Monday, May 4, 2015

Game of Thrones Season 5 Episode 4 "Sons of the Harpy" Review

Game of Thrones has, so far, delivered three great episodes in a row. This is somewhat unusual, given that earlier seasons always started slow (with the notable exception of season 4’s death of Joffrey), and it also seems kind of inevitable. At one point, momentum runs out of steam, and there has to be an episode that misses a beat or two. Even the best of series have this problem, and Game of Thrones is certainly no stranger to it. Will it be “Sons of the Harpy” that breaks the pattern?


In the North at least, things are better than ever. For the first time ever, you can believe Stannis (or other people) when they’re watching Jon and seeing things in him, like Eddard Stark’s son or a leader or just a hero destined to save the world. Stannis of course has to try to deflect his wife’s hatred of Shireen, with Melisandre in passing establishing that, yes, Shireen really has royal blood in her, which is about the only use she has. This doesn’t bode well for the girl, especially with Stannis promising that he won’t leave her behind again.

Jon, signing all the letters he doesn’t like to sign, sits in a beautifully lit room. Whoever was responsible for the lighting in this scene is doing a really good job. Jon wrestling with his family’s legacy (hating Roose Bolton) and his new duties (securing men) is well done and sets up the new Jon well enough. His face is now Jon, the lord. Finally. When Melisandre comes in, his first true test comes. While Sam just got a quick glance at her boobs (oh, Sam), Jon gets the full treatment when Melisandre is all “come to the dark side”-ing him. But he passes the test, remaining true to his vows, if only by the proxy of his love for Ygritte. Well played, show. Her leaving is of course another classic Melisandre, framed by the door and underscored by the eerie theme of Stannis with which you can never be sure whether it’s the one of a hero or a villain, telling him that he knows nothing. She even looked a bit like Ygritte in a certain light.

Stannis, in the meantime, has a heart-to-heart with his daughter. Selyse really isn’t winning any mother-of-the-year-awards anytime soon, but Stannis, on the other hand, delivers one of the most powerful monologues the series had a in a long time as he tells the story of Shireen’s greyscale, which puts every book version in the shadow, and Stephen Dillane nails it with his performance. If it was uneven sometimes, he is Stannis so much in this scene you want to jump out of the chair and proclaim him the true king of Westeros.

Sansa, in the meantime, makes good on her connection to Winterfell by lighting the candles in the crypt. She even finds the feather Robert put there back in season 1, but of course, Littlefinger has to come in and ruin everything. But at least, we finally get a rather uninspired info-dump about the tourney of Harrenhal in the False Spring. This was warranted for some time now, but at least for me, the moment fell flat. Perhaps I’m still feeling the phantom pains for the story of the Knight of the Laughing Tree, I don’t know. At least, this will be the last time, as Littlefinger solves the question of last week’s episode: what use does he have, plotwise, in Winterfell? The answer is obviously none, and so he leaves for King’s Landing. His “smart plan” is to leave her in Ramsay’s claws to woo him and wait for Stannis to win the war and to reward her with Winterfell. As far as the political landscape of the show goes, this makes enough sense if you don’t think too hard, especially about what happens then, but Littlefinger kisses her for the first time, rendering all of this moot.

In the Small Council, Cersei does the only sensible thing in sending Mace Tyrell and Meryn Trant to Braavos, given how they are the only characters with name recognition who can make the trip. Mace remains a stupid oaf, even worse than Harys Swyft, which seriously puts the strain on Cersei’s planning abilities. She’s quick enough to take a thrust at Grandmaester Pycelle, though, telling him just how useless he is, mirroring the deleted scene from season 3 in which Tywin told him the same thing, in so many words.

She then meets the High Sparrow, who is much more effable than in the books. This will make his true nature a much bigger surprise, I’d expect. Cersei of course repeats her central mistake from the books, arming the Faith, but she also takes steps to make the High Sparrow the High Septon, which ranks a close second. Divide and conquer, ever heard of that, Cersei? Install another puppet and use the High Sparrow as the carrot to the stick. This particular elevation starts a whole series of pogroms by the faithful, with people smashing up small businesses and the city watch looking away. The storming of Littlefinger’s brothel is particularly gruesome and a promise of much worse to come. Striking, powerful imagery here. Sending them after Ser Loras is, by the way, one of the better ideas Cersei had.

The efficiency of the move is apparent when Margaery breaks down in front of Tommen, only getting her act together when confronted with his incredible naiveté. This has worked for her advantage so far, but now the pendulum swings back. Tommen is utterly useless as an ally, only as a pawn, and Cersei strategically destroys his reputation and self-esteem in his aborted attempt to free Ser Loras. Nothing that the Cersei from the books would have done due to the danger, but the Cesei from the show is much more rational, and so, the encounter remains without consequences – for now. Margaery, still utterly shaken by events, is also unable to use her own control or hold of the people. At the sign of real trouble, she instantly runs back to Grandma. She’s not a player yet, that’s for sure. Daenerys wouldn’t have given up so easily, again showing who the “younger and more beautiful” queen has to be.

On a ship on the way to the sea of Dorne, Jaime’s attention is drawn to Tarth as they pass it by. You can see conflicting emotions on his face as he realizes that he is seeing Brienne’s birthplace. How might she fare, one wonders? The episode doesn’t answer it. Bronn, on the other hand, is taking Jaime’s mind back to practical matters. Dorne is a crazy place, he tells him, where people alternate between fucking and fighting, and judging from the books, that impression isn’t far off. Rightfully Bronn worries that they won’t even make it to the fucking-part, but given that Jaime should at some point have the live’s breath to kill Cersei, the journey’s prospects are increasingly looking grim to Bronn, who at least gets the confession out of Jaime that he’s torn by guilt over his father’s death and tries to atone himself. “It has to be me”, he tells Bronn, and it strikes home. On the other hand, everyone instantly seems to guess that Jaime set Tyrion free, which makes this particular secret about as well guarded as Bruce Wayne’s secret identity.

Dorne greets the two of them well enough with a poisonous snake, first for mortal danger and then for breakfeast, and some more banter between Bronn and Jaime. The two go well together, especially since Jaime is a bit more somber than in the first two seasons, where they would have been kind of doubling the same role. Interesting that Jaime is making the same mistake as Tyrion, by the way, thinking he can buy the loyalty of some random merchantman with gold.

But they have to worry about other things, as four Dornish riders are coming up and try to take them prisoner. The outcome is a really, really good fight scene as Bronn instantly starts to even the odds by murdering two of them and then throwing one at Jaime, who is in real danger before he manages to make good of that damn hand. Bronn’s cheerful attitude is giving the whole thing the feeling of an old adventure movie, which points all the more to him meeting a violent end to teach the audience that, once again, no one is safe.

We’re then going to meet the Sandsnakes, which plays out a bit less grandiose than expected after all the buzz surrounding their introduction. The hype may work against HBO here since they really are nothing more than chicks with weapons, guided by Ellaria as the mother chick. Hopefully, this will improve, but the murder of the hapless captain for really no discernible reason at all speaks more to the idea of them being your usual badass variety. Forcing a race between the Sandsnakes and Jaime seems like a cheap way of making this storyline exciting. Let’s hope this is not the way that this is going, but even with Obara’s origin story, the Sandsnakes leave me cold for the nonce.

On the road to Meereen, Jorah is unceremoniously hijacking a fisherman’s tub to row to the city, throwing the poor guy some coins on the unconscious body. I’m sure Jorah is now thinking that everything is all right – like all the cops in those movies simply appropriating civilian cars in the middle of a chase and crashing them, all for the good cause – but I doubt the poor guy will be much relieved to see a few coppers instead of his livelihood. The cut to Jaime and Bronn on a much larger, comfortable ship is nice, though, putting two journeys back to back. For the moment, Tyrion’s wits work well enough to let him decrypt Jorah’s origin and motives quickly, which in combination with his big mouth puts a quick lid on the conversation. Given that it’s episode 4, we should soon see them being captured by slavers. Question is, where will the story go from there? Or will we make a detour to the Stone Men after all?

Finally, we get back to Dany. Barristan is giving us the other part of the story Littlefinger and Sansa missed, mudding our picture of Rhaegar, which is all well and good. Barristan is the quintessential good guy, and he will make good use of his goodness soon. For the moment, Hizdahr is making the case for reopening the fighting pits. Traditions are the only thing keeping the city together, he tells her, as an Unsullied patrol under Grey Worm is lured into a painfully obvious trap of the Sons of the Harpy. It’s at this moment where I have to again slam into my favorite side topic, the fight choreography. Jaime and Bronn’s fight was good, but as in season 3, the 300-style badassery of Barristan and Grey Worm is out of place. It would also have been another good moment to make clear how dreadfully inadequate the Unsullied are as a police force, carrying spears in small alleys and being obvious like that. But I digress. Barristan comes in to maybe save the day in a very traditional cliffhanger, which’s very traditionalistic way to me indicates that Barristan and Grey Worm will both survive. No way of knowing until next week, though.

To answer the question I posed in the beginning: we have yet another really good episode. I’m surprised, I have to admit, but pleasantly surprised. My such surprises occur for another six episodes, and I’m content.

50 comments:

  1. I was wondering whether you caught the two allusions to the R+L=J theory? First one being whilst Jon Snow is training in the yard with Stannis and Selyse looking on, The conversation went something along the lines of. Selyse" he's only a bastard" Stannis "That wasn't Ned Starks style". And the second one being when Sansa and Little Finger are down in the crypts of Winterfell and Sansa says "Rhaegar kidnapped and raped Lyanna" Little Finger doesn't respond but in the lingering look he returns you get the sense he knows there is something more to the story. maybe they weren't there and i am over analyzing, yet even my wife who hasn't read the novels queried the look Little Finger gave Sansa.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I didn't on watching, really, because for me R+L=J is so canon already that it barely registers ^^

      Delete
    2. It definitely stood out to me. After making practically nothing of Jon Snow's parentage for the entirety of the show so far, to suddenly have so much info about Rhaegar and Lyanna dumped along with Stannis raising the question that had barely been asked by anyone---if I didn't know about the theory before, I'd almost certainly start to think about it after this episode.

      Delete
    3. Probably, yes. That's why guys like me are really bad in anticipating this kind of reactions from the normal audience. Way too involved.

      Delete
    4. Is it possible Stannis will take on the role of Howland Reed? Will we find out that he was with Ned at the Tower of Joy? Or was Stannis too young at the time?

      It's kind of a crackpot theory, but those are my favorite kind.

      Delete
  2. Stefan,
    As the TV show progresses what will be the version that is remembered over time? I am asking will the legacy of the series be the TV show or the books? Obviously more people have seen the show than read the books, so will the ending the show produces be what most consider the true ending to the series?

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  3. This is such a good question that it merits a Supreme Court response, on which's list I put it.

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