Game of Thrones Revisited: 6.04 Book of the Stranger
Game of Thrones, the critically acclaimed TV series by David Benioff and DB Weiss and developed from the best-selling series of novels by George RR Martin, has become a cultural icon. The tentpole of HBO's programming with a stellar cast and mix of medieval-style political drama and war with a healthy dash of fantasy, Game of Thrones has enthralled audiences worldwide. And this year, the show will come to a dramatic end in its final run of feature length episodes. In the lead up to season eight, I explore every episode leading up to the final battle for Westeros, continuing with season six's Book Of The Stranger.
Warning: There may be spoilers for seasons one to seven...
After the dip of momentum in the third episode, season six continues apace with another strong instalment that makes good progression on several plot fronts, not least in Daenerys's story. With her captured by the Dothraki at the end of season five, I'm sure there were many the feared that season six would play as a long-winded replay of seasons one and two; her wondering the desert and visit to Qarth in particularly felt frustratingly slow.
But Book of the Stranger wraps up her capture by the Dothraki arc pretty quickly - and satisfyingly too. Daenerys is no longer the frightened child or desperate widow and there is a real defiance in her as she continues stands up to the Khals and the Dosh Khaleen. In fact she barely acts like a prisoner at all. When Jorah and Daario make a perilous journey into the streets of Vraes Dothrak, fighting off deadly Dothraki at every turn, they find themselves encounter their queen in the most unexpected of ways who sends them packing. Daenerys has greater plans than simply being rescued.
Even then, the outcome is completely unexpected and there was great tension as stood before the judgement of the Khals. Give her to the Dosh Khaleen or masters of Yunkai? Neither is an option she will consider and she remains bold and confident telling the Khals not one of them are fit to rule the Dothraki. Her arrogance would be utterly audacious if it wasn't earned and her statement that she is fit to rule them is a wonderfully triumphant moment, one she has not had since she took Mereen in early season four. Casting aside the braziers and burning the Khals alive in the temple, she walks through the flames untouched and sees every one of the Dothraki kneel before her. Venturing into divine worship, it's as close to a messiah role as we have seen in the show yet.
The reunion of Sansa and Jon at Castle Black has been a long time coming and it's a lovely moment of hope amid all the darkness; seeing them reminisce about their childhood over soup is a lovely throwback to the Stark family we saw in the very first episode before King Robert came calling and their lives changed forever. But they are very different people now. Sansa has experienced so much in her days of captivity at King's Landing and Winterfell - and time working with Littlefinger - that she is quick to offer counsel and encourage Jon to use the Wildling armies to retake Winterfell from the Boltons.
Castle Black also offers plenty of other new character dynamics; Brienne certainly makes an impression, announcing to Davos and Melissandre that she slew Stannis in Renly's name. The truth behind Melisandre's actions in the death of Shireen last season continue to remain hidden and adds some additional tension at the Wall - not that it needed more. FRamsey's letter to Jon, announcing he has Rickon and goading the Bastard with threats of raping Sansa and spooning out his eyes are pretty dark. Fortunately there is some levity too; seeing Tormund make eyes for Brienne is worth watching the episode alone.
Ramsey continue to be the true villain of season six; not only is his letter to Jon the stuff of psychopathic nightmares, he also dispatches another character when Osha's attempts to seduce him fail to yield the same results as they did with Theon. The scene where they attempt to stab the other with a knife is incredibly tense, but the wildling is no match for Ramsey; seeing him clean the knife he murdered her with and then use it to cut a slice of apple, is chilling.
In the Eyrie, Littlefinger make a triumphant return, going up against Ser Royce and manipulating young Robin Arryn to give him the Vale's armies to save Sansa following her flight from Wintefell. It's another piece in the puzzle that will culminate in the dramatic Battle of the Bastards later this season. And talking of returns, Theon finally makes it home to the Iron Islands, a shell of the man he was in season two. Yara is understandably bitter over the good men that died in her failed attempt to rescue him; fortunately this is a turning point in their relationship with his support if her as the next ruler of the Iron Born finally taking his story in a fresh new direction.
In Mereen, Tyrion proves, like he did in season two, that he can be a great Hand, negotiating with the slavers of Astapor and Yunkai, including his own slaver from last season, in the absent Daenerys's name. It's great to see some wisdom and patience applied after Daenerys's impetuous nature, which often revealed her lack of experience as a ruler. Tyrion negotiates rather then demands, gives them seven years to give up practice of slavery over seven years in exchange for stopping support for Sons of the Harpy.
Things are more tense when it comes to treating with the freed slaves of Mereen - and Grey Worm and Missandei who experienced slavery first hand - and it was encouraging to see him use their standing to broker peace. Once again Tyrion's wise words keep everything moving forward and after loosing his grip on power after season three, it's a delight to see him back in his element once more. Not that his negotiations prove successful in the end, but it's a nice change of pace in Slaver's Bay.
And finally, King's Landing continues to explore the fallout of the High Sparrow and his people's grip on power. Margaery makes a decent appearance after her imprisonment in season five, treating with the High Sparrow to gain his trust to seek out her brother. She is not as humbled as she makes out and it's a great shame that her courage and conviction will ultimately come to nothing when Cersei exacts her fiery revenge at the end of the season. The encounter between Cersei and Jamie with the small council is really interesting, as an alliance is sought against the High Sparrow. Seeing Kevan and Olenna working hand in hand with Cersei shows just how desperate things have become. This really is a 'the enemy of my enemy is my friend' moment.
There is a huge amount taking place in Book of the Stranger, with the momentum lacking in season five really demonstrated here. It's not quite at the racing pace of season seven, but it is where Game of Thrones really starts to set up for its end game. Cersei's actions here will see her gain her hold on the Iron Throne for the final days, Daenerys burning the Khals sees her cement her forces and the actions of Littlefinger, Ramsey and Jon will see the North reunited by the season's end. There's still a long way to go, but the time for setting up new characters and stories is finally coming to and end.