This review contains spoilers.
The motto of this show has been the same since the very beginning. When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. Sometimes, just when it seems like winning is right around the corner, it turns out to be a nasty case of death instead. Westeros is a land where good, honorable people die terrible deaths, and also a land where despicable people die terrible deaths as well. Generally, everyone dies a terrible death. Valar morghulis.
Once upon a time, during the War of Five Kings, Balon Greyjoy (Patrick Malahyde) was considered an actual king. Sure, he only ruled the Iron Islands, and through them the northern seas, but still, that’s a kingdom, albeit a nautically-based one. Now, the three Baratheon combatants are dead, and the King in the North is just a head on a pike somewhere. Balon Greyjoy remains, though his ambitious campaign to take the north was actually horribly unsuccessful. Theon ruined any possible alliances with the Northmen by “killing” Bran and Rickon, Ramsay ruined Theon as a bargaining chip, and the last of the Iron Island strongholds has been retaken by its rightful owners. Now, the Lord Reaver of Pyke is now just a stain on the rocks, thrown off one of Pyke’s many precarious rope bridges by none other than his newly-introduced brother, Euron (Pilou Asbaek).
One of the things that Game Of Thrones does throughout this episode is create tension out of effectively nothing. An old man trying to cross a rickety bridge in a driving rain storm shouldn’t be quite so tense, but at times he seems like he may actually fall over to a natural death. Of course, Euron shows up and tosses him over the side of the bridge after a brief skirmish, but hey, at least it could have gone either way.
Euron’s not the only one with blood on his hands. Throughout the last couple of seasons, there’s been a baby-shaped axe hanging over Ramsay Bolton’s head. He might have been made legitimate, and he might be his father’s heir and the only member of the family with a legitimate claim to the north through marriage to Sansa Stark, but he’s also a raving lunatic who has a cold-blooded murderer for a father. Roose strikes me as the type to kill before the other person can kill him, so with the announcement of Walda Frey’s healthy baby boy, the clock is ticking for the two of these men. Sure, they might smile and hug it out, but when the knife plunges into someone, it’s another great moment of tension. For a good five or ten seconds, we’re not sure which one of the two Boltons has been killed.
Unsurprisingly, it’s Iwan Rheon’s Ramsay holding the knife at the end. That sets up yet another incredibly tense few scenes where the new Lord Bolton summons Walda Frey and the new baby. When Ramsay takes the baby from Walda, there’s a palpable tension. We know what Ramsay is capable of, and smashing a baby is nothing compared to patricide. Walda seems to know this too, or she seems to be a little suspicious of the way Ramsay holds the baby, but her husband Roose will protect her… or he would if he wasn’t bleeding out in Winterfell’s great hall. Ramsay is a monster, and after he takes Walda to the kennels, it’s only a matter of time before her fate is sealed, too.
Fortunately, Jeremy Podeswa tells the tale of the death of Walda Frey through sound and Ramsay’s observation; we don’t watch a woman and a baby get ripped apart by dogs, in a much-needed touch of restraint. Watching it happen isn’t nearly as tense as waiting for it to happen, and the episode had already filled a lot of its blood quotient thanks to a couple of amazing scenes: FrankenMountain gets some revenge on the flasher who tells tales of his indecent proposal to Cersei Lannister during her walk of shame by smashing his head into pudding against the wall, and Wun Wun picks up an archer and essentially does the same to him, albeit with the former Night Watch member’s entire body instead of just the head.
Multiple scenes of violence, multiple dead lords, and the strongest moments are actually the comedy moments. The FrankenMountain head smash made me laugh out loud, and I laughed more when the Night’s Watch archer met a similar fate. The Varys and Tyrion scenes, as usual, are great, with Tyrion’s trip down to see the dragons almost as suspenseful as handing a baby over to Ramsay. It also ends up drawing laughs, if only because Tyrion diffuses every situation possible with humor, even if everyone around him isn’t laughing. That’s a credit to Dave Hill, who wrote tonight’s episode. Tense when it needs to be, and surprisingly funny when it’s time to relieve a little bit of the growing tension.
It sets a lot of things into motion, throwing the world of Westeros into turmoil. A dead Prince in Dorne, the North in the hands of a sociopath and his lick-spittle Karstark retainers, a dead Lord of the Iron Islands, and shattered alliances all around; Walda might not have been the best Frey, but she’s still a dead Frey, and she was slaughtered by a Bolton. Surely the Greyjoys aren’t quite over the Boltons taking the north back from them and shattering Theon. The North keeps the old Gods and remembers the old ways, and there are still some Starks out there who could be a threat, but will Ramsay actually go through with his insane plan to attack Castle Black and kill the only force standing between the White Walkers and Westeros?
Well, it’s Ramsay, so the answer is probably yes, but it’s not so much about the destination, but about how we get there. Jon Snow’s resurrection has been in the works since Melisandre returned to Castle Black from Stannis’s camp, but it’s still a very effective scene that says a lot about all the characters involved, particularly Melisandre and Davos (talk about an unlikely pair of allies). That we can know what’s going to happen, but still enjoy it when it comes about is a good sign; the show is doing the logical thing with characters as we understand them, but still able to make the logical choices entertaining.
Westeros is always at its best when there’s chaos all around. With noblemen dying like flies, chaos is what’s going to happen. The game of thrones is in full effect, and only the strong, or those resurrected by magic, will survive.
US Correspondent Ron Hogan yelled at his television when the end credits started up. But that just means there’s more Game of Thrones to watch next week, and that means more people for the Sand Snakes to kill. Find more by Ron daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.