Book of the Stranger


A stunner, paying off not only the (we can now confidently call it) deliberate pace and structure of the first three episodes but on numerous longstanding pieces of storytelling. In this regard, you can’t not start at the beginning, which for a half-scene feels like “oh god can we start an episode anywhere other than the Wall” until, abruptly, it switches into an event the show has been building to since the Stark diaspora commenced in the second episode. It’s a moment that shifts the entire show on its axis, and it’s structured beautifully, given all the time in the world to breathe. And that’s the opening. It follows that up with an immensely satisfying scene in which Sansa becomes the dominant figure of the relationship (and also well done owning the slight arbitrariness of their relationship - Benioff and Weiss claim they’ve never actually been on camera together before this episode, which is hard to believe but entirely possible), and then a lovely grace note of Brienne meeting Davos and Melisandre.

There’s an obvious question of how to end an episode that starts that big. The answer - to lean on the way this reaches back to Season One and recreate the cliffhanger of “Fire and Blood.” I howled with laughter as she torched the Dothraki - a charmingly direct solution that served as a satisfying reminder of what constitutes a Daenerys-scaled problem at this point. Although the earlier, fairly large Daenerys scene is also satisfying, giving Daenerys a small moment of victory - her first of the season - that quietly prefigures her later one. So much of what makes the last scene work is its beautiful inevitability - Daenerys is already safe as of the time Jorah and Daario get to her. That’s already a reasonably-sized moment that is keeping up the episode’s momentum when it happens. So Daenerys’s casual acquisition of the entirety of the fucking Dothraki is wonderful icing on top of the cake.

But the fact that Daenerys is on a fast ticket back to Meereen also enlivens that plot satisfying, which is good, as Tyrion is one of the bits of this episode that isn’t quite working. The general momentum and direction of this episode lends credence to his claim that he’s going to have the advantage over the slavers. Tyrion is good at what he does. In many ways, it’s been seasons since he had a substantial moment of victory, and so he’s massively overdue to get something. And yet the scene is pointing overwhelmingly towards him making a mistake - to the point where you wonder for a moment if he’s about to Stark it up completely and get put down by Grey Worm or Missandei. The sense of marking time would be frustrating were it not for the knowledge that there has to be a breakthrough coming at this point.

Because literally everything else is just plowing forward. Even the two smallest scenes - the Greyjoys and Osha’s death - have weight to them. Theon has never been the most “hold down a plot line successfully” of characters, but there’s a pleasant weight to the scene - a nice balance between how completely beaten down as a character he is and the upward trajectory he’s on. His sputtered, helpless, and utterly honest “I don’t want to be king” is quietly beautiful in a show called Game of Thrones. And Osha’s death, even as it is on one level yet another Ramsay being evil scene, feels earned, not least because Osha so gloriously takes him down a peg with the “I’ve seen worse” crack. And the fact that this is followed by the hugely decisive scene of Jon Snow deciding that he’s going to help Sansa take Winterfell further emphasizes Ramsay’s relative smallness.

And then there’s King’s Landing, where again things accelerate and characters get satisfying moments of victory. Cersei gaining an advantage through common sense and good governance is nice - a pleasant cut against the idea that she’s a villain that nevertheless doesn’t actually change anything. And that slow zoom on the High Sparrow as he speaks to camera is a deliciously creepy sequence. Indeed, it’s things like that, and Pycelle’s trollingly slow shuffle out of Tommen’s office, and the time taken out to tease everyone with a Tormund/Brienne ship (which OMFG yes) that really make this episode. It’s a good, easy to like episode because mostly good, big things happen to favorite characters. But it’s also one that knows it’s a big one, and that has the confidence to get the details right and make sure this one lands. And man, it lands well.

State of Play

The choir goes off. The board is laid out thusly:

Lions of Meereen: Tyrion Lannister

Lions of King’s Landing: Jaime Lannister, Cersei Lannister

Dragons of Vaes Dothrak: Daenerys Targaryen

Direwolves of the Wall: Jon Snow, Sansa Stark

Roses of King’s Landing: Margaery Tyrell

Mockingbirds of the Eyrie: Petyr Baelish

Ships of the Wall: Davos Seaworth

Burning Hearts of the Wall: Melisandre

Butterflies of Meereen: Missandei

Spiders of Meereen: Varys

Paws of the Wall: Tormund Giantsbane

Stars of King’s Landing: The High Sparrow

Swords of Vaes Dothrak: Daario Naharis

Stags of King’s Landing: Tommen Baratheon

Flayed Men of Winterfell: Ramsay Bolton

Shields of the Wall: Brienne of Tarth

The Kraken (of Pyke), Theon Greyjoy

With the Bear of Meereen, Jorah Mormont

The episode is in nine parts. The first runs seven minutes and is set at the Wall. The opening image is of Longclaw, the Starks’ new ancestral blade.

The second runs three minutes and is set in the Eyrie. The transition is rather distantly by dialogue, as Littlefinger and Robin Arryn discuss Sansa, and more immediately from Brienne talking about executing Stannis to a shot of a weapon.

The third runs seven minutes and is set in Meereen. The transition is by hard cut, from Littlefinger to a ship.

The fourth runs eight minutes and is set in Vaes Dothrak. The transition is by faction, from Tyrion, Grey Worm, and Misandei to Daario and Jorah.

The fifth runs thirteen minutes and is set in King’s Landing. The transition is by image, from Daenerys to a bug, and from queen to queen.

The sixth runs three minutes and is set in Pyke. The transition is by hard cut, from Cersei to Theon’s ship.

The seventh runs three minutes and is set in Winterfell. The transition is by dialogue, from Theon talking about what was done to him to Ramsay.

The eighth runs four minutes and is set at the Wall. The transition is by image, from Ramsay Bolton to a Bolton shield outside Castle Black.

The ninth runs seven minutes and is set in Vaes Dothrak. The transition is by family, from Jon Snow to Daenerys Targaryen. The final image is of a fucking Khaleesi.


  1. The Book of the Stranger
  2. Home
  3. Oathbreaker
  4. The Red Woman


The Oncoming Hurricane 4 years, 3 months ago

I honestly don't feel like we can possibly be watching the same show, so I'll leave that at that, but I do have a question. This isn't a criticism, but except when they're absolutely massive, do problematic aspects of the show not get discussed in these reviews, or is that only for the Brief Treatise series?

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Elizabeth Sandifer 4 years, 3 months ago

I will if there's something new to say, but a fair amount of it is just... well, yep, I sure am watching Game of Thrones, aren't I.

This week did indeed have some shamelessly unreconstructed fantasy savages. I suppose we hadn't seen that particular flavor of imperialism in a bit, but there didn't really feel like much to say. "That sure was the Dothraki. And some tits."

Apparently not a body double. Liked Emilia Clarke owning that after the amount of gossip column inches that the topic had consumed. She's still right that the show needs more dick.

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Jarl 4 years, 3 months ago

And it's also a bit that more or less confirms what Viserys promised her back in season one regarding Drogo's whole army and their horses, and the Dany plot always feels weird whenever it confirms that Viserys was right about anything.

Speaking as someone who appreciates a good dick every now and then, I think the show-- wow, I'm sorry, I just read that part, didn't think about what it would look like written down. Writing as someone who appreciates a good dick every now and then, the show has been particularly cruel to dicks every time they come up. The dick treated most nicely by the show is Hodor's, and it's been five seasons since we saw that greatsword bouncing about. Surely, if nothing else, a nice tight Feyd-esque banana hammock would be appropriate.

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Alex 4 years, 2 months ago

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Tim B. 4 years, 2 months ago

Cracking episode. My fear moving forward is that the many & various parties interested in killing Ramsey will not coordinate, and with Stannis's attempt proved taking Winterfell is a tricky business so I can see Frey (mentioned homophonetically this episode) scooping the prize.

Kristofer Hivju's face when reading the letter was pretty awesome.

Just one question, why isn't Yara in the state of play?

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Elizabeth Sandifer 4 years, 2 months ago

For the same reasons Grey Worm, Olenna, and Podrick aren't - they're not listed in the opening credits.

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Ozman Jones 4 years, 2 months ago

Thanks for the review/roundup, as always it's a cracking read.

To be perfectly honest, both the wife and I so tired of Danny's journey that the moment any episode crosses to her we audibly groan. And here she is again, doing something that's supposed to be amazing; oh look she suddenly stopped playing 'meek woman' and turning the tables on her 'male' oppressors... just like she's done how many times before, but nothing ever changes. And why would all of the Dothraki just accept her as the new ruler? Really? Don't mistake this little rant; we loved the episode as a whole, but the Danny plot is just treading water of the worst kind. She's been stuck in a classic Doctor Who Episode 3 for so long now, just waiting to get to her appointed place in the plot conclusion.

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Chris Bradshaw 4 years, 2 months ago

You mean Edge of Destruction serial or forest of fear? I assume the former.

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Ozman Jones 4 years, 2 months ago

Not exactly... was more referring to the 4 episode structure of classic Who that typically left the third episode with nothing much to do but run around corridors and delay the Doctor getting to the resolution.

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Daru 4 years, 2 months ago

Really loved this episode. Almost shouted out when Sansa arrived at Castle Black - really dug the way that finally some important story threads are being fast-tracked. And I have not minded some of the slower and more obvious elements in the first three episodes, as I can really enjoy slower pacing in tales, especially when like here I could feel (and still do) things building.

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Froborr 4 years, 2 months ago

Oh, this was a good one! The Dany scene was indeed hilarious, but you know, that's what she's good at, massive, dramatic gestures from a position of apparent weakness that swing the balance of power in her favor. The problem is that she then inevitably falters on the follow-through. The main issue I see at the moment is that she brings a massive Dothraki army to destroy the slaver city-states JUST as Tyrion convinced them to let go of slavery gradually, resulting in him failing to end both evils he mentioned this episode.

On the other hand, if she actually succeeds in coordinating with him, she might actually be able to accelerate the end of slavery. (Loved the acknowledgment that the difference between slavery and peasantry is tiny, the rich are still the rich and the poor the poor.) I mean, sooner or later she has to actually get a stable foundation under her feet from which to launch her invasion of Westeros just as the White Walkers break through the Wall and flood the country, and the penultimate or antepenultimate season seems like about the right time for her to start making progress toward that.

And while Dany is declaring herself the Stallion That Mounts the World, Sansa is on her way to becoming Warden of the North. And Brienne gets to tell off Davos and Melisandre, while Cersei finally gets the Small Council behind her and launches a plan to rescue Margaery, and Yara is on the path to rule the Iron Islands.

I never thought I'd see this about an episode of Game of Tortureporn, but this was a pretty good episode to be a woman.

At least if you're an aristocrat. It kind of sucks to be Osha. Ramsay has always been boring, can the earth just crack open and swallow him up already?

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quislibet 4 years, 2 months ago

I was hoping Osha would at least get in a good scarring stab before Ramsay killed her.

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Ozman Jones 4 years, 2 months ago

Not exactly... was more referring to the 4 episode structure of classic Who that typically left the third episode with nothing much to do but run around corridors and delay the Doctor getting to the resolution.

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Ozman Jones 4 years, 2 months ago

Wrong thread... obviously. Soz

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