“So we fight and die, or we submit and die? I know my choice.”
For a wonder, we got through this week’s Game of Thrones without a single epic battle. To be fair, it looked like everyone was still pretty shellshocked from last week’s dragon holocaust! Jaime Lannister, in particular, looked like the crestfallen Nazi generals in Downfall, who’ve realised there’s no way to win but can’t seem to communicate this to the oblivious Fuhrer (ie Cersei).
Battle or no battle, that recent sense of the show’s multifarious plot threads drawing together as it nears its conclusion was much in evidence here. So we finally found out what happened to Gendry – I enjoyed Ser Davos’ reference to the many fanboy gags that, “I thought you were still rowing”. Joe Dempsie seems a little leaner than he did back in season 3, and a little older; but Gendry’s none the wiser, bashing heads in with his big hammer and going around telling everyone he’s Robert Baratheon’s illegitimate son before volunteering for a suicide mission beyond the wall to capture one of the living dead. The boy truly is his father’s son.
Which might make for some awkward moments, given the show’s increasingly tortuous approach to the Iron Throne’s rightful occupant. After all, the Lannisters deposed his father, though as a bastard he probably doesn’t have a rightful claim, but I can’t see Daenerys being too keen on his presence. Of all the claimants, Dany probably has the strongest by dint of how far back her family’s reign goes – but what about Jon Snow?
There was a lovely moment this week as Jon, initially looking rather terrified, turned into a sort of ‘dragon whisperer’ with Drogon, affectionately patting the receptive beastie’s nose. It was as much a surprise to Dany as anyone else; she presumably thought only her family had that affinity with the creatures.
But now it looks like Jon may have the same attribute, in a nicely underplayed revelation from, of all people, Gilly to the obliviously annoyed Sam Tarly. Admittedly it was a little clumsily signposted as Gilly asked, “what’s an…’annulment’?”, but it’s a pretty seismic bit of news, even if Sam cut her off before reaching the obvious conclusion. We know (all right, we’re pretty sure) that Jon is actually the son of Dany’s brother Rhaegar Targaryen and Ned Stark’s sister Lyanna. But we now also know (all right, we’re pretty sure) that they were actually married, in secret, by the previous High Septon. Which means that Jon is no bastard – he’s a legitimate heir to both House Targaryen and House Stark.
Hard to prove I suppose, but who knows what Dany will make of that? As Westeros is basically an analogue of medieval Europe, I’d guess that any male heir’s claim to the throne would trump hers. And what about their budding (and not entirely convincing) romantic relationship, now that they’re cousins? I suppose it’s less close than some carnal relationships in the show…
Be that as it may, it looks like Jon is, symbolically at least, the embodiment of “ice and fire”, which will surely come in useful in the struggle to come. Mind you, in an ep full of intrigue, I’m not sure Tyrion’s plan to send a captive wight to King’s Landing to convince Cersei is entirely a good idea. Given how hard they are to destroy, I’m betting no good can come of having a homicidal zombie loose in the capital – though it’ll probably please Westeros’ own Josef Mengele, Maester Qyburn.
However ill-advised though, the scheme gave us another long-awaited reunion – that of Tyrion and his brother Jaime, who set him loose after Joffrey’s murder only for him to kill their father. It was a tense but affecting scene, as Jaime struggled to reconcile his genuine affection for his brother with the fact that they’re now fighting on opposite sides. And the fact that Dany (or Tyrion, anyway) is prepared to negotiate terms for a ceasefire to combat the Army of the Dead shows that she at least is starting to take the threat seriously.
Not so Cersei, who predictably just saw it straight away as an opportunity for political manoeuvre. She has a point – if they can’t beat the Targaryen invaders by force, they might by guile. And nobody has been such a successful schemer as Cersei – that’s how she’s lasted this long.
Well, there are a few others. Petyr Baelish was up to something (as usual) at Winterfell, that seemed to involve luring Arya to find the note Sansa wrote (under duress) long ago, urging the North to bow to King Joffrey. Hard at this point to know what Littlefinger’s up to, but this week showed the beginnings of a serious rift between the Stark sisters, something Baelish would probably approve of.
It was a tense scene between Maisie Williams and Sophie Turner, as Sansa struggled to conceal what may be obvious ambitions to supplant Jon, supported by the surly Northern Lords. Trouble is, as Sansa noted, Arya these days is someone who thinks beheading is fun. She’s not someone I’d want to be on the wrong side of, even if I were her sister.
The show’s other two top schemers, Tyrion and Varys, had one of the ep’s best scenes as they quietly took stock after Dany’s immolation of the stubborn Lord Tarly and his son (shame to lose the eyecandy of Tom Hopper so soon). Conleth Hill in particular was superb as Varys recounted his experiences of handing over suspects to Dany’s insane father: “when they begged for mercy, I told myself I’m not the one doing it. As their screams rose in pitch, I told myself I’m not the one doing it. When their hair caught fire, and the smell of their burning flesh filled the throne room – I’m not the one doing it”. It was a brilliantly written speech by Dave Hill (not the one out of Slade), doing the first non-Benioff and Weiss ep this season.
It was notable that after a lengthy period of sobriety, this scene saw Tyrion with a goblet in his hand for the first time in ages – with Varys joining him this time. They’re right (and Jon has made the same point directly to her) – Dany’s behaviour since her return to Westeros has been unsettlingly reminiscent of her flame-happy father. I’ve been thinking for a few eps now that she may not be the saviour Westeros needs after all, at least not unless she can contain her temptation to incinerate anyone and everyone who disagrees with her. It’s a measure of Emilia Clarke’s acting that the character’s progress to this point has been wholly believable and understandable, if not entirely sympathetic.
Sex and Violence
Once again, none of the former – if this continues, the show will start to seem respectable and I’ll have to retitle this bit simply ‘Violence’.
Not much of that either, in an ep centred so much on characters and their scheming. But the incineration of Randyl and Dickon Tarly was certainly gruesome enough to make the few remaining undecided Lannister soldiers bend the knee with comical rapidity:
And spare a thought for the hapless Goldcloaks (one of them the mighty Kevin Eldon) who had the misfortune of finding out just what Gendry had in that boat:
A strategy episode this one, then, rather than the almost frenetic action of recent weeks, though no worse for that. As it ended with Jon, Jorah Mormont, Gendry and the Hound all heading off beyond the Wall together, you could virtually see the showrunners pruning the multiplicity of separate plotlines. But with characters this good coming together like a Marvel comics crossover, it’s richly rewarding to see.