After the most controversial episode of all time, “Game of Thrones” is trying to steer back into safer waters this week without depicting the rape of major characters and sticking to the formula of advancing as many plotlines as possible while trying to build momentum for the inevitable episode nine twist. Will it work out, or is the series now on a downward slope without any chance to escape? At the Wall, Jon is packing his gear. Tormund is released of his chains under the watchful eyes of the rest of the Watch, after which Jon says goodbye to the one friend he has left. I like Allister Thorne warning him one last time just what a stupid idea Hardhome is, but I’m somewhat at a loss whether or not Jon is going alone or if he is taking anyone with him. Well, that’s something the next episode will clear up because Jon is absent with leave for the rest of the episode.
Also absent now is maester Aemon, who finally succumbs to old age and sickness. His dying, accompanied by Sam, Gilly and Sam Junior, is a very beautifully done scene, and giving him the “Egg, I dreamed I was old”-line as the farewell also works pretty well. I have absolutely no issues with the scene, and Sam’s speech and the subsequent burning of Aemon’s body has a haunting beauty that Thorne has to destroy. His line about Sam having no friends left now is very ominous. I hope that the series isn’t falling back into old habits and making him a simple adversary. Now that he commands Castle Black, it’s in his best interest to keep Sam alive. Sam’s the nearest thing he has to a maester, after all. But logic of that kind hasn’t really been an issue before, so I don’t hold my hopes up.
At least two random extras didn’t get the note if Allister wrote one, threatening Gilly. Hooray, yet another rape threat! At least this time, Sam is intervening, getting beaten up in the process. In theory, there is no problem with the scene, but after last week, one would really like to have a pause with all the sexual violence. Sam getting up again, risking his life for Gilly is also a great moment, and then comes in Ghost, because Jon obviously has no need for a magical direwolf north of the Wall. Just when I wanted to say something nice!
The scene right after, when Sam is nursed back to health by Gilly, on the other hand, is very tender and well done. I only just realized that of course Sam is still a virgin because they didn’t have the journey to Oldtown, and while it stinks a bit of a reward fuck, the scene is too well done to raise any issues with it. A high note to end the Watch storyline this week.
Stannis, meanwhile, is stuck in the snow, just like in the books. Horses and men are dying left and right, and a whole company of sellswords (the “Stormcrows”, as a little nod to book readers) has deserted in the night, a fact Stannis takes stoically. Of course, Davos – never really on board with the whole attack – counsels retreat, which Stannis, like every crazed dictator at the end of the military rope, answers with the intellectual bankruptcy of timeless currency: there can be no retreat, always forward, to victory or defeat, whatever may come. Really, being a soldier in Stannis’ army isn’t a good place to be at any time.
When Davos leaves the tent, Melisandre returns. Stannis can only think of nailing her again, a character trait that irks me since season two, but Melisandre eludes him and instead plays on his insecurity and need for assurance, calling back the leeches and telling him that he needs to sacrifice Shireen. Well, who didn’t see that coming? Stannis is now faced with the same choice as back when he had Gendry, only this time, Davos can’t simply put Shireen in a boat to Essos. What will his decision be? Currently, I can imagine it either way, which makes it intriguing. This is the show at its best, when it presents me with a new narrative in tone with the old and leaves both options equally believable.
In Winterfell, meanwhile, Sansa shows brutal marks on her arms, telling a conflicted Theon that he abuses her every night, although it remains somewhat unclear whether or not she’s been raped again. Not that I desperately want to know. It’s an interesting turn how she tries to convert Theon back; at least for now, the agency still remains with her, and the rape wasn’t simply the turning point in Theon’s character development. Of course, it doesn’t do her that much good: Theon still considers himself Reek, and in a wonderfully edited scene full of suspense runs back to Ramsay and informs on Sansa.
Ramsay then tells an abused Sansa how it looks from his point of view: the Northeners are accustomed to the cold, and they will defeat Stannis. What follows then is a great dialogue in which Sansa undermines Ramsay’s confidence in his own position, which Ramsay counters by showing her the result of her own little power play: Miss “The North remembers” won’t remember anymore. With a really haunting threat of “long nights to come”, Sansa is sent off back to her chambers. The whole Winterfell scenes this time around are well done, though, and provide a good template of how it could have been done. Wouldn’t a relationship between Ramsay and Sansa like the one we see in their dialogue, always on the edge but firmly rooted in dynasty politics, the more interesting scenario? Instead, Ramsay just reverted to his season 3 persona again. I sincerely hope that “Game of Thrones” will defeat its on dark impulses here.
In King’s Landing, meanwhile, Olenna is trying to blackmail the High Septon, an attempt that goes as well as one might expect. It’s a really good scene, showing the limits of Olenna’s political acumen as she’s running into something she doesn’t quite understand. There’s a need for a real reversal of strategy, and her run-in with Littlefinger, as good as the dialogue is here, isn’t really it: they’re just using the High Septon against Cersei now (instead of Cersei digging her own grave, don’t know if I like that development), but this does nothing to help Margaery or Loras and only strengthens the position of the damn fanatic even more. That’s a pretty shortsighted move, there.
For the moment, however, it works out. Cersei is much too smug with her own success, visiting Margaery in the cell who is calling her out and instead of breaking throwing the dishes at her in defiance, much as in the books. Very well done. Tommen, meanwhile, has his own breakdown, pulling a Joffrey in trying to solve the dilemma by force, to which Cersei only replies that Margaery is dead meat if he attacks the Sept. Won’t that particular piece of advice come back to bite her, huh? Of course it does. In one of the best scenes of the season, full of suspense and perfectly acted, the High Septon is defining the pillars of his own faith and slamming Cersei down who spits empty threats at the septas when they lock her up.
The one question I have now is who will take control over Tommen now (because someone will): Kevan or Olenna? Olenna is already there and in the right position, but Kevan, with the usual disregard for space in the show, can show up anytime he wishes, too. This could get interesting fast.
In Dorne, meanwhile, we get a passable scene when Jaime is visited by Myrcella who calls him out on his bullshit. Yes, Jaime, what did you even think? And why is time in Dorne passing faster than in the rest of the kingdoms? Myrcella has been here since season two, not “for years”, but hey, what are such details in the face of the rest of the Dorne storyline?
In prison, the department of “What the Fucks” has opened all night, it seems, because Bronn is flirting with one of the Sandsnakes who flashes her tits (because of course she does) and is then brought down by the poison she used on her dagger, but heals him when he tells her she’s the most beautiful woman on earth. Ok. The less we talk about this pointless bullshit, the better. With that, we move to Essos. Dany is sleeping with Daario, and you will be glad to hear that Hollywood’s L-shaped bed sheets have found their way to Meereen, too. They have the same discussion as they have in the books: Dany isn’t sure about the whole idea with peace and the pits, and Daario counsels to start Meereen’s own Red Wedding, a thought that doesn’t nearly disgusts her as much as it should. My main concern with the scene, however, is that I simply don’t believe Michael Huisman. He delivers the lines, allright, but he is a badass fighter, not an amoral sellsword. Every scene he was in so far screams “no” at the plans he so lightheartedly proposes here. I would have bought it from Ed Skrein. Not from Huisman.
Tyrion and Jorah in the meantime are sold in an auction that pretty much resembles the one from the books, only that Tyrion tries to pass off as a fighter. Sorry, I don’t believe you. But at least they’re now slaves in the employ of some nameless guy. When Tyrion points out the flaw of his plan – fighting slaves in Meereen is all well and good, but Meereen doesn’t have slavery anymore – he only gets a punch in the nose. There are exactly two ways to read this: one, Dany’s ban on slavery is worthless or, two, who cares about such details? For now, let’s assume that Dany’s reach ends beyond Meereen’s walls despite the peace treaty with Yunkai.
In the very small scale fighting pit we see then, some guys are slaughtering each other in a Free-for-All that somehow serves the interests of their master despite practically no audience being there, and that’s before he sees Dany arrive. The fight of those gladiators is well done, bloody and appalling enough to believe Dany’s reaction. But then it’s all destroyed by some really bad fighting choreography that stems from the same source as last week’s fight of the Sandsnakes. Jorah is simply disarming one guy after another in a manner that is mirroring Sam’s fight with the Night’s Watch guys in the beginning of the episode. But that was Sam! What the fuck is even going on with Jorah? At least Dany isn’t falling for him when he reveals himself, but of course, Tyrion sparks her interest.
I have to say, I’m surprised at that twist. That was quick. I hadn’t expected for them to come together before episode 10, and now they already are. The show really is moving along with their plotline, especially given that Martin said that Tyrion and Dany are going to spend a good deal of “The Winds of Winter” apart as well. I’m excited to see where this goes, despite the lackluster way it was made come to pass.