Last week’s tremendous battle with the forces of darkness (and dark screens) behind them, Game of Thrones went back to the basics. With political intrigue, tense story-telling, and lots of characters drinking an ocean of wine (not to mention a beheading or two), the writers harkened back to several key themes from the early seasons in an episode that may have turned the whole series on its head. [Spoilers, of course.]
Last week some really dumb guy wrote, “I can’t help thinking these last few episodes will be a little anticlimactic.” Apparently, that guy forgot what really got the world hooked on the Throne wasn’t spectacle or CGI (can you name one big battle scene from season one?), but the way the story upended the black and white absolutes of the genre. The way characters worked through the grey area, compromised (or didn’t) their principles, and in general tried to figure out right from wrong in a world that is awfully grey. “The Last of the Starks” brought this back in force, including:
Jon Snow: The mopey bastard is back, as Jon once again has to balance between honor and love, family and responsibility. We got several reminders of what makes him a great leader, from the rousing funeral speech, reminding the living that they owe their life to the dead and echoing the Night’s Watch oath, to his quiet anguish over whether to share his heritage with his sisters (cousins). We were also reminded of his short-comings. His rebuke of Sansa and commitment to move forward (because he felt he had to please Dany) may have cost us a dragon and Missendei. Had they waited and been rested, perhaps they would have been sharper and not fallen for Euron’s sneak attack. Perhaps Rhaegal dodges that Scorpion bolt.
Sansa: Who would have thought even five years ago that scared little bird Sansa would be the fulcrum upon which the plot balances? This episode was a Stark reminder (like what I did there?) of how far she’s come, starting with the Hound reminding us about how far she’s come. Don’t think for a moment that her decision to tell Tyrion wasn’t calculated. She knew it would sow doubt in the honorable imp, and potentially drive a wedge between the Hand and his queen. I’m less certain if her final words to Jaime, reminding him that the war ends with Cersei’s execution, were purposeful, because I don’t see how Jaime’s absence helps Winterfell (and certainly doesn’t help Brienne’s state of mind). Sophie Turner’s fierce depiction of this Sansa really makes me wonder if she’s the most deserving person to take the throne. She’s definitely the smartest.
Arya: The World-Saver apparently is re-commencing her kill list and heading down south with the Hound, who has his own unfinished business (who has tickets to the Clegane Bowl?). She continues to play a key role up North, whether it be both supporting Jon (in his decision to take the knee) or providing the much needed metaphorical slap by reminding him of family loyalty. Maisie Williams is striking a nice balance with this final version of the little assassin-moppet, and it has me thinking about her lessons in the house of black and white. Arya might be the only person who can really see the world clearly, and it’s interesting to think that her most important role might not be in cutting throats, but in finding common ground. She also, more than anyone this week, reminded us of the lessons from earlier seasons. Her gentle denial of the de-bastardized Gendry (“That’s not me”) hearkened back to the discussions she had with her father about being a lady, as well as her conversation with her long lost wolf last season. The best part was her riding off with the Hound as they did so many years ago, when he was her captor/protector. Now they ride off as equals.
Tyrion (and Varys): Glad to see these two had some work to do, even if it was simply to drink aforementioned oceans of wine and talk treason. This really is what the rest of the season will be about, determining that grey area, and Tyrion is right in the middle of it. His scenes with Sansa were a nice call back to last season and a great display of how things have changed for him. Last year, when asked why he supports Dany, there was virtually no hesitation. She was the one to make things right, to break the chains and the wheel. But that was before she burned the Tarley’s, before her father’s mad impulsivity started to show a little more, and when asked by Sansa, he paused. When he finally answered, Sansa rightfully pointed out his answer was borne of fear. It made me wonder if putting himself at the mercy of Cersei’s archers wasn’t so much bravery as a hope they’d shoot him so he wouldn’t have to make the tough decisions later.
Team Cersei: I don’t know whether Cersei has a spy in Dany’s inner circle, Qyburn has got the Eye of Sauron floating around the Red Keep, or if Euron is simply the luckiest douchebag in the universe, but somehow Team Cersei notched another win. At this point, even if she loses the war, she still wins because she’ll she’ll take everyone out with her and turn Dany into the most hated ruler in Westeros. Lena Headey was glorious in her limited screen time. Just watch her face as she listened to her brother plead for peace and for the life of her unborn child. You can see the moment Tyrion over-reached as her moist eyes and trembling grin turned to stone. At this point, she seems to know the even if she loses, she’s taking everyone else with her and ensuring the victor will have nothing to rule but ash.
Dany. I want to hate this story arc, but have to admit the writers set this up years ago. Now we get to watch Dany’s arc end, not as a hero, but as a villain. Her de-bastardization of Gendry was almost cruel, her tone making those around her think Gendry was about to pay for the sins of his father lost in the final result. The scenes with Jon, where she begged him to do something she knew he could not (she witnessed his inability to lie last season), and then turned cold when she realized she couldn’t have her way. Her anger at the end of the episode, the need to avenge Missandei and Rhaegal adding fuel to her rage, stoking it to a white-hot fire that just might burn them all.
Other Stuff: What, you thought Brienne and Jaime were going to live happily ever after? This show doesn’t work that way (see Missendei-Grey Worm) and his decision to return to Cersei, to die with her is really the only logical end. I could go without seeing Brienne ugly crying again, but kudos to Gwendolyn Christie for another heart-wrenching performance.
Funny, I spoke last week about the marked lack of emotion over the folks who fell during the Long Night. Looks like it was just delayed a week, which kind of makes sense. It sometimes takes time to grieve. Sansa’s placing the dire wolf pin on Theon is what did it to me, and a nice way to close Theon’s story.
Two more episodes left in the greatest show in the history of the world, and there’s so much to tie up. Who will kill whom? Who will survive? Who knows? But the show has returned to original form, and it’s going to be a lot of fun trying to figure it out!