On August 1st 1996, George R.R. Martin released A Game of Thrones, the inaugural installment of his A Song of Ice and Fire epic. Martin conjured a fantasy world that was both familiar on the surface and subversive between the lines. But even with its massive ensemble of characters, exotic locales, and unexpected twists, one thing seemed certain even then: Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen were on a collision course for the endgame.
Almost exactly 21 years later, Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen do finally cross paths in “The Queen’s Justice,” the third episode of Game of Thrones seventh season. Since the early parts of the first season, two lost Targaryens had been scattered to opposite ends of the world, inhabiting the world of ice and the world of fire separately. But these two worlds were always meant to intersect, if not for the titular Song then at least for the compatibility of an ice-zombie problem and a dragon solution.
Make no mistake, this is real end game material. Jon and Daenerys have been on their own hero’s journeys, a constant cycle of struggle and victory, often at great moral cost. Too, it’s easy to forget that they are still children in respects, forced into impossible situations at incredibly young ages. And so, with years of hype, clear end-game implications, and narrative catharsis afoot, how did their meeting go? Well…it’s complicated.
Credit where due, it would be easy for a scene of this magnitude to fall into fan service, with either flirtatious overtones or an immediate allegiance. Instead, writers (and showrunners) David Benioff and D.B. Weiss gives these scenes the necessary gravity and complexity befitting the character’s journeys and family histories. There are no straightforward alliances where Daenerys’s father the Mad King burned Jon’s family, or Jon’s “father” having deposed said king. For Daenerys, there’s little reason to put faith in stories of White Walkers and Night Kings; even a mother of dragons would look askance at this boy crowing about the army of the dead.
Jon, too, has every reason for hesitation. Though her dragons were proven to be real (and spectacular), Daenerys and her war to the south is nothing but foolishness to him. At best, every dead soldier is one fewer to fight the White Walkers; at worst, they end up additions to his army. Jon even hints that Cersei may need to be part of the War for the Dawn. And he rightfully scoffs at Daenerys suggesting that he forgive the crimes of her father but honor oaths to House Targaryen given 300 years ago.
Enter Tyrion Lannister, Hand to Queen Daenerys but also former traveling companion to Jon Snow. Jon and Tyrion’s reacquaintance was equal parts humor and warmth, with both initially presenting cold invectives before coming together (not unlike Robert Baratheon and Ned Stark from the pilot). The Dwarf of Casterly Rock finds himself caught between two young leaders he admires, though he’s only sworn fealty to one. While Tyrion may have been quick to dismiss “grumpkins and snarks,” he’s too clever to ignore the testimonies of Jon, or the Old Bear Jeor Mormont before him.
Tyrion deserves some flak for his war council, but his savvy for interpersonal relationships comes through in spades. Jon and Dany could make for a powerful alliance, one that can both fend off Cersei to the south and the dead to the north. And two noble leaders, with an eye for justice and equality, could portend a future for Westeros previously thought unimaginable. Instead of focusing on their disparate causes, Tyrion focuses on incrementalism. In the near term, allowing Jon to mine the dragonglass on Dragonstone may be the olive branch necessary to bring House Targaryen and House Stark together.
Tyrion works with each ruler separately, and lo and behold, Jon and Dany’s interaction thereafter on the cliffs of Dragonstone goes much smoother (though still fraught with tension). Removed from thrones and advisors and decorum, Dany and Jon can have a more intimate, and more human, conversation.
Dany agrees to give Jon the dragonglass; a useless resource for her own wars to come, and if this King in the North speaks true, then the dragon queen has provided the northern kingdom with an invaluable weapon against the Night King and his ilk, something that may be a useful negotiating point down the line. But maybe more importantly, these two rulers sized each other up, and laid to bed any notion that they are each other’s enemies.
Taking a step back, it’s also worth acknowledging that this is some of the best work from Emilia Clarke and, especially, Kit Harington. Dany plays the aloof queen well, and Clarke does a great job of showing incredulity at Jon’s claims of a zombie army while scolding him for not observing Westerosi customs. In their later interaction, she softens (in part due to Tyrion) and we get to see a more conflicted Daenerys who is struggling between taking the throne she craves and contextualizing this news of a threat to the north.
Harington, on the other hand, gets to play up his anger and frustration. Jon acknowledges himself that he sounds like a loon, and that this talk of White Walkers seem more like the ravings of a mad man. He’s consternated he can’t convey the threat meaningfully, frustrated that others scoff at him, and angry that he can’t return home to his kingdom and people. But in between these low points, Harington’s Snow still finds smaller, warmer moments with Tyrion and Dany, showcasing the good man underneath northern crown. This range in performance portends well for the climax of this series, to which Jon Snow will no doubt be integral.
Ultimately, the Jon/Daenerys interaction speaks to the core conceit of Game of Thrones; whether humanity can put aside its petty squabbles in the face of existential doom. To that end, progress was made by the King in the North and the proclaimed Queen of Westeros. Even Melisandre marks her job done in bringing “ice and fire” together, calling back to the book series title. Audiences have been waiting many years for Jon and Daenerys to meet, and their initial meetings glimmers with the slightest hope that Westeros can survive the Long Night.
The Queen of Thorns
Pour one out for Lady Olenna Tyrell, the Queen of Thorns, who unfortunately bears witness to the decimation of her entire house. What began with Cersei’s murder of her son and grandchildren ends with Jaime’s siege of Highgarden, ending House Tyrell’s control of the Reach that began when Aegon the Conqueror arrived in Westeros 300 years ago. To the chagrin of Olenna, this second coming of House Targaryen did not bear fruit as it did previously.
Lady Olenna, played by the majestic Dame Diana Rigg, has been one of the brightest spots in a brilliant cast. From her first appearance, she was insightful and cunning. She had a feel for the game and the men who think they run it, being able to play them off each other publicly while also capable of scheming behind their backs. Lady Olenna had no problem disarming “clever” men like Varys or Tywin Lannister, and she herself poisoned the chalice that would end the tyranny of King Joffrey.
Thus, it’s exceedingly appropriate to pit Olenna against Jaime Lannister in her final scene. The Kingslayer is quite proud of himself; he outmaneuvered Dany’s far superior army, took a major castle with important vassals and the richest lands, and has shored up loyalty in the region closest to King’s Landing. He’s literally glowing as he walks into Olenna’s solar to offer the final terms.
But it is Olenna who ends up having the last laugh, even in defeat. Jaime, much like with Edmure last season, initially comes off as diplomatic, even charitable. He wants Olenna to know he’s doing this for the realm, and he’s offering her a painless death instead of a far crueler one Cersei would prefer. It almost comes off as Jaime wanting Olenna to acknowledge his honor and decency in this, honor and decency that’s severely in question when allied with Queen Cersei.
But Olenna gives the Kingslayer no satisfaction. She quickly embibes the poisoned wine Jaime offers her, so that she can deliver her final blow without Jaime subjecting her to Cersei’s wjims. In her dying breaths, the Queen of Thorns admits the prickly truth: that she murdered Joffrey on his wedding day, that she caused Jaime’s son to choke and die in his arms. Not only did she hinder the dynastic hopes of House Lannister, she proved Jaime incapable of performing the one job he was given. It’s a neutering, helpless moment for Jaime Lannister on the heels of triumph. And for Olenna, and Rigg, it’s a fantastic ending to one of the most vibrant and endearing roles on Game of Thrones.
A Couple Extra Ravens
- For the third week in a row, Euron Greyjoy (Pilou Asbaek) remains a delight every minute he is on camera. While his performance borders on camp, it’s a level of gusto and charisma that’s both appropriate for Euron and a good balance against the grim, dark aspects that occasionally overwhelm the show.
- I love when Game of Thrones (or anything, really) goes gnarly and “metal af.” And Cersei’s torture of Ellaria and Tyene Sand does exactly that. It was an incredibly tense, demoralizing scene that isn’t outwardly hard to watch, but the pain in Ellaria’s eyes (both at her daughter’s fate and seeing the Mountain “alive”) is heartbreaking. A wonderful moment for Indira Varma, and a sad one as Game of Thrones definitely did not use its Dornish cast to its full potential.
Additionally, Ellaria helplessly having to watch her daughter die is a page right out of Mad King Aerys’s book; in fact, he performed a very similar execution for Jon’s grandfather and uncle, which has been alluded to several times already this season. My theory: coupled with Cersei’s wildfire destruction of the Sept, Jaime may realize that Cersei is every bit a Mad Queen in her own right. Will he become a Queenslayer too?
- Bran Stark is going through his angsty, teenage years I guess. His reunion with Sansa was a lot colder than I expected, but Bran has gone under some transcendental change that the show has yet to explore. This might be the story thread I’m most interested in seeing where it goes. Sophie Turner’s work as Sansa in this episode is also the best she has done this season, and Sansa as the Lady of Winterfell is a glove that fits perfectly.
- I thoroughly enjoyed the last ten minutes depicting the falls of Casterly Rock and Highgarden (though I will bemoan neither appearing during the title sequence). Tyrion’s narration over the Unsullied siege had its own twist and turns; he built up the Lannister forces before finally revealing his plan to siege Casterly Rock by the sewers (which itself is a callback to the Unsullied taking Meereen).
But then this is subverted when Grey Worm realizes that the bulk of Lannister men had marched elsewhere, and the ships that delivered the Unsullied to the Westerlands had been smashed by Euron’s fleet. This was a great coming together of narrative technique and misdirection, doing something new for Game of Thrones in the process.
- I know many bemoan the lack of large scale battles in the sieges this episode, but personally, if given a choice between big battles with extras or focusing on quieter character moments like that between Olenna and Jaime, I will take the latter every time.
To that end, Jaime crediting his strategy to mistakes he’d made against Robb Stark was a nice callback. He’s no longer the green commander he was during the War of the Five Kings, and has proven himself an exceedingly capable leader of the Lannister army.
And the rains weep o’er their halls…