Game Of Thrones S06E04 “Book Of The Stranger” REVIEW
Airing in the UK on Sky Atlantic, Mondays, 9pm
Writer: David Benioff, DB Weiss
Director: Daniel Sackheim
Essential Plot Points:
- The episode opens (as all episode so far this season have) at Castle Black, but something most unusual going on. People are smiling. This is mainly because Sansa turns up at the gates with Pod and Brienne. There’s a teary, uplifting reunion like you’ve accidentally channel surfed onto Hallmark.
- Oh, and Tormund looks looks like he’s undressing Brienne with eyes (and an imaginary spanner). It’s all most peculiar. But fun.
- Then Sansa attempts to convince Jon into taking back Winterfell from Ramsay but Jon’s complains he’s had enough of fighting.
- Littlefinger pays The Vale a visit, and immediately wins over Robin Arryn (who still can’t shoot an arrow straight) with the bribe of a falcon. When Lord Royce tries to assert some authority, a classic display of Littlefinger chicanery ends with Royce begging Robin not have him thrown out of the moon door. Littlefinger “suggests” that Robin spare Royce, and once again is in complete control of a situation in which he has no official power at all.
- In Meereen the Masters of Astapor, Yunkai and Volantis (they’re cities not a legal firm) arrive at Tyrion’s request. To Grey Worm and Missandei’s disgust, Tyrion uses diplomacy to win over the slavers. He gives them seven years to put an end to slavery which should give them time to find other ways to make money. The slavers reluctantly agree then make use of the complimentary whores.
- When the ex-slaves of Meereen object to Tyrion’s plans, Grey Worm and Missandei somewhat half-heartedly stand-up for him.
- In King’s Landing the High Sparrow reveals to Margaery the dullest origin story of all time (“I used to like shagging and wine and then I didn’t”) then lets her see her see brother Loras who’s not in a good way. She’s intelligent enough to realise this isn’t a kindness; the High Sparrow hopes letting her see him in the terrible state he’s in will break her resolve. Dream on, Pious Boy.
- Tommen tells mum Cersei that the High Sparrow intends to make Margaery endure a Walk Of Shame too. Amazingly this news fosters an unholy alliance between the Lannister and the Tyrells, as Cersei convinces Olenna and Kevan to deploy the Tyrell army to crush the High Sparrow and the Faith Militant. This can’t end well, surely?
- In the Iron Islands, Theon returns home and Yara’s so nasty to him about not wanting to be rescued when she came for him that she makes him cry. Then she accuses him of only coming back because he wants to be king, which seems unlikely looking at the state of him. But it’s all hugs when he says he’ll support her claim to be queen. Oh, and did she keep that package Ramsay sent?
- Talking of Ramsay, over in Winterfell his nefarious deed of the week is stabbing Osha in the neck before she can do the same to him.
- Back at Castle Black, Jon receives a letter from Ramsay basically saying, “I’ve got Rickon. I’m going to be horrible to him. And when you come to stop me, I’ll be horrible to you too. Oh and can I have my bride back? I might as well be horrible to her again as well.” This pretty much sways Jon to Sansa’s way of thinking: the Starks must take back Winterfell and give Ramsay a good spanking.
- But hang on… this week’s episode doesn’t end at Castle Black. Things have been happening at Vaes Dothrak…
- Daario and Jorah enter the Dothraki city to rescue Dany. They conveniently bump into her when she’s out for a pee, but she doesn’t want rescuing yet. She has a plan and they can play their part.
- Later, when Dany is hauled up in front of the Khalar Vezhven who will decide her fate she taunts them for their lack of ambition. Then she overturns some flaming braziers and the timber hall goes up in flames like tissue paper. Daario and Jorah have secretly sealed the doors from the outside.
- Only Dany emerges alive and the crowds of Dothraki outside bow down before her. “Wow,” says Daario. “Ah, it’s nothing,” says Jorah. “She’s aways doing this kind of thing.” (Yeah, we made that last bit up, but it probably happened.)
For a minute there we thought we’d tuned into the wrong show. People were happy. There were jokes. There were joyous reunions that weren’t ruined by political backstabbing. Allies stood up for each other. Enemies became allies.
Then Ramsay randomly killed someone and Dany got naked, so we knew we were watching Game Of Thrones.
What an opening, though. And what an ending. Plus some really meaty stuff in-between, even in Meereen which so far this season, despite Tyrion’s presence, has been a bit of an entertainment vacuum. Tyrion’s bafflingly unfunny eunuch gags haven’t helped. But all that changes here.
Sansa and Jon’s reunion is a lovely moment. Truly emotional, a bit sentimental and exactly what the doctor ordered. Their reminiscing and gentle teasing feels like an oasis of gentle fun among the grim.
Even better, it’s Sansa who introduces the edge to the conversation. It’s Sansa who snaps out of the nostalgia haze and says, “We’ve got to do something about Ramsay.” And it’s not just revenge. It’s sound, practical thinking. Ramsay must be dealt with. This is some welcome positive decision making from a girl who let events wash over her for three and a half seasons. Her journey has changed her; it’s not only toughened her up, it’s making her think with the kind of tactical clarity her mother displayed. Hearing her try to urge Jon into action recalls scenes of Catelyn counselling Robb.
At first Jon is having none of it. Then that letter arrives from Ramsay (chiding, “come and see,” over and over) and it steels his resolve. If it weren’t for the mention of Rickon, you could half-believe this new decisive Sansa had penned the letter herself to get his arse in gear.
That’s not all that the Castle Black scenes have to offer. There’s also Brienne’s threats to Melisandre and Davos’s wonderfully sceptical response to Melisandre now apparently hailing Jon as her new “Prince who was promised” (“I thought that was Stannis”). With Davos also beginning to suspect what might have happened to Shireen, Melisandre spends the whole episode looking like a woman who needs to work out an exit strategy fast. Poor Mel. And Carice van Houten is playing it beautifully.
And then there’s Tormund, clearly impressed with Brienne, and trying to impress her back by showing how much meat he can ram down his throat. Which, in fairness to a slightly repulsed looking Brienne, is sending out all the wrong messages.
In other words there’s an awful lot going on at Castle Black and it’s all scripted with a deft efficiency that is TV writing at its strongest.
Also strong are the Meereen scenes, partly because it’s so unclear where it’s all heading. Tyrion is a great politician and diplomat, that’s a given… but on his own territory. Here in Meereen the rules are different and Tyrion’s diplomacy could be exactly what the situation doesn’t need, as Grey Worm and Missandei point out. When Tyrion tries to argue that his recent experiences mean he understands what it is to be slave, Missandei tears him down a strip: “How many days were you a slave?” Then he offers the Masters whores as a sweetener for his deal and the look on Missandei’s face says it all: this is diplomacy?
Even if Grey Worm and Missandei are wrong and the masters don’t try to shaft Tyrion, is his solution much better than slavery? Sounds to us like he’s suggesting a form of extreme capitalism that gives the Masters seven years to come up with a system where real slaves simply become wage slaves, free in terms of legal definition only.
All of which suddenly make the Meereen story more interesting as you have no idea where it could be heading or who’s in the right. Though kudos to Grey Worm and Missandei for backing up Tyrion when the crunch came. Signs of internal rift would be dangerous.
Quite where things are going in the Vale isn’t clear either. What the hell is Littlefinger up to now? It should be fun finding out.
Elsewhere Ramsay kills someone because it’s a contractual obligation, apparently. It’s a shame it’s Osha but hey, she gets a few good insults in first.
The King’s Landing scenes are fine, but the High Sparrow’s shtick is getting a bit dull now. It was good to see that Margaery’s spirit clearly hasn’t been broken yet, but did we have to listen to him talking cobblers for so long – with Margaery looking on in pretend subservience – before we got to that revelation? More interesting was the sudden pact between the Lannisters and the Tyrells. This should prove interesting/explosive.
And finally, the Riggs and Murtaugh of Game Of Thrones swoop in to rescue Dany, quipping away and proving largely excess to requirements. You get the feeling that Dany had her big set piece planned anyway and being able to lock the doors was just the icing on the cake. Dany’s big speech is superb, and superbly delivered. It is one of the show’s great moments and you can’t wait for Dany to deliver on her promise to kill the whole smirking lot of them.
However, the ensuing fire is… a little silly, as the place goes up like the Hindenberg, yet the walls don’t cave in, just, it seems, sop Dany can do her dramatic appearance at the door. Plus, there’s a little bit of a feeling of “been here before”. But hey, it is spectacular and at least this Dothraki diversion is finally heading somewhere.
- Before Olenna found herself in the unusual position agreeing with Cersei she managed to land a slam dunk of an insult. When Cersei says, “You once spoke of your respect for our father because he understood the necessity of working with one’s rivals,” Olenna replies: “You have been stripped of your dignity and authority, publicly shamed and confined to the Red Keep. What’s left to work with?” Go girl!
- The running gag about Tyrion’s rubbish Valyrian really should have outstayed it’s welcome by now but captions like “Large sorry you wait so fat time,” and Missandei’s withering expressions are proving to be the gift that keeps on giving.
- Jon smiles. Jon cracks jokes. Jon has come back from the dead more alive than ever.
- Daario and Jorah’s ’70s buddy cop banter is an unexpected bonus.
- The shades of grey in the Meereen plot are very thought-provoking. Tyrion’s diplomacy may seem like wonderfully liberal thinking but what he’s offering a) might not work, b) might simply swap literal slavery for economic slavery and c) might really piss off Dany.
- Dany’s defiant speech to the Khals before she barbecues them is magnificent: “You’re not going to serve. You’re going to die.” If there were Emmys or BAFTAs for “Acting In A Made-Up Language” she’s be a shoo-in every year.
- We might not have been keen on the offhand way she met her end but at least Osha got some great lines in her final scene:
••• “You’ve seen my banners?”
“The flayed man.”
“Does that worry you at all?”
“You eat them after?”
“Then I’ve seen worse.”
••• “I can give you what you want.”
“And you’re sure you know what that is.”
“Same thing men always want. And when they really want it, they give it a bath first.”
- Lateral thinking of the week: Daario’s solution to disguising a fatal stab wound – smash the body to a pulp afterwards.
- And bonus points for the moment when Jorah tried, but failed, to throw dust in his attacker’s eyes – it was both funny and sad at the same time. Sad, because it showed just how badly that greyscale infection is affecting the guy.
- Brienne’s threats to Melisandre are so chilling that you almost forget you hate the Red Woman and start to feel sorry for her.
- Sing with us… “Brienne and Tormund sitting in a tree…”
- Good grief, do the Dothraki mop their floors with paraffin? That hall went up in flames suspiciously quickly. Maybe Dany has some powers she hasn’t let anyone know about yet?
- The ending was spectacular, but there is a little bit of a sense of déjà vu.
- There was a dramatic logic behind Ramsay’s decision to kill Osha, and this show has a reputation for senseless death, sure, but this seemed a particularly dull way to kill off such a long-running character. Although she did win the battle for who got the better lines in the scene.
- The High Sparrow is usually a master of sophistry but even he seemed a tad embarrassed by how tedious his story of conversion was.
And The Random:
- Incredibly, this is the first episode in which Jon and Sansa have ever actually shared a scene.
- Also incredibly, we have not seen two Starks together (bar flashbacks) since season three when Rickon and Bran went their separate ways.
- If Ramsay flays men like he peels apples it’s a wonder there’s anything man-shaped left to nail up afterwards. And how has he got any fingers left?
- Tyrion says that a clever man once said that you “We make peace with our enemies, not our friends.” Littlefinger gave the same advice to Ned Stark in season one’s “You Win or You Die”. Tyrion wasn’t present at the conversation, so it’s not clear it Tyrion is referring to Littlefinger (because it’s a phrase he used on a number of occasions) or if both of them are quoting some other “clever man”.
Review by Dave Golder