*spoilers, naturally, follow for those yet to watch Game of Thrones Season 6 Episode 4 ‘The Book of the Stranger’*
The house words of House Targaryen, ‘Fire and Blood’, seem like the most appropriate way to begin this review, since the world of Ice and Fire is now set on an inexorable path towards suffering the vengeful wrath of two Targaryens.
Well, one and a half. Jon Snow doesn’t yet know that he is a Targaryen, but like Daenerys, he is on a path towards a bloody war. And like Dany, he has massive reinforcements coming, although, again, he doesn’t know about his yet.
‘The Book of the Stranger’, taking its name from the Westerosi ‘Holy Bible’, was a thrilling episode in a season that so far served naught but thrilling episodes. It wasn’t as thematically linked as episodes of the show tend to be, but what it lacked for in meta themes it more than made up for with bewitching scenes, a Stark reunion, and THAT awesome Dothraki ending.
The episode opened, again, at the Wall, which so far has proven to be the biggest storyline of the season. The fallout from Jon’s epic mic drop at the end of last episode involved Dolorous Edd Tollett, presumptive Lord Commander, attempting to talk Jon out of his decision. With what they all saw at Hardhome last season, the near certain impending White Walker invasion, Tollett knows they need Jon to hold the Wall when the time comes. But for a man who was stabbed by the very people he was trying to help, Jon understandably wants no part of the Night’s Watch. And as he keeps reminding everyone who asks, the Night’s Watch vows are till death, and he did die.
And then, THAT moment. After over three years of Starks narrowly missing each other- Arya and Rob, Bran and Jon, Arya and Sansa, Sansa and Rickon- Game of Thrones fans were treated to a moment of Stark happiness for the first time in a very long time. Jon and Sansa’s hug on the Night’s Watch yard rivalling any moment you can think of for the most satisfying in the series.
Sansa has braved so much to get back to her family, and despite disappointment after disappointment, she finally managed to meet one, even if it was the bastard brother she used to make fun of when she was the comely little princess and he was the bastard tainting their father’s precious honour.
And Sansa rightfully sought Jon’s forgiveness, both longing for those simpler times when the worst each could face was Jon being barred from entering the hall where Lord Stark was hosting the King and Sansa being embarrassed by her wild little sister.
Sansa, all fire and blood, was unprepared for her brother being resigned to fate after braving the vagaries of politics and war. But although she has suffered in her own way, she hasn’t seen half of what Jon has, and being stabbed to death has a way of sapping all the fight out of someone. So Sansa unsuccessfully tried to lobby her brother to lead a charge to take back Winterfell, but Jon was too far resigned to take up the mantle, even with the threat that she would do it with our without him.
Until the other bastard, new Lord of Winterfell and Warden of the North, Ramsay, sent a letter revealing the fruits of his meeting with Lord Umber last week. He has Rickon Stark, and unless he gets his bride Sansa back, he has a list of his planned fate for Jon and Sansa, none too pleasant to read about. At that point, the die was set that Jon would lead the fight against Ramsay, and the famed bastard bowl (battle of the bastards) was set in motion.
The wildling leader Tormund tells Jon he only has 2,000 fighting men, but they have help coming, even though neither knows it yet. This episode also saw the return of Lord Petyr Baelish, the cunning Littlefinger. His abilities have yet to diminish, as we see in the scene where he brilliantly intimidates the Vale lord Bronze Yohn Royce with the threat of being thrown through the Moon Door. Littlefinger has little Robin Arryn in his thrall, which means he is de-facto Lord of the Vale; and as he wants the Vale Lords to march north to help Sansa, that is what the Vale Lords would do. This is a huge, unexpected boost, and I’m guessing the Vale armies would show up just in time to stop Ramsay’s marauding army from wiping out Jon.
The intrigue and the plotting never stops in Game of Thrones, and down in King’s Landing things are coming to a head. The devious High Sparrow has manoeuvred Margaery into a position where taking the infamous ‘walk of shame’ seems to be her only option, to stop the suffering which her brother insists he can take no more. And his talk with Tommen last week, we now see, was to get the king to let his people stand down, under the guise of keeping his queen safe.
Cersei and Jaime are having none of that, and despite their reservations, both Olenna and Kevan know they need all the help they can get to rescue Margaery and Loras. With the news that Margaery is contemplating taking the walk, a vengeful Cersei makes the pitch to join forces and defeat the Faith Militant once and for all. ‘You once spoke of your respect for our father because he understood the necessity of working with one’s rivals’ she told the Queen of Thorns. She has learned that lesson the hard way herself, and even though she couldn’t care less about Margaery, she hates the High Sparrow even more. A war is brewing in the capital.
Tyrion puts his best diplomatic foot forward when he meets envoys of the masters of Astapor, Yunkai and Volantis, the three slave cities funding the Sons of the Harpy’s insurgent war against Dany’s Meereen. Like Olenna, Tywin and lately Cersei, Tyrion recognises that sometimes making peace means having to sit down with distasteful people and giving them some of what they want, even if it makes you want to throw up in your mouth. ‘You make peace with your enemies, not your friends’, is how the wise dwarf put it. The former slaves in Meereen seem loathe to accept that they have to make a deal with the slavers, with even Missandei and Grey Worm hostile to Tyrion’s moves. But without peace, there would be no Meereen for Danaerys to get back to, and no matter the cost, Tyrion is determined to leave a city for her to get back to.
With the way the former slaves were showed, putting forth their hostility to Tyrion’s ideas, we might have a mini rebellion brewing against the loveable Imp and his eunuch friend. The duo of Tyrion and Varys are displaying all their years of political savvy from King’s Landing in their roles as rulers of Meereen. But the slave cities of Essos have shown themselves not to be too malleable to change, and the signals seem ominous for the pair.
For the first time in four episodes this season, the episode did not close out at the wall, instead focusing on Daenerys Targaryen, the Unburnt, Queen of the Andals and the Rhoynar and the First Men, Lord of the Seven Kingdoms and Protector of the Realm, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, Queen of Meereen, Breaker of Chains and Mother of Dragons.
Dany has the tendency of reeling off her titles, almost instinctually, every time she is in any sort of difficulty. It can come off as grating, presumptuous and entitled, but it’s exactly because she’s all those three things that she has all those titles. Having been sitting around Meereen for much of the past two seasons doing nothing, even chaining her dragons, it’s difficult to remember why there is so much fuss over her, and how she is able to command so much awe, fear and respect in her followers. But the ending to this episode brought all her conquests into sharp relief, reminding everyone why Dany is indeed the Mother of Dragons.
There has never been any question that Dany was leaving Vaes Dothrak with the entire Dothraki contingent behind her, but the manner she accomplished that should earn her some points for style. Daenerys entire career has been about making huge, awe inspiring statements that earn her followers in bulk- the night she hatched her dragons and her takeover of Astapor immediately comes to mind- and once again she delivered, and gets to make her return to Meereen with the entire Dothraki horde behind her.
The situation in Meereen is precarious, and it’s difficult to see how long Tyrion’s fragile peace deal would hold. With the impending return of the Queen, their journey towards Westeros should be imminent, but then again their entire fleet was destroyed in the season premiere.
With the midway point of the season next week, the pieces are gradually being moved into place as the season’s climax steadily approaches. Huge situations are developing at the Wall and in the North, in King’s Landing and in Essos. Alliances are shifting, armies are being marshalled; and a huge shower of fire and blood is on its way.