If the opening episode of Season Three of “Game of Thrones” was mostly talking, Episode Two is mostly walking, though it sets a brisk pace and there’s a lot to see along the way.
From last week’s series of admirably-acted tense encounters between pairs of negotiators or antagonists, we hit the road this week with several additional configurations of our favorite characters, all marching off toward future momentous plot upheavals.
The youngest refugees from the destruction of Clan Stark, Bran (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) and his brother Rickon (Art Parkinson), as they head North across a moor toward the wall to find their half-brother Jon Snow of the Black Watch, meet two key supporting characters from the novels, Stark loyalist siblings Jojen and Meera Reed (Thomas Brodie-Sangster and Ellie Kendrick), whose introduction is handled elegantly. Jojen is another dreamer of prophetic “greendreams,” which enables him to make what could be the series’ coolest entrances to date, drifting out of the mist in the middle of one of Bran’s dreams.
So far, the Reeds look like unambiguous heroic paragons. When her motives are challenged by the always alert and suspicious Osha (Natalia Tena), Meera comes out with a classic declaration of altruistic heroism: “Some people will always need help. That doesn’t mean they aren’t worth helping.” In Westeros, of course, things are rarely what they seem, especially when they look this good. We are sure there is more going here than meets the eye, and will await further developments.
Elsewhere,my favorite “Game” character, Gwendoline Christie’s towering Brienne of Tarth, still has Jamie Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) firmly in tow, trudging toward King’s Landing on what we already know is a misguided mission, which adds to this thread a strain of pure existential pig-headedness that makes Brienne seem even more magnificent — and her contemptuous flick of the sword at the end of her skirmish with Jamie on the bridge seals the deal. Gwendoline has the off-hand charisma of a born action star.
In all of the road scenes, including a third involving Arya Stark and her companions, we have a sense of trajectories converging. That’s the structural implication of a storyline that has several groups of people on the move at the same time. And it’s an absorbing hike, even though none of these travelers reach their destination over the course of the episode.
Meanwhile, most of the heavy plot lifting the episode is being done back at King’s Landing, in the sequences involving Sansa and the Tyrells and the preparations for Joffrey’s wedding. Without them, “Dark Wings, Dark Words” would be the show’s second episode in a row that was almost entirely expositional.
In these scenes, Diana Rigg’s matriarch Lady Olenna Tyrell is introduced, questioning Sansa (Sophie Turner) closely about the Joffrey’s suitablity as a husband for her granddaughter Margery (Nathalie Dormer), eliciting the blurted revelation that dear Joff is anything but. The women in this scene, along with Shae (Sibel Kekili), enconsed as Sansa’s maid for safe-keeping by Peter Dinklage’s besotted Tyrion, are most of the visible political scheming in this episode, though to what end has yet to emerge.
As with everything else in source-novelist George R.R. Martin’s bob-and-weave storytelling, however, as faithfully adopted and artfully enhanced by Benioff and Weiss, voyages rarely follow a direct path or end up quite where we expect.