Monday, April 27, 2015

"High Sparrow" Doesn't Play the GAME OF THRONES

Article originally written for Seat42F.

As usual, a lot happens to many different people in this week’s GAME OF THRONES on HBO. I could write a sprawling introduction, but that seems a little pointless for an hour like this, so let’s just get to it.

First, the episode is called “High Sparrow,” so as one might expect, we meet the High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce, Wolf Hall, Pirates of the Caribbean), a mild-mannered individual who truly lives his faith. His followers are terrorizing the High Septon (Paul Bentley) and his ilk as punishment for their hypocrisy. When the Septon asks the High Council to put a stop to the group, Cersei (Lena Headey) jails him and elevates the High Sparrow as a replacement.

This seems very short-sighted of Cersei. She is guilty of at least as many sins as the Septon is. Who is to say that the group won’t come after her next? Cersei is likely trying to do what she always does, buy loyalty by giving status, but that doesn’t seem like the type of thing that will work on the High Sparrow, a man who gives away even his shoes to those in need. A person like that cannot be bought, and Cersei is certainly setting herself up for punishment.

That is, if she’s even still in King’s Landing. Margaery (Natalie Dormer) marries Tommen (Dean-Charles Chapman), and the first thing she does after cradle-robbing sex is slyly ‘suggest’ to her husband that his mother might be happier back in Casterly Rock. We haven’t seen a lot of Margaery’s conniving ways in GAME OF THRONES yet, but a woman that has married three kings in as many years is shrewd. Now that Cersei is all that stands between Margaery and the Iron Throne, Tommen being an easily influenced puppet, her claws are coming out.

All of this sets up a fantastic dynamic in King’s Landing. What I love about GAME OF THRONES is that it constantly tears down the people who have the power. From King Robert in season one, to those who grabbed various splinters of it after his fail, such as Robb Stark and Tywin Lannister, no one stays in charge for long. At this point, those left tend to be the lesser players, which makes the battles more messy and frequent, none as equipped to play the long strategy game. “High Sparrow” sets up what should be some very entertaining conflicts.

The one ruler in the land who does have a handle on things is Jon Snow (Kit Harington). In “High Sparrow,” Jon makes all the right moves. He promotes his nemesis that deserves respect, Alliser Thorne (Owen Teale), winning back over his detractors. He tries to promote Slynt (Dominic Carter), too, but when Slynt doesn’t know when to keep his mouth shut, Jon executes him to solidify his position. He refuses Stannis’ (Stephen Dillane) offer to rule the North again because of his vow, as noble as his father was.

That last one is slightly troubling. Ned Stark was so noble that it got him killed. Will Jon be similarly short-sighted? I don’t think so. The reason being, Jon took up with a Wildling girl, indicating that he knows when to toe the line and when to diverge from it. I never bought that Ned is Jon’s biological father, as cheating on his wife would be totally out of character for Ned, so while Jon may have taken Ned’s values, I don’t think he’ll be as stringent as Ned was, not a clone of the dead man.

Now as for who Jon’s real parents are, well, that’s a topic of much debate, and if you want speculation, I recommend googling. I will say I think there is Stark blood there, and also another noble family lineage.

Winterfell’s new rulers seem much less established. Roose (Michael McElhatton) decides to wed his bastard, Ramsay (Iwan Rheon), to Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner), which he thinks will win him over the North. But the Northerners are stubborn and are likely to see right through this. Either Sansa becomes worthy of her surname and takes out Ramsay to rule herself, or the other lords in the surrounding areas will think she’s a pawn not worth following. The marriage won’t last in the rebuilt Winterfell, which it’s sad to see again under these circumstances.

Might Theron (Alfie Allen) be off assistance to Sansa? Theon betrayed the Starks previously, but he’s clearly not happy in his new position under Ramsay. The question is whether all personality has been flayed from him, or if there’s still something within the lad that will allow him to fight back. If so, this man whom Sansa despises, with good reason, could end up being her most vital allay.

SPOILER! In the books, Ramsay weds a fake Sansa since no one knows where the real Sansa is and practically anyone that would recognize her as dead anyway. I kind of dig this change because Sansa’s plot in the page gets rather dull around here. It gives the struggle higher stakes to have Sana involved. I’m most interested to see where this is going, and if it continues to follow the books, with Sansa taking over her imposter’s role.

Sansa is also the last real Stark. Robb is dead, Jon is a bastard, Bran is with the Three-Eyed Crow and not likely to come home, Rickon is god-knows-where and still quite young, and Arya (Maisie Williams) is choosing to become No One. If a Stark is to play a role in the GAME OF THRONES again any time soon, it must be Sansa, though I assume Rickon will have to return at some point to carry on the name.

“High Sparrow” ends with a heck of a cliffhanger when Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen) nabs Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) in a brothel. It’s a worlds-collide moment that is highly satisfying. Jorah says he’s taking Tyrion to ‘The Queen.’ Does that mean Cersei, who has offered a hefty reward? Or does he refer to Daenerys (Emilie Clarke), whom Jorah might hope to win back a position from with such a valuable hostage? Given Jorah’s status as a desperate, aimless cast-out, it could very well be either, though Tyrion should hope for the latter, the former meaning certain death.

As usual, I didn’t get to everything in the episode because GAME OF THRONES packs a lot into every hour. So far, the show been wisely choosing who to use and when, keeping enough tabs on the main players, while not forcing story where it doesn’t need to be. “High Sparrow” continues this trend, and is a very entertaining installment.

GAME OF THRONES airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.

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