Last night's Game of Thrones was a really good hour of television to watch if you wanted a couple of big mysteries addressed (who killed Joffrey, and what do the White Walkers do with those babies?) and also if you wanted to feel tense and antsy until next week's episode. After an hour that mostly served to set future plotlines in motion and even provided a bit of cheerful fan service after last week's gloomy mourning of Joffrey, we ended on a really dire note beyond the Wall. I don't know that any casual fan was really wondering what happened to Karl (Burn Gorman) and the other Night's Watch mutineers up at Craster's Keep after they murdered the old Lord Commander, but here we are.
There has already been consternation on the internet about the extent to which this episode is diverting from the books, with whole plotlines (chiefly Jon's quest to kill the mutineers and Bran being captured by them) being invented, and a long glimpse of what it is the White Walkers are up to in the winter mountain chamber, when such things have never been addressed by George R. R. Martin's writing. The changes largely make sense, though: Bran's plotline is a dull trudge through the snow in the book, and wanting to clear up the fate of Jeor Mormont's murderers is an understandable desire.
But lord, is the scene up at Craster's Keep miserable. Trapped beyond the Wall because a return to the Night's Watch would surely mean their execution, the evil treasonous Karl has resorted to sitting in Craster's chair and stomping around, boasting about what a nasty dude he is. Around him, Craster's poor daughter-wives are raped and abused, and their last baby is abandoned to the White Walkers, one of whom walks it north to some sort of ice castle to turn its eyes blue.
There's something weirdly soothing and calm about the White Walker, who wraps this episode up for us—while the mutineers are base and evil, the much more frightening White Walker remains an ambiguous figure. Yes, he turns a baby into an ice zombie. That's objectively a scary thing to do. But that might be a far better fate for the poor kid than the dumb human lives everyone else in Westeros is subjected to. The sight of poor Hodor being tormented, Jojen collapsing into an epileptic fit, and Meera and Bran with knives to their throats was almost too much to bear. Happily, Jon is on his way north to sort everything out. Unfortunately, he's got Roose Bolton's man Locke (Noah Taylor) with him, another character invented for the TV show, and one with very bad intentions towards the surviving Stark offspring. Put it this way: anyone who's relied on their knowledge of the books to know what's coming next is freaking out right now. God knows what misery awaits everyone north of the Wall.
Down in King's Landing, things are calming down after Joffrey's death. King Tommen will soon be crowned, and Margaery Tyrell will likely be his bride, although she's working to get around Cersei by paying the new king some late night visits in his bedroom. Natalie Dormer continues to do fantastic work on this show. This is the third time we've watched her subtly manipulate her way into the heart of a potential ruler, first with Renly, then with Joffrey, now with sweet Tommen, who mostly likes cats (Ser Pounce!).
Of course, the larger mystery that everyone's been mulling over for the last two weeks is also solved—Joffrey was poisoned with Sansa's necklace, the poison provided by Littlefinger and delivered by Olenna. For all the guessing about Tywin's machinations (he did not appear this week), the answer was simple enough: Olenna simply could not allow her granddaughter to be married to such a psychotic boy, and Littlefinger could not trust Joffrey's unpredictable, cruel nature. Olenna's action was personally motivated; Littlefinger really just wants to shake up the board and see where the pieces fall. His very wise next step is to sail to The Vale and marry crazy old Lysa Arryn, granting him even more land and power. But how will Sansa fit into things? I didn't love that creepy arm-grab.
The fan service I was talking about came with Jaime's redeeming plot actions this week, seeing his brother and believing his innocence and then charging Brienne with a heroic mission to rescue the Stark children. He even managed to find a new spot for lovely Podrick Payne, getting him out of King's Landing (thus sparing him from testifying against Tyrion) and into a buddy-cop sitcom with Brienne of Tarth. The weirdest thing about this plot was that it followed one of his most irredeemable acts, his rape of Cersei, which went unmentioned this week. The two even had a scene together that seemed to suggest there was merely increasing tension between the two, which suggests there was a real backfire in what the show was trying to present with that scene (which was undoubtedly a rape but initially argued as being more of a complicated sex scene by the show's director Alex Graves in an interview).
Anyway, this week Jaime was being a noble hero and Cersei a venom-spitting villain who refused to believe Tyrion could be innocent. I'm sure happy Brienne and Pod are getting out of the capital, because they are both about as close as this show gets to the stereotypical presentation of the chivalrous knight, adventuring as a force of good, almost like a holy duty. At the wedding, Cersei mocked Brienne for her changing alliances (from Renly to Catelyn to Jaime) but it's clear she follows her own moral compass above anything else, a rarity in a show bound by political alliances.
Finally, over in the east, Daenerys quickly conquers Meereen from the inside, raising the slaves against the masters are foreshadowed in her big speech last week. That's fine, but this plot continues to move so, so slowly. When we see Daenerys atop the great pyramid, overseeing brutal retribution to the slave-owners, we once again get the message that's been hinted at week after week: even though her intentions are noble, her actions may be remaking the world too much, too quickly. Then again, considering the misery that suffuses the Thrones universe, it's easy to understand her motivations.