UK VOD TV review: Game of Thrones Season 5, Episode 7 (The Gift)
Ivan Radford | On 25, May 2015Reading time: 7 mins
Already seen Episode 7? Read on at the bottom for some spoiler-filled analysis.
“This is the right time. And I will risk everything.”
So says Stannis – and so say we all in Game of Thrones, as Season 5 moves into the business end of its run. We’ve had the plotting. We’ve had the nasty consequences. Now, it’s time to do something about them.
Some have no doubt been frustrated by this season’s slower pace – or, to be more accurate, its lower body count. But Episode 7 reminds us how quickly things are moving along, not just compared to the progress in the books, but to where the show was one season ago. With just four hours to go until some form of finale, Episode 7 of Season 5 is like a freight train. This is crunch time: and our big players are stepping up to do the squeezing.
Jon Snow is preparing to ride out past the Wall once more to make peace with the Wildlings – and save the genteel folk south of the Wall some extra undead bodies to battle – much to disapproval of everyone else in the Watch. Well, everyone except for Sam. Good old Sam. But without his friend to guard him, Sam is far from Mr. Popular. What becomes clear, though, is that Gilly is just as in danger. After all, the Night’s Watch is dark and full of terrors, from thieves to murderers and worse.
Over in Winterfell, Sansa remains equally in danger at the hands of her sadistic husband, Ramsay. Last week’s assault, unpleasant though it was, turns out to be a major turning point in her relationship with Theon, who was forced to watch as Bolton raped his new bride. Here, they have their first real conversation – one that not only reinforces his original identity, but also introduces an inevitable request for help.
Alfie Allen does some excellent facial acting here, as conflicting emotions rush across his scared, pleading eyes: on top of the shame at his current situation and the horror from the earlier night, there’s also the guilt of betraying the Stark family to deal with. Compare that to the serene, smirking face of Iwan Rheon’s Ramsay, who seems all too chuffed with his lot in life and unafraid of any potential plot to rebel against him. That is, until Sophie Turner’s resilient wife reminds him that he’s still, technically, a bastard: Jon Snow now goes by his title, Lord Commander, even by those who don’t like him, but Ramsay is still a long way off from upgrading his own name.
If Stannis has anything to do with it, Ramsay will never rule the north: even with Melisandre still counselling against the ride to Winterfell, he keeps pressing on through the maelstrom of sleet and wind. “Winter is coming,” we’ve heard repeatedly for the past four years. Well, it’s finally here. And judging by the horrible stuff going down all over the Seven Kingdoms, conditions are icy – and set to get colder.
Lady Olenna heats them in up in King’s Landing, as Diana Rigg finally gets the one-on-one face-off with Jonathan Pryce’s High Sparrow we’ve been waiting for: Emma Peel vs Elliot Carver from Tomorrow Never Dies? Somebody pass the popcorn.
The Sparrow remains a towering figure, not because of Pryce’s stubbornly polite smiles but because he represents the opposite to everyone else around him: in a world where individuals are fighting over the Iron Throne, he is a man of the people, the ones being exploited and oppressed by these wealthy families. Just as Dany is learning to rule with the public support, an attitude that also makes her the most uniquely compassionate of our wannabe kings/queens, the Sparrow’s fiery sentiment is equally revolutionary. As ickle Tommen points out in one argument, he’s the king, but he is now powerless to save his wife, following her conviction last week.
A strong ruler, Cersei notes, learns to accept that there are things out of their control. But Game of Thrones isn’t a peaceful, happy drama about wise men and women who tolerate their circumstances. Our power-hungry protagonists are doing the opposite: fighting against them.
With Tyrion and Jorah finally arriving in Meereen – somebody smartly hit the fast-forward button on their subplot – that attitude is spreading fast. Now, we get the sense that these strands really can be tied up in only a matter of weeks, a deadline that is forcing every contender for the throne to make crucial moves to regain control. “This is the right time,” insists Stannis, a sentiment echoed by Sansa’s actions, by Jon Snow’s departure, by Jorah’s bloodthirsty appetite to go out in those fighting pits and impress his former Khaleesi.
“All rulers are either butchers or meat,” Daario tells her.
Winter is coming. And either way, steak’s on the menu.
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Additional notes (contains spoilers)
– Poor our Aemon Targaryen, who – wouldn’t you know it? – pops his clogs, as soon as Jon Snow leaves the Wall. It’s a touching final scene for the legendary Peter Vaughan, who has managed to be frail, funny, wise and doddery in the way that the the best elderly relatives are. His dying words are of his little brother, Egg, aka. Aemon Targaryen, who became king when Aemon turned it down. (Dany is now the sole surviving Targaryen that we know of.) And of Gilly – whom he advises to leave the Wall with her child as soon as possible.
– We soon get a demonstration of why that is, as two members of the Watch try to rape her. Sam nobly tries to defend her – “I’ve killed a White Walker… I’ll take my chances with you” (fist bumps all round) – but is beaten up for his efforts, until Ghost shows up and snarls in the other men’s faces. Always carry a dire wolf with you on your travels. (Also, a note to the show’s writers: More dire wolves please.) The sweet pay-off is that Gilly then takes Sam’s virginity, a scene that acts as a bizarre reversal of roles in recent weeks, as she mounts him, tenderly asking if she’s hurting him.
– Shout-out to Liam Cunningham’s beard, as Davos advises Stannis to turn back.
– Melisandre: Queen of Freaky Shadow Babies. She’s at it again, trying to convince Stannis to sacrifice his daughter to get some royal blood and activate Shadow Baby Mode in her dark magicked womb. Stannis, to prove his status as World’s Best Dad, says no. We like Stannis. We don’t like Melisandre.
– After asking him to light a candle in the top tower window, Reek betrays Sansa to Bolton. Does he mean to? Was Ramsay waiting in the tower? Did he go running straight to his master? We like to think it’s the first one, that Theon is starting to come out of his shell, but either way, Sansa is not about to be helped.
– Shout-out to Brienne, who’s still standing outside Winterfell waiting for that candle to be lit. She’s going to be there a long time. (Fiver says she just barges her way in anyway next week.)
– Tyrion getting sold to new Meereen slave owners with Jorah is a little far-fetched, as is a lot of stuff in this story line, but it’s great to see our duo so quickly arrive at Dany’s city. After gazing lovingly at his queen, Jorah turns on his bad-ass switch to brawl his way through the other fighters. His reward? “Get him out of my sight,” orders Dany. Only for “The Gift” of the episode’s title to announce himself: Tyrion. Will they be accepted into her inner circle? Hopefully. But, more importantly, where’s Varys?
– A word about Bronn, who – thankfully – is not dead after last week’s encounter with a poisoned blade. Singing in jail (oh yes, Jerome Flynn can sing) he seems to win the favour of Tyene, who torments him with the antidote to his drug. Does she really like him? Or is she playing with her food before killing him? The comical eye-rolling from the other two Sand Snakes suggests the latter. But one thing’s for sure: we can’t rule Bronn out of the count yet.
– “I am a queen. Not a butcher,” says Dany. With Tyrion and Jorah on her doorstep, she’ll soon start having to make that distinction a lot – especially if she plans to dragon her way through the Lannister armies. (Dragon’s a verb, right?)
– If Grandma Tyrell vs the High Sparrow is the high point of the episode – her threatening to withhold food from the capital, him pointing out (correctly) that the Tyrell family aren’t the ones doing the labour of picking the crops – then Cersei is an unexpected bonus.