It also gives us our new favorite relationship: #Tarthbane forever.
At some point over the next six episodes of Game of Thrones, the reality of how far we’ve come and how little we have left will engulf fans. It’s easy to ignore now, just short of halfway through season six, as the show is delivering the goods. Not long from now, fans will have to reckon with the end.
In our midst is joy and sadness and violence and triumph. “Book of the Stranger,” the fourth episode of season six, delivers all of this and a little more. From a reunion at The Wall to a barbecue in Vaes Dothrak, it was an episode filled with reminders of how far we’ve come – the show, the characters, and the audience. Long and hard was the road, but we made it. Was it worth it? Ask Tormund Giantsbane if it was worth it:
Yeah, he’s in.
Before we explore the big ideas from this week’s episode, we’ll need a spoiler warning. What follows includes details from the show through this week’s episode, plus book knowledge and speculation to fill in the gaps and peer into the flames and predict the future. You’ve been warned.
The Queen in the North and The Pink Letter
Have you ever been happier for a couple of Stark kids? The episode led with a payoff years in the making: two Stark children, having been through hell (and literally death), finally embracing in the courtyard of Castle Black. For all the near misses along the way, this was worth the wait. Credit goes to the show’s fantastic composer Ramin Djawadi for the majestic turn of score that sent chills down our collective spines. The scene, executed beautifully by director Daniel Sackheim and cinematographer Anette Haellmigk, delivers incredible detail around Sansa and Jon. It’s not just about their reunion – which is moving – it’s about characters we’ve enjoyed for six years finally coming together for a common cause. Brienne and Tormund catching a glance (or two); Brienne explaining how she executed Stannis to his former small council; Melisandre vowing to follow her new Prince That Was Promised wherever he wants to lead her. And yes, Sansa and Jon embracing as children of House Stark have not done since the very first episode of the series. It’s a big moment, well executed.
Even more important is what comes later in the episode. Book readers know it as The Pink Letter, a letter from Ramsay that forces Jon’s hand. In the books, Ramsay sends this letter to the then-living Lord Commander. In it, he goads Jon into action by telling him that Stannis is dead, Mance Rayder is in his custody (it’s a long story), and that he wants his bride back (a girl named Jeyne Pool who the Boltons have posing as Arya Stark). Here’s the original from the books:
Your false king is dead, bastard. He and all his host were smashed in seven days of battle. I have his magic sword. Tell his red whore.
Your false king’s friends are dead. Their heads upon the walls of Winterfell. Come see them, bastard. Your false king lied, and so did you. You told the world you burned the King-Beyond-the-Wall. Instead you sent him to Winterfell to steal my bride from me.
I will have my bride back. If you want Mance Rayder back, come and get him. I have him in a cage for all the north to see, proof of your lies. The cage is cold, but I have made him a warm cloak from the skins of the six whores who came with him to Winterfell.
I want my bride back. I want the false king’s queen. I want his daughter and his red witch. I want this wildling princess. I want his little prince, the wildling babe. And I want my Reek. Send them to me, bastard, and I will not trouble you or your black crows. Keep them from me, and I will cut out your bastard’s heart and eat it.
Ramsay Bolton, Trueborn Lord of Winterfell.
Ramsay’s letter in the show is very similar, especially in language. The difference is the players involved. In its quest for efficiency, the show simplified the situation in its own roundabout way. In the books, Jon receives the letter and as he abandons The Night’s Watch to go fight the Bolton bastard, he is stabbed as a traitor. The show left the letter for later, which allows them for an interesting change in dynamic. By this point in the story, Jon is ready to be done fighting. He says as much to Sansa in their heart-to-heart in front of the fire. She’s ready for revenge, while Jon is ready for a vacation (probably in Dorne). Fighting, dying, then coming back from the dead has left him with little desire to do it all over again.
The Pink Letter’s arrival will still propel Jon into action, but it’s Sansa – our Queen in the North – who is pressing the issue. This empowered position is a wonderful realization of Sansa’s character. She shows regret for some of the decisions she’s made, but reconciles her silliness as a wide-eyed young girl with a new mission: to take back The North. The prospects of Sansa as the driving force of the Northern Reclamation, while Jon is the figurehead warrior, is deeply satisfying considering the lows to which the show has brought her character. We are meant to want her to unite The North against The Boltons and this episode is where it all begins.
Tyrion as Abe Lincoln
Will Tyrion’s compromise work, or is Meereen destined to burn? In the “Inside the Episode,” showrunners Dan Weiss and David Benioff draw comparisons between Tyrion’s compromise with the Wise Masters of Slaver’s Bay with the reticence of Abraham Lincoln prior to the start of the American Civil War. In diplomacy, there is always compromise. Tyrion knows this, but as the episode makes abundantly clear, he may be underestimating the slavers.
The question for Tyrion’s situation is less about if it’s going to end in bloodshed and more about how bad it’s going to get. There’s a clarity to what Missandei and Grey Worm are telling him, a deep knowledge that Slaver’s Bay will not bend to the will of an absentee queen. Nor will they compromise with an outsider. If I were a betting man, I’d say that this is going to get worse before it gets better. But as we find out later in the episode, at some point Daenerys is going to come back to pick up her people and her dragons. At that point, the Slavers are going to wish they accepted the compromise.
The Grand Lannister Conspiracy
Why would Cersei and Lady Olenna be teaming up? This is a question that was posed to me by members of my own watch party. It’s quite simple. Cersei knows that Margaery is the key to the lineage of the Lannisters and the security of Tommen’s throne. With the death of Myrcella, Cersei’s realization is that Maggie the Frog’s prophecy (that her three children would all die) us very real. Whether it’s real or not, Cersei believes it. While she is fiercely defensive of her children, she’s also the Lannister child most like her father. In the end, Lord Tywin would encourage everyone to look at the bigger picture. If Margaery is returned and the High Sparrow is defeated, the Lannister/Tyrell allegiance remains on the Iron Throne. Queen Margaery is the piece they need to ensure that such power will live on, assuming she can bear a son for Tommen. With the Golden Shroud Prophecy in full effect, the urgency to get Margaery back has never been higher for Tommen’s mom.
“Whether I like her or not is completely unimportant,” she explains to Tommen. This is one of Cersei’s most pragmatic moments. It’s about the sustainability of her family’s hold on the Iron Throne, imbued with the urgency of knowing that her youngest son’s days are numbered.
What Daenerys Has Learned
“Rebirth is a theme this season,” explained the showrunners in this week’s “Inside the Episode.” From scoring to symbolism, “Book of the Stranger” was an opportunity for Game of Thrones to play the hits. For Daenerys, the hit was walking out of a large fire like a badass. The key has changed significantly, but the song is the same.
The question – as asked by my good friend Joanna Robinson at Vanity Fair – is whether or not the repetitive nature of Deanerys’ story is wearing thin. That’s a fair assessment, but I like to think of this repetitive story as building blocks. George R.R. Martin (and the show, by the transitive property) has never known what to do with Daenerys. Clearly there’s a lot of stalling, as her arrival in Westeros needs to be timed just right, perhaps for a big showdown with Ice Zombie Nation. We don’t know. What we do know is that it’s a constant back and forth of knocking her down, then building her back up. It’s no secret that this has made Daenerys’ story – both in the books and the show – a real slog.
What I like about this sequence is that Dany is finally in full control. She feels fully realized as the badass Mother of Dragons. In this moment, she takes down all the Dothraki Khals, a gaggle of bros who would see her raped by horses rather than cede her power, by herself, dragonless and alone. Aside from having Jorah and Daario bar the door, she doesn’t need to be saved. She doesn’t need Drogon to come swooping in and save her. In the end, she claims her Khalasar with Fire and her fearless approach to public nudity. Whether this is too much of the same remains to be seen, but it finally feels as if there might be some momentum to the Targaryen Restoration. At the very least, she now has a massive army of believers.
Pour One Out for Osha
Before we move on to next week’s episode, “The Door,” let’s pour one out for Osha the Wildling. She was a fun character, but she ultimately screwed up her only job. She didn’t keep Rickon safe, but it’s probably not entirely her fault. Never trust an Umber, I’ve always said. She could have made an interesting foil for Ramsay, but it feels late in the game for anyone to be outsmarting the Dark Prince of House Flaysalot. She made the only move she had left and it cost her in blood. It’s sad, but in hindsight, it could have been worse.
Next Week: “The Door”
A few quick based on the “Next Week On” clip:
- Oooh, Littlefinger’s in trouble.
- Here goes Arya, killin’ again.
- The Kingsmoot is here!
- A new Red Woman. Someone check her ID to see how old she really is.
- Bran goes too far down the rabbit hole, leading him right into the hands of our dear friend, The Night’s King. He’d better watch out, lest he expose his friends at The Three-Eyed Raven’s underground Young Men’s Clairvoyant’s Association.