This was the week where we started to see some just desserts being served, a rare enough thing in Game of Thrones – though I suspect they aren’t the ones the audience was hoping to dine on after last week.
After the tectonic upheaval of Sansa’s rape, it was pretty likely what we got here was going to be pretty low-key (and certainly less controversial) by comparison. Still, plenty of big and important stuff happened, and for a change there was quite a bit that was familiar from the books. Starting with the death of Maester Aemon, which rang quite true to the original despite the circumstances being completely different. Happily GoT included Aemon’s heartbreaking last words – “Egg – I dreamed I was old!”. Aemon is one of the few unabashedly good characters in this series, and while he certainly wasn’t cheated in terms of years, it’s sad to say goodbye (and “Dunk and Egg” mini-series when?).
Another arc that’s familiar yet quite different from ASoIaF is Melissandre’s literally bloodthirsty quest to get Stannis to sacrifice someone of royal blood to ensure his success at Winterfell. There’s an entire plotine that GoT axed here, and it’s a good one – and they’ve apparently now decided to make Shireen the designated king’s blood. It’s hard for me to imagine TV Stannis ever agreeing to sacrifice his daughter, no matter what stakes the Red Witch attaches to the act. Melissandre’s influence remains here, as in the books, the most troubling aspect of Stannis’ crusade to claim the Iron Throne. He has much to recommend his claim as valid, and compared to some of the players here Stannis is practically a saint. But the presence of Melissandre forever coats him in a layer of wickedness that never quite washes off.
One can’t help but feel for TV Sansa, who’s been married to the two most sadistic SOBs in Westeros nobility. We were spared anything as existentially disturbing as last week’s TV-original developments, but sadly there was no real effort to reconcile those events with a larger arc for Sansa. Absent further evidence to the contrary it seems to have been rape for rape’s sake, which is all too common with Benioff and Weiss. The scenes in Winterfell are excellent though, I have to admit – really tense and unsettling. We got a nice head-fake on Theon-Reek’s actions after he promised Sansa to go to the broken tower and light a candle – I was certainly fooled. I get where D & D are going with Theon, but it’s still not really working for me.
I’ve noted my dissatisfaction with the decision to sacrifice the subtle politics of the Wall for another chance for Jon to go to battle (based on Sam’s parting gift to him, assuredly with white walkers). Also sacrificed is Sam’s entire storyline from A Dance with Dragons, though part of is made its way into this episode, just as Aemon’s death did. Oaths are forgotten an awful lot up north, it seems, but I don’t begrudge Sam this transgression – Karma owes him at least that much. But thank goodness for Ghost, who clearly understands who Jon’s friends are. And as Thorne points out to Sam, friends are disappearing at a rapid clip at Castle Black, and Jon certainly did Sam no favors leaving him to try and contain the growing discontent over his (necessary) decision to partner with Tormund to try and save the Wildlings north of the wall. Here’s hoping Tormund gets a speaking role next week.
I’m still not happy with Dorne, which doesn’t remotely resemble what I got from the books (which wasn’t their best thread to start with). Still, at least we got to hear Jerome Flynn sing again this week (he’s good – a former rock singer), and his moments with the Sand Snakes were at least marginally more interesting than their scenes have been. Bronn may not belong here as far as ASoIaF is concerned, but I’ve grown fond enough of him that I hate to see him die now.
The two signature moments, of the episode, no doubt, were the long-ordained meeting of Tyrion and Danerys, and the comeuppance of Cersei Lannister. Cersei is truly vile, but she’s just not as smart as she thinks she is. She’s driven – and blinded – by petty vindictiveness, and since Tywin died she’s been engaged in a series of short-sighted decisions that portend long-term disaster. Olenna seems genuinely in over her head for once – yes, the High Sparrow truly is that pious – but fortunately for House Tyrell Littlefinger’s loyalties are as shifty as the sands of Dorne. We’re hewing pretty close to the source material with this one, and there’s some headline stuff coming in King’s Landing that no one will want to miss.
In contrast, I’m pretty much at sea as far as Mereen is concerned – the books have been left for dead at the side of the road, and your guess is as good as mine. I do think Tyrion was always destined to meet Dany, and it’ll be very interesting to see how Benioff and Weiss play this. I don’t see things ending well for Jorah for obvious reasons (though he may get a measure of redemption before the end) but Tyrion is clearly destined to play a major role in events going forward (I would guess up to an including the resolution of the series itself). Just what will Danerys make of the “present” Jorah has delivered to her feet? In any event, I quite admired Jorah’s ability to bring the gruesome spectacle in the fighting pits to an end without killing anyone – it was probably his finest hour.