Before every major battle, before every major character death, there is usually a scene that foretells it, if one is clever enough to recognize it. One of the things that makes Game of Thrones so great is that its physical action feels like a natural bubbling over of the deep wells of conflict that believably suffuse the series and the world. When Tyrion is able to rally the defenders of King’s Landing, it’s all the more satisfying because we have seen him being treated like the un-cool substitute teacher all of season 2. When Oberyn finally gets his chance to fight the Mountain, it’s all the more meaningful because we’ve seen just how passionately he wants vengeance and how the fates of our favorite characters rest on the outcome.
These are the moments that made our heads reel with questions and sit on the edge of our seats, even though there may have been nothing but silence and looks exchanged between the characters. Where the motivations of the characters are at odds or are played with and the action is personal and symbolic.
Honestly, this top ten was really hard to narrow down. There are so many great moments of wit from Tyrion, politicking from Tywin, and great shows of subtle force from so many characters that picking just ten was a major challenge. Here follows the most comprehensive and best moments of intrigue in chronological order from the Game of Thrones.
Cersei and the Game of Thrones
Poor Ned Stark.
Thinking that Robert shall kill Cersei’s children just as brutally if not worse than the Targaryen children if he finds out they’re not his, he approaches Cersei. He tells her that she ought to flee as far as she can with her children. By this point in the story we have some clue that King’s Landing is brimming with treachery and that it is firmly Lannister territory. But Ned definitely has no clue that it’s Robert he should be giving no-bull$#!& warnings to instead of Cersei.
The scene also gives us some insight into Cersei. We see her confess her profound disgust with Robert and his undying love for Lyanna Stark.
Ned says that not taking the Iron Throne for himself after Robert’s Rebellion was not a mistake, despite Cersei’s legendary line insisting otherwise. “When you play the Game of Thrones, you win or you die. There is now middle ground.”
Should Ned have taken the Iron Throne for himself? Did not taking it irrevocably doom him to be ensnared in the game of thrones that he had no real disposition to be good at? We’ll never know.
Tyrion Tests the Small Council’s Loyalty
Tyrion on the other hand had no delusions about King’s Landing. He’s knows full well just how treacherous the royal court can be on top of just seeing what befell the two previous Hands of the King.
There was actually a scene in the previous season when Tywin tells Tyrion that he will be hand of the King in his stead, about who to watch out for at court.
“And if you get so much as a whiff of treason from any of the rest, Baelish, Varys, Pycelle…”
“Heads, spikes, walls.”
So who does Tyrion play this little game with? Baelish, Varys and Pycelle of course. It’s a very cleverly shot scene, transitioning smoothly between the three stories and the three flies in Tyrion’s web. Pycelle is told Myrcella will be married to the Martells of Dorne, Varys to the Greyjoys, and Baelish to Robin Arryn.
And then Cersei confronts Tyrion about sending Myrcella to…..Dorne! DING DING DING! In the midst of routing out Cersei’s rat it can almost get lost just how much Cersei cares for her only daughter. One thing I’ve always been curious about in this scene is whether or not Tyrion was planning to send Myrcella to the Martells all along. And if so what made him decide to tell Pycelle that version of his ploy, the truth? Did he always suspect that Pycelle was the biggest boot licker in King’s Landing?
Seeing Tyrion smugly see through Pycelle’s lies is quite a lot of fun. It’s also telling to see that Varys is the only one who appreciates the cunning of Tyrion’s play, even if he had nothing to lose compared to Baelish or Pycelle.
Then of course there is Varys’s great lesson about the nature of power.
Arya Stark under Tywin’s nose
Arya finds herself captured by the Lannisters, though they don’t recognize her as the daughter of the traitor Ned Stark. Neither does Tywin Lannister himself when he’s critical of the wanton torture his men carry out at Harrenhal.
He appreciates the modest cleverness of Arya disguising herself as a boy. He’s even amused by Arya’s literacy and fabricated life story.
You get the sense that Arya enjoys conversing with Tywin on some level, even though you can see her thinking of moments when she might plunge a dinner knife into his neck or pick up any details of the war that her brother is waging.
It’s the moments where the conversational ease is threatened by lingering calls of “girl”, or when Littlefinger hold audience with Tywin that really ramp up the tension. It reminds us of just how precarious Arya’s situation is, that if she was ever found out, Tywin would probably leave her to the Mercy of Queen Cersei.
The most interesting takeaway that I always had from these scenes was that, since Tywin doesn’t know who Arya really is, and since she’s nothing more than a sharp servant, he kind of takes that as leave treat her pretty damn decently. It could have something to do with the fact that he’s surrounded by idiots and Arya keeps impressing him. But she’s not Jaime, with the weight of his eldest son and heir’s expectations on his shoulders. Or Tyrion, the shame of the house, or Cersei, the reckless and paranoid.
Without that dynamic, Tywin’s conversations with Arya are almost friendly, certainly compared to his conversations with his own family. Sometimes I think of it as hidden redeeming depth to Tywin, other times it makes me think of how Tywin prioritizes status and personal merit in all the wrong ways.
Daenerys bargains with Master Kraznys
Arriving in Astapor looking to nab and army, Daenerys is disgusted by the Good Masters Unsullied business from top to bottom. Perhaps more out of a desire to free the unsullied from such cruel masters, she returns to Master Kraznys and offers to buy them all.
We see Missandei’s diplomatic translation skills tested quite a bit as Kraznys continues to insult and mock Daenerys, thinking she doesn’t understand him. Then Daenerys pulls out the big guns.
“I have dragons.”
Jorah and Barristan, who’ve been wary of each other are united in this opinion, that sacrificing a dragon for an army of slaves is folly. But Daenerys has her mind set apparently. This is the first time in the conversation that Master Kraznys levels with Daenerys even if it’s only because it turns out she has something that’s priceless.
Daenerys is also shrewd enough to recognize Missandei’s worth, even if we the audience don’t understand why just yet.
The final play Daenerys makes is one of her crowning moments of awesome. It’s just a delightful can of Targaryen whoop-ass fizzing over all of Astapor.
Olenna and Tywin, Political Giants match wills
One of little things I like about the presentation of the show is that some of the most interesting scenes begin in medias res, that is, right in the middle of the action. Like this one;
“My grandson is the prize of High Garden, the most eligible bachelor in all seven kingdoms. Your daughter-”
“Is rich, the most beautiful woman in all seven kingdoms, and the mother of the king.”
And as soon as we see Tywin and Olenna we know exactly what the scene is about and what the conflict is. Seeing these two political titans sparring with words and proposals is just such a tense treat. Olenna is of of the few people in the Kingdom who’s got the brains and the wherewithal to throw the rumor of Jaime and Cersei’s incest in Tywin’s face and get away with it.
The scene goes quite a long way in showing how different they are despite the savviness they share for the game. Tywin stands a lot on propriety for all his intimidation and Olenna is obviously getting kicks out of questioning Tywin’s masculinity and superiority.
Then Tywin pulls out his trump card. As hand of the king he will name Loras to the King’s Guard is Olenna refuses Cersei to Loras.
Tywin actually surprises me some in this scene when he basically says that he doesn’t think Loras’s “affliction” would hinder him protecting his grandson King. Though I’m not sure if he really believes that or if he’s just trying to corner Olenna as convincingly as possible.
Even as she’s outmaneuvered, Olenna still makes the scene feel like it ends with her telling Tywin what’s what. Just a mesmerizing scene.
The Lannisters receive news of the Red Wedding
Man, watching Joffrey gloat and threatening to serve Sansa her borther’s head at his wedding feast after just witnessing the Red Wedding prompted many “#@$& yous!” at screens, I imagine. Lucky Tyrion is there to put Joffrey in his place as usual.
Joffrey, the puffed up little brat, thinks he can give his grandfather Tywin crap. But without even raising his voice or breaking his smug glare, Tywin shows Joffrey what real power in action looks like when he get Cersei to put Joffrey to bed without supper!
The best part of this scene is watching all the characters actions and reactions. Like Varys closing his eyes to Joffrey’s shouting and then snickering at Tyrion taunting Joffrey, or Tyrion watching Tywin intently or Cersei trying to soothe Joffrey.
For the second time in the series Tywin dismisses everyone else but Tyrion. Many of Tywin and Tyrion’s best lines to each other and in the entire series are contained in this exchange. It’s got the usual wit Tyrion hides behind and that Tywin has no patience for, but it’s got ominous and genre-savvy gems like these;
“Explain to me how it is more noble to kill ten thousand men in battle than a dozen at dinner?”
“The Northerners will never forget.”
Then we get into how Tywin is just so callous compared to Tyrion on the matter of Sansa and the final revelation that Tywin wanted to let Tyrion drown from the day he was born. Apparently it was a rare moment when Tywin’s maniacal concern for his family’s legacy conspired to make him think of Tyrion’s well-being, and I can’t decide if that makes me feel good or bad about Tywin!
Tywin Lectures Tommen on what makes a good King
Another scene that’s makes me question all I think I know about Tywin Lannister. We pan down to the dignified corpse of Joffrey with Tywin’s ominous statement to Tommen and Cersei; “You’re brother is dead.”
From there Tywin is careful with his encouragement but keen to discuss Tommen’s perspective kingship.
Cersei is, understandably, not in the mood for a history lesson while her son lies recently dead in front of her. “This is hardly the place or the time,” she intones. Tywin doesn’t even look at her, Tommen doesn’t even look like he heard his mother’s feeble protest.
Tywin is moving quickly on the only hope the Lannister’s have of getting a capable, good king of their own house on the Iron Throne, he will not be forestalled.
The lesson is about previous kings is actually pretty interesting, including about King Robert. Does it feel like Tywin is actually helping Tommen learn an important lesson? It kinda does! Doesn’t it! Look at that! He even lets Tommen figure out the answer on his own and we (and Cersei) see just how much potential Tommen has.
I had to watch this scene again a few times to acknowledge that Tywin does ultimately skewer the lesson towards Tommen relying on his councilors (i.e. him). And to notice Cersei’s silent horror as Tywin basically snatches Tommen out from under her influence.
Does Tywin have it in him to be a decent parent? I came away from this scene thinking so.
The Lengths Olenna will go protect her Granddaughter
You might remember at Joffrey’s wedding feast, the moment that Margaery cried out that he was choking, Olenna was the one who promptly shouted for someone to help Joffrey.
“Idiots! Help your King!”
That old crone put on quite the performance. Then we see her in private with Margaery urging her to make her move on Tommen as quickly as possible. Margaery sees the advantage in it but at this moment she’s not so decisive as her grandmother. Olenna is acting as though she knows exactly what’s going on, because she does.
“You didn’t think I’d let you marry that beast, did you?…You just do what needs to be done.”
The implications of Olenna poisoning Joffrey are quite profound. Olenna actually volunteered to have house Tyrell pay for half of the wedding’s damn expenses. Just to create the opportunity to poison Joffrey for all the realm to see? That’s some guts.
It’s also unclear if Olenna was counting on Cersei to automatically blame Tyrion or if it just worked out that Cersei automatically blaming Tyrion worked just as well since they weren’t suspecting Olenna. She steered the course of the entire fourth season and almost none of the characters know it.
Tyrion Demands another Trial by Combat
Even though we could imagine the gross slander and framing Tyrion would have to endure at his trial for Joffrey’s murder, the actual proceedings are just torturous. What isn’t complete manufactured falsehood is a shameless character assassination. It certainly turned my stomach to see some of my favorite Tyrion moments used to make Tyrion less and less sympathetic to the court.
Even Varys, who we know thinks Tyrion can be a genuine force for good, seems to turn on Tyrion. He gives Tyrion a meaningless (public) response to his question about how he would be remembered.
And then Shae takes the witness stand for the crown, sending our hearts and our stomachs plunging into the deepest of the seven hells. Seeing Tyrion and Shae pitted against each other was the last straw.
And then there was the ultimate comeback speech. Tyrion lets the whole court know exactly what this farce really is and what he thinks of King’s Landing. Faced with an even more dire set of circumstances stacked completely against him, he resorts to the only meager means of taking his fate back in his own hands available to him, a trial by combat.
It’s the tipping point of the Lannister family feud and a crowning moment of “take that!” from Tyrion.
Sansa Stark Pulls Wool over the Eyes of the Veil
What a pleasant surprise this was.
After being the political prisoner of the Lannister for at least 3 seasons worth, Sansa finally escapes King’s Landing with the help of Littlefinger and assumes an alias of his “natural” niece Alayne. Creep.
In the Vale, Lysa seems to have gotten even more paranoid and vindictive now that she’s finally able to be with Littlefinger. Since he married Lysa, he had no qualms about killing Lysa when she threatened to push Sansa through the moon door for being kissed by Littlefinger.
But the remaining lords and ladies of the Vale aren’t satisfied that Lysa Arryn committed suicide. We see Littlefinger’s quiet panic as Sansa is called in to attest to what happened. For those who’ve read the books, we certainly never expect Sansa to reveal herself as the eldest daughter of Eddard Stark nor to play such a successful trick on the questioners.
Sansa’s manipulation of the lords of the Vale is pretty much masterful. At first it seems like she’s going to make her big break and leave Baelish to rot. “Lord Baelish has told many lies, all to protect me.”
Then, from the little touches like “[Lysa] did as her father commanded like so many of us have” getting a look of profound understanding from the Vale Lady, to the perfectly timed voice cracking in sorrow. They lapped it up.
The most brilliant part about it is that Sansa uses some of her true feelings to sell the story, particularly her honest abuse and humiliation at the hands of the Lannisters, and her shock at how Lysa treated her when she caught Littlefinger kissing her.
Bravo Sansa! Can’t wait to see what she pulls in season 5.
We shall surely see more political and personal turning points in the season to come! Game of Thrones Season 5 premieres April 12th.
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