Recap Digest: Game of Thrones 5.4, "Sons of the Harpy"

May 04, 2015 by Alex Castle

There are few things more dangerous than a militarized religion, as we have been seeing in our world for generations, so Cersei’s move to arm the Sparrows might seem like a good strategic move—she was able to immediately imprison Ser Loras, to whom she is betrothed and has no intention of actually marrying—but it seems very likely to backfire in the near future. She’s already getting some blowback from her daughter-in-law, the Queen, whose outrage over her brother’s arrest is likely to blow up in Cersei’s face. How long until Tommen sends her away to Casterley Rock—or somewhere even more distant? She’s sent most of the small council away, there is no proper Hand to the King. What happens if Tommen tries to get rid of her and she refuses to go?

Sansa, meanwhile, has been installed at Winterfell with the Boltons, swallowing her vomit and planning to go through with the marriage to Ramsay. Littlefinger, thinking three moves ahead as usual, has correctly guessed Stannis' intention to attack King’s Landing by way of Winterfell, and is betting that Sansa will be made Wardeness of the North once Stannis rescues her from the Boltons. Littlefinger himself may not be there to see it, though, having left Winterfell to respond to Cersei’s summons back to King’s Landing. What could she want from him?

Jon Snow has quickly settled into the drudgery that is managerial work, having taken over the Night’s Watch, and immediately has to contend with the advances of Melisandre, who he rebuffs by citing his continued love for Ygritte. In one of the series' most satisfying-slash-creepiest moments, she replies, “You know nothing, Jon Snow,” suggesting that she has some kind of contact with the dead. Stranger things have certainly happened with the Red Woman.

In the plotline everyone wants to advance already, Tyrion rides as Ser Jorah’s passenger back to Meereen, where Jorah hopes that bringing the imp to Daenerys will win him a pardon. But Tyrion is not exactly loyal to the crown these days, and his strategic thinking and populist instincts are exactly what the Breaker of Chains has been missing in her new kingdom.

That new kingdom is seeing a rebellion different than the one in King’s Landing, as the Sons of the Harpy stage another attack, ambushing a small coterie of Unsullied, who fight bravely with the help of Ser Barristan—bravely enough to take down three times their number before also succumbing. As the episode ends, both Barristan and Grey Worm look to be morally wounded, and it’s hard to think that there will be any peace in either Meereen or King’s Landing any time soon.

Calling this a “truly outstanding” episode, Grantland’s Andy Greenwald loved the way the it treated us to a little normalcy:

So there was Jon Snow, suddenly buried in paperwork instead of glory. Just a week removed from removing Janos’s head, Jon is discovering that for a Lord Commander, the pen is often mightier than the sword. As if fundraising in a dark room weren’t normcore enough, Melisandre approaches Jon not with visions of fire or promises of eternal glory but with the prospect of ordinary, old-fashioned sex. How traditional! How quaint!

But that’s not even the half of it. Rather than act on his well-established love of redheads, Jon somehow manages to stay away from Melisandre’s smoke machine. “I swore a vow,” he stammers. “I loved another.” To her credit, the Red Woman accepts this unexpected bit of blue-balling, saying, “The dead don’t need lovers. Only the living.” “I know,” answers Jon. “But I still love her.” Is the correct response “Awwww” or “Uh-oh”? This is the second time a vow has kept Jon from helping Stannis exact the revenge everyone wants him to exact. Correct me if I’m wrong, but on Game of Thrones, doesn’t fortune tend to favor the flexible? You broke a vow in a cave once, Jon. Isn’t it OK — not to mention a lot more sanitary — to do it again in your office?

But the crazier thing to me is that Jon’s pining for Ygritte is almost painfully storybook — and we all remember the last time Thrones gave us a storybook love affair, right? Prince Charming was shivved right in the heart. Best not to dwell too much on that, I think, as it doesn’t look like Jon’s in any real danger, at least not yet. (As with Jaime, the costume department isn’t going to invest in such a snug-fitting leather tunic only to have it ruined with sword slashes and arrow holes.) Maybe instead let’s wonder why Melisandre is so interested in Jon’s longclaw in the first place. Isn’t she usually only attracted to people with royal blood?

Vulture’s Nina Shen Rastogi zeroes in on Cersei’s gambit with the Faith Militant:

Cersei may be a master plotter, but one wonders whether she’s really thought through what happens to the rest of your face when you cut off your nose. She may delight in the way Loras’s capture has knocked Margaery off her canary’s perch, but to get there she’s unleashed a dangerous force whose goals likely won’t align with hers forever. And if she truly cares for Tommen, she’s doing a terrible job of protecting him. By siccing the Faith Militant on Loras, she can semi-legitimately claim it wasn’t her that threw him in jail. But by telling Tommen to parlay with the High Sparrow himself, she’s not only setting her boy up for failure, she’s sending him into danger: When he climbs out of his litter (a symbol of his coddled, childlike status) and is barred from the sept by angry sparrows, the crowd yells out that he is a “bastard” and an “abomination.” Cersei’s love for her children has been one of the sturdiest through lines in a character who can waver between having a coherent, internal emotional logic and being a cipher who flaps about in the wind and reacts in cartoonishly villainous ways. So it’s hard to tell whether this lack of foresight, or compassion for her own son, is part of a character arc — a sign of Cersei becoming ever more unhinged and desperate — or simply a convenient way of moving the King’s Landing plot forward.

The New York Times' Jeremy Egner was happy to see the episode bring some much-needed momentum into season 5:

Sunday’s episode of “Game of Thrones” felt like the first one of the fifth season to have a bit of the old verve. After Season 4 capped off so many subplots — Tywin vs. Tyrion, Arya vs. the Hound and Night’s Watch vs. the Wildlings, among others — the first few episodes back had to set several new pieces of the story into motion. This was the first hour in which they felt like they were cruising along under their own power.

Parallel developments transpired all over the known world. The Lannister brothers each took fateful boat trips, religious sects sparked panic in the streets of King’s Landing and Meereen, and Rhaegar Targaryen, a dead cypher who nevertheless casts a broad shadow over this story, made what I think was his first substantive appearance in the show, as the subject of lore, in separate conversations held thousands of miles apart.

It was also a brutal week, after the expository drift of the first few episodes — though Janos, Mance Rayder and a few flayed northerners might counter that they were plenty eventful — gave way to blood-letting from sea to narrow sea. Ser Barristan and that greedy Pentosi ship captain arguably got the worst of it, but there was plenty to go around.

Even Tyrion took one across the chops, as we received confirmation that Jorah did, in fact, aim to buy his way back into Khaleesi’s good graces with the gift of a rich black sheep on the lam.

Entertainment Weekly’s James Hibberd looks at Jaime and Bronn’s adventures in Dorne:

Jaime refers to Myrcella as his “niece” instead of his daughter and insists Varys set Tyrion free. These lies annoy Bronn the Blunt, who gives Jaime a look like: So even on this suicide mission you’re still going to lie to me? I get the impression that Bronn is always candid simply because lies are too much work.

Jaime is seemingly forthright about one thing, however: He says he will kill Tyrion if he ever sees him again. And with that line, I’m suddenly thinking Jaime is going to see his brother again.

Jaime and Bronn take a rowboat to the beach at Dorne. It takes me a moment to realize what’s weird about this scene: As diverse as the terrain is on Thrones, there’s not too many sandy beaches (I think they’ve all been rocky).

Bronn worries that the captain that dropped them off will rat them out to the Martells. “I’m not sure you understand how much people hate your family in this part of the world,” he notes.

They’re caught by a Dornish patrol of four horseman. Bronn tries to lie, but as previously noted, it’s not really his style (“Cooper” and “Darnell”!). But Jaime blunders even more by not realizing Dornish waters don’t have sharks. There’s a fight, with Jaime only being tasked with killing one man and Bronn having to take on three. For a moment, we actually start to think Jaime could be in real trouble here, then there’s a great moment where he tries to block a sword with his right hand and is just as surprised his opponent when his attacker’s sword gets stuck in the metal limb. Cue the “handy” jokes. Jaime’s poor attacker almost certainly died totally confused.

And Time’s James Poniewozik is touched by the revelation that Stannis Baratheon has a heart:

Overall, “Sons of the Harpy” was a largely piece-moving episode: it set up a bloody conflict in Dorne, multiplied Dany’s troubles in Meereen, set Jorah and Tyrion on the road, and sent Mace Tyrell off to Braavos with Ser Meryn Trant, whom you may recognize as one of the names on Arya’s shortening revenge list.

But it had powerful moments, one of which reminded us that there are ways other than being born out of wedlock for children in this realm to lose legitimacy. See Shireen, Stannis’ only child, disdained by her mother, who apologizes to him for “[giving] you nothing but weakness and deformity.”

Which is why it was a surprisingly affecting scene to see Stannis telling his daughter how he fought to save and keep her after she fell ill with greyscale. It may be the first time that we hear Stannis talking about a decision that he came to, not because of honor or rigid adherence to law, but simple, febrile love. “I told them all to go to hell,” he says. “You are the princess Shireen of House Baratheon. And you are my daughter.”

I’ll admit it, I choked up. Stannis, you soft-hearted bastard, you.

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