You can say this about Ser Bronn of the Blackwater: The rugged sword-for-hire and all-around Jaime Lannister confidant is as tough a customer as they come in the Seven Kingdoms, but one thing he's not is an asshole. "Meanness comes around," he tells his ditzy bride-to-be when she complains that her sister bullies her. "People like your sister, they always get what's coming to them. Eventually. One way or another." Of course, within minutes of this conversation, Bronn learns that his engagement has been called off by royal decree, and that he's about to embark on a potential suicide mission. Maybe some of the mercenary's dirty deeds are coming back to haunt him, too.
But the man is right: Past wrongs have a way of catching up with even the most powerful people. Do badly unto others and they'll do badly unto someone else; even if it's not you, the ricochet will come one day. Tonight's episode of Game of Thrones, "The House of Black and White," follows this grim phenomenon to its bitter end — in case you'd forgotten, this is a land where karmic payback, vicious cycles and chaos theory all tend to meet up in a perfect storm of pain.
In Meereen, Daenerys Targaryen's claim last week that she's no politician is proving truer by the day, and biting her in the ass in the process. The uneasy peace between the freed slaves who provide her popular support and their deposed former owners who still wield power in the city is breaking down as the two sides grow more radicalized. But it's the below-the-poverty-line classes, not the Great Masters, who form the backbone of the insurgency called the Sons of the Harpy. "Perhaps the only thing that gave him pride was knowing that there was someone lower than he was," Dany reflects; look no further than the history of race relations here in the good old U.S. of A. to see that particular theory borne out.
But it's a slave, not a Harpy jihadist, that Dany winds up publicly executing to demonstrate the kind of justice she wishes to bring to her subjects. When her firebrand freed-man advisor Mossandor — one of her earliest supporters — lynches a SOTH member she's holding prisoner before he can get a fair trial, she feels forced to kill him in turn. His beheading turns the legions who call her "Mother" against her and sparks a riot between the rival factions. If the scene that follows looks eerily familiar, it's because Dany is unwittingly reenacting scenes from the inglorious reign of King Joffrey, who similarly had to hide from the people he purported to rule. The aged knight Barristan Selmy warned her that her father, the "Mad King," got off on ordering the deaths of those who displeased him: "Each time, it made him feel powerful, and right…until the very end." Our Sad-Eyed Lady of the Dragons is no Mad Queen, and in situations like these she draws no pleasure from her power — yet resentment and rage is still the end result.
If it's a Mad Queen you want, however, look to King's Landing. With her father dead and her brother Jaime on the road to Dorne and redemption via rescuing their daughter, Cersei Lannister is consolidating her hold on the Iron Throne with all the subtlety of a Lego-hoarding four-year-old. She sends her in-law Lord Mace Tyrell to Braavos to negotiate the realm's debts. She promotes her creepy new sidekick Qyburn to Master of Whisperers — whose duties he'll fulfill in between experimenting on severed human heads, at least. And she alienates her uncle Kevan so badly that he ragequits the council entirely. It's Underhanded Coup d'etat Construction 101: If you want to build something big, your base of support needs to be as wide as possible.
Further south, Prince Doran Martell is facing a similar mutiny in the ranks. Given watery-eyed gravitas by actor Alexander Siddig, the invalid ruler of Dorne is mourning his more vivacious kid brother (the late Red Viper) while fending off the calls for vengeance by his widowed lover, Ellaria Sand. She wants to take the Lannisters down, and she wants to start with poor Princess Myrcella, whom Tyrion sent to them as a goodwill gesture a couple seasons back. Like Mossandor, Ellaria wants to to send a message to the people who wronged her, and will use most convenient human body available to write it on. In this light, violence is a lot like greyscale, the degenerating plague that Princess Shireen Baratheon and her wildling pupil Gilly talk about up at the Wall. Without rhyme or reason, it scars some victims, kills others, and turns those who carry its contagion into animals.
Speaking of the Wall, it's there where Jon Snow, alone among his surviving siblings, may still have a way to retain his humanity. Arya has entered the House of Black and White, a training temple for elite assassins. Sansa has embraced her position as the apprentice of Littlefinger, rejecting the help of the increasingly unhappy Brienne of Tarth in the process. Bran is off-screen learning to become a psychic sorcerer, and Rickon is god knows where doing god knows what. So when Stannis Baratheon offers to make Jon the new Lord Stark of Winterfell, the offer's not just hard to resist — it's likely to work.
But there's a different road ahead for Lord Snow. Led by good-hearted bookworm Samwell Tarly and ancient Maester Aemon, the brothers of the Night's Watch vote him their new Lord Commander in one of the only democractic processes Westeros has left. Instead of seizing power by force or gaining it by decree, he's earned it through hard work, kindness, trust, and sacrifice. He's got a chance to start a new cycle, right at the place where it counts the most: humanity's last line of defense against the cold to come. We'll see how that works out.
Previously: Like a Boss