We finally meet the Sand Snakes, while a warrior meets an untimely fate

By James Hibberd
May 04, 2015 at 02:59 PM EDT
Credit: Helen Sloan/courtesy of HBO

Chat, chat, stab-stab, chat, chat, stab-stab. This week’s episode of Game of Thrones was largely a series of intimate, well-written character-driven discussions between two wounded souls in conflict—then fun stabby action scenes. And one of those fights resulted in the loss of a character who has been with the series since season 1 (AND is still alive in the books, because that’s just how Thrones rolls now).

So let’s row, row, row our boats gently down this week’s episode, which is titled “Sons of the Harpy” (since calling it “Ser Barristan Gets Brutally Murdered in the Street” would have been too much of a giveaway).

King’s Landing: The Iron Bank wants 10 percent of their money back, but the crown can’t afford it. Not good. Cersei dispatches Mace Tyrell—Margaery’s dad—to negotiate better terms. She’s also sending her kingsguard henchman Ser Meryn with him. From Cersei’s ultra-narrow perspective, this moves a key Tyrell player out of town plus puts her thug at his throat should she need to keep any other Tyrells in line (like, Margaery).

Later, Cersei meets the High Sparrow. He says all the right things so she decides to arm his group. It’s an excellent idea, because if history has taught us anything, it’s that nothing bad can come from giving religious fanatics weapons. She has them raid Littlefinger’s brothel and they arrest Margaery’s brother, Ser Loras, for being gay.

Margaery does not take her brother being thrown in prison very well. She wants her husband, King Tommen, to free Loras and refuses to give him any more sexy time until he does. No amount of cake and pomegranate juice can make this better. So Tommen goes to his mom, she says if he wants Ser Loras released, he should ask the High Sparrow yourself.

So Tommen goes down to the streets of Flea Bottom, and members of the Sparrows won’t let him pass. He could order his Kingsguard to kill them, but that makes him scared of starting a riot. So King Tommen slinks back to the Red Keep with his tail between his legs like Ser Pounce.

There are so many bad decisions being made in this whole sequence I almost don’t even know where to begin:

Cersei is a disaster as a leader, even worse than I imagined. She’s stripping her inner circle of experienced advisers. She’s empowering creeps. She’s sending away her most loyal warriors. She could have gotten her son killed by sending him into Flea Bottom. She just managed to undermine her son’s authority in public—bad enough Tommen’s so young, now he looks weak, too. And all this because of a catty power play with Horny Miss Smirk-Boobs? It’s like somebody became U.S. president, then sent Navy Seals after their high school bullies and gave nuclear weapons to PETA. Worse, really.

NEXT: Cold as a witch’s Kit Tommen isn’t much better, but at least his intentions are good and he has the excuse of being young. What he should have done is so simple: Tommen should have stayed at the Red Keep, sent the Gold Cloaks to snatch the High Sparrow—killing whoever is necessary to get him—and then throw that shabby cult leader on the marble floor while Tommen sat on the Iron Throne and told him to release Ser Loras immediately. You know, like Joffrey would have…

annnnnnd I can’t believe I just cited something that Joffrey would do as an example of great leadership. But that’s how lousy these decisions are! If Tywin were alive, he would be purple-faced pissed.

Castle Black: There’s a scene where grim Stannis is nice to his lovely moppet daughter. And it’s very touching. But let’s skip to naked Melisandre trying to seduce Jon.

Jon sits at his desk. He’s making the act of signing documents look really difficult. Then Sam hands him one requesting men from his enemy Roose Bolton. Oh, it burns, it burns! Jon signs it anyway. From the couch I yell: “Just take Stannis’ offer.”

Melisandre enters. Sam ogles her on his way out: Gilly don’t look like that!

Stannis couldn’t tempt Jon with power. Ser Davos couldn’t tempt Jon with logic. So Melisandre tries to tempt him with something else.

Melisandre tells Jon there’s only one war here, life vs. death. She’s very big on there only being one thing. She offers to show Jon something. He replies that he doesn’t want to see prophetic visions, which is very wise; very un-Cersei of him. But Melisandre assures: No visions, just boobies.

She disrobes and puts Jon’s hand on lefty. Jon goes along with this. She says stuff about stuff, and about fire, and god, and stuff, and blah-blah, and stuff-stuff. Jon stares through her monologuing, mouth agape. All hail the hypno-boobs!

“I swore a vow,” Jon protests.

Melisandre gives him this great look. Actress Carice van Houten told me this episode’s script described Melisandre’s expression thusly: “Bitch please.” Go back and watch her reaction again with this phrase in mind and it clicks perfectly.

Melisandre goes for Jon’s, um, longclaw. Jon pushes her hand away. “I still love her,” he explains.

Jon, Jon, Jon! Take Stannis’ offer, have some fun with Melisandre. Who knows, you might even get a smoke-baby assassin out of this. And who couldn’t use a smoke-baby assassin?

On her way out the door, Melisandre says to him: “You know nothing, Jon Snow.”

BOOM! Quoting Ygritte’s catchphrase / sexy time safe word was perfect. Melisandre can see she scored a devastating direct hit and smiles—you don’t just reject Melisandre and still get to win. I just wish she wasn’t an evil witch burning people at the stake, because I so want to like her. And as I typed that last sentence, I realized: Five seasons into this show and I only now got that Melisandre’s story is a Westeros twist on the Salem Witch Trials—heretics being burned at the stake, except it’s a witch doing the burning.

Jon is left at his desk. You just know he’s not getting anything productive done for the rest of the day.

NEXT: Littlefinger gives Sansa the kiss-off Winterfell: Sansa hangs out in the Stark family crypt touching a black feather (which as commenters pointed out below, Robert Baratheon left in hand of a statue of Lyanna Stark in season 1). Littlefinger gives her some family history. I’m not going to detail it here, but it’s the second bit of insight into Daenerys’ deceased older brother Rhaegar in this episode. Plus there’s that earlier line where Stannis notes he didn’t believe Ned would ever father a bastard with a tavern wrench. (All this is pretty heavy hinting that should add considerable fuel to the most popular theory about Jon Snow’s parentage).

Littlefinger reveals his larger plan: He’s betting Stannis will take Winterfell, kill the Boltons, and leave Sansa in power (“Wardeness of the North” has a nice ring to it). It’s a bold bet, and we know Stannis indeed plans to take Winterfell. If only Jon knew Sansa was there, being set up to marry Ramsay, would that change his mind about Stannis’ offer?

Littlefinger says he’s leaving for King’s Landing to pay a visit to Cersei. I’m thinking he better hope she doesn’t find out about what he’s done with Sansa before he gets there.

But before he departs, Littlefinger gives Sansa a pep talk. He advises her to get Ramsay under her thumb, saying she’s learned how to manipulate people from the very best. You know, exactly like Littlefinger has done with her!

Baelish then seals his encouragement with a kiss that’s met closed-mouthed by Sansa.

Sansa says something really interesting here: “I expect I’ll be a married woman by the time you return…”

Huh! It’s like a tiny acknowledgment to the romance that Littlefinger and Sansa have/don’t have. This also could be a way of noting she will no longer be a virgin when he returns. (I assume the only reason Littlefinger hasn’t tried to get Sansa into bed is because he needed her pure for the Boltons). To this, Littlefinger gives her a raised-eyebrow nod that’s like, “Damn right you will be….”

Ship: Jaime and Bronn are two knights on a quest to rescue a princess from a faraway castle. It’s as close to a traditional fantasy story that Thrones ever gets, so naturally at one point they comment on it, like “Can you believe we’re really doing this on Game of Thrones?

Jaime refers to Myrcella as his “niece” instead of his daughter and insists Varys set Tyrion free. These lies annoy Bronn the Blunt, who gives Jaime a look like: So even on this suicide mission you’re still going to lie to me? I get the impression that Bronn is always candid simply because lies are too much work.

Jaime is seemingly forthright about one thing, however: He says he will kill Tyrion if he ever sees him again. And with that line, I’m suddenly thinking Jaime is going to see his brother again.

Jaime and Bronn take a rowboat to the beach at Dorne. It takes me a moment to realize what’s weird about this scene: As diverse as the terrain is on Thrones, there’s not too many sandy beaches (I think they’ve all been rocky).

Bronn worries that the captain that dropped them off will rat them out to the Martells. “I’m not sure you understand how much people hate your family in this part of the world,” he notes.

They’re caught by a Dornish patrol of four horseman. Bronn tries to lie, but as previously noted, it’s not really his style (“Cooper” and “Darnell”!). But Jaime blunders even more by not realizing Dornish waters don’t have sharks. There’s a fight, with Jaime only being tasked with killing one man and Bronn having to take on three. For a moment, we actually start to think Jaime could be in real trouble here, then there’s a great moment where he tries to block a sword with his right hand and is just as surprised his opponent when his attacker’s sword gets stuck in the metal limb. Cue the “handy” jokes. Jaime’s poor attacker almost certainly died totally confused.

NEXT: Natural Dorne killers Elsewhere: The Sand Snakes! Okay so here’s the deal with these three: They’re all half-sisters from the same famous father—last season’s philandering, doomed Prince Oberyn Martell (Pedro Pascal). There’s the eldest, Obara (Whale Rider star Keisha Castle-Hughes, whose character fights with a spear), the middle sister Nymeria (who wields a bullwhip), and the youngest, crop-topped Tyene (who uses double daggers). Now Tyene is also the daughter of Oberyn’s most recent lover, the super-annoyed Ellaria Sand, who wants to chop up Cersei and Jaime’s daughter Myrcella out of revenge.

So do you have all that straight? No? Fine: Then they’re three warrior-girls trying to look very tough despite wearing upturned pointy shoes.

I am definitely excited about the addition of these characters—they’re like a trio of Aryas who talk funny. Though I must admit Nymeria and Tyene in particular look a bit more beach-ready than battle-ready.

So they have captured the captain who transported Jaime and Bronn. The man indeed tried to sell out his passengers, but The Beach Snakes were annoyed he brought their enemies over in the first place. So they apparently dragged him into the middle of nowhere, buried him up to his neck in the sand, put scorpions on his face, and then put a bucket on his head for good measure. It seems like a pretty elaborate and logistically difficult thing to do for a guy you’re just going to kill anyway, especially in this heat.

Another Rowboat: Instead of “Sons of the Harpy,” this episode should be called “Rowboats.” In this one, Tyrion annoys Ser Jorah until he removes his gag. Tyrion abhors being gagged since talking is one of his favorite pastimes. Ser Jorah reveals they’re going to see Daenerys. This prompts the best line of the episode from Tyrion: “What a waste of a good kidnapping!”

Tyrion quickly pieces together Ser Jorah’s whole backstory, which earns him a hard slap. Ser Jorah doesn’t need to take that crap. And hey: What’s Varys doing, anyway?

Meereen: Hizdahr zo Loraq pleads with Daenerys yet again to open the fighting pits, noting the gruesome sporting competition is the one and only thing that can bring ex-slaves and ex-masters together. Dany stubbornly refuses. It’s like she became the governor of Texas and then banned football.

Out in the streets, that devious prostitute secretly working for the insurgent group Sons of the Harpy—the one who set up an Unsullied to get his throat slit in the premiere—is up to her tricky ways again. This time she sets up a whole patrol of Unsullied with an an ambush.

One of the Unsullied gets his helmet knocked off and we realize its Grey Worm and we get worried. Then Ser Barristan stumbles onto the ambush and we get really worried.

After five seasons, we finally see the legendary knight in action and he takes down attacker after attacker. But he’s eventually overcome by the masked men, taking a mortal wound, looking downright angelic in a streaming beam of sunlight. Grey Worm is clearly gravely injured too. I can’t say anything about Grey Worm’s fate, but for those who are still uncertain, it’s true, Ser Barristan is no more.

For Ser Barristan fans, check out my exclusive Q&A with the actor about his early exit, which was conducted in Belfast right after he shot his final scene. We also have a fun Q&A with Carice van Houton about Melisandre—her feeling about her nude scenes and her mysterious character. And if you missed it, check out my recap for last week’s episode, “High Sparrow,” where we really dug into the Sansa-Ramsay twist.

Next week: HBO is not sending out any more screeners for this season (thanks, whoever leaked those four episodes early; this is why us recappers can’t have nice things). So from next week until the finale, the recap will take a few hours. This is a bummer because I like to play with these drafts over several days before posting, and instead I will have to jam them up. My worry is you will think the result is both late and cruddy, so I hope you’ll be patient with them.

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Game of Thrones

HBO's epic fantasy drama based on George R.R. Martin's novel series 'A Song of Ice and Fire.'

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