The mark of a truly great show comes not in the beginning when it’s ensnared your eyeballs but in the home stretch when it’s ridden those eyeballs far longer than they’ve ever meant to be ridden and yet you’re still yearning for another mile. I’m not quite comfortable calling this the ‘home stretch’ for Game of Thrones but, with a rumored 13-14 episodes left after this season, I’d say that’s a fair assumption. The genius of ‘Book of the Stranger’ is that it’s a connective tissue episode that is able to wrangle all sorts of emotional energy under the necessary plot mechanics. Like Breaking Bad or The Wire before it, Game of Thrones is able to treat every story beat like an ace up its sleeve.
Jon Snow insists that his turn as Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch is finished. He has given up Longclaw to Dolorous Edd and intends to walk south because it must be warmer than at The Wall. Jon understands that the consequence for his actions in bringing Wildings south of The Wall was his murder and he refuses to be in a position to make that same mistake again.
Until Sansa Stark trots through the front gates of Castle Black and sees her brother for the first time in years (since season one). I’m not sure that Sansa and Jon have actually shared a frame of screen time together but the combined histories of these characters and their family carry an immense weight and it was an honest-to-goodness series payoff to see these two finally come together. The weight of the world lies upon these characters’ experiences and we as an audience carry that with them so that the moment they finally embrace is one of catharsis and true emotion which stands as a highpoint for the series*
At Castle Black we also see what consequence personified looks like as Brienne of Tarth meets Melisandre. Melisandre, infamously known for birthing the “smoke monster” which assassinated Renly Baratheon and backing Stannis Baratheon until Brienne killed him in the battlefield. No character in this show goes without meeting their maker or undoer and Melisandre’s fall from grace still isn’t complete. Sure, she may have resurrected Jon Snow but her comeuppance for the horrors she forced via the hand of Stannis have yet to be answered for. Melisandre and Brienne have much more to discuss.
Elsewhere, Robert Arryn has been left to slowly, slowwwlllyyy mature into the Lord of the Eyrie. When our great trusted friend, Littlefinger, returns bearing a falcon as gift to Robert, we’re reminded just who is actually in control of this important section of the world. Armies under Littlefinger’s control are a force to be reckoned with and it’s to be sure that whoever Baelish sees fit to raise his name in Westeros, he’ll back with that force.
Across the Narrow Sea, Tyrion’s ruling in Daenerys’ place has seen great blowback from not only the Masters in Essos but from his own counsel; Messandei and Grey Worm, both former slaves, want Tyrion to be the logical continuation of Dany’s stance on slavery. Tyrion, always the diplomat, understands that compromise is the way to peace and offers the same Masters who once held him in chains a deal to abolish their practices within seven years. Messandei and Grey Worm couldn’t be more appalled, yet stand at Tyrion’s side when dissenters come to decry Tyrion’s diplomacy with the Masters.
Tyrion’s actions since taking lead in Meereen are inarguably brash and arrogant but that is the exact attitude that served Tyrion to his highest political advantage in Westeros. I’d wager that sort of luck wouldn’t continue but Tyrion’s the type of character to keep playing aces even when we’ve seen them all played in front of us.
Back at the Red Keep, the High Sparrow has his claws sunk into Margaery Tyrell and allows her to see her brother for the first time since their imprisonment. The Sparrow is so cunning and malicious under the pretense of fealty to the Seven that his presence lingers over every inch of footage we see at King’s Landing. Margaery believes she has the upper hand against the High Sparrow and tries to convince Loras to hold fast to his beliefs. But Loras is finished. He has never been an exceptionally strong character and is always tied directly to the happiness and power of those around him. He doesn’t understand the consequence of giving up his considerable skill and strength but Margaery does. She has always been the stronger sibling despite Loras’ record in battle.
Theon, finally arriving back home at the Iron Isles cedes to his sister that he doesn’t deserve to be King. She has always been the stronger, smarter Greyjoy and he will back her in this endeavor which she will have to take up against at least one of her uncles**. Seeing the look on Theon’s face as he learns his manhood (re: his penis and testicles) has previously been sent to Asha and their father long before his unceremonious return was one of pure agony and I once again was hoping for some Theon redemption.
Checking in quickly with Ramsay Snow*** we see that he likes to skin his apples like he enjoys flaying his people. In an unfortunate but ultimately predictable bit, Osha is killed by Ramsay as she tries to seduce him like she would a Theon or some other simple schmuck in Winterfell or north of The Wall. It’s a harsh loss but one the show hasn’t been lamenting for a couple of seasons now. Osha is now far out of her league when it comes to dealing with Ramsay and doesn’t understand how this sort of psychopath works. She puts up a valiant effort but comes very short of granting the viewers’ wishes…
…Which Jon Snow agrees to take upon himself. Please, cue the excitement bell for Jon Snow featuring the Night’s Watch and the Wildlings vs. Ramsay Snow and the Boltons of Winterfell.
Rounding out ‘Book of the Stranger’ is the biggest ace the show has played since Tyrion killed his father.
It would be wrong to simply call Dany a damsel in distress as Jorah and Daario come to her aid in Vaes Dothrak. Yes, she’s captive and yes, there are two men who love her coming to set her free. But this is so much more than that. Season five was incorrectly maligned for having Dany captured by the Dothraki and setting her two heroes on a mission to find and rescue her.
The true consequence of Dany’s capture isn’t the death of the Dothraki but actually the total and complete paradigm shift in Dothraki culture. Like the change in slave laws in Essos, this action won’t go quietly into the night but it’s a sincere and powerful start to something greater as Dany walks from a Khal-killing blaze completely unharmed and naked to her people. When Dany entered the tent in which she so greatly disrupted Dothraki culture previously, she knew she had the upper hand. The Khals met to determine Dany’s ultimate fate and decided, due to her insubordination, that she would be raped by each Khal and bloodrider and horse (if there was anything left of her). In the end, the Khals were mistaken to believe their actions against The Mother of Dragons, The Breaker of Chains and The Unburnt would go without consequence.
Daenerys walks from the holocaust Unburnt, looking upon her newest people and army with which she’ll use to retake hold over Essos and eventually Westeros.
If only it were that easy on Game of Thrones. I’ll sit and bask in the joys and peaks this show gives me any day, but I feel like the shoe is about to drop hard on someone we love very, very soon. The story, the writing and the direction of this season has been surprising and exciting thus far. I see no reason for that to end anytime soon as these characters with rich histories and experiences continue to intersect and shape the ending to the TV version of A Song of Ice and Fire.
Check out my reviews of previous episodes of ‘Game of Thrones’:
*I cried. Actual tears. CRIED.
**In another book-related note, the Greyjoy Kingsmoot occurs before Theon ever becomes free of Ramsay Snow’s clutches and provides some of the more interesting, if not painfully drawn-out political conversations in George R.R. Martin’s novels. The fact that Theon is behind Asha before the Kingsmoot takes place, I think helps the audience understand the importance of her winning the position over any of her uncles.
***Still not calling him Bolton.