The meeting we’ve all been waiting for happened, and it was satisfying. Sort of. Daenerys brings out her diva side in the meeting with Jon Snow. Missandei recites Dany’s C.V. It takes a while and is impressive. Ser Davos Seaworthy (street name: The Onion Knight) says, “This is Jon Snow. King in the North.” Mic drop. Daenerys is haughty, introduces herself as queen, presumes he is here to bend the knee and accept her.
She claims the throne as her birthright, but denies all the negative connotations which that implies. She says she is not responsible for what her father did, but everyone else is responsible for the oaths their ancestors took. Either the past and our parents matter, or they don’t - you don’t get to stand on the past only when it is convenient for you.
She recites everything she has been through: sold off to the highest bidder by her brother, raped, constantly stalked by assassins, and having to fight for everything she now has. Which is her birthright, by the way.
Leave it to the Onion Knight to break it down in a way that Queen Daenerys might get. “Jon’s not king by birthright - he’s a bastard.” Which means Jon has actually earned his position, too. He was elected Lord Commander of the Knight’s Watch and then when he came back to life, he was elected King in the North. People follow him because they believe he is just, fair, and will fight for them. Indeed, though their first meeting does not go well, Tyrion later tells Jon, “She protects people from monsters, same as you.” These are two people fighting for the people, which makes it odd that Daenerys is suddenly self-aggrandizing and condescending. She has been before, to other rulers who took her on, but Jon Snow is not the slave lords of Yunkai, and she knows that.
Jon is equally frustrated by Daenerys and crew, as they seem to believe he is the boy who cried “white walker.” An army of the dead is coming; but if you haven’t seen it, it is hard to accept. I’m surprised Jon and Davos didn’t use the obvious argument: People who spend quality time with dragons are arguing if an army of the dead is real?
Melisandre has a fun conversation with Varys in which both reveal enough of the truth to scare us all. He tells her to leave Westeros. She tells him that was the plan anyway. Now that Jon and Dany are at least talking, the world has a chance. She takes pride in the fact that she “brought fire and ice together.” (Although, as an old Spinal Tap fan, I could not help but think of Derek Smalls: “David and Nigel are fire and ice, and I view my role to be somewhere in the middle, a sort of luke-warm water.” Let’s hope Fire and Ice and their song maintain their distinctive properties. Luke-warm water is useless when winter is here!)
And Daenerys is cool with Jon taking all the dragonglass he wants. I mean it’s just obsidian, right? I know of marriages built on less. Let’s hope these kids get it figured out, because Cersei is bringing her A game.
The Queen’s Justice - But Which Queen?
One of the jobs of the monarch is to ensure justice is served. Part of the original Magna Carta, signed by King John in 1215, and designed to balance royal power with the rights and powers of the various lords, demanded due process in judicial matters and an end to judicial bribery, in which the King could be paid to render particular verdicts. The King’s Justice is meant to be, well, just. The end result of the judicial process should be the satisfaction of wronged parties, and not tied to the monarch’s own desires.
“The King’s Justice” is also the title of the royal executioner, in this case, Ser Ilyn Payne (presumably of the House of Payne - sorry, couldn’t resist). He was the one who killed Ned Stark and executed a whole host of others, first for Robert Baratheon and then for Joffrey. He is one of the names on Arya’s list, herself noticeably absent from this episode. But so was Ser Ilyn Payne, now the Queen’s Justice. The queen’s executioner was not in an episode named after him. So perhaps something else is going on here.
So, let’s play a game. We have several queens present, sort of - Daenerys and Cersei being the most obvious, but Yara Greyjoy, Olenna Tyrell, Ellaria Sand, and Sansa Stark all serving as kinds of queens: Yara the deposed queen of the Iron Islands, Olenna and Ellaria the matriarchs of Dorne, and (Jon Snow being both unmarried and absent) Sansa is the unofficial “Queen in the North.” So, which queen is the queen with the justice of the title? Trick question. All six find various forms of justice in this episode.
Daenerys might just be the King John of the episode, meeting, as noted above, King Jon, who refuses to bend the knee and swear fealty. Tyrion points out to her that she should seek to make Jon an ally instead of an enemy. “Am I your prisoner?” Jon asks at the end of his first audience. “Not yet,” her response. Both Tyrion and Ser Davos appeal to Daenerys for a “Magna Carta” approach to rule - you must balance your royal power with the rights and powers of those already in Westeros, or this war will never end.
Euron Greyjoy, that guy your parents warned you about in high school, tells Cersei upon his return to her court, “I give you what no other man could give: justice. Justice for your murdered daughter.” He hands over Ellaria and Tyene Sand. Cersei’s smile is happy and cruel. This queen will have justice. She uses “The Long Farewell,” kissing Tyene, just as Ellaria had kissed Myrcella. There is an old Klingon proverb, revenge is a dish best served cold, and it doesn’t get frostier than that. Ellaria gets to watch her daughter die slowly in front of her, chained just out of reach. Cersei announces plans to keep the mother alive for a long time. This queen’s justice is vindictive.
But “justice” the word comes from Middle English, derived from Old French. It literally means “righteousness” or perhaps “administration of the law” or the implication of “the giving of what one is due.” If we go by the last, well done, Cersei. She paid back the woman who killed her daughter by killing that woman’s daughter in the same exact manner. Holy Code of Hammurabi, Batman, that is exact justice - giving back what one is due. Except the scales of justice are not equal. Ellaria’s lover was killed by The Mountain on Cersei’s behalf (well, technically on Tyrion’s, but the end result is the same - bad blood between the Lannisters and the Sands, bad blood where there had never been much mad love to begin with). This is not a simple tit for tat, but an ongoing vendetta between two powerful families. No justice here, only vengeance for vengeance. Let’s not forget all the folks Ellaria has stepped on or killed on her way to power. She is not the innocent victim of Cersei here – she’s her guilty-as-hell victim. Still, both are mothers who have killed other mother’s children. That’s not justice – that’s messed up.
If, however, we go by the first and second definitions, Cersei is perhaps the least just queen in the history of Westeros. Due process is out the window, as is righteousness. Cersei kills out of vengeance and gets away with it because she is queen. Vengeance is the “queen’s justice.”
Euron, of course, gloats to Jaime about his victory, and Yara (another would-be queen) is led off wearing a leather collar and leash. Euron tells Jaime it’s all about the admiration of the crowd. Jaime, much more sanguine and too experienced in realpolitik to want adulation, reminds Euron, “The same mob spat at my sister not long ago,” and might after long want to see Euron’s head on a pike. “They just like severed heads, really,” is Euron’s mic-drop answer, winning the conversation. Euron is right. The crowd doesn’t actually believe justice is possible. They just want to see their social betters brought low. Ned Stark was a good man, and the crowd cheered his execution. They jeered Joffrey. They spat upon Cersei. Social justice in King’s Landing consists of heaping scorn upon whichever aristocrat has fallen on hard times, thus making it permissible to throw vegetables at them, spit on them as they walk by and enjoy schaudenfreude at their execution.
The best justice, however, is the echo of Cersei’s echo. She did to Ellaria what Ellaria had done to her. But then we learn it was done to Cersei on more than one occasion. Once Dorne was defeated, Jaime was sent to execute Olenna Tyrell, who confesses she underestimated Cersei. “That was my prior mistake - a failure of imagination.” Jaime admits he talked Cersei out of a public and torturous execution and instead puts poison in Olenna’s wine. After confirming that the particular poison is painless, she drinks the glass and then drops the show-ending bombshell. She is the one who poisoned Joffery at his wedding. She killed Jaime and Cersei’s other child, presumably to prevent her granddaughter from suffering at his hands after they were married. Diane Rigg plays the scene with delightful restraint. “Tell Cersei, will you?” she asks Jaime. Damn - that’s cold. And satisfying.
“A Lannister Always Pays His Debts”
The Iron Bank is concerned. They send Mycroft Holmes to inform Cersei they are calling in her loans and might consider backing Daenerys. In the small talk that is really big talk between them, Tycho Nestoris offers his condolences for the destruction of the Sept (and several blocks in every direction). “But sometimes tragedies are necessary to restore order and rational leadership.” Does this refer to Cersei becoming queen, or the coming tragedies (from her point of view) that will result in her overthrow.
Cersei encourages him to “bet on” her. “We don’t make bets,” he informs her, “we invest in endeavors we deem likely to be successful.” And Daenerys seems likely to succeed. Apparently, Tycho has never heard of the Red Wedding or seen Game of Thrones, because just as everything is looking up for the good guys, Cersei springs multiple traps at once. The expedition force to Casterly Rock finds only a minimal defense. Daenerys’s navy is devastated by Euron Greyjoy’s, leaving the Unsullied with no fast way back to Dragonstone. The Lannister army, as it turns out, has marched on Dorne and defeated the Tyrells. For the first time in a long time, Daenerys seems to be losing every battle. Astapor, Yunkai, and Meereen were cake walks compared to the fights in Westeros.
Cersei warns Tycho, “She (Dany) considers herself a revolutionary more than a monarch.” Subtext: Daenerys will overthrow the system and never pay you back. You think the female Bernie Sanders of the Dothraki is going to pay back what Westeros owes? She’s all about overthrowing oppressive systems, and as Bertolt Brecht once remarked, “Robbing a bank is no crime compared to owning one.” Tycho will stick with the establishment, and Cersei is economically stable for now. “Your father’s daughter, indeed.”
This whole episode serves as reminder that you underestimate Cersei at your peril, and she is truly a dangerous creature because she manipulates, she is not above getting her hands (or lips) dirty, and she doesn’t fight fair. There is nothing righteous or fair about Cersei. As someone who repays like with like, however, The Queen’s Justice is justice for the queen indeed.
“Everything That Happens Will Be Something You Have Seen Before”
Littlefinger, whom nobody trusts, actually gives Sansa some great advice to follow up on the leadership advice she gave Jon Snow. He tells her to imagine every possible outcome. To visualize all possible scenarios and even the impossible ones. That way, when it does hit the fan, you will have already planned for that contingency and can move to defeat it. This was Daenerys’ failure. This was Olenna’s failure (She even calls it, as I note above, “a failure of imagination”). They could not imagine Cersei doing the things she does and that is why Cersei is winning: non-linear thinking, being unpredictable, doing the opposite of what her enemies expect. To this point Daenerys has relied upon her justice, the righteousness of her cause (and her three dragons) to rally people to her cause and win the battles they fight. That strategy won’t work against Cersei. This is the woman who blew up the Vatican of King’s Landing. She didn’t just cut the Gordian Knot - she exploded it and the building holding it. In order to win, the other queens of Westeros must stop thinking like just monarchs and start following Littlefinger’s advice.
One final, fun, unrelated exchange: Bran has returned to Winterfell and attempts to explain to his sister all that he has experienced. “I’m the three-eyed raven,” he tells her. “I don’t know what that means,” she responds. And the audience nods. We already knew about it, and we’re still not sure what it means either, Sansa. You go, girl. But Bran does give important advice: “I need to learn to see better.” So does Sansa. And Daenerys. And Jon. And…is anyone else on that team still alive? Oh yeah - Jorah Mormont is returning to the field, back from Greyscale death and ready to fight. His recovery is satisfying, even if Sam’s only reward for curing him is not being booted out. Where is the justice in that?
Photograph courtesy of a Google image search.
Kevin Wetmore is an author and professor at Loyola Marymount University. His books include The Theology of Battlestar Galactica, Post-9/11 Horror in American Cinema, and The Empire Triumphant: Race, Religion, and Rebellion in the Star Wars Films. For more information about Kevin, check out his website, Something Wetmore This Way Comes, and to purchase his non-fiction and fiction books, see Amazon.