Full analysis and spoilers to follow.
Ladies’ night! Game of Thrones is rounding the bend of its sixth season with its female leads riding high. Let’s get right into “Book of the Stranger” and dig into this female-empowering episode.
Jon Snow is dead inside. And, well, outside as well to some extent. The cost of his resurrection? His sense of purpose and duty, I guess? His only desire now is to go south and get warm. Maybe a nice vacation in Dorne? Better than fighting ice zombies to save people who want to stab him in the back (though, as discussed last week, the people he would be leading now would be those who stayed loyal to him, laid siege to Castle Black for him, overthrew his overthrowers, and revere him near-religiously now. So bad Jon Snow. Bad!). Anyway, good thing a woman is here to emotionally slap some sense into him.
Sansa! After her devastating arc last year following her abandonment by Little Finger at Winterfell, she has had some good highs. She accepted Brienne’s protection, and now she has been reunited with her half-brother / cousin(?). The shot of her looking around the courtyard with Jon stepping out onto the platform was powerful. The world tensed as we waited for them to see each other for the first time since the beginning of season-stinking-one! Thankfully, they did not waste time holding any of their petty childhood grudges. “I was probably awful,” she says. “I forgive you,” he says. Okay, time to move on: there is a rapist and murderer holding our brother we need to stop!
It was great to see characters set aside tiny potential conflicts without the need to brood when such a powerful and dark adversary awaits. With Sansa’s fledgling political cunning and Jon Snow’s military guile, can they unite the North against the Ramsay coalition? R’hllor we hope so. They already have a Melisandre, a Davos, a Tormund Giantsbane (with his 2,000 fighting wildlings and sick eyebrow game), a Brienne (the recipient of said game), and a Pod. A pretty great start.
As a side note to Sansa’s rallying cry to take down Ramsay, Little Finger toyed with his uppity bannermen before easily manipulating his ward into declaring the Eyrie shall ride to Sansa’s aid. Was this his plan all along? “First I will leave Sansa in Winterfell to be wed to Ramsay Bolton, then she will escape, then I can ride in and save her, and then she’ll start to think of me as more than just her creepy almost-uncle. Mission accomplished!” A bit convoluted, if you ask me. Maybe he’s just playing with the cards he’s being dealt? Hard to tell with this guy.
The other major arc of “Ladies’ Night!”… I mean “Book of the Stranger” was Daenerys coming to terms with her new sedentary life as a wise widow. Just kidding! She was not about to put up with that crap. Instead, she gathered the resources about her (one hot-shot mercenary, one faithful guardian of her friend zone, and a few resentful widows) and she got to work. Daenerys is often admired for her dragons and fire-proofness. However, it is her ability to organize and lead that really sets her apart. Having magic powers is nice, but it doesn’t make you a good leader. Being able to play all of those cards in a spectacular way is what makes her a great leader. We might’ve seen her step out of a fire before but, hell, it still makes for an awe-inspiring stunt! I mean, how many times has David Blaine sat inside something for days/weeks at a time?
So Daenerys tolerated the ugly words of the male Khals (this is not your time, men of Game of Thrones!), then told them nicely to please die. It’s hard to fight off a lady who literally doesn’t care that she’s burning down the whole house around her. Stepping out of the Khals’ funeral pyre to the reverence and devotion of all the khalasars made for an impressive sight. It even humbled Dario! Maybe now he’s realizing that Daenerys is more than a piece of meat to taunt Jorah with. Her getting bored with him and moving on looks a lot more likely. Hell, it might’ve just happened.
In Daenerys’ aside, Tyrion attempted to broker a peace with the Great Masters of Astapor and Yunkai. As Tyrion had to explain to Missandei and Grey Worn, real peace is awkward and negotiations don’t get you everything you want. An eventual plan to free the slaves? Compensation for the loss of human property? Tough subjects to stomach or deal with. Missandei and Grey Worm understandably chafed at the concessions being made by Tyrion, but short of total war (which they were losing), what option did they have? It was a little unclear what exactly the “or else” Tyrion was threatening the masters with was; was i: “Agree to our terms or we will unleash our dragons to burn your f’ing cities to the ground?” If so, if would’ve been nice to see the bluff/threat.
Anyway, with Daenerys earning the devotion of 100,000 (est.) dothraki, it will be interesting to see if her troop surge will change the geopolitical equation?
Yara looked more than a little irked by her brother’s timely return to the Iron Islands. She was just about to seize power and be the first woman to lead the Ironborn and here comes the dead King’s last male heir. I could understand her frustration and suspicion. Fairly quickly, however, she figured out that becoming King is about the last thing on Theon’s shattered mind. Speaking of people who need a vacation. The poor men of Game of Thrones. This is just not your time! After promising his support to his sister, will they make history by getting her elected Queen? And what about the King’s brother on the bridge who committed the regicide in ep. 2. He has yet to show his hand; no one even knows he’s there!
After a rough showing last week with Jaime and Cersei being refused seats on the Small Council, they made some important in-roads this week. Cersei remembered that other people exist and have different wants and needs than her, so she went to the Queen of Thorns with the one thing that can unite them: murdering all of those religious zealots. The Queen of Thorns wants to preserve her granddaughter’s dignity and power. Cersei wants some good old fashioned revenge. Both want to stamp out a rival center of power. Can these women unite to smash the faithful? I hope so.
As discussed earlier, the High Sparrow, in all of his self-righteous piety, makes a great foil and villain to the power- and finery-obsessed nobility in the Red Keep. Who dares speak for the people!? As Tyrion said: “there are always those with power and those with nothing. Is there another way?”
The High Sparrow seems to think so: everyone can have nothing! This is one of the most interesting conflicts in Season 6: the struggle between an established feudal system and populist/fascist extremists. In Westeros its the populist fanatics that want to destroy the established order. In Slaver’s Bay it’s fascists who want to reserve a revolution to preserve the ownership and degradation of human life. Cersei and Tyrion seem to be trying to find the middle way. Incremental change versus revolution? Sound relevant to anything else going on right now?
I also just want to point out that the ladies of Dorne, under Ellaria Sand, have seized control from the ineffectual men in a violent coup. Girl power!
The ladies of Essos and Westeros are riding high as we near the middle of season 6. This being Game of Thrones, of course, things can always go south fast. Let’s savor this empowering moment while we can, however. In a genre often criticized for its lack of strong female leads (where are all the women in that fellowship? Or hanging with that hobbit for three overly-long movies [am I being too specific?]?), Game of Thrones once again shows us there’s another way. It does a damn good job doing it, too.