Growing pains in new roles take center stage for several characters in “High Sparrow,” tonight’s episode of Game of Thrones. Arya delves deeper into the mysterious House of Black and White, Jon grapples with his Lord Commander position, and Cersei faces off against Margaery in an escalating war between queens. We also welcome back a few characters for the first time this season.
Spoiler Note: This post is for those who have read the A Song of Ice and Fire series. The post and the comments section will contain spoilers! If you haven’t read the books yet, please check out our non-book-reader recap. Thanks!
Arya finds her studies in the House of Black and White aren’t quite what she expected since she didn’t cross the Narrow Sea to become an apprentice janitor. Jaqen (yes, he is No One but a woman will call him Jaqen for simplicity’s sake) reminds her Valar Dohaeris: all men must serve. Her path to becoming a Faceless (Wo)Man must begin with becoming no one, and serving in any way required. She observes the gift of death being administered in the temple to those who ask for it and the bodies being quietly carried off by other servants of the Many-Faced God.
In King’s Landing, the people cheer for their new queen Margaery and ignore Cersei. It seems Maggy the Frog’s prophecy of a younger, more beautiful queen is coming true. Cersei seethes, and wears mourning black to Tommen’s wedding. Nice to see they repurposed the decor from Joffrey’s ceremony, by the way. Why waste a perfectly good everything just because of a little poisoning?
Tommen and Margaery enthusiastically consummate their marriage. (I particularly love the moment when she pretends she hasn’t been internally saying ‘Queen’ before her name for her entire life.) The king is easily manipulated by his bride into thinking that perhaps a permanent trip back to Cersei’s childhood home Casterly Rock is in order for the Queen Mum.
Cersei does not care for the idea. Sensing Margaery’s hand in it, she goes for a breakfast counterstrike. Margaery throws her “exhausting” night and Cersei’s future grandmotherhood in her mother in law’s face. With her position cemented, Queen Marg isn’t pulling any punches. Cersei unabashedly gets in her face, but she loses the skirmish and retreats with young women’s laughter trailing after her.
Up in the North- welcome to season 5, Bolton Family Fun Hour! “Where No One Has Fun And It’s Actually Pretty Horrible.” We know it’s time because there are flayed bodies serving as a grim reminder of what it means to cross Ramsay and not pay your taxes. Reek cringes, seeing the corpses hoisted high, perhaps remembering what he did long ago to two boys. Roose talks business with his thuggish son about the need for alliances, particularly of the marital kind, and the writing’s on the wall: Ramsay’s getting married.
Just outside Moat Cailin, Littlefinger confirms to Sansa that he’s taking her home and she quickly grasps what that really means- and that the marriage discussed in last week’s episode is for her. That’s right, Littlefinger has promised her to the Boltons. Sansa understandably rebels, because anyone with an ounce of sense would run screaming into the night. But Littlefinger (after creeping into her personal space as usual) convinces her that this marriage will give her the opportunity to avenge her family.
Following them, Brienne and Pod watch them ride away- and Bri already knows where they’re headed so they take a break. After weeks (months?) of traveling together, Brienne finally gets curious about her companion and has him share the sorry tale of how he came to be in Tyrion’s service- he ate a stolen ham, and was saved only because he was a Payne. After telling her he’s proud to be her squire, Brienne decides to train him properly how to fight and ride so he won’t be the Worst Squire Ever any longer.
After the bonding moment, they segue into another memory, of how Renly won her loyalty and love when he rescued her from humiliation at a ball. Young men subjected her to a cruel prank but Renly danced with her, saving her. (It’s sort of like “Carrie” at the prom with a happier ending, until the shadow baby.) Failing to save Renly in return haunts her, and she vows to have revenge against Stannis for killing his brother.
She’s headed north….Stannis is in the North. Hmmm.
Speaking of Stannis, his bad month at the Wall continues as Jon declines his offer to become a legitimate Stark and lord of Winterfell. The wildlings still aren’t interested in his war either. Stannis takes the opportunity to suggest sending away Ser Alliser Thorne to Eastwatch-by-the-Sea.
Davos jumps in to use down-home logic (and to call Stannis the “one true king” again) by having Olly recite the Night’s Watch oath, to remind Jon that being the shield that guards the realms of men is their job. And the Boltons certainly threaten them all, so the Night’s Watch would be doing the right thing in helping out. Jon is still undecided.
Back in the House of Black and White, Arya is challenged by a pale young woman (Faye Marsay) who she has seen in the temple. The Waif (her actions are Waif-like so let’s call her that even though casting calls had indicated the Waif would be Asian) demands to know, “Who are you?” and hits Arya when she doesn’t like her answers. Arya angrily goes for her Needle but Jaqen interrupts the young women.
The Waif insists she was merely playing ‘the game of faces’ but Jaqen spies Arya’s belongings and draws attention to the fact that she hasn’t relinquished any of herself since coming to the House.
Arya goes to the docks, clad now in the same plain shapeless dress as the Waif, and sinks her old clothes. She takes a few seconds longer to say goodbye to her iron coin before tossing that in as well. And last, she draws out Needle. Arya looks heartbreakingly young in that moment, and when she is faced with saying goodbye to the last piece of home she has, she can’t let go of it. She hides Needle under a bunch of stones by the docks.
Now that she’s cast aside all her belongings (it appears, anyway), Arya is allowed deeper into the House of Black and White. In the next step of her training, she helps the Waif clean and undress the body of the man she watched die earlier. At first Arya tries to ask questions but it’s made clear she needs to let go of those too, and serve.
Sansa is received at Winterfell by the Boltons, and watched by Reek who hides himself from the woman he knew when he was Theon. Once upon a time, Septa Mordane said, “Courtesy is a lady’s armor,” and you can see Sansa suck up her rage and grief and turn on her charm to win over the Boltons. Roose may not be fooled but Ramsay likes what he sees. Myranda glowers to see her torture boyfriend won over.
Led to her chambers by an old servant, Sansa is given a warm welcome by the woman who tells her, “The North remembers!”
And every book-reading viewer went:
At the Wall, Jon psychs out Ser Alliser by making him think he’s on latrine duty before giving him the awesome job of First Ranger, last held by the long missing Benjen Stark. He gives Janos Slynt the job of looking after Greyguard, which Slynt considers beneath him.
He ignores the order and the danger involved in refusing commands in the Night’s Watch until Jon orders him taken outside. Even Alliser Thorne makes no move to help his crony.
He begs for mercy but it’s too late. Jon does as he was brought up to do by Ned Stark, and carries out the execution himself. He passed the sentence, he swings the sword, and Janos Slynt’s head rolls.
Back in King’s Landing, at Littlefinger’s brothel, the High Septon is doing as people in authority often do: play weird sex games with group of young prostitutes. Olyvar oversees the proceedings until the game is suddenly broke up. Lancel and the Sparrows (a seriously uncool boy band) drag the buck-naked High Septon out of the brothel to what sounds like music from The Omen. The religious fanatics force the septon to walk all the way back to…wherever…in the altogether.
Later, the High Septon demands action be taken about these Sparrows taking over the city and in particular he wants their leader the High Sparrow removed. An unsympathetic Cersei is intrigued by this new holy man on the scene and sets out to visit him herself.
She finds the barefoot High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce) humbly ladling out soup to the poor. He offers no resistance to Cersei or the accusations of what the Sparrows have done. He only betrays surprise when she reveals that instead of arresting or executing him, it’s the High Septon who has been thrown into prison.
At the Red Keep, Cersei has a message sent off to Littlefinger via Qyburn’s ravens. Qyburn (who has been chopping off rat tails for Qyburn-ish reasons. Literally no one was surprised when he was booted from the maesters, I’m guessing) obliges…and shushes the large shape spasming on the slab under a sheet.
Up at Winterfell, Reek is dodging Sansa still while Ramsay chats with his future in-law. Littlefinger admits that he’s heard little about Ramsay. (At this point, I expected Ramsay to look into the camera like he was on The Office. Really, Littlefinger?!)
Roose and Littlefinger assess the waning strength of the Lannisters, and their own motivations and betrayals. The message from Cersei has arrived, after the message went to the Eyrie first and was forwarded on. (Everyone has jetpacks now.) Roose wisely trusts no one and wants to read Baelish’s reply before it’s sent off.
The Tyrion and Varys Roadshow arrives in Volantis after crossing an epic bridge into the slave city. I really dig the attention to detail given to this scene in all respects. Tyrion’s thrilled to ditch the big box and explore the city a bit. They come across a red priestess (Rila Fukushima) who is marginally less creepy than Melisandre (bonus: Thoros of Myr name-drop!). The priestess is full of shout-outs, name-dropping the dragon queen and Stone Men (double-bonus: another greyscale mention this season) before her knowing gaze falls on Tyrion. And then Tyrion obeys his lifelong coping strategy and motto of “Let’s find a brothel.”
And so he does. He sasses a guard with superb facial hair (we haven’t seen it that good since Rodrik Cassel), cruises by someone with familiar vambraces, and settles in. The brothel is rowdy, packed with Volantenes and prostitutes including one dressed like Daenerys Targaryen. It’s then we see those familiar arms again and realize it’s…Jorah Mormont, drinking his sorrows away in a Volantis brothel after being cast out by his khaleesi.
Tyrion chats with a cynical young brothel worker (Gwyneth Keyworth) whose defensiveness evokes Shae. When she loosens up and invites him to join her in her room, Tyrion surprises himself by turning her down.
Confused and put out, he excuses him to go piss off the tallest place he can find (shout-out to season one!) and as he finishes, someone sneaks up behind him with a rope.
“I’m taking you to the queen,” he says, gagging and tying up Tyrion.
Next week: the Tyrion and Jorah Roadshow?
The sights, props, and set design: The interiors of the House of Black and White, with the huge statues, and the creation of Volantis in all its details were just stunning this week.
Brienne and Pod get personal: Brienne’s history is so painful but the scene was beautifully acted, with the characters taking steps forward but also looking back at their motivations.
Maisie Williams: she gets stronger as a performer every year, and the House of Black and White storyline served her well tonight.
Wonderfully creepy Qyburn. And the hints at what’s under that sheet. Anton Lesser is delightful.
Tyrion’s Wit: Tyrion’s scene was sluggish last week but his wit and his spark of life is returning. The sassy sex worker is a bit of a cliche but I liked the actress in Tyrion’s scene this week, and I thought Tyrion’s Volantis scenes were overall a breath of fresh air. I can’t wait to see Peter Dinklage and Iain Glen sharing scenes next week.
Roose and Littlefinger: While Littlefinger’s misstep is baffling, I love watching these two talk. Two amazing actors matching each other step for step.
Alfie Allen: Not a word spoken but you can’t look away.
Jonathan Pryce: Many words spoken, and all of them delivered with such careful nuance. I’m so glad he’s on this show.
Jon swings his sword: Block-fetching of not, it was still a very good scene. Give it up for Dominic Carter, being such a quality jerk character for several seasons.
I didn’t love it:
Clueless Littlefinger: I’m supposed to believe Littlefinger has no idea Ramsay is a torturing monster when Ramsay parades his misdeeds publicly and has for years? Littlefinger who has spies everywhere? Reallllly?? I get that they wanted this plot to happen but it feels like they threw Littlefinger’s intelligence under the bus to make it work.
Fetch-a-Block Gate: “Olly, bring me my sword” is a line parallel to “Edd, fetch me a block,” so it doesn’t actually bother me that they changed the line. But I know it’s going to righteously tick off some of my fellow book-readers. We love a good -gate.