In the latest episode, appropriately titled “The Queen’s Justice,” Queen Cersei executes her brutal strategy to outwit and overpower her primary opponents. Typically, the King’s Justice is the title of the royal executioner, though the phrase can also refer to any actions taken to deliver justice in the name of the king (or queen, in this case).
Cersei, the first queen in the history of Westeros, looked tenuously positioned– until now. She made brutal strategic decisions to greatly diminish Daenerys’s allies and punish her enemies, even delivering the Queen’s justice herself. In one episode, she manages to eliminate both Myrcella’s and Joffrey’s poisoners; Queen’s justice, indeed. It’s been tempting to underestimate Cersei up until now, but this episode reminded us that a Lannister always manages to pay its debts, one way or another.
Euron Greyjoy, who has proved to be quite a valuable ally, arrives in King’s Landing with his captives taken from Daenerys’s Greyjoy fleet. They are paraded through the streets, as many have been before them (Queen Cersei, not long ago), and Euron enjoys his time in the limelight.
In front of the Red Keep, Cersei officially appoints Euron as the commander of her naval forces, while Jaime continues to be in charge of her armies. She promises to give Euron what he desires– her hand in marriage– but only when victory is achieved. Satisfied, Euron asks Jaime for tips on how to please Cersei in bed, showing just how far the rumors of their incestuous affair have spread. Jaime is appalled by the Greyjoy, though he knows they desperately need his fleet.
When Euron’s prisoners got to the Red Keep, Ellaria Sand immediately noticed Ser Gregor Clegane (The Mountain), the man who killed her lover, Oberyn Martell. She stands in defiance to Cersei, even spitting at her feet, not knowing what the vengeful queen has in store for her.
Later, Ellaria and her daughter Tyene are visited by Cersei in their cell. They are gagged and chained opposite one another. Cersei recounts Oberyn’s death at the hands of the Mountain (literally) and how Ellaria screamed when she saw her lover’s head crushed in. She cruelly reminds Ellaria of the uselessness of Oberyn’s death, blaming the man for his own demise, for being stupid enough to taunt Ser Gregor instead of leaving him to die. All the while, she wears a garish and uncharacteristic pink lipstick.
Once Cersei rounds on Tyene, oddly praising her beauty and stroking her face, Ellaria’s own expression turns to fear. Whether or not she understands the full savagery of the Queen’s coming justice, he knows what Cersei intends. After all, Ellaria killed Cersei’s daughter Myrcella with a poisoned kiss. It would be poetic justice for Cersei to do the same to the Dornishwoman.
For the first time in a long while, we see Cersei break a little with emotion, recalling how sweet her own daughter was, and how devoted she was to her only little girl. She did not even give Myrcella to a wet nurse, wanting to be the only woman to care for her. So much of Cersei’s hard cruelty is the result of her fierce love for her children, all of them now dead before their time. With no one left to love and care for, she has only vengeance in her heart.
Before leaving the cell, Cersei kisses Tyene on the lips before calmly wiping the poisoned lipstick from her own mouth and taking the antidote offered by her maester, Qyburn. She tells Ellaria that instead of killing her, she will keep her alive long enough to watch her daughter’s “beautiful face crumble into bone and dust.” This fearful image is something Cersei herself worried about after both her mother and Myrcella’s deaths: “I think about locking Myrcella in a crypt… I think about her beautiful little face starting to–” she cried to Jaime last season.
After Cersei departs, Ellaria and her daughter tearfully try to reach for each other, but their restraints are just short of allowing them the satisfaction. They strain futility against their chains, a once-proud family swiftly destroyed by the Queen’s justice.
Reinvigorated, Cersei joins Jaime in his rooms and sleeps with him for what appears to be the first time in a while. When they wake up to her handmaiden announcing a visitor from Braavos, Cersei does not even attempt to hide their relationship. She even asks for clean sheets.
The visitor from Braavos ends up being Tycho Nestoris from the Iron Bank seeking assurances that the crown’s considerable debts will be paid. He starts by thanking her for uprooting the Faith Militant in killing the High Sparrow and many of his followers in the explosion at the Great Sept. The bank wants stability (and profits) returned to Westeros, but needs to be sure to back the right side.
Cersei immediately susses this out and assures Tycho that she will be the winning faction. She makes yet another persuasive argument against Daenerys, appealing to the idea that Daenerys’s destruction of the slave trade in Essos had a massive economic impact. She claims that the Lannisters are the only chance for the Iron Bank to be reimbursed for the debts accrued by the crown, stretching back to the reign of Robert Baratheon. After all, the Lannisters always pay their debts; can former slaves and the Dothraki say the same?
As further incentive for the Iron Bank to back Cersei’s claim and continue to offer her monetary support, she vows to pay the Crown’s debts in full within two weeks. Intrigued, Tycho agrees to stay in King’s Landing to await the repayment. He seems swayed by her arguments and correctly calls Cersei “her father’s daughter.” Tywin would be proud of Cersei’s surprisingly pragmatic, but ruthless campaign against the Lannisters’ enemies.
At first, it was unclear where in the world Cersei would be able to get the gold needed to repay the debt. The Lannister’s home of Casterly Rock used to sit over a major goldmine, but the rich golden veins have dried up (as later confirmed by Lady Olenna Tyrell).
Her plan does not reveal itself until the end of the episode, after Grey Worm and the Unsullied forces successfully take Casterly Rock, thanks to Tyrion’s plan to access the city via the sewers using the same route his secret lovers used to take. After dispatching all of the Lannister forces, Grey Worm immediately realizes that the bulk of the army is missing. When he looks back out to sea, he sees that a trap has been sprung on them. Euron’s naval fleet is attacking some of the last remaining Targaryen ships, leaving the Unsullied stranded in Casterly Rock with empty food stores.
Meanwhile, the true Lannister army marches south to a castle we have not yet seen. As soon as the camera finds Lady Olenna overlooking the approaching army, it is confirmed that the Lannisters are attacking their old allies, the Tyrells, at Highgarden. The Tyrells are much better at supplying armies than training them, so they are swiftly defeated by Jaime and the superior Lannister forces. After the battle is over, we see Lannister soldiers counting massive stacks of gold bars and other supplies, raiding the wealthy Tyrells for all they’re worth.
When Jaime meets Lady Olenna, he seems almost regretful for having defeated his old ally. He tells her that Tyrion and Daenerys’s plan failed in part because Jaime has learned from his mistakes and employed a trick used on him by Robb Stark at the Whispering Wood.
Back in Season 1, Robb set a trap for Jaime’s forces by leading a skeleton army against Tywin’s forces. Tywin Lannister, assuming this was the full Stark force, met and quickly overwhelmed them, only to realize that they had walked into a trap. As Tywin’s forces were occupied by the diversion, Jaime’s were caught off guard by the bulk of the Stark army and totally wiped out, with Jaime ending up in Stark custody by the end.
Lady Olenna, resigned to her fate, wonders how Jaime intends to kill her. She wonders if he’ll do it with Joffrey’s old sword, Widow’s Wail, which Jaime now wears at his hip. This allows her to recall Joffrey’s awful character. She calls both Joffrey and Cersei monsters, and argues that Cersei is a disease she regrets playing any part in spreading. She says she defended her family at any cost with no regrets, but claims that what she’s done cannot possibly compare to the atrocities that Cersei has committed in the name of her family. Jaime is unmoved by Olenna’s argument. He does not quibble with the specifics, and states that Cersei’s methods may not be beloved, but will fade fast from the memory of the Westerosi as soon as peace is restored (the ends, therefore, justify the means).
Despite this, Jaime is still different from his sister, admitting that while Cersei advocated for a more brutal Queen’s justice to be delivered unto the traitorous Lady Olenna, he was able to talk her out of any whippings, beheadings, or flayings. He pours a small vial of poison into a glass of wine and hands it to her, and when she asks if it will be painful, he assures her it will not. At that point, she swiftly consumes her glass without protest.
Learning that her poisoning will be painless leads her to recall the horrible, grotesque poisoning of Jaime’s evil son, the late King Joffrey. “I’d hate to die like your son, clawing at my neck, foam and bile spilling from my mouth, eyes blood red, skin purple. Must’ve been horrible for you, as a Kingsguard, as a father.” She was there on that day, after all, and witnessed Joffrey die a gruesome and painful death at the hands of a poisoner, whom Cersei long assumed to be Tyrion (with the aid of Sansa Stark). She admits that the pain was an unintentional consequence, as she had never seen the poison in action before.
With this, Olenna openly admits her role in killing Joffrey for the first time (to anyone outside of her family). “Killing a man at a wedding, horrid… What sort of monster would do such a thing?” she said to Sansa back in Season 4, as she removed a vial of poison planted in the girl’s necklace. She then administered it to Joffrey at his own wedding to her granddaughter, Margaery Tyrell. We learned of the specifics of this plot from Littlefinger when Sansa confronted him as he smuggled her out of King’s Landing following the murder. He admitted that he helped Olenna get rid of the untrustworthy king by supplying her with the poison hidden within Sansa’s necklace.
After Olenna’s confession, Jaime is horrified and stunned into silence as he looks at the unassuming woman, a threat he never truly anticipated. Her actions resulted in his brother Tyrion’s blame for Joffrey’s murder, Oberyn Martell’s death in defending Tyrion in a trial by combat, and his father Tywin’s death out of vengeance in Tyrion’s eventual escape. Oberyn’s death led to Jaime’s daughter, Myrcella’s murder in Dorne, and Joffrey’s death meant that his naive son, Tommen, would assume the throne and eventually commit suicide for his mother’s horrific actions under his leadership. All this because of Olenna’s own act of familial preservation. Unfortunately for the Tyrells, Olenna was unable to save their historically great house from the Lannisters, but at least the so-called Queen of Thorns got in one last stinging barb for her enemies. “Tell Cersei. I want her to know it was me.”
Interestingly, Olenna keeps Littlefinger’s role in the murder plot a secret from Jaime, perhaps realizing that Petyr Baelish could still prove to be a valuable threat to Cersei’s reign.
At Winterfell, Littlefinger looks on as Sansa inspects the keep’s supplies. She realizes there is not enough wheat for a long winter, especially if the other Northern houses end up sheltering in Winterfell, so she commands that granaries are built and the supplies from other families are consolidated at the keep. She also orders that all armor is covered with leather for warmth.
Littlefinger appears to be proud of Sansa’s strength as a leader (“Command suits you.”), but continues to warn her of Cersei’s threat. When she brushes him off, making it clear that she’s fully aware that the woman who murdered her “father, mother, and brother” is dangerous, he gives her one additional piece of advice:
“Don’t fight the North or the South. Fight every battle, everywhere, always, in your mind. Everyone is your enemy. Everyone is your friend. Every possible series of events is happening all at once. Live that way and nothing will surprise you. Everything that happens will be something that you’ve seen before.”
Sansa has learned under some of the shrewdest strategists and manipulators of the entire Seven Kingdoms, including Cersei, Lady Olenna, and Littlefinger. Though she’s been flippant towards Petyr as of late (which itself might prove to be a manipulation), she seems to take this latest piece of advice to heart. I’m interested to see how much she views Petyr as her enemy or her friend, and how she applies his warning to anticipating whatever it is he has up his sleeve for her.
Soon, they are interrupted by a guard with news of a visitor at the gates: Arya or Bran? I hoped for the former, but knew it was more likely to be the latter. Sure enough, Bran and Meera Reed have arrived at Winterfell. Sansa tearfully greets her long-lost brother as he sits, relatively unmoved.
They take some time alone in the Godswood, where Bran tells his sister that he needs to speak to Jon (perhaps to tell him of his Stark-Targaryen blood). Sansa tells him that as the last remaining true-born son of Ned Stark, Bran is the rightful heir to the title of Lord of Winterfell, and shows a willingness to abdicate her position for his sake. However, he cryptically refuses the title, saying that he is already the Three-Eyed Raven and unable to perform the duties required. Unable to explain what this means to Sansa (to the frustration of both the young woman and the viewers), he instead demonstrates his ability by thoughtlessly remarking on how beautiful she looked on the night she was married to (and raped by) Ramsay Bolton. This startles Sansa, but makes his powers clearly known.
At Oldtown, Ser Jorah Mormont is found to be free of greyscale by the nonplussed Archmaester Ebrose. Later, the archmaester confronts Samwell Tarly but praises him for his success. In return, Ebrose has Sam copy a pile of old, rotting manuscripts. He tells a dismayed Sam that while this is perhaps not the reward he was anticipating, his “reward” is being allowed to stay on at the Citadel.
Finally, at Dragonstone, Jon and Davos land and are immediately relieved of their weapons and ships. Jon and Tyrion greet each other warmly in the same manner that they once addressed one another at Winterfell and the Wall, long ago, before acquiring their many scars. On the long walk to the castle, Jon and Tyrion discuss his sham marriage to Sansa (he assures Jon that the marriage was never consummated) and the Lannister remarks that young woman is smarter than she lets on. The two visitors are then startled by the dragons that swoop overhead and look on with amazement at the creatures long thought to be extinct from this world (much like the Night’s King and the White Walkers, which they have come to warn Daenerys about).
On a cliff overlooking the beach, Varys finds Melisandre hiding from Jon and Davos. She admits that they left on bad terms due to “terrible mistakes” she made (most notably, burning Shireen Baratheon alive in service to the misinterpreted vision of Stannis being the Prince Who Was Promised). Her goal in coming to Dragonstone was to bring “ice and fire together,” and states that she will leave shortly for Volantis in satisfying that goal. Varys says that she should leave Westeros and never come back, but Melisandre grudgingly says that she must come back once more, since she is destined to die in Westeros… like Varys. Varys is visibly struck by the prophecy of his death, and lets her go without further comment.
In the throne room, Daenerys is introduced by her many names, while Davos presents Jon as simply “King in the North.” As predicted, Jon refuses to bend the knee, which clearly irks Daenerys. She reminds him of Torrhen Stark, the last King in the North, who ruled almost three centuries before Robb Stark assumed the ancient title. Torrhen, also called the King Who Knelt, bent the knee to King Aegon Targaryen, the first of the Targaryen dynasty, conquerer of the Seven Kingdoms, and the forger of the Iron Throne. This pact was supposed to be in perpetuity, as Daenerys reminds Jon. While they are speaking of their history, Jon reminds her that her father burned his grandfather alive and murdered his uncle. Daenerys surprises Jon by apologizing for her father– a very unusual act for a Targaryen conquerer– and asks that children not be punished for the crimes of their parents. Jon agrees, but says that, likewise, children should not be held to the oaths of their ancestors.
Ultimately, Jon says that all of this jockeying for power is nothing more than a childish game compared to the true threat: the Night’s King and the Army of the Dead. Daenerys is unconvinced, stating instead that she has fought long and hard, against all odds, to reclaim her rightful throne. She’s not about to commit her forces to a cause she doesn’t believe in, at the sacrifice of the one she has longed for all these years. Davos tries to stick up for Jon, stating his accomplishments and all of the sacrifices he’s made for the sake of the living. He almost gives away the fact that he was killed for the cause (stabbed in the heart), but Jon’s look stops him short (Daenerys still picks up on it and wonders about it later, with Tyrion, who excuses it as flowery language).
Neither Jon nor Daenerys relents to the other, so Daenerys declares Jon in open rebellion and holds him at Dragonstone without access to his ships. Immediately thereafter, she learns of the defeat and capture of Yara Greyjoy and the Sand Snakes. Faced with the loss of such valuable allies, Daenerys is forced to reconsider her approach to the King of the North.
Jon and Tyrion meet on the cliffside of Dragonstone as they both brood over their individual losses. Jon asks for Tyrion’s help in convincing Daenerys of the threat to the north. The Lannister assures him that Daenerys has protected people from monsters and will continue to do so. As Jon tries to leave, Tyrion implores the dejected Stark to just ask him what help he could give. Later, with Daenerys, Tyrion convinces her to let Jon and his men mine the dragonglass beneath Dragonstone in an effort to gain the North’s eventual allegiance.
As Daenerys watches her dragons, Jon meets with her alone and receives a guarantee that he can mine the dragonglass (thanks to Tyrion’s petitioning). Not only that, but she gives him both men and supplies to complete the task. Jon is relieved with the development and eagerly asks if it means she believes in the White Walkers. Instead of answering, she grins and tells him that he better start mining. The Dragon Queen’s justice may end up saving them all from monsters.
Other Thoughts on “The Queen’s Justice”:
- The old Three-Eyed Raven uploaded all of his visions and memories into Bran, which probably explains why he seems a bit morose (or maybe “detached”– like he’s lost his connection to humanity). Sansa is surprised he knew what happened to her within the walls of their home (referring to her rape). What if he reveals Littlefinger’s betrayal of their father? Or the fact that Littlefinger was the one who murdered Lysa Arryn (which would be news to Lord Yohn Royce, who has been popping up a lot in the last few episodes, as if we’re supposed to remember that a loyal Arryn bannerman is still at Winterfell). That would likely be an eventuality that even Littlefinger did not anticipate.
- Seriously, how hard is it for Bran to say, “The old Three-Eyed Raven is dead, so I inherited his memories and powers”?! Instead, he mumbles, “I told you it’s hard to explain.” Not that hard!
- Maester Wolkan told Sansa and Littlefinger that “every raven scroll” was recorded at Winterfell by the late Maester Luwin, to which Littlefinger looked a little surprised and/or concerned. The only significant raven I can think of that might worry Littlefinger is actually not a raven at all (though, perhaps Luwin kept a record of all correspondence): the letter Lysa sent to her sister Catelyn all the way back in Season 1. In it, she accused the Lannisters of murdering her husband, Jon Arryn. Jon practically raised Ned Stark, so this news (and the idea that the Lannisters might be threatening King Robert Baratheon’s life) convinced Ned to head south and ultimately kicked off the events that would bring down the Stark house and sow chaos in the Seven Kingdoms. Catelyn immediately threw this letter into the fire, but the camera made a point of lingering on Maester Luwin as he listened to Catelyn relay the message to Ned. We only later learned that Littlefinger convinced Lysa to send this message to Catelyn. Littlefinger convinced Lysa poison her own husband and frame the Lannisters, hoping to throw the kingdom into turmoil. I’m not sure what a record of this letter would mean for him, however, unless (once again) Bran puts together the pieces for Sansa and the rest.
- The loss of all of Daenerys’s powerful Westerosi allies will likely work out in Jon’s favor, as he’s one of the few remaining with any real power to aid Daenerys against Cersei. Tyrion has proven to be quite a dismal wartime strategist.
- It’s probably significant that Olenna pointed out that Jaime wields his son Joffrey’s sword, Widow’s Wail. This sword was crafted from Ice, the Stark family blade, by Tywin Lannister. He melted down the Valyrian steel and reforged two blades– one for Joffrey, as a gift for his wedding, and the other, Oathkeeper, for Jaime (though Jaime later gave that blade to Brienne). Valyrian steel is one of the few materials known to kill White Walkers and is in rare supply these days, so it’s important to keep track of the blades that remain.
- I wonder if the rotting manuscripts and scrolls the archmaester gave Sam to copy hold some new, important information about the White Walkers and/or the Night King– whether inadvertently or intentionally (as a true “reward,” which Sam assumed he would receive). The White Walkers have been gone so long that they entered the realm of mythology, so it would make sense that many documents relating to them would be neglected. It would be useful for Sam to learn about Valyrian steel and the War for the Dawn, which was the last time the White Walkers appeared and were defeated (followed by the construction of the Wall, with the help of the Children of the Forest).
- Lady Olenna will be majorly missed on the show. Diana Rigg’s performance, with the superior dialog that was written for her, was always a highlight of every episode she appeared in.
- Indira Varma (Ellaria Sand) also knocked her last performance out of the park. She is unable to speak, but emotes perfectly with her face. Her character (along with the other Dornishwomen) was a bit underserved, but the performance was never lacking. RIP.