Sunday night’s episode of Game of Thrones, “Kill the Boy,” begins with a glorious, welcome sigh of relief: Grey Worm is alive! Thank the gods! Then it sentenced one of its most familiar faces to a gruesome, possibly years-long death from a mysterious disease. And somewhere in between, Stannis went to war, Sansa reunited with the man she thinks killed her little brothers, and Queen Daenerys Targaryen got engaged to a man who kneeled before her in fear.
But first: Grey Worm. The loyal, lovable eunuch warrior survived the battle with Meereen’s insurgent rebels, the Sons of the Harpy, and will live on to fulfill his star-crossed romance with Missandei. Those two crazy kids deserve it.
But the same cannot be said about Ser Barristan Selmy, Daenerys’s noble righthand man, who perished in a sudden, flabbergasting departure from George R.R. Martin’s books. Two stab wounds in an alley, apparently, were all it took to wipe out one of the greatest fighters in Westeros and Dany is just as pissed about it as you are.
While it’s been strangely gratifying to watch Daenerys learn that swooping in and white-knighting a foreign land is no fairy tale, watching a dragon queen spend four episodes futilely trying to make everyone like her was—let’s face it—not exactly thrilling television. Thankfully, this episode was Dany’s “fuck it” moment. Screw politics: It’s time for the rich, cowardly brats of Meereen to pay.
This leads to a great scene in which Dany puts on the kind of powerful display we’ve missed seeing from her this season. The mother of dragons rounds up the heads of each noble family—including her adviser and newly minted fiancée Hizdahr Zo Loraq—and drags them down to where Viserion and Rhaegal, two of her dragons, are locked up.
She makes an indelible point about what happens to those who cross her by tossing a quivering nobleman at her dragons and having them flame-broil him alive, then split him evenly in half. As her kids chow down, Dany threatens to do it again—to anyone she pleases. Ah, but you know what? “Don’t want to overfeed them,” she mutters suddenly, like it’s an afterthought. Such sass.
Meanwhile, back at Castle Black, Jon Snow comes to Maester Aemon Targaryen—Dany’s last known living relative—for advice about bringing the wildlings into the Night’s Watch. Like the Targaryen queen, Snow is worried about whether big, controversial moves will polarize the people he rules over. “Half the men will hate me the moment I give the order,” he simpers, to which Aemon brilliantly rebuts, “Half the men hate you already, Lord Commander. Do it.” Aemon, the 100-year-old blind man slowly freezing to death at the edge of the world, tells Snow, “Goddamnit kid, just fuck it and do what you want already.” (Just kidding, he says, “Kill the boy, and let the man be born.” Preach, Aemon!)
Snow tries out his new mantra of self-empowerment on Tormund Giantsbane, the red-headed wildling who reiterates what Mance Rayder always said: the free folk will neither bend the knee nor fight alongside the crows. Snow calls him a coward, to which Tormund growls that Snow wouldn’t be so cheeky if he weren’t in chains. And then a funny thing happens: Snow unchains his captive and respectfully reasons with him about the greater good (getting everyone the hell away from incoming zombies).
It works: Tormund and Jon journey beyond the Wall again to gather the wildlings and bring them to Castle Black. It’s the direct opposite of what worked for Daenerys, who reasoned with her subjects to the point of exhaustion before she finally resorted to putting them in chains. The two newbie rulers’ reigns do seem to run in parallel course: beheading an unruly subject helped establish authority for Jon, for example, but backfired miserably on Daenerys.
Over in Winterfell, Game of Thrones’ two most noble hearts, Brienne and Pod, continue standing by in case Sansa falls down a well, or something. Brienne is still convinced that helpless Sansa needs her protection—at this point, an observation true only to someone who hasn’t interacted with Sansa much this season. Apart from Littlefinger, Sansa seems to know whom to trust. Her Spidey senses go off around not only Ramsay and the Boltons, but also Myranda, Ramsay’s twisted lover. The servants of Winterfell are on her side (The North remembers.) And really, if anyone can survive being engaged to a psychopath, it’s Sansa.
She also comes face-to-face with Theon for the first time in years in this episode, giving Reek’s plotline a much-needed boost and vindicating us all for sticking around through every unbearable scene dedicated to the Greyjoy prince’s transformation. (Even Iwan Rheon as Ramsay is acting with new vigor; though I’ve never found him particularly intimidating before, he was terrifying while making Reek kneel for forgiveness in this episode.)
And poor Ramsay: He got the Bolton last name, but it looks like his step-mama is giving birth to a new son, who would supersede Ramsay as heir to the North. Boo-hoo.
Back in Castle Black, Stannis and his army finally embark on their long march toward Winterfell, where they hope to defeat the Boltons, take the North, then march south to King’s Landing. Both Jon and Sansa’s fates now depend on the would-be Baratheon king: Littlefinger is counting on Stannis emerging victorious and leaving Sansa as Wardeness of the North; and Jon needs Stannis’s support to stave off the White Walkers (unless he gets the free folks’ help, which remains to be seen).
Oh, and then Daenerys gets engaged, in a power move to restore peace between her men and the nobles of Meereen. Hide your kids, it's another Game of Thrones wedding. For Dany, this seems like a wise, measured choice—but what will Jorah think?!
If he were a smart man, Jorah would think of retiring to a deserted island where he could live out the rest of his numbered days in peace. As if he didn’t have enough to mope about, the lovelorn knight now has Greyscale, the fatal skin disease that produced the Stone Men, who attacked Jorah’s boat and nearly drowned Tyrion in the ruins of Valyria.
We knew Greyscale was coming soon this season: The show has mentioned the disease and its history several times now, through a Red Priestess Tyrion encounters in Volantis and through conversations between Gilly and Princess Shireen Baratheon, who survived a bout of Greyscale as a baby (an extremely rare feat). But to sentence yet another of Daenerys’s buddies to a grisly death in a drastic departure from the books? That was a surprise.
Game of Thrones deaths are usually surprises, but fittingly for nothing-left-to-lose Jorah, we’ll see this long, drawn-out death—and how it affects Jorah’s actions—coming a mile away. As many have noted, Greyscale is a bit like real-life leprosy in its social implications; sufferers become outcasts due to a general lack of understanding of the disease. Unlike leprosy, however, Greyscale is almost always fatal: It deteriorates the skin and eventually hardens and kills its victims’ muscles and organs. Jorah, at best, has a handful of years left before the disease kills him, or someone does it for him. What will he do with the time he has left?