Let me just say first that “The Queen’s Justice” was a faith-restorer for me, to an extent. The first two episodes of this season were good, but reinforced the growing sense that this was no longer the same story it was – that was a past we could never get back, not even with a Three-Eyed Raven in the house. Things are still moving way too fast and there were a couple of moments that seemed to fail the logic test, but on the whole this is the most authentic-feeling episode of Game of Thrones since “The Door”.
The headline of course, as it should be, is the meeting that’s been foreshadowed since the very earliest moments of the series. Whether Jon Snow and Daenerys Targeryn truly represent “Ice and Fire” as Melisandre immodestly says (she wisely bolts before Davos finds out she’s present) – some feel that refers at least as much to white walkers and dragons – and whatever the truth of Jon’s parentage is, this is a truly momentous coming together of storylines that seemed as if they would never combine. Add in Tyrion, and you have arguably the three most important characters in “A Song of Ice and Fire” in the same place. In GoT terms it doesn’t get much more momentous than that.
One of the reasons this episode works as well as it does is that it gives us moment after moment of the series’ best actors in tense, critical conversation – the dialogue sizzles as it hasn’t for a long time, and the cast (as usual) are up to the challenge. Tyrion and Jon have a mutual respect, that’s certain – but Daenerys’ arch pride and Jon’s no-guff honesty were always destined to collide. There are some wonderful moments in this exchange – Jon’s “She’s starting to let on”, Daenerys’ apology for her father’s sins – but as is so often the case it’s Davos and the peerless Liam Cunningham who steal the moment. From his brusque response to Daenery’s endless string of titles to his bristling defense of Jon’s character, Davos Seaworth is as he usually is – the most truthful and unshakeably determined person in the room.
Danerys doesn’t come off too badly here, but Jon (despite being framed as a small figure repeatedly by the scene composition) emerges as the more substantial presence. His response to Dany’s “We all enjoy what we’re good at” – “I don’t” – says everything you need to know about Jon. He didn’t ask for any of this – he was happy just to be a grunt night’s watchman at the Wall. Jon always does what he has to do, not what he wants to do. Tyrion is right, of course, that what Jon asks of Daenerys might not be reasonably expected to be given – the matter of the dragonglass is a perfect ground for compromise, and the larger matter of whether he’ll bend the knee can be left for another day. Daenerys has more immediate problems than the white walkers and the northernmost kingdom, and Jon has what he ultimately came to Dragonstone to collect.
I won’t say too much about Euron marching through the streets and Cersei gloating over the Sand women. At the least he’s more entertaining than the likes of Ramsay, and I’m incapable of feeling sympathy for either Cersei or Ellaria Sand (though I am glad we didn’t have to watch The Mountain rip her apart). I will say, though, that Cersei (and Jaime, to an extent) have exceeded expectations in terms of survival. Cersei as queen is no paper lion – admittedly Euron coming into her life was a stroke of luck, but she’s outflanked Daenerys (and by extension, Tyrion and Varys) at every turn so far. She effectively let them have Casterly Rock after gutting its stores, and has now burned nearly every ship the Mother of Dragons had in her fleet. And she’s made the strategically brilliant decision to march north, to Highgarden – a poorly defended honeypot of the very gold she needs to buy off the Iron Bank of Braavos (who are a more valuable ally than any lord with an army).
Once again Sam provides some of the more memorable moments of the episode. His quiet courage in saving Jorah will prove important before the end, of that I’m certain – perhaps Jorah will prove instrumental in keeping Daenerys from slipping into madness when things get really bad for her. The Arch-Maester is proving himself nothing if not a thoughtful man – his reaction to what he knows Sam has done is not ill-considered or rash, but he’s still a creature of the system he represents – one that moves much too slowly to keep up with the pace of events in the world outside the Citadel.
There’s big news up in Winterfell, too, where Sansa seems to be taking well to the minutiae of rule (as indeed one would expect). For the first time in a while I really enjoyed a scene with Petyr Baelish – he seemed to genuinely be giving Sansa the best advice he knew here, and it was sound. One suspects “fight every battle” is the reason he’s still alive when so many around him are dead (and many at his hand). But one suspects that even had Sansa been preparing for any reasonable contingency, she would not have expected what was to happen next.
This was a good feint – it was easy to assume that it would be Arya at the gates of Winterfell. And while any reunion between the Stark children should be an emotional peak, this one was as flat as Bran’s voice. It seems whatever is left of the boy he was is buried beneath too many layers of Raven-vision to shed tears at the sight of his sister, and even in a story full of death and depravity I still find that incredibly sad. I hope Bran is still in there, somewhere. The moment when he reveals that he’s seen what happened to Sansa on that terrible night is a strange, unsettling one, both for us and for Sansa. But how does it change things for Sansa, knowing that there’s someone in the world who understands what she went through? Is it a violation of her privacy, or a realization that she’s less alone than she thought?
We leave things with yet another important character leaving the scene, this time Olenna Tyrell. The incomparable Diana Rigg will certainly be missed, but she goes out with style and grace (could it really have been any other way?). Her mistake was indeed a failure of imagination – as hard and clever a crone as she was, Olenna couldn’t wrap her mind around the depths of Cersei’s depravity. One senses a bit of pity from Olenna for Jaime, and indeed he for her – he does grant her a painless death after all – and she’s almost certainly right that Cersei’s evil will be the destruction of Jaime too before the end of all things. But she can’t resist a final twist of the dagger – revealing that it was she that had the “cunt” Joffrey poisoned. It’s Cersei Olenna wants to know this, not Jaime – he’s just the messenger – but I wonder if he’ll ever tell her.