Programming Note: These reviews are written from the perspective of someone who has not read books. They contain liberal speculation as to future developments, but these are based only on what has aired on the show so far (not even including the Next Week On trailers), and thus are intended to be safe for the spoiler-averse. That means NO MENTIONS OF THE BOOKS WHATSOEVER IN THE COMMENTS. DOESN’T MATTER IF IT IS THINGS THAT HAVE ALREADY OCCURRED OR CAN NO LONGER OCCUR AT THIS POINT IN THE SHOW, OR PREDICTIONS I MAKE THAT ARE DEMONSTRABLY WRONG. IF YOUR COMMENT INCLUDES THE WORDS “IN THE BOOKS”, DON’T POST IT.
Prior recaps can be found in here.
The words of House Martell, “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken” refer to Dorne’s status as the only of the 7 Kingdoms that the Targaryeans did not conquer by force. But while the episode that takes it for its title does feature the Martell’s simultaneously repelling two kidnapping attempts, it primarily showcases characters bowing, bending and breaking the truth to different ends and effectiveness.
Arya can’t slip even slight alterations of detail past Jaqen, but she is able to fabricate a backstory convincing enough to convince a sick girl to quietly euthanize herself. This only makes her ready to become “Someone Else”, rather than “No One”, but then I don’t think Jaqen or anyone has made a very good case for embracing full Facelessness. Arya’s grudges, and our sympathy with them, run a bit too deep to cast aside for. Sure, the training will make you supremely competent, which is cool and all, but if you can’t put it to use to pursue any of your personal goals, what is the point exactly?
Over in Essos, Jorah also tries to talk his way into a warrior caste of sorts, but it’s the bald truth of his duel with a Dothraki bloodrider that seals the deal rather than Tyrion’s exaggerations about his deeds in far off Westeros. Jorah and Tyrion are not quite as entertaining an odd couple as Jaime and Brienne, but Peter Dinklage and Ian Glenn have great chemistry, whether bickering about food, debating the finer points of Targaryean rule, or sharing a tender moment of remembrance for the Andal’s father. They make those moments sing, and they get to have them with some of the show’s most beautiful scenery as a backdrop.
Just as beautiful is the water gardens of Dorne (actually The Alcázar of Seville), where Myrcella, who seems to have aged about 7 years since being sent away prior to the battle of Blackwater, spends her days snogging her young beau. The competing stealth missions of Jaime and the Sand Snakes run afoul of each other, and we get a fun little fight scene where their Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle-like signature weapons bring some nice variety to the choreography. But it’s not as exciting as the fights generally are, since they make the small misstep of telegraphing that the guards know shit’s up and will be putting the kibosh on things before anyone gets offed. The boards seem convinced that Bronn’s cut means he’s a goner, since Oberyn was established as poisoning his blade, but it didn’t really occur to me and I don’t know that they’d gear up for maximum lethality when their goal was to spirit a live hostage away from their own kinsmen. Plus, her furious reaction when he taunt/complimented (tauntplimented? Tauntplimented) her technique afterward doesn’t seem quite right if she knows she already dealt him a death blow.
Back in King’s Landing, Littlefinger’s lies become even more layered and complex, as he secures Cersei’s approval to march an army on Winterfell. It’s hard to say what he really intends, but my take is that he doesn’t really know for sure. If he gets there and Boltons are still in power, he could either remove them himself or continue to exploit the alliance he made through Sansa, depending on how weak they look. But of course, they won’t still be in charge, as Stannis is foretold to sit on the Iron Throne. So I imagine that he’ll present his army to Stannis and offer himself up as a potential suitor for a newly-widowed Sansa, and possibly warden of the North.
The one option I don’t think he could seriously be considering is sticking with the Lannisters. On top of the significant risk he took plotting regicide, Cersei’s foolishness with the Faith Militant has turned the capital in a place that is decidedly unfriendly for a man like him. Her maneuvers against the Tyrells are undeniably effective, but still remarkably stupid considering that she knows Stannis is coming, the Boltons have abandoned their alliance with the Lannisters, and Jamie’s mission was apt to start a war with the Martells regardless of whether he succeeded or failed.
So she better enjoy her victory over Margaery and Olenna (who recognizes Tywin’s “make them sit while you write” trick when she sees it) while she can, because no matter how much she might hate her son’s wife, allowing a bunch of religious fanatics to haul her off while he gapes ineffectually is only weakening her own position, to say nothing of what those nuts are going to have to say about her own common-knowledge perversions once they run out of gays to bash. Seriously, I know she’s desperate, but she should be smart enough to see that these moves are devastating her prospects in the medium term, never mind the long.
By contrast, Sansa’s long term prospects are as good as they’ve been since her father’s death, while her short term couldn’t be worse. She is married, again to a hated enemy, and this time he’s not as secretly chivalrous as Tyrion. Immediate reactions to the closing rape scene seemed to be largely negative, although there doesn’t seem to be much agreement on what exactly the problem with it is. We’ve known the marriage was coming, and what it would entail, and for a while now. That doesn’t make it better, necessarily, but then it is supposed to be an upsetting sequence and it’s not as though marital rape wasn’t a constant reality in medieval times and beyond (fun fact! it didn’t even start to get recognized as a crime in the US until the 1970s, and what Ramsay did would still be legal in South Carolina). I’ve seen the focus on Theon’s reaction criticized as making it all about him, but I think that was actually an effective way to highlight the grossness of the scene without getting overly graphic. It was about the most tasteful option, if we’re operating on the assumption that a “tasteful” rape scene is the proper goal. Personally, I think overly sanitizing such a repellant act creates its own host of issues.
But a consistent point in these reviews has been that what note you end on is extremely important, and I think the ending on the rape left an overly-bad taste in many people’s mouths. Not that it should’ve been an uplifting installment, but I think if they had shuffled things around to close on Arya in the face-basement it might have played better. Not only would it have allowed the episode to end on its most striking imagery (which is always a good idea), but it would serve as a subtle suggestion that this horror was not the end of Sansa’s story, and the Starks retain the potential to come back from even the worst of circumstances. And I do not doubt that she will; the big question is to what extent she blames Littlefinger for having to endure this indignity. I take it as a foregone conclusion that Ramsay will get his, and whether it comes from Sansa, Theon, Stannis, or some combination thereof, it can’t come soon enough. In fact, is it next Sunday yet?