There's a lot to be said about HBO's decision to take an "inspired by" approach to the Song of Ice and Fire books instead of marching in lockstep with George R.R. Martin's multiple plotlines. Readers of the series are getting a fresh look at characters and their stories, and non-readers are enjoying not being smirked at for the first time since the show began.
Because we're practically in spoiler-free territory at this point. Sure, I can think of a handful of upcoming events that might be mildly surprising to folks who haven't read the books, but there's nothing like "Baelor" or the Red Wedding on the horizon, especially since a couple of major arcs look like they aren't even going to be covered.
But another problem is cramming everything into a single hour. Last night, among other things, Arya arrived in Braavos, a dragon returned, Jon Snow ascended the corporate ladder, and we finally got our first look at Dorne. Let's get to it.
Locations (* = new): Kings Landing, The Eyrie, Winterfell, The Wall, Meereen
Ser(s) Not Appearing In This Episode: Bran, but then you knew that already.
Arya (Maisie Williams) finds less than a warm welcome at the House of Black and White in Braavos (think Venice with more street crime). Until, I guess, she impresses her old friend Jaqen H'gar (Tom Wlaschiha) with her chutzpah. Nice showcase for Williams, who has to carry most of her scenes alone. Now we'll see what it takes to become a Faceless Man. Fingers crossed for an appearance from Syrio Forel (say it with me: "He's not really dead").
Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) has now found both Stark girls as tasked by Catelyn (rest in peace), and had a poor time of it on both occasions. This time, it's Sansa (Sophie Turner) who rebuffs her overtures, and after dispatching two Vale knights, Brienne decides to follow her and Lord Baelish (Aidan Gillen) to ... wherever they're going (we know where they're going). Pod (Daniel Portman) questions the wisdom of this decision, but Brienne can be awfully persuasive. And job opportunities for former squires are fairly slim, whatever their sexual prowess.
One thing, though: did it occur to Brienne to mention to Sansa that her sister was, I don't know, STILL ALIVE?
In Kings Landing, Cersei (Lena Headey) and Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) mull over a sinister delivery from Dorne. Conscious of the threat to Myrcella and his own failings as an
uncle father, Jaime vows to retrieve her. Alone, you ask? Oh please, that's what Bronn (Jerome Flynn) is for. Betrothed to Lollys Stokeworth, and not exactly thrilled with the situation,so it doesn't take much for Jaime to convince him to come with him on his super secret mission.
And so to Dorne, and our first look at Doran Martell (Alexander Siddig), the gout-stricken prince. He argues with Ellaria Sand (Indira Varma) about how best to deal with the death of Oberyn. Ellaria wants to negotiate with Cersei in, let's call it :piecemeal" fashion (sending Myrcella back a finger at a time). Doran is apparently playing the long game.
It's hunting season in Meereen, as Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson) and Daario (Michiel Huisman) go looking for Sons of the Harpy. A debate ensues among the group — Daenerys (Emilia Clarke), Barristan, Daario, et al. — about how best to deal with them. Barristan (Ian McElhinney) invokes a sufficient amount of Daenerys' father's (the Mad King) memory to convince her to give the traitorous Mossador a fair trial. That ... doesn't happen. The Mhysa is a harsh mistress, as it turns out (I honestly thought she'd let him live), and the citizens of Meereen let her hear about it.
Oh, and Drogon shows back up. It's a brief visit; "Hey, just stopping by between toddler murders. By the way, you need to work on your people skills."
Meanwhile, on the Road to Volantis, Varys (Conleth Hill) and Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) debate the merits of taking a walk. The Spider may be regretting his decision to travel with the self-pitying Imp, whose petulant desire to roam the countryside is getting tiresome, even as he wonders, "How many dwarves can Cersei kill?"
Quite a few, as it turns out. The better for Not-Maester Qyburn's (Anton Lesser) experiments. Cersei's uncle Kevan Lannister also isn't too keen on the state of Kings Landing or Cersei's administration, so he chooses to go back to Casterly Rock. With him, one assumes, goes the last vestige of rational thought in the capitol.
Back at the Wall, Shireen (Kerry Ingram) is teaching Gilly (Hannah Murray) how to read. Her mother isn't too keen on that proposition. Meanwhile, Stannis (Stephen Dillane) takes Jon Snow (Kit Harington) to task for spoiling his burning of Mance Rayder. But that's just prelude to his big proposal: Stannis needs the houses of the North, but they'll only follow a Stark. Ergo, Stannis tells Jon he'll legitimize him and make him "Jon Stark."
It's a dream come true for Jon, but before he can be tempted too sorely, Sam (John Bradley) throws his name in the hat for the election of the 998th Lord Commander. Surprise! They elect Jon. Didn't see that coming (I totally saw that coming).
Stuff That Will Piss Off Book Purists: Brienne found Sansa *and* Arya? She's a lot better at this than she was in the books; Always good to have Bronn back, even though the literary version checked out after Tyrion's trial; Shireen and Gilly join the growing collection of characters meeting who never actually met; I guess Jaqen H'ghar never made it to Oldtown; didn't the Lord Commander's election take, like, three weeks?
Next Week: Volantis! A royal wedding! Faceless ... persons!