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Monday, 4 May 2015

Game of Thrones S5E4: The Sons of the Harpy.

Game of Thrones
S5E4: The Sons of the Harpy.

For a while this morning, there was a genuine danger that I wouldn't have a chance to write this review today. Which filled me with some dread: I've managed, thus far, to avoid lapsing on my schedule (we came close a few weeks ago, but I managed to get a rec post up), so I live in terror of one day failing to fulfill my schedule-y obligations.

Right, here's the bingo as it stood at the end of last week: 

In this week's episode - and the last of the leaked ones, so rejoice those of you who watched all of those when they were leaked and had to wait weeks upon weeks for new content - Jorah sets off to take Tyrion to Daenerys, hoping to use him to regain her favour. In Meereen, Daenerys faces growing discontent over the still-shut fighting pits, and a bold move by the Sons of the Harpy. At the Wall, Stannis spends some quality time with his daughter, and Melisandre attempts to convince Jon Snow to come with them to Winterfell. Meanwhile, at Winterfell, Sansa and Littlefinger plot. In King's Landing, Cersei arms the fanatical Sparrows, recreating the ancient Faith Militant, and sets them on the Tyrells. Jaime and Bronn arrive in Dorne, and are set on a path to clash with Oberyn's daughters, the Sand Snakes.

That's a very long synopsis for what is essentially our first Plotline Holding Pattern episode of the series. I will be frank: Enjoyable though this episode was, almost nothing happens in it. Cersei's storyline advances a lot, and Jaime and Daenerys both have a little bit of plot between them (but not much), but Tyrion, Sansa, Jon and Stannis all have scenes that go nowhere, that exist predominantly to keep them in place until it's time for them to move.

Jon's storyline has some guff with Melisandre trying to seduce him that actually made me laugh out loud, because while it was clearly meant to be a dramatic scene, there is nothing sillier than Melisandre gravely remarking that she will demonstrate 'the true war' to Jon before disrobing in front of him. It's silly, and this kind of ridiculous 'how can we insert sex into this' attitude that HBO seems to have needs to go.

I mean really, that was your gambit, Melisandre?

Stannis' storyline, while it went nowhere, was perfectly pitched, I think, showing us a softer side of him, as he gruffly tells his daughter a story about how, when she was born, a peddler had tried to foist a doll on him, assuming that 'fathers were easy targets', and how he had fallen for it. I like Stannis as a character, I always have, and I thought it was a lovely scene that very aptly demonstrated that Stannis is one of the better people in this war.

Jorah and Tyrion's storyline may as well not have even been in this episode. You could condense it down to a minute's conversation and have it included in whichever episode has them next actually doing stuff. Unlike Jon's plotline holding pattern, which is at least funny, and Stannis', which was touching, Jorah and Tyrion are just there, using up precious screen time.

The same is true of Jaime and Bronn. Their storyline gives us a chance to see the Sand Snakes, which is nice, but the actual scenes involving these two feel pointless and bizarre. Jaime insists multiple times that he can't stop a war, but apparently has no problems killing four Dornish soldiers, an act that would most definitely start a war, or at least racket up tensions, especially when he's there to essentially kidnap one of Prince Doran's wards. It's a very weird storyline, and I question its necessity.

Also, I don't like Jaime. There, I said it.

Sansa and Littlefinger only get a single scene, but I did at least enjoy it. It establishes that Littlefinger is returning to King's Landing, and we get an interesting moment where Sansa remarks upon Rhaegar having kidnapped and violated Lyanna, only for Littlefinger to make a face. The face of someone considering whether to tell Sansa something important. Given that our main source of information on what Rhaegar did was Robert Baratheon, a gigantically unreliable source at the best of times, and that Lyanna isn't around to give her testimony on the matter, the matter of what exactly happened is more than a little up in the air.

The other thing about Sansa and Littlefinger's scene is that it does kind of hammer in how terrible Littlefinger's plan is here. He's trying to cover all his bases by having Sansa betrothed to Ramsay, meaning that if the Boltons win the upcoming battle with Stannis, Sansa will be able to twist Ramsay to her own will, and if Stannis wins, Sansa can be rescued and Stannis will no doubt make her Warden of the North.

But as Littlefinger points out, Stannis has the bigger army and is the finest military strategist in Westeros, and thus the odds are heavily in favour of his victory. Furthermore, we the audience know that if Sansa was on Stannis side, then the Northern houses would join him (and Littlefinger likely knows that too). Furthermore, as Melisandre points out in this episode, having a Stark on side would give them an edge in breaching Winterfell.

It seems to me that a better plan would have been for Littlefinger and Sansa to show their hand here: To go and meet Stannis and pledge to him the Eyrie's support in taking over Winterfell, and Sansa's support of Stannis' claim, in exchange for Sansa being made Warden of the North, and Littlefinger being pledged Casterly Rock and the title of Warden of the West to go along with his position as Lord of the Eyrie.With the largest army left in Westeros and the Northerners on his side, Stannis' victory would be assured, and Sansa and Littlefinger's positions would be as well, since Stannis would never renege on their agreement. 

C'mon, guys, get it together.

Which leads us onto Cersei's storyline, without a doubt the meatiest of the bunch. I liked it a lot, actually: The Sparrows have very quickly established themselves as being enormously creepy in their fanaticism, and moreover, they are clearly inspired a lot by real life. Religious police are not a new or unusual thing, they exist in some places even nowadays, and even where they are not sanctioned by governments, violent enforcement of religious standards is not uncommon - let's face it, in the UK and US we are not in any danger of exhausting our supply of violent Christians any time soon.

Also interesting is how Cersei's hatred for Margaery apparently exceeds her common sense. Cersei has been told, outright, that the Sparrows consider her a sinner, and she knows that Lancel, who has a first hand reckoning of at least some of Cersei's misdemeanors, is one of them - and yet, in an effort to get back at Margaery, she has armed them and given them free reign to violently assault anybody they see as violating their holy laws. There is no possible way that this will not come back around to bite her later on.

Daenerys' scenes are short, but notable in that they involve a massive attack by the Sons of the Harpy, one that leaves Barristan Selmy dead (or at least dying). As with last week, this presents a massive divergence from the books, and that pleases me - much as a lot of fans sulk about anything other than absolute fidelity (and will complain that terrible changes have been made even when no changes have been made at all) to the books, I'd much rather see the series diverge and carve out its own identity. 

Overall, probably the worst episode of the series, which doesn't make it bad by any means. It's a good episode, but we're starting to see the pacing drop away a little, and I can only hope that doesn't keep up. There's a lot of potential for where the story could go from here, but I think it needs to have a dramatic movement on every plotline. Stannis needs to leave Castle Black and start marching towards Winterfell, with wildlings in tow or not; that rebellion fermenting in the Watch needs to happen; Cersei needs to fall victim to her own machinations; and Tyrion needs to actually meet Daenerys. For preference, I'd like those things to happen in the next two or three episodes. 

Anyway, here's the updated bingo:


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