Game of Thrones
“Book of the Stranger”
May 15, 2016
This episode had everything: reunions, good feels, romance, Sansa being a badass, death, FIRE!, fire boobs, dead misogynists, and hopefully the birth of what will be everyone’s new favorite ship: Torienne. Or Briemund? Which do you like better? I’m leaning toward Briemund, myself. BRIEMUND 4LYFE.
At the Wall:
Jon Snow has had PERFECTLY ENOUGH of all this snow and and furs and drafts and ice and soggy socks and chapstick and he is packing his bags and his sword and his direwolf and they are going to go find a nice little villa somewhere in Dorne and work on their tans. Edd reminds him of Hardhome and “Winter is Coming!” and not only is it coming, it’s practically at the door! But Jon Snow is like, “LOL, your problem now. BYEEEEEEEE.”
But before he can leave, who should come riding up to the door of Castle Black but Sansa, Brienne and Pod. And if you didn’t tear up a little when you saw the first Stark reunion in God even knows how long, then you’re either 1. lying or 2. a Bolton-esque sociopath. My notes here just read: “CRYING.”
So Sansa and Jon catch up over bowls of meat chunks, reminiscing about Old Nan’s kidney pies, and wishing they could go back to Winterfell and their childhoods and change their fates. You know, so they didn’t end up growing up to be beaten by a psychopathic brat king, raped by an equally psychopathic dog enthusiast or being murdered by a bunch of bloody-minded ingrates. Sansa floats the idea that now that his calendar is open, they go take back Winterfell from the nutter who is running it, but Jon’s still in full self-pity mode and not in the mood. “FINE I’LL DO IT MYSELF,” Sansa promises.
Outside, Davos asks Melisandre what her plans are, and she’s like, “Dunno, I guess I’ll do whatever Prince Jon That Was Promised wants to do.” Davos demands to know what happened to Stannis and Shireen which is when Brienne shows up and is like, “OOH, GIRL, I KNOW.” She then informs them that Stannis told her all about using shadowbaby magic to kill Renly, right before she executed him. That’s right, you heard her. And Brienne? She doesn’t forget or forgive.
Sometime later, Jon and Edd and Tormund and Brienne and Pod and Sansa are having lunch at the Plastics‘ table, Tormund making some serious Wildling eyes at Brienne.
BRB, I have to go write some Briemund fanfic over on tumblr.
GET IT, TORMUND. YOU GET YOURSELF SOME HOT GIANTESS.
Anyway, as they’re “enjoying” some “lunch,” a letter from Ramsay Bolton is delivered:
What’s up, bro? So, fun news, I have your little brother Rickon in my dungeon and his Direwolf skin is my rug, and I want Sansa back, and if you don’t give her back, I’ll come take her back, and I’ll kill all your Wildling buddies and torture your brother and gang rape your sister and then feed your brother to my dogs and then take a nap on my Direwolf rug. You should come check it out.
So Jon Snow is like, “Sigh. Fine. I’ll help you kill this jackhole. Let’s go rally the North already.”
Speaking of that literal bastard, Ramsay has Osha all cleaned up and sent to his chambers. Once there she claims that she only hung out with Rickon for the past few years so as to sell him to the highest bidder. She then climbs into Ramsay’s lap to seduce him, all the while reaching for a nearby knife. But Ramsay is onto her, and stabs her in the throat, killing her. So, things aren’t looking great for Rickon — if he is even still alive.
In the Vale:
Hey, remember Robin Arryn, Lord of the Eyrie, Catelyn Stark’s nephew, Westeros’ very own Buster Bluth?
Yeah, he’s still a goof. Anyway, Littlefinger swings by the Lord of Runestone’s place where Robin, his stepson, is staying, bringing the boy a present: a fancy gyrfalcon. Lord Runestone Yohn Royce is like, “Yeah, that’s super. Say, do you have any ideas on how Sansa Stark ended up married to that psycho, Ramsay Bolton?” Littlefinger claims that they were attacked on the road, and Sansa kidnapped. Someone who knew his and Sansa’s travel plans must have given them to Ramsay. And, HMMM, the only person who knew where Littlefinger and Sansa were headed was Lord Royce himself.
Robin considers throwing Lord Royce through the moonroof, but Littlefinger “convinces” Buster to give Royce another chance. In the meantime, Littlefinger shares some good news/bad news on the Sansa front. Good news: she’s escaped to Castle Black! Bad news: the Boltons are after her. Robin sighs that she is his cousin and agrees to send the knights of the Vale to support her.
In the Iron Islands:
TheonReek arrives in the Iron Island, but his sister, Yara, is like, “Oh. It’s you. Hey.” She’s still sore with him for not coming with her when she staged that rescue attempt, having lost a number of Ironborn lives in the process. She’s pretty sure he’s there to try to take the Salt Throne from her, but TheonReek is like, “NO NO NO, you’ve got this all wrong. For one thing, I just found out dad’s dead, but for another, I think you should be queen. And I’ll be your hype man!”
In King’s Landing:
Margaery is still in Sparrow jail, when she’s brought in front of the High Sparrow for a little chit chat. There he gives her a long lecture about not seeking out power and riches once she’s freed, explaining that before he became the soot-covered rag-wearing success before her today, he was a very wealthy cobbler. Margaery is like, “Wait, let me guess what happens next: you’re walking through a cemetery when you had a revelation about your own mortality.” High Sparrow congratulates her for learning her Seven-Pointed Star (specifically, The Book of the Stranger, verse 25, as referenced in the title of the episode), but no. His revelation took place during an orgy. Still, here he is now shoeless and closer to the truth than he ever was when he was rich.
High Sparrow then takes Margaery to see her brother in the “pray away the gay camp” as they called it on Gay of Thrones this week (brilliant). Shocked at Loras’ terrible condition, Margaery promises to do whatever it takes to make his abuse stop.
Meanwhile, back in the Red Keep, Cersei chats with King Tommen who doesn’t want to antagonize the High Sparrow as long as he has Margaery. Cersei is like, “Man up already. He doesn’t respect you, why should we respect him?” Tommen then informs her that the High Sparrow told him something in confidence, and Cersei convinces him to spill…
Immediately after, Cersei and Jaime barge into the small council again and Cersei is like, “So, big news. As you know, I’ve got my trial coming up, but before that happens, the High Sparrow intends to march Margaery through the streets naked for her ‘atonement.’ They’re polishing the shame bell as we speak.” The Queen of Thorns is NOT OKAY with this, so Jaime suggests that she bring the Tyrell army in to King’s Landing to make sure it doesn’t happen. However, Uncle Kevan is still unconvinced, so Cersei and Jaime remind him that these are the same people who turned his son into a Seven-Pointed Star-thumping wingnut. Doesn’t he want his son back? Uncle Kevan agrees that he does, but warns that if things don’t go their way, they will face a civil war. “As long as my granddaughter doesn’t have to walk naked through the streets, sounds good to me,” argues the Queen of Thorns. “People are going to die one way or another, better them than us.”
Over in Meereen, Tyrion hosts leaders from Astapor, Yunkai and Volantis, proposing that they end slavery within seven years and stop supporting the Sons of the Harpy in exchange for not becoming dragon chow and some sexytimes with some whores he brought in just for them. Though Grey Worm and Missandei are REALLY NOT HAPPY with Tyrion’s compromise, when confronted about the deal by the former slaves of Meereen, they support Tyrion. Begrudgingly.
Privately, however, they complain to Tyrion about negotiating with the masters, insistent that they can’t be trusted. Tyrion argues that the masters’ contempt is their greatest weakness, and they’re using it against them. But Grey Worm isn’t convinced: the masters will use them, that’s what they do, they use people. It kinda goes along with the whole “being a master” thing.
In Vaes Dothrak:
Jorah and Daario have made it from Scotland to
Northern Africa Vaes Dothrak where, after a little jealous back-and forth and reconnaissance of the Dothraki city, Daario sees that Jorah has the Grayscale. “WHAT? IT’S JUST A SCRATCH.” Jorah insists.
They eventually make their way down into town, where they have to kill a couple of Dothraki who after stumbling upon them don’t buy their “we’re just humble merchants” routine.
Meanwhile, over in the khaleesi sorority house, the sorority president talks some minor smack to Daenerys about the khals, pointing out one young woman who was stolen from her village at 12, and married to a khal who broke her ribs when she bore him a daughter. The sorority president adds that while they may not be queens, at least the khals look to them for advice and such.
Daenerys is like, “Cool story. I’m going to go pee, bye.” The sorority president warns her that she can’t outrun the Dothraki, and Daenerys is all, “Don’t worry about it, I’m not running away from them.” The sorority president sends the young khalessi to serve as Daenerys’ chaperone, and the two bond over what a b-hole Young Khaleesi’s husband was. Just then, Jorah and Daario jump out of the shadows to “rescue” Daenerys, but she’s like “GOD, GUYS, CHILL. This is no kind of plan. I have a plan. Just try not to get yourselves killed before then.”
Later, Daenerys is brought before the assembled khals who are deciding what to do with her: make her live out her life in the sorority house or sell her to the Yunkai for ten thousand horses? Daenerys is like, “Wanna know what I think?” Khal Moro is all, “Funny enough, no, not really. We don’t care what you have to say until you’re an active member of the sorority. Which you’re not; not until we initiate you.”
Daenerys assures them that she knows where she is: this is where she was promised her child would be the stallion who mounts the world, and where Khal Drogo promised to take the Dothraki west across the Black Salt Sea to kill men in iron suits for her. She then mocks the khals for their petty concerns: which village to ransack, how many horses they’re going to steal, what the t-shirt design should be for their formal, whether to do a battle of the bands or a casino night for their next philanthropic fundraiser … She calls them “small men” unfit to rule the Dothraki. But say, she has a suggestion for a new fraternity president: how about her?
The khals think this is HI-LARIOUS, and announce no sisterhood for her. Instead, they are going to rape her, and then their bloodriders are going to rape her and then their horses are going to rape her. Does she really think they’d serve her? And that’s when she grabs the lit braziers and is like, “Fair enough! Instead, you’re going to die,” before tumping the fire out onto the straw floor, setting the whole building ablaze killing the khals who have been locked inside by Jorah and Daario.
As the Dothraki gather around the burning building, a very naked and very alive Daenerys emerges from the flames, and everyone gets to kneeling real quicklike because UNBURNT 4EVA!
So a few notes about this episode. For starters, that fire symbolism, though. I love a good symbol, and Game of Thrones: A Song of Fire and Ice, is like a textbook on symbolic imagery. Daenerys, the Targaryen family and their dragons are enmeshed symbolically, all associated with and representing the power of the flame. Fire is both a destructive and a creative element. As the khals learn in this episode, fire consumes, it destroys; and as the Dothraki people learn in this same episode, fire also purifies and regenerates. Fire, like water, is a symbol of rebirth, renewal. Daenerys, reborn through the flames (again), emerges as the new leader of the Dothraki people — like Jon Snow, who underwent his own death and rebirth, she is now being revered as a god who has conquered death. (Why the Dothraki weren’t similarly impressed when she emerged from the flames naked and with three baby dragons the first time around is anyone’s guess.)
What I do find curious about the use of fire as a symbol for Daenerys is that fire is a traditionally “male” symbol, an “active” symbol, as opposed to your more passive, feminine symbols like water and earth. It represents passion, anger, war, all of which are associated specifically with male energy. And yet, there is nothing masculine about Daenerys, our mother of dragons, our fire goddess.
Perhaps I’m reading too much into it, but I think embodying this very traditionally male symbol in a woman is a significant clue that she is our “Prince That Was Promised.” Everyone is so busy looking for this male hero, that they don’t seem to notice that this woman is ticking off all the prerequisites to fulfill the ancient prophecies:
- The prince is of the blood of the dragon (Targaryen)
- Born amidst smoke (Drogo’s funeral pyre)
- Born amidst salt (Daenerys and the Dothraki tears, mourning Drogo)
- A bleeding star in the skies (The red comet)
- Possibly the return of dragons (Our three dragons)
- The dark eye falls upon the prince (This one is vaguer — it suggests a dark force in the universe is aware of the prince — the Night’s King, perhaps?)
- The birth of a male child – a prince
The only item in this list that explicitly excludes Daenerys is the gender of the hero. However, in the books, Maester Aemon is convinced his great-niece Daenerys is our prince, explaining to Sam that the language the prophecy was originally written in, High Valyrian, uses gender neutral nouns. And so of course a patriarchal society like this one would just assume a great hero would be male. Of course they would.
Speaking of the patriarchy, this is is easily one of the most unapologetically feminist episodes to date. Daenerys is the most obvious powerful female figure in the episode, literally setting fire to the patriarchy, and transforming their misogynistic society into a matriarchy. But even before she upended the male leadership of the Dothraki, she rejected the rescue attempt by two of her most trusted male friends. She is no wilting princess in need of saving — through her own power, she rescues herself and every other woman who has been subjugated by the male Dothraki culture.
Elsewhere, Sansa is putting herself in charge of her family and her own fate by insisting that Jon help her take back Winterfell; Cersei and the Queen of Thorns team up against the Sparrows and their female-shaming religious nonsense, essentially pushing the male figureheads of King’s Landing, Tommen and Uncle Kevan, aside; Margaery serves as the “strong” one for her brother, promising to do whatever she has to to protect him; and Theon pledges to help his sister, Yara — who once tried to rescue him — ascend the Salt Throne as the leader of the Iron Islands.
Speaking of, aside from this feminist theme of sisters doing it for themselves, there was another interesting narrative thread woven throughout this episode — the sibling reunion: Sansa and Jon; Margaery and Loras; Theon and Yara. Aside from being a nice motif that helps tie disparate stories together, I think these reunions are also meant to represent the strength and power in kinship. Familial relationships, bonds and loyalties are what keep this universe and kingdom running. When families are split up, when the individual is left alone in the world, they become vulnerable and powerless. It’s curious that in each of these reunions, the sisters are the strong ones, perhaps symbolizing the underappreciated yet wholly important role women have in keeping these bonds, and by extension the world, from unravelling. (Unless you are The Mother of Dragons, in which case your sibling is just one more problem that needs fixing.)
As for the rest of the episode, I thought it was a fascinating and thoughtful examination on the nature of compromise, and what we are willing to give up for what we truly care about. Tyrion, the king of politics, compromises with the masters for the promise of peace — a compromise that is easy for him, the son of a wealthy man who only spent a short time in captivity, to make. There is also the compromise that Cersei and Olenna Tyrell make to defeat their common, and uncompromising, enemy, the Faith Militant. Margaery promises Loras to compromise her own principles for his safety. Littlefinger forces the Lord of Runestone into a compromising position: his troops for his life. And all of this is capped off by an defiant refusal to compromise by Daenerys: there is no compromise with the khals. She just conquers and burns the rest with fire.
I should point out that this episode (maybe) settled the question many book readers had about the so-called “Pink Letter.” In the books, before he is stabbed by the Night’s Watch, Jon Snow receives a letter supposedly from Ramsay demanding the return of Theon and his wife, who in the books is actually an Arya Stark impersonator (not that Jon Snow knows that). Jon Snow decides he’s going to leave Castle Black to go deal with Ramsay, which is one of the reasons his brothers ultimately kill him.
However, there are a number of readers who, for a few reasons, thought someone other than Ramsay wrote the letter: one, it didn’t come with any pieces of the people Ramsay claimed to be holding hostage, which is something of a Ramsay Bolton signature gesture; two, the letter gets its name from the pink wax used to seal it, rather than a Bolton seal; three, it contained information that Ramsay shouldn’t have known at that point in the story, but other characters, including Stannis, Mance Rayder (who are both still alive in the books) and Theon might have known about. The point is, the letter gave some readers hope that the information in the letter was false — specifically that Stannis’ army had been defeated — and clung to the idea that the letter was written by someone else in an attempt to manipulate Jon to leaving the Wall and head to Winterfell.
That said, it’s notable that in this episode the content of the letter was changed to information that Ramsay himself would have known: Sansa had escaped along with Theon and was probably at Castle Black with Jon; Ramsay has Rickon Stark; and Ramsay is now the Lord of Winterfell. Additionally, the show made a point of showing Bolton riders delivering the letter and the letter was sealed with the Bolton sigil:
I think the simplest answer is probably the correct one: Benioff and Weiss are trying to make it easy on us by saying in (almost) no uncertain terms that the letter is written by Ramsay.
Buuuuuut, I have to just mention one alternative theory. There is one other person who might have written the letter: Littlefinger. That he returns to the series for the first time this season in the same episode that the letter is delivered is not consequential in and of itself. However, that he returns to the series to convince the Vale troops to march on Winterfell in the same episode that the letter that convinces Jon Snow to also march on Winterfell is delivered is more interesting. Also, note that like in the books no pieces of a hostage — in this instance, Rickon — come along with Ramsay’s letter. It may just be that Ramsay feels Rickon is either more valuable in one piece (or that Rickon is long dead). But it’s worth remembering that Ramsay felt no such compunction about Theon and sent all sorts of his bits and pieces back to his family — a point we are reminded of in Theon and Yara’s conversation in this episode. Finally, the letter in the episode repeats a particular phrase: “Come and see.” You know who else says “come and see” in this episode? Littlefinger to Robin, when he presents to him the gyrfalcon. A little foreshadowing, maybe?
Ultimately, I don’t think it much matters who wrote the letter, Ramsay or Littlefinger, the result is going to be the same: Jon Snow is now convinced to march on Winterfell. But if it were Littlefinger, it would be one more instance demonstrating how he is expertly playing a complicated long game (as well as suggest that he somehow knows that Rickon is alive — possibly putting him in cahoots with the Umbers and others), and manipulating everyone. But to what end, exactly?
Finally, one of a few reasons this recap took as one of Tyrion’s hangovers for me to post was that I have been turning over in my head this whole “Bran can see through time” thing. It just is gnawing at me, and I feel like I am on the verge of coming to some sort of understanding but I can’t quite unlock it. I started to write about it — and in fact wrote well over 700 words before I learned: A. I still have no idea where I’m going with the bits and pieces of theory rattling around in my head and B. HBO just released photos from the next episode, and one of them shows that one of the things I’ve been mulling over is going to happen next week: SPOILER ALERT! Bran is going to see the Night’s King and — MUCH MORE IMPORTANTLY — the Night’s King is going to see Bran:
WHAT DOES IT MEAN? Well, that’s what I want to know. And so this week I’ve spent a bunch of time thinking about Bran and causality loops and the Night’s King and Brandon Starks (all of them) and Old Nan’s stories and I couldn’t quite get my hands all the way around it, so I decided I would just wait and see where they take the story next week and go from there. (But, dude, what if Bran can somehow stop the Night’s King while traveling in time or what if somehow Bran helped create the Night’s King thousands of years ago or what if Bran IS the Night’s King? Yeah, I’m just going to stop there before you give up on me altogether, because I am pretty sure I have no idea what I’m talking about.)
Status of Jon Snow: STILL ALIVE! And really unhappy with what Ramsay had to say about his sister. NOT COOL, MAN.
Game of Thrones airs on HBO and will return in the summer of 2017.
This post originally appeared on the Hearst site chron.com.