You know you’re watching Game of Thrones when Ramsay stabs someone in the neck and you think “Oh, thank god.”
We take off right away with a closeup of Longclaw, which is nice, because of all the current plotlines, I think the Jon Snow one is the most exciting. Bam, that’s where we start. But it’s not exactly where we might have imagined when we last left Jon. I thought he’d be on the open road on a black mare, the Wall rising up behind him in the distance. But no, instead he’s getting a tongue lashing from Dolorous Edd about his decision to leave. Edd refreshes Jon’s memory about Hardhomme, and the evil that’s coming and Jon barks that he’s done everything he can.
He has, truly. He followed his best instincts. He saved thousands of Wildlings from becoming White Walker chum and the direct result of that was to be stabbed in his heart by men who had sworn to call him brother. I think I’d be a little gun-shy as well. If you remember back in the days in the Riverlands when we followed (albeit briefly) The Brotherhood Without Banners, when Thoros of Myr would pull Beric Dondarrion back from the dead, Beric reported that he’s a little less every time. That seems to be what’s happened to Jon a bit. We were hoping that he’d come back with a chip on his shoulder, but he seems slightly diminished. He’s tired and confused and sick of it.
And then, riders approach, and we get to see something we haven’t seen since Bran and Rickon split up outside Winterfell — two of Ned’s children* in the same place at the same time.
When Sansa and Brienne (and Pod) first enter Castle Black, you know they had to be thinking ‘why are there all these wildlings in here?’ But then Sansa sees Jon and the wordless joy for both of them was wonderful. Jon came down the steps like he truly couldn’t believe his eyes, and when they embraced, I may have taken a deep breath for the first time in, like, three seasons.
Let’s just take a second to really appreciate the quality of writing on this show. Because you know what would have been super-annoying? Another near miss. Jon heading south on the road as Sansa heads north and they just miss each other. That would have sucked. Instead we have brother and sister together, and the writers make another fantastic choice. When Sansa asks “where will you go?” Jon says “you mean where will we go?” and he cites the fact that Ned would kill him if he didn’t protect Sansa. Yes! I was clapping in my living room over that. That’s exactly right. On lesser shows, on shows that don’t get it, there would have been some bullshit conversation about how Jon has to find himself after being killed or that he can’t carry the weight of everything or some other artificial, bullshit premise to split them up. But not on Game of Thrones. Jon reads the terrain and instantly he settles in to a new plan, one in which leaving his sister’s side is unthinkable. I loved that.
Also, when they were having that nice talk as a freshly cleaned and lovely Sansa drank soup, it felt incredibly honest. A bastard brother who was always lesser than, and now in a position of power, welcomes the sister who had looked down her nose at him. They are both so different now. And the dialogue reflected that. It sounded real. She’s nagged by the memory of having been not all that great to him and he remembers sulking. When she asks for forgiveness, after all Jon’s been through, he shrugs it off and then gives it freely. There is nothing in the world for him that’s easier to give than forgiveness for some mild childhood unkindness, he - raised from death, he who slew a white walker and faced down the Night’s King. It’s a tiny thing, but one that means something to Sansa.
As a non-book reader, I didn’t really know that she was unkind to Jon. It was certainly made clear that he was lesser than, thanks to Cat Stark, but Jon and Arya’s relationship was so good that I assumed he and Sansa weren’t that far afield. But I guess they were. In any case, it’s certainly a fortuitous reunion. Sansa historically has always been the Stark child who most looked southward. She was more cultured and more refined. Remember how she was so excited to get to King’s Landing and absorb the fashions and the social structure? Jon, on the other hand, was probably the Stark child who looked mostly to the North. He was an unpolished fighter, through and through. But in the intervening years, they’ve both endured a backbreaking amount of physical and emotional torment, especially at the whim of larger forces encircling them both.
One last note on Sansa. As we found out, by her own admission, that she was “awful” to Jon, I couldn’t help harkening back to Oberyn’s story of how Cersei treated Tyrion. Certainly, Sansa is no Cersei, but there are passing similarities there. Consider that Cersei has managed to keep herself in the epicenter of Westerosi power for an enviable amount of time using nothing more than influence and persuasion. Sansa watched all of that during her formative years. So was it so odd to see Sansa becoming a Northern version of Cersei? Sansa, the soup still warm in her hands, immediately begins to push Jon to attack Winterfell. I mean, right off the bat. And she makes a compelling case. How many wildlings do you have? You think they’ll be safe with Ramsay Bolton in Winterfell? Jon is worn out, but Sansa makes the most compelling argument yet. “If we don’t take back the North, we’ll never be safe.”
Elsewhere in Castle Black, Ser Davos approaches Melisandre and asks her plans. When she says she’ll do as Jon Snow commands, and that he — not Stannis — is the Prince that was Promised, Davos can’t help but sate his curiosity. Namely: what happened at Winterfell and specifically, what happened to princess Shireen?
This is a pretty big deal, because you can’t imagine that when he finds out what the Red Woman did he’s going to let her walk away without his sword in her. But just at that second, as if by magic, as Melisandre is avoiding the question, Brienne interjects. She lets them know she was Renly’s Kingsguard, and she was there when he was assassinated with blood magic. Davos says it’s in the past, but Brienne is intent on letting them know that she, herself, killed Stannis and that she doesn’t forget and doesn’t forgive.
Hmm. So Melisandre dodges a bullet, but Brienne comes right out and lets her know that she’s living on borrowed time. I love how noble and forthright Brienne is, but so was Ned, and look where it got him. If you’re going to kill a cobra, it’s probably better if the cobra doesn’t know. Also, I guess Stannis is, y’know, dead. Huh.
Let’s give some credit to Lino Facioli, who plays Robin Arryn. God he’s terrifying. Littlefinger shows up and presents him with a gyrfalcon. When Lord Royce has the temerity to question Littlefinger about Sansa Stark, Littlefinger turns the interrogation upside down, playing upon the flightiness and cluelessness of the young Defender of the Vale.
It made me shudder how quickly Lord Royce went from trusted advisor to nearly being thrown through the Moon Door. That ghastly, withdrawn little ghoul, Robin Arryn. My god. Littlefinger’s mastery of manipulation was never more obvious than in that scene. Lord Royce gets to stay alive, Lord Baelish gains a now-cowed military commander with some expertise, and at his suggestion, the little ghoul decides to send help to Sansa.
We don’t know a lot about the Knights of the Vale, but in that they’ve stayed out of the War of the Five Kings, we know that they’re at the very least fresh. In the previews for next week we see Petyr Baelish and Sansa in the same place, so I guess Littlefinger moves across the continent with the type of speed only he seems to muster. But the Eyrie’s military force joining the Game of Thrones is an interesting development for sure.
After this we’re back in Meereen, where it seems Tyrion’s prattling has affected both Grey Worm and Missandei, who are freely giving their opinions. Grey Worm stresses how opposed he is to meeting with the Masters, suggesting they just attack them instead.
“Yes, that’s the military option. I represent the diplomatic option.” Says Tyrion.
After meeting with the masters, and being forced to have Tyrion’s back with their brethren in Meereen, Grey Worm and Missandei are worried. How dare Tyrion offer the slavers seven more years of slavery?
“You’re right. Slavery is a horror that should be ended at once. War is a horror that should be ended at once. I can’t do both today.” Says Tyrion.
Remember last week when we got to see what a master of manipulation Varys was when he offered that captured slave the carrot instead of the stick? That’s what we saw with Tyrion this week. A wise man once said a true history of the world is a history of great conversations in elegant rooms. That’s all this was. Tyrion, seeing the whole board, chooses to appease the Masters by allowing them a more gradual removal of slavery in order to secure the safety of Meereen. It’s a simple trade to him. Get stability first, and then we can talk. And he finishes the Masters off with prostitutes. It’s a type of diplomacy that seemed very effective, and very uncommon in the East.
That said, as we left Meereen, Grey Worm wasn’t convinced.
“You will not use them. They will use you. That is what they do.” He says.
So I sit there and think, are we to believe that Tyrion made a mistake here? That he somehow overtrusted? I don’t know what Torgo Nuhdo’s position is. How will the Masters use Tyrion? Will they just keep funding the Sons of the Harpy and have no intention to eliminate slavery? Tyrion is nothing if not a realist. I’m guessing he’s counting on that, as his father would have. I just think this is a play for the short term safety of Meereen while he figures out his next moves.
God I love Missandei, also.
“I banged Daenerys.” Says Daario. “You should consider yourself lucky that she didn’t want to bang you! Because you couldn’t keep up with all of that fucking. She’s a hellcat, let me tell you! You’d never make it! Not that you had a choice since I’m the one who bangs her and not you.”
I know some of you out there like Daario. I certainly like this Daario better than the first Daario, who I found naturally repellent. But shut the fuck up, dude. Oh! I don’t want to pick a fight, but god I love having sex with your woman! I’m not sure there are more ‘picking a fight’ words on the planet than that. So we’re back to Vaes Dothrak, the odd couple are on their bellies, scouting the sacred city. Jorah is kicking up enough dust for them to be spotted in Dorne, but nevertheless they ‘sneak’ into the city, and are discovered by two roving Klingons within twelve seconds. That’s how stealth they were. Daario dispatches the little one as Ser Jorah gets his fucking asshole handed to him by the big one. Jorah is so outclassed that he tries to throw sand in the big man’s eyes and misses. Oh god it’s pathetic.
Also, Daario sees that Jorah has stone man’s disease and we see that it’s progressing. It’s no joke.
Then we’re in the tent with The Mother of Dragons and Mercedes Ruehl again. She’s like “the best you can do is hopefully live every day here in this tent.” And Daenerys is like “Yeah yeah, I have to go make water.” She leaves the tent, dishing with the only other Khaleesi under 40 and Dreamy Daario and Jorah roll up. This plan sucks, Daenerys says. But I have a better one…
Whenever I see Septa Unella I say “confess.”
“Be quiet.” Says Lady Castleton.
“Shame.” I say. “Shame. Ding-Dong. Shame.”
“Be quiet.” Says Lady Castleton.
The truth about all of this is that Jonathan Pryce as The High Sparrow is amazing, and we see that Margaery is clever and strong. But it’s tough to stay focused on it because the pace is slower and it’s just not as exciting of a plotline. Keep this in mind though, people who would have Game of Thrones turn into the 24 of swords and boards: we need these scenes. There is no Red Wedding unless you set up the scene properly. There is no harvest without the seed. We all have said “let’s get on with it!” from time to time on this show, but we’re in season six and the reason why it still works on such a high level is that the tapestry has been woven in such a way that we understand the fabric of the world on an intuitive level. That’s why we can say absurd things like “I don’t think that would happen.”
I know some people will complain about the long, seemingly meandering training of Arya (who we didn’t see this week) and wonder as to the individual beats. Was it so important to see her washing dead bodies? To see people die when they drank from the well? To have her beg and be blind and learn to fight without her eyes? Yes, it all matters, because we’re being set up for a payoff, and the people who know what that payoff is have earned enough trust over the years for us to lend them a little patience.
Maybe the relative weakness of Ser Loras Tyrell is the takeaway here? We had a lot - I mean a LOT - of brother/sister stuff this week and in every case, the sister is the one with the intestinal fortitude and the brother is just fucking exhausted by it all. As we find out in the next scene, a reckoning is coming for the Faith Militant. So while it all may feel like padding in the moment, when we’re excited to get to the meat of the story, it’s okay to allow things to run their natural course.
Cersei, on the other hand, is intent on making things run the course she decides. She walks in on Maester Pycelle lecturing Tommen and promptly shitcans him out of the room. Tommen, the little rabbit, imparts a secret to Cersei and now the plot thickens.
That was the last time we groaned about yet another High Sparrow talking scene, but it mattered because now we know that Margaery is scheduled to take a walk of shame like Cersei.
“That cannot happen.” Says the Queen of Thorns. “That will not happen.”
Armed with this tidbit of knowledge rather than a hippopotamic land mass, Cersei and Jamie make run #2 at the Small Council. Shamewalk: The Sequel. Tommen orders the Small Council meeting postponed and after Cersei ignores some cruel barbs from the Queen of Thorns, the four of them actually sit down and talk. Kevan Lannister, the only Lannister who isn’t a complete dickweed to this point, is convinced to stand down and allow the Tyrell army to enter King’s Landing and crush the Faith Militant. The king hasn’t specifically ordered the hand not to stand down, so he can just order his men to step back as the second most numerous army in Westeros swarms the city.
Maybe I’m nuts here, but to my reckoning, Lady Tyrell - The Queen of Thorns - is the smartest person left alive in Westeros. The only person who could tangle with her was Tywin and he’s dead. Littlefinger, possibly, but he’s up North. Tyrion and Varys, possibly, but they’re in story-arc purgatory. And Cersei and Jamie together would scarcely approach her level of intellect. Cersei is too blinded by hatred and Jamie is too busy being the David Chokachi star of Baywatch: King’s Landing. So, you’re going to go to a shark and be like “hey, swim your army of sharks into the aquarium and only kill the fish we don’t like, okay?”
Yeeeeeeeeeahhhhh. That’s gonna work out just like you drew it up, Cersei, you idiot.
“Many will die no matter what they do.” Says the Queen of Thorns, seeing her advantage. “Better them than us.”
The Iron Isles
I swear as the towers revealed themselves through the fog on Theon’s approach, I thought the Star Wars music was kicking in. Maybe it was just me.
Euron Greyjoy was a mysterious no-show this week, and based on the preview for next week, it’ll be next Sunday before we get the Ironborn Kingsmoot. Goddamn, there’s nothing like a moot. King’s or otherwise.
In this scene, Yara rakes Theon over the coals, and he admits that he was broken.
“He broke me. He broke me into 1000 pieces.”
“I know.” Says Yara. “He sent us one of them.”
Theon cries and she yells at him to stop crying and tell her what he wants. Why is he fortuitously here the second their father dies?
“You should rule the Iron Isles.” He says. “Let me help you.”
Ahhhh, the Ironborn. There isn’t a more dour, joyless people on the face of the Known World. But Yara is a tough cookie and a partially re-invented Theon (Alfie Allen, by the way, what a range he’s had to play on this show) is someone who’s easy to get behind.
Like I said in the opener, we -thankfully- get through a week without Ramsay torturing anyone. Especially Rickon.
Osha is admitted to his chamber and she does a great job playing the part of the detached servant. She never wanted to serve the Starks. She was protecting Rickon so she could sell him. She never got paid and feels she’s owed. It was an excellent performance and might have worked had Reek not completely spilled the beans to Ramsay about her role in the escape. When she goes for Ramsay’s enticingly reachable fruit knife, he rewards her with one in her neck. One he’d been hiding all along.
Then he goes back to eating an apple. No shortage of fruit knives on that boy.
Maybe he’s bored after the death of Myranda. Maybe he needs a little thrill to get his psycho juices flowing? No idea. But it was sad to see the wildling Osha go. She was a good character and did right by the Starks and was pretty fucking cagey at the end of the day. At least she didn’t suffer.
Probably the best thing any of us will ever see is Tormund making come hither eyes to Brienne at the dinner table. That’s just sublime in every way. Oh, the division one lineman these two could breed! How about Brienne and Tormund on the Iron Throne and roll credits? I love them both.
As they’re eating, a brother of the Night’s Watch brings in a scroll from Ramsay Bolton.
“A letter for you, Lord Commander.” He says.
“I’m not Lord Commander anymore.” Jon says. The dude just stands there, holding the letter out to him. Jon sighs and takes it. OH, I GUESS YOU STILL ARE THE LORD COMMANDER EVEN WITHOUT THE FURRY CLOAK, JON SNOO!
He proceeds to read the second most fight-picky thing in this episode. Dear Bastard, come see how I shit in your parent’s bed. Come see! I have your little brother in my dungeon. Come see!
It’s a reprehensible screed from a lunatic who is obviously bored and needs something to play with. It also makes the mistake of threatening the wildlings, so Jon doesn’t even have to ask Tormund to join him. Now he’s being threatened. Ramsay has five thousand men, according to Sansa (by comparison, Jorah says there are 100,000 Dothraki in Vaes Dothrak). Tormund offers his 2,000. And hello, they have a giant. I feel like that should be the first thing said, every time.
“How many men do you have, Tormund?”
“Well, I have one giant.”
“Awesome. That kicks ass.”
“Yes, it does. I also have 2,000 footsoldiers.”
“Nice! I’m still pumped about the giant.”
So Jon has 2,000 men, plus the nine remaining brothers (or whatever) of the Night’s Watch. He has Littlefinger coming from The Vale (though he doesn’t know it). And he has SmallJon Umber who is going to switch sides for sure because I refuse to believe he’s a bad guy. I refuse.
I mentioned last week how I don’t love the Dothraki as a people. That was never more evident as it was in the meeting of Khals when they decide that everyone will take turns fucking Daenerys and then their bloodriders would, and “if there’s anything left of her” then the horses would fuck her.
Dany is no fool, though. She pulls a variation of the Braveheart ploy, locks all the enemy leaders in a hut and burns the hut. Except this time, she’s in it. It’s a masterful stroke as she walks out of the blazing inferno naked and all of the Dothraki bow to her. As we pull away from the scene, a blazing hut with Daenerys standing naked at the door, we see that things have changed in Vaes Dothrak.
Daenerys may not have many tricks, but walking out of an inferno, naked, in front of a civilization that has never experienced something as simple as ‘first grade’ makes you the boss. It’ll be interesting to see what she does in her second round as head Khaleesi.
All in all, a solid if not mind-blowing episode. The big takeaways are Jon and Sansa being together, Tormund raising his eyebrows at Brienne, and Dany taking back control of the Dothraki. Next week looks to build upon these stories, plus Bran is back, and we get to meet another Red Woman, this time she’s telling Varys all he doesn’t know.
See y’all next week!