Just when it was starting to feel like this whole season has been stuck on Herschel’s farm, this week delivered a number of plot developments, including the inevitable blowback from Cersei’s Operation Faith Militant landing her in a cell adjacent to her hated daughter-in-law, Sansa’s discovery that her brother, Jon Snow, is not just alive but Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, and the meeting we’ve all been waiting for: Tyrion Lannister finally locked eyes with Daenerys Stormborn Targaryen, Breaker of Chains and Mother of Dragons.
The people who are finding this season distastefully sadistic still got a bit of ammunition for their thinkpieces, as yet another rape scene was barely averted at Castle Black, and Ramsay showed Sansa just how much worse he could make things for her if she doesn’t continue to lie back and think of Winterfell by flaying the old woman who’d promised refuge.
It wasn’t a perfect episode by any stretch – what was the point of having Bronn poisoned by the Sand Snakes if they were just going to flash him and then give him the antidote? I’m glad not to lose yet another favorite character but that was the kind of hamhanded fake-out more common to a far less sophisticated show. (The scene did have its charms, of course.) But there were also a few great scenes, including Diana Rigg and Jonathan Pryce going toe-to-toe in the Sept, framing the Sparrows’ crusade as a populist cause; I also liked Jaime’s confrontation with the daughter that thinks he’s her uncle, Myrcella, who’s found peace and love in Dorne and sees no reason to go back to the backstabbing and palace intrigue at King’s Landing. “I don’t understand,” Jaime pleads. “Of course you don’t,” Myrcella replies, “because you don’t know me.”
The next three episodes have a lot of promise, as Stannis will presumably arrive at Winterfell and Tyrion will presumably take a place in Daenerys’ court, while King’s Landing presumably falls into the hands of the Sparrows – how could it not, with the small council disbanded, Jaime abroad, Cersei in prison, and young King Tommen looking younger every week?
Alan Sepinwall at HitFix appreciates how the episode teases out a secondary theme for the series:
Where “Game of Thrones” seems primarily about the horrible things done by those in power, a secondary theme of the series — and one especially prominent throughout “The Gift” — has involved the way that the powerful tend to underestimate those they view too weak or otherwise insignificant to hurt them. Many of the show’s classic hero and villain types are long dead, sometimes at the hands of the traditionally powerful (Ned being executed at the whim of King Joffrey), sometimes at the hands of someone they looked down their nose at (Tyrion wishing Tywin a painful Father’s Day). And even some of the survivors, like Jaime, aren’t exactly whole anymore. So while someone like Samwell Tarly would seem to have no business still being alive after encounters with White Walkers, Thenns, and a whole bunch of Night’s Watchmen who hate his ample guts, here he stands, nonetheless, in a manner very true to the title of last week’s episode (“Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken”). At Aemon’s funeral, Alliser mocks Sam for running out of friends — with his mentor lying on a funeral pyre and his best friend leading a controversial mission north of the Wall — yet still Sam fights for Gilly, making up in courage all that he lacks in fighting prowess. It’s an excellent moment, even if he requires a massive direwolf assist to carry the moment and get rewarded (albeit in a way that violates his oath) by Gilly. And while Sansa remains very much the tormented and bruised plaything of Ramsay (who is himself an underestimated figure rising to power), we also see that she has yet to be completely broken by him. She’s able to at least momentarily break through to Theon, before he goes back to Reek-dom and scurries back to his master. That Ramsay tortures and kills Sansa’s old friend from the North is a blow, for sure, but we know that Brienne (yet another underdog figure still standing long after the more traditional players have fallen) is keeping watch outside Winterfell, and there may come a point where she goes in looking for her charge, candle or no candle.
The A.V. Club’s Erik Adams also picks up on the survival theme:
The plainest statement on survival comes from the sequence that gives “The Gift” its name: Jorah and Tyrion, having successfully negotiated themselves to the fighting pits, stand among several slain warriors and declare themselves to Daenerys. Jorah’s fellow fighters clumsily bludgeon each other to death, delighting the spectators, disgusting the queen, and disappointing the pit master. But the masked man who emerges from the gates mid-melee fights with skill and confidence. He fells opponents with non-fatal blows, using their own limbs and armor against them. In an arena that favors blunt force, Jorah is artful in his survival. Where the preceding violence is jump-cut brutality, his entry into the fracas plays out in relatively long, relatively smooth takes. His professionalism even halts an early exit by noted fan of professional warriors Daenerys Stormborn. Victory in the pit and a dramatic unmasking make a fitting end to Jorah and Tyrion’s season-five picaresque. Weathering the sea, the stone men, slavers, and each other, the duo clears one last hurdle to stand before the queen. It’s convenient that all three should wind up at the very same fighting pit, but we’re at episode seven (and episode nine will almost certainly depict the battle between Stannis’ frostbitten forces and the Bolton army), so D.B. Weiss and David Benioff are working with limited storytelling real estate here. “The Gift” wraps its Meereen section before Jorah can explain what he means to achieve, but we already got his address about redemption a few episodes back. Once more, the demands of serialized storytelling must be paid heed, so the scene ends on one of those quintessential Game Of Thrones cliffhangers, in which one character drops some sort of bombshell (“My name is Tyrion Lannister”) and the camera does a slow, soap-opera zoom on the assembled players. Ramin Djawadi brings the score to a crescendo, the actors do their best take on “The Californians” (“Tyri-ahn? Whad’re you doing here?”—Emilia Clarke’s face), and we wait for things to pick back up next week. There’s no visual reminder of the infection that’s slowly turning Jorah’s arm into a scaly stalagmite this week, but internally, that gives the character one more reason to meet with Dany ASAP. Swords can be shielded against, servitude can be talked around, but greyscale could be the only opponent Jorah doesn’t survive. And so he gives himself the gift of being in his khaleesi’s presence, knowing that such things are not granted. It’s unclear what he and Tyrion will get out of their trip to Meereen, but in bringing Dany something she can use to win the game, Jorah himself is rewarded.
The New York Times’ Jeremy Egner considers Cersei’s predicament:
Her imprisonment made it three-for-three in the Lannister incarceration department — she, Jaime and Tyrion are each in some sort of captivity at this point. Nice job on that whole legacy thing, Tywin. Your kids are doing even greater things with the name than you’d hoped. Actually, each of Tywin’s children takes key traits from him. Jaime inherited his battlefield valor; Cersei his ruthlessness. Tyrion got the smarts, which have been keeping him alive throughout his great Essos adventure. But what they each lack, in the manner of pampered rich kids in every realm, is his discipline. Or any discipline, really, whether you’re talking about Tyrion’s self-destructive craving for wine or Jaime and Cersei’s for each other. Cersei slammed Jaime a few weeks back for his tendency to act without thinking, but isn’t what she did, in arming the Sparrows, a version of the same thing? She thought as far as she needed to figure out a way to thwart Margaery and then heedlessly pulled the trigger. Now I’d assumed that she was mostly driven by her own sense of malice toward Margaery and self-preservation. (Tommen was making noise about shunting her off to Casterly Rock, remember.) But didn’t that scene with the boy-king make it seem a little more complicated than that? Clearly Cersei wants to protect her own position, but she also knows that king or not, her son is a lamb among the wolves of the capital, starting with his power-hungry queen. Lena Headey, who has been great all season, was tremendous again as a mother desperate to protect the last pieces of family she has left. No matter who or how strong you are, Cersei told Tommen, “sooner or later you’ll face circumstances beyond your control.” The irony, of course, is that she didn’t realize at the time how little control she had over her own circumstances. And the sobering thing for her, aside from a presumed separation from her morning wine, is that her callow little lamb is pretty much the only ally she has left.
Still smarting from last week’s episode, Grantland’s Andy Greenwald looks on the bright side:
Maybe I should practice what I preach, then, and look at what worked with optimism. Diana Rigg and Jonathan Pryce, with their tart two-step, brought back a little of that much-missed Charles Dance magic. The idea of fantasy hoi polloi rising up en masse is fascinating — too often they’re reduced to dragon kibble or merely tossed onto death wagons — but I wish the most prominent avatars of the forgotten classes weren’t anti-buggery religious fanatics and turquoise-clad slave traders. (I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Meereen is the worst. And Daenerys really ought to know better than to wear white to a bloodbath. Do you know how hard it is to bleach out arterial spray?) And I still love Bronn, absolutely and without reservation. It was just a shame to see his charm stashed in a dungeon and yoked to … whatever that was with the flirty Sand Snake. Autoerotic incarceration? Magical antidotes in necklaces? Do they have mulligans in the Seven Kingdoms, and could we possibly take one on all of Dorne? But here I go again. The truth is there’s much to look forward to in the remaining hours of Season 5. I expect Winterfell to get a righteous sacking, and I love a good Jon Snow road trip. And, at long last, Daenerys has found a fire-breather she can’t lock in the basement. Tyrion has been away from power for so long that we forget how masterful he is at wielding it and (especially) advising those with more of it. After seeing the jokers Daenerys has surrounded herself with thus far, it’s a wonder she’s able to hold on to her hat, let alone three teetering megalopolises. Pairing the Mother of Dragons with the Killer of His Father is as exciting as it is overdue. The truth is, Game of Thrones desperately needs Daenerys to be a robust protagonist, not an antiwar metaphor. Unlike the other pretenders, her claim on the throne isn’t based on spite or prophecy. She carries with her a radical agenda of hope and change, and, if people aren’t buying that, she’s got dragons. Daenerys doesn’t want to win the world as much as she wants to remake it. And as the story craters and dead-ends all around her, it’s time for just this sort of radicalism to take flight.