Every season has a flavor and, for this one, it’s swiss chocolate. While many bemoan the (necessary) changes to keep the show going at its breakneck pace, this week, to me, proved that David Benioff and Dan Weiss are THE best people to bring this story to the screen.As with the huge Sansa twist, this episode ended with another convergence/remix moment that was more earned that author George R.R. Martin’s novel version. BOOK SPOILERS HEREIN!
SIDE NOTE: I find the previews are funny as hell. They always spoil what will be important in the coming episode. “Here’s every scene about Greyscale, from Season 1-5, and scenes from Season 2 about Theon fake-killing the Stark boys. This might come in handy tonight . . .” At this point, if you’re watching the show, you’re probably in the know already, I feel. Rant over.
The Wall: Jon & Stannis
The foreshadowing in this opening scene is HILARIOUS by Aemon, especially when his line about Targaryen’s living alone is a lead-in to Jon’s entrance.
As we discussed last week, this all but confirms we’re going to see the reveal of Jon’s parentage this year. Although given how generally agreed-upon it is in the fandom, creators, and author, perhaps that’s not the worst thing in the world.
Jon is seeking Aemon’s advice. He has to make decisions that his brothers will hate. Aemon responds by namedropping the title from a well-known line lifted straight from the novels.
“You will have little joy of your command, I fear, but I think you have the strength in you to do the things that must be done. Kill the boy, Jon Snow. Kill the boy. And let the man be born.”
Jon meets with Tormund – who has not had a single line yet this year – with his proposition for the skeptical wildling: to save the free folk, they must round up the remaining wildlings north of the Wall before the White Walkers come. He is the only one the wildlings will listen to now that Mance is dead. To convince him, he unchains him.
The moment is tense but Tormund’s respect remains for him. He agrees to get his people on board with a mission to Hardhome, where the rest linger, on one condition: Jon accompany the expedition.
The decision is of course not popular. Stannis and Davos observe the dissension. Even Jon’s steadfast allies like Eddison Tollett and Olly are wary of this truce. Harington’s face sells the weight of the command, the echoes of Maester Aemon’s words.
Gilly, as usual, is hanging with Sam in the library. Sam prattles on about the largest library in the world, the Citadel in Oldtown, the headquarters of the Order of Maesters. Stannis vists and Gilly hilariously flees. He recognizes Sam as the son of Randyll Tarly, a famous battle commander. Samwell tells Stannis that he used obsidian “dragonglass” to kill a White Walker. Sam tells him about the army of the dead and Stannis instructs him to keep reading to find out how to fight them properly.
Stannis tells Davos it’s time. The army is to depart Castle Black, marching south to take Winterfell at sunrise. And his family will be coming with them. Jon thanks Stannis for the ships for his Hardhome mission and for saving the Wall. Stannis, typically, says nothing. Jon also shares a parting glance with Melisandre, smirking as always. All of this interesting, because in the books, Stannis’ family and Melisandre remain at Castle Black. Ripples upon ripples.
The Road to the North: Brienne & Podrick
The dynamic duo remain on Sansa’s trail. Brienne remains committed to rescuing Sansa regardless of her wishes, as the Boltons murdered her family. Out of nowhere, Brienne decides to ask the random housekeeper of the inn they’re staying at to get a message to Sansa, the last living Stark known to the world. This smells of contrivance but hey, the world is huge, the story sprawling. Like Brienne running into both Stark sisters in a matter of days, I buy it for the sake of my viewing pleasure. I mean, book readers, would you REALLY want to see Brienne’s liteary journey actualized on screen?
The answer, regardless of your opinion, is no.
Winterfell: Sansa, the Boltons & Theon / Reek
This is the first real time we get insight into the dynamics of the Bolton family, a surprisingly Bolton heavy episode. The title, ostensibly referring to Aemon’s speech, also refers to Ramsay, who was merely credited as “Boy” through Season 3 until the finale revealed his identity.
Psycho Ramsay fucks his psycho mistress Myranda, who’s psycho-jealous of his new betrothal. This scene somewhat deepens their psycho bond and elaborates on their new relationship dynamic but not much else. It’s more window-dressing for the characters than interesting.
Brienne’s message gets through to Sansa through Stark loyalists: if she is ever in need, light a candle in the highest tower and help will come. She goes to godswood where Myranda introduces herself. She’s not a bad actress but Sansa has a lifetime’s worth of training in distrusting people. Myranda’s plan becomes clear: she leads her to Reek a.k.a the broken Theon Greyjoy. She finds him in the dog kennels, locked up with the mutts. And finally, the two are officially reunited.
“Theon?” is all she can say. All he can do is shake is head. You can hear the thoughts from the book echoing in Alfie Allen’s head (“Reek, Reek, my name is Reek”). She flees, having gotten Myranda’s message all too clear.
Later Ramsay reasserts his control over Reek by getting him to admit to the meeting. Ramsay surprises Reek and us by ‘forgiving’ him for his transgression. Iwan Rheon’s face is priceless as even his “kindness,” Ramsay is clearly has sadistic intent.
Ramsay’s having a good ole time at the Bolton family dinner, toasting his new bride and offering his Reek as the man to hand Sansa off at the coming wedding. He even reminds everyone of Theon’s crime of taking Winterfell and “killing” Bran and Rickon Stark. He brags about his “remaking” of Theon into his manservant Reek but Sansa’s tired of it. Ramsay instead gets Reek to apologize to Sansa. The dark comedy is thick, thanks to Ramsay’s sick sense of humor.
Roose, tired of his newly-legitimized bastard’s cockiness, informs them his new wife Walda Frey is pregnant, likely with a boy. Normally good news, but in a family of psychopaths, not so much. Any heir of Roose’s, even a fetus, Ramsay sees as a threat to his legitimacy. He is clearly knocked off balance by Roose’s announcement, no doubt as intended.
Roose and Ramsay meet later to discuss his position. Roose tells Ramsay how he came to be born: he raped his mother and a year later came to his gates with Ramsay in his arms. He nearly killed them both, but he saw in Ramsay himself. He saw a son. It’s a surprisingly heartwarming moment.
They talk Stannis. His invasion of the North is coming. Roose asks Ramsay if he is prepared to hold it. Ramsay, emboldened by his father’s speech, says yes. I love how this episode set up the coming Stannis vs. Bolton battle, drawing the battlelines in a conflict even the books haven’t revealed to us.
In the aftermath of last week’s attack by the Sons of the Harpy, Grey Worm lies injured and Barristan the Bold is dead. Missandei watches over Grey Worm and Daenerys’ mourning is interrupted by Hizdahr zo Loraq. Dany rounds up the heirs to the noble families of Meereen.
She drags them to her dragon’s lair, where she roasts a hapless noble as an example. Hizdahr for his his part, stands firm with a familiar “valar morghulis” while the dragons feast on the noble’s burning body. Daenerys spares the rest after her example.
Grey Worm awakes with Missandei at his side. Their relationship is a highlight of the book changes. It adds depth to both characters and is done tastefully.
Dany visits Hizdahr zo Loraq in hie cell on Missandei’s advice. She surprises him by not only freeing him, but agreeing to open the fighting pits and even saying she will marry him to placate the city.
I’m not really buying all of this. Like at all. Daenerys making an executive decision to wed Hizdahr may show agency but it comes across as forced and almost out-of-nowhere. Why go a step further when she hasn’t yet seen what opening the fighting pits yet do? Her hand in marriage is arguably her most valuable bargaining chip; any spouse will instantly become one of the most powerful people in the world. Seeing her hand it out cheapens it, I feel.
I don’t know, maybe my Y chromosome just doesn’t understand.
Slaver’s Bay: Tyrion & Jorah
The end of the episode brings us back to the Adventures of Tyrion the Patricidal Dwarf on his winding road to Meereen. Jorah Mormont takes Tyrion through the Doom of Valyria via the Rhoyne River, something that did not happen in the books (I should just stop pointing this out. The show and books are so different at this point) due to the level of destruction being turned to 11 i.e. fourteen constantly erupting volcanoes. Now, it’s a smoking ruin. Tyrion reminds Jorah about the rumors “The Doom still rules Valyria.” Jorah scoffs at the pirate’s tales.
On the way through, they both talk of the Doom and the Smoking Sea with Iain Glen and Peter Dinklage’s sonorous voices. It’s a nice moment between captor and prisoner, a moment where we see a glimmer of affection between these two exiled Westerosi lost on the far side of the Known World.
Then they see it. Tyrion sees Drogon’s giant wings appear around the cliffs and soon he is beholden to the full might of Daenerys’ dragon. Dinklage fucking kills it, giving real awe and hope to a character who has been, shall we say, despondent since murdering his mistress and father. It remind me of when the dinosaurs are revealed in Jurassic Park. Wonder is hard to come by (Here’s hoping Jurassic World provides some).
From behind, a stranger jumps off. It’s the Stone Men, the same creatures Stannis referrred to when he was confronting Shireen last week. They attack their boat. “Don’t let them touch you!” Jorah roars about the fantasy lepers. and Tyrion is forces to leap out with his hands tied. He is dragged below by a Stone Man and the screen fades to black . . .
The next thing we see is Mormont hovering over a waking Tyrion. Fortunately, neither of them were harmed . . . until Jorah finds peace and we see what he sees: a small patch of Greyscale on his arm, a life-threatening disease that will consume his body just like the Stone Men. Jorah’s time is suddenly running out.
The show continued its commit to the convergence that Martin almost explicitly avoided when telling this part of the grand Song of Ice and Fire tale. BOOK SPOILERS: another character introduced in an utterly-dropped sideplot involving ANOTHER secret Targaryen is the victim of a Greyscale infection and he, Jon Connington, is currently in Westeros as part of said Targaryen’s invasion to take the Iron Throne for himself (He’s Dany’s nephew. But he also might not be. It’s confusing). It’s this Targaryen and Connington that Varys ships Tyrion off with to unite with Dany.
As you can see, rather than go through that rigmarole of introducing more extraneous relatives (similar to the Greyjoy eliminations this season. You can only have one extended family a year it seems and this year it’s Dorne), they cut it entirely. Is this a case of the show telling us that a) the plot isn’t exactly necessary to the story’s endgame or b) that the Targaryen nephew will indeed be revealed to be illegitimate and thus nullify his claim to the Iron Throne? The answer? Probably both.
MISSING THIS WEEK: We took a rare break from the chaos engulfing King’s Landing this week. Arya is presumably cleaning bodies in the House of Black and White still while Varys has not been seen since he lost Tyrion to Jorah in the Volantene brothel. Littlefinger is on his way to King’s Landing. No new news from Dorne either, but next week’s episode “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken” is titled after their house motto, so expect a big Dornish episode where something relevant might actually happen there.
Till next Sunday!