S3E08 focuses on Dany and the Second Sons in Essos, the wedding between Tyrion Lannister and Sansa Stark in King's Landing, and the evil things Stannis will allow Melissandre to do in order to get to the Iron Throne in Dragonstone. In fact, this episode was nicely paced, because these three stories dominated the action, with only two more locales shown: Arya and The Hound somewhere in the Riverlands and Sam and Gilly with nameless baby boy travelling beyond The The Wall.
The episode opens with Arya realizing that her captor (the hated Hound) is asleep and she finds a huge stone to bash his head in with. However just as she is poised to drop it and kill him, Clegane opens his eyes and says to go ahead and try but if she doesn't succeed he will break both her wrists. Arya quickly realizes it's not worth the risk. Soon afterwards we discover that The Hound is not taking Arya back to King's Landing and a horrible fate at the hands of the Lannisters but instead thinks he'll get more money from the Starks who are attending the wedding of Arya's uncle Edmure Tully to one of the Frey girls at the Twins a bit down the river. The look on Arya's face as she realizes she may actually be reunited with her mother and brother is heart-breaking, because (as a book reader) I know that happy event is not going to happen. Happiness is not a large part of Arya's future.
The episode closes with Sam again showing his incompetence (intentionally, I think) by not starting a fire in a deserted house he and Gilly are seeking shelter in during the night. Gilly suggests that they can keep warm by sharing their body heat under the covers and Sam's eyes light up lustfully. However, of course before that can happen we hear strange noises outside and it turns out an Ice Zombie (i.e. White Walker) is near. Amazingly, the cowardly Sam rushes towards the beast and it throws him aside easily and shatters his sword by merely touching it (presumably due to the extreme cold). The Walker then moves towards Gilly and the baby and Sam rushes towards the deadly creature again, this time with the sharp black stone (which from the books we know is obsidian) and plunges it into the Walker's back as Gilly screams and the White Walker explodes spectacularly into ice and water. This is the first time we have seen a White Walker destroyed in the television series so it is a big moment in the story. (Of course, this being Sam, he ruins the moment by dropping the weapon and he and Gilly run screaming into the night, chased by what looks like a thousand crows.) Roll credits.
In between, the three main stories are told well, although the one most likely to have the most significant impact on the course of the larger tale is probably the one with Melissandre seducing Gendry. While the two are having sex she ties him up and puts leeches on his body (including his engorged penis!) to obtain the "king's blood" (i.e. the blood of Robert Barratheon) running in his bastard veins. Stannis uses the leeches filled with his brother's son's blood in one of the Red Witch's eerie fires and calls for the death of three people: Robb Stark, Tywin Lannister and Balon Greyjoy. This is a good marker for the audience to see how powerful the Lord of Light is if anything happens to these three important people. Thanks to an intervention by Davos, Gendry is not killed for his blood, but this "demonstration" of the R'hllor's power is put together by Melissandre instead. That being said, things do not look too good for Gendry. Since this is a variation from the book I don't really know what is Arya's former travelling companion's future.
However, the story which is most interesting (and executed the best) in this episode is the first wedding of Season 3 (and first in a series of weddings that occur in the book A Storm of Swords): the union of Sansa Stark and Tyrion Lannister. Sansa has been repulsed by the Lannister dwarf since she first met him way back in Season 1 and the drastic change from thinking she was going to be wed to her crush Ser Loras Tyrell (a.k.a. The Knight of Flowers) to the reality of marrying The Imp has got to be soul-crushing. Even so the actual wedding is done very well and reveals numerous schisms among the powerful Lannister family. The odious King Joffrey serves as the father figure in the wedding because he is the titular "Father of the Realm" and gives Sansa away (which must be even more galling since Joffrey had her own father killed). Joffrey takes away the stool some kind person had placed there for the diminutive Tyrion to use during the actual saying of the vows and then leads the laughter when the wedding couple's height differences leads to awkwardness. Joffrey goes even further by threatening to rape Sansa on her wedding night, saying that she is just trying to get a Lannister baby inside her and doesn't matter which Lannister gives it to her, and that he would have two of his Kingsguard hold her down. Later on, Tyrion threatens to "geld" Joffrey and Joffrey explodes, looking ready to sentence his uncle to death when his grandfather Tywin smooths the waters. The best part of the scene was the Queen of Thorns remarking to her grandson Loras that when he marries Cersei, instead of being Margaery's brother, he would also be her father-in-law (since her brother is marrying her fiance's mother!). The familial connections this would make are complicated and amusing. Cersei has an important moment when she explains the significance of the song "The Rains of Castermere" which is about the slaughter of "the second richest family in the Kingdom" to Margaery Tyrell, noting sweetly ("The Tyrells are the second richest family in Westeros, aren't they?") Cersei goes on to rebuff Margaery's gambit that "I want us to be like sisters" by saying "If you ever mention anything about us being sisters again I will have you strangled in your sleep" and later when her alleged fiance, Loras (Margaery's brother) approaches Cersei she snaps at him, rebuking him as well and demonstrating how upset she is at the loss of control over events in King's Landing.
There were many highlights of this episode
- Sam The Slayer! Sam Tarly finally showing some spunk and slaying the White Walker. In a significant deviation from the book, he not only loses the obsidian weapon, but the incident occurs with only Gilly as a witness, which nullifies the impact it had on Sam's "street cred" among the fellow members of the Night's Watch in the books.
- Bitchy Cersei. As Queen Regenct Cersei Lannister Lena Headey is doing Emmy-worthy work (as is Charles Dance as Lord Tywin Lannister, her father) but in S3E08 she had a short but very important scene and nailed it, communicating menace and bitchiness in very effective ways.
- Naked Gendry! Of course the nudity of Game of Thrones is becoming legendary but they have started making sure that they are being even-handed about it by showing male nudity more. The sex scene between Gendry (Joe Dempsie) and Melissance (Carice van Houten) went on two long, but there's no question that both actors are handsome physical specimens.
- Daario? Daario! We were finally introduced to Daario Naharis, who in the books we know becomes a love interest/crush object of Dany. He was played by a male model-looking guy named Ed Skrein, but in my mind the guy who they chose to play the leader of the Second Sons should have been cast as Daario instead.
- Arya's Face. The look on Arya's face when The Hound tells her that he is taking her to the Tully-Frey wedding to ransom her back to her family is absolutely heart-breaking.
Not very many low-lights in this episode. The choice to focus on three main stories and book end those with two other scenes is an excellent format which I hope the show returns to in the future.
Overall, S3E08 was definitely better than S3E07, and very close to the quality of the three best episodes, (S3E03, S3E04, S3E05) and probably equivalent to S3E06. All in all, the wait for the next episode, S3E09 (which will be aired next Sunday due to this week's Memorial Day holiday) will be excruciating! The final episode on Sunday June 9th will be breath-taking!