Game of Thrones 5.3: High Sparrow – Review

Ah it wouldn’t be Game of Thrones without weddings and we got one today (between the boy king Tommen and the twice-widowed Margaery) and a promise of another (in a shocking swerve from the source material).

The Wall: Jon & Stannis

Jon has made Olly his squire. So there’s that. Gotta hand it to Stannis, though, he still expected Jon to accept his offer to become Jon Stark after last week’s election to Lord Commander. Jon however, has the honor of his father and politely declines Stannis’ offer. He is disappointed and prepares to march on Winterfell in a fortnight. He advises Jon to deal with the wildlings and to send weed out his enemies within his ranks, namely by sending Ser Alliser Thorne to Eastwatch-by-the-Sea.

“I thought it was best to keep your enemies close,” Jon says.

“Whoever said that didn’t have many enemies,” Stannis replies.

Something tells me this exchange is going to echo in a book-relevant way. HINT. Davos attempts to justify his continued existence by reminding Jon that the Night’s Watch neutrality in the politics of Westeros may doom the realm if it is not prepared when winter comes.

During Jon’s first session as Lord Commander, he disregards Stannis’ advice and names Alliser Thorne-in-my-ass as First Ranger, the second-most-powerful position in the Night’s Watch. It’s a great moment that shows how different Jon is than previous leadership. He’s not petty and he believes in fairness.

Jon orders Janos Slynt, the cowardly former commander of King’s Landing’s City Watch, to take up in Greygard and repair it. Slynt, never the smartest bloke, responds by spitting and publicly refusing. Leaving Jon little choice, he orders his loyalists to take him outside. Thorne, whom Slynt had hung to like a tick, stood aside as Eddison Tollett led the charge to put his head on a stump outside. I absolutely adore the shot of Jon’s shadow on the wall as he takes a courage-mounting gulp from a flagon.

Slynt is so delusional he refuses to believe what is happening until Jon stands over him, with the deceased former commander Jeor Mormont’s sword, asking for his last words. He completely loses it, begging for his life and going back on everything. Kit Harington fucking rules this whole scene and his face expresses so much more now than the simple pouty aloofness of earlier seasons.  Stannis and his men, Thorne and the Night’s Watch, even Tormund and the Wildlings all look on, waiting to see what Jon will do.

The weight of leadership, arguably the biggest theme of the series, is palpably felt in this moment and echoes our introduction to our doomed patriarch Ned Stark (Sean Bean) in the pilot. “The one who carries the punishment shouldswing the sword,” he said. Jon beheads Janos Slynt. I love Stephan Dillane’s subtlety as Stannis. His belief in Jon Snow is reinforced.

Braavos: Arya

Jaqen (otherwise known as No One) gives a cup of water to a sickly-looking man, who thanks him the old Braavosi way and introduces Arya to the Faceless Men’s temple, the House of Black and White where they worship the Many-Faced God. Arya is confused and says she sees the Stranger, the Drowned God, the Weirwood Face among others in unfamiliar gods.

“There is only one god.” Jaqen says. “A girl knows his name. And all men know his gift.”

The man Jaqen gave water to is dead. His body is taken away. Where? Arya wonders. She gets no answer. Well, they are called FACE-less Men and they use different faces . There’s probably a reasonable explanation for such things.

Arya encounters a bully, a girl who plays a game that seems to consist of lies and hitting others with sticks. Jaqen intervenes but tells Arya she cannot train to be “no one” if she is surrounded by Arya Stark’s things. One by one, she throws her belongings in the bay. But when she gets to Needle, the sword her brother Jon made her so long ago (2011 for us), she cannot bear to get rid of it. She hides it off the docks.

Back at the Temple, Arya and her bully are tasked by Jaqen with disrobing and cleaning a body. I’m going to go out on a limb (ha! I love myself) and say we’re beginning to see how the Faceless Men get their many “faces.”

King’s Landing: Tommen & Margaery, Cersei & the High Sparrow 

In a mercifully short sequence, we get the vows, the kiss, and the sex of Tommen and Margaery’s wedding day. Thankfully, the show aged up young Tommen from 10 to 16 in the show, making the lucky bastard losing his virginity to 33-year-old Natalie Dormer only slightly less inappropriate.

In the light of Tommen’s post-virginal ecstasy. Margaery begins her plan to remove Cersei from King’s Landing, insinuating Cersei would be happier back home. Sure enough the next day, Tommen brings up Cersei’s constant complaints about King’s Landing and about her potentially being happier at the Lannister seat of Casterly Rock. Cersei sees right through this and goes to find Margaery, who is in the gardens gossiping about her wedding night with her giggling gaggle of girls. Cersei surprisingly plays it cool and makes it known she will be there, “for anything they need.” It is as polite as Cersei can mask her real desire, to see Margaery’s head on a spike.

I look forward to seeing these two indomitable women fight for the soul and affections of our young, sweet king. Tommen is so radically different than Joffrey it makes one wonder what the fuck went on in child-rearing that made them so different, or did it really come down to the nature of genetics? That would make Joffrey mentally-ill and thus make me have sympathy for him, therefore, to alleviate my guilt, I dictate he was pure evil. Thank you, psychological coping mechanism, you rock.

A little later, we’re back in one of Littlefinger’s brothels, beholden to the Westerosi High Septon (their Pope) being attended to by several prostitutes. Our old friend Lancel Lannister, recent of religious fervor, barges in with other “sparrows” to cast him out on the street naked. He is forced perform a “walk of shame” back to the Great Sept of Baelor. He goes in a huff to Cersei and the Small Council in the Red Keep,  demanding the head of the “High Sparrow,” the movement’s leader.

Cersei hilariously responds by throwing him in the Black Cells and going to meet this High Sparrow, played by the always-awesome Jonathan Pryce. He is of course feeding the hungry in the slums of Flea Bottom. Cersei thinks she sees an opportunity with this old man, to use him as a puppet, saying they can “help” one another.

At the Red Keep, Cersei tells Qyburn to send a message to Littlefinger and checks in our mad scientists’ endeavors, including the twitching body of the Mountain, still undergoing whatever horrific transformation since his fatal poisoning at the hands of the Red Viper last season. “Easy, friend,” indeed.

Moat Cailin: Littlefinger & Sansa

You may remember this place as the not-so-thrilling place where Reek pretended to be Theon again to uproot the Ironborn who were keeping the Boltons from claiming their Northern kingdom. They were promised safe passage home so per usual, but the bastard Ramsay betrayed them all and flayed them alive. Suddenly, we realize . . . oh shit, come on, not again Sansa.

That’s right. In a major departure from the books, we find out what Littlefinger has been plotting since he got the raven’s message in Episode 1: he has betrothed Sansa to Ramsay. Her second insane, psychopathic fiance. I know this is a show with dragons but it almost shatters my credulity for some reason.

In the books, Sansa remains the Vale awaiting a betrothal to a different lord, one who will inherit the Vale should the weak young Robin Arryn die. Author George R.R. Martin recently released a preview chapter from the forthcoming sixth book, The Winds of Winter,  one of the first from Sansa’s perspective since the publication of A Feast for Crows in 2005. In it, Littlefinger counsels Sansa to use her lessons and seduce the lord to make him her own.

There are obvious similarities now that we have seen what Benioff & Weiss are doing with Sansa,  a character in uncharted territory as far as published material goes. The book betrothal is rocky, though thankfully there, not because we know the character is stark-raving mad with a penchant for removing skin. It looks like we will see Sansa put her harsh lessons’ learned in King’s Landing to the test here in a similar way Margaery did with Joffrey back in Season 3.

“You loved your family. Avenge them,” Littlefinger tells his apprentice/surrogate-daughter/sex object. She chooses to continue on his path.

On the Road: Brienne & Podrick 

Brienne remains committed to following Sansa to Moat Cailin and realizes Littlefinger plans to take Sansa to Winterfell. Brienne and Pod take the moment to bond. They share stories about how they became a knight and squire respectively, heartwarming stuff, and Brienne promises to train Pod so he may become a knight as well. Seriously this is one of the best relationships on the show now, especially since the inane Riverland Adventures of the Hound and Arya are over.

It’s here where we get an interesting new story wrinkle: Brienne has become focused on avenging her former lord Renly Baratheon (who was murdered through sorcery by Stannis and Melisandre in Season 2) and intends to kill Stannis. Like Sansa, Brienne is uncharted territory and in a radically different position. This gives her a new, entirely different purpose, one that worries this reviewer (Not my Stannis!!!).

Winterfell: The Boltons & Reek

We see Winterfell again for the first time since Season 2 as Reek, formerly known as Theon Greyjoy, limps through and, wouldn’t you know it, Ramsay did it again, hanging the flayed bodies of resistant lords who didn’t want to pay taxes to the psychotic Boltons.

Roose however is getting tired of Ramsay’s sadistic shenanigans and informs his legitimized bastard son that savagery will not unite the North to their cause, especially now that Tywin Lannister is dead and buried. What will? Marriage, Roose says. Cue Littlefinger and Sansa . . .

No doubt using Littlefinger’s infamous jetpack, the twosome arrive at Winterfell not three scenes after they were at Moat Cailin. Sansa meets Ramsay, who is unusually polite and nonviolent. But from the distance, Ramsay’s psychotic mistress Myranda, last seen enjoying a dog ripping apart another girl she thought looked at Ramsay wrong, watches. I wonder what she’s thinking.

Littlefinger gets to know Ramsay, admitting he is still unknown outside the North (where he is building his rule of terror). Roose meets with Littlefinger to discus their new alliance. He questions why Littlefinger would betray the Lannisters’ by sending Sansa Stark to him. He replies the Lannisters are doomed and fading after Tywin’s death. A similar jetpack-powered raven has also delivered Cersei’s message, which Roose has already read.

He asks what we’re all asking. What is Littlefinger’s endgame? The Lannisters made him one of the most powerful lords in Westeros with the Vale and now he is going against them (Roose doesn’t know Littlefinger had previously orchestrated Joffrey’s death with Olenna Tyrell).

Littlefinger counters that Roose did the same when he betrayed Robb Stark. He reminds him the last time the Vale and the North were united (during Robert’s Rebellion), they toppled the Targaryen dynasty. I like these two schemers together. Without Varys, Littlefinger has few others who can compete with him. The amount of good, living characters is so few its about time the evil ones started bumping each other off.

Volantis: Tyrion & Varys

Tyrion finally loses it and escapes Varys’ carriage. The twosome wander the bridge of Volantis, where slums have sprouted. It’s nice to see a cameo by The Wolverine‘s Rila Fukishima as a red priestess a la Melisandre. Tyrion mentions the only red priest he knew was Thoros of Myr, a character we last saw as a member of the Brotherhood Without Banners, who held Arya in Season 3 prior to the Red Wedding. He also namedrops Greyscale, a disease that gave Stannis’ daughter Shireen her facial scars. I can’t help but feel both of these quips will mean something down the line. Either that, or I’ve reached the Game of Thrones singularity where I think every line is a reference to another, separate line in the show.

After listening to her preach, Tyrion drags the eunuch to one of his favorite destinations: a brothel. But wait, is that a drunk, dragon queen-obsessed fugitive knight we spy? Or rather, who spies our familiar dwarf.

Tyrion finds himself unable to copulate with a prostitute, surprising her and himself. As he pisses off a balcony, Jorah Mormont claims him as a hostage intended for “the queen.”

MISSING THIS WEEK: After sitting out this week, the queen herself Daenerys returns with more trouble than ever keeping a lid on the boiling situation in Meereen. We also catch up with Dorne next week, as Jaime and Bronn arrive and Ellaria and the Sand Snakes, Oberyn’s bastard daughters, plot revenge.

About Sam Flynn

Wasting oxygen since 1992, Sam thanks the gods he doesn't believe in everyday his parents didn't discard him as an infant. It would have been the sensible thing to do.
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2 Responses to Game of Thrones 5.3: High Sparrow – Review

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