Shane Ryan and Josh Jackson review Game of Thrones each week in a series of letters.
That unrepentant dark bastard George R. R. Martin doesn’t play favorites with anyone, but the more I watch this show, the more I think I’m beginning to understand it as a long chronicle of one family’s long losing battle with terror and torture and death.
HOUSE STARK, MAUSOLEUM STYLE:
Eddard—Beheaded by a sadist king (after his brother and father were burned by a different sadist king and his sister died too).
Catelyn—Stabbed at her brother’s wedding after watching her eldest son die.
Robb—Stabbed at his uncle’s wedding.
Jon Snow—Neglected, sent to the wall, stabbed to death by his brothers.
Sansa—Nearly married to the sadist king that killed her father, finally married to the one dude in the entire realm even more sadistic than Joffrey, raped on her wedding night, tortured regularly.
Bran—Crippled for witnessing incest.
Arya—Stabbed for having the audacity to be a good person.
Rickon—Currently prisoner of the sadist who raped his sister.
I mean…shit, Josh. When the old crone approached her on the bridge, I knew right away it was that f***ing waif (aka “New Olly”) in disguise, but I assumed we were about witness a badass fight that she would eventually win. I thought we deserved that, Josh. I did not think we were going to get Jon Snow/Red Wedding Braavosi Remix, with the same sickening sound of a knife plunging into flesh over and over and over. WILL THEY SPARE US NOTHING?! CAN’T ARYA JUST GO ASSASSINATE CERSEI OR DAENERYS OR SOMEONE AND BE DONE WITH IT?!
No. No, of course not. Because this is George R.R. Martin, whose middle initials probably stand for ravage and rape. We’re not getting an easy path to anything, but we’re not even getting a hard path. We’re getting the metaphorical moon door, and we’re getting it over and over and over again. Martin has been asked before which character most resembles him, but I know the answer—it’s little Lord Robyn, and he’s making us all fly.
I’m being hyperbolic. I still love GRRM. Of course I do. But God, he’s unrelenting.
So what does this all mean? Well, unlike Jon Snow, we didn’t have to wait an entire season to see if she lived. She swam away, and now struggles for life in the midst of people who would rather stab themselves than help her. But she’ll live—of course she will. We didn’t just spend two seasons in Braavos for it to end this way. But here’s something crazy: I read a recent theory that Arya and the Waif are actually the same person, Fight Club style, and while this event seems to gainsay that notion, it’s interesting to consider the fact that the Waif, a trained assassin, didn’t really go for the kill shot when she had the chance. She easily could have slit her throat, and there was even a moment when Arya was stunned into complete paralysis, and the Waif just watches her, motionless, until Arya can recover and do her reverse headbutt move.
Now, why the hell would any of this be happening? Why was there that one shot of Arya stick-fighting by herself in the street a few episodes ago, and why would she stab herself? Well, if the theory holds, it’s because this is the only true way for Arya Stark the girl to be killed, and for her to become “no one”—which, incidentally, is the episode title for next week. So when the waif asks Jaqen to kill Arya, this is really Arya asking to kill herself so she can become a Faceless Man, but—key point—failing to do so.
Yes, it’s crazy, and yes, it could look very idiotic when the situation resolves, but I find it intensely compelling. Especially because Maise Williams dropped a really coy riddle in an interview, in which she said that “Arya is in the trailer more times than people have realized, because they don’t realize it’s her.”
Enough of that for now—time will tell, and I’m supposed to be reviewing this episode. And even though I left the hour feeling super unsatisfied because of the dangling threads, there were a shit-ton of wow moments, including, of course, SANDOR “HOUNDY MCHOUNDERSON” CLEGANE. He’s back, and he joined up with Ian McShane for a few precious moments before McShane and all his people got slaughtered by the Brotherhood Without Banners. The always-brilliant McShane—playing a vaguely Septon Maribald-ish character—tried to convey a lesson of non-violence, but seeing him hung in the stillborn skeleton of his new church, the Hound learned the complete opposite, and now he’s back on the warpath. Will he take down the Brotherhood and Thoros of Myr? Will he find a new army? Will he make his way back to King’s Landing to defeat the zombie version of his brother in a trial by combat? It’s all on the table, baby, because the dude is pissed off.
Elsewhere, we had Jon, Sansa, and Davos prostrating themselves before a small girl for 620 fighting men (technically 62, but let’s remember they fight ten times as well as mainlanders). You could see the ending coming a mile away—as much as Sansa wants to be done with TrickyFingers, she has no choice but to appeal to Baelish and add the strength of the Vail to her ragtag army. Otherwise, flayers gonna flay.
But I think I know what might have been a sneaky favorite for you, Josh—Lady Olenna, facing bad news in every direction, pulling herself together for an unnecessary, fruitless, but awesomely magisterial Cersei smackdown. My question to you: When you leapt off your couch with a flying fistpump, did you punch through the ceiling?
I was so excited to see Ian McShane as the weathered, happy-go-lucky priest in that cold open that I could I barely had anything left to give when the camera panned up on burned face of The Hound. By the time the first notes from Ramin Djawadi’s title theme played, I was giddy.
I’ve had a couple of people complain to me that last week’s episode was too slow, and I’m worried I’m going to hear that again this week. This show is so epic in scope that 53 minutes is only ever going to be able to move some parts of the story along so far. This week, we visited rural lands near the Eyrie, King’s Landing, River Run, Bear Island, some random port on the way to Meereen, a camp near Winterfell and Braavos.
The show has always excelled at small moments as much as heroic battles, and we have so many packed into this show. Yes, Lady Olenna’s tongue-lashing of Cersei was among my favorites: “I wonder if you’re the worst person I’ve ever met. At a certain age it’s hard to recall. But the truly vile do stand out over the years.”
There were plenty more: the 10-year-old heir to House Mormont being a tougher interview than the Wildlings. Yara bringing Iron Islands tough love to her brother—inviting him to slit his wrists or man up—in a way that was truly loving. The Blackfish dressing down the Kingslayer (a humbling week for the Lannister twins!). And of course, the story of Sandor effing Clegane, rescued from death by a rough-tongued soldier-turned-septon named Al Swearengen. George R.R. Martin may kill off a lot of his characters, but at least he has the decency to bring back some of the best ones either from the clutches of death (Tyrion, The Hound, Bran and Rickon, hopefully Arya) or beyond (Jon Snow, Benjen Stark, Beric Dondarrion).
Still, it was tough to see Ian McShane swinging from a rope. The Brotherhood Without Borders—sorry, Banners—seemed like such a noble cause when The Hound first encountered them in Season 3. Then they sold Gendry to Melisandre in Season 4. Now they’re slaughtering unarmed women and children in the name of “protecting the people.” I’m starting to think the Red God is a kind of a dick.
It was also even worse to see that knife plunge into Arya’s belly. But I’m fascinated by the Arya as Lady McStickFace theory (are we not using that moniker anymore?). That would make the Waif Tyler Durden and Arya the narrator with no name. Jaqen wants to see Arya truly erased, but Arya Stark is more resilient than anyone ever assumes. I really wanted to see Arya stick Needle through the Waif’s heart in the darkened bedroom in this episode. Hasn’t Arya suffered enough?
So, yes, this episode set up much more than it delivered, but it’s a hell of a set-up: the ragtag Starks taking on Ramsay Bolton; Margaery Tyrell playing the long game and proving a more devout schemer than even Littlefinger; Sandor Clegane grabbing a damn axe; and Arya Stark at her lowest, which is really saying something. I can’t wait for next week.
My question for you: Since we’ve established that just because a character is dead, that doesn’t mean their part in this story is done, give me the five dead characters you’d most like to see brought back to life by a good Samaritan septon, a devotee of R’hllor, a creepy dropout of the Citidel or a Child of the Forest shoving a piece of dragonglass into their pericardial cavity.
Speaking of the little moments, I feel the need to give a shout out to the scenery of the new places we’ve seen in the past two episodes, from Horn Hill to Bear Island. Both utterly gorgeous. For a very, very brief millisecond, the cinematography almost made me want to live in Westeros. And then I remembered how much I value my life and my penis, and I came back to my senses.
As for Doctors Without Banners…err, the Brotherhood…it was weird to see them committing those kinds of atrocities. We’d expect it from the Bloody Mummers, but Beric Dondarrion and Thoros of Myr weren’t known as ones to wantonly murder the innocent—even the Gendry move was because they needed money—and it seems super out of character. There’s already a theory spreading that this means the Brotherhood is under new leadership, and we both know what that means: Lady Stoneheart speculation! What is dead may never die, and that applies to no one as much as reanimated Catelyn, who makes people absolutely bonkers. Personally, I have no clue why everyone’s so keen to see her return—it’s a vaguely interesting, if confusing, part of the books, but at this point in the show it would make no sense. The ship has sailed, and reintroducing Catelyn would feel super cheap…at least I think it would. But there are no coincidences in GoT world, so you really have to wonder why we saw the Brotherhood again. Regardless, count me out of the weird Stoneheart fan club.
Speaking of wild hypotheses, I also bring you the latest from the Arya department: She didn’t actually get stabbed. Where was Needle? Why did she lack all caution? There’s even a potential image of two different Aryas passing each other on the bridge.
Now, on to Margaery—this confirms what we expected last week—she hasn’t turned zealot, and is just a really good actor. I would argue that we probably haven’t ever seen the “real” Margaery Tyrell, and that as best we can guess, she’s like a more ambitious, even potentially more clever version of Olenna. I was dying with curiosity as to what the note would say that she slipped into her grandmother’s hands right under the eyes of Sister Shame, but the Tyrell rose could not have been more perfect. All her loyalties laid bare in a single illustration. Still, Olenna really needs to bust out of King’s Landing, and fast, or she’s going to be in way over her head.
And can we talk about this conversation?
High Sparrow: You need to have sex with Tommen again. Dude is horny.
Margaery: But I don’t really want to.
High Sparrow: Knock knock.
Margaery: What? Oh, um…who’s there?
High Sparrow: Nobody.
Margaery: (after suspicious silence) Nobody who?
High Sparrow: Nobody gives a fuck what you want.
Also, pretty amazing that the Sparrow—a guy who’s wise enough to see that we despise the poor because they show us our true nature, stripped of our security—has sex advice that basically amounts to “lie back and think of England.” In short, Westeros is still not what anyone would call “sexually liberated.”
And yes, I also thought Yara’s ultimatum to Theon was totally necessary—dude has turned into a major sulker—and I too wondered what happened to that famous Lannister wit, as I watched both Cersei and Jaime stare dumbly as they got owned. Did Tyrion take it all with him when he killed Tywin and left Westeros?
Now, to your excellent question: I’m going to avoid saying Robb or Ned Stark, because I think they had it coming for being such rigid thinkers, and obviously I’m not #TeamLadyStoneheart. So obviously I’m picking Olly, Lysa Arryn, Joffrey, the creepy gaunt House of the Undead guy from Qarth, everyone from Dorne, and, as a bonus, Ramsay Bolton when he dies in episode nine.
My serious answers:
1. Ian McShane—Come on, you couldn’t do more with Ian f’ing McShane???
2. Viserys—He very much deserved to die, and I don’t know what role he could possibly play, but I thought Harry Lloyd was absolutely terrific, one of the most underrated actors on the show.
3. Tywin Lannister—Same reason. Charles Dance is incomparable.
4. Arthur Dayne—I mean, did you see the guy fight?
5. Ygritte—Who will remind Jon Snow v. 2.0 that he’s an ignorant dupe?
Josh, since you have given me the power of life, I will now endow you with the power of death. Kill me five characters of your choosing, but, to make it harder, they have to be characters you like. Kill your darlings, Josh. I turn it over to you, in the hope that you understand and recognize your great responsibility.
First, yes, yes, yes on Margaery’s little hand-written note with the drawing of a rose. That was such a perfect way to confirm what we all suspected and solidify Margaery’s place in the elite players in this game, alongside Daenerys, Littlefinger, Tywin (RIP), Olenna and Tyrion. But none of them have the power to kill off characters they like, which is the horrible superpower you just assigned me. I wanted time-travel! Or at least the ability to fly.
Okay, here goes, five characters I like who I’m choosing to kill off:
1. Bronn – Why are you doing this to me, Shane? You just made me kill off the snarkiest sell sword in Westeros. He just wants a dumb, rich wife and a castle—a debt promised by a Lannister and you know what they say (but he doesn’t want to hear that again). There’s no way Bronn gets a happy ending, though. Ser Bronn the Old? I don’t think so. Bronn dies from a lucky crossbow shot after killing off most of River Run and gives us one last, “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me” looks.
2. Davos Seaworth – The Onion Knight has become one of my favorite characters in Westeros, but death would almost seem a mercy at this point, especially before he learns what happened to Shireen. Or maybe after he learns about Shireen and breaks the Red Woman’s neck with his bare hands.
3. Walder Frey – You just said I had to like the character, not that the character had to be in any way likable. And I love me some Walder Frey. David Bradley is one of those sneakily great villains on the show, but I do look forward to his death, hopefully stabbed where he sits by his pre-teen bride. Especially since I know how much you love him, and you put me up to this.
4. Yara Greyjoy – Yara Greyjoy is the best of the Greyjoys. Hard as iron, but she won me over completely last night with both her promise to Theon that she wouldn’t joke about his manhood and her tough as a Drowned God love. But she’s got to die, and that’s on you, Shane.
5. Jaquen H’ghar – ‘Cause if he loves death so much, why doesn’t he marry it.
Please don’t die, Arya Stark—metaphorically or otherwise.
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