This review contains spoilers
Some have accused the latest season of HBO’s flagship show of being a bit too deliberately paced, while others have hailed the dense character development of this season as a triumph in storytelling, proving that Game of Thrones doesn’t need giant battles and epic speeches to excel if it succeeds in building personalities and expanding on personal conflicts with wider repercussions. ‘Kill the Boy’, which blends periods of drama with intense and intelligent dialogue, shows that the latter viewpoint is far more accurate, creating the best episode of the season so far.
Line of the week: Long sullen silences and an occasional punch in the face: the Mormont way. – Tyrion
We start in Meereen, where Daenerys is having to deal with the consequences of the attack by the Sons of the Harpy in the previous episode, which were substantial to say the least. Her turmoil and anguish leads her to make a rash decision, which largely involves the scorching of the leaders of all of the city’s great families via her unruly ‘children’ (dragons) Viserion and Rhaegal, whose breaths are just a little bit fiery.
Over at the Night’s Watch, Jon makes the bold decision to bring the Wildlings south of the Wall, thus angering the vast majority of his comrades, but showing a resilience that has become a strong part of his character as the seasons have progressed. Stannis decides to leave Castle Black, but not before showing yet more of his soft side by encouraging Samwell to continue researching why dragonglass is so effective against the White Walkers. It seems that there’s more than a gruff exterior to the man after all.
The best storyline of the episode comes to us from Winterfell, where Sansa is trying to get used to the fact that she’s living at home, but with the very people who were a pivotal part of the Red Wedding. Sophie Turner’s performance is one of stony resilience, and the transformation that Sansa has gone through has allowed her to show just how good an actor she is. Her facial expressions are just as powerful as any words she might have to say in a world where she now recognises that it is best to say very little. Iwan Rheon also shines as Ramsay, a character that could so easily have become a caricature but is injected with just the right levels of menace and charm to make him a truly believable psychopath, all excitement and smiles with that lingering threatening look in his eyes. Rheon has been the star of the show for a while now, but it’s in this episode that he excels with a simmering, mild-mannered performance that oozes Ramsay’s toxicity. Michael McElhatton’s Roose is a brilliant antithesis to Ramsay in many ways. Cold and calculating as opposed to impulsive and unpredictable, he’s probably the cleverest man in Westeros with the passing of Tywin, and McElhatton’s performance is worthy of the complexity of the character. This plot thread has a lot of potential avenues to explore, and with the proximity of Brienne and Pod and the lingering loyalty of the smallfolk in Winterfell, it looks like we’re going to get some sort of payoff to the delicious build-up very soon.
We then progress to Tyrion and his captor Jorah in one of the world’s most pointless kidnappings, with Jorah perhaps aiming for some semblance of glory by handing Tyrion to Daenerys on a platter, making it look like less Tyrion has been taken there against his will, when it was his intention anyway. Tyrion is his usual sharp, dry self, and his humour breaks the tension of the most sullen boat ride of all time as Jorah sulks stoically at the helm. Things do hot up with the arrival of the Stone Men, since greyscale is such a feared disease in the land, and the skirmish has serious repercussions that make it a great place to end the episode.
This episode is one that definitely sets up things to come, but it does so with a level of assurance and the requisite gravitas to make every line captivating. As far as mid-season episodes go, it’s definitely a complete success and bodes well for the second half of the season.