[This is a review of Game of Thrones season 6, episode 4. There will be SPOILERS.]
Game of Thrones has dealt its characters such a brutal hand so often that when episodes like ‘Book of the Stranger’ roll around, the sharp turn from the norm can be more jarring in its unexpectedness than any fate – death or otherwise – that may befall whoever is left to contend for the Iron Throne. After three weeks of plot setting and arranging characters exactly where the show needed them, the series has done as it typically does – fourth episodes are generally as exciting plot development-wise as certain penultimate episodes have been in their epic scale and action – and delivered a rousing start of several major turns from Jon and Sansa’s welcome reunion at Castle Black to Jaime and Cersei selling Kevan and Olenna on rousting the High Sparrow from his pious perch.
As satisfying as many of these plot threads were to see unfold, most paled in comparison to the rousing climax of seeing Daenerys emerge unscathed from the burning house of the Dosh khaleen to find herself handed the proverbial reins of a massive army of Dothraki. The final scene wasn’t just striking in how it managed to recapture the wonder of Dany’s previous fire trick from the first season, nor was it simply remarkable for how well it was shot and how expertly it incorporated some terrific visual effects; it was significant because tonally speaking Dany’s materialization through a wall of flame was the perfect way to cap off what was the best episode of the season so far.
Whether it is because the show is now largely untethered from the books, or simply because it is closer to the end now than ever before, Dany’s liberation and ascension at the expense of the khals moved her plot forward in impressive fashion. After all the time spent in Meereen dealing with the Masters of Slavers Bay and the Sons of the Harpy, and keeping two of her three dragons chained in the basement of a great pyramid, seeing her earn a great victory on her own distinct terms – especially after the exceptionally obscene threats that were leveled against her by the khals – was an indulgence Game of Thrones doles out with incredibly infrequency, and so its satisfaction was made manifold. But it also effectively made Dany’s inadvertent excursion to Vaes Dothrak a necessary steppingstone to the Narrow Sea rather than the Meereen-like obstruction it first appeared to be.
Time and again, ‘Book of the Stranger’ demonstrates how the show intuits when it’s time to pivot away from its natural inclination towards nihilism to something more hopeful and uplifting. Season 6 has been on a roll in that regard with Jon and Arya most recently, and earlier with Sansa and Brienne. And like the others, there is a real sense – now that Dany has amassed yet another massive army – these once diffuse threads will start coming together with an increased sense of purpose and drive.
There’s real evidence of this in Sansa and Jon’s reunion at Castle Black and partly because, after Jon had relinquished control as Lord Commander, it seemed likely the audience would be handed another case of bad timing as the half-siblings just missed one another in transit. Instead, there was a much-needed emotional moment filled with a prolonged embrace and even a few smiles over some good soup and bad ale. The heartfelt interaction between siblings is not as deliberate a callback to season 1 as Dany playing with fire, but the emotional through-line connecting these characters to a place they had been scattered from so long ago, resonated powerfully each time they were together.
Jon and Sansa’s reunion was so potent – and augmented by Tormund making eyes at Brienne and Edd having no way to process the whole thing – that an exaggeratedly evil letter from Ramsay during dinner didn’t spoil the gathering; it spurred everyone to action against the murderous Warden of the North. The thought of Jon rising to action as the oldest living son of Ned Stark (until Bran makes his way back to the Tower of Joy, possibly), in the company of his sister and the wildlings – not to mention Petyr Baelish and the army of the Vale – to take back Winterfell is one RSVP request the vicious Bolton will hopefully soon regret.
Although in terms of reunions, the hour can’t top seeing two Stark children find their way back to one another, there are plenty more to be had, like Margaery and Loras, Davos and Melisandre with reminders of Renly and Shireen, Yara and Theon, and of course, Cersei and the small council. The latter two had more to do with the acquisition of power than anything else but there’s still power in Margaery’s interaction with her brother and certainly with her gaming of the High Sparrow by appearing to hang on his every word. It’s only a matter of time before simmering tensions within King’s Landing boil over and the Lannisters are faced with another detrimental force on their doorstep as a result of their desire to remove unwanted guests.
It is terrific to see these alliances being forged and even better that Game of Thrones appears eager to see them play out sooner rather than later. Dany’s elimination of the khals was mercifully (for the audience anyway) swift and fierce and one hopes that Jon and Sansa’s march to Winterfell will be as well. With all the threads moving at such a thrilling clip, Meereen – even with Tyrion doing his bureaucratic best – threatens to be the next Dorne. Hopefully, the series can stage a reunion between the Mother of Dragons and her newly appointed advisor before she heads for the Narrow Sea.
Game of Thrones continues next Sunday with ‘The Door’ @9pm on HBO. Check out a preview below: