‘Sons of the Harpy’, the fourth episode of Season Five, was not a particularly compelling episode. It’s a part of the clearly intended slow build of this season, meticulously maneuvering pieces on the board, putting everything into position and building tension until we finally see the momentum of this universe shift. And that’s fine. But there must also be a sense of stakes, of purpose, and for some of these storylines, that was largely absent this week.
“You know nothing, Jon Snow.”
The events at The Wall were, for the most part, subject to that sense of inertness. We know that Stannis is planning to march, and we know that he wants Jon Snow to join him. And we know that Jon doesn’t want to go. And this week, despite the rather unnerving seduction techniques of Melisandre, we know that Jon really isn’t going to go. The problem, of course, is that we’ve known this for three weeks now. I’m not sure what purpose that served other than to prove Jon’s determination — and love for a dead woman — two things that weren’t ever in question in the first place. That said, the scenes at The Wall were worthwhile solely for the remarkable moment between Stannis and Shireen, a rare demonstration of emotion — or what passes for emotion, anyway — from Stannis. Stephen Dillane was terrific in that moment, conveying a wealth of feeling while still maintaining the iron facade of Stannis, but more notable was young Kerry Ingram, who was an absolute, utter heartbreaker in that scene.
“The North will be yours. Do you believe me?”
I don’t have a lot to say about Sansa and Littlefinger beyond what we already knew — that is to say, Sansa is slowly evolving into a new player on the board, and Littlefinger is still a damn creep, no matter how clever he may be. Littlefinger’s grasp of the game is tight, and he’s willing to go to King’s Landing at Cersei’s summon to maintain it, but one can’t help but wonder if leaving Sansa alone will blow up in his face.
“Wars teach people to obey the sword, not the gods.”
On the other hand, Cersei’s story is one of the few that actually seemed to gain a bit of momentum this week. Her ongoing machinations are enjoyable each week, as she slowly, carefully draws lines around what she wants, and refuses to budge on them. Working the High Sparrow to create the Faith Militant, using them as a force of terror and faith, while also giving people a new enemy, is some of her finest political shrewdness. More importantly, she has finally found a way to drive a wedge between Tommen and Margaery, something that no amount of sexual fervor can repair. Cersei gets it all this week — the beginnings of her revenge, a way to take her unwanted betrothed off the board, a way to begin taking back power from both the Queen and her son the King, and slowly pulling her enemies apart. The moment of sending Meryn Trent with the obsequious Mace Tyrell to the Iron Bank? Pure malevolent genius.
“It has to be me.”
Other than Arya’s story (which was sadly absent this week), the events that I’m most intrigued by will take place in Dorne. The journey of Jaime and Bronn shows great promise, and there’s something fantastic about watching the keen, too-clever insight of Bronn work against the complicated emotional mess that is Jaime. Jaime doesn’t know what he wants from the world anymore, and Bronn sees that and is almost determined to force him to figure it out. Along the way, they’ll bicker and banter and I’m thoroughly enjoying the process. More importantly, it draws them close to the newest cast members, the three daughters of Oberyn Martell (known to readers as The Sand Snakes) — Obara (Keisha Castle-Hughes), Nymeria (Jessica Henwick), and Tyene (Rosabell Laurenti Sellers), all bloodthirsty and vengeful thanks to the death of their father and the murderous venom of Ellaria Sand. Their part was small this week, but it showed enough — they are deadly and merciless, and will prove to be exciting, fearful additions
The rest was… not bad, per se, but hardly engaging. I expected much more from two accomplished players like Tyrion and Jorah Mormont, but really only got a glimpse of Tyrion’s wit getting him into trouble again, and Jorah being kind of a stubborn jerk. Dany’s quiet little moment of sweetness with Selmy was nice enough, I suppose, even if it ultimately didn’t add much to either their stories or the plot. As for the final, very dramatic scene — it was exciting, and I’d be loathe to lose either Selmy or Grey Worm. But while the battle itself was impressive enough — anytime we’re able to watch the graceful, violent fluidity of Grey Worm, I’m happy — and it was great to finally get to see why Selmy is one of the most feared warriors around, the whole thing just seemed to lack any real tension, even if I can’t quite put my finger on why. It felt rushed, tacked on, jammed onto the end of an episode that had spent too little time on them in the first place (especially for an episode called “Sons of the Harpy”, for god’s sake). In the end, it was a decent enough episode, but still somewhat unfulfilling. Much of what happened was simply a reinforcement of what we already knew, spinning the pieces around in place, rather than moving them into a new position.