This Game of Thrones review contains spoilers.
Game of Thrones Season 7 Episode 3
Well that was a pretty short trip, now wasn’t it? Just last week, Jon Snow was waving goodbye to Sansa Stark, not even warning her that Littlefinger was being sneaky and lecherous in the tombs (not that she needs the hint), and now here he is in a rowboat approaching Dragonstone. Presumably several weeks have passed, but then again, only a few days likewise went by for the Greyjoys.
Whatever lies beneath the murky waves of this series’ increasingly muddled timeline proves irrelevant tonight though, for at long last the eponymous ice and fire of that blasted George R.R. Martin song are meeting—and it looks like it’s going to be a duet. Indeed, the most striking thing about “The Queen’s Justice” is an entirely separate queen from the title, one of Targaryen blood, meeting a king with equal amounts of the silvery hair gene running through his DNA. But while relatives they may be, the most fascinating thing about the meeting of Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen is how different they are.
The moment where fire meets its chilly counter is likely the scene that has already launched a thousand gifs. And the vast differences of these monarchs are most contrasted by the simple way they are each introduced. Daenerys Targaryen is the “rightful heir to the Iron Throne, rightful Queen of the Andals and the First Men, the Protector of the Seven Kingdoms, the Mother of Dragons, the Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, the Unburnt, the Breaker of Chains.” Davos, in perfect deadpan, replies, “This is Jon Snow. He’s King in the North.” After that juxtaposition, even Team Dany’s Tyrion can barely manage to suppress a smile.
Ice and fire, indeed.
Immediately, viewers are reminded about how much power, and the accumulation of it, suits Daenerys, as well as her ever growing savior complex. In contrast, Jon still calls himself “Snow” despite being king (and thus having the ability to change his own name by rights). He’s very much Ned’s son in spirit and is consequently uncomfortable with the pageantry associated with royalty, whereas Dany wears it like a velvet glove. One wrapped around a gauntlet of iron. It’s certainly food for thought for those who “ship” these two characters (albeit after tonight, I suspect that might include David Benioff and D.B. Weiss themselves).
Be that as it may, it’s grand scene mostly because Jon is able to exit it with his freedom, if by the mere luck that Yara Greyjoy’s defeat reached Dany’s ears just as the scene was heating up. Jon Snow is here to make the right play about recruiting Daenerys’ aide against the White Walkers, but ever the military man and never the politician, he comes in unprepared, sneering at the foreign queen’s self-aggrandizement as much as he might’ve rolled his eyes at some of the Night’s Watch’s more arcane positions. Like the ones that got him a knife in the heart.
Obviously, it doesn’t go over too well. Wisely avoiding the bending of his knee, Jon cries of White Walkers and Armies of the Dead, all of which turns out to be as unthreatening to Daenerys as it ever did with Cersei Lannister back when she bothered to take messages from the Wall. Still, the scene is built on both misjudging their audience. Jon sees a conqueror in search of Seven Kingdoms (and he’s not wholly wrong), and Dany sees a madman rambling about fairytales.
Jon’s mistake was not bringing any actual proof; Dany’s is her constant pride. She might’ve earned Jon’s respect by walking down the steps and giving a speech that plays to all of Emilia Clarke’s best strengths—regal authority and prideful defiance—but they are at an impasse as Jon is trying to convince her to sign a Paris Climate Accord, and she is too busy thinking about the latest spin on the news cycle. However, Davos suggesting she’d be a skeleton on the Iron Throne at least gave her some pause to consider why men seem to hold Jon Snow in such high regard… but she sees nothing in him at all.
Just as she had her dragons pull the ultimate power move by flapping above his head outside the castle, she values the political optics of her decisions over any rants about existential threats. For someone who wishes to break the wheel, she’s already being consumed by its hypnotic cycle around Westeros.
Quite honestly, if she didn’t discover that she had lost a fleet in that very moment, the sequence very well could have ended with Jon Snow in very different accommodations. In spite of this dues ex machina saving Jon notwithstanding, the scene is the best that season 7 has yet offered, playing to the strengths of its actors and the weaknesses of both its characters. Neither made a convincing sales pitch, and it is hard to believe either would budge anyway.
If Jon bends the knee to Dany, he loses total respect and support from the Northern houses that are already lukewarm on his voyage south, and thus his ability to command the fight against the Dead. If Dany imprisons Jon after the sequence is over, the North will instantly become an actual rebellious enemy, and that is just one more foe she’s reluctant to unleash dragons upon. So here we are, with Jon sticking around Dragonstone long enough to consider all the other amazing character dynamics at play.
Aye, it is easy to consider that while the most dramatic fireworks exploded between Daenerys and Jon, the most entertaining interactions remain between Tyrion and Jon. Their first sequence was satisfying simply because it was all either could do to stop themselves from hugging upon Dragonstone’s shore. Even so, I’m taken back to the kind of warm embrace Ned Stark and Robert Baratheon had in season 1. In a different life, perhaps this bromance could boil over.
In the meantime, it stays relatively cordial with Tyrion asking ever so faintly about Sansa Stark. His self-deprecation hides what is mayhaps a bit of disappointment that Sansa does not speak of him, but the Bastard of Winterfell’s high opinion of the Imp is implicit in that he never worried about any impropriety on Tyrion’s part with his baby sister. Which just further illuminates how skeevy Littlefinger is to everyone he meets.
I am a little less enthusiastic with how Benioff and Weiss skirted what should be some truly poisonous blood between Tyrion and Davos, however. Davos shows a fair amount of regret about how Tyrion defeated him at the Battle of Blackwater Bay, but there should likely be more than a few hurt looks both outside and within the throne room. After all, Blackwater Bay was the battle that took the life of Davos’ only son on the TV show, a loss which he never really recovered from. He threw himself into servitude of kings after losing that future—and a second time if you also count the death of young Shireen in season 5. Consequently, he should hold Tyrion in contempt at levels comparable to Melisandre, and yet the two appear wary but respectful to each other. Unlike Tyrion shrugging off Myrcella’s death last week, this to me reeks of narrative convenience and is out of character for a man as passionate as Ser Davos Seaworth.
Thus it’s probably good they avoided a scene between the Onion Knight and Melisandre altogether, as the Red Witch remains high on his hit list, and it’d be even harder to dodge that awkwardness. Instead, she and Varys have a terrific scene as the Master Whisperer tells a sorceress that her kind is no longer welcomed around these parts. He understandably remains fairly prejudiced against magical folk. But Melisandre curdles Varys’ blood by smirking she will return soon (probably in season 8). It will be on Westeros where she dies. That’s a curious goal, signaling that she has seen in the flames that Ice and Fire (Jon and Daenerys) will soon work together, and she’ll have only a role left when they do during the Long Night.
Then again, it’s not too surprising that Dany and Jon are going to eventually hit it off given the rest of the interactions on Dragonstone.
Peter Dinklage has another grand moment when he is allowed to stand next to Kit Harington, in complete Stark attire, including the faux-direwolf cape, and confess, “You look a lot better at brooding than I do. You make me feel like I’m failing at brooding over failing.” Once again, the bromance between Tyrion and Jon Snow takes center stage, but it honestly places Jon’s role as king in a precarious situation. His inability to simply know what to say and not to say to a rival’s Hand underscores how inept he is at actually ruling.
Essentially, this scene involves Jon asking for advice from a potential enemy’s political right hand man and taking all of his counsel at face value. Luckily for Jon, Tyrion really is looking for a compromise in this situation, but once again Tyrion notes that if he were Jon’s Hand, he would have prevented him from traveling to Dragonstone. And now, seemingly unawares, Jon has become indebted to the Khaleesi by requesting and receiving the Dragonglass from Tyrion.
This will likely come back to bite Jon in the Andal, but it comes at a good time, because Daenerys seems to believe she has lost both her Greyjoy and Dornish support. While the former is a definite after Euron Greyjoy smashed Yara’s fleet all too easily (conveniently so), it is perplexing why Dany and Tyrion are so sure Dorne is lost. The Dornish people still maintain an army that has never been defeated, even by Aegon the Conqueror, and are not easily reached by Lannisters like Highgarden (which we’ll get to momentarily). Whoever is next in line after Ellaria might prove to be just as open at destroying the Lannister Queen as their predecessor, but the writers mostly appear happy to pretend Dorne doesn’t exist at this point.
Hence, Daenerys dismissively signs off on giving Jon Snow the right to mine Dragonglass from her new keep. She and Jon even share a moment near sunset by a windswept cliff in Ireland. And the way Daenerys looks back at Jon? Well the Lannisters aren’t the only ones who keep it in the family.
And on the Lannister front, while Daenerys and Tyrion lick their wounds on Dragonstone, Cersei rolled out the red carpet for Euron Greyjoy’s return to King’s Landing. Personally, it would be fascinating to learn what the smallfolk in the capital really think about recent events. After the popular Queen Margaery and respected High Sparrow were blown sky high along with their equivalent of the Vatican, one might expect there would be blood running in the streets from the riots—especially after Highgarden cut off the breadline supplies. But like all things Highgarden-related, Game of Thrones is taking a lot of shortcuts tonight (again, we’re getting there!).
As for the scene at hand, there is no denying that Euron cuts a hilarious figure as he hits on the Mad Queen right in front of the whole court and then mocks Jaime five seconds later. But if Euron actually thinks he’ll end up married to Cersei, there’s a boar hunt I’d like to sell him on.
Cersei gets to meanwhile flaunt her power by openly living like Caligula with her sibling in bed and by convincing bankers that they’d prefer the Lannister’s old money to the Targaryen’s revolutionary rhetoric. (Though they’re being awfully glib about these dragons).
But Cersei’s big moment is her vindictive vengeance on Ellaria, and the seeming conclusion of the Dornish subplot.
Like most viewers, I cringed when Ellaria and Tyene Sand were taken alive by Euron simply because there was no way that Cersei’s revenge would not involve the cruel, agonizing slaughter of each. Seeing them dragged through the streets of King’s Landing only caused this writer to brace even more for the worst (as well as the harrowing moment of Ellaria staring at Franken-Mountain in the Red Keep).
In fact, one must concede just how genuinely twisted and depraved this series is when there is a sense of relief that Cersei’s revenge did not involve any rape or slicing of body parts. It’s an open question whether Cersei couldn’t bring herself to inflict a “Septa Unella” on Ellaria or Tyene because she sees too much of herself and Myrcella in them. Granted, this is an evil, evil revenge she ultimately concocts, but she more or less is playing biblical “eye for an eye” with these two. She’ll kill Tyene the same way that Ellaria killed Myrcella, and like Cersei, Ellaria will not be able to comfort or say goodbye to her daughter.
That is about as merciful as Cersei could ever be, and it’s still some nightmarish fuckery when neither daughter nor mother can say a word to the other, or touch in the few minutes, hours, and even days they have left. I suspect we shall see Ellaria again before the series over, and she’ll still be crying over a long decomposed and bloated corpse by that point. I’ve never liked how Game of Thrones has handled Dorne or its inhabitants, sans Prince Oberyn, but it’s a testament to how nasty Cersei can be that for once, I’d root for them over the Mad Queen.
If/when her brothers do destroy her, it’s worth considering whether Jaime or Tyrion might simply let Ellaria run free in the Red Keep, like an Edgar Allan Poe revenant escaped from her coffin with blood dripping from her fingernails.
Of course, the fate of the Sands is merely a prelude to what I suspect is the zenith of Cersei’s power. Despite being surrounded by enemies on all sides, within three episodes, the Lannister Queen has defeated most of her foes with ease. And some of it is pretty brilliant. As Tyrion admitted to Daenerys and Varys in a scene that occurs far too late—as they’re discussing battle strategy weeks after the Unsullied left for Casterly Rock—Cersei and Jaime always knew Tyrion would go for the Rock. As I said in my review last week, this latest war is a warped passion play and psycho drama among the Lannister kids. Tyrion is Daenerys’ smartest Hand and aide yet, but he is proving far less adept at battle strategy than Jorah Mormont tended to be.
Tyrion going after the Rock is just a long-winded “No, screw you, daddy!” move, and one that Cersei and Jaime long expected. His apparently not-so-secret way into Casterly Rock proved pointless since the Lannister army was vacant. What would have been a beautiful target to display the true power of Targaryen Fire & Blood ends up being a token that Tyrion wants to covet for himself.
Daenerys and Tyrion are prudent to not unleash the dragons on King’s Landing, slaughtering thousands of smallfolks. Yet the mostly militant Casterly Rock could have been razed to dust, and Tywin Lannister’s legacy left smoldering. As Cersei’s power is still partially derived from the reputation her father built for his family, it could have been a way to showcase the mighty power of dragonfire without toasting too many civilians.
Also flying to Casterly Rock, as opposed to sailing around a continent, would have allowed them a better eye on Lannister movements. In the end, caging the dragons continues to be a terrible idea, and they aren’t there to stop Euron’s fleet from decimating the Unsullied ships while they hold a mostly abandoned Casterly Rock. Meanwhile, Jaime has taken the Lannister forces to Highgarden in a sequence that is simultaneously wonderful and ridiculous all at once.
Yep, we’ve finally reached Highgarden. In most respects, I completely understand Benioff and Weiss’ decision to not show the siege or battle for the Reach’s seat of power. We’ve already had two (brief) battle sequences in season 7, and the series is undoubtedly saving its budget for when the dragons finally fly into war sometime in the next two episodes. But the idea that the Lannisters can take Highgarden in a day is also kind kind of dumb given everything that the series has established.
While Highgarden was never Casterly Rock or Storm’s End in terms of military might, it certainly was strong enough to prove a substantial ally during the War of the Five Kings. In case viewers forgot, it was Highgarden’s switching of allegiances from the Baratheons to the Lannisters, and their joint military power with Tywin’s, that allowed the Lannisters to survive the Battle of Blackwater Bay. Without Highgarden’s aide, Stannis Baratheon might now sit on the Iron Throne.
Further, even if their military might is substantially less against the Lannisters in a one-on-one open conflict… why would they face them on an open field? Highgarden, like Casterly Rock and Rivrrun, has high walls and thick protection, and nary a sewer system designed by a treacherous prodigal son. They certainly should be able to withstand a siege for as many weeks as Daenerys would need to march to their aid, particularly since the Lannisters would have had to abandon defense of the Crownlands to take on the Tyrell forces in the Reach.
So yes, this is expedient writing that is questionable at best. And still, I can’t totally fault Benioff and Weiss. While this all seems intent to overstate the strength of Cersei’s hand—it will crumble like Harrenhal when Daenerys stops taking marching orders from Tyrion next week—it also gave us the second best scene of season 7: Jaime Lannsiter came for Olenna Tyrell.
Words cannot express how sorry I am to see Diana Rigg written out of this series. The Queen of Thorns lived up to her name and was so quick in her pointed barbs that even Tyrion looked like a rank amateur in her verbal shadow. Along with Littlefinger, Olenna outsmarted the Lannisters and placed a good queen in the throne room and put Joffrey in a long overdue grave. Not until Cersei literally chucked the chessboard across the room by blowing up the Great Sept did she get the better of Olenna, but in the end there are no rules in this titular game, and so Olenna lived to see herself be the last of the Tyrells.
If there is only one critique of this scene, it’s that it doesn’t sell enough how horrible it is that the Tyrells have been completely wiped out by the Lannisters. While there are still several Starks in Winterfell, against all odds, the Lannisters killed Olenna’s son and two grandchildren, and it seems that the line completely ends with Jaime Lannister slipping poison into her glass. For Jaime, it is the rare victory of him getting to kill an enemy without mercy. And unlike Cersei, he does so with a degree of grace and tact. I’d even wager that he didn’t really tell Cersei that he’d use poison and promised something far more gruesome for the matriarch’s end.
When the time came, Rigg was in top form, and Benioff and Weiss were at their sharpest. Jaime at first appears amused to be part of the Queen of Thorns’ final conversation. He’s braced to take her worst taunts, but when she goes after his love for Cersei with relentless hatred, it just loses all its charm. He may be conversing with someone who’ll take her secrets to the hereafter, but that fate cannot get here soon enough.
But still, Olenna gets the last laugh. Recalling Joffrey’s death at his own wedding, Olenna reveals to Jaime what a great deal of viewers probably already forgot: The Queen of Thorns and Lord Petyr Baelish conspired to murder Joffrey.
“It must have been horrible for you as a Kingsguard, as a father. It was horrible enough for me, a shocking scene, not at all what I intended. You see, I’d never seen the poison work before. Tell Cersei, I want her to know it was me.”
The look of utter defeat on Jaime Lannister’s face as he stares down at this old woman who is already dead, and by his own hand, yet she has somehow crushed him anyway, is priceless. Despite being the best for most of his life, he has never, ever had a truly clean victory. Robert and Ned took all the glories when the Greyjoys had their uprising 20 years ago, and even though he spared thousands of lives at Riverrun, it will never earn him a song or cheer.
And now, in the first battle victory that is all his, this old woman twists a knife deeper than anything he could do to her. Yes, she is still breathing and he could take out his sword—Joffrey’s sword—and behead her or stab her, or do any number of violent actions. But they’d all be impotent and needlessly cruel, much like the ugly boy who previously owned the blade. So as “The Rains of Castamere” plays, he has to swallow the hollowness of his victory. As with the poor family in that song, he and his sister have completely devastated the House of Tyrell, root and stem, but they never even knew what the family of the Rose took from them. They won a war of attrition before they had cause, and it just makes everything so meaningless.
It also confirms for Jaime that Cersei and Tywin wrongfully accused and condemned Tyrion to death. As such, Tyrion’s hatred for their father just has a little more vindication and comprehension. This will likely be useful to know since Tyrion and Jaime will almost certainly meet again before this war is over. Seven Hells, at the rate the show is now paced, they could meet as soon as next week.
Also on the subject of reunions, there was one that proved to be its own wintry chill at Winterfell this week. Sansa Stark has taken to power well in her first episode with complete control. She makes smart calls on “borrowing” other lords’ grains and inviting them to spend out the years-long winter at Winterfell. She also is generally taking to the day-to-day policy that Jon seemed to shirk with such aplomb that she barely has time to listen to Littlefinger’s incessant whispering.
But the real point of the scene is another long overdue Stark reunion. In all truth, I was a bit disappointed when Sansa learned that there was someone at the gate and it did not turn out to be Arya. With the expediency with which Jon reached Dragonstone, and Jaime got to first Casterly Rock and then Highgarden, it only seemed plausible it was time for the Sisters Stark to finally bridge their longstanding chasm.
Instead it turned out to be Bran and Sansa who embraced. And that’s nice too… I guess. Sansa is apparently taking on increasing surrogate mother roles at Winterfell, and as each passing episode points Jon more toward Ned’s direction, his sister is ever growing into Catelyn’s visage. And that includes bringing the wolf clan together. She is all too happy to hug Bran, but the boy she last saw in a coma has apparently never really awakened.
These days, Bran carries himself like a college freshman whose returned for Christmas vacation high on weed and a book on existentialism he picked up during Philosophy 101. Rather than engaging with his sister, he seems content to veg out in front of his Xbox Heart Tree, talking about being the Three-Eyed Raven and cryptically choosing not to say he just had a mentor that previously enjoyed such a title.
He does reveal, however, that he has a greater sense of the past than he did last year. Hopefully, this includes finding a way to prove Jon Snow’s lineage, because that is just a grenade I cannot wait to see explode when the Northern Houses learn that in addition to being a bastard, their king is half-Targaryen on his father’s side. Until that happens though, Bran somewhat unwisely spooks his sister by proving his powers through reminding her of the worst night of her life… and revealing he knows everything that happened between her and the late, not-so-great Ramsay Bolton. Come on, Bran, you might be a Three-Eyed Raven now, but you were previously raised to be a lord, so you should know damn well about propriety while in the company of family!
Nevertheless, it’s great to have Bran back in Winterfell, even if it appears likely he will only be spending the winter before returning north. The realization that two more Stark children are together, and Sansa knowing she is not alone, reinforces just how close to the endgame we are. Highgarden and (inexplicably) Dorne are off the table, Cersei has the upper-hand, and Dany needs to really start rethinking her no-dragon policy. And two Starks are in Winterfell with a third on her way. The narrative knots are tightening, and overall, this week has done so with extreme precision and satisfaction. Some logic gaps aside, every scene in this episode sang. And when it was a song of ice and fire? It was damn near perfect harmony.