Each Monday, Clio Chang, Sarah Jones, Alex Shephard, and Ryu Spaeth will discuss the newest episode of HBO’s Game of Thrones, which is in its seventh and penultimate season. Join us as we chat about the latest plot developments, the intoxication of power, and creepy all-seeing brothers who only speak in zen koans.
Ryu Spaeth: “Children are not their fathers, luckily for all of us.” So Tyrion Lannister tells Jon Snow on a windy clifftop in Dragonstone, shortly after a long-awaited meeting between Jon and Daenerys Targaryen that did not go as well as expected. Fathers cast long shadows in “The Queen’s Justice,” and the characters struggle to wriggle out from under them. Jon worries that, like Ned Stark before him, he has tumbled headlong into a trap by venturing South. Tyrion is still avenging himself on Tywin, using his insider’s knowledge of Casterly Rock to plan the Unsullied’s assault on the castle his father helped build. And Dany acknowledges that her father, the Mad King Aerys, was an “evil man,” apologizing to Jon for Aerys’s murder of Jon’s grandfather and uncle. But Tyrion is also speaking in a cosmic sense, expressing his belief that the men and women of Westeros can break this ceaseless cycle of generational conflict, one so ingrained that a cynic might say: There is no point trying to overcome it. This is simply human nature.
But before we turn to such lofty matters, perhaps we should address a more urgent question: Are the Lannisters winning??
Clio Chang: While the other characters are whining like rude teens, Cersei Lannister has fully embraced the fact that she is Tywin’s daughter. And right now Cersei is on top. At the beginning of the season, she seemed impossibly besieged on all sides: Tyrells, Martells, Starks, Targaryens, Greyjoys—they were all coming for her and all she had on her side was a one-handed Jaime who might stab her in the back at any second. But after some smart strategic decisions—namely abandoning Casterly Rock and shoring up Jaime’s loyalty by giving him a blowjob—she has proven to be cannier than her opponents (and perhaps the audience) expected.
The anti-Lannister Greyjoys are scattered. Ellaria Sand is in a prison in King’s Landing watching her daughter die a slow death. The Unsullied are trapped in Casterly Rock. And Jaime has overrun Highgarden, taking an important piece, Olenna Tyrell—one of the remaining members of the old guard, and a truly spectacular character—off the board for good.
Alex Shephard: Game of Thrones has consistently beaten us over the head with the idea that the fathers of its lead characters are not examples to follow. “Our fathers were evil men, all of us here,” Dany declared last season. “They left the world worse than they found it. We’re not going to do that. We’re going to leave the world better than we found it.” That Dany and Jon are not acting like their dads is clearly a good thing, which means that Cersei straight-up emulating Tywin—and acting more than a little bit like the Mad King himself—suggests she has learned nothing at all. Most notably she lets her chambermaid (who has the same haircut as her?) see Jaime in her bed, suggesting that she has thrown caution to the wind and believes that being queen means getting to do whatever the hell you want.
Lady Olenna drives this point home in her death scene, telling Jaime that his sister is a “monster” and a “disease.” The Queen of Thorns can see what everyone else can, which is that Jaime has acquired a moral compass while Cersei has doused hers with wildfire and lit a match. The Lannisters are absolutely winning right now—that is, I assume, until they face the dragons. But Cersei is the only character who’s really regressing to the bad old days, and that will be her undoing.
Sarah Jones: I was actually … pleasantly surprised by Cersei’s punishment for Ellaria? By this I mean I expected much, much worse, and instead the punishment was almost perfectly proportional to the crime. Nevertheless, she’s clearly spiraling further and further into insanity, which means Jaime is going give up on her at some point; hopefully soon.
I also have a hard time buying the sudden appearance of Smart Cersei. She’s always wanted to be smarter than she is, and now she’s abruptly, cruelly good at ruling? Too much.
Ryu Spaeth: Unless the Lannisters do win, it seems like Olenna could have been setting up the end of Jaime’s tragic arc. “You love her,” she says. “You really do love her. You poor fool. She’ll be the end of you.”
We also saw another brother-sister dynamic play out, with Bran Stark reuniting with Sansa at Winterfell. What did we make of that?
Sarah Jones: I was relieved that Sansa was prepared to hand over Winterfell to Bran, despite his newfound creepiness. If Cersei had been in her place, she would’ve kept her talons in Winterfell at all costs. Sansa, on the other hand, greeted her brother by telling him he was the trueborn heir to Winterfell. He was correct, of course, to remind her that he couldn’t rule—though that was buried inside a largely disturbing interaction that provided some fodder for the theory that he’s been Bran the Builder all along.
Clio Chang: Apparently the big change that happens when you become the Three-Eyed Raven is that you lose all sense of social cues. Bran, it’s creepy enough that you saw your sister get raped, but that’s the first thing that you bring up after you are finally reunited?! Also, the show is falling into that horrible pattern of characters choosing not to fully explain really important information to other characters who need to know it. Bran telling Sansa “it’s complicated” over and over again made me want to wring his throat. Jon Snow is supposed to convince Dany and Tyrion about the threat of the Night King, but he can’t even effectively explain what he needs the dragonglass for?
When Jon and Dany are chatting on Dragonstone, Jon mentions that he doesn’t really like to speak much. But if they want to stop the Night King, these Starks need to start learning how to use their words and fast.
Alex Shephard: Bran’s return to Winterfell should have been enormously complicated, for the reasons that Sansa mentions right off the bat. He’s the rightful heir, but he’s entering a situation where his illegitimate (he thinks) half-brother (he thinks) is King of the North and his sister is acting queen. I read that (very, very creepy) scene as just being part of season seven’s larger mission of getting unanswered questions out of the way really, really quickly. Bran is a weirwood junkie now and he wants his fix. Do not get in his way.
Myles McNutt’s recap of last week’s episode was titled, “Westeros reckons with the cumulative absurdity of Game of Thrones.” This was doubly true this week. When characters were informed about happenings north of the wall, they responded the way they should. There are White Walkers and an army of the dead? Fuck out of here! You’re the Three-Eyed Raven now? Nope!
Sarah Jones: This season is beginning to feel increasingly like fan service and I’m not sure I’m a fan. Everything is happening so quickly and so conveniently. Look, Jorah Mormont is saved! Look, Sansa knows that there should be leather on that armor—she is good at ruling! The moment when Dany and her advisers doubt Jon’s White Walker story, however, was a bit of an antidote to that—it was a sort of wink at the audience.
Ryu Spaeth: Yes, Jorah has been saved. But he did provide at least one reminder that not all dads are evil; as Sam says, he owed Jorah because his father Jeor had saved his life at the Night’s Watch. Perhaps there’s hope for mankind yet.
Clio Chang: Only a world of unspeakable cruelty would keep Jorah around and take away Olenna Tyrell.