The North – Jon has reached critical pouting levels!
Jon sets off on his little solo mission to find Mance Rider and ask him to stop all this nasty killing. He finds the Wildlings and surrenders, unarmed and hands in the air. He meets with Mance to negotiate – and Mance is all sad at Jon lying to him about being loyal when faced with torture and death. Funny how you can’t trust people under those conditions, isn’t it? Jon protests he was loyal – just not to Mance. Mance brings up Ygritte just to remind us of the angst and they decide to drink to her
Hey, this is how you win – find the names of the 8 squillion wildlings who died and when they drink to them all wait until they die of liver failure!
They drink (Jon, “it’s not wine”, “it’s a proper northern drink.” Is this the part where he accuses the southerners of drinking shandy?)
They then drink to Grenn and the dead giant (the giant’s last king). I think my liver poisoning strategy might work. Anyway Jon claims there are lots of Nights Watch, Mance calls bullshit on that, reveals his strategy (for honesty) and adds he doesn’t actually want to conquer. He wants his people to hide behind the wall, just like Jon does. So Mance’s bargain – open the gates and everyone gets to live. Mance then realises that Jon is here for assassination but he doubts Jon would do it – kill a man in cold blood after a peace offer? Far too much dishonour (Jon is a Stark after all. Now if he were a Lannister, the knife would be out. If he were a Tyrell Mance would be on his side and not even know it).
An alarm sounds, interrupting them – the Wildlings are under attack by a huge army of cavalry (who charge the wildlings… in the forest. Which sounds really cool but cavalry + forests vs Infantry = dead horses). The wildlings are attacked from two directions and we have a nifty battle scene among the trees while Mance looks thoroughly confused. He orders his men to stand down sticking to what he said earlier – his people have bled enough
His attacker is Stannis. (The Pouty vs The Dour. Smiles are verboten!) Mance throws away his weapons but draws the line at kneeling – that’s the Wildling thing, they do not kneel. Finding who Jon is, Stannis asks Jon’s opinion on what to do; Jon being super honourable and remembering Mance treated him well when he was a prisoner, calls for Mance to be imprisoned and listened to. Jon also warns Stannis to burn the dead before they rise – hey Stannis likes fire.
The Nights Watch have their funeral, Mellisandre being all spooky over the funeral pyres. Jon offers the captured Tommen chance to say his own words over the Wildling dead, but it’s not their way – but it does get more Ygritte angst. Which leads to Jon burning her body north of the wall, per Tommen’s request.
Meanwhile, north of the wall, Bran, Hodor, Meera and Jojen reach their destination – a hugely impressive tree in the frozen wasteland. Wonderful triumphant moment interrupted by awesome CGI skeletons attacking. Seeing sweet, gentle Hodor being overwhelmed by them, Bran possess him – reminding us all that sweet, gentle Hodor is also immensely strong. In the fight, a Jojen is stabbed repeatedly and two skeletons nearly reach Bran – but are killed by fireballs.
Fireballs? We’re definitely getting High Fantasy here. Someone who looks like a young girl dressed in leaves calls them to her. She’s a Child of the Forest. The Child tells Meera to abandon Jojen and he agrees – she kills Jojen, a mercy killing (the Child incinerates the body), and tearfully follows them to the cave. The skeletons chasing them shatter when they pass the cave entrance.
The Child takes them to the centre of the root-filled cave (which is incredibly eerie). Among the roots is a very old man who Bran greets as the Three Eyed Raven, he has lots of cryptic knowledge – including that Jojen knew he would die and that Bran will fly.
Sure, if he goes to the Eyrie.
On the Way to the Eyrie
Brienne and Podrick are still awesome together and the horses have gone missing. This is probably Poderick’s fault. In between berating them she sees Arya practicing her sword forms. And Arya is so eager to talk to Brienne – a woman with a sword (who thought jaded Arya could be eager about anything any more?)
Then The Hound appears – and Pod recognises him and Brienne realises who Arya is. Brienne tells Arya about her oath and how she wishes she could have protected Catelyn – Arya, being Arya, questions why she didn’t – and the Hound suspects her of being paid by the Lannisters and it’s hard to argue otherwise when she has a Lannister sword – Arya doesn’t trust her. And the is willing to fight for Arya – and scorns Brienne when she talks about safety – Arya’s whole family is dead and Winterfell is destroyed, what safety does Arya have. If Brienne doesn’t realise this, she isn’t the one to watch over her
The two fight (NOOOOOOOOOOO! NO NO! You two can’t fight! Noooooooo!) and Brienne wins. And he grabs her blade – he’s not a knight and he doesn’t fight fancy. Sword fighting becomes a brawl and it’s messy and it’s brutal and it’s really horrible until a really pissed off Brienne punches the Hound over a cliff. Brienne won again. Brienne staggers to her feet – but Arya is hiding from her and doesn’t come when called.
She seeks out the severely wounded Hound – he’s not only hurt, he seems to be dying and has a compound leg fracture. He does note he has been killed by a woman – he tells her to go after Arya, she won’t last alone. “I’ll last longer than you.” Ouch. He asks her to finish him off, strike a name off her list and tries to goad her into it. Her facial expression is just stone – not even hard, completely unchanging, unmoved (quality acting there) and more than a little terrifying. After goading fails, he begs her. Again, her face doesn’t change even as he gets tearful. She stands. She takes his money. She walks away.
She rides off alone until she finds a ship – it doesn’t go North but when she hears it is going to Braavos she shows her coin and repeats “Valar Moghulis” to the captain. She is treated like an honoured guest and welcomed on board
The Mountain is still alive – but not doing well. Not only did Oberyn inflict several nasty wounds, but he also poisoned his spear. The Grand Maester declares him beyond saving, but Cersei’s pet disgraced Maester thinks he can save the Mountain though the process may change him (since it won’t weaken him, Cersei doesn’t care).
Cersei goes to daddy Tywin to argue about being married off to Loras, he tries to bully her into it (especially since Jaime won’t produce a Lannister heir) but Cersei is not having it, not this time. She reminds him she was once willing to poison Tommen rather than let someone take him from her. Two of her kids have already been taken from her – and she’s not seeing her son be torn apart by Margaery and Tywin, even if she has to destroy House Lannister to stop it. And how will she do that? By confessing that the rumours are true – that Jaime is the father of her children. Which is a double shock to Tywin who is the one person in Westeros who didn’t know.
From there she goes to see Jaime who is hella pissed at her for her plotting against Tyrion and cannot begin to understand Cersei actually blaming Tyrion for killing their mother (their mother died giving birth to Tyrion). She then kisses him (Noooo! can we not have Cersei kissing her rapist. No no no, let us not do that) and tells him about the little bombshell she dropped on daddy dearest who she doesn’t love anyway (and, by implication, rejects as family, just as she rejects Tyrion. Family is what Cersei chooses) – she loves her brother and her lover who are the same person of course. They have sex on the table
That night Jaime rescues Tyrion (aided by Varys – of course. He would never support Tyrion openly, but Varys always works in the shadows). Jaime shows Tyrion the way out and they make their goodbyes. But Tyrion doesn’t escape, he makes his way to his father’s bedroom and finds Shae in his bed. She tries to stab him and they fight – Tyrion strangles her, crying as he does so. When she’s dead, he apologises.
Then he gets angry and he sees a crossbow. He takes it to the toilet (or garderobe I guess) where his father is… occupied. Tywin tries to talk Tyrion down – he respects Tyrion’s will to live, to fight for what’s his and even if he wanted Tyrion die, he’d never allow a Lannister to be executed. He dismisses the death of Shae as “just a whore”, and keeps calling Tyrion son (probably for the first time in a long time). The next time he calls Shae a whore, Tyrion shoots him. Tywin tries to take back the son thing, but Tyrion claims it – and shoots Tywin again. Lethally.
Varys helps him escape by ship
Daenerys is getting another lesson in rulership from a subject, Fennesz, a former slave and tutor. He lives on the streets and the mess halls she’s set up to feed and house the ex-slaves are places where the elderly like Fennesz are easily preyed on by the young. Besides. Fennesz is an educated man, a skilled man – he doesn’t want to just live on Daenerys’s charity, he’s a teacher. He actually wants to be sold back to his master where he had a purpose and didn’t live in squalor – he isn’t the only one either. Deciding the name of freedom means freedom of choice, she agrees – but limits the contract to one year only. Baristan warns her this is just slavery by the back door
But the next drama is sadder – her dragons have been bad again. This time the victim isn’t a goat – it’s a child. A 3 year old girl. Daenerys also finds her biggest dragger, Drogon, is missing. She takes her two smaller dragons into the catacombs and, crying, she chains them up. Sobbing, she closes the door on them
There was some… shockingly good acting this episode. My gods there was. I think the general theme of the episode is loss. It’s of everything falling apart – the death count alone (Shae, Tywin, Jojen, the Hound.) But so much more, Cersei is threatening to destroy House Lannister, Arya almost epitomises the near annihilation of House Stark, Daenerys’s rule is harder and shakier and even her ideals are crumbling, Tyrion has lost pretty much everything and even Brienne’s quest, her last purpose, falls apart when the person she was sent to rescue hid from her. It’s all falling apart.
This episode does an incredible job of finishing off or capping stories that have been building for the whole season – it has been a season for truly excellent character development for many of the main characters.
And all that loss is underscored with the battle in the North, the fear of the Wildlings and the dead that walk – meaning it all may be moot anyway. But also suggesting that maybe Stannis the Dour may be the best king after all. Whatever criticism we can level at him, Stannis took that army, that chance to win the throne, and took it north. Not for personal ambition, but for the greater good – can we say the same about any of the royal claimants?
Tywin: I summed up perfectly by Cersei – he doesn’t see his real family, only the idea of the Lannister name. Ever since his somewhat pyrrhic feeling victory in the first episode it has been clear that Tywin could win the battle but not the war. In the end it wasn’t the Tyrells who out manoeuvred him, it was his inability to understand his own family. He never understood Jaime’s values, he never respected Cersei and he never valued Tyrion – he played with his family as if they were pieces on a board and step by step they defied him, rebelled against him, plotted against each other, threatened the entire future of the family and, ultimately, killed him. Tywin was a capable strategist but he was an awful father and, with the Lannisters so friendless, family was the thing he needed to rely on. He always made the point that family was so important but he grossly mismanaged that resource.
Cersei: she has lost everything. She lost Joffrey. She lost Mycella. She’s lost all power and influence, being outmanoeuvred by Tyrion, Margaery and being sidelined by Tywin. And now Tywin will take her last child from her – and Jaime. Cersei is desperate, we’ve seen her bitterness and anger develop for seasons now but she’s reached her last straw – she pulls out the nuclear option. She quite literally has nothing left to lose. Cersei is a desperate woman, an angry woman and still a very dangerous woman.
Daenerys: faces her own loss – but her loss is, in some ways, a maturation. This whole season has been about slapping Daenerys upside the head with some severe reality. You don’t just conquer a city and move on and expect it to form a government to your liking. You don’t just end slavery by declaring it over while making no real societal provisions for its replacement. You can’t just kill things and declare it all good – ruling is not that damn simple. Nor can you treat your baby dragons like pets as they get bigger and not realise there would be consequences. Daenerys had warnings, she didn’t listen because she clung to her ideals and her wish of how she wanted the world to be. Even losing Ser Jorah, while understandable, was testament to Daenerys’s naivety and unwillingness to accept politics.
The Hound: “You aren’t the one to watch over her.” He is. And he was – is there any denying by the end there that, despite all protests to the contrary, he cared for Arya? We all saw it and it was wonderful to see confirmed
Arya: but he did had the final pieces to Arya’s apprenticeship. Arya has been hardened over the series with loss after loss, facing death and brutality up close and constantly having hope snatched out from under her – she didn’t make it to the Wall to be with Jon, she didn’t make it to Winterfell which was destroyed, she didn’t make it to Robb before the Red Wedding and just as she makes it to the Eyrie, she learns Lysa was killed. Is it any wonder she breaks into hysterical laughter? It’s a big cosmic joke against her. With the Hound adding his own harsh realism to Arya’s brutal experiences she becomes harder and colder until that horrifying moment with her watching the Hound suffer without a twitch of expression. Is it any wonder she doesn’t trust Brienne? For that matter, even if she did, is it any wonder she doesn’t think Brienne, with her honour and her goodness, is worth following? Someone so good and noble is just a mockery to Arya now.
Brienne and Jaime I put together because I think they both have a common thread – they’re both chasing a fantasy. Not just fantasies, they’re both chasing absurdities. Jaime is still hoping to be the good and honourable and renowned kings guard – despite the fact he’s the king slayer, despite the fact his disability has severely reduced is legendary sword skill, despite the fact he will never ever be renowned as a good man. It’s absurd. And Brienne? She’s chasing dreams of knighthood – of honour and chivalry and a whole lot of nonsense that was probably never true – but is almost obscene in its ridiculousness since the carnage of the war (which is, frankly, kind of ridiculously over the top as well) began. Everyone she swore loyalty to is dead but she keeps offering up those oaths because as a noble knight she NEEDS a liege and a quest. And that quest? A promise to a dead woman to find girls who may be dead and don’t want or need help and bring them to a place of safety that doesn’t even exist. An absurdity.
Tyrion’s Arc is something we’ve already discussed – he has lost more and more and more as his privilege and illusions have been stripped from him leaving him only vulnerable, angry and ready to lash back.
There’s one character who wasn’t on this episode whose arc also needs a mention: Sansa. Sansa who has faced fear, abuse and disappointment time after time after time and, like Arya, has changed. While Arya has become something terrifying Sansa herself has become rather scary herself. Tired of people playing the game round her, maybe even resentful of the innocent upbringing that left her so ill prepared, Sansa is now going to play the game. And she’s playing it against Baelish – and she may actually win.
Now among all that awesome, let’s hit the big glaring awful. Marginalised characters.
On POC we have Missendei and Grey Worm and the Dornish contingent. And, hey, speaking parts and more than people that worship the ground Daenerys walks on (well, not all of them anyway). This is the very definition of faint praise. They speak, they have a shred of their own character, but are still servants. And they have, at best, a shred of characterisation. But they’re teeny tiny parts still. Teeny, tiny, few parts in a cast of about 10 gazillion people it’s glaringly white in terms of both numbers and meaningful screen time. At least Daenerys’s white saviour lady gig is falling apart
And the Dornish? They also brought some bisexual inclusion to the cast and on the face of it Oberyn could have developed into an awesome character. He didn’t. He had orgies, he fought, he died. There were glimmers of more with his talk to Tyrion, but not even that with Ellaria. And then death and disappearance (even the origies kept most of the intimacy between the woman). Other LGBT characters? Loras is in his plot hole – which I’m thankful for because when he’s around he’s a source of constant homophobic “humour” and we have a gay prostitute filling in for the orgies. Maybe Loras should stay in the plot box just to live anyway, is theoretical background lurking and Oliver’s occasional prostitute scenes are going to be the only thing stopping this show being entirely straight.
And the women. Ok, some good: Margaery and Olenna are awesome and also help break the show’s habit of the awesome female characters being Arya, Yara, Meera and Brienne (i.e. ones who eschew the traditional trappings of femininity. Though I have to say a special cheer for Brienne beating the Hound, proving beyond doubt that she is a skilled and lethal fighter taking down one of the most well established skilled warriors on the show) while the others (Sansa, Catelyn, Cersei, Lysa) became more inept, passive and frustrating or very sexualised (Mellisandre, Roz). Sansa is also FINALLY learning and doing more than passively enduring - I understand she has been helpless for so long, but Sansa has annoyed the hell out of me by a) trusting EVERYONE and b) having the learning curve of an Oil Executive at a Climate Change seminar.
And the truly monstrously awful – Cersei was raped. She was raped and not only was the rape excused and hand waved by a lot of the people behind the show, but it was then ignored by the subsequent episodes. And now Cersei has declared her love for Jaime. Her rapist. Who I think we’re still supposed to see as a good guy. No. No. No.
Then throw in the raped and abused at Craster’s keep and it does feel like a lot of rape was thrown into this season for very little actual need or reason.
And Shae – sexualised, victimised, vulnerable and never really pointed out – and now she’s the evil betraying sex worker who got what was coming to her – and Tyrion’s even super sad about it so, what, redeem the murder? There was so little actual exposition of the complexities.
And Ellaria Sands. Or orgy lady. Since that was basically it – she was a named version of the random naked ladies
Game of Thrones is one of those shows with an excellent plot and toweringly awesome characters – but its treatment of marginalised characters is repeatedly, endlessly, inexcusably appalling.