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Game of Thrones: Season 5, Episodes 6&7 Review
Alrighty, things will be a little different this time around. For starters:
Both these reviews are pretty late, I know. I don't have HBO myself and I wasn't able to watch episode 6 until last Sunday.
I will be reviewing both episodes together this time. This is partly because I believe these two episodes go together in such a way that to speak of one without the other would leave an incomplete impression. (This is also an excuse. Because I'm feeling lazy.) In all seriousness, though, both of these episodes SHOULD be watched together, both for the Cersei story, and the Sansa story.
These episodes are titled "Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken" (Episode 6) and "The Gift" (Episode 7). Both of these titles are fitting, but in my head, I imagine something different. Allow me to retitle them for the purposes of this review:
Episode 6: "Romance Dies"
Episode 7: "Only Forward"
***"Romance Dies" is taken from the script of Episode 6, describing what happens to Sansa on her wedding night. "Only Forward" comes from a quote that Stannis says to Davos during their march to Winterfell.
Spoilers ahead. But that's a given at this point.
Here we go.
We open with Arya in the House of Black and White. Her training has progressed to the stage in all kung-fu movies where the student asks the teacher what are all these lessons for? She is asked if she is ready to become No One, but of course she isn't. As I've mentioned in previous reviews, becoming No One has never been Arya's goal. Without her past, her need for revenge, her entire journey thus far has been for nothing. It is the sort of impasse that threatens to keep her out of the Faceless Men's Club forever. However, after she convinces a dying girl to drink from the sacred pools in the House (which bring a painless death) she is given access to the Vault of Faces, which is exactly what it sounds like. I don't know if that's it's actual name, or wether or not she'll be able to test drive a new face anytime soon, but it's good to know that she's made some progress since the season began.
Also in Essos, Jorah and Tyrion are still on the road to Mereen. It is a dynamic that this show evidently feels comfortable with, and which it has used time and again: two characters on a journey together. (Arya and The Hound, Brienne and Podrick, Jaime and Bronn). They aren't alone for long, however, since they're picked up by pirates and turned into slaves in rather short order. We get another scene of Tyrion convincing someone not to kill him (I won't spoil the details, but it's pretty great) and Jorah promises to make the pirates a boatload of money in the fighting pits of Mereen. And that's where they set off for. Another waste of a good kidnapping.
(Also, how did Tyrion know that Lord Commander Mormont had been killed at Craster's Keep? I understand that word gets around, but still, that was a pretty covert mission he was leading. Does the Night's Watch always send their secrets by raven to King's Landing?)
In Dorne, Jaime and Bronn arrive at the Water Gardens and locate Princess Myrcella, just as the Sand Snakes launch their own kidnapping attempt. We get a good fight scene, but I think the strength of this Dorne segment was Princess Myrcella herself. She is almost a non-character in the books and has gone unseen on the show since the second season, so it's nice to see her with some actual dialogue and her own set of motivations.
The most important parts of this episode (or at least the parts that will have the greatest consequences in the immediate future) are the stories of Cersei and Sansa. We'll discuss Cersei first:
Everything seems to be coming up aces for the Queen Mother. She maintains plausible deniability while the Faith Militant get rid of her biggest rival for her--rather than accusations of infidelity like in the books, Margery is accused of lying for her brother Loras when he is arrested by the Sparrows. In all fairness, they are correct: she did lie. And honestly, the viewer has to question just how much of a role Cersei had in this whole thing. Yes, she armed the Faith, but it was clear that they were gaining strength even before she did so, and they would have arrested Loras wether or not she wanted him out of the way. All of this is a way of saying that the Faith, so far, has remained completely true to their own goals. Nothing they have done has gone against their own interest. What Cersei fails to realize when dealing with these fanatics is that it is only a matter of time before their mutual interests no longer align...
As for Sansa's story...if you're following the show enough to read these reviews, then you know what happens. I don't need to recap it for you. It is the reactions to it that are worth discussing, and what this new development means for the show at large.
Plenty of people swore off watching Game of Thrones after watching this final scene. And, while part of me will insist that they knew to expect disturbing plot developments in this show, of all shows, another part of me completely understands this reaction.
Why is this? Certainly this scene is not as graphic as The Red Wedding (where a pregnant woman is stabbed in the belly multiple times) or the Mountain vs. The Viper (where a man's head is popped like a fresh zit). In fact, we don't see anything of the actual rape itself. While some might say (and they're probably right) that this actually makes it worse, it is certainly much more delicately handled than the other two rapes that have happened to primary characters so far (Dany and Cersei, in case you've forgotten). Why, then, did this scene mark the turning point for so many fans, in a show that is already littered with death and violence?
Because it's Sansa. She's a Stark. Literally the only thing this girl has ever wanted from the moment she first stepped onscreen is a romantic wedding with a man she loves. She has been denied that time and time again, but this is where the dream ends for good. Romance dies, indeed.
Don't get me wrong: this would be horrific no matter who it happened to. But we, as an audience, have always had a soft spot for the Starks. They were our gateway into the world of Game of Thrones. We saw their family dynamic and understood it, projected our own morals and values onto theirs. No matter how many other characters come and go, the Starks are still considered by many to be the true protagonists. So when we see this happen to Sansa, we feel it more deeply. We don't see a girl who becomes a Khaleesi, or a woman whose romantic relationship is all kinds of toxic. We see a young girl in the hands of one of the worst monsters TV has ever seen, and we aren't sure how she will come through it. Theon/Reek's expression speaks for all of us.
So what does this mean for the show at large? It depends on the tone that the show chooses to take. If Sansa's ordeal was merely to showcase how evil Ramsay is, then it was a gross misstep on the part of the writers. We already know how evil he is. If it is to show some sort of turning point in Sansa's character (or better yet, if she ends up killing Ramsay somehow) then it would have at least served a purpose for the overall story. It really is, at this point, too early to tell.
Which brings us to--
Can two words better describe Stannis Baratheon? In the midst of everything he has been through, and the choices still weighing on him (seriously, man...not Shireen. Don't do it.) he pushes on. Despite his defeat on the Blackwater, despite the fact that he has been largely written off by the residents of King's Landing, and despite the fact that there doesn't seem to be a single person outside his own camp who wants him for their King, he pushes on. We see him at the beginning of the episode bogged down in the snow, with Davos urging him to return to Castle Black to spend the winter. Perhaps the echoes of Napoleon in Russia are intentional, perhaps not. Either way, it is clear the dire straits Stannis is in. If the inevitable Battle of Winterfell doesn't turn out in his favor, we will probably be saying goodbye to the only King who is doing anything to help his kingdom.
We also witness the death of Maester Aemon at Castle Black. The man who might have been king. A loyal friend to Sam and Jon. We will never see his like again.
(On a purely personal note, I'm glad they kept his last words the same as the books. It chokes me up every time).
With Aemon dead and John off on his rescue mission with Tormund, the enemies Sam has made within the Night's Watch come out of the woodwork to cause trouble. Two of them try to assault Gilly in a basement passage and they might have succeeded if not for the intervention of John and Ghost. With our nerves still raw from the ending of the last episode, this scene is especially harrowing. And it turns out that Sam, when he goes into full on "Slayer" mode, can spout some pretty bad-ass quips in the face of danger.
"I killed a White Walker. I killed a Thenn. I think I'll take my chances with you."
At Winterfell, Sansa begs Theon to help her escape Ramsay. She charges him with lighting the candle in the broken tower, and at first it appears that he really will. But no. He brings the candle to Ramsay instead, who presumably uses it to lure the old "North Remembers" woman out of hiding and flay her alive.
This was, I admit, a spot where my patience with this season was seriously tested. I understand that things won't always turn out the way they should, and that no character is safe. I would not have put up with 5 seasons and 5 enormous novels if I did not understand that. But, seriously, we should see some improvement in Sansa's life sometime. Here is someone whose entire life has been nothing but misery since the day her father was killed. And now that she is finally home, on her own turf, surrounded by her own people, we should see some hint of hope. Otherwise, why bring her all the way out there in the first place? Instead, she is right back to square one. Her tormentor is even making her stare at corpses again.
Here's hoping that Sansa is in it for the long game, and that her final triumph will be glorious and without mercy. She still has Brienne out there somewhere, so there is hope.
In King's Landing, the Faith Militant is not only growing more powerful, but no one seems to know how to keep them in check. Not even the formidable Lady Olenna (welcome back, Diana Rigg, it's been too long) can make much headway with the High Sparrow. It makes for a strange sort of juxtaposition: these high Lords at the mercy of a mob of religious peasants, and it's made even better by the fact that the Lords have no idea what to do about it. Their assumption that the Faith is out for personal gain has proven false, and what can you give to people who want nothing but divine justice?
No one feels this sting like Cersei in this episode. She made the drastic mistake of assuming the High Sparrow could be bought, or that he would at least respect his alliance with the crown. In short, she imagined him behaving the way she would behave. I don't think it ever crossed her mind up until she was thrown in a jail cell that he actually meant everything he had previously said to her, no matter who it happened to apply to.
And lastly (although it does not come last in the episode itself) we have the fighting pits of Mereen. Apparently pit fighting is a bit like major league baseball, in the fact that you have to make it out of the farm leagues first. Dany, her new husband (I don't feel like trying to spell his full name) at her side, is touring some of the smaller fighting pits at the same time that Jorah and Tyrion arrive for their first fight. Jonah dispatches all challengers and removes his hemet to Dany, who promptly asks her guards to escort him away. But before she can, Jorah brings out his "gift." Tyron walks out to meet her, and while he did not name himself for the slavers who caught him, he names himself now. And that's where the scene ends.
At last. It is something that fans everywhere have been waiting for. With a story that has so many characters, spread out across such a vast world, the ultimate goal should still be to have most of the protagonists on the same side by the time the final conflict rolls around. This scene is the first instance that might happen. It is also the largest diversion from the books so far. While I previously thought that it would take the show at least 2 season to get all the way through A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons, the show looks to be pushing into entirely new territory for Season 8.
3 more episodes to go...