Finally - FINALLY - some gosh-dang character development!
Recent episodes of this show have felt hollow. Just a string of horrible things with little substance or context to give meaning to the horror. This made for some exciting scenes, but a growing feeling, for me anyway, that this great show had become merely pretty good. Just in time, we got some great conversations.
First, we got to see Varys at work, more clearly than I ever remember seeing before. His questioning of the woman working for the Sons of the Harpy was a reminder of why I love this show. He did not torture her - recognizing that torture produces the wrong answers - but he walks her towards seeing where her best interest lies. Perfectly executed, well-executed, but, in its own way, totally ruthless.
Tyrion’s conversation in the meantime was equally brilliant. His discomfort around sober individuals - both in relation to alcohol and attitude - is palpable. Half of his charm is lost if his audience isn’t at least a little bit morally compromised.
Missandei: “We don’t drink.”
Tyrion: “Until you do.”
Wonderful stuff. But, really, what we see is that the serious, uncompromising people want to kill. Tyrion and Varys will use violence when necessary, but they see other considerations as well. This seems to be one of the other lessons of the series: morally uncompromising people are, ironically, not to be trusted with leadership. Still, it seems that some rich slave-owning pricks are about to get assassinated. Maybe not the morally pure rebuke Greyworm would have wanted, but calculated and effective nonetheless.
I am intrigued by what’s happening to Daenerys. She wants some wiggle-room to leave the widows, and they may be willing to let her go, but her future is far from certain. I predict some dragon burns in the near future (paging Dr. Drogon). Until then, she’s going to have to play this new game with the widows if she ever wants to be free to seek her destiny.
Tommen is frustrating. He keeps attempting to take stands, but getting outplayed by those around him. The High Sparrow - poster boy for uncompromising dickheads - charms him and out-maneuvers the king to hold power for himself. I swear, someone’s gonna kill that walking Infinity ad, though I fear it will be unsatisfying.
Cersei, on the other hand, has regained much of her potency. It’s amazing what an undead super-warrior champion will do for your self-esteem. Everyone hates her and fears her, which is when she’s at her best. I’m still rooting for her and Jamie, and I still feel dirty about it.
Arya, too, has returned to power. They finally gave her enough screen time for a proper training montage, so that was nice. I really miss the warg thread from the novels, but on its own merit, her story was well-told here. I don’t confess to know which way this story will go, but certainly, some of the people on her list still deserve to die, so perhaps she will be the hand of justice after all.
So much happened in this episode, I don’t even really have the space to talk about Sam and Gilly, though I enjoyed their short scene as well.
Three very important things happened this week. First, Bran learned something about his father (and nearly learned what we all have already guessed about Jon Snow). Honorable Ned Stark did not fight honorably. His man Reed stabbed the Kingsguard in the back, and Ned killed an injured and unarmed man. This is hardly the action of the paragon of honor Ned held himself out to be. Additionally, it would certainly appear that Ned’s sister had been kidnapped by Raegar, and then we hear her scream. It certainly looks like Jon Snow is Ned’s nephew, not his bastard, and that he is a Targeryan by birth. But we kinda knew that already. Ned’s squishy relationship with honorable battle is by far the bigger reveal.
And then there’s Rickon. I’ve been loudly asking this question to people since he left with Osha: Where is Rickon?! (BTW, strangers don’t usually like it when you scream that question at them in a bar) And now he’s back. Though, not in any way I would have hoped. I’m not sure what Ramsay will do with him, but I have one guess. My belief is that Ramsay is more calculated than people give him credit for. I think he’s less rabid dog and more sociopathic usurper. Based on that, I think he’ll torture him, certainly. But, I think he’ll try to force Rickon to bend the knee to garner more Northern support. He may even use him to bait Jon Snow.
That leads me back to the wall. Jon is alive, obviously. He has to oversee the execution of several men who broke their oath to the Night’s Watch by turning on their Lord Commander. This recalls the opening scenes of the first season, when Ned told his boys that they should never send a man to his death unless they were willing to mete out that justice themselves. And yet, the title of the episode certainly appears to refer to Jon Snow. He’s the one who walks out. However, the oath of the Night’s Watch is only till death. He died, so that should free him. He gives the command to his man, and then takes off with a truly great angry walk. My gut tells me he saw more between death and rebirth than he told Melisandre and, therefore, is headed somewhere to rip some shit. If I were Ramsay Bolton, I’d watch my ass.
No doubt, all of these conversations will lead to physical conflict and bloodshed. Power will shift and split, and kingdoms will be reshaped. But the real story starts in these conversations, no matter how elegant the room.