9.9 this episode scored on IMDb! 9.9!! The highest rated Game of Thrones episode (on IMDb, anyway). Interestingly, this episode also featured a wide range of ‘show-only’ content. Which backs up my point that with the whole Dorne thing, book readers aren’t annoyed because it’s different: they are annoyed because it’s bad. Show-only folks feel the same. But this episode greatly restored my faith (which was never really dwindling, I swear) in the writers’ ability.
The book-to-show adaptations this week focused solely on Arya and Cersei’s stories. Cersei’s is pretty straight forward, continuing on from last week’s cliff-hanger. Arya’s, on the other hand, is slightly more convoluted and confusing. The question is, what is Arya actually doing? Well, it seems like she is training to become a Faceless Man, that’s for sure. To understand how to be another person, Arya must live the life of another person. Hence, she becomes the oyster seller. In the books, she talks the name Cat of the Canals – a nod to this can be seen during the scene when multiple cats cross her path. The ‘skinny man’ sat at the desk was essentially an insurance dealer (boo!) who had cheated a family out of their money. Arya has killed before, but for her own reasons, so it will be interesting to see how she deals with taking the life of someone who has done her no wrong.
Breaking away from the books, we are treated to a fantastic couple of scenes between the little Lion and the Dragon. As Tyrion has not yet met Daenerys in the books, this is all original stuff, save the “wheel” speech, which is said to another character. As Barristan is now sadly deceased, it appears that Tyrion will be taking his role (as advisor, anyway, not knight…though that would be good). Tyrion, obviously, knows the political scape of Westeros more than Dany, and doubts she would gain many supporters. However, the Martells were Targaryen supporters until the bitter end, after years of a love/hate relationship between the two. We still haven’t really seen the extent of the Martell’s power, as they tend to keep themselves to themselves…though I’m hoping more light will be shed on them in the final two episodes of the season.
Ok, time for the biggie. Beyond the Wall (which apparently has some sort of magic spell on it to stop Baby Sam from aging??) is a vast wasteland: the Lands of Always Winter. Very little is known about this area, save a few leagues from the Wall where rangers have explored. The Wildlings have scouted further, as far as Thenn, which is where the bald cannibal people from. Beyond that, however, it is largely uncharted, and the map just kind of fades off. Hardhome is a settlement situated on the east side of the Lands of Always Winter, geographically roughly the same distance north of the Wall as the Fist of the First Men (where the Night’s Watch set up camp in season 2). Hardhome has acted as a refuge for Free Folk all over. Leaderless, they have become shambles, and appear to be governed by a group of ‘elders’ representing each faction. We see the (brief) return of a character from season 2: Rattleshirt, or the Lord of Bones, before he is brutally bashed down by Tormund. This not only shows Tormund’s brutality, but also acts as a final nail in the coffin for another character: Mance. In the books, Melisandre puts a glamour spell on Mance, and disguises him as Rattleshirt, and vice versa. So, it’s actually Rattleshirt that dies on the pyre at Castle Black. Meanwhile, Mance goes incognito and heads south on a secret rescue mission. Book-readers may well have hoped that the same happened in the series, but, alas, it’s not to be.
The climactic scene gave us more information about the White Walkers than we have received in the books. Largely, this is due to the fact that this scene is show-only, and a lot of information on the White Walkers comes from gossip and Old Nan’s stories! Exciting times. Obviously, we still know very little about them – such as their motives, their intelligence, community etc. But it’s apparent they are a serious threat, which many Westerosi seem to poo-poo. Suddenly, the tribulations of King’s Landing seem irrelevant, now that we have seen the real enemy! It’s important to note that this isn’t just a ‘medieval Walking Dead zombie apocalypse’; this is full out war. These undead soldiers (known as Wights) are relentless and brutal, as opposed to your classic zombie which survives on instinct. No, these guys want to hurt you. And now we know how easily the White Walkers (also known as the Others in the books) resurrect their undead Wights. Just a simple ‘come at me, bro’ gesture and you’ve got yourself an army. We also got to see how they really do ‘bring the cold’, and the Wight’s sheer determination as they flung themselves off of a cliff in order to kill their prey. Another big reveal was the importance of Valyrian Steel. I think I have talked about this previously, but Valyrian Steel, as the name suggests, was originally forged by the Valyrians (see my post on episode 5 for information about them). It is said to be the strongest, sharpest metal around, and only a gifted few know the secrets of how to forge it. Known Valyrian Steel swords are few: Ned Stark’s massive sword, Ice, was melted down and presented to Joffrey on his wedding day, and to Jaime, who later passed it to Brienne as Oathkeeper. Samwell Tarly’s family also own one named Heartsbane. Littlefinger’s dagger that was used to try and assassinate Bran is also Valyrian Steel. To my knowledge, these are the only blades that have been mentioned in the books. There were many more, but they have been lost to time
This whole final scene was brilliantly shot, with some wonderful cinematography, and, in my eyes has made up for the awful Dorne scenes (especially choreography wise). And the sound; oh, the sound! I’ll be interested to see how the rest of the Watch react to Jon bringing bands of Wildlings and a Giant (whose name is Wun Weg Wun Dar Wun, or Wun Wun for short, if you were interested) to the Wall. Also, I’m awfully suspicious about that hooded figure navigating Jon’s boat at the end. He didn’t even turn round! I was half expecting it to be some sort of disguised White Walker…or, and I had my fingers crossed for this, that we would hear a voice “Jon?” *Jon looks down* “Uncle Benjen?!” BLACKOUT!
Next week’s episode is titled The Dance of Dragons, which is an obvious allusion to the title of the fifth book, A Dance with Dragons. Ramsay also mentioned how he would leave Stannis’ army as “a feast for the crows”, which is a nice little nod to the title of the fourth book, A Feast for Crows. Whether you think this season has been slow or not, it’s definitely apparent that it’s picking up now, with next week’s episode looking pretty darn epic, and episode ten will apparently “break the internet”…! Also, Oberyn died this time last year. Just saying.
This article is to be read after the episode has been seen, as and as a result may contain spoilers up to the episode that it’s covering, but no further. So if you haven’t seen the episode yet, go and watch it. Then come back and read this. Then watch the episode again. Then read this again.
This episode was fantastic, in my most honest and humble opinion. Whilst sections diverged from the books slightly, it was all very well written and coherent. My only gripe this week was the Meereen scenes, so we will dust over that first.
Some people are outraged/confused about the whole Grey Worm/Missandei thing. Two arguments have arisen here: 1) THAT’S NOT IN THE BOOKS! And 2) but he is a eunuch! Whilst these are both true, I believe that this little filler story is just a harmless side plot. Firstly, no, nothing like this is in the books – I mean, book-Missandei is only ten years old, for starters. And Grey Worm has no interest in her. In fact, if I remember correctly, the two barely interact. But that isn’t a pivotal plot point, I don’t think, and ergo it can be altered and changed to add some show content. So calm your booky faces. Now, I’m no scientist man, but I think that the fact that he is a eunuch may mean that he has no sexual desires at all – isn’t that the point? So I think that his attachment to Missandei is purely on an emotional level. In the books, it is stated that the Unsullied often go to the brothels to lay with the girls, just for comfort. Perhaps Grey Worm’s infatuation is driven by the same desire? Also boobs. But anyway, that scene wasn’t what let the episode down – no, that honour goes to Daenerys. Jorah’s exile should have been a much bigger deal. I mean, how many “Lord Friendzone” jokes are there out there? In the books, this scene is heart-breaking, and unfortunately I think it is one of those ones that just hasn’t translated too well. I think that this is partly down to the writing for that scene, and partly down to Emilia Clarke’s acting, who seems to be getting progressively worse. I don’t know. I think that she was going for the whole “numb” approach, which is fine, but it just didn’t have the emotional impact that it should have. To add some context, in the books, Barristan and Jorah’s ‘reveals’ happen at the same time: Before Joffrey dismisses him, book-Barristan sat on Robert’s Small Council meetings, and as a result knew about Jorah’s spying from day one. After leaving King’s Landing, he dons the disguise of Arstan Whitebeard – an old man – and seeks out Daenerys. He finds her as early as Qarth, still under the guise, and joins her. For obvious reasons, this couldn’t really be done in a TV adaptation, as we would all know who he was. Anyway, eventually Barristan’s disguise is revealed, and Jorah’s all like “you’re spying on her!” and then Barristan is like “mate, you’re spying on her!” The reason why Jorah is exiled and Barristan isn’t, in a nutshell, is because Barristan comes clean straight away and apologises (Dany still punishes him), whereas Jorah just makes excuse after excuse about his spying and never actually apologises. With a heavy heart, Daenerys banishes him. It’s a shame that this hasn’t been translated well, because obviously it’s quite a big deal, and one that has been bubbling for a while now. I’m starting to think that every episode has one ‘meh’ scene in it…
But there were plenty of good ones to counteract it, s’not all bad! At the Wall, the Wildlings have reached Mole’s Town, and are closing in fast. In fact, episode 9 of this series is going to be another Blackwater-esque episode; that is so say, one fat off battle at Castle Black. According to the episode director, it’s going to dwarf Blackwater. Is that a pun? That might be a pun.
Staying in the north, can we please just take (another) moment to appreciate Alfie Allen’s portrayal of Reek? I know I keep going on about this, but it’s absolutely brilliant. You could see how constantly petrified, broken and terrified he is, especially considering he was this cocky little so-and-so in the earlier seasons. So the story here is that Ramsay wants to please Daddy Bolton by taking the stronghold that is Moat Cailin (we saw it in the opening credits). Moat Cailin is an extremely strategically placed fortress, built in the centre of the swampy lands that separate the Northern Kingdom and the south of Westeros. The Ironborn took it over when Balon Greyjoy decided again that he wanted the North…and just kind of sat there. Reek manages to convince them to leave, promising them safe passage…and then they get flayed. If you were wondering what Reek was muttering through the scene, it was “Reek, Reek, rhymes with meek” – a rhyme (or variation of) that he repeats consistently throughout the book to remind himself ‘who he really is’. Anyway, in a “one day, all of this will be yours” kind of manner, Roose Bolton, pleased with his bastard, rewards him by legitimising him – he is no longer Ramsay Snow, but Ramsay Bolton. And if you didn’t work it out, that castle that there were heading to at the end of their scene was Winterfell – Roose, as Warden of the North, is claiming the castle as his seat of power.
In the Eyrie, Littlefinger is being confronted about Lysa’s sudden, suspicious death. The three people interrogating him are Lord “Bronze” Yohn Royce (who lead the interrogation), Lady Anya Waynwood, and Ser Vance Corbray. The former two are the heads of houses sworn to House Arryn, and the latter is a knight from another noble house in Vale. What’s interesting here is that this may well have been the first time that we see Littlefinger without a plan. Pushing Lysa out of the Moon Door was quite impulsive, I think, and he may not have considered the consequences. For all he knew, Sansa would spill the beans, which would probably have resulted in fox lord Baelish following in his wife’s footsteps… But, luckily for him, Sansa has picked up a few things in her time at King’s Landing, and uses her own weapon – her tears – to defend Petyr. Oh yes, introducing a new player to the Game: Sansa Stark. These two are going to make quite a formidable team, I think – especially when you think about how much combined influence they have together: Petyr Baelish has the Vale (which is pretty darn big) and Harrenhal (also pretty darn big), whereas Sansa is the key to the North (pretty darn biggest). Fun bit of trivia – Lord Yohn Royce’s son, as Sansa mentioned, joined the Night’s Watch. He was one of the first people we saw brutally die in the very first Game of Thrones episode, in the prologue. So that’s nice to know.
Ok, so once again the climax of the episode was King’s Landing, which is generally where shit’s going down. Tyrion’s beetle story was a show-only inclusion, and fans have been baffled about what it meant. There is no right answer, really, so you can decide for yourself – though I think it may allude to how pointless all the killing in Westeros is, and how the gods (if they exist) really don’t seem to care. Another lovely speech though.
On to the main event of “The Mountain and the Viper”…the Mountain and the Viper! In my opinion, this scene was done perfectly. I was worried that Oberyn’s shouting may have been drowned out by
the sound of steel on steel, but the fight was paced very well, allowing intervals of mocking-to-hysterical shouting. It was brilliant, epic and gave me chills. Sure, some of the choreography was different to how it is described in the book, and the Mountain didn’t accidentally slice an innocent bystander in half during the fight (yeah…) but who cares – it was exciting, tense and very impressive. But, alas, Oberyn’s hubris got the better of him. See, he had multiple chances to kill the Mountain where he stood. But Oberyn didn’t simply want to kill Gregor Clegane: he needed a confession. There is a passage in the book where Oberyn says something along the lines of “if you die before confessing, I will hunt you through the seven hells”. The Red Viper of Dorne is a renowned fighter, and it shows – and to take down the Mountain is no easy feat. But unfortunately Oberyn makes one wrong move, and it costs him um…pretty dearly. Whether the Mountain died or not is not yet revealed, although even if he did, Tyrion still lost the trial as his champion died first. What’s important to remember here too is that Oberyn wasn’t just some knight or sellsword; he was a Prince of Dorne…I don’t imagine that his death, despite the fact that he willingly put his life on the line, will go down well back home.
I have seen a lot of posts on t’internet in the last few days in which people have been posting their anger at Oberyn’s death. Not the gruesome, horrible manner of it – but the death itself. People claiming that it was only done for shock value, for example. This is all wrong. Events such as Ned’s death, the Red Wedding, and the outcome of this fight are obviously shocking, but that’s not why they’re there. There are very few “good guys” or “bad guys” in Game of Thrones; pretty much everyone is morally grey. Oberyn, no matter how awesome, died due to his own neglect. In a recent post I read on reddit, one user summed it up perfectly: “the whole point of the Song Of Ice And Fire is that characters face the consequences of their actions whilst playing the game of thrones. Ned died because he was naive and put his trust in the wrong people. Roose/Ramsay are still alive because they are playing the game correctly by being intelligent in regards to their alliances.” There is a much deeper meaning than just ‘GRRM likes to kill off characters’ – there is a reason behind all of their deaths. I just hope that fans can see that, and don’t just look at is as ‘an attempt to top the Red Wedding’.
To tide you over, here is Arya’s slightly maniacal laugh, accompanied by the biggest “….fuck” face I have seen, on the Hound. DON’T READ THE YOUTUBE COMMENTS.