Shane Ryan and Josh Jackson review Game of Thrones each week in a series of letters.
Thankfully, after last week’s shocking rape scene, Gilly was spared the same fate last night. Samwell Tarly may not be able to fight, but he can sure take a punch. And if last week’s final moments sought to drive home the point that the hero doesn’t always rush in to save the day, this week showed that sometime he does, even if he needs a little help from his direwolf. We talked a couple weeks ago about how few romances are celebrated on Game of Thrones, but this is one slow-burning forbidden courtship that has been a sweet exception. Samwell may have just betrayed part of his oath, but we were all hoping he would. And I’m certainly glad he was able to save the day.
But the most satisfying moment—more than Samwell finally losing his virginity, more than watching Cersei’s devious plan blow up in her face—was seeing Tyrion Lannister finally get an audience with the queen. To get there he had to use both brains and brawn, surprising everyone by beating up the slave-driver’s assistant. We only got to see the briefest of introduction, but it was enough to make me a little giddy. This hasn’t happened in the books yet, so I’m dying to see what next week will bring.
Diana Rigg—who, by the way, played James Bond’s wife in 1969—continues to light up the screen every time she appears as Lady Olenna. Both in her scene in the sept and in Little Finger’s brothel, her verbal sparring was wonderful to behold. Like Cersei, she underestimates the High Sparrow, but it only took one meeting for her to understand what she’s dealing with. Cersei, on the other hand, was a kid playing with fire. She tried to torch her enemies but ended up burning down her own house. The “hateful bitch,” as Margaery put it, has finally been brought low.
And while Gilly was spared, poor Sansa is still getting nightly visits from a man who flayed a kind old woman alive. And her salvation doesn’t appear to be coming anytime soon. Winter is slowing down Stannis, who is now being tempted to sacrifice his daughter for a blood-magic victory over the Boltons. If there was any doubt. Melisandre is just plain evil.
There was so much going on last night and so much left hanging. What did you think?
Reading your email just moments after the show ended made me realize how much they accomplished in an hour, and it also surprised me, because while watching, it felt a little like a slow-burner to me. Part of that is just Game of Thrones being Game of Thrones and leaving you wanting more, but I also think the last three episodes have felt a little slower. We’ve been building and building and building, and only now, at the end of episode seven, are we in position to get a little payoff.
Let’s start with Tyrion, because YES, oh my God, he finally came face to face with Daenerys!!! This, of course, hasn’t yet happened in the books, and in hindsight, even though the last few episodes have felt long, I say kudos to the TV people for bringing it about so quickly. There’s not much to say quite yet about the meeting, since they left us on a dramatic cliffhanger, but I truly can’t wait to see how this goes down next Sunday. And I want to say for the record that if HBO does that thing where they drop a storyline for a week and make us wait, I’m going to go full Arya Stark on them, by which I mean plotting my revenge for years in a weird tomb full of dead people. That’s a promise.
The Cersei/High Sparrow plot line has followed a very similar trajectory. Again, we took some time to navigate the Margaery and Loras imprisonments (in the books, for the record, Loras is not imprisoned, and Cersei commissions someone to lie about sleeping with Margaery in order to have her jailed), and both of them still have to stand trial, but book readers know that the devil Cersei summoned was going to turn its head to her eventually—and I mean that only in the sense of a proverb, because frankly the faith of the seven, extreme as they are, seem to be on morally solid ground…at least in comparison to Cersei. Which, granted, isn’t a high standard.
Speaking of enlisting devils that turn on you, Melisandre is THE WORST, Josh. At the same time, you have to expect that she’d suggest something like killing Stannis’ daughter so she can birth a new demon, or something. What really disturbed me was Stannis’ reaction, which was frankly far less horrified than I would have liked. Unfortunately, this moral conundrum is not over, and at some point soon Stannis will have to answer a question—does he value his daughter or his ambitions more? Of course, we know that it’s not quite that simple—Jon Snow already put Melisandre in her place when he said that visions in fires mean nothing to him, and it’s too bad that Stannis lacks the same wisdom—but in terms of his choice, it seems like he’s deluding himself into believing it’s an either/or situation. Which is not great, because despite his nice speech to Shireen earlier this season, nothing means more to him than winning the game of thrones. I mean, he’‘ll even undertake the Westeros equivalent of fighting a land war against Russia, which is attacking Winterfell when it’s snowing. Not smart, Stanis. I hope you like being flayed.
In other news, Josh, Ramsay did another awful thing, and there are weird things happening in Dorne. I don’t care. I can’t care. Both of these stories bore me to tears right now. And while I’m happy that Gilly and Sam are having sex now, it still felt like that scene went on about ten minutes too long.
So, in summary, I think when we look back we’ll split this season into three parts. The first four episodes galloped right along at a breakneck pace, the next three slowed down considerably as the writers translated 1,000 pages of stagnant action from the books into three episodes, and now, I’m hoping, the last three episodes will really deliver the goods. Seriously, just give me an hour of Daenerys and Tyrion debating, and I’m good.
One last thing: RIP Aemon Targaryen. The man who refused the crown is gone, and now we won’t get to see 92-year-old actor Peter Vaughan anymore. Aemon was one of the sneaky-best characters on the show.
In fact, let’s talk about that, Josh. In terms of sneaky-best GoT characters, who’s in your top ten? Also, would anything be less fun than being a spectator at the fighting pits?
First Ser Barristan Selmy and now Aemon. All good men must die—and in Season 5 for everyone old and wise. But the fighter died a hero, sword in hard, and the Maester died of old age, in his bed, surrounded by two people who loved him and with a chubby baby in the room to bring him a last moment of joy. His death and John’s departure certainly changed the tone at the Wall, where keeping former criminals and rapists in line is difficult even with strong leadership present. Now Samwell is on his own.
Aemon was indeed one of the best sneaky-good characters on the show. For my list, I’m leaving off all major characters and those we’ve already praised in length here like Olenna and Davos Seaworth, but these are the minor characters that prove how deep the bench is on this show:
10. Hot Pie — Because Hot Pie!
9. Robin Arryn — His introduction on the show was as a creepy appendage, but now that he’s been separated from his mother, he’s got an interesting struggle ahead of him.
8. Meera Reed — Sure, her brother Jojo gets all the attention, what with his visions of the future and all, but Meera was the grounded one who kept him alive.
7. Doran Martell — At first he seemed like another weak ruler, but there’s guile and power in the man who would love nothing more than to see children enjoying themselves in his water gardens. Westeros could use more rulers like this guy.
6. Beric Dondarrion — A hard-drinking priest who got religion when he rose from the dead. That will do it for most people.
5. Shireen Baratheon — Despite a horrible mother, a distant father and a disfiguring disease, Shireen retains a certain spunk and a kindness not found by many around her.
4. Salladhor Saan — Because every show needs a good pirate.
3. Walder Frey — Of all the horrible, villainous rulers on the show, only Walder Frey is honest enough to show his creepiness off at first glance.
2. Bronn — He sings as well as he fights. And provides much of the show’s humor. So glad to have him back in action.
1. Hodor — Hodor.
And yes, it’s fascinating to see someone with enlightened sensibilities like Daenerys deal with Mediaeval cultural norms like those of Essos, and the fighting pits are the biggest example of that. If you or I were dropped into that world, the brutality of the fighting pits would rightly disgust us. And yet that was the norm for countless cultures throughout our own history. I imagine there were plenty of people who found it abhorrent even then. Thankfully they won out over time.
So who did I miss in my sneaky-good list?
Speaking of Hodor, how great was it that the Meereen version of the mute giant was the one to free Tyrion from his shackles? I’m loving New Hodor!
Your list is really solid, and the only oversight that comes to mind immediately is Tormund Giantsbane. I love every scene I watch with him, and I hope he stays among the living for seasons to come. Since you covered all the other bases, I’ll take a different tack and list a slightly different top ten: Minor Villains or Antagonistic Types That I’ve Greatly Enjoyed.
10. Robert Arryn — Look, if the character has to exist, let’s admit that they did it perfectly. I feel bad for him, but he gives me the heebie-jeebies.
9. Ilyn Payne — To be fair, he kinda sucks in the show, but in the books he’s the one who spars with Jaime after he loses his hand, and he actually becomes vaguely likable, even after chopping of Ned Stark’s head.
8. The Mad King — I really want a flashback, Josh, and I want him to be played by Steve Buscemi with dyed blond hair.
7. Pyat Pree — I still get nightmares when I picture his bald, leering head.
6. Dagmer — Played by Ralph Ineson, the same guy who played Ricky Gervais’ filthy friend Chris Finch in The Office, Dagmer is the one who encourages Theon to kill the orphans that stood in for Bran and Rickon. Ineson makes for a terrific, unsettling baddie with a grin like a wolf.
5. Myranda — Ramsay’s weird girlfriend. So, so eerie, I shudder every time she steps on screen. If HBO lets her kill Sansa, though, I will write some very angry letters.
4. Aliser Thorne — He’s just such a sinister bastard, as he proved again last night. Owen Teale is really, really good.
3. Locke — He’s the guy who cut Jaime’s hand off, and always seems to have that look that is half-philosophical, half-sadistic. He makes me laugh.
2. Viserys — He managed to be strikingly horrible and incompetent at the same, like Ramsay Bolton without an ounce of strategic thinking, so I think it’s easy to ignore how delightful he was as he sputtered and raged.
1. Karl Tanner — This is the creepy guy played by the excellent Burn Gorman who killed Craster, and was later slain by Jon Snow. He was my favorite low-life, Josh.
And speaking of low-lifes, I just want to conclude on a triumphant note: Yay, Bronn didn’t die! From the moment he got that cut on his arm last episode, and knowing the Dornish penchant for poison, I thought for sure he was a goner, and my dread only increased when the Sand Snake seemed to take a special delight in watching him wither and die. And then, the antidote! Finally, the bastards at HBO spare us an awful fate. I’m glad it was the young sister who poisoned him, because I get the feeling the one with the spear would not have been so merciful.
Please don’t die, George R.R. Martin,
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