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Game of Thrones: Season 5, Episode 4 review
Warning! Spoilers Ahead!
***In addition to the standard episode spoilers, there will also be some mild spoilers from the books, as well as some speculation on a popular theory from the books that could very well turn out to be a spoiler. If you don't want any of these things, stop reading NOW.
This review will also be a bit more abbreviated than my reviews for the previous episodes, with more page space given to some good ol' fanboy guesswork. You have been warned.
Barristan is dead. Might as well get that right out of the way. It isn't even a spoiler at this point, since the first scene from the teaser for the next episode shows him lying in state in Mereen, much the way Tywin Lannister was shown in the season's opener. Grey Worm was unaccounted for, however. Since both of these characters are still alive in the books, it isn't too much to hope that one of them survived, right?
We see Tyrion and Jorah set out on their journey towards Mereen. As Tyrion himself points out, "What a waste of a good kidnapping." It remains to be seen if the Halfman can manage to win Jorah around the way he did with fighters like Shagga and Bronn. I doubt if Jorah will be swayed by any offers of gold or titles.
Jaime and Bronn arrive in Dorne, where they promptly make some friends among the locals. Jokes. It's still somewhat strange to hear the formally swaggering Jaime Lannister tell Bronn that he might be able to take on one of the Dornish warriors "if he's slow." But that move he pulled with his new hand was pretty great.
Cersei arms the Faith Militant--the fanatical devotees of the Seven Gods--and they proceed to rampage through King's Landing, smashing casks of ale and brutally murdering the patrons of Littlefinger's brothel. There's one Sparrow in particular who seems to be enjoying it a bit too much, and the camera lingers on him for awhile as if to make a point. I don't believe that Game of Thrones consciously sets out to mirror contemporary world events, but this is the season to watch for the parallels. Between the insurgency in Mereen and this rising tide of religious extremism in Westeros, it's hard to watch without the line between fantasy and reality becoming blurred.
John Snow learns how to swallow his pride and put the needs of the Night's Watch first, when he heeds Sam's advice and petitions the Boltons for more recruits. It seems as if John's struggle between family duty and loyalty to the Watch has been going on since season one. But, since this is John's first time in a genuine leadership role, this dilemma isn't as grating as it was in previous seasons. He also manages to fend off Melisandre's advances, meaning we don't have to worry about any shadow-spawn of his running around.
Also, welcome back to the show, Stannis! Not to say that he was gone before. He's been here since the beginning, we just haven't cared all that much. He has always come off as an unpleasant sort of person. Well meaning, yes, but not well liked. And following his defeat on the Blackwater, he seemed exiled from the rest of Westeros, with his storyline scarcely affecting the main plot. That has changed ever since he came to the rescue at The Wall. Being back in the thick of things seems good for Stannis. His heart-to-heart with his daughter is definitely the most humanizing moment we've had so far, and his moment with Melisandre ("I need you, you know") shows a definite venerability. But given the show's track record with beloved characters, perhaps we should hope we don't like him too much.
In fact, it is Stannis who, in this episode, says something that could turn out to be a game changer in the Game of Thrones world. When his wife comments on John Snow's low birth, Stannis remarks that it is something that seems highly out of character for Ned Stark--fathering a child out of wedlock. Perhaps this is only Stannis's way of saying that Ned was an honorable man. Everyone in the show who ever met Ned says the same. Or perhaps, as many fans believe, he is expressing his doubts that Ned is John's father at all.
The fan theory goes that John Snow is not Ned Stark's son, but rather his sister Lyanna's, who you might remember as being betrothed to Robert Baratheon before she was "kidnapped" by Rhaegar Targaryen. She became pregnant with Prince Rhaegar's child, who he believed would grow to become the "Prince that was Promised"--a prophesied figure who can defeat the White Walkers. Being half Stark, half Targaryen would give him both the blood of the First Men and the blood of Old Valyria. And when you think about it, it makes a certain amount of sense. Unlike the books, where noble bastards seem to be fairly common, the only two characters who have them in the show are Ned and Robert. With Robert, it makes sense. With Ned, not so much. Here is a man who remained honorable even at the cost of his freedom and his life. It's actually strange that Stannis is the first person we hear question the idea that Ned fathered John with a tavern wench. It's completely unlike him. He was, however, fiercely loyal to his family. Protecting his sister's secret would have been something he undertook without question, even if it meant soiling his own reputation.
It is also not a coincidence that this episode features several mentions of Prince Rhaegar, who in the show has only been characterized as a kidnapper and rapist. That is because we've only heard Robert's version of events. Barristan Selmy, just before his death, paints Rhaegar as a good and honest man, one who enjoyed singing for his subjects and giving the money he made to the poor. Littlefinger tells Sansa the story of the great tournament at Harrenhal, years before, when Prince Rhaegar was crowned the champion and rode past his own wife to give Lyanna Stark a bouquet of winter roses. It would be something out of a fairy tale, except we all know by this point how much war and death resulted from it.
The books give us a little bit more to go on. Spoilers to follow.
Ned Stark frequently dreams of the moment when he came upon his dying sister. Dying from what? We do not know. She is laying on a bed soaked in blood, surrounded by winter roses. Her last words: "Promise me, Ned."
In the House of the Undying, Dany has a vision of a "silver-haired man" holding up a newborn child. He proclaimed that this shall be the Prince that was Promised, and that "his will be the song of Ice and Fire."
As Ned, Lyanna, and Rhaegar are all dead, the only living soul who knows the truth is a man named Howland Reed (Jojen and Meera's father). Reed served as a squire for Ned during Robert's rebellion, and accompanied Ned to rescue Lyanna. He has not been mentioned in the show thus far, but there is still a ways to go. Since he rules the swamplands around The Neck, perhaps Brienne and Pod will stumble across him soon. They are the only main characters in that area, anyway.
Evidence against the theory:
Most of the Stark children (except Arya) are said to have inherited their looks from their mother's Tully side, which implies that the physical traits of the Starks are recessive. John, obviously, looks like a Stark instead of a Targaryen.
It is stated (in the books if not the show) that both Barristan and Jaime were close with Prince Rhaegar. Barristers was considered one of his oldest friends. It would be reasonable, then, to assume that Rhaegar confided in at least one of his friends what he was planning. And if he told Barristan, wouldn't Barristan have mentioned to his new queen that she has an unknown half-brother on the other side of the world?
- Dorne has made it to the opening credits! We also get to catch a glimpse of the Sand Snakes (Oberyn Martell's bastard daughters, who are all seemingly as cunning and deadly as he was). Their establishing scene was pretty cool, even if some of the dialogue fell a little flat. Seeing this group clash with Jaime and Bronn will be very interesting.
- We get another battle where a character gets an advantage by attacking a man's horse instead of the man himself. What, no one has ever heard of giving a horse some armor?
- You can see the moment when Margery decides that treating Tommen like an equal and a fellow ruler is a waste of energy. It's sad...they actually seemed happy together.
- A tip for anyone hoping to rule Mereen: when your soldiers are known for their impenetrable shield formations, maybe sending them out to patrol in small groups down narrow streets isn't a good idea.
- We get some more information on the gray scale disease, and the Stone Men. Foreshadowing.