Game of Thrones

HBO's 'A Song of Ice and Fire' TV Show


EP604: Book of the Stranger

Written by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Directed by Daniel Sackheim

Tyrion strikes a deal. Jorah and Daario undertake a difficult task. Jaime and Cersei try to improve their situation.



This is the most solid episode so far this year, even if it ends with a disappointing rehash of an iconic and far more deserved ending. I find it hard to see what the writers are thinking when they make such decisions and for the most part their commentary on the episodes, such as in the “Inside the Episode” videos, do little to offer sensible, compelling reasons for their choices. If anything, they often undermine the decisions further by making them even less inspired than you might have imagined.

But this episode is also one of sibling reunions, beginning at the Wall with Sansa arriving just as Jon is preparing to “go South”. Their meeting is touching and well-acted, but their subsequent interactions are unfortunately marred by the writers being convinced that if you want to show the strength of one character (Sansa) it is best done by having another character (in this case Jon) be weak. The idea of the two siblings sharing a common goal is presumably not deemed interesting enough and so for the sake of dramatic tension Jon gets to initially refuse doing anything about the Boltons sitting in Winterfell. Precisely what he had intended to do once he’d gone South that did not involve fighting is left unsaid. Even once the show’s version of the “Pink Letter” arrives it is Sansa’s determination that is played up, with Jon agreeing only at the very end. This may seem like an unavoidable side-effect of prematurely putting two main characters together, but it could have been handled very differently had the writers not insisted that tension over the decision was needed.

The second reunion is a temporary one, as Margaery is finally allowed to see Loras, following yet another speech by the High Sparrow. No matter how well they are delivered, it simply is not story-telling to have four speeches/lectures in as many episodes. Fortunately, the King’s Landing storyline does see some actual political movement as well, with Jaime and Cersei using the information from Tommen that Margaery will need to do a Walk of Atonement to pressure the Tyrells into working with them against the Faith.

The final pair of siblings have the most complicated reunion, as Theon makes it back to Pyke and meets with Yara. She is not happy to see him, both because of his refusal to be rescued last time around and because it now appears he has shown up because he’s heard that Balon is dead. However, it appears Theon is the one person in Westeros who doesn’t get the news as soon as something happens, so he’s actually not come to Pyke to contest with Yara over the rule of the Iron Isles. Instead, he offers to support her. Its a solid scene, with good acting from both of them.

As with King’s Landing, Meereen finally gets a bit of actual political maneuvering happening as opposed to strained scenes of Tyrion trying to be funny. The negotiations between Tyrion and the representatives of Yunkai, Astapor and Volantis feel appropriate for the characters and the situation, as do the reactions from Missandei and Grey Worm. They grudgingly support Tyrion when the former slaves question his dealings with the slavers, but warn him afterwards that he cannot use the slavers, they will use him. I am not sure how likely it is that the deal Tyrion offers would actually be accepted by the other cities, but it may be plausible as long as they are not certain of when Daenerys might return or of where the other two dragons are.

And speaking of Daenerys, the big moment of the episode is of course the confrontation between Daenerys and the khals at the very end. Brought before them, she refuses to have them determine her fate and instead declares that they are not worthy to lead the Dothraki as they have no ambitions such as Drogo had. However, she does. When the khals are enraged by her insults and ask if she truly expects that they would serve her, she replies that she expects them to die. She then grabs a red-hot brazier, holding onto it for a moment before tipping it forward. Once she’s set the whole temple alight we switch to an outside view, with the dothraki gathered around it in shock. Then the doors (barred from the outside, presumably by Jorah and Daario) collapse and out of the flames walks Daenerys, naked but unharmed.

Does it look epic? Sure. But does it compare to the momentous birth of the dragons at the end of episode one? No, not at all. There they truly sold the miraculous nature of the event, complete with even Daenerys looked shocked and awed as she stood up, soot-covered and naked, from the pyre. Here, it is a pre-meditated repeat, both on part of the writers and on part of Daenerys, and it simply does not have the same impact. The way that Daenerys won over the Dothraki should have involved Drogon, but he is conspicuously absent. This is where my issues with the “Inside the Episode” commentary come to the forefront as well. The writers explained that they wanted to show Daenerys being strong without Drogon, but to do so they construct an implausible scenario.

Yes, they may have decided that she is entirely fireproof on the show, but the way she deliberately walked around knocking over braziers would have given the khals ample time to react, unless of course the writers had decided to make the temple as flammable as if it was doused with oil all over. Furthermore, how is giving her the “superpower” of being fireproof any more “empowering” than having Drogon appear at the time of her need? He exists because of her, as an extension of her. More damning, however, is that there’s been nothing in Daenerys’s interactions with the Dothraki this season that have suggested her moving towards a decision like this one. She has been attempting to pull rank repeatedly and yet, when it comes to it, her decision to burn everyone does not in any way look spur of the moment choice. Ultimately, this seems like another case of “creatively it made sense to us, because we wanted it to happen”.

Book to Screen

Inspired by the Books

  • Meereen: Tyrion’s intentions to negotiate with the forces of Astapor and Yunkai mirrors Hizdahr zo Loraq’s convincing of Daenerys to do the same. However, in A Dance with Dragons, Hizdahr negotiates that the other cities are permitted to resume slavery without any time limitation.
  • The Wall: As on the show, a letter from Ramsay Bolton challenges Jon Snow and makes various statements. Notably, a common theory is that the letter is not actually written by Ramsay, with various arguments for other authors, but the show seems to have gone with a very straightforward rendition.

Possible Developments in Future Books

  • The Wall: As previously noted, it’s been speculated that Jon Snow will see his vow to the Night’s Watch as fulfilled by his death. It’s possible that after that he will indeed feel that he should go south. On the other hand, presently it seems unlikely that he will meet Sansa at the Wall, as her story has her in the Vale of Arryn. The meeting between Brienne, Davos, and Melisandre currently doesn’t seem likely, but who can say?
  • The Vale: That the knights of the Vale might go north to support Sansa Stark’s claim to Winterfell is part of Littlefinger’s stated intentions in the novels. However, it’s improbable that he would threaten Lord Royce’s life to achieve that.
  • Daenerys: Daenerys may well go to Vaes Dothrak in the novel, but regardless it seems probable that with Drogon at her side she will find some way to win or command the following of at least one Dothraki khalasar. On the other hand, her coming out of the flames unharmed seems to repeat the show’s position that she is immune to fire, whereas George R.R. Martin has noted that her survival on Drogo’s pyre was a unique magical event and she has since gone on to suffer burns.

Entirely Different

  • Daario and Jorah: Neither character is likely to go into the Dothraki sea looking for Daenerys, as Daario is a hostage and Jorah is enlisted in the Second Sons in A Dance with Dragons.
  • King’s Landing: It is unlikely that events in King’s Landing will play out as planned on the show, as Kevan is dead and Jaime is missing by the end of A Dance with Dragons, leaving Cersei in a position where she will depend on Ser Robert Strong as a champion rather than negotiating an intervention from Lord Tyrell. It’s also noted that the Tyrell army is the “second largest” in Westeros, presumably suggesting the Lannisters have the second largest; in fact, the Tyrells have the largest army in the novels, and by a very substantial number.
  • Iron Islands: Theon is not present for the kingsmoot in the novels.
  • Winterfell: It is unlikely Osha will end up in Ramsay’s hands in the novels, as she is currently on Skagos with Rickon and Shaggydog.