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After three weeks of slogging through exposition (which, on a show as sprawling as Game of Thrones, is only to be expected), “Book of the Stranger” finally kicked a number of storylines into high gear. And not a moment too soon, as there are only six episodes remaining in the season and something of substance needed to happen.
The thing I found most interesting about “Book of the Stranger” was its focus on how the women of Westeros are running things now. Margaery Tyrell may be in dire straits at the moment, but she hasn’t broken. She still has the wherewithal to tell Loras not to give in to the High Sparrow’s demands. Considering how haughty and privileged Loras once was, it wasn’t all that shocking to see he’s a complete and utter mess when forced to fend for himself.
I’m particularly intrigued to see if Margaery will be willing to throw Loras under the bus to save herself, should it come down to a choice between the pair. She has shown an amazing ability for self-preservation and has understood her role in the Tyrell push for power, but at what point will she decide that her own life and pride is worth more than saving her brother (who, in all honesty, is likely mentally and emotionally ruined from the experience and unlikely to recover enough to truly lead House Tyrell in the future)?
Like Margaery, Cersei has been behind the scenes plotting since her first appearance on the series, and despite her humiliation last season, she seems to have rebounded nicely. While the character is still a bit one-note (we know she wants power and we know why- and what lengths she will go to to get it- but she never seems to want more than that), kudos to her and Jaime for finally deciding to actually take on the Faith Militant. How it took this long for anyone to propose sending in one of the major armies at their disposal to sweep them out of the city is beyond me.
The Tyrell’s have a strong standing army, and while the Lannisters might still be tied up in the Riverlands (the show hasn’t been particularly clear about the status of the fighting around the countryside, but it is presumably still going on), I can’t imagine they don’t have some bodies to spare for this particular cause. I also can’t believe Lady Olenna was willing to let Margaery rot in prison for this long- she’s been shown to be much more shrewd than that throughout the series, and she knows how important Margaery is to her plans coming to fruition.
Perhaps the most surprising development of the episode (if only for it happening this early in the season) was the return of Dany, the Unburnt. While I know some book readers/George RR Martin acolytes are not thrilled with Dany’s apparent ability to continually survive burning to death (spoiler free- not that there are many spoilers left- explanation for this latest outcry over the plot point can be found here), it was one of the few ways the writers could convincingly get out of the corner they painted Dany into. Yes, Drogon could have flew in to save the day once again, but we all know Dany is going to be one of the cornerstones of the show’s final seasons.
In order for her to be someone on whose shoulders the show can place a large portion of the story, she needs to rise up and take control of her destiny. She did this once before in the early stages of the series, but since she arrived in Meereen, Dany has become stagnant. She has refused to take action, even when it was clear that acting was the only valid option (failing to mount any sort of response to the Sons of the Harpy was not the mark of a strong leader- something we know Dany needs to become in the coming episodes). This was the most decisive we’ve seen Dany in a long time, and it was worth it. Perhaps she needed to be immersed back in the culture where she first found her inner strength, but whatever the reason, I’m genuinely excited to see Dany commanding a Dothraki army once more.
The episode’s best moment, by far, was the long awaited reunion between two Starks. I’m not ashamed to admit that I teared up a tad watching Jon and Sansa reunite (shocking fact: Jon and Sansa never spoke to each other on the show until last night’s episode). Does the reunion make up for the hell the show dragged Sansa through to get to this point? Nope. But it was the show’s strongest moment this season, and it turned Sansa into something she hasn’t ever been before: a leader. Much has been written about Sansa and how she has been a political prisoner, victim of circumstance, and an observer who has been passed around from protector to protector, all of whom fail to protect her for various reasons. It was only a matter of time before the series decided to let Sansa protect herself.
Yes, she is still “protected” by Brienne and Jon, and those who are loyal to him, but it’s clear that she’s the one calling the shots. With Rickon captive and Bran on his extended vision quest to the past, Sansa is the eldest free Stark heir, and she has a right to Winterfell. Jon has wavered throughout the show regarding heading back to Winterfell to take it back largely because he doesn’t feel it belongs to him (and, under the rules of Westeros, he’s correct). But Sansa has a legitimate claim. And now she has the drive to act. With Ramsay’s taunting letter in hand, she now has Jon, Tormund, and the Wildlings on her side. I have no doubt they won’t pick up a few more Northern houses to their cause on their way (House Reed? House Manderly?). Littlefinger is leading the Lords of the Eyrie to march on Winterfell as well (although his motivation is likely to take it for himself). And there’s always the Tullys and Riverlands, should they need them. The upcoming Battle for the North should be epic.
— I would be remiss if I didn’t touch on my favorite scene of the episode: Tormund’s come-hither look and Brienne’s look of utter disgust. Just perfect.
— When Ramsay killed Osha, my first thought was ‘Well, at least he didn’t rape her first.’ Which pretty much sums up Ramsay as a character. Sansa, please kill him soon.
— Another woman on the show taking charge this week was Yara, who has always been one of the more interesting characters on the show to me, yet has barely had any screen time. The favored heir to the throne in Pyke, a place that would, theoretically, let a woman take the throne if she gets support. A warrior who commands a band of fighters. She’s something of an anomaly in this world. I hope we get to learn more about her during the kingsmoot process.
— Good lord, these “kids” are growing like weeds. First Sansa, Bran, and Rickon, and now little Robin is a giant. Must be something in those Tully genes.
— No Arya or Bran this week. But the episode was so full, I didn’t miss them.