This week’s episode can most generously be described as uneven. Some scenes felt very much too long, some too short. Some seemed completely pointless, others had crucial character development and clues for the future. A lot of it, in all honesty, felt like treading water to hold off all the events associated with the Battle of the Bastards until next week. But it’s not next week yet, so let’s talk a bit about what worked, what didn’t, and how I was totally right about a bunch of stuff. Spoilers below. No dragon gif this week because they don’t deserve it.
We open in Braavos with more of the Lannister play. I’m just assuming that this entire play was scripted and shot and we’re getting to see so much of it so the writers can show off a bit. Frankly, if the whole thing isn’t a DVD extra I’ll be shocked. Lady Crane reads a rewritten soliloquy that’s still far kinder to Cersei than it should be, before heading backstage to find that the thing going bump in her dressing room is a critically wounded Arya. Not Jaqen wearing Arya’s face, not Arya totally fine but suffering from a split personality disorder, just a regular teenager with a massive gut wound that’s probably developing sepsis right now due to her dip in the canal. But Lady Crane patches her up and gives her a little story about how she can bandage up wounds well because of her abusive relationships. It’s charming! Lady Crane tempts Arya with a position playing her sister Sansa on stage, but Arya decides to ramble about what’s “west of west” before accepting some milk of the poppy to help her sleep off her injuries. As Lady Crane gazes tenderly at her, I was briefly worried that she’d sold Arya out to the Waif and Arya would wake up in the Temple, but then I remembered that the show isn’t that clever.
We catch up with two of the men who killed the villagers last episode sexually assaulting some other young riders who just wanted to share a fire. Sandor strides up and kills everyone with a few swings of the axe, because why bother expending more effort than necessary on these fools?
In Meereen we see trade is thriving and the latest priestess from Ford’s Models/The Temple of R’hllor has shown up to preach about the divine right of Daenerys. Now, I’m a fan of Dany, but I’m not sure what she needs is MORE encouragement that she’s destined to be a super great ruler, you know? Maybe make her work for it just a bit. Varys is headed off to parts unknown, but most likely back to Westeros. Someone has to come back to kill Kevan Lannister, after all. Anyway, weird that the two Lannister siblings who would claim they have NOTHING in common have both elevated religious fanatics in the mistaken belief that they can control them and use them to mutual benefit, right?
The Faith Militant with their array of extremely punchable faces have arrived in the Red Keep to collect Cersei and take her to the Great Sept. Cersei’s not down with that plan. After getting a third degree burn off a woman twice her age last week, Cersei seems to have run right out of fucks to give about the High Septon and decides to let her pet zombie handle the problem. And, weirdly, despite their previous fanatical devotion and sincere belief in an afterlife and the Gods, not one of the Faith Militant is willing to take on The Mountain after watching their friend experience a Mortal Combat fatality! Cersei extends an invitation to the High Septon to come visit her in the Red Keep at his leisure.
Brienne and Pod are at Riverrun, which means they’ve crossed half of goddamn Westeros in the course of, like, a week or two? God this show and travel timelines will drive you completely mad if you think about it for more than 30 seconds. Bronn and Pod have a conversation where the writers just admit that Gwendoline Christie is lovely, and they’re very sorry for pretending she was hideous for so long. Bronn offers to teach Pod street fighting and poor young Pod remains the most credulous human being on this show. Bless him. Meanwhile, Jaime and Brienne are having a conversation that’s, like, eight layers deep about honor, duty, and staying pure in an impure world. It’s really great. I wish it had been about five minutes longer. The upshot is that Brienne gets until nightfall to convince the Blackfish to surrender the castle and take his army up to Sansa. Then she tries to return Oathkeeper. Jaime assure her that it’s her sword. Capping it off is a moment where Brienne tells Jaime that if he tries to take the castle while she’s in it, she’ll be compelled by honor to fight him. Both of them have more naked romantic longing on their face than we’ve ever seen from either of them before. It’s beautiful and heartbreaking, and Brienne strides off just after her lip quivers the tiniest bit. There’s a lot in this episode I didn’t like, but these two in this scene are perfect. Of course the Blackfish isn’t going to ride to Winterfell to save Sansa. This news is unsurprising, but disappointing.
There’s a big to-do happening in the throne room of the Red Keep and Cersei strides in like she owns the place, only for Kevan to literally put her in the corner. Tommen makes another announcement that the faith and the crown are partnered, and then announces the date of Loras and Cersei’s trials. Trials which will now be by judgement, as the crown (so, Tommen by way of the High Septon) has outlawed trial by combat. So, her spine-ripping zombie friend will be useless to her. What might not be useless to her? Whatever rumor Qyburn was investigating. Given the timing of the conversation, it is likely something that will help her in her trial. Given Bran’s vision from a few weeks ago, I’m pretty sure it has to do with the stockpile of Wildfire stored under King’s Landing. How much of it might be left after the Battle of the Blackwater and where it might be. I think that Cersei might be planning a literal trial by fire for the Great Sept and anyone in it.
I refuse to recap Tyrion peer-pressuring Missandei and Gray Worm into drinking and trying to teach them jokes. It’s one of those scenes that I’m sure the writers really enjoyed writing, and the actors probably enjoyed playing, but my god is it less than useless. Great example of why you should “kill your darlings.” Anyway, after about a year, we find out that the Great Masters have somehow sailed a fleet right up to Meereen, completely undetected, which is a failure of MULTIPLE people in that room, but specifically and in order: 1. Gray Worm and his army and 2. Tyrion and his arrogance in his own knowledge of statecraft. Good work, dudes.
Jaime has come to confer with Edmure Tully, in a scene that’s mostly taken straight from the books. Both Tobias Menzies and Nikolaj Coster Waldau do a great job here, all the Jaime scenes this episode are great. The addition of Jaime speaking of his admiration for Catelyn is interesting, particularly where he talks about how Catelyn and Cersei would do anything to protect their babies; “start a war, burn cities to ash.” Then Jaime gets to deliver the line about sending Edmure’s son to him with a catapult, so Edmure stalks up to Riverrun and demands entrance. Despite the wishes of the Blackfish, he is admitted to the castle. Edmure immediately surrenders the castle as promised. So Jaime won’t have to fight Brienne, but Riverrun has been handed over to the Freys. And in a final insult, after the Blackfish sends off Brienne and Pod in a boat, he dies off-screen defending his honor. I see a lot of people wishfully mentioning that we don’t see a body, but there’s no reason for the death to be reported if it didn’t happen and we’ve never had an off-screen death come back later. Not once in this series. I’ve said it before; the story-telling on this show is fairly straightforward. We’ve seen the last of the Blackfish. We’ve also seen the last of Brienne and Jaime trying to not have feelings for each other, as she and Pod row away, hopefully in the rough direction of North.
In Meereen, the city is under full attack and the Unsullied are trying to hold the pyramid since they didn’t have any protections along the sea wall. And just when all looks lost, Dany strides in with a very “I leave you all alone for TEN MINUTES and this is what happens?” kind of look. Also, we spent all that time trying to teach Missandei how to tell a joke, but a battle where an ACTUAL DRAGON is going to go on a rampage gets 15 seconds? I just don’t get the choices this show is making.
Speaking of choices this show is making, Beric Dondarrion is back, so I think we can put the nail in the Lady Stoneheart coffin. I’ve been extremely skeptical that they were going to pick up that plot point this late in the game, and now they haven’t. I feel better. And it turns out that whoever is leading the Brotherhood, they’re not especially down with slaughtering innocents, but they are down with bantering about how to kill people. Given that the Brotherhood has a few openings, they decide that this new, somewhat softer version of the Hound is just the kind of applicant they’re looking for in the battle in the North! This is exciting in the sense that the Hound is back to having a purpose and we’re bringing more plot threads together. This is less exciting in the sense that they also probably killed Cleganebowl. The Hound hung two people AND two anticipated plot points in one scene. That’s efficient.
Wrapping up Arya’s summer backpacking tour through Braavos, the Waif has found her and kills Lady Crane horribly. Arya, despite her wounds and likely infection (seriously, guys, gut wounds are DIRTY even when you don’t go swimming in a literal river of shit and while they may have old-timey opium I’ve not heard anyone mention “the fungus of healing” or whatever English to Fantasy term you’d use for penicillin) sprints through the city to escape her killer. Maybe this could have been prevented if she had realized that you can’t just up and quit an ancient secret cabal of assassins but whatever. We all go through weird phases as adolescents. Maybe she figured that quitting murder school was just like getting an ill-advised belly button piercing and once you take the bar out, no one’s the wiser! After a nasty tumble down some stairs, Arya finally remembers at least a tiny bit of her training and draws the Waif into a space she knows, where she has a weapon, and can gain an advantage quickly. I’m sure there’s a thrilling confrontation that takes place in that darkened room that we get no hint of because this episode is mostly bullshit. But at the end of it, the Waif’s face is in the Hall and Arya and Needle are headed back to Winterfell, so I guess it’s fine. I knew she’d never become a Faceless man, but it’s still disappointing to see how badly the end of this storyline was handled. It just raises so many questions about Arya’s actions, about the improbability of her survival with those wounds, about wouldn’t the Waif also know how to fight blind if it was part of training, and so forth and so on.
Next week is the Battle of the Bastards. Here’s hoping that Rickon isn’t one of those bodies propped up on a flaming cross.