Game of Thrones: Sons of the Harpy

"There's only one war: life against death."

Cersei makes a bad decision, Jon makes a good decision and Dany has trouble making any kind of decision at all in this week's Game of Thrones.

I was just thinking that nothing had really happened much this season, and then we got to that ending. Although it's not entirely clear, I think that fight was meant to end with Grey Worm alive and badly injured, but Ser Barristan dead. I'm rather sad about that - I was enjoying his conversations with Dany about her family. At least his final scene (if he is dead) acted as a reminder that he was once one of the greatest swordsmen in Westeros (along with Ned Stark and Jaime Lannister. These days, I'd put money on the best swords in Westeros being Bronn and Brienne). Mind you, Jaime didn't do too badly for himself either - I loved him stopping the Dornish man's sword with his golden hand.

Ser Barristan also gave us one of two references to Rhaegar Targaryen in this episode, the other being Littlefinger's conversation with Sansa. We haven't heard much about Rhaegar or Lyanna since King Robert died back in season one, but this may be a sign that the backstory established so long ago will soon become significant, which would be very exciting (especially since the books have only hinted at its larger significance so far). The references to Rhaegar in this episode certainly seem to contradict the view Robert had of him - the man Ser Barristan describes sounds very pleasant and not particularly like a rapist and kidnapper (though to be fair, that's how you could describe most rapists and kidnappers) and the expression on Littlefinger's face when Sansa accused Rhaegar was not dissimilar to Ned's when having a similar conversation with Robert back in season one.

Back in the present, two Queens, Cersei and Dany, have both unleashed a force that may prove bigger than either of them. In Dany's case, the creation of the Sons of the Harpy was entirely accidental, the result of going in all dragons blazing without any plan for how she was to consolidate her power or pacify the masters following the loss of their slaves and possibly, if they had a slave-labour-based economy, the collapse of their economy as well. Dany has never needed the advice of someone as familiar with high politics as Ser Barristan more - if he is dead, she is left with Missandei, Grey Worm, Daario and Hizdahr zo Loraq as her advisers, which could be potentially disastrous.

Cersei's story, meanwhile, offers an interesting depiction of how religious fanaticism can be encouraged and turned into a weapon by politics, and the way in which extreme religious movements may have as much to do with politics as anything else. It also reveals just how deeply stupid Cersei is. As the crowd reminded us when they yelled at poor, baffled Tommen, everyone in the kingdom knows that Cersei's children are the illegitimate products of incest - so stirring up a religious group who are committed to punishing anyone they believe has behaved immorally with regards to sex is clearly a terrible, terrible idea. Meanwhile, poor Ser Loras rots in a dungeon (I was really worried when they pulled a knife out, we already went through this with Theon, leave my lovely Ser Loras alone) and Margaery has never looked more powerless.

The fact that nothing much actually happens is a common criticism levelled at the books this season is based on. In the case of the books, this is compensated for (to a degree) by the characters' development, expressed through their internal monologue, especially Jaime's and Tyrion's. The TV series is having to get a bit creative in order to express some of that - Jaime and Bronn's boat sailing past Tarth was a nice touch, while their conversation neatly expressed Bronn's continued fondness for Tyrion and Jaime's anger. I can't help hoping, though, that the series will move things on a little bit faster in future episodes - perhaps poor Ser Barristan's apparent demise will be the start of a more active run of episodes.

Bits and pieces:

 - I will never not be amused by people raising their eyebrows when Jaime calls Myrcella his niece, but to be fair to him, it is entirely true. It's just not the whole truth.

 - Jaime and Bronn's conversation about how they want to die was very interesting and I have Thoughts on it, but they're a combination of book spoilers and wild speculation...

 - Tyrion annoying Jorah into taking his gag off was funny, but I'm already missing his double act with Varys, though I'm very glad to have Jorah back.

 - The scene between Stannis and Shireen was lovely, especially when she smiled. This may be the most likeable Stannis has ever been.

 - Melisandre, on the other hand, could not be creepier than when she told Jon 'You know nothing'. At least so far he seems able to resist her charms.

 - This episode also introduced Oberyn Martell's illegitimate daughters, the Sand Snakes. Shortly after Jaime and Bronn come face to face with an actual sand snake. I see what they did there.

 - Ser Not-Appearing-In-This-Episode: Arya and Not-Jaqen, Brienne and Pod, Varys, Theon, Ramsey and Roose (though we do visit Winterfell), Davos (though we do visit the Wall).


Bronn: I've had an exciting life. I want my death to be boring.

Littlefinger: Even the most dangerous men can be outmaneuvered (even him?).

Slowly, the season is getting going. Three out of four apparently random references to Rhaegar Targaryen.

Reminder: The comments on these episode reviews are appropriate for newbies. If you haven't read the books, you're safe! If you have read the books and would like to talk about upcoming events, please do so here, in our Season Five book spoiler thread.

Juliette Harrisson is a freelance writer, classicist and ancient historian who blogs about Greek and Roman Things in Stuff at Pop Classics.


Anonymous said...

Disappointed with the show version of the Sand Snakes. The dialogue written for them was quite cringe-worthy, and there really isn't anything to distinguish them from one another.
I like Stannis. I don't even care that he has people burned alive.

Anonymous said...

I am confused about how I feel about this season so far. While I am glad that several storylines have been condensed/cut, I then sit here and feel like "nothing is happening". And the end of the episode felt to me like they just needed to do something shocking in order to make us feel like "something happened"...and I was irritated. Does that make sense?


Juliette said...

Sooze I'm so glad it's not just me who has that sense that nothing is happening! And Anonymous, I'm also glad it wasn't just me who found the Sand Snakes a bit cringe-worthy - I couldn't really think of much to say about them, they didn't really make much of an impact for me here. I'm just really hoping things get going soon - and to be fair, probably more has happened than at this stage of the books...

Jess Lynde said...

I'm decidedly bummed out by what just happened to poor Ser Barristan, but sort of understand why they may have done it. Not only does it continue the parallels with Cersei --- who's far more experienced and level-headed uncle choose to exit stage left --- it fits with the typical "hero's journey" arc to have the older purveyor of wisdom fall from the scene, forcing the hero to make his or her way on their own. We were reading a Star Wars book with our youngest last night, and I burst out part way through: "They just Obi-Wanned Ser Barristan!"

Also of note on in this one: we also had Stannis commenting to his wife about how Ned was too honorable to father a bastard. And then there's Melissandre offering herself to Jon and commenting on his power. Just saying. :)

I'm wondering if Littlefinger is counting on Sansa staying safe because he fully expects that Brienne won't be too far away. He probably knows she wouldn't just abandon her mission, right?

Definitely not impressed with the Sand Snakes so far. Hopefully they can push past the clunkiness now that the intro part is over.

Heather said...

Thanks for the thoughtful review, Juls.
Holy shite to the depth with which Cersei is like, 'If you f*ck with me, I will jam you up.' I'm both horrified and delighted by it, if I'm being honest.

Josie Kafka said...

I'm behind and catching up, and I agree with the "nothing's happening" sentiment. But I also suspect that means something big--something that's not in the books yet?--will happen soon. Probably in episode 9. And that makes me excited.

"...the result of going in all dragons blazing..."

Hilarious, Juliette.