The Bolton flayed man sigil atop Winterfell showing in the episode intro is a depressing sign of change if you are a Stark partisan. But Stannis discovers anew that people in the North have an almost religious reverence for the Stark name. Roose Bolton can call himself Warden of the North but he might be well advised to watch his back. But more on that in a minute. This episode brought back everyone's favorite left handed action girl, Arya Stark. She has arrived in Braavos and been taken to the House of Black and White. There she knocks on the door which is eventually opened by, well for now let's just call him the kindly old man. Arya presents the coin, says the magic words and asks to see Jaqen H'ghar. The kindly old man says there's no one here by that name and closes the door. Arya waits for a few minutes. The minutes turn into hours; the hours turn into at least a day or two. Arya keeps her spirits up by reciting her kill list. Charming little lady isn't she. Eventually, depressed, she throws the coin away and goes off to live in the streets, just as she did in King's Landing. Hunting pigeons for food or barter Arya has just killed one when three thugs make it clear that they intend to rob her of her kill, her sword and possibly more. Unafraid, Arya is walking forward to fight. But the three ruffians look over her shoulder and run away. It's the kindly old man. He has retrieved the coin she threw away. He invites her to the House of Black and White. He also changes his face to that of Jaqen H'ghar. He tells Arya that he is no one. In the House of Black and White Arya will learn to be no one as well. Cue ominous music. In an inn Podrick is enjoying watching the sway of the serving girl's hips when quite by accident he sees Littlefinger and Sansa along with their Vale guard. That good old male gaze sure can come in handy sometimes. Podrick informs Brienne.
Littlefinger is enjoying playing Yoda to Sansa's Jedi apprentice. He doesn't appreciate Brienne's interruption or her flowery invocation of her oath to Lady Catelyn to find and protect the Stark daughters. Littlefinger is very a quick thinker. He points out that Brienne has served both Renly and (Littlefinger says allegedly) Lady Stark but both are dead. So Littlefinger questions Brienne's competence if not her eagerness. Littlefinger also states that he is Sansa's uncle (technically true) and that he has more of a right to protect Sansa than Brienne does (true if you overlook the fact that he murdered Lysa, betrayed Ned and set off the whole war in the first place). But what really wounds Brienne is that Sansa, remembering that Brienne arrived in King's Landing with Jaime Lannister and bowed to Joffrey, refuses to leave with Brienne. Littlefinger tries to have his soldiers "arrest" Brienne, but she (that is one LARGE woman) makes a break for it along with Podrick. Whatever else she is Brienne is no joke, killing a good number of the Vale soldiers and saving Podrick's life. Afterwards Podrick wonders if they should continue on this quest, as each Stark daughter has rejected Brienne, but Brienne is a woman who takes oaths seriously. Bronn is walking along the beach with his less than attractive bride to be, Lollys Stokeworth. She's rambling on about nothing in particular; Bronn is not paying attention. He is only marrying her because of her family's wealth. Bronn is taken aback to learn that Lollys' older sister will inherit the family castle and lands. But he muses that mean older sisters often come to bad ends. Bronn is not happy to see Jaime Lannister. Jaime is going to Dorne to bring back his daughter/niece Myrcella. Cersei just received Myrcella's Lannister medallion. She perceives this as a threat. Being short a hand, Jaime needs Bronn as backup. He promises to find a better (prettier and wealthier) bride for Bronn.
In Dorne Ellaria Sand is seriously po'd about Oberyn's death. She can't abide watching Myrcella walk around with Trystan Martell. She wants payback and wants it now. She demands that Dorne's ruler, Prince Doran, act. Ellaria also wants to take vengeance on Myrcella. Prince Doran refuses war and angrily dismisses the idea of hurting Myrcella. He says neither will happen as long as he's in charge. Ellaria bitterly reminds Prince Doran that many people in Dorne, including Oberyn's daughters, see things differently. In King's Landing, Cersei has moved into the power vacuum created by Tywin's death. She has put a bounty out on Tyrion. Cersei also sits in the Hand's chair and makes decisions that should be made by the King or Hand. She appoints the disgraced maester Qyburn to be spymaster and says that Mace Tyrell will be Master of Coin. Cersei's moves don't go over very well with Pycelle or Cersei's uncle Kevan Lannister, who know that Cersei is claiming power that she doesn't have. Kevan bluntly tells his niece that he doesn't recognize her authority. Kevan leaves for Casterly Rock, saying that if the king wants something he'll return.
In Meereen Daenerys continues to learn that ruling is not conquest. Good intentions are not enough. Daario, more street smart than Grey Worm, has found the Son of the Harpy responsible for the murder of the Unsullied. Daenerys suggests a fair and open trial though some people disagree. An ex-slave is particularly adamant that trials are pointless. Power is the only thing the reactionaries understand. Barristan disagrees. He strongly urges a trial. He reminds Daenerys of her father's unhinged approach to justice and revenge and the cost to the realm. However the ex-slave murders the Son of the Harpy. Well if you're going to be Queen you can't have people undermining your authority. Daenerys has the man publicly executed. This causes a riot as the large population of freedmen/women and poor people feel betrayed by their "mhysa". At the Wall, Stannis is reading Jon the riot act about his mercy kill of Mance. But it also looks like Stannis respects Jon's principles. He again offers to legitimize Jon as a Stark and give him Winterfell. This isn't out of the kindness of his heart. Stannis has sought aid from other northern families but has been rejected. The Mormonts, the family mostly led by women, has sent him a terse message stating that they know no king but the King in the North whose name is Stark. Sam is reading about former commanders of the Night's Watch. Many of them were Starks.
Selyse isn't happy about her daughter Shireen teaching Gilly to read. She doesn't trust or like wildings, especially since her husband burned their king. Jon declines Stannis' offer. Again. There is an election for the new Lord Commander of the Night's Watch. Thorne and Mallister are the leading candidates. Janos Slynt speaks of Thorne's history and deeds. Showing unusual courage Sam stands up among his brothers to deride Slynt's cowardice. After all, the man hid in the pantry with Gilly and her baby during the battle. Sam says that he found Slynt there "in a puddle of his own making." Sam states that when stuff gets real, it's Jon Snow whom men look to for leadership and direction. Thorne admits that Jon has had his moments but questions his relationships, romantic and otherwise, with wildlings. There's a tie in the vote between Jon and Thorne. Maester Aemon breaks the tie in favor of Jon. Another Stark has become Lord Commander.
What I liked
- There was a parallel between two young naive rulers (Robb Stark, Daenerys) faced with disobedience from subordinates. Each decided that the crime of disobedience and murder required immediate death, even though a more pragmatic ruler might have decided otherwise. It's a tough call. No leader can let followers openly reject their authority but every leader also knows that authority is something ultimately given, not extorted. This was made explicit in the election for Lord Commander. The best leaders find balance.
- The hissing of the population after the execution of the former slave was very ominous. Again I think that this storyline can't help but remind people of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars or before that the whole "White Man's Burden" spoken of by Kipling. Daenerys does not understand the people she rules and could end up just as despised as the slave masters she overthrew. You can't just get rid of the bad guys and rule happily ever after. As the Hound would say, "Life is not a song."
- Littlefinger seems to have dropped or toned down the "Batman voice" he was using in previous seasons. This is good as he's no longer so obviously part of #TeamEvil. The way he dealt with Brienne was quite skilled. Every word and gesture was for Sansa's consumption.
- Qyburn asking Cersei for the head of a murdered dwarf for his experiments. He may be genial and quiet but Qyburn is not, repeat not, a good man.
- Drogon's brief return. Like his siblings, he's become much larger.
- There is something of Satan tempting Jesus in Stannis' routine offers to Jon. Although Jon has broken rules before he usually did it for a greater good or to keep some more important oath. But as he reminds Sam even though he's dreamed of being legitimate, he gave his word to the Night's Watch.
- This could be in both the like and dislike sections but the Sansa and Littlefinger storylines in particular are different than the published books. I won't talk too much about that now because this isn't about the books but I am interested to see where the showrunners go with this.
- Ellaria Sand's rage. Well done. Very well done.
- Missandei (heh, heh)
- Jon Snow knows the value of mercy. Danerys has yet to learn that.
What I didn't like
- More whining from Tyrion. This is mercifully briefer than it was in the books but a little bit goes a mighty long way. I would have been okay not seeing Tyrion and Varys in this episode.
- The Unsullied carrying seven foot spears into small homes. Seems like swords or axes would have been better choices. I guess that was to show their lack of street smarts.
- I wanted to know what Bolton is up to. He can't be happy that Stannis is up north.