After two weeks of softer-than-expected episodes – episodes that committed the biggest sin of all in the Game of Thrones world: wasting valuable hours when only 10 hours are granted to us a season – the series roars back with an episode that catapults us forward with maniacal glee. It’s an expected result, though, given the series’ show runners, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, penned the episode – “The Gift.” It is fitting that they righted the ship and brought order back to the storytelling.
Where previous episodes (particularly the last two) have bogged down a bit by remaining in one locale or another too long, this episode mirrored the pacing of the first few of the season that excited me so much. Instead of diving deeply into one character or another, they give us a sampling of all the favorites, and it is a tactic I vastly prefer. This is the episode that, in so many ways, gives the viewers exactly what they want out of the show.
At Castle Black, Jon Snow rides off beyond the wall with the wildling captive and leaves Samwell Tarly to defend himself against the “brothers” who would rape his love, Gilly. Here we go again with another threatening rape sequence. Given its end result (Snow’s dire wolf Ghost protects Gilly and Sam against their attackers), it wasn’t nearly as bad a result as it could have been. Yet, following last week’s brutal off-camera rape of Sansa Stark Bolton, you wonder if the juxtaposition was advisable. Still, no crime is committed, Samwell displays bravery in front of Gilly, and he is rewarded with what I suspect to be is his first sexual encounter, breaking one of the primary laws of the Knight’s Watch. But who really gives a shit about that one anyway? Aside from the near-rape sequence, Maester Aemon finally dies and is provided a touching eulogy by Samwell Tarly. Before he passed, Aemon wildly moaned and cried out for his little brother Egg (Aegon Targaryen, the Mad King). I half wondered if Aemon was going to somehow spill the beans about Jon Snow, but alas he did not. I didn’t say we’d get everything we wanted out of this episode.
After last week’s wedding night brutality, Sansa Stark remains locked away in her Winterfell tower, bruised and sobbing. The windows in her chamber remain open, letting the snow indifferently fall into the room. When Reek brings her food, Sansa convinces him that he is still Theon Greyjoy and that he must help her signal “the friend in the North” by placing a single candle in the top of the broken tower. “The friend” (Brienne of Tarth, who sorely needs something more to do this season) watches faithfully, but Reek does not keep his promise to Sansa. Instead, he tells Ramsay about her request who, in turn, flays the skin of the woman who offered the advice to Sansa. Things clearly aren’t about to get better for Sansa, and she really needs to take matters into her own hands should she wish to be free.
In Meereen, Ser Jonah Mormont and Tyrion are sold to a Master who wishes to use them in the fighting pits. Well, he wants to fight Mormont, Tyrion is for comedy. I suppose no one could find the “cock merchant” offered up a few weeks ago. Daenerys attends the fight per Meereen custom with her politically betrothed husband, an arrangement that appears to have worked as the Sons of the Harpy attacks have subsided. At any rate, Mormont ultimately wins the fights and reveals himself to Daenerys. Disgusted, she instructs her guards to take Mormont away but not before Mormont proclaims he has a gift for her. The gift (Tyrion) comes waddling out of his cell and introduces himself to Daenerys, FINALLY making the introduction promised in the ad campaigns for Season Five. The look of shock on Daenerys’s face was my third favorite moment of the episode. It was well worth the wait.
Finally, Lady Olenna is trying to work her magic in King’s Landing and has a brilliant but futile exchange with the High Sparrow over the fate of her grandchildren. It is fantastic watching Diana Rigg and Jonathan Price work their own magic with Benioff and Weiss’s words. Surely, these two are prime candidates for Guest Actor honors at the Emmys. As Olenna fights, Cersei appears to do everything she can to keep Margaery in the dungeon despite claiming otherwise to her pitiful son, King Tommen. She pays a visit to Margaery later in the episode that provides my second favorite moment of the episode. After coming under the guise of concern (Cersei brings Margaery leftover venison), Cersei taunts Margaery with false kindness, causing Margaery to swiftly lash out at her, “Get out, you hateful bitch!” Ahh… That’s good vitriol.
The smile, however, on Cersei’s face soon melts away as she reports to the High Sparrow, presumably working the avenues for Margaery’s release (she could get off easy if she confesses to lying about her brother). The Sparrow receives her in a ancient, simple prayer room, nothing like the extravagant Sept we’ve seen so many times. In another elegantly written sequence (no one need ever write another episode other than Benioff and Weiss, in my opinion), the Sparrow tells her of his preference to strip all the trappings of luxury away from the Tyrells so that high and low are one. He then asks Cersei what will remain of her when her power and wealth is stripped away from her. Turns out, he’s been talking to her cousin – the cousin that she seduced into killing her husband. The Sparrow has ALL the dirt on Cersei, and, before she can escape, she is thrown into a cell of her own.
Taking none of this lying down, Cersei tells her captors, “Look at me. Look at my face. It’s the last thing you’ll see before you die.” And the episode closes with religious chanting as Cersei’s face is obstructed by the slamming of her cell door.
This is the Game of Thrones I love. The political intrigue. The alliances. The end results of power plays that work and that backfire. Not all was perfect – I still don’t give a shit about the Sand Snakes no matter how many times we get to stare at their perfect breasts, and there wasn’t (much) bloodletting. Yet, to appreciate Game of Thrones for its sex and battle sequences is to refuse to engage with the series at all. Any series can have fights. Any series can have nudity. What this show excels at are its beautifully worded (when done correctly) scenes of political conflict, of the struggles of those in power to keep it and of the struggles of those who wish to bring down those in power. The Sparrow’s motivations are different, sure, but the result is the same. Down with the Lannisters.
I’ve said before that Game of Thrones is a giant game of chess. It’s not a particularly unique nor brilliant exclamation, but it’s an apt one. Tonight, the Queen was exposed, and she is threatened to be taken. And I couldn’t be more satisfied.