Game of Thrones Recap: Only One Queen Can Win
The third episode of Game of Thrones Season 7, “The Queen's Justice,” teased fans with an unasked question: which queen would deliver justice? The episode answered in a definitive fashion. Queen Cersei, the Mad Queen we didn’t truly see coming until the Sept exploded last season, has risen to the top of the conflict for the Kingdoms of Westeros to deal a major blow to the Targaryen Restoration. You never get used to dragons, but we have become accustomed to horrible deaths caused by Cersei.
How does "The Queen's Justice" change the game? (Or better yet, the series end game?). Let's take it team by team -- processing the spoilers, weighing the theories, and charting the course for what will inevitably be one bloody battle.
House Targaryen (or Dany needs a plany)
Is the Hand of House Targaryen doing a good job or a poor job? Tyrion’s advice and planning seem solid in "The Queen's Justice," and viewers can understand why he cautions Daenerys against any Mad Queen tendencies. But this week, his one-handed brother outmaneuvers him with cunning strategy. It doesn’t matter if you helped design the sewer systems of your hometown, and used to sneak in whores through a place that is a major leak in the security of the seat of your house, if your moves are predictable. The advice that Tyrion is giving both Jon Snow and Dany seems sound from the perspective of the audience, but it is all turning out to be miscalculated and prone to traps. This is a recurring problem; all the “heroes” of Season 7 that aren’t named Cersei are having difficulties executing their plans, and that’s currently weighing the most on Daenerys forces under the command of Tyrion.
Dany learns that the Rebel Greyjoys and Martells are essentially out of the Game this week, and while Tyrion’s plan to take Casterly Rock is successful, the assault leaves Dany’s Unsullied completely surrounded by foes. The fall of Highgarden, and the reveal that Randyll Tarly does indeed support House Lannister, means that the entirety of the The Reach is now hostile territory to House Targaryen forces. Obviously everything that isn’t Casterly Rock remains loyal to House Lannister, which cuts the stranded Unsullied off from Dragonstone by land. Euron controlling all the Greyjoy territory and the sea outside Casterly Rock removes all nautical options. Dany is down to her Dothraki and trio of dragons.
The new debate in House Targaryen is what to do about the young King of the North who shrugged off suggestions by Davos that he’s been resurrected. Jon Snow isn’t interested in bending the knee to House Targaryen, but Daenerys is about to be in need of allies -- or a least a rest from being attacked on all sides. Keeping Jon close without antagonizing him should be as important to Dany as getting him to swear fealty because the war for the South of Westeros is not working out in Dany’s favor.
Appeasing Jon with the Dragonglass decision make sense, but her restraint in using her dragons seems about to break. The odds of the dragons entering the War of the Queens are going to skyrocket once Dany realizes that the Unsullied are surrounded. Less Mad Queen than Royally Pissed-Off Queen.
The Dothraki (or: a reminder that they're around to fight)
This week they got to move a boat. But, hey, it’s good reason to seed in the Dothraki to our recaps/theorizing because next week they’ll finally get to see some battle as Dany embraces her Dragon tendencies. Count on it.
This week, Thrones confirmed that some Dothraki had successfully crossed the Narrow Sea. They are the first, after all, and the main target of Queen Cersei’s xenophobic campaign to keep Westeros pure. It looks like they’ve become slightly more comfortable with boats, as they take the one Jon and Davos would need to escape Dragonstone. Which is good, because they are the strongest remaining fighting force that Dany has left. It’s finally time for the Dothraki to ride on the mainland of Westeros.
The Eunuchs! (or: Varys won't survive whatever happens in Westeros)
Varys and Melisandre found themselves an interesting scene this week. It's probably Melisandre’s last appearance this season, unless the time it takes to sail east, find herself, then sail back to Westeros has abbreviated since we’ve seen Arya do it. (You never know: it took Jon Snow the time it took for Dany to find out about the Greyjoy attack to arrive to Dragonstone.)
In the short scene, Varys, the record holder for going from Essos to Westeros in seemingly no time at all (#VarysIsAMermaid), wonders what would keep Melisandre from greeting Jon Snow upon arrival. The Spider doesn’t like the Red Priests and Priestesses of the world, as the wizard who took his manhood heard "voices in the flames," so it’s no wonder that he doesn’t buy Melisandre’s claim that she’s done whispering in the ears of kings. On the other hand, Melesandre has the most shocking prediction to come from this interaction before her exit: apparently, both herself and Varys are fated to die in Westeros. We can only hope for Varys that this means old age, not that Dany decides to renege on her promise last week to take his advice without having dragons burn him alive.
Later, butt-kicking eunuch Grey Worm makes his triumphant siege of Casterly Rock, entering the sewer like Seal Team 6 and throwing spears with amazing, testicle-less force. The attack was a little too easy, and while Grey Worm notices something’s up with the small amount of soldiers, he doesn’t notice fast enough to realize that the Unsullied are being cut off by the sea. Things are not looking good for Eunuch Army, especially if you add the meta text that Grey Worm finally committed to his relationship with Missandei last week. As with all Game of Thrones characters, the closer you are to happiness, the higher you are in the dead pool.
The single-minded Jon Snow (or: he does look a lot better brooding than most do)
The format of tracking people by House allegiance or greater organizing groups based on genitals leaves a big gap for weekly check-ins on Jon Snow's path. There was some lip service paid to Jon being the best King of the North he could be, but he's not talking about House Stark in his own mind. He's talking about defending the living. Breaking Jon Snow out from the greater fate of House Stark is also what this episode does, instead stoking the promise of some future collaboration between Ice (Jon Snow) and Fire (Daenerys).
Jon spends most of this episode playing the same old Jon Snow song: "The Army of the Dead is coming and every second we're not thinking about that is a wasted one." Dany seems as skeptical as the rest, because of all the people in the Dragonstone throne room, the viewers are the only parties who have the whole picture of what's going on. Despite all the magic and prophecies and legendary weapon talk, Thrones is still a show about politics. With bits like Jon confessing his frustration in his inability to convince people of a larger threat, or Tyrion suggesting he needs to warm up and get to know his fellow legislators, “The Queen's Justice" reminds us that wheeling and dealing go a long way. Interestingly, the episode reiterates how troubled Cersei's many campaigns have been -- and it's only getting harder for the young queen. Jon has fared better over the years, taking back and defending The North, considering he's the least charismatic leader in Westeros.
As long as Jon keeps confidence with Tyrion and listens to the advice of Davos, he should do okay. Using Dany's men, he gets to mine some Dragonglass while he waits for the Mother of Dragons' other problems to resolve themselves, but he still has the problem of getting people to believe him about the Night King. Luckily, the show realizes this is a problem and is building to a resolution: proof for clan Snow that the Army of the Dead is a real threat. Expect a globe-rumbling appearance by our chilly villains before the season's end.
House Stark (or: The North might be missing the big picture)
As if the Old and New Gods heard our collective questioning last week as to why Edd, now Lord Commander of the Night's Watch at The Wall, didn't send a raven to Winterfell telling his good buddy Jon that there was another living Stark in Westeros, “The Queen's Justice" simply drops Bran back off at his childhood keep. The formerly Little Lord hasn't been back there since Theon captured it in Season 2 and -- imbued with the responsibilities of the Three-Eyed Raven -- Bran is totally different now.
The episode finally gives us a Stark Reunion between kids that actually shared scenes together in the pilot (our previous Jon/Sansa reunion of last season was weird as the two hadn't shared a scene together before). Sansa takes the full emotional brunt of it, but Bran has become more and more like Max Von Sydow in the tree; a constantly distant and obtuse seer. A travelling Three-Eyed Raven seems convenient, as Bran demonstrates that the ability to know things can make for quick character development. But the network of Weirwood Trees below The Wall is not great, so who knows how he's going to train to stop seeing fragments of present, future, and past and start being useful (like cause a time anomaly on purpose, this time, Bran!)
Overall, the position of House Stark in the North looks like it could be beginning to slip. Sure, this is only the first episode where the King of the North is elsewhere, but it looks like Jon's Dragonstone sojourn could extend for long enough that Sansa is going to have to make some major decisions for House Stark. She's already started in the matters of grain and armor. One episode without Jon at Winterfell means one episode without the focus of the North being the Great War to come with the Army of the Dead. Sadly, with the single-minded Snow moving south to court the Dragon Queen, we get a single-minded Bran Stark who is not only paralyzed, but seems to be emotionally distancing himself from his earthly connections. I've seen enough fantasy fiction to know that emotional distancing like this means Bran is going to be able to make callous decisions that maybe Sansa wouldn't make. (Really, what will he warg into next?) Luckily for Sansa, Bran has no interest in being King of the North or keeper of Winterfell.
All of this is placing Sansa in a precarious position. She doesn't agree with Jon's decision to parlay with Dany, and although she is aware that the greater threat is coming from the North, she hasn't actually seen it. Sansa's focus is in danger of oscillating to lesser matters than the grand final showdown of Game of Thrones, which makes her a danger to the well-being of the North until she shapes up. However, ever since she's met up with Jon, Sansa's attempts at political maneuvering have been a few crayons short of a full box as she lets her emotions rule her governing more than her honor or logic. The more Starks in Winterfell, the more worried we should be about the mindset of Sansa, who admires certain things about Cersei, and is therefore dangerous.
House Baelish (or: what does this dude want?)
Littlefinger, what are you doing? You have some pretty good speeches, I'll give you that, but all of them are starting to be delivered with the same obviously evil smirking pitch.
Two seasons ago, Baelish had a plan to become Warden of the North for Queen Cersei and somehow also keep Sansa as a ward in Winterfell. Now, through underestimating both Sansa and Ramsey Bolton, there is apparently no plan beyond sowing distrust amongst the leaders of Winterfell… to what end? If Littlefinger really does love Sansa Stark like he says he does, obvious attempts to make her question herself would be the opposite of courtship. Littlefinger has the troops, he has the ear of the Lady of Winterfell, he's in the perfect position to wait and see what ladder chaos builds him, why is he pushing it?
House Greyjoy (or: Theon has one job to do)
Things are not looking good for the Daenerys-aligned Greyjoy faction. Although two or three of the ships managed to survive Euron's raid last week, the only returning members of the clan is Theon, someone who buckled to PTSD when it came to defending his sister, leader of the Rebel Greyjoys. Yara gets to visit King's Landing for the first time in one of the worst possible ways, paraded down the streets as a captured prizes for Cersi. Although Ellaria and Tyene get the worst of the wrath, Yara probably doesn't have a lot of good days ahead of her.
Theon, if alive, needs to save Yara. Even if he's traumatized, even if he dies in the attempt because challenging Euron and the Iron Fleet right now is not a smart strategic move, Theon must circle back to Dragonstone and regroup anyone still loyal to Yara to mount a rescue attempt. Several plot hurdles can stop him from doing this -- Dany demanding the remaining Greyjoys go somewhere else, Jon Snow taking Theon's treachery at Winterfell out of him if the two ever cross paths, just his general cowardice in the eyes of his own Ironborn soldiers. It might take poor Theon the rest of his time on the show to mount a rescue attempt. There's so much else going on! But it has to happen.
Euron made good on his gift this week and had some good moments of gloating in the Iron Throne room, both to the crowd, who he loves, and to Jaime, who he loves to taunt. Euron is the least developed Greyjoy character on the show, but unlike last season, his villainy is entertaining. He doesn't succeed in scoring an engagement to Queen Cersei, but he does get, like, a promise of an engagement once the war with Dany is over. Which could be soon, given the events of this episode.
Euron's surprise departure from King's Landing and appearance outside Casterly Rock at the end of the episode means that the Iron Fleet is our new teleportation masters of Season 7. In the episode, Tyrion plants the idea that the fleet could be in multiple places in what we know now to be 14 sees of Planetos. Though the push in shot from Casterly Rock shows what appears to be Euron's flagship Silence, implying the man himself is destroying the rest of the Targaryen fleet.
House Lannister (or: how will a much-discussed prophecy play out?)
Big week for the ruling House. Just in case you've been missing the sexual Queen Cersei since her battles with The Faith, Game of Thrones proudly presents "Queen Doesn't Give Two Poops." Not only does Cersei get cruel revenge on Ellaria Sand with a poisoned same sex kiss that kills the last on-show Sand Snake (presumably she'll be rotting in the dungeon forever), but she beats back the Iron Bank with a sharp Lannister tongue, gives Jaime queenly oral sex, and doesn't care who sees her and her brother in bed. This is a high moment for the Queen, but she has become increasingly unhinged as her power plays pay off. She may not have all Seven Kingdoms under her rule, but she has the best record in Westeros for crushing one's enemies.
Cersei manages to keep the Iron Bank on the side of the Crown for the time being by basically selling the rights to the riches of Highgarden before it's within her power to give those resources (stay tuned next week to see how that turns out). The move pays off fantastically, convincing the Iron Bank to invest in our current Mad Queen over Daenerys. The last time the Iron Bank backed someone from Dragonstone, it ended with Brienne killing Stannis in the woods outside Winterfell. So the Crown does seem like a good investment, even if Cersei's pride and hubris is teetering on the brink of a karmac downfall.
Jaime Lannister, on the other hand (it's a joke!), might slowly come to the realization that his sister is mad… just not this week. Euron's continued cockiness is irking Jaime, even when his sister-lover seems immune to the charms of Emo Rock Iron Born. Plus, Olenna Tyrell's final, forecasting confessions -- that Cersei will lead to Jaime's end -- do look like they weigh on him. As a girl Cersei was told a prophecy that she would die at the hands of her valonqar, the High Valyrian word for "little brother." Book readers suspect the reverse might be true.
Part of the episode description for this week said "Jaime learns from his mistakes," and the reference to the Battle of the Whispering Wood is a reference to how Jaime got himself captured in Season 1. Jaime was heading the Lannister forces laying siege to Riverrun while his father Tywin was trying to hold off Robb Stark's army from reinforcing the Tullys, when a scout reported 20,000 Stark men marching towards Tywin's forces. Thinking that was the bulk of the Stark army, Jaime was lured into the woods outside of Riverrun attacking what he thought to be a Stark scouting party, but which ended up being Robb's army. Robb sacrificed 2,000 men to Tywin's forces while he took Jaime prisoner and ended the Lannister siege of Riverrun. Jaime learns from his mistake by pulling this same trick on Tyrion this episode, leaving a small force at Casterly Rock while taking the Lannister and Tully army to Highgarden instead. So he's not completely off his game.
House Tyrell (or: the world is changing)
House Tyrell is dead; long live House Tyrell. It isn't often in Game of Thrones that we see the sun set on an entire old House of Westeros, but this week, the Tyrells were really slain out of existence. Not only does Lady Olenna decide to go out by poison so she can throw some more verbal truth bombs at Jaime, but the defection of the Tarlys would suggest the majority of The Reach has switched alliances. Now that Jaime has taken Highgarden, the seat of the Wardens of the South, it looks like Tyrell is out and Tarly is in.
We're probably supposed to think that Olenna was the last Tyrell, just because it makes things simpler moving forward to take entire Houses off the board. But we did meet another Tyrell in Season 3: a handmaiden seen embroidering a Tyrell golden rose who asks Olenna, "Do you like it, Nana?" implying she was a descendant of Olenna. Sure, all the Tyrells might have ended up in the Sept at the end of last season with Mace, Margaery, and Loras, but if Olenna managed to leave King's Landing, wouldn't she take her granddaughter handmaiden with her? Maybe I'm overthinking it.
At least Olenna got to finally tell Joffery's father that she was responsible for the royal twerp's death -- which the audience basically knew when both Littlefinger and Olenna confessed it to Sansa and Margaery, respectively. It's a moral victory to go along with poisoning herself rather than being flayed and that other stuff Cersei would have done to her, but it also means that Jaime knows for sure that Tyrion didn't kill Joffery. If Jaime can forgive Tyrion for shooting their father on the chamber pot, then the bad blood between the brothers might have been majorly reduced if they, were, to say, meet… sometime… in secret...