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!
There was a lot of establishing work in this episode, but it all seemed to follow a rough theme of consequences. Sometimes for people’s own actions, and sometimes for things set in motion long before they ever came along.
We’re seeing the consequences of Tywin’s failure to properly parent his kids across all the Lannisters now; Cersei is making what she thinks is the kind of shrewd alliance he’d approve of, but Tywin never made alliances with people who answered to someone else or didn’t need his help. The Faith answers to The Faith. They might do Cersei’s dirty work now, in much the way the Frey’s and Bolton’s did Tywin’s back in season 3, but at the end of the day they’re not under her control and she seems to have missed that in her haste to take down the Tyrells. Maybe if Cersei had seen the way the Sparrows responded to Tommen she’d have an inkling of what’s coming but she’s too busy reveling in her temporary victory. She has Tywin’s ruthlessness, but not his military training or foresight.
Tyrion has the intellect and taste for power that Tywin had, but he’s never learned how to keep his damn mouth shut. Once he figured out that Jorah was taking him where he wanted to go, what was the point of taunting the man? It was a real “Look how clever I am” move, and while Tywin was always smart, he never felt the need to brag about it. It goes back to him asking Tyrion if Tyrion wanted congratulations for doing his job. It still feels like Tyrion is looking for approval for how smart he is in all the wrong places.
As for Jaime? He’s currently utterly devoid of a sense of self. He’s lost his hand and his identity as a warrior, he and his sister-girlfriend are breaking up/growing apart, and his father isn’t around to push back against anymore. Jaime still says he’d die for his family, and he’s already done terrible things to protect them, but his family has become so twisted that the sacrifice may not be worth it. As Cersei correctly observed, Tywin was so concerned with his family’s honor, he never bothered really paying attention to the people in his family. He just assumed that once he got everything in place for them, they’d fall in line behind him. This meant that his twins developed a deeply unhealthy codependent relationship with each other that ended up pushing Jaime away from being Tywin’s heir, and whatever potential Tyrion had was largely squandered up until recently.
That said, did you see Jaime’s face when they passed Tarth? Sorry, buddy, she’s way too good for you.
We’re also starting to have the consequences of Robert’s Rebellion come into full bloom. The moment in the Stark crypt when Littlefinger let a heavy pause sit after Sansa asserted that Rheagar “abducted and raped” her aunt Lyanna means that in the show it might not just be Howland Reed who knows who Jon Snow is (or who suspects it, anyway). This is the most movement we’ve ever seen on the show on this point, and perhaps we will finally learn for certain if Jon Snow is a Targaryen from the show before it’s revealed in the books. Most readers accept it as a forgone conclusion, but having it confirmed by Benioff and Weiss before Martin himself would be a very big deal.
Littlefinger still seems to have his eye on Sansa’s best interests, promising her either becoming Wardeness of The North in her own right, or a marriage that will give her power over Winterfell again. I am almost certain that the show version of Littlefinger is not aware of Ramsay’s atrocities. He specifically mentioned last episode that he’d heard nearly nothing of the man, and it’s unlikely that the tales of what he was up to in the North were passed along in the South (because anyone who could pass them along was flayed or killed). I also don’t think Littlefinger is so cruel as to leave Sansa in the hands of a known sadist without any supervision or protection. At least in Kings Landing he could keep an eye on her even if he couldn’t stop Joffrey, and he knew that Joffrey couldn’t kill her. He also arranged Margaery’s marriage to Joffrey, saving Sansa from that particular fate.
I do think Littlefinger is a bit cocky in how much he thinks Sansa will continue to rely on him and value him after she gains her own power, but that remains to be seen.
Stannis also seems to have his doubt about Jon Snow’s parentage, and Melisandre seem pretty sure that he’s got that special something she’s after. (King’s blood.) (Because she’s creepy about that shit.) Jon himself is learning that ruling means doing things you don’t want to do, but while he was willing to sign a letter to Roose Bolton asking for men for the Watch, he wasn’t willing to betray his oath and his heart with Melisandre. Although it looks like Mel has made sure that she stays on Jon’s mind for a while after dropping a “You know nothing” on him.
We also get a lovely scene where Stannis gets as emotional as he ever is while telling Shireen how precious she is to him and his own residual guilt over the illness that nearly killed her. The detail about her being infected by a doll Stannis himself gave her is new, but it’s a good choice in terms of shading his fear of romantic gestures or emotional decisions. Even if he can’t quite stick the hug, it’s a good moment that shows that while he may be a blunt man, he is not unemotional. I feel like the show is slightly more insistent on Stannis as a real contender for the throne, which I find interesting. I also find that the more scenes Shireen gets the more I adore her and the more I am absolutely terrified that horrible things are coming for that sweet child.
In Dorne we have the introduction of the Sand Snakes. While Nymeria and Obara’s display with their weapons was impressive, I feel like the nature of Oberyn’s death makes it hard to understand why Ellaria is so insistent that he must be avenged. She was there, she saw that he HAD the fight but lost it trying to grandstand. He was killed by a man he was trying to kill, a man he should have killed minutes before his own death. It would make sense for them to be mad, but the drive to torture and murder Myrcella to avenge Oberyn just doesn’t make as much sense. I preferred the plot in the books, where the Sand Snakes were setting their sights on other Lannisters, or even Oldtown, and it was Darkstar who wanted to kill Myrcella. Having Ellaria, Obara, Nymeria, and Tyene threaten the life of an innocent teenage girl just makes them come off as absurdly blood thirsty, especially after Oberyn himself memorably told Cersei “We don’t hurt little girls in Dorne.” But there’s a lot of time left, and we’ll see where they take it.
Over in Meereen it has never been worse to be a book reader. After we heard about a non-book death of an important character, we were on edge. After Mance was dispatched in Episode 1, we figured that was it and breathed a sigh of relief. But the show had other plans, and those plans were to show Daenerys exactly how vulnerable she was. While the Sons of the Harpy seemed intent only on attacking Unsullied, Barristan Selmy’s afternoon stroll brought him face to face with the massacre. An honorable knight to the end, he went in to help the soldiers even though he was wearing no armor, and was drastically outnumbered. And now he is gone. This should rattle Daenerys more than any other event in Meereen, perhaps leading her to be more amenable to marrying Hizdahr and towards forgiving (or at least accepting) Jorah and Tyrion and allowing them back onto her council to fill the gaping void that Barristan has left. She’s been trying to rule the city as though it was peaceful, and it seems like it would take something this drastic to open her eyes to the reality of Meereen. That said, I felt like the street battle was sloppily done on both sides, and I’m not the only one, here’s Matt Ufford’s recap where he analyzes the fight from a military perspective. It managed to damage the reputation of the Unsullied and Barristan in one stroke, and just felt poorly planned overall. I understand the decision to take out Barristan, but I wish they’d given him a better exit.
Also in this episode: The Tyrells are down but not out. Margaery’s mention of writing her grandmother sounds an awful lot like a threat and Olenna Tyrell is not an enemy I would want. Bronn is still awesome, and Jaime is still the most infuriating person to take on a road trip but still fun to watch if you’re only an observer.