Show: Game of Thrones
Watched: Episode 43 – April 26, 2015
Title: The High Sparrow
Summary: New Territory!
I did not love The House of Black and White last week. I mean, it was fine and all — it was Game of Thrones — but that being considered it was a lackluster episode. This week makes me think that they don’t choose the names because of the focus of the show, but more for what the introduce.
NOTE: SERIOUS SPOILER WARNING. This review/discussion contains tons of spoilers about the episode and even ones crossing over from the books. It’s really my free-for-all musing given all the information at my disposal.
Arya – Even though I expected some meat on Arya’s story last week (because of the title), it seems to fall in this episode. We pick up with her inside the House of Black and White, a creepy dark space decorated with every image of the divine. She sweeps. She carries water. In the background Jaqen offers a man a bowl of “water”. Arya is frustrated with the drudgery (which evidently has been days) and confronts Jaqen — only to get a cryptic “all men must learn to serve” (in Valyrian too). She wonders which god and reminded that there is “only one true god” (we’ve heard that before!) and omits the “and his name is death.” Sure enough, the guy who drank the water lies dead on the floor and is carried off by silent acolytes.
Later Arya is pondering her coin when a blonde female acolyte enters and questions who she is. Arya, having learned her lesson goes with the ever popular “no one” answer, but is beaten for her trouble. They get into a fight and Jaqen materializes to stop it. The other girl was apparently trying to play “the game of faces” (which is presumably where she “becomes” someone else for a while) but Jaqen questions Arya, saying that if she is “no one,” why is “no one” surrounded by Arya Stark’s things? Arya gets the hint and goes out to the lagoon to throw away her famed stinky clothes that have miraculously survived 4 years hard use. She chucks her money and even the coin too, but can’t quite manage to throw away needle, instead burying it under a pile of rocks in the jetty (which looks to be part of the harbor of some Croatian village). After, she is back in the House and Jaqen leads her to the basement where she learns to undress and bath a corpse that has recently drunk from the poisoned water.
This was all good stuff, with a nice creepy feel and some good does of Jaqen. The issue of Arya abandoning her things (and presumably her grudges) brings us to a theme that runs through this episode (and GOT in general). “To Revenge or not to Revenge.”
Jon – Has taken up his position as Lord Commander and made Olly his steward. Stannis with Davos in tow (as usual) come for a visit. The “One True King of Westeros” wants to know if he has decided on the whole becoming Jon Stark business. Jon has desires, revenge (theme), and all that on one side and loyalty and duty (to the Night’s Watch) on the other. Having built up his honor now as a brother, having paid for it at the cost of Ygritte and her love, and his friends, he’s going to side with his oath. Stannis gives him a hard time, but being the inflexible twit that he is, probably admires Jon. I’m not a huge Stannis fan, but these interactions at the wall are far better than him lurking about in Dragonstone. Stannis also mentions that he plans to march on Winterfell and the Boltons and Davos tries to get Jon to pitch in (even thought the watch is technically neutral).
Later, Jon is presiding over the mess. Sam tells us that Maester Aemon is sick (setup) and Jon drums up some humor by appointing a latrine captain, then Thorne (in his side) as chief ranger. When he commands the odious Slynt to take some men and go restore Grayguard, a ruined castle on the wall, Slynt refuses. And refuses again and insults Jon and his authority. Taking a page from the Ned/Robb playbook Jon calls for his sword and has the men drag Slynt outside to the block. Once there Slynt begs for his life and mercy. For a moment it looks like Jon might yield, but off comes the ugly head. Good riddance.
Margaery and Cersei – Another gorgeous aerial shot of Kings Landing shows off the budget. It looks less and less like Dubrovnik by the episode. Liters containing Cersei and Margarey roll through the streets, but the people call Marg’s name (making Cersei scowl). We roll up to the Sept of Baellor (also looking better than ever) and apparently it’s time for Margarey’s third wedding. Let’s home 3 is the charm. This seems to be the only happy wedding in Westeros history too, as the episode slams from the kiss right to the bedroom. Tommen is getting lucky at a seriously young age! How old is he? In the books he’s like 8 or 9, but maybe 15 or so here. Lucky guy as Marg is a dish. He certainly thinks so because she wraps him about her cute little finger. Their pillow talk is very nicely handled. Marg is both artfully manipulative and clearly enjoying herself as well. I’m not sure that even a kid his age would be dense enough to fall for her heavy handed manipulations as she simultaneously flatters Cersei and implies that she over mother’s him — but he eats it up.
So next up Tom not so subtly tries to suggest to his mother that she might be happier in Casterly Rock. Which leads to Cersei storming back to Margaery, but the old queen is playing it close to her vest in a controlled manner. She talks nice to Marg as the younger girl not so subtly reminds her that she is a dowager now. You can feel the anger seething under her skin.
Later the High Septon (which we clearly saw marring Marg and Tom) is at Littlefinger’s whorehouse picking from various naked versions of the seven when the sparrows (including unrecognizable Lancel) storm in and haul him out naked into the street. It’s painful to watch as the fat pale dude is whipped through the streets.
Once dressed again (thank the seven), he loses no time in protesting to the small council. Which generates an amusing line when he tries to address Qyburn who says of his name “doesn’t matter.” But Cersei and the crew (other than the lecherous Pycelle) take him to task for getting into trouble anyway.
Cersei, the disgusting Meryn Trant in tow, decides to size up this new faction by visiting the “High Sparrow” in his lair (which is a poor house). The barefoot man, played by veteran character actor, Jonathan Pryce (Keira Knightley’s dad in Pirates!), does a good job of playing the role as ultra humble. Cersei must be up to something in her “plot against Marg” as she plays along.
Finally, she visits Qyburn in his lab. The place is delightfully Frankenstein, and the ex-Maester is in the process of doing in a rat. In the background is a big body under a sheet. Presumably the mountain. Cersei has him send a letter to Littlefinger. After she leaves the body gets to twitching. Kitsch, but fun.
The Boltons – Ride into a Winterfell that is under heavy reconstruction. Ravens in cages are been brought in, and Reek can be seen pathetically mucking out the yard. As part of the classic Bolton decoration a set of flayed bodies are hauled up on ropes, including a woman. Ramsay and Roose dine together, with Reek serving. Ramsay reveals that he flayed some Northern lord who wouldn’t pay his taxes and Roose suggests that given the size of the north, and their loss of Tywin’s support (due to his death), they really ought to adopt a somewhat more congenial style. To that effect, he has arranged a marriage for the new heir.
Sansa and Littlefinger – As they look down on yet another big vista, this time Moat Cailin. Seems they are heading north (as I suspected). This is all new territory. Littlefinger says they are going home and Sansa instantly puts two and two together about the marriage proposal and realizes it’s her. She is appalled at the idea of the Boltons (who did, after all, murder Robb and Cat). But Peter is ultra slick this time, saying he won’t force her, but she should consider taking charge of her fate and getting her revenge on her terms (revenge theme again). Sansa thinks for the moment, steels herself and agrees. This is a defining moment for her as a character, really taking charge (somewhat, for she is still a pawn of LF) and is very well handled.
Brienne and Pod – Look on. Brienne doesn’t need to follow, she knows where they are going and plans to sneak on by. She and Pod share some good bonding by the fire, exchanging more of their backgrounds and origin stories. Pod explains how he was sent to Tyrion and she explains how she met Renly and why she loved him (because he was always kind to her). Pod expresses his admiration and Brienne volunteers to start teaching him combat. Brienne comments that there is “nothing more hateful than failing to proect the one you love” and we know she’s thinking of her revenge on Stannis (the show even transitions over to him) so this counts as more revenge theme!
But in my threaded narrative, back to Sansa and Littlefinger and the Boltons – Sansa arrives in Winterfell. Home at last, but oh how things have changed. The Boltons have spruced things up for their guests. The flayed corpses are gone (but the hooks remain). Roose, Ramsay, and Roose’s fat frey wife are all lined up to welcome them. Sansa plays along as she is introduced to Ramsay. Behind them Ramsay’s mistresses look on. When she’s shown to her room the serving lady lets her know “the north remembers.”
As she wanders around the castle, Reek keeps a secretive eye on her. We are in entirely new territory here and I can only speculate on how the threads the show is setting up will combine with the action in ADOD in this new alternative version. Clearly Stannis is on the way, as is Brienne. Clearly Theon/Reek will have some role to play in the chaos that will ensue. I suspect he’ll have some kind of partial redemption. Although who knows? GRRM and D&D might kill him (or anyone) off. This all must be tough on Sansa, but she has really come a long way and play along admirably.
Ramsay too is playing a role, because we know what kind of a whackjob he is. He tells Littlefinger he “will never hurt her.” And that’s in his nature? Roose joins them and Peter assures the elder Bolton she is a virgin. The pragmatic Roose couldn’t care less about that. He’s interested in Littlefinger’s plans and why after getting so much support from the Lannisters he’s turning against them now (and he doesn’t know the 90% of it!). As usual, LF’s true motives are fairly inscrutable. I can’t help but think he wants to sow even more chaos in the north and somehow pick up the pieces. But he suggests the Eerie and the North team up again. That message comes from Cersei and Roose has read it — he’s not a terribly trusting soul, as he wants to read it.
Tyrion and Varys – roll their giant wheel house up to Volantis and we are treated to even more giant panning city shots. This season is going nuts with these gorgeous views of Martin’s world. Volantis seems to include a giant bridge like the Ponte Vecchio with shops and buildings piled on top. This was actually a frequent site in early modernity (15-18th centuries). Paris and London both had them. The shot that rolls up over it is amazing. Tyrion, bored out of his gourd in the carriage, and sporting his new hood and beard look, drags a reluctant Varys out in search of a brothel. The presence of slaves is observed, and even Robb Stark’s late wife commented on it back in season 2-3. Here they apparently tattoo slaves with a descriptive mark, like a shovel for ditch diggers. They run into an Asian priestess of the Lord of Light on their way. She babbles about “the night is dark and full of terrors” and the like. She refers to “stone men” and Tyrion comments on this, drawing the connection to gray scale (Shireen’s disease, which was introduced last episode). Yep, they didn’t cut that!
Ty does manage to find a whore house — of course, this is GOT and there are two in this episode alone! But unknownst to Tyrion and knownst to us, Jorah is lurking around — very drunk. There is even a whore dressed as Dany in blue and with a white wig. Tyrion talks to a lonely lady of the night and does a good job overcoming her initial skepticism of him, but when she goes to take him back to her room he can’t do it. This does incite some funny lines like “no one is more surprised. What am I going to do with all my free time?” So he wanders out to piss out the window (he loves a good vertical piss). Jorah sneaks up behind him with a rope, lassoes him and drags him off “for the queen.” This is an apparent acceleration of events in the books. Given the probable absence of some of the other (Dornish) traveling parties in ADOD it makes some sense. I’m sure they will run into a bit of trouble on their way to Meereen. Plus, this is now Tyrion’s second dwarfnapping!
All in all, a great episode. Compared to last week in particular, a ton of stuff happened in this episode. Just look how long the description above is. We pushed into exciting new territory with the Sansa/Bolton thread. For the first time ever I’m really wondering what is going to happen. And while we didn’t have any Dany or Jamie (Not so sad to skip a week on Dany’s slightly anoying Meereen plot), the remaining threads felt quite substantial: Arya, Sansa/Bolton, and Cersei/Marg. Even the wall had a bit of a shocker. All great stuff.
The show is really upping the visual ante too. Nearly every locale gets some giant combined real and CGI view and they look totally gorgeous.
HBO’s official videos for the episode: