If you were anywhere near the Internet last week then you undoubtedly heard about the controversy caused by the final scene in “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken.” Ramsay and Sansa were married, and in an event not that unpredictable, he rapes her to consummate their marriage, making Theon watch. As the camera pans away from Ramsay and Sansa, the shot closes in on Theon’s face as he watches the girl he grew up with violently violated by his master. Apparently this transference of experience, whereupon Theon expresses his horror, and by extension, the viewing audience’s horror, was read by many critics as robbing Sansa of her pain and putting it on Theon. In other words, her rape was turned into a moment about him. Perhaps serving as the inciting incident in his redemption arc.
I defended this moment. This week’s episode challenged my reasons for that defense, but I’ll get into that later. I commented and posted articles on Facebook, such as this piece by Slate. I was outraged by critics who assessed that Sansa’s rape eliminated all sense of agency she has been building since she cued into how to play the game of thrones. I thought it was too early to tell such a thing, and robbing her character of her inner strength by having her raped was some overarching social commentary about how we view rape as society.
But then, this week’s episode happened.
There were many gifts exchanged in this episode, “The Gift,” and it occurred to me that although we are seven episodes into this season – not a whole lot has happened. This is a problem I had as a book reader as well with book four and five of George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series. Not much happens, there is a repetition of horrible circumstances and mostly small excruciating moves are made toward something big that will eventually happen. Has Game of Thrones lost its luster? The surprises and bold moves have been stalled, and as we linger in the depths of character misery – the show can be hard to watch. But I stuck it out through all of Mad Men, I watch the continued tribulations of The Walking Dead and I pushed through and finished Lost. I will not give up on Game of Thrones. I will see it through to its depressing and snow-covered end, and I will be interested to see what becomes of these characters and their miserable lives.
The Woes of Winterfell
Right, so … fuck you, Theon Greyjoy.
Okay, I just had to get that over with.
The aftermath of Sansa’s rape is pretty much what exactly what I feared in my defense of the showrunners and what they have done with her storyline. Going off book, they combined Sansa’s story with that of Jeyne Poole, who is passed off as Arya Stark and married off to Ramsay for the same purpose as Sansa. I understand this adaptation and the decision – Sansa is a main character, she is someone we all root for because she has suffered. Introducing us to a new character this far along while abandoning Sansa to little maneuverings in the Eyrie would have been bad television. But it’s hard for me to see that Sansa is still suffering.
I do not think she is broken, though it is apparent that is what Ramsay is trying to do to her by locking her up during the day and raping her every night. I’m horrified. Am I surprised? No. I thought she would be in better condition, I thought she had it within her to play Ramsay’s sadistic game to her advantage; I thought she was smarter than to put her trust in the man who betrayed her family. Her quick decision to rely on Theon and to trust him to send a signal to her “friends in the North” was really desperate. I wanted the writers to maybe show us that she has been slowly working Theon, building up his confidence, building up his sense of self so that she might use him for her bidding. Maybe this will happen, but it hasn’t happened yet, and so now I am pissed about this whole situation, because Sansa is once again the victim, the captive, the damsel in distress and she doesn’t have to be.
Theon goes straight to Ramsay with the information that Sansa entrusted to him. Ramsay takes Sansa out for a stroll, and we get a taste of the bitterness Sansa has built up toward Ramsay. She exploits his one known weakness: the legitimacy of his birth. Though he was legitimized by royal decree, Sansa reminds him that Tommen Baratheon is just another bastard. She flaunts her birthright before his eyes, reminding him of his need of her; challenging him with a stare. Except she never said it out loud. Had she said it, I would be on board for the way this all played out. She doesn’t verbalize the little leverage she could have on him; the power of her birthright. Sansa has the stronger claim to Winterfell due to his inferior birth. She insinuated it, but she didn’t say it. It was another missed opportunity to gain some ground for her character.
And then what happens? Ramsay shows her the flayed body of the serving woman who told Sansa about the signal, about her friends in the North. So Sansa is knocked down a couple notches because she realizes that Theon betrayed her and her one known ally within the castle was tortured and flayed because of her loyalty to the Starks (which sends a specific message to others who might try to help her). Sansa also learns that Jon Snow is now the Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch and I could practically see the wheels turning in her head. Will she try to escape to The Wall now that she knows this information? Will she continue to endure and wait for Stannis to attack and beg his mercy? Will she find her way to the top of the broken tower and light a candle to signal to a waiting Brienne that she needs help? Or will she learn how to leverage Theon to do her bidding and use him in some way to be free of the Boltons?
Whatever it is the writers intend to have happen to Sansa, I hope that it is something in which she gets to surprise us all and wield her name and her power. Perhaps as Stannis attacks, she will be with Ramsay and ram that corkscrew she picked up into his neck. I don’t know, but if she becomes just another whimpering victim then I am going to be pissed. The books, though different, do the same thing with Sansa’s character. She never quite figures out how to play the game to her strengths.
Oh, and Brienne apparently spends all day staring at Winterfell; what a waste of a character. What will her role be? You see what I mean about the lack of big surprises? It’s like the whole show is just sitting around waiting for something to happen, or taking us to someplace where things will happen, but in the mean time just exposing us the general misery.
Things at The Wall
Jon Snow prepares for yet another journey beyond The Wall. He’s off with Tormund Giantsbane to Hard Home, where all the free folk have fled. His intention to bring them back and let them behind the wall for protection is an unpopular one. Alliser Thorne takes yet another opportunity to express his disapproval to Jon Snow, and I dunno, did anyone else catch a whiff of mutiny in the air? The Wall is just a bunch of people who apparently voted for Jon Snow, but don’t really like him? This also pisses me off, because Winter is coming, ya’ll. Jon is doing the humanitarian thing. If he doesn’t bring the Wildling’s behind The Wall, he is leaving them out there to become part of the army of the dead. He needs them as allies. Every person at The Wall should be able to see that, but hey, we know how climate change and immigration is handled by bitter old people with closed minds in our own reality, so I suppose Thorne’s sour disposition shouldn’t be such an irritating disappointment.
Farewell, Maester Aemon Targaryen. After some dreams about his brothers, one of the final Targaryen’s left in the world leaves it behind. Daenerys is officially the last dragon. I loved Sam’s speech, and then Alliser Thorne had to make some threat. Um, your Maester just died, and Sam is the closest thing you have to someone who can fill that position. Do you really want to just threaten him and kill him when he could be of some use? This is where the senselessness of things just gets to me, because it’s like no one sees the bigger picture.
Not only that – more rape! Gilly is attacked by two men of the Night’s Watch and Sam comes in to try to save her. He gets the crap beat out of him, and if it wasn’t for a brief appearance by Ghost, Gilly would have been raped and Sam would have died. So Gilly nurses Sam and mere hours of nearly being taken against her will – she gives herself to Sam. It was a sweet scene in that the two obviously care for each other, but now Sam has broken his vow and his list of enemies is growing. I can’t see that these two will be safe at The Wall for much longer. I care about Sam and Gilly, because they’re one of the purer aspects of the show. Perhaps “pure” is the wrong word since Gilly and her baby are the products of incest and Sam is violating his vows as a sworn brother of the Night’s Watch. But you know, romantic.
What the Red Woman Wants
Stannis’ army in North is stalling like the Germans invading Russia. The elements are against them and they are fighting in foreign territory. Ser Davos tries to convince Stannis to return to The Wall until the storm passes. I don’t know where they are geographically right now. They are South of the Wall and close to Winterfell, and yet the snow is worse where he is than at either of the possible destinations were he to retreat or go forward. I’m not familiar with the jet stream of Westeros, but that seems rather odd to me. This is either an inconvenient snow storm, poor editing on the part of the show’s production team for visual inconsistencies, or the Red Woman has something to do with this.
I’m not saying she’s Storm, I’m just saying that it seems rather convenient that they are stuck, losing sellswords, losing ground and Melisandre suggests that Stannis sacrifice his own daughter to gain the victory. That’s right; the Red Woman has led Stannis to this very juncture. He can chose to burn his daughter alive and win the war by taking Winterfell and the North, becoming King before The Long Night, and lead the fight against the army of the dead. Stannis is not having it, and Melisandre looks genuinely surprised when he dismisses her. I mean, what the hell did she expect? Shadow babies assassinating his younger brother are okay, but sacrificing his only daughter … over the line. I hope it stays over the line, but we know how badly Stannis wants to be King.
Melisandre has seen herself walk the ramparts of Winterfell. Stannis has looked into the flames and seen a great battle in the snow, but he is right to call her visions into question. Did she always know this sacrifice was the only way he could achieve victory, or has she been manipulating him? Of course she has, but what is her agenda? What does the Red Woman really want?
Jorah and Tyrion manage to get bought at a slave auction as a fighting duo and are immediately sent into one of the lower fighting pits in Meereen. Unexpectedly, Daenerys shows up at the fight to show support under the direction of her soon-to-be husband. Though Jorah isn’t sent out with the first group, once he hears the Queen is there, he takes it upon himself to invoke Russell Crow and wear a concealing helmet while he proceeds to demolish all the remaining fighters. Riddle me this; Daenerys can watch her dragons burn and eat a man alive, but her stomach turns at this sight of senseless violence? Perhaps it is her sense of justice that pushes her through the lesson-teaching cruelness she occasionally dishes out to prove her point. However, something in Dany lifts when she sees this giant of a man lying waste the vicious killers that drove her to distaste only moments before. Does she see him as an emblem of justice? Daario said all rulers are either butchers or the meat, but Dany can’t bring herself to the level of a butcher and that butchery now surrounds her in the fighting pits she agreed to reopen.
Jorah bounds out and puts an end to the fighting, but when he takes off his mask, Dany dons her own mask. She doesn’t want anything to do with him, even though she could totally use his counsel, she cannot forgive his betrayal. But Jorah has come with a gift for the Queen. Enter Tyrion Lannister; eager and willing to play his part in all of this and win a place at the Queen’s side. I don’t know how Daenerys will react to all of this, but I have a feeling she won’t be quick to trust Tyrion and she may never forgive Jorah.
I’m interested in how this is going to go. Tyrion and Daenerys are very different personality types. He is a talker and could talk circles around her, but she possesses the blood of the dragon, a proven conqueror and mother of dragons. That blood, by the way, is the last of its kind in the world (that we know of) and showed its first signs of conflict in her relationship with Daario. He suggests that the two of them just get married and Daenerys refuses him, because she is a Queen and could never marry a sellsword. However, it is brought to her attention that she chooses this title, this life, this conquest, this arranged marriage, but she could choose something different. I feel like a lot of the lack of movement in Meereen is going to be change with the reappearance of Jorah and the introduction of Tyrion Lannister. Team Daenerys and Tyrion? I mean, I’m down for it.
King’s Landing Crumbling into Chaos?
The Queen of Thorns goes out in search of the High Sparrow. “Don’t spar with me little fellow,” was perhaps my favorite line of the episode. Yet, spar they do, and we gain a greater understanding of this man who leads the Faith Militant. He is a servant of The Seven and he is carrying out a fanatic sense of religious justice. There is no way to bribe a man like that and he makes a point that Margaery and Loras will be tried like anyone else. Their wealth and position will not save them, because religious justice supersedes the politics of man. The High Sparrow makes another point that these King’s Landing folk always seem to forget; they are the few and the people are the many. How long do they think the people will put up with the endless corruption and sacrifices made to sustain a lifestyle of privilege and wealth for the few?
King Tommen realizes that he may as well not even be a King, because he has absolutely no power to wield in order to help Margaery escape the Faith Militant. Cersei soothes her son, and while I believe in her love and devotion to her children; scheming and plotting behind his back is probably not the way to win his love. Cersei promises Tommen that she will speak to the High Sparrow on his behalf and see what can be done about Margaery.
Littlefinger and Lady Olenna meet up for some good ol’ scheming. The two collaborated together on the murder of King Joffrey, so at least their work together has proven advantageous to depleting the Lannister’s power. I think Littlefinger’s assessment of his lost asset in the high scale whore house he ran is symbolic of where he stands in relation to King’s Landing. He’s there, but he knows things are going downhill for the Lannisters and the Faith Militant is out of control. His speech to Cersei last week proves to be nothing but lies as he again plots against the Lannisters. Lady Olenna reminds him of their entwined fates concerning the death of Joffrey, and Littlefinger offers a gift.
Littlefinger’s gift of a handsome young man plays to Lady Olenna’s benefit as she is made aware of Lancel Lannister and his connection to Cersei. When Cersei goes to visit a dirty and disheveled Margaery, she never manages to make it out of the Sept. Finally, her evil deeds have caught up with her. Strip away the gold and the ornaments and what remains is something simple and true, says the High Sparrow. High born or low born, when dealing with matters of faith everyone is judged equally. The High Sparrow takes particular satisfaction when Cersei is apprehended while screaming the same thing as Margaery, “I am the Queen!” These titles mean so little where the faith in involved and it’s all Cersei’s fault. For some reason I didn’t get the satisfaction that I should have when seeing Cersei locked up. I hate her and she’s evil and yet the episode was so muted that it made this significant event seem a little less thrilling.
Oh, and Dorne
Almost forgot about Dorne. Jaime and Bronn are being held prisoners. Jaime seems to have a pretty decent chamber for his high born ass to be held in. Myrcella visits him there and gets all angsty teenager on him and basically tells him he’s wasted his time (and ours) by going to rescue her.
In a less posh cell, Bronn is succumbing to the poison that the spear was covered with in last week’s weak ass battle. The Sand Snakes are being held in the cell opposite him. Again, here is another opportunity to character build and all we got was some weird strip tease to keep the tits and ass viewers interested. Oh, Bronn is given the antidote to the poison and he lives.
My Overall Thoughts:
When are things going to get real? I don’t know, because the story in the source text is just as dull at this point. I thought the show would do a lot better at picking up the pace and moving us towards bigger happenings, but right now it doesn’t really feel like a whole lot is going on. Back in season two and season three we could root for Robb Stark and the moral righteousness of the Starks, but everyone is dead. The only possible hero or heroine we can get behind now are Jon Snow, who is breaking thousands of years of hateful tradition to save thousands of lives yet is hated or Dany, who is marrying for politics, has no idea how to rule and is half a world away from the land she wants to rule to restore her family’s dynasty. Stannis seems more like an instrument in Melisandre’s plans than an actual legitimate leader.
I’m mad about Sansa’s situation because I was really hoping that she would figure out a way to manipulate Ramsay. She could still get there, but this week was just depressing and again felt like small moves on a chess board. We’re still hovering over the board and moving pieces into place, but nothing significant has really happened. I’m interested to see how long the Faith Militant stays in power in King’s Landing. It was the Targaryens who ended their reign before; perhaps it will be the same again.
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.
- Game of Thrones – “Book of the Stranger”: Come on, baby, light my fire
- Game of Thrones – “Blood of My Blood”: Guess who’s coming to dinner
- Game of Thrones – “The Red Woman”: New-fallen Snow
- Game of Thrones – “The Lion and the Rose”: The moment we’ve all been waiting for
- Game of Thrones – “Oathbreaker”: Hanging with Olly