Monday, May 25, 2015

HBO Game of Thrones Recap: The Gift

"All rulers are either butchers or meat."
We'll we're back after last week's controversy. There were some people on these here interwebs who pontificated that strictly speaking what happened between Ramsay Bolton and Sansa Stark Bolton was not technically rape as it is expected for a wife to have sex with her husband on the wedding night. That may well be but it is hardly expected for a husband to lock his wife in her room and visit her only to slake his lusts and terrorize her. Sansa was raped last week and has been raped daily since then as we see her bloody and bruised, cowering in a low cut nightgown when Theon Reek goes to bring her food and drink. Sansa refuses to call Theon "Reek" but reminds him of his Greyjoy heritage. She asks Theon for help, saying to Theon that things can't get any worse. Theon responds, as only someone who's been castrated can know, things can always get worse. However Sansa is able to break through to Theon and get him to go light the candle in the highest room of the broken tower. Isn't that the spot where Jaime threw Bran out the window? In an impressive bit of camera work we see Theon grimly climb the steps with the candle, looking out for Bolton soldiers all the time. He finally makes it to the highest point. But when he opens the door who should be there to greet him but Ramsay, who is snidely curious as to what Reek is doing there. It turns out that Reek wasn't climbing up the steps of the broken tower at all, but rather Ramsay's tower. The fear is strong in that one. Although the misdirect was very nicely done we probably shouldn't have been too surprised. Theon is a broken man who has been degraded beyond all belief. He bit his own sister rather than be rescued. It will take something more than Sansa's first pleas to get him to reject Ramsay's conditioning.
Sansa is summoned to see Ramsay, who is chillingly calm and polite. He tells Sansa that the coming battle will not go well for Stannis as his men are not northerners and are unused to the harsh long winters. When Ramsay says that one day he will be Lord of Winterfell and Warden of the North, Sansa reminds him of Walda Frey's pregnancy and of his younger brother's trueborn status as opposed to Ramsay's bastard one. What if Roose disinherits Ramsay for his legitimate son?  Ramsay counters that he was legitimized by King Tommen but Sansa calls him a bastard as well. Ramsay lets Sansa know that her bastard brother Jon Snow is Lord Commander of the Night's Watch so apparently illegitimate status isn't the handicap it used to be. It's a new day in the North. But enough of all this family values talk. This isn't a political convention. Ramsay invited Sansa to the Winterfell courtyard to see the tortured, crucified and flayed body of the woman who gave her the candle. His serenity thus restored, Ramsay has Sansa taken back to her room. In many ways a calm Ramsay is an even more frightening Ramsay. I guess Reek was right. Things really can get worse.

At the Wall, Jon Snow leaves for Hardhome with Tormund but evidently without Ghost. Sam gives Jon a gift of dragonglass (obsidian). Alliser Thorne again lets Jon know that he thinks Jon is making a mistake. And judging by the sullen closed faces of many of the Night's Watch members, Thorne isn't just speaking for himself. Maester Aemon is close to death and delirious. He's seeing his brother Aegon (Egg), who became king. Maester Aemon urges Gilly to get her child south before it's too late. When the maester dies, Sam leads the funeral incantation but as head-crow-in-charge it's Alliser who burns the body. Alliser takes the opportunity to remind Sam that he's losing all of his friends.  It's not clear if this was a threat or a simple observation but I guess either way Sam had better watch his back. This scene had really beautiful swelling string music. Quite compelling. When Stannis left Castle Black he prudently took Melisandre, Shireen and Selsye with him, reasoning they'd be safer in or around battle than being the only females around a bunch of sex starved males with low moral standards.  We see that was a wise choice on Stannis' part as Gilly is first sexually harassed and later threatened with rape while she's about her chores. Sam comes to her aid but gets the beatdown of the century.  But Sam is not so easily deterred. Despite his utter lack of fighting abilities, he pops up again and refuses to back down in the face of death. He really really really likes Gilly. Suddenly the menacing Ghost appears and scares off the would be rapists. Dogs (and direwolves) always are pretty clear on who they like and who they don't. Ghost doesn't like rapists. Afterwards while Gilly is tending to Sam she decides to show him the proper way to make a lady smile. And Sam, like Jon before him, breaks an oath. Oh dear.
Stannis and his men are suffering through the storm. It wasn't exactly the opportune time to march on Winterfell. Davos reports that their supply lines are down, horses are dying and they're starting to have deserters. And winter is just getting started. He strongly advises returning to Castle Black to wait out the winter. Stannis, being Stannis, rejects that idea both because of his pride and because given how long winters can last, he doubts if he would ever get a chance to march on Winterfell again. They must either win everything or lose everything on this gamble right now. Stannis is going all in. You can follow him or step off but he's not stopping. Not any more. Davos has more to say but clearly Stannis has made up his mind. Davos leaves. One person who is apparently not bothered by the cold or snow is Melisandre, hanging out in Stannis' tent wearing her normal fetching low cut gown. Stannis wants to know if she is sure of his victory. Melisandre reminds him that she's seen a victory in the snow and the Bolton banners lowered. Stannis decides he wants some of Melisandre's good thing but she declines. She suggests (without saying the name) that Stannis sacrifice Shireen to ensure victory. Shireen does after all have king's blood. His blood running cold, Stannis angrily rejects that idea and orders Melisandre out of his tent. He didn't bring his daughter along from danger at Castle Black just to kill her on the road.

In bed Daenerys and Daario take a break from playing hide the dragon to discuss Daenerys' upcoming marriage. Obviously Daario doesn't like it and wonders if the Sons of the Harpy are being quiet because one of their own is about to marry Daenerys. Daenerys insists that the marriage will just be political (does this mean she does not intend to consummate it) but Daario still doesn't like it and advises her to kill all the former masters. Jorah and Tyrion are sold together (Tyrion running his mouth and atypically beating up his guard to convince his new master of his martial abilities) to a slaver who intends to use them in the fighting pits of Meereen. There is a practice match at which it just so happens that Daenerys and Hizdahr are the honored guests. Although he is not in the first batch of fighters, when he spies his one true love on the stage Lord Friendzone grabs his weapons and gear and runs out to wreak havoc. There's nothing like love to motivate a man. Killing or incapacitating every other gladiator, Jorah takes off his helm to reveal himself only to have his hopes and dreams crushed when Daenerys orders him to be removed from her sight. Cold as ice. Tyrion appears in the pit to confirm that Jorah really did bring him as a gift. Isn't that cute?

In Dorne, Jaime, as befits his highborn status is in a comfortable apartment where his niece/daughter Myrcella visits him and throws a tantrum. She says she's not leaving Dorne and that's that. So she doesn't even know why he came. Bronn and the Sand Snakes are ensconced in adjoining cells which are a tiny bit less elaborate than Jaime's. Their cells actually have bars you know. Bronn is singing "The Dornishman's Wife". The Sand Snakes ask him how he's feeling. Tyene Sand in particular wants to know if Bronn is doing okay and if she's the most beautiful woman Bronn has ever seen. Bronn says he's doing fine and has seen plenty of beautiful women. Tyene Sand starts to do a striptease as Bronn's condition worsens. As she reveals herself she also lets Bronn know that during their fight she cut him with a poisoned blade. He doesn't have long to live. By the way she has the antidote so who's the most beautiful woman Bronn has ever seen again? Starting to bleed and choke Bronn agrees that Tyene is the most beautiful woman he's ever seen and gets the antidote. Okay.

In King's Landing, The Queen of Thorns, Lady Olenna Tyrell, confronts the High Sparrow over his imprisonment of her grandchildren. She accuses him of doing Cersei's dirty work. The High Sparrow, who is busy cleaning up (symbolic of how he sees himself and his role) says her grandchildren broke laws. It's nothing personal as far as the High Sparrow is concerned. Whether someone is rich or poor the High Sparrow thinks everyone is equal before the Seven. He intends to bring everyone to task on their moral failings. He can't be bought off or intimidated by Lady Olenna's threats. He says that Lady Olenna, the Tyrells or any other high lords and ladies don't do the work that makes society run. The poor do that. And the poor significantly outnumber the rich. So what happens when the poor no longer fear the rich. He's an enigmatic man that High Sparrow. Lady Olenna mutters that there are many people who have broken laws. She receives a message from Littlefinger. She and Littlefinger meet in one of his shuttered and wrecked brothels. Littlefinger is not happy looking at his losses. Lady Olenna reminds Littlefinger of their past work together and warns him that if if she and her family go down so does he. And if she has any "accidents", she's taken steps to ensure Littlefinger will definitely get his shortly afterwards. Thus properly motivated, Littlefinger assures Lady Olenna that he will give her the same sort of gift he gave Cersei, an introduction to a young man. King Tommen is apparently regretting his decision to stand down from confrontation with the Church. He's talking about killing everyone to get Margaery back. Not wanting Margaery released, obviously, Cersei convinces Tommen to let her go talk to the High Sparrow for him. Cersei first stops by to see gloat over Margaery. She pretends horror and sympathy. She's brought Margaery some food, which she takes pains to remind Margaery is leftovers. Margaery is not happy or fooled by Cersei's alleged sympathy. She calls Cersei out of her name, throws the food at her and orders her out. 

Staying calm, with a smirk firmly planted on her face, Cersei goes to see the High Sparrow. She asks what will happen to the Tyrell grandchildren. The High Sparrow says that seven septons will judge them but that confessions will likely bring mercy. The High Sparrow then launches into a history lesson about the sept he's restoring, pointing out that the builders did not leave their names because their vanity wasn't the point of their creation. He says that faith and vanity don't really go together. He muses about what would they find if they stripped away Cersei's vanity. Not liking the sudden turn of this conversation Cersei readies herself to leave but is stopped by a sister of the faith. Lancel enters. The High Sparrow explains that Lancel has unburdened himself of quite a lot regarding Cersei. Cersei is dragged away and thrown into a cell similar to Margaery's.

What I liked
  • Jonathan Pryce's work as the High Sparrow. His economy of movement,  reasonable nature and smooth unexcited speech really undersell his danger. The only hint of his power and fanaticism is seen in his unblinking stare. He was very well cast. Nicely done.
  • Theon's inability to break through Ramsay's conditioning.
  • The reappearance of at least one direwolf. It's about time.
  • Tyene Sand (heh-heh)
  • Religion is often used as "an opiate for the masses". But what happens when religion, rather than supporting the status quo, actively seeks to destroy it. The High Sparrow has arrested the Queen, the Queen's brother, and the Queen Mother. He seems to be playing to resentments of the upper classes. But how long can the upper classes and the military tolerate this? If Tommen was already regretting not intervening to save his wife will he sit still when people lay their hands on his mama?
  • Sansa picked up something on the Winterfell battlements. What was it? We don't know but we do know that Sansa is still trying to fight back with whatever weapon she can find.
  • Although Cersei hates the Tyrells for relatively petty reasons it is important to remember that they did in fact kill her son. They are just as dangerous and as amoral as the Lannisters. They just have better public relations.
  • Gilly initiating sex with Sam. Given Sam's shyness and fears that was the only way it was ever going to happen.

What I didn't like
  • The implication that Littlefinger or Lady Olenna set off Lancel to talk about Cersei's crimes whatever they might be (incest with Jaime? incest with Lancel? adultery with both of them? murder of Robert Baratheon?). The whole point of the Faith Militant is that they're supposed to be unreasonable unyielding fanatics who can't be dealt with by the normal lures of the material world. Whenever Lancel decided to come clean about Cersei I doubt that he would have done so on Littlefinger's  word. He would have done so for his own internal reasons.
  • The Tyene Sand scene with Bronn was silly though the actress is quite attractive.
  • Tommen's fit of anger came across as a three year old having a tantrum in a store although maybe that was the point. He's still young and unsure of himself.

*This post is written for discussion of this episode and previous episodes.  If you have book based knowledge of future events or have seen future leaked episodes please be kind enough not to discuss that here.  NO SPOILERS. NO BOOK DERIVED HINTS ABOUT FUTURE EVENTS. Most of my blog partners have not read the books and would take spoilers most unkindly. Heads, spikes, well you get the idea....
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