Opening with Jon Snow (Kit Harington) and the Wildlings making their way through the stunning vistas glimpsed at the close of the previous installment. It’s a whole new world for the Wildings; one of rolling green hills and spectacle, seen reflected in Ygritte’s eyes, with Snow as her guide to all she sees for the first time.
There is a beautiful innocence in how Ygritte (Rose Leslie) approaches this new and distant land. For all her feistiness, she is childlike in her wonderment, this highlighted in some fabulous dialogue between the two.
As she gapes at a nearby building on their journey, she turns and asks “Is that a palace?”. He looks at her with disbelief, coloured underneath with a deep affection. “It’s a windmill.”
It is these moments which fill the romance with credence. They are so different, so diametrically opposed to each other; yet there is a real warmth there, tangible and strong.
Emilia Clarke plays Daenerys Targaryan once more in a beautifully regal light, meeting envoys from Yunkai; a walled city ripe for the sacking. It is a fine offer; ships, gold and future help promised. In many ways, an offer she cannot refuse. But refuse, she shall.
Clarke has acted her role perfectly from the series’ inception; being gradually transfigured from an innocent, cowering creature, to the wise and noble liberator who stands before us today, forthright and strong.
This is what makes her journey such an engaging one. In a sea of those grasping for selfish ends, she shines; taking the path of most resistance, if it means freeing slaves in her path. Shrewd and cocksure, she handles the meeting with grace and aplomb; an inner strength resilient.
Against odds insurmountable when first we met, she has achieved much. It remains to be seen how Yunkai will answer her counter-offer, but in either case, she is well on her way to a triumphant return to the Seven Kingdoms.
Another character with a fabulous story arc is Arya Stark (Maisie Williams). A diminutive figure, she is filled to the brim with bravery and pluck, not to mention an absolute inability to keep her tiny mouth shut. There is much to admire here.
She takes the Brotherhood Without Banners to task over the selling of Gendry (Joe Dempsie), then flees into the blackest night, alone. When she runs straight into The Hound (Rory McCann) and is captured, there is a sense of palpable distress felt.
The image of a young girl, held silenced in the arms of the disfigured warrior is striking, and filled with ghosted threat; though she makes for a valuable hostage, so her fate is far from sealed.
Alfie Allen performs admirably, portraying a man taken to the very edge of madness. Theon Greyjoy’s predicament changes somewhat this week, as he is taken down from his cross, to be tended to most dutifully by two beautiful, wild, promiscuous ladies.
Of course, this is nothing more than a new visitation of cruelty and perplexing sadism by his mysterious captor, redefining the word torture. As we leave him, he looks certain to be inhumanely circumcised a few decades too late.
The interplay between Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) and Jamie Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) is magnificently touching this week. He sets off for King’s Landing alone, leaving Brienne in the hands of Lock.
As he leaves, he talks of his debt to her, and when she asks him merely to keep his word on the Stark girls’ safe return as payment, he acquiesces.
Could The Kingslayer be truly a changed man, after his ordeal? When she bids him farewell, she uses his name for the first time, and while he says nothing, a noticeable swallow and wetness of the eyes can be seen.
From mortal enemies with something beneath disdain for each other, this has been a fantastically subtle developing relationship. When he learns her ransom was refused (Lock intends to hold out for more, believing Lannister’s previous elegant lie about Tarth’s sapphire wealth), he uses every means at his disposal to ensure her safety.
The Kingslayer’s first selfless act makes for a thrilling conclusion to what is the strongest episode in recent weeks.
If a series does its job well, it should make the audience hunger for more as the credits roll. At times, so dense of plot and slow of pace is Game of Thrones, that it demands its audience plant crops, then wait while they grow. The resulting hunger is consuming.
When the harvest eventually comes, such bounty and magnificence as is hoped for, would be fit for the seven gods themselves. We will feast like kings on the dramatic, a softly lilting tale of men and women; of gods and beasts resplendent.