‘Book of the Stranger’
One of Game of Thrones’ greatest strengths over the years has been the fact that it never forgets the past. The short-term memory approach of some shows simply doesn’t happen here. Both narratively and visually, we’re constantly reminded of what has gone before – the same music (Pay the Iron Price, for any other soundtrack aficionados out there) that accompanied Theon misguidedly beheading Rodrik Cassell in season two could be heard when Robb beheaded Rickard Karstark, and when Jon beheaded Janos Slynt, a linking thread which also served to highlight the adverse effects these decisions eventually had. Just last week, as many of us noticed, Dany’s recurring motif that has accompanied her since season one (Fire and Blood is the best version of it), could be heard as Jon cut the rope to execute the Night’s Watch traitors. It’s definitely not just music that harks back, but those are just two examples of a well-trodden, yet supremely effective trait of the show.
I mention this because that was the kind of episode that ‘Book of the Stranger’ was. In pretty much every segment, we were reminded of previous seasons. Characters talked about their past, characters bore the consequences of their past, and in two cases, the scenes were actively recreating past events.The first of this was the ‘hello, goodbye’ moment for Osha. I would say it’s sad to see her go, but what disappointment there was at her absence was sort of spent when she first departed way, way back at the end of season three. And, in the context of that arc now, she really didn’t have a role to play – with or without her, Rickon is in danger (even if there is a conspiracy afoot), but without her, that danger is slightly more apparent. But to return to the point at hand, her death called back to her first seduction (or should I say, manipulation) of Theon when he took Winterfell, yet with notably dire consequences in this case. Amongst the multiple aspects of the link being made, the one I’m most interested in is the reminder that Ramsey is no idiot. There are parallels between his conquest and Theon’s – both took their roles through defying their family, both answer to no-one, and both are, whether Ramsey knows it or not, alone in a sea of enemies. But while Ramsey is certainly unhinged, he has an army, some military nous, and a very defensible position. It’s all well and good Jon and Sansa planning to march with the Wildlings, and even with the knights of the Vale too, but there’s no guarantee they’re successful.
But the Osha scene was of course the lesser of the two homages in the episode, with the bigger focus being on Dany, once more rising from the flames to her waiting people. I mean, objectively speaking, the whole thing has been a bit rushed; she’s gone from capture to Khalasar in four episodes, I’m not convinced by how they managed to pull off the ‘bar the doors trick’, and some might argue that having to recreate a moment from five years ago again isn’t a good thing, it’s stagnation (okay, on that there might be some merit). But right now, is anyone really thinking objectively? I can’t, try as I might, as that moment was every bit as important as the birth of the dragons in season one and the ‘Mhysa’ moment in season three, and certainly felt as important when watching it. Seeing Jorah now joined by Daario in kneeling before her was also a poignant reminder that for all their macho posturing, they are both loyal to a woman with far more power and importance than either of them will ever have.Back in Mereen, it feels like Dany can’t return soon enough. Not because Tyrion’s plan isn’t vaguely sound – because it is – but because judging by the way the show has introduced it, it isn’t going to work. The idea of slowly eradicating slavery does make strategic sense, and also eventually accomplishes the same goal. But there was Grey Worm and Missandei saying it wasn’t going to work. There were other slaves saying it wasn’t going to work. The Wise Masters themselves didn’t outright agree to it. And ultimately, in amongst the moral ambiguity the show otherwise depicts, where slavery is concerned, it’s far more black and white. It just doesn’t feel set up to succeed. The show isn’t averse to red herrings, in fact it does them brilliantly, but in this case it would be rather anti-climactic, leading simply to avoiding any tension, and disregarding the show’s moral compass. Unless, of course, that is the point, in order to free Dany from the conundrum of abandoning emancipation to sail to Westeros in a neat manner. She goes home, and she’s changed the world. Still, I doubt things will be that simple. I hope things won’t be that simple.
At the Wall, there were touching meetings, and less touching ones. I say meetings, as I’m not sure I can say that Sansa and Jon were reunited, given I’m not sure they’ve ever actually spoken on screen before. Saying that, both Sophie Turner and Kit Harington did well to portray the warmth and shared history between them, while Turner in particular continued Sansa’s development as a force in the show in her attempts to convince Jon to ride against the Boltons. Meanwhile, it was brief but extremely satisfying to see Brienne complete her tour of justice – having executed Stannis, she now got to reveal that to the real mastermind behind Renly’s murder, Melisandre. Yet the blank expression on her face at the news gave support to her new loyalty to Jon, something that Davos may bring to the fore in weeks to come.In Pyke, on his return home, Theon was once more greeted by his sister, yet this time there was to be no incestuous Hollywood-style horse ride. Yara’s anger at Theon seems slightly unjustified – yes, his state did cause the death of her men, but that wasn’t really his fault. When he said he was broken into pieces, he didn’t mean physically, as should have been obvious to her given how much of a wreck he is even now he’s safe. With that confrontation out the way, the stage is set for the Kingsmoot (next week, perhaps?). Now all that remains is for Euron to step out the shadows and reveal his presence and really shake things up.
Finally, we got a number of developments in King’s Landing. The end result seemed to be fairly straightforward, as well as a rather long time coming, in the fact that the grand plan to defeat the High Sparrow is to use force, but it was to the credit of the episode that the character side of things wasn’t lost in this. It was refreshing to have a reminder of Kevan’s personal stake in proceedings. As the least prominent player in this situation, it’s easy to reduce him to simply an obstacle, but there have always been two elements to his character – his pride and love for Lancel as his son, and also, his subservience when confronted with a counterargument. It was how Tywin kept him quiet, and Cersei seems to have worked that out too, worryingly, as for her to have a monopoly on control isn’t a heartening prospect.
A second great episode in a row, then. Usually at this point, I sit here and wonder how we’re already nearly halfway through the season, but this time around I’m sat here wondering how we’re only four episodes in. It feels a long time ago that we saw Jon resurrected, and it was only two episodes before that that he was killed. It’s been a packed season so far, and the way it’s shaping up, it’s only going to get busier.