Game of Thrones Revisited: 3.04 And Now His Watch Has Ended
Game of Thrones, the critically acclaimed TV series by David Benioff and DB Weiss and developed from the best-selling series of novels by George RR Martin, has become a cultural icon. The tentpole of HBO's programming with a stellar cast and mix of medieval-style political drama and war with a healthy dash of fantasy, Game of Thrones has enthralled audiences worldwide. And in 2019, the show will come to a dramatic end in its final run of feature length episodes. In the lead up to season eight, I explore every episode leading up to the final battle for Westeros and the rest of the world. The fourth episode of season three is a game changer in more ways than one...
Warning: There may be spoilers for seasons one to seven...
And Now His Watch Has Ended is a power cake of an episode, building to a brutal double climax that takes the series in interesting new directions. The death of Commander Mormont and the rise of Daenerys change the landscape of the show, the former to allow Jon Snow's eventual rise to power and the latter giving the Targaryen Queen a place to rule and an army to command.
But before we get there, the chess pieces continue to move into position as characters finds themselves in new situations. Poor Jamie (is it right to say poor Jamie at this point in the show's history?), really suffers this episode. After losing his hand, he is a broken man, beaten and abused by his captors. And after saving her from rape with promises of Taryth's wealth, Jamie and Brienne's bond is slowly starting to form too; her attempts to care for him, to fuel revenge over giving up starts what becomes an interesting new direction for the kingslayer.
The power plays in King's Landing are a fascinating part of season three, the appearance of Tywin Lannister and Olenna and Margeray Tyrell giving a newfound sense of energy to this setting. While not as skilled as her grand mother, Margeray continues to manipulate those around her in her ascent to power. She marvels at Joffrey's bloody tour of the High Crypt, bigs up his heroic defence of King's Landing and all the while, pulling him slowly away from Cersei's reach.
The moment Margeray opens the doors to cheering crowds, the Queen mother knows she is on the losing side, which makes her attempts to manipulate her father all the more desperate and futile. As cold as Tywin Lannister is, the idea of making Cersei wait for him was largely satisfying, and his put down "I distrust you because you're not as smart as you think you are" is brutal indeed. But her assertions that something needs to be done to save Jamie is seemingly something Tywin already has in hand; is the letter the forging of the alliance with Lords Bolton and Frey that will be the Stark's downfall?
Into this mix we have Varys, with Conleth Hill as superb as ever as he recounts his past to Tyrion and then forges alliances with Olenna. Varys recounting what happened to him as a boy - sold, castrated and his genitals burned in a black magic ritual - explains his fierce motivation to fight against Stannis and his Red Witch last season. I can't remember what he does with the sorcerer bound in the box, but it can't be good.
The battle against the absent Littlefinger rages on too, Varys first taking Ros into his confidence and then, in a delightful scene, having a brilliant tete e tete of clever minds with Olenna Tyrell. Hill and Diana Rigg are superb on screen, his quiet, unassuming wit matched by her bold ability to cut through anything he has to say. The fate of poor Sansa Stark also hangs in the balance of many skilled players, Varys learning of Littlefinger's attempts to steal her away as his bride and convincing Olenna to break this power play. With friendly smiles Margeray suggests she marry her brother Loras and escape to High Garden. Seeing the joy in Sansa's face is heart-breaking, though her impending marriages will not be so joyous.
Ramsey Snow continues to play his game, his true nature emerging as he leads Theon on a long and elaborate journey to his sister, sneaking into a castle only for him to emerge in the very torture chamber he escaped from. It is a cruel twist indeed and one that does make you feel sympathy for Theon, even after what he has done. His admittance that he thought of Ned Stark as his father is a realisation too late, making what happens next all the more harrowing.
The episode sees the reappearance of Beric Donarrion, as the Brotherhood Without Banners holds judgement over the captured Hound; his actions in killing the butcher's boy Micah in the second ever episode comes back to bite him as Arya stands up to pronounce her own judgement.
It is also the episode that sees the end of James Cosmo as Lord Commander Jeor Mormont. The expedition beyond the Wall that ended the first season has felt a little anti-climatic (with the exception of the army of the dead season two cliff-hanger and Jon's encounter with Ygritte). Broken, tired and hungry, this is the moment the Nights Watch rebel as tensions with the vile Craster explode into bloodshed. The death of the man that holds an imprisoned harem of women is a long time coming, but Karl Tanner and Rast turning on Mormont is shocking. It's easy to forget that the Nights Watch is largely made up of thieves, rapists and murderers and pushed to their limits here, their true nature breaks through. Sam, a man that has no place among them, complete the heroic deed of rescuing Gilly and her son amid a frantic, brutal climax of bloodshed among the keep.
But Mormont's death is perhaps a little overshadowed by the ending of the episode. The tension is palatable as Daenerys comes with Drogon to purchase the Unsullied from the wicked Kraznys mo Nakloz. Her reveal that she speaks Valyrian, the language with which he has cursed and mocked her for three episodes as a terrific moment, topped by her command to kill the slavers and free the slaves. Kraznys' death, bathed in flame by Drogon's breath is a mirror to Pyat Pree last season.
This is one of Daenerys' greatest moments in the show's history; Emilia Clarke absolutely sells the fierce conviction as she takes command, gaining an army and freeing the slaves in a single breath. The shot of the fire soaring behind her is a superb, memorable shot and that - along with the armies marching from Astapor at the episode's end - is a terrific end, certainly the greatest moment of season three so far.
It is the ending of And Now His Watch Has Ended that makes it rated so highly, but there is plenty of praise to go around the whole episode. Season three continues to be stronger and more confident in its execution than season two, the time being taken to tell particularly character stories without feeling the need to show every character on screen. But even if Daenerys' liberation of Astapor is season three's most triumphant moment, than its the tragic events later this season that will overshadow even this thrilling episode...