‘KILL the Boy’ sees us jump to the resolution of last week’s skirmish between Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson) and Ser Barristan’s (Ian McElhinney) beleaguered unsullied patrol and ambushing sons of the harpy, in what was undoubtedly the best shot and directed action sequence of the series thus far.
Emilia Clarke’s Daenerys has been given perhaps the most challenging role of any of the chief protagonists of this series; it hasn’t been the strongest. Clarke conveys well a young and idealistic ruler/saviour coming to terms with the harsh reality of sectarian violence and social disorder, but things get awkward when she promptly forgets about her carrot and stick approach and instead begins feeding the city’s important nobles to her dragons in visceral fashion. Yeah.
It’s a shift in character and source material which is so abrupt that it’s more baffling than shocking. And no, I’m not speaking as a pedant of the novels. The literary Danny is a very different (disturbingly younger) character, who, more often than her counterpart, found grizzly solutions to her obstacles. But the Danny we have been introduced to throughout the show has, up until now, presented a heroine and ruler who was tough, but unremittingly fair.
This was especially driven home in the last few episodes – publicly executing one of her most loyal and popular followers Mossador (Reece Noi) for flouting the rule of law and murdering a captured son of the harpy. But the Danny we saw last Friday essentially did a proverbial U-turn and said, “Pfff, Fuck that! I fancy burning a few entitled dignitaries.”
I’m sure a lot of viewers will like the idea of the new and improved action-Danny, especially with so many of her scenes this series comprising of her sitting around in a throne room looking glamorous while troubling reports filter through. But having one of your new chief-subjects devoured without any evidence of actual guilt, simply to make a point, comes across as a bit of an uncharacteristically dickish move. More importantly, it’s inconsistent with the writing and direction of the character up until now.
True, she does recognise the error of her judgement – in a final scene which we’ll come back to – but she realises so abruptly and self-righteously that she comes across less as a canny ruler-in training and more as a smug manic-pixie-dream-tyrant (whose mousy-brown eyebrows will forever bely what I’m sure is hours’ worth of studio artist’s time spent on the rest of her flossy mane).
Back up North, and from one astoundingly bad bit of politicking to another. Jon (Kit Harrington) finally decides, through sage council from Maester Amon (an ever-splendid Peter Vaughan), that the time has come to kill the boy and save the wildlings. Sadly, as it turns out, the boy they’re referring to represents Jon’s inner-insecurities and not Olly the potato kid.
Predictably, Jon’s plan to release the wildling chief Tormund ‘Bear-shagger’ Giantsbane and send himto rescue the remainder of Mance’s free folk from the zombie (sorry, white walkers) horde goes down about as well as Joffrey’s pigeon pie; with even Olly shooting him some downright mean looks.
A little further south, Pod and Brienne have, apparently without being detected, set themselves up in an inn just outside of Winterfell as they ponder how best to rescue Sansa from her bizarre impending marriage to Ramsay Bolton (Rheon). In the last two seasons, Ramsay’s macabre introduction as the sadistic captor and torturer of Theon (Allen), while legitimately unsettling, often smacked too much of a grotesque Hammer Horror villain for him to be taken seriously.
Though in-keeping with the grimdark sensibilities of the show, it became a bit of a chore to keep watching Ramsey and Theon’s scenes as they increasingly verged on torture porn; this was a shame since the two are actually some of the show’s strongest actors. The last few episodes have managed to conjure up enough sanity for Ramsey to give him some real stakes in the story ahead, while making it plain that he is still every inch a malevolent bastard.
This episode was certainly his strongest yet, with the Bolton dinner party being a wonderful picture into an improbable union. It seems as if the show is taking what for many was an unsolicited match in its stride, forcing characters who are plainly so uncomfortable together that the tension verges on the comical- in what is perhaps the most brilliantly awkward family dinner in the history of Westeros.
In one of the cruellest twists to the episode, Sansa is reunited with the wreck Ramsay has made of Theon, who is made to apologise for the murder of Sansa’s brothers – though both the Bolton men know this to be false. Ramsay is not laughing however, when his new ‘mother’ (Elizabeth Webster) levels her news for the family.
If Stannis’s quiet communion with his daughter Shireen in last week’s episode was a rare glance into the man residing within his cold exterior palette, Roose and Ramsay’s after dinner chat is a revealing gaze both into Ramsay’s predictably gruesome origins, and also how this disjointed father and son union can effectively operate.
Back east, Grey Worm awakens from his wounds and reveals his love for Missandei in a touching little scene, allowing the audience to let out a collective sigh or yawn. After a short council with Missandei, Danny blithely admits that she done goofed and promises to take more account of Meereen’s customs in the future, starting by re-opening its fighting pits. She also declares she will take chief noble-person Hizdahr Zo Loraq (Joel Fry) in marriage and storms out again with a sarcy little flourish.
Meanwhile, Tyrion and Ser Jorah continue their journey, passing through Old Valeria, an old, mysterious, ruined city wreathed in perpetual mist. They are surprised by a dragon (Drogon?) flying overhead. It turns out to be an ill omen, as their leisurely travels are suddenly disturbed by a far more sinister presence inhabiting the ruins…
This was a generally well-paced episode full of strong scenes and some excellent cinematography, particularly towards the end. However, Danny’s final scene suffered from unclarified exposition dumps that could have benefitted from more thought than, “So I changed my mind.” The show has never set out to produce flawless characters, but there was more of Cersei than Danny in the character’s rationale this week. She isn’t being underwritten, necessarily, but seems to be getting dragged across the board by the writers.
Is this really the queen Westeros so desperately needs? Maybe that’s the question the director (Podeswar) wanted us to ask. After all, it’s still less of an awkward character spin, and general no-no, than the tomb-side rape-cest of Series 3 which the studio is probably still trying earnestly to forget about. It’s certainly a call-back to the darker aspects of the Targaryen legacy, and the madness of Danny’s father.