Disclaimer: This review contains spoilers and speculation
Game of Thrones usually ends its episodes with shock, surprise or sorrow. Rarely does the show end on an upbeat note, and that makes episodes like The Book of the Stranger immediately memorable. Let’s recap the pulse-quickening events of this week:
A downbeat Jon Snow is just about to set off for warmer climes, ignoring the Dolorous pleadings of Edd. Just then, a horn sounds, and there’s a pounding on the doors of Castle Black. The entrance swings open to reveal a haggard Sansa Stark. Snow walks out in a daze, staring in mute disbelief at a sister he had given up for lost. A silence settles on the castle. There is a prolonged moment of inaction, a moment heavy with the laments of six seasons. Baelor’s Sept. The War of the Five Kings. The Red Wedding. The Fall of Winterfell. The Mutiny of the Night’s Watch. Then, Jon Snow and Sansa Stark collapse into an embrace, as the soundtrack swells with the unbearably tragic Stark theme.
If you tell me that you watched this happen without a lump in your throat or a shimmer in your eye, you are either Ramsay Bolton, a White Walker, or the Antistark George R R Martin himself. One of the show’s major successes has been getting its audience so invested in the Stark family, and with the Snow-Sansa reunion, we received our first dividends from that investment in a long time. The shareholders are pleased, Sers Weiss and Benioff. Applause to Kit Harington and Sophie Turner as well for some wonderful acting here.
Not only are Jon and Sansa back together, in a development I hopefully anticipated a few weeks ago, it is Sansa who is providing the spark for the alliance. I pumped my fist in jubilation when she told Jon, “I’m asking you to help me take back Winterfell, but I’ll do it on my own if I need to.” #SansaForTheThrone
To close out The Wall happenings for this week, Jon received a taunting letter from Ramsay that has essentially sown the seeds for an epic Winterfell showdown. The ‘pink letter’ scene is one of the most chilling in the books, and what happens immediately after Jon receives the letter is one of the most thundering, feel-good moments in Martin’s series. However, this story has been altered quite substantially for the screen, and the show didn’t quite live up to the source material in this regard. This is, however, a nitpick considering how well the Wall material worked this week.
Postscript: Something that has been nagging me for weeks was addressed in this episode, as it finally occurred to Davos Seaworth to inquire after the health of Stannis and Shireen Baratheons. I count this as a lapse on the showrunners’ part. Knowing what we do about Davos, it is the first thing he would have asked Melisandre when she appeared at Castle Black in the Season 5 finale. He wouldn’t have waited this long, nor would he have taken it so sedately when he learnt from Brienne that Stannis’s head was rolling around awkwardly in the vicinity of Winterfell. And for god’s sake, he forgot about Shireen again! Come on, Seaworth, you’re a sailor. Plug those plot holes.
We are not likely to forget anytime soon that Ramsay is evil incarnate, so I wish they would stop reminding us by having him butcher someone new every week. This time, it was faithful Osha who perished via pear-knife. The show is dangerously close to overplaying the Ramsay card. That being said, Osha had more or less served her purpose in the story, so her death was inevitable. Wotcher, Osha. Thanks for keeping Rickon safe all these years.
You know how the laugh track erupts into prolonged shrieks and whoops of applause when a special guest makes an appearance on a sitcom? That’s exactly what it felt like when that caravan door flew open and Petyr Baelish stepped out with a grin. As you might expect, Satan’s Little Helper wasted no time in resuming his machinations – threatening poor Lord Royce and manipulating the creepiest kid in Westeros to further complicate his incomprehensible plans. The upshot of it is that Baelish will now head for the Wall, to presumably declare support for Sansa against the Boltons. I’ve honestly lost track of what Littlefinger is trying to do, and I doubt even he knows at this point what his endgame is. Either way, we’ve missed this horrible man dearly.
While Littlefinger has been off plotting world domination, the High Sparrow is slowly taking his place as King’s Landing’s foremost string-puller. Jonathan Pryce has been giving a brilliant performance as the quietly charismatic leader of the faith militant, and he was spellbinding again this week, softly filling Margery Tyrell in on his sinful past before allowing her to see her brother. Margery is sharp enough to sense a hidden agenda, but it looks like Cersei isn’t as perceptive. After Tommen tells her that the High Sparrow has confided to him that Margery is to take a Walk of Atonement, she hatches a plot with Oleanna Tyrell. Maybe they can use the Tyrell army to seize Margery before the Walk (spoilsports), and hopefully expunge the scourge of the faith in the process. While the Lannister-Tyrell alliance is a welcome surprise, I am almost certain this is a trap laid by the shrewd Sparrow, and I can’t wait to see what happens when Cersei walks into it.
The Iron Islands
Yara + Theon = Yeon
Get it? Yawn?
My man Tyrion finally got something substantial to do this week, as he negotiated with the masters of the Great Cities, offering them a seven-year stay on the slavery ban in exchange for their withdrawal of support to the Sons of the Harpy. This was Tyrion doing what he does best, drawing practical and savvy solutions out of of chaos and violence. However, this pragmatism does not go down well with a Meereen that has tasted the idealism of Daenerys. Missandei and Grey Worm are outraged, and even Varys appears slightly stunned at Tyrion’s deal with the devil. It looks like the Imp will have some convincing to do, especially when his queen returns to the city. And speaking of that queen…
Decades from now, some reincarnated film star in Essos will be dancing to Dard-e-Dothraki when he suddenly begins getting flashbacks of the time a silver-haired starlet Om Shanti Om’d him into oblivion.
Stop the ravens, Daenerys Targaryen is interesting again.
For those who shared my cynicism that Dany would become the Grandmother of Dragons before doing anything of consequence, the climax of this episode was word-eating delirium. In a goosebump-inducing scene reminiscent of her liberation of the Unsullied three years ago, Daenerys used her fireproofness to burn down the tent in which she was being held to judgment, roasting a score of khals and emerging regally through the flames, prompting the city of Vaes Dothrak to drop to their knees in frightened awe.
It was a magnificent scene, and a spectacular end to the episode. This was the kind of thing that we should have got for the Jon Snow resurrection, which begs the question: In a twist, could Dany be the ‘prince’ that was promised? If you’re wondering how a woman could be a prince, maybe her mom’s surname was Prince before she got married. It’s been known to happen. Either way, my faith in Dany is restored, but is conditional on two things: (a) We don’t get any more scenes where hushed masses bow to her as she walks naked out of an inferno (b) She books a non-refundable, one-way dragon to Westeros by the end of this season
For the second consecutive week, my enthusiastic assessment is that this is the best episode of the season so far. The story progressed so much this week, and apart from the Iron Islands segment, there wasn’t a dull moment. The episode was so good that we barely felt the absence of Bran and Arya, who have some of the most compelling storylines going on. I am filled with excitement about what is going to happen next.
This was an episode of unions and reunions. Three pairs of brothers and sisters were reunited, although each of these reunions evoked very different emotions. Elsewhere, the Lannisters and Tyrells brokered a union of necessity, while Littlefinger is threatening to snake his way into new alliances of his own. We also saw symbolic reunions for Tyrion and Dany – the former with politics and diplomacy, and the latter with fire and blood. It’s curious that an episode of new beginnings is named after the Westerosi god of death; perhaps it’s a warning that the hope we have been given is a doomed one.
Last week, I commented on the irony of the show renewing its promise with an episode titled Oathbreaker. I’ll make a similar comparison this week. I felt a sense of familiarity with The Book of the Stranger – a familiarity that reassured me that this most breathless of shows has hit its stride again. In other words, Game of Thrones is back, baby.
Overall Rating: 4 / 5 Stars
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