Published on May 18th, 2016 | by Bean0
Game of Thrones Review – Season 6 Episode 4 “Book of the Stranger”
It’s hard to recall a more emotional episode of Game of Thrones than “Book of the Stranger”. Over the course of five plus seasons our characters have endured endless hardships and been brutalised beyond imagining. What lessons there are – have honour if you must, but be a bit canny about it, please – get drummed into the assembly via horrific losses and the occasional meagre gain. Which is partly what makes season 6 so remarkable. The leaps!
This episode opens on the gorgeous revelation that Sansa, Brienne and Pod have arrived at Castle Black. Season 2 would have taken all year to get there, and then they’d have been ships in the night anyway. And best of all, because of this, the immense gratification being regularly served to the audience feels earned. So when Jon and Sansa stand staring at one another, immobile with the dawning joy of greeting family after so long, we have every right to be just as choked up as I totally was.
“Book of the Stranger” sees significant growth for Sansa, who finally becomes her mother’s daughter; spirited, determined, bold and righteous. I could ‘All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’ the rest of this review just with the word ‘Yey!’; too long have we been forced to watch the eldest Stark daughter suffer and fuck up her allegiances. Suffice to say, it is glorious to see Sophie Turner get to play Sansa with the identity we always hoped she’d evolve into, and that as an actress she is more than capable of delivering with gusto.
Jon and Sansa share a lovely scene where for the first time they meet as adults, having been distant as children, with Jon once the outcast bastard to Sansa’s entitled brat. The love and loyalty they now share seems to imbue Sansa with the courage to fully become herself, and take on the leadership role with her brother. That she is the one arguing for the re-taking of Winterfell with the aid of Wildling fighters, while Jon wearily bemoans his travails is a vast turning point. Meanwhile, elsewhere at Castle Black, with the arrival of Brienne comes the inevitable encounter with Ser Davos and more importantly Melisandre. More to come here, for sure (gulp).
The usual rounds of Westeros get expanded upon this week, with return scenes for The Wall and Vaes Dothrak by the end. Before that, we circle first to The Vale of Arryn where Lysa’s wimpily psychotic son Robyn is Lord, when who should turn up but that elusive puppet master Littlefinger. Taking Bealish out of the game for what seems like an age (but is likely only four or five episodes) is an excellent move. Removing the man who pulls the strings of war from view renders him all the more effective, as he bounces between one devious plot to another. Having unpleasantly secured the full support of Lord Royce and the men of the Vale, he reveals his plan to ‘rescue’ Sansa and re-take Winterfell from the Boltons. So that’s two armies about to descend…
In Meereen, Tyrion and Varys are attempting to negotiate peace with the Masters of Astapor and Yunkai, by introducing a seven year deadline to abolish slavery in their cities. Tyrion’s determination for diplomacy is admirable, but also certainly comes from a place of necessity; to stand any chance of rebuilding Meereen and uniting the citizens, the Sons of the Harpy must be vanquished, and only by curtailing Yunkai and Astapor’s funding of their coup can this be achieved. ‘Sweetening’ the deal with some sex slave bribery may be abhorrent, unsubtle and ironic, but he knows what language to speak to attain the peace Meereen and it’s neighbouring cities need. Grey Worm and Missandei’s objections are an important moral counterpoint to what can appear to be Tyrion’s blasé approach, but they even ultimately fall to his inarguable logic.
As the still-aggressively-not-buddies Ser Jorah and Daario approach Vaes Dothrak in search of their Khaleesi, the latter discovers the former’s Greyscale and we see how far it has spread, now working it’s way up his arm. We also see how badly it is sapping Jorah of his strength, as he gets a whooping from a Dothraki blood-rider while they sneak up on the Dosh Khaleen where Daenerys is by turns being insulted and recruiting faithful followers, one ex-Khaleesi at a time.
In King’s Landing, Margaery continues to retain her iron spine in the face of ongoing degradation and the promise of worse to come in the form of her own upcoming Walk of Atonement. In an interesting exchange with the Sparrow, we discover his origin story. Casting Jonathan Pryce in this role was a master stroke; his voice holds the perfect ratio of fatherly calm and something colder. Learning of his own epiphany only strengthens the force of his resolution, but Margaery has the mark of the man. His gift of a visit to Loris is intended to break her resolve, and while it may serve to reinforce that she is the real crux of the family fortitude, she does not seem willing to abandon her brother to save herself, a truly noble act. In the midst of this, Cersei and Jaime finally persuade Ollenna and Lancel’s father that joining forces is the only possible option to overthrow the Faith Militant. Of course, when Lady Tyrell says “better them than us”, Cersei’s eyes say “better you than me”.
In Pyke we receive another family reunion, this time between Yara Greyjoy and Theon. Starting as the antithesis of the Stark/Snow encounter, with the ever brilliant Gemma Whelan as Yara furiously denouncing her brother and adding to his already lengthy list of bloodshed blame, Theon turns it around. He takes his penance, accepts responsibility for his actions and earns back her trust, at least in part, by offering his allegiance in support of her claim to the leadership of the Iron Islands. It is heartfelt, and Alfie Allen does a beautiful job selling Theon’s agonising sorrow, but once again this is the language Yara speaks and he knows it – loyalty, justice and ascension.
Back at Winterfell, Ramsey Bolton keeps the upper hand in a scene with Osha which was doomed from the start, and season six isn’t so soft around the edges that it won’t still rob us of a great character just to prove a point. As Osha postures, attempting to inveigle her way into Bolton’s lap long enough to gut him, we know this will never work. Even for all her hard experiences, she has never met a man this awful. And thorough. Besides which, it must be Sansa to take down this wretch. And so, we lose another wonderful character to the butcher Bolton.Not content with the blood shed on his floor, Ramsey sends a missive to Castle Black, calling out Jon Snow, tempting him into the fray at Winterfell with news of Rickon and a list of hideous threats. As Sansa reads out the horrific taunts to her and her family’s safety to the assembled allies, she bodily reclaims the Stark manner; honour and family first. Violent battle we’re unlikely to win, you say? Bring it.
And finally we wing our way back to Vaes Dothrak where Daenerys is being bartered over by the various Khals. With the news that Yunkai wish to purchase the Mother of Dragons for their own ends, come yet more threats of gang rape, subjugation and violence. Emilia Clarke is vital in this scene, her power suddenly and finally so assured. Imperious ferocity has never been sold with such style and grace, and as the extent of her abilities unfold before the now terrified horde, the magnitude of Daenerys’ ambition is fully realised. The Dothraki bow down to their goddess, and even Daario lowers his gaze. As Ser Jorah looks up, he seems the only person who can see her as a whole – both deity and woman.
Review by Nina Clark
p.s. Best Bit – an amusingly amorous Tormund gnawing on a bone and making naughty eyes at an alarmed Brienne. Added to my ship-wish-list.
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