This review may contain spoilers.
It’s been a long journey for Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke). That meek, young girl from the Season 1 premiere is nowhere to be seen now. Repeatedly tested by tragedy and plagued by doubts about her readiness to take the Iron Throne, Dany emerges from this episode with her proud Targaryen heritage in full bloom. Look out Westeros!
"Game of Thrones" continues to build momentum, with “And Now His Watch is Ended” ranking as the best episode of Season 3 yet.
Desperate to raise an army to conquer her homeland, Daenerys turns to the slavers of Astapor, who promise 8,000 elite troops known as Unsullied for the price of one dragon. That of course is too steep of a price. Much to the relief of Ser Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen) and Ser Barristan Selmy (Ian McElhinney), Daenerys has no intention of paying it.
Instead, she makes the trade and then commands her dragons and her new troops to attack the slavers, razing them and their business of flesh trade to the ground. It was such a simple betrayal, but it was invigorating to watch.
Betrayal also finds the Night's Watch and Jeor Mormont (James Cosmo), who hopes to keep his surviving men -- facing White Walkers, starvation and unrelenting cold -- calm and safe at Craster's (Robert Pugh) small keep until their wounded are recovered enough to be moved back to The Wall. But Craster's plentiful supply of food, which he fails to share, causes dissension in the ranks, leading to Mormont's murder.
This event reveals a flaw in the recruitment process of the Night's Watch; with such a significant criminal presence in their ranks, this fighting force is severely hobbled by an indifference to discipline during times of stress.
It also marks a serious complication for the Night's Watch primary mission of protecting the northern boarder of Westeros. With no significant organization left at The Wall, Westeros is ripe for invasion, whether from wildlings or the dreaded White Walkers.
Meanwhile, in King's Landing, the crown remains oblivious to events in the far north. Politics is the only game that matters here.
Margaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer) continues her masterful manipulation of young King Joffrey Baratheon (Jack Gleeson) as her sharp-tongued grandmother, Lady Olenna Redwyne (Diana Rigg), works with Lord Varys (Conleth Hill) to arrange a marriage between Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) and Loras Tyrell (Finn Jones). The marriage is designed to meet two goals: to give House Tyrell a link to Northern power and to prevent Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish (Aidan Gillen) from attempting to marry her for that very reason.
Sansa should leap at the Tyrell offer. Littlefinger has already shown his true colors during her father's arrest.
Finally, Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) continues to suffer humiliation at the hands of Roose Bolton's (Michael McElhatton) men. But as he considers giving up and accepting death, Jaime finds strength in the words of Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie), who encourages him to reject thoughts of suicide.
In the space of an episode, Jaime and Brienne have found a mutual respect that should spin an facinating story arc.
POINTS OF INTEREST
1. While the ranks of the Night's Watch succumb to infighting after Mormont's death, Samwell Tarly (John Bradley) uses the opportunity to flee with Gilly (Hannah Murray) and her newborn baby. This will be a true test for Sam's mettle, especially with the White Walkers prowling the woods.
2. Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen) is apparently a captive of House Bolton -- who are bannermen of House Stark -- after being tricked by them into thinking he had escaped their dungeons. The ruse pays off, with Theon revealing the truth behind his attack on Winterfell. But a question remains: If this is House Bolton, why have they not reported Theon's capture to Robb Stark (Richard Madden)?
3. Beric Dondarrion (Richard Dormer), who we last saw in a small scene during Season 1, appears as the leader of the Brotherhood Without Banners. These bandits seek to punish anyone mistreating the smallfolk of the realm. Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) and Gendry (Joe Dempsie) may have finally found a good group to hide out with.
The entire closing scene of Daenerys earning her army of Unsullied was a riveting turn of events that cements her character as the one-true person who deserves that troublesome Iron Throne. If the political elite of Westeros had witnessed this stunning event, they would have surely found a quick desire to bend-the-knee. End series. Roll credits.
Also, Mormont and Selmy could only look on in bewilderment at her actions, but by the time she won her army they beamed with admiration. Great stuff.
Now Daenerys just needs a good-sized fleet.
Once again, the political maneuverings of House Tyrell are a blast to watch, with Margaery and Lady Olenna showing an impressive ability to get what they want. Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) -- recognizing the fact that her family’s position is in serious jeopardy -- is forced to seek her father’s help to counter them. Good luck with that.
The meeting with Olenna and Varys was another highlight. Each of their words fly like precision arrows, giving us some of the best dialogue of the season. I can only imagine what the scene would have been like if Tyrion was added to the mix!
And yes, despite the fact it's still early in Season 3, you can almost see those golden Emmys glittering on the horizon.
WHAT DIDN'T WORK
Nothing. This was another great episode!
GIVING CREDIT WHERE CREDIT IS DUE
"Game of Thrones" stars Peter Dinklage, Lena Headey, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Emilia Clarke, Michelle Fairley, Maisie Williams, Sophie Turner, Kit Harington, Harry Lloyd. "And Now His Watch is Ended" was written by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, and it was directed by Alex Graves.
Season 3 is based on the first half of George R.R. Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" novel "A Storm of Swords."
"Game of Thrones" airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.
See our Season 2 episode reviews of "The North Remembers," "The Night Lands," "What Is Dead May Never Die," "Garden of Bones," "The Ghost Of Harrenhal," "The Old Gods and the New," "Blackwater" and "Valar Morghulis."
See our Season 1 episode reviews of "Winter is Coming," "The Kingsroad," "Lord Snow," "Cripples, Bastards and Broken Things," "The Wolf and the Lion," "A Golden Crown," "You Win or You Die," "The Pointy End," "Baelor" and "Fire and Blood."
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