Game of Thrones Recap: “The Gift” Finally Gives Fans the Greatest Present Ever

25 May 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘Game of Thrones’ recap: ‘The Gift’.

Game of Thrones season 5 hasn’t been the show’s strongest — one might argue it’s been the worst by far — but at least Episode 7, “The Gift,” had a couple of fun scenes.

Last week, I opted to skip the debate that ensued after a particularly controversial sequence (spoilers) in which Ramsay Bolton not only rapes his new bride Sansa Stark on their wedding night, but makes Theon Greyjoy watch as he does so. The act set off an explosive chain reaction among fans, some of whom defended the show’s right to do whatever it wants, and cited a long history of similarly despicable acts in both the HBO series and books to show how it wasn’t outside of the norm. Everyone has the right to think whatever they want, and respond however they want (personally, I think we already know Sansa has been a victim for years and that Ramsay is pure evil, so that scene seemed unnecessarily grotesque and redundant), but I’d argue that the badness of the Boltons is not Game of Thrones’ biggest problem.

From the Wall to Winterfell to Dorne to King’s Landing, things aren’t looking so good for the vast majority of our characters, who are forced to make the most of bad situations, a task at which some are exceedingly better at than others. Jon Snow, meanwhile, leaves for a difficult mission without the full support of his men, Sam and Gilly are under constant threat, the Tyrells remain imprisoned, and Jorah and Tyrion remain on the far side of the world, even though things may be looking a little better for them — at least in the short term. As the fifth season builds towards its inevitable climactic ninth episode, it’s easy to see characters being put into places where they will have to make hard decisions. There are people, like Samwell Tarly (John Bradley), the High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce), Petyr Baelish (Aiden Gillen), Bronn (Jerome Flynn) and Olenna Tyrell (Diana Rigg), who know who they are.

Martin has called it “the butterfly effect” meaning that when the show changes something that seems tiny, it can have a large impact on the narrative Martin is creating. He wrote about it earlier this week when addressing Sansa’s controversial wedding night: There have been differences between the novels and the television show since the first episode of season one.

And then there is a third category, from which the show derives a great deal of its drama: those who are trying to figure themselves out, including Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane), who is grappling with the conflicts between his fanaticism and his decency; Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), who has little sense of self separate from his sister Cersei; Dany (Emilia Clarke), whose ideals are being dashed against the reality of Meereen’s politics; and Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner), who is struggling to find new tools in a world where the ones she was raised to wield are worse than useless. Instead, it was Jeyne Poole, Sansa’s friend, who was posing as Arya as a way for the Boltons to claim some measure of control over the North, even though they knew it wasn’t actually her. Jeyne suffers even worse abuse at the hands of Ramsay (a point brought up as not-great justification for the Sansa scene), and it’s up to Theon to consider whether to intervene and rise up against his longtime master/tormentor. Despite the brutality of her beginnings, Gilly isn’t broken: she’s fled her father-husband’s squalid encampment, shown a fierce love for her son, found joy in learning to read and the friendship of a king’s daughter, and taken pleasure in her banter with Sam.

We see Reek, tormented by the choice ahead of him, head toward the tower with a candle in hand, but instead he comes across Ramsay, who is enjoying a meal. HBO is more than forty hours into the impossible and demanding task of adapting my lengthy (extremely) and complex (exceedingly) novels, with their layers of plots and subplots, their twists and contradictions and unreliable narrators, viewpoint shifts and ambiguities, and a cast of characters in the hundreds. It’s just unfortunate that what fun “The Gift” did have was somewhat offset by several more missteps, like the scene where Gilly was almost raped by a pair of Night’s Watch men. But that means, as Ser Alliser is so quick to point out, that Sam’s allies are dwindling, and Sam was never much of anything in the Night’s Watch without people holding him up. If his father insisted that Sam be strong and capable of violence because that’s all he understood men to be, Gilly has given Sam some sense of what strength and power can be used for.

Later, Sansa finds the strength to challenge Ramsay’s claim to Winterfell, calling him a bastard made a Bolton by the decree of Tommen, another bastard. Sansa’s abuse seems like it’s being used to further Theon’s character development and not Sansa’s, as the Stark daughter spent one of her two scenes this episode asking “Reek” for help instead of taking matters into her own hands. Littlefinger is more directly involved in the events of the north (though throwing Sansa to the wolves either on purpose or by accident feels very much out of character for him). It turns out that Sam the Slayer has at least one powerful ally left at the Wall: Ghost the Direwolf, who we may or may not have forgotten about with everything that has been going on. Gilly is resisting all on her own, with words and deeds, and so while it wouldn’t quite be correct to say that Sam rescues her, he does bringssomething else to a very dangerous situation.

But in tonight’s episode the show “spoiled” something book readers will presumably have to wait until the next book to see: the meeting of Tyrion Lannister and Daenerys Targaryen. In the most recent book of Martin’s series, the Targaryen queen watched Tyrion perform in the fighting pits without knowing his true identity, but that’s as close as the two have gotten. Of course Theon is too broken by Ramsay to help his former foster sister, and so he spills on the plot to Ramsay, who proceeds to flay the old woman, and Sansa remains trapped in her marriage.

Maester Aemon draws his last breaths while Sam tends to him. “And now his watch is ended” rings out as the black brothers lay him to rest. “You’re losing all your friends, Tarly,” Ser Alliser tells him. I dreamed that I was old,” is one of the most tragic lines in the series. (For those who don’t know, “Egg” was the nickname of another Targaryen, one who died long ago but whose exploits have been documented in the three George R.R. With news that Meryn Trant, the Kingsguard who is on Arya’s list for (supposedly) killing her teacher Syrio, is traveling to Braavos to escort Minister of Coin Tyrell to the Iron Bank, it seems pretty clear that he and Arya’s paths will meet and she’ll get to cross him off.

Elsewhere, Ramsay Bolton and Cersei Lannister share very little — not geographical orientation, not gender, not the circumstances of their birth and early years. Meanwhile, Brienne is staring at Winterfell from afar, and regardless of whether or not she knows how dire Sansa’s plight is, Brienne looks of a mind to rescue someone or something.

They’re as good a read as the rest of A Song of Ice and Fire.) I like to think that the episode title “The Gift” referred to the show’s gift to the audience when Cersei finally got a taste of her own medicine. The measure of Ramsay’s psychosis is the extent to which he thinks he can balance the atrocities he displays publicly with courtly politeness. “Reek told me you wanted to leave. Also in mid-tier, hovering close to the bottom, is Cersei and her idiotic plan to destroy the Tyrells by having the Sparrow Inquisition railroad Loras and Margaery for being gay/lying under oath. Besides the fact that it includes sexual violence that is gratuitous, horrific and completely unnecessary (rape is not a prop to be used to make an episode more exciting, and this show needs to learn that), Sansa’s story also just completely brings her back to where she began, effectively erasing five seasons worth of character development.

It’s slightly better than the books, where Cersei tries to frame Margaery for sleeping around with the Kingsguard and other knights, but it’s still a terrible plan. In this episode it is most clear when Ramsay forces Sansa to look at the dead, flayed body of her would-be savior, a direct mirror of the scene from season one where Joffrey forces her to look at Ned Stark’s head on the wall of the Red Keep. It might be an honest question, if Ramsay wasn’t displaying the flayed, crucified corpse of the woman who told Sansa that there was help for her if she asked for it. “Her heart gave out before I got to her face,” Ramsay remarks casually. And watching Jorah peacefully (relatively, at least) take out every combatant on that tiny battlefield was a huge step up from last week’s fight in Dorne (which, speaking of, why the hell did the Sand Snakes poison Bronn if they were just going to flash him and then give him the antidote?).

The Tyrells know she’s behind it, which is clearly going to shatter their alliance, which is the only thing keeping the crumbling Lannister house in power. Ser Davos wants Stannis to go back to Castle Black and wait out the bad weather, but Stannis tells him that “Winter is coming” aren’t merely the words of the Starks.

Part of the reason Sansa is so dangerous to Ramsay is because she recognizes his dual nature, and he can’t torture her into pretending he is a perfect lord, the way he’s done with Reek/Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen). It’s hard to come up with a more eloquent explanation, but this just felt right. [Varys] puts Tyrion’s mission out there [in the season premiere] and the mission ends in Meereen. Fans of behind-the-scenes images and leaked plot info weren’t at all surprised to see Tyrion present himself to Daenerys in this episode; the two actors were photographed together last fall. He can only threaten her by proxy, even when she’s forcing the point that he’s a bastard who could easily be delegitimized in favor of his new little brother.

Well yeah, Melisandre wants to sacrifice her so Stannis can win the Iron Throne (considering she gives birth to evil shadow assassins, I’m guessing she doesn’t have much in the way of maternal instincts). This led to an incredibly awkward fight broken up by Hota, the house guard, and now we’ll see all parties imprisoned as Doran Mortell tries to sort the mess out. Stannis is not into the idea (thank GOD), and we hope he stays that way, although we’re not entirely sure he can completely resist anything that the Red Woman says, and it looks like it’s getting awfully cold out there.

Here’s to hoping he makes the right decision (side note: Here’s to also hoping this show doesn’t up and kill a little girl just for the hell of it, kthanksbye). Back in the holding area, likewise, Tyrion sees his chance to try to escape and starts cutting at his chains, but he gets some help from a much larger man.

Oh hey Myrcella, what we really needed on this show was another petulant teenage girl obsessed with marrying her prince charming, so thanks for being so completely out of touch with reality. The young Lannister has clearly has been living under a rock while she’s been in Dorne, because all she can think or care about is marrying her betrothed (hey remember that thing I said about Sansa’s story repeating itself?) and there’s little Jaime can do about it. He advises her to gather all the great masters of Meereen on the day of the Great Games and execute them. “I am a queen, not a butcher,” she says, but he responds by telling her to say all rulers are either butchers are meat.

Despite the issues in the books, the seduction of Kingsguard member Aerys Oakheart by Doran Martell’s daughter, Arianne, in order to secure Myrcella as a power play for herself was certainly more compelling than…whatever this is. Basically, Tyene Sand wants to know if she’s the most beautiful woman he’s ever seen, proceeds to strip for Bronn at the exact moment that the poison that she stabbed him in the last episode with takes effect. The show has some serious ground to make up if they want to explain exactly why Myrcella is so relevant, but so far, the plotline has been nothing short of torturous to watch every time it’s onscreen.

One common theory is that the young Martell seen making out with Myrcella in the garden is actually Aegon Targaryen, the son of Rhaegar who was supposed to be smashed against a wall by the Mountain as a child, but who Varys secretly squirreled away. They might do that here, or they might just skip the idea entirely and say that a Dorne-Lannister union gives them enough claim to the crown anyway, because Myrcella is older than Tommen which would technically make her High Queen by Dornish law. So glad we got a whole scene complete with female nudity to tell us. “You are the only person in Meereen who’s not free,” Daario tells Dany while the two are in bed together and she laughs at his marriage proposal.

It speaks to Cersei’s self-delusion that even after that speech, even after Lancel Lannister (Eugene Simon) — the young man in question and her former lover — appears behind the High Sparrow’s shoulder, she doesn’t quite realize what’s happening. “Lies come easily to you. She’s trapped by her vow to keep Slaver’s Bay slavery-free and also by her dragons chained in the basement and by her own failings in Meereeen thus far. Perhaps that’s why your son was so eager to cast you aside for me.” But Cersei’s contempt for the younger woman was so deep that she couldn’t hear the warning in Margaery’s observations. In true over-the-top fashion, Jorah puts on a mask, defeats everyone in the pit to get Dany’s attention (although it’s actually kind of ridiculous that Dany’s head would be turned by a really good fighter, considering the disdain she has for the whole practice). Until the moment a Silent Sister grabs hold of her, Cersei actually believes that she’s fooled everyone into believing that she’s a moral exemplar, a deferential Queen Mother.

If watching Cersei reap some of what she has sown carried a measure of satisfaction, “The Gift” set in motion a number of important new uncertainties that will test who other characters understand themselves to be. In Dorne, Jaime is taken aback when Myrcella (Nell Tiger Free) rebukes him and Cersei for their audacity in daring to fetch her home. “This is my home. This has been my home for years…I did my duty and now she’s forcing me to go back?” Myrcella demands to know, “You don’t know me.” She doesn’t know that she’s just delivered a devastating truth to her father. This leads the eldest Tyrell back into the waiting arms of Littlefinger, who, despite losing his prized brothel, does seem to have a plan, like he always does. Cersei says she will speak to the Sparrow on Tommen’s behalf, and, after a quick victory lap over the dirty and bedraggled Queen Margarey, Cersei does speak to him, only it doesn’t go quite as she planned.

It was only a matter of time until this came back to bite her, considering the cousin she committed incest with is now a sworn member of the militarized Faith. “What will we find when we strip away your finery?” the Sparrow asks Cersei just before she is thrown in a cell. When Ramsay leans back on the royal decree that legitimized him, Sansa has an answer for that, too. “Tommen Baratheon?” she practically scoffs. “Another bastard.” Maybe the sight of her crucified, flayed helper will crush Sansa as rape and betrayal have not.

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