This is one of those times I knew exactly what was coming at the end and I still had to watch through my fingers.
Molestown & Castle Black
This week opens with a burping competition in Molestown’s brothel. As you do. Lady may be a bully with terrible teeth, but she can burp a tune! Sadly for her, Ygritte, Tormund, and the Thenns make their entrance and everyone is killed — except Gilly and her baby. Why did Ygritte spare her? Did she recognise Gilly as a fellow Wildling, or was it Little Sam who swung the odds in his mother’s favour? Unlike Janos Slynt, perhaps she just plain draws the line at killing babies in their mother’s arms.
The news reaches Castle Black — so presumably there are survivors other than Gilly — and Sam is consumed with guilt that he sent Gilly away to be murdered “as if I cut her throat myself.” Jon, Pyp, Grenn and Edd are more concerned with the impending attack on Castle Black; 102 men against a hundred thousand wildlings, wargs and giants not being particularly good odds. But they spare some time to console Sam, reminding him that Gilly’s survival skills are pretty good — she not only survived her entire life at Craster’s Keep, but the journey to the Wall with Sam and White Walker attacks — and Sam regains hope that she and her baby are alive. His brothers aren’t so easily consoled.
Whoever dies last, be a good lad and burn the rest. – Edd
With two episodes left, it’s a fairly good bet that Mance’s attack on Castle Black is imminent.
A few hundred miles further south, Theon/Reek is all dressed up for his big moment — negotiating the surrender of the Ironborn-held Moat Cailin to the Boltons. Ramsay is careful to remind him how weak the Ironborn are, which also reminds Theon/Reek of how very weak he himself is:
Krakens… when you take them out of the water… they slump into a heap of nothing. You think they’d know that, but they’re not very bright.
And indeed, he can barely take the strain of being only Theon again. When the commander labasts him for proposing surrender with some common-or-garden misogyny:
Only a whipped dog would speak this way, or a woman. Are you a woman?
Theon starts to disappear and Reek shows through. But his composure holds just long enough for another Ironborn to put an axe through the commander’s head. As Theon/Reek has learned, the Ironborn have a tendency to turn on their leaders. And Ramsay Bolton doesn’t let Ironborn go free, no matter what he says.
So Ramsay gets what he’s always wanted: legitimacy. Not only legal, but moral: as Alyssa Rosenberg points out, by legitimising Ramsay after his abuse of Theon and flaying of the Ironborn, Roose has approved his son’s methods as well as his name. At least, I suppose, the Boltons have given up the search for Bran and Rickon. How will the return to Winterfell —where Theon grew up — affect Reek?
Only a few days after Lysa’s death, the lords of the Vale have arrived at the Eyrie to find out the truth of how she died. They quickly see through Littlefinger — never having trusted him anyway — but Sansa‘s artful, heartfelt mix of truth and outright lies takes them in entirely, and ensures that Littlefinger’s impromptu murder doesn’t result in his own death. This is the Sansa we’ve been waiting for; a Sansa who can play the game to ensure her own survival. How well might she have done in King’s Landing? It’s the Sansa Littlefinger’s been waiting for, too:
Littlefinger: You’re not a child any longer. Why did you help me?
Sansa: If they’d executed you, what would they have done with me?… I know what you want.
Littlefinger: Do you?
And when she steps out with her new hair and in her new, feathered, cleavage-y black dress you can nearly hear him salivating.
You’d almost feel sorry for Robin, being forced to leave his nest with these two. Littlefinger’s advice to him goes right over his small sheltered head:
Don’t worry about your death. Worry about your life.
At ground level, Arya and the suffering Hound arrive at the Bloody Gate that Sansa and Littlefinger passed through so recently. But as with the Red Wedding, they have arrived just a bit too late.
You can understand Arya’s hysterical laughter at this point — really, her luck is pretty terrible — but what will the Hound do now? Will he hand her over to Littlefinger, the man who so thoroughly betrayed her father? Will Arya go willingly if he does? Will we get to see the Stark sisters together again?
The Unsullied are having an afternoon off being the best-trained fighting force in the world to bathe — and their commander, Grey Worm, catches a glimpse of Missandei doing the same. That little moment where he sees she can see him, and keeps looking just a second longer… I got shivers. Unlike Varys, here’s one eunuch who’s definitely not asexual. But I loved that he sought her out to apologise and let her know how important she is to him, that he can’t regret what was done to him, because it led him to her:
If the Masters never cut me, I never am Unsullied. I never stand in the plaza of pride when Daenerys Stormborn orders us to kill the Masters…I never meet Missandei from the Isle of Naath.
Romantic or what! So will Missandei make the next move? Certainly Dany doesn’t seem to have a problem with the thought of two of her closest attendants hitting it off.
It’s another of her closest attendants who’s the target of her wrath here as Jorah‘s long-standing treachery is finally revealed to his queen by Barristan, thanks to Tywin’s machinations. Dany is quick to connect the dots: it was because of Jorah’s spying (way back in Season One) that the pregnant Dany was nearly poisoned. Full credit to Jorah, he doesn’t try to cover or excuse what he did; only protests his loyalty and love. But she’ll have none of it, and exiles him:
I do not want you in my city, dead or alive.
Daenarys’s anger was absolutely incandescent here and I loved her for it. Suck it, haters, Emilia Clarke rocks. Can Jorah go back to Westeros now? Does he want to?
Jaime visits Tyrion in prison again, and they talk idly about vocabulary and times past. But there’s never anything innocent in a conversation between Lannisters, even the two whose relationship is the most genuine of all. Jaime’s mention of cousin-killing hints at his own misdeeds, and Tyrion’s long story about another cousin shows his own cruelty as well as his curiosity: why did Orson like killing those beetles? But just like the results of trial by combat, sometimes there is no reason why.
Some other reviewers hated this digression — I loved it. I could watch these two act their faces off all day. And Jaime’s parting words to his brother — showing us that this could be their last conversation and Tyrion didn’t know — broke my heart.
Oberyn‘s death is a consequence of his own heartbreak — the long-ago deaths of his sister Elia and his Targaryen niece and nephew. Sure, he wanted to stick it to Tywin Lannister and he certainly wasn’t convinced that Tyrion is guilty, but his main motivation in fighting the Mountain was to avenge his sister, and it’s his insistence on not only finishing his opponent but getting him to confess that is his undoing. Apart from the sheer gruesomeness of Oberyn’s death — which out-does even the Red Wedding— it’s the hope that we see in the faces of the characters we care about, followed by the quiet triumph of those we dislike, that makes this scene such a killer.
This episode has got to be my favourite of this season. I can’t wait for the final two. What else will we see from Brienne and Pod, Yara, Bran and the Reeds, Stannis and his crew? Is it too much to ask to see Gendry again?
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