Recap Digest: Game of Thrones 5.3, "High Sparrow"

Apr 27, 2015 by Alex Castle

This week the characters of Westeros slipped into new identities: Jon Snow took the helm as the new Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch; Margaery became the Queen; Cersei became the Queen Mother (or is it Dowager Queen? I’m as confused by these designations as Margaery); Sansa was betrothed to Ramsay Bolton; Brienne decided to become a mentor to Podrick; and Arya tried to shed her identity entirely.

There’s more: Theon may be able to reclaim his identity (if not his manhood), so brutally stripped from him by a full season’s worth of torture at the hands of the Boltons, when he’s reunited with Sansa, his childhood friend. Tyrion declines the services of a whore, negating half of his entire identity (the other half being drinking) for reasons that are, at this point, unclear. Ser Jorah, banished from Daenerys' court for his early treachery, tries to get back in her good graces by seizing Tyrion and bringing him to her, in hopes of reclaiming his identity as her trusted advisor.

It’s this last one that’s the most intriguing, as the prospect of Tyrion joining Daenerys' court is one of the most exciting in the whole run of the series, and from the point of view of all the other claimants to the throne, the most terrifying. Daenerys already has the most powerful weapon in the seven kingdoms—her dragons. What she lacks is strategic thinking and foresight, and Tyrion has those in spades.

Nina Shen Rastogi at Vulture appreciates the way the cinematography tells the story of Jon Snow’s transformation:

There was a great, evocative shot in Sunday night’s episode — written by David Benioff and D. B. Weiss and directed by Mark Mylod — that finds Jon Snow sitting alone in the Castle Black mess hall/meeting room. He’s just demonstrated some masterful HR maneuvering, defusing his rivalry with Alliser Thorne by naming the older man first ranger (though not before teasing that he might be named latrine captain) and cutting down Janos Slynt by putting the bald, angry weasel in charge of crumbling castle Greyguard. Janos (predictably, stupidly, vociferously) refuses, calling Lord Commander Pretty Hair “boy” and telling him to stick his order up his “bastard’s ass.” Dramatic pause. Jon orders him taken to the yard (to which Alliser Thorne is all like, “Sorry, bro”) and calls for his sword. As the Night’s Watchmen swirl into action and the music begins to mount, Jon stays behind, just sipping his tea.

Suddenly the mess hall has become a green room, a set-apart space where Jon Snow can prepare for the performance that will truly seal his authority as lord commander. When he finally does stand up, the camera lingers for a second on the dark shadows in the empty room, calling our attention to the space — and identity? — Jon is leaving behind. As Jon moves out into the yard to dispense his terrible justice, it’s as if he’s propelling the whole film machine forward: The pacing of the cuts pick up, the music swells, and the actual shot of the beheading comes fast, with the audience positioned right in front of the swinging blade.

Grantland’s Andy Greenwald considers the cold war between Cersei and Margaery for young King Tommen’s soul:

What makes Cersei’s humbling all the more painful is that its prime instigator is Cersei herself — or at least a younger version of her. Margaery is as sly, calculating, and ambitious as the Lannister teenager we saw in the season-opening flashback. Worse, Margaery knows it. After a mercifully brief royal wedding — I’d say that Tommen and Margaery’s nuptials were the Westerosi equivalent of a shotgun marriage, but I think we all remember what a Westerosi shotgun marriage actually looks like — the new queen gets busy getting busy. The union is barely consummated before Margaery begins making her move, concern-trolling Tommen about his mother and wondering — really just spitballing here — if Cersei might be happy living somewhere else?

Thus begins the latest and certainly greatest installment of The Real Housewives of King’s Landing. Cersei, clutching lamely at her son, faux-compliments her daughter-in-law by comparing her looks to “a doll. She smiles quite a lot. Do you think she’s intelligent?” Later, when Cersei approaches Margaery and her giggle-circle, the new queen smiles like Ser Pounce in the dairy aisle. “I wish we had some wine for you. It’s a bit early in the day for us.” Glorious! One could survive in the Dornish desert for a decade with shade like this! But Cersei is a Lannister, not a Tyrell. She doesn’t get off on jousting. She plays for keeps. So while whatever pride she swallowed in front of Margaery ferments into bile, Cersei explores the less direct approach. After all, I don’t think it was godliness that drew her to the man known dismissively as the High Sparrow.6 (With his generous attitudes regarding footwear, it’s best to consider him less as a religious radical and more as the CEO of Toms.) Cersei isn’t pious. She’s a pragmatist. “The faith and the crown are the two pillars that hold up this world,” she tells the Sparrow. “One collapses, so does the other.” Translation: If I’m losing my grip on the latter, you’d better believe I’m digging my nails into the former.

HitFix’s Alan Sepinwall muses on how the ghosts of the show’s past keep a hold on its present:

The dead are on people’s minds even more than usual this week. Arya won’t part with a sword she used in lessons Ned arranged, while Stannis keeps trying to convince Jon to be less rigid than his father. Tyrion finally makes his way to a whorehouse, but is too consumed with thoughts of Shae to partake of its services. And in one of the episode’s highlights, Brienne tells Podrick (now a knight-in-training!) the sad but ultimately hopeful tale of how Renly made her the belle of her own ball, rather than the laughingstock all the other boys viewed her as.

“Nothing’s more hateful than failure to protect the one you love,” she muses, and that’s a burden that hangs over almost every major character who remains on the series.

She also expresses a desire to avenge Renly’s death one day by killing Stannis, and I hope she gets that chance, even though Stannis at the moment is a more sympathetic figure as the man who’s trying to rid the North of the Boltons—who were responsible for the murder of Brienne’s next charge. Sympathy on this show is almost as complicated as power. When your two most hated enemies collide, can you root for anything other than mutually assured destruction?

Then again, given how often this series denies justice to the ones who deserve to take it, I imagine things are going to be much more complicated than Brienne getting a look at Stannis and Roose in the midst of the same battle, and having to choose which one to kill.

And the A.V. Club’s Erik Adams touches on how Tyrion and Varys' journey to Meereen echoes the episode’s theme:

Within this episode of Tyrion And Varys: No Reservations, “High Sparrow” delivers its sharpest points on names and identity. Tyrion can’t disguise himself or his parentage—not that he puts much effort into it. The Lion isn’t a brand like those worn on the faces of the Volantene slaves, but it might be more difficult to cast off. After Varys runs down the identifying and degrading marks of the city’s slave trade—“flies for dung shovelers, hands for builders, tears for whores”—he and his traveling companion are treated to an address from a woman of faith who’s become more than the tear on her left cheek. There are traits, duties, and expectations imprinted on all of these characters—not all of them so easy to see.

Jorah Mormont wears his displeasure for Targaryen role play pretty evidently, though. He’s the Members Only Guy of “High Sparrow”’s final scene, sharing a physical space with Tyrion and Varys without any obvious overlap in their stories. They overlap before the cut to black, though there’s enough ambiguity in Jorah’s words (his first of the season, which are also the last words of “High Sparrow”): “I’m taking you to the queen.” Does he mean the former queen who’s seeking his captive, or the pretender to the throne who cast Jorah out in season four?

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