It’s always interesting to note what the episode titles are of each episode of “Game of Thrones,” because they tip us to what’s important, but sometimes they aren’t entirely obvious. This week’s episode, titled “The High Sparrow” hints that we should pay attention to this particular character introduction, in an episode that is jam-packed with plot: a wedding that you barely remember by the end, underage sex, a proposal accepted, a beheading, and a kidnapping. So, this High Sparrow, though we might overlook him initially, is going to be someone to keep an eye on.
We open on a series of close ups on terrifying statues and gargoyles, and there’s only one place we can be: The House of Black and White. Arya (Maisie Williams) is attempting to sweep the floor with decorative Halloween broom, while her Murder Friend, Jaqen H’ghar (Tom Wlaschiha) feeds a man some water while intoning Braavosi greetings. Why should we be surprised when the man drops dead underneath a crying gargoyle, because this place is creepy as heck. Arya has had just about enough of this surreal and morbid scene, tosses the broom and demands to know what’s up — she wants to learn how to assassinate fools, not sweep the floor. Jaqen swiftly tells her to check her privilege and reminds her “a girl has to become no one.”
To make matters worse, Arya has the worst roommate ever (also their room? Pretty sure it’s a mausoleum). This See Ya Next Tuesday clearly feels threatened and demands to know what she’s doing there with a coin she didn’t earn and she doesn’t respect. Jaqen materializes out of nowhere when Roomie starts smacking Arya, asserting that she’s not ready to play “the game of faces.” When Arya protests, he points out that if she’s no one, why does she have Arya’s things? Good point. Arya dumps her clothes and money in the canal, but when it comes to Needle, she hesitates. It’s a truly powerful moment as it’s one of the rare times Arya’s sadness bubbles up as she contemplates losing this connection to her family forever. She ends up hiding it under some rocks — it’s good to see her hold onto a piece of herself, but does she really have the capability to be no one?
READ MORE: Review: ‘Game of Thrones’ Season 5 May Falter at Times, But Is Undeniably Human
Cersei’s (Lena Headey) bumping along the paths of King’s Landing as her damned subjects shout for “Queen Margaery.” For good reason though, it’s Margarey (Natalie Dormer) and Tommen’s (Dean-Charles Chapman) wedding day (and Marg’s wedding weave is on fleek, per usual). This wedding goes much better than the last until OH MY GOD MARG AND TOM DOING IT GROSS HE IS A CHILD!!! Benioff and Weiss lean in to the awkward with a scene of sexy pillow talk between Margaery and her teenage groom.
Margaery’s laying it on thick but it’s clearly manipulation to make him feel insecure about Mommy breathing down their necks, and coyly suggests that Queen Mother might be happier in Casterly Rock. Later, Tommen openly suggests this to Cersei because he has NO GAME. None. Did he learn nothing from his devious mom, dad, brother and grandpa? Nope, nothing, he must have been playing with his cats. Cersei sees right through his suggestion and pays Margaery a visit. The interaction is an epic master class in passive aggressive shade, and surprisingly, Margaery bests Cersei at that (she learned well from grandma Olenna). It’s the one time Cersei looks insecure and unsettled, and when Margaery asks whether to call Cersei Queen Mother or Dowager Queen, well, it is on and poppin’. You can practically see the steam coming from Cersei’s ears.
An opportunity for her to assert some power and shake things up presents itself in the form of a scandal with the High Septon (Paul Bentley), who is rousted from his ritualistic nude fetish play at Littlefinger’s brothel by the Sparrows barging in to slap everyone around. Lancel Lannister (Eugene Simon) hoists the Septon to his feet, tells him he’s profaned the faith, and drags the nude man outside for some public humiliation, whipping him while everyone calls him a sinner (you never know — he might be into this scenario). When the High Septon complains about the assault to Cersei, she does the opposite of what he intended, throwing him in the dungeon and seeking out the High Sparrow, a barefoot Jonathan Pryce, ladling soup in FleaBottom. Cersei clearly sees in him as the opportunity to wrest some power, and he comes with his own gang of swaggering, slap-happy religious zealots in tow.
The last we see of Cersei is in Qyburn’s lab, the place where rats go to get skewered. She wants to send a message to Littlefinger, but the real purpose of the scene is to notice the giant, sheet-covered thing on Qyburn’s table that she asks about. Suddenly it violently spasms. Could that be…. a FrankenMountain?
Well, we’re back in the burned, cold hell hole that is Winterfell, decorated only with the flayed carcasses of Northerners delinquent on their taxes. The broken Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen) is still serving psychopathic Ramsay Bolton (Iwan Rheon) — some absolutely disgusting food at the moment. Ramsay’s dad Roose (Michael McElhatton), the Robb-slayer, informs his son that when it comes to strategic alliances, marriage outweighs public flaying, and guess what, you’re getting married.
When Sansa (Sophie Turner) and Littlefinger (Aiden Gillen) ride up to Moat Cailin, near Winterfell, it’s instantly clear that that marriage proposal Littlefinger mentioned is not for him, but her, and she’s about to become Lady Bolton. To Sansa’s credit, she picks up on this right away — and she’s pissed, rightfully so. But Littlefinger, that master manipulator, convinces her that he won’t force her to do anything, but that she needs to take her power, saying, “stop being a bystander, stop running, there’s no justice in the world, not unless we make it, you loved your family, avenge them.” It’s compelling as hell and it works. When Sansa arrives at Winterfell, she suppresses her rage to greet Roose and Ramsay — her training at the Baelish School for Tight Lipped Fake Smiling has paid off!
Obviously Ramsay is over the moon about his new classy lady, but ultimately, this is a strategic alliance that benefits Littlefinger and Roose’s political ambitions. And Roose ain’t too pleased that Littlefinger got a message from Cersei, because when the Lannisters find out about the marriage, all hell’s gonna break loose. But, Littlefinger reminds him that the last time the North and the Eyrie linked up, they took down the Targaryen dynasty, so history’s on their side.
Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) and Pod (Daniel Porter) are still in pursuit of Sansa and see her ride off towards Winterfell. The two make camp and Pod tells her how he came to squire for Tyrion. Brienne finally warms up to his eternal optimism and cheer and promises to train him in the knightly arts. Teaching him to ride and fight is good for Pod, but it’s good for Brienne too — she needs a competent road dog. She also tells Pod the story of how she came to serve Renly Baratheon, and it’s really a sad tale. Renly saved her at a ball where all the boys made a joke of her, saying, “don’t let them see your tears, nasty little shits aren’t worth crying over.” Brienne is still so upset over Renly’s death, and in fact she was probably in love with him, despite his sexuality. Though the shadow with the face of Stannis can’t be killed, Stannis is a man, and he can be killed.
Jon Snow’s (Kit Harington) settling into his new office as Lord Commander, when Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane) pops in for a meeting and to double check on his offer to join them as they storm the North. Jon passes, and also asks how long they’re going to stay because they’re eating all their food (houseguests, amiright?). Stannis assures him they’ll be out in a fortnight and advises him to execute the Wildlings and send Alliser Thorne far, far away. In more unsolicited advice, Ser Davos (Liam Cunningham) hangs back to tell Jon that Stannis sees something in him and believes in him, and ultimately, Stannis wants to do what’s right. While Jon wants to stay out of politics, Davos reminds him of his oath, the part about “the shield that guards the realms of men.” Davos hits Jon right in his oath-loving soft spot. He even adds in a “I’m not a learned man, but the best way to help the people might not be sitting in a frozen castle at the edge of the world.” Dang dude.
At dinner time, Jon’s got business to take care of, like assigning a latrine building captain. In a particularly magnanimous move, he makes Alliser Thorne (Owen Teale) the First Ranger. In a less magnanimous move, he tells Janos Slynt (Dominic Carter) to pack up for Grey Guard, a ruined fort (let’s hope there’s not two aging socialites there, heh, get it, “Grey Gardens”?). Slynt refuses, hurling insults at Jon and shouts that he “will not have it!” Jon’s like “welp, Olly bring me my sword” and you know what that means, it’s BEHEADIN’ TIME. At first Slynt thinks they’re just clowning him to give him a scare but Jon. Snow. Does. Not. Play. When he realizes this is actually happening, Slynt turns into a blubbery mess, begging for mercy. Jon hesitates but when Slynt cries about being scared, he takes his head clean off. Stannis watches approvingly, but is he also a bit intimidated? Jon’s sending a message about what codes he believes in and who he is willing to execute. He might not be just a pawn for Stannis.
A couple things: the scene is clearly an allusion and call back to season one, episode one when Ned Stark beheaded a man publicly. Jon’s now stepping up into his leadership role, and ruling the way that he was brought up to. It’s also an interesting comparison to last week’s beheading orchestrated by Daenerys — both of these young leaders are having to decide how to show their power, and what their beliefs are, though it seems that Jon’s more willing to be staunch in his justice, while Dany is still figuring things out (though she has much more of a shitstorm on her hands in Meereen than a handful of surly Night’s Watchmen). Wouldn’t it be interesting to see Jon and Dany face off?
Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) and Varys (Conleth Hill) are still trapped in god-forsaken carriage. But, finally, Tyrion’s carriage-fever prevails, and they make a pit stop in Volantis. While Varys explains the tattooed slave classification system, Tyrion comes upon a priestess in the square, preaching the gospel of both the Lord of Light and the Mother of Dragons. While Tyrion’s making peanut gallery wisecracks, she looks directly at him. They lock eyes before he breaks the gaze and scurries off to find a brothel.
At the brothel, a few interesting things go down: 1) There’s a prostitute in bottomless Khaleesi cosplay, and Varys notes that someone who inspires priestesses and whores is someone to take note of. 2) Tyrion charms a snarky brunette — just his type — but he can’t seal the deal. He’s still traumatized by the memory of Shae, and even though he wants to, he can’t. He even quips, “no one is more shocked than I am, I hope it passes, what will I do in my spare time?” And the biggest, 3) JORAH MORMONT (Iain Glen) IS CREEPIN’ IN THE CORNER.
After Tyrion’s self-induced crash and burn, he takes his leave to go take a piss out a window. This is when Jorah Mormont creeps up, hog ties him, and whispers, “I’m taking you to the Queen.” OH JORAH, you poor misguided fool. Why do you think this is going to get you back in Dany’s good graces, and also, that’s where he was headed anyway!
The episode, directed by Mark Mylod, a veteran British and American TV director, is excellent, and clearly the moment in the season when the real plot movement ramps up and things start to happen. Mylod injects the proceedings with a healthy pace, and it’s heartening to finally see the remaining Stark children start to position themselves to affect change instead of running and hiding. Also, to be honest, staying out of Meereen was pretty refreshing too — the chaos and Dany’s questionable leadership is frustrating and the constant quibbling over decision making bogs everything down. Though the allegory of Meereen to other real-life violent takeovers of foreign countries (hmm, can you think of any?) is fascinating, it’s currently the worst thing about “Game of Thrones,” which in every other area is firing on all cylinders.