Review: Game of Thrones ‘High Sparrow’

We begin this week’s Game of Thrones inside the mysterious House of Black and White where the statues imbedded into the wall appear to be weeping, devotees drink water from a pit in the floor, and young Arya Stark sweeps and sweeps and sweeps at some invisible dirt. Or there could be mounds of actual dirt there, but the scene is lit so dimly that one imagines you could really skip sweeping altogether. Clearly, though, this is some purposeful sweeping, sweeping meant to break her and turn her into a ruthless warrior no doubt. Too bad such sweeping never did that for me.

“High Sparrow” isn’t an episode that will be particularly well remembered when considering the overall Game of Thrones canon, but, for the faithful, it is an episode that establishes alliances and threats that will undoubtedly carry us through to the end of Season Five (and potentially the series itself). While Tyrion did not yet meet Daenerys (something that is no doubt frustrating to those who crave immediate satisfaction), he does get one step closer to his goal. Also, Jon Snow shows his prowess as a leader, and Sansa Stark returns to Winterfell. While it may not have yet had the early Grand Moments of Season Four, Season Five is, for me, proving to be the most consistently accomplished season yet – one that holds storytelling and character development over shock and awe.

After growing tired of sweeping, Arya confronts Jaqen H’ghar (who apparently is now going by the name “a man”) about the ritual of the broom. We’re subjected to some dialogue about the many-faced god, a man, a girl, and the path Arya must follow. I’m convinced this is leading somewhere and will prove a valuable step in Arya’s journey, but, on the outset, it feels like some exquisitely art decorated horse shit. Jury’s out, though, particularly since the devotee who drank the water from the pit appears to be lying dead on the floor. Didn’t see that one coming…


Meanwhile, back in King’s Landing, it’s time for the wedding of Margaery Tyrell to King Tommen. Leading up to the ceremony, Cersei confronted with the rabid popularity of the new Queen as the masses scream her name. No one seems to notice Cersei, bringing up the rear. Later, Margaery teaches Tommen the ways of the flesh (albeit it’s a very quick lesson), and, as any young boy would, he can’t get enough of her love, baby. The brilliance in the scene comes from Margaery’s subtle-ish insinuations to Tommen that his mother is smothering him. He protests, claiming he’s grown up now and doesn’t need his mother, but Margaery persists, claiming otherwise. Cut to the next scene where Tommen asks Cersei if she’d be happier in Casterly Rock.

Cersei knows what’s up, so she pays her new daughter-in-law a visit, no doubt to verbally rip her apart. Margaery is surrounded by hand maidens and gossips about her new husband’s voracious sexual appetite. The subsequent conversation is the highlight of the episode for me as Margaery goes on the offensive with Cersei. After calling Cersei “Mother,” Margaery apologizes for not having wine to serve her. “It’s a bit early in the day for us,” Margaery says. Visibly enraged (but keeping it all inside), Cersei seems to want to keep the conversation brief. Margaery continues the torment, again referencing Tommen’s sexual prowess and asking if Cersei would like to be referred to as “Queen Mother” or “Dowager Queen.”

Great acting doesn’t always come in the form of big, showy scenes or flowering monologues. Some of the greatest performances happen when the actor contains their emotions and chooses to underplay the scene for great effect. That’s what Lena Headey does with this scene. Visibly, her face remains as inexpressive and taut as a Botox Queen, but there are twinges of disgust, flashes of anger that are brilliantly maintained just beneath the surface. Watching the scene, we are completely aware that Cersei wants to gouge out Margaery’s eyes and drink her blood, but she remains pleasant and monotone through it all. It’s a fantastic moment and a testament to Headey’s power as an actress. #Emmy

In Winterfell, Ramsay Bolton seems to hold his self-proclaimed position as Lord of the North by the expected brutality, flaying the skin of those who wouldn’t pay their taxes. His father, however, doesn’t approve and wants him to marry to solidify their claim on the Northern territories. Enter Sansa Stark. Petyr Baelish manages to use his considerable powers of persuasion to convince Sansa to agree to the marriage, telling her she can avenge her family by entering into the arrangement. Is Sansa Stark now to become some sort of vengeful black widow? It would certainly appear that way as she seems to agree to Baelish’s proposal, riding into Winterfell for the first time since leaving for King’s Landing way back in Season One and meeting Ramsay Bolton. Meanwhile, Brienne of Tarth looks on, continuing to follow Sansa in a push to protect her. Over a campfire, she and Podrick share a moment or two over some painful memories in her past.


Winterfell seems to be an upcoming target as Stannis Baratheon again meets with Jon Snow to convince him to ride on the castle and retake it. Snow sticks to his vow and newly elected post as ruler of Castle Black and politely denies the request. Stannis obliges and recommends he banish his enemies to another castle. Later, Snow somewhat follows up on the recommendation. At a company meeting, he appoints a latrine captain, names Alliser Thorne to a power position, and appoints Thorne’s right-hand man as commander of a remote castle. The man refuses and insults Jon Snow, and Snow returns the favor by having him publicly humiliated and beheaded.

Back in the House of Constant Sweeping, Arya is confronted by another resident, a girl who appears jealous and repeatedly strikes her. Arya, not one for submissiveness, quickly drops the “Cee U Next Tuesday” bomb and reaches for her sword. A Man (formerly known as Jaquen) suddenly appears, and it becomes evident that the girl was playing something called The Game of Faces with Arya. Again, they claim Arya Stark isn’t ready because she hasn’t given up the trappings of her former life – her clothes and sword. The next scene shows Arya, wearing a dress, throwing all of her clothes and money into the sea. She can’t quite part with the sword (Needle), though, and she buries that in a nearby pile of rocks in a conveniently sword-shaped hole. She’s back to sweeping when A Man beckons her to follow him, leading her to a stone slab where they must undress and wash an apparently dead man. No idea what’s going on here. Your guess is as good as mine.

In King’s Landing, the High Septon plays a sex game with some of Petyr Baelish’s best women when the religious zealot Sparrows barge in. They apparently do not appreciate a man of the cloth engaging paying extra for two women, so they kidnap him and march him through the streets of King’s Landing bare-ass naked, whipping him whenever he attempts to cover his beans n’ frank. The Septon later appeals to Cersei and her small council to address his “insult” and “assault,” equating his plight to an insult to the gods and claiming he was ministering to the needs of the prostitutes. The value of the scene is the introduction of the High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce) to Cersei, who appears to be fascinated by a man who innocuously holds a position of power within his devoted followers. Conveniently forgetting her own sins, Cersei portrays herself as a woman of faith to the Sparrow, thereby solidifying an allegiance between the two – one that will undoubtedly prove valuable in weeks to come.

One interesting side note is Cersei’s trusted advisor who is apparently toiling away at some science experiment in a castle dungeon. He keeps something hidden under a sheet, and, before the scene ends, the object under the sheet begins to struggle. Is this a torture experiment of the High Septon (who Cersei claimed to be in the Red Keep)? Or is this something else? Something that echoes the Frankenstein myth? No answers here, but I’ll be watching this one.

Finally, Tyrion and Varys continue their trek to meet Daenerys in a carriage that bears a stronger resemblance to a mobile coffin. Tired of his imprisonment, Tyrion begs freedom and escapes to a nearby town that is full of slaves, masters, and another Red Priestess – this one preaching about the coming of the Dragon Queen. Retreating to a brothel, Tyrion is kidnapped by an old friend of ours, Sir Jorah Mormont, who wants to take him to Daenerys. Given the difficulty of escorting Tyrion to his destination, I would not at all be surprised if this weren’t some sort of grand gesture orchestrated by Varys who once employed Jorah as a spy on Daenerys’s activities.

Again, this latest episode wasn’t as much about big, shocking moments or particularly memorable sequences (save the brilliant Margaery/Cersei scene). Instead, major plot lines are established and nurtured that will undoubtedly bear fruit in subsequent episodes. These are the chess pieces moving into position for a future strike. After all, the game of thrones is most definitely not a simple foot race – it’s a long and painful triathlon.


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