‘Game of Thrones’ has so many characters that, even three episodes into the new season, we’re still catching up with some we haven’t seen in a while. In most respects, a lot of little things happen in this week’s episode, but few big things do.
Arya is currently in the “Wax on, wax off” stage of her apprenticeship to the House of Black and White. She has spent days sweeping and resweeping the floors of the dark and damp temple, growing impatient that no one has started training her to become a shape-shifting assassin yet. A man drinks from a water fountain and dies, and Arya must scrub his body as part of a ritual that no one will explain to her.
Her friend Jaqen (if he’s really Jaqen, which I’m not clear about) talks a bit about the “Many-Faced God” and the “Game of Faces,” and suggests that Arya hasn’t yet fully let go of her old life, which is a big prerequisite to Becoming No One, whatever that means. Arya gathers up all of her possessions, including the coin the Jaqen gave her, and tosses them in the ocean. However, she can’t bring herself to let go of her sword Needle. She hides that one by burying it under some rocks at the shore.
It’s time for a royal wedding. This one is a lower key affair, and goes a lot smoother than the last one. The masses in the city shout their adoration for “Queen Margaery,” and apparently aren’t bothered by the fact that she’s become queen by marrying the brother of her last husband who was just murdered. For that matter, the fact that she ever married Joffrey in the first place should make people seriously question her taste in men. For his part, new King Tommen is super psyched about being able to have sex, though apparently he’s a bit of a quick draw in bed.
Naturally, Cersei is unhappy about everything. That’s nothing new, but she’s especially miserable now. She and Margaery have a wonderfully passive-aggressive meeting about what Cersei’s new role in the kingdom will be (i.e. nothing). Margaery connives to convince Tommen to send his mother away to Casterly Rock, but Cersei isn’t having any of it.
A cult of religious extremists called the Sparrows, of which Cersei’s cousin Lancel is a new convert, raid Baelish’s brothel and publicly shame the High Septon (basically, Westeros’ version of a Pope) as a pervert and a sinner. The Septon is furious afterwards and demands that the Small Council purge this cult from the city.
Cersei visits the slums of the city to find the group’s leader, called the High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce), ministering to the poor. He expects that she’s come to threaten him, but in fact Cersei likes him quite a bit. She informs him that she agrees that the High Septon is an embarrassment and has had him thrown in a dungeon. That’s all we see of the High Sparrow this time, but given that he’s played by a notable actor and that the episode is titled after the character, I expect that he’ll play a much bigger role later.
Before we leave her, Cersei stops by to see her mad scientist Qyburn, ostensibly to have him send a message by raven to Littlefinger. It seems like she’d have someone more appropriate who could do that for her, but I guess the point is to show us that Qyburn is still working on the half-dead Mountain, who stirs beneath a sheet.
Been wondering what’s going on with Theon Greyjoy? Me neither, but I suppose he’s still an important character in play. As “Reek,” he’s still subservient to the crazy Ramsay Bolton (née Ramsay Snow). He doesn’t have a lot to do, but we see him wandering around, being disgusted at the flayed bodies strewn around the castle as part of Ramsay’s terror campaign to keep the northern kingdoms obedient to the Boltons’ rule.
His father Roose Bolton chastises Ramsay for his actions. He explains to his recently-legitimized son that Tywin Lannister’s death means bad news for them, because no one else in the Lannister family is likely to honor the pact with the Boltons. Without the backing of the Lannister army, the Boltons will not be able to hold the North should the kingdoms there rebel. As such, it’s a really bad idea to piss off those kingdoms. The best way to forge an alliance is by marriage, not by fear. With that in mind, Roose has plans that his son won’t like.
Remember Baelish telling Sansa that he had received correspondence about his marriage proposal being accepted? We (and Sansa) assumed that Baelish was arranging another political marriage for himself. Oh, how naïve we were. Instead, he’s marrying Sansa off to Ramsay. That poor, poor girl…
Sansa is of course horrified at being forced to marry into the family of the man (Roose Bolton) who murdered her brother. She doesn’t know the half of it. Because Ramsay was a bastard until recently, he’d flown under Baelish’s radar. Neither he nor Sansa have any idea what a degenerate Ramsay is. Baelish, however, manages to talk Sansa into going through with the marriage.
As Sansa arrives at the castle, Ramsay is on his best behavior and acts the perfect gentleman. When Theon spots Sansa (remember, they grew up together), he hides his face so she won’t recognize him.
When the message that Cersei sent to Baelish arrives, Roose is no longer sure that he can trust the man.
Outside the castle, Brienne and Podrick keep their distance while continuing to monitor Sansa. The two share a nice moment as they swap stories about Tyrion and Renly. So that he’s not quite so useless, Brienne agrees to teach Podrick how to fight.
Jon Snow officially declines Stannis’ offer to be made a legitimate Stark. His loyalties are with the Night’s Watch. Stannis makes arrangements for his army to leave within a fortnight. He will leave the Wildlings in Snow’s hands.
Stannis’ right hand man, Ser Davos the Onion Knight, advises Snow that he would be wise to do something about the Boltons before they become an even bigger problem.
For his first responsibility as new Lord Commander, Jon Snow must assign someone to dig a new latrine pit. He resists an opportunity to humiliate Ser Alliser with such a menial task, and instead gives him the honor of being named First Ranger to demonstrate that his leadership will be based on merit and that he doesn’t hold grudges.
Not everyone is happy with the new change in command, however. Ser Janos, the cowardly knight who hid in the closet during the Wildling siege, refuses an order to be shipped off to a distant castle. For his insubordination, Snow has him dragged out into the courtyard and his head put on a chopping block. Like the pansy he is, Janos begs for his life and pleads for mercy, admitting that he’s a coward. Snow raises his sword and beheads him on the spot – a nice callback to the lesson he learned from his father in the show’s pilot episode.
The Free Cities
Tyrion and Varys arrive in the distant city of Volantis, a wild and unruly place. Stir crazy from hiding out in their carriage for so long, Tyrion demands to be let out to stretch his legs, against Varys’ advice. Tyrion insists that he can remain incognito, and that no one so far from King’s Landing would care who he is anyway.
They pass through a slave market, where Tyrion observes a Red Priestess evangelizing about the Dragon Queen. Tyrion takes an interest in her sermon, but is spooked off when she halts and stares at him. She seems like she might be an important character, so we’ll probably see her again.
Of course, Tyrion heads straight for a brothel, where he spots a whore dressing up as Daenerys Targaryen. She seems to be the hit of the establishment, but Tyrion is drawn to a different whore who might suit his fancy. However, he suddenly loses the will to follow through, no doubt overcome with grief over what he did to Shae.
As Tyrion wanders out to take a piss, who should spot him but the disgraced Jorah Mormont. Outside Varys’ sight, Jorah grabs Tyrion and says that he’s taking him to the Queen (no doubt meaning Daenerys, not Cersei or Margaery).
I can see some fans being impatient with this episode, since it still feels like we’re stuck in the set-up phase of the season when we should be moving along a little quicker by now. I can understand that attitude, but I’m still engrossed enough in the story and the world this show has created that I’m willing to cut it a lot of slack.
Of the latest developments, I think I’m most curious to find out what will happen to Sansa next, and that’s quite a surprise for one of the show’s perennially least interesting characters.
On the other hand, I found myself distracted by Jonathan Pryce as the High Sparrow. Although he’s certainly a good actor, he seems a little too obviously stunt-cast to disappear into his role. Maybe that’s just baggage I bring to the actor due to my fondness for him in movies like ‘Brazil’.