Varys is planning… something. (Macall B. Polay/HBO)
First, welcome to Not the Game. Second, welcome to our Game of Thrones reviews. This kind of goes without saying, but these posts will be full of spoilers from the most recent episode. So if you’re not caught up, turn back now.
It is also probably worth noting that I am a book reader. I don’t think that matters too much at this point because so many show storylines have already passed the books, so there’s really not much left to spoil. I may reference the books to fill in some background or note important changes, but I will try not to spoil anything that could still be spoiled.
On to this week’s episode…
After an amazing first five episodes that pushed the story forward at near-breakneck pace, season six has taken a step back and slowed things down over the last three weeks. That should have been expected. You can’t really have 10 straight episodes of one major payoff after another without any scene-setting in between.
Arya’s escape from Braavos required some setup. The showdown between Cersei and the Faith Militant required some setup. The Hound and the Brotherhood Without Banners couldn’t just be re-introduced without some sort of buildup. Same goes for the Blackfish, Edmure Tully and everything happening at Riverrun.
We know at least episode nine, with its focus on the Battle of the Bastards, will be pretty crazy, and there’s good reason to believe episode 10, with its foreboding title “The Winds of Winter,” will be as well.
Three setup episodes leading up to those final two isn’t necessarily disappointing in and of itself. “Game of Thrones” has shown in the past that it can do setup very well. Where the disappointment comes in, at least for me, is with how these last three episodes have been executed. The Arya and Riverrun storylines have both been pretty sloppy, and that’s where we’ll start with this week’s 7 Points.
1. Arya, thankfully, is finally leaving Braavos
“A girl is Arya Stark of Winterfell, and I’m going home.” That was a great line for Arya and a nice reward for all of us who have wanted to hear that for a season and a half. I don’t think Arya-in-Braavos was a complete waste, but it definitely felt repetitive and dragged out at times, and I’m still not sure just how much Arya actually learned there.
Even after all her training, even knowing that Jaqen and/or the Waif were likely coming for her after she bailed on killing Lady Crane, Arya somehow managed to get caught unaware out in the open and violently stabbed by the Waif. It was so difficult to believe that it led to conspiracy theories about whether that was actually Arya.
It was, but apparently getting a knife jammed into your stomach isn’t fatal. And not only that, but after a little bit of rest of some milk of the poppy, you apparently recover enough to be able to go full parkour all over Braavos.
I’m actually kind of glad that Arya-getting-stabbed wasn’t some sort of crazy face-changing trick or Jaqen playing Arya as some suspected because that probably would’ve made things even more confusing, but I’m still disappointed with the storyline as a whole. At least Arya finally defeated the Waif (by the way, it would’ve been nice to actually see that fight) and is now going home.
2. What the hell, Edmure?
Edmure had never been a pillar of greatness — back in season three, he couldn’t make his shot at his father’s funeral and ruined one of Robb Stark’s military plans by not obeying orders — but this was weak even by his standards. He even says himself that he only had one night with his wife and has never seen his son (whom he didn’t even know about until now), yet he is willing to surrender his family’s castle and turn over his uncle because… Jaime Lannister, whom no one takes at his word except maybe Cersei and Brienne, vowed to protect them, I guess?
I’m fine with the Riverrun storyline ending up here (it’s more or less the same thing that happens in the books), but the buildup was lame. The Jaime-Edmure conversation was mostly meandering and pointless (although Jaime saying his sister would burn down cities to protect her children may have been some nice foreshadowing), and Edmure’s reasons for rolling over weren’t really established — again, I think we have to assume it’s just because Jaime says he can set up his family with a nice life in Casterly Rock, even though it’s presumably as wards of the Lannisters.
The Blackfish dying off-screen was also lame, especially considering that in the books he manages to escape, basically in the same way he helps Brienne and Pod escape in the show. The best thing I can say about this week’s Riverrun scenes is that the Bronn-Pod reunion provided some good comic relief.
3. Beric and Thoros are back, and a certain lady isn’t
On the topic of reunions, we also got The Hound reuniting with Beric Dondarrion and Thoros of Myr. For those who may have forgotten, Beric and Thoros’ Brotherhood Without Banners captured The Hound back in season three, The Hound defeated Beric and his flaming sword in a trial by combat, and then Thoros used his Lord of Light-given powers to bring Beric back to life.
Unlike Arya and Riverrun, The Hound’s re-introduction and this reunion were written well, including some classic Hound lines (“I prefer chicken”). One of the more interesting revelations here is that Beric and Thoros know about “cold winds rising in the North,” apparently believe that fighting the White Walkers is the reason they have the powers they have, and want The Hound to join them. It’s hard to see this group playing a huge role in a fight against the White Walkers because they just don’t have a lot of followers, but it’s still intriguing.
The other takeaway from these scenes is that we’re not going to get Lady Stoneheart and we all just need to accept that. If you don’t know who Lady Stoneheart is and don’t want to, skip to the next section and don’t Google her. If you do know, this was kind of the last little hope we may have had at seeing her. I may have been able to buy her being with the Brotherhood Without Banners whenever they were re-introduced, but now that we’ve seen them with Beric still alive and leading the way… the dream is over. I don’t see any plausible way she could be introduced this late in the story now.
4. What is the rumor Cersei had Qyburn investigate?
In this week’s “Previously On,” we saw the scene where Cersei tells Jaime there’s going to be a trial by combat and she has The Mountain. We also knew from the preview that Cersei was going to “choose violence” when confronted by cousin Lancel. I was hoping this meant we’d get all kinds of Mountain murder, including a trial by combat, this week, but instead we had to settle for just one Mountain slaughter and no trial by combat thanks to King Tommen banning the practice.
Any letdown resulting from that development was immediately replaced by my intrigue over Qyburn telling Cersei that the “old rumor” she had him investigate was “more, much more” than a rumor. So, what was the rumor? Something about the Tyrells plotting against her, or being involved in Joffrey’s murder? Something about Tyrion and Daenerys (we did cut to Tyrion right after that)?
Those are both possible, but I hope it’s about the stores of wildfire under King’s Landing. There has certainly been some foreshadowing. We know Cersei is interested in wildfire because she wanted to use some back in season two to defend King’s Landing from Stannis Baratheon’s army (Tyrion then took over and ended up using it in a different, safer, more effective way). Cersei has also on several occasions referenced burning things down to protect her children, and then Jaime used similar terminology while talking about Cersei in this week’s episode.
We also know that Bran’s visions this season showed a lot of wildfire under King’s Landing along with images of Mad King Aerys yelling, “Burn them all.” The most interesting part of those visions was that Bran saw a massive wildfire explosion, which would basically be the Westeros version of an atomic bomb. This explosion has never actually happened, meaning Bran was probably seeing something that’s going to happen in the future. Will it be on Cersei’s command? Is she about to go full Mad Queen?
5. Tyrion messed up and Dany returned
Tyrion seemed to be under the impression that he was smarter than everyone in Slaver’s Bay and he could just swoop in, negotiate a peace with the slave masters and everything would be OK. It looked like his plan might work… right up until the masters laid siege to Meereen in this week’s episode. This is obviously a wakeup call for Tyrion, who has to admit to Grey Worm, ‘”I was wrong.’”
Daenerys returns to the Great Pyramid on the back of Drogon shortly after the siege begins, which is convenient. It will be interesting to see what happens with Dany, Tyrion and Meereen now. Is Dany mad at Tyrion? Does she still need or want his help? Can Dany’s forces withstand the siege? Or will this be the attack that finally forces her to leave Slaver’s Bay once and for all?
Let’s not forget that the Greyjoys and their ships are on their way to Meereen as well. Yara and Theon were already in Volantis at last check and could presumably be in Meereen within the next two episodes. Euron and Iron Fleet 2.0 are heading that way at some point as well. We’ll have to see how this whole battle plays out, but there are about to be plenty of ships in the area that could take Dany and her Dothraki army to Westeros.
6. What is Varys’ secret mission?
Speaking of Meereen, Varys left town on what was described as a “secret mission.” There hasn’t really been much to foreshadow what this mission might be in the show, so we can really only guess.
He could be going to meet the Greyjoys to do some legwork there. He could be going to Dorne, where they hate the Lannisters, to try to set up a potential Westeros landing spot for Daenerys. He could be going to King’s Landing, where in the books he conducted certain… business… that hasn’t been conducted in the show yet.
Or… could we finally meet Young Griff? As with Lady Stoneheart, if you don’t know who Young Griff is and don’t want to, skip to the next section and don’t Google him. If you are a book reader, you know that we’re already well past the point where Young Griff is introduced in the books. I’m still inclined to believe his character was just cut from the show, and I think it would be weird to introduce him this late in the story, but Varys’ secret mission may provide one last opportunity for it to happen and at least somewhat make sense.
7. The Battle of the Bastards looks pretty good!
The preview for next week’s episode was entirely about the Battle of the Bastards (also known as the Bastard Bowl), which makes sense since we pretty much knew that this was going to be a classic episode nine battle in the vein of “Blackwater” or “The Watchers on the Wall” where we focus on one major battle for the majority or entirety of the episode.
Giant battles have been a major strength of the show (personally, I would put “Blackwater” and last season’s “Hardhome” as the two best episodes of the entire series), so we should all be pretty excited about this.
The biggest question for me, besides who wins the battle (it has to be Jon and Sansa, right?), is whether Littlefinger and the Vale show up at any point. I also found it interesting that in the preview we hear Jon say, “If I fall, don’t bring me back.” I think this is just a tease more than anything. Just like Jon is too important to have been dead for good earlier this season, he’s too important to die now… right?