No delays this week, let’s get into the episode…
As with last week, this episode felt super-uneven to me. There were some scenes that I liked quite a bit and others that were infuriating. But even more so than last week, I found myself constantly thinking “well, that’s not going to happen in the books” or “I don’t think that’s how this character is going to actually die.” And one of the real danger signs for me is that I could really feel the backstage gears and pulleys, that things happened in this episode – chiefly a string of implausible victories by the Lannisters – not because they were grounded in character or plausibility but because the showrunners need them to happen to raise tension as to whether the “good guys” (ever more foregrounded as Jon, Dany, and Tyrion) are going to succeed ahead of this season’s equivalent of the Battle of the Bastards.
These scenes I genuinely liked, in no small part because they felt politically accurate. Here are two sides, both with deep-seated grievances against one another, with overlapping but divergent interests, trying to feel their way to an alliance: the conversations ought to be awkward and driven by a fair bit of tension between the principals, however much they unsubtly signal about Jon’s Targaryen heritage with that “I’m not a Stark” SUDDENLY DRAGONS OVERHEAD business.
A couple things I noted about these scenes:
- It was quite interesting that Dany actually said she was raped, because her treatment at the hands of Khal Drogo has always been a contentious issue both in the show and in the books, and so having a very definitive statement about how she viewed her lived experience was good.
- While I liked how focused Jon was on the Army of the Dead, I did feel like he could have done a better job selling it: explain about the Ranging to Hardhome, or the Fist of the First Men, or why the wildlings attacked the Wall. Maybe mention the fact that JON CAME BACK FROM THE DEAD. (Felt like they were holding that back for some reveal, especially with Dany noticing the line about the knife in the heart, but why?)
- Melisandre and Varys was a bit weird, didn’t really buy that Melisandre is going to fuck off to Volantis so it was good to have that moment where she steps back into her wheelhouse of mysticism by predicting both her and Varys’ death.
- I thought Tyrion was actually quite good in terms of managing Jon and Dany, finding a grounds however slender for cooperation and doing a bit of legitimate conflict resolution work.
Here’s where my head damn near exploded. After establishing quite clearly that everyone knows that Cersei burnt down the Sept of Baelor, now we get cheering crowds applauding Euron Crowseye? There should be riots in the street, or at the very least ominous crowds barely held back by the gold cloaks. The lack of any kind of continuity when it comes to public opinion and political support really does show a stark difference between Benioff and Weiss – who think of the smallfolk as easily swayed dupes – and GRRM, who goes into great detail about their political ideas and actions.
That being said, I did find Euron’s scenes both during his parade and in the throne room rather funny if a bit gross (and I don’t imagine BookEuron would be quite so easily fobbed off with “after the war” promises).
The scene between Cersei and Ellaria/Tyene was, however powerful, dragged out to quite unpleasant lengths, and while I get that they’re trying to emphasize the horrible lingering nature of Cersei’s planned torment of Ellaria, it began to feel gratuitous, especially when you throw performative lesbianism on top of murder and torture. This is one of the scenes where I really felt like “well, this isn’t happening in the books” – if for no other reason than Ellaria isn’t going anywhere near King’s Landing, book Tyene is way too smart to be caught like this and is going by land anyway, and Euron’s busy over in the Reach.
(Don’t really have anything to say with Cersei’s murder boner dub-con instant ass-shot and blowjob scene with Jaime, other than that foreplay is still a thing ,Cersei, and that the ongoing normalization of incest makes no damn sense.)
I also had a real problem with the Iron Bank scene, starting with that nonsense about the Sept being a tragic accident. You can’t have things both ways; either even common soldiers and inn patrons know she blew it up deliberately or it’s a plausible deniability scenario, but not both. Much more problematic is the assertion that the Iron Bank of Braavos invests directly in the slave trade. I’m sorry, but the First Law of Braavos is enforced quite strictly – hence Braavos forcing Pentos to end slavery as a major foreign policy objective, hence the Sealord of Braavos seizing ships in harbor because they held wildling captives. While there might be an argument that. on a continent where most of their neighbors are slave societies, the Braavosi can’t extricate yourself from the broader slave economy, or that the Iron Bank and Braavos are not identical (more problematic when you consider that keyholders of the Iron Bank elect the Sealord) that’s not what Benioff and Weiss wrote.
It was good to see Sansa being a competent ruler in terms of managing Winterfell’s logistics (and I really appreciated the return of the idea that Winterfell is the common refuge of the North, since that fits in with my theories about Northern political development), even if the leather on breastplates thing made no sense. I was less impressed by Littlefinger’s zen koans, because as cool as his little speech about Batman Gambitting his way through life (however actually impossible in real life, risk is not the same thing as systemic uncertainty) was, we’ve seen Littlefinger get completely blindsided way too often to buy what he’s saying.
The reunion between Sansa and Bran was quite heartwarming, and I generally like Aloof Mystic Bran…except that instead of telling Sansa something important, like about Jon Snow’s true parentage for example, Bran decided to bring up Sansa’s wedding/rape which is just really creepy. Yes, I get they were trying to get across the “seeing through weirwood eyes” since Sansa was standing in front of the weirwood when she was married, but still!
Jorah going into “spontaneous remission” was funny, Jim Broadbent is the best eye-twinkler in the world, but other than that, a bit perfunctory.
Well, I’m glad Joanna Lannister is happy about the reveal of Casterly Rock, but I was substantially less impressed. Casterly Rock is a goddamn mountain that’s taller than the World Trade Centers and seven miles long, not a modest castle on a cliffside.
On to the battle itself: I quite liked the whole “battle that never happened” business as a way to fake out the watcher, and I liked Tyrion’s use of the sewers to take the castle bloodlessly. So props there.
However, I had bigger problems with two issues: first, it’s been well-established in Season 3 that losing your home castle is a huge blow to your political legitimacy. Why the hell all of the sudden would it be acceptable for the Lannisters to lose Casterly Rock? Why would their soldiers march and fight for them when their homes are left undefended? Again, I feel like there’s a basic lack of world-building consistency that’s been allowed to persist so that the authors can do what they want plotwise.
Second, Euron’s fleet actions are flatly impossible. We know where Euron’s fleet was this episode – with him in King’s Landing – and yet somehow he managed to make it right past Dragonstone in the Gullet and then all the way around Westeros to Casterly Rock (despite leaving a whole episode later than Grey Worm’s fleet) without Grey Worm’s ships ever spotting him? I’m sorry, the curvature of the earth does not work that way – you can’t stay out of sight on a clear day and still be close enough to suddenly jump your enemy’s fleet, you’d need to be a considerable distance away and you would be spotted ahead of time. I guess they really are making Euron the new Ramsay, because his Magic Fleet is starting to resemble Ramsay’s twenty good men, and not in a good way.
Another bit that raised my blood pressure. No way in hell Highgarden is taken by 10,000 men, Randyll Tarly or no Randyll Tarly. Mace Tyrell kept 10,000 men as his reserves in the War of Five Kings, let alone the tens of thousands of bannermen who Olenna had been mobilizing for war since last season.
This is where I really felt both the gears going and the “this isn’t happening in the books” at the same time. It’s blatantly obvious that this scene happened for little reason other than to raise the stakes for the “good guys” by giving the “bad guys” Plot Armor until the big battle of the season. Likewise, I don’t buy that, in the books, House Tyrell is going to be destroyed at the hands of the Lannisters, or indeed by anyone else. They may go through some tough times, but I think Garlan and Willas are being positioned to be part of the generation tasked with rebuilding Westeros after the Second War for the Dawn.