|Courtesy of HBO|
With the exception of Tyrion's epilogue, everything featured in this episode had to do with the North, or Dany (and she served as bookends). Despite the fact that the North material touched on maybe five different storylines, and a dozen characters, it was all united by a single pulled thread that these characters only tenuously are aware ties them together. They even managed to fold Dany into that thread, in an organic way, and made the episode seem all the more structured and focused. This is a mindset that the writers would be wise to adopt more often, as not only does it make for better storytelling, it makes for more interesting storytelling.
Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoiler that drink, and need to keep drinking.
Even in as focused an episode as this, the show still had to jump between six major point of view characters, each of which has between two and six secondary characters in their sphere. But because all those sphere overlap like a Venn Diagram orgy, the effect is less noticeable. It felt like the show was really only telling one cogent and coherent story. And that, more than anything, is what weighs GoT down week to week. If they spent less time jumping from the politics of King's Landing to White Walkers to Dragons, and more time focusing on one of those things for a time, the show would be less inclined towards story blendering, and viewer apathy (apathy is clearly the wrong word, but so is confusion. But when you've got nine storylines all attempting to share the same sixty minutes, there is going to be some crossed eyes).
The meat of the episode focused on Jon and Sansa, because diminished as they may be, the Starks are still the stars of this show. through them, it also spent significant time with Stannis and Ramsey. And through the connections between those four, extra attention was paid to Sam and Reek. Brienne and Pod got a scene that only furthers my belief that they'll be playing White Knights by the season end, but the scene didn't feel as forced and inorganic as their last a couple weeks ago. What this scene added built on what was already happening in Sansa's side of things, and added weight to her machinations. Good storytelling doesn't allow elements to exist in a vacuum, it insists that they have meaning as part of the immediate and then larger whole.
Which is why Tyrion's scene, as good as it was, stuck out. It felt wrong to include, a clearly manipulative way to end the episode with some action, and some emotional heft, while also finding a way to include Tyrion in the episode, which is apparently required. If his storyline is destined to intersect with Dany's, than so be it, and when the time comes, it'll be another pairing that undoubtedly will function much like Jon and Stannis has this season: together, but separate. But Tyrion's scene here didn't play into the larger theme of the episode, which was that power means compromise. Everyone here was learning the value and hardship of compromise, expect Tyrion. He was learning the value of avoiding places with names like The Doom.
And it was disappointing, because this episode included what I have longed believed to be a very important and transitional event for Tyrion's character, and one that isn't in the books. When I read Dance of Dragons, there is a scene where Tyrion fails by moments to witness Drogon. This is at a low point for the character. He has slipped into depression and his circumstances diminish him constantly. Both he and Jorah suffer extreme philosophical existence failure. Then, just as suddenly, Tyrion seems to shake himself out of it, and begins to manipulate people as he used to, to achieve his means. This occurs after he misses seeing a dragon, and I felt that it was a missed opportunity for Martin. Tyrion is a character who admits to having dreamed of owning dragons, who has resolved himself to the fact that he'd never see a living, breathing dragon in his life. For him to witness one with his own eyes would be a galvanizing moment, a moment of pure clarity for him.
And it was one the series has the opportunity to correct. And they did, but then they stole the moment from him. Dinklage was spot on with his performance, as he watches Drogon fly over The Doom, a beast from out of time. Jorah watches, not with awe because he's watched them from birth, but with horror, as the beast roams the world uncontrolled. But for Tyrion, this is a moment where a myth literally flies out of his books and into his life. We watches it with the same gaze of wonder that a child does a blinking light in the sky on Christmas Eve. Since killing Tywin, Tyrion has been a wine soaked shadow of his former self, So, again, the series should use this moment as an opportunity to spur him, to inspire him having witnessed the impossible to rising himself up and becoming the man he has only touched on becoming before. But then the show swept the leg, and dropped a bunch of stone men on him. By not allowing him to marinate in the moment, for it to inspire him, but instead to superseded a moment of almost divine realization with one of terror cheapens it.
The parts of the episode taking place in the North were fantastically constructed, and I expect that episode nine is building towards the Seige of Winterfell. But the deft way in which Jon's story crossed in Tormunds, which crossed into Sam's, and into Stannis', which effected Ramsey's, which effected Sansa, and eventually Theon, was so masterfully constructed that while watching it, you became so absorbed that you didn't notice the plot ball rolling over so many characters. the story telling hasn't felt this tight since their last Battle episode, or since season one, and they only followed Starks. And the episode continued the season long theme of the difficulties of Rule. To be frank, King's Landing is dull, because Cersei is only out to maintain power, not use it, and she's her own worst enemy because she isn't capable of thinking more than one step ahead of herself like Tyrion and Tywin were. The same is true of Dany. Cersei is an offensive Queen, Dany is defensive. But Jon's situation is pressing and evolving.
He's surrounded by enemies, and is the only leader not acting out of selfish intent. Dany wants her birthright, Cersei is selfish, Stannis want's what his brother had, and Ramsey just wants to be taken seriously. Only Jon is acting in the interest of the entire nation, not just his own security. Looking to the Wildlings for aid doesn't win him any friends with the Night's Watch, but is saves lives. He isn't looking to make a name for himself, he proved that when he refused Stannis' offer to be given one. He's genuinely only interested in doing what is right. It helps that he is the only one who genuinely knows of the threat that Westeros will be facing. And kudos to Stannis for taking that threat seriously. Stannis has no proof of the White Walker's existence, but he's willing to believe those that have, rather than write them off as crazy. In that act alone, he's already proven himself more worthy to be King than most of the rest of them.