Chris, last week you floated the idea that Thrones is never worse than when its characters are questing. I agree with that, which is part of why "Dracarys!" was such a gratifying moment. After two+ seasons of shuffling through the desert, accomplishing not all that much, the Mother of Dragons finally has the fighting force she's been asking for. Here's hoping she doesn't spend the rest of the season marching it in circles.
Chris and Ross, were you as alternately icked-out and hopped up by that episode as I was?
Got that, Spencer? I'll have more to say about Theon's tormenter—well, when the show has more to say about him.
I hadn't considered the episode in terms of captivity and freedom, but I think you're onto something there, especially when it comes to the twin rebellions at the climax: the crows at Craster's and the slaves at Astapor. On the surface, one scene is tragic and the other exultant, but they're not nearly as different as we'd perhaps like them to be. Given that the two scenes aren't adjacent in the novel, we presumably have showrunners Benioff and Weiss to thank for the dark irony of their juxtaposition.
Getting back down in the weeds, I too didn't much like the first scene of the episode, in which the newly left-handed Jaime falls from his mount, drinks horse piss, etc., etc. My complaints from last week stand: There's simply no way that his captor, an underling of House Bolton—a knight presumably, or minor lord himself—would pointlessly abuse a supremely high-value prisoner without a stronger rationale than some vague sense of class envy. (What if Jaime died from infection? Or broke his neck in the fall?) Hostages are the premier coin of the realm in Westeros, and those who treat them carelessly (see: Stark, Catelyn) are likely to regret it.
I wasn't a fan of the second scene either, in which—as you note, Spencer—Varys just happens to be unpacking a Useful Visual Aid at the exact moment he offers Tyrion his disquisition on the importance of patience to revenge. (It didn't help that the crated sorcerer reminded me of the exotic-leg-lamp delivery in A Christmas Story: "Frah-jee-lay? It must be Italian!") Given good material to work with, Conleth Hill, who plays Varys, is as good as anyone on the show. (See, for example, his scene in the dungeons with Ned Stark in Season One or his disquisition on the origins of power with Tyrion in Season Two.) And while he does better than most at transcending middling material such as this, it's a shame to see him have to try.
Things improve after the episode's bumpy start, however, in particular with a nice duet of scenes about women and power. In the first, Lady Olenna (an again-excellent Diana Rigg) explains to Cersei (the always-excellent Lena Headey) her theory that while men may have all the authority, women have all the brains. And even as she speaks, her granddaughter Margaery is putting that theory into practice, playing Cersei's son Joffrey like a lute: "Sometimes severity is the price we pay for greatness," she coos to the easily flattered little sadist.