Game of Thrones: Book of the Stranger Review

The chess pieces are being moved into place, battle lines are being set, and war is coming. While “Book of the Stranger” continued with the dialed-back pace of “Oath-breaker”, it ended strong with the series’ two most important players making monumental decisions that will likely change the course of history in Westeros and beyond.

At the Wall, Jon Snow is getting packed to head south, in search of some warmth, and after the cold of death, who can blame him. Edd isn’t having that and presses him to stay and honour his vow. Jon is insistant, after all they killed him, why should he try and lead them, he feels he has failed. Oh, but what’s that? A horn! Visitors approach. None other than Sansa Stark, Podrick Payne and Brienne of Tarth enter the gates of Castle Black. For the first time in a very long time, we have two Stark’s in the same room as Jon and Sansa embrace with the kind of feeling that can only be called relief. Maybe Jon isn’t so keen on splitting the scene now, especially now that he and his half-sister (or is she…) are reminiscing about old Nan and growing up at Winterfell, which is now held by Ramsay Bolton. It really is a great moment to reflect on how much the characters have changed since we saw them first back in Season 1. Sansa is not the naive little would-be princess she once was, and the bastard of Winterfell is, well, technically a zombie. Sansareally show’s how the years have changed her – “If you don’t take back the North, we’ll never be safe, I’ll do it myself if I have to.” We believe her.

Meanwhile, Melisandre is sticking with Jon Snow. She’s convinced that Jon is the one who will fulfill the prophecy of the Prince That Was Promised.For now at least anyway, she doesnt seem to have her full heart in it considering she is just after bringing someone back to gad damn life! Things get really tense, though, when Davos finally learns that Stannis was routed at Winterfell, though it does seem odd that he has waited this long to ask. Oh, and to add to the awkwardness of the moment, here comes Brienne to hint ominously at taking revenge on Melisandre for killing her beloved would-be king, Renly Baratheon — all while dropping the bomb that she executed Stannis. Things are never simple in Westeros are they?

Over in the Vale, Littlefinger is finally back, and he’s as cunning and full of schemes as ever, making a power play to ensure Lord Royce and the rest of the houses in that region swear their loyalty to Lord Robin Arryn — and, by extension, Littlefinger. The boy has grown, but his head is still not in the game. Robin would rather practice archery, if you can call it practice, and train birds. So he is willing to let Littlefinger pull the strings, and this time that means that the forces of the Vale will go join Sansa and help her take down the Boltons. It’s great to have Littlefinger back in the action, though I do wonder whether he has an actual master plan, or if he’s making it up as he goes along.

In Meereen, Tyrion attempts to work his magic — the diplomatic and strategic kind, that is — on the leaders of other cities in Slavers Bay. “Take your dragons and your mercenaries, and go,” one of the masters implore Varys and Tyrion, while Grey Worm and Missandei aren’t having any of it. They’re both former slaves, and they can’t stand being in the presence of slavers, let alone negotiating with them. What’s the proposal, then? Tyrion says the other cities will have seven years to give up the practice of slavery, as long as they cut off their support for the vicious Sons of the Harpy and let Meereen continue to be slavery free. “Give freedom a chance,” Tyrion says. And then he gives them some prostitutes to help sweeten the deal, because, well its Tyrion.

The former slaves of Meereen aren’t happy, and they want Tyrion to answer for his deal. They don’t trust him, they don’t know him. They want the queen back — and they aren’t happy that there’s been peace made with the slavers. The former slaves try to get Grey Worm and Missandei to turn against the peace, but with great reluctance they back up Tyrion. It’s their loyalty to Dany that’s speaking, not necessarily their faith in Tyrion, and in private they tell him that they still think he’s wrong. Seven years is still a long time for slaves, Missandei says, and Grey Worm warns Tyrion that he’s given the masters too big an opening: “They will use you. That’s what they do.” Could this lead to the moment when Tyrion finally outsmarts himself?

Weanwhile, our favourite duo since Tyrion and Varys, Daario and Jorah, continue hot on the trail of Daenerys. Well, they’re not so hot on the trail seeming to pass the time bickering, especially since Jorah is older and sucking wind. (He also has a nasty case of Greyscale working its way up his arm, but he’s still got one big mission left in him, though.) They come upon Vaes Dothrak and make their move — unarmed, because the Dothraki would destroy them — but not before Daario notices Jorah’s horrible sickness.

Once in the city, they immediately run afoul of a couple Dothraki. Daario quickly dispatches his opponent, while Jorah gets roughed up pretty badly. The old dust-in-the-eyes trick doesn’t even work, but luckily Daario held on to his beloved knife. After killing the warrior who was getting the best of Jorah, Daario then smashes in the corpse’s head so nobody sees that there are people armed with knives loose in the city. It shows how far the show has gone that this can make you chuckle. Seriously, the smashing in of a dead mans face is now a funny moment. Or was that just me?

Dany is stuck with the Dosh Khaleen, and she soon grows tired of their continuous harping on her. So she and a fellow young widowed khaleesi take off to make water in the bushes. Dany starts playing on the girl’s sympathies, and she even offers to show her the three dragons. Just then, though, Jorah and Daario show up. They want to leg it, but Dany has another plan…

In Guantanamo Bay King’s Landing, Queen Margaery is brought yet again before the High Sparrow, who begins telling her of his past as a cobbler and how time was the most important part of his good work. For that time, he was paid dearly, and he soon fell into a life of excess and sin. It all led to his great epiphany, though, and he left his life of richness to live a pure and righteous life among the poor. The words appear to work on the queen, at least in part. For her curiosity, she is granted an audience with her brother, Loras, who has apparently suffered even worse. Alone, she begs him to stay strong for her, for their family. But he just wants the horror to end, and he begs her to help. “We can’t win. Just make it stop, please,” he pleads. Yet again another moment where GOT has shown that the female characters in the show are stronger than the male.

EOver in the Red Keep, Cersei interrupts Grand Maester Pycelle, who is pouring his sly counsel into King Tommen’s ears. Banished from the room, Pycelle takes a comically long time to depart, his chains jangling, each step annoying Cersei more and more. Once alone, Tommen tries to argue for caution in dealing with the High Sparrow, who has the advantage because he still has Queen Margaery. Cersei pulls a guilt trip, though: remember what they did to me, sonny boy? Then she lets it rip and talks about the insanity of the High Sparrow’s plans to tear everything down and replace it with fantasies. Her persuasive ways work, and Tommen lets her in on something that the High Sparrow told him in confidence.

Cersei takes this  new found intelligence to the Queen of Thorns and the Hand of the King, Kevan Lannister. She and Jaime reveal to the two of them that the High Sparrow plans to have Margaery do her own walk of shame before King’s Landing. Cersei agrees with the Queen of Thorns, Margaery’s grandmother, that this can’t happen. The Tyrells, then, must send their army and take down the Sparrows and arrest the High Sparrow. Cersei gets her way, and the wheels are in motion for a showdown at the heart of King’s Landing. One must wonder, though, what kind of plots within plots are going on behind the scenes.

Gemma Whelan as Yara Greyjoy, left, and Alfie Allen as Theon Greyjoy in 'Game of Thrones.'

In Pyke, at the Iron Islands, Yara doesn’t exactly have the balloons and bunting our to welcome home her brother Theon. She isn’t ready to believe that her once-enslaved brother escaped Ramsay’s clutches. “You were my brother, and I risked everything for you, and you betrayed me,” she spits at him, reminding him of the sacrifices she and others made to try to free him earlier. Yara also suspects him of wanting to become king, since he arrives just as the Kingsmoot is about to begin. He doesn’t want to be king, though, he wants to help Yara. “Let me help you,” he asks, looking her straight in the eye. Poor old Theon, will he ever catch a break.

Rushing back to Winterfell, Osha the Wildling who we saw being handed over with Rickon Stark last week, is ushered into have a private meeting with Ramsay Bolton. She isn’t impressed with his brutal history, when she finds out he only flays men and doesn’t eat them after. “I’ve seen worse,” she tells him. Ramsay then begins working on her, toying with her in his way (like a cat with a half-dead mouse), but she plays the aggressor and slides in to make her move and work on Ramsay’s “weakness” for women. She’s really after his knife on the table, and as she makes her seductive play, it soon becomes clear that Ramsay knows what she’s up to. When Osha grabs the knife, Ramsay already has another one in position at her throat, and then he plunges it for his now obligatory murder. Like really, it feels like he has to be killing someone every week now. So long Osha, we had almost forgotten you already.

At Castle Black, Sansa doesn’t seem overly impressed with the grub on offer. Tormund Giantsbane makes eyes at Brienne, in what would be one of the greatest match ups in the history of Westeros. I really hope they keep playing this up as it would be great for Brienne to finally let her, albeit short hair, down. A courier from the Boltons arrives bearing a white flag with a message for Jon Snow. It’s from Ramsay, and he’s taunting Jon from afar, telling him that Rickon is in his dungeon. He threatens to come north to butcher Jon and the Wildlings (and conduct other unspeakable atrocities) if the former Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch doesn’t return Sansa to him. This gets Jon’s blood pumping, but Tormund only has 2,000 Wildlings ready to fight compared to Ramsay’s 5,000 (though he will also have Littlefingers Army ready to help out). Just as Jon shows more doubt, though, Sansa lays into him one more time. The North remembers, and there are still Stark loyalists who will answer his call to go to war. Jon nods.#BastardBowl It’s on like Donkey Kong.

Finally, at Vaes Dothrak, Dany goes before the khals, who will decide her fate. Soon, she and Khal Moro are sparring verbally. He doesn’t put too much stock in what she says, but then she starts working on his ego. When Moro responds with threats after her insults, she stands there smiling smugly, anyway. In no way will they serve her, as she seemingly demands. But they’re not going to serve, she says. They’re going to die. She sets the room ablaze, knowing full well that she can survive the flames (even if her clothes won’t). Meanwhile, the exits are blocked because Jorah and Daario helped her set her trap. So she did have a plan!

The great building burns, while the Dothraki assemble to watch. From the flames, once again, emerges Daenerys Targaryen, Mother of Dragons. The thousands kneel before her. That’s how you become more than a queen. That’s how you become a goddess.

It can’t be too long before Daenerys is on her way back to Slaver’s Bay to take control of the troubled cities, before launching an all-out assault on Westeros, although now Cersei has control of Varys’ little birds, the Mother of Dragons isn’t going to have surprise on her side. She will, however, have three dragons, the Unsullied and 100,000 Dothraki warriors.
And Tyrion.

NEXT WEEK
Episode 5, which airs May 22, is called “The Door” and it has this synopsis: “Tyrion seeks a strange ally. Bran (Isaac Hempstead Wright) learns a great deal. Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) goes on a mission. Arya (Maisie Williams) is given a chance to prove herself.”  The preview (watch below) shows Sansa confronting Littlefinger, a red priestess in Meereen, Arya back in action, Bran maybe being gone for too long, and the Kingsmoot.

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