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.
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.
The second episode of the season continued the theme of Daenerys-related episode titles: the first, “Dragonstone,” was named after her birthplace and the site of her return to Westeros, while this episode, “Stormborn,” calls back to her birth itself.
Daenerys was born during Robert Baratheon’s rebellion against her father, the Mad King Aerys II. Her mother was sent to Dragonstone to give birth before King’s Landing was attacked, and a storm ended up destroying what was left of the Targaryen fleet. This helped speed along the defeat of the Mad King’s forces and the ousting of the Targaryen dynasty.
The circumstances of her birth and the events surrounding it are particularly important to understand on the cusp of her return to Westeros. Fittingly, “Stormborn” largely features the Westerosi reaction to an imminent Daenerys Targaryen invasion. She has never known Westeros, and they have never known her. She is stormborn, born during both a literal storm and a familial tragedy, yet she bears the nickname proudly. Will the bad omen of her birth come back to haunt her?
Note: Apologies for the delay in posting. Due to this season’s summer schedule, this episode and the next fall in the middle of my vacation. I will still post something for next week, but it will either be delayed or limited to the “Other Thoughts” section, depending on what I can pull off. Thanks in advance for sticking with me through these couple of weeks! I’ll be back in full form for the episode airing August 6.
The characters in Game of Thrones have suffered a lot over the years. Most are almost unrecognizable to their former selves. This episode’s title, “The Broken Man,” may be referring most specifically to the surprising return of Sandor Clegane (the Hound), but many other men and women bear this title, as well. One of the most important themes of the series is that war is awful business. George R.R. Martin was a conscientious objector in Vietnam and has spoken out against the glorification of war in other fantasy series. None of his characters escape the damaging effects of war.
In this episode, Jon Snow, still reeling from his murder, is unable to articulate the importance of his cause to the wildlings and minor Northern houses. He needs the help of Tormund, Sansa, and most importantly Ser Davos to sell a cause for which he once argued passionately.
Theon and Jaime have both been physically broken, a trauma that has similarly marked their psyches for life. Jaime wears his father’s armor (or something made to look like it) and plays the part of stern commander, but he is missing more than a sword hand in his limp confrontation with the Blackfish at Riverrun. Theon’s sister, Yara, does not understand what it means to be abused and urges him to find himself, not realizing that a broken man cannot just flip a switch to be healed again.
Sansa also carries around the trauma she suffered at the hands of Ramsay, using it to fuel her quest for vengeance on the Boltons. She tells Lyanna Mormont, “I did what I had to do to survive, my lady. But I am a Stark. I will always be a Stark.” Her sister, who only recently realized the same, is physically broken in this episode. Stabbed and left for dead, Arya searches the unfriendly Braavosi faces and finds no help or sympathy.
Finally, Margaery plays the part of a broken woman in her complete conversion to the Faith. Unlike the other characters, she has not actually been broken, but pretends to be in order to play the High Sparrow. Even her grandmother fears for her until Margaery is able to slip her a reassuring drawing of their house rose. She is still a Tyrell, and as their house motto goes, she is “growing strong.”