A perfectly pleasant transitional episode, but not one with a lot of particularly big or notable moments, those seemingly having mostly been allocated to “The Red Woman” and “Home” (So mostly to “Home” then), and thus a bit sleepy filler. The good news is that with the albatross of Jon Snow’s impending resurrection finally lifted from the show’s neck it has room to breathe, without the sense that anything that isn’t immediately and self-evidently important is just stalling. This isn’t an episode with a ton of expectation hanging over it, and the biggest of those, the immediate post-resurrection scene, is squared away up front.
In many ways, this sets the tone. It’s not a bad scene by any measure – Liam Cunningham is superlative in it, with “that’s fucking mad” probably being his best line, although his look of “oh for fuck’s sake not again” when Melisandre tries to proclaim Jon to be the Prince that was Promised is pretty choice. And Tormund’s “I saw your pecker” bit is brilliant. But it’s a meandering scene that, like the execution scene at episode’s end, isn’t so much advancing things as checking boxes, generally without doing anything unexpected or surprising in the process. It’s all stuff we absolutely need to see of Jon, but it’s confirmation, not revelation. All the same, it’s an important barrier broken through. It’s notable that all three episodes have closed at the Wall, and two opened there, with the third getting there in its second scene. Maybe “Book of the Stranger” will open or close there, but it doesn’t feel like it has to, and that’s progress.
This sense of decompression pervades the episode. There’s finally time to check in with Sam, for instance, or spend a couple minutes on a comedy bit with Tyrion, Grey Worm, and Missandei, or to have a pointless scene between Tommen and the High Sparrow. Perhaps most obviously, we can do a spectacular bit of trolling with the Tower of Joy scene, which majestically fails to contain any actual revelations. This is understandable – for a large majority of the millions of people watching Game of Thrones there is no mystery of Lyanna Stark. The ostentatious cutting off of the scene was necessary to have there be a question to eventually answer. But without any revelation, the scene is another leisurely sequence. (Though at least it’ll infuriate book purists.)
This does let smaller moments stand out satisfyingly, however. Rickon’s re-entrance to the narrative, for instance, feels like a big moment even though he gets no dialogue, isn’t an interesting character, and is mostly going to have awful things happen to him now. Arya’s training montage is also satisfying, not so much because it’s a super-great training montage, but because after two episodes of not much happening in her plot, effectively hitting fast-forward is relieving. (Whereas, again, it would have felt like Arya’s plot was unimportant had this montage happened any sooner.)
The standout scene for me, though, is the decadently long Varys scene where we get to see him work, something we haven’t honestly gotten to do since… what, Season Three? It’s both interesting to see one of the few characters who generally works through means other than violence and to see the ways in which Varys is and isn’t scary, which is an entertaining contour. Once again it’s a slower, smaller scene than could have been justified earlier in the season, and probably than will be justifiable soon. Which is nice to have.
Other places, however, things are frustrating. The sheer pettiness of the small council scene is ridiculous, having the bizarre effect of making Cersei and Jaime look like responsible adults while Kevan and Olenna appear to be petulant children. Attempting to fit together how King’s Landing is being run is a considerable challenge – does Tommen actually have input? Is there a reason he’s still skipping meetings? Can he not put his mother, who he just turned to last episode, on the council? King’s Landing has been one of the most stationary plots this season, and so it’s move to a slow week is inexplicable.
And while Daenerys’s scene isn’t bad, it’s still weirdly undercooked, with Daenerys’s defiance seeming to mainly manifest in a failure to even remotely think through the situation she’s in. The overall arc of her story is clear enough right now – the likely consequences of a big meeting of the Khals obvious. But surely people can find something for Emilia Clarke to do besides be smolderingly irritated for a whole scene.
And yet on the whole, I liked it. Unlike “The Red Woman,” with its willfully perverse low-key tone, this is an earned quiet episode. It remains seemingly inevitable that the end-of-season fireworks are going to be thunderous and overwhelming. That we have time for a slightly sleepy episode with character bits is a relief. Though equally, I hope next week picks up a bit again.
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, Bran Stark
Ships of the Wall: Davos Seaworth
Burning Hearts of the Wall: Melisandre
Butterflies of Meereen: Misandei
The Direwolf, Arya Stark
Spiders of Meereen: Varys
Paws of the Wall: Tormund Giantsbane
The Archer, Samwell Tarly
Flayed Men of Winterfell: Ramsay Bolton
Stars of King’s Landing: The High Sparrow
Stags of King’s Landing: Tommen Baratheon
The Flower, Gilly
The Coin, No One
Pyke is abandoned. Braavos is inexplicably not in the credits given this fact.
The episode is in nine parts. The first runs six minutes and is set at the Wall. The opening image is of a rather shocked Davos.
The second runs four minutes and is set on a boat. The transition is among members of the Night’s Watch, from Edd and Jon to Sam.
The third part seven minutes and is set north of the Wall. The transition is by hard cut, from Sam to horses riding towards the Tower of Joy.
The fourth part four minutes and is set in Vaes Dothrak. The transition is by hard cut, from the three-eyed raven to an establishing shot.
The fifth runs seven minutes and is set in Meereen. The transition is by image, from Daenerys to her throne room.
The sixth runs nine minutes and is set in King’s Landing. The transition is by dialogue, from Varys talking about his birds to his old birds in King’s Landing.
The seventh runs five minutes and is set in Braavos. The transition is by hard cut, from Tommen to the Waif dragging a stick on the ground.
The eighth runs three minutes and is set in Winterfell. The transition is by family, from Arya to Rickon Stark.
The ninth runs four minutes and is set at the Wall. The transition is by family, from Rickon Stark to Jon Snow. The final image is of Jon Snow walking out of the yard in Castle Black.
3. The Red Woman