Daenerys Targaryen and Jon Snow, in the same room at last. After seven seasons of build up, it’s hard to see how Game of Thrones could’ve possibly delivered on the hype. But “The Queen’s Justice” played it about as well as it could be played, I think.
Jon and Dany were both dragging years of bitter experience and hard responsibilities into that room with them, so it’s no surprise they didn’t exactly turn out to be what the other expected. To anyone who hasn’t seen what Jon’s seen, his story about the White Walkers and the looming army of the dead does admittedly sound nuts — as Tyrion points out to him. At the same time, Dany initially approaches their negotiation like a rigid imperialist, momentarily forgetting that titles and lines of ascension are no substitute for actual trust between two people. (You also have to assume that at some point she and Jon are both going to figure out that Dany is not, in fact, the last Targaryen.)
Much of what made the scene so great was the dialogue: The friendly banter between Jon and Tyrion after so many years apart, and the endearingly gruff way Davos Seaworth tried to match Tyrion in listing off titles. In fact, I’d say the dialogue throughout “The Queen’s Justice” was some of the best David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have written — brimming with turns, ripostes, and thematic mirroring. Ultimately, it was Tyrion and Davos who stepped in to remind their leaders of their own best selves — and to explain that best self to the other leader. Jon can’t expect Dany to buy his tale of the White Walkers at first blush and without evidence, while it costs Dany nothing to let Jon mine the dragonglass on the island as a show of good faith. And they both need allies, even more so once Varys informed Dany that Euron Greyjoy had sacked half their Ironborn fleet and taken Yara, Ellaria and Ellaria’s daughter hostage.
No one ever successfully rules on their own. The weight of responsibility is too great, and our human flaws inevitably undo us all. No doubt many fans were cheering last night during Dany’s fire-breathing speech to Jon about the horrors she’s endured and her faith in herself. But it also hints at the tragic way all our virtues can become vices; that we can become lost in our own mythos. It’s up to the people we trust to help us rule, to correct us and speak hard truths and bring us back to the path. And both Jon and Dany have chosen their friends well.
Yet there’s also Cersei, whose friends are almost all sycophants and psychopaths, even as she proves to be a far more capable foe than anyone would’ve guessed. She’s now outsmarted Tyrion and Dany twice in the course of two episodes: First by destroying the portion of the Ironborn fleet headed for King’s Landing, and now by destroying the other half headed for Casterly Rock.
It was thrilling to hear Tyrion narrate how his father stuck him with the job of designing Casterly Rock’s sewers, and how he built himself a secret passage in and out of the castle to help with his sexual trysts. And how that was now going to let Grey Worm and the Unsullied end the siege quickly. But then it all went south, as it became clear Cersei had head-faked them by sacrificing Casterly Rock and sending Jaime to attack Highgarden with the bulk of the Lannister army. (Though that raises the question: How the hell did Cersei know everything Dany’s forces were up to, and when and where they were?)
But no one got the tables turned on them by Cersei more brutally than Ellaria and her daughter Tyene, the last surviving Sandsnake. To be honest, I was expecting Cersei to unleash the now-undead Mountain on them, same as she did with Septa Unella. But kissing Tyene with the very same lipstick poison that Ellaria used to murder Cersei’s own daughter, Myrcella, showed a new level of twisted poetry on Cersei’s part. That she did it while Ellaria and Tyene were chained together in a dungeon, mere feet out of each other’s reach, only added to the ghastly artistry. You’re going to stay here until you watch Tyene rot, Cersei effectively informed her captive.
Props to both Indira Varma as Ellaria and Lena Headey as Cersei for their work this episode. Varma’s silent and gagged performance during the whole poisoning scene was by far the most powerful moment she’s turned in on the show. And did you see Cersei almost trembling with joy as Euron tossed Ellaria and Tyene at her feet?
Things turned out better for some of the other characters. Sansa is proving herself a sharp and capable leader at Winterfell. (Tyrion: “Your sister is smarter than she lets on.” Jon: “She’s beginning to let on.” Best line of the night.) I’d feel better if Sansa just slit Littlefinger’s throat and had done with it. She can’t, of course — she needs his army. But the man is poison, even if his “fight every battle everywhere” advice is sound.
We also finally got another Stark reunion! This time between Sansa and Bran. Though the latter’s role as the prophetic and visionary Three-Eyed Raven has taken him so far afield from the lives of mere mortals he’s scarcely recognizable anymore. (Sansa and Jon reuniting with Arya. That’s what I’m looking forward to.)
The most touching moment from “The Queen’s Justice” was undoubtedly Sam and Jorah’s handshake. It was an open and generous gesture on Sam’s part — simply the act of physically touching a man who’d been infectious for so long. But it was seeing how Jorah clasped the hand back, and how deeply moved the usually gruff warrior was, that really did me in. I hope, as Sam does, that their paths cross again. My only regret is the show wasn’t able to flesh out Sam’s quest to cure Jorah with more screen time.
That brings us finally to Olenna, Queen of Thorns, and ruler of the now-conquered Highgarden. Things did not turn out better for her, exactly. After outsmarting so many rivals, she was finally beaten by Cersei, the very woman Olenna regards as “a disease.” And she showed an unusual moment of humanity, asking Jaime if there’d be pain from the poison he offered.
But true to form, Olenna did get one last cut in. It’s been so long since she revealed to Margaery that she was the one who poisoned Joffrey, way back in season 3, that I’d forgotten Jaime and Cersei still think Tyrion did it. That Olenna was genuinely shocked at how painful the poison was, and really did try to make Joffery’s death merciful, only made the reveal that more terrible. The look on Jaime’s face was equal parts rage, disbelief, guilt, and the gnawing realization they’re all bloody-handed peas in a pod. None of them have any standing to judge any of the others. But Cersei’s found freedom in her will-to-power, and Olenna long ago accepted her own sins as the price of good rulership. Jaime is the only one who’s where he is because he doesn’t know how to be anywhere else.
It’s a tragic situation, especially after his long friendship with Brienne. And Jaime’s self-loathing was brutally apparent.
The Queen of Thorns may be no more. But even in defeat, she went out out on her own terms.