Marriage is constantly afoot in “Game of Thrones,” as a tool of political machination, this season especially so. In “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken,” written and directed by Bryan Cogman and Jeremy Podeswa, respectively, we have the second wedding of the season, amongst several engagements and arrangements set into play or set asunder. That marriage is such a cold, calculating, political thing in this world, it seems unfair that it also has to involve things like love and sex, which really came home to roost for Sansa this week, on a very traumatic wedding night.
This was not a good week for the Stark girls. It was really, really hard to see the headstrong, lively, and principled young women of House Stark abused and subdued before the forces — the men — who stand in the way of their foreseeable goals. It’s telling though, to consider the title of this week’s episode, because while Sansa (and Arya, to a lesser extent) are very much bowed, bent, and broken at this moment in time, a viewer has to take solace in the fact that this abject situation can only fuel their inevitable revenge more.
Hate rules the movements of this episode, from Ramsay’s manipulation and assault of Sansa, to every move that Cersei makes politically, driven by an inner rage and bitterness, hardly even ambition anymore, to the vengeance seeking of the Sand Snakes in Dorne. While leadership in Westeros has never been stable, with reference to the Mad King every episode now, these current leaders are following tradition, ruled by emotion, petty disagreements, vengeance and anger.
Podeswa and Cogman once again structure this episode in a unique way, lingering for scenes in particular places rather than cut away or bounce around. And as agonizing as they are, the director and writer do fine work with the Ramsay Bolton scenes, taking their sweet time, until the walls fairly drip with creepiness. The tone is mostly subdued, with a few moments of levity or bombastic energy (because it is ‘Thrones’ after all), and that’s not to say that these episodes are any better or worse than the wild energy of the previous Mark Mylod-directed episodes (or any other), just that Podeswa has a difficult task in rendering these tough moments that will set up what will no doubt be a dramatic final third, and he does so with care and aplomb.
Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) has gotten very, very good at washing dead bodies at Jaqen H’ghar’s School for Faceless Assassins, but unsurprisingly, she’s sick of it. She wants to know where those bodies are going, and she wants to play the game of faces. She blows up at her “friend,” who reminds her that she’s not ready, and proves Arya’s trusting nature and gullibility by telling a tall tale (maybe) about her background.
The lying policy seems pretty contradictory though, as Jaqen (Tom Wlawschiha) shows up in Arya’s room to beat her with a switch and berate her about lying as she tells her life story (she gets switched especially when she says she hated The Hound). Arya is angry, rightfully so, but that appears to be just the game of faces.
Spurred by her desire to move on, up, or maybe just stop scrubbing floors and dead bodies, when a father brings a sick girl to be put out of her misery at the House of Black and White, Arya ably spins a comforting story for the girl and gives her a sip of the death water. When Jaqen finds out, instead of punishing her, he brings her down to the basement full of dead people faces (cool basement). He tells Arya she’s not ready to be “no one,” but she is ready to be “someone else.”
Island off of Volantis/Vyleria
Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) and Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen) aren’t really getting along so well as as road dogs, subsisting on roots and berries, and arguing about their plans. But the adverse situation gets them all confessional, and Tyrion tells Jorah about his family situation (killing dad, escaping King’s Landing). He also lets slip to Jorah that his dad, Jeor Mormont (Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch), died by mutinous hands in Craster’s Keep, a fact which Jorah did not yet know, and it clearly hits him hard.
The two road dogs debate Daenerys’ queenly abilities (Mormont puts a lot of stock in “baby dragon singing,” um, no), but before they can get into the meat of the discussion, they stumble upon an anchored slave ship and, oops, slavers too, including Mr. Eko from “Lost” (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje). They are about to become a galley slave and a dwarf cock sold to a merchant, but silver tongued Tyrion puts his gift of gab to use, effectively convincing them that his cock is just not verifiably dwarfish separate from his body, and that Jorah is such a legendary fighter that he must be put to profit in the newly reopened Meereenese fighting pits. The slavers take them up on that.
Myrcella (Nell Tiger Free) is swooning about the Water Gardens with her hunky piece of intended Dornish man meat, Trystane Martell (Toby Sebastian). Those teen lovebirds are getting hot and heavy, but unfortunately, there’s two different bloodthirsty groups of kidnappers headed their way — her Uncle/Dad Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), and his right-hand (ugh, sorry) man Bronn (Jerome Flynn), as well as Oberyn’s ferocious daughters, the Sand Snakes.
The two groups converge on the Water Gardens at the same time to snatch Myrcella, and we’re treated to the sight of Bronn almost getting his ass handed to him by three small, wily women. The Sand Snakes almost escape with the quarry, but get stopped by Doran’s (Alexander Siddig) faithful security man and crew, who gather up the whole lot before they get off the premises.
Baelish (Aiden Gillen) has arrived in King’s Landing, and before he makes his way to meet with Cersei, he has a threatening little encounter with Brother Lancel (Eugene Simon). In her office, Littlefinger questions Cersei’s (Lena Headey) rash decision making with the Faith Militant and Loras. And though Cersei throws shade with the best of them, she seems greatly outmatched by Littlefinger.
Curiously, Littlefinger tells her that he “found” Sansa Stark, she’s at Winterfell, and that he “hears” she’s marrying Ramsay Bolton. Cersei, naturally, is incensed, and in her rage-filled state, way in over her head, she’s ripe for Littlefinger’s manipulations. He mentions Stannis Baratheon’s army readying for battle at Winterfell and that someone should swoop in and take out the weakened victor. If he offers up his Knights of the Vale, can he be Warden of the North? When Cersei mentions she wants Sansa’s head on a spike, Littlefinger only purrs, “I live to serve.” How do you spell Littlefinger? D-O-G.
Cersei gets another visitor, the welcome sight (for us) of the Queen of Thorns, Lady Olenna Tyrell (Diana Rigg). Cersei truly is no match for her shade (Olenna calls her a “tart,” and it’s amazing), and it appears that Lady Olenna outpaces her in political maneuvering, too, threatening to pull the Tyrell funds. But Cersei can’t unring the hateful bell of the High Sparrow and the Faith Militant, and she’s got something up her sleeve. They hold a holy inquest into Loras Tyrell’s (Finn Jones) sexuality, and even call Margaery (Natalie Dormer) to the stand. They both deny the charges, and are rendered perjurers when the High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce) calls Loras’ lover, Olyvar (Will Tudor), to the stand, who attests to their relationship (including his Dorne birthmark) as well as Margaery’s knowledge of it. The High Sparrow calls for the siblings to be tossed in the dungeon before a real trial. Of course, Tommen (Dean-Charles Chapman) sits there uselessly as his Queen is dragged away.
It’s Sansa’s (Sophie Turner) wedding day, so of course Ramsay Bolton (Iwan Rheon) sends Myranda (Charlotte Hope) to give her a bath and some very intimidating advice that mostly dwells on his past girlfriends, who were chewed on by dogs after boring him. Sansa musters up some courage to stand up to her, but can she stand up to Ramsay?
Theon (Alfie Allen) shows up, clean and dressed, to take Sansa to her Wintery Snowfall Woodsy Fantasy Wedding, outside in the falling snow. Theon, in giving her away, even presents himself as his old identity, her father’s ward, a formality, surely, but no doubt a profound moment for him. Surrounded by hostile, intimidating men, Sansa manages to choke out her vows, accepting Ramsay and saying, “I take this man.”
Ramsay leads her to the honeymoon suite, filled with candles and bearskins of all kinds. Of course his foreplay involves creepy, creepy chit chat about her sexual history, and whether or not she’s lying about it. Theon is still there, and Ramsay commands him to stay and watch, to both his and Sansa’s horror. Theon must bear witness to Sansa’s brutal rape. Podeswa shoots the majority of the incident, slowly pushing in on Theon’s tearful face (with Sansa’s horrible cries in the background), and the result in one of the least gratuitous, but most powerfully impactful rape scenes of the series, unfortunate though it is that we had to see one at all (as Sansa’s storyline has been diverging from the books, it seems likely this incident is show-created). As a closing scene, it is incredibly dark, and a horribly unjust and horrific moment in which to see one of our heroines. Do Theon’s tears and Sansa’s growing power, coupled with this violent act, mean that the North will rise again? We can only hope Ramsay is going to get his, soon. No doubt it won’t be pretty.
Thoughts? Shoot ’em below.