Spoiler alert: A crowd-pleasing backslide in storytelling
Leading the episode with the series’ heroes Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen meeting for the first time was a good decision. An exemplary 20 minutes of well-written, well-directed, and (mostly) well-acted television, it showed off the best Game of Thrones had to offer in layered characterisation and witty dialogue.
Never mind Daenerys — the dramatic scenes between Jon and Tyrion Lannister were easily highlights of the episode. Kit Harington and Peter Dinklage played off each other expertly, exposing just the right amount of sentimentality through their guarded performances as they were reminded of how far they’d each come since Season 1.
Unfortunately, almost every other decision made in this episode was a misstep. The modest doses of self-deprecating humour and nostalgia fed throughout its first act spilled into a fracas of fan service and illogic, and the rest of the hour felt almost like a parody of its own show.
The promise Pilou Asbæk showed playing Euron last episode disappeared as soon as he left his boat. The terrifying sea-lord has disappeared from his performance, and the deranged clown is back. As being cheered by peasants made him declare: “I have to be honest, this is making me hard,” it was hard not to turn off the television.
Game of Thrones took no time, however, to remind me who they gave all the prime awful material to: Tyene Sand. For this scene, the fault lies with director Mark Mylod, slayer of Barristan Selmy, who for all his admirable aesthetics doesn’t appear to know the characters he’s framing in shot. Don’t get me wrong: the poisoning was a smart move by Cersei, and acted compellingly by Lena Headey.
Her victim, however — a Sand Snake, trained in combat by the Red Viper of Dorne, and self-declared poison expert — whimpers and cries in more terror than Myrcella had in Season 5. The helplessness she expresses in front of her enemy is as characteristic of her as… well, as characteristic as incompetence in battle is for Ser Barristan Selmy.
The second act is closed with Bran’s return to Winterfell, which is about as uninteresting as you’d expect it to be, punctuated with a peculiar comment from Bran, telling Sansa that she looked pretty when she was raped.
Petyr Baelish got the best lines in the North tonight. His smarmy manipulation is wearing on Sansa, but its effectiveness is somewhat dulled by the knowledge that such an expert tactician had still married her to Ramsay Bolton for no explicable reason.
Two battles comprised the third act. The first, for Casterly Rock, was very engaging, with Tyrion Lannister lending narration. Euron’s destruction of the Unsullied’s fleet bodes badly again for Daenerys Targaryen, but not as badly as Jaime’s victory at Highgarden does.
That last battle was probably the most bizarre part of ‘The Queen’s Justice’. The defeat of the Tyrell army was so swift it’s skipped, but it shouldn’t have been anywhere near as easy as the following dialogue with a capitulating Olenna suggested.
The Tyrells are the wealthiest house in Westeros, and their leader is arguably Westeros’ most brilliant tactician. Her admitting that she didn’t prepare for the attack, and telling Jaime that he duped her, felt more like the ending to a Scooby-Doo episode than Game of Thrones. By rights, her forces should have put up more of a fight than Ramsay Bolton’s had against Jon Snow.
The fact Olenna Tyrell is even in Highgarden at all is befuddling. Is the audience meant to believe that she sailed from Dragonstone at the same time as the Greyjoys and Sands, but not with their fleet? They took a detour, avoiding Euron’s ambush, even though they were headed for the exact same destination?
It was nice to see Bronn again, although the choice to have Tyrion’s lowborn sellsword at the head of the army alongside Jaime Lannister was emblematic of all the problems in this episode: it was silly, mawkish, but crowd-pleasing.