[dropcap]B[/dropcap]oth Game of Thrones’ greatest strengths and its biggest problems can be attributed to its scale. We saw a bit of both in this week’s episode, ‘The House of Black and White’, which offered up more plot than last week’s but at a pace that was a little too frantic. Almost every major player got some screen time and we saw plenty of gorgeous locations and impressive production design. Unfortunately, we didn’t spend enough time in one place for any of it to have much impact.
Case in point was the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it sojourn in Dorne, Westeros’s southern province and home of Oberyn Martell a.k.a. that guy who had his head pulped last season. It looks like the Dornishmen are going to be an important new faction and we saw hints of some interesting developments. Who are the Sand Snakes? Why is Doran Martell (Alexander Siddig) of a different ethnicity to his brother? And what is his agenda? Our two minutes with the Dornishmen didn’t provide any answers. Hopefully they’ll be forthcoming as we see more of their (seriously pretty) country.
In snowier climates we had a big episode for Jon Snow, with a story that was crying out for more time
In fact, it was really two stories. First Stannis offered to revoke Jon’s bastard status and turn him into a fully-fledged Stark and then, fresh from refusing that, he was appointed commander of the Night’s Watch. There’s enough drama in either of these threads to warrant our weekly allowance of Jon looking pensively sincere. Cramming them both into fifteen minutes of time seems a shame, especially when Tyrion’s segment again felt like it was treading water in anticipation of something big.
At least Daenerys provided a much stronger showing this week. She’s still trying to stop her utopia from sliding into ruin, but here we got a much better insight into the stakes.
Seeing more of her city’s two factions (and their subsequent brawl) brought home the magnitude of her problem and gave us an impressive set-piece in the process. That said, I’m still apprehensive that we’re just going to be seeing some variation on this conflict every week. Hopefully the reappearance of Drogon the dragon will inject some chaos into proceedings.
However, our best hope for getting some action soon now lies with Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and his mission to retrieve his daughter from Dorne.
At his best, Jaime is one of Thrones’ most fascinating characters, but it’s been a while since we’ve seen him used to his full potential. This looks set to change imminently. The fact that they’ve paired him with Bronn (Jerome Flynn), a guarantor of extreme violence and good quips, only makes me more excited.
Part of the thrill is that this story signifies the show’s new willingness to go completely off-piste with its source material. The showrunners are now creating entirely new stories for existing characters with disregard for Martin’s books. This might gall purists, but it promises good things for the show’s pacing and structure. It also meant that we got some thrilling horseback combat from Brienne this week. More of that please!
With these departures and Arya (Maisie Williams)’s intriguing new situation, this episode piqued my interest more than the last. It still feels like this season is yet to hit its stride (this time last year we were popping champagne for Joffrey’s wedding/funeral), but I’m willing to give the showrunners the benefit of the doubt for now; it’s no coincidence that so many of the characters are currently in the middle of literal journeys. I’m confident that good things await at their destinations, for us if not for them.