This review contains spoilers
One of the things that Game Of Thrones hasn’t really done much is flashback moments. We got one of young Cersei last season, and this season, thanks to the adventures of Bran Stark and the Three Eyed Max Von Sydow, we’ve been getting flashbacks pretty regularly. Bran Stark, as we saw previously, got to see his father when he was Bran’s age, fighting with Benjen in a Winterfell training session while Lyanna rode around on horseback being charming. This episode, we get closer and closer to the secret origin of Jon Snow with Ned (Robert Aramayo, who looks uncannily like Sean Bean), Howland Reed (Leo Woodruff), and the others squaring off against two of Rhaegar Targaryen’s Kingsguard, Arthur Dayne (Luke Roberts) and Oswell Whent (Eddie Eyre).
It’s one of the key moments of Robert’s Rebellion, in which the last of the Targaryen holdouts is killed defending the Tower of Joy. Lyanna Stark screams from the top of the tower while Ned’s bannermen get cut down by the greatest swordsman who ever lived, the Sword of the Morning. It’s one of the more audacious fights in a show known for some incredible displays of martial arts prowess. Four men take on Arthur Dayne, after several others get cut down, and he not only holds his own, he kills all but two, Ned and Howland Reed. It’s an incredible display of skill, but it’s also choreographed very well, because it’s not like a standard martial arts fight in which everyone comes after the hero one at a time; everyone comes after Arthur Dayne at once, but he’s so good with his two swords that he turns them all back and very quickly chops the group down to manageable numbers.
Of course, Bran learns that winners write history, because Ned doesn’t beat Arthur Dayne; Howland Reed stabs him in the back. Still, when the present time is as chaotic as it is in Westeros, it’s not surprising that Bran would rather spend his time looking at Ned Stark’s greatest hits. The Sand Snakes have taken over Dorne. Cersei is struggling against her uncle Kevan and the Small Council while the Faith Militant continues to run roughshod over King Tommen. Dany is taken to Vaes Dothrak where, once again, she’s the victim of circumstances rather than the person in control of them, stripped of rank and title with her fate in the hands of the assembled Dothraki horde. Meanwhile, Jon faces his murderers, Ramsay Bolton gets his hands on a little leverage, and Tyrion tries in vain to have a conversation with Grey Worm and Missandei.
One of the things I have to give David Benioff and D.B. Weiss credit for is that the scripts that they write always end up being very funny. Tyrion attempting to have a conversation with Missandei and Grey Worm is flat-out hilarious. Those three are just so different that Tyrion might as well have another conversation with a dragon for all the good his attempts at playing drinking games with the non-drinkers will do him. The Small Council’s meeting, featuring a guest appearance from the always appreciated Olenna Tyrell (Dame Diana Rigg, earning the Dame title with appearance on Game Of Thrones), is also very funny, but it illustrates a pretty crucial point.
The Small Council isn’t in charge of anyone or anything. Jaime, Cersei, and FrankenMountain can walk into the meeting room and sit down, but who is going to kick them out? Mace Tyrell? Hardly. Similarly, Jaime and Cersei might wander into the meeting, but who is going to make the rest of the Small Council stick around, especially after Pycelle breaks wind? Not even FrankenMountain is brave enough to kill the people who are nominally in charge of the kingdom’s day-to-day functioning. Tyrion and the Small Council: Meereen Edition are also nominally in charge, but given that Meereen is in open rebellion and Astapor and Yunkai are back in the hands of their Masters, are they really in charge of anything, or are they as helpless in their own way as Daenerys is among the women of the Dosh Khaleen? Even Tommen can only manage a stalemate with the High Sparrow, and he’s the king of Westeros! Ramsay is clearly in charge of the North, but he’s only as in charge as his bannermen will allow him to be, as we saw with the Umber refusing to kiss the ring or bend the knee to the former Ramsay Snow. Even with one of the last surviving Stark children under his control—the expression on Ramsay’s face is beautifully evil—he’s still only in charge because other people allow him to be in charge, or they feel as though their fortunes are best benefited by having that particular person in charge.
There wasn’t a big shocking moment this week, unless of course you consider the death of everyone’s most hated character shocking. Indeed, it feels more like the pieces are being moved into position, rather than taking up residence on the board. Jon’s a free agent, Sam is on his way to Old Town, Dany and Cersei are both without the benefit of power on their side… everything is in flux at the moment, and while there’s not a lot of forward momentum, every season of every show involves a little table-sitting, and this is definitely going to lead to something big.
It might be a little chafing to have Max Von Sydow put a stop to Bran Stark’s history lesson, but we’ll get there eventually. It’s just going to require a little bit more patience. Unlike most of the people wearing crowns, we’ve got the luxury of time.
US Correspondent Ron Hogan is interested to see a sea change in Westerosi leadership. Meet the new boss, who may or may not be different from the old boss. Find more by Ron daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.