‘Game of Thrones’ Recap & Reaction: “Book of the Stranger”

R.W.V. Mitchell
Game of Thrones TV
Game of Thrones TV

Cowritten by Danielle Ryan

There was plenty of ice and fire on Sunday night’s episode of Game of Thrones. Here’s a brief recap of the episode and some thoughts about what it means for the rest of the season.

Brace yourselves: Spoilers are coming.

Westeros – The Seven Kingdoms and Beyond the Wall

At Castle Black, Jon Snow prepares to ride off into the dwindling summer days of the south but is surprised when his sister Sansa turns up at the gates under the watchful escort of Brienne of Tarth. After their happy reunion, Sansa implores Jon to rally the men of the north and take back Winterfell from the sadistic grasp of Ramsay Bolton. Jon is wracked with a mix of guilt, rage, and likely fear in the face of such a dire prospect, and he mourns the loss of life and seems disgusted with all the fighting that has been his portion until now. Clearly Ollie’s death at his hands, and the deaths of his friends, brothers, and lover weigh heavily on him. After the arrival of a taunting letter from Ramsay Bolton, Sansa renews her plea, Tormund offers two thousand wildling fighters, and though he continues to prevaricate, Jon’s course seems bent for Winterfell and a battle for the liberation of his boyhood home. Whoever his real parents may be, it’s clear that Jon is his father Eddard’s son.

Also at the Wall, Melisandre pledges to go where Jon Snow commands her, stating that she believes him to be the Prince Who Was Promised, and Brienne fesses up, rather smugly, to executing Stannis Baratheon on the battlefield outside of Winterfell. With the nature of Shireen’s death still a secret, and Brienne’s ire with the red witch so palpable, it’s possible Melisandre is in for a world of hurt in coming episodes. With so many deaths of great lords, there is an even greater power vacuum than before, and that leaves room for up-and-comers like…

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Littlefinger. He’s just one mustachio shy of being this series’ Snidely Whiplash, only he’s actually dastardly. In our first glimpse of the Vale this season, we see that Robin Arryn is indeed hopeless as a warrior and a lord, and while he misses each shot with his bow and arrow, Littlefinger is right on target with his objectives. After bribing the young lord with a falcon, he succeeds in demonstrating his firm grasp of the politics of the Vale by using the falcon and word of Sansa’s plight in Winterfell to manipulate Robin into condemning Yohn Royce to death by falling from an extreme height and then convincing the lord to pardon the loyal knight in a span of minutes. As he continues to exert his hold over the young Robin Arryn, and by extension the Vale, Lord Petyr Baelish is poised to command the full, unbroken might of the Knights of the Eyrie.

At Winterfell, just as quickly as she returned, Osha met her untimely end at the hands of Ramsay Bolton. Thinking to catch him unaware, Osha tries to distract Ramsay from practicing his man-flaying technique on an innocent apple with the aim of putting him to an end, only to be slain by Ramsay’s dagger as he reveals to her that Theon spilled all the details of Bran and Rickon’s escape from Winterfell. She was clever, tough, and wild but Ramsay has proven that he is just plain evil.

Brother and sister reunions abound this week. On the Iron Islands, Theon has a bittersweet homecoming, and Yara gives him a piece of her mind, clearly still holding him at fault for the deaths of her men during her rescue attempt gone south. After an embarrassing revelation about tthe disposition of the… package that Ramsay sent to the Greyjoy household, Theon makes up for those losses in part by vowing to back Yara as ruler of the Iron Islands. They share a touching show of sibling affection that I’m certain will be much kinder than the challenges they will face at the Kingsmoot.

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King’s Landing is on the brink of becoming a hot mess more rank than a bowl of Flea Bottom brown. In the Sept of Baelor, the High Sparrow frees Queen Margaery for a brief respite and he presses her, gently but menacingly, for a confession of her sins. The episode takes its title from their conversation, as Margaery quotes a passage from the Book of the Stranger about walking through a graveyard and renouncing earthly desires after facing mortality. We are treated to a glimpse of the formative experiences of the High Sparrow, as he recounts his life as a cobbler and describes how he catered to nobles and he chased after the noble lifestyle. His constantly bare feet are especially noticeable in this scene as he recounts how, after one particularly debauched orgy, he turned his back on it all and walked away from the naked, stuporous bodies of his companions, not even bothering to take his shoes. After this anecdote and his earlier conversation with Jaime, two things are abundantly clear; the High Sparrow has utter disdain for the nobility, and for a holy man he seems pretty obsessed with nakedness as a means of coming to grips with one’s sin. Margaery, in a show of sheer will that would make her grandmother Olenna proud, takes this message and redoubles her resolve to not give in. Transported to her brother’s cell, she encounters Loras in a pitiful state, sprawled and dirty on his cell floor, and taking him in her arms she begs him not to give in to the Faith’s demands. Whatever happens, Margaery doesn’t seem likely to stroll willingly through the streets of King’s Landing wearing nothing but what the Mother gave her in order to buy her freedom.

Lady Olenna, for her part, seems equally committed to preventing that outcome. In a small council meeting with Ser Kevan, she, Cersei, and Jaime hatch a plot to crush the Sparrow and his Faith Militant using the armies of House Tyrell to drive them out of the Sept before Cersei can be put on trial and Margery has her Empress’ new clothes moment. As they forge this thorny alliance, Ser Kevan’s warning of civil war and Grand Maester Pycelle’s council to King Tommen that antagonizing a zealous man of faith will only lead to disaster seem especially ominous. After Blackwater Bay, it looks like the streets of King’s Landing themselves will be the next battlefield in a long, and complicated war.

Essos

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Just like it’s neighboring continent, there is a great deal going on in Essos this episode, and that’s without any of Arya’s storyline in Braavos.

In MeereenTyrion tries to explain politics and the reasons for his meeting with the Masters of Yunkai and Astapor to Missandei and Grey Worm. They are skeptical, but he reminds them that “we make peace with our enemies, not our friends”. The trio (and Varys, who incredibly still manages to be sassy with minimal dialogue) then meet with the Masters of Astapor and Yunkai – rich noblemen who inherited their father’s wealth and slaves after power was returned to the slavers. Grey Worm and Missandei seem pretty pissed off about the entire thing, especially when Tyrion brings in prostitutes for the Masters to enjoy.

The Queen’s Council then go into the throne room to meet with some of the former slaves of Meereen, who demand to know why Tyrion has agreed to meet with them. Tyrion is noticeably different in each scene; with the Masters he seems sure of himself, convinced that they are just like the Westerosi lords he easily manipulated. With the slaves, he fumbles with the language and is unable to convince any of them that he is worth their time. It is only after Grey Worm convinces them that they must work toward peace and Missandei quotes Tyrion’s earlier message that the Meereenese calm down. Missandei and Grey Worm don’t seem to think that Tyrion understands the way things work in Essos, and it looks like they may be right. The silver-tongued lion may be in over his head and unable to talk his way out of this one.

Meanwhile, Daario and Jorah are doing some kind of buddy cop-movie thing, except one is hopelessly in love with the other guy’s sorta-girlfriend. Their banter is mean-spirited but funny, which brings a bit of levity after all of Tyrion’s misery in Meereen and all of the awfulness going on across the narrow sea. They decide to sneak into Vaes Dothrak to rescue Dany. Along the way, they kill two Dothraki and Daario smashes one of their heads in. It’s a bit more gallows humor, but it works. They then meet up with Dany, who somehow knows they’re coming and meets them when she sneaks away pretending that she has to use the restroom. (Either the Mother of Dragons is psychic or the writers just figured that our heroes could be lucky every once in a while.)

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Dany convinces the boys to help her with some plan she has, which we later see come to fruition at her trial before the Khals. Having apparently decided that she is sick of the Dothraki leaders treating their women poorly and taking slaves, she does her Mother of Dragons thing and burns the whole damn place to the ground. The boys (or Dany’s new other Khaleesi friend) lock everyone inside, and Danerys comes out of the flames once more, showing everyone what Targaryens are made of. Everyone assembled bows, including the leader of the dosh khaleen and Daario. It’s an ending that almost rivals the final shot of season one, even if Dany ends up looking a little bit like the T-1000.

What’s Next

Lord Petyr Baelish’s return to the fray promises intrigue and questionable deeds galore. Ever the greasy manipulator, it’s difficult to know Littlefinger’s endgame. Will he march to Winterfell, or use the coming chaos in King’s Landing to seize the throne for himself? Petyr may have distracted Robyn Arryn with toys, but Petyr has made the young lord his own plaything. Whatever Littlefinger is planning, it can’t be good for anyone but him.

Sansa, for her part, has shown a remarkable amount of growth. She’s become fierce, insistent, and optimistic in a way that separates her by miles from the girl who tormented her tomboyish sister and fawned after Joffrey Baratheon in the first season. We can’t wait to see how her story arc progresses.

After her conversation with Davos on the battlements, we now know Melisandre considers Jon Snow to be Azor Ahai returned, perhaps out of a desperation to cling to the last vestiges of her faith. She seems broken down, seeing now that she committed terrible acts in service to the wrong man, and now the resurrected bastard of Winterfell may be the hope she was waiting for. But what of the other members of her order? We’ve seen many red clerics in Meereen and other parts of Essos, (and we will see another next week) and they all seem to be singing the praises of Daenerys Stormborn, the Mother of Dragons, Breaker of Chains, etc. The title of Martin’s book series, A Song of Ice and Fire, may offer some clues, especially in the raging light of the spectacular finale. Jon Snow, likely of vaunted lineage and confined to the cold northern climes, may be the ice to Dany’s abundant fire. Perhaps these two characters are bound for destinies far different than they expect, with Daenerys forging a lasting kingdom on Essos and Jon unwittingly coronated lord of the Seven Kingdoms.

Whether Dany or Jon or each wear the crown, before the end one or both of them must face the existential threat of the White Walkers. The episode preview for next time gave us a glimpse that shows Bran may soon have insights vital to that battle as he comes face to face with the Night’s King in a green dream. We have also yet to see the resolution of the confrontation at the Tower of the Joy, and before the end of the season, we are likely to learn the great secret Ned Stark kept for so many years.

Speaking of kings, we have the Kingsmoot! Yara seems like the presumptive nominee for the kingship, but if 2016 has proven anything, it’s that it might be a difficult year for presumptive nominees. Euron Greyjoy has been notably absent since his tempestuous fratricidal encounter with his brother (what is dead may never die), though it’s safe to say he is on the look to seize power. In the books, he has some powerful artifacts plundered on his sea voyages that could significantly change the balance of power, so whenever he comes back we are in for some wave-making revelations. From Khals, to Kings, to Lord Commanders and Lord Reavers, we are in for a shakeup that will forever change Westeros.

Finally, do we sense a Tormund and Brienne romance ship coming on?

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R.W.V. Mitchell
R.W.V. Mitchell is a Fan Contributor whose proudest accomplishment is winning the Star Wars trivia contest at the midnight showing of Revenge of the Sith. You can call him Robert.
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