Remember last week when I said revenge was brewing? I must’ve been right, because there’s an apt verb that goes with that noun, and it was said three times in this week’s Game of Thrones: avenge. Two is a coincidence. Three is a pattern.
Littlefinger really must have something up his sleeve. That “marriage proposal” that was accepted last week wasn’t for him at all, but for Sansa, and now the poor thing is betrothed to Westeros’ reigning dickwad, Ramsay
Snow Bolton. But Sansa’s been around the block enough at this point to allow herself to be taken advantage of again. She may be Littlefinger’s (willing?) pawn, but she’s not going to let her guard down as easily as she did with Joffrey. There was a visible switch when Sansa met Ramsay, a moment where she put on a mask that transformed her from Real Sansa to Show Sansa, and Show Sansa is on a mission to save her ass by any means necessary.
Littlefinger persuaded Sansa to marry Ramsay by convincing her that this move would avenge her family (one!), since, lest we forget, Roose Bolton was the mastermind behind the death of her brother, sister-in-law, and mother (not to mention her unborn niece/nephew). How she’s going to avenge the deaths of her family is up in the air, but there’s a Stark in Winterfell for the first time in a long time, and as the nice old lady said, “The North remembers.” The North remembers what, exactly? Well, I think the North remembers how cool the Starks were and how awful the Boltons are. Particularly since Ramsay just skinned some Winterfellians then displayed them all Body Worlds style because they didn’t pay their taxes on time.
What the hell Littlefinger is doing sending and accepting raven scrolls to and from Cersei is beyond me. If you say nothing for Littlefinger, he sure is bold. He orchestrated Joffrey’s death and Cersei is none the wiser. His tactics are brilliant: maintain contact with the person you wronged, and they’ll suspect you of wrongdoing less and less. But without Littlefinger there to guard her, I’m not sure how Sansa’s going to escape the sociopathy of Ramsay. Reek certainly knows her, even if she hasn’t seen him yet, but she’ll have to recognize the transformed Theon Greyjoy sooner or later.
Brienne and Pod are still on Sansa’s trail, which should bode well for her survival with the Boltons. In one of the more compassionate moments on this show, Brienne goes easy on Pod for the first time since his squireship. Podrick Payne is basically the Forrest Gump of Westeros; he got himself where he is not by questioning, but by acting. He accepts the criticism and scorn of his betters because he knows that’s his duty, and does so without spite or hesitation. As he says to Brienne, “If you didn’t snap at me, I wouldn’t learn anything.” Brienne finally accepts this bumbling sweetheart and commits to training him like a squire, and knight, should be trained. She also lets her guard down while letting Pod in on her affection for Renly Baratheon. When Brienne was in her young and “mule-ish” state, and all of the young lords of Tarth were making fun at her expense, Renly prevented a Carrie situation from happening by being the only boy to show her kindness. Brienne’s greatest regret is not being able to save Renly from the shadow monster with the face of Stannis Baratheon, and she vows to avenge Renly’s death. (Two!)
Speaking of the face of shadow, Stannis refuses to give up on his quest to get Jon Snow to become Jon Stark. Jon is still declining the invitation since, after all, he’s Lord Commander Jon Snow now. (It is exciting to hear him called that and seeing him sitting behind his new desk in his new office, even if he does remind me of Vincent Adultman.) The Night’s Watch doesn’t meddle in the affairs of the Seven Kingdoms, and no matter how much posturing Stannis does in the name of Ned Stark, (“I’m giving you the opportunity to avenge your family.” THREE!) he fails at convincing Jon to join his cause. Where Stannis’ bribery fails, Davos’ smooth-talking wins: “As long as the Boltons rule the North, the North will suffer.”
This must have struck a chord with Jon, because he exchanges a knowing glance with Stannis after he makes an example of Janos Slynt… by chopping the coward’s head off. Honestly, who saw that one coming? Surely Jon was just calling his bluff! But the new Lord Commander is not pulling any punches. We didn’t get to see the aftershocks of Jon’s warning (do as you’re commanded, or lose your head), but it likely had the effect that Daenerys desired from last week’s disaster. Both Jon and Dany needed to set a precedent for behavior in their new positions, but it’s doubtful anyone in Castle Black expected Jon to follow through with his threat. Also, the Night’s Watch actually respects Jon, which is something that can’t be said for Dany in Meereen.
Meanwhile, in Volantis, Dany’s whore doppleganger is making a killing impersonating the mother of dragons, much to the displaced Jorah’s chagrin. But that kind of obvious dalliance isn’t Tyrion’s style; he has standards when it comes to his whores. Tyron’s not upholding much more than those standards, though, during his and Varys’ pitstop in this hovel of a city. His cabin fever is making him careless, and he’s freely throwing around phrases like “I always pay my debts” like he doesn’t have a price tag on his head and like no one knows the unofficial Lannister motto. Jorah has the perfect set up: he’s drunk, he’s a lover scorned, and he’s got nothing more to lose. And now, he has Tyrion, and he’s taking him to the queen.
And that queen is in a precarious situation. In short order, Margaery and Tommen have wed and consummated their marriage four times over, and already the smirking whore from Highgarden has control over Cersei’s youngest child. It didn’t take long for Tommen to be over his mother’s influence, and he’s taking Margaery’s suggestion of sending Cersei to Casterly Rock as an opportunity to grow up and make a kingly declaration. Cersei’s tactics are forced to change. As opposed to being mildly amused (but mostly annoyed) by her new daugter-in-law, Cersei must show some humility and appeal to Margaery’s better nature. And gods know how difficult that must be for her. Margaery knows full well the position she’s put Cersei in, and she has no problem turning the knife with lines like, “I wish we had some wine for you. It’s a bit early in the day for us.” and, “He is half iron, half stag.” Gross.
But Cersei, like Littlefinger, always has something up her sleeve. I’m not sure what her new friendship with the High Sparrow means at this moment, but it must be something significant since the episode is named after him. She seems to be forming a council of people that are wholly on her side. Her uncle left because he knew of Cersei’s predilections for power, and the High Septon is in a dungeon somewhere doing time for his exploits with his “devout prostitutes.” She’s got Mace Tyrell and her BFF Qyburn at her command. All Cersei’s got left to do is get rid of the ever-disapproving Grand Maester Pycelle and she’ll have a room full of people who will do anything for her. Or, at least, she thinks they will.
In a Braavos far away, Arya is learning what it means to be No One. And that means sweeping floors. Surely the menial labor Arya is doing in the House of Black and White is like waxing the car training was for the Karate Kid, but everything in this House is rather tedious. She’s sweeping mostly nothing, people walk around her so slow it’s kind of creepy, and no one will explain anything to her. When someone does finally come around to talk to her, they hit her with a stick. It’s like Mean Girls of Essos up in here.
But the purpose of the stick was to show Arya that she’s still her actual self, not No One like she wants and claims to be. (Though, to be fair, it bears repeating that no one is telling her anything!) So, Arya packs up her old clothes and her little bag of silver she stole from the Hound and the coin she got from Jaqen, and throws them in the Narrow Sea. But Needle? She hides it in a random pile of rocks by the dock.
I’ve always remarked at the lack of sentiment in Game of Thrones, even if it does make sense in the context; there’s no room for sentimentality in such a ruthless world. But Arya’s brief moment with Needle was a ray of tenderness that is rarely seen on this show. No one object means as much to anyone as Needle means to Arya. Given to her by Jon, worked on with Syrio, stolen by Polliver, reclaimed from Polliver. It was and is a part of the identity that she’s constantly striving for. With Needle, she’s not a weak little girl, but a strong and capable swords(wo)man. Her reluctance to get rid of her sword is not purely out of necessity (after all, she doesn’t really know the company she’s keeping) but also out of the need to recognize a part of herself that she’s worked so hard for.
High Sparrow was a third establishing episode for this season, and that’s quite all right. It’s about moves and countermoves now more than ever. This slow build is allowing the characters to see, experience, and judge the consequences of their actions, beneficial or otherwise, and that build will likely culminate in some serious carnage. Eventually we’ll find out what “all men must serve” means, but this show will never let us forget that all men must also die.