Needle has re-entered the Game of Thrones
Arya Stark has re-entered the Game of Thrones
A Girl has left the Game of Thrones
Welcome back, true believers! You know, the final scenes of each episode this season have been absolutely amazing and have consistently given the fanbase a moment to freak out and obsess about as they suffer through until the following Sunday. Let’s take a look:
Week One: Melisandre gets naked and then is 300 years old.
Week Two: Jon Snow comes back from the dead while mostly naked.
Week Three: Jon Snow hangs his own murderers and peaces the F out.
Week Four: Daenerys walks naked out of a piping hot yurt.
Week Five: All the Hodors in the Universe.
Week Six: Daenerys clothed, yelling in Dothraki at thirty-six mounted grassland banditos…
Dany and Dreamy Daario are having a little chat…
Daenerys: How many ships would it take to get all these raping murderers to Westeros with the amoral purchased scumbags you’re the boss of as well as Grey Worm’s fightin’ eunuchs from Astapor?
Dreamy Daario: Like a million.
Daenerys: And how many do we have?
Dreamy Daario: Nine. Wait, where are you going?
Daenerys: Dothraki! You are all my gangsters!
Dothraki Horde: Yeah! Awesome! When can we rape someone?
Daenerys: I GOT A FUCKING DRAGON, YO!
Dothraki Horde: You rule! That Burberry sweater is the tits!
Dreamy Daario: Um…
Daenerys: YOU PSYCHOS WANNA GET ON A BOAT AND LEAVE YOUR HOMELAND FOREVER AND KILL A BUNCH OF PEOPLE IN IRON SUITS THAT I’VE NEVER MET BUT NEVERTHELESS HATE?
Dothraki Horde: Hell yeah! We’ll kill anyone! What’s a boat?
Dreamy Daario: We don’t have any boats, and it will take a long time to-
Daenerys: WHO’S WITH ME FUCKERS? WHO WANTS TO HELP ME BE THE PERSON MY DEAD KHAL HUSBAND ALWAYS WANTED ME TO BE BEFORE HE FAILED AND DIED? WHO WANTS TO CROSS THE BLACK SALT SEA?
Dothraki Horde: We’re with you! What’s salt? What’s sea? Do we all get flying lizard horses? Is somebody going to kill somebody or what? Any Dothraki speech without at least three deaths is considered a dull affair!
Dreamy Daario: Hey, where’s your horse?
Now, I know there are a lot of Daenerys fans out there, and I’ll try to be delicate about this, but I thought that Arya blowing out the candle would have made for a MUCH more kick-ass end to the episode. We can agree to disagree, of course, but I’m confident that I know better than the showrunners because I write on the internet.
Anyway, more on all of that later. Because we cracked the egg this week North of the Wall, with Meera dragging Bran through the snow. At night.
North of the Wall
I thought it was great that we picked up with the same storyline instead of kind of jumping to Dorne or Qarth or something. Meera is chugging through the snow and Bran is having a dizzying series of visions all at once, like when Bradley Cooper takes that pill in Limitless and he kind of knows everything. But in Bran’s case, it’s all flooding too quickly. Like a first-year professional athlete, he needs the game to slow down for him. He sees things he’s never known before, like his father’s beheading and The Red Wedding and Hardhome. Then we all see the Mad King for the first time, yelling “Burn them all!” No less.
And we see Jaime stab the Mad King and then finish him off. That would provide a nice bookend for later in the episode where the High Sparrow finishes on Jaime.
So Meera is doing her best and Bran is speedwarging and it just looks hopeless. Let’s face it, Meera was hired to be Inigo, not Fezzik. And it’s not like they had a Bowflex rig under the Weirwood tree. There’s only so far she can realistically go. When Bran unwargs he tells Meera that they’ve been found, and that’s when a summoned badass shows up to kill some dead people.
A brief word about the undead. I didn’t mention it last week because I was so distracted and moved by the Hodor of it all and so confused by the greenseeing timetravel of Bran that I neglected to mention the zombies. I really don’t understand how they can climb the roof of the tunnel. From a tension and visual standpoint, I understand how the stakes go up if that scene is basically the Mines of Moria, but it does strain credibility. Likewise this week, with the sounds that are gurgling out of the zombies. Just doesn’t seem right to me, but then again, what’s the alternative? Silence? I’m sure the undead non-white walkers have been discussed in the GOT writers room ad nauseum, but I really liked the version I saw at Hardhome. They can fall off a mountain and just get up, and they can fight and climb, and they can run fast, but similar to humans. Not like orcs.
Anyway, the badass that shows up features three main ass-kicking beats.
1. When he drops his fiery flail.
2. When you see that he fights with a sickle as well. (Is it on the other side of the chain?)
3. When he chains and jerks that last zombie.
So awesome. The Hooded Rider lifts Bran onto his horse with one hand, and we’re off through the woods, leaving a gaggle of jaunty dead folk in our rear view mirror.
The Road to Horn Hill and Horn Hill
You see the castle Samwell Tarly grew up in and as I understand it, his family is like a secondary or tertiary family in the kingdom - the kind that pledges loyalty to a major house - and you have to wonder about how much money a family like the Lannisters or Arryns has. Because what the Tarlys have is pretty amazing and they’re relative nobodies (on the show, at least).
So in the carriage, Gilly identifies that Sam is a nervous talker. Understandable, since his father threatened to murder him to death the last time he saw Sam. It was: renounce your claim to the family estate and bloodline and become a monk on the Wall, or I’ll kill you. Sounds like a pretty nice guy. But he can’t be that bad, right? Maybe in Sam’s absence he’s realized that he’s made a mistake in casting off his eldest son and heir. Maybe Sam’s memory of him is unfairly harsh.
When Sam arrives, he’s greeted by his mother and sister. Two people so infinitely lovely and kind I wasn’t sure if they were on the right show. Mama Tarly is seriously the nicest woman in Westeros. Think about it. Just from a “niceness” perspective. Or a “kindness” perspective. Who can beat her? There are kind and loving women on the show, but they have a hardness to them or a learned toughness. Are there any other women with a certain motherly softness? All the women are forced to be hard. Maybe Talisa Maegyr before she married Robb, but she still had a bit of an edge to her. Gilly looks like a Thenn compared to Mama Tarly. Anyway, Dad is off hunting with Sam’s younger brother Dickface when Sam arrives. It’s not a great start, and Sam and Gilly get washed up for dinner, in anticipation of his return.
The High Sept
There has been some fanbase exhaustion with the Faith Militant scenes this season, with many people finding them to be little more than filler. What true purpose do they serve in the scope of the story? We revisit that subplot this week with the High Sparrow kindly walking with Tommen. If Cersei has failed at all as a mother it’s in not securing the loyalty of Tommen’s social secretary. How do they not know that Tommen is just walking through the garden with the High Sparrow? Multiple times? A rudderless vessel bobbing on the ocean with a master navigator? What might happen?
Tommen is allowed to finally see Margaery and he’s blissful about it, but she quickly redirects the conversation to how important the Faith is and how great the High Sparrow is.
So, okay. There are exactly two options about what’s happening here:
1. Margaery is a boob who has been completely brainwashed by the Sparrows.
2. Margaery is a brilliant strategist who is pretending to be brainwashed by the Sparrows
I’m solidly banking on option #2. I think seeing Loras give up was too much for her and she had to quickly figure out a way to gain some advantage inside of a horrible situation. The show gave us no indication at all that she was wavering or fading in her resolve, so her seeming conversion must be a feint.
We return to dinner with Sam’s fam. I know a lot of you were probably screaming at your TV at this point. Four episodes left and we’re wasting any of it on Sam and Gilly? Honestly, I don’t mind it. I feel like Sam is the personification of fantasy fans over the years and Randyll Tarly is Hollywood. It’s never been cool to fantasy. In polite society, it’s never been anything but sublimely dorky and misunderstood, much the way Sam is misunderstood by his father. Sam is the D&D player. Randyll Tarly is the varsity football coach. I don’t mind seeing Sam bristle at that at all.
Oh! Excuse me for wanting a little bread, you goddamn Keto Nazi! I just told you if we’re lucky we get to eat a SQUIRREL. Excuse me for indulging myself in a Hawaiian roll!
Randyll Tarly is a complete shitlord from hell. And Sam’s younger brother Dickon, yes Dickon, is an entitled penis.
Oh, I’m sorry Dickon! I forgot it takes time to cure venison! Silly me! I know how to actually read and I don’t spend all my time making judgy twat faces and trying to impress my shitlord daddy!
“You see that sword?” Shitlord from hell Randyll Tarly says. “Fatty will never lay a fat finger on that sword! Because he’d get butter grease all over it! Am I right, Dickon?”
“You’re right!” Says the Dick who also played the Dick on UnReal and is now in danger of being Dick typecast.
Minutes later, Sam is silently pulling that sword, Heartsbane, out of the antlers of honor, and stealing into the night with his new family, boldly resolving to not leave them in the care of his old family.
Gilly asks…won’t his father come for the sword?
“He can bloody well try.” Says Sam.
OH HELL YES!
I know there are those of you out there who don’t like this subplot, but let’s just keep in mind that Sam is our spirit guide in the Game of Thrones. He’s the only character who doesn’t look like he spends nine hours a day crossfitting. His superpower is reading. He’s a man of principle. He’s risen to bravery in dire situations. He’s stood by his family. He’s been a victim of insane unfairness but doesn’t wear that grievance around like a chain. He’s been a loyal friend. He’s been a hard worker. He’s been bullied and shamed almost every day of his life and he’s lost as much as anyone, yet he still approaches life with openness and optimism and kindness. Unlike many of the major characters, who still have yet to define their boundaries, Sam has defined his. He’s billed as an undercard, but Samwell Tarly has a role to play in the coming struggles, and now he has a chip on his shoulder and a Valyrian-Steel sword to boot.
Root for him, people. He deserves it.
I almost couldn’t believe it when the next scene opened back at the theater. It’s a mechanism that feels like it gets tired quickly, but it was delightful to see Arya chuckling at Joffrey’s death. It’s hard to remember what she might know and what she may have learned from this performance. Seeing Sansa treated so poorly last week, like a trollop, really, must have been difficult for her. But had she heard Good King Joff was poisoned?
Like Sam, forced to live in a lie of his asshole father’s creation, I can’t believe the lingering public discourse on the subject of Joffrey’s death is that Tyrion did it. I mean, I can believe it, but it pisses me off. The way he’s portrayed in that play, in general, pisses me off. We all know what really happened.
We remember that he smacked Joffrey when he needed it. We remember how brilliant he was as Hand of the King and how his own shitlord father recreated a fiction of failure around it. We remember that his thanks for bravely winning the battle of Blackwater and personally leading his troops was to have one of Cersei’s goons cut part of his face off and be demoted by his father for his troubles. We remember how his father blamed him for killing his mother in childbirth and for being born a little person. We remember how Oberyn told us Cersei snapped his pee pee when he was just a little baby. We remember how his own father banged his girlfriend and sentenced him to death for a crime he didn’t commit. And we remember how, of the three Lannister children, he was the only one with intelligence and a perspective. We see now how Cersei raised her children to be idiots, sheltered and pampered, counseled only by her. And we see how that stupidity has come home to roost. Life in the Seven Kingdoms is not fair, but the characters we love and root for have a position on that. When the rest of the world is self-serving or cruel, our people have rules. They have an internal compass, which is why Arya couldn’t kill Lady Crane.
In a show that features grand scales and huge, choreographed battles and expensive CGI sequences, it’s absolutely wonderful to see a small, amazing scene of two women talking. Lady Crane, played magnificently by Essie Davis, notices Arya hanging about and they have this lovely, intelligent, honest conversation. Lady Crane thinks she’s a younger version of herself, about to run off with the circus. Arya seems to just enjoy talking to someone, though it’s uncanny how easily and believably she calls herself Mercy. Those months of beatings with the rattan switch really paid off! One more thing about Essie Davis and Jack Bender’s direction. It’s not always easy to pull off “this is the good actress.” Yes, you can set it up and have the writing for the other players be over the top. You can cheat it with reaction shots of the crowd and slow pushes on the character, but if Essie doesn’t have the chops, it’s not gonna work.
But she really really does.
When Arya knocks the rum from Lady Crane’s hand, Alea Jacta Est, and we have officially crossed the Rubicon and entered a new chapter in Arya’s life.
Of course, The Waif was there to see Arya’s choice, and she skips back to Sexy Jesus in the House of Black and White and promptly tells on her.
“You promised! Remember! I told you she was going to wimp out! I told you! And you said I could kill her, remember?”
“Don’t let her suffer.” Says Sexy Jesus.
The Waif nods and walks away.
First of all, I mention it almost every week but Faye Marsay has done a great job as The Waif. I want to see her and Essie Davis much much more on my television. She is just this ancillary plot robot character, the sparring partner for Arya. The establishment of the House of Sand and Fog (or whatever) and this sort of continual barrier to entry, but inside of that she’s developed a subtle character and controlled menace that is admirable.
And Arya knows it. So she digs out Needle and hides in the dark.
You can’t tell me that shouldn’t have been the last scene of the episode. Yes, the dragon scene cost fifteen billion dollars to shoot and Arya’s cost zero, but imagine if we had gone in tight on that shot of her, the candle in the foreground, lighting her face, and we see her glance toward the door in anticipation as she blows out the candle and credits roll! COME ON, PEOPLE!
In any case, our long marathon of watching Arya beaten by a variety of sticks has apparently come to an end. Next week, either Arya’s face is going to be on the wall or The Waif’s will be. Anyone get the sense that maybe The Waif’s jealousy will be her undoing? She’s been after Arya since day one, applying a nearly Ramsay to Reek level of abuse. And why? Because she used to be the apple of Sexy Jesus’ eye before Lady Stark showed up.
Maybe what Sexy Jesus promised to The Waif isn’t what she thinks it is.
Now we’re in the final showdown between the Faith Militant on one side and the Tyrells and Lannisters on the other. Like the Khaleesi speech at the end of the episode, Mace Tyrell delivers a bombastic call to arms to a bunch of people who have to do what he says anyway.
Then, the table is set. The Tyrell forces block Margaery’s walk of shame and Jaime Braveheart’s his horse up the stairs to confront the High Sparrow. He demands the release of Margaery and Ser Loras in the name of the king.
“Every sparrow will die before Margaery Tyrell walks down that street.” Jaime says.
Oh! What’s up now, High Sparrow? Your move, sucka!
With the shit-eatingest grin in show history, The High Sparrow unveils his masterpiece. The King. With Margaery’s help, he has converted Tommen Baratheon himself, and now Jaime’s proclamation that he speaks on behalf of the King is undressed in public, just as his sister was.
The Queen of Thorns sees that they’ve been checkmated, even as her moronic son fans his plumage. The power dynamic has shifted in King’s Landing, and the Lannisters and Tyrells have been demoted.
Jaime is demoted from the position of Lord Commander of the Kingsguard, and is stripped down to his most basic high-fashion leather duds. (By his son.) How brutal is that? It had shades of Barristan Selmy, except that Selmy handled it with grace. Jaime just has no avenue to his son. Tommen, like Myrcella and Joffrey, was raised to be a pawn, and has always craved the wisdom of an older guide. In their ignorant audacity, Cersei and Jaime thought they were the master puppeteers on the block, but The High Sparrow is their mental superior in every way. He ran intellectual circles around them and they were roundly beaten.
“You don’t have to do this.” Jaime pleads, dropping his Gold Cloak breastplate to the floor.
Tommen looks to his great-uncle Kevan, the Hand, who seems to support the demotion.
“The crown’s decision in this matter is final.” Says Tommen.
So, we haven’t spoken a lot about Uncle Kevan, but what’s his deal, anyway? He thinks it’s better for Tommen to have someone other than a Lannister guarding his every move? (except the moves like having leisurely, bonding brunches with The High Sparrow, which apparently no one knew about). Kevan raises a son who gets seduced by his cousin and who now has a brand on his forehead. He seems more aligned with the Tyrells than his own family. But what’s his long game? I can’t fault him for not thinking much of Cersei and Jaime, but I just can’t discern his product roadmap. Goddamn enigma. Kevan is a character who may (or may not) have been developed in the books, but in the show he’s in a key position of power, yet we know so little of him.
For people who remember how Tyrion was treated by Cersei, how ruthless and evil Joffrey was, and how incompetent and cowardly of a leader he was, this is slow-burn justice. Remember that Jaime tried to kill a boy, a Stark boy who is undoubtedly the most powerful character on the show, in the very first episode. That was our entrée to him. Remember when he bumrushed Ned on the streets of King’s Landing and stabbed Jory in the eye? Remember what an insufferable prick this guy is? Yes, we do forget because of all the Brienne stuff, and because we know there’s good in him from that experience and for the sixty seconds where he was actually Myrcella’s father. But make no mistake about it: Jaime’s stock has just taken a near fatal hit, and because of that, so has Cersei’s.
At last we’re back with crowd favorite Walder Frey! Oh how he’s been missed. If there was any ‘filler’ in this episode, this was it.
Frey is lambasting his two sons over the “loss” of Riverrun. In his diatribe he comes across as wildly out of touch, not knowing simple facts like the shifting allegiances of huge houses. Instead he decides to focus on who is ‘laughing at him.’ Below is a simple map of who he feels is laughing at him. I’ve taken the liberty of circling the offenders in red.
The Blackfish will not yield, his filthy sons maintain.
But Walder thinks he will, because they have Edmure, Blackfish’s nephew, the nitwit so incompetent he couldn’t hit his dead father’s funeral pyre barge with an arrow.
On a side note, it’s tough to see Tobias Menzies in anything but a lead role. I know some of you really like Mr. Robot, and I do too, but Menzies’ portrayal of Black Jack Randall on Season One of Outlander was a tour de force and he should have won the Emmy. So to know what this actor is capable of, and to see him reduced to Jeff Daniels’ Harry character from Dumb and Dumber just feels like a wasted resource.
It remains to be seen whether The Blackfish values his nephew enough to relinquish Riverrun, but I’m not betting on it.
Aaand we’re back to Cersei’s scheming. She’s still just spitting venom in her quarters, preparing another comeback. “We should treat them without mercy and we will” she says, envisioning yet another grasp at the brass ring, and seemingly unaware of the body blow they’ve both just suffered. She tells Jaime he should do as the King asks and lead the Lannister army against the Blackfish at Riverrun. That he should be at the head of the army like daddy wanted.
Oh! Now all of a sudden what daddy wanted is so important to Cersei! Where was this Cersei two years ago when Tywin was running things?
“Take that stupid little castle back because it’s ours and because you can.” She hisses.
“You’ll stand trial soon. I need to be here for you.” Jaime says.
“It’ll be a trial by combat. I have The Mountain.” Cersei says.
Here’s the thing many of us are kind of geeking out on. The mad hype that Cersei’s shoulder shrugging “I have The Mountain” confidence has kicked off is…who could actually beat The Mountain? And more importantly, who should beat the Mountain?
I won’t go into more detail, lest I spoil a potential surprise, but that Trial by Combat could be awesome.
Once Cersei was done promising death and bloodshed to their enemies, Jaime was wildly turned on and tried to suck the lozenge out of her mouth. Six seasons in and I’m still not used to a brother and sister necking. I’m a slow learner I guess. As we pulled away from the scene, I couldn’t help feeling like this is the last night Jaime and Cersei would ever spend together for the rest of their lives. One -or both- of these fuckers is toast.
North of the Wall
To top it all off, we get yet another Stark reunion. Two in one season? What soul-annihilating deathblow are the writers setting us up for here? I don’t think we’re going to like it when the Game of Thrones pendulum swings back the other way. That said, Uncle Benjen! And he’s alive-ish!
Bran: But how did you survive?
Benjen The Children found me after I was impaled by a White Walker with an ice sword and they jammed a razor-sharp shard of obsidian directly into my still beating heart.
Bran: Whoa. Jesus Christ.
Wind whips. Meera looks at Bran with wide eyes. Benjen fills a Starbucks mug with hot rabbit’s blood.
Bran: But like, other than that, you’ve been good?
Benjen: Yeah, you know. Can’t complain. Could use more of a tan, but I’m alright.
So what did we learn from Benjen, the undead ranger with a name you imagine might be a celebrity couple name, like Brangelina? Well, we know it’s possible to impede the Night King’s magic if you can impale someone’s heart with Dragonglass before they turn. We also know that the Night King will figure out a way to get south of The Wall, and Benjen says it’s Bran’s job to stop him. Bran is now the Three-Eyed Raven, and when the time comes, he will be ready.
It’s nice to see Benjen back, frankly. The more Starks, living or dead, the better. But let’s make sure no one runs up to Jon at Castle Black with that news.
Incidentally, no Jon and Sansa and Davos and Melisandre and Brienne and Tormund this week. That’s absolutely the A plot, so not including them is ballsy. No Tyrion and Varys either. Bold. Also, for the second straight week, no Ramsay Bolton. That was a pleasure.
After the Benjen reveal, we’re back to the Great Grass Sea.
Khyber Pass Set somewhere near Vaes Dothrak
I’m glad the Khalasar is so powerful in that region because the right valley they were riding through is a total kill box. But they’re just leisurely walking the horde through it when Daenerys spots a wisp of dust.
“Wait here.” Says the Khaleesi of all Khaleesis, and rides off.
Then we get like fifteen shots of confused men looking around. They’ve never been bossed around by a woman before and they don’t know what to do (mental note: edit in this footage after Hillary smokes Donkey Trump in November). Finally, after thirty seconds of being under a woman’s insufferable yoke, male restlessness overwhelms Dreamy Daario and he’s like “I’m going after her.”
But wait! There! In the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s….it’s….Emilia Clarke’s superpower, which is to yell convincingly in fake languages. Seriously, she’s amazing at it. She speaks Dothraki and Valyrian like a champ, and I never stop to think “that’s just made up sounds.” It sounds like a language and she delivers it like a language.
I KNOW I JUST MET MOST OF YOU YESTERDAY BUT WILL YOU LOVE ME UNCONDITIONALLY AND FOREVER???
Yes, we will. Because with all of this show’s faults, and there are some, it’s still the best thing on television by a wide margin. It’s must watch TV, and next week looks like it might be a doozy. There are four episodes left and huge story arcs to cover. Shit is most definitely heating up.