The transfer of power to those most capable of running an ever-changing world tends to only happen when traditions fly out of the window. That’s always been one of the primary messages of Game of Thrones, and watching it unfold with power moves and converging character arcs is where the show’s major strengths lie. A watcher on the wall becomes a King in the North; a Lannister becomes the hand to a Targaryen dragon queen – change and progress is becoming more pronounced and noticeable, represented most intensely by a long-awaited Jon and Dany alliance. Though we may have to wait a few more episodes for that alliance to actually forge, it was exciting watching all that change and pent up anticipation released in the first 20 minutes or so of “The Queen’s Justice”, when the two finally meet and, unsurprisingly, clash.
Now, Kit Harrington and Emilia Clarke are far from the show’s most formidable actors, but their meeting was brilliantly executed, undercut by rising tensions and some truly magnificent dialogue that managed to cover a wide range of issues while also throwing a bit of humour in the mix. It flowed with the same kind of kinetic energy as some of the show’s most memorable scenes (namely those between Littlefinger and Varys in season 1, or Olenna and everyone throughout the years), pushed along well by superior actors Liam Cunningham and Peter Dinklage.
Whereas the technical side of “Stormborn” was most notable for its hilarious editing, the writing team deserve the applause here. There was plenty of playful self-referential (and perhaps self-deprecating) humour in the script this week, from addressing Dany’s ludicrously long title, to Jon’s unparalleled brooding stance, to Tyrion’s penchant for passing his own words off as ancient wisdom. However, there were a lot of holes in the dialogue as well – necessary contrivances to manipulate the plot, like Jon’s frustratingly vague choice of words when trying to convince Dany that the fight against Cersei is child’s play and that she needs help to fend off the real threat (the one beyond the wall). Sure, perhaps being inarticulate and a lack of decorum are traits that have been embedded in Jon’s character from the very beginning, but it still felt like a cheap way to stretch out his time at Dragonstone, waiting for Dany’s characteristic narrow-mindedness to subside.
Tyrion was the valuable bridge between the two, and its his scenes with Jon Snow which stood out the most as far as the Dragonstone arc goes. There’s a warm, endearing respect between the two that was well-connected with there brief time spent bonding at Castle Black years ago. With the show’s renewed energy and incredible speed (a gift and a curse) it’s unlikely that we’re going to see much of these two alone from here on out, so it’s nice that we got a few moments of Jyrion (?) this week.
King’s Landing was much more overstated with showboat Euron Greyjoy gloating about his victories. It’s telling that only two episodes ago Euron was promising Cersei a gift, and two episodes later he has that in the form of her daughter’s murderer and the last remaining Sand Snake. The pace of this show has become dizzying.
Cersei’s whispered malevolence as she taunted Ellaria Sand in the dungeons of King’s Landing was truly terrifying, reminding us of Lena Headey’s immense talent. Come to think of it, Lena hasn’t really had a big monologue this impressive for quite some time, despite her constant presence on the show. This only proves that the writers need to use her more in this way; the way Lena scatters small and subtle flecks of vulnerability while she devilishly poisons Ellaria’s “favourite” daughter in front of her and promises to leave Myrcella’s killer alive to watch the to-the-bone decay, that’s an Emmy moment right there, and it’s consistent with Cersei being one of the most creative and sadistic villains on this show.
Ellaria’s fate may not be as physically intense as having an undead Ser Gregor rape her death (like Septa Unella), but the prolonged psychological torture, even one which requires the guards to “change the torches every few hours”, puts the Queen on the same level as – if not above – the show’s former savage: Ramsay Bolton.
GoT’s biggest enemy right now is time. The pace has been given a considerable boost now that there’s a very near end-game in sight (there’s only ten episodes left, technically, although the final six may be feature film length if the rumours are true) and for now it’s being handled as well as it can be. Considering the lack of space and the need to disregard any linearity when juggling these timelines – which can be confusing at times – the show is operating at – or at least near – its very best, but there are times when the detail of a more patient show like Breaking Bad is sorely missed.
Those pacing issues seem to be most evident in the big battle scenes, like last week’s Greyjoy battle and this week’s Casterly Rock invasion, having Tyrion’s narration mixed in with a montage of the Unsullied – led by Grey Worm – taking the often mentioned but never – until now – shown seat. Sure, it gave Tyrion some awesome dialogue, but it also took the fire out of the fight, rushing through so we could instead focus on how Jamie (with Bronn and the Tarlys), taking a note from King Robb Stark’s playbook, took Highgarden with a clever fake-out.
Dany may have the army and a cunning dwarf, but Cersei has a master strategist and a ruthless pirate. Now poor Grey Worm is stranded at Casterly Rock without a fleet to take them back to Dragonstone.
Diana Rigg has been incredible to watch since she first sauntered onto our screens in season three’s “Dark Wings, Dark Words” (the same episode Iwan Rheon’s Ramsay Bolton made his debut no less), and for her final Game of Thrones (barring any flashbacks) scene she sure stole the show yet again. Even in her death she was as witty as ever, turning into a subtly cruel and biting woman after she drank the poison, repaying Jamie’s “kindness” (to be fair, he did grant her a relatively clean death) by telling him that she was the one who poisoned and killed his son, urging him to tell his sister just so the Highgarden matriarch could have one last win. Savage.
There were a few other big moments in this episode, but again the pacing sucked plenty of life out of them. For example, Sansa’s reunion with Bran would have been much more emotional had the episode stuck with it for a while longer, but instead they zoomed straight to the godswood where Sansa was rightfully freaked out by her cold and emotionless brother and his weird insistence of bringing up her and Ramsay’s torturous wedding night. These big emotional payoffs are finally occurring by the week, it’s just a shame to have them marred by time constraints.
Review Score: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
- Dany and Jon verbally sparring with balance from Davos and Tyrion
- The writing team try their hand at self-deprecating humour
- Cersei taunts her daughter’s killer
- Lady Olenna says her final goodbyes and makes an admission to Jamie
- Jamie admits learning from Robb Stark
- Tyrion and Jon scenes
- Sansa and Bran meeting fizzled and felt thin
- The battle at Casterly Rock rushed through
- Sam curing Jorah so quick, also a victim of pacing issues. Obviously Jorah will arrive at Dragonstone next week.
- I’m beginning to think this build up to a Cersei vs Dany battle is a red herring. Through some sort of deep and meaningful (could this perhaps be the way to bring Tyrion face to face with his sister) Cersei will be forced to join the cause against the White Walkers.
- The Hound hasn’t ended up north of the wall yet – and we know the Brotherhood are heading there – and we’re pretty much halfway through this season. Any hopes of Cleganebowl have been shot down.
- I’m guessing Arya will arrive in Winterfell next episode. Hopefully this Stark kid reunion is treated with patience rather than rushed through.
Game of Thrones airs at the same time as in the U.S, every Monday at 11am AEST on Showcase, Foxtel. It repeats at 8pm AEST.
Photo: Helen Sloan / HBO.