So much happened on yet another outrageously plot-packed episode of Game of Thrones, but if there’s one scene that I can’t get out of my head, one scene that defined the entire episode for me, one scene I have literally been waiting years for, it’s this:
There were two Starks on the same screen.
Yes, I got misty-eyed when the gates of Castle Black opened and Jon Snow watched Sansa, Brienne, and Pod ride through them. And I teared up hard when Jon and Sansa, after walking emotionlessly to each other in shock, as if they couldn’t believe this reunion was actually happening either, ran to embrace each other. They were perfectly justified in being stunned. It’s been three full years since two Starks shared a scene together; the last time was in season three, “The Rains of Castamere”. This was immensely gratifying to say the least.
And what makes it even more gratifying is that the last time we saw Jon Snow and Sansa even remotely together — basically in the pilot! — they had (and wanted) nothing to do with each other. The warmth, the almost palpable relief makes them truly feel like family, like they intrinsically care for each other despite being worlds and years apart. And all credit to Kit Harington and Sophie Turner for acting the hell out of the scene, as deceptively simple as it may seem.
But just because they’re so unbelievably happy to be reunited with each other doesn’t suddenly make them fundamentally different people, and writers/show creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss (who often choose the episodes with the heavy lifting) wisely don’t let them suddenly be BFFs. After the hug, the small talk is awkward until Sansa apologises for being “awful”, for being obsessed with princes and balls and romance as a child, and Jon apologises for being a sulking emo kid. They even rue the day Robert Baratheon begged their father Ned to be his Hand of the King, and their lives went to hell. It’s a bit meta — I have zero doubt that Sansa is also responding to those people who still see her as the whining little girl of season on e— but it still feels honest, and focusing on their happy childhood transitions quickly into Sansa’s real agenda: taking back Winterfell.
Sansa is done being a pawn. Is she worried about her safety with Ramsay Bolton on the loose? Of course she is because she knows he’ll never stop coming for her. But Jon is also at risk because he’s a challenge to the Boltons’ rule of the North. So she knows they both need Ramsay the hell out of Winterfell, their home, but she also wants a Stark back in it — even if through the prevalence of primogeniture that means her bastard half-brother is in charge. Sansa starts talking furiously about taking the Wildlings Jon saved to Winterfell; when Jon hems and haws, Sansa isn’t even angry, just perfunctory: “I’ll do it myself if I have to.” When she says it, I believe her.
The rest of the episode was almost dessert after that, but holy hell what a dessert: first off, there’s the long-awaited return of Peter Baelish and the significantly less awaited return of poor, dumb Robyn Arryn, Lord of the Eyrie, who still listens to whatever his uncle Littlefinger tells him as long as he gets presents every once in a while. But Littlefinger’s plans finally seem ready to come to fruition because when he arrives he demands (well, he asks an absent-minded Robyn to demand) all the soldiers of the Eyrie to ride to the North, ostensibly to rescue Sansa…but when has Littlefinger ever given an honest answer to why he’s doing anything?
In King’s Landing, Cersei is so desperate to stop the High Sparrow (and/or make him pay for humiliating her) that she’s even willing to work with the Tyrells to do it. Her plan, which she pitches to Olenna and her uncle Kevan, the Hand of the King (and noted non-Cersei fan), is for the Tyrells to basically bring their army in and take the Faith Militant apart. This gets around the High Sparrow’s demand that the soldiers of King’s Landing leave the Faith Militant alone (after his less-than-subtle hint something horrible will happen to his prisoner Queen Margaery if they do).
Once Olenna learns that the High Sparrow plans on marching Margaery down the streets of King’s Landing for her own walk of shame, she’s all in. And Kevan, although boy howdy does he still hate Cersei, knows the threat the Faith Militant poses to King’s Landing and thus all the Seven Kingdoms, so he’s in too (Cersei helpfully reminds him that his son Lancel is still a brainwashed member of the cult).
The High Sparrow, meanwhile, is busy bestowing more platitudes to the imprisoned Margaery, seeming for all the world like a kindly old man who truly just wants the people of the world to be closer to the gods… until you remember that he’s still keeping Margaery in a cell (to say nothing of what he forced Cersei to do). This duality is perfectly encapsulated when he oh-so-kindly allows Margaery to finally see her brother Loras, only for Margaery to find her brother a broken man, willing to do anything — give up anything, including his position as the heir of Highgarden — to make the torture stop.
Needing to save Loras as soon as possible, you can almost see the wheels spinning in Margaery’s head as she holds her sobbing brother. But what of the High Sparrow? He may trust in the gods, but he’s no idiot. Obviously, holding Margaery hostage has kept him safe from the wrath of the King (or at least the King’s small council) so far. The question is whether he’s also planned for the possibility that the Lannisters and the Tyrells would finally start hating him so much that they’d set aside their animosity to take him and the Faith Militant down. I can’t look into the High Sparrow’s kind but cold eyes without thinking he does.
Tyrion also has a plan for dealing with the mess in Meereen, and although it’s not as aggressive as Cersei’s or Osha’s, it might result in just as much bloodshed by the end. Tyrion meets with the Masters who have retaken Astapor and Yunkai, and who are funding the Sons of the Harpy in Meereen. His offer (on behalf of Queen Daenerys, of course, even if Daenerys doesn’t know it) is for the slavers to abolish slavery themselves over seven years, at which point they’ll be compensated for their loss of business. To Tyrion, it’s a great compromise in that the slaves are freed (eventually) and the Masters shouldn’t care because they’ll be getting the cash equivalent for their “product”.
The question of how Tyrion/Daenerys are going to pay to abolish the slave trade of Essos isn’t mentioned, and I don’t think Game of Thrones wants us to care. Instead, it wants us to care about Grey Worm and Missandei, who are furious at what they see as a betrayal of Daenerys’s agenda… but when questioned by the angry ex-slaves of the city, they both reluctantly half-lie for Tyrion, mainly to keep the immediate peace. But they also flat-out tell Tyrion there will be no peace with the Masters because the Masters can’t be trusted.
Tyrion has more experience playing the games of politics than anyone else in Meereen other than maybe Varys, but there’s a lot of stories about people who suddenly find themselves ruling a foreign culture and discovering that everything they know, all the skills they have, don’t apply in their new location. (Fun fact: one of those stories is Game of Thrones, where a Westerosi queen tries to rule a variety of foreign cultures and it goes to hell for her constantly.) But somehow, especially with Varys and his network of spies by his side, I expect Tyrion has a back-up plan for when the Masters eventually betray him. Although I suspect it might involve Daenerys coming back and making her dragons fire-breathing diplomats to Astapor and Yunkai.
To be fair to Tyrion, there are two other people in this week’s episode who have definitively worse plans than he does: the first is Theon, who returns to Pyke by boat in yet another scene instantly evocative of the past, this time his return home in season two; then, he was having casual sex with the captain’s daughter, the sky was blue, he was full of big plans to betray his adopted brother Robb and astonish his father with his brilliant strategy and prowess, and expected to be greeted as a conquering hero without having conquered a thing. Now the sky is dark grey and Theon stands motionless on the prow, a haunted look in his eyes, as if Pyke was a hangman’s noose he had given up trying to escape.
The one thing that’s the same between these two scenes is that Theon is still not welcomed back. He enters the castle to find his sister Yara on his father’s throne, and it turns out she’s still quite upset at him for being too terrified to escape with her during her valiant rescue mission in season four. She’s also deeply suspicious that he’s arrived the day before the Kingsmoot is to happen — something we viewers know is merely a coincidence — which convinces Yara that he’s returned to try to become king. Theon has zero desire to become king of sea-faring jerks of the Iron Islands but she remains unconvinced, berating him for his weakness until he begs her to let him help her win the Kingsmoot. I’m not sure how much help he’s going to be.
The last person with a bad plan is the Wildling Osha, who attempts the old “seduce n’ murder” she used on one of Theon’s old guards to help Bran, Rickon, and Hodor escape back in season two. Well, I guess seeing as it worked so well the first time, it isn’t technically a bad plan per se, but what Osha doesn’t realise is that Ramsay learned exactly how the Starks boys escaped while torturing Theon, so when Osha tries to grab a knife to slit Ramsay’s throat, Ramsay’s knife is already in her throat. But Ramsey isn’t done, of course. He sends a letter to the Lord Commander at Castle Black demanding Jon Snow bring his “bride” back to Winterfell because otherwise he’s going to march his army to Castle Black to take her anyway and do some terrrrrible things to Rickon and Sansa (Sansa literally grabs the letter out of his hands and reads it aloud for all to hear when Jon can’t bear to finish it).
If you thought Sansa was passionate about retaking Winterfell before, here she basically tells Jon Snow what’s going to happen and it is awesome. There’s no fear in her, only determination. She tells Jon that Ramsay has an army of 5,000. When Jon learns the Wildlings that will fight for him only number 2,000, Sansa’s all ready to get the house of the North still loyal to the Starks to join their cause. Sansa states it as fact: they are going to rescue Rickon, kill Ramsay Bolton, and take back Winterfell for the Starks. Full stop.
As utterly satisfying as it is to watch Sansa come into her own, it’s just as satisfying seeing Daenerys continue being a total badass, even after being captured by the Dothraki and potentially being given to some Khal or forced to live the next 60 years in a big tent at Vaes Dothrak as part of the First Khaleesis Club known as the Dosh Khaleen. I said before that even though Daenerys is a prisoner of the Dothraki, her attitude has been “Not only am I going to kill every Khal that’s even looked at me funny, I’m walking out of here in charge of every single Dothraki” (best exemplified by her expression above. She’s only been waiting for the opportunity. When Daario and Jorah try to rescue her (ha!), she sees her opportunity.
This episode’s final scene has probably been burned into everyone’s brains — pun surprisingly not intended — but I literally wanted to write it down because it’s just that fantastic. Daenerys enters the big tent so Khal Brogo and his fellow douche-Khals can make lewd comments at her. When Daenerys has finally had enough, she lets them know, both in words — if I may paraphrase, she essentially calls them “cowardly idiots with tiny penises who couldn’t lead a primary school cake sale” — and by setting the tent on fire.
She does this by knocking over braziers, and their flaming pools turn the tent into one giant bonfire almost instantly. The Khals try to flee, but here’s what Jorah and Daario’s part of the plan was—lock the doors. The Khals can’t get out. They can only scream as Daenerys calmly keeps tipping over what are essentially giant punch bowls full of napalm, burning them alive.
The entire horde of the Dothraki rush to see their sacred tent/temple ablaze, so all of them see Daenerys stride calmly out of the flames, the fire utterly harmless to her. The last time she did this it was at Khal Drogo’s funeral pyre, with only the last few members of his khal that stayed with her. This time, the entire horde of the Dothraki see her stride powerfully from a giant inferno like some sort of god. They all bow to her. Jorah bows to her. Even Daario bows to her. And now the Khaleesi has a Khal again, and Daenerys has herself another army.
Guys. Guys. This is a lot of armies. Daenerys has added the Dothraki to the Unsullied. Sansa and Jon Snow are about to gather an army in the North, while Ramsay may be sending his army to Castle Black. Littlefinger is taking the soldiers of the Eyrie up North, too. The soldiers of the Tyrells are about to occupy King’s Landing. And that’s to say nothing of the Ironborn, who are about to get a new king; the forces of Riverrun, who we know are going to show up this season eventually; and whatever the hell Ellaria Sand and the murderous nitwits known as the Sand Snakes have planned for Dorne (if anything; they’re still MIA since the premiere).
If Game of Thrones was an actual game show, we’d be entering the high-speed lightning round — the potential victories are greater, the stakes are much higher, and there’s a hell of a lot less time for strategic thinking. But as important as these battles will be to those fighting them, there’s still another set of players just beyond the Wall. And they’re playing a much, much bigger game.
• Tormund and Brienne? YES PLEASE. I don’t care if it’s a romantic relationship at all, I just want to see the ultra-proper Brienne and the literal Wildman Tormund to go riding together and kicking butt like some sort of killer Westerosi Odd Couple.
• Speaking of Brienne, there’s a scene where she meets with Davos and Melisandre and I guess I assumed that since she killed Stannis and avenged, Renly, and because we only saw the two of them for like half a minute when Stannis and Renly parleyed back in season two, there wouldn’t be an issue. NOT SO. Brienne instantly pegs Melisandre as the sorceress who conjured the magic shadow assassin that killed Renly, and she basically tells Davos straight up that she killed Stannis, as if hoping he’ll try to throw down. As she says, her oath is fulfilled but she clearly wouldn’t mind killing these two, and the strange look on Davos’ face may mean he’s thinking about avenging his king, too.
• After Tyrion finishes the meeting with the Masters, he brings in some… courtesans for his guests. Missandei and Grey Worm are not fans, but Tyrion’s message is, given its intended receivers and the world in which they live in, pretty solid: “You don’t need to own slaves to have a good time!”
• Daario spies Jorah’s greyscale disease, and after asking, “You know what happens?” then says “I’ll do it myself.” I assume he means that people who have greyscale eventually turn into homicidal lunatics, and that he’ll kill him when it happens. That Daario. What a buddy!
• Daario also has a knife whose hilt is a naked lady. I can’t imagine Daenerys would be particularly impressed with this.
• When Cersei tells Lady Olenna that she wants to stop the Faith Militant from making Margaery do a walk of shame, I completely believe her. Partially because if the High Sparrow shames the queen he also shames the king and the entire monarchy, and she doesn’t what Tommen to lose any more prestige or power. But I also think despite her hatred of Margaery, she also doesn’t want to see another woman (of her class, at least) experience the humiliation she did. Remember, this is a woman who has been very clear about how she feels about how her medieval society treats women. At the very least, at this point she hates the High Sparrow so goddamned much she’d happily save Margaery just to spite him.
• Not gonna lie: He was an awful character in charge of a frat-khal of even more awful characters, but I’m kind of sad I won’t be able call anyone “Khal Brogo” anymore.
• The sudden look of shock and shame that bursts into Theon’s eyes when Yara tells him that Ramsay sent them “a piece” of him is some fantastic, heartbreaking acting from Alfie Allen.
• The late Osha gets the line of the night, after Ramsey says his family flays people alive, as per his sigil. “Do you eat them after?” Ramsey says no. “Then I’ve seen worse.”
Warning! Assorted Musings That Contain Spoilers From the Books:
• Jon Snow gets a version of what is commonly referred to by book fans as the “Pink Letter”. I will say that the show’s version is a lot less confusingly mysterious than the book version (the TV one also mentions Rickon, a major deviation from the books) and there’s no question as to its ownership. Could this be confirmation that the letter in the book was written by Ramsay instead of a devious (and weird) attempt by Stannis to goad Jon Snow into battle? Who the hell knows.
• Has Osha seen cannibals? Were TV Osha and Rickon also on known haven-to-cannibals Skagos? Did Rickon learn the ways of cannibals, or long-forgotten cannibal magic? Is Rickon going to eat Ramsey alive? Oh god please please let Rickon eat Ramsey alive