The penultimate episode of the HBO series thrilling sixth season featured not one, but two major battles and plenty of bloodshed. [Warning: Spoilers] “>
For starters, Team Daenerys earned a victory through (slightly) more than just bluster, recklessness, and earth-scorching violence. The queen relied on fire to quell the Masters siege in Meereen, the same consequence-free tactic she employs every time shes backed into a corner. But for once, crucially, she also allowed room for her allies to use their own wits and strength. And what a difference that made.
Tyrion, having learned not to underestimate Grey Worms knowledge and perspective as a former slave, worked in sync with the Unsullied leader to disarm three Masters of their swaggering overconfidence before killing two, scattering their foot soldiers (sans violence, through Grey Worms direct appeal to them as humans rather than as property) and striking fear in the heart of the last survivorand, by extension, any whod dare oppose Dany in Slavers Bay again.
More than any measure Daenerys has used to gain power this season, this last bit is the only one remotely likely to stickand its the work of words other than dracarys! Firepower is effective and necessary in Danys line of work, but she needs more than dragons to rule Westeros. Its bordering on lunacy that she hasnt learned this yet from two seasons of misery in Meereen. (Then again, she is her fathers daughter. A little lunacy is part of the deal.)
Even more miraculous still: the sight of three dragons reunited like the Westeros-equivalent of a nuclear weapon (even the CGI work on Drogon has improved slightly) and the incredible chemistry between Yara and Dany, Westeross greatest power couple since Brienne and Tormund.
The battle for which the episode was named, however, contained miracles of a different, more frustrating kind.
Without that at least, we get battles like tonights, when everything seems awful for a moment but it all turns out all right in the end. (Is this even still Game of Thrones?) It gives the impression of an invisible, protective shield around our protagonists in the North, upheld by last-minute miracles and staggering amounts of dumb luck.
In Essos, Arya and Daenerys have benefitted from similar feats of deus ex machina, with Aryas miraculous recovery from the Waifs stabbing (despite the same types of wounds having killed Robb and Talisa Stark) and Daenerys evading consequences like Jon Snow evading Bolton arrows. Yes, this is the season of miraclesthe Hound, Jon, and Theon have all come back from the dead, so to speak. But too many miracles all together only upend the narrative stakes.
With one episode to go before the end of the season, the Starks now hold Winterfell again and Littlefinger is back to claim his reward. Davos, clutching the wooden toy stag Shireen held as she was tricked into sacrificing herself for her fathers doomed cause, now knows exactly who to blame: Melisandre. And a world away, a host of viewers are watching to see if this is still a show about war, love, family, honor, politics, and consequences. Its a fantasy, surebut it doesnt have to feel like a fairy tale.