When people try to point to one Game of Thrones character as the protagonist, they usually go one of two routes: Jon or Tyrion. They’re sensible options. Daenarys has always been too far removed from the main action in Westeros, and most of the characters in the Seven Kingdoms are too conniving to be the hero, insofar as Game of Thrones could even have a hero. Jon and Tyrion, who early in the story bonded over their mutual status as outcasts, share somewhat similar outlooks: they both look for scenarios in which everyone wins. It’s why Jon let the Wildlings within The Wall, so that they could fight together against the White Walkers, and it’s why Tyrion tries to make peace with the masters of Slaver’s Bay in Book of the Stranger. Diplomacy requires everybody giving up a little to gain a lot.
As shown in this latest episode, however, nobody else likes the idea of a win-win scenario. Jon’s plan got him stabbed last season, and while Tyrion seems to have convinced Grey Worm and Missandei that his peace deal is for the best, nobody in Meereen seems happy about it. Everywhere else in the story — especially when it comes to the Mother of Dragons — problems are not merely solved, they are eliminated.
Jon and Sansa reunite, the North prepares for war
As has been the case for the season so far, events at The Wall move briskly in Book of the Stranger. As Edd tries to convince Jon that he ought to remain with the Night’s Watch, Sansa, Brienne, and Pod arrive. Jon and Sansa embrace — in what is the first scene just the the two of them have shared on-screen — and reminisce over the old days, before Sansa broaches the subject of Winterfell. Ramsay Bolton controls their ancestral home, she reminds him, and they won’t be safe until they take it back. Jon, for his part, is tired of fighting; Sansa lets him know that she aims to take back Winterfell, with or without him.
Ramsay continues to be, despite his frequent lack of impulse control, the most invincible man in Westeros. The reigning Warden of the North has Osha, Rickon’s companion, brought before him. Despite his attempts to intimidate her, she seems unperturbed, and even attempts to seduce. This is a cover for her attempt to stab him with a nearby knife, but Ramsay, having learned of Osha from his time torturing Theon, does the job first, leaving her bleeding out on the floor.
For his next move, Ramsay sends a message to Snow, informing him that he has Rickon and that, if Jon doesn’t come to Winterfell, Ramsay’s men will march north and do all manner of unpleasant things to the remaining Starks as well as the Wildlings. In a single letter, Ramsay gives both Jon and Tormund a reason to assault Winterfell; perhaps this will backfire bloodily on Ramsay. He seems to be the one character on the show for whom nothing can go wrong. Then again, that’s how it seemed for young King Joffrey.
While the Starks and Ramsay prepare for war, another army approaches. Littlefinger, making his grand return to the show, arrives in the Vale, where young lord Robin Arryn continues to fail in his training to become a warrior. Littlefinger brings a gift — a falcon — and also news. Robin’s cousin Sansa has been captured by the Boltons, and isn’t that terrible! Robin comes to the conclusion that he ought to help his cousin under Littlefinger’s persuasion, and the latter pushes forward, ordering the armies of the Vale to march north. Littlefinger’s plans seem to be approaching fruition, and the whole of the North may burn because of his ambitions.
The show returns to the Iron Islands briefly, as Theon makes his way home. His sister Yara is not happy to see him after he sided with Ramsay in their last encounter. She berates him for his weakness, and, as it is the eve of the Kingsmoot, tells him that nobody in the Iron Islands wants him for a king. Theon has no desire to rule the Ironborn, however, and pledges his support to Yara in the coming struggle.
A fragile alliance in King’s Landing
The class warfare in King’s Landing continues to bubble. The High Sparrow brings Margaery out of her cell, offering her a sermon on his own sins. Like Margaery, the High Sparrow was once fond of the trappings of nobility. One night, after a night of raucous partying, he looked around and realized that all the money and wine were meaningless, that truth lay among the peasants. Margaery notes that his lecture is similar to the titular Book of the Stranger, one of the holy texts of the Faith of the Seven.
The High Sparrow remains an enigma; is he a true believer, or a huckster trying to carve out his own niche in Westeros? In his sermon to Margaery, he certainly conveys the passion of the faithful — yet he wields his power with the brutality of any other cunning would-be ruler in Westeros. It is not yet clear if the high Sparrow’s words will take root in Margaery, who for the moment seems only concerned with getting out along with her brother, but they seem to have gripped Tommen. The young king urges Cersei to be cautious when dealing with the High Sparrow, as the preacher has his own army within the city, as well as the queen for a hostage.
Cersei, perhaps sensing that her son is being swayed by the Sparrow (or at least is too afraid to kill him) sets in motion a plot to eliminate the religious uprising once and for all. She and Jaime approach the small council, convincing them that Olenna Tyrell ought to bring the might of the Tyrell forces against the High Sparrow and rescue Margaery. Kevan Lannister, Hand of the King, will command the king’s forces to stand down, leaving the Faith Militant to fend off a professional army. Cersei and Jaime seem confident in the outcome, but the Sparrow’s message is popular with the poor folk of King’s Landing. The nobility may not like the idea of a peasant with power, but their actions may soon do more damage to the social order than the Faith ever could have alone.
Tyrion tries to cut a deal
Back in Meereen, Tyrion has his aforementioned peace talks with the masters of Slaver’s Bay, who are currently backing the civil unrest in the city. The masters want Daenarys’ forces to leave Slaver’s Bay; Daenarys’ forces, largely former slaves, want the masters dead. Tyrion seeks a middle path, offering to let the masters slowly phase out slavery over the next seven years and be monetarily compensated as they free their slaves.
Tyrion views this as a necessary compromise; he can either fight for freedom or for peace. Grey Worm and Missandei don’t share his diplomatic tendencies. They remember the cruelty of the old order, and are not eager to negotiate when peace means seven more years of slavery. For the moment, they back Tyrion’s plan, but the other freemen of Meereen may be less easily persuaded. Tyrion may, like Jon, find that compromise makes nobody happy.
Daenarys and the fire
Daenarys, certainly, has had enough of compromise. Still a captive among the Dothraki, she scoffs at their attempts to convince her that life as a dosh khaleen is the best she can hope for. Her loyal soldiers, Jorah and Daario, finally reach Vaes Dothrak after some aggressive banter. They attempt to rescue her under cover of darkness, murdering a couple of Dothraki guards along the way. Yet, Daenarys does not want to flee. She has something else in mind.
The next day, she faces the judgment of the Dothraki khals, listening to them propose varying fates for her inside their large wooden lodge. The khals are weak men, she claims, whose only goals are to raid small villages; Daenarys, conqueror of cities, ought to rule. The khals laugh at her, and threaten to mercilessly rape her to death for her insolence, but they don’t live long enough to carry out their threats. Wearing a demonic smile of vengeance, Daenarys knocks over the lit braziers in the hall, setting the whole place ablaze. As the hall burns, the men attempt to escape, but Daenarys’ friends have sealed the doors (and their fate) from the outside.
Dothraki gather outside to watch the blaze until, at last, a solitary figure emerges. Daenarys Stormborn, Mother of Dragons, The Unburnt Again. Daenarys’ immunity to fire, which she first displayed when her dragons were born, doesn’t come up much, but it seems her powers have only grown and the show makes great use of it here. Unlike Tyrion, Daenarys has no need for negotiations. In a world where nobody seems willing to compromise, her brand of flameing diplomacy may be the most effective.