The dragon is unleashed as Daenerys seizes control of her destiny in a stunning game-changing episode

By James Hibberd
April 22, 2013 at 01:56 AM EDT

Hear that? It’s the sound of millions of Game of Thrones fans geeking out. Tonight’s episode “And Now His Watch Is Ended” concluded with the most exciting scene in the show’s history: Daenerys Targaryen unleashing both her inner and outer dragon in a bold move to acquire the army she’s sought since the show’s first episode.

And that big fire-breathing climax (which we’re going to do a deep dive on) wasn’t even close to being only major game-changing scene this week. There was the Night’s Watch rebellion at Crasters, Theon’s reversal of fortune, Jaime on death’s door, Margaery proposing to Sansa, The Hound getting put on trial, and a wicked scene with Varys. Tonight’s hour felt more like a cliffhanger-packed season finale instead of merely episode four.

Road: We open on Jaime’s hand. See, he hasn’t lost it, it’s right there! Locke and his goons have hung it around his neck like a ghoulish fashion accessory. “How many of those fingers do you think we could shove up his ass?” one of the men heckles. I want Jaime to flip him off with it in response, but he’s too weak.

Jaime begs for water. Locke tricks him into gulping horse urine. This is like being held captive by a gaggle of back-of-the-class eighth graders; their evilness is made so much more frustrating by their immaturity. Jaime gets a sword but he can’t fight left-handed and they beat him in the mud. “Do that again and I’ll take your other hand,” Locke warns.

This is what absolute defeat looks like. As usual watching Thrones, my present-moment empathy clashes with a memory of the past — it’s “Oh no, he’s suffering!” vs. “He threw Bran out the window!” Speaking of…

Woods: Bran is… Hey, what do you think Bran is doing? Any guesses? That’s right. He’s dreaming of the three-eyed crow! I bet Thrones writers have “Bran is dreaming of the three-eyed crow” hot-keyed to F6 on their laptops by now. So in the dream, Jojen tells him to go after the stupid crow. Bran climbs the tree to reach it. Then suddenly Catelyn appears and goes crazy yelling at him until he falls. Dude, that’s the worst — getting crow-blocked by your mom.

King’s Landing: Varys! We haven’t seen much of you this season. As he might say (and does), “Welcome back, old friend.” Varys has a special delivery and is very pleased to monologue to Tyrion like a Bond villain while he opens his crate. Hey Varys, what’s in the box?

We’re getting the story of how Varys lost his genitals. Well, “lost” isn’t really the right word. A man drugged him, mutilated him, and burned his bits as some sort of dark magic ceremony. “I still dream of that night,” he says. “Not of the sorcerer, not of his blade — I dream of the voice from the flames.” And, um, what’s in the box?

Varys says he sold himself, became a thief, and worked his way up to the Small Council. Now he hates “magic and all those who practice it.” Varys, what’s in the boooox!?

Varys opens the crate and reveals…

NEXT: Podrick’s brothel mystery deepens

The wizard who cut Varys! His mouth is sewn shut. How does he eat? Oh, and Tyrion had a reason to actually be in this scene that we’ve now totally forgotten about. Oh yes — he wants proof Cersei tried to have him killed. Varys says, “I have no doubt the revenge you want will be yours in time… if you have the stomach for it.”

The moral here: If you mutilate a boy to commune with dark gods, you should kill him afterward to make sure he doesn’t seek revenge. See, who says Thrones doesn’t contain life lessons? Also: Come to think of it, Varys totally looks like a Bond villain. Something out of… oh… don’t make me spend 20 minutes brainstorming title puns… From Braavos, With Love? … On Her Majesty’s Queensguard?… Moon Door Raker?… All Men Must Live and Let Die?

Craster’s Keep: Back to Craster’s place, that twisted version of the Farmer’s Daughter joke. Samwell is trying to talk to Gilly. He wants to know what her boy’s name is. He’s being annoying, and she rightly returns his sentimental and worthless gift from last season. “I don’t want your stupid thimble,” she says. “I want to save my baby’s life. Can you do that?” I’m sure Craster would tell him: “Women, they always want something!”

Meanwhile the Night’s Watch are grousing about working at Craster’s farm. Frankly, I agree with the men — Craster colludes with the White Walkers, kills babies and molests his daughters. How evil does somebody need to be for you to judge him as unfit to continue living? F— him. If killing Craster means one more of the Lord Commander’s men having enough food to survive the trip back to The Wall, how is that a hard choice? I realize Craster has a valuable outpost that assists the Night’s Watch during their sojourns North. So kill him and turn it over to his daughters. Or maybe post a couple men there to protect them. The Lord Commander doesn’t want to let his men bully him. But does he really want to die protecting Craster?

To play fair, here’s the counter-argument: I’m speculating, but maybe the only way this outpost can exist is via Craster’s baby-sacrificing pact with the White Walkers. Also, there are hospitality laws in Westeros that make it a big sin to kill a man in his own hall once you’ve partaken of his “bread and salt.” Still: I vote for ending Craster, abandoning the post and bringing his women back to the safe side of The Wall because winter is coming. Who’s with me? Rah!

King’s Landing: Thrones teases us about Podrick’s sexual adventures in the brothel last week. Ros says Tyrion’s young squire is the “most extraordinary man they’ve ever had,” yet is not exceptionally well hung.

There’s a theory on the boards that Tyrion might have orchestrated this whole thing to bolster Podrick’s confidence. I don’t know if that’s true or not. But you’ll recall we pointed out in the season 1 recaps that pretty much every couple on the show was doing the same Doggy Style sex position. That is, until Dany introduced Drogo to the exotic wonders of girl-on-top (a.k.a. Cowgirl). So perhaps Littlefinger’s staff was similarly clueless? Maybe Podrick introduced more advanced positions to the Seven Kingdoms — such as The Frog Leap, or Asian Cowgirl, or Folded Deck Chair or The Golden Gate or The Jellyfish or The Reverse Amazon. Surely not The Triple Lindy, though. That one is dangerous if not impossible, requiring “the strength of Superman and the dexterity of Spider-Man” according to Urban Dictionary.

NEXT: Theon has a lousy sense of direction

Meanwhile Varys is informed by Ros that Littlefinger has two feather-beds in his cabin for his journey to the Eyrie. Is he planing to steal away Sansa when he departs? And aren’t we a little surprised pervy Littlefinger just wouldn’t have one bed and tell Sansa after she’s on board: “Hey sweetie, so there’s only one bed in the cabin; I didn’t want anybody to get suspicious about my plans. Now relax, it’s a long voyage. Here, drink this.”

Sept of Baelor: Joffrey is gleefully recounting the horrifying history of King’s Landing to a convincingly excited-looking Margaery. They’re inside the Sept of Baelor, the center of King’s Landing religious worship and the site of their upcoming wedding. Nearby, we get a brief bit with Lady Olenna trying to bond with Cersei as the Queen Regent eyes her warily, trying to figure out what her angle is.

Margaery convinces Joffrey to go outside and greet the crowd. They’re screaming for her, but she convinces Joffrey it’s him they really want. They step into the sunshine and Cersei recoils from the scene like a vampire. Margaery shows Joffrey how to do the Disneyland parade-float wave. Joffrey’s mom doesn’t like this at all.

Woods/Tunnels: The Boy is leading Theon to his sister, he claims, through a series of tunnels. The Boy suggests that Theon’s father knew he was being tortured, and that sends Theon into a spiral of reflection about his murderously stupid actions last season.

Theon keeps saying “I could never be Stark,” like he’s trying to convince himself. Then Theon says something extraordinary: “I paid the Iron Price for Winterfell… I murdered these boys… poor orphans living with the farmer… so I could keep Winterfell, and make my father proud… my real father lost his head at King’s Landing… I made a choice, and I chose wrong, and now I’ve burned everything down!”

Ohhh! Heart-breaking! Once again this scene sparks an emotional clash: “Theon is suffering!” vs. “He killed those orphans!”

Then the Boy brings Theon into — the very dungeon he escaped from. The men put him back on the cross. “I brought him back; he killed the others,” the Boy says as Theon freaks out. “Put him back where he belongs.”

Wait what? So what is this Boy’s agenda? Who is he? And is he really an underling or is he in charge? To prevent any spoilers from leaking, this mysterious character was only referred to as “Boy” on the Thrones set and in the scripts.

Camp: Jaime is dying and refuses to eat. Brienne pushes back: “One misfortune and you’ve given up.” Jaime is incredulous, explaining he lost his sword hand: “I was that hand.” Brienne lays into him, saying he sounds like a “bloody woman.” Jaime is no dummy. You can tell he knows Brienne is trying to manipulate him. But it still works and he eats.

Brienne then notes her family’s “sapphire isle” isn’t really wealthy, so Jaime’s whole story to her captors was a lie to rescue her. “Why did you help me?” she asks. Jaime doesn’t say anything. He probably doesn’t know. I’m sure he wishes he hadn’t said a damn thing. Thinking about Jaime’s ethics makes my head hurt.

NEXT: Craster gets what he deserves

King’s Landing: Now it’s Cersei’s turn to wait while her father Tywin scribbles mysterious messages. She looks as annoyed as Tyrion back in the premiere. She claims she wants to know if Tywin is doing everything possible to get Jaime back. But that’s an excuse for the visit — she knows he is.

She really wants the same thing as Tyrion. She’s trying to get love from a father who looks and acts like Monty Burns. She’s equally as unsuccessful.

“Your legacy that you love so much more than your actual children,” she snipes. You can tell she rehearsed that line (Cersei, that is — of course actress Lena Headey rehearsed it; and it’s a nice trick to make a line that was rehearsed sound like your character rehearsed it).

Tywin gives his daughter an opportunity to prove her value despite her womanliness: “All right, contribute.” Then she starts going off with her transparent insecurity about Margaery manipulating Joffrey and blows her shot to impress him. “I wish you knew how to manipulate him,” he says. “I don’t distrust you because you’re a woman. I distrust you because you’re not as smart as you think” — which marks the second time a family member has called Cersei not very bright this season, and that must annoy her.

Cersei says Tywin should try stopping Joffrey from being so out of control himself. And Tywin gives a bone-chilling: “I will.” There was a Reddit thread last week urging J.J. Abrams to consider Charles Dance for a Star Wars villain role; I upvoted it.

Outside: Lady Olenna has a chat with Varys. “You here to seduce me?” she teases. “What happens when the non-existent bumps against the decrepit? Question for the philosophers.” Ah, so nice to have Dame Diana Rigg classing up the joint.

Varys wants to hurt Littlefinger by helping Sansa Stark. He’s trying to plot a few chess moves ahead. He sees Littefinger on the cusp of gaining a lordship in the Eyrie and scheming to steal away Sansa Stark. He thinks Littlefinger could potentially go from a Small Council adviser to gaining the Vale and control of the North if he has Sansa and Robb Stark falls. “Littlefinger is one of the most dangerous men in Westeros,” Varys says. “He would see this country burn if he could be king of the ashes.” Nice.

They hatch a plot that’s paid off in the next scene. Margaery visits a praying Sansa, who won’t reveal what she’s praying for. Describing all the sadistic things she’s doubtless begging the seven gods to inflict upon Joffrey would be foolish (though I still wouldn’t put it past her revealing everything if Margaery had brought some lemon cakes).

Turns out, Margaery has something even better than lemon cakes — she casually proposes Sansa wed her brother Loras, like it’s no big deal at all. “We would be sisters you and I, would you like that?” In response, Sansa gives a tearful pucker-face nod. I’m such a wuss — Sansa’s weepy longing for a possible happy ending got me misty.

In fact, Sansa’s so excited she doesn’t even care that Margaery is the one doing the proposing instead of Loras. Though I suppose for this task, Margaery is probably the more convincing of the two.

Now we enter the home stretch. Three big scenes, and the last one is huge.

Craster’s: The Night’s Watch burn the corpse of one of their own, Bannon. The men blame Craster for not giving Bannon enough food. “Never knew Bannon could smell so good,” one says (eww, cannibalism hunger pangs!).

Craster gnaws on a gross piece of meat and recommends the Lord Commander cut the throats of his wounded. “Whose throat you gonna cut, old man?” one of the men boldly says. The Lord Commander realizes things are getting out of hand and tells the men to wait outside.

The conversation gets more tense when one of the Night’s Watchmen call Craster a “bastard.” This infuriates Craster — his mother was a Wildling and his father was a man of the Night’s Watch who abandoned him as a child (not entirely unlike how he abandons boy babies in the snow). “Go sit in the cold with empty bellies,” he says, seemingly the only person in the room oblivious to how much danger there is in the air. The Night’s Watchman calls him “a daughter-f—ing Wildling bastard,” and then all hell breaks loose.

NEXT: Time to annoy fans of a certain other show

We’re deprived of feeling really happy that Craster is killed because the Lord Commander is murdered, too. Sam wisely bolts amid the mayhem and grabs Gilly with her baby. “Run fast, Piggy!” yells one of his Lord of the Flies brothers. The rest of the men are presumably indulging in an orgy of food and wine, and are now left alone with Craster’s wives. What do you suppose the odds are that they’ll honor their chastity vows at this point?

Brotherhood Without Banners Hideout: Arya is taken to the bat-cave hangout of vigilante group Brotherhood Without Banners. The Hound mocks them, and I tend to agree — whenever your choices in life lead you to living in a cave, you’ve made a wrong turn.

We’re introduced to their leader Beric Dondarrion (technically reintroduced — he was briefly in the first season played by a different actor).  Like Melisandre, he worships the Lord of the Light. Beric, who is also called the Lightning Lord, is trying to hunt down The Hound’s brother The Mountain.

The Hound takes a step away from the fire when his hood is removed. He says they got the wrong brother. Then Arya speaks up. She accuses The Hound of murdering the butcher’s boy in season 1. Beric decides The Hound will get trial by combat next week. I love trials by combat! Haven’t had one of these since the first season when we met Bronn. And hey, at least one innocent death on this show might actually get avenged! Not Ned Stark, but it’s a start. Also: Our lives would be more fun if everybody had a nickname.

Now here’s a scene I’ve been waiting years to see.

Astapor: Before we get into this scene I’m going to say something that I know is not very smart. When you blog for Entertainment Weekly, you learn not to write things like “[Hit Show X] is better than [Hit Show Y].” Because you alienate the fans of [Hit Show Y], since people like people who like the same things they like. Many psychological studies have proven Paula Abdul wrong — similarity attracts, opposites do not. And who’s to say, really, that one show is better than another show? It’s all art. It’s all subjective. If you tell me Two and a Half Men is funnier than Modern Family or It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, okay, you’re not lying. For you, Two and a Half Men is funnier. I accept that. Who am I to question your experience or suggest my opinion of a TV series is more valid?

So now… having said… all of that… I feel compelled to write… in regards to this next scene with Dany in Astapor… that IF… after watching this… you still think The Walking Dead is better than Game of Thrones… you’re just wrong. The Walking Dead is fun, but Thrones is creatively playing at a higher level. Every element in this scene is meticulous. Every shot matters. The editing is fantastic. The score is terrific. Every expression by every character conveys unique information. The word “epic” gets lazily thrown around a lot (guilty) but this scene is truly epic, and I suspect fans will watch it more than once. As one of the executive producers pointed out, director Alex Graves just “directed the s–t out of this scene.” And unlike Alan Taylor’s masterfully composed execution of Ned Stark in season 1, which was by design awful to behold, this scene is really fun to watch. It’s not just a plot twist and action scene, it’s an earned climax to Dany’s growth as a character across three seasons. She’s been called the “dragon queen,” she’s bossed people around and made lots of lofty declarations and was sometimes downright annoying. Now she earns her title.

And this is how she does it:

The gates open and Dany strides purposefully into a massive square (charmingly titled the Plaza of Punishment in the book). She’s in her blue gown and acid-washed jeans. All 8,000 Unsullied and some slave masters, including Kraznys, are waiting. Kraznys is prattling on about how to train the Unsullied, but hasn’t asked her anything about the care and feeding of a dragon. He advises her to send back captured enemies from sacked cities for him to convert into new Unsullied. We’re not really paying attention to him. We’re watching Dany, who is full of tension and resolve.

NEXT: How NOT to train your dragon

Dany opens her basket to reveal Drogon on a long chain leash. Kraznys snatches it from her and gives her the golden whip. This gives her command of the Unsullied. “Is it done, then?” she asks. “The bitch has her army,” he says in High Valyrian, a language she supposedly doesn’t understand. She gives him a cold look, like: Ohhh, that’s the last time you’re getting away with that.

She stiffly walks down the steps, throat clenched. Ser Jorah watches her, worried. He might be starting to get an inkling here…

Kraznys is struggling with his dragon kite. The scene is very quiet except for Drogon making annoyed noises like a prehistoric bird.

Dany gazes out at the soldiers. The Unsullied are guarded by schlumpy middle-aged men in pastel bathrobes, looking like they went out to grab their morning paper and found a whip instead. Dany then addresses the Unsullied — in Valyrian!

The instant Dany speaks her first word in Valyrian, there’s a great quick cut over to her sexy translator, her head whipping around to look at Dany, like, Oh s–t!

Dany has the soldiers take a few practice steps, testing her remote control. When they obey, she has a look of cold satisfaction. Here we go.

Kraznys, however, is having no luck with Drogon, who refuses to come down. Dany starts laying into him in Valyrian. The Thrones team did a great job on this fictional language (Valyrian is sort of like the Thrones version of Latin). It sounds so authentic and Clarke’s impassioned delivery is so convincing, it doesn’t even register that she’s speaking utter gobbledygook. She just sells it.

“A dragon is not a slave,” Dany says. The musical score, which until now during this scene has been silent, starts kicking in with ominous drumming.

The translator watches her old boss’ confusion with the barest hint of satisfaction.

Then Dany makes her first of two huge moves:

She orders The Unsullied to kill the slave-masters and set the slaves free, but do not harm any children.

Ser Jorah, his mouth agape, reaches reflexively for his sword. The translator looks scared.

I like that there’s a beat during her speech where none of the Unsullied move. They’re all: Uh, really? Can we do that? And you know there must be a few thousand men in the back rows who cannot clearly hear her order to kill the slavers. (Dude, did she say ”drill the ravers”? Nah, I’m pretty sure it was “bill the neighbors”).

The Unsullied guards, presumably, do not understand Valyrian, or they wouldn’t just be strolling along like everything is normal. It doesn’t make sense that the abused slaves would be raised to speak a language their guards could not understand, but okay.

Thankfully there’s one Unsullied on the aisle who hears Dany just fine. He’s all — F— yeah! You don’t have to ask me twice, I’m skewering this guard right here before she changes her mind.

Kraznys orders his guards to kill Dany. Barristan goes for his sword. And Dany says: “Dracarys.” Drogon blasts Kraznys in the face. Yay! And then all hell breaks loose — again!

NEXT: Reign of fire

Now we fade-jump ahead. You’re bummed here. I know. You wanted to see city-wide Unsullied and dragon mayhem. So did I. Send the producers a check for $10 million and maybe they will add it to the DVD.

Ser Jorah gazes up at Dany like he’s never wanted to jump her bones more than at this moment. She ignores him and gets on a white horse to address her army, which is back in neat CGI-rows. Now if Dany hadn’t already taken enough of a risk, she takes another big one. She doubles down. She wants it both ways. She wants the skilled army AND free men instead of slaves.

Notice she’s rejecting the diametrically opposed options presented by Jorah and Barristan, who were divided last week on whether to buy the robotic Unsullied. In the new bestselling book Decisive, the authors say one of the first questions leaders should ask when presented with a tough decision that has seemingly only two options is: Is there a way I can have both? Dany decided, Yes, and the same was true when facing her other impossible choice: Does she want to gain an army OR to keep all three of her dragons? Again, she chose both. She wants it all: The entire army, all three dragons, the slave masters dead and the slaves freed. The world, Chico, and everything in it.

Also, I should point out: She totally broke her promise and screwed the masters over. Yet we don’t mind, mainly because Kraznys was such a horrible person. Still, a part of me wonders: What about the nice guy who gets a job as a slave manager and doesn’t even particularly like slavery but this is the only job he could get? Or what about the slave owner’s wife? It’s sort of like wondering about Luke Skywalker’s broke farm-boy friends who enlisted with the Imperials and were working in the cafeteria on the Death Star when it blew up. Wrong side of history, bitches.

In a way, freeing the slaves is also is a callback to Dany helping the witch whose village was sacked by the Dothraki in season 1. That act of kindness cost Dany the life of her husband and child. Now she’s far more wary about trusting strangers. But having fate smack her for being merciful did not break her values and change the kind of leader she wants to be.

So yeah. Dany asks the Unsullied to join her as free men. They stomp their spears in agreement. And why not? If you’ve got insane military training, no home, no food and no d–k, what else are you gonna do with your freedom other than follow the hot girl with the dragons? (But while this was a heroic move for Dany, it could turn into a real headache if these guys start stomping their spears for universal health care and a retirement plan).

Dany marches her army out of Astapor like she owns the place. And she does.

Best Scene: Hello.

Best Line: Loved Vary’s line about Littlefinger. But must give it to: “A dragon is not a slave.”

Read our exclusive interview with Game of Thrones producers Dan Weiss and David Benioff along with actress Emilia Clarke discussing the dragon unleashing scene.

Recap post time update! For episodes 5-8, the EW Thrones recap will likely go up a little later than usual. If you typically read these recaps right after the East Coast telecast, check my Twitter feed @james_hibberd for a post-time update on Sunday.

UPDATE: Here’s a great piece of fan art from Mandi Grant depicting the sacking of Astapor. It’s titled “Dracarys.” Click here to see a full-size version.

HBO’s epic fantasy drama based on George R.R. Martin’s novel series "A Song of Fire and Ice."
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seasons
  • 7
episodes
  • 67
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run date
  • 04/17/11
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  • On Hiatus
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