FINALLY! Cersei gets imprisoned! Tyrion meets Daenerys! In a gift of an episode, this latest installment gave us some well-earned retributions and reunions. All the good outweighs some tense uncertainty in Winterfell and some “meh” moments in Dorne. We can feel the momentum driving us toward the homestretch in a season that’s come together with solid setup – even if some of our favorite characters are no longer with us. I, for one, have been a big fan of this season’s straightforward presentation, and it’s satisfying to see more storylines converge. That being said, what happens once they meet up? We’ll have to wait several episodes to find out, but hopefully the foundation set here is sturdy enough to support any bold moves coming in the finale.
Only a quick shot of Brienne this week, just to remind us she’s alive and she hasn’t given up. Good thing for Sansa (and us) that she didn’t trust Littlefinger and tailed them all the way to the Bolton’s new home base. Even though Sansa’s turned her away, she’s still there, looking, waiting for the right moment.
Within the fortress walls, Sansa’s in more trouble than ever. Heeding her old northern servant’s advice, Sansa needs to light a candle in the old tower if she wants help. But who exactly would do the helping? Sure, Brienne’s on her way, but are there other unflayed northern men inside the walls of Winterfell that could provide assistance? In the perfect world, there would be some sort of arrangement with outside forces, and maybe, just maybe, (SPOILER) we have a Stoneheart in our future. It doesn’t seem likely, especially tied to this element of the Sansa/Winterfell plotline. But with all these forces converging on the Bolton HQ, I wouldn’t be surprised to see additional banners or brotherhoods making appearances toward the end of this season (END SPOILER).
Unfortunately (or fortunately) for Sansa, her best hope is a person she despises – he’s the one guy she hates least in the whole castle. When Theon Greyjoy stops by her room to close the shutters, he’s forced to take in her battered sight – last week’s controversial event has become a nightly occurrence. To see a girl who’s grown up on this show in such a position is hard to watch, but she’s not giving up. In convincing Theon to light the candle for her, she reminds him that he is Theon Greyjoy, not Reek, and he owes her a favor. After some psychological torment, Theon musters the courage to climb the steps of the tower, candle in hand, only to find Ramsay waiting for him. When Ramsay later escorts Sansa along the walls of Winterfell, he takes her off on a stroll and a tangent until he makes his point by leading her to the flayed remains of her northern friend – crucified on the Bolton “X.” It’s not a fun sight and, like season 3’s incessant torture of Theon, it doesn’t establish much more than what’s already been said – the Bolton’s are the worst. Ultimately, all this is pushing Theon to make a choice between his Greyjoy name or his newfound “Reek” status, and as the writers bog this storyline down with despair, we’re in need of a cathartic Winterfell battle more than ever before.
Impatient of any promised rescue by Littlefinger, Sansa takes matters into her own hands, grabbing a corkscrew when Ramsay isn’t looking. It’s the same weapon Ramsay used on Reek’s foot two seasons ago. Although we’re spared the satisfaction of Sansa gouging it into the Bolton Bastard, it’s probably for the best. Any rash decision on Sansa’s part will get her killed. What we do get to see is that Sansa is willing to take any risks necessary to get the hell out of this situation, regardless of Littlefinger’s plans and promises. You’d think Ramsay would get a kick out of an irrational, unpredictable girlfriend, but he tends to only like when he’s inflicting the violence.
On the road to Winterfell, Stannis’ troops freeze in the snow but he remains immovable. He will continue to lead the men to Winterfell and nothing can stop him. Davos tries to speak some words of wisdom but Melisandre’s whispers keep Stannis heading to a clash on the Stark’s old turf. She reveals that this was the battle they saw in the fire back at the end of season 2, she saw herself walking on the battlements of Winterfell. But can she get more details? Was it post-battle? Was Stannis with her? Was she a prisoner? We don’t know this and neither does she. The Red Witch doesn’t claim to see anymore than what R’hllor chooses to show her and for someone so confident in her own psychic gift, hopefully R’hllor will send her more specifics in the next prophecy.
In order to cement Stannis’ victory, she’ll require king’s blood. Unlike the leeching of Gendry, which (to the superstitious mind) may have helped bring about the deaths of Robb Stark and Joffrey Baratheon, she wants a sure-thing sacrifice and asks Stannis to donate his daughter, Shireen, to the cause. Wisely, Stannis resists and it’s nice to see this man, who has been willing to sacrifice all morals for Melisandre’s spells, stand his ground against her. I mean, the woman’s magic isn’t fool proof – if it was, Balon Greyjoy would be dead already (if you remember, she said his name when she also cursed Robb and Joffrey). Following the unusually tender moment between Stannis and the neglected Shireen a few episodes back, it’s positive to see him resist Melisandre’s temptations so strongly. But perhaps his quick refusal will play into a stunning defeat. Who knows? Either way, the outcome of this battle in the North will affect the way we/he perceives the Red Priestesses powers from here on out.
This also addresses a theory I posed a few weeks back – that (potential spoiler) Shireen is the stone dragon that Melisandre has wanted to raise. In order to help Stannis’ cause, Melisandre proposes raising “a stone dragon” with king’s blood. Maybe the stone dragon is a literal beast, but more likely, it’s the greyscale that’s been referenced so often, that turns its victims into hardened shells of people, and that Shireen happens to be suffering from. It seems like it’s highly contagious and I wouldn’t be surprised if this disease has some supernatural connection to the other magical elements in this show – dragons, White Walkers, or another component we have yet to learn about (end potential spoiler).
Going further north, darker times are falling on the Wall as another member of the old guard faces his end. Sam and Gilly watch Maester Aemon take his last breaths, hallucinating that he’s back with his younger brother, the Mad King. During his funeral, a friend watching the episode noted that even though Aemon is a Targaryen, he doesn’t share Daenerys’ fire resistant skin. Standing around the pyre, Ser Alliser Thorne reminds Sam that he’s losing his allies fast and proves once again that you cannot invite this guy anywhere. But he’s right. Jon has left with a Wildling troop and lowered his public opinion polling in the process. With Aemon dead, Sam’s only got Ghost, Jon’s direwolf, and Gilly, the Wildling with the four year old baby. I don’t really understand why Jon didn’t take Ghost with him, and as someone who could use all the extra intimidation he can get, it’s funny we hadn’t seen Ghost at all this season until now. But it would hurt Jon’s efforts to establish himself as the leader of the Night’s Watch if he needed a dog to do all the dirty work for him. So it’s satisfying that when two tough brothers try to assault Gilly while she’s doing laundry(?), Ghost arrives to back Sam up. It’s not that Sam can’t take care of himself (verbally), it’s just that Sam can’t take care of himself (physically). He’s a big guy, but as Gilly later reminds him, he’s not a fighter. Sure, he’s killed a Thenn, he’s killed freaking White Walker for R’hllor’s sake, but this guy just can’t handle any of the show’s extras.
While Gilly cleans Sam’s wounds, she tells him to never put himself in that position again, even if she’s in danger. It’s an emasculating conversation for a guy in this society, but she boosts his ego by letting her true feelings be known. Here, they share his first sexual experience and her first complicit sexual experience. It’s awkward to watch because it feels so personal, but as one of the few sexual moments on this show that is decided by the female companion and as a capper to Sam and Gilly’s seasons-long relationship, it’s a welcome development. Hopefully, Sam will feel more empowered in the coming episodes; he’s going to need more confidence.
Going from someone who’s still finding his voice to characters with too much to say, the Sand Snakes continue to loudly excoriate their enemies from within their cells, while we and Bronn are forced to listen. In all fairness, he started it by loudly singing offensive Dornish songs, but hey – Bronn can sing! Jerome Flynn, the actor behind Bronn’s badass portrayal, is a former member of a UK boy band, so it’s fitting they’ve been giving him more songs to belt out this season. His tune even brings out Tyene’s softer side (she’s Sand Snake #2). Ok, she takes her top off to get Bronn’s blood flowing – i.e. that poison they knicked him with last episode. It’s a sexy strip tease, and shows a bit more sides (literally) to these characters – Tyene’s the flirty one. While Scary Spice and the Smart One roll their eyes at their half-sister’s revealing moves, they’re smirk-city when Bronn’s vision gets blurred. Thankfully, Tyene carries an antidote to the poison in her necklace that the guards didn’t frisk off her before they threw her in the cells. She tosses it to Bronn and all is well. While this exchange lightens these Dornish women up, it also feels a little wasteful as far as screen time is concerned. I have a feeling we’re supposed to care about these characters, so I see where the creative team is coming from. But this whole plot point seems as throwaway as last episode’s poison-inflicting shot. In a show that fully commits to its choices, it’s hard to buy these fiery, vengeful sisters showing last-minute mercy to a man who helped their greatest enemy sneak into their home. But hey, it they’re all going to become friends, allying our heroes with a trio of ladies who are as fluid with their blades as they are with their sexualities will be great for ratings.
Meanwhile, Jaime is held in a law office from Miami Vice. His niece (daughter) gives him an unearned slap in the face when she storms out of his sight. Not wanting to leave, Dorne has become Myrcella’s home. She’s acting like a season-one-Sansa right now and it’s already getting old. Game of Thrones thrives on its unpredictability and I have no idea where this storyline is going, but that may not be a good thing. Surprise us here, Game of Thrones! Please!
Onto the satisfying part: Jorah and Tyrion get bartered and sold – and again, thanks to Tyrion’s smart ass remarks he’s able to stave off any wholly disastrous fate and join Jorah on the way to Meereen. His aggressive fight with the guy holding his chain – basically grabbing hold of his keeper and whipping the crap out of him – gets him some guffaws from the audience. Gaining him a fan out of the master who just purchased Jorah, this guy buys a two-for-one deal and nabs Tyrion. It may seem too perfect, but Tyrion and Jorah are together again and back on the road to Daenerys.
Their new master is basically Oliver Reed from Gladiator, and he’s even got a training pit like the arena from that movie. We know this is a smaller pit because they say so, foreshadowing some sort of bigger arena in the days to come. Also, the pre-season trailers showed us quick glimpses of a knock-down, drag out battle inside a coliseum, so this is child’s play compared to that. The situation falls out in normal GOT fashion until Daenerys makes a surprise appearance with her husband-to-be. According to Hizdahr, it’s customary for the Meereenese ruler to make the rounds at all the gyms and CrossFits in the land as the local gladiators prepare for a grand bloodbath in the fighting pits. This should be no different with the fighting pits reopened, but Daenerys is a different queen, and she’s not impressed with this primitive dick measuring that they call entertainment. But, hey, if she wants peace she’s got to try playing by their rules.
Backstage, Jorah hears the crowd calling for their queen and he sees his chance. He leaves Tyrion chained to the wall, enters the pit without his master’s permission and beats the crap out of the other fighters. With the tables turned on Jorah – he was once a master himself – he keeps the fighters from killing each other by knocking them all unconscious. My main question here comes from the fact that Tyrion and Jorah have been bought and sold, no doubt, like the other men who are here. If slavery is now outlawed in this part of the world, why are men still chained up when Daenerys can go all “secret shopper” on any local fighting stadium? Then again, who cares! Game of Thrones goes and pulls a non-Game of Thrones move by sidestepping its normal rules (characters you love will not get to meet up, characters who deserve happy endings will not receive them, your wish as an optimistic audience member will not be granted). Instead, Jorah defeats the other fighters without sustaining any mortal injury. Tyrion tries to file off his chains, but an imposing guard decides, “ah, what the hell,” and lets him go. And before Dany can get her men to remove an unmasked Jorah from her sight, Tyrion reveals himself. With Jorah giving Dany his “gift,” it’s a satisfying conclusion to T & J’s journey so far. It’s also one that has a lot of possibilities, given the fact that no one in the show’s audience has an idea what will happen next. These characters have not met yet in the books and to have this meeting happen now provides brand new possibilities for her. While Daenerys stays interesting, her trial-and-error ruling style can get a little stale after a while. Tyrion will shake things up.
Across the world, Littlefinger continues making a hot mess of King’s Landing but Olenna, matriarch of the Tyrell family, sees through his plotting. Meeting secretly in the ruins of his brothel, she threatens that if he tries anything on her, she’ll have him ripped to shreds. Having conspired together in the murder of Joffrey, Littlefinger waylays his partner-in-crime’s concerns by saying “I have a gift for you. The same kind I gave Cersei – a handsome young man.” Cersei has made many bold moves that could backfire on her, and while she used the brothel escort/Loras’ boyfriend against the Tyrell’s, they can use Lancel against her. He knows her secrets, he’s laid with her firsthand, and he’s the one who turns her in to the Faith Militant. Another young man who won’t come to her aid is Tommen. The boy king is kindhearted, but weak and ineffectual. Cersei will make any bold, desperate move necessary for her son’s survival, but he’s not capable of making the same for her.
But we’ll come back to that… When the Queen of Thorns later tries to barter with the High Sparrow for the release of her grandchildren – the High Sparrow reveals he doesn’t give exceptions to highborn. He only responds to the will of the Seven and he will dole out equal mercy to those born high and low. This penitent man will not rest until the status structure is torn down and all are treated as equals. To him, that’s the way the new gods, the Seven, view it. It’s like he doesn’t know that with Winter coming and the Others coming soon after, Westeros’ will be torn asunder no matter what.
Of all these belief systems, R’hllor has shown us fire and shadow babies while the old Northern gods have wielded green visions and undead soldiers. Only the religion of the Seven has yet to show us any tangible, supernatural power. Maybe, the true power of this religion rests within the will of the people of Westeros and their ability retain control over the Seven Kingdoms. Does this spell doom for any highborn person who hopes to rule Westeros? Maybe.
As the episode closes, Cersei meets privately with the High Sparrow and they talk of faith and the faithful. The High Sparrow reiterates his desire to strip away the excess of society and clean away the sin that’s eating it. When Lancel steps forward, Cersei senses she may be included in the Sparrow’s tirade. Lancel’s a keeper of the Lannister’s incestuous secrets and just by the ominous look on his face, Cersei knows the jig is up. As a stern Mother Superior blocks her exit, she is dragged screaming to a dungeon cell while the septons figure out how to solve a problem like Cersei Lannister. She may be the queen, but to these faithful, she’s just another sinner. Hey, maybe next episode, Cersei will get a crazy-eyed cell mate and lighten up a bit in sort of Orange is the New Black situation. But what’s the cost? As the Faith Militant solidify their power in a world full of sinners, most of our favorite characters are their enemies.
It’ll be interesting to see how this idea plays out through the final season. More ruling characters die leaving us with lesser men and women to pick up the pieces. So, who will come out on top? Littlefinger surely is a man who has wiled his way into his position and sees himself as most deserving for the top dog title. As a lowborn ward who’s risen to Lord of the Vale, could he be the man to rule? What about the High Septon himself? If the faith of the Seven can burn in the hearts of the common folk, will he replace the King of the Seven Kingdoms? What about the rightful heir to the Iron Throne – Daenerys Targaryen? Will she put this idea to rest by claiming total domination through sheer willpower (and dragons)? Just as the playing field once again grows crowded with potential rulers, the philosophies behind them grow more complex. It will be interesting to see which idea wins out. In an episode full of gifts, it’s the answers to these questions that stand to be most rewarding.