Last week’s episode was divisive, let’s say. I still like it, although I may have been a little bit too lenient. It’s not bad by any means. This week, the producers change gears entirely and somewhat unexpectedly. Instead of giving us the usually spread-out, sprawling narrative, the episode is firmly centered in the North, with a little bit of Essos in between, but nothing of King’s Landing, Dorne, Braavos or anything else. This is an unusual move for “Game of Thrones”, and we’ll have to see whether it plays out.
At the Wall, we start with Maester Aemon reading a report from Meereen and giving us the talk of how important it is what happens there. Will they send Sam to Meereen instead of Oldtown? Seems a little bit late for such things, and Stannis never wanted to burn Aemon, so I don’t think this is where it’s heading. Jon then shows up for some advice from Aemon. He gets some, but not the one he came for: he is now in power, responsible to no one, and he has to make the tough calls himself. If he thinks it’s right, he needs to do it, and to hell with everyone who doesn’t like it. Kill the boy, Jon! The sequence is well earned as the whole season has a stellar track record of handling his storyline (much in comparison to the other seasons) and worthy of some goosebumps.
Jon is then going to Tormund and talking to him. If anyone still tries to argue that he is in reality Mance Rayder in glamour…really? This is Tormund as we know him, and all his reservations are his, not Mance’s. Mance is dead, baby. Mance is dead. The whole logic of the scene is also one that short-circuits much of Jon’s storyline from the books. The whole logistics of the wildlings are gone, instead they’re conveniently holed up in Hardhome, where Tormund can reach them – but only if Jon is with him. Works for me. It’s logical in its own context, gives a clear goal and opens up the real debate in the next scene.
Which is where Jon brings the idea to his brothers. Of course, they are all pretty excited over the prospect and swear instant allegiance to Jon. Just kidding. Despite Stannis’ silent approval (and muttered, hilarious correction of grammar), even Dolorous Edd is speaking out against Jon, which should ring a whole orchestra of bells. Not even Sam is standing up for Jon’s idea. Edd is even calling back to the deaths of Grenn and Pyp, which is a nice touch and takes Jon unawares. In contrast, Alliser Thorne’s opposition is almost muted. Jon has no support among the Watch for his plans, this is clear enough, and even his friends would support him only because they are his friends, not because they believe in this.
This point is driven home in the short discussion Jon has with Olly. Having him be the one to shoot Ygritte last season actually was a good decision, as becomes apparent now: Jon tries to reach him emotionally (“I know how it feels to lose someone you love”, leaving unspoken that he forgives Olly for it), but fails utterly with the boy, who visibly hardens up and formally addresses him from a position of servitude. If there was any doubt left as to who would be the one to drive a dagger into Jon, this scene should wash them all away. It will be Olly, and this will provide a much bigger impact than Bowen Marsh.
Later, we see a dialogue between Sam and Gilly where Gilly professes some real self-doubts about her own worth. Sam telling her how good she’s at sowing, cooking and cleaning up doesn’t really do anything to remedy this. I like how Gilly remains a constant presence and is aware of that she really is only that: a presence. As in this case, where the whole dialogue only was the opening for the first (and last) dialogue between Stannis and Sam. We get some more world building about Randyll Tarly and soldiering before going to the heart of the matter: we need to know how to beat the Others, and Sam’s reading can provide the key for that. “Continue reading, Samwell Tarly”. Yes, please. Do so.
Stannis then packs up, ignoring advice from Davos to leave his wife and daughter behind. Stannis obviously doesn’t trust the Watch farther than he can throw the whole damn Wall. I wonder how this will play out. Without any Stannis-forces at the Wall, the whole assassination of Jon will either have to wait or really play out differently than in the books, without any of Melisandre’s intervention. This makes it likely that Hardhome will be wrapped up by episode 9, leaving room in episode 10. However, all bets are practically off. Jon hasn’t aided Stannis as he did in the books, and since Brienne is already in position to rescue Sansa, it seems unlikely he will send someone down there, all of which should butterfly away the Pink Letter. Stannis also has superior numbers, ditching much of the complicated logistics and politics from the books in favor of an easier narrative. Good call. We’re in uncharted territory here, and isn’t it exciting? So far, the show does a tremendous job with the original material.
Speaking of Brienne, she is using the usually blunt Brienne School of Diplomacy and bludgeons a local into helping her getting a message to Sansa. Other than that and looking at the Winterfell ruins, she isn’t doing much this episode. It might be that the serving women telling Sansa to light a candle if she ever is in trouble is a direct follow-up, but it might also be she’s just another player in the twisted Game of Flayed Men Roose and Ramsay are playing. Since the whole story is new (and well crafted), we cannot really know. Ah, Game of Thrones. I didn’t even know how this particular excitement felt. Thanks for giving me this back!
Ramsay, on the other hand, is having a little domestic troubles with Myranda, who we learn is the kennelmaster’s daughter. That makes sense, given Ramsay’s love for hunting. She also manages to keep in Ramsay’s good graces and sees Sansa as a threat. So far, so boring. She then confronts Sansa, being creepy and leading her to Theon’s cage, but as of yet, those scenes really don’t amount to much. I really hope Myranda’s plot is leading up to more. It seems likely, given the stare she gave Sansa at her arrival, but as of yet, it’s not clear what this might be. The good news: Ramsay manages to restrain himself from physically abusing Sansa.
Instead, he decides to torture her mentally. This sequence really is gold again. We know that Ramsay is a torturing bastard, and many professed fears that Sansa in Winterfell would be like Sansa in King’s Landing, only with Joffrey exchanged for Ramsay. But this is not the case. Instead, Ramsay comes off as pathetic during the whole sequence. First, he cosplays Ralph Fiennes as KZ commander Amon Göth in “Schindler’s List”, “forgiving” Theon, and then he parades him at dinner and shows everyone what a gifted torturer and manipulator he is. Not only is no one impressed at the antics of him forcing Theon to apologize to Sansa (to the visual unsettling of Ramsay), his attempts at mentally abusing Sansa by alluring to her dead brothers also fall flat. Really, Ramsay, this girl was forces to watch at the severed head of her father and was abused in front of the whole royal court. What do you think will this stupid game do to her? Roose is putting him in place by announcing that Fat Walda is pregnant with a son, visibly enjoying the pains this produces in suddenly unsecure Ramsay.
However, it was just show. Roose sees something in his son, and he isn’t going to give up on it. Giving the origin story of Ramsay, he is once again giving us reason enough to really not like the Boltons, but the whole scene also echoes the end of season 4. It’s incredible how aptly the show’s creators manage to show that the whole story is, viewed from the Bolton perspective, really their own hero’s journey, complete with origin story and fight against the foreign invader after which they’ll live happily ever after. There are no utterly bad guys in this story that are also human, neither in the books nor in the show.
In Meereen, Daenerys is grieving over dead Barristan (while wounded Grey Worm gets cried over by Missandei). Say what you want over the manner of his death in the last episode, the show makes sure that we know he was important to Dany. She is very much angry, immediately imprisoning random (former) masters and threatening their lives. The sentiment that he “was called The Bold and died in an alley” was a criticism that some viewers hurled at the show in response to episode four, but it works: precisely the ignominious and unimportant manner of his death propels Dany into radical action. It also shows once again that not everyone is becoming a glorious end, even if he lived his entire life working towards it. I’d go out on a limb and say he won’t get it in the books, either. Dany then ushers her prisoners into the dark dragon tomb, where only the sounds of the dragons are audible, which creates a great atmosphere on his own. Dany is uttering bullshit at the prisoners and then, entirely random, feeds one of them to the gorgeously animated dragons. Really, the CGI in “Game of Thrones” remains the most impressive I’ve seen and even stands the comparison to blockbusters on the Big Screen. Hizdahr is mounting a display of regal courage and Dany puts them all back in the cells, and with that, we give the rest of the episode over to the North until we revisit at the very end.
In said end, Dany’s anger has somewhat cooled down. Grey Worm, on his bed, is showing for the first time what the direction of his arc seems to be: the Unsullied, freed from their former lifestyle and now agents of their own making their own decisions, are humanized. Grey Worm still doesn’t fear death, but he longs for Missandei and wants to see her again. The time in which the Unsullied had nothing to lose is over. The ultimate assessment of this much-hated storyline will have to wait until we see whether or not it’s going anywhere meaningful, but one can at least see a potential destination for it.
After, Dany gets a heart-to-heart with Missandei who advices her that there has to be a third way between just engaging in mindless mercy or slaughter. Mr. Bland, Daario Nahaaris, at least gives us the essentials of the NATO strategy in Afghanistan: haul up in camp and strike out on patrol. Because that’s going to work. Daario still doesn’t catch fire with anyone, and I wonder whether the show will make him interesting soon. The idea of him as a love interest for Dany has somehow been dropped since Ser Jorah left. Instead, Dany goes to Hizdahr, kills the girl and tells him that she is reopening the fighting pits and marrying him to make a new Meereen. The whole motivation and thrive of this is totally different from the books, without the Green Grace and all, and the idea comes really, really sudden. However, it’s not bad. I’m excited to see how they’ll follow it up next time. The fighting pits would make for episode 9 stuff, I think.
Speaking of Ser Jorah, he of the “sullen silences and occasional punches in the face” is bringing Tyrion ever closer to Meereen, the Mormont Way. Oh Tyrion, it’s good that they ditched the book Tyrion for keeping the more entertaining show version. The two of them are approaching Valyria, which for the purposes of the show has been merged with Chroyane, which is quite a sensible move. We get some really beautiful shots of the Valyrian ruins with aren’t quite as grand as the Argonath in Lord of the Rings but still manage to impress. While sailing through the fogs, they spot Drogon. Not only is this too an incredible beautiful shot, but we also soon get the aqueduct that serves as our Bridge of Dreams. The Stone Men come without any warning or story before, so let’s hope you paid attention to what Stannis said last episode, huh? The fight scene between Jorah, Tyrion and the Stone Men is incredibly tense and exciting, even if you probably can guess already where this is going, with Jorah taking the role of Jon Connington here.
And this is yet another clever move of the series here, putting him in this role and preserving the whole Greyscale plot thing essentially in the same cast of characters and circumstances while ditching all of the fAegon-plotline. Jorah and Tyrion kind of reconciling at the sunset at the Valyrian beaches is really good, well paced and promising for future episodes. This was really one great episode. I have only nitpicks, and so, I’m looking forward with excitement to next week!