It is fair to presume that right now, Game of Thrones Season 6 is in prime position to becoming the definitive series of HBO’s hit fantasy drama.
Our first three ventures across the Seven Kingdoms have all been truly outstanding, with last week’s “Oathbreaker” (full review here) delivering a final sequence potent enough to rattle us to the very core.
But showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss – who have full creative control of the process in 2016 – are ensuring that each passing episode builds ferociously and fearlessly upon its predecessor; so much so that this week’s episode, “Book of the Stranger”, ranks as one of the show’s most assured to date.
The Title: “Book of the Stranger”
What Does It Mean?
We derive our title this week from a richly compelling conversation between the High Sparrow and Queen Margaery Tyrell who is finally removed from her rotting cell. Temporarily of course…
With his trademark charm and charisma, the leader of the Faith recalls a famous folklore to the wife of King Tommen Baratheon which details the pantheon of Gods which comprise the Faith of the people of Westeros.
In total there are seven: the Father, the Mother, the Maiden, the Crone, the Warrior, the Smith, and the Stranger. The last is an all-consuming symbol of death – a God rarely spoken of, nor acknowledged – and is considered to be the least popular of the seven.
It seems there’s zero coincidence that for he and indeed the Faith Militant who are persevering with their mission to purge King’s Landing of its sin and unjust rule that he proclaims of seven Gods. One for each deadly sin perhaps?
The High Sparrow has an unmistakable aura which makes him seem firmly in control of his surroundings, without resorting to aggressive dictating or violence. His striking intelligence and wit is forever outstepping the competition, and for an episode to reference the God of Death without being overtly obvious is unquestionably reflective of his leadership processes.
If the title is anything to go by, something bitter is en route to the home of the Iron Throne.
Most Shocking Moment:
Arguably the most jaw-dropping sequence in tonight’s episode is the best moment overall, so we are preserving that one for the time being, but there were still plenty of shocks to be found throughout “Book of the Stranger”.
From the off, the mood at Castle Black is sombre. A disheveled, exhausted Jon Snow has proclaimed the climax of his Lord Commander days. Good news needs to arrive at The Wall; positivity to reignite his fiery spirit, and it finally comes.
Lady Sansa Stark, Brienne of Tarth and Podrick ride up and through the gates. Jon Snow breaches his balcony and spots his sister’s red locks. Bewildered and breath-taken, he descents to her and the pair embrace. It is an utterly beautiful, tearjerking moment. The Starks (well, two of them…sort of) are reunited.
In a time where Jon Snow has all but given up the fight, a steely and determined Sansa enters ready to ally and take back what’s rightfully theirs: Winterfell. Newfound Warden of the North Ramsay Bolton has their homeland, and brother Rickon. The remainder of their name has either perished or is scattered across the fringes of the Seven Kingdoms. The Starks are vastly vulnerable and outnumbered, but heck, The North Remembers.
For once it is all rainbows and smiles amongst the frost, so much so that even Tormund Giantsbane is giving Brienne the eye over dinner in truly hilarious fashion, but things quickly return chilly.
A letter arrives for Jon Snow, one branded with the horrifying symbol of the Bolton house; the flayed man. Known as ‘The Pink Letter’ to readers of George R.R. Martin’s source texts, it serves as a grisly warning of the Wars to Come should the leader of the Night’s Watch not cooperate with Ramsay’s requests.
The document mars the beauty of the aforementioned reunion as Ramsay brutally threatens everyone associated with Jon Snow, so much so that he struggles to continue to read loud to his brothers and sister. Sansa confidently takes the letter and proceeds, starting with a line proclaiming her repeated rape and torture. It is spine-chilling stuff which truly amounts the magnitude of not only Ramsay’s play, but the severity of the Stark’s need to pull their kingdom from under his wretched feet.
Remember earlier when we mentioned that the High Sparrow always seems in control of King’s Landing? Well “seems” is the key word. At least for the Lannisters and the Tyrells.
Despite his grandfatherly qualities and accommodating nature, even as far as to let the Queen see her brother Loras who too is imprisoned for his sins (“buggery” as they delightfully call it), the High Sparrow and the Faith Militant are still religious zealots who have monstrously contrasting ideas and outlooks when it comes to justice.
It is this notion that sees Queen Mother Cersei Lannister and brother Jaime do something they really do not want to: seek allegiance with the Queen of Thorns herself, Lady Olenna Tyrell.
Interrupting yet another Small Council meeting, the brother and sister tell Olenna that they have learned of the Faith’s upcoming procedures with Queen Margaery. They intend to replicate the gross treatment Cersei herself suffered and enforce a Walk of Atonement. You can already hear that “Shame” bellringer.
Of course, the Queen of Thorns is having none of this, and when she says “no”, you darn well know she means it. “The enemy of my enemy is my friend” she growls, and that signature Cersei smirks makes a welcomed return home.
The news is broken to the Queen Mother from her poor and naive son who swore to keep his word to the High Sparrow last week. Whilst right now the next move could be dictated from the confines of the Red Keep, who’s to say the King isn’t going to find himself in a similar situation to his extended family…
Best Overall Moment:
“Book of the Stranger” was packed with amazing sequences throughout. The ones previously mentioned (including Tormund and Brienne. Seriously…), Tyrion Lannister’s superb exchanges with the rulers of Slaver’s Bay, Theon Greyjoy’s harrowing and provocative return home (Alfie Allen is a truly incredible actor), plus we finally see beloved and knife-twistingly deceitful Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish rear his head again, but we all know what this week’s crowning moment was, and it took places at Vaes Dothrak.
Daenerys Targaryen has been dealt some cruel cards following her infiltration in the fighting pits of Meereen during the climax of Season 5. We are so used to her overcoming adversity in the most spectacular, empowering ways, that viewing her from the very fringes of control and order is desperately worrying. But that fear has finally taken a back seat. Khaleesi has found her groove again.
Ser Jorah Mormont and Dario Naharis have tracked down their Queen, and have full intentions of freeing her from the clutches of Khal Moro and the Dothraki Bloodriders. They wait until nightfall when the city becomes alive with distractions before they make their move.
Once Dany is within their grasp, it becomes clear that they don’t really have a full-proof extraction plan. Moments prior, Jorah was on the fringes of death having been choked viciously – only saved by Daario’s trusty blade which he was told to leave behind – so it isn’t going to be easy to move the Mother of Dragons around undetected. Thankfully for the loyal but somewhat hapless double act, The Unburnt has her own means of escape.
If you remember rightly, Dany has a rather canny ability: she can withstand an inferno. She has done this previously before on the show, and plays this vital card once again here. The Khals are stationed together in a meeting and soon bickering begins over what they should do with the supposed “Queen”.
Confident, passionate and assured, she responds to the usual aggressive comments positively, so much so that even Khal Moro gets annoyed with his men. But it isn’t soon before Dany grinds his gears, and that’s where the threats arrive. Barking at her that he and his men will take turns raping her, before passing what remains of her body over to their noble horses, our favourite Targaryen simply cracks a wry smile.
“You’re not going to serve me,” she proclaims coolly. “…you’re going to die.” She pushes over the lanterns stationed inside the meeting room and circles as waves of Khals gasp for air and begin to melt. She burns them all to the ground in truly brilliant, brutal fashion.
A few fiery moments later and the doors burst open to reveal a nude yet entirely unscathed Daenerys. The building begins to further topple, but Khaleesi stands strong as the flames roar. The people before here – including Jorah and Daario – take a rightful bow. The Queen is most certainly back, and they don’t call her The Unburnt for nothing.
Commanding, compelling and endlessly enthralling, “Book of the Stranger” is not only the best episode of Season 6 thus far, but potentially among the most spectacular in the show’s history.
The reunion of Jon Snow and Sansa was tear-jerking in its beauty and could not have come at a more appropriate time, whilst the dynamic and complex plays throughout Westeros’ Capital took a dizzying turn.
Plus, we have all eagerly awaited just how Daenerys would exit from her restraints, but for it to come in such remarkable, slack-jawed fashion was a sheer delight. The Breaker of Chains she most certainly is.