Review: ‘Game of Thrones’ – ‘Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken’: Can’t Start a Fire without a Stark

Alan Sepinwall is on extra-special “Mad Men” duty this week. In his absence, I am stepping in to guest recap “Game of Thrones.”

I”m a TV viewer who gets very, very wary anytime shows start to take themselves too seriously (I”m looking at you “True Detective”, and a bit less at you, fancy show that had its finale tonight.)  And for one with that mindset, “Game of Thrones” has been a godsend.  It is often the one show on television that can be smart, deep, deal with big issues, but never ever forgets to be fun.
That”s why, perhaps, “Game of Thrones” has been immune to the sort of Twitter-driven over-hyping that plagued the afore-alluded to “Mad Men.”  “GoT” is on some basic level, a show that it”s impossible to get ridiculously pretentious about – without looking ridiculous very quickly.

“Game of Thrones” deals with the biggest issues on earth in a complex and subtle manner. But at the time same time it remains very much a show with dragons and swordfights and zombie armies attacking the wall; the sort of things that keep a critic”s feet on the ground, as it were.

And the fun thing about guest-recapping “Game of Thrones” when our esteemed critic, Alan Sepinwall is indisposed, is that one can have fun with and about a show, that despite all its big themes, never takes itself too seriously.

So wouldn”t you know it, I pull recapping duty tonight.  “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken” they called it.  Well, after sitting through the episode, I can only say, Game of Thrones – speak for yourself.

In five seasons, this was the first episode I would call “unpleasant:”: from the opening sequence to the very final note.

It was inevitable, and perhaps it was something the show had to get out of its system. The entire premise of “GoT” is the struggle of people to survive and maintain a little humanity in an extra-nasty time. Every character by this point has had to battle to keep afloat, and as the episode”s title suggests, each bears some pretty heavy scar tissue.

So when it came to Sansa”s quasi-shotgun wedding to Ramsay Bolton, it is the “Game of Thrones” not to let us skate by with euphemisms about how heavy a price Sansa was forced to pay in taking this step.

But that”s not quite good enough. It wasn”t just that the show made it clear what the new Mrs. Bolton endured, it made a point of pulling the rug right out from under us. The scenes prior to the wedding built us up with the idea that coy little Sansa had finally been shed and become a strong, powerful woman in her own right. And then she was subjected to the most awful and – with Theon forced to look on – humiliating ordeal that any character on the series has yet endured; and that”s saying a lot.

It”s a tough world, particularly for Starks; evil besetting their innate goodness from all sides and what have you. For anyone who didn”t get that before, I guess its spelled out for you in mile high neon letters now. Do with that information what you will.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the narrow sea, Sansa”s sister is busy cleaning corpses and trying to forget everything she ever was. She makes big strides when she talks a sick girl into drinking a cup of poison without any fuss. But there”s one problem: how”s a Stark girl to sleep at night if they won”t tell her what becomes of all these dead people she spends her days so diligently cleaning?  Are they being used as paperweights? Doorstops? Dragonbait?  Turned into a zombie army?  Kept as souvenirs?   

Well, a little of all the above it turns out. After she makes a hit with her talking the sick girl into drinking poison skills, Jaqen rewards Arya by showing her at last what they do with cleaned corpses around here and takes her into the Secret Hall of the Faceless Men (reservations encouraged), and wouldn”t you just know it! They use the corpses to fall up holes in all their walls and pillars to make a living chocolate box with their faces!  That was my next guess!

Well, now we all know just how creepy the people Arya is stuck with are. And I”m sure we all feel better having our minds set at ease on that.

That”s the big news on the Stark girls front, which was the big news of a night that felt very much an episode between big news. Some other random thoughts from the evening:

– Is everyone just ignoring the fact that Sansa is already married?  Don”t you need a maester to annul a wedding in these parts? If she”s a bigamist, wait till the Sparrows get their hands on her.

– What happened to Varys? Is he still searching the brothel where Tyrion was abducted.

– Tyrion scores the line of the season with “Guess again.”

– More Sandsnake fighting please.

– Margaery is not going to do well in Sparrow prison.

– One has to admire Littlefinger. Say what you will about him, since the passing of Tywin (RIP), he”s the only one who plays the game consistently, with no emotions getting in his way. Of course he sold out Sansa, just like he sold out her father.  Or did he??

– I didn”t miss the dithering Dany plotline from this episode.  I”d be perfectly happy to cut away from her until she”s ready to invade Westeros.

– Ser Jorah touched an awful lot of people for a guy with grayscale in that fight. Is he going to set off an epidemic?

– So we”re just going to skip that Stark child that was becoming a tree this season? (Not to mention Rickon).  Fine by me, but just checking.

What did you think?  Share your thoughts in the comments and valar morghulis to you all.