And with that, we pour out a nice Dornish red for Lady Olenna of the House Tyrell, Killer of Joffreys, Acid of Tongues, Wearer of Head Poofs, and First in Your Fantasy Ride-or-Die Squad. In the final scene of “The Queen’s Justice,” Jaime and the Lannister army make quick work of the forces at Highgarden, but we’re never shown any of the battle because, really, what special effects can compare with Diana Rigg just sitting there in a chair? With her weaponized eyebrows and sniperlike timing, Olenna doesn’t need Valyrian steel to slay.
Jaime comes to Highgarden’s lovely tower to deliver personally to Olenna, his former ally, a genteel kind of death: a poison that he made sure would send her off painlessly. Olenna downs it with an unsentimental quickness, then returns his softness with a knife, confessing that it was she who had Joffrey poisoned the day he wed her granddaughter Margaery. She commands Jaime to tell Cersei, because “I want her to know it was me.” You can see a little lump rise in Nikolaj Coster-Waldau’s throat, but even the Kingslayer can’t come back from a deadly Olenna parry, so he just hurries out of the room to the ironic strains of “Rains of Castamere.” (Remember, it was the belief that Tyrion murdered Joffrey that finally drove the Lannister siblings apart.)
No one can make dialogue bend, snap, and menace the way Diana Rigg can, though most of the major characters tried in this week’s episode, to varying levels of success. For an hour that brought about several other long-awaited meetings — Fire and Ice coming together in the form of Daenerys and Jon, two more Stark children reuniting, and Cersei exacting revenge on her daughter’s killer — “The Queen’s Justice” was a weirdly talky hour, with nearly every scene playing at the same level of simmer. Whether it’s the effect of being one of those mid-season, throat-clearing episodes, or Game of Thrones trying to subvert expectations by downplaying the drama, I found the hour a little damp and mumbly.
Sometimes, I halfway appreciated the chattiness because it meant we were spared the vision of something more violent. When Euron led Yara, Ellaria, and Ellaria’s last surviving daughter Tyene down the streets of King’s Landing, I cringed. (And not just at Euron telling his niece that the rapturous reception was “making him hard,” or later, when he asked Jaime if Cersei liked “a finger up the bum.” Cool it, Goth Pacey, we get it, you have a moustache and like to use dirty talk as a power play.) At that moment, I worried that we would be treated to a classic bit of Game of Thrones gore, but instead we got … a long monologue. As Cersei descends further into Mad Queen territory, she’s getting a bit Boris-and-Natasha, as my friend put it. Some of her richness and complexity has been filed away: Even her long-established love of her children feels more like a talking point now than something that actually moves her. But I liked the bloodless, almost Greek fate she deals the Dornish women. Say what you will about her, Cersei has a touch for the gruesomely poetic. As mother and daughter are chained opposite one another in a cell, Cersei deals Tyene a poisoned kiss in return for the one Ellaria once gave Myrcella. Ellaria’s fate is to watch Tyene die and then rot slowly in front of her — and the shot of the two women, running toward each other but held back by their chains, is a striking bit of choreography.
In the most anticipated meeting of the season and perhaps the entire series, Jon and Davos show up at Dragonstone (using the show’s newly discovered ludicrous-speed drive). Daenerys expects Jon to kneel, just as everyone at home expects the two of them to embark on some sweet, inadvertently incestual loving. Personally, I didn’t detect too many romantic sparks. (If it’s gross to want to see Daenerys and Jon together, is it even grosser to watch that scene and find yourself wishing Sansa was in the mix?) But I liked the flinty way the two leaders’ styles rubbed up against each other, particularly the way Emilia Clarke’s regal stiffness brings out something twitchy and interesting in Kit Harington. There’s a funny bit at the beginning of their meeting when Missandei introduces Daenerys — sitting with excellent posture on her massive Dragonstone throne — with the mile-long litany of her titles, and Davos responds, “This is Jon Snow. [Pause.] He’s King in the North.”
Daenerys’s will to power is tempered by her desire to be just, but that justice isn’t what drives her. As she repeatedly mentions, she believes she deserves the Iron Throne because she was born to it. The trials she’s undergone only confirm what was always already true: that she is the rightful queen of the Seven Kingdoms. Jon, however, has never expected or wanted the trappings of rule, and wears the mantle as itchily as a great wolfskin. There’s a version of the show in which you could imagine how this would make Jon an even more legitimate (and potentially modern-minded) monarch because he only wants power in order to serve and save the people. But of course, Jon also has the rightness of blood behind him, even if he doesn’t know it yet.
We presumably won’t know where GOT ultimately lands on the royal nature versus nurture question until season eight, but I imagine we’ll see Dany and Jon hitting the books (and the furs?) together in coming episodes as he sticks around to mine all that dragonglass and send it back North. Here’s hoping they write away for some correspondence courses on military strategy, too. Jon nearly got his entire army killed in the Battle of the Bastards, and now the main pillars of Daenerys and Tyrion’s grand plans have crumbled: Last week, Yara and Ellaria were captured and their fleet destroyed. In this episode, the Unsullied win a victory at Casterly Rock that turns out to be a Pyrrhic one. The bulk of the Lannister army marched down to Highgarden, so Grey Worm and his men have captured nothing but a mostly empty castle with a fast-dwindling food supply.
In the final momentous meeting of the episode, Sansa — who’s proving herself to be a capable leader, making good decisions about long-term grain storage and breastplate design and whatnot — has an emotional reunion with her other surviving brother, Bran. Well, emotional on one side, anyway. I loved the way Sophie Turner clambered up on top of that wagon to embrace her brother, and the way it exposed something of the young girl under the new steely armor she wears. Bran, on the other hand, is either still traumatized by having caught Hodor in a brain-frying time loop or doing his best Max Von Sydow impression, because he is about as expressive as that heart tree he and Sansa sit under. Perhaps understandably, for two characters who last knew each other as children and have each undergone so much since, they fumble to reconnect. Bran can’t even explain what, exactly, it means that he is now the Three-Eyed Raven. Is it out of a strange desire to reach Sansa, perhaps, that Bran’s makes the creepy suggestion that he witnessed his sister’s wedding night rape? Is Bran so removed from humanity at this point that he thinks it would be comforting to tell her how pretty she looked in her “white dress,” so pointedly different from the black cloak she wears now?
Let’s hope the news Bran bears for his brother will be less discomfiting. He may even be able to help Jon plot a better course of military action — after all, immediately after Littlefinger tells Sansa that she needs to live as if “everything is happening all at once,” Bran arrives in Winterfell with the convenient power to view the world in just that way. The big question, of course, is whether Bran will be delivering the news of the King in the North’s true Targaryen parentage. If he does, we’ll talk about it here in a future week. Until then, I’ll just be here brooding.