Game of Thrones Book Reader Recap: Where Does Warranted Aggression End and Madness Begin?
This was one of the episodes in this season where the seams of trying to get everything wrapped up really started to show, yet at the same time it was too indulgent in fun moments that don’t actually seem vital. But perhaps I am the only person who never cared what happened to Gendry ever since he rowed off from Dragonstone. The larger pieces of the story are moving so swiftly toward their conclusions that we don’t have time to fully contextualize when these events are happening in relation to each other, or get consistent characterization of people who’ve been on the show for six seasons, but we DO have time for boner jokes with Davos. This episode felt like a really bumpy ride for me, but I know a lot of people liked it, so I’m glad for them.
Like I thought last week, Jaime is not dead. He and Bronn start the episode heaving themselves out of a river after nearly drowning. Jaime, somehow, still has on all the armor that should have sunk him straight to the bottom of that river but whatever, I’ve got bigger fish to fry this episode. The good news is that the dunk has sharpened Jaime’s understanding of their position in this war, and he understands what the danger truly is. While Bronn is all for getting out while the getting’s good, Jaime feels it’s his duty to deliver the news to Cersei.
Tyrion is surveying the damage done in the battle and I get what they’re going for here, but conquest isn’t pretty no matter how it happens. If it weren’t a field of ash and burned bodies, it’d be a field of blood and mangled corpses. His father left a few of those in his wake. The show keeps trying to paint this version of Daenerys as a heartless, possibly insane conqueror, but as some of the Watchers on the Wall pointed out, this is what war is. She is acting appropriately given her goals and the general history of armed combat. She just happens to have dragons. Executing those who will not obey you isn’t madness, it’s what Robb Stark did to Rickard Karstark. It’s also what Jon Snow did to Janos Slynt at the Wall. Destroying houses that take up arms against you isn’t proof of unimaginable cruelty, it’s what happened to the Boltons. Burning people alive is something Aerys did from his seat on the Iron Throne for his own personal satisfaction. Daenerys is doing it as a show of force against an army that attacked and killed her allies, and only after giving her foes the chance to surrender. The writers are not doing well by her at this point by insisting on making her seem far more black and white than she has been in previous seasons, but I don’t see the support for “madness.” Determination and ruthlessness, yes, but she’s not insane. Daenerys is acting like Aegon the conqueror, not Aerys the Mad King. Frankly, I hope Olenna got a glimpse of that in whatever passes for the afterlife in Westeros. Besides becoming a zombie. To be clear, I’m not saying anyone has to root for Daenerys. I’m saying I find it ridiculous that everyone’s freaking out about her “madness” when she’s acting exactly how I’d expect a general to act while fighting for their claim to a territory and avenging a fallen ally. She just happens to be doing it with dragons, which definitely ups the drama factor of it all. Tyrion’s weird wobbly reaction to all of this is particularly galling. Guy, your dad had a song written about that time he destroyed an entire family for not paying back some debts to say the least of the violence your family has been involved in or that you have directly witnessed and engaged in. Get ahold of yourself.
Jaime has arrived to tell Cersei about the battle and the dragons. Cersei’s still clinging to hope even as Jaime tries his best to let her know that the situation is hopeless. Cersei, in a weird bit of self-awareness, knows that it’s hopeless if they fight or don’t and tries to go back to blaming Tyrion for all their troubles, so Jaime has to break the news that Olenna killed Joffrey. I hope Lena Headey submits this scene for her Emmy reel. The crumbling of Cersei’s face as Jaime convinces her of the truth of Olenna’s confession is one of the best bits of acting that’s been on this show. She is still resolved to fight, but it’s clear that the defeat and the revelation of her son’s true killer has rattled her.
Drogon returns to Dragonstone where Jon is brooding on a cliff (obviously). The Dragon lands and walks right up to Jon, letting him pet its snout, almost purring at him as he does. Daenerys watches all of this closely, and with great interest. Jon’s not quite around to thinking of them as fondly as she does, but it looks like he’s starting to see them as something other than monsters. Speaking of monsters, Dany points out that Jon himself has been responsible for the death of thousands of men. Right and wrong, in war, is murky. She’s also still poking at that “took a knife in the heart for your people” thing, as she should, but a convenient distraction arrives in the form of a cured Jorah Mormont with fancy new armor. Jorah gets the warm greeting he’s probably been dreaming of, And Jon looks on with a face that looks like he suddenly got a stomachache for no discernible reason.
Bran takes us on a Raven’s eye view of Eastwatch by the Sea and the lands beyond, where the army of the dead is massing. It’s a terrifying site, filling a valley to the horizon and beyond. But it’s also been wandering around in the far north beyond the Wall for a while now. They were just at Hardhome last season, which is pretty close to Eastwatch, would they still be just drifting about way out there? Shouldn’t they be a lot closer to the Wall or AT it by now? Do the White Walkers need better maps? Whatever, we’re not worrying about these things this season. Bran tells the maester that ravens need to be sent, unfortunately Wolkan literally transcribes the events which make them sound ridiculous. At the Citadel, this is going over as nonsense before Sam arrives and tries to set the record straight about Bran, and the White Walkers. Embrose seems to be trying to prompt Sam to make a decent proposal as to what they should do, but it’s hard to convince people of a zombie army if they haven’t ever seen a zombie army. It’s a lot easier to understand it as a ploy to give someone a better position in the ongoing war they all know is real and happening right in front of them. Which is what the maesters decide after Sam leaves, and they speak about how terrible it is about his dad, and that he doesn’t know yet. Seems like they’re all making excellent decisions over there.
We’re back to Tyrion and Varys making parallels between Aerys and Dany. Varys speaks of being responsible for revealing the men Aerys burned, none of whom were generals of armies that were defeated in battle who refused to surrender. All of whom were killed in Aerys’ own castle without being given the chance to submit and save themselves. Anyway, the scroll about the Army of the Dead has reached Dragonstone and now Jon knows that Arya and Bran are still alive. We get a very long scene of back and forth that ends up with them deciding that maybe we should all fight together, and the way to fight together is to prove the Army of the Dead is real by bringing a zombie to King’s Landing. Once upon a time in the books, Jeor Mormont sent Alliser Throne with a zombie hand that was still moving to King’s Landing to show the Hand of the King, which was Tyrion at the time. Tyrion refused to see him because Alliser was a dick, and the hand completely decomposed in the heat before he could be convinced. Maybe it will go better this time.
Back at Winterfell, Arya is watching Sansa hold court in the Great Hall. The Northern Lords aren’t happy that Jon went south, and are thinking that perhaps Sansa would do better to rule in her own name. Sansa rejects their offer, and affirms Jon’s position as King and his decision to go south. She expresses her frustrations to Arya, who is upset that Sansa has taken the chambers of Lord and Lady Stark. Chambers that Jon offered her at the end of last season when they retook Winterfell. I guess Sansa could move back into her old room if she hadn’t been repeatedly raped and held captive there while married to Ramsay, but it seems like the least reward she could get out of that ordeal is a bigger bedroom with furniture that doesn’t feature in her traumatic memories. Arya, of course, knows none of this but thinks it’s all because Sansa liked having nice things when she was a child. Arya is still fighting the battles of their childhood, while Sansa is trying to get on with the work of actually ruling. She’s shown no inclination to seize power for herself. She even said Bran should be Lord of Winterfell when he returned, which would have displaced her (as Lady of Winterfell) but not Jon (as King in the North). Sansa has done an admirable job as Jon’s second in command and is showing her skill at diplomacy in handling the situation in Jon’s absence. I’m not sure what she could do to satisfy Arya except cede control, but to whom? I don’t get the sense that she’s thought it through that far.
Diplomacy in action is happening on the beach of King’s Landing, as two men who were enemies enter the city together after a series of decisions that have brought them to the same side. Tyrion is there to see Jaime and explain that there is a path to peace, at least temporarily. The brothers are able to reach an understanding with each other, though I wonder if Jaime would be as patient to hear him out if he hadn’t just learned that Tyrion didn’t kill Joffrey.
Then, over on Fan Service Island, we spend a lot of time to learn that Davos has found Gendry, who is back in King’s Landing working as an armorer with a buzzcut, but he’s totally ready to go do whatever Davos wants now. Neat. Oh, and he fights with a warhammer like Robert Baratheon. Cool. The warhammer comes in handy after another scene that goes on way too long about fermented crab and its effect on one’s sex drive until Davos and Tyrion are almost caught by Gold Cloaks but then Gendry smashes their heads in. I cannot convey how underwhelmed I was by this entire sequence. But again, it is entirely possible that I am the only viewer who never cared whether Gendry was still rowing and who doesn’t find gross fermented crab boner jokes amusing.
Jaime comes into Cersei’s chambers as she’s in conference with Qyburn. He’s offering to “give you something” and she says “That won’t be necessary.” Jaime confesses to the meeting with Tyrion, but Cersei already knows. Qyburn’s little birds are working well. Surprisingly, Cersei is amenable to the armistice because it gives her more time to figure out a plan. But she already has one plan underway, as she tells Jaime that she is pregnant. I hate this. I hate this for like eight different reasons, but it makes the whole dynamic between the two of them, like, four more levels of gross than it already was, and it was pretty gross.
Davos takes Gendry to meet Jon, and like this was a little bit nice for maybe two minutes as we get to see the bastard son of Robert meet the “bastard son” of Ned and they compare stories, but then it just keeps. Going. On. To Fan Service Island. Whatever, Gendry’s gonna fight with Jon and Davos.
Jorah is packing up to head North, and gets a nice moment with Tyrion acknowledging their shared history, which I DO appreciate. These two guys spent like a whole season in a rowboat and then were sold into slavery together, that’s the kind of reunion I’d like to see more of not finding out that Gendry made it. Dany takes his hands to send him off, but is soon distracted by Jon coming to say his goodbyes. Looks like Jorah came back from almost certain death for his Queen, only to be bested by a guy who actually came back from literal death. The guy just can’t win.
We then get a quick cut to Sam and Gilly in Oldtown so Gilly can tease us with ALMOST revealing the true parentage of Jon Snow thanks to the High Septon Maynard, who apparently annulled the marriage of Rhaegar Targaryen and Elia Martell when he married Rhaegar and Lyanna. Which means Jon was a legitimate son of Rhaegar and would have become the heir upon the death of Aerys. But Sam doesn’t cotton on because he’s fuming about how no one at the Citadel UNDERSTANDS him, and just steals a bunch of shit from the library and gets himself, Gilly, and Little Sam on the road again. Sam still doesn’t know his father and brother are dead at Daenerys’s hands as far as we can tell, I’m wondering where that’s going to fit into this. The longer we drag out anyone actually finding hard proof of Jon’s true identity, in a way that will materially affect the show, the less I’m looking forward to it actually happening because I feel like they’ll just drop the reveal and then we’ll all move on to the next thing without any processing time. Jon’s built his entire LIFE around being the one mistake a man of otherwise perfect honor made. Daenerys has spent her whole life believing she and Viserys were the last Targaryens and has seen herself as the family’s only hope since his death. There’s a lot of history and feelings to work through!
Back at Winterfell we learn that even partial training at the House of Black and White won’t teach you to out-snake a snake like Littlefinger, as he totally sets up Arya to believe that he’s conspiring on Sansa’s behalf. There is exactly one Stark sibling who is prone to this sort of manipulation, by virtue of 1. Not knowing exactly the kind of shit person Littlefinger is and has been and 2. Not being omniscient and she’s been identified. Anyway, Littlefinger had Maester Wolkan find the copy of the scroll that Sansa was forced to send after Ned’s death, and conspicuously receives it where Arya can see, so she goes looking for it in his chambers and reads that Sansa wrote asking Robb to bend the knee to Joffrey. One of the things that I find gets overlooked a lot with the mental trauma these two have gone through is that Arya didn’t see her father get executed. Yoren grabbed her before he died. Sansa was standing practically right next to him and saw the whole thing before her eyes. She saw his head on a pike. They both lost him, but his death was used to torture and intimidate Sansa in ways Arya has no understanding of. She has no idea what happened to Sansa after Ned’s death, and she’s not bothered to ask. Hopefully Jon comes home soon to straighten her out, because when you’re a hammer every problem looks like a nail and right now it looks like our little assassin considers Sansa a problem. But Jon has to go zombie hunting first.
Jon has reached Eastwatch via that magical time travel that happens when people hit the ocean (I know that a long time can pass between scenes, but it’s getting ridiculous). The Brotherhood is also there, so we get a scene about how everyone hates each other, but they all hate the Army of the Dead more. Good talk, guys. Jon, Jorah, Davos, Tormund, The Hound, Beric, and Thoros all team up to bring back a mobile zombie to convince Cersei to fight with them. I don’t get the feeling this will end well, but we only have enough time for a dramatic walk through the tunnel and out into the North to close us out.
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