Now we’re getting into the meaty character stuff, which is what great TV drama is all about. Episode two of season 3, “Dark Words, Dark Wings,” followed episode 1 in continuing to reintroduce all of the main characters scattered across Westeros: This time we caught up with Arya and her gang, Bran & co., the Hound, and poor Theon. We even met a few new characters such as the Brotherhood Without Banners and the Reeds. This second episode, however, felt as though we were venturing into new dramatic territory.
In our first glimpse of warging, Jon Snow witnesses the Wilding Orell enter the mind of a crow only to be told that what has seen are “dead crows”: The slaughtered bodies of Jon’s brothers of the Night’s Watch. Just a few minutes later, hundreds of miles away, Jojen Reed explains to Bran that he is a warg, able to enter the mind of his direwolf in dreams. This is one of the things that Martin’s books do supremely well, and it’s good to see the show carrying on the tradition: Connecting the various plot threads together in ways that only the audience can understand. What the Wildings explain to Jon gives him hints of what is happening to Sam and the rest of the Nights Watch, and also gives the audience partial insight into the potential for Bran’s “sight.” This creates the obvious dramatic irony (in which we the audience know more than the characters) but also the texture of the real world in which all stories are really one and characters must proceed with incomplete knowledge. This is a technique famously used by Tolkien in The Lord of the Rings but which he in turn borrowed from medieval Romance, called “interlacement.” Though Jon, Bran and Sam do not occupy much screentime in total, their moments are made more significant in the ways in which they unknowingly inform and reflect upon each other.
Beyond reminding us of where we last left our characters, this episode also starts to plant the seeds of where they might be going. Having read book three, I can see all sort of hints and foreshadowing of what’s to come in the next two seasons, and I can see the writers are really going for the slow burn on these plot elements. Even if you don’t know what they refer to yet, surely even casual viewers will be intrigued by Margaery’s manipulative conversation with Joffrey, innocently asking if he believes she could kill something, and his confident assertion that yes, she can. Or Robb’s advisor’s belief that Robb “lost this war when he married [Taleesa].” Even I don’t yet know why Jojen believes that Bran is the most important person of all, but I believe him. Even if we don’t yet know the net result, the viewers can feel the significance with which these moments are charged. The seeds are being sown, and the choices our characters make will lead to inevitable outcomes. Half of the fun is in the speculation and anticipation.
The other half is in watching our characters plays the titular Game. Blogger L.B. Gale has started a weekly game in which she awards points to GoT characters for the “Move of the Week,” and detracts points for being the “Pawn of the Week,” this week’s winner being Margaery (and the Tyrells in general) with her sadistic fiance Joffrey finding himself the lowly played. The astute observation behind this fun parlor game is that this story is an exploration of the psychology of power. How do characters get what they want? What qualities do winners possess, and are these worth having? Why do losers lose? Sansa believes that her father’s honesty got him killed, and yet she can’t stop herself from telling the Tyrell’s the truth, either in spite of herself due to her hatred of that “monster” Joffrey or to save Margaery from a terrible fate. Time will tell the wisdom of this choice to follow her father’s example. Disturbingly, she is also following her father in trusting Littlefinger, although thankfully she has Shae to teach her more wisdom. The scene of her conversation with the Tyrell ladies was one of those moments you wait for as a book fan, when the dialogue and action just spring to life straight from the page, no editorial assistance required.
Which is not to say that I don’t enjoy when the show adapts and departs from its source material. Expanded and added scenes add depth to peripheral characters from the books. Margaery is the prime example. Her conversation with Sansa and the Queen of Thorns is much the same as in Martin’s book: She sits meekly and lets her grandmother bully Sansa into admitting the truth. What was new was her careless little shrug, as if to say that she couldn’t be bothered to learn that her inteded is a “monster.” She suspected as much. Soon afterward (and cutting straight from a separate conversation about “dangerous people”) the writers introduced the brilliant scene in Joffrey’s bedroom in which he and Margaery bond over misogyny and a crossbow. Having learned the truth from Sansa, Margaery plays Joffrey like a fiddle. Now in addition to being beautiful, intelligent, and charitable (all of the ideal qualities listed by Cersei), she is also ruthless, even cruel. She has calculated her seduction of Joffrey perfectly, and he is completely smitten.
There is so much in this episode that I didn’t even touch on, and we’re only two episodes in. With what we’ve seen and the promise of what’s to come, season three is continuing if not excelling the show’s now-expected high quality.