I’ve come to think Game of Thrones as I do weekend benders and their unpleasant aftermath; after a period of animalistic excess, a time of quiet reflection is required to overcome the various physiological and psychological effects of the hangover.
Last week was played out at a suitably sedate, contemplative pace. Yes, Septon Ray (Ian McShane) had his neck stretched and all his followers were hacked to bits – but that was off camera, so doesn’t count as a genuine GoT blood-letting. So, all in all, it was an episode of calming scene-setting which sets us up nicely for another bender.
Thankfully, the Clegane brothers, Gregor (The Mountain) and Sandor (The Hound), deliver the goods with an exquisitely choreographed fix of bloodshed and death coupled with some horribly deadpan dialogue from the latter as he exacts retribution on the men who sacked the peace-loving commune of the dearly departed Ray.
“You’re shit at dying, you know that?” complains the axe-wielding Hound having removed the testicles of his unfortunate captive, before bringing down his weapon on his head. Not sated in his bloodlust, he sets off in pursuit of the rest of the band of killers and finds them already facing execution at the hands of Beric Dondarrion (played by Richard Dormer). After a brief parlay, the brigands meet their maker at the end of a rope and Sandor and Dondarrion make friends – sort of.
Not to be outdone, Sandor’s big brother, The Mountain is the go-to guy for Queen Cersei when those upstart fundamentalists of the Faith Militant enter the Red Keep and command her to accompany them to the High Sparrow. With violence inevitable, Gregor (Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson) diffuses the situation in his own inimitable way by removing the skull and spine of the first man to cross him.
The Mountain’s highly effective negotiation technique persuades Lancel and his brothers of Faith that conflict will not prevail today and they retire while they are still able to.
With the Blackfish (Clive Russell) holed up in Riverrun refusing to surrender his family seat to the besieging Lannister army, Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) arrives on a mission from Sansa Stark who remains stuck in the North with a ramshackle band of Wildings and men of the Night’s Watch.
Brienne fulfils her oath and has ‘a moment’ with Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) after he gives her his sword – no, that’s not a Bron-style euphemism.
The Kingslayer knows that force of arms isn’t going to gain his entry to the fortress and sets to work on Lord Edmure Tully (Tobias Menzies). With little love lost between the pair, Lannister puts Edmure’s options in simple terms: as the rightful Lord of Riverrun, he should surrender the castle or he’ll see all of his family fetched up and slaughtered in front of him. With only one course open to him, Tully gains entry to and then surrenders his castle. And Blackfish? Unable to leave with Brienne due to family honour and equally determined not to surrender to the Lannisters, he meets his end as a good warrior should – with sword in hand.
Down south in that sunny city of Meereen, Tyrion and Varys busily congratulate each other over the success of the pact with the Maesters and the abolition of slavery. But no sooner has Varys embarked on a secret mission to secure support from Westeros, the double-dealing slavers sail into the port and set about reclaiming their property with a pyrotechnic display of flaming missiles and bombs. Tyrion and his posse retreat to the pyramid to make their stand and breathe a collective sigh of relief when Daenerys returns to save the day.
Arya Stark (Maisie Williams), last seen on the wrong end of The Waif’s blade stumbling bloodsoaked around Braavos, turns up in the quarters of Lady Crane and is nursed back to health. Having once saved the actress from the assassins of the Faceless Men, she foolishly leads them straight back to her and the sticky outcome is inevitable.
With the Waif in pursuit, Arya scarpers before being cornered in the candlelit cellars of the bath house. With a flash of her blade, the room is plunged into blackness and having dished out one too many beatings, the Waif gets her comeuppance and loses her face to the Many Faced God.
So what now for her? She’s spent three-quarters of this season being whipped like a dog, but having reclaimed her name and earned the respect of Jaqen H’ghar (Tom Wlaschiha), she sets off to find what is left of her family in the north. Can she bring anything to the fight in the north? Will she find Bran? Will she rendezvous with Sansa and Jon the Bastard or will she fall prey to the Boltons. Tune in next week, things are cooking nicely!
Game of Thrones is broadcast on Mondays at 2am and 9pm on Sky Atlantic.