Book of the Stranger
Directed by Daniel Sackheim
Written by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Jon & Sansa
How awesome is it to have a section title with those two names together? A genuinely emotional moment for everyone as Sansa (Sophie Turner) rode into Castle Black and gave a loitering, listless Jon (Kit Harington) what he very much needed – not just a reminder of the past, not just a reminder he’s always been a Stark, but a rallying cry; he doesn’t just have a reason to leave behind a Night’s Watch he has no faith in, he has a reason to keep fighting given he knows Rickon is at Ramsay’s mercy, a reason to oddly enough become what he always wanted to be – more than just a bastard (not that he ever was, but we still haven’t seen R+L=J confirmed. It’s coming, it’s coming…). Sansa continues to grow ever more into the new warrior queen of the show, aware of her own selfish failings in the days she last saw Jon, and now resolved to restore her family’s honour & regain their home. These two are without doubt our dyed in the wool ‘good guys’ now in a world where everyone is usually a bit of a git.
Elsewhere in Castle Funtime, Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) gets a pretty awesome ‘mic drop’ moment (when she isn’t being unnervingly leered at over dinner with Tormund (Kristofer Hivju) – can you even *imagine* those two at it? Christ!), when she reminds Melisandre (Carice van Houten) & Ser Davos (Liam Cunningham) that she knows the Red Priestess killed King Renly Baratheon way back in the day and she hasn’t forgotten, or forgiven. I’d watch your back, Mel! Mind you, she’s too busy mooning after Jon now he’s her new MVP, ‘The Prince That Was Promised’, but her assurances of this to Davos are much more hollow than in the Stannis days – she needs more than just a resurrection as a sign she’s backing the right horse, it seems.
You’d almost forgotten about wily old, smooth tongued Petyr Baelish, hadn’t you? Admit it. He’d slipped your mind as much as Aidan Gillen routinely forgets what accent he’s doing every season. Never forget Littlefinger, that’s rule number one, and he sails back into the Vale of Arryn with almost a cape swirling flourish to play the game once again with beautiful skill – making the haughty Lord Yohn Royce (Rupert Vansittart) his bitch & playing the lunatic Robyn, Lord of the Vale (Lino Facioli) by distracting him with a falcon. Genius. Maybe he can win the Iron Throne with a selection of aviary-based gifts. Mind you, he’s a bit absent minded – he utterly forgets to mention to Team Arryn about the Lannister army he played Cersei into giving him last season, charged to get back the North under her banners. Now intending to play the hero and save Sansa, might he be a veritable Gandalf the White and swoop into the fields of Winterfell to help turn the tide in the coming war against the Bolton’s? It’s possible. Don’t think for a minute, however, he doesn’t plan to gain from this sudden saviour complex.
(If it isn’t obvious by now, I absolutely love Littlefinger. If it’s just him, a big dragon and a undead army at his command by the end of the series, I will dance a fucking jig)
Cersei & Margaery
Down in Kings Landing, everyone is starting to get a bit of sick of the status quo it seems (well they shouldn’t have hired them to play then! BA DUM TISSSSSH!). Queen Margaery (Natalie Dormer) continues to rot in the cells, but she hasn’t broken quite as swiftly as we may have suspected – she has the Queen of Thorns’ steel in her and no mistake. The same can’t be said for her brother Loras (Finn Jones), who we see for the first time this season as a broken shell of the sauntering, proud out-gay man of previous seasons; he presumably may end up sacrificed to the Gods so he can go off and make Iron Fist, as it doesn’t look like he’s destined for the Iron Throne. All this if the High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce) can get out of his own way of course – he does love to soliloquise doesn’t he? To be fair, Pryce routinely threatens to steal the show with his calm, Machiavellian performance and here the Sparrow delivers a searing parallel to modern capitalism as he tells Margaery his backstory. If it’s meant to make her see the error of her sinful ways, it doesn’t work. Much like Mrs Doyle from Father Ted‘s philosophy on making tea, Margarey might just as well turn round and say “maybe I *like* the sin”.
His game plan starts backfiring a little more up in the Keep too, as just when we think he might have cast a spell on young King Tommen (Dean Charles-Chapman) then he surprises us, by letting Cersei (Lena Headey) & Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) invoke their wrath and start planning the Faith Militant’s downfall. In fairness, their rationale to the (very) Small Council makes sense here – while attacking the Militant from inside could cause more harm than good, the Tyrell’s causing bother doesn’t, and as Lady Olenna (Diana Rigg) remarks (after a few more cutting barbs aimed at Cersei, seemingly her sole purpose on the show now and that’s fine) – people are gonna die either way. It’s time to sort these holier than thou buggers out, one way or the other. The only big question left remaining could be the most important in the entire show: when the fuck is someone going to kill that farting old snail Pycelle (Julian Glover)?
Theon & Ramsay
Cold cocked (narf) and with his (lack of) tail between his legs (I’ll stop now), Theon (Alfie Allen) returns to the Greyjoy’s on Pyke to a frostier reception from sister Yara (Gemma Whelan) than perhaps he deserved given what he’s suffered, but she’s right to not pander to his sorrow – Theon needs resolve, he needs toughening up and reminding what he can give, instead of lamenting his mistakes. Yara is a strong enough woman to bring that out of him but even with his backing, that impending Kingsmoot isn’t going to be easily won, not once Uncle Euron reveals himself from the shadows. It may not be an easy road for Theon to, presumably, raise banners for the Stark’s and get some sorely justified revenge against Ramsay “I’m nice really” Bolton.
Speaking of the Devil, and at this point he might as well be wearing a pair of red horns for how transparent a character he is, we just pop into Winterfell this week on Ramsay (Iwan Rheon) and he’s up to his lovely old tricks by savagely murdering yet another woman (it seems like he’s stopped bothering to kill men anymore). It’s poor Osha (Natalie Tena) who gets the bullet (or the knife) this week after a few seasons away, but did she really think she could kill Ramsay off in Episode 4 of a season when he’s now the big villain of the piece – has she never watched any serialised television? In any case, Osha’s a goner, Rickon’s in the shit, and Ramsay is happily chomping on his apple with abandon. Not that he’s got anything to worry about in the near future of course!
Daenerys, Tyrion & Her Boys
Let’s hear it for the boys, because they’re all in fine fettle this week. Firstly in Meereen, facing a triple-teamed threat from the Slavers of three cities, Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) decides to play the game as well. He crucially provides that one element the Mother of Dragons has sorely lacked over the years – pragmatic strategy. With Lord Varys (Conleith Hill) silently at his side, Tyrion pretty much solves the insurgent Sons of the Harpy problem in one fell swoop, but it comes at a cost – the slow drum beat of change to life for slaves, instead of the swift, aggressive breaking of chains Dany tried and failed to do. By appealing to their avarice & ego, Tyrion successfully manages to not just secure the safety of the city, but equally provide a better potential future for Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel) & Grey Worm’s (Jacob Anderson) brethren. He admits it may not work, but playing the long game is simply not something they–nor indeed Dany–are as good at. If only someone as wise as him ruled in Westeros…
Over in the Dothraki fields, having luckily spent a few days not chasing dragon poo and successfully seeking out Vaes Dothrak, Ser Jorah (Iain Glen) continues to somehow resist punching the patronising wanker that is Daario (Michel Huisman) in the mouth – he’s had at least a few weeks of his passive, disparaging, “I’m fucking her, not you mate” comments now! Anyhow, Jorah continues managing to keep his grayscale at bay (though that cat is out the bag on that one) in order for Daario to luckily save his chops, as Jorah is too long in the tooth to beat big, burly, young Dothraki these days. It’s what happens when the lads eventually find Daenerys that allows for the episode’s biggest game changer.
See, in typical Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) fashion, escape isn’t quite enough for her. She wants to break a few more wheels and in this case, free the Dosh Khaleen from thousands of years of pretty shitty widowdom. The manner in which she does this, arguably, is the most badass thing she’s done in some time. Granted, it does mean we get another wobbly bit of CGI nudity Game of Thrones is becoming (in)famous for these days, but Dany talking down the circle of Khal’s and emerging naked in fire, after burning the house down, is a cool as heck way to position her as the Queen of Fire in opposition to Jon’s burgeoning King of Ice a continent away, with which you have quite the parallel emerging. It feels like David Benioff & D.B Weiss are now motoring to get her clear of Meereen, so with a new Dothraki army at her back, plus the Unsullied, might she finally lead them over the Black Sea where no Dothraki has gone before?
It’s a fine end to probably the strongest episode of Season 6 yet, principally because it feels like we actually spent quality time with a variety of important players, enough to balance character and plot in a more meaningful way. It’s fine to sacrifice Arya or Bran for a week, and better storytelling for Game of Thrones, if it means ample narrative movement and lots of cool character beats along the way. Good show!
SEXINESS TALLY (in lieu of the Hodor Count):
1 Dany boobs
Tony Black is a freelance film/TV writer & podcaster & would love you to follow him on Twitter.