FYI This post containers spoilers.
Last night's Game of Thrones episode exposed season six as one of the greatest fake-outs in television history. After last season ended with powerful women leading efforts on all sides of the war, "The Queen's Justice" showed the same women lazily written off, with male characters emerging as leaders with supernatural abilities.
The episode followed Cersei Lannister—Queen of Pixiecuts and ruler of the ashes of King's Landing—on her murderous rampage against those who've ever wronged her or her children. Those perpetrators include four women: Dornish bastard Ellaria Sand (who murdered Cersei's daughter Myrcella) and her daughter Tyene; Yara Greyjoy of the Iron Islands; and Olenna Tyrell of Highgarden (who murdered Cersei's son Joffrey). Fan-favorite Olenna Tyrell died in an appropriately crowd-pleasing manner: The Queen of Thorns kept her composure while downing a poison-spiked glass of wine, and used her last breath to shit on the Lannister legacy and confess to killing the "cunt" Joffrey. But Cersei's other act of vengeance—a poisoned kiss for Tyene in front of her mother Ellaria—fell flat.
While the method of Tyene's murder sounds trite, or too direct of a translation for the likes of Queen Cersei—who is a textbook definition of a one-upper—it was actually true to her character. Cersei, whose only redeeming qualities are her love for her children and her cheekbones, has previously admitted her greatest pain through a sad monologue about imagining her dead daughter Myrcella's "beautiful face starting to collapse." For the extremely personal crime of taking away one of the only people she loves, Cersei serves Ellaria with what she believes is just punishment: having to watch her daughter die and rot in a cell. And we can also understand the Lannister siblings' poetic motivation to use the same weapons their children's murderers used to enact justice.
On one hand, it was a relief to see the Sand Snakes die, if only to end their arc and spare us the torture of their indeterminately exotic accents and the worst lines of any character in the show's history. ("You want a good girl, but you need the bad pussy.") On the other, as painful as it was to watch the Sand Snakes in action (who would go through all the trouble of burying a man in the sand and covering his head with scorpions only to kill him by shoving a spear through his face?), they deserved a better out. We've seen these women imprisoned and watched them ask for death rather than quit fighting. We've seen Tyene threaten to kill her own sisters if they stand in the way of vengeance and watched Ellaria kill her lover's brother for refusing to go to war. For all the ways the show mishandled these characters (why would sisters call each other "sluts" in a place where overt sexuality, incest, or bastardry aren't frowned upon?), it was clear these missteps were ham-fisted attempts to write fiery women. Which is why it felt extra pathetic to see them die in gagged silence.
With the imprisonment of Ellaria and Yara, two strong women fighting for Dany are silo-ed off for the rest of the season. (My guess is we'll only hear about them when they're referenced by others, like Cersei and Theon. Sad!) Similarly lazily (and unbelievably) written off are Melisandre and Meera Reed. After losing her brother Jojen on the journey to help Bran gain psychic ability and fight the Army of the Dead, Meera will likely disappear now that she's brought the warg-Lord home to Winterfell. And after seven seasons of complicated, magical character development, we're supposed to believe that Melisandre has decided to up and leave Westeros. Even though it's clear she has powers beyond even her own understanding, and even though she's played a great role in shaping the war (both the one among mankind and the one between the living and the dead), we're supposed to believe that she's now totally cool with seeing how the war for human life plays out from the sidelines.
The disappearance of Meera and Melisandre as well as the weakening of Dany's forces, alongside the rise of Jon, Euron, and in a sense Sam, may point to another shift we'll see this season: an increase of men with magical abilities.
Bran, a consistently magical male, arrives in Winterfell and finally reunites with his sister Sansa. This is the first happy reunion between Stark children we've seen since Jon and Sansa's in season six, but things take a bizarre turn when Bran reveals his supernatural ability to his sister.
Bran is the Three-Eyed Raven and has the gift of sight, meaning he can see all things in the past, present, and future. There are many shocking but logical ways he could reveal to Sansa that he sees every detail from any moment in time, including but not limited to: confirming the circumstances of their brother Rickon's death, revealing the unknown fact that their sister Arya is alive, or, just spitballing here, spilling the fucking tea on Jon's mysterious parentage that will change the course of the entire war. Instead, Bran proves his magical ability to his sister by recounting details from the night of her rape, including how "beautiful" she looked in her "white wedding dress." Cool! Even though we know Bran as a kind, just, and thoughtful little Lord, the writers decided that his first instinct to prove that he's psychic would be to tell his sister how pretty she looked the night she was raped. If it was an attempt to show how Bran has hardened after his harrowing adventures beyond The Wall, it's misguided at best.
Meanwhile, Jon arrives at Dragonstone to meet Queen Daenerys and mine for dragonglass, an invaluable weapon in the fight against the Army of the Dead. But Jon's true mission, whether he knows it or not, is to brood and seduce. It's hard not to dread the inevitable Jon-Dany hookup, especially given this episode's painful foreshadowing, like Dany's look of longing after Jon walks offscreen. And imagine what it'll be like to watch Jorah return, only to find his Khaleesi in another man's arms—Jon's "dad" Ned, after all, tried to have Jorah executed, and Jon wields the Mormont family sword which was gifted to him by Jorah's dad in an extremely "you're the son I never had" way. But no matter how much Jorah will hate it, it's obvious that Jon and Dany will join forces on and off the field. And their union may bring us even more magic if Jon's Targaryen blood means that he, too, can be a dragon-rider.
Jon's bestie Sam, however, is on a more arduous, yet slightly familiar journey towards magic: studying under Horace Slughorn (officially the "archmaester" but you know). As the third student to ask Slughorn about banned books and dark magic, we can only assume that Samwell Tarly will have the same fate as either Lord Voldemort or Harry Potter. He shows kindness, bravery, and skill by successfully curing Jorah of Greyscale, an agonizing disease that's said to kill almost every patient. As Slughorn simultaneously scolds and commends Sam, we see a familiar glimmer in the teacher's eye: an uneasy recognition of great natural talent. Sam's punishment-reward for curing Jorah is to transcribe decaying, mite-ridden scrolls, which I suspect contain ancient magic (something Maester Luwin hinted at in season two) that Sam will learn and use to fight the Army of the Dead, rebuild The Wall, and be a badass wizard.
We also see the rise of another person who may emerge as a wizard of sorts: Euron Greyjoy. So far, he's only served as the chaotic-evil fuckboy villain who's replacing Littlefinger as the old brothel-keeper grows increasingly incompetent. But Euron is an improvement on Littlefinger for a few reasons: First, his sexual energy is directed at Cersei, and not a teenaged version of his childhood crush. Second, if the show even nods towards the latest chapter from George RR Martin, Euron is playing at a greater spiritual war than Littlefinger could ever imagine. Littlefinger (who I can't wait to see die, by the way) has been evil, yes, but with political and human motivations, like Tywin Lannister and Ramsay Bolton. There are still some things and people Littlefinger finds sacred, like himself and his inappropriate crush on Sansa. While Euron is written like a comic book villain who delights in shock ("A finger in the bum?") it's important to note that he's killed his brother, vowed to murder his niece and nephew, and has called himself the Drowned God. Nothing is sacred to Euron, who will bring forth a new and divine evil—one that requires blood sacrifice.