Game of Thrones: 503 “High Sparrow” Review
Reviewed by Mark McCullough.
With 30% of the new series now aired, it is only to be expected that several of the storylines are beginning to show signs of an increase in pace. To this purpose it is not unexpected that Danaerys Targaryen does not feature in this week’s outing. Her character has had the most advancement so far this series so giving her a break to allow the others to catch up seemed logical.
Arya’s storyline has been quite slow so far, but it is here where we finally see some development in her character. The narrative uses the nature of the Faceless Men to place Arya in a situation where she has to let go of all which defines her. This is actually a pivotal moment in the characters story because until now it has been her past which has defined her. Her desire for vengeance is something we have been partial to, and we almost know her list of names as well as she does. Now the importance of her reciting that list last week is revealed, to become a Faceless Man, she has to give up the very reason she wants to become one. We see that this is too much for her as she hides needle instead of disposing of it. This means that she is destined to fail in her quest to become a Faceless Man, and this is mirrored perfectly by how Maisie Williams plays the character in such a childlike way, so as she contrasts with those around her.
Another character who shows the innocence of childhood is Tommen Baratheon (Lannister) who weds Margaery Tyrell at the start of the episode. Young Tommen finds himself used as a pawn between the two feuding women in his life: his wife and his mother. Like with Arya, his immaturity is used to paint him in contrast with the world around him. Game of Thrones in notorious for being controversial, for killing of characters and for being generally disturbing. However what happens in this episode, especially when framed with Tommen’s youth brings the show back under that scrutiny. It is not a stretch to suggest that Margaery is using sex as a means to groom him and convince him to persuade his mother out of the picture. Given the age that Tommen has been established to be, I do find this more than a little disturbing. That said, Natalie Dormer excels in playing Margaery’s darker side and her confrontation with Cersei is undoubtedly one of the highlights of the episode, the non-verbal cues between the two are so on point.
As you are aware, I have not yet read the books, but I know that Sansa’s storyline does not come from there. Therefore I cannot pass comment on how true the show’s adaptation is true to her source material. What I can say however is that I think she is being taken in an excellent direction. To return to the chess analogy, if Tommen is the pawn, Sansa is the queen. Except for her the objective of the game is Littlefinger’s rise to power. Seeing her confront her past was rarity in terms of Game of Thrones, most characters don’t live long enough to revisit the sites of bad memories, but Sansa looks like she is going to use it to her advantage. Also making their debut for this series are the Boltons who are now in a weakened position following Tywin’s death. This storyline certainly looks like it is going to be an interesting one.
“Nothing’s more hateful than failing to protect the one you love.” This was one of the lines in the trailer used to promote the series. The scene from which it comes from is one which affords some much needed backstory to Brienne and her squire Podrick. Brienne tells the story of how she first met Renly and how he saved her from embarrassment. On first assessment this may have appeared as filler material, not really relevant to the overall narrative. But in the contact of Brienne’s scathing at the hand of Littlefinger last time out it was completely necessary. After yet another defeat, it is her we see her draw strength from what defines her character. Her loyalty and desire to do what is right.
Jon Snow’s storyline this week heralds right back to the first episode of the show where we saw Eddard Stark behead a man for deserting the Nights Watch. The lesson there was the same one here, that when in power you have to show it. Jon Snow appears to manufacture a scenario that allows him to get a brother who poses a threat to him to go against his direct orders. In the Nights Watch the penalty for this death, and we see Jon like Ned carry out the execution without showing mercy. This isn’t the only comparison drawn between the two this episode, it is Stannis who first points it out. I get the impression the narrative is developing Jon into the man that Ned was, let’s hope he meets a better fate than his father.
Religion and cults seem to be playing a large role this series. Whilst Daenerys Targaryen faces a threat in the form of the Sons of the Harpies, Westeros is facing a plague in the form of the Sparrows. This draws a nice parallel between the two and connects the two locations. More importantly this allows us to make direct comparisons between Daenerys and Cersei who occupy similar sorts of power in each city. Whilst we have seen Dany do her upmost to stop the uprising in her city, it appears that Cersei is opting for the other side of the coin and encourages it. It remains to be seen which approach is going to work best.
Tyrion’s story is the final action for this week’s episode, and in truth we don’t learn an awful lot more. The key scene shows the impact that Shae’s death has had on him: what we see is that he now longer enjoys something which he used to take pleasure from. In a previous review I mentioned that Tyrion was showing signs of depression, this would further support that claim. The episode ends in mystery for Tyrion as he is snatched by Ser Jorah Mormont who states his is taking him to the Queen, but it has been that long since we last say Jorah that we cannot be sure which queen he serves.
Another very strong week for Game of Thrones. Despite not much actually happening within the episode we see advance in lots of the specific character narratives and are treated to new sides to some of them. It appears that Tyrion’s actions in the finale of last series has set off a ticking time bomb, and the pieces are moving to the point where they can explode into action.