The reunions continue in “The Queen’s Justice.” Dany and Jon finally meet, Jaime and the Lannisters gain the upper hand over her forces, and the Stark-formely-known-as-Bran returns to Winterfell.
As we speed through at breakneck pace, join three fans with different perspectives: Rosalyn Claret, who has read the books yet says she “forgets” how many times; Laura Fletcher, a casual fan of the television and book series; and Cheryl Collins, who does not read.
Laura: Game of Thrones talks about generations – and especially fathers – all the time, but I think it really hammered that theme home this week. The entire older generation has been wiped out, and in this episode particularly — as with Jon and Daenerys — all the people in this generation are now meeting each other.
Of course the great and strange irony is that Jon and Daenerys are actually in separate generations – but we won’t worry about that right now.
Cheryl: There is one father they’ve brought back again this season, Sam’s father. He’s obviously going to play some role, and the conflict between those two is real.
I’m thinking about everybody coming to terms with the sins of their fathers and the weaknesses of their fathers – both Dany and Jon acknowledge that.
On the other hand, Cersei really didn’t acknowledge any weakness in her father. Instead we have “you are your father’s daughter” and “you’ve learned from your father well.”
Roz: Yes, which is the highest compliment you can pay to her.
I’ve started to think of Cersei as the show’s ultimate cautionary tale, and the foil for everybody. I think you’re really right about the generational theme in this episode, and she is the contrasting example who’s proud to follow in her father’s footsteps, while every other character is willfully trying to make a departure, negotiating these inherited titles and allegiances and oaths and wars and debts.
Laura: Speaking of her father – Tywin – even Jaime is moving away from his father. When Jaime was going to polish off Olenna, he explained his choice to minimize troops at Casterly Rock and march down to take Highgarden, a decision based on a mistake that Tywin had made.
Cheryl: Jaime also mentioned that he’d learned from the mistake he made with Robb at the battle of Whispering Wood, when Robb captured him. So he’s learning from mistakes. Can we say that Cersei is — or is not — learning from mistakes?
Roz: I would say she’s not. Unlike the others, she’s not trying to make a departure from the legacy of her father. She’s trying to live up to it and be recognized as part of it. That’s why I think she’s interesting: she has this ongoing struggle for recognition and legitimacy that came from being married off against her will. The interesting thing about the last two episodes is that both Sansa and Daenerys have talked about their experiences in that exact same situation. So that’s what I mean about her as cautionary tale – she’s trying to live up to the worst people of the previous generation, but partly because she was never able to fully participate in and of her own self, before now.
There are others who are also constrained this way, and we’re in a position to watch them: Are they going to give in to their worst instincts or not?
Even Olenna, who is part of this older generation, did give into some worst instincts. Just not quite that extreme.
Cheryl: Although we like Olenna more, for a variety of reasons, she’s as cold and un-empathetic to the people she rules as Cersei. She’s not that different. It’s a difference in degree, but not of quality. She’s not very concerned about the people. She’s interested in power and maintaining the power structure.
And I hear what you’re saying, Roz – Cersei’s not creative enough to take what she’s learned from her father and try to reconfigure it for the better – she’s drunk the Kool-Aid.
Roz: She’s not a canny schemer. She just has this instinct for vengeance and making sure she comes out ahead.
The weird thing is Arya is the only other character who’s had just as much of a single-minded obsession with vengeance. Not justice, but vengeance. And I would say that was true up until the moment she decided to go back to Winterfell in the last episode. I feel like everyone’s at these moments where they can depart from the course that Cersei’s taken. She’s been forged by all this bitterness of circumstance, and others have choices.
Ironically, that’s a word — “choice” — Cersei used a lot in the scene where she enacts her terrible plot on Ellaria and her daughter, the Sand Snake. Cersei says, “You’ve made your choice.” And she’s making sure debts are paid. Daughter for daughter. It’s just really creepy and horrible.
Cheryl: And of course Ellaria was repaying the loss of her lover … who was repaying the loss of his sister.
Laura: Oberyn and his sister, Elia Martell.
Cheryl: So the cost of vengeance and feuding is wiping people out.
I thought it was very explicit that they were trying to draw parallels — which I had never thought of before — between Sansa, Dany, and Cersei. For example, in Dany’s speech in which she’s talking about all the degradation she had to go through and how she was raped, sold as chattel, and married off. And everything that you’re describing with Cersei, Roz. Of course we know that happened to Sansa too: raped, degraded, married against her will. All of a sudden we’re seeing these three in high relief. What are the choices each one is making to process what has happened to them or come to terms with that? How are their choices now reflecting on their character in terms of the way they’re going to exercise power?
It seems to me that’s what this season is going to be about. How are these women going to make choices in the way they are going to exercise power?
Laura: It’s interesting about revenge and “an eye for an eye,” and the way Cersei went after Ellaria’s daughter: that’s pretty on the nose with the scene of Arya Stark literally killing a roomful of Freys. We cheer on Arya, because she’s killing the bad guys, but that’s sort of an inescapable parallel now.
Cersei and Jaime especially talk about power and vengeance, and Cersei’s motivations for continuing on this course. She says “It’s just the two of us left,” so basically, screw it. Whereas I think Arya’s approach to avenging people is much different. She’s obviously not doing it for personal power. She seems to be at least attempting justice. I would say the reason behind it is a little bit more relatable. But the tools she uses are pretty much the same. The both even use poison.
Roz: I was reflecting after the last two episodes how in this show, we’re so often made to both cheer for and revile vengeance as a motivator. It can be kind of challenging as a viewer. It makes you think. What are the moments when we’re rooting for a character doing unspeakable acts, and when are we hating a character for doing unspeakable acts?
Laura: Speaking of unspeakable: after Cersei poisons Ellaria’s daughter …
Roz: Tyene! Tyene is the Sand Snake in the book whose expertise is poison. That’s how she kills. Side note. Go on.
Laura: After that scene, Cersei forces herself on Jaime. It seems like it’s more about violence and power than it is about being turned on. It seems like she was turned on by that! I don’t think that was about sex. I think it was about mortality and power and powerlessness.
Roz: She’s ascendant again. Iit’s a reversal from an earlier season – one of the more controversial scenes between Cersei and Jaime, in the sept. Remember when Joffrey died? This time, Jaime’s the one who says no, and she does force herself on him.
Cheryl: And she services him. It was like the reverse of what happened with Grey Worm and Missandei. Which seems like an interesting choice.
One thing I wondered about: first of all, the breathtaking speed as these armies are being moved across like chess pieces. Tyrion’s voiceover describes what’s happening as we see the troop movements and people being killed and the walls being breached. It’s a way of keeping the action moving extremely quickly.
Those Lannister armies were totally decimated at Casterly Rock, and all the Highgarden people were wiped out. Everybody’s being wiped out, and there’s going to be nobody left to fight the army of the dead. They’re decimating each other, and it’s going to come back to haunt them.
Laura: All the Lannisters at Casterly Rock are dead. But then we see there’s maybe ten times as many that have marched to Highgarden. I think there are still a lot of Lannisters. But the Tyrells are wiped out.
Cheryl: A lot of the Unsullied were killed, of course.
Roz: The Greyjoys are fractured; Dorne is leaderless …
Laura: And the Tullys – Catelyn’s family – they got wiped out, too.
Roz: Yeah, that’s how the Freys took power.
So all these great houses gone or diminished. That lends urgency to what Jon is doing all of a sudden in the south.
I kept thinking, why isn’t he all, “Oh cool, flowers and green stuff!” I would be a lot more excited to go southl, if I were him.
Cheryl: What did you think of the interaction between Jon and Daenerys?
Laura: Its almost as if he had been at the Wall for so long that he’d forgotten all his courtly manners or didn’t give a shit. It didn’t seem to be pride; maybe he just wanted to express urgency. He seemed so canny when he was talking to the Northmen, so politically savvy.
Roz: I think he was just single-minded. I also think the South and the North must seem practically imaginary to those who never have any reason to go one place or another.
I had to laugh at loud at the contrast between Missandei and Davos.
Laura: That was hilarious. “This is Jon. He’s King in the North. The End.”
Roz: And Tyrion is in there, still trying to be a matchmaker. Between dragonglass and armies and certain doom. You know. Like you do.
But his advice was really good: Human minds can’t comprehend problems so large, so you have to make an “ask” that’s more concrete and more reasonable.
Cheryl: Jon refused to bend the knee. Tyrion did a good job of managing expectations between those two. However, Tyrion’s fucking up, right? His plans for Casterly Rock, however devious, were wrong. And the same thing happened with Dorne and the Iron Fleet. So he’s not making good decisions. As wise as they may seem, they’re not correct.
Laura: There’s Lannisters on two sides, on two different armies. And there are also Greyjoys on two different armies. So I think that’s the problem: they know each others’ tactics. To go back to the chess metaphor, since everything’s moving so quickly across the board: they end up in a stalemate. Euron could guess what Yara was going to do, so he cut off her fleet and attacked them; and Jaime, unfortunately, guessed what Tyrion was going to do.
Cheryl: Jaime is easy to underestimate.
Roz: Yeah, he’s been moping around for way too long. His scene at the end with Olenna was interesting because I increasingly read in his face that he’s simply accepting his doom – except that Jaime’s “doom” is to love Cersei. In earlier seasons, we see hints of him trying to be respected or trying to be seen as honorable. But when he’s talking to Olenna , he just look sort of like, “fuck it, I’ve lost that battle, this is the way I am.” He can just never win. And she wins even when she’s dying and her house is sacked.
Speaking of that scene: she’s essentially clearing Tyrion’s name, and Sansa’s, for the murder of Joffrey.
Cheryl: Is he going to relay that information back to Cersei?
So many people would have impulsively pulled out a knife when they heard the news that Olenna spit out and stabbed her with it. He didn’t do that. He had committed to allowing her to die in a respectful way, with poison, and he didn’t give in to his base instinct there.
Laura: Cersei’s only planning is how she will kill so-and-so. Psychological warfare.
Roz: Cheryl, you mentioned Sam’s father in this episode. That’s another thing about Jaime: we saw that glimpse of Randyll Tarly wearing the Lannister crimson and gold, so Jaime has actually been successful in forging that alliance and keeping those bannermen from breaking off.
Cheryl: He’s actually making a cohesive unit out of these disparate pieces. Nobody’s got any great love for Cersei, obviously, and somehow he’s able to keep the troops together.
Laura: The only speech Cersei gave was “we have to make sure not to let all these eunuchs and brown people take over.” It’s not just psychological warfare, it’s xenophobia and propaganda. And Jaime is growing into a real general. The two are scarier than we gave them credit for. Yeah, she’s spending a lot of her own energy having sex with her brother and plotting creative ways to kill their enemies, but she’s also getting shit done.
Cheryl: What did you think about the fact that after their sexual encounter and somebody knocks at the door, Cersei says she’s the Queen of the Seven Kingdoms and doesn’t care who sees anymore? Somehow that felt like a turning point to me. Talk about doom. The path of doom is sealed now with that, somehow.
Roz: That was the secret that caused Ned Stark to lose his head at the beginning, and she’s very blasé about it now.
Side note: her handmaiden comes in rocking a short haircut. Clearly Cersei’s setting some new fashions in King’s Landing. We have not seen that before. Remember Margaery and all her ladies?
Laura: Very feminine, very racy.
Cheryl: Certainly Margaery was much more feminine, and her style and her outfits were softer. Cersei is martial now, with dark colors and a black-garbed handmaiden.
Laura: Everyone’s wearing black this season. Sansa, Daenerys … batten down the hatches! Dany used to wear bright blue sometimes, and Sansa used to wear color once in a while. But now winter’s here.
Cheryl: Right, they’re going into war mode. Speaking of which, Jon feels almost like he’s drowning in that … thing he’s wearing. Like a burden, almost ready to swallow him up. The burden of governing?
Roz: I had the same thought. I had to laugh in the scene with him and Dany gazing out off a cliff. Up North, on the Wall, in Winterfell, yeah, ok: they’re wearing a lot of fur. It’s cold. But he looked sort of like a barbarian or bumpkin at Dragonstone. Which has got to be intentional.
Laura: He’s starting to look very Wildling-y.
Roz: Jon looks very Stark-y this season. Actually seeing Sansa walk commandingly around Winterfell makes me think of Catelyn, too.
Cheryl: Speaking of Sansa, what about her interaction up in Winterfell with Littlefinger? “You just have to imagine what you want, imagine all the possible realities, and you’re prepared for anything” (I’m paraphrasing). Then she and Bran have a reunion, and he says he can see all past, present, and future, and that he’s seen the wedding that Littlefinger arranged. And it freaks her out. Or it seems to me. She’s thinking her brother sounds like Littlefinger. What do you guys think?
Laura: This is when I turned to my husband and said, “Oh my god, there are no more Starks.” Sansa has been a Bolton, she’s been a Lannister … and Bran is lost to humanity.
Roz: That is very clear in this episode. He’s been changed. The parallel with Littlefinger’s and Bran’s speeches one right after another was odd. One was very mundane, and the other was very otherworldly, yet they said basically the same thing.
Cheryl: And it was at that tree where she married Ramsay, with the snow as coming down, as in that scene … Sansa looked rattled by Bran recounting that.
Roz: It is sad. The emotional center of the show started out with the Stark family, the Stark children. And we have this mega-reunion, but Bran is changed into the Three-Eyed Raven. So she’s thrown off balance. In the meantime, while he’s talking about visions and the sights he’s seen and the past and the future, she’s worrying about grain stores and the armory and banter with Littlefinger.
Cheryl: Very worldly as opposed to otherworldly. Last week we talked about the theme of transformation and alchemical change. That carries through with Bran but also with Jorah, who’s transformed with the help of Sam.
Roz: It’s not like Jorah and Sam are crowd favorites as the cast goes, but I really liked the last two little scenes with them in the last episodes. Sam is very brave – and he is a self-admitted coward – crossing his boss, going through that grisly treatment. Jorah, who’s been this outcast and exile, is saved by his family name after all.
Cheryl: One last thing: both of you talked about vengeance and the women coming to terms with that. I think about the Hound, two episodes ago: how he was burying the people that he had left to die. He was coming to terms with his cruel acts, and that’s not a process the women have had to deal with, yet. They have had to do shitty things, but how are they going to process it as people? They haven’t had to do that.
Roz: No one else has really made atonement, it seems like.
The title of this episode was “The Queen’s Justice,” and there are obvious scenes with Cersei’s “justice” and with Dany being a ruler. But also Jorah credited Dany with saving his life, and that is another outcome of the Queen’s justice. In the process of exiling him, she told him to save himself, and he did.
Laura: I’m also interested in the idea of justice belonging to someone. Especially, as we said earlier, the character who seems most invested in it is Arya. She’s almost like an avenging angel, a force of nature.
I’m trying to figure out what to make of the fact that they are hiding Jon’s resurrection. “Don’t bring up the knife-to-the-heart thing!”
Roz: Well: “ARMY OF THE DEAD AND BY THE WAY I WAS ALSO DEAD.” His death kind of undermines his credibility even more, but it also means they’re beholden to Melisandre, too, and I’m not sure they’re ready to feel that way.
Laura: In the chamber they name all the things Dany has done: Dany survived the fire, she’s Unburnt. And Jon doesn’t care.
If I were in charge of moving these chess pieces around, I’d say this information should slip out. Dany clearly got a hint of Jon’s knife attack as meaning something, and Tyrion brushed it off. That was a fuck-up.
Roz: So we finally had the meeting of fire and ice. They’ve both survived, come back.
Cheryl: That also happened to Arya, when she miraculously survived numerous times last season. At least I considered them miraculous. Would you consider that Bran as a character who has miraculously survived?
Roz: He’s certainly been transformed.
Laura: Interestingly, he’s the most supernatural character, but he was literally saved by Hodor’s body.
Roz: Bran died in another body.
Cheryl: So he has been resurrected as something different. He’s had his own transformation into something we can’t fathom.
Roz: What you’re saying makes me think of ice and fire, the magical and the mundane. It seems like this show is about things coming into balance, and we’re seeing that happen on all these different levels this season.
Cheryl: The balance between the mundane and the otherworldly?
Roz: I think so, or even things such as the paths we choose. Choosing vengeance or not. The different outcomes that are possible from the circumstances we find ourselves in. You have to have some blend between being hard and soft. Don’t die, like Ned! But don’t be evil, like Cersei!
Cheryl: Jon does not want to be worshipped. His true character is being revealed. He doesn’t want to be regarded as some magical being who has returned from the dead. Maybe Dany doesn’t either. She actually feels she has a mission. Their characters are being revealed through these tests, obviously, and Cersei is being boiled down to her true essence as well.
Roz: We did see that Theon is still around.
Laura: I randomly remembered that we saw Bronn for half a second. If people are still showing up, they’ve still got to have some kind of role to play.
Cheryl: There was also a specific pregnant pause after a line about how there was nobody left to rule, and I thought, “Oh, this is where Gendry’s gonna walk in.” We know Gendry’s going to show up simply because someone took a picture of him in an airport in Dublin. Wouldn’t that be hilarious if everybody dies and he gets the throne?
Laura: I wonder how much of this season will tease out “innate” character traits. If Arya has so changed yet is still similar to who she always was, will others follow suit?