More than any other series on television, an episode of Game of Thrones can often feel like 48 minutes of watching players set up a chessboard wherein, to paraphrase another classic HBO series, “all the pieces matter.” Last night’s episode, “High Sparrow,” was no different. And in the case of the dueling queens — Margaery and Cersei — they were literally moving a pawn around the chessboard in the form of King Tommen. But despite brief detours following the Lannister siblings’ plights in both King’s Landing and Volantis, the episode was mainly about (three of) the surviving Stark children and each one’s struggle to accept, reject, or reclaim their name.
Starting with the youngest (this season, anyway), “High Sparrow” picks up right after Arya was let into the House of Black and White last week. Turns out training to be a Faceless Man requires a lot of menial labor. In addition to suffering taunts from fellow trainees, Arya has to spend most of her time cleaning the floors. When she questions the purpose of such meaningless tasks to Jaqen, he basically tells her to keep waxing.
Turns out Arya can’t quite become the thing that she wants to become until she lets go of who she’s trying to leave behind. In addition to her worldly possessions, she must also abandon the name Arya Stark if she truly wants to be “No One.” Which we later see is easier said than done when Arya is unable to drop Needle into the waters of Braavos. Instead, she hides the sword under a bunch of rocks like Rick Grimes.
Meanwhile, Arya’s sister Sansa is also coming to grips with being a Stark — being on the lam will do that to a girl. Despite dying her hair and hanging out with Littlefinger, Sansa’s name and identity is the driving force behind Baelish’s latest ploy for power. Instead of marrying Sansa himself, in a swerve I didn’t see coming, not-Mayor Carcetti arranges for Sansa to be wedded to Ramsey fucking Bolton (of all people) so that the Boltons can solidify their hold of Winterfell and the North. You know Ramsey’s a horrible excuse for a person when his potential marriage to Sansa makes you ship her with Littlefinger instead.
So what does Sansa get out of this arrangement? I mean, it must be nice to go back home to Winterfell, but not if the cost is marrying the sadistic bastard of the man who murdered your whole family. Littlefinger is able to couch the arrangement in the context of avenging her family and reclaiming the North. Perhaps the plot is for her to kill Roose Bolton once she’s married into the family? Either way, bringing Sansa into this plot means there will be more House Bolton on my TV screen, and no one is a winner from that.
Meanwhile, Jon Snow is fully embracing his new role as Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. Though Stannis once again makes his offer to restore Jon’s name as a Stark if he rides with the king’s men to march on Winterfell, Snow refuses. His duties and oath to the Night’s Watch is more important. Stannis relents, but not before Davos tries to plant some doubt in Jon’s mind that staying on the Wall is the right thing to do for the Seven Kingdoms. Like Sansa and Arya, Jon must also come to grips with what it means to be a Stark. Sometimes being duty and honor bound can get you — or the ones you care about — killed. It’s pointed out quite a few times how much like Ned Jon is. And this point isn’t lost on the viewer. In fact, Jon’s execution of Janos had a lot of echoes back to the pilot of Season One and Ned’s similar execution of a Night’s Watch deserter.
If it wasn’t apparent before, it’s pretty apparent now that Jon Snow really is the one to take on the mantle of Ned Stark. What that means as things continue to develop on the show, I have no idea (and as someone who hasn’t read any of the books, I have even less idea).
Of course, the Starks’ identity crises weren’t the only things on this week’s episode. In addition to the (colorless) wedding and consummation of Tommen and Margaery’s marriage, Cersei and Margaery are in a tug of war over the heart of the king. Both women are trying to play Tommen against the other. The best scene in the whole episode (season?) is when Margaery throws the best meta-commentary shade on Cersei’s drinking habit of all time:
King’s Landing is also going through a religious restoration as the militantly devout Sparrows are going around the city and exposing the hypocrisy of its religious institutions. After the High Septon is publicly exposed and humiliated as a perv, Cersei meets with the High Sparrow who turns out to be
Zartan in disguise played by Jonathan Pryce.
Elsewhere, Brienne and Pod — this season’s buddy cop show, replacing Arya and The Hound — takes a break from the action to fill in some of Lady Brienne’s backstory. We learn that her loyalty to Renly Baratheon was the result of an act of kindness during a time when the Lord of Tarth tried to marry off his daughter only to have all the available bachelors laugh and humiliate her. Renly was the only gentleman of the bunch and danced with Brienne to spare her the embarrassment and “save her life.” From that moment on, she pledged to do the same for Renly, which is why she plans to avenge his death by setting her sights on Stannis.
Finally, our other road warriors, Tryion and Varys are continuing their journey to Mereen when Tyrion finally compels the carriage to stop outside of the city of Volantis. You see, Tyrion’s been in a box — literally — for months and just wants to get some fresh air, walk around a new city, and stick his dick in something. After encountering a Lord of Light sermon by
Yukio Katana a red priestess played by Rila Fukushima, Tyrion makes his way to a brothel.
Inside, Tyrion watches a prostitute in Daenerys Targaryen cosplay — who, of course, is the most popular — before striking up a conversation with a prostitute in Sonya Tayeh cosplay. Perhaps it’s because she reminds him of Shay — or because his blood alcohol level is 90%, but he decides to go to the bathroom instead of having sex. While he’s urinating off a balcony, Ser Jorah kidnaps Tyrion, hoping that delivering a Lannister to Khaleesi will get him back into the good graces of his unrequited love.
A bit extreme, I must say. I’m sure a mixtape would have worked just as well. Maybe instead of a boombox, however, Jorah will be standing in front of Dany’s pyramid holding up Tyrion like John Cusack in Say Anything.
The question is whether Tyrion knows the words to “In Your Eyes.”