Game of Thrones 4.03 Review: “Breaker of Chains”

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The Hound and Arya’s unfortunate host wasn’t lying: in the wake of the second disastrous wedding in Westeros, “Breaker of Chains” presents a number of growing storms in every direction. As the kingdom continues to splinter (and the ever-present threat of winter draws closer), the various characters of Game of Thrones find themselves entering (or planning to enter) unknown territory, where the past comforts of “safety” and “protection” (even at the most sacred of ceremonies) no longer exist.

“Breakers of Chains” begins where “The Lion and the Rose” ended, with the death of Joffrey and Tywin’s subsequent plans to shore up matters at the Capitol. He pulls Cersei’s last remaining boy (her daughter long gone from Westeros) Tommen under his wing, re-establishing the same line of order that existed before, with a new mind to begin re-uniting the seven kingdoms, now that the sadistic, counterproductive Joffrey was no longer in the way. Specifically, his attention is turned to Dorne – the one house even Aegon couldn’t unite under the Iron Throne, the only family able to maintain some semblance of independence in a world ruled by dragons. With Cersei lurking over by Meereen, Tywin’s taking no chances – again reminding us all why he’s an infallible war commander, and an unforgiving paternal presence in his family.

Everything Tywin’s doing in this episode is about taking power; and that theme dominates the rest of the episode, be it the slaves of Meereen, The Hound and his unfortunate host, or Stannis’s growing desperation to stake his claim to the throne (something he thinks is a little bit harder to do, without the help of the blood from a king’s bastard). As the best hours of Game of Thrones do, “Breakers and Chains” doesn’t just juggle numerous stories, but finds a common thread running through all of them, nailing the theme home with harrowing, powerful scenes of characters grasping what power they can: none more unsettling and significant than Jaime’s assault of Cersei, the hour’s most primal example of the often-unseen horrors of a power-hungry male taking what he thinks is rightfully his.  As uncomfortable and seemingly out-of-character that scene is, it’s wildly effective in driving home the point of the episode: when someone is determined to take what they want, the results are bound to be ugly (see: The Hound cracking his host’s head on a wall and stealing his money, because “a dead man doesn’t need silver”).

For the most part, “Breaker of Chains” is gathering its breath in the wake of Joffrey’s murder, masterfully engineered by Littlefinger to simultaneously create a power vacuum at the Capitol, frame Tyrion for it (pitting the Lannister family, who are supposed to have the strongest of bonds, against each other even more), and force Sansa to his side, an asset I imagine Littlefinger won’t hesitate to cash in later on. And while his plan is already in motion, “Breakers and Chains” does a great job meticulously planting the seeds of others: while Snow fights with the leaders of the Night’s Watch (who mention they have less than 100 men to defend the wall) to send men north to silence Craster’s killers, Davos is about to get the Iron Bank involved in the war for King’s Landing, asking for a loan (I’d assume; he can read, but he may not be privy to the sheer amount of debt the throne currently has to the bank) to assemble an army to travel south with. As always, everything in “Breaker of Chains” is about the pursuit and perception of power – and the moral corruption that comes inherent with those trying to seize it (the cannibal leader telling that poor kid “I’m going to eat your dead mama” coming in a close second to the Jaime/Cersei scene).

Other thoughts/observations:

– Margarey points out her bad luck with husbands – Olenna, ever the optimist, points out the position they’ve both put her in, and how the next husband can only be better than the first two.

– The Hound mentions he plans to become a sellsword, which only means one thing: he’ll never become a sellsword. That’s just how things work in Game of Thrones.

– an interesting little subplot is Samwell’s attempts to “protect” Gilly, which only seem to place her in trouble, and alienate her from the one person she’s grown to trust.

– Davos: “[Stannis] doesn’t appreciate the finer points of bad behavior.”

– Game of Thrones is great at showing how badass certain characters are: Daario’s domination of his opponent outside Meereen (as well as Dany’s symbolic barrels of broken chains) are prime examples of this, closing the episode on a high note when the slave holding the broken neck chain turns around to his master.

[Photo via Helen Sloan/courtesy of HBO]

Since becoming a television critic in 2011 with Processed Media, Randy Dankievitch currently writes for TVOvermind and PopOptiq (formerly Sound on Sight), where he's also the host of The Mid-Season Replacements Podcast. An Ithaca College alum, he's also written about TV and other media for SLUG Magazine, Geeks Unleashed, and other random corners of the Internet.
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