WARNING: This post is dark and full of terrors (and spoilers).
Except it’s amazingly not that dark, and only the small khals are filled with terror.
In reality, "Book of the Stranger" was a fun episode of Thrones, a happy episode -- has there been one before? I almost can’t recall.
We got much-needed reunions; we got new alliances. We got an unfortunate death (because, of course), but we also got the sort of Daenerys moment that only happens once every few years: a moment of pure greatness.
Things are finally starting to fall into place for our heroes. Let’s get straight to it.
Turns out Jon is quite serious about what he said last week -- he’s sure his watch has ended, by darn, no matter what Edd has to say. His old friend is none too happy to see Jon packing his things up; he thinks that the vows he took still apply. Jon is not going to be swayed, though, and has no intention of staying with brothers who literally had him killed.
Before that debate can continue, though, a horn blows from outside. We see the gates open up, and lo and behold: Brienne, Pod and Lady Sansa come riding in. As Sansa dismounts, she looks over her shoulder to see her brother staring down, unbelieving.
These two siblings haven’t seen each other for years, with a lot of tragedy in-between. As Jon walks down to her, I’m already tearing up.
When she runs to him and they hug it out, it’s just a freaking beautiful, happy moment. I’m crying, you’re crying (admit it, or you should’ve been), and we’re only a couple minutes into the episode.
Later, the brother and sister are catching up by a fire. For two actors who have never shared a scene together in Thrones (as David Benioff says after the episode), Kit Harington and Sophie Turner nail the whole sibling dynamic to a heartwarming degree. They reflect on their lives in Winterfell and what could’ve been. It’s not shown, but Jon must have told Sansa of his recent death, and he tells her he’ll go wherever she does.
Thing is, she wants to go back to Winterfell -- with an army. Jon isn’t so game for it.
After all he’s been through, he doesn’t want to fight anymore. “I fought and I lost,” he tells her. They’ll have to pick this debate up later.
In the meantime, Davos decides it’s time to confront Melisandre about what happened to Stannis and Shireen. She, not surprisingly, doesn’t really care to bring that up and would rather focus on Jon being the savior promised by the Lord of Light.
While Davos prys at her, Brienne conveniently enters the conversation. Lest any of us forget, she reminds the pair that they’d all met before -- while she was kingsguard to Renly Baratheon, way back in Season 2.
Brienne tells them she knows they used dark magic to kill Renly. Remember when we thought that was the worst thing Melisandre could do? HA.
Brienne also informs them/rubs in their faces that she personally executed Stannis after the battle outside Winterfell. With that, she stomps off, Melisandre seizes the moment to scurry away and Davos is left to just, well, ponder things. Boy, don’t you love when all these far-flung characters come together in far-off places?
Somewhere in the Vale, pathetic little Lord Robin Arryn fails mightily at archery and returns to our televisions (ugh). In case you forgot, this is the kid we met in Season 1 while he breastfed from his mother, the crazy Lysa Arryn.
Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish also makes his first appearance this season, arriving with his knightly entourage and presenting the whiny lord with a falcon. Lord Royce, who’s been watching over Robin while Baelish was out of town, confronts him about Sansa’s marriage to Ramsay Bolton. Baelish had told Royce, after all, that Sansa would be going to Baelish's homeland, not Winterfell.
Proving his cleverness once again, Littlefinger turns the table on Royce, saying that the Boltons ambushed them on the road and indirectly accuses Royce of selling them out. Robin never takes his eyes off his new pet as he asks, “should we throw him through the moon door?” Littlefinger has the young lord under his little finger (heh).
As men slowly make their way towards Royce, he pleads his loyalty to Robin and Baelish. Littlefinger says he’s a wise man and good military commander, so he’s worthy of another chance.
That last bit is particularly important. Littlefinger informs the boy that Sansa has escaped and is likely being hunted by the Boltons. Wise Lord Arryn suggests they should help her; Baelish couldn’t agree more. With that, he tells Royce to call up the lords of the Vale. They’re going to enter the fray -- and give Littlefinger the chance to conquer the North.
A ship with harpy sails enters the harbor, carrying representatives of the wise masters of Astapor, Yunkai and Volantis. Tyrion has asked them there to start a conversation about the future of Slaver’s Bay. Grey Worm and Missandei, both former slaves, aren’t too keen on this idea but go along with it.
Inside the great pyramid, two of these masters are familiar: one was the guy who met Dany outside of Yunkai in Season 3, while the other bought Tyrion and Jorah in a slave’s auction last year. They all want Dany & Co. to leave Slaver’s Bay for good. This prompts some debate from Missandei and Grey Worm, but Tyrion, ever the negotiator, gets both sides to calm themselves.
He makes a different proposition. Tyrion says “the queen” realizes that abolishing slavery overnight without plans for what would happen afterwards wasn’t the best idea. As a means to give the wise masters time to find a fairer system, he’ll give them seven years “to adjust to the new order” before slavery must again be abolished.
In the commentary after the episode, Benioff says that they based some of Tyrion’s approach on what President Abraham Lincoln attempted to do in order to prevent the American Civil War. Since Tyrion is trying to do the same here, it makes sense.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem that Missandei and Grey Worm have read up on American history. They don’t like this plan at all.
The trio move to the throne room to meet with some former slaves, who are also not pleased about the negotiations. They don’t trust Tyrion since he’s an outsider, so he brings Grey Worm and Missandei into the conversation -- by putting words in their mouths. Not wanting to show disunity, the two go along with that as well.
Outside, though, they both make it clear that they didn’t appreciate what he did and don’t agree with his plan, arguing that he doesn’t know the masters like they do. But because Daenerys put him in power, they’ll give it a reluctant chance.
The last few episodes have shown how awfully Tyrion stands out in Meereen, from his loose grasp of the language to his distant understanding of the core conflict in Slaver’s Bay. Even Varys has only recently shown that he can help here. The show might slowly be setting them up for failure, which makes Dany’s speedy return all the more important.
Outside the Dothraki city, Jorah and Daario are taking a little nature hike to A) jab one another about who gets to sleep with the queen and 2) make a plan to break her out. Since no weapons are allowed in the city, Jorah suggests they drop their swords before going in at night. Perhaps he was a bit careless with his laundry today, but Jorah’s arm is exposed enough for Daario to see the greyscale. Jonah assures him that he didn't touch it, and both decide not to address it anymore. #Awkward #Vaccinate
That night, the dynamic duo make their way into the city. Of course, a couple men spot them and don’t buy the “oh we’re just lost merchants, help us back and we’ll give you some great wine” excuse, so a fight ensues. Bless his heart, Jorah gets beaten up worse than Arya in Braavos. Fortunately, Daario lends a helping stab (and tonight’s only headsmashing) so they can be on their way.
In the Temple of the Dosh Khaleen, Dany’s got important things to do, like pee. Head Khaleesi in Charge (HKiC) gets one of the younger widows to escort her outside. Dany takes the opportunity to try befriending the girl just as Jorah and Daario spring out from behind a bush. Dany gets them to spare the girl's life and to wait on breaking out; she’s got a better plan.
Ah, Shaming Septa is back! Unfortunately, no terrible schooling for Margaery today. Instead she’s taken to see the High Sparrow in his prayer chapel, and it's clearly the first time the queen has seen sunlight for some time.
When she says she wants to see her brother and family, the High Sparrow tells her that they would lead her back to her “finery” and sin, and he uses that to transition into the story of how he came to find the faith. It’s a good story, for sure, but it seems a bit too tailored to make an impression on Margaery. As she listens intently, one starts to wonder if she’s beginning to fall to the Faith Militant.
For her good behavior, she’s allowed to see her brother, Loras. While talking to him, it’s clear she’s still got her head and is doing her best to play against the High Sparrow.
But Loras isn’t even close; he’s a quivering, broken man. “Let them win. Just make it stop. Please.”
Back in the Red Keep, Cersei finds Grand Maester Pycelle advising young King Tommen. She wants him out, but he won’t do so until the king dismisses him; that walk of shame has taken almost all the bite out of Cersei’s bark.
Tommen is afraid to make any move against the High Sparrow, scared of what he might do to his wife. Cersei, tightly grabbing Tommen’s chin, reminds him of what happened to her. Because Tommen is a sweet, innocent, clueless babe in the woods, he asks his mom if she really doesn’t like Margery.
“Whether I like her or not is completely unimportant,” she responds, but agrees that the queen’s safety is paramount.
With that, he drops a little nugget that the High Sparrow told him in strict confidence. Cersei tells Tommen that he can trust her -- and immediately goes and blabs it to everybody. She and Jaime confront their Uncle Kevan and Lady Olenna, and before Lady BAMF can shut her down Cersei spills the beans: the High Sparrow intends for Margaery to make a walk of atonement like she did.
For once, Cersei and Lady Olenna are on the same page and agree that the Faith Militant must be stopped before that can happen. With a little convincing for Kevan, it’s planned that the Tyrell army will march into the city and dislodge the High Sparrow from power. Lena Headey’s expressions are golden; Cersei can barely contain her enthusiasm at the thought of bloody revenge.
In the Iron Islands, Theon Greyjoy has come home at last. He walks into his father’s old chambers to find Yara sitting in the old man’s chair. She’s not pleased with him, to say the least.
She confronts him about the night she and her men tried to break him out of the Bolton’s fortress and how Theon refused to escape. She lost good men in that failed venture. Yara also questions why he would come home just after their father had died, concerned that he’ll try to make a move for the Salt Throne.
Theon stares at the floor for the most part, crying and apologizing for his failures. He assures her, though, that he didn’t come home to seize power. Instead, he wants her to rule the Iron Islands and to help her get there.
This is a dramatic moment for Theon. Not so long ago, he was scheming about when he would be king and all that he would do. A lot has changed since then that he’s forced to recognize; he knows he’s no longer fit to lead, but he could still be of help to his sister.
This is a blessedly short scene, but still a hard one to watch. Osha, the wildling guardian of Rickon Stark, is taken to Ramsay’s room where he’s busy flaying/peeling an apple. She tells him how she stayed with Rickon because she knew there was money to be made off of him and that she’s owed for her troubles. To sweeten the deal, she shows how else she could be of use to him, seductively straddling him in his chair.
He seems delighted, in that sick way of his, while Osha keeps eyeing that knife he had moments before. This all seems terribly similar to how she seduced Theon back in Season 2 to break Rickon and Bran out of Winterfell. Unfortunately, Ramsay knows that too, telling her while she kisses his neck that Theon once told her how she broke the boys out.
Before she can use the knife on him, Ramsay stabs her in the neck and lets her bleed out on the floor -- while he goes back to peeling the apple with the same knife.
Oh, Thrones, why must you bring back beloved characters just to kill them in the next episode? This whole business of Ramsay being a monster is starting to wear thin; we know he’s disgusting. There’s not much more character-building needed on that point. Can we move along?
Well, if the next scene is any indicator, perhaps our wish will come true.
Back in (Castle) Black
It’s been far too long since we’ve had an awkward dinner. Thankfully, this one’s awkward for the right reasons. Tormund, Jon and Edd sit down for a meal with Sansa, Brienne and Pod. The food sucks, Sansa tries to be polite about it and Tormund spends the whole time making hungry eyes at Brienne. (Aside -- it’s so unlikely, but can those two please become an item? It’s so random, and so hard to rationalize, but I would jump on that bandwagon so fast I’m already there. End aside).
Because the Boltons must ruin everything, a Bolton rider comes through the gates to deliver a message to Jon. It’s from Ramsay, and it’s a doozy. Calling Jon a bastard numerous times, he writes that Jon is a traitor for letting the wildings through the Wall, that Winterfell is Bolton territory now, that Rickon is his and that he wants Sansa back or there’ll be consequences for everyone. Since this is Ramsay, he lists all the consequences in bloody, horrific detail.
Jon tries to reason that he might be bluffing, so strong is his urge to avoid a fight, but Sansa isn’t having any of it. She knows Ramsay better than anyone there, and she knows they have no choice but to march south. Tormund and the wildlings are on board. Reluctantly, Jon Snow agrees.
House Stark is back in the game.
Back in Dothrak
All of the Dothraki Khals are meeting in the Temple of the Dosh Khaleen. They talk a little about the two dead men found earlier, but their main concern is what to do with Dany. They call her in and, being Dothraki, talk about the things they want to do to her, sexual and otherwise.
Dany speaks up, surprising the men (will that joke ever get old?), and she wants to put in her two cents. Khal Moro, who captured her, puts her back in her place and reminders her that she has no power over them.
Feeling a little sentimental perhaps, she reflects on how, years before, she was in the temple being told that her son would conquer the world. Moro tells her that she was a fool to associate with the witch that killed her son, but Dany ignores him. She tells them how her Drogo promised to cross the narrow sea to smash down her enemies. Meanwhile, she belittles the mighty khals around her for just talking about which villages they’ll plunder.
They’re small men in the shadow of Khal Drogo, unfit to lead the Dothraki. But who is? She is. And she will lead them, she tells them with utmost confidence. They laugh in her face, but her expression never flinches. Emilia Clarke owns every second of this with her portrayal of Dany as someone who can't be intimidated.
Moro’s had enough, though. The Dosh Khaleen is out of the question for her, he says; they’ll just rape her and pass her around for whoever else wants a go. Dany has other plans, however.
Many of us were probably just waiting for Drogon to come swooping in and light the place up. It turns out, though, there was already a dragon in the temple. Dany comfortably grabs the edge of a brazier, unflinching against the heat of the flames and much to the shock of the khals. Moro asks how could she have thought they’d ever follow her.
That was the wrong question. “You’re not going to serve me,” she responds. “You’re going to die.”
With that, she knocks the brazier over and flames spread everywhere. One by one she knocks more of them over as the khals try to flee the now-engulfed temple. But the doors are locked; Jorah and Daario saw to that. Moro turns to see Dany, as calm as ever, staring him down before knocking the final brazier towards him.
The screams of the dying khals and the flames shooting from the temple draw most of the Dothraki to the site. They might think everyone inside is dead, but we know better. The door is forced open from the inside, and through the flames walks Daenerys, as regal as ever, totally unburnt.
Stunned into disbelief, the Dothraki do the only thing that comes to mind: kneel before her. Even HKiC falls to the ground in amazement. Jorah and Daario (who must be realizing just who he’s been sleeping with) do the same.
The entire scene echoed her rebirth from the flames back in Season 1, with Dany once again being reborn more powerful than ever before. In a single stroke, she has wiped out the khals in her path to become khaleesi of all the Dothraki.
It’s easy to call Game of Thrones a dark series. Even this early into Season 6, we’ve been reminded more than a few times that Westeros is filled with terrible people doing terrible things. Each episode can leave us with a sense of dread and despair over what's been done, but the showrunners have always made sure to at least drop a few nuggets of hope to keep us hanging on.
“Book of the Stranger” dropped more than a few nuggets. Heck, this was fun -- this was a fun episode to watch! For every painful or tragic moment (R.I.P. Osha) we had to endure, there were more than enough bright spots to pull us back up to our feet, enough to even make us cheer. The tear-inducing reunion of Jon and Sansa coupled with the powerful emergence Daenerys show what makes Thrones not just great, but truly exceptional.
And we've still got six episodes left this season ...