A requiem for Lady Olenna, the fearless, scene-stealing…
With only 10 episodes left between this season and next year’s six-part conclusion, “Game of Thrones” has begun the long work of tying up its many, continent-spanning loose ends. Now that winter is here, major characters previously on opposite sides of the world are coming together while others, unfortunately, are reaching the end of the line.
(Warning: Spoilers ahead, and our condolences about having to avoid the Internet and most public conversations if you’re planning to catch up later.)
And while there’s much to consider about the first meeting between Daenerys Targaryen and her unwitting nephew Jon Snow, along with the storytelling demands that result in the series’ “yada yada yada”-ing two pivotal battles, attention must be paid to a beloved character who was lost. But for a show that specializes in brutal deaths, this one was unique in that her power remained undiminished, and she was in control to the end.
As they say in Braavos, all men must die. But Lady Olenna Tyrell will live forever.
But before mourning Diana Rigg’s indelible portrayal of the “Queen of Thorns,” let’s consider that summit between Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) and Jon Snow (Kit Harington). Their meeting got off to a rough start with the reluctant “King in the North” refusing to play politics and “bend the knee” to Daenerys — once a Stark, always a Stark — and no one in her cavernous court of Dragonstone put much stock in his warnings of White Walkers amassing beyond the wall.
But with a little help from Tyrion (Peter Dinklage), Jon got what he came for in the island’s reserve of dragonglass, which he’ll mine for weapons to use against the army of the dead. In another of “Game of Thrones’” now-expected intense conversations held overlooking a waterfront, Daenerys and Jon came to an uneasy understanding in a second conversation that began to feel a touch flirtatious, which is a bit awkward given the family ties. (But that’s only a minor inconvenience in the world of “Game of Thrones.”)
However, the only person who knows about Jon’s Targaryen roots — Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead Wright) — only just now arrived in Winterfell for a reunion with his sister Sansa (Sophie Turner). Separated for most of the show, their coming back together was undercut by Sansa’s inability to make much sense of Bran’s grave talk of time and three-eyed ravens. Just like everybody else.
In terms of the show’s throne-chasing endgame, it’s worth noting how quickly the tide has turned for Daenerys, who entered the season a favorite to defeat Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) with the help of a Dothraki horde, a fleet of borrowed ships and, of course, three cranky dragons.
Now, after advisor Tyrion was again outmaneuvered by his Lannister siblings, the presumptive heir to the Iron Throne has lost twice at sea against swashbuckling scene-stealer Euron Greyjoy (Pilou Asbæk) and on land as Jaime seized the Tyrells’ home — and fortune — while Daenerys’ forces were taking a mostly undefended Casterly Rock. Both battles took place in roughly the span of a cliff-side conversation, which was a bit of a relief given how much ground the show has to cover.
This brings us to Lady Olenna Tyrell who, in an apparent adherence to custom, had to die once her home at Highgarden fell. Recognizable in a regal headdress since her first appearance, Rigg’s Olenna was a rarity on a show whose tone is so often heavy, displaying a relentless wit and unwillingness to set it aside regardless of whatever stature her poor sparring partner may hold.
In a memorable third-season sit-down with the ruthless Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance), Olenna called his daughter Cersei old (“I’m something of an expert on the subject”) and playfully questioned whether Tywin ever experimented with homosexuality after he disparaged her grandson Loras, who was gay.
In the hands of Rigg — who memorably portrayed Emma Peel in “The Avengers” of the late ’60s — Olenna held her own kind of court in the gardens of King’s Landing. She out-dueled the equally quick-witted eunuch Varys (Conleth Hill), who found his attempts at courtly flattery buried in her retorts. “Are you here to seduce me? Seduce away, it’s been so long,” she taunted. “Though I rather think it’s all for naught. What happens when the nonexistent bumps against the decrepit?”
“Ah, yes the famously tart-tongued Queen of Thorns,” said the queen regent during another sparring match. “And the famous tart, Queen Cersei,” Olenna countered.
No one was spared. Upon meeting with Ellaria Sand (Indira Varma) to establish an alliance with Lannister rivals in Dorne, Olenna had little time for the three impulsive sisters the Sand Snakes. “Do shut up, dear,” she dismissed one before turning to another. “Anything from you? No? Good. Let the grown women speak.”
But far more than smirking comic relief, Olenna was one of the sharpest operators in the “Game,” and one of the earliest indicators of the show’s balance of power tilting toward women as the series went on. She took a measure of pride in telling her granddaughter Margaery (Natalie Dormer) that she was responsible for poisoning her hateful groom-to-be Joffrey on her wedding day, and that plan took center stage again in the final moments of Sunday’s episode.
Seeming unsurprised by the outcome of the battle (“It was never our forte”), the black-clad Olenna was far from vanquished as she waited for Jaime in her chamber. In her last moments, she made time to insult him, his son and especially Cersei, while confessing to a failure of imagination with regard to the new queen.
“She’s a disease, I regret my role in spreading it. You will too,” she said before readily gulping the poisoned wine he handed her. Olenna was almost out of time but just getting started.
“I’d hate to die like your son,” she began, and then lingered over the details of Joffrey’s death in “the Purple Wedding.” “Not at all what I intended. You see, I’d never seen the poison work before.
“Tell Cersei. I want her to know it was me,” she said, looking up at him in defiance. All Jaime could do was add up her ploy’s resulting trial for his brother Tyrion and everything that befell the Lannisters afterward before leaving without a word. Even in death, the Queen of Thorns never lost her bite. And still got the last word.
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