We’re at the halfway point in the series now, and so far this is shaping up to be the best season yet.
There is so much going on that these reviews seem to be getting longer and longer, still with subtleties woven into the story. I’m impressed at how well they seem to be coping with the myriad strings of story, and how distinctively Game of Thrones it still feels.
At the same times, it feels for the first time like we’re into the real meat of the grand story. I can feel it deepening, without undue haste, with each episode. Mainly it’s through the fact that not a second seems to be wasted, no more time spend plodding about with insignificant characters doing not much at all.
At the wall, Jon Snow makes a difficult decision about what to do with the Wildlings, whilst Stannis marches for Winterfell. At Winterfell, Sansa runs into Theon, as Brienne and Pod wait in an inn nearby. In Meereen, a grief-stricken Danaerys tries to stamp her authority on the city. And Jorah Mormont takes his captive Tyrion through the ruins of old Valyria.
So after the stomach punch of last episode’s ending, Ser Baristan the Bold is dead, and Grey Worm is badly wounded. Danaerys reacts exactly as a normal person would (For once -Ed): anger. She rounds up the heads of the families of the masters, and puts them before her dragons. After one is burned and eaten alive, she relents. Recalling that Ser Baristan’s last counsel to her was mercy, she decides to relent to Hizdahr zo Loraq’s request to re-open the fighting pits. And to bind the city to her, she will marry him.
Grey Worm is, as I said, still alive thanks to Baristan’s timely arrival. He recovers from his injuries under the watchful eye of Missandei, to whom he confesses his shame that he failed Ser Baristan and his Queen. He also confesses his fear that he would never see her again, continuing the blossoming love interest between them from last season.
Over in the north, Sansa is still at Winterfell with the Boltons, with Brienne and Pod in an inn within sight of the castle. They manage to get a message to her, to light a candle in the broken tower if she is ever in trouble. Quite what Brienne will be able to do if she does is left unsaid.
It’s supremely odd to be back where the series started. The difference is the first real sign of the impending winter which we’ve heard so much, everything looking frosty and snow-dusted. Ramsay’s girl Miranda is feeling jealous of his betrothal to the last ([Sic] -Ed) of the Starks — revealed through some classic sexposition — so leads her to the ruined Theon. At dinner, Ramsay makes a show of making him apologise for killing her brothers ([Sic] -Ed).
Roose is less than impressed, and retaliates by revealing that his new wife Walda is pregnant. Ramsay is insecure about his position, but Roose is more bothered about the incoming armies of King Stannis Baratheon.
Speaking of, Stannis is ready to leave the wall, before the snows trap him and his army. Taking his wife and daughter with him, he bids fairwell to Jon Snow and sets out to retake the North.
Jon, meanwhile, has decided what to do about the Wildlings. Speaking to Tormund Giantsbane, he strikes a bargain that Tormund will gather the remaining free folk, and get them to come south of the wall, safe from the White Walkers. In exchange, they will fight with the Watch when the time comes. Tormund’s condition is that Jon comes with him, to convince his people.
The Watchmen are, to be blunt, unhappy. Olly, in particular, isn’t keen on the idea of welcoming Wildlings. Maester Aemon counsels Jon to kill the boy, and let the man be born; to do what he has to, as Lord Commander. If he manages it, he’ll boost the Watch by thousands. But he’s walking a dangerous line.
Jorah and Tyrion, meanwhile, are still heading for Meereen. To avoid pirates, Jorah sails them through the ruins of old Valyria, the ancient civilisation which ended in smoke and fire. This hasn’t been mentioned in the series as much as the book, but it’s clear from Tyrion’s reaction that it is still believed to be cursed.
I’m not sure about curses, but the stonemen mentioned by Stannis last episode are certainly there in number. With grayscale run amok in them, they have become wild like animals. They attack the boat, sinking it and ending up with the two men washed up on the shore. Except that Jorah was touched, and has a tiny patch of stone-textured skin on his arm…
At this point Game of Thrones is just screwing with my favourite characters. First Baristan, and now Jorah. We are, yet again, getting well phrased glimpses into the grander mythology. To a degree it feels like they’re patching up awareness holes as they go — Stannis’ reference to the stone men preceding their appearance by just the one episode — but that’s okay. It works.
And the constant references to the army of the dead — which we’ve already seen — is moving us more into the path of the real threat, the real stakes.
- “Less enemies for us!” says one of the Watchmen. “Fewer,” corrects Stannis. This is why I love him.
- Sam wanted to be a maester. That’s sweet, really.
- Ramsay’s mad cruelty is terrifying, but not half as scary as Roose’s calm, understated, viciousness.
- Drogon has made it to Valyria.
- “Long, sullen silences, and the occasional punch to the face. The Mormont way.”