I need to keep reminding myself that ‘Game of Thrones’ has always been a slow burn. We’re halfway through the current season now and most of the storylines have had very little movement. Watching week-to-week, it’s too easy to get frustrated by that. This will no doubt play better in a marathon viewing binge somewhere down the line.
Grey Worm has survived his attack but lies unconscious. (He’ll wake up later and get a nice kiss from Missandei.) As we already knew, Ser Barristan is dead. Daenerys’ boyfriend Daario has turned into quite a hothead this season. He wants to use Dany’s army to sweep through the city and purge any dissenters.
Ignoring any of Barristan’s advice that she should be a merciful queen, Dany rounds up the leaders of all the city’s great families, whether they’ve had anything to do with the rebellion or not. This includes Hizdahr, the member of her own Small Council who’s been begging her to reopen the fighting pits in Yunkai. Dany brings the men down to the dungeon and feeds one to her dragons. Naturally, this scares the living hell out of the rest. She then has them locked up.
Daenerys is left so indecisive about what to do next that she even asks Missandei’s advice, which amounts to some platitude about listening to her heart. Apparently, that does the trick. Daenerys marches down to the prison to see Hizdahr. She tells him that she will reopen the fighting pits after all, but only to freed men, no more slaves. (This seems like an obvious solution she should have come up with months ago.) Further, she will strengthen her ties to the kingdom through a political marriage to Hizdahr himself – much to his surprise. I bet Daario’s not going to be too happy about this.
Despite the extraordinary distances between kingdoms, news travels quickly through Westeros. As Samwell and Maester Aemon receive an update about what’s happening in Meereen, I find myself thinking not just about the ravens that have to unerringly carry these messages to their intended destinations, but to the scribes who must painstakingly write out countless copies for anyone who might be interested. What a crappy job to get stuck with.
Stannis corners Samwell in the Night’s Watch library to ask him about the White Walker he killed. Sam tells him about how it was vulnerable to obsidian. Stannis informs him that there’s plenty more of that in his own kingdom.
When Jon Snow seeks Aemon’s advice on what to do about the Wildlings, Aemon very kindly tells him that it’s time to man-up and make tough decisions, regardless of how many of the Night’s Watch he’ll upset.
Now that Mance Rayder is dead, Tormund is effectively the new leader of the Wildlings. Snow releases him from captivity and asks him to travel north, to bring as many free folk as he can south of the Wall to fight with the Night’s Watch against the White Walkers. He promises to convince Stannis to lend them his navy. (I’m not clear on why they need the navy, when everything we’ve seen of the north has been inland.) Tormund agrees only on the condition that Jon Snow must come with him. Otherwise, the Wildlings will never believe that this isn’t a trick or a trap.
The Night’s Watch is left divided by this news. While some support Jon Snow, many others cannot forgive the Wildlings. That kid who was the only survivor of the village that the Wildlings slaughtered isn’t a big fan of the plan.
Stannis agrees to Jon Snow’s request for his navy, but will not wait around for Snow to bring any Wildlings back. He will march on Winterfell immediately. Davos tries to convince Stannis to leave his wife and daughter behind at Castle Black for their safety, but Stannis doesn’t trust the former murderers and rapists of the Night’s Watch. He kind of has a point.
Still keeping tabs from a distance, Brienne convinces an innkeeper to send a secret message to Sansa Stark, letting her know that she still has friends in the north and that she should light a candle in the tallest tower (the one Bran fell out of) if ever she’s in trouble and needs help.
This week’s gratuitous nudity comes courtesy of Ramsay’s girlfriend Myranda, the kennel master’s daughter, who spends much of her screen time buck-naked, sulking about Ramsay marrying Sansa. If she’s known Ramsay for more than half a minute, you’d think the girl would be relieved to foist him off on someone else.
Myranda makes a point of running into Sansa and pretending to befriend her. She offers to show Sansa something very interesting in the kennel. It’s a dank and creepy place, and feels like an obvious trap. Against her better judgment, Sansa goes in anyway, where she finds Theon pathetically cowering in a cage.
Theon is afraid to tell Ramsay that Sansa saw him, but of course can’t keep a secret. Ramsay magnanimously shows him mercy rather than beat him, but has a delightful plan for how to defuse this situation.
At dinner with his parents, Ramsay parades Theon out as a servant and makes him apologize to Sansa for murdering her younger brothers. (Ramsay knows that Theon didn’t really do it, but decides not to fill Sansa in on that tidbit.) If ever Sansa thought that Ramsay might be a tolerable match for her to marry, he disabuses that notion pretty quickly.
Ramsay’s father Roose Bolton is annoyed with his son for behaving like an ass, but doesn’t really give a crap. He has other things to worry about, including the fact that his wife is pregnant. This makes Ramsay worry about his position if a real legitimate heir is born. Roose tells a rather horrible story about Ramsay’s peasant mother that oddly ends with a reassurance that he considers Ramsay a true son.
Of even more pressing concern, however, Roose informs Ramsay that Stannis Baratheon is coming and they must prepare for his attack.
Still ever-so-slowly en route to Meereen, Tyrion is starting to get the jitters from lack of alcohol. His mood doesn’t improve much when he realizes that Jorah is steering them on a course that will take them through the ruined kingdom of Valyria, which was destroyed centuries earlier by a cataclysmic event known as “The Doom,” and these days serves as a sort of leper colony for the “Stone Men” (victims of the greyscale disease). The land is also rumored to be haunted, which Jorah believes will scare off pirates.
As they approach, Tyrion is amazed to see Drogon fly overhead. He didn’t believe dragons still existed.
Almost immediately after Jorah pilots them into a narrow strait, their boat is attacked by Stone Men. Tyrion begs Jorah to cut loose the bonds around his wrists, but Jorah has his hands full fighting off the attackers. Because the greyscale is highly infectious, they struggle not to let the Stone Men touch them. Tyion falls into the water. Not only is he unable to swim with his hands tied, something grabs him and drags him down.
Fortunately, the episode doesn’t leave us with a cliffhanger. Moments later, Tyrion awakens on land. Jorah has saved him. Now without any transportation, they must walk along the shore and hope to find a fishing village where they can commandeer another boat.
Jorah tells Tyrion that none of the Stone Men touched him. However, he secretly looks at his wrist and already sees a patch of greyscale forming.
I still love the show, of course. The world-building and character development are great. I just feel that recent episodes have focused too much on set-up, with only small amounts of payoff at the very end to keep us hooked enough to come back for another week. I’d like to see that structure shaken up a little more often.