“Everywhere in the world they hurt little girls,” Cersei says to Oberyn Martell, summing up one of the main themes of Game of Thrones and setting an ugly foreshadowing for poor, captured Meera Reed. This ended up being one of those episodes that focuses largely on the women - Cersei, Brienne, Sansa, Daenerys, Arya - even if it did have to shoehorn some Bran stuff in there just to keep the story moving. I tend to like those episodes, and this one was no exception.
Cersei is getting over the events of the last few episodes, and she even tries to make some sort of peace with Margaery, although that peace seems like it is already testing the very limits of her patience. I can’t praise Lena Headey enough, as she has taken who I believe to be the absolutely most worthless character in the books and injected her with life and dimensionality. I like Cersei, even though I hate Cersei, and that’s the hallmark of a great soap opera villain (as opposed to the books where I groaned every time Cersei got a POV chapter). Headey killed it tonight, and in a most subtle way, bringing across the weariness and sadness of a woman who is damned to have great power but never be able to use it in any way that matters. She was married to a man she hated, she lost her son, her daughter is a hostage in Not Spain, she believes she’s been betrayed by her brothers and her family is fracturing around her. It’s interesting that she finds Oberyn Martell to be a confidante of sorts, as he hates the Lannister family so completely.
Brienne also begins finding a confidante in Pod. I wonder how many people will see this as a potential romantic relationship (Briod? Poenne?) as opposed to the stolid professional relationship it clearly is. Pod is a squire, and she is now his knight, and he will serve her as best he can. There’s a Don Quixote/Sancho Panza thing happening here, except Pod doesn’t quite have the rationality of Panza. I do love the duo, though, and their adventures should only get more interesting as they seek out Sansa.
Sansa is, of course, in the Eyrie. It’s been a couple of years since we’ve been there with Lyssa Arryn and her creepy suckling boy Robin, and little has changed in this sectioned-off madworld. Except for one thing - Littlefinger has won the heart of Lyssa, and will be marrying her. Sansa is along for the ride, a chess piece caught between the two, something that becomes obvious when a raving Lyssa reveals that she knows all of the truth about Littlefinger, and expects that he has already sullied the virtue of the last-known surviving Stark.
Lyssa being a fucking nut is nothing new. What IS new is the revelation that she is the one who poisoned her husband, and she did it at the behest of Littlefinger. The show doesn’t quite play this for the exact dramatic hugeness that it is - LITTLEFINGER IS THE CATALYST FOR EVERYTHING THAT HAS EVER HAPPENED ON GAME OF THRONES. The timing of the reveal is interesting; it’s sort of earlier than in the books (it happens at the end of A Storm of Swords), and it comes right at the moment when everybody is hitting maximum diaspora, so reminding us of how it all started and then telling us we never really knew how it started gives us a good bit of grounding.
And then we learn that Petyr Baelish fucks like a beast.
Sansa is the last known Stark, but there are more. Arya’s wandering the Riverlands with the Hound, and she’s still practicing her waterdancing and saying her names. Their companionship can’t last forever, but don’t you sort of wish it would? They’re a great couple, and I’d be happy to watch a couple of seasons of the two of them just wandering the middle of Westeros.
Far off to the north are the remaining Starks - Bran, the other full-blood Stark, and Jon Snow, the bastard Stark. Their stories converge in a way that never happened in the books, and I can’t be sure how I feel about it. In the macro sense the story - the mutineers meeting their bloody ends - is satisfying, but in the books none of the Stark children ever (as of book five) meet again. I like that nihilistic GRRM thing, keeping these kids as spread out as possible, and while Bran and Jon don’t actually have a chat or anything, I would have liked to have Bran never see Jon for some reason.
The final battle with the mutineers is great, and Meera’s virtue remains intact, if threatened. Jon kills the leader of the group in a great, great way, shoving a sword through the back of his head and sliding it out of his open mouth; Locke, the evil servant of the Boltons, get his neck broken by Bran who has warged into Hodor. Locke is a totally new character, so Bran killing him is new. My memory of the books is fuzzy at this point - is it a big deal that Bran kills? You tell me in the comments.
The big battle also gives us a nice hero moment for Ghost, who gets his revenge on one of his jailers. This extra-canonical stuff is constructed in a very different way than the canonical stuff, which isn’t given to the kinds of set-ups and pay-offs that work on serialized TV. By adding this business in the showrunners have created weekly excitement that would otherwise be missing. I hope they keep doing it.
I hope they do it with Daenerys, who is entering not only the most interesting part of her story but also maybe the least interesting to dramatize. Now that she has conquered Mereen she learns that the cities she left behind have fallen back into the hands of evil; just marching across the continent and freeing slaves isn’t enough. It’s a child’s version of liberation - you need to stay behind and keep the system propped up. Basically she’s learning the difference between Operation Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom; if you’re committed to making a change you have to be committed to stay boots on the ground for a long, long occupation.
This is one of those very George RR Martin things, where he takes the standard expected tropes of high fantasy and deconstructs them. Few fantasy heroes have to deal with actually ruling the lands they’ve set free from evil, so that’s exactly what GRRM has his heroine do. I love it! The political stuff is what really gets me going in A Song of Ice and Fire, and Dany’s story is no different. But it is a little heavy on arguing with advisors and stuff, so the fact that the show runners are willing to get so non-canonical means they’ll know how to prop it all up with visually interesting subplots.