Back in Season One of Game of Thrones, Cersei remarked to the late Ned Stark that when you play the game of thrones, you either win or you die. Her prophecy obviously rang true when Ned lost his head by the end of the season. Over the years that followed, Thrones has continued to remind us of that fact, with many lovable and hated characters dying all the same due to their involvement in Westerosi politics. As we were reminded in this week’s episode, entitled Book of the Stranger, blood is the main currency for doing business in Westeros. And as Lady Olenna so succinctly put the kingdoms’ mentality, if casualties are inevitable, then it’s always ‘better them than us.’ Wherever we looked, Book of the Stranger presented us with some painful harbingers for the wars to come, while reminding us of life’s true frailty. Osha lost her life for protecting the Stark boys; several Dothraki lost theirs protecting their traditions; thousands look set to die fighting a fight that’s not theirs in the north and King’s Landing. All of which served to make the episode’s nostalgia-inducing, reunion-filled setting contrastingly satisfying. While Book of the Stranger lacked the grandeur and shock value of the previous two episodes, it still provided unique buildup to many of the show’s numerous storylines.
At the Wall, Sansa’s touching reunion with Jon Snow was as effective and satisfactory as you would expect. At one point or another over the years, all of the Stark children, save for Robb, had tried to seek safety at the Wall after all the atrocities that have befallen their family. Thus, after all of these teasing near misses, a family reunion featuring the tortured Sansa and Jon was a much needed moment to savor, with their one on one talk by the fire an especially adorable scene. Put simply, in what has been a noticeably grim season thus far, these miniature happy moments feel extra sweet for characters that we all care about by now. Less satisfactory was their quickly thought of plan to go after Ramsay Snow in Winterfell, though. Sansa’s desire to save her brother and gain revenge over Ramsay is very understandable. In fact, that was probably her plan all along as soon as she managed to escape with Theon at the end of last season.
Jon’s unconfirmed consent to do the same, on the other hand, is conversely incomprehensible given all of his residual commitment to the Night’s Watch, one that kept him from avenging both Ned and Robb throughout the years. Even if we’re to assume that his reawakening coupled with Sansa’s arrival might have tilted his reasoning, the rate in which he seemed to acquiesce to his half-sister’s pleas went against everything that we know about Jon. In addition, the fact that he’s considering using a wildling army to march south, the same wildlings that Jon previously lost his life trying to protect, similarly left much to be desired. An attack on Winterfell will not only contradict Jon’s Night’s Watch vows, but will also play directly into Ramsay’s hand. In fact, it would be the exact best case scenario that Ramsay could’ve hoped for when he sent the threatening letter to Jon. If Jon does indeed march to Winterfell with nothing but a wildling-based army, then his fate will likely be identical to Lady Melisandre’s last proclaimed prince, Stannis Baratheon, while simultaneously bringing Sansa back to Ramsay’s reach. Jon’s too smart and experienced at this point to instinctively attack Winterfell without carefully considering all of his options. He might’ve been altered by his revival, but to see Jon’s reasoning being clouded this much is a fairly sizable mystery that looks set to be addressed soon.
Notwithstanding, in their planned conflict with Ramsay, Sansa and Jon’s forces might very well be unknowingly bolstered by a fortuitous coalition with forces from the Vale. Indeed, Book of the Stranger did manage to solve one of the season’s biggest mysteries thus far: Lord Baelish’s absence from our screens; his visit to Lord Robyn Arryn provided us with a glimpse of his latest cunning efforts. Lord Baelish has continued to climb the chaotic political ladder through continuously picking the winning side. As such, we found it peculiar that he decided to call upon the Vale’s army to wage a war against Ramsay in Winterfell. His motivations for doing so seem revolve around utilizing the leadership gap available at the north after Roose Bolton’s death. The fact that he legitimized his decision by arguing for the need to protect Sansa Stark might be a cheap tool to garner Robyn’s necessary consent, but could also point towards his willingness to align himself with the Starks, at least for the time being. Fact of the matter is, you can never really know with Lord Baelish; he’ll go through any convoluted mean to satisfy his self-interest. While we had predicted that he would imminently participate in the ongoing mess at King’s Landing, a foray north will pique our interests just as much.
Speaking of political machinations, the newly forged alliance that Cersei orchestrated with Lady Olenna and her uncle Kevan Lannister looks poised to cause enormous bloodshed in the Westerosi capital, with the Faith Militants and Tyrells sharing the brunt load. The High Sparrow’s continued attempts to seduce members of the ruling clan into the faith seem to be going absolutely nowhere. In Book of the Stranger, Margery became the latest highborn to evidently rebuff the High Sparrow and leave him with no choice but to take the harder way out, despite the High Sparrow’s admittedly convincing and enjoyable look back at his life before the Faith. While the Faith Militants stand no chance against a Tyrell-led strike, their invaluable captivity of both Margery and Loras Tyrell might render their inferior capabilities moot, as the Tyrells will prioritize their family’s safety over anything. Further, with Loras imminently nearing his breaking point, the High Sparrow could manage to seduce numerous common people into joining his cause if he gets Loras to publicly admit his perceived perversions. Unequivocally speaking, any public admission by either Tyrell would further the High Sparrow’s mission to create an ‘us versus them’ scenario that will resonate with King’s Landing’s average joe. Rest assured, blood will be spilled regardless, and soon.
In Vas Dothraq, Daenerys has again used her unrivaled ability to withstand fire to similarly unite the common people under her leadership. While Book of the Stranger provided us with a glimpse at the highly amusing forced alliance between Jorah Mormont and Dario Naharis, their successful plan to help Daenerys in her escape was fairly implausible. We found it peculiar that Dario remained visibly nonchalant when he discovered that Jorah has been infected with greyscale. Dario’s reaction could either mean that the disease might not be as imminent of a death sentence or as contagious as we had previously thought, or that Jorah is fully resigned to his fate of having to leave his beloved queen soon after rescuing her. Regardless, we found the relative ease through which they both infiltrated Vas Dothraq coupled with Daenerys’ second instantaneous trial by fire, so to speak, to be yet another dull conclusion to one of her patchy storylines. We admire what showrunners are trying to do with Daenerys; we really do. After all, with Arya evidently becoming one of the Many Faced God’s assassins in Bravos, Daenerys is the single most powerful force fighting against the show’s continued patriarchy. All of which means that the show’s continuously disengaging storylines in her character arc have left us fairly disappointed throughout the years. Put simply, we don’t need to see Daenerys as the superhuman and ultra-righteous ruler that showrunners have continued to portray; that character isn’t relatable in any way to the audience. We could only hope that she starts to appear more human to us once she returns to Meereen and starts to be influenced by the dynamically intelligent Varys and Tyrion duo.
All in all, the constantly referenced wars to come look set to begin in earnest after the unfolding events of Book of the Stranger. While these wars will lack the sheer ferocity of Season Two’s War of the Five Kings, the results will be equally unpredictable and important to the realm’s future. From a marching white walker army beyond the Wall all the way south to the ongoing mess at Dorne, there is nowhere safe in Westeros anymore. In that scope, this week’s reunions will likely be nothing more than a momentary remembrance of what could’ve been. In Game of Thrones, you either win, or you die. But that shouldn’t mean that you can’t enjoy the little happy moments in between.
In one sentence: A nostalgia-inducing hour of television that brought about several desired reunions along with admirably setting the table for all the imminent wars to come.
Episode score: 70%