There are two kinds of great episodes of Game of Thrones. In one, the plot largely follows one group of characters around in a kind of big budget epic version of a bottle episode—think "Hardhome," "Blackwater," and "The Lion and the Rose" (better known, probably, as the episode that finally killed off Joffrey). "The Rains of Castamere"—the episode with the Red Wedding—also largely focused on its big, tragic conclusion, still probably the most stunning moment of the series. "Book of the Stranger," though, had the rare distinction of being a more typical episode of Game of Thrones that jumped around several different locations and somehow managed to have excellent scenes from beginning to end. Warning: spoilers for last night's Game of Thrones ahead.
The biggest moment: Holy f*ck, Daenerys.
I have long been a defender of Daenerys's plot in both the show and the books—where some people are wondering why she hasn't just invaded Westeros yet, I see an intelligently written struggle between Dany's conscience and her ability to rule—but even I have to admit that seeing the Mother of Dragons unite the khalasars, free the Dosh Khaleen, and kill every Khal in one fell swoop was exhilarating. What's more, she did it all without the use of a dragon, simply relying on a few locked doors and overturned lanterns to burn the Khals while emerging from the flames unburnt (in the books, it isn't clear if Daenerys is actually fireproof or if being unharmed in the flames that birthed her dragons was a one-time-only thing; obviously the show has made up its mind).
I could continue to gush about this scene, but instead, let me just give some info to the pervs out there: apparently Emilia Clarke didn't use a body double for her nude scene at the end. No wonder everyone bowed down. It made me want to go to the gym.
Something good happened to a couple of Starks you guys!
Of course, there was possibly an even better moment on the show, if a slightly less flame-filled one. I'm talking, of course, about Tormund having the hots for Brienne.
Kidding. I'm talking about Jon and Sansa reuniting.
I say "reuniting" even though, according to the show's creators, Sansa and Jon had never had a scene together prior to this on the show, despite being half-siblings who grew up together. Still, it's okay if you cried during those scenes, or in the scenes that followed, in which Sansa took charge in a way we've never seen from her before. In one scene, she even tells Jon that if he doesn't lead an army to recapture Winterfell, she will do it herself!
With Sansa and Jon now aware that Rickon and Bran are alive, Sansa no longer has any legitimacy to ruling the North as Lady and Wardeness, but in these scenes you can still see the political cunning that Littlefinger helped instill in her when it was assumed that she was the only Stark alive (she correctly notes, for instance, that she and Jon will never be safe as long as a Bolton sits in Winterfell). Now, Rickon and Bran would need to die before she would be in line for the seat, which, you know, I obviously don't hope for (though, um, good luck hanging out with Ramsay, Rickon). But I do hope that she gets to put her emerging political prowess to use somewhere.
Also, I hope Tormund and Brienne f*ck.
The Civil War, in Essos:
The Stark reunion and Dany's massacre were the biggest moments of the episode, but every other scene also just seemed to click. There was a real intelligence and honesty in the dialogue that even I, the world's biggest Game of Thrones fan, have to admit isn't always there every week as the show tries to condense absurdly complicated political considerations into five minute scenes.
But this week! I loved how nuanced the negotiations in Meereen were—the episode took its time showing how both Tyrion and the faction of Grey Worm and Missandei had valid points, and how there was no easy way forward. According to the post-show interview with creators David Benioff and D. B. Weiss, who wrote the episode, it was inspired in part by Lincoln's cautiousness toward dealing with slavery during the American Civil War. The extra bit of nuance showed, and was appreciated.
Nice little moments:
Dolorous Edd, whom Jon has unofficially declared the new Lord Commander of the Night's Watch, is really getting some screen time this season, isn't he? I only wish they could retroactively give him more lines in previous seasons. But who knew he'd be so important?
Yara and Theon reuniting was wonderful. The Iron Islands plot has been a million times better than the Dorne plot from last season. I suppose it helps when you actually follow the plot from the books, as the Iron Islands plot this season is (mostly) doing. Good luck to Yara in the Kingsmoot next week, even though I think I already know the outcome because I'm a book reader. And for my fellow book readers, here's my suspicion: Theon will be playing the part of Victarion in the drama that unfolds. As always, I'm probably wrong.
Reunited siblings #3: Margaery and Loras. I'm sensing a theme!
The episode is called "The Door." Interestingly, I've noticed lots of doors throughout this show, most of them attached to rooms. So it could be an important episode!