Monday, May 16, 2016

Book of the Stranger

This week's Game of Thrones started off with a real "stand up and cheer" moment, as two long-separated siblings actually reunited after being split apart clear back in season one. Sansa actually made it to the Wall, and to Jon Snow.

It's only when you really pause to think about it that you realize how odd it is that on a long-running TV series with more than a dozen people in its principle cast, many of those actors never share scenes with one another. Imagine Lost if Jack and Locke were kept apart for five years, or Firefly if Jayne and Book never crossed paths. Game of Thrones works as it is, of course, but it's a real oddity in the television landscape.

So when Sansa and Jon Snow reunite, it's a Big Frakking Deal. As big as Jon Snow's death and resurrection, if you ask me. Maybe bigger, because it's not going to go down this way at all in the books. Though you could begin to see in this episode how the show was taking steps to realign itself with the books, by pointing several players toward a meeting at Winterfell. For Jon, it's a mission to rescue Rickon from Ramsay Bolton (spurred on by a letter of similar content that actually reached him before his death in the books). For Davos, it's a similar quest to find Rickon (a quest given solely to him in the books). Sansa and Littlefinger, in each other's company in the books, are here separately pointed toward Winterfell too.

And I'll get back to Littlefinger in a moment, but first, I love how the show didn't miss an opportunity in having Brienne up at the Wall too, to confront Davos and Melisandre over the deaths of Renly and Stannis. I'll be curious to see what friction develops between the three characters. Melisandre has already transferred her zealotry for Stannis to Jon Snow, so it likely means little to her that Brienne executed the king. But what about Davos... particularly if he ever learns the true circumstances of Shirene's death, as he was probing?

So then, Littlefinger. I'm thrilled to see Westeros' biggest power player back in the mix this week. On the one hand, I'm perhaps a touch disappointed to see him rounding up an army for a big battle. It's decidedly not his style. On the other hand, his manner for doing so, manipulating a powerful (child) lord to do his bidding, very much is his style. And in the same breath, he fired a warning shot at a rival, saying "you're only alive as long as I allow it." Yeah, classic Littlefinger. The day someone actually gets one up on him will be a day to see.

Across the Narrow Sea, Tyrion actually took the reins (and reign) this week as he worked for peace, much to the distaste of all parties involved. I liked the characterization of Missandei and Grey Worm throughout this sequence, particularly the chiding of Tyrion for imagining that his brief experience as a slave (far briefer here even than it was in the books) in any way taught him the full horrors of the practice. The interesting thing, though, is that despite his numerous faux pas, despite the way everyone bristled at the moral and financial compromises, he did seem to be moving the needle. Tyrion is a political animal. He too was in his element here.

Of course, it's Daenerys who was working the real solution to the slavery problem. I got exactly what I've wanted this last few weeks: she solved her own problem -- no dragons, no rescue from Jorah and Daario. (Though those two did in fact get their heroic moment of being there for a rescue, which Dany then refused. And the mini "odd couple buddy cop movie" they played out before that happened was a lot of fun to watch.) Before Daenerys had any followers, or dragons, or control of any cities, she had one "super power" -- she's the Unburnt. So she used that power in a dramatic show to rally new followers in much the same way she did the first time: walking unscathed out of a blaze. Now she has a brand new Dothraki army that she can march back west to cut through the Meereenese Knot once and for all.

And though I've now skipped ahead to the episode's flashy ending, there's a lot that happened in between. King's Landing provided some interesting developments this week. We picked up on Margaery's captivity, and I found the thread strangely compelling. Put in much the same situation as Cersei, she has proven to be far stronger than Cersei. She puts on some image of being broken down, but she's in fact holding quite strong. She tosses out a few barbs about the "Shame"ful septa, gets the High Sparrow to reveal a very personal story from his past, and gets what she has demanded: a chance to see her brother. Unfortunately, Loras has not done well in prison at all. He's fallen apart completely, and that might be the thing that finally forces Margaery's compliance.

If we ever get to see that moment, anyway. Because within the Red Keep, Cersei and Lady Olenna are on the same page now. That's a rare and frightening prospect. While it's a shame that on the show Kevan Lannister (who in the books is much more stern and commanding, in the image of Tywin) is such a pushover on the show, I'll go along with it to see him bow in the face of these two women who almost always get what they want. Cersei would never ally with Olenna, of course, if she knew how Joffrey's death really went down. And there's also a flaw here that's the same flaw in all of Cersei's plans: what's step 2? Sure, let's bring in an army to take down the church supporters. But then what if that army doesn't continue to do what you want, Cersei?

Theon Greyjoy returned to the Iron Islands and his sister Yara. He could not possibly begin to make her understand why he turned down her rescue only to later escape himself. And how could she understand? But she seemed to perk up when he offered his help to get her elevated to the throne. Yet it's hard to imagine what broken, shattered Theon, who hardly spent any time in the Islands before becoming a ward of Ned Stark, could possibly do to influence things at the upcoming Kingsmoot. (And particularly hard to imagine for book readers to imagine, as the Kingsmoot has already taken place there, and Theon was nowhere to be seen.)

And lastly, we got a short scene between Ramsay and Osha. I'm glad they didn't play out more "torture at the hands of Ramsay Bolton" for a few weeks. And yet, I wasn't expecting Osha to get back into the story after three years only to die so quickly. It's easier by far to get the drop on Ramsay than Littlefinger, of course. But then, give Ramsay even the slightest provocation, and he'll kill you. So goodbye Osha. And here's hoping Jon Snow rallies his troops quickly for Rickon.

A satisfying episode overall. (Even if Bran did sit the bench for a week, further delaying revelations at the Tower of Joy.) I give the episode an A-.

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