Jaime and Brienne cross swords, Theon returns and everybody does a lot of walking in "Dark Wings, Dark Words"

By James Hibberd
April 08, 2013 at 01:52 AM EDT
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Some of you will say this so I will say it first: Sunday’s episode of Game of Thrones was a little slow — at least, until that great sword fight. Half the show was really Part 2 of the season premiere, launching stories that did not fit in the first hour. The showrunners wisely put the most exciting launches last week to hook us, then saved some of the slower scenes for tonight. There was Jaime and Brienne walking. Arya and her friends walking. Bran and his friends, uh, wheel-barrowing. There was a lot of walking and talking; it was like an episode of The Westeros Wing.

Fear not. The first two episodes this season require a lot of setup. Momentum increases next week. And episode four is … ohhh, I can’t wait to recap a scene in that one! The producers say there are major set pieces in each of the the final six hours. In other words: This is as “slow” as our story gets this season, and it was still pretty great. We have the torturous return of Theon, the introduction of Lady Olenna, an amazing scene with Joffrey and his true love (a crossbow), and did we mention that sword fight? But first–

Woods: Bran is hunting the three-eyed crow. Will he kill that damn thing once and for all? He’s joined by Robb and Jon Snow. Nice to have them all together, even if for a moment, even if a dream. Bran misses his shot, his brothers laugh and we hear, “And which one of you was a marksman at 10?” Ned Stark! Poor Ned. For a moment I thought this was newly recorded dialogue, but it’s a line from the premiere.

A mysterious boy appears and gives Bran some advice: “You can’t kill it because the raven is you.”

Bran wakes. He’s with Osha and Hodor and they’re on the way to The Wall. Superstitious Osha doesn’t want to hear about his dream. And it seems his vision is not the only magic on display — young Bran’s voice has miraculously gotten lower, and he now sounds like a grown-up hooligan downing pints at the pub.

Stark Camp: Talisa is flirting with her husband Robb, teasingly noting that her mother always told her Westeros men were “grim bearded stinking barbarians.”

Not sure why she says this like it’s not totally true. Admit it, if you walked into your wardrobe one day and were somehow magically transported to the enchanted land of Westeros, that’s probably exactly what you would think of the locals (Eventually, I mean. Your first thought would be something like: “Oh f–k, get me out of here! This is a land of serial killers with giant knives!”).

Lucky for Robb, humorless and smelly is a turn-on for Talisa — at least if the barbarian is also the Alpha Male of the North. Their canoodling is interrupted by Robb’s bannerman Roose Bolton with some r-mail. This episode’s title is “Dark Wings, Dark Words,” which is appropriate here. They learn Catelyn’s father is dead and Winterfell was burned down, with no sign of Bran and Rickon. Plus, there’s “no word from Theon.” Hey, that sounds like a transition line…

NEXT: Under the hood

Dungeon: The hood is removed from the man we’ve seen in the previews: Theon! That’s right. He’s back.

Some backstory: The producers kept Theon’s return off the record during our set visit last fall and HBO’s marketing materials made no reference to the character. They reasoned that fans of the books wouldn’t expect Theon back in the story so soon (his story doesn’t continue until Book 5), and that fans of the show would think he was dead. At the time, I thought their second point was silly — he was just conked on the back of the head! The movie and TV rule is that unless you actually see a character die, or they clearly get blown up, they’re never really dead. Then a friend, who works at a TV publication, mind you, caught up on the season 2 finale a couple weeks ago and texted: “At least that jerk Theon died!”

So, fine, whatever. Some of you really thought he was dead. Surprise!

Back to the scene: Theon Turncloak is confined in a dungeon. If you don’t know where he is or why he’s being tortured, that’s okay. You’re not supposed to know and he doesn’t either. So just sit back and enjoy the scene … if you can. Theon is asked why he took Winterfell. His torturer doesn’t seem to care what Theon says. That’s really the worst type of torturer that you can get. You’re in agonizing pain and stuck in a conversation that’s going nowhere.

His fingernail gets torn off; screws are driven into his feet. Tell me: After all of Theon’s sins, are enjoying this or do you feel sorry for him? We have an interview with Alfie Allen and producers about his return at the end of the recap where Allen addresses that very question.

Later, a boy sent to wash the floor tells Theon he was secretly sent by his sister Yara and promises to help him escape. Apparently, as brutal as these torturers are, they still care about maintaining a clean and hygienic dungeon.

Woods: Jaime and Brienne are taking the scenic route to King’s Landing where she plans to swap him for Lady Stark’s daughters (she doesn’t know Arya escaped). She has him on a long leash like one of those nervous parents with a hyper kid at Disneyland. Jaime is doing his best to antagonize her, calling her a “giant tow-headed plank” and saying he didn’t see her at Winterfell because “I would have noticed your dour head smacking into the archways.” He insults her beloved deceased Renly, too, perceptively realizing she had a crush on him. She finally snaps and grabs him.

“I don’t blame him,” he says mildly. “I don’t blame him either. We don’t get to choose who we love.”

That’s honest — when you screw your sister you cannot afford to be judgmental.

They meet a friendly farmer who eyes them warily. “He knows who I am,” Jaime says. “What if he tells someone?” But Brienne won’t kill “an innocent man.”

Jaime is his own worst enemy here. If he hadn’t been ragging on Brienne so much she might have listened to him. Seldom does anybody on Thrones get rewarded for doing the right thing.

King’s Landing: Joffrey’s tailor dresses him while his mother watches. Nothing weird about that, right?

NEXT: Introducing the Queen of Thorns

“No flowers! I said no flowers!” Joffrey complains while looking in his blurry mirror, then gives this awesomely bratty line: “All these are wrong, bring others!”

We then get a shot of Joffrey with his shirt off for all you perverts. You protest: “But the actor playing him, Jack Gleeson, is 20 years old!” Uh-huh…whatever…perverts.

Cersei is still fuming about booby Margaery showing her boobs, and wants to know what Joffrey thinks of her. He thinks their marriage will make it easier for him to burn people and salt their fields. Yes, Joffrey sees his attractive kind young wife-to-be and can only imagine how the union with the Tyrells will enable him to kill more people.

Cersei keeps prodding her son about those things you humans call “feelings” and Joffrey says, “This is becoming one of the most boring conversations I’ve ever had.” I gotta say: You have to be a pretty confident TV writer to put that line in a show that’s getting recapped by half the internet.

Joffrey is never going to understand what Cersei is saying unless she comes right out and says it. So she accuses Margaery of scheming against him. She probably really believes this. Cersei is always scheming so she can’t imagine any other woman not scheming too.

“Intelligent women do what they’re told,” Joffrey shrugs. Derogatory, yeah. But if you’re engaged to a psycho king like Joffrey, it’s arguably true. Observation: Joffrey tends to like the color red.

Sansa: Like Joffrey, she’s looking in a grubby mirror. They make very crappy mirrors in Westeros.

She’s chatting with her handmaiden/Tyrion’s secret-funny-whore Shae about Littlefinger and can’t imagine he wants to fool around with her. “He’s too old,” Sansa protests.

Shae points out that men never see an age difference that way, which is something Sansa would already know if she had ever joined an online dating site. (There are actually several such sites referenced in George R.R. Martin’s novels, such as OK Westeros, Usurper, Plenty of Ravens, eRangedMarriage.com and L-Date — that last one is for singles who only want to date Lannisters).

Sansa is invited to take a walk with secretly gay Ser Loras. He doesn’t even remember their previous meeting at the jousting tournament which Sansa probably thinks about daily. Loras introduces her to his sister Margaery (at least we know these two aren’t fooling around) and their grandmother Lady Olenna, played by Diana Rigg. Olenna says, “Kiss me, child” — a greeting only grandmothers can get away with.

NEXT: “He’s a monster”

She is called The Queen of Thorns. House Tyrell’s sigil is a golden rose, but it also speaks to her quick-witted and sharp-tongued demeanor. She shocks Sansa by dissing the dearly departed Renly along with some members of her own family, lamenting decisions of the past, but adds, “Once the cow’s been milked, there’s no way of squirting the milk back up her udder.” (After Westeros invents toothpaste, they’re going to have a much neater way of expressing that thought — not to mention slightly less smelly barbarians).

“I’m much less boring than these others,” Olenna correctly says, but Sansa doesn’t know what to make of her. She’s not accustomed to somebody of such high-ranking nobility being both kind and candid. It’s throwing her off. Also, Sansa is getting lemon cakes, and who doesn’t want lemon cakes?

Olenna then starts demanding cheese right this minute, like a feisty senior at an Applebee’s. Notice this isn’t different from the way Joffrey treated his dresser earlier, but Olenna somehow makes badgering the servants seem charming.

Like everybody on Thrones, Olenna wants something. She wants the truth about Joffrey. Sansa is terrified. She doesn’t want to say anything. “Has he ripped out your tongue?” Olenna asks, which isn’t the wisest choice of words because that’s exactly what Joffrey does to people who talk bad about him.

“He’s a monster,” Sansa says simply.

“That’s a pity,” Olenna replies, while Margaery gives a remarkably casual look, like, “Oh well…

Sansa is taking a huge risk here by trusting somebody she just met with such a treasonous statement — a declaration that could imperil the king’s wedding, no less. And I cannot give her credit for making a tactical decision because it looks like she was manipulated (again). Yet I still think it’s a smart move, whether she realizes it or not. Sansa desperately needs allies. She can’t just sit in the castle waiting for the next round of abuse. And the Tyrells have considerable power. Sansa is like one of those wallflowers on Survivor who sit on the sidelines through most of the game, but sooner or later has to make a move.

Also: That cheese looks gross.

North of the Wall: Jon Snow is trudging along with Mance Rayder (another walking-and-talking nature stroll). We learn how Mance convinced all his various tribes to unite (including the cave people — and everybody hates the cave people!). “I told them we were all going to die if we don’t get south,” he says. And that is true because — and let’s all say it together — Winter is Coming. Though you would think the Wildlings could avoid the White Walkers since they only seem to show up in season premieres and finales.

They come upon a “warg” — a man who is able to enter the mind of animals. Jon Snow gawks. “What, you never met a warg?” taunts Ygritte.

I want Jon to say: “No dammit! I’ve never met a giant, I’ve never met a warg. Get off my ass will you!”

They make being a warg sound like it’s not a big deal, but I should point out that the ability to see how enemy forces are positioned should make wargs the most valuable people in Westeros.

NEXT: Arya!

Stark Camp: Robb is dealing with a griping bannerman, who makes a rather brutal declaration: “I think you lost this war the day you married her,” he says, meaning Talisa. His point is: By giving away one of his biggest assets — his hand in marriage — to a random field medic instead of doing what every other noble does in this show (whoring themselves out), he’s made winning the war much harder. His mom promised him to Lord Frey’s daughter, and those other forces would come in handy right about now.

Later, worried Catelyn bonds with Talisa while making a dream-catcher-thing to protect her missing kids. She describes sitting with an ill boy all night praying for his recovery. We’re shocked to learn she’s talking about her husband’s bastard Jon Snow. She promised the gods she’d love him if he recovered, then broke her promise. “And everything that’s happened since then, all this horror that’s come to my family, it’s all because I couldn’t love a motherless child.” Wow, way to take the weight of the world on your shoulders, Catelyn.

Woods: Bran is asleep. Bran sleeping on this show is like Carl being in the house on The Walking Dead.

He’s awoken by the approach of the mysterious boy from his dream, whose name we learn is Jojen. There’s a brief standoff that’s resolved when Jojen reveals he’s a direwolf whisperer and his sister Meera gets the jump on Osha. We learn he’s been looking for Bran and knows a lot about him.

Later, Jojen tells Bran he’s a warg. So he’s got that going for him.

Other Woods: Arya! About time. Gendry is grilling Arya about why she didn’t use her three death wishes last season to kill off more important characters on this show. “You could have picked King Joffrey,” he says. “You could have picked Tywin Lannister. You could have ended the war!”

Gendry, if you ever get tired of walking around Westeros, you could totally have a career recapping Game of Thrones.

More strangers on the road: Arya and her friends come upon a band of travelers. One of them is singing the Lannister anthem “Rains of Castamere,” but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re bad guys. The song is the Westeros equivalent of gangsta rap — just because you sing it doesn’t mean you’re going to kill somebody. After another brief stand-off, we learn these strangers (led by Thoros of Myr) are members of a group called Brotherhood Without Banners. They’re kind of like Doctors Without Borders except they kill people instead of heal them. They capture the kids, but seemingly don’t intend them any harm.

King’s Landing: Here’s this week’s best two-characters-in-a-room scene. We need a pithy term for these scenes. Any suggestions?

Joffrey is holding his blinged-out new crossbow and chatting with Margaery. He brings up her ex-husband Renly, accusing her of being “at the bed side of a traitor.” Ahh, so Cersei’s fretting got under Joffrey’s skin after all. The Queen Regent might not know it, but she can still influence her son.

“The subtleties of politics are often lost on me,” Margaery smoothly lies.

Treading very, very carefully, walking a fine line between giving Joffrey information to protect herself and not wanting to appear too insightful or defensive, Margaery explains that Renly wasn’t interested in women and did not have sex with her. Also, that Renly suggested they engage in “something very painful that couldn’t possibly result in children,” creating a rather long and polite new term for a popular video category on adult websites.

NEXT: A bridge too far

Joffrey is disgusted. “I’ve considered making his perversion punishable by death,” he says.

Margaery eagerly shifts the conversation from the king’s Prop. 8 plans to a topic that she hopes is less risky. “It’s beautiful! Will you show me how it works?” she says of his crossbow.

On the surface, this is smart of her. Will you show me how your toys work? is a question every teenage boy wants to hear. Margaery is skillfully trying to get on his wavelength. It’s something we suspect she’s done with boys all her life. Except Joffrey is a psychopath and this is a very dangerous game.

He shows her (and us) how good of a shot he is. Margaery applauds in delight. She fingers Joffrey’s weapon. There’s so much twisted innuendo going on here.

“Do you want to hold it?”

“May I? Please…. “

Margaery broaches the idea of her killing “something.” “Would you like to watch me?” Joffrey is creepily turned on. “Yes…”

Some actors say the best performances are the ones that do not call attention to themselves and perhaps that is true. But I think Gleeson is both showy and gripping in this scene. He’s alternately eager and wary and arrogant and angry and nervous in a way that fills you with tension. Also, I like how Margaery is developing as a character, particularly in comparison to the books. She’s playing the social game at King’s Landing in a way we haven’t really seen before.

Tavern: Arya and her crew are hanging with the Brotherhood, but she’s all business. She’s focused on getting out of there. “There’s no story so good a drink won’t make it better,” Thoros advises (the same goes for watching TV).

The men laugh at Arya boasting about her sword-fighting ability. Arya draws her weapon and Thoros knocks it aside. That’s pretty stupid for Arya at this point. She’s lucky this guy is one of the few semi-decent men out there. Thoros says he’ll set them free. Great, okay, now Arya can get on her way and–

His men return with an “uncommonly large person” who has been captured. It’s another mystery man under a hood: The Hound!

Arya tries to sneak away and he sees here. “What in the seven hells are you doing with the Stark bitch?” he says. Great. Now Arya is captured. Wait, can you be captured if you’re already captured? Double captured!

Bridge: Jaime is having so much fun, giving Brienne grief as she struggles to figure out the best strategy for transporting him. Apparently, Brienne doesn’t know the whole prisoner-hood trick, which could have saved her a lot of trouble. She lets her guard down. He grabs her spare sword and cuts his leash. This is the moment he’s been waiting for.

NEXT: A storm of swords; Best line and scene

Jaime looks content to have a sword in his hands again. “I never understood why some knights felt the need to carry two swords,” he says. And that’s why he’s cool. Even after he’s got a sword and she’s alarmed and drawing on him, he’s still calmly busting her chops. Also, good point about the sword (I looked it up — most medieval swords were surprisingly light, less than five pounds, though the one Jaime grabbed looks heavier…. still, you carry around an extra five pounds all day and see how you feel about it).

He takes a moment measuring her up as they move. He doesn’t need to do this. He’s just savoring the moment because he hasn’t fought in so long. “You shouldn’t grimace before you lunge,” he advises. This is a tactic — Jaime is showing superiority with calm advice designed to make his opponent feel hopelessly outmatched.

As they fight, he points out her dilemma: “If you kill me you fail Lady Stark…. If you don’t kill me, I’m going to kill you.” Again, he’s trying to erode her confidence.

But Brienne has thought of a third option — beating the greatest swordsman in the land into submission. His hands are still manacled and he’s malnourished from being a prisoner last season. She gradually wears him down, then smacks his sword away with a final flourish. Take that you sexist kingslayer!

They’re interrupted by several horsemen. You know Jaime is thinking — Great, I’m never going to live this down.

They’re men from House Bolton, whose sigil is the flayed man. “Bit gruesome for my taste,” Jaime quips.

The Bolton men know Jaime’s identity and pay off the farmer who spotted them earlier. Jaime was right. Brienne should have killed him.

Like Arya, Jaime is captured. Wait, can you be captured if you’re already captured? He’s double-captured too!

And that’s all HBO has for this week, but EW still has more Thrones reportage: There’s Alfie Allen and the producers giving the behind-the-scenes story of Theon’s return and Nikolai Coster-Waldau and Gwendoline Christie talking Jaime and Brienne’s big fight. Or read last week’s recap here.

BEST SCENE: The crossbow and Lady Olenna scene was great. But I must give it to the Jaime vs. Brienne fight.

BEST LINE: “We don’t get to choose who we love.”

That line was a good one. But personally I don’t really believe it. That’s why your recapper has created a dating profile on L-Date. So while you guys are busy commenting on the episode below — without revealing spoilers, please — I’m going to have some lemon cakes and browse available singles. I picked a username (StagButHopeful) and got my profile picture taken — on the same bridge where Jaime and Brienne had their big fight!

So let’s check out these Westeros singles, shall we? … Hmm … A four-time widow? No … Has five bastards? No … Loves her pet dragons? Ehh, I’m kind of allergic to fire … Greyscale Positive? No … My sister? No …

Sigh. All these are wrong, bring others!

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HBO’s epic fantasy drama based on George R.R. Martin's novel series A Song of Ice and Fire.
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