Monday, March 20, 2017

Game of Thrones Rewatch 5.1: "The Wars to Come"

5.1 “The Wars to Come”
Written by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Directed by Michael Slovis
Commentary by Michael Slovis, David Franco (DP), and Ciaran Hinds (Mance Rayder)

So here we are in season five. The first season that doesn’t have a Martin-penned episode, which I’ve felt have sort of anchored the seasons—at least until season four, when half of his scenes ended up in “his” episode and half in a different episode, and “his” episode was full of Theon-torture that even Martin seemed super disturbed by. Season five overall was kind of a mess, as they move past the books or further away from the books, depending on the storyline.

We start with a flashback, which the show has never done before, though they might have been useful before now for a lot of backstory. It’s odd to me that, having avoided flashbacks in a series that rests so heavily on a massive history, they’d a) start now; and b) start with Cersei’s visit to Maggy the Frog. If we didn’t need Ned’s fever dream about the Tower of Joy, or Petyr’s duel with Brandon Stark, or the Battle of the Trident where Rhaegar died, we don’t need this. Cersei could very easily have just told this story, as she does later in the season. Also, it’s weird that they did it now, as the only reason we don’t see it until this point in the books is that Cersei isn’t a POV character until now. But the memory suddenly illuminates a lot of Cersei’s behavior, and maybe she could have been a touch more sympathetic in the show if we’d known about this from the start.

Not only is it unnecessary, it’s incomplete. They leave out a third of Maggy’s prophecy for Cersei, which in the books is: “Queen you shall be, until there comes another, younger and more beautiful, to cast you down and take all that you hold dear. [. . .] Six-and-ten [children] for [the king] and three for you. Gold shall be their crowns and gold their shrouds, [. . .] and when your tears have drowned you, the valonqar shall wrap his hands about your pale white throat and choke the life from you” (A Feast for Crows, Chapter 12, Cersei III). The show only handles the part about the more beautiful queen and the children; it leaves out the valonqar, which has generally been translated as “little brother.” The trouble is, leaving out this piece ruins yet another reason Cersei has for hating Tyrion so much. She assumes Maggy meant Tyrion would kill her, though there’s lots of fan theories about this prophecy, as well as which “another” is meant—Margaery and Daenerys are the leading contenders, though Sansa is also a possibility. (Cersei clearly thinks it’s Margaery, and it could be a case of there being many possibilities and Cersei’s choice cements it, kind of like Voldemort picking Harry instead of Neville.)

Not only that, but it’s entirely possible that the valonqar is actually Jaime and this piece could have foreshadowed Jaime killing Cersei. Now, if they don’t plan to have Cersei killed (because seriously, Cersei’s going to die before the end of this series) by anyone who could possibly be considered her little brother (and it doesn’t say your little brother, just the little brother), then fine, leave it out. But it could still have been used as justification for her hatred of Tyrion beyond “you killed my mother,” which is, frankly, a terrible reason for hating a sibling for the amount of time and with the ferocity she does.

At the Sept of Baelor, where Tywin lays in state, Cersei and Jaime argue about Jaime’s part in Tywin’s death—releasing Tyrion from his cell—and Jaime tries to argue that they’re all they have left now, and they need to stick together. Jaime doesn’t seem to be overly guilty about it, and they’ve once again hacked a good chunk of introspection out of the story; rather than Jaime standing vigil over the body for three days and thinking about everything (especially what Tyrion told him about Cersei), they have a five-minute scene with Tywin’s body and move right along. I get the need to streamline, I really do, but when “streamlining” turns into “hacking huge chunks out of the personality and character development of some of the main characters,” I tend to get cranky. (This show makes me very cranky.)

At Tywin’s wake, Loras tries to connect with Cersei again and she’s having none of it. Tommen and Margaery have a sympathetic moment and Cersei glares. She brushes off Pycelle and is stopped by Lancel, who’s here to set up the Sparrows since Brienne’s off-mission and doesn’t get to interact much with the smallfolk. He tries to apologize for his sins—seducing Cersei, killing Robert—but Cersei denies any knowledge of what he’s talking about. He offers to pray for Tywin’s soul, and Cersei says Tywin’s soul doesn’t need his help. These scenes really help to cement how bad Cersei is at making friends and influencing people, which is why in the books she needs Qyburn to help her stay in power. Here she just needs plot convenience.

At the Wall, Jon’s training Olly, who’s not doing so well, while everyone else sits out in the courtyard doing some sort of work (except Sam, who’s just kind of hovering over Gilly). Gilly asks if Sam shouldn’t be training, as well, and he gives Jon a horrified look before boasting that anyone who killed a White Walker and a Thenn doesn’t need training. I wish I could tell you this was the last time Sam brags about this, but it’s really, really not. Gilly remarks that her situation here is tenuous, and that the new lord commander, whoever that is, might send her away, and she recognizes the position that would put Sam in, since he promised not to leave her, but if he goes with her, he becomes a deserter.

Melisandre pops up to bring Jon to see Stannis, and on the way there she gets right to the good stuff, asking him if he’s a virgin, because Melisandre has no boundaries. Stannis wants Jon to use his influence with Mance to get him to put together a Wildling army to help him retake Winterfell. Davos gets to play devil’s advocate by pushing Jon about his feelings regarding the Wildlings; apparently some of the men didn’t like it much that he took Ygritte’s body north to burn her. This, unfortunately, becomes the core of Jon’s storyline—he sees the Wildlings as people, everyone else in the Watch is racist, and thus they hate Jon. It’s part of his storyline in the books, too, but there’s so much more to it (isn’t there always), and this simplified version is really black-and-white for the “world full of greys” we’re supposed to be given.

Stannis gives Jon until nightfall to convince Mance to convince the Wildlings to join him, or he’ll kill Mance. Because, what? Why? What? The reason given in the books—that Mance is a Night’s Watch deserter (and, not incidentally, calls himself a king and thus Melisandre wants his blood)—at least makes sense. Here, Stannis wants Mance to convince his people (who, it has already been established, are really bad at unifying and following) to follow Stannis, or he’ll kill him, which will totally get the Wildlings to follow him. The logic here does not compute. It also doesn’t compute that Mance, whose entire rasion d’etre was to rescue his people from the White Walkers, refuses to take this opportunity to rescue his people because it means accepting a southern king. Which, what did he expect when he brought his people south? Did he think they could just settle on lands technically ruled by a king and not acknowledge the king? Because that’s, frankly, stupid. The smart thing to do at this point would be to start to assimilate (which, spoiler alert, they totally do in the books). Instead we get a whole bunch of pseudo-philosophy about freedom and Mance is hauled off to be burned to death. The Wildlings all have trouble watching; Selyse is disturbingly happy; Jon actually leaves (earning him a disapproving look from Olly because, remember, Olly Hates Wildlings and that is the extent of his characterization), then comes back and shoots Mance so he doesn’t actually burn to death.

Over in the Vale, we’re abandoning Sansa’s book-storyline entirely and shoving her into the storyline of a minor, non-POV character. This turns into a major problem, and I’ll try to talk about how each step is a problem rather than blasting you with my whole what-even-are-they-doing-with-Sansa rant all at once. Right now, Sansa (with her hair very brown) and Petyr leave Robin with Robar Royce to learn to fight (he can barely lift a sword right now, and frankly, the way he’s being trained isn’t likely to make that any better). Petyr tells him they’re taking Sansa to the Fingers and they head in the complete opposite direction, passing Brienne and Pod on the way.

Brienne’s still upset about Arya, and Pod tries to comfort her, but Brienne refuses to be comforted. She again tries to send Pod away, and he again refuses to leave her. She’s completely disaffected about the whole nobility thing at this point, declaring that all the good lords are dead and the ones who are left are monsters. This is more about her own self-doubt and failure than anything else—failure to protect Renly, failure to return Jaime to King’s Landing unscathed, failure to protect Catelyn, failure to protect Arya. But it’s still a massive change from book-Brienne, who still had a lot of idealistic attitudes and really believes in Jaime, at least (though she doesn’t follow him so much as work with him). She’s aware that some lords are awful—she had several run-ins with Randyll Tarly, after all—but overall she believes in duty, honor, and chivalry in much the same way Sansa does.

Across the Narrow Sea, Tyrion has arrived in Pentos, and Varys liberates him from his crate with a crowbar. Now, by rights, this should be Ilyrio Mopatis, because Varys is hiding in one of his alter egos back in King’s Landing, but I’m kind of willing to give them this one because a) Conleth Hill disappearing for a season would be awful; and b) Varys is just hiding, not doing anything important (until he kills Kevan), so there’s no reason why he can’t replace Ilyrio for this part of the plot (it’s later that his presence in this storyline becomes a major problem). Tyrion is piss drunk and sloppy, perfectly willing and ready to drink himself to death. Varys bullies him a bit, telling him self-pity isn’t a good look for him and he’s smart and savvy enough to make a real difference in Westeros, if he can just find the right person to back. Varys thinks that person is Daenerys. Tyrion agrees to go, but not to completely let go of his self-pity or the bottle.

Meanwhile, Daenerys has an uprising on her hands as the Sons of the Harpy make themselves known by murdering one of her Unsullied. First, though, we need the obligatory gratuitous nudity; despite having had White Rat (the Unsullied in question) as a client before, and knowing that all he wants is to cuddle, the Son-of-the-Harpy prostitute strips completely naked and then is like “oh, right” and puts her skirt back on. Once he’s all comfy and relaxed, she slits his throat.

Daenerys orders White Rat buried with full honor in the Temple of the Graces, which I think is the only time we hear anything about the Temple because they’ve ditched so much of the politics of Meereen, including the indomitable Galazza Galare, who I really miss. Instead of a full complement of advisors—Meereenese, sellsword captains, former slaves, the Green Grace, Barristan, etc.—who all have their own perspectives and needs and ideas about how the city should be run, Dany’s down to like five advisors: Mossador, a former Meereenese slave; Barristan; Grey Worm; Daario; and Hizdahr zo Loraq for some reason. This contributes to the overall simplifying of Dany’s storyline and continues to make her look way too easily led by her (all male) advisors.

Daario, for his part, pushes her toward violence, because that’s how he deals with things. He thinks she should grant Hizdahr’s request to open the fighting pits, which she’s already refused (emphatically), and he thinks she should release her dragons as a show of strength. As discussed earlier, the dragons are in many ways a symbol of the Targaryen madness as well as weapons of mass destruction, so he wants her to literally unleash her beast and essentially burn Meereen to the ground. She goes to visit the caged dragons soon after, and is clearly afraid of them, even running away when one snaps at her. This is the only semblance of the struggle for balance we see in Dany’s storyline; she understands that her power comes from the dragons, but the dragons are a really big and dangerous power that she doesn’t entirely trust herself to be able to wield, let alone be able to wield wisely. She wants to be a good queen, not just a conqueror, and the dragons are a conquering force that have nothing to do with being a good queen, despite Daario’s assertion that a dragon queen without a dragon isn’t a queen. I don’t feel that this came through clearly in the show; it feels more like they’re just slowly paring down her support system in preparation both for Tyrion showing up and becoming the shining star of her council and for the choice she has to make in the fighting pit at the end of the season.

White Rat
Mance Rayder

Next week: Arya reaches Braavos. Brienne is rejected again. The faux-Dorne plot thickens. Daenerys does whatever her councilors tell her to.

All images from

Monday, March 13, 2017

Game of Thrones Rewatch 4.10: "The Children"

4.10 “The Children”
Written by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss
Directed by Alex Graves
Commentary by Rory McCann (Sandor Clegane), Gwendolyn Christie (Brienne), and Alex Graves

At last we have an episode with an overarching theme. Here, it’s loss and abandonment; nearly everyone makes a choice that causes them to lose something or give up hope for something they love or have desperately wanted.

This post is pretty long, so I’m putting it under a jump:

Monday, March 6, 2017

Game of Thrones Rewatch 4.9: "The Watchers on the Wall"

4.9 “The Watchers on the Wall”
Written by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss
Directed by Neil Marshall

This is one of those rare episodes where the entire thing takes place in a single locale; I think only this one and “Blackwater” did that so far. Here, the battle the Night’s Watch have been either dreading or thinking won’t be a big deal (depending on how stupid they’re written) descends on Castle Black. Interestingly, this choice makes it so the really big shocks at the end of the season actually happen in the finale instead of just before it, which I don’t think has been the case yet. Ned lost his head in 1.9, the Battle of the Blackwater was 2.9, and the Red Wedding was 3.9. That doesn’t mean that there haven’t been big moments in the season finales, just that the really big oh my god moments have tended to happen in episode 9. Here, only the Wall gets its oh my god moments while the rest of the kingdoms have to wait.

Tensions are high at both Castle Black and the wildling camp south of the Wall. Jon and Sam discuss Ygritte and Gilly, and Jon is really especially bad at talking about his feelings. Sam assures him (and himself) that while the vows say they’re not supposed to marry and have children, there’s nothing in them about activities that don’t involve marriage and children. Both are despondent about losing their loves; Jon because he got shot and Sam because he still thinks Gilly’s dead.

Jon sends Sam to bed, but of course Sam doesn’t go; instead, he heads to the library and reads until Maester Aemon finds him and gives him a very similar “love is the death of duty” speech he gave Jon way back in “Baelor.” I suppose the writers either a) forgot they already did this; or b) thought we needed a reminder, because a good part of this episode also deals with love and duty conflicting, and love wins every time.

After a reminder that Aemon was a young man in love once, Sam heads down to the courtyard, where Gilly is at the gate, but Pyp won’t let her in. Pyp does his duty; Sam lets love cause him to shirk his duty and open the gates while they’re right on the cusp of battle and it’s entirely possible the rest of the wildlings are waiting for this moment to charge. He also swears that he’ll never abandon Gilly again, putting his vows to the Night’s Watch in direct conflict with his promises to Gilly.

At the southern wildling camp, Ygritte is still fletching; she has enough arrows to outfit the entire war band at this point. Tormund tries to tell them his story about the time he had sex with a bear (it’s done better in the book when he tells it to Jon early in their relationship), and Ygritte yells at him that nobody wants to hear this stupid story again. Styr doesn’t think she’ll be able to fight the Night’s Watch, and she yells at him that she’s killed just as many northern villagers as him and she’ll kill any crow she sees. Styr points out that none of those northern villagers were Jon and if she sees him, she’ll probably just have sex with him again. Ygritte gets right up in his face and yells that if anyone else kills Jon, she’ll kill them, because Jon is hers.

A horn blows at the Wall, and everything is poised on a knife edge. Sam hides Gilly in the larder; she gets mad that he’s leaving her already and I hate this moment because it makes Gilly so needy/whiny and completely unreasonable. Sam’s got to go fight, she’s got a baby and no training, what does she expect him to do? Hide in the larder with her? She makes him promise not to die, which he does, and then he heads out.

Jon and Alliser look at the “biggest fire the north has ever seen”—the entire Haunted Forest on fire. Now that Alliser sees the Wildling army, he admits to Jon that he should have sealed the tunnel on Jon’s advice, but says that leadership means never second-guessing yourself because that gets people killed. Not changing your mind or tactics when you get new information will also get people killed, but whatever. Note that in the books, Alliser isn’t here until late in the battle, and Donal Noye, who’s more-or-less running things, isn’t nearly as incompetent as Alliser.

Ygritte comes back from scouting (which, why, if they have a warg?) and tells the warband that it’s time to go.

From this point, the episode is pretty much solid, wall-to-wall action. Alliser turns out to not be a terrible leader in the heat of battle; Janos continues to be the cowardly idiot he always is. At one point, Alliser leaves Janos in charge of the Wall while he goes to help defend the Castle; Grenn manages to lure him away before he does any more damage than he already has, and Jon ends up in charge of the Wall for a good chunk of the battle. Janos, of course, goes and hides in the larder with Gilly.

The fighting is worst down at Castle Black, where Pyp takes one of Ygritte’s arrows through the neck and dies in Sam’s arms. Alliser fights Tormund and is wounded, but dragged away before Tormund can kill him. Sam shoots a Thenn in the face with Pyp’s crossbow and we will never hear the end of this. Olly’s out in the courtyard for some reason, completely freaking out, and Sam yells at him to find a weapon and fight. Sam gets Jon down from the Wall and they let Ghost out of his cage. Jon kills Styr, then spots Ygritte, who hesitates in shooting Jon and ends up being shot by Olly instead, who has no idea what he’s just done, of course.

Up on top of the Wall, Jon gives a few orders before leaving Edd in charge to go down with Sam. A few Wildlings are actually climbing the Wall, but having done it himself, Jon knows they won’t make it before dawn and are seriously the very least of the Watch’s problems right now. The real problem is the mammoth and pair of giants who are working to pry the gate out of the tunnel, so Jon sends Grenn down with a group of men to deal with that. Before they get down there, the men on top of the Wall manage to set everything on fire and then spear one of the giants with a ballista. The other one—we find out later his name is Mag Mar Tun Doh Weg—freaks out and starts manually separating the gate from the ice, so by the time Grenn and the others make it, he’s already through the first gate and headed for the second. Grenn and the others stand and fight, taking out Mag Mar but also all dying in the process.

The Wildlings north of the Wall retreat after the giants are taken out and Edd orders “the scythe” dropped, which sweeps all the climbers off the Wall. The fight at Castle Black ends with Styr dead and Tormund captured. Sam retrieves Gilly from the larder and almost takes a ham to the face (and spots Janos).

Jon decides that there’s only one way to keep the northern Wildlings from attacking over and over until they get all the way through the Wall, and that’s to go parley with Mance. So he gives Sam his sword and heads out the gates.

If there’s one thing this team does very well, it’s huge action sequences. “Blackwater,” “Watchers on the Wall,” and “Hardhome” are all visually stunning episodes (“The Battle of the Bastards” has too many tactical issues for me to add it to this list). The narrative problems here are pretty much continuances of problems they’ve already set up and aren’t quite to a head yet, so I won’t discuss many of them here. The one major one is removing Donal Noye as acting commander, who then gets killed in the tunnel under the Wall (instead of Grenn), leaving a power vacuum that the upcoming vote for Lord Commander is meant to fill. Having an incumbent—Alliser—still in place after the battle (rather than grabbing power after the battle) skews the politics all to heck, and as I’ve already said, Benioff and Weiss are remarkably bad at writing politics, so leaving out a lot of Martin’s foundation makes Jon’s ascent to Lord Commander an entirely different animal than it is in the books.

Olly’s existence is also just starting to become a problem. In the books, Jon doesn’t know who killed Ygritte, only that it wasn’t him (the fletching on the arrow is wrong). While he does get to hold her while she dies, that happens after the battle, not during when he could still totally wind up stabbed in the back or something. While it might add more drama for Jon to actually witness Ygritte’s death, I think giving Jon concrete knowledge of who killed Ygritte rather than just “she died in battle” makes for some really weird dynamics later, especially when he takes Olly on as his steward. The whole Olly thing gets weird and then bad later, but we’ll get there.

Jon choosing to go talk to Mance also plays into the skewing of the political climate of the Night’s Watch, as in the books Jon is sent out by Janos (who’s assumed command of the Watch) in hopes that Mance kills him—not to parley, but to kill Mance. But in the books, Jon hadn’t stood trial for his time with the Wildlings; he explained to Donal Noye what happened and Donal accepted his story. Janos didn’t find out about any of it until after the battle, so his decision to send Jon was a heat-of-the-moment one, a prove-your-loyalty order, not a carefully calculated attempt to get him killed like the trip back to Craster’s Keep was in the show. In the books, Jon doesn’t take leadership upon himself or even challenge the leadership of the Watch very strenuously.

Some of the issue here comes from pacing; they accelerated Jon’s time with the Wildlings in season three, then stretched the lead-up to the fight in season four, then threw the whole days-long, two-front battle into a single fight in this episode. So rather than running away from the Wildlings in one chapter, arriving at the Wall and warning them in the next, finding out about Mole’s Town and fighting the southern front in the next, and then fighting the northern front for the next two—bam, bam, bam—we get a whole lot of sitting around and arguing about who’s in charge of what and which brothers are With Jon and which are Against. There isn’t time for all this petty jockeying for power before the battle in the books; all of that happens after Stannis rescues them, when the stakes are momentarily lower.

Like most changes to the plot and pacing for the show, these pile up until it’s an avalanche of changes that force the plot and characterization into a track that no longer entirely makes sense.

Mag Mar Tun Doh Weg

Next week: Stannis to the rescue. Dany makes a choice. Bran finds the Children. Clegane vs. Tarth.

All images from

Monday, February 27, 2017

Game of Thrones Rewatch 4.8: "The Mountain and the Viper"

4.8 “The Mountain and the Viper”
Written by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Directed by Alex Graves

There’s a lot of really weird stuff going on in this episode, so let’s get right to it.

We open on Mole’s Town, and it took me a couple of minutes to figure out that’s where we were, because the whole thing is above ground. It looks like any other dirty little village that passes for not-King’s-Landing in this version of Westeros—mud streets, rotting thatch, and it’s so danged dark it’s hard to see anything. They had a really great opportunity to do something different here, given that in the books there’s maybe one or two structures above ground and the entire rest of the town is subterranean to protect from the cold. That’s why it’s called Mole’s Town. But I guess since it’s not someplace cool, important, or exotic like King’s Landing or Meereen, it didn’t deserve any special architecture.

One of the prostitutes demonstrates the difference between city whores and country whores by belching a tune and having the men guess what it is. Then she heads into a back room and yells at Gilly, who’s doing the laundry, about baby Sam crying all night and waking her up, then we get a bit of racism before Gilly recognizes a hooting noise and realized they’re about to get raided. Everybody dies except Gilly and baby Sam because Ygritte lets them live and gives Gilly the stay-still-and-be-quiet signal.

Of course, the Night’s Watch finds out about this, and of course Sam thinks Gilly’s dead, and he takes the opportunity to whine about how badly he messed up sending her away and how she’s probably dead and oh woe is me. Pyp tries to convince him that Gilly’s resilient and even Edd tells him that Gilly survived way worse than a raid on Mole’s Town.  Jon turns the discussion to defending Castle Black, since obviously they’re next, and Edd (back to his usual Dolorous self) says whoever’s the last to die needs to burn everyone else’s bodies. That’s the setup for the enormous fight next episode.

Over in Meereen, Missandei is bathing and notices Grey Worm noticing her, and everything is super weird and awkward. Missandei tells Daenerys about it, and Dany is the worst at girl talk, telling Missandei it can’t really matter that Grey Worm saw her naked, right, because the Unsullied aren’t interested in girls. As if whether Grey Worm is physically attracted to Missandei makes any difference in the fact that he was creepily staring at her while she’s naked and she clearly felt violated by the whole incident. This leads to Dany wondering just how much of his bits Grey Worm is missing, which makes everything even more awkward. I wonder what Benioff and Weiss were trying to do with this scene; was it just to show that Missandei trusts Dany enough to bring something like this to her? To try to have some rapport between two women (since there’s pretty much none anywhere else in the show)? Is it supposed to show how bad Dany is at relating to other women, and if so, is it because she’s a leader and therefore more masculine than feminine (because lord knows their characters can’t have layers)? Or do they honestly think this is how women talk to each other? You know what might have helped? Having a woman in the writer’s room. Just sayin’.

The subsequent meeting between Missandei and Grey Worm is even weirder; he apologizes for looking at her and doesn’t want to lose her friendship over this incident, because their lessons (she’s teaching him Westerosi) and her friendship are important to him. She tries to discuss his life before becoming an Unsullied, but he claims not to remember it and not to regret being enslaved because it all led up to Dany freeing him and him meeting Missandei. Before he leaves, she says he’s glad he saw her, and he says he is to, and I’m just super confused about this whole relationship. I like that they have one; they’re both such damaged characters who are really two-dimensional in the books, and expanding and exploring their histories and interactions is a nice touch. But did we have to turn it sexual (or sexual-ish)? Couldn’t they just be good friends?

Later, Tywin’s plot from last episode is revealed; he’s sent proof of Jorah’s spying to Barristan in order to disrupt Dany’s support structure. Jorah tries to tell her that that’s Tywin’s whole plan and she shouldn’t give him what he wants, but Dany’s a bit caught up with the fact that the attempted poisoning was all his fault, because he’s the one who sent the information to Robert that she was pregnant. She tells him to get out, he continues to try to talk her out of it, and she tells him to get. Out.

Meanwhile, the Boltons are using Theon to take Moat Cailin, not by swapping him like Roose had planned before Ramsay messed him up real good, but by getting him to convince the remaining Ironborn to come out and surrender. At which point they’re hung on crosses and flayed because who needs honor? This whole thing might actually have been a major mistake on the Boltons’ part, though, because even pretending to be Theon for a bit might have been what helped lay the foundation for “Reek” to turn back into “Theon” and rescue himself.

Also, as much as I generally hate the way the show has treated Theon’s storyline (and will hate it even more later—just wait), Alfie Allen has handled the portrayal of barely-hanging-on with some serious mastery. He’s really great at this and deserves some props.

After the retaking of Moat Cailin goes without a hiccup, Roose hands Ramsay a writ of legitimization, which is his second mistake, as we’ll see later. They also shift their seat of power from the Dreadfort to Winterfell, where they head at the end of this scene.

Petyr and Sansa have to deal with the fallout (heh) of Lysa’s death, the treatment of which shoves Sansa’s story further away from the book story. First of all, they took Marillion out of the Eyrie story way back in season one, so he’s not an available scapegoat. Then, Sansa tearfully admits to her real identity and supports Petyr’s story to the skeptical lords (and lady) of the Vale. Her sob story is so convincing that Lady Waynwood gives her a hug, and Sansa and Petyr exchange looks over her shoulder. With the lords convinced of Lysa’s insanity leading to suicide, they discuss what to do with Robin in a lead-up to joining in the war.

Later, Petyr comes to see Sansa in her room and asks why she helped him; this would have been a good time to strike out on her own, after all. He doesn’t trust her motives or her ability to play the game, but she knows that he’d never turn on her because of this Tully-fixation he has. They exchange super-creepy looks and she goes back to sewing. Later, when they take Robin out of the Eyrie and down into the Vale, she comes out in the results of that sewing—a slinky black dress with weird feathery things on the shoulders cut down to here and a collar-and-chain necklace and a smug, come-hither look at Petyr who’s drooling all over himself and I can’t even you guys. There’s just so much wrong with this.

First of all, Sansa is fourteen. Maybe fifteen, but barely. Petyr’s well into his thirties, possibly pushing forty, and his fixation with her is already super gross without her weird sudden discovery of the power of sexuality. Sexual manipulation goes against everything she believes in the books; it’s one of Cersei’s tools, and Sansa explicitly does not want to be Cersei. Instead of making her into Cersei’s opposite, Benioff and Weiss have turned her into a baby Cersei and sexualized a child. And don’t give me that guff about medieval sexual mores and no such thing as childhood and blah blah, because history doesn’t support it and this isn’t the Middle Ages, this is a contemporary show with a pre-industrial setting that bears some resemblance to the Middle Ages and Sansa is a child. Sophie Turner might be in her twenties, but Sansa is a child.

Also, there’s the whole extra-textual discussion of the costume and how it was developed; in Inside HBO’s Game of Thrones: Seasons Three and Four, costume designer Michelle Clapton says that Benioff and Weiss “wanted Sansa to be her own woman rather than this victim,” and that “after this, she doesn’t really want to sew anymore” and that somehow that necklace is meant to echo Arya’s sword Needle and it’s her weapon, and none of that makes any gorram sense, so let’s try to break it down.

They “wanted Sansa to be her own woman rather than this victim”: okay, it’s phrased really badly (somehow a woman who’s been the victim of the kind of abuse Sansa’s endured isn’t “her own” anymore?), but it seems that they wanted Sansa to take control of her own life rather than being pushed around by the abusive people who have had her in their clutches since season one. Fair. But in order to do that, she has to use her sexual wiles on yet another predatory man who’s only using her to get what he wants? And sure, if he gets what he wants, she could be queen, but that doesn’t make him any less of a creepy, predatory, ultimately abusive, practically pedophile. And we’re supposed to celebrate her choosing to put herself at the mercy of this man? Somehow this makes her “her own woman”?

“After this, she doesn’t really want to sew anymore”: This is pretty much right in line with Benioff and Weiss’ disdain for traditionally female tasks and the ways that the women in A Song of Ice and Fire use them to gain or maintain power. They completely miss the whole point of the political power that can be gained by dancing, the arts, courtesy, and even sewing, so of course when they want to show that Sansa’s growing up and becoming a power-player, she has to give up traditionally female pastimes. Instead, she’s got to learn to gain and wield power in one of the two ways women are allowed to in this version of Westeros: through sex or violence. Right now, there’s nobody to be violent against, so sex it is. Did I mention gross?

Finally there’s the thing about that necklace, which makes the least sense of any of it. It’s “a ring that you stitch through and then that’s her weapon”? Huh? If it was supposed to look like a needle going through a circle in order to represent that she’s using her ability to sew as a weapon, they missed hard. Instead, it looks to me like a collar with a chain coming off, which conjures up all sorts of BDSM stuff as well as slavery and ownership and the connotations are just not good.

Arya and Sansa have a near-miss; Sansa’s preparing to leave the Eyrie just as Arya is finding out that Lysa’s dead, so she doesn’t try to go into the Eyrie. Since nobody outside the Eyrie knows that Sansa is Sansa, they don’t know to tell Arya that she’s there. Arya, presumably overcome by the sheer ridiculousness of the whole situation, bursts out laughing, while Sandor looks super cranky.

It’s trial-by-combat time, but first we have to have yet another super weird scene, this one between Jaime and Tyrion. They discuss the possibility of Tyrion’s death, but then come around to a brain-damaged cousin who spent all day crushing beetles with a rock and making a weird noise while doing it. Tyrion tells a whole story about how he used to sit and watch Orson with his rock and the beetles, trying to figure out why he did it. Not only is the story completely pointless, as far as I can tell, it makes me like Tyrion even less because of the way he talks about Orson. He freely admits that mocking Orson made him feel a bit like everyone else, because at least he also had someone to look down on, but he also imitates Orson’s manner of speech and the weird noise he made in a way that seems like it’s supposed to be funny? Instead, it adds to the problem the show has with ableism by mocking yet another disabled person, one who doesn’t have Tyrion’s gift of intelligence and quick-wittedness to defend himself. I understand that this scene is meant to be bonding between Jaime and Tyrion before Tyrion’s final trial. I don’t understand why they talk about this during that time. I don’t understand what the character-building, world-building, or narrative purpose of it is. There’s so many things they just skip over, presumably because they don’t have time, but they can spend several minutes on this? I’m befuddled.

Tyrion’s dragged out into the square, where he berates Oberyn for drinking before a fight and not wearing a helmet. Oberyn is confident that today isn’t the day he dies; Oberyn is sometimes an idiot. The scene progresses more or less like it did in the books, with Oberyn yelling at Gregor to confess to raping and murdering Elia and killing her children, and Gregor getting more and more pissed. Oberyn gets a couple of good stabs in with his poisoned spear, but Gregor ultimately grabs him, pins him down, and crushes his head. What I’ve never understood (even in the books) is that this bout seems to have ended in a draw—it takes longer for Gregor to die, but he does die. He and Oberyn kill each other. So how is Tyrion automatically guilty? It seems like nobody’s claim is upheld here. My guess? Politics. Tywin calls the match for Gregor and sentences Tyrion to death because it’s the most politically expedient thing to do and he hates Tyrion. 

Oberyn Martell
Black Jack Bulwer
Mole’s Town residents
Adrack Humble
Ironborn reavers

Next week: Mance reaches the Wall.

All images from