Monday, June 19, 2017

Game of Thrones (Re)Watch 6.4: "Book of the Stranger"

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6.4 “Book of the Stranger”
Written by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Directed by Daniel Sackheim

Reunions abound in this episode; nearly everyone gets to see someone they haven’t seen in a while (some longer than others). Martin referred to characters meeting back up as the plot “delta-ing back in,” contracting in preparation for the end game. Now, obviously, the people Benioff and Weiss have meeting up are not the same people Martin has meeting up toward the end of A Dance with Dragons or will have meeting up in The Winds of Winter, but that’s because Benioff and Weiss are so far off-page at this point there’s no salvaging the story.

Edd tries to talk Jon into staying, but Jon points out that his Night’s Watch vow holds until death, and he died, so he’s leaving. At that point, Sansa, Pod, and Brienne arrive at Castle Black and there’s a whole reunion scene that would be way more touching if Jon and Sansa had spoken at all in the first episode. Or mentioned each other at any point since then. Or anything other than completely ignoring the fact of each other’s existence. Sansa claims she often thought about how horrible she was to Jon (she did?) and he admits that he wasn’t a joy to be around, either (still isn’t) and they forgive each other. They make plans to go take back Winterfell, even though Jon’s tired of fighting.

Meanwhile, Davos tries to find out what happened to Stannis, and all Melisandre will tell him is that Stannis died in battle. Brienne chimes in that she saw that battle and it was a massacre, and by the way, she totally murdered Stannis and he admitted to using blood magic against Renly just before she took his head off. Davos looks shocked—shocked!—as though he didn’t already know about Mel’s shadow-babies. Also, Mel plans to go with Jon because now he’s the Prince That Was Promised.

I’m generally confused about show-Mel’s motivation. In the books, she’s fiercely loyal to Stannis, completely unable to admit that she might be wrong about his fate, and believes she’s helping him find his destiny to fight and win the upcoming war against the dark. Sure, her religious philosophy is a bit twisted and she’s willing to do anything to achieve her goals, but her main goal is getting Stannis as much power—political and metaphysical—as possible so he’s best positioned to fight the Dark. Show-Mel hangs out with Stannis until it looks like he’s losing and then jumps ship faster than a drowning rat. She told him that if she’d been with him at the Blackwater they could have won, and then, when faced with an actual battle where she could have proved her abilities were invaluable, she bolts. She seems to have generally forgotten the whole Ultimate Battle thing and just wants to find a man to serve/manipulate—Jon is the next most promising man after Stannis dies. Now, I’m certain that in the books Melisandre will realize that the reason the fire keeps showing her Jon or snowstorms when she asks to see “The Prince That Was Promised” is that Jon is The Prince That Was Promised and possibly switch allegiances, but I’m also certain that the context for this switch will be wildly different and more complex than what we see in the show.

Later, in the mess hall, everything is awkward. The food is bad enough that the visitors are having trouble eating it (Tormund is having no such problem), Tormund is staring at Brienne and making her visibly uncomfortable, and then a Bolton messenger comes in. Ramsay says he has Rickon and he wants Sansa back. This is the final impetus Jon needs to finally shake off this particular bout of brooding and agree to help retake Winterfell. And since he’s no longer bound by his Night’s Watch vows because he said so, it’s not treason like it was in the books! That’s convenient!

Ramsay has Rickon, of course, because the Umbers turned him over in the last episode. Now Osha’s brought before Ramsay. She tries to convince him that she had no real loyalty to the Starks and could be super useful to him—by sitting on his lap. Hey, it worked for Theon. But when she goes for a knife, he gets it first and puts it through her throat. Another casualty of Benioff and Weiss’ cast-trimming rampage. Also completely predictable; Osha (despite being an accomplished Wildling warrior) tries to manipulate Ramsay through sex and gets murdered for it because that’s what happens to women on this show.

Petyr goes back to the Vale, where Robin is also bad at archery. He manipulates Robin into not trusting Royce, who totally has Petyr’s number, and then into putting Petyr in charge of the Vale armies so he can march north and rescue Sansa, who’s been “kidnapped” by the Boltons through absolutely no fault of Petyr’s. (cough)

In King’s Landing, Margaery is finally allowed to see Loras, who’s completely broken. He’s been tortured half to death and is willing to agree to anything that will make the torture stop. This whole sequence continues the problematic way that the show handles homosexuality in general and Loras in particular. The entire imprisonment plot for Loras and Margaery hinges on Loras being gay and Margaery lying to cover that up. Yet we see what Margaery’s enduring several times before we ever see Loras. Despite being the central excuse of the plot, Loras isn’t given any screen time between his arrest and now—eight full episodes later. Benioff and Weiss have shifted Westerosi attitudes and the High Sparrow’s priorities in order to use Loras as the lynchpin in Cersei’s plan to get Margaery out of the way, and then they discard him as soon as that shift has taken place. So much of the portrayal of Loras’ sexuality is focused on the straight people in his life; it’s used to position people as bad/intolerant vs. good/tolerant, and he ends up used as a political football in the larger story. And Benioff and Weiss don’t do anything to examine what that looks like for Loras. As a character, he’s a convenient excuse to kind of keep following the plot of the books despite all the massive changes they’ve made, and the consequences of their changes are never explored at any depth.

Meanwhile, Cersei has to yoink Tommen out from under yet another person trying to influence him against her—this time Pycelle. She gets him to tell her what he and the High Sparrow talked about, and then storms the Small Council chamber to demand an alliance between Lannister and Tyrell to prevent Margaery from having to do a Walk of Atonement and to rescue Loras. Kevan doesn’t want to help, partly because Tommen ordered him not to use Lannister forces to attack the Sept and partly because there’s a real possibility for civil war, but Cersei asks if he wants to get Lancel out of that cult or not.

The problem here is that there’s no logical reason for Margaery to have to do a Walk of Atonement. There have been two walks like this in the story so far, three if Tytos Lannister’s mistress was ever mentioned (I don’t think she was), and all three were public humiliation and punishment for lewd sexual behavior—the High Septon for visiting a brothel and Cersei for adultery. Margaery’s accused of perjury. Why in the world would she have to do a walk of atonement? What purpose could that possibly serve beyond pulling down the nobility one brick at a time? And if that’s what the High Sparrow’s doing, then he’s not nearly as pious as he (and the show) wants us to think he is, because guess who would be the major power in the kingdom at that point?

Again, this is an attempt to correct for the changes made from the book, wherein Margaery is accused of many of the same sexual sins that Cersei is (minus incest), but released because there’s no evidence. Having her imprisoned for perjury—after she committed it on-screen—takes away that possibility, and I don’t think Benioff and Weiss considered the reasons for or implications of the walk of atonement; they just decided that that’s the price for being released from Sept custody before a formal trial has taken place.

Theon somehow manages to get to Pyke in the same amount of time it took Sansa et al to get to the Wall (they really aren’t even trying with geography and travel times anymore), and goes to find Yara. She’s irritated with him because good men died to rescue him and he betrayed her. He apologizes and says Ramsay broke him into pieces. She wants to know if he’s here to try to take the Driftwood Throne now that Balon’s dead, but he says no; he wants to help make her queen. This has the potential to be a really interesting, honestly feminist (not faux-feminist) storyline, but of course Benioff and Weiss muck it up beyond all reason.

In Meereen, Tyrion is being really bad at politics and making his allies angry because he’s a manipulative, conniving little turd. He firs tries to convince Grey Worm and Missandei that he’s totally the right person to negotiate with the masters because he was a slave for a couple of days. Missandei’s having none of it (good for her) but that doesn’t change anything; Tyrion still thinks he’s the smartest person in any room. He has a talk with the masters of Astapor, Yunkai, and Volantis, trying to convince them that they don’t need slaves to be rich—just look at Westeros (missing entirely that the people of Essos see Westeros as barbaric)—and proposes a phase-out of slavery rather than immediate abolishment in exchange for them cutting off funding to the Sons of the Harpy. Grey Worm and Missandei are horrified. Tyrion gives the men some prostitutes to keep them busy and leaves.

In the throne room, a group of freed slaves yells at Tyrion for meeting with the slavers. He makes a big show of not talking to them from the top of the dais and gets Grey Worm and Missandei to vouch for him that he’s trying to bring peace. Once they’ve left, Grey Worm yells at Tyrion for seeing people as tools and reminds him that the masters have far more experience with politics than he does.

Not only has Tyrion replaced every other advisor Dany has, now it looks like Benioff and Weiss are trying to set him up as an even better ruler than Dany. He’s willing to compromise! He doesn’t talk down to people from the top of a mini-pyramid! He’s a man of the people! Of course his plans fall apart later, but then he’s still the only one with a plan beyond “burn them all” when a plan is needed.

Daario and Jorah have reached Vaes Dothrak, and they make nebulous plans to go in, find Dany, and get her out. Of course they get in a fight and of course Daario has to kill a man. But then they meet up with Dany, who’s gotten out of the temple of the Dosh Khaleen by telling them she has to pee. She tells them she has a plan to escape but she needs their help to do it (of course she does).

The khals gather—in the Temple of the Dosh Khaleen, for some reason—and debate what to do with Dany. She asks if they want to know what she thinks, and they stare at her like one of their horses just started talking. They say they don’t care what she wants because she’s not Dosh Khaleen yet, but they clearly also don’t care what the Dosh Khaleen think because where are they? She insults them until they decide that she doesn’t get the “honor” of living with the Dosh Khaleen, and instead they’ll rape her to death. So she puts a hand on one of the braziers, shocking them with her unburned-ness, and shoves it over. Jorah and Daario have barred the doors, so the khals are trapped in the temple with a crazy pyromaniac who apparently can control fire because she pushes over the last brazier right at Khal Moro and the fire goes at him like a living thing. Her dress catches fire but of course she’s fine because something something fire cannot kill the dragon (despite Martin’s emphatic rejection of Dany’s fire-proofness). Then, as the entirety of the gathered Dothraki watch, the temple goes up in flames and Dany walks out, naked (of course) but completely unhurt. And everyone drops to their knees.

I have so many problems with this scene. First of all, the power structure of the Dothraki clearly is whatever Benioff and Weiss need it to be. The Dosh Khaleen are in charge of Vaes Dothrak until they’re not. Joining them is an honor until it’s a punishment. Rape is something done to slaves by men taking their rewards for fighting well until it’s a threat to terrorize a woman who by all rights is a member of the Dothraki. There’s no internal consistency at all. Then there’s the implications of Dany destroying the entire upper echelon of the Dothraki government (such as it is) and burning down one of their religious sites and being hailed as a “god” and the rightful new ruler of the Dothraki for it—complete with a sea of brown people dropping to their knees in front of the pretty white girl. (I’ll have even more to say about the treatment of destroying a temple and the nobility at the end of the season.)

This whole thing is just . . . so problematic. Benioff and Weiss clearly have learned nothing from the uproar about the ending of “Mhysa.”

Khal Moro
Khal Brozho
Khal Qorro
Khal Forzho
Khal Rhalko

Next week: Hodor.

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