Thoughts on Game of Thrones Season Five, episodes 6-7
Considering the Character Arcs
It’s weird how EVERYTHING this season seems like filler and setup – even deaths, weddings, romances, and other major events. Maybe it’s because everyone is spending all their time traveling (Jon, Stannis, Liuttlefinger, Tyrion & Jorah, Bronn & Jamie) or waiting (Margaery, Loras, Tommen, Brienne) instead of doing things. Characters like Daenerys have scenes but not plot. Arya’s scrubbing floors. In episodes 6 and 7 things start to heat up. There’s the Margaery-Cersei plot (straight from the books), the Sansa plot (new since it was a very minor girl in the books, making it a Theon plot), and the very shallow version of the Dorne plot, which appears to be coming to nothing. Let’s analyze:
Delightfully, Olenna returns. She’s sadly been completely outwitted as she offers the High Septon absolutely anything, a strategy that seems to always have worked before – including an offer to withhold grain and blame him. But he responds with a cutting, shocking comment that she seems to have never considered – that the many only consent to be ruled by the few and they don’t have to do so. Certainly the High Sparrow could have any concessions he wants from the king or the Tyrells in the current story, but now that he has an army, he appears to have a better plan (plus a fanatical outlook of course). Daenerys is ending slavery….is democracy coming to Martin’s world?
The Sparrow seems to be preparing for a peasant uprising – hence his willingness to imprison and persecute the queen for family loyalty (yes, she lied, but come on, isn’t betraying your brother a sin against the gods too?). Historically, the church does NOT get to imprison the royal family unless the royal family, or that member, has been deposed by the current government. Some show-only fans are quite puzzled by the Sparrow’s authority. In the books Cersei and eight-year-old Tommen who stamps forms without reading them sign off on Margaery’s imprisonment for a greater crime, then Tommen signs off on Circe’s while it’s a blank certificate– the figurehead king still has absolute authority.
With the current plot, it’s not clear why Ser Loras doesn’t insist on trial by combat to clear himself and Margaery, as promptly as possible before he gets out of practice. Even King Tommen could push for such a thing. They all have to know it could make everything go away, and is better than a trial with witnesses and details.
Speaking of historical accuracy, it’s also very surprising that Tyrion was allowed to throttle his captor and have no repercussions. This is a slave economy. Fast-talking, creative Tyrion is back, in contrast with his book character, who’s still quite depressed and drunk. Somehow he convinced the slaver he was a pit fighter, so they brought him to the fight. It would have been more likely to have him forced to pour wine in that scene, or be a joke performer as in the book. His escape is also puzzling. Mentally I was saying Tyrion, don’t use brute force on your chains – use your brains. He didn’t. As he and Jorah easily escape and are home free on reaching Daenerys, there seems to be an echo of the consent of the governed slipping from the hands of Lannister-Tyrell and slavers alike. Too bad Daenerys hasn’t fully clued in that she’s in a similar boat in Meereen.
It’s surprising that her reign has become about “no slavery under any circumstances except pit fighter slaves who can be slaughtered in front of me in a concession to the old ways.” Yes, it’s clear she has to compromise with her new husband, but that moment’s quite a streamline of her ethics. Soon enough, her wedding will join the collection of Westeros weddings in which someone is deeply unhappy if not doomed.
Someone else who doesn’t believe in ruling because of birth-right is Littlefinger of course. It’s clear Littlefinger is happy with Cersei and the Tyrells all imprisoned—maybe he can become Tommen’s “protector” and advisor. More likely he plans for the illegitimacy thing to get Tommen kicked off the throne…but then who gets it? Stannis and Co.? Littlefinger “controls” Robin/The Eyrie and Sansa/The North, but it’s unlikely Stannis would want the slinking collaborator around in any capacity. Daenerys wouldn’t care for this Lannister and Baratheon lover, and the High Septon wouldn’t want the brothel keeper. As he burns bridges, he seemed to be doing better scheming with Cersei to be warden of the North and East.
Littlefinger’s motives are puzzling. He’s leaving behind his toy Sansa (in the books he’s more incestuously creepy, passing her off as his bastard daughter and asking for kisses in the same sentence). But book Littlefinger doesn’t seem the type to leave Sansa all alone to get deflowered by Ramsay. He keeps busy teaching her to flirt and setting up an engagement, but nothing’s permanent. On the show, he wants power above everything, and will sacrifice her to get it. It might be argued that in book and show he’s teaching Sansa how to manipulate men, making her a more fitting mate for himself when he rules the world. But I don’t see him giving up his toy, I really don’t. And without leaving her with a plan?
Sansa’s thought process is also puzzling. Littlefinger announces she’s going to marry Bolton Jr. Bolton Sr. killed her family and stole their birthright and home. When Sansa protests, Littlefinger points out that she can marry them and shockingly betray them all as a striking revenge. She agrees. Manipulative Lady Macbeth-Sansa from season four seems as if she might actually pulls this off, as she reminds everyone Winterfell is her home turf – she knows the house and the servants better than anyone. “I’m Sansa Stark of Winterfell. This is my home and you can’t frighten me,” she tells the awful girl who tells her her husband flays his lovers alive. Then she turns down numerous offers of help and escape, including a moment at her wedding when, finally permitted to speak and in front of some Bannermen (and now aware of Ramsay’s real monstrousness if she wasn’t before) she has the power to refuse but demurely accepts.
Certainly one could argue that Littlefinger pushed her into it and that, as with the Lannisters, she fears resisting will make things worse. She may fear the guards and bannermen are loyal to the Boltons and Lannisters, not to her. She may not realize how bad being raped by Bolton every night will be. And yes she’s strong for enduring it and for still scheming to escape. And yes, as others are arguing online, many women in history had no power and were forced into such marriages with no options. But the truth is, before wedding Ramsay she had a few choices (Brienne, Littlefinger, and the elderly woman gave her some if she wasn’t about to make her own. And remember Catelyn’s moment in season one when she found all her father’s bannermen in an inn and called on their service? Sansa could have done that at her own wedding). Despite her brave speech about being on her home turf, she’s only used that power to get an old woman killed –not to plan escapes, subvert locals, and so on. In the Eyrie, she used her real identity as a tool – where’s that? After saying the words, she becomes Ramsay’s legal property. Now her identity is “Lady Bolton” and most bannermen would willingly return her to her lord.
What did she think would happen up in the bedchamber? She appears to be hinting, with her mention of Tyrion, that a nice guy would refuse to sleep with her. But that’s hardly a realistic expectation of marriage at the time. While Littlefinger says she has the opportunity for revenge here if she wants it (revenge, not suffering as she silently spies), what does she intend that revenge to be? Why was she NOT planning to stab him on their wedding night, poison his cup with another purple necklace, etc.? (The show even could have had her try and fail.) What was she or is she planning to do to the Boltons and why delay past the wedding night or before? Is the plan for her to be tortured and await Littlefinger’s return, perhaps with another poisoned accessory for her? Bad plan! Even without knowing Ramsay is a monster, she had planned to wed and possibly have babies with the family that killed her own,l legitimizing them and giving them a permanent tie to her birth family. Is throwing her life and independence away forever worth the cost?
Airheaded Sansa seems completely naïve about what she’s in for, which seems ridiculous after narrowly escaping Joffrey (thus this plot repeats perfectly, with her walking up to be abused in her celebrity marriage without considering any consequences). All growth through the seasons has vanished. There is also the status she’ll lose through her marriage: While Ramsay lives, she’s unmarriageable, and thus her value and power as the key to the North are gone (though if Ramsay dies, Stannis could marry her to a bannerman). Her engagement to Joffrey, marriage to Tyrion, and everyone’s obsession about her virginity now should have taught her what makes her valuable and what choices she still has. A better revenge on the Boltons would have been rejecting Ramsay at the altar, not giving them everything they want.
The Sansa-Theon dynamic is far more interesting: She loathes her one ally in the castle who cares about her. Certainly during the rape scene everyone wondered if Theon would snap…likely including Theon himself. By the next episode, he’s still Ramsay’s creature … and Sansa reveals her lack of good judgment by trusting him. All this of course spins out the story until he will finally turn hero (presumably). If he doesn’t have a big role coming in books six-seven, he may die saving Sansa and wrap up his loose end.
Sansa’s surprise at Jon’s promotion was notable – in the book he’s the only sibling with a public, well-known story, and everyone hears about it – Arya and Sansa take comfort from his new job. Was this introduced only as another random character tie, with no plot driving it? Or will Sansa tell Brienne to take her to the Wall, to the last man who might protect her without raping or publicly beating her or whatever Littlefinger intends? It’s certainly possible she’ll get there but a little too late – Jon’s already left and his rangers don’t seem too loyal.
It’s not clear where Sam and Gilly are going in their own arc – he’s forbidden to have a girlfriend, and this will continue breeding resentment. I had pictured in the aftermath of the rape attempt and beating that Sam would seize her and flee, possibly deserting because she was no longer safe at the Wall. He would thus face that true love means more to him than his life and oath. Ghost and an absent Jon really aren’t good enough protection against ALL the Black Brothers –Sam shouldn’t be this dumb. Many fans were also dissatisfied that she sleeps with Sam after he saves her from rape, more a cliché than a clever character twist. Of course, it’s possible they’ll stay and get more abuse/betrayal. If the Oldtown plot is needed, someone completely different like Jamie could end up there.
Melisandre had a shocker she hasn’t brought up in the books yet, though many have predicted it. Some book readers remembered Melisandre’s book 2 story that only sacrificing one’s best beloved will awaken the true fire magic and magic sword. We’ve anticipated that this would have to be Shireen. So she’s finally said it aloud to Stannis – we dragged your daughter along to sacrifice her to the gods. Stannis recoils, but with the crown and ALL his men at stake, it seems likely he’ll finally do it, or try. I see Davos, the good man, intervening here as he did before. Let’s hope he can find a sturdier-looking boat.
Some of us (show fans as well as book) have been waiting eagerly for Yara’s return after her powerful declaration that ended season three and her brief, ineffectual attempt to rescue Theon in season four. She’s almost the only character whose book plot hasn’t happened on the show (as Arianne and Quentin in Dorne and Lady Stoneheart, and any more Riverlands stuff seems to be cut…odd that Beric got so much screentime just to go nowhere). Plus, it’s been so long since Melisandre in season three used magic to kill Robb (immediately), Joffrey (pretty promptly) and Theon’s dad (STILL hanging on?). Balon may die this season as a kick in the pants for Stannis as Melisandre craves a bigger sacrifice. Balon may even be killed by Arya on her first big assignment, flinging her into politics.
It’s also unclear whether Yara will appear in the North or will go back to the Iron Islands. Instead of dealing with Yara-Asha, Stannis could capture Brienne when he arrives and they could have their long-delayed confrontation she’s been gunning for. Brienne may even accept that avenging Renly isn’t the best option for Sansa or Westeros just now. Just as Oberyn’s paramour introduced all the Dorne characters, Yara could introduce all the Iron Islands ones. Here’s hoping Theon’s uncles aren’t cut with the same cookie cutter like the Sand Snakes. It’s also unclear why the Yara plot is waiting unless the Greyjoys specifically have a complete arc next season so they need to do their thing all at once.
In the South, Myrcella is the sweet romantic as Sansa once was. Unlike Sansa and many others though, she knows her place in the world: she was sent to Dorne for an alliance marriage, and she’s not backing out now that her family has cold feet. Her happy romance with her fiancé Prince Trystane (in contrast with every other relationship on the show) impels everyone around them to tear them apart and start making star-crossed lovers noises. Her kidnapping attempt (by the Sand Snakes, that is) was remarkably short and consequence-free, making it a rather stupid momes3nt. It’s also unclear if the wedding has been postponed because of the Lannisters or their ages or…another reason. There’s always a chance Doran hopes his heir will marry a better queen … like Daenerys.
Meanwhile, with Daenerys leaving her lover for an arranged marriage, Princess Sansa going unrescued, and Princess Myrcella refusing her rescue we have plenty of shattered tropes. Sam’s clumsy Gilly-rescue can be added to the mix.
The Sand Snakes irritate me. In the books they’re awesome – Obara (girl who chose a spear, not tears) is a badass Xena type. Nymeria is a gorgeous politician. Tyene is sweet and holy looking but the deadliest. Each is introduced separately, approaching Doran with a wildly different ambitious revenge scheme –all clever, violent, and doable. All contrast, to the point of being different races. The other sisters are fascinating too. These girls are just “the Obarettes” or possibly his paramour Ellaria’s flunkies, as they attempt an unimaginative revenge scheme in unimaginative dress at the orders of their stepmother. No brains, just violence. That’s in episode six. While locked up in episode seven, Tyene decides she’s bored enough to make a scene from a porn film, stripping for her victim Bronn, then tossing him the antidote. Why?
Tyene: My dagger was coated with a special ointment from Asshai. It's called the Long Farewell. It can take some time to work, sometimes several days. But if one single drop makes contact with the skin...death.
Tyene: The only antidote. Who is the most beautiful woman in the world? Who? Who, sorry?
She takes the antidote off of her necklace and gives it to him.
Tyene: Don't drop it. I think you're very handsome as well.
She blows him a kiss and laughs.
What is it she wants? If it’s a date with Bronn, she’s well on her way, otherwise….? Tokenism suggests that all Dornish women are not only beautiful but very slutty. Also, the pointlessness of this scene takes us back to the prostitutes standing around in season one.
Likewise, with all the dead or cut characters back East, further Meereen adventures may be cut as well – I mean, I doubt we’ll watch Missandei and Grey Worm hold the city alone without Barristan. Though poor Tyrion certainly might be Daenerys’s new chief counselor in matters of Westeros. Watching him hold another doomed city would feel like the Siege of King’s Landing part two however.
Last but only least in terms of plot, Daenerys is covered up while snuggling in bed with Daario, emphasizing her power which does not involve stripping for the audience. The pair discuss how being a queen means responsibility including marrying for duty…and also how she should likely kill all the nobles if she wants peace. Has Daario forgotten the problems Daenerys had from killing one former slave? When she executed Mossador for murdering a terrorist she was holding prisoner, the former slaves hissed in a visceral message that she’s not as beloved a khaleesi as she imagines. .Ser Barristan reminds her just before his shocking death that justice isn’t always the right course. He reminds her: “The Mad King gave his enemies the justice he thought they deserved, and each time it made him feel powerful and right, until the very end." Her colonialism game is sinking fast.
Book experts are predicting the season endings for Daenerys, Jon, Sansa, and Stannis. However, the wild departures for Sansa, Tyrion, Jorah, and others as their plots condense suggests more wild surprises are on their way. Having started the big deviation from the books, the split will only grow. And show-only fans take comfort – book fans are nearly out of plot that they know and you don’t. We’re basically all on equal footing now as anything could happen. If we’re very fortunate, the three dragons will eat the Sand Snakes and put them out of our misery.
Valerie Estelle Frankel is the author of five Game of Thrones books including Women in Game of Thrones and Symbols in Game of Thrones. Her Winter is Coming: Symbols and Hidden Meanings in A Game of Thrones and How Game of Thrones Will End: The History, Politics, and Pop Culture Driving the Show to its Finish are on sale.