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.
“We march to victory, or we march to defeat. But we go forward. Only forward.”
Stannis is nobody’s poet, but he lays out the storytelling ethos of the series quite succinctly, one that serves to differentiate it from other TV shows, which are descended more directly from the old network model that designed shows to run indefinitely, pumping out episodes that are interchangeable enough that they could be run out of order and the audience could tune out and back in without worrying about losing important threads. But the advantage of having such weighty tomes for source material is that there is enough plot that the series can enjoy a full and lengthy run without ever letting up on the forward momentum.
Don’t get me wrong, the story is such a multi-headed beast that certain storylines will sometimes move forward slower than others, so on the one hand, you could say that winter has been coming for a loooong time now, or that Dany has been coming to Westeros while only getting physically further from it. But there’s never an entire episode that just serves to spin the wheels, and does not contain several developments of lasting significance. The world and characters have seen a lot of changes since the premiere, and these changes tend to be permanent, just ask Viserys, or Drogo, or Robert or Ned or Renly or Robb or Cat or Tywin or Joffrey or Mormont or the Hound or Mance or Oberyn. While character deaths are not the only metric by which to measure change in a series, they are a handy one, and none of those deaths was without major consequences that are still playing out in one form or another.
The consequences right now seem to be that everyone everywhere is imprisoned. We may see Tormund freed from his bonds in the opening scene, but everywhere else we turn, in Winterfell, in King’s Landing, in Slaver’s Bay, in Dorne, we find major characters residing in cells and chains. Of all the captives, Jaime and Bronn probably have it best. Prince Doran doesn’t seem to be in any hurry to execute them, and Jaime is held in comfort, even if the “hostage” he came to free has no interest in rescue. And Bronn may be poisoned for a hot second, but at least he’s enjoying the scenery.
Sansa, as is customary, has it the worst of all, as her valiant appeal to Theon’s lost self is not enough to overcome his horrible conditioning. And of course Ramsay reveals this in the most sadistic way possible, but he should heed his own words when he muses that Northerners “are used to fighting in the frost.” Sansa may be as hemmed in and brutalized as ever, and she may not be ready to use that corkscrew, but she comes from a line that thrives in winter. So far she’s just stoking Ramsay’s resentments about his position as a bastard as much as she dares, but she’s running out of shit to lose, and Ramsay can’t resort to flaying her. She’s more dangerous than he credits her for.
Plus Stannis is still coming. Melisandre finally broaches the topic of sacrificing Shireen to ensure Stannis’s victory, and although circumstances are conspiring to sap his strength and momentum, he has enough decency to reject the idea outright. For now. I still have no doubt that he will eventually make it through to the Iron Throne, but fear for what will transpire in the next couple weeks, what the Boltons may have up their sleeves that will drive him to sufficient depths of desperation for this plot thread to pay off. And I now ask myself whether I’m willing to accept something terrible happening to Shireen if it means finally getting to see Ramsay horribly (I can’t stress that enough) killed. And I think yep, I am. Not that I’d endorse it in a real world scenario, but as a viewer I am so much more invested in seeing Ramsay get his comeuppance that I can stomach quite a lot to get there.
In lighter news, up at the Wall Gilly finally deflowers Sam, and is much more gentlemanly about it than Ramsay. Her gingerly asking if she is hurting him and his demur “oh my!” are about as sweet as love and sex can get in Westeros, and of course it does still carry the possibility of ending up with him being hanged for breaking his vows and consorting with the enemy. But for now we get the lovebirds at their most heroic, and that despite what Thorne tells him, Sam still has a friend at Castle Black in the form of Ghost. And…oh god damn it, nothing better happen to Ghost this year. You motherfuckers, I’ve defended a lot of the horrible shit the series has put us through, just leave the dog alone for awhile.
Anyhow, back to imprisonment. Even kings and queens are feeling trapped and hemmed in this week. Daario tells Dany that if she can’t marry him she is “the only one in Mereen that is not free,” which is patently self-serving and hopefully too dumb for her to really consider. I think she already set her sights too low by marrying to secure a single city when she’s eventually going to have seven whole kingdoms to lock up, besides which I just don’t find Daario’s smarminess very appealing. I mean, he’s perfect for a sport fuck, but I think for a permanent match my girl could do a lot better, if not politically then intellectually/emotionally. When it comes down to it, Targaryeans don’t really need more people constantly telling them how special they are and encouraging them to slaughter anyone who looks at them funny.
But the literal captives in Essos are in the fighting pits, as Jorah and Tyrion reveal themselves to the queen after Tyrion lays a not-so-convincing beating on his fit, full-sized captor and Jorah takes a not-so-convincing waltz through the fighting pit melee, easily besting everyone practically with his bare hands. But some dodgy choreography is worth getting to the point where it all ends up. I had thought it might take until the finale to get here, but with a few episodes to go, I’m stoked that we are sure to get some interactions of substance with these guys and Dany this year, even if the plotline were to skip next week entirely, as they are wont to do.
The biggest changes of all are afoot in King’s Landing, where young Tommen feels impotent and trapped by the imprisonment of his wife (and by the end of the episode, also mother), shouting “I am the king. The queen is in prison, and there is nothing I can do!” Oh, but there is, little king. Even if your mother, in a fit of profound dumbassery, convinced you that you can’t rub out the Faith with the Kingsguard without the prisoners becoming casualties, I think that if you visit her she’ll tell you about a certain tarp with 7 feet of possibly-undead monster under it. A monster that could be unleashed to tear into the Faith with enough plausible deniability that the crown wouldn’t be declaring open war on the dominant religion of the continent. Okay, maybe that is a stretch, but it just occurred to me that there is a circumstance where I might actually cheer on the reappearance of the Mountain, which I never expected, and now I’m all excited at the prospect.
It’s hard to give out top acting honors this week, as Diane Rigg and Jonathan Pryce are even more absolutely on point than usual, and Natalie Dormer gets play sides of Margaery we’ve never seen before, “stripped of finery.” But I’d probably give the edge to Lena Headey. Cersei puts on a slightly different mask for her interactions with Tommen, Marge and the High Sparrow, but in each case you can see just enough of a shift in her eyes to track her reactions as her expression remains unchanged. Cersei is an incredibly tough role in general, but Headey gives subtle life and depth to a character that is neither particularly sympathetic nor expressive on paper. Well, she gets more expressive when threatening her hulking captor at the end, but obviously she nails that too. I believe her when she says that she will make the Sparrows pay. And with Olenna and Littlefinger also putting their heads together to strike back at the fanatics, I don’t think all of these prisoners are going to remain locked up for long, and there’s going to be no shortage of hell to pay as they get once they’re out and about. In fact, is it next Sunday yet?