Previously on Game of Thrones: Cersei stupidly armed a bunch of religious zealots who, predictably, turned on her. Over the objections of many, Jon set off to fetch a bunch of Wildlings and bring them to safety below the Wall; Dany dealt with the problems in Meereen by flying away on the back of one of her dragons; Stannis burned his own child to death in order to be king (stupid as well, because then who’s going to inherit after him?); Jaime and Bronn had a totally boring time in Dorne; and Arya found a target.
‘I’m glad the end of the world’s working out well for someone.’
‘Do you know who you are? You’re no one. Nothing.’
‘Only death can pay for life.’
The snow and ice is melting, and a pleased Melisandre seeks out Stannis to point out that the Lord of Light has cleared the way to Winterfell. Stannis is, if you will, a bit chilly towards her for the whole child burning situation, as if it weren’t his decision, ultimately. He leaves his tent and runs right into a whole load of bad news: half his men have deserted, taking the horses with them (I predicted a lot of his soldiers would turn on him), and Selyse has hung herself. Melisandre, seeing the way the winds are turning, grabs what must have been the one remaining horse and gets the hell out of there.
Not one to give up, despite facing impossible odds, Stannis orders the men into marching formation. He’s come this far and given so much, can’t really turn back now.
Jon tells Sam about the Hardhome battle and how hopeless this fight against the White Walkers is. There aren’t enough people, dragonglass, or Valyrian steel swords to make a difference. They can only hope that the Wall keeps them out. Sam hesitantly asks Jon for permission to take Gillie and the baby to Oldtown so he can become a maester. Jon tries to get him to stay, because he needs someone he can rely on, but Sam points out that he’s more use to them as a maester, especially now that Aemon’s gone. He’ll know about strategy and healing and all sorts of other things they need at the Wall. Also, he knows this isn’t a safe place for Gillie and the baby. Jon gives his permission, and the little party sets off.
Stannis’s army, entirely on foot now, marches towards Winterfell for one last stand. The castle is preparing for the battle, so nobody really notices when Sansa breaks out of her room and heads to the broken tower with a candle.
Pod, coming back from a little hunting trip, spies Stannis’s army on the move and immediately notifies Brienne. Torn between her promise to look out for Sansa and her desire to avenge Renley’s death, Brienne waffles for a bit, then dashes off to take care of Stannis, just missing Sansa lighting the candle in the window. Way to fail at protecting someone YET AGAIN, Bree.
Stannis tries to get his men digging trenches (really, Stannis?) but the Boltons aren’t wasting any time. Their entire cavalry—and it’s a pretty huge force—rides against Stannis’s men immediately. This is clearly going to be a bloodbath. Stannis gets a resigned look on his face, then unsheathes his sword and prepares to meet the enemy. Sansa watches all this unfold from a window in the tower.
We don’t get to see the battle, but we catch up in the blood-soaked aftermath. A wounded Stannis limps amongst the dead (mostly his men, by the look of things) while the Boltons finish off anyone still breathing, whether they’re wounded or pleading for mercy or not. Two of them come after Stannis, who manages to fight them off, but not before taking yet another wound to his leg. He sits up against a tree, and that’s where Bree finds him. She tells him who she is, adding that she was kingsguard to Renly and was there when he was murdered by the SmokeStannis. Stannis admits he was behind that and she steps up, formally sentencing him to die, in the name of Renly. She asks if he has any last words and Stannis, beaten and finished with it all, just tells her to get on with it. She does.
Ramsey gleefully finishes off a few men, including one wounded and surrendering soldier, then mounts up and heads back to Winterfell, commenting that his wife must be lonely. The camera pans out so we can get a good look at the slaughter.
As she’s moving through the castle, Sansa comes face-to-face with a bow and arrow-wielding Myranda, who smilingly says she’s there to escort her back to her room. Reek urges Sansa to go with her and not make a fuss, but Sansa’s just done and tells Myranda to go ahead and just kill her, while she still has a bit of herself left. Myranda cheerfully says that Sansa’s too important to die, so she’s just going to have a little fun with her. Well, with the bits not necessary to produce an heir or two. She offers to get started right away as Sansa stands there stoically, but it turns out that Reek’s pretty done too, and he picks that bitch Myranda up and throws her right off the parapet. Awesome. As he and Sansa look down at the body in shock, the castle gates open, signalling the return of Ramsay and the others. Sansa and Reek (guess we can go back to calling him Theon now) exchange ‘oh, shit’ looks, then dash to the other side of the parapet, where the snow has drifted up against the walls. They apparently figure that dying can’t be much worse than the lives they’re both leading, and they join hands and jump.
Oh, great, we get to join Meryn, who’s amusing himself by caning three young girls. The first two howl in pain, but the third makes no sound, even after he switches her several times. He decides he just wants to play with this one and sends the other two away before slugging the girl in the stomach. She gets her breath back, then whips her face off, revealing herself to be Arya. Arya launches herself at him, stabbing him in each eye before stabbing him several times in the chest. While he rolls around, whimpering, she monologues about putting him on her list for killing Syrio. She circles him, asking if he knows who she is, then stabs him in the side. She tells him she’s Arya Stark, stabs him once more, tells him he’s no one, nothing, then slits his throat.
She returns to the HoBaW to return her borrowed face and is taken to task by Jaqen for taking a life that wasn’t hers to take. She’s stolen from the many-faced god, and a debt is owed. He makes it seem like he’s about to poison her, but then takes the poison himself. Arya wails because he was her friend, but then he appears behind her and says that she must become no one before she can take a face. Arya begins removing faces from the corpse before her, as Jaqen tells her that she’s still someone. Someone driven by vengeance, too. The last face Arya finds is her own, and then she suddenly goes blind.
In Dorne, Jaime and his party prepare to set off. Doran wishes them a safe journey, and Ellaria steps forward and wishes Myrcella happiness before kissing her.
On board the ship, Jaime decides that this is a good time to have the ‘I’m your uncle/I’m your father’ talk with Myrcella, because surely the best time to have potentially awkward and upsetting conversations is right at the start of a several days’ long sea journey. Luckily Myrcella’s cool with incest (guess Dorne’s rubbed off on her. Either that, or Robert was a really horrible bastard and she really, really hated him.) She and Jaime embrace, and then she starts bleeding from the nose and collapses.
Back on the dock, Ellaria and the Sand Snakes watch the boat move further away. Ellaria’s nose starts to bleed, and her daughter calmly hands her a handkerchief. Ellaria cleans herself up, takes an antidote, and throws the hankie away. As easily disposed of as a life. I’m not sure I really follow her targeting of Myrcella, unless her only purpose was to hurt Cersei. Jaime didn’t really have anything to do with Oberyn’s death. Even Cersei’s involvement was really tangential.
Tyrion, Daario, and Jorah hang out in the throne room of the Great Pyramid. Woah, hang on, how did they escape from the fighting pit? Did the Sons of the Harpy just let them go? For those interested in heavy-handed staging, Tyrion’s on the highest step (but still below the throne), with Daario a couple of steps below him, and Jorah at the bottom.
Missy comes in with Grey Worm, who’s only barely recovered from his wounds but is still ready to kill Jorah for returning from exile. Daario and Missy talk him out of it, since Jorah saved Dany’s life. Missy also gives Tyrion credit for saving her own life. Jorah wants to go out and look for Dany, an excursion Tyrion’s ready to go on, though Jorah doesn’t want him along because he’s a Lannister, and Lannister = bad. Daario plays peacemaker, then points out that Tyrion would be kind of useless on an expedition like this, since he has no knowledge of tracking and is only a middling rider and fighter. ‘So, you mainly talk?’ he asks. ‘And drink!’ Tyrion responds. Ha! Daario says that Tyrion would be better off staying in Meereen and running things, since he actually has experience with that sort of thing. He’ll have the backing of Missy and Grey Worm, so he should be fine. And Jorah and Daario will go looking for Dany. Grey Worm, of course, wants to accompany them but Missy gently tells him he’s in no shape to go, no matter how strong he is. ‘He’s the toughest man with no balls I’ve ever met,’ Daario agrees briskly. Hee! This scene is the best! Can the whole show just be these guys together, because right here we have the greatest concentration of characters I actually still care about. Grey Worm will remain behind, to keep the city from consuming itself.
Daario: You and me, Jorah. You get the horses and I’ll get the mix tapes. Road trip!
As the two men ride away, who should appear but Varys, having gotten word of Tyrion’s whereabouts from his still vast network of birds. Tyrion pouts about being stuck back in Meereen but asks if Varys has any advice. Varys, naturally, suggests getting an information network going, which is really something someone should have done before this. Thankfully, we have the most masterful master of whispers here, ready to get started. This is how the Harpies will be rooted out. Not through strength and steel, but whispers.
Dany’s up in some sort of highlands-esque area with her dragon, which is surrounded by (presumably animal) bones and acting all snippy every time she tries to get him up and moving to take her back to Meereen. He just wants to sleep. Teenagers, amirite?
Dany goes wandering, which is never wise, and runs straight into what appear to be some Dothraki riders. What’re the Dothraki doing in land like this? Those riders are just the head of a massive khalasar, which comes riding towards her and surrounds her. Knowing what I know about the Dothraki and how they treat women they find, I’m thinking this is not going to go well for her.
The septa goes to see Cersei in her cell and once again urges her to confess. Cersei, beaten down by days in this awful place, finally agrees. She’s taken to the High Sparrow and admits to having committed adultery with Lancel. HS knows she’s not telling the whole truth by a mile and warns her that lying in this holy place is, itself, a sin and just compounds her guilt, but she insists that what she says is the whole truth. HS agrees she can return to the Red Keep to await her full trial, but first she must do penance.
The septas scrub her down roughly, then shear off her hair. She’s then dressed in a roughspun tunic and taken outside the sept, where a huge crowd has gathered. HS announces that Cersei is a sinner and has committed the acts of falsehood and fornication and will now demonstrate her repentance by presenting herself as the gods made her. Cersei eyes the red keep, which looks reaaaaally far away. The tunic is taken away and she steps forth, completely naked, and begins walking towards the keep, followed by a septa who rings a bell and chants ‘shame, shame.’ Why are religions so obsessed with making everyone feel badly about themselves? For a little while, the crowd watches in surprise, then the insults begin, and people taunt her and expose themselves, throwing food and filth. She keeps her head high, even as her feet begin to bleed. The mood of the crowd is seriously ugly, and I’m surprised we don’t end up with some sort of riot situation, but somehow she manages to get to the Red Keep in one piece (well, except for those bloody feet). It’s a long literal walk of shame, though.
As she takes those last steps towards the gates of the Keep, she finally starts to break down and cry. She’s admitted, and waiting for her are Qyburn (who sweetly rushes over with a cloak), Pycelle and, I think, her uncle, Kevan. Qyburn kindly welcomes her home and offers to take a look at her battered feet. But first, he introduces the newest member of the kingsguard: a massive man all decked out in armour. It’s the Mountain, resurrected. Qyburn explains away the man’s silence by saying he’s taken a holy vow not to speak until all the king’s enemies are dead. Mountain picks Cersei up and carries her inside.
Davos, unaware of what’s happened further south, is doing his duty and begging Jon for men and supplies for Stannis’s army, but Jon says they just can’t spare either. The gates open and, to both men’s astonishment, Melisandre rides in. Jon and Davos hurry over to her, Jon asking about Stannis and Davos asking about Shireen. She just gives them both sad looks. Probably for the best she didn’t tell Davos that she burned the child to death.
That evening, Olly rushes into Jon’s room and tells him that a Wildling’s been found who has information about Benjen Stark. Jon, desperate for some decent news, hurries out to meet with the man and is directed towards a crowd of Night’s Watch men, but at the centre of said crowd he only finds a post with a sign tied around it that says ‘Traitor.’ When he turns away, Alliser is the first to put a knife in his gut. ‘For the Watch,’ he intones. And then the rest of the men gathered around take their turn. What the hell is wrong with these people? The last one to go is Olly. Damn, kid. He hesitates, but delivers the killing blow. Don’t fool yourselves, guys. This isn’t for the Watch at all. It’s just vengeance, and possibly a little jealousy thrown in, pure and simple. Jon is laid out to bleed into the snow.
Wow, that was quite the body count, even for this show. And yet I find myself going, ‘eh, ok, what’s on next?’ because that’s about how invested I am in this show and in the characters who died. They made us hate Stannis last episode, so I don’t care about him, I never cared about Selyse, obviously Meryn was toast and we were all fine with that. Ditto Myranda. We didn’t know Myrcella well enough to get attached. And Jon? Well, I’m not all that convinced he’s going to stay dead. After all, we’ve seen people resurrected on this show before (in fact, we saw it in the previous scene.)
And what about the season as a whole? Well…eh. I feel like there was a fair bit of promise but very little delivery. Dany proved to be a totally crap ruler, Sansa seemed like she was gaining a bit of agency and was possibly going to become a player, only to wind up fairly helpless (to the extent that even Theon was ultimately stronger than her, and rescued her). Arya got some revenge, but then went blind. Bree was useless. Cersei was everlastingly stupid. Melisandre realised she was following the wrong king all along and ditched as soon as the going got tough. And the Sand Snakes, who seemed like they were going to be pretty cool, strong, kickass women got one absurd, poorly choreographed fight scene and then their whole storyline went nowhere. The whole Dorne thing was a waste of time, in my opinion. So what did we have? Well, we had one good battle, but otherwise it was a string of horrific acts (primarily against women—sorry for beating that drum again, but it’s true) week on week and women basically being weak, victimised, and disappointing. For shame, show. For SHAME.