Game of Thrones brings Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen face-to-face in a slower-than-expected episode that still managed a few surprises.
It is a safe bet that the meeting Game of Thrones staged in 'The Queen's Justice' was one of the most anticipated in the show's history. Given how much the series has invested in Daenerys Targaryen and Jon Snow, seeing them in the same room together is a big win under any circumstance. But their meeting holds even more meaning after the secret parentage of Jon Snow was revealed (or confirmed, really, given how the R + L = J theory spread across the internet like wildfire at the battle of Blackwater) last season, making Jon's line about not being a Stark, right before one of Dany's dragons performed a Tom Cruise-level flyby, about as on the nose as Game of Thrones can get.
That is to say, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss didn't miss a beat when the time came to remind the audience what these two characters don't know about the importance of their meeting. Given how long this summit has been in the works, however, and how many characters had to die in order for Jon and Dany to find themselves in their respective positions, the writers' lack of subtlety can be forgiven on account of the moment's magnitude and what it may yet mean for the future of Westeros. And even though the get-together between the Mother of Dragons and the King in the North didn't prove as immediately fruitful as this shortened season 7 might have benefitted from, Game of Thrones still savored the brief, suspecting, and slightly combative introductions with an appropriate mix of levity and urgency, and some of the best lines of dialogue uttered so far this young season.
The moment isn't treated with much in the way of pomp and circumstance, as Weiss, Benioff, and director Mark Mylod put the emphasis on the divergent interests and needs of the two characters, and how the urgency of their respective endeavors (in addition to the perceived authoritative might that comes along with their titles – or many titles in Dany's case) initially finds the two at odds with one another. Jon is reluctant to bend the knee to the daughter of the Mad King, and Dany sees Jon as a Northerner in open rebellion against the throne. The meeting might have been for naught were Tyrion not present and certain pressing matters not becoming more urgent by the minute. That urgency underlines the entirety of Jon and Dany's meeting as word comes of Euron's naval victory right around the same time the King in the North is having trouble convincing people who don't know him that an enemy they've never seen is coming to kill them.
'The Queen's Justice' features a number of key moments when characters are given seemingly sound counsel and essentially urged to be patient despite the mounting concerns they're facing. Though the military decisions he's likely signed off on have been less than successful as of late, Tyrion's knack for knowing things (and passing off his own statements as ancient wisdom) helps cooler heads prevail at Dragonstone, first by telling Jon not to ask unreasonable things of a woman who protects others against monsters and then by advising Dany to afford Jon a token of good faith by allowing him to mine Dragonglass.
Like the otherwise worthless material Jon is granted, his relationship with Dany is left in a raw, unrefined state, one that will likely be forged into something far more formidable as the Mother of Dragons continues to deal with losses against Cersei's armies. In that sense, 'The Queen's Justice' cleverly misdirects the viewer not once but twice, as Tyrion's telling of the Unsullied's advance on Casterly Rock is destined to end badly, before he reveals knowledge of an access point he oversaw the construction of out of spite for his father. It's a clever moment worthy of Danny Ocean that's undercut by the realization that Tyrion is still fighting his family and not the Queen of the Seven Kingdoms. While Dany's Unsullied take a relatively worthless piece of real estate, Jamie is looting Highgarden, filling the coffers of King's Landing and making good on the Lannisters' motto of always paying their debts.
The Tyrell gold comes at a price, though. Rather than show another battle, the episode focuses on its aftermath, following Jamie as he strolls through his military handiwork on his way to wrapping things up with Olenna Tyrell. The economy of the sequence delivers a far more dramatic and satisfying exchange than another large-scale battle would have. Diana Rigg has long been a Game of Thrones MVP, and though Olenna and her house are done, they go out on a high note thanks to a memorably low blow, copping to what the audience already knows: that she played a key role in the assassination of King Joffrey.
It was a slower than expected episode of Game of Thrones that nonetheless offered a few dramatic surprises. Mostly, though, 'The Queen's Justice' delivered by making good on key character moments and the dialogue fueling those interactions. The end result offered a compelling counterweight to the spectacle of last week's naval battle. It was an hour where words were chosen very carefully and each one carried far more weight than usual. As much as a momentous encounter between two major characters grabbed the spotlight, Game of Thrones proved that a character's last words could be just as important as their first.
Elsewhere in Westeros:
"She's starting to let on." Jon's wry comment about Sansa offers a welcome bit of levity while also pointing to her character's increased importance in the affairs of Winterfell. Sansa demonstrates an ability to look to the future, securing food for the long winter and battle ahead, and ensuring her armies are properly equipped. Like Jon and Dany, though, Sansa finds herself given counsel, this time by someone whose advice isn't nearly as hopeful as Tyrion's. Littlefinger's advice to Sansa to think of everyone as her enemy so that nothing will surprise her is perhaps the most Game of Thrones-y moment this season.
Bran finally arrives in Winterfell, and the Stark reunion comes just in time to remind Sansa the scales will forever be tipped against her. But Bran's not interested in claiming his birthright; being Three-Eyed Raven means dealing with responsibilities that go beyond ruling Winterfell, like trying to explain to your sister what the hell a Three-Eyed Raven is.
Jorah Mormont is given a clean bill of health and sent on his way from the Citadel. The relative ease with which Sam discovered and implemented the Greyscale remedy might feel a little unearned if it didn't underline the value of his current location and the vast stores of knowledge it contains. Sam sums it all up when answering how he accomplished his great feat by saying, "I read the books and followed the instructions." If Sam can cure Greyscale, think of what else he might uncover when he's not too busy copying rotting texts.
Euron continues to be the worst. He delivers Ellaria Sand and her daughter to Cersei, and manages to turn his victory and promised wish fulfillment into an insult directed at Jamie. It says a lot about Euron's character that he can make an incestuous king slayer seem like a paragon of virtue just by standing next to him.
Olenna remarks that Cersei is a monster but Lena Headey demonstrates there's still more to her than that. She reveals a surprisingly human moment during her encounter with Ellaria, asking why the woman would kill her only daughter in such a way as to engender a modicum of sympathy before she delivers the kiss of death to the last remaining Sand Snake.
Game of Thrones continues next Sunday with 'The Spoils of War' @9pm on HBO.
Photos: Helen Sloan/HBO