(The eighth and final season of Game of Thrones debuts on April 14th, marking the beginning of the end for HBO’s cultural touchstone. Over the years, we’ve covered all 67 episodes of the series, and are revisiting those original reviews in our new retrospective series titled, “Winter is Coming”. We’re pulling these straight from our vacuum sealed digital time capsules, so step into the virtual time machine with us and read our impressions from way back! With the benefit of hindsight, there is plenty of reasons these reviews will raise some eyebrows)
Is there are doubt at this juncture that women are the true rulers of Westeros, at the very least in commanding our attention, if not outright color of law? All through “Dark Wings, Dark Words” (a deeply foreboding title for an episode in which much is discussed but not a whole lot actually happens), Game of Thrones spends most of its time catching us up with the female denizens of the Seven Kingdoms, often making their male counterparts come across a little on the dull or at least undistinguished side in the process.
Of all the pairings displayed in “Dark Wings,” Robb and his wife Talisa are by far the blandest. The King-of-the-North’s chief character traits remains a stubborn insistence upon honor, only without his father’s dramatically intriguing sense of naivete, and Talisa hasn’t displayed much character at all beyond having a calming effect on Robb’s anger. They’re both totally upstaged this week by Robb’s mother, Lady Catelyn, who blames her mistreatment of poor bastard-baby Jon Snow, the target of her rage at Ned’s affair, for the terrible fortunes that have befallen her house and land. It’s probably the episode’s single most powerful, resonant scene.
At King’s Landing, the easy vote for “most improved” can be cast for Margaery Tyrell, who’s present for several of this week’s most important sequences. The most impressive of these finds her in the chambers of the one and only King Joffrey, played by Jack Gleeson with delightful relish as always. After receiving word from Sansa, after assurances given that she won’t be punished for her honesty, that Joffrey isn’t exactly the knight-in-shining-armor sort, Margaery improvises, and before too long she’s identified the true way to his heart: sadism. It’s clear that the moment she asks to hold his big crossbow and fantasize about hunting helpless animals doubles as the moment she secured his creepy, creepy affections. No one said the path to the Iron Throne wouldn’t be disquieting. (It’s all far more interesting, too, than the relatively useless sequence we get between Tyrion and Shae, which seems to exist only to inform us that Tyrion is aware of Shae’s efforts to look out for Sansa’s well-being. OK, then?)
In an episode mostly devoted to (very, very slight) piece-moving, the closest thing we get to an honest-to-goodness action beat is a duel between Jaime and Brienne. As awe-inspiring as it is to watch the huge Brienne wear down the mighty knight through pure blunt force (it’s pretty clear she has him under control by the time they’re interrupted by Robb’s squad), it’s a little distracting that we know neither character is in grave physical danger at that moment. To see either fall in this context would be tremendously anticlimactic, and it’s not in keeping with the way the show handles such developments.
“Dark Wings, Dark Words” highlights the female cast but otherwise boils low.
What really cements “Dark Wings” as one of the series’ less eventful or viscerally exciting hours (unless you’re a fan of the book who’s been eagerly awaiting such developments) is that we get a huge dose of new characters to process, That includes the mysterious brother-and-sister dual act of Jojen and Meera Reed (Thomas Brodie Sangster and Ellie Kendrick), who join up with little Bran and inform him of his status as a warg, a supernaturally-gifted human who can commune with nature and view specters of the past, present, and future. It also includes Margaery’s plainspoken grandmother Lady Olenna Tyrell (Diana Rigg, thankfully breaking up the solemnity with wit and class), and a band of men called the Brotherhood Without Banners, headed up by Thoros of Myr (Paul Kaye), and Mackenzie Crook (Gareth!) as Orell, another warg, and Locke (Noah Taylor), the man who takes Brienne and Jaime hostage (apparently) at the end of the episode. And there’s probably more I’m forgetting.
After last week’s outing promised a season that might dole out the new developments and characters at a measured pace, rather than stack that at our feet all at once, “Dark Wings” is a little unwieldy, to say the least. Here’s hoping we gain a little forward momentum, plot-wise, next week, to help ease our way through this increasingly convoluted, sprawling landscape.