(this is completely unrelated, but if you aren’t watching Barry on HBO immediately after our medieval murdershow is over you are missing out so much: we binged it over the last couple weeks and it is so weird and so amazing and just watch it, please? I know it’s weird to call a show about a hitman a bit of a palate cleanser, but it is a good gear change to allow you to sleep, if you’re me.)
Guys. GUYS. GGGGUUUYYYSSS. Oh, my entire fandom trash being, I loved this episode. Loved. It. Any criticism I have is minor, and overall I have so few complaints it’s almost not worth writing them down. (I will, obvs, because it’s me, but yeah.) Bryan Cogman, you wonderful genius, thank you for the gift that is this episode.
Plenty of people have said that this episode rides the fine line between enjoyable fanfiction and painful fanservice, and I see how they get there, but I cannot complain because I thought it was a delight. And you may be rightfully saying to me, “but haven’t you complained about fanfiction-y garbage before?” You’re right, I have! So much! All the time, actually! After the material ran out from the books, the show has frequently been lost, and last season was a sterling example. However, the events and dialogue and framing of this episode are not part of the problem. The threads woven from Season 5 to here are an absolute knotted nightmare mess, but if that’s what lands in your lap? This episode is what I want to see.
In fairness, this is coming from a person who was way, way too excited to see Ser Pounce show up and also went a little too hard enthusiasm-wise for the second spotting of Hot Pie, so we know where my standards are. In this episode, they were met and then some.
A lot of people hated that this was “another set up episode” and there was no fighting or action or whatever, and I get it, HBO said we’d have 6 feature-length episodes and we don’t and two are over already. But this show is strongest when you throw characters at each other and let them character, and that was nearly the whole episode, and I loved it. Plus, and uh, not to state the obvious or anything, but the characters in the show don’t know there are 6 episodes total and 4 left. To them, Sunday was it, because they are all dying in the morning. We know that isn’t true because there is show left, but they clearly don’t, and to not allow them to essentially give each other last rites would have been a huge emotional oversight.
And as a prelude to a portion of this post, I call this episode a gift both because I adored it and because many of the worst members of the fandom are Big Mad about it and this is a consumable essential oil of joy for me. I’ll address the specifics later in the post because I’m allowing my positive feelings to avalanche, and I’ll be dividing this in terms of increases in quality. If you’re here to watch me tool on some misogynistic nerds, head to the end of the post.
The actually frustrating
- I was… not digging the Dany/Sansa conversation of the middle of the episode. I very much dug Sansa’s reaction and Sophie’s acting, I just didn’t really like “I love your brother let’s not fight” as an argument. Sansa legit doesn’t care whether Dany is in love with Jon; she just wants to make sure Winterfell doesn’t starve to death as a result of Jon bringing his girlfriend’s pets home. Her face the whole time was that of a landlord who put a pet clause into the lease but wasn’t specific enough about the kind of pets or the subleasing sections and is just like “dammit I messed up here but in fairness how would I know she’d bring these specific pets.” Sansa and Arya and Brienne are buds and allies now because they want to protect the same thing; Dany is trying to appeal to her like… like a future sister-in-law who met you and immediately made fun of your outfit and then wouldn’t eat the dinner you made because she has a “really sensitive palate.” (For the record this is not my issue and I love my in-laws to the stars I was just trying to paint a picture)
- Also, pros: sassing the 28-inch inseam sadboi that is Jon Snow by saying “someone taller”
- Cons: Khal Drogo, like, as a good dude
- I was sitting there trying to figure out who she was referring to because as much as I love Jason Momoa, the character he played was not a good dude and hella assaulted his wife and is just kind of a mess. Also I think I was hoping she was referring to like, Grey Worm or even better Ser Barristan Selmy Who Deserved Better, and honestly I’m just gonna stop typing this paragraph because I’m fighting a losing battle with this character and this fandom on caring about Drogo and I don’t wanna waste energy here when so much of this episode was good.
- Again, this is a small flaw in an episode I very liked so I’m not gonna sail to Resentful Island for a week’s vacation; I’m just mildly annoyed by this scene and Dany tbh.
The mildly frustrating
- I would have liked Dany to hear Jaime (or Brienne, honestly) tell her exactly who her father was and why he needed to die. Part of the compelling nature of Jaime and his redemption arc is that we, the readers/watchers know that what he was blamed for was not a sin; he’s not a good person in season 1, but it isn’t for the reasons everyone else thinks. This may have been a deliberate showrunner choice to allow Dany some Mad-King’s-daughter space later this season, so I’m not passing judgment on it right now. Basically, I would have liked to see it, but Dany has consistently shown tendencies of being at least a little unstable, and if she doesn’t hear how her father was a monster, she might be less inhibited and continue that line of instability. If one of you could check back in on me in May and remind me that I typed this, that would be appreciated.
- It’s also super possible I just think that the Jaime/Brienne bath scene is some of the best work the show has ever done and I want the story told again but *shrug*
The pretty dang good
- The conversation between Jaime and Tyrion while strolling through Winterfell was spot-on Lannister vocal shitposting and I liked it a lot. Watching both of them visibly caring about a cause and showing fear while simultaneously trying to not do those things is Peak Lannister, and they wrapped it up very well with the “I wish Dad were here” stinger. I still haven’t completely accepted the diversion of their stories from ASoS and Jaime’s interference with Tyrion’s first wife, but if we cut that plotline out, this conversation is what happens. It was like watching a clip from The Godfather if that movie were a black comedy.
- Ghost being back. Yeah, it’s fan service and I am a fan and I like to be served things especially giant violencepuppies. GHOST, C’MERE, I MISSTYA BOYYYY
- Missandei and Grey Worm talking about getting the heck out of the Luke Bryant concert that is the North of Westeros and going to the beach. This of course means that one if not both of them is going to die horribly, but I still love this incredibly sweet pairing, and Nathalie and Jacob are delights. Specifically they both support the heck out of each other, and Jacob recently fought back on the diversity issue of the show: he talked about how there is, of course, a diversity problem, but to tell him “there are no black people on Game of Thrones” drives him up a wall because he is very much on the show and doesn’t like to be forgotten. I’m glad we got this scene, at least, before this show cuts my life into pieces/this is the last cohort
- The chaotic neutral weirdness that is Tormund Giantsbane. I only recently started to become a bit uncomfortable with his pursuit of Brienne, in that she’s never shown a sign of reciprocating, but there’s a lot of free folk/Seven Kingdoms cultural differences at play there, and while it’s not great, it is compelling as heck to watch. Seeing him tryna pull by telling a story about when he was a lad he ate four dozen eggs every morning to help him get large but the eggs are giantess milk and then he drinks from his weird horn while staring at “the big woman” is just absolute theater. Plus Jon was trying to walk and Tormund wanted to give him a hug so he just beartackled him. I also don’t have high hopes for his survival but he’s been a blast and Kristofer should continue to get work simply off of this deeply weird person.
- No one’s odd like Tormund
- Stares at Pod like Tormund
- Sexes giants like he is a god like Tormund
- Sandor’s short scene with Arya and Beric was good stuff. I love it when they fight, especially since Arya is one of the few people in this world that Sandor maybe doesn’t completely hate, and I think if he were to die, he’d like Arya to respect him a bit. His line “I fought for you, didn’t I?” was just real good stuff, especially when bookended with his threat to launch Beric off the wall if he kept talking, which he’d absolutely do if Beric bugged him enough. 95% of Sandor is self-hatred, others-hatred, and threats, and the rest is fear of fire/the Mountain and grudging Arya respect. Still holding out for Cleganebowl here.
- Yes, really, I am, I wanna see them fight
- The general continuing emphasis on being in the crypts against an enemy that is the dead and can raise the dead. It is comedically ham-handed but I also get it, there’s nowhere else to put these people. Still p amusing.
- So I’ve fully accepted that John Bradley can basically do no wrong and he’s a perfect Samwell and a perfect human, but he’s just been champion at everything these two episodes. “That’s what death is, isn’t it: forgetting?” is a really good line. His reunion and conversation with Edd and Jon is his small amount of confidence combined with terror coming out, and I can relate: I’d be arguing for my own limited abilities while also cracking a few jokes when it looks like the world is gonna end. When he lists off all the stuff he did it’s like both bragging and weird confession and I just feel that, my guy. Robbin’ the Citadel you an ANIMAL
- And oof, his giving of Heartsbane to Jorah. Ooooooof. You all know that Jorah the Fedora is far from my favorite and doesn’t deserve a toothpick let alone a Valyrian steel blade, but this scene was a good scene. Sam wasn’t doing this for Jorah; he was doing this for Jeor, who was more of a father to him than Randyll Tarly ever was. And again, this is a deeply Sam Tarly thing to do: if he’s got a chance to try to fulfill a promise he’s made and bring peace to someone right before that person’s (let’s face it) inevitable death he absolutely will. Also Jorah can fight pretty good so it’s better that he have that sword than Sam, which Samwell “Perfection” Tarly knows and has accepted. Jorah is still totally, totally gonna die, he shouldn’t have even been alive vis-a-vis greyscale, and he’s gonna die while whispering “khaleesi” like Bill Nighy’s Davey Jones’ “Calypso’ in the third PotC movie. Yes, I realize that was oddly specific but it is going to happen. *shrug.* I hope he cuts down some of Grandpa Fla-Vor-Ice’s minions before he dies now that he’s got a Tarly sliceyboi.
The really, really excellent
- Davos Seaworth telling that little girl that she can protect the people in the crypt. Of course, by “really really excellent” I mean that I am nothing but a sponge of tears. How dare you let him meet another little girl with a scar on her face, how actually dare you, he’s looking so hard for something to father and hasn’t come close to finishing his mourning for Shireen and I’m nervous he’s gonna die next week and this scene was perfect and terrible, don’t TOUCH me
- Plus several people pointed me to this Vanity Fair article that reminded me that Shireen taught both Davos and Gilly how to read and if you need me I’ll be horizontal and making a high-pitched noise till at least Friday afternoon
- Bran. I know, I know, he’s annoying as seven hells according to me in literally every episode recap since 2014. But his ridiculous, malfunctioning -second edition-iPod-Shuffle personality had stuff to contribute this week and it was wild and it was so wild I just found it hilarious. The Night King put a little tracking device on you and you’re just gonna mention it now? We’re gonna have Theon protect you in the gosdwood for literally no other reason than to make his (also inevitable) death properly Stark-y and redemptive? You just quoted “the things we do for love” back in Jaime Lannister’s FACE which is both an enormous burn and absolutely nothing because you’re a squinty weirdo who can’t feel feelings anymore? Literally the only way this could have gotten better is if someone in the war room just went “okay you keep saying you’re the three-eyed raven but you still only have two eyes so what the fuck, I feel like I’m taking crazy pills”
- Basically he is bonkers and I’m excited to see that manifest in a plot-advancing way and also I picture the cast trying to keep a straight face when he is saying his lines and just losing it
- Bran, when done well, can be actually amazing: his Tower of Joy and Hodor backstory scenes from the past seasons were some of my favorites and if they do anything like that next week I’ll actually have a grand old time watching
- Don’t worry I’ll go back to hating his “dude-who-carries-around-a-notebook-with-no-writing-in-it-at-a-mall” ass the week after; for now, I’m going off the rails on the Brazy Train
- Theon and Sansa hug! My heart! The only two people who get exactly how horrific Ramsay was trauma-hugging was a very good moment. Again, I can’t stress enough how much I didn’t like what they did with her storyline wrt Ramsay, but since I can’t go back and untangle that misogynist spaghetti, I’m gonna put some quality marinara on it. This is quality marinara.
- And if everyone could stop shipping them together that’d be A+ because Theon is going to die, and he’s going to die next week, and if I’m wrong you can legit come to my house and throw an octopus at me
- Yes, of course the octopus is a small kraken
- What is wet will never dry
- And if everyone could stop shipping them together that’d be A+ because Theon is going to die, and he’s going to die next week, and if I’m wrong you can legit come to my house and throw an octopus at me
- Podrick. Podrick’s face; Podrick’s looking to Brienne like she is his mother and he did good at fighting today, look, Mom, did you see me hit that guy, Mom, look, MOM; Podrick singing “Jenny’s Song.” Daniel flippin’ Portman you wonderful human, that SONG.
- I’m sorry y’all I gotta nerd out here about the song I’m sorry
- “Jenny’s Song” is about Jenny of Oldstones, who married Duncan Targaryen, the son of Aegon Targaryen V, better known as Egg from the Tales of Dunk and Egg. Duncan was a prince who gave up his birthright to the throne to marry Jenny, a peasant woman. The crown passed to his brother, Jaehaerys Targaryen , who was the father of Aerys II, and was the grandfather of Dany. And yes, Dany’s grandfather’s name is an actual name from the actual books, GRRM highkey fuck you for naming a character Jaehaerys, it is the second-worst Targ name after Aenys. ANYWAY PLEASE READ ON
- Additionally, Duncan Targ was named after Ser Duncan the Tall, Aegon’s bestie, who almost certainly is an ancestor of Brienne of Tarth. Tall recognize tall.
- And a bunch of those people I named up there? Both Duncans and Aegon V? Died, horribly, in a fire called the Tragedy at Summerhall, which was caused by Aegon’s obsession with bringing back Targ dragons. Dany’s brother Rhaegar was born during this event.
- Using a song about a woman and her ghosts when the descendants of those ghosts are in Winterfell waiting to die is some delicious bookreader nerd stuff and I am so, so, so pleased this scene was in the show.
- Peregrine Took passing the “everyone’s gonna die anyway here’s Wonderwall” torch in a perfect handoff to Mr. Podrick Payne
- The Steward of Hodor
- Home is behind, the Night King ahead
- I’m sorry I’m making terrible puns because this scene and this song ruined my life
The catastrophically wonderful
- Gonna start with the one that made people Big Mad: Arya and Gendry. I have shipped these two hard since I read A Clash of Kings, so I am mired in fandom trash for them, but everything about this was lovely. Their first scene was absolute perfection, and I loved every aspect. Gendry trying to explain exactly how awful the White Walkers are while doing his best to work and not panic and not look bad in front of this young woman he likes was a personal favorite moment of mine: his saying “they’re like death, that’s what they’re like” in a slightly panicky voice was delightful. And Arya showing off her skillz and deathchat as a sort of suicidal foreplay was also perfect: at this point in the episode she is genuinely ready to fight and also hasn’t totally processed that she might die, so she is showing off for her boo.
- And then we got the sex scene, and people lost their minds.
- I, personally, loved it, and this is a hill I’ll gladly die on. Arya goes through the episode slowly getting more and more aware that no, really, tomorrow might be the end, the actual end, for her and for everyone she loves, and watching her come to that realization was lovely. Grilling Gendry about his experience both as a bit of an experience test and a bit of a “do I like him” test was equally excellent as it was the most Arya way to negotiate banging ever, including calling him out on the fact that he definitely kept track of who he slept with. Gendry got to see Arya’s scars, literal scars, so any concern that she is still the young girl he knew is shot down. And, most importantly, Arya telling him that she’s not the Red Woman and he can take his own pants off was a flawless, flawless line and I wanna cross-stitch it and put it in my home. Not only is it standard Arya “I will yell at you if I love you” dialogue, but an actual minute prior to that line, Gendry told her about his assault at Melisandre’s hands. Arya is giving him back his control and agency with this line, and because it’s her she’s gonna be sassy about it, but it is perfect. This is the healthiest, most well-negotiated consenting we’ve seen in a while on this show, and I would change nothing about it.
- But boy howdy did the internet lose its mind over a grown woman sleeping with a grown man. You saw people raging about this fanfaction garbage like it hadn’t been set up from Season 2, and even more so, you saw people be horrified that Arya and Maisie filmed a sex scene. People were frantically Googling how old she and her character are while screeching “nooooo Arya I can’t watch she’s like my little sister noooooo this is the worst thing I’ve ever had to watch on this showwww”
- I don’t even
- What is wrong, with people, who type things about this show, for other people to read
- And I’m willing to give you a pass if you reacted a bit oddly at first, but if you both 1. did not check yourself and 2. proceeded to wreck yourself by typing that opinion, I got nothing
- What we got to see was a whole bunch of mostly male fans lose their minds because a woman they first met as a girl is having consensual sex. That is some gross, misogynistic horseshit, and they don’t own Maisie or Arya’s body just because she is their ***fave*** and they think of her like a little sister. Fun fact: your sisters, your female friends, your daughters, they are incredibly likely to have sex at some point. And if you’re chill with metaphorically standing by your TV with a shotgun telling Gendry you’re friends with the chief of police and to get your little girl home by 9, I really, really, REALLY hope you change your tune by the time you’re responsible for the well-being of any women.
- Also, bros? Don’t pretend like this is a thing you do with all actresses and characters you meet first as children. The Venn diagram of “people who cannot watch Arya have sex because they watched her grow up” and “people who have spoken aloud about how they’d totally fuck Emma Watson especially in her Hogwarts uniform” is a circle. A circle I can draw around you. Get it the fuck together.
- Like, we watched a man get his eyes gouged out and then his skull smashed in and exploded during Season 4 but go off, yeah, this was the worst
- This is the same group of people who were unnervingly chill about Sansa’s rape and defended all the violence against women in this show because “it’s accurate for the time mlehmlehbleh fart noise look at my FunkoPopsnoise.” I’m not here for this, and you shouldn’t give it a pass either, let alone attempt to defend it.
- I’ve never felt that on-screen nudity enhanced a show or movie I’m watching, ever (I’m a bit of a prude that way), but I’ll still defend this scene forever.
The best scene of this whole show
- Brienne of Tarth, Knight of the Seven Kingdoms. I’m a disaster. I don’t think I’ve actually cried while watching this show until this week, and I cried at this. Oh, boy, did I cry. Brienne is my actual favorite character and has been for a while: in a series dominated by thin, sharp knives threading through the politics to stab enemies and get theirs, Brienne is a sledgehammer of justice perched on a boulder of the law. She’s not subtle, she’s not clever, and she’s not a queen. But she is the goddamn best, and she deserved this so much. (I am tearing up while writing this, I’m such a disaster.)
- If you don’t mind I’m gonna do a quick recap of how we saw her in Seasons 2 and 3
- Brienne was in love with Renly Baratheon, was sworn to protect him, and watched him get murdered right in front of her. She spent her whole life unable to fit in either the world of men or the world of women, so she fit in nowhere. Renly is the first person outside her family to show her even the smallest bit of decency, and that is all it takes for her to fall in love. It is heartbreaking.
- She wants nothing more than to become a knight, a ser, an actual protector of the realm, but she knows that this is not going to happen. She’s going to get none of the honor, prestige, or trust that comes with the title, but she still fights and serves as if she’s taken the oaths. She’s a knight when everyone’s back is turned, she’s a knight when no one wants her to be one, and she’s a knight even when she’s very likely to die.
- Everyone she meets trusts her, most of them instantly. Renly, Catelyn, Sansa, Arya, Sandor. In a world made terrifying because backstabbing is a survival technique, she’s made doing exactly what she says a foundation you could build a castle on. And she’s good enough at fighting to back that conviction up even when outnumbered a dozen to one. Seeing her win the melee in Season 2 was a few minutes of who she is as a person: someone who fights fairly in the chaos and who comes out on top, and then thanks those who trusted her and asks for the next position where she can be relied upon.
- And she and Jaime have… I’m struggling to say this well, because I love them so much. Jaime became a better person a hundredfold just by being around her for a few weeks – she’s that good. (Yes, he needed to want to change and have started the process, but Brienne was the push he needed.) She was so easy to rile up because she doesn’t talk badly about other people for fun, or for gossip. And (at least in my head canon) Jaime expended more effort than he normally would trying to get under her skin because he doesn’t understand how someone is incapable of conniving to the marrow of her bones. But she isn’t, she never has been, and she never will. She is steady and loyal to a fault and has no idea how to lie and I love her so much. And at this point, Jaime does too.
- And as much as I ship them together forever having gigantic blond superchildren with their dad’s smile and their mom’s eyes, Jaime making her a knight was the best thing he could ever give her. I would have cheered my heart out had they kissed or had he like, full-on proposed marriage, but Brienne is probably not even looking for that. This is her dream, and it comes on the tails of Ser Jaime Lannister asking to fight under her command. These are the best gifts he could ever give her, and he knows it.
- Gwendoline Christie has brought everything I could have wanted to this role, and this episode was perfection. From her insisting on not drinking the night before she’s pretty sure she’ll die just so she’ll be in good form the next day, to the tearful smile she gives the room after becoming a knight; I’m a disaster and I’m crying again. And I’m so glad we got both her confused conversation with Jaime out on the field, and her knighting – she’s unsure and confused and a little angry in the first one, and in the second, she gets up and kneels in front of him, no question. She knows he means it, and this isn’t a trick.
- I am 95% sure we will be seeing her die next week, and the only thing keeping me going about that is that she would likely want death to come this way: fighting to her last breath for people she loves and to try to save the world.
This episode was a waste and had too much talking and not enough action, though. Sure.