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Game Of Thrones Recap: Kill The Boy, Wake The Monster

Caught between a stone man and a hard place.

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This is a recap of the most recent episode of Game of Thrones. That means spoilers. 

After the wrenching ending of last week’s episode, this one swiftly resolves the cliffhanger of that Meereen alleyway ambush. Grey Worm lives! (Yay!) Ser Barristan dies! (Sob! He doesn’t even get eye-pebbles, because nobody here knows enough about Westerosi funerary customs to provide them.) This week, we follow only characters in the North and the Far East – a simpler story, wrought in contrasting shades of grey and amber.

It feels as if the season is pausing at the halfway mark for its characters to take stock, before embarking on the wars to come. And they find themselves in unpleasant dilemmas. Whether it’s Jon Snow’s deeply unpopular wildling peace pact, Daenerys’s admission she should open the fighting pits after all, or even Ser Jorah’s costly choice to save Tyrion from the rampaging Stone Men of Valyria, the effects of their unpalatable decisions will reverberate throughout the rest of the season.

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“I fear I never again see Missandei from the isle of Naath.”

Some may find the Grey Worm/Missandei subplot corny, but I like a ship to sail. Knowing her love is requited seems to embolden Missandei to tell Daenerys, in the most diplomatic way, that she’s ignored good advice before, “because there was a better choice – one that only you could see.”

After having terrorised the heads of Meereen’s noble families with a dragon barbecue of maternal feeling – take it, break it, share it, love it – Daenerys decides on a more conciliatory strategy. She’ll reopen the pits… and wed the weaselly Hizdahr zo Loraq.

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Maester Aemon gets an R-mail about his grandniece Daenerys.

Throughout the series, in conversations with both Jon and Sam, old Maester Aemon has exemplified staying the course. After a lifetime’s dutiful service, he must watch Daenerys, his only living relative, floundering alone. Now, Maester Aemon warns that Jon must cultivate the mental toughness to do what must be done, even though there’ll be no joy in it. “Kill the boy, and let the man be born.”

‘The boy’ is also Jon’s protégé Olly, whose village was wiped out by wildlings. Like Dolorous Edd, his loyalty to Jon just can’t encompass allowing the Free Folk to settle in the lands they once raided. In the moment after Olly hears Jon’s lame explanation, something of the boy seems to die in him, and it’s a man who says, coldly, “Will there be anything else you need, Lord Commander?”

At this politically fraught juncture, it seems like a really bad idea for Jon to leave Castle Black on a wildling-rescuing cruise in Stannis’s borrowed ships. Will his black brothers even let him leave?

At least Stannis and Sam have finally got together and brainstormed how to kill White Walkers. Conveniently, the necessary dragonglass is found in abundance at Stannis’s home on Dragonstone! Also, I had to LOL at Stannis the Grammar King of the Andals and the First Men, mutteringly correcting “less” to “fewer”.

As Stannis finally sets off for Winterfell, Roose Bolton knows full well he’s coming. It’s unpleasantness as usual for the north’s worst family. Was Winterfell ever so dreary when the Starks lived here? Well, Sansa would know. The place is familiar; “it’s the people that are strange.”

Remember how unhappy Ramsay Bolton’s girlfriend Myranda was to see his bride-to-be? Turns out he’d promised to marry her, back when he was Ramsay Snow. Even now he wants to keep the kennel master’s daughter on a short leash. And yes, he plans to give Sansa the wedding nightmare Littlefinger failed to anticipate – or, worse, did anticipate and didn’t care about. All this awful talk makes Ramsay and Myranda awfully horny, and we’re treated to some vicious slamming of their pallid, naked bodies.

But Myranda still has her pride. That’s why she deliberately seeks out her rival, just as Sansa is casing the ruined tower from where Bran was pushed in season one, and where faithful Brienne is watching for the candlelight that will spur her to action.

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“Did your mum also teach you to wear a giant belt buckle as a necklace?”

Myranda’s revenge is to show Sansa the shambling horror that was once Theon Greyjoy. Rather than torture Reek physically for allowing himself to be seen, Ramsay cruelly forces him to apologise to Sansa for killing Bran and Rickon. Theon’s remnant dignity fights abject fear as he hesitates to confess to a crime he didn’t commit, but which, for the Stark boys’ safety, he still has to pretend he did.

Compounding the humiliation, Ramsay says Reek must give Sansa away at her wedding, as he’s the closest she has to a relative now. Whatever Sansa thinks of this grotesque mummer’s show, she’s concealing it with chilly distaste.

Like Aunt Lyanna and her mum Catelyn, Sansa wears the traditional Stark garb – grey, with a padded collar like a travel pillow.

Like Aunt Lyanna and her mum Catelyn, Sansa wears the traditional Stark garb: grey, with a padded collar like a travel pillow.

The Boltons’ idea of family is, unsurprisingly, fucked up. Roose throws Ramsay a curveball by announcing his wife Walda is pregnant – via “the usual method”, despite Ramsay’s incredulous fat-shaming. Will this displace Ramsay as heir?

To allay his son’s fears, Roose tells Ramsay the charming story of how he raped Ramsay’s mother beneath the hanged corpse of her bridegroom. Roose has always seemed a civilising influence on Ramsay, his own violence pragmatic rather than sadistic. But the apple didn’t fall far from the tree after all. Hearing Roose say, “You are my son” feels like a grotesque parody of Stannis’s speech to Shireen last week.

This week’s best plotline takes place in old Valyria, its advanced civilisation reduced to a smoking ruin. Ser Jorah doesn’t believe in the pirates’ superstitions about its being haunted, but ever-erudite Tyrion mourns the learning that was lost here. He’s like Westeros’s answer to Shelley as he romantically recites a poem about the Doom, and Ser Jorah joins in – what, did you think he was an ignorant animal?

And as if conjured by poetry, Drogon soars into view.

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Tyrion has spent plenty of gold dragons, but never seen a black one in flight.

Distracted by his size and majesty, they fail to notice the statues coming alive and plopping into the water – it’s the greyscale-addled Stone Men, of whom the past few episodes have warned us. In a scene as tense as last season’s face-off between Bran and the Harryhausen skeletons, Tyrion and Jorah struggle against their attackers, and ultimately lose their boat.

Tyrion didn’t touch the Stone Men. But his abductor wasn’t so lucky: Ser Jorah will never touch his beloved Khaleesi again! Look, he pretty much was never going to anyway, but it’s still tragic.

How fast does the disease progress? Can they make it to Meereen before Ser Jorah gets totally stoned? Will he be healed, like Shireen, or become some kind of reckless suicide bomber to take out Daenerys’s enemies? So many questions…

Game of Thrones airs on Foxtel’s Showcase on Mondays at 11am, with an encore broadcast at 7.30pm on Monday evenings.

Mel Campbell is a freelance journalist and cultural critic. She blogs on style, history and culture at Footpath Zeitgeist and tweets at @incrediblemelk

Read her recaps of last season’s Game of Thrones here