This is a book reader review for Game of Thrones, which means that below the dragon there will be discussion of plots from the TV show up to the most current episode that has aired on HBO, as well as spoilers from all five books that have been released. Chapters from books that have not yet been released are still off-limits. Thank you for cooperating!
The themes of this episode seemed to be freedom and sacrifice. Specifically what we’re willing to sacrifice for freedom. Our own, or the freedom of those we love.
We see Tyrion value his own hide over Jorah’s and win himself a seat next to Daenerys while helping spare Daenerys the pain of killing her former advisor and helping Jorah leave Meereen with his head. Tyrion has always been a fast talker, but also of note is Daenerys ability to solicit advice and genuinely listen to it even when it may not be what she wants to hear. The conversation between Tyrion and Daenerys is as much as we’ve hoped for, with Daenerys teasing out information about Tyrion (it didn’t take her long to take his wine away) while reminding him that his life is in her hands, and Tyrion helping to fill in a lot of gaps in Daenerys’s knowledge of Westerosi politics. Tyrion advances the theory that Dany could win without taking the Iron Throne, and I’ve long said that if she frees the slaves from Astapor to Volantis and never sits her butt on the Iron Throne, I’d be happy. But Winter is Coming, and the only things that seem to stop the White Walkers are things with “dragon” in their title, so I think there is a different fate for our dragon queen and her children. And it looks like Tyrion is so far happy to tie his fate to hers, at least for the time being.
Jorah, of course, knows he’s a dead man and still seems to be on a mission to prove himself to his queen before the grayscale overtakes him. That or he’s now on a kamikaze mission to get near Dany so he can take both of them out in a blaze of glory, but that doesn’t really fit with Jorah’s history as a hopeless romantic with a heavy emphasis on the “hopeless” part.
Cersei is still in prison and being denied water. She has not broken, and probably would not if it were only herself at risk. Cersei is not willing to concede power to save herself. She seems chastened when Qyburn comes to visit, but not enough to throw herself on the mercy of the High Sparrow. At least not yet. Hearing about Tommen’s supposed suffering rattled her more than her own predicament. Her scenes end with her licking water off the floor, a disgusting act, but apparently preferable to begging the Septas for mercy.
Arya is on her first mission as a Faceless Man, in the role that was Cat of the Canals in the books, but is Lana in the show. We see her willing to give up more of herself and her own story in pursuit of becoming a Faceless Man. We also see that the House of Black and White is not as devoted to Arya. I thought it was interesting that the mission was structured nearly backwards for the show from the books, with Arya meeting the man before she knew he had to kill him and then then Jaqen providing her with the method of death, rather than Arya being handed the target and the guise of a beggar girl, and deciding on poison herself. I have long suspected that Arya won’t complete her training as a Faceless Man because her personal mission will run up against her missions for the House. With Meryn Trant bound for Braavos (or possibly already there) I wonder if this will happen sooner rather than later.
While Sansa was disheartened by the events of last week, she still has enough fight in her to berate Theon for betraying her and her family, and stating that she’s glad Ramsay tortured him for what he did. She’s still strong enough, in fact, to grab him by the head and shake it out of him that he never killed Bran and Rickon. The discovery that her brothers are still alive gives Sansa the first real hope and direction she’s had in a while that comes entirely from her. I’m also glad that we seem to be getting back to a theme I saw in the books with Arya and Sansa; that Arya is out for vengeance while Sansa is out for justice. Sansa is, of course, well within her rights to exact painful and bloody justice on Ramsay and the Boltons and Freys in general, but her end game seemed to be more regaining Winterfell, regaining her position, and using that position and power to do her best to bring justice to those who had hurt her family. Of the Stark children, she is the only one who seemed to really mourn for Winterfell, when she built it in the snow of the Eyrie. Arya’s mission, while compelling and exciting, doesn’t leave much room for a future. She was willing to leave Westeros, abandon hope of ever finding her family again, in exchange for the ability to kill the way Jaqen could. She kept Needle, but the full understanding of what she was being asked to give up wasn’t enough to keep her from going back to the House of Black and White. I have thought for a while now that Arya’s story is ultimately tragic. I hope that Sansa’s is triumphant. Obviously we know that there is no hope of her recovering Bran, because he’s becoming a tree, but Rickon and Sansa rallying the North would still be pretty satisfying.
Jon goes entirely off book and leads a mission to rescue the Wildlings at Hardhome that shows us that no matter what the other characters may be on about, a greater threat is coming for all of them. Things get off to a great start with Tormund beating the Lord of Bones to a pulp and Jon showing the Wildlings the supply of dragonglass weapons he’s willing to share with them. He even persuades some of them to leave Hardhome and come with Jon to settle south of the Wall, because Kit Harrington is really getting a handle on this whole “acting” thing although I could do without everyone calling him pretty every five seconds. We get it, Benioff and Weiss! You have a crush! It’s adorable! Stop telling us about it. We also meet the wonderfully portrayed Karsi, who is willing to work with Jon and Tormund to save her people and her children and creates the persona of a tough warrior woman who’s still nuanced in under 30 minutes of screen time. Someone should show the Sand Snakes this episode. Things are going well with getting the Wildlings on the boats up until the Army of the Dead and the White Walkers attack.
Whatever the earlier fights of this season have been lacking was made up here in spades. This was a genuinely thrilling and terrifying battle. I thought for sure we were losing Dolorous Edd a couple times, and Jon himself did not come out of it unscathed. It brought home that while the rest of our characters are squabbling over a chair, a threat is looming that none of them are prepared for. Not even Jon is properly prepared, but he’s at least trying. How do you stop an army that adds to its numbers every time it subtracts from yours? He also confirms for us that Valyrian steel, Dragon steel, is effective against the White Walkers. Unfortunately, now they know that too. And the Army of the Dead has added several hundred if not a couple thousand new members to its ranks.
Other thoughts: Ramsay’s probably going out to meet Stannis. GOOD. I hope Melisandre gets a hold of him and decides that it’s time for a good old fashioned R’hllor barbecue. Someone needs to get Olly a shirt that says “Ask me about how I’m definitely going to stab Jon Snow” because that kid is DEFINITELY going to stab Jon Snow and the show has no nuance or subtlety about it. Although given that Sam said “I’ve worried about Jon for years, but he always comes back” I don’t think we have much to fear about Jon’s mortality in the books or in the show. Also, the Night’s Watch has the worst rowers since Gendry.