Shane Ryan and Josh Jackson review Game of Thrones each week in a series of letters.
I want to offer a requiem for the following:
1. The Waif. We always kinda hated you, Waif, but with a sort of grudging respect. You were better than Olly, for instance, who we hated without disclaimers, and whose death we universally cheered. You were sort of soulless, beyond your mysterious hate for Arya, and you were always destined to die as part of her super long coming-of-age story, but you know what? You had a perspective, and you stuck to it. Never once did we get the sense that you had even a shred of mercy or kindness in you, and if you have to go out, you might as well dance with the chilly attitude that brung ya. The only really sad thing here is that I think you would have made a good bride for the Night King, when he finally crosses the Narrow Sea. But even he might have thought you were sort of a cold fish.
2. All the Arya Stabbing Conspiracy Theorists (of which I was one). Jaqen disguised as Arya? Nope! Arya and the Waif are the same person? Nope! Arya as shapeshifter? Nope! Arya with a lining of pig’s blood around her waist that Lady Crane gave her, since Arya somehow knew the Waif would stab her in the stomach? Nope, nope, nope, and nope. Turns out, Arya was just being kind of dumb last episode. Why? Because she’s a Stark, and Starks either get murdered because they’re dumb, or they try really hard to get murdered but then escape or get brought back to life.
3. All the Lady Stoneheart zealots. There had to be some major, major heartbreak around the GoT universe when Beric Dondarrion turned up alive. That means he hasn’t given his life to Catelyn Stark, even ages after the Red Wedding, and if he hasn’t done it by now, I got bad news, folks: It ain’t happening. Now, my personal opinion is that a Lady Stoneheart plot twist would have been kind of stupid within the context of the show, and I’m glad they’ve cut her out. But man, that is not a consensus…the sheer amount of Catelyn—R’hollor shippers out there is astounding, and they have to be feeling rotten tonight.
4. Trial by combat. This never made any sense to me as a form of justice, any more than Ned Stark’s “the man who passes the verdict must swing the sword!” stuff did. It’s archaic, corrupt by its very nature, and it needed to go.
5. The fleet in Slaver’s Bay. Hey dudes, nice fireballs you’re hurling at the pyramid. You like fire? You into flames and shit? Hey Drogon, you hear that? These guys are total pyros. Rhaego, Viserion, you won’t wanna miss this—we got some guys who like fire. Funny story, bros—we like fire too. We like it a whole lot.
6. King’s Landing. Speaking of fire, I think Cersei is about to make a life a whole lot easier for Daenerys by torching King’s Landing with all the wildfire in the city vaults. At this point, why not? She’s got no hope in her trial, and if you remember Bran’s vision of the city tunnels burning earlier this season, you know it’s got to happen sometime. The Mad King couldn’t quite manage to “burn them all,” since he got Kingslain, but the Mad Queen is on the case, and has willpower to spare.
7. The Blackfish. Brynden Tully, I’m legitimately sad to see you go. The idiot who let Edmure into the castle is a serious douche. I was hoping we’d get to see him die, for your sake. I’m starting to understand a key message that George RR Martin has been trying to convey since the beginning: “Honor” is just another word for “stupidity.” I only wish you had stayed alive to go see Jaime one last time, because I thought whatever gloat he had planned would have been pretty great.
8. Lady Crane. Life is messy in Thrones Universe, which is a lesson I keep forgetting. You know that girl you maimed, because you thought she tried to kill you? Turns out, she was innocent! It was some other dude, but thanks for saving Arya.
9. Anyone who fucks with The Hound. Free axe helmets to anyone who fucks with The Hound! Offer good forever, and includes your choice of last words. Fine print: Don’t be shit at dying.
10. Taking kissing advice from other dudes. NO. THANK. YOU. (Also, I love when we see weird shenanigans from minor characters we’ve never seen before. The minute they came on screen, I thought, “yup, these guys are all about to die.”)
So, Josh, with the requiems over, I’m trying to put this episode in perspective. Like the last two, it ended with me thinking, “oh my God, I can’t believe they left us hanging again!” Which is a feeling that lasted about 12 seconds, and I realized that no, once again, a whole metric ton of plot happened. Arya’s going home! Jaime’s in a race to rescue Cersei before she burns the city, and may have to reprise his Kingslayer role, and add “Queenslayer” and “Kinslayer” to the list of nicknames he hates. The Hound is officially jamming with the Brotherhood Without Banners, who thankfully haven’t turned into monsters, beyond a bad egg or two. Daenerys is about to lay waste to her enemies in Essos, and even though I think this particular ship has sailed (pun alert), part of me still hopes we get to see the dragons destroy the fleet. And the Blackfish really should have taken Jaime’s deal. Always take the deal, Josh!
But I’ll say this: It’s really, really hard not to look ahead to next week, when director Miguel Sapochnik—famous for helming the transcendent “Hardhome” episode last season—returns to bring us “BastardBowl: Snow vs. Snow.” My guess is that the entire hour will be devoted to the battle, and it’s going to be amazing.
There’s been a rising and falling rhythm to this season, with the first five episodes bringing us some hyperkinetic action that culminated with the heartbreaking Hodor episode, and the next three episodes resolving a few loose ends and setting us up for a mind-blowing finale. God, I hope Ramsay dies.
Over to you, but with a question: Why was Arya being so dumb last episode, and how do you pretty much fully recover from multiple abdominal stab wounds with some milk of the poppy and a day or two of rest? Is this just bad writing?
When I heard Arya hiding in the dressing room, my first thought was that all of the entertaining theories about what was happening were wrong. My second thought was, “Wait a second. All those conspiracy theorists had some pretty damning evidence to back up their conjectures.” Arya is left-handed. Why was she throwing the bag of coins with her right hand? Arya has trained to be careful. Why was she strutting around the city like she was First Sword to the Sealord of Braavos? And why wasn’t she wary of a strange crone approaching her, especially when she’d seen that face before?
The answer is either that she was being stupid or she was trying to lure the Waif out so she could run to the dark room where she’d hidden Needle. I think the writers intended to convey the latter. But if that was her long play, it wasn’t a great plan—she had to hope the Waif would disobey Jaqen’s orders and stab her in the stomach instead of delivering a quick, painless death. And then she’d have to make a miraculous recovery, land in a basket of fruit and hobble to Needle, which she’d hidden an inconveniently long way from where she knew she’d need to take refuge. That’s not the tightest writing the show has offered, and that made the delayed payoff a little less satisfying. Still, seeing the single candle in that room and the cocky look on the waif’s face when she saw Needle—I can’t say that I didn’t enjoy that.
So much of the violence on this episode was implied rather than shown. The Blackfish’s last stand and Arya’s disposal of the Waif both happened off screen—the latter for obvious reasons and the Blackfish to spare what probably wasn’t much of the fight. But I will miss the surly vet. It would have been nice to see him deliver a final flurry of insults to both Jaime and Edmure. We also didn’t see the dragons lay waste to the Masters’ ships. It looked more like she was just bumming a ride home from Drogon. But note to self: Don’t attack a city with wooden ships when you know it has three fire-breathing dragons. Even without Daenerys, Tyrion’s first thought after the attack should have been, “Hey, why don’t we just unchain these two dragons in the dungeon and see what happens?”
In keeping with Game of Thrones tradition, next week’s episode should be epic. “The Battle of the Blackwater,” “The Rains of Castamere” and “The Watchers on the Wall” were all penultimate episodes of their respective seasons and delivered some of the best battle scenes we’ve seen on the show. But I’m a little surprised that we’re ready for Jon Snow’s march upon Winterfell. He’s had little luck rallying an army of Northmen and the Tullys won’t be helping. The letter Sansa sent with Brienne isn’t the only one she wrote, though, so I’d expect to see brave, brave, brave, brave Ser Robin leading the men of the Vale into battle alongside his cousins. And Shane, I want to see Robin in battle so badly. I can hear his minstrels singing now: “When danger reared its ugly head, he bravely turned his tale and fled…” There may be licensing issues.
So much has happened this season, and even the Battle of the Bastards feels a little like a prelude. The final episode of the season is unsurprisingly called “The Winds of Winter.” No matter the outcome of next week, Winter is Coming. The Wall is in the hands of Lord Commander Eddison “Dolorous Edd” Tollett. Whoever holds Winterfell will have just fought a hard battle. Things aren’t looking too bright for Westeros, though we did thankfully learn that Beric Dondarrion and his merry gang haven’t turned into a bunch of child-killing fanatics. Those Team R’hllor butchers from last week were just fringe members of the red cult. It looks like the real Brothers Without Banners, along with The Hound, might be part of the first wave of defense against the undead army north of the wall.
You’ve suggested that Cersei’s next move might be to burn down King’s Landing. But what about Margaery Tyrell? We know that she’s going along with the High Sparrow because she believes it to be the smartest play for House Tyrell. But surely she’s not going to let her brother, the heir to her House, be left to the mercy of seven septons. Trial by combat is no longer an option. How does she protect the Rose? And what secret mission has Varys just left for? It better be good since we’ve just said goodbye to one of the best pairings on the show—the Imp and the Spider.
If there’s one recurring theme to this season and the last, it’s that things are not going well for anyone in Westeros. The north is completely divided, and warring factions are about to destroy each other in a gigantic battle. The Wall is very, very lightly defended. The Tyrells and Lannisters are mostly out of King’s Landing, which is being taken over by a religious fanatic. Dorne is being ruled by a coterie of psychopaths. The entire east coast of Westeros is weak and undefended, primarily because Stannis Baratheon and his entire army decided to march north and fight the equivalent of a land war with Russia. The Iron Islands are torn between two leaders, and even if Euron Greyjoy manages to build his 1,000 ships, they’re on the wrong side of the landmass, unless their master plan is raiding Casterly Rock.
In other words, it’s like the entire seven kingdoms are begging Daernys Targaryan and the Night King to run through them like a knife through butter. I mean, can’t you just seen Dany flying over on Drogon, seeing King’s Landing burnt to a crisp, and going, “you know, I honestly thought this would be a lot harder.”
Also, great point about Tyrion—his strategic mind is leaving a lot to be desired. I praised him a couple episodes ago for having the diplomatic wherewithal to negotiate a slow end to slavery, but in the end it was Missandei and Grey Worm who were right; you can’t trust evil bastards. (Also, if you ever catch me defending “incremental progress” again, please slap me with a $12,000 Armani jacket.) And when he tried to take control by suggesting that the Unsullied amass on the beachhead to be slaughtered, Grey Worm shot him down. Why wasn’t he immediately thinking of the hail mary play: Unleash the last two dragons! (To be fair, that could be a total disaster, but what the hell?)
Speaking of Grey Worm and Missandei, they got jokes! To be fair, Missandei’s “I can cry for help in 98 languages” needs some punching up, but it’s a start. I’m pissed at Tyrion, though, for two reasons—first, he plagiarized an Irish joke with that whole bit about making the fly spit out the beer. Second, he started his joke about bringing a jackass and a honeycomb into a brothel that he also started in the Vale, way back when, and just like that attempt, he got interrupted! WHAT HAPPENS WITH THE JACKASS AND THE HONEYCOMB, JOSH?
We may never know. We may also never see “CleganeBowl,” a much-hyped event that I should have remembered to offer a requiem for in the first email. On the Game of Thrones subreddit and across the Internet, people have been begging all season for a trial by combat duel between Sandor Clegane and Zombie Mountain, and were convinced it was going down when the Hound finally appeared last week. Now? The Hound looks to be heading north, and trial by combat is off the table—CleganeBowl is another dead dream, just like Lady Stoneheart.
To answer your other questions—no clue what Varys is up to. He’s obviously trying to forge an alliance for Dany, but with whom? My best guess—and it’s probably not a good one—is that he’s en route to Dorne, coveting their absence from the upcoming war in Westeros. But the Dornish are famously bad sailors, so it’s not like he can even recruit a navy there. It’s a mystery, for now.
As for Margaery, she has no move except the current play—pretend to be a fanatical convert, retain her influence with the king, and hope that whatever power she hangs onto will keep the Sparrow from putting Ser Loras to death. She’s really backed into a corner because of Loras—if he weren’t in the cells, she’d have escaped with Olenna by now. But the minute she does, his life is forfeit, and so she has to play the virtuous queen to protect herself and her family. The problem is that even if her strategy is “be good, achieve mercy for Loras, and wait for a savior,” she’ll still essentially be a captive when another army marches on King’s landing, and the Sparrow can use her life if that invading force involves the Tyrells. It’s no fun to be Margaery right now.
Of course, Cersei could end all this delicate strategical maneuvering by torching the city. That’s totally in play—if you’re going to come at the queen, you best kill her. Back her into a corner, and all that latent insanity is going to spill out. Once the lion loses all sense of caution, everybody is screwed.
So, Josh, a question for you—what the hell is Littlefinger’s plan? He can come to Sansa’s rescue, and maybe secure a nice position in the north, but that really just means he’ll be one of the first to get Night King’ed. Meanwhile, Varys has cozied himself up with the real conqueror, and seems to be out-playing him in the Game of Thrones. Where do you see this going for Baelish?
All the way back in Season 1, we saw Littlefinger eyeing the Iron Throne the way his clients eye the “merchandise” in his brothel. In other words, his lust for power isn’t going to be satisfied by the Vale or even Winterfell. He wants the crown.
“Chaos isn’t a pit,” he told Varys then. “Chaos is a ladder. Many who try to climb it fail, and never get to try again. The fall breaks them. And some are given a chance to climb, but refuse. They cling to the realm, or love, or the gods…illusions. Only the ladder is real. The climb is all there is. But they’ll never know this. Not until it’s too late.”
He was born Lord of the tiniest plot of land in the Vale. His house couldn’t be more minor, and his path to the throne has never been clear to anyone but himself. We talk about how he’s much more clever in the books than in the TV series, but it’s impossible to judge success and failure for Baelish until we know how he’s playing the game. His missteps might just be pawn sacrifices while he plans three moves ahead.
He now controls the Vale and has an army marching on Winterfell. He seemed to have underestimated either Ramsay’s villainy or Sansa’s resolve, but however pissed she is at her old fake uncle, she and Jon have no where else to turn. His influence may soon stretch from Harrenhal to the Wall. He may not yet know what’s about to come crashing through the Wall or just what a powder keg King’s Landing is, but he thrives on chaos. Remember, he was the original author of the War of Five Kings by convincing Lysa to poison her husband.
He leads the only army in Westeros that has sat out the war so far. By retaking Winterfell for the Stark children, he’ll have declared war on the Lannisters. By proving that Tommen is Jaime’s son, he’ll have cause to march south. Who will come to King Tommen’s aid now? Not the Tyrells, not Dorne. If not for the extraordinary circumstances of the Night King and Daenarys and her dragons, Peter would have a surprisingly clear path to the throne.
As it stands, he may still be the one wearing the crown when unstoppable forces from two sides come crashing into Westeros. I just hope Varys gets to play a big part in his ultimate fall off the ladder’s highest rungs.
Please don’t die George R.R. Martin,
Check back for more letters from Shane and Josh on the Game of Thrones episode “No One”
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