I don't believe that a child is responsible for the sins of his father...or his grandfather
Written by: David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Directed by: Alex Graves
Maybe it's to be expected that Game of Thrones takes one or two steps back following a masterful episode. "The Lion and the Rose" had one of the best sequences the series has given us thus far, and based on the drawbacks of the episodes coming after such pivotal installments like "Baelor", "Blackwater", and "The Rains of Castamere", it should come as no surprise that "Breaker of Chains" doesn't bring the dramatic punch that last episode ended on. Granted, this is still a well-structured episode with some praiseworthy moments, as future events for the season come more into focus.
Kicking off literally the moment where last episode ended, the court fool Dontos helps Sansa flee the Capital, being taken to a hidden ship where Petyr Baelish is waiting for her. Baelish informs Sansa that the necklace given to her by Dontos played a part in Joffrey's murder, while reminding her that everyone in the Capital is a liar. The thing that's most telling about this scene is how we come to better understand how Baelish is a character who has no desire to be anyone's trusted ally, plotting and scheming however he can to ensure that he gets ahead while everyone else fights to the death. Right after Sansa boards Baelish's ship, he orders for Dontos to be killed, claiming him to be a drunk fool that cannot be trusted. He then tells Sansa how she is safe with him, even though no one on planet Earth believes that Baelish will keep Sansa safe. He's a man with his own agenda in mind, and now poor Sansa is going to be right at his side. At least Joffrey can't torment her any more...
Jack Gleeson makes his final physical appearance as Joffrey, lying in the Sept of Baelor as Cersei grieves over the body of her murdered son. Here we have one of the more underrated conversations of the episode: Tywin talking with the next in line king Tommen about the qualities of a good king, things like holiness, justice, and wisdom. Grandfather Tywin proves once again to be one of the best kinds of Tywin, encouraging the young Tommen that he has the makings of a good king. Having the conversation occur in the Sept as opposed to the Throne Room gives the entire discussion a more grand aura, as if the gods are listening and intend to bless Tommen's reign as king. The echo-ey sound of Tywin's voice permeates through the air of the Sept, as the scene jumps back and forth between various low angle shots of Tywin, and then Tommen and Cersei. It's interesting that the cinematography here never has Joffrey's body appear level with those standing by, as if to indicate that Cersei, Tywin, and Tommen will work together to ascend above Joffrey's fiendish rule. Very little has been made known of young Tommen up to this point, but based on this conversation alone, we can be fully confident that he will not repeat the same mistakes as his brother.
After Tywin and Tommen leave, Cersei is left alone to continue grieving. Jaime arrives, and this is where the episode gets a bit out of hand. Cersei demands for Jaime to kill Tyrion, but Jaime refuses, leading to him forcing himself upon Cersei, in a moment that has loads of evidence pointing towards rape: Cersei telling Jaime it isn't right and Jaime refusing to let Cersei get away. First of all, Jaime and Cersei's relationship has been on the rocks ever since Jaime arrived back in King's Landing at the end of season three, so it makes all the sense in the world to have a scene where Jaime reasserts his control over Cersei. Unfortunately, this was not the time to do it. Jaime catches Cersei at her worst moment: mourning over the death of her first child. I get that Jaime was baffled by Cersei asking him to kill Tyrion, but why in the world would this entice him to force himself onto her, especially when it's right in front of their deceased son? If this happened, say, in the Throne Room, I might have been willing to praise this as a critical moment between the Lannister siblings. But it borders on nonsensical here, primarily because of the time and the place. Game of Thrones gets more focused with how it uses sex and nudity as the series progresses, which is why it's unfortunate that this rape scene between Jaime and Cersei is more of a misstep as opposed to another right foot forward for an area that the series gets arguably the most criticism.
One character in a bit of an awkward spot at the moment is Stannis. The death of Joffrey certainly does him more good than harm, but with Gendry's escape and the lack of a significant army, Stannis is in no position to try and take King's Landing. Davos comes up with an idea to write to the Iron Bank, thinking perhaps they can fund Stannis and help him get what he needs to seize the Iron Throne. This is a golden opportunity for D&D to open the door for more characters that have only been briefly mentioned up until now. We've heard a little about the Iron Bank and how they always get their gold back. We also get to hear a little bit about the Golden Company: a group of sellswords considered to be the largest and most skilled in all of Essos. It will turn out that Stannis is not going to get much of anything out of the Iron Bank nor the Golden Company, but I appreciate that D&D are giving Stannis something interesting to do other than sulk at Dragonstone. As characters are dropping like flies, we're going to need some new ones sooner or later.
Lastly on the to-do list for this episode, Daenerys arrives at the city of Meereen. She has Daario Naharis defeat the Champion of Meereen, and then she addresses the city's slaves, stating her intent to free them just as she did the slaves of Yunkai and Astapor. To make her intentions more clear, Daenerys has her army fire barrels full of slave collars at the city walls. This turns out to be one of the most soft hitting conclusions to any episode, not ending with any sort of triumphant music crescendo nor any memorable shot like Daenerys staring up at the city with a determined look on her face. One of the slaves picks up one of the collars, and that's it, as the screen cuts to black. There's nothing bad here or anything like that. It's mostly a bizarre editing choice that takes Daenerys' arrival to Meereen and lets it end with a casual dismissal, as opposed to some grandiose payoff, such as the slaves of Meereen beginning to chant, "Mhysa" or a fight starting to break out between the slaves and their masters. Daenerys' activities in the cities of Qarth, Yunkai, and Astapor were all given the necessary build-up and were treated with delicate care. This arrival is more like going through the motions, as if Daenerys had already earned her right to take over Meereen.
So between the first three episodes of season four, "Breaker of Chains" is easily the worst. There are some good parts: Tywin talking with Tommen about what makes a good king, the conversation between Stannis and Davos, as well as Sansa meeting up with Littlefinger. Those good parts, however, are overshadowed by questionable decisions like the rape scene between Jaime and Cersei as well as the way the episode ends with Daenerys launching the barrels at the walls of Meereen. I think it's impossible for Game of Thrones to always follow-up a brilliant episode with another brilliant one, and that's very much what happens here with "Breaker of Chains" trying to follow up on the brilliant "The Lion and the Rose". Flawed Game of Thrones is still good Game of Thrones. Not every television show can boast such an impressive feat.
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