Monday, July 31, 2017

REVIEW: 'Game of Thrones' - Jon and Daenerys Meet While Cersei Enacts Her Revenge in 'The Queen's Justice'

HBO's Game of Thrones - Episode 7.03 "The Queen's Justice"

Daenerys holds court. Cersei returns a gift. Jaime learns from his mistakes.

"The Queen's Justice" features the first onscreen interaction between Daenerys Targaryen and Jon Snow. It's a very momentous meeting because it brings together the character representations of fire and ice - the title from the George R.R. Martin book series the show is based on. The two find themselves as potential allies. They are fighting completely separate wars. And yet, they could use each other in order to get what they ultimately want. It's a huge moment because the show has always wanted the audience to be aware of where these two characters are at all times. They seem like the two characters who simply cannot die. The show is entering its endgame. It's important that they meet now because their relationship will need to be relied upon in the wars that are coming. But it also feels right that their first meeting doesn't go well at all because they are both too stuck on their individual causes and don't want to hear any rational argument for why it's silly for them to be fighting so passionately for their beliefs. It's really a quite interesting sequence to watch at the top of this episode. It brings these two important characters together. But they don't honestly know each other. Their advisors have had relationships with each other. But Daenerys and Jon don't know if they can trust each other. They don't know if they will be allies in the wars that come ahead.

Daenerys and Jon also spend a lot of time remembering the histories of their families. How the Targaryens and Starks used to rule the world together with one as the ruler who sat on the Iron Throne and the other as warden of the north. It's a personal history filled with betrayal as well. Grandfathers and fathers were killed. Oaths were broken all because of the actions of the Mad King and Daenerys' eldest brother. All of this is history that took place long before the show ever began. It could seem silly to make such a big deal out of it now. But traditions and history have always been important to the people of Westeros. They abide by these rules. They are histories that can determine relationships for the future. Ned Stark and Robert Baratheon led the rebellion against the Mad King. So why should Daenerys trust Jon? The actions of their fathers shouldn't define who they are. And yet, that history is important to them. Jon is a bastard. He's not even Ned's son. He and Daenerys are more closely related than either of them is aware of at the moment. That big reveal won't happen until Jon returns to the north and speaks with Bran again. There's the potential for this relationship to work because of the deep history of the families. But only time will determine if it can be meaningful for them as they chase their ultimate goals.

Of course, this is also an episode where the protagonists fighting for the just causes are woefully unprepared and incredibly stupid. There's a whole lot of political procedure going on between Daenerys and Jon. She is offended that Jon won't bend a knee and swear loyalty to her as the rightful ruler of the Seven Kingdoms. Jon didn't want the title of King of the North. It was something his people bestowed upon him. But it's a title that is sticking around because he doesn't have time to deal with all of that nonsense. Neither of them do. But they still allow things to intensify because of this petty disagreement. They don't have the time to deal with all of this. They need to be strategizing for the future. The Starks have always been stupid when it comes to war. Ned and Robb may have emerged victorious in a number of battles over the years. But they still made stupid and foolish mistakes that cost them their lives. They died simply because they chose to head south. Jon makes that same mistake despite the objections of his closest advisors. He stays alive for now. Again, he seems unlikely to die until the show at least gets around to its final episodes ever. But right now, it's important to realize that Daenerys and Tyrion aren't doing a great job with their war. They are not as smart and wise as they claim to be.

It's also just a whole lot more fun watching the villains in King's Landing be so much better at war with than the heroes on Dragonstone. Daenerys didn't want to burn the kingdom to the ground just so she could rule. She wanted to be more strategic than that. She went into this war with considerable more resources and allies. She had the army of the Unsullied, the Dothraki army willing to cross the sea for the first time, a significant portion of the Greyjoy fleet, allies from Dorne and Highgarden, the man responsible for the victory at Blackwater, and three dragons. The odds seemed woefully stacked against Cersei and her dwindling allies. And yet, they have proven themselves to be much better tacticians. Euron Greyjoy was able to surprise Yara and Theon's fleet in last week's episode. That led to Ellaria and Yara being taken prisoner. They arrive in King's Landing for Cersei to do whatever she wants with them. She has hardened herself as a character this season. She no longer cares what anyone thinks of her because she is the Queen of Westeros. She can do whatever she wants. She has the control. No one cares how she got it. They rally behind her out of fear of what she's capable of doing. She is a monster. On one hand, it's poetic justice for Cersei to kill the last remaining Sand Snake as retribution for Ellaria killing Myrcella. But it's also incredibly cruel as well. That sequence is filled with the dread of the Mountain perhaps abusing Ellaria just like he killed Oberyn all those seasons ago that started this whole conflict. But the psychological torture Cersei chooses to employ is much more devastating. It's a brutal place to leave things while also ensuring Ellaria won't be a threat again anytime soon.

It's a strange dichotomy as well. Cersei claims to have no feelings of grief over the death of her three children. They have all been taken away from her. She now has to rule and be the monster she is capable of being in order to give this kingdom what it truly deserves. And yet, her actions against Ellaria are filled with feelings of personal retribution. She acts in retaliation to what Ellaria did to her. But now, she's even more cold and heartless than she has ever been before. It's a startling transition for the character after she has been so delusional for much of the series. She never believed the rulers in King's Landing needed to take the threat from Daenerys seriously. And now, that threat has arrived during her reign. But she is more than capable of addressing this war because she's not holding anything personally. So much has been discussed about Casterly Rock over the course of the series. It's the home of the Lannisters. It's the legacy for the family. It's the fortress that must always stand and be held amongst the family. It's their most prized possession. Tyrion believes seizing this castle will serve as a crucial blow against his sister. And yet, Cersei is more than willing to abandon the place because it has no purpose for her in this new world order. Casterly Rock is useless in the grand scheme of things. The Lannister army is much better served marching on Highgarden to seize their great funds and resources in order to pay back the Iron Bank. Through this swift action, Cersei reveals herself to be brilliant and calculating. She's just like her father. That makes her so proud because she was always failing to live up to his expectations when he was alive.

Of course, it's all building to that tragic ending between Jaime and Lady Olenna. Diana Rigg has been one of the best performers on this show. She's just been so wonderfully over-the-top while also always finding a way to survive. She's orchestrated some monstrous things as well. But nothing comes close to what Cersei did to her family. She aligned herself with Daenerys for a reason. But now, she has been betrayed by her own people. Sure, it's questionable how she made it back to Highgarden after being with Daenerys in Dragonstone just last week. But that's not all that important to the actual story. Instead, it's about Jaime and Olenna finally being able to talk openly and honestly with each other. Olenna knows that she is about to die. She has come to accept that tragic fate because there simply is no other outcome for her. Olenna was never too important to the plot. She was expendable just like all the other members of her family. But she sure was entertaining. She was great from her first moment onscreen. And she was great in her last moment too. She calls Jaime out for encouraging the monstrosity on display in King's Landing. She couldn't tolerate Joffrey and that's why she killed him. But seeing Cersei rule has taken things to a new level. Jaime has aligned himself with his sister and lost all of his humanity in the process. Whatever happens to her will happen to him as well. Their fates are intertwined. That's always been the case. But there was a time in the middle of the series' run where Jaime seemed capable of more than that. Brienne and Bronn brought that out of him. And now, he's destined to succeed or fail alongside his sister and lover. She's being more reckless and forceful than ever before. Whatever doubts he had about all of that are long gone. He still has more humanity than she does. He will only poison Olenna instead of publicly humiliate her. But it's still a crushing blow to him to learn the truth about his son's death and just how horrible everything has gone since that day for both the Lannisters and Tyrells.

Some more thoughts:
  • "The Queen's Justice" was written by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss and directed by Mark Mylod.
  • There is another big reunion amongst the Starks at Winterfell. The direction makes it seem like Arya has finally returned North to be with her family once more. But instead, it is Bran who walks through the front gates again. It's not that surprising though because Isaac Hempstead Wright appears in the opening credits and Maisie Williams does not.
  • So, it's still unclear which direction Arya is actually moving in. Is she still heading north? Or did her run-in with the direwolf make her change her mind and recommit to the south? Right now, it seems likely that she has the greater odds of actually killing Cersei than Daenerys does. Arya is a smart warrior who can blend into the background when required. Meanwhile, Daenerys has just proven herself to be a terrible ruler once more.
  • Of course, Bran does a horrible and awkward job explaining to Sansa what him being the Three-Eyed Raven actually means. It means he's no longer the loving brother happy to be reunited with his family. Instead, he's brooding just as much as Jon is on Dragonstone. Plus, he makes a semi-creepy remark about Sansa's wedding which only traumatizes her further.
  • It's always been questionable if Littlefinger is honestly trying to help Sansa lead or just trying to manipulate her for his own selfish reasons. And yet, his advice to her to always be skeptical and wary of everyone at all times seems like good advice to survive in this grim and very destructive world.
  • Melisandre doesn't greet Jon and Davos when they arrive on Dragonstone. She knows that seeing them again would lead to her death. Instead, she plans to flee to Volantis. Of course, she also makes note that she and Varys are destined to die in Westeros one day. That seems like a new prophecy for the audience to obsess over.
  • Grey Worm is successful in seizing Casterly Rock thanks to the advice that Tyrion gave him. And yet, that victory is short-lived because the city isn't as well-guarded as they prepared for. Plus, Euron's ships are already destroying the rest of the fleet back on the water. So now, Daenerys largely has an army of Dothraki stranded on an island.
  • Meanwhile in Oldtown, Sam is successful in curing Jorah of the greyscale. It seems too good to be true. The procedure was ultimately way too easy for a disease that seemingly had a death sentence attached to it. It's largely more important that Sam and Jorah had this interaction and will now trust each other in whatever happens next.