The Game of Thrones Emmy’s

In celebration of tonight’s Emmy Awards, Her Ladyship invents an awards show showcasing the best (and some of the worst) of Game of Thrones season 3.

Best episode: The Rains of Castamere

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The closest thing to perfection that this show has ever seen, The Rains of Castamere’s flawless structure permits it to glide effortlessly, beautifully and appropriately from one scene to another with not a word, a note, a cry, a sword or a split-second out of place. The build-up to the Red Wedding is such a masterpiece of classical suspense that right up until the moment that the first blow is struck, we’re left thinking ‘maybe this isn’t going to happen,’ and the show’s producers show a talent for idiot-proofing their work that rivals that of Peter Jackson; every last aspect of why the Red Wedding takes place and why it is wrong conveyed to us on an incredibly subtle, emotional and artistic level without it ever being shoved down our throats.

Worst episode: Valar Dohaeris

A stinking pile of dragon poo-poo from start to finish, Valar Dohaeris is probably the worst episode in the series’ history and is a horrible gamble for a premier episode in that it makes you think that Game of Thrones has finally succumbed to the ‘money over art’ philosophy that has besmirched so many other excellent shows. Badly-written to the point of compromising characterisation, badly-acted as a result of being badly-written, and with the most pathetic excuse for a climax that could possibly be countenanced, it is only saved from being confined to the black cells below the Castle of Mediocrity by the stunning scene between Tywin and Tyrion that is probably one of the most heart-breaking and anger-inducing of the entire saga.

Best actor: Nikolaj Coster Waldau

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In his portrayal of Jaime’s psychological breakdown and transformation after the loss of his hand, Coster Waldau is mercilessly raw, shattering, excruciatingly emotional and vivid to the point of ruthlessness. His glorious command of facial expression and ability to make agony throb and spill and burn right out of his eyes weds seamlessly to a volcanic natural charisma and an evocative speaking voice that pulls you so deeply into the moment with Jaime that it seems to slice right through you. He also proves himself to be an absolute master of comedy in his more light-hearted banter with best friend/worst enemy Brienne, and does an exquisite job of turning our entire perception of the character completely on its head, just as GRRM intended.

Best actress: Maisie Williams

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Each time we think that the divine Miss Williams couldn’t possibly get any better, she knocks us all off our chairs and kicks the shit out of us for our presumption. She has reached the point in her performance where her fist seems to be closed right around Arya’s heart, so that she can feel every nuance, every ounce of pain and where it comes from, and then bring that crashing out into a face that can be numb, practical and intolerant of feelings one moment and then display an anguish so profound and so personal that it makes us want to turn away from her. Above all, Williams has captured Arya’s darkness; that love and near-worship of Death and revenge that makes her wake up every morning and go to sleep every night; that vicious, adult ruthlessness that makes us love her, but that also disturbs the more subtle of us for its brutality. But somehow, at the same time, we never lose sight of the fact that Arya is a child trying to find her family again, and has so much love inside her that she doesn’t know what to do with it. Her performance post-Red Wedding in Mhysa is a masterpiece of shock, suppressed emotion, deep, insurmountable anger and boundless talent for the taking of life that improves each time she seems to become more and more dead in her own estimation. An absolute genius of an acting prodigy who outstrips many actors twice her age.

Best supporting actor: Charles Dance

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In last season’s touching and now-iconic interaction with Arya Stark, we saw the softer, more human side of Tywin: a tiny pinprick of light in a dark and ruthless mess. This season, the great Tywin Lannister once again reasserts himself as one of the most terrifying, brilliant, hateful and inexplicably-endearing characters on a show that is already full to the brim with inexplicably-endearing characters. Dance is a towering presence and an effortlessly-kingly figure and plays the many facets of Tywin’s complex character up against one another with a near-carnivorous prowess; notably in his interactions with Tyrion, which range from disastrously-hurtful to grudgingly-respectful; and in his utter disrespect for any kind of emotion that is nevertheless contradicted by his own deep love for his family name. A masterpiece interpretation of one of the most fiendishly-difficult characters ever written.

Best supporting actress:  Lena Headey

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Headey has always been fabulous at portraying Cersei’s complexity and fucked-up-ness, but in this season she has added the constant threat of her character’s future follies to the mix, with dazzling results. She is a sweepingly power-hungry woman who finds her power being taken from her inch by inch by Tywin’s return to the capital, and lashes out against it with her characteristic spite, but with a touching and oddly heart-breaking desperation in her murmured plea ‘Father, don’t make me do it, please,’ when her usual screaming fails to make Tywin change his mind about marrying her to Loras Tyrell. On top of this vulnerability, her behaviour towards Tyrion has become even more despicable and her moments of triumphant glee even more unbearable to watch, but we never quite lose sight of the fact that despite her limited intelligence, low cunning and unimaginative cruelty, Cersei is still a highly bred and beautiful woman who would have a talent for diffusing tricky situations if she would only take the time to stop creating them. Headey juggles all this prodigiously, and while she makes us hate Cersei most of the time, she still succeeds in making us feel sorry for her every now and then; the mark of a truly great actress.

Best partnership: Jaime and Brienne

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Arguably possessing the greatest chemistry on the show, Nikolaj Coster Waldau and Gwendoline Christie are a casting director’s wet dream, and are brilliant at exploring Jaime and Brienne’s development and similarities by virtue of their togetherness. This partnership has absolutely everything: the shared love of fighting, the shared sense of honour, the shared depth of the love that exists between sister souls, comrades in arms and people who have been through hell together; all expressed in ways that are polar opposites and yet extremely similar. There’s constant, hilarious bickering to conceal identification and depth of feeling, there’s grudging respect that only reveals itself when that respect risks being violated by a third party and there is, of course, that unspoken, powerful knowledge that the one needs the other more than anything that bleeds out through every word they exchange and every action they take.

Worst partnership: Jon and Ygritte

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After a promising start in season 2, this partnership descends into utter, unconvincing chaos from the word go, though the chemistry does recover slightly in the second half of the series. From an acting perspective, the most significant reason for this decline is that Rose Leslie blows Kit Harington out of the water in terms of acting ability, which causes all sorts of mischief, the worst being the painful scene where Ygritte, broken-hearted and in tears, shoots Jon multiple times for his treason while he wails pathetically on about how much he loves her. From a writing perspective, Jon and Ygritte suffer by virtue of poor adaptation of their relationship’s nature in the books; a relationship exemplified by the beautiful line: we look up at the same stars and see such different things.’ The show’s writers do make an effort to bring up the cultural differences between Jon and Ygritte, but these differences are regrettably not represented as being a serious enough obstacle to their relationship to make us understand how their love for each other transcends those cultural differences.

Best unexpected interaction: Arya and Melisandre

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‘I see a darkness in you. And in that darkness, eyes staring back at me. Brown eyes. Blue eyes, green eyes. Eyes you will shut forever. We will meet again.’

The moment when Melisandre looks into Arya’s eyes and murmurs ‘I see a darkness in you,’  in her gloriously-accented voice never fails to turn the viewer’s blood to ice for the way it points both to Arya’s future as a killer, and particularly as a killer post-A Dance with Dragons. The volcanic charisma of both Maisie Williams and Carice Van Houten adds to this and succeeds in making it one of the most bone-chilling moments this season.

Best ‘oh fuck, this is not happening’ moment: Gendry is taken from Arya

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No one, not book fans, not series fans, saw this one coming for two seconds together, so from the moment Arya shouts ‘What are you doing? Let go of him!’, this scene goes down in history as one of the cruellest breakings-up of an onscreen partnership ever; the worst part, without doubt, being the way that Arya turns away from threatening Melisandre to observe Gendry being carted away without having had a chance to say goodbye to him. It’s a horrifying compounding of Arya’s loneliness, and the look on Maisie Williams’ face at the scene’s closure reminds us, once again, how young Arya is, how much she has come to depend on Gendry, and how her burden is made harder every day by the way that she loses the people she cares about.

Best ‘oh shit, oh shit, ha ha’ moment: Tywin and Joffrey

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Tywin puts an end to Joffrey’s posturing and bullshitting about ‘many important matters requiring a King’s attention’ by doing nothing more threatening that climbing the stairs in front of the Iron Throne. Jack Gleeson is fantastic in this scene, making it perfectly clear that the only word passing through Joffrey’s head in that moment is ‘shit shit shit shit’, and Charles Dance is just as fantastic, his natural screen presence and icy-cold yet fiery Tywin showing the little creep precisely who’s boss, and entertaining us immensely at the same time.

Best dressed male character: Petyr Baelish

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Award is given by virtue of this stunning cloth of gold and light blue ensemble that possesses the double virtue of being a dazzling article of clothing and making Aidan Gillan look even more gorgeous than he already is.

Best dressed female character: Sansa Stark

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Sansa sports a variety of beautiful costumes this season that compliment her extraordinary height and evoke her romantic nature, but none is quite so lovely as her wedding dress, which is rendered all the more exquisite by the deep crimson of her wedding cloak.

Most over-used character: Robb Stark

As mentioned previously on this blog, Richard Madden seems to have devoted the past two seasons of Game of Thrones to completely destroying the impressive and understated kingliness of presence that he so successfully brought to life in season 1, and season 3 is no exception to this rule. Most of the time he just hangs around trying to be tough, vulnerable or sexy, but does not manage to be any of these three things despite a number of scenes that had excellent potential. To add insult to injury, the excess of screen time afforded his character only compounds the poor man’s predicament and makes things worse than ever. A crying shame and a disgrace!

Most under-used character: Tyrion Lannister

Tyrion’s importance to the progression of the saga does not diminish at any point in A Storm of Swords, so the considerable reduction in screen time this season does nothing if not baffle. The development of Tyrion’s character after losing the Handship and his descent into constant worry, bitterness and depression, particularly after his wedding, is one of the saddest, most moving and most annoying things in the books, and is also extremely important in understanding his character post-Purple Wedding. Glancing over all of this and constantly shoving it into a corner, as was done in season 3, is not only an action of questionable intelligence in terms of character and story development; it is also a scandalous under-use of a phenomenally-gifted and powerful actor.

Best totally badass moment: Daenerys feeds her dragons in front of the Yunkish envoy.

So we’re snoring loudly as Razdal mo Eraz craps on about many an army having broken against Yunkai’s walls, when Daenerys takes a piece of meat from a jar next to her and throws it into the air. The resulting lightning-fast catfight and cacophony of shrieks as all three of the dragons go after it mid-flight scares the pants off poor Razdal mo Eraz and makes us whoop in delight, even more so when Daenerys hardly spares them a glance and remarks ‘Good. My Unsullied need practice. I was told to blood them early.’

Best fight scene: Sandor Clegane versus Beric Dondarrion

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It’s the psychological issues behind this already-great fight scene that make it so infinitely superior to other fight scenes this season: it’s Sandor’s fear of fire brought to the fore when facing a man with a burning sword; it’s his insane courage and willingness to keep fighting in spite of that, and it’s Arya on the side-lines screaming ‘Kill him!’ with a chilling savagery that doesn’t belong in someone so young, pinning all her hopes on justice finally being done on this one encounter, and trying to kill Sandor herself when it fails.

Best monologue: Cersei tells Margaery the story of House Reyne of Castamere.

Seething with innuendo and suppressed violence, this monologue is a blood-chilling and gorgeously-written warning in the very best tradition of Tywin Lannister that fucking with the Lannisters causes nothing but trouble. Lena Headey’s Cersei is icy cold, regal and very, very frightening; the cruelty in her voice rendered all the more awful by the blinding courtesy of her facial expressions.

Best one-liner: ‘Then you’ll be fucking your own bride with a wooden cock.’

Tyrion explains to Joffrey that there will be no bedding ceremony in language that the little shit understands. Thrilling not only because of the irate tension (and the look on Joffrey’s face) that it creates, but also in terms of the depth of Tyrion’s respect for the downtrodden (Sansa, in this case)

Best adaptation of a great scene

It is tempting to give this award to the bath scene or the Sack of Astapor, but nothing, regrettably, beats the horrifying butchery of the Red Wedding. It’s a masterpiece of psychological horror: raw, unglorified, no slow motion and no pretty music, and traps you right inside it with a magnetic X-factor that makes you stay right to the end despite it’s being almost impossible to watch; not, as we observed in our review of the episode, because of the blood and gore, which we’re more than used to, but because of the way that the Starks’ love for each other and instinct to protect each other even in the face of certain death emerges in the most poignant, heartrending and horribly upsetting ways.

Worst adaptation of a great scene

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I’ve raved about this before, but seriously, how could they? The cave scene is GRRM’s magum opus of sex scenes. It makes A Song of Ice and Fire’s fat pink masts, Myrish swamps and variations thereupon worth it. It’s a coming-together of two people from different worlds, it’s Jon realising that vowing to remain celibate was probably the stupidest thing that someone with his capacity for love could have done, and it never fails to make you feel like your pants are molesting you. The TV adaptation is utterly boring and yawnable. A large part of this is the chemistry problem between Jon and Ygritte in the first half of season 3 (which miraculously and inexplicably recovers after this mediocrity takes place), the other half is…I don’t really know what. This scene is supposed to be an explosion. What it’s become is something like a sneeze.

Best throwback to season 2: Jaqen’s leitmotif.

A beautifully-evoked leitmotif that takes place after Arya and Sandor’s encounter with the Frey soldiers in the woods. Arya bends down to earth to pick up the iron coin given to her by Jaqen at the end of season 2; her hands drenched in blood and her eyes still numb with the shock of the kill. As she contemplates the face that decorates the coin’s surface, her eyes suddenly come alive as she murmurs the words ‘Valar Morghulis,’ and Jaqen’s exotic and chilling leitmotif seems to fill her up with his essence and memory. Absolutely gorgeous, and very, very thrilling.

Her Ladyship ends there to pray to the old gods and the new that Game of Thrones wins in its nominated categories tonight.

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Number 10: Bloodline, with Jeremy Brett (Review)

I don’t usually review individual episodes unless I’m in the process of watching the entire series. I shall make an exception, however, to honour a truly inspired performance by a truly inspiring man. Ladies and gents, Number 10: Bloodline, starring the incomparable Jeremy Brett.

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Brett plays British Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger, a genius who’s been used to accomplishing any number of intellectual feats from a very young age (i.e. translating six pages of Thucydides a night in front of his father), as well as drinking a bottle of port a day (from an equally young age) to strengthen his sickly constitution. Now middle-aged, William is Prime Minister at the time of the Napoleonic Wars, and his port-drinking has increased rather exponentially with adulthood and has become interspersed with overly-enthusiastic doses of claret and Madeira. He also spends most of his (rare) free time attempting to continue his meticulous, lifelong imitation of the cold serenity that characterises his mother’s side of the family and to fight off the madness that has poisoned his paternal bloodline for generations. It is only when he is reunited with Eleanor Eden (Caroline Langrishe), the intelligent and utterly adorable daughter of good friends whom he has not seen since she was fourteen, that he is finally confronted with the true nature of his existence. Apart from everybody else, belonging nowhere, lonely, and terrified of losing his mind, William realises that his youth has been lost in service to his country and that he has never known the joy that comes from the recognition of a sister-solitude. Through Eleanor, who is more than twenty years his junior and shares his feelings with equal candour, he’s ‘set alight’, as Florence would say, and is completely overcome by the elation and power of that recognition…before people begin to talk, and a terrible promise that has haunted him since the death of his father has the most horrifying and inhuman consequences for both William and Eleanor.

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Most people today know Jeremy Brett from his dazzling and macabre performance as Sherlock Holmes, and people like me who have watched Holmes to distraction may, while watching this episode, observe his refined manner of seating himself on the couch at Downing Street and half expect him to draw his knees up and sit on his haunches at any second. Mercifully, as this episode proves, Brett is spectacularly original as an actor and pours more effort into this one-hour guest appearance than most actors today would bother with on an entire series. William inhabits Brett completely and shines out through his eyes. When a fit of madness seizes him, we get a terrifying glimpse into what is prowling beneath his composed and unruffled demeanour, before this transgression is brushed away as one would a fly and we’re left facing a neat and perfectly tranquil man, hands folded, contemplating the mess he has made of the sitting room; that mass of broken glass and smashed china a symbolic portrait both of his despair and of the side of his personality that causes it. His command of facial expression is exquisite: when he fixes his eyes on Eleanor, or reads her letters, you could not imagine a more touching representation of complete contentment, and, most profoundly of all, fulfilment. When it comes to the possibility of being parted from her, his entire face screws up in such a contortion of agony that you want to look away, as if you’re intruding on something private. Caroline Langrishe, best known for her adorable performance as Kitty Scherbatsky in 1977’s Anna Karenina, is a perfect choice as intellectual sparring partner Eleanor, her disarming and spirited demeanour an ideal match for Brett’s towering screen presence; her final conversation with William at the end of the episode a shattering, head-on collision of youthful optimism and experienced cynicism that leaves you feeling like you’ve been whacked on the head with a sledgehammer.

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With such a heart-rending narrative and such fierce, astonishing acting, this is an episode for people who love humanity, who love acting and who love great stories.

Remembering Game of Thrones Season 2

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Having once again been seized by the gripping conviction that I will go off my head if Game of Thrones season 3 does not arrive RIGHT NOW, I shall content myself with nostalgically recalling the greatest moments of season 2 in anticipation of many more great moments to come.

‘Those are brave men knocking on our door…let’s go kill them!’

Tyrion exhibits the brilliant leadership qualities people have been trying to smother his entire life in an awe-inspiring rally speech to petrified troops at the battle of the Blackwater, thus showing that he is not merely capable of the side of ruling that involves hatching plots, spending hours buried up to the neck in paperwork and doing damage control after Joffrey’s latest imbecility, but of inspiring ordinary people to meet a terrifying enemy head-on. He achieves this by seeing the war from their perspective; commanding them to fight for their families and their city rather than for king and country; and by exhibiting an insane courage and confidence that he certainly does not feel. It is in this scene more than any other that we realise that we are watching a truly great man, and find ourselves quite prepared to jump up screaming with bloodlust and join in.

Arya versus Tywin

I’ve already written an entire article on the Arya-Tywin relationship, so I will not rehash my words. Nevertheless, this scene is simply too good to leave out. It’s the moment when Tywin is rewarded for his initial recognition of Arya’s intelligence and knowledge of the world; as well as an awful realisation for us in that the entire premise of the story, ‘Anyone can be killed’, is here pronounced, blandly and coldly, by an eleven year old girl who should be in the flower of her innocence, but has seen just as much death and known just as much misery as the average adult. This scene is Arya’s assertion of her individuality, but, through the exquisite chemistry between her and Tywin, we also know that it is a defining moment in the strange bond that exists between them.

Jon meets Ygritte

There’s something so beautifully dramatic about being in the full fire of battle and pulling the hood off an enemy to discover a girl staring out at you. Everything about this scene is so intense in a very sensual way; Ygritte’s head yanked right back to avoid the steel at her throat; her blazing eyes; the frozen landscape contrasted with her hair; Jon’s assertion that he’s a crow like his comrades, as though uncomfortable with her having recognised something in him he doesn’t know about himself; Ygritte’s whispered comment that Jon’s sword feels cold on the back of her neck; before he famously pulls out of decapitating her and gets a knee in the groin for his trouble. Jon runs wildly and blindly into a life beyond the Wall that is linked in the most profound way with his family’s past and with his own future. Like Ygritte, it’s tied to him and never relinquishes its hold.

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No explanation required.

Theon is baptised

A majestic depiction of Theon going back to his own people, and though we know there is nothing but disaster to come, there is an exquisitely primal quality in that hard shoreline, the grey light and the waves that seems to be born again in the faces of Balon, Yara (Asha), Damphair and Theon himself. One is truly overtaken by the feeling that the Greyjoys have been here since the beginning of time, and that we are witnessing something cathartic and unimaginably ancient.

Tyrion and Shae post-Blackwater

Tyrion and Shae’s relationship in the TV series is a lot more touching than it is in the book, possibly because Shae visibly shares Tyrion’s feelings. Still, whatever Shae may do later on, this scene, in which Tyrion dumps all his justifiable self-pity on her and is met with a resounding ‘fuck you’ followed by commiseration, is emotional, moving and sincere. Uncharacteristic innocence seems to shine from Shae’s eyes as she pleads with Tyrion to leave ‘these bad people’ behind and come away with her to Pentos; and Tyrion’s broken voice and face dazzlingly express both his helpless addiction to ‘the game’ and the coming to the surface of his agonising self-loathing and his often childlike yearning to be loved by someone; by anyone.

Sandor asks Sansa to leave King’s Landing with him

HBO sprinkles a lot of sugar on this scene that is menacingly dark and frankly alarming in the book, but thankfully, comes out on top. This scene is the verbal manifestation of a long conversation that has taken place mostly without words, and when Sandor’s statement that he’s leaving is met with a shrill ‘Where?’ by Sansa, you can’t help but feel the corners of your mouth turn up at how much she makes them sound like an old married couple. When it gets to his offer to take her with him, however, things get a lot more intense as Sandor tries to shake Sansa out of her fairy-tale castle in the gorgeously-written declaration, pronounced to Sansa’s averted face, that ‘Stannis is a killer. The Lannisters are killers. Your father was a killer. Your brother is a killer. Your sons will be killers someday. The world is built by killers. So you’d better get used to looking at them.’ Sansa’s simple, childlike reply, ‘You won’t hurt me’ expresses a thousand things at once, but most essentially, their relationship at its most simple; that of victim and protector. Sandor’s reply, ‘No, little bird, I won’t hurt you,’ is an acknowledgment of that relationship; which if you think about it, is pretty important from Sandor’s side, since his only previous kindnesses to her have been by virtue of his deeds: most of his words have been just plain horrible. This mutual recognition between them is beautiful, and though it’s not one of the series’ most titanic or riveting moments, it’s certainly one of the most poignant.

‘You look much uglier in the daylight.’

Sure, it barely compares with some of the others, but I simply couldn’t resist. The electrifying chemistry and soon-to-be-characteristic arguing in this scene between Jaime and Brienne signals what is soon to become a grudging but utterly steadfast friendship in what is probably the most intelligent pairing of two people in the entire saga. It’s idealism versus cynicism, hatred versus utter bewilderment, innocence versus…well, whatever Jaime is. I hesitate to call him experienced.

‘The more people you love, the weaker you are…’

‘You’ll do things for them that you know you shouldn’t do. You’ll act the fool to make them happy; to keep them safe. Love no one but your children. On that front, a mother has no choice.’

It’s probably at this point that Cersei stops speaking to Sansa as she would to a little girl and begins to address her like an adult. The Cersei-Sansa relationship is a hugely complex issue that I don’t intend to embark on here, but let’s just pause for a second and think about what this scene actually means. It’s all about Cersei, that much is clear, and the advice that she passes on to Sansa comes from a lifetime of experience. And yes, it’s a cruel, hard inhumane thing said by an evil woman in a cruel, hard and inhumane world. Then, let’s look at Sansa’s facial expressions: sadness; shock. I think she’s seeing a vision of what she could become herself (of what she probably will become, if Littlefinger sinks his claws any deeper into her), and that’s what makes Sansa’s presence just as important in the scene as Cersei’s. We see this message of cruelty and selfishness transferred to the young and the innocent with very little trouble, and on Sansa’s face we see the fear, or perhaps even the premonition, of contamination by the same darkness that is destroying the world.

Got any favourite scenes that I left out? Kindly chastise me in the comments below.