Monday, June 15, 2015

Mother's Mercy

Well, Game of Thrones fans: those of you who haven't read the books are now basically in the same boat as those of us who have. There's a scattered chapter here or there yet to be picked up, but generally it seems pretty clear at this point that if the show hasn't adapted it, the plan is to cut it from the story entirely. At the same time, there are several plot threads where the book has passed the books entirely.

Take Stannis' storyline. In the books, Ramsay Bolton has sent a menacing letter that claims he defeated Stannis in battle. But come on, it's Ramsay Bolton. Are you going to believe him? Well, maybe now, after seeing tonight's episode. Things unraveled quickly for Stannis after burning his daughter and legacy. His wife killed herself, Melisandre abandoned him (after half his army did the same), and he lost the battle (albeit taking out most of the other side in the process).

Then Brienne got her big moment. After watching the broken tower window diligently for... weeks?... (who knows exactly how long it's been)... she left at just the critical moment to go exact revenge for Renly. And you can understand her choice, within the rigid code of a knight. Her first vow was sworn to Renly, not Catelyn, so even though Sansa is alive and Renly long dead, Brienne chose vengeance over being a guardian. But she did get her man.

This left Sansa's rescue to someone else. Sansa did as much for herself as she likely could, recognizing the moment to break out of her room and light the signal candle. But when that wasn't enough, Theon Greyjoy reemerged from within the depths of Reek, and the two jumped off the ramparts of Winterfell together into a snowdrift below. Where they'll go next and who will find them is anybody's guess.

Brienne wasn't the only one to get her man, as Arya exacted a brutal revenge on Ser Meryn. There was, I think, a deliberate echo to the Red Viper's death at the hands (literally) of the Mountain -- though after taking out both Meryn's eyes, Arya wanted to be sure he knew who she was and why she was killing him. Her actions may have felt good in the moment, but it didn't sit well with "Jaqen H'ghar" (whose name now goes in quotes, because who knows who he really is, or if Arya even ever met the original). After one "Jaqen's" fanatical sacrifice to balance the scales, the other inflicted blindness on Arya. The adventures of the little blind girl (book shout-out!) will be picked up next season.

Still another assassin would claim her target, as we zipped over to Dorne for the apparent payoff of the slowest storyline of the season. Just moments after Myrcella confessed to Jaime that she knew he was her father -- and that she still loved him anyway -- she dropped dead of a poisoned kiss delivered by Ellaria Sand. It still hardly seems necessary to have introduced the Sand Snakes to tell this story (though at least we now know what the poisoned Bron subplot was all about: setting up the antidote for Ellaria this week). That Myrcella would die (even though she's still alive in the books) isn't exactly a shocker -- Cersei's prophecy tells us she's fated to outlive her children. But what repercussions fly back in Dorne's direction feel much less predictable.

Across the Narrow Sea in Meereen, Tyrion secretly assumes power behind Grey Worm and Missandei. The surprise here was the return of Varys, but it was a welcome one, giving us a great little verbal sparring match between him and Tyrion. The two made quite a pair before Jorah rudely tore them apart, so the promise of seeing more of them next season is something to look forward to.

Meanwhile, Jorah and Darrio teamed up for a road trip to find Daenerys. And it seems she'll need the rescue, because -- just as in the book -- she's forced to leave Drogon and set out on her own, only to be found by a group of Dothraki. We can only speculate as to what the Dothraki will think about finding her, but given the way Dany quickly removed and dropped that ring (a gift from Khal Drogo, if I recall), she doesn't seem to think they'll be happy to see her.

Cersei's walk of atonement ("Shame!") was as much a swirl of conflicting emotion as it was in the book: a thrill to see her brought low, a horror at how dehumanizing it was, and a realization that the punishment probably wasn't out of line with the crime (given what she's truly guilty of). The show offered us nothing about the status of Maergery or Lorys (or the barb-tongued Olenna), but it was far more direct about the identity of Cersei's new protector, the zombified Gregor Clegane.

And speaking of zombies, it's north to the Wall for the finale. Early in the episode, Jon sent Sam away to train at Oldtown as a maester. (Which here in the show was Sam's idea, not Jon's -- a nice moment of agency for the character.) That set the stage for the brutal finale, where a band of Night's Watch men executed Jon as a traitor. ("Et tu, Ollie?") This is exactly where A Dance With Dragons ends when it comes to the story up north, so I think I'm not spoiling anything when I say that many book readers are convinced that this is one death in this story that isn't going to stick. And one of the theories about how that might come to pass is intact, given the way things were set up in the final minutes of the episode.

It will be a long year before we get more Game of Thrones, though it will be comforting to know we have only a year before the story is continued, as opposed to the four-years-and-counting since George R.R. Martin last published a book. He has reportedly dropped everything else to redouble his writing efforts on book six, but one way or another, we get more story in a year. And this episode -- a tantalizing grade A, certainly made me hungry for that.

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