[Spoilers for everything basically; don't read if you don't know what's going to happen next]
Considering the number of characters and plotlines, it is amazing really that the show has become so incredibly popular as it is - far more popular than I believe D.B. Weiss and David Benioff dared hope. So, considering it's a smashing success, it must do most of its things right, even though, for a grognard book reader such as myself, it often feels wrong.
Episode 7 opens with Jaime and Tyrion in Tyrion's cell, and both actors are, as they have been all season, excellent. I will be very surprised if Peter Dinklage does not steal an Emmy next time. Not that Nikolai doesn't deserve it! They are all good on this show (almost!). I like this scene, the chemistry, but also that Tyrion is allowed to tell the viewers why he decided to not heed Jaime during the trial and tell the audience there precisely what he shouldn't be telling them. I love Peter's acting so much in this scene, look at the hope in his face, when he suggests spiting Tywin one last time and then knowing that Jaime won't be his champion because it wouldn't make sense for Jaime to do this at all.
The next scene is probably the worst scene in the entire season so far, which is a shame. Here you have yet another actor portraying Ser Gregor Clegane, a character who they have botched many times already (he really should've had a more prominent role in the show, me thinks); he's just standing outside the walls of King's Landing hacking down commoners and there is no context or anything. It's just to show that he's a brutal beast. Now, if they had kept Gregor more of a presence (and not just mention him occasionally) in the show, they wouldn't need to make this scene so ridiculously blunt. Viewers would all be like, oh hell, Gregor's in town after having seen him rape the Riverlands. But what is done, is done. The actor himself didn't really look threatening at all, either. They really should have given this scene some kind of context, or rewritten it so that it didn't seem so silly. No, the series botched Gregor. We should've had a few scenes beforehand to build him up. Arya and Sandor could come over a scene of slaughter with some hapless survivor talking about Gregor, which would allow the Hound to talk a little bit more about him.
In that sense, it would also make more sense to have the Hound/Arya scene we see later in the episode, before this Gregor-scene, to establish the character at least a little. I suppose to most viewers it doesn't matter, but I feel they made some pretty weak choices with regard to Westeros' strongest man.
The next scene then is also a scene I found wanting; the Hound and Arya approach a burned out farm and talk to a dying man, and it feels a bit "been there, seen that". The scene feels too long, as well. Now I love what they did with the Arya/Hound dynamic, and the actor portraying the stabbed farmer does a good job too, but this is time that could have been used to establish Gregor further; maybe we could have seen him slaughter some farmers and take their livestock or whatever on his way to King's Landing. Maybe we could have a scene where characters talk about Gregor's deeds (for example the disturbing incident at the tavern where he raped the tavern owner's daughters before the man's eyes and then gave him a coin for it or whatever). The scene does setup Arya's future a little while, with her "Nothing is just nothing" which relates to the Faceless Men. When the farmers asks her, "Who are you?", I expected Arya to say, "No one, truly," to be honest. The scene also lets the Hound show Arya a mercy killing (Mercy!). But all in all, it felt somewhat unnecessary.
As I hadn't s(p)oiled myself before this episode - I love being unspoiled, I have come to realize! - I was surprised to see Biter suddenly on the Hound's back, biting him. It's a pretty bad wound he bit into Sandor's neck too. I suppose this will be the wound that takes the Hound down a notch or two, reminding me of Khal Drogo's death in season one (same setup). Well, Rorge is there too, and quickly, Arya stabs him in the heart and Sandor says dryly, "You're learning." Now, in an ideal world, they would have made this encounter more exciting instead of spending time on the farmer. What if we got a proper fight? There was no tension. There was no distress as the Hound was bitten, it didn't feel dangerous or terrifying at all. Like the Gregor scene, I feel this one was particularly weak - the two weakest scenes of the episode.
Next up we have a scene at the Night's Watch, and it was a good scene, with good acting (I agree with the Internet that Kit Harrington as Jon Snow has improved a lot in this season). Sealing the tunnel is a pretty good idea, but Ser Alliser Thorne just hates Jon's guts, so better let the wildlings get the advantage...a bit unbelievable, but I can't say I remember how this went down if the books (it was in the book at all - I suppose I am getting there pretty soon in my re-read).
Back to Tyrion's cell, and my favorite scene of the episode (tied with the next Tyrion-in-the-cell scene, featuring this season's breakout star, Prince Oberyn). I love how they kept Bronn abandoning Tyrion in his darkest hour true to the books and thank the Lord of Light for this. Also nice to see Bronn in his nice clothes, I like the Stokeworth shoutout, and their discussion, their hand shake, it was a perfect scene, and - again - the closer stuff is to the book, the better it seems to be. Jerome Flynn was such a fantastic casting choice for Bronn, I was skeptical at first but now I am a big fan. Well acted, with good lines of dialogue, and it's perfectly logical that they part the way they do. Now, will Bronn follow Jaime into the Riverlands like many hope? Or will they write him out of the series as he was in the books (until he returns, if he does)? Now that he tells Tyrion that he's marrying Stokeworth, however, it seems that he will stay in the vicinity of King's Landing until and if the story calls for him again. "I just like myself more," indeed. Tyrion does understand, however. He understands that now he's lost. It's a great scene. Perhaps a favorite of the season, even. Just two guys in a cell, but still. This scene always hit me hard in the books, too, because I liked the two together so much. Quite a daring move, really, to separate them like that.
Next up is Daenerys, looking good in her new clothes, and New Daario. Daenerys is a bit of a whine these days, but I like how they develop the scene although I was surprised they let Dany invite him into bed so fast. Daario is one lucky man, though. The best part is that they actually skipped the sexy time itself, leaving it a bit open. Works much better than the gratuitous showing of boobs all the time. Though it's been a while since we saw Dany's boobs. And Rhaegal and Viserion.
Next scene is the third least interesting scene in the episode for me - a scene between Melisandre's boobs and Selyse. However, the scene may just foreshadow something we book readers haven't seen in the books yet, Melisandre is very beautiful in this scene so a joy to watch from a male perspective, and there's some good characterization going on - such as Selyse's envy of Melisandre's beauty shining through, but held in check by her religious devotion. The scene shows us that Selyse too is able to see into the flames, but the real foreshadowing lies in the fact that Melisandre needs Selyse to come with her to the North. I like how Melisandre admits to being more of a trickster than a true magician, which comes late in the books. It does not explain the shadow baby, but still. One could also read into the scene that Selyse might be attracted physically to Melisandre. There's also talk of Shireen joining the crusade to the North, and it might just be that Melisandre has told Stannis to make this decision though the scene does not spell this out. It might be a hint that Shireen is destined for sacrifice, OR, coming straight from Davos' fifth chapter in the book, what if the "waking stone dragon" thingy relates somehow to Shireen's grey scale? The disease has been linked to stone (the Stone Men)! Will Shireen's sacrifice wake a dragon somehow (maybe resurrect Jon Snow - only death may pay for life - if he's a Targaryen, well there you go - I believe I might be on to something here).
Speculation it is but:
Melisandre sacrifices Shireen to resurrect Jon (only death may pay for life); Shireen has greyscale (stone), Jon is a Targaryen (dragon)... Interesting.
I love Daario's burning comment to Davos as he leaves Dany's chambers all disheveled: "She's in a good mood" (she should've tried Podrick Payne!). I almost feel sorry for Jorah. He enters her chambers, and manages to convince Daenerys to change her plan somewhat, which seems to make him happy. But there's a rift coming, and I think the scene is well written and the acting good too. And that dress Daenerys is wearing...I couldn't stop staring at her navel. It was quite a distracting dress. Poor Jorah. However, when push comes to shove, Daenerys' storyline has officially stranded like it did in the novels, and the writers will have to do a little better to keep people interested in this storyline. People already seem to become impatient with Daenerys and her story. Personally I can live with this slow-down, partially because Emilia Clarke is so lovely, and partially because it is still a better paced storyline than what we got in the book version.
Next is the scene I wish they had placed before the Gregor scene, with some good deepening of the Hound's character, and him talking about the wounds his brother gave him. I feel that Rory McCann as the Hound really came alive this season and has become a favorite in the show, much as he was in the books, even though the two versions are quite different in many ways. A good scene, with Rory giving the Hound humanity, and Maisie's just a given. She has been Arya since the first episode. A natural. Still not over how terrible the bite wound looks. There should definitely have been some more reaction to it, an anguished scream or whatever. Some shaky close-up shots of Biter's teeth settling into the Hound's neck, whatever.
To my delight and surprise, we get Hot Pie in the next scene, with Brienne and Pod seated in the only tavern in Westeros (apparently), I love that they gave the scene time to breathe, as in Hot Pie talking about a good kidney pie, simply entertaining and showing off character at the same time. And Brienne and Pod learning about Arya being alive. Nice. Better than the book version. Love how Hot Pie just keeps on talking. I felt him giving them an improved wolf bread (TM) was taking it too far, though. That was not necessary. Still, Pod and Brienne. Good stuff. Kind of surprised they went with Brienne using Sansa Stark's name instead of the "maid of ten and three" or whatever she kept repeating in A Feast for Crows.
Next up, Tyrion and Oberyn. Oberyn is great in the books, and also in the show. I love the actor's version of the character, his dialect, and of course I love that they brought in the story of Oberyn visiting Casterly Rock as a child so that we got the whole Cersei twisting Tyrion's tiny pink cock story. And that face Dinklage makes as Oberyn tells the tale...wonderful. Again, close to the books equals improved scene. This is known. I like that they take the time to build up the scene toward the revelation that Oberyn will become Tyrion's champion (and I can't wait to hear people's reactions to the outcome of the duel unless they change it from the books, which wouldn't be a surprise, that's how good and entertaining Pedro Pascal's Oberyn is). The music is well edited too, building up toward the end of the scene. There is precious little music in this episode, come to think of it. Mostly underscoring. But it does make it all the more effectful when we get to the final scene, and Sansa steps out in the snow-filled courtyard to build her castle, and we get the sad music of Winterfell. Beautiful!
The imagery here is perfect. It is very close to how I envisioned the scene's location in the book. This weighs up for the changes to the dialogue and the missing doll that should've been ripped apart at Sansa's hand. But a slap is good too.
While Petyr Baelish has been my least favorite character in the TV show, he is finally growing on me (apart from being spot-on looks-wise) and I think we finally see a bit of book-Littlefinger here in the last moments of episode seven. He looks great with the snowy trees in the background, the mockingbird prominent beneath his chin, the visuals are fantastic in this scene.
And we get the kiss! The best part is when the camera pulls up and you see Lysa Arryn in the background there, that was actually scary. Almost as scary as seeing Sansa being taller than Lord Baelish. Great stuff.
Stuff that weighs up for the lack of "Only Cat" of course. I do understand the choice to make it "Your sister" instead, though. Catelyn wasn't called Cat that often in the show, and it might confuse viewers in a scene where you need the impact right there and then. They made the scene quite predictable, though; I wish they had spent more time with Lysa and Robin before giving her the moon door treatment, but still, I am not complaining. There is some fantastic acting going on here, especially from Kate Dickie as Lysa, she's been consistently excellent really in portraying this madwoman.
Personally I would have saved this scene for a later episode, and spent even more time up in the Eyrie with Sansa and Robin, Littlefinger and Lysa to make this scene even more powerful. But it was powerful in its own way.
And now we have to wait two weeks...which is frustrating but also good as it stretches out this jolly season (four).
Final note: I didn't even notice at first, but notice that we have Jon Snow and Satin (I'll just call him Satin) kind of having a little moment of bonding there. Now I am convinced we'll see the boy kill Ygritte. And where are the wildlings?