This review contains spoilers.
6.4 Book Of The Stranger
Sometimes it seems like there’s no real joy in Westeros. Every time I pick a new favourite character, they either have something terrible happen to them (RIP Syrio Forel, still the best dancing teacher in Westeros) or they end up doing something terrible in pursuit of power (RIP Stannis the Mannis, you betrayed us all at the end only to lose). The only people who seem to climb to the top of the totem pole are all monsters (see also Ramsay Bolton) or people who are puppets for others (King Tommen among others). Just when it seems like something good is going to happen, it gets stabbed to death by conspirators. That seems to be changing, at least for this week.
One of the happiest moments we’ve seen on Game Of Thrones is a Stark reunion. Having been rescued by Deus ex Brienne and her faithful sidekick Pod, Sansa Stark has gone from bad to worse to even worse, and all the while she’s held on to the hope of Castle Black, and a reunion with her half-brother Jon Snow. So far those hopes have all been dashed, but as Jon and Edd discuss the future of the Night’s Watch, a horn and yells announce arriving riders. Sansa is reunited with Jon, and the two share a wonderful embrace while triumphant music plays in the background.
As if that wasn’t a bright enough moment, Daenerys finally ascends to the top of the Dothraki pyramid once again, and in a way that once made her the most noteworthy character on the show. One of Dany’s many names is the Unburned, and in case you’ve forgotten, she threw herself on Khal Drogo’s funeral pyre only to emerge covered in soot and nursing baby dragons from long-dead dragon eggs. The entirety of her khalasar bowed before her, and yet she frittered it all away. She rebuilt her army with Unsullied and Second Sons, and now she’s going to go back to where it all began for her: she’s going to be the Khaleesi of the largest Dothraki horde ever seen, after burning the assembled khals alive and emerging from the flames once again. That’s one way to avoid being exiled to the Dosh Khaleen, and it’s also a great way to announce, quite publicly, that Daenerys Targaryen is still a force to be reckoned with.
It’s interesting to see what Benioff and Weiss are doing with two of the show’s less-interesting characters. Sansa, until this season, has been a punching bag, bouncing from one abusive relationship to another. Daenerys, until this season, has mostly been in way over her head. However, both situations seem to be turning around. Sansa has Jon and the Wildlings at her back, and she’s ready to get some revenge and take back what belongs to her. Dany has learned from her various mentors, particularly Varys and Tyrion, and she’s using her perceived shortcomings as a way to disguise her true strength, which is of course her ability to not be burned alive by fires and her cunning. Both women have been maligned, both in their fictional world and in our real world. However, from the looks of things, both story lines are going to get interesting very quickly.
Daniel Sackheim, who directed the episode this week, deserves a lot of credit for how he handled Daenerys and her situation in Vaes Dothrak. Daario and Jorah sneaking in is one thing; the two are developing quite a chemistry. Dany getting the jump on some of the finest warriors on the Great Grass Sea using her cleverness to her advantage is very well done, and very satisfying to behold. The image of a naked Daenerys emerging from a flaming building while the stunned Dothraki bow before her harkens back to the way she won over the remnant of Khal Drogo’s khalasar, when she seemed destined for great things. She’s learning the difficulties of leadership, and she’s learning just how to outsmart those who want nothing more to stick a dagger into her back. It also gives Dany a ready-made army to go with her other two extant armies, which she’ll need to take back the Iron Throne from the squabbling Westerosi (or more likely, to defend the realms of men against the White Walkers).
With Sansa moving to regain the North, Daenerys flexing her muscles in Essos, the Sand Snakes taking over Dorne, Yara Greyjoy planning on taking power in Pyke, and Cersei reasserting herself over the Seven Kingdoms, is the world of Game Of Thrones in a full-fledged girl power movement? Perhaps. It remains to be seen just who is going to make it out of the game alive, or how much influence they’ll have if they do survive.
For every positive development, it seems like there’s always doom waiting around the corner for the folks in charge. Some forward momentum for Daenerys is much appreciated, and Sansa champing at the bit for revenge is a much-needed jolt of agency for a character who has taken a real beating at the hands of an unfriendly universe. It might not make up for last season’s indignities, but if she ends up, say, putting a dagger through Ramsay Bolton’s throat, well… it’ll be met with cheers and applause.