Game of Thrones: 604 “Book of the Stranger” Review
Reviewed by Mark McCullough.
It may have taken a few weeks, but Game of Thrones produces an episode which showcases the series at its sparkling best. If I were to split hairs, I would complain about the omission of Bran this week after the massive tease offered to us last week, but such is the nature of Game of Thrones that it is bound to have been what we were expecting at this point. Given the nature of his storyline as a window the past, it is arguably even more fitting that he is omitted here. Why is that even relevant? Because when you strip back all the storylines from this week, one constant theme emerges: the sense that history is repeating itself. It also just so happens that this is the theme which underlies the very series itself, as such this has the feeling of a key episode and certainly delivers what would be expected of such an episode
Daenerys’ story this week was initially a contender for shock of the episode given the brutal nature of her actions. On one point of view you have the fact that many of the Dothraki that she murdered in that final scene could have a case made for not deserving their fate. However if you go deeper into the situation the parallels between the Kahl’s of the Dothraki with the Slave Masters becomes apparent. As such it is no surprise to see Dany show them little mercy, especially when we consider some of the tougher calls she has made in her quest to abolish slavery and her resolve for doing what she believes to be the right thing. The biggest call-back to her past however is the ending which is extremely reminiscent of the ending to the first series of the show. Except this time it is to a much bigger crowd of Dothraki to which Dany emerges from the flames. Crucially though, this time she is without her dragons suggestive of the fact that she has matured beyond the point where she needs them to serve as the power base of her character. She has developed enough to become a viable threat in her own right and now possesses the army that she would need to either conquer Slaver’s Bay or move onto Westeros. The narrative has placed her in a unique position which will let us see how much she has learnt in the interim.
Closely linked with Dany’s storyline is Tyrion who is essentially acting in his Series Two role of Hand of the King, except this time under Dany rather than Joffrey. Over the last few weeks I have been growing a little annoyed by the direction in which Tyrion has been taken, particularly over the fact that he seemingly can do no wrong. This week almost plays into that again depicting him as a master negotiator able to strike a deal with the Slave Masters and convince his friends to support him publically even though they disagree. They may have compromised, but one would bet that Dany would not have in the same situation, which means it will be very interesting to see how she reacts to the deal upon her inevitable return. Tyrion has essentially destroyed what she worked over the space of three series in as many episode, not only that but he also released her dragons from captivity. The narrative is showing signs of shaping to pit him against Dany which would make for an interesting dynamic in Meereen.
The North sees a lot of action this week too, with the episode opening on a positive note: the reunion of Jon and Sansa. Incidentally the two had not seen each other since the second episode of the show just before things took a turn for the worse. It was nice to see Sansa in the arms of family after all the hardships that she has endured. Whilst there was one positive reunion, there was also a negative as Brienne came face to face with Melisandre who was responsible for Renly’s death. Interestingly this is the first we see Ser Davos inquire about Stannis’ fate, something I do find rather odd that it took him so long. However this does facilitate for final confirmation that what occurred off screen actually did and Stannis truly is dead. Melisandre is offered a fresh start too as she now believes Jon to be the ‘Prince that was Promised’ and will likely serve him as she did with Stannis. Also in the North we are treated to yet another scene showcasing how evil Ramsay is, not that it needed confirmed. Given how things seem to be going so far, it will be good to see Jon give him the retribution he deserves.
This week saw Theon return home to his sister for a quite literal fresh start now that he is finally free from the shadow of Ramsay. It’s one of the more emotional aspects of this week’s episode as he struggles to apologise to his sister who also finds it difficult to accept his apology. The plot feeds directly into the Iron Islands one as the question of leadership there is raised yet again. Hopefully next week will see someone installed and we may actually even see the Iron Islands exert influence on the rest of Westeros. It would certainly be interesting to see how Theon would react to Rickon’s predicament.
King’s Landing is still quite hard to ascertain exactly what is going (hence why I omitted it from last week’s review). Tommen finds himself increasingly under pressure as he is advised from multiple different sources each telling him different things. It does form an interesting parallel with his older brother Joffrey though, with the latter receiving good advice but choosing to ignore it to carry out his own wicked intentions whilst Tommen seems to have a lot purer goals. One has to fear for the young King especially with war threatening to erupt on the streets of the Capital. The Lannister’s suggestion for the Tryell’s to use their army is certainly a suspicious one which should prove for some spectacular scenes should it actually come to fruition. I have found the scenes based in King’s Landing so rather tense due to the uncertainty around them. One scene that did break that mould somewhat was Margaery’s scene this week which showcased the secondary unifying factor of this episode, the bond between siblings.
Littlefinger is back, this is something I am rather pleased about. Anyone who read the reviews last year will know that he is one of my favourite characters due to the manipulative way in which he tries to levy power for himself. His reintroduction shows him doing what he does best as he manipulates the young Lord of the Vale into doing things his way. Interesting this is Littlefinger at his weakest with very little chips to play. He has severed his ties in King’s Landing by being indirectly responsible for the imprisonments of both Cersei and Margaery the chaos from which is still developing. He also lost Sansa and with her his power in the North by underestimating Ramsay. This literally left him with only the Vale to return to, however events in the North have presented him a chance to re-establish himself as there appears to be a deficit between the Wildling Army that Jon can assemble and Ramsay’s forces. Convenient then that Littlefinger has just acquired an army of his own that he can pledge to either cause.
It’s obvious to me now why the first three episodes of this series came across as sub-par, but it took something done right to highlight the reason why. It’s the unifying factor across all the various character plots that allows the episode to deliver such a fantastic narrative. There’s no reason to question the inclusion or omission of various stories because everything felt like it should belong, everything fed into the overall episode narrative and all the stories just felt like they should go together. Not only was the episode superior thematically to its predecessors, but the content was better too. This week sees numerous developments that essentially serve as a reset to entire political landscape of the series. This in itself is a gift for the fans as it finally gives us something to speculate over. One things for sure though whatever way they decided to go next (barring any disasters) it certainly looks set to be a tense series. Let’s not for forget the threat of the White Walkers whose inevitable injection back into the narrative can only serve to spice things up further. More like this please!