This is a recap of the Game Of Thrones episode “Book Of The Stranger” (season 6, episode 4).
Non-spoiler summary: “Tyrion strikes a deal. Jorah and Daario undertake a difficult task. Jaime and Cersei try to improve their situation.”
See below for full SPOILER-ific recap!
I saw this episode as a checking of STRENGTH
In each storyline, we had a sort of Strength Status Level check where we saw the relative strength or weakness of each character in opposition to those around him or her. Characters flexed their figurative muscles and watched as other characters either flinched or flexed back.
Viewing it through that lens, let’s consider this episode’s most epic moments…
1) Jon Snow and Sansa Stark are reunited, and Sansa is stronger than Jon
I know that Game Of Thrones isn’t called I Hope Everything Works Out Somewhat Decently For The Remaining Starks, but sometimes that is my personal name for the series. So accordingly, whenever something good happens to a member of House Stark, bastard born or otherwise, I feel a tiny twinge of happiness.
In this episode, we see two Starks reunited after having gone their separate ways in the very first season. As they both lament what has transpired, they each agree that they never should have left Winterfell.
They also make some other important observations, such as remarking on the culinary adequacy of Castle Black:
Sansa and Jon move on from the small talk of catching up and get down to business quickly.
In a switching of roles, it’s Sansa who takes charge and Jon who wants to be passive. Sansa explains that Ramsay Bolton is a monster, and that as long as a monster is in control of their home, they’ll never be safe.
In a satisfying exertion of independence, Sansa ends the exchange:
— Sansa Stark, Season 6 Episode 4
“I want you to help me. But I’ll do it myself if I have to.”
2) Brienne at last confronts Davos and Melisandre, showing her strength but not using it … yet
Elsewhere at Castle Black, Davos asks Melisandre what she’ll do now, and she makes clear that her allegiance is to Jon Snow, stating that he is the reincarnation of Azor Ahai.
Davos is like, “Umm, but didn’t you think that was Stannis?” and then Brienne enters and is like, “Stannis? Oh, you mean the guy I executed by the tree just after he admitted that he killed the love of my love Renly with the Red Lady’s Vagina Smoke Monster?”
Brienne holds her unsheathed sword throughout the exchange, but makes no move to use it. She ends the interaction by reminding them that she is the type of gal for whom Vengeance is above Air, Water and Food on her own particular Maslow’s Hierarchy Of Needs. When Davos says that the assassination of Renly is in the past, Brienne responds:
— Brienne of Tarth, Season 6, Episode 4
“Yes, it is in the past. It doesn’t mean I forget. Or forgive.”
Melisandre stares back unshaken, but Davos seems less sure. He’s just found out that his worst fears about Stannis, the man he devoted his loyalty to, were confirmed (he burned his daughter Shireen at the stake) and the Red Lady has already switched her loyalty to Jon Snow.
In a world of leaders and followers, Davos is a follower. Who will our loyal Onion Knight follow now?
Also, in our continued Murder Forecast, there is a 78% chance Brienne tries to execute Melisandre. Will her Blood Magic protect her?
3) Littlefinger is back and he is amassing his strength in the Vale
Sansa flexes her strength by announcing her intention to do what is right and take back her home.
Brienne flexes her strength by literally holding a sword in her hand and announcing that she will never forgive past wrongs.
And Petyr Bailish flexes his strength by hiding it, keeping his true intentions unannounced and instead manipulating those around him to get what he wants.
The scene begins with Robin “I Suck From My Mother’s Teet and I Like The Moon Door” Arryn giving Littlefinger an embrace before he gives him a gift of a falcon, showing us that his manipulation has already worked to secure the young Lord Of The Vale’s affection (which isn’t easy to do after you murder someone’s mother after tricking them into marrying you as a political power grab).
Lord Royce briefly attempts to question Littlefinger about how Sansa ended up married to Ramsay Bolton, but through his judo manipulation skills he makes it clear that with the flick of his tongue he could get Robin to throw Royce down the moon door.
Unnecessary interjection stating a difference between the books and the show: in the show, the moon door is a trapdoor in the floor, but in the books it is a set of double-doors on the wall.
As the scene ends, he see Bailish again manipulate Robin into declaring that the Knights of the Vale will depart from tradition and leave the defensive safety of the Eyrie in order to march on Winterfell, nominally to save Sansa Stark, but most likely as a part of a larger strategic move that he has plotted out more steps out than anyone else can see.
— Petyr Bailish, Season 6 Episode 4
“The time has come to join the fray.”
What if the series was called “Fray Of Thrones”? Doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, does it?
4) Tyrion tests if his diplomatic strength will work in Meereen
Grey Worm and Missandei make their disapproval known as Tyrion invites the slave masters of the cities supporting the Sons Of The Harpy for a meeting in Meereen.
By promising an “End To Slavery In 7 Years While Gradually Replacing It With Another System” (feudalism? capitalism? grunge rock?) and sweeting the pot with a few prostitutes in exchange for removing their support of Dany’s enemies, Tyrion appears to have secured a diplomatic victory.
But the freedmen of Meereen are not happy that he negotiated with Slavers at all. But as Tyrion tells Grey Worm and Missandei, they’ve tried the military approach and it didn’t work, so now it is time for the diplomatic approach, which is Tyrion’s own personal strength.
— Tyrion, Season 6, Episode 4
“I don’t trust the Masters. I trust their self-interest. They’re trustworthy if they’re convinced that working with me is in their self interest.”
While Littlefinger manipulates through subterfuge and deceit, Tyrion uses the bureaucratic leadership skills he learned from his father Tywin and makes it so the option he wants is also the option his adversaries want. For the time being, Grey Worm and Missandei appear convinced, too.
5) Daario thinks he is stronger than Jorah because he is old, but Jorah thinks he is stronger than Daario because he is more knowledgeable. So, whose strength will save Daenerys?
Daario and Jorah’s buddy adventure comes to an end when they arrive at the outskirts of the Dosh Khaleen. This happens after Daario finally sees the greyscale that Jorah has been hiding and is like “Gross dude” and Jorah’s like “I know man, don’t be weird, I didn’t touch you.”
Daario wants to storm in swords a blazin’, but Jorah instead urges caution. Following Daario bragging about his sexual exploits with Dany, Jorah in turn brags about his knowledge of the Dothraki, including the provision that they shouldn’t bring swords into the sacred city below.
Reluctantly, Daario agrees to Jorah’s plan to quietly sneak in and get Dany out under the cover of darkness.
The sneaking in plan blows up in their faces pretty quickly.
6) … it turns out Dany doesn’t need the strength of either her boy followers in order to be saved, because she can save herself with her own UNBURNT STRENGTH!
Khaleesi looks supremely confident and is not bothered by the petty insults of the male Khals who disrespect her. She declares that she doesn’t need to wait for them to make a decision for her as to what her fate will be, and additionally since none of them are fit to lead all of the Dothraki, she will.
Khal Drogo Lite then makes the fatal mistake of calling Dany a “crazy cunt” (which, by the way gentlemen, you should never call any woman, especially a woman who controls the power of fire).
In a nod to when she originally emerged from the flames unburnt, Khaleesi knocks over the burning torches and sets the building ablaze.
The Khals burn alive, but Dany emerges, once again, unburnt.
This time, though, she does not emerge on the other side of the flames with three baby dragons by her side, but rather with thousands of Dothraki bowing at her feet.
As the episode reaches it’s climax, for the first time this season we don’t end in Castle Black, but rather with Khaleesi in a triumphant showing of her reclaiming her strength.
While Melisandre frets over if Jon Snow is the fulfillment of the prophecy of Azor Ahai, we seem to be witnessing the fulfillment of another prophecy with the Dany storyline: the Stallion Who Mounts The World. In the Dothraki religion, this prophecy speaks of a “Khal of Khals” who will unite all of the Dothraki people into a single khalasar and who will ride to the ends of the world to make all people a part of his herd. Previously, this was thought to be the child that Dany had from Khal Drogo, but that child died when a sorceres tricked Dany into giving up his life for Khal Drogo’s.
Could it be that Dany herself is the Khal of Khals? Three word answer. Boys bow down (NSFW):
As GOT co-creator D.B. Weiss says in the Inside The Episode post show wrap up, this scene demonstrates how even in a position of powerlessness, Daenarys still possesses strength. Standing before the entire existing Dothraki power structure, Dany found a way to succeed. Her strength in this case was not through overpowering her captors, but by outlasting them through greater resilience.
Yes, Dany has the supernatural ability to survive flame and they don’t, but we can think of this metaphorically as her ability to persevere against all odds. Loras was imprisoned and he broke; Theon was tortured and he broke; Dany has been enslaved, imprisoned, captured, tortured, beaten, and literally been engulfed in flames (twice!) and she has persevered through it all.
Will Dany’s resilient perseverance prove to be the greatest strength of all in the GOT story? In what is shaping up to be a war of attrition, the person who is best able to weather the storm (and in particular the impending Winter / White Walker Blizzard that nobody has been talking about recently but it looks like we might finally get a dose of next episode…) very well might be the one who ultimately takes the Iron Throne.
7) The High Sparrow is unable to break Margaery’s strength, but he has already broken her brother Loras
We of course must mention the other storylines we touch on before Khaleesi’s triumph at the end of the episode, starting with another queen who is having a decidedly worse day: Margaery.
The High Sparrow visits Margaery in her cell, and in a display of what might be faux-tenderness decides to let her finally see her brother Loras who is locked away in another cell, and whom Margaery has been asking to see ever since they were locked up.
Before he does, though, he tells her a little story from the Book of the Stranger, the episode’s namesake. The High Septon tells his conversion experience to Margaery, explaining how he used to be a cobbler, but rejected that former life of pursuing “money, finery, power.” Margaery interrupts and indicates that she is familiar with the story from their holy book, The Seven Pointed Star.
The Sparrow takes Margaery to Loras and she sees the broken shell of himself he has become, and they have this exchange about strength:
Margaery: You need to stay strong.
Loras: I can’t stay strong. I never was strong.
So, what is the High Sparrow’s strength, apart from having a very thick layer of callus on the bottoms of his feet?
In a practical sense, it is the power he has from his devoted followers in the Faith Militant, such as Lancel Lannister.
But in a more general sense, the High Sparrow’s strength is that he does not want goals that are at all similar to the goals of the other players vying for control. As he says, he does not want “money, finery, power.” In this way, the Lannister method of diplomacy as exemplified by Tyrion of getting an adversary’s wants to line up with your own will not work if your adversary truly has nothing he wants.
8) Tyrion represents diplomatic strength and Jaime represents military strength; Cersei knows the power of using both
This scene in King’s Landing mirrors the scene that happened in Meereen, showing that despite their differences Cersei and Tyrion are both Lannisters.
First, speaking to Tommen, Cersei criticizes the High Sparrow’s revolutionary ideals:
— Cersei Lannister, Season 6, Episode 4
“The High Sparrow has no respect for kings or queens. No respect for anything in this world. He has no use for the things of this world. He wants to knock them down and replace them with what? With fantasies. With beggars in the street. With nothing.”
Just as Tyrion criticized Khaleesi’s revolution of getting rid of slavery without offering a system to replace it, so does Cersei criticize the High Sparrow’s desire to get rid of the “finery” of kings and queens, but with only offering a “fantasy” to replace it with.
Additionally, this shows that Cersei is aware that the High Sparrow does not have the wants of the people she typically has to deal with. So if Cersei can’t use diplomacy to deal with the High Sparrow, she might use the ol’ Lannister diplomatic strength to get others to use their military strength to crush the High Sparrow in the Sept where he is perched.
Next, Cersei and Jaime march into the Small Council meeting to find Olenna Tyrell and Hand Kevin Lannister.
The sequence ends with Cersei and Jaime employing the same “you can’t trust your enemies, but you can trust their self-interest” strategy to manipulate Kevin Lannister and Olenna Tyrell to be on their side. Olenna Tyrell doesn’t want to see her granddaughter Margaery shamed naked in the streets like Cersei was, and Kevin wants his son Lancel to be freed from the hypnotism of the Faith Militant.
Will they bring the Tyrell army to King’s Landing in a show of strength?
9) Theon shows that there is a strength in knowing when you’re weak
Earlier in the episode we saw Margaery staying strong while her brother Loras writhed on the ground, begging to just “let them win” so that it would be over.
In the Iron Islands, we see a similar but distinctly different brother-sister dynamic. Here, we also have a broken man in Theon Greyjoy with a strong sister who tried to be the rescuer, but while Loras “was never strong” we get the impression that Theon once was. In this scene, he shows a glimmer of his former strength by acknowledging that currently he is weak.
At one point, Theon’s stated goal was to inherit rule of the Iron Islands from his father. And while his sister Yara is initially suspicious in the timing of his return, she is quickly convinced by Theon when he tells her that he is there to help her win the kingsmoot.
10) And this week’s award for “Most Superfluous Act Of Cruelty” goes to Ramsay murdering Osha
Look, I’m a defender of the Ramsay Bolton character and storyline. I think he serves an interesting function in the larger story; we have many examples of merciless men pursuing power by any means necessary, but with Ramsay, though, he goes beyond necessary cruelty and instead revels in its excess. As Sansa says to Jon, he is a Monster, a lover of cruelty for the sake of cruelty, a sadist and a psychopath.
My attempt to see the utility in this scene is that we see that the strength of Osha, who we previously knew to be cunning and capable of murdering a man while distracting him with seduction, is no match for the strength of the cold cruelty of Ramsay. This, though, is not surprising. We’ve been given every indication that Ramsay’s cruelty knows no bounds, and that he is more than capable of exacting his cruelty on those around him.
On the episode level, I suppose the scene works to remind us of Ramsay’s cruelty (as if we needed reminding) so that we are feeling it viscerally during the next scene when we hear the letter he sends to Castle Black so that along with Jon and Sansa we feel compelled to see him brought to justice.
11) Ramsay’s cruelty inspires Jon to justice with his “Come and See” letter
Jon breaks open the flayed-man wax seal of House Bolton and reads Ramsay’s “Come and See” letter as sinister music swells:
— "Come and See" letter, Season 6, Episode 4
“To the traitor and bastard Jon Snow. You allowed thousands of wildlings past the Wall. You have betrayed your own kind. You have betrayed the North. Winterfell is mine, bastard. Come and see. Your brother Rickon is in my dungeon. His direwolf’s skin is on my floor. Come and see. I want my bride back. Send her to me, bastard, and I will not trouble you or your wildling lovers. Keep her from me and I will ride north and slaughter every wildling man, woman and babe living under your protection. You will watch as I skin them living. You will watch as my soldier’s take turns raping your sister. You will watch as my dog’s devour your wild little brother. Then I will spoon your eyes from their sockets and let my dogs do the rest. Come and see. Ramsay Bolton, Lord of Winterfell and Warden of the North.”
Sansa again shows her growing strength when she picks up and continues reading the letter when it becomes too terrible for Jon to bear.
Clearly, Ramsay is trying to goad them into marching on Winterfell. Will they fall for it?
Jon checks with Red Beard Wildling how many fighters he has: 2000. House Bolton has 5000. Sansa is sure that other houses of the North will remember their Stark loyalty and join them, and (although they don’t know it yet) the Knights of the Vale might also be marching on Winterfell.
But by responding to Ramsay’s cruel jab with war, they are playing exactly into his strength.
Tyrion excelled in this episode in remembering these wise words: “We make peace with our enemies. Not our friends.” The “wise words” are reminiscent of the beuaractic strategy of his father Tywin, but actually bear a closer verbatim resemblance to something Petyr Baelish said in the first season.
In season one, Littlefinger said to Ned Stark following the death of King Robert Baratheon, “We only make peace with our enemies. That’s why it’s called making peace.” At the time, Ned Stark refuses to make peace with the Lannisters, because his desire to respond to injustice is too strong. As a result, he dies and the entire kingdom plunges into the “fray.”
It seems likely that Sansa and Jon are bound to follow in the footsteps of their father Ned and respond to Ramsay’s transgressions with force, but they might be wise to pause and take a note from their Lannister counterparts to see if a more effective path to peace presents itself.
That’s all for now! Thanks for reading. See you next week!