This week we saw some big moves, some less big moves, and a lot of men questioning their purpose and women standing up to find theirs. Not everyone is in a great place, but everyone is moving with purpose and it’s nice to feel that way. And, overall, the more I thought about the episode the more I liked it. Generally. Spoilers below:
We get a rare cold open this week on a scene of good honest country folk doing good honest work of the kind we always picture happening in idealized “Olden Times” imaginings. They tastefully don’t show the part where one of those good, honest folks dies of a good, honest infection from a good, honest splinter. And we see Ian McShane, looking happy and not calling anyone a cocksucker, which is incredibly disorienting, and then The Hound lumbers into view. Alive, standing tall, and with a beard that deserves its own “featuring” credit. Off into the credits we go! Hey, Riverrun! Cool to see you again!
After the credits we’re back at Idealized Medieval Building Site, so that Septon Meribald and Sandor Clegane can have one of those conversations featuring information that they MUST have exchanged before now, given that they seem to have known each other for months and the conversation is about how Meribald found the Hound all those months ago, but exposition needs to happen. I just figured that McShane’s Meribald was one of those people who tells you the same story once every week and a half and after a while you just kind of let it happen, because stopping them doesn’t do any good. Anyway, we get some talk about how he’s a priest but he’s totally a cool priest and Sandor is part of God’s plan. Well, he’s part of someone’s plan anyway.
Margaery is still hanging out at the sept, still dressed very modestly. When the High Sparrow comes in she twitches a smile onto her face, which tells me she’s still trying to play the long game. The fact that the Sparrow gets her onto her back foot twice in the next conversation with regard to both her marital duties with Tommen and her bringing her Grandmother into the fold, shows me that Margaery still isn’t as on top of this game as she’d like to be. I think she’s still underestimating the High Sparrow. He sounds reasonable sometimes, but he’s consistently demonstrated that he’s a fundamentalist, an extremist who’s willing to threaten anyone to get his way. In the very closely monitored conversation with Olenna that she has in the next scene, she does manage to get the severity of the situation across to her blustering grandmother but only barely.
In the first of several scenes of people attempting to win support to the cause of Jon and Sansa, we see Jon and Tormund arguing his position to the Wildlings. They lean REALLY HARD on the Jon as Christ figure angle (“he died for us, so we should be willing to die for him” is pretty transparent), but the giant is on his side so obviously everyone else is gonna throw in too.
On her way out, and while she’s catching up on her correspondence, Olenna decides that now is the time to be completely, 100% honest with Cersei. And Cersei is surprisingly open to this honesty! Doesn’t really win Olenna over. Which means that Cersei should probably be worried about who she’s writing to, as there are only so many people out there in a position to lend the kind of support that High Garden needs.
Jaime and Bronn arrive at Riverrun with a full army, completely unnoticed by the Freys because the Freys are terrible at everything when Tywin Lannister and Roose Bolton aren’t telling them what to do. Jaime’s feeling his oats a bit and gets to slap a Frey around while helping Edmure recover a smidge of his dignity. Jaime’s having a good day so far, good enough to feel like he’s earned the right to wear his father’s armor as some eagle eyed viewers spotted. Don’t get used to that feeling.
Jon and Sansa are now at Bear Island to meet the tiny Lyanna Mormont who’s a bit much. Yes, she’s delightful, but in a very constructed way. Davos wins her over by talking about the White Walkers, which is definitely the way to win the support of a 10-year-old. Also, anyone think that long shot of Bear Hall looked awful grand for a minor house? Jorah’s wife apparently left him because his castle wasn’t grand enough for her, but that castle looked pretty damn nice. Same thing with Horn Hill last week. I think someone needs to tell the digital artists to simmer down a bit on these smaller holdfasts.
The Blackfish comes out to roast the hell out of Jaime and tell him that he fully intends to hold Riverrun until one army starves to death. It’s great. Even better when you know that Jaime idolized this dude when he was a kid.
Jon and Sansa are now at the Glovers on their whirlwind tour of the North, and things are not going as well here. The Glovers have taken aid from the Boltons; they’re not into the idea of fighting alongside Wildlings, and Robb’s marriage to Talisa is still a very unpopular political move. If only there was someone hanging around with a fresh army somewhere. Or, perhaps, someone who’s been secretly building a fleet but right, we’re never seeing White Harbor on this show. FINE. Also, after hearing about how “The North Remembers” for years, I’m a little disappointed in the memory of the North. But since we’ve only talked to a 5th grader and a dude who happens to be indebted to the Boltons personally, perhaps I should save my ire.
Yara and Theon are at a brothel because after that warty dick a couple weeks ago, the scales need to be balanced by about a dozen anonymous tits as set dressing. But it’s ok, because the one female pirate out of the whole fleet is the one actively pursuing the ladies. I guess. At least dick guy got some lines. That’s more than any of these aspiring actresses get. After securing her companionship for the evening, Yara essentially hazes Theon into recovering some tiny sense of self. And it looks like he does, Alfie Allen does some really nice work in this scene, and they’re taking the Iron Fleet off to Meereen to find a Dragon Queen who conveniently is in need of 1,000 ships.
Back in the North, Jon and Sansa are disagreeing on whether they should attack soon or hold off to try and find more men. Sansa is unimpressed with Davos (seriously, his resume doesn’t sound that great when you point out how many losing battles he’s been on the wrong end of, and he would look like a bit of an opportunist at this point) and not convinced that they have the strength to take out the Boltons. After Jon insists that they have to move forward, she sneaks off to write a letter that she looks IMMENSELY hesitant about. Like everyone else, I’m pretty sure she’s writing to Littlefinger. I’ve seen a lot of people frustrated with the fact that she’s not letting Jon in on the plan, but she knows that Littlefinger can’t be counted on. She can surprise Jon with an unexpected army or disappoint him when the army she promised doesn’t come through. I understand why she thinks the first is the better option.
In one of those low points, Arya is apparently wandering around Braavos unarmed and openly discussing booking passage back to Westeros the next day. Staring romantically off into the distance, without any of the caution or wariness we know she has had since season one, and allowing the Waif to get the drop on her. I’ve seen some crazy theories that the Waif and Arya are the same person, and I’m just gonna stop you if you think that because even the books don’t work that way and the TV show is far more straightforward than the books. I’ve seen some less crazy theories that Arya got Lady Crane to help her learn how to pack bags of pig blood, special effects style, under her clothes and invited the attack to make herself look vulnerable, but since she has no indication that the Waif would follow her, I’m calling this far fetched at best. Mostly, I think it’s sloppy writing. Guess we’ll all find out next week.
I’ll have you all know that I was 100% prepared to haul off on this portrayal of the Brotherhood Without Banners and, by association, Schrödinger’s Lady Stoneheart. That they would slaughter innocents indiscriminately, that they’re demanding sustenance from smallfolk like any other knights instead of building a support network with them, that there was an undercurrent of religious motivation and yet they didn’t burn anyone as you’d expect for a religiously motivated killing by followers of the Lord of Light, I was working up a real head of steam. But the more I stewed on it, the more I wondered what on earth the writers were thinking with it, and I think I figured it out: The riders were there to flush out The Hound. The Brotherhood got a VERY good look at The Hound a few seasons back when he fought in a trial by combat against Beric Dondarrion. There are passingly few men of his size in Westeros, and fewer still with a massive facial scar. I was even going to go back and watch the abduction of The Hound and Arya and the fight to see if I could spot our three Brothers in the crowd, but the way this show recasts secondary characters there’s no guarantee those actors would be there. But that yellow cloak gives the leader away as Lem. The Brotherhood knew that Arya and the Hound were traveling together at some point, and would probably suspect that he snatched her after his victory. Perhaps they slaughtered the people to provoke the Hound to follow them into a trap since challenging him directly, even in his semi-retired state, would be very foolish for all but the most skilled of warriors. Never mind trying to take him alive if Stoneheart is to pass judgement on him. Better to lead him into a trap. The collateral damage is likely considered unfortunate but necessary. I feel at peace with this interpretation and very much hope that it’s actually what’s going on. But I’m keeping the “fuck you” cannon on standby just in case.
Things are starting to come to a head this season, which makes sense since there are three episodes left and the ninth episode is the traditional season climax. We only have next week to set up whatever that may be, and right now my money is on the Battle of the Bastards. With or without the Knights of the Vale, Jon and Sansa will be back at Winterfell the week after next. As for next week it looks like there’s going to be a showdown in King’s Landing with the poor fellows and some old friends are going to reunite at Riverrun. Lots to look forward to.