Game of Thrones blessed us with a series of firsts in Sunday night’s episode, “The House of Black and White”: we got our first glimpse of sunny Dorne, Prince Oberyn “Red Viper” Martell’s southern peninsula homeland. His older brother Prince Doran deflects Ellaria Sand’s passive-aggressive threats from his perch above the Water Gardens, where Myrcella Baratheon, Cersei’s only daughter, has spent the last few years getting to know her betrothed, Prince Trystane Martell.
For the first time, we set foot in the bustling Free City of Braavos, where the littlest Stark daughter has finally landed after her journey across the Narrow Sea to the House of Black and White to meet up with Jaqen H’ghar, the Faceless man who stealth-assassinated three of her targets, helped her escape Harrenhaal, and gave her that magical Braavosi coin. He can teach Arya to become one of the Faceless Men of Braavos—an order of mysterious assassins with the power to alter their appearance—and cross those last four names off her kill list: Cersei, Walder Frey, the Mountain, and Meryn Trant.
And, just in time for the 2016 presidential campaign kickoffs, we witnessed our first Westerosi election! All hail the new Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, Jon Snow, a dark horse candidate who didn’t know he was running, won by a single vote, and did it all within 15 minutes thanks to a promising young speechwriter known as Samwell Tarly. Enjoy it while you can, Lord Snow. ’Cause if the rest of this episode is any indication, any character in power whose name isn’t Tommen Baratheon will have a hard time holding onto that power this season.
Take for instance King’s Landing’s expert self-saboteur, Cersei Lannister-Baratheon, who continues to ignore all the realm’s real problems—like its crippling debt, its need for a new Hand of the King, and the fact that its young king is too distracted by boobs and kittens to learn how to rule—in favor of issues she finds more pressing: namely, her own slipping influence in the Red Keep, and finding and killing Tyrion. (She dispatches a team of hunters to track her brother down, inadvertently murdering some poor dwarf with a scar vaguely resembling Tyrion’s.)
She’s already losing control over Tommen to Margaery, but in the absence of an official Hand, Cersei makes a power play in the Small Council instead. She reappoints key positions to people more likely to serve her interests: the bumbling Lord Tyrell as Master of Coin, creepy Citadel reject Qyburn as Master of Whisperers, and her uncle Kevan as Master of War.
Kevan, however, sees straight through the ruse and shuts her down: “You are the Queen Mother. Nothing more,” he snaps before storming off to Casterly Rock. Actress Lena Headey plays the scene so that you see Maggy the Frog’s bleak prophecy, about Cersei being replaced by a younger, more beautiful queen who will take all she holds dear, reverberating in the “Queen Mother’s” head.
Poor Cersei. On top of all this, she receives an open threat from the Martells in Dorne, aimed at Myrcella. A gold chain she once gifted to her daughter dangles from a snake’s fangs, representing vengeance for the deceased Red Viper, Oberyn. Of course, the message is likely from Ellaria or the Sand Snakes, not Doran, who rejects Ellaria’s proposal to send Myrcella back to King’s Landing in tiny, chopped-up pieces. “Not while I rule,” he says. Ellaria bitterly replies, “And how long will that be?” A Snake-led, anti-Lannister movement feels imminent—and Jaime, who has vowed to retrieve his daughter and bring her back to Cersei with Bronn’s help, is about to walk straight into it.
Back in Essos, dragon queen Daenerys Targaryen is having an equally miserable time attempting to rule her emancipated city-states. The Sons of the Harpy, the mysterious guerrilla force murdering Unsullied soldiers throughout Meereen, turn out to be poor men acting on rich families’ orders—at least, that’s according to Mossador, an ex-slave loyal to Daenerys. He swears the Sons are trying to re-establish slavery on behalf of the Masters of Slaver’s Bay, but Hizdahr zo Loraq, the head of a wealthy family, has his doubts. (Then again, he’s the head of a wealthy family—why wouldn’t he say he had doubts?) Daenerys decides to give the Harpy Son a fair trial, but Mossador takes matters into his own hands and executes him instead. That was the last bad idea Mossador ever had.
By breaking the law, he (apparently) leaves Daenerys no choice but to execute him. Immediately. In front of the entire city. The former slaves, who still call Mossador “brother,” get a front-row seat to Daario Naharis swinging his scythe straight through Mossador’s jugular, which goes over as well as you’d expect. The ex-slaves begin hissing at their new queen, throwing rocks, and rioting. Daenerys escapes, cowering under her soldiers’ shields. If a few poor men were willing to be bought for rich men’s revenge against the queen before, 10 times as many must be willing now.
Later, Daenerys’s long-lost favorite son, Drogon, reappears and momentarily lingers close enough to let his mother reach out to him. They never quite make contact. Drogon lifts off again and leaves her behind to mull over Daario’s warning: “A dragon queen with no dragons is not a queen.”
While our queens of Westeros and Essos are slowly losing their grips on power, Stannis makes a brief play at convincing Jon to conquer Winterfell, then swear allegiance to him in exchange for legitimization: Jon Stark, no longer a bastard, would be ruler of Winterfell! This is everything Jon has ever wanted! Of course, he refuses. A happy Jon Snow is no Jon Snow of ours, and he’s too honorable to ever break his Night’s Watch vows anyway. (Except for, you know, that one vow.)
Thwarted again, Stannis probably scuttles off into some dark cave to brood over the fact that he can’t get even a 10-year-old to bend the knee to him. (Lyanna Mormont, pint-sized head of House Mormont, sends a response letter to Stannis letting him know her House is loyal only to the Starks of Winterfell. Even Snow cracks a smile at this one.)
Elsewhere in the episode, traveling buddies Brienne of Tarth and Pod finally catch up to Sansa Stark, who promptly rejects their offer of service. To be fair, it’s hard to blame Sansa. Littlefinger points out that everyone Brienne ever served has ended up dead and Sansa recalls watching Brienne bow to Joffrey at his wedding. But Brienne vows to follow Sansa from a distance anyway because, as even simple Podrick recognizes, the heir to Winterfell will never be safe as long as she’s around her creepy uncle.
It’s hard out here for a Westerosi woman.