‘Game Of Thrones’ Recap: Line Up Your Toy Soldiers

The battle lines have been drawn.

Game of Thrones

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This is a recap of the latest episode of Game of Thrones. Spoilers! 

Daenerys Stormborn has returned to the scene of the storm: the ancestral Targaryen fortress of Dragonstone. Followed ceremoniously by her Hand of the Queen, Tyrion Lannister, and her loyal servants Missandei, Varys and Grey Worm, Daenerys makes her way through the great hall, and in to the Chamber of the Painted Table. “Shall we begin?” she says.

If only the toy soldiers, horses and model ships on this table could talk. This is the very Westeros-shaped table at which Aegon Targaryen plotted his conquest of the Seven Kingdoms, long ago. Upon this table, in season two, the Red Priestess Melisandre seduced Stannis Baratheon, knocking armies to the floor as she was impregnated with the shadow that killed Renly. And here, at the end of season three, Ser Davos Seaworth brought Stannis crucial news of the horror beyond the Wall: “It’s coming. For all of us.”

As Game of Thrones heads into its final stretch, this solid but not especially thrilling season opener was spent lining up toy soldiers. Yep: Tormund’s still into Brienne of Tarth, and Podrick Payne still can’t fight for shit. Yep: Lord Petyr Baelish is still sleazing onto Sansa Stark. Yep: Sandor Clegane is still dishing out burns sicker than any his brother Gregor could inflict. Yep: Cersei Lannister still drinks to cope.


Unfortunately Jaime was the only one still alive to attend the intervention.

At the end of last season, Cersei swept her table clean by blowing up pretty much every character in King’s Landing; now, she’s commissioned her own painted map that enables her to stomp across Westeros like the kaiju she imagines she is… although she hits the wine the instant Jaime brings up Tommen’s suicide.

Jaime’s dismay at his sister’s delusions of dynastic domination is a treat to behold. He understands, as Cersei refuses to, the precarious position in which the much-diminished House Lannister finds itself. Jaime’s also rattled by the swaggering appearance of kinslaying pirate Euron Greyjoy before the Iron Throne, wooing Cersei with his “thousand ships, and two good hands”.



What could be the “gift” Euron promises Cersei? Fans of the books may suspect it’s Dragonbinder: a gigantic horn Euron claims to have discovered in the smoking ruins of old Valyria. It incinerates the lungs of anyone who blows it, but forces any nearby dragons to obey the horn’s master… or mistress. That could be a game-changer for Cersei when Daenerys attacks the capital.

Winter is here, so of course Game of Thrones kicks off with a cold open. Arya Stark’s method-acted Walder Frey is yet another reminder that nobody ever really dies on this show. If it’s not Arya’s Mission: Impossible impersonations of the dead, it’s her brother Bran’s uncanny knowledge of past, present and future, which spooks Dolorous Edd into letting Bran and Meera straight inside the Wall. Bran’s visions are now revealing that the Night King’s army includes giant wights. Oh, shit – imagine if the White Walkers ever manage to kill one of Daenerys’s dragons. ICE DRAGON.

Arya is heading south to cross Cersei off her list when she hears a sweet singing voice. She approaches, only for us to realise (as Bronn would say), it’s Ed fooking Sheeran.

In the book A Storm of Swords, the song Ed sings — “For hands of gold are always cold, but a woman’s hands are warm” — referred to Tyrion Lannister (who was then Hand of the King) and his secret mistress Shae. But here, it could equally refer to golden-handed Jaime Lannister’s illicit love for Cersei (“For she was his secret treasure/she was his shame and his bliss”). Perhaps Tyrion’s killing of Shae for her betrayal, with her golden necklace in his hands, could foreshadow another Lannister-related murder of passion?

At Winterfell, Sansa Stark’s first-hand knowledge of Cersei’s ruthlessness clashes with Jon Snow’s first-hand knowledge of the Night King. The Stark siblings quarrel, both publicly and privately, about where their true enemy lies, while Sansa begs her brother to think more strategically than poor old Ned and Robb. But I’m worried Sansa has become hardened like dragonglass from the cruelty she’s witnessed and endured.

Could the weary, morally compromised Hound turn out to be the show’s truest warrior of light?

Jon’s bid for northern unity and gender equality — cue fierce nods from Brienne and Lyanna Mormont — and his soft demand of fealty from young Alys Karstark and Ned Umber — are motivated by his fear. He needs every northern man, woman, girl and boy working t’ obsidian mines, to make weapons to fight the undead horde. This episode spotlights the maddening opacity of the game of thrones — any toy soldier, no matter how loyal or smart, can still be moved or swept away.

As Sandor Clegane, now travelling north with the Brotherhood without Banners, reluctantly sees the consequences of his own robbery of a farmer’s silver back in season four, he contemplates the randomness of survival, asking Lord Beric Dondarrion: why does the Lord of Light bring him back? Beric has no answers, but Thoros of Myr suggests the fire does.

“It’s my fucking luck I end up with a band of fire worshippers,” growls the Hound… but in the flames, he sees visions of the White Walkers’ undead army heading for the Wall at Eastwatch-by-the-sea. And then as Thoros finds him belatedly burying the farmer and his daughter, Sandor stumblingly attempts a prayer. Could the weary, morally compromised Hound turn out to be the show’s truest warrior of light?


And whose gross arm is reaching out to trainee maester Sam Tarly for news of Daenerys? It’s Ser Jorah Mormont, literally dying to know if he’s still in the friendzone. Last seen being ordered by the queen he loves to seek a cure for his greyscale, Jorah has done well to hit the Citadel of Oldtown, the Seven Kingdoms’ medical capital.

Sam has done less well. More like the Shitadel, amirite? In an amusing montage, the urgency of Sam’s need to research the White Walkers clashes with the tedious abjection of his daily routine. And while Archmaester Jim Broadbent believes Sam’s telling the truth, he’s also so cloistered within a long view of Westerosi history that he simply can’t imagine the possibility the Wall may fall.

But Sam’s too keen a student to be stuck weighing viscera and emptying bedpans forever, so he simply steals Legends of the Long Night and other restricted books to study back at home with Gilly. Nerds will notice an illustration of the Valyrian steel dagger used in the season-one attempt on Bran Stark’s life, which was foiled by Catelyn Stark and Summer the direwolf. Remember whose weapon this was: Littlefinger’s. Who might wield it next, and against whom?

But Sam’s key discovery is that Dragonstone castle gets its name from having been built atop a mountain of the very mineral Jon needs. People are comparing Sam’s storyline to Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings… but he’s more like the headset guy in a spy team, feeding key info to his field partner Jon. Is a raven even now winging its way to Winterfell, encouraging Jon to parley with his half-sister Daenerys? On their painted tables, the soldiers are shifting…

Game of Thrones is streaming on Foxtel Now and airing on Showcase at 11am and 8.30pm every Monday. For more on this week’s episode, check out Sinead Stubbins’ power ranking.

Mel Campbell is a freelance journalist and cultural critic. She tweets at @incrediblemelk.