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The King in the North and the Mockingbird

Jon Snow has learned the lesson that Eddard Stark learned too late: you don’t trust Petyr Baelish. Ever. Sure, Littlefinger rode to the rescue and was the only reason the new King in the North survived the Battle of the Bastards. That earns him a place in Winterfell’s great hall amongst the Stark allies. He’s earned that much. The Lord of the Vale is a useful guy to have around in public, even if he’s just going to stand in a corner and not contribute to the conversation (although we know that Littlefinger just thinking is scarier than just about anything else on the show).

In the crypts beneath Winterfell though, the gloves come off. While Jon stands before Ned Stark’s tomb, Littlefinger steps out of the shadows to remind him that he was the one to return Ned’s remains to Catelyn from King’s Landing. That’s got to count for something, right? But that doesn’t erase his betrayal of Ned. It doesn’t erase how he sold Sansa to the Boltons. So Jon does what every member of Team Stark should have done a long time ago: he roughs the son of a bitch up a bit.

Like Daenerys crucifying the slavers a few seasons back, it feels good. It feels right. It feels just. But like Cersei telling that story to her court with the benefit of time and distance, this is another unwise emotional outburst from a leader who really should learn to keep himself in check. Littlefinger doesn’t forget things. He gets what he wants. And with Jon riding south with Davos to meet with Daenerys, he’s left Littlefinger alone with what he wants above all else: Sansa Stark.

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The Assassin and the Direwolf

For years, fans of both George R.R. Martin’s books and its television adaptation have wondered what became of Nymeria, Arya’s direwolf who narrowly escaped execution way back in season one after an altercation with Joffrey. This is how we know the end is in sight: Nymeria came back. And she has her own pack now.

If would have been too easy, too silly, for the grown Nymeria to recognize Arya and immediately return to her side as a loyal pet. But the moment they do share is powerful, two wolves who have been through hell and back sharing a look of recognition before going their separate ways. Arya will never get Nymeria back. Those days are long gone. Maybe she should take this as a warning – everything has changed and the days of her youth will never come back. She’s heading home, but nothing is the same. The familiar comforts vanished with the summer.

But what are we to make of Arya’s final line: “That’s not you.” Is she talking to Nymeria? Or is she talking to herself, a reminder that she’s heading in the wrong direction, that she should be going south. At this rate, both directions seem like bad options.

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The Greyjoys and the Vipers

“Stormborn” concluded with the first battle in the new war over Westeros and, in a surprise turn, it was a resounding defeat for Team Targaryen. Yara Greyjoy’s fleet, transporting Ellaria Sand and the Sand Snakes back to Dorne, came under fire from Euron Greyjoy’s ships and the results weren’t pretty. Two of the Sand Snakes lay dead, their corpses on display for all to see. Ellaria and Yara were captured by Euron. Theon leapt into the water rather than face his uncle and rescue his sister. In the episode’s final image, a large portion of Daenerys’ navy burns as the lord of the Iron Islands sails away with two valuable hostages. For now, Dorne has been taken off the table. Since Euron was fighting in Queen Cersei’s name, Team Lannister has struck a decisive below against the invasion. Just like a Lannister to get someone else to do their fighting for them…

While not as grand as past battles on Game of Thrones, the engagement between the Greyjoys and the other Greyjoys was fairly exciting and predictably brutal (this show does love its close-ups of faces being smashed!). However, it’s also (let’s all say it together now) problematic in a few ways. It’s fine that Yara loses the battle and has her fleet destroyed. That’s just Game of Thrones being Game of Thrones. It’s not fine that this is another example of a woman being put in peril so Theon can have a character moment. It’s a pattern at this point, and the only thing driving him forward. Couldn’t he have made the leap to avoid the battle, not because he was forced to look at a mad man threaten his sister and challenge his masculinity? The Theon Greyjoy storyline has had its fits and starts for years now, but this is getting repetitive.

It’s also worth noting that, by killing off two of the Sand Snakes, this battle helped further sweep Dorne under the rug, which has been in the works since the downright disastrous season 5 arc that introduced the southernmost kingdom in Westeros. How this show botched some of the best characters in the novels so badly remains a discussion fans will be having for years.

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The Players

Last week’s champion, Arya Stark, wasn’t a contender this week because she spent all of her screen time eating pies and meeting old pets and deciding to forego her assassination mission to go home and see her family. Not going to win the game of thrones with that attitude, young lady.

Up north, Team Stark continued to be a disorganized mess and rightfully so – they’re the only group on this show that’s doing anything about the undead invasion and they’re being pulled in every direction. They’re going to be right when all is said and done, but their eyes are not on the ball.

Daenerys Targaryen? Nah. The fractures in the dream team are too clear now and phase one of her invasion plan was wrecked by Euron Greyjoy before it could even begin. She may take Casterly Rock yet, but King’s Landing is safe. The Dragon Queen flopped into the war like an amateur.

So maybe the right answer to to the whole “who is winning the game of thrones?” question is Euron Greyjoy, who enjoyed a decisive victory over his family members, abducted the Dornish leadership, and wiped out a portion of the Targaryen fleet. Plus, he proved himself to be a beast in combat, wiping out his fair share of opponents without mercy.

But the problem is that Euron is also a psychopath. And an easily manipulated psychopath, at that. This battle only happened at the prodding of Cersei, who knew exactly what would happen…and she didn’t even have to lift a finger to slap Daenerys right across the face. Plus, she’s got Qyburn building dragon-killing machines. The winner this week is quite clear.

Currently Winning the Game of Thrones: Cersei Lannister

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