Well Game of Thrones is not dragging its feet, that much is certain. It seems that the writers have well and truly learned from Series 5 and are moving the plot along at a galloping pace. It is certainly good that this is happening. Series 6 is going back to our regular standard of Game of Thrones: routinely excellent television. In fact, this might be one of the strongest runs of Game of Thrones (apart from the poor first episode). This week’s episode has reunited several characters and is setting up the plot arc for the rest of this series, making us all very invested in the challenges our characters are yet to face. I have no real criticism for this episode and really enjoyed it, so let’s get into what worked.
One of the best and most heart-warming parts in this episode was Jon and Sansa’s reunion. While they were together for the first ever episode they hardly interacted with each other. Jon was busy sulking in a corner and Sansa was in her annoying phase of being horrible to anyone who was not as self-obsessed at her. Seeing the two of them together highlighted how much they had changed since that episode. Jon has been a leader and a fighter and Sansa has realised that the world she read about is not the same as the one she lives in. They have both changed, and in this episode they reflected on it, with Jon realising that he never had it so bad and Sansa remembering how vain she was. They are no longer children but are now fully grown-up, with Jon having been betrayed by his brothers and Sansa having been brutalised by two horrific people.
Furthermore, their resolve to stay together was really heart-warming. They knew that when they were back together things would be better, that they could rely on one another, and that they now want to claim back what is theirs. As Starks they will have the loyalty of most of the North and won’t make the same mistakes as Robb and Ned did. They will be kind, but it looks like they are actually going to make war in the right way and win, claiming back Winterfell. The conflict is really in the North now and with Houses Karstark and Umber on the Bolton side, we will have to see how the other houses end up picking their sides (maybe we’ll get an appearance from Howland Reed).
While King’s Landing seems to be less important, I really enjoyed the scene between Cersei and Olenna. The capital is paralysed due to the mess Cersei made, and Cersei has no power because Olenna orchestrated her downfall. However, they both know that they are at an impasse and need to work with each other in order to topple the High Sparrow. Furthermore, Cersei actually came up with an idea to help the situation that seemed reasonably competent. Perhaps she is learning from her mistakes and actually getting better at playing the game, realising that fear is not enough to keep people in line, but rather respect is more important. The small council will need Cersei back and they need Margaery to be free and not lose face, so now they are finally working together. No matter how much Olenna dislikes Cersei, they are a team. The only difference this time it is the Tyrells in the driving seat, not the Lannisters.
As usual this series, this show is throwing up some amazing episode endings. The finale in Vaes Dothrak, where Dany ends up getting all the khals together and then crisping them was truly remarkable. It was also great to see her with the Dothraki again. Her time with Drogo had led her to admire these people who would ride and fight and live life to the fullest. However, she clearly did not like their barbaric traditions of slavery and raping and the fact that they were very unruly. Drogo was a great leader but all it took was one fight where he was not careful and things all fell apart. She clearly saw herself as a superior leader to them and when the khals were bickering she decided to make her move. Daenerys has always been hubristic and this has held her back in playing the game. She is always so sure that she is right that she disregards anyone who may think otherwise. But in ‘The Book of the Stranger’ she was her at her best, with her hubris being tied into her special powers of being flameproof. She can be hubristic because she has the equivalent of 3 WMDs at her disposal, as well as some wacky magic powers that make her into an almost a supernatural figure. People can buy into that. Seeing the masses of Dothraki kneeling down in front of her with Jorah and Daario joining in, it really demonstrated the awe she can strike and her ability to command respect, which she will use when she decides to head over to Westeros.
Finally, on a lighter note, I liked the interactions between Tormund and Brienne. Tormund clearly is attracted to her and sees something. We have always known that wildling standards of beauty are very different and it is strength that they respect. It is doubtful Tormund would find any regular Westerosi lady attractive, given that many of them don’t fight and are given over to what he thinks are trivial pursuits, but Brienne is someone who wants to prove herself, who has always been ignored by men. She has never been desired by anyone and has always desired someone who she can never have. The relationship between the two of them will be quite an interesting one.