Helen Sloan
May 11, 2015 12:11 AM EDT

Spoilers for Game of Thrones, “Kill the Boy,” follow:

“… And then they weren’t.”

After the bloody events of last week, “Kill the Boy” was bound to be a more measured hour of Game of Thrones — well, so long as you weren’t the unfortunate Meereenese leader who was burned alive, ripped clean in half and devoured by a pair of ornery teenage dragons. Instead, the episode began by dealing with the aftermath of “Sons of the Harpy,” revealing the fate of Grey Worm (alive) and Ser Barristan the Bold (dead). Though it was a shame the audience never got an extensive look at the finer works of an artist who was said to have only used red, the outcome makes sense. Barristan was old and had little that connected him to anyone else on the entire continent other than Daenerys. Grey Worm, on the other hand, still has an army of Unsullied to captain and a budding romance with Missandei to pursue. Jacob Anderson’s scenes with Nathalie Emmanuel are always a rare showcase for both, but seeing the two former slaves finally admit their feelings for each other was a happy moment in an episode otherwise largely devoid of them.

The ambush may also prove a turning point for Daenerys, who has spent most of the last season-and-a-half proving herself a wanting leader. Much of that could be attributed to her lack of experience, manifesting itself in her tendency to be reactive rather than proactive — a major departure from her approach while conquering the cities of Slaver’s Bay. Of course, taking the leaders of the great families of Meereen to meet her children is a reaction to the ambush, but it feels like the sort of bold gesture the Dany of old would have made. She doesn’t cower in fear, she doesn’t overreact. All she has to do (as Daario pointed out in the season’s first episode) is remind those who would challenge her that she is the mother of dragons. After seeing what Viserion and Rhaegal were capable of, Hizdahr zo Loraq’s life-saving declaration of “Valar morghulis” is as much an obvious statement of fact as it is an attempt to show bravery in the face of death.

Daenerys’ next series of decisions are even bolder. First, she grants the city’s wish to re-open the Fighting Pits and then she declares that she intends to consolidate her power by marrying Loraq who must be a little shocked to have gone from dragon feed to dragon father-in-law in under 90 seconds. It’s not clear yet what impact these fairly momentous decisions will have on her rule in Meereen or her budding relationship with Daario, but it’s clear that Dany is back to relying almost entirely on her own counsel, finding solutions no others could even imagine. The return of Khaleesi the Conquerer is certainly a triumphant moment, but her decisions — particularly the choice of spouse — strongly indicate that conquering Westeros is not high on her to-do list.

For Stannis, conquering Westeros is all there is. After spending the first half of the season giving Castle Black a thorough once-over, the last of the Five Kings decides it’s finally time to head down to Winterfell. Despite his stated advantages (“more men, more horses, all fed and rested”) and desire to avoid the coming winter, Stannis’ decision somehow feels wrong here. From Ser Davos cautioning his king against bringing Selyse and Shireen along to Jon Snow promising to return the borrowed ships, it certainly has all the makings of another vintage Game of Thrones tragedy. Plus, the moment anyone is presented as a suitable candidate for the Iron Throne (Stannis’ moments of compassion these last few episodes have likely made him appear at least a bit more worthy of the honor), that’s when you know they’re doomed. Oh, and it doesn’t help that Stannis will have to square off against what can best be described as evil incarnate — always a formidable opponent in Westeros.

It has been absolutely no secret these last few seasons that evil incarnate is exactly what Roose and Ramsey Bolton are, but in case you needed a reminder, Bryan Cogman (credited with scripting the episode) was more than happy to oblige. First there’s Ramsey, who quickly dispels the highly unlikely possibility that the mere sight of Sansa Stark turned him into a new man. Instead, he’s still sleeping with and abusing fellow sadomasochist-in-crime Miranda. Miranda, in turn, does her best to — for lack of a better description — completely creep out Sansa while the latter is staring up at the tower from which her brother was pushed way back in the show’s first episode. Then Miranda sends Sansa into the nearby kennel, complete with a pack of dogs barking and scratching at their cages. That’s unsettling enough as it is, but it would be even more so were Sansa aware of Miranda’s disturbing canine exploits. At the very end of the structure, Theon — pardon me, Reek — is housed in the final cage. He’s so fully house-broken the door on his cage doesn’t even need to be closed, let alone locked.

Then it’s back to Ramsey, who instructs Theon — sorry, sorry, Reek — to apologize to Sansa for killing the younger Stark brothers and follows up that delightful bit of compelled contrition with the declaration that Reek will be the one to give Sansa away on their wedding day. “Yes, we are strange,” he admits. But just when you think it can’t get any worse in that family, there’s Roose Bolton. Having just announced that he has impregnated his wife, Bolton attempts to comfort Ramsey by telling his bastard-turned-rightful-heir what could most accurately be described as the bizarro version of Stannis’ heartfelt chat with Shireen a week ago. It sounds pretty much like your usual Bolton father-son talk: Roose wanted the wife of the miller (Ramsey’s mother), so he hanged the miller, then raped the wife underneath her husband’s corpse. It very nearly sounded like he wanted to be commended for not hanging her too. Anyhow, since he didn’t, Ramsey’s here now and Roose would very much like him to help defeat Stannis when he arrives at Winterfell. They’re so evil it’s hard to imagine they could ever lose.

Losing a war that — though far less imminent — appears far more dangerous, is what inspires Jon Snow to buck roughly 8,000 years of Night’s Watch tradition. The new Lord Commander would like to invite the Wildlings below the Wall, to take the lands of the people they once slaughtered without mercy. Of course, it’s all for the greater good. After all, those left above the Wall would at best be slaughtered by the White Walkers, and at worst, join their ranks. Tens of thousands of Wildlings would offer much needed reinforcements (or at least backup) for the dwindling forces at Castle Black. Though Jon Snow professed his concern to Master Aemon that “half the men will hate me the moment I gives the order,” he may have been a little too optimistic. To a man — including his own squire Olly and de-facto Wildling leader Tormund — everyone hates the idea. It’s so universally reviled, that it’s hard to believe no one dropped in a “You know nothing, Jon Snow,” but perhaps Melisandre already used up this season’s quota with last week’s quip. Despite the doubts of his comrades and enemies, Jon will sail north with Tormund on Stannis’ ships to retrieve the Wildlings and bring them back below the Wall. What could possibly go wrong?

At the very least, Jon and company won’t have to deal with the Stone Men that Tyrion and Jorah Mormont encountered while passing through Old Valyria. Perhaps best described as a less isolated, more scorched, less submerged version of Atlantis, Old Valyria is the ancestral home of the Targaryens and the current home of the Stone Men. For the second week in a row, Game of Thrones concludes with an ambush. This time around, however, neither of our protagonists die, but if Tyrion’s words in the wake of the attack are try, perhaps Jorah would have been better off with “a dagger to the heart” than his likely fate after being touched by one of the men. Shireen had an entire continent’s worth of healers to save her — Jorah likely won’t be so lucky, whether he reaches his Queen or not.

And now for the hail of arrows:

  • We very briefly see Brienne and Podrick. Naturally, the former is still trying to save Sansa (and would likely be in a bit more of a rush if she knew the full extent of the Boltons’ depravity). One other thing to keep an eye on here: Brienne has sworn to avenge Renly by killing Stannis, who is headed straight for her.
  • A rare King’s Landing-less episode! Something tells me the Sparrows are still causing some problems there.
  • No update on the adventures of Jaime and Bronn, but whatever they’re up to, it’s a good bet Bronn is still doing much of the heavy lifting.
  • No appearance from Arya either. Or Littlefinger. Or Varys. They’re all still alive though, which is nice for them.
  • This week, in Professor Stannis’ Grammar 101 course: “Less enemies for us.” “Fewer.”
  • Jon Snow: “Winter is coming. We know what’s coming with it. We can’t face it alone.” Stannis may not have overheard that declaration, but his instructions to Sam about researching killing methods for the White Walkers clearly indicates that he takes the threat seriously.
  • Tyrion: “Long, sullen silences and an occasion punch in the face: The Mormont Way.”
More Must-Read Stories From TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com.

Read More From TIME
You May Also Like