In my opinion (which may not be shared by all fans), ‘Game of Thrones’ is rarely at its strongest when it goes for big action spectacle. My favorite episodes are those that focus on scheming and plotting and duplicitous back-stabbing. This week has plenty of that, highlighted by the return of the show’s best master manipulator.
As Jon Snow packs up his things to leave, his friend Edd lays a major guilt trip on him about abandoning the Night’s Watch. Snow’s plans are delayed a bit when the castle gates open to reveal that his half-sister Sansa has arrived, with Brienne and Podrick in tow. While the two of them never much got along as children, their reunion is cemented by a big hug.
Sansa laments that, “We never should’ve left Winterfell” and apologizes for being such an awful sister (and just generally an awful person). Snow catches her up on everything that happened to him, including his murder and resurrection. He wants her to come with him. Although he isn’t sure where they’ll go, he feels obligated to protect her. (Also, it’s probably not a great idea to leave her at Castle Black with a bunch of former murderers and rapists, half of whom hate his guts and the other half think he’s an undead monster.)
Sansa believes that the only place they can go is home. She urges Snow to help her retake Winterfell from the Boltons, but Snow doesn’t want to fight anymore.
When Ser Davos asks her plans, the witch Melisandre replies that she serves Jon Snow now and will do whatever he commands. She believes that he is the fabled Prince That Was Promised. Davos expresses skepticism, reminding her that she used to think Stannis Baratheon was the Prince, and that didn’t exactly work out for her.
Their conversation is interrupted by Brienne, who makes it clear that, even though they all find themselves on the same side now, she will never forget or forgive Melisandre for killing her former master, Renly Baratheon. She also coldly informs them that she executed Stannis on the battlefield.
Later, Jon Snow receives a letter from Ramsay Bolton, demanding his bride back and threatening to do many awful things to the both of them if they don’t comply. The letter reveals that Ramsay is holding their brother Rickon captive and taunts Snow to, “Come and see.” From the way he signed the letter as Warden of the North, Snow deduces that Ramsay must have murdered his own father.
From what she saw at Winterfell, Sansa estimates that the Bolton army has about 5,000 soldiers. Snow asks Tormund how many Wildlings could fight at his side, and is told about 2,000. In order to fight the Boltons, he’ll need to raise an army from other houses of the north, which won’t be easy give how much they all hate and distrust Wildlings. Nonetheless, Jon Snow agrees that it’s time to go to war.
Littlefinger is back! Rejoice! We haven’t seen him since the middle of Season 5 and his presence was sorely missed. Baelish returns to the Vale with the gift of a rare falcon for his master, the idiot child Robin Arryn.
Robin’s bannerman Lord Royce has nothing but contempt for Baelish and accuses him of turning Sansa Stark over to Ramsay Bolton. Although that’s exactly what he really did, Baelish denies it. He claims that he and Sansa were captured by the Boltons, and accuses Royce of leaking information about their travel plans. Their spat is resolved when Baelish demonstrates how easily he can pull Robin’s strings, convincing the boy to threaten to toss Royce through the Moon Door in the castle. Royce is forced to plead for another chance to prove his loyalty, which Baelish magnanimously grants him.
Baelish then suggests to Robin that they should send the Knights of the Vale to ally with Jon Snow and Sansa against the Boltons, slyly tricking the boy into thinking it’s his own idea.
Much to the displeasure of both Grey Worm and Missandei, Tyrion invites the slave masters of Astapor, Yunkai and Volantis to the throne room to open formal diplomatic relations. In exchange for them cutting off funding to the Sons of the Harpy (which they deny, and he doesn’t press them to acknowledge), Tyrion proposes a compromise. The practice of slavery will be allowed to continue for a transition period of seven years, whereupon a new system will replace it and the masters will be compensated for the loss of their slaves. He seals the deal by plying the masters with whores.
Tyrion is then confronted by a group of former slaves, who don’t trust the Half-Man and are upset that he would in any way placate or acquiesce to the masters. Although they don’t like the deal either, Missandei and Grey Worm stand behind Tyrion, out of loyalty to their queen.
Grey Worm warns Tyrion not to trust the masters. Tyrion replies that he doesn’t trust them, but he does trust their greed and self-interest, both of which this deal satisfies. Grey Worm isn’t convinced. He believes the masters will betray them.
Margaery is brought before the High Sparrow, who tells her a very long and involved story about how he used to be a successful cobbler who gave in to the vices of greed and avarice until he had a religious revelation. He then allows her to see her brother Loras, expecting that she will convince him to give up and confess his sins. However, Margaery whispers to Loras that he must stay strong. Although she has pretended to begin the process of atonement, she’s secretly as defiant as ever. Poor Loras is in bad shape from the torture and begs her to help him.
Cersei walks in on Grand Maester Pycelle bending her son Tommen’s ear and advising him not to antagonize the High Sparrow. She pissily orders Pycelle out of the room and warns Tommen not to trust the old fool. Tommen is clearly afraid of the High Sparrow and just wants his wife back. Cersei agrees that rescuing Margaery is of paramount importance. As much as she may dislike Margaery, she hates the Sparrow more, and she cannot abide the position of Queen (whoever holds it) being so publicly demeaned.
Cersei and Jaime intrude on a meeting between Lady Olenna and Ser Kevan Lannister, the current Hand of the King. Cersei proposes that they set aside their differences and unite against the Sparrows. When Olenna scoffs, Cersei informs her that the Sparrow plans to make Margaery do a walk of atonement through the capital, as Cersei herself did. Olenna is adamant that they can’t allow that to happen. She agrees to bring the Tyrell army to the capital to put down the Sparrows and rescue Margaery and Loras. Kevan objects that the king expressly forbade him from using the Lannister army to make a move against the Sparrows. Cersei suggests that he’s under no obligation to prevent anyone else from doing that. All he has to do is step aside and let the Tyrell forces in.
The Iron Islands
Theon Greyjoy returns home and finds his sister Yara in the throne room, still mourning the loss of their father. She isn’t exactly pleased to see him. She blames Theon for the deaths of many good men in the failed attempt to rescue him from Ramsay. Even when Theon tells her that he finally came to his senses and escaped, Yara assumes that he only came back in a bid to claim the throne. However, Theon tells her that he doesn’t want the throne. He thinks she should rule, and he will do whatever he can to help her.
In addition to writing the nasty letter to Jon Snow, Ramsay has a conversation with Osha, the Wildling captured with Rickon Stark. She claims that she has no loyalty to the Starks, and had planned to sell the boy. Osha tries to seduce Ramsay, all the while reaching for a knife on the table behind him to stab him with. This was not a smart play. Ramsay stabs her in the neck with his own knife first, killing the girl, then returns to using that knife to cut and eat an apple.
Jorah and Daario bicker while following Daenerys’ trail. Daario teases Jorah about being in love with Dany, and jokes that he’s too old to “ride the dragon.” Daario then spots a patch of greyscale on Jorah’s arm, but Jorah tells him not to worry about it.
They get within sight of Vaes Dothrak and scope out the place from a nearby cliff. Jorah tells Daario that weapons are forbidden in the holy city so they’ll need to leave theirs behind. If they get caught in the city with weapons, they’ll be executed, whereas if they get caught without any weapons they can pretend to be merchants who got lost on the way to the market. Daario isn’t happy about leaving his favorite knife behind.
That night, the two men sneak into the city. They run into a pair of skeptical Dothraki in an alley who don’t buy Jorah’s story about being merchants. One of the Dothraki runs for help. Daario chases after him and snaps his neck. Jorah is overpowered by the other Dothraki, but Daario returns and stabs the brute in the throat. It seems he didn’t leave that knife behind after all. Jorah worries about what will happen if the body is discovered with a knife wound, so Daario picks up a big rock and smashes the corpse’s skull to deflect attention.
Daenerys converses with the other Khals’ widows and claims that she would never run from the Dothraki. When Dany says that she needs to pee (the polite phrase is “make water”), a young widow escorts her to wherever these savages go to do that. On the way, the girl enthuses about how amazing it must be to see dragons. The poor girl was widowed young and never had much of a life. Dany likes her.
Jorah and Daario leap out of hiding and grab the widow. Daenerys orders them not to harm her. She asks the girl to trust her and not report her. The men want to abscond with Dany immediately, but she has a better idea.
A group of Khals meet in the holy temple and have Daenerys brought before them so they can decide her fate. She remains defiant and arrogantly calls them all weak and unfit to lead, proclaiming herself queen of all Dothraki. Enraged, Khal Moro pronounces her sentence. She will not be allowed to live with the other widows. She will be raped by all the men in the room, and then raped by all their underlings, and then raped by all their horses if she somehow survives that long. She will be used and beaten until there’s nothing left of her and she dies.
Daenerys isn’t intimidated in the slightest. She grabs a flaming brazier with her bare hands and knocks it over, starting a fire in the temple. Then she knocks over another and another, until the whole building is aflame. The Khals run for the door only to find it locked. Jorah and Daario killed the guards outside and barricaded the only exit.
The burning temple lights up the city. Thousands of Dothraki run toward it and witness the triumphant Daenerys emerge from the flames completely unscathed, aside from the fact that all of her clothes have burned off. Fearing her as a goddess, the entire horde drop to their knees and bow to her. Even her lover Daario is flabbergasted at what he’s just seen.
For my money, this is easily the season’s best episode so far, by large margin. I suppose that’s mostly a reflection of my disappointment with the first three. I have to acknowledge that the episode’s rousing climax feels a little repetitive of the Season 1 finale, in which Daenerys similarly demonstrated her resistance to fire in order to ascend to rule the Dothraki. The scale may be a little larger, but the basic point is the same.
(Also, before someone takes me to task for my comment last week about Emilia Clarke not doing nudity anymore, doesn’t it look like her face was digitally pasted onto a body double here?)
I’m much more interested in all the other wheelings and dealings and maneuverings, and am excited to have Littlefinger back. He may not have gotten much to do this week, but it sure is nice to know he’s around again.