Game of Thrones review: Karma catches up with Cersei

25 May 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Game Of Thrones Spoilers: Book fans get ready for a surprise ‘Gift’ in episode 7.

In case it was lost on anyone after watching “The Gift,” “Game of Thrones” would like to reiterate that often times, people feel imprisoned within their lives (and lies.) No less than 10 characters are imprisoned in some way, shape, or form within the episode’s hour and that doesn’t even take into consideration the metaphorical chains worn by the vast majority of the universe’s inhabitants. 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. All the worst things in the world kept happening to Sansa, Daenerys continued bowing to pressure from the Masters, Littlefinger continued spinning his inscrutable web of double- and triple-crossings, and Cersei kept right on digging herself into a hole that even she can’t extract herself from anymore.

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. Set photos also showed Peter Dinklage and Emila Clarke – who play Tyrion and Dany – filming together and it looked like the Imp was an adviser to the Mother Of Dragons and what looks like her new husband Hizdahr zo Loraq. This week’s episode, The Gift (as I can’t help but think of this entire season), took its title literally, presenting us with all manner of gifts from Lancel’s testimony, which saw Cersei thrown into the dark cells she’d previously visited Margaery in, to Jorah’s rather more corporeal present to Dany (and I can’t have been the only one to cheer when Tyrion said: “I’m the gift, I’m Tyrion Lannister”). But I can’t say it was particularly interesting, so much as another opportunity to repeat Game of Thrones 101: Behind every kind smile is a cruel rictus of blood and muscle; behind every open window is a long and perilous fall. 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. In the most recent book, A Dance With Dragons, Khaleesi has only seen a dwarf in the fighting pits without knowing it’s Tyrion, so we all know now that the two will actually meet in the GoT literary universe. Most ambiguous of all was Littlefinger’s gift to Olenna, although I suspect he’s talking about his former employee Olyvar, whom I imagine will turn up extremely dead before the Tyrells ever come to trial. The episode begins at the Wall, with Jon taking off with the wildlings to meet up with more of their brethren and leaving Castle Black under the rule of First Ranger Thorne.

Elsewhere, poor Sansa tried to offer Theon the gift of his name only to be let down by a man still more Reek than Greyjoy, Stannis rejected Melisandre’s gift of victory in exchange for his daughter (at least for now), Jaime discovered that the freedom he so cavalierly offered to Myrcella was unwanted in a place where little girls aren’t hurt and Tyene gifted Bronn his life in a scene that while distinctly cheesy actually amused me (a first for Dorne). Finally Gilly gave Sam the gift he’s been waiting for since they met, taking his much-mentioned virginity in one of this show’s few straightforwardly tender scenes. 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.

Thus it proved this week, as he not only told Dany what we’ve all suspected – her new husband-to-be is head of the Sons of the Harpy – he laid down his philosophy of governance in the process. 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.

In his youth, Aemon went so far as to refuse the throne when it was offered to him after his father’s death, simply because he didn’t think he was fit for the position. The lack of sentimentality that I once heralded for making the show truly unpredictable might now be the most unpleasantly predictable thing about it.

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. In truth, the Queen Mother’s fall has been telegraphed for weeks – there was no way that Lancel could have become a sparrow without confessing his sins – the question is what will Tommen do and will he have a choice? 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. Sam is now more alone than ever in Castle Black, and the consequences play out quickly and harshly: with Jon Snow gone and Aemon dead, two brothers assault Gilly and beat Sam when he tries to stop them.

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. 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. Does he wish to start some kind of people’s revolution in King’s Landing bringing down the corrupt aristocracy? (He strongly implied something like this in his conversations with both Olenna and Cersei, most notably in the threat: “You are the few, we are the many and when the many stop fearing the few …”). 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! It does make sense for the show writers to speed up the storylines even though Martin has yet to complete the sixth book, The Winds Of Winter, because they may not have all their stars signing on for further seasons past the sixth. Or will he instead decide that poor naïve Tommen, constantly used as a tool and desperate for a bit of genuine affection, is a perfect candidate for religious conversion and holy rule? 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.

I know not everyone has bought into the religious plot – and I think the show has struggled to show the scale of reawakened faith among the King’s Landing poor following the war. The peace he’s attempting with Tormund is refreshing for a war-weary audience, but more than that, it’s a chance to witness something that has (apparently) never even been attempted in the many millennia so lovingly catalogued in George R.R. 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. Ramsay takes the token of Sansa’s foiled plot — the flayed, crucified body of the old woman who promised Stark loyalty — and parades it in front of her, hanging the corpse in the main courtyard. He is, after all, correct that King’s Landing is a corrupt sewer ruled over by power-crazed aristocrats who care for nothing but their own house’s advancement.

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. 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.

But her attempts to regain control amount to nothing when she finds herself staring her dead servant in the eye, the woman’s flayed body pinned to a wall. As for Cersei, she reiterated once more that she would do anything for her children – that statement is surely about to be put to the test as the secrets she has lied and killed to keep look set to come crashing down.

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. As a wise poster pointed out last week, this is a show all about sacrifice and those who succeed are those who sacrifice something they truly hold dear. 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. In the marginally less depressing setting of King’s Landing, Lady Olenna Tyrell comes face-to-face with the High Sparrow, with whom she bonds over achy joints (because they’re both old—get it?) before trying to bully him into freeing Margaery and Loras.

Thus, while my heart hopes that he will protect Shireen even if it leads to glorious failure, my head says that if he is asked to sacrifice her for the apparent greater good of the realm, he probably will. 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.

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. This Sansa has survived Joffrey Baratheon, the Lannister family and the machinations of Petyr Baelish, she might do a good impression of docile but if I were Ramsay I’d consider sleeping with one eye open at night.

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. 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. 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. Hurrah for Ghost – just when I was beginning to fear that Gilly would become the latest victim of sexual assault on this show, Jon’s direwolf popped up to save the day.

For the entire season now, she’s played the religious fundamentalist sect as her bargaining chip to wipe her city and her family clear of the Tyrells. 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.

I presume Sansa knows the truth about Tommen’s parentage through either the Tyrells or Littlefinger – I can’t remember a moment when she was actually told. 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. 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.

I don’t know if the reference was deliberate (although I suspect it was) but the phrase “perfumed ponce” will always make me think of Withnail & I. 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. One battered Sam Tarly, one demonstration of Tyrion’s fighting prowess and further proof of the lengths Jorah will go to to try and win his Khaleesi back. 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 wasn’t strictly nude but one touching divesting of Sam’s virginity by Gilly, one rather more forward explanation of her charms by Tyene Sand and a further lesson from the Daario Naharis School of Bedchamber Governance. 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. As it stands, Sansa’s fate leaves two possible options for resolution: Either she rises up, more powerful than before and uses her rape as PROOF that she is a STRONG WOMAN and she has OVERCOME ADVERSITY (which conveniently overlooks the fact that she’s already overcome the razing of her home, the ritual slaughter of her family, her near first marriage to a sadist, etc.) or she’s rescued from her terrible fate by outside forces.

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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