Monday, May 25, 2015

Presents for the setup

As with previous seasons, the seventh episode (The Seven?) tends to be the setup episode for the end of the season. As of the end of tonight, the balls are pretty much all in motion and it remains to be seen what peaks will be reached in episode nine. Will it be Stannis' siege of Winterfell? Or the great games in Meereen? Or Jon and Tormund's encounter at Hardhome? Or all three?

The title of this episode was The Gift. It's clearly a nod to the meeting of Tyrion and Daenerys, but it's also easily extended to any of the other events that took place. The most obvious theme is that of the High Sparrow and his followers. In their eyes, they're merely extending the gift of the gods' justice, wisdom, and protection to the average people in the face of the depredation of the nobility. Of course, the way they'd see it, it's also a gift to the nobility, in order to rescue them from their lives of sin and eventual damnation. The faith has been waiting 300 years to throw off the dominance of the blood of the dragon and return the land of the Andal faith to the actual descendants of the Andals. Their chance has arrived and it will be the tools provided to them by the Queen Mother herself who gives the faith the control of the throne that it has always desired. Interestingly, the Sparrows feel that they are doing the same work as the Brotherhood without Banners: protecting the common people from being injured by the wars of the nobility. Of course, the Brotherhood under Lord Mallister carries the banner of the Lord of Fire, while the Sparrows are devotees of the Seven. Will it be the common people exchanging a war of houses for a war of faiths? Such a gift.

But the theme is also that of children. Many people choose to see them as a gift and I think the example of that and its complications was obvious throughout. From the passing of Aemon's life while he warned about the preservation of Little Sam to Jaime's frustration at being told the truth by the daughter he can't admit to having to Cersei's moment of true emotion when she told Tommen how important he was to her. These are emotions deeply rooted in not just the human impulse for survival (Aemon) but in the animal instinct for the preservation of one's young (Jaime and Cersei.) Aemon continues to think of the mission of the Watch and the preservation of the realm, but the parents think of the preservation of their blood and hoping that someone doesn't take that gift away from them, be it Trystane Martell and his scheming family or an army of religious fanatics. Stannis also steps into that parental role by finally revealing his waning faith in order to spare the life of his only child.

Strangely, the two scenes where that gift theme is most obvious- Tyrion and the prison scene with Bronn -are also the two scenes that seem to be the clumsiest in a story sense. While I get that Tyrion had to make contact with Dany this season (his path toward that goal in the books is far longer, far more convoluted, and nowhere near as distinct a desire on the part of Tyrion), bringing the queen of Meereen to a wilderness fighting pit outside the city is about as hackneyed a plot shortcut as D&D have ever delivered. There are a hundred different reasons, having little to do with the "traditions" of Hizdahr's family, why that's simply not a good idea (the Queen bothering to pay attention to lower fighters, the Sons of the Harpy, etc.) Even the mechanics of the scene played out poorly, as there was little reason for Dany to remain there to watch the butchery, "traditions" or no, and then even less for her to watch the masked warrior (Jorah) go through the process of beating everyone before revealing himself. The whole scene felt like a poor premise and just as poor execution. Granted, it stuck out as a budgetary and pacing necessity, as there was probably only enough money to do the great games once and it would be logistically difficult for Dany to recognize and receive Tyrion in those circumstances.

Likewise, why Tyene would bother to spare the life of an enemy in exchange for simple compliments is completely beyond me. They've already established that the Snakes all seem to have Obara's lust for and approach to enacting vengeance but also that Tyene was the one looking for Ellaria's approval. Are they presenting her as someone constantly looking for attention, such that she'd give some unnamed mercenary the gift of life just for saying that he appreciated her tits? And this only after the sexposition moment of her explaining that she'd not only envenomed him with the Long Farewell but obviously gotten it to speed up by getting his blood moving to the wrong places (for a prison cell)? I'm really lost here. The Snakes are kind of a fan favorite among book readers that has little to do with their actual impact on the story. So far in the show, they easily rank among the most misused characters and in a role that seems wholly superfluous. Are D&D using them simply because the Arianne storyline of the books was too much of a tangent and otherwise the Dorne scenes would be nothing but Doran scheming amidst his gout?

But, in the end, the greatest gift, of course, came from Littlefinger. In revealing what he knows about Cersei's sex life to Olenna, who then passed that knowledge to the High Sparrow, he not only reaffirms his alliance with the (currently) most powerful house in Westeros (They should change their words from "Growing Strong" to "Winter is coming... and we got the food.") but also removes the rogue element near the throne (Cersei) that engendered a greater threat to all of those in power and, for that matter, trashed his bordello. That's Petyr; always thinking ahead even while he gets revenge. Olenna's quote ("You've always been rather impressed with yourself, haven't you?") may be true, but few have more reason to be at this stage than Lord Baelish, the truest example of a relatively lowborn man rising to unmatchable heights.

Side notes:

I'm sure all of those still seething in frustration over the Ramsay/Sansa storyline must have been mildly apoplectic after watching Reek betray everyone else in favor of his torturer yet again. That Hollywood ending isn't getting here anytime soon. Sophie Turner does it again, though. That moment where she tried to shake Reek back to being Theon was gripping, even if it is a fair question that, given the weather, how a candle would stay lit in the Broken Tower.

Likewise, John Bradley's performance in the attempted rape scene with Gilly was really superb. The monotone voice while he warned them when he rose to his feet was excellent. OTOH, the appearance of Ghost, while welcome, was rather jarring. Ghost's owner and other self, Jon, has just set out on a dangerous mission to the far side of the Wall. Why in the world is Ghost still in Castle Black? Of the few complaints I've had about the series, the use of the wolves is one of them. Working with the animals is extremely difficult and time consuming, so it's at least partially understandable, but the bizarre changes to Ghost's role and presence seem to be annulling one of the key points of the book and an important aspect of Jon's character and his time at Castle Black.

While arming himself, Jorah reveals that he's still wearing his family ring. There's no way any slaver would let someone being sold on the block retain that kind of value. That said, the expression on the slaver captain's face when Tyrion finishes beating his restrainer was fantastic. "See what I'm offering? This dwarf kicks ass!"

You're going to get tired of me saying two things this season: 1) Jonathan Pryce is killing it as the High Sparrow and 2) Where the hell is Alexander Siddiq (Prince Doran)?

Lines of the week:

"I believe this mission to be reckless, foolhardy, and an insult to all the brothers who've died fighting the Wildlings."
"As always, thank you for your honesty."
The way Jon just continues to shut down Ser Alliser never fails to entertain.

"Your name is Theon Greyjoy."
It almost looked like Sansa broke through there for a second but, no...

"This is the right time and I will risk everything."
Even the devotion of the red priestess, apparently.

"Oh! Oh, my!"
Sam's moment when Gilly finally gives him the business was great.

The scene with Lady Olenna and the High Sparrow had a few:
"Don't spar with me, little fellow."
I've gone out of my way to find other Diana Rigg films just because of how great she is in this role.

"The people always do the dirty work."
Fer reals.

"A lifetime of wealth and power has left you blind in one eye. You are the few. We are the many."
Heard this one before, too.

"I'm sorry about the locale."
"No, you're not."
Seriously. She's so good.

"Lies come easily to you. Everyone knows that. But innocence, decency, concern? You're not very good at those, I'm afraid."
Margaery with the brutal truth before the ravens finally come home to roost.

And the winner:

"All rulers are either butchers or meat."
Daario with the sage advice.

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