THE STORY OF THE BACK-STORY
Due to time constraints and procrastination I had to combine episodes 4&5 into one recap again. The two episodes seemed to have their own distinct style; while “Sons of the Harpy” served to fill us in on some cool Westerosi history, “Kill the Boy” was mostly filler. Both episodes ended with an action scene and a great cliffhanger, which is Game of Thrones’ specialty, but somehow managed to rush the important stuff and linger on the dull. I know the season is condensed and I understand shortcuts need to be taken, but in rushing the show loses attention or care for detail and in doing so loses a piece of integrity. Also Dorne is the name of the country and not a city, I can’t stand seeing that on the opening credits (which are normally awesome).
Jaime and Bronn are stowing away on a ship to Oldtown, much like Sansa’s storyline this deviation from the books serves to keep the interesting characters relevant, while also streamlining the show. Bronn has certainly proven himself to be an interesting, and celebrated character…that probably means he’s going to die soon. Sneaking into Dorne unnoticed is no easy task and Jaime needs Bronn’s skills in order to save Myrcella, however, this also means he’s stuck alone with Bronn for extended periods of time. The former sellsword has a knack for getting under people’s skin and a tendency to ask some very blunt questions. As Bronn points out, Jaime is basically useless on this mission; he’s fighting skills have sharply declined since his maiming and he is also immediately recognizable to most of the kingdom. “It has to be me” is Jaime’s only response. Bronn strays a little too close to home when he asks about Tyrion; Jaime, who had always been Tyrion’s strongest supporter, now vows to kill his brother should he ever reach him. As much as Jaime could see Tyrion’s struggles and tried to help him, he can never forgive their father’s murder. In killing Tywin Tyrion effectively severed his only positive Lannister ties as well.
Continuing in her struggle for power Cersei Lannister is grasping for ways to hurt Margaery and her family. Much of this seems shortsighted and more like Cersei is just lashing out in any way that she can. Cersei sends Mace Tyrell (Margaery’s father) to Braavos to treat with the Iron Bank who are still owed a large sum. Mace was never much of a threat to Cersei, if anything he was a wealthy doormat, and sending him away with a knight of the King’s Guard only leaves her that much weaker. But maybe it will piss Margaery off. The only other take away from this is that the knight Cersei is sending with Tyrell is Meryn Trant; one of the few names left on Arya’s list… I can see Arya finally avenging Syrio, in his hometown, and it is a welcome sight. After again reducing the small council Cersei goes to meet with her newest ally: the High Sparrow. In another large power play Cersei suggests the restoration of the “Faith Militant”; a militarized sect of the church, which arms basically anyone who can hold a club and is devoted to the Seven, and then severely enforces their doctrine. The suspiciously docile High Sparrow is agreeable, Cersei seems to be just handing him authority freely, and he looks her dead in the eyes and intones, “All sinners are equal before the gods”. Again Cersei uses this power to infuriate Margaery; while Cersei’s talk of a great sinner in their midst, shrouded by gold could easily apply to herself it is revealed that she was alluding to Loras. The Faith Militant begin ransacking Littlefinger’s brothel and the zealots eventually arrest Loras… for being rumored to be gay? Doesn’t quite make sense without any semblance of proof, but then again religious fanaticism is never really about rationality. Cersei’s machinations have the desired effect and Margaery briefly loses her façade in front of Tommen, the king then promises to free Loras; unfortunately Tommen has been manipulated rather than educated and has no idea how to use his “authority”. Tommen tries to be strict with his mother, but Cersei already has the perfect excuse prepared; Cersei may have restored and armed the Faith Militant but she has no power over them… Cersei can barely hide her smile through her smug apology. The king is denied entry to the sept and, unlike his brother, chooses not to resort to violence in the streets. Poor Tommen has been sheltered for too long and doesn’t understand why the people despise or disrespect him; in his confusion he backs down to the Poor Fellows and runs home to his pseudo mommy. Cersei’s plans have worked in the short run, but Tommen still runs back to Margaery first, and the Faith Militant have shown that they don’t recognize the crown’s jurisdiction.
Jon is dealing with the mundane side of command, signing letters to all the lords and ladies of the Seven Kingdoms requesting any men or supplies that can be spared. Honestly, Sam had the hard job; Jon just has to sign them, Sam wrote all those letters by hand… its not like they have printers. Sam hesitates over one page but does his duty still, Jon refuses to sign the letter to Roose Bolton, the man who murdered his brother and usurped his family’s station, yet he too does his duty in the end, albeit after much convincing. As Sam leaves Jon to brood, Melisandre comes in to again try to enlist Jon, first to Stannis’ cause, then to her own. The only war that matters is life versus death, the Red Woman then tries to seduce Jon, citing that he has the power to create life and light, the power to cast shadows. Stannis had the power to create a shadow once, it seems that Melisandre wants to create another for the Winterfell battle approaching, however, she has made it quite clear that she needs potent blood, king’s blood, in order to cast her shadows. There is a lot of fodder for advocates of a popular fan-theory in this episode, this scene definitely fuels the fire… or maybe there is power in a lord commander’s blood as well.
Later, Sam is reading letters for Maester Aemon. I’m not sure who would be sending letters about Daenerys to the Night’s Watch, possibly Barristan but even that is a stretch; in any case, this serves as a reminder that Aemon is also a Targaryen, though old and dying. Jon asks for advice from the Maester who only tells him to be sure of himself, that he won’t enjoy command and isn’t there to make friends… to kill the boy, and let the man be born. Jon’s plan for the Wildlings has the rest of his brothers in uproar; Jon intends to pardon their sworn enemies, allow them into the Seven Kingdoms and give them land in the Gift. So basically give the Wildlings everything they want and let them live in the lands they have been desecrating for centuries, the surviving members of the Watch are understandably upset. Jon is one of the few who can see the big picture; with the Wildlings on their side the Night’s Watch would stand a chance against the true enemy and if the Wildlings fall to the White Walkers it only adds the their undead army. After much convincing Tormund agrees to help Jon save the Wildlings but requires the Lord Commander to speak to them himself; so Jon and Tormund just borrow some ships from Stannis to go pick them up, simple as that. I guess Stannis doesn’t need his fleet for the battle in Winterfell and his army leaves Castle Black in this episode.
Littlefinger finds Sansa lighting candles for her deceased family, interestingly; the focal effigy is Lyanna not Ned. Littlefinger then gives us yet another piece of back-story, he tells Sansa of the tourney at Harrenhal, which sent all of the events of the series into place. Rhaegar Targaryen won the tournament but named Lyanna (Ned Stark’s sister who was betrothed to Robert Baratheon), rather than his wife Elia, the queen of love and beauty, then after the tourney at some point Rhaegar kidnapped, raped and killed Lyanna, which sparked Robert’s rebellion. At least that’s the story as Sansa knows it, however, Littlefinger’s expression leads us to believe that there’s more to the tragedy than Sansa has been told. After being instructed to light a candle in the broken tower if she’s ever in trouble Sansa meets the kennel master’s daughter by the tower. The girl is friendly enough on the surface but the tension in this scene has us screaming for Sansa to light that candle as soon as possible, eventually Miranda leads Sansa to discover that Theon is still alive and sleeping in the kennels with Ramsay’s other pets. Following this is a painfully awkward dinner with the Boltons, wherein Ramsay torments both Theon and Sansa just for kicks until Roose shuts him up with news of a legitimate Bolton child on the way. Here’s the thing: we hate the Boltons; they are some of the few examples of characters we can truly despise and have no redeeming qualities, I don’t need to know about their family drama, I don’t need to hear about Roose raping a woman whom he widowed, we’re in Winterfell for Sansa so I’d rather she remain the focus because she’s the only one we should be sympathizing with.
In Meereen Ser Barristan regales Dany with stories of Rhaegar in his glory days. His version of events paints an entirely different picture of Rhaegar than Sansa’s; Rhaegar hated killing and preferred music and the arts, Barristan used to accompany the prince into the streets to sing for his people and they even donated anything they earned to the needy. One thing the series, both books and television, does so well is different perspectives on history depending on which character the audience is with. If you’re Sansa the people who fought Rhaegar and hated the Targaryens have raised you to also hate them, if you’re Dany your brother has only told you aggrandizing tales of the glory days and the jealous usurpers who murdered Rhaegar and his family. The truth, as always, lies somewhere in between the two extremes but only characters like Ser Barristan know the truth about Rhaegar. After a heartfelt scene which had Daenerys smiling, for the first time this season it seems, Barristan leaves to patrol the streets, just as the Sons of the Harpy attack. All over the city both Unsullied and Second Sons are being cut down and Grey Worm’s squad is ambushed in a back alley. Barristan is able to join the fight help Grey Worm fend off the attackers though both men are severely wounded and collapse in the end.
“Kill the Boy” begins with Daenerys’ reaction to the attack and Ser Barristan’s death, she finally decides to punish the Sons of the Harpy, or the closest facsimile thereof; she has all the heads of the great families brought to her dragon pit and even feeds one to her children, although she can’t be certain that he was connected to the Harpies she definitely sent a message, though it seemed like more rampage than reason. The execution also doesn’t solve the problem; the Harpies could still be anyone, anywhere and she has no new information to act on. Missandei is one of the only remaining advisors to Dany but her only input is that Dany will think of something… thanks for coming out Missy. Daenerys’ solution is to reopen the fighting pits, effectively giving in to the terrorists, and to marry Hizdar in hopes of consolidating their power. It all just feels so rushed and shortsighted; if this was supposed to be a big reveal it didn’t have the desired effect.
“The Sons of the Harpy” begins with Jorah sucker-punching a fisherman (who must’ve been blind and deaf to not notice him) and “Kill the Boy” ends with Tyrion and Jorah on the commandeered boat. We discover that Jorah is, in fact, bringing Tyrion to Daenerys, the question of which queen was left purposefully vague in episode three. Tyrion annoys Jorah into ungagging him for a bit, and within minutes Tyrion divines not only Jorah’s identity but also his fall from grace and intentions. “What a waste of a good kidnapping” The irony is not lost on Tyrion. Their journey takes them through Valyria, which is said to be cursed and impassable, yet is the fastest route to Slaver’s Bay. One of the episode’s redeeming scenes is the bit of Valyrian history we witness as Tyrion recites a poem about the Doom of Valyria, and then, for the first time since he was taken prisoner, Tyrion is speechless as he sees Drogon flying and experiences magic for the first time. As Tyrion stares in awe a grey figure moves on the rocks behind him and falls into the water. The Stone-men that we’ve been hearing about for a few episodes attack and Tyrion is pulled under and screen fades to black. It would not have been surprising for the episode to end there, but Tyrion wakes up ashore with Jorah. Of all the possible cliffhangers they chose to end on Jorah rolling up his sleeve to reveal a small patch of greyscale; obviously this is a big deal to Jorah, but he’s been gone so long that it doesn’t have as much effect on us. I’m more concerned with the fact that Jorah’s character seems to be combining with a different one, as with Sansa replacing Jeyne Poole in her current arc, which would mean that another fairly large storyline is being omitted from the show.
This omission, along with notable others, is more significant than can be stated at this time, and while the shows will inevitably overtake the books its hard to see it being even close to the same story. I’m torn as to whether or not this is a good thing; I want as little as possible to be spoiled for the books, yet the main storylines and characters fates will unavoidably be spoiled within the next couple seasons, I want to be able to enjoy both separately, but it seems like they'll each be missing something and always affecting each other. Will all the nuances and extra twists be appreciated if the main story is already known? Will the show have the same effect without those nuances and additions? My reaction to the news that the show will be overtaking the books has been mostly that we just have to tolerate it, but if the show will be an incomplete story, and the books will feel hollow or less meaningful it will be absolutely intolerable.