Open the “Book of the Stranger” and you will find the strongest episode of Game of Thrones sixth season since the premiere. An early reunion and several characters’ rebirths adds up to a weighty hour that takes big steps forward in both Westeros and Essos. Let’s dig in!
For simplicity’s sake, these reviews will be formatted thus: we start in the furthest north and go south – covering the Wall, the North, King’s Landing and the rest of the Seven Kingdoms – and then east, to the Free Cities of Essos and finally, the Dothraki Sea and Slaver’s Bay.
The Wall: Jon, Tormund, Davos, Melisandre, Sansa, Brienne and Podrick
At Castle Black, Dolorous Edd picks up Longclaw, Jon’s sword passed down to him from his predecessor Jeor Mormont. Jon’s there and his plans are vague: go south, “get warm.” He reminds him of the White Walkers but Jon reiterates there’s no way he can stay after his own murder.
A horn blows at the gates. It’s Sansa! Finally, a Stark reunion that won’t be interrupted! The stare between the two is miles long and glorious, years in the making. It’s these moments that make the show and their hug is so well-earned it erases last week’s melancholy.
They catch up before the fire. Sansa speaks for early critics and Jon for his, she was “awful” and he was “sulky.” It’s nice and reminiscent . . . then they get to business. Sansa picks up the political torch, proposing they retake Winterfell from the evil Boltons. But Jon is tired – he’s still sore from his murder (he disappointingly tells her this off-screen with little impact. His whole resurrection has had little impact, IMO).
Davos and Melisandre talk about her allegiance to Jon Snow and Davos finally (FINALLY) asks what happened with Stannis. The Red Woman demurs until Brienne interrupts and tells them both that not only does she know Stannis and Melisandre killed Renly with blood magic but she executed him herself. Sometimes the expedience is annoying (#DorneSucks), sometimes it rocks like Jon/Sansa and Brienne w/ Davos and Melisandre.
Tormund eyeing Brienne is the greatest thing ever. GIF please. Jon Snow finally gets a version of the Pink Letter from the books, informing of Rickon’s imprisonment, threatening all the horrible things he will do to everything and everybody Jon loves. Sansa uses her steel to push Jon right when he is at his morally weakest, to finally stand up to the monster who took their home from them.
Ramsay is Jon’s evil counterpart, his Joker. In a show rife with delicious rivalries and a preponderance of foils, this is one confrontation I’ve been waiting for.
The North: Ramsay
Ramsay kills Osha. Well, thank God we got Natalie Tena back for that thrilling encounter. Initially, it looks like she might be playing him for once but pretty soon it becomes apparent she has no idea who or what she’s dealing with. At least we didn’t have to watch her be tortured for weeks on end and, as far as Ramsay’s murders go, this was pretty tame.
The Iron Islands: The Greyjoys
Theon arrives home in the least ceremonial way possible. These Iron Islands scenes are deliriously short and sweet. Balon shows back up, Balon dies. Theon shows up, suddenly he’s in Yara’s private room. They fell like necessities rather than a treats, certainly in contrast to how the show expands and delves into characters like the High Sparrow.
His reunion with Yara goes as well as expected. Theon is still struggling to overcome the years of Ramsay’s brutal conditioning that makes him qualitatively unfit to be Ironborn, let alone rule them as Yara assumes is his reason for arriving. She finally breaks through his barriers between Reek and Theon and gets at why he returned home: to help Yara win the Kingsmoot and rule the Iron Islands.
Not to rain on the Greyjoy parade, but given all his defects, I wonder how he can help her at all. Will a publicly-shamed eunuch really be a good surrogate for the first Queen of the Iron Islands? I like that Theon is staying relevant and Yara is getting a shot at real power but these are the dangers of conflating storylines as the show continues to do at rapid pace.
The good news? Next week, Kingsmoot!
The Vale: Littlefinger
The Frank Underwood of Westeros is back, last season in the seventh episode of season 5 and immediately sets about almost screwing someone. However, the constant chessmaster merely coin-flips Bronze Yohn Royce’s fate on Robin’s whims to ensure his loyalty in what he has planned: a Vale invasion of the North to retrieve Sansa, whom he heard has fled Ramsay’s clutches at Winterfell. With the Greyjoys deliberating renewed conflict, Dorne and Vale finally entering the war and the Tyrells about to arrive in force at the capital, the remaining Westerosi armies are gathering for a coming storm.
King’s Landing: Cersei and Jaime, the Tyrells, the Sparrows
We haven’t seen Margaery since the premiere and she’s been imprisoned since last year. Here, she gets another meeting with the High Sparrow, whom the writers’ clearly love writing. He shines in every scene, come to life by classical theater actor Jonathan Pryce. They’ve slowly doled out more and more information about the Sparrow’s philosophy and this season they delved into his past. There’s an amazing shot that pulls in slowly on Pryce’s face as he recounts his past a cobbler for the nobility and his awakening after a life of debauchery and it becomes clear this man could be saying anything and I would listen.
He finally takes Margaery to see her brother Loras. The poor guy is a broken mess while she reveals herself decidedly not, remaining steely despite her professions of piety to the High Sparrow. He desperately desires an end to their suffering and begs his sister for her help. Given Finn Jones’ recent casting as Netflix’s Iron Fist, I kinda think his end might be a bit more permanent than he wants.
Pycelle tries to counsel Tommen as Cersei arrives to discuss High Sparrow. Tommen admits he spoke with him last week and that he intends to give Margaery a Walk of Shame a la Cersei’s. She and Jaime confront Kevan and Olenna in the Small Council chamber and finally wedge themselves into the scenario. The two convince the elder statesmen to finally confront and destroy the Sparrows with the Tyrell army before any more damage to Margaery or the crown can occur.
The Dothraki Sea: Daenerys, Jorah & Daario
Daario needles Jorah needlessly but even though he gets in low blows about his age and Jorah takes it in stride, cementing their buddy-cop dynamic.
They arrive at Vaes Dothrak, which they plot to infiltrate at night, without weapons since it is forbidden and if caught at least they’d stand a fighting chance. Because this is Thrones, it immediately goes awry and the two are forced to kill two Dothraki who recognize them, one of whom Daario stabs with his favorite knife, saving Jorah’s life. Daario mutilates the corpse with a rock to cover up the murder and go off to find Dany at the dosh khaleen temple.
The more Dany hears about the dosh khaleen, the more it sounds like hell to her. Fortunately, her two suitors actually succeed in finding and (almost) rescuing her. But Dany being Dany makes an impetuous decision to stay (this is beyond a character trait into flaw territory, but we’ll come back to this) but retain the two bickering warriors and the random solo dosh khaleen she suddenly trusts because reasons.
When time comes for Dany’s judgment in front of every Dothraki khal, her casual smirk cues us into that the plan is going a bit faster than expected. When she successfully trolls the macho men into a rage by being a woman and making them feel womanly in return, she pulls her coup de grace skill: complete immunity to fire. She topples the lanterns inside the hut where she trapped them, killing every single khal. In a deliberate echo of the first season, she steps out to thousands of Dothraki, who kneel before the burning girl. Joran and Daario join them.
The theme of this season has been rebirth, literal in Jon’s case and figuartive here as Dany replicates her first transformation on a massive scale. There’s a joy seeing these characters’ learnt lessons applied, like Jon, Sansa and Dany have in their storylines.
I have to say, I did not expect this story to go by so quickly, especially when it was discovered that the episode 6 title would “Blood of My Blood.” However, I really shouldn’t have been surprised given the truncation undergone with other storylines and the showrunners’ desire to end the show sooner rather than later. It capped the episode great and put Dany back in a position of power, exactly where the show and audience want her.
Meereen: Tyrion & Varys
The Masters’ envoy to Meereen arrives, having received Tyrion’s text message from last week. Led by Tyrion’s former slave owner Yezzan zo Qaggaz and Razdal mo Eraz (a nice return for an actor from late Season 3). Tyrion offers them a deal: he will allow slavery to exist outside of Meereen in Slaver’s Bay for seven further years until its extinction in exchange for their word to stop funding the rebel group Sons of the Harpy. The two sides tentatively agree
Then he has to deal with the former slaves and both Missandei and Grey Worm, former slaves themselves, are both called to defend his actions which they do, through gritted teeth. Afterward, they make their displeasure known to Tyrion. I sympathize with their positions and we would all love to live in a world where Peter Dinklage solves, like, world hunger. But that’s neither this world nor Westeros (Ok, it’s Essos, but you get me).
As much as I love Tyrion politicking, the events at Vaes Dothrak this week may me doubt further when the travails of Meereen will matter at all, other than a training ground for Dany’s awesomeness. If that’s the case, it would be incredibly reductive to her subjects, who were kinda hoping for a longterm savior, not a short-term fling. Maybe they can all tag along to Westeros?
MISSING THIS WEEK:
Bran? The Martells? Sam & Gilly? Arya? Bueller?
NEXT WEEK: The Door
“Tyrion seeks a strange ally. Bran learns a great deal. Brienne goes on a mission.Arya is given a chance to prove herself.”