Tonight's Game of Thrones and the Impossible Expectations of Ice Meeting Fire

By Rob Bricken on at

About a million things happened on “The Queen’s Justice” tonight, but there’s only thing that really matters—the long, long, long-awaited moment where the King in the North met the Mother of Dragons, and the series’ two main characters finally came face-to-face. The scene could not have been more anticipated… and maybe that was the problem.

SPOILER WARNING!

I don’t want to deny the thrill of Daenerys and Jon Snow actually appearing in their first camera shot; certainly, after the show ended and I ran to my computer to put up the “discussion zone” post last night on Gizmodo US, I was fully stoked. (In my defence, it’s pretty hard not to be stoked after a Game of Thrones episode nowadays.) Now, though, it’s hard to think back about it and feel fully satisfied at their momentous meeting. Mainly because Jon and Dany’s conversation went almost exactly how I thought it would.

We talked about it last week a bit: there would be the King in the North/Queen of Everywhere conundrum, Jon would try to explain about the White Walkers, and Dany wouldn’t believe him. But their meeting was full of Important Points and Important Speeches, no matter how awkwardly they might’ve been shoved in there. Dany’s speech about how awesome she is and how she survived all the awful things that happened to her is the most glaring example; It’s a good speech, but she does she really need to prove herself to Jon Snow? (No.) Davos counters with his own speech about how awesome Jon is, even nearly saying that Jon came back from the dead—an accidental mention that earns Davos a glare from Jon and a puzzled look from Dany—which felt really ham-fisted in retrospect, like Davos had pre-planned how to “accidentally” bring it up. Jon even ends their first meeting by essentially telling Dany that everyone on the show is so busy playing that darned throne game they’re going to be murdered by dead ice monsters.

It doesn’t help that, after Tyrion has talks with both Jon and Dany, Daenerys basically agrees to help Jon out without the queen/king thing resolved, and without really believing him. I know she trusts Tyrion, and Tyrion trusts Jon, but her decision to give Jon a bunch of dragonglass and the men needed to transport it feels like it was made merely to speed along the plot instead of a natural decision. Dany was in full Royal Taking No Shit mode when Jon entered Dragonstone; letting him leave with what he wants without demanding—or forcing, rather—him to bend the knee seems uncharacteristic of her at best, and a cop-out at worst. It felt too quick, and too easy. However, I have another question for you: If it had taken Daenerys two to three episodes to make the decision to team up with Jon, wouldn’t you have been even more annoyed?

This is all to say that everybody was so looking forward to Ice meeting Fire that it created an expectation too large for it to truly satisfy. It wasn’t bad by any means, it just felt more perfunctory than epic. In a way, I’m glad it didn’t try to shoehorn some major revelation in there—I’m envisioning Jon walking past a row of Targaryen portraits, and slowly turning to realize Rhaegar Targaryen looks just like he does—but I also worry how obsessed and demanding the fandom is, and much they’ve laid the groundwork for their own disappointment.

On the plus side, Jon and Dany’s quick alliance is more proof that Game of Thrones is dedicated to getting shit done—and no character this week exemplifies that more than Cersei. Her list of accomplishments in “The Queen’s Justice” is pretty staggering: She lets Dany’s Unsullied take the Lannister’s ancestral home of Casterly Rock so she can lock down another portion of the Targaryen forces, and then uses Euron’s fleet to besiege them in a castle that has had its larders empty. She agrees to marry Euron… but only after the war is won, to keep him from betraying her. Meanwhile, her forces take out Highgarden, not just removing the Tyrells as enemies, but taking all its gold—and suddenly paying back the Iron Bank of Braavos, who sends Sherlock’s Mark Gatiss to remind her of the crown’s immense debts.

I was always skeptical of the very slight “Westeros owes the Iron Bank a lot of money” subplot, mainly because paying back an overseas bank is incredibly boring, even just to type. But it turns out to be the perfect reminder that while Cersei may have lost whatever restraint she might have once had, but, occasional mistakes aside, she’s still as cunning as anyone playing the game. In one stroke, she deals a major blow to Dany, takes out another enemy, and eliminates the threat of the Iron Bank coming to collect its dues. Her argument that the Dothraki aren’t going to make their monthly payments is effective, but when she tells Gatiss that she’ll pay back the crown’s debts in full within a fortnight I assumed this was Cersei having a break with reality. Nope.

I’m still all-in on my Mad Queen theory—look at the unhinged, evil glee on Cersei’s face when Euron presents his captives, or the wild-eyed maliciousness in her eye when she’s explaining to Ellaria all the ways she’s dreamed of enacting revenge for Myrcella—but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a ton of method to her madness. I mean, the way she chooses to punish Ellaria is perfect in its horror: She kisses the Sand Snake/Murderous Nitwit with the same poison Ellaria used to kill Myrcella, and forces Ellaria to watch her daughter die over a series of hours, or maybe even days. Her order to the guards to change the torches every few hours—so Ellaria can’t miss a moment—is chilling, but sort of brilliant in its cruelty.

Meanwhile, in Winterfell, Sansa is kicking ass and taking names, ruling-wise. She’s the one to think of the city’s provisions, especially if/when everyone in the North basically flees there for protection, and orders grain shipped from their various fiefdoms. She makes sure the armor has leather added to it so her soldiers don’t freeze to death. She shoots down Littlefinger’s attempts to give her advice over and over again, which will never not be completely delightful to me.

And when Bran returns to Winterfell, in what should be another happy reunion but is marred by the extremely dead look in Bran’s eyes, Sansa is ready to give up Winterfell to the eldest legitimate son of Ned Stark, without hesitation. Bran tells her no, explaining he’s busy being the Three-Eyed Raven; Sansa doesn’t understand, but she knows enough to be freaked out when Bran describes her wedding day to Ramsay without having been there.

Let’s talk about Bran, because this is… troubling. There are three of five of Ned’s kids still alive, and two of them—Arya and Bran—seem to be seriously twisted inside, to the point where Ned would surely be deeply troubled by them. Only Sansa comes close to resembling the Starks as we first met them, and even then, her myriad, horrible experiences have led her to be more efficient than compassionate. This is 100 percent a good thing for Winterfell overall, especially given what’s coming, but it’s hard not to imagine Ned and Catelyn worrying about how jaded their daughter has become… assuming, you know, they weren’t also freaking out about how Arya is on a Westerosi Murder Tour and Bran is a magic, emotionless raven-person.

The episode ends with the Lannister army, led by Jaime, attacking and defeating Highgarden as mentioned earlier, wiping out a second kingdom that stands against Cersei (it seems like Dorne is pretty much done without Ellaria or her daughters). Of course, Highgarden couldn’t be removed from the board without giving a fond farewell to Diana Rigg’s wonderful matriarch Olenna Tyrell, the Queen of Thorns. When Jaime enters her quarters, after Highgarden is lost, Olenna barely cares, but her tongue is just as barbed as ever, displaying annoyance that her army has been defeated, mocking Jaime for losing to Robb Stark, belittling Joffrey one last time, and more.

When Jaime announces he managed to talk Cersei out of flaying Olenna alive, instead giving her a simple poison to drink, Olenna gulps it quickly… but has saved her cruelest barb for last. She tells Jaime that she’s the one who poisoned Joffrey at the Purple Wedding, recounting his horrible, choking death in great detail, and not a little bit of relish. She doesn’t even tell Jaime why she did it (which was mainly so her granddaughter Margaery wouldn’t have to marry a little monster) making the act seem even crueler. Her last words: “Tell Cersei. I want her to know it was me.”

All in all, it was another terribly efficient episode of Game of Thrones, with the all-important Daenerys and Jon meeting front-loaded into it. Both were good, but a little too efficient to be truly great. It’s not exactly a shame, and it’s not going to keep me up at night, but without that time to breathe the show does feeling like it’s missing a little something.

Or maybe I’m just sad that the end is so obviously on its way. Come on, Dany. Couldn’t you have made Jon wait a little while longer to get that dragonglass?

Assorted Musings:

  • Lots of great quotes in this episode. Tyrion to Jon, re Sansa: “Does she miss me terribly?” Davos, announcing Jon Snow: “This is Jon Snow.” Euron on getting cheered by the crowds of King’s Landing: “This is making me hard.” Tyrion to Jon: “You look a lot better brooding than I do.” Olenna, on being reminded Joffrey named his sword Widow’s Wail: “He really was a cunt, wasn’t he?” Name your faves in the comments.
  • Jon Snow’s utter panic upon getting dive-bombed by a dragon is pretty priceless. You can say what you want about Kit Harington, but he does a great “I cannot believe what the fuck I just saw.”
  • Varys is still openly hostile to Melisandre, telling her when she reveals she’s going to Volantis she shouldn’t come back to Westeros. Mel replies she’ll be back as “I have to die in this strange land—just like you.” Is Melisandre using common sense to assume Varys will die in Westeros or has she seen a vision of his (and her) death? Why not both?
  • A ship in Yara’s fleet picked up Theon. The sailors, of course, immediately know he’s a coward. I presume this will go somewhere eventually.
  • Jorah is cured of his greyscale and leaves to rejoin his Khaleesi. Sam is rewarded by not getting expelled and then ordered to copy a huge pile of old scrolls. I’m really hoping that the Archmaester has given him a bunch of ancient histories of the Long Night and the White Walkers, knowing Sam’s interest in them, but I suspect this isn’t the case.
  • Euron decides to ask Jaime for advice on the best way Cersei likes to be fucked. Jaime does not take this well, but it is a measure of the restraint he’s learned over the course of the show that he doesn’t murder Euron where he stands. Probably be better if he did, though.
  • The show seems to posit Cersei murdering the Sand Snake slowly and forcing Ellaria to watch her die turns the queen on immensely.
  • I feel like the servant seeing Jaime nude in Cersei’s bed is going to have major repercussions, and is not just a sign that yes, as Queen Cersei can do whatever the hell she wants.
  • Euron keeps the captive Yara for himself. Anyone worried Euron/the show is going to do something so unspeakable to her that it’ll make the furor over the infamous Ramsey/Sansa awfulness seem like a mere murmuring? I am!


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