Please remember, this is the non-book-spoiler discussion of the week’s Game of Thrones episode; violations will result in a one-week, no-expenses-paid trip to House Bolton, where you’ll suffer a fate worse than death.
Near “The Gift’s” opening, as Jon Snow passed his command to a sneering Alliser Thorne, Jon thanked the First Ranger for his usual honesty, and quickly moved on. As the hour progressed, it was hard not to experience similar emotions. The writers chose yet another in-our-faces scene of a woman being assaulted (and nearly raped*), and the gratuitous display of Tyene Sand, who proved how beautiful she is…by baring her breasts (Bronn got more) —to what end? Tyene coerced Bronn into admitting her beauty (clearly evident without nudity) and thus he earned the antidote that she had no motive to provide him. Gilly’s attacked so Sam can fly his gallantry flag, and finally get laid? It’s becoming more and more difficult to swallow these pointless throw-ins; do the writers really believe their audience needs x amount of nudity, and violence against women to keep us interested? The intricacies of one lingering camera shot of Ser Jorah’s broken countenance (as he spied Daenerys sitting with Hizdahr); of moments with a teary Cersei holding her “only son,” then triumphant and gloating in Margaery’s cell; of any occasion we’re in on a Lady Olenna quip-versation — those are all hundredfold worth more than the physical reminders of being a woman in such times. As was so deftly demonstrated this week, there was no need to witness Sansa’s rape. There was no Theon awakening; Reek regained more of himself in Sansa’s powerful reminder: “Your name is Theon, last surviving son of Balon Greyjoy, Lord of the Iron Islands.” And with just a few well-chosen words to Theon about what it is to be Ramsay Bolton’s new bride, we’re certain we have no further need to be bent over a bed. We get it. We got it. We’re good. Now let’s please move on.
Despite Sansa’s pep talk, Theon’s new resolve was quickly crumbled; he betrays Sansa to Ramsay. Less easily broken, a still stronger daughter; as she fought off tears seeing what Ramsay did to a friend of the North, Sansa’s resolve shone through. Whatever terrors have visited her nights, and despite a bastard’s (always a bastard) best efforts to control her, Sansa knows she must save herself. For as powerful as some of Thrones’ men seem to be, it is the women — despite what’s done to them — who keep rising up again.
Balance of power must be maintained, and if any person (man or woman) lets her ego take charge, there are those waiting to bring her down. While he brushes away Davos’ warnings, Stannis looks to Melisandre for reassurance, but she’s finally misjudged her influence with the horrible suggestion the king sacrifice his own precious daughter. “Have you lost your mind?” Though he banishes the thought and temporarily, Melisandre, we’re thankful Shireen has Davos’ watchful eye upon her.
Following Lady Olenna Tyrell’s fruitless —but, still delightful (“For me it’s the knees. You?” “Hips.”) visit to the High Sparrow, she receives a message and meets Littlefinger at a safe (“Not for your clientele”) place, where the would-be Warden of the North gives the Queen of Thorns just what she needs to get the gods on her side. In a sequence that may prove the series’ most glorious comeuppance, and provide the path to Lena Headey’s Emmy win, Cersei pays a cruelly haughty visit to Margaery’s cell. With every word dripping entendre, the queen vs. queen war of words leaves no clear winner. By the time Cersei walks out, believing herself victorious, she’s so high on her power she can’t possibly imagine the hammer about to fall. It’s not enough for her to savor alone, so Cersei revisits the Sparrow and fishes for certainty her motherly duty to protect her son is finished. The septon reassures her that true hearts will be laid bare for all to see…”And so it will be for all of us.” But Cersei never imagined that far ahead, and after a gloriously visible gulp, she fairly begins to tremble as the Sparrow’s words turn in her own direction and Lancel reveals himself. Though she finds herself incarcerated (did Margaery hears those delicious screams?), Cersei reminds us she’ll never give up. “Look at me. Look at my face. It’s the last thing you’ll see before you die.”
Another queen may require a wake-up call, as she again looks to the wrong man — at the wrong time — for advice. She may be smart enough to know she can’t marry Daario, but Daenerys seems to have momentarily lost her way. As she questions her own decision to reopen and attend the fighting pits, little does she know a true-hearted knight bearing a feisty gift is on his way back to her side. Tyrion once again proves himself the most quick-witted Lannister; he and Ser Jorah are sold and conveniently arrive just in time for opening day. Each captive realizes his respective moment; Mormont too easily defeats the other slaves and reveals himself to a disdainful Dany, and Tyrion presents himself as an irresistible offering. But it is the queen and Mother of Dragons who must find her inner strength and rise again. Her lover’s one sage bit of bedroom banter surely rings in her ear — “All the rulers are either butchers or meat” — Daenerys will have to come to grips with the need of this world for a show of power through distasteful means. And we who watch, must do the same.
*Which was nearly as bad as the one-two punch of Jaime and Cersei, followed by Craster’s Keep.
We bid a fond farewell to Peter Vaughan’s Maester Aemon. Egg! Egg!
…and to any meaningful scenes that might have been set in Dorne.