Game of Thrones s6 ep 10

*Spoilers. Loads of them.*

Wow.

imageThis time last year, I’d become somewhat disillusioned with Game of Thrones. The “brutal, controversial” season five had spent forever on torture, sexual violence, and faffing around at the stupid Day Spa for the Dead, and then it went and added insult to injury by killing Jon Snow.

What a difference a year makes.

At the end of last season, I wanted Jon to come back to life. Check. I wanted Ramsay Bolton to die. Check. I wanted Sansa to escape him and come in to her own. Check. I wanted Cersei to get revenge. Check. And I wanted Arya to take the rest of the series off.

Oh well, we can’t have everything. But we’ve come very, very close, haven’t we?

Jon, bless his curly head, came back to us a while ago, of course, but, resurrection not being quite enough for his CV, this week has him not only elected King of the North – thanks to the tiniest, fiercest, ten year old in the Seven Kingdoms, all hail Lady Lyanna Mormont! – but confirmed, in Bran’s head anyway, as the scion of two noble houses, and a prince in his own right. Yes, R + L now officially, finally equals J, even if it’s not entirely clear how anyone’s going to prove it. (FYI Bran: I don’t think “I had a vision!” is really going to cut it.)

Although most people have been convinced of Jon’s parentage for a long time now, having it confirmed at last is hugely significant, but then “The Winds of Winter” is bursting with things that are hugely significant. What an absolutely tremendous finale it was.

imageRamsay’s nothing but a memory now, of course, but, after last week’s power-play, Sansa, the Lady of the North, is almost as dangerous as he was. However, her apology to Jon seems sincere, his forgiveness of her genuine, and her “thanks but no thanks” to the prospect of another Littlefinger liplock terrific, both for her character development and for her prospects of not being married to any power-crazed psychopaths this time next year. Please don’t let her betray Jon next season, writers. The poor boy won’t be able to take it, and neither will I.

Talk of poor boys reminds me, meanwhile, of the dim, doomed Tommen. Cersei’s revenge this week is merciless and absolute, with only Margaery, her worthiest opponent, realising in time that “Cersei is not here, Tommen is not here…. We need to leave NOW.” Oh, Margaery. Having found a (somewhat painful – I had to mute the sound when they were “marking” him) way to save Loras, freedom with a big stupid star thing on your head being better than no freedom at all, she comes so close to getting away! But not close enough, thanks to the idiot High Sparrow, who, after a season’s worth of outplaying everyone, suddenly forgets one of the most important rules of the game: the Lannisters always pay their debts, High Sparrow. Cheerio!

imageThe entire Kings Landing sequence is breathtaking. The opening, ominous scenes of fine clothes and fine jewellery. Loras’s confession. The Little Birds setting their traps. The horrible moment when Margaery works it out…. And then the explosion itself. Followed by the Septa’s awful fate, he eerie calmness before Tommen’s silent end…. And the look on Jaime’s face as he arrives in time to see just who and what his beloved Cersei has become.

My God.

Everything about it is exquisitely, beautifully, devastatingly done – a day and a half later and I’m still reeling from it. But I wish we hadn’t had to sacrifice Margaery in the process. She was fantastic; one of the few players smart enough to win without losing herself and her humanity in the process, and her death was abrupt, surprising and a waste of a formidable character, even if it did, indirectly, give the Sand Snakes their only decent scene ever. Not because they have anything useful or interesting to say, but because Lady Olenna Tyrell speaks for the entire audience when she can’t remember any of their names and tells them to shut up and let the grown-ups talk. *punches air*

But Cersei’s revenge isn’t the only one of the ep, of course, with the increasingly crazy-eyed Arya serving hers up to Walder Frey, having already carved up his wretched sons. Ugh. It’s not my idea of entertainment, but Walder Frey was long overdue a reckoning, and he certainly gets a gruesome, effective one, with its echoes of both Greek mythology and Shakespearean drama keeping it just the right side of horror porn. Just. Shudder.

So a mostly terrific season – give or take an ep or two – ends then, with a whole lot of plotlines coming to a head, and a whole lot of women taking charge all over the place. Jon may be the King in the North, but only because three women – his sister, a tiny little girl, and a Red Witch – chose to put him there. (Will letting Melisandre go free turn out to be a mistake? I wonder.) Cersei’s on the Iron Throne at last. Arya’s presumably coming for her. And Daenerys, after talking about it for what seems like several hundred seasons, is finally on her boyfriend-less (Daario, hon, you can do better) way back across the sea to break chains, free slaves, destroy her enemies, etc etc. Which is all to the good. I may like some of them much more than others, but, after years of writing about GOT’s misogyny and rapes and deeply worrying sexual politics, this season’s focus on all these women’s victories instead of their exploitation or their bodies might be the most significant thing of all.

Game of Thrones s6 ep 9

*Bloody, Sweaty Spoilers*

We’ve been waiting such a long time for the Battle of the Bastards that it’s something of a surprise when this week’s GOT makes us wait some more. Not much longer, though; thankfully, the Battle of Meereen is dealt with quickly and goes just as you’d expect it to.

In lieu of an actual plan, Dany – her words and expression almost robotic now, she’s recited this so many times – gives her usual “I’ll slaughter all my enemies and burn their cities to the ground etc etc etc” speech, but by now even Tyrion has started to see the light of lunacy in her eyes. So, for both her benefit and that of anyone in the audience who needs a reminder (given the speculation online as to what Cersei might be planning for next week), he recaps why the Mad King had to be deposed in the first place and suggests – pretty bravely, given the recent Targaryen family history of not responding all that well to sense, reason or any form of dissent – an alternative plan which obviously works great, especially if you enjoy barbecuing the enemy, because nobody wants to waste too much time on the undercard match when we have the main event still to come.

Masters thoroughly vanquished, then, we’ve time for a quick, entirely too amicable chat (oh sure, no problem, we’ll give up our entire criminal way of life, it’ll be fine) with Yara and Theon and our business in Meereen is done. Tyrion’s disgust for Theon, the human black cloud, may be entirely justified – we can’t ever like him because of the awful things he’s done, but we can’t enjoy hating him because of the awful things that have been done to him, so all we can do is watch him shuffle around, raining large drops of misery on us all – but Daenerys is too pleased with new BFF Yara to care. 100 ships and a new gal pal to flirt and compare stories of mad, usurped dads with? Sign the Mother of Dragons right up. After all, if she can control the Dothraki, the Iron Born should be fine, right? Right?????

We’ll see. But not this week, because we have the title match to get too! In the Bolton corner, we have the unfailingly, cheerfully psychotic Ramsay Bolton and twice as many men as the good guys. And in the Stark corner, we have the weary, far-too-straightforward Jon, with the unhappy Sansa angry that her brother hasn’t asked her advice but unable to offer anything concrete when he does. I say “unable,” mind you, but I mean “unwilling” since her failure to mention that there may be some latecomers to the party is glaring. Had he known, it might have changed Jon’s mind about waiting. And saved a few hundred lives? Maybe.

Sansa, who is proving to be the smartest of the Starks by far, does prove to be right about both the awful Ramsay and the doomed Rickon, though, as thanks to a particularly Ramsay-esque piece of sadism, the littlest Stark quickly joins his Great-Uncle the Blackfish and poor Osha in the ranks of characters brought back after years of absence just to be properly killed. Because Jon is Jon, he can’t ignore his brother being murdered in front of him with such glee – I’m not sure anyone sane could – and the plan, such as it is, is thrown out the window. “Prepare to CHARGE!” says Ser Davos, “Follow your Commander!” And “Charge!” and “Follow!” they do, but they’re outnumbered and outmanoeuvred. Jon is brave and Jon is honourable, but Sansa is right; Bolton is clever and Bolton has more men, and that one-two punch is way too much for the ragtag Stark forces.

The battle itself is grimly, uncompromisingly visceral; men cut down every second, hordes scrambling over walls of bodies, blood and dirt and death everywhere. And the Karstark shield manoeuvre gives us a horribly beautiful sequence where Jon, trampled underfoot by his own men, gasps and struggles for breath. For a moment there, I wondered: I had gone into the episode thinking not even GOT would bring Jon Snow back just to kill him again, but, in that scene, as he grasped and clutched and was trampled again, my faith began to waver. I was right the first time, though, and this battle ends the way we all thought it would, too. The Knights of the Vale (literal knights in shining armour) ride in when all hope is just about lost – just as Tywin’s forces at the Blackwater and Stannis’s at the Battle of Castle Black did before them – and all of a sudden, the battle is won, Winterfell is back in Stark hands and Jon is pounding Ramsay Bolton’s head relentlessly into the ground.

Victory at last! Hurrah! But at what cost? Countless men lying dead (including the quietly majestic Wun Wun, sigh) and Littlefinger smarming around cock-a-hoop, with Sansa and Jon forever in his debt. Lord Snow is no match for the stratagems of Lord Baelish, of course, but then again, this episode, where the dialogue is as important and as powerful as the violence, suggests that maybe, just maybe Lady Sansa is. “No one can protect me, no one can protect anyone” she tells her poor, sweet, well-meaning brother, coldly, and if any further evidence that the old, trusting, naive Sansa is gone were required, her final, brutal scenes with Ramsay are proof enough. I’m loath to agree with the worst person in Westeros but he’s right when he says that, even in death, “I’m a part of you, now.”

I’m delighted Ramsay’s gone, and I’m all for Sansa taking charge and taking names, but the old Sansa would never have picked, could never have stomached so cruel and so slow a method of revenge on anyone. She learned that from him, and she walked away smiling as he screamed. If I were Jon, I’d be very careful of my sister. And if I were Littlefinger, I’d be very worried indeed.

Game of Thrones s6 ep 8

*Spoilers. And Grumpiness.*

Hmm. A curiously, disappointingly unsatisfying episode, this one. Unless you particularly enjoy the Hound storming around the countryside butchering the uncouth and wise-cracking all the way, in which case, fill your boots.

I understand the Brotherhood Without Banners are supposed to be important to the overall plot eventually but, as far as I’m concerned, now we’ve rediscovered the Hound, we’re spending a little too much time and the writers are having a little too much fun – this is GOT, not Lethal Weapon, you guys – with him and his stand-up comedy/ search for motivation, when there are plenty of other things we could be doing. Other things that ideally do not involve axes to the genitals or random sexual assaults played for comedic value.

Ugh.

But now I’ve pursed my lips and shaken my head, onto the rest of the ep, and this week’s quick but brutal trip to Kings Landing which reveals that, while the Mountain is a lot less chatty about it, forcibly detaching people’s heads from their bodies is something of a Clegane family hobby. A Lancel-led team of Faith Militant come to the Red Keep for Cersei, Cersei’s not for going, the Faith Militant try to make her and…. The Faith Militant will not be trying that again.

Cersei’s smirk is fun but short-lived, however; Turncoat Tommen promptly ruins everything by outlawing trial by combat because the High Sparrow told him to and the High Sparrow’s obviously not too keen on losing, be it trials by combat or heads of his followers. I don’t think those who want to see the Hound vs Mountain grudge match should worry too much, though – the smart money suggests it’s coming at some point, even if it’s now looking more like next season than this.

At least this season has finally got another grudge match out of the way, meantime, with Arya vs the Waif coming to a bloody end what feels like several thousand years after I stopped giving a stuff. Poor Lady Crane, a woman whom Arya just cannot allow to drink her rum in peace, tries to help, but the Waif/Terminator will not be stopped: Arya surviving last week’s stabbing stretches credulity enough, but the sequence where the Waif is in pursuit like she’s the T-1000 and this is Game of Terminators is completely ridiculous and would have made me laugh had I not been far too busy rolling my eyes. As for Arya winning? Knowing it would happen doesn’t make it any less unbelievable or this entire No Name storyline – seasons of it – any less of a total waste of time. “A girl is Arya Stark of Winterfell and I’m going home” would have made me cheer three years ago, but now I’m just annoyed it took her this long to work out the bloody obvious.

What a bad-tempered post this is turning out to be. The problem is that while “No One” isn’t a bad episode, it’s such a frustrating one – with the (plentiful) good stuff overshadowed by the opportunities squandered – that the more I think about it, the grumpier I get.

Even the charm of Varys and Tyrion’s farewell by the docks, for instance, is diluted by a) them splitting up and b) Tyrion having to hang out with the insanely dull Missandei and Grey Worm instead. Tyrion’s “A Stark, A Lannister and a Martell walk into a bar…” joke is a valiant, witty attempt to lighten the mood, but by the time we get to everyone desperately pretending to laugh at Grey Worm’s attempt at a punchline, it’s a relief when the Masters attack and Daenerys turns up. Although if this turns out to be nothing more than an excuse for yet another of her “rallying speeches,” I will be far from amused.

One grumble at a time, though. The main reason I’m in a mood just now is Riverrun, the storyline which somehow manages the bizarre job of being both the best and worst of the week.

Jaime and Brienne’s long-awaited reunion is lovely, courtly and over way too quickly, of course, with their respect and affection for each other evident throughout. Would a snog have hurt anybody? No, but even if I do agree with Bronn as to how both parties feel about it, it’s never going to happen so respect and affection is all we’re going to get. Fine. But did we really have to sacrifice the Blackfish in the process? A genuinely exciting, fresh character, brought back after years of absence, just to die a completely pointless, off-screen death, one week later? What on earth is the point of that?

Yes, I did need reminding that Jaime’s no Prince Charming, his loyalty is to Cersei, always, and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau was particularly terrific this week. And, yes, I’ve been complaining a lot recently about characters not dying so you might think the writers just can’t win with me. But I’d sooner the Blackfish lived to fight another day than Arya or the Hound; throwing away an engaging character like that and abruptly cutting short what could have been a much more satisfying plotline in such lifeless, disappointing fashion doesn’t do the show any favours at all. No, Riverrun didn’t need to go on much longer, but it didn’t need to end like that either. Hurrumph.

Game of Thrones s6 ep 7

*SPOILERS*

Well, Lovejoy wasn’t with us very long, was he?

Ian McShane’s much-anticipated GOT debut is over almost as soon as it begins, but he arrives with some fanfare by way of (GOT’s first ever?) cold open, playing a constantly, slightly irritatingly smiling Septon – nobody can be that happy all the time, especially in the hell on earth that is Westeros – who runs some sort of religious commune of suspiciously clean and healthy-looking extras, with very special guest the good/bad old Hound hanging around looking hangdog as ever.

Yes, having established its reputation early on as a show unafraid to kill folk off, GOT has spent this season bringing them back instead. And yes, I know we never actually saw the Hound die, and a tv death without a body isn’t a death at all, but still. If GOT were as brave as it wants to be, the Hound would’ve died on that hillside where Arya left him, so I guess it’s not. Which means that no matter how bad Arya’s injuries are this week, she’ll be fine for this season at least; there’s a very good chance that Lady Stoneheart may appear after all; and who knows, Dead Septon Lovejoy might well pop back to life of a sort too, if the writers are in the mood.

We shall see.

Meantime, as the Hound – his perpetual bad mood not in any way improved by yet another narrow escape from death – and his axe head off across the countryside, Margaery is treading very carefully around a religious leader of very different style. The High Sparrow smiles too much as well, but the menace underlying every word is palpable: “I only pray your grandmother follows your lead….you must teach her the new way as she taught you the old or I fear for her safety. Body and soul.”

Uh-oh….

It’s been some time since we saw the real Margaery, but that quick, unmistakeable flash in her eyes and the Tyrell Rose she presses into her grandmother’s hand tell us the real Margaery is still in there, still brilliant, and, oh thank heaven, still playing to win. Never mind the blinkered Daenerys, absent from this week’s episode, and entirely unmissed, or the increasingly desperate Cersei, reduced to rubble by the imperious, magnificent Olenna; Margaery is a queen I can root for, and both Natalie Dormer and Diana Rigg’s performances are wonderful.

Of course, the delicately-plotted politics of Kings Landing are miles away, both in nature and geography, from Jon and Sansa’s more inelegant attempts to gather up support in the North. Great-uncle Brynden – a canny, indomitable old soldier Olenna would get on famously with – makes quick work of both the Freys’ callow threats and Jaime’s more considered attempts to resolve the siege at Riverrun, but Jon and Sansa aren’t quite as formidable or as clever as the Blackfish, as yet, bless them. Their blundering efforts to butter up the joyously tiny and blunt Lady Mormont are both funny and endearing – Jon’s desperate expression when he turns to Sansa, all “what do we say now?” is adorable – and while Davos’s earnest, empathetic way with young Princesses (poor Shireen) gets them out of that particular jam, House Glover isn’t so easily swayed. Tormund and the Giant keeping the Wildlings on board is great, but, in an episode all about getting ready for the big fight, both Sansa and I think we need more troops. Getting involved with Littlefinger again to get them, though? Oh, Sansa. Trusting Baelish didn’t work out for your dad, it didn’t work out for your mum, and it didn’t work out for you last time you tried it, either. Let’s hope Brienne and her sword come back soon; you’re going to need them.

Game of Thrones s6 ep 6

*SPOILERS*

No Jon, no Sansa and no storming Winterfell and cutting Ramsay Bolton into tiny pieces (yet) this week, which is disappointing. Despite the absence of its two central figures, though, there were definite signs that House Stark as a whole might be reuniting very soon, with Uncle Benjen popping up to save the infuriatingly useless Bran and the exhausted Meera and answer a few fan FAQs about his whereabouts for the past five years; and Arya, having caught up with season four via that idiotic play, deciding it’s FINALLY time to stop messing around with these Faceless jerks and get her name and her sword back. Hurrah! It’s only taken my entire life, but whatevs.

While the Starks are heading back to their roots, however, the Tullys are already there, with Catelyn’s M.I.A-since-the-Red-Wedding uncle Blackfish having returned from the longest bathroom break in history to take back Riverrun. Just in time for it to become the most-popular place in Westeros! After this week, just about everybody’s heading there; Lannisters, Freys, Starks…. I hope somebody’s ordered in plenty of snacks. And maybe a DJ for the reunion disco.

Yes, this was an episode steeped in the show’s history, with reunions and recaps everywhere. As well as Arya’s play and Bran’s visions reminding us of things we’ve either already seen (Ned! Robb!) or already known (the Mad King!), much of the rest of “Blood of My Blood” involved suddenly returning to and resurrecting long-discarded characters and their storylines, what with Benjen, the Freys and even Ser Needle making their comebacks, while (courtesy of a justifiably irate if resolutely uninteresting Gilly) we also got a recap of what Sam’s being doing, and a reminder that his Dad’s a jerk. I might have pruned some of it – we really did not need to spend so long at House Tarly, just grab the sword and get going, Sam – but all together, it adds to the general season six theme of the show’s various disparate strands beginning to draw together. We’re on the home strait.

Who will make it to the end is another matter, of course, but, thanks to Margaery, several thousand people whom the Lannisters and the Tyrells were quite happy to sacrifice get to live another day, at least. In a frankly glorious scene, Jaime, looking and sounding fabulous, and with the ridiculous Mace and the majestic Olenna at his back, challenges the High Sparrow to hand over Margaery and Loras or be cut down by the Tyrell forces, only to find out they’re a day late and a dimwit short; yes, the magnificent Margaery has grown tired of waiting for everyone else to rescue her, and saved herself from Cersei-style mortification by recruiting the beatifically stupid Tommen to Team Sparrow, instead.

(Let me pause here to think about what a gorgeous, world-beating couple Jaime and Margaery might have made if he hadn’t been sleeping with his sister, and she hadn’t married both his sons. Sigh. I guess there’s always fanfic.)

On the one hand, Tommen switching sides is a disaster of epic proportions, since the only thing more powerful and fascist than the Faith Militant is the Faith Militant in control of the Crown, but on the other, it’s quite possibly the best thing ever, since it means him sending Jaime off to join everyone else in the Seven Kingdoms at Riverrun and the chances of a Jaime/ Brienne/ Tormund love triangle of awesomeness shooting up by about 100%. Yay for Turncoat Tommen! Even a stopped clock’s right twice a day.

Which brings me to the other blonde contender for the Iron Throne. Not so much a stopped clock as a broken record, Daenerys is now back giving her usual chest-beating speeches to the Dothraki, as opposed to the Meereeneese or the Yunkans; let’s face it, the tribes and the languages may change but the words are basically the same – “I’m awesome! The Seven Kingdoms are mine, let’s go burn’em down – raaaaaargh!” (Not an exact translation, but you get the drift.) It’s all very rousing the first six or seven times you hear it – especially when Drogon drops in to give it added oomph – but it’s getting somewhat tired now, and highlights that Daenerys’s main strength is also her principal weakness; she’s terrific at spectacle and conquest, but absolutely useless at the ins and outs of day-to-day governance that come after the fight’s over. So the places and people she take over will always, always lose out in the end. As Daario puts it, “You weren’t made to sit on a chair in a palace…. You’re a conqueror, Daenerys Stormborn.” With a completely blinkered, vastly inflated view of her own entitlement and abilities, and a worrying obsession with fire. Daario and the Dothraki may think she’s amazing but, at this stage, instead of cheering her on as the great change the Seven Kingdoms need, I think the rest of us might have to start worrying that the Targaryen apple really may not have fallen too far from the Mad King tree.

Game of Thrones s6 ep 5

*SPOILERS*

A moment of silence, first, I think, for a man of almost no words.

Hodor.

The second Stark servant/ protector to die for the cause in two weeks, gentle, loyal Hodor has now given up both his vocabulary and his life, and for what? For Bran, a walking Wiki whose principal purpose at this stage is to keep dreaming chunks of exposition that apparently couldn’t be shoe-horned into the plot any other way, while everyone else sacrifices their lives, caves, weird and ancient trees etc round about him.

Sigh.

The scenes with the Night’s King and the Walkers are obviously amazing and terrifying, with Summer, the Children of the Forest and the Three-Eyed Raven’s deaths horribly, beautifully-realised, but, my GOD. Poor, brave, tragic Hodor; for decades, doomed to serve in sadness and doomed to die in pain, thanks to bloody BRAN. If I were Meera Reed, I’d take my Walker-killing spear and walk myself the hell away; after all, the queue of people left to die so the second-youngest, second-blandest (sorry, Rickon) Stark can live is suddenly looking very, very short.

Moving up the Stark ranks, the not-exactly-bland but not-in-any-way-exciting-to-watch-any-more Arya is this week sent to see a sort of Pyramus and Thisbe-style play which summarises seasons one and two, presumably for the benefit of any new viewers who decided episode five of season six was the ideal time to pop in and see what all the fuss was about. As far as this long-time viewer’s concerned, however, the play’s clever but both unnecessary and way too long, since it neither advances the plot, nor tells  us anything new about Arya or anyone else. Unless telling us something new means that startling, completely ridiculous scene where a character we’ve never met before announces he has genital warts. While SHOWING us them. I’ve complained about gratuitous female nudity on GOT before – no need for the breasts this week, either, by the way – and I know one view is that the way to address this is to balance it out with gratuitous male nudity, but, to be honest, I’m generally quite happy for people to keep their bits and pieces to themselves, and just get on with the story.

Speaking of which, Arya’s story obviously stalled in Braavos ages ago, but thankfully Jon’s and Sansa’s have started to move at lightning speed to make up for it. Sansa, in particular, has another stupendous week this week. Her unyielding, unflinching confrontation of the oleaginous but still largely inscrutable Littlefinger is terrific; powerful, fearless and strong, Sansa is nobody’s pawn any more. Or at least, she’s trying not to be. He doesn’t have to pose as her friend to manipulate her though; despite her anger towards him, Littlefinger still manages quite easily to drive the beginnings of a wedge between her and the former Lord Commander, much to Jon’s suspicion, Brienne’s unease and my increasing anxiety. Making Jon a coat like Ned’s was a thoughtful touch, giving me hope that these two sad, crazy kids will pull together again, but I’m worried. Very worried.

Would that I could say the same about the other strained sibling alliance of the week, as Yara and brother/ doormat Theon try to persuade a bunch of people who literally drown their potential kings – sort of like the Salem test for witches, only if you don’t drown you get to be king, instead of getting burned at the stake – that they don’t need a King, they need a Queen. If I cared about this storyline or these two characters at all, I’d be mildly perturbed that a man who happily confessed to killing the previous king, his own brother, is seen as the best candidate but it’s the Iron Born and they’re miserable, so I don’t.

Which leaves us with the week’s strained non-sibling alliance, as Tyrion and Varys spend the week recruiting a priestess of the Lord of Light to assist the pro-Daenerys cause. If the High Sparrow situation weren’t enough of a warning about the dangers of making political alliances with religious fanatics, NotMelisandre’s plans for the “purification of non-believers” and musings on the night Varys was castrated are a GIANT NEON STOP SIGN but, despite her being creepy as all get-out, Team Meereen presses on. I doubt this will end well, but who knows, maybe she’ll cure Ser Jorah before she starts ceremonially burning folk. Hodor.

Game of Thrones s6 ep 4

*SPOILERS*

Where do I even start?

Much as I love Game of Thrones, certain characters and storylines seem to have been stuck in a game of musical chairs the past few seasons, running round in circles instead of moving the plot ON. This is not a problem for “Book of the Stranger,” however, which not only moves the plot on, but does so at lightning speed and with punch-the-air relish, cramming several seasons’ worth of events, character development and general tremendousness into 60ish glorious minutes. MY GOD, what an episode.

Even Theon, the personification of human misery, turning up again can’t spoil it. Given how long it’s taken every other character who sets out on a journey to get anywhere, I was worried his trip home would involve two years of us watching him being tortured and slowly eaten by cannibal pirates or something, but nope. A quick shot of him looking sad (because Theon looking happy would mean the apocalypse was upon us) on a boat and he’s back on the Iron Isle snivelling and disgusting his sister. And yes, snivelling and disgusting people is not something remotely new for Theon, but at least we can trust Yara not to cut bits off him and make us watch. Maybe. Even if she does, at least she won’t enjoy it; the Greyjoys don’t believe in enjoying anything, after all.

The Greyjoys probably didn’t even enjoy the rest of this episode, actually, despite it being completely amazing. All I want to do right now is talk about the HUG, but let me just take this week’s goings-on in ascending order of awesomeness and we’ll get there in the end.

First up, Tyrion offers the Masters of Slavers Bay terms and, a little disappointingly, hookers – because, even in an episode where the female characters are finally taking charge, women and their bodies will sadly always be currency on GOT – in a bid to cut off support for the Sons of the Harpy. His seven year layaway plan for the end of slavery is hardly feelgood, and it understandably enrages both Grey Worm and Missandei. They probably shouldn’t get too worked up about it, though; since it’ll probably enrage Daenerys, too, I doubt it will last very long. Still, Peter Dinklage makes the most of those scenes and I’d rather Diplomat Tyrion made deals than died at the hands of a bunch of nutbars in gold masks, so terms and hookers’ll do for now.

Talking of women’s bodies on GOT, meanwhile, after a few years under wraps, Daenerys’s makes another appearance but it’s in the context of her bloody well destroying the entire Dothraki command and making forty thousand trained killers her own personal army, so I’m okay with both it and Daenerys herself, just this once. I won’t be kneeling before her any time soon, but even I had to admit she had a very impressive week. Don’t think I didn’t see where your eyes went when everyone else’s head was down, though, Jorah Mormont. Tsk.

In other battle of the sexes news, meanwhile, Ramsay Bolton spends the week flaying an apple and almost meeting his match in a woman who deserves a better end but at least gives it all she has. A valiant effort, Osha. The North will remember. Or I will, anyway.

A little way down – but not that far – the lunatic scale from Ramsay, meanwhile, the High Sparrow’s still working on the subdued but defiant Margaery, using the world’s least convincing parable to try and persuade her that the path of righteousness is a shoeless one. Or something. “I woke up, sated and well-fed, after the best party ever and realised that actually people who can’t eat or have parties were having an even better time” doesn’t really work on Westeros’s own IT Girl, Margaery, however, so he packs her off to see Loras – Loras! Dude! It’s been ages! – to see if his snivelling (Loras, have you met Theon?) will break her.

Since I love Margaery, I hope not, but, either way, we might not need to test her resolve much longer, since Cersei and Jaime have finally worked out how to get shot of the Faith Militant without risking their own necks. The answer, of course, is to get the greatest grandma on tv, Olenna Tyrell, to do it for them. Since she’s already killed a King to protect her beloved granddaughter, she has no qualms agreeing to sic her army on an entire order of fanatics, and worry about the consequences later. “Many will die,” she agrees matter-of-factly, “Better them than us.” Fair point.

Just like every other ep so far this year, though, Castle Black is where it’s really at, as the gates open with Sansa, Brienne and Pod on the other side, and years of waiting and wishing finally pay off. Tormund eyeing up Brienne at dinner is hilarious, of course, but it’s Jon and Sansa who break my heart and put it back together. That moment when they’re standing silently, just looking at each other. All the years of sorrow and loneliness, pain and love packed into that HUG. Whether you ship Jon and Sansa – and a sizeable group of fans do – or you’re just overjoyed to see two Starks in the same room together at long bloody last, it’s an iconic, incredibly moving moment, and every scene between them afterwards is just a joy. From her playful pilfering of his ale, to her steely determination in the face of Ramsay’s letter, Sansa is no longer the silly, selfish little girl we first met. Now, like Jon, she’s battle-hardened; tough, brave and brilliant. And she’s right. “A monster has taken our home and our brother! We have to go back to Winterfell and save them both.” Yes. Oh God, yes. Never mind the Knights of the Vale, at this point, I am so completely in love with this episode and these two characters, I’m ready to get on a horse and join Jon and Sansa’s army myself. Who’s with me?