One thing I find interesting in these first episodes of Season Five is the highlighted concept of ruling. What does it mean to rule? And who really rules? What is power? What is justice? In King’s Landing, the scrambling for power is political and cunning. The Lannisters and the Tyrells are the closest to the Iron Throne, but Cersei’s idea of ruling excludes her son, the King, and contrasts sharply with the game that Margaery plays. In Meereen, Daenerys is starting to awaken to the reality that she has no idea how to rule, but that she is a conqueror, a leader, and she could be a beloved ruler if she knew how to play politics.

Jon Snow was just recently elected Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch at The Wall, and has a rebel King, a brotherhood full of haters, thousands of Wildlings and Winter to deal with. On the road, Sansa is learning that ruling is maneuvering pawns in a greater scheme for power with the tutelage of Littlefinger, the master manipulator. Like Varys told Tyrion in the last episode, the people who lead wouldn’t be able to if it weren’t for despicable men like themselves; men like Littlefinger.

I’m not entirely sure how old all these characters are in the show, but most of them are teenagers all dealing with the concept and actualization of ruling other people. Robb Stark (sigh) once said that Ned Stark likened being a ruler to being a father to every one of his subjects. Dany only knows birthright and her hard core role as a Khaleesi of the Dothraki. Cersei considers the people to be weeds that want to strangle her alive, weeds she must rip up by the root. Littlefinger and Varys are orchestrators of the whole charade. Jon Snow is just a kid who has to establish respect or risk losing his position. Sansa is just realizing the power of her name and her position, but now must test that surrounded by her worst enemies. Arya is learning how to follow; how to release her reliance on self-ruling and follow along with what is happening in the House of Black and White on something like faith.

No, not Needle!

I remember reading the description of the interior of the House of Black and White in the book and trying to picture it. The god of many faces is the god of death, and the people, who come to the House of Black and White, like the man focused on in the first scene, are eventually granted their desire to die. All of the gods are represented here in this room because men of any faith can appeal to the god of death. He has many faces, because every man must die and every man carries his own belief.

It’s clear Arya is having a difficult time of understanding what’s happening, but what she is driven by is a call of some sort to become a Faceless Man. But it seems that in order to do this she must earn her way up the ranks, she must learn and see, and let go of all of that hate she carried with her to Braavos. To become “no one,” she must let go of Arya Stark. Now, Arya has frequently changed her identity throughout the show to stay alive, but now she is doing so in an effort to take a path that will lead her to becoming a Faceless Man. A Faceless Man has no identity; he is the servant of death and that looks to be where our Arya is headed. She hasn’t released Needle yet, and I wonder if that will be the ultimate sacrifice of her previous self, or if she will keep it. I’m interested in learning more about the process of becoming “no one” and if Arya will be capable of letting go of her past.

Sansa’s Choice

It is made clear to the audience from Roose Bolton that the Northerners are not cooperating. Just as they responded to King Stannis, they responded to Lord Bolton that they only serve the Starks. Lord Bolton tells Ramsay that his flaying and his sick retributions to minor houses could result in an uprising of the Northerners. The protection that Lord Bolton had prior to the betrayal of Robb Stark was all based on an agreement with Tywin Lannister. With Tywin dead, and the Lannisters being bled of power, no army would dare take on the North to defend the traitors to the Starks.

A marriage between a Bolton and a Stark would be just the thing to keep the Northerners in their place. However, and I just want to throw this out there, Stannis also needs a Stark in Winterfell to gain the North. Who is Sansa more likely to throw in with if the opportunity arose; the man who was named King by her father, or the man who stabbed her brother in the heart? These are future thoughts, but they are coming.

Sansa has once again been handled by Littlefinger and when they arrive to Moat Cailin and she realizes his intentions, she must make a choice. He spells it out to her, but we all knew it was coming. It is time for Sansa to claim her place as a Stark. It seems dangerous, because of Cersei is crazy, but as Littlefinger says, the Queen Mother’s power wanes and the Lannisters would never send an army into the North.

So, Sansa is to wed Ramsay. I hope she does something horrible to him before he does something horrible to her. This is not shaping up to be a pretty scenario. Theon/Reek is there just waiting for her to recognize him, and now that Sansa is in the picture Ramsay’s crazy harem appears to feel jilted. And yet, I don’t think Littlefinger will let anything happen to Sansa, because of his creepy affection for her. Plus, he is Lord of the Vale, and the last time the Warden of the North and the Warden of the Vale banded together against the crown they nearly eradicated a dynasty.

Book readers: we’re obviously in new territory. In the books, the Lannisters work it out so that Theon Greyjoy confirms the identity of “Arya Stark” and they keep the North by wedding “Arya” to Ramsay, and all of that is being re-written, but I like it. We don’t need more characters and more complications. These major players need to be intersecting and the story is building even more. I can’t wait to see what happens in the story line. I’m nervous. However, seeing Sansa make her decision at Moat Cailin and then adopt the false persona when greeting the Boltons…I think she may be more capable of playing the game then we think.

Off with his Head

Jon Snow does not have an easy job cut out for him, and in Stannis’ own stiff way he’s taken a liking to the Stark bastard. (Um, where is Melisandre by the way?) Even though Jon refuses the offer to be named Jon Stark, Lord of Winterfell and Warden of the North, Stannis gives him a bit of advice. Stannis suggests that Jon send Alliser Thorne to East Watch, to keep his enemy far away. But Jon is of the mind that enemies must be kept close, so he appoints Thorne as First Ranger. This is a respectable position, one that Thorne is not blind to given his treatment of Jon in the past. This is a position that Thorne recognizes enough to step out of the way when Janos Slynt disregards the Lord Commander’s command.

Janos Slynt is stupid. His pride and his refusal to recognize Jon’s authority place him in quite the predicament. Jon’s got a lot on his plate, and I certainly wasn’t expecting a beheading. That scene paralleled last week’s beheading in Meereen with Dany making the call – but the outcome was very different.

At the last minute, Janos begs for mercy, like Mossador in last week’s episode in Meereen. But Jon must hear Stannis in his head telling him that too much kindness doesn’t make you feared, and if you aren’t feared then you can’t lead. So, Jon must carry out the sentencing, and because he is the bastard of Ned Stark he must carry out the sentence himself. He must be respected as a leader or the Night’s Watch will crumble. Is it just me or did I catch some satisfaction from that beheading? Jon has all that anger, grief and resentment pent up inside, and then he has all the power, orders the justifiable death of a man he can’t stand, and the power rush must have been amazing.

All I am thinking is that Jon needs to be careful. He gets that tiny nod from Stannis, meaning the King approved of this choice in rule – but what does that mean? Jon can’t back Stannis, but is he willing to learn from him? He is the man his father named as the rightful King of the Seven Kingdoms. But how will this appear to the rest of the Night’s Watch? And that the hell is he going to do with all those wildlings at his gate?

Margaery: The Queen

It is clear that the power struggle in King’s Landing is leaning in the direction of the Tyrells. The Tyrells have all the money, Mace Tyrell is Master of Coin, and his daughter is now the confirmed and consummated Queen of Westeros. The scene in which Cersei must hear the crowd chant Margaery’s name on the way to the Sept reminded me of Season One when Viserys realizes that the Dothraki love his sister. Cersei will never be loved, and she will never hold real power again.

What little power Cersei has is quickly diminishing. Yes, she still plays a role in the politics of King’s Landing. But Margaery Tyrell has learned from Lady Olenna, and it seems that her power of manipulation over Tommen is going quite well. Tommen is infatuated and completely uninterested in ruling, so the power of the Iron Throne seems to be in Margaery Tyrell’s hands.

The Sparrows

However, Cersei has been in King’s Landing most of her life and she is an established diplomat, so the High Septon comes to her when he is driven from a brothel and forced to take a walk of shame through the streets to display his sins to the people he betrays with his “piety.” The Sparrows seem to be growing in number, and the man leading it all, referred to as the High Sparrow, who gave his own shoes away, feels that the need for a title gives him power he doesn’t wish to possess. Of course he says this bit about the deal with the title to the Queen Mother, a woman struggling to name her position. Margaery herself asked what she should call her now that she was no longer Queen Regent. The thematic element of titles and names was very prevalent in this episode.

Despite the High Sparrow’s humanitarian efforts, which disgust Cersei and compel her toward no sense of goodwill, she still attempts to negotiate with the man. In her mind, the faith and the crown are dependent upon each other for their mutual survival. I don’t think this High Sparrow is of the same belief, seeing as how he is trying to fix what the crown has broken and hasn’t seen fit to tend to: the destitution of the people.

Other Happenings:

  • Brienne and Podrick are headed to Winterfell. I will be interested to see how all of this turns out. We also got a really touching scene between these two which I thought provided great character development for them both. Brienne explained her connection to Renly Baratheon and how he saved her from embarrassment and being made a joke of at her own ball. It took the show a while to get to the depth of Brienne’s affection for Renly, but I really loved the story.
  • We also learned more about Pod and how he came to be Tyrion’s squire as a form of punishment. Brienne’s decision to train him to fight and to ride like a knight was a warm hearted part of the episode.
  • Varys and Tyrion have arrived in Volantis, which looks a lot like Asia, and the slave city is all alight with talk of the Mother of Dragons. Daenerys has a very strong presence in this infamous slave city, and so she should, she’s been on a campaign to free slaves. Even the Lord of Light has an interest in Daenerys Stormborn, Mother of Dragons. She is after all, immune to fire, was re-birthed from fire and has three fire breathing dragons. I feel like the Targaryen House words and the Lord of Light’s message are interconnected.
  • After Tyrion realizes he has lost his taste for whores, he goes out to take a piss and who else should find him but a sulking Jorah Mormont who no doubt believes that taking the Imp to the Queen will win him her favor back. Whether with Varys or Mormont, it looks like Tyrion is headed to meet Daenerys.
  • Oh, and Qyburn going a little Dr. Frankenstein on The Mountain. That’s creepy.

Overall Thoughts:

I really liked tonight’s episode and I wonder if it’s because so much of it was “off book.” The departures from the source text in Sansa’s storyline really have me interested. Plus, I feel like the story is really moving at a good pace and in a way the audience can understand. There are no more riddle-me-this discussions in front of the Iron Throne between Varys and Littlefinger, they are in play now. All of our major players are in place, and most of them are trying to figure out how to rule and what to call each other.

There was definitely a strong thematic element weaving through tonight’s episode about the power of titles and family names. From Sansa Stark needing to wear her name like armor; Arya Stark needing to shed her identity; to Jon Snow turning down becoming Jon Stark, but accepting the title of Lord Commander; to Margaery now being Queen and the King now being a “man”; the High Sparrow and his speech on the hypocrisy of titles; the many names and manifestations of the Dragon Queen; King Stannis; and, the confusion over the title and the role of power of the Queen Mother.
Names, titles, and identities are so often linked together that it should be interesting to watch how all of this unfolds. This definitely isn’t a shock value heavy season, but I feel like there are some great things happening with the pacing of the story and the movement of each episode.

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Amanda Lowery lives, writes and studies in Baltimore where she is held hostage by potholes, stray cats and rats that make her watch way too much TV and rhyme unnecessarily. You can find her book reviews and pop culture thoughts at amandasthinkingoutloud.blogspot.com.

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