Long, sullen silences and an occasional punch in the face.
Written by: Bryan Cogman
Directed by: Jeremy Podeswa
The bloodiest and most action-packed Game of Thrones episodes are always tough acts to follow, which is why stepping back and taking on a more reflective tone is normally the right thing to do. That's exactly the choice that Bryan Cogman and Jeremy Podeswa take with "Kill the Boy", an episode that is slow on plot progression, but abundant with character meditation, inner turmoil, and tension building. At this point, the primary story lines of season five are all in place and on the move, and it's good that we can pause and sort of collect all our thoughts about why people are doing certain things and where we think other certain things are going.
If anyone is going places, it's the leaders at Castle Black: Jon talks with Tormund Giantsbane and learns that all the wildlings have gathered at the Hardhome settlement, while Stannis heads out to march on Winterfell. It's funny how both Jon and Stannis, despite wanting two very different things, are facing the same predicament: go through with a plan that everyone else thinks is unwise. Jon hopes that freedom south of the Wall will make the wildlings agree to ally with the Night's Watch, while Stannis ignores warnings that his siege on Winterfell may be impeded by the incoming winter. It seems like at some point down the road, every major Game of Thrones character is faced with a tough decision that offers no easy answers, and as the early episodes of season six will make clear, there's a special sort of connection to what Jon and Stannis are trying to do in the North. Jon is going against all the customs and ideology of the Night's Watch in order to achieve some greater goal, while Stannis is willing to abandon nearly everything reasonable so that he can get one step closer to sitting on the Iron Throne. It's two different characters going down the exact same dangerous path, and when one succeeds and the other does not, it will bring us every bit closer to understanding a certain someone's purpose in this story and what kind of story George R.R. Martin has been telling us from the beginning.
Meanwhile, on the other side, Ramsay starts to see threats all around him: his lover Myranda is jealous of Ramsay's wife-to-be Sansa, and Roose Bolton announces at dinner that he and Walda (Elizabeth Webster) are expecting a baby boy. We've had almost three full seasons to learn that, when it comes to Ramsay, expecting anything but the worst is a terrible mistake. The suspense lies not in thinking about who is going to suffer from Ramsay's wrath. That much was obvious from the moment Sansa walked into Winterfell with Petyr Baelish. What should get us all tense inside is thinking about how Ramsay is going to take this news and how he will continue to remind us that he constantly challenges Cersei Lannister and Joffrey Baratheon for the title of "Most Wicked Game of Thrones Character." The interesting thing this time around is now we're really seeing something trigger Ramsay to be evil, not watching him be bad simply because he has the freedom to do so, like he kind of did with Theon back in season three. But yeah, Stannis the Mannis is on his way, and now there's some domestic beef inside the Bolton household. I think everyone is going to make it out of this a-okay.
So it turns out Grey Worm made it out a-okay of his fight with the Sons of the Harpy, and we finally get to see him be romantic with Missandei. When we first met the Unsullied back in season three, the descriptions of their training made it sound like all the boys were trained to act like unconscious robots, devoid of anything resembling an emotion. Grey Worm has been a supporting character since we first met him, but I think because Ser Barristan gets axed off, D&D wanted to start giving Grey Worm a more prominent role and provide him more dimensions than just a dedicated Unsullied who had a dark past and is loyal to his Queen. Having felt fear for the first time ever, Grey Worm is starting to break down his hardened Unsullied walls, and he is letting Missandei see something in him that no one would ever think of seeing in a member of the Unsullied: vulnerability.
There's more meditation going on in Essos, as Tyrion and Jorah pass through the ruins of Valyria, reflecting on what the city once was. There's such a sense of calm that washes over you during this part of the scene: the boat moves gently on the river waters, animals are heard chirping in the background, and a light fog slowly passes through the open air, all while Tyrion and Jorah give us a brief history lesson on the Valyrian people. It's top-notch cinematography by Gregory Middleton that perfectly captures the mood that this episode is trying to convey, and just to put icing in the cake, we get a beautiful low angle shot of Drogon flying over the ruins. Peter Dinklage's facial reaction for Tyrion seeing Drogon for the first time is also fantastic, might I add. It's a tad bit disappointing that such poetic film-making is immediately followed by the somewhat awkward encounter with stone men. I think it's appropriate that the boat goes into a darker area once the stone men attack. Jeremy Podeswa didn't want that beautiful scene marred by disease-ridden animals.
In the end, there's not too much to say. "Kill the Boy" is the solid meditation we needed to follow up on the violent "Sons of the Harpy". The conversation between Tyrion and Jorah is a terrific mix of dialogue and cinematography, the tension grows big time in Winterfell, and there is further development for Jon, Stannis, and even Grey Worm. It's quite a success considering that not a whole lot actually happens plot-wise. Perhaps the title, 'Kill the Boy' is a bit misleading.
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