The Winds of Winter

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This will be the EUGOTSOC Committee review of Game of Thrones Season 6 Episode 10: ‘The Winds of Winter’ – the season finale, written by myself – Alexander Petkov: Publicity Officer.

To me this was the best episode from this season. It definitely felt like a season finale and did not disappoint in delivering grandeur even after being the follow-up to ‘Battle of the Bastards’. The use of cinematography during the episode was but perfect and I’m genuinely in love with Miguel Sapochnik’s direction. It says enough that I am completely aware I will not be able to follow and explore all of the different parallels, nuances and metaphors in the episode here. They’re just so many. Of course, the finale is no stranger to the problems that have plagued the entire season and the show as a whole for some time now. Nowhere is it more evident than in the last two episodes this year – the amount of incredible hard work done by the filming and production design crews. It is their combined effort that keeps the show to such high quality. I’ve previously discussed this – and I’m still completely behind this stance – the only domain in which the show suffers is the writing. After watching the whole season and getting the bigger picture, I conclude that the writers certainly know where they need to have their characters end up – but have no understanding of how to get them there in a logical and consistent fashion. Character motivations and common sense are getting neglected for the sake of effortlessly progressing storylines. And this will certainly come up several times once I get to specifics from the episode.

With a title such as ‘The Winds of Winter’ – the episode can promise nothing less than a taste of the unknown (given this is the title of the upcoming novel in A Song of Ice and Fire) and a view overlooking the endgame of the series. Given the way things ended – Dany heading to Westeros with three dragons and Mad Queen Cersei on the throne (amongst other things) – this points to a female dominated inverted ‘Aegon’s Conquest’/’Robert’s Rebellion’ type plot. This seems quite fitting for the obvious feminist message of the series and while it outlines a lot of possibilities for how the story may be furthered it tells us little of the overall resolution. In any case, that’s what keeps us enthralled in this series to this day – the mystery of the grand conflict. Now winter has come on the show and all of the characters seem to be in position for the final act.

The episode starts off with Loras and Cersei’s trials. This whole fifteen-or-so-minute sequence is marvellous to behold. On top of the brilliant editing it features a fantastic use of soundtrack such as we’ve never seen before on the show. The music completely overruled each scene and worked as a perfect stead for dialogue, making multiple storylines converge seamlessly without making any of them weighing down or slowing the rest. It genuinely felt as if I’m watching a completely different show in terms of style and I do mean that in the most praising of ways. The soundtrack ‘In the Light of the Seven’ is amongst the best pieces of music on Game of Thrones period. Let’s ignore the fact that Pycelle and Lancel’s deaths did not serve any logic but were isolated to build suspense (and certainly did so).

The wildfire explosion looked amazing and pretty much officially marks Cersei’s transition to madness. It also confirms that Bran has visions of the future, although how that works and what exactly his powers are remains completely unexplained. Another interesting issue with the explosion is that it conveniently relieved the writers from the obligations to pay off the High Sparrow’s and Margaery’s individual scheming, which this season had spent an enormous amount of time to set up and tease. We never learned what the High Sparrow really wanted to achieve and we have no idea how the Queen was planning to use her position for the benefit of House Tyrell. And for all we know the writers also haven’t figured it out. To make up for that they decided to give Margaery a moment of pointless foresight, in which she realises the danger she’s in before the Sept explodes.

This all leads to Tommen’s suicide, which was another small scene executed very well – benefiting perfectly from the complete silence. With that, as far as Cersei realises, Magy the Frog’s prophecy is fulfilled. This opens the path for a much darker Cersei – one which has nothing holding her back and nothing to redeem her (as now all her children have died). We get a taste of that during her scene torturing Septa Unella. We finish with the Queen Mother self-proclaiming herself as the new occupant of the Iron Throne in another perfectly framed and even somewhat eerie scene. Anyway given that most of the highborn would have been present at the trial – it’s a miracle that any were left to witness Cersei’s coronation. This all, however, brings us to Jamie’s character and his overall arc.

A big thing this season was the start of Jamie’s redemption and the start of his path towards repaying his Kingslayer moment (which was heavily referenced multiple times this year). Jamie’s honour is now questioned not only by others but by himself, especially after his reunion with Brienne. You can genuinely see the disgust on his face when Walder Frey compares himself to the Kingslayer (kudos to great acting). We see that Jamie does care about his reputation and honour. That does not stop him, however, from continuing to act dishonourably. We learn that Edmure is back in a cell after Jamie specifically gave him his word that he would be accommodated in the halls of Casterly Rock (In Jamie’s defence, I wouldn’t be surprised if this were a continuity error from the writers).

We also get treated to a curious scene in which disguised Arya eyes Jamie (supposedly deciding whether she wants to kill him or not). And we also see confirmation that Bronn is insecure. To be fair, it fits perfectly with some of the terrible dialogue he’s had this year, but to me it feels like it’s a character direction motivated by spite rather than logic or the building of a strong Bronn narrative. Our time at the Twins ends with Arya revealing her identity to Walder Frey shortly before killing him (in a mirror to how her mother was killed). Of course, all this – not before murdering at least two of his sons and baking them into a pie. Given that Arya is certainly not versed in the subtle arts of baking pie (she definitely wouldn’t have payed attention to such lessons as a child and I also doubt Faceless Men training covered that), that is some amazing dedication to the execution of the kill. In the end she must have spent hours on that pie at the very least and Walder Frey didn’t so much as try it. And that’s a terrible waste.

Jamie’s story ends with him returning to King’s Landing and seeing what Cersei had done to the Sept of Baelor. I genuinely expected him to kill her in the finale, but the way things played out restricted him from having such a clean resolution to his arc. In the end, Jamie ended this season in a very low point – seeing the one person he loves descend to madness. This is made worse by his internal conflict of where to place his honour – As the deed of saving the city from wildfire labelled him as an oathbreaker, and now Cersei (who is the embodiment of Jamie’s dishonour – opposite and mirror to Brienne who represents his honour) is the cause of the death for hundreds in the flames of wildfire. He must be feeling extreme guilt at this thought and I’m very curious as to whether he will find a way to resolve this conflict without resorting to more dishonour. I deem appropriate to recall Brother Rae’s words from S6E7: ‘Violence is a disease – you do not cure a disease by spreading it to more people’.

A notable absence from the episode was the Hound (and the Brotherhood) who was reintroduced this season and had a whole episode entirely devoted to him, only for him not to be relevant in the current story. I don’t want to say that this makes episodes 7 and 8 retrospectively worse, I suppose the ‘broken men’ theme was indeed important ideologically for the series, even though at this point it feels completely disconnected and has no immediate consequences on the story. In this case it is still early to judge. We’ve had instances of storylines that lead nowhere, but we tolerated at the time in the hopes they would have some significance and are not just there to mindlessly steal screen time (such as the Missandei – Grey Worm romance). I seriously hope that is not the case for Brother Ray’s teachings and the Hound.

Speaking of ‘disconnected with no immediate consequences’, in Bran’s story this week we finally get the end of the Tower of Joy flashback. Bran’s storyline ended after ‘The Door’ and has only stagnated since. His manipulation of the past and his visions of the future are never again addressed and are not being explored in any way. And other than this one big moment for his character, Bran has not shown his usefulness outside of giving exposition. In the Tower of Joy, we learn that Jon is the son of Lyanna and Rhaegar. We even get a very obvious scene in which Young Ned leaves Arthur Dayne’s sword next to some blooded rags to signify the ‘bleeding star’ from ‘The Prince that was Promised’ prophecy from the books. Anyway, this reveal (as much as fans have been anticipating it for years) serves no immediate function in the story. If I have to be honest, I don’t even know how it would become relevant – I mean – if you think Game of Thrones ends with the relatable male character with a secret heritage saving the day and ruling the Kingdoms, you haven’t been paying attention. The only thing to come out of Jon’s birth right is ruin, and that is underlined by the bad light in which feudalism is portrayed on the show.

Of course, Jon Snow also, similarly to Bran, has an important experience that is not being addressed. After he came back from the dead, everyone just casually took it in and forgot about it. It was never again a topic of conversation and Ramsay was the only character on the show concerned with Jon’s desertion of the Night’s Watch. No one else was even a little bit suspicious.

The Northern storyline this week opens up with Davos confronting Melisandre about Shireen’s fate an entire season later than he would have, provided he had stayed consistently true to his character. To be fair, hadn’t he forgotten his hatred for magic and Melisandre – Jon would not have been resurrected and this season’s plot wouldn’t have happened. Anyway, the scene was a brilliant performance by Liam Cunningham and served as another strong message against violent and radical religion. As an outcome Melisandre is banished South, so would probably bump back into Arya like she promised back in Season 3.

The big conflict in the North, however, remains that between Jon and Sansa (and I have no idea why). Sansa seems to be honest about not trusting Littlefinger. We even get a nice scene of her rejecting his affection, much like her mother did before her. However, she still gives no reason why she failed to mention the huge army whose allegiance she had secured to Jon. She probably just wanted to re-enact that one scene from Lord of the Rings. This is another instance of the showrunners neglecting the journey in favour of the destination (and a lack of insight into conveying character motivations, but we’ll get back to that later). On the topic of Littlefinger, I am extremely curious as to where his character is going to go now as for the second time he seems to be able to manipulate everyone but the person he cares most about. It’s important to note, I guess, that we also have Littlefinger’s confession about his true goal: The Iron Throne – which is quite up there on the list of ‘Most Anti-Climactic Possible Motivations for Littlefinger’.

Now that Sansa is the last known surviving heir to Ned, the widow of the former Lord of Winterfell and has the allegiance of the army that took the castle – it’s only natural that a bastard deserter from the Night’s Watch be named King in the North instead of herself. This makes no sense logically, but still – I guess it shows who really rules the North – Lyanna Mormont. All the Lords proclaimed Jon ‘The White Wolf’ (as he’s a bastard, so his coat of arms colours are inverted) after she told them to. A curious thing to note during the scene where she shames them for ‘refusing the call’ is that her attack on Lord Cerwyn was completely unjustified. In Episode 7 we have a conversation between Jon and Sansa in which Jon refuses to ask for help from House Cerwyn as ‘there’s no time’. Thus Lord Cerwyn was innocent and got served anyway. With that said Bella Ramsey (Lyanna Mormont) is awesome!

As an outcome, perfectly mirroring Rob Stark from Season 2, Jon is declared ‘King in the North’ by everyone (including the Knights of the Vale… for some reason). Even Davos starts chanting, when only an episode ago he stated that his downfall was because he followed Kings. I feel sorry for Davos – he does not deserve all this. Sansa appears to be happy with Jon being ‘King in the North’ until she sees Littlefinger and realises that his interests will have him act against Jon. This, however, is not what the actors were trying to convey. In an interview Sophie Turner states that she feels her birth right is stolen and this has caused a rift between her and Jon. I had to re-watch that scene to get that, but unfortunately the shot never actually fixes on Sansa’s reaction during the proclamation until the very end where she, I guess, is pretending to be happy for Jon. I have no idea. This is all a bit of a miss. In the North, logic has been completely overruled and character motivations are bleak so that conflict can be swayed in any direction necessary. I also can’t help but feel that the urgency of having the Battle as soon as possible was just as fake as that same urgency at the end of last season with Stannis.

This episode we also get a view of Oldtown and the citadel via Sam’s storyline. The Maesters’ Library looks amazing and I love how the globe from the opening credits of the show is hanging there, giving the context of recollecting history. I also found quite funny how easily Sam left Gilly at the prospect of seeing books. The whole bit in Oldtown was quite refreshing, we even get a small scene mocking bureaucracy – showing the Maesters still having Jeor Mormont listed as Lord Commander. As funny as this is, they should definitely know better – at the very least Tyrion knew Jeor was dead last season which means ravens were sent by Maester Aemon – but whatever.

Speaking of Tyrion, back in Meereen he has a very touching scene with Daenerys, in which he is back to having decent dialogue and gets named ‘Hand of the Queen’. Despite his cynicism he says he believes in Daenerys and to me this very much mirrors Davos’ belief in Jon. Sadly, I do think that both characters are making a huge mistake. The show quite often sends the message that rallying behind a person, religion, etc. does not end well. Hence why I think the Varys quote Tyrion paraphrased before saying he believes in Dany is closer to one of the morals of the series.

Also in Meereen Daenerys tells Daario he is to stay and oversee the transition to democracy in the Bay of Dragons (former Slaver’s Bay). Quite hypocritical – establishing this progressive policy of leader election here, whilst she continues to perpetuate feudalism and monarchy with her conquest of Westeros. In her defence, we’ve no idea what system of government she means to implement once she forces her way into power (irony intended). During her scene with Tyrion she also reveals that she has psychopathic tendencies. I feel this is not actually relevant, however, and is just the showrunners poor attempt at not having her look weak. Alas, in their best intention they’ve also neglected to give her character development any significance this season and have failed to give depth to her motivation.

In Dorne Olenna Tyrell is sassing the Sandsnakes and absolutely made this episode for me. The moment she called ‘Barbara’ Sand an ‘angry little boy’ made me cheer louder than anything else on the show. I guess this proves that the letter the Queen of Thornes was writing before leaving King’s Landing was intended for Sunspear. Also revealed to be in Dorne is Varys, which hopefully means the horror that is Dorne will seize to exist and those few remaining unlikeable characters will be absorbed into Dany’s storyline.

The Season ends with Daenerys sailing off to Westeros in her new ships. And I guess she decided to wait for the Martel and Tyrell fleets to come to Meereen first, so they can all immediately sail back in unison. Well, as long as it’s not an inconveniently long journey, right? Varys and Daenerys had not met on the show, so I guess their off-screen introduction to each other was not in any way noteworthy, and the Targaryen has completely forgotten how the Spider tried to have her killed in Season 1. Also we see the thousands of dothraki having no problems being on ships unlike their brethren from Season 3. Because God forbid there be any kind of conflict in Dany’s storyline.

Overall this season is a big improvement from Season 5. The writing is still very much suffering from the lack of source material, but I firmly believe that if you can remove yourself from the lack of logic and the occasional outburst of bad dialogue (like in Episode 8), S6 is pretty amazing. As much as it seems like a bumpy ride, I am positive that we are on the up. The closer we get to the end the clearer the path is for the showrunners to achieve the goals set by the series.

Thank you for reading my review of the S6 finale with some of my overall thoughts on the season. I hope you enjoyed my weekly input and I’m glad that you shared this journey with me.

 

Alexander Petkov

 

Battle of the Bastards

 

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This will be the EUGOTSOC Committee review of Game of Thrones Season 6 Episode 9: ‘Battle of the Bastards’ written by myself – Alexander Petkov: Publicity Officer.

In this episode, quite fittingly, we have a battle of ‘Ice’ and a battle of ‘Fire’. In that sense the title ‘Battle of the Bastards’ could be a reference to the underdog status of our protagonists (when extended to both storylines). Sansa and Jon are in the position of trying to reclaim their home with little resources against a powerful foe. Such is also the situation with Yara and Theon (less so with Daenerys herself). The battle of the bastards is (other than the obvious literal Ramsay-Jon clash) the fight of those deemed less worthy to reach a station of power in the world.

Before I get into specifics concerning characters and moments from the episode I shall talk about my overall impression as it highlights important aspects of the whole season and the series in general. I have to say, this is definitely the best episode of the season so far (finale still pending), with only Episode 5 ‘The Door’ getting a close second. I was more than impressed with the brilliant cinematography – and was seriously surprised when I found out the director of photography for the episode has worked mostly in TV. The actual battle of Winterfell was certainly the best battle sequence I have ever seen period – capturing both the horror and the confusion in war, representing the true scope of the fight and having the focus on the main characters without needing to separate them physically from the army mass. In that regard the scene is truly unique – it was a sequence that was both visually and thematically rich. Similarly, the battle for Meereen also did not disappoint as it finally gave us what we wanted – dragons in battle! And again, every scene of that was magnificent to watch. With that said, I still have some mixed thoughts on the episode.

It’s safe to acknowledge it – ‘Battle of the Bastards’ will go down as one of the defining episodes for ‘Game of Thrones’ – one of those episodes that you like to re-watch on their own, the ones you would show your friends to prove how great Game of Thrones is. And while it certainly represents the scope and the grandeur of the series, it strays away from some of the show’s defining characteristics – mostly the notion of consequence. Let’s examine the other big defining episodes of the series. S1E10: ‘Fire and Blood’ – Ned Stark is already beheaded and Dany’s baby dragons hatch, but only after her khalasar abandons her and she’s forced to kill Drogo. Daenerys’ triumph comes at a steep price. In S2E9 ‘Blackwater’ we have Tyrion defeat Stannis’ fleet with wildfire. However, in that case we have protagonists and antagonists on both sides of the conflict. Also this undoubtedly big episode for Tyrion ends up with him getting his face somewhat disfigured by a member of the Kingsguard and him being discredited from his achievements in the battle. Every triumph comes at a price and characters have to pay for every mistake they make. This is even more evident in S3E9 ‘The Rains of Castamere’. We see it later again in the fight between the Mountain and the Viper in S4E8. Joffrey’s death in S4E2 is a triumphant moment for fans of the show but it comes with Tyrion’s imprisonment. In S5E8 Jon manages to kill a White Walker only to have his overall mission suffer incredible losses at the hands of the Night’s King. All these defining moments from the show’s history have that in common – the notions that triumphs don’t come free and that you pay for every mistake you make.

This is a very important part of the show and the books, especially since both pride themselves on realism. In the end, I’d say the sentence ‘In the Game of Thrones’ you win or you die’ is wrong, but rather ‘In the Game of Thrones you cannot afford to make mistakes’ is more accurate. And that was not the case this episode. During the battle of Winterfell Jon made every single mistake he could have made (facing Ramsay with an inferior army, compromising his own position and by extension the position of his troupes, forcing his army away from their defences and having them surrounded, etc…) and still won the day without any of his mistakes costing him. In the end what we got was devoid of any story-related surprise (as unlike the characters on the show, we –the audience were quite aware of the existence of the Knights of the Vale, but more about that later) and represented a story that is ideologically against the spirit of Game of Thrones. This is not the first time this has happened this season – we saw Brienne abandon her duty to protect Sansa at the end of last season in order to pursue personal vengeance, only to save the Stark Lady in the very first episode this season without her previous choice having any effect. Another example is Arya’s storyline in which she got stabbed by the Waif after walking around Braavos so carelessly. Any character really should have died from that, but in the end these wounds proved mostly immaterial – and the only truly bad consequence that came from the stabbing for Arya was that she had to endure Lady Crane’s soup. This all feels like the type of story that Game of Thrones is purposefully trying to criticise and to me it feels wrong that such story-beats would seep into the show. This is one of my bigger criticisms of the current season and my only issue with this amazing episode. I feel like the simplifying of character motivations/struggles is alienating that specific part of the audience, which really appreciates all the hard work and all the impressively incredible detail put into the show (and the crew have outdone themselves in that regard this episode – so much brilliant hard work – and an absolutely wonderful result).

Our episode starts with Tyrion and Dany having a clever and engaging conversation (something we hadn’t seen from either of them this season until now) as the Masters continually bombard Meereen. Emilia Clarke’s face of blank disappointment is great and certainly makes the scene. Tyrion returns to having witty dialogue and he even talks about the Mad King’s plans to burn King’s Landing with wildfire (which I hope is foreshadowing for the finale). The whole battle and all of the scenes with the dragons look amazing and I loved them completely. One thing that I feel I need to point out, however, is concerning Dany and how the show’s been dealing with empowering its female characters. I’m still not sure whether the show wants me to perceive Daenerys as a hero or a villain. She wants to slaughter the Masters and burn their cities to the ground, but since she agrees not to after Tyrion’s Mad King comment, that must mean she’s a hero, right? I understand how great it is to give incredible power to all your female characters, but when you get too heavy-handed with it – your character becomes unrelatable and dehumanised. I no longer see the strong leader that I fell in love with – I see a bundle of power, hate and violence. And this is certainly the case for other characters as well.

It’s also perpetuated in the scene between Yara and Dany. Their bonding moment in which they casually and flirtatiously agree that ‘Killing an uncle or two’ ‘Sounds Reasonable’ is another example of when our strong female characters become unrelatable. Anyway their scene was quite interesting as it suggests a hopeful future for the Seven Kingdoms under the rule of these queens – and hints at the possibility of peace. (It gets a bit ruined by the ‘killing uncles’ comment as it perpetuates senseless violence and makes them seem generally misguided rather than progressive). However, it is impossible to ignore the amazing chemistry that Dany and Yara shared during their scene as it was both refreshing and intriguing to witness. We did also get a weird exchange between Tyrion and Theon in which the latter gets accused of being mean to the former when they last met at Winterfell. Of course, that’s quite strange as back in Season 1 it was in fact Tyrion who was being unbelievably cruel and nasty to Theon, but whatever.

Sansa is another character whose path towards taking charge is heading in curious directions. In the end of the episode she watches Ramsay getting brutally eaten by his own hounds, which is something that she couldn’t have done as her previous self. She even taunts Ramsay by telling him that he himself boasted of how he hadn’t fed his hounds. Of course, she was not present at the time when Ramsay actually said that earlier in the episode, but whatever. Even though his death was a bit of obvious wish fulfilment, it was also nicely symbolic. Instead of having his army turning against him (at the wake of his cruelty losing its power and intimidation) – this role was given to his hounds. Thus we get the theme of violence collapsing onto itself. And this raises an interesting question about where Sansa is headed. When Ramsay tells her that he’s part of her now, I can’t help but feel that he’s right. She’s learnt to be cruel and vicious and we’ll see how that plays out when she reunites with Littlefinger. In any case her withdrawing the information of the Vale army from everyone is puzzling and I hope it gets resolved in the finale. Does she actually secretly thoroughly dislike Jon? Probably not, but an explanation is due. It’s bad enough that the Boltons were completely oblivious of the existence of a huge army ravaging through their lands and taking control of castles such as Moat Cailin.

Concerning the actual battle for Winterfell, a lot of moments stood out. The scene in which the Bolton cavalry is charging a sans horse Jon Snow is incredibly tense and beautifully composed. It builds up the promise of glory and the inevitability of the end and pays it off with an ensuing chaos and a feel of the unfamiliar. It’s a brilliant contrast. The huge piles of dead bodies at the wake of the battle are a truly disturbing sight, yet they also serve a symbolic purpose. In the scene where the heroes’ forces are surrounded and panic ensues Jon gets almost trampled to death by his own men. It’s a perfectly composed claustrophobic scene of weighing life and death. You can feel Jon’s powerlessness in that sequence and when he does rise up to take a breath – that’s a resolve to rise above the horror of war, a horror in which he is a centrepiece. The beauty of that scene is that you cannot tell which of the limbs reaching out to him belong to men and which to corpses. In that way this scene represents the death within and provides a perfect commentary on war. It’s also a fitting mirror of Dany being embraced by the former slaves at the end of Season 3 – while she’s leading them to freedom, Jon’s leading his men to death. Notable mentions in the episode are Lyanna Mormont, who is amazing and Davos who finally realised what had happened to Shireen and remembered that he hates magic and by extension – Melisandre. I also find it curious how leading the Vale army were Littlefinger and Sansa while Robin was nowhere to be seen. I know that Baelish is pulling the strings but he’s supposed to be a background man – behind the curtains – while the puppet lord should be in focus. However, that logistic issue is minor.

‘Battle of the Bastards’ has already joined the pantheon of great Game of Thrones episodes. I can’t say whether that’s a good or a bad thing given my personal issues with the tone and ideology behind the development of the storylines, but I can confirm: I loved that episode and none of the ‘problems’ I’ve raised can come close to preventing me from enjoying this masterpiece time and time again.

Thank you for reading my review of ‘Battle of the Bastards’. Episode 10 will soon be upon us so let’s all get excited one last time for this season!

 

Alexander Petkov

 

 

No One

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This will be the EUGOTSOC Committee review of Game of Thrones Season 6 Episode 8: ‘No One’ written by myself – Alexander Petkov: Publicity Officer.

When an episode is titled ‘No One’ I can’t help but wonder what does that imply for the storylines that take place in it and what themes would they explore. Of course, there’s the literal tie in with Arya’s storyline as on numerous occasions it’s been said that in order for her to become a faceless man – she has to become ‘no one’. However, an episode title is not simply a reference to one of the storylines in it and has to have some overall relevance. When you tell a story as huge as Game of Thrones as a TV series you need to have an idea that you want to put across with each episode. That idea is then somehow encapsulated in your episode title.

A big theme this season is ‘identity’ and the obvious candidate for the significance of ‘No One’ is ‘loss of identity’. However, this is not at all explored in any of the storylines this week. It could be a reference to a theme of ‘deceit’, but while I can see that as a potential interpretation for a small part of the storylines – it’s definitely not explicit and more likely due to me reading too much into things. And here lies part of the problem – I don’t really understand the Faceless Men and their concept of ‘No One’. That in turn prevents me from objectively following the theme of the episode, but I’ll touch on this more when I get to Arya’s storyline this week. After careful thought the one common theme I could extrapolate from all the arcs this episode was ‘cutting ties’ or more specifically – ‘cutting ties with your own kind’. This can be tied back to the idea of ‘No One’ if we assume that the message is that going against those close to you makes you ‘no one’. However, this ties back to the theme of identity loss, which is absent from the episode, and so the only possible theme for the episode that I could find is lacking a moral compass and has zero implications. This somewhat outlines some of my problems with S6E8 ‘No One’.

Last week’s episode featured the Hound heavily. This week the accent in this storyline is shifted to the Brotherhood without Banners. We start off with a cringey conversation between some characters we don’t know. I can’t help but feel that the showrunners are confusing toilet/dick humour with clever writing. I remember the GRRM-written episode ‘The Bear and the Maiden Fair’ in Season 3 which certainly had a fair amount of dick humour, but seeing how here it has no context (and provided we will see more of that later in the same episode), I really have to wonder what’s going on in the writers’ minds. This scene is quickly ended by the Hound’s arrival as he storms in and chops the men up with an axe without asking questions. In light of my previous comments I do have to say that this manner of appearance for Sandor Clegane comes most welcome.

Next we get to see Thoros of Myr and Beric Dondarrion back on the show – about to hang the rogue members of The Brotherhood we met last week. Here we get our ‘ties severed’ moment for this storyline. I must say – as much as I like seeing all these characters’ return, I am also really puzzled by their sudden appearance in the second half of the season, no less. There are already quite a few storylines that are fading out of focus (Sam, Jorah, Euron – to name a few), that it’s very likely that the Brotherhood will get tangled up in another major arc before the end of the season. For now, it seems the Hound will stick with Thoros and Beric so maybe that will lead to some sort of redemptive arc for the character. We know that the Brotherhood wants to head north, so the only crossovers with other stories it could have are with the Battle of Winterfell (which I seriously doubt) or with Brienne on her way back. Either way, I have no idea where this is leading – but I’m curious to find out.

In King’s Landing we start off with Cersei refusing to leave the Red Keep at the order of the High Sparrow and finally uttering her already famous line ‘I choose violence’ before letting Ser Robert Strong brutally murder a random member of the faith militant to get the point across. As much as I completely enjoyed this scene, I was a bit disappointed that it didn’t escalate further. It seems underwhelming, to say the least, that the most badass line from the season trailers led to nothing more than a single death of an unnamed character. Don’t get me wrong – the show is violent enough, but again – this is a consistent issue I have with this episode in particular: the pay-off does not correspond to the build-up – it ends up feeling dwarfed.

The King’s Landing scenes continue with Tommen’s announcement in the Throne room about Trials by Combat being hence forth prohibited. This is a huge deal as Cersei’s only plan for survival has been suspended, and by her own son – of all people. This runs with the theme of breaking ties as Tommen’s new decree is specifically to the detriment of his own mother. The power of the faith, complete with Margaery’s manipulations seem to have completely overpowered the young king. Then we get Qyburn whispering to Cersei about a rumour he has verified. This most likely has to do with the cellars of wildfire underneath King’s Landing. We’ve been teased with wildfire with Bran’s visions and it would be really poor if the show didn’t pay off this perfect foreshadowing. Also, Cersei is pretty much out of options and wildfire would certainly help her in her predicament. One problem is that we still don’t know what is Margaery’s endgame – and we might never know if Cersei just burns down Baelor’s Sept with Loras and the High Sparrow both inside. The show has been building up Margaery’s plotting even more than Cersei’s trial this season so it’s definitely something to keep in mind.

It’s impossible to talk about a Mad Cersei burning King’s Landing with wildfire without also considering Jamie. Seeing how his Kingslayer title has been referenced a truly disproportionate amount of times this season, it has to have some significance to his current character arc. Should the wildfire incident happen and should the Kingslayer return to the capital for the finale, Jamie’s love for Cersei as well as his reluctance to act against his family (as he expressed in front of Brienne) will set the stage for a perfect mirror of his confrontation with the Mad King. Anyways, speculations aside – the Riverrun plot (whose star is undoubtedly Jamie) this week is not lacking in discussion worthy bits.

We start off with Jamie and Brienne finally meeting again. While they’re discussing honour and how to deal with the Blackfish so that they avert conflict between each other, we get our second unnecessary and cringey scene filled with dick humour for the episode. This time it’s coming from Bronn as he reunites with Podrick. I understand that Bronn is supposed to be a wisecracker, but this is silly! He’s not twelve! I’m almost sure that the actor playing Podrick didn’t have to try and act uncomfortable during Bronn’s ‘Do you think Jamie and Brienne are fucking’ speech. If the point of this scene was to remind the viewer that Jamie-Brienne was a ship on the show back in Season 3, then it’s bad because ‘show, don’t tell’. Also the chemistry between Jamie and Brienne speaks for itself, curtesy of the two amazing actors. And if the point of the scene is to just have Bronn say stuff – then we have the scene with the unnamed Brotherhood members all over again.

The Riverrun story does, however, have one very strong redeeming point – and that is Jamie’s handling of Edmure Tully. In a very well-acted scene the Kingslayer brilliantly threatens his prisoner, convincing him to force the Tully banner-men to surrender the castle instantly. While there’s a lot of truth behind Jamie’s words (like his admiration for Catelyn and his love for Cersei) –  revealing a more ruthless and cruel Jamie, his entire scheme serves to quickly resolve the conflict without bloodshed. And in his seeming cruelty he demonstrates his honour and nobility as a parting gift to Brienne. I personally think this is very fitting for his character and quite liked how subtle the show was about it. In the end the only life lost is allegedly the Blackfish’s. That means that Brynden Tully’s disappointment in Jamie will continue to sting and will remain unresolved until (hopefully) the finale.

The ‘cutting ties’ in this storyline falls in the hands of Edmure, who betrays his banner-men’s trust in order to save their lives and his family’s. Of course, another candidate for representing this theme is the Blackfish himself. He refuses to give aid to his only family left – Sansa (and Edmure as well, for that matter) and even decides not to leave the castle with Brienne and not to reunite with his grand-niece. In that way Edmure and Brynden become completely mirror characters. One disappointing thing about this part of the episode is that the Blackfish’s death remained off-screen. And while the underwhelming reveal of his demise served to provide emotional weight for Jamie’s character, it was a large disservice to the audience and probably could have been handled better.

In Meereen we see religious fanatics everywhere in the city, which Varys realises quite well that is a terrible thing. Tyrion, however shares his sister’s early excitement at the prospect of working with religious zealots. We see Varys leaving Meereen on a mission to gain allies in Westeros. Of course, Varys leaving a city is never a good sign as he was pretty much all that kept King’s Landing stable. It is quite interesting as he left the Crownlands just before religious extremists took over the capital and now he’s leaving Meereen after the arrival of the aforementioned fanatics. It’s also unbelievably suspicious that the Spider would leave just before the Masters of Astapor and Yunkai attack the city. As Varys does not make mistakes, it certainly makes me wonder if he has some hidden agenda (I mean even more hidden) and is actually not really supporting Daenerys. All this remains to be seen, but I can’t help but hope that there’s more to Varys than meets the eye.

We then get treated to a very unnecessary scene of Tyrion drinking and forcing Grey Worm and Missandei to tell him jokes. I never thought this day would come, but Tyrion scenes this season have become my least favourite part of the show. Tyrion’s charm and wit have been replaced completely by him just constantly drinking. He’s lost all of his character motivation and now stands as a token comic relief. This is unacceptable. The scene is hard to watch as it feels like forced humour (and we’ve already had two other instances of that in this episode alone). It finally finishes after each has told a joke and Missandei laughs way too much at Grey Worm’s joke (probably to remind the audience that they have a sort of romance). Then the Masters suddenly attack the city by water and just in the nick of time Daenerys returns.

I have to say, her arrival is great. Emilia Clarke’s face is brilliant as she glares at her advisors disappointedly. Tyrion’s expression at the realisation that he’s in deep trouble is also priceless. Of course, the reveal that the Masters would attack the city came as no surprise – especially after the showrunners made that American Civil War analogy with Tyrion back in episode 4. One question that I feel needs to be asked is ‘Where are the dragons’. Tyrion unchained Viserion and Rhaegal in the beginning of the season and they’ve yet to make an appearance since. They haven’t so much as having been mentioned thus far, and one would think that they’d be quite effective at breaking the siege of Meereen.

Anyway, we now come to the big storyline this week – Arya’s. It was a few weeks ago when people started to catch on to the fact that she is not only not becoming ‘no one’ but is also pretty much wasting the Faceless Men’s time. She has learned to fight, yes, but is that really the only use that a guild of faceless assassins will have in the story? This seems off. I do have an interesting theory about what’s really going on, but I’ll get to that in a bit.

We start off with Lady Crane delivering an altered final monologue as ‘Cersei’, based on the suggestions by Arya/Mercy. It was a really nice scene, but I was personally taken out of it because it quite obviously outlined the structure of the Arya storyline for the episode. After last week there were tons of theories that explained Arya’s carelessness and how she survived infecting her already severe wounds with the sewage water in the canals. One of them correctly predicted everything that happened in the episode – based around Lady Crane’s involvement. And it that vein of thought – it is a bit disappointing to have realised that Arya was indeed just being careless and almost dead as a result. The scenes between Lady Crane and Arya were really nice, warm and well-acted, though one bit stands out to me. When asked where she would go, Arya talks about crossing the Sunset Sea. This dialogue surely can’t be there for no reason. The easiest thing to answer was ‘home’ or something along those lines. So for now I am quite curious to find out what significance to the story this exchange will have.

Finally, we get the chase scene between Arya and the Waif that we’ve been waiting for. Lady Crane gets killed and Arya escapes through the window. It’s important to note that even a non-severely-injured person could not attempt the stunts Arya did (or the Waif for that matter) without breaking a bunch of bones in their body. Once you look past that, the chase scene is very well-edited, is brilliantly-shot and accompanied by a great soundtrack. Most of the time during that scene I do get the feeling that the Waif simply enjoys playing with her food – hence why she engages in such a non-stealthy endeavour. It ends with Arya baiting her nemesis into a dark room, where she defends herself with Needle after she swings and cuts a candle in half (which is a very cool looking scene).

Apparently after all the running, falling, etc. Arya’s open wounds decided to close for good as she managed to sneak into the House of Black and White, leaving dripping blood at her wake and put the Waif’s face on the wall, without Jaqen noticing. After Arya confronts him, he tells her she is now ‘No One’, she replies she’s Arya of Winterfell and says she’s going home. Jaqen grins and does nothing to stop her. OK, let’s talk about this. This does not seem right. Two faceless men had to die, so that Arya can finish her training. The guild went through so much trouble to recruit her that they can’t just let her go. Unless they didn’t. Here’s my theory. As we don’t know how the Faceless Men really work, it can’t be known for sure, but what if the only way to become a Faceless Man is to kill one sent to assassinate you. This explains why there are so little Faceless Men in total and explains how they keep their eliteness (by having this harsh entry requirement). It also explains the Waif’s dislike for Arya from the start as she doesn’t want to be replaced. Thus Arya believes that she’s broken her ties with the guild but I think she is now one of them whether she wants it or not. I reckon this is not the last time we see the Faceless Men and I’m quite curious to see if they’ll try and push Arya onto certain paths once she’s back in Westeros.

If I am correct, then the theme of ‘No One’ gets shifted to ‘assuming someone’s place’, which is quite present in the episode. We see The High Sparrow acting through Tommen and completely overpowering him, Edmure taking charge of Riverrun instead of the Blackfish, The Hound executing Lem Lemoncloack instead of the Brotherhood doing it. In any case, this episode does not really explore its chosen theme in depth (or maybe I just don’t see it). Much like the Faceless Men who remain a complete mystery, the notion of ‘No One’ is lost on the story and its characters.

In the end, I should say that this is not a bad episode on its own. Its greatest problems come from wasting time on unnecessary and weak dialogue and following up on strong build-up with underwhelming resolutions. If you look past that – the episode is quite decent, even though I’d probably still say it’s my least favourite of the season. The first 5 episodes this year were really intense and eventful, and thus far the second half of the season has been falling behind on that front. Last week’s episode gave the impression that this trend would not continue onto S6E8, but alas ‘No One’ felt more like a step back. The last two episodes, however do promise to be incredible. Even Sophie Turner, who managed to get to see ‘Battle of the Bastards’ early stated that it was unbelievable. I guess we’ve nothing to do but to stay excited!

Thank you for reading my review of ‘No One’. We’ve only two episodes left – and they’re bound to be amazing!

 

Alexander Petkov

 

The Broken Man

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This will be the EUGOTSOC Committee review of Game of Thrones Season 6 Episode 7: ‘The Broken Man’ written by myself – Alexander Petkov: Publicity Officer.

This was the episode I most anticipated out of the whole season. Of course, I did want to see the Hound back on the show, but I was looking forward to seeing the show’s version of Septon Meribald’s ‘Broken Men’ speech a lot more. The theme of ‘the broken man’ is actually one of my favourite ones in literature. It ties in quite well with the ideas of the horrors of war, alienation from the world and the path toward achieving inner peace.

The episode starts with our first pre-credits scene for this season revealing the return of the Hound on the show. And it makes perfect sense as a more observant fan might notice Rory McCann’s name during the opening, which would take away the fun of the reveal. The whole episode was centred mostly around Sandor Clegane and his interactions with Brother Ray (the show’s version of The Elder Brother / Septon Meribald), who was played by Ian McShane. Those scenes were very well-paced and incredibly well acted. Brother Ray is a very likeable character – a pacifist who preaches doing good to others and even delivers my favourite line from the episode, ‘Violence is a disease – you don’t cure a disease by spreading it to others’. If I should have any criticism for that portion of the episode – It would be that some of the dialogue felt slightly forced – it was somewhat obvious that the characters are only having this exchange for the sake of giving some exposition and subjecting us, the audience, to relevant themes. To be fair, there is really no way around this as the show needed to reintroduce a character from 2 seasons ago and to quickly make him relevant. So this is quite a minor complaint. The show’s version of Meribald’s speech was a bit weak in terms of substance, as it was mostly manifested in Ray’s telling of his backstory before the first arrival of the men from the Brotherhood without Banners. However, I do respect the decision the showrunners made in conveying most of the actual speech’s meaning through the plot – in faith with ‘show, don’t tell’.

It is quite interesting how the Hound’s character will be affected by his time spent with Brother Ray. At the end of the episode we see Sandor getting his call to action in the form of seeing all the innocent villagers slaughtered by the Brotherhood. The Hound is not yet ready to be a pacifist, earlier in the episode he even claims that it’s hate that had kept him alive. The whole series should be headed towards a compromise which will be the end to violence – and this portion of the episode is a good testament to that idea. Of course, Brother Ray’s way of dealing with the injustices of the world did not work out for him, and the actual resolution of the overall conflict of the series will not be so simple (and that’s part of the beauty of Game of Thrones and A Song of Ice and Fire). In the end it will be interesting to see how the Hound will make peace with the hate in his heart, but for now his path is with an axe in hand – and that’s something to get excited about!

Down in King’s Landing we first get a weird scene between Margaery and the High Sparrow. Their exchange is quite logical in the context of the time period but sounds quite unsettling when put into modern day perspective. It makes me wonder whether the scene was included for that specific reason. Well, at the end of the day, Margaery seems to be the only character in King’s Landing with any sort of plan. When she reunites with her grandmother, the Queen of Thornes, she secretly gives her a piece of paper with a rose drawn on it – the sigil of House Tyrell – to show her that her true allegiance is to her family. We also learn that the High Sparrow is working specifically to bring down all the great houses – as he’s demanding Loras to renounce his name and inheritance. The whole King’s Landing plot and Margaery’s scheming have been built up all season and I honestly don’t want to sit through another scene of setting up the conflict. The show has teased us with hints of a spectacular endgame and it had best deliver and soon!

One last scene of note in King’s Landing this episode was the meeting between Cersei and Lady Olenna right before the Queen of Thornes would leave the city for good. The Matriarch of House Tyrell verbally breaks Cersei and with no fake courtesy does not spare her any of her actual thoughts on the former Queen. At the end when Olenna says ‘You lost, Cersei’ – you can actually see Lena Headey’s character shaking. This unprecedented sign of weakness in Cersei is another testament to the incredible performance of the actress, which really stood out for me this episode. Cersei’s situation is truly quite dire – she is all alone with no support and surrounded by enemies – just like The Queen of Thornes said. At this point this character has nothing holding her back and it’s safe to say that we’ll see Cersei choosing violence as soon as next episode – I’m hyped!

In the North Sansa, Jon and Davos are campaigning to earn the support of the northern lords for their coming conflict with the Boltons. We get a short scene of Jon and Tormund persuading the wildlings to join under them, followed by what’s undoubtedly my favourite bit of the episode – the conversation with Lyanna Mormont at Bear Island. The dialogue was very well-written, all the performances were brilliant and the exchange between Davos and the Lady of Bear Island was truly heart-warming. It reminded me a lot of the way he would interact with Shireen (when she was alive). In any case, Lyanna Mormont has become my new favourite character on the show and I’m quite certain that other people feel the same way.

This scene is in contrast with our heroes’ attempt at getting the support of House Glover, who refuse to answer Jon and Sansa’s call. It is another good scene, which works to escalate the feeling of direness and urgency for that storyline. It all leads to Sansa sending a message to an unknown recipient (a.k.a. Littlefinger) asking for help. Sansa’s journey this season has been very interesting. She started heading in a direction of becoming a strong leader figure and quickly descended upon a path of violence. All of her innocence is lost, but so is her compassion. She thinks that she’s in charge, but it’s clear now more than ever that she’s still dependent on Littlefinger. And now that Peter Baelish is no longer obliged by the season’s plot to make nonsensical decisions (such as giving Sansa to the Boltons without any prior research) it is intriguing to see who will end up truly on top – Sansa or Littlefinger. It’s surely a confrontation to look forward to.

On the topic of Stark children – in Braavos Arya’s storyline this week felt almost surreal. After booking passage for herself back across the Narrow Sea she gets brutally stabbed by the Waif. After that she escapes into the canals and re-emerges on the streets of Braavos bleeding, with the denizens of the city giving her strange looks but otherwise paying her no mind. This scene served its purpose of providing some shock-value to the episode and to set up the exciting conclusion to the Faceless Men plot this season. Next episode is called ‘No One’ so we’re likely to get to know where this is all going.

One interesting theory that I read about was that Arya and the Waif are in fact the same person – ala Fight Club. I should say that while this is certainly not true and has overwhelming evidence against, it still caught my attention with it’s curious implications. As in that case Arya could be defeated by the Waif, which would result in her becoming No One. And as much as that’s not the case, it leaves me to wonder if there’s a chance that Arya leaves Braavos as an actual Faceless Man. We’ll have to wait and see.

Another very interesting scene is the exchange between Yara and Theon in Volantis. The showrunners had chosen to put the literal interpretation of the episode title in this storyline. Much like Jon’s arc this season, Theon’s story is a quest for peace taken control of by his sister, who is pulling in a direction which may or may not lead him farther from his goal. You can tell that Yara does mean nothing but the best for her brother and wishes to see him restored to his former self. I personally doubt that’s possible but there’s also many more possibilities for him. I should say that as of now Theon is perhaps the character whose personal arc I’m most curious about as thus far in the season Alfie Allen’s performance has been absolutely amazing.

Near Riverrun Jaimie is now leading the Lannister army and we finally get to see Bronn again. The sell-sword does get his chance to shine as he provides a lot of the humour in the Riverrun scenes, being true to his character. The ‘broken man’ in this story is in fact Jamie as his ‘Oathbreaker’ title still haunts him. He does just fine dealing with the comically incompetent Freys (to the show’s credit, the writers did not go too overboard with making fun of them and left it at a very good balance in my opinion) but things are quite different when he faces the Blackfish. You can tell that Brynden Tully’s disappointment in The Kingslayer does cut deep and it’s going to be interesting to see whether Jamie’s path will resound his book plot – heading to diplomacy and peace. Certainly it’s a nice touch that both the Blackfish and Cersei are in similar situations – as both have pretty much nothing to lose and everything to gain. And somewhere in the middle is Jamie – being broken by the discrepancy of how he and how other people perceive his honour.

Overall this was another episode mostly devoted to setting up storylines, but felt much stronger than last week’s. There was a good balance of both shocking and fun moments, clever dialogue, great new characters and consistently good acting. Despite the fact that earlier episodes this season had a lot of big moments, ‘The Broken Man’ manages to still hold up by comparison. I really liked the amount of green landscapes we got in this episode as it’s something that we rarely see. Also I should point out that this episode had by far the most stunningly beautiful cinematography of Season 6. The theme of ‘the broken man’, while not thoroughly explored this week, provided a good few revolving points for our beloved characters’ moralities. We’ll have to wait to see where this change of view will lead each of them in the future as the ‘broken man’ conflict is far from resolved.

Thank you for reading my review of ‘The Broken Man’ and I hope you are as excited as I am for the last three episodes.

 

Alexander Petkov

Blood of my Blood

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This will be the EUGOTSOC Committee review of Game of Thrones Season 6 Episode 6: ‘Blood of my Blood’ written by myself – Alexander Petkov: Publicity Officer.

Family is a big theme this episode and works particularly well with the overall theme of ‘The Return’ throughout this season. A lot of storylines invoke the concept of lineage as a merging of both power and identity, which as I’ve discussed in my ‘Book of the Stranger’ review can either lead to enlightenment (in this concept’s dismissal) or to ruin (in its embrace). Because of the large number of characters and the various speeds at which their stories progress, we’ve had some of the arcs already pass their end of Act 2 (namely Jon, Theon, arguably Sansa, Tyrion and Dany), whilst others are still in stagnation. And that’s what this episode did – it massively propelled some of those stalling storylines and pointed them into the direction of their respective second Act ending points. This was the first purely ‘set-up’ episode of the season and while having that in the second half of the season is odd to say the least, I don’t necessarily deem it a bad thing.

The episode starts off moments after the previous one ended with Bran and Meera being chased by wights. We get a glimpse of the visions inside Bran’s mind which seem to be the echoing knowledge transferred from Bloodraven at the end of last episode. In those visions we see multiple images of Westeros’ history flashing by quickly with a lot of stress on the themes of Ice and Fire. Most of these images are things we’ve already seen with the notable exception of the Mad King flashbacks, complete with a glimpse of his pyromancers and their wildfire and the King’s death at the hands of Ser Jamie. As much as I liked these scenes as a part of Bran’s visions I would have preferred if they didn’t flash through so quickly but rather to had been presented slowly and systematically with some more thought put in. Alas jump cutting to different scenes in rapid succession with little to no context is a film editor’s best friend…

One thing that is very curious about Bran’s visions, however, is that they heavily tease wildfire, and that means we can expect it’s return in the story (And that’s something to get hyped about). Also one of these scenes show the wildfire filled cellars exploding, which is something that hasn’t happened (otherwise King’s Landing wouldn’t exist now). This raises the question whether this is an alternate past that Bran’s being shown or in fact the future. Or maybe this explosion is not under King’s Landing at all? One of Dany’s visions from the House of the Undying back in Season 2 that the show chose to do was of a destroyed Red Keep in winter so it’s hard not to see a connection there. In any case Bran’s true powers remain a mystery and all we can do for now is speculate what this all means. For me personally the way the vision sequence was cut points to the idea that there is an ‘antagonist’ of Ice (namely the Night’s King) and an ‘antagonist’ of Fire (King Aerys before and now Daenerys). After last episode I don’t trust the Children of the Forest or the visions of the Old Gods as I think that they are twisting the context, but I do like the idea of the Song of Ice and Fire ending with the villains of Ice and Fire together (Shipping Dany + Night’s King). I can certainly rant endlessly about how this all makes perfect sense but at this point it’s probably best to leave it alone.

Bran’s story this week ends with him and Meera getting saved by the mysterious and sudden appearance of Benjen-Coldhands. The music during his scenes is really good (amongst the best soundtracks this season) and even payed homage to the music during Old Nan’s stories back in Season 1 which was a nice touch. I don’t personally mind that the show has chosen to merge Benjen and Coldhands as it’s an easy way to continue Bran’s storyline and to be fair I was also expecting it. From now on it is sure going to be interesting to see where this story will move to next.

It was a surprise to myself when I realised that Sam’s storyline this week was my favourite. I loved the Hornhill Set and the Tarly family was cast perfectly. I even enjoyed seeing Gilly in a dress. The dynamic between the characters was brilliant and the dinner scene was both funny and uncomfortable. The dialogue was witty and delivered superbly, the atmosphere was suspenseful – and yes – I was at the edge of my seat watching Sam have dinner (And I never thought that was something I would ever say). This whole part of the episode was one of those rare instances of good and consistent writing. The final scene, in which Sam changes his mind and decides to leave with Gilly, the baby and his family’s Valyrian Steel sword ‘Heartsbane’, was unexpected (at least for me) and delivered just as well as the rest of the scenes in that storyline. I can safely say that now I am indeed hyped about where Sam’s story is headed. With the theme of family reunion (which we also had with Bran reuniting with Benjen) it is quite an interesting thing to note that Sam seems unchanged by this encounter (or despite this encounter even). His allegiance is shown to his ‘new family’ – Gilly and the baby and his taking of the ancestral sword is in my opinion not connected to his acknowledgement of his lineage. The way things are headed I am willing to bet that both Bran and Sam will reach their end of Act 2 by the end of the Season.

Another character who is also certainly headed that way is Arya. I really liked this part of the episode as well, despite the fact that when you step back it seems like it’s going nowhere. I really liked Lady Crane’s line: ‘Do you like pretending to be other people?’ As I expected, Arya chose to not kill the actress playing Cersei. However, I was surprised of how the events played out as I was expecting Arya to instead kill the Sansa actress, who was jealous of Lady Crane’s talent. Furthermore, the exchange about how she would change the actress’ last monologue (over the corpse of ‘Joffrey’) suggests that Arya has not gotten over her desire for revenge over real Cersei (and has not crossed her off her list). It is a nice touch that Arya correctly guessed the way the real Cersei reacted to her son’s death – getting angry and demanding retribution, but it is quite evident that that’s how Arya herself feels about the loss of her father. So at first glance all this storyline has achieved thus far is to show Arya’s determination to remain true to herself – surely that can’t be it! You wouldn’t put her in the path of the Faceless Men just so you can show her fail and then leave. Thus I am quite intrigued to see where this is going and I’m expecting big things from this story. It is also interesting to note that we’ve now had the first scene between Jaqen and the Waif sans Arya, which may lead to the reveal of the Faceless Men’s true agenda. Anyway, Arya has now reclaimed ‘Needle’ and is getting ready for a confrontation. This is not something that I had expected to have happened this early in the season so I’m personally quite intrigued as to how Arya’s arc will play out and what will she take from the Faceless Men upon her character’s ‘Return’.

Another surprise for me was the King’s Landing plot which was a lot weaker than I had expected. The previous few episodes had built it up with clever and dark dialogue and a few hints at people scheming and playing ‘the Game of Thrones’. Alas Littlefinger and Varys are not there now and not even the Queen of Thorns seems capable of getting on top. The closest thing we have to someone playing a long game is Margaery. It is very obvious that she is trying to manipulate Tommen and is not being truthful. It is safe to assume she is doing the High Sparrow’s bidding for now in order to save her brother. This is where the show made a huge miss in how it decided to tell that particular story. The whole scene at the steps in front of Baelor’s Sept – the confrontation between Jaimie and the High Sparrow felt weirdly confusing and anti-climactic. I had to watch the scene a second time to really get what was going on. The thing is – there was not going to be a Walk of Atonement for Margaery – and the High Sparrow was just about to announce that when Jamie and the Tyrell army interrupted him. It was not a stalemate and the High Sparrow did not change his intentions in the last minute, although the show certainly played it that way. And that is something that I consider to be a storytelling mistake – a flaw in directing. And since it played with your expectations over false grounds, the whole scene felt flat and underwhelming.

A few good things came out of that, however. First of all – Jamie is now reminded of his book plot and will hopefully learn the art of diplomacy and become a decent human being who respects human life (yeah, I know that sounds like too much to ask for). And second – now that Tommen is under the influence of the High Sparrow, it would be an interesting twist if he became the champion for the faith in Cersei’s trial by combat. That way she would have to fulfil Maggy the Frog’s prophecy and be the cause of her son’s death if she wants to win the trial. It would also be a tragic way to kill her confidence in commanding the Mountain (Ser Robert Strong). This may very well be too much of a stretch but we’ll have to wait and see.

In the midst of all that we even had a short scene to tease the Blackfish’s return to the show next episode. It was really nice to see Walder Frey arguing with his sons. This scene, no matter how short, was another example of very well thought out and witty dialogue and was really enjoyable.

Finally, we have the storyline which carries the literal meaning of the episode’s title – Dany and the dothraki. And if I have to be honest – there is a whole lot of wrong with that scene. Daenerys senses that Drogon is near, leaves and reappears on dragon-back. After that she addresses all of the dothraki, imploring them to follow her (which they were already doing) and making them all her chosen Bloodriders (which defeats the purpose of choosing Bloodriders and, well, is a huge middle finger to her actual Bloodriders who have been by her side and loyal to her from the end of Season 1). This scene was, well, unnecessary. You already had a scene of Dany winning over the dothraki – in Episode 4 and it was also pretty bad. I understand that then the point was to get across that she’s powerful even without her dragons, but showing yourself riding a dragon in front of the dothraki works better thematically so the writers have pretty much written themselves into a circle and ended up doing both scenes when only one was needed (and neither of them worked well enough in the end). Eh, At least the CGI on Drogon looked quite impressive so I can’t complain too much.

In the end in this episode we had the family reunion of Bran and Benjen, Sam choosing his new family and re-emerging just as strong after a confrontation with his father, Arya accepting that she’ll never let go of her identity and holding onto her family (metaphorically by reclaiming ‘Needle’). We also saw what Margaery is willing to do for her brother and the Lannister family torn apart. This episode served to propel all those storylines and to push them toward the end of their respective Acts 2 (wherever that might take them) by the end of the season. It was a very good episode, but I fear it will remain underrated and underappreciated because of it coming after a streak of episodes that had very big, strong and shocking moments, which ‘Blood of my Blood’ lacked. It really feels out of place in the Season 6 that has been running thus far (No one even died in this episode). And as much as I like the fact that it didn’t try too hard to introduce some cheap shock value, it would have worked better if it were stylistically consistent with the rest of the season up to now.

Thank you for reading my review of ‘Blood of my Blood’ and I hope you are as excited as I am for the coming episodes.

 

Alexander Petkov

The Door

Children-of-the-Forest

This will be the EUGOTSOC Committee review of Game of Thrones Season 6 Episode 5: ‘The Door’ written by myself – Alexander Petkov: Publicity Officer.

Back in Season 4 we had the huge revelation that the White Walkers are not born but made as we saw the Night’s King turn one of Craster’s sons at the end of Episode 4, ‘Oathkeeper’. In this week’s episode – ‘The Door’ this revelation was massively expanded on and potential context to a lot of the happenings in the series was given to the point that it would be a crime to not start speculating about the end.

Before I get to the big moments this episode, which were all part of Bran’s storyline, let’s explore the midseason points the other characters have reached this week and talk about what this means for the future of their arcs.

In the North Littlefinger has somehow travelled an impossible distance away from his position in the Vale during last week’s episode and requests to meet with Sansa in private. One thing I enjoyed about this scene is the parallel between Sansa’s and her mother Catelyn’s characters. Sansa has now definitely grown to the fierce and strong nature that her mother had whilst alive and now both characters have a history of being close to Littlefinger but ending up turning him away. His interest in those two women as well as his ultimate goals remain a complete mystery. There is, however, a possibility that his grasp on Sansa isn’t entirely lost as later when asked by Jon about how she knew about the Blackfish retaking Riverrun, she lies and does not mention her meeting with Littlefinger. The reason why she did that is unbeknownst to me and really since all the characters in the Northern storyline are suiting their personalities and allegiances to make the plot move quickly and smoothly it is expected that there won’t be any big surprises in this arc in the foreseeable future (until Littlefinger does some more scheming at least). In the end we have Brienne going to the Riverlands and Sansa, Jon and company touring the North to gain support.

In Braavos Arya’s dismissal of her identity is questioned once again as the Waif spectacularly defeats her in a sparring match. This can either mean that the show is inconsistent or that the Faceless Men are actually intentionally messing with Arya and testing her in ways that she doesn’t understand. The latter is somehow enforced by the new mission that Jaqen gives her – to carry out the assassination of Lady Crane, an actress who is playing the role of Cersei in the play ‘The Bloody Hand’. Even though Cersei herself is on Arya’s kill list, the killing of Lady Crane (who Arya judges to be a decent woman) goes against Arya’s personal sense of justice. This is a dead giveaway that Arya has not become No One despite all of the build-up in the previous episodes. And the Faceless Men certainly know that. This makes us question whether they want her to kill Lady Crane at all or are they expecting Arya to do something else entirely. (At least we know that Faceless Men services are extremely expensive and we’ve seen even the Crown hesitant towards contracting them in regards to the high price. And who would want Lady Crane dead so much as to pay a huge fortune?) My personal concept of where Arya’s character is headed was that at a certain point she will be contracted to assassinate someone on her kill list and she would choose to spare them. However, this scenario raises an even more interesting turn of events for Arya and may lead her in a different direction. The big question that I feel needs to be asked is, regardless of whether Arya chooses to kill or spare Lady Crane, will that experience make her cross Cersei off her kill list? This storyline thus far is heavily teasing some type of closure for Arya, also hinted at by the scene of her watching the beheading of Ned Stark in the play mirroring her actually witnessing of her father’s execution. Whatever is in store for Arya this season, I personally can’t wait to see it in full swing.

At the Iron Islands a Kingsmoot takes place. Yara has a hard time convincing the Ironborn that she’s suited to be their ruler but almost succeeds with a helping speech from Theon. Of course, then Euron arrives, throws a bunch of insults at his only family and admits to kin(g)slaying, which apparently wins him the crowd and thus he’s elected to be the new King of the Iron Islands. His plan is to build a fleet which is to sail to Slaver’s Bay so he can marry Daenerys. This is where things start to make little sense and to feel rushed. Theon and Yara leave Pyke before the ceremonial drowning, taking with them all the best ships, which they could only do if there were a significant fraction of people who do not support Euron. Then there’s the question of where they are going. They shouldn’t go to Slaver’s Bay as that’s what Euron wanted. After he is officially crowned as King Euron’s first concern is voiced towards wanting to kill his niece and nephew (which is fair enough) but as the ships are mostly gone he would need to build a new fleet just to peruse them. But ships don’t just get built that quickly. And what about Slaver’s Bay? Does he want to slay his kin or go with his plan? Of course, nobody would want the Ironborn plot to just revolve around Greyjoys trying to kill each other so someone has to go to Slaver’s Bay. We’ll have to wait and see how it plays out.

Speaking of Daenerys, in the Dothraki Sea she’s hesitant as to what to do with Jorah after having banished him twice with him returning, the second time of which having saved her life in Daznak’s Pit. Jorah, however begs to be banished again as he reveals his greyscale and admits his love to Dany. In a very strange and almost opposite to her character development this season manner she demands that Jorah look for a way to cure himself and present himself to her free of greyscale because she needed him. Surely his safest bet is to stay with her, especially if she’s headed to Slaver’s Bay or Westeros – places where doctors and Maesters can be found. Any way Jorah is off on his own and maybe he’ll head for Qarth? Maybe we’ll see Quaithe again?

Back in Meereen Tyrion’s actions have brought a temporary peace to the city. However, he is not fully content and wants to gain the people’s favour through the path of religious extremism (which as the show’s demonstrated numerous times – can only lead to ruin). We are introduced to the High Priestess of R’hllor – Kinvara, who is a very fun new addition to the cast. In her confrontational scene with Tyrion and Varys she manages to somehow stumble the Spider by showing knowledge of his childhood mutilation and even teases him with the voice that he had heard from the flames that night (which from what we’ve seen from the other half of the episode looks like the voice might belong to either Bran or Bloodraven). We know that the plot in Meereen can only move towards chaos so we’re pretty much witnessing the calm before the storm. As to what and how it will go wrong – we’ll have to wait and see.

Everything this week, however is all very much on the side from what is undoubtedly the centrepiece of the episode – Bran’s storyline and it is presented at stages with each vision that he has. The first vision is of the Children of the Forrest inserting an obsidian blade into the heart of a man tied to a great Weirwood and thus creating the Night’s King as a weapon against humans in their war with them. We now know for certain that the White Walkers are nothing but humans twisted by the magic of the Old Gods. This also raises the issue that this vision goes completely against the accepted history of that time (which is to be expected as it has been recorded much later – after the Andal Invasion, so it’s very likely false). In any case we can see that the Children of the Forrest are not planning to help Bran save humanity and almost certainly larger antagonists than the White Walkers in the scope of the series. I think it’s safe to assume that they are the ones using Bran and Bloodraven to incite war between the People South of the Wall and the White Walkers in order to bring an end to humanity. In any case this vision raises a lot of new questions alongside answering some old ones and we can expect to get more similar revelations in the future (though probably not in this season).

During his second vision Bran enters the Weirwood net unsupervised and ends up near the same Weirwood as from his first vision but this time closer to the present, when it’s all covered in ice and surrounded by an army of wights. Bran soon sees a few White Walker horsemen, one of which is the Night’s King who not only sees Bran back but also manages to grab his arm, waking Bran from the green dream. This is a very good and exciting pay-off to the question raised in ‘Oathbreaker’ during the Tower of Joy flashback of whether or not Bran can interact with the past. Of course, the Night’s King’s touch now endangers everyone as it can help the White Walkers track Bran and get past the Children’s defences. However, this is not the only revelation about Bran’s powers that we get in this episode and that brings us to the final vision.

The White Walkers and their army of wights attack Bloodraven’s cave. Bran’s conscience is taken back to the time when Ned Stark is being sent away to be fostered at the Vale. Bran manages to warg into future Hodor in order to help him and Meera escape. Through Bran Meera’s words ‘Hold the door’ reach Willis(Hodor) in the past and this merge of past and present destroy his mind and end up leaving him repeating ‘Hodor’. And I have to say this is probably the most heart-breaking and perfectly executed reveal in the show. It is chilling, haunting and nothing short of absolutely enigmatic! It is a very dark turn of events – the realisation that Bran accidentally has become the cause for Willis’ destroyed future in the past as well as his death in the future. This completes the introduction to Bran’s overwhelming powers over the past and also has some very interesting implications.

In ‘Oathbreaker’ we hear the Bloodraven say: ‘The past is already written. The ink is dry.’ But surely this newly explored power of time-travel can’t just be an exercise in nihilism and futility. With the powers to send information back in time one has to ask whether all prophecies are not forced to become true by Bloodraven’s efforts. This notion is somewhat enforced by his words to Bran in this episode: ‘It’s time for you to become me’.

It is certainly interesting to find out where Bran’s story will take us next as he has no longer access to the Weirwood and yet we know there has to be more flashbacks before the end of the season. It is also curious whether the Hodor revelation will cause Bran to become more cautious and reluctant to change the past or encourage him to unleash his potential. The ‘Hold the Door’ reveal seems like a no causality paradox, which is something that I think the show should try and avoid at all costs and the only resolution to this that I can think of is if there is a timeline where Willis does not become Hodor and Future Bran purposefully goes back in time to change that (making the story that much darker). Another potential dark turn that this story could take is connected to the fact that now both Summer and Hodor – the beings in which Bran normally wargs – are dead. This leaves the closest candidate for warging to be Meera. In any case the biggest thing that waits to be addressed is how Meera and Bran are to escape the wights hunting them down, but for that we’ll have to wait and see.

As a whole this episode, I feel, will remain as one of the biggest and most memorable ones in the history of the show purely on the merit of its huge revelations and, of course, the incredible Willis/Hodor scene. In any and all senses this felt like an episode 9, which only underlines how fast this season has been moving. Here’s to hoping that there be more great and engaging stories and developments waiting for us in season 6!

Thank you for reading my review of ‘The Door’ and I hope you are as excited as I am for the coming episodes.

 

Alexander Petkov

Book of the Stranger

download

This will be the EUGOTSOC Committee review of Game of Thrones Season 6 Episode 4: ‘Book of the Stranger’ written by myself – Alexander Petkov: Publicity Officer.

The Showrunners had said that the theme of this season would be ‘Homecoming’ and to this moment that is quite accurate. Many characters have been trying to get back to where they were before and a lot of scenes this season continue to invoke imagery and themes from the first seasons of the show while in a very different and intriguing context. If there’s one criticism that I do have against the current season, it is that now that it’s officially covering material beyond the books and going its own separate way – you can tell that in their attempt to please the fans, the showrunners have made some of the story beats feel like fanfiction. And this problem is very heavily prominent in this episode.

‘Book of the Stranger’ as a title of the episode introduces us to a new perspective on the recurring theme of identity. The passage from ‘The Seven-Pointed Star’ that was referenced in the episode is all about the illusion of superiority and the fake fleeting nature of power as well as the emptiness of a materialistic life. The moral of the passage can be synthesised as ‘Power is no substitute for Identity’ and that is a very powerful notion for the World of Ice and Fire and has some really interesting implications about the storylines this week as well as where the overall story is headed.

The episode starts with a pretty unbelievable scenario – a Stark family members’ reunion for Jon and Sansa. The scenes at Castle Black are also completed by interactions we never thought we’d see – Brienne and Melisandre or Brienne – Tormund (I’ll get to that one later). With that said all the scenes at Castle Black are extremely heartfelt and well-acted and all the characters work amazingly off each other. We see Melisandre returning to her previous self-assured self, claiming that Jon Snow is ‘The prince that was promised’. Seeing how since his resurrection Jon has wanted to completely cut himself from the wars to come, this puts his character in a much more tragic context, as it seems he will be pushed to battle by characters such as Melisandre and Sansa. It is a quite nice touch that when Sansa suggests violence Jon repeats Alliser Thorne’s last words: ‘I fought. I lost…’. It is at that point that Jon realises that both he and Thorne lived and died doing what they believed to be right. This respect for his enemy is very similar to the enlightenment the High Sparrow talks of later in the episode when referring to the Book of the Stranger. And in Jon’s case – his death and resurrection play the role of his metaphorical visit to the graveyard from the story. This dream of peace is however shattered by the threat of Ramsey Bolton who sends a ‘Bastard Letter’ taunting Jon in a very savage, naturalistic yet poetic manner.

For Davos and Melisandre, the topic of Stannis is still a big sore and Brienne’s presence around is not making things easier. And here is one of the more fanfiction-y things this season – the hinted potential romance between Tormund and Brienne. It is too perfect! ‘The Bear and the Maiden Fair’ is a recurring theme in relationships both in the books and in the show – and on top both characters have distinct affiliations with bears. I have to say I do enjoy this ship a lot but it’s so brilliant it actually breaks my immersion in the episode.

Back to more serious things in the North – Osha’s seducing technique fails on Ramsey, making her return on the show really brief. We see a very grown Robin Arryn in the Vale in a scene which very much feels like it’s part of the earlier and more-focused seasons of Game of Thrones. It is really nice to see Littlefinger again and I think I am not alone in thinking that we’re all looking forward to his scheming this season. We also get a hint that Robin might be a warg (when the shot lingers on the falcon mimicking an expression we’d expect from his new master) so that’s another thing to look forward to. Another short scene this episode is the reunion between Yara and Theon. This is the second character this episode that is tired of playing the Game of Thrones. Theon has been stripped of his masculinity and pride and all he wants now is to be accepted by and helpful to his family and his people by supporting his sister. Theon’s metaphorical graveyard is his time in Winterfell being tortured by Ramsey. It is a very touching scene and works well with the theme of the episode (as we see Theon choosing identity over power) but seeing how a Kingsmoot is coming and Euron has returned – it is unlikely that Theon will find peace.

The scenes in King’s Landing this episode I felt worked really well in providing the centrepiece of the power versus identity conflict. They also invoked the spirit of true Game of Thrones intrigue such as we haven’t seen in at least a season and a half. The High Sparrow’s monologue about his past and the meaning of the Book of the Stranger in front of Margaery is truly brilliant and was perfectly delivered but much like most of the slower moments like this in the show I think this one will remain lost on the general public along with its message. It certainly makes me wonder whether the story is headed in the direction of discarding one’s power and seeking one’s identity to the end of senseless violence. This idea, however, is completely lost on the other characters as we see Margaery believing the High Sparrow’s words to be aimed at tricking her into betraying her brother. The scene of her with Loras is really touching as she’s trying to give courage to her brother. Loras, however, is broken and has lost the will for both power and identity. This mostly underlines the failure of the faith’s ideals (assuming that they are central to the Sparrows’ movement to begin with, which is arguable, I admit).

This is followed by a curious and intriguing series of scenes with Cersei. She first learns a supposed secret that the High Sparrow revealed to Tommen. Then claims in front of The Queen of Thorns and her uncle Kevan that Margaery is going to have a walk of shame soon. This makes them agree to march the Tyrell army into the city in order to prevent Margaery’s humiliation. Of course, a lot of the dialogue during these scenes is skipped over so we don’t know whether that was what the High Sparrow told Tommen. And this opens the possibility that someone is being played, which is something we haven’t seen in the show for a while – making it an exciting prospect. (Of course, the more boring alternative exists that everyone is telling the truth and the showrunners were just cutting out unnecessary repetition to help the runtime) These scenes in King’s Landing invoke the notion of power as one’s base of identity which is in complete opposition to the Book of the Stranger and the parallel could be made that these characters’ actions are their attempts at cheating Death. This is reinforced by perhaps the darkest line delivered by our beloved Queen of Thorns to date: ‘Many will die no matter what we do. Better them than us!’

In Meereen Tyrion is trying to resolve the city’s problems with the surrounding Slave Cities with diplomacy. And here lie some of the problems I have with this episode. I actually did enjoy Missandei and Grey Worm’s expressions during the negotiations and their comments of distrust afterwards along with them bitterly ignoring their own principles whilst even for a brief moment for the sake of keeping peace. Yes, they were a tad heavy-handed but still worked well, I feel. What really threw me off was Tyrion telling slave-owners that his feudal family’s fortune was acquired more morally than theirs. In an interview the showrunners even stated that they intentionally paralleled Tyrion with Abraham Lincoln in that scene. And this is a major problem with the show in general – you can’t just go around mixing metaphors irresponsibly and making random modernish world commentary. I’m not saying that one shouldn’t provide commentary – but do so in a way that makes sense with the story you’re telling. We had the portrayal of religious extremism with Stannis, a metaphor for the US conflict in the Middle East with the Sons of the Harpy storyline and now mixing feudalism with American Civil War. These parallels do not make the story more nuanced or deeper but rather turn something that could be a subtle message into something that can feel unnecessarily forced.

This for me embodies the ‘Viewer Paradox’. We’ve seen so many instances of the show being beautifully subtle and surprising us with its wit and others when it goes out of its way to prove a point which is arguably not appropriate. In that case you always read too much and too little simultaneously into the story presented. And I’m not gonna lie this is one of the reasons we all love this show but I felt like I had to address this issue, especially in light of the last storyline left to cover from this week: Daenerys.

There’s not much to be said about the Jorah – Daario duo – I’m glad how their dynamic changed once Jorah’s greyscale was revealed and I also liked Daario’s sense of humour to an extent. Everything, however, is leading to the big scene where all the Khals are gathered to decide Daenerys’ fate. And that is by far the most fanfiction-y scene in Game of Thrones and I honestly can’t get my head around it. In the past few seasons we’ve seen scenes of Dany acting ruthless and cruel occasionally, which led the viewer to question exactly how much like the Mad King she really is. Here under the guise of fighting male oppression she smugly burns all the khals alive in the temple of the Dosh Khaleen and emerges unburnt. And during that scene she is as close to being exactly as cruel and terrible as the Mad King as she’s ever been. What bothers me the most about this scene is how out of place and unnecessary it feels (hence me calling it fanfiction-y). It is good for nice visuals and shock value but brings nothing new. We’ve already seen Dany emerge unburnt from a fire in Vaes Dothrak – at the end of Season 1 when the dragons hatched. But now – it’s a bigger fire but it’s the exact same thing (minus the dragons). Also such a big ‘triumphant’ moment feels really weird this early in the season. Another thing that troubled me was how much this scene reminded me of the ‘Weak men will never rule Dorne again’ scene from earlier this season.

With all that aside, putting this scene in the context of this episode’s theme – it seems that Daenerys is confusing power with identity which makes her a villain in the scope of the series. Of course, this is only how I feel about it and this brings us back to the ‘Viewer Paradox’. It is impossible to be sure if the showrunners mean to depict Dany as a protagonist or antagonist all because of mixed messages. One thing is certain though – we all want to see where the story takes Dany next after she has assimilated all of the dothraki.

Overall I quite liked this episode – I feel like it was the most thematically consistent of this season so far even if it’s not my favourite. Both power and identity are important concepts in the world of Ice and Fire so it was quite intriguing to see a new spin on their conflict. And despite all my ranting, I’m as hyped as ever to see where this season is headed!

Thank you for reading my review of ‘Book of the Stranger’ and I hope you are as excited as I am for the coming episodes.

 

Alexander Petkov