Game of Thrones Moment of the Week: “Eastwatch”

The Moment: Tyrion and Varys talk about serving Targaryens

Setting the Scene: After Tyrion watches Daenerys burn her enemies, he returns to Dragonstone and shares a drink and some deep conversation with Varys.

Why It’s Awesome: I know, I know—But Katie, Jon Snow petted a dragon and Kit Harrington’s eyes filled with tears of awe and how can that not be your moment of the week?! Don’t get me wrong; I have re-watched that moment many times since Sunday and have come to appreciate the nuances in Harrington’s performance more and more each time. (Jon Snow is just such a good and decent human being that sometimes I cry about it—and by sometimes I mean all the time.) However, the moment I can’t stop thinking about was a quiet conversation about two people that could very well be about the world we’re actually living in—if you take out the mentions of dragons—and that’s when Game of Thrones is at its very best.

In a week where inhuman acts of cruelty were sadly not just the stuff of fiction and the idea of sitting back silently as people do horrible things in the name of “reclaiming” their place has been on everyone’s mind, this moment feels even more powerful. Although it was specifically about these two men and their relationship to the rulers they’ve served, it felt disturbingly universal in light of recent events in the United States.

“I’m not the one doing it.”

That refrain from Varys will haunt me just like it should haunt everyone who watched this episode. Although he may not have been the person who killed the supposed traitors, he was complicit in their deaths because he did nothing to stop Aerys. Conleth Hill is always brilliant, but he was especially captivating in this scene, showing that Varys will always feel a deep sense of guilt and responsibility over what happened under his watch. You can feel the weight of that refrain—“I’m not the one doing it”—in Hill’s pained delivery, and you could also feel his sense of fear that he’s watching it all start to happen again.

The men who served Aerys Targaryen—especially Varys and Jaime Lannister—bear incredible psychological scars from that time in their lives. While Jaime tried to ensure that history wouldn’t repeat itself by attempting to kill Daenerys, Varys has taken a different approach—trying to guide Daenerys on a different path than the one her father had taken. So it’s understandable that this news of what she did to the Lannister army and to the Tarly family would bring back horrible memories for him and conjure up a deep sense of anxiety that history could repeat itself.

“I’m not the one doing it.”

If that refrain showed us anything, it’s that silence makes you complicit. You can tell yourself over and over that you can’t control what people in power do, but that’s no excuse not to speak out and take action when you know something is wrong. Varys sees himself as complicit in the deaths of so many because he allowed himself to believe it was out of his hands. But as he reminded Tyrion, it’s his job to make his queen listen, to make her see reason, and to help her make the right choices. And I’m sure I wasn’t the only person who felt like Varys’s speech about the responsibilities of an advisor when a leader is doing awful things felt just as applicable to Washington, D.C., as it did to Westeros.

At a time in both the world of Westeros and the world away from our television screens in which the stakes are high and the lines of right and wrong are clearly drawn, this scene served as a reminder of what can happen when people watch those in power do terrible things but fail to speak up and fight back.

“I’m not the one doing it.”

No matter how many times you tell yourself that, it never absolves the guilt. Just ask Varys.

Honorable Mentions: Jon pets Drogon, Jon and Daenerys say goodbye, Jon meets Gendry, Davos bribes the soldiers, the “wight capturing crew” assembles

Game of Thrones Moment of the Week: “The Spoils of War”

The Moment: Arya and Sansa reunite

Setting the Scene: When Arya comes home to Winterfell, she shares a quiet moment with her sister.

Why It’s Awesome: I will always have a soft spot for the complex relationship between Arya and Sansa Stark. I have a younger sister, and people have always separated us into the “girly older sister” and “tomboy younger sister,” which made it hard at times for us to find common ground as young kids. But as we grew up, we came to learn that those stereotypes and differences in interests meant so little in the grand scheme of things. When you’re family, it doesn’t matter how different you may seem, your roots are the same, and they connect your stories forever.

Arya and Sansa are the last Starks left (since Bran has basically lost all sense of his former identity), so to see them finally reunite after so many seasons of following their separate journeys was incredibly cathartic. But what I loved about their reunion scene was that it wasn’t immediately filled with relief and joy; there was a tension there that I wasn’t expecting but was actually the perfect choice for their dynamic. Knowing how close Maisie Williams and Sophie Turner are in real life, I have to give them a lot of credit for playing their initial interactions with pointed restraint. These two characters were never close, and they didn’t exactly have a happy parting. So for them to cry happy tears and tell each other all they’d been through wouldn’t have been true to their characters. Instead, Arya didn’t really return Sansa’s initial embrace, and they seemed unsure what to say to each other. There was happiness and relief there, but it was understandably guarded.

However, things began to soften when they talked of their father. When Sansa mentioned that everyone who knew him was dead and Arya replied, “We’re not,” a warmth began to spread between them. Because Arya was right—their father’s legacy lives on in them. No matter what they’ve gone through, they’re still alive, and as long as they’re still alive, House Stark is still alive. It was a reminder that they’re family, and at the end of the day, that’s what matters most.

There was still some believable uncertainty and hesitation between them—like when Sansa laughed at Arya’s very real list of names of people to kill—but as they spoke of their mutual hatred of Joffrey and the hard roads they’d traveled alone, they felt more like sisters than perhaps they ever have. There was a quiet understanding between them when they spoke of the long stories that brought them back home. They didn’t pry (unlike Bran’s super creepy mentions of Sansa’s rape); there was a depth of understanding between them that showed they both understand that the other has faced traumas of her own that are best left unspoken.

Williams and Turner played those last interactions in the crypt with a level of mutual respect that was actually far more beautiful than any tearful reunion would have been. When Arya remarked to Sansa that their stories aren’t over, I felt a swell of hope that I don’t often get to feel when I watch this show. They get to write the next chapter in their story—in the story of the Stark family—and I hope we get to watch them write it together.

The realistic ebb and flow of awkwardness and affection in that scene made their second hug—filled with genuine emotion—feel incredibly earned and powerful. (It was the first moment of the season to make me cry.) It was a moment between two sisters who, on the surface, could not appear more different but who, at their core, have always been connected. They get to choose how their stories go from this point on, and that hug seemed to be a sign that—at least for this moment—they’re choosing to make each other a part of their story. In a season where family ties and loyalty seem to be playing more important roles than ever, it was beautiful to see the bond between these two sisters strengthen even over the course of one short scene. After all they’ve been through, they need allies they can trust, and it seems they might have found that in a place neither would have expected years ago—each other.

Honorable Mentions: Brienne watches the Starks, Arya and Brienne spar, Bran sees straight through Littlefinger, Jon counsels Daenerys, Daenerys and Missandei have a moment of “girl talk,” Drogon and the Dothraki make their Westeros debut (featuring Jaime experiencing some very painful flashbacks to another Targaryen who wanted to “burn them all”)—basically this entire episode was one phenomenal scene after another

Game of Thrones Moment of the Week: “The Queen’s Justice”

The Moment: Olenna Tyrell has the last word

Setting the Scene: After the Lannister army takes Highgarden, Jaime goes to Olenna Tyrell to deliver the queen’s justice. However, Olenna still has some final truths to tell.

Why It’s Awesome: I know many people find the battle scenes on Game of Thrones to be some of the best parts of the show, but I would trade all the cinematic battles in the world for great conversations between excellent actors. Luckily, that’s exactly what we got in “The Queen’s Justice.” There were so many fantastic monologues and dialogues in this episode that it was the hardest so far to choose my favorite moment to single out. I toyed for a long time with choosing Jon and Tyrion’s perfect reunion and subsequent discussion of brooding, and part of me wanted to discuss Lena Headey’s insane (in more ways than one) talent in Cersei’s big scene with Ellaria Sand. However, sometimes sentimentality gets the better of you, and if this is the last time I get to write about how amazing Diana Rigg has been as Olenna Tyrell and how brilliant that character is in general, then I’m going to write about it.

My favorite thing about this scene was that it was a match made in heaven between a great actor and a great reactor. No one delivers lines like Rigg, and no one reacts with the subtlety and depth of Nikolaj Coster-Waldau. Watching his expressions change as Olenna touched on some hard truths about Jaime and Cersei was a true treat, and it gave us some real insight into the depth of his delusions. Jaime Lannister is a man of action who has become completely stuck. He believes his love for his sister means he must stay with her—until death do they part—no matter what she’s done. That’s all he’s ever known of “love”—a toxic kind of codependency that has him convincing himself that she’s going to bring peace and all will be well soon. But once Olenna reminded him that he could be honest with her because she was never going to reveal his secrets, he showed in small ways that he was finally being more honest with himself, too. The completely flat way Coster-Waldau delivered his line about Jaime knowing Cersei will be the end of him showed how much he’s given up even thinking about who he could be without her. And the flash of anger that sprang to the surface when Olenna told him he’d regret spreading the “disease” of Cersei was a very interesting tell; Jaime wants to live in a make-believe world where Cersei is going to bring peace, and if he can’t convince himself of that, then everything could fall apart inside of him. There’s an emptiness to Jaime right now that’s tragic to see from such a formerly lively and impassioned character—almost as if the more powerful Cersei gets, the more he loses his sense of self. But there is still some honor in him, telling Olenna that he didn’t want her to die a painful death, despite what Cersei preferred.

Instead, Olenna was painlessly poisoned, which provided the perfect parallel for her to exploit in her final moments. Yes, it was fun to watch her pick apart Jaime and Cersei’s relationship and to call Joffrey what he truly was. But the best part of the entire scene was her slow, detailed description of Joffrey’s death to Jaime—preying on his helplessness in the moment of his son’s death before dropping the mic and finally saying the words out loud: “Tell Cersei. I want her to know it was me.”

Even in her own death scene, Olenna ended up with the upper hand. She played her last card at exactly the right moment, and Rigg gave that moment all the gravitas it deserved. This show is all about power, and Olenna died making a true power play. She never begged for her life or asked for forgiveness. She owned her crimes and admitted to never losing sleep over them. And she confessed to perhaps her biggest crime with a twinkle in her eye and an unwavering voice.

If you’re going to die on this show, that’s the kind of death scene you hope you get. And it was the kind of death scene a legend like Rigg deserved.

Honorable Mentions: “This is Jon Snow…He’s King in the North,” Jon and Tyrion reunite, Sansa proves herself to be a smart ruler of Winterfell, Tyrion narrates the attack on Casterly Rock, Cersei taunts Ellaria

Game of Thrones Moment of the Week: “Stormborn”

The Moment: Nymeria finds Arya

Setting the Scene: After learning from Hot Pie that Jon has taken control of Winterfell, Arya decides to head home to the North instead of traveling to the South to kill Cersei. Along the way, she finds herself surrounded by wolves—until a familiar face arrives.

Why It’s Awesome: Stark reunions are awesome—whether they’re between two people or between people and direwolves. After so many seasons of watching this family get ripped apart and come close to reuniting only to be ripped apart again, even the briefest moments of togetherness have an immense power. And although this reunion was certainly brief, its emotional payoff was huge. The connection between the Starks and their direwolves represent a connection to the selves they once were, and that connection was honored in a powerful way in this scene.

In order to talk about the emotional power of this moment, we need to talk about the power of Arya deciding to turn her horse around and head North after learning that Jon took Winterfell. In that moment, Arya decided to put love above hate, family above vengeance—and I have wanted her to do that for so long. All that was missing was for her to return home with her beloved Nymeria by her side, but we all know nothing on this show can ever be that perfectly happy.

Instead, Arya came to the same conclusion a lot of characters seem to be coming to this season: After you leave home, you can’t be expected to come back and return to exactly the same life you had before. No matter how much Arya (and the audience, by extension) wanted Nymeria to go with her, we know the truth; she doesn’t belong in Winterfell. She’s been on her own for too long. She has her own pack now.

Arya gets it, and I’m sure there’s part of her that knows the same will ultimately be true for her. She wasn’t meant for a domesticated life in Winterfell. She knew that long before her life took her far from home. And that’s what made Maisie Williams’s reaction to Nymeria so beautiful. That small, sad smile after Nymeria walked away said it all; Arya knows that some creatures have to make their own way and can’t be expected to be anyone’s pet. The gentle, loving way she whispered, “That’s not you,” harkened back to her telling her father “That’s not me” when he talked about her being a proper lady. Arya and Nymeria have always been meant for more than a simple, safe life at home.

This scene’s bittersweet tone was clearly foreshadowing Arya’s inability to be content with a life in Winterfell—even if that means a life with people who love her. However, the emotion Maisie Williams packed into this moment opposite her direwolf makes me cry just thinking about an Arya/Sansa or Arya/Jon reunion. Even if the joy doesn’t last, these actors are good enough to give us the smallest moments of beauty in a seemingly endless sea of hard times and harsh punishments. And if nothing else, this scene was worth it just for the sheer goosebump factor of hearing Arya say the words “I’m going home” out loud.

Honorable Mentions: Missandei and Grey Worm get intimate, Jon threatens Littlefinger, Jon and Tyrion speak kindly of each other, Olenna tells Daenerys to be a dragon

Game of Thrones Moment of the Week: “Dragonstone”

Welcome (or welcome back) to a feature that used to be a staple here at NGN: our weekly discussion of my favorite moment in each episode of Game of Thrones! I took some time off from this feature because the show itself had become too violent for me to handle on a week-to-week basis, but I have returned from that hiatus feeling more excited than ever before to talk about the world (and especially the women) of Westeros with all of you!

The Moment: A call for equality in the North

Setting the Scene: As Jon settles into his role as King in the North, he makes a proclamation that all Northerners—including girls and women—should be trained to defend themselves and their lands. When his judgment in this matter is called into question, Lyanna Mormont makes the case for the women of the North to be trained to fight for what’s theirs.

Why It’s Awesome: “Dragonstone” was a reminder that Game of Thrones is at its best when its female characters are allowed to be women of action—exactly the kind of women Jon calls them to be in this moment. This scene was the perfect example of the fact that this world may have its rigid gender norms, but it is also populated by women who defy those norms outright or use those norms to change the game from the inside.

The three main women in this scene—Lyanna, Brienne, and Sansa—all represent women who are willing to fight for what matters to them. As Lyanna made her case, I was once again struck by the thought that I’d follow that girl into battle today if she asked me. The confidence and strength she possesses are so clear that no man—no matter how old or how powerful—would dare challenge her. And I loved the way the camera cut to Brienne during her speech. The slight smile on Gwendoline Christie’s face said it all; in this girl, Brienne sees a kindred spirit, and in this place, she has finally found somewhere to belong. She’s no longer a freak; she’s exactly who Jon wants the women of Winterfell to aspire to be as they train. The affectionate pride Christie showed in her reaction to Lyanna’s speech was such a small but powerful nod to the fact that Brienne may be a warrior, but she has a gentle and kind heart—a heart that is devoted to protecting and serving other strong women.

I also liked that the camera cut to Sansa when Lyanna talked about not letting other people fight for her. Just because Sansa isn’t skilled with a sword, that doesn’t mean she’s not a fighter. She uses a different skill set—words and appearances, courtesy and strategy—but she is every bit as fierce as Lyanna and Brienne. And as she proved by bringing the Knights of the Vale to the Battle of the Bastards, she’s not one to sit around and let other people fight her battles, either. She may not hold a sword or a bow, but she is still a force to be reckoned with.

It makes sense for Winterfell—under the watchful eye of Jon—to be a place where women are treated as equals in combat. Jon has always been a champion of strong women—even as far back as his close relationship with Arya before everything went to hell. And once he fell in love with Ygritte, he became even more convinced that women could fight just as fiercely in battle—and die just as bravely—as men. Jon’s time with Ygritte changed him forever, and it changed him for the better. Her spirit was in that room with Jon when he promised to put a sword or a spear into the hands of every person in the North, and she would have been proud of him in that moment.

“Dragonstone” allowed the women of Westeros to shine in all their complex, fierce, and frightening glory. Just as Lyanna, Brienne, and Sansa are all strong women but none show their strength in exactly the same way, the other prominent female characters in this world are also uniquely strong and powerful, and this episode focused on each of them as women with an incredible amount of agency who now face the question of what to do with it. Jon gave all the Northern women a kind of agency by proclaiming that they will learn to fight for themselves, but the main female players in this episode didn’t need any kind of proclamation to do so. From Cersei and Sansa to Arya and Daenerys, these women play the game on their own terms and won’t back down when challenged—whether it’s by an enemy (Arya slaying all the Freys in the episode’s most badass moment) or by someone who they believe means well but doesn’t know the world the way they do (both Cersei and Sansa dealing with brothers who disagree with their methods of trying to protect their worlds). These women are fighters in every way a person can be—using their swords, their wits, their sexuality, and any other weapon at their disposal to get the job done and done their way. And when one achieves a victory (like Daenerys finally coming home in one of the single most emotionally satisfying and cinematically beautiful scenes in the series), it’s her victory—not anyone else’s.

As the final battlefields are set and the final chess pieces are moved into play, one thing has become crystal clear: The women of Westeros will fight for what’s theirs, and they’re not to be underestimated.

Honorable Mentions: Arya takes out all the male Freys, Sansa shuts down Littlefinger, Euron pledges his two good hands to Cersei, Sandor deals with his guilt, Daenerys finally comes home

Game of Thrones Moment of the Week: “The Watchers on the Wall”

The Moment: Ygritte dies in Jon Snow’s arms

Setting the Scene: As Ygritte and her fellow wildlings storm Castle Black, she sees Jon Snow for the first time since they went their separate ways. Their chance meeting in the middle of the fierce battle has fatal consequences for Ygritte.

Why It’s Awesome: Ygritte brought out the best in Jon Snow—she was the fire to his ice. In the show (as well as in my experience with the books), Jon came alive during his time with Ygritte; she showed him how little he really knew about the world, she challenged him, and—most importantly—she made him happy. In that small moment when he sees her again before her death, we’re given a brief reminder that the fullest and most open Jon Snow smiles have been reserved for Ygritte.

However, Game of Thrones is no fairytale. In this story, the man and woman see each other again, but moments later the woman is killed by an arrow to her heart. The tonal shift from tentative reunion to heartbreaking farewell captured the spirit of grief and shock I felt in the book so well. On a show with so many relationships based on lies and power plays, Jon and Ygritte truly loved each other, and I was so happy to see their relationship’s final moments treated with the tenderness and sense of importance they deserved.

Continue reading

Game of Thrones Moment of the Week: “The Mountain and the Viper”

The Moment: The Red Viper faces the Mountain in a fight to the death to determine Tyrion’s fate

Setting the Scene: Tyrion’s trial by combat leads to a long-awaited showdown between Oberyn Martell and Gregor Clegane. During the fight, Oberyn demands that “the Mountain” admit to the crimes Oberyn knows he’s guilty of: the rape and murder of his sister Elia and the deaths of her children.

Warning for those who haven’t seen the episode: These videos (especially the second one) contain EXTREMELY violent, disturbing images.

Why It’s Awesome: I’ve been awaiting this scene with equal parts excitement and dread since I first read it in the books, and those feelings only intensified when we were first introduced to Pedro Pascal’s incredible take on Oberyn in this season’s premiere. While this showdown wasn’t as long as I would have liked (especially compared to its length in the book), it was still every bit as compelling as I’d hoped it would be.

This was Oberyn’s shining moment, and Pascal ran with it. I was captivated from the moment Tyrion saw him with Ellaria before the fight even began. There’s something so engaging in Pascal’s portrayal of Oberyn’s confidence; there’s nothing smarmy about it, which is a difficult balance to achieve. I think it helps that we finally got to see exactly how he got his reputation as the Red Viper with his spear skills. The choreography of the spear work was stunning. There was this graceful power to it that reminded me perfectly of a snake. And it was such a beautiful counterpoint to the brute force of the Mountain.

Continue reading

Game of Thrones Moment of the Week: “Mockingbird”

Once again, this is Heather filling in. Let me know what you all thought of the episode this week and how you think the season in general is going!

The Moment: Oberyn visits Tyrion

Setting the Scene: Oberyn goes to visit Tyrion in his cell. He tells the story of meeting Tyrion as a baby then volunteers to be his champion.

Why It’s Awesome: Tyrion’s three visits in his jail cell all highlighted various relationships in his life. First was his relationship with his brother and his shared dislike of their father’s pressures. Then came Bronn, a loyal friend but not one stupid enough to die for him. Finally came someone who is most certainly not a friend to the Lannisters, but like Jaime and Bronn, capable of seeing Tyrion as a human rather than a monster.

Pedro Pascal and Peter Dinkledge are fantastic scene partners. Throughout the season, Pascal has shown himself to be a compelling presence on-screen and Dinkledge has always been celebrated for his work on the show, so putting them together in such a simple manner really allowed them to shine.

Continue reading

Game of Thrones Moment of the Week: “First of His Name”

The Moment: Cersei and Oberyn talk about their daughters

Setting the Scene: Cersei visits Oberyn to talk about her daughter Myrcella, who has been sent to Dorne. As they talk, she learns about his eight daughters, and they discuss the way neither of them could save the ones they loved, despite all the power they’re believed to possess.

Why It’s Awesome: “First of His Name” was quite possibly my favorite episode of this Game of Thrones season so far. And I think much of my love for this episode comes from the performances we were treated to throughout. This was especially true in the scenes in King’s Landing, where little plot movement happened (beyond Tommen being crowned king), but I was reminded that this part of the cast is so talented that I would watch most of them talk to each other about nothing of plot importance for a whole episode because they would still manage to give it weight.

In an episode anchored by great acting, no one was better than Lena Headey. From her opening scene with Natalie Dormer to her conversation with Charles Dance, I found her to be the perfect scene partner in “First of His Name.” But my favorite moment of Headey’s came opposite another actor who seems to be an excellent partner for anyone he shares a scene with: Pedro Pascal. Both Headey and Pascal bring so much weight to even the most seemingly innocuous pieces of dialogue. In this scene, there is such understated tension between both of them but also an odd but beautiful kind of understanding that comes from both of their roles as parents to daughters in a world that is often too cruel to little girls—a fact both of them know very well.

Continue reading

Game of Thrones Moment of the Week: “Oathkeeper”

I sincerely apologize to any of you who were looking for my post about last week’s episode. I found some of the elements of that episode (and the way they were explained by the director) too difficult for me to write about, especially because I interpreted Jaime and Cersei’s interactions in that episode in a way that was different from how the director seemed for it to be intended (as I think many did). I have decided to pretend that the moment existed as it did in the book (since that seems to be the intention of those involved). If you’re still looking for an excellent analysis of last week’s episode, I can direct you to frequent NGN contributor Heather’s take on it.

The Moment: Jaime sends Brienne on her quest

Setting the Scene: After Cersei tells Jaime she wants Sansa Stark dead, he tasks Brienne with keeping his oath to the late Catelyn Stark to find Sansa and keep her safe. To help Brienne on her journey, Jaime gives her a new suit of armor, a squire (Pod), and the Valyrian steel sword given to him by his father, which Brienne names Oathkeeper.

Why It’s Awesome: Last week’s controversial episode of Game of Thrones reminded us that there are very few healthy relationships between men and women in Westeros, and usually those relationships are based solely on power (hence the prevalence of rape on this show—including the horribly gratuitous scenes at Craster’s Keep in this episode). But “Oathkeeper” served as a moving reminder that there is at least one relationship between a man and a woman in this world that is based on true, mutual respect, and that’s the relationship between Jaime and Brienne.

The scene where Jaime gives Brienne Oathkeeper has been one of my favorite scenes in the entire A Song of Ice and Fire book series since the moment I read it last year. I didn’t think it was possible that Game of Thrones could actually make me love it more. But I guess I underestimated the power of very pointed and specific changes made to enhance the emotional impact of the scene, as well as the performances of Gwendoline Christie and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau.

The whole tone of the scene was much warmer than it was in the books, and it was infused with a very real sense of equality between them. That changed the tone of the scene somewhat from the hesitancy in the book, but I think that actually served the show well. The depth of emotion between these two characters has always felt even more intense on the show than in the books, and I think that comes from how good Coster-Waldau and Christie are at conveying a host of emotions simply through their eyes.

Continue reading