Monday, April 24, 2017

Game of Thrones Rewatch 5.6: "Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken"

Read the previous entry in this series here.
Read the next entry in this series here.
5.6 “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken”
Written by Bryan Cogman
Directed by Jeremy Podeswa
Commentary by Bryan Cogman, Maisie Williams (Arya) and Tom Wlaschiha (Jaqen)

For the most part, I try to keep “me” out of these posts and focus on the show, its internal (lack of) consistency, its (complete failure as an) adaptation, etc. So I hope you’ll indulge me just a bit as I get a little personal before getting into this episode.

When season five was airing, I was mostly unemployed; I taught a class for an online university, but that was it. I’d get up on Mondays, check in with the class, grade a bunch of stuff, post that week’s introduction to the new material, then go watch Game of Thrones and fold laundry or cross-stitch or something. In between grading items, I’d often check my RSS reader to have a quick decompress and clear my head. So I knew about this episode before I actually watched it.

Which is what stopped me from watching it.

From this point forward, this is no longer a rewatch. It’s just a watch. Because, like The Mary Sue, I stopped watching Game of Thrones at this episode and didn’t start again until I had to in order to write my book. After all the other horrors this show had thrown at us, above and beyond what we’re exposed to in the books, I couldn’t sit through Sansa being raped. For me, it was the culmination of the terrible choices Benioff and Weiss (and team) had made in adapting the novels, the complete lack of respect they have for Martin’s story, vision, and worldbuilding (no matter how much lip service they pay to all of that), their lack of respect for women as characters and people, and their inability to do anything actually new (rape as a way to give women “character” or “motivation” or to add drama is wildly overdone). I had been disturbed by their choices long before this (as those of you who have been reading since the beginning know), despite what a lot of people say about how nobody cares about rape in the show until it’s Sansa (Peter Dinklage *cough*), but this was the absolute last straw.

More happens in this episode than just Sansa’s marriage and rape, of course, but it’s what this episode is infamous for, so we may as well start there.

Trigger warning: rape and sexual abuse
Myranda comes in to help Sansa bathe and dress and to scare her some more with stories of the dogs. Sansa sees right through her and asks how long she’s been in love with Ramsay, then says Myranda can’t frighten her because she’s Sansa Effing Stark and she can bathe herself, so get out. On the way to the Godswood, she won’t let Theon touch her, even though Ramsay ordered him to take her arm and he starts to have a panic attack about not being able to follow Ramsay’s orders. Roose presides over the ceremony, and there’s a long pause when Sansa’s asked if she takes this man, though she finally does. Myranda’s clearly upset and still showing way too much skin for the apparent temperature out here.

After the wedding, Ramsay takes Sansa back to the bedchamber, asks about her sexual history, orders her to take off her clothes and Theon to watch, then rips her dress open down the back, pushes her face-down on the bed, and rapes her. The camera pushes in on Theon, who is horrified and crying while Sansa’s cries of pain echo through the room.

There is so much wrong with every aspect of this; it’s the culmination of a season of bad choices on the part of the showrunners and exemplifies every problem they’ve ever had with plotting and their treatment of sex and sexual violence. In the scene itself, the focus on Theon takes away from Sansa’s suffering and makes it about Theon’s reaction to having to watch it. Not only does the narrative decentralize Sansa’s agency, the cinematography does, as well. To Bryan Cogman’s credit, he does apologize in the commentary; he claims that this cut away was done so they wouldn’t show the actual attack (fair) and that they never meant to make the rape all about Theon.

More broadly, the showrunners have taken three abuse victims and pitted them against each other instead of having them potentially work together against their abuser. Sansa’s disdain for Theon, while initially understandable, goes against her book persona—which is generally nice and caring—when it’s sustained for this long. Book-Sansa wouldn’t react to Theon like this. The dynamic between Myranda and Sansa is even more troubling; as I mentioned in the last post, the showrunners overemphasize Myranda’s sexuality (because she’s evil) and Sansa’s innocence, setting up a very traditional (and very tired) Madonna-Whore dichotomy. Not only that, but it ignores the fact that Myranda is just as much Ramsay’s victim as anyone else. While there’s no point in speculating about her motivations for starting or continuing the relationship with Ramsay because the showrunners don’t give her that much depth, the scene from last episode when Ramsay threatens her, warns her against boring him, and shoves her against the wall to have sex with her (despite her struggling and pushing back) clearly shows that their relationship is not as equal as the showrunners seem to think they’ve made it. The narrative treats her as Ramsay’s partner in crime, just as sadistic and bloodthirsty as he is, but that one scene (unintentionally, I’m sure) undoes all of that groundwork while showing that the showrunners don’t understand how an abusive, manipulative relationship really works. Ramsay has all the power in this relationship, and while Myranda is often indulged and allowed a long leash, if she ever pushes back, Ramsay yanks on that leash and reminds her who’s in charge.

Even more broadly, this storyline shouldn’t be happening in the first place. Not just because it doesn’t match what happens in the books (though if you’re going to claim to adapt a work, you should damn well stick as close to that work as possible), but because it makes no sense internally. Petyr’s complete lack of information about the Boltons and their brutality makes no sense (they have a flayed man on their banner, for the Warrior’s sake).  His willingness to send his most valuable playing piece into a situation he knows he doesn’t fully understand (not to mention abandoning her there) doesn’t line up with his established character. Sansa needing to marry the Boltons to take back Winterfell when she has the entire Vale army behind her makes no sense. Putting Sansa, who they’ve constantly said is no longer a victim but a burgeoning player in the game of thrones, back into an abusive relationship and making her a victim again is just bad plotting. Cogman still doesn’t think that this choice “took Sansa’s story away from her” or that she was “shoehorned into Theon’s redemption journey,” but that’s exactly what they did. Book-Sansa has her own story arc focused on consolidating power in the Vale so she can rule both the Vale and the North (with Petyr to help, of course). Sending Sansa North to replace Jeyne Poole is the definition of taking her story away from her and shoehorning her into Theon’s redemption journey, because Jeyne Poole is a tool in Theon’s redemption journey. Reducing Sansa to that tool instead is insulting to the character and the viewers, especially those who have read the books.

This storyline not only goes backward, it echoes the one she already lived through in King’s Landing. Once again, she’s a pawn in a marriage meant to create power for someone besides herself, the marriage arranged by the patriarch (Tywin/Roose) with his son, who has no real input in the matter (Tyrion/Ramsay), but already has a lover who’s super jealous of Sansa (Shae/Myranda). We did this already. Not only is this whole story cliché with its treatment of women and sexual violence, it’s not even unique within the show.

What’s also immensely frustrating is the way Cogman keeps talking about this as “realistic” and “natural”; of course Sansa would get raped if she married Ramsay, and why would we think otherwise? What he’s failing to realize is that this is a fictional world that he helped create. Yes, maybe the rape “logically” follows from the story, but they created the story. They put Sansa in this position in the first place. They decided to send her to Winterfell. There is absolutely nothing in history or in Martin’s novels that requires Sansa to go North at this stage, to marry Ramsay, and to get raped. They made these choices, and then they refuse to own them. And I say “they,” but really it’s all Cogman, because just like the Jaime-Cersei scene, Benioff and Weiss completely bowed out of the whole conversation and left it to Cogman, Podeswa, and Sophie Turner to field the questions. I refrained from calling them cowards back in “Breaker of Chains,” but I won’t anymore. David Benioff and D.B. Weiss are utter cowards who have a clear inability to own the narrative choices they make and face the consequences for them.
(End trigger warning)

Other things are happening in this episode! Like Dorne! Let’s talk about Dorne. (If we have to, because dear god save me.)

Trystane and Myrcella are walking in the gardens again, and he says he’s going to ask Doran to allow him to marry her tomorrow, and Myrcella, honey, what is that dress?

Hideous, is what it is.

Doran and Aero discuss how Myrcella’s going to need protection because he’s not stupid enough to think him telling Ellaria to back off means she’s going to do it. Indeed, Ellaria, the Sand Snakes, Jaime, and Bronn all reach the Water Gardens at the same time, and what follows is just utterly, patently absurd. So absurd that someone set it to the Benny Hill theme, which is probably the most appropriate reaction to it.

The second most appropriate reaction is Bronn’s when the Sand Snakes show up and start the fight: “Oh, for fuck’s sake.”

And to think, we could have had Arianne. We could have had character development. We could have had actual politics. We could have had a group of women who worked together because they love each other and their late father and recognize Doran’s as the best plan. Instead we got . . . this.

Back in King’s Landing, Petyr has somehow managed to make the trip from the North in about 1.5 days. He asks Cersei if she’s really sure she knows what she’s doing with this whole Faith Militant thing (especially since they threatened him outside his own brothel). They snipe at each other about sexual object choices, and then he says he’s found Sansa, and wants to be named Warden of the North if he can take down Roose for turning his cloak yet again. She says fine, but she wants Sansa’s head on a spike.

Later, Cersei has another meeting, this time with Olenna, who’s spitting mad. Cersei promises that everything will be fine after the inquest, but of course it’s not. Instead, Loras and Margaery are arrested and Tommen does nothing to stop it.

Over in Braavos, Arya continues her service and learns to play the game of faces, during which she discovers that she didn’t hate Sandor as much as she says she does. She uses the ability to lie and be someone else to reassure a young sick girl whose father has brought her to the temple to die. Jaqen’s apparently impressed with this, because he tells her while she’s not really good at being no one, she might be “ready to become someone else” and takes her to see the Hall of Faces.

Unfortunately, *we* can't see the Hall of Faces cause it's so danged dark!

Somewhere between Valyria and Slavers Bay, Jorah and Tyrion squabble at each other. Tyrion mentions Jeor’s death, and Jorah is shocked; Tyrion apologizes because he had no idea that Jorah didn’t know that his father was dead. Then they get ambushed by slavers and Tyrion talks their way out of being killed by bragging about the size of his penis (I wish I was kidding). He also manages to convince them to take them to Meereen by talking up Jorah’s fighting abilities so they’ll want to put him in the fighting pits. How convenient that this allows us to completely skip nearly half a book’s storyline and character development!

RIP: Ghita (the little girl at the House of Black and White)

Next week: Yet another attempted rape and associated grossness. Stannis is snowbound. The Sand Snakes continue to be ridiculous. Jorah and Dany reunite.

Stills from Gif from

Monday, April 17, 2017

Game of Thrones Rewatch 5.5: "Kill the Boy"

Read the previous entry in this series here.
Read the next entry in this series here.
5.5 “Kill the Boy”
Written by Bryan Cogman
Directed by Jeremy Podeswa
Commentary by Jeremy Podeswa, Greg Middleton (DP), Iwan Rheon (Ramsay Bolton), Michael McElhatton (Roose Bolton)

In this episode, everyone in a leadership position loses his or her damn mind. And then Tyrion sees a dragon.

Seriously, everyone’s making really bad and/or irrational decisions. And while many of these (not Stannis. Well, sort of) check off plot points from the books, they’re completely out of context and make no sense in the new context. Daenerys, in particular, comes off looking completely insane.

It’s maybe hours, maybe a day after Barristan’s death and Grey Worm’s serious wounding. Missandei is sitting vigil with Grey Worm, while Dany stands over Barristan’s body. Hizdahr, who has terrible timing, comes in to offer his sympathies, while Daario suggests using violence. Dany, ever the Targaryen, has the leaders of the great families arrested, which includes Hizdahr. She takes them down into the catacombs, feeds one of them to the dragons, threatens Hizdahr, then has the rest of them thrown in prison.

Also, this is the face she's making while that happens:

I think what they were going for here was that Barristan kept her violent, psychotic, fire-loving Targaryen nature in check by reminding her that Aegon was violent, psychotic, and fire-loving and wound up overthrown for it. The unfortunate implications are that he was the only thing keeping that part of her in check, and without him she has no control over it. The only advisor she has left right now is Daario, and he’s always wanted her to unleash the dragon(s) and rule with fear and violence. Sure, she’s angry. She has every reason to be angry. Book-Dany got angry and channeled that anger into outmaneuvering her political opponents with smiles and “I’m just a young girl” and then smacking them down—not always physically.

After Grey Worm wakes up, Dany and Missandei discuss the situation, and Missandei says she’s not qualified to have an opinion. She probably thinks that because Daenerys has never asked her for an opinion. Despite hanging out with the advisors, Missandei isn’t an advisor, even though she should be. Missandei thinks that Dany’s a good ruler and makes good decisions on her own after taking on board the advice of her advisors (what show has she been watching?), which apparently makes up Dany’s mind about something. She goes down to the prisons, tells Hizdahr she made a mistake in the way she rules, agrees to open the fighting pits, and informs him that he’s going to be marrying her. Hizdahr is appropriately dumbfounded.

The marriage bit smacks of Benioff and Weiss checking off plot points by cramming them awkwardly into the narrative they’ve already spun so far away from Martin’s that these plot points no longer make sense. Dany marries Hizdahr in the books, therefore Dany will marry Hizdahr in the show. However, the context for Dany marrying Hizdahr is completely gone because they didn’t introduce 75% of the intrigue and characters from the books in the show. Galazza Galare, the Green Grace (and possibly one of the leaders of the Sons of the Harpy) isn’t here to push Dany to be more Meereenese and less her, and then to marry Hizdahr and open the fighting pits. There’s no Shavepate to show the difference between the Meereenese who accept her as the ruler and those who don’t. There’s no child hostages. There’s no Brazen Beasts. There’s no promise from Hizdahr that he can stop the Sons of the Harpy, no agreement that if he does so, Dany will marry him, no protest from Barristan that Hizdahr probably is the Harpy. Heck, the Sons of the Harpy are running around randomly murdering people in the streets instead of purposefully targeting Dany’s supporters and former slaves.

So Dany’s “proposed” (read: dictated) marriage to Hizdahr pays lip service to uniting the city with the promise of reopening the fighting pits, but actually does nothing of value politically and makes Dany look completely mercurially insane. It doesn’t look like she’s rectifying a mistake; it looks like she’s flailing about, completely at a loss, an entirely incompetent leader who flies by the seat of her pants rather than thinking about things for more than a couple of seconds.

Aemon laments not being able to be there for Dany during her time of need: “A Targaryen alone in the world is a terrible thing.” Jon comes to ask for his advice, and his advice is to do whatever his gut tells him, because it’s not like the men could hate him more. Thanks for that, Aemon. Then he hits another book line taken completely out of context: “kill the boy, and let the man be born.” In the books, this is Aemon telling Jon that he’ll have to be strong—hard, even—in order to be a leader. “Kill the boy within you,” he says “it takes a man to rule” (A Dance with Dragons 7, Jon II). This advice is given before Jon beheads Janos, before “Mance” is burned alive, before Jon knows anything about Wildling refugees at Hardhome. It’s given as Jon prepares to send Sam, Aemon, Gilly, and Val’s baby to the Citadel to protect Aemon and the baby from Melisandre and to get Sam training to replace Aemon. It’s the advice he holds onto while he does all the things he knows will upset people but that have to be done for the Night’s Watch and the realm. That Benioff and Weiss move it here and make it Aemon’s tacit approval for Jon to make an alliance with the Wildlings via Tormund makes no sense.

Jon gets Tormund to agree to help get the remaining Wildlings on his side and help them fight the White Walkers when they inevitably attack the Wall, and Tormund tells him most of the people went to Hardhome (how does he know that? Is that just where they live most of the time? Was that the plan—if the assault on the Wall fails, go to Hardhome?), and they’ll need ships to evacuate that many people. Also, he insists that Jon comes with them. Because that makes total sense; let’s take the not-so-popular leader away from all the other things he needs to do to keep the Night’s Watch running, letting his opponents have a chance to gather themselves to rebel.

The Night’s Watch gathers and Jon tells them the plan. They argue, of course; they don’t want the Wildlings living with them and would actually rather the White Walkers killed them all. Jon tries to remind them that if the Wildlings die, they make a bigger wight army, but nobody cares. Olly argues that Wildlings killed and ate his whole village, and Jon tries to reason with him, but Olly’s not having it, either. (Hat tip to Stannis correcting someone's grammar.)

Speaking of leaving the Wall, Stannis is planning on doing just that, as well, but going the other way. He’s decided he can’t wait for the Wildlings anymore and he’s going to march straight at Winterfell right now. First, though, he has to go ask Sam about killing a White Walker because we need to be reminded at least once per episode about Sam the Slayer (I prefer Samwise the Brave, myself). Before Stannis gets to the library, Gilly and Sam discuss how much knowledge there is in the world and Gilly feels bad about not knowing things. Sam tells her she knows lots of stuff, and she says it’s all “useless” stuff like cooking and cleaning and mending.

This particular conversation makes me seriously dislike either Sam or Benioff and Weiss, or both. Gilly was raised on a farm. Cooking, cleaning, mending, etc. were all part of life. They were incredibly important. So where did she get the idea that they weren’t? That somehow her skills are “lesser” than Sam’s? Did she get it from Sam offscreen at some point? Because it does seem like this version of Sam might get a little condescending with her about her skillset (he does it about her reading and lack of knowledge about the world, after all). Is it more of Benioff and Weiss’ (via Bryan Cogman in this episode) bullcrap about women’s work not being important? It would fit the overall pattern of the show.

Anyway, Stannis is leaving, and Davos offers to leave a guard with Selyse and Shireen, but Stannis says they’re coming, too. Into an active war zone. Taking Melisandre kind of makes sense (it doesn’t match what happened in the books, but whatever); taking Selyse and Shireen makes no sense, especially since Stannis doesn’t know about Melisandre’s vision/plan for Shireen. Davos also thinks this makes no sense and then looks across the courtyard and makes eye contact with Melisandre, and there’s an implied dun dun duuuuuuuuuuuuun. Benioff and Weiss do not believe in subtle foreshadowing (just look at how many reaction-shots we’ve had from Olly this season. He’s totally gonna stab somebody before the season’s out).

(This is where I would include an image of Davos' eye contact with Melisandre, but the lighting on this show has gotten so bad that the screenshots are just too danged dark to see anything.)

This particular leader-plan is stupid because Stannis has absolutely no backup and not enough men to take the Bolton army—and he knows it. In the books, he spends time getting the men of the North who haven’t already sworn to the Boltons on his side, doing favors like taking back Deepwood Motte in exchange for men. It takes awhile, which is why they get caught in the snow. They’re still at a disadvantage by that point, but Stannis has plans, which don’t involve running straight at the walls of Winterfell and hacking at them Monty Python style.

Speaking of Winterfell, everything’s getting awful. Myranda is jealous of Sansa, and Ramsay tells her he’ll still have time for her after he’s married, but jealousy is totally boring and you know what happens to women who bore him. This is clearly an abusive relationship, and the way it’s handled is super gross, especially when it comes to Myranda’s interactions with Sansa. Both of these women are victims of abuse, but Myranda is clearly cast as the complicit, “asking for it” victim, whereas Sansa is the innocent. Even the costumes reflect this; Sansa’s no longer in her slinky black dress, but in what looks like Catelyn’s clothes. Her whole sexual demeanor is gone, and has been since they left the Eyrie. Myranda, on the other hand, is clearly up to no good and her bodice is unlaced despite there being snow all over the ground. Myranda takes Sansa to see Theon, probably just as a small act of defiance against Ramsay, maybe to show Sansa what happens to people who cross Ramsay, maybe to scare her a bit because Theon’s in the kennels and the dogs are vicious.

At dinner, the conversation is beyond awkward, with Walda trying to sympathize with Sansa for being in a strange place, Sansa reminding everyone that they’re the strangers here, not her, and Ramsay deciding that Theon will give Sansa away at the wedding after forcing him to apologize to her for killing her brothers. Roose yanks back on Ramsay’s chain by announcing that Walda’s pregnant and it’s probably a boy, which could challenge Ramsay’s inheritance. Later, Roose tells Ramsay the story of how he was conceived, which relies on that whole stupid and debunked prima noctem idea (the books do it, too, so that’s not Benioff and Weiss’ fault), and how he chose not to have Ramsay murdered outright when the mother handed him over. He charges Ramsay with the defense of Winterfell. Roose clearly thinks he’s in control, but has no idea just how nasty Ramsay can be, which is a difference from the book, where Roose is entirely aware of how nasty Ramsay can be, knows that he killed all his trueborn brothers, and totally expects him to kill Walda’s son unless Roose somehow stops him.

Tyrion and Jorah are still sailing, with Jorah still being sullen and Tyrion still being mouthy. They bond a bit over knowledge of poetry about Old Valyria as they sail into the ruins of the city toward the Smoking Sea, and then Drogon flies overhead. Jorah is startled because here’s a reminder of Dany and look how much bigger he is; Tyrion is in awe because he’s always wanted to see a dragon and, well, it’s a dragon. That’s when the Stone Men attack, Tyrion nearly drowns, Jorah rescues him, and Jorah ends up with the fastest-incubating case of greyscale in the world.

Obviously leaders make mistakes. Leaders sometimes make fatal mistakes. Leaders sometimes make stupid mistakes. Leaders often have really good reasons for making these mistakes, and don’t just fall into stupidity. Fictional leaders, especially the ones the writers want us to root for or sympathize with, need even better reasons for making mistakes, and these ones ain’t got them. At this point, the narratives have pulled so far away from their book antecedents that the book plot points they keep jamming in there cause whiplash with how little sense they make with regard to all the other non-book plot points that are in here.

RIP: Master Eaton (oh my god, I just realized this guy’s name is Eaton and he gets eaten by dragons. Real cute, guys)

Next week: The episode that broke The Mary Sue.

Stills from; Monty Python gif from; Drogon and Tyrion gifs from

Monday, April 10, 2017

Game of Thrones Rewatch 5.4: "Sons of the Harpy"

Read the previous entry in this series here.
Read the next entry in this series here.
5.4 “Sons of the Harpy”
Written by Dave Hill
Directed by Mark Mylod
Commentary by Mark Mylod, David Hill, Natalie Dormer (Margaery), and Dean-Charles Chapman (Tommen)

As I see it, the Game of Thrones writers have a bad habit of underestimating the audience. They claim they changed Sansa’s storyline because viewers wouldn’t be able to sympathize with a brand new character (Jeyne had only appeared once in the show) in the Reek storyline. In the commentary for this episode, Mark Mylod and Dave Hill claim Bryan Cogman wrote the Dorne storyline this way to show Dorne through the eyes of an established character, which basically means they didn’t think we’d be able to handle Dorne on its own merits. On the one hand, the complaints I’ve seen about book-Dorne online may bear out that second assumption, but people online complain about everything, and Benioff and Weiss are supposed to know how the story ends and thus why Arianne is important enough to warrant her own POV chapters. I think taking Ellaria back to Dorne and introducing Arianne, the Sand Snakes, Aero, and Doran through her point of view before shifting entirely over to Arianne would have been plenty enough of an introduction without the travesty that is the “Dorne” storyline we ended up with in the show.

Because this Jaime has completely lost all sense of lasting trauma from either losing his hand or losing his father. He mopes a little bit on the ship on the way to Dorne, but the hand becomes a slapstick joke as soon as they hit land. He uses it as an excuse not to help row the boat in to shore, then later to not help Bronn bury the bodies of the random Dornish patrol they encounter. During the fight, Jaime catches a descending sword in the gold hand, where it immediately gets stuck due to the configuration of the fingers and thumb. Rather than a constant reminder of what Jaime lost, a source of neverending frustration because he doesn’t have the motor control he used to have, the constant bad attempts to learn to fight left-handed, we get several moments of silliness. This feels to me like more of Benioff and Weiss’ shove toward traditional (toxic) masculinity; Jaime isn’t allowed to feel anything—but especially depressed or traumatized—for very long at a stretch, because he’s a Real Man™ and Real Men don’t have feelings. Instead of the book issue of men being forced to repress their feelings and this leading to whole hosts of problems with their mental health and the way they treat others—usually violently since that’s the only outlet they’re really allowed—Benioff and Weiss just take at face value that Real Men are big, strong, emotionless stereotypes.

The boat trip also introduces the way Benioff and Weiss see Dorne in its entirety, and it’s a really awful stereotype: in Bronn’s words, “The Dornish are crazy. All they want to do is fight and fuck, fuck and fight.” While this could have been used as one man’s experience of Dorne, his slightly racist view of the people there (not to mention projecting his own personality onto them), Benioff and Weiss (and Hill) have introduced no nuance to this at all. Ellaria and the Sand Snakes are exactly the people Bronn says they are, and Doran is set up as weak, wishy-washy, and ultimately dead because he isn’t a fighter, but instead a long-term thinker, planner, and politician. We get an example of the fighting nature of Ellaria and the Sand Snakes in this episode; Ellaria comes to Nym, Obara, and Tyene from her meeting with Doran and tells them if they want to avenge Oberyn, they’re going to have to do it themselves. They have Myrcella and they found out about Jaime being here, so they start making plans, but not before torturing the captain of the ship that brought Jaime with scorpions and then putting a spear through his face.

This isn’t nearly the worst that the “Dorne” storyline gets. Just wait.

In King’s Landing, Cersei is working to consolidate her power, first by sending Mace Tyrell and Ser Meryn to Braavos to negotiate with the Iron Bank. When he leaves, Pycelle notes that the Small Council keeps getting smaller, and Cersei remarks that it’s not small enough. She meets with the High Sparrow again and offers to reinstate the Faith Militant so the Faith can protect itself, then essentially gives him the authority to prosecute the nobility for sins that aren’t actually crimes and thus they wouldn’t be punished for. She hands over Loras immediately, and this is where the whole thing goes sideways.

See, in the books, the High Sparrow is worried about treason, not sexual sins. Nobody cares about Loras’ sexuality; Margaery and Cersei are arrested because Cersei tries to frame Margaery for having sex outside of her relationship with Tommen. When the Sparrow starts interrogating the people Cersei sets up, bribes, or otherwise manipulates into admitting to having sex with Margaery, he uncovers all of Cersei’s indiscretions, as well, including having the previous High Septon murdered. Ultimately, Margaery is released pending her trial due to insufficient evidence, while Cersei is forced to undergo the Walk of Shame before her trial by combat. Also, Cersei arming the Faith creates another faction that the nobility has to try to appease, lest they back yet another claimant to the throne just when they’ve nearly stabilized the realm. However, the sparrows/Poor Fellows/Faith Militant primarily care about the treatment of the smallfolk and the priesthood during the skirmishes in the Riverlands, not about the vices of the people of King’s Landing. Benioff and Weiss have turned them from a group with legitimate concerns to a brutal, intolerant, stereotypically religious Inquisition.

These newly-armed Sparrows immediately take to the streets, breaking ale barrels, smashing idols, busting into Littlefinger’s brothel and beating up the clients and prostitutes. Olyvar takes an elbow to the face, and two clients are called “boy fuckers” and then murdered outright. Lancel, whose branding with the seven-pointed star on his forehead has been intercut throughout these scenes, takes a group of sparrows to arrest Loras, somehow managing to grab one of the best fighters in the realm, armed with a sparring sword and in practice armor, with hardly any fight.

Margaery goes straight to Tommen, who goes straight to Cersei, who denies having any power to release Loras, which takes the wind out of Tommen’s sails for a moment. Then he goes to the Sept and tries to see the High Sparrow, but the sparrows refuse him entry. With no way to get in short of having the Kingsguard slaughter everyone in their way, he backs off. Margaery clearly wishes he’d do just that, and leaves to tell Olenna what’s happening.

In the commentary, Natalie Dormer is asked about the age difference in shooting the sex scenes with Tommen, which is clearly one of her push-button issues. She points out that a) nobody seems to bat an eye at older man/younger woman pairings (depends on the show/context, really); b) Dean-Charles Chapman is of age, so there wasn’t anything inappropriate happening on set; and c) she didn’t cast herself or write the story, so people with an issue should take it up with Benioff and Weiss. She has a point; it’s not really fair for people to keep asking her about narrative choices, because that’s not up to her. The issue I did take with her remarks was that they were trying to stay respectful to “the books, and to George’s original story,” because clearly, if she thinks Margaery’s relationship with Tommen in the show has anything to do with Martin’s original story, she hasn’t read the books. So many of the actors keep saying that they’re staying true to Martin’s vision and clearly they know nothing.

Meanwhile, Jorah is hauling Tyrion back to Meereen, which Tyrion finds hilarious because he was headed that way anyway and all Jorah had to do was ask nicely.

Up on the Wall, we’re getting all kinds of heavy-handed foreshadowing of Shireen’s ultimate fate. Melisandre and Selyse exchange significant looks regarding Shireen’s bloodline, and we all know what Melisandre does to those of king’s blood. Shireen spends some time with Stannis and they have father-daughter bonding time, which is a huge red flag because this show doesn’t give us nice things without yanking them out from under us in the worst possible way.

Then Melisandre tries to get Jon on board with Stannis’ plan; Jon continues to say no. So Melisandre deploys the nuclear option—she pops her dress open and sits on his lap, headed into full-blown sexual assault to try to get him to give her another shadow baby. She puts his hand on her boob and tries to undo his pants while he continues to say no and finally has to physically stop her. On her way out, the writers toss us a book line completely out of context—“You know nothing, Jon Snow.” Melisandre does say this to Jon in the books, but after he’s rejected her prophecies and warnings about the upcoming attempt on his life, not her sexual advances. It’s supposed to prove that she’s got some magical abilities because how else could she know what Ygritte used to say to him all the time? It’s also a sideways reminder that winter is coming, and/or a continued warning about death, because it comes in response to him saying that it’s always cold on the Wall when she tells him she’s seen ice and cold and frozen blood in her visions. The cold that’s to come—of the White Walkers or of death—is worse than what he’s familiar with from the Wall. With all the context stripped out, all this does is give her a slightly mysterious air and remind him of Ygritte.

In Winterfell, Sansa’s visiting the family crypt, and Petyr tells her a bit about Rhaegar and Lyanna’s love story. He then tells her that he’s leaving to go keep Cersei off-balance regarding his true plans and she’ll be fine with the Boltons, really. After all, Stannis is going to come in and sack Winterfell and put her up as Wardeness (ugh) of the North. And if he doesn’t, then Sansa can totally just seduce Ramsay to keep him under control. Easy-peasy.

Over in Meereen, Barristan and Dany have a nice moment where he tells her about Rhaegar going out and busking on street corners, then giving the money he earned to the poor. Hizdahr requests an audience, so Dany sends Barristan out, and Hizdahr’s plea to reopen the fighting pits is intercut with Sons of the Harpy moving through the catacombs. They start randomly slaughtering people in the marketplace, which brings in an Unsullied patrol, including Grey Worm. The same prostitute who killed White Rat points the patrol into an alley, where they’re slaughtered. Barristan hears the fighting and comes in swinging; Grey Worm takes a dagger to the ribs, while Barristan is hamstrung and then takes a dagger to the chest.

This is the point where, in my first viewing, I started to really turn off of the show. Killing Barristan was a marker, to me, that they cared very little for the needs of an adaptation, because Barristan has a major part to play in A Dance with Dragons and (at least the sample chapters of) The Winds of Winter. I probably should have gotten there before; I remember not being thrilled with Sansa’s story, but I honestly don’t remember watching the Dorne plot on my first viewing. Barristan’s death is really where my entire desire to watch this show at all took a sharp downward turn. On the commentary, they mention that there was some discussion of sticking closer to the books, but they wanted to up the stakes with regard to Dany’s narrative trajectory by taking away all of her advisors.

The thing is, the books already had this mechanic in place, and they wrote every single bit of it out. Dany is surrounded by people she isn’t sure she can trust; her Meereenese advisors clearly all have ulterior motives, she’s been warned to beware the “perfumed seneschal,” she found out about Jorah’s betrayal and kicked him out, she’s got at least one more betrayal of the “once for blood and once for gold and once for love” coming, and the Sons of the Harpy keep murdering people. There’s plenty for her to drown in and struggle with that doesn’t involve adding more major character deaths to the tally. This is just another symptom of the severely watered-down, oversimplified attempt to adapt the books as a whole and Slavers Bay in particular. In avoiding prophecy to keep from being held to a narrative trajectory (which was one of the first major warning bells about the fate of this adaptation), Benioff and Weiss have sucked a lot of the spirit and magic out of the show. Half of Melisandre’s power is gone, leaving her with the shadow-baby thing and heavy-handed seduction techniques. Half of the tension of Slavers Bay is gone, and taking out the politics, as has been discussed several times already, takes out another quarter, leaving the show with a very visually pretty lump of blah. For me, and for a lot of the fans, figuring out how all the pieces fit together, how Martin set up the pieces without us noticing the first time around, and trying to work out where the books might go from here, is half the fun of reading them. The show has none of that. The show is entirely face-value flat, with very little intrigue (it lost all of that by season two) and really bad politics.

Next week: Daenerys loses her mind. Aemon advises Jon. Everything at Winterfell is awkward. The Baratheons ride out.

Barristan Selmy
Pentoshi captain
A bunch of Unsullied
A bunch of Sons of the Harpy

Images from