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Everyone has a game to play. If there’s one takeaway from “High Sparrow”, the third episode of Season 5 of Game of Thrones, it’s that everyone has a game to play, and the winner will clearly be determined by whoever plays the game best. This episode was a slow burner, devoid of action or effects, but that didn’t make it any less compelling. Instead, it felt like the beginning of the next stage of events, like things were coming together with momentum and purpose.
“A girl must become no one.”
Arya’s new storyline is certainly the strangest of this season — her new life in the House of Black and White is one of silence and solitude, something so very foreign to young Arya. For all of her adventures, she remains impetuous and emotional, and Jaqen H’ghar — or whoever is wearing his face — will slowly, piece by piece, strip away that person in order to begin her new path, one that worships and reveres death itself. It begins with simple tasks, but of greater import is the loss of her personal items. I confess, the moment where she almost threw Needle aside was far more emotional than I expected it to be, and a strange sense of relief was found when she decided to hide it instead. It’s a piece of her, like a hand or an eye, and to lose it seems just too hard.
“She’ll never let you out of her sight.”
I’ve always adored Natalie Dormer’s almost whimsical portrayal of Margaery Tyrell, and the suspicion that something wickedly clever lurks beneath her surface. That finally comes to a head tonight, once she realizes her dream and marries Tommen. It’s a series of masterful manipulations, twirling Tommen around her finger through wiles and praise, using subtle daggers that all point themselves at Cersei. And when the two meet, it’s a contest of wills, a face-off dripping with honeyed venom, each barb more pointed than the one before (Margaery’s crack about not having wine for Cersei since it’s so early was my personal favorite).
Of course, Cersei has other plans to put in place, and the shaming of the High Septon presents less a threat in her eyes, and more an opportunity to use the fanatics to her own purposes. There’s an almost disarming honesty to the High Sparrow (portrayed by the wonderful Jonathan Pryce), a zealot of quiet dignity whose motives and methods are far less murky than Cersei’s. Yet there’s a spark between them, the opportunity for Cersei to seize upon that zeal to create an alliance whose possibilities are curious and whose future is rather ominous.
You’ve been a bystander to tragedy from the day they executed your father.”
Of all the deeply upsetting things that have happened in Game of Thrones, I’m not sure anything bothered me as much as Sansa being manipulated by Petyr Baelish into marrying — of all people — Ramsey Bolton. His endgame is finally revealed, showing just how duplicitous and conscienceless he can be. Littlefinger is the anti-Varys, the man who cares nothing for loyalty, for country or for king, but only for Littlefinger. And if that means manuvering Sansa out of the clutches of one monster only to give her to another, than so be it. Yet perhaps all is not lost for Sansa, for that strength that has been hinted at peeks through in her moment of introduction. Perhaps there is more to be seen. Perhaps she has more than a chance because, as we are cryptically reminded, “the North remembers.”
As long as the Boltons rule the North, the North will suffer.”
And then, there is the new Lord Commander at the Wall. Jon Snow, determined to avoid the politics of kings, instead becomes embroiled in the politics of the Night’s Watch. We spoke last week of Kit Harrington’s evolution as an actor, and how well it has paralleled Jon Snow’s growing into a leader, and tonight felt like the culmination of that. Deftly moving around the prickly and complicated Stannis, listening to the sage advice of Davos, and masterfully working the Night’s Watch itself, to the point where even the venal and unpleasant Alliser Thorne comes — if not to his side, than at least to a common understanding. Yet it’s the execution of Janos Slynt that shows us the new Jon Snow the most — a man of will and determination, but also one who understands that once you have set your feet on the path, there is no turning back. That execution is intense — pausing to let a man beg mercy and forgiveness, and then dropping the blade anyway is a harsh and terrible thing. But Snow’s grasp on the Brothers is tenuous, and his obstacles large and fierce. There can be no mercy, no hesitation, and the Brothers now know that.
There was more to be seen, of course. Brienne’s heartbreaking tale of “the ugliest girl alive” at the ball where she learned to love Renly, and the beginning of yet another new chapter — that of her and Pod, developing into something stronger. And of course, Tyrion. Even when he is unable to succumb to temptation, his wants still land him in trouble. Of course, Jorah Mormont is taking him right where he wants to go, but perhaps not in the fashion he had hoped for. But it was all about the games, and Tyrion now has to play a whole new one. Everyone does. The games are changing, the rules ever-shifting, and each of these characters must adapt and learn if they want to find out how to survive.