This season has been a very odd one. You had shockers, slowness and major divergence from the books. Yet this particular episode delivered on a variety of levels especially on the emotional level.
We start off at the Wall where Jon Snow departs with the Wildlings to attempt to get them to unite with the Night’s Watch and possibly aid in Stannis’ upcoming battle with the Boltons. We get another close up of Jon Snow hugging Sam, which reminds me quite a bit of the scene in the second episode where he hugs his half brother Robb Stark. Could that be foreshadowing Sam’s fate?
In the meantime, Ser Alliser Thorne is given command over Castle Black until Jon Snow’s returns. Jon Snow’s actions provides a great deal of doubt with many of the men in the Night Watch as well as isolating Sam from his biggest ally.
Meanwhile, back at Winterfell Sansa and Reek/Theon Greyjoy are seen in Sansa’s bed chambers where we see the abused Sansa make an attempt to appeal to Theon to aid her. I felt this scene was incredibly emotional from both Theon and Sansa as both are absolutely terrified of Ramsay Snow/Bolton. Sansa desperately tries to get Theon to reveal what Ramsay did to him yet he tries to slink off even though she finally manages to get him to agree to aid her.
However, it turns out that Theon does the opposite. We see Brienne awaiting a sign from the forlorn tower and return to Sansa and Ramsay as Ramsay explicates the upcoming hazards that will create a major advantage for the northern born Boltons and a huge disadvantage for the approaching Stannis with his sell swords. However, Sansa manages to push a tense part of Ramsay with the allusion to Walda Frey’s pregnancy. Ramsay does detect her attempt at manipulating his emotions and counters by showing Sansa the results of her attempt at fleeing Winterfell via the flayed woman who was providing her information.
From Stannis’ situation, we see that, indeed, Ramsay’s words are quite poignant as the men suffer in their inexorable death march to Winterfell. Davos attempts to convince Stannis of their impediments along with the casualty of one group leaving. However, Stannis sees a bigger picture with the incoming winter and threat of the White Walkers. Still he has doubts about this path and questions Melisandre’s visions and faith even. She suggests using his daughter for her blood as a sacrifice to defeat the Boltons but Stannis remonstrates the priestess because of his care as a father.
Back at the Wall, Maester Aemon dies from sickness and probably old age, leaving Samwell without any allies nor friends outside of Gilly. In turn, the ravenous, former hoodlums inside the Night’s Watch turn their lustful eyes at Gilly, knowing that Samwell is no real threat. He tries unsuccessfully to defend her and ends up suffering a horrible beatdown before Ghost makes his triumphant return to defend the pair (and disappears again). Thereafter, Samwell finally gets his turn at some reward.
Back over the Narrow Sea, Tyrion and Ser Jorah are sold to the fighting pits. Tyrion demonstrates some remarkable fighting prowess and his voyage continues with Jorah. That was a pretty unexpected turn around, although we do have to remember that Tyrion now has partaken in a few battles himself and has his share of experience.
Over in Dorne, Myrcella confronts Jamie who apologizes for his treatment of Trystane. Myrcella is confused by his appearance and it’s clear that her life had changed when she arrived in Dorne. At the same time, you can see the pain on Jamie’s face, realizing that Myrcella is his child and that he can do little without exposing whom he is (along with Cersei) to her.
In the cells, Bran sings but we find out that the nick he received on his arm the previous week wasn’t unintentional. Tyene indicates that she has poisoned him and gets him to admit that she is the most beautiful woman in the world to trade for his life via a cure she has on her. Bran seems safe for the time being.
At King’s Landing, Lady Olenna Tyrell makes an appeal to the High Sparrow. This is a bizarre scene that shows more character to the High Sparrow than in previous episodes. Supposedly, from this scene we can gather that the High Sparrow is nothing more than a highly pious yet plain man. His only apparent motivation is serving the Gods and bringing correct justice to the world. Despite her political savvy, Lady Olenna’s charms and maneuverings are not enough to convince the High Sparrow from conducting a trial over her two children.
Outside of the Septon, Lady Olenna receives a summons from none other than Littlefinger. This is without a doubt one of the most intriguing parts of the episode as we finally see Littlefinger fess up to his scheming with Lady Olenna. But Lady Olenna is extremely clever and can easily hold her own, maybe even have a point or two above Littlefinger. Yet he provides a counter to her threats of essentially burning the whole ship down by giving her another informant.
Back in Mereen, Dany is with Hizdahr zo Loraq in being shown samples for the fighting pits. Hizdahr mentions that there will be a grandeur one coming up and that this is just a preview. Jorah eventually goes out and bashes everyone into unconsciousness, appeasing Dany who doesn’t immediately recognize him due to his helmet. However, when he removes his helmet, she instantly disdains him until Tyrion unveils himself as The Gift and tells her his family name.
In King’s Landing, Cersei has a moment with the confused and emotionally distressed Tommen, who swears to start a war in retrieving his wife. Cersei attempts to assuage him with reassurances that she will right the crimes against Margaery and Loras in speaking directly with the High Sparrow. But in an odd moment, we see that despite her cruelty she still remains a highly protective mother.
Next, Cersei goes to visit Margaery which turns into a reprisal from the earlier insults Margaery had thrown to her. The entire time Cersei mocks Margaery with fake sympathy while Margaery remains strong and reveals how she sees through Cersei’s falsehood. When Cersei exits the cells, she speaks with the High Sparrow only to have the tide turned against her as Lancel reveals himself and his discrete affairs with Cersei. As a result, the Sparrows toss Cersei into a Black Cell herself.
I have to say that this episode is by far the best episode of the season thus far. Without a doubt, this episode was a rollercoaster of emotional ups and downs. We see heroisms from the likes of Samwell and Jorah to the hardships of Sansa, Theon and Margaery. And we see the ultimate payoff where Cersei finally has been caught in her own web of deception. Once again, the web has exploded with the huge pay off in Cersei’s imprisonment, which should continue a bit longer (I’ll leave what happens to her for a later time).
While there’s been quite a bit of pay off both in terms of big things and small things, we’re still left with three episodes for the season to go and the show certainly has not lost any momentum. If anything, we’re right now on the peak awaiting that huge moment, which at this stage feels will occur at episode 9 (typically where the big moments happen).
The previews for episode 8 focus on four areas in Jon Snow’s story with the Wildlings, Sansa/Theon Greyjoy’s ongoing struggle in Winterfell as hostages to the Boltons, Cersei’s status as a prisoner of the Sparrows and Dany handling Jorah and possibly Tyrion. There could be a lot more packed in such as Stannis’ continued march to Winterfell, Jamie’s situation in Dorne along with the Sand Snakes and possibly more of Samwell-Gilly. If anything it’ll be the mega setup for the explosion in episode 9, which I predict as the title suggests will be the reopening of the Fighting Pits in Mereen.
Since Maester Aemon died in this episode, I figured that Samwell’s story to go to the Citadel won’t occur this season. It’s really far too late for that to happen, although there was a hint dropped for him to head South. Originally, Samwell receives orders from Jon to go to the Citadel to receive his training as a Maester. Perhaps, that might still occur but at this very second, Jon is attempting to rally the Wildlings to Castle Black. There’s a huge story that in itself so it’s anyone’s guess if they’ll do the entire arc or do Jon’s ending from A Dance of Dragons in this season. My gut feeling is that they could possibly short cut the whole thing since in all honesty the Wildlings story at Castle Black is plodding and that Stannis already has started his march to Winterfell. Maybe he’ll be quickly successful in convincing the Wildlings to return with him and get Sam to head to the Citadel.
Still, one of the key points between Samwell and Jon’s exchange before Jon leaves is that Samwell provides Jon with Dragon Glass. There’s a good chance that in the last episode en route to Castle Black, Jon encounters White Walkers. However, all indicators point towards a mutiny as more men distrust Jon Snow.
Another thing that I’m hoping for that may not happen this season is the upcoming encounter with Stannis and the Boltons. Of course, we don’t see any encounter in the books and can only presume that they meet in the upcoming Winds of Winter novel. However, it would be a major shame if this season did not provide an epic encounter and a fight between Stannis and the Boltons seems in order. Still the writers might attempt to buy George RR Martin some time to finish his book by giving us that fight next season since the outcome of that battle is such a massive spoiler to the books. Honestly, I don’t think the outcome matters at this point as the TV show will most likely finish before the last book is published.
Now, probably one of the biggest pay offs we finally get to see is the encounter between Tyrion and Dany. I have to admit that Dany’s storyline is really hit and miss. Sometimes it grabs my attention but it feels too distant to be relevant to anything. With Tyrion in the fold, we finally make one of the major connections between her isolated plotline to the events going on in Westeros.
Part of the problem with Dany’s storyline is that she’s completely cut off from the world of Westeros with the exception of the little information Jorah and Barriston Selmy had fed her up until this point. Even then Barriston and Jorah were feeding her historical information, not current news. This is where Tyrion enters as he has probably the best knowledge of all the politics of the Seven Kingdoms, history and temperament.
So far, we see Dany as someone who trusts few people but has been hurt by many and has a difficult to near impossible time discerning where she can put her real bets. We have to remind ourselves that Dany is still a teenage girl, although intelligent due to her education by various advisers, yet lacking in experience and more worldly matters. Everything she does is through the narrow window of experience she has encountered, gut instinct and her heart.
With Tyrion by her side, it’s almost like being one of the few people in the kingdom with a laptop, internet and access to Wikipedia. There’s so many possibilities when one of the heaviest hitters around meets up with such a power player. It’s going to be exciting to see how the two interact.
And without a doubt the other mega pay off is Cersei’s imprisonment. No doubt non-book readers have been waiting for years to see Cersei get hers. And this is just the start. Despite her ineptitude as a leader, I do want to call attention to her motives starting from the prophecy scene and the way she interacts with Tommen. At her core, Cersei is a caring mother, the thing Tyrion describes as her “one redeeming quality…That and her cheekbones.” But it’s easy as an audience member to forget that quality since Cersei bumbles around in having such an overreactive personality. You really have to give credit to Lena Headey to bring more life to Cersei than the way the book portrays her as a shallow, empty headed one dimensional person.
For myself, I think the big pay off for me was seeing Samwell getting his with Gilly. That to me was a huge emotional thing because Samwell is the perpetual underdog. Although we commonly see the underdog in stories make come backs, we don’t see that with Samwell and are left to our imaginations whether or not he would’ve succeeded in fending off the two potential rapists from Gilly. If anything he gets one of the few happy scenes in this story that made my night.
Sansa and Theon too made me feel incredible pity for them both. They’re in such an awful situation as psychologically scorched people, being taunted constantly by a ruthless psychopath. However, we do see some growing strength inside of Sansa as she’s now a desperate woman and trying to find options to become free. I don’t know if she realizes that her ally is Brienne (which is an awesome ally nevertheless) but I do think she’s starting to see the necessity of why she must fight as a Stark of Winterfell. She might not see the larger picture yet.
Theon too is horribly scarred. He has lost everything meaningful to him and his only instinct is raw survival at this stage. That’s why he “proves” his loyalty once again to Ramsay. The question is what will change him back from Reek to Theon? What will give him the courage to revert and re-discover whom he is? Of course, book readers know what that thing is, but what exactly does that thing mean? What is he holding onto outside of pure fear?
Let’s talk about the Littlefinger part. Littlefinger is such an underplayed yet critical character. I think part of his story is one about ascension and how the plays become riskier and more difficult as you take each step. Here, Lady Olenna recognizes his treacherous nature and doesn’t hide her disdain for what he represents. Yet he makes another play right in front of her by giving Lancel to her in uprooting Cersei.
While the conversation between Olenna and Littlefinger alludes to a statement he made in earlier seasons about his alliance, the thing I’m uncertain of still is whether or not the Tyrells were, indeed, the people he mentioned. The key word that I will continue to point out is that the gender of the friend in his speech on the ladder of chaos was that of a male. Olenna and the Tyrells seem more like a convenient than a bigger ally that Littlefinger seems to have paired himself with. So again, I have to beg the question: who is this ally? My only guesses thus far are the White Walkers, the Iron Bank and the Gods. Littlefinger doesn’t just go for petty alliances, he wants the whole thing. And the plays keep getting more dangerous.
That connects to Tommen’s speech about starting a war over his beloved Margaery. Tommen is a far kinder king than Joffrey but still a fool, which was reminiscent in how he screamed, “I am the king!” If he starts a war within King’s Landing between the Sparrows and the royal army, then the country side might follow, given that the positions the Sparrows assume are that of the common people (which are the Many as according to the High Sparrow) and the royalty (which are the few).
Seeing that Littlefinger is subtly motivating all these pieces into place, the ultimate answer once again is the sheer devastation of the kingdom through perpetual war between everyone, which is what I think he wants. Again, my hypothesis points to the collision between men and the White Walkers where the men inadvertently feed the White Walkers with tons of unburnt bodies as the harsh winter quickly approaches through these petty battles. And when that happens, only those with information like Jon Snow, Stannis and possibly Littlefinger will be able to react in time.
In Stannis’ case, he does see part of the picture but he only views war and unbent justice as the answer to everything. And he’s been warned by Jon Snow of the White Walkers, but without seeing concrete proof of what the White Walkers are capable of, he probably doesn’t know how to execute on his plan. Instead, he believes that a proper crown through domination of his enemies and proclamation as the ruler will give him enough power and voice to gain the trust of others to his cause.
What about Jon Snow in all of this? What exactly has he been doing all this time? It feels as though he merely goes from place to place without much rhyme nor reason except to perform his duty as appropriate for the Night’s Watch. I think his main story arc is about him training to learn how to lead. He must learn humility and level up (so to speak) through gaining things with his own hands. He’s had his mentors in various epic characters and all of them die in some manner. But I think as each character passes, he learns something from their demise in what leadership means both for success and failure. Probably, the most distant story arc is between Dany and Jon Snow. Neither have any real connection, except now with Lord Tyrion by Dany’s side and Jorah Mormont as the son of the former Lord Commander.
At any rate, what an episode tonight was! I’m pretty pumped and feel the momentum in full gear and cannot wait until next week’s episode!