“Kill the Boy”
It was interesting to see new viewers trying to make sense of the title of this episode, with all kinds of wild speculation ensuing. But in fact, Game of Thrones (and this is becoming increasingly rare) followed A Song of Ice and Fire exactly here in how the phrase was used. Any scenes with Maester Aemon are welcome, and his conversation with Jon was pretty much how I remembered it. In a sense, it almost felt like a benediction – a sentimental farewell to all that’s familiar in this series as we boldly sally forth into the great unknown.
This was an episode very much dominated by events in the North – only a few cutaways to the Far East interrupted them – and on the whole, I found it to be a considerably better effort than last week’s. There are still trends here that I dislike, among them the drastic reduction in focus on the politics of the Night’s Watch, which I found to be fascinating in the books – having Jon accompany Tormund to try and persuade the remaining Wildlings north of the Wall to come south seems in part a device to keep him involved in physical battles rather than political ones.
But there’s some good stuff happening at the Wall, too. I really liked Stannis’ brief conversation with Sam, which seemed to reflect well on his character in a much more faithful way than last week’s sentimental tête–à–tête between he and Shireen. Stannis gets it, for all his abrasiveness and piety – he understands the extent of the danger facing Westeros and seems genuinely fixated on trying to prepare for it. His alliance with Mellisandre (and what it has wrought) is hard to forgive, but this troubled man is somehow always trying to do the right thing as he sees it.
Down in Winterfell, nastiness is thick in the air and you can cut the dread with a knife. HBO manages to shoehorn in yet another superfluous and degrading sex scene with Ramsay, and there’s a truly gruesome (in a good way, I suppose – sort of) scene where the Bastard of Bolton forces Theon to apologize to Sansa in front of Roose and Walda. Roose’s role here is interesting – it’s clear he realizes what a psychotic his son is, but I suppose he feels he has no choice for the moment but to rely on him. Roose’s announcement that Walda is pregnant just adds that much more fuel to the fire, and it seems inevitable that the scene at Winterfell is about to get horrifying in a big way.
Back East, there’s more stuff with Danerys that just doesn’t really work dramatically. Grey Worm is alive, if anyone cares. Dany feeds one of the Masters of Mereen to her remaining “children”, but in the end decides to marry Hizdahr – absent a certain condition book readers might have been expecting her to attach to her “proposal”.
But the stuff with Tyrion and Jorah that closes the episode is much better – maybe among the best sequences of the season. In the first place, the ruins of Valyria are fucking gorgeous – we’re talking LotR-level CGI and miniatures here. The atmoshpere as Jorah steers the little scow through the ruins is fantastic, and the slow cracking of Jorah’s stony facade (pun intended) is well-portrayed. This culminates in the moment when Drogon appears and majestically flies over the ruins, wiping all the world-weary cynicism from Tyrion’s face. And the the stone men attack the boat in a really creepy and unnerving sequence, which culminates by stabbing another dagger through the heart of book readers who were hoping a certain pair of characters seemingly important in GRRM’s long game might show up after all.
It really is a journey into the wilds at this point – pretty much every story has either caught up to the books or is so radically changed that there’s no way of guessing what will happen next. Book readers will, I think, be especially struck by the fact that Melissandre (along with Stannis’ wife and daughter) will be accompanying him on his long march to Winterfell. It’s a seemingly small change but it has big repercussions – this one could be a very big butterfly indeed.