And we’re back. Just like maps used to say, there be dragons here. And lots of spoilers.
Where we ended last week is where we begin: Dragonstone. The keep is no longer suspiciously empty, but instead filled with Team Dany and her worldly confidantes. There’s Tyrion and Varys, Grey Worm and Missandei, Yara, Melisandre, after a while, and then, a bit later, Ellaria Sand and Lady Olenna (never forget). There’s lots of exposition to be doled out, plans to be drawn up, and threats to be made. Dany is rightly suspicious of Varys, who has twice-conspired to overthrow the kings he has served, and it’s as good an excuse as any for a Conleth Hill speech. We’ve been waiting for one of those for ages.
So many questions. Is Varys sneakily planning a coup? Is Dany really acting in the best interests of the people? Can anybody trust Ellaria? Seriously, hasn’t she murdered every named character she’s come across until this point?
Whatever. Melisandre informs the previously-repressed women of Westeros that Jon Snow is the King in the North, repeats her princely prophecy, and Tyrion sends a message to Winterfell requesting his presence. A message that arrives in the very next scene. Really? Sam’s message from last episode hasn’t even arrived at Winterfell yet.
Again, though, whatever. I’m nitpicking for comedic effect, but this episode flew by quicker than Tyrion’s time-bending space-raven, and that’s always a good indicator of a show’s quality. I said it last week, and I’ll say it again: Sam’s scenes notwithstanding, this season hasn’t shown an ounce of fat so far. Not a moment has felt wasted, and this is an episode that finds time for a meaningful wolf reunion and a sex scene involving a eunuch. Honestly, I don’t know how they do it.
I should mention that, shouldn’t I? Grey Worm and Missandei finally consummated their relationship, and I doff my cap to both for making a scene so conceptually audacious feel touching, meaningful, and simple. I guess even Missandei has some strategic ability, too, because she made sure to get hers first. Clever, given the circumstances.
My childish, snarky bollocks aside, it’s nice to see Game of Thrones broach some real topicality, as Cersei, who apparently only owns one set of clothes, united her reluctant allies in their mutual fear of dirty foreigners. What, do you want a Dothraki horde raping your women, butchering your language, stealing your jobs? Of course not. The women of the Seven Kingdoms must be abused by men of the Seven Kingdoms, not some beardy horse-lovers from across the sea. We must make King’s Landing great again.
Speaking of which, Grand Maester Pycelle has a plan for dealing with Dany’s dragons, which Cersei and her cohorts are understandably worried about. This is the guy who transformed The Mountain into a glowy-eyed giant zombie, let’s not forget. His scientific meddling is not to be trifled with. So, what does he have in store for us this time? More emerald mushroom clouds? A lizard-eating virus? Atom bomb?
Oh, no. It’s just a really, really big crossbow.
Speaking of scientific meddling, Samwell Tarly, whose special skill seems to be finding a solution to every conceivable issue by looking in old books, has a plan for dealing with Ser Jorah Mormont of House Friendzone’s greyscale problem. It involves a scalpel, some ointment, and a lot of screaming. The Maesters all think such an advanced case is a write-off, so it’s nice to see Sam practicing forbidden techniques and risking his coveted role as the Citadel’s emptier of bedpans. This being Game of Thrones, the scene lingers on the surgery for a great deal of time, ensuring that we get a good, long look at the oodles of pus that come pouring out from behind the scabs.
Not to worry, though, because it gives the showrunners a nice excuse to continue their newfound tradition of organising scenes in a logical, fluid way; like how, in the previous episode and earlier in this one, a scene of characters speaking to one another would then cut to a scene involving whoever was being spoken about. Here, Jorah’s manky chest gives way to a close-up of a delicious, gravy-filled pie being broken into, as we rejoin Arya at the crossroads inn with her old simpleton bestie, Hot Pie.
Usually, Arya not having heard about Jon’s ascension to the northern throne would have rankled me, but this scene did a good job of reminding us of how impossibly low her expectations are. Most of her family and friends have been murdered, and as we learn later in the episode, even her long-lost direwolf, Nymeria, has better things to do than hang out with her. Why would she have asked about the state of Winterfell? As far as she knows, the Boltons are playing football in the courtyard with the heads of her relatives.
But, as we know, there’s a lot more going on at Winterfell than that. Jon has decided to accept Dany’s invitation, partly to secure the allegiance of her fire-breathing dragons, which will help against the Night King and his armies, and partly to mine the deep reserves of obsidian that are hidden beneath Dragonstone. (Sam’s knackered old raven finally arrived). While he’s gone, he’s leaving Winterfell and the north in the capable hands of Sansa, who was getting lairy again until she heard that news. Littlefinger approves, also. You can see him nodding and grinning from his designated lurking spot.
I’ll tell you who isn’t lurking, though: Uncle Euron. He and his fleet of magically-procured ships descend on Yara and Ellaria on their way to Dorne. He interrupts a sexposition scene, no less. And while I persist that nothing about Euron makes any sense whatsoever, he’s good for an action scene, clearly. This one was a bit hectically-edited, but as he sliced through extras amid the swirling embers of the burning fleet, offing a couple of Sand Snakes while he was at it, I felt something of the show’s essence in him. Here he is, chopping straight to the point. That’s been the modus operandi of this season, so far. Whether it’s impromptu surgery or the eating of pies, Game of Thrones has an immediacy now, more so than ever, a willingness to dive straight into the guts of a story that has been running for years but finally feels like it’s really starting to get somewhere. The test of character for Theon was just icing. Don’t get me wrong: Alfie Allen sold the moment with a single facial expression, and it was kind of wrenching to see how deep his scars run. He was “Reek” again, a victim, the mutilated plaything of Ramsay Snow, and of the game itself. Rather than rush to his sister’s aid, he flung himself into the sea.
It was a great moment. The rest of us are staying aboard.
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Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.