Just as the aftermath of last season's Red Wedding had each character in the Seven Kingdom's dealing with their place in the new Lannister hegemony, the murder of Joffrey exploded that burgeoning stasis, and our assorted cripples, bastards and broken things have found themselves adrift in a world where nobody's sure exactly who's on top any more.
How do they deal with this? For most characters in "Breaker of Chains" it's by hunkering down and thinking of the long term, no matter how much pain each decision causes them in the present.
Major spoilers below. Proceed at your own risk!
King's LandingWe start only moments removed from the end of last week's episode, as Cersei cradles Joffrey's dead body and screams for Tyrion's arrest. She wants Sansa in chains too, but the Stark sister is already well on her way out there, absconding with Ser Dontos through the alleyways of King's Landing.
The drunken fool leads her to a boat and commands her to get in – with one last Vermeer-worthy look back, she's gone from the city that's been her prison for the better part of three seasons.
They row until nightfall, when they come upon what can only be described as a freaky ghost ship. It's not haunted by the usual spirits, though, just the Ghost of Creepers Past: Littlefinger.
He takes Sansa aboard, telling her he'll be taking her somewhere safe. This would not be reassuring coming from Littlefinger in any situation, but it's even less reassuring after he commands his hidden crossbowmen to kill Ser Dontos "Money buys a man's silence for a time," he explains, "but a bolt through the heart buys it forever." No happiness lasts for long for poor Sansa Stark – she escaped one monster, only to immediately exchange him for another, smarter one.
The next day, Margaery and Olenna are dining in the Tyrell's official plotting garden, discussing how Joffrey's death affects Marge's role as queen. Margaery's fear would seem to remove her from the list of subjects, but her grandmother is cagier, explaining that the Lannisters still need them. However unpleasant it may be to have Cersei as an in-law, Olenna assures Margaery that "the next one" will be easier. As always, she's got a plan.
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At Joffrey's funeral, Tywin is using the occasion to give the new king a dissertation on leadership. You ever notice how people only tell you to stand up for yourself when you're not doing something they want? That's what's happening here.
Tommen guesses that a good king must be holy, just and strong. Not so, says papa Lannister. A good king must be wise – "wise' in this case meaning doing whatever Tywin says. Their interaction ends with Tywin promising to tell Tommen about the birds and the bees, and if we don't get Charles Dance delivering the sex talk this season I will throw away my screeners in revolt.
Cersei's standing vigil over Joffrey's body when Jaime arrives to pay his respects. He ushers the guards out of the sept and takes the occasion of the privacy to put the moves on his sister.
She rebuffs him, quite reasonable shying away from screwing her brother just feet from her dead son, but Jaime isn't having it. "Why have the gods made me love a hateful woman?" he asks, before raping her. It's a brutal scene that I worry might not read as assault for viewers conditioned to see Jaime as a hero and Cersei as a villain. But even if you see it as the crime it is, it's still hard to believe Jaime's actually doing it. We just sat through this guy's season-long redemption arc. Now he's a rapist?
In Littlefinger's brother, Oberyn Martell is interrupted from his soliloquy on the joys of bisexuality by the entrance of Tywin. Is this going to be an interrogation? Oberyn argues convincingly that he had no motive to kill Joffrey – "I do not punish the child for the crimes of his father, or his grandfather" – but that's not what Tywin's there for.
Instead, he wants Oberyn to serve as a judge at Tyrion's trial. In return, Tywin will make sure the Mountain faces justice for the murder of Oberyn's sister. The Dornishman considers it, and agrees. He's not happy about it, but Tywin assures him it's for the best. "We need each other," he purrs regally.
In his cell, Tyrion receives his first and only visitor: Podrick Payne. They both agree that Tyrion's been framed, but they're not sure who was behind the plot. The unfortunate Imp also rules out his sister: "I'm convinced Cersei had nothing to do with it, which makes it unusual as far as King's Landing murders go."
Pod reveals a mysterious stranger tried to bribe him to testify against Tyrion; he refused, which Tyrion realizes will spell a death warrant for the boy. He send the squire off, with instructions to fetch Jaime and then leave King's Landing immediately. Considering how low-key on the Game of Thrones totem pole Pod is, it's a surprisingly heartbreaking goodbye. Just look at this face:
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The RiverlandsArya and the Hound are continuing their buddy-cop shtick across Westeros when they're interrupted by the arrival of a kindly farmer. Once they identify themselves as House Tully supporters, the farmer takes them in.
Over dinner, he offers Sandor a job on the farm, promising he's got a cache of silver hidden away: "Honest pay for honest work." Will our heroes go straight? Not a chance: Arya wakes up the next day to the sound of a scuffle the Hound had knocked the farmer out and is stealing his silver. At Arya's scolding, the Hound reveals his peculiar worldview: In the long term view, the farmer will likely be killed by bandits, therefore he doesn't need his silver, therefore it's OK to steal it.
Arya calls him an unprintable word, but the Hound strikes back. "There are plenty worse than me," he growls. "How many Starks have they got to behead for you to learn that?"
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DragonstoneDavos Seaworth, the menschiest Lord in Westeros, is summoned to his king. Stannis has just found out about Joffrey's death and he is not happy. Why hasn't Davos made him king yet? Davos wants to hire sellswords, but the prospect of invading Westeros with an army of mercenaries does not appeal to the man who made his mistress birth a smoke-baby to kill his younger brother. Davos makes this exact point, but Stannis just seethes: "I'm running out of time. Which means you're running out of time."
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The argument gets our Onion Knight's brainwaves working, and it's a pleasure to watch Liam Cunningham play Davos thinking. He hits on a plan: Ask the Iron Bank of Braavos for help! Hopefully this leads to a 15-minute discussion of interest payments and APR financing in the next episode.
The WallA pleasant scene of agrarian life is interrupted by the arrival of the Ygritte, who shoots and arrow through some dad's head in full view of his kids. Tormund and the rest of the Wildlings show up and waste no time in slaughtering everyone in sight.
Don't root for the Wildlings, the show's telling us, no matter how cuddly they are! But Tormund and his gang pale in comparison to the Thenns, who remain as cartoonishly evil as the day they were introduced. The Thenn leader tells a little boy from the beginning he's going to eat his parents, then sends him along to tell Castle Black what happened.
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This has not been a good episode for our fan-favorite characters. The debate is interrupted by the surprise appearance of Grenn and Dolorous Edd, who tell the Night's Watch about the deserters at Craster's Keep. (The timeline seems messy here – didn't Sam tell Aemon this when he returned the Wall last season?) In a reversal of what he was just arguing, Jon immediately proposes riding out and killing the mutineers before they can reveal to the Wilding army just how weak the Night's Watch is. Realpolitik is a hell of a thing.
Meanwhile, Sam is trying to keep Gilly and her baby safe among the army of rapists, thieves and murderers who make up the Night's Watch. She's unconcerned, telling him that an army of men sworn to celibacy surely have better things to think about.
"It's the only thing they think about," he tells her. To protect Gilly, Sam gets her a job as a housekeeper at a brothel in Mole's Town, a ramshackle hovel down the road from Castle Black. Gilly sees this as a slight, but Sam tries to convince her it's for her own good. She's goes full Peggy Olson on him: Isn't he lucky, to have decisions.
MeereenAfter an hour of guilt, compromise and self-doubt, it's refreshing to catch up with Daenerys on the righteous warpath against slavery.
We've got clear heroes and villains here, and the show ditches its muddy greys and browns to reflect that. Dany's finally arrived at the gates of Meereen, a walled city where the slavers look down at her from their garden parties like they're bankers at Cipriani.
Meereen sends out its champion, a charming equestrian who insults Dany and pisses in her general direction. She ignores the insult, but Jorah councils her that words aren't meaningless when half of a city is listening. It's time to pick a champion to face the rider in single combat. Grey Worm, Barristan and Jorah all volunteer, but Dany conveniently tells them all they're too important to the war effort to spare. What a coincidence, this leaves only Daario Naharis. The Jack Sparrow of Westeros makes short work of the Meereenese champion and Dany saunters over to him, impressed.
Now it's time for war. The Unsullied roll out their catapults, while Dany delivers a speech to the inhabitants of Meereen. But this time it's different: Instead of addressing the slavers, she's talking directly to the slaves – words are not meaningless if half a city is listening. She implores them to take their freedom for themselves, while her catapults launch enormous barrels into the city. The barrels explode, and it turns out they're full of slave collars, taken from the slave children the Meereenese strung up outside their city. Dany started as Abe Lincoln, now she's John Brown.