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Fantasy Fandom: The Ever-Present Stranger

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One who plays with fire
One who plays with fire
HBO

This week's Game of Thrones episode, titled "Book of the Stranger," began with a few uplifting moments, turned tediously talky, then ended with a stunning conflagration that may finally (Finally!) advance the storyline most prone to running endless, criss-crossing helix patterns in the desert. The Stranger is one of the Seven "New Gods" worshipped by the High Sparrow and his followers in the most prevalent religion in Westeros. While the Mother, the Father, the Warrior, the Maiden, the Smith and the Crone each carry unique positive connotations, the Stranger is associated with death and the unknown. Consequently, like Hades of Greek Mythology, he is not often discussed, as if ignoring him will ward off his powers. Yet the Stranger took his toll in this episode, first in Winterfell, then in a big way in Vaes Dothrak. This week let's approach the stories geographically.

The Wall

At Castle Black, Dolorous Edd is helping Jon Snow pack. Jon knows only that he intends to go South. As Edd begins trying to talk Jon out of leaving, the horn sounds to announce the arrival of visitors. Sansa rides in with Brienne and Pod. None of the Starks have seen each other since the Red Wedding, and the reunion of Jon and Sansa, punctuated by a prolonged hug, is touching. Sansa, who had channeled her mother's bitter attitude toward her supposed bastard half-brother as a child, apologized for being so awful. Jon, in turn, apologized for brooding so much. Comparing their respective sufferings must have been interesting ("I was forced to marry a dwarf and a sociopath!" "I took five blades to the torso and was dead for a day!"), though it occurred off-screen. Sansa wants Jon's help retaking Winterfell. Jon, who remains brooding by nature, has had enough of killing and resists. Sansa says she will go herself if necessary, but would prefer to have Jon's help. Only after receiving Ramsay Bolton's taunting letter and learning that Rickon is in the dungeons at Winterfell does Jon nod his agreement. Let's hope that Sansa is right about the northern lords joining Jon's cause, even though at this point we all know she is wrong about Jon being the oldest living son of the last true Warden of the North.

Other moments of interest also occurred at Castle Black. After all the killing and resurrecting and hangings and such, Davos finally gets around to asking Mellisandre about the details of Stannis's demise and Shireen's death. Brienne interrupts to advise that she executed Stannis for the crime of Killing Renly with Blood Magic. As the three of them will no doubt follow Jon on his next quest, the tension arising from their past affinities them may cause complications. Watch, also, to see what comes of the googly eyes that Tormund threw Brienne's way. The show needs a new "it" couple.

Winterfell

This just in: Ramsay Bolton is awful. In case you had forgotten, the episode dropped into Winterfell just long enough for another pointless reminder, as Ramsay peels a green apple ominously and pretends to play along with Osha's seduction overtures, only to slit her throat before she can reach the knife on the table to cut his. Too bad for her that Theon had given away the only play in her playbook. Since we are running short of meaningful victims, perhaps we'll have a reprieve on these reminders next week.

The Vale

Petyr Baelish lives! Probably not cause for celebration, though. After a long unexplained hiatus, he turned up to ply Little Robin Arryn (who managed somehow to become even creepier and more inept by growing about a foot taller) with gifts and to accuse Lord Royce of divulging plans to the Boltons and leading to Sansa's capture. Robin wants to throw Royce through the Moon Door. His power play made, Littlefinger manipulates Robin to instead commission Royce to lead the forces of the Vale north to join in what will be the battle for Winterfell. Some otherworldly time trick is at play, because previews for next week suggest Baelish will be trying to mend fences with Sansa, who is a couple thousand miles away.

Pike

Yara is brooding by her father's fire in what has to be the darkest castle in the Seven Kingdoms when Theon enters. To Yara's fury for the men whose lives were lost trying to rescue him, all Theon can offer is a feeble, "I'm sorry." This infuriates his sister all the more, and she demands to know what he wants. The question resonates, because after all he has been through, what would Theon want? Peace? Maybe even death? Nothing remains for him in the Iron Islands. It was the only place he could think to go when he contemplated what sort of reception he might have expected if he had gone all the way to the Wall and met Jon Snow. Theon placates Yara by saying she deserves to rule the Iron Islands, and that he wants to help her. I have not a single clue how he could be any help to her at all, nor why she would have reason to want him there. A surprise here would be welcome. But it's a long-shot.

King's Landing

The High Sparrow has a gift for wooing sinners into his confidence with his charisma and his soothing, grandfatherly understanding. His charms appear to work on Margaery, just as they did on Tommen. The Sparrow tells the story of how, as a successful cobbler, he was able to buy some of the comforts and pretense of nobility, but after hosting a party full of excess and fornication he had an epiphany and walked away without even taking his shoes. He allows Margaery an audience with her brother, Loras, in his cell. Loras is broken and only wants the horror to end. Margaery, who must be wondering about the juxtaposition of the Sparrow's teachings against the treatment of her brother, begs Loras to stay strong for their family.

Last week the Sparrow made an impression on Tommen, who had gone with Kingsguard to confront the holy man but left chastened by his seeming wisdom and humility. He also left with a secret that he had sworn to tell no one--that Margaery will have to make her own walk of shame to atone for her sins. Naturally, Tommen divulges the secret to the worst possible person, as the Sparrow no doubt intended. Cersei in turn takes the secret to the Small Council and uses it to convince Lady Olenna to summon the Tyrel army to deal with the High Sparrow and his Faith Militant. Many will die, they realize, but as Olenna says, "Better them than us." Much as Yara wondered what Theon wants, we must wonder what game the High Sparrow is playing. Petyr Baelish may have competition for the title of most manipulative man in Westeros.

Meereen

Tyrion and the rest of Daenerys' small council hold an audience with the masters from the other cities in Slavers Bay. Tyrion tries diplomacy, suggesting that the masters can have seven years to give up the practice of slavery if they will agree to cut off their support for the Sons of the Harpy. In case words alone are not convincing enough, he also presents them with prostitutes. The offer does not sit well with Missandei and Grey Worm, who are former slaves themselves. Tyrion explains that the horrors of the world cannot be ended in a day and that they will be able to use the slavers' contempt to manipulate them. When other former slaves come to confront Tyrion about making peace with the masters, Grey Worm and Missandei voice reluctant support for his plan. Past experience suggests there is more to Tyrion's scheme than any of them see.

Vaes Dothrak

In the storyline of unending innuendo, Daario Naharis goads Jorah about his obsession with Daenerys, saying his old man's heart would not survive a night in her bedchamber. When Daario sees the spot of greyscale growing on Jorah's forearm, he knows Jorah won't survive long, in any case. Nonetheless, he saves Jorah from immediate death in a dark alley fight. When they meet Daenerys in a chance encounter as she is going to make water (seriously, that's the circumstance the showrunners came up with?), it becomes clear that they have no plan to get her out of the city. Even if they could escape to the countryside, how did they expect to outrun 100,000 furious Dothraki? Our heroes fall short on the "thinking things through" front.

Fortunately, Daenerys does have a plan. When summoned to the hall of the Dosh Khaleen where the council of Khals are to decide her fate, she spars verbally with Khal Moro, who threatens sexual violation by the khals, their bloodriders and their horses. Smiling smugly and handling the iron cages of the torches that light the chamber without betraying any pain, she says the khals will do no such thing to her because they are all about to die. She tips each brazier in succession, and the hall ignites as if saturated in kerosene. Outside the guards lay slaughtered and the doors are barred, clearly the work of Daario and Jorah. As the khals die and the building is consumed by the inferno, Dany emerges, a naked silhouette, godlike in the night fire. The assembly of Dothraki fall to their knees. Even Jorah and Daario are moved to bow before her. Finally it appears the Khaleesi has her army. Now, if she can only find a way to transport them across the Narrow Sea.

So what appeared at first to be an episode of exposition to set future events in motion ended with a seismic shift. In the run-up to this season producers and performers alike hammered home the notion that finally women would not just be game pieces manipulated by the show's men, but would themselves be taking charge. Four episodes in, the show has delivered on this promise. Brienne has finally kept her oaths to both Renly Baratheon and Catelyn Stark. Cersei Lannister and Olenna Tyrel have become unlikely allies to overthrow the religious fanatics that are ruling King's Landing with torture and violence masked as piety. Sansa announces her intent to march on Winterfell, and she wields her influence to convince Jon to join her. Arya drinks from the poison pool but survives because she has successfully become No One. Daenerys doesn't need rescuing. With one move she strikes off the hideous head of a society so ruled by unfettered male dominance that the wives of its deceased leaders willingly abandon hope of joy in their own lives, even when their husbands widow them at the age of sixteen. Many of the show's women are undeniably in charge. Will a kinder, gentler world be the result?

Scenes not Seen

  • Arya's further development as a Faceless Man
  • Euron's preparations for the Kingsmoot
  • The White Walkers' slow, relentless march upon the Wall
  • Bran's integration with the wierwood roots
  • The ongoing demise of Dorne
  • The unrevealed (but obvious) secret of the Tower of Joy
  • Bronn's wanderings (surely he'll turn up in Dorne, right?)
  • the Cleganes -- neither the supposedly dead nor the undead one
Coming Up

  • Sansa and Petyr's (no doubt cheery) reunion
  • The Kingsmoot to determine who rules the dreadful Iron Isles
  • An assignment for Arya
  • Bran has sinister visions

Here is the official trailer to whet your appetite.