Can we all agree that this episode of Game of Thrones ended on pretty much the most somber note of the season thus far? We knew it would be bad. We know Ramsay is sadistic; we know Theon is broken; we know Sansa has been left to fend for herself. But the three of them in that final scene were perhaps the most heartbreaking moments I’ve experienced on the show for a while. Tragedy is never far from anyone on this show, but Sansa Stark has not had an easy go of it, and it doesn’t seem like things will be getting any better.
The title of this week’s episode, “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken,” are the words of House Martell, and while they were only uttered in one storyline of this episode, those words carried weight throughout every story. It’s not an easy thing to piece these episodic glances into our characters’ stories into a cohesive and thematic whole, but sometimes it works.
Arya’s apprenticeship at the House of Black and White is not moving at the pace she would like. She’s still cleaning dead bodies and scrubbing floors. Her curiosity about what is being done with the bodies is eating away at her. Arya is a character of action; her patience practically nonexistent. However, it isn’t until her confrontation with the Waif that we get an idea of what all this busy work is teaching Arya. The Waif feeds Arya her story, one not too dissimilar from her own; a tale of vengeance and murder. But is it the truth? Arya ate it up because it marked a kind of kinsman ship; a connection that she is obviously seeking in order to get some answers. Arya wants to play the game of faces (which I found to be an ironic labeling). And when she realizes that lies and truth are a part of that game, a new step in her learning has begun.
Jaqen H’gahr wakes Arya from her sleep with the question “who are you?” Arya’s response is “Arya.” Having learned about the significance of a believable lie she has abandoned her usual answer of “no one.” Arya answering as “no one” has always been her attempt to get to the end without taking the journey. And can you blame her? Every journey she has taken she has never arrived at the desired destination. Starting with her journey to The Wall with Yoren, which landed her in Harrenhal; then the Brotherhood without Banners landing her in the hands of The Hound instead of at Riverrun; then her journey to the Twins only to arrive during the Red Wedding; then to Eyrie with The Hound to see her Aunt Lysa only to find out her aunt has just died. Arya’s hysterical laughter upon finding out that fact is no great shock considering her track record. So now she’s finally in Braavos, she’s finally admitted to the House of Black and White after being turned away after that journey as well, and yet she is still just Arya. She hasn’t changed. The vengeance that drives her is still alive inside of her character, rooting her to her true identity, something she can’t let go of but buries it instead, like needle beneath the rocks.
Once Arya cues into the fact that she has always been, and is still playing the game of faces, she tries to lie about her origin story. Every time she betrays the truth Jaqen whips her. She isn’t convincing enough, she is still so tied to her identity of Arya and her prayer of hate that she didn’t realize she stopped hating The Hound until Jaqen makes her realize it with his whip. How can she lie convincingly when she is still lying to herself? This is an interesting realization for Arya, one she wasn’t inwardly aware of, and yet Jaqen can tell. How can he tell? How does this game of faces work? With his final question he asks if she wants to be “no one” and she replies, “yes.” She gets a vicious whip for this one, knocking her to the floor. She screams at Jaqen that she doesn’t want to play this “game” anymore, and he informs her that the Faceless Men never stop playing the game. Which is exciting and scary, but to be an assassin, that would have to be true, right?
Later in the episode, Arya is scrubbing the floor when a father and daughter come in as a last resort for a peaceful death. Arya tells the girl a false tale, but in it is a believable truth. Even though Arya doesn’t realize it – all this time she has spent with the dead bodies, cleaning them, anointing them; she has learned the gentle gift of death. This scene is an important one for Arya, as it earns her passage into the place the bodies go after they are cleaned. Her lies bring the girl peace; she is able to convince her that the water will heal her with a story of her own near death and rebirth. Her delivery of death is a gift for both the father and his suffering daughter. Death is not just about vengeance.
Arya follows Jaqen through the door and into the chamber of many faces. I’m not too clear on the rules of the Many-Faced God and how all of this works, but the entire chamber is filled with faces that have been offered to the God. Visually, it was creepy but at the same time beautiful (reminded me a little of all the heads in Return to Oz). Are these the faces the Faceless Men are able to move in and out of because they belong to the Many-Faced God? That would be pretty freaking awesome. Jaqen recognizes that Arya is not ready to be “no one” yet, but she has learned enough about the game of faces to become “someone else.” Arya is always pushing, unbroken by her grief and open to what comes next on this current journey. I just hope she actually gets to her destination.
Tyrion the Talker
Jorah has greyscale, and we’re not sure how fast the disease spreads, but he’s finding little solace in the company of Tyrion. The two are paired in the books as well, so I’m happy to see it on screen and see their dynamic evolve as Tyrion informs Jorah of Commander Mormont’s death by mutineers in the Night’s Watch.
Tyrion pries a little deeper into the slightly less guarded Jorah – seeing as how they have survived an ordeal with Stone Men, the doom, and seen a dragon – who is by circumstance and adamant demand, Tyrion’s traveling companion. Tyrion wants to know what it is about Daenerys that has Jorah all twisted into knots. Jorah recounts the events from the season one finale when she walked into the funeral pyre with stone dragon eggs and emerged unburnt, unbroken, and with singing baby dragons. Apparently, that sight can change a man – and an entire viewing audience for that matter. It changed Jorah from a cynic to a believer, but Tyrion is not so easily convinced. How is this young woman who has never set foot in Westeros going to rule it? What will her rule bring to the world? What is so great about Daenerys Targaryen? (Saving the realm from the army of the dead with her dragons would be a start, amiright?)
Tyrion is the best companion. He’s been a travelling companion with pretty much everyone, and he’s not only smart, but funny and thoughtful and incredibly resourceful. Like getting the two out of a jam with Pirates who want to take them to Volantis. There is magic in a dwarf’s cock (who knew), and Jorah will fetch a good price as well. Tyrion instead convinces the Pirates to take them to Slaver’s Bay where the fighting pits have been reopened and the “famous” knight Jorah Mormont can make them some money. It’s really the best plan they have at this point, because it will fast track them to Meereen, which is where they want to be, and we all know that Jorah’s time is running out.
I’ve spent way too much time on the internet looking up fan theories about Game of Thrones. However, there was this one blog I came across that basically accredited Littlefinger for being the great orchestrator of the chaos in the realm. He is the reason Jon Arryn was poisoned and Ned Stark came to Winterfell, and well, you know the rest. Even while he moves against the crown, he puts on a front for Cersei that she buys with shocking gullibility. He incredibly manages to squirm out of his dealing with Sansa Stark by actually revealing her whereabouts and Lord Bolton’s decision to marry her to his son to further legitimize their claim in the North.
Of course Cersei is pissed and wants Sansa’s head on a spike, but I don’t think that is what Littlefinger wants. He advises that Cersei let Stannis and the Boltons battle it out in Winterfell, and then while the victor is still licking his wounds, Petyr Baelish would become Warden of the North. I guess it is assumed on Cersei’s part that Sansa will be handed over by Littlefinger. Hell, at this point…maybe he’d do it! His goal is power. He’ll never have the Iron Throne, but he reminds me a little of Walder Frey, always snubbed by the larger houses and so he has become powerful by orchestrating chaos.
Honestly, I don’t think Littlefinger will give up Sansa. He thinks Stannis can win the war, or so he said to Sansa in the crypts of Winterfell. I think he is paying a great deal of lip service to the Queen Mother, and has his own plans in mind. Even if Stannis wins, Littlefinger can swing his manipulations in a different direction as Lord Protector of the Vale and offer the knights of the Vale to Stannis to overtake the Lannisters and Tyrells who are at each other’s throats. Sansa is his pawn to curry favor with Cersei, but what will she be by the time he returns to Winterfell?
Battle of Tarts
Lady Olenna is back. Her first scene made me chuckle, smelling the shit of King’s Landing from five miles away. She’s come to do battle with Cersei. However, Cersei took some mental notes from the way her father conducted business and pretends to be writing a letter of high importance as Lady Olenna sits in her company. A show of power, importance, and position (wait, I think my boss does this to me). The play on words and insults with the sling shot of calling each other “tarts” was clever and well delivered. I knew this would be a good showdown, but I actually expected a little more.
Cersei is a proven player in the Game of Thrones, but what she is doing is making an enemy of the wealthiest House in Westeros. The Tyrells also supply the crown with food and supplies to make it through Winter. The heir to House Tyrell cannot be imprisoned by the Queen Mother. Cersei, of course, has kept her hands clean of this and defers all fault to the religious fanatics. Lady Olenna’s threats fall on deaf and stubborn ears. I think if Cersei had it her way she would be the only one ruling. I mean, she is practically the only one ruling, but she does it all through the name of her son. My question is: if Margaery is the Queen, then why doesn’t she have any power? We’ve not seen her involved with the business of ruling, only the business of public relations. Is it because Cersei has kept true power out of Tommen’s hands?
Lady Olenna does do a good job of threatening Cersei and diminishing her way of ruling by comparing her to Tywin Lannister. Lady Olenna didn’t trust Tywin, but she respected him because he understood that to maintain peace, sometimes you have to work with your rivals. This isn’t something Cersei is capable of doing as she demonstrates in this scene and in every episode this season. She is out to destroy the Tyrells, and is it all because of the prediction of a Woods Witch?
Cersei assures Lady Olenna that the matter will be cleared up once Loras faces a small inquest held in the Sept by the High Sparrow to determine if the charges hold any merit. Well, that just didn’t go well at all for the Tyrells. Loras denies all charges, and Margaery is there as a witness to his innocence of all charges. And in walks Olyvar. I knew that guy would be Loras’ undoing when they were caught undone by Margaery earlier in the season. So now, not only is Loras being held prisoner, but Margaery is also taken prisoner for bearing false witness before the gods. There will be a trial held for them both. You can see in the stare exchanged between Cersei and Lady Olenna that this is a declaration of war. Cersei’s sins are just as rumored as Loras Tyrell’s…so what is keeping her safe?
Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken and underwhelmed. Jaime and Bronn make it into the Water Gardens in disguise, interrupt a pretty hot make out session between Myrcella and her betrothed, and the Sand Snakes are unleashed at the same time. What this amounted to was some fighting, and ultimately the end to the fighting by Doran Martell’s command. I just don’t care about this storyline. The Sand Snakes are once again underwhelming in their presence, there is no character building, there is little point to this entire story besides Jaime feeling the need to redeem himself for letting Tyrion go – resulting in Tywin’s death – by bringing Myrcella back to King’s Landing to be married off to some other twit with a title. Until these girls are more than just fighting bastards, they don’t matter to me. There is no substance to their existence.
Sansa Stark of Winterfell
I don’t know how Myranda ends up being the one to bathe Sansa and act as a hand maid, but whatever; it served to show that Sansa isn’t as daft as she used to be. She knows that Myranda is manipulating her by trying to scare her with mentions of Ramsay’s past pursuits that have bored him. She calls Myranda out as being in love with Ramsay, an astute assessment. However, Sansa foolishly believes her title will protect her, for she isn’t just some girl being toyed and tortured by a bastard. She is the heir to Winterfell – she is the key to the North. She says as much to Myranda, and I felt a surge of game playing power in that moment. Sansa’s false identity is washed away like the black in her hair, and she holds fast to her name and then she gives it to Ramsay Bolton.
She was beautiful. That wedding was just gorgeous, the candles and the snow, and in the gods wood. All of it, so fairytale-like. I think they did this on purpose so that the juxtaposition with the final scene that we all nervously knew was coming was even more of a blow to the heart of viewers. If she were marrying someone else, it could have been the wedding of her dreams, but no, Sansa is given away by the man who betrayed her family to the son of the man who actually killed Robb. So much sadness shrouded by so much beauty; like Sansa herself.
The final scene was the worst. The bedroom of terrors where Ramsay humiliates Sansa and further fucks with Theon by making him watch as he brutally takes her virginity. Tyrion never touched her, and yet here is Ramsay – defiling the innocent flower that was Sansa Stark. What will she do with the emotional turmoil resultant from this terrible event? How can she control Ramsay as Littlefinger suggested when he is a sadist? What I want is for Theon to help her get to Brienne before Stannis lays siege to Winterfell.
Those are my hopes and dreams, which will probably be smashed, because that is what this show does. After this final scene when the credits began to roll, my boyfriend was very quiet before solemnly mumbling that he doesn’t think he likes the show anymore. This is also the man who smiled at me during the Red Wedding scene just before shit got real and said, “I’m so happy that everybody’s getting along!” He seemed so innocent and genuine in his enthusiasm as I covered half my face with a blanket and waited in trepidation for what I knew was coming. He took a swig of whiskey and yelled expletives at the screen after everything went down at the Red Wedding, but his despondence over what happened to Sansa was much more disturbing. I wonder if other viewers feel the same way.
Sansa’s assault isn’t in the books. This is all new material. In the books there is a girl passed off as Arya who is wed to Ramsay to help legitimize the Bolton’s claim in the North. I know the things that happened to her and I do not want them to happen to Sansa. I hope this is the catalyst for Theon to piece back together the broken remnants of his former identity and help the girl who grew up as his sister.
I liked the episode because of Arya and her progress in the House of Black and White. I’m glad that Lady Olenna is in King’s Landing because her family is being torn apart by the faith militant and Cersei. I can’t wait for Jorah and Tyrion to actually get to Meereen, but I thought all the questions posed by Tyrion about Daenerys’ power were legitimate questions we should all be thinking about. I hate everything happening in Dorne, mostly because I don’t care. I have no emotional investment. Perhaps now that everyone is captured there can be real conversations instead of declarations of anger. I want to know more about Doran Martell. I want to know what the hell Jaime thinks he is doing; like, his path of redemption is marred by raping Cersei, which wasn’t written that way in the books. If he hadn’t done that – I think I would be rooting for him as a character, but he did do that and now his character arc feels very messy. I don’t get it, I don’t believe in it.
Also, I hate Ramsay Bolton. He broke my boyfriend.
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.