Just in time for Mother’s Day, Game of Thrones treats us to a bit of wisdom on behalf of one of the mothers on this show: “A good mother never gives up on her children.” How lovely! Naturally, this wisdom is followed by a man being set on fire, then being torn in half. Do we expect anything less?
In the wake of the news of Ser Barriston’s death, Daenerys is showing some of that stern ruthlessness that propelled her through the first four seasons. Ruthlessness not for the sake of justice, like we saw a smidgen of earlier this season, but for the sake of retribution. Since the Sons of the Harpy are derived from the old masters of Meereen, Dany gathers up all of the heads of the great houses of the city and presents them as bait for her two dragons. And, as referenced above, one of them doesn’t make it out of the catacombs in one piece. They should know by now that Dany is not one for empty threats.
My hope is that Rhaegal and Viserion will take their mother’s offering as an apology for keeping them chained up underground for an indeterminate amount of time, and she’ll be able to use them to her advantage for the war (that will maybe happen one of these days.) Sure, it’ll take some time, and likely some more peace offerings, but a Mother of Dragons without dragons is rather useless. It was refreshing to see Dany show a kind strength in regard to her dragons that hasn’t been seen in a season and a half.
With Barriston dead and with Greyworm recovering from his stab wounds (to the metaphorical heart! aw!), Daenerys is finally turning to a member of her council that has been remarkably underused up until now. Missandei doesn’t tell Dany what to do outright, unlike her male counterparts, but instead bolsters her confidence by reminding her that when she listened to her instincts, she was usually right. And Dany’s instincts tell her she needs to make a more significant and tactical move than she’s made in a long time.
That move includes conceding to allow the Essos version of The Hunger Games to continue to free people only, and to show respect to the city by marrying Meereenian hottie, Hizdahr zo Loraq. We’ll have to see if Dany will keep Daario around as a side piece when she’s a married woman, but she seems to have taken a liking to Hizdahr, no matter what their political differences. Their opposing views should make for some exciting bedroom antics.
Even still, they’ll be competing with Ramsay and Myranda for Freakiest Couple in the Bedroom. Game of Thrones is known for its brutality and viciousness on the battlefield, but these two have transferred those qualities to interpersonal relationships. While this episode was relatively reserved, the scene of them bickering, stark naked in Winterfell (no pun intended. really.), brought the seething undercurrent of this season to the surface. Even if Ramsay is a sadistic sociopath, at least he’s honest. When Myranda asked if he found Sansa pretty, his response was a blunt, “Of course I do. I’m not blind.” That doesn’t do well to soothe a jealous lover, but Ramsay is not one for soothing, and these two seem to really enjoy provoking each other.
I wouldn’t have pegged Myranda as the sly type, but she retaliated against Ramsay’s betrothed in a way much more damaging than physical pain: she led Sansa to the dog cages that Reek calls home. Sansa recognizes the old Theon immediately, and he warns her, “You shouldn’t be here.” These words of caution bring into question how brainwashed he actually is. Would he say that to just anyone? Does he have some Theon left in him still?
Myranda’s act of retribution had further repercussions to Sansa’s sanity. At the Bolton’s twisted version of a Mother’s Day brunch, Ramsay parades Reek in front of Sansa, taunting her by insisting Reek apologize to her for killing Bran and Rickon. The irony of the admission of guilt is thick in the room, with each person present (with the exception of Walda) responsible for killing nearly all of Sansa’s family. Ramsay turns the knife by pointing out that, “Reek here is the nearest thing to living kin that you have left,” and appointing Reek to give Sansa away at their wedding. Shudder.
Even Roose has had too much of Ramsay’s derision, and knocks him down a peg by stating that he and Walda are expecting… and perhaps it’s a boy! Dangling Ramsay’s right to the Bolton name is only Roose’s way of reining his son in. That, and telling Ramsay the story of his conception: Roose rapes Ramsay’s mother under the tree from which her dead husband is still hanging. Even Ramsay is disturbed by this, and as sick as he is, this testimony solidifies Roose as the heir apparent to the Lunatic Nutso throne of Westeros. For all his gruesome tendencies, Roose’s most terrifying characteristic is his composure. Beneath that cool exterior lies a complete and total monster. There’s one thing that runs in the family.
Sansa’s nightmarish stay with the Boltons will (hopefully!) soon come to an end. Brienne and Pod are still hot on her trail, and Stannis is preparing to head to Winterfell, but not before he has a foreboding conversation with Sam about how and why the White Walkers die by dragonglass. (Their exchange didn’t go very far, so we’ll have to chalk it up to a detail that will be referenced in a later episode.) Stannis rides at dawn with his soldiers, but without Jon Snow.
Jon’s character development in this episode makes up (a little) for the lack of excitement this season. He knows he has a tough decision to make when it comes to Stannis and the Wildlings, and isn’t naive enough to believe everyone will love him for going through with it. Something everyone else on this show needs to learn from Jon is how to develop realistic expectations. He goes to Maester Aemon for advice, but the old man cuts him off before his explanation is done and tells him what he’s needed to hear for a long time: “Kill the boy, and let the man be born.” There’s no time to fret over pros and cons, no time to worry about what everyone else will think. The board is set and the pieces are moving, and Winter is coming (… eventually). Like Dany, Jon needs to foster his instincts and realize that, if no one else’s, his moral compass points due north.
So north he goes, with head Wildling Tormund, above the Wall to gather the rest of the Wildlings and escort them to the south. His motivations seem to be a mix of Davos’ speech about being the shield that guards the realms of men, Sam’s attempt to recruit new forces, and Jon’s own foresight to the approaching Winter. If all goes according to plan, teaming up with Tormund and the free people will mean more people to fight against (and fewer people to die from) the White Walkers when they make their inevitable trek south, and Jon’s duty as Lord Commander will have fulfilled a portion of the Night’s Watch oath that has been long neglected.
Jon’s move to join with the Wildlings is magnanimous, sure, but it leaves him vulnerable from two sides: most of the Night’s Watch (even little Olly!) disagrees with his choice, and there’s no certainty that Tormund won’t try to kill him at some point in their journey. After all, Tormund is Ygritte’s jilted love interest. Here’s to hoping that Jon, and the boats Stannis lent him, come back safely. Stannis will need at least one of those things in the coming episodes.
Meanwhile, in another boat far, far away, Jorah and Tyrion make very, very slow time towards Meereen. Tyrion’s all but itching for a drop of wine to make his journey more enjoyable, but there’s none around. Now riding with Varys doesn’t seem so bad, does it? At least he had wine. (This is at least the third reference this season to people’s reliance on alcohol. If this were a different show I’d say they’re making a sociopolitical statement. But say it’s symbolism for some characters’ need to wake up and face reality. Why not.)
Soon enough, though, their tortuously slow (for everyone involved, including the audience) journey gets revived with some excitement. Captor and captive sail into the deserted city of Valyria, of which the primary feature is burnt rubble, both reluctant to enter, since, “the Doom still rules in Valyria.” Tyrion begins reciting a poem that is likely about the fall of Valyria, and Jorah concludes it:
They held each other close and turned their backs upon the end
The hills that split asunder and the black that ate the skies
The flames that shot so high and hot that even dragons burned
Would never be the final sights that fell upon their eyes
A fly upon a wall, the waves the sea wind whipped and churned
The city of a thousand years, and all that men had learned
The Doom consumed it all alike, and neither of them turned
Not to go all English teacher here, but in the effort of having something to dissect, this Great Poem of Valyria has some echoes of the story of Pompeii, doesn’t it? “Hills that split asunder and the black that ate the skies,” and “flames that shot so high and hot” sounds like a volcano was involved, but there’s no mountain around or volcanic debris to speak of. And “would never be the final sights that fell upon their eyes” makes it seem like the people affected by this disaster didn’t die, since they had no “final sights.” What is the Doom? Is there another supernatural force in this world that is the antithesis of the White Walkers? What does “neither of them turned” mean?!
A riddle for another time, perhaps, because suddenly dudes are coming out of the brickwork and attacking our two travelers. And at last! We discover why greyscale was being teased for the first four episodes! These attackers are not merely crazed, but crazed because they are the Stone Men, of which Stannis referred in an earlier episode this season. After a scuffle involving an outnumbered Jorah and a still tied-up Tyrion, and a ridiculously long pause after Tyrion was knocked overboard and dragged underwater by a Stone Man, our travelers are safe. Well, sort of. They’re now without a boat and dun dun dun! Jorah has been infected with greyscale.
How quickly the disease will take over (or kill) Jorah we’ll have to see, but that’s the least of my concerns at this point. What will Cersei do next? Will a war break out in Dorne at the hands of Ellaria and the Sand Snakes, and at the expense of Jaime and Bronn? What the hell is happening with Arya?! Tyrion told Jorah that traveling with him consisted of “long sullen silences and the occasional punch in the face,” and that’s what it feels like to watch this season thus far. I typically enjoy stories that take their time, stopping often to turn over stones of meaning that heighten the experience of watching. But with five episodes already down and only five to go, even I’m beginning to get restless.