Kill the Boy was a relatively quiet episode of Game of Thrones, focussing on a few plotlines in satisfying detail. Compared to last week’s offering, it was radically uneventful, with very little bloodshed, but everything felt tenser, weightier, as the show dug deeper into three particular plotlines — Sansa’s, Jon Snow’s and Daenerys’ — and gave them room to breathe.
Sansa in Winterfell
Things continued to happen around Sansa this week, providing a great exhibition for Sophie Turner’s emotional range, but none of the “Sansa becomes a key player” storyline we’ve been promised. A woman told Sansa that she still has friends in the North, and Sansa listened. She was tricked into going into the kennels and seeing Theon, and she stared at him in horror, saying little other than his name. She sat at dinner, powerless, as Ramsay made a big display of how much power he has over her and Theon.
And they were all excellent scenes. Excellently acted, with a lot of unspoken emotion and buckets of tension and a lot at stake. But they were not really Sansa’s scenes. Not yet, at least. They’re scenes about all the forces that are working around her, with her as the pawn in the middle. Even the dinner scene, which might have been a chance to show off Sansa’s courtly manners and manipulation skills, just showed a dumbfounded Sansa saying little at all. Her asking Ramsay “why are you doing this?” may have been intended as a challenge by the writers, but it sounded helpless, and unless Sansa has decided off-screen to play the hurt damsel to appeal to Ramsay, it showed a complete lack of the Margaery-esque awareness we were promised for New Sansa.
That said, there was so much good emotional stuff in Winterfell this week, with a lot of nuance, thanks, in part, to the wonderful performances by Sophie Turner and Alfie Allen. As the two characters have not properly talked, and as we haven’t had a peek inside Sansa’s head, it’s difficult to know how much of Sansa’s horror and tears came from facing the man she believes betrayed and murdered her brothers, and how much of it was horrified pity at his captivity. It’s a really complicated emotional situation, and I look forward to some sort of unsteady alliance forming between them in the next few weeks.
But, at the risk of getting too theoretical, these scenes would have worked even better without the previous two seasons of gratuitous Theon torture. Obviously, the writers didn’t want us to forget who Theon is, and wanted to introduce Ramsay, but the moment when Sansa went into the kennels would have been even more powerful if we, as well as Sansa, believed that Theon was dead. We could have experienced the following scenes from Sansa’s perspective, as she struggled with both the horrors of what Theon did and the horrors of what has been done to him, and we could similarly have discovered, along with Sansa, just how terrifying this unknown Ramsay can be. And this is a matter of personal taste, but I think that Ramsay’s grinning hints at torture would have been far more powerful than the repetitive and graphic scenes we saw first hand.
As things stand, I would bet that this will be Theon’s story, as it is in the books. Theon’s horror at seeing Sansa there, his horror at whatever Ramsay does to her, his determination to help her, his escape and growth and moment of heroism. Sansa shows no sign of having any sort of power or plan yet, and the writers’ insistence that they really wanted to keep events at Winterfell in the show, sans Jeyne, suggests that they want to keep Theon’s arc intact, regardless of its effect on other characters.
Maybe Sansa will assert herself sometime this season. Maybe she will get revenge on the Boltons or sabotage their defense to help Stannis or even just escape by herself. But I won’t be holding my breagth.
Daenerys and Meereen
Once again, Daenerys’s plotline this week explored the fine line between justice and tyranny, but this time without Ser Barristan to provide a steadying perspective. She wants stability in Meereen, but she also wants blood for Ser Barristan’s death, and she certainly let the darker side of being the “mother of dragons” take over this week. Rounding up the leaders of all the great houses, despite their involvement or innocence, forcing them into the dragon pits, picking one seemingly at random to be burned and eaten while she watches, unflinching, showing her queenly detachment by commenting that the others will be spared today because she “doesn’t want to overfeed the dragons”… it’s very dark stuff, and a sharp change from all her original talk of peace and justice. But then, it fits with Daenerys’ overall uncertainty over how to actually be a queen, let alone a queen to a people whose culture she does not understand. She swings, now, from being too flexible to being too inflexible, from prioritizing kindness to prioritizing her own power, from using her dragons as symbols of miraculous magic to using them as symbols of power and fear, and the result is as unstable as one would expect.
So, after consulting with Missandei (which, hooray for their continued friendship and mutual support), Daenerys swings away from her harsh approach again, deciding to capitulate to Meereen’s apparent wishes, reopen the fighting pits, and marry Hizdahr zo Loraq in order to seem more respectful to Meereen’s old masters. It’s an imperfect solution, and one that potentially shows weakness instead of strength, as well as betraying some of Daenerys’ most fundamental principles and the reason the people of Meereen call her Mhysa… but Daenerys has no idea how to really rule this foreign city she’s conquered, and she has lost every advisor she trusted. She’s inconsistent, but only because she doesn’t have the faintest idea what she’s doing, and the battle between her anger and her concern is an interesting subversion of this idea of the “rightful conquering queen” that the show really needs, after playing so many tropes straight for so long.
Events at the Wall
Daenerys’ struggle between justice and vengeance was mirrored again this week by events at the Wall, where Jon had to decide whether to pardon and protect all of the Wildlings despite the threat they’ve posed in the past. The Wildlings, as a group, have murdered his friends, attacked his home and threatened his people as a whole, but they are, as he says, still part of the world of men, and so he is sworn to protect them from the White Walkers. Add in the fact that the Night’s Watch needs more people to protect Westeros, and the fact that any Wildlings would be made far more dangerous if they were turned into wights, and helping them is the logical, if unpopular and painful, choice. Jon Snow is one of the first characters to recognize that the struggles between men are only a distraction from the real threat north of the Wall, and one of the first to take solid action against it, even if the choice will make him as unpopular as Daenerys’ decision will make her.
Tyrion and the Stone Men
There isn’t much to say about Tyrion this week, but Tyrion and Jorah sailing into the ruins of Valyria, while reciting a poem about its downfall, was one of the show’s most atmospheric moments in a while. Low-key but powerful, with that tension-filled set-up made worthwhile by the sudden appearance of Drogon, and then of the Stone Men.
And now Jorah has greyscale. I’m assuming he’s taking the role of Jon Connington here, which suggests that the fact that Tyrion doesn’t catch greyscale is important to the plot. Or perhaps the show writers just wanted to give the illness to a familiar face who has no further known role in the story.
In the end, this was an episode about things that are going to happen, rather than things actually happening, but its more focussed approach made it far more enjoyable than last week’s.