Game of Thrones Recap: Beddings And Beheadings As The Next Generation Seizes Power
This week's episode was a masterclass in passive-aggressive manipulation.
This is a recap of the most recent episode of Game of Thrones. That means spoilers.
“You said I could be your apprentice,” says Arya Stark indignantly at the House and Black and White. Sweeping the floor of the temple to the Many-Faced God is not the rad training montage Arya had in mind.
“A man teaches a girl,” replies the former Jaqen H’ghar. It’s just that Arya’s not responding very well to his oblique methods.
This episode is about generational change. It distinguishes between characters on the rise, who’ve learned new ways of power from their crafty mentors, and older, slower characters, frustrated that the influence they once enjoyed is slipping away. As Littlefinger points out to Roose Bolton, Tywin Lannister singlehandedly kept his house in power; his death has left a vacuum at the top that many are seeking to fill.
The Faceless Men are right, of course, that a girl with no name must discard Arya’s stuff. Good riddance to that outfit she’s been wearing for the past three seasons! But she can’t let go of Needle, symbol of her brother Jon and of Winterfell. You can bet she’ll be fetching it from under that rock.
Valyrian steel swords are a motif of generational transition: passed down through families, they also represent a transfer of power between masters and apprentices. “Bring me my sword, Olly,” says Jon Snow to the boy he’s training, much as Lord Commander Jeor Mormont trained him. Jon may have rejected Stannis Baratheon’s offer to ride south to Winterfell as a Stark, but he can sure execute a dude like one.
The blade Longclaw – Jon’s gift from Mormont – goes through the cowardly, disobedient Janos Slynt’s neck like a knife through butter. And its white direwolf pommel, gleaming in the gloom at Castle Black, symbolises that the power Jon has just seized is, like Jon, the product of both Stark and Mormont.
Meanwhile, the man who should have wielded Longclaw – Mormont’s son Ser Jorah – is brooding over his lost Khaleesi in a Volantine brothel, tormented by lo-res erotic Daenerys cosplay. (Daen-Eros? Mother of Hard-Ons?) Then in rolls Tyrion, ignoring the rudeness of dragging along a eunuch as his wingman. (Varys’s reaction to Tyrion’s “it’s good luck to suck a dwarf’s cock” line is priceless.)
But beneath the bravado, Tyrion is shaken. Raised in the arrogance of his name, his wealth and his intelligence, he’s just realised that here in Essos, a former enslaved whore can become a Red Priestess and a political agitator, and that Daenerys carries real power, even by reputation. Coupled with his guilt over Shae’s betrayal and his murderous vengeance, no wonder Tyrion can’t simply revert to lustful old habits.
“I’m taking you to the queen,” says Ser Jorah. Not Cersei – surely it’s obvious Jorah will try to bargain his way back into favour with Daenerys?
As Littlefinger observes, “Cersei is Queen Mother – a title whose importance wanes with each passing day.” The Flea Bottom crowds may be calling out to Margaery on her wedding day, but this lioness isn’t about to let the Tyrell roses take root at King’s Landing.
This week was a masterclass in passive-aggressive manipulation, as Cersei and Margaery jostle for access to the throne through poor, innocent, sex-drunk Tommen – who’s not quite as soft a boy as Littlefinger believes. Margaery wisely plays to Tommen’s yearning for adult independence, while Cersei just insults his bride. (“Do you think she’s intelligent? I can’t quite tell. Not that it matters.”)
I almost felt sorry for Cersei as microexpressions of humiliation flickered over Lena Headey’s face, and she slunk away from Margaery’s girl brunch with their mocking laughter at her heels. Almost sorry.
Cersei is smart enough to glimpse the generational change the Sparrows represent, seeing the way they punished the kinky High Septon for his debauchery. (“This establishment belongs to Lord Petyr Baelish!” protests twinky Olyvar, drastically overestimating the fucks the Sparrows have to give, even in a brothel.)
Their leader, the High Sparrow, proves unexpectedly mild-mannered, leading Cersei to conclude she can control him as she does the nightmarish Qyburn (whose experiments are alive! Alive!) But as the High Sparrow says, “Hypocrisy is a boil” – get ready to be lanced big time, Cersei! After all, the most fanatical Sparrow is named Lancel.
Further north, on Country House Rescue: Winterfell, Roose Bolton is repairing the damage caused by his son Ramsay’s traumatised eunuch slave Theon ‘Reek’ Greyjoy. Acutely aware of his precarious position in the north, Roose is also trying to groom Ramsay for power, hosing down the kid’s sadistic tendency to flay recalcitrant northern lords alive, and proposing marriage… to Sansa Stark.
Sansa certainly doesn’t know what a nightmare she’s riding into. To her it’s bad enough that Roose Bolton murdered her brother, and is squatting in her ancestral home. And I’m still wondering if even Littlefinger knows about Ramsay’s proclivities – Ramsay’s oath not to harm Sansa rang utterly hollow to me.
Yet I do think Littlefinger’s queasy obsession with his comely protégé (“Don’t you know by now how much I care about you?”) has resulted in some genuinely good advice: “There’s no justice in the world – not unless we make it. You loved your family. Avenge them.”
Abandoning the petulant girl who cried “I won’t do it! You can’t make me!”, Sansa stares down Roose for a long moment before breaking into a polite smile. Ramsay’s girlfriend Myranda isn’t thrilled, but “the North remembers” the Starks. If Dark Sansa has truly learned from Littlefinger, she could seize the North in her own right. This storyline – a departure from the books – promises to be seriously intriguing.
Doggedly on Sansa’s heels is Brienne, who finally agrees to train Podrick in the knightly arts: “Sorry you have to squire for such a nasty person.” Jeez, I adore Gwendoline Christie’s exquisitely sarcastic line delivery. But Brienne’s toughness is like her armour: a carapace concealing her essential goodness. And Pod is as earnest and loyal as her; that’s why they make such a good team. When she snaps at his weaknesses, she’s really angry about her own.
Brienne has always offered her sword to those in whom she senses goodness. She recognised Catelyn Stark’s fierce love for her family, and she remembered how Jaime Lannister saved her from gang rape and bear attack. And while she knew full well Renly Baratheon was gay, she loved him because he defended her from all those mean bros back at her deb ball.
Just as Jon’s sword represents the sum of his power, Brienne’s sword Oathkeeper combines Stark and Lannister power to represent her moral authority. “Nothing’s more hateful than failing to protect the one you love,” Brienne says darkly.
Back on Tarth, Brienne was mocked for the very qualities that now empower her — her physical strength and purity of heart. But they’re no match for cunning or sorcery: Brienne has faced Melisandre’s handiwork once and failed. Still, Stannis had better watch his back. He represents the old ways… and new ones are coming, as surely as winter.
Game of Thrones airs on Foxtel’s Showcase on Mondays at 11am, with an encore broadcast at 7.30pm on Monday evenings.
Read her recaps of last season’s Game of Thrones here.