UK VOD TV review: Game of Thrones Season 5, Episode 6
James R | On 18, May 2015
Already seen Episode 6? Read on at the bottom for some spoiler-filled analysis.
Unbowed, unbent, unbroken. That’s the phrase chanted by the Sand Snakes as they finally go into action this week. It’s an intimidating rallying cry, not just because the trio sport whips (that they use with alarming skill) but because they’re one of the few people in Westeros that really are unbroken.
Jon Snow, who has now become Lord Commander of the Watch, is nowhere to be seen here. Neither is Daenerys, who has risen to become ruler of Meereen (albeit not a very good one). Instead, we’re treated to a parade of those who are being cut down to size by George RR Martin’s relentless machine of misery.
The focus is largely on Sansa this week, as she prepares for her marriage to Ramsay Bolton, who looks increasingly like Frodo Baggins’ sociopathic cousin. Because who doesn’t love a wedding in Westeros? All we can say is that this is perhaps the most depressing wedding yet, a quiet affair with only a beaten Theon to give away Neddard’s heir.
While she’s undergoing that particular brand of torment, Littlefinger is swanning off to King’s Landing to talk to Cersei. Does he know what’s in store for Sansa at the hands of Ramsay? Does he even care?
Aiden Gillen’s smirk remains impossible to read, as he seems to continue his alliance with the Lannisters. Along with Stannis and the Boltons, that’s three houses Baelish is now playing off against each other: betrayal means business for him and it’s certainly booming. (A lot of Season 5 has revolved around such low-key political plotting and it remains endlessly intriguing, as you keep feeling the sneaking suspicion that everything could suddenly wrap up within two seasons. Winterfell will certainly be on the cards for the traditional Episode 9 climax.)
But if Littlefinger is unbowed in his ambitions, we get the first hints of what must surely be Cersei’s demise. The queen mother’s decision to unleash the High Sparrow on the city has seen him rise above the whole royal family, with Loras Tyrell under trial for homosexuality. Jonathan Pryce’s eyes burn with righteous zeal as he calls a host of surprising witnesses; a cautionary glimpse of the threat lying beneath his dirty pyjamas. On the plus side, it’s just the excuse Lady Olenna Tyrell needs to pop back on the scene: the hilariously acid-tongued Diana Rigg is one of the few bright spots in a very dark hour.
The other bright spots are, inevitably, Jorah and Tyrion, but even their merry double act is cut short (almost painfully so), as they encounter a band of slavers. It’s the conversations about Jeor Mormont, Jorah’s pa, that really lower their spirits, though, giving the Lord of the Friend Zone some sympathetic, emotional moments.
Their natural counterparts have become Jaime and Bronn, whose own two-hander (or should that be three-hander?) continues as they try to rescue Jaime and Cersei’s daughter in Dorne – a quest that delivers the best fight sequence of Season 5 so far. But it’s Myrcella and Trystane’s brief display of genuine affection and happiness that sticks with you – a reminder that joy and love can still exist in this series, without the need for incest, death or prostitution.
Can the Lannisters and Martells ever put aside their differences and allow this young couple to be together? You suspect not, the way Cersei is carrying on. And yet that’s the same trouble Arya continues to face in Braavos. We praised Game of Thrones’ production team last week for the immersive landscapes of Valyria, but here, the show displays its no-less-impressive ability to build worlds indoors: between the bowls of water, candles and hushed figures in cloaks, the House of Black and White is an immediately believable universe of its own, to the point where the prospect of Maisie Williams’ stubborn fighter finally getting to walk through an open door is thrilling. Tom Wlaschiha’s Jaqen H’ghar, whose tutoring is as harsh as ever, blends seamlessly into the shadowy set.
It’s hugely satisfying to see the Stark girls, so many seasons after Ned’s departure, actually make steps towards the Sand Snakes’ resilient motto. Sophie Turner is particularly impressive, growing more and more of a spine as she follows Littlefinger’s advice to exact revenge in the long run.
“I’m Sansa Stark of Winterfell,” she defiantly tells Ramsay’s mistress, Myranda. “And you can’t frighten me.”
Any applause soon turns to quiet whimpering, though, as we watch her go down the aisle to the sickening, foul cockroach that is Roose Bolton’s (former) bastard. Alfie Allen is equally brilliant as Theon, allowed to acknowledge his past just long enough to help demolish it. His facial expression and Sansa’s as they witness the celebration after the ceremony, though, is as nasty as Game of Thrones gets, as we again see a strong character bowed, bent and broken. When you play the Game of Thrones, you win or you die. But that doesn’t mean some truly horrible stuff can’t happen to you first. Surely, though, there’s a limit?
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Additional notes (contains spoilers)
– Is the girl ready to become no one? No. “But she is ready to become someone else,” says Jaqen H’ghar. If not a fully faceless one, then an assassin, perhaps? Or are we hoping for too much bad-assery?
– “You’re not bad for a girl.” Bronn remains the best thing going in Westeros and it’s a treat to see him in action once again: the battle against the Sand Snakes is fun little sequence, with Jaime putting up more than a one-handed fight. If only it went on a little longer.
– Equally interesting: the Sand Snakes were not there because the alarm had been raised, but to kidnap Myrcella for themselves. What exactly would they have done with her, had the Dorne guards not arrived to break up the fray? And what on earth will all of this mean for the two Lannisters? Will they be killed, imprisoned, wedded? Either way, we look forward to seeing Cersei’s face when she finds out.
– The High Sparrow is a scarily dangerous man. Arresting Margaery as well as Tyrell? We guessed as soon as the Sparrows asked her to lie under oath. Could Natalie Dormer make an Anne Boleyn-style exit sooner than expected?
– While Cersei smiles at the fall of her rivals, meanwhile, surely she must be next in line for the proverbial chop? The fact that she can’t see that is really quite tragic. In a mildly satisfying way.
– What is Littlefinger up to? Betraying everyone to Cersei, it seems his plan is ultimately to become Warden of the North, whether that’s with Stannis (defeating the Boltons and leaving him bound with Sansa) or the Lannisters (defeating the Boltons and giving them Sansa’s head in exchange for the title). We don’t want Sansa to suffer, but to be frank? As long as Bolton gets it, that’s what matters.
– Oh, Jorah. Silly Jorah and your pointless kidnapping, which has now only landed you and Tyrion as captured slaves anyway.
– Peter Dinklage has a whale of a time telling tall tales of Jorah to their captors, convincing them to take them to Meereen anyway so that he can earn them riches in the fighting pits. Will that be when Jorah and Dany finally see each other, a bloody-stained reunion over a cheering crowd?
– Dinklage has even more fun convincing them not to chop his man bits off and sell it for money. Not with him dead anyway.
– “The dwarf lives until we find a cock merchant,” they decide. How do you even find a cock merchant? The Yellow Pages? What qualifications do you need to become one? Can you endorse someone for cock merchanting on LinkedIn?
– Those parallels between Bronn and Jorah get stronger, meanwhile, when you notice that Bronn gets cut by one of the Sand Snakes – a blade that many are arguing could well have been poisoned. If this is the beginning of the end of Jerome Flynn’s character, be warned: we’ll be writing endless paragraphs in tribute to him next week.
– Right, Sansa. The poor girl has already been through the humiliation of marriage to Tyrion and the physical and psychological torture of marriage to Joffrey. We all knew that Ramsay Bolton would be a bastard in all senses of the word, but do we really need to have him rape her? Forcing Theon to watch makes it an act of shaming for both Starks, rather than just sexual abuse visited upon a single person, but we’ve seen them both shamed already. As a way of developing Sansa’s character, sexual abuse is a trope that has already been used many times in other subplots. Even as a way of developing Ramsay’s character, we’ve already had to witness all kinds of cruelty from him, both sexual and otherwise. One could perhaps argue that Theon’s castration balances the gender scales on Bolton’s general abuse, while Sansa going knowingly into the scene only adds to the strength of her as a character (you know that they will be payback eventually), but even with these caveats, the conclusion of this week’s episode still feels unnecessary. As Theon’s ordeal has shown, there are other ways to be cruel in George RR Martin’s universe.
Photo: Helen Sloan/HBO