Oh, thank the Mother. Last week, three episodes in, I was wondering if this season was ever going to get running. There had been delays, gratuitous misogyny, dull twists and hackneyed writing among characters whose sole appeal is in their cunning and wit. This episode actually took me by surprise in alllll the best ways, while also delivering another dick joke. Every episode gets one.
Welcome back, Game of Thrones…officially. We missed you.
Tension Mounts at The Wall
The episode begins with a little spat between Edd and Jon Snow. It seems I’m not the only one who thinks Jon Snow showed bad form in abdicating his post (making his last act an execution). But the argument is left unresolved when…TA DAAAA! Sansa and Brianne (and Pod) show up. Cue tender reunion music, and a rather dull scene where they reminisce about pies (and more troubling things are left understood, though unsaid). And then we see an interesting role reversal: Sansa is ready to fight, and Jon is tired of it. Stung by the murderous betrayal by members of The Watch and knowing that they probably face a losing battle against the White Walkers, he’s ready to head south and…even he’s not sure what to do after that. Not fighting. That’s it.
Sansa is not having it, but in the end it is Ramsay Bolton who makes the decision for him with a message announcing Rickon‘s captivity and his intent to slaughter the Wildlings south of the wall. Jon knows there’s no choice but to fight, but unfortunately he’s outnumbered…for now…
Meanwhile, there are other tensions mounting, and Brianne is at the center of them. It seems Tormund has a thing for her and he isn’t very good at playing it cool. I’m not sure if she’s feeling it, but maybe after they burn a few enemy garrisons together, mutual passions will be inflamed. There’s nothing like burning your enemies to get the libido running.
Speaking of burning…Ser Davos has some burning questions about what happened before Stannis’ defeat, and Melisandre is not playing it cool under interrogation. It is actually Brianne that puts a stop to it when she drops the, “I killed ur dude. I know u killed mine. Ur not my friend” bomb on both of them. It’s not exactly a master class in diplomacy, and this episode had alternating examples of how to win and fail at that.
Littlefinger Wins, Tyrion Stalemates
I was not happy to see Lord Baelish (or anyone from the Eyrie) back on screen. The young, spoiled Lord of the Vale, Robin Arryn, is as inept as ever and completely under Littlefinger’s thumb. All it takes is a gift of a gyrfalcon (which will hopefully scratch the twit’s eyes out) for Baelish to command the boy’s devotion as he steamrolls over the truly devoted Lord Yohn Royce. Royce correctly suggests that Baelish sold Sansa out, but it is Royce who gets threatened with a one-way trip through the moon door, simply because Baelish knows how to construct his lies and be so brazen about them that airing the truth is dangerous around him. (People have been finding that out since Season 1. RIP, Ned Stark.)
And yet, by manipulating this situation so well, he gets the Eyrie and the Vale to break their neutral position and commit to an attack on Winterfell to save Sansa, giving Jon Snow the numbers he needs. This is not to say that the means justify the ends with Baelish; he helped create this mess in the first place and he is always only out for himself. It will catch up with him eventually, but he certainly won this battle, and for once Jon and Sansa will benefit.
Tyrion is having less luck, but not for lack of trying or wits. He is in a position akin to a colonizer: an outsider calling the shots in a city already in upheaval, where vengeance is demanded by everyone but him, and everyone is willing to tell him all of this to his face. His stint in captivity was, as he puts it, “long enough to know” that the institution of slavery must be eradicated, but Missandei clarifies that he may know this, but he cannot understand what mindset this has produced in her, Grey Worm and the culture at large.
Tyrion knows that a military strike on other slaving cities would be disastrous, however unpopular his policies may be, but at least he may buy some time. “Their contempt is their weakness,” he says, and he’s right, but he’s actually not in a position to exploit it just yet.
King’s Landing Prepares for Civil War
Olenna Tyrell is back in rare form, sparring with Cersei…but for once, Cersei is the voice of reason. Her tribulations have not taught her mercy or humility; she’s as petty and cruel as ever, and she’s unapologetic about it. But she’s also learning how to strategize and work with others in ways her pride never would have before. A few seasons back, when Baelish got smarmy with her, claiming his knowledge was power, she turned the King’s Guard on him for a moment just to show him “real power”—the power to decide who lives and who dies, to play the titular Stranger, as it were.
When Olenna reads her a litany of her disgraces and asks what she has left to offer, Cersei falls back on Baelish’s notion of power: knowledge. Because Cersei, in her increasingly cautious way, has learned that before her trial by combat in a few days, Queen Margaery is scheduled to make her own walk of atonement.
Olenna is duly aghast and insists that it must not happen. For all Cersei’s resentments of Margaery and the Tyrells as a whole, she has to agree; if the Sparrows can humiliate the queen herself, they will delegitimize the whole family…and perhaps the whole idea of a royal line. Cersei recognizes that the High Sparrow‘s end game has been to bring down all hierarchies, to make everyone as equal in life as they will be in death, to negate “everything of this world” for the sake of his “fantasies.”
We get a rather dry origin story for him, but it isn’t unbelievable: The High Sparrow was leading a rakish existence as a successful cobbler when, after a bacchanal he hosted, he saw the vanity of his greed, gluttony, lust, social-climbing, etc. He saw it all as a collection of lies, but instead of having an artistic or personal epiphany, rather than seeking to raise others up, he decides to abjure the world, to go to the lowliest and, in time, bring everyone else low…at his bidding.
He’s a fanatic, but he isn’t your garden-variety theocrat. He recalls the historical personage of John of Leiden, a tailor turned Millenarian revolutionary who assumed control of Münster in 1534, abolishing currency, having bonfires of vanities (books and art) and appointing himself king with the motto: Gottes macht is myn cracht. (God’s might is my strength.)
Sounds awfully familiar, doesn’t it?
John of Leiden was eventually captured and executed to the relief of his subjects. The High Sparrow hasn’t exhausted the goodwill of the commoners, however, and it’s bound to get much uglier in King’s Landing before it gets better. Olenna Tyrell acknowledges that a death toll is inevitable and, “Better them than us.” But all sides will suffer attrition. A lot of contingencies are in place, and Lord Kevan Lannister is still hoping to get his Sparrowfied son Lancel back, but we all know that ain’t happening.
As for King Tommen, I’m pretty sure that he won’t make it out of this season alive. Things aren’t looking good for Loris either, after he fell apart in his cell while facing Margaery (who proved herself as sharp and poised as ever). I’ve been wanting a matriarchal revolution across Westeros since season 1. Now it’s really the only sane option.
Loose Ends at Pyke and Winterfell
The Iron Islands might just get their own matriarch, though she isn’t exactly the mothering type. Yara Greyjoy reads Theon the riot act for aborting his own rescue and getting some of her men killed. He makes it clear that he is only back home to assist her rule, but he has no real authority. He’ll probably have to make other sacrifices for her, and so I say again, I don’t think he’s long for the world.
And my fears for Osha were confirmed. Last week, I mentioned the (deeply contrived) possibility that she might provide the poetic end to Ramsay’s sadistic games with women. Unfortunately, he’s a lot smarter than her other victims, and I knew it was over when she moved in close for the kill. Goodnight, wildchild.
The Twilight of the Khals, AKA How Dany Got Her Groove Back
AND THEN…The GRAND finale.
I stand by my claim that there is still no excuse for gratuitous misogyny when it is put forth as entertainment, as it too frequently is in this show. In Dany’s showdown with the Khals at Vaes Dothrak, they were as repugnant as ever with threats of raping her to death…but it was actually part of the plot, and it made it immediately gratifying when she BURNED THEM TO THE GROUND.
She had a little help; it was critical that Jorah and Daario were there to take out the guards and bar the doors so there was no chance of the Khals escaping. But it was Daenerys and her unburnt realness that delivered the killing blow to every last one of them.
And it totally took me by surprise. For the purposes of the broader plot, I think we all assumed that her captivity in Vaes Dothrak would have to be more than a detour. She needed a refreshed army (more than ever, it seems), and a khalasaar would do nicely, but I assumed that she’d attain it by other means…the combination of an arcane rule and the intervention of her retainers.
Nope. No damsel in distress junk. This is all Daenerys, owning her power, remembering it and not just adding it as a moniker. She’s the unburnt mother of dragons, y’all. The Dothraki know it. The dragons are probably soon to remember it. And the masters of Yunkai and Astapor are probably soon to get a refresher course in the School of Charred Cocks.
(Hey, if the show gets to make a dick joke every episode, I’m allowing myself one, too.)
Improved dialog? Check. Better pacing? Check. Actual maneuvering and intrigue? Check. Revelations and twists? Check annnnd check. I was, to be honest, not looking forward to it, but I am hooked again. #TeamKhaleesi 4 ever.