If there is one thing season five has proven, it’s that this is very much a show built on the past. What has been a season of mostly rising action, the level of tension is also rising and we know that this story will peak, it always does, and crazy things will happen. Yet, even deeper than this season, as a series on the whole, all of the actions being carried out are happening because of things rooted in the past. When Robert Baratheon rose in revolt against the Targaryen dynasty – everything changed. Those repercussions are still rippling throughout this world we are pulled deeper into still with characters, bloodlines and story arcs that we can’t help but watch. I think as a viewer and a book reader, it’s important to remember where it all began. Some would say when Jaime pushed Bran from the tower, or when Catelyn arrested Tyrion, or when Ned Stark lost his head. Yet, everything we’re watching is the result of one incident that occurred back when the Mad King reigned and the seven kingdoms were united.
There was a moment in “Sons of the Harpy” when Littlefinger described this inciting incident that served as a catalyst for pretty much everything leading up to where the series began: Prince Rhaegar Tagaryen choosing to crown Lyanna Stark the queen of love and beauty at the Tourney of Harrenhal. Lyanna Stark was promised to Robert Baratheon, and Rhaegar was already married to Elia Martell of Dorne, but still he chose to lay a crown of blue winter roses upon her lap. As Sansa points out to Littlefinger, Rhaegar was later to kidnap and rape her Aunt Lyanna. Robert Baratheon raised an army against the crown to get Lyanna back from this malicious rapist. But does that sound like the same kind of man who would go out and sing to the people in the streets of King’s Landing and donate the proceeds to charity, as Barristan Selmy describes Rhaegar to Daenerys?
I figure I will start here since I want to continue to discuss the conversation between Sansa and Littlefinger in the crypts of Winterfell. Sansa mentions that her father never discussed his sister. It’s interesting, that a man who went to war to retrieve his sister from the hands of a horny Targaryen, would never talk about the woman she was or the woman she could have been. Littlefinger’s re-telling of the Tourney of Harrenhal paired with Lyanna’s mysterious death, Ned Stark’s forsaken honor – returning from war with a bastard baby – and Barristan Selmy’s praise of Rhaegar doesn’t add up somehow. There is something missing from the story, there is more, and those of you who believe in the theory that Jon Snow is the child of Lyanna and Rhaegar may have just gotten a little more evidence. Littlefinger obviously understands much more than he is letting on to Sansa, but he plants seeds of information in her head and we watch as they grow.
Littlefinger is headed back to King’s Landing, for a reason that wasn’t quite clear except that he must keep up appearances with Cersei, even while hedging his bet in favor of Stannis Baratheon soon coming to take Winterfell from the Boltons. Yeah, it is convenient for Littlefinger to leave, because he is a scheming man, not a fighting one, and yet it is a bad time to leave Sansa alone with the Boltons. These people are crazy. Yet, Littlefinger plants the idea in Sansa’s head that Ramsay is already taken by her. That is some straight up bullshit. Ramsay sees Sansa as an opportunity, but we all know what he’s like, and I don’t think that Sansa is in any kind of position to out maneuver the evil that dwells in the soul of Ramsay Bolton. She’d have to really put herself out there in order to control him as Littlefinger suggests. Sophie Turner has given interviews with spoiler-ish information about some scenes that occur this season that were uncomfortable for her to film. I imagine those are on the horizon. Though the kiss with Littlefinger was creepy, we’ve seen it before. I wonder if Littlefinger really believes that Sansa can pull this off or if he is truly unaware of Ramsay Bolton’s sick hobbies, as he indicated not having heard much about him when they first met. My honest opinion is that Littlefinger expects Sansa to survive and hold out for Stannis.
However, Sansa is now put in a position where she must use her mind and her body to manipulate the situation to her advantage until Stannis either conquers Winterfell and names her Wardeness of the North, or Littlefinger comes up with another scheme. It’s her game to play now.
Stannis Learns to Hug
Stannis’ emotional scene with his daughter revealed not only the nature of her disease, grey scale, contracted from a doll that was meant to kill her because Stannis was the brother to the Usurper, resulted in an unexpected and emotional conclusion: eye contact and an awkward hug. Even though he was advised to send Shireen away, and his wife sees her as a product of her own weakness, Stannis called for every Maester that would come until she was healed. She is his daughter. He is a King. And Melisandre claims there is power in her blood.
So What’s in Jon Snow’s Blood?
I knew the robe was coming off the moment Melisandre entered the Lord Commander’s chambers. I think Game of Thrones enthusiasts can sense the onslaught of bloodshed and nudity. But even before she makes it to Jon’s chambers, there is some talk about Jon Snow. Selyse notices how fond Stannis is of the boy and takes a couple stabs at Jon’s legitimacy by calling him out as Ned Stark’s bastard with some tavern wench. Stannis doesn’t seem sold on this well accepted tale. As a man as glued to his principles as ole Ned who lost his head, Stannis doesn’t think that Jon Snow is the product of a broken marriage vow and lust. He says it wasn’t Ned Stark’s way. So who is Jon Snow? After Stannis agrees to take Melisandre with him on his march to Winterfell, after his last screw up which included losing an entire fleet to wildfire that Melisandre likely could have prevented, she stands watching Jon Snow in the courtyard of Castle Black. Stannis admits to needing her, and then asks what it is that she needs. And with her back to Stannis, her eyes on Jon Snow, she answers, “To serve my lord.” And which lord is that? The Lord of Light? What does the Lord of Light want with Jon Snow?
In a scene that made me want Jon to forsake his vow again for another redhead, things got a little heated. She initially tried to convince him to come South with them to Winterfell as he would be an asset in a siege. However, as Jon just proved by signing a request for reinforcements from Lord Bolton, he is committed to the Night’s Watch and will not engage in the wars of the seven kingdoms. Melisandre quickly tells him that there is only one war: the war of life against death. This is definitely something the two agree upon. This is the very reason Jon is trying to build up defenses at The Wall and negotiate with Wildlings. There is only one war – and he and Melisandre both know what war that is … so what is Stannis to her if her war is at The Wall where death itself intends to attack the realms of men?
So Melisandre gets naked and starts on about the power of life, the union of male and female to make a whole, to create life and light and cast shadows. Basically, she wants another shadow baby from someone who has enough power in them to give it to her. She already told Stannis he was too weak, but there is a power in Jon that she says he holds back, and that is his weakness. It’s a really convincing seduction speech, but it doesn’t succeed. Jon refuses her advances on the grounds that he is still in love with Ygritte. And just as Melisandre leaves his chambers she turns back and does the creepiest thing she could possibly do – channels death or some kind of internal knowledge from within Jon, and says to him what Ygritte would always say, “You know nothing Jon Snow.”
The small council is growing smaller and smaller. This is exactly what Cersei wants because she is power hungry, but this will come at a cost. It always does. Cersei sends Mace Tyrell to Braavos with the lovely Meryn Trant as company to speak to the Iron Bank about their debt. Wait … isn’t Meryn Trant on Arya’s kill list? And isn’t Arya in Braavos? Also, does anyone see Mace Tyrell surviving that journey? Should get interesting.
Meanwhile, she meets with the High Sparrow and for purposes that later become clear, she issues a decree enacting the Faith Militant, a form of religious justice that existed before the Targaryen’s took power. So Cersei knowingly empowers a fanatical religious cult with military status to carry out the justice of the Seven. As we saw, things got very crazy very quickly. Soon, Loras Tyrell was taken into custody. Only then is King Tommen informed by an enraged Margaery that her brother has been taken into custody by order of his mother.
Tommen’s naivety is really rather sad, you’d think he’d be a little sharper considering what happened to his father and his brother. Cersei is ruling in his name while also leaving him powerless to put a stop to what she has started. When Tommen does try to approach the Sept to speak to the High Sparrow he is halted on the steps and between the Faith Militant and the Gold Cloaks there would only be blood if he continued any further. And judging by the cat calls from the believers in the background, Tommen is not popular among the Sparrows. Tommen chooses wisely, and leaves peacefully. Cersei has tied his hands, but has also managed to incite mass hysteria in King’s Landing where sinners are being punished. But who has sinned more than Cersei Lannister? In one fell swoop, Cersei has managed to ship Mace Tyrell off to Braavos and almost certain death, imprison Loras Tyrell, and now Queen Margaery Tyrell is surrounded only by enemies. Margaery sends immediately for Lady Olenna. Let’s hope she gets there fast because things in King’s Landing are only going to get worse if Stannis succeeds in taking Winterfell.
Jaime, Bronn and the Sand Snakes
Jaime is obviously trying to make amends for releasing Tyrion which resulted in the death of his father and the disdain of his sister, his lover and the mother to his children. His covert journey to Dorne with Bronn turns out to be not so covert as their arrival is soon given up by the captain of the merchant ship they are taking to Dorne. I like their dynamic with one another, it replaces the bromance that once existed between Tyrion and Bronn. Some comic relief, some fighting and some insight into what it is that Jaime is actually trying to accomplish. He is trying to do something right, which we are reminded of when they pass Tarth. Jaime undoubtedly thinks of Brienne and her faith in oath keeping. In Jaime’s mind he is still trying to fill out the pages of accomplishments for all the Commanders of the King’s Guard. What has he done with his life? What is important to him? What is he willing to do?
This is also when we get to meet the Sand Snakes for the first time. I’m so unimpressed. There are four women in a lean-to in the desert with a lot of rage. I’m not saying that rage won’t result in an attack on Princess Myrcella, especially now that they know that the Kingslayer has arrived in Dorne. But I feel like if you’re going to talk up these bastard warrior daughters of Oberyn Martell then our introduction shouldn’t be an angsty display with scorpions, the captain informer and a spear through his head. I’m all for female power, but why are they camped out in the sand? Why aren’t they rallying people to their cause?
Nymeria, Obara and Tyene definitely carry a ferocity within them fed by Ellaria’s callous grief. We get to see some their weaponry skills and hear a little backstory, but I felt like this was an underwhelming introduction to the Sand Snakes. Remember when we met Oberyn Martell back in King’s Landing? Now that was a character introduction done right.
This kidnapping turns out to be rather convenient for Tyrion. The Queen he is being taken to is in fact not his sister, which he feared, but rather Queen Daenerys. Through his logic and quick wit, Tyrion is able to identify his captor, Jorah’s purpose in taking him prisoner and the reason for his being dismissed from the Queen’s council. I think that on the boat ride between Volantis and Meereen, Tyrion will be able to come up with a scheme to present both he and Jorah in a favorable light upon revealing themselves to the Queen. The only question is: will it work?
After Ser Barristan Selmy tells Daenerys about how her brother Rhaegar used to go sing to the people of King’s Landing and collect money to give to charity, she asks him to go sing her song for her. Dany’s popularity has plummeted. To make matters worse, she is refusing to recognize a long recognized custom in Meereen, which is basically gladiator-type fighting. Even though the fighters would be free to choose to fight, and even though Daario told her of his own experience in the fighting pits, she refuses to make this allowance.
The Sons of the Harpy then make their big attack. They slaughter Second Sons and Unsullied, killing everyone associated with the new ruling regime. The uprising in Meereen has begun and I have no idea how Dany will get out of this without some serious help. Perhaps this is where Tyrion will come into play? Perhaps this is where Drogon will come into play? I don’t know, but what I do know is that seeing Grey Worm and Ser Barristan Selmy collapse together amidst their enemies for a ruler they both believe in – it broke my heart. Not Red Wedding breaking, but like, while I wasn’t expecting him to go out and successfully sing songs and make Dany popular again, I didn’t expect him to die.
This was a tense episode, again it feels like the story is still building. Situations, temptations, connections are all coming into play that I think the last half of this season will see through to some kind of conclusion before leaving us with a cliffhanger for season six. I was glad that there was a particular focus paid to the Rhaegar and Lyanna storyline as well as Melisandre and Stannis’ mutual fascination with Jon Snow (who successfully said ‘no’ to shadow baby making). For someone who knows nothing, he knows not to mess with Melisandre. The Sand Snakes are going to need character building for me, because what I saw tonight was just a bunch of angry women with weapons that want to kill a little girl for a cause that, by law, was not illegal. So, I hope we see some more development there.
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.