Monday, May 11, 2015

RECAP: Game of Thrones 5x04 - Obviously It All Goes Wrong


If it were humanly possible to dope slap television characters through the screen, then I think we can all agree that this week was the one where we all wanted to raise a hand and slap some sense into the men of Westeros. Well, I mean, I feel like that every week, but this one was particularly bad. It seems like no one really made a sensible choice this episode, and everyone was faced with the inevitable consequences of their actions. 

What's actually really interesting about this storyline, though, is that all of these plots went bad in predictable but also really unromantic ways. It's like there are a bunch of characters right now who are pretending to be acting in a high drama, swords and sorcerers, the sort of story where the knight always weds the princess and derring do is rewarded with heroic results. Game of Thrones, however, is not that story, and all of the knights realized that this week with catastrophic clarity.

And, quite frankly, I'm okay with that. For all of the problems I've had with this show over the years (and they are many and varied), I keep watching because there's something satisfying about watching a fantasy show that actually acknowledges the messiness of reality. We don't always get a closed ending, let alone a happy one. Sometimes people just fall off the map, and sometimes we get incredibly close to achieving our dreams only to have the door slam shut in our faces.

In other words, the world of Westeros is a harsh, bitter place, and I like that. I find it satisfying in that sort of unsatisfying way. I like that there's an element of randomness and chance here. What if your hero gets food poisoning the day before a big battle? Well then he'll probably die, and that sucks. But in Game of Thrones it could totally happen which is fantastic.

Anyway, here's what happened in episode four. [And click here if you want to know what happened in episode three!]

In King's Landing, the war between queens (Margaery and Cersei) has taken another turn. After last episode, Cersei has taken steps to align herself with the High Sparrow. Now encased as the High Septon of the Church of the Seven, he has virtually unlimited political power alongside his religious sway. Cersei, who has made him the High Septon, is therefore slightly endeared to him. She becomes even more useful when she offers him the chance to arm the church. By creating a standing army that serves the church and enforces its laws, the Church of the Seven can legally imprison anyone for breaking the laws of the church.

At first it's hard to see why this is a thing Cersei wants, but then it becomes incredibly clear. Loras. Cersei is using the High Sparrow and his fists of the faith to get at Margaery for having her brother imprisoned for being gay. Lancel Lannister has officially joined up and the whole of King's Landing is now subject to religious law.

Margaery is, of course, freaking furious that her own brother is sitting in a prison cell. She goes to Tommen for help. Well, by that I mean that she storms into her new husband's room and pretty much tears him a new one. But because Tommen is a very sweet young man, he goes directly to Cersei and demands she release Loras. Which she doesn't because, as she insists, she can't. It was Tommen's orders that set up the religious army (at her bequest) and it was Tommen's seal of approval that got the High Sparrow in as the High Septon. Your bad for not playing the game, little boy.

Tommen even tries to go to the High Sparrow himself, but is turned away at the door. And in a horrifying moment we get to see the light die in his eyes as Tommen realizes how little power he actually has. He is a puppet being used by his mother, and the moment he sees that is just wrenching. Also of note, however, is the fact that while he's realizing this, a crowd behind him is yelling things like "Abomination!" and "Product of sin!" at him. 

Which brings us back to Cersei. While this is clearly a good ploy in the short term - Margaery is no longer controlling Tommen because she's busy comforting her family and figuring out how to get her brother out of jail - Cersei has got to realize that she's made a terrible error in the long run. I guess she's lost her touch, because here's the thing: how long until the Sparrows turn on her?

Cersei is guilty of committing incest. Obviously the incest with Jaime that produced her three blonde children, but also incest with her cousin, Lancel. The same Lancel who is now a Sparrow and who has asked her to repent of her sin. How long before Lancel spills the beans? How long before all of King's Landing knows exactly who fathered their king? Like I said, this can't end well for Cersei, and the rumors are clearly already spreading.

Speaking of the rumors and Cersei's incestuous past, our next storyline catched Jaime and Bronn on their way to Dorne to rescue Jaime's daughter/niece Myrcella from the potentially murderous Martells. The Martells are murderous, as you might recall, because Oberyn Martell died in trial with Cersei's champion a few weeks (months?) ago, and because Elia Martell was killed by Robert Baratheon's champion in the war. The Martells are pissed.

Jaime and Bronn have an okay plan for sneaking into Dorne, but Bronn rightly asks why Jaime is going. After all, what's the use in having a one-handed man along on a mission where there's apt to be a lot of fighting? Why not just hire five sellswords like Bronn and get it done quick and right?

What Jaime won't and can't say is that it's because Myrcella is his daughter and this is personal, but it's frankly quite fun to watch Bronn (who surely suspects, if not knows outright) poke him with questions he knows Jaime won't answer. Bronn is and remains a fantastic character.

Their plan, on the other hand, is only so-so. While the ship's captain does let them off so they can row a little boat onto Dorne, they're quickly set upon by a Dornish patrol. The fight is hard, and they only barely succeed. Bronn has to fight three men while Jaime takes on one. But he does figure out a new skill - his metal hand can deflect swords. Neat!

Still, the crucial part of their plan goes completely awry when the ship's captain they paid off goes immediately to the Dornish port and admits he smuggled Jaime Lannister into Dorne. As Bronn puts it, "You severely underestimate how much people in this part of the world hate your family." Or something like that.

The ship's captain is found by the Sand Snakes, aka Oberyn Martell's daughters. This is their first appearance on the show and it was a doozy. We've already met Ellaria Sand, Oberyn's long-time lover, but this time we met her daughter and several other of Oberyn's children. The girls are all trained and skillful fighters, because, it seems, Oberyn believed in arming everyone, even his bastard children. His daughters, who are treated with respect and love by the people of Dorne and hold almost the same status as they would if they were trueborn, mourn their father deeply. They want revenge for his death.

The best object for their revenge? Myrcella. While the Prince of Dorne has refused to let Ellaria kill her, she rallies the Sand Snakes to her. They can use Myrcella's death to start a war, and with Westeros already depleted and sad, they will almost certainly win.

I have to say that I'm in favor of this plan, minus the part where it means they have to kill an innocent and by all accounts lovely young girl. Oberyn said last season that, "In Dorne, we don't hurt little girls."

Cersei of course retorted by saying, "Everywhere in the world they hurt little girls." And I would really hate for her to be right.

Way up North, Sansa and Littlefinger are adapting to life in the new Winterfell. More Sansa than Littlefinger, though, because he's soon off on a journey to see Cersei in King's Landing. He isn't officially an outlaw, remember, and technically he has no ties to Sansa Stark that anyone should know of. So Sansa is safe here in Winterfell. Ramsay won't hurt her - mostly because he has a hardcore Madonna/Whore complex going on - and Roose Bolton is a jerk but not an immediate danger to her. She'll be fine. 

We also get a little bit of backstory, both here and in Daenerys' scenes, on Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen. See, it's their lives and their deaths that arguably set this whole story in motion. Rhaegar sparked the rebellion when he fell in love with Lyanna Stark and kidnapped her. But, as Littlefinger subtly points out, there's more to the story than that. While history agrees with Robert Baratheon's take on things, it's worth remembering that he is an unreliable source. In other words, Littlefinger implies heavily that Lyanna might not have been kidnapped and might have actually been just as in love with Rhaegar as he was with her.

And, not to get too conspiracy theory on you guys, this all leads in to the most popular fan theory about Jon Snow. Namely, that Jon Snow is not actually the bastard son of Ned Stark, but is in fact the son of Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen, making him, if legitimized, a genuine contender for the throne of Westeros. 

The basic underpinnings of this theory are pretty much along these lines: Ned Stark would sooner die than do something so dishonorable as cheat on his wife, pretty much no one actually knows who Jon's mother is and there is only one person still alive who was there when Ned acquired a baby, Robert would have had baby Jon killed for the crime of being a Targaryen, and Aemon Targaryen is always super cagey when he talks to Jon about his past and family and all that stuff.

It just makes sense!

Anyway. The more salient point in this scene is that Littlefinger is leaving Sansa in Winterfell, but he doesn't want her to worry because soon Stannis Baratheon will be there and Stannis will clearly conquer the Bolton's and take Winterfell. Since Sansa is the only living Stark (that anyone knows about), she will become the Wardeness of the North under Stannis. Her future is pretty much secure either way. Also, as Littlefinger reminds Sansa, trying to reassuring, he'll return before she's wed, because then they can get married. Ew.

Sansa is also clearly ew on the topic, but has the sense not to say anything about it. I still maintain that with Sansa Stark back in Winterfell, men destroying themselves around her, and her apparently lethal weaponized femininity, this chick is going to do something epic. At least I really hope she does.

A little further north, Stannis is still trying to convince Jon to desert his post as Lord High Commander of the Night's Watch and come reclaim Winterfell with him. Stannis does pretty much everything he can think of, up to and including sending Melisandre in to seduce Jon. Well, it's unclear if Stannis came up with that idea, but it was definitely another ploy. Fortunately, all of them fail. So far. But Jon's resolve seems to be weakening. Hopefully he can keep it together a little bit longer until Stannis is gone, so that Jon can get back to worrying about the much bigger problem: White Walkers.

Oh, and the episode did finally give us a much needed scene of Stannis interacting with his daughter, Shireen. While Shireen is a lovely and sweet child, she's also kind of the afterthought in his story. With all of the intense weirdness surrounding Stannis, his wife Selyse, and his lover/their priestess Melisandre, it's easy to forget that there's a little girl wandering around unsupervised.

The scene was pointed and sweet, with Shireen basically apologizing to her father for having to be dragged along and seeming regretful for the greyscale scars on her face. Worth noting that greyscale has now come up a couple of times this season, with people remarking that it's literally always fatal and some claims that the Lord of Light can cure it. Shireen is the only case anyone knows of where a child survived.

Stannis tells the sweet story of how Shireen got sick but he refused to give up on her, and it becomes clear that while he is a very weird, emotionally constipated man, Stannis loves his daughter very much. Awwww.

Also Jorah and Tyrion are off on their boat ride of miscommunication. Tyrion is positively bemused when he realizes that Jorah has kidnapped him in order to take him to Daenerys. Because he was on his way to see her anyway and Jorah has effectively saved him from a long overland trek.

Jorah, whose identity Tyrion guesses within minutes, still maintains that bringing Tyrion before his queen will win him back her favor. But Tyrion doesn't see it going down that way. As for me, I have literally no idea what will happen when they reach Meereen, but I am delighted to find out.

And, finally, over in Meereen, things are only getting worse. We only get a quick glimpse of Daenerys as she leans over the wall and looks down on her city. "It almost looks peaceful from up here," she tells Ser Barristan Selmy. And it does. It'd be easy to forget that Meereen is descending into violence and infighting. Daenerys' advisor insists that the best way to stave off full on revolts is to allow the fighting season to go on as planned - the fighting pits were full of slaves but some of them remember it fondly as a place to win honor and glory - while she continues to deny it.

But before she can get too maudlin about the troubles of trying to rule in one place rather than go along conquering, Selmy distracts her with a lovely story of her brother, Rhaegar. Apparently he was handsome, beloved of the people, and just a genuinely fun and loving person. He used to go out into the city and sing on a street corner. Then he'd give the money he earned, because he was very good, to another musician or an orphanage or they'd just get drunk. It's a lovely story, and Dany asks Selmy to go out in to the city and "sing a song for me."

Unfortunately, it's not a song that Ser Selmy really gets to sing. The Sons of the Harpy are still on the loose and they set up an ambush for the Unsullied. In the horrible battle that ensues, both Grey Worm and Selmy are brutally wounded and left for dead on a pile of bodies. No idea if either of them will survive. And, like I said at the beginning, the worst part of this is the inevitability of it. What did you think would happen? Did you think it would be easy? These men are good soldiers and wonderful characters, but they do not have plot armor. No one has plot armor. This is a story that mimics life as much as possible, and in life sometimes the guys you need most die.

On that note, have a lovely rest of your day. Gosh I wonder what will happen in the next episode...

Alas, poor Selmy.

2 comments:

  1. Like I said, this can't end well for Cersei, and the rumors are clearly already spreading.

    And those hearing them are confident enough to shout about it in the street. Not to mention that Cersei's used up everything she can offer the Sparrows in one go. But I get the impression that Cersei doesn't really understand motives apart from loving your kids and accumulating power; I wouldn't be surprised if she really doesn't understand that they mean their rhetoric. (Another theory I've heard is that she sees the writing on the wall and is burning the house down; her fall must be a disaster for everyone).

    Stannis does pretty much everything he can think of, up to and including sending Melisandre in to seduce Jon. Well, it's unclear if Stannis came up with that idea, but it was definitely another ploy.

    It does seem like "seduce it" and "burn it" are her only two approaches to any problem; we're just lucky she only uses them one at a time.

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    1. I'm more inclined to think that Cersei just doesn't understand people who don't love power. She has no comprehension of a higher allegiance than to one's family. So to her, everything she's doing makes perfect sense because she's offering the High Sparrow great power and he wants power, right? He would never hurt her because she's the source of his power. Cersei just doesn't understand what this is really about.

      Melisandre would be the first person to decide "seduction by fire" was a reasonable choice.

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