The first great episode of the season.
Be warned: Everything up to and including the most recent episode of Game Of Thrones is fair game to spoil in this review. So if you’re not all caught up and ready to discuss, this might not be the place for you. Also note: this review is written from the perspective of someone who has read all of George R.R. Martin’s A Song Of Ice And Fire books, but there will not be ANY book spoilers that might possibly spoil the show. However, that doesn’t mean the occasional, vague reference to the books – whether in the form of changes the show has made, or critiques based on book context – will not be made. You’ve been warned.
Game Of Thrones has always been a show that hinges on its sense of momentum, and with so many moving pieces (character, places, plots) it can be an incredibly difficult thing for the show to maintain, as we’ve seen so far this season. Almost every episode thus far has felt like a whoooooole lot of build-up – which obviously requires the payoff before we can fully assess whether it’s been good or bad build-up – but when the show finally gets moving, and every beat of an episode feels like there’s a greater purpose behind it, Game Of Thrones can be some truly transcendent television, and thankfully that’s the show that stepped up to the plate last night. Whether or not the show can maintain that momentum is yet to be seen, but last night’s episode titled “The Gift” – obviously referring to Tyrion, but likely also how many great, fan-oriented moments showrunners Weiss and Benioff gave to us this week – was easily the best episode of season five (thus far) and a pretty powerful hour of television.
Up on The Wall, Jon Snow started heading north to try and recruit the remaining wildlings before Winter finally comes (finally!) and they end up dead at the hands of the whitewalkers, joining the army of the dead we’ll eventually have to deal with in season eight, I imagine. Planning ahead, though… probably a good thing. But surprisingly, instead of hanging out with Jon and Tormund and their adorable back-and-forth, we got to stick around with Sam and Gilly as things start to get rowdy at Castle Black. Obviously this rowdiness stems from Jon heading north of The Wall and no longer commanding the Night’s Watch for the time being – I’d be afraid of breaking any rules with the image of Janos Slynt’s head flying still fresh in my mind – and with the death of Aemon Targaryan, the wisest, gentlest, kindest Targaryan ever*. As Alliser Throne put it: we’re “losing all [our] friends,” up here, and in typical Game Of Thrones fashion, that doesn’t bode well for the people we like.
It was really refreshing to see a death by natural causes on this show (is this the first one?), and what a terrific sequence in general – Aemon’s final moments, seemingly spent dreaming of a happier childhood before the downfall of his family, are very sweet and you can tell Sam is both happy for Aemon to be in a better place but also really upset that the man he always turned to guidance from is no longer with him. Though he did manage to mutter a “Get him south!” (Referring to Sam #2) before passing, which is pretty broad advice but for all you book readers out there it might mean Sam is still headed where he should’ve already been headed – if that’s the case, I really like them making it Sam’s choice!
Doubling down on sexual assault this week, Gilly ends up almost raped but unlike last week’s Sansa shenanigans that felt weirdly out of step with her arc, this particular scene felt more in tune thematically with the idea of traditional masculinity Sam, as a character, has always wrestled with. His view of the ideal man pushes him to stand up to the guys attacking Gilly, and nearly gets him killed as a result but luckily Ghost was chilling nearby and totally is not a fan of rape either (whew!). Not sure how tasteful it was to have the Gilly/Sam sex scene take place immediately after her assault, but (Sam’s sex noises aside) it was a particularly sweet, sincere scene. And in typical Gilly/Sam fashion, they have sex in the same way they formed a bond – totally unexpectedly and inexplicably. Hurray for consensual sex!
Just a little further south, however, there is a severe lack of consensual sex going on with Sansa (who we last left in an awful, awful position), as we return to her trapped in her small bedroom, bruised and traumatized by nightly visits from her “husband,” Ramsay – still not sure how I feel about this route for her empowerment arc. Though learning to overcome and channel that trauma would certainly be a form of empowerment for her (Mad Max: Fury Road, ya’ll?!?!), we have yet to see if that’s where the show is headed, and I would’ve preferred to see her play “the game” a little more instead, maybe start working Ramsay over in the bedroom instead of having her agency all but stripped from her. But I’ll reserve judgment for now.
Obviously Reek/Theon didn’t look too pleased last week when he was forced to watch Ramsay sexually abuse his sort-of sister, but this week when Sansa begs him for help – in the form of lighting the candle Brienne is on the lookout for – he instead decides to turn her (and her escape plans) in to Ramsay, who, as we should’ve expected, flays the old woman who seeked to help her. Not cool, Reek. Not cool. It was nice to see Sansa fire back at Ramsay a bit, though, taking him down a peg for having his birth legitimized by a King that may not be King for very long – a bit low, cause Tommen is genuinely sweet and adorable, but he is indeed a bastard, and things aren’t looking great for him in King’s Landing.
It was a rough week for anyone of noble birth in King Landing this week, really. Queen Margeary and Sir Loras are imprisoned for lying under oath about Loras’ sexual escapades, while Tommen, King of the Andals and the First Men, Lord of the Seven Kingdoms, and Protector of the Realm is left completely helpless, other than his Queen Mother who has left him with no wife, friends or royal council. Other than herself, of course. And in this scene of Tommen venting frustrations we get that rare moment of (almost) complete sincerity from Cersei. In this realm, the show surpasses the books almost every time because Lena Heady is an incredible, nuanced performer – she captures the 50% smug, wine-drinking badass, 40% raging monster 10% genuinely loving, caring mother in ways that even George R.R. Martin’s POV chapters in A Feast For Crows just couldn’t.
And thankfully, in other book-to-show changes, Lady Olenna – now a fan favorite because goddamn Diana Rigg is AMAZING – is now prominently involved in the King’s Landing shenanigans, and gets maybe the best scene of the season with a High Sparrow V. Queen Of Thorns verbal sparring match that was essentially my Batman V. Superman. Hours later and I’m still cackling at “don’t spar with me, little fellow!” Bless Jonathan Pryce too, who absolutely nails the terrifying conviction of the High Sparrow, especially in the final scene of the episode where anyone looking to see Cersei taken down a peg – which should be pretty much everyone, since she got Ned killed back in season one – must’ve been thoroughly satisfied seeing her own plan blow up in her face. I know I was. Though I do think show Cersei (moreso than book Cersei whose plan forms more out of rash desperation than careful planning) should’ve realized how awful her plan truly was, especially with Lancel back in town as one of the religious fanatics who plan on punishing any noble person who has acted indecently. My red alert buttons were going haywire with every decision she made, and I’d be genuinely surprised if even any non-book-readers didn’t see this plan backfiring.
And speaking of backfired plans, I guess we should talk Dorne. Yeeeesh. Not only were Jaime and Bronn’s plans (or lack thereof) really lazy and frustrating, the show’s version of Dorne itself has felt similarly in tune. I like the design thus far – though it does feel like significantly less money has gone into Dorne than say… every other location this season – and I like seeing Jaime and Bronn hanging out but there’s no real momentum, meaning or significance taking place in Dorne at the moment (even in terms of plot it’s rather nonsensical and boring), which for any book readers should prove frustrating as Dorne, and the newly introduced characters there, were easily the best part of A Feast For Crows. Luckily, this week fixed that a bit as the Sand Snakes finally acted like actual characters rather than lazy plot devices this week with Tyene Sand seducing Bronn through the prison cell bars, which, though maybe the camera revels a bit too much in her – granted, lovely – body, it works kind of beautifully as a visual metaphor for her using her sexuality as a weapon. Not a literal weapon in this case, but it’s an interesting juxtaposition to have Bronn totally captivated by her sexually while she is technically killing him via poison. It’s a fascinating little character moment for her, and the first time Dorne has lived up to the show’s incredible take on Oberyn Martell. The Dornish are very open, sexual people, remember. Oberyn got hella laid in season four.
And last, but certainly not least, we’ve got Meeren, which I’ve found to be one of the more thematically interesting locations this season with its takedown of White Savior Complex (learn to respect people’s culture, Dany! Jeeze!), but in the most recent episodes we’ve kinda slowed down to a putter with Dany. Glad she’s still getting laid, though. Again, hurray for consensual sex! But this week we finally got see the wonderful Tyrion/Jorah dynamic duo finally reach its destination. After being sold to a slave-owner as future contestants in Dany’s new Meeren Fighting Pit Idol, Jorah and Tyrion gear up for tryouts and find themselves in the presence of the Mother Of Dragons much sooner than they (and we) expected. Jorah, knowing that Dany is not a fan of pointless slaughter joins in the pit tryouts and manages to win without killing a single fighter, which impresses and delights her… until he takes off his helmet and reveals that he is in fact Jorah, the traitor who was banished from her city.
But just before she sends him away yet again, Tyrion, who luckily gets cut loose instead of split in two – I’m convinced that was Weiss and Benioff cruelly messing with us – steps forward and presents “The Gift,” which is obviously himself. And though this season has had quite a few characters in new places, exploring new and wonderful dynamics (Jon and Stannis has been a personal favorite of mine) Tyrion and Dany locking eyes is one of the biggest fan-oriented moments the series has had yet. Five seasons later, and two of our favorite characters right from the get-go, from seemingly separate worlds, are now face-to-face. Now I cannot wait until next week, when hopefully we see them speaking to one another and not just cutting to Tyrion and Jorah in cells – that sounds like something Game Of Thrones would do. And seeing as how Dany is a struggling ruler with no truly intelligent, thoughtful advisors left (Barriston, Jorah), and how Tyrion (as proven in season two) is an incredibly intelligent, thoughtful advisor, this is the team-up of the century. And it’s been honed and built just flawlessly on the show’s behalf. (And book and show fans are officially in the same boat as we have now passed the books in terms of Dany/Tyrion!) Now all we have to do is hope that Weiss and Benioff have the follow-through planned to live up to this epic meet-up.
Some stray thoughts:
- Stannis The Man-nis beTTER NOT BURN PRINCESS SHIREEN I SWEAR TO GOD.
- Bronn does have a good voice.
- I’ve genuinely lost track of all of Littlefinger’s plots at this point.
- So many shots focusing on Olly/Jon this season… if that little kid ends up doing what I think he’s going to do…
- Flaying: still super gross.
- Maybe Ghost should rule atop the Iron Throne.
- Sorry, female viewers, no Daario butt/peen to compensate for Sand Snake breasts this week.
- I said it before, but it bears repeating: Diana Rigg is AMAZING.
- Where is Ser Pounce at? He’s the only friend Tommen’s got left.
- Myrcella stuff is pretty insufferable so far. Hopefully Dorne in general gets better.
- Lena Headey’s face after Natalie Dormer’s “GET OUT YOU HATEFUL BITCH!”
What did you guys think of the episode?