Tag Archives: GoT S5

Game of Thrones Recap: Season 5, Episode 10 “Mother’s Mercy”

Well, with the final episode of the season, Game of Thrones returns to inconsistent form. There are several really nicely done scenes, a lot of garbage, and the season ends more or less where A Dance With Dragons does for Daenerys, Jon Snow, and Cersei. For everyone else, everything is terrible and makes almost no sense. I mean, it’s terrible and nonsensical for Daenerys, Jon, and Cersei, too, but at least their story lines have something to do with the books the show is ostensibly based upon.

Melisandre sees the melting ice as proof of Rh'llor's favor.
Melisandre sees the melting ice as proof of R’hllor’s favor.

Like last week, this episode opens with Melisandre, who is much more sanguine following the sacrifice of Shireen and in light of an apparent thaw. Icicles are melting inside Melisandre’s tent, and outside she’s ankle-deep in mud as she heads off to tell Stannis the good news. Stannis is cold towards her, however, which is just as well since Melisandre’s news of a break in the weather is the only good news he’s going to get all day. Half his men have deserted in the night, taking all the horses, and Selyse has killed herself. While Stannis is still processing this, another guy comes to tell him that Melisandre has just ridden out of camp.

Stannis Baratheon and the no good very bad day.
Stannis Baratheon and the no good very bad day.

I hate that Selyse is killed off this way. During Shireen’s burning last week is the first time we’ve seen any maternal warmth from Selyse at all, after two seasons of her Lady Macbeth-ing it up and mostly just ignoring Shireen altogether. And now this week we’re supposed to believe that she’s abandoned her faith and lost hope so completely that she’s killed herself without even waiting to see if the sacrifice paid off? Bullshit. Like with Talisa’s presence and death at the Red Wedding, it’s a case of the writers wanting to dispose of an inconvenient female character and counting on the audience caring as little as they do about whether the women in the story get treated with dignity.

Also, if all the horses are gone, how did Melisandre ride out of camp on one?

At Castle Black, we get the first scene of the episode that I mostly like. Jon and Sam are catching up after their separation, and it’s actually an almost great scene for Sam. Jon tells Sam about the army of the dead and seems to acknowledge the futility of the Hardhome mission. Also, the futility of pretty much anything the Night’s Watch can do to stand against the dead, which has things looking pretty bleak for the watchers on the Wall.

Sam and Gilly start off on their journey.
Sam and Gilly start off on their journey.

Sam, on the other hand, wants to ask Jon a favor. He requests that Jon send him, Gilly, and the baby south to Oldtown, where Sam will train to become a maester and then return to the Wall. I’m so happy that this is happening, even if it is belated. I also like that they made it Sam’s idea, giving him a bit more agency in his own story and letting him come up with an idea that actually makes sense for once. I was really disappointed by how much the election of the Lord Commander was abbreviated earlier in the season, and this helps make up for that a little by at least showing some small part of Sam’s character growth. Then it’s ruined with some gross comments about Sam’s sexual relationship with Gilly, but it was nice while it lasted. Our last view of Sam and Gilly this season is them loaded up in a cart and leaving Castle Black.

As Stannis and his remaining men approach Winterfell and get ready to settle in for a siege, it soon becomes apparent that won’t be necessary, as an enormous host of Bolton soldiers rides out to meet them in the field.

Sansa just can't catch a break.
Sansa just can’t catch a break.

Inside Winterfell, Sansa sneaks out of her room to light the candle in the broken tower herself. Elsewhere, Podrick sees Stannis’s army on the move and goes to tell Brienne, who stops watching for Sansa’s light literally seconds before Sansa gets it lit. Because, of course. This sort of “near miss” situation is what passes for drama in the world of Benioff and Weiss, even though it would have been even more interesting to let Brienne see the light in the tower and force her to choose between her perso0nal vengeance against Stannis and her vow to protect Sansa. Trust D&D to always do the easy thing, though.

We do get to see Ramsay going around finishing off some of the wounded, but his heart just doesn't even quite seem in it.
We do get to see Ramsay going around finishing off some of the wounded, but his heart just doesn’t even quite seem in it.

There’s no budget for an actual battle scene at this point in the season, so we just get to see a bunch of dead bodies in the snow while the Bolton troops are mopping up. Somehow, Stannis manages to survive long enough for Brienne to find him so she can pontificate embarrassingly at him when he obviously just wants to die in peace. In the end, it’s not even clear whether Stannis has really died at all because we don’t actually get to see it. Which doesn’t make sense at all.

After Stannis’s sacrifice of Shireen last week, I’m pretty sure everyone hates him enough that his death would feel like some kind of justice–unless, of course, we’re supposed to direct all our anger over Shireen’s death at Selyse, who’s already dead by her own hand, and Melisandre, who is currently compounding her villainy by abandoning fan favorite Stannis in his time of need. Which is pretty much exactly what I think we are supposed to be doing. Because, somehow, after everything, I don’t feel like we’re supposed to really hold Stannis accountable for his own actions. We’re supposed to see him as tragic and noble in this final scene, and we’re supposed to think that maybe Brienne will turn her blow aside at the last minute after all, even though she has no reason to and we won’t find out for sure until next year.

Back at Winterfell proper, Sansa tries to return to her room without being seen and is caught by Myranda, because goodness knows we haven’t had a scene of Myranda gloating over Ramsay’s abuse of Sansa in a couple of weeks. This is just as pathetically misogynistic as previous, similar scenes, but it does somehow manage to spur Theon into doing something. As Ramsay arrives back at the castle, Theon pushes Myranda off the ramparts to her death, grabs Sansa’s hand and drags her up the wall of the castle, where they leap off into the snow, which doesn’t look nearly deep enough to break their fall.

Theon and Sansa prepare to jump.
Theon and Sansa prepare to jump.

Myranda might be the thing I hate most about all of the Ramsay stuff because, on the show, Myranda’s support of Ramsay and her participation in his depravity makes her look worse than he is. Because Ramsay is evil, but Myranda is stupidly evil for being with him because it’s super obvious that he’s not safe for her. I hate how Myranda has been created on the show exclusively as a character for the viewer to hate without remorse, even as Ramsay has been given greater depth in the show because D&D wanted to explore his daddy issues. I especially hate it here because we’re supposed to cheer for her death. And we’re not cheering for her death at Sansa’s hands, which could have been read as Sansa’s (another woman’s) victory over internalized misogyny (represented by Myranda). We’re meant to cheer Theon for rescuing Sansa from Ramsay, for whom Myranda acts as a stand-in.

In every way, Sansa has been systematically regressed and robbed of agency and power this season, and her character growth has been completely sacrificed in order to give Theon an opportunity for redemption. I won’t even dignify it by calling it a redemption arc because it’s literally only in the last seconds of this scene that Theon seems to regrow a spine. It actually begins with Theon entreating Sansa to go back to her room while Myranda aims a bow at her, and it’s only when Sansa seems to refuse that Theon finds his own courage. Tellingly, though, it’s not Sansa who grabs Theon’s hand, and it’s not Sansa who leads the way up to the wall they leap from.

For a show based on source material that is so lauded for subverting and questioning standard fantasy tropes, Game of Thrones will always do the boring, hackneyed thing if given half a chance. The interesting thing to do here would have been to have Sansa leap on her own. Or to reverse the damsel in distress trope and have Sansa kill Myranda in her own self defense and then rescue Theon as she makes her own escape. This second option would even have offered interesting character growth for Sansa, as we’ve already gotten to see her feelings for Theon evolve from hatred and disgust to a sort of pity–they could have evolved again here to a sort of forgiveness that would allow her to take him with her. This even would have given Theon the opportunity for an actual redemption arc in the future as he tries to prove his usefulness and loyalty to Sansa after she rescued him.

That’s not what we get, though, because D&D are hack writers who have proven for two straight seasons now that they both do not understand or respect the spirit of the source material at all and are incapable of any actual independent thought. They hew close to the source material when it’s convenient to them, and they seem desperate to include certain events come hell or high water, even if the events no longer make sense in the context of the show. Otherwise, they shit all over fans of the books and insult the intelligence of even the most unsullied viewers by filling the rest of the show with just the sort of tired, dated, boring tropes and storytelling tricks that the books are so famous for critiquing.

Honestly, I don't think this was even that cathartic for Arya.
Honestly, I don’t think this was even that cathartic for Arya.

Meanwhile, in Braavos, we’re back to Meryn Trant and the brothel, which has managed to provide him with not just one but three children to abuse this week. As Trant walks down the line of girls, beating them with a cane, it’s obvious that one of these girls is not like the others. Oh, shit, it’s Arya. Who could possibly have seen this coming? Oh, everyone? Well, I guess that just makes this a disgusting and gratuitous scene of a grown man sexually abusing children in a brothel for no other reason than as window dressing for a preordained scene of Arya’s bloody revenge. This is the most gruesome death scene since we saw Oberyn Martell’s head squished like a grape last season, but I couldn’t enjoy it because it was coupled with yet another scene of sexual violence. It’s exactly what I predicted last week, but it’s still a little sad that the show’s reliance on sexual violence for shock value and titillation is so predictable. I guess I should just be thankful that these poor girls were all reasonably covered up.

When Arya returns to the House of Black and White, she’s met by Jaqen and the Waif, and she’s punished by being made blind. There’s also a bit of a mindfuck here where there’s a fake Jaqen H’ghar who kills himself and Arya starts pulling a bunch of faces off him, but I’m honestly just terribly bored by this stuff. The House of Black and White is gloomy, the Waif is cruel, Jaqen is mysterious, Arya is vengeful, and everything about this is horribly predictable.

Oh, Ellaria. I honestly don't see how no one guessed what you were up to, but okay.
Oh, Ellaria. I honestly don’t see how no one guessed what you were up to, but okay.

In Dorne, Jaime and Bronn are departing with Myrcella and Trystane, which starts off uneventfully enough. Even Ellaria and the Sand Snakes seem resigned to how things have turned out, and Ellaria gives Myrcella a motherly kiss goodbye while Tyene tries to bite off Bronn’s ear in what is hopefully the last bit of that particular piece of vomit-inducing trash writing.

Once the boat is on its way, Jaime tries to have a heart to heart with Myrcella, who isn’t as stupid as D&D have previously written her to be. She figured out about her mom and uncle father Jaime ages ago and is totally cool with it. This conversation could be sweet if it wasn’t so anti-climactic, and it could offer some hope that Myrcella might turn out to be an interesting and canny player of the game once she gets back to King’s Landing. Unfortunately, that’s probably not in the cards for her, since she keels over in the middle of hugging her dad, showing signs of the same poison that almost killed Bronn in the dungeon. Back on the dock, Ellaria’s nose starts to bleed as well, and she wipes off her poison lipstick and quaffs a tiny bottle of antidote.

The whole Dornish plot this season has barely even qualified as a plot, and these last couple of scenes are no different. I’m sure that the poisoning and likely death of Myrcella are supposed to be shocking, but I really just feel mildly annoyed at how little sense any of this makes. Many readers of the books have complained about the Dornish plot and how it doesn’t seem important to the main story, and though I’m not one of those readers–I actually love the Dornish plot in the books–I do think that if they weren’t going include any of the actually interesting stuff about Dorne in the show they shouldn’t have bothered including it at all. Even without any Bran Stark or Yara Greyjoy scenes this season, basically all the story lines they covered could have used a few more minutes of screen time. Instead of doing the Iron Islands, which with the horn of dragon controlling and the part they play in the Battle of Meereen in the books would make more sense, Dorne was implemented in a way that adds nothing to the main story at all.

With no Aegon plot (fake or otherwise) and no Quentyn in Meereen, Dorne in the show feels pretty much completely cut off from everything else important that’s going on, and Jaime and Bronn’s sojourn there feels like filler created just to give those two something to do. I’m inclined now to think that Bronn should have just been written off with his marriage to Lollys as he was in the books, and Jaime should have been sent to the Riverlands to deal with things there offscreen. Everything that has happened this season in Dorne could have been handled better by raven. Or not at all because it was entirely poorly written crap that doesn’t make any sense to add to the story in the first place. Poor Trystane, though, I guess. That kid is fucked when they get to King’s Landing. I could imagine Jaime giving him a break, but Cersei is going to lose her shit if Myrcella is for real dead.

I love Missandei's new costume.
I love Missandei’s new costume.

On the other side of the world in Meereen, it’s time to see how Tyrion, Jorah, Daario, Missandei, and Grey Worm are holding up since Daenerys flew off on Falcor Drogon last week. Without addressing how they managed to fight off the Sons of the Harpy, escape the Pit of Daznak, and retain control of the city, we’re taken straight to Daenerys’s throne room, where Tyrion, Jorah, and Daario are bickering about which one of them deserves to serve Daenerys more. Missandei brings a still injured Grey Worm in so he can join in on the fighting over who gets to go searching for Daenerys. In the end, it’s decided that Jorah and Daario will ride off in search of their queen. Tyrion, Missandei, and Grey Worm will stay in Meereen to rule the city. Which doesn’t make as much sense as Daario and the show writers seem to think it does, but sure.

I am still uncritically thrilled about this development.
I am still uncritically thrilled about this development.

As Jorah and Daario exit the city, again mysteriously unmolested by the Sons of the Harpy, Tyrion is watching from the walls above when–surprise!–Varys shows up. I kind of uncritically love all conversations between Varys and Tyrion and this is no different. I’m unashamed to say that I don’t care how this happened; I’m just happy that Varys is here because I’ve missed him since Jorah kidnapped Tyrion, and even though every line of dialogue in this short conversation is redundant and verging on silly I just ate it up because these two characters are my favorite on-screen pairing in the show. This is also the first moment in the episode that made me think that maybe I’ll watch next season after all (still 85% not watching, but I was 95% not watching going into this episode).

This is some scenery porn, right here.
This is some scenery porn, right here.

Somewhere green and beautiful, a good distance away from Meereen, Drogon has brought Daenerys back to his “lair,” which is really just a kind of scorched spot on the ground filled with bones from things he’s eaten. Daenerys tries to get Drogon to take her back to Meereen, but he basically turns into a very large scaly cat and pretty much ignores her in favor of licking his wounds and snuggling down in his bone pile. She even tries just hopping on his back, only to be unceremoniously dumped off. When she realizes that Drogon isn’t in a mood to be helpful, Daenerys wanders off to look for food or something, but instead she finds a whole army of Dothraki. As they surround her, she removes an enormous ring from her finger and drops it on the ground.

I say I hate this being played for laughs but if it wasn't, I wouldn't have this screen shot.
I say I hate this being played for laughs but if it wasn’t, I wouldn’t have this screen shot.

I hate the way this happens in the show. I hate that they played the interaction between Daenerys and Drogon for laughs. I hate that they don’t deal with the several weeks of time that pass in the book while it’s just Daenerys and Drogon. And I hate that it looks like they are separating Daenerys and Drogon and having Daenerys captured by the Dothraki instead of the way it happened in ADWD where she’s standing right next to her dragon when she meets the Dothraki. Between that, her look of fear, the way she drops her ring, and the knowledge that Daario and Jorah are already looking for her, it looks like even being an actual dragon queen isn’t enough to keep a woman from becoming a damsel in distress on this show. I could be wrong, but I’m probably not, and it really seems like they’re setting Daenerys up to be in need of rescue next season.

Pretty much how I imagine YouTube comments, tbh.
Pretty much how I imagine YouTube comments, tbh. Interestingly, the crowd in King’s Landing was probably 80% men. Because of course it was.

Next up is Cersei’s confession and walk of atonement, which I am surprised and pleased to report manages to mostly do the source material justice, although this is entirely due to Lena Headey’s superb talent as an actor, since the writers seem to have been more concerned with really capturing the feel of what it might be like for a woman to walk through a YouTube comments section brought to life.

Very reminiscent of Ellaria kneeling before Doran, which I kind of hate.
Very reminiscent of Ellaria kneeling before Doran, which I kind of hate.

The High Sparrow seems to betray his political sensibilities after all when he accepts Cersei’s confession so easily and doesn’t pressure her to confess to more. Perhaps Cersei’s confession, the walk, and the planned trial are enough for him. It seems likely that, even if he’s a zealot, the High Sparrow recognizes the value of maintaining a stable monarchy in a wartorn country, especially if the monarch is a child who can be easily controlled by holding his mother (and wife and brother-in-law, although there’s no mention of the Tyrells in this episode) hostage. In any case, for all the the High Sparrow has ostensibly been above such worldly concerns, his satisfaction with Cersei’s minimal confession and his willingness to let her return to the Red Keep suggests that he’s not entirely above politicking after all.


The walk itself is harrowing, and while watching it isn’t the same as reading it from Cersei’s point of view in ADWD, you can clearly see the progression of Cersei’s emotions. During her confession she’s calculating, and she simmers with fury even as she kneels before the High Sparrow. As the septas wash her and cut off her hair, Cersei’s eyes glitter with rage. Even as she stands in front of the crowd while the High Sparrow recounts her confession, her head is held high, and she gives every impression of being a person just going through whatever motions she needs to in order to get what she wants. It’s not until near the end of her walk that Cersei’s stony demeanor starts to crack, and it’s only as she actually begins crossing the final bridge into the Red Keep that she actually breaks down sobbing.

I really liked the periodic views of the Red Keep as Cersei gets closer to it.
I really liked the periodic views of the Red Keep as Cersei gets closer to it.

Lena Headey deserves an Emmy for this performance, but I actually have to give some credit to the rest of the production here as well. It’s not often that Game of Thrones handles nudity with maturity and sensitivity, but they manage to do so here for the most part. There’s a good amount of Cersei’s body on display, since it is a fully nude walk, but I didn’t get the sense that anyone went out of their way to focus on her tits the whole time. That said, the scene did start to drag a little after a while, and it did begin to seem as if someone in the production was reveling a little too much in yet another instance of the show sensationalizing the degradation of one of its major female characters.

Yup That is definitely murder in her eyes again.
Yup That is definitely murder in her eyes again.

I would say that at least Cersei’s walk of shame gets to be wholly about her, but I don’t think that’s actually the case. She has to share the spotlight, in the end, with Qyburn and Qyburn’s monstrous creation, who is the newest member of the Kingsguard. Zombie Gregor Clegane actually looks pretty cool, and the slightly warped armor that doesn’t quite really fit is a very nice touch to show that something isn’t quite right here. My question about this is the same as my question about it in the book, though. How does no one else notice? I’d just think that someone would point out that this new Kingsguard guy is real weird, especially since Cersei has been temporarily out of power. The look on her face as Ser Zombie carries her away definitely underlines that “temporarily” though. She’s had her little breakdown, but she’s already scheming again because Cersei Lannister is nothing if not resilient.

Poor Davos.
Poor Davos.

Finally, the episode (and the season) ends with Jon Snow at Castle Black. First, he’s dealing with Davos Seaworth, who is trying to convince Jon to send some men south to help Stannis at Winterfell. Then Melisandre shows up alone and completely changed from the confident woman who rode out with Stannis earlier this year. The good news, I suppose, is that Jon is off the hook for helping Stannis. The bad news is literally everything else, and Davos’s face at the news Melisandre brings is the most heartbreaking possible thing I could have seen in this episode.

Later that night, Jon’s steward, Olly, comes to tell him that there’s been some news of Jon’s uncle, Benjen Stark, who’s been missing in action since season one. Surprise, though! There is no wildling with information about Benjen; there’s just a grave marker looking thing that says “TRAITOR” on it and a bunch of men of the Night’s Watch with knives. Alliser Thorne looks almost regretful as he drives the first dagger into Jon’s chest, and Olly looks absolutely conflicted as he drives home the last one, but none of the men look back as the walk away to leave Jon bleeding out in the snow. The last shot of the episode is of Jon’s dead face–no white eyes to suggest that he’s warging, although a screenshot leaked prior to the episode airing would indicate that this was at least a possibility. Just going by what we’ve seen on screen, then, it would seem that Jon Snow is actually dead, making this almost certainly the largest body count for major characters in any single episode of the show.

Looks pretty dead to me.
Looks pretty dead to me.

The thing is, it’s not entirely certain which characters are actually dead and which ones may still have a little life left in them. That, of course is the big question we’re left with at the end of this season, if we ignore other important concerns like whether or not the show runners will ever get tired of heaping violence and humiliation upon the show’s women and girls or if the writers will ever stop wasting the immense talents of actors like Alexander Siddig and Indira Varma on horrible tripe like, oh, every scene in Dorne this year. I tend to be at least slightly skeptical of the permanent death of any character whose cold, dead corpse I don’t definitely see on screen, so here’s my best guesses:

  • Selyse Baratheon – Definitely dead, because she’s outlived her narrative usefulness and D&D are generally quick to dispose of female characters who don’t have a particular reason to exist any longer. Much like Talisa Stark, Selyse has to die in the show so no one has to think of something for her to do without her husband (or daughter, in Selyse’s case) to give her life purpose. Much like Ros, Selyse’s now-inconvenient existence is ended off screen, although at least Selyse was given the dignity of keeping her clothes on when we see her dead body.
  • Meryn Trant – Definitely dead, and gruesomely so. This is probably the only death in this episode that everyone can agree on the finality of, although Trant wasn’t exactly a major character, either.
  • Stannis Baratheon – I would say definitely dead. With no army, no wife, no daughter, and with Melisandre having abandoned him, there’s not really anything for Stannis to do if somehow Brienne missed her strike. And I can’t imagine that she did or that she’d suddenly have a fit of mercy and change her mind. While her revenge against Stannis didn’t really feel earned, and sentencing and executing him while he’s already bleeding out after a spectacularly disastrous military loss doesn’t seem sporting, I don’t think Brienne is actually all that honorable when it comes down to it. Not on this issue. Mostly, though, if Stannis isn’t going to win the Battle in the Snow, I don’t see that there’s any reason to keep the character around any longer. With screen time already at a premium and going into the sixth of seven planned seasons, it’s about time to start paring things down, and it’s not surprising that Stannis is the first to go as he was never a serious contender for winning the Iron Throne in the long run.
  • Theon and Sansa – Definitely alive, although battered probably, from jumping off of Winterfell. That snow was nowhere near deep enough to completely cushion their fall. The big question regarding this pair is where do they think they’re going? With Stannis’s army slaughtered and the Wall a month’s ride away when they’re on foot, their only chance is probably Brienne and Pod who don’t know to be looking for them–and going to the nearest town would probably be a terrible idea since that would probably be the first place that Ramsay would look for them.
  • Myrcella Baratheon – Almost definitely dead, which is too bad. Myrcella’s knowledge and acceptance of her true parentage suggests a character who could have been an interesting player in the game of thrones, especially if she’d returned to King’s Landing bringing Dornish values with her–namely the Dornish custom of eldest children inheriting regardless of gender. She and Trystane could have been a formidable couple, and I would have loved to see them go up against the formidable-on-her-own Margaery and puppet Tommen. Alas, I think this is not to be. While Bronn could likely identify the poison Ellaria used, I doubt they have any antidote handy, and I don’t expect the writers intend to introduce another new power dynamic to King’s Landing this late in the series. Also, admittedly, a dead Myrcella will likely introduce just as much chaos as a live girl could have. There’s no way Cersei is going to take this well.

And, finally, Jon Snow:

I have to only give Jon even odds at this point. His on screen death looked pretty final to me, and Kit Harington has outright said that he won’t be returning in season six. If that’s not true, it would be the first time in the show’s history that they’ve pulled this kind of bait an switch, so I’m half convinced. I’d like to think that Kit and the show runners wouldn’t fuck with their fans like that.

However, I don’t believe Jon Snow is dead in the books, and I do believe that, even if he’s not endgame going to sit the Iron Throne, he still has an important part to play in the future. Additionally, it just doesn’t make sense to kill him off right now.

  1. With Sam departing Castle Black with Gilly, losing Jon would leave us with no main point of view character at the Wall. Also, with Jon dead, there would no longer be any reason for Sam to return to the Wall after becoming a Maester.
  2. Davos and Melisandre are both there, but without Jon there’s no reason for them to remain there and no particularly direction for them to leave.
  3. With Stannis dead, the Wall and Jon Snow is the only logical destination for Sansa and Theon, which could ultimately force a confrontation between the Boltons and the Night’s Watch that would only work if Jon Snow was at Castle Black.
  4. If Jon Snow is dead, who is going to take over the defense of the Wall? Alliser Thorne seems the likely answer, but to what end? While Thorne disagreed with Jon’s decisions about the Free Folk, I can’t see Thorne leading the charge to murder women and children, either, especially with the army of the dead on the way. In this respect, the way the show has handled things, it actually seems a little silly to even have the attempt on Jon’s life in the first place except for dramatic reasons–basically to be a thing that happens to grow Jon as a character who learns or changes from the experience.

Essentially, if Jon Snow is really dead, then all bets are off for how the rest of the show plays out. I have no predictions for that scenario, because I think Jon Snow is that important to the story.

The worst thing? I don’t even particularly like Jon Snow. I’ve often jokingly thought and said that it would be great to not have to read through any more of his mopey POV chapters in the books. But the truth is, I don’t see how the story goes on without him.

Jon Snow’s apparent (or actual) death could be compared to the offing of Ned Stark in the first book/season of the show, but it’s not like that at all. Ned Stark was doomed from the start, and his death was honestly not nearly as shocking as its sometimes made out to be. Indeed, Ned Stark’s death was heavily telegraphed (as was Robb Stark’s, later on). Also, even if someone missed the hints that Ned Stark was fucked, A Game of Thrones is the shortest book in the series so there wasn’t that much time to get attached to Ned (who wasn’t that likable anyway) AND it’s Ned Stark’s death that sets off most of the events in the rest of the series. As far as Robb Stark’s death, well, Robb wasn’t even a POV character.

This isn’t the case with Jon Snow, who has been a POV character for the entire series, with the second most chapters in the books after only Tyrion Lannister, and who is central to numerous fan theories. Even if all of the fan theories and speculation are wrong, there’s an incredible amount of hinting and foreshadowing in both the books and the show that Jon is going to play a significant part in the future–which he can’t play in the show if he’s dead.

Even though all the evidence on the show and the statements to date from people involved in the production seem to say that Jon is dead and Kit Harington isn’t coming back, I have to say I don’t know how they can be serious. Certainly I hope they aren’t. Going into this episode I was about 95% not planning on watching the show in season six, but by the time Varys popped up in Meereen I was about 60% going to watch it. When I was finished, I was about 80% in for next season, but Jon Snow’s actual death could be a dealbreaker for me. Not because I like the character that much, but because I just don’t see how the story continues without him unless every single fan theory and speculation over twenty years of ASOIAF fandom and, for me, over seven years of personal participation and investment in the GoT/ASOIAF phenomenon is totally wrong.

I’m slowly coming to terms with the increasingly obvious fact that this show/book fandom is something I’m in for better or worse. If the last two seasons haven’t completely killed my love for it, I’m not sure what could–except the sort of complete betrayal that would be the permanent death of Jon Snow at this point.

Game of Thrones Recap: Season 5, Episode 9 “The Dance of Dragons”

Well, that happened. I was actually moderately excited about this episode for the Daznak’s Pit stuff, and even that was disappointing. “The Dance of Dragons” is just a big old mess of bafflingly terrible adaptational choices topped off with pretty clear evidence that they spent their whole effects budget on Hardhome last week.

Melisandre investigating the disturbance.

The episode opens in the North, with Melisandre hearing something happening outside her tent. As she walks outside and lifts a lantern to see into the night, men start yelling and fires start springing up all over the camp. In perhaps the coolest visual effect of the episode, a horse runs by actually on fire and screaming its head off, which is a horrifying sound and definitely adds to the sense of terror here. That said, it seems a little silly that this is the stuff that freaks Melisandre out. A woman who burns people alive for a living and who is one of the driving forces behind this war to begin with is this unsettled by stuff that is part of completely conventional warfare? Okay. Sure.

In the morning after this attack we find out that this was Ramsay Bolton’s plan being successful. Less than twenty men managed to sneak into Stannis Baratheon’s enormous encampment, completely undetected, and destroy all their food, supplies, and siege weapons. If they can do that successfully, why not just assassinate Stannis himself? Or Melisandre? Where did the Bolton men get their intelligence? How on earth, no matter how well they know the North, did they know exactly where to go in that camp to do the most damage? When all the tents basically look the same and everything is covered in snow? Like so many other things on this show these days, none of this makes much sense if you think about it at all.

Jon Snow returns from Hardhome.

Even farther north, north of the Wall, Jon Snow has returned with the relatively few Free Folk that he’s managed to retrieve from Hardhome. There’s an attempt to create a tense moment as Alliser Thorne glowers down disapprovingly from the top of the Wall, but there’s not really any point at which one seriously feels that he’s going to refuse. In a huge disaster of an episode, I did love this moment, even though I don’t think it was entirely successful as a piece of drama.

Ser Alliser will do his job, but he's not going to pretend to like it.
Ser Alliser will do his job, but he’s not going to pretend to like it.

Owen Teale as Ser Alliser really just knocks it out of the park in this episode, and I feel like he’s brought an interesting level of depth and sympathy to the character that never existed in the books, where Ser Alliser is only experienced through the point of views of characters to whom he acts as an antagonist. His thoughtful gaze as he watches the Wildlings from the top of the Wall communicates a lot about this character’s reaction to these events, and Alliser proves his loyalty (or maybe just his basic humanity) when he opens the gate to let them in. However, his last remarks–”You have a good heart, Jon Snow; it’ll get us all killed”–make his position more clear. Ser Alliser won’t leave children to starve in the snow; he’ll let them in, but he won’t be happy about it.

Back at Stannis’s camp, Stannis is sending Davos back to Castle Black to demand more horses and supplies. First Davos suggests that any boy with a scroll could deliver this message, but Stannis insists that it must be Davos. Then Davos offers to take Selyse and Shireen with him, then just Shireen (”A siege is no place for a little girl.”), but Stannis only responds that his family is staying with him. And holy shit, are they about to do what I think they are going to do? Of course they are.

The last happy moment in all of Game of Thrones, probably.
The last happy moment in all of Game of Thrones, probably.

But first, Davos goes to visit Shireen, and it breaks my heart that this is the last scene we’ll see between these two characters because their friendship is so sweet and good and one of the few nice things that happen in this show. As much as I love this scene because I love these characters, the lead-up to what’s about to happen to Shireen is so goddamn heavy-handedly done, I end up just feeling resentful about it. Because of course the show is going to give us this beautiful scene (and this season’s earlier nice scenes with Shireen), even though we probably all should have known she was doomed as soon as Stannis didn’t leave her at the Wall like he did in the books.

Ellaria does her part to keep things weird.
Ellaria does her part to keep things weird.

In Dorne, we get our first awkward family dinner with the Martells, and this is the first scene in Dorne that I haven’t completely hated. Probably because awkward family dinners are perhaps the single thing that this show does consistently well. Jaime is insolent, Ellaria pouts shamelessly and ends up flouncing off in a huff, Trystane looks beautiful, Myrcella is still in teenage rebellion, Doran is much slimier sounding than I envisioned him in the books, and Areo Hotah looks long-suffering. Looks like Myrcella is going back to King’s Landing after all, but with Trystane in tow to take Oberyn’s place on the Small Council. And Bronn will be released back to Jaie.

Cute couple.
Cute couple. I look forward to awkward family dinners in King’s Landing with these two.

I kind of hate this, actually–I did only say I didn’t completely hate this scene. In the books, it’s Lady Nym who is sent to King’s Landing with Tyene accompanying her, and this is after their plot to crown Myrcella queen has been foiled and Doran has brought them into his plot. It’s bad enough that the show decided to omit Arianne Martell altogether, and it’s obnoxious what they’ve done with Ellaria–they’ve characterized her (and the Sand Snakes) as unreasonable, stupid, and ineffectual to boot–but replacing the Sand Snakes’ trip to King’s Landing with sending Trystane? This is just ridiculous. Not only did we not get a major female character from the books, but the group of women we did get are being sidelined from their own story in a way that will basically leave them with nothing to do.

Why did the show even bother to include the Sand Snakes and the trip to Dorne at all if this is how they were going to handle it? They could have just as well had Doran send a letter saying “Hey, I’m sending your daughter home, but here’s my son and the betrothal is still on.” If a full season full of “story” can be done equally effectively by just sending a raven, there’s a big problem.

My expression through this whole scene.
My expression through this whole scene.

But wait, it gets worse! Because, goodness knows, we have to head off to Doran’s dungeons now, where Bronn is listening to the Sand Snakes playing some kind of game that sounds like 50 Shades of Grey. Apparently, the game is for Nym to try and slap Tyene’s hands, which she is holding completely stationary so Tyene gets slapped again and again while Nym taunts her all sexy-like about how Tyene likes humiliation and pain. It’s gross and unnecessary, and just as they are about to get into a sexy girl fight, Areo Hotah shows up to spoil their fun by glaring disapprovingly at them. As Bronn is released, Tyene wants him to tell her again that she’s the most beautiful woman in the world, and Obara stops sulking just long enough to call her sister a slut. Because D&D will never miss a chance to demean women as much as possible, and for some reason they really hate the Sand Snakes. Bronn is turned over to Jaime, but not before Areo Hotah elbows him in the face–Trystane’s condition for Bronn’s release, apparently.

Street harassment really adds to the "realism" of things, I guess?
Street harassment really adds to the “realism” of things, I guess?

Speaking of demeaning women, we next move along to Braavos, where Arya is verbally assaulted by some gross dude without seconds of appearing on screen. I was kind of enjoying the wider shot of the docks and was planning on saying something nice about how seeing these broader views of the setting helps make the world of the show feel more real. But then I got this lovely reminder that even in fantasy worlds women can’t escape disgusting men who feel the need to harass them on the street for no reason whatsoever besides being a random act of sexual aggression towards a character who is supposed to still be a very young teenager.

Ser Meryn Trant in Braavos.

Arya is doing her rounds and getting ready to spy on the thin man that she’s supposed to kill when she recognizes Ser Meryn Trant, who has just arrived in Braavos with Mace Tyrell. For all that Arya is supposed to have made some real progress this season, she basically immediately abandons her true mission in order to pursue her vendetta against Ser Meryn.

Mace Tyrell is a bloviating windbag, and not even in a particularly entertaining way as he attempts to schmooze with the banker, Tycho Nestoris. I thought I would be more excited to see Mark Gatiss back, but I just found myself bored with these scenes. It’s pretty much just Tyrell blustering (and singing, ugh), Nestoris smirking, and Trant looking around suspiciously and almost recognizing Arya like five times.

Eventually, Arya follows Trant to a brothel, where we get another disgusting scene of female degradation as prostitutes are trotted out one after another for Trant’s inspection only to be deemed “too old” over and over again. Finally, he’s brought a literal child to brutalize, and Arya is finally shooed out of the brothel. This scene is actually really weird to be because the madam who is showing the girls to Trant seems so reluctant to bring him such a young girl, but does it anyway. And her removal of Arya from the place seems motivated at least partly by concern for Arya’s safety or virtue in such a place. If this woman has such scruples, why cater to a piece of trash pedophile in the first place? And, if this woman is concerned for Arya, then how is Arya going to convince her to allow Arya near Trant the next night, since I’m assuming that’s where this is going? It just doesn’t make much sense.

My face through all of this shit.

Also, it makes me sick that Arya’s character is even being used this way. I suppose we can be glad that Maisie Williams was only seventeen during filming for this season, so we probably won’t see her get actually raped or anything, but it’s truly reprehensible how Benioff and Weiss seem so determined to expose the Stark girls to sexual violence.

Who needs dignity, anyway?
Who needs dignity, anyway?

Back in Dorne, Ellaria has to swallow all of her rage and pride and reswear her fealty to Prince Doran because her “rebellion is over.” Which is pretty laughable, really. One half-baked bungled plan to capture Myrcella isn’t exactly a rebellion. Honestly, it just feels like a putting of Ellaria and the Sand Snakes back in their place, whatever that is, since it certainly isn’t what it was in the books. And as much as I’ve hated what has been done with Ellaria’s character this season, I think this moment is the thing I hated the most. The writers have made her irrational, cruel, and stupid, and now they make her abase herself before a man she disagrees with and who has threatened to just kill her (multiple times just in this episode) if she doesn’t submit to his authority. And they do this while the Sand Snakes are forced to look on meekly.

For fuck's sake. This just feels disproportionately humiliating.
For fuck’s sake. This just feels disproportionately humiliating.

Systematic disempowerment of women seems to be a running theme this season, and this definitely plays on that. Even worse, it’s incredibly disappointing to me as a book reader. Ellaria Sand, the Sand Snakes, and Arianne Martell were, in the books, a diverse and interesting group of women with ideas and plans and opinions of their own that didn’t always agree even with each other. In the show, they’ve been reduced to a group of sexy caricatures of Strong Female Characters.

That frown on Obara doesn't make this any less depressing.
That frown on Obara doesn’t make this any less depressing.

They’ve accomplished nothing at all, and the most significant development in their storyline from the books has been given to Trystane.

After her humiliation in front of Doran, Ellaria goes to speak with Jaime to let him know that she knows about him and Cersei. I actually kind of like this, as it shows Ellaria being emotionally intelligent and empathetic (even though there’s no good reason why she would be kind to Jaime at this point), as well as insightful. I felt like there was a sort of veiled threat at the end of her speech, but it was so veiled I’m not sure it was actually a threat. It’s another weird scene that doesn’t really seem to fit with anything else that has happened in the season.

Oh, for fuck's sake, again. Could you beat us over the head with this any harder?
Oh, for fuck’s sake, again. Could you beat us over the head with this any harder?

Back in the North, Shireen is playing with the toy stag Davos gave her earlier when Stannis pops in to speak with her. Because this show is fucking terrible they write this scene so that Shireen practically absolves Stannis of what he’s about to do to her. Because, you see, she wants to help her dad. She’s practically signed herself up for being burned at the stake–which is exactly what happens next, in what is hands down the most horrible thing I’ve ever seen on this show.

This is the worst thing I think the show has ever done to a character yet.
This is the worst thing I think the show has ever done to a character yet.

Still carrying her new toy, Shireen is marched to the stake between four armed guards, down a gauntlet of mostly horrified-looking men on either side, and it’s clear that she has no idea what is going on. Then she sees the stake, and Melisandre steps into her line of sight, and she knows. The next couple minutes are nothing but Shireen’s increasingly panicked screams for her father and mother and her pleas for them to save her. It’s actually Selyse who breaks in the end and wants to stop it, but it’s too late. Stannis holds his wife back, and by the time she fights her way free of him and through the crowd around the stake, Shireen has stopped screaming words at all.

The worst.
The worst.

Even knowing that this was coming, because I googled the episode before I watched it, I still couldn’t quite believe they really did it. Stannis’s love for his daughter in the books is really part of the core of who he is, and this is basically the one thing he’s absolutely unwilling to do in order to win. He’d have sacrificed Aemon Targaryen, and he’d have sacrificed Mance Rayder’s baby, but he won’t sacrifice Shireen. It’s really one of book!Stannis’s few redeeming characteristics, and this has been true on the show as well, to the point that Stannis has been a fan favorite character pretty much since he was introduced on the show. Shireen is an actual child, and her sweetness and kindness and her friendship with Davos have led to some of the show’s best scenes in the last couple of seasons, again creating a character who is beloved by fans.

The absolute fucking worst.
The absolute fucking worst.

To have Stannis sacrifice Shireen like this is just a piss poor decision on the part of the show runners, and it doesn’t even quite make sense. It’s implied that it has something to do with helping Stannis be successful and keeping the troops alive, but it’s not really clear exactly what Shireen’s sacrifice is supposed to accomplish. Melisandre’s magic, such as it is, has never been that well defined in the show or the books, and the only true magic that it’s confirmed she can do is birthing the shadow baby assassins. By this point in the books, it’s even confirmed that her visions aren’t particularly accurate and are very tricky for her to interpret, so the burning sacrifices she makes to her god are of debatable use other than as a way of disposing of inconvenient people and putting on a terrifyingly impressive show for people who are impressed by that sort of thing.

All it has accomplished here is to make Stannis such a thoroughly dislikeable character that I don’t see how anyone will like him ever again. It may even be a sign that Stannis’s own days are very numbered. We know that he’s about to engage in a sizable battle, and we know that he’s been on a collision course with Brienne of Tarth, who wants to avenge Renly’s murder. It could be that next week’s episode, or perhaps the first episode or two of season six, will see the end of Stannis Baratheon. I imagine this would send Melisandre scuttling back to Castle Black, putting her in place to be handy when Jon Snow gets attacked by his own men and needs to be resurrected. Then again, all this would start to make a little sense then, and sense-making has not been Game of Thrones’ forte this season so I’m not getting my hopes up.

The wall of Daznak's Pit.
The wall of Daznak’s Pit.

Similar to last week’s episode, “The Dance of Dragons” ends with a long segment in a single location. This time, it’s about seventeen minutes in Daznak’s Pit, something that I’ve been looking forward to all season because getting to see dragons eat people is one of the very, very few truly pleasurable things about watching this show anymore. I’m sad to say that this scene didn’t at all live up to my expectations, and when Daenerys finally flies away on Drogon it reminds me of nothing more than the last scenes of The Neverending Story.

The Pit from above.
The Pit from above.

The aerial views of the Pit are kind of cool and initially give a sense of grandness and scale to the events, but the smallness of Daenerys’s court undoes a lot of that effect. This is something that has been a problem on the show in both Meereen and King’s Landing, to be honest. The books have literally hundreds of characters, and the various royal courts are full to the brim with colorful personalities who make these places seem alive.

This just looks so empty.
This just looks so empty.

Daenerys’s court, such as it is, now consists of Hizdahr zo Loraq, Missandei, Daario Naharis, and Tyrion, and these folks don’t even fill up a small platform at the Pit. It’s just not very impressive, and it’s times like these that the world of the show feels very empty–no matter how big a crowd they manage to composite in to a giant stadium.

Jorah wins his fight.
Jorah wins his fight.

The actual gladiator matches were fairly well done, although Jorah’s fight does end up dragging on just long enough to start to be silly. The main event, though, is when the Sons of the Harpy attack, which is another significant departure from the books that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense the way the show has presented it. In A Dance With Dragons, Daenerys’s marriage to Hizdahr is contingent upon the curtailing of the Sons of the Harpy, and as soon as she agrees to the marriage and to reopening the pits, the Sons are mysteriously controlled. It’s pretty certain that if Hizdahr isn’t their leader himself, he’s at least up to his neck in the whole business.

Whoops for Hizdahr zo Loraq.
Whoops for Hizdahr zo Loraq.

In the show, however, the Sons of the Harpy have been a lot more ambiguous in their goals. It’s been kind of stated that they are people who want to return Meereen to Meereenese rule and bring back slavery, but even that is mostly conjecture, as the issue just hasn’t been dealt with all that well. With their attack at the Pit, the Sons of the Harpy now make a lot less sense. In this episode, they seem to be killing pretty indiscriminately, just slaughtering people in the stands. They even kill Hizdahr, which seems to suggest that they aren’t his people–even though Hizdahr was running late and sort of ominously said he was making sure everything was ready. So, basically, the political situation in Meereen–which was deep and nuanced and fascinating in the books–is a mess on the show, and it manages to be both overly simplistic and completely confusing.

Daenerys face to face with Drogon.
Daenerys face to face with Drogon.

None of this is helped, either, by Daenerys flying off on Drogon at the end of the episode. It does kind of inexplicably end all the fighting, which we notice in the last shot of the episode, which focuses on the stunned faces of Tyrion, Daario, Jorah, and Missandei, who are all just standing in the middle of the Pit, not doing anything.

Welp, that happened.
Welp, that happened.

The worst thing about Daenerys flying off, however, is how truly terrible the special effects are here. It’s really, truly poorly done, and it turns what should be one of the most amazing and empowering moments of the season into a moment of silliness.

All in all, “A Dance of Dragons” just another letdown in a season of letdowns. It veers wildly between being offensive and being offensively badly written, and the adaptational choices of the show runners just become increasingly ill-conceived the more they diverge from the source material.

**plays the theme from The Neverending Story"
**plays the theme from The Neverending Story”*

Game of Thrones Recap: Season 5, Episode 8 “Hardhome”

Well, only one kind of horrible thing happened in this episode, and no one got raped (or even attempted raped), which is nice. Lots of story happens, but it didn’t feel nearly as rushed as last week’s episode, which chewed through probably a thousand pages of source material in an hour and didn’t do 95% of it justice. This week’s episode moves at a much more reasonable pace and is probably the strongest episode of the season so far (for what it’s worth, which isn’t much in this turd of a season).

Tyrion and Jorah before the queen.
Tyrion and Jorah before the queen.

In Meereen, Tyrion gets a proper interview with Daenerys, who isn’t entirely sure what to do with him. Jorah, on the other hand, she tells to shut up, so he just stands around looking sad. Tyrion tells Daenerys the story of her own life, as he’s observed it, and says he thought it was at least worth meeting her. Why is he worth meeting, though, she wants to know. He offers himself as an adviser, telling Daenerys that she can’t hope to make a better world all by herself.

Daenerys seeks Tyrion's advice on what to do with Jorah.
Daenerys seeks Tyrion’s advice on what to do with Jorah.

The first piece of advice she wants is what Tyrion thinks she ought to do with Jorah. Tyrion gives a touching speech about Jorah’s devotion to Daenerys, but he can’t or won’t advise Daenerys to keep Jorah around. I’m not entirely sure if Tyrion is maneuvering here, to secure his own position with Daenerys, or if he sincerely believes his advice to her, and I’m also not sure if he is being kind or cruel to Jorah. However, I really did enjoy the scene. After the mess that has been the Tyrion and Jorah show the last couple of episodes, it’s nice to see it pay off.

This also gives Emilia Clarke some time to shine in her role as Daenerys. I’ve always felt her portrayal tended to be a bit wooden and soulless, but she was excellent here, and I thought she did a wonderful job of conveying her conflicted feelings of anger and pain and love and hatred about Jorah. Additionally, she’s so far managed not to say anything embarrassingly horrible to Tyrion, which gives me some hope that the writers are moving away from obnoxiously self-righteous and possibly insane Dany and towards a more sympathetic and sensible characterization of her.

Jorah should definitely stop picking at this.
Jorah should definitely stop picking at this.

Ser Jorah is escorted from the city, though he doesn’t complain or struggle. He just looks back sadly, then checks to make sure his greyscale is still there (it is) and then goes on his way.

Septa Unella

In King’s Landing, Cersei’s fortunes have taken a decided turn for the worse. She’s in a cell that is even darker and danker then Margaery’s, and her only visitor so far is a tall, grumpy-looking septa who alternates between telling Cersei to confess and beating Cersei for saying anything that’s not a confession. To be fair, the things Cersei has to say seem to be requests to see her son and threats against the septa’s life, so I can kind of see why the septa may not take very kindly to her.

Arya overhears the thin man.
Arya overhears the thin man.

Meanwhile, in Braavos, Arya has become “Lanna,” a girl who sells oysters near the dock. Jaqen H’Ghar instructs her to start taking a different path than what she usually takes and to watch the docks and report back with her observations. In her rounds, she observes an insurance salesman–a “gambler” Jaqen explains–who has, apparently, refused to pay the family of a man who died. This man, “the thin man” as Jaqen calls him, is to be Arya’s first assignment as a servant of the Many-faced God. As Arya leaves, smiling, the waif approaches Jaqen to object–Arya isn’t ready, she says–but Jaqen just replies that, even so, “it’s all the same to the Many-faced God,” whatever that means.

The gift of the Many-faced God.

This is the first time Arya’s storyline hasn’t bored me this season, and it’s especially nice to see some more of Braavos, even if it is just the harbor areas that we’ve already seen before. I love the new costume, and it’s nice to see Maisie William’s face when it’s not covered in dirt or obscured by gloom. I think we also get to see her smile more in this episode than we have since the first episode of season one, and it makes me happy to see one of the Starks having even a fleeting moment of happiness at this point.

Qyburn in Cersei’s cell.

Back in King’s Landing, Qyburn comes to visit Cersei, and we finally get to hear the list of charges against her: fornication, treason, incest, and the murder of King Robert. “All lies,” Cersei says, and Qyburn doesn’t disagree–he may be Cersei’s only true ally in the world.

Otherwise, however, things couldn’t be much worse for Cersei. Qyburn’s concern is that the Faith’s standard of proof is very different than the Crown’s–his line, ”belief is so often the death of reason,” is no doubt going to turn Qyburn into a New Atheist icon, which is great. There’s seldom another group of people on whom irony is so often completely wasted. There has been no word of Jaime, Tommen has withdrawn to his chambers and isn’t eating, her uncle Kevan Lannister has taken over as Hand of the King, and no one else is coming to see Cersei before her trial.

Qyburn actually advises Cersei to confess, but she rejects this idea vehemently. There’s no way she will confess to the High Sparrow. When the septa–I’m going to say it’s Septa Unella from the books–returns, Qyburn takes his leave of Cersei. “The work continues” are his parting words, in case anyone has forgotten that he’s basically Frankenstein. I really, really love Qyburn on the show. He’s the most sinister kindly old grandpa sort of guy imaginable, and every one of his lines is delivered in a weirdly nice-sounding voice. There aren’t many things that I’d say the show has done perfectly, but I think the way they’ve cast and written Qyburn is one of them.

Sansa confronts Theon.
Sansa confronts Theon.

Up at Winterfell, Sansa is pretty murderously furious at Theon after last week’s betrayal. I hate that Sansa being impotently angry and menacing Theon is apparently what passes for female empowerment on this show now, but it’s nice to see her looking a bit more put together. In any case, she manages to berate Theon until he lets it slip that he never killed her little brothers, Bran and Rickon, although he flees the room before she can make him tell her anything else.

Elsewhere in the castle, the Boltons are discussing battle plans, which might explain why Sansa‘s looking somewhat better. Ramsay is too busy planning some colossally stupid act of military jackassery to rape and beat her. His father, Roose Bolton, is of the opinion that they’d best just sit tight in Winterfell, where they have provisions for six months and they can just watch from the walls while Stannis’s army dies in the snow. Ramsay wants to lead some kind of no doubt terribly conceived (and, knowing this show, terribly anticlimactic) attack that he says he only needs twenty men for.

Tyrion's posture is atrocious.
Tyrion’s posture is atrocious.

Back in Meereen, Tyrion and Daenerys are having a meal together, although it looks like it’s mostly wine. This long discussion is possibly the greatest highlight of the season so far, and again Emilia Clarke is at her best. Stiff and self-righteous and slightly mad-seeming works here Daenerys lets Tyrion in on her plan, such as it is. After Tyrion tells more of his story (although he demurs on the subject of why he killed his father), commiserates with Daenerys over being the terrible child of a terrible man, considers what is the “right kind of terrible,” and extolls the virtues of Varys, he points out that Daenerys would have a hell of a time taking Westeros with just the support of the common people–if she could even get that support. The Tyrells might be swayed to her cause, but they wouldn’t be enough. Daenerys replies with the “wheel” speech we heard in early trailers for the season. While I like it, and it sounds good, it’s not exactly a real plan if you think about it for more than a couple of seconds. That said, of all the many self-righteously tone-deaf motivational speeches that have come out of Daenerys’s mouth, this one is the best.

Outside the city, Jorah has decided to go back to the guy who bought him last week. Because, somehow, he has decided that the way to get back to Daenerys is by participating in the fighting pits that she reopened much against her will. Right. A+ thinking there, Jorah. I have a feeling it’ll be too much to hope that he ends up dragon food, though.

Cersei is getting towards the end of her rope.
Cersei is getting towards the end of her rope.

Once more in Cersei’s cell, Septa Unella has returned again with water and the command to confess. Cersei starts with bargaining but quickly turns to threats, which leads to the Septa dumping a ladle of water on the floor and walking out. Lips cracked and bleeding and seemingly starting to be a little delirious, our last image of Cersei this week is her lapping water off a filthy stone floor.

Something about this kid really reminds me of that asshole kid Warren in Empire Records.
Something about this kid really reminds me of that asshole kid Warren in Empire Records.

The front half of the episode ends at Castle Black. Gilly is tending to Sam’s wounds from the beating he received last week when Olly pops in to bring Sam some food and ask a question. The boy wants to know why Jon Snow would want to save the Wildlings, so we’re treated to another iteration of the “Wildlings are people, too” speech. There’s not a lot of new ground being covered here, although Sam might have just pre-absolved Olly of (attempted?) murdering Jon Snow later on if things go down on the show like the do at the end of A Dance With Dragons.

I’ve been saying that I might be done with the show after this season, but I’m starting to think that if anything can bring me back it’s the thought of seeing all the doubters and assholes at the Wall facing down ice zombies. Jon Snow is one of my least favorite characters in the books, but he’s one hundred percent right on the issue of the Wildlings and the zombies.

Speaking of Wildlings and zombies, the back half of the episode is all Hardhome. It’s a really enjoyable bit of horror action, but it’s nonsensical once you look past the spectacle of it.

Crossing to Hardhome.

First up are some long shots of Jon Snow and company sailing into the small harbor that are a little too reminiscent of Washington crossing the Delaware for me to take entirely seriously. There’s really only so much of Jon Snow’s glorious hair blowing in the breeze that I can deal with, and this goes over my limit.


As Jon, Tormund, and company stride into Hardhome, they are surprisingly not killed on sight, but the first person they meet is Rattleshirt, who has some of the most badass armor in the series. Rattleshirt calls Tormund a traitor, tosses in a homophobic accusation about Tormund’s relationship with Jon Snow, and quickly gets his head beaten in by Tormund. This felt like a small anticlimax to me. Rattleshirt was a minor character in the books, but I’ve always felt like his presence loomed large. It’s kind of a bummer to see him go down so easily and quickly here.


It’s on to a sort or council of Wildling elders, though, for some talking. It’s here that we’re introduced to a new character, whose name I don’t think is mentioned in the episode, but she’s credited as Karsi. She’s the chieftain of one of the Wildling clans, and it’s nice to see the show finally recognize that Ygritte isn’t the only Wildling woman ever, even if it’s only for one episode. Karsi is a voice of reason in Jon Snow’s discussion with the Wildlings, and it’s largely to her that we owe the eventual decision for at least some of the Free Folk to move south of the Wall. Notably, a Thenn leader disagrees, and some others also seem to side with him.

The harbor.
The harbor.

As Free Folk are being loaded onto boats to be ferried to larger ships offshore, Jon Snow frets that they are leaving too many behind. Tormund philosophically reminds him that, though it took Mance years to unite the Free Folk, they’ll soon change their mind when they realize they’re running out of food.

Meanwhile, Karsi is saying goodbye to her daughters, who she is putting on a boat to leave while she stays behind to help organize the exodus. I love this character, but I hate how heavy-handedly the show telegraphs what is going to happen to her in just a few minutes.

Wun Wun.
Wun Wun.

Back in the building where the elders were talking, Dolorous Edd is marveling at the giant, Wun Wun, and I’m so pleased they subtitled Wun Wun speaking in the old language. The moment is interrupted, though, when the dogs outside start barking.

The snow outside starts to thicken, there are some weird noises, and then people start screaming outside the walls of the village. The young Thenn leader who didn’t want to follow Jon Snow yells for the gates to be closed, which locks hundreds of people (at least) outside. For a little while, people are still yelling and beating at the gates, but there’s more snow and more swirling noises and then just dead (get it?!) silence. When the Thenn peeks through the gate, all he can see is some vague shadows moving in the snow, and then a skeletal hand shoots through the wood and almost gets him in the face.

Because everyone outside is now zombies. And they still want in.

Next up is twenty minutes of chaos with most people desperately trying to get to the boats, some people running to fight, and just zombies and white walkers everywhere. It’s honestly incredible to watch, and it’s one of the best-filmed fantasy fight scenes I’ve ever seen.

A White Walker.
A White Walker.

What I liked about it:

  • Wun Wun. I love the way the show does its giants. They look amazing, and it’s really awesome to see one in action like this.
  • The reveal that Valyrian steel will also kill the white walkers. Very nicely done.
  • The look of the zombies. I know they aren’t really zombies, and it doesn’t make a ton of sense how many of them come back as basically skeletons, but it looks cool as shit.
  • The white walkers up on the cliff on horseback, looking like the four horsemen of the apocalypse. Kind of cheesy, almost too on the nose, but this actually worked for me.
  • The Night’s King standing on the dock at the end, just staring right at Jon Snow while raising up a whole new army of the dead.

    The Nights King
    Are  you not entertained?
  • The overall frantic pace of it. It sure didn’t feel like twenty minutes had gone by, and when the credits started rolling I felt like I could have watched another twenty minutes like this.

I have a few problems with it, though:

  • It didn’t look or sound like the people outside got killed by zombies. It looked like they just got covered in snow, went silent, and then came back as murderous undead.
  • If people can be made into zombies like this, why would a gate stop the magic?
  • Especially with several white walkers and the Night’s King himself up on the cliff above the town. Couldn’t they just zombiefy everyone from up there?
  • Too many bows and arrows. This is another thing that looks really cool, but anyone who’s ever played Dungeons & Dragons knows that you use bludgeoning damage against undead.
  • Not enough fire. These people burn their bodies to avoid becoming zombies. They know that fire will hurt them. Why is literally no one using fire until Wun Wun picks up that flaming log right at the end?
  • On the note of fire, that white walker that Jon fights seems awful comfortable for a guy made out of ice who is inside a burning building.

The Worst Thing

Why did they have to kill Karsi? And why did they have to kill her the way they did?

First off, in the books the Free Folk are fairly egalitarian. While not entirely free of sexism, they definitely treat women a lot better than in most places in the rest of the world. However, the show has failed over and over again to communicate this to viewers, and to this point the only wildling women we’ve seen have been Ygritte and Craster’s wives (including Gilly). Finally, the show includes a wildling woman as a leader of her people, and she gets less than half an hour of screen time before dying.

Karsi killing the shit out of zombies.
Karsi killing the shit out of zombies.

And Karsi is really wonderful. She’s funny and smart and a warrior, but she’s also a mother of two daughters and a responsible leader who is instrumental in making Jon Snow’s plan work to the degree that it does at all. All of this adds up to the makings of a really great character, but then she gets killed off.

This is not the face of a woman who is going to survive to the end of the episode.

And the way Karsi is killed is bullshit. People are fighting zombies everywhere. She herself is chopping them down left and right. Until she sees a bunch of little kid zombies. And she’s not even scared, exactly. Rather, she just looks heartbroken, and then she just stands there while the little kid zombies run over and kill her.

Seriously, this is really fucking scary. And not just for women.
Seriously, this is really fucking scary. And not just for women.

The thing is, I feel like this could just be a totally human reaction to seeing a bunch of children turned into evil zombies. I get it. It’s traumatizing. But they make so much of Karsi being a mother herself, they really play up her goodbye to her daughters, and then this is the thing that makes her lose her will to live so she can get back to her own children? And of course there are no men being similarly disarmed by the child zombies. Just Karsi. Because of course a woman would die like this.

Who wants to bet on whether we ever see her daughters again or if the show writers consider them just as disposable as their mothers?

Game of Thrones Recap: Season 5, Episode 7 “The Gift”

Well, that could have been worse. A couple of interesting things happened in this episode, they skipped Arya (which is a nice break from that snoozefest), and a couple of plots moved along nicely, but there was another incident of gratuitous (though not particularly graphic) sexual violence, some truly nonsensical stuff happening in Dorne, and Sansa actually manages to end this episode worse off than she begins it. A mixed bag is still better than last week’s shit sandwich, though.

Ser Alliser does not approve.

I expected “The Gift” to start right back at Winterfell, but it doesn’t. Instead, we begin at Castle Black where Jon Snow, a few loyal friends, and Tormund Giantsbane are departing for Hardhome. Alliser Thorne still thinks it’s a terrible idea, and Olly is angrily pouting at Jon the whole time as well.

Sam, at least, is sad to see Jon go, and he sends Jon off with a bag of dragon glass daggers and a hope that they won’t be necessary. Seeing these props in the light of what passes for day up at the Wall, I don’t think I like them. They’re supposed to be obsidian, which is a common material and well-known, but these look like they are made of smoky gray plastic–which I imagine they actually are. It’s a tiny thing, I suppose, but they don’t look real at all, which is distracting.

Meanwhile, Maester Aemon is not doing well. He’s not quite wandering in time, but he’s very weak, and he seems lost in reminisces of his youth. In a moment of clarity and presence, though, he warns Gilly to take her baby south “before it’s too late.”

vlcsnap-2015-05-25-11h54m24s47We do make it to Winterfell early in the episode, at least, but Sansa isn’t doing well. As Theon brings her some food, we see her curled up in bed sobbing. When she stands up, she’s pale, tear-streaked, and covered in bruises. However, she doesn’t seem broken, just desperate as she begs Theon to help her. This is the scene that was teased in the trailer for this episode, and I had some hope that it might mean the writers weren’t going to completely screw Sansa over. However, instead of helping Sansa, Theon goes straight to Ramsay and rats her out. Before we leave Winterfell, we see Brienne of Tarth still watching from outside the keep as the tower stays dark.

Brienne has nothing to do yet, but she looks ready.

While I’m more than a little frustrated with how this is going, there are some things I like about it. It’s nice to see Sansa being a little more forceful, and it’s nice to see them making some use of Sophie Turner’s imposing physique. She’s a strapping girl and can be physically intimidating when she wants to be, although she doesn’t quite match the stature of Gwendoline Christie. For the majority of the show, Sansa has been very passive, and her body language and actions have all backed up that perception of passivity, so I kind of like that we’ve gotten to see her do quite a lot more this season. That said, I’m not sure I trust the intentions of the writers, either, and I have a feeling that they are mistaking the appearance of physical power and strength for agency. When Sansa stops Theon from leaving her room and stands over him to make him listen to her, it feels like the writers and directors are trying to make us feel girl power where, really, there’s a desperate, abused woman with very few options.

Maester Aemon’s funeral pyre.

Back at Castle Black, Maester Aemon dies what is perhaps the first natural death in the history of the show. I’m not sure exactly what could have been done better here, but I just didn’t have that many feelings about it. The severe truncation of the various Castle Black plots versus what was in the books has, I think, led to a sort of general glossing over of basically everything that is important. I think I just haven’t seen Maester Aemon enough on the show, especially in the last couple of seasons, to really get too broken up over his death. Which is too bad, because Aemon’s death in the books is really, really sad. On the show the sadness is also cut short by Alliser Thorne’s apparent need to menace Sam literally during Aemon’s funeral.

Sansa always looks her best when she’s subtly mocking evil manchildren.

Later, at Winterfell, Ramsay has Sansa come out to walk around the castle with him while he explains all their defenses. You know, as supervillains do when they think the hero is really trapped. Because, obviously, spilling all your plans to your enemies always works out well. A+ job, Ramsay. As they walk, Sansa picks up some kind of sharp pointy thing off a worktable, and then she starts in on the same kind of passive aggressive commentary that she had some success manipulating Joffrey with, and which seems to get under Ramsay’s skin as well. Ramsay does manage to control his anger, although he lets slip that Jon Snow, Sansa’s half-brother, is now Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch–another big failure on Ramsay’s part to keep pertinent info away from the woman he apparently beats and rapes on a nightly basis. It also turns out that the real reason Ramsay wanted Sansa to walk with him is so he can show her the flayed corpse of the nice old lady Sansa met when she first returned to Winterfell.

I really have mixed feelings about the Sansa stuff in this episode. On the one hand, I’m not sure how I feel about the way they are portraying Ramsay’s sustained abuse, and I feel like the writers are really trying to get us to believe that this is all somehow part of Sansa’s plan, which completely disregards how few options the character has actually had so far. On the other hand, I think that Sansa and Ramsay’s interaction in this episode was really compelling, and I thought they did a really nice job of capturing Sansa’s own mixed feelings about her situation as well as showing that even though things are pretty dire for her right now, she’s still an intelligent and resourceful person. That said, I also feel like they’re showing Ramsay to be so stupid that he couldn’t organize a secret trip to the bathroom, much less run a castle during a war, so even if Sansa does somehow triumph here it’s not exactly some great achievement? It’s not that hard to outwit someone who is constantly feeding you all the information you need to outwit them and who is so lax in their supervision of you that you can easily arm yourself with sharp objects that are just laying around in plain sight.

Anyway. I didn’t hate the Winterfell scenes in “The Gift,” but I’m also not completely sold on the way things are going. Like some of the other story lines in the show, I feel like this one is suffering from being dumbed down so much that a not particularly clever dog could see its plot twists coming from a mile away. Still better than last week’s Winterfell scenes, though.

Winter is coming all over Team Stannis.

Somewhere between Winterfell and the Wall, Team Stannis is bogged down in snow already. They’re losing dozens of horses every day, there are sick men in the camp, and a group of five hundred mercenaries have deserted in the night. Davos advises that they should turn back to Castle Black and wait out the winter there, but Stannis is determined to press on to Winterfell. After Davos leaves, Stannis turns to Melisandre for reassurance, which she gives. However, she also has a recommendation: sacrifice Shireen in order to ensure their victory in the upcoming battle. This is Stannis’s hard limit, though, at least right now, and he actually sends Melisandre away because he’s that upset by her suggestion.

I honestly feel worried when even Melisandre looks desperately afraid.

I liked the scene a lot, but I’m really curious to see where Team Stannis is going. I think it’s actually unlikely that we will see the battle in the snow before next season, as I feel like there’s still a lot of ground to cover in the next three episodes of season five. I also think it’s unlikely that Stannis will actually give in and sacrifice his daughter, as that would make him so monstrous that I’m not sure anyone would want to watch him at all anymore. Stannis’s greatest strength on the show has always been that he’s a sensible man with a pretty strong and steady moral compass, and him sacrificing his daughter would be incredibly out of character. What does seem likely is that Jon Snow will be “killed” at the end of this season as he was at the end of A Dance With Dragons, and some popular fan theories require that Melisandre is there when that happens. My best guess at that the conflict over Shireen is going to break up Stannis and Melisandre and she will go back to the Wall by herself before the end of this season.

Back at Castle Black, again, we get a nice bit of absolutely gratuitous and nonsensical sexual violence, apparently as a reason for Gilly to pity fuck Sam. This is the part of last night’s episode that made me angry when I saw it and angrier the more I think about it. Basically, Gilly is moving some wet blobs of cloth around like she’s an extra in Monty Python and the Holy Grail when a couple of Night’s Watch guys come in and start harassing her, pretty obviously with the intention of raping her. She’s unarmed and alone with them, and when she resists they get physically violent with her. Then Sam comes in and tries to rescue her, but the other two men just beat the shit out of him. He manages to stand up and threaten them again, and then Jon Snow’s dire wolf, Ghost, pops in to scare the rapists away. Later, while Gilly is tending to Sam’s beaten up face, she straddles him and they do it. I pretty much hate everything about this whole bit, because:

  1. We already know that Gilly is not exactly safe at Castle Black. She’s been sent away once (to Mole’s Town) and just in this episode Maester Aemon warned her to take the baby and go. There’s really no need to reiterate that again.
  2. We know that Sam’s position is precarious and that he’s not really capable of physically protecting Gilly on his own. Even in this episode, we’ve seen Alliser Thorne threaten Sam, and we’ve also seen the other men of the Watch stare at Sam like they want to kill him (again, in this very episode). This was not new information that we needed to have shown to us.
  3. While Sam’s refusal to back down from the fight could be considered to show some character growth on his part, this could have been shown in some other way than having Gilly almost raped. Again on this show a woman is subjected to sexual violence in service of a man’s story. Why not just have Sam harassed and attacked on his own and then go to Gilly for treatment afterwards?
  4. If they really wanted these two characters to have sex, why not just have them driven together by their shared grief for Maester Aemon? This would have been more true to the spirit of how things went down in the books, and it could have been a genuinely sweet and romantic moment that was untainted by the specter of rape that the show’s writers seem to want to keep hanging over their female characters.
  5. vlcsnap-2015-05-25-19h16m06s115
    Plot convenience wolf! And it’s not even a good plot.

    Finally, where did Ghost even come from? What is the point of Jon Snow having a wolf at all if the thing only shows up as plot convenience demands? I mean, a huge white wolf looks pretty cool, but the show seems to use Ghost in only the silliest possible ways.

  6. Oh, and ALSO Sam is like “I don’t know what [those attempted rape guys] would have done.” Really? REALLY. This sort of danger has literally only been talked about ever since the first time Gilly arrived at Castle Black, but okay.

A scene that in the book was about mutual love, shared grief, and healing (especially for Gilly, for whom this is her first consensual sexual experience) becomes something very different on screen, and it’s very disappointing.

On the other side of the world, Jorah and Tyrion are being sold at a slave auction actually in sight of the walls of Meereen. Tyrion manages to get himself bought by the same man who buys Jorah, and they are led off to their new life.

Daario is really harshing on Dany’s mellow.

Within Meereen, Daenerys is busy enjoying herself with Daario, who is full of advice. First he suggests that the Sons of the Harpy have only stopped their attacks (apparently that has happened) because Dany is marrying their leader. Then he tells Daenerys that she should marry him instead of Hizdahr, and he seems a little hurt when she says that she has no choice. He insists that everyone has a choice, but she disagrees. His final bit of advice is to round up all of the masters and slaughter them, but she rejects this as well–she’s a queen, not a butcher. “All rulers are either butchers or meat,” Daario replies, and then we’re off to King’s Landing.

Olenna’s down, but not out.

Lady Olenna has come to speak with the High Sparrow about Loras and Margaery, and she’s prepared for everything but what she finds. Like Cersei, Olenna can’t quite seem to wrap her head around this man’s honestly and deeply-held beliefs. I’m glad to see the show add this context for Cersei’s actions, to be honest. It’s easy, I think, for people to just think Cersei is stupid or that she’s making amateur mistakes, but I think the truth is that, while Cersei is not always entirely rational, her biggest mistake so far has been one that even the legendary Queen of Thorns makes. Both women are laboring under the assumption that anyone can be bought. As Olenna leaves the Sept, frustrated, she’s stopped by someone carrying a message marked with a mockingbird seal.

Mother of the year.

At the Red Keep, Tommen is furious that he can’t do more to help Margaery, and Cersei is there to comfort him. Some things, she says, are just entirely outside of their control, and probably this is all just fate. Tommen rages a little more, even threatens to go to war with the Faith, but Cersei talks him down and offers to go talk to the High Sparrow herself. Placated, Tommen finally relaxes, and Cersei gives a lovely speech about how much she loves him and how dedicated she is to doing whatever it takes to protect him and make him happy. I’m not always thrilled with the writing for Cersei, but I like this. This fierce love for her children is perhaps the only truly authentic emotion that Cersei has, and I never doubt Lena Headey’s performances of these scenes.

Ugh, you just. don’t. GET. it.

In Dorne, Jaime meets with Myrcella, who stomps her foot and declares her intention to marry Trystane and stay there forever. She’s been there for years, she reasons, so why the hurry to bring her back to King’s Landing now? I didn’t love Myrcella’s scenes with Trystane last week, but I kind of like the new actress here. Her tossing a “you don’t know me!” at Jaime and flouncing out is so wonderfully full of teenage temper and angst (and, honestly, perfectly sound reasoning on her part), it’s great.

Me, too, Nym.

We finally get to hear the end of “The Dornishman’s Wife.” While Jaime is dealing with Myrcella, Bronn is sitting in a prison cell right across from the Sand Snakes. I guess because the show wanted to meet their boob quota or whatever, we get to see Tyene strip down in order to get Bronn to tell her she’s the most beautiful woman in the world, which gets her to give him the antidote to the poison that she cut him with last week. This all gets big eye rolls from Obara and Nym, and I concur. What an anti-climax. All that meaningful lingering on Bronn’s injury in last week’s terribly done fight scene, and Tyene just gives him the antidote because she kind of likes him? Ugh.

Back in King’s Landing, Littlefinger is moping about his destroyed brothel when Lady Olenna shows up for a talk. She’s furious, believing that Baelish sold Loras out to Cersei, which is apparently true. Olenna reminds Littlefinger that his fortunes and those of the Tyrells are deeply intertwined, what with them having killed a king together and all. Littlefinger replies that, though he did have to cooperate with Cersei, he has brought Olenna a gift as well–of the same kind that he gave Cersei.

Who says romance is dead?

Returning again to Tyrion and Jorah, the pair are now at a sort of gladiatorial school, still outside Meereen proper. There is going to be a fight staged, the winners of which will have the honor of fighting at the Pit of Daznak in Meereen, in front of Queen Daenerys herself. Unfortunately, Jorah and Tyrion are both being left out of this particular fight–until Daenerys shows up with Hizdahr on a date–because nothing is more romantic than blood sports. Jorah rushes out to fight, soon followed by the rest of the gladiators that are still down in their little dugout thing, but Tyrion is left chained to the stone benches. Jorah wins the melee, and without killing anyone since he knows Dany’s distaste for violence, but Daenerys isn’t happy to see him. Tyrion manages to get himself freed, and introduces himself to Daenerys as Jorah’s gift to her right as she’s about to send Jorah away again.

In all seriousness, I’m really happy that Dany was so unhappy to see Jorah. I’d be very disappointed if she was glad he was back.

In some ways, this is the worst sort of plot convenience theater, and the guard inexplicably chopping Tyrion’s chain was downright silly, but this actually worked for me. I think that, partly, I’m just bored with Tyrion and Jorah together, and I hated their stuff last week, so this seems good by comparison. And, partly, I’m just happy to see this story line moving along at this sort of clip. I loved ADWD, personally, but if the show really tried to capture all that stuff, it would run for like ten seasons at least. Between the Tyrion/Jorah show and boring Daario/Dany scenes, it would have been just excruciating if they’d put this meeting off any longer. While it’s not the last scene of the episode, it also works as a nice little cliffhanger and gives us something to look forward to next week.

Margaery in her cell.

The show instead ends in King’s Landing, where Cersei arrives at the Sept to gloat at Margaery, who looks absolutely miserable in the dank cell she’s being kept in. As Cersei stands over her, smirking, Margaery gets the excellent and thematically important line:

“Lies come easily to you; everyone knows that. But innocence, decency, concern…you’re not very good at those, I’m afraid.”

Cersei is walking on air as she leaves Margaery.

I know we haven’t even reached the end of ADWD content for this storyline yet, but I kind of can’t wait to see what happens with these two queens next season. Certainly, neither of them will be killed (although poor Loras may not be so lucky), but with the end of ADWD bringing so many changes, there’s really no telling what these ladies will be up to after this mess clears. In the meantime, Natalie Dormer and Lena Headey really are consistently amazing in their roles, especially in their scenes together, of which this may be the most important to date.

Cersei’s “Oh, Shit” smirk is only one glorious incarnation of her signature expression.
The High Sparrow’s self-satisfied look is a lot more terrifyingly dead-eyed than Cersei’s usually are.

Cersei walks away from Margaery’s cell with an absolute spring in her step, she’s so pleased by how things are going, and she goes next to speak with the High Sparrow.

This scene is honestly magnificent, and I’m really not sure it could have been done any better. Probably my favorite thing about it, aside from Jonathan Pryce’s absolutely chilling performance, is getting to see such a wide range of Lena Headey’s smirks. We see Cersei go from self-satisfied, to bored, to mildly concerned, to completely terrified/angry, and her expression can reasonably be described as a smirk for about 95% of her time on screen. It’s a pretty great end to the episode, and I hope the show can maintain this pace over the next couple weeks.

Game of Thrones Recap: Season 5, Episode 6 “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken”

Well, I can’t say I’m surprised about last night’s episode of Game of Thrones, but I’m actually a lot more disappointed about the whole thing than I thought I would be. Generally, this show has, even in its worst episodes, a few great moments peppered through it. “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken” is, as far as I can recollect, the first episode of the show that I’ve come away from thinking that it’s just a big old mess. Basically nothing about this episode worked, and even the return of Lady Olenna wasn’t enough to save the episode for me.

As always, spoilers under this line.

Arya's still working at the House of Black and White.
Arya’s still working at the House of Black and White.

The episode opens in maybe the most boring place possible, the House of Black and White in Braavos, where Arya is busy washing dead bodies. She’s been here for weeks now, apparently, and she still doesn’t know what they do with the bodies when she’s done with them. She talks with the Waif (who, on the show is not even remotely waifish–more sturdy, really) and then with Jaqen, who beats Arya with a switch when she lies, and she’s no closer to learning more about the House of Black and White than she was a couple of weeks ago.

Does anyone working for this show even know what a "waif" is?
Does anyone working for this show even know what a “waif” is?

I rather liked Arya’s chapters in the books, but the show has turned this stuff into a real snooze fest. Arya’s time in Braavos so far hasn’t been a time of healing for her; she hasn’t learned anything (really, she’s only exchanged one menial task for another so far); and whatever character growth she’s having seems to be coming at an absolutely glacial pace. This is the weakest opening to any episode this season, for sure.

Next up, we head farther east to visit with Jorah and Tyrion. It turns out that there are no villages near Valyria, so they’re just hoofing it to Meereen at this point. During a break in their travels, Tyrion explains why he’s in Essos to begin with and then ends up being the one to break the news to Jorah that his father, Lord Commander Mormont of the Night’s Watch, is dead. It was nice to see Jorah get a moment to be likeable. I think that this is another slow-moving part of the show right now, but I almost always think the show shines brightest in these quieter moments.

Jorah should probably get that looked at and stop picking at it.
Jorah should probably get that looked at and stop picking at it.

Back at the House of Black and White, Arya is scrubbing the floor when a man arrives with his sick daughter. He wants for his daughter to be put out of her misery, and Arya is the only person around. Arya comforts the girl by lying to her and gets her to drink some of the poison water in the temple. This time, after Arya finishes washing the girl’s body, Jaqen H’ghar invites her to see where the bodies go. Which is apparently a giant room full of pillars that are filled, floor to ceiling with the faces of the dead.

I actually hate this. I’m sure that someone thought this would be a cool reveal and that (obviously) bigger is better, but it doesn’t even make sense. I kind of hate the whole House of Black and White setup they have on the show as it is; it’s to monochromatic, too gloomy, too boring. And this enormous basement full of faces is probably the worst part of it that I’ve seen yet. The place looks like it’s about on the same scale as Moria in the Lord of the Rings movies, which is to say absurdly large. And there’s not a ladder in sight.

I suppose this sounds cooler on paper than it actually is.

It’s honestly nonsensical, but not as nonsensical as Jaqen’s reasoning that Arya was “ready” for something–”to become someone else” apparently, as well as ready to see the face library. I don’t understand how Arya’s sullen pouting, moping, and raging around the House of Black and White prepare her for anything. There was a moment of gentleness when she was dealing with the dying girl, and again when she was washing the girl’s body, but if that was meant to represent some kind of momentous shift in Arya’s outlook, I think the show failed to effectively communicate it. Also, Arya seems really creepily fascinated by the faces. All together, Arya’s behavior in this episode makes her seem unbalanced, as if (contrary to the episode’s title) something in Arya has been a little broken by her experiences.

Shifting to Jorah and Tyrion again, we get a nice little conversation about Daenerys. Jorah describes seeing the birth of the dragons as a sort of religious experience, but Tyrion isn’t convinced that Daenerys really is the rightful ruler of Westeros. I like this, but then they get captured by slavers, and everything is terrible.

In all of Essos, I don't think we've seen even one white slaver yet.
In all of Essos, I don’t think we’ve seen even one white slaver yet.

First, I’d like to point out that this show has a real problem with diversity. There are very few characters of color, but of course they make the evil slave traders a group of black dudes. Second, the dialogue in this scene is just fucking embarrassing. The dwarf-sized cock joke was the worst and “cock merchant”? Really? I cringed at the awfulness of it all. Of course, this is Game of Thrones, where plot convenience seems to trump all other concerns these days. At least this (hopefully) means that Tyrion and Jorah will be getting to Meereen soon instead of wandering around the countryside sniping at each other for a couple more episodes.

In King’s Landing, Petyr Baelish has returned to find the city much changed since his departure. When he meets with Cersei, he immediately questions the wisdom of having Loras Tyrell arrested, to which Cersei replies that it wasn’t she who arrested Loras. They go on to speak of the state of the North. Littlefinger assures Cersei that the armies of the Vale will be at her disposal, but then he informs her that Sansa Stark is alive and at Winterfell. Cersei is furious, and she gives Baelish leave to mobilize the Vale against Roose Bolton. It seems likely that this is exactly what Littlefinger wants. He’s already said that he intends to back Stannis in the upcoming conflict, and this will allow him to get his own forces to Winterfell without Cersei thinking anything is amiss. In an episode so filled with people making poor decisions and falling victim to terrible storytelling, this stands out as one scene that actually makes some kind of sense.

This is the steamiest these two get, but they just look like a couple of fumbling 8th graders.
This is the steamiest these two get, but they just look like a couple of fumbling 8th graders.

In Dorne, we finally get to see Myrcella, who is wandering the Water Gardens with her betrothed, Trystane Martell. They are anxious to be married, it seems, so they can start banging as soon as possible. Personally, though, I’m not buying it. I’ve hardly seen a couple with so little chemistry, and between Myrcella’s childishness and Trystane’s bizarre accent, it’s difficult to take them at all seriously.

Elsewhere, Jaime and Bronn are nearing their destination. I was disappointed by how unimpressive the Water Gardens look from afar, but what I was most upset about here was that we didn’t get to hear the end of “The Dornishman’s Wife.” Also, of course Jaime doesn’t have a real plan. Also also, this isn’t funny. It’s just infuriatingly stupid. Already in the palace, Ellaria and the Sand Snakes are ready to make their move as well, so these characters are on a collision course for one of the major conflicts of the episode.

This is the worst sort of plot convenience coincidence, and I hate it so much. I know that coincidence is an important part of any kind of storytelling, but this is just absurd. It’s especially intolerable in a show that is ostensibly an adaptation of a book series that has been heavily praised for its realism and its subversion of common tropes. While coincidences are often necessary to make stories happen at all, this one just feels cheap.

At least Areo Hotah looks like a badass.
At least Areo Hotah looks like a badass.

Worse, it ends up being anti-climactic as the plans of both groups of conspirators are foiled and everyone is captured after a “fight” scene so heavily choreographed to have no one actually get injured that it feels more like a particularly silly kind of interpretive dance. This is also all spliced with split-second shots of Myrcella cowering and screaming helplessly, which doesn’t do anything to make the scene feel any more interesting. Also, a whip is a terrible weapon if you are fighting against people with swords, no matter how many times you can get it to make that whip cracking sound. AND, for all the Obara seems to be supposed to be “the tough one” of the Sand Snakes, she sure spends a lot of time whirling her spear around not actually hitting anyone. This whole showdown over Myrcella thing is a case of style over substance, and the style isn’t even good.

Back in King’s Landing, Lady Olenna is arrived. In another bit of straight up silliness, her carriage stops before they get to the city just so Olenna can complain that she “can smell the shit from five miles away.” At least this silliness is actually (and intentionally) funny, though. Olenna reassures Margaery that there really is nothing that can be done to Loras, and then she goes to see Cersei, who is entirely unhelpful. Cersei is determined to call what she seems to think is Olenna’s bluff, and Olenna is sent away unsatisfied.

I'm disappointed, too, Olenna.
I’m disappointed, too, Olenna.

At Loras’s inquest, he denies all the charges, which Margaery backs up. Then, surprise, Olyvar is brought in to testify, with some made up story that he was Loras’s squire and that was how he came to have “relations” with Loras. And, because this is Game of Thrones and the writers have no respect for the source material or the viewers, Loras doesn’t do the smart thing and deny all knowledge of Olyvar. Instead, Loras tries to attack Olyvar and ends up getting himself and his sister in trouble with the Faith. The scene ends with Loras and Margaery both arrested, Tommen looking around uselessly, Olenna looking shocked and disappointed, and Cersei looking smug. This whole “Loras on trial for being gay” thing might actually be the thing I hate most about this season of the show so far, but I am glad Olenna is back. Hopefully, she will be able to make some sense out of things over the next couple of weeks.

Finally, we shift to Winterfell, where Sansa is preparing for her wedding to Ramsay. Myranda pops in to help Sansa bathe, but really she’s there to spitefully tell Sansa about Ramsay’s penchant for hunting women like animals. The more I see of Myranda this season, the more furious I am that the writers felt the need to create an original character just to play out some bullshit female jealousy plot. There’s literally no reason for Myranda to be jealous of Sansa. She knows Ramsay, and she knows what is likely to happen to Sansa at Ramsay’s hands. It just doesn’t make sense that Myranda would care one way or the other about Sansa at this point, and it’s honestly really gross that she seems to take so much pleasure in Ramsay’s treatment of other women. I also hate that this bath scene is set up as a sort of “empowering” scene for Sansa. How empowering is it, really, for Sansa to profess her lack of fear in Winterfell when we, the viewers, know as well as Myranda does what is about to happen to Sansa in just a few minutes? If anything, this just makes Sansa seem naive in the face of such imminent danger.

The child bride.
The child bride.

Even the washing out of Sansa’s dark dyed hair seems to symbolize a regression in her character, an undoing of all the supposed growth we’ve seen in her over the last season or so of the show, and by the time she is dressed for the wedding, Sansa looks nearly as young and girlish as we’ve ever seen her. When Theon arrives to escort her to the godswood, Sansa makes one last show of spirit by refusing to even touch this man that she believes murdered her little brothers, but by the time of the actual wedding, she seems perpetually teary-eyed.

The final scene of the episode is, as I expected it would be, Sansa’s rape on her wedding night. After verbally humiliating Sansa, Ramsay orders her to take her clothes off while he tells Theon to stay in the room to watch. Fortunately, I suppose, we don’t have to watch–we just have to listen to Sansa crying out in pain as Ramsay brutalizes her while the camera slowly zooms in on Theon’s agonized face. Because, goodness knows, it’s important to remember who the real victim is here.

I thought I would feel this way about it, too, but all I can feel is rage, to be honest.
I thought I would feel this way about it, too, but all I can feel is rage, to be honest.

In some ways, this scene wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I rather expected that the show would choose this scene to really be faithful to the books, and I’m glad to have been wrong about that. However, they still managed to turn this wedding to Ramsay into a complete degradation of Sansa, with the rape coming right on the heels of an exhibition of her supposed “empowerment” so as to make if feel even more as if Sansa is being put in her place. Even worse, they framed this violation of Sansa in a way that makes it less about her experience and more about Theon’s pain at being forced to watch–even though this would have been a great opportunity for Theon to get his spine back and do something, anything, to try and protect Sansa. Instead, Theon just watches and weeps.

In light of everything that happens in this episode, I suppose the episode’s title might be meant as aspirational, but mostly it just feels sarcastic and mocking by the end of it.

Game of Thrones Recap: Season 5, Episode 5 “Kill the Boy”

This is my favorite episode of this season so far, mostly because it managed to not include anything that enraged me. What it did include was a lot of stuff that I love about Game of Thrones. “Kill the Boy” had dragons and plenty of Stannis and probably the most amazing awkward family dinner scene the show has produced so far. If, like me, you think Lannister family dinners make for great television, you will adore family dinner with the Boltons.

As always, spoilers for this episode and some book stuff are under the cut. Continue reading Game of Thrones Recap: Season 5, Episode 5 “Kill the Boy”

Game of Thrones Recap: Season 5, Episode 4 “The Sons of the Harpy”

“The Sons of the Harpy” is another mixed bag of an episode. There’s a lot of story here, but there’s also a lot of exposition, and I think the greatest strengths of this episode are in its quieter moments. That said, this episode is one of the bloodiest of the series so far as shit hits the fan in King’s Landing and Meereen while Jaime and Bronn arrive in Dorne, and the bloodshed we see here promises to be just the beginning of the violence in store for us this season.

The show is doing a lot of interesting stuff and a lot of infuriating stuff, and there’s a lot to talk about, and, as always, spoilers are under the cut for both last night’s episode and book related discussion.

The episode picks up where the last one ended, as Ser Jorah steals a boat and absconds with Tyrion from Volantis.

Elsewhere, Jaime and Bronn are sailing south. I loved that we got a shot of Tarth (Brienne’s birthplace), although it’s brief. The conversation here between Bronn and Jaime sets up the first of several interesting narrative disagreements that are showcased in this episode, in which the central theme seems to be a meditation on the different ways in which we frame stories. In the story Jaime wants to tell, they are going to rescue his “niece,” Myrcella, although Bronn refers to it as “stealing” Dorne’s princess and seems to be well aware that Myrcella is actually Jaime’s daughter. Bronn also asks Jaime if it was Jaime who freed Tyrion, to which Jaime responds that it was Varys who did it–another difference between reality and the story that Jaime wants to tell, even though it’s obvious to Bronn (and the viewer) that this journey to Dorne is an atonement of sorts for Jaime, who can’t seem to shake his guilt no matter what story he tries to tell himself and no matter how much he wants to avenge Tywin’s death by killing Tyrion.

In King’s Landing, Cersei continues to whittle away at the Small Council. The Iron Bank is calling the crowns debts, so she sends Mace Tyrell to Braavos to negotiate better terms–with Ser Meryn Trant for protection. With Arya in Braavos and Meryn Trant still on her list, this could get interesting in the next couple of weeks.

Next up, Cersei meets with the High Sparrow, who is now the new High Septon. The High Sparrow is definitely one of the most interesting new characters introduced in this season, and Jonathan Pryce continues to knock it out of the park in this role as a seemingly mild-mannered and reasonable man who nonetheless jumps at the chance of reviving the Faith Militant, a martial arm of the faith of the Seven that was disbanded hundreds of years ago.

The reinstatement of the Faith Militant immediately results in gangs of armed religious fanatics rampaging through the streets of King’s Landing, smashing stuff and beating and arresting people, culminating in the ransacking of Littlefinger’s brothel and then the arrest of Loras Tyrell.

While Cersei at least nominally had to have Tommen sign off on the Faith Militant, we find out that Tommen has no idea what is going on when an enraged Margaery confronts him about her brother’s arrest. This begins one of the show’s most fascinating departures from the books so far, as we see Tommen go immediately to Cersei to demand Loras’s release. Cersei, of course, disclaims responsibility and denies having any power to do anything about it, which sends Tommen himself to the Sept to seek an audience with the High Sparrow. Members of the Faith Militant bar Tommen’s entry, but Tommen refuses to let his Kingsguard kill the men, even as cries of “bastard!” and “abomination!” and “born of sin!” ring out in the background. A disheartened Tommen returns to his chambers, where he has to give Margaery the bad news: not only has he not managed to free Loras, he doesn’t even have a clear plan yet. Frustrated, Margaery leaves to be with her family, and she’s going to write to her grandmother about this.

I actually find this whole plot surprisingly compelling. I’ve never loved the way GRRM handled Cersei and the King’s Landing plot in A Feast for Crows and A Dance With Dragons, and I’ve been very concerned about how this would be done on the show, especially with an older Tommen and more mature and involved Margaery. In the books, Tommen is a very young child, so he’s not a player at all, and book!Margaery, at just sixteen herself, is much more vulnerable to Cersei’s machinations than the more adult Margaery of the show. I didn’t like the way the show handled Tommen’s marriage to Margaery, but I think I might love where things are going now. This Tommen is still very young (Have I mentioned how young this actor looks? My goodness, he’s like a baby!), but he’s starting to realize how fucked up his situation is. His mother is power mad and making terrible decisions, the city is turning against him, his wife is unhappy, and he’s just a kid that no one seems to take very seriously. I’m finding myself really looking forward to seeing how Tommen develops.

My only reservation (and it’s, admittedly, a major one) is that I’m now worried that Cersei’s storyline is going to be sacrificed in order to expand Tommen’s character and make the story all about him. I feel like there is a reason that characters like Joffrey, Tommen, and Robb Stark weren’t given POV chapters in the books while their mothers were, and I worry that the writers of the show might be missing the point of that by spending so much time focusing on Tommen. We already got to see Catelyn Stark’s story turned into Robb’s, and Catelyn was completely discarded by the show following Robb’s death, in spite of the thematic significance of Lady Stoneheart in the books. I’m torn between really enjoying the direction the show is taking and being unhappy at the prospect of Cersei being similarly sidelined in favor of her son’s character development.

All that said, I am unequivocally thrilled about Olenna Tyrell’s impending return, which is the only good news in this whole sequence.

Also, a note on costumes: the fabrics on this show are amazing. I always loved Joffrey’s outfits, and Tommen’s are very similarly gorgeous. Also, did everyone else notice that, while Cersei seems to have given up her armored look this season–I imagine because she feels more secure in her position as she’s weeding out her opposition–Margaery’s dress in this episode featured a metal overlay on the bodice that is definitely reminiscent of some of Cersei’s earlier looks.

Up at Castle Black, Selyse Baratheon is basically awful, hating on Jon Snow and on her own daughter, Shireen. Selyse suggests that Jon Snow is just a bastard of Ned Stark’s by some tavern wench, but Stannis insists that that wasn’t Ned’s way–the first tiny piece of this episode’s R+L=J preparatory exposition. Melisandre shows up to remind Selyse that Shireen is still Stannis’s daughter, which seems ominous. It’s interesting to see Stannis questioning Melisandre a little. He might need her, but it seems he might not entirely trust her, either.

Elsewhere in the castle, Jon Snow is writing to the lords of the North to ask for men and supplies. He’s not happy about asking Roose Bolton for help, but Sam sensibly reminds him that Lord Bolton is the most powerful of the northern lords, and Jon angrily signs the letter after all. He’s still stewing about it when Melisandre pops in to try and convince him to come south with them to Winterfell. Failing that, she tries to seduce him (probably to make another shadow baby, maybe to kill Roose Bolton) which he also rebuffs. So she settles for just freaking Jon out with a “You know nothing, Jon Snow” as she leaves the room.

Meanwhile, Stannis is busily doing paperwork when a bored Shireen comes in looking for validation. We get even more back story about Shireen’s greyscale, which makes me increasingly certain that we’ll be getting greyscale and not the Pale Mare in Meereen later on. Mostly, though, I think this is a great humanizing scene for Stannis, who is often cold and detached, even if he’s not evilly so like Roose Bolton. It’s nice to seen Stannis thaw out a little, and I audibly “aww”-ed when Shireen hugged him. This is probably my second favorite scene of the episode, and it continues the theme of different stories–Selyse may see Shireen as weak and deformed, but Stannis loves her and is proud of her regardless.

Next, we travel to the crypts below Winterfell, where Sansa is lighting candles and visiting her dead family. She’s in front of Lyanna Stark’s statue when Littlefinger shows up to take his leave before heading back to King’s Landing. Before leaving, however, Littlefinger provides the second part of this episode’s R+L=J exposition. He tells Sansa the story of Lord Whent’s tourney at Harrenhaal, where Rhaegar Targaryen passed over his own wife, Elia of Dorne, to choose Lyanna Stark as Queen of Love and Beauty. Sansa replies that Rhaegar might have chosen Lyanna, but then he kidnapped and raped Lyanna–Lyanna didn’t choose him back. Judging from Littlefinger’s sad, knowing look at Sansa, the story the Starks and Robert Baratheon have been telling about these events might not be the whole or correct story. The subtlety of Littlefinger’s look might fly over the heads of viewers who haven’t read the books, but I think everyone who has read ASOIAF got the message loud and clear.

Before leaving, Littlefinger apprises Sansa of the situation in the North and Stannis’s impending attack. He predicts that if Stannis is succesful, Sansa will be made Wardeness of the North in her own right. If Stannis fails, Littlefinger advises Sansa to secure her position by manipulating Ramsay. And of course Littlefinger can’t leave without creepily stealing a last kiss from Sansa, which felt gratuitous to me if the show expects us to believe that Sansa is anything more than Littlefinger’s pawn and completely in his power, but I don’t know why I would ever expect this show to not do the worst things possible with Sansa every chance they get.

In Dorne, Jaime and Bronn have finally arrived at their destination. Breakfast is a snake, and we get a lovely little chat about what the best way to die is. The start on their way, and as Bronn points out the flaw in Jaime’s plan to sneak into Dorne (paying off the ship’s captain), they are almost immediately spotted by a group of four Dornish riders that they have to fight.

Somewhere else in Dorne, Ellaria is riding a really pretty horse (SO pretty) along a beach on her way to meet the Sand Snakes. Of course, the captain of the ship that Jaime and Bronn were on has already spilled the beans (and gotten a face full of scorpions for his trouble). This is the only part of the episode that I think I seriously hated. It just didn’t work for me. Ellaria in the books didn’t want to avenge Oberyn at all, and while Arianne Martell and the Sand Snakes did, they were much smarter about it than they seem to be being here. Declaring Myrcella as Queen of Westeros in the books was an amazing, elegant, vicious plan that made a lot more sense than the plan these women seem to have on the show, which is apparently just killing Myrcella to start a war. I might be in a minority as a true lover of the books’ Dornish plot, but even if the show couldn’t put it on screen exactly the way it was in the books (which I agree would be basically impossible) I think they could have come up with something better than this.

The show also seems determined to flatten all these characters into nearly indistinguishable bloodthirsty martial types, which is absolutely infuriating. One of the strengths of GRRM’s books is that he showcases a wide variety of different female characters, and the Sand Snakes are no different. In the show, however, it seems like the writers really want to squeeze all of GRRM’s myriad multifaceted women into two boxes, labeled “badass warrior type women” and “inept politician type women.” Gone are the vastly different suggestions that Tyene, Obara, and Nymeria have for avenging their father. Gone is Ellaria’s sensible desire to protect her own children and live in a peaceful land. Gone is Arianne’s ambition and resentment of her father’s reticence, because Arianne is gone altogether. Basically, gone is all the depth and nuance that made the Dornish plot such an interesting addition to the books. I’d started to come to terms over the last few weeks with the omission of Arianne Martell from the show, and I’d even started to think that expanding Ellaria’s role was a good solution to some of the problems with introducing a whole new setting and cast of characters this late in the series, as it offered some interesting ways of handling the Dornish plot, but it looks like I’m just going to be disappointed. At this point, I’m no longer going to get my hopes up about it at all.

Back in Essos, Jorah and Tyrion are well on their way. Tired of hearing all the annoying noises Tyrion is making, Jorah finally removes the gag from Tyrion’s mouth. Except it turns out that Tyrion is just going to make some even more annoying mouth noises now. When he learns that Jorah is taking him to Daenerys, not Cersei, Tyrion can’t resist insulting and mocking Jorah until Jorah knocks him out to shut him up. While this scene moves things along and is thematically consistent with the rest of the episode, again picking up the idea of the duality of reality and the stories we tell ourselves, it’s hands down the most boring thing going on this week.

In Meereen Daenerys is talking with Ser Barristan, which starts my favorite part of this episode. Through Ser Barristan, we learn some more about Rhaegar Targaryen in a direct counterpoint to the discussion between Sansa and Littlefinger earlier. The kind, charming Prince Rhaegar that Barristan describes, who loved to sing in the streets of King’s Landing, doesn’t sound like the sort of guy who would kidnap and rape anybody, and he certainly doesn’t sound very much like what Viserys told Dany about their brother. This pleasant interlude is interrupted by Hizdahr zo Loraq returning to pester Daenerys some more about reopening Meereen’s fighting pits.

While Hizdahr is waxing eloquent about the joys of blood sports, the Sons of the Harpy have coordinated a massive attack on Daenerys’s Unsullied forces in the streets of Meereen. Grey Worm and his group are in dire straights when Ser Barristan, now walking through the town, hears the commotion and comes to help. Together, Barristan and Grey Worm manage to defeat the remaining Sons of the Harpy, but the episode ends with both men gravely, possibly mortally, wounded. I loved finally getting to see Ser Barristan in a real fight, as he’s one of my favorite characters from the books, but my question is why are the Unsullied so easily defeated? They’re supposed to be these amazing super soldiers, and the show has already told us that most of the Sons of the Harpy are common men. The Unsullied should have a significant edge, being far better equipped and trained than the Sons, and yet they drop like flies. In the books, the Sons of the Harpy are restricted to sneak attacks and nighttime assassinations–they’re basically terrorists–but here they are engaging in full on guerrilla warfare in broad daylight with what looks like significant help from the regular people of Meereen.

It just seems weird to me, like the show is telling us one thing but showing something entirely different, which is ironic in light of this episode’s overarching theme about storytelling.

Game of Thrones Recap: Season 5, Episode 3 “High Sparrow”

So, the good news about “High Sparrow” is that we’re finally starting to see some stories really moving along. The bad news is that the show is as hit-or-miss as ever.

My favorite thing about this episode is probably the wide shots of King’s Landing, Moat Cailin, Winterfell, and Volantis. The settings are absolutely stunning, and seeing these places this way really helps to bring the world of the show to life and help to make the viewer feel as if they could be real places. Least favorite thing? Well, I’ll elaborate more under the cut.

Spoilers under the cut for the episode and a bunch of book-related talk.

Trigger Warning: For discussion of sexual exploitation, sexual violence. and torture.

In Braavos, everything is dark and gloomy in the House of Black and White, where Arya has apparently been sweeping the floor for days. She’s impatient to start being a Faceless Man, even though she doesn’t seem to have any idea what that even means. On the one hand, this opening scene is a smart piece of exposition that explains to the viewer what this place is. On the other hand, I felt a little embarrassed for Arya here, as she really just doesn’t quite seem to understand what she’s gotten herself into. Frankly, I’m already finding myself a little bored with Arya’s storyline this season. She’s never been one of my favorite characters, and I’ve always felt like her chapters in Braavos were just a very elaborate way for her to cool her heels while all the interesting stuff in the books is happening elsewhere.

A gorgeous wide shot of King’s Landing and the ringing of bells herald the wedding of Margaery and Tommen. We hear the end of the couple’s vows, and then we cut straight from Margaery’s satisfied smirk to her and Tommen’s post coital chatting, which is awkward and something I was honestly blind-sided by. I know they’ve aged up Tommen for the show, and obviously teenagers are into sex, but damn. Natalie Dormer is my age (early 30s, although she might pass for late 20s), and Dean-Charles Chapman is a very young-looking 17 (although he would have been just 16 during filming). While we don’t actually see Tommen and Margaery do the deed, they totally did, and while the scene seemed to be going for sweetness (and succeeded to some degree), I am having a hard time not being skeeved out by it.

The thing is, people aren’t great at recognizing the sexual abuse and exploitation of teenage girls, but when adult women are having sex with teenage boys not only is it not generally seen as abuse or exploitation, it’s seen as something that should be a positive experience for boys–something they should be proud of or that makes them a man. And that’s exactly what is on display here. We’re shown explicitly that Margaery is exploiting Tommen’s naivete, that she’s manipulating him, that she’s subtly emasculating him to turn him against his own mother. But we also seem to be intended to see the sexual aspect of this manipulation as somehow not harmful to Tommen? And it feels like we’re being primed to really dislike Cersei this season, which makes it feel like we’re supposed to see Margaery’s manipulation as actually being for Tommen’s own good, when–really–I don’t see how Tommen will be any better off wrapped around Margaery’s finger than he would be under Cersei’s thumb. Cersei might not be mother of the year, but there’s never been any doubt of her commitment to protecting her children. Margaery, meanwhile, is on husband number three, and show!Margaery, as a mature woman with a seemingly large amount of agency, is very different from book!Margaery, a teenage girl who hasn’t even merited her own POV chapters so far.

I just don’t think this is okay. It’s not the worst thing this show has ever done, but it’s pretty messed up. We’re supposed to see Tommen as sweet and innocent and tractable, but we’re somehow not supposed to see Margaery’s use of sex to manipulate him as a violation? Oh, well, he’s enthusiastic about it? That’s supposed to make it okay, I guess. Having your youth and inexperience exploited by a woman old enough to be your mother can’t possibly be traumatic when she’s a total babe, apparently. And, see? Tommen’s standing up to his mother a little bit now, so Margaery really is making a man of him. Ugh. It’s just a gross example of a toxic and damaging ideal of masculinity, no matter what kind of veneer of sweetness and humor the show wants to slap on top of it.

And that’s all without even getting into the mess of the poisonous rivalry between Cersei and Margaery that is happening over and around Tommen. GRRM gets a lot of credit for subverting and upending ordinary fantasy tropes in his books, but the Cersei-Margaery competition in the books is a pretty straightforward young queen vs. old queen situation that is rooted in fairy tale traditions of women who conflict over sex and fertility. The show is playing this trope even straighter than GRRM ever did, kicking off this season with young Cersei being warned of a younger, more beautiful queen who will displace her. This is expounded upon in this episode as Cersei and Margaery take turns undermining each other in Tommen’s affections, Margaery hinting that Cersei might be happier away from King’s Landings and Cersei suggesting to Tommen that Margaery may not be as wonderful as she seems. Finally, Cersei goes to see Margaery herself, where she endures veiled insult after veiled insult about her age, her drinking, and her diminished role as Queen Mother. I’m not sure how much more I can handle of Cersei and Margaery trading barbs like this before it becomes completely insufferably silly.

Prophecy notwithstanding, it always seemed to me that Cersei and Margaery in the books would have been better allies than enemies, although the much younger Margaery in the books may not have seemed like a viable friend to Cersei. In the show, however, with both women so much closer in age and stature, it seems even more obvious that they would be a formidable team and even more irrational of both of them to be so constantly at each other’s throats. By playing up their conflict as being a petty one over beauty and sex, the show’s writers are diminishing and trivializing these characters even more than GRRM did and insulting women in general while they’re at it.

This episode gives us our first view of Winterfell this season, introducing it with a lovely–if slightly dour-looking–shot of it from afar. Ramsay has been out collecting taxes and flaying some guys alive, which he’s brought back to Winterfell for display, much to his father’s mild displeasure. The Boltons don’t have enough men to hold the North through might of arms, Roose informs his son, so they need to think smarter about how to maintain their new position in the wake of Tywin Lannister’s death. A good marriage is the key to holding the North, obviously, and Roose has found the perfect girl for Ramsay.

Cut to Sansa and Littlefinger, cresting a hill before Moat Cailin (another lovely scenery shot, although a little too reminiscent for me of Weathertop in The Fellowship of the Rings). It finally dawns on Sansa that they are heading towards Winterfell, which Littlefinger confirms. Suddenly she realizes that the marriage proposal he talked about back at the Vale wasn’t his marriage but hers. In a “twist” straight out of my worst nightmares of what this season could bring for Sansa, she’s meant to marry Ramsay Bolton. Even without knowing about Ramsay’s nastier traits, Sansa has good reasons to refuse this scheme, and she tries, only to be manipulated by Littlefinger into going along with it.

Littlefinger’s speech to Sansa about refusing to be a bystander and taking control of her life and getting revenge might be the most disgusting bit of abusive manipulation we’ve ever seen on screen in this show, and the worst part about it is that I don’t think this is what was intended by the writers. In a very sick and condescending way, I think this is intended to be an empowering moment for Sansa, but it also has the effect of making Sansa herself at least partly responsible for anything that might happen to her after this point. Because she’s now chosen to go to Winterfell, chosen to marry Ramsay Bolton, chosen to endure whatever indignities or abuses she might suffer going forwards. And this is presented as a noble decision, or at least as a brave one. But it’s not. It’s just infuriating, because the truth is that Sansa doesn’t really have a choice, and even if she did, she doesn’t have anywhere near enough information to make an informed decision.

On another hill, not far away, Brienne and Podrick are still tailing Sansa and Littlefinger, but their scene in this episode is not about anything in particular happening. Instead, it’s about learning more of who these characters are–about where they’ve been rather than where they’re going–and I mostly love it. I haven’t been very happy so far with the portrayal of Brienne and Pod’s relationship, but this scene actually rights a lot of the problems I’ve had with them up to this point. I don’t like that Brienne sort of minimizes her treatment of Pod as “always snapping at [him],” but it’s good to see their relationship actually evolving and in a positive way. After weeks and weeks of Brienne being so hard and cold, it’s nice to see that she does have a softer side. Her determination to avenge Renly’s death also gives her storyline a little more purpose, as we are about to find out that she and Stannis are soon to be on a collision course. They’re both on their way to Winterfell.

At the Wall, Jon Snow has to break the news to Stannis that he won’t be accepting Stannis’s offer of Lordship over Winterfell. A pragmatic man, Stannis forbears from criticizing or debating Jon, instead just advising (quite sensibly) that Jon send Alliser Thorne away from Castle Black. After Stannis leaves the room, Davos hangs back to plant the idea in Jon’s mind that maybe guarding the realms of men will mean leaving the Wall, one way or another.

Back at the House of Black and White, Arya is struggling to find her place. To become a Faceless Man, she must become “no one,” and this is sharply at odds with her dreams of revenge for the wrongs she and her family have endured. To get her revenge, she thinks she needs to become Faceless, but to do that she has to give up being the girl who has wanted nothing but revenge for the last three seasons of the show. So Arya gets rid of all her things, except for Needle, which she hides in some rocks down by the sea, and returns to the House of Black and White to begin her training in earnest. Except, actually, this just means washing dead bodies in some dank corner of the temple, which is super boring.

Sansa arrives at Winterfell, where she seems almost overcome with emotion at first, but she manages to put on a smile as she meets Roose and Ramsay Bolton, which reinforces that we are supposed to see Sansa as actively choosing this, even though she is in no way prepared for this shit.

I hate that Fat Walda never gets any lines. I feel like she’s basically a sight gag–”oh, that Roose is so suave and evil-sexy, but look at his tubby wife.” Since the show is going so far away from the books this season, it would be nice if they would give Walda a lot more dignity and a bit more to do. I’d love to see her and Sansa become friends. I want to learn that Fat Walda has hidden depths.

And going back to my earlier complaint about the show’s bullshit treatment of woman on woman conflict, I hate the way this shot pans over to Ramsay’s girlfriend, who is staring daggers at Sansa. I am going to be incredibly angry if the show somehow tries to make Myranda more of a villain than Ramsay is, but that would be pretty par for the course.

I do like that Sansa seems to have at least some allies in Winterfell. The old serving woman who says “The North Remembers” is a tiny little beacon of hope that at least someone is looking out for Sansa’s best interests.

Back at the Wall, Jon Snow is giving his first orders as Lord Commander. As Jon talks about the need for a new latrine pit, Alliser Thorne looks like he’s absolutely certain of what his new job will be, but he needn’t have worried. That appointment goes to a ginger, and Ser Alliser gets to be the new First Ranger. Janos Slynt, however, isn’t happy to be told that he’s getting sent off to work on rebuilding another castle, and he refuses the order and insults the new Lord Commander to his face. Jon ends up chopping off Janos’s head, making it very clear that, while Jon might be young, he doesn’t intend to rule the Night’s Watch gently. While Thorne pointedly refuses to support Janos, moving out of the way of the men who take Janos to the block, I don’t think we can be ready any time soon to celebrate anything like a friendship between Thorne and Snow. Stannis, however, seems to approve of Jon’s firm hand. Overall, I really liked this sequence. It was very true to the books, and it does a good job of both establishing Jon’s authority as Lord Commander and hinting at what his challenges will be in the future.

If anyone thought the boob count so far in this season was disappointingly low, it seems that the show is making up for lost time in the next scene, where the High Septon is engaging in some religious-themed sex play at Littlefinger’s brothel. Just as he’s picking which of the “Seven” he wants to “worship,” however, Lancel and some other Sparrow cult members burst in to ruin his fun. The High Septon gets marched into the streets naked and is beaten as punishment for his sins, as he recounts to Cersei and the Small Council in the next scene. He insists that Cersei simply must do something about these religious whackos, but instead she tosses the High Septon in prison and seizes the opportunity to ingratiate herself to the “High Sparrow.” When she returns to the Red Keep, Cersei pops in to see how Qyburn’s “work” is coming along and to have him send a message to Littlefinger, and as she walks out we see whatever it is that Qyburn’s working on spasm under a sheet on the table behind him. Qyburn is such a wonderfully creepy dude, and he’s quickly becoming one of my favorite minor characters.

Back at Winterfell one more time, Sansa is walking around and Theon is avoiding her. Meanwhile, Littlefinger is trying to get to know Ramsay a little, although I’m a little confused at how someone as generally well-informed as Petyr Baelish could really have heard nothing about Ramsay so far. In the books, literally everyone knows about what a monster Ramsay is, and it doesn’t make sense that Littlefinger hasn’t even heard rumors about it on the show. Roose interrupts Ramsay and Littlefinger to let Baelish know that Roose doesn’t trust him. Baelish is a little upset that Roose is reading his mail, but he assures Bolton that they’re on the same side, at least for now.

I honestly can’t say enough just how much I absolutely hate what the show is doing with Sansa this season. It doesn’t even make sense. In the books, Sansa is still in the Vale, keeping her identity a secret and posing as Alayne Stone. The story she’s now being shoehorned into is actually Theon’s story, and Sansa is being forced into the role of Jeyne Poole, whose rape and torture at the hands of Ramsay Bolton is used as a catalyst for Theon to have a sort of redemption arc.

In spite of all the praise GRRM gets for creating complex, dynamic characters, Ramsay is a character that doesn’t grow or change at all in the books, to the point that he’s almost a caricature of evil who represents every single bad trait that a man in a patriarchal feudal society could have. He’s cruel, misogynistic, selfish, a serial rapist and a torturer of men and women who is only kept (slightly) in check by his powerful father, Roose. In the books, this is useful (although still harrowing to read), as we know Ramsay almost entirely from Theon’s POV chapters, where the point of the story is Theon’s character development (such as it is). It makes sense, in the books, for Ramsay to be a demon and for poor Jeyne Poole to be a damsel in distress, because this is that story that Theon is telling about himself, the story where Theon eventually manages to get his shit together to try and rescue Jeyne from Ramsay’s clutches.

The problem I see with this on the show is that putting Sansa in Jeyne’s place seems like it will basically destroy all the character growth Sansa has had over the last four seasons. Because what Ramsay does to Jeyne in the books is systematic degradation and abuse. Poor Jeyne was just a girl in the books who had been groomed for this by Littlefinger, and she never had any power whatsoever. For Sansa in the show, however, who has grown into a young woman who is brave and clever and manipulative and who has at least some small semblance of agency, putting her through marriage to Ramsay won’t just be degradation and abuse–it will be a systematic disempowerment, presumably ending with her being reduced to the same kind of damsel in distress that Jeyne was in the books, in need of rescue by Theon (or possibly Brienne/Pod, who have still been following her). The only way this could even possibly be salvaged, I think, is if Sansa also fills the role that Wyman Manderly had in the books, weakening the Boltons’ hold on Winterfell from the inside, making them a softer target for Stannis, but even this isn’t really a satisfactory outcome for me.

Even if Sansa were to kill the Boltons and Theon with her bare hands and take the North in her own name, it’s not worth it to me if we have to watch her be raped and tortured. And, sadly, I don’t think that’s what we’re going to see this season. Sansa’s story is already being twisted and subordinated in service of those of Ramsay and Theon, and I fully expect that whatever suffering she endures this season will be to further their character growth rather than her own. The fact that the show’s writers seem determined, most notably by framing this all as Sansa’s choice, to make us think that this is Sansa being a Strong Female Character makes me absolutely sick. Sansa’s story in the Vale isn’t particularly thrilling in the books so far, but GRRM gives her something that Benioff and Weiss have denied her–room and time to grow, without being under constant threat of rape and torture.

The episode ends by visiting Tyrion and Varys, who are arriving at Volantis. We get to see a gorgeous view of the city before we are taken on a short tour of it. They watch a Red Priestess giving a sermon heralding Daenerys as a savior. There’s another mention of greyscale, which (in combination with the exposition about it with Shireen and Gilly last week) makes me think that this illness is going to be important later in the season. Perhaps this will be the plague in Meereen instead of the Pale Mare? In any case, they make themselves to a brothel, where there is a Daenerys look-alike, and Jorah is lurking around in the background. Tyrion tries romancing one of the women, only to find out that he just doesn’t have the heart for banging whores like he used to. When he goes for a piss, Jorah grabs him and tells Tyrion that he’s taking him to “the Queen.”

I actually found this whole brothel scene to be an illustrative example of the way the show pulls its punches when it comes to making its male characters look villainous. The writers almost never shy away from torturing the show’s female characters (all in the name of character development, of course, because obviously women must be abused and raped to grow strong), but they seem loathe to explore the men’s most negative moments.

In the books, Tyrion arrives at a brothel in Selhorys still in a misogynistic rage after killing his father and Shae and ostensibly looking for his lost wife, Tysha. Amid tedious repetitions of “where do whores go?” Tyrion rapes a red-headed whore repeatedly, stumbles out drunk, and is promptly kidnapped by Ser Jorah. Ser Jorah, of course, has been banished by his queen, and he’s made his way to the brothel so he can pay to bang a girl who looks vaguely like Daenerys. He only comes across Tyrion by luck, and if he hadn’t he’d probably still be sad-fucking silver-haired girls all over Essos. In A Dance With Dragons, both of these men are shown as pathetic, but GRRM also isn’t afraid to show them being brutal, even evil. Although GRRM still manages to preserve some sympathy for the characters, I think the reader is meant to see their actions as parts of them as whole men who are capable of some pretty dark shit.

The show, on the other hand, mocks the Dany look-alike whore, having her flounce around in a silly manner and no where near Jorah, who seems awful disinterested in being in a brothel, despite being in a brothel. Tyrion approaches another girl, seemingly attracted to her disdain for the Dany look-alike, but he actually finds himself having an attack of conscience and unable to go through with fucking a girl who is charmed by him (in spite of his being such a sad sack) and clearly willing. Not only does Tyrion not rape this girl, he’s kind to her, and has apparently lost his taste for whores entirely.

Way to go, show. Sansa is all set to spend the next half season of the show probably being raped and tortured by Ramsay Bolton so Theon can redeem himself. And Tyrion straight up strangled his girlfriend to death but gets to be redeemed just three episodes later because he’s nice to one sad whore, even though he’s only nice to her because he wants to fuck her and then nice some more because he can’t get a boner. Excellent job, Benioff and Weiss. Fuck you very much.

Game of Thrones Recap: Season 5, Episode 2 “The House of Black and White”

So, I wasn’t particularly impressed with this episode. “The House of Black and White” actually felt much more transitional than last week’s episode, and not really in a good way. While there were some things I liked, as there pretty much always are in this show, I kind of felt like the wheels on this episode were just spinning without really moving things along. As a book reader, I was also really disappointed by one of the few scenes so far this season that drew pretty directly from the source material. Finally, I just don’t think this episode was as thematically cohesive as “The Wars to Come.” I suppose it will work in the context of the entire season, but I can’t help feeling a little let down after last week’s promising beginning.

My full recap and analysis is under the cut, and there will be spoilers for the episode and for some book-related discussion.

The episode picks up with Arya Stark, who was absent from the season opener. Her entrance to Braavos feels a little anti-climactic, however. I liked the shot of the Titan of Braavos from Arya’s perspective, but I found myself a little confused about exactly what kind of mood they are trying to convey with the reintroduction of this setting. So far, all we’ve seen of Braavos is a bank and a brothel when Stannis and Davos were here last season, but now we get to see it through Arya’s eyes and the glimpses we’re given of the city are kind of a confused mess. The Titan is a gateway that Arya passes through on her way to a new life, but it also feels ominous and somewhat less than welcoming. The shots of the dockside market could be interesting, but aside from the oddly strung up watermelons (what even is going on with those?) everything is various shades of mud-colored. The sky is visibly overcast, but there still seems to be a bit more sun than we see anywhere else in the world of the show; however, this doesn’t feel cheery or hopeful, and every shot seems to have an undercurrent of gloomy malaise. This is reinforced when we finally see the House of Black and White which, while fairly close to how it’s described in the books, turns out to look bland as hell on screen. It’s tall and imposing, to be sure, and the wide shot of Arya (who is small to begin with) approaching the building gives us a nice sense of scale and offers an idea of the enormous role this place is going to play in Arya’s story this season, but it just seems a bit, well, blah. When Arya is turned away at the door, I wanted to laugh like she did when she learned her aunt Lysa was dead.

The big problem here, though, is that I never for a moment thought that she wasn’t going to get in eventually. I get the feeling that the writers tried to subvert audience expectations by making us wait a little for the payoff, but I think it was just a waste of precious screen time. By all means, don’t let her in right away; make her wait a little in the rain or whatever. By the time Arya is wandering the streets of Braavos killing pigeons, it just starts to feel like a retread of her experiences in King’s Landing back in season one, and, for me, it undermined the sense of Braavos as a unique or different setting. This might have been intentional–maybe we’re supposed to realise that all cities are essentially the same and maybe the pigeon-killing, confrontation with street kids, and fortuitous rescue are supposed to recall season one scenes–but it doesn’t feel insightful or interesting, and it doesn’t do much to actually move the story along. By the end of Arya’s scenes in this episode, we haven’t even gotten to see inside the doors of the House of Black and White, and this is a disappointment.

Back in Westeros, Brienne and Podrick have managed to wander their way to an inn. While Brienne sulks, Podrick looks around the room and sees Sansa Stark sitting with Peter Baelish in a back corner and surrounded by knights. Sending Podrick out to ready the horses (even though they only have one, which he points out only to have Brienne sneer at him like he’s an idiot), Brienne marches back to Baelish’s table to offer her service to Sansa. It’s been a while since the last time I was this embarrassed for a fictional character. Brienne is clearly out of her league here, and Baelish poisons the well for her pretty much as soon as she introduces herself. Interestingly, Sansa seems less swayed by Littlefinger’s mockery of Brienne than she is by her own memories of seeing Brienne bowing before Joffrey at the Purple Wedding. I liked seeing Sansa showing herself very capable of independent thought, but I hate what is being done with Brienne so far this season.

Last episode, Brienne was cruel and dismissive towards Podrick, and this episode she continues to treat him harshly. I truly despise this particular departure from the books, where Brienne was occasionally rough with Podrick but also felt some responsibility towards him. In the books, she teaches him and trains him to fight, but there is none of that in the show’s portrayal of their relationship.

Mostly, though, I hate how foolish Brienne comes off in her interactions with Sansa and Littlefinger here. There’s not much here that makes sense. Obviously, Brienne isn’t exactly one for subtlety, but why would she just walk right over and introduce herself like this? After her encounter with Arya at the end of season four, why wouldn’t she at least suspect that things might not go smoothly with Sansa either? Especially when Sansa doesn’t exactly look like she’s being held against her will. And why would Brienne run? While Sansa and Littlefinger aren’t exactly traveling incognito, I can’t imagine their whereabouts or purpose are common knowledge, so it makes sense that they wouldn’t want to risk Brienne rushing off back to King’s Landing to rat them out to the queen, but Littlefinger is also not wasteful. If he’d wanted to have Brienne killed, I think he would have had it done outright. If he just wanted to keep Brienne where he could keep an eye on her, then it would have been in Brienne’s interest to join him and Sansa, and that would have given her an opportunity to earn Sansa’s trust through loyal service. It might not have been an ideal situation, but it would have at least put Brienne in a position to fulfill her oath to Catelyn. Instead of anything that makes sense, we get a chase scene as Brienne and Podrick flee. There’s an incongruously slap-sticky bit where Podrick’s horse tosses him off into the river, and Brienne kills some guys. Then she expresses a determination to follow Sansa and Littlefinger, who have resumed their journey.

Speaking of Sansa and Littlefinger’s journey, I’m convinced they are headed for Winterfell, which makes me incredibly worried for Sansa. Before Brienne rudely interrupted them, Littlefinger tells Sansa that his marriage proposal has been accepted, and all I can think of is that it’s Sansa’s marriage that he’s talking about and it’s a marriage to Ramsay Bolton. Iwan Rheon (Ramsay), Alfie Allen (Theon), and Sophie Turner (Sansa) have all teased a shocking scene later this season. Rheon and Allen have both hinted that it’s something so awful that Rheon didn’t even want to do it, and Allen recently said that it makes Theon as much of a villain as Ramsay. I’m increasingly certain that the scene they are talking about is Ramsay’s wedding night in A Dance With Dragons, where he has Theon prepare Jeyne Poole as fake!Sansa for the consummation of the marriage. All I can say is that I really, really hope that I’m wrong, because I will absolutely lose my shit if that happens.

In King’s Landing, Cersei and Jaime receive a threat from Dorne, where their daughter Myrcella is betrothed to Trystane Martell. Jaime decides he’s going to Dorne to bring Myrcella back, but he won’t be going alone.

Cut to Bronn walking along a beach with his betrothed, Lollys Stokeworth. Right as Bronn is hatching a plan to off Lollys’s older sister, Jaime shows up to throw a wrench in things. Bronn won’t be marrying Lollys after all. Instead, he’ll be accompanying Jaime “as far south as south goes.”

And, finally, we get our first view of Dorne. Black-clad Ellaria Sand, in a shot that recalls Cersei’s spying on Tommen and Margaery, is watching Myrcella and (presumably) Prince Trystane flirting in the Water Gardens. I love this parallel so much, and making these kinds of visual connections between characters and events is something that Game of Thrones sometimes does remarkably well. Unlike Cersei, however, Ellaria has someone to keep her in check: Oberyn’s brother, Prince Doran Martell. By the end of Ellaria and Doran’s conversation, no one is happy, but it also seems obvious that both Ellaria and Doran have plans. The question that will be answered over the rest of this season will be whose plans work first and best.

I was kind of devastated when I learned that the show wouldn’t be casting Arianne Martell, but the more I think about it the more I think that omitting Arianne and expanding Ellaria’s role is a smart move for the series. Including Dorne already means introducing several new characters–Doran, Trystane, new Myrcella, Areo Hotah, the Sand Snakes–and keeping Ellaria gives us a familiar face in the new setting. It also means making more use of the wonderful Indira Varma, who would have been wasted if she’d disappeared from the narrative on the show the way that Ellaria did in the books. Ellaria’s revenge motivation makes a lot more sense for the show as well, since it looks as if they are cutting most (if not all) of the Dorne-Targaryen marriage/alliance plot that appeared in the books. As fascinating as I found all that to be on the page, I think it would just have ended up being a convoluted mess if they’d tried it on the show. I would have loved to see Arianne on the show, but at this point I’m content to see how things play out with Ellaria filling that role in the story.

In Meereen, Grey Worm and Daario are hunting Sons of the Harpy. They bring him to Daenerys, which triggers… an argument between her counselors. The freed slave, Mossador, argues that they should simply execute the man and continue to root out the Sons of the Harpy. Daario seems to share this opinion. Hizdahr is disingenuous about the whole situation–”I don’t know this, and I’m the head of a great family” is his response when Mossador insists that “everyone knows” the great families pay poor men to do their dirty work. Ser Barristan argues that they should do nothing with the man until he is given a trial. Daenerys paces back and forth, uncertain of how to please everyone. Finally she gives up and dismisses them all, but Barristan stays behind to tell her about her father, the Mad King. When Daenerys insists that the stories of her father are lies told by her enemies, Barristan disabuses her of this notion, warning her of the dangers of ruling too brutally and reminding her of the value of following a rule of law even when it may seem inconvenient. This, finally, convinces her to hold a trial for the captured man.

Elsewhere, Tyrion and Varys are on their way to Meereen via Volantis. Tyrion is really sticking to his liquid diet, and he’s chafing at staying holed up in another “fucking box,” but Varys informs him that Cersei has offered a lordship to the man who brings her Tyrion’s head. We get a singularly ugly moment as Tyrion suggests that Cersei “ought to offer her cunt,” a line that I, personally could have done without, especially since the writers don’t seem to intend that we’re supposed to think badly of Tyrion for this little piece of misogyny. That said, this scene does contain this season’s (so far) funniest joke. When Varys asks Tyrion if they are “really going to spend the entire ride to Volantis talking about the futility of everything,” Tyrion replies, “You’re right, no point.” Very clever, writers.

Back in King’s Landing, Cersei is receiving dwarf heads. Apparently, if Cersei doesn’t want them, Qyburn will take them for use in his “work.” Creepy Qyburn.

And now it’s off to a Small Council meeting. It’s been a while since we’ve had one of these, and I must say they suffer in the absence of Varys and Littlefinger. Cersei seems determined to arrange the council to suit her own ends, without regard for anything that makes sense. Without Tywin to keep her in line, Cersei is already fucking up left, right and center, and here we see her alienate her uncle, Kevan Lannister, who ought to be a powerful ally for herself and Tommen.

Up at the Wall, Shireen Baratheon is teaching Gilly to read. Apparently, Shireen is a much more patient teacher than Sam, and Gilly is making some progress. We get to learn a little more about the greyscale that has left Shireen disfigured, but I can’t tell if this means that it’s going to be important later on in the show or if the writers just included it to explain what was up with Shireen’s face for people who haven’t read the books. This nice scene is interrupted by Shireen’s mother, Selyse, who has come to warn Shireen away from Gilly, who Selyse suggests could be harboring a vendetta against Stannis for his execution of Mance Rayder. As happy as I am to see more of Shireen, and as delightful as Selyse is in all her Lady Macbeth-ian glory, I’m not sure I see where things are going with this pair. Without Val and the “Wildling prince” and with Mance Rayder already dead for real, it seems like there isn’t a whole lot for Selyse to do at the Wall this season. I’m curious to see where things go, though. I’m wondering if Gilly is going to step into some of the role that Val played in A Dance With Dragons, although with Tormund and some Wildlings already at the Wall, I don’t know what that would look like. It could be that we’re still going to get Sam and Gilly’s journey with Maester Aemon to Braavos and Oldtown, but that doesn’t seem entirely likely, either.

Elsewhere at Castle Black, Stannis is not pleased that Jon Snow killed Mance instead of letting him burn to death. Stannis argues that fear is useful in getting people to follow one. Stannis is far more self-assured than most of the other rulers on the show, and he seems convinced that he has found a balance between acting rightly and lawfully and instilling the right amount and right kind of fear in his followers. With Cersei blundering all over the place in King’s Landing and Daenerys floundering after losing control of her dragons, Stannis’s confidence makes him an attractive prospect as a ruler. All he needs, he informs Jon, is the North, and he offers to legitimize Jon as Jon Stark, Lord of Winterfell, in exchange for Jon’s help in retaking the Seven Kingdoms.

I liked this scene, but I think this is one place where, even when sticking fairly close to the source material, the show suffers due to its visual format. While Kit Harington is quite a bit more emotive this season than he has been in the past, I don’t think it’s really possible to convey in this medium what Stannis’s offer means to Jon, who as a boy wanted nothing more than to be a legitimate Stark. Even Jon’s admission to Sam that he intends to refuse Stannis’s offer doesn’t really quite get the point across, although I think it comes as close as it could.

And so commences the election of a new Lord Commander for the Night’s Watch. Janos Slynt speaks for Alliser Thorne, which I don’t think does Thorne any favors. Next up, some dude speaks to nominate the elderly Lord Mallister from the Shadow Tower. As Maester Aemon begins to explain the voting process, Sam stands to put forward Jon’s name as well. It’s pretty obvious that the contest is going to be between Jon and Thorne, and Thorne himself stands up to fear monger about Jon Snow’s ties to the Wildlings. When the votes are tallied, they are tied, and Maester Aemon casts the deciding vote in favor of Jon Snow. Although Jon didn’t seem to want the job when Sam first nominated him, he looks gratified when he wins. Thorne and his faction aren’t happy, though.

Even after watching this scene three times, I still can’t help feeling disappointed with it. In the books, this is Sam Tarly’s crowning achievement and a major sign of his growth as a character, and it’s a pretty big deal as he manipulates the men of the Night’s Watch to support Jon Snow as a compromise candidate. I understand the need to truncate this storyline, but I think it ends up really anti-climactic here. While the show did mention the upcoming election a couple of times before this episode, I don’t think they really managed to convey the enormity of the event and what it means for Jon and for the Night’s Watch. That said, I’m also not sure how they could have done it better. All the backrooms politicking and build-up that we got in the books would have been boring and frustrating in a tv show without the benefit of the close 3rd person point of views in Sam and Jon’s chapters. Also, while this sequence might have been disappointing in comparison to the books, it did a better job of moving along the actually story than most of the other stuff that happened in this episode.

The episode ends back in Meereen, where Mossador has taken it upon himself to kill the imprisoned Son of the Harpy before Daenerys can bring him to trial. This puts her in the position of having to punish a respected community leader instead of simply dealing with a terrorist, and she fucks up bad. After Mossador confesses to murdering the prisoner, Daenerys has him executed in front of the whole city, even as an enormous crowd pleads for her to have mercy. In her desire to look strong, she succeeds not in making her new people fear her but in making them angry as hell.

After a rough day of causing fighting in the streets of her city, Daenerys goes out on the balcony of her pyramid, where she finds Drogon, who is now enormous. Just as she seems to think he has returned to her, though, he flies away again and she’s left alone to ponder the consequences of her enormous fuck-up.

Game of Thrones Recap: Season 5, Episode 1 “The Wars to Come”


So, anyone who read my posts on last year’s Game of Thrones probably knows that I didn’t love season four. By the time that shitshow was over, I wasn’t even certain I was going to watch season five at all. Of course, absence really does sometimes make the heart grow fonder, and there were a few things about season four that I liked, so by the time winter arrived (get it?!) and season five promo season began, I was ready to be interested again. And the season five promos were excellent! By the beginning of March, I was really excited about season five, although still skeptical, especially as I know the show is getting into some real uncharted waters this year.

And now, Game of Thrones is finally back, and “The Wars to Come” did not disappoint. I won’t say I was completely blown away by last night’s episode, but I am thoroughly pleased with it and I’m very much looking forward to the rest of the season if this first episode is any indicator of the quality we can expect. That said, probably my biggest complain about last season was that it was uneven–for every sequence I loved, there was another that I despised, and I felt like they really dropped the ball on a handful of storylines–so we’ll see what happens this year. I’m cautiously optimistic, however.

A full recap and analysis is under the cut. There will be spoilers for last night episode and some book-related stuff.

We open with the show’s first ever flashback scene, and this is probably my only sort-of-complaint about the episode. In the books, GRRM avoids flashbacks entirely, although we do get some characters remembering or talking about events that happened before the beginning of the series. The show, so far, has stuck to this rule, so this is new. The problem is, I don’t know what they are trying to communicate here.

Two girls, one of whom we find out at the end of the scene is young Cersei, are walking through the woods to visit a witch. Young Cersei wants to know her future, and the witch lets her ask three questions, although she warns that Cersei will not like the answers. The prophecy of Maggy the Frog (who is much younger than I envisioned her when I read the books) is pretty much what Cersei was told in the books, although the show omits the reference to the valonqar (”little brother” in High Valyrian). Maggy ends with “gold will be their crowns and gold will be their shrouds,” referring to Cerseis’ three children, and then we are taken to the present-day King’s Landing, where Cersei is on her way to Tywin’s funeral.

Here’s the thing: I don’t think this flashback, at this point in the show, gives us any new information or insight into Cersei or the story. We already know what Cersei is like as a grown woman, so seeing that she was kind of a nightmare as a girl doesn’t really expand our understanding of her character. We already know that she married King Robert Baratheon, and people who have not read the books will probably not know who “the prince” is that Cersei is promised to (Rhaegar Targaryen). Although the “younger, more beautiful” queen bit might help to explain Cersei’s jealousy and hatred of Margaery, it feels redundant since the relationship between these two women has already been shown really effectively in the show, and it fits into classic fantasy and fairy tale traditions where older women are threatened by younger ones (think Snow White et al.). “Gold will be their crowns and gold will be their shrouds” might help explain Cersei’s protectiveness over her children, but I feel if that’s the point of the scene it would have been better placed in an earlier season, probably before Margaery arrived in King’s Landing.

Basically, I think everything we learn in this scene has already been shown, and effectively, in previous seasons of the show. I don’t dislike the scene–Young Cersei is wonderfully awful, and I like witches any way I can get them in stories. I just don’t think it fits here, and I’m not sure it was a wise use of four minutes of show time when there’s so much other material that could have been included instead. The valonqar line from the books is a major part of several reader theories about the future of the series, so it seems like a missed opportunity to leave that out. We also didn’t get to see the death of Cersei’s friend, which was significant in the books because it “proved” Maggy’s prophecies. I just don’t know about this. At this point, I think the only way it works is if this flashback is going to be split up and spread out over several episodes, used as a sort of framing for Cersei’s story over the course of the season. And maybe that’s what will happen; I guess we’ll find out over the next few weeks. So, not really a complaint I guess, but just a thing I’m not completely sold on and am trying to reserve judgment on until I see how it plays out.

In King’s Landing, as I mentioned above, we’ve skipped over the finding of Tywin’s body and we’re going straight into Tywin’s funeral. Cersei arrives and has to walk past Margaery on her way to the Sept, and Margaery gives her a look and a half. Natalie Dormer has the most amazing smug face I’ve ever seen, and it’s pretty clear that Cersei and Margaery won’t be burying the hatchet anytime soon.

In the Sept, Jaime is standing vigil over his father’s body when Cersei walks in. He suggests to Cersei that their enemies are going to try and take away everything Tywin has left for them, but Cersei isn’t here to bond with Jaime. She points out that Jaime murdered Tywin as much as Tyrion did, and although we do get an inkling of her hatred for Tyrion, Cersei manages to come off as the more rational twin in this scene. In A Feast for Crows, GRRM wrote Cersei as increasingly bizarre and insane, but this scene gives me a little hope that maybe the show is going to dial that down a little. Here, she’s furious at Jaime, but her fear of Tyrion seems entirely justified rather than irrationally paranoid, and her rejection of Jaime made me want to cheer.

Apparently Varys shipped Tyrion all the way to Pentos in a [fucking] crate, and Tyrion is not happy about it at all. In fact, Tyrion isn’t very happy about anything right now. Varys wants give an impassioned speech about the value of patriotism and the future of their country, but Tyrion responds by gulping down some wine and promptly vomiting it back up. “The future is shit, just like the past.”

In Meereen, the Unsullied are overseeing the toppling of one of the enormous harpy statues that crown the city’s pyramids. Afterwards, one unfortunate young man named White Rat goes to a brothel for some cuddling, only to be murdered by a mysterious figure in a golden mask. We learn that this group of masked rebels calls themselves the Sons of the Harpy, and Daenerys orders that these men be found and brought to her. Next, Missandei goes to speak with Grey Worm to ask why an Unsullied would be in a brothel to begin with. She doesn’t get the answer she was perhaps hoping for, but it does look like we might be getting more Grey Worm/Missandei romance this year.

At Castle Black, Jon Snow is training the boy who killed Ygritte to fight. Gilly is worried about what might happen to her and her baby if Alliser Thorne is elected Lord Commander, and Sam tries to reassure her. I suspect this means that we’ll be getting to see Sam politicking to get Jon elected instead as in the books, but I’m still curious to see how they handle the other major part of that storyline, where Jon sends Sam, Gilly, and Maester Aemon away from the Wall.

Melisandre comes to fetch Jon to speak with Stannis, and she seems to be taking a creepy interest in Jon as they ride up to the top of the Wall in the lift. Stannis wants Jon to convince Mance Rayder to bend the knee and bring the Wildlings to fight for Stannis’s cause. Jon isn’t confident that Mance will do it, but he agrees to give it a try. He has until nightfall, which isn’t very long at all.

Elsewhere, Sansa and Littlefinger are watching the young Lord Arryn trying to learn to fight. They leave Robin with Lord Royce, who promises only that the boy will be safe.

Nearby, Brienne is in a mood and just wants Podrick to leave her alone. This is a storyline that I’m really unsure about this season, as without Lady Stoneheart I’m not sure what this pair has to do now.

Sansa and Littlefinger, amusingly, drive past in a carriage, not a hundred yards from Brienne and Pod. They have a nice little chat about trust, in which it’s made obvious that Sansa has elevated herself (at least somewhat) from pawn of Littlefinger to partner in (probably) crime. I can’t wait to see where they’re going. Somewhere where “Cersei Lannister can’t even get her hands on [Sansa]” could honestly mean just about anywhere at this point. As long as it’s not Winterfell. I will absolutely lose my shit if Sansa ends up anywhere near Ramsay Bolton.

Still at Tywin’s funeral, Cersei looks ready to murder someone. Probably Loras, who is close at hand and struggles to find the words to express his condolences. This scene is the first one of the season that really surprised me. Lancel and Kevan Lannister are back! Lancel has joined the Sparrows cult, but I think it’s debatable how sincere his conversion is. Cersei treats Lancel with disdain, but his reminders to her of how much he knows about her sins seem like a warning that she would probably be wise to heed. This Lancel isn’t the feckless child we’ve met before. He’s very potentially dangerous, and this might be Cersei’s first huge mistake of the season.

Later, Loras is in bed with Littlefinger’s agent Olyvar when Margaery walks in. She’s not surprised; she’s just hungry and they’re late for dinner with the King. As Olyvar gets up to leave, Margaery watches appreciatively as he walks past her. (Me too, girl.) She suggests that Loras might be more discreet, but Loras rather naively points out that there are no secrets in King’s Landing, at least not about his sexual proclivities. She also reminds him of his engagement to Cersei, to which he responds that he doesn’t think there’s any way Cersei will marry him now that Tywin is dead, which is bad luck for Margaery since it means Cersei won’t be going away with Loras to Highgarden. To this, Margaery simply replies, “Perhaps.” I have a feeling that we’re going to see some changes to Margaery and Cersei’s AFFC storyline, with Margaery being more the aggressor than in the books. I can’t wait to see that “perhaps” play out over the next few weeks.

Back in Pentos, Tyrion is cleaned up but in no better a mood than he was earlier. Varys continues his pitch about patriotism and the responsibility of good men to participate in politics. It looks like these two are going together to Meereen and Daenerys.

Meanwhile, already in Meereen, Daario and Hizdahr have returned successful from their mission to Yunkai. However, Hizdahr brings the request for the reopening of the fighting pits of Meereen, which Daenerys rejects entirely. Later, in bed with Daario (who’s got a lovely ass), Dany gets a story about Daario’s youth as a fighter in the pits himself. He advises her to reopen the pits. He also reminds her of the importance of her dragons, but she admits that she can no longer control the dragons.

Daenerys goes down to the pit where Rhaegal and Viserion are kept, but they aren’t very happy about being imprisoned, and she leaves, frightened. This was a little bit of a sour note for me, to be honest. In the books, while she does struggle to control the dragons and doesn’t know exactly what to do with them, she’s never afraid of them like she is here and while they are angry about being locked away they never attack her. To be fair, they don’t exactly attack her here, either, but that almost makes her fear of them even more inexplicable. Really, though, I don’t like this scene, but I also don’t know a better way to convey the seriousness of the trouble she has with the dragons. It just rubbed me the wrong way to see her so scared by them.

Back at the Wall, a stake is being erected while Jon Snow goes to appeal to Mance Rayder. Mance refuses to kneel to Stannis, although he admits that Stannis seems like an admirable man. Jon tries to reason with Mance, but is unsuccessful. Even the threat of burning alive, while it obviously terrifies Mance, isn’t enough to make him sign his people over to what he considers a foreign war. Jon leaves, disappointed, and Mance is consigned to the fire at the end of the episode. Before Mance starts screaming, however, Jon grabs a bow and shoots him, giving him a more merciful death.

There was a lot of talk leading into the season about a “shocking” death of a character who is still alive in the books, and I suppose this might be it. There’s no evidence that Melisandre switched Mance for Rattleshirt like in the books, and Ciaran Hinds is only credited as a guest star for this episode. I don’t find this very shocking at all, however. It makes a lot of sense, since they didn’t include Dalla, Val, or Mance’s son. It makes sense to simplify something that ends up being a pretty convoluted plot later on. And it makes sense to let the character go this way. It feels like an honest end for the character, and I think it’s a fitting end to this episode.