Another week, another sojourn into Westeros – join us as we recap and review one of the biggest episodes to date in terms of sheer stuff happening. *Insert obligatory spoilers warning here.*
It says a lot that the introduction and destruction of two of the biggest, until now unseen, family strongholds in the game – the Lannisters’ Casterly Rock and the Tyrells’ Highgarden – commanded less screen-time than the eventual meeting of Jon and Daenerys, or Fire and Ice as Melisandre puts it during her Side-Piece Advisors’ meeting with Varys. This is a showdown that’s been 20+ actual years in the waiting for some people and despite coming with a lot of baggage the episode pulls it off… mostly.
There’s far too much expository overviewing of past events and Westerosi history for our liking (we’re 7 series deep, we know this stuff by now) but the tag-team suspicion and cynicism between teams Dany-Tyrion and Jon-Davos felt grounded and real. These are both characters who have overcome a lot to get to where they are, they’re both suitably powerful and forthright in their own way, so it stands to reason that their meeting would be less giggles-and-googly-eyes and more “who are you and what do you want?”
After some tense back-and-forth – and sage advice from Tyrion to both parties – they come to a shaky agreement: Daenerys won’t aid any Northern battles against gumpkins/ snarks/apocalyptic icy megademons (delete as appropriate) until Cersei is dealt with, but she will let Jon mine for the Dragonglass Sam told him about. It’s the start of a beautiful friendship! Maybe.
Surprisingly, but refreshingly, there were a fair few comedic beats to offset the whole “fated saviours of the world finally meeting” vibe – particularly from Tyrion as Peter Dinklage continues to show he’s a master of the craft, managing to pull chemistry from somewhere from both Emila Clarke and Kit Harington who remain two of the most wooden presences on the show. The best line of the series so far goes to Davos however, proving that quality always rules over quantity, even when it comes to words and titles.
“This is… Jon Snow.”
With the Bran-flashback reveal of Jon’s parentage last series there was always going to be an extra edge to this meeting and fortunately it doesn’t disappoint. “I’m the last Targaryen,” Dany says to Jon, cueing side-eyes from everyone watching – you don’t even know, girl! Her dragons certainly seem to know however, with Drogon flying by for a deep sniff of Snow during his ascent up Dragonstone’s uniquely unpractical staircase – was he after a spot of lunch or he could sense the Targaryen blood? Here’s thinking that question will be answered sooner rather than later.
As a final nitpicky note however – Davos meets Tyrion, the man who killed his son in the Battle of Blackwater with his wildfire bomb, and Davos says nothing, even when Tyrion boasts about it in front of him… really? C’mon Game of Thrones, this is the kind of character drama your fans want to see (we know, we know – running out of time, end game etc, but still)!
Westeros’s newest Most Glorious Bastard, Euron Greyjoy, returns to King’s Landing after his naval victory in the previous episode to a rock star’s welcome. He dumps Ellaria and Tyene Sand at Cersei’s feet – his gift, duly delivered – and proceeds to chew the scenery while mocking Jaime and eye-fucking anything that’ll stay still long enough. He’s magnificent and the best thing in the show right now – here’s hoping his inevitable demise is suitably majestic.
Meanwhile, Lena Headey gives everyone an acting lesson as Cersei enjoys her revenge – a challenge admirably met by Indira Varma as Ellaria who, in this one anguished tortured scene, almost makes up for 3 series of horrendous Dorne-based plotlines. Cersei likes her vengeance best served ironically it seems as she poison-kisses Tyene, condemning her to the same bloody fate as Myrcella, and forces Ellaria to watch as her daughter slowly dies and decomposes… goddamn dude, this episode clearly isn’t called “Queens’ Justice” by accident.
Finally in King’s Landing – after Cersei sates her bloodlust with some brother-sister oral action, as you do in Westeros – she sits down with Tycho Nestoris, otherwise known as the envoy from the Iron Bank of Braavos you probably don’t remember. He’s still looking to get his money back after a failed bet on Stannis a few series ago and Cersei promises she’ll get it to him soon, citing how Dany’s freeing of the slaves in Slaver’s Bay makes her a bad financial ally (*book-reader pedantry warming*: Braavos was created by ex-slaves so there’s no way the Iron Bank would fund slavery or mourn its demise! Phew, had to get that off our chest).
Sansa is acclimating just swimmingly to her new queenly role in Jon’s absence, effortlessly dealing out actually competent leadership in what must be a shocking change of pace for, well, everyone. Perhaps less so for Littlefinger, who continues to follow her around like a lovesick puppy spouting off obfuscating monologues about things. He really does seem surplus to requirements this series… which we’re convinced means he’s about to pull off some Red Wedding-level shit, maybe go full Scooby-Doo and tear off his fleshy human face to unveil he’s actually been the Night’s King the whole time
(Because, seriously, where even is the Night’s King right now? There’s the long way around and then there’s getting lost and refusing to ask for directions).
Well, someone who might know something is Bran “I’m too tall for my character so bury me under furs” Stark who finally arrives back in Winterfell for teary-eyed Stark Reunion 2: Electric Boogaloo. Sansa’s emotion here is genuine and heartwarming while Bran seems completely out of it – we understand that suddenly being given access to the tree-internet and being able to access all knowledge across all time may be a tad overwhelming and change a guy somewhat, but Isaac Hempstead-Wright really doesn’t sell it. Having said that, the scene where he describes Sansa’s wedding night to Ramsay Bolton (i.e. the worst night of her life) is hideously creepy and almost nefarious in its understatement. Bran may be back physically, but as a person he’s irrevocably changed.
It’s only a quick pit-stop this week to finally, after 7 seasons of agony, delivering some good Jorah news – he’s recovered from greyscale! Sam’s midnight medical madness has worked and Jorah sets out to rejoin Daenerys – and just in time too: she’s in dire need of advisors with battle knowhow. We really do hope that Jorah’s entire greyscale arc pays off in a bigger way than this however (Valyria theory is still live!) otherwise this was all one almightily pointless diversion. Watch this space.
From behind the grand map of Westeros in Dragonstone, Tyrion narrates his masterplan to take Casterly Rock, intercutting with the Unsullied’s seige in a sequence that… doesn’t really work. It’s impressively shot, complete with a satisfying “oh shit!” moment as Tyrion references his previous job as his father’s Chief-of-Sewers as his own Trojan horse to get the Unsullied troops inside the gates, but it’s let down by some technical waverings and a general sense of detachment. It felt altogether quite sterile, more like a recap than a dynamic action scene and therefore largely uninvolving – it’s hard to care when the result is known!
True to form however, GoT had a trick up its sleeve: “Where are the other Lannisters?” Grey Worm impotently (snrk) asks a delirious, dying man while Euron’s ludicrous warship Silence leads the Greyjoy navy in to destroy the Unsullied ships.
What’s that coming over the hill – OMG IT’S BRONN… oh, and Jaime with all of those missing Lannister soldiers! In no time at all the Lannisters run riot through Highgarden and decimate all that’s left of the Tyrell household – Jaime may be an old dog but he can clearly still learn some new tricks, this time using the same diversionary tactics that Robb Stark used to capture him in season 1.
Jaime’s character development has come to a screaming halt in the last few series and while it’s frustrating to see him continuing as Cersei’s dogsbody (to Dorne in season 5, to Riverrun in season 6, and now to Highgarden) it was good to see him as a calculating general at-work here, outmanoeuvring Tyrion who, while objectively more cunning, is largely inexperienced in warfare.
There was also a simply divine sting in the tail here with Olenna “The Queen of Thorns” Tyrell given a suitably excellent send-off. Captured and cornered, she takes the poison Jaime offers her for a painless death – and signs off with some brutal barbs against Jaime, Cersei, and then the gut-punch: confessing that she was the person who killed Joffrey, not Tyrion. Diana Rigg has been outstanding from her very first scene on the show and while we’ll all miss her, it was simply wonderful watching her gleefully stir the pot one last time on her way out of the door. Where Jaime goes from here will be fascinating – his continued attachment to Cersei has been wavering (and frankly isn’t believable anymore) and his discovery that she lied with her accusation against Tyrion should kickstart some interesting developments.
Game of Thrones became a pop cultural phenomenon for many reasons – it had pretty sweet dragons, intriguing political storytelling, great characters and worldbuilding and, oh yeah, SEX AND BLOOD AND TITS AND GORE AND SEX. More so than all of that sexy sexy blood however, it told a damn good story, finally turning the “no one is safe” mantra into more than a marketing soundbite. It knew how to surprise us – dead Ned, Red Wedding, Purple Wedding, dead Jon, err… alive Jon – and nothing is more pleasantly surprising than the show still being able to dupe its audience. Because the whole Casterly Rock/ Highgarden bait-and-switch was some Houdini level shit.
More than that, it’s an important microcosm for how the series has evolved. It’s so much quicker now – big siege battles used to be season-closing extravaganzas, the culmination of hours of televisual storytelling (i.e. the Battle of the Blackwater or Watchers on the Wall at the end of series 2 and 4 respectively), now they’re little more than standalone flashpoints, not the climax of any particular journey but simply one step forwards. We are undoubtedly in a sprint for the finish line now as GoT enters its final 10-episode countdown (4 left in season 7 with 6 to come in season 8 – say what?!) and for the first time the eponymous game feels all-encompassing. It’s a 3D chess game, with pieces moving in every direction all of the time and, for all of its niggly shortcomings (who even pays attention to geography anyway? Oh, obsessive pop-culture fandoms…), it’s a magnificent achievement from showrunners Benioff and Wise as well as the entire production team.
It’s only going to get bigger from here, folks. See you next week.