A review of tonight's “Game of Thrones” coming up just as soon as I want my death to be boring…
“How many tens of thousands had to die because Rhaegar chose your aunt?” -Littlefinger
Rhaegar Targaryen's name is actually invoked a couple of times in “Sons of the Harpy.” The first is from that scene quoted above, where Littlefinger finds Sansa down in the Stark family crypt and recalls the moment when Robert's Rebellion started. At first, he makes the incident sound almost romantic, before pivoting into talk of all the bloodshed that followed, which in turn leads to the subject of the violence to come once Stannis' army starts marching south. The second involves reliable old Barristan, who delights his queen with tales of the brother she never knew as someone who preferred singing to killing, and who enjoyed acting the minstrel down among the common people.
That Littlefinger could think of him as a kidnapper and rapist(*) who triggered a civil war, while Barristan recalls a gentler soul doesn't make either man's memory faulty. Rather, it's a reminder that on “Game of Thrones,” as in life, monsters can have their human moments, and vice versa, and how you choose to view either one can simply be a matter of perspective. And “Sons of the Harpy” is full of characters seeing people and situations in a way very different from how the audience, or some of the other regulars, might.
(*) Though note how Littlefinger shrugs off the rape like it's a minor detail when Sansa mentions it.
When Tyrion murdered Tywin at the end of last season, it was a moment for us – and the many Lannister-haters in Westeros – to cheer. But when a cheerful Bronn asks Jaime to say hi to the imp for him should their paths ever cross again, a bitter Jaime says, “He murdered my father. If I ever see him, I'll split him in two. And then I'll give him your regards.” And the show often presents Stannis as an entitled creep and zealot, yet we also get to see him as a caring and sympathetic parent to the daughter his horrid wife dismisses as someone who gave Stannis “nothing but weakness and deformity.”
Cersei, meanwhile, sees the High Sparrow as a weapon in her feud with Margaery, yet – as as happened a time or twelve in our own world's history – doesn't seem to understand how difficult it is to control religious extremists once you've armed them. Yes, she gets them to drag Loras into a cell, but she's also deputized a group who view her son as an abomination born of incest. The Kingsguard probably could have won a fight against the Faith Militant in that moment, but it would have gotten ugly and Tommen would have been at risk. And this group doesn't seem like they'll be easy to get out of power now that Cersei has given them such authority.
Over in Meereen, Dany has no illusions about the danger posed by the Sons of the Harpy, but she remains oblivious about how to deal with them, or any of the other factions causing unrest in her new kingdom. (Assuming she doesn't just execute Tyrion the moment Jorah delivers him to her, the imp cannot possibly get there fast enough to help her figure out all of the things she's doing wrong.) And moments after Barristan tells that nostalgic story about Dany's late brother, he happens on the Sons' ambush of the Unsullied. He's a remarkable fighter, as is Grey Worm, but the numbers are badly against them, and the scene, and episode, ends with a shot very reminiscent of the end of the famous “Breaking Bad” parking lot shootout in “One Minute,” where one or two of the Mother of Dragons' most trusted fighters could be dead by the time the next episode begins.
It's a memorable sequence, but not even the best piece of action in “Sons of the Harpy,” which also offers us the spectacle of Bronn doing what Bronn does best on the shores of Dorne, and Jaime getting very lucky with his gold hand(**), as well as a glimpse of one of the Sand Snakes being very gifted with a spear that evokes Oberyn.
(**) First the gold hand gets Jaime out of rowing duty, now it saves his life in a sword fight. At some point, is he going to start feeling grateful that Locke cut the flesh hand off? Nah, probably not.
There's a lot of father-daughter issues woven into this one, as well. Stannis gives Shireen a reason to smile. Jaime's on a mission to rescue his daughter, while the Sand Snakes are out to avenge their Oberyn's death. (There are also surrogate fathers of different stripes, from Barristan with Dany to the much creepier and more complex relationship between Littlefinger and Sansa.)
And Jaime is, of course, among the show's more complicated characters – at times (like the incident with Cersei after Joffrey's murder) even more complicated than the show may have intended him to be. We may root for him to succeed in this mission because he's after his daughter, and because he and Bronn are such lovable rogues together, and even because he smiles upon realizing they're passing the island of Brienne's birth, but Jaime's been responsible for some horrible things in this show, just as the Sand Snakes have a legitimate beef with House Lannister.
This show likes to make us question our loyalties and sympathies, and while there are certain characters whom we can always pull for (Hodor, most notably), it's a world of greys more than blacks and whites. That's where “Game of Thrones” comfortably – and, in an episode like this, thrillingly – lives.
Some other thoughts:
* We get our first new opening credits map location of the season in Dorne, whose design highlight is the snake curling around the spire. Given that Dorne already appeared on the show in an episode where it wasn't on the map, and that I tend to wonder how the decisions are made about what's on the map and what isn't, I got on the phone this week with “Game of Thrones” producer Greg Spence, who explained some of the logistics and thinking behind how the map looks each week.
* Anybody else cackle very loudly at Melisandre closing up her dress and saying, “You know nothing, Jon Snow” after the lord high commander declined her advances? The Red Witch, like her king and lover, can be creepy, but that was a fun (if also eerie) moment.
* I suspect Cersei sending Meryn Trant to accompany Mace Tyrell to Braavos mainly means bad things for Margaery's father, yet I couldn't help thinking that there is a girl in Braavos who recites Trant's name every night as she tries to sleep by thinking of the people she intends to kill.
* Jorah and Tyrion have a ways to go until they get to Meereen, but it was fun watching Tyrion pull a Sherlock Holmes and identify his captor based on a few simple details.
* This was the last episode sent to critics before the season, as well as the last of the four episodes that were pirated. Even though the leak didn't come from a critic, that's the end of the screener supply, at least for this season. Them's the breaks. With two “Mad Men” episodes to go after tonight, plus me being on vacation next Sunday, some improvisation will be required. The plan is to go with guest reviewers for the next two episodes, and then presumably I'll get back in the saddle for episodes 7-10. Play nice while I'm gone, folks!
As usual (though this may be the last season in which we have to do it, as the show has begun significantly deviating from and/or passing the books), all comments will be moderated to prevent book spoilers from slipping in. We are here to talk about “Game of Thrones” as a television show, not do constant comparing and contrasting of the show and the books. There are plenty of other places online to do that, and if your comment discusses the books, it won't be approved.
With that in mind, what did everybody else think?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at email@example.com