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 Matt Yglesias, climate change writer David Roberts, politics writer Andrew Prokop, and deputy culture editor Jen Trolio. Come back throughout the week for entries.
Matt Yglesias: Jen, I agree with you that the melee in Meereen didn't really work, but I don't think I endorse your larger diagnosis of the show, which seems to me to have more to do with events outside of Winterfell. So let's address those separately.
First, Meereen. The problem here, as I see it, is that the writers took a plot that was fundamentally about a challenge to Dany's political savvy (or lack thereof) and turned it into an action/adventure story. It was, to be sure, a cool action sequence. But the entirety of the insurgent vs. counterinsurgent story was basically swept aside in one catastrophic security blunder followed by an interesting sword fight. The good news is I got the dragon action I'd been calling for. The bad news for Dany is that even though Drogon is somewhat badass, he's hardly a strategic game-changer at this point. You're not going to conquer Westeros with a secret weapon that can be done in by a few well-tossed spears.
As for the fate of poor Shireen, I can see already that I'm going to be in the minority here, but I liked it.
For starters: Stannis's decision. It makes sense. With insufficient supplies to make it back to Castle Black and no way forward through the weather, his entire army is drawing dead. Yes, he could have saved Shireen personally by sending her back to the Wall. But the vast majority of his men are doomed unless Melisandre can pull a magical rabbit out of the hat. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, and it doesn't require that high a confidence level in the Lord of Light to see that the expected value of burning Shireen is high.
Which is exactly why it was important for the scene to be so drawn-out and agonizing.
To me, Stannis's sacrifice of Shireen landed where Ramsay's rape of Sansa fell flat. The terrorized innocent girl. The fanatical, dead-eyed mother brought back to basic humanity. The stern king whom we've seen to be a basically good man brought to an inhuman choice by a terrible situation of his own creation. Stannis's host, uncertain and desperate. And Melisandre, badly underdressed in the freezing winter as usual, offering a subtle reminder that she really does have strange power.
Plus, the scene was genuinely suspenseful. Until the end, I didn't feel confident that Stannis would go through with it. Or I thought maybe Davos was hiding somewhere to save her.
And last but by no means least, I thought that in an homage to Genesis, the Lord of Light himself (or perhaps Melisandre) would step in to put a stop to things. God tested Abraham's faith by demanding the sacrifice of his son Isaac, but once Abraham had proven himself, the God of the Bible proved he's a nice guy after all by calling it off. R'hllor, it seems, is not a nice guy.
Does that change how we understand Thoros and the Brotherhood Without Banners? Are the Red Priests' resurrection abilities connected with the White Walkers' power to reanimate corpses into wights? To me, the overall story's great weakness is that for everything that's going on, it sometimes feels like just a giant series of MacGuffins until Jon, Dany, and a bunch of dragons face off against the undead horde. And Stannis and his menacing-but-miraculous friend the Red Priestess are the biggest confounding factor in all that.
I imagine everyone will want to get in their two cents on this one. So who's right about Shireen?
Read the recap. Come back for more discussion throughout the week.