This season on Game of Thrones we are headed even further into uncharted territory from the books. This makes my job harder, but I suspect we’re all in this unsteady, uncertain boat together. Just like Gendry. Be aware that there will be spoilers below the dragon for all episodes of Game of Thrones and all books through A Dance With Dragons. If you’ve read the preview chapters of The Winds of Winter I do not want to hear about them, thank you very much. Let’s ride.
I’m going to go ahead and warn you that I will probably complain about the timelines a bit this season. We pick up the Winterfell plot within hours or a day at most of the end of last season. Same with The Wall. But in Dorne, its clear that at least a week or so has passed for the ship to be back to King’s Landing already. Anyway, Theon and Sansa are fleeing through the woods on miraculously unbroken legs when Ramsay’s hunters catch up to them. Things are looking grim until a genuine Big Damn Hero moment comes along in the form of Brienne of Tarth and Podrick. Brienne, fresh off completing her mission of killing Stannis in retribution for his assassination of Renly, throws all the rest of her strength into saving Sansa Stark and succeeds with able assists from both Pod and Theon. I think this is Brienne’s most successfully productive day ever. But lets talk about how much show history we get in this scene: Sansa Stark, who has been raised in turn by Starks, Tullys, Lannisters, and Littlefingers, takes the oath of Brienne, a warrior searching for honor who was sworn to her mother, advised by Theon, heir to the Iron Island and former advisor to her older brother, attended by Podrick Payne, her first husband’s protege, in the woods where her father ruled. An oath like this is offered by a knight to a lord. Brienne is now truly a knight, and Sansa her own Lady. I teared up when I watched this because of how many stories are coming together here into something beautiful and wonderful under the leadership of Sansa Stark. There’s a part of me that says it won’t last, that nothing this beautiful can’t last, but I will treasure every minute that I have it. They may be scruffy, they may not hold any land or lead any armies, they may be a bunch of orphans and misfits searching for a home, but this may be the new force I’m backing on this show.
The one area that we’re still behind on the books, at least as far as the premiere goes, is Arya’s training. By the end of A Dance With Dragons she’s already recovered her sight. But she does that by manipulating the terms of the House of Black and White in a way that is uniquely Stark; by partially warging into a stray cat to see who is attacking her. In her quest to be No One she is aided by a trait that could not be possessed by anyone but Arya Stark. In the books, it seems this is a clue that Arya will never be No One but will be a competent assassin. As the show has scaled back a great deal of the magical elements of the books, it remains to be seen if Arya will retain this significant tie to her heritage. So far, she remains helpless to defend herself against The Waif.
As far as the Dornish plot goes I’m not even going to discuss, again, how stupid the plan last season was and how inconsistent this season’s follow-up was (weren’t Obara and Nymeria on the dock as that ship pulled away? Has Gendry been teaching them how to row behind the scenes?) but if we’re going full blood thirsty matriarchy in Dorne this season I am VERY RELUCTANTLY here for it. Even if I miss having Ellaria as a voice for mercy and looking forward rather than back, and Doran as a leader who understands the long game instead of operating on the ruling premise of ‘GIMME!’ but whatever. Stabby women. Here for it. I GUESS. I am gonna be offended on behalf of Areo Hotah who was smarter than that. Or should have been. The fact that this entire coup hinged on Jaime not turning their ship around the moment Myrcella died and lobbing non-vital pieces of Trystane back at Doran until Ellaria and all the Sand Snakes were executed right there on the docks seems risky, but it paid off in the end. I do think it’s interesting that we see the rise of two female leaders in this episode; Sansa’s rise is brought about by honor and duty, Ellaria’s rise is brought about through vengeance and bloodshed. In the world of the show, it’s likely foolish to rhapsodize about the “right way” to do things, but I do know whose progress I’m more invested in.
Also, let’s discuss:
Book Jaime: “Your wife may whelp before that. You’ll want your child, I expect. I’ll send him to you when he’s born. With a trebuchet.” - A Feast for Crows
Show Jaime: “My daughter-niece was poisoned by the Donish while I was not half a mile from their shores with the heir to their seat on board. Better sail all the rest of the way to King’s Landing with her dead body and his live one. Definitely nothing else that could be done, there. But I’ll make lots of speeches once I arrive! Oh, and leave my incredibly valuable Dornish hostage unguarded on the boat instead of immediately throwing him into a cell guarded by men loyal to me.”
Despite the big speech that Jaime gives Cersei about “taking everything from them” back in King’s Landing, it seems that both these lions have been neutered. Jaime by his crippling, and Cersei by her humiliation. Who will recover their fire first? In the novels, it seems that Jaime is learning to walk a fine line between threatening brutality while evincing diplomacy in his work in the Riverlands, and learning that strength does not always come from a sword. Cersei is learning to follow the rules until she can get the upper hand again. Having the two of them together at this point in their development is a bold break from the novels, and I’m interested to see if their growth together is more or less damaging than their growing apart.
Daenerys is still pretty good at playing that “not letting on that you speak the native language” card. Not as great at remembering her Dothraki political system. But she lives another day and we know from the preview that Drogan will circle back around from her. Of course, we also know that she’ll get all the way back to Vaes Dothrak before she heads anywhere else. But “To go forward, you must go back.”
As for the big question of Jon Snow, I get the feeling that he wasn’t revived in this episode just to drive home the SEE, GUYS, HE’S REALLY DEAD!!! point that they’ve been selling for the last 10 months. Whatever. If Melisandre is really a 100-400 year old (actual age: unclear depending on which conspiracy theory regarding her origins you believe, thank you Joanna. The choker continuity is also addressed there in a way that I’m satisfied with, even if I also think that they made this scene up long after the first one was shot.) sorceress who can survive poisoning and the ravages of time then she can PROBABLY fix up a few stab wounds. After her nap, apparently. Also, considering Carice Van Houten is pregnant with Guy Pearce’s baby, this is a good way to transition Melisandre off of tit duty. Who’s going to want to see them again after that? I also wonder about the overall health and longevity of the Red Woman if she does revive Jon. Thoros managed to bring back Beric over half a dozen times, but he was freshly dead each time. Bringing back Catelyn when she was three days gone killed him. Melisandre is likely more powerful, given her age, but the longer she waits to try to revive Jon the more it will take out of her. And yes, I’m still firmly of the belief that she WILL revive Jon.
The big question here is next moves. The previews seem to guarantee that we’re getting the Battle of the Bastards in the North. The big question is if that’s going to come from Ramsay storming Castle Black, or from Jon leading a charge South and whether or not Sansa makes it to the Wall to direct that charge. If I were Sansa I’d be seeking shelter with one of the Stark bannerman to consolidate power quietly before revealing myself, but the show has demonstrated a tendency to the dramatic over the strategic in more ways than one. And as far as orphans and misfits go, Davos is currently in search of a cause. If the Red Woman does revive Jon (and she will) is he more likely to throw in with someone who burned his beloved Shireen to death or find a new cause to rally behind? There are a lot of interested possibilities on the horizon and all of them make me very nervous because I don’t know who to trust anymore. Fingers crossed we get moving on that Iron Islands plot soon so I (and all of you) can feel like we’re on slightly more stable ground.