Game of Thrones picks up where last week’s Meereen blood bath left off – with the unsullied Grey Worm unconscious and Ser Barristan Selmy dead, lying in state. Grief-stricken, Daenerys summons all of the representatives of each major family in Meereen. In the dragon’s keep, she makes an example out of one of them, allowing her pet dragons to burn their victim to a crisp and rip his corpse apart for snacking. It’s a great way to begin the episode because, crazy or not, at least she’s doing something. At least she’s showing the same kind of steely will she so brilliantly demonstrated seasons ago.
Nicely segueing to the Wall, Maester Aemon has received news of Daenerys’s plight and mourns her disconnectedness from him, her only living ancestor. Or so he thinks. Queue Jon Snow, seeking advice from Aemon regarding a controversial commands for the Knight’s Watch. I suspect, without giving too much away, that Master Aemon may know a lot more than he lets on. Living a hundred years gives a man a long time to pick up information. Snow, meanwhile, tries to convince Mance Rayder’s captive commander to round up the remaining, leaderless Wildlings and pull them south of the wall. Winter (and the White Walkers) is coming, you know. Snow wants to make peace, and his argument seems to work, despite the predictable objections from the Knight’s Watch.
Outside of Winterfell, Brienne stands watch over Sansa Stark from afar, making arrangements to send Sansa a note and continue her promise for protection. In Winterfell, Ramsay Bolton discusses Sansa Stark with his near-concubine lover just before she bites his lip and he forcibly takes her in front of the window. Sansa, meanwhile, receives word that she has friends in the North and, if she’s ever in trouble, then she is to light a candle in the top of the North Tower. On her way to investigate the tower, she is intercepted by Bolton’s lover who points her down a dark tunnel at the end of which is the tortured Reek / Theon Greyjoy. Both are horrified at the re-introduction. When Reek confesses to Ramsay that Sansa saw him, Ramsay threatens to punish him but, in perhaps a crueler turn, completely forgives him, leaving Reek trembling in his presence. Later, Ramsay further taunts Reek (and probably Sansa) by forcing him to serve them wine at dinner and formally introducing him as “Reek” to Sansa. Ramsay forces Reek to apologize to Sansa for murdering her two brothers, something we all know he did not do. The final insult is that Reek must give away Sansa at their wedding.
Further maddening Ramsay is the fact that his father has impregnated his new bride, a rotund woman who engenders a few fat jokes from Ramsay. He is naturally concerned about his status in the Bolton house given that he was born a bastard child and only recently received the name Bolton. His father assures him, after relaying a “touching” story about Ramsay’s commoner mother, that he is his son, and, with Stannis Baratheon threatening King’s Landing, they need to hold the North together. Still, how much do you want to bet that Ramsay, given his homicidal tendencies, has an eye on that baby, thought to be a boy. The weirdness never ends at Winterfell.
Back at Castle Black, Stannis decides to begin his march toward Winterfell without Jon Snow’s Wildling army. He is all-too aware of Bolton’s presence in the North and the critical position he holds en route to King’s Landing. Stannis bizarrely decides to bring his wife and daughter on the quest, a curious decision given their significant liability in the certain battle ahead. Stannis’s army marches away from the Wall, Melisandre riding along with him. Assuming something doesn’t change in subsequent episodes, this is a significant departure from the books. I’ll say no more.
In Meereen, Daenerys is torn over what to do with the captured masters, but she chooses a curious path. She agrees to re-open the fighting pits, a tradition for the Meereenese people, to free men only. To further solidify her hold on the city, she also reveals her decision to marry one of the members of the ruling family, in this case, the captured master who had originally advised her in the beginning to reopen the pits. En route to Daenerys, Tyrion and Ser Jorah Mormont sail into the crumbling, ruined remnants of Valyria. Their journey is a fantastic opportunity for beautiful set design and brilliant cinematography as the crumbling city makes for appealing vistas. Tyrion, once full of bravado and constant gabber, is rendered silent by the sight of Daenerys’s free dragon flying overhead. He hasn’t much time to wonder, though, as he and Mormont are attacked by Stone Men (suffering from greyscale, the same illness that afflicts Stannis’s daughter) who apparently cause great damage if they touch clear skin. One of the Stone Men pulls Tyrion into the depths of the river, but Mormont rescues him, revealing only to us that he was apparently touched during the scuffle and has contracted the deadly disease.
This episode, for me, is the first time in Season Five that I felt the series spinning its wheels a little bit. As I’ve said before, it was a great start to the episode by showing Daenerys’s blossoming ruthlessness, but it failed to deliver on much action after that. It struggled to balance the need to move the story forward at both Winterfell and Castle Black as it clearly establishes the upcoming battle. My passion for the show surpasses these moments, but, as I’ve heard some viewers have been impatient with the season thus far, even I was tested by Episode Five. At the midpoint of the season, are they really going to drag out the pending Battle of Winterfell until the ninth episode of the season (where the big battles tend to take place)?
Winter(fell) is coming, and it’s coming slowly.