(Every day this week, we are each highlighting our all-time favourite Game of Thrones episodes. To review previously posted episodes, and other GoT content, please visit our Game of Thrones mainpage.)
This mid-season episode didn’t have an epic battle scene or game-changing death, but "The Queen’s Justice" (season 7, episode 3) ranks as my favourite because it put a lot of different characters and motivations into play: people met, family reunited, Houses strategized and fell, and for a show that can often feel dense and dark, there was a lot of movement.
This is also a funny episode! (Comparatively.) After Daenerys reads out Khaleesi’s qualifications (Daenerys Stormborn of the House Targaryen, First of Her Name, the Unburnt, Queen of the Andals and the First Men, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, Breaker of Chains, and Mother of Dragons), Jon Snow’s right-hand man Davos responds with:
“This is Jon Snow.”
“He’s King of the North.”
And there are a lot of satisfying face-to-face meetings in "The Queen’s Justice": Tyrion and Jon reunite and they share an easy rapport; it’s only a few hours before Tyrion is teasing Jon for brooding on a cliff. This is also the first time Jon and Dany eyef-ck (a prelude to when they f-ck f-ck). What is the weather on Dragonstone? Jon is in full fur and Dany isn’t wearing a coat. Either she’s cold or he’s hot.
Bran finally makes it back to Winterfell. He’s all weird and sh-t now, but at least the surviving Starks are together. Sansa tells Bran he’s Lord of Winterfell and he’s like “Nah, I’m the Three-eyed Raven.” She says she doesn’t know what that means. (No one really does, Sansa.) Then he insensitively brings up Sansa’s rape in his monotone voice. I get that he’s the Three-Eyed Raven but where are his people skills?
This episode also includes the manipulators, Varys, Melissandre, and Littlefinger, the ones who have put their players in place and now must see the game through. There’s a lot of housekeeping too: Theon Greyjoy being pulled out of the water, and Yara being marched through the streets, and Cersei giving the kiss of death (literally) to the Sand People. While it’s not "Red Wedding", sometimes a show this big simply needs to move and that’s what this felt like: shaking things out.
(The only downside here is that Jorah is cured. I don’t blame Sam, he’s too good-hearted for this world.)
We’ll get to the best part of the episode (and one that will live in GoT history), but first let’s look at the work of queens, real and possible. Cersei negotiates with the Iron Bank and there’s talk about revolution versus monarchs and who is worthy of credit and confidence. Cersei flexes by flaunting her relationship with Jaime and basically daring anyone to call her on it.
Dany strategizes and tells Jon to bend the knee (oh, he will), and is learning about the tedium of negotiation, the patience required for battle, and the intricacies of alliances.
Sansa takes the reins at Winterfell, focusing on the practical aspects of war (like grain and shields), crucial to survival but not flashy. Sansa doesn’t have gold or dragons but she has loyalty and experience.
As the war begins, Tyrion makes a huge miscalculation and sends troops to Casterly Rock, which Cersei and Jaime knew he would do. Instead of fighting, they draw in the Dothrakis and then burn their ships, leaving them stranded and Dany without the strongest men in her army. The Lannisters played on Tyrion’s desire to destroy his family’s legacy and made him look foolish, emotional, and outmatched. It’s a f-cked up family dynamic at play: the incestuous siblings taunting the unwanted son (Tywin made sure Tyrion could never inherit Casterly Rock, as was his birthright).
While that is happening, Jaime heads to Highgarden to take care of Lady Olenna, who knowingly sealed her fate by conspiring against Cersei and supporting Daenerys. At this point, Lady Olenna’s heirs were dust and her House was vulnerable to war, so why not use her final days to claw at the Lannisters?
Jaime delivers Lady Olenna her fate; he seems to respect her, but this seasoned old bitch doesn’t give a flying f-ck about him.
“There are always lessons in failures.” - Jamie
“You must be very wise by now.” - Lady Olenna
Here is where we see Jaime’s motivation crystalized, both as a brother/lover/Queen’s Hand to Cersei and a true believer in her strategy; he truly believes that her tactics will eventually lead to peace and glory. Lady Olenna wants to work on Jaime, but also sees how far gone he is and how pointless it is to turn him against Cersei. But she does upset him with, “She’s a disease. I regret my role in spreading it. You will too.”
But spread it she did.
This is an unrushed moment of reflection for Lady Olenna, a powerful and influential woman who chose to advance her House by marrying her granddaughter against the Lannisters (to Renly Baratheon), and then join with them through marriage to Joffrey. (“He really was a c-nt, wasn’t he?”)
Olenna had no intention of letting that marriage make it to nightfall; she had already coerced Sansa into telling her about Joffrey’s evilness in the garden, and then framed her and Tyrion for murder at the wedding. She was getting in bed with the Lannisters, but there was no way she would let her granddaughter get in bed with Joffrey. Lady Olenna thought placing Margaery on the Throne was the end of the work, but it was only the beginning. (She could have used Cersei’s season one advice to Ned: "When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground.”)
Everything Olenna did (like framing Sansa and Tyrion) she viewed as necessary for the good of her family and her House, but as wise as she was, there seemed to be a lack of survival instinct. When things were at their most dire, with her grandchildren imprisoned by the High Sparrow, she rebuffed Cersei’s offer to collaborate and… boom. Her pride, her inability to stomach Cersei’s depravity, destroyed her heirs and her House. She underestimated Cersei’s ruthlessness: “That was my prize mistake – a failure of imagination.”
In this final scene, all Lady Olenna has left is her sharp tongue. How do you sow discord in House Lannister? By using your last words to tell them they’ve been wrong all along. You f-ck with Cersei’s head and Jaime’s heart. You don’t just call their son a c-nt, you revel in his death. You taunt the most powerful people in the world knowing she can’t, and he won’t, do anything about it.
“I'd hate to die like your son clawing at my neck, foam and bile spilling from my mouth, eyes blood red, skin purple. It must have been horrible for you as a Kingsguard, as a father. It was horrible enough for me. A shocking scene. Not at all what I intended. You see, I'd never seen the poison work before. Tell Cersei. I want her to know it was me.”
Pour one out for this legend.