Dragons, Boltons and Stone Men, oh my!
By the Seven, I'm exhausted. How can so much happen in one episode without even catching a glimpse of Cersei, Tommen, Margaery and the Sparrows in King's Landing, Jaime, Bronn and the Sand Snakes in Dorne, Littlefinger wherever he may be skeeving about or Arya and the Faceless Men in Braavos?
The crazy cool stuff just kept coming – from a dragon-seared human buffet to another impending wedding.
Honestly, these people get married more often than Ridge and Brooke on Bold and the Beautiful. There's only one way to tackle it all, and that's tackle out with another Raven On Game of Thrones recap.
Remember, we're discovering the story through the TV show, so no spoilers, or we'll throw you overboard for the Stone Men, and we're not talking Cheech and Chong.
"Kill the boy," Maester Aemon urges Jon Snow early on this week, and in many ways it was an episode so drenched in questions of shifting masculine identity you could smell the Brut 33 wafting across Westeros.
Even Danaerys, Mother of Dragons, our legendarily epic super Queen, has an uneasy battle with male power – both internally and externally. Sadly that doesn't involve a naked and pre-buttered Maario Naharis, but rather Dany coming to grips with where and when she, as a female ruler, defines herself in line with an established masculine culture, or uses her own unique female perspective to reassert her hold on Meereen.
But hey, you might come to Raven On for Feminist Discourse 101 (unless you're a Gamergater), but you stay for the dick jokes. Let's get started with the biggest dicks of them all – the Boltons. BOO! HISS! Bad Boltons!
Ramsay Snow's psycho girlfriend Miranda isn't happy about her beloved's intended marriage. She's grumpy not just because her hip bones are very pointy and she clearly needs a feed, but because Ramsay actually fancies Sansa Stark. In the nudiest of scenes this episode, Ramsay asserts that his new role as dynastic sperm jar must take precedence over any previous plans he'd made to marry the kennel-master's daughter. However, given her low-born status, he will continue to keep her around as his bit of rough. He is a jumped-up bastard who has decided to have his cake and eat it too – his declaration "You're mine" is hardly subtext. Before his ennoblement, their relationship was more equal. Now, she is as much his property as he sees Sansa or Winterfell, or even the North itself.
Meanwhile Sansa gets sent a message by Brienne, who's holed up with Pod within stabbing's distance from Winterfell. She wants the young Stark to know she still has friends, and convinces a behatted servant to convey the message that should Sansa ever need help, she should use Flickr. No, wait, sorry – she has to light a candle in the top window of the Broken Tower. Gosh, how analogue. Anyway, I'm pretty sure the last time anybody was in the Broken Tower it was Jaime and Cersei doing their twincest thing, so hopefully Sansa keeps her gloves on if she needs to go in there.
I had feared Miranda was going to take out her rage on Sansa when she appeared next to her at the foot of the tower. It got even more ominous when she took Sansa to the kennels and urged her to walk past the snarling dogs to the surprise in the cage at the back. But instead Sansa was confronted with a ghost of Winterfell's past – Theon Greyjoy, now the pitiable wretch Reek. Clearly Miranda wants to punish Ramsay in some way.
As for Theon, he was once a cocksure fellow, but now has neither surety nor a … well, you get the picture. Theon is possibly the most extreme example in this episode of a character utterly stripped of his masculinity. Ramsay continues to torture him, not physically anymore, but mentally. He keeps him in a constant state of fear, then makes grand gestures like "forgiving him" for not immediately telling him about being seen by Sansa.
He may have lost some societally-approved concept of "maleness", but Theon has not necessarily lost all of his humanity. He knew he didn't murder Bran and Rickon and that the tiny bodies he had strung up at Winterfell were local farming lads. OK, sure, that's not great, but at least he can look Sansa in the eyes when told to apologise. He knows one day he may be able to tell her the truth, even if the prospect of Ramsay finding out such a big secret would make him sick with worry.
Ramsay takes great delight in telling Sansa that Reek will have to give her away at their wedding as he's the closest thing she has to a relative. In a show of Sansa spunkiness, she demands to know why he's torturing Theon, and he says it's punishment for killing her brothers. He makes no apologies for his own father killing Catelyn and Robb – mind you neither does Roose, and he's sitting right there.
Ramsay's smiles are soon wiped off his face when Roose and Walda announce they're going to have a baby, putting Ramsay's position as heir in jeopardy. Later, Roose gives Ramsay a right dressing down, saying he disgraced himself at dinner. Ramsay looked suitably chastened enough that I almost allowed myself to slightly consider maybe thinking about giving Roose Bolton a tacit nod of approval.
But then what does Roose do? Launch into a detailed description of how Ramsay was conceived. A pair of young lovers married without Roose's consent, so he hanged the bloke and raped the distraught young widow. BOO! HISS! Seriously, why the hell did the Starks ever treat with these monsters? BOO! HISS! Then he reassures Ramsay that when the woman presented the screaming bastard child to him, he recognised himself in the little psycho tyke enough to keep him. It's what every kid wants to hear from their Dad, isn't it? "I liked you enough not to have you drowned." BOO! HISS! I hate the Boltons so much right now!
Let's move up to The Wall, because Jon Snow is there, and if there's one thing that can pretty much turn my frown upside down, it's a long, adoring look from the Lord Commander. Ahh, that's better.
Jon is preparing to make a deal so controversial it would get Andrew O'Keefe fired for insubordination. Maester Aemon tells him to go for it, even though he doesn't know what it is – he reasons people will hate Jon anyway, so "kill the boy" and let the man emerge. Oh, yes please, Jon. Don't get me wrong, I love the boyishness. But the Snow Man has so much … potential.
Incidentally I loved seeing Maester Aemon fretting about Daenerys; wouldn't it be lovely to see a scene with him and Dany, the last remaining Targaryens (fan theories aside)?
Jon invites a chained Tormund Giantsbane in for tete-a-tete: he proposes a peace treaty that would see the Wildlings come south of the Wall to live safely, on the proviso they fight with the Night's Watch when needed.
It's a vexed issue because the wounds for many Night's Watchmen – and youngsters like Snow's own steward Ollie – are very real. Their identity has been wrapped up for thousands of years in the idea that Wildlings were dangerous and should be killed with extreme prejudice. You can't unlearn that in a few weeks before winter arrives.
It's not easy for Jon to deal with the Wildlings either, with Tormund insisting Snow accompany him to show the free folk the deal is not a trick. It means by now Jon must have breached The Wall more times than enthusiastic Berliners circa 1989.
Meanwhile Stannis is getting ready to head south to take on the Boltons, who themselves have pledged to hold the North. The last remaining Baratheon continues to endear himself as a sound military operator by seeking advice from Samwell Tarly about the dragonglass he used to kill the White Walker, and talking timing and tactics with Ser Davos. He even reinforces his good Dad credentials, insisting his family ride south with his army as they're safer that way.
For all of his reasoning and good sense, it's Seaworth who gets the emotional Dad stuff right: when Shireen defiantly says she isn't scared, he admits he is and makes her promise to protect him. Awww.
After a brief farewell between Stannis and Jon Snow, two very different yet equally admirable men, Stannis heads off, with Melisandre casting a saucy gaze back at Jon Snow. What did I tell you last week, Melisandre?! Good riddance, I say.
Over in Meereen, Dany mourns the passing of her stalwart father figure, Ser Barristan Selmy, the man who crossed a continent to find and serve her, only to die in an alley.
Maario (not nude – a mistake, I think) suggests securing the pyramid section of the city before methodically clearing the rest of the city out until the Sons of the Harpy have been totally Harpic'd.
Dany plays it a different way; she tells Whiny Fighting Pits Guy that the heads of all the great Meereen families will be rounded up. "But I'm the head of a great Meereen family!" he squeaks. Dany shrugs and her guards grab Whiny Fighting Pits Guy. Classic Daenerys.
The Mother of Dragons then puts on a show of force for these men, sending one of them in to be flambéed, ripped apart in an explosion of sticky gore and munched on by Rhaegal and Viserion. Dany threatens to send Whiny Fighting Pits Guy in as the second course, but stays her hand after he summons up a squawky "Valar Morghulis".
She explains she doesn't want to overfeed them, and I totally know where she's coming from. I've just welcomed another two fosters into my Mother of Kittens lair, and seriously, it can be tricky working out how much meaty beef-loaf to dish out to each one.
Daenerys calls upon Missandei to offer her opinion on how she should deal with her increasingly rogue subjects. At first Missandei is self-deprecating, saying she doesn't have an opinion. Cue jokes about women and opinions out now. The point is, Dany needed a sounding board that didn't just bounce back Ser Barristan's "show mercy" (which had failed) or Maario's "kill all the motherf----ers" (which probably would fail). Missandei gave her that; a chance to sit quietly and find her own golden answer.
"It takes a coward to admit fear," she tells Whiny Fighting Pits Guy, then adds "And to a mistake". Are you listening, politicians and men, generally, everywhere? Just be a little sorry sometimes. You see how it doesn't make Dany look weak, but rather, strong? You see actually more attractive, not less. For the old gods' sake, I apologise to the coffee table when I bump it, so how about I apologise a little less, and you lot a little more? Send your good lady wives some flowers and say you're sorry. And no, I don't even care if you didn't do anything, because you probably did something, because we're all human and we're constantly doing something.
OK, where was I? Oh, right. Whiny Fighting Pits Guy seems to get this, and begs for his life, saying not only did he not want to die a coward, he would prefer not to die at all. Well it's his lucky day – as far as Whiny Fighting Pits Guy is concerned, Dany is not going to kill the boy so much as marry him. "A suitor is already on his knees", she intones. Gosh, how I love a lady that takes charge.
Still, a marriage will be iffy. Will it affect Dany's relationship with Maario? Does Dany plan on sleeping with Whiny Fighting Pits Guy, or is it just for show? Will he get cocky as a consort, or see it as another form of bondage? What will it mean to have power in name only, but not in actuality? And seriously, does this mean I have to actually learn Whiny Fighting Pits Guy's real name? I'm open to suggestions.
Fact is, the person it's probably going to affect most is Ser Jorah Mormont, who is slowly but surely making his way to Meereen.
For the first time we see the ruins of Valyria, which basically sounds like the mythical city of Atlantis except it was burned, not sunk. Jorah and Tyrion's calm afternoon punting and poetry is interrupted however, when the feared Stone Men, sufferers of greyscale so bad a sorbolene volcano couldn't fix it, ambushed their boat.
His hands tied, Tyrion could only kick away at the grasping monsters before being dragged down into the deep. A long fade into black seemed to signify the end of the episode, but no, slowly Tyrion's eyes opened and he saw Jorah's concerned face looking back at him. I'm slightly put out that there was no mouth to mouth, but so be it. Tyrion has escaped death once more – how much luck does this guy have?
Yay! Best Moments
Guys, if you want to woo your lady, please study Grey Worm's beautiful and touching explanation to Missandei of why he felt scared when he was attacked by the Sons of the Harpy.
The neutered Unsullied, trained to be an emotionless killing machine, finally admitted the feelings he had developed, just like a real human boy. Think Pinocchio, only without any extendable appendages.
Obviously meaning a declaration like that is preferable – don't just go telling any girl on Tinder you're scared you might never swipe right on her profile again.
Zing! Best Lines
All hail His Grace, Stannis of House Baratheon, First of His Name, King of the Andals and the First Men, Lord of the Seven Kingdoms, Protector of the Realm and Grammar Nazi.
"Less enemies for us!" a Night's Watchmen cries, mad about the Wildlings. "Fewer," mutters Stannis. Exquisite character moment.
Tyrion is also back on form, describing ship life with Jorah as "long sullen silences and an occasional punch in the face. The Mormont way."
Hey Ramsay, isn't it enough to just be a human cowpat, do you need to rag on Walda Frey as well? What has she ever done to you? I know a piece of cockroach crap like you has no respect for anyone at all, but to make nasty comments about Walda's size and her intimate relationship with Roose was not cool, bro. "How did you find it?" – ugh. It's a vagina, not Jimmy Hoffa.
Despite telling Tyrion he got away untouched by the Stone Men, Jorah reveals a patch of greyscale on his forearm at the very end of the episode. There's been a mention of greyscale in every episode, and I've been dreading its impending arrival. I don't want to see Jorah infect Dany, and particularly not Maario. He looks enough like a carved statue without the stone effect.