In this week’s installment of The Small Council, we cast our ballots for the WiCnet Award for Best Dramatic Moment from Season 4. We also welcome Yi Li, who wrote a great piece for us on GOT’s adolescents, with more to come.
Rebecca Pahle: On paper, there are far more dramatic scenes in season four than the “I’m going to have to eat every fucking chicken in this room” scene from the premiere. Daenerys chaining her dragons. Tyrion’s speech at the trial. Oberyn volunteering to be Tyrion’s champion. These all have wide-ranging effects on the plot of the season, while Sandor’s love of poultry is just a really, really good character moment….
But I would argue that, while it’s not the most dramatic scene, that doesn’t bar it from being the best. Even my runners-up in this category—Cersei asking Brienne whether she loves Jaime, and Lancel responding to Jaime’s “You’ll never marry [Cersei]” with “Neither will you,”OH SNAP!—are smaller exchanges, but they’re ones that stick in my mind, because they have so much impact in just a few seconds.
The chicken line and the moments that surround it—Arya recognizing Polliver, Polliver bragging that his status as a Lannister soldier means he can rape and steal as much as he wants, Sandor’s “Fuck the king” followed by a nonchalant ale sip from him and a tiny smirk from Arya, Sandor responding to “You gonna die for some chickens?” with “Someone is”—-are a brilliant crescendo towards Arya ruthlessly killing Polliver, which was a great way to end the first episode of the season. It’s tense, dramatic, and funny all at the same time. Plus, Tyrion’s trial speech is great, but it didn’t inspire what was hands-down the best cosplay from New York Comic Con (via The Mary Sue).
And let’s rewatch this while we’re at it:
Now go eat some fucking chicken.
Yi Li: Dany’s speech at the gates of Meereen embodied the ways in which the material could benefit in the transition from page to screen. In the books, Dany never makes such a speech (in Meereen or elsewhere), the conquest of Meereen is outshone by the realization of Jorah’s betrayal, and the people of Meereen get no such agency in their own liberation.
In giving Dany a chance to articulate her vision to her prospective constituency, as well as to the audience, the show manages to both defray concerns over the problematic implications of Dany’s storyline and demonstrate what’s truly unique about Dany as a leader. It’s not just her idealistic charisma or impressive command of High Valyrian–it’s her willingness to weaponise her power to effect mass social change.
“Your enemy is besides you,” she says. Revolution is what happens when people begin to believe that it is not their own failings or fate, but their own government that is responsible for their suffering. The realisation is plain on the face of the slave as he looks from the broken collar in his hand to the master behind him and the audience just knows–before the conquest has even happened–that Meereen will never be the same. Dany’s a revolutionary, as much as any monarch-to-be can be. (David Benioff says as much in the BTS video for “The Laws of Gods and Men”). She would conquer, but first she wants to wholly reinvent her kingdom–from the bottom up.
The scene bears comparison to Dany’s sack of Astapor, almost a whole season earlier, but it’s not a repeat performance. In Astapor, Dany demonstrated to the audience that she could lead, but in Meereen, Dany demonstrates that she intends to be a wholly different sort of leader than the likes we’ve seen yet on Game of Thrones. And goodness, is it thrilling.
Cameron White: She can’t even look at him. That’s the thing that gets me most about Daenerys’s banishing of Ser Jorah Mormont–one of my all-time favorite scenes in Game of Thrones. As she’s listing Jorah’s various sins against her, Emilia Clarke doesn’t look at Iain Glen, but over him, staring desperately at anything except him. This is one of the show’s oldest relationships at this point in the fourth season, and it’s dying right in front of me. The Starks are either dead or presumed dead, with the remaining living members scattered to the four winds. The Lannisters haven’t all been in the same place until this very season (no surprise things started to fall apart for them this year, then). But Jorah was there when Viserys and Illyrio sold her to the Dothraki for an army. Yet Jorah’s betrayal–though old and forgotten, at least by him–comes back to bite him. She may indeed have a “gentle heart” as Jorah once insisted, but that does not mean Dany is a forgiving woman, and the rusted knife in her back stings like hell.
In the end, Dany sticks by her conviction, and it’s the last few words of this scene that gets me almost as much as the not-looking. Clarke’s voice becomes soft but resolute as she tells Jorah what she means to do with him if she ever sees him again. As she does, I can feel, for the first time in a long time in Dany’s storyline, the words of the book reaching out to me through the screen. Clarke has successfully absorbed Dany’s words–“If I look back, I am lost”–and it is beautiful and sad and terrifying all at once.