So anyway, this episode set itself up to disappoint me with the credits’ DAMNABLE LIES. No Dorne. No Braavos. No Kings Landing, which I believe is the only time that’s happened outside of the major “event” episodes around the Red Wedding and Battle Of Castle Black (if I’m wrong about that, the comments await below). And in the place of those intriguing locations full of characters I like scheming and infiltrating and assassin training and Frankenstein-ing, we get what feels like a solid half hour of Ramsay Bolton. So let’s talk about Ramsay a bit.
I don’t like Ramsay. I’m not supposed to, obviously, but it’s not because I have a weak stomach so much as because I don’t think he’s nearly as compelling as the showrunners seem to believe. Ever since he was introduced interminably torturing Theon for an entire season, it’s felt like his scenes routinely run twice as long as those with more important characters and more story information to impart. Take the scene where Theon tells him that Sansa saw him – that’s about 2 minutes of screen time (which doesn’t sound like a lot, but really, really is) that tells us nothing new about the characters or their relationship, and serves only to recount what happened in the prior scene. Then it leads directly into the even more drawn out dinner scene, that again presents nothing new beyond announcing Lady Bolton’s pregnancy. Though the long walk there is almost worth it just for Sansa’s infinitesimal smirk after the announcement.
As such, Ramsay’s utility as a villain is diminished by the very limited reach of his tyranny, but he’s too reprehensible to give any sort of damn when Roose gives him his version of Stannis’s speech to his daughter from last week. There is some small entertainment value to the was that Roose regards his boy’s gleeful sadism like a traditional sitcom dad would his weirdo son’s amateur ventriloquism; sort of a resigned sigh that no, this is not going to get him anywhere in life, but it’s his thing and we don’t want to discourage him from expressing himself.
But if everything in Winterfell drags this week, things are a bit better in Mereen, where Dany struggles to put together a coherent countermove to last week’s attack. She defaults to frying a noble picked at random and feeding him to the dragons, because she is her father’s girl, after all. This is cruel and not entirely fair, but at least somewhat savvy as a way to make it the noble families’ problem to deal with the insurgency, whether they personally fomented it or not. Where I think she screws up is her follow up move of deciding to marry Eagle Eye Cherry. It’s a good move for the immediate purpose of pacifying the city, but Mereen is not her ultimate goal, and playing this card now means it won’t be available at a time when it could potentially bring one of the Seven Kingdoms into her fold.
Unless she decides to just murder Eagle Eye as soon as another match proves more useful. That feels less out of character as season 5 rolls on.
But if half of this episode is a drag, it at least has the sense to end on the strongest material, which goes a long way to redeeming things. Tyrion and Jorah visiting the ruins of Valyria, the fallen Pompeii/Atlantis analogue of this world, is a simply gorgeous sequence. And if the effects on Drogon flying through the mists are not as intricate as those of his sisters going nuts in the crypts of Mereen, it’s a lesson that a shot of an actor like Peter Dinklage reacting is worth a few tens of millions of pixels when it comes to producing awe. This would be the highlight of the episode even it wasn’t perfectly setting up the tremendous “oh shit!” shot of the stone man coming to life and dropping into the water that leads to the episode’s big gutpunch. Because even if semi-mythical Doom of Valyria is a thousand years in the past, a doom lingers there in the form of greyscale, this world’s leprosy/rabies hybrid. Jorah contracting it puts a sort of zombie-movie spin on his journey with Tyrion, and can that possibly be a bad thing?