The French have an expression: “l’esprit d’escalier,” or “staircase wit,” for when you can’t think of a zinger when you need one but come up with the perfect retort after the moment’s passed. Like the Tim Robbins cameo in High Fidelity, only it sounds more legitimate because it’s French.
On Sunday night’s Game of Thrones, poor Meera Reed had a near-fatal case of l’esprit d’escalier, as she said her goodbye to the man she’s been protecting since the moment she met him, Bran Stark. In their last meeting, she does call out Bran for being nonplussed and ungrateful not only to her but to her brother, Hodor, and Summer, all of whom died protecting him as he leveled up over the course of years. But she could’ve done better. You can see it on her face; she’s too stunned to give Bran a proper telling-off. I bet she got halfway down the steps of the tower in Winterfell and wished it had gone a little differently.
Bran and his band of misfits have been wandering around in the woods for so long it’s almost difficult to remember that Meera and Jojen Reed were jaunty teenagers when they first encountered the Stark boys. Meera had cool hair and a cool bow and arrow back then, and she was full of pithy one-liners about protecting people because she was at the age where people develop a strong sense of how the world ought to be but haven’t yet realized they can’t eliminate evil and injustice all by themselves.
This is not the dead-eyed young woman we saw last night—being exhausted and terrified, all the time, for five years will do that to you. And now Bran, who owes his life to her a thousand times over, is sending her home without so much as a handshake or even a bit of eye contact.
It’s frustrating not because Meera’s suffered more than anyone else on the show, but because her suffering has been undeserved, unredemptive, and unending. She watched her brother die in front of her, she was almost raped by Night’s Watch mutineers, she almost died half a dozen times, all to aid in Bran’s spiritual journey. She spent five years in the woods eating pine needles and field mice, occasionally washing it down with rabbit’s blood from Bran’s creepy half-dead uncle. And even on that diet, Bran somehow grew to be a 6-foot-4 giant, which became an issue when Hodor died and Meera, the Mother of Draggins, had to pull Bran across the North like the alien in Will Smith’s parachute in Independence Day.
Even when she wasn’t in mortal peril, she was forced to sit inside a cave while Bran took greenseeing lessons from an old dude with a tree up his butt, an environment so action-packed the show just bailed on it for a season. Imagine spending your last two years of high school in a cave with nothing to do but throw rocks at the wall and nobody to talk to except Hodor, a direwolf, and a bunch of creepy, 10,000-year-old plant women because the only other teenager around is stoned out of his gourd on weirwood paste. And when they finally did leave, it was because Bran, that oblivious, selfish little jackwagon, broke the One Rule of the Matrix: Don’t let the Night’s King touch you. Hodor, Summer, and the Children of the Forest all died horribly as a result, and Meera became the world’s coldest pedicab driver.
Meera understood that she had a supporting role to play in this story—and listen, it’s not Bran’s fault he has to be carried everywhere—but the worst part about her ordeal is that not only did Bran not seem to grasp the enormousness of what she’d sacrificed for him, neither did showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss. She was just baggage, the person who walked and fought because Bran couldn’t do it himself, and because Bran is—gazes serenely and glassy-eyed into the distance—the Three-Eyed Raven now, we’re supposed to just accept her unrewarded sacrifices. Everything Meera experiences, from fear to … well, mostly fear, if I’m being honest, is shown in the context of how it affects Bran.
She was baggage the whole time, and now that we’re bringing the show in for a landing and she’s no longer narratively useful, she’s sent off with only a “thank you,” and not even a convincing one. It’s a better ending than Rickon got, but not by much.
Meera says she’s returning home to sit out the White Walker invasion with her family at Greywater Watch. She shouldn’t. She should go find a beach somewhere and spend 16 hours a day sitting in a chaise lounge with a trashy paperback in one hand and a goblet of wine the size of a watermelon in the other. And she should stay there until she no longer cries herself to sleep every night as “Hold the door! Hold the door!” rattles around in her head.
She’s earned that much, even if nobody seems to have noticed.
Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.