Monday, May 16, 2016

HBO Game of Thrones Recap: Book of the Stranger

Well that was fun. This was both a transitional episode that set up later events and one which also moved the story forward in some very pleasing ways. I liked the balance displayed in this episode between talking and action. I hope that it continues. We open with Jon Snow packing up his belongings and preparing to leave Castle Black. Dolorous Edd is not super happy about Jon's decision, especially as Jon knows the dangers behind the wall. Jon is of the opinion that all of that is someone else's problem now especially since he has technically lived up to his vows. He gave his life to the Night's Watch. Jon still hasn't gotten over that whole my so-called brothers killed me thing. The quarrel between Edd and Jon has to be put on hold because FINALLY there is a Stark reunion. Brienne, Podrick and Sansa Stark arrive at Castle Black. Jon is shocked and happy to see Sansa. Later on they reminisce together about all the silly stupid things they did in those days before their parents were murdered, their family was scattered and war broke out. Sansa apologizes for looking down on Jon for his illegitimate status though Jon says no apology is needed. They both regret leaving Winterfell. But speaking of Winterfell Sansa tells Jon that they must take it back and eject Ramsay for otherwise they'll never be safe. Jon says he's tired of fighting and killing. Sansa says that Winterfell belongs to the Starks not Ramsay. She wants Jon to help her but she'll do it by herself if need be. In the courtyard Davos catches up with an atypically tired looking Melisandre to ask her what her plans are. She doesn't know. She says she will do whatever Jon (The Prince Who Was Promised) wants her to do. Davos says wasn't that what you called Stannis?  Now that the excitement has temporarily died down Davos finally (he's loyal but maybe not the quickest thinking fellow) asks Melisandre what happened to Stannis and by the way where is Shireen? Brienne is lurking about and interrupts, fixing both Davos and Melisandre with a cold glare. She says she was there when Renly was murdered by Melisandre's magic. She also says that she killed Stannis. She waits a moment to see if there's going to be any static from Davos or Melisandre over this. She also says she doesn't forgive or forget before stomping off. Ok then.

Littlefinger has returned to the Vale with a gift of a gyrfalcon for Lord Robin. Robin is ineptly practicing archery. Lord Royce wants to know how is it that Sansa wound up married to Ramsay Bolton when she was supposed to be under Littlefinger's protection. Littlefinger makes up the obvious lie that they were attacked by Bolton forces. He also insinuates that Royce was the only one who knew the itinerary. When Royce tells him to step into the Octagon and say that, Littlefinger adroitly hides behind Robin's "authority" and makes it look like Royce is challenging Robin, which of course would mean execution via the sky door. The previously bored Robin would have no problem executing Royce. Royce must back down. Littlefinger has apparently heard of Sansa's escape, and is easily able to manipulate Robin into agreeing to send some undetermined number of Vale soldiers to the North. In what I thought was a reference to difference of experience between politicians and the communities which they claim to serve or represent Tyrion has decided to negotiate with the representatives of the slaver cities. Tyrion claims to have experience being enslaved. Missandei scornfully notes that Tyrion was enslaved for all of five minutes. Tyrion proposes that the slavers can gradually wean themselves from slavery over a seven year period. They will also receive compensation for their economic loss. In return the slavers will withdraw support for the Sons of the Harpy in Meereen. To seal the deal Tyrion offers the slavers prostitutes. Grey Worm and Missandei especially hate this. Later when incredulous citizens (and former slaves) hear of the deal which Tyrion has made they are upset. From loyalty to Daenerys Missandei and Grey Worm offer razor thin support in public but they each make it clear to Tyrion that they don't think he knows what he's doing. Slavery is not just an economic process. The slavers can not be trusted, no matter how smart Tyrion thinks he is. More on this below in a moment.

Essos' famous Odd Couple Jorah and Daario have tracked their queen to Vaes Dothrak. Daario is apparently feeling either threatened or triumphant because he won't stop needling Jorah about the fact that Daenerys and Daario do this a lot, while Jorah doesn't. But Daario thinks that as old as Jorah is he likely couldn't keep up or keep it up with Daenerys for that matter. This finally seems to bring Jorah out of his Zen state. He says that after they find Daenerys that he and Daario can settle accounts but for now they need to prepare to infiltrate Vaes Dothrak. There are no weapons allowed in the city so Jorah starts removing his arms and demanding those of Daario. Daario notices that Jorah has greyscale and says he'll remove his own weapons thank you very much. During the night the two unarmed men are moving through the Dothraki city when they are accosted by two soldiers who see thru Jorah's flimsy story of being a wine merchant. A fight breaks out. Daario quickly kills his opponent. But apparently age and greyscale have caught up with Jorah. Jorah's getting a mudhole stomped in his behind, Dothraki style, when Daario stabs Jorah's opponent from behind. Daario never leaves his knives behind. They hide the bodies and attempt to cover up the knife wound. Daenerys claims to find the lecturing and the body odor of the older widows offensive. She says she needs to use the bathroom. She's accompanied by a younger widow who was abused by her khal. This younger widow wants to hear about the dragons and how Daenerys did things. And surprise, surprise, surprise up pop Jorah and Daario. They want to leave right now before the bodies are discovered and alarms are raised. But Daenerys has a plan.

In King's Landing a septa takes Margaery Tyrell to see the High Sparrow. He dismisses her desire to see her family saying that her family only represents sin. He details his own origin story to her. The point is that he's a very self-righteous man who may still feel guilt. He definitely feels disgust towards the wealthy. He claims that the poor and the beggars are closer to the truth than anyone else. The High Sparrow allows Margaery to see her brother Loras. Loras has been beaten and tortured. He's in a pretty sorry state of affairs. Margaery correctly intuits that the High Sparrow's only purpose in allowing the two siblings to briefly see each other is to rush their confessions. Loras says he can't hold out much longer, despite Margaery's admonitions to be strong. Pycelle is talking to King Tommen urging him to be cautious in dealing with the High Sparrow. Cersei arrives and is po'd to find Pycelle talking to her son without her knowledge or presence. She orders him out but a gloating Pycelle won't leave until Tommen tells him to do so. And even then he takes his sweet time about it, rolling his eyes at Cersei every step of the way. Alone, Cersei admits to Tommen that no she doesn't really like Margaery but that's not the point. The point is that the High Sparrow represents a much greater threat to the established order. It's a point that she and Jaime make again to their Uncle Kevan and Olenna Tyrell. It's time for the nobles to stop their bickering and come together against this religious, even revolutionary threat to their class interests. Olenna is non-committal initially but changes her mind when Cersei informs her of the High Sparrow's plans to have Margaery make a walk of atonement. The plan is to have the Tyrell armies take out the Faith Militant while Kevan and company pretend neutrality. Olenna is outraged at anyone doing to Margaery what was done to Cersei.
Theon has arrived at the Iron Islands but his sister Yara is not happy to see him. She is embarrassed by his weakness, angry that she lost men trying to save him and suspicious that he's going to try to make a play for leadership. He was dead to her. She's surprised to hear that he escaped. Theon semi-apologizes. He says that Ramsay broke him. At this point he just wants to assist Yara to sit on the Salt Throne. Osha is brought in to see Ramsay who is peeling apples. Osha claims to be unimpressed with Ramsay and to have no special love for the Starks. Ramsay wants to know why he should keep her around. Osha says don't you want what all men want. She jumps on top of Ramsay. She's reaching for Ramsay's dagger which is tantalizingly out of reach. While she's trying to wake up Ramsay's little Bolton, Ramsay tells Osha that she's not as talkative as Theon, who for example told Ramsay all about who seduced him and helped Bran and Rickon Stark to escape. Osha lunges for the knife but Ramsay is quicker. He stabs Osha in the neck with his paring knife. While Osha bleeds out on the floor, Ramsay wipes off the blade and goes back to eating his apple. At Castle Black Jon and company are eating in silence. In a bit of silent humor Tormund is sizing up Brienne. Whether he is thinking about fighting her or doing something else is anyone's guess. The food isn't very good. They receive a letter from Ramsay. In typical Ramsay fashion he insults everyone. He says give Sansa back to him or he will kill Rickon. And then he'll rape Sansa and pass her along to his soldiers. He calls himself Lord of Winterfell. This gets Jon's goat. Sansa says they must fight this monster. Jon silently agrees. But Tormund only has maybe 2000 fighting men, not enough to win against Ramsay's 5000.

In the episode's last and most powerful scene the assembled Khals are discussing what to do with Daenerys. She is brought before them. Some men think she should stay with the widows. Some men want to sell her to Yunkai. Others think that since she is a foreigner and left the Dothraki she deserves no widow's protection. But all of the men are shocked and offended when Daenerys dares to speak for herself, a big no no. Khal Moro says that ok that's it then. Daenerys will be gang-raped to show her her proper place. Daenerys says that this is the place where Khal Drogo promised to conquer the world on her behalf. The other Khals say she was a dummy to believe it. Daenerys says that the current Khals are small men with no imagination and have no right to lead the Dothraki. So she will lead the Dothraki. When they laugh at this and say they will never serve her, Daenerys replies "You're not going to serve. You're going to die." She overturns the lit braziers. The whole place goes up in flames. Just so it's quite clear to everyone that Daenerys is special there are closeups of her grasping the hot metal of the brazier for relatively long periods of time. No one escapes because Jorah and Daario have barred the doors. Eventually the whole place crashes down in flames. Daenerys walks out nude and unburnt. Everyone kneels.

What I liked
  • No Arya storyline or Dorne storyline. Until Arya gets back to Westeros somehow I'm not all that interested in what she's doing. And I was never interested in Dorrne.
  • The "Pink Letter" from the last book (Ramsay's letter to Jon) was nicely done.
  • Davos, if somewhat belatedly, trying to discover Shireen's fate. If he does that has to fracture the seeming alliance between Jon, Davos, Melisandre and the wildlings.
  • Tyrion's assumptions that slavery is not that different from feudalism, he can negotiate with anyone, and that he knows slavery better than people who were born into it or suffered it for years. I think he's going to learn that he's made mistakes with all of those premises. It's hard being unyiedlingly righteous as Daenerys is and perhaps Ned Stark was, but there are some compromises which can't be made. I'm looking forward to seeing  what happens next in this storyline.
  • Daenerys' showing why they call her "Unburnt". It's maybe a repeat of previous storylines but I liked it. It also moves the narrative forward. Let's get her out of Essos now.
  • Missandei stepping in to translate for Tyrion. I thought it a foreshadowing and callback to the idea that Tyrion doesn't understand the culture he's dealing with.
  • A more forceful Sansa. I'm not sure it made sense this quickly when we looked at the frightened woman who couldn't cross a river an episode or two ago but I'm glad to see it.

What I didn't like
  • Not much. I thought maybe Royce backed down too quickly but Robin is unstable while Littlefinger is dangerous.
  • The whole idea of Jon going south by himself is sort of silly. No one outside of the The Wall knew he was dead so wouldn't he have been seen as a deserter subject to execution?
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