Every week, a handful of Vox's writers will discuss the latest episode of Game of Thrones. Check out the recap for this episode here, and follow the whole discussion here. This week, we'll be hearing from culture editor Todd VanDerWerff, executive editor Matthew Yglesias, and foreign policy writer Zack Beauchamp. Come back throughout the week for entries.
Zack Beauchamp: Matt, I do think things were a bit better this week on the "did watching this crush my soul?" scale. Part of that, and a major reason I ended up rather liking this episode, is purely a matter of pacing: things actually happened. And the things that happened weren't all terrible things!
Lots of people have noted that Game of Thrones is even more languidly paced this year than in past seasons. Plot domino after plot domino has been set up, but very few of them have actually been knocked down (and the ones that were, like Sansa's marriage, were often unpleasant to watch).
Now the dominoes are finally starting to fall, which is great in two ways. First, it creates plots we're genuinely invested in. Love her or hate her, you can't help but care about Cersei's fate at trial.
But equally importantly, it creates character interactions that are intrinsically compelling. Watching Game of Thrones is a long anticipation game: because we know how TV works, we know isolated characters like Daenerys and Jon are going to have to be relevant to the main plot in Westeros eventually. Tyrion's meeting with Daenerys represents the beginning of that endgame, so it's electric TV, even though they're only face to face for a few seconds of screentime.
Ditto in Dorne. Though the Dornish aren't nearly at Daenerys's level, their introduction last year through Oberyn, an all-time great character, created a thread that needed to be pulled back into King's Landing's orbit. Now with Jaime and Bronn there, that's starting to come together.
Speaking of Bronn, I legitimately don't know how to feel about his "flirtation" with one of the Sand Snakes (I believe it's Tyene). It's undoubtedly riveting: everything from Bronn's singing to his seduction to his utter humiliation in pursuit of the antidote is brilliantly done. And it's intriguing to see a woman play sexual power games with a man in a show that's full of men doing the same unto women. But the nudity felt designed to fit HBO's "boob mandate" more than anything else, and the Sand Snakes as a group still feel more like basically anonymous plot devices rather than real people with real motivations.
But the Winterfell plot is the real stinker. Ramsay Bolton is a plot black hole. He's such a terrible character that he sucks in all of the surrounding plot lines he's involved in and makes them close to as terrible as he is.
Consider this: how did Ramsay find out who told Sansa to put the candle in the broken tower? She doesn't mention the servingwoman to Theon by name. Thus, Ramsay's capture and flaying of the servingwoman makes him more or less omniscient, as far as the story is concerned.
This is nonsense, contrived solely to put Sansa in even greater peril. And while Sansa gets a few good scenes out of it, trying to guide Theon back to reality and confronting Ramsay with his manifest inadequacies, that doesn't excuse the ridiculousness of the resolution.
Worse, it positions Ramsay as some kind of Joker-esque evil genius, whose depravity is matched only by his cunning. The decision to introduce Ramsay Bolton at all is only redeemable if he falls — if, as Matt suggested last week, his inability to rein in his cruelty causes his ultimate downfall in the same way that Ned Stark's refusal to compromise his honor caused his. The show already has really interesting, complicated master manipulators like Olenna, Littlefinger, and Varys. They don't need a boring evil sibling.
But that's ultimately a side complaint about what was, by the end of the hour, a pretty strong entry. Todd, are you as excited as I am about the goings-on in Essos and Dorne?
Read the recap. Come back throughout the week for more entries.