*** WARNING SPOILERS AHEAD ***
A constant criticism I hear many Game of Thrones viewers make about certain episodes is ‘nothing really happened’. With precious little time remaining, there’s an inescapable fear that subtlety and quality of storytelling will suffer at the hands of the plot expediency.
The Queen’s Justice was undoubtedly an episode where a lot happened. Two major characters had their long-awaited meeting, fan favourites were removed from the game entirely, while not one, but two supposedly near-impenetrable fortresses were conquered in barely minutes of screen time.
It’s an entertaining, well-made hour of television, albeit one whose logical underpinnings begin to fall apart with any kind of close examination. And, despite the constant whirring of plot machinations springing into action, many of these ‘big moments’ from the episode rang hollow.
The Lannisters needed to be re-established as a credible threat, so suddenly they possess the country’s only real navy, wipe out their mountains of debt and isolate Daenerys’ best fighting force all in one swoop.
I’m willing to overlook the flabbergasting speed Euron constructed a fleet on an island with no wood, the Iron Bank’s supposed investment in the slave trade (despite being founded by escaped slaves), as well as the ridiculous ease of Highgarden’s fall, if only to see Cersei’s maniacal moves to sure up her own personal power. Euron is also injecting some much needed humour and swagger into the story.
Diana Rigg’s Queen of Thorns was one of the series’ most entertaining players, always ready with a pithy and cutting barb while others beat around the bush with grandiose dialogue. Her departing conversation with Jaime failed to hit the heights of her best work with her off-screen death somewhat of an anti-climax.
Jaime’s admission that he has lost control over his destiny and that he is at the whims of his sister/lover is prescient but also disappointing. His redemptive arc in prior seasons is one of the show’s most powerful developments, yet this progress all appears lost for now as he blindly follows Cersei’s lead.
As is explicitly stated, Daenerys has the literal firepower to overwhelm King’s Landing and destroy the Greyjoy fleet with relative ease but is unwilling to because… ah… stray arrows? Tyrion is supposed to be a master strategist, yet two weeks in a row he has been completely outmanoeuvred and caught completely unawares.
The show’s greatest moments are built on carefully crafted character traits that give weight and meaning to their actions. Daenerys’ fearlessness and Tyrion’s genius are arguably their most distinctive characteristics and yet they are being severely undermined by the events of the past couple of weeks.
The first meeting of Daenerys and Jon (or fire and ice as Melisandre winks to the camera) lacks a little bit of the expected sizzle, with their entourages more concerned with clocking through their families’ history. Whether things fire up a bit when Jon works out Daenerys is actually his aunt is a tantalising prospect.
With the supremely predictable reveal that Sam’s treatment of Jorah’s greyscale was successful, another loop has been tied off with little to no cost or gain. Jorah is free to rejoin Daenerys infection-free and Sam suffered no consequences for disobeying his teachers.
The lengths a dying man will go to achieve his goals is a potent character motivation, and while the show didn’t necessarily need to send Jorah off into the desert with an RV and a chemistry degree, with a terminal prognosis he may have been able to provide some urgency, decisiveness and immorality into Daenerys campaign.
Just like Arya’s training to become a Faceless Man, Melisandre’s stopover on Dragonstone, or the entirety of the Dornish plot, it is hard to see any real point or purpose to Jorah’s contraction of greyscale.
The best scene of this episode belonged to Sansa and Bran. Calling back to arguably the show’s most infamous incident, Sansa’s wedding night, it immediately evoked the horrors they’ve endured and the transformations they’ve undergone since they said goodbye to each other in season one.
Bran’s storyline has never been the easiest to track or indeed love, but his renouncing of his claims to Winterfell, resignation to the role of the Three-Eyed Raven and insights into painful moments long-past is a brief dash of melancholy amongst the general madness.
It’s an enduring character moment that this season actually has thus far been doing beautifully, but is sorely lacking overall in The Queen’s Justice. This late in the game the show should be pushing in its chips and going all-in, instead it’s hedging its bets and keeping its emotional powder dry. At least for now.