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The Queen’s Justice Served Cold

Cersei exacts revenge, as we should expect. But another queen seems to be wandering from her true self.

Jon Snow: Champion brooder
HBO / Vox

Alas, the Queen of Thorns flowers no more. And just when we needed her to rescind her advice: Dany, don’t be such a dragon.


The long-awaited meeting between Denerys Targaryen and Jon Snow exposed unanticipated contrasts between Fire and Ice that, sadly, leave us with an unfavorable impression of the Queen of Many Honorifics. Jon and his traveling party have scarcely stepped on the beach before Dany’s retinue deprives them of their landing craft and their weapons. Jon—who has faced down White Walkers, for Pete’s sake—surrenders Longclaw to a cartoonishly leering Dothraki. As Jon and Tyrion exchange pleasantries during the long walk up the sea wall path [Tyrion: Sansa is smarter than she lets on. Jon: She’s starting to let on], one of the dragons rises up out of nowhere to buzz over their heads.

In case this orchestrated show of force is insufficient to demonstrate Daenerys’ might, Missandei recites her laundry list of mostly self-awarded titles while Jon and Davos stand gawking at the grand darkness of the Dragonstone chamber. Davos’s response? “This is Jon Snow.” [Awkward silence.] “He’s King in the North.” The rest of the scene is cleverly written banter, the underlying message of which is that Dany believes Jon should bend the knee because she is queen by birthright and because Jon’s ancestor, Torrhen Stark (known as the King who Knelt) pledged fealty to her ancestor, Aegon Targaryen. Jon says any Stark loyalty to House Targaryen ended when Dany’s father burned his grandfather and his uncle. Jon then gets to the real reason he is there, but White Walkers cannot deflect Daenerys from her singular focus on winning the Iron Throne.

Varys interrupts just as the tension is peaking, and Dany sends Jon and Davos to take a bath. Jon asks if he is her prisoner, to which she responds, “Not yet.” Dragonstone is Hotel California, apparently.

In past seasons, many viewers (and former viewers) complained that the show too often used rape as a lazy shortcut to deprive women characters of their agency and that too many of the female characters exist only to be men’s foils. “The Queen’s Justice” portrays two Queens—Dany and Cercei—possessed of plenty of agency. Unfortunately, one is presented as the power-mad destructive force of Westeros. The other, for reasons unknown, has regressed from a dynamic leader who won followers through her deeds to one who demands loyalty through intimidation and due to her birthright alone. While Cersei’s murderous self-possession may irk viewers, she has never been portrayed as any kind of hero. Dany’s sudden insistence on blind subservience, on the other hand, makes no sense. When she crucified or roasted the nobility in Essos, it was always to serve the cause of justice. None of her followers are with her because they submitted. They chose to follow her.

Tyrion tries to set both Jon and Dany on the right path. Jon refused to kneel before Dany, saying, “No disrespect, but I don’t know you.” Practically in the next breath he asked her to abandon her life’s quest to help him—a complete stranger—defeat monsters that she knows only from fairy tales. Tyrion shows Jon that a smaller favor might help them find common ground before he asks for the impossible. In conveying Jon’s request for dragonglass to Dany, he pushes the same message: build trust by giving Jon something of little consequence.

We should have expected dramatic tension in their first meeting, so their relationship can blossom as the story progresses. They will ultimately join forces, of course. As Davos and then Tyrion point out, both have gathered followers through their deeds, titles be damned. Too bad the showrunners chose to make Dany a petulant bully. They should have found another way to portray conflict. Unless Dany turns out to be the Mad Queen that Cersei says she is, the character departure in this episode does not reflect her true essence.

The great irony of the meeting, of course, is that Jon’s very existence means Dany’s life mission to assert herself as the rightful ruler of the Seven Kingdoms rests upon a false assumption. Will she let him sail with the mined dragonglass after a raven from Winterfell delivers Bran’s secret? Or will she be just as threatened by the mere prospect of a challenger as Robert Barratheon was, way back in season one?


Sansa is proving to be a practical ruler, taking stock of winter stores and correcting the work of shoddy armorers. Littlefinger is raspy-whispering useless advice about fighting every battle, everywhere, always in her mind when a page announces, with improbable vagueness, “Lady Sansa, the Gate.” Those expecting Arya’s return were surely disappointed to learn that, instead, Bran is home. Well, what’s left of Bran, anyway. He is oddly vacant. Sansa’s joy at seeing him is short-lived. She does not care that, as the oldest trueborn Stark, he is entitled to take over her duties, suggesting that theories speculating that she’ll undermine Jon are unfounded. But when Bran uses visions of her wedding night to demonstrate what it means to be the Three-Eyed Raven, she is understandably creeped out. Wait ‘til she gets a load of her little sister.

Viewers may have missed an important detail that was hidden in another clunky unlikelihood. Sansa asks the maester the length of the longest winter of the past hundred years. He says he doesn’t know, which…come on. All of the noble children of Westeros know the Long Night lasted a generation, and now recent winters get mentioned all the time. So it’s silly to have Sansa even ask the question, and it’s ridiculous that the maester wouldn’t know the answer. But the line permitted the maester to say that Maester Luwin had kept detailed records of all the raven messages brought to Winterfell over the years. This raises Littlefinger’s interest, of course. He manipulated Sansa’s Aunt Lysa into sending a Raven to Winterfell in the very first episode. That message said she suspected the Lannisters of murdering her husband and was meant to sew chaos in Westeros for Littlefinger’s advantage. Sansa, who is “starting to let on” how smart she is, could learn that he is the cause of all the horrors to befall her family. As if the Ramsay fiasco didn’t give her reason enough to despise him.

King’s Landing

The same crowd that once spat on Cersei and pelted her with rotten cabbages cheers Euron’s parade of the queen’s captured enemies. He is crass, as usual, as he throws Ellaria Sand and her daughter, Tyene, at the foot of the throne, saying he has given Cersei justice for her murdered daughter. Cersei defers Euron’s reward until the war is won. It’s a race to see which of them will betray the other first.

After Ellaria and Tyene are safely shackled in the dungeons, Cersei recounts Oberyn’s demise at the hands of Ser Gregor. He should have won, she says, but he couldn’t resist grandstanding. Cersei could certainly be accused of the same thing. In the ultimate eye-for-an-eye, she kisses Tyene with poisoned lips and leaves her to die in the cell while her mother watches. Although it does seem the show is clearing the decks of minor characters so the main event can play out, leaving Dorne’s last characters to die a slow death leaves open the possibility they may yet rise to torment the queen (and us) again.

Who is left now to tell us all the uncomfortable truths we need to hear?
HBO / Vox

Casterly Rock and Highgarden

A very different justice is meted out to Lady Olenna Tyrell. Jaime has outsmarted Tyrion (whose seat beside Daenerys must be getting hot after two tactical failures decimated their forces) by removing most of the Lannister forces from Casterly Rock before the Unsullied arrived. The forces, led by Jaime, Bronn and the Tarlys, march on Highgarden and take it, simultaneously depriving Daenerys of an ally and gaining enough assets to pay the Lannisters’ sizable debt to the Iron Bank. Euron’s fleet arrives to destroy the Unsullied’s ships, stranding them there.

Jaime finds Lady Olenna in an upper chamber and grants her a merciful death through painless poison. She drinks with gusto, and tells him with more gusto to let Cersei know that it was she who poisoned Joffrey. Diana Rigg, you will be missed.

The Citadel

Ser Jorah’s remarkable overnight recovery from greyscale earns him his freedom. It earns Sam a scolding. But also, no small amount of admiration from Archmaester Marwyn. As a reward, Sam is not expelled from the Citadel. As a punishment, he must copy a mountain of rotting, paper-mite infested parchments. Basically, he has to do lines. Enough with the Professor Slughorn nods to Harry Potter, okay?

Sam’s farewell handshake with to Jorah gave us a nice moment of human decency. What else will Sam do?


Varys’s attempt to assert authority over Mellisandre by letting her know he’s onto her game of avoiding Jon falls flat when she admits she made terrible mistakes, then says that she will be back to Westeros because she is supposed to die there, just like him. She is the second red priestess to shock the Spider. Remember Kinvara, who asked if he would like to know what the voice in the flames from his childhood said? If he really hates magic and all who practice it as much as he says, Varys should probably state away from all of R’hllor’s followers.

Tyrion’s wit was finally released in all its glory:

o On dragonglass: “Apparently it kills White Walkers and their soldiers. Stops them. Neutralizes them. Unsure about the nomenclature.”

o To Jon after the dragon buzzed their heads: “I’d say you get used to them. But you never really do.”

o In response to Dany’s accusation that he makes things up and attributes them to a mythical “wise man”: "I would never do that…to you.”

o Atop the cliff to Jon, while lamenting the failure of his plan for the Iron Fleet: “You look a lot better brooding than I do.”

Welcome back, little man. We missed you.

Olenna Tyrell’s wit was released for the final time:

o On the sword that Joffrey named “Widow’s Wail”: “He really was a cunt, wasn’t he?”

o To Jamie, after he said there are lessons to be learned from every failure: “You must be very wise by now.”

So long, Queen of Thorns. We will miss you.

In his impassioned speech, Davos let slip that Jon had been stabbed in the heart for his people. Dany asked Tyrion what he made of it. Since he didn’t know, he chalked it up to fancy, saying it’s dreadfully dreary in the North. What may come of Dany learning that Jon is a wight?

The laws of time and travel just don’t exist, apparently. Now Euron is everywhere at once. Oh, well. Guess we’ll have to roll with it. At least this means we can’t rule out the Hound magically teleporting from the North to King’s Landing for a fight with his reanimated brother.

After learning that the Iron Fleet was lost, Dany suggests taking the dragons out to sink Euron’s ships. Her advisors talk her out of it, because she would be alone and personally at risk. Too bad she didn’t ignore them. Was there at least a suggestion that the other dragons need riders? We should find out before this season ends if Jon rides Rhaegal—who was named for his father.

Before the season started it was obvious that Dany’s forces had to be depleted, lest she walk over all of Westeros in a dull and obvious annihilation. It is surprising that Euron Greyjoy has been the vehicle for accomplishing her diminution.

We saw just enough of Theon to know his life is still an abysmal thing. At this point, we all want him to die and be in peace as much as he does.


The character I most wish could return to Game of Thrones is:

This poll is closed

  • 40%
    Ned Stark
    (22 votes)
  • 21%
    Olenna Tyrell
    (12 votes)
  • 7%
    Catelyn Stark
    (4 votes)
  • 12%
    Margaery Tyrell
    (7 votes)
  • 16%
    (9 votes)
  • 1%
    Other (explain in comments section)
    (1 vote)
55 votes total Vote Now