Fire and Blood
A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
The Book of the Stranger is one of the seven books in The Seven-Pointed Star, the Holy Book of the Faith of the Seven. It is a book whose central figure is known to be the one to whom the followers of the faith pray the least. Why they do so is understandable. People pray to the Father for He represent judgment and justice. People pray to the Mother for fertility, compassion, love, and mercy. People pray to the Warrior for courage and victory on the battlefield, of which there are so many in Planetos. People pray to the Maiden for representing innocence and chastity, as virginal purity is so paramount to the critical institution of marriage. People pray to the Smith for strength and labor. People pray to the Crone who strives forth carrying a glowing lantern, lighting the path to wisdom. But people rarely pray to the Stranger, the figure that in my mind always is cloaked, hiding in the disparate darkness like an everlasting shadow. The Stranger represents death and the unknown and there were no favors to ask of a God whom only took and never gave. Margaery notes, perhaps more astutely than she realizes, that the High Sparrow walked like the Stranger through a graveyard and onto the path of the righteousness. But the High Sparrow notes, with that unnerving smile Jonathan Pryce is so tremendous at giving, that he didn’t walk through a graveyard towards that journey at all. He walked through a feast. He walked through a feast like an unknown, garnering his increasing income towards a life of material comfort. His father had been a cobbler, stitching shoes together until one day he died and his son took up the mantle. He made and made and made sandal after sandal after sandal, each one more ornate and sharply crafted than the one that came before it. Material wealth, perhaps not an astounding amount, but enough to purchase his way into the diminutive privileged merchant class. He walked through a feast like a shadow, drinking fine wine and having sex with fine women until he fell into a stupor. He awoke before dawn, barely able to stand as he looked all around him and saw the truth of the naked bodies lying around him. That moment led him to drop the shadow of the merchant, the story he told everyone to tell his own self whom he was and as the merchant died, the prodigal servant of the faith was born.
Death is something we all take for certain from Game of Thrones and perhaps for good reason, as the show often tips into the slaughterhouse it’s criticized for being. But it carries itself out in significant fashions here (except for one case), with literal deaths raising the body count once more and the specters of old deaths, both literal and figurative, hanging over the characters as they traverse the unknown. The episode begins with Sansa and Jon, having that beautiful Stark reunion everyone has been expecting since the dawn of Winter and the show has been cruelly denying since the end of season one, when the death of the Stark patriarch truly sent his entire family scattering into the winds. That embrace is not forgiving of all the carnage and misery that preceded it, but it’s a moment of familial calm between two siblings over whom the shadows of death and the unknown have grown stronger at every critical juncture. Running with the motif of siblings reunited once more, Margaery is given permission by the High Sparrow to see her own brother Loras, who is lying in a limp frame in a framing that looks significantly like that of Reek. She grabs him by the shoulders, unfazed by the testimony from the High Sparrow. She has little strength left, but with the unknown hands of the Faith reaching and twisting around them, she knows that the Faith wants to have Margaery and Loras to turn on one another in order to achieve their salvation. She knows that if either of them give in, there would be no fight to have. They had to fight, they had to win. And in a sequence that defies the logic of time like Walda’s unfortunately short-lived child, Theon arrives on the Iron Islands, meek and full of shame. Yara is furious with him, reminding him of that moment where she sacrificed some of her best men in a mission to rescue him, where she arguably lost her reputation because her brother was no longer fighting for her. Theon is acutely aware that his pride and dignity had died long ago and what he could now, to repent towards yet another human being in his life whom he had wronged.
The desire to fight hangs loudly over Book of the Stranger, the death and the unknown the specter promises permeating the most strongly in Jon’s and Tyrion’s storylines this week. Jon is haunted by the shadow of his death, the reality of nothingness that stared at him so intently he felt as if he would never escape it, never breathe from underneath it. He has, as he fairly accurately notes, been fighting ever since he first left Winterfell. He killed members of the Night’s Watch, he’s killed wildlings, he’s killed in battle, he killed those who disobeyed his command and he hung a boy who was younger than Bran. There was no fight left in him, but Sansa, vitally wearing what looked like Stark fur draped over her shoulders, confronts him throughout the hour towards reclaiming the North from the Boltons. She notes in no uncertain terms that if Jon wishes to not fight, then she would go ahead and fight on her own behalf. She could fight her own battles if she had to. Ramsay’s threatening letter, displaying his wanting of Sansa back and Rickon being his prisoner, raises Sansa’s urgency because she knows what Ramsay is made of. Jon recognizes the importance of what Sansa is urging for and acquiesces. The fight for the North truly begins. Tyrion reaches towards the unknown, grasping at a potential diplomatic peace treaty with the representatives of Meereen, Yunkai, and Volantis. It’s a welcome return for some of the series’s older players but one seeped in what Tyrion understands and what he lacks in understanding in equal measure. The deal to allow those cities to take seven years to transition out of slavery is disgusting to Missandei, Grey Worm, and the former slaves who were anxious about where Daenerys had flown off to. Missandei and Grey Worm know what Tyrion does not, they know the language these masters and slavers spoke and what they garnered from a diplomatic deal from Tyrion was peace, but peace that involved selling human beings like cattle at a market, stripped from their humanity and presented as an empty but diligent shadow for those willing to pay the right price. Tyrion basks in a tough choice that saved Meereen for now, but Missandei’s cold notes that he may know slavery but doesn’t understand it transitions beautifully into Grey Worm’s dark warnings about Tyrion being the one unknowingly being used across a chess board, manipulated by the masters whom he thought were being kept under his thumb. It’s a pointed note, to be sure, but one that rings acutely true amidst Tyrion being the unknown in Slaver’s Bay, having even less of an understanding of the methods and traditions than Daenerys herself.
Daenerys makes a spectacular ending to the episode, pulling the Dothraki narrative in a propulsive fashion that few were expecting, including myself. I expected Drogon to show up and rescue Daenerys but the show, aware of how recently and epically that had already been pulled off, stayed away from pulling that thread too much again. The High Priestess of the Dosh Khaleen notes how the khals depend on their wisdom, but it strikes a hollow chord within Dany, who’s far more interested in the story of a young woman, who was found by a Dothraki after her village had been burnt. She bore her khal a young daughter at the age of thirteen, after which her khan had broken her ribs. Her friendship with Daenerys is a kind moment, until at least by Daario’s knife reaches her throat but thankfully stays above her epidermis. Their arrival in Vaes Dothrak gives Daenerys ample amount of time to maneuver forward, an opportunity to implement what Missandei assured her she was the best at: finding a third option where there are seemingly only two available. The Khal Vezvhen do not intimidate her in the least for even a moment. She strides in with confidence, watching the men around her bickering about her fate with an amused eye. “Don’t you want to know what I think?” she asks quietly. They turn around and stare at her with a confused expression, before erupting into laughter at the very idea that a woman would be brazen enough to ask what a council of men deciding her fate had thought of actually asking the woman whose fate was on line. She recalls that her son would have been The Stallion Who Mounts the World and that Khal Drogo had promised of creating tremors across the world at the feet of the Mother of Mountains. Daenerys scans them with a keen glint in her eye, taking charge like all of the women did in this fantastic hour. “You are small men.None of you are fit to lead the Dothraki. But I am. So I will. … You’re not going to serve. You’re going to die.” A simplistic, breathtaking play of confidence rises from Daenerys’s voice as she knocks over one of the torches, setting the Temple of the Dosh Khaleen ablaze. One by one she tips over every other torch in the temple, watching calmly as it engulfed the entirety of the structure in hungry flames. The last one she saves for Khal Moro, the man who threatened her with gang rape and who respected her late husband than her right to exist more than her right not to be raped. She glares at him in triumph, knocking over the last torch until the temple is throwing its fiery embed into the night sky. Daenerys Stormborn walks out from the burning embers of temple, mirroring the shot of her with the birth of dragons. She is triumphant, gazing off to the khalasars all bowing down to her and the strength of the specter of death that hangs over the fire and blood of the three-headed dragon.
Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+Tormund in love with Brienne (it seems that way at least)
+Old Nan’s pies
+“We never should have left Winterfell.”
+“I was awful, just admit it.”
+Littlefinger angling to join the fray
+“The wars to come” is becoming a favorite phrase of the writers, isn’t it?
+What a brilliant “How many days were you a slave?”
“Long enough to know.”
“Not long enough to understand.”
+Daario discovering Jorah’s greyscale in a
+“Have faith me, Khaleesi.”
+“A collection of lies that gave way to the light.”
+Natalie Dormer is superb here
+The irony of Cersei’s last words to Tywin, where she rages that she would never allow Tommen to be torn apart ring especially loudly here with Maester Pycelle in the mix
+The Tyrells and Lannisters on the same page with the Faith
+“Many will die no matter what we do.”
+“Winterfell is mine, bastard. Come and see.”
+/-Osha displayed more fight against Ramsay than almost anyone at this point, but there was a better way for her to go
-Daario’s dick posturing is really becoming old news at this point
Episode Title: Book of the Stranger
Written by: David Benioff & D. B. Weiss
Directed by: Daniel Sackheim
Image Courtesy: Newsweek