It’s good to be the evil queen. It means you can drink on the job, sneer at bankers, and deliver lines like…
“My only venture at this moment is re-establishing control over this continent and every person on it.”
Well, as long as that’s all you’re up to, no problem. Seriously, the whole purpose of the King’s Landing scene is to make sure that we get to see Cersei chat with her banker, collect a few complements and deliver that great wine-sipping-as-mustache-twirling-alternative evil queen line.
There are two scenes this week meant to reassure you that Cersei paid off her debts to the Iron Bank. So … Cersei paid her debts. She’s evil, but not a bad credit risk. It better be important in the future to justify this expenditure of time.
Cersei also gets to stride over her map and remind us of just how much she’s accomplished in bringing six of the seven kingdoms to heel in short order, all while making a profit. She is the very model of a modern major despot. Except … I think we all knew that the start of this week represents Peak Cersei: Euron has outfought his sadly unprepared kin at sea, Cersei has tricked Tyrion into wasting the Unsullied on a lightly-defended Casterly Rock, Jaime has seen off the Queen of Thorns, and I think we can safely assume everyone in Dorne is busy stabbing each other in an effort to be the final survivor / ruler. It’s all great except … that’s kind of it. Cersei still has more or less just one army, and Jaime is busy using it. Euron may be everywhere, but that’s a little harder to pull off with infantry. Cersei got in the first licks, but making it stick is going to take moving from viscous and clever to another gear.
Arya and Sansa and Bran
Another week, another Stark homecoming. Arya comes back to Winterfell in a tragi-comic farce with some hapless guards (I take back what I said earlier—this scene could definitely go) that points up just how long she’s been away and how almost anyone who could identify her is dead. Arya and Sansa have their first face to face since Season 1 in the crypts. Their conversation is singularly short of oh-how-I-missed-yous, both because they hated each other when they were last together, and because they’ve followed such different (but horrible) paths since then. The pause-laden conversation is actually perfect. And you get a sense that there really is a desire on both sides to heal the rifts.
Arya’s statement that “Lady Stark” suits Sansa seems a good step. For her part, Sansa seems both taken aback and fascinated at the idea of Arya’s sleepy-time hit list. Perhaps because Sansa worries that if Arya were to recite the full list, her dear sister might just make the cut.
Up in his room, mystical Bran is being mystical. Which apparently requires him to be an ungrateful ass to Meera Reed. Meera reminds Bran of all that she, her brother, Hodor, and Summer laid down so he could get raveny (not to mention burning up the very last of the semi-immortal race of Children of the Forest). Bran is too busy cleaning his third eye to say bye.
Meera states that she’s going home to be with her family. Which includes her never-seen-in-this-series father, Howland Reed. Howland is the only survivor of the folks who went with Ned Stark to the Tower of Joy. Which makes him the last two-eyed soul who knows that Jon Snow is actually half Targaryen. Does this mean that at some critical moment in the not too distant future. Howland is likely to appear to reveal this information? Probably. They made a big deal of where Meera is going, and otherwise she’s been completely wasted.
What Bran shares from his three-eyed-ness is decidedly a mixed bag. Everything he told Sansa was just plain creepy (he saw her awful wedding night with Ramsay Bolton). What he tells Arya is puzzling (does Bran see possible futures rather than just one clear path ahead?). What he tells Littlefinger in their brief exchange is a good deal more straightforward. He feeds back to Lord Baelish a line of his own, also from Season 1, “Chaos is a ladder.” It’s a line that Littlefinger said in private, to Varys, in explaining why he betrayed Ned Stark. Bran is clearly in on all of Littlefinger’s duplicity, but he doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to tell the people who seriously need to use that very special dagger.
Oh, and the Starks are the X-Men. Let’s just admit it. Each of them has been sent off on a journey that’s been as effective as a radioactive spider in driving up their natural abilities.
Sansa has gotten an intense course in treachery, duplicity, and strategy, making her Super Crafty. Bran has gone to the Tree of Magic Elves to become Super Magical. Jon has been through all the levels of sacrifice and tough decision making required to make him a Super Leader. And Arya has all the training to become … Super Murdery (that’s a talent a lot of superhero teams are lacking).
Put them all together, and they would make one perfect giant robot direwolf. Oh, and whoever made Bran his Professor X chair with Sophie Turner walking along beside him clearly liked the latest X-Men movies more than most.
We finish up at Winterfell with the Brienne and Arya show. Watching these two women go at it is pure fan service … and what’s wrong with that? The disparity in size between the two, and the utter difference in fighting style. Again, the only word for it is fun. Fun, fun. Fun.
Arya gets to be the last Stark of the evening to cast a significant glance at Littlefinger. A glance that had to make everyone watching think “Say, is he on …”
The answer is no. So far as we’re aware, the remaining names on the list are Cersei, Ilyn Pane (is he still on the show?), The Mountain, The Hound (who you might think would get a reprieve at this point), Melisandre, and a couple of folks from the Brotherhood without Borders. The last couple of times Arya has mumbled through the list, it seems to have been abbreviated to just the first three.
But Littlefinger should be on the list. He should be on everyone’s list.
Jon and Danyereas
At Dragonstone, Jon leads Dany into a cave where there is supposedly a lot of dragon glass. I couldn’t see it, because the cave was dark, but I’m taking Jon’s word for it. Deeper in the cave Jon shows Danyereas a very convenient picture book showing how regular people and the Children of the Forest bonded together 8,000 years earlier to fight the Night King and the Army of the Dead. Dany is moved to offer her help to Jon … if Jon will bend the knee. Which is kind of where we came in.
Why exactly is Jon refusing to bow to Dany a sign that he’s being unreasonable, but Dany refusing to help him unless he bows is not?
Anyway, news comes of the latest setbacks for Team Dany and Tyrion takes some licks over whether he’s really fighting to full strength. Danyereas then asks Jon for his advice. Jon seems to mimic Tyrion in recommending against a direct attack at the Red Keep, but his suggestion leaves open some other possibilities … as we’ll see in a moment.
One of the central lessons Game of Thrones seems to deliver is that nuance is nonsense. If you play 11-dimensional chess, you just fall off the baord. No mater what team they played on, for good or ill, all the people who plotted with care and delicacy, from Tywin Lannister to Roose Bolton to Olenna and Margaery Tyrell are dead and their plans are ruins. Tyrion was guiding Dany along that road. To be successful, Dany has to take blunt, direct action.
We stick around Dragonstone for another scene that serves to remind us why people follow Dany and why Davos always gets the best lines (“Yes, I’ve noticed you staring at her … heart.”). But the “heart” line isn’t even Davos’ best of the night. When he and Jon chat with Missandei about Daenerys, the faith that she shows in the Mother of Dragons makes Davos quip, “Will you forgive me if I switch sides?” You can see that this scene is clicking with Jon, perhaps meaning he’ll give another answer when next he sees Dany.
At the end of the scene, Theon arrives. And Jon demonstrates his Super Forgiveness. At least Theon is concerned about his sister, which is one notch above pure groveling.
And where is Dany during all this? Well…
Jaime and Bronn … and Danyereas
The Lannister army is still straggling back from Highgarden. We get a fresh reminder that Cersei’s money has already made it to the city, a chance to laugh at Sam’s younger, dumber, but larger-armed brother Dickon … and then Bronn hears a noise.
The Lannisters have just enough time to form up a shield wall that’s 1) pretty short and 2) only a couple of ranks deep. Still, as the Dothraki come streaming over the hill, it looks like not too uneven a match. Until the dragon appears.
Drogon comes winging out of the clouds, with Dany clinging to his scaly neck. At her command, Drogon burns a path through the Lannister forces that is horrifying. No, make that Horrifying.
What follows is one of those great battle scenes that Game of Thrones seems uniquely able to pull off. Hardhome’s vision of the Army of the Dead brought an unmatched sense of dread. The Battle of the Bastards delivered a feeling of hand to hand combat and chaos that was dizzying. And now the Battle of the Loot Train adds eye-popping horror.
The effect of Dany’s fire-breathing lizard in action is about what you expect if you gave one side at Troy an A-10 Warthog. It’s slaughter. The dragon is fast, all but immune to arrows, and delivers a long blast of dragon-napalm that leaves thirty or more men burning at a pass. From the moment it appears, the Lannister force is toast. Very, very, very dark toast.
Adding to the torment is the willingness of the Dothraki to ride into the flames to get at the surviving forces. With both nimble horseback archery and scythe-like blades in both hands, they are every bad thing that ever came off the Steppes, all rolled into one. And there are a lot of them. Jaime has no training or strategy that offers the slightest bit of hope.
However, he does have a Scorpion along — one of the over-sized crossbows built back in King’s Landing explicitly for dragon defense. As Bronn trots off to get to the weapon, what follows is an absolute showcase of action cinematography. We watch Bronn race head on toward a Dothraki screamer, only to have that encounter end with, gulp, one of his horse’s legs being severed. The chase continues on foot with Bronn dodging between flaming Lannisters, burning debris, and charging Dothraki with a bowl-loosening overpass by Drogon right in the middle of it. The camera is unflinching. Which is good, because I flinched plenty.
Finally, Bronn reaches the weapon, dispatches his pursuer, and takes aim at the Dany / Drogon pair.
The next five minutes are Game of Thrones at its best. As Bronn lobs bolts toward the dragon, you realize you are scared for everyone. For Bronn. For Jaime. For Dany. Even for Drogon. Maybe especially for Drogon. After all, the show didn’t hesitate to send something unique and magical down in the last seconds of the Battle of the Bastards, as the giant, Wun Wun, was toppled literally within the gates of Winterfell.
Would they do in a dragon? Almost.
Drogon’s injury shows again that the big beasts are fearsome, but not invulnerable. And then we get another moment, where an unarmored Dany steps onto the ground to tend her injured child. Seeing the opportunity to end the war at a moment (and apparently not thinking too much about what it would mean to have an untended, broken-hearted dragon on the loose) Jaime seizes a spear and charges. The tension is only heightened by having Tyrion looking down from a nearby hill, agonizing over this event. If Dany dies, Tyrion’s dreams are shattered. But there’s no doubt that Tyrion still loves his brother. Even watching the Lannister army dissolve in flames has been a special torment.
At the last moment, Bronn reappears to knock Jaime out of the way of certain death and they both fall into (an improbably deep) pool in the river as flames roar overhead.
Is Jaime dead? It seems unlikely. True, he was sinking down laden with all that extremely cool lion-themed armor. But it seems probable that he will crawl up on the bank within the next episode or two.
In the end, everyone’s strategy seems right. Dany has taken a dragon into the field and has been effective. But Tyrion was right in pointing out the danger. She nearly lost Drogon. She nearly lost Danyereas. And it could have been worse.
If they had gone to King’s Landing, just how many of those Scorpions might Cersei have waiting? If Cersei can no longer march forth with impunity, it’s not clear that Dany can, either.
Gee. It sure would be handy if she could find someone else to mount a dragon.