Shane Ryan and Josh Jackson review Game of Thrones each week in a series of letters.
I feel overwhelmed. After another very solid, albeit slow-burn, episode, there are a lot of important things I should prioritize over the one thing that keeps sticking in my mind. But I cannot tell this brain what to think, and so I present you with:
Gilly and Sam: A Two-Line Play
Gilly: There’s a thing in this book about Rhaegar Targaryen having his marriage annulled in Dorne, and then he gets married to someone else right away. If I read on, who knows what it might say? Could be something about a kid he’s about to have, a secret Targaryen, and in all likelihood that kid would have to be hidden as a bastard. Probably in a really important family, though. Probably someone like Jon Snow, your old friend. A bastard, but in a high house. And who knows, maybe nobody knows that this so-called “bastard” is actually legitimate, a fact proven by this book, and is, in some sense, the rightful heir to the iron throne.
Sam: THESE MAESTERS AND THEIR POOPING! I’M SO ANGRY! LET’S SPLIT!
That’s big news, Josh, but for kind of a weird reason. We already knew Jon was the son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark, but what the book Gilly was reading proves is that Rhaegar and Lyanna were legally married by this fecal-obsessed maester after Rhaegar’s marriage to Elia of Dorne was annulled at the Tower of Joy. Now, clearly it doesn’t change what we think and know about Jon, but it does potentially change what the people of Westeros will think of him. Because guess what? The dude is legitimate. He’s not a Stark bastard, but he’s not a Targaryen bastard either. In reality, his claim to the iron throne is even stronger than Dany’s at this point.
Unfortunately, Gilly’s is still new to the pronunciation game, hence Rhaegar became “Ragger” and this little bit of info will have to wait to see the light of day.
But what it says about Jon is huge—here’s a Targaryen, raised by a Stark, who has spent his whole life in Westeros. Unlike Dany, he won’t be seen as a foreign invader by his people, and I couldn’t help but think that a man like Randyll Tarly would have bent the knee for Jon—and even though it’s too late for him, how many other major and minor lords would prefer one of their own over the queen of dragons?
Now, let’s talk about Dany. The show is very much teasing us with the idea that she’s about to become The Mad Queen. It’s always seemed like somebody from the core group, whether it’s Sansa, Arya, Bran, Jon, Dany, or Tyrion, would have to become the bad guy. And with the horrible destruction wrought by the dragons last week, and her “burn the Tarlys” hard-line horror this week, there will be many, many people who hop aboard the Mad Queen Train. And it’s not totally crazy for them to take the bait.
But me? I think it’s a red herring, at least for now. Maybe I’m a sociopath, but her logic still makes sense to me. She killed far fewer people than she had to in the battle against the Lannisters, and at some point, she simply had to show her strength. The idea of the dragons wasn’t scaring anybody. The reality of the dragons? Even Maester Maynard couldn’t have documented that many people shitting themselves.
I’ll go so far as to say that even the burning of the Tarlys, horrible as it was, serves a symbolic purpose for Dany, and likely saves lives in the long run. They could have bent the knee, they could have taken the black (I think? It’s unclear if Dany would have okayed that, but she seemed to be at least somewhat inclined), and instead they opted for death. Essentially, I think her tactics are sound, and we’re getting caught up in the horror of the dragons themselves. If she had done the same thing in the battle and the aftermath using only the Dothrakis, it would seem standard. The fact that she happens to have a fire-breathing trio of super-weapons shouldn’t be held against her, especially if she’s trying to use them to keep the death toll to a minimum.
However, perception is reality, and if Dany is seen as a bloodthirsty foreign invader, and it comes down to her and Jon Snow for the iron throne, I keep going back to the Azor Ahai prophecy. You know I’m a Jaime truther, Josh, but I can already see these two falling in love, and it’s easy to imagine Jon having to murder Dany, aka Nissa Nissa, late in the game in order to forge Lightbringer and take down the White Walkers. We’ve already seen he’ll do anything to defeat them, and I think that could end up being the ultimate sacrifice that both of them make for each other and for the future of the realm.
Moving on, so much happened this episode. Jorah’s back! Cersei’s pregnant! Tyrion and Jaime met, and Cersei and somehow held herself back from killing Tyrion! Gendry’s back, and he’s good with a warhammer just like his old man, and he’s forming a supergroup with Jon Snow called The Bastard Boys! Varys is full on anti-Dany, meaning she was totally right not to trust him last week! Littlefinger is doing more stupid elaborate plotting that make him 100% likely to die this season!
But I’ll leave some of that meat on the bone for you, and take a trolley to Nitpick Central, because it wouldn’t be an email from me without a trifling complaint. This week’s featured gripe is totally predictable: Jaime and Bronn’s hilarious escape from the dragons. Between the end of last week’s episode, featuring Jaime getting tackled into a river that is apparently at least 30 feet deep right at the shore, we are asked to believe in the following sequence of events:
1. Bronn rescues Jaime from the depths.
2. Nobody tries to kill them, even though they’re two feet away from a dragon and an entire Dothraki army.
3. Bronn swims underwater, carrying an armored Jaime, for long enough to reach an opposite bank that is out of sight of everyone. Probably like 400 yards, minimum. UNDERWATER. DRAGGING A METAL PERSON. Bronn is now Gertrude Ederle.
4. It was super easy for them to get back to King’s Landing, presumably on foot.
How can a show this good have a sequence this dumb? Matt Shakman directed both episodes, and I like to think he saw how he ended things last week, saw what he needed to do this week, and was like…”eh, screw it, let’s just get it over with, then we’ll have Bronn call Jaime a cunt, and hopefully everyone will forget it.”
But credit where it’s due: “You could’ve killed me!” is the absolute funniest thing Jaime could have said in that situation. Amazing opening line. And the truth is, I barely care about the impossible swim, because we got to see a deepening of the Jaime-Bronn bromance, to the extent that Bronn is actively defying Cersei in an attempt to influence Jaime’s politics. It’s an extremely good way to make me love him even more, and also an extremely good way to die.
Before I send it your way, I want to praise the end of this episode. How insane is it to have a scene with the Hound, Jorah Mormont, Jon Snow, Gendry, Davos, and Tormund? I don’t even care if that counts as fan service—it makes enough sense to me, and it was everything I could have wanted, right down to the Hound being totally unimpressed with everyone and telling Beric to “shut his hole.” And it led to the brilliant closing shot of them heading out beyond the wall, into the snow, Westeros’ equivalent of the magnificent seven. Next week is going to be a fucking blast.
What did you think?
There was a lot to appreciate in this episode, but I had trouble seeing past the holes in Plot A.
When your protagonist is too strong, it becomes difficult to maintain the necessary tension to keep a firm grip on its audience. It’s the reason almost no one names Superman as their favorite superhero.
Last week, we saw that Danaerys, with an army of Dothraki and just a single dragon, could charbroil any army who stands in her way. She’s even shown a willingness to use all the terrible power at her disposal to bring all of Westeros to the knee. She needs a weakness, and it appears that her kryptonite is terrible advice.
An army of the dead is about to break through Eastwatch-by-the-Sea (which, I think, made its clockwork debut in the opening montage), and so the plan to stop that is to:
1. Have Jon Snow, the King in the North who’s barely holding his alliance together, sail all the way from Storm’s End to the Wall.
2. Go on a Dirty Dozen (or, I guess, Swarthy Seven) mission to capture a Walker.
3. Sail all the way back.
4. Parade it in front of Cersei, so she’ll, I guess, be moved by a love of her people? to pause the fighting and allow the Mother of Dragons to go kill the army of the dead.
And the whole point of this is Dany’s worry that if she sends her army to the north, Cersei will invade Dragonstone, which was sitting empty long before her army arrived from Essos?
My queen, can I offer an alternate plan? Take King’s Landing now, secure the Iron Throne before Jon Snow gets over that initial bout of seasickness. And then you can worry about the White Walkers. To put this plan in perspective:
If Westeros was North America, Dragonstone is Cuba, King’s Landing is like Cancun, Mexico, and Eastbay-by-the-Sea might as well be Newfoundland. It’s a long-ass way to sail. If the threat of the dead army is that imminent, how is this a good idea? And why do any of them think Cersei will care?
Please tell me why I’m wrong here, Shane. Am I Arya, and the show is Littlefinger, one step ahead of me that I can’t see?
Okay, on to the good. Gendry is back, pissed off at being sold to religious zealot who wanted him for a blood sacrifice, and ready to pound heads with the hammer of Thor. His introduction to Jon Snow (not a bastard!) was fantastic, as was Jon’s close encounter with Drogon. And that little gem about Ragger’s annulment was as subtle a reveal of key information in a TV show as I can remember. Plus we had Tyrion’s reunion with Jaime, Jorah’s reunion with Dany, a royal pregnancy, Bran and his warg ravens actually being useful, Samwell giving up his dream to try to go save the world, and Littlefinger playing Arya like a fiddle, turning the mistrusting assassin against a sister she’s never really liked. For those who didn’t pause their screen to read that note, it was the proclamation that Cersei forced Sansa to send north, naming her father a traitor and swearing fealty to King Joffrey.
Which, by the way, is all the more reason for The King in the North to go home. But next week we get Jon Snow, The Hound, Tormund Giantsbane, Jorah Mormont, Gendry Baratheon, Beric Dondarrion and Thoros of Myr taking the fight to the Walkers. Tormund AND Sandor Clegane, Shane, in the same place. Every time Beric or Jon opens his mouth to give some earnest speech, the Red God help him.
So why is Littlefinger plotting one sister against the other? And what does Cersei have up her sleeve? Is she just trying to buy time to raise mercenary armies form Essos? And finally, which of the Magnificent Seven are most likely to make it back across the wall alive?
RIP Dickon Tarly.
Well, look…you’re absolutely right. And I can’t believe I didn’t complain about the main plot. I think I saw the first scene with Bronn and Jaime escaping, and just though, “okay, Shane, put any plot concerns out of your mind right now, or you’re not going to enjoy any of this.”
But…yeah. This is not good. This whole season, we’ve been asked to suspend disbelief on the Dany front. She could destroy Cersei with one dragon run, but every time someone brings it up, they’re all like, “if ye bern tha city to tha ground, ye’re no daffrent than harrr!” (Not sure what dialect this is, just roll with it.) And all season, nobody’s been like, “what if you just burn the shit out of the red keep, kill Cersei,” and drop a thousand gold dubloons into Flea Bottom?” Drogon is not an atomic bomb—he can aim his fire in very specific places. We saw him kill two specific dudes without lighting up the rest of the army, and he can sure as hell target one building if he needs to.
And once we had to accept that bit of ridiculousness, we then had to accept that somehow Cersei needs to be treated with kid gloves and enlisted in the war on climate change errr the White Walkers. So now we have this elaborate plan to convince her that the wights are real, and you’re right, Josh, even if they pull it off, she’s never going to give a shit. This is all kinda dumb. I think it comes down to two factors:
1. I can’t believe that Drogon is meant to be this gigantic. My guess is that in George R.R. Martin’s mind, the dragons are very daunting weapons, but not invincible air behemoths. If you read about the Field of Fire in Aegon’s conquest, for instance, which is the only time in Westeros that three dragons were employed at once, there’s a lot of strategic burning of the land so that the wind drives the fire into the enemy. Thousands die, but it’s because of smart plotting, not because the dragons are doing strafing runs over the army. In Martin’s telling, the dragons are probably smaller and less deadly. In the show, Drogon, at least, seems like he could defeat a million men on his own. And thus it’s hard for us to understand why Dany doesn’t just take what she wants immediately, as you said.
2. We have not seen Cersei’s actual army. All we see is rearguard action, a half-ass “battle” in which 13 dudes get overrun at Highgarden, and a token force at Casterly Rock. The real army is out there somewhere, but it’s making it hard for us to take the threat of Cersei seriously, and it makes Tyrion’s terrible advice seem increasingly absurd.
As far as what Cersei is actually up to, it seems like hiring the Golden Company is her only move. One thing I missed last week, but which has been pointed out over and over online, is how it might have been an enormous mistake to repay the Iron Bank in full. Now that they’ve recovered their debt, there’s no reason they can’t abandon her totally. When Tycho Nestoris tells her that she’s redefining the words “effective” and “efficient,” he may essentially be mocking her. Tywin would’ve known that to keep them on the hook, you have to give them some skin in the game—they can’t back an enemy if it means they’ll never collect your debt. Now? They could totally screw her over without losing a thing. Clearly, though, she needs a mercenary army, and she’s already quite lucky that Dany seems to be hesitant to just win the stupid war.
I can’t talk about Littlefinger anymore, Josh. His plot to pit Arya against Sansa is surface-level clever, but makes no actual sense in the grander scheme. He’s already completely untrustworthy, everyone knows it, and each move he makes is suspect. The thing that show Littlefinger doesn’t get, but that book Littlefinger understands completely, is that there are times when you don’t make a move. Show Littlefinger is the ultimate checkers player, trying to set up stupid one-move jumps without any broader design. It’s dumb, it’s been dumb for a while, and I can’t wait ‘til he’s gone. I hope his death is funny.
Time for some death odds! The magnificent seven are on a crazy suicide mission, and I have no idea how they’re going to manage this since as Bran’s raven warging and past episodes have revealed, the wights just roam together in one massive pack. It’s not like they’re going to find a rogue wight heading to the bathroom, or off by himself in the forest writing a letter home. I have no idea how they capture an individual wight without setting off the entire pack. That said, here’s the likelihood-of-survival list, from “gonna die” to untouchable:
Gonna die: Thoros and Beric. They’ve played a very minor role in the show, and basically only seem to be here to convey the Hound north. I like them both, but I doubt these guys make it through the storm. They have served their purpose to the Red God.
In mortal danger: Tormund. I hate to say it, and I hope it won’t happen, but I can totally see him making a heroic sacrifice to save Jon. Can there really be that much more drama for our favorite wildling? If he does die, I hope Brienne wears black bear fur for a year.
I’m nervous: Gendry, Jorah. But they wouldn’t bring these guys back just to die in some stupid clash north of the wall, right? I want to see Gendry killing the shit out of some Lannister fools (preferably Ed Sheeran) with that warhammer, and it would really, really suck to lose Jorah now.
Safe-ish: The Hound. I can see a lot of ends for the Hound—everything from “sacrificial hero of the final war” to “is Azor Ahai.” But I can’t see him going down here—they’ve invested too much in him, and he’s too important. Plus, CleganeBowl has to happen, and it will be impossible if the Night King gets him. Though a CleganeBowl with a reanimated Mountain and an ice zombie Hound would certainly be a twist.
100% safe, duh: Jon Snow. Obviously. He and Dany have a lot more ground to cover.
Speaking of them, Josh, let’s get real and ask the big question: you think we’re going to see some Targaryen sex this season? They’re definitely putting out that vibe, right? Technically, Jon is Dany’s nephew, but I think we’ll basically have to just put that of our minds. They don’t know, and to be honest, I’m kinda shipping this new relationship. Does that make me weird? Has Game of Thrones tricked me into this? How am I supposed to feel when it inevitably happens?
(Also, I can’t wait for the scene where Sam or Bran is like, “hey Jon, good news/bad news. Good news? You’re a legitimate heir to the iron throne. Bad news? You’ve been banging your aunt.”)
And one final question for you, big picture: We have two episodes left…where the hell is this all going? It’s been an action-packed season, but have we really advanced the plot all that much since Dany landed on Dragonstone? What will be resolved, and where will they leave us as we make our way to the end of the penultimate season?
We won’t forget you, Tickon Darly.
Take that back about Tormund. Surely, one named wildling besides Gilly and her kid is going to make it the end alive. Brienne and Tormund’s babies were the closest thing we were going to have at replacing the ancient race of Wun Weg Wun Dar Wun. I totally agree that Beric and Thoros are going down in a blaze of glory, though, probably sacrificing themselves to save Gendry.
Shane, we all know Targaryens see family bonds a little differently than the rest of us. Nephew? That’s like distant relative when it comes to preserving the bloodline. In reality, Daenerys should probably look less like Emelia Clarke and more like Brandine Del Roy.
So yes, despite that very warm reception Dany had for Jorah Mormount, I think the King of the North—with his valid claims to the Iron Throne—and Queen Dany may get the happy ending we all hope for. Or Jon Snow could go get himself killed on some idiotic mission that helps no one. As Jim Vorel pointed out to me this morning, when Cersei is presented with one of the undead from beyond the wall, she’s just as likely to conscript it into the Queensguard.
We’ve only got eight episodes left in the whole series, Shane! Eight! And we’re probably going to end this season with two queens (“the one with the dragons and the one who fucks her brother”) and two kings (the one in the north and the Night one in the real north). My guess for the season finale is to have the undead army pouring across the wall. That doesn’t leave a lot of time for resolution. The Stark family reunion is about to go sour, which will probably send Sansa running into the protective arms of Littlefinger, who is going to make sure his northern allies reject the idea of a foreign queen.
I rewatched the Season Two finale this weekend. Dany’s vision of the Iron Throne showed both the roof of the Red Keep burnt, presumably by dragon fire, and winter come to King’s Landing. I think we can expect those both to happen in the final six episodes next year. And I’m pretty sure Jaime is going to kill his sister/baby mama. Maybe that will even fulfill some obscure prophesy.
Please don’t die, Tormund Giantsbane.
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