'Game of Thrones' recap: 'High Sparrow'
The Great Convergence—and Divergence—has begun! This week’s Game of Thrones jammed two sets of characters together for the first time, while taking a shocking turn from George R.R. Martin’s novels. Plus, Arya ditched her clothes, Tommen ditched his virginity, Littlefinger ditched Sansa, Tyrion ditched his freedom, and Jon ditched a man’s head. All this plus prostitute cosplay (!) in our worship of the third episode of season 5, “High Sparrow.”
Braavos: Behold the inside of The House of Black and White! Thrones shows off this fancy new set with several shots so we can appreciate all the production detail. The House has the ambience of a gloomy spa’s quiet room, where you would sit in a bathrobe sipping cucumber water waiting for your therapist.
Arya grumpily sweeps the stone floor with what looks like a Nimbus 2000. She’s unimpressed with the set and annoyed with her janitorial duties. Jaqen H’ghar gives a desperate man a cup of water, then chastises Arya for her impatience: “A girl wants to serve herself.”
The man who drank the House’s water is soon dead on the floor. No deep-tissue shiatsu for him.
King’s Landing: Cersei is carried on a litter while peasants cry out for Queen Margaery. In the Sept, she then has a front-row seat to watch her teenage son Tommen marry “that smirking whore from Highgarden.” Tommen looks at his new bride like she’s a present he can’t wait to unwrap. When they kiss, Cersei claps for the newlywed couple like somebody is yanking on strings attached to her hands. The wedding ceremony is brief and over quickly. Oddly, no one dies.
Later, in bed with his new bride, Tommen is concerned. “Did I hurt you?” he asks Margaery about his brief lovemaking. She looks amused, like, Kid, you’re going to have to do a lot more than that to wear me out. Perhaps Tommen should have kept Podrick around for some pointers. Tommen politely offers her traditional post-sex treats such as cake and pomegranate juice. “This is all I want to do, all day, every day, for the rest of my life!” Tommen declares.
He asks his wife if it feels strange for her to be called Queen Margaery. She says it does (because it’s her third time becoming “queen” it’s probably very strange indeed). Now in theory, Margaery should be a virgin—neither Renly nor Joffrey consummated. Yet everything about Dormer’s performance suggests her character is experienced in such matters. She also finds Tommen hilariously easy to charm:
Tommen: “Do you like to sail?!”
Margaery: “I love to sail.”
Tommen: “I do, too!”
Margaery smiles at Tommen, looking forward to years and years of getting everything she wants.
But first, Margaery wants to get her new mother-in-law out of town. She pushes Tommen to send her away.
Later, when Tommen and his mother are walking the Red Keep’s bulwarks, Cersei is trying to do some low-grade undermining of her own. She asks Tommen about his new wife, “Do you think she’s intelligent?” Then Cersei discovers Margaery has gotten the jump on her as Tommen begins hinting she should leave.
“I want you to be happy, mother,” Tommen says. He might as well wish for Ser Pounce to be a dragon.
So Cersei goes to visit Margaery, who’s telling her gal-pal handmaidens about how many times the king has had record-breaking sex with her. Maybe Tommen doesn’t need tips from Pod after all. It’s worth re-watching this scene for when Margaery goes in to hug Cersei just to see Lena Headey’s micro-reaction. Headey gives this hilarious oh shit this is happening facial flash that goes by so quickly you’ll literally miss it if you blink.
Margaery boldly turns into Queen Superbitch: “I wish we had some wine for you, it’s a bit early in the day for us” and “What’s the proper way to address you now, Queen Mother or Dowager Queen?” and says she’s “forever grateful” for raising Tommen so he can have sex with her until she’s “exhausted.”
Fun stuff. Yet the scene shows Cersei in a sympathetic light that we have never quite seen before. The only scene that comes close is her chat with Robert about their broken marriage in season 1. She’s so subdued and hurt. It’s like she’s been defanged. Perhaps it’s the double whammy of losing Joffrey and her father? One thing is for sure: Margaery is playing a dangerous game.
Winterfell: Now we move over to—hey, we’re back to Winterfell! The North remembers, and we remember the North. There’s a lot of construction going on since Theon managed to wreck the place when he was briefly in charge a few seasons ago. The Boltons are busy tidying up and decorating with their trademark flayed corpses. Theon sees the bodies and is cringing because (I assume) he’s reminded of how he burned and displayed the orphan kids’ bodies at Winterfell in season 2.
Inside, Ramsay explains his tax audit methods to his father. The young Bolton has the IRS trumped, killing and torturing lords to get their money. His father is unimpressed. They can’t only kill and torture! Killing and torturing has to be supplemented with some real unity with the North. “The best way isn’t by peeling a man’s skin off, the best way is by marriage,” Roose explains, and if this were the 1960s we’d make the obvious joke about that. So Roose wants Ramsay to get married.
Who is the lucky girl?…
“Jeyne Poole!” say George R.R. Martin’s book readers.
“Wrong!” cackle the Game of Thrones showrunners.
It’s Sansa Stark! That’s right: Sansa Stark is now engaged to Ramsay Snow. Just like that. The idealistic doe-eyed Stark daughter, once pledged to King Joffrey Smirkface, has now managed to get engaged to the two biggest psychopaths on this show.
This twist is arguably the biggest departure yet from the books. If HBO’s Game of Thrones was a car, and Martin’s novels were a road, the car has now veered off the road, drove into the ocean, and turned into submarine.
We actually have an exclusive interview with the producers explaining why they made this change linked at the end of the recap. But let’s get back to the action:
Sansa is with Litttlefinger, recoiling, crying, upset. She says she won’t marry Ramsay. It’s not right. It’s not fair. This isn’t what happened in A Dance with Dragons at all! She even threatens to stop eating, which Littlefinger doesn’t look bothered by (men!).
Littlefinger gives Sansa the pitch he’s been crafting in his mind the whole carriage ride: “You’ve been a bystander to tragedy … stop running. There’s no justice in the world…avenge them!”
In other words: Marry Ramsay because it puts you back in power at Winterfell, and if you want to do me a huge strategic favor by killing Roose Bolton while you’re at it, then you go right ahead.
Sansa glumly agrees to marry the son of the man who murdered her family. Littlefinger smugly smiles. Why, he didn’t even need to give her a lemon cake.
Nearby: Brienne and Pod see where Sansa went. Brienne has been thinking about her relationship with Pod. All this time, she’s been rude to him, dismissive of his desire to become a real squire, doubtful of his abilities. In other words: She’s been treating Pod the same way others have always treated her. But now she wants to help him become a real fighter and tells a disturbing tale of a cruel prank the other kids played on her when she was a teen. She wants to help Pod the same way Renly supported her.
My notes from watching this scene ended with this: “If Thrones ever kills Podrick, I’m going to be really upset.”
Winterfell: Sansa returns home. Her reaction to meeting Roose is fantastic: She slowly approaches, gives that look as if she’s about to slap him, pauses, and then gives a polite screw-you-smile hello. Like Headey’s reaction to Margery’s hug, Sophie Turner’s performance here is worth re-watching.
Nearby, Ramsay’s lover Miranda glares at Sansa. She’s displeased. How dare this Stark hussy put the moves on her sadistic killer?
Later, Littlefinger chats with Roose. Baelish assures him that Sansa is still a virgin. He even offers to let Roose inspect her to make sure of this. Thankfully Roose declines this offer, as Sansa would gladly leap out the window if icy Roose Bolton tried to probe her ladyparts.
Even later, Littlefinger has a private talk with Ramsay, who’s on his very best behavior. He promises he’ll never-ever hurt Sansa. Littlefinger says he knows very little about Ramsay, which is way of telling viewers that he’s not intentionally setting up Sansa with a psychopath.
Okay, so there are few elements to this whole Sansa/Ramsay twist that we have to accept (will the inevitable shippers call them Sansay? Ramsa?). The first is that Littlefinger would give up Sansa after being seemingly obsessed with her for years. I can buy this because Littlefinger will always put his career ambitions above anybody else. The second is that Sansa would willingly go along with this play. This is tougher to swallow, but okay. The part I have some trouble with is that Littlefinger wouldn’t know Ramsay’s reputation. When you’re skinning lords and their families alive, like Ramsay bragged about earlier, word gets around.
Still, the potential upside to this plot move is greater than the contortions required to get here. This puts two compelling characters together in a combustible situation that holds plenty of dramatic potential for the future: Will Sansa kill Roose? Will Miranda kill Sansa? Will Sansa hate Ramsay or will she (shudder) actually fall for him? Surely THIS wedding won’t happen without a body count, right?
Castle Black: Jon rejects Stannis’ incredible offer to become Jon Stark. Bummer. We really wanted a Jon Stark vs. Ramsay Bolton Battle of the Bastards Bro-Brawl. Stannis advises Jon to at least send troublemaker Ser Alliser Thorne somewhere else, and shoots down The Godfather’s advice of keeping your enemies closer than your friends.
Later, Jon hands out his first batch of commands. He instead appoints Thorne the coveted position of First Ranger. This surprises and relieves Thorne. Yet Jon smartly decides to at least split Thorne from his buddy, the scheming Janos Slynt, by sending the latter away to repair castle Greygard (a location along The Wall that’s fallen into ruin). This is also a fair move since Slynt proved himself a coward in the battle with the Wildlings last season. Slynt doesn’t want to go because Greyguard is a location that’s undermanned and vulnerable to attack.
Slynt refuses, repeatedly, Jon’s direct order. Thorne smiles at Slynt’s refusal. See Jon, no matter how well you treat some people, if they hate you there’s simply nothing you can do to change that. He’s always going to be Thorne in your side (ahem).
Slynt’s refusal is punishable by death. Slynt has pretty much forced Jon’s hand. Jon cannot start his reign as Lord Commander by having one of his men repeatedly publicly defy his orders and insult him.
Jon has Slynt hauled into the courtyard for execution. Slynt begs for his life. “I’m afraid… I’ve always been afraid,” he says, which is probably the first honest thing Slynt’s said, but also shows why he’s useless to the Night’s Watch. So Jon chops his head off. From the castle balcony, Stannis nods his approval to Jon: Right on, buddy.
Jon’s decision is strong and cold. We have an interview with Kit Harington about this scene that you won’t want to miss linked at the end of the recap. As Harington points out, in this scene Jon got some justice for his father—Slynt betrayed Ned Stark in season 1—though he doesn’t realize this. You might say Jon knows nothing about it.
Braavos: Back at the Deathly Hallows Day Spa, Arya has a fight with one of the other trainees. Jaqen scolds her for wanting to become “no one” while she still has all her personal belongings. I want Arya to shoot back: “If you wanted me to ditch my clothes and stuff, why not tell me that when I arrived here?!” But there’s probably an ancient method to Jaqen H’ghar’s technique that will only become obvious in retrospect. Soon he’ll have Arya painting fences and waxing cars.
Arya goes to the sea and throws away her clothes. This is the first major costume change for Arya since season 1. The House of Black and White has given her a plain Amish-y uniform like the other girl. Thankfully, they don’t have to wear name-tags with their uniforms (“Hello, my name is No One”). She smartly decides to stash her sword in a hiding spot rather than ditch it.
Later, Arya is sweeping the floor some more, complaining to Jaqen about her broom duties. How dirty can that floor be, anyway? He takes her to the House’s body-cleaning room. Apparently, the House’s customers who opt for their popular euthanasia package also get a sponge bath. So there you go Arya! You complained about sweeping the floor, and now you’re on naked corpse bath duty.
“What do we do with them after we wash them?” Arya asks almost immediately. Arya is all about what’s next. She’s got a long list of people to kill, after all, and they’re not just going to kill themselves (actually, they probably would). The other girl does not answer. Arya continues her Mr. Miyagi-like motions: Sponge-on, sponge-off…
King’s Landing: The city’s High Septon—he’s basically like a pope—is in a brothel enjoying prostitutes who dressed like the seven gods. Suddenly members of that weird religious cult the Sparrows bust in and drag him out into the streets and beat him. Later, he complains to Cersei, wanting the Sparrows punished. Instead she throws him in jail for going to the brothel. Cersei is like a boss who you never want to ask for a raise (“No. And now that I think about it, you’re a terrible employee and you’re fired”).
Instead, Cersei goes to meet the leader of the Sparrows, dubbed the High Sparrow (played by veteran character actor Jonathan Pryce). He seems nice and caring and pious and modest and I don’t trust him at all. Something wicked this way comes, Cersei!
Volantis: Nifty shot of this shanty town on a bridge on the road to Meereen where Tyrion insists on getting out of the carriage to visit a whorehouse.
Inside the brothel, we discover there’s a prostitute who looks like a half-naked Daenerys Targaryen (in other words, like Daenerys Targaryen). I quickly search the background of the scene, wondering if the brothel has employees dressed like other Game of Thrones characters. Perhaps a Khal Drogo gigolo or Maggy the Frog madam? But apparently not, there is only a Dany.
“They all want to f— a queen,” gripes one prostitute who could easily make a halfway-convincing Talisa if she tried.
Tyrion charms her, then discovers he doesn’t want to have sex after all. There’s no overt explanation, but we assume this has something to do with Shae. Strangling your prostitute lover in your father’s bed probably messes with your head for a while.
Nearby, we discover the outcast former adviser of Real Dany—Ser Jorah—is right there in the same room. He looks sad and miserable.
Tyrion goes outside to pee off a wall, an activity he’s previously noted that he enjoys. He is abruptly kidnapped by Ser Jorah, who apparently travels with a handy sack, rope, and gag for reasons we don’t even want to know about. “I’m taking you to the queen,” he says.
But which queen? Cersei or Dany? And hey Thrones? You’re on notice! This is officially the last time major characters can randomly stumble across each other in a tavern! (And it’s happened to Tyrion twice).
And speaking of Dany, we didn’t even see her tonight. The Queen in Meereen screwed up so badly last week by executing her small council adviser that Thrones must not even be on speaking terms with her.
That’s it for our recap. But don’t you go anywhere. Grab some cake and pomegranate juice and check out our must-read interview with the Thrones showrunners explaining their reasons for the Sansa and Ramsay twist. Plus there’s an interview with Kit Harington where he reveals what bothered him about that beheading scene.
Next week: The Sand Snakes!
P.S: I bet 50 silver stags Ser Jorah was in that brothel to have sex with the fake Dany hooker.
P.P.S. “Fake Dany Hooker” should be added to our list of Game of Thrones-inspired band names along with Making the Eight, The Red Waste and Shagga Likes Axes.