State of Play
The choir goes off. The board is laid out thusly:
Lions of Meereen: Tyrion Lannister
Lions of Dorne: Jaime Lannister
Lions of King’s Landing: Cersei Lannister
Dragons of Meereen: Daenerys Targaryen
Direwolves of the Wall: Jon Snow
Mockingbirds of King’s Landing: Petyr Baelish
Roses of King’s Landing: Margaery Tyrell
The Burning Hearts, Stannis Baratheon and Mellisandre
The Ship, Davos Seaworth
Archers of the Wall: Samwell Tarly
Paws of the Wall: Tormund Giantsbane
Flowers of the Wall: Gilly
Stags of King’s Landing: Tommen Baratheon
Kraken of Winterfell: Reek
Direwolves of Winterfell: Sansa Stark
Flayed Men of Winterfell: Ramsey Bolton
Shields of Winterfell: Brienne of Tarth
Chains of Dorne: Bronn
Swords of Meereen: Dario Noharis
With the Bear of Meereen, Jorah Mormont.
Braavos is abandoned.
The episode is in twelve parts. The first is three minutes long and is set at the Wall. The opening image is of a horse.
The second is three minutes long and is set in Winterfell. The transition is by hard cut, from a reaction shot of Gilly to an establishing shot of the hall outside Sansa’s room.
The third is three minutes long and is set at the Wall. The transition is by image, from Brienne watching for a candle in the window to candles lit around Maester Aemon’s deathbed. It features the death of Aemon Targaryen, who dies of old age.
The fourth is four minutes long and is set in Winterfell. The transition is by image, from snow falling over Maester Aemon’s funeral pyre to snow falling on the battlements at Winterfell.
The fifth is four minutes long and is set on the road between Winterfell and the Wall. The transition is by image, of snow falling, and by dialogue, from Ramsey talking about Stannis in the winter to Stannis’s camp in the winter.
The sixth is six minutes long and is set at the Wall. The transition is by hard cut, from Stannis to Gilly tending a fire.
The seventh is five minutes long and is in two sections; it is set in Meereen. The first section is three minutes long; the transition is by hard cut, from Sam and Gilly having sex to slaves being marched. The other is two minutes long; the transition is by hard cut, from Tyrion to Daenerys and Dario in bed.
The eighth part is seven minutes long and is in two sections; it is set in King’s Landing. The first section is four minutes long; the transition is by hard cut, from Daenerys to an establishing shot of the Great Sept of Baelor. The second is three minutes long; the transition is by dialogue, from Oleanna talking about Margaery to Tommen and Cersei doing the same.
The ninth part is five minutes long and is in two sectionsl it is set in Dorne. The first section is one minute long; the transition is by family, from Cersei and Tommen to Jaime and Myrcella. The second section is four minutes long; the transition is by image, from Jaime standing in front of a window to a window in the prison.
The tenth part is two minutes long and is set in King’s Landing. The transition is by image, from the window in the prison to Littlefinger peering through a hole in the wall.
The eleventh part is five minutes long and is set in Meereen. The transition is by hard cut, from Littlefinger to a man putting on armor.
The twelfth is eight minutes long and is set in King’s Landing. The transition is by family, from Tyrion to Cersei. The final image is of the door to Cersei’s cell.
Well I suppose we should start with Winterfell, which, to say the least, did not go satisfyingly. Although perhaps it is most sensible to talk about that in relation to Meereen, where far more interesting things are afoot, as the show makes the glorious decision to have Tyrion and Daenerys meet, in marked contrast to the books where the meeting is still being delayed as of the end of A Dance With Dragons. It’s a fantastic move full of possibility. Meanwhile, it’s torture porn for Sansa, with an episode whose entire plot can be summarized, in terms of her, as “Brienne does not get involved.”
Obviously, in a story with lots of moving parts, a major part of writing is figuring out how to not have things happen. Large swaths of Game of Thrones have necessarily been spent furiously not having characters do things – consider Tyrion in Season Three, for instance. It’s often frustrating, but understandable.
All the same, when one plot is being brilliantly accelerated it makes the fact that we’re stuck in a banal plot in which nothing happens save for a desperately unpleasant character ruling with cruel impunity over more interesting characters all the more frustrating. And I want to be clear, that’s my objection. My objection is that Ramsey raping Sansa every night while she’s powerless to do anything is fucking boring and banal. It’s all stuff Game of Thrones has done before and done better. Ramsey isn’t as good a sadist as Joffrey. The supporting cast around him and Sansa isn’t as interesting as Tyrion, Shae, and Cersei. And on year five the show’s attempt at one-upping its previous shocks are just feeling desperate and strained. Especially when it’s done through pathetically contrived means like “Ramsey Bolton is eating dinner in a ruined tower for no apparent reason.”
Because to be clear, I’m not opposed to using rape as a plot point. I accept that for a text that’s invested in providing a commentary on the brutal material reality of politics and history to ignore the use of rape as a means of enforcing power would be dishonest.
I’m just opposed to being boring. And right now the Winterfell plot of “awful things happen to the only interesting character while the plot resolutely fails to advance” is the single dullest thing Game of Thrones has done since the Theon scenes in Season Three. Which, notably, included many of the same barely watchable characters.
And, of course, none of this is helped by the fact that Winterfell alternates with a not entirely satisfying Wall plot over the course of the episode’s first twenty-three minutes. It’s not that the Wall scenes are bad. But they’re dealing with firmly secondary characters, which means they’re not exactly long on momentum. And the attempted rape of Gilly was not a satisfying element to have sliced in with Winterfell’s plot, given the issues that plot is having, and I have to admit, “have you considered murdering your daughter” isn’t really a compelling Stannis plot either, at least at this point, whcih is a problem, especially as Stannis’s plot is what Sansa’s plot is waiting to catch up with. (Indeed, in some ways the biggest question here is “why are there seven minutes of nothing happening in Winterfell and only four of the plot Winterfell is on hold for?”)
Thankfully after the first third of the episode things pick up, although it has to be said, the Dorne sequences are both messes, with Bronn’s scene being particularly gratuitous both in terms of pointless nudity and in terms of a superfluous plot. The big revelation scene can’t come soon enough for this plot.
King’s Landing is delightful, on the other hand, with Olenna finally finding herself on the back foot and proving to be just as interesting when she can’t make any progress as when she’s slapping every other character around. Similarly, Cersei’s comeuppance is delightful, and the slow inevitability of the trap closing around her is very well done.
And, of course, there’s Meereen, which had what is probably the single most satisfying moment of the season so far as Tyrion and Daenerys actually, properly meet. Although one kind of wonders why nobody thinks telling Daenerys that the fighters are all slaves might be an interesting thing to do right now.
But with the first third of the episode spent wheel-spinning in the north and a turkey of a Dorne section breaking up the latter portion this is not an especially satisfying episode, which is particularly disappointing after last week’s massive bomb.
1. High Sparrow
2. The Wars to Come
3. Kill the Boy
4. Sons of the Harpy
5. The House of Black and White
6. The Gift
7. Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken
(As always, book spoilers abound)
Looks like Braavos, Winterfell, King’s Landing, Meereen, and the Wall, with no Dorne. From what I’m most confident in to what I found trickiest.
King’s Landing: Looks mainly focused on Cersei raging futilely in the dungeon. I don’t expect this to be a huge part of the episode, and it would not surprise me if Cersei is the only major King’s Landing character to appear.
Braavos: Not in the trailer, but mentioned in the episode description with the very vague “Arya makes progress in her training.” This will presumably be the Cat of the Canals material in which she’s bringing three facts back to the House of Black and White daily. Eventually she’s going to whack Meryn Trant, and I kind of expect him to show up this episode. [Addendum: The description for Episode 9 makes it clear that Trant will be showing up there.]
The Wall: From the title and trailer this looks like it will be the biggest part of the episode. They’ve made a lot of changes to what Jon is doing with the Wildlings, but I expect the broad strokes to remain in place, with him successfully negotiating a settlement with them.
Meereen: Looks like Daenerys is going to be spectacularly unmoved by Jorah’s gift of Tyrion. Based on photos of what’s probably the big scene of Drogon’s return, I would guess she sends Jorah back to the pits, but keeps Tyrion around.
Winterfell: No evidence of Stannis, or really of anything besides Sansa and Tyrion, so I expect this will be a whole lot of nothing happening, although maybe there will be some meaningful progress in Theon’s character arc.