Game of Thrones continues its rampage of change in the fourth episode of Season 5 this week. The changes are good because the echoes in other plotlines are more pronounced. It makes for more concise storytelling, in line with the ‘convergence’ theme showrunners David Benioff & D.B. Weiss have repeatedly said (notably something George R.R. Martin most definitely did NOT do in his books).
The episode is titled for the guerrilla terrorist group that is making life hell for Daenerys’ reign in Meereen while at her ancestral home of Winterfell, Sansa prepares for her (sure-to-be terrible) wedding to Ramsay Bolton. And in King’s Landing, Cersei makes (what she thinks are) smart plays to remove the Tyrells from power and regain her authority as Queen, and the red sorceress Melisandre finds her secret weapon (her sexuality) is not enough to tempt Jon from the Night’s Watch. Finally, in Dorne, four badass warrior women plot vengeance for the death of their beloved father and lover. Women and particularly women in power is a strong suit of both the books and the show and, I think, a major part of its global cross-appeal. Without further adieu, let’s dive into “Sons of the Harpy.”
The Wall: Jon & Stannis
I love, love, love the scene between Stannis and his scarred daughter Shireen. We get to hear how she was originally infected with Greyscale (another mention after Tyrion dropped the word last week. We’re leading to something, I suspect . . .) and actually see Stannis hug his daughter. With his own arms. It’s so sweet and the foreshadowing is so thick at this point that it’s obvious Shireen is going to be burned by one of the mad, fire-obsessed women in his life before the season ends. We can’t have nice things on Game of Thrones. It’s never long before someone stabs/beheads it.
Moving from foreshadowing and hints, Melisandre visits Jon and attempts to seduce him. Carice van Houten hilariously told EW that the script described her reaction after being rejected as “Bitch, please.” Love it. Either way, Jon waits until his hand’s on her tit before pulling back, saying he still loves another. Melisandre of course can’t not leave without having the last words though: “You know nothing, Jon Snow.” Shivers.
Winterfell: Littlefinger & Sansa
Sansa pays respect to her aunt Lyanna’s tomb in the crypts of Winterfell. Littlefinger joins her and relays the story of how Rhaegar Targaryen, the prince and Daenerys’ brother whom Robert Baratheon killed on his way to the throne, had become smitten with Lyanna at a tourney where he ignored his wife (that’s Elia Martell, if you’re keeping a chart) and graced the Stark lady with honors. This season in particular seems full up on foreshadowing and obvious placement for later exploitation. I can’t decide if its because I know too much in terms of the story or if it’s as obtuse as it feels sometimes. Then again, I knew Rhaegar Targaryen’s wife’s name and I can’t multiply or divide. Go figure.
We get an unparalleled sneak peek at Littlefinger’s plans as well: he is gambling that Stannis topples the Boltons and instates Sansa as “Wardeness of the North” to gain the allegiance of the Northern houses who desire a Stark in Winterfell. I find this interesting because in Season 1, Littlefinger explicitly told dear-departed Ned Stark not to back Stannis for king. But the world has transformed since then and Littlefinger more than likely is playing the cards dealt to him. Besides, even if Stannis loses, he tells Sansa she’ll learn to rule Ramsay and thus rule the land. For his part, he must go to King’s Landing at Cersei’s demand, to placate her. Wonder if Cersei will learn about Sansa’s engagement before or after he arrives?
For a diabolical chess master playing a long game of epic proportions, I do however find it egregious he is still in the dark about Ramsay’s absolute absence of empathy and sick sadistic pleasures. It makes the idea that he would leave Sansa behind in a situation he wasn’t in the know about more out of character. It’s not he and Roose Bolton are best buds with trust to match, namely because they’re both power-hungry sociopaths. Littlefinger is probably the most interesting character to me as essentially the Frank Underwood of Westeros but I fear an anticlimax is inevitable.
King’s Landing: Cersei & Tommen, Margaery & Loras
Cersei’s Small Council grows smaller after she sends Mace Tyrell – and her personal pet brute Meryn Trant – to Braavos to treat with the Iron Bank re: the Iron Throne’s MASSIVE debt (remember, even Tywin was afraid of these bankers). Of course, to Cersei, it’s a mere excuse to send Mace away. She next meets with the High Sparrow and offers to arm his religious cult by re-instituting the Faith Militant. And she has a very particular sinner she’d like to see taken to “justice.”
This has the same effect that handing weapons to dogmatically violent, traumatized war veterans tends to have. “Sinners” are punished; among them Loras Tyrell who is arrested for his homosexuality. Obviously this enrages his sister, Queen Margaery, to no end and she demands her new husband, the gentle King Tommen, reason with his mother.
Cersei took everything about Tywin and forgot to learn pragmatism. His shitty parenting engendered a mother who’s even shittier parenting raised a psychopath and a woman who desires power but has no notion of how to wield it. Case in point, when Tommen goes to Cersei, she puts him in the position of visiting the High Sparrow himself to get him to release Loras. However, a confrontation between Tommen’s Kingsguard and the Faith Militant ends with Tommen returning to the Red Keep, tail between his legs.
It’s a testament to the strength of female characters and Cersei herself that it feels more like a tragedy than a comedy of errors on the part of a hated character (special shout-out to Benioff & Weiss for making Cersei much more sympathetic than her book version). After all, she is alienating allies, arming psychotics, and undermining the authority of her son and, by proxy, herself. The greatest irony? Cersei thinks she’s winning. We are on a collision course between reality and the reality Cersei thinks she lives in.
Poor Tommen is caught between his new wife and his Machievellian mother. Predictably, he’s about as effective as a broken condom. Westeros is a world that does not reward pacifism or nonviolent protest, to say the least. Margaery, showing her own Machievellian mind, tells Tommen that without violence upon those who resist them, his word as king means nothing. We should be seeing her grandmother the Queen of Thorns, not seen since last season’s “Purple Wedding,” soon to deal with Cersei’s war on her family.
Dorne: Jamie & Bronn, Ellaria & the Sand Snakes
Jaime passes Brienne’s home of Tarth, the Saphirre Isle, reminding him of another journey he took. Bronn however, is far more direct than Brienne and immediately sees through Jaime’s assertion that he is saving his “niece” and refusing to admit he released Tyrion. He does tell Bronn he will cleave his brother in two should they meet again. Oh, come on, of course they’re going to meet again.
The duo row ashore (this episode is rife with rowing) and arrive in Dorne. Bronn asks Jaime how he knows the merchant ship captain that smuggled them won’t rat them out. Jaime nonchalantly says he paid him his weight in gold. “I don’t think you understand how much people hate your family in this part of the country,” Bronn says dryly before they are set upon by four Dornish mounted spearmen.
Jaime and Bronn are too blunt and snarky to lie convincingly so Jaime the cripple takes one while Bronn takes down the other three. It does yield a great moment where Jaime catches his enemy’s sword with his golden hand, surprising the viewer and enemy as he is run through. Those are the moments the show earns; that’s trick. It’s not a gimmick; it originates from the characters who form the story, instead of modern day stories, which often reverse the order.
And finally, the big addition to Season 5: the Sand Snakes Obara, Nymeria, and Tyene, They are all daughters of last seasons’s departed Oberyn Martell a.k.a. the Red Viper (Pedro Pascal) and they are even more dead-set on vengeance than their father after the Mountain crushed his skull. Oberyn’s beloved mistress Ellaria (Indira Varma) is Tyene’s mother and convinces the other two of her plan: use Myrcella to start a war with the Lannisters. They capture the merchant ship captain stupid enough to rat out Jaime and Bronn and find out about their arrival, before Obara dramatically spears the dude’s head. Hey, if you were just going to kill him, why bury him in the desert with scorpions on his face first?
Slaver’s Bay: Tyrion & Jorah
This scene is basically an excuse to have Peter Dinklage be classic Tyrion for a bit and clarify his situation. Jorah steals a boat to take his captive Lannister to his queen – Daenerys – in hopes of gaining redemption. Tyrion being Tyrion quickly convinces Jorah to ungag him, deduces his identity, and laughs at the irony.
“You wasted a perfectly good kidnapping,” Tyrion laughs. Jorah responds by knocking Tyrion unconscious. Row, row, row your boat, gently down Slaver’s Bay . . .
We return to Round 26 of Hizdahr zo Loraq pleading with Daenerys to re-open the gladiatorial pits to bring unity to the increasingly-chaotic city. For the 26th time, Dany stubbornly says no. Later, Barristan drops the second story of the episode about Daenery’s deceased older brother Rhaegar (book readers will understand the importance of the prince but for the uninitiated, it boils down to this: R+L=J), talking about he would accompany him as he sang songs to the common people. Uh-oh, Barristan, don’t you know imparting wisdom or information of any kind makes you expendable. Stay vigilant and silent my brother!
The Harpy’s undercover prostitute again sets up a bunch of Unsullied and Second Sons for an ambush. After a brutal fight (we finally get to see Barristan the Bold fight!), the old knight and Grey Worm’s fates left up to whatever cruel gods rule over the world of Game of Thrones, Well, actually, Barristan is just flat-out dead. In the books, Barristan remains alive past this point. Grey Worm will probably get a goodbye scene with Missandei next week, if I had to guess. We’re all in uncharted waters now, as this was the last episode leaked and includes yet another groundbreaking change to the story. It’s hard to believe we’re almost halfway through the season already.
MISSING THIS WEEK: Varys appears to still be at the Volantis brothel, waiting for Tyrion to return from his long piss. Arya is training with the Faceless Men in Braavos, the Boltons are probably making coats from human skin, other people are doing some other shit, I’m sure I’ve forgotten someone. Till next Sunday!