After last week’s muted episode, Game of Thrones begins its sixth episode of the fifth season with “a girl” (Arya Stark) still washing the dead in the House of Black and White. Much like the audience, she wants to know what they do with the bodies after they are hauled away on a stretcher. She attempts to peak behind an open door, but she is blocked by the other girl who works in the House. The girl taunts her, giving her a history that brought her to the House that may or may not be true. Confusion remains.
When “a man” returns and asks her who she is, Arya gives variations on her history, failing “the game” she is supposed to win in order to become a faceless girl. Sharing her story wins no points with Jaqen H’ghar (the “man”) who continuously slaps and beats her until she angrily lashes out at him. Later, she is approached by another man who asks her to help him end the suffering of his daughter whose mysterious ailment apparently cannot be healed. We have no idea who these people are nor how they were able to enter the House of Black and White. I suspect, as Arya lets her drink from the vast well in the middle of the room, that this is some sort of test. The young girl is now apparently dead, and, of course, Arya must wash and prepare her. Always watching, Jaqen H’ghar appears and beckons her to follow him down into another level of the temple, finally revealing a fantastic hall filled floor to ceiling with thousands of faces. This is our first real glimpse at the core of the House of Black and White, and Jaqen H’ghar (I continue to use his former name for simplicity) tells her, while she’s not ready to become no one, she is ready to become someone else.
Continuing his road show with Ser Jorah Mormont, Tyrion shares information of Westros with Jorah, including his recent past of killing his own father and hiding in a box to flee Westros. Mormont still hides the tell-tale scar of the greyscale disease. As they continue, Tyrion asks Jorah why he is so high on Daenerys. Jorah recounts his experience witnessing her birthing three dragons in a raging fire, which, granted, you can’t really argue with. As Tyrion accurately points out that doesn’t make a great queen, they are quickly captured by slave traders who wish to cut Tyrion’s throat because “a dwarf’s cock has magic powers.” Tyrion manages to save his life by indicating that you can’t just sell a merchant a dwarf’s cock without proof it actually came from a dwarf. Sound logic indeed. He also manages to seek passage to Meereen by selling Jorah as a great fighter, fit for the newly opened fighting pits.
Finally, we return to King’s Landing where Petyr Baelish returns, seeking a meeting with Cersei. Given the loss of business thanks to the religiosity of the Sparrows, Baelish exchanges a few subtle barbs with Cersei before revealing Sansa Stark’s existence in Winterfell and her plan (his plan) to marry Ramsay Bolton. Somehow, Baelish manages to convince Cersei to allow him to use the Knights of the Vale to return to Winterfell and defeat the Boltons, including putting Sansa Stark’s head on a spike. What’s in it for Baelish? He would receive the position as Warden of the North, naturally. Baelish is extremely astute in playing both sides, yet I personally believe, providing this plan goes forth, he will never kill Sansa Stark. She’s too much like her mother.
Jaime Lannister and Bronn continue their ride to the Dorne capital (the Water Gardens, I believe) to recapture Myrcella who is busy on her own doing some heavy petting with the Dornish prince. Also marching on the capital are the Sand Snakes, and they all converge on Myrcella simultaneously. They become mired in a duel with Jaime fighting one-handedly as best he can. When one of the Sand Snakes kidnaps Myrcella, the palace guard manages to finally intervene, capturing Bronn, the Snakes, Jaime, and Ellaria Sand. A note here: I’m not a huge fan of the Sand Snakes. I get that it’s great we have some ass-kicking female warriors, but their written thus far in a slightly neutered way. Having Bronn belittle one of them with “You fight well for a girl” doesn’t help.
Most welcome is Diana Rigg’s return as Margaery Tyrol’s grandmother, Lady Olenna – the Queen of Thorns (who helped orchestrate the death of King Joffrey, in case you’ve forgotten). She has returned to King’s Landing to facilitate the release of her grandson Ser Loras, imprisoned for basically being a homosexual by the Sparrows (but really carrying out Cersei’s commands). The Queen amusingly tells Margaery that, if they arrested all the “pillow biters” in King’s Landing, then the jails would be too full to sustain them all. Later, the Queen and Cersei have a showdown where the Queen threatens to withhold all support to the money-starved kingdom. Cersei agrees to release Ser Loras pending the successful outcome of an inquiry where the High Sparrow questions him about his personal relationship to Renly Baratheon. The High Sparrow calls Queen Margaery to the stand where she lies to protect her brother – a huge mistake. The next witness is a squire who had slept with Ser Loras and is able to identify a birthmark on his upper thigh. He also reveals that Margaery walked in on them, causing the High Sparrow to arrest them both as the helpless King Tommen watches.
In Winterfell, Ramsay’s sex toy, Miranda, is tasked with washing Sansa Stark, and, as she rinses out the black dye, she tells Sansa of Ramsay’s former lovers who reached bad ends. You’ll remember his one “hunt” of a young girl who he allowed to be mauled by hounds. Oddly enough, Sansa actually retorts and puts Miranda in her place, telling her Winterfell is her home and she cannot be frightened. As the snow falls outside her winter (“Winter is coming”), Sansa is dressed in white for her wedding to Ramsay (evil Rob Thomas of Matchbox Twenty). When Reek (Theon Greyjoy) comes to take her to the Godswood for the ceremony, she refuses to take his arm, signaling unavoidable danger for poor Reek. The wedding scene at the Godswood is beautifully lit with burning candles, highlighting the impossibly red leaves of the tree they assemble around. The wedding over, Sansa prepares for her wedding night with Ramsay who quizzes her about her virginity considering her previous relationship with Tyrion Lannister. He humiliates her by commanding her to disrobe in front of Reek.
“You’ve known Sansa since she was a girl. Now watch her become a woman,” Ramsay eerily intones.
Ramsay effectively rapes Sansa, taking her from behind as Reek looks on and cries silently. She will remain “unbroken,” however. She is steel inside, this Sansa Stark.
If last week’s episode allowed us to catch our breath, this week was a sprint forward in advancement of multiple plots. Clearly, the season is going to culminate in a battle at Winterfell where Stannis, Baelish, and the Boltons collide. It’s making me lament the relatively abbreviated 10-episode arc of each season. That said, it’s exhausting having to recap these increasingly dense episodes given how vast the overall story has become.
It’s a major miracle that the story hasn’t wildly spun out of control, let alone excel as dramatically as it has.