Aidan Gillen, Alfie Allen, Art Parkinson, Arya Stark, Ben Crompton, Book of the Stranger, Braavos, Carice van Houten, Cersei Lannister, Conleth Hill, Daario Naharis, Daenerys Targaryen, Dean-Charles Chapman, Diana Rigg, Dothraki, Dragons, Emilia Clarke, Finn Jones, Game of Thrones, Game of Thrones Season Six, Gemma Whelan, George RR Martin, Grey Worm, Gwendoline Christie, Hardhome, Harry Lloyd, Harry Potter, Iain Glen, Iwan Rheon, Jacob Anderson, Joe Naufahu, Jon Snow, Jonathan Pryce, Jorah Mormont, Khal Moro, King's Landing, Kit Harington, Kristofer Hivju, Lena Headey, Lino Facioli, Littlefinger, Loras Tyrell, Maisie Williams, Margaery Tyrell, Meereen, Melisandre, Michiel Huisman, Missandei, Natalia Tena, Natalie Dormer, Nathalie Emmanuel, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Olenna Tyrell, Osha, Peter Dinklage, Ramsay Bolton, Rickon Stark, Robin Arryn, Rupert Vansittart, Sansa Stark, Slaver's Bay, Sons of the Harpy, Sophie Turner, Television, The High Sparrow, The Night's Watch, The Seven Kingdoms, The Temple of the Dosh Khaleen, The Wall, The White Walkers, Theon Greyjoy, Tommen Baratheon, Tormund Giantsbane, TV, Tyrion Lannister, Varys, Viserys Targaryen, Westeros, White Walkers, Winterfell, Yara Greyjoy, Yohn Royce
“Book of the Stranger” was a strong episode of “Game of Thrones”. Whilst the writers struggled to fill the holes that their minefield of rushed plot points has created, they temporarily covered them with compelling dialogue and a degree of character development. Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) proved that she can hold her own against her enemies without the need for dragons and armies, Sansa (Sophie Turner) demonstrated that she’s ready to take charge of her own destiny, and Tormund (Kristofer Hivju) showed us all that there’s a person for everyone… good luck Brienne (Gwendoline Christie).
“Book of the Stranger” predictably started at The Wall, as once again the showrunners bookended an episode with its two most exciting moments. I enjoyed this scene for a couple of reasons: 1) because seeing Jon (Kit Harington) and Sansa reunite after such a long time injected a bit of hope into the story; and 2) because Edd (Ben Crompton) said exactly what I’ve been thinking about Jon over the past week.
It seems to me that Jon riding south is pretty futile because although he’s tired of fighting, he has nowhere else to go. He has no friends in the outside world, and even if he did he knows that eventually the White Walkers will attack The Night’s Watch. Edd said as much to Jon by questioning his decision and mentioning the battle at Hardhome last season, so this was a very relieving moment from my perspective. It showed that the writers aren’t completely ignorant to issues that their handling of the story presents, and demonstrated that Jon might not be the same heroic figure as he was before he died.
The only issue I had with the opening scene was that we didn’t get to see Sansa and Jon talking to one another about what has happened since they were last together, which means that we are left to assume a lot of things. We know that they both have an idea of what the other has been doing, but it isn’t clear whether or not the specifics have been discussed.
Does Jon know that Ramsay (Iwan Rheon) raped his sister repeatedly? Does he know that Theon (Alfie Allen) helped her escape? Does Sansa know that Jon has died and been resurrected? The answer to all these questions is likely to be ‘yes’ because they talked about the issues that surround the questions, but not knowing for sure what information they have at their disposal is frustrating and leaves their motivations in a slightly confusing place. You’d think that if Jon knew that Sansa had been raped by Ramsay then he would have no problem with going to kill the bastard as soon as humanly possible… wouldn’t you? If not then why are we routing for him at all? This therefore makes his initial reluctance to act more disturbing, and changes how he should be seen as a character.
With a war between Jon’s forces and The Boltons being teased from the start of the episode, (and in the trailers), Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen) was promptly reintroduced to the story. He visited his son-in-law, Robin Arryn (Lino Facioli), bringing him a falcon as a gift to represent the fact that the boy is wrapped around his ‘little finger’ – pun very much intended. He then thrust this fact in the face of Yohn Royce (Rupert Vansittart) by accusing him of informing the Boltons of his travel arrangements, which led Robin to show everyone just how much his diplomatic skills have evolved since the series began (moon door politics for the win). Afterwards he persuaded the young lord to help Sansa in defeating her husband and his forces, which leaves Littlefinger in a good place as a loveable antihero.
We’ll have to wait and see what Sansa thinks of Littlefinger when they meet again in the next episode – she probably won’t greet him with a hug – but it seems to me that they’ll be working together for the foreseeable future. This is actually a really interesting point in Littlefinger’s story, because we don’t yet know whether or not he truly understood the extent of Ramsay’s evil, and we also don’t know what diabolical scheme he has up his sleeve should things go array. He likes to improvise when the situation calls for it but he’s always prepared, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he has a plan B which ends in him betraying Sansa. He wants to install people that he can trust in positions of power, and he does have a level of affection for Sansa which makes her the logical choice to rule Winterfell, but if she seems reluctant to trust him then there’s always the possibility that he could choose another ally.
Elsewhere, Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) was doing some damage limitation of his own, as he tried to fix Daenerys’ mess in Slaver’s Bay. He explained to Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel) and Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson) that he prefers the diplomatic approach over the military approach, so rather than trying to break the wheel he did the civil thing of talking to the Masters. It’s a breath of fresh air to see Tyrion speaking to these people as though they’re on his level, because Daenerys is so arrogant and talks to everyone as though they’re beneath her. Tyrion is a pragmatist – a politician – he finds a middle ground and then he does his best to make it bear fruit. He knows that slavery is an atrocity, but he also knows that trying to end the practice in the blink of an eye is something that only a blind man would believe is possible.
The most pressing issue on his mind is the possibility of revolution and the rise of the Sons of the Harpy, so like any intelligent man he deals with that issue first by hopefully cutting off their funding and leaving them powerless – this will make ruling Meereen easier, and his offer to the Masters will also buy him time to find a better solution. In this time he and Daenerys can make allies, acquire some ships, and possibly take King’s Landing. He knows that the slaves will suffer over the seven year adjustment period that he is proposing, but if Daenerys can become Queen of the Seven Kingdoms in that time then she will have the means to end the practice for good.
For the most part I liked the scenes in Meereen this week, but I have to say that I was irritated by the fact that the writers used the joke (that wasn’t funny in the first place) about Tyrion not being able to speak Valyrian again.
Whilst Tyrion held down the fort, Daario (Michiel Huisman) and Jorah (Iain Glen) proceeded to bond over talk of having sex with their queen and being attached to weapons. Daario lowers the tone of the show every time he appears on screen, and I have to say that for me the fact that Daenerys is willing to keep him in her company (never mind sleep with him) brings her character down as well. I wish he’d never been introduced to the story, and so far I don’t see any reason why he was.
As for the actual scenes involving the pair in this episode… I hated them. I was frustrated by the fact that the pair were so sure that Daenerys had been brought to the Temple of the Dosh Khaleen, because she could’ve just as easily been raped and killed by a sexually charged Khal and his bloodriders. I know that Jorah has previously spent time with the Dothraki and has an understanding of their traditions, but that doesn’t make them any more predictable – they’re a fierce and violent bunch, so anything could’ve happened.
I also found the fact that Daario carried on travelling with Jorah after seeing his greyscale a little bit ridiculous, because from a practical perspective Jorah is a walking death sentence. I know that Daario is portrayed as a ‘good guy’ on the show – after all, he’s the love interest of a protagonist – but the least he could’ve done was say ‘please, for the love of god, stay away from me’. If Jorah so much as slips and touches Daario with his arm then the latter will become terminally ill and face the prospect of turning into a stone man, so I think that he has pretty good cause to leave the old man behind.
Moving swiftly on, (and ignoring Daenerys’ first scene in the episode because it wasn’t really worth analysing – it basically served to show that she had a plan and that she didn’t need a man to rescue her), we saw Margaery (Natalie Dormer) being held captive in a grotty dungeon. She looked amazing for a woman without any means of grooming herself, which is understandable because make-up costs money and most people won’t really notice, but for me this fact broke any immersion that the episode had created.
The High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce) spoke to Margaery about his past as a cobbler, although his story quickly escalated into one about a playboy getting tired of orgies and fine wine. It was nice to be given some sort of insight into the life that the devout leader had led before he became a religious fanatic, although it isn’t completely clear whether or not he was telling the truth to Margaery or simply trying to manipulate her. In any case, the acting and delivery in this scene was fantastic, as Pryce and Dormer proved once again that they are two of the best actors on the show.
Once they were done talking, Margaery was allowed to see her brother, Loras (Finn Jones), presumably for the first time since the pair were taken into custody. This wasn’t a great scene, partly because I couldn’t really tell what the writers were going for and partly because it didn’t seem particularly necessary, but it was nice to see Loras again. For a moment I thought that he wanted Margaery to kill him when he said that he wanted it to stop, and I’m still a little confused as to whether or not this moment caused Margaery to give in to The High Sparrow.
In a later scene Cersei (Lena Headey) told Olenna Tyrell (Diana Rigg) that there was a walk of atonement planned for Margaery, which left me puddled as to whether or not this was a lie that The High Sparrow had told Tommen (Dean-Charles Chapman) to trick Cersei into action, or something that we were supposed to have taken from the previous scene with Margaery having confessed off-screen as a result of meeting Loras. I’m still none-the-wiser after watching the episode three times, so for now I’m going to chalk this confusion down to either poor execution on the part of the writers or intentional misdirection.
Once the political battlefield that is King’s Landing was visited, attention turned to Theon and his journey towards redemption. The timeline for this storyline has become very messy, because it doesn’t seem like Theon could have reached Pyke at the same speed as Sansa reached The Wall, and it’s also a little farfetched that he could just get on a boat and walk into Yara’s (Gemma Whelan) chambers. Nevertheless, it was nice that the theme of reunion was present throughout the episode – Sansa reunited with Jon, Daenerys reunited with Daario and Jorah, as well as revisiting her past and the person that she was at the end of season one, and Theon reunited with his sister.
Yara didn’t seem too pleased to see her brother, but I think that this was a reaction to the fact that: 1) she lost good men when she tried to rescue him; and 2) his sudden re-emergence just before the kingsmoot was poorly timed. Let’s not forget that Theon is known for betraying his ‘family’, the Starks, and has been living with Ramsay who is a psychotic murderer intent on ruling the North. For all Yara knows Theon could be an assassin sent to kill her under the orders of Ramsay, or a contender to rule the Iron Islands intended to cement Ramsay’s hold on the North, so she has every right to be suspicious.
Personally, I like the Greyjoy storyline and I’m enjoying seeing more of them on screen, so for me this scene was a positive moment in the episode. The only thing that remains unclear at this point is exactly how Theon thinks that he can be of use to Yara, because the ironborn respect strength above all else. Theon is a lot of things, but right now he definitely isn’t strong physically, mentally, or emotionally.
Sticking with the North, and sadly for fans of “Harry Potter”, Ramsay killed Osha (Natalia Tena). This wasn’t a particularly inspired scene, but it was definitely necessary for the plot given that Rickon (Art Parkinson) needs to seem as though he is in a precarious position. The writers don’t want him to have any allies in Winterfell because they want the stakes to be as high as possible, so killing Osha off quickly was probably the right thing to do. There was absolutely no reason for the show to keep her around, and I’m glad that the writers didn’t drag out the process by having her be tortured or brutalised – we’ve seen that before and I think that the majority of the audience have been thoroughly desensitised.
A more shocking moment for Ramsay’s character in this episode occurred when he wasn’t even on screen, as Jon and Sansa read the pink letter aloud in the middle of dinner. The pink letter is sent to Jon in the books before he dies and refers not to Rickon but to “Arya” – not the real Arya (Maisie Williams) for those of you who are wondering how on earth the youngest Stark girl ended up back in Winterfell. It was great to see this moment play out on screen, even if it didn’t feel as epic as I would’ve liked, and the words that were read to the audience were suitably menacing. For those of you with an imagination like mine the content of the letter was also pretty graphic, and it served as a vicious invitation from one bastard to another. The letter sets up the upcoming battle between Jon and Ramsay perfectly, as Jon knows that if he doesn’t win then the wildlings, his sister, and his youngest brother, will die painfully. The stakes are as high as they could possibly be, particularly because if the wildlings die then The Wall will be incredibly vulnerable when the White Walkers attack, so the battle is set to be one of the biggest of the series to date.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly for fans of Daenerys, The Mother of Dragons took a leaf out of her children’s books by burning her enemies alive. She called the leaders of the Dothraki ‘small men’, which in turn led to Khal Moro (Joe Naufahu) threatening her in a way which was reminiscent of Viserys’ (Harry Lloyd) threat back in season one. Daenerys then proceeded to rain fire on him and his vulgar friends, showing that she is more than willing to kill anyone who gets in her way. She presented the men with a choice and they chose wrong – as she said in season four ‘they can live in my new world, or die in their old one’.
This was an intriguing scene for a number of reasons, most notably because it marked a significant departure from George R. R. Martin’s book series. Martin has previously stated that in the books Daenerys is not immune to fire, but that when she became The Unburnt there were special, presumably magical, circumstances in play. In the TV show it seems like things have been simplified, as it appears that Daenerys is simply impervious to fire in all its forms. I have to say that I personally prefer the direction that the television series is taking as far as this plot point goes, because to me it just makes more sense – although I’m aware that that sounds crazy.
The only issue that I had with this scene was that Khal Moro and the rest of the men inside the temple didn’t think to run towards Daenerys after she began to set the place on fire. It makes sense that one or two of them would panic – fire burns after all – but it seems pretty unlikely to me that not one of them thought it would be a good idea to kill the woman before she could cause further damage. In a life-or-death situation it’s a matter of fight or flight, and most people will choose flight in that scenario, but these men are Dothraki. They’re brutal killers who constantly engage in altercations which could end in their death, so to think they would suddenly lose their minds at the sight of a few flames is just too ridiculous for me to take seriously.
Still, it’s exciting to think about what this scene will mean for the series as a whole. Daenerys now has at her disposal: 1) three dragons; 2) the Unsullied; 3) a Dothraki horde; 4) a seasoned politician in Tyrion Lannister; and 5) what remains of Varys’ (Conleth Hill) network of spies. She has almost everything that she needs to take King’s Landing; all she’s missing is a fleet of ships.
So, on the whole I thought that “Book of the Stranger” was a great episode. It wasn’t perfect, but even the most critical of fans would have to admit that it contained some of the best moments of the season so far. Moreover, the acting was a lot better than it has been in previous episodes, and the return of Littlefinger was long overdue. The only significant negative was Daario’s inclusion, but at least Daenerys’ reaction to him was akin to the audience’s – i.e. ‘go away, I don’t need you’. I’m a lot more optimistic about where this season is headed after watching this episode, and I’m looking forward to episode five – “The Door” – next Monday.