Once again this episode started at Dragonstone. Jon Snow (Kit Harington) appeared on the shore with Davos (Liam Cunningham) by his side, having travelled across Westeros with ease. This immediately bothered me as a fan of the earlier seasons because although a faster pace means that plot twists happen more often, this also means that the show’s timeline and its personality suffer.
In the early seasons of “Thrones” travel was integral to the plot and important in establishing the characters. They wouldn’t just go from point A to point B; they’d learn things about themselves and they’d develop so that by the time they reached their destination we understood them that little bit better. The work that the writers did on this front is why “Thrones” is a relevant show today, so to ignore what made it great is not only shortsighted but also serves to devalue previous seasons.
Still, in isolation the opening scene was okay. It captured the tension of the moment because although the audience knows that Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) can be trusted (sometimes), Jon certainly does not. Stark men don’t do well historically when they venture South, something which this episode referenced on various occasions, and Jon’s apprehension in giving over his weapons and method of transport made that clear.
Luckily, Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) was on the beach to calm Jon’s nerves, although the Dothraki were also present and did the exact opposite by taking his boat. The pair had a quick interaction in which they exchanged pleasantries and referenced the scars that they’ve picked up since they last spoke, both physically and emotionally. It was fun to see the two men talk to one another after such a long time, and although there wasn’t a lot to this scene it did its job in getting “The Queen’s Justice” off to a strong start and paying off the set-up from the previous episode.
From here we followed Tyrion, Jon, Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel), Davos, etc., towards the castle. Jon said that he wasn’t a Stark, which I’m sure was designed to remind the audience that he’s actually a Targaryen, and this tied in nicely to the fact that he was going to see Daenerys. A dragon then flew over Jon’s head and he was visibly shocked by both its existence and its appearance. This was another fine scene capped off by Tyrion telling Jon that he’ll never get used to seeing dragons roam the sky, but it annoyed me slightly that Jon was so shaken by the fact that he’d seen a dragon when he’s seen ice monsters and giants beyond The Wall.
We then followed Jon into Dany’s throne room. The latter was sat waiting for him and was introduced with a barrage of titles by Missandei, prompting Davos to try to do the same by simply saying ‘this is Jon Snow… he’s King of the North’. Regardless of whether or not this attempt at comedy worked for you as an audience member I think that this scene was a resounding success once the formalities were out of the way because, although it would’ve been nice to see Dany and Jon embrace instantly, it made complete sense that they were standoffish.
Both Dany and Jon have endured pain and misery every since “Thrones” began and both have been stabbed in the back at one point in time. As such, having the pair come to blows over petty politics and clashing goals was both refreshing and surprising, making them seem much more real than they would’ve done if they’d acted amicably. Neither Jon nor Dany acted villainous in this scene, although Emilia Clarke did do her best to make Dany seem slightly crazy, and at the end of the episode the alliance that they formed felt much more rewarding as a result.
The only issue I had with this scene was that in my opinion it shouldn’t be too much of a stretch for Dany to believe in White Walkers given that she’s already given birth to dragons, but I think that this problem was addressed somewhat by the fact that the writers framed her cynicism in a distrust of Jon Snow rather than in the specific information he was presenting.
After addressing the war in the North the episode turned its attention to King’s Landing, (after a transitional Theon (Alfie Allen) scene), where Euron (Pilou Asbæk) was greeted like a hero after bravely capturing Ellaria (Indira Virma), Tyene (Rosabell Laurenti Sellers), and Yara (Gemma Whelan). Euron came across as a little too sure of himself here, feeling more like a caricature than a character, particularly when asking Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) if Cersei (Lena Headey) liked a ‘finger up the bum’. I’m all for crazy characters on “Thrones” because experience tells us that they work on the show, but Euron going full Russell Brand really didn’t work for me.
The sequence itself was decent overall, with Lena Headey pulling off multiple emotions with just a glance at Ellaria, but I could’ve done with a bit of restraint regarding the characterisation of Euron.
Next came my favourite scene of the episode, in which Cersei flaunted the power that she now has over Ellaria and attempted to crush her spirit before most likely destroying her body. This scene had moments where it was obvious that the writers were recapping important information for the audience but it also had awesome acting and clever misdirection. Lena Headey did a fantastic job of coming across as almost justified in her actions whilst simultaneously seeming completely out of her mind, and the presence of The Mountain (Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson) meant that Cersei’s plan for Tyene was surprisingly well hidden.
I should also mention that Indira Varma was really good in this scene which is both a positive and a negative. On the positive side of things it’s always nice to see actors giving strong performances, especially when they haven’t been showcased on a show up until the point where they give said performance, but looking at things from a negative perspective this only further highlights how poorly the showrunners have handled the Dorne storyline.
Personally, I think that the Dorne storyline started a little too far down the line for the audience to take it seriously, because by the time the Sand Snakes were introduced we really didn’t care about Oberyn’s (Pedro Pascal) death anymore. This might sound silly because barely any time passed from the point when Oberyn died to the point when the Sand Snakes first appeared on the show, but in my opinion we would’ve cared about them much more if they’d been introduced prior to Oberyn’s death – that way we could’ve at least seen them have a relationship with him.
In any case, the Cersei/Ellaria dynamic in this episode made for good television and I think that it will make the Dorne storyline more palatable on a re-watch of the series further down the line.
Sadly, I didn’t enjoy the next scene with Cersei quite as much, mainly because it didn’t feel completely necessary. Cersei went from psychologically torturing Ellaria to initiating sex with Jaime, which is fine, but feels a little below “Thrones” to me. By this point the audience is fully aware that Cersei uses Jaime and probably doesn’t love him, even if she tells herself that this isn’t true. Whether or not Jaime thought that this act was real and meant something really isn’t that relevant at this point because he knows what Cersei is like and sex is just sex between them – it doesn’t feel like it matters anymore. Cersei allowing one of her servants to see Jaime in her bed the next morning was funny and showed that she’s past the point of no return, but in the grand scheme of things this was a scene which didn’t need to happen and stunted the pace of the episode.
We then watched on as Cersei explained to a representative from the Iron Bank of Braavos that ‘the Lannisters always pay their debts’, and that they would be better off funding her attempts to maintain power than Daenerys’ efforts to take it. This was another scene which was perfectly serviceable in isolation – it was one of those scenes where you find your hands drifting towards your phone to check for any notifications you might’ve missed since the episode began, but it wasn’t bad. However, after watching the episode in its entirety the scene became much more significant and on my second watch I liked it a lot more. It’s definitely a good scene and was well written; it’s just hard to care when you don’t know what’s coming next.
When Cersei was done being Cersei the episode turned its attention back to Dragonstone where Tyrion and Jon had a conversation about how to convince people, (like Daenerys), that the White Walkers are real. This was okay and some of the dialogue was good, but at times I find it hard to watch Kit Harington act. He’s not awful but he can be quite bland when his material isn’t brilliant, particularly because the character he’s portraying is quite one-dimensional. I don’t know if it’s Harington’s fault or if Jon Snow has become a stale character since he was brought back from the dead, but either way I’m not enjoying the show as much as I used to when he’s on screen.
The Daenerys/Tyrion interaction which followed was much less jarring, partly because their relationship is now well-established and partly because they’re two of the best talkers on the show, and it was nice that Dany didn’t take Olenna’s (Diana Rigg) advice from the previous episode to heart. Tyrion convinced Dany to extend a show of trust to Jon in the form of the dragonglass that he needed to fight the White Walkers, rightly pointing out that Dany doesn’t have any use for the dragonglass herself anyway so it makes more sense to use it to her advantage, (by offering it as a show of good faith), rather than to horde it away out of spite.
This facilitated a conversation between Dany and Jon where this decision was revealed, set in front of the beautiful backdrop that is Dragonstone. This was a gorgeous scene which brought two of the show’s heroes together, and the subtle mentioning of Rhaegar (who is Jon’s real father) by Daenerys was smart on the part of the writers. I enjoyed this scene because the parallels between the characters made their interaction seem natural, and although Jon ended up getting what he asked for it didn’t make Dany look weak in my opinion; rather, it made her seem like she was willing to compromise when required.
A sequence I didn’t enjoy nearly as much involved Sansa (Sophie Turner) and her long-lost brother, Bran (Isaac Hempstead-Wright). The sequence started with Sansa wandering around Winterfell whilst trying to seem like she was in charge. I didn’t have a problem with this per se because it made sense to show the everyday workings of Winterfell without the input of Jon Snow, but I have to say that it annoys me that Sansa allows Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen) to follow her around when he clearly isn’t on her side.
Littlefinger gave Sansa a small but clever speech about fighting every battle in her mind at once so that she can never be caught off guard, which was acceptable and fits his character, but you have to question this kind of rationale from a man who right now seems to have one plan and one plan only… to sleep with Sansa. Don’t get me wrong, Littlefinger wants this for a multitude of connected reasons, but he’s still a man trying to escape the friendzone rather than a political genius – at least for the time being.
This speech led to Bran’s return to Winterfell, something which ironically Sansa had not planned for, and once again we were treated to some of the most tiresome acting on television today. I don’t personally feel the need to justify my hatred of Bran as a character or Hempstead-Wright’s increasingly clichéd approach to playing him, but given that one commenter last week decided to stick up for the “Thrones” equivalent of a “Bad Robots” Reception Bot I think it’s best that I explain in detail.
Bran in this episode is supposed to come off as passive. He isn’t written to be emotive or invested in the interpersonal relationships that he built before the series began because he’s processing all the information there ever was in his brain at once – I know this. However, Hempstead-Wright’s problem isn’t a lack of emotion or even a lack of understanding of the character that he’s playing, it’s a lack of understanding of how to play it convincingly. He plays his role as though he’s watched someone else play it earlier in the day and thought; ‘I’ll do that’. Bran doesn’t feel like a real character, he’s just there and you can’t help but wish he wasn’t. Hempstead-Wright doesn’t feel like a star in any shape or form and he brings the quality of an episode down simply by appearing in it. If you don’t like that opinion then please explain to me what he does that 100,000 aspiring actors can’t do when they leave college/university; other than get the role, turn up on set, and follow simple direction. I mean, come on, he doesn’t even sound Northern.
The sad thing is that the scene in which Sansa and Bran talked beneath the weirwood tree wasn’t a bad one on paper. Bran’s indifference could’ve been creepy and his bringing up Ramsay (Iwan Rheon) was interesting in its own way, but it came across as forced and silly because of the acting. At this point I’m so done with Bran that his affiliation to a storyline makes that storyline feel unimportant regardless of its ramifications to the overarching plot, and frankly I’m dreading his next appearance on the show.
Moving swiftly on… Jorah (Iain Glen) and Sam (John Bradley) picked up where they left off at the Citadel, with the main difference being that Jorah is now officially cured of greyscale. This scene was good for what it was and all the actors did what they needed to do, with Jorah’s line about the cure coming from ‘rest’ genuinely making me chuckle. The only issue for me here is that Jorah has been cured too quickly, and although it’s clear that the procedure would hurt it doesn’t make sense that no one has done it before. If you can cut off the infected area and treat the wound then surely that’s worth the pain if it means that you can live out the rest of your days in peace, so why hasn’t anyone tried it in the past?
Where Jorah goes from here (narratively speaking) is anyone’s guess, but personally I’m worried that now that he’s healthy he’ll revert back to the character we saw early on in the series. It seems like he’s gone back to square one at this point which is a shame because he’s actually grown on me quite a bit over time, but right now I suppose that the right thing to do would be to hope for the best whilst preparing for the worst.
From here we slowly worked towards the episode’s climax, as Tyrion explained how The Unsullied would enter Casterly Rock without taking unnecessary damage whilst the audience watched the scenario(s) unfold. I enjoyed these sequences although they were quite short, and the reveal that Jamie had taken a page from Robb Stark’s (Richard Madden) playbook by accepting defeat in order to win a greater prize was very satisfying. Satisfying might seem like a strange choice of word, but at this point the battle for the Iron Throne feels secondary to the fight for survival in the North, so seeing the bad guys win is still rewarding when done well.
The twist in the tale was that Jaime had given up Casterly Rock in order to take Highgarden from the Tyrells, which in turn solved the issue presented by the Iron Bank earlier in the episode as the Tyrells have vast amounts of gold. By defeating the Tyrells, Jaime was able to take their gold and use it to repay the Iron Bank whilst also destroying a powerful enemy, effectively killing two birds with one stone.
This would’ve been exciting enough on its own, but to top the episode off we were then treated to a dying monologue by Olenna after she drank poison that Jaime gave her as a mercy. This was a noble gesture from Jaime, so it was a shock that Olenna repaid his kindness by telling him that she killed his son.
Of course, in reality there was a lot more to the scene than that, as Olenna revealed this information to Jaime in order to hurt Cersei rather than to seem ungrateful. Olenna went out in disgrace but she had the final word, which was fitting for her character, and she achieved what she wanted to achieve by pushing Jaime closer to the conclusion that Cersei really is a monster.
Jamie now knows that Tyrion didn’t kill Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) and that in fact Cersei caused Tywin’s (Charles Dance) death, something which he’s likely blamed himself for ever since given that he set Tyrion free. Because of Cersei’s vindictive nature Jaime lost not only his father but also his brother, and if Daenerys takes the Iron Throne he will know that it was Cersei who destroyed House Lannister. Whether or not this realistation alone is enough to turn Jaime against his sister is debatable, but with Euron causing trouble as well it’s easy to see Jaime finally getting the redemption he deserves and ridding himself of Cersei once and for all.
So, overall I enjoyed this episode but it wasn’t amazing. I appreciated that it gave significant moments the time to breathe, and I’m glad we spent more time with Dany and Cersei because they’re the most interesting characters on the show right now, but certain scenes fell flat. Thankfully the episode ended strongly once again and the season is now well poised to get better as it goes on, so my outlook remains positive and I’m looking forward to next week’s episode.