Cersei makes a bad decision, Jon makes a good decision and Dany has trouble making any kind of decision at all in this week's Game of Thrones.
I was just thinking that nothing had really happened much this season, and then we got to that ending. Although it's not entirely clear, I think that fight was meant to end with Grey Worm alive and badly injured, but Ser Barristan dead. I'm rather sad about that - I was enjoying his conversations with Dany about her family. At least his final scene (if he is dead) acted as a reminder that he was once one of the greatest swordsmen in Westeros (along with Ned Stark and Jaime Lannister. These days, I'd put money on the best swords in Westeros being Bronn and Brienne). Mind you, Jaime didn't do too badly for himself either - I loved him stopping the Dornish man's sword with his golden hand.
Ser Barristan also gave us one of two references to Rhaegar Targaryen in this episode, the other being Littlefinger's conversation with Sansa. We haven't heard much about Rhaegar or Lyanna since King Robert died back in season one, but this may be a sign that the backstory established so long ago will soon become significant, which would be very exciting (especially since the books have only hinted at its larger significance so far). The references to Rhaegar in this episode certainly seem to contradict the view Robert had of him - the man Ser Barristan describes sounds very pleasant and not particularly like a rapist and kidnapper (though to be fair, that's how you could describe most rapists and kidnappers) and the expression on Littlefinger's face when Sansa accused Rhaegar was not dissimilar to Ned's when having a similar conversation with Robert back in season one.
Back in the present, two Queens, Cersei and Dany, have both unleashed a force that may prove bigger than either of them. In Dany's case, the creation of the Sons of the Harpy was entirely accidental, the result of going in all dragons blazing without any plan for how she was to consolidate her power or pacify the masters following the loss of their slaves and possibly, if they had a slave-labour-based economy, the collapse of their economy as well. Dany has never needed the advice of someone as familiar with high politics as Ser Barristan more - if he is dead, she is left with Missandei, Grey Worm, Daario and Hizdahr zo Loraq as her advisers, which could be potentially disastrous.
Cersei's story, meanwhile, offers an interesting depiction of how religious fanaticism can be encouraged and turned into a weapon by politics, and the way in which extreme religious movements may have as much to do with politics as anything else. It also reveals just how deeply stupid Cersei is. As the crowd reminded us when they yelled at poor, baffled Tommen, everyone in the kingdom knows that Cersei's children are the illegitimate products of incest - so stirring up a religious group who are committed to punishing anyone they believe has behaved immorally with regards to sex is clearly a terrible, terrible idea. Meanwhile, poor Ser Loras rots in a dungeon (I was really worried when they pulled a knife out, we already went through this with Theon, leave my lovely Ser Loras alone) and Margaery has never looked more powerless.
The fact that nothing much actually happens is a common criticism levelled at the books this season is based on. In the case of the books, this is compensated for (to a degree) by the characters' development, expressed through their internal monologue, especially Jaime's and Tyrion's. The TV series is having to get a bit creative in order to express some of that - Jaime and Bronn's boat sailing past Tarth was a nice touch, while their conversation neatly expressed Bronn's continued fondness for Tyrion and Jaime's anger. I can't help hoping, though, that the series will move things on a little bit faster in future episodes - perhaps poor Ser Barristan's apparent demise will be the start of a more active run of episodes.
Bits and pieces:
- I will never not be amused by people raising their eyebrows when Jaime calls Myrcella his niece, but to be fair to him, it is entirely true. It's just not the whole truth.
- Jaime and Bronn's conversation about how they want to die was very interesting and I have Thoughts on it, but they're a combination of book spoilers and wild speculation...
- Tyrion annoying Jorah into taking his gag off was funny, but I'm already missing his double act with Varys, though I'm very glad to have Jorah back.
- The scene between Stannis and Shireen was lovely, especially when she smiled. This may be the most likeable Stannis has ever been.
- Melisandre, on the other hand, could not be creepier than when she told Jon 'You know nothing'. At least so far he seems able to resist her charms.
- This episode also introduced Oberyn Martell's illegitimate daughters, the Sand Snakes. Shortly after Jaime and Bronn come face to face with an actual sand snake. I see what they did there.
- Ser Not-Appearing-In-This-Episode: Arya and Not-Jaqen, Brienne and Pod, Varys, Theon, Ramsey and Roose (though we do visit Winterfell), Davos (though we do visit the Wall).
Bronn: I've had an exciting life. I want my death to be boring.
Littlefinger: Even the most dangerous men can be outmaneuvered (even him?).
Slowly, the season is getting going. Three out of four apparently random references to Rhaegar Targaryen.
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Juliette Harrisson is a freelance writer, classicist and ancient historian who blogs about Greek and Roman Things in Stuff at Pop Classics.
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