So after last week’s disappointing episode we’ll begin this recap in the North, with a series of scenes that only reiterate just how close winter is. Just about every shot outside shows the falling snow, adding a chill to scenes south of the Wall that hasn’t been present since the early scenes in Winterfell in Season 1.
In a sign that the show is getting a bit messy with its sequencing, given that last time we were at The Wall, Jon was heading off to Hardhome at the same time that Stannis was marching on Winterfell. Somehow, Stannis has made a fair bit of distance and is worrying about the damange the weather is having on his troops, while Jon’s still saddling up with Tormund.
It’s evidence of this padding out of storylines that is beginning to frustrate me this season. It’s several episodes ago that the show seemed to be promising a mid-season climax of several storylines, and now we’re just left waiting for them to have their inevitable Episode 9 Big Spectacular. This rhythm has been well-established since Season 2, and it makes for tedious viewing when we’re just marking time as characters join the dots.
Anyhow, there’s a gift of Sam’s to Jon of some dragonglass daggers, you know, just in case. So to be clear, absolutely no White Walkers will appear at all between now and the end of the season.
Maester Aemon passes away, the last but one of the Targaryens. Sam says some nice words, and it shows how well he is gradually shifting into the role of Maester-in-waiting, but Ser Alliser Thorne reminds him he is quickly running out of friends.
And then just great – another woman in jeopardy scene, because that’s what we all need after last week. And like last week, the problematic aspect here is that Gilly’s jeopardy seems manufactured to prop up Sam’s growth as a man. The tropes are coming thick and fast in Game of Thrones.
Like last week, I’m struggling to work out what the reason for this scene is. Are we meant to value Sam becoming a man? Is it meant to emphasise how alone he and Gilly are now with Jon, Aemon and Stannis departed? Didn’t we get that when Ser Alliser said ‘You’re losing all your friends’?
It’s a bit poor, really. The best I could come up with is they’re emphasising Sam’s movement away from his oaths to the Night’s Watch, and toward his oath to humanity (given the increasing depravity of the Watch). Which is a similar path that Jon has taken since he treated with Mance Rayder last season, but still, this has all been propagated on the back of threatening a woman.
On the way to Winterfell, Stannis and Davos are getting colder, and Stannis’ men are dying. But they must march on, he says, telling Davos and Melisandre. Surely his haste for victory will be his downfall? Of all the suitors for the throne, Stannis is the oldest, and therefore the one less likely to compromise if that involves patience. I’d be surprised if he lasts the season, to be honest.
Melisandre wants to sacrifice Shireen, believing this will give him the strength to attack Winterfell and the Boltons. And despite recent events, I don’t think even this show would stoop to that, but it does again raise the spectre of greyscale being countered by some sort of fire (and we’ve already established that Melisandre’s artifical fire isn’t the same as dragonfire). Clues rather than threats are the key here, I feel.
In Winterfell proper, it’s all very bleak. Sansa can’t convince Reek to become Theon, and he gives her up to Ramsay all too easily. So we have basically entered a revenge plot, and the most frustrating kind. We’re essentially waiting (lot of waiting this season) for Sansa to decide when the right moment to kill Ramsay will be. It’s a sufferable type of tension, created by having a character desire vengeance, but unsure when to act (think Gangs of New York). Tedious plotting, and the suspense equivalent of a car chase: between the beginning and the end, the rest is irrelevant and only delaying the inevitable.
Moving south, we finally get to see some sun when we join Jorah and Tyrion and Mr Eko, who is selling the odd couple as slaves for the fighting pits. So off to Meereen they go, and we finally get what we’ve waited all season for: Tyrion meeting Daenerys.
Jorah’s quest for redemption in Daenerys’ eyes is well handled, and the moment comes quickly and without any spectacle that might have been anticipated, but it’s Tyrion’s choice to not flee but instead march out without his manacles that shows the potential strength the show has in these two characters meeting. It’s just amazing they let it dawdle for so long.
In King’s Landing, High Sparrow and Olenna are haggling over the handling of her children. She doesn’t have much success reasoning with him for Loras and Margaery’s safety, especially when he counters with ‘you are the few, we are the many.’ These are strong words especially given the stakes of the entire show rest around a bunch of the few trying to claim ownership of the many. Perhaps there is some sort of revolution at hand for GRRM’s Westeros?
Tommen at least would like to start some sort of uprising against the Faith Militant, but Cersei knows he won’t last five minutes. And plus, she started this bunfight.
Littlefinger and Olenna catch up, each realising that there’s strength in their uneasy alliance (are there any others?) rather than giving each other up to Cersei as the mastermind behind Joffrey’s poisoning.
After Cersei’s visit to Margaery, I’ve started to worry about how the show is painting Cersei as a character. It’s a difficult thing to get a villain right, something they did so well with Tywin previously. Instread, Cersei is becoming more like Joffrey and Ramsay – utterly hateful and only there to spur us to hate her more. Given that previously she was entirely motivated by keeping her family safe, and lately out of avoiding the prophecy of her life, it is disappointing to see her reduced to a snarling villain, concerned only with power and self-interest.
The main problem is that when Cersei gets her comeuppance (which started in the final scene of this episode when she is thrown into a cell), the audience has been engineered to applaud her downfall. When shows make characters intentionally awful just to allow us to feel good when they perish is problematic – it’s the fallacy that underpins every terrible crime drama that thrives on good cops outmanoeuvring evil killers.
Game of Thrones has been so much better than this in the past – particularly with how it has played with our sympathies over characters like Jaime, the Hound, and even Stannis to a degree – the last couple of episodes have felt like a lesser version of the show, reduced to caricature.
With Cersei, we knew her arrest was on the cards as soon as we saw Lancel was with the Sparrows – it’s just a shame they’ve taken the less complex route and given in to mining audience bloodlust. There’s an argument to be made here that they have become carried away with how much everyone loathed Joffrey, and since then they’ve been trying to fill his vacant seat with someone of equal loathing.
Oh, and we might as well finish with a small note on Dorne, and whatever the hell is going on there. There’s an entirely forgettable scene with Jaime and Myrcella, that amounts to all of nothing, other than it feeling like Uncle Jaime won’t let Myrcella go to the prom.
And there’s a terrible scene with Bronn and the Sand Snakes, who are all imprisoned down in the cells (but not Jaime, apparently). But before we can wonder what four volatile sellswords might start cooking up when left alone, the scene transitions into a terrible play for Tyene’s power over Bronn, who suddenly begins to suffer the effects of some slow-release poison from her blade.
It’s basically Male Gaze 101, trying to show Tyene’s mastery of the situation while still giving in to lurid camera work, and in the end nobody comes out of that scene feeling good about themselves.
The show has a lot of course-correcting to fashion in the final three episodes, which seems to begin with Jon and Tormund’s arrival at Hardhome next week. Stannis’ attack on Winterfell will probably be saved for the episode after, and probably any resolution to Daenerys’ time in Meereen as well. And god I hope they wrap up the embarrassment that is Dorne soon.
- Valar Morghulis: Maester Aemon, some slaves, and the old lady who was unfortunately still faithful to the Starks.
- Daenerys and Daario were still talking about how to rule properly: justly or with tyranny. That old chestnut. That conversation hasn’t changed since Daenerys rode with the Dothraki.
- With Tyrion seemingly on his way to some sort of understanding with Daenerys, might that promise a return for Varys?
- Brienne still looms over Winterfell, if there’s any sort of silver lining.
- Next week: was that Rattleshirt? will Hardhome fail or succeed? can Jon save Stannis, or take his place?