In this episode of Game of Thrones, lots of spoilery things happen that we'll discuss below the cut. There's also a dragon. It's awesome.
Arya's back! Her story was mostly about how far she's come and how much she's changed since the first season. It's a tiny thing, but I loved how confident she looked when she said 'Valar Dohaeris' at the episode's beginning. She was clearly imitating Jaqen's attitude from season two. That was followed up by the pigeon-hunting scene, a parallel to Season 1, Episode 9. Then, Arya was haplessly chasing pigeons only to drop the one she'd finally caught on hearing that her father was about to be executed. Now, she calmly slices the head clean off a pigeon and confidently prepares to defend herself against a gang of bullies considerably less pleasant than Gendry, Lommy and Hot Pie. On the other hand, the early shots of her sitting in the rain outside the door of the House of Black and White were a powerful reminder that she is still a young girl, totally alone and with only a small sword between her and the world. Let's hope that whatever Not-Jaqen is getting her into is going to help her.
Although titled for Arya's arrival in Braavos, mostly this episode was about leadership. Jon tells Stannis people want leaders who are one of their own (and is then elected leader by a group of people who know he sympathises with both Night's Watchmen and Wildlings), and Danaerys struggles with ruling a people she does not belong to, who don't understand her ways. Cersei assumes she can lead because she is related to the king and discovers she is wrong, while Varys knows that he and Tyrion, who have the brains to rule, can never do so because they're outsiders to everyone, and must find a suitable figurehead to allow them quietly to run things behind the scenes.
Cersei is half drunk with power, half going off the rails in her desperation to protect her two remaining children. Jaime and Cersei's conversation is interesting, primarily because it's the first time we've heard them talk about 'our children'. Jaime is still concerned about keeping this a secret, but with her father dead and everyone else already knowing and more or less choosing whether to acknowledge it or not depending on what's in it for them, Cersei seems to have thrown caution to the wind. We see this even more in her attempt to become her father in the Small Council meeting. Unfortunately, Queen 'Power is Power' doesn't understand the first thing about why her father commanded so much respect or how to win people's loyalty. It's interesting that Uncle Kevan assumes Cersei sent Jaime away, though. Clearly everyone knows who wears the trousers in that relationship.
Brienne and Pod's story is rather frustrating, as they seem to be running around in circles, going nowhere. Brienne is determined to find a noble lord or lady to serve and serve them - all she wants is to be lead and given orders, and all she knows how to do is to follow them (which is surprising for a woman who's worked so hard to defy people's expectations of what women should do, but that's what makes her interesting).
Unfortunately, her desire to follow a leader, a person rather than a cause (first Renly, then Catelyn, then Jaime, although technically she still claims to be following Catelyn), simply suggests to everyone else that she keeps changing sides and has no loyalty at all, which is bound to cause her problems. Littlefinger observes that someone has kitted Brienne out with some fancy gear but doesn't specify who he thinks might have done so. Sansa remembers her from the wedding and presumably sees her as a Lannister loyalist. Still, I do like that Brienne respects Sansa for not trusting her, which certainly does seem pretty sensible and implies some character growth for Sansa too, who has so far trusted pretty much everybody who's ever offered to help her except Tyrion.
Meanwhile, we finally get a proper introduction to Dorne, and it's a great scene. Alexander Siddig is just brilliant as Doran Martell and I'm not just saying that because he's Doctor Bashir and I met him at a convention once and he's fabulous. The tension in the scene between him and Ellaria Sand is wonderful. Here is a true leader, who commands respect despite physical setbacks - the tiniest nod to his bodyguard determines whether Ellaria or Myrcella live or die, and he understands how things work much better than Ellaria - voluntarily taking part in a duel and getting killed is not the same as being murdered, not in this world. I loved it - more please!
Meanwhile, it's all going to pot a bit for Danaerys. My favourite moment in her story tonight was Ser Barristan telling her about her father, which clearly introduced the idea that Dany might not be a perfect, benign ruler into the show (oh, and the awesome scene with Drogon at the end of course!). The rest of her story mostly just had me a bit puzzled why she didn't exile the freed slave who killed the Son of the Harpy, thus showing mercy but maintaining that he must be punished for taking the law into his own hands.
Last season, episodes often ended with one long scene focusing on one story thread, or on a few that were gathered in the same place, with Joffrey's wedding in Episode 2 being a highlight. This season hasn't entirely left that behind, as the episode finishes with a relatively long sequence focused on Danaerys, but I feel like the choice Jon Snow has to make when Stannis offers him legitimacy and his subsequent election as Lord Commander of the Night's Watch could have used a bit more time, and I'd rather have seen more of that than Meerenese politics - much as I like Dany, my interest in her story more or less wandered off with Ser Jorah and will return when either Tyrion and Varys get to her (if they do) or if she brings back the fighting pits (I like gladiator stories!).
Bits and pieces
- I really like the music the show uses for Braavos. It's still Game of Thrones music, but it has an Eastern-inspired edge and a slightly different feel that lifts it and provides a bit of variety, five seasons in.
- I usually don't have too much of a problem writing a review of the TV show without referring to the books, but I found it quite hard to do for this episode. For spoiler-filled discussion of both, and of the various changes and adaptations, see our Spoiler Thread.
- The DVD commentaries often talk about how Sansa styles her hair to imitate women she admires or looks up to - Cersei at first, then Margaery. This season, she's styling her hair like her late mother - partly to show she's going back to her Stark roots, partly as a deliberate play for Littlefinger.
- Cersei apparently considers marrying Margaery as bad as being shipped off to Dorne or being murdered at your own wedding. To be fair, the wedding in question was to Margaery, so she may have a point.
- It's a shame Cersei put a stop to Bronn marrying Lollys, they seemed well suited.
- Dang, Jaime looks hot in that new outfit.
- On which subject, I was so happy to see Jaqen again! Well, the face he wore to be Jaqen. Whatever.
- Sir-Not-Appearing-In-This-Episode: Loras and Margaery, Tommen, Melisandre, Roose, Ramsey and Theon. Bran and Hodor will not be appearing in Season Five at all, and presumably nor will Rickon and Osha. Gendry is still missing in action, last seen rowing away from Dragonstone in the Season Three finale, and whether Ser Jorah will reappear this season remains to be seen. I miss him!
Pod: A bunch of knights with him.
Brienne: A bunch? What's a bunch?!
Bronn: We made a deal, your sister and I.
Jaime: I would have advised against that.
Tyrion: There's a bug.
Varys: Yes, best be careful. You might accidentally consume some solid food.
Still largely setting up the season, but awesome dragon. Three out of four poor leadership decisions.
Juliette Harrisson is a freelance writer, classicist and ancient historian who blogs about Greek and Roman Things in Stuff at Pop Classics.
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