This is a book reader review for Game of Thrones, which means that below the dragon there will be discussion of plots from the TV show up to the most current episode that has aired on HBO, as well as spoilers from all five books that have been released. Chapters from books that have not yet been released are still off-limits. Thank you for cooperating!
Normally I like to add screencaps of the episode to the recap to help emphasize certain beats or interactions. This week’s episode was so terrible that I didn’t want to rewatch it even with the sound off to grab pictures.
There were a few bright spots in this episode. We saw Arya truly begin her training as a Faceless Man and see the collection of faces that they keep from the dead. I’m still waiting for the show or book to tell us why they need them when Jaqen changes his appearance directly in front of Arya, and then changes to resemble Pate in Oldtown later, without access to the masks, but it makes for a pretty cool and creepy shot so I’ll not harp on that too much. Tyrion and Jorah were still great together, the moment where Tyrion accidentally reveals to Jorah that his father has died was played beautifully by both actors and Tyrion gets to show off his lighting-fast critical thinking when the slavers are about to kill him and take Jorah as a galley slave. They’re still headed towards Meereen, so the journey hasn’t been completely disrupted. This also makes the second time that Tyrion’s big fucking mouth has gotten him captured, though. Those slavers could have been tracking them for hours with the way he was yammering. Olenna Tyrell continues to be completely amazing (“the famous tart” indeed!) and the seeds of Cersei’s downfall are growing in King’s Landing. This means that while Littlefinger appears to have sold Sansa out, Cersei won’t be in a position to do anything with the knowledge until long after Littlefinger gets the Knights of the Vale to Winterfell, and I’m not thinking that they’ll be there to put her head on a pike. I don’t think Littlefinger has any faith in Cersei’s rule, and he’s going to have even less reason to play ball with her soon.
But the rest of this episode was a complete fucking mess in two parts.
In Dorne we get to see that young Trystane and Myrcella have grown into the kind of schmoopy love that is the special provenance of those in their middle teenage years. No one has ever been in love like them before, because hormones are powerful drugs that convince children that their feelings are the most important feelings that have ever happened. So, I can forgive their stupidity when Jaime and Bronn show up. But let’s discuss the stupidity of the people who are supposed to be actual adults in this plotline.
Jaime, a seasoned military commander, and Bronn, a famously cautious sellsword who wants to die a happy old man, decide that the best way to execute their mission to abduct a highly valuable hostage is a smash and grab from a location that is certain to be guarded with no reconnaissance whatsoever. Oh, and there’s no exit plan, they’re going to figure that part out once they have an entire extra person in the form of a confused teenage girl with no battle or survival skills. That would have been enough of a disaster on its own. BUT THEN! As they’re executing their pitiful excuse for a plan, the Sand Snakes are coincidentally trying to do exactly the same thing! I have slightly more faith that the Sand Snakes at least know their way around the palace and the guard schedule, but not much. Since all of them are immediately caught, everyone looks like assholes who can’t plan. Total failure all around, no points awarded, judges encourage everyone to apologize to Aero Hotah for wasting his valuable time. And also apologize to the readers for taking all of the teeth out of this story line and waving some cool weapons in our face like that makes up for it. There’s some debate as to whether Bronn was poisoned, and I think it’s likely but with a shallow flesh wound he’s going to have more time than The Mountain to deal with it. The Mountain was stabbed with penetrating wounds that would get the poison to his heart much faster. Bronn’s going to linger a bit, which gives them time to save him if they want to. I’m not sure why they would, aside from that he’s cool and everyone likes him.
And then we had the wedding and rape of Sansa Stark.
Some people are debating if this was rape because of the fact that Sansa knew the marriage would be consummated. Let me help you out with this: YES IT WAS FUCKING RAPE. Had Ramsay allowed her to finish undressing and made Theon leave the room before having sex with her, I could see it being unpleasant but consensual sex. It wasn’t what Sansa wanted, but she’d still have agency in the scene. The moment Ramsay disregarded her as a full partner, by ordering Theon to stay there and ripping her dress open, the scene turned from loosely consensual to not at all consensual. He took away any choice she had in the matter, superficial or otherwise, and raped her. If someone tries to tell you that it wasn’t rape because she walked into the room and didn’t “fight back” do me a favor; squint at them funny and say “oh, you have an eyelash there, mind if I…?” and when they agree, punch them straight in the face. When they get mad at you, shrug and say that got the eyelash off, just in a way they weren’t anticipating, so they can’t be upset about it.
The first big question to consider is whether this had to happen at all. My overall vote is no; this scene taught us nothing new about any of the characters. Theon is still a tortured wretch in need of redemption, Ramsay is still a dangerous psychopath, and Sansa is still by herself surrounded by dangerous people. There was literally no significant movement or development on any character, and it even walks back some of the characterization we saw in Ramsay the last few episodes where it seemed like he was seriously going to try to live up to being the young Lord Bolton rather than the Bastard of the Dreadfort.
Furthermore, I had assumed that all of Roose’s discussion with Ramsay about their tenuous hold on the North was in the service of making sure his son didn’t mistreat Sansa. She’s incredibly valuable to them, and Roose knows that Ramsay already irreparably damaged one other noble hostage. The fact that Roose apparently did not make clear to Ramsay what would or would not happen on his wedding night makes Roose look foolish and short-sighted. They know Stannis is coming and that Cersei can’t protect them. They need a whole and happy Stark to keep the northerners at bay. It’s one thing in the books where they know the “Arya” is a fraud, but this is the actual Sansa and people will recognize her. Roose is a cruel man, but he has so far been a smart and calculating man. This is a huge failure of judgement on his part.
With regards to the “motivation for revenge” argument; Sansa already had a reason to hate the Boltons, so did Theon. Sansa’s lost her entire family, two members directly to the Boltons and almost every revenge move starring a man has harm coming to his family as the inciting event. I promise you, women get angry if you fuck with their families too. Theon was horrifically tortured and castrated by Ramsay. He knows that Ramsay is dangerous for Sansa, he’s seen how Ramsay treats his “girls.” Theon’s last thought before being tortured was “my real father died in King’s Landing” indicating his desire to redeem himself to the Starks. There’s no need to add this scene to drive home the point on either of their parts.
Now. Let’s get into the trickier question of if they felt they HAD to include this scene, was it well executed? And my vote here is an even louder NO.
As I mentioned above, it seemed like Ramsay was making some headway with trying to be more respectable, but the minute Sansa walked in the door of her bedroom he approached her exactly like she was one of his “girls.” Had he made a show of trying to play the Lord, giving her wine, offering to take her shrug, trying to wait for her to undress herself, before succumbing to his evil instincts, we might have a more interesting version of Ramsay on our hands. Still dangerous, but actively trying to battle his demons and losing. There would have been more dramatic tension, too, as we waited to see if he could really change for his beautiful and valuable bride and be the son and heir Roose wants him to be. As it was played, the characterization they’ve given him over the past three or four episodes was apparently just wasted fucking time.
The next big problem with this is the final shot lingering on Theon’s face. It’s bad enough in the books that Jeyne Poole is brutalized in order to make Theon feel like he has to protect her, but to use Sansa Stark in the service of giving Theon feelings is truly disgusting. Sansa is a major character in her own right. If you’re going to insist on subjecting her to a trauma like this, at least make it about her. Cut to black as she screams and leave it there. We’d all know exactly what happened, and it would keep the focus on her. Some people are saying that they’re using Theon as an audience stand-in, which is even worse because it implies that Sansa herself is not sympathetic enough for the audience to identify with and that we need the emotions of the scene validated by a man. It’s insulting and small-minded, Sansa is a far more prominent character than either Theon or Ramsay and the audience’s sympathies should most naturally lie with her given that we know her better than the other two.
Finally, if they’re going to insist on doing this I need the story going forward to focus on Sansa and her processing of the event. Jaime got his hand cut off three seasons ago and has spent almost every minute on screen dealing with rebuilding himself. Theon was tortured and castrated, and his entire character is virtually unrecognizable as the cocky young man of the early seasons. If the only reason this happened is so that it’s used as a fulcrum to make Theon destroy the Boltons, and we see no other change to Sansa’s character or see her processing the event herself, it’s an abhorrent abuse of her character in order to further the role of men who aren’t as important in the grand scheme of things.
Don’t come at me about historical accuracy on a show with dragons, ice zombies, and a 700 ft. wall of magic ice, (especially not if it’s not really historically accurate after all) and don’t come at me about book accuracy on a plotline that was completely rewritten for the show. I will not entertain any of it. This whole plot was handled in the most predictable, hacky way possible and it’s an insult to the characters and the viewers. You should be angry about this, because it could have and should have been better. It was bad storytelling from top to bottom. There have been amazing moments on this show, but the writers just seem to fall back on this ridiculously tired and heavily criticized trope of using rape as a short cut to show how awful male characters are or how much the women need help. They need to stop immediately. Cersei’s walk is coming later this season and I am now far more nervous for that event than I ever was before, because I now don’t trust them to handle shooting the mental breakdown of a naked woman without making an already traumatic experience worse.
Next week: my rage may have simmered off enough that I don’t greet the opening credits with a resounding “FUCK YOU, BENIOFF AND WEISS” but I make no promises.