Shane Ryan and Josh Jackson review Game of Thrones each week in a series of letters.
Lady O! The Queen of Thorns! Mother of Dipshits! Failer of Sadistic Imaginings! Original Member of the Game of Thrones Mt. Rushmore of Verbal Badasses, with Varys, Tyrion, and Jaime-back-when-he-wasn’t-such-a-wimp. Drinker of Poisons! Confessor of Regicide! Taunter of Cersei!
That is a big loss, Josh. I would argue that it’s one of the tougher losses to take since the Red Wedding, in fact, as long as we’re not counting Jon Snow’s fake death, and maybe the most devastating. I’m not saying it’s the biggest death, but among characters who were actually semi-decent people—ruling out Joffrey, Tywin, the Boltons, Pycelle, Lysa, Walder, and Stannis (post daughter-burning), along with many others—the only ones that really stack up in both prominence and likability are Barristan Selmy and Aemon Targaryen.
Now, you could argue that Olenna Tyrell is not a semi-decent person. She did, by her own admission, pull off some really heinous stunts. That said, “killing a young boy” sounds way worse on paper when you don’t know Joffrey Baratheon, so I’m not sure I can hold that against her. She was savvy without losing her heart, and tough without becoming evil. In Westeros, that’s the most you can ask for, and I would like to raise a glass of poisoned wine in her honor. And I really wish I could be a fly on the wall when she and Tywin Lannister meet…wherever people like that meet.
But let’s rewind to the really big news: DANY MET JONNY. And in my mind, their introduction gave us one of the best scenes of the season far—it had tension, witty dialogue, perhaps an extracurricular spark of interest in both eyes, and probably the best monologue Daenerys has had in the entire show. Granted, that’s a low bar—her monologues are routinely terrible—but this one was genuinely moving, and showed a vulnerability we don’t often see in the Khaleesi, who the writers sometimes reduce to cold stares and one-liners. Where has this Dany been all our lives? I hope she’s here to stay, and I suspect she will be—life gets a lot easier when you can play off the other great Westerosi characters, rather than trying to make us care about Lord Dverjkksjfn Vos Lympypitt in Meereen, or whatever.
Now, Jon had a good comeback in his back pocket—”yeah, all that stuff sounds shitty, but I literally died”—but I think it was wise to stop Davos from revealing that bit of information, at least for now. When you’re trying to convince a queen that ice zombies are humanity’s greatest threat, and that you need her dragons plus all the rocks on her island, you’re going to meet some resistance. And at the exact moment when the entire room is questioning your sanity, the last thing you want to say is, “oh, and by the way, I died and came back to life, JESUS-STYLE.” That kind of info should be released in slower drips.
Overall, though, I’d call the meeting a success. Fraught at first, but fruitful in the end. Tyrion was masterful in brokering a tentative peace between the two aspiring monarchs, and his perspicacity was a welcome contrast to the tactical blundering we witnessed last week. Also, I’m thrilled that he and Jon got to share a private scene—the two of them together were fantastic way back in season one, and to see them reunited after all the shit that’s gone down was as poignant as I could hope. And Tyrion’s right—nobody can touch Jon Snow in the brooding department. Even if he was a little dopey in that scene, in classic Stark style, his frustration is totally understandable. How do you get people to believe you when something is so critical, yet so ridiculous to the ears?
It might be the most important question facing the entire kingdom, and I know it’s a mistake when we treat GoT as a parable for our world, but holy shit, that really, really does sound like an on-the-nose metaphor for global warming, right? The really big problem that nobody wants to face because it seems so inexplicable and distant, to the point that we almost take comfort in battling orange-haired despots instead?
AHEM. Moving on…that scene, and so many like it, really made this episode a banger, at least in my humble opinion. It was, by far, the best episode of the season. I’ve always contended that the show does best when it pushes the drama and the narrative ahead by means of two-person scenes, and the examples in “The Queen’s Justice” were phenomenal. Even the shortest of the bunch, between Varys and Melisandre, conveyed so much in such a small dose (she continues to be the one character who can leave the spider speechless, and you can read the trauma of his childhood on his face each time he contends with the red god…kudos to Conleth Hill on that). Then we had the brilliant repartee from the late Lady O—though I’m really, really ready for Jaime to stop being such a shrinking violet—and a bit of comic relief when Euron questioned Jaime about his sister’s, um, intimate proclivities.
You won’t be surprised at my quibbles—Littlefinger is a boring non-character spouting cliches, Cersei’s revenge tour is torture porn on a level with the Ramsay Bolton heyday, and Euron is quickly becoming too ridiculous to take seriously, even though he makes me laugh. And on a very minor nitpick, since I’m mostly glad to get Jorah back—are the instructions for curing greyscale as simple as 1. “chip off the scabs,” and 2. “wash up”?
When Game of Thrones gets its dramatic mileage from realism, it shines with intelligence, and when it tries to shock or titillate, it falls through the moon door. Luckily, we got more of the former this week, and it finally delivered on the promise of last season’s terrific concluding episodes.
What did you think?
When HBO launched Game of Thrones back in 2011, The New York Times complained that it was a show for boys, that “While I do not doubt that there are women in the world who read books like Mr. Martin’s, I can honestly say that I have never met a single woman who has stood up in indignation at her book club and refused to read the latest from Lorrie Moore unless everyone agreed to The Hobbit first.”
The show has made that essayist look foolish by creating some of the most fascinating characters on television, male or female. But the cleverest and wittiest players of the game of thrones was still something of a boys’ club until Olenna Tyrell arrived in King’s Landing in Season 3. Diana Riggs sparkled every time she was on the screen. There was not a dud scene that involved The Queen of Thorns, her insults always cutting to truth where it was rawest. Fiercely loyal to her family, cunning, ruthless, pragmatic and unflappable to the very end, I will miss Olenna’s barbs.
I was happy to see she got a death scene worthy of her life, twisting the dagger back on Cersei rather than suffering the humiliation and heartbreak of Ellaria Sand, the other woman who murdered one of the queen’s children. You’re right. This is as tough a loss as we’ve felt at least since Barristan Selmy. Maybe since Ygritte. But Olenna made it easier on all of us by getting in those last words. Her house has crumbled. Her “failure of imagination” cost the lives of everyone she loved. But in the end, she still beat Cersei.
But yes, let’s talk about Dany and Jon! The Queen with a thousand titles made quite a first impression rattling off the challenges and suffering she’s overcome. I wanted her to finish with a “You know nothing, Jon Snow!” And kudos to the Onion Knight as Jon’s hype man: for both the simple “This is Jon Snow” and the passionate defense of his rise to King of the North. We both know these two have been through hell to get to where they are. It was fun to get to see them learn a little about each other.
Danaerys has come alive to me in her scenes with Tyrion after years of Westeros getting all the best scene-chewing. But Jon has had his fair share of pensive stares and frustrated monologues among all the brutes up north. This episode was equally good at giving him more to do than tell bearded Northerners everything they don’t want to hear.
Your quibbles are fair, except that I think I’ll love Euron Greyjoy, no matter how over-the-top he gets. Cersei is no fun anymore, and the big bad of Westeros needs to be more fun. The Queen is beginning to flaunt where her heart lies, and that will eventually piss off Euron. It may not be dragons that bring down the Lannisters but her only powerful ally once he gets bored of waiting.
Also, let’s not forget Samwell Tarly, the quiet hero of this world. It’s rewarding to see someone who failed so miserably as a fighter (except for the lucky strike against a White Walker) winning in Oldtown. And more Jim Broadbent is always a good thing.
So Tyrion was masterful in taking Casterly Rock, but once again got outplayed by his siblings and Euron. Tyrion is off to a pretty bad start as Hand of the Queen. Half your army is stuck on the other side of the continent. Your two biggest allies are defeated. What do you tell the Mother of Dragons to do next?
I think it may be time to admit something: Tyrion is not a great war strategist. In fact, he’s kinda bad. Starting with Meereen, and continuing into Westeros, we’re still waiting for his first really good decision. Now, to be fair, he was a total genius at the Battle of the Blackwater, but that’s starting to look like a fluke. Maybe it turns out that even a truly brilliant mind suffers from not having served in a military capacity for most of his life? Jaime may be “very wise now” if there’s wisdom in failure (one last sick burn from Olenna), but he’s been out there, fighting all over Westeros, winning battles, losing battles, holding sieges, and learning from both his father and everyone who ever defeated him. He’s not going to be easy to beat. (On the other hand, where’s the full Highgarden army? Didn’t they have about 100,000 men? Clearly they weren’t all present when Jaime stormed the city.)
Tyrion, on the other hand, is relegated to playing abstract games with figurines on the big Westeros table at Dragonstone, and so far he’s getting schooled three ways from Sunday. HOWEVER, we’re ignoring one big positive (maybe?) for Tyrion: Olenna’s confession means that his name is in the clear for the death of Joffrey. I don’t think it’ll make a lick of difference for Cersei—she hated him long before he allegedly killed her oldest son—but it’s going to change things for Jaime in a big way. Wounded and bitter, Tyrion claimed to have done the deed the last time the two met, and it was easy to believe since he’d just ended his father’s life on the porcelain throne. Now, Jaime is going to have to start questioning who the villains in this world really are. I only wish Olenna had outed Littlefinger as her co-conspirator before she shuffled off this mortal coil.
Now, Josh, we have to talk about Bran. Creepy, creepy Bran. Becoming the three-eyed raven has clearly done some weird shit to his head, and also totally ruined his capacity for simple explanations. Remember this scene?
Sansa: Wait, if you learned from the three-eyed raven, how are you the three-eyed raven?
Bran: WAY TOO COMPLICATED, SIS.
That could have gone like this:
Sansa: Wait, if you learned from the three-eyed raven, how are you the three-eyed raven?
Bran: Once you learn from him, you become him.
Unfortunately, I think we’re about to do the thing where one character has a bunch of really important knowledge he could reveal in two seconds, but the writers keep it artificially hidden by cutting every conversation short for the dumbest reasons. What happened to Bran’s desire to help his family? What happened to Sansa’s natural curiosity? All gone—instead, I get the terrible feeling that we’ll spend the next few episodes watching them have very short, very non-revelatory conversations, when the plot could be moved forward very simply by having Bran say, “Jon Snow is Rhaegar Targaryen’s son, and also Littlefinger is an evil man who plotted to have our father killed, and you should kill him asap.”
The writers at least need a (bad) excuse not to reveal everything right away, and it seems like their excuse with Bran is this: Dude is fucking weird now. I mean, I’m no expert on reunions, but Josh, to me? Bringing up how beautiful your sister looked the night she got raped by a madman doesn’t seem like the first thing you’d want to bring up. Maybe I’m crazy. But I think you hold on to that nugget for a day or two.
The good news is that with just four episodes left this season, there’s not a ton of time to dilly-dally, so Bran is going to have to put up or shut up soon. But for the love of God, how long do we have to wait before Jon Snow knows his parentage? I guess the answer is “at least until he stops mining dragonglass and gets back to Winterfell.”
I think we’re in for a really action-packed end to this season, and I have to ask—how do you see this going down? There are still so many puzzle pieces that have to fall into place, and as great as this episode was, it feels like we’re on pace for another 10-episode season. I’m a little shocked at how much turf they have to cover in just four hours, but I can’t wait to see them try. Also, one last question: Dany already made the Dothraki cross the water, which I’m sure they hated…how the hell are they going to feel if she makes them go fight in the snow??
Tyrion’s defeats were made worse by his moment of false victory last night, sneaking in soldiers where he once snuck in hookers. He’s a clever man, but he’s not yet a general. Grey Worm is a great leader of men, but he’s no war strategist. This is where Khaleesi really feels the void of Barristan Selmy. Jon could help, but he’s got to concentrate on the northern front. This may a chance for Jorah Mormont to redeem himself. Good thing Samwell is so good at reading and following instructions.
I’m not worried about the Dothraki in the snow. They’ll probably still fight half-naked and make those Lannister boys quake in their golden boots.
The question of what happened to all those Highgarden troops is a good one. Here’s another question I don’t know the answer to: How did Olenna get from Dragonstone to Highgarden so quickly? I’d ask Bran, but I’m afraid he’d just answer will some disturbingly intimate knowledge of my private life.
I can accept that being inundated with bits of knowledge from past, present and future would do things to your mind, but yeah, that was a much creepier reunion than any of us expected. His becoming the Three-Eyed Raven is supposed to be helpful to mankind, so hopefully when Jon returns he’ll let him know about his parents and not just ramble about how beautiful Ygritte looked in that cave.
So I don’t have any real predictions for how the war between queens will play out, but I predict that very soon, we’ll all start worrying that there’s not enough screen time left to wrap up all the loose ends in this epic story. Four episodes left in this season and then just another eight before the game is up (I was going to say “and the Fat Walda sings” but I just remembered Ramsay fed her and his baby brother to his hounds. RIP, Lady Walda).
Pouring one out for the Queen of Thorns.
Have a question for Shane and Josh? Email firstname.lastname@example.org with your letter and check back on Friday. And follow Shane Ryan and Josh Jackson on Twitter.