WARNING: For the night is dark and full of spoilers…
An episode of returns, reunions and preparations for The Wars To Come take centre stage in The Book of The Stranger.
First, a rundown of the plot… Sansa’s at Castle Black! Hugs, reminisces about Old Nan’s old pies and plans of war with the world weary Jon Snow. Brienne is getting the evil eye from Ser Davos for killing Stannis and the sexy eye from Tormund Giantsbane. Meanwhile, at The Eyrie, Baelish is back! Still crazily accented, obscurely scheming, he returns to the Vale to sow discord between Lord Robin Arryn (as bad an archer as ever) and Ser Yohn Royce, as well plot to take on the new Warden of the North. In Winterfell Ramsay Bolton seeks an audience with Osha whilst In the wet and windy Iron Islands, Theon returns home to a less than warm welcome. In Meereen Tyrion tries some new diplomacy with the slavers of Yunkai and Astapor, much to the distaste of Missandei and Grey Worm. While the High Sparrow takes the imprisoned Queen Margaery into his confidence about his sinning, cobbling past, Cersei considers an unlikely alliance to overthrow the turbulent priest. And over in Orange is the Vaes Dothrak, Daenerys learns from her fellow ex-Khaleesis how they came to be there. Whilst Jorah and Daario bicker their way towards the city and plot a daring rescue, the Mother of Dragons has her own way of dealing with the situation…
Events at Castle Black were the most compelling and humorous. Brienne’s new admirer provided nice light relief, and her showdown with Ser Davos provided a hefty slab of dramatic tension. But of course, it was mainly about the Starks. The wordless reunion between Sansa and Jon was as touching and heartwarming a moment you get in Game of Thrones without someone being suddenly murdered straight afterwards. Sophie Turner and Kit Harrington wonderfully convey the joy and pain at being apart for so long. Both have grown as performers as the series has progressed, giving their scenes huge weight. That they look so different from their first appearance adds to the drama. And while he may profess to be “done with all the killing, man,” Jon’s reaction to Ramsey’s typically horrendous letter, and, importantly, his Ned-like brown leather armour, suggests he will indeed take up the Stark mantle and return in arms to Winterfell.
Also preparing for war is Cersei. Aside from butting heads with the deliciously odious Grand Maester Pycelle, she has her eyes set on a more formidable foe; The High Sparrow. Her gatecrashing of yet another Small Council meeting (those guys really need to find themselves a better secret meeting spot) leads to a cessation of hostilities with the Olenna Tyrell. The uniting of the notoriously tart tongued Queen of Thorns and the notorious tart Queen Cersei is an exciting prospect, the battle lines drawn for a certainly bloody civil conflict. In typical Thrones style, the best-laid plans are sure to go awry; we doubt Jaime’s insistence they will encounter no resistance or Martell’s indifference to the loss of life will be quite so assured when all is said and done.
Other highlights included the Sparrow’s monologue, where he outlined how his piety came from impious beginnings. Revealing his current crusade comes from a born again convert rather than a zealot, and that he, like most in the show, was guilty of scheming, grasping and playing the Game Of Thrones, deepens and enriches both his character and the fault lines of the conflict. He’s not a greedy envious pauper; he truly believes he is saving people from themselves. While Margaery and Loras’ stories currently feel like background noise, Jonathan Pryce’s Pope Francis-alike Sparrow continues to enthral. And the return of Baelish certainly upped the intrigue-o-meter, even if we have no idea what accent that is meant to be or what in the Seven Hells he’s playing at.
It wasn’t all plain sailing. Our trip to Meereen was somewhat tedious, with Missandei and Grey Worm’s naivety at realpolitik proving greatly irritating. But it was in Winterfell and the dispatching of fan favourite Osha, stabbed in the neck by Über-Bastard Ramsay Snow (sorry, Lord Bolton, Warden of the North, lover of apples, writer of lovely letters) that was particularly hard to swallow. This season has developed a diminishing-returns pattern of perfunctorily killing off characters who have outlived their usefulness, or whose significance in the yet-to-be-published Winds Of Winter cannot be realised with the time remaining on the show. One senses the showrunners are clearing the decks, focussing solely on those with an incontestably vital role in the story. While few tears would have been shed for Trystane Martell in episode one, after an absence of 3 years and as such a strong presence Natalia Tena, Osha and the viewers all deserved a better send off than the grab-knife-miss-knife-stab-damn-that-Ramsey we received. Its predictability was wearisome, and we can only hope this is to wrongfoot us all when the Flayed Man finally bites the dust.
Finally, Daenerys gets her hands dirty! Burning to death a bunch of sleazy Khals is pretty badass, and while it was unclear till now where her detour to the Dosh Khaleen would take her, now it’s pretty obvious. Knowing the Dothraki will adore her when she steps from the flames, she has destroyed her enemies, escaped from a fate worse than death and improved her military might in one fell swoop. While replaying the whole “Unburnt” conclusion to series one was a slightly bum note to end on, not helped by some CGI body-doubling and a facial expression that was rather blank considering the devious, somewhat cynical and murderous plan she has just executed, it suggests that in the absence of dragons, lots of horsies will help pacify Meereen, subdue Slaver’s Bay and conquer the Seven Kingdoms very nicely, thank you.
Sex Scenes: Some randy dothraki, prostitutes in Meereen but we see nothing, Osha getting down with Ramsey before things get unfortunately stabby
Nudity: Full on Khaleesi nudes
Best moment: Tormund’s bedroom eyes
Number of Jon Snow Parental Revelations: 0. No Raven today. Maybe next week.
Number of Crispy Khals: Oh, too many to count. Five? Eight? A khalasar’s dozen?
Game of Thrones airs on Sky Atlantic at 9pm on Monday evenings.