It says a lot about the first two episodes this season that the third can start with Arya sweeping the floors is seen as a drastic improvement.
While she’s rededicated herself to Braavos, having passed the most indeterminate admissions test to enter training for the guild of assassins. While she loudly protests the remedial tasks assigned to her, it comes off as far too childish for someone who’s been though what she’s endured since witnessing her father’s public betrayal/execution in King’s Landing.
Despite a lack of believability in Arya’s behavior, it sets the tone for the episode, which is punctuated by what has happened in the wake of so many character’s deaths up until this point. Her requirement to become “no one,” as necessitated by the Faceless Men, proves too great, as she’s not able to let go of everything that represents her past life.
First, we’re given The Royal Wedding round 2, as Margaery is married off to Tommen, after her wedding to his older brother Joffrey ended with his poisoning, which her family played an important part in. Doing so elevates her family’s power while Cersei’s continues to slip away.
This is best illustrated in a post-wedding day exchange when Margaery asks Cersei her exact title, neither of which have any real meaning. Given the cackling entourage behind Margery, the scene plays out like ‘The Real Housewives of Westeros,” though Cersei maintains her poise as she clearly has a secret contingency plan, though it’s specifics remain unclear.
They mystery behind Littlefinger’s journey with Sansa is revealed, as she learns he’s taking her back to Winterfell (hardly a place out of Cersei’s reach, as he’d indicated earlier this season), where she’s promised to marry Ramsay, the legitimized bastard son of the man who betrayed and killed her brother, which also happened to take place at a wedding.
Littlefinger sells it to her as a way to extract justice in a world where it doesn’t exist, proving that Sansa is simply another piece on his kingdom-wide chessboard as means to further consolidate his power in secret. Though for the first time in the show’s history, things begin to not go so well for Littlefinger, as Roose, a deceptive and treacherous man himself, sees through his plan, to consequences sure to be forthcoming (and dire).
The most exciting moments happen on The Wall, as Jon Snow, now the commander, deals with the inevitable fallout over those who resent his authority. Specifically, Ser Janus, who defies Snow’s command, which leads him to a public beheading by Jon Snow himself in a riveting and powerful callback to the show’s very first episode.
Despite Janus’ calls for mercy, recanting on his defiance and his sudden willingness to follow orders are in vain. It’s a turning point for Jon, who’s been keen to show mercy in the past, as well as cementing the promise Stannis sees in him, despite (or perhaps because of) his stubbornness.
Finally, the Varys & Tyrion road trip takes a detour through the streets of Volantis, as Tyrion’s penchant for wine and brothel’s overcomes Varys’ desire to keep him safe and out of site.
While in his self-destructive state, Tyrion laments the death of his father at his own hands, but only as the formality of his social stature and lost lordship. His murder of Shae was the one he actually mourned, regardless of her betrayal of him.
After being told this for two episodes, as he’s unable to return to a whore’s quarters, despite her invitation. We see, for the first time, Tyrion’s guilt and heartbreak manifest itself.
Of course, still being Tyrion, he later stands drunkenly urinating off a bridge, where he’s been spotted by an exiled Jonah Mormont and captured with the intention of being taken to Cersei, who still wrongly blames him for the death of her son Joffrey, as well as her father, which is at least accurate.
It’s an unexpected turn as several years of isolated plotlines are at long last converging, familiar settings are returned to with new perspectives and new ones are explored with gusto. The overhead shot of Volantis is particularly exhilarating, and an excellent use of the shows increasing budget on non-dragon effects & cinematography.
Despite some meandering missteps, namely Cersei’s scenes on the small council and dealings with the religious fanaticism of The High Sparrow, both coming off as needless filler, Game of Thrones seems to be finding it’s footing again. The cliffhanger ending all but assures the idling of the first two episodes is (we all hope) largely behind us.