More than anything, this episode was an important pivot point. Characters reached the end of journeys and began new ones. Book material ended and show invention began. I could feel the season’s groundwork being laid for payoff in the second half. It’s an exciting time to be a fan. Let’s dive in.
The Wall: Jon and Stannis
Jon’s story is in the unique position of being behind other characters, as far as published material goes. Whereas Sansa and Jaime are on new roads paved by the show, Jon is still living in the final chapters of the third book, 2000’s A Storm of Swords. Well, that seems to have ended this week with our beloved byronic hero
While the Night’s Watch gears up to elect a new Lord Commander (a role seemingly destined for Alliser Thorne) Stannis offers to legitimize Jon as Jon Stark and use him as a standard-bearer to rally the North to overthrow the Boltons. It’s all Jon ever wanted. Which means, of course, it won’t happen. But, happily in this case, that’s not a bad thing.
Some people may be angry that the show’s producers “skimmed” or “simplified” the election process. In the books, Sam plays a much more intricate game of politics to ensure Jon’s election. But what people seem to understand is the rules of adapting: it is FAR more important to get the feeling, the gist, the core, the whatever you want to call it, of a scene or plot than it is to mimic its twists and turns exactly. Indeed, would we want to watch Sam waddle around talking to random Night’s Watch members we’ve never met to convince them to not vote for Thorne and to vote for Snow? The answer is no.
The most exciting news? We can plunge ahead in Jon’s A Dance with Dragons material, which is sharp and surprising. Stay tuned.
On the Road: Littlefinger & Sansa, Brienne & Podrick
Brienne never finds Sansa or Arya in the books. Here she finds them both and hey, if it’s hokey that a continent the size of South America apparently only has one inn on its entirety, well, I’m hokey too. The extended sequence of Brienne and Pod meeting with Sansa and Littlefinger and their subsequent escape was great. It was satisfying for completing Brienne’s current arc and beginning her in new, uncharted territory unknown to show and book readers alike.
Next week, she states her intention to go on an assassination mission for revenge, something that will take her far away from her book counterpart’s journey. The excitement I feel as a book reader for this territory is huge.
Road to Meereen: Tyrion & Varys
I could watch these two bicker all day. Plus the editing cut for humor was spot-on. For a show as popular and acclaimed as Thrones is, it’s heartening to remind myself it’s also the show where on two separate occasions, characters makes lengthy fart jokes.
King’s Landing: Cersei & Jaime, Tommen & Margaery
Cersei attempts to take control of Tommen’s Small Council but is met with resistance by her uncle Kevan, the only sane man left at the table as it were. She names her mad scientist toady Qyburn to replace Varys as Master of Whisperers to Pycelle’s chagrin and names Mace Tyrell Master of Coin. She attempts to name Kevan Master of War, but storms out at her refusal to name a new Hand and her short-sighted goals as ruling Queen. Qyburn meanwhile busies attending to Cersei’s various decapitated dwarf heads from Cersei’s bounty on Tyrion’s has yielded.
Cersei shows Jaime a gilded gift from Dorne – a ceramic snake with their daughter Myrcella’s necklace hanging from his teeth, courtesy of Oberyn’s vengeful daughters, the Sand Snakes (we meet them in episode 4). Cersei goes into full Mama-Lion mode, threatening to burn Dorne to the ground should they harm her. Jaime is still trying to practice the honor that Brienne taught him, to Cersei’s sneering disgust, and says he will go to Dorne to retrieve her. But he won’t go alone . . .
Enter my favorite character, Bronn. This mercenary-turned-knight-turned-lord is at the fringes of the narrative, providing witty banter, killing folks, and generally being a total badass. In the process, he has gone from a lowly sellsword to betrothed to the wealthy Lollys Stokeworth (how adorable was she?). However, Jaime decides he isn’t going to be changing the books on his own and ends Bronn’s betrothal with a promise of an even greater one – if he accompanies him to Dorne. Another road trip with a Lannister and their witty friend? I’m in.
Dorne: Ellaria Sand & Doran Martell
We’re introduced to the late Oberyn Martell’s brother, the ruling prince Doran, played by Alexander Siddig. It’s his only appearance in these first four episodes, but he makes an impact as a stern, cautious, and pragmatic leader in contrast to Ellaria’s fiery rage over Oberyn’s death at the hands of the Mountain last season.
In another departure, the role of “angry princess” filled by Ellaria was held by Doran’s daughter Arianne, a character cut entirely from the show as with, by all appearances, her brother Quentyn who is a POV character in A Dance with Dragons. This leaves Trystane Martell as Doran’s only son and Ellaria points out they should use Myrcella Baratheon for revenge, an idea shot down by the cool-headed Doran.
This storyline is at a slow boil until Jaime makes it there, it seems. My prediction? Episode 6 is called Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken, the words of House Martell. Something tells me these Dornish shenanigans will come to a head there. And, like all things in Westeros, it won’t be pretty.
A great shot of Arya gazing at the Titan of Braavos as they pass under the colossus. The captain is surprisingly kind for a series that features virtually no kindness whatsoever that isn’t ill-intended or just plain stupid. They arrive at the House of Black and White, which is the temple of the Faceless Men, a religious cult of assassins that worship the Many-Faced God – the god of death.
It’s a great move to bring back fan-favorite Tom Wlascihiha as roguish assassin Jaqen H’ghar (although he tells Arya he is “no one” and her training will be make “no one” as well). In the books, there are hints the Jaqen character is involved in a conspiracy to the south and Arya’s training is left to a nameless character called “the kindly man.” More evidence of how conversion and consolidation is helping this narrative.
Meanwhile, Daenerys is learning that being a conquering liberator rocks, but being a punitive ruler sucks. Ah, such are the trials of our leaders (not nowadays; nowadays we buy them houses if they get even remotely angry). The Sons of the Harpy, Meereen’s guerrilla rebels, continue to plague the city, killing Dany’s soldiers. Hizdahr zo Loraq pleads with the queen to re-open the fighting pits, but Dany stubbornly refuses and dismisses his pleas to respect the traditions, however brutal, of Meereen.
After a loyal former slave murders a former master in custody awaiting a fair trial, Daenerys makes the difficult decision to execute him publicly for his crime. Adviser Loraq and her sellsword/lover Daario Naharis agree they should have simply done it in private and Barristan Selmy warns her slipping into the cruelty of her grandfather, the Mad King, who burned all those who opposed at the stake, while relatives would watch in horror.
Daenerys subjects watch in horror as she gives Daario the order to kill the man. The other former slaves turn on their “mhysa” hiss in anger and attack the city’s former masters. At this point, even Dany realizes things are starting to get out of control. At night, she hears a noise in her palace home. On the balcony, she sees the missing Drogon. In a cat-like way, Drogon nuzzles the Mother of Dragon’s hand briefly before flying over the city, leaving his appearance ambiguous.
MISSING IN ACTION: No Boltons until next week (when their storyline collides with another character’s).
Till next Sunday! Valar morghulis