This episode was indeed a song of ice and fire. In the North, Jon Snow faced the cold reality of what he must do to take back the North, while in Essos, among the Dothraki, Daenerys Targaryen again has the flames of righteousness at her back.
While “Book of the Stranger” continued with the dialed-back pace of its predecessor, it ended strong with the series’ two most important players making monumental decisions that will likely change the course of history in Westeros and beyond.
At the Wall, Jon Snow is packing for the south, in search of some warmth, but Edd presses him to stay and honor his vow. Jon isn’t having it. They killed him, after all. Oh, but what’s that? A horn! Visitors approach. None other than Sansa Stark, Podrick Payne and Brienne of Tarth enter the gates of Castle Black. For the first time in a long time, two relatives of Stark blood are reunited as Jon and Sansa embrace with the kind of feeling that can only be called relief. Maybe Jon isn’t so keen on splitting the scene now, especially now that he and his half-sister (or so we’ve been led to believe) are reminiscing about kidney pie and their youth at Winterfell, which is now held by Ramsay Bolton. So much has changed. Sansa is not the naive little would-be princess she once was, and the bastard of Winterfell is technically a zombie.
Ah, but Jon still wants to go, and he intends for Sansa to come with him. Where shall they go, though? Sansa says there’s only one place: home. And just like that, Sansa is making the best argument for Jon to head south and fight with his swarm of Wildlings to take back Winterfell from the dastardly Ramsay. “If you don’t take back the North, we’ll never be safe,” she responds when he replies with reluctance. “I’ll do it myself if I have to.” We believe her.
Meanwhile, Melisandre is sticking with Jon Snow. She’s convinced that Jon is the one who will fulfill the prophecy of the Prince That Was Promised. Things get really tense, though, when Davos finally learns that Stannis was routed at Winterfell. Oh, and by the way, here comes Brienne to hint ominously at taking revenge on Melisandre for killing her beloved would-be king, Renly Baratheon — all while dropping the bomb that she executed Stannis. It’s a cluster of complication.
In the Vale, Littlefinger is back, and he’s as cunning and full of schemes as ever, making a power play to ensure Lord Royce and the rest of the houses in that region swear their loyalty to Lord Robin Arryn — and, by extension, Littlefinger. The boy has grown, but his head is still not in the game. Robin would rather practice archery and train birds. So he is willing to let Littlefinger pull the strings, and this time that means that the forces of the Vale will go join Sansa and help her take down the Boltons.
In Meereen, Tyrion attempts to work his magic — the diplomatic and strategic kind, that is — on the leaders of other cities in Slavers Bay. “Take your dragons and your mercenaries, and go,” one of the masters implore Varys and Tyrion, while Grey Worm and Missandei aren’t having any of it. They’re both former slaves, and they can’t stand being in the presence of slavers, let alone negotiating with them. What’s the proposal, then? Tyrion says the other cities will have seven years to give up the practice of slavery, as long as they cut off their support for the vicious Sons of the Harpy and let Meereen continue to be slavery free. “Give freedom a chance,” Tyrion says.
The former slaves of Meereen aren’t happy, and they want Tyrion to answer for his deal. They don’t trust him, they don’t know him. They want the queen back — and they aren’t happy that there’s been peace made with the slavers. The former slaves try to get Grey Worm and Missandei to turn against the peace, but with great reluctance they back up Tyrion. It’s their loyalty to Dany that’s speaking, not necessarily preserving Tyrion’s absentee authority. The two are uneasy still, though, and in private they tell Tyrion that they still think he’s wrong. Seven years is still a long time for slaves, Missandei says, and Grey Worm warns Tyrion that he’s given the masters too big an opening: “They will use you. That’s what they do.” Could this lead to the moment when Tyrion finally outsmarts himself?
Daario and Jorah, meanwhile, continue hot on the trail of Daenerys, who pulled a Merry and Pippin by leaving behind some jewelry so they can track her. Well, they’re not so hot on the trail. Daario and Jorah bicker the whole way, especially since Jorah is older and sucking wind. (He also has a nasty case of Greyscale working its way up his arm, but he’s still got one big mission left in him, though.) They come upon Vaes Dothrak and make their move — unarmed, because the Dothraki would destroy them — but not before Daario notices Jorah’s horrible sickness.
Once in the city, they immediately run afoul of a couple Dothraki. Daario quickly dispatches his opponent, while Jorah gets roughed up pretty badly. The old dust-in-the-eyes trick doesn’t even work, but luckily Daario held on to his beloved knife. After killing the warrior who was getting the best of Jorah, Daario then smashes in the corpse’s head so nobody sees that there are people armed with knives loose in the city.
Dany is stuck with the Dosh Khaleen, and she soon grows tired of their continuous harping on her. So she and a fellow young widowed khaleesi take off to make water in the bushes. Dany starts playing on the girl’s sympathies, and she even offers to show her the three dragons. Just then, though, Jorah and Daario show up. Whether they make a break for it is up in the air. Dany seems to have another plan.
In King’s Landing, Queen Margaery is brought once again before the High Sparrow, who begins telling her of his past as a cobbler and how time was the most important part of his good work. For that time, he was paid dearly, and he soon fell into a life of excess and sin. It all led to his great epiphany, though, and he left his life of richness to live a pure and righteous life among the poor. The words appear to work on the queen, at least in part. For her curiosity, she is granted an audience with her brother, Loras, who has apparently suffered even worse. Alone, she begs him to stay strong for her, for their family. But he just wants the horror to end, and he begs her to help. “We can’t win. Just make it stop, please,” he pleads.
Elsewhere in King’s Landing, Cersei interrupts Grand Maester Pycelle, who is pouring his sly counsel into King Tommen’s ears. Banished from the room, Pycelle takes an extra long time to depart, his chains jangling, each step annoying Cersei more and more. Once alone, Tommen tries to argue for caution in dealing with the High Sparrow, who has the advantage because he still has Queen Margaery. Cersei pulls a guilt trip, though: remember what they did to me, sonny boy? Then she lets it rip and talks about the insanity of the High Sparrow’s plans to tear everything down and replace it with fantasies. Her persuasive ways work, and Tommen lets her in on something that the High Sparrow told him in confidence.
Cersei takes this intelligence to the Queen of Thorns and the Hand of the King, Kevan Lannister. She and Jaime reveal to the two of them that the High Sparrow plans to have Margaery do her own walk of shame before King’s Landing. Cersei agrees with the Queen of Thorns, Margaery’s grandmother, that this can’t happen. The Tyrells, then, must send their army and take down the Sparrows and arrest the High Sparrow. Cersei gets her way, and the wheels are in motion for a showdown at the heart of King’s Landing. One must wonder, though, what kind of plots within plots are going on behind the scenes.
In Pyke, at the Iron Islands, Theon Greyjoy has a grim homecoming with his sister, Yara, who isn’t ready to believe that her once-enslaved brother escaped Ramsay’s clutches. “You were my brother, and I risked everything for you, and you betrayed me,” she spits at him, reminding him of the sacrifices she and others made to try to free him earlier. Yara also suspects him of making a move to be king, since he arrives just as the Kingsmoot is about to begin. He doesn’t want to be king, though. Rather, he wants Yara to rule. “Let me help you,” he asks, looking her straight in the eye.
Back to Theon’s former home, Winterfell, Osha the Wildling and companion of Rickon Stark is ushered into have a private meeting with Ramsay Bolton. She isn’t impressed with his brutal history. “I’ve seen worse,” she tells him with her trademark side eye. Ramsay then begins working on her, toying with her in his way (like a cat with a half-dead mouse), but she plays the aggressor and slides in to make her move and work on Ramsay’s “weakness” for women. She’s really after his knife on the table, and as she makes her seductive play, it soon becomes clear that Ramsay knows what she’s up to. When Osha grabs the knife, Ramsay already has another one in position at her throat, and then he plunges it in. Rest in peace, Osha.
At Castle Black, Sansa isn’t too happy about the food, while Tormund Giantsbane makes eyes at Brienne. A courier from the Boltons arrives, however, and there’s a message for Jon Snow. It’s from Ramsay, and he’s taunting Jon from afar, telling him that Rickon is in his dungeon. He threatens to come north to butcher Jon and the Wildlings (and conduct other unspeakable atrocities) if the former Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch doesn’t return Sansa to him. This gets Jon’s blood pumping, but Tormund only has 2,000 Wildlings ready to fight compared to Ramsay’s 5,000. Just as Jon shows more doubt, though, Sansa lays into him one more time. The North remembers, and there are still Stark loyalists who will answer his call to go to war. Jon nods. It’s on.
At Vaes Dothrak, Dany goes before the khals, who will decide her fate. Soon, she and Khal Moro are sparring verbally. He doesn’t put too much stock in what she says, but then she starts working on his ego. When Moro responds with threats after her insults, she stands there smiling smugly, anyway. In no way will they serve her, as she seemingly demands. But they’re not going to serve, she says. They’re going to die. She sets the room ablaze, knowing full well that she can survive the flames (even if her clothes won’t). Meanwhile, the exits are blocked because Jorah and Daario helped her set her trap.
The great building burns, while the Dothraki assemble to watch. From the flames, once again, emerges Daenerys Targaryen, Mother of Dragons. Thousands kneel before her. That’s how you become more than a queen. That’s how you become a goddess.