A day later and I’m still trying to catch my breath.
This was probably one of the best episodes of the show ever. It might even beat out the Battle of the Bastards.
One thing I will own up to right now– four episodes in and many if not most of my previous speculations are totally trashed and revealed to be the off-the-beam ramblings of an unhinged mind. Oh, well, that’s the prophecy biz. Melisandre can tell you about that….
- The episode started out slow with Jaime and Bronn on the road back from Highgarden, Their relationship is fraying, and despite being handed a large bag of gold Bronn still complains that Jaime and the Lannisters (what’s left of them) haven’t lived up to their end of the bargain. At the beginning of the episode, I would have said that Bronn would be looking for another situation soon, so to speak, but we have to take into account how this episode ended, which might throw all usual calculations out the window.
- Did they have to make Bran quite this distant and weird? Some is understandable, but between when he and Meera left Benjen north of the Wall and when they reached the Wall, he turned into a total automaton. Not sure I’m buying it. Plus, he broke Meera’s heart. Boo, hiss.
- Arya returns to Winterfell. Talk about being wrong– my shot not only missed the target, it went over the wall, through the window of an inn, shattered a beaker of ale in a patron’s hand, and nicked the left ear in a picture of Donald Trump pinned to a dart-board. The girl simply walks up and confronts Beavis and Butthead of Winterfell. I kinda hope we see more of those two tossers in future episodes.
- Oh, wait, not Beavis and Butthead– Laurel and Hardy. Oh, God, the potential!
- Not only was the scene in the obsidian mine between Jon and Dany full of eerie reveries of the most ancient past, it was the stage for escalating heat between these two. I wish I wasn’t so damned ambivalent about the (apparent, probable?) fact that these two are related. I’d enjoy the growing sexual tension more.
- It’s significant that Dany asks Jon directly for his advice about how to use her dragons. Not only does it show Dany’s growing respect for Jon, I believe it’s something of a hidden turning-point in the episode, and maybe the show. I suspect that, off-camera, Jon turns Dany’s attention to the fact that Lannister armies and fleets are completely fair game– this is war, and you use the weapons you have that are most likely to compel your enemy to quit the fight. In any event, that’s how I would have written it.
- Speaking of sexual tension, I love the sequence where Davos and Jon are coming down the steps outside the castle at Dragonstone, Davos asks Jon what he thinks about Dany, Jon says, “I think she has a good heart” and Davos says, “I’ve noticed you staring at her good heart.” Brilliant.
- And then Davos has the sand to go and get all pimply-seventeen-year-old-guy-who-just-had-a-cheerleader-smile-at-him-goofy over Missandei. She’s taken, you skeevy old fart. On the other hand, I can’t fault Davos’ taste.
- Ah, Brienne has a little sister. A fast, deadly, face-changing sister. I meant no disrespect…..
- And, finally, a battle sequence that, if it doesn’t leave you simultaneously on the edge of your seat and totally wrung-out, may mean that you’re a wight. It starts out almost like a classic (or cliched, but it worked) Western where the cavalry scouts go, “Wait– what’s that?” and suddenly it’s time to circle the wagons.
- Except the Lannisters are caught flat-footed and don’t circle the wagons. The showrunners have generally done a fair-to-good job getting medieval military tactics right, and I knew the Lannister army was in trouble the moment I saw it drawn up in two thin lines, with shields and short spears. Infantry in Westeros have probably suffered from playing second-fiddle to armored knights for centuries, and have apparently never heard of twenty-foot pikes and block formations. They have never faced Dothraki before, either, and so the Lannisters brought inadequate weapons and bad tactics to this field. Bronn called it at once– “these fuckers are about to swamp us.”
- In about a twelve-minute sequence the battle delivers horror, carnage, courage, confusion, more horror, and the crushing panic of infantry under air attack– as if an army of the Hundred Year’s War was on the receiving end of a pod of napalm from an A-10 Warthog. Except that the foot-soldiers are not wholly without a defense, a fact that ratchets up the tension to an almost unbearable point. In some reaction videos I’ve seen (yes, I watch those, it’s almost like having a social life) people actually cling to one another for support. The sequence is tightly edited, and yet there’s room for emotional moments, like when Tyrion is trying to telepathically get Jaime to flee and not charge the giant dragon that’s in a really foul mood at the moment, on the off-chance you might skewer its mother. Who is a tiny, delicate little white-haired girl, and how could you even think of doing that, Jaime Lannister…?
- But perhaps the strangest aspect of the battle is how we find ourselves rooting for both sides. Despite his residual moral ambiguity, we don’t want Jaime to fry; we don’t want Bronn, the cynical sellsword, to be barbecued; and we sure as hell don’t want Dany skewered, despite the fact that she’s showing some moral ambiguity of her own. You don’t know who to root for, while you root for everybody. I’ve never quite seen a film sequence that so effectively captures, in an emotional sense, how, at the level of the individual, there’s usually not a lot of difference between the two sides of a war.
- A final note about that moral ambiguity of Dany’s– she’s always been willing to do what is necessary, and she has been merciless with masters and slavers in the past. But now that she is in Westeros she seems to be heeding Oleana Tyrell’s counsel to “be the dragon” a little too completely– the whole ‘bend-the-knee’ business is getting out of hand. She seems to be on the verge of accepting the proposition that the ends justify the means– and that she is entitled to fealty she has not earned. Dangerous stuff, and I am on tenterhooks waiting to see how it turns out.
Whew. I don’t have the strength to launch any speculations at this point. At some point major characters are doomed to die, although I begin to think most of that is going to be pushed to Season 8. Jon’s expedition to the north is going to come a cropper, as is well known by now. He and Dany are almost certainly going to grow closer, but what kind of heartbreak will that entail when his parentage is revealed? Littlefinger is already surrounded by suspicious Starks; when will that suspicion turn into a Valyrian steel dagger in the dark?
And how the hell are they going to cram all this into just three more episodes?
Beats the crap out of me…..
A PS, a day later—
I hope I’m wrong. I really, really hope I’m wrong. But what if Jamie and Bronn are taken prisoner after the battle and Dany executes Bronn out of hand for hurting Drogon? It would be another brick in the blood-slick road Dany is traveling toward becoming the tyrant everyone fears she might become. In the previews for Episode 5 Tyrion looks pretty wrecked– I wonder if this is why? I really want to be wrong on this one.