I’m running behind this week, for reasons you know, so this piece is going to be a short one. But a couple of major points I want to make: first, this was my least favorite episode of the season by a good margin. And second, it was still probably the most important.
As for the first point, it goes well beyond the simple fact that this episode wasn’t as entertaining as the first three – it really had none of the spectacular dialogues those episode did. A larger issue is that it seemed full of the sort of embellishments that the TV adaptation can be too fond, changes designed to add to the story but which merely weaken it.
A good example is the “heartwarming” scene between Stannis and Shireen – one which Martin (wisely) never felt the need to insert in ASoIaF. There, Stannis simply wasn’t the sort of man who could show affection openly in such a way. He does have affection for his daughter, and a sense of shame over the way she’s been treated – but he’s forced to show it in subtle and indirect ways. That’s much more tragic and much more profound, and makes Stannis a much murkier and more difficult character. I’ve never felt that GoT got Stannis right and this only reinforces that – though ironically, it comes just as I was beginning to hope the character had turned the corner.
A much more obvious change is the death of Ser Barristan Selmy (and
Obama Grey Worm), which had been rumored in the press all season (thanks to a comment by Ian McElhinney that he’d been disappointed by his role this season). If you want to kill off a character, fine – that’s Benioff & Weiss’ prerogative. But it really feels now as if there was no real point to Barristan’s arc in the TV version at all. What indispensable purpose has he served – to out Jorah, perhaps? That hardly seems worth all the trouble to me.
But one can’t discuss Barristan’s death without touching on the real import of this episode, which is the seeming confirmation of one of the most popular fan theories among book readers. I’m just going to put this entire discussion in spoiler tags (and advise non book-readers to be careful in perusing the the comments), though GoT has hinted at some of it.
Is it a coincidence that we were treated to long speeches about Rhaegar Targaryen from both Ser Barristan and Littlefinger in this episode? And multiple mentions of Lyanna? And that Stannis pointedly remarked to his wife that it wasn’t Ned Stark’s style to father a child with a tavern wench? I think not. Sure, this could all be a massive troll by Benioff and Weiss – they even snuck a tiny “R + L = J” graffito onto a shirt Benioff wore to an interview. But it sure makes a lot of sense given all the evidence we’ve seen in the books, and the fact that Benioff and Weiss pointedly said it was correctly answering GRRM’s “Who was Jon’s mother?” question that got them this gig.
In other news, the catfight between the two queens continues apace – and I do mean apace, as it’s way more rushed than in ASoIaF. There’s a major change from the books here that really weakens he High Sparrow’s character. The Sand Snakes finally and belatedly enter the picture, and Elleria makes it clear that not only has she no qualms of starting a war over revenge, she welcomes it. Jaime and Bronn continue to try and be GoT‘s latest buddy comedy. And Jorah and Tyrion have a conversation – though knowing these two, it’s easy to guess who does most of the talking.