Game of Thrones S5E3 “High Sparrow”
After last week’s surprisingly large focused and exciting episode, “High Sparrow” reins in the focus and we find ourselves watching not only a more focused episode, but a more intimate one where we really get some time to explore what’s going on with the characters that feature in the episode. Whether it’s Jon having to step out of his comfort zone to earn respect, Arya struggling with her identity, Tyrion’s unwillingness to use a prostitute, or even Brienne and Pod revealing to each other how they got here, there’s a whole lot of character building moments that the show could really only get to with the proper table setting being taken care of in the first two episodes. Along with the plot lines mentioned, there’s also Cersei’s losing her power by the second, Sansa facing a very difficult decision, and an unwanted change of plans for Tyrion. Let’s begin.
We’ll start things off in King’s Landing where the power dynamic between Cersei and Margaery continues to get interesting. After being promised marriage into the royal family way back in season two, Margaery is finally officially wed to Tommen Baratheon and the marriage is consummated, making her Queen Margaery Tyrell, much to the dislike of Cersei. Cersei couldn’t even stand the crowd cheering for Margaery on the way to the wedding so you know if she’s irate over something minor like that, it’s only going to get worse now that Margaery does have power.
Margaery quickly gets to work on using her new found power. It proves quite easy for Margaery to influence her new husband and she convinces Tommen that Cersei may be happier if she went back home to Casterly Rock. Tommen takes a walk with his mother the very next day and asks her if she does want to go back home. Cersei is quick to realize that Margaery is behind this and goes to confront her later that day. Margaery has tried really hard to play nice with Cersei up to this point but it hasn’t really worked so now that she’s queen, she figures it’s time for a change to the method of attack. Margaery decides to throw shade at her mother in law, bringing up her lack of power, her age, and the likelihood she’ll be a grandmother soon. Cersei realizes she’s not getting anywhere in this conversation and leaves before Margaery can continue with more.
It does seem rather hypocritical what the High Septon does with his free time, but what happens to him seems a bit excessive. The High Septon is enjoying himself at one Littlefinger’s brothels when he meets a rude awakening. Lancel and some other sparrows (the religious cult mentioned in the season premiere) forcibly remove the High Septon from the brothel and force him to walk through the streets, naked. The High Septon later goes to the small council to voice his displeasure at what happened, finding it difficult to paint himself in his holy light considering this happened in a brothel. He says that the location really isn’t the important thing here and asks for the arrest of the sparrows and the execution of the High Sparrow, the leader of the cult.
Cersei does decide to meet with this High Sparrow and he has the look of a humble man, a barefoot man who spends his days serving food to the poor. Cersei brings the news of what happened to the High Septon to his attention and the High Sparrow makes no attempt to hide or deny what happened (although he did say they probably should have went easier on him). He asks Cersei if she means to have him arrested and Cersei surprises him when she says no. In fact, Cersei has had the High Septon arrested and hints to the fact that she might want him to replace him as High Septon. This episode spent plenty of time to show Cersei’s dislike of Margaery so I can’t help but think that Cersei is trying to get to her by exploiting any power she has left. The sparrows have shown they’re willing to be violent already so whatever Cersei plans to do here, she best be careful. She has the habit of turning friends into enemies and this cult is not someone I’d like to be enemies with.
Up north, it is revealed where exactly Sansa is being taken to. When Littlefinger shows Sansa that they have arrived to Moat Cailin, she realizes that Littlefinger means to send her back to Winterfell. She becomes furious at the thought that Littlefinger would agree to wed her to Roose Bolton, the man that killed her brother. Littlefinger corrects her and says she will marry Roose’s son, Ramsay, and says that her best chance at avenging her family is if she consents to the marriage so she can work on destroying the Boltons from within. Sansa reluctantly consents to the marriage and the two make it to Winterfell later in the episode.
This really does seem like a curious move by Littlefinger because he’s so calculating, but this decision doesn’t seem to be a calculating one. In fact, Littlefinger admits to Ramsay that he hasn’t heard a whole lot about him. If Littlefinger knew the slightest thing about him, he might realize that this was a very bad move, just ask Reek. If Reek wasn’t enough, Roose berates Ramsay for another one of his sadistic tirades in the episode. The Cerwyn’s are still loyal to House Stark and refused to pay taxes to House Bolton. Instead of reasoning with them, Ramsay flayed Lord Cerwyn and most of his family alive to send a message to the child Cerwyn that he let live, scaring him into paying his taxes. With all of that, Ramsay’s promise to never hurt Sansa falls on deaf ears. The only hope that Sansa turns out alright here is if Roose seriously drills it into Ramsay’s head that Sansa is extremely important and cannot be hurt. That is all true, the Boltons are poorly supported in the North and a happy Sansa being wedded into the family is probably the only shot at earning some support. I wouldn’t hold my breath on Ramsay realizing this though.
Up to the wall we go where Stannis awaits Lord Commander Jon Snow’s decision to his offer. Jon decides to decline Stannis, saying he truly wants to be a Stark but his loyalty to the watch is forever. Jon then changes the topic and asks Stannis when he plans to depart Castle Black, as feeding the watch, Stannis’ army, and the wildling prisoners is getting to be too much with winter arriving shortly. Stannis tells Jon that he’ll be leaving within a fortnight and he will leave the wildlings fate up to him. Stannis gives Jon some leadership advice, telling him he should send Thorne to lead Eastwatch as to keep his enemies far away. Stannis then leaves but Davos sticks around for a bit. He tells Jon that Stannis sees something special in Jon and asks him to reconsider sticking up at the wall if his goal really is to protect people. After this, Davos leaves.
Later on in the dining hall, Jon prepares to hand out his first orders. Jon appoints Thorne to first ranger and orders Janos Slynt to lead an unmanned castle along the wall. Slynt is outraged at the order and refuses to follow it. Jon insists that he doesn’t have a choice in the matter but Slynt doesn’t back down. Insubordination is a big deal and Jon treats it as such, ordering Janos to be executed. Thorne is Slynt’s only friend here and loathes Jon but even he agrees with Jon, not getting in the way when they come for Slynt. In the courtyard they set up Slynt to be beheaded and when Jon offers Slynt the opportunity for last words, Slynt breaks down. Slynt once again shows off his cowardice and apologizes for ignoring Jon’s order, promising he’ll never refuse an order again and pleads for mercy. The music builds up and ends with Slynt’s plea for mercy and that along with Jon’s hesitation afterward makes you think Jon won’t go through with this. Jon does do it though and with one clean sword slice through the neck, Lord Janos Slynt is no more.
To Braavos we go and more specifically the House of Black and White, where Arya is finding her stay unsatisfactory. Arya is sadly mistaken when she thinks that Jaqen was going to train her the ways of the faceless men right away, her days comprise of sweeping the floors. Arya voices her complaints to Jaqen who accuses her of only wanting to serve herself. Later on, Arya is confronted by a fellow apprentice who is only known as the Waif. The Waif asks Arya who she is and Arya replies that she is no one. The Waif isn’t very pleased with the answer and proceeds to physically beat Arya. Jaqen comes in before Arya can retaliate with Needle and Arya again voices that she’s ready to become no one. Jaqen doesn’t seem convinced, noting that “no one” wouldn’t be wearing Arya’s clothes, have her silver, or have her sword. Arya then realizes what she has to do.
Arya walks over to the docks and parts ways with everything she has, well almost everything. When the time comes to throw Needle into the water, she simply cannot do it. Arya has an incredibly strong sense of identity. While throwing away her old clothes and money may not be renouncing who she is, this isn’t the case with Needle. If Arya throws away Needle, she really is giving up who she is, so much of her life, so much of Arya is tied to Needle. Arya isn’t ready to renounce herself yet and it’s because of this that she doesn’t throw Needle into the ocean. Instead, Arya hides Needle underneath some nearby rocks and returns to the House of Black and White. The transition from Arya Stark to no one is going to be a very difficult one for Arya, so difficult that she may not even go through with it.
Our last check in for the day is with Tyrion and Varys. The two have made progress on the road to Meereen and have reached Volantis, the southernmost of the free cities. Tyrion has reached the point that he simply cannot stay in the wheelhouse any longer and tells Varys that they need to go outside for a bit. Tyrion gets his way and the two take a walk along the Long Bridge of Volantis, the commercial neighborhood of the city. They spot and listen to a red priestess who claims that Dany is the savior that they’ve been waiting for. Tyrion seems skeptical of the priestess, and mocks her from afar the entire time. The priestess gives a long look at Tyrion and Tyrion tells Varys they should find a brothel, not wanting to take the chance that the priestess recognizes him.
The two do find a brothel and the most popular prostitute is a woman costumed as Daenerys. Varys quips that someone who inspires both priestesses and prostitutes is probably a person worth meeting while Tyrion is more focused and upset at the fact that this Dany look alike is taken. Tyrion turns his attention to another prostitute and uses his charm to convince her to sleep with him. Tyrion is then reminded of the trauma of his relationship with Shae, and it causes him to back out of the prostitute’s offer. He instead goes to relieve himself, with Varys losing sight of him. While Tyrion is taking a leak off of the bridge, a man approaches him from behind who he assumes is Varys. Tyrion’s assumption turns out to be wrong and the man is actually Jorah Mormont and Jorah ties up Tyrion and takes him captive, telling Tyrion that he’s taking him to the queen. That of course begs the question, which one? To King’s Landing and Cersei for what would be a lucrative award? Or does he return to Dany who exiled him on threat of death, on the chance that bringing Tyrion to her will return him to good light? I would guess the latter but the wording definitely leaves it up for debate until we get an answer, likely next episode.
Reek cowered in shame and fear that Sansa might recognize him. I know he must feel tremendously guilty about what he did to Sansa’s family, but you get the feeling he can’t hide forever. Reek and Sansa will definitely share some screen time.
Couple of things that didn’t fit in the review. Cersei has Qyburn write a letter to Littlefinger. He receives it sometime later but it was in Winterfell. Roose got curious, seeing the Lannister seal on the letter and opened it up himself. Roose allows Littlefinger to respond, but asks to view the contents of the response letter.
Also of note is Pod and Brienne being very close to Sansa and Littlefinger, obviously unbeknownst to them. Pod and Brienne get some exposition in that’s been long overdue and it might have been my favorite scene of the whole episode. Brienne is going to start training Pod in sword fighting and horseback riding as well.
So The Mountain is still living, violently shaking from time to time. I guess Qyburn knows what he’s doing but I’d be pretty scared of that thing.
The Janos execution scene was very well done. This did not share the same music that the Karstark and Rodrik Cassel beheadings did and that was a smart thing because those were failures while this one looks to be a success. Jon earned some respect from a tough crowd in Thorne, who gave Jon a look of respect and Stannis, who nodded his approval after the deed was done.
Maester Aemon might be dying soon. He is absent from Jon’s meeting and Sam tells Jon it’s because he’s sick. Sick at that age probably isn’t a good thing. Also, Jon has taken on Olly as his steward.
I liked how Pycelle was upset at what happened to the High Septon and commented that a man’s private life should be kept private. He was probably thinking, what if that happened to me?
They’re laying on the greyscale thing pretty thick this season. Just once would have been good enough to explain Shireen’s face but twice mentioned leads me to think it’s going to be very relevant this season.
The humorous moment of the episode has got to be the scene at the brothel, where the High Septon has asked for an elaborate role play. Olyvar breaking character to remind the High Septon that two prostitutes is extra was great.
“High Sparrow” narrows in the show’s focus and offers some great character work and plot advancement on the featured story lines.