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!
This episode was all about making alliances, most of which were deeply uncomfortable. But as Jon Snow himself says “A fair bargain makes both sides unhappy, I’ve heard it said.” Some are clearly more uncomfortable than others, though.
We open with confirmation that Barristan died of wounds sustained in last week’s attack, and Daenerys on the warpath to avenge her advisor and friend. She drags the heads of all the old families of Meereen to the dungeon to meet her dragons, and gives a very leading speech about how a mother must discipline her children when they misbehave, but does not give up on them that could apply to the dragons or the wise masters. She shows this by letting the dragons eat one of the masters, and threatening Hizdahr with the same fate. Once again, we see the dragons obeying Daenerys or at least not threatening her, and if my hunch is right this means that she’s more sure of her actions here and they’re responding to her confidence. It’s a more brutal version of Daenerys than the books, but the books never had her lose someone as important as Barristan to the Sons of the Harpy. By the end of the episode, after talking with Missandei, she decides to reopen the fighting pits and marry Hizdahr in order to show her commitment to Meereen and her respect for the people. I wish we had seen her spend more time with the decision to make this alliance, and to admit that she was wrong. I also wish we had seen her extract the promise from Hizdahr to end the murders by the Sons for a specific amount of time before the marriage, as it made it clearer that what she was doing was the best option for peace in Meereen. But this version of Hizdahr feels less duplicitous than the book version, and this Daenerys is less loathe to go through with the union apparently.
Jon has made the decision to bring the Wildlings through the wall and goes to Tormund to negotiate the terms. We know that this will cause a groundswell of opposition against Jon within the Watch. Especially since Jon himself will be leading the ranging with Tormund. Even Dolorous Edd speaks out against the plan. While we can see Jon’s point, the Watch only sees them as enemies and Jon is underestimating the hatred his men feel for them and how his interpretation of the Watch’s mission differs from theirs. Also, I think we can all agree that Mance is totally dead and not switched with Tormund. While the shape of the arrangement is different, this is the role that Tormund played in the books; negotiating peace between the Wildlings and the Watch after Mance was gone. It wouldn’t make sense to do the body switch, but give Mance/Tormund Tormund’s plot.
We also get a few winks towards the reveal of Jon’s shows parentage that only book readers would pick up on. While Aemon is discussing Daenerys as “A Targaryen alone in the world is a terrible thing” and the tragedy that “Her last relation thousands of miles away, useless, dying” Jon pops in all “Oh, hi, guys! Weird that I would walk in just there, right?”
Sansa is still at Winterfell, now without Littlefinger. While a scene with Ramsay and his girlfriend Myranda seems to show that Ramsay doesn’t have evil intentions towards Sansa and is taking his role as legitimate heir very seriously, even if he’s still down with psychologically tormenting her a bit over dinner. It gave me a moment when Myranda led Sansa to the kennels. It wasn’t a surprise to see Theon there, but it was a surprise that the door was left open for Sansa to get out. After that encounter, though, Sansa seems to double down on her Northern identity. At dinner with Ramsay, Roose, and Walda she’s suddenly back in a dress of the Northern style which we haven’t see her in since shortly after she arrived in King’s Landing and is wearing her hair in loose flowing waves rather than the tightly slicked back “Dark Sansa” style. This is not a show that takes costume changes lightly, Arya’s been wearing the same outfit for three seasons and there’s very subtle but symbolic changes on other character costumes that are virtually invisible on television. Sansa has been left alone in Winterfell, with enemies all around her, and the identity she clings to is not the one she built with Littlefinger or the unfailingly courteous but frightened girl she was in King’s Landing, but rather that of a proper Northern Lady; uncomplaining and resolute, with a quiet strength behind her gaze. Given the growth spurt she’s had over the last few seasons, it’s entirely possible that the dress was Catelyn’s as most of her own clothes left at Winterfell would be too small for her now and she hasn’t had enough time to make it herself. She is the Lady of Winterfell, and she has started to dress the part.
I’m still calling Theon’s broken mind the Chekov’s gun of this season. This is a disgraced young man with a lot to redeem and absolutely nothing to lose. The Starks were his family in every way that mattered. It’s one thing to watch Ramsay torment anonymous young women, it’s another to see him do it to a foster sister, a girl he once imagined he might marry in order to become fully tied to the Stark family. Sansa already noted Ramsay’s reaction to the news that Roose was expecting a new son with Walda, and Theon can help fill in more information with regards to his particular weaknesses and insecurities. He can tell Sansa that her brothers are alive, and she can give him a way to make up for his betrayal of Robb by killing Ramsay. I am looking forward to the possibilities here.
Our last set of unlikely allies is the least contentious of the bunch, Jorah and Tyrion. And I’m going to take a moment here to wholeheartedly tell you how much I love the handling of this. We start with Tyrion doing his standard Sterling Archer of fake Medieval history impression:
Before we get a flyby from a teenage Dragon that fills both Tyrion and Jorah with awe for different reasons. And THEN! I nearly stood up and cheered when I saw what they were doing with this story line. Using Valyria as the setting for the stone men attack and having Jorah as their victim is almost a perfect folding-in of the plot with Connington from the books that actually improves on the source material. First of all, it means we flesh out Valyria, a setting that’s been mentioned before, instead of Chroyane which would be new and (probably?) pointless to explore. Second, we’ve still got a disgraced exile fighting to redeem himself to the Targaryen he loves getting a death sentence while on his mission. Now, Jorah’s Targaryen is still alive while Connington was trying to redeem himself to Rheagar’s “son” but honestly the way they maintained the themes of this encounter while raising the stakes is excellent. I don’t care if Connington dies of Grayscale. I am far more invested in Jorah’s fate. They’ve bumped up the dramatic tension of this plotline without making it messier, and it’s a really excellent storytelling choice. I also wonder if they’ll use Grayscale (brought by Jorah) to replace the “pale mare” dysentery-like plague that hits Meereen later in the story.
For my crazy, unsubstantiated prediction of the week; when the maid in Winterfell tells Sansa “you’re not alone” it seems like she just means that there are Stark loyalists there for her. OR DOES IT?!? The “previously on” featuring Bran and Rickon’s escape from the castle and the bodies that Theon displayed makes me wonder if Osha and Rickon have stayed a little closer to home in the show than in the books. Rickon may not be old enough to be of any real help to Sansa himself, but he’s still got Shaggy Dog and I feel like the “ghost in Winterfell” role could be played by a Direwolf as well as it could be played by murderous washerwomen.
Other thoughts - still do not trust Selyse with Shireen even a little bit. Missandei and Gray Worm are completely wonderful and heartbreaking with their very chaste (by necessity) love. Sam is being encouraged to study by Stannis which is probably the closest thing to fatherly affection he’s ever gotten. Brienne and Pod are getting closer to Winterfell every day although Pod keeps questioning Brienne and I’m waiting for him to start doing that little kid tired-sobbing that he just wants to go home if he keeps it up. Lean in to the mission, Pod! Stannis has finally left the Wall, which is excellent news in terms of getting some more action before the season is out. Next week we get more Dorne. See you then!