A review of tonight’s Game of Thrones coming up just as soon as I finish failing at brooding about failing…
“Children are not their fathers. Luckily for all of us.” -Tyrion
The opening passages of “The Queen’s Justice” finally bring together, as Melisandre notes, ice and fire. Dany and Jon’s first meeting is notable for several reasons. First — not that they know it yet (or may ever find out) — it’s a meeting of the last two remaining Targaryens. Second, it brings together the two characters who represent the name George R.R. Martin gave to the series of books that spawned this show. Third, it brings together the two characters most crucial to the apparent endgame with the Night King and his army of the dead.
And fourth, it’s a rare moment where a Stark isn’t the dumbest leader in a particular room.
I had expected some kind of a learning curve for Dany and Tyrion’s return to the nation of their birth, if only because a scenario where they burned Cersei alive and conquered King’s Landing in the opening minutes would have made for a dull season. But I never would have expected them to be this bad at the strategery of it all, outfoxed at every turn by Cersei, Jaime, and Euron effing Greyjoy. Dany crossed the Narrow Sea with the combined military might of the Dothraki, the Unsullied, the Tyrells, Dorne, and a good chunk of the Ironborn fleet. Two episodes into her tenure, she’s lost Dorne, lost the Tyrells, had nearly her entire fleet burned, the Unsullied are stranded defending an abandoned castle on the other side of the continent from where the real action is, and the aquaphobic Dothraki are stuck on a useless rock off the coast of Westeros itself. Dany still has her dragons, and if she can scrounge enough boats she can eventually get the Dothraki onto dry land, but she’s now dug herself a massive hole against a woman who, going into the season, had few allies or resources.
The show’s villains are not only vastly more successful at the moment, but simply more fun — they badly trounce the good guys in this area even in an episode where Bronn has only a brief, silent cameo. Admittedly, it’s an episode with no Arya or Brienne, but the meeting of ice and fire only puts a spotlight on the deep charisma deficit those two have compared to most of the people they’re up against. Jon has always been a drip — important to the story, but the writers and Kit Harington have almost always struggled to make him compelling outside of his basic plot utility — and Dany is often in danger of dripping along with him during the long periods when things aren’t going her way. When she’s raining fire from the heavens upon her enemies, or rallying her armies to lay down their lives for her, she’s a wonder; when she’s dealing with the burdens of governance, or in this case realizing the limits of her Hand’s tactical brilliance, she’s… well, let’s just say it’s not a shock to realize these two are related.
While they’re all brooding — and infecting poor Tyrion with their disease in the way that Lady Olenna fears Cersei has infected the entire kingdom with hers — the Lannisters are chewing bubble gum and kicking ass. Euron’s riding his horse into the damn Iron Throne room, gesticulating wildly like a cross between an ’80s hair band frontman and a wrestling heel(*). It’s a super-broad characterization for GoT — the result, perhaps, of the creative team realizing what a poor impression he left last season — but the camp of it all brings with it an energy level that the heroes aren’t offering at the moment. Someone on this show has to enjoy themselves, and it might as well be this clown.
(*) Last week, I noted that the allegedly fearsome Sand Snakes got utterly wrecked by “a jobber like Euron Greyjoy.” In hindsight (and the usual latenight haste to publish these), I fear I got my jobbers backwards: whatever plans the writers might have once had for the Sand Snakes, at this point the only value they had left was as jobbers to help get over Euron as an impressive new foe with a new angle.
Cersei, meanwhile, continues to demonstrate an amazing capacity for poetic justice, condemning Ellaria to a lifetime of emotional torture (first watching Tyene die of poison, then watching her body decay day by day, month by month, year by year) to match the physical kind to which she sentenced the “Shame!” nun. She no longer cares if anyone knows that she sleeps with her brother, and if she’s haunted by all that she’s lost and all the terrible things that she’s done, it’s not really showing in her actual work, which has been pretty remarkable so far, especially given her circumstances at the beginning of the season. She promised Tycho from the Iron Bank that her family’s debt would be repaid within a fortnight, and by sending Jaime to sack Highgarden — deploying the same strategy Robb used to defeat and capture him back in season one — she fulfilled both that promise and the House Lannister motto. She’s very bad — every bit the monster Olenna accuses her of being — but oh so good at it, the only major player who seems to understand Littlefinger’s lesson to Sansa about preparing for every eventuality, always. And when Jaime — hopelessly in thrall to his sister, and unable or unwilling to do anything about that — poisons Olenna to death(*), he not only robs Dany of one of her most powerful allies, but the forces of relative good in Westeros of one of their most colorful and watchable characters.
(*) RIP. Like her granddaughter, Olenna was never hugely essential to the overall plot of the series, but Dame Diana Rigg was an utter pleasure to watch in this role from first scene (“Once the cow’s been milked, there’s no squirting the cream back up her udders”) to last (“I want her to know it was me.”)