After all these years of watching Game of Thrones and its steady slide into the shitter, I increasingly find that my problems with it are less and less to do with its atrocious treatment of women and people of color. Instead, I find myself getting stuck on the sheer nonsensical awfulness of the show’s plot and characters and the obvious contempt with which Game of Thrones’ writers view their audience. Sure, the show has some good production values; there’s nothing else quite like it on television, and we’d all love to believe that it represents a watershed moment in the legitimacy of fantasy fiction in television and film, only the first vanguard in a movement that’s going to spawn well-made adaptations of all our favorite books with dragons on the covers. However, all I can ask at this point is: “At what cost?”
The first couple episodes of season seven managed to be more or less inoffensively bad, but “The Queen’s Justice,” when it’s not rushing headlong into and through what must surely be the silliest war the Seven Kingdoms have ever seen, sees the inevitable return of the show’s obsession with humiliating its women. You know, when it’s not unjustly and/or ridiculously vilifying them, pitting them against each other or portraying them as cold, emasculating shrews towards every man in their lives. Except for Daenerys, who has simply been turned into an emotionless power-hungry fembot. Whee! #WomenOnTop!
I joked to my partner before the episode started that Jon Snow was definitely going to teleport straight to Dragonstone this week, but I didn’t expect that to be literally the first scene of the episode. It was.
Jon and Davos are met on the beach by Tyrion, who rather bafflingly introduces Missandei to them as Daenerys’s most trusted advisor even though we haven’t seen her exchange more than a handful of words with Daenerys since probably season four. The real head scratcher in this scene, however, is Ser Davos’s attempts to engage in small talk with Missandei. He leads with “Where are you from?” and it’s downhill from there, with Davos finally turning to Jon and telling him that “this place has changed.” It would be easier to be more generous about the meaning of that statement if the camera didn’t spend so much time focusing on the ominously silent Dothraki men who disarmed the northerners and on Missandei herself being the impetus for Davos’s assessment, but one can’t help but hear in that “this place has changed” a discomfort with the new demographics of the place. It can’t be any less civilized than when Stannis and Melisandre were burning people by the dozens on Dragonstone’s beaches, surely. It’s a moment that’s played for humor, but it comes off as Davos being awkwardly racist in a way that’s the opposite of endearing in a character that has been treated so much as one of the few unequivocally decent people in the world of the show.
Predictably, because it’s exactly the sort of contrivance this show relies on almost exclusively to create what passes for drama in Westeros, Jon and Daenerys’s first meeting doesn’t go very well for either of them. Jon refuses to pledge his allegiance to Daenerys or to give up his title as King in the North, even though he stupidly abandoned that position and its associated responsibilities to go on a long and risky journey to meet Daenerys in person, knowing that she would expect him to bend the knee when he arrived. Daenerys, for her part, pouts prettily, delivers a heaping helping of historical exposition, and alternates between insisting that she’s the Rightful Queen of the Seven Kingdoms™—based entirely on her Targaryen name, though even she admits that her father was an evil man and an unfit ruler—and being blatantly threatening toward Jon. The worst part of all this is that it’s deeply boring; it solves nothing and advances no plot. It could serve as character portraiture, comparing and contrasting the two rulers, but that would require that Jon and Daenerys have more than 0.5 character traits each.
Instead, we’re treated to bogus posturing and what seems intended to be verbal power games before they’re interrupted by Daenerys’s receipt of some bad news.
A later scene at Dragonstone finds both Jon and Tyrion brooding on the cliffs outside the castle, and this is a dull and unnecessarily roundabout way to get to the actual point of Jon’s visit to Dragonstone. Tyrion points out that Jon’s being unreasonable by asking Daenerys to help him in the North when she’s still dealing with Cersei, which, okay? I guess? Jon actually hadn’t asked Daenerys for anything yet, just told her about the Night King and the Army of the Dead. In any case, Jon finally tells Tyrion about the dragonglass under Dragonstone, and Tyrion advises Daenerys to give it to Jon, since she didn’t know or care about it anyway. It might be wise advice, but none of this is at all exciting or even very interesting. The short scene where Daenerys tells Jon that he can have the dragonglass was a great opportunity for letting these two characters—widely considered to be this story’s endgame rulers and a likely couple—forge some kind of deeper connection with each other or even just display an inkling of chemistry, but Daenerys is chilly and condescending while Jon is laconic and distracted. Earlier in the episode, Melisandre explicitly referred to this pair as “ice and fire” (as in A Song of Ice and Fire), but there’s remarkably little of the reaction or spark that one would normally expect between those opposites. Frankly, it’s a relief when their scenes are over.
In King’s Landing
Our first scene in King’s Landing this week is Euron marching Yara, Ellaria and Tyene through the streets of the city to the cheers of the adoring populace. He gifts Ellaria and Tyene to Cersei, who agrees to marry him “when the war is won.” Euron is then is vulgarly insulting to Jaime and demeaning to Cersei, but the more interesting thing about this scene is what it says about the way the show’s writers see the common people.
After being completely disappeared for last season’s final episode, the ordinary people of the city seem none the worse for wear after Cersei blew up the Sept of Baelor, killing most of the court and destroying the center of religious life in the realm. Indeed, the jeering crowds that are used to humiliate Ellaria, Tyene and Yara seem much the same as the ones that watched Cersei’s walk of shame back in season five or that mindlessly consumed the beheading of Ned Stark in season one. Though surely most of the nobles and persons of importance in the King’s Landing were killed in the Sept and there were few people at her coronation, Cersei’s throne room is now once again packed with people as Euron arrives with his gift. Common people in Game of Thrones are routinely treated as props for the stories of their ruling class, with the population of King’s Landing (and Meereen and Dragonstone and Castle Black and every other place) periodically waxing and waning as convenient to the point trying to be conveyed by the show, but the point mostly seems to be that the common people are ignorant, brutish and easily led. If there was any doubt about this, Euron’s explicit statement to that effect and the approving tone with which that nihilistic assessment is depicted ought to lay it to rest.
Cersei’s punishment of Ellaria and Tyene is a very on the nose kind of narrative justice, but there’s not much satisfaction in watching the last two Sand women getting their comeuppance when their original offense was so absurd to begin with. None of the Dornish saga dreamed up for the show ever made much sense, and Ellaria’s murder of Myrcella was little more than a cheap way of eliminating a character the show’s writers viewed as a loose end. Similarly, Cersei’s vengeance against Ellaria and Tyene feels more like an administrative task than anything else. It’s not as perfunctorily accomplished as last week’s disposal of Obara and Nym, but it’s just as soulless and emotionally devoid of meaning. Cersei has been so villainized in the narrative that her expressions of grief and pain ring false, Ellaria’s motivation for killing Myrcella was never even remotely sympathetic, and the relationship between Ellaria and Tyene was never developed enough for Cersei’s cruelty to hit home with the audience the way it ought. This show has always had a tendency to tell the audience how they’re supposed to feel rather than showing us a compelling story that earns our investment and care or giving us consistently-written characters that we can naturally feel for, and this is an exemplary scene of how bad things have gotten.
Sansa is settling well into her new leadership role and seems to be competently overseeing preparations for the long winter and the war to come. Just as she’s getting an absurd lecture from Littlefinger—“fight every battle everywhere…”—her brother Bran arrives home. Though the show has been suggesting that Sansa might be a power-hungry harpy out to steal Winterfell and the North from Jon Snow, she’s immediately overjoyed to see Bran and immediately tells him that he’s the Lord of Winterfell, almost as if she’s not a power-hungry harpy at all. Bran, however, doesn’t want to be Lord of anything because he has to be the Three-Eyed Raven now, and he has a message for Jon Snow. Sansa sensibly asks Bran some questions about what happened to him and what this Three-Eyed Raven stuff means, but Bran just treats her like she’s stupid, doesn’t explain anything (“It’s difficult to explain,” he repeats several times about things that aren’t very difficult to explain at all.), and eventually drives her away from him when he brings up what a pretty night it was when she was getting raped by Ramsay Bolton.
Although Jorah was only given one night to put his affairs in order before being shipped off to the ruins of Valyria to live out his days with the stone men, he’s managed to have all his greyscale cut off and grown back weeks’ worth of new, pink skin overnight. Archmaester Jim Broadbent is surprised, but he’s fine with just letting Jorah leave right away, pronouncing him cured and sending him off just like that. So Jorah’s off to find his way back to Daenerys, and Sam’s reward is not being immediately expelled from the Citadel. Thrilling.
Casterly Rock and Highgarden
The episode wraps up with some war stuff. Grey Worm and his men make it to Casterly Rock, which they find lightly defended and easy to subdue when they sneak in through the sewers, only to look out from their newly-conquered ramparts and see that Euron Greyjoy and his fleet have teleported there (seriously—King’s Landing is on the opposite side of the continent from Casterly Rock) ahead of them to lay a trap and destroy the ships that brought the Unsullied to the Lannister castle. Meanwhile, Jaime also teleported from King’s Landing to Casterly Rock and has taken the bulk of the Lannister army south to Highgarden, which he captures easily. Jaime’s decision to take Highgarden, whose lands are responsible for feeding much of southern Westeros and whose full coffers are desperately needed to pay off some of the crown’s debts, at least makes some sense. Casterly Rock may be a symbolic victory for Daenerys—or, more likely, for Tyrion—but its strategic value is minimal, and with the loss of their ships the Unsullied are trapped inside the castle with no provisions and only one option if they want to reunite with the rest of their forces: marching, on foot, overland through hostile territory.
Sadly, since one area in which the show has excelled in recent years has been in its battle scenes, the vast majority of the action at both Casterly Rock and Highgarden happens offscreen. Instead of epic battles, we get to listen to Tyrion and Jaime mansplain their plans to Daenerys and Olenna, respectively, which truly diminishes the moments. Of these two conversations, the one between Jaime and Olenna is far more interesting, mostly because once Jaime stops spilling all his plans to her Olenna has some confessions and advice for him—namely that Cersei is going to destroy him. Jaime doesn’t care, however; he loves Cersei, and though the show has hinted for years at the toxicity of the twins’ codependent relationship and at Jaime’s growing discontent with his sister’s ambitions and policies, he is firmly on Team Cersei now, for better or worse apparently. He’s magnanimously vetoed some of Cersei’s more creative ideas on how to deal with the elderly Tyrell matron—he’ll just poison Olenna instead of more brutally murdering an old woman whose entire family was murdered by his sister—which I guess is supposed to make us feel bad for him when Olenna wins their little tête-à-tête after all. Once she’s downed all of Jaime’s poison, Olenna mocks him to his face about Joffrey’s death and tells him to make sure Cersei knows it was Olenna who poisoned their son.
What can I say? Olenna is a problematic fave.
- Jon’s reaction when Drogon flies over him was genuinely funny.
- There’s a short Varys and Melisandre scene tucked into the beginning of the episode that’s well-written enough that it feels out of place in this show. I’m curious about Melisandre’s trip to Volantis, though; is she going for a particular reason, or is this just a convenient way to explain the character’s absence until she shows back up later? Either way, she prophesies that both she and Varys will die in Westeros.
- Theon is fished out of the sea by one of the few Greyjoy ships to have survived the battle with Euron’s fleet. Judging from the trailer for next week’s episode, it looks like he’ll be doing something involving landing a boat on a beach and rushing up on shore, but it’s hard to say what. If I had to guess, I’d say he’ll be leading some kind of abortive attempt to rescue Yara that will get both Greyjoy siblings killed at last.
- Cersei has gotten pretty ballsy about openly banging her brother now that she’s Queen. I’m sure this will have no repercussions whatsoever.
- Why would the Iron Bank of Braavos, one of the Free Cities and founded by escaped slaves (both the city and the bank), have major investments in the slave trade?