“Game of Thrones” recap: “The Gift”

25 May 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘Game of Thrones’ recap: Jorah’s reunion with Dany turns nasty.

Has the internet broken yet? This week’s episode of “Game of Thrones” seems to take place in an alternate universe where comeuppances and rewards happen to the right people, and scenes we’ve been hoping for actually take place.Finally, Cersei Baratheon has a door slammed in her face that all the power, money, and sexy wiles in the world will no longer open — read Us Weekly’s recap of the Sunday, May 23 episode of Game of Thrones. In tonight’s episode Tyrion Lannister and Daenerys Targaryen finally meet. *Squeal!* It might not have happened in George RR Martin’s books (the published ones, anyway), but for Throneheads this union couldn’t have come soon enough. And after spending the entire season either stuck in a box or tied up in shackles, it’s a huge relief to see Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) about to do something exciting – and the same goes for Dany (Emilia Clarke) whose presence has been decidedly flatter in season five as she sits atop her Meereen pyramid.

It was logical advice from Reek, who knows how quickly Ramsay’s knife can go from gentle skimming to full-fledged chopping — and, indeed, it proved to be prophetic. Even when not directly involved in an individual’s life, parents cast a long shadow in any universe centered on a system that includes so much in the way of lines of succession, family crests, and, well, incest. Samwell Tarly (John Bradley) – maybe the most reliably humble and generous person in the “GoT” universe- gets to shine at the Wall, where he and Gilly (Hannah Murrah) take center stage while Jon Snow (Kit Harington) is leaving to try to convince the remaining wildling population to come south before the Walking Dead – sorry, the White Walkers – get them. After years of getting away with murder, both literally and figuratively, it looks like the most detested character on might finally get her karmic comeuppance after tonight’s episode, which saw her arrested by the very army of zealots she empowered to take down her daughter-in-law. Time and again throughout “The Gift,” we see individuals forced to a point where they must choose to abide by the standards set by their parents or make their own path.

When Mormont (Iain Glen) learns his Queen is only metres away and strides out, helmet on, sword in hand, you get that tingling feeling – you know, the one we used to get from GoT in season 1 – and it’s wonderful. Alliser Thorne (Owen Teale) – a.k.a. the guy who lost in the Lord Commander election – thinks it’s a stupid idea and tells Jon so. “As always, thank you for your honesty,” Jon tells him. (Is that snark from the Stark bastard?) Sam and Gilly are keeping a vigil at the dying Aemon Targaryen’s bedside, where he’s drifting back into memories of being a boy with his brother, Aegon. “You’re losing all your friends, Tarly,” Thorne cracks after the maester’s funeral, and sure enough, right away Gilly’s getting menaced by the threat of sexual violence from two Night’s Watch thugs (wasn’t not raping people kind of implied in the vows?). With Cersei removed from her position of power — and stuffed inside a cell where she has none of either — loyalties are shifting with houses colluding everywhere else in Westeros. It’s not something that’s gone unexamined by the show before, (a theme perhaps best explored in this piece that suggests the only way for the remaining Stark children to survive the series is to stop being Starks) but “The Gift” showed a renewed commitment to the question, with father figures passing on and actual fathers forced to choose whether or not to sacrifice their children for their own glory. Aemon Targaryen, maester of the Night’s Watch, passed away in bizarrely normal fashion this week: in bed, surrounded by people who care about him, experiencing flashbacks to his childhood with little brother Aegon, a “jolly fellow” with an endlessly amazing nickname, “Egg.” Before he dies, he advises Gilly to fly south before winter comes—advice that would suit Sam, now entirely friendless at Castle Black, just as well.

What this means for the Mother of Dragons’ hold on power is unknown: will she marry the man who said bringing back the fighting pits wouldn’t bring back slavery? At Winterfell, a tearful Sansa (Sophie Turner) channels the spirit of last week’s theme – “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken” – when, despite being locked in her room and assaulted nightly by her husband (Iwan Rheon), she enlists Theon (Alfie Allen)’s help to get her out. “Your name is Theon Greyjoy,” she tells him firmly as he insists she call him Reek. Gilly’s almost-rape is foiled by a well-timed appearance from Ghost—the direwolf Jon left behind while he rallied the remaining Wildlings north of the Wall with Tormund Giantsbane—and comes with bonus vow-breaking rewards for Sam “Oh, My” Tarly.

Buoyed, Theon agrees to take a candle up to the tower – remember the chambermaid who told her to signal if she was in trouble? – but when he gets up the many stairs, Ramsay is already, improbably dining there like the cartoonish villain he is. Marching south from Castle Black to conquer northern Westeros is wannabe king Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane), whose demoralized troops are caught in a worsening snowstorm. “I retreated from King’s Landing,” Stannis says of his humiliating defeat at the Battle of the Blackwater. “If I retreat again, I become the king who ran.” Offering a ghoulish solution to this predicament is priestess Melisandre (Carice van Houten).

Not quite as rousing as Missandei and Grey Worm’s first kiss, but Sam’s I-can’t-believe-this-is-actually-happening look, plus the earlier moment when Gilly breaks free from one attacker and flies at the other with her teeth bared and claws outstretched, snarling “LEAVE HIM ALONE!” felt like this bleak episode’s biggest wins. Less cartoonish is the skinned corpse of the chambermaid he displays for Sansa – this is one of those things you can’t unsee and, for this viewer anyway, wish “GoT” would just leave to the imagination, like the books – but prior to this awful revelation, we see that she’s got some fight left. And it’s not even solely to do with the continued struggles of Sansa. (Although I must say, if there’s anyone out there still buying producer Bryan Cogman’s line about how Sansa is somehow “a hardened woman making a choice,” I have some oceanfront property in the Red Waste to sell you.) It’s this grinding sense that Theon’s words aren’t just a warning, they’re standard operating procedure; that in any situation in Westeros, the worst case isn’t a threat, it’s a guarantee. In less pleasant consummations, Sansa is imprisoned in a tower in Winterfell, spending her days weeping and her nights being raped, leaving her so desperate that she begs Theon to help her, by placing a candle in the broken tower to signal the North of her distress. With Ser Barristan Selmy gone, there’s a vacant place in Daenerys’s inner circle for a politically savvy Imp with knowledge of—and a vendetta against—the rulers of Westeros.

Instead, the Reek formerly known as Theon betrays Sansa immediately to Ramsay, who in turn sniffs out and flays the old woman who offered help to his bride when she arrived at Winterfell. The lack of sentimentality that I once heralded for making the show truly unpredictable might now be the most unpleasantly predictable thing about it.

If Stannis does conquer the north, it can’t come too soon for Lady Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner), who’s held captive at Winterfell by sadistic Ramsay Bolton (Iwan Rheon). Theon, being a useless sack of shit, takes her faith in him and craps it all out on Ramsay’s floor, giving him both Sansa’s candle as well as her intentions with regards to her escape. Stannis (Stephen Dillane), on the march to Winterfell, is up against stacked odds too: His men all have colds and his horses are freezing to death in the night.

Waiting around for Littlefinger to return is no longer an option; Ramsay has been raping Sansa every night and keeping her locked inside her room during the day. On the bright side, Sansa returns from their ambulation with a handheld weapon she manages to secret into her skirts, so maybe she can do everyone a favor and bury it in someone’s brain before the season ends. The most curious factor of Sansa’s storyline, a repurposed plot that in the books involved a character named Jeyne Pool posing as Arya Stark and being married off to Ramsay, is the idea that it’s the Stark name and the fate that befalls Sansa that would drive the North to rise up and protect her. But while, say, Season 2 Sansa would have met her fate with little more than sheer resilience (and lots of praying), this new Sansa is an active force to be reckoned with!

This time it’s the tween Shireen she’s got her eye on, and for once he seems to put his foot down: “She’s my daughter,” he says. “Get out.” In Dorne, Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) is getting nowhere with Myrcella (Nell Tiger Free), who isn’t interesting in being rescued. “You don’t know me,” she snaps, running out of the room, and just like that Jaime must be really registering that he’s the parent of a teenager. It’s not just that the young Lord Commander has, in Ramsay’s words, “done very well for himself.” It’s about the way he’s done it: by smashing through orthodoxy and expectation like a fist through ice. Finally, Queen Mother Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) pays an unwelcome visit to Queen Margaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer) in the King’s Landing dungeon.

In a prison cell, Bronn (Jerome Flynn) is entertaining the locals with a ballad about having “tasted the Dornishman’s wife.” Across the way, the Sand Snakes – also imprisoned after their collective skirmish in the courtyard last episode – are taunting him from their cell, especially Tyrene (Rosabell Laurenti Sellers), who asks him how his knife wound is recovering while taking her top off (because of course). She’s imprisoned for seeking to protect her homosexual brother Loras (Finn Jones) by lying to the High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce). “I know you did this,” Margaery snarls, aware that Cersei empowered the fanatical Sparrows as part of her ruthless gambit to regain control of the Iron Throne. But once Reek gets up there and unlocks the door, he finds, of course, Ramsay, just as he’s settling in for a plateful of dismembered limbs or dead puppies, or whatever it is sadists have for lunch. Davos slinks off with his tail between his legs and Melisandre suggests that they could probably move things along if Stannis would just let her sacrifice his daughter to the Lord of Light (which, honestly, feels like Melisandre’s solution for everything). Sansa does score verbal points during a later walk with Ramsay by casually pointing out that he is still a bastard, no matter what King Tommen (another bastard) wrote on some fancy piece of parchment.

The following conversation with her husband, Ramsay (a brilliant Iwan Rheon), is all the worse knowing there’s very little hope of escape. “You make me very happy,” the evil Ramsay says. Ready to expose Cersei’s many sins is her cousin Lancel (Eugene Simon), a zealous follower of the faith. “I am the queen,” Cersei screams as she’s dragged away. “Look at my face,” she furiously tells her captors. “It’s the last thing you’ll see before you die!” But Stannis, as evidenced in the last few episodes, is a loyal father to Shireen and rebuffs the Red Woman, sending her away and leaving him alone with his thoughts and contemplating the fight to come. In Meereen, Daenerys may be engaged to local nobleman Hizdahr zo Loraq (Joel Fry), but it’s just “for political reasons,” she tells foxy bedmate Daario (Michiel Huisman). But, as likely comes as no surprise given the recent loss of their patriarch, no family struggles as mightily in the shadow of their father as the Lannister clan.

Because at its worst — and particularly in droopy midseason lulls like the one in which we’re currently mired — Thrones carefully constructs a false binary and presents it to us like gospel. “All rulers are either butchers or meat,” as Daario purrs between the sheets. Waiting their turn in a fighting pit, they’re informed that most of them will die today, but the one who doesn’t will have a chance to fight in front of the queen. As far as she’s concerned, her mother traded her like chattel to Dorne and now that she’s happy, wants her to abandon her happiness and return to King’s Landing, merely because she bids it. In this moment, Jaime yearns for the authority that a father has over his child, that Tywin never shied away from using with his own children, but serving merely as Uncle and messenger, he has no such sway over Myrcella, a realization that leaves him wanting.

When Jorah realizes that winning means an audience with the queen, he rushes into the battle and lays waste to the competition before revealing his visage to Dany. The Queen Mother’s incestuous indiscretion with her first cousin, Lancel—who helped murder King Robert but is now a devoted Sparrow serving the Faith of the Seven—emerges and Cersei is thrown into prison, the smug look on her face from seeing Margaery in a cell barely evaporated. Perhaps we’re headed to a true moment of humanity in which Stannis forgoes his magical mojo and enters battle high on love and decency.1 But we’ve certainly been conditioned to expect the opposite, that Stannis will go ahead and do a truly terrible specific thing in the hopes it will lead to some vague, general good. Unmoved, Dany tries to dismiss him, only to have Tyrion present himself as the eponymous gift and finally bring two of the show’s finest characters into contact. It’s curious how far Tyrion has come from the man we saw only episodes ago, uninterested in Daenerys Targaryen and her dragons, and intriguing to think how his murdered father would react could he see his son’s actions.

Arming the Faith Militant, a religious organization so conservative they make Puritans look like hippies, was a colossally stupid idea, even for the queen of self-sabotage. I had been really excited to see the Snakes as their father, Oberyn Martell, was the standout character of series 4, but now I fear they’re taking up precious screen time. Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen) is her next logical stop, and he’s more promising, as she actually has something on him: “Together, we murdered a king,” she points out. Right around the time that Tyene gets very, very nude, Bronn realizes he’s actually feeling very, very ill, thanks to the slow-acting poison on the blade she nicked him with.

With King Tommen refusing food, heartsick at the imprisonment of his queen, it’s his mother who takes to the cells to visit Margaery and offer “comfort.” He’s moved by his mother’s empathy, almost as angrily moved as Margaery is by Cersei’s gloating visit. Littlefinger has information she can use; “I have a gift for you, the same kind I gave Cersei: A handsome young man.” Cersei (Lena Headey) is busy comforting another handsome young man: Her son the king (Dean-Charles Chapman), who is all but bursting into tears at frustration over not being able to free his queen. “I’ll do everything I can to win her freedom,” Cersei lies. “You are all that matters; you and your sister.” The second part she looks like she believes, but when confronted with the sight of a disheveled, bitter Margaery in the Sparrows’ prison cells, she can’t help but visibly relish it. Cersei has always prided herself on being the most like her father when it comes to matters of cunning, a title that almost certainly belongs to her brother Tyrion, a fact made obvious by how blindsided she is by what transpires next. To inhabit a universe so richly sculpted, so teeming with stories and then be constantly railroaded into familiar brutality is disheartening to say the least. Blind to the danger that lurks anytime Olenna Tyrell and Petyr Baelish inhabit the same area, blind to their cunning, just as she’s blind to the fact that they murdered her son, it’s only midway through the High Sparrow’s speech that Cersei realizes that she has painted herself into a deadly corner from which there may be no escape.

It was, of course, Aiden Gillen’s Littlefinger (phew, after last week we thought he was on her side) and Grandma Tyrell (the wonderful Dianna Rigg) who set it up. Cersei couldn’t be more bored, but puts on her polite face – until the Sparrow turns to look at her. “What will we find when we strip away your finery?” he asks, bringing out Lancel (the Lannister-turned-Sparrow), who has sold her up the river. And over in Essos, Tyrion and Jorah find themselves, as promised, pawned off to Meereen’s fighting pits, re-opened as a gesture of Daenerys’s political goodwill. Things are looking dire for poor Margaery, thrown in the clink last week for her perjured testimony about her brother’s sexual proclivities.But hey, at least she’ll have company now!

Every episode Littlefinger’s plan’s get more and more intriguing, hopefully we’ll see the play off soon – either that or I hope he meets a dismal end for leaving Sansa to suffer just for his own gain. Some are trapped by chains and cells, some by lies and deceit, some by duty and obligation, but all are bound by the expectations of the family that raised them.

And no matter the chains that bind them, no situation will ever be as insurmountable as learning how to navigate the family you’ve found, the legacy they’ve left, and the life you’ve yet to lead. Shortly before entering his first fighting “pit,” (small dirt circle?) Jorah, with that familiar sparkle back in his eyes, glimpses his eternally unrequited love through a gate—then promptly straps on a helmet, jumps his place in line, and gets his Gladiator on to impress her.

Cersei’s self-orchestrated downfall has been agonizingly obvious to observe, but if her character is trapped on an express elevator to hell, Lena Headey hasn’t gotten the memo — or perhaps she just tore it up. More than that, as mhysa to the freed slaves, Dany also carries the burden of motherhood and the responsibility that goes with it, for thousands of citizens.

Like a schoolboy’s daydream come true, he cuts down one enemy after another until he triumphantly takes off his helmet and looks to his queen, eyes screaming “LOVE ME!” Of course, she’s disgusted. There’s no way to sufficiently capture the grief of Sansa after being raped because there are fifteen other characters that need servicing in each episode. I don’t expect things to end well for Cersei over the next three episodes; her list of heretical sins is longer than Lancel’s hair used to be. (Actually, my Cersei pessimism dates back to the very beginning of the season, with its death-clears-its-throat flashback.) And, frankly, why should it?

This union has been the biggest promise of the season—now that Daenerys and Tyrion are together, a whole crop of new, exciting possibilities are in reach. It’s that they should stop featuring rape because it is physically impossible for the show to portray it in the sufficiently grave light that it deserves.

She’s made something that could have been one-note ring out like a symphony. (Or, in terms Cersei would appreciate, she’s taken a single grape and squeezed it into a Jeroboam.) So rich and perversely sympathetic is Headey that I found her touchdown celebration in Margaery’s cell unnecessary. But it’s equally unnecessary to make someone a villain when they’ve already accomplished the much more dangerous trick of outing themselves as human. The set-up is delicious and these set of seemingly disjoint sequence of events may finally unveil one giant pattern about which side finally finds favour with the old gods and the new. The idea of fantasy hoi polloi rising up en masse is fascinating — too often they’re reduced to dragon kibble or merely tossed onto death wagons — but I wish the most prominent avatars of the forgotten classes weren’t anti-buggery religious fanatics and turquoise-clad slave traders. (I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Meereen is the worst. After seeing the jokers Daenerys has surrounded herself with thus far, it’s a wonder she’s able to hold on to her hat, let alone three teetering megalopolises.

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