We’re in officially new territory with a whole host of storylines now. Sansa and Littlefinger, Jaime and Bronn, the whole northern storyline and soon enough the Watch as well – so far, the season proves that it can stand on its own, a feat many doubted it was capable of given the mixed track record it enjoys in those areas. But let’s see for ourselves as things stand this week, shall we? At the Wall, Jon has to treat with Stannis again. It’s a nice touch that he keeps his own steward around, one has to say. Stannis appreciates it, at least more than Jon’s refusal to become Jon Stark. The encounter plays out a bit formal, like both men know what the other is going to say already which is basically what this is. Stannis gives the wildlings to Jon, simplifying the politics in the book, namedropping Tormund, and leaves, not without advising Jon to send Thorne elsewhere, which is sensible. He is then offered “just one man’s opinion”, as Davos plants the seed of Jon’s (book-)downfall by stirring him up against the Boltons.
Then comes Jon’s first real test. As Lord Commander, he’s not exactly as sullen (yet) as in the books, acting more as the primus buddy inter pares, but it works well enough and for the first time, I really, really believe the Jon Snow the show offers me, for the first time I see in him what, supposedly, the other characters always saw in him. Him joking about the latrine, letting Thorne and Slynt suffer for a moment before declaring how he wants to run the place is very well done. While I admire his stance of promoting Thorne to First Ranger, I’m now almost sure that it will be him to stab him in the end. Stannis was right on this one, and Jon should have listened.
At least he takes the lesson from his father in dealing with Slynt. There is one short moment in which you don’t know how Thorne will react, but for the moment, he’ll obey. Jon then is passing the sentence, hearing Slynt’s last words, and executing him with one quick stroke. We by now have ample scenes to compare this to: the initial execution by Eddard as the benchmark, Robb’s emotional, desperate and still noble one of Rickard Karstark, Theon’s entirely botched one, and now Jon, proving himself as a determined leader after one flickering moment of doubt in which he kills the boy. As a reward, he gets the official Stannis Nod of Approval.
In Winterfell meanwhile, Theon enjoys the scenery of flayed corpses that make Winterfell clearly the new Bolton residence. Roose explains to his son over dinner that he has to take a bride for political reasons. The “Ramsay Theory of Good Governance” clearly annoys Papa Bolton, and somehow I don’t feel that he will tolerate him hurting Sansa. Which brings us to the direwolf in the room. Exchanging Jeyne Poole for Sansa is the smart move for the series to do. The Vale is basically a dead end when you don’t have the luxury of many pages of ultimately peripheral politicking, and Ramsay needs a bride. There’s no other interesting female character that fits the bill except Sansa, so the show goes down this route and brings the good old Littlefinger-teleport back. That guy goes around. The “Tywin Lannister is dead”-line is also a good excuse for everyone to betray the Lannisters now, and it’s logical enough. Really, no one can hurt Roose. There are no Freys he needs, and so far no Manderlys he needs to fear.
Sansa deciding on her own that she will marry Ramsay (given kind of a bogus choice by Littlefinger) also works really well and echoes her arc from the books. I can’t imagine that we will get another stab at torture porn with Ramsay. Sansa will learn to use her power and station quickly, with Ramsay essentially being the punching ball for it. She is getting into her own, and this will be her ultimate test. If she survives Ramsay, she will survive everything, just as Arya will be able to best every challenge once she successfully leaves the House of Black and White, or Jon when he comes back or Dany – we’re heading straight for a new generation to take the reins from the old one in all major plotlines. I like.
We get our first glimpses of this in the staring contest between Sansa and Roose, which works very well, and the whole encounter just lets Ramsay look outclassed everywhere. Theon for the moment evades attention, but this will become very interesting with him in the mix. The Killer-Chick-Squad of Winterfell Ramsay keeps also doesn’t look too pleased, while the servant ominously tells her that “the North remembers”. I don’t know about you, but for me, this is a promise of greatness to come in this storyline. Only Littlefinger is kind of the fifth wheel in all of this. Of course, Cersei recalling him ends this problem quick enough. The whole politics of it involving Littlefinger and the show versions of King’s Landing politics make quite a lot of sense, which is good. In the meantime, Podrick and Brienne are swapping the life stories. It’s about time we learn about the ham in Tywin’s camp and Brienne’s suitors, and the scene is slow, well-crafted and very careful not to hasten too much. We really get to the hearts of those two characters, which is important if we ever want to keep this from becoming a pure adventurous road movie. The question is, where will her plot go? To Winterfell, obviously, which makes sense. But what will they do there? My money is on them becoming Abel and the washerwomen in essence.
In King’s Landing, Cersei has to put on her best “I just bit a lemon”-face as Margaery and Tommen finally get married. Her ride to the Sept of Baelor is just one long statement of “this location is going to be important soon”, but we’ll get there. Soon after the ceremony, we can see why Cersei wasn’t happy: Margaery sleeps with Tommen and gives him the time of her live. Given the age of Tommen in the show, this appropriate and well done, without too much gratuitous nudity. Margaery of course uses her new-found influence trying to sideline Cersei to Casterly Rock, framing the conflict now clearly as a 1-on-1 between her in Cersei, rather than the mad spree Cersei has in the books. This Margaery is a dangerous opponent for our lioness. Cersei, ever a bit too rash and direct, confronts first Tommen and then Margaery, but loses both encounters. Gee, I wonder what ideas that will give her. Margery, interestingly, is making the same mistake as Tyrion: being much too secure and spilling too much of the beans with her “in your face”-attitude. That will come to bite her.
For now, however, we see the disposal of the High Septon using the only brothel in King’s Landing, by the Sparrows. From the beginning they come off as harrowing, menacing fanatics. It’s also interesting that he has to take the Walk of Shame, which might at least a bit remove the sting of misogyny when Cersei has to take it. For now, she learns of the High Sparrow. It’s nice to see the touch of fandom’s nicknames making it into the show. Cersei, seeing an opportunity when it presents itself, tries to enlist the High Sparrow, ignoring the danger in the High Septon declaring how he hates “hypocrisy”, again foreshadowing future events. Well played, show. After sending off a message to Littlefinger (there’s how he’ll leave Winterfell), the Ungregor awakens. Subtle.
In Braavos, we’re with Arya, engaged in some valar dohaeris. Characteristically, Arya doesn’t really get what this is about. Where are the lessons of murdering people? But Jaqen puts her in her place, being distant and somehow very understated compared to his almost casual killing spree in Harrenhal. The design of the House of Black and White’s interior works well. We lack the hundreds of gods, but that’s ok – the vibrating “you know the name of death”, echoing Syrio Forel (who seems to have been an adherent to the Many-Faced-God in the show) makes more than up for that and ties Essos and Westeros together. Somehow though I still miss the kindly man. Perhaps Jaqen will make up for it.
The waif meanwhile is pretty aggressive towards Arya, but this also works in simplifying things and getting Arya a punching ball against which to grow and which she can essentially outgrow in her struggles. Again it seems kind of odd that Arya is admitted to another circle within the organization without achieving anything, just by demanding it, but the emotional impact of her (not) giving up all her things is enough to remedy other shortcomings. Arya is then admitted down the steps into the morgue, where she has to watch the body. Book readers already know where this is headed, but for everyone else, it will seem very mysterious and opaque. I wonder how this locale is playing with the Unsullied.
In Volantis (which looks good) we get our exposition about the place and the role of the slaves. Since they are in Volantis now and Tyrion is about to be abducted by Jorah, I think we can safely rule out fAegon, Connington and all the others. However, given that Volantis is in the show at all, we can also safely assume that the importance many analysts of “A Dance with Dragons” gave it to the future of Dany’s story arc is well placed. The same is true for Greyscale, which gets another reference. We also see the slaves worshipping R’hollor, which is on the one hand a very good scene and on the other hand heightening the chances that this faith will play a role in the things to come.
Talking about the brothel, it’s a nice touch that the official Dany-whore is loathed and not used by Jorah, making him less desolate. It’s astonishing how good the dialogue between the whore and Tyrion is. It subtly takes the changes in plot from the Shae-murder and transforms it into a tender scene showing us the development that Tyrion made since the last season. Well played. The cliffhanger with Jorah is also one that should keep the Unsullied on the edge, so, nothing to complain here. No Dany this week, though. I really miss her.