Game of Thrones "S6E4 Book of the Stranger" - Review: Emotional reunions and gripping drama

Game of Thrones "S6E4 Book of the Stranger" - Review: Emotional reunions and gripping d...
9 out of 10

“Mama says not to be taking rides from strangers”, decreed a young Forrest Gump before introducing himself to the bus driver upon their first meeting, but it doesn’t need to be a first meeting to feel like a pair of strangers. Time passes and people change. Sometimes you can go long enough without seeing someone that they seem like a stranger for all their changes when you finally reunite. That’s a heavy theme running through this week’s slice of Westeros antics; long-time, almost stranger-like reunions.... and new beginnings.

Book of the Stranger – Sansa arrives at Castle Black for an emotional reunion with Jon Snow before a letter from Ramsay Bolton sets them intent on taking back Winterfell. Dany faces her trial at Vaes Dothrak but presents an unexpected defense. The Red Keep unites against the High Sparrow, Theon returns to the Iron Islands while Tyrion works his diplomacy in Mereen.

So starting in the North and for a show that’s infamous for ripping out viewers hearts, setting them on fire, trampling on them and feeding them to a direwolf; it actually delivers one of the happiest moments in its entire history (right up there with Sam getting his leg over/under). After years of witnessing the Stark family go through all 7 hells, the sheer joy of seeing Jon and Sansa reunite is almost overwhelming. Any friends on the sofa that aren’t in a broken mess of tears should be beaten with empty snack bowls until the waterworks start flowing. Harrington and Turner are both outstanding in capturing just what such a moments means to their characters, especially afterwards when they reflect back to their happier times as full family. As well as looking back, there’s excellent moments of contrasting who they have become to highlight their maturity by accepting they were both idiots as kids. Although Jon is more verbal about his ordeals, we know they’ve both been through nightmares in their own way and they stand stronger because of it even though we see Jon looking to give up. This is a good move from showrunners Benioff and Weiss, again on writing duties, as it allows Sansa’s newfound strength to become the focus as she talks of retaking Winterfell with or without his help. Turner’s composure when speaking of this continues the theme of channelling Catelyn, and amusingly looking them all straight in the eye, just as The Hound taught her to do back in Kings Landing. Although there’s now heavy-chopping and changing form, the literary story at this point, it’s great to see the show doing a passable adaption of The Pink Letter as Ramsay sends Jon and overconfident taunt to attack him, “Come and see”. It’s an interesting reversal of roles as last season's Stannis was the overconfident one and Ramsay used that to lure him into defeat. Now this season, the new Lord Bolton is underestimating Jon Snow to what could be his downfall. If Ramsay hadn’t mentioned the now captive Rickon, Jon would have walked away like he planned and by threatening The Wildlings, placed Tormund and hid 2,000 strong force behind the cause. Speaking of Tormund, he nearly steals the episode for laughs in his visual obsession over Brienne which could develop into the funniest play on a romantic arc the show has ever produced. Brienne herself also hits at delivering further twists in the story as she meets Melisandre and refers back to witnessing Renly Baratheon’s death by blood magic like a wound that’s never truly healed.

The scenes in and around Slavers Bay give us a fun take on diplomacy and negotiation tactics by way of Dany and Tyrion, both of which give us these characters at their best. Tyrion seeks to subside conflict with words and compromise while surrounded by those who would rather spill blood. It gives him plenty of entertaining dialogue to dispense while proposing a middle ground with the slaving Masters. Many will recognisz, “We can only make peace with our enemies” as originally spoken by Littlefinger in Season 1, which is a fun nod to the odd respect Tyrion had for a fellow master schemer. The Meereen scenes use Grey Worm and Missandei well to embody the feelings of the wider populace as former slaves themselves. As for Dany in Vaes Dothrak, this utilizes the same approach as Tyrion in just a different context. Tyrion is pledging an approach that those around him deem crazy but he knows to be the only way. Although the discussion happens off-camera it’s fair to imagine that Dany faced the same opposition from Jorah and Dario before getting them onboard with her own risky plan. The result is incredibly satisfying on many levels. Firstly, the visual spectacle is quite stunning both during the temple interior shots and larger exterior scenes. Then there is a wonderful sense of pulling past elements and experiences together to make it all possible that every step Danny has taken has led her to this point. Yet again, going back to Season 1, Jorah himself told her that the Dothraki only follow strength. These are not people that can be swayed by words, only inspired by actions, and that is exactly what we see her do. The story was always heading towards her taking control of the vast Dothraki horde but it’s great to see the show achieve this via a means that feels so logical and in keeping with the existing lore. The only dull note here is the earlier Jorah and Dario scenes that are highly uninspiring. Jorah feels far too beaten down and tired (well he is getting grey these days), which takes all feeling of competition away from the pair slinging words over who will get Dany.

Elsewhere on the map, things develop nicely in King's Landing as the high-born forces start uniting against the High Sparrow. The manipulation from Jaime and Cersei is particularly good as they corral Kevan Lannister and Olenna Tyrell into their plans by dangling the fates of Lancel and Margaery in front of them. These scenes also thankfully give Natalie Dormer some real material to work with for the first time this season, from her surprisingly pleasant exchange with the High Sparrow, pledging her spirit as yet unbroken to playing the role of Captain Tightpants in a Mal & Wash War Stories moment with her broken brother. The King's Landing scenes place a good tangible objective on the conflict of Church and State over the idea of Margaery joining Cersei in the “shame” club (cue fake gasps of despair from many male viewers). Yara and Theon have the episode’s other big stranger-like reunion. Just look at the way Yara hunches in disgust at the sight of him. Director Daniel Sackheim does a fantastic job of making her feel akin to the disappointment of their father the first time Theon returned. The Veil reunion is more of a seeding scene as a stepping stone for events to come in the North. You have to love the way Littlefinger has charmed his way into puppet like control over the little Robyn Arryn making himself the real power of The Veil. It goes right back to essence of his character in exploiting where people think believe that power lies to his own advantage as here he twists Lord Royce’s honor against him.

Like last week, it’s another strong episode with purpose and meaningful consequences. Seeing Jon and Sansa reunite alone makes the episode with no shortage of quality elsewhere either. It’s an action-light episode, which may not suit the entire Thrones fan base, but it comes with plenty of shocks and of course, a few names for the Red God.

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