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Sum of its parts
Jon and Ygritte are the highlight of the episode, keep your eyes on them! There's also a piece of history that is revealed from their dialog that adds weight to their mission. I even liked the scene between Robb and Jeyne. The love scenes in this season as a whole are done particularly well actually. This is probably to compensate for dulling our senses with all the gratuitous yet equally unnecessary sex/extreme violence scenes that are all over the place in this show. Unfortunately these are present in this episode as well, but at least they don't go the full way (which I was afraid they would at one point, unsurprisingly involving Theon).
The evolution of Brienne and Jaime are a delight to watch... at least they were in the beginning, but by the end of it I felt some writers forgot about these characters entirely and had to come up with lines for them just before the actors went on cameras. There is also a near escape sequence that was done particularly poorly, bearing witness to the show's budget constraints and human retardation. 'How could a man with only 1 hand climb that?' - I found myself asking. 'Damn with the limitations of human nature and physics!' - said every Hollywood director that ever lived, ever!!
Bronn's character - damn, that guy likes reminding us that he's a good actor. The banter between him and Tyrion is fun, as usual, while the little man has some tough decisions ahead of him, judging from what they set up for him this far. Let's hope those end up being executed well.
Sansa is still hanging around with Margaery; I guess some things never change. Bran, Hodor, the Reed brothers and that wild-ling lady (I always forget her name) are still heading North, but suffice to say is they're probably not going to meet any familiar faces anytime soon. Arya is still mad on the Brotherhood. Melisandre is still weird as... the night sky would be with two moons? No complaints there. Sam and his new friend with the baby are completely absent in this episode bo-hoo.
Daenarys is fierce as ever and those dragon, ho-boy. They know how to portray their dragons in this show! She's kind of reached a halt, at this grand-city called Yunkai, that was build on the back of many, many slaves and well... she's a bit unhappy about that. I'm curious to see just how much she gets held back by this new challenge :D
Sadly there was no scene featuring Cersei, either. So where do we get our dose of barely contained rage, by a thin shell of cynicism you wonder? Look no further than Tywin's scene with Joffrey. It's always nice to see two badass blondes - each in their own way - duke it out for the best.
So, what is my final take on this episode: sub-par. I was left at the end with a taste of bitter bile in my mouth and that wasn't due to the coffee I had while watching it. You see, even though I praised individual scenes, the sum of its parts is not greater than the whole, surprisingly. The motivation behind the characters seem a bit shallow, probably because they are so many at this point and so far apart from each other... It's like all the major characters' strengths rely on one- another, but as soon as they have an individual scene to perform, they act bewildered. And you know which are the main characters of the show I'm talking about: they are all the surviving ones, from the 1st season with few additions. Also, it's like they are not given enough care from the directors and the producers involved, like their personal journey and evolution does not matter, unless it involves another sex/extreme violence scene. Well, I CARE about these characters' evolution arcs and I WANT to see them being well-portrayed damit!
The set-pieces are great - GoT crew! - and the amount of detail are charming to the eye, but... look, if this show wasn't sourcing Martin's masterpiece material, I would not be watching this. The 1st season was great and I can find absolutely no criticism: it was raw and powerful. With the 2nd and 3rd season, I feel like I am forced to watch the limitations of the productions's team, botching big action scenes and generally showcasing an unfocused view of their product. If you want to sell this to me AGAIN then you will have to figure out a direction for the story and not just do stuff 'because George Martin said so'. Books don't work the same as stories meant for the screens. Where's your sense of independence that season 1 thrived on and drove the show to success?
*Sigh* I miss the good old days... does that make me old?