“It can’t be any worse.”
Rotten Tomatoes is certainly not the be-all and end-all when it comes to film and television criticism (*cough* Speed Racer *cough*), but when a series that has never dipped below 90% since the site started cataloging scores for each individual installment (83%, if you include Seasons 1-3, whose reviews would be based on only the first four episodes) is suddenly ‘rotten,’ that’s saying something. And, to be honest, Game of Thrones earned that 58% with a truly subpar outing last week. “The Gift” was significantly better thanks to two really terrific threads and only a brief stop in Dorne.
“They call it the long farewell.”
It’s becoming fashionable to rag on the Dorne storyline but it’s hard to deny that the Sand Snakes have been a major let-down. And it’s not just a ‘book-reader’ thing; after Pedro Pascal killed it as Oberyn, everyone was expecting them to be serious badasses. I will say that the scenes there this week were a slight improvement - how could they not be after last week’s terribly stupid and clunky courtyard sequence? - thanks to Tyene getting to show, uh, a little personality while verbally sparring with Bronn. In all seriousness, the nudity makes sense for the character but it still felt a little weird. Probably, because of the huge age gap between the characters. Oh well, at least the Snakes weren’t super stiff. The scene between Jaime and Myrcella was amusing as well, largely because the daughter-niece dropped a ‘you don’t know me.’ All that was missing was a finger wag.
“The nights are so long now.”
Well, those that were upset with the wedding night rape scene can take comfort in the fact that the abuse was not just a one-time affair. Nope, Sansa Stark is spending her days at Winterfell locked in her room and her nights beings bruised by Ramsay. At least Game of Thrones didn’t use the assault as a way to shake Theon out of his Reek-state, because his redemption would have been a pretty appalling reason to include the rape of one of the show’s major characters. But, thanks to the future Warden of the North’s expert brainwashing, Reek’s participation in the candle mission only served to strengthen his bond with Ramsay as he ended up ratting Sansa out. A nice bit of misdirection. Looks like she’s going to have to save herself. Although, Brienne is still close-by and she might get tired of waiting.
More likely though, is Brienne making a move on Winterfell because Stannis is suddenly also in the mix and then she’ll be torn between her oath to Catlyn and her revenge for Renly. Plus, this season has been all about convergence. Everything is starting to come together. Oh, and back to things ‘burning,’ Melisandre is pushing for Stannis to burn Shireen to help their crusade through the snow to battle the former Snow. So that’s why we got all those nice scenes between the King and his Princess. I hope that ‘get out’ is a definite no and not a ‘no for now.’ Davos is already second guessing the match through winter; I wonder what he’ll have to say when he hears this idea. The one thing that could make him turn on Stannis? Will next week be this big battle in the snow?
“And now his watch has ended.”
First things first here, I'm not really a big fan of the show going back to the rape well, sorry, attempted rape well, as a way to show that a situation or location is unsafe for a female character. There are plenty of ways to show that the Wall is no longer a good spot for Sam, Gilly and Little Sam; you don’t need to have Night’s Watchmen try and assault her to make that point. It’s always nice to see Sam show some backbone (our boy’s come a long way) but that device is more than a little played out. Stannis would rather take his wife and daughter into battle than leave them at the Wall for R’hllor’s sake.
Thorne also made it pretty clear that friendly faces are getting fewer and farther between with Jon leaving for his mission to save/recruit the rest of the wildlings, and Maester Aemon being this week’s casualty. The push-in over him as he lay dying was absolutely gorgeous. He was always one of my favorite characters. Probably because he was one of the few with honor and without ambition. And speaking of watches ending, I think it was also pretty telling that this was the episode in which Sam finally broke his vows with Gilly. Is he done with being a Night’s Watchmen? While he might not be able to officially leave the brotherhood, you know, beheadings and all that, perhaps there’s another way out? The answer seems to lie south.
”‘A man of the people,’ is that’s your game?”
When I mentioned the two terrific threads in “The Gift,” I was talking about the sequences in King’s Landing and those in Meereen. In the capitol, we get a lot of scenes of Cersei being smug (and we know from Seinfeld that “smugness is not a good quality”) before she finally gets her comeuppance. Did everyone see that coming? I loved the image of the cell door closing as the final shot. What a great way to end the episode, and one oddly reminiscent of The Godfather. And while people have not been particularly pleased with how the Sand Snake casting turned out, the show couldn’t have found a better High Sparrow than Jonathan Pryce. He’s incredible as the series’ new antagonist.
Any scene that contained Pryce was a joy to watch. Him sparring with Diana Rigg’s Lady Olenna was almost as enjoyable as the final stretch when he turned on Cersei. We were also pretty fortuitous to get a scene between Olenna and Littlefinger, two of the best players in the game. Too bad Tyrion and Varys weren’t there to join that exchange, it would be the wittiest in history. I’m not sure if his gift was for Olenna was Lancel or if the High Sparrow already had that one in his pocket. I guess this episode could have been clearer. Or maybe I was just lost in the banter and game. And one of the best parts of “The Gift” was an edit that joined sequences in Meereen and King’s Landing as Daario’s words about rulers were still in the air as the show cut to Tommen. Poor Tommen, he seems to be doing even worse than Margaery.
“All rulers are either butchers or meat.”
Even more exciting than the cell door shutting on Cersei in the episode’s final seconds was Tyrion’s introduction to Daenerys. It’s hard to believe but I’m actually really excited about Dany’s storyline going forward. The feeling that things are finally starting to converge instead of continuing to expand is also quite welcome. It’s rad that Game of Thrones is such a big world full of exciting characters, but the series was often in danger of being stretched too thin. It’s hard to develop engaging narratives, as well as people to populate them, when you only have a few minutes a week. Before they all came together at the end, Jorah and Tyrion first found themselves on the auction block being sold to a slaver named Yezzan.
Tyrion is once again at his best when he’s forced to save his skin, boasting about being a great warrior (which, to be fair, he kind of is) before pummelling the slave trader in order to be bought alongside Jorah. The scene in the fighting pit was sort of a letdown, rehashing a lot of shots seen in other gladiator movies and TV shows - like showing nervous faceless fighters before cutting to a calm main character - but the payoff more than made up for the mediocre fighting. While Dany isn’t too happy to see Jorah again, she does seem pretty intrigued by Tyrion. I’m excited to see where that partnership leads. Do you think Daario will also be jealous of the dwarf? Maybe he’ll recommend that the ‘Little Lion’ be included in the butchery he advised?
“It can. It can always be worse.”
Game of Thrones continues with Episode 8, “Hardhome,” next Sunday at 9:00 p.m. ET on HBO. Based on the "Song of Ice and Fire" novels by George R.R. Martin, the series was adapted for TV by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss and stars Peter Dinklage, Kit Harington, Emilia Clarke, Lena Headey and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau.