Note: Events from “High Sparrow” are discussed in detail in the post below. Proceed with caution.
“High Sparrow”, last nights Game of Thrones and the third of the season, was a close-to-perfect GOT episode directed by TV-vet Mark Mylod. It had everything you can ask for: concrete plot movement, impactful character moments, and a few remarkably well-done singular scenes. This was the season shifting into drive, beginning to move towards its “different than the books” territory, ambitions, and end game. Last year, showrunners David Benioff and DB Weiss said that they couldn’t imagine GOT lasting any more than 7 or 8 seasons. They’ve had to use that plan as a loose basis for storyboarding (while also getting spoilers from Martin). It’s very similar to the latter seasons of Lost; perhaps the only other drama in television history as ambitious as GOT in terms of telling a wide range of stories. The producers knew the end was coming soon but weren’t sure exactly when. This forced them to keep their ultimate arc in mind, though only to a certain extent, as they fleshed out episodes. This can be both good and bad. It’s great to be able to consciously steer you thematic material towards its boiling point, but can become problematic in terms of pacing and single-season narratives due the uncertainty surrounding how many pages the writers have left to do their story justice.
So as GOT begins to shift into its proverbial “third act”, if you will, the show almost demands to be watched differently. There’s going to be no more hand-holding or didacticism (for the most part). The viewer is already well aware of who’s who and the bleak realities of this universe. The stage has been set. From here on out, what matters for GOT is what happens and how these well-built characters respond. Who will survive? Who will fall in love? Who will reign supreme? These rather typical TV questions now become relevant. And calling them “typical” is not a slight to the show seeing as, at its heart, Game of Thrones is merely a soap opera on a grand scale.
Let’s start from the end of last nights episode. In Volantis, the increasingly drunk and illogical Tyrion was kidnapped by Jorah Mormont (in his season 5 debut), who says he’s bringing him to the queen. The obvious question that’ll hang over our heads for a week is, which queen? Cersei maybe? Though, as we’ll get to addressing momentarily, she’s starting to look less and less royal thanks to one Margaery Tyrell, Ph.D in male hormone manipulation.
Or is Jorah going to bring him to Daenerys, hoping to get back in her good graces? The hilarious thing is that if Jorah does plan to bring Tyrion to Daenerys, this episode, which she didn’t even appear in, will have done more for her storyline than the last 2 seasons combined (zing! I’ll rip this storyline even when its absent from an episode).
This Cersei-Margaery rivalry is getting real heated, on some Cube vs Eazy in the early 90’s/Lohan vs McAdams in Mean Girls type shit. It’s so interesting because what Margaery is doing, using both her body and intelligence to run things behind the face of the king, is what Cersei has done for much of her life. Hell, back in season 2, during the Battle of the Blackwater, a drunken Cersei gave Sansa a rather genuine pep-talk about this very power she has. Speaking of drunken Cersei, we get Margaery sneak-dissin’ Cersei’s drinking problem subtly in this episode (something along the lines of “It’s a bit early for us, but have some wine”). The entire exchange between these two was brilliant. So much mutual animosity hidden behind peppy infliction and false smiles. Outstanding work from both actresses.
Cersei is seemingly doing everything she can to hold onto her power, now attempting to surround herself with the company of the High Sparrow, leader of the still-mysterious religious group Lancel Lannister is a part of. Cersei’s inner circle also includes experimental maester Qyburn, whose shaking operating table gave us a friendly reminder that The Mountain is still alive.
Jon Snow, now Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, also finds himself having to play politics all of a sudden. After a completely unnecessary expository scene with Davos explaining to Jon that Stannis “sees something in him”, everyone’s favorite almost-virgin appoints the experienced but disagreeable Ser Alliser as First Ranger. This feels like a wise move by Jon, as no matter what he personally thinks of Alliser, the man has support within the Night’s Watch and does appear fit for the job. When Janos Slynt, the Wall’s resident coward, refuses Jon’s orders to go to Greyguard, Jon is forced to execute him. This scene, rather surprising in the way it removes Janos’ head just as it looks like Jon might show him mercy, is probably the most important moment in Jon’s story thus far; showing us that despite his enviable moral compass, Snow has developed the nonchalant stroke of occasional brutality needed to lead in this world. Stannis Baratheon certainly agrees.
Far away in Braavos, Arya -if its even fair to call her that anymore- is having her dedication tested inside the House of Black and White. The opening scene from “High Sparrow”, where we see the interior of this building, is yet another gorgeous GOT set (perhaps because Arya is spending so much time sweeping it). It’s clear that Arya isn’t going to become a deadly assassin who can change her face overnight, but I have a feeling something will arise that speeds up her curriculum a little more than Jaqen would like. She’ll skip a few grades.
Arya throwing away her belongings and fully dedicating herself to the faceless men would’ve been a genuinely shocking moment had she not hidden her “sword” Needle in the rocks. We’ve seen Needle puncture some skin, but given Arya’s ambitious hitlist that she’s always repeating, it feels as if her little sword is functioning as Chekhov’s gun within this story. It’s going to kill somebody major. My beat would be The Mountain, if only for the fact that there’d be some delicious irony if this gigantic man was brought down by a sword best used for picking up trash.
In this seasons finest acting moment so far, Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) gives us a brief monologue of how she came to serve Renly Baratheon and how she still plans to exact revenge on Stannis. It was a perfect blend of heartbreak and anger that Brienne, ever so tough, has kept bottled inside for most of the series. Like Arya and her hitlist, the Brienne-Stannis showdown is something that the show is likely leaning towards eventually. Also, we were teased with the future possibility of Brienne training Podrick to fight, which merits its own Better Call Saul-style spinoff if you ask me.
Last week I talked about Sansa being unsure of which way to lean, and now it appears as if she really is becoming Littlefinger with lady parts. She’s going to marry Ramsay Bolton, basically Joffrey with black hair, as a political move. Sansa continues to realize what needs to be done (at least according to Littlefinger, who kind of reminds me of this guy). Also in Winterfell, we have Theon/Reek (who kind of reminds me of this guy, pardon the political incorrectness, I’m just playing of course). Theon overhears the Bolton’s discussing not having the strength to combat against a full-on revolt. Perhaps the sight of Sansa will be enough for Theon to remember who he is give this information to the right people.
“High Sparrow” is a great episode both in terms of what it does for the series moving forward, and in its own shining moments (Cersei/Margaery, Brienne’s scene, the beheading of Janos). The show is obviously hiking towards major changes this season. Characters are interacting with others whom you’d never imagine them speaking to back in season 1 or 2 and new locations are becoming central to the mapping of the story. Next week’s episode, “Sons of the Harpy”, also directed by Mark Mylod, implies that now Daenerys will have to deal with new things coming to light.
Final Verdict: Certainly the most entertaining episode of the young season, “High Sparrow” managed to set the wheels in motion while having some outstanding individual scenes that feel like they could’ve taken place in a more overall-dramatic episode.
5 quick tidbits:
- Michael McElhatton, who plays Roose Bolton, is officially billed as a series regular starting with this episode. The likelihood of a war in the North seems quite high.
- There was no Jamie/Bronn this episode, and nothing from Dorne. I suppose that a storyline so juicy should be given plenty of episodic focus rather than occasional peak-ins.
- I think it’s hilarious that prostitutes in Volantis are dressing up as Daenerys. You know you’ve made it when common folk have weird sex fetishes about you.
- On top of the High Sparrow, we were introduced to Waif (Faye Marsay), who was the other girl at the House of Black and White that Arya interacted with.
- “High Sparrows” marked the third straight episode this season written by Benioff and Weiss. Next weeks is written by staff writer and production assistant Dave Hill.