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TV Review: Political Plotting Dominates 'Breaker of Chains' as Season 4 of 'Game of Thrones' Moves Past the Purple Wedding

Photo of Ben Travers By Ben Travers | Indiewire April 20, 2014 at 9:57PM

The gears are turning in 'Game of Thrones' as families begin plotting their plays for the Iron Throne.
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Emilia Clarke in front of her growing army on "Game of Thrones."
Macall B. Polay/HBO Emilia Clarke in front of her growing army on "Game of Thrones."

After the shocking events of last week's purple wedding, "Breaker of Chains" served as a reminder of who's really ahead in the game of thrones. Lord Baelish was unveiled as the cuprit/hero who orchestrated Joffrey's death. The Lannisters' weaknesses were exposed on multiple levels, both personal and as intended keepers of the crown. Prince Oberyn showed his worth as a potential dragon slayer. The Wildlings stirred things up to tempt the Night's Watch out of Castle Black, and Daenerys Targaryen continued to build a loyal and massive army with freakin' dragons as back up. More concerning than who's got the edge in an upcoming battle for the ages (this has to happen, right?) is the dismal status of Tyrion Lannister, who seems to have given up hope after losing his freedom, his love, and soon (maybe?) his life.

After picking up the very second we left off with Cersei shrieking over the body of her dead son, we don't see Tyrion again until more than halfway through the episode. Calmly residing in the dungeon, Tyrion looks like a defeated man even before garnering the knowledge to properly frame his predicament. His loyal squire Podrick tells him his wife has fled the city, casting him in an even more suspicious light than he was already in, and most of his allies have been denied access to speak with him before the trial. Even Podrick won't be around after refusing to turn on Tyrion and now being ordered to flee the city to safety. In one of the more touching moments on the show, Tyrion exclaims "I will not have you dying for me," before stopping him as he leaves to pay him sincere thanks. "There has never lived a more loyal squire," Tyrion says.

Daniel Portman as the loyal Podrick.
Helen Sloan/HBO Daniel Portman as the loyal Podrick.

The fate of Tyrion -- honestly, the main concern at this point -- is looking quite dire. Tywin, his own father, is stacking the deck against him, choosing an ally who will echo whatever he's told as the second judge and a new partner for the third slot. Tywin's meeting with Oberyn featured an excellent back and forth between two men intent on getting what they want, and both quite close to doing just that. Oberyn wants to kill Tywn, who he blames for the unsightly death of his family, but is seemingly won over by the promises of a man as untrustworthy as every man making promises on "Game of Thrones." Oberyn doesn't appear foolish enough to blindly follow Tywin, even for a position on the new king's small council and a promise of "justice" for his family. He'll have his own agenda in mind come Tyrion's trial, but how that will affect the Master of Coin's fate is unclear.

Tyrion's last hope appears to be his brother Jaime, the only person requested by the prisoner who wasn't explicitly denied access. Jaime, though, isn't the man he was a week ago. He's become the insolent, incestuous knight who shoved Bran out a window and conceived the demon spawn named Joffrey (not literally demon spawn, but close enough). After earning some much needed love over the course of his own humbling comeuppance as a prisoner, Jaime returned to his original awful self this week. It's bad enough he raped Cersei -- literally, enough, please -- but to do it next to the dead body of their son added unnecessary layers to this incestuous relationship I never dreamed possible. Not forgetting (because that's impossible) but setting aside for a second the diegetic consequences of the loathsome affront, it seemed to have no reason for happening outside of the show's never-ending need for revulsion. Jaime was in a good place and on the right path. He wasn't tempted. He's been frustrated, certainly, since losing his hand, but the coping process is too long removed to blame this deplorable decision on long dormant trauma.

From a writer's perspective, the action seems explicable only by three purposes. One is the aforementioned "Game of Thrones" tradition, a preference for the repugnant shown time and time again through gruesome deaths, rewarding unworthy characters, and repeated rape of named and unnamed women. In terms of story, though, it seems more likely the writers are forging a connection between Tyrion and Jaime to create drama one way or the other. Either Jaime's immense misconduct will serve to explain the betrayal of his brother -- he's fallen off the wagon and thus continues a downward spiral back to the man who shoved Bran Stark out a window -- or his choice to defend him, set up as an act of redemption, perhaps even persuaded to do so by Brienne, who loves him as the man who fought a bear to save her life. I don't know what's going to happen (and please, stop telling those of us who watch the show to just read the books), but I do know Jaime raping his sister needs to result in something more than the end of their weird relationship. Right now, I'm hoping for his death, though that wouldn't bode well for Tyrion.

The Wildlings begin the siege.
Helen Sloan/HBO The Wildlings begin the siege.

To close out "Breaker of Chains," we were reminded of two more imminent threats. The first is the Wildlings, whose ghastly pillaging of a town in an ill-fated effort to coax the Night's Watch from Castle Black was as gratuitous as Jaime's earlier actions. "No one boils a potato better than your mom," says a father to his child, the man's last words before an arrow pierces his skull with a sickening thud. Was this meant as comic relief? The death of a father who just wanted to have dinner with his family? I hope not, but no other explanation seems plausible. Throw in Styr making a young boy watch his parents' gruesome demise while promising to eat their bodies only added to the unsettling depiction of what otherwise felt like a throwaway scene. Yes, the Wildlings are bad news. Yes, Styr is a cannibal. Yes, we got that from the last few episodes. The Night's Watch deciding they have bigger problems to deal with -- protecting the idea there's more of them than there are -- only underscored the unwarranted nature of the cannibalistic desecration. 

The same cannot be said for the episode's closing minutes featuring the welcome arrival of Daenerys Targaryen and her army of freed slaves at the walls of Meereen. While her mission was rather redundant for the viewer (we've probably seen Denerys build her army a dozen times in as many episodes), it feels like a necessary inclusion to properly illustrate her character and building power. Trash talking followed by a challenge between warriors resulting in a quick death isn't exactly groundbreaking writing -- the whole thing was very reminiscent of "Troy" -- but writers and co-creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have proven experts in crafting compelling action and this was no exception. If it works, it works. This did, especially with the launching of broken slave collars into a city of armed slaves. Daenerys again serves as a ray of light in a sea of darkness. Her desert settings are literally awash with bright light, but her mission seems to be based in a place as close to purity as George R.R. Martin allows. While it was a wise choice by director Alex Graves and writers David Beioff and D.B. Weiss to make Daenerys' story the last one we see (as often is the choice), it doesn't quite erase the harrowing memories of objective obscenity from earlier in "Breaker of Chains." 

Criticwire Grade: C+

This article is related to: Game of Thrones, Game of Thrones, HBO, HBO , Television







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