Spoiled & Rotten
After weeks of catching viewers up on all the characters by having them talk a lot without doing much, creator-writers David Benioff and D. B Weiss took off in “Book of the Stranger,” the fourth episode of HBO’s sixth season of its hugely popular Game of Thrones. Based on the best-selling fantasy novel series A Song of Ice and Fire, by George R. R. Martin, season 6 was not written from the highly anticipated 6th novel in the series. Instead, author Martin provided Benioff and Weiss with a detailed outline. That outline seemed to overwhelm the writers initially, as they attempted to set up the storylines of every single character in the show, while introducing new ones (or younger versions of existing characters). But last night’s episode had the writing — and the action — back in stride.
Jon, Sansa, and the
War for Winterfell
Sansa (Sophie Turner), accompanied by her protector Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) and Brienne’s squire Podrick (Daniel Portman), finally arrived at Castle Black, where Sansa was re-united with her brother Jon Snow (Kit Harington).
Though Jon had stepped down as Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, naming Dolorous Edd (Ben Crompton) as his replacement,
Jon had not yet left Castle Black. Sansa convinced him to return to Winterfell and, with an army of Wildlings, to take back their ancestral home from Ramsay Bolton, whose father Roose took the castle and lands after he betrayed and killed Robb Stark.
Accompanied by Brienne, who has proved herself a superior swordsman and a stout defender of the Stark family, Jon and his Wilding army managed to quickly overpower the dissatisfied army of the Boltons.
The hostage, Rickon Stark (Art Parkinson), youngest brother of the Stark family, who no longer looks like this,
but like a taller, thinner, older version of his chubby-cheeked self, was feeling violated by his imprisonment; the beheading of his Dire-Wolf, Shaggy-Dog; and the killing of his Wildling companion and protector, Osha (whom Ramsay had killed in an earlier scene). In a scene that mirrored the one with Osha, where she failed to grab a nearby knife, Rickon managed to snatch a knife from Ramsay (Iwan Rheon) and kill him just as brother Jon and his Wildling army swarmed the castle grounds.
At the death of the notoriously sadistic Ramsay, viewers around the globe cheered, no doubt.
After the monumental battle for Winterfell, which, though shorter due to the episode’s time constraints, was more stunning than the season 5 battle involving the Wildlings, the White Walkers, and the Wights, Jon Snow declared himself, as the oldest surviving son of Ned Stark, the True Warden of the North.
With her brothers’ approval, Sansa declared herself the True (and First of Her Name) Wardeness of the North: she has finally matured enough to be the strong female character viewers have longed for and is no longer looking to men to make her life decisions.
Say, Hallelujah, Brothers and Sisters.
With Sansa’s urging, Jon made plans to lay siege to King’s Landing. Though he didn’t openly declare himself the King of the Iron Throne, Sansa and the others do plan for Jon to become King, especially since Melisandre (Carice van Houten, below) now sees Snow, not Stannis, as the King of her visions.
Melisandre, who re-animated Jon Snow after the Men of the Night’s Watch betrayed and murdered him, once again proved herself a competent Witch and practitioner of That Ol’ Black Magic. After Theon (Alfie Allen), former ward of the House Stark, was roundly castigated for “not being a man” by his sister Yara (Gemma Whelan, below L),
Theon left the Iron Islands and made his way north to the only real home he has ever known: Winterfell.
There, Melisandre restored Theon’s mental acuity if not his missing manhood (I guess there are limits to her powers, after all).
This may be an extremely bittersweet restoration for Theon, who, in one of the more poignant moments of the series, realized that he has loved Sansa ever since he helped her escape from her rapist-husband (and his torturer), Ramsay Bolton.
Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham), who was a smuggler and who is more comfortable on the deck of a ship than on dry land, accepted Theon as his equal — considering Theon’s lack of physical manhood — and, even though they do not need ships to storm King’s Landing, the two became companions and warrior-pals.
That Davos, he’s always had a soft spot for the unfortunate.
Lady Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) is, of course, accompanying Jon Snow to King’s Landing, having her own personal reasons for revenge against the Lannisters, though I cannot, at the moment, recall exactly what they are. Still, she’s too wonderful a character to drop her from the storyline now, so whatever her reasons for continuing to be a Knight and to do battle, I cheer her on.
To Brienne’s consternation, she has become the love object of the Wildling Tormund Giantsbane (Kristofer Hivju), affectionately known by fans, reviewers, and bloggers, as the Ginger Wildling.
I, for one, encourage the writers to explore this fascinating love story. As tall, as powerful, as fierce a warrior, and equally devoted to the Starks (in the form of Jon Snow), the Ginger Wildling is just the man for Brienne: he’ll respect her as a warrior and as a woman.
Brother Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead-Wright), who is also a taller, thinner, older version of his younger, chubby-cheeked self, did not appear in episode 4, but he is, no doubt, still in the Far North, with the Three-Eyed Raven (Max von Sydow, below L),
having visions about the various characters viewers have come to know and love, including Ned Stark, only in younger versions of themselves.
Vox reviewer Matthew Yglesias has speculated that these visions will have something to do with the parentage of Jon Snow: long known as the bastard of Ned Stark, Jon Snow may, instead, his nephew.
According to Yglesias, Jon may be the son of Ned Stark’s sister, Lynna (never in the series), who was ostensibly kidnapped and raped by the Mad King’s son, Rhaegar Targaryen (also not in the series).
But none of that was in Sunday’s episode, so enough about that.
Youngest female Stark, Arya (Maisie Williams, above, center) was also missing from episode 4, but she is, in all likelihood, still in the House of Black and White, with Jaqen H’gar (Tom Wlaschiha, above L), learning to be one of the Faceless Men.
Because, after all, though he be faceless, “a man must have a name.”
The only other Jon Snow compatriot who was not in Sunday’s episode was Sam Tarwell (John Bradley), last seen heading to the Citadel with his Wildling love, Gilly (Hannah Murray), and her baby, Little Sam. No doubt, once Sam discovers that Jon has left the Wall and is heading to King’s Landing, Sam will also go there, if only because he does not really want to be separated from Gilly and Little Sam, and because he wants to become a Grand Maester.
Fans who are attached to Dolorous Edd are probably hoping that he will defect from the Night’s Watch to join Jon, Sam, and the Ginger Wildling.
Led by Jon Snow and Sansa, the Starks have become the pre-eminent family in Westeros, and not just because the House Stark has more living family members than anyone else.
Cersei, Jaime, and
the Battle for King’s Landing
At the end of season 5, after her humiliating Walk of Atonement, Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) was greeted by Maester Qyburn (Anton Lesser, below, center), who presented her with the “newest member of King’s Landing,” none other than the dead-now-reincarnated Ser Gregor Clagane (Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson), also affectionately known as The Mountain, and brother of the now deceased Knight, Ser Sandor Clegane, who was affectionately known as The Hound.
The Mountain has become Cersei’s protector. Unbeknownst to everyone, including Cersei herself and her twin brother and lover Jaime (Nicolaj Coster-Waldau, below L), Ser Gregor retains the power to act independently.
Revealing his long-standing — and secret — love for Cersei to the viewers (in a rare, un-armored moment), but not to the Queen herself,
Ser Gregor made it his mission to eliminate the man who shamed and humiliated Gregor’s Queen and LadyLove: the High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce).
The High Sparrow, meanwhile, was busy hounding Cersei’s daughter-in-law, Queen Margery (Natalie Dormer, below R), and, in an attempt to trip her up and implicate her in a moral crime. To further that nefarious aim, the High Sparrow allowed Margery to see her imprisoned brother Loras (Finn Jones, below L), who is most definitely cracking under the strain of the prolonged imprisonment, and not just because he hasn’t been allowed to bathe, do his hair, or wear pretty clothes with flowers embroidered on them. In fact, Loras might have damned the entire Tyrell family with his jail-house “confession” to Margery, who remained strong and determined to get herself and her brother out of jail.
Later, as the High Sparrow was once again regaling his captive audience, Queen Margery, with tales of his rambunctious and rowdy childhood adventures — and as Margery was attempting not to fall asleep out of sheer boredom, astutely recognizing that his rambling monologue was a highly sophisticated and clever method of torture —
Ser Gregor, back in full armor, broke in, roaring most frightfully, revealing that he still retains the power to scream, as well as to fight.
With no preamble whatsoever, The Mountain ripped off the head of the High Sparrow. He killed any other Sparrows who came running to the High Sparrow’s defense. Ser Gregor, magnificently bellowing, even decapitated Cersei’s cousin-lover Lancel, who had turned Sparrow after being betrayed by Cersei.
Viewers were probably disappointed that The Mountain missed killing Septa Unella (Hannah Waldingham), but there was only so much he could do in any one day. Ser Gregor then escorted Queen Margery safely back to the Red Keep, where her husband and family welcomed her.
After Queen Margery was freed and returned to King Tommen’s (Dean-Charles Chapman) side, her grandmother Olenna Tyrell (Diana Rigg) decided not to further agitate Cersei and Jaime, if only because she feared retribution from The Mountain, unpredictable bad-ass that he has now proven he still is, even after death and re-incarnation.
Olenna also, wisely, forged an armed alliance with the Lannister twins after it was learned that Jon Snow and his army of Wildlings were marching on King’s Landing.
As the inhabitants of King’s Landing prepare for battle with the approaching army, they have set aside their individual grievances in the longing to retain power and to retain the Iron Throne.
Oh, and to have The Mountain on their side in any battles.
the Battle for the Vale
In a surprise moment for viewers, Lord Petyr Baelish (Aiden Gillen) — once a villain, always a villain, as they say — returned to Game of Thrones and to The Vale, where he confronted his stepson Robyn Arryn (Lino Facioli), also a taller, thinner, older version of his younger, chubbier-cheeked self, about the loyalty of them men around him.
Viewers all know Little Robyn’s penchant for throwing people out the MoonDoor to their deaths. When Lord Petyr, also known as “Littlefinger,” attempted to toss Little Lord Robyn out the MoonDoor, right after the extremely confused and frightened subordinate had been tossed, Robyn grabbed Littlefinger by the clothes and took him along for the ride.
It didn’t have too much to do with the other storylines in the episode, so I can only assume that the writers were just tying up loose ends.
Or tossing them out the MoonDoor, as the case may be.
Tyrion, Varys, and
the Battle for the Unsullied
Oh, that Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage).
Talk about a man who must have his names.
In “Book of the Stranger,” Tyrion finally returned to form after weeks of attempting to play drinking games with parties who don’t drink, aimlessly strolling the streets of Mereen with Lord Varys, and amiably but ramblingly talking to just about anyone who was also in the scene with him. Over the past few weeks, viewers have probably wondered what in the name of the gods had happened to the man who killed his own father by shooting him with a cross-bow as he sat on his chamber-pot.
With a smile and a pithy remark, Tyrion finally dispatched Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel) and Gray Worm (Jacob Anderson), both of whom have been pretty unhappy with his socio-political platform, especially since he was trying to please the Masters by re-instituting slavery, albeit only for a seven-year period.
Tyrion then went after his so-called friend, Varys (Conleth Hill, above R, in background), who, given his own history of betrayal, should have been prepared for Tyrion’s treachery, but wasn’t. Because Varys has often delivered droll badinage with other characters in his scenes on Game of Thrones, viewers may miss him.
Then again, they may be so happy to see Tyrion back in the saddle, metaphorically speaking, that they’re willing to sacrifice one to spare the many.
In any event, Tyrion simply ordered the Sons of the Harpy (represented above) and The Unsullied to obey his orders.
And they did!
I guess once-a-brainwashed-automaton-always-one.
After Tyrion had Daenerys’ army under his command, he dropped the Free the Slaves Movement and headed to King’s Landing, where he plans to stop being just the little brother of the Lannisters and to claim power in his own right.
Daenerys and the Battle
for Whatever She Wants
at the Moment
Confined to the abode of the Dosh Khaleen with other widowed wives, Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) finally decided that enough is enough. After listening to the High Priestess and other widows heckle and berate her, she slipped outside “to make water” because, you know, the crones who preside of the city of Vaes Dothrak would not have the ability to meet their body functions inside the structure.
Accompanied by a slave, who expressed feelings similar to her own, Daenerys learned that Ser Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen, below R) and Daario Naharis (Michiel Huisman, below L) had come to secure her release by any means necessary. She already knows that both of them are in love with her, so they didn’t have to tell her again: their being there on a rescue-mission proved it.
In a super-coolio coup d’état, Daenerys got all the male leaders together in one wooden structure, at night, so there were lots and lots of braziers burning all around. While the men strutted and preened and threatened Dany with rape and other forms of violation and bodily harm, she casually positioned herself near the braziers.
She knocked the braziers over with her bare hands, spilling the flammable lighter fluid that was apparently in with the charcoal, spreading fire throughout.
As the remaining Dothroki gathered outside the burning building, Daenerys, in a scene that resembled that in the finale of season 1, stepped out of the conflagration.
Naked, but otherwise unharmed.
In awe, everyone feel to his knees before her. Including Ser Jorah and Daario Naharis. While Daenerys accepted their tribute, she seemed restless without her dragons.
In a surprising volte-face, Dany ordered the male Dothroki to execute Ser Jorah and Naharis, no doubt because she’d grown tired of listening to men bickering around her.
This left the Mother of Dragons free to reclaim her dragons — if she can find them — convince the remaining Dothroki to cross the Salt Sea, and take back the Iron Throne of her father.
It’s about time, says I.
The White Walkers
and their Gang
As Jon Snow and his army headed for King’s Landing, they were surprised by the appearance of a lone figure on the horizon. Jon sent someone to discover who it was. Upon reaching the unknown figure, the rider and horse toppled to the ground. Disconcerted and discombobulated, Jon decided to investigate himself. Accompanied by Brienne, Davos, Theon, and the Ginger Wildling, Jon approached the mysterious figure.
No doubt viewers were expecting one of the White Walkers,
or, at the very least, one of the Wights.
Imagine, then, the shock of seeing this character, whom everyone assumed was dead.
Yes, it was Lady Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley).
Last seen with her eldest son Robb at a wedding where he and his preggers wife were both murdered by Roose Bolton (father of Ramsay), and where her own throat was cut, Lady Cat seems to have been re-animated.
And she brought an entire army of White Walkers — sans Wights — with her.
Including this super-omnipotent and spooky guy, who can raise the dead simply by lifting his arms.
Jon clutched his chest, his eyes wide with abject terror or innate recognition or the super-creepy-creeps and terrifying-terrors that he was about to stop looking like this,
or even like this,
and start looking like this…
Then, just when you thought nothing more exciting could possibly happen in a single episode…
Enough, enough already, I can hear you saying. None of this was in Game of Thrones’ latest episode.
To which I respond, Yes, indeed, some of it did, in fact, happen:
- Jon and Sansa were reunited at Castle Black
- Sansa convinced Jon to return to Winterfell
- The High Sparrow regaled Margery with his outré childhood exploits
- Margery met brother Loras in his cell, where he appeared unhinged
- Littlefinger returned to the Vale
- Ramsay killed the Wildling Osha
- Theon went home, where he was berated by his sister
- Tyrion re-instituted slavery to please the Masters, albeit with a 7-year limitation
- Daenerys burned up the Dothroki male leaders
- Daenerys emerged, unburnt and nude, from the flames
- Everybody bowed to Daenerys as the music — and the flames — swelled
But, oh, how I wish all those exciting things in my blog post had happened in “Book of the Stranger.”
Instead, my once belovèd Game of Thrones has become deadly dull with endless scenes of characters talk-talk-talking, relating pointless childhood memoirs or events with which viewers are already familiar.
p.s. Apologies to fans, to Peter Dinklage, and to Charles Dance for accidentally calling Tyrion, “Tywin” earlier. And thanks to Mat Cooke for catching it for me!
Don’t Eat the Help:
Game of Thrones, s6 e2-3
The Red Woman and the Crone:
Game of Thrones, Season 6 Premiere