It ain’t easy being a woman in Westeros. Between threats of rape, bouts of abuse and being married off against your will for political purposes, there exists a social hierarchy which more or less prevents the females from rising above their male counterparts. You can count all of the women with any true authority in “Game of Thrones” on one hand, and even most of those individuals are constantly undermined by men who always think that they know best (I’m looking at you Jorah). That’s why “Dark Wings, Dark Words” caught me by surprise, as nearly every scene was bountiful in girl power and suggested that maybe this is the season when said hierarchy gets flipped right on its ass. Oh, and there were a bevy of new characters that were introduced. Here we go.
The most enjoyable performance of the week goes to Diana Rigg, making her debut as the more-than-capable Olenna Tyrell, aka the “Queen of Thorns.” Margaery’s grandmother was only on-screen for five minutes and she already has more memorable lines than half the characters from season 1 or 2. Along with her sharp tongue, Olenna also displayed a keen awareness of how the game in King’s Landing is played, and merely brushed off Sansa’s admission of Joffrey’s monstrous nature (“Oh… that’s a pity”). While the casting on this show has always been exceptional, I feel that they especially nailed this one and I can’t wait to see what’s in store for her in the future. Meanwhile, Margaery continued to work her way into Joffrey’s heart by discussing Renly’s “perversion” and encouraging his desire to slaughter things with his crossbow. Seriously, if the thing that turns you on the most is the thought of killing something, I think you have a problem. Luckily for Margaery, King Scumbag is too stupid to realize that she’s playing him like a fiddle, as every compliment she gives him is just her taking another step towards cementing her status as the future Queen.
Then we get our first glimpse of Brienne and Jaime, who are sure taking their sweet time traveling across the country. Jaime isn’t helping matters, as he takes every opportunity he can get to insult his captor and pester her with questions; plus he keeps trying to escape! His latest attempt results in a sloppy duel with the fresher, much stronger Brienne, who makes quick work of the shocked Kingslayer. Hey, even the best swordsman in all the kingdoms will find it hard to fight when he’s malnourished and in chains. Of course, then it’s Brienne’s turn to be humbled, as the old man Jaime urged her to kill as he passed by earlier leads Roose Bolton’s men right to them. It’s clear that these two despise each other, but their interaction thus far has been fantastic, and I think both of them are beginning to realize that there’s more than meets the eye. And my god did anyone else feel the sexual tension during their scenes? No? Guess it was just me.
And the man under the hood who we saw during the previews is… Theon! I’m not sure how many people actually thought he was dead after the season 2 finale, but there you go, you can lay your weary heads to rest now. Theon would join you, but he’s too busy getting his fingernails torn off and having screws cranked into his feet. It’s not that he doesn’t deserve to be punished for his actions, but I couldn’t help but feel a bit sorry for Theon during this. Yes he betrayed the Starks, sacked Winterfell and personally led to the execution of Rodrik Cassel and the innocent farmer boys, but I thought they really did a good job of humanizing Theon last season, portraying him as a young guy who feels he has no place in the world he can call home and just wants to receive his family’s approval.
Other characters making their long awaited returns included Bran’s group (Hodor!), still on their way to the Wall, and Arya and her friends, fresh off their escape from Harrenhal and hopelessly wandering around in the woods. Bran’s first dream was awesome, as it was great to see him with Jon and Robb again and to hear from Ned, even if it was just dialogue taken from the pilot. Of course, this was the writer’s way of introducing Jojen Reed and his sister Meera, the children of Howland Reed, a Stark bannerman. And Jojen revealed that Bran is a warg, a person with the ability to enter the minds of other animals, which explains most of Bran’s freaky dreams. We had more role reversal here, as Jojen lets Meera handle all the weapons and serve as the duo’s protector, an idea that stunned Osha (which I find just a bit ironic, since Osha is doing the same thing for Bran and Rickon). There was a LOT of information presented here, along with meeting two brand new characters, and I feel like viewers who haven’t read the books may have had a hard time keeping up here. However, the Reeds are two of my favorite characters from the books, and I’m glad that they’ve finally arrived in the show. Jon made another brief appearance in here somewhere, but that was more so we could meet Orell, a wildling warg, to help us understand what Jojen told Bran better.
As for Arya, she runs into the Brotherhood without Banners, a sort of Robin Hood-esque group of mercenaries who are trying to protect the defenseless peasants in the countryside. This also means more new characters, including Thoros of Myr, a red priest who likes to sing songs, and Anguy, a bad ass archer who took great pleasure in scaring the crap out of Hot Pie. Understandably, Arya and co. are slow to trust these guys, but Thoros gives them a meal and is about to send them on their way when another guy under a hood is brought in. Only this time, it’s the Hound, and it doesn’t take him long to recognize Arya. Once again, I enjoyed everything that happened here, but it was more or less a really long introduction to some people we’ll be spending a lot of time with this season.
Finally, we spent more time with Robb and Catelyn, who finally learned about what happened at Winterfell, that Bran and Rickon are missing and that Catelyn’s father is dead. This sends Cat on an emotional monologue concerning her guilt at having never loved Jon Snow, and that everything horrible that has happened to her family is penance for always treating him like an outsider. I’ve never really liked Catelyn that much in the show or in the books, but this was the high point of the episode and easily Catelyn’s most powerful moment on screen so far. It made me sympathize with her in a way I haven’t before and it gave us a look at just how much she’s suffering due to her inner torment. Book purists can hate on it if they want to, but I thought this scene was outstanding.
I’ve heard it more than once that “Dark Wings, Dark Words” felt more like Season Premier Part 2 than a continuation of last week’s storylines. I tend to agree with that as pretty much every scene either introduced new characters or marked the return of old favorites, and it’s a little frustrating not to see new developments with Daenerys, Jon or Tyrion (though he did get to spend some quality time with Shae). As slow as this episode was at times, there were quite a few great moments and it was nice to see everyone who we missed last week. Now that the introductions are all out of the way, I’m counting on the upcoming episodes to pick up the pace and intensify the situations, and I have a feeling that’s just what we’ll get.