Monday, 25 May 2015

Game of Thrones - S05E07 - The Gift (TV SPOILERS)

Paying for sins past


Sansa - “It can't be any worse." Theon / Reek - "It can - it can always be worse."

In an action-packed episode, kickass Lady Olenna Tyrell squares up to the High Sparrow, Cersei is struck by a pesky double-edged sword, Danaerys finally meets Tyrion and Stannis runs into difficulties. This season has spent a lot of time moving the chess pieces around, and finally we have some payoff. A very heightened and important episode to bring us towards the season's climax.
This week's episode started to provide payoff for the various chess pieces that have been moved around. Tyrion is the eponymous gift who finally gets to meet Danaerys. Cersei's isolation, her dalliance with Lancel Lannister and her use of the Sparrows to jail Margaery has all combined to have her thrown into jail. Poor old Cersei - she can't even protect herself, nevermind the ones she loves. Which reminds me, the spectre of religion and puritanism hangs heavily over this episode - from the fanatical march of the High Sparrow in Kings Landing to Melisandre's ethereal murmurings of seeing visions of victory over the North. 

There are parallels between the two places - both Kings Landing and Meereen have been besieged by insurgencies from among the population. In the case of Meereen, the insurgents just want their old way of life back. In Kings Landing, however, it's more complex - religion. 
All in all, this was a good episode, despite the usual lurches in pacing and tone. There's definitely the feeling of major change going on, with places like Kings Landing & the North definitely feel strong and dynamic, while Essos and Dorne feel sluggish. Hopefully this will be remedied next week! More on the individual storylines below.

Kings Landing / Cersei & Margaery
"Sooner or later you face circumstances beyond your you couldn't possible have anticipated or prevented even if you had"
Well, that strategy came home to roost. Cersei was using the High Sparrow to persecute Margaery Tyrell, but this was one of the clearest examples yet of a double edged sword in Game of Thrones. For a woman of her sinfulness to be playing such a game was foolish in the extreme, as was entering the Sparrows' chambers without a guard from the City Watch. Both of these things allowed the High Sparrow to jail her and write what must surely be his own death warrant. I really hadn't seen this coming so soon - I thought they'd dance around the topic for a while until things accelerated suddenly. Tywin Lannister would've had the High Sparrow killed within a day of announcing a trial of Ser Loras.

Anyway, it's hard to see the situation persisting for long. If the people rise as one to defend the Sparrows, Margaery and Cersei's incarceration may indeed last but surely this is a step too far.

Kings Landing / Olenna Tyrell / High Sparrow
"I imagine this is strange for you - everyone you meet has a hidden motive and you pride yourself on sniffing it out."
My favourite exchange of the episode came between Olenna Tyrell (one of my favourite characters in the whole show), who is her usual sarcastic self, and Jonathan Pryce's High Sparrow, who was his usual supercilious, pious self. This scene demonstrates quite well the crux of this season's storyline - ideology versus pragmatism. So far in Game of Thrones, the winners have been entirely pragmatic people, like people like Tywin Lannister. Honourable, ideological people like the Starks have met a ferocious and terrible end. But the Sparrows don't care about what's expedient or practical - they care about their principles, written down in a book thousands of years ago. Olenna Tyrell discovers here that the High Sparrow and his followers cannot be blackmailed, paid off or threatened into submission.

As usual, she has some great lines. She asks dryly how the gods communicate with the High Sparrow - "by raven or by horse?". She's mad as hell and she isn't going to take it any more...
"Man of the people, eh, that's your game?!" 
"Spare me the homilies, I can smell the fraud a mile away"

That he dared to put away the heirs to House Tyrell, the biggest and richest of all of Westeros's provinces, has made it clear how little they care for public opinion. And then, with the jailing of the Queen Mother and de facto head of House Lannister, Cersei Lannister, they finally crossed a red line. There is no way to reason with religious fanaticism, and it's telling that the High Sparrow doesn't directly answer the question of why he's intent on persecuting a trifling homosexual relationship when Kings Landing, in its degraded state, is replete with thieves and murderers. But of course, the High Sparrow is just taking his time in getting round to them.

Castle Black / Way up North
Jon Snow is a big game hunter - not for him the petty squabbles between the wildlings and the rest of humanity. Of all the people in Westeros, he's the only one actively dealing with the looming threat of the White Walker invasion and doing so in a very personal way - persuading the Wildlings/Free Folk to ally with his people against a common enemy. Sadly, recent history with the Wildlings has predisposed most people at Castle Black towards a visceral hatred of these folk and even if Jon Snow comes back in one piece, what reception will he receive?

Later, as Aegon Targaryen's body was being turned over to the fire, Ser Alliser Thorne threatens Samwell Tarly by reminding him that his list of friends is dwindling. This is an unwelcome development in the character of a man who was hitherto simply grumpy rather than outright evil - losing the Lord Commander gig to Jon Snow seems to have heavily dented his pride. This being Game of Thrones, I wouldn't be surprised if it turned out that Ser Alliser paid some wildling to kill Jon Snow once they get out into the wilderness, so he can be Lord Commander again.

Elsewhere in the North
Stannis Baratheon's travelling military circus has run into serious difficulties, but then this is what happens when you invade from the North. Stannis's strategy is sound (attack the weakest part of Westeros) but his tactics have been weak - firstly, his timing has left his army stranded during a cold that few people can stand (and horses, apparently). Secondly, having his army decimated at the Battle of Blackwater Bay meant that he had to re-recruit in a short space of time by using sellswords, 500 of whom abandon him in this episode.

However, his pride, puritanism and confidence in Melisandre's voodoo God will not let him turn back, in the same way that he carried on at Blackwater Bay despite losing a lot of ships and men to Tyrion Lannister's wildfire. Oh well, "aut vincere aut mori", as they say. 

There is a mildly interesting coda about Melisandre's vision of the lowering of the Boltons' Flayed Man over Winterfell - but is this Stannis's victory or somebody else's? Although Stannis seems confident in himself, he seems in turn to be driven by Melisandre's mystical and spiritual convictions. Is Stannis doomed to destroy himself in pursuit of the crown because Melisandre turns out to be a crazy, religious lunatic who does some magic from time to time?

The daily treatment of Sansa is brutal, if not unexpected. Unfortunately, Sansa is once again a hostage to another monster, this time the added humiliation that it's in the town she used to rule. It seems particularly bold on behalf of the Boltons to sequester Sansa in her own hometown, but the Northerners don't seem to be angry enough to form an uprising. Oh well - I suppose all this misery is eventually meant to lead to to some sort of payoff for Sansa, but it just leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Sadly, her woes are not contained to within but also to Kings Landing - Cersei must also be looking for her now, but she has other problems.

Like Theon, I too have been reconditioned to forget my true, happy nature and become a benighted figure of pity. So having been through the Red Wedding, Oberyn's death, Sansa's rape and so on, I pretty much assumed Sansa's attempt to jolt Theon out of his stupor and reach out to her "friends in the North" would end badly. What did these "friends" plan to do, anyway? Even best-laid plans can go awry in Game of Thrones, so if you don't even bother to have a good plan, it's guaranteed to go badly. Anyway, I'm past the point of being shocked about Theon/Reek betraying Sansa. Like, whatever.

The main plot movements here seem to be that Danaerys finally meets Ser Jorah and Tyrion Lannister, which can only really foretell misery for Lannisters and Kings Landing.

Danaerys's fancy man Daario Naharis is increasingly growing jealous of Danaerys's impending marriage to Hizdahr zo Loraq. In amongst his jealous babblings, he does say something interesting: "the Sons of the Harpy have stopped killing because their leader was made King". Although this is clearly motivated by jealousy, it is interesting - have the killings stopped purely because the pits have been reopened? More seriously, Daario has a very jaundiced view of power - "all rulers are either butchers or meat". This isn't true, even in the Game of Thrones world, but it illustrates perfectly how the thin slice of advisors Danaerys used to have has frayed to the extent that she's been left to Daario Naharis's battle-hardened, cynical views. Is he really as charming as he pretends to be?


RIP Aemon Targaryen.

Danaerys Targaryen may have ended slavery de jure in Meereen, but not de facto. The fighting pits still keep chains on the fighters and so her one major concession to the Meereeners (for that is how I christen them) already seems a big step backwards.

Got to love Tyrion's beatdown of his chainer - who says Game of Thrones is all misery, violence and rape?

Where are Bran and Rickon?!


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