Tyrion has been reduced to luggage this season. His seafaring exploits have been largely curtailed as many expected but the journey to Meeren has him doing little, seeing less, and interacting with no one but Jorrah, who makes a piss-poor travel mate. Book readers might be wondering if you strip a storyline of anything substantial or enjoyable is there any reason to bother keeping it in at all. The highlight was their travels through the wastelands of Valarya, a treat that only a visual medium can offer. Reminiscent of the boat ride in Apocalypse Now, Jorrah and Tyrion commiserate over the ruins of a great civilization (basically the Westeros version of Atlantis) and are reminded that no schemes, dreams, kings, or empires can withstand the toll of time; perhaps the epitaph of the entire story. Their sightseeing tour is cut short when the show sails into the set of Pirates of the Caribbean and Grayscale-infected Stonemen raid their boat. As viewers, we know Grayscale is dangerous because they haven’t gone two scenes without someone talking about it this season. Contagious to the touch, these hissing monsters are akin to zombies and just as reductive. Jorrah reveals to the camera his infection and with it, the rest of his storyline for the season. I feel like I have just watched Game of Thrones jump that fabled shark.
As Dany’s rule in Mereen continues to spiral out of control we see her tap into her father’s wrath and feed one of the former slave masters to her dragons in response to the Harpy attack that saw Ser Barristan fall last week. With so many moving parts, it is frustrating to see the show insist on giving so much screen time to Gray Worm and Missandi’s budding romance, an inconsequential pairing that serves to slow down any momentum. With her back against the wall and short on councilors, Dany needs to adapt to survive and does so by declaring the fighting pits will re-open and that she will marry the groveling Hizdahr Zo Loraq to appease the rowdy upper class.
Jon Snow wastes no time rocking the boat in his new role as Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. Allowing the Wildlings safe passage south of the Wall goes against everything the Night’s Watch has fought against for centuries, an aspect Jon declares they had the wrong of. It takes a brave ruler to admit mistakes and affect change. It will not make him popular but as Maester Aemon reminds him, “half of the Night’s Watch already hates you.” To make the hard calls Jon must “kill the boy… and let the man be born.” The White Walkers are what the Wall is there to defend against and in that defense even Wildlings deserve protection.
A stranger in a strange land, Sansa is reintroduced to Theon (Reek) after a tense meeting with Ramsey’s concubine. She knows him as the man who sacked her homeland and murdered her younger brothers so seeing him covered in filth cowering in a kennel leaves her conflicted. Her only certainty is the dangerous sadism of her hosts. Her storyline has been one of subversive insurrection. When Ramsey parades Theon before Sansa and extracts an awkward apology, one must wonder if this will be the very act that serves to reignite Theon’s humanity. All the while, Brienne waits from a vantage point, slowly seeding her own insurrection against the Boltons to a dogged yet Stark-loyal common folk while she prepares her assault. This storyline is a slow simmering pot that I cannot wait to boil over.
Stannis finally makes his march for Winterfell. As much as I am excited for Stannis to bring some much needed martial action to this season, I will miss him sauntering through the Night’s Watch picking up casual conversation with whoever would listen. He reminds me of a man fresh on retirement who doesn’t know what to do with his newfound free time. “Keep reading, Samwell Tarley,” he advises. This is a small line but it gave me chills for a few reasons. Stannis is apt in acknowledging someone’s potential and sees value in the portly scholar. The would-be king sees that the realms of man have only one real enemy and that before long that will be the only battle fought. He is a narrative bridge that connects the Wall to his march on Winterfell and assault on the Boltons, to his blood debt to Brienne, to his checkered past with the Lannisters and his respect for the Starks. Right now, Stannis is the glue holding the Game of Thrones world together, a skill the show-runners seem incapable of this season.