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Monday, 18 May 2015

Game of Thrones S5E6: Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken.

Game of Thrones
Series 5, Episode 6
Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken.

(Warning for discussion of sexual violence.)

I'm actually a little surprised that we've not had an episode with this title before. How many Great House mottos have we had by now? Winter Is Coming was the very first episode, and Fire and Blood was the last episode of the first series, so the Starks and Targaryens had theirs there. We've had the Martells for this episode, so that's three out of seven, leaving us with the Baratheons' ('Ours Is The Fury', if it turns up anywhere expect it to be an episode about Stannis wrecking stuff), the Lannisters' ('Hear Our Roar', expect it in an episode about Tyrion or Cersei), the Tyrells' ('Growing Strong'), and the Arryn's ('As High As Honor').

Speaking of the first series, there was a brief shot of it in the 'previously on' segment. Tyrion looked so young.

In this week's episode, Tyrion and Jorah continue their trip to Daenerys, only to end up captured by slavers. In Braavos, Arya's tutelage under the Faceless Men continues, and a father and his daughter come seeking a particular service at the House of Black and White. In Dorne, Jaime and Bronn clash with the Sand Snakes as they attempt to rescue an unwilling Myrcella. Meanwhile, in King's Landing, Littlefinger and Olenna both return (separately, that is) and Loras must face an inquest by the Sparrows. In the North, Sansa weds Ramsay Bolton.

There is a massive problem in this episode, and we will be talking about that, believe you me - but before that, let's talk about everything else.

Like how Myrcella has aged about ten years?

This is, in many ways, an episode of payoffs. We get payoff on Jaime and Bronn's plot as they finally tangle with the Sand Snakes, and on Ellaria's plot as her treachery is discovered by Prince Doran, at the same time. We get a payoff on Arya's plot as she reaches a turning point in her character arc and is permitted into the inner sanctum of the House of Black and White - a vast vault filled with faces. For the King's Landing plot, we get some fairly sharp developments, with Loras and Margaery being arrested to face trial, and Littlefinger seemingly double-crossing (triple-crossing? He's already double-crossing Cersei by helping Sansa, so by betraying Sansa he would be triple-crossing her, right?) Sansa by informing Cersei of her whereabouts, although there is every possibility that he might actually be quadruple-crossing Cersei. Sansa marrying Ramsay could, also, be considered pay-off on a plot, although we will get to that in due time.

That's good. Too often, Game of Thrones is permitted to turn into a show where the plot is always brewing but never actually reaching a head, and that's not how any good plotting is meant to work - ideally, your storyline should be punctuated with pay-offs of increasing intensity and scale, with enough regularity that your viewer doesn't feel like they're getting bored. To use The Flash as an example, its first major pay-off comes when the Reverse-Flash appears to Joe in episode six; its second three pisodes later with the first confrontation between the two speedsters; its third about seven episodes after that, and so on, with each incident fuelling the plot further and raising the stakes while providing a catharsis for the viewer.

Also, Olenna's back. Yay Olenna!

By far my favourite plotline this episode was Arya's, which saw her attempting to play the 'game of faces' a few more times - and learning what it is (lying about your own backstory in a way that's totally convincing). The scene where she 'masters' the game, telling a sick and suffering girl about her own tragic and totally fake history of her father bringing her to the House of Black and White to cure her of her own illness, and how the waters of the pool (which we know are, in fact, incredibly poisonous) healed her, is one that left me very ambivalent, and I think it was supposed to. Arya is essentially tricking the girl into committing suicide, and that's reprehensible, but you can see the tortured, twisted logic that makes Arya believe that she's doing the compassionate thing - and it's the same tortured logic that drives the Faceless Men.

My least favourite storyline was Sansa's. It got off to a good start, but it fell apart in the final scene, and here we get to my big bugbear with this episode. I could talk about how this is a massive divergence from the books (where, of course, Sansa is never anywhere near Ramsay, and Jeyne Poole, who is, experiences some truly horrifying torments at his hands), but I think that's getting away from the point: The point, I feel, is that having Ramsay victimise Sansa in such a way is both a slap in the face to her character arc in the show thus far, and felt weirdly voyeuristic on HBO's part. HBO has had this problem before, where they have treated sexual assault in this bizarre and uncomfortably leering kind of way, and while the scene focuses more on Theon's reaction (which is kind of sketchy in and of itself), I got that same vibe here.


It also makes no sense for Sansa's character arc. At this point, she arguably should be acting much like Littlefinger. You know what Littlefinger would have done? He would have driven a knife into Ramsay's throat, then forced the knife into Theon's hand and screamed for help because oh no oh my god this man who Ramsay has tortured and broken and who was like a brother to me just snapped and killed him oh no. Sansa, who despises Theon and Ramsay both, arguably has even more reason to do this.

Instead, we got a scene that is one of the most brutal in the show so far, and which felt not only entirely out of place, but also more than a shade creepy. The showrunners have talked about this scene, assuring us that it's not setting back Sansa's arc, that it all ties in, and - well, I'll believe that when I see it. 

I actually have no idea what's coming next week, so I'm not going to make any predictions for it, but what I would dearly like to see is more Arya and the Faceless Men, and at least something to reassure me (and no shortage of fans, I'd imagine) that today's final scene with Sansa wasn't just senseless voyeurism by a network obsessed with being Too Edgy 4 U. 

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