‘Game Of Thrones’ Recap: Rise Of The Sidekicks

All hail Bronn.

Game of Thrones

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This is a recap of Game of Thrones. Spoilers!

In history and in fiction, kings and nobles are the people whose political goals and inner lives we’re invited to care about. So it’s easy to focus on the leaders of Game of Thrones, at the expense of those in their orbit. Not in this episode.

There was something lovely about seeing Brienne finally accept “my lady” from her well-meaning, long-suffering squire Podrick. And if Bronn’s reappearance last episode got you excited, there was so much more saltiness to enjoy this week: laughing at Dickon Tarly’s name to the guy’s face, or grumbling about getting a fancy castle.

Conventional Westerosi allegiances can involve fealty to the crown, which is why the Tarlys betrayed their ancient alliance with House Tyrell; or a sellsword’s materialism, which is why Bronn follows the Lannisters. They can be regional and ancestral, which is why the northern houses follow Jon, why Jon’s so enraged to see the turncloak Theon Greyjoy again, and why Jon still won’t bend the knee to Daenerys — a reluctance she dismisses as “pride”.

People can share a religious conviction, like the Sparrows, or the Brotherhood without Banners. They can be totally off among the trees, like The Artist Formerly Known As Bran. Or, like Littlefinger, they can have no true loyalty to anyone but themselves.

As an aside: Cersei tells the Iron Banker this week that Qyburn is soliciting aid from the Golden Company — the most expensive and notorious sellsword militia in Essos. Founded by Targaryen bastard Aegor ‘Bittersteel’ Rivers (brother and archrival of Brynden ‘Bloodraven’ Rivers, who trained Bran to be the Three-Eyed Raven), they boast that they never break a contract. It’ll be super interesting to see where their loyalties lie.

Despite his mercenary antics, Bronn passes a time-honoured moral test when he ignores his spilled Tyrell gold during the Barbecue of Blackwater Rush. Earlier, Bronn’s the only one who notices Jaime’s shit mood, correctly guessing his friend is still stung by the Queen of Thorns’ final barb.

He’s also magnificent when firing Qyburn’s anti-dragon ballista — I found myself hoping desperately that Daenerys wouldn’t flash-fry him — and then finally, heroically, he saves Jaime from an injured Drogon’s fury by pushing him into the Blackwater. (It’s also an echo of how Podrick saved Tyrion’s life at the first Battle of the Blackwater.)

I also found myself rejoicing fiercely in Daenerys’s righteous destruction of the Lannisters’ spoils from Highgarden and its surrounds — although, annoyingly, the gold wagon got through to repay the Iron Bank. It’s a good political compromise for Dany, who’s found a path between Tyrion’s traditional warcraft, Jon’s warning that she mustn’t repeat old mistakes, and her own ‘burn ’em all’ instinct. She’s demonstrated her true force, but has minimised collateral damage — instead, her actions can be interpreted as punishing the Lannisters for looting.

But as Tyrion stands on the ridge, gazing at the slaughter in dismay and muttering “You fucking idiot!” as Jaime jousts his way towards a distracted Daenerys, is he talking about Jaime, Dany, or himself?

Meanwhile on Dragonstone, Missandei graciously lets Ser Davos know why it’s so awkward that he keeps bringing up her island home of Narth. She also explains that what seems to Jon and Davos like a servant’s loyalty is her personal choice. Freedom of association is a helluva drug to a former slave.

In one of the loveliest, most human moments of the episode, Missandei is teasing some juicy Grey Worm gossip with Daenerys when their girl talk is cut short by Jon ‘Cave of Forgotten Dreams’ Snow.

Ser Davos: “Is that a Jon+Daenerys ship?” ;)

Am I cynical to think Jon could totally have gone down to the caves beforehand and chiselled in the ‘Children of the Forest’s depictions of the Night King and White Walkers? Except that trickery has never been Jon’s way. Remember how bad he felt when he had to infiltrate the Free Folk by killing legendary ranger Qhorin Halfhand?

Which reminds me — this isn’t the first time Jon’s been up close and personal with a fiery lady in a cave. Poor Ygritte.

Now that we know — thanks to Bran’s vision at the Tower of Joy — that Daenerys is Jon’s aunt, their close encounter in the cave has added fresh fuel to the long-running fan theory that Jon and Dany will hook up. Jon seems to do his best spadework in caves — and his best cavework in spades — as he introduces Dany to a collaborative vision of Westerosi history. Something similarly collaborative begins to ignite between them, like fire on a torch.

Some viewers feel squicky about this incestuous prospect. The Targaryen tradition of royal incest is Game of Thrones’ homage to real-life royal family trees that have looked like bowls of spaghetti, from ancient Egypt to the Spanish Habsburgs. The show has strongly implied that royal inbreeding produced Dany’s mad dad, King Aerys… The skulls of Targaryen dragons even appeared small and weak over centuries of Westerosi inbreeding when we saw Qyburn testing the anti-dragon ballista in the Red Keep crypt in episode two of this season.

But the show’s ‘ice and fire’ mythos requires a bond between Jon and Daenerys — if not sexual or romantic, at least a political and military alliance. Remember how in season two, Daenerys entered the House of the Undying in Qarth in search of her stolen baby dragons, where she saw visions of a destroyed, wintry Iron Throne room, and stepped beyond the Wall to be tempted by a dream of a lost future with Khal Drogo and their son?

In the books, her vision is more elaborate — like Bran on a greenseeing tour, she sees vignettes from her family’s past, as well as her old home in Braavos, and the then-future Red Wedding. Importantly, she sees her brother Rhaegar holding a baby he says is “the prince that was promised”. Noticing Dany, Rhaegar adds, “There must be one more,” and “The dragon has three heads.”

If — as many fans believe — Dany and Jon are destined to ride dragons into battle with the Night King, who will ride the third? Could it be longtime dragon nerd Tyrion? Could one dragon be killed and ridden by the Night King himself? (Ice-breathing dragons!!) And this is an especially wild idea, but could Bran warg into a dragon?

Speaking of Bran, this episode he treated the magnificent Meera Reed, his loyal protector, with brutal coldness. Dude! When a girl says, “You don’t need me anymore,” you’re meant to say, “Yes I do!” not “No. I don’t.” I hope this isn’t the last we’ve seen of Meera, and that when we next meet her, it’ll be with her legendary father Howland: the only living witness to Jon’s birth.

Meera says that Bran “died in that cave”, so who then is this cuckoo wheeling himself around the Stark nest? Given that Ex-Bran knows everyone’s secrets, from Arya’s kill list to Littlefinger’s chaos ladder theory, why did he really give Arya that Valyrian steel dagger — the same one, remember, that Sam and Gilly saw in that book? Why did Arya demonstrate the dagger’s usefulness with such verve in her drill with an astounded, outmatched Brienne?

Sansa stalks off the balcony when she sees her sister put a knife to the throat of her protector, but Littlefinger seems more admiring than perturbed. There’s a fan theory that ‘Arya’ isn’t even the true youngest Stark daughter, but a Faceless assassin, trained by no one — but if so, who’s her target? Watch this face…

Game of Thrones is streaming on Foxtel Now and airing on Showcase at 11am and 8.30pm every Monday.

Mel Campbell is a freelance journalist and cultural critic. She tweets at @incrediblemelk.