TV

Apart From Everything Else, Last Night’s ‘Game Of Thrones’ Was Just A Terrible Episode

Bad things lurk behind closed doors. And also bad writing.

This is a spoiler-filled recap of last night’s Game of Thrones.

This was a bad episode.

I don’t just mean bad things happened to the characters, although they certainly did. I mean the narrative was poorly structured. At the end, the characters were still on the same trajectories they were at the start. They, and we, learned nothing new.

Watching, I felt like Arya Stark. Still washing corpses in the House of Black and White, wanting to know what’s behind that door through which they’re carried. But she’s caught in a game whose rules nobody will explain. A game of faces, not a game of thrones. And like her, I’m wondering what the point is.

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This was an episode full of ominous doors. Not just in Braavos, but also at the Watergardens of Dorne. In King’s Landing. At Winterfell. But there were few surprises in what – and who – lay in wait behind them. Watching this episode was as tiresome as having to feign shock at a poorly arranged surprise birthday party, knowing that’s what’s expected of you.

Let’s pause for a moment on the few bright spots provided by the ever-laconic Bronn (who retorts to Jaime’s breezy “I’ll improvise!” with “That explains the golden hand”), and the zingy return of Olenna Tyrell. She’s coming for you, Cersei – and she can smell your shit from five miles away!

“Ah yes, the famously tart-tongued Queen of Thorns,” says Cersei.

“And the famous tart, Queen Cersei.”

Given how crafty both Margaery and her grandmother are, it felt unconvincing to see them so easily wrongfooted by the mild-mannered High Sparrow. Of course they’d never admit publicly to knowing Loras’s fine form as a “pillow-biter”. (And the dishevelled prisoner himself has never looked so babelicious. Such an improvement on his terrible dirtbag hair back in season one.) But surely they would have anticipated who’d be lurking behind the courtroom door. Olyvar, of course, taking time off from identifying Lord Baelish’s establishments to tell everyone all about Loras’s Dorne-shaped birthmark.

It goes to show how lame this episode is that this wasn’t even a proper trial. It was just the committal hearing. Presumably the Tyrell siblings will be wheeled out again in a future episode, by which time Lady Olenna will have worded up the High Sparrow on Cersei’s own sexual indiscretions. Indeed, why hasn’t fanatical Brother Lancel dobbed in his cousin himself by now?

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If there’s one thing the Sparrows hate more than sodomy, it’s perjury.

This week’s most intriguing plotline was its most oblique. Arya is bossed around by that smug, shit-spinning older apprentice, and given a midnight whipping by her master for each lie she tells about her past – he can tell she’s lying about hating the Hound, heart it races!

But she seems to intuit the secret of levelling up (or levelling down, as the case may me) in this game. Being ‘no one’ isn’t just about being humbly anonymous; it’s about inhabiting whatever truth someone else wants from you. That’s why the irritating apprentice mirrored Arya’s backstory of being a Westerosi lord’s daughter. That’s how Arya comforted the dying girl.

“I want to take his face… off.”

And it’s enough to open the next door to the uncanny Hall of Faces: “A girl is not ready to become no one. But she is ready to become someone else.”

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“Have you ever heard a baby dragon sing? And seen your Khaleesi’s bewbs?”

After their previous poetic rapprochement was cut short by the Stone Men, Tyrion bonds with Ser Jorah over the reason why he killed his dad Tywin: “He was fucking the woman I loved.” Jorah’s eyes light up: his Friendzone Wolfpack, it grew by one. Except then Tyrion pushes the bonding too far by breaking it to Ser Jorah that his dad Lord Mormont is dead, too.

Note, though, that Tyrion mentions the Old Bear was slain by his own men, in a mutiny. And then remember how unpopular Jon Snow’s wildling peace pact is…

Unfortunately, they stumble across some jolly slavers who want to sell Jorah for his strength, and Tyrion’s cock for its magic powers. With some truly urgent fast-talking, Tyrion convinces them instead to head to Meereen’s fighting pits – or at least the nearest “cock merchant”.

I had to laugh at the mingled desperation and pride with which Tyrion responds to the suggestion he has a dwarf-sized cock: “Guess again.” What is with this show’s weird fixation on cocks? Who’s got one, who doesn’t, who’s pissing, who’s raping?

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Theon scrubs up okay for someone without a cock, eh?

And so to Winterfell, and the horrors that wait behind its chamber doors.

At the risk of straying into fanfic territory, how cool would it have been if we finally saw the sexual awakening of Dark Sansa? What a character arc if the timid, lemon cake-nibbling ‘little bird’ the Hound once ridiculed had channelled all her pent-up rage – every humiliation the series has subjected her to – and turned out to be an absolute direwolf in the sack, giving Ramsay such a flaying that Theon watching in the corner had fist-pumped with joy?

How cool if Sansa had taken the promise of that bath scene, where she coolly shut down Myranda’s attempt to psych her out (Myranda stripping the black dye from Sansa’s hair unsubtly echoed the way Arya washed a corpse’s hair earlier), and wrapped her new husband around her Littlefinger so she could discard them both and take the north for herself? (And yes, we learned from Littlefinger’s convo with Cersei this week that Sansa is merely a sacrificial lamb in his greater plan to seize the north for himself.)

Nah. Instead, she just trembled and mumbled and screamed and got raped, as Theon shuddered with yet more traumatised terror. I say ‘got raped’ very deliberately, because the series treats getting raped as something that just unavoidably happens to women in this universe, much as our culture doesn’t teach men not to rape, but rather teaches women not to get raped. We don’t see Ramsay raping Sansa – we see Theon reacting to Sansa getting raped. It’s even more galling to see her so passive when the series has been taking pains to show her becoming incrementally stronger. And what, now we’re meant to swallow that ‘getting raped’ makes Sansa stronger, and gives her the catalyst for vengeance that she somehow lacked before? Despite the show revelling in her mistreatment since season one?

This was such a ham-fisted attempt to wring emotion from a boring narrative arc. It’s not merely that the series has repeatedly, tiresomely resorted to rape, or that for highborn characters it’s a cheap shortcut to character development, while for lowborn women like Ros, or Craster’s wives, it’s some imagined trope of medieval realpolitik. It’s that this particular scene has been telegraphed for two seasons, and it’s disappointing to see it play out so predictably. And it’s on the nose to see a woman bent over in an episode titled ‘Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken’. This is why it was such a bad episode.

No, wait. The Dorne scenes. Those were the actual worst. Last season, Oberyn Martell was such a charismatic character that I was looking forward to meeting the rest of his family. Doran was agreeably mysterious, if frustratingly enigmatic in his anti-Lannister power moves. Even Trystane is a cute baby Lothario, trying some classic teenage peer pressure on the nubile Myrcella… in a sex-positive Dornish way.

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“Let’s get it awn ’til the break of Dorne…”

But it was cringeworthy to watch the gorgeous Watergardens become a backdrop for buffoonery. Lannister of Arabia and his singing companion Bronn tiptoe through the terraces in their Dornish guard disguises, pursued by the three Sand Snakes, who have practically no characterisation and possess all the menace of angry kittens.

The skirmish that ensued was a disgrace to all concerned, from Trystane crumpling pathetically from Bronn’s ‘coward punch’ to the awkwardly choreographed fighting. Areo Hotah was right to be disgusted. And Oberyn is lucky Gregor Clegane gouged out his eyes. Unlike me, he didn’t have to watch his paramour and his daughters – and the showrunners – making fools of themselves.

Game of Thrones airs on Foxtel’s Showcase on Mondays at 11am, with an encore broadcast at 7.30pm on Monday evenings.

Mel Campbell is a freelance journalist and cultural critic. She blogs on style, history and culture at Footpath Zeitgeist and tweets at @incrediblemelk

Read her recaps of last season’s Game of Thrones here