Warning: this review contains spoilers. You can find all of my Game of Thrones reviews here.
“Book of the Stranger” was Season 6’s busiest and best episode yet, yet again proving that not only can Game of Thrones survive without the books, it might even be better off without them. Whether it’s because the series is finally free from having to match the books’ timeline and pacing or because end of the series is drawing near—or a combination of both—Game of Thrones has seen more forward momentum in Season 6 than it had in years.
“Book of the Stranger” kicked off with a payoff that had been held back since the beginning of the series. Sansa arrived at Castle Black, and it wasn’t to find out that Jon was dead, or that he’d left and she’d missed him by mere moments. After years of tearing them apart, Game of Thrones allowed us to revel in the satisfaction of seeing two Stark children finally reunited.
Another great example of the show’s newfound freedom can also be found at Castle Black. The sprawling universe and large cast of characters on Game of Thrones has always meant that storylines and their respective players were usually confined to their own separate pockets. This makes it all the more interesting when those stories align and different characters get to interact. This was true of Daenerys and Tyrion meeting last year, and is again evident during Brienne’s short but tense (and, in a way, hilariously awkward) conversation with Davos and Melisandre. “I was Kingsguard to Renly, but you killed him with a shadow demon, so I executed Stannis. But hey, water under the bridge!”
On top of that, Sansa finally seems to have found her purpose on the show. For years we’d been promised that she would play a vital role, and for years she’d been relegated to the role of a passive victim. The Sansa in “Book of the Stranger” was different. Not only was her story now tied with Jon’s, which alone is a major improvement, but she was the one who was driving the action. Sansa was calling for war against Ramsay, with or without Jon’s help. This is definitely a direction for Sansa that I can get behind.
Jon and the wildlings may not be Sansa’s only allies in this campaign. Littlefinger returned to the Vale and very easily enlisted Robin Arryn’s help for Sansa’s cause. Robin may be insufferable, but he is easy to manipulate, which is great for the Starks. Although one has to wonder what Baelish’s motivations are.
In any case, it seems the battle to reclaim Winterfell has begun, and for me, this is the storyline to invest in. A large collection of some of the show’s best characters—Sansa, Jon and his allies, with Brienne, Davos, and Melisandre in tow—teaming up to take on Ramsay, one of the most repulsive characters in television history, for control of the Stark home, a location dear to the viewers’ hearts. The culmination of years of meticulous storytelling to get all of these characters to this exact point (most recently Jon’s resurrection, which allowed him to leave the Night’s Watch and pursue this quest). What’s not to love?
That storyline and its potential alone was enough to make “Book of the Stranger” one of the show’s more memorable episodes, but it was far from the only development in this busy episode.
Another major conflict that had been brewing for weeks took a more concrete shape as the Lannisters finally got the attention of the small council and devised a plan of attack against the Faith Militant. This was another bubbling plotline that needed a kick to get it going, and I’m glad to see that happening sooner rather than later. Of course no attack happened yet; it’s all dependent on Margaery’s walk of atonement. But it was a major step forward on that front.
As usual, there were several smaller developments taking place throughout “Book of the Stranger”. Tyrion tried to take the diplomatic approach in Meereen, which didn’t sit well with Daenerys’s more idealistic cohorts, though one has to wonder if they actually have a point. Theon was reunited with his sister in a tense but emotional scene, which both Alfie Allen and Gemma Whelan played really well. And it’s not an episode of Game of Thrones unless Ramsay casually murders someone, and this week’s victim was poor Osha. She was one of the show’s better characters, but she lost relevance, so if she had to be written off, might as well use it to increase our dislike of Ramsay.
The third major storyline, and one that ended the episode, was Daenerys’s predicament in Vaes Dothrak. What threatened to be yet another plodding subplot was mercifully ended in a great way as Daenerys set fire to a dozen khals and emerged from the roaring flames unscathed to the worship of thousands. What I liked most about this scene was that Daenerys did all of that on her own. Jorah and Daario didn’t rescue her (they just lent a hand). Drogon didn’t swoop down and carry her away. She was both independent and active, which she really needed to be again.
For the first time in a long time, I’m excited about Daenerys’s future. Of course, her storyline could fizzle again. Daenery’s journey on this show has been a set of incredible (and dragon-heavy) scenes scattered amidst long stretches of inactivity. The last time something this badass happened, it was promptly followed by Drogon dropping her off in the middle of nowhere, which is what got her captured in the first place. But seeing most other storylines take shape this season, I’m hopeful that we won’t fall into that trap again.
Another notable aspect of that ending was how similar it was to Season 1’s ending, which also involved Daenerys emerging unscathed from a blazing fire to the awe and admiration of countless Dothraki. And while I’m normally not so enthusiastic about retreads, this is one case where I don’t mind. The ending of Season 1 was when Daenerys’s story had the most potential. Since then, she had decent storylines punctuated by enjoyable high points, but they were slow and stretched too thin, and it seemed like Daenerys was going nowhere, or at least stalling until the time came for her to go to Westeros.
That is no longer the case. By hearkening back to the Season 1 finale, “Book of the Stranger” was stirring emotions not felt since the last time Daenerys had that crucial element that had been missing ever since: possibility.
Rating: 4.5/5 (Excellent)
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