Do they not know any other songs in Westeros? Seriously. Half a dozen episodes this season have featured the Rains of Castamere, and we begin this one in Mole’s Townwith Gilly, as the occupants of the local inn haggle over whether they’ll sing that or The Bear and the Maiden Fair. Still, it does give the world a bit of cultural unity, as even far flung places close to the Wall are echoing distant events.
But the Wildlings have finally arrived, and we get a brief moment of interaction between Gilly and Ygritte – who hasn’t been sighted in a while – as the threat on Castle Black continues to loom. But to be fair, it’s been looming all season long, ever since Jon Snow returned from his undercover work. A hundred thousand of Mance Rayder’s Wildlings, including the cannibal Thenns, are ready to assault the Night’s Watch, and Jon and Sam have to decide their next move. Rest assured, we’ll get there next episode.
In Meereen, Grey Worm and Missandei become more acquainted with each other, in a nice bit of character-building away from the major players, which will hopefully pay off down the track. Grey Worm describes the chain of events that lead him to meeting Missandei, acknowleding that there’s no point bemoaning past conflicts, it’s better to see what one can do in the future, and make the most of what one has now.
This idea of a chain of events is played out when Barristan Selmy – who once served King Robert – comes across a letter that implicates Ser Jorah in his forgotten mission of spying on Daenerys.
The audience knows Jorah abandoned his mission in favour of serving Daenerys, but his failure then to never come clean counts against his loyalty now, and he is banished by Daenerys. This is a long-buried sequence of events that has finally surfaced, casting Jorah into unknown territories, and his loss of position somewhat mirrors that of Tyrion last episode. One is without family, the other without service, and both have come to realise they must make their own journey. It’s a good move for Jorah’s character, who has been playing the earnest guardian for nearly four seasons now, and in desperate need of a new dynamic.
In the North, Ramsay of the crazy eyes and Theon-Reek are launching a surprise takeover of Moat Cailin. Theon, who now identifies as Reek, must pretend to once again be Theon in order to gain admittance to Moat Cailin, held by House Greyjoy soldiers, and bring about a takeover.
‘Who are you?’ they ask him on his arrival at the Moat, and he gives no answer. He, and we, may well wonder, as his identity hangs on a knife-edge held by House Bolton.
Alfie Allen’s acting is once again superb, as he faces yet another moment where his birthright, and his fellow Iron Islanders, pay him no recognition nor respect. There’s something horridly sympathetic in how Theon seeks comfort in Ramsay’s open arms, knowing how it hurts him yet is still more welcome than what he ever received from his father.
Ramsay and Roose Bolton share a moment on a hill in the North, and Ramsay is legitimised as a Bolton, leaving behind his bastard status. Roose is again manouevring for power here, recognising that he rules the North, and thus needs a legacy to maintain his House’s standing. In a significant final shot, the Boltons ride to Winterfell, ready to claim it for good.
In the Eyrie, Littlefinger is pleading his case to the Vale’s nobility, and thus aiming to maintain his claim to lordship based on his tenuous marriage to the late Lysa Arryn.
In a great scene, Sansa quashes all the complaints about her character and comes to the aid of Littlefinger, revealing that she is a surviving Stark yet exonerating him of Lysa’s murder. Mixing the truth with the lies that Littlefinger thrives on, Sansa has clearly learned from all her time spent as a passive cog in the machinery of King’s Landing. Each shot of her pleading their case is framed with an out-of-focus Littlefinger in the background, and she revels in playing the game, finally.
Nearby, the Hound and Arya finally arrive at the front gate, and for a moment it appears as if two Starks might be reunited. Even if Arya and Sansa never shared much kinship back in the first episodes of Season 1, it’s an interesting prospect to imagine their connection now, given all they’ve both been through. But it’s not to be, and Arya laughs hysterically at yet another confounding twist in the tale of the Stark family, who seem destined to be scattered.
Finally, in King’s Landing, we return to the trial of Tyrion. In the latest of Jaime and Tyrion’s prison visits, the two discuss a distant cousin of theirs, Orson. They joke of his simplicity – having been dropped on his head as a baby – but Tyrion muses how Orson only sought pleasure in smashing beetles. It’s a parable about wanton and needless violence, which confuses Tyrion. Why kill the beetles? Is Tyrion just the latest beetle? Why must I die, he seems to be asking us. Why must anyone?
But the trial by combat begins, cast in the glorious sun. The Mountain and Oberyn – the Viper – finally get to square off, after all the anticipation that’s built up since Oberyn’s introduction in the season premiere. It’s a classic David and Goliath battle, emphasised even more by the fact that this is for Tyrion’s life.
And for a while, we believe we’re in the right spot. Having sympathised with Tyrion’s plight, and become enamoured with Oberyn, it appears as if we might finally have some rightful vengeance on the Lannisters, that we can feel assured in hating them, just as Oberyn does. It feels good to be on the right side, doesn’t it?
But no. Just as Oberyn appears set to defeat the Mountain, having skewered him to submission, his pride leads him to a fall, and the Mountain crushes his head between his hands. It’s awful, almost comically grotesque, but then the shock kicks in. The Lannisters win again, only this time it means Tyrion’s death.
There’s a deal of course-correcting going on this season. Game of Thrones has thrilled many by the fact that it has refused to allow a classic good-versus-evil narrative. We want to hate the Lannisters, yet we sympathise for Tyrion. But then again, he saved King’s Landing at the Blackwater, which saved Tywin (in a sense) and enabled the Red Wedding to occur. Tyrion is innocent, and so we want him to live, but why? Will that allow the Starks to thrive, who we nominally see as good?
Tyrion is now not a Lannister, which validates our sympathy. He is not one of them, so it’s okay. Game of Thrones is almost settling into a place where the characters are sorting themselves out, realising that their allegiances may not be correct, and need to find new places in order to do their best. So maybe it is good versus evil, after all.
- Valar Morghulis: a scattering of Iron-born soldiers, flayed by Ramsay, naturally. Some Northerners, as the Wildings loom. And Oberyn, ending everybody’s love affair with him, as he lost his head for gloating too much. And is the Mountain dead? Not yet. Or is he? No, not yet. Maybe not. Possibly not.
- How good was Sansa? Good? Good. Now that it’s settled, we’ll hear no more nonsense.
- Only two episodes to go, and guaranteed the next one conforms to type as having major blood-letting and battle stuff in the season’s penultimate hour. So that means the attack on the Wall, undoubtedly, given the Night’s Watch can’t seem to shut up about it. So what’s left for the final episode? More twists and turns, as the book-readers know.
- We’ll need resolutions (of a kind) for Bran and his gang, some more stuff for Stannis and Davos to do, while hopefully we’ll get to find out what happens with Daenerys’ dilly-dallying, Arya and the Hound’s midnight run, and the consequences of Tyrion’s lost trial. Heaps to do.
- Oh, and something about Brienne and Podrick, in case they were forgotten. Probably best you don’t forget them. Just saying.