Castration is the name of the game for “And Now His Watch is Ended.” Whether physically or symbolically, castration is the common thematic bond this week- especially so in the first half-hour, when nearly every male character is forced to contend with the loss of his manhood. Varys, in a literal sense (and in a standout monologue for actor Conleth Hill) finally reveals how he became a eunuch, but Tyrion has just been castrated in all but the literal definition. Like Varys before him, Tyrion has been robbed of his identity. No longer can he consider himself either a major player in the politics of King’s Landing, or someone whom House Lannister regards with anything other than pure contempt. Yet seeing Varys’ true motivation and all the bitter hatred it entails is enough to make Tyrion wince, and perhaps the sacrifices he may have to make to regain that power would strip him of more than just his political power.
Jaime and Brienne are stuck in a similar situation, with Jaime running low on manhood and Brienne the one to show him how to regain it. The situation for these two seems a bit more hopeful, if only because their situation is all the more dire. Tyrion still has wealth and status, even if it is humiliatingly low. Jaime has absolutely nothing, and the physical change of him biting into his dinner with vigor creates an immediate sense that he has nowhere to go but up. This aspect of castration is ever-present in “And Now His Watch is Ended,” from Bran confronting the loss of his legs (which keeps him from fulfilling the role of proud, male Stark warrior) to Craster’s removal of the male presence in his bloodline, as well as Podrick’s terrifying, emasculating sexual prowess.
Yet this male obsession is, more often than not, a damaging one. Varys may have gained control, but the end result is nothing but the fulfillment of petty revenge. Littlefinger follows along that same path, compensating for lack of noble birth by chasing after a royal marriage at the first opportunity. For now, the true power of Westeros lies in its female population, who are naturally free from the pitfalls of castration. The women of House Tyrell are motivated not by compensation but by a hunger for absolute power, and are clearly adept at cutting through the political quagmire in order to take what they need (seeing other characters caught off-guard by the bluntness of the elder Tyrell is a constant source of amusement). The Tyrells’ ability to seize power even inspires Cersei to make a small play of her own, however unsuccessful she might be. Dany, unhindered by the threat of castration, makes quick work of Astapor, and proves that power comes to those with total mastery of the game board, rather than those who obsess over certain pieces.
The other recurring theme of the night is lineage, and what happens when a family name is taken away. Theon is completely hopeless because he’s caught between two houses and belongs to none. It’s clear that his sister isn’t really sending agents to help him, because that would require her to actually care for Theon, and his kin are nothing if not cold, bitter and unfeeling. The one place he might actually belong would be the Brotherhood without Banners, but even their unhealthy religious devotion seems a little troubling.
Craster’s last moments are driven, somewhat ironically, by a similar obsession with family honor. He may have fathered a bizarre, inbred population of daughters and abandoned all his male heirs to die, but heaven forbid someone accuse him of being a bastard. In the ensuing fray (which, sadly, claims the life of a memorable character in Jeor Mormont), Sam is able to escape with the rarest thing of all in Westeros- an intact family unit. Through a combination of cowardice and a resistance to the honor-bound insanity that drove the rest of the Night’s Watch into a violent mutiny, Sam is able to survive with his neck (and his humanity) intact.
“And Now His Watch is Ended” is a strong episode overall, keeping up a nice balance between various plotlines that are still enormously separated while building up a good head of steam as we approach the halfway point of the season (irreparable changes like Dany gaining an army, Mormont getting killed and Jaime losing a hand tend to add a few extra degrees of gravity). Season three seems off to a very, very capable start.