It’s becoming increasingly hard to find any truly sympathetic characters in The War of Five Kings. They’re all treacherous, sadistic, grim, and now we have another contender in the slowly growing list of nominees for the “International Worst Human Being in a Medieval Fantasy Award”: Theon Greyjoy.
His journey from being a ward of the Starks to an Iron Islander prince has been fascinating but has done nothing for his reputation as this week he goes on the hunt for the Stark children and their wildling protectors who escaped last episode. It’s a series of scenes that gradually make him less the son trying to impress a distant father and more a pirate who should know better and is committing these brutal acts to simply keep his crew from seriously considering mutiny. It all comes to a climax when he shows the residents of Winterfell the bodies of a couple of charred infants. The chances of them actually being the Stark children are pretty slim though; it seems unlikely that such major characters would just be killed off screen.
Theon should really take lessons from the most likable villain of the series: Tywin Lannister. His conversations with Arya and almost fatherly demeanour make him a serious contender for the coveted position of my favourite Lannister. So much so that when Arya finally does see an opportunity to slit his throat my immediate reaction was “Don’t you dare”. He might have been directly responsible for the deaths of hundreds of innocents, but his scenes are the silver lining to the dark cloud that is the storyline of Game of Thrones.
This episode is relatively Lannister-heavy; the title of this episode obviously refers to the latest appearance of the ever calm, ever cynical Jaime Lannister. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau gives the character such charisma that, as is the case with many Lannisters, when he does something as questionable as kill his own cousin in a desperate bid for escape the only reaction I could muster was a disappointed shake of the head rather than actual disgust. He’s not exactly likeable, but unlike the other characters he is fully aware of the acts that he has carried out and makes no attempt to hide them. It’s a refreshing sight in a show full of characters who are desperately scrabbling for glory to see someone who is perfectly comfortable in their own skin, even if that skin belongs to someone who has killed a king and crippled a little boy.
Even Cersei gets her own moment of sympathy as she breaks down and admits not once, but twice, that her son is not exactly the greatest of kings – firstly to Sansa, who’s terrified at the prospect of bearing her ‘beloved’ Joffrey’s children, and secondly to Tyrion. The queen’s icy demeanour is broken when she realises that her incestuous relationship with Jaime might not have borne the best results. Tyrion, in an uncharacteristic show of brotherly love, attempts to soften her guilt; reminding her that Joffrey is the only one of her three children who turned out to be a monster. It isn’t a great piece of comforting, but it works as a way of showing how the young king is beyond the control of all those who thought they might be able to reign him in.
Over in Qarth Danaerys finds out that her dragons are being kept in the hands of the strange, bald, purple-lipped warlocks who have been hanging around her like a bad smell ever since she got to the city. Turns out Xaro has betrayed her and allied himself with these residents of the ominously named ‘House of the Undying’ in a bid for power over the whole of Quarth. Safe to say the whole situation doesn’t turn out in her favour as the ruling council of thirteen are slaughtered and she is taken into captivity. At least she’ll probably be able to see her precious dragons again sometime soon.
Overall, the character moments are what make this episode one of the best in the series so far. There’s very little laboured exposition and many enjoyable opportunities for many of the less sympathetic characters to show their true colours. Let’s just hope the show can carry on in this direction rather than be derailed by the awkward jumping about style of storytelling that has been characteristic of several previous episodes.