Wednesday, July 19, 2017

7.01 Dragonstone




And... it’s back!! Wow, the last time I actually posted on this blog was June 29, 2016 (and the 29th of June is a weirdly auspicious date for me when it comes to endings, so I just noticed that with some surprise), and here we are over a year later. Yeesh, here’s hoping that at the end of this season I could actually continue to keep some life on this blog. It’s deader than a mulberry bush north of the Wall right now.

But welcome to season SEVEN of Game of Thrones! It’s been TOO long a wait for its return, so I’m thrilled we’re finally here. And while this episode was certainly not as action-packed as the season six finale (I mean, come on, how could it be) it still had some great twists, some surprise turns of luck, some beautiful imagery, the mocking of man buns, and... Ed Sheeran. (Well, I guess the episode couldn’t be ALL perfect. Cough.)

As always I will be joined this season by my fellow member of the Night’s Watch, Christopher Lockett, who has been with us since season one and brings his vast knowledge of the books of GRRM with him, along with intelligent criticism that saves our blogs when I devolve into tears or squeeing or general rantiness (I mean, come on... have you heard that guy’s music?! Sigh).

So without further ado, I shall start us off.

Nikki: The episode opens not with its trademark credits, but at a party that looks suspiciously like the Red Wedding. Walder Frey is holding court in front of the people who aided him with the Red Wedding, which happened ages ago... or, wait, no, maybe this is a flashback, since we all saw Arya feed Frey some beautiful finger food (snort) in the previous episode before slicing his throat in the same way her own mother’s throat had been sliced at the wedding. So... if he’s alive and chatting, maybe we’re seeing a flashback to shortly after the wedding happened. But wait, there’s that frumpy wife of his who just became his wife recently, I think. He’s got his harem/daughters/who knows anymore pouring wine for all of his soldiers, thanking them for their work at the Red Wedding, and adding that they did a good job killing a bunch of innocent people (cue WTF looks being passed around by the soldiers) but they didn’t actually kill all of the Starks. “Leave one wolf alive, and the sheep are never safe,” he says.

And then the men start dropping, which we knew would happen. They die in horrific ways, much the same way Joffrey died at his own wedding. (Might I say that the wine murders are highly effective on this show.) And then, just as viewers are starting to catch on — if they hadn’t when Frey was talking — Frey pulls a Scooby-Doo, yanks off his face, and it’s our beloved Arya Stark. She turns to Frey’s shocked wife and says that if anyone asks what happened here, “Tell them the North remembers. Tell them winter came for House Frey.”



YES!!! And with that, cue credits. What a wicked opening.

Because the writers have to cover a ton of territory from this point on, we get a flash of The Walking Dead: Northern Exposure as the white walkers come in a swirl of blizzard, moving southward while bringing the storms with them (and holy crap they've got Giants). Then there’s a quick cut to Bran arriving at the Wall with Meera (Eeee! Reunions are coming!). And then we cut to Jon Snow and return to the main story.

What I really loved about this episode is that at the end of season six we were left with a few “certainties”: Sam Tarly had the best job ever, Jon Snow and Sansa were aligned in their leadership in the North, Jaime was going to probably kill Cersei for what happened, Euron was going to take a while to get to King’s Landing... and many of those expectations were undermined in this first episode.

What did you think of Jon Snow’s meeting when we see him for the first time this episode, Chris?

Christopher: Well, first, let me just say it’s amazing to be back discussing this show with you, Nikki, especially after having to wait two and a half months longer than usual. Worth the wait, though—that cold open was, to my mind, the best the series has given us (not that it has much competition—there’s only been a few in the entire run of the show). And I had the same Scooby-Doo vibe when Arya pulled off her Walder Frey mask, though it occurred to me that it was a reverse Scooby-Doo—in which the werewolf / ghost / vampire pulls off his own mask at the end to reveal Old Man Jones, who laughs at the success of his evil plan while the gang all lie dead at his feet.

Yeah, my mind takes dark turns at times.

Sansa is right when she later tells Jon “You’re good at this.” He is—he carries authority well, and commands the room, no thanks to Sansa herself. But more on that in a moment.

As always, Lyanna Mormont is the star—this time telling off one of Jon’s lords when he scoffs at the notion that he should put a sword in the hand of his granddaughter. It was a wonderful speech, but it also left me thinking “would this hard-bitten Northman really cede authority to a woman, much less a girl, so meekly?” Don’t get me wrong, I’m totally team Lyanna in this; and the look on Brienne’s face as she’s speaking is worth the price of admission. But for a fantasy series that invests so much of its capital in a certain amount of historical realism, I found the lord’s diffidence a bit of a stretch. To be certain, the larger portion of the ass-kicking that has happened on this show (literally and figuratively) has been doled out by women, but I hardly expect Lord Wossname from the remote North to have internalized such a fact. At least a little truculence or annoyance on his part would have made the scene more believable (and would have set us up for a deeply satisfying moment at a later date when Lady Lyanna saves his ass).



Most significantly, of course, what this scene sets up is what will likely be one of the sticking-points of the season: a conflict between Jon and Sansa, aggravated by Littlefinger’s whispers. We saw that coming a mile off at the end of last season; Jon is stubborn and doesn’t recognize that Sansa has a subtler mind than him (“So I should listen to you?” he asks. “Would that be so bad?” she responds); after several seasons of being by turns passive, victimized, and abused, Sansa has come to recognize her own abilities, and is clearly frustrated to be sidelined. Jon would do himself a great favour by in fact listening to her, but I did more or less agree with him that it’s a bad idea for her to undermine him in front of the lords. Their argument about the castles could really go either way for me—rewarding loyalty with land elevates those you trust; on the other hand, Northerners are deeply invested in tradition, and Jon’s reluctance to disenfranchise families with centuries of fidelity because of the actions of a few just recently likely resonated with many of the people in the room—but Sansa’s opposition on a potentially very divisive question could have the effect of sowing dissension at a dangerous time.

But again, to be clear: Jon needs to listen to Sansa. I have a sinking feeling I’m going to be spending much of this season smacking my head over the bloody-mindedness of Jon Snow.

(Incidentally, Sansa throwing “Joffrey never let anyone question his authority” in Jon’s face totally effaces any moral standing she might have had here, which she seems to recognize a few minutes later when she has to admit that Jon “is as far from Joffrey as anyone I’ve ever met.” Yet that comes to be a bit of a backhanded compliment, as she makes clear that the kind of pure virtue that is the antithesis of Joffrey—which Jon embodies—is its own detriment. “You need to be smarter than Father,” she says. “You need to be smarter than Robb”).

However this division develops, I do hope they don’t make it about jealousy or resentment. It was clear in this episode that Jon and Sansa have what might prove to be incommensurably different worldviews, which each arrived at by way of how they learned hard lessons over the previous six seasons. Sansa’s maturation occurred in the stew of King’s Landing intrigues, and her personal experience of just how cruel people can be to one another; when she tells Jon she “learned a lot” from Cersei, that’s shorthand for learning not to trust other people and looking out for oneself. Her concern at this point is worldly politics: the Lannisters are a threat, she thinks it folly not to disenfranchise formerly disloyal houses, and is generally preoccupied with her own survival and the survival of those closest to her. Too much honour, she tries to tell Jon, got their father and brother killed.



Jon, by contrast, is preoccupied with otherworldly concerns, and I don’t just mean the supernatural threat from the North. Though we now know he wasn’t Ned Stark’s son, he’s nevertheless very much Ned Stark’s son, if by temperament rather than birth. And he has internalized the North’s deep obsession with tradition and honour, and its long, long history. The idea of disenfranchising families with centuries of loyalty to the Starks, however they might have acted in recent days, in nonsensical to him … as, probably, is the notion that he can have “too much” honour. With regard to the White Walkers and the threat they pose, he sees the big picture—or rather, having been confronted by the big picture north of the Wall, he’s disinclined or simply unable to see anything but. “I’m consumed with the Night’s King because I’ve seen him,” he says. “And believe me, you’d think of little else if you had too.” As far as he’s concerned, the squabbles of warring houses are all but irrelevant in the face of the White Walkers; unless everyone can get on the same page, they’re all going to die anyway.

And while, as I said, I do more or less agree with Jon that undermining each other in public is a bad idea, he needs to listen to Sansa. She’s the pragmatic one; he’s the wide-angle guy. I came away from their argument thinking that he’s the equivalent of someone who recognizes climate change as an existential threat. Everyone else, including Sansa and Archmaester Quincy, Medical Examiner, seems inclined to downplay the threat: “the wall has always stood” is the Westeros equivalent, it seems, of recycling and buying a hybrid car. And that’s not even getting to all those White Walker Deniers. But at the same time, arriving at a solution requires a certain amount of political savvy, which is increasingly looking to be Sansa’s forte. Together, they could be a pretty formidable team, if only Jon would listen and Brienne could relieve Littlefinger of his head.

What do you think, Nikki?

Nikki: Agree with you as usual, my friend, and I love how close our notes are at times. I’ve written down that awesome throwdown line from Lyanna — “I don’t plan on knitting by the fire while men fight for me” [under her watch the TARDIS would have never allowed a man inside yet] — and then beside it I have written “OMG Brienne’s FACE.” Every season you and I mention what spinoff road-trip-show pairings we want, and my new one is Lyanna and Brienne. With Tormund bringing up the rear.

The scene was very well played, as you point out, with Jon saying one thing, Sansa another, viewers trying not to reach into the TV to smack Jon in the head, but then realizing well, ok, he’s got a point, and then Sansa saying something else, Jon contradicting her, Sansa posting angry emojis under Jon’s comments on Facebook, Jon blocking her from his feed... and all the while Baelish smiling to himself in the corner while all our stress levels rise steadily. The Karstarks and Umbers will keep their family castles, but the only people left in those families are children (and I can’t be the only one who thought Alice Karstark was Sansa’s younger double). Now, when it comes to Lyanna, we certainly can’t undermine children in any way, but this also isn’t Lord of the Flies: will they be able to fight the White Walkers?



Though, you know, something tells me Lyanna could have them turning tail and running.

Like you, I’m hoping I don’t spend the season flipping out over Jon and Sansa. They must get on the same page, and I don’t want to see Littlefinger smiling smugly in the corner anymore.

But then Jon gets a raven from Cersei demanding fealty, and as he says to Sansa, he was so caught up in the enemy of the North, he forgot the one in the South. Just as Sansa had made the Joffrey comment earlier — almost making it sound like Jon fell short of that little bastard by not being like him — now Sansa tells Jon not to mess with the Lannister queen, because she’ll murder anyone who gets in her way. “You almost sound as if you admire her,” he says. “Learned a great deal from her,” Sansa replies.

Like you said, Chris, just because Sansa is listening to whispers from Littlefinger and making comments about Joffrey and Cersei that are... questionable... doesn’t mean we should not listen to her. Cersei and Baelish might be the bad guys but they also know a thing or two about power. And with Sansa’s knowledge of how they work, funnelled through Jon Snow’s inherent goodness, they might have something here. Together I would think these two could be nearly unstoppable, he just needs to pay attention to her and give her the respect she’s more than earned.

But now let’s to King’s Landing, where Cersei is drinking (natch) while walking on a giant map on the ground, since apparently a small one drawn in a book wouldn’t have been good enough (listen closely and you hear a very quiet version of “Rains of Castamere” playing in the background... it’s like Cersei’s personal breakup music or something). Dragonstone might have a wooden slab with little people on it that Stannis could move around, but Cersei’s going to have a goddamn map drawn on the floor, to scale, by someone she will no doubt kill as soon as he’s done. It’s a beautiful visual, though, when the camera peers down from the ceiling: Cersei, standing mighty over the kingdoms of Westeros, in the centre, and as she walks around she talks about how Daenerys is going to land at Dragonstone to the east, that Ellaria and her Sand Snakes threaten her from the south, the Tyrells are in the west, and the Starks are in the north. She’s surrounded, but unfazed. In her new black get-up, she stands over these kingdoms and proclaims she will prevail.



Jaime, standing off to the side, quiet, wonders why they’re bothering. They’ve lost everything — all three of their children they’ve created together — all for this, and yet, without them, what does it mean? Cersei is saying she wants to have a dynasty — not one with Joan Collins and Linda Evans, that’s a DIE-nesty, and Cersei quite Britishly calls this one a dinnesty — but as Jaime adeptly points out, a dynasty suggests it’s being passed down to future generations, and does he have to repeat himself that they no longer have any children?? Cersei then basically says she’s going to do it for their own honour, that they’re the last of the Lannisters “who count” and that she will win this bloody war, dammit.

But then again, her army consists of an orange-haired musician who can’t bloody well act so WHAT DOES SHE KNOW. #whenstuntcastinggoeswrong

ANYWAY... and while Daenerys was already on her way over to Dragonstone at the end of the previous episode, but Euron had to build a thousand ships in order to get to Cersei, somehow he beat her there and here he is on Cersei’s steps pledging himself to her. (And yes, I know people are going to say that the ships are probably being built and he headed over there on a single ship but I found some of the way these storylines lined up seemed a little odd timewise.) There’s something about Euron I kinda love, I don’t know why. I tend to hate the Greyjoys on principle, and he’s a complete dick, but I love that he shows up looking totally different from when we last saw him with this new rock star appearance: shirt opened at front, hair shorn closer to his head... still giving off a distinct Oliver-Reed-as-Bill-Sykes vibe but now with a distinct Noel Gallagher swagger about him. And he has the nerve to show up at the steps of what is probably the most powerful woman currently in Westeros and say, “So, yeah, whaddya say: you, me, few goblets of wine, we could spend the rest of our days plotting the deaths of our family members, amirite?!” like he’s somehow the greatest catch in the land. In fact, this gave me the one big laugh-out-loud moment of the episode when he proclaimed himself the greatest captain of the 14 seas, and Cersei mumbles, “But not the most humble.” Ha!



Cersei, to her credit, declines. She knows if he could stab his own brother in the back, what the hell would he do to his wife? “You murdered your own brother,” she says to him. “You should try it, feels wonderful,” he responds with a sneer. Jaime shuffles and hopes this isn’t foreshadowing. But Euron’s not giving up, and says he’s going to come back with a gift. Whose head will it be, I wonder...

And then... the montage from HELL. As I said on Facebook, at the end of the previous season, when we saw that spectacular library of the maesters, I said if I could be one character on the show, it would be Samwell Tarly. I take that back now. What did you think of this, um, shitty symphony that was Sam’s new life, Chris?

Christopher: Well, first I just want to add how much I loved Pilou Asbæk’s performance in that scene—I was underwhelmed by his turn as Euron last season, but he’s definitely upped his game. And he has one of the two best burns of the episode: “Here I am with a thousand ships and two good hands!” he leers, as Jaime looks on angrily (the other best burn being Sansa’s elegant “No need to seize the last word, Lord Baelish—I’ll assume it was something clever.” Ouch!).

As for Sam … well, about halfway through the oddly rhythmic books/bedpans/food montage, I said “Ah! Sam’s a grad student now!” Considering that at least half the people with whom I watched the episode are former and/or recovering grad students, it got a big laugh. 



But of course, such drudgery is something we should have expected; though both you and I ended last season in a Sam-like state of bibliophilic bliss looking at the Citadel’s unearthly library (both of us, as I recall, likened it to our own first visits to U of T’s Robarts Library Rare Book Collection), the truth of any apprenticeship (academic or otherwise) is one of tedium and drudgery punctuated by moments of epiphany. (I can’t possibly be the only person who saw Sam sneaking by night into the restricted area and thought of Hermione’s forays into the forbidden sections of the Hogwarts Library). Sam is training to be a maester, which is not exactly something one can fast-track. His exchange with Archmaester Ebrose, aka Quincy, was a few moments of quiet brilliance in the way it articulated both the virtue and drawback of the scholarly mindset. The Archmaester employs the Westrosi equivalent of Occam’s Razor to Sam’s claims: “The simplest explanation for your grating obsession with the White Walkers,” he says, “is that you’re telling the truth. And that you saw what you say you saw.” Not that that means he’s about to aid Sam in his quest. “In the Citadel, we lead different lives,” he tells Sam. “We are this world’s memory.” And as the world’s memory, they stand aloof from the occasionally catastrophic events of the realm, always enduring. He echoes Sansa’s assertion that the Wall has always stood, and that winter always ends.

His speech is a paean to knowledge and scholarship, and hearkens—for the real world—back to the role played by monasteries in the dark and middle ages of Europe in archiving books and knowledge. For me, however, his words resonate with the ostensible role of the university, whose oft-maligned “ivory towers” maintain spaces of inquiry and research free from the pressures and incursions of quotidian politics. Of course, this characterization bears little resemblance to the reality, but the Archmaester’s words strike a chord because the inertia of the academy is at once its greatest virtue and its greatest flaw. In the context of Game of Thrones, we know that his complacency is foolishness; in the present moment, we in the university environment with the privilege of full-time positions are being shaken out of our institutional torpor by the pressures of austerity economics and the push toward corporatization. And yet that torpor is slow to slough off—too many of us assume the Wall will always stand.

Ahem. Sorry. Sometimes these university analogues strike too close to home.

On a lighter note: Twitter was ablaze after this episode with the Ed Sheeran cameo, and I can tell you have some, er, rather strong thoughts on the subject. Tell you what, Nikki: considering I wouldn’t know an Ed Sheeran song if it walked up and bit me in the arse, I leave commentary on that bit of casting to you. I will however say that my fangasm came during the autopsy scene when I realized that the archmaester was played by Jim Broadbent. Not sure what that says about me, but here we are.



We shift from Oldtown back to Winterfell, and witness the next stage in Tormund’s courtship of Brienne. Gotta say—dude has to up his game. If all he’s going to do is make googly eyes and waggle his eyebrows, the Lady of Tarth is going to remain resolutely unimpressed. Though given his wistful observation that Pod is “a lucky man”—just after the poor boy has been made to faceplant into a snowdrift—it might be that he’d be happy just receiving arse-kickings from Brienne. I hear some men like that sort of thing.

What did you think of Sansa’s wintry conversation with Littlefinger, Nikki? It’s obvious he means to stir the pot, and just as obvious that we’re being primed for conflict between Jon and Sansa, but she seems about done with his shit. “He wants something,” says Brienne in her role as Captain Obvious. “I know precisely what he wants,” Sansa replies.

What gives? Is Sansa seriously ready to kick him to the curb, or is she just playing it close to the vest?

Nikki: I loved Sansa in this scene, because there are moments in Game of Thrones where you glance at a character and can’t help but think of how far they’ve come in the past seven years. This was one of those moments. In season one, Sansa was an insufferable girly-girl who needed Arya to start acting girlier, who giggled and flirted with any boy who looked in her direction, and who left the real thinking to the men. And look at where we are now. She’s strong, she never even looks at Baelish once in this scene the entire time he’s talking to her, and she just stares off into the fighting grounds with her eyelids heavy, as if his very presence bores the hell out of her. Baelish remarks that Brienne is “an impressive woman” and Sansa’s face looks like she’s fighting back an eyeroll, as if to counter, “Brienne isn’t an impressive woman, you twerp, she’s an impressive fighter, period. For god’s sakes the Ghostbusters are women, Wonder Woman has the best superhero film out there, and the main hero of Star Wars is Rey, get with the effing program, you twat.” Instead, she just holds back that eye roll.



Baelish asks her why she’s not happy, and what will make her happy, and she simply says peace and quiet in a bid to get rid of him. But I couldn’t help but look at her in that moment and think, in the past six years she’s lost her parents, her siblings, and she believes she’s the last Stark standing. The only one left is her bastard brother who is currently at odds with her on how to lead, and despite the leaps and bounds she’s made in her life she’s still struggling to earn anyone’s ear or respect. As Littlefinger leaves in his rather Cersei-ish gown (did anyone else sense a weird flip of gender stereotypes between Sansa and Baelish’s body language?), Sansa mutters to Brienne that they do actually owe him their lives, and that without the Vale the battle would have been lost.

And then we cut to Sansa’s sister, who was having a nice, peaceful ride through the woods until she heard the voice of an angel breaking through the trees. Arya pauses for a moment, thinking, “Oh wow, I feel like I know this voice but usually his songs are so bland and boring and yet this is intriguing and...” and... yes it’s Ed Sheeran, one of the Lannister soldiers (as IF, worst casting ever) singing “Hands of Gold.” I had to look it up to see if this was a song that actually existed in the books, and turns out it does. (Chris can probably elaborate more for context in his next bit.) Apparently a singer in book three finds out about Tyrion and Shae and writes this song about them, threatening to tell everyone. Tyrion pays him blackmail money but eventually orders Bronn to kill him, and as Tyrion kills Shae with the golden chain around her neck, he sings one of the lines of the song:

He rode through the streets of the city,
Down from his hill on high.
O'er the winds and the steps and the cobbles,
He rode to a woman's sigh.
For she was his secret treasure,
She was his shame and his bliss.
And a chain and a keep are nothing,
Compared to a woman's kiss.
For hands of gold are always cold,
But a woman's hands are warm!
For hands of gold are always cold,
But a woman's hands are warm!

Of course, during the song I couldn’t help but think that the lyrics seemed to fit Jaime: his hand is made of gold, and it’s even referenced earlier by Euron, as Chris pointed out. And he does ride and sail to get to the woman who is both his shame and his bliss.

But back to the horrible stunt casting of Ed Sheeran. And, a wee bit of behind-the-scenesery here. As many of you know, Chris and I write this in stages. I write my bit, send it to him for his pass, he lobs it back to me, etc. It usually takes a few days, and during that time I avoid other reviews of the show and try to avoid anyone’s comments on social media because I don’t want anyone else shaping my opinions. I assumed I was going to be in the minority on Ed Sheeran because he’s a hugely popular singer whose popularity has always surprised me, because his music is sooooo boring to me. But then I saw an article that showed I was actually in the majority, and that people didn’t just hate his cameo, they loathed it. So much so that he’s been getting a ton of hate mail via Twitter and as of Tuesday, actually deleted his account.



While he was deleting his Twitter account, I was writing a vicious takedown of his appearance in this scene. And then I found out that happened, and I’ve deleted it. Because here’s the thing: I don’t actually hate Ed Sheeran. I don’t even think of Ed Sheeran. He’s just not my thing and I find his immense popularity kind of baffling.

But he was cast in this role as a surprise to Maisie Williams, who is a huge fan. Which... is cute, but... seriously? This is the biggest show on television and they’re now basing their casting decisions on what would make their young stars giddy? We all love Maisie, but that seems a bit much.

Now, for those who are Sheeran fans, I know what you might be thinking: you were jumping up and down, Nikki, when members of the National appeared at the Red Wedding. You were squeeing with delight when Sigur Ros played the troubadours at the Purple Wedding. But the thing is, they were cast to play musicians and then disappeared from the scene. The problem here isn’t Ed Sheeran. The problem is the writers who thought it would be fun to keep him in the scene, having him sit next to his biggest fan, and then give him NOTHING to do. My original takedown talked about how he just sat there like a big grinning idiot with a brain injury. But that’s the thing: what else was he supposed to do? They didn’t give him any lines, they just made him sing and then he was forced to sit there. And he’s ED SHEERAN, meaning many, many, many people were going to recognize him. Even Sigur Ros fans don’t know what Sigur Ros look like, so when they were fumbling on the ground for the money Joffrey nonchalantly tossed at them, they just looked like three extras. But Ed Sheeran is a massive star, and instantly recognizable to a lot of people, and for that entire scene we were taken out of Westeros and it was made abundantly clear that this is Ed Sheeran sitting next to Maisie Williams, who is trying desperately not to make eye contact with him. She ceased being Arya, he was never a soldier for the Lannisters, it was just two stars sitting on a log with her giggling and him giggling and viewers taking to Twitter to tell Ed Sheeran he’s the worst actor in the world.

My daughter begged me to take her to Pitch Perfect 2 last year. Aside from being two hours of my life I’ll never get back, the movie had an Ed Sheeran cameo that was actually kind of funny. Now, he was playing himself, and he wasn’t in Westeros, so it worked. Making him a soldier with no lines who has to sit through a scene that now feels SO MUCH LONGER than it should have been, didn’t work. The fault isn’t with Sheeran: who among us would say NO to Benioff and Weiss if they asked us to appear in an episode of Game of Thrones? Not one of us. It’s the fault of the writers for doing this. They could have found a way to use him in a funny way, perhaps even just having him sing to himself in a ditch as Arya was passing by, maybe even have her make a comment about how grating she finds his singing to be ironic, and we would have all found that amusing. Yes, for that one brief moment it would have been Maisie and Ed, but it still would have been funny. This scene simply didn’t work, and now I’m actually sad to know that Sheeran has deleted Twitter, is probably having one of the worst weeks of his life, and will probably never be able to watch the show ever again.

I remember being infuriated when Ashanti was cast in an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and yet, oddly, they made it work. The gal could actually act. But the writers just couldn’t make this scene work at all.

But enough about terrible stunt casting and back to the episode (see, Game of Thrones? You pulled me so far out of the world of Westeros I’m talking about Buffy again... but I won’t get into that time Oberyn was on Buffy or we’ll be here all day). So let's just post a pic:



So Sheeran and his fellow troubadours soldiers have been sent up from King’s Landing to the Riverlands because they heard there were problems at Frey’s. Arya keeps her poker face the whole time and then flatly tells them she’s going to kill the queen. There’s silence, they all stare at each other, and then they start laughing. Because of course I’m not going to kill the queen I mean OH MY GOD did I just say that out loud hahahaha!

And then we cut away to the next scene. I assume that she gets on her horse and travels away from them and they head off to Frey’s where Ed Sheeran’s character contracts dysentery. A girl can dream.



And we’re back to the Hound, making fun of a guy’s man bun (HA!) in a scene that harkens back to a scene from season four, when the Hound and Arya came upon a little house with a man and his daughter. The farmer was kind to both of them, and offers to give them some money, but when the Hound realizes the man has a bag of silver he takes it from him, leaving the man hurt and the little girl tending to him. Arya is angry, but the Hound argues that they’ll be dead by winter anyway. And now, in the present, the Hound is back at that farmhouse and he sees their corpses, but enough of their bodies remain that he can see the agony on their faces, and knows what he’s done to them. In the midst of starving to death — probably due to a lack of funds to buy any seeds or food — the farmer killed his daughter for her own good, before taking his own life. We all know the Hound is not one to show sentiment, but we know he feels it. He was fond of Arya, and he cares about people. Unlike his brother he’s not an automaton that was put on this earth to bring misery, so when he actually does, he atones for it.



Clegane snidely refers to the “fire worshippers” who make up the Brotherhood Without Banners with whom he’s now travelling, and he comments that he distinctly remembers seeing Beric at the tournament at King’s Landing, Beric being the man who keeps dying and is brought back to life by Thoros of Myr. Thoros tells Sandor to come and look at the fire. If there’s one thing the Hound is afraid of, it’s flames (it’s how he lost one side of his face) but he very carefully comes close to the fire... and sees something. And in a moment that surprises everyone in the room — most of all, Clegane — he sees an image of the Wall, the castle, and the dead marching towards that castle. The show has had so much destruction on it, but with fewer than two seasons left now, we’re going to start seeing solutions. If Beric was brought back to life, could there be an answer coming soon as to how?

We know that the Hound will never become an acolyte, it’s simply not in his nature. Later he buries the bodies of the dead farmer and his daughter, and Thoros comes out to find him there and help him. Sandor begins to say a prayer to the Seven, but forgets how it actually goes and says some pithy words that they deserved better than to die like this. Thoros ascertains that the Hound actually knew the people, and that’s why he’s burying them, but the Hound brushes him off. This isn’t going to be a guy dressed in robes and chanting around a fire, but perhaps his skepticism has been shaken a wee bit now.

What did you make of the Hound’s vision in the fire, Chris?

Christopher: I didn’t love it. It makes a certain perverse sense that the flame-phobic Hound should be the one to see a crucial vision in the fire, but the whole scene was played without any affect. I find it difficult to believe that someone as cynical and skeptical as Sandor Clegane could suddenly find himself having a vision, and be so blasé about it. Where’s his incredulity? His anger and resistance to the whole thing? It was a little too pat for me, which is unfortunate, because Rory McCann is otherwise so brilliant in this episode. He does such an amazing job of bringing a sense of humanity to a person who has otherwise only known brutality, violence, and cynical self-preservation his entire life. His atonement and redemption narrative is subtle and nuanced precisely because we understand just how little use he has for the ideas of atonement and redemption while desiring them in spite of himself.

When he tells Thoros that he’s “burying the dead,” it occurred to me that this is the Hound’s raison d’etre from here on in: burying the dead of his past both literally and metaphorically.

From there we move to Sam and Gilly and Little Sam, where Sam is forcing himself to read in spite of his exhaustion and Gilly’s remonstrance. Once again, overtones of grad school! He pores over his ill-gotten texts, finally coming to a map of Dragonstone with the island’s wealth of dragonglass clearly marked.



Did you notice how maps are a crucial motif in this episode? We see Cersei plotting her next move as she paces around an unfinished map of Westeros, the episode ends with Daenerys entering the map room of Dragonstone (more on that in a moment), and Sam discovers what will presumably be a key plot point in episodes to come almost literally marked off like a treasure map. Two maps that represent dreams of conquest, and a third that promises salvation: we begin every episode with a reminder of Westeros’ geography in the opening credits, and it seems to me that, as we move toward the endgame, the show is intent on hewing to the “game” metaphor by giving us maps on which the players will place and move their pieces.

Sam’s discovery of the Dragonstone map sets us up for Daenerys’ arrival—finally!—at the island itself, but there’s a brief, poignant scene in between that acts almost as a connection between Sam and Dany. In yet another tedious task, Sam takes empty food bowls away from what look like prison cells. But as we realize, it’s more of a sanitarium, in which people infected with greyscale are kept quarantined. Including, as it turns out, Ser Jorah Mormont, who begs Sam for news of the Dragon Queen. Sam of course knows nothing, but presumably that will change as news of her landing spreads.

The last we saw Jorah, he’d been sent away with orders from his Queen to find a cure for his disease—a quest that seems to have led him to the Citadel. Judging by the progression of the disease and the quality of his voice, Jorah’s in a bad way. Will the Citadel be able to cure him?



The reminder of his plight tempers the triumph of Daenerys’ long-awaited return home—as she is rowed up to the beach, it is hard not to think of Jorah’s despair and what he would be feeling if he could be there with her. That being said, it is a deeply affecting scene: beautifully shot, and done without words until the final moment. (I couldn’t help thinking as we see the craggy spur of land to Daenerys’ right as she approaches the beach, that there’s where the dragonglass is).

When last we saw Dragonstone, it was inhabited by Stannis Baratheon and his forces, and it was invariably dark and brooding—most of the scenes took place at night, and we never really saw the castle in all its glory. Here it is the precise opposite: seen in beautiful and sunny weather, the oppressive castle of Stannis’ days is breathtaking in its architecture and the rugged cliffs from which it rises. Though the symbolism is not overt, the suggestion is the dawning of a new day.

Walking through the throne room (pausing to tear down a Baratheon banner on the way), she passes into the room with the ornate table carved into a map of Westeros by her ancestor Aegon the Conqueror, who plotted his Westrosi campaign in that room. Again, the set design here is stunning, especially the dragons carved in bas-relief into the walls. I loved Tyrion’s quiet awe—one senses in Peter Dinklage’s expression Tyrion’s sudden apprehension of the enormity of what they are about to attempt.



And then: “Shall we begin?”

Yes. Yes we shall.

That’s all for this week, friends and neighbours! It kind of sucks that we’re only getting seven episodes this time around, but we’ll make the best of it for you. Once again, Nikki, it is a delight to team up with you on this ride. For everyone else, stay warm and beware of stingy old men who suddenly want to give you wine.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Game of Thrones 6.10: The Winds of Winter



And welcome to the final recap of season 6, and just as I was proclaiming last week's episode to be the best episode of Game of Thrones ever, they go and one-up themselves by bringing us the most insanely amazing and shocking episode we could have imagined. It was a super-sized episode with a super-sized recap to match (and the most glorious library EVER), so without any further ado, I'll let Chris start us off. 

Christopher: Game of Thrones has gotten us used to having a pretty spectacular penultimate episode, followed by a finale that is more about housekeeping than anything else, with perhaps one or two “Holy shit!” moments to prime us for the next season (see: Jon Snow, murder of). But I think it’s safe to say that this finale was wall-to-wall holy shit moments. To wit: Cersei blows up EVERYBODY real good; Tommen offs himself; Varys shows up in Dorne; Jon Snow’s lineage is CONFIRMED, and he’s named King in the North (much to Littlefinger’s, and possibly Sansa’s, dismay); Arya, having presumably left Braavos with a bunch of spare faces in her carry-on, feeds Walder Frey’s sons to him and cuts his throat; Daenerys finally sets sail for Westeros; and Cersei, dressed like every evil sorceress from every 80s fantasy film, is crowned the MOTHERFUCKING QUEEN OF WESTEROS.

All I can say is: enjoy it while you can, Cersei. Dragons a-comin’.



We begin with a rather lovely view of King’s Landing, as Cersei looks down from her rooms over the city, peering specifically at the Sept of Baelor. Then follows an interesting musical montage of several key individuals dressing (or in the case of everyone but the Sparrow, being dressed). Knowing as we do that Cersei and Loras’ trials are nigh, this sequence feels not unlike the sequence in a sports film when the athletes don their gear. It is, in essence, a pre-battle scene, except that two of the four people pictured do not show up: only the Sparrow (clad in what I assume is his formal burlap) and Margaery go to the sept. Tommen remains broodingly in his chambers, and Cersei is well into her morning wine.



I loved the use of music in this sequence. It was just this side of verging on overdone, but the rather anachronistic piano score lent the scenes a melancholic, almost dirge-like quality—especially when, as Lancel is stabbed, it changes from piano to pipe organ. And it’s worth noting that there was a lot more cutting between scenes than this show tends to employ: usually we have little parlor dramas that go on for five to ten minutes before cutting away to a different story. In this case however, we get the scene in the sept, Cersei in her chambers, Tommen in his, Pycelle’s murder, and Lancel’s discovery of the wildfire. All of which is brought together as we watch Cersei watch the Sept of Baelor go up in flames.

I should note that there is an interestingly tangential intersection with A Dance With Dragons in terms of Qyburn’s use of murderous children to do away with both Lancel and Pycelle. Two episodes ago, Varys departed from Meereen for unspoken reasons, referring cryptically to a “mission” he was undertaking. I, and presumably everyone else who has read the novels, speculated that perhaps he was heading to King’s Landing to stir the pot. Dance’s epilogue has Ser Kevan Lannister (who is a far more sympathetic character in the novels) cautiously optimistic: having done her walk of shame, Cersei seems properly contrite and sedate, and unlikely to rock the boat; and after a long period of unrest, things seem to be settling down in King’s Landing, and in the Seven Kingdoms more generally. He receives a message from Grand Maester Pycelle asking to see him, but when he arrives at his chambers he finds him dead. He is himself shot with a crossbow … shot by Varys, in the eunuch’s first appearance since he abetted Tyrion’s escape in A Storm of Swords, two novels ago.

Why has he killed Kevan? Because he was “threatening to undo all the queen’s good work,” by which he means Cersei’s catastrophic misrule that has continued the chaos of the war. In bringing stability, Kevan threatens to undermine Varys’ ultimate goal—the re-installation of Targaryen rule in Westeros. And while Varys has shot him with a crossbow, it is not the eunuch that deals the killing blow:

“Ser Kevan was cold as ice, and every labored breath sent a fresh stab of pain through him. He glimpsed movement, heard the soft scuffling sound of slippered feet on stone. A child emerged from a pool of darkness, a pale boy in a ragged robe, no more than nine or ten. Another rose up behind the Grand Maester’s chair. The girl who had opened the door for him was there as well. They were all around him, half a dozen of them, white-faced children with dark eyes, boys and girls together. And in their hands, the daggers.”

But as it turns out, Varys has gone to Dorne, to stir the pot in an entirely other fashion. More on that later.

Meanwhile, the children with daggers are in the employ of Qyburn, and visit death first upon Pycelle in a manner that very closely mirrors Ser Kevan’s death in Dance. Qybrurn’s apology, indeed, is almost identical to Varys’ in the novel. And one of the children lures Lancel away into the vaults in what is, unfortunately, a rather contrived sequence. Why does he follow the child? What does he care if some urchin runs down the cathedral steps? His task, after all, is to go and bring Cersei, kicking and screaming if necessary, to her own trial. I have to imagine this is a task he relishes. But no, he follows the kid down into the basement of the sept, only to discover that part of Bran’s wildfire vision was not of the past, but the future.

Margaery, meanwhile, gets the screaming heebie-jeebies when Cersei doesn’t show, and when she attempts to share her fears with the Sparrow, is condescendingly mansplained to. It is unthinkable to him to end or postpone the trial—this, after all, is his moment of triumph. He has cowed and humbled two great houses, robbing one of its heir; he makes it clear that he’s entirely prepared to level judgment on Cersei whether she shows up or not.



And then … BOOM.

What did you think of this episode’s opening, Nikki?



Nikki: I’ve often referred to episodes of television that cause one to feel all kinds of emotions (sorry, I can’t bring myself to use the term “all the feels”) as the best kinds of rollercoasters. But if other TV episodes are rollercoasters, this is the Leviathan. I don’t recall ever screaming, gasping, and throwing my hands up in the air as often as I did with this one. There were no tears, so I guess that would be the only thing it was lacking, but to use the word “lacking” with any part of this episode would be nitpicking in the extreme. I think the episode was damn near perfect.

In the previous episode, as Daenerys talked about burning her city down, Tyrion calmly reminded her that her father had once stuffed all of King’s Landing’s underground tunnels with wildfire, and that the reason her father was truly the Mad King is that he was willing to burn to death every man, woman, and child, every innocent person in the way, just to get to the few people he wanted to kill. Only a truly mad person would do such a thing. I wondered why they were repeating this story — just last season he told the same story to Daenerys as the two of them sat across a table and he explained what her father was really like, and how in her quest to become queen she must never, ever be like him. And now I realized they needed that story fresh in our minds, because as Tyrion is warning Daenerys about her father planting the explosives in the first place, it never even occurs to him that his own sister might be the one to use it.



And use it she does. My GOD when Lancel looked up and I saw the glowing green goop on the ground I dropped my pen and gasped aloud. “WILDFIRE!!!” And immediately the consequences of the action — before it had even been set off — were in my head. She’s going to kill everyone in the Sept of Baelor. A few episodes ago Cersei was told that the “little birds” had returned and that the rumours were true. What rumours, we wondered. And now it would appear the little birds found all that wildfire under the city, and from that point on, Cersei has been planning this.



Now, I will admit to some, um, stupidity on my part. It never occurred to me that the sept and the castle were in two completely different locations — for some reason I always pictured them as adjacent to one another. They always seem to be in their chambers, then say, “Walk with me” in an Aaron Sorkin sort of way and then... they’re in the sept. I thought the buildings were pretty much attached. And yet now I realize well DUH, Cersei had to have done her walk of atonement from the sept to the castle, and therefore they must be in two different spots. But I never realized they were THAT far apart. That was one long walk of atonement.

I also had a horrifying moment when the Mountain stopped Tommen in his doorway that Cersei — bedecked in her black dress as if vying for the role of Evil Queen in some King’s Landing Disney musical production — had actually ordered her own son’s death in retaliation for him removing her right to choose a champion and have a trial by combat. And I was baffled: no matter what Tommen would do, she would NEVER kill one of her children. They mean everything to her. Of course, she wasn’t going to kill Tommen — she was just going to destroy him emotionally and psychologically, and kill everyone he ever loved. No big.



We go from the wildfire killing everyone and everything to Cersei waterboarding a nun (or maybe “wineboarding” would be the more accurate word), and I couldn’t help but think, “Cersei, seriously, you’re OK with wasting all that wine?” The only person worse than Cersei in this scene is Septa Unella, who has been a hateful, horrible character from the moment we first saw her. Despite everything Cersei had done, watching Unella ring that bell and shouting, “Shame!” in that holier-than-thou voice of hers put our sympathies with a Lannister, and for that alone, she should be punished. Cersei tells her to confess that she enjoyed torturing Cersei, before Cersei happily lists all of her favourite things. And no, they don’t include whiskers on kittens or snowflakes that stay on her nose and eyelashes.
           
I drink because it feels good to be drinking
            I killed my husband because he was stinking
            I fucked my brother and clipped Sparrow’s wings,
            These are a few of my favourite things!

But she can’t reach Unella and her piousness. The nun just looks at her smugly and says she’s ready to meet her god. To which Cersei has a hearty chuckle, and in lumbers Ser Gregor Clegane. I was chatting about what to expect in this week’s episode with another parent at my son’s soccer game last week, and both of us thought they were going to show the Mountain’s face this week. I didn’t want to see it; he totally did. “This is Ser Gregor Clegane,” says Cersei as she walks out, leaving Septa Unella to untold amounts of torture. “He is your god now.” And with the tiniest bit of joy she can muster, Cersei begins chanting, “Shame! Shame! Shame!” as she shuts the door.

And we cut to Tommen looking out over the city. You mentioned the gorgeous score in this episode, Chris, and because it’s so different than the music we heard before, you’re right in that it stands out a lot. It was gorgeous. But in this scene, there’s no music whatsoever — the only score is the screaming coming from the streets below as green smoke billows out of the Sept of Baelor. Which is why no one was prepared for what happened next. When Tommen removes his crown and turns to leave, the camera holds on the window for what seems like too long a time, I suddenly gasped in horror about two seconds before Tommen came back into view, realizing exactly what was going to happen. It’s a horrifying moment, and he acts quickly before he can think his way out of it. And there’s no heightened drama in the moment at all — no music, no sound effects, no opening of his arms and screaming, nothing. He simply walks back to the window, steps up onto the windowsill, and falls forward silently, like a log.



His mother has just killed his wife without a second thought. And his wife’s father and brother. And the High Sparrow and the acolytes — to which Tommen had just pledged his fealty. He loved Margaery, even if she didn’t love him, and he was willing to change his entire belief system to match hers. And now he realizes his mother is a monster. That his personal happiness doesn’t mean anything to her because if she doesn’t like someone, she will have them killed. It doesn’t matter if it happens to be Tommen’s beloved wife.

And with that, Cersei has lost all three of her children. Joffrey died because he was a sadistic tit, but he had always been that way, urged on by Cersei, who never said no to him and who encouraged his evil ways. Myrcella died because Cersei made the ill-fated decision to have the Mountain squash Oberyn’s head like a melon, and it forced Ellaria to wreak her revenge on Cersei in the most painful way. And now Tommen, her youngest, who was just a kindergartner when this whole story began, is gone. All their deaths were caused by her desire for power, but we know she would do anything for her children. They’re all gone. How does a mother continue after this? What is there left to even live for? Any piece of humanity that Cersei had left in her body went out the window with Tommen, and her heart is nothing but a sliver of flint now. She wept and screamed and raged at Joffrey’s death. She cried quietly when Myrcella died and wondered if she’d just lost the only thing that reminded her she was a good person. And now, with Tommen’s death, she bears it without even changing her demeanour. “Burn him and bury his ashes where the sept once stood,” she says.

And all of THAT, our dear readers, was just the opening of the episode. Jeepers. The only downside to all of this? Now we’ll never know what Margaery had been planning all this time. But one thing’s for sure: Grandma Tyrell is gonna be pissed.

And now we’re back over to Riverrun and Walder Frey, who is aligned with the Lannisters. (Snicker.) What did you think of Jaime and Bronn’s verbal sparring here, Chris?

Christopher: It was a lot different on rewatching as I realized that the girl Bronn’s initially ogling, whom he assumes is all hot and bothered for Jaime, is actually Arya in disguise. The first time around, the scene was just vaguely annoying—I love Bronn as a character except when he goes all frat-boy—but the second time around the coy look the serving girl gives Jaime is vaguely chilling. Knowing that’s Arya, in my head I was imagining her calculation: “Can I kill Walder Frey AND the Kingslayer? Nah, best to stick with Frey. Jaime was never on my list.” That little shiver up Jaime’s back is his lizard brain being suddenly grateful that Arya doesn’t know he shoved Bran out a window.


I’m beginning to think that the worst fate in Westeros is to be born a Frey, as it seems to entail being congenitally petty, incompetent, and jealous of other people’s successes. Walder Frey’s little speech at the beginning of this scene is quite possibly the most insufferable bit of oration we’ve heard in this series, and I’m including all of Joffrey’s pronouncements. His suggestion that from this day forth, everyone in that room should accompany killing blows to their enemies with the words “The Freys and the Lannisters send their regards!” is a bit of piggybacking self-aggrandizement that would make Erlich from Silicon Valley blush.

(Walder Frey is one of those characters I can insult just because of whom he played in another fantasy franchise. During his speech I kept thinking, “Oh, just shut the fuck up Argus Filch, you fucking squib wizard wannabe”).

Jaime is quite obviously unimpressed. Wait, did I say unimpressed? I think I mean he would sooner cut off his other hand and use it to gouge out his eyes than listen to another word from Walder Frey. But these are the tasks nobility drops on the 1%, I suppose. His indifference to Bronn’s frat-boy banter is one indicator of his desire to be Anywhere But Here. He manages to divest himself of Bronn by being wing-man extraordinaire, but must immediately regret his helpfulness when Bronn’s seat is immediately taken by none other than Frey the Elder himself.



I loved Nikolaj Coster-Waldau in this scene. I think he’s done a fantastic job of realizing Jaime Lannister anyway, but in this moment he’s the audience’s proxy, radiating contempt for this useless cocknapkin of a lord, and finally expressing what we’re all thinking throughout the scene: precisely what fucking use ARE you, Walder Frey? The expression on his face as Frey tries to equate himself with Jaime is priceless. “Here we are now. Two kingslayers! We know what it’s like to have them grovel to our faces, and snigger behind our backs. We don’t mind, do we? Fear! It’s a marvelous thing.” If we recall Jaime’s account of what led him to kill the Mad King, it’s a bit of miraculous self-control that he doesn’t just beat Frey to death with his golden hand. Instead, he settles for pointing out that no one fears the Freys—they fear the Lannisters, and if the Lannisters have to ride north to recapture the Riverlands every time the Freys lose them, “then why do we need you?”

We cut from a discomfited Walder Frey to Sam, Gilly, and Little Sam as they arrive at Oldtown—which is a moment probably somewhat more poignant for readers of the novels, as this ancient southern city has been imbued with so much myth and legend and significance. It is the site of the Citadel, the university (basically) that trains maesters, as well as being one of the oldest cities in all of Westeros. It’s worth noting that as Sam and Gilly arrive, they see a flight of white birds leaving the city—one of which we later see gliding into Winterfell. Theses are the white ravens, which in the GoT world are sent from the Citadel when the Maesters agree that yes, in fact, winter has arrived.

I loved this scene, as Sam’s first view of the Citadel’s library is essentially book lovers’ porn. I remember having a similar expression to Sam’s the first time I walked into the Robarts Library Rare Books Collection at U of T … except that the stacks there are far less impressive than what CGI has done for the Citadel. I also loved that Sam’s nascent feminism founders on the shoals of books. “No women or children!” the functionary at the desk thunders at Gilly, and Sam’s expression—in which apology wars with excitement—is priceless. “Sorry, babe. I’d express solidarity with you, but … BOOKS!”

I hope that next season we just cut from whatever momentous events are happening to Sam reading an ever-growing stack of books. Just a few seconds. DRAGONS LAYING WASTE TO LANNISTERS! Sam reading. WHITE WALKERS ASSAULTING THE WALL! Sam reading. CERSEI DRINKING WINE! Sam reading.

Repeat as necessary, GoT writing room. You’re welcome.



We then cut to of those white ravens Sam and Gilly see (Jeebus, these birds fly as fast as Yara’s ships can sail) gliding down to Winterfell. Jon is having a bit of difficulty adjusting to his new position, observing to Melisandre that he was never permitted to sit at the high table during feasts. “It could have been worse, Jon Snow,” she points out. “You had a family. You had feasts.” Good observation, murderous red woman! It’s that kind of common-sense advice we’ll miss because you thought it was a good idea to burn the innocent child of the would-be king whom you thought, erroneously, was the child of prophecy.

How awesome was Liam Cunningham in this scene? Twelve years ago I saw Much Ado About Nothing at Shakespeare in the Park in New York, with Sam Waterston as Leonato. The speech he delivers to Claudio, in which he accuses Claudio of essentially killing his daughter, Hero, from grief, was spoken with such spitting, shuddering, barely contained rage that even sitting in the back row I felt it in my bones. That’s what I thought of while watching Davos put Melisandre on the spot. “If he commands you to burn children, your lord is evil!” You know what? That’s a fantastic rule of thumb when it comes to choosing your deity. “I loved that girl!” Davos thunders. “Like she was my own! She was good, she was kind, and you KILLED her!” Honestly, my heart was breaking in these moments. Davos has lost everything—his sons, his family, the man he believed should be king. And he’s lost Shireen, the little girl who taught him to read and who might have given Lyanna Mormont a run for her precocious money.



In a promising moment of wise compromise, Jon Snow sends her south. He can’t ignore the fact that he’s only alive because of Melisandre, but he also cannot ignore the enormity of her trespass. I doubt Davos thinks it sufficient, but it’s a good first gesture for the man who’ll become the King in the North by the end of the episode.

Jon watches her ride away from the battlements, and is joined by Sansa, who addresses the fact that she hadn’t shared her communications with Littlefinger with him. In our last post, I said that Sansa’s omission was bad writing; others have suggested that Sansa is actually far more savvy and ruthless than I was giving her credit for. What did you think of her apology, re: Knights of the Vale, Nikki?

Nikki: First I just have to concur that Sam walking into that room of infinite books almost made me forget every other moment of the entire series. If you get to choose your heaven where you will spend all of eternity, the showrunners just gave everyone a glimpse of mine. I pictured Gilly and little Sam sitting out in the waiting room for YEARS as little Sam grows up, hits puberty, moves out of the Citadel, all while Sam Tarly just stood in that same spot, mouth agape, staring at the wonder and beauty that surrounded him. And Chris, I thought EXACTLY the same thing when I saw it: I had the same reaction you did when I walked into the Robarts Rare Book room (maybe you and I were in the same bibliography class?) and when they pulled out the original Shakespeare folio I thought I was going to faint. I remember putting on the gloves to slowly turn the pages of a first edition of Dickens, and my eyes kept glancing upwards at all of the stacks of books around me all the time. GLORIOUS.



People always imagine what character they’d want to be on Game of Thrones. In that moment, it was clear to me: I want to be Samwell Tarly.



But now back over to our Sansa. Yes, you said Sansa’s omission was bad writing, others said it was just more evidence of Sansa’s stupidity and that Rickon’s death was on her head, while I held my ground that we all know Littlefinger is a complete dick so why are we assuming that Sansa knew he was coming and that she is the bad guy? And of course this scene didn’t really answer anything. All she said is that she’s sorry she didn’t tell him, but she didn’t elaborate what there was to tell: that she’d sent the raven to Littlefinger? That she’d gotten a raven back saying he was coming? That she knew all along or that it was a mere possibility? Either way, Jon is clearly far more forgiving than the fans, and has a much longer memory and knows they’re stronger as a family than breaking apart. He knows what his sister has been through, and he knows that where he was shuffled off to the Wall, she was betrothed to Joffrey, mocked by the court, ridiculed by Cersei, watched her own father’s execution, became a prisoner, thought she would die at the Battle of Blackwater, heard of the deaths of her mother and brother, assumed Arya was dead, was married to a monster against her own will, escaped at the last minute before she could be executed for standing nearby while Joffrey died, was brought to the Eyrie and was there when her aunt died, had creepy Uncle Baelish come on to her, then was shuffled off to House Bolton where she discovered what a REAL monster was and where her memories of Winterfell would forever be tarnished, thought her two brothers had been murdered, was raped and beaten repeatedly before finding the fortitude to escape, found out what her ward/brother had gone through at the hands of Ramsay, escaped through the snow chased by Ramsay’s dogs, and THEN was reunited with Jon. So yeah, she’s been through some stuff, and while the men have been trained in weaponry and war from the moment they were big enough to pick up a wooden sword, she was trained in embroidery and how to curtsey, and yet by osmosis this little girl has grown into a woman who can help strategize against the enemy.



In that moment he realized the fault was as much his as it was hers — she didn’t tell him about Littlefinger, and he didn’t listen to her when he should have. He tells her they have to trust each other, because right now, they’re all the other one has. He tells her that he’s going to have the lord’s room made up for her — she should have the chamber that had previously been occupied by Ned and Catelyn. She says he should have the room, because he’s the lord. (It wasn’t clear to me if their chamber was the same one in which Ramsay had repeatedly raped her — if it was, I can imagine it’s not a room she’s keen on having.) He shakes his head and says no, he can’t, because he’s not a Stark. “You are to me,” she says, and for all they know, she’s the last surviving Stark, and if she says he’s a Stark, he’s a Stark. (Even though we know he’s also something else, but more on that later.) She tells him that a white raven has come from the Citadel: “Winter is here.”

I don’t know about you, but that line elicited a gasp from me that was as loud as anything else in the episode. For SIX YEARS we’ve heard that “Winter is coming,” which was something Ned Stark said all the time. And it seemed like it would never come — it was just that thing that everyone warned about, but I started to wonder if the show would end with winter still on the horizon. Here come the white walkers.

But as the snowflakes swirl in the air above Winterfell, we now move to Dorne, where Lady Olenna is dressed all in black, showing us that she knows, and she is FURIOUS. And she’s gone to the one place where she knows she has a bunch of women with a SERIOUS beef against the Lannisters, and most importantly, Cersei. Olenna has never hidden her disdain for Cersei Lannister, as if she knew if House Tyrell ever had a downfall, it would be at Cersei’s hand. But of all the Tyrells Cersei killed, she left the most powerful one still standing, which is her biggest mistake. 



As I said earlier, everything that has happened to Cersei happened because of her own mistakes — the deaths of her children, the rise of the High Sparrow — and two of the three children died because someone took revenge on them to get back at Cersei. And in the case of the first child, it was Lady Olenna who did it. And now she’s back. She can’t come at Cersei through her children, so she needs to think bigger. Cersei took away her future — she killed her son and both grandchildren. What does Cersei have left? King’s Landing and Westeros. OK, let’s take that from her. Ellaria looks at Olenna (who is not threatened one bit by the Sand Snakes, telling them to shut the hell up and telling Elbara she looks like an angry little boy) and tells her that she will give Olenna her heart’s desire. “And what is my heart’s desire?” asks Olenna, with an eyeroll and a pfft. “Vengeance,” says Ellaria.

“Justice.”

Varys.

Last week the soccer dad and I were discussing where Varys could have gone, and we both agreed it was Dorne. If he basically lives to see Daenerys Stormborn take back Westeros, who are the people who hate Cersei the most? Who are powerful enough to topple empires like they did in Dorne? Who are, like Daenerys, women? (Her alliances now are with the Sand Snakes and Yara Greyjoy.)

“Fire and blood,” he says as he emerges from the shadows, all Doctor Evil–like. And...



We cut to the fire: Daenerys Targaryen. Guys, it is ALL COMING TOGETHER!!! Daenerys is making her plans to go to Westeros, and tells Daario that he has to stay to keep peace in Meereen, but he’s having none of it. And she’s having none of him having none of it. She holds her ground and tells him she needs to think politically now, and needs to marry someone with power to gain power, but Daario loves her fiercely, and won’t let her go. She just stares at him coolly and tells him his instructions are awaiting him, there shall be no more dalliances with this dragon. It’s a heartbreaking scene, mostly because of the lack of emotion she shows and Daario having nothing but emotion. He blames Tyrion, and she says this isn’t Tyrion, it’s her decision (it’s Tyrion’s) and Daario pleads with her. “Let me fight for you,” he says. But Tyrion knows Daenerys really does have a single-minded purpose, and Cersei didn’t: Cersei wanted the power, but she loved her children so much she allowed her enemies to get at her through them. When you love someone, they will become your greatest weakness. And Daenerys can’t afford any weaknesses right now. “You’ll get the throne,” says Daario. “I hope it brings you happiness.” He tells her that he pities the lords of Westeros right now, for they have no idea what’s coming for them.



She shows far more emotion with Tyrion, and tells him that she just said goodbye to a man she loved and felt nothing. And we realize what she just didn’t wasn’t some tough love act to save Daario’s life — she truly never loved him the way he loved her. Tyrion says this is all happening right now: all she’s ever wanted are ships, armies, and dragons, and now she has all of them. “You’re in the great game now,” he tells her. “And the great game is terrifying.”

And then, like Spike to Buffy in the penultimate episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, he looks at her and tells that he’s never believed in anything in his life. He was taught to believe in certain gods, in family, in power, in the monarchy, in the military, in his father, in his brother and sister, even in himself, and believing in any of those things never got him anywhere. “And yet, here I am,” he says. “I believe in you. It’s embarrassing, really... I’d swear you my sword, but... I don’t actually have a sword.” And with that she makes him the Hand of the Queen, even pinning the brooch on him that Ned Stark wore back in season one. The pin didn’t get Ned anywhere positive. And when Tyrion himself wore it as Joffrey’s Hand, things were just as bad. But he’s not following Robert Baratheon, or Joffrey Baratheon — he’s the Hand of Daenerys Stormborn, a woman who has shown herself to be an excellent leader, and who has learned to listen to her advisors, which is something no other monarch in Westeros has done in recent memory. He looks genuinely touched, and bows before her.



And from there we cut to Walder Frey eating what looks to be a delicious pie! How much were you squeeing in this scene, Chris??

Christopher:  Squeeing and throwing up a little in my mouth. That finger in the pie didn’t look like it had been washed. That’s how you end up with the Norwalk virus, you know.



It occurs to me that Arya’s actually done a pretty impressive job of checking the names off her death list. A man wonders if she’ll be the one to finally take Cersei off the board? Wouldn’t that piss off Olenna and the Dorne women!

There isn’t much to say about this scene aside from how perfect it is. As revenge killings go, it’s almost as satisfying and poetic as Ramsay’s. Walder Frey spent his long life obsessed with the status of his family, creating many Freys with his succession of young wives, to the point where he’s not sure if the serving girl is his daughter. And when he is assured that she is not, he proceeds to be gross and gropey. Ick. That just kind of puts the cherry on the vengeance cake, though, as the random girl he feels so entitled to take liberties with fools him into literally eating his family legacy before revealing the face of a Stark Who Got Away. It’s particularly satisfying that he dies while sitting in the very same seat from which he presided over the Red Wedding.

A lot of viewers have expressed dissatisfaction with Arya’s sojourn in Braavos. Two seasons worth of apprenticeship to the Faceless Men, only to finally reject them and head home? Isn’t that just a whole lot of wasted storyline? I must admit, I felt a little like this myself … until this moment. If the payoff of the Braavos storyline is that Arya becomes an uber-assassin who starts knocking off Stark enemies, starting with the man who killed her mother and brother, then I say that was time well spent. It’s almost a little sad that Joffrey is no longer around for her to kill.



From one Stark daughter to the other, we cut from Arya’s satisfied smile to the Winterfell godswood, where Littlefinger finds Sansa hanging out under the weirwood tree, reflecting on all the times as a child she’s prayed to be elsewhere. She’s come full circle, returning to one of the sites of her childhood, and in this moment we see how much she has grown, learned, and matured. She has certainly learned enough not to trust Littlefinger. “What do you want?” she asks him, and he responds with one of the more shocking revelations of the season. “Every time I’m faced with a decision,” he tells her, “I close my eyes and see the same picture. Every time I consider an action, I ask myself: will this action help to make this picture a reality? Pull it out of my mind and into the world? And I only act if the answer is yes.” As he speaks he leans in closer to her, his voice dropping conspiratorially, suggesting that he’s about to confess his love and desire for Sansa. But what is the picture in his head? “A picture of me on the Iron Throne, and you by my side.”



Wow. I’m not surprised or shocked that Littlefinger’s end game will be a play for the crown; I’m gobsmacked that he would say it out loud, and make clear his overweening ambition to Sansa. We’ve always known, as Varys once put it, that Littlefinger would watch the world burn if he could be king over the ashes, but it seems at least a little presumptuous to declare as much when there’s really no path for him to claim the throne outside of outright conquest.

Sansa has learned enough to take everything he says with a boatload of salt, and the moment she pushes him away when he goes in for the kiss made me cheer almost as much as I did when Arya pulled off her disguise. He might have told her that the picture in his head includes her at his side, but Sansa knows too well by now that if he had a choice between the Iron Throne but no Sansa, or Sansa but no Iron Throne, you wouldn’t get the sentence out before he plunked his arse down on the ugly old chair. “It’s a pretty picture,” she says dismissively, and when he points out that he has very publicly allied himself with House Stark, she says, “You’ve declared for other houses before, Lord Baelish. It’s never stopped you from serving yourself.”

I think it’s safe to say that this is the season in which Sansa came into her own (and I may or may not have said “You go, girl!” when she tells him off), but Petyr Baelish is not so easily ignored. “Who should the North rally behind?” he asks her. “The trueborn daughter of Ned and Catelyn Stark of Winterfell? Or a motherless bastard born in the south?” Sowing the seeds of dissension already … I have a feeling that next season will see a lot of that sort of thing.

Maybe Arya will arrive and take care of him.

We then cut to “the motherless bastard born in the south” by way of a quick scene far to the north as Benjen brings Meera and Bran to the Wall. He cannot pass the Wall, he tells them, as it has ancient spells carved into its foundations. “And while it stands,” he says, “the dead cannot pass.” Which raises an interesting question for the coming war: will we see the destruction of the Wall when the Night King and his minions come south in force? Because if they’re just kind of stymied by the Wall, standing there saying “Well, fuck,” that would be a bit anticlimactic.

But having arrived at a weirwood tree, Bran is like an impatient binge-watcher who’s been away from the DVR too long, and just has to get back to the interrupted story of his father. “I’m the Three-Eyed Raven now,” he tells Meera, “I have to be ready for this,” but really, he’s just saying “Let me get back to my stories already!”



Which, let’s admit it, is what we were all thinking, and what we have been thinking since Bran first had his vision of the Tower of Joy. FINALLY, we basically have confirmation of the most pervasive fan theory about Jon Snow’s parentage. Or … well, mostly.

To back up a moment for those casual viewers who somehow missed all the hints (but honestly, I doubt that any of those strange creatures would be reading this blog), it’s always been suggested that Jon Snow is not, in fact, Ned Stark’s son. Rather, it’s believed by almost everyone now that he is in fact the child of Rhaegar Targaryen (Daenerys’ brother) and Lyanna Stark—the latter of whom we see in this scene. The “official” narrative put about after Robert Baratheon took the throne was that Rhaegar kidnapped and raped Lyanna, and that she died from his abuse. Is however more popularly believed (and there are a lot more hints to this effect in the novels than in the show) that Rhaegar did not kidnap Lyanna; that the two of them were in fact in love, and she willingly ran off with him; and furthermore that the child she births in the Tower of Joy is Jon Snow, whom Ned pretends—at Lyanna’s desperate plea—to be his own bastard fathered on a nameless woman in the south.



This he does to protect Jon. Remember, the Targaryen dynasty is toppled, and Robert Baratheon has a very acute and specific loathing for them—he sends assassins after Viserys and Daenerys, and later Ned attempts to resign the Handship when Robert tries to have Daenerys murdered. Anyone with Targaryen blood would be a threat to the crown, and therefore in danger.

It is one of the sticking-points of Ned’s character in the novels that Mr. Honour would have dishonoured himself and his new bride (he married Catelyn to cement the allegiance between Houses Stark and Tully) by fathering and acknowledging an illegitimate son. It is the one grievance held by Catelyn in their marriage. If you’ll recall, way back at the start of season one, just as Ned heads south to King’s Landing and Jon heads north to the Wall, Ned promises that when he sees Jon next, they’ll have a long and serious talk. Presumably, he meant to reveal to him his parentage.

But of course, Joffrey put an end to that when he peremptorily decided to execute Ned rather than let him take the black. Can Qyburn resurrect him too, so that Arya can kill him all over again?

Of course, the scene does not unequivocally establish, as the equation on the interwebs has gone, that R + L = J. We don’t hear what Lyanna whispers to Ned, but the graphic match edit that cuts from the face of the baby to that of Jon Snow makes it pretty damn clear that he’s not Ned’s son, but Lyanna’s. The scene that follows, in which the northern houses pledge their loyalty to the new King in the North, plays a little ironically on what we now know. Littlefinger has planted the first seed of doubt for Sansa, and we see her smile fade when she meets his gaze at the end of the scene. The North rallies around a “motherless bastard” whom they all assume is Ned Stark’s son; but we (think we) know that he is in reality equal parts Stark and Targaryen, which would seem to signal that he will be one head of the three-headed dragon when Daenerys finds out his parentage and discovers that he is, in fact, her nephew.



Which probably means she’ll marry him. To paraphrase something Sterling Archer once said, Westeros sometimes seems like the Alabama of fantasy worlds.

I love that it’s everyone’s new favourite character, Lyanna Mormont, who consolidates Jon’s leadership. As the crowd grumbles and rumbles, we get a quick shot of Littlefinger’s calculating expression, and Jon’s own blank one as he peers out over the room. But young Lyanna isn’t taking anyone’s shit, and calls out all the other lords who did not stand with the Starks against the Boltons. The scene ends with a callback to season one, when all of Robb Stark’s bannermen acclaim him “King in the North.” It’s a stirring scene, but also a worrisome one, for that very reason … and because we don’t quite know how to interpret the look that passes between Sansa and Littlefinger.

From the King in the North to the Queen in the South—Jaime Lannister rides up to King’s Landing and is treated to the sight of smoke rising over the city, and the episode ends with images of rival queens.

Take us home, Nikki.

Nikki: I have my money on Daenerys and Podrick, for the record. Ahem.

Yes, I agree that the scene of all of the houses of the North chanting, “King in the North!” was meant to hearken back to Jon Snow’s brother — er... cousin? — Robb when he was proclaimed the same.



While Daenerys, Cersei, and Littlefinger have their eye on the Iron Throne, Jon is looking no further than to unite the north and help lead them in their battle to defeat the white walkers. Cersei and Daenerys don’t have a clue about the white walkers, so they can continue their little battle to the south, but for now, they have a much bigger problem on their hands in the north. And if the white walkers manage to get past them... gods help those who live in warmer climes. The problem is, he’s seen them — as far as the other houses are concerned, the white walkers are just bogeymen they use to scare their children out of staying in their beds at night. He’s going to have his work cut out for them on that front, but he can’t even get them to unite behind him. They all grumble and complain about the winter coming, and since no one thought to put winter chains on their horses’ hoofs they’re itching to get home right now. And as you said, Chris, it’s Lyanna Mormont — Lyanna Stark’s namesake, we shouldn’t forget — who stands up and tells off the room. Here is a room full of the leaders of ancient houses, of Free Folk and warriors, of men who just fought in a battle and who are now weary, all arguing amongst themselves, and sitting in the middle, quietly surveying the room, is a 10-year-old girl.



Let’s just ponder that for a second: she’s 10. The first time we heard of her was last season, when Stannis was at Castle Black and trying to get the northern houses to rally around him, and Lyanna sent a raven to him basically telling him to fuck right off, that she would only bend at the knee for House Stark. And she has stayed absolutely true to her word. She stands up and reminds the first dissenter, Manderly, that his son had been killed at the Red Wedding. “But you refused the call.” She then turns to Glover, and reminds him that despite his fealty to House Stark, “In their hour of need, you refused the call.” Then she turns to the young head of House Cerwyn, and tells him that his father had been flayed by Ramsay. “Still, you refused the call.”

“But House Mormont remembers. THE NORTH REMEMBERS. We know no king but the king in the north whose name is Stark. I don’t care if he’s a bastard, Ned Stark’s blood runs through his veins. He’s my king, from this day until his last day.” And then she sits. YAAAAAAASSSSSS!!!!! Oh how I love this young woman. All these men do is fight in every meeting, and then a girl stands up, tells them exactly who each one of them is (and she’s right on all counts, including suggesting that Stark blood runs in Jon’s veins), and they begin to respond, and agree they’ve all been pretty shit at running the houses of the north, and that they should have bent the knee to Jon Snow long ago. Jon just looks gobsmacked, like he doesn’t know where this girl came from but maybe SHE should run the North.

Fiercest 10-year-old EVER.

And then Jaime returns to King’s Landing to see it burning to the ground, and his face is a mix of shock, confusion, and “Oh my god, she didn’t” all over it.

We cut to Cersei Lannister walking solemnly and singlemindedly into the throne room, marching straight for the throne with purpose. And can I just pause to comment on that outfit? I don’t know what sort of Badass Queens R Us boutique just showed up in King’s Landing, but I’m so glad she opened an account there. Black leather dress punctured with holes that make it look like metal studs are over it, with actual metal shoulder pads and a chain connecting them in the front, that outfit was ca-ray-zee, and SO PERFECT for this moment. “The Rains of Castamere” begins playing somberly in the background as Jaime wanders into the gallery, and listens to Qyburn make the announcement. “I now proclaim Cersei of the House Lannister, first of her name, queen of the Andals and the First Men, protector of the Seven Kingdoms.” Some people die on battlefields to become the ruler of Westeros. Some are simply born into it. Others burn down the whole fucking city and walk into the room.



As she sits on the Iron Throne and glances over to the gallery and sees Jaime standing there, her face doesn’t change at all. And we know what he must be thinking: his son is dead. The only way Cersei could be sitting on that throne is if their son is dead. What a way to find out you no longer have any children. And not only that, but there’s nothing behind her eyes but complete deadness. He knows the Cersei he has loved for so long is gone, and what is left is this black-leather-clad person who once loved him and their children. Now all she has is that throne.




And, as I wrote in my notes, “Don’t worry, Cersei, Daenerys will soon be there to ruin everything.” For here she comes, riding across the waves in the fleet of ships that Yara and Theon brought to her.

Long ago, when Robert Baratheon wanted to have Daenerys killed because he found out she was pregnant, Ned Stark talked him out of it. He said there was nothing to fear with the Dothraki, because, as he said, “I’ll fear the Dothraki the day they teach their hoses to run on water.”

They didn’t have to teach them to run on water; they’ve simply boarded them onto the ships that are now making their way over to King’s Landing.



As the majestic music swirls over this glorious final scene, we see the Greyjoys and their armies on the ships, we see the Dothraki and the Unsullied steering others, and we pan up into the sky to see Drogon, Rhaegal, and Viserion flying freely over the water, where we finally zero in on the front ship, where Daenerys stands proudly at the prow, Tyrion by her side, and Varys and Missandei right behind her.



Winter has come to the North, and fire is coming to the South.

And with that, we end what is probably the best episode of Game of Thrones ever... and now we have to wait another 10 months for more. Uggggghhhhh... What will be next? Will Arya come straight to Winterfell or will she sneak her way through the countryside, being the girl of many faces? Or could she come to Winterfell not as Arya but as another person, just to check up on her family and see where their loyalties still lie? Speaking of loyalties, will Sansa remain loyal to Jon Snow or could there be dissension between the two? After all, he was named King of the North when she is actually the true heir of Ned and Catelyn’s (as far as they’re concerned) and she was the one who brought the army that won back Winterfell. What will happen between Jaime and Cersei? He already killed one mad monarch for threatening to burn down King’s Landing — will he be forced to kill another for actually following through with it? The Sand Snakes weren’t on any of the ships; are they going to be pulled out as Olenna’s wild card later in the game?

All of these questions and many more will be answered... in approximately 300 more days. Sigh.

Thank you to everyone for reading our posts week after week, especially this 8600-word one (yeesh). And thank you, as always, to my partner Christopher Lockett, who peppers his brilliant commentary with phrases like “formal burlap” that have me spit out my tea laughing every time we pass these back and forth. I can’t believe we’ve already come to the end of another season. Until next time, Valar Morghulis.