Has Westeros ever been a happier place?
Credit: Helen Sloan/HBO

The first three episodes focused on Ice.

Tonight we saw the return of Fire.

Daenerys had one of her incredible showstopping moments this week; plus we finally got a Stark family reunion that was one of the most joyous moments in the show’s history. It’s been said that season 6 is a rather uplifting season, relatively speaking, after the pitch-black darkness of season 5. There’s no better example of that then “Book of the Stranger”: Sansa reunited with Jon; Theon rejoined with Yara; Jorah and Daario found Dany. Even Cersei is joining forces with Lady Olenna.

In fact: This just might be the happiest Game of Thrones episode in the show’s history (oh, er, sorry Osha).

We start with…

Castle Black: Dolorous Edd checks out Jon Snow’s sword, and asks where he’ll go. Jon says he’s headed south to get warm, and points out the Night’s Watch loophole we talked about last week that allows him to leave. You can bet Dolorous is wishing the mutineers killed him instead.

Then there’s commotion at the gate, and…it’s Sansa, Brienne, and Podrick, all looking very cold. We start to realize: This might actually happen. Unless Jon is leaving via some backdoor we don’t even know about. They enter the courtyard, and Sansa locks eyes with Jon. They just stare at each other. It’s a beautiful moment. This is so effective because it’s like they’ve both had so many struggles and disappointments, it’s like their feelings mirror our own — they can’t believe a Stark reunion is going to happen either.


They approach each other and I half-expect a resurrected Olly to fire an arrow into Sansa just before she reaches him (with Melisandre off to the side going, “What? You didn’t think I’d just bring you back, did you?”).

They embrace; Twitter explodes. Then we get a scene with the two catching up. They’re actually smiling, Jon Snow and Sansa Stark. Reunions, smiles, apologies, hugs… What show is this?! We want this scene to be longer. It’s so cathartic. If the whole episode was just these two telling their respective stories to each other, I think we’d probably be fine with that.

And then, just like that, the fun is over. These siblings have totally different priorities. Jon wants to go lay on a beach in Dorne (and, really, who can blame him?) while Sansa wants to raise and army and get Winterfell back (and, really, who can blame her?). Their journeys have led them to each other, yet on a collision course.

“If we don’t take the North, we’ll never be safe,” newly kick-butt Sansa declares. “I want you to help me, but I’ll do it myself if I have to.”

Outside, Davos selects this moment to ask Melisandre: Heeeey, so what ever happened to Shireen, anyway?

The Red Woman tries to duck it. She’s then rescued, sort of, not exactly, by Brienne coming up and glaring down at her. Either Brienne is a lot taller than I realized or Melisandre is a lot shorter. Brienne accuses Melisandre of birthing that shadow baby to kill Renly, which she’s still annoyed about.

Melisandre stares at Brienne as if to say: Dude, that happened like four seasons ago, I’ve done so much worse since then.

Then Brienne brags to both of them that she personally killed Stannis.

Clearly this is a conversation that’s To Be Continued on all fronts.

Runestone: You know…Runestone? I realize that name sounds like we just shifted to a Dragonriders of Pern recap, but it’s an actual location in Westeros — you can look it up. It’s right by the Bay of Crabs! (Now you really don’t believe me, do you?) Anyway, this is where Lord Robin is being cared for by his bannerman Yohn Royce within the Vale.

Littlefinger returns, and shows he hasn’t lost his edge. Within seconds, he’s charmed Robin by giving him a present, one he cannot destroy by throwing it out the Moon Door, and then spins a total fable to Royce about how the Boltons kidnapped Sansa. He puts Royce on the defensive by accusing him of setting all this up, even though we know Baelish brokered a deal to sell Sansa to the Boltons to solidify his power.

Littlefinger convinces the young lord to rally his forces to help protect Sansa. It’s unclear if he actually cares that Sansa is in danger, or he just wants to protect one of the chess pieces in his power-play. Probably both. At least he’s keeping Robin abreast of the situation.

Littlefinger is so devious that any scene with him requires a lot of explanation, even the short ones.

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King’s Landing: Margaery in her cell, miserable. The High Sparrow decides to bless her with his origin story. Basically he partied too much after making a lot of fancy shoes and decided a barefoot and pious existence was better. Margaery is still trying to figure out how to play this King’s Landing Jimmy Choo when he decides to reunite her with her brother (yet another reunion!).

Ser Loras is in terrible shape. He doesn’t explain what’s happened to him, but actor Finn Jones told us his character had been severely physically and sexually abused while in solitary confinement. “Just make it stop, please,” he begs. And she agrees. This is playing into the High Sparrow’s hands, but who can fault her for making this choice? Her situation is impossible.

In the Red Keep, Tommen chats with his mom about his wife’s imprisonment. “You don’t like Margaery, do you?” Tommen slowly asks, and viewers everywhere facepalm.

Tommen reveals that the High Sparrow told him that Margaery is ready to basically plead guilty and make her “walk of atonement.” This is very useful intel. Cersei goes straight to her Uncle Kevan and Lady Olenna, knowing full well that the Queen of Thorns will do anything to prevent her granddaughter from being the star of Walk of Shame II: The Shaming of the Rose — even if that means partnering with Cersei. But first, we get one of the Olenna’s precious Countess of Grantham-style barbs toward Cersei: “You have been stripped of your dignity and authority, what’s left to work with?”

So they form a Great Southern Conspiracy to defeat the High Sparrow. Here’s the plan: The Tyrell army will swoop into King’s Landing to take control. Kevan — who controls the City Watch — will order his troops to stand down and let this army take control. The Tyrell forces wipe out the Faith Militant. And all this comes to a happy conclusion before Ser Pounce tells Tommen what’s going on outside.

And so: Kevan gets his Scientologist son Lancel back unharmed, Olenna gets Margaery and Loras back unharmed, Cersei and Jaime rid themselves of the High Sparrow. As plans go, it’s brilliant, flawless, and I’m sure nothing will possibly go wrong.

Meereen: Tyrion invited the leaders of the other cities in Slaver’s Bay for a summit meeting since they’re secretly funding the insurgency in Meereen. We haven’t had much Tyrion this season, but this sequence gives star Peter Dinklage some scene-chewing interactions.

Tyrion offers the slavers a deal: Stop the guerilla warfare tactics and they can have seven years of slavery before phasing it out. Missandei and Grey Worm very reluctantly back him up on this. Then he throws some women at them, which is apparently okay because they’re paid free-range prostitutes instead of caged slave prostitutes.

Bold prediction: Dany is not going to be happy about all of this when she gets back.

Winterfell: Ramsay has Osha cleaned up and brought to his chamber. In retrospect, we can only assume he had her bathed just to mess with her expectations. Osha thinks she knows how to play this (“I’ve seen worse”) and pretends like she doesn’t care about the Starks. She eyes Ramsay’s knife, and we know she’s in trouble. Somebody might eventually kill Ramsay, but it sure ain’t gonna be Osha. She makes her move, but Ramsay is ready, and he kills her. You know, I’m starting to get the impression that Ramsay is a really bad guy.

Castle Black: Dinnertime with the reunited siblings. We learn the food is bad and also that the beer is bad. The Thrones writers are incredible at storytelling structure and dialogue, but they can’t hold a candle to George R.R. Martin when it comes to describing food.

During mealtime, Tormund is trying to show off his manly meat-eating skills to Brienne. The shipping on Twitter has already begun for these two, and by tomorrow there will be plenty of passionate Giantsbane-Brienne fan fiction available. He doesn’t really seem like her type, though. (Actually, I’m not sure who is Brienne’s type. Hm.) Notice how in the wide shot of the table after this beat Podrick can be seen in the back staring hard at Tormund, protective of Brienne. I wish Melisandre and Ser Davos were at this dinner too so the awkwardness could be complete.

A Bolton messenger arrives with a scroll for Jon Snow. Guess this message was too important to trust a bird with it. The letter is brutal. Ramsay asks for Jon to return Sansa, or he’s going to kill everybody. As many bad things you can say about Ramsay, he pens an effective letter: “Winterfell is mine, bastard, come and see… Your brother Rickon is in my dungeon, his direwolf’s skin is on my floor; come and see…”

Ramsay is like a sadistic Dr. Seuss: Oh, the Things You’ll Come and See!

Jon stops reading to try to spare Thrones fans from hearing the threat of more Sansa rape, but she takes the scroll and reads it aloud instead.

Their problem: Ramsay has 5,000 troops. Jon can muster 2,000 wildlings. And given the houses pledging allegiance to the Boltons since Sansa fled, Ramsay’s real number is probably much higher now.

This message is a variation on the famous Pink Letter from Martin’s A Dance With Dragons. In the book, the letter arrived to Jon just before he was killed by the Night’s Watch mutineers. Book-reading fans complained the letter wasn’t in the show. As is often the case with Thrones, the show’s delays are not the show’s denials. The letter was always going to be used, but the showrunners figured it would be more effective here given what they had planned — with Jon and Sansa reading the threats together, combined with learning the news of Rickon’s capture; a device to propel the story forward and unite the siblings.

Once again, it’s up to Sansa to push Jon: “A monster has taken our home and our brother, we have to go back to Winterfell and save them both.”

Just when Jon Snow thought he was out, they pull him back in.

Vaes Dothrak: Daario and Ser Jorah survey the situation from a hilltop. Not great. Daario uses the occasion to taunt Ser Jorah about his sexual conquest of Dany and joke about Ser Jorah’s age. Daario picks on him so much I’m starting to think there’s something about Ser Jorah that he envies. Whatever that might be, it’s sure not Ser Jorah’s gross, creeping greyscale, which Daario spots and eases up on the guy.

They sneak down to the camp, get spotted in a dim alleyway, and have to kill a couple Dothraki. Love that Ser Jorah actually tries the ol’ action-movie trope of throwing sand in his opponent’s face, and the desert-dwelling Dothraki just looks slightly annoyed. That’s like throwing a snowball at a White Walker.

They grab Dany while she’s on a bathroom break. Instead of making a break for it, Dany has a better idea. A much better idea.

Dany struts into her Temple of Doom with new confidence that soon she’ll be finished with the Council of Khal Bro-gos.

I expect her to give the men a “come with me if you want to live” speech, but she mostly taunts them instead. As she puts it: “You’re not going to serve — you’re going to die.”

She starts knocking over fiery pedestals that were probably a bad idea for a grass-covered hut in the first place. They all die a horrible death, except Dany, who just stands there and smiles. As one commenter on Twitter put it, this is her Carrie-at-the-prom moment.

That Dany is definitely fireproof might rankle some book-reading fans. Many who watch the series have vaguely assumed Dany can withstand fire via some magical Targaryen bond with her dragons. We saw in the pilot that she walks into a scalding bath, there’s that “He was no dragon; fire cannot kill a dragon” line after her brother perishes, and eventually she emerged unburnt from her dragons’ birth. But in George R.R. Martin’s books, she’s apparently vulnerable to fire — she burns her hand during her fighting pits escape; plus, there’s also a quote attributed to George R.R. Martin out there (I’m not certain of its validity) that says Targaryens actually have no fire-resistant properties and that Dany’s survival of her dragons birth was a one-time deal.

There’s a couple things I love about this sequence. First, Dany emerging naked from the flames is like something out of 1970s blacklight fantasy poster in a college headshop — Fire! Boobs! Vengeance! It’s very Heavy Metal (in fact, one of the things Emilia Clarke told us was, “I almost wish Metallica were playing” during the scene). Second, as showrunner Dan Weiss helped point out, this is a clever use of Dany’s covert superpower to solve a seemingly impossible problem: How can our trio of heroes kill dozens of Dothraki leaders to take control of the horde? The answer is so simple and uses Dany’s ability that we’ve taken for granted as much as she has. Many assumed Drogon would swoop to her rescue, but Dany solving this herself is so much more satisfying.

Also this makes me wonder: Is being fireproof why Dany never gets tan? This isn’t a joking question. Even the Dothraki noted how pale she is. She’s always fair-skinned despite spending so much time wandering the desert. Perhaps her Targaryen fireproofing is like being coated in SPF 700,000. Hope the girl still gets enough vitamin D.

So Dany emerges from the flames, clothes scorched off. Thankfully no one yells, “She’s a witch! Kill her!”

Instead, they all bow down before her. Even Daario looks awestruck. Ser Jorah bows down too, but then takes one last peek. You know, for later.

More coverage: Check out our must-read interview with Emilia Clarke and showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss where they talk about that fiery climatic scene (“That ain’t no body double”); plus, we spoke to Sophie Turner about Sansa’s reunion with Jon Snow. Also, we just dropped the paywall on last week’s Kit Harington cover story, read it now for free here.

And if you haven’t heard it yet, subscribe and listen to our weekly Game of Thrones podcast, where Darren Franich and I break down each episode, give behind-the-scenes tidbits, and answer your questions. New episode posted below. Trivia question for GoTPodcast@ew.com: We’ve been teased many times with the idea that two Stark family members might meet. How many times have long-separated Starks almost reunited in past episodes since the first season? (Came within, say, a half mile or so of each other, and then didn’t actually end up speaking with each other).

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Game of Thrones

HBO's epic fantasy drama based on George R.R. Martin's novel series A Song of Ice and Fire.

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