Last night’s Game of Thrones was jam-packed with plot. The show continues its late-series trend of getting down to brass tacks, and we finally saw two of its lead characters sharing the screen for the first time. Alliances were formed, enemies were dispatched, castles were sacked (or were they?), and a family member returned home from his first semester of college, where he’s been drinking absinthe and reading a lot of Baudelaire. Plus we got some fascinating intrigue in the world of intercontinental finance!
Those don’t count as spoilers (and please don’t argue this point—it makes you sound like a mewling, moist-diapered infant), but there will be some actual spoilers ahead. Watch it first, and read this later!
In Dragonstone, we got the long-awaited meeting of fire and ice. (Where’s Derek Smalls?) And things went… okay. First off, let me just say that Dragonstone looks great—pounding surf, rocky cliffs, windswept vistas. No wonder Daenerys doesn’t want to leave. Against this austerely beautiful landscape, Jon and Davos trudge their way into the mouths of dragons. Unfortunately, this looks less like a diplomatic mission and more like an unintentional surrender, compounded when Team North agrees to give up their weapons, like, almost immediately. Come on, guys, not smart. We also get a blatant bit of foreshadowing when Jon Snow says, “I’m not a Stark,” and an enormous dragon swoops six inches over his head. Hmm, could he be… a Targaryen??? As Jon and crew march their way to the throne room, Varys and Melisandre have the first of this episode’s many Secret Cliffside Chats. This one’s super weird, with odd undertones beneath the surface. The Red Woman says she will return to Westeros to die, then adds, “Just like you,” and Varys looks spooked. I don’t know exactly what’s going on here, but something is up with Varys.
HOT PREDICTION: In the past Varys has said he dislikes illusion, but I’ve always suspected he was able to do some sort of magic. Some have jokingly said he’s a merman but I’m convinced he can teleport. Whatever his skills might be, something about his conversation with Melisandre has him looking very nervous. Could Varys be holding some secret magic that’s about to be exposed? Or is the show simply trying to tell us these two crazy kids ain’t gonna make it to the series finale?
In the throne room, Dany and Jon are not instantly the best of pals. This must have been an incredibly tricky scene to write—two characters whose stories we know in full must justify themselves and explain their entire pasts to each other in the space of a few minutes, while also not disappointing fans who are watching two of the show’s most popular characters sharing the screen for the first time in the show’s history. I’d say they managed pretty well, mostly due to Ser Davos’ ability as a hype man. We also have the two leaders’ fundamental differences boiled down for us for easy reference: Daenerys thinks her power stems from her birthright, with her benevolent achievements in the slave industry serving to back up her claim. (I think she may have this entirely backwards—suggesting another chink in Dany's armor.) Conversely, the bastard Jon Snow has only his actions to represent him; he earned his titles and responsibilities through hard work and sacrifice. These two should be ideologically aligned, but the show’s gonna give us some required friction to work through.
HOT PREDICTION: Having suffered one defeat last week (and on the cusp of suffering another), Dany is looking less and less like the surefire winner of Westerosi Musical Chairs. Her inflexible demand of fealty from Jon Snow is telling of her leadership philosophy, with a top-down approach that’s bound to cause problems. She is at her best as a liberator and activist. Maybe this whole queen thing isn’t really up her alley after all. And maybe… just maybe, Westeros will be required to rid itself of Cersei and/or the Night King without Dany and her dragons. Just sayin’.
Somewhere in the Narrow Sea, Theon is hauled out of the water to face even more shame, suggesting that we will be forced to put up with this character for a bit longer. Thankfully, we quickly move on to King’s Landing, where the hastily rewritten character of Euron Greyjoy is deliciously sucking the marrow out of his new role as Show’s Most Despicable Villain. In season six, I thought Euron was as dumb and annoying as the rest of you, but while other viewers seem to be intent on resisting his charms, Euron has quite clearly transformed into one of the top five reasons to be watching the show right now. And he knows it, too, having the time of his life as he trots through the streets to mass adulation. Those King’s Landing crowds are even easier to win over than a lawn full of impressionable young Boy Scouts. “They just like severed heads, really,” Euron says to Jaime, subtweeting the entire Game of Thrones viewership.
HOT PREDICTION: If you’re not on Team Euron yet, don’t miss the bus. For those already onboard, we are going to delectably enjoy watching Euron make life miserable for his enemies as he continues to speak in weirdly inflected English. We shall also greatly enjoy seeing him getting his inevitable comeuppance, which will probably midway through the final season. (Ugh, just realized Theon will probably need to be involved in that. Ugh.) So, lots of time left, but don’t dilly-dally—join us!
After pledging some sexy post-war troth to Euron (much to Jaime’s sister-lovin’ chagrin), Cersei dips into the dungeons for the episode’s ickiest scene. The show has trained us to expect the worst by this point, so I'm sure I wasn't the only one who thought this was going to contain more in the way of sexual violence than a kiss from poisoned lips. Fortunately, it doesn’t (and fortunately, the Mountain keeps all his armor on). Tyene Sand is effectively wiped from the board, but I have a feeling we’re going to see more of Ellaria—Cersei’s leaving her alive so she can watch Tyene’s corpse rot, which sets her up nicely for a jailbreak in the future. Murdering a teenager has given Cersei a case of brotherlust, so Jaime gets to rolls around in the sack with Lena Headey’s body double. (Interestingly, Cersei seems to prefer him without his hand on.) Some important fashion notes: Cersei’s spiky dress makes her the best-garbed monarch in the show’s history, but I was a little concerned she was going to prick her brother with her punk-rock shoulder spikes. Also, it looks like all her handmaidens are going to the same stylist now?
HOT PREDICTION: There’s a tone of foreshadowing in Cersei’s scene with Mycroft Holmes, who’s come to collect for the Iron Bank of Braavos. Some of this pays off later in the hour, but it’s worth remembering just where theses resources are coming from. Cersei is about to have a huge windfall, but she’ll be instantly transferring it overseas. (Jeez, I hadn’t picked up on the economic commentary until typing this out just now.) More to the point: This will leave Westeros’ most fertile places impoverished, almost overnight. And that is how revolutions start.
Back on Dragonstone, which is far larger and lusher an island that the Stannis plotline led me to believe, we join Tyrion and Jon for another Secret Cliffside Chat. These scenes are great. If anyone knows of a show called Basically Game of Thrones, but with Lots More Windy Seaside Clifftop Conversations, please let me know. I will watch it religiously. There’s also the obvious parallel to Jon and Tyrion’s previous encounter on top of the Wall, which is kind of like a Seaside Clifftop, but whiter, colder, and with no beautiful ocean to look out across. So, not the same. Tyrion manages to set up a not-entirely-intuitive accord between Jon and Dany. (The best bit is when Dany sees through both Tyrion’s BS and the show’s scriptwriters’ tendency to lean on cliché: “Are you trying to present your own statements as ancient wisdom?”)
HOT PREDICTION: So, wait, the conflict between Daenerys Stormborn and Jon Snow is already resolved? Jon gets his precious little mound of dragonglass, while Dany gets… well, I’m guessing she’s expecting she’ll get loyalty from the Starks in the long run. I’m hoping Jon sticks around Dragonstone for a few more episodes—after all, he’s got a whole mining operation to set up. In the meantime, those dinner-table conversations are going to be sparkling. Also, Dany’s plan to fly a dragon or three over Euron’s fleet is nixed. The skeptic in me says it’s because the show needs to prolong conflict and such a solution would be entirely too easy—but what if she does it anyway, and dies? I’ll just put this out there now: I'm starting to think Dany may not make it to the bitter end. She’ll probably need to make some sort of sacrifice that’ll make her both a martyr and a corpse. I don’t think we’ll see a long and prosperous queenship in her future. Just my two halfgroats.
Up in Winterfell, Sansa’s running the show. She’s an effective and detail-oriented leader, good at delegating and knowing about important things like grain stores. Sure, she’s finally in charge, but good god, this seems like a boring day job. Littlefinger spouts some new-age nonsense at her: “Every possible series of events is happening all at once,” he blathers. “Everything that happens will be something you’ve seen before.” This would be the weirdest thing to happen to Sansa today EXCEPT her little brother Bran shows up at the Winterfell doorstep. And dude has been through some shit. “I’m the Three-Eyed Raven,” he says in a flat, creepy monotone, before describing Sansa’s own rape to her. Jesus christ, kid. If you know so much, how come you don't know how to read the room?
HOT PREDICTION: It’s not much of a stretch to see Sansa continuing to be an effective logistical leader. Winterfell should be just fine without Jon around, provided she doesn’t let Littlefinger meddle too much. But now with weird brother Bran back at the homestead, who knows what will happen? I admit I don’t fully understand this Bran/greenseer plotline very well. It seems important, but it’s also been utterly marginalized for nearly the entire show, wholly disconnected from the major events happening elsewhere. I suspect this side-arc will be a very difficult one for Game of Thrones to pull off; it’s a little too mystical and hippie-dippie to fit in with the rest of what's going on. Prove me wrong, Benioff and Weiss! (Please. Let’s see him do some more warging, pronto.)
In Oldtown, Archmaester Jim Broadbent is nonplussed at Jorah’s complete recovery. A hopefully significant alliance is made between Sam and Jorah—Jorah’s on his way back to his crush, Daenerys, while Sam is mostly able to stay out of hot water at the Citadel. Sure, he’ll have to copy by hand some manuscripts and scrolls, but he’s going to enjoy doing that anyway. He also imparts a piece of wisdom for anyone who has ever tried to build a piece of IKEA furniture: “I read the book and followed the instructions.”
HOT PREDICTION: I think what we’re supposed to have gotten out of this is that Sam has the makings of a very gifted healer and maester, and his talents will make him a key player in the events to come, especially if he’s in league with Jorah and Daenerys. Perhaps he will even be the final piece of the bridge between Dany and Jon Snow.
HOTTER PREDICTION: Now that Jorah and Dany are on the path to be reunited, the show’s presumably going to have to reckon with Jorah’s totally inappropriate bed-lust for a woman half his age. I thought we were going to avoid that. Guess not.
The show concludes with a masterfully inverted pseudo-battle sequence, which begins with voice over from Tyrion before we see exactly what has transpired. The Unsullied are able to win Casterly Rock (which doesn’t look as cool as I was hoping it would), by infiltrating it Ghoulies-style. But alas, the Lannister army isn’t there—they’re busy overtaking Highgarden, where Lady Olenna patiently waits for her fate. (Oh look, hey, there’s Bronn! What’s up, Bronn! Long time no… oh, I guess that’s it for Bronn this week.) Jaime and Olenna have a fine tête-a-tête in her high chamber (does Highgarden have a hidden escalator? it’s a little hard to imagine a woman of Olenna’s age hiking up all those stairs every night). This is a terrific scene, with tons of information packed into every line of dialogue. Some important takeaways: Jaime has learned valuable lessons from Robb Stark’s battle strategies. Jaime also thinks that people will come around to Cersei once the wars are won and a peaceful reign is established: “Do you really think they’ll wring their hands over the way she built it?” he says, obviously jealous of people who have both hands to wring. Olenna can see a few moves ahead, though: “She’s a disease. I regret my role in spreading it. You will, too,” she warns, before confessing to Joffrey's murder and eagerly gulping down a room-temperature glass of poison wine. Bye, Olenna. You were pretty fun. I’m glad you got to die on your own dignified terms, instead of slipping down a flight of steep Highgarden stairs.
HOT PREDICTION: A co-worker ventured this prediction to me this morning, so credit where it’s due, but it’s a theory I’ve been harboring for a little while: Jaime should be the one to end Cersei. Sure, plenty of characters want to kill her for revenge purposes, namely Arya, Tyrion, and Ellaria. But what could be offer more dramatic anguish than a conflicted, one-handed brother offing his sister/lover/queen for the good of the realm and to salvage the family name? Ooh, maybe it’ll even happen on a boat, Fredo style. The question is, will it be like a Romeo/Juliet, Sid/Nancy suicide-murder pact, or will it be more like when the Kingslayer dispatched the Mad King and then decided to take a load off on the nearest chair? We shall see.