‘Game of Thrones’ Recap: Queens, Murders, and a Backsliding Dude or Two

Cersei gives a kiss of death, Jon and Dany finally meet, and Oleanna Tyrell bows out with a flourish

SPOILER ALERTDo not read if you have not watched “The Queen’s Justice,” the July 30 episode of “Game of Thrones.” 

As swashbuckling as the last few episodes of “Game of Thrones” has been — and I mean literally swashbuckling, with Greyjoy buccaneers swinging from the rigging in seemingly every other scene — “The Queen’s Justice” reveals some of the challenges and frustrations of the later seasons of this show. As the plot has tightened towards an inevitable conclusion, the weird grace notes of complexity that defined the early brilliance of “Game of Thrones” have been lost in favor of a smoother, simpler narrative. I have discussed this before at length, so I don’t want to belabor the point. But there’s a bit of lifelessness in “Game of Thrones” climaxes this season: As fewer and fewer characters survive the wars, and the central ones are weighed down with plot expedience and destiny, it’s only occasionally that flashes of weird and wonderful energy captivate the audience.

(Case in point: Euron Greyjoy, played by series newcomer Pilou Asbæk, who is having more fun than apparently all the other characters combined and can’t wait to get in their faces about it. Euron, as a character, is not a particularly appealing fellow; Asbæk, perhaps because he knows that Euron is not long for this world, leans into the character’s gross debauchery, with an unrestrained glee that cuts through the otherwise rather gloomy King’s Landing.)

“The Queen’s Justice,” like the two episodes before it, has a place-setting quality to it — with a truncated Season 7 paving the way for the final eighth season, it seems likely that this whole season will feel a little bit preliminary. Sequences like the invasion of Casterly Rock, Varys’ terse tete-a-tete with Melisandre, and the detailed breakdown of Cersei’s arrangement with the Iron Bank of Braavos (as personified by Mark Gatiss as Tycho Nestoris) are designed to impart as much logistical information as possible; they succeed, with varying degrees of brilliance. (Sweeping battle sequences led by Grey Worm are fantastic, especially when they drum up to a twist ending; dull, two-shot conversations set against grey landscapes are a bit less so.) After a period of turmoil, the pieces are clicking together like so many mah-jongg tiles, as the characters become who they’re going to be for eternity. I miss the dynamism of earlier seasons, but “The Queen’s Justice” showcases after a long time in the shadows the typically fantastic work of Peter Dinklage, who as Tyrion manages to keep that character so consistent and entertaining that the show kind of settles into place around him. Watching Dinklage opposite Kit Harington is especially rewarding; the two have a nice on-screen dynamic.

The episode fans out several different queens and their individual notions of justice, which makes for some interesting comparisons: Cersei kills Ellaria’s daughter Tyene in an even more brutal way than the way Ellaria killed Myrcella, following a monologue that is both unhinged and eerily calm; Oleanna takes her poison and then nastily informs Jaime that she killed his (evil, awful) son; Sansa governs, for the first time in her life, with surprising effectiveness; and Dany, despite her skepticism, offers her new ally Jon Snow all the dragonglass he can mine. Elsewhere, Jorah is cured of his terrible greyscale, Theon is pulled from the sea, and Jaime is sucked — pun intended — back into his sexual relationship with his sister. There’s a pattern here: The leading ladies are quietly building a character arc that will propel them to the finale; the men, several of whom are outright second-fiddles to the women in their lives, are relapsing into old habits one last time.

This does not seem quite so egregious when considering Theon’s ongoing trauma or Jorah’s single-minded romantic devotion, but Jaime’s arc in this episode was especially frustrating to me. We’ve spent seasons and seasons examining his conscience, and how it developed and sharpened into something that could save Brienne, pledge an oath to Catelyn, and spare Tyrion. Jaime has struggled with his sister’s rapacious nature and his own wrongdoing for years now, and Cersei’s actions in the Season 6 finale gutted King’s Landing, drove Tommen to suicide, and entrenched Westeros in another war. Internet speculation guesses that Jaime will likely reprise his role as Kingslayer to be the one to take out his increasingly insane sister by the end of this season, and that sounds like a great hypothesis to me. But I wonder if Jaime’s arc is going to make sense when it is binge-watched from Season 1 to Season 8, or if viewers will instead wonder if the handsome and deadly knight learned nothing from his friend Brienne or from the trial of losing his sword hand in pointless cruelty.

At least “The Queen’s Justice” offered up what is an increasingly rare flavor of “Game of Thrones” — comedy. Tyrion and Davos earnestly pushing Jon and Dany’s heads together was gold, as was pretty much every line delivery that came out of Dinklage’s mouth. There’s still a bit of sizzle left in this show.

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