Everything about Sunday’s Game of Thrones episode was stellar, except the title. Fans got the first real Stark reunion since they all split up in Season 1, storylines moved quickly but not too fast, and boy did that Daenerys storyline pay off!
Before I get into the real meat of the episode, however, I have to issue the obligatory spoiler warning. Also, a note to book fans — I don’t mention the Pink Letter below, but the show included it in this episode, which was amazing. Naturally, it reveals a lot less at this point in the story, but it was still a cool feature and a great easter egg for readers of A Song of Ice and Fire.
“Book of the Stranger” — I know, isn’t it a weird title? — reunited Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) and her half-brother Jon Snow (Kit Harington). To realize just how big this is, you have to remember that the two of them have not seen each other in five seasons: roughly five years in the show’s timeline. In that time, Sansa was married (twice!) and framed for murder, while Jon joined the Night’s Watch, left the Night’s Watch, became Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, was murdered by the Night’s Watch, and came back to life.
First five minutes of #BookoftheStranger is the happiest #GameofThrones has been in over 5 seasons…
— Margaery Tyrell (@Margaery_Tyrell) May 16, 2016
Sansa and Jon reminiscing about Winterfell brings the audience a sense of hope and reunion which has been missing for five seasons. This little exchange was exactly the moment fans had been waiting for. Then Sansa even pushes the storyline forward. “If we don’t take back the North we’ll never be safe,” she declares, pressuring Jon to lead the attack on Winterfell to take the city back from the wicked Roose Bolton. “I want you to help me, but I will do it myself if I have to.” Empowered Sansa is back, and with a vengeance. Look out, Ramsay!
The exchange between Melisandre (Carice van Houten), Ser Davos (Liam Cunningham), and Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) also hit the nail squarely on the head. Brienne’s line about never forgiving sent chills up my spine, as she certainly suspects Melisandre’s involvement in the death of King Renly Baratheon (the gay king killed by a shadow baby in Season 2).
Then we get a tremendous bit of cunning from Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen), who lies about how Sansa ended up marrying Ramsay Bolton. In one move, he shows his loyalty to Sansa and casts aspersions on the loyalty of Lord Yohn Royce (Rupert Vansittart), and blatantly manipulates the Lord of the Vale, Robin Arryn in a short, but memorable scene.
Meanwhile, in Meereen, Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) strikes a deal with the slave masters from Astapor, Yunkai, and Volantis. Game of Thrones expertly demonstrates the political difficulty of navigating between slave holders on the one hand, and zealous, newly freed abolitionists on the other. Not only that, the show also put fan favorite Tyrion in his place when Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel) points out that he was only a slave for a few days. The man born into privilege says that was “long enough to know,” but she cuttingly retorts, “not long enough to understand.” Brilliant.
As Tyrion rules in Meereen, the queen of the city, Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke), waits the judgment of the Dothraki. Two adventuring men, the love-struck Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen) and Dany’s love Daario Naharis (Michiel Huisman) set out to rescue her — in a plotline eerily similar to the adventure with Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and Bronn (Jerome Flynn), who set out to rescue the princess Myrcella in Season 5. Their journey went so far afoul that fans are trying to raise $20 Million to remake the scenes; so many of us felt pangs of dread seeing a similar storyline unfold with Jorah and Daario.
Next Page: Was Jorah and Daario in Vaes Dothrak as disastrous as Jamie and Bronn in Dorne?
Never fear — the two rescue attempts ended up being night and day. Jorah and Daario help Daenerys plan a magnificent coup. The queen proves herself once again “the unburnt,” by setting the central Dothraki temple ablaze. Emerging from the flames (as she did so powerfully at the end of Season 1), she not only escapes all bondage, but claims her place as the leader of a huge army.
Meanwhile, in King’s Landing, the High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce) reveals his backstory, and finally becomes a character the audience can relate to. One of the biggest weaknesses of Season 5 was the speed at which the religious movement backing the High Sparrow came to power. Now the audience can really see what sort of man can inspire a mass revolt, and how this deeply religious former cobbler was able to “overthrow an empire.”
High Sparrow Francis doe. #GameofThrones pic.twitter.com/02jhorbOGi — Pieter J. Ketelaar 3 (@PieterJKetelaar) May 16, 2016
In addition to redeeming itself for a ridiculously bad fifth season, Game of Thrones has also portrayed humility and religion very well in these first four episodes of Season 6. The High Sparrow’s humility contrasts well with the defiance of Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) and Olenna Tyrell (Diana Rigg), who finally agree on a plan to oust him. Get ready for some more action in King’s Landing!
In another fascinating twist, Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen) agrees to support his sister Yara (Gemma Whelan) in her quest to rule the Iron Islands. Yara’s disdain and Theon’s remorse play wonderfully off one another, and the dynamic makes me excited to see how the show will handle the Kingsmoot in the next episode.
Finally, a tribute to Osha (Natalia Tena), the wonderful wily wildling. Her cunning feminine charms helped the young Stark boys escape from Theon’s grasp in Season 2, and when she came on to Ramsay, fans everywhere hoped that she would find the right way to betray him as well. Alas, Ramsay himself was too cunning. As if the audience needed another reason to wish the death of the sadistic bastard (literally, he is a bastard)!
Love that Osha-Ramsay exchange about flayed men: “Do you eat them after?” “No.” “Then I’ve seen worse.” #GameofThrones #BetrayTheBastard
— Tyler O’Neil (@Tyler2ONeil) May 16, 2016
It may be too quick, but I am highly tempted to say that Game of Thrones has returned to the excellent style of action, character, and intrigue that drove the best parts of Seasons 1 and 2. Season 6 has gone a fair way to correcting the pitfalls of Season 5, so long as we can forget the horrible way they wrapped up the Dornish plot in the first episode. Here’s hoping it keeps getting better.
Next Page: Emilia Clarke talks about the awesome Daenerys moments.
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