Please remember, this is the non-spoiler (books) discussion of the week’s Game of Thrones episode; violations will result in a one-week, no-expenses-paid trip to House Benioff and Weiss, where you’ll suffer a fate worse than death.
Is it true or a lie? At the outset of “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken,” the Waif tells Arya a story of how she came to be in the service of the Faceless Men, and then asks Arry whether or not the story is true. Game of Thrones’ sixth episode was full of lies, and the awful consequences some of those lies unleashed made for a very mixed hour that ended on a terrible note. Before we get to disappointment and ire, let’s take some time with things done well.
After Jaqen H’ghar proves he’s a better lie detector than any modern day machine, Arya gets the chance to prove herself when a father brings in his sickly daughter. The younger Stark sister is finally allowed past the mysterious door she’s been forbidden to enter, and it leads downstairs to a room full of faces; the many masks of Faceless Men. “A girl is not ready to become no one. But she’s ready to become someone else.” In her previous life, Arya’s already been forced to transform herself, but literally putting on another’s face takes things to a wholly different level.
From the dark, silent beauty inside a Black and White temple to an interminably chatty Tyrion in the gorgeous outdoor greenery we go…the episode’s strengths are in focusing on these laid bare characters who must find ways to become someone other than themselves. Let’s take a moment to acknowledge the sublime acting prowess of Iain Glen, across whose face we saw a thousand emotions register in the single moment when Tyrion informed him of his father’s (Jeor, former Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch) death. Likewise, Peter Dinklage’s broken expression conveyed Tyrion’s dismay and regret the moment he realized what he’d done. The two near-strangers shared an unspoken intimacy, despite Jorah’s best efforts to keep Tyrion at bay; the Lannister quickly atones for his loose tongue by making use of it again. Captured by slavers (led by Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, aka Mr. Eko), Tyrion amusingly saves his (apparently) not dwarf-sized cock (“Guess again!”) — at least until a “cock merchant” is found, and after hearing Dany’s reopened the fighting pits to free men, he helps convince their captors of Jorah’s fighting worth.
Back in King’s Landing, things are getting ugly, and the lies flow more freely than wine. Baelish makes his move with Cersei, informing her that Sansa’s alive and about to be married to a Bolton. In exchange for being named Warden of the North, he offers to help take Winterfell after Stannis and the Boltons destroy each other. Meanwhile, returning to Lannister country to deal with Loras’ arrest, the glorious Olenna Tyrell opens a carriage window as her procession halts, and exclaims the zinger of the night: “You can smell the shit from five miles away.” Indeed, the Tyrells are forced to step carefully, as Cersei has done her very best to set up the family’s fall — of course with her hand visibly hidden enough to claim no direct involvement. Each party knows exactly what the other is up to, but after the High Sparrow brings in Loras’ lover to testify, and Margaery is taken into custody for lying, Olenna’s got her hands full.
And now onto the lesser elements. Though Jaime and Bronn provide much amusement, their arrival at the palace and attempt to rescue Myrcella is a bit of a disappointment, as is the Sand Snakes’ ambush and fight scene. Ellaria’s recital of the Martell motto belies the outcome of a fight that seemed a little sloppy for what we might have expected from Oberyn’s daughters. After Doran’s guards quickly break up what barely started, only Bronn had a wound — and a compliment for Tyene, who managed to slice (and perhaps poison?) his arm.
Finally, we’re forced to revisit that old Game of Thrones nemesis, yet again, as Benioff, Weiss and episode writer Bryan Cogman apparently decided we needed to see another rape. Sansa goes through preparations for her wedding night, and after Myranda ineffectively attempts to scare her, Sansa puts the girl in her place; “I’m Sansa Stark of Winterfell, this is my home, and you can’t frighten me.” Still, we know and Sansa senses that a horror even worse than Joffrey is about to pass. We’ve seen what Ramsay is capable of, and every moment he’s onscreen, Theon reminds us of that. So why, after a hauntingly beautiful ceremony (where Theon is allowed to utter his own true name), did those three male writers think it necessary to haul us down the road to rape once more? Yes, we get it, the series is set in such a place and time; we know Ramsay Snow/Bolton is the most horrible of horrible men. But, did you really take Sansa Stark all the way from that little girl who ate lemon cakes and dreamed of marrying a prince, through her transformation into Lady Stark — a smart young woman who’s learned to adapt and manipulate like a champ — did you really take her all this way, just to have her raped on her wedding night? (And if Benioff and Weiss even try to explain this away with a comment [lie] about it making Sansa stronger, I’ll lose my mind.) We’ve already made our feelings clear on this particular excess, and to watch another book departure result in another pointless rape is frustrating and disappointing; this was perhaps the most disturbing episode ending yet. At least we can take some minor solace in the choice to pull away from Sansa’s face those last moments; to focus on Theon’s broken countenance as he — like us — was forced to watch that awful violation, then closing our eyes to try to make it all go away.