There are certain rules to Game of Thrones. Winter is coming, a Lannister always pays their debts, dragons aren’t to be messed with, and the Stark family will never, ever be reunited. Well, this week’s episode, Book of the Stranger, disproved that last ‘rule’ when Sansa planned to make her way to Castle Black to find her half-brother Jon Snow, and, miraculously, managed to do just that. Who saw that coming? Not me.
I’m not going to lie, I teared up. The moment Sansa and Jon locked eyes and hugged each other was truly emotional and exceptionally well done, even for Game of Thrones. For the first time ever, we got to see two of the Stark siblings talking about what had happened to their family since season 1, something of a reward for audiences who haven’t seen the pair together scene since then. Despite everything that’s happened to them both, we also see some shared joy as they reminisced about their childhoods at Winterfell. In such a fantastical world it’s sometimes easy to forget that the characters are merely human, but this was one of those oh-so-perfect moments which reminds us who Jon and Sansa are to each other.
Naturally, the talk turned to where the pair would go now they’re reunited. The war-weary Jon is still reeling from the fact that his brothers murdered him, and is reluctant to see any more death, while a fierce and more determined Sansa wants to take on the Boltons and reclaim Winterfell. It’s an enjoyable turnaround for both characters. Jon is anything but a coward and his hesitation is understandable after all he’s seen, but Sansa is finally (finally!) coming into her own. Okay, it took some serious emotional and physical abuse to get her to this point, but when she’s telling Jon she’s going to reclaim Winterfell with or without his help, you find yourself right behind her fist pumping. No, not in that way.
Another 'hell yeah' moment at Castle Black is when Davos Seaworth again confronts Melisandre about what happened to Princess Shireen, but before she can tell him she burned the young girl at the stake for nothing, Brienne interrupts to tell them she executed the would-be King, Stannis. Yep, we’ve had confirmation from the lady herself that last Baratheon brother is no more, and the deadpan way she looks at the other two people responsible for Renly’s death tells us she’s not done yet. Also, she shares a sultry stare with Tormund Giantsbane which is absolutely the start of Game of Thrones' most epic love story ever.
While everyone sits around arguing over whether they should go to war or head South for a bit of sun, Ramsay makes the decision easy by sending a not-subtle-in-the-slightest note to Jon, threatening Sansa and Rickon if he doesn’t return his bride. It shows just how far the oldest Stark girl has come that she takes this news better than her brother. Something tells me Sansa will be be replacing her mother as the strong woman leading the Northern revolution. And so, with a slight tilt of the head, Jon agrees they must retake Winterfell. And just like that, you can see all the pieces falling into place. Jon and Sansa will go to Winterfell to save Rickon. Brienne (and Pod) will follow to protect Sansa, Davos and Melisandre will follow Jon, as will the Wildlings, and is it just me, or could even some of his loyal Night’s Watch brothers tag along for the ride? He might not have his army yet, but it’s not a bad start for Team Jon Snow. On to Winterfell and glory!
They’re not the only ones going to war, as Littlefinger’s decision to lead the Knights of the Vale into battle is also an important part of this week’s episode. He skillfully manipulates little Lord Robin (who hasn’t gotten any better with a bow and arrow since last we saw him) into letting him declare war, but which side will he take? He says he wants to help Sansa, but given that he was the one who delivered her to the Boltons in the first place, I’m not sure if that means returning her to her husband. We can’t see Jon’s claim to the North fitting into his plans, but out-and-out fighting isn’t Littlefingers’s style. We see some lying on the horizon.
It’s not just kicking off in the North, though. Daenerys has stopped letting the Dothraki drag her around and has actually done something. The appearance of Daario and Jorah reminds her who she is, and in true Mother of Dragons-style she sets fire to Vaes Dothrak and burns them all alive. It’s another welcome nod to season 1 where we last saw Dany walking out of the fire unscathed, although you have to wonder whether it might be worth her investing in some fire-repellant clothes… if there is such a thing in Westeros. In fairness, nudity isn’t something new to Game of Thrones and the look of absolute adoration on the faces of Jorah and Daario when she appears from the flames leaves little question whether this is simply an excuse for a bit of flesh or not (the answer’s no, in case you were wondering). With a single tip of the embers, Daenerys has reduced the entire Dothraki leadership to cinders and taken its place. Talk about strength. Now might be a convenient time to nip across the Narrow Sea.
But what about Tyrion and the rest of her chums back in Meereen? Don’t they need her back? Well, yes, although Varys and Tyrion aren’t doing a bad job of settling some of the civilian unrest within the city. Inviting the slave masters into negotiations isn’t something Grey Worm and Missandei approve of (and who can blame them?), but you have to admit, it’s a good stopgap to keep war at bay until Daenerys returns. Question is, will she? Once again Game of Thrones shows us what we love most about these characters. Tyrion is doing what he does best, wining and dining the enemy while all the while getting them to agree to his terms. Grey Worm and Missandei, on the other hand, are suspicious of his actions, but their loyalty to their Queen stops them from turning against him. The cracks are showing though, and without Dany, this political group is heading for a break up.
Speaking of groups who hate each but have to work together… Cersei and Jaime have managed to worm their way in a small council meeting (yes! Obviously that’s the most important thing to happen all episode) to stop the High Sparrow from doing to Margaery what he did to Cersei. It’s going to bloody, as the armies of Highgarden will be entering King’s Landing to defend the Queen and imprison the Sparrows, but it’s about time we had another bloody battle. It’s been too long in Game of Thrones time. Obviously, King Tommen is completely unaware anything is going to happen and is probably just happy his Mum isn’t currently trying to kill his wife. Bless.
Book of the Stranger is peak Game of Thrones. Everything that makes us root for these characters is in episode 4, but it’s done in so skillful a way that you won’t even realise you needed reminding why you want them to succeed so badly. With Jon and Daenerys finally looking to be on the path of the Iron Throne, a week just feels like a really, really long time to find out what’s next. Then again, it does make Sunday nights a hell of a lot more interesting.