Hm. I freely admit, this is a slightly tough and weird one for me to review. Not for anything having to do with the episode - just that I watched it twenty-four hours after moving house and socially instead of my previously standard Game of Thrones ritual of pizza and relative solitude. So I don’t know if my sense that it was an oddly disjointed and directionless thing was simply because I was disjointed, or because this was actually an odd and slightly off-kilter thing for an eighth episode. I suspect at least partially the latter - the odd structure of a Lannister-focused episode with a pair of Hound/Arya scenes bolted onto each end (via hard cut in each direction) harkens back to some of the weird and half-baked approaches of Season Three. And there’s a relative absence of driving and climactic momentum that jars for an eighth episode.
The most obvious thing to point to in that regard - and it’s a genuinely peculiar move - is that Jon and Sansa aren’t in it. The preview makes it pretty clear that we’re doing a single location battle episode for our penultimate one, which is good and exciting, but it’s positively bizarre not to include a scene along those lines that might gesture towards the sense of impending climax. Instead the plot leaves that out, which gives the episode an oddly hollow feel, especially since its only vague contribution to that plot is the thoroughly anticlimactic killing of the Blackfish, a move that both departs somewhat abruptly from the books and that raises the question of why the hell we set out on this particular plot line in the first place. He just turns a corner after a dumb line about how Brienne will serve Sansa better than him (as though it’s an either-or choice), and that’s apparently that for a character we went to great length to bring back after three years.
It’s not a total loss - the Jaime and Brienne scene is delightful, and the Jaime/Edmure scene is quite good as well (especially the use of the “things we do for love” line) - but the Riverrun material this week is at once lengthy and mostly tedious. Even Bronn and Podrick don’t really work. And yet a huge chunk of the episode is spent there. Not only that, a huge chunk of work across the season has been spent making it so that we actually remember who the hell Edmure and Brynden Tully are. And yet it seems for the most part to amount to nothing. It’s possible that the tenth episode will manage to find something to do with this plot that redeems it, but right now it seems utterly pointless.
And this isn’t the only moment that plays out weirdly. Daenerys’s return to Meereen is inexplicably limp, coming as it does after a two minute “and now the Masters welch on the deal from four episodes ago” siege that, while a fair amount of money was spent making it look nice, still feels ridiculously perfunctory. Daenerys’s entrance is played impressively, yes, but it hardly needs a spurious attack that renders the bulk of Tyrion’s scenes this season pointless in order to feel significant. It’s been being built to all season. There’s also an odd and slightly annoying tendency towards crypticness - both Varys’s “secret mission” and Qyburn’s “more than a rumor” are based on scenes that we simply haven’t seen - teases not about what’s going to happen but about what the show is deliberately and consciously withholding from us. I don’t object to doing this in general, but twice in an episode is odd.
That said, I complained about the odd bookending, but the Hound and Arya scenes are at least fantastic. Lady Crane may actually rival Septon Apparently Not Maribald for the best minor character introduced purely to be killed this season, and her initial scene with Arya is full of humanity. The final action sequence, on the other hand, is well done, largely recognizing that this is not actually a seriously suspenseful moment, and instead putting the emphasis on the visuals and the pleasure of anticipation. There are several beautiful shots of the Waif entering the background of a scene out of focus and then emerging into it, and the focus on Arya’s deliberately laid bloodstains, emphasizing the trap she’s luring the Waif into are both visually appealing and effective.
The Hound, meanwhile, is just a blast this week, both in his opening scene (“you’re shit at dying” has to be one of his outright best lines - and note the use of “entering out of focus from he back of the shot” for him as well as the Waif) and in the more substantial later one, although one really does wonder how that played out for people who don’t remember their random season three characters very well. One gets the impression that time spent reestablishing the Brotherhood Without Banners as a thing might have made more sense than the time spent on the Blackfish. But who even knows at this point.
So while not a bad episode - everyone quite enjoyed it watching it - a strange and slightly underwhelming one that continues the unexpectedly low-key tone of Season Six. Presumably things will pick up next week for the big climactic battle episode. But then, this one looked like it would be rather bigger than it is as well.
State of Play
The choir goes off. The board is laid out thusly.
Lions of Meereen: Tyrion Lannister
Lions of Riverrun: Jaime Lannister
Lions of King’s Landing: Cersei Lannister, Tommen Baratheon
Dragons of Meereen: Daenerys Targaryen
Butterflies of Meereen: Missandei
Direwolves of Braavos: Arya Stark
Spiders of Meereen: Varys
The Dogs, Sandor Clegane
Chains of Riverrun: Bronn
Shields of Riverrun: Brienne of Tarth
Coins of Braavos: No One
The episode is divided into eleven parts. The first runs six minutes and is set in Braavos. The opening image is of Lady Crane delivering her rewritten soliloquy.
The second runs two minutes and is set in the Riverlands. The transition is by hard cut, from Arya asleep to four short-lived people sitting around a fire.
The third runs two minutes and is set in Meereen. The transition is by image, from members of the Brotherhood to a Red Priestess.
The fourth runs three minutes and is set in King’s Landing. The transition is by family, from Tyrion to Cersei and Lancel Lannister.
The fifth runs eight minutes and is set at Riverrun. The transition is by family, from Cersei and Lancel to Jaime Lannister.
The sixth runs four minutes and is set in King’s Landing. The transition is by family, from Jaime to Cersei and Kevan Lannister.
The seventh runs five minutes and is set in Meereen. The transition is by family, from Cersei to Tyrion Lannister.
The eighth runs twelve minutes and is set in Riverrun. The transition is by family, from Tyrion to Jaime Lannister.
The ninth runs two minutes and is set in Meereen. The transition is by family, from Jaime to Tyrion Lannister.
The tenth runs five minutes and is set in the Riverlands. The transition is by hard cut, from Daenerys looking angry to the Hound walking through the woods.
The eleventh runs eight minutes and is set in Braavos. The transition is by hard cut, from the Hound to a sleeping Arya. The final image is of Arya walking away from the Faceless Men.