though, her anecdote about baby Jon Snow goes some way to allowing the audience to understand her motivations, even if you don't agree with them.
Speaking of reviled characters, Joffrey was in fine obnoxious reform once again this week and it turns out, if you thought he was bad beating women, he's just as horrific when it comes to wooing them. However, Sansa only knew how to play the victim whilst Margaery is a consummate politician. With what was quite possibly the most symbolic, innuendo-riddled crossbow since the weapon was invented, she managed to tap into Joffrey's need to kill and use it to win him over. It was a fantastically creepy scene, a combination of sexuality and death that was never comfortable. Give her her due, Margaery certainly knows how to play the game and seemingly has Joffrey under her control. No mean feat by any stretch of the imagination.
In another winning combination, we also got to see more of Brienne and Jaime this week, culminating in a confrontation that many a fan has been looking forward to. The fight on the bridge and its build-up was great for showing just how well-matched the pair are, both in terms of their wit and their fighting abilities. Jaime is rarely beaten, but for him to be beaten by a woman is going to be something to deal with. The two actors have a good chemistry, selling the bickering between the two of them and allowing Coster-Waldau to get some of the episode's best lines at Renly Baratheon's expense. I'm hoping we see a good deal of the odd couple this season.
Some audience members may not enjoy the slower pace and emphasis on conversation over action, but I think the show's writers are doing exactly the right thing. There's a great deal to get through this season and without affording it the proper set-up, the action becomes meaningless; the audience would not care about characters they hadn't been introduced to properly. Besides, when you have conversations as electric and suspenseful as the ones between Thoros and Arya, or Olenna and Sansa, you don't need too much action, just some cracking one-liners.
You can read Becky's review of the first episode, Valar Dohaeris here.
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