So…the great live-blogging experiment ran into some heavy technical problems, but was otherwise a lot of fun. While we figure out the format going forward, here’s what I thought of the episode:
Arya’s scene at the Twins:
While having some major open questions w/r/t plausibility – where did Arya get enough poison for the whole of House Frey, etc. – I have to say that I found this scene a lot of fun from a theatrical perspective. David Bradley clearly had a grand old time playing Arya-as-Walder giving this big dramatic monologue calling out House Frey. (By contrast, I wasn’t really feeling Maisie Williams’ “the North remembers” and “winter came for House Frey” – it’s a bit repetitious).
In terms of the over-arching question of what from the shows is going to show up in the books, this is strongly suggestive that my Red Wedding 2.0 theory is on the right track. I don’t think Arya is going to be the one to carry out the killing – my money is on Lady Stoneheart and the BwB – but I can see the streamlining logic of giving LSH’s plot to Arya.
I also found the followup scene with Arya and the Lannister soldiers a bit weird as characterization: it doesn’t exactly scan that the remorseless, emotionless avenger of House Stark is so unaffected by that when she’s breaking bread with the enemy and learning that they’re not so different after all. Maisie did a good job in the latter scene, but the two storylines aren’t talking to one another.
Bran Arrives at the Wall:
Not much to say here – Bran’s journey back south ends pretty quickly, but I rather like Isaac Hempstead Wright’s clairvoyant certainty. On the other hand, I’m rather surprised that Dolorous Edd didn’t send a raven to Winterfell informing everyone that Ned Stark’s oldest legitimate son is very much alive.
The Army of the Dead Marches Through Fog:
Cool CGI on the White Walkers and the dead, but it’s nothing we haven’t seen before and the staging was quite oddly done such that you didn’t really have a sense of where they’re going to. You get that with Beric, Thoros, and Sandor later, but I feel like more clarity here would have made that realization hit harder.
Jon vs. Sansa:
Oy, this scene…
On the one hand, I like seeing Jon actually try to prepare the North for the White Walkers – and the throughline about the dragonglass was actually quite effective setup for what’s coming with him and Daenerys. And while I don’t think we’re quite going to get a girl power moment with Lyanna Mormont and arming the women of the North (although yeesh that military service is described as the sine qua non of gender equality…), it was a nice little moment.
HOWEVER, I was infuriated by how the Jon vs. Sansa storyline played out, chiefly because Benioff and Weiss don’t really understand politics and thus have created an entirely unconvincing portrait of what political savviness looks like. A real political savant would know that you don’t bring up a major disagrement with one of your main allies (indeed, your nominal superior) in the meeting itself – that actually does undermine them – you do it at the pre-meeting so that you can get the lay of the land ahead of time without showing public divisions.
Moreover, Benioff and Weiss seem to think that political skill can essentially be boiled down to Machiavellian ruthlessness and sarcasm – hence Sansa speaking of Cersei as a positive example for some unearthly reason, focusing her efforts at Jon to tearing down his arguments, and her snark-off with Littlefinger. However, Sansa entirely fails to accomplish her objectives, because she’s not actually trying to persuade anyone, which is what actually politically skilled people try to do. Equally infuriatingly, Benioff and Weiss seem to think that to be good is to be unintelligent – Ned and Robb were stupid apparently (which, as you can imagine given that a huge amount of my corpus is arguing the absolute opposite, did not go over well) – and so Jon has to do the dumb, honorable thing with soaring strings behind him to indicate that we’re supposed to approve of Lawful Stupid when they’ve just spent a bunch of words trying to convince of the opposite.
Cersei and Jaime (and Euron?):
I was surprised how much I actually liked this scene. Both Jaime and Cersei were surprisingly intelligent and in-character, with Jaime arguing that Cersei’s managed to systematically alienate most of the power structures of Westeros, and Cersei for once thinking about how to deal with this situation. Where these people were for Seasons 5 and 6 I have no idea, but it was good to see them.
My problem was more one of the plausibility of their circumstances: Cersei is ruling King’s Landing without any legitimate claim whatsoever after having openly murdered the continent’s religious authority (as the scene with Arya and the Lannister guards shows quite clearly). Where’s the reference to the palace being besieged by howling mobs? Where’s the people in the streets denouncing Cersei as an evil sorceress? And while Cersei’s reaction to Tommen’s death is plausible in its defensive re-writing of history, it really does not fit Jaime’s character at all that his reaction to wildfire being used to kill hundreds if not thousands of people is mild peturbation. This is his own personal apocalypse, with his sister cast as a different scarlet woman, but he’s unfazed.
Euron…I’m feeling a bit more than I was in Season 6; he’s certainly got more personality here than he did in every scene other than killing Balon, although he’s not really projecting the supernatural presence at all as much as aping Captain Boomerang from Suicide Squad. I really don’t think Euron is marrying Cersei in the books; maybe this is some way to roughly parallel Dany’s clash with the Iron Fleet, but it’s a big stretch.
Sam in Oldtown:
Although the subject of Sam’s circular montage (it was impossible not to flash back to SEK’s circular theories here) was gross as hell, I thought it did a nice job of establishing Tarly’s lowly routine. And his scene with Jim Broadbent was wonderful, a great encapsulation of the maesters’ philosophy and point of view.
Sam stealing the books and finding the clue about dragonglass on Dragonstone was a nice bit of setup (even if the foreshadowing of the Wall coming down was getting a bit thick) for Jon clearly allying with Dany in exchange for dragonglass…although the fact that Stannis had already told him about it really brought back my raw feelings about how Stannis was treated in Season 5. Gee, it’s almost like Stannis was a righteous man trying to save all of humanity and not a man brought low by his ambition…
Sandor, Beric, and Thoros:
Here is one scene I had no problems with whatsoever. Rory McCann is a brilliant actor when given good material and his grappling with the guilt of murdering two people through stupid greed was genuinely powerful.
Moreover, I liked how he interacted with Beric and Thoros, as his disappointed idealist’s cynicism is slowly worn away by the undeniable fact that Beric is an immortal fire-wight and Thoros can see the future in the flames, to the point where he finally looks into the fire and has a revelation of the Army of the Dead marching on Eastwatch.
Dany on Dragonstone:
Almost nothing to say here, because they didn’t say anything in this scene (one more of Benioff and Weiss’ “nearly dialogue-free” moments where an actor, in this case Emilia Clarke, just has to silently emote for long periods).
I really liked the natural scenery of the slate cliffsides on the beach, and I thought the rock-hewn throne was quite nice. The castle walls and such I wasn’t as thrilled by – they looked a bit chintzy and obviously prop-like, a far cry from what Dragonstone is supposed to look like.