It’s notable what season length can do for a series.
Contrast with Gotham, which seemed to drag on for-bloody-ever. With Game of Thrones we are now on episode six of 10, more than halfway through. It still gets me sometimes that there have been five seasons. I remember watching the first, and I’m sure it can’t have been 10 years ago…
Nonetheless, a lot has undeniably happened. I feel like I ought to offer some sort of “Previously, on Game of Thrones” with these reviews.
In Braavos, Arya learns more of the secrets behind the Many Faced God. In Essos, Jorah Mormont and Tyrion journey closer to Meereen, and things go from bad to worse. In the capital, Cersei’s schemes against the Tyrells grow in size and scale. In Dorne, both Jaime and the Sand Snakes make their move on Myrcella. And in Winterfell, Sansa discovers how much of a monster Ramsay really is.
I’m going to lay this out right here, because it’s starting to wind me up: still no real action from Prince
Julian Bashir Doran. We’re past the halfway point of this season now, and the genius casting with which I was so taken is still being dangled teasingly in front of us.
Bloody Game of Thrones. Though that is far from the really controversial bit of this episode. That, though, I will save for last. Because I can tease too.
In Braavos, Arya is still in the House of Black and White, still washing corpses, and still doesn’t have much of a clue why she’s doing it. When she confronts the other girl at the temple, she hears a story of a Westerosi high-born girl who had the Faceless Men kill her stepmother. But is it truth or a lie?
When Arya plays the “game of faces”, she isn’t terribly successful, with Jaqen calling her out on every lie — including the lie she tells herself, that she hated the Hound and wanted him to die. When a pilgrim comes to her in the temple with his sick daughter, she spins a story of escaping her own sickness and pain, before giving her a drink from the (Poisoned? -Ed) fountain. After the girl is washed, Jaquen shows her into the inner sanctum, where the niches in the pillars are filled with hundreds of different faces…
Jorah and Tyrion are still doing the odd-couple routine across Essos, heading to Danaerys in Meereen. Between the bickering about food (Or lack thereof -Ed), they speak of fathers. Tyrion tells Jorah of how he killed his own, and that he met Jeor Mormont at the wall — accidentally informing the younger Mormont of the elder’s death.
It’s pretty heartbreaking to see Jorah’s strained grief, given that we know that he disgraced his father’s name by selling to slavers, and being forced into exile. But the loss wounds him deeply.
And speaking of slavers, they run into a troupe of just such chiefly by not paying attention. They want to sell Jorah, and kill Tyrion to sell his, err, genitalia. Except, as Tyrion points out, they need him alive to prove it’s from a dwarf. So he lives, “until we find a cock-merchant.”
The pair persuade the slavers to take them to Meereen, so Jorah can fight in the fighting pits. The doubtful slavers are won over by his claims of killing one of Khal Drogo’s bloodriders, and all of a sudden they’re headed for Meereen again.
In the capital, the Faith Militant and the High Sparrow are still running rampant. Littlefinger arrives at Cersei’s summons, for her to test his loyalty. And as proof, he tells her that Sansa Stark is in Winterfell, with the Boltons. He persuades her to allow the armies of the Vale to attack, to capture the Stark girl and finish off Stannis; to which she accedes.
The Tyrells, meanwhile, are furious over Loras’ imprisonment. Olenna Tyrell comes to argue the case, at the High Sparrow’s inquisition. Loras and Margaery deny everything, but Loras’ squire and paramour confesses, identifying Loras’ birthmark. Both Loras and Margaery are hauled off to the cells, and Cersei smirks at the camera.
There is a saying, though, about she who is without sin throwing the first stone…
In Dorne, a disguised Jaime and Bronn reach the Water Gardens at the same time as the Sand Snakes make their move. Prince Trystane and Princess Myrcella, oblivious to what is coming towards them, are smitten with each other. Which, as Doran notes, is dangerous. When Jaime attempts to “liberate” his daughter-niece, Trystane notices the blood on their stolen clothes, and Bronn knocks him out.
The fight between the Sand Snakes and Bronn and Jaime is a glorious piece of choreography, remembering the graceful Dornish combat style we saw from Oberyn last season. It’s broken up when Areo Hotah and a squad of Doran’s guards arrive, but tensions have definitely come to a head.
And in the North, the day of Sansa’s wedding has arrived. Miranda tries to scare her with tales of Ramsay’s viciousness, but Sansa does a good job of looking tough. It’s clear she’s terrified, though.
At the wedding, the remains of Theon give her away, and it is done. Afterwards, Ramsay interrogates her about her virginity, before insisting that Theon remains as he deflowers her. Theon sobs as Ramsay rapes Sansa, and it becomes apparent that Sansa’s survival or thrival won’t be as easy as Littlefinger suggested.
So this is the bit which has caused the fuss. I saw a bit of a spoiler in the twitterstorm, and to be honest I was expecting something more…I don’t know. Brutal.
It’s not pleasant, naturally, and makes for difficult watching, but given that the first season had a graphic rape of Danaerys by her new husband Drogo, it’s not really anything new. And it wasn’t as bad, in my view, as the scene with Jaime and Cersei last season.
I understand why people are upset, don’t get me wrong. But this is Game of Thrones. It is dark, it is gritty, and it is — at this point in the story — rather bleak. Ramsay has been set up as a psychotic sadist, and this has been on the cards since Littlefinger first mooted the marriage.
Rape as cheap conflict is tawdry and should be called out, but I don’t think that’s what this was. It wasn’t glorified, or titillating. It was the natural direction which the story started to take a few episodes back. The fact that in the book this series of events happens to a character who hasn’t featured in the show, and off “camera”, isn’t cause for a riot either. The show has done that thing it does excellently by showing the horror in the reactions of others.
Of course, a lot depends on what happens from here, but this doesn’t strike me as the sort of Rubicon cross that should make any hitherto fan give up on the show.
- Bronn is fast becoming my favourite character. Seeing the approach of the Sand Snakes, “Oh, for f***’s sake…”
- I went back to that flight between Jorah and Qotho at the end of season one, after it was referenced here. You know how Jorah wins? Qotho’s sword gets stuck in Mormont’s armour.
- I’d like to hear the end of Bronn’s song.
- And the Water Gardens have some godawful guards.
- Jaquen H’gar seemed pleased that Arya helped that girl die. But he could as easily have given her a whack with his stick. The House of Black and White is a confusing place.
- This series is much improved with the return of Olenna Tyrell.