State of Play
The choir goes off. The board is laid out thusly.
Lions of King’s Landing: Tyrion Lannister, Cersei Lannister
The Lion, Jaime Lannister
The Direwolf, Catelyn Stark
Dragons of Qarth: Daenerys Targaryen
Bears of Qarth: Jorah Mormont
Direwolves of the Wall: Jon Snow
Lions of Harrenhal: Tywin Lannister
Direwolves of Winterfell: Brandon Stark
The Direwolf, Robb Stark
Direwolves of King’s Landing: Sansa Stark
Direwolves of Harrenhal: Arya Stark
Kraken of Winterfell: Theon Greyjoy
Flowers of King’s Landing: Shae
Dogs of King’s Landing: Sandor Clegane
The episode is in seventeen parts. The first is three minutes long and is set in Winterfell. The opening image is Theon in bed.
The second is three minutes long and is set north of the Wall. The transition is by family, from Bran and Rickon to Jon Snow.
The third is six minutes long and is set in Harrenhal. The transition is by image, from Ygritte as a prisoner to a man hanging.
The fourth is one minute long and is set in King’s Landing. The transition is by family, from Arya to Sansa Stark.
The fifth is one minute long and is set in Qarth. The transition is by hard cut, from a close-up of the Hound to Daenerys walking through Qarth.
The sixth is two minutes long and is set north of the Wall. The transition is by family, from Daenerys Targaryen to Jon Snow, who knows nothing.
The seventh is three minutes long and is set in the Stark camp in the Riverlands. The transition is by family, from Jon Snow to Robb Stark.
The eighth is two minutes long and is set in Winterfell. The transition is by family, form Robb Stark to Bran, in abesntia.
The ninth is two minutes long and is set in Qarth. The transition is by hard cut, from Maester Luwin being led away to Daenerys and her empty cages.
The tenth is three minutes long and is set north of the Wall. The transition is by family, from Daenerys Targaryen to Jon Snow.
The eleventh is five minutes long and is set in King’s Landing. The transition is by family, from Jon Snow to Sansa Stark.
The twelfth is six minutes long and is set in the Stark camp in the Riverlands. The transition is by family, from Cersei to Jaime Lannister. It features the death of Alton Lannister and Torrhen Karstark, killed by Jaime Lannister.
The thirteenth is four minutes long and is set in Qarth. The transition is by image, from Jaime Lannister’s carnage to Quaithe’s. It features the death of most of the ruling council of Qarth.
The fourteenth is two minutes long and is set in the Stark camp in the Riverlands. The transition is by hard cut, from Pyat Phree to a Stark banner serving as establishing shot.
The fifteenth is three minutes long and is set in King’s Landing. The transition is by family, from Jaime to Cersei and Tyrion Lannister, and by dialogue, with Tyrion’s message mentioning Tarth.
The sixteenth is four minutes long and is set in the Stark camp in the Riverlands. The transition is by family, from Tyrion and Cersei to Jaime Lannister.
The seventeenth is seconds long and is set in Winterfell. The transition is seemingly by family, from Catelyn to Bran Stark. The final image is of Theon, realizing that the correct answer to his riddle was not, in fact, “hang the remains of two burnt children on the ramparts of Winterfell,” but rather “chess.”
The title, of course, refers to the Kingslayer, Jaime Lannister, making his first appearance in six episodes. This is by some margin the longest period of absence of one of the initial main characters in the entire history of play. In the context of a seventeen-part episode, the six minute segment that is basically a two-hander in which he manipulate his cellmate and then murders him borders on outright decadence. The only other characters to get a scene that long are Arya and Tywin, and it’s the only scene for those characters in the entire episode. (It is, of course, brilliant, with Arya’s “most girls are stupid” and Tywin’s wary enjoyment of her being, as usual, a highlight.) Jaime, on the other hand, gets another four minute scene towards the end, and another two minute scene in between in which he’s a secondary character. Which is to say, he has both the longest single scene and the most screen time in the episode.
But this takes place in an episode consciously framed by Theon in his pursuit of Bran and Rickon. And although the title drop goes to Jaime (or, rather, Catelyn talking about Jaime), it must be said, it applies just as well to Theon, whose reckless selfishness careens him progressively towards disaster even in the form of seeming victories. It’s not even that he makes any decisions that are strategically unwise as such. As he points out, the stakes for him if he loses Bran and Rickon are significant. Thus far at least his only real error in terms of taking Winterfell is simply the fact that he should have sacked the castle and left instead of trying to hold it, as will be pointed out shortly. In other words, ironically, it is the presence of honor that dooms Theon, a point tacitly raised by Jaime as he casually deconstructs the underlying notion.
Framed like this, the rest of the episode ripples outwards. Jon Snow and Ygritte provide a dialectical discussion of freedom in which the synthesis is a bunch of angry Wildlings with swords, but where Jon’s position is one of honor. The ongoing Robb/Talia plot is similarly focused. And, of course, Jorah, who gets the biggest practical moment of honor in the episode as he manages to find a way to serve his Khaleesi, but who has this juxtaposed with Quaithe’s reminder of his disloyalty. (Left relatively unclear in the show, but eventually explicit in the books is the fact that Jorah sent another report to Varys while absent last episode. It would appear the show at least intended to follow this, since Varys has gotten word of Daenerys’s dragons next episode, but when Jorah’s treachery is eventually revealed the dispatch from Qarth is not mentioned, whereas in the books it is one of the factors in Daenerys’s decision to exile him.)
Qarth also marks the moment when the theme that has governed this stretch of play is finally made explicit, with Xaro Xohan Daxos bluntly saying, “Those on the margins often come to control the center.” Qarth’s strange mixture of genuine magic (in the form of Pyat Pree and Quaithe) and a stiffly artificial pastiche of the game has been building up to being used as a metonymy for the larger board for a while, and here it finally becomes so. What’s particularly interesting about Qarth, however, is that it exists completely outside the dualism that otherwise defines the board. The House of the Undying is not straightforwardly allied with light or dark, fire or ice, life or death. Nor is Quaithe. The former’s magic is dismissed as the work of a charlatan even within its society; the latter is unseen and exists in the shadows, seemingly related to a level of carnality (implied by the transition into Quaithe’s scene). It would appear to be entirely marginal. Which is to say, it would appear to be entirely dangerous.