So everyone who pirated the first four episodes of the season had to wait a month for this. I bet they were disappointed. After being left with a massive cliffhanger at the end of Sons of the Harpy, there wasn’t a whole lot of action or adventure in this week’s episode of Game of Thrones. If anything, it’s almost as if this was an episode ten to last week’s episode nine. Not that such a comparison would make most people happy.
Picking up where we ended last week, Grey Worm didn’t die but Ser Barristan did. It seems as though every week is another practical demonstration of conquering and ruling being two very different things. While Dany and her combined army of the Unsullied and the Second Sons have proven quite adept at taking over much of Essos, they’re equally as poor at maintaining the order.
So, for some reason, Dany thinks that feeding the leaders of the great houses of Meereen won’t make things worse. Then she thinks marrying the fella with the curly hair that’s always hanging around will help ease tensions in Meereen. Obviously that’s not going to work because that would be far too dull a solution for this show considering what resolutions typically entail.
It all makes me wonder what happens when Varys and Tyrion show up, if they show up. Varys thinks that the Targaryen girl is the best leader for the future of the Seven Kingdoms but she can’t hold down one city. Tyrion was the real strategic brains behind Joffrey’s early reign so you think that he wouldn’t have a problem dealing a much less psychopathic ruler… assuming Dany doesn’t go the way of the Mad King. Feeding people to dragons doesn’t exactly scream mentally stable. Also, weren’t the dragons trying to kill her a couple of weeks ago?
Dany’s story plays a big part in the show but she might also be one of the worst characters on the show. I don’t mean that she’s a terrible person. I just don’t think that she’s particularly interesting. If she didn’t have dragons, would she be on four of five episodes this season? She’s not the compelling part of her storyline but everyone around her. I’m looking forward to Varys and Tyrion showing up more so than seeing what Dany might do next without them.
For the second week in a row, we got a lovely father-child bonding moment. Last week, we had the one true Mannis of Westeros, Stannis Baratheon, reaffirming his love for his daughter. We got sort of the same out of Roose and Ramsay Bolton.
Of course, because this was House Bolton, both scenes this played out over were a giant f*cked up power trip for both men. Ramsay, being Ramsay, tried tormenting Sansa over her younger brothers who Theon/Reek supposedly murdered when they escaped Winterfell back in Season Two. Roose quite effectively turned the tables on the legitimized bastard of the Dreadfort by informing him that Fat Walda was pregnant.
While the motto of House Bolton is “Our blades are sharp” and one of their more frequent catch phrases is “A naked man hold few secrets; a flayed man holds none,” they seem to enjoy psychological warfare just as much as military combat and torture. So while Ramsay was trying to torment Sansa and break her mentally, Roose took Ramsay down a couple of pegs so that he knew that he was still in charge.
This is all to make sure that Ramsay knows his place in the war to come. They know that Stannis is on his way down from Castle Black to start his match to the Iron Throne. While we haven’t seen Ramsay show an inclination to want to assume lordship of the Dreadford and wardenship of the North, considering how everyone wants power in this world, you can understand why Roose would try to manipulate Ramsay to keep him in line. Roose’s mouth might have been saying that the Bolton boys need to fight as family to defeat Stannis but the real message was “You step out of line and I have a backup plan for my future.
Speaking of the Mannis, just before he started heading south, he tasked Samwell Tarly with the most important job in the whole series. Stannis charged Sam with finding ways to defeat the White Walkers. No pressure, Sam, but the entire realm is relying on you to save the day. The next time someone looks down on you if you read books and they’re a Game of Thrones fan, tell them that Sam’s about to save the Seven Kingdoms. Then tell them that this was a book series first.
And The Wall finally brings me to the title of the episode. No, they aren’t actually trying to kill anyone. It’s a metaphor about how Jon needs to grow up fast in order to succeed as the Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. His plan is to bring the Free Folk south of The Wall and enlist them to fight the White Walkers when the time comes.
While Jon’s plan makes sense as the Free Folk are just going to throw themselves at The Wall until they get south and the unsuccessful would just join the army of the undead, the wounds are just too fresh for the remnants of the Night’s Watch to support him. If ever there was a test of his new leadership that could take him down, it would be trying to change the relationship between the Wildlings and the realm. It’s also not one that either side is interested in re-exploring. Political intrigue comes in many forms on this show and this is probably the most intriguing right now.
And while the final scene with Tyrion and Jorah on the river boat cruise to hell might not be the most exciting part of the show, it might have been the most beautiful. The two sailing down the river through the ruins of Valyria was a powerful image in an episode that was decidedly lacking in them (and that’s including the dragons killing folk). We had Drogon soaring above the ruins in a moment that struck Tyrion and Jorah with a great sense of awe. Then we had these old ruins that still somehow seemed more impressive than most of the rest of the architecture that we’ve seen elsewhere in Game of Thrones (the possible exceptions being the Water Gardens of Dorne, the statue in Bravos and the pyramid of Meereen).
Interestingly, all the mentions of greyscale this season actually paid off in this episode. The ruins of Valyria also happen to be where the outcast Stone Men afflicted with greyscale are banished to which makes it the perfect place for a leisurely sail. Unfortunately for the dynamic duo, they’re also insane, homicidal and highly infectious so they could kill T/J by killing them or sentencing them to a slow death with an infectious touch.
For once, Tyrion wasn’t hit with a death sentence (yet) but Jorah was. Given that he’s trying to get back in Dany’s good books, it seems like he’s gearing up to do something stupid. Okay, when isn’t Ser Friendzone gearing up to do something stupid but whatever he’s planning will end up going very, very badly. Maybe it’ll cause Dany some trouble that causes her story to get interesting. Okay, good things like that don’t happen in this show.
So as we reach the halfway point of the fifth season, Game of Thrones feels like it started the season with a five-episode mini season and will be immediately followed by a second mini season. I’m not sure if that’ll be a better way to structure a season until we actually get through the season.
For this episode, it felt far too much like the “when are they getting to the fireworks factory” episodes of the early season but I also know that Game of Thrones doesn’t constantly bombard us with action. That being said, there’s also the worry that you could back off the action so much that it feels like nothing happened. Until the final scene with Tyrion and Jorah, the episode felt dangerously close to having nothing happen.
There’s a delicate balance between doing too much and doing too little. Last season, in hindsight, it almost felt like too much happened too quickly. This season, you know big events are coming but they appear to all be coming in the final five episodes which might make them a little too packed for their own good. I guess there’s no pleasing everyone, especially me, apparently.
Other random points of note:
- This is going to sound weird but Mannis and I have the same complex about less vs. fewer. I make a point of trying to use the correct word (the easy way to think of it is that quantifiable measures is fewer) but it’s great to see a King feel the same way about grammar as I do. Flaming ❤
- Prince Harry is reportedly being eyed for a Season Six cameo. I hope he plays a background soldier that gets killed after a few seconds without uttering a line. The guy’s not an actor and doesn’t take himself too seriously. I think he’d find it an honour to be killed on-screen.
- It’s hard to write a Game of Thrones review when you’re way too busy for your own good.
Next week, the Bronn and Jaime show close in on the Water Gardens of Dorne while the Sand Snakes close in on Myrcella. In Braavos, Arya gets closer to becoming a Faceless… person? I suppose that’s the gender neutral way of putting it. And in King’s Landing, war between the Tyrells and Lannisters is very nearly ready to break out as both families fight for control of Tommen. While that’s happening the Faith Militant meet Littlefinger who has to lie his way out of another mess. That’s next week in Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken.