Following on the death of a character, particularly one so universally despised as Joffrey, was never going to be an easy task. Usually it is left to the tenth episode of a season to let the pieces fall back into place after a major shock. Yet this is only the third episode and it seems to have wrongfooted the writers, not quite knowing how to follow the Purple Wedding. What does happen are various expositional scenes that do little to advance the plot, but instead, reposition the characters for future event setpieces. It's one of the most pedestrian episodes yet and as such, feels rather disappointing. And then there's that scene which just about everyone is talking about.
The scene in which Jaime has sex with Cersei is straight from the novels themselves. Crucially though, it is written and made clear that it is consensual sex. In the show, it is rape. Cersei protests right up until the scene cuts away, but Jaime overpowers her and carries on anyway. Now, Game of Thrones has always been shocking and has always made sure that the audience is always aware of the hostile environment in which these characters are operating in.
However, this is the first moment in which I've felt that this has been a shock for shock's sake, an attempt at audience exploitation that looks like it is backfiring. It is completely out of character for one thing; Jaime may be a complete and utter git (pushed a child out of the window, folks), but he has always been clear and, in his own twisted way, honourable when it comes to his love for Cersei (pushing the child was for her after all). He's also adopted a strong moral opposition to violence against women which has been a key part of his character from even before the events of the series. Think how many times he defended Brienne during their time together. It makes absolutely no sense on a character level and completely ruins any redemptive arc that they have been building for Jaime throughout the third season.
Does this serve a reminder of his gittishness in the face of us all growing to like him so much? Perhaps. But changing that septor-tryst into rape feels like a cynical ploy to get a gasp out of the audience. Game of Thrones' morality has always been the murky side of grey and I don't think that there is any issues with that. I've certainly never raised it in my reviews before as it has always been inbuilt to key character developments. I don't understand how this has anything to do with Jaime and Cersei's broken relationship other than Jaime taking what he has wanted since he's returned.
There is also the issue that Game of Thrones has never been very good with dealing with the consequences of sexual assault (beyond saying "ooh it makes a bit dangerous for women") and has muddied the ever-complicated waters even more than the books did. The closest example I can think of is the consummation of Dany and Khal Drogo's marriage in the first season in which it was also changed from (albeit iffy) consensual sex to outright rape. From there, Dany and Drogo go on to have a loving relationship, despite the foundations of sexual assault and it was never again raised as an aspect of their relationship. With that as a precedent, I can't see the consequences of Cersei's rape being explored. I sincerely hope I'm wrong and that the show uses it for character development, but considering we didn't get a fallout from that scene in this episode, I'm not holding out much hope.
Then there is the abrupt tonal shift which jars more than a little. Following the horror of that scene, we check-in with Arya and The Hound, currently wandering around the riverlands somewhere. Arya's wit is something that is a constant joy to see and I loved how she dealt with the farmer by coming up with an entire family history off the bat, but it felt completely incongruous to what had gone before. Her interactions with The Hound are some of this season's best moments, but again, this is hampered by a desire to jolt the audience. The Hound beats the farmer and steals from him after accepting his offer of work with a protesting Arya shouting in his wake. It's another scene that feels a little off, mostly because it doesn't advance anything. We all know that The Hound is just out to survive and doesn't give a fig for anyone but the Stark girls (granted, he does have a complicated relationship with them). This scene felt like filler, and not particularly satisfying filler at that.
The shocks didn't end here either, though the remaining gaspworthy moments felt less exploitative than those previously mentioned and more in keeping with the progressing narrative. Ser Dontos was never going to make it out of King's Landing and, though he was lovely and chivalrous in rescuing poor Sansa, he was dead from the moment he took orders from Littlefinger. Likewise, the wildling attack on the village was carried out in suitably brutal fashion, serving to remind us of the dangers awaiting the Night's Watch.
The quieter scenes were also consistently strong in this episode, contrasting sharply with the more brash moments. As ever, Oberyn proves to be just wonderful, an impish blend of hedonism and politics who is never short of something to say. Pedro Pascal versus Charles Dance appears to be a new Game of Thrones event and I can't say I'm complaining. The subtle menace to their interactions makes them all the more compelling and is another classic example of how well the writers do political exposition when it comes to the history of King's Landing and Dornish relations.
Saving its best sequence for last, Dany finally reaches the city of Meereen and gives another one of her characteristically fire-and-brimstone speeches, but not before we get to see Daario Naharis in action. The recast Michiel Huisman has impressed in a couple of brief scenes and continues to do so here, getting in on the action on a one-on-one combat. He also showcases his strong chemistry with Emilia Clarke and with that wink, casts out any lingering memories of the departing Ed Skrein. After the champion of Meereen relieves himself in front of Dany, she selects Naharis as her own representative, quickly dispatches his opposition and lets Dany speechify. The production design in this sequence was beautiful, with Meereen looking every bit the rich and daunting city.
In fact, the production design was probably this episode's greatest strength, from the haunting funereal look of the Septor to the dank and dingy Dragonstone. Sansa's escape to Littlefinger's ship was also beautifully realised, the blue of the fog contrasting sharply to the red hues of King's Landing. This is a plot development I've been looking forward to getting to, as Sophie Turner was starting to have very little to do with her character in the capital. Now, Sansa finds herself away from danger but in the clutches of Littlefinger (amusingly, Aiden Gillen seems to have given up on making his accent at all consistent) which isn't the greatest place to be for a Stark.
After a strong opening two episodes, Game of Thrones has delivered one of its most uneven and troubling chapters yet, one that managed to be both place-setting filler and exploitative drama. Because it has always been so consistently strong, I have found this episode of to be perhaps the most disappointing in a long time.
You can read Becky's review of The Lion and the Rose here.
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