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Monday, 31 July 2017

Game of Thrones S7E3: The Queen's Justice

Game of Thrones
Series 7, Episode 3
The Queen's Justice.

Just like how last week's episode was made up predominantly of scenes of people sitting around tables talking about strategy, this week's episode consists almost exclusively of long character scenes where two (sometimes three) people stand in place and talk (or don't, as was the case in the scene between Ellaria and Cersei). That's pretty difficult to pull off, especially as most of these scenes are considerable in length -- without action to rely on, or even the dazzle of cool scenery, you have to rest everything both on your dialogue writing and the performances of your actors. If your actors can't sell the tension, and you can't get the audience invested in the scene in seconds, then all you've done is recreate the Star Wars prequels.

Luckily, this episode features some solid writing and some superb performances all around, with the best performances of the episode easily coming from Lena Headey as Cersei, Indira Varma as Ellaria (who actually doesn't have any lines), Dame Diana Rigg as Olenna, and Peter Dinklage as Tyrion.

After the pirate attack at the end of the last episode, this episode sees Ellaria, Tyene, and Yara brought to the Red Keep, having been captured by Euron. With Yara left with Euron, Cersei takes Ellaria and Tyene -- accepting Euron's proposal in the process -- and exacts a brutal revenge on Ellaria for killing Myrcella. In Winterfell, Sansa's preparations are interrupted when Bran, irrevocably changed by becoming the Three-Eyed Raven, returns. At the Citadel, Archmaester Ebrose reprimands Sam when he discovers that he (successfully) used a forbidden treatment on Jorah, curing him of greyscale. At Dragonstone, Jon meets with Daenerys and Tyrion, and finds his goals to be fundamentally at odds with them, before Tyrion manages to forge a shaky but promising deal for Jon to mine the dragonglass.

Tyrion being all windswept and stuff.

We're not going to talk much about the Citadel scenes (even though, really, the cure's just debridement and a poultice? That seems weirdly simple), because there's not a lot to say about them, so let's crack on with the Winterfell scenes, since they're doubtless the least meaty of the bunch, Citadel scenes notwithstanding.

In a turn I would describe as 'thrillingly vindicating,' we get to see Sansa as a leader here and she is -- no surprise to me but I know at least a few people who might be both shocked and rather unhappy about it -- astonishingly competent, setting herself to the task of making sure there's enough food and that their soldiers are protected from cold. We never got a chance to see what Jon was like at this stuff, so we can't compare them, although one would imagine that 'acquiring food' and 'cold protection' were under his remit at the Wall, at least.

All of this, of course, is just set-up for Bran returning, and for Sansa's joy at that to rather quickly turn sour when she realises that the Bran she's meeting now and the Bran she left behind aren't really the same person, as this Bran is entirely detached from his humanity and has a nasty habit of casually telling people about their worst traumas. Seriously, Bran, why do you keep doing this. What on earth is the point. Your new transcendental perspective apparently allows you to know everything except basic manners and sensitivity.

You look ridiculous, Jon.

The main draw of Cersei's perspective in King's Landing, meanwhile, is her long overdue meeting with Ellaria. Cersei being cruel to people who she wants vengeance on is nothing new, but Lena Headey and Indira Varma really sell this scene. Even knowing that Cersei was going to do something horrible, I was on the edge of my seat throughout, because I had no idea what it was Cersei would do, or how bad it would be. Honestly, my imagination had come up with so many horrible things that I didn't want to see happen that when it turned out to just be poison, I was actually relieved.

Cersei also meets with Mark Gatiss from the Iron Bank, and in all honesty, I wasn't sure of the point of those scenes -- who's bankrolling the war is not necessarily information that's that interesting to me, so unless Gatiss reveals that their loans also come with free usage of the Faceless Men, I'm not that invested in the minutiae of wartime financing. No doubt it'll cause problems for Cersei when she cannot, in fact, pay back all her debts, but we're not there yet.

Speaking of Cersei, though, she's doing surprisingly well in the war. We're three episodes into it, and she, Euron, and Jaime have already gotten rid of all of Daenerys' allies; trapped the majority of her army on the other side of the continent (with King's Landing and the now Cersei-controlled Reach between Daenerys and her forces, and with Euron's fleet menacing the oceans); effectively cut her off from reinforcements from Daario by controlling the Narrow Sea; taken the wealthiest kingdom in Westeros; and got herself some huge crossbows to take down the dragons with.

That is a nice throne, though.

A lot of Cersei's success comes from how she's playing a chess game with Tyrion, but Tyrion isn't playing a chess game with her -- he's playing chess with Tywin, not realising that Cersei thinks differently from Tywin. For Tywin, giving up Casterly Rock or allying with Iron Islanders would be anathema to him -- but for Cersei, who identifies herself more as a queen than a Lannister, Casterly Rock has little significance, and she can happily use it as a trap while she takes a more valuable target; and allying with Iron Islanders is an unpleasant but useful move.

Speaking of the war, though, this episode also sees Jon and Daenerys meeting, and to be honest, I was a little disappointed by how neither of them seemed able or willing to compromise or understand each other's point of view. For Daenerys, who's very direct in her use of power, that makes some sense (frustrating though it is), but Jon should be more willing to compromise, since a willingness to compromise and make peace is one of his few defining character traits.

We do get some great scenes with Tyrion, though, both when he's talking to Jon and when he's talking to Daenerys (I especially loved her chiding remark on how he's passing his own sayings off as ancient wisdom). Similarly, our brief scene between Varys and Melisandre was a lot of fun -- truly, Varys is always more fun when he has someone he can hate, and with Littlefinger in Winterfell, he's been deprived of a good rival for a while now.

It looks like the next episode will see Theon returning to the fold, a proper alliance between Jon and Daenerys, more shenanigans between Cersei and the Iron Bank, Arya returning to Winterfell, Sansa facing problems, and -- best of all -- Cersei and Daenerys' forces clashing again, complete with dragons coming in to dragon some stuff up. I'm looking forward to it.

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