Thursday, May 14, 2015

RECAP: Game of Thrones 5x05 - Do What You Gotta Do, Dude

Recaps recaps recaps. When will it end? 

Oh I whine, but I know I brought this on myself for flaking out two weeks in a row. My bad. Anyway, this episode of Game of Thrones was, for once, very tightly written, with only a couple of the seventy billion storylines getting coverage. For the most part we stayed in the North and in the East, with the action centering around the Wall/Winterfell and Meereen/Valyria. Handy.

But while this was one of the most clearly written episodes, I hesitate to say that it was particularly unified in theme. It wasn't. Mostly this was a filler episode, getting our characters to their next major story arcs. And it says something really interesting about Game of Thrones that the show really is at its best when it's just filling in the blanks in between epic battles. There's something to be said for the quiet on this show, and I think it's their most unappreciated virtue.

If there is a theme this week, it would have to be growing up. Or maybe that's not the right phrasing. Perhaps it's more accurate to say, this week was about owning who you are, the good and the bad, and working with what you've got. It didn't run through all of the storylines, mind you, but it was most prevalent in the largest plots. And as far as themes go, it's not half bad.

For those of you who're only in this for Arya or the Sand Snakes or that epic bitchfight between Cersei and Margaery going on in King's Landing, though, this episode wasn't for you. Better luck next week.

For the rest of us, here's what happened:

Up in the North, Jon and Stannis continue in their weird holding pattern at the Wall. Stannis really does need to leave if he wants to attack and take Winterfell before the Winter comes, but he's hesitant to leave when Jon still refuses to desert his men and come claim the Stark name. Jon, meanwhile, is seeking the advice of Maester Aemon on what he should do now. Specifically, what he should do about the Wildlings. As he puts it, he has a choice, and if he does what he thinks is right, half the men will hate him for it.

But, as Maester Aemon so helpfully points out, half the men already hate him. There is no substitute for doing what you think is best. Winter is coming, Jon Snow, and you must be a man before it arrives. So make the hard decision, take the punishment, and do what is best for us all.

Or, as Maester Aemon so incredibly poetically puts it, 

It's even more poignant a scene when you realize that Maester Aemon knows he's dying and that this might be his last chance to impart wisdom to Jon. And since Maester Aemon is incredibly clever (and apparently really well connected), there's a solid chance he knows that Jon is his great-nephew. So the epic speech he gives about being sad to die and leave Daenerys as the last Targaryen in the world might be a little more pointed than it seems.

Anyway, Jon takes his advice and decides to go with his plan. But first he has to convince the Wildlings to agree. See, his plan is to go rescue the Wildlings stranded on the other side of the Wall, end the war that's raged for thousands of years now, and keep the Wildlings and everyone else safe from the White Walkers.

Of course, they're never going to believe an offer of peace coming from the Lord High Commander of the Night's Watch, so Jon needs help. He enlists it from that redheaded Wildling guy, the one who was always panting after Ygritte and hated Jon. He knows the man is a good leader, and after some macho male posturing the dude agrees. But on only one condition: Jon has to go with him, because otherwise the people will think it's a trap.

Naturally the Night's Watch is not thrilled with this plan.

In fact, it's a near mutiny that breaks out at his announcement, with most of the men pointing out that they've been killing Wildlings for generations, that Wildlings have killed their friends, and so on. Jon's (very valid) point that the Wildlings have the same complaint really makes no headway. It's purely the fact that Jon is in charge (and he beheaded that dude who questioned him last week) that keeps the order.

Jon will go North to get the Wildlings to safety, and Stannis lends the use of his fleet for the job. There's land near the Wall that the Wildlings can farm, and if everyone can keep from killing each other for just two seconds, this might work.

Meanwhile, Stannis has decided it's time to go. With Jon leaving, time is ever shorter, and they have to get to Winterfell before the snows fall and before Roose Bolton has more time to drum up support. Davos gets all of that, but he's surprised by Stannis' decision to bring his wife, Selyse, and their daughter, Shireen, along for the battle. Stannis' reasoning is sound (the men of Castle Black are rapists and murderers who chose a life on the Wall rather than the death penalty), but it's still an interesting choice. I'm curious about where that will lead. Also Davos and Shireen have the cutest relationship.

Oh, and Sam and Gilly continue to navigate their not-quite relationship. He can't really be with her because he took vows to the Old Gods to take no wife, and she feels uncomfortable being the only woman in Castle Black. Also they fight over their education levels - Sam is the most educated person in the North pretty much, while Gilly is only recently literate - and about Gilly's role as a functional chamber maid to hundreds of men. But they do still love each other. They just have no idea how to have a relationship. I can't really blame them.

Slightly further south, in Winterfell, things continue to be weird and bad for Sansa. She's now engaged to Ramsay Bolton, a noted sadist, and her only protection, Littlefinger, has gone south to King's Landing. She's alone, terrified, and literally trapped in her old home with the man who murdered her brother and mother.

Fortunately, and thank goodness there's a plus side or else this would be unbearably bleak, Brienne is still around. And by around, I mean that she's one keep over, keeping watch on Sansa like a really angry fairy godmother. Brienne gets the word out to the loyal servants that she's there to protect Sansa, should she need it, and that she's not loyal to anyone else. The North remembers, and the North passes word along. If Sansa is ever in danger, she is to light a candle in the top window of the broken tower. You may also remember that as the place where Bran nearly fell to his death.

So she has allies. But she also has enemies she didn't even know about. Case in point, Ramsay's jilted ex-girlfriend/current girlfriend, Miranda. Miranda is a woman of low birth who thought she would be able to marry Ramsay. The bastard son of a lord and the daughter of the kennel master actually would make a good match, but then he went and got legitimized and now he's too high above her. 

Miranda doesn't do jealousy, she does revenge. And what better revenge than reminding poor Sansa Stark of all the things she's lost? Starting with a stark (heh) awakening of who else happens to be living at Winterfell right now. Like, say, Theon Greyjoy, the man who killed her two little brothers by burning them alive.*

Sansa and Theon are not exactly pleased to see each other, but the matter is made much worse when Ramsay finds out about it. He's frankly delighted, and takes sadistic pleasure in making Theon apologize to Sansa for killing her brothers, and then points out that Theon is now the closest thing to family she has left in the world. He should walk her down the aisle! Wouldn't that be nice?

Sansa, for her part, never reacts to the goading. I doubt she's had worse, though, because she does spend that dinner literally looking at the two people responsible for killing four members of her family. She is furious and enraged and hurt and nearly screaming in terror, but she holds it all in and is polite. A little passive aggressive, but impressively polite. Go Team Sansa! Again, I feel the need to point out that out of everyone on the show, Sansa probably has the most actual political acumen.
Roose is also not thrilled with Ramsay's performance, but he gets back at him by reminding Ramsay of his place in the world. It seems Walda, Ramsay's new wife, is pregnant, and it's probably a boy. Roose seems to have no actual plans to kick Ramsay back out on his backside, but a legitimate male heir must be a tempting prospect for him. Especially when his eldest is being an idiot.

Okay. Now, on the other side of the world, Daenerys' troubles continue in Meereen. She's of course reeling from last episode, which saw a huge number of the Unsullied slaughtered and both Ser Selmy and Grey Worm left for dead in an alleyway. We come in this week to find that Ser Selmy has died and Grey Worm, though in critical condition, has lived. And this makes sense, because Ser Selmy was pretty old and Grey Worm is crazy healthy. Still. Sad.

And Daenerys is more than sad, she's genuinely pissed. Ser Selmy was her closest advisor since Jorah left, a kind man who urged her to be merciful and rule well. She will miss him. 

But the time for mercy has passed. Daenerys hands out a verdict telling the guards to gather all of the heads of the great families of Meereen and to bring them to her. Her advisor, whose name I had to look up because I guess he's important now, points out that he himself is the head of his family. And she is completely unswayed. It's time for Daenerys to remind everyone that she really is the Mother of Dragons.
She does that by feeding a few of the family heads to her sons. You know, like a good mother does. But she spares her advisor, whose name is Hizdahr zo Loraq. Wonder why I didn't remember that. Him she saves for later. 

While all of this is happening, Missandei is upstairs having a truly adorable talk with Grey Worm. He's woken up, and he's filled with shame. Not because he's alive, and not because he was wounded in battle, but because his last thoughts were of fear and sadness. He wanted to see Missandei one last time before he died. Missandei is incredibly moved by this and she kisses him. 

It's painfully sweet and lovely and wonderful, and a reminder of how much we can actually get invested in the romantic lives of minor background characters. For all that they're not on screen that much, Missandei and Grey Worm are both fully realized characters, and seeing them both work past their fears and hangups to meet for that one little kiss was so incredibly satisfying. And adorable.

But the plot keeps us from getting too lost in the romance. Daenerys needs advice, and she's tragically short on counselors these days. One of her counselors is locked in the dungeon, another is dead, and a third is banished as a traitor. So she turns to Missandei, who is the closest thing she has to a friend. 

Missandei's advice, like Maester Aemon's in the beginning, isn't super specific, but it is incredibly helpful: just be yourself. Daenerys' strong point has never been doing what people tell her, it's been coming up with the solution to the problem that everyone else missed. So, what have they missed? What should she do? Betray her principle to keep peace? Burn the city to the ground? Seriously. She needs help here.
The answer, it seems, is a combination of pieces of advice she's gotten all along. She goes to Hizdahr zo Loraq in his cell and apologizes. He was right, she was wrong. This city needs tradition to hold it together. She will reinstate the fighting pits, albeit only for free men. 

But more than that, the city needs a tangible tie to their queen. They need a rally point. So Daenerys has decided that she will wed the leader of one of their chief families. And just as it happens, one is readily available. Congratulations, Hizdahr, you've been elevated to main player and you're getting married soon, whether you want to or not. Now lie back and think of Meereen.

Which brings us to the final plotline and also the character who will most object to Daenerys taking a husband: Jorah. Well, Jorah and Tyrion, but I don't think Tyrion much cares what Daenerys does yet. They're still in Jorah's boat, still making their way to Meereen, and it should be going well, except Jorah decides to take a shortcut. Stupid man. You only take a shortcut if you're planning on dying in a really horror movie sort of way.

His shortcut is to take them through Old Valyria, Daenerys' homeland, a beautiful and advanced city that was killed by...something. Tyrion and Jorah both refer to it as "the doom", but it sounded an awful lot like a volcanic eruption. Anyway, they're going through Valyria because it's faster, and it gives us a chance to see this ancient city. It's beautiful. Very much like Angkor Wat, actually. And to make matters even more amazing, as they pass along the waterways, the men look up and see Drogon, Dany's errant dragon son, flying majestically across the sky. Now Tyrion knows. The rumors are true. Dragons are back.

Unfortunately, as Stannis mentioned last week, Valyria isn't safe, it's infested. With "stone men". And now that we see them up close - when they storm the boat and try to kill Jorah and Tyrion - we see that they're actually advanced cases of greyscale. This is what everyone's been talking about, what happens if you don't get help in time. You turn into a rock zombie. There's a rather hilariously incompetent battle on their little boat before Tyrion is pitched overboard and passes out while trying to get himself free of his bonds.

He wakes up on the beach outside Valyria, and we're meant to understand that Jorah swam them both to safety. Good job, buddy, but now you have no boat, no supplies, and you're stranded.

Also, as we learn in the sort of solitary shot of doom, Jorah was touched by one of the stone men. He has a patch of greyscale on his arm. Dun dun DUN.

That was it for the episode, but I feel the need to point out again that the theme here was about owning your identity. We can see that in the three main plots. With Jon, it was about learning to grow up and do the right thing even if you know people will hate you for it. He has accepted that, and now he's ready to be a man, not just a whiny boy.

Sansa's moment was one of recognizing the battles she can win and the ones she can't. Hers was more of a downer note, because right now all the battles Sansa is in are ones she can't win, but we have a sign here that she's taking notes. She's remembering. And she's learning everything she needs in order to come out on top.

And Daenerys? This week was about her learning to embrace her inner Khaleesi again. She needed to be reminded that her skill as a ruler is her ability to step past the ordinary bounds of convention. She used that, she owned that, and I have a sneaking suspicion it's going to work.

As for everybody else, well, they were mostly treading water. But I'm sure there will be more on all of those fronts next week.

Shireen = Cutest Cutie
*He did not actually do that. He still burned two little boys alive, but they weren't Bran and Rickon Stark. I don't remember if Ramsay knows this, but Theon sure does.


  1. Hm. I wonder if the ships will help or hinder the job of convincing the wildlings? (They're good for moving people, they're also good for confining them in one hard to escape place where they can be torched; I can't imagine either possibility will escape them). (They're also good for hijacking and sailing somewhere other than where you want them to go; just thought I'd throw that in there).

    Either way, it's a little bit of bending from Stannis, which can only be to the good.

    The North remembers, and the North passes word along.

    If nothing else, the North remembers that Sansa and her family didn't flay alive anyone who annoyed them, and is unlikely to be the one to buck that trend.

    Congratulations, Hizdahr, you've been elevated to main player and you're getting married soon, whether you want to or not. Now lie back and think of Meereen.

    Making Danaerys the instigator of the same fate she faced back in season 1. (Maybe; depends if she rapes the guy or continues discreetly shagging Daario).

    With "stone men". And now that we see them up close - when they storm the boat and try to kill Jorah and Tyrion - we see that they're actually advanced cases of greyscale.

    Did we already know it was called greyscale? Because if so, that makes my earlier "do Shireen's scars look like scales to you" question look a bit stupid. But if Valyria's infested with it, a connection to dragons looks more plausible (and are the infected immortal or a breeding population - if the latter, then their children aren't dying of the disease, like Shireen).

    1. I do wonder how the ships will go over. I can only assume that the Wildlings are sensible enough to at least figure that a possible death on the ships is better than a certain death and future as an ice zombie on shore.

      Yes, the Starks might just be beloved for their reputation for being at all reasonable. Good enough!

      I think Dany is thinking of it more in terms of the political alliance aspect, but it is an uncomfortable parallel. I'd guess it's an uncomfortable reminder for her too. Are any of her Dothraki even left?

      Not sure when they said its name, but yeah, definitely look like scales. And it is a very big question of what precisely the stone men are. Recently infected? Immortal? No idea, but I assume it will be explained at some point.