“Kill the Boy”
“A Targaryean alone in this world is a terrible thing.”
While a seemingly disparate notion, Game of Thrones has been known to give a thematic nod to whatever holiday happens to intersect with it’s broadcast date. This episode looms heavy over notions of power versus legacy, and how these choices one makes are in effect with one another.
“He crossed a continent to serve me,” mourns Daenerys, standing over the corpse of Ser Barristen, ambushed and murdered by The Sons of the Harpy as part of an increasingly violent resistance to her assumed rule over Meereen. A position she had anticipated her being welcomed as a savior, a breaker of chains, as it was both in Astapor and Yunkai.
Instead, the Daenerys who had up until now aligned her response with Ser Barristen’s oft-sympathetic counsel, now reacts with a smirking, cold-hearted severity not seen since her days with the Dothraki. She orders Daario, one of the last of her trusted inner circle, to round up the leaders of Mereen’s great families.
Now, it wouldn’t be a Mother’s Day episode without a trip to the catacombs where two of her three of her dragons are kept in chains and presented with a veritable buffet of Meereen’s high-ranking citizens. All the while Daenerys gives a thoughtful meditation of the importance of motherhood as her dragons burn and dismember select noblemen at her choosing, foregoing any diplomacy she’d attempted prior.
“Kill the boy, Jon Snow. Let the man be born.”
A world away at Castle Black, Maester Aemon speaks to Jon Snow of his great-niece and her rule over Meereen with both fear and cautious pride, narrowing the chasm-sized gaps between the shows numerous storylines. He tells him of his assuredness as to Jon’s ability to not only lead, but to do ‘the right thing’ regarding his upcoming decision.
Jon, in return, shows the same daring strategy coupled with foolish approach that has somehow continued to work for him. Heapproaches Tormund Giantsbane, still a prisoner of Castle Black, with the exact same proposition refused by Mance Raydar. He again pleads on behalf the Free Folk, particularly those who are unable to fight, to come south so they may all unite against the invasion of the White Walkers. He doubles down by calling Tormund a coward when he scoffs at the notion, just before unchaining him.
Jon’s risky proposition pays off, but on the condition he travels with them there and back, assuring it’s not a simple trap. This goes over about as well as you’d expect, as Jon is willing to leverage the legacy of The Nights’ Watch in order to keep the power with the living.
Though the crows’ squabbling does lead to a grammatically observant Stannis muttering a correction under his breath, a direct callback to those eerily calm moments before he laid siege on Blackwater Bay. It’s a moment that’s fondly reminiscent of the levity Game of Thrones is capable of from time to time.
“This is my home. It’s the people who are strange.”
Sansa, back at Winterfell is promised to marry into the family responsible for the murder of both her mother and older brother. However, since her return home, she has been made aware of a Northern allegiance to the now despondent House Stark. It is through this allegiance that Brienne hopes to make good on her oath.
Of course, Sansa’s husband-to-be shares a certain sadistic quality in common with her first betrothed. While her less-than-passive reaction reflects either her overly confident faith in the scheming of Littlefinger, her awareness of her own importance to the Bolton’s maintaining the North, or she is simply out of fucks to give.
Ramsay returns her outspoken defiance by not only parading the broken and mutilated Theon, once ward to her father, but by freely mentioning the (albeit false) notion that he had murdered her two youngest brothers after his failed ‘seige’ of Winterfell. At that point, Ramsay even seems to outdo Joffrey in sheer cruelty by insisting that Theon into their wedding in the same breathe.
Inevitably, Ramsay’s pomposity is undercut by the one man who’s capable of doing so, his father. He interrupts his newly legitimized son’s tirade with the announcement that his own wife, herself remuneration from Walder Frey after the Red Wedding, is pregnant. Later, only in private he seemingly reconciles with his son as he overlooks a map of the North, now littered with markers of the flayed man.
Roose knows of Stannis’ pending invasion, and while humiliating him at the most awkward family dinner imaginable, he exploits Ramsay’s desire for being responsible for ‘a dynasty,’ as he puts it, along with all the power he assumes he’ll inherit along with it.
“It takes courage to admit fear.”
Back in Meereen, Daenerys seeks council with Missandei (but not before her own cornball moment between her and the wounded Grey Worm). She sees herself a ruler without trusted council and unsure of her own ability to rule effectively.
Missandei, who initially disqualifies herself as an eligible source of advice, then speaks only to what she’s seen. In her eyes, Daenerys has proven a competent ruler, one who’s both taken and ignored the advice of her council to make the right decision.
It’s at that moment that Daenerys consolidates her new found power with her family’s long-time legacy. Once more, she then announced her marriage to Hizdahr Zo Loraq, a Meereen nobleman, as a way to consolidate and legitimize her legacy as their Queen.
“You know what they say… the doom still rules Valyria.”
Tacked on to the tail-end of the episode is a less-than-necessary epilogue with Tyrion, a captive of Jorah Mormont, pleading for wine and complaining of rope burn as they meander back to Daenerys. On their path, they travel through the ruins of Valyria, now overgrown and decadent, despite once being the height of their civilization.
As Jorah’s boat floats down the narrow passageway, they see the sight of a dragon flying majestically across the sky. They both gaze in awe, but for Jorah, it’s a symbol of what he’s lost as part of Daenerys’ council. For Tyrion, it’s a much deeper reaction, one of earnest wonder and amazement at the life that’s found in the grim ruins around them.
Of course, immediately after, they’re attacked by Stone Men, a decidedly silly addition to a show of this stature. As Tyrion desperately calls to be freed so as to hold his own in the attack, its purposefully reminiscent of the last time he was bound and ambushed while traveling as Catelyn Stark’s prisoner years earlier.
As they wash ashore, Jorah cuts Tyrion free, and while not relinquishing his status as a hostage, some small talk and a sense of putting their disparaging circumstances occur. While not ineffective, it’s the same dynamic we’ve seen played out first with Jamie and Brienne, then later with Arya and The Hound.
Though this time, the “cliffhanger” ending mindlessly exploits an overused horror movie trope, one that blatantly undercuts what this episode had worked to accomplish in terms of it’s thematic nuance.
As we’re shown the touch of greyscale on Jorah’s arm, we are left with the Game of Thrones equivalent to “I’ve been bit, I’ll surely turn, better not tell the other(s).” Because the show didn’t need any more looming expectations while playing lowest common denominator with the audience or anything.