While the first three episodes were pretty good, if a bit slow, Game of Thrones needed to pull the trigger on something big to keep most people engaged in the show. Last week, I called it “the fireworks factory.” This week, Game of Thrones went bang. If you were waiting for something big to happen, you were certainly taken care of this week.
Spoiler Alert: As per the new spoiler rules, there is no book discussion allowed in the comments. Everything on TV, up to and including this episode, is fair game. Yes, that applies to both the comments and this review.
So since we’ve done the spoiler warning, let’s just start with the biggest spoiler of the night so you really shouldn’t read any further if you haven’t watched the episode. Actually, if you haven’t watched the preview for next week’s episode, you might want to stop here as well.
In the preview for next week’s episode, they confirmed that Ser Barristan was killed in that fight at the end of the episode while Grey Worm’s fate was left up in the air. Of course, there are another six or so Unsullied who were quickly mowed down like chumps by the Sons of the Harpy. Yes, I know they were outnumbered three or four-to-one but for being the best fighting force in the world, you would have thought that they would have stood a better chance against a bunch of rich guys who are unlikely to have been formally trained in combat.
Granted, the setup was obvious the second the bells started ringing. With the lovely happy moment that Dany and Barristan shared and the show’s propensity for not letting anyone stay happy for long, something bad was always about to happen. For the most feared swordsman in Westeros to go down to a bunch of punks wasn’t an ideal end, we got to see a bit of what made him so amazing. For a 67-year-old man (Ian McElhinney’s actual age) to cut through a dozen guys like a hot knife threw butter and save Grey Worm’s younger and better trained skin was pretty bad ass.
My problem isn’t that Ser Barristan died. While I’ve heard about Barristan’s fate in the books, having not read all of them, I don’t have a problem with the show making big changes to the source material. Considering that David and D.B. are moving at a much faster pace than George, chances are the show will write an ending independently of the books. Imagine how much sh*t that’ll stir up when the books and show have very different conclusions.
My problem is with how lazy the setup for Ser Barristan’s death was. One of the reasons I gave up on The Walking Dead, and there were many, was that it was so predictable when they were going to kill people off. In Game of Thrones, they’ve made a point of making sure that we know that no one is safe at any point in time. The Walking Dead had (maybe still has) this habit of only giving a secondary character any focus or development right before they die so maybe you’ll care.
Now, Ser Barristan wasn’t one of those generic Walking Dead chumps who were fodder for the sake of “plot development” but he wasn’t a central character either. The happy story about Rhaegar’s singing was very out of place compared to the usual wisdom Barristan brought to the table. It stuck out like a sore thumb and I knew trouble was afoot the second the bells rang. The writers telegraphed this one and that’s not their style.
So what results is a job opening in Dany’s small council. While I doubt Ser Jorah Friendzone is likely to get his spot back right away, she does have Tyrion en route and Varys somewhere to bail her out of this mess. I would have liked to see Dany have three wise men running the show in Meereen but one might have been pushed to the periphery which isn’t something that any of them deserves.
Meanwhile, the King’s Landing power struggle between the Queen and the Queen Mother continued. I don’t want to say that I told you that Tommen was going to be walked all over but he’s getting walked all over by everyone. Cersei is walking all over the King because she’s his mother. Margaery is using sex to manipulate Tommen and the two are trying their best to be the voice in the King’s head.
After Maggie got the advantage last week, it was Cersei’s turn to get the upper hand through the resurrection of the religious police called the Faith Militant. Quickly allying herself with a seemingly manipulatable High Sparrow who is now the High Septon. Of course, both are likely playing the game. The High Sparrow knows he has very little to stand on this early in his stewardship while Cersei knows she needs any ally she can get.
But under the guise of enforcing religious order in Westeros, Cersei used the Faith Militant to arrest Loras Tyrell for “breaking the laws of gods and men” because he’s not exactly a closeted homosexual. Cersei also removed Mace Tyrell from the picture by sending him to Braavos. I don’t know whether Meryn Trant was sent along to off Mace or just as a threat. So it’s Round 2 to Cersei. Maggie hit her where she lives so Cersei repaid her in kind.
While Ser Barristan’s death seems like the biggest moment of the episode, the longer lasting implications may come from the War of the Queens. Whoever wins the power struggle for Tommen will control the Seven Kingdoms. And both have to tread lightly because the Lannisters are reliant on the Tyrells to maintain control through their gold and amry while the Tyrells need the Lannister bloodline for a legitimate claim to the throne. While Stannis and Dany do their posturing outside of King’s Landing, the real tug of war happens behind the scenes.
Meanwhile, at the Wall, Stannis the Mannis got a lovely human moment with his daughter. While we look at the Mannis as this hard-ass who is willing to stop at nothing to secure his rightful rule of Westeros, he might be the most morally upstanding man in Westeros. His talk with his daughter, whose mother seems to have so little time for, brought out that seldom seen soft side of Stannis. While he might dream of world domination in association with a deity who gets off on torching people, he’s a genuine and sweet Mannis underneath it all.
And in Winterfell, Littlefinger revealed a little more of his plan to take charge of the Seven Kingdoms. I know that we’re supposed to think of Petyr as a smart man, and I’m sure he think he’s the smartest man in Westeros, but he’s certainly making a lot of questionable decisions.
So Littlefinger is ostensibly an ally of the Lannisters (though Cersei seemed ready to burn that bridge with the Faith Militant). However, he’s allied with the Tyrells to get rid of Joffrey. He’s the Lord Protector of the Vale which gives him command of those armies. He’s marrying Sansa off to Roose Bolton which might result in the support of the armies of the North. And, somehow, he’s thrown his lot in with Stannis and expects him to take the North back and install Sansa as the Wardeness of the North.
It just seems as though he hasn’t bet on any one faction. He has ties to nearly everyone (short of Dany) that could end up as the Lord of the Seven Kingdoms. He might pretend to love Sansa or actually love her but she’s really just a pawn on the chessboard. Littlefinger is just manoeuvring the pieces around the board and is ready to sacrifice whichever pieces he needs to achieve victory. Of course, that backfires the second someone realizes what he is up to. When the Lannisters or Tyrells or Baratheons realize that he’s in bed with another group, it’s his ass on the line.
Oh, and Jaime and Bronn are absolutely awesome together. I think that Jerome Flynn elevates anyone that he’s opposite. You would think that Peter Dinklage or Aiden Gillen would take over as the scene general in Charles Dance’s absence but I’d say that old sellsword is doing the best job on this show right now.
So what we’re left with is a trip to the fireworks factory. I know that the ninth episode of the season is what the show is historically considered to build to but these last few seasons have had big moments in between to keep us engaged. It’s not a one episode season but there are big moments for everyone throughout the season.
If you were looking for action, this was the episode for you. If you were looking for buddy comedy, you’ve had great moments all season but especially with Jaime and Bronn this week. Political action and intrigue has also been happening all season but certainly kept climbing this week. The only thing that we were missing was some proper romance… unless you ship Sansa and Littlefinger. This was a great episode for everyone. It doesn’t have to be the ninth episode that we’ve historically looked for.
Other random points of note:
- I think everyone and their mother knew that Jorah was going to take Tyrion to Dany.
- Is it everyone or just redheads who tell Jon Snow that he knows nothing?
- The less said about the Sand Snakes scene, the better. That was not a pretty scene.
- Greyworm and Ser Barristan Selmy #TrueDetectiveSeason3
Next week, we deal with the fallout of this week’s episode. While people who watched the leaked episodes have been waiting for four weeks to get to this point, the rest of us only have to wait for a week. Of course, we had a preview of Episode Five so it’s not like we had that unresolved cliffhanger like they did. I think we won on this deal by not pirating the most pirated show on TV.
Anyway, next week, DRAGONS! Dany looks like she tries to make amends with her two kids while Tyrion sees his first one. Sansa’s still in Winterfell with the always amazing and amazingly volatile Ramsay Snow. The Mannis wastes no more time and marches south to Winterfell, possibly with Littlefinger’s armies poised to help whoever he thinks is best positioned to help him. And if I was to hazard a guess, Jon tries to work out a deal with Tormund for peace. Of course, all that in the preview and we don’t know which boy is the target in next week’s episode called Kill the Boy.