Monday, July 31, 2017

Game of Thrones Season 7, Episode 3, “The Queen’s Justice”

Rest in peace Olenna Tyrell. Your frankness and wit made you a fan favorite, and you died as you lived, speaking truth to power. Her scene with Jaime, and the warfare that led to it, are the highlights of an otherwise slow, piece-moving episode. With nothing left to lose, Olenna gleefully reveals to Jaime what we’ve long known -- that it was she who orchestrated Joffrey’s assassination -- souring Jaime’s victory at Highgarden. Before she goes, Olenna also probes the dynamic between Cersei and Jaime, and the potential conflict simmering between them. Jaime might love Cersei, but there has been tension between them ever since Cersei took out her rivals at the end of last season. He’s questioned her decision making, and has looked on wearily as she’s made her alliances, even if he presents himself to everyone else as unwavering in his devotion. Jaime’s love for Cersei is his Achilles heel. Shrewd until her last moments, Olenna likely senses this, and feeds the voices in the back of Jaime’s head: she’s a monster and will kill him too, eventually. 

Pain flashes across Cersei's face between bouts of smugness.
Olenna is certainly right that Cersei has become a monster, even if the things that make her monstrous are rooted in personal tragedies with which we can sympathize. We can see this in the scene where she tortures the Sands. For a brief moment, Cersei reveals the pain Ellaria inflicted on her by killing Myrcella, asking -- seemingly genuinely – why Ellaria did it. However, this pain and whatever sympathy it solicits are quickly submerged by the mustache-twirling pleasure Cersei takes in avenging Myrcella’s death. Killing Ellaria’s last remaining daughter with the same slow-acting poison that killed Myrcella is fitting, but keeping Ellaria alive only so that she can watch her daughter’s corpse decay is horrific.

Perhaps if Cersei found it more emotionally draining to actually execute this revenge -- if, for instance, she collapsed outside of the torture chamber in a fit of sobs, both from reliving her grief over Myrcella and from the horror of what she’s just inflicted on Ellaria -- it would be easier to feel more sympathy for Cersei, because it would mean that she registers how horrible her world is, and how she and Ellaria are the architects of their own suffering (Ellaria’s murder of Myrcella was foolish and spiteful, after all, much like some of Cersei's behavior). But instead of making Cersei sad, her vengeance makes her horny: she immediately seeks out Jaime and fucks him. This kind of behavior isn’t too far removed from Joffrey’s naked sadism, and it’s exactly what so worries Jaime about his sister.

This week’s hypothesis corner: I can envision Jaime’s disquiet over Cersei leading to a scene where Jaime and Tyrion attempt to reconcile. Now that Jaime can prove to Cersei that Tyrion isn’t responsible for Joffrey’s death, perhaps Jaime will try to invite Tyrion back into the Lannister fold. They still love each other, after all, and don’t want to be on opposite sides of this conflict. Of course, Tyrion would never actually consider it; not only is he fond of Daenerys and grateful she took him in, but learning that Olenna was actually behind Joffrey’s death likely wouldn’t appease Cersei, who hated Tyrion and blamed him for their mother’s death long before she blamed him for Joffrey’s. More likely: Jaime will be convinced of Cersei’s monstrousness, or perhaps Arya will succeed in her quest, and Jaime will end up allying with his last remaining relative, if he survives whatever happens to Cersei.

In other news, Jon and Daenerys finally meet. For such a long-awaited scene, I found it rather frustrating. Their scene is about negotiating whose war gets fought first, should they ally. However, rather than negotiate, they each try to bend the other to their cause through sheer force of will, and each are too intractable in their beliefs to meet the other halfway: hers in her right to rule, his in the threat represented by the Night King. The problem is that they’re both right, which makes it that much harder for either of them to convince the other of their respective positions.

My frustration came from seeing these two plotlines collide without seeming to advance much. Ideally, their meeting would propel each of their stories in new and exciting directions, but instead, neither is able to use their agenda or experiences to get through to the other, and they leave things at an impasse. I suppose the scene is interesting for giving us a study in contrasts, with each character laying out their ethos and their claims toward leadership, Dany having been born into it, Jon having earned it, but I wanted more here. So did each of them; perhaps the scene intends to frustrate, to give us a sense of how the characters feel, even if the objects of our frustration are different.

Subsequent scenes on Dragonstone are more rewarding. Tyrion manages to break through Jon’s thickheadedness and Dany’s imperiousness by making them each realize that they should at least try working with one another to achieve smaller goals, if not committing to each others’ larger ones. She agrees to let him mine the dragon glass there, an olive branch that opens a path to future partnership. Still, I’d have preferred something more than these two orbiting each other briefly and then continuing on their ways relatively unchanged. Perhaps such a scene will come later.

Sam and Jorah’s scenes these past two episodes contrast sharply with Jon and Dany’s, which is fitting, I suppose, since these are Jon and Dany’s two most devoted servants. Jon and Dany are each too headstrong and have too much responsibility and history riding on their shoulders to become fast friends, but Sam and Jorah are able to form a friendship precisely based on their personal histories. Moreover, they advance each others’ stories in productive directions: Jorah gets to return to Dany’s side, and Sam shows Archmaester Ebrose that he’s a gifted pupil, one who deserves attentive mentoring. It's the kind of satisfying story advancement that should come from seeing two plotlines intersect.

I was also happy to see that I was right to like Archmaester Ebrose. He’s not so obtuse that his irritation over Sam ignoring his orders outweighs how impressed he is over Sam successfully treating Jorah’s greyscale. Thus he chastises Sam’s disobedience while also praising his skill and determination. He’s a good teacher. But Sam is still a student, and thus must still perform the menial duty of copying decaying manuscripts. Sam shouldn’t look so disappointed; it’s better than emptying bedpans.

This episode’s Winterfell scenes have Sansa attending to the needs of the castle and reuniting with Bran, but they’re most interesting for the symmetrical visions of the world offered to Sansa by Littlefinger and Bran. We finally get a bit of insight into Littlefinger’s mind when he advises Sansa to always plan for all possible contingencies. That way, she’ll never be surprised, and will always have a plan for how to proceed (which, in a way, is something Olenna acknowledges that she lacked in her defeat by Cersei). Of course, planning for all contingencies is also a great way to stop trusting in others, which partly explains Littlefinger’s smile at the scene’s conclusion: he seems to be trying to turn her into someone as lonely and isolated as him, making them a better match.

However, the problem with this plan (if that is indeed his goal), is that people whom Sansa fully trust keep showing up, this time in the form of Bran, or whatever amalgamation of Bran and the Three-Eyed Raven now inhabit Bran’s body. He’s like another creature entirely, and the difference is clear not only in Bran’s tranquil tone of voice, but also when he flashes only the weakest of smiles upon seeing Sansa. The smile is entirely for her benefit, rather than something he actually feels, as it vanishes from his face when she embraces him. All of the surviving Starks have changed since they last saw each other, but Bran has become something else entirely.

Like Littlefinger, Bran also gives Sansa his vision of the world as the Three-Eyed Raven, but it’s the opposite of Littlefinger’s: Littlefinger imagines everything that could possibly happen, while Bran sees everything that is actually happening, and that has ever happened before. One is oriented toward the future, the other the past, but both try to bring these things to bear on the present. Sansa clearly doesn’t understand yet what a powerful tool Bran’s power is, instead becoming upset over his reminding her of the details of her traumatic wedding to Ramsay, and over the strangeness of Bran even possessing this knowledge in the first place. Let’s see if she figures out how to make use of him subsequent episodes.

Other thoughts:

- No confrontation between Davos and Melisandre, as the latter leaves town before Davos can catch sight of her. Davos threatened to execute Melisandre the last time they spoke, which would be a fitting end for her. At least she regrets what she did to Shireen, even if she’s still spouting riddles about the future to Varys.

- Tyrion and Jon’s banter was fine, but the highlight here is when Jon’s line, “I’m not a Stark,” is punctuated by one of the dragons buzzing him. Perhaps this is meant as a reminder that he is actually both a Targaryen and a Stark. I wonder, is he also fireproof? Might he also have a special rapport with dragons? Or is affinity to one magical creature (Ghost) enough?

- Theon lives to sulk another day, fished out of the sea by a Greyjoy vessel, although it’s unclear if it is Euron’s or Yara’s.

- We have our first Bronn sighting of the season, marching into the field outside Highgarden. Hopefully he gets a quip-filled scene with Euron, one that ends with Bronn running him through with a sword.

- Jon’s defeatism is really irritating in his cliffside scene with Tyrion. “You know nothing, Jon Snow” keeps finding fresh ways to feel apt.

- It’s never too late for firsts: a week after I noted that Jorah has never worn a clean outfit, he dons a clean shirt.

- More hints that one or more of Daenerys’s dragons is not long for this world: she asks her advisors what anyone could possibly do to harm her dragons, implicitly suggesting that they’re invulnerable. She remains overconfident despite her mounting losses.

- This episode makes a joke out of all of the titles and honorifics Dany has acquired, contrasting the length of her name with the brevity of Jon’s when they’re introduced. Really, Jon could have as many titles as Dany if he weren’t simple northern folk. Jon the Twice-Lived, King in the North, Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, Befriender of Giants, Slayer of Walkers, Tamer of Direwolves, Knower of Nothing.

- Victory in defeat, defeat in victory. Daenerys takes Casterly Rock, but Cersei anticipates this move, and Jaime reveals it to be a hollow prize, not worth taking or holding. Add to it that the Unsullied are now stranded on the western side of the continent, far removed from the rest of Dany’s forces, along with the loss of all three of her Westerosi allies, and the scales between Cersei and Dany continue to even out. Refusing to bend knee to Daenerys is perhaps the smartest move Jon has made in a while, considering that so far this season it’s very bad to be a Targaryen ally in Westeros.


- It was nice to finally glimpse both Casterly Rock and Highgarden, two much-talked about locations, and both featuring the sort of exciting, large-scale warfare of the kind we only sometimes see on this show. I also enjoyed the editing here, with Tyrion explaining the battle strategy as we see the Unsullied execute it, as well as the Unsullied’s passion in fighting for Daenerys. More stylistic grace from this series.

- Perhaps another reason this episode dragged a bit: no Arya.

No comments:

Post a Comment