After the tragic events at the end of last week’s episode, it appears that Ser Barristan Selmy has indeed departed this life. His loss is a devastating one for Daenerys and her council, leaving them shorthanded on military strategy, defense, and advice. To that end, however, Daenerys has taken a rather aggressive stance on dealing with the rebellion in Mereen. Barristan counseled mercy, Daario wants the blood of their enemies to run red in the streets, but Daenerys sees another option.
Gathering the heads of the city’s great families, she chains them and herds them toward the waiting maws of her hungry dragons. I’m glad Daeny finally remembered that she is the Mother of Dragons and used this fact to her advantage. After one of the family leaders is barbecued and consumed by her pets, the others are left to think about their loyalties in the dungeons. Daeny then chooses a curious tactic: re-opening the fighting pits to free men to observe Mereen traditions, and agreeing to marry Hizdahr zo Loraq to unite the people under their rule. Curious. The most interesting part of Daenerys’ actions in this episode is how she chooses to wield her power, both physically through her dragons and politically, through marriage.
In a less interesting turn, Grey Worm survives his wounds, only to wake up and confess his fear, not of death, but of never seeing Missandei’s face again. This love story isn’t exactly exciting, but it’s endearing enough in a world full of plotting, backstabbing, and murder to be worth a mention. Anyone care how this romance ends up?
It’s not until we journey to the North that the title of tonight’s episode is clarified. As Jon seeks the advice of wise Maester Aemon (Targaryen), he tells him to, in essence, kill the boy and become a man in order to do what he must. Taking that advice to heart, Jon next approaches Tormund Giantsbane, the imposing Wildling warrior who’d like nothing better than to snap the Lord Commander’s neck. Jon, however, stands his ground when he frees the Wildling leader, tasking him with rounding up the Free Folk and bringing them south of the wall to prevent their deaths at the hands of the undead army.
For the first time, Jon has substantial power at his command though it doesn’t make it easier for him to wield it. In order to do what’s right, he’s forced to ally with the Free Folk, convince the men of the Night’s Watch to put aside their generations-long hatred of the looting, pillaging and murdering Wildlings, and borrow ships from Stannis Baratheon’s fleet. No small undertaking for anyone, let alone the leader of a band of convicted killers and rapists. In the end, Jon stands his ground once more and the Crows (including Olly) concede. This is but a glimpse of Jon’s ability to lead a group of disparate men against a common enemy. Winter is coming.
Stannis is also coming, to Winterfell. The Baratheon lord is in a hurry to march south and begin his conquest of the Iron Throne. Before he departs, however, he’s sure to inquire of Samwell Tarly just how the bookish excuse for a soldier managed to slay a White Walker. The answer, of course, is dragonglass/obsidian, something the Lord of Dragonstone is quite familiar with. If Stannis survives, there’s a good chance he’ll put his best smiths to the task of forging these weapons before long.
Somewhere Outside Winterfell
Brienne and Pod keep an eye on Winterfell in a nearby tavern. There’s not much happening here except that Brienne is feeling out the local servants to see if any of them remain loyal enough to the Starks to pass a message to Lady Sansa.
Somewhere Inside Winterfell
The elder Stark daughter is causing quite a stir within the walls of her ancestral home, it seems. Her husband-to-be Ramsay Bolton is attempting to convince his paramour Myranda (the kennel-master’s daughter) that he’ll still have time for her even once he marries Sansa. Though it’s probably not a great idea to piss off Ramsay Bolton, Myranda seems to be equally as devious. I’m not completely sure if it’s her idea to reveal Theon/Reek’s presence to Lady Sansa in order to stir up some trouble, or if she was put up to it by Ramsay himself.
Ramsay, meanwhile, takes pleasure in parading Reek in front of Sansa and forcing him to apologize for his crimes, even going so far as to command Reek to give Sansa away at their wedding. (And if one of the next episodes follows the books, then we’re in for a truly disturbing moment…) This is how Ramsay wields his particular power, through manipulation, fear, and coercion … but wait, there is another!
It seems that Walda Frey-Bolton is pregnant with Roose’s son, a fact that puts Ramsay’s position of inheritance in danger and reinforces the elder Bolton’s dominance. Not to worry though, because despite Ramsay’s parentage, Roose reveals himself to be every bit as despicable, thus confirming their blood relationship. What a happy family!
Though Sansa doesn’t seem to be playing her role as subservient bride-to-be very well, she’s at least offered a bit of assistance by a servant woman who remains loyal to the Starks. Sansa might very well need to light a candle in the tower sooner than later if the Bolton’s continue their butchery in the episodes to come. What do you think is the most likely outcome for Sansa: saved by Stannis’ arrival, playing the dutiful wife to Ramsay Bolton until she can achieve her revenge, or rescued by the Stark loyalists?
On the Water
Though the episode’s theme of “10 Ways to Wield Power and Influence People” doesn’t exactly fit for Jorah and Tyrion’s high-seas adventure, this sequence did offer up the most thrilling moment of the hour. Tyrion makes a quick reference to the Rhoyne, a waterway that should be familiar to book readers. Though the Sorrows is traded for the doomed city of Old Valyria – a volcano-blasted ruin of an ancient civilization – the scene that plays out remains every bit as thrilling.
While Tyrion and Jorah revisit the ancient city’s downfall through lyrics and lore, they spy Drogon soaring high above their small boat. The sight is awe-inspiring (and a bit foreboding) but it distracts them from the real threat. A group of Stone Men – those afflicted with Greyscale who have been cast out of civilization like lepers – attack the boat and nearly get Tyrion. Jorah fights them off, but Tyrion dives out of the boat to escape them and is nearly drowned. Luckily, Jorah saves him; unluckily, Jorah is now a victim of the wasting disease.
If you remember Stannis’ story told to his daughter, the disease is essentially unstoppable; Shireen’s own affliction was halted only by summoning all the known healers and Maesters he could find. Will Jorah be able to find a cure, or has the Greyscale started a countdown on his remaining time in this world?
Not the strongest episode as it was designed more to dump some information than to progress the season’s plot arc. We got glimpses of emerging leaders using their power to achieve desired ends, but it was mostly about positioning. Some movement did occur, however: Stannis is on the march, Jon’s headed north of the Wall, and we’ve got at least two weddings coming up. What’s the worst that could happen?
Rating: ★★★ Good
Aemon: “A Targaryen alone in the world is a terrible thing.” Enter … Jon Snow.
Aemon: “Kill the boy, Jon Snow. Winter is almost upon us. Kill the boy, and let the man be born.”
Jon: “Less enemies for us.” Stannis: “Fewer.” Davos: “What?” Stannis: “Nothing.” Apparently Stannis is a grammar maven, too!
I liked the brief conversation between Gilly and Sam regarding the Citadel in Oldtown, the place where Maesters are trained. I wonder if someone else will show up there eventually…
Sansa: “This isn’t a strange place, this is my home. It’s the people who are strange.”
Stannis: “Keep reading, Samwell Tarly.”
Shireen: “I’m not scared.” Davos: “Well I am. When the battle comes, promise you’ll protect me.” Shireen: “I promise.”
Tyrion: “Long sullen silences and the occasional punch in the face; the Mormont Way.”