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Game of Thrones Episode 4: Ghost riding the whip

Game of Thrones Episode 4: Ghost riding the whip

Just a quick reminder: This review assumes you've already watched the latest episode of Game of Thrones. If you have not, GO DO SO, and then return here unspoiled. We'll wait for you!

This episode was a freight train, but I think it’s best we step back, start at the end, and move backward. Of all the characters who were punished during this episode, and that’s quite a list, I felt particularly bad for the dragon. Allow me to explain.

He’s just hanging out in his box, happy to be close to his mother, learning how to be a badass, and then suddenly he’s shackled and handed to a monster. We know the dragons aren’t mindless beasts, and it seems as though their love and devotion to Daenerys is total, but what was the dragon thinking as she handed him over and then began to walk away? He sounded scared, and I don’t blame him. Imagine your mother not just leaving you at the grocery store, but forcing you to hold hands with a stranger first.

This episode included a scene we all knew was coming, whether or not you read the books. Of course Daenarys wasn’t just giving up one of her dragons. Of course she understand her “mother tongue,” and of course the scene has to deliver on these story beats in a way that’s satisfying, even if it's not surprising.

The good news is that, even though these twists weren't exactly shocking, the way the scene was shot, edited, and then used to end the episode was flawless. The idea that Daenarys is now in possession of three dragons who seem ready to go to war, and is in also in full control of an army of fearless killing machines… well, things are going well for our favorite Targaryen.

Still, let’s think about this for a bit. She gave the Unsullied the chance to leave, and I believe she was sincere in doing so. But what would they do, become farmers? They know nothing but pain, obedience, and blood.

This move may have helped Daenarys feel better about commanding an army of slaves, but I’m not sure it washes away the inhumanity of how they came to be, no matter how many whips she drops. The cynic in me says she bought their loyalty with an empty gesture, but the fact remains she has their loyalty. They have a taste for blood, and giving them the blood of their captors to slake it was a master stroke. If Daenarys was going to own them either way, why not make them love her first? We fight harder for those we love than we do against those we hate.

Smiling, waving, planning, and manipulating

The power of love versus fear is a lesson that Margaery Tyrell knows very well, and it’s why she was able to talk Joffrey into addressing his people. He may have been slightly put off by the way they were chanting her name instead of his, but it only took a few seconds to get him waving and smiling. This is a boy not used to the love of the people, and he may be willing to take it any way he can get it. Margaery seems to know how to handle Joffrey, and she now has Sansa acting like a giddy child whenever they’re together. In terms of a solid foundation for prosperity and power, one could do worse.

Cersei may see how dangerous the Tyrells’ influence has become, but Tywin’s response to her worry is to the point: She made this bed, now it’s time to lay in it. He’s got plans to attend to, a Kingslayer to find, a Joffrey to control, and he’s ultra-tired of Cersei’s bullshit. She’s in the unenviable position of having powerful friends who want her to shut up about what a scary and weak human being her son has become, as if that situation had snuck up on her.

Let’s leave that aside for a moment: Craster and Commander Mormont are both dead, and the Night’s Watch seems to be in complete disarray. I’m glad the baby that was born in the last episode now at least has a chance, the scenes where his mother said she wanted to spend all the time she could with him were heartbreaking, but these events have a much wider implication for the plot. Will anyone return to the wall to share what they’ve seen?

It also feels like we missed a few scenes here. The men were certainly stressed and in an uncomfortable situation, but suddenly everyone is fighting everyone. Why did it happen at that moment? This is one of the situations where I want to read the books, because the shift from simple tension to all-out brawl seemed too quick. These men could have killed Craster at any point, so why did the violence lead to them fighting each other as well? This will likely be explained later, but for now it remains a confusing jumble of a scene. It's hard to understand the motivations of the men who drew their swords, and why they turned those swords on the people they did.

Apologies for skipping around, but we have a lot of ground to cover. We learned how Varys lost his genitals, and his story, told in such a matter-of-fact manner as he opens a large wooden crate, only adds to the sense of dread in the viewer. It’s one thing to lose your bits and pieces at a young age, but it’s quite another when this is done while you’re awake but chemically restrained, and as part of a dark ritual. Then Varys successfully opens his crate and we see… the sorcerer who did the deed.

If you want to get a sense for a man’s power, wait until they have their enemies shipped to them in this manner. This is how you decide which men have earned your fear. This also underlines the point that magic in this world is often a dark, terrifying thing, barely understood by most. When it happens, it's a big deal, and there's usually a price to pay. The man in the box is likely about to learn that lesson, and I doubt it will be pleasant for anyone involved.

The Hound is still being kept by the Brotherhood Without Banners, and is interestingly being tried for what amounts to war crimes. For a moment I did think he was going to be asked to fight Arya, which would have been an interesting match up due to their sizes and differences in training, but it seems the battle will be a more straight up affair between him and the leader of the Brotherhood.

Arya directly asking him about killing the baker’s son is something at least - her resentment has been boiling under the surface for a while now. We also see a little bit of the ol’ Stark steel in her as well, as she demands he be held accountable while standing straight and tall, unbowed by everyone watching her denounce him.

The less said about Jaime and Brienne, the better. He is forced to ride with his severed hand like a necklace. He tries to fight back, but is humiliated. He drinks horse urine, thinking it's water. Considering the loss of blood, any liquids likely made his body wake up and demand more. Brienne also let him know that she was aware of how much he’s done for her, and remarks that the Sapphire Island is known as such due to the color of the water. The two make an unlikely combination, but the show does its best work with odd pairings, and I hope this storyline continues for a bit. I’d like to see where it goes.

Last week I said that I was looking forward to bigger plot development taking place, and this episode delivers on all counts. I’m not sure what to think of the Theon sub-plot of being sprung, trying to escape, only to be saved and then returned for more torture. It goes nowhere, and only seems to punish a character in a way that seems cruel even for this show. It’s not that I feel bad that Theon is being made to suffer, the problem is that his suffering doesn’t seem to be advancing the plot in a meaningful way. In an episode where so many characters moved forward in substantial ways, he’s back to where he started at the beginning of the season, and that’s a bad place to be.

I think you know the drill by now, but as a reminder: I have not read the books, so please keep conversation about the books as general as possible to avoid spoilers. I won't be policing the comments, however, so read at your own risk.