‘Game of Thrones’ Recap: “Book of the Stranger” – Brothers and Sisters

     May 15, 2016

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Tonight’s Game of Thrones was all about brothers and their much more angry, impassioned, and sure-of-mind sisters. Many have commented about how Season 6 of Game of Thrones seems to be giving more of the power to the women, and “Book of the Stranger” appeared to reinforce that idea. In this new era of Game of Thrones where the old guard are dying and the new generation is stepping up to take their place, more often than not, that new generation is led by the fury of women.

Like many episodes of Game of Thrones, “Book of the Stranger” had a riveting beginning, a galvanizing end… and, um, some stuff in the middle. Here’s everything that went down in Season 6, Episode 4 — from those glorious bookends, to the details in-between.

Castle Black


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Image via HBO

Praise the TV gods — we finally, finally got a Stark reunion. (I half expected for someone to take Sansa out as she as she rode into Castle Black, so scarred am I still by the Red Wedding and Arya’s almost reunion with her mother and brother.) The Sansa and Jon reunion was understated, but still cathartic and emotional. These two might not have been the best of friends growing up in Winterfell — a fact to which they humorously allude — but now that they have experienced the worst of what the world has to offer, they value their familiar bond more than anything. For me, this was one of the most important scenes of the entire show.

“Where will you go?” Sansa asks her brother. “Where will we go,” he responds. This isn’t even a question for Jon Snow. He is done doing his duty. He chose the Night’s Watch and the path of honor over his family once. Now, he will do the opposite, and be glad for it. Though Jon has chosen his family, he doesn’t choose the fight for Winterfell so easily. It is Sansa who grew up with a valid right to Winterfell, her Stark blood validated by marriage, and it is Sansa who knows first hand the atrocities Ramsay is capable of. Not to mention that Jon is still weary from his war efforts beyond the Wall and within the walls of Castle Black.

Channeling Catelyn Stark, it is Sansa who makes a case for war. And, like her mother, Sansa’s campaign may be fueled by emotion, by what she and the people she has loved have endured, but it is also guided by a stalwart pragmatism. She argues that, as long as Ramsay Bolton has the North, no one will be safe. Not the Starks and not the people who live within the North’s jurisdiction. Ramsay proves her point by sending a letter to Jon, filled with colorful threats of what he will do to Rickon and Sansa and the wildling army if Jon doesn’t hand Sansa over willingly.


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Image via HBO

The letter is obviously meant to incite Jon into action, but that doesn’t mean action isn’t the smart course. It also serves to seemingly get the wildlings on Jon’s side, as Ramsay conveniently specifically threatens their number. But it is Sansa who strikes the winning argument, spelling it out for Jon in simple terms: “A monster has taken our home and our brother. We have to go back to Winterfell and save them both.”

It is so gratifying to see how far Sansa has come, to see her come out of all of the horribly things she has experienced fighting. She doesn’t owe the world or Winterfell anything — not after both have failed her so terribly — but that doesn’t mean her choice of justful vengeance isn’t the one we hoped she would take. Here’s hoping Jon and Sansa get to Rickon before Ramsay Bolton has time to do something terrible to him.

Winterfell

Speaking of Ramsay Bolton doing terrible things, R.I.P., Osha. It was sad to see such a prominent character from earlier seasons killed off so quickly, but I guess that’s what happens on a show with roughly one million storylines to juggle. Osha was clever and fierce until the end, trying to distract Ramsay with seduction while reaching for his blade. But Ramsay is as prepared as he is cruel. He tortured any and all information about Rickon and Bran’s escape from Theon. Therefore, he knows Osha is loyal. He toys with her, lets her think she might have a chance at his murder, before putting a knife through her neck instead. Ramsay Bolton really is the worst.

King’s Landing


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Image via HBO

The tensions in King’s Landing continues to simmer, which makes for fine television. I’d like to see the week-to-week King’s Landing plot make a bit more headway, but it’s hard to complain when we finally get to spend some quality time with Margaery for the first time this season.

Like Sansa, Margaery gets to see her brother for the first time after an extended separation marked by suffering. And, like Sansa, Margaery is the sibling that needs to give a pep talk to her brother. Unlike Jon Snow, Loras has always been the weak one — something he admits to his sister when she tells him to be strong. So much so that he asks Margaery to get him out of his continued imprisonment any way she knows how. Loras doesn’t care about the family or about winning — which, let’s be honest, is probably how most of us would feel in this situation.

Loras’ complete implosion of spirit is made even more depressing by the fact that, unlike Cersei or arguably (to a much smaller extent) Margaery, Loras hasn’t done anything that warrants any kind of punishment. He is there because he is gay, a storytelling element I wish Game of Thrones addressed a bit more bravely. Although, to be fair, the High Sparrow doesn’t actually seem to care about Loras’ sexuality. Or Margaery’s vanity. Or Cersei’s murderous machinations, for that matter. He cares about their unchecked wealth and privilege, about the ways in which they lazily live out the status quo as the underprivileged masses struggle and die around them.

In many ways, the High Sparrow is the “ruler” we should be cheering for — in that he is not a ruler at all. He doesn’t want to take over this entire corrupt system. He wants to burn it all to the ground. Cersei knows it, and she fears it. She tells Tommen that the High Sparrow wants to tear down the institutions of power of Westeros and replace them with nothing. Presumably, the High Sparrow has a better plan than replacing them with nothing, but the Small Council is not waiting around to find out what it is. Jaime and Cersei have finally convinced the Tyrells to throw their army behind a take-down of the Faith Militant — a move that would go against Tommen’s orders to leave the High Sparrow alone in all but a technicality. With this decision, many will probably die, which really just proves the point the High Sparrow is trying to make about Cersei & Co. in the first place.

Meereen


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Image via HBO

Across the Narrow Sea, Cersei’s little brother is making his own play at ruling a city. And, like Cersei, Tyrion is doing much to prove that the High Sparrow is kind of right about the ruling class’ inability to understand or value the lives of the lower classes. When Tyrion invites the former slave masters of the cities of Slaver’s Bay that Daenerys has conquered (i.e. the men who have been funding the Sons of the Harpy), he offers them a deal: stop funding this group of rebel assassins, and you can keep your system of slavery for seven more years. Dany is going to be so pissed when she returns to Meereen.

Hopefully, Tyrion is playing some kind of double-bluff, but that might not be the case. When Grey Worm and Missandei — who have lived in slavery longer than they have lived as free people — protests Tyrion’s actions, he tells them that both war and slavery are evils and, right now, he can only choose to stop one. I’m not sure if I believe that the short time Tyrion has spent with Grey Worm and Missandei would ensure their silence (maybe Game of Thrones should have given them a bonding scene last week instead of that silly one in which Tyrion rambled at them?), but I do appreciate that the show is trying to nuance up the Meereen storyline a bit. Still, this was one of the weaker storylines in tonight’s episode.

Iron Islands

Another lackluster, but thematically-important storyline in tonight’s episode came with Theon’s return to the Iron Islands. His reunion with sister Yara is, um, less smooth than Sansa’s reunion with Jon was. This is indicative of their own separation growing up — in many ways, Theon is more of a Stark, then a Greyjoy — as well as the fact that, the last time Yara saw Theon, she was trying to save him from Ramsay’s clutches. He politely declined.


It’s not that I haven’t enjoyed Yara as a character in the past. I have. I’ve also enjoyed Yara and Theon’s complicated relationship. I just wish we’d spent more time with Yara more recently. At the moment, this feels like a distraction from the storylines I care about. This spreading-the-narrative-too-thin is a lingering problem Game of Thrones has often had, though perhaps never as frequently as in Season 6.

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Image via HBO

Still, Yara and Theon’s reunion works well with the larger Brothers and Sisters theme this episode has going on. And, like our previous two examples, the sister in the sibling relationship is the one who, at this point in the narrative, has most of the strength, mental fortitude, and ambition. Poor Theon just wants a place that is safe where he feels like he is doing more good than bad. At first, Yara doesn’t believe him. Like us, she knows this game is all about the quest for power and, as soon as you let your guard down, someone will rise up to take yours.

But Theon is broken and tired and just wants some place to belong. “You should rule the Iron Islands. Let me help you,” he tells Yara. Game of Thrones might not have convinced me yet that the Iron Islands is a storyline worth investing my time and emotions in yet, but this is certainly a promising direction.


Runestone

Meanwhile, in the Eyrie, Littlefinger continues to spin his webs. Returning to check in on his “favorite” step-son, a.k.a. Robin Arryn, a.k.a. Joffrey 2.0. As you may or may not recall, Robin has been living with House Royce since Petyr dropped him off there last season. His fighting skills have not gotten better, nor have his manners. When Yohn Royce gets angry at Littlefinger for his Sansa-related machinations, Robin considers dropping him out the Moon Door. Instead, Petyr ensures Yohn’s loyalty in his quest to “save” Sansa from Ramsay Bolton. Knights of the Vale, assemble!

Vaes Dothrak

Like many of Dany’s storylines in the past, the Mother of Dragons’ time in Vaes Dothrak dragged too much for me in the middle before giving us an ending that made all of the lackluster parts before worth the trudge.

For (too) much of this storyline in tonight’s episode, we spent time with Jorah and Daario as they search for the woman they love/leader. It’s a little too Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid at times — which is to say: tonally at odds with much else of what was going on in this show. While Osha is getting unceremoniously murdered by Ramsay Bolton in the cold, dark North, Jorah and Daario are pausing as they sneak into Dothraki-ville to make quips about knives. An unnecessary somersault would not have gone amiss in their would-be rescue mission.

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Image via HBO

Once Jorah and Daario find Dany, she chooses not to be rescued. She has her own plan in place, and these two buffoons can help her enact it. Like most of Dany’s plans, it involves letting dudes lure themselves into a false sense of security by trying to out-masculine each other, making a short yet impressive speech, then burning it all down. “It,” in this case being the temple she and apparently all of the Dothraki khals are currently in.


In a throwback to the Season 1 finale, Dany emerges from the burning temple naked, but unscathed, and the thousands of Dothraki who have rushed to the temple bow down, apparently now part of her ever-growing army. Sure, it’s a little lazy to believe that all of these Dothraki would just mindlessly follow after Dany killed all of their leaders — some of those dudley Dothraki khals had to have friends, right? It also does little to address the current dilemma in Meereen: that these cities and their people understandably have problems with a foreign leader telling them what to do. Then again, it is hard not to be impressed by/afraid of a woman with such a flare for pyrotechnics.

Rating: ★★★★ Very good

Miscellanea:

“This is good soup.” — Sansa, in the first on-screen line we’ve gotten between Sansa and Jon in forever.

“I want to scream at myself, ‘Don’t go, you idiot.’” — Sansa, describing to Jon what she would do if she could go back and talk her younger self out of leaving Winterfell. Sansa’s self-awareness of the person she used to be is one of the strongest elements of this episode.

“I want you to help me, but I’ll do it myself, if I have to.” — Sansa, outlining her plans to take back the North. She has a Brienne of Tarth now. She could probably do it.

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Image via HBO


Melisandre officially called Jon Snow the Prince That Was Promised. Is she right this time?

Daario officially knows about Jorah’s greyscale. Will he tell anyone? Will he tell everyone? Will Jorah get his own retirement home in Old Valyria? We’ll have to wait and see.

Brienne makes sure that both Davos and Melisandre know that she executed Stannis for killing Renly. Will she do the same to them once she learns their part in it? And what will Davos do to Melisandre when he learns what really happened to poor, sweet Shereen? There are a lot of secrets amongst their current social group that could cause chaos and bloodshed.

Can Tormund and Brienne become friends? (Editor’s Note: Or More ….!!)

Missandei: “How many days were you a slave?”

Tyrion: “Long enough to know.”

Missandei: “Not long enough to understand.”

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Image via HBO

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