The North Remembers, Whether You Like It Or Not
Game of Thrones is the rare fantasy series that pushes its fantastical elements to the sidelines, using them sparingly to highlight it as a human drama that just so happens to be set in a world with dragons and frozen zombies. “Kill The Boy” strikes a nice balance between the typical drama Game of Thrones is known for and bringing its fantasy elements out for an extended visit. It’s also the most focused episode of season 5 so far, concerned primarily with events in the North. While “Kill The Boy” scores points for excising some of the narrative glut typically seen in most episodes of Game of Thrones, it’s still largely a setup episode that isn’t memorable enough to stand among the best the show has offered.
The episode begins by addressing the fallout from the bloody events in Meereen from “Sons of the Harpy.” The ending to that episode left the fate of two of Daenerys’s most trusted allies in an ambiguous state, but here we receive confirmation that Ser Barristan is dead, while Grey Worm is alive, but severely wounded. It’s unfortunate to see the old knight go, as Ian McElhinney was a great presence on the show, but his character’s death is not as dramatic as the writers wants it to be. Barristan was simply not given enough screen time, especially leading up to his death, to warrant an emotional response on par with something like season 3’s infamous Red Wedding. That being said, Dany is definitely mourning her bodyguard’s loss, as evidenced by her dramatic punishment for various members of Meereen’s head families.
While the inhabitants of Meereen still feel like more of a vague concept that simply exist to allow Dany to project her power on than actual people, having one of them scorched and eaten by her dragons makes for a powerful statement, as well as a thrilling visual. Dany’s speech about her mother-child relationship with her dragons is an excellent metaphor for how she frames herself in relation to Meereen’s people. The refreshing aspect of this storyline is how it’s turned around by the episode’s end. What easily could have turned into Dany simply feeding her dragons one nobleman after another instead turns into a further example of Dany’s evolution as a leader: she not only shows mercy towards her captives, but also relents on her previous stance by opening the fighting pits, seemingly recognizing the need for a balanced approach to her leadership if she hopes to prevent further uprisings in the future.
In contrast, Jon Snow makes a crucial decision that could threaten his position as Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. The title of the episode refers to Maester Aemon’s advice to Jon that he “kill the boy” — in other words, learn to live with his decisions and realize that he cannot please everyone. It’s good leadership advice, but still doesn’t feel adequate enough considering the magnitude of Jon’s decision to offer sanctuary to all of the Wildlings. Most of his men are not happy with this decision, to say the least. One of the running themes of the episode is the power and significance of memory. Jon definitely remembers that the Wildlings almost killed him and his men not very long ago, but also has the emotional maturity to recognize that Westeros has far bigger problems than the centuries-old feud between the two sides (this is, after all, a man who just had to begrudgingly recognize the Boltons’ claims to Winterfell, despite the fact that they betrayed and murdered members of his family). Unfortunately for Jon, not many others feel the same and can’t forget what the Wildlings have done or what that means to them. There is definitely going to be a tough leadership road ahead for Jon Snow.
Speaking of the Boltons, we finally see more interaction between them and Sansa this week as the two parties sit down for an extremely awkward dinner. Ramsay is his typical terrifying, cunning self, as he tries to offset Sansa’s hatred for himself and his father by focusing on Theon/Reek’s killing of Sansa’s little brothers. It’s not made clear if Sansa knows that Theon didn’t actually kill Bran and Rickon, or what her true feelings towards Theon are, but it’s incredible seeing the way Ramsay bastardizes (pun intended) the Starks’ own line, “the North remembers”, in an attempt to sway Sansa against Theon. Roose takes the wind out of Ramsay’s sails when he casually mentions that his wife is pregnant and that it’s a boy. The camera then focuses on Sansa, who has a glorious smirk on her face; a small victory for someone trapped among psychopaths. Right now, the events at Winterfell are absolutely the most riveting of the entire show and the episode is strengthened significantly for spending significant time there.
It would be quite difficult for “Kill the Boy” to best the dining scene, but it comes close thanks to Tyrion and Jorah, who find themselves in one of the most fantastical settings Game of Thrones has ever featured. Their journey to Daenerys takes them through the ruins of Old Valyria, a land that has been frequently referenced on the show but never actually seen. The world and characters of Game of Thrones are so intricate and complex in scope and scale that it’s easy to forget about the mythology of the world (which, to be fair, doesn’t get much attention to begin with). Valyria is visually-arresting because it looks and feels so different from other settings on the show. Having Tyrion recite an old poem that describes the doom of Valyria not only gives life to the mythologizing of the place, but does double duty as a bonding moment between Tyrion and Jorah, as the latter joins in and finishes the verse.
To cap it all off, the characters not only witness Dany’s wayward dragon Drogo fly overhead, but are attacked by the “Stone Men”, a brand new fantastical element that show why the greyscale disease is so feared (and why Shireen is so lucky to have been cured). The final shot of Jorah’s greyscale-infected arm automatically signals the character’s eventual doom, but this is unfortunately yet another setup for events that will take place at an unspecified date. As it stands, “Kill the Boy” does a good job of getting some storylines moving along — which was badly needed — but it’s still hampered by doing too much setup work. This is the halfway point of season 5, but it still feels like the chess pieces are being moved into position instead of actually being played.
Other Events This Week:
-Brienne and Podrick get a brief scene that is still largely just setup for future events. Given how dire Sansa’s situation is looking, it’s at least comforting to know that she has a powerful ally nearby in Brienne.
-The bedroom scene with Ramsay and his concubine Myranda offers up a taste of the misery Sansa is likely to experience once she marries her depraved fiance. It’s difficult to gauge whether Myranda is putting on a show for Ramsay or not, but it’s safe to assume she’s probably not going to have a happy ending.
-The scene between Stannis and Sam doesn’t really do much to standout, but builds off of last week’s interaction between Stannis and his daughter in helping make the would-be king someone to root for. His advice to “keep reading, Samwell Tarly” shows that Stannis realizes that physical strength alone isn’t going to save Westeros.
-The bedside scene with Grey Worm and Missandei is touching, but kind of falls flat. These characters and their relationship hasn’t been given enough screen time to warrant much of an emotional attachment. Still, it’s great to see that he survived.