Things really heat up in Westeros in this week’s Episode “Cripples, Bastards and Broken Things.” If you want a straight recap of the show, be sure to read Susan’s write-up. This commentary treats the show from the viewpoint of a fan of the novels, so there are some slight spoilers for those who may not have finished the books.
Perhaps in a surprise to many, “Cripples, Bastards and Broken Things” opens with a reveal that solidifies that the series is not shying away from the supernatural aspects of the books. While we get little more than a glimpse of the three-eyed crow from Bran’s dreams, the implications of its appearance suggest we’ll get to see wargs, skinchangers, green flame and the other more fantastical elements of A Song of Ice and Fire.
After Bran awakes, HODOR, who we are finally getting a good look at, brings him before Rob and Tyrion, who is less than welcome back at Winterfell. Despite the lack of hospitality The Imp provides Bran with a unique saddle design, which could help the crippled boy at least ride with properly trained mount. I’m glad this scene made the cut because it plays an important role in counter balancing the accusation at the end of the episode. If Tyrion had been the hand behind Bran’s attempted assassination, why show him a kindness here? Or is Tyrion really simply that cunning and ahead of the game? Those who have read the series will get to see it played out, and those who haven’t will get to experience it for the first time.
We head north to Castle Black, which suspiciously has walls and gate now. In the books the Night’s Watch castles, or at least Castle Black, were specifically not true castles. They only had one wall, The Wall, and thus could only defend themselves to the north. This ensured that they could not interfere with other holdings in Westeros. In the past they commanded forces that could be used for less noble means than securing the realm from northern invasions of wildings and worse. It’s because their castles were unable to defend themselves from the south that no one has to worry about them ever being used to meddle in the wars of the other kingdoms.
We see Alliser Thorne drilling the new Night’s Watch recruits and toss SAMWELL TARLY into the fray. I’ve really enjoyed the physicality of the fight choreography thus far, with them using far more than just their blades to attack each other with. Compared to the typical Hollywood renditions, with its unrealistic showers of sparks as blades lock and parry, the fights in Game of Thrones are refreshingly rooted in historical medieval sword play.
Something else I really enjoyed here was the character of Alliser Thorne. Owen Teale plays the abrasive, mean spirited and harsh master-at arms-well, but in true George R.R. Martin fashion he’s not simply that one sided. He has the job of whipping these boys into something that resembles a Night’s Watch soldier. So while he is certainly singling out Sam a bit unfairly, he knows the safety of each member of the Night’s Watch depends on the fighting ability of his brothers. Winter is harsh and, more so near the Wall. As the sun hides away and the temperature drops, who would you rather have at your side? The cowardly fat boy or a proper brother of the Night’s Watch?
Over with the Dothraki, the khalasar has reached the city of Vaes Dothrak. Perhaps with a bit of insight considering responses to their developing relationship in previous episodes, this is the only time we see Khal Drogo in the episode and the majority of our time is instead spent focusing on Daeneryes and Viserys. I still think this arc is suffering a little; it’s great to see Daenerys stand up to her brother, but we are never really given much context for why she has a sudden affinity for the Dothraki people. Also, was the “horse camera” (simulating the cameraman as being on horseback) really necessary? Daenerys and Jorah bounce around in and even out of the frame, which was needlessly distracting and didn’t add to the immersion of being with the Dothraki horde.
With all the other little threads of intrigue, details and character motivations that could use some extra screen time, this scene with Viserys and Doreah in the bath really dragged on far too long for me. Unless there is some strict requirement for a certain amount of nudity each episode (“3 minutes of breasts per hour or we can’t air on HBO”), I don’t think this scene really delivered much of anything to us. We already know that Viserys is a self-centered jerk and that the dragons are all dead. Just in case the point isn’t clear enough, Dany makes the mistake of trying to pull Viserys even deeper into the Dothraki culture she’s beginning to accept. He cruelly jokes that next she’ll want to braid his hair, as all Dothraki warriors do to symbolize their power in battle. When she makes light of his insult and claims he doesn’t deserve a braid because he’s never defeated anyone in battle, she shows the audience just how unsuited he is to rule.
The episode quickly gets back on track though, with Ned questioning the Grand Maester about Jon Arryn’s death. The set dressing for Grand Maester Pycelle’s study is amazing; I want to poke around and examine all the interesting little bits lying here and there. The MAESTERS are probably a strange concept for new viewers, being very wizard like, but lacking any actual magical powers. I always thought of them as more medieval scientist and less mage. The room evokes a lot of that sense, vastly being taken over by various colored flasks of which likely only a maester would know the contents. Further in the episode we get to see more of this great detail-work in a scene between Ned and Arya. The hallways looks actually lived in, complete with a suitably placed chair and dried leaves blown in through the window. Someone has a great sense that these sets exist in an actual world and not simply on a stage.
In Pycelle’s office, we also get to see the book of lineages, and a clever viewer, who hasn’t read the books might, like Ned, begin to guess what got Jon Arryn killed. Just in case it’s not entirely clear, later in the episode Ned discovers one of Robert’s bastards, whose mother, despite having golden blonde hair (like a certain Queen), produced a child with hair as black as any other Baratheon, a feature lacking in all of Robert’s official heirs.
GENDRY has been aged quite a bit for the series, as have many of the child characters. When it comes to adaptations and making changes to the characters, I don’t mind them as long as it’s not done needlessly or if it’s not something that defines them to a significant extent. Syrio from the series is not the bald man he is in the novel, but because he is more firmly defined by his actions, the change in appearance didn’t bother me.
As for the relative age increases, I’m still really of two minds. I had heard Martin admitted he screwed up the timeline a little and had intended the characters to be a bit older at the series’ end. I also understand that for a mainstream audience it might present problems, even extending to almost definitely being a censoring issue, I don’t imagine the Dothraki scenes would make it past a censoring board if Daenerys was 13 years old. Countering this though is that I really feel that was sort of the point. Despite some fantastical elements, A Song of Ice and Fire is still fairly firmly rooted in medieval realism. It was a different time and children had to grow up faster. It’s a shame that the series will be missing a lot of that. No one watching is going to have much problem visualizing Richard Madden, who is in his mid-twenties, portraying Robb Stark as the King in the North, but he is hardly the Young Wolf of sixteen as he is in the books.
All in all, while I did have some pretty specific problems with this episode, I think it might actually be my favorite of the bunch so far. There is obviously some great talent on display both in front of and behind the camera. The production team continues to be wonderful at bringing the world to life, and I think the script is doing an admirable job of propelling the story forward, filling in the details and giving you enough hints that new fans could possibly begin to puzzle out events.