16 May 2016 | 5:36 am
Every week for the sixth season of Game of Thrones, Christopher Orr, Spencer Kornhaber, and Lenika Cruz will be discussing new episodes of the HBO drama. Because no screeners are being made available to critics in advance this year, we’ll be posting our thoughts in installments.
Spencer Kornhaber: Finally, Game of Thrones has delivered its long-awaited hot take on fire safety, stressing the importance of emergency exits and properly anchored braziers. Now, as to plausibility of Daenerys’s pyrotechnic coup: Would the Dothrakis’ immediate response really be to kneel for the treacherous foreigner who just roasted their leaders? Dunno. But what’s clear is that in the list of times when Daenerys has suddenly and improbably added entire civilizations to her portfolio, tonight’s barbecue ranked in thrill value only behind the torching of Astapor—and this time, she didn’t need dragons.
At least two Quentin Tarantino movies, Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained, come to mind after tonight’s conclusion, both because of the obvious mass-revenge-murder similarities and because of the larger historical-ethical question at play. When dealing with an evil system, are compromises and truces enough? Can peace be had? Or is righteous violence needed? This unusually philosophical episode—the season’s strongest installment so far—pondered these issues throughout, with the final flameout giving Thrones’ unwavering answer.
Fittingly, the hour opened on a weapon, Longclaw. But it was Edd, not the sword’s owner, Jon, who picked it up. Dying, it turns out, transformed Lord Snow into a pacifist, which makes some sense given that all his killing just ended up with him getting killed. The rest of the world can battle; he, at least, can seek some peace for himself.
Except: He still cares about people in this world. Sansa’s arrival was the latest too-conveniently-timed plot turn this season, but the show used this rare Stark reunion for a nice, authentic injection of emotion. Though you could argue Sansa jumped into the role of military mastermind a little quickly, all the work Thrones has done over the years in depicting her evolution is paying off: While her brother has begun to tire of driving the action, she, understandably, is hankering to take the wheel.
Her first argument for why Jon should attack Winterfell was about honor and duty and nostalgia for childhood—mushy motivations that he’s sensibly written off by now. Her second appeal to him was more effective, saying that only through war can there be safety. The charming letter that later arrived from Ramsay backed that idea up. (One miscellaneous gripe about the Wall scenes: Davos just got around to asking about Stannis and Shireen now?)
The second big sibling reunion of the episode came when Theon, sailing on what must have been a speedy ship, arrived home to the unwelcoming glare of Yara. But contrary to her initial expectations, and to the general practice of most Highborn folks in Game of Thrones, he’s not interested in ascending to rule—he’d be happy sitting out the wars to come. Like Jon, he’s lived through too much; like with Jon, family may press him back into the fray, though it’s unclear to me whether battle metaphors will work to describe whatever a “Kingsmoot” is.
In the Vale, Petyr Baelish used the piety of nonviolence as a weapon, manipulating Robin into sparing Lord Royce’s life so as to ensure a loyal fighting force. Though the falcon Littlefinger gave his nephew was cool, the star of that scene was the actor Lino Facioli, who’s grown gangly a la Bran in the time since we’ve last seen him and yet has maintained the oblivious/petulant/psychopathic air he’s had since he played a suckling in Season 1. Robin is an underrated member of the Game of Thrones hall of fame for demented young men, and interestingly, his uncle’s machinations may lead him to meet the reigning champ Ramsay, last seen knifing another underrated and little-seen supporting character (R.I.P. Osha).
In Meereen, it was impossible to miss real-world political parallels as Tyrion negotiated to avert war. The compromise he proposed tests the limits of “pragmatism” or “realpolitik”: The human cost of seven more years of slavery is theoretically incalculable, and yet he went and put a price on it. It shall be fascinating to watch a) whether he’s able to maintain the loyalty of his advisers, especially Missandei, who looked in disgust as Tyrion plied their enemies with prostitutes; b) whether Dany returns to find his machinations palatable, or whether she makes the whole situation moot by sacking the rebellious cities with her new cavalry; and c) how many think-pieces about Reconstruction, Hillary vs. Bernie, and/or ISIS shall be inspired by this plot line, and whether I will decide to write one of them.
King’s Landing, too, was filled with people trying to find a way out of tough situations without causing a scuffle. Loras wanted to give up resisting the Sparrows; Tommen cautioned against antagonizing them; Cersei and Jaime cooked up a plan for the Lannister forces to stand by as the Tyrell army rescued royals. Did that plan make a lot of sense to everyone else? It didn’t make a lot of sense to me—there seem to be some inconsistent standards surrounding whether and when to respect the king’s wishes. In any case, civil war in the capital seems likely to become a reality soon. From a viewer’s perspective, fighting in the streets would be preferable to the stalemate that’s mired what was once the most exciting location in show.
Even the would-be rescuers Jorah and Daario found time for nonviolence debates. First, Daario pooh-poohed the idea of dueling with his elderly frenemy—he’s got nothing to gain by it. Then, that elder knight counseled a plan of weapons-free infiltration of the Dothraki city. Turns out that following Jorah’s course of action likely would have been fatal, but luckily for the both of them Daario turned out to be too attached to his dagger to part with it. It was another example of how in Thrones, for however much people yearn for peace, might usually is right. You don’t bargain with brutal, misogynistic, slaving enemies; you make them ashes.
What did you two think? Maybe it was the heat of the final confrontation, or the warm fuzzies of Starks reunited, or the flush of anticipation about the battle brewing in the North, but this felt to me like the most crackling episode of Thrones all season. Agree or no?
Entries from Lenika Cruz and Christopher Orr to come.
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