3.2 “Dark Wings, Dark Words”
Written by Vanessa Taylor
Directed by Daniel Minahan
Commentary by Jack Gleeson (Joffrey), Natalie Dormer (Margaery), Vanessa Taylor, and Daniel Minahan
Here’s a new twist—I have almost nothing to say about this episode. For all the stuff that happened, for all the introductions and reappearances of really great characters, this episode was . . . boring. It had a couple of great moments, but didn’t feel like it hung together at all well. Some of that might be because it ended up with a bunch of scenes that were originally written for 3.1, and because the scenes were pretty seriously rearranged in editing.
This doesn’t mean y’all get out of listening to my opinions on some of this episode. There’s three things in particular I really want to get to.
The first is Joffrey and Margaery. A side effect of aging Margaery up is giving her a greater role in the politics involved in the Tyrell-Lannister alliance marriage. She’s old enough to understand the stakes and to be actively involved in getting Joffrey on her side. This new Margaery is incredibly politically astute and figures out exactly the right way to get everyone on her side (except Cersei). She figures out pretty quickly exactly what Joffrey’s passion is (killing things) and uses it to begin a long-game kind of seduction. I enjoy this Margaery; later they turn her into a catty mean girl (not to mention a child molester, but we’ll get to that when we get to that). It’s easy to believe that at this point in the show, she truly enjoys Sansa’s company and helping the poor, even if these things are also politically expedient. I really enjoy Natalie Dormer and I like that, if they had to age Margaery up that far, they got Dormer to play her. She does carry some baggage, coming from playing Anne Boleyn on The Tudors, but that particular kind of actor baggage can sometimes be beneficial (there’s whole studies on the effect of fans following an actor from one show to another and the residue of the first character hanging on the actor. Nathan Fillion comes immediately to mind).
You knew we were going to have to talk about Theon. The show takes a wild departure from the books by actually showing his ordeal onscreen. In the books, he disappears for a while and we get only hints that he’s even still alive. When we see him again, he’s a broken shell of a man. Martin uses that gap to create shock value—from the strong, stubborn, kind of asshole of a man Theon was, to the groveling, terrified, white-haired Reek. The show decides to go for the more obvious and basic shock, showing us “medieval” torture. I seem to remember some discussion that just losing Alfie Allen for a season wasn’t something the showrunners wanted to do, but that argument falls apart when they lose Isaac Hempstead Wright for a season later (probably because his storyline isn’t interesting, violent, and sexy. It’s just traveling and character development). Personally, I think Martin’s approach was better; it kept some suspense going and showing the end result of all that torture without showing the process had a much greater impact (in my opinion) than actually showing it.
The entire reason they showed us Theon’s torture seems to be that they wanted the violence and the shock value. Vanessa Taylor says that she suggested maybe not torturing Theon quite so much, and says that David (Benioff) and Dan (Weiss) “didn’t go for that.” She, of course, went looking for “authentic” medieval torture devices and came up with the instep borer, which she found on an unnamed “medieval torture website.” Many people, more informed than me, have done a lot of work on the realities of “medieval torture” and how overblown it is in the modern imagination and how a lot of the torture devices ascribed to the Middle Ages were actually entirely made up in the Victorian era and later, so I’m not going to go into that here, but this is a way that the show falls into at least one of the common traps of medievalist thinking about the Middle Ages.
Bonus: let’s talk about that scene with Catelyn talking to Talisa about Jon Snow. This, again, ignores a whole lot of political stuff in favor of defining Catelyn entirely as a woman and a mother. Sure, she’s worried about Bran and Rickon (it’s worth mentioning that by this point in the books, she already “knew” they were dead). But she decides to beat herself up for not being able to love Jon Snow because she was so jealous of the “other woman.” This goes radically contrary to her characterization in the books and to the realities of illegitimate children in a patriarchal society that practices primogeniture. Catelyn’s real problem with Jon is that he’s a danger to her own son’s right to inherit Winterfell from Ned, because Jon is technically older than Robb. She would never have even considered having Ned legitimize Jon because that would mean Robb wouldn’t inherit. In fact, when Robb brings it up so that if something happens to him, Winterfell would still have a Stark to inherit, Cat argues strenuously, even though at that point she “knows” Bran and Rickon are dead, and Robb’s death would leave only Sansa and Arya as possible heirs. While in the north, either one of them could become Lady of Winterfell, Cat was raised in the south, where women are valued far less, especially as leaders.
I’ll have much more to say about inheritance and legitimacy when we get to the end of season six, and I’m sure I’ll have much stronger language to say it with.
RIP: Hoster Tully (off screen)
Next week: Daenerys makes a deal. Craster is an ass (again). The Blackfish makes his grand entrance.