In the final episode of the penultimate season, political intrigue replaced CGI-driven battles to bring us a classic episode, more of the sort that Game of Thrones made its name on. “The Dragon and the Wolf” saw siblings reunited and torn apart, alliances formed and double-crossed, monsters both living and dead, incestuous love affairs, big conversations in small rooms, and the bloody end of a major player in the game. For the last couple of episodes, I’ve been expressing some concerns about certain plot choices and how characters were behaving, but the finale was a satisfying conclusion despite some of the recent flaws. Continue reading
The second to last episode of the season, “Beyond the Wall” leaves the living in a far more perilous position for the wars to come. North of the Wall, Tyrion’s latest disastrous plan unravels quickly, and in the end they succeed only at great cost to their campaign against the dead. South of the Wall, Arya continues to misunderstand and threaten her sister, Sansa, tearing apart a great house that has only just begun to rebuild.
As they all face an uncertain future, many of the characters spend time discussing the past. The men beyond the Wall reminisce together as they march north to steal a wight. In nearly every case, their perspectives on the past differ (the Hound and Tormund on Brienne, Jon and Jorah on the true owner of Longclaw, Gendry and the Brotherhood on selling the blacksmith to Melisandre, etc.), but they reach an understanding and common cause as the dead bear down on them. Arya and Sansa also discuss the past, but their misunderstandings and resentments go unresolved, putting both of them in mortal peril.
In one of the final episodes of the season, “Eastwatch” sets up several unlikely confrontations for the few that remain. A caper is devised to convince the realm of the seriousness of the threat up North, while Littlefinger maneuvers the Stark sisters into a divisive battle. While we are treated to some unexpected reunions, the happy homecomings are cut short by “dark wings, dark words,” as Bran informs the realm that the White Walkers are on the move.
“The Spoils of War” is named most directly for the centerpiece of this week’s major conflict: the Lannister-led loot train heading to King’s Landing from Highgarden, weighed down with Tyrell gold and supplies. In a broader reading, the title is a double entendre for all that has been lost after years of conflict, the characters coming to terms with how they have been forever altered by war and suffering.
Power and control are the prizes awarded in this game of thrones. However, in the wake of Robert Baratheon’s death, no one has held onto the actual authority to wield that power unchallenged. In “The Gift,” the authority of many characters comes into question as they lose some of the control they worked so hard to acquire.
There are mutterings of dissent at the Wall as Jon Snow readies to bring all of the wildlings south to settle in the land known as The Gift. Sansa is once again stripped of much of her control, locked away and abused by her new husband, Ramsay Bolton. Stannis is losing men and beasts to the advancing winter and is unwilling to sacrifice for a greater assurance of victory. Daenerys struggles to control an insurrection against her authority by marrying into the local ruling elite and agreeing to reopen the fighting pits. Jaime cannot convince his daughter, Myrcella, to return to King’s Landing, and Lady Olenna is surprised how little authority she has over the High Sparrow. Worst of all, Cersei has given up all of her authority to the Faith Militant, assuming that she could control them. In the end, only Littlefinger may be left smiling in the chaos.
“Chaos isn’t a pit. 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, they cling to the realm or the gods or love. Only the ladder is real. The climb is all there is.” – Littlefinger – Season 3, Episode 6
With the season already more than half over, it’s interesting to see how far the characters have come since we started. Arya and Tyrion are both a whole continent away; Arya, an initiate of the band of assassins known as the Faceless Men, and Tyrion, a captive again, yet still on the road to Meereen. Jaime is in enemy territory, hoping to rescue his niece/daughter Myrcella from Dorne. Thanks to Cersei, Queen Margaery and her brother are in jail. And thanks to Littlefinger, Sansa has married her second so-called “monster”– this time, a real one.
In both continents, the seeds of rebellion have been properly sowed, with two parallel uprisings occurring in both Westeros and Essos. Perhaps now more than ever, the instability that so many have tried to tame to their will is too wild to control. “The Sons of the Harpy” sets the stage for the remainder of the season with a lot of explanation and backstory, and a hearty helping of bloodshed to spice things up.