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In “The Queen’s Justice,” Game of Thrones’ Vengeance Is Best Served Ice-Cold

“A shocking scene. Not at all what I intended.”

The queen in Game of Thrones’ “The Queen’s Justice” was Cersei Lannister, who took her long-awaited revenge upon the enemy who had stung her the hardest.

Euron Fuckboi is, as it turns out, as skilled at gift-giving as he is at murdering his family members. He offered Cersei exactly what she most wanted: “Justice. Justice for your murdered daughter.” And with Ellaria Sand, the woman who killed her only daughter, and Tyene Sand, Ellaria’s only surviving daughter, in her vindictive hands, Cersei does not hurry her revenge. As another powerful woman says in a thorny, back-handed compliment, Cersei has no shortage of imagination—and art, after all, cannot be rushed.

As Cersei knows all too well, the best way to hurt a mother is through her children. Should she have the Mountain crack Tyene’s lovely face “like a duck egg,” the way he did Oberyn’s? Instead she settles on killing Tyene the same way Ellaria killed Marcella, with a poisoned kiss on the lips, with the added torture of making Ellaria watch her die and rot in their shared cell, just beyond her reach. Cersei returns a gift.

But Cersei’s wasn’t the only emotional vindication for a Westerosi matriarch this episode. For Olenna Tyrell, it was looking into Jaime’s eyes, her house vanquished, her own death moments away, and revealing that it was she who had killed his firstborn son.

But how exactly does a queen’s conception of justice vary from, say, a king’s? For the women of Game of Thrones (and the writers of the episode, apparently), true vengeance is something of an art form—emotional, psychological, and conducted from a position in which, if at all possible, you can watch your enemy suffer.

Meanwhile violence and warfare, the instantaneous style of retribution favored by Westerosi men, was sidelined in this episode. Two major strategic battles—the Unsullied defeating what they believed to be the full Lannister army and the remaining Lannister soldiers taking out the unprepared Tyrells—were breezed over. For a show known for its enormously expensive battle scenes, little screen time is devoted to these table-turning military victories: Tyrion talks us through the Casterly Rock sneak attack, while all we see of the Highgarden assault is a marching army of Lannister red and its brutal aftermath.

The episode’s emotional and psychological retribution, on the other hand, was long, slow, and drawn out. Queen Cersei savored her vengeance against Ellaria like a fine Arbor gold. She relished her theatrical, supervillain torture monologue, savoring the agony on Ellaria’s desperate face as she struggled against her chains. Lady Tyrell, the Queen of Thorns, used her verbal sparring skills to coolly undercut Jaime’s strategic victory, revealing that his mercy had been misplaced at just the moment it becomes impossible to take it back.

Westeros is clearly heating up for some fiery, series-ending battles. But the queens are here to remind us of the deep emotional violence that has been done to them, and the retribution still to be exacted.

And those dishes are best served ice, ice cold.