Game of Thrones serves up another shock

25 May 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘Game Of Thrones’ Season 5, Episode 7 Review: ‘The Gift’.

We knew from the outset of Cersei’s scorched-earth campaign against Margaery and the rest of the Tyrells that eventually the flames would lick her, too. We come to tonight’s episode of Game of Thrones—”The Gift”—on the heels of last week’s horrifying rape scene, only to find that some time has passed, and Sansa is in perhaps even more dire straits than we realized.

And so it went on Sunday, not long after her victory lap in Margaery’s cell — presumably the most satisfying moment of Cersei’s recent past — she ended up in her own. It was a dire development for Cersei in an episode that, Tyrion’s long-awaited meeting with Daenerys Targaryen aside, perhaps, mostly kept the desperate vibe going from last week.

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. Pretty much the only character missing was lovable galoot Podrick. (We also didn’t see Arya, but she could have been hanging around wearing a different face for all we know.) The tides turned quickly in King’s Landing this week.

If you happen to be one of the many Game of Thrones viewers who has sworn off the show after last week’s episode—like The Mary Sue and various other confused dissidents—you will have missed all of this. 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. At the beginning of the episode, Olenna is giving the High Sparrow her signature sassy treatment and demanding that he release her grandchildren, Queen Margaery and Loras, who are imprisoned for perjury and “buggery,” respectively. Sam gets beat unconscious in an attempt to rescue Gilly from two would-be rapists (just another Tuesday in Westeros), highlighting his now-precarious position at the Wall. 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.

It’s scary, too, that so many viewers would decide to not watch or discuss the show over this topic, since it’s a very real, human issue that people face in the modern world as well as Westeros. 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. 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.

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. Turns out she would’ve been better off sticking with raven Skype — once again, as with their undoing of the wretched King Joffrey, Littlefinger and Lady Olenna brought down a Lannister. (Yes, I realize Joffrey and Cersei are technically Baratheons, but c’mon.) Olenna and Littlefinger’s fateful meeting in the latter’s “broken little flesh market” was but one domino in a chain Cersei herself sent toppling weeks ago, when spite and fear sparked her devil’s bargain with a holy man.

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. Her imprisonment made it three-for-three in the Lannister incarceration department — she, Jaime and Tyrion are each in some sort of captivity at this point.

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. 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.

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. On his deathbed, Aemon observe’s Gilly’s baby, likens him to his own little brother “Egg.” This is Aegon, who would become king when Aemon refused the Iron Throne. 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.

He’s the grandfather of Aerys II, the “Mad King” who killed Ned Stark’s older brother and father, and who Jaime Lannister killed (earning him the nickname “Kingslayer.”) This also makes Aegon the great-grandfather of Daenerys Targaryen, and Aemon her great-grand-uncle. 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. 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 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! 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.

Or so this show keeps telling us. (Waiting for this feels like waiting for Daenerys’s dragons to fly to Westeros: a tantalizing promise that somehow never materializes.) Sansa pleads with Reek to seek help from the Starks’ “friends in the North” by lighting a candle in Winterfell’s highest tower, a symbolic call for rescue from the Starks’ old servants. 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. 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. Cersei slammed Jaime a few weeks back for his tendency to act without thinking, but isn’t what she did, in arming the Sparrows, a version of the same thing?

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. Now I’d assumed that she was mostly driven by her own sense of malice toward Margaery and self-preservation. (Tommen was making noise about shunting her off to Casterly Rock, remember.) But didn’t that scene with the boy-king make it seem a little more complicated than that? 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. Clearly Cersei wants to protect her own position, but she also knows that king or not, her son is a lamb among the wolves of the capital, starting with his power-hungry queen. Elsewhere, Ramsay Bolton and Cersei Lannister share very little — not geographical orientation, not gender, not the circumstances of their birth and early years.

She’s not particularly thrilled to watch men stab each other in the tracheas, and she’s considering making up some excuse — maybe her dragons need feeding? — when a helmeted warrior comes barreling out of the holding pen and dismantles every last gladiator. No matter who or how strong you are, Cersei told Tommen, “sooner or later you’ll face circumstances beyond your control.” The irony, of course, is that she didn’t realize at the time how little control she had over her own circumstances. 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. We’ve been waiting at least two seasons for these two branches to overlap in some way, so we probably shouldn’t dwell on the implausible string of coincidences that landed Tyrion in front of Khaleesi.

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. 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. 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. 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.

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). 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. Stannis needs to sacrifice those with king’s blood in order to use her dark magic and bring victory (though it hasn’t worked out all that swimmingly in the past.) The only person within miles that has any is Stannis’s own daughter, Shireen. But a snowstorm is thwarting his Bolton-skewering plans. (And ours, too, frankly.) Horses are dying, soldiers are deserting and food is getting scarcer. 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. Ser Davos tries to use his magical eyebrows to convince Stannis it would be best to retreat to Castle Black, but the One True King is having none of it.

Her marriage to Hizdahr Zo Loraq has mysteriously stopped all Sons of the Harpy attacks (guess we know who was behind that) and she’s agreed to reopen the Pits as a nod to Meereenese culture, even if she hates their barbarity. If things haven’t gotten better for Sansa — and they haven’t — they’ve gotten much worse for that sympathetic and now freshly flayed Northern maid. 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.

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 still suspect Theon will come around eventually, but I’m hoping we don’t have to endure much more Ramsay being Ramsay before it finally happens. If anything, it will be Sansa’s will, her sheer force of personality and courage, that finally convince Theon to help her—if he does help her at all. Elsewhere in the North, Melisandre, that fount of womb-smoke and political sorcery, made her most terrible suggestion yet, advising Stannis to sacrifice his daughter Shireen to ensure good fortune on the battlefield.

He doesn’t seem very pleased about this, and I shudder to think what he will almost certainly do to her later, but she’s obviously not lost her courage. In a similar fashion, it feels like the writers are messing with us, toying with both our anxieties about our beloved Bronn’s potential demise and our flagging hopes that the Sand Snakes will amount to something interesting. But I digress…) Here the inevitable fallout of all of Cersei’s plotting and conniving comes to a head, with not only Loras and Margaery in chains, but the Queen Dowager as well. There are three weeks left, I guess, so we’ll see. • For a second I was afraid Gilly was going to be the latest rape victim on this show, but good news: Sam was just beaten to within an inch of his life.

That’s all it will take for Brienne to come to the rescue. “You’re Theon Greyjoy,” she insists, and for a moment it seems as if he might believe her. It was an uncomfortable scene all around, one that probably portends an unpleasant stint for Sam and Gilly now that their protector, Jon Snow, is off on his way to Hardhome. He supplied Loras’s lover to confess against the Knight of Flowers; and now he’s at least informing Lady Olenna that Lancel Lannister will do the same to Cersei. Keep your enemies close and your direwolves closer. • “You had more hair,” Myrcella tells “Uncle” Jaime in Dorne. “And more hands,” he said. That was a delightful scene between Diana Rigg and Jonathan Pryce, two veteran English performers who have probably forgotten more about acting than I’ve ever known about anything. • What do you think?

Before seeing the aftermath of that horrific murder, Sansa manages to grab something — a corkscrew maybe? — and we can all hope she finds a way to lodge it in Ramsay’s jugular the next time he pays her a visit. This is the first time Lady Olenna has truly been at a loss, though I can’t help but root for her against the seemingly humble, but very dangerous, High Sparrow. 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.

He’d bring all sorts of zealotry and horrors to an already horrible world, and the targets of his “many” would not only be pampered noble deviants, but many other disenfranchised people in the lower class as well, no matter his Marxist leanings. 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. 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. Her suggestion was shocking to him, though not to close readers of this season of “Game of Thrones”: She wants to sacrifice Shireen Baratheon (Kerry Ingram) to assure Stannis’s victory. “Have you lost your mind?” Stannis demanded. “She’s my daughter.

She’s happier in Dorne where, other than a few crazy Sand Snakes, things are relatively peaceful and incidents of intrigue, murder, and war are all fairly nonexistent compared to King’s Landing. 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.

While the sell-sword was indeed poisoned, the girls give him an antidote before it kills him (thank goodness—Bronn is too great to kill off that way.) It’s a funny scene, with gratuitous levels of HBO nudity/strip-tease. The other big moment—one that’s danced around in the books but never actually happens—is Dany and Tyrion meeting at a small fighting pit in Meereen. Be bloody, bold, and resolute, he tells her (in so many words.) But she says she’d rather be a ruler, not a butcher. “All rulers are butchers or meat,” he replies. Whether she is capable of accepting him back into her court will be a critical question for her. (Getting us to this point is another strong edit of Martin’s books, which currently have Jorah and Tyrion bouncing around a sellsword encampment.) And in Winterfell, Sansa Stark is still fighting. Despite her rape at the end of the last episode, an event that sparked loud protest from some viewers, and despite the rapes to which she’s still subjected, Sansa continues to resist.

Dany thinks so also (okay, no, she’s just disgusted by the senseless violence and not particularly swayed by Hizdahr’s mewlings about tradition) but then a new champion takes the field. Who just happened to be there at this very fighting pit, just like Tyrion just happened to be at the tavern where Jorah was, and this series of very contrived moments just keep coming over here in the east, away from Westeros. I’m really excited to see where the show takes their meet-up since it was one thing I so desperately wanted to happen in A Dance with Dragons and never got. 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. And outside the castle Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie), who also fought hard to claim an independent identity of her own, is waiting for Sansa’s signal.

It’s grand to see Cersei brought low (though poor Tommen is now truly alone) even though we book-readers know what’s coming, or at least think we do.

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