The sixth episode of Game of Thrones season five takes the viewer on a wild ride across Braavos, Dorne, Volantis, Kings Landing and Winterfell – there is literally action in every corner of the known world! Arya begins to learn how the game is played, Tyrion Lannister starts to bond with his captor Jorah Mormont, Dorne explodes with competing attempts to capture Princess Marcella, and the Faith has all but put House Tyrell in checkmate thanks in no small part to the Queen Mother. Oh, and then there’s Sansa (face palm, shakes head) – tons of horrible shit after the jump.
This episode is titled ‘Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken’ which are also the words of House Martell, the nobles of Dorne. Really interesting story, they were the only Kingdom not to kneel before the Targaryen conquerors back in the day. They fought and resisted, ultimately coming to a truce that included their sovereignty, and a mixture of their bloodline with House Targaryen. The moral of the story is a cautious generals old favorite – when faced with a more powerful enemy, sometimes it’s just as effective to wait them out rather than defeat them on the battlefield. Sure you’ll take some hits in the short run, but if you’ve used what you have to your advantage, whilst keeping your eye on the endgame then you might just end up the victor.
The overarching theme this week is about playing the game (of thrones), which involves deceit, theater and a total obfuscation of ones self and one’s true motives. Arya is at a sort of boarding school for liars, the House of the Black and White where she’s learning, in addition to how to scrub a floor, how to become no one – a faceless man. Her training involves learning when to spot a lie, how to tell a convincing lie, and ultimately understanding why you must lie. Her instructor, Jaqen H’ghar, can smell bullshit a mile away and isn’t afraid to beat her down when she fails. It’s only when she’s left to her own devices that Arya learns the value in these lies, that there are times when being lied to can be something other than just a malicious deception. Through that lesson she is able to graduate to the next level of her training, and she’s let into the basement where they keep the rest of the super creepy shit. Bide your time and you will be rewarded.
Tyrion and Jorah begin to have a healthy exchange on their way across Valyria. The upside to being attacked by stone men and almost dying is that it really brings people together. Tyrion even mentions Jorah’s father, the former Lord Commander Mormont who died at the hands of his men in the North. Its through this discussion that Jorah asks whether or not Tyrion believes in something greater than himself. He’s talking about faith, particularly about the first time he saw Daenarys and her dragons emerge from Kal Drogo’s funeral pyre. Jorah sucks at lying. It’s why he’s in this situation to begin with, but Tyrion is a pro and not someone to be caught up in the falsehoods of faith. His fast tongue saves them both when they’re captured by slave traders (led by Lost alumni Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) bound for Volantis. Tyrion spins a web of lies that they’re hoping will land them right in Khaleesi’s court.
By comparison we see the amateur hour in Dorne, where Jamie Lannister and Bronn attempt to free Princess Marcella only to be attacked by the Sand Snakes who are also there to kidnap Princess Marcella. In a fight scene that resembles a Benny Hill sequence, they’re both defeated when Prince Doran’s guards break things up. The adaptation of the Sand Snakes is greatly lacking, perhaps one of the major downfalls of the show thus far. We’re banking that the real powerhouse in this whole plot line is Alexander Siddig’s Prince Doran Martell. There’s a lot of build up to this character, which could justify the investment the audience has made. Can we hold off the mediocre storylines long enough to get to the good stuff in Dorne?
One could say the patron saints of staving off your enemies, and controlling the situation with a keen ability to lie are Petyr Baelish and Olena Tyrell. Both have come to King’s Landing to do course corrections for their mutual long-con investment in House Lannister. Now that Cersei is running the show things have gotten a little interesting. No longer are the motives of House Lannister about retaining power and controlling the kingdoms, they’re about crushing their enemies at court and political maneuvering at a costly price. Can Cersei cash all the checks her mouth has been writing lately? We’re not entirely sure since she’s going up against two powerhouses:
Lord Petyr Baelish has become one of the best characters on the show. We’ve been with him through so many machinations its like nuzzling up to a comfy old blanket when he spars with Cersei and then jyhads her into a corner with news of a Bolton/Stark alliance. He may not be stronger, but he’s smarter and more quick witted that most in Westoros.
Equally masterful is the Queen of Thorns Lady Olena Tyrell, with her complete abandon at the hands of a batshit fucking crazy queen mother. Little does Cersei realize that Olena (along with Baelish) were the conspirators behind the death of her son Joffrey. Can Cersei play with the big kids? Many folks were critical of A Song of Ice and Fire book four, which was the first to offer readers POV chapters from Cersei. It’s in those pages that the reader gets to experience first hand how her mind works, and it is impressive. We’re seeing glimpses of those pages come to life and it’s worth every moment.
Sansa Stark. Our lovely Sansa, everyone wept tonight. We’ve been through everything with you, through Joffrey, through losing your father, through being married to The Imp, through your trauma in The Vale but nothing compared us for this. Tonight you went through the ringer; being taunted by Miranda, being wed to Ramsey Bolton under the godswood, and then being raped by him while Reek was made to watch. You have suffered, and frankly HBO it’s been really hard to watch. Many folks are already putting this closing scene on par with the Red Wedding and will likely spawn more conversations beyond this episode summary, especially about violence against women.
That being said, within the narrative it’s in this scene that once again the lines are blurred – fucking G.R.R. Martin. Naturally we empathize with Sansa as the protagonist, but reading this scene from Ramsay’s perspective it’s he who has waited out his enemies and played them into his web of lies. “Now that we’re man and wife, we should be honest with each other” he said before raping her. He’s played the game and won, at least for now.
We know that Brienne of Tarth and Podrick Payne lay in waiting outside Moat Cailin. We also know that Sansa has been groomed for politics by the best of the best. Will Sansa light the candle and call in reinforcements? Will she hold out and claim her revenge another day? Next week’s episode ‘The Gift’ may not hold answers to these questions as this season tends to be doing the whole “one week on/one week off” plot approach. We’ll have to wait, so until then watch your back and sharpen your blades.
Game of Thrones airs Sunday nights on HBO.