Programming Note: These reviews are written from the perspective of someone who has not read books. They contain liberal speculation as to future developments, but these are based only on what has aired on the show so far (not even including the Next Week On trailers), and thus are intended to be safe for the spoiler-averse. That means NO MENTIONS OF THE BOOKS WHATSOEVER IN THE COMMENTS. DOESN’T MATTER IF IT IS THINGS THAT HAVE ALREADY OCCURRED OR CAN NO LONGER OCCUR AT THIS POINT IN THE SHOW, OR PREDICTIONS I MAKE THAT ARE DEMONSTRABLY WRONG. IF YOUR COMMENT INCLUDES THE WORDS “IN THE BOOKS”, DON’T POST IT.
Prior recaps can be found in here.
Credits Tangent! I understand that the capitol, along with Winterfell, the Wall, and wherever Dany is chilling at the moment, have permanent spots in the rotation, but why did we get Dorne in there this week? It also bothers me that the castle of Sunspear just has the kingdom’s name to label it – not like it makes that big a difference, but the specificity of the thing is kind of the whole point. And no Valyria? Come on, I know it’s time-consuming to make a new little sequence for a place we may not see again, but its actual appearance in the episode is so striking,and you could give us 2 seconds less of the dragons chewing on a random noble to pay for it.
So anyway, this episode set itself up to disappoint me with the credits’ DAMNABLE LIES. No Dorne. No Braavos. No Kings Landing, which I believe is the only time that’s happened outside of the major “event” episodes around the Red Wedding and Battle Of Castle Black (if I’m wrong about that, the comments await below). And in the place of those intriguing locations full of characters I like scheming and infiltrating and assassin training and Frankenstein-ing, we get what feels like a solid half hour of Ramsay Bolton. So let’s talk about Ramsay a bit.
I don’t like Ramsay. I’m not supposed to, obviously, but it’s not because I have a weak stomach so much as because I don’t think he’s nearly as compelling as the showrunners seem to believe. Ever since he was introduced interminably torturing Theon for an entire season, it’s felt like his scenes routinely run twice as long as those with more important characters and more story information to impart. Take the scene where Theon tells him that Sansa saw him – that’s about 2 minutes of screen time (which doesn’t sound like a lot, but really, really is) that tells us nothing new about the characters or their relationship, and serves only to recount what happened in the prior scene. Then it leads directly into the even more drawn out dinner scene, that again presents nothing new beyond announcing Lady Bolton’s pregnancy. Though the long walk there is almost worth it just for Sansa’s infinitesimal smirk after the announcement.
You would think that all these scenes of him fucking around repeating things we’ve seen before, and having naked playtime with his psycho girlfriend, and eating (I feel like the only actor I’ve watched cut and chew more than Iwan Rheon at this point is James Gandolfini) would have the effect of making Ramsay less 2-dimensional than characters that have enjoyed ¼ of his screentime, but nope. Joffrey was similarly hateful, but at least he brought an unpredictability to his scenes, by virtue of his position of power that forced a wide variety of characters to dance around his psychotic proclivities. Whereas Ramsay really only ever poses an immediate threat to Theon, and the viewer’s delicate sensibilities.
As such, Ramsay’s utility as a villain is diminished by the very limited reach of his tyranny, but he’s too reprehensible to give any sort of damn when Roose gives him his version of Stannis’s speech to his daughter from last week. There is some small entertainment value to the was that Roose regards his boy’s gleeful sadism like a traditional sitcom dad would his weirdo son’s amateur ventriloquism; sort of a resigned sigh that no, this is not going to get him anywhere in life, but it’s his thing and we don’t want to discourage him from expressing himself.
So anyway, Ramsay is no doubt planning to give Theon’s head to Sansa as a wedding present, which is one more reason to hope those nuptials never come to pass. Not that putting him out of his misery would even be the worst thing at this point, but after 3 seasons of torment, I really hope it’s building to something more than Ramsay finally finishing the job. If not for Theon’s sake, then for my own. I need the hours I’ve spent watching the endless parade of degradation that is this storyline lead somewhere. And if it allows Sansa to snag a victory in the process, that’d be pretty good too. This episode reminded me that from her perspective, it’s not just her father, mother and older brother that have been betrayed and brutally murdered, but also her little brothers and sister, in separate incidents. Five years in, her go of it stands out as particularly rough even in a show with more than its share of genital mutilation.
But if everything in Winterfell drags this week, things are a bit better in Mereen, where Dany struggles to put together a coherent countermove to last week’s attack. She defaults to frying a noble picked at random and feeding him to the dragons, because she is her father’s girl, after all. This is cruel and not entirely fair, but at least somewhat savvy as a way to make it the noble families’ problem to deal with the insurgency, whether they personally fomented it or not. Where I think she screws up is her follow up move of deciding to marry Eagle Eye Cherry. It’s a good move for the immediate purpose of pacifying the city, but Mereen is not her ultimate goal, and playing this card now means it won’t be available at a time when it could potentially bring one of the Seven Kingdoms into her fold.
Unless she decides to just murder Eagle Eye as soon as another match proves more useful. That feels less out of character as season 5 rolls on.
Like the khaleesi, Jon Snow opts to attempt an alliance with a potential enemy rather than executing or imprisoning him. But in his case, this decision is made with his eye firmly on the big picture, and has the immediate effect of riling up his subjects rather than pacifying them. No one on either side is happy with the idea, which the American political process has taught me means it’s probably the right thing in the long run. I’ve enjoyed the scenes at Castle Black this year, which have gotten their charge from Jon Snow 2.0 interacting with Stannis’s cohort, but I’m happy to see them heading in opposite directions now. They couldn’t have them waiting around for the Walkers to show up forever, and putting Jon back in the field with the Wildlings sounds like a plan. And Stannis can’t march south fast enough, as in case I didn’t make it clear, I could do with less scenes of the Boltons interacting with themselves.
But if half of this episode is a drag, it at least has the sense to end on the strongest material, which goes a long way to redeeming things. Tyrion and Jorah visiting the ruins of Valyria, the fallen Pompeii/Atlantis analogue of this world, is a simply gorgeous sequence. And if the effects on Drogon flying through the mists are not as intricate as those of his sisters going nuts in the crypts of Mereen, it’s a lesson that a shot of an actor like Peter Dinklage reacting is worth a few tens of millions of pixels when it comes to producing awe. This would be the highlight of the episode even it wasn’t perfectly setting up the tremendous “oh shit!” shot of the stone man coming to life and dropping into the water that leads to the episode’s big gutpunch. Because even if semi-mythical Doom of Valyria is a thousand years in the past, a doom lingers there in the form of greyscale, this world’s leprosy/rabies hybrid. Jorah contracting it puts a sort of zombie-movie spin on his journey with Tyrion, and can that possibly be a bad thing?
Of course it can. Things only ever get worse on this show, after all. And I can’t wait. Is it next Sunday yet? Oh, come on!!