Wednesday, May 27, 2015

RECAP: Game of Thrones 5x06 - Descent into Badness

I guess we've reached that time of the season, chickadees, when all of the badness that has been building for the past few episodes comes to a head and everything is the worst. Yay? As I'm sure you gathered from the fierce firestorm of the internet, this episode ends with one of the hands down worst scenes to air on Game of Thrones so far, but I'll be honest, the rest of the episode is no picnic either.

Honestly, I think we were all lulled into a false sense of security by the show this season. I mean, after last year and the epic rage-out that surrounded the show, when nearly every single episode included at least one scene of rape, this season's relatively sexual violence-free start made me think that everything would be okay. Which, I now see, it isn't. The writers of this show have learned nothing. They're still adding gratuitous scenes of rape into the show in order to make male characters seem more bad and female characters seem more helpless. Or seem like nothing at all, because this scene, like the ones from last season, was absolutely not about the victim.

So excuse me while I take a minute for some muffled rage screaming.

I suppose I can be glad that this was the first rape episode and it's the sixth of the season, but that is incredibly weak comfort. And I know that there are a lot of people talking about how they're going to quit the show now. I won't. Not because I have some eternal loyalty or because I think it's good enough to get past this, but more because, like I said at the beginning of this season, I'll keep watching it so you don't have to. And because I really just want to see Daenerys burn everything with fire.

All of that being said, what happened this week?

Well, this episode went in deep on several of the storylines and left the others by the wayside. So no Jon Snow or Stannis or Daenerys this week. Instead, we took long looks at the politics of King's Landing, how Arya's getting on in Braavos, Tyrion and Jorah making their way to Meereen, the mess that is Dorne, and of course, Sansa's fate in Winterfell. 

What's interesting here is that, horrible writing aside, this might be the most thematically unified episode so far this season. Each storyline featured characters reaching their lowest points. That moment of rage when you so desperately want to fight back, but there's nothing you can do. That was the theme this episode, so, yeah, it was pretty hard to watch.

Starting in King's Landing, we got a quick peek in at how Petyr Baelish (Littlefinger) reacts to the newfound piety of the city. He's back on Cersei's orders and less than thrilled to see that his brothels have been closed and his customers imprisoned. But he's a quick and cunning political maneuverer, so he gets out just fine. He even manages to convince Cersei to let him lead an army to attack Roose Bolton and Stannis Baratheon at Winterfell and take it for the Lannisters. Since he's the one who set all those pieces in motion, I'm deeply curious about how this will all shake out.

But the real meat of the King's Landing storyline this week had to do with Cersei's battle against the Tyrells, specifically her petty revenge on Margaery. As you may recall, Cersei deeply resents Margaery, who is now her daughter-in-law, for the crime of being pretty and cunning and having the ear of King Tommen. So Cersei has taken revenge by giving power to a small political faction and telling them to arrest Loras, Margaery's brother, for being gay.

Naturally Margaery is enraged, and so is the rest of her family. Her grandmother, Olenna Tyrell, has come all the way from Highgarden to clear this mess up. As she rightly points out to Cersei, how long does she really think the alliance between the Tyrells and the Lannisters will last with the heir to house Tyrell in prison? But Cersei doesn't care. Instead, she ups the ante. There will be an inquest into Loras' actions, and if he passes, no harm no foul. 

Obviously the inquest doesn't go well. While Loras convincingly lies about his proclivities and Margaery backs him up, it's clear that Cersei has some aces up her sleeves. She gets one of Loras' former lovers in there, has him testify, and then the High Sparrow has both Loras and Margaery imprisoned for lying before the gods. Olenna is furious, Tommen is terrified (they did just lock up his wife, the queen), and Cersei is smug. But, I'd take a guess here, not for long.

Again, Cersei, really, how long do you think this will work? Everyone hates you, you have no allies left, and you've aligned yourself with religious fanatics who will cast you out into the street when they find out whose children you've born. So, you know, look at your life. Look at your choices.

But that wasn't the only rage inducing moment this episode. Not by a long shot.

Over in Braavos, Arya is doing better at acclimating herself to the rules and duties of the House of White and Black, but she's not quite there yet. She's been washing corpses for weeks, but she has no idea what for. The other girl there, the waif, is still horrible to her (well, more indifferent) and Arya is frustrated that she can't prove herself here easily. She can't prove herself because that's the opposite of what she's supposed to be learning. She's meant to learn how to forget herself. But Arya's not very good at that. She's frustrated and angry and there's nothing she can do.

Jaqen agrees that she's not ready, and he tests Arya. They have a weird little training game, where Arya tells her life's story and tries to insert some lies. Whenever Jaqen can tell she's lying, he hits her with a riding crop. It's intense, but it makes sense. She needs to learn how to actually lie if she wants to become someone else. Arya's Stark-ness is written all over her face. She has to become.

That moment comes when, at last, Arya sees what all the dead bodies she's been washing are for. A man comes in with his very sick daughter, and Arya tells the girl a story. She says that she was once sick and her father took her to the House too. He had her drink from the fountain of the Many Headed God, and she was better. Arya helps the girl drink and then the girl dies.

Jaqen sees this and takes her down into the crypt, where she's not been allowed before, and finally we and Arya get to see what's down there. It's weird. Super weird. The crypts are just stone pillars covered in faces. Presumably the faces of the people whose bodies come to the House. I'm going to take a wild guess and say that this is how the faceless men change their faces. They take from the dead and return it when they're done. Ew.

Jaqen explains that while Arya is still not ready to be no one, she is ready to be someone else. We don't yet know who, but I'm sure we'll find out.

Tyrion and Jorah, meanwhile, continue to make their way to Meereen the long way by land. They have some touching bonding moments. Tyrion explains that he really respected Jorah's father, Lord Mormont. Jorah is touched by this, but also dismayed when Tyrion inadvertently reveals that Lord Mormont is dead. Then Jorah takes his turn to explain why he's so devoted to Daenerys. He leaves out the bit where he's super in love with her, but he does point out that she is the rightful heir of Westeros.

Tyrion, of course, has the best possible reaction: "So?" I mean, yeah, actually, it's a good point. Just because Daenerys' father was the king doesn't mean she'll make a good queen. We know she will, but they don't. It's a valid point. And then they're captured by slavers.

Yeah, Daenerys might have outlawed slavery, but some things are hard to kill. Through some quick talking, and a weirdly long interlude about Tyrion's penis (don't ask), the slavers are convinced to keep them both alive and take them to Meereen. Jorah can fight in the newly opened fighting pits, and Tyrion can keep his wits about him and keep them both alive. Though not for long, if you remember the greyscale creeping up Jorah's arm...

In Dorne, we have three agendas going at once. First there's the cuteness, where Myrcella Baratheon (Cersei's daughter) and her betrothed, Trystane Martell, decide that they can't wait any longer and they want to get married now. Awww. Trystane's father, Doran, is understandably worried that someone is going to try to kill Myrcella. Because someone is. The Sand Snakes, Oberyn Martell's daughters, are going after Myrcella. At the same time, Jaime and Bronn have reached the water gardens and are trying to kidnap Myrcella and take her back to King's Landing.

The fight, which is fun, ends with the Dornish guards storming up and stopping the fight. Curious to see how this turns out, but it was really more of a stub than a full storyline. Still, I doubt Doran is going to be too happy with his nieces, and it looks like Trystane might have been hurt.

Finally, in the most frustrating of all the storylines, the time has come for Sansa to wed. Again. This time she's marrying Ramsay Bolton, son of the man who murdered her brother and mother and sister-in-law and uncle and an unborn baby. Ramsay's previous lover, Myranda, tries to intimidate her before the ceremony, but Sansa is made of sterner stuff. 

Stern enough stuff that she manages to go through with the wedding, despite being forced to walk down the aisle with Theon Greyjoy, the man who claims to have burnt her little brothers alive. She holds her head high, says her vows, and braces for the wedding night.

Which is probably a good attitude because the wedding night involves Ramsay brutally raping her while he forces Theon to watch. The scene is shot to focus more on Theon than on Sansa, and the whole thing is wrapped up in a veneer of "Isn't Ramsay a bad man?" But it's poorly done and exploitative and I hated it.

I mean, obviously I should hate a rape scene, but more than that actual rape, I hate how that story is told. It's not about Sansa. The story frames it to be more about the relationship between Theon and Ramsay, which is not okay. It places Sansa in the backseat and completely takes away her agency and her value in the story. On top of which, I have little doubt that the aftermath will not be dealt with well on the show. It never is.

There's a better article than I could manage here on the subject, and it looks at how Mad Max: Fury Road gets right what Game of Thrones so frequently and inevitably gets wrong. The basic gist is that the problem with Game of Thrones isn't the existence of rape, but the fact that rape is never examined or understood. The underlying power structures that enable rape culture and the reason for its existence in the story are never given any thought. Women are raped on this show because that's "just what happens", and it's really not okay.

It's really not.

So I will be back to recap this show in its next episode, but I completely understand if you're not going to read it. That's okay. This show has proven time and again that it's more interested in exploitation than really telling women's stories, and I don't see that changing soon. But maybe if we keep shouting, someone will hear us. I hope so.


  1. The High Sparrow has both Loras and Margaery imprisoned for lying before the gods. Olenna is furious, Tommen is terrified (they did just lock up his wife, the queen), and Cersei is smug.

    I wonder if this will cost the Sparrows in some quarters, given that Margaery is probably the most popular noble with the commoners in the entire city. Though the Sparrows are also doing a lot of what made her so.

    Tyrion explains that he really respected Jorah's father, Lord Mormont. Jorah is touched by this, but also dismayed when Tyrion inadvertently reveals that Lord Mormont is dead.

    Huh, you've reminded me that Tyion's even more of a loss to Westeros than I thought; he was just about the only person south of Winterfell right now even vaguely inclined to believe there might be important shit going on up at the Wall. I mean that's something all these lords really nead to start giving serious thought to.

    I hate how that story is told. It's not about Sansa. The story frames it to be more about the relationship between Theon and Ramsay, which is not okay.

    Exactly. Not to mention that the producers have again tried to argue it out of being rape (I believe the money phrase is "hardened young woman making a choice"). The latter phrase could be said to describe Sansa pretty well in these circumstances, but it doesn't even slightly mitigate the fact that rape is what she's enduring.

    1. In light of the finale where (SPOILERS) Cersei has to do her walk of shame thing, I cannot imagine the Sparrows forcing Margaery to do that and having it go at all the same. I mean, yeah, people like their mobs and they are fully capable of turning on someone, but given that Margaery's crime is lying to protect her brother, I doubt we'd see the same vitriolic hatred.

      Yesssss. Tyrion actually sees the big picture, which is something that a lot of characters (Stannis, Petyr, Jon) like to think they can but generally fail at. Tyrion has a longview of what's happening and so is completely invaluable to whoever he's helping.

      I generally want to sit the producers down and make them sit through a rape sensitivity seminar, and this episode was no exception.