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Game of Thrones: Kill the Boy

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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.

Rhiannon

Rhiannon Thomas is the author of A WICKED THING and KINGDOM OF ASHES. She lives in York, England.

13 thoughts on “Game of Thrones: Kill the Boy

  1. As things stand, I would bet that this will be Theon’s story, as it is in the books.

    The funny thing about that is that, so far, Theon has had barely any screentime, and less screentime than any of the other major actors in this plot. I expect that will pick up, now that Baelish is gone, but so far Sansa continues to be the main “POV” in this story, even if she’s not actually doing much of anything (which was literally the plan Baelish gave her). I kind of feel like the writers wanted to both tell this story with Sansa replacing Jeyne and also make his a showcase for Sansa’s supposed character development, which is a difficult circle to square seeing as the basic outline of the storyline doesn’t really give her much space to accomplish anything. Though if you look at the reactions of a lot of viewers, just having her walk around more confidently in a black dress seems to create the illusion for many people.

    1. Maybe that’s the secret? Put her in a pair of pants, give her a needle of her very own and voila! Insta-strong female character.

    2. Well, the Northern storyline (not Jeyne’s specifically) should give Sansa a lot of agency, with her organizing a quiet resistance against the Boltons while openly supporting them, ala Manderly. I suppose it would be possible to balance her agency with Theon’s arc, if they had Ramsay majorly downplay his crazy, so Sansa doesn’t realize how dangerous he is (probably by focusing more on Roose), and have Theon working up to protecting and recusing Sansa, if need be, if the situation escalates too rapidly for Sansa to handle with her current resources. It could be a situation where Sansa’s scheming works on a broad scale, but she’s caught on ground zero and needs an airlift ASAP, to keep the integrity of both characters and storylines
      Of course, that ship already sailed, so this is all wish fulfillment. As it is, I’m expecting the highly anticipated ‘traumatic scene’ Sansa is supposed to have this season to happen next episode, and I can only hope that spurs Show!Sansa to realize how stupid LF’s plan is, and to go into high-gear survival mode, complete with her style of manipulation and background scheming to kill everybody (which you know she’s doing after that dinner scene).

      1. I hope she doesn’t kill anybody, as that would be a huge leap away from her character, which has so far been about survival through women’s means, and never losing her kindness. I love your idea to have her undermine the Boltons on a grand scale though. That would be amazing to see.

  2. I was massively bored with this episode, largely because everything that happened we’ve already seen. Ramsey being a dick to Theon? Been there, done that. Sansa sulking through dinner with the in-laws? Done that. Dany putting her Targaryen on and giving some speech while she wields dragons over people? Jon being torn between duty and justice? Tyrion and Jorah in a boat?

    None of it was bad, but none of it was good, either. Did we really need a full episode of twiddling our thumbs? Even the supposed revelation that Grey Worm didn’t die left me oddly unmoved, mostly because halfway through the episode I was still waiting for something interesting to happen.

    But coming back to Sansa – I’ve said before that I’m a little more optimistic about her arc this season. I may have spoken too soon. We’re now halfway through the season and New Sansa has been revealed in precisely zero situations. She’s got lovely new hair and lovely new clothes, but other than that she’s at best going to exchange one protector (Littlefinger) for another (Brienne and/or Stannis) and at worst, she’s going to end up raped/abused by Joffrey v2.0, and end up rescued by Theon.

    That scene where she’s been lured to the kennels? I thought something else was waiting for her at the end. And if the writers are sadistic enough to do more than titillate with that particular plot, I might have to swear off GOT forever.

  3. “which suggests that the fact that Tyrion doesn’t catch greyscale is important to the plot”

    I read a speculation that Tyrion is in fact the son of King Aerys, which might explain a statement Tywin made in the books. “Men’s laws give you the right to wear my name since I cannot prove that you are not mine.” Viserys said that Targaryens doesn’t become sick, and Daenerys has never been sick. Maybe this hints to Tyrion having inherited a superior immune system?

    But I always thought that it was the unjust punishment för the noble act of saving someone’s life, at least in the case of Jon Connington, which didn’t need Tyrion. I also considered it to be the plotline of a hero or villain who has a disease, curse, mutation or something else working against him, limiting his time. Especially cruel against Jon Connington, who is likely fighting for a fake Targaryen. We have only Varys’s word on Aegon’s bloodline, and Varys likely care more for the qualities in a monarch than his parentage.

    1. Viserys said that Targaryens doesn’t become sick

      Viserys is wrong (that idea became a real fan misconception). Septa Maegelle, a daughter of King Jaehaerys I and Queen Alysanne, died of greyscale. King Daeron II and his heirs, Princes Baelor “Breakspear”, Valarr and Matarys all died of the Great Spring Sickness. Daeron II’s grandson, Prince Daeron, died of a pox. Numerous Targaryen infants have died in infancy, one can presume of illness in many cases, as that was the main cause of infant mortality.

  4. Sansa’s arc really isn’t living up to all that was promised. I know the traumatic wedding night scene is next week, and I’m really not looking forward to the rape of Sansa Stark. Nothing about this storyline ever made sense and next week it will really demonstrate how much of a victim she is and the lack of empowerment this storyline brings. Hopefully, the backlash will be so great that D and D will have to change up their creative department for next season and bring in at least a few women writers and women directors. They had no women at all working on the writing or directing for season 5.

    I will say that I was glad Sansa said that line about Winterfell being her home and the people were what was strange. I am glad she let it be known that she is the true Stark. However, it really didn’t make sense for her to be so openly hostile when she’s supposed to be using her courtesy as armor. She doesn’t seem to be hiding her true feelings very well, which is understandable, but how will this help her in the end?

  5. I think giving Sansa the “This is my home. It’s the people who are strange” line didn’t work well. It is the kind of line that feels good to say, and gives Sansa (and us) gratification for the next ten seconds, but is harmful in the long term. I thought that even if Sansa isn’t actively plotting against the Boltons, she would at least be using her courtesy armor. Instead, she is openly showing her dislike, which does nothing to strengthen her position.

    Sansa trusting Myranda and going to the dog’s cells didn’t make much sense. When Myranda approached her, Sansa appeared reserved, and I thought this meant Sansa recognizes a liar. And a moment later she walks into something that could have easily cost her her life.

    I liked the rest of the episode even if it was mostly predictable for book readers. It was interesting Dany starting burning people alive right after Barristan died – it was the thing he was cautioning her against. I have to question her decision to feed the master to the dragons. As far as we know, Drogon is the only one of the dragons who had tried human flesh. Is showing them the taste a good idea?

    When Dany was talking about how a mother may discipline her children but never gives up on them, I expected her to conclude with saying that the masters, as citizens of Meereen, are also her children now, and while she is disciplining them at the moment, she won’t give up on them. What we saw instead worked better with the future developments. I liked that it was Dany who made the decision to marry Hisdahr, instead of being slowly pressured into it like in the books. The way it’s done on the show, it almost seems like a good idea. Still, I feel bad for Hizdahr – he is clearly terrified and doesn’t want the marriage.

    The scenes at the Wall were great, and I love Shireen. Melisandre obviously wants to sacrifice her, and her mother seems on board, but I hope it won’t come to that.

    Loved seeing Valyria! The poem was great too. I found it a bit strange that when Tyrion was so desperate to get Jorah to talk to him to pass the time, he never tried with “I knew your father”. That would have probably worked to get Jorah’s attention. Still, it was nice to see them start to develop some understanding and respect for each other, starting perhaps with the poem and cementing it with the near-death experience.

    (By the way, you might want to double-check your formatting. It looks like you accidentally pasted a paragraph about Tyrion in the middle of the first sentence in the “Daenerys and Meereen” section.)

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