I had always been skeptical of the speculation that Jon and Dany were heading toward a romantic entanglement, but as this week featured some explicit tension between the Targaryen regents, it's clear I was at least partly wrong. Jon might insist that there’s no time for love, but Davos has been around, and knows that a basic bro like Jon would only plan a third date at the natural history museum if he was desperate to impress. He puts on some subtle (for him) moves as he tries to use some cave paintings to convince Dany to reconsider her reluctance to join the fight against the Night King. Other than the added sexual tension, the scene is largely repetitive of things we heard last week. It serves mainly to make the following scene on the beach, where Dany turns to this ostensible rebel criminal for advice over her own counselors, not seem so abrupt. It’s a fine moment, but it can’t pretend to compete for ownership of the episode, not against the enormous spectacle on the roseroad or the fantastic character work in Winterfell.
Stark reunions have become plentiful this last year, after a solid 5 years of painful separations and teasing near-misses. These dramatic returns should be progressively diminishing, but Arya and Sansa meeting in the crypt is wonderfully written and performed, as the scene gets the space and quiet to really breathe. Arya’s gradual thaw, from not returning Sansa’s hug to spontaneously giving one back a few minutes later, is terrific, subtle work from Maisie Williams, who is more frequently called upon to anchor her characterization with bigger, splashier moments. And the dialogue elegantly elides having the characters directly recount scenes we’ve already seen to each other - Arya doesn’t even mention that she was the one that waxed House Frey! But that just sets up the sparring match with Brienne as a way of showing Sansa, rather than telling, just what a lethal implement her sister has transformed into.
I’d say something about not to ‘shipping these two, but
who I am kidding? Fish gotta swim, Tumbler gotta Tumble.
The choregrapy and palpable fun/comfort levels of the performers make that match a series highlight, even as Sansa’s reaction fading from impressed to concerned recalled Ned watching her first lesson with Syrio, waaaay back at the end of episode 3. Ned’s concern turned out to be very, very well founded, but even so I have to think that for the surviving Starks, the worst is behind them. If nothing else, there just doesn’t seem to be the time to dish out worse punishment than the prior seasons have, though between the army of the dead and “allies” like Littlefinger, they are still a long ways from Happily Ever After. Speaking of Littlefinger, I can see some viewers’ frustration that such an invenerate schemer has been sitting on his hands since the Battle Of The Bastards. But I kind of like how he came to Winterfell with one Stark child as his ace in the hole, and now finds himself surrounded by four, none of which can he find any leverage over. It’s a neat, subtle inversion of Ned’s intractable idealism causing him so much grief in King’s Landing, that one of the snakes that caused so much of it should be similarly flummoxed when he takes his southern wiles to a place where winter has come and loyalty is an actual thing.
Littlefinger is good at playing the angles, difficult as it may be to find them in a place as square as Winterfell, and at using people’s limited perspectives against them. As his “fight in your mind” speech last week demonstrated, he prides himself on his broad vision and foresight, but when Bran demonstrates the ability to literally see every angle, he is even more shaken than when he witnesses Arya’s insane ninja skillz. As he should be, since he’s never relied on swordplay to establish his dominance, but being the smartest and most informed one in the room. That kind of goes out the window where the Three-Eyed Raven is concerned, though, because he is in the room with more than just Brandon Stark. Bran's dismissal of Meera, which is cold but succinct and not exactly unkind, offers up a much better explanation of this than his “shit’s complicated” non-answers to Sansa last week. He remembers his life as Bran Stark, but that is now only a small part of the many lifetimes of memories he’s uploaded. So Meera feels to him like the aunt you haven’t seen in a decade, who can only think to ask 20 year-old you if you’re still into all that Pokemon stuff. That kid she remembers, it's not you, even though it was you. If we are the accumulation of our memories, then her's only ever included a thin slice of your current self, and that creates a distance even if neither side intends it. And with Bran, it’s not even so much that he grew up quickly, but that he grew old (impossibly, magically so) all at once.
Of course, the biggest complaint about this season is precisely that everything is happening all at once. And as the show accelerates into the home stretch, I can understand how some people would be vexed by the lurches in pacing. But like a proper three-eyed bird, I can see all these complaints without really feeling them. For my own purposes, I find it more comforting than off-putting that if the show is moving less elegantly than before, it is because it is moving with a definite sense of purpose. It indicates that there is an actual end in sight that we are barreling towards, and particularly on a show as sprawling and mythology-heavy as this one, that is the reassurance I crave most at this late stage.
|apropos of nothing|
I, and others, have made much over the years about Game Of Thrones' unpredictability as one of its greatest and most distinctive aspects. And more recently, how that sense has eroded somewhat as the plotlines collapse toward a singular finale. But that same accelerated pacing that some find frustrating, with characters and armies lurching across continents with less and less context, does also work to subtly cut against the increased predictability created by the convergence of characters and storylines. In years past, a big part of what made the story unpredictable was just how many loose threads there were all over the place that could seemingly go in any direction at any time, such that you could never even be entirely sure whether say, the Greyjoys or Sparrows or Brotherhood Without Banners would become suddenly important, or suddenly wiped out, or just disappear for years on end. With less threads to keep track of, more bits of foreshadowing stockpiled as evidence for pet theories, and less time for wild twists that upend the entire board (and therefore require time to reset it), it became easier and easier to get out ahead of upcoming developments.
Which is why the temporal anomaly that set in over Westeros in the sixth season finale, allowing first characters like Varys and Arya and then entire armies and fleets to teleport all over the map, is crucial for more than just skipping over the boring parts. The uncertainty it produces, even if it is purely logistical, keeps us off balance even when armed with all the years of speculation, evidence and trailer dissections discussed above. Whereas earlier seasons, with more open storylines, might disguise the movements of Euron’s fleet “better” simply by having more disparate threads to cut between for an episode or two, that is no longer an option. And so when it wants to spring a surprise on us, rather than "oooh, Euron! I forget all about him!", latter-day GOT aims for “shit, is that Euron? How did he get here already??”
|"...and why does he look like he's been at the Viper Room, doing coke with David Copperfield?"|
The latter approach may not be everyone's cup of mead, but it functions as a means to put us in Yara or Olenna or Jaime's shoes as they are caught wrongfooted and their grand plans crumble all at once. It’s a marked change, but one calculated to use the inconsistency with more tangible plot elements to purchase a greater consistency with the more ineffable feel that made the series the phenomenon it is.
The attack on the supply train both revived that feeling of unpredictability, and fed off it. It’s “Hardhome” for Jaime, in terms of how it comes up earlier in the season than we would expect for such a big sequence, the way it seems to start like any other scene of middling significance before sprawling out to encompass the entire third act of the episode, and how it features the “hero” and his human allies completely outmatched by their supernatural adversaries. And the scale and grandeur of these sequences serves a purpose greater than simply providing money shots for trailers or justifying television’s largest budget via legitimate spectacle. Because as the sequence went on, and on, it began to feel like maybe it was big and elaborate enough to be Jaime’s send-off.
It’s not, of course. I’m not even going to pretend to be concerned that Jaime will drown in that surprisingly-deep river, even if the sticklers will point out that it would be pretty much impossible to remove all the armor and golden appendages weighing him down in time to make it up for air. But it's still a marvelously tense sequence, because the show is also savvy in including a character like Bronn (or Tormund, in Hardhome's case) in a significant enough role that even if you never buy that the main character is in legitimate jeopardy, you still feel that it could plausibly be the end of those beloved sidekicks. Or to look at the other side of the conflict, I never for a second thought that Dany was in danger, but I did have moments of doubt about whether Bronn would actually take out Drogon with that ballista. And actually, if Qyburn had the foresight to apply his poison mastery to his heavy weaponry designs, he may have. I didn’t think this was too likely at first, but once it was pointed out that a minor but infected shoulder wound was exactly what killed Drogon’s namesake, it suddenly felt very plausible.
I guess we’ll have to wait until next week to find out, and just how mad Cersei goes when she hears that her brother/lover is captured or presumed dead. Shit, is it next week yet?
SUBPLOT REPORT CARD
King’s Landin’ – B
Just a single scene of Cersei laying out plans to hire a mercenary company, and the Iron Banker salivating at the thought of refinancing their mortgage on the Iron Throne. It does potentially pave the way for Daario to return, much as I’d rather he didn’t.
Dragonstone – B
Little bit I loved: Tyrion’s scar looked more pronounced this week, as if stress and military failure aggravates his war wound.
Littler Bit I loved: “Fewer.” Stannis’s pedantry, if not his house or claim to the throne, lives on.
Winterfell – A
I’m only denying it the A+ because we didn’t need quite so much time of the Arya dicking around with the Keystone Guards.
The Road – A+
Little bit I love: The falling music cue that occurs whenever Drogon is working up a mouthful of flame.
Better Drogon moment: leaving a wake in the water as he swoops over, or petulantly whipping the remains of the scorpion wagon with his tail?
Favorite Shot: Jaime turning away as he sees his army literally reduced to ashes.
Season Morgulis – House Frey, Obara Sand, Nymeria Sand, Tyene Sand, Olenna Tyrell, Jaime’s horse Gumdrop, Bronn’s Sweet AF Knife
Death Watch - I will maintain for the record that I think I would be much better at this if I let myself watch the "Next Week On" teasers, and could target my guesses toward subplots that were guaranteed to actually appear. Instead, I can spend a whole season predicting the Sand Snakes will not last much longer, and while my reasoning may be sound in that they only wind up having 2 more scenes in the entire series, it takes 12 episodes to get around to them. Which is by way of defending my picks of Thoros and Berric as still theoretically sound, even though I've been repeatedly wrong in picking them week after week when they simply do not appear. I think next week, with Meera heading south to the Neck, may be the time for them to reappear, and then leave us for good.
But also Drogon is probably poisoned. Three dragons is just an overwhelming advantage, and now that this has been demonstrated, it's time to cut that lead down.
Looking Into The Flames: I was struck by some very specific, non-death related predictions for the remainder of the series as this episode went on, so I figured I’d throw them out here for giggles. They’re only spoilers if I’m right, but if you’re especially sensitive to such matters, maybe skip this part. Anyway…
- The much-prophesized Cleganebowl will not be a one-on-one match up, but the Frankenmountain being taken down by a reunited Sandor and Arya, respectively, tanking and dishing out critical DPS with her Valyrian Dagger +5.
- Sansa’s voice over from the end of the (still super-duper sweet) second season trailer is delivered over Littlefinger’s dying moments.
- They raise the question of the original owner of the dagger so pointedly I think it will somehow come back up. I suspect it was Rhaegar Targaryen’s, though I can’t figure the particular relevance that would have to the issues of the day.
- In the series finale, after Sansa has ascended to the Iron Throne, Brienne will become the first Lady Commander of the Queensguard. Her final scene will be sitting down to fill in Jaime’s pages in the Book Of Brothers, to provide history with a more nuanced memory of the Kingslayer. I can’t imagine a better end for her character or capstone for their complicated relationship.