Game of Thrones: Book of the Stranger Review

May 22, 2016 no comments Posted in Film, Television

tyrion meereen

Something finally goes right for our protagonists this week in Game of Thrones!

Another high-quality episode in season 6 this week. While this episode is technically focused on set-up again, it was fantastic! So, here’s my thoughts on Book of the Stranger.

spoilersAs usual, spoilers for all of Game of Thrones abound. Get outta here if you’re not caught up.

The Wall

brienne
Yay!

Man, I love it when plots come together. Less sections for me to write about! Of course, there’s a lot to cover about here.

So, the big event of the episode once again takes place at the Wall. Finally, after three seasons, two Starks come together again in one of the most heartwarming moments of the show. I don’t often get emotional at television, but I teared up at this scene. Their shocked silence, then the hug… It was amazing.

It’s interesting to note that Davos hasn’t been told about Shireen’s death yet. I’m glad of this, since I’ve noted that Davos seemed to have completely dropped his old loyalties very quickly. However, I can only presume from the way his conversation with Melisandre was interrupted that it’ll be an important topic. What will Davos do when he finds out?

Speaking of Brienne, I hadn’t considered what her reaction would be to working with Stannis’s right hand man (and woman). She’s already proved to be confrontational towards them, and with her sense of honour and love of Renly I can’t imagine that to go away any time soon. They’re just going to have to be stuck working together for the present time. I’m not a Renly fan, so I can’t say I’m very sympathetic, but it’s certainly an interesting dynamic.

I’m loving Sansa’s character this season. After the cruelty and misery she’s suffered, it’s fantastic to see her taking action for the Starks. I wasn’t impressed by her plot in season 5, but this harder Sansa seems like a character that could gain quite a following. The word ‘agency’ was thrown around a lot last season, but season 6 seems to finally be the season that Sansa goes on the offensive. Of particular note was the scene where she tells Jon that she’ll raise the North for the Starks, with or without him. I can’t wait to see where this new, badass Sansa’s going.

jon stark
Is this the first we see of Jon Stark?

Kit Harrington continues to impress this season. Jon’s clearly a changed man; free from the responsibility of the Night’s Watch, he’s laughing, joking and packing up to go south. However, he’s weaker somehow. He’s guilty, quiet and clearly trying to shirk the responsibilities he once held. This post-resurrection Jon’s no longer the brooding action hero he once was – while he’s easier to joke with, he’s more reluctant to take action than ever. His decision to take on the Boltons isn’t made with any sort of the assuredness or confidence he once had – just a quick, almost shy nod. Kit Harrington’s nailing it this season, and I’m hoping this more human Jon will stick around for a while.

 

Eddison Tollett: Where you gonna go?
Jon Snow: South.
Eddison: What you gonna do?
Jon: Get warm.

I was surprised by how much chemistry Sansa and Jon had with each other. Kit Harrington and Sophie Turner haven’t shared a scene together, yet you could feel the love that the Stark siblings had for each other. The joy on their faces coupled with them being ever-so-slightly uncomfortable around each other after all that has happened was plain to see, and some fantastic acting. It’s been great to see Harrington and Turner develop as actors over the course of the show, and season 6 looks to be where they start showing off their skills.

If I have one quibble, it’s that it’s a shame we didn’t get to see Sansa deal with Jon’s resurrection. You’d think she’d have an opinion on something so miraculous. Those things don’t happen every day, y’know?

All in all, the Wall plot continues to be the best one. Great stuff, I’m loving it so far.

 

The North

Only one small scene in the North this episode, and it… Isn’t a particularly good one. Ramsay kills Osha, and he’s evil, grrr. It’s nothing that we haven’t seen before, and while it’s nice to see Osha go out fighting it feels like she was brought back just to be killed off. Clearly the theory of the Umber Conspiracy against the Boltons is on rockier footing, so couldn’t they have just saved time and killed her offscreen?

 

The Iron Islands

Another setup scene, really. Theon returns ‘home’, and has much less fun meeting his sister than Jon. Yara is instantly distrustful of him, and is a few steps away from punching him. Poor Theon just can’t catch a break.

As usual, Alfie Allen does a great job playing the utterly broken Reek. I can’t really see how Theon can help Yara considering he’s basically a eunuch and the Iron Islands only respect strength. Theon’s a broken man, so he doesn’t have much in the way of physical or mental strength. Here’s hoping Yara does most of the talking.

I loved the visual callbacks to Theon’s return to the Iron Islands in season 2. He’s standing in the same place he once stood, but with considerably less swagger. Yara’s sitting where his father once sat and gets up in the same way, and is equally distrustful and abusive to the poor guy. The fire that once burned in the kraken fireplace is burning dim, which is pretty symbolic. Can’t wait until the kingsmoot!

 

The Vale

middlefimbers
Chaosh status: still a laddah

A similar scene to the Iron Islands, where a long-awaited arrival upsets the power balance of the region. Littlefinger’s back and in prime, slimy form. In a matter of minutes he reasserts his control of Robin Arryn (and thus the entire Vale) and makes an uneasy ally out of a political opponent. While this was a short scene, it was a great reintroduction to Littlefinger, reacquainting us with his skill with manipulating people and kingdoms to his own cause. It’s odd to be rooting for Littlefinger for once, though I’m sure he has some ulterior motive.

This scene also served as a good recap to the Vale plotline. We’re shown that Robin’s a really dumb kid (now teen) completely under Littlefinger’s control, and we’re that Yohn Royce is a good dude who’s justifiably extremely suspicious of Littlefinger. It’s also great to see the Vale getting into the warring game, I can’t wait to see how that goes down.

 

King’s Landing

Finally, things are heating up in King’s Landing!

The Faith Militant finally shows Margaery Tyrell some respect by letting her see her brother. It’s an emotional scene, and a pretty nasty one. Poor Loras has been physically and mentally abused, and Finn Jones nails playing an almost Reek-level Loras. While Loras’s portrayal in Game of Thrones has always been very two-dimensional and at times stereotypical, seeing him beaten this badly for the worst of reasons is heartbreaking. It goes to show that whatever good points the Faith Militant and the High Sparrow have, they’re bad guys. Loras has always been confident and cocky, and seeing him break down in Margaery’s arms was terrifying. Props to him, and I hope we get to see more of Loras this season.

The High Sparrow also gives a fantastic, if disturbingly fervent, monologue. Turns out he was once a new money designer cobbler, who attended a massive orgy before seeing the chronic waste and having a religious epiphany. While he sounds like a nasty guy before his turn to faith, something about Jonathan Pryce’s acting makes the entire thing slightly ‘off’. Maybe it’s the way he talks about an orgy like he’s reminiscing over the good old days. Maybe it’s the grandfatherly expression he has, coupled with a psychotic, unblinking stare. Props to the camerawork in this scene, for its constant, almost uncomfortable zoom on The High Sparrow’s face over the course of his monologue. The King’s Landing storyline has spun its wheels for a while, but I’m hoping Jonathan Pryce gets a few more monologues because he nails it.

These events seemingly lead Margaery to agree to a walk of faith, which the High Sparrow apparently tells Tommen about. This, finally, is what gets the Small Council to agree to act against the Faith. After a season’s worth of fluffing around, it’s very satisfying to see an organised effort to stamp out the Faith Militant. It isn’t often I find myself on Cersei’s side, but those guys need to go. The Small Council has done nothing this season but talk, so I can’t wait to see them crush the Faith.

There do seem to be some things out of place, however. The High Sparrow is implied to have given Tommen the details of Margaery’s walk of shame, and he isn’t dumb enough to think the kid would keep that a secret. Has he got something else up his sleeve, or have we not been given the full details of Tommen’s secret? Besides that, he still has both the heir to the Tyrells and the queen in his dungeons, and they make for fantastic hostages. Finally, the Small Council meeting doesn’t exactly end on a triumphant note. The council seemed resigned, while Olenna callously quips along the lines of ‘better them than us’. I don’t think the fight against the Faith is going to go down very well.

“Many will die no matter what we do. Better them than us.”

 

Vaes Dothrak

While the Wall was probably the focus of the episode overall, Daenerys’s storyline was a close second. We start off by catching up with Jorah and Daario, which is going… As well as you’d expect. Jorah’s greyscale is going bad, and Daario is being combative. Their banter wasn’t exactly fresh ground – we know that Daario is a jerk and Jorah is very, very deep in the friendzone. It’s decent filler space, a decent recap of the two character’s relationship. It was also nice to see that Daario isn’t a complete jerk, with him showing some sympathy for Jorah’s greyscale.

Their stealth mission through Vaes Dothrak, however, was… not so good. There’s supposed to be thousands of Dothraki at this occasion, and they only ran into two? The Jorah/Dothraki fight scene was very meh, and I found it unclear and dragged out. Finally, they manage to find Daenerys… Aaaand, she didn’t need them after all. So, what was the point of spending so much time and a long fight scene with them? At least we got a few good comedy beats from Daario. Michael Huisman’s surprisingly very funny, with his fondling his sword and smashing the Dothraki’s head in being two standouts.beautiful death s6e4

We end the episode with Daenerys’s violent takeover of the Dothraki in a fantastic parallel to the first season. Her scene inside the temple is a great moment, with the Dothraki getting what’s been coming to them for the entire season. After seeing all the rape and pillaging they do, it’s cathartic to see them getting destroyed and it’s great to see Daenerys getting yet another army. Hopefully she’ll do more with it than just sit around in Meereen. Please God. The visual of the Dothraki bowing down around her is still a fantastic sight, and it looks like seeing Daenerys like this brings Daario’s cockiness down a notch. I can’t wait to see where they go with this next episode.

There are a few problems I have with the scene, though. As I’ve said before, it makes Jorah and Daario pretty much useless, and we spend a good deal of time with them this episode. The fire went up a bit too easily, like Daenerys had doused the place in gasoline first. The part where the respectful Khal suddenly decides to let all the Dothraki rape her seemed like a cop-out to make the burning of the temple more morally just. Finally, seeing Daenerys make another morally justified yet cold speech while smirking, then burning a ruler is something we’ve seen plenty of times. We saw it in Astapor, we saw it when she dealt with the Yunkai envoy and we saw it when she was searching for the leader of the Harpy. It works very well, but if this could be the last time that would be nice.

 

Meereen

Things are also getting good in Meereen, now that we finally get to see Tyrion doing some actual ruling. His dealing with the envoys hasn’t gotten much attention online, but I think it was one of my favourite scenes of the episode. I love seeing the political game being played, and to see Tyrion bring it to Meereen was fantastic. It really brought me back to his season 2 story, which I thought was incredibly strong.

Personally, I thought that his decision to let slavery continue for another seven years was probably the right diplomatic move. It was pragmatic and lets an evil continue, but his thoughts on war and slavery give a pretty good reason for his decision.

On the other hand, I can’t say I’m impressed by Grey Worm and Missandei in this episode. They’re fine actors, but they don’t have much chemistry with Dinklage. They will probably be right about the slavers’ treachery which might give them a chance to do more productive things, but for the moment all they’re doing is complaining about Tyrion’s diplomatic methods.

Tyrion’s applying a very Westerosi system of diplomacy, presenting his power as coming from the queen and making sure the people see that they’re all together on agreements. It remains to be seen if this’ll be a good idea.

 

Miscellaneous Thoughts

  • At this stage, imagining Jon in a warm place is a disturbing image.
  • Also, Jon’s in Stark armour! I have no idea where he got it, but it makes me happy.
  • Ramsay’s letter was actually more effective in the show than the books. Rickon’s capture and Sansa’s presence gives it a bit more oomph, in my opinion.
  • BrienneXTormund <3
  • I like that they haven’t met Yara suddenly a really good person. She’s more reasonable than her father, but still a Greyjoy jerk.
  • Does anyone else feel like some Targaryen madness might be coming through with Daenerys? The way she burned the Dothraki alive while smirking was creepy, and she delivered her lines in a very disconnected fashion. She could be a pyromaniac in the making.
  • A theme across The Book of the Stranger was brother-sister relationships, and sisters taking charge. Sansa has to move Jon to action, Margaery confronting a broken Loras, and Yara confronting the also-broken Theon are probably the primary examples, though you could count Cersei telling Jaime what to do. It’s well-utilised here, with it being really effective in the traditionally male-led world of Game of Thrones. I’m looking forward to seeing where all of above characters go in the future.
  • Another thing that seems to be tying this season together is the idea of coming home, and that was prevalent this episode. Jon and Sansa are going back to Winterfell, Theon’s going back to Pyke and the Lannisters are retaking their current home in King’s Landing – I guess you could count Daenerys going back to the Dothraki as going home too, since they were the closest thing she’s had to a real home. Sam’ll soon be going home too. With all the plotlines beginning to converge, this theme in particular is hugely exciting.

 

Predictions

bloodraven

Well, here’s my predictions from last week. It went a bit better than my last set of predictions, but not perfect.

  • I can’t really see a reason for Bran to appear next episode. It’s still too early for him to find out what’s in the Tower of Joy.
    • Yup!
  • Jon’s going to meet with Davos and convince Tormund to go south with him. It’ll be very emotional.
    • No convincing needed, and minimal Jon/Davos interaction.
  • Rickon and Osha will get sadistic treatment from Ramsay. If the Umbers do have something up their collective House sleeve, it’s too early to reveal it.
    • Osha certainly, Rickon notsomuch. 🙁
  • Cersei will tell Tommen to do something, Tommen will go ‘ah jeez I guess so’. The Small Council will agree to this, and we’ll get the scene from the trailer where Jaime, Mace and various armies prepare to take on the Faith. Or Tommen will just flip-flop some more while Jaime and Cersei cling desperately to power like incestuous dogs on a bone. Please let it be the former.
    • Jumped the gun a bit. Tommen’s definitely in ‘ah jeez I guess so’ mode, and Jaime and Cersei finally get the Small Council to work with them. Maybe next episode?
  • I think that Arya won’t appear next episode, but if they felt like her Faceless Man training was important enough to put in every episode thus far I guess we may have to follow up on it. The only thing for her to do at this stage is get a new case and a new face.
    • Yup, she didn’t appear. I’m on fire this week, but not like a Khal.
  • It’s probably about time for Jorah and Daario to arrive in Vaes Dothrak.
    • Yes, although I reckoned the Dany plot would drag on (heh) longer than I thought. Looking forward to next week!
  • I can’t see Meereen going from talking to warring in one episode, so I guess next episode will be setup for that. Maybe they’ll deal with an envoy from the Slaver Cities, or be packing up to go.
    • Dealing with envoys this episode, and it’s probably setup for combat with the slavers. I can’t imagine it’ll be over this soon.
  • Greyjoys will be back! Euron’ll introduce himself, but no kingsmoot until later. Basically what I predicted for last episode.
    • Greyjoys are back, but no Euron. Euron pls
  • No Dorne (please).
    • Yay!

 

Overall, that was the best I’ve done so far. Three, maybe four things right total. I should note that I don’t watch the previews for next week’s episode, because spoilers are scary. Next week’s:

 

  • I don’t think we’ll have much at the Wall. Jon’ll leave the Wall, it’ll be emotional between him and Edd. He might split with Sansa and some of his other friends so they can get the most possible Northern support in the least amount of time.
  • Ramsay will be mean to Rickon because he is evil. Grrr.
  • I feel like the Iron Islands plot will need to speed up, but I also feel like we’ve reached a natural place to stop that plot for an episode. I don’t think it’ll be in the next episode. If it is, it’ll be a short sequence introducing Euron to the Islands, maybe with Yara growling in the background.
  • I can’t imagine we’re going to get to see any more of the Vale this season. Nothing interesting is happening there outside of Littlefinger, Robin Arryn and Yohn Royce, all of whom will probably be reappearing in the North.
  • More fun things will happen in King’s Landing as the Tyrell soldiers arrive. Towards the end of the episode, they’ll gear up to attack the Sept of Baelor.
  • Drogon’s got to pop back up eventually, so I think he’ll fly back to Vaes Dothrak. This will quell some Dothraki dissenters against Daenerys. He’ll be tamer, while Daenerys will regain her focus to invade Westeros. Meanwhile, Jorah and Daario will get into an argument about telling Daenerys about his zombie bite, sorry, greyscale.
  • The slavers will backstab Tyrion. Sorry mate, these guys are scumbags.
  • No Dorne pls
  • No stuff North of the Wall. If there is something, then there’ll also be a major scene outside of Bran’s visions – the plotline isn’t going to be very interesting if Bran’s just sitting in a tree hallucinating all season.

 

Overall

Game of Thrones was practically joyful this season, with triumphant moments for the Starks and Targaryen. Fantastically shot with cathartic moments all around, I’m giving Book of the Stranger:

8.5 Khal-grilled steaks out of 10

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