There is a temptation in writing fiction, to give characters we love a farewell proportional to their popularity. It’s all too common to see major characters in any sort of fiction take out hordes of enemies before going out in blaze of glory. There are well documented reasons for why this trope is still a thing despite it being so rarely justified and chief among those reasons is that it is difficult to see characters we know and love be snuffed out with whimpers when we feel they deserve bangs. The deaths in this episode of Barristan Selmy and Grey Worm the Unsullied are great examples. Regardless of how much we love these characters, it cannot be denied that neither character had any business taking down anywhere near as many enemies with them as they did – and yet no one, least of all myself, will complain at seeing these two bastions of sincere courage and fortitude take down a veritable horde of thugs in the streets of Meereen. We will discuss their deaths, and the implications on the story and what it all means soon enough. Meanwhile, in other storylines, fanaticism is on the rise again and it falls on the depressingly narrow shoulders of King Tommen Baratheon to sort it all out, but unfortunately, he, like so many men before him, has managed to find himself mired in the battle between his wife and mother. At the Wall, Stannis tries to assure us that he’s not such a bad guy after all while the two adult women in his life try their very best to illustrate why he’s so miserable all the time.
The great humanization of Stannis Baratheon is a rare thing, so incredibly rare that this might very well be the first time we’ve ever seen it. It’s a sad thing to admit, but there was a genuine uncertainty in the air when Stannis didn’t answer adorable, mentally abused Shireen’s question of whether her daddy loves her. On one hand, surely Stannis isn’t so utterly monstrous as to cruelly crush that precious little girl’s dreams right? On the other hand though, in this adaptation, the only thing rarer than a positive character building moment for Stannis is an episode without sex and nudity. Still, after complaining for so long about how they’ve treated the guy, I’m calling this a win for the character – for once, he demonstrates that he’s not the heartless bastard that everyone wants to think he is. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for most of the company he keeps these days – Selyse is as intolerable as ever and Melisandre is downright disturbing. Melisandre’s seduction of Jon Snow is as subtle as it is successful – before either the audience or Jon knows exactly what is going on, Melisandre is undressed and all over a boy who is easily a century or so younger than her. For better or worse, Jon’s mind is filled with thoughts of another ginger, recently deceased and he is a decent enough human being to not break his vows while sitting in the Lord Commander’s chair. Still, does anyone remember a time when Melisandre was somewhat discrete and got by on insinuation more than demonstration? No, me neither. It would seem that Jon is realizing that being Lord Commander means having to sacrifice more than just priestesses in heat – it means having to let go of your pride and ask people you truly despise for help. Still, there were a couple of interesting tidbits from Stannis’ small talk at the Wall. Knocking up random tavern wenches was ‘not Ned Stark’s way’, Stannis says and just like that, the ground work is laid for the return of a question that has been deflected for four full seasons – who is Jon Snow’s mother? The topic comes up again a little later, albeit more indirectly, as Littlefinger tells Sansa a story – the story of how Robert’s Rebellion began. There is some solid continuity work in this episode, with Sansa picking up the very feather that Robert placed at Lyanna’s tomb a full lifetime ago. Sansa repeats what we’ve been told happened, that Rhaegar kidnapped and raped Lyanna Stark but Littlefinger doesn’t comment and it would seem that somehow, he unsurprisingly knows what a very select few do – Rhaegar and Lyanna were very much in love and a somewhat more likely alternative explanation exists for what happened after the ‘kidnapping’. Still, it doesn’t seem like the revelation of Jon’s parentage will be coming all that soon but it will be interesting to see how it becomes relevant, if it does.
On the topic of bastards and questionable parentage, Tommen Baratheon’s marital bliss has turned into a marital nightmare. Cersei’s pawns, the Faith Militant, have seized Loras Tyrell, for his crime of homosexuality and the younger queen is furious. Naturally, since this is Westeros, she has no power of her own and so must appealing to her dear husband to set things right. I don’t think there will ever be another situation in which Margaery will ever wish that Tommen was Joffrey. Watching Tommen impotently go from one place to another, trying to figure out what to do, was hilarious but also an incredibly sharp contrast to his, shall we say, more aggressive elder sibling. The irony of this situation is that Tommen would have been the perfect king before all this religious trouble – he would have been tractable and would have listened to Tyrion/Tywin and all would have been well – and Joffrey would have been somewhat better suited for this situation were the people need to feel some fear (Joffrey is never perfect for any situation, remember). The most ironic of all however, is watching Cersei chuckle away as Margaery freaks out, not realizing how double-edged the religious sword really is. The Faith Militant don’t fuck around either – the montage displaying their stronghold on the city was terrifying, especially in light of the religious fanaticism of our own day and age. If Cersei isn’t feeling uneasy yet, she certainly should be.
Dany doesn’t know it yet, but she’s soon going to have a whole bunch of reasons to be uneasy as well. For one thing, two of her closest friends just died very bloody deaths in the city she allegedly controls but beyond that, she has also lost two very precious advisors. With Jorah exiled and Barristan and Grey Worm dead, Dany’s Small Council is in danger of extinction. Worse still, she can’t rely on the likes of Daario Naharis to provide proper political advice and her remaining council is inexperienced and biased. On hindsight, Barristan’s death should have been obvious – he got his fifteen seconds to reminisce about the past, his happiest days hanging with Rhaegar Targaryen (and note how the various characterizations of Rhaegar in this episode alone clash) before heading unknowingly to his doom. Grey Worm’s death was assured the moment that Unsullied were caught out and outnumbered and for second it seemed that Grey Worm would escape, injured but still alive, when Barristan showed up. It would have been highly unrealistic to expect the two of them to fight off that many people, but they did although it cost them their lives. This set of events is going to set Daenerys’ fury ablaze but without her council to guide that anger, things might not work out for the best this time.