“Game of Thrones” Season 5 Episode 3 debrief: The one in which Sansa can’t ever catch a break
Valar Morghulis, dear readers, and welcome to Isolated Nation’s first-ever coverage of a television show. And what better way to kick-off our first TV coverage than with the third episode of the most pirated show right now (until that spot is usurped by the eventual Brienne+Podrick spin-off)? Start off with the first episode of the season, you say? Well, as Littlefinger would say, there is no justice in this world. So, interpret that how you will.
!SPOILERS FOR SEASON 5 EPISODE 3 of GAME of THRONES BEYOND THIS POINT!
Three episodes into the season, the show is still in set-up mode, quietly establishing new antagonists, new alliances and new paths for its characters. The show has always been at its best during transitional periods like these, and "High Sparrow" is no exception: providing us with relatively less action but more contemplative, poignant character moments and intriguing political maneuvering instead.
For example, The Adventures of Brienne and Podrick takes a setback when Sansa makes a pit stop at the Boltons' shabby crib, so we are treated to a nice chill-out session between the pair, in which we learn about “Brienne The Beauty” and why she was so fiercely loyal to the compassionate King Renly (who used to be my favourite claim to the throne, by the way. RIP RENLY THE FABULOUS), in a heartbreaking confession that is reminiscent of Jamie Lannister’s King-Slayer reveal.
Brienne: “Nothing is more hurtful than failing to protect the ones you love.”
I love the interactions between Brienne and Podrick, but I can’t shake this dreadful feeling that they might be killed off soon. Among the characters that we can actually root for, these two seem like the most expendable ones right now.
Westeros Survival Guide, Rule #13: If you’re going to have a royal wedding, make sure it gets limited screen time (<30 seconds) and keep the celebrations off-screen. Over at Kings Landing, Tommen the Fresh Prince of Westeros finally got himself laid, with (the Taylor Swift of Westeros?) Margaery, no less! While Tommen basks in the glow of the honeymoon period and being the luckiest guy in Kings Landing (she loves to sail, dude!), Margaery wastes no time with setting her plan against Cersei in motion, by masterfully playing the oldest trick in the book: drawing the “Momma’s boy” card.
Speaking of Cersei, the season 5 premiere kicked off with the first-ever flashback in the show’s history, one that is Cersei-centric, shedding light to a troublingly accurate prophecy pertaining to Cersei’s fate. That flashback suddenly paints all of Cersei’s scenes in a new light: we realize that in every interaction she has, every tragic event that she witnesses – Joffrey’s death, her daughter being shipped off to Dorne, Tywin's murder – this prophecy has always been towering at the back of her mind. This also explains why she has been so threatened by Margaery’s presence.
Unable to pry her son away from Margaery’s clutches, Cersei’s attention turns towards another growing presence in Kings Landing. Religion has always played a prominent role in this show (see: Faceless Man, Seven Gods, Melissandre, Three-eyed-Raven), and it looks like this season will feature another religious element, in the form of The Sparrows. Taking aim at the “sinful” upper class, the sparrows look like they could be an imminent threat to the throne in Kings Landing, but Cersei is smart enough to realize that she doesn’t need more enemies, and makes a strategic move by potentially forging an alliance with The High Sparrow instead.
In this episode, each of the remaining Stark children (sans Bran and Rickon) are confronted with important decisions, ones that might have direct plot-driving consequences. But more significantly, the choices that Arya, Sansa, and Jon make in this episode are character-defining turning points for each of them, paving the way to who they will eventually become.
Arya’s Choice. In order to move past the prerequisite phase of bad-assery training: performing mundane housekeeping tasks, the Yoda of Braavos, Jaqen (welcome back!) informs Arya that she needs to remove all traces of her identity before moving on to lesson #2: Referring to everyone - herself included - in third person. Arya happily obliges, and tosses everything she owns into the sea (although I’m not sure they meant throwing the coin away AGAIN), except, of course, Needle, her one remaining physical and emotional tether to her family. Maisie Williams does great work here in her portrayal of Arya’s internal struggles, one of the main reasons why Arya remains to be one of the emotional core of the show.
Sansa’s Choice. Poor Sansa. Freed from almost-marrying one monster, only to be engaged to another. Sansa is one of my favourite characters in the show. Controversial, I know, but hear me out. Yes, she’s not as bad-ass as Arya and she’s not a mother to three dragons, and she rarely gets to take an active role in her life. But here’s what’s so interesting about her: Of all the Starks, who wanted nothing to do with Kings Landing and the politics of the throne, Sansa was the only one who wanted in on that life, and she grew up being sold on the prospect that one day she will marry a prince and live in a shiny castle that is not Winterfell. Here is a girl who got everything she wished for, but paid the ultimate cost: losing everyone she ever loved. Her dream came true alright, but it turned out to be a twisted, never-ending nightmare instead. And where is she now? Back where she started – home. The place she so desperately wanted to escape from, but now desperately longs for. Like Littlefinger said, she had been a bystander to tragedy and injustice her whole life. After all she has been through, it looks like Sansa’s decision (albeit highly-influenced by Little Finger) to stay and marry the son of the man who orchestrated her family’s murder could mark the beginning of a critical turning point for her character.
Say what you want about the “passivity” of Sansa, but at this point, all her other siblings have made the conscious decision to abandon the Stark name: Arya becoming “no one”, and Jon choosing the Night's Watch over the possibility of becoming a legitimate Stark. And yet, there she stands: Sansa Stark, First daughter of Lord Eddard Stark, watching over the restoration of Winterfell, and still a key player in the Game of Thrones – an unforgiving, treacherous, cruel game for which she remains a survivor.
Oh yeah, Theon/Reek also makes an appearance. Yawn. He means nothing to me.
You know some things, Jon Snow (I'll see myself out): Jon Snow is getting much more interesting! How did that happen? From his mercy-killing of Mance Rayder (RIP), to his ascension to President of the Night's Watch (via an actual democracy, ironically enough), Jon is kicking ass and chopping heads. After master-persuader (not) Stannis once again fails to convince Jon to help a brother out, right hand man Davos Seaworth drops some truth bombs and does some skillful loophole-ing around the Night's Watch oath, with his main gist to be: “Do what needs to be done, bro. And what needs to be done is getting those Boltons out of the North. Just IMHO.”
Meanwhile, Jon wisely sticks with the tried and true “keep your enemies closer” route, despite Stannis’s advice, and sends his other, less vital enemy to that place where no one wants to go. The guy really doesn’t want to go, and somewhere in his objections the B-word slips out. It was nice knowing you, guy. During the course of the execution, Jon really echoes a Ned Stark-esque sense of resolution and justice in his decision, in a scene that harkens back to the “man who passes the sentence should swing the sword” moment in the pilot.
This execution scene is in stark (pun so intended) juxtaposition to Dany’s execution of the ex-slave from last week’s episode, as both are impossibly difficult political decisions, but with a few key differences: raised by the honour-bound Ned Stark, Jon Snow chose to swing the sword himself, and his actions are rooted in his deeply entrenched sense of justice and honour from his Winterfell upbringing. In contrast, Dany still struggles when it comes to making leadership decisions, as she does not seem to have a strong sense of what her moral code is beyond her savior complex and sense of entitlement, and is still in dire need of developing her own sense of self.
Which is why Tyrion and Varys can’t get to Mereen soon enough, and honestly, the Mereen storylines are starting to become a bit of a drag. But it looks like Tyrion is getting the express trip to Mereen, thanks to none other than my homeboy SER JORAH MORMONT, still trying to claw his way out of the darkest depths of the friend zone! Never give up SJM. Never give up.
All in all, this was an excellent episode. I give it 4 out of 5 Needles.
There you have it, folks. Boy, that was a long one. I’d like to hear your thoughts on this episode, so let me know if you disagree/agree with me in the comments section below! Let's end this review with the Hodor Award, in which we honour the best character of the week.
This Week’s HODOR AWARD goes to – Varys, for the following exchange:
TYRION: “I can’t remember the last face I saw that wasn’t yours.”
VARYS: “It’s a perfectly good face”