Season 7, Episode 3, ‘The Queen’s Justice’
Remind me not to cross Cersei.
That might seem like an odd place to start for this week’s “Game of Thrones”: The main attraction was the long, long awaited meeting of Daenerys Targaryen, Unburnt Breaker of Storms, and so on, and Jon “This is Jon Snow” Snow. Their introduction proceeded along a suitably measured trajectory and avoided cheap tricks — Jon bonding with a dragon, say, or Dany muttering “there’s something familiar about you …” — unless you count Jon pocketing his resurrection trump card. (Maybe he figured zombie army warnings were enough tales from the crypt for one meeting?)
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But the hub connecting the various spokes of Sunday’s episode, “The Queen’s Justice,” was the queen herself, who, we were reminded by Mycroft the Iron Banker, was the spit and image of her father even as everyone else was trying to distance themselves from the sins of their ancestors.
She was the monster in King’s Landing that kept Dany from worrying about Jon’s monsters beyond the wall. She was the subject of a “Who Knows Her Better?” spat between Sansa and Littlefinger. She was the orchestrator of a maliciously brilliant scheme to kill off an outstanding rival and pay off her family’s debts in the process, with Jaime’s assault on Highgarden, the Tyrell headquarters.
And of course, she was the administerer of the cruel justice of the episode’s title, as she had her revenge on Ellaria Sand. We figured nothing pleasant would come out of Euron Greyjoy’s pledge, made in the season premiere, to bring Cersei a priceless gift. He is a savage marauder, after all, and she a ruthless striver — both claimed power through shocking acts of violence. What would be twisted and depraved enough to serve as a fitting engagement present for the story’s most psychopathic pairing since Ramsay and Myranda hunted girls together?
Turns out Euron’s kidnapping last week of Ellaria and her daughter Tyene was the demented pirate equivalent of a trip to Tiffany’s. He presented his prize at the Red Keep and then Cersei subjected Ellaria to the same horror that she herself had suffered with the loss of Myrcella, fatally poisoning Tyene with a kiss.
It was an eye-for-an-eye with a twist: Ellaria will now be made to spend the rest of her days rotting in a cell, alongside her daughter, who presumably will do so in more literal fashion. The punishment called back to Cersei’s own dark terror, expressed last season after Myrcella’s murder, about imagining dead loved ones decomposing in the grave. You will “watch her beautiful face collapse to bone,” Cersei told Ellaria.
Which is to say that like many punishments, it said more about the inflicter than the victim. It was a sign that even though Cersei 1) achieved ultimate power in spite of her enemies and oppressors, and 2) effectively solidified it through some savvy moves, she is still haunted by loss and fear and focused on settling old scores. At the same time Jaime, her closest companion, seems ever more uncertain about the future, which could be a problem.
It suggests that, as I’ve said before, Cersei’s venom probably won’t succeed as a long-term strategy. “Game of Thrones” seems to be about the evolution from a bloody, top-down monarchy-by-force to a more democratic way forward as humanity bands together to confront the White Walker threat, standing in for catastrophic climate change or some other Global Crisis to Be Named Later. The classic race to rule the Seven Kingdoms will eventually amount to a contest, to paraphrase Davos, to be the skeleton that sits on the Iron Throne.
But for now, before this entrenched game of thrones gets flipped on its revenge-addled head? It’s working out pretty well!
Of course it helps that the other side is floundering. Team Targaryen finally made the triumphant crossing of the Narrow Sea last season, and the armada was something to behold. Hundreds of ships, manned by Unsullied and Dothraki warriors. The Greyjoys, the Dornish Sands and House Tyrell along for the ride, with air support from the first three dragons anyone has seen in centuries. It looked like an irresistible force, which is why the show has spent the time since putting its thumb on the narrative scale in the name of keeping things interesting.
Now the Greyjoys are captive — or, in Theon’s case, back in the pathetic zone — and their fleet is in tatters. The Dorne ladies have been decimated. House Tyrell has been conquered. The Unsullied are stuck a continent away from the action and the aquaphobic Dothraki are stranded at Dragonstone. The dragons are still around, but Dany’s advisers are urging her not to take the totally sensible-seeming step of using them to torch Euron’s ships, because it would be too risky for her. (When Tyrion explains it, it almost makes sense.)
“This place has changed,” Davos said upon his return to Dragonstone. But has it, really? During Davos’s stint there with Stannis, it was a gloomy place full of thwarted ambition and Iron Throne claims that echoed in the halls of the great castle to little effect. While there are fewer immolations these days, it’s otherwise just as cheery as it was in the Stannis era.
On Sunday, Daenerys ended up offering Jon the dragonglass rights he craved, but it didn’t change the overall tenor of the place. She ruminated over her collapsing coalition. He was despondent, per usual. (“We all enjoy what we’re good at,” Dany told him. “I don’t,” he responded.)
Even Tyrion was laid low by events, though he remained self-aware enough to know that he can’t pull it off as well as others. “You look a lot better brooding than I do,” he told Jon. I’m pretty sure his response was a rueful approximation of a smile.
Too bad you can’t mine angst.
A Few Thoughts While We Enjoy the Thorns
• That was quite the sayonara from Lady Olenna, who left the show with a final kiss-off to Cersei that sewed even more doubt in Jaime about his sister-lover’s future. “She’ll be the end of you,” she told him. I’m traveling this week, so ended up watching the episode at a bar in Vancouver, and Olenna’s vulgar indictment of Joffrey and spiteful confession — “I want her to know it was me” — brought the most raucous cheers of the night. Diana Rigg will be missed.
• Bran finally returned to Winterfell and was reunited with Sansa, which would have felt like a bigger deal if Bran hadn’t become such a drip since last season. How have you been? Sansa asked. I am the Three-eyed Raven, her little brother responded. I see everything at all times. I saw you in your wedding dress as the snow fell on one of the worst days of your life. Um yeah, Sansa said. I’ve got stuff to do. …
• Littlefinger gave Sansa a few bullet points from his upcoming self-help hit, “How to Outflank Rivals and Destroy People.” Fight every battle everywhere, always. Everyone is your enemy. Everyone is your friend. It was his most authentic expression yet of his power-hungry worldview, and the latest sign that his Sansa-wooing campaign is sincere and won’t be ending anytime soon. We’ll see what Arya thinks about it, assuming she’s still on her way to Winterfell.
• So all it takes to thrill the crowds in King’s Landing is to lead a few women through the streets for them to spit on, huh? Nice place. Somewhere in that scene was a message about demagogues and the fickle bloodlust of the plebes, one reinforced by Jaime (“the same mob spat on my sister”). But I didn’t really buy it. In general the show tends to use the King’s Landing citizenry as a sort of dial-a-rabble shortcut whenever it wants to signal something about someone, whether it’s Cersei’s shame or Joffrey’s unpopularity — remember his Season 2 dung facial? — or Euron’s emergence as a player.
• I was, however, satisfied to hear that state propaganda had supplied an explanation for Cersei’s Season 6 Sept explosion. It was “a tragic accident,” she told the Iron Banker. As commenters have noted, it was a pretty big plot detail to just have sitting there unexplained. I was surprised Cersei didn’t blame her inside-job act of terrorism on some external enemy, which is Tyranny 101.
• I believe we got the first confirmation on Sunday that the non-Drogon dragons actually have names. They are called Viserys and Rhaegar, which I take to mean that one is a feckless chucklehead and the other is secretly Jon Snow’s dad.
• Melisandre wasn’t around to explain to Daenerys Jon Snow’s Christlike tendencies, because it would just be too awkward to face Davos. Which is narratively convenient, but also somewhat plausible. I was more intrigued by her latest prophesy, though Varys was understandably more concerned. “I have to die in this strange country,” she told him. “Just like you.”
• Samwell Tarly saved a man’s life and was rewarded with more clerical duties, charged with making copies of rotting scrolls as Jorah rode off for uncertain Khaleesi-serving adventures. Take heart, Sam: As Jon Snow, Arya and the Karate Kid learned before you, the road to heroism is paved with garbage chores.
• The slave trade has entered a downturn, the Iron Banker lamented to Cersei. Never fear, Mycroft — I hear it’s making a comeback.
• What did you think? Were you sickened by Cersei’s cruelty? Impressed by her maneuvering? Surprised by her pledge to Euron? (“You shall have what your heart desires when the war is won.”) Please share your thoughts in the comments.
An earlier version of this article misspelled the surname of a character on “Game of Thrones.” She is Daenerys Targaryen, not Targrayen.