The storytelling notably picks up quite a bit of speed this week on ‘Game of Thrones’. Last week’s big plot twist is followed by more machinations and major changes of fortune, including the end of one beloved character.
In what will be a relief to many, we also don’t need to wait half a season for characters to travel from one location to another. The show’s writers finally decided to expedite the narrative time compression for such things as we get closer to the end.
Jon Snow arrives at the Targaryen stronghold with Ser Davos in tow. They’re greeted at the beach by Tyrion, who exchanges pleasantries while leading them up to the castle. Snow loses his cool and ducks in terror when one of Daenerys’ dragons buzzes him overhead. Tyrion remains composed, but tells him that you never really get used to that.
Watching from a distance, Varys quite correctly surmises that Melisandre is on the outs with Jon Snow, even though it was her advice to Daenerys that brought him here. She doesn’t deny it. Melisandre says that she’ll be leaving for Volantis shortly.
Snow and Davos are brought to the throne room, where Missandei introduces Daenerys with her traditional long-winded list of official titles. Davos provides a much shorter introduction for his king. Daenerys chastises the Stark family for breaking a centuries-long oath to her family, and demands that Jon Snow must bend the knee to her rule. He refuses, pointing out that her insane father betrayed the North. Surprisingly, Dany apologizes. They have a conversation about how neither should be judged by the actions of their forebears. Nevertheless, Daenerys insists that she is the rightful heir to the crown and that she expects him to submit to her rule. In return, she promises to name him Warden of the North.
Still, Jon Snow will not concede. Fed up with this pointless politicking, he warns her that the army of the dead is approaching and will kill them all. Daenerys thinks he must be crazy to speak such fanciful nonsense. Davos speaks eloquently for his king, and almost blurts out the fact that he was resurrected from the dead, but Jon stops him.
This meeting is interrupted by Varys, who arrives to whisper news of the Greyjoy fleet’s destruction into Daenerys’ ear. Dany instructs that Jon Snow and Davos be escorted to their quarters. Jon asks if he’s her prisoner. Daenerys says no, but clearly means yes.
The next day, Jon speaks privately with Tyrion, who tells him that his request for Daenerys to abandon her own war to help him fight the army of the dead (that she doesn’t even believe in) is unreasonable. He suggests that Jon ask for something reasonable instead.
Tyrion then brings the new request to Daenerys. If she won’t offer the assistance of her army or her dragons, Jon Snow asks that at least he be allowed to mine the dragonglass beneath the castle, for forging into weapons against the dead. Tyrion points out that the dragonglass is worthless to her, and letting Jon Snow have it will be a way of giving him something by giving him nothing. She has nothing to lose by it, and may gain an ally (or at least put him off from rebelling against her). Daenerys consents to let Snow mine the mountain.
In response to Euron Greyjoy’s attack on her fleet, Daenerys is eager for revenge and considers mounting her dragons and flying all over the seas until they can find and destroy him. Tyrion advises against acting so rashly. Not only would that be dangerous to her, she has more pressing matters to attend to, regarding the impending assault on Casterly Rock.
Theon Greyjoy is pulled out of the water by one of his fleet’s few surviving ships. The men on board are not exactly pleased that he survived. They call him a coward for abandoning his sister and leave him on the deck shivering cold.
Euron Greyjoy parades through the capital to a hero’s welcome. Thronging masses of people, the same ones who spit and threw trash at Cersei not so long ago, now do the same to her enemies, Yara and Ellaria. Euron gloats, “I have to be honest, this is making me hard.”
The women are marched to the Iron Throne. Ellaria is chilled to see The Mountain – the man who murdered her lover Oberyn – standing beside the queen. Euron presents his prisoners as a gift to Queen Cersei, and makes it clear that the only reward he seeks is her hand in marriage. Cersei is pleased, and intimates that he will get what he wants… when the war is won. Euron can accept that. A vile pig, he then needles Jaime for tips on what his sister enjoys in bed.
Yara’s fate is not shown, but Cersei has Ellaria and her surviving daughter Tyene chained in the dungeon to walls opposite each other, just out of reach. Cersei taunts Ellaria about Oberyn’s violent death, and muses about all the possible ways she could claim revenge for her daughter’s murder. Ultimately, she finds the most poetic justice in kissing Tyene on the lips. Ellaria immediately realizes that Cersei is wearing the same poisoned lipstick that she used to kill Myrcella. Cersei teases that the girl may take anywhere from hours to days to die, but Ellaria will be forced to watch it happen, and the corpse will be left in the room for her to watch it rot in front of her.
Riding a high from that victory, Cersei goes straight to Jaime’s quarters and throws herself at her brother. She’s so giddy with power that she’s even unafraid to let a servant see them together the next morning. The servant notifies her that she has a visitor from Braavos who wishes to see her.
The visitor is a representative from the Iron Bank. He congratulates Cersei on taking the throne, but speaks plainly that the bank sees her as a bad investment and does not expect her to weather the many challenges to her crown. Feeling confident, Cersei asks him to stay in the capital as her honored guest, and promises that her debts to the bank will be paid in full within a fortnight. This seems unrealistic, but Cersei should not be underestimated.
Sansa is informed that the castle only has enough food supplies for a year with the present occupancy, which will not be enough to last the winter, especially not if people from all over the North retreat to Winterfell. Sansa makes seemingly good decisions for how to deal with this and other pressing matters. Littlefinger counsels her to never trust anyone but herself. (If she’s smart, she should recognize that includes him.)
Sansa is overwhelmed when her brother Bran arrives at the castle, and runs up to hug him. Bran is strangely unemotional. They have a talk beneath a weirwood tree with a carved face. Sansa tells him that, as their father’s eldest living male heir, he is the rightful Lord of Winterfell. Bran dismisses the notion, saying that he’s the Three-Eyed Raven now, but cannot find adequate words to explain what that means to her. He creeps her out quite a lot when he demonstrates how he can see every moment of the past all at once by describing the dress she wore on her sham of a wedding night to Ramsay Bolton.
The Archmaester examines Jorah Mormont and declares his greyscale infection inactive. Jorah claims that he just suddenly started feeling better, but the Archmaester is no fool. He knows what Sam did. While saying goodbye to Jorah, Sam shakes his hand – which is quite an act of bravery considering the risk if his infection were not actually cured.
The Archmaester gives Sam a talking-to about defying his orders, but also admits to being impressed by him. Most other maesters who have attempted this cure have failed. It takes tremendous skill to succeed at it. As such, the Archmaester will allow Sam to stay in the Citadel and continue his training. However, he also assigns him the menial task of copying old manuscripts and scrolls as punishment for his disobedience.
As Tyrion narrates the battle strategy to Daenerys from Dragonstone, Grey Worm and the Unsullied sail to the Lannister seat of power and assault the castle. It’s a nearly impregnable fortress, but Tyrion knows of a secret entrance through the sewers (that he used to sneak whores in through). He jokes, “Give me ten good men and I’ll impregnate the bitch.” A small squad of Unsullied work their way inside and open the gates, allowing the rest of the army in.
While Tyrion gloats at his cleverness, however, Grey Worm discovers that they’ve been played for fools. The defenses at Casterly Rock are nowhere near what they expected. The bulk of the Lannister army isn’t there at all. After taking the castle, Grey Worm looks out over the wall and sees Euron Greyjoy’s armada destroying their fleet behind them, leaving the Unsullied stranded on the other side of the continent from Daenerys.
Rather than defend Casterly Rock, Jaime leads the Lannister army to sack the home of Olenna Tyrell. They make quick work of the inferior Tyrell army. (The battle isn’t even shown, because it’s that inconsequential.)
Jaime finds Olenna Tyrell (Diana Rigg) waiting for him. She knows she’s been bested and there’s nothing to be done about it. She was outplayed. Jaime explains how he sacrificed Casterly Rock and had anything of value removed from the castle before the Unsullied got there. Even in defeat, Olenna retains her acid tongue and calls Cersei a disease.
Olenna asks how Jaime plans to kill her. He describes a few horrible fates that Cersei had in mind for her, but says that he talked her out of them. Instead, he pulls out a small vial of poison that he claims will be painless and pours some in her drink. Olenna downs it without hesitation. She’d rather die now and get it over with than see Cersei again. Before the poison can take effect, Olenna gets in a barbed dig about how Jaime must have felt watching his son Joffrey die. (Because obviously Olenna knew Jaime was the father.) She then admits to ordering the boy’s murder, saying, “Tell Cersei I want her to know it was me.”
Jaime turns his back on her and walks out of the room, leaving Olenna to die alone.
Olenna Tyrell was a terrific character and it’s sad to see her go, but significant losses like that are inevitable as the ‘Game of Thrones’ story moves into its final act.
This is another huge loss for Daenerys. Not only does this mean that all of her allies in Westeros (save Jon Snow, who’s not fully committed to her) have been roundly defeated, she’s separated from the most powerful part of her army. The failure of Tyrion’s clever strategies may make Dany reckless to jump straight into all-out war before she’s ready.
Even more importantly, Cersei has now seized all of the Tyrell fortunes. She’s made huge tactical victories and is flush with wealth to pay off all her debts and continue building her army and more alliances.
Three episodes in, ‘Game of Thrones’ seems to be in a much stronger position this season than it was at the same point last year.