This week’s episode cost us a character who’s an oldie-but-a-goodie, which is fitting since “Sons of the Harpy” focused on people who have seen better days. In times of crisis, the fringe and the fanatics – whoever has the strongest, loudest opinions – can grasp the public’s ear. As the world changes around them, those with rational heads on their shoulders would probably rather reminisce about glory days long gone than dwell on an uncertain future. Here, all this talk of the years-dead Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen is enough to make the devout fans happy and is just the kind of nostalgia trip needed to set us up for an imminent death. In all seriousness, he deserved better –he’s still alive as far as the books are concerned – and next to Ned Stark, Barristan Selmy is definitely the most honorable knight the Seven Kingdoms have to offer. It’s a shame to see him go, for both the Daenerys storyline and the world at large, but the wheels (in the opening credits) keep on turning and they don’t stop for any mortal man.
Open on: the pre-dawn shore of a far off land. A fisherman docks his boat, walks routinely ashore, when suddenly, from the viewpoint of a man with nothing left to lose, the fisherman is punched in the face. That POV turns out to be Jorah Mormont’s, who needs a boat almost as much as we need him to reveal exactly where he’s taking his precious cargo – tied-up Tyrion Lannister. Still somewhat honorable – even after being outed as a spy and sometimes slaver– he tosses a couple coins on the unconscious fisherman before dropping Tyrion aboard the stolen boat.
While these two won’t have the chemistry of Tyrion and Bronn or Tyrion and Varys, the Imp will definitely lighten up Jorah’s humorless wandering. And, in case you were wondering, Jorah finally reveals which queen they’re heading to – Daenerys. Sure, he was spying on her for the Small Council since season one, but is he really going to betray the woman he’s been obsessing over since Khal Drogo got the Jack Nicholson/Cuckoo’s Nest treatment? Daenerys hates Lannisters, and she may throw the Imp into the dungeons for a time, but she’ll warm up to him before too long.
“Lannisters at Sea” could be the theme of this episode’s first ten minutes, and the name of a classic Broadway musical full of song and dance, romance and ribaldry, twincest and medieval blood farts. The castration choreography alone would get three ovations. Anyway, Tyrion’s on a boat further east while Jaime hitchhikes south and spends some quality time with Bronn on the way. Jaime reiterates to Bronn their need to stay incognito, and even though they agree that Jaime is one of the most recognizable men around, that rings a little hollow to me. Like everyone knowing Loras’sexual preference and Cersei’s staycations in the “city of brotherly love,” it seems hard to believe that any man on the street could just recognize Jaime Lannister in any part of the world. Sure, common people could pick any highborn man or maiden out of a lineup at the stocks but are the tapestries really so lifelike and the songs so descriptive that any average Robb can recognize Jaime right off the street? Unless he’s wearing the Lannister Lion and they have HBO GO in Dorne, I find it hard to believe.
But Jaime, understandably, is feeling a bit cautious on the way to pick up his daughter, Myrcella, and during his reflection he reveals why he’s the one who needed to go on this mission. First, he’s keeping this trip small to avoid a war, but also Jaime feels guilt over setting his brother free and he needs to make amends with Cersei. If he ever sees the Imp again, Bronn asks him to give Tyrion his regards, but Jaime promises he’ll split him in two first. Thus continues the wishy-washy treatment of Jaime – yes, he’s committed to killing Tyrion in return for the Imp’s father-murder last season. But for Jaime, who was moving on from his incestuous relationship with his sister and falling out of favor with his father, it just seems like another step back. The writers have set Jaime Lannister into very active territory by sending him on a rescue mission, but his resolve to make it “work” with Cersei limits his true potential for growth.
This is an issue that hopefully won’t last. Whenever Jaime is placed in a dangerous situation, as when facing the Dornish soldiers out by the beach, he remains a sympathetic character. This man who had it all is now in-over-his-head as a handicapped lord trying to reclaim his stature in society. When he loses his sword, the soldier standing over him seems poised for victory, about to lay a killing strike on Jaime. But, surprise, Jaime catches the soldier’s sword with his golden hand and gains enough time to pick up his own sword and kill his opponent. It’s a well-directed moment – I was caught up in it and forgot about Jaime’s hand, making his kill satisfying as hell. The Kingslayer’s storyline stays interesting, so it’s a shame his motivations keep him from being as gratifying as he could be.
Back in King’s Landing, Cersei suffers the fools of the Small Council, and decides to rid herself of Margaery’s father by sending him to treat with the Iron Bank. After dismissing the remaining members of her council, she heads off to the High Sparrow who, while her total opposite, wields a power she respects. He has influence that she needs and can use to hurt the people she hates. In a move that solves her immediate problems but may prove difficult as time goes by, she gives him an army of religious fanatics – the Faith Militant. This leads to a montage of monks inflicting the types of beatings that would arouse your average Spanish Inquisitor or Fifty Shades of Grey heroine. They make Stannis look like Renly.
When Loras is imprisoned by the Militants, Margaery shows her first real loss of temper. She could be formidable when angry, but her power lies in her sweetness and she firmly nudges King Tommen to free her brother. Tommen doesn’t have the resolve of a more mature king, however – he’s not going to go chopping off any heads. He’s turned away from the Sept of Baelor as the High Sparrow is busy praying and, rather than have his knights fight their way to the Sparrow’s quarters, Tommen decides to return later. This decision will come back to haunt him – the king is already mistrusted by his people. Without a willingness to force that trust into them, he doesn’t stand to last long in King’s Landing.
The boy king loses some stature in the capital but the princess at the Wall gains some much needed affection. Shireen, Stannis’ scaly daughter, also gets a window into her backstory. While Selyse takes every opportunity to bash her daughter for either being unconventionally unattractive (a plague will do that to you) or simply not having a penis, Melisandre comes to her aid. Even though the girl doesn’t trust the red priestess, Melisandre sees some use in her intellect or at least some use in her survival of the disease she carries. Even Stannis lightens up a bit when talking about all the trouble he went through to keep his sickly daughter alive. Finally admitting that he loves her, in his own Stannisy way, it’s a sweet moment and shows that while she may not be the heir he hoped for, she’s got his fighting spirit and he’s willing to accept that as the best he can get from her. This goes a long way in lightening up Stannis as a figure that the average audience member can get behind – while he sticks by his principles, he is willing to try and show his affection and/or appreciation without betraying who he is.
Melisandre doesn’t betray who she is, either. Apparently, she’s remembered she is on HBO and acts accordingly. The ultimate star f***er, Melisandre lays it on thick for Jon Snow. While Stannis probably wouldn’t be too keen on Jon Snow putting ice-to-fire with the red witch, getting Snow on board would do wonders for his campaign to Winterfell. Snow ultimately will not budge – beyond his vows to the Night’s Watch, he still loves another. Melisandre, who always saves the best for last, be it shadow babies or loose kimonos, drops a bit of magic by declaring his deceased ex-girlfriend’s catchphrase: “You know nothing, Jon Snow.” Either she’s a psychic or she’s been sending a shadow into his quarters to sneak peeks at his diary, and this witch has got the goods. It’s just a shame she goes to sex first – I get the needs of the show and Melisandre, as a character, is a very sexual being. Yet, by having her only try to sex up people before any other type of tactic makes her seem a little too loose for such a powerful figure. On a show full of actual prostitutes, they can afford to have Melisandre save her assets for situations in which she really needs them.
As Melisandre leaves Jon to dwell on dead girlfriends, Sansa is in the crypt of Winterfell lighting a candle for the kingdom’s most famous deceased mistress, Lyanna Stark. One of the more mysterious characters in Westeros lore, the show sheds some light on her past, reminding non-book readers of her importance. Many years ago, Rhaegar Targaryen, Daenerys’ older brother caught a glimpse of Ned Stark’s young sister at a tourney, rode straight past his own wife, and lay a wreath of flowers on Lyanna’s lap. He chose her all those years ago – and as Sansa is quick to assert to Littlefinger – kidnapped her, raped her, started the events that led to Robert’s Rebellion and, eventually, the problems of the present. Littlefinger sees the situation from his selfish perspective: he was a nobody, watching all these highborn lords and ladies mix, mingle, and play games. He bided his time until he was in a place to make moves that could best all of them. Sansa sees the bigger picture – a prince who had everything else seized something beautiful and innocent and destroyed it, along with the rest of Westeros. Now Sansa is in that position, a young, innocent pawn in Littlefinger’s game. Hopefully, she can be positioned the right way, in a place that would allow her to survive either a marriage to Ramsay Bolton or a Stannis takeover of Winterfell. After several seasons in the background, Winterfell is looking to be a new flashpoint.
Like Ramsay Bolton, minus the sick/twisted/Jame Gumb personality disorder, all the Dornish are into is“fighting and fucking.” And from what we know of the Sand Snake’s first meeting, this is what they’re good for. We don’t get much more from them other than the flamboyant warrior women angle. Some of them didn’t even know their father for much of their lives, but they loved him just the same. And just as they kill the sea captain who divulged Jaime Lannister’s Dornish whereabouts, they’ll do even-worse to any Lannister they can lay their hands on. So far, the Dornish seem a bit more two-dimensional than their counterparts in the other kingdoms, and in the coming episodes we’ll need to see them do more than just “fighting and fucking” if we’re to sympathize with their cause. As this has been streamlined from George R. R. Martin’s Dornish chapters, these characters should be easier to identify with over time.
But time is not good to Barristan Selmy. In Meereen, he’s given his curtain call moment, recounting his own tales of Rhaegar to Daenerys. The two would hang out, you see, and Rhaegar would walk among the people, singing and entertaining. Getting to know men and women from all walks of life. He loved the people and was loved by them in return – he was the Westeros equivalent of Jimmy Fallon. You can see why Selmy would turn to Daenerys, even if Rhaegar was a tough act to follow. Also, Rhaegar may not have been the villain we’ve been led to believe.
**(POTENTIAL SPOILER TERRITORY & CRAZY SELF-INDULGENT FAN THEORY)**
All this talk of Rhaegar brings to mind a particular fan theory, and this episode went further than any prior one that R + L = J. If you can do the math and you haven’t read the books, then power to you. Personally, I’ll do one further: I think that R + L = J (the Song of Ice and Fire), and that J and Daenerys will probably have their own Song of Ice and Fire because…why the hell not?! As Melisandre hinted this week, she finds herself attracted to Jon Snow and maybe, just maybe, he is Azor Ahai reborn. If he’s to last long enough to fight the Others, he needs Lightbringer. Stannis created his sword, Lightbringer, by plunging it into the statue of the Maiden on Dragonstone, but this sword is considered fake as it doesn’t emit any heat. According to legend, Azor Ahai created his flaming Lightbringer when he drove it through his wife’s heart. If Jon Snow is Azor Ahai, then he’ll have to complete the Song of Ice and Fire by driving his sword through Daenerys’ heart. Who knows for sure if they’ll ever end up together, but since she’s truly made of fire, she seems like the best living candidate for a situation like this. It would definitely be shocking to see one of the main heroes of the story go out like that, but it wouldn’t be an unexpected move for Martin to make. Again, I’m not even sure something like this would happen, but I wanted to get it out there early. In case something like this does occur, you can say that you read it here first.
**(CRAZY SELF-INDULGENT FAN THEORY OVER)**
Long story short, Daenerys starts her day happy, but ends it sad. Grey Worm and his Unsullied companions get attacked by the Sons of the Harpy, and Grey Worm is left for dead. It’s a great fight scene, set in a small quarter that manages to keep the swords vs. spears simplicity of the bloody skirmish in perspective. Though we don’t know these soldiers and villains personally, we know what they represent and when Grey Worm takes off his helmet and faces certain death, we fear for his life. Worse is when Ser Barristan comes across this party. After his whistful tale of Rhaegar, he’s doomed and it’s a hard death to watch. Ian McElhinney has imbued this old, unbeatable warrior, with such gravity and added a much needed weight to Daenerys’ storyline – he will be missed. Even though he’s gone, I’ll give this week’s throne to Selmy – he got to go out the way he would’ve wanted, defending the true ruler of Westeros. Plus, it opens the door for Tyrion and Jorah – more than ever, she needs their skills and the arc in Essos needs their personalities.