Game of Thrones recap: 'The Gift'
Two icons meet, Sansa suffers, and Cersei's luck changes.
After five seasons, Tyrion and Daenerys are now in the same show! Game of Thrones had major tectonic plate shift by putting together two of its biggest and most charismatic characters (who have not yet met in George R.R. Martin’s books). The Thrones showrunners titled this episode “The Gift” and that seems appropriate—this is a gift for fans. Usually such bold departures from the show’s source material are the subject of some controversy, but putting Dany and Tyrion together seems to be enjoying rare unanimous support (judging by early reaction online). And that’s not all that happened this week:
Castle Black: Maester Aemon has the show’s most shocking death yet: He dies of old age. No gushing blood or swords or eye gouging. Just a peaceful release from natural causes. He calls out to his brother Aegon. His final words to his long-departed brother are beautiful and gave me chills: “I dreamed I was old.”
After he passed, I half expected the next scene to be Jon Snow walking into the room and go, “Hey Aemon, I wanted to ask you who my real mom is—” But no. Jon had more pressing business, riding to Hardhome with Tormund, who keeps glaring down at Jon like he’s about to beat him up with his beard. Every time I see Tormund I think he looks like somebody who pours drinks at a hipster whiskey bar. Sam gives Jon some White Walker-killing dragonglass as a going-away present.
Next we shift our focus to Gilly. A couple Night’s Watch thugs are tired of Gilly having the audacity to be female and not having sex with them. Who does she think she is? They come at her, clearly intending rape. Heads start shaking in living rooms around the world: Game of Thrones … you wouldn’t DARE! Not two weeks in a row! The Sansa Justice Warriors start to compose angry tweets.
But Sam comes to her rescue—or tries to anyway. He tells the men to get their damn hands off her. He can’t even properly hold his sword, but he’s doing his best to protect the woman he loves. The thugs severely beat him. Then comes Jon’s direwolf Ghost, who merely needs to growl to scare them away. Does Ghost ever actually travel with Jon? He always seems to do his own thing.
Gilly is safe. Sam is hurt. Gilly is grateful. She climbs on top of him. It’s very sweet. “Am I hurting you?” she asks, in a reversal of what Tommen said to Margaery a few weeks back. Our heads are spinning. First Sansa thought she was going to lose her virginity to her new husband, then got brutally raped. Now Gily thought she was going to get raped, yet helps Sam lose his virginity instead. Gilly makes Sam promise to “take care of little Sam” and it takes me a moment to remember that’s the name of her eternally infant child.
As things get going, Sam says “oh my!” and sounds creepily like Ameon dying. As much as we appreciate this nice consensual sex scene, I bet most of you were fine to let them have their privacy for the rest of it.
So now we’ve seen a sweet innocent death and sweet innocent sex. What show are we watching again? Ah yes, it’s the one that’s determined to surprise us. Sometimes, the most shocking thing is to not do the awful thing (particularly when we’re still reeling from a really awful thing last week).
Winterfell: Sansa in bed. Some time has passed since we last saw her. She’s covered in bruises. “He hurts me every night.” F—ing Ramsay.
Last week’s Sansa scene may have caused more online outrage that any scene in the show’s history, and it looks like Sansa’s time as Ramsay’s captive rape-spouse is not going to be brief, or quickly avenged. Even the scene’s detractors must admit that in an era where viewers are increasingly difficult to shock or upset, Thrones sure knows how to strike a nerve.
So Sansa decides she must get out of Winterfell. Littlefinger’s plan to reclaim her home doesn’t seem workable anymore. Sansa tries to convince Theon to help, but it’s difficult to get somebody to risk their life for you when he won’t even admit his own name.
“It can always be worse,” Theon warns, which is true enough.
Sansa asks Theon to take a candle to the tower to signal her friends in the North. Theon takes the candle to Ramsay instead. C’mon Theon, grow a pair—or, er, something.
Later, Ramsay and Sansa go for a stroll. Sansa grabs what looks like a corkscrew in case she wants to get stabby. She’s feeling all emboldened by her secret effort to escape, taunting Ramsay that he won’t be the true Bolton heir should his stepmom give birth to a boy. But Ramsay has a surprise for her: He flayed the kindly old woman who wanted to help her. Not sure how he found out about her, but when you’re as scary as Ramsay, it’s probably easy to get the staff to talk.
At a distance outside, Brienne’s watch has not ended. She’s just going to stand there in the falling snow, waiting for Sansa’s signal.
North of Winterfell: Stannis’ army is in bad shape. Horses are dying. Sellswords are deserting. Davos wants to retreat. But Stannis gave up during season 2’s Battle of the Blackwater. If he retreats again, he’ll forever be known as Stannis the Retreater. “We go forward, only forward.”
So he turns to Melisandre. What good is having a sorceress if she won’t do magic stuff to help when you really need it? But Melisandre wants Stannis to sacrifice his innocent young daughter Shireen. Not even Stannis is that cold. Instead he’s groping the Red Woman, like: Can’t we just do some leaches again? Or how about some shadow-baby sex? It couldn’t hurt to at least try shadow-baby sex, right?
Dorne: Myrcella visits her half-assed rescuerer Jaime and explains she doesn’t want to go back to King’s Landing. And why would she? She’s been living here for years, she’s got a boyfriend, she’s super popular, and all the Sand Snakes at school envy her. That’s what Jaime gets for being a deadbeat dad—a rebellious daughter who doesn’t want to live with him.
In the cells, Bronn is across the hall from the Sand Snakes. Not surprisingly, the prison cells in Dorne are way nicer than the ones in King’s Landing.
Tyene starts to mess with Bronn’s head, teasing him and showing her boobs. Was it just me, or was this the first Sand Snakes scene that didn’t feel forced, and really seemed to click? Perhaps, like Bronn, the boobs clouded my thinking. But seeing the trio act like sisters instead of militant warriors just felt more convincing.
NEXT: Two icons meet
Sharp-eyed readers last week were worried about Bronn getting scratched, since Oberyn’s clan is known to poison their blades. They were right. Tyene put a poison called “The Long Farewell” on her daggers. Not sure a poison that takes hours/days to work is really the best choice to assist in your fighting. As she makes Bronn’s pulse rise, the poison kickes in. She conveniently has the antidote around her neck, which actually does make sense (anyone carrying a blade probably accidentally cuts herself from time to time). She helpfully tosses it to Bronn, who drinks it. I guess she liked his singing and he passed the Dorne Idol audition round.
Meereen: Dany is having another post-sex-yet-covered-by-sheet chat with Daario. Her sheets look quite luxurious, very high thread count. Daario is trying to talk Dany into marrying him instead of Hizdahr, but that’s never going to work. He’s condemed to be her lower-class Advisor With Benefits. He also advises her to kill all the former slave masters. “All rulers are either butchers or meat,” he says, which seems rather pessimistic. And is it just me or does Dany in thise scene look like she’s somehow gotten younger? Maybe she’s taking the same potion Gilly gives her baby.
Later, Dany reluctantly tours one of outlying fighting pits as part of her effort to show respect for a local tradition. It’s like Hillary Clinton touring Iowa—you know she really doesn’t want to leave New York to go BBQ dinners in Des Moines, but this is what politicians have to do.
Lucky for captive Ser Jorah and Tyrion, they’re at the same fighting pit. Ser Jorah runs into the arena and opts to knock out his opponents rather than kill them, arousing Dany’s curiosity. Then Ser Jorah has his Gladiator moment, removing his helm to reveal himself. For a moment, Dany looks like she might be glad to see her old friend, but then her anger reappears.
But wait: Ser Jorah says, “I brought you a gift!” Who doesn’t like a gift? Tyrion rushes out. It’s a moment that Thrones fans have only dreamed of: Dany and Tyrion, face to face.
As noted above, this is a move that even the show’s biggest critics will find tough to argue. One advantage the showrunners have is they can look at the fan reaction to various plot threads in Martin’s novels and make adjustments (I want to point out that, of course, it was arguably tougher for Martin to have trail-blazed a creative path in the first place). And many readers of A Dance With Dragons were frustrated by Tyrion spending the novel traveling to meet Dany and never reaching her. So not making the same choice as Martin for the show’s fifth season seems like a no-brainer move, especially considering all the potential drama that can come from putting those two together. Put another way: Dany meeting Tyrion is simply really exciting, and there wasn’t much to be gained by waiting longer.
King’s Landing: Some juicy two-handers this week. First–
— Olenna and the High Sparrow: The Queen of Thorns tries everything she can to get the High Sparrow to release her grandkids: bribes, threats. Nothing works. “You can never understand what we’re about,” he says. The High Sparrow is making it sound like he only exists to serve his faith and gives his little 99 vs. 1 percent speech. But the one thing Olenna did not offer him is the one thing I think he secretly does want: more power. Unlike Cersei, Olenna is not dumb enough to give this guy any more power than he already has.
FINALLY: Cersei’s fortunes change
— Cersie and Tommen: Speaking of power, Cersei has stripped her son of control of the city, putting him in a very precarious position. He’s furious at how ineffectual he is. “I’ll take back the Sept and kill every last one of them,” he threatens and she looks at the king like he’s having a little temper tantrum over having to go to bed early.
— Olenna and Littlefinger: Thrones is still finding uses for the brothel, even though it’s now closed and trashed. Olenna skips the bribe attempts with Littlefinger and goes straight for the threats: “If my family goes under, you’re coming too.” Littlefinger has a solution, which naturally benefits his own scheme as well—having Lancel tell the High Sparrow about Cersei’s sins.
— Cersei and Margaery: Margaery is in the Black Cells, living in filth and looking dreadful. Cersei visits to drink her rival’s salty tears and offer mocking comfort like, “I suppose your isolation will end when your trial begins.” Margaery doesn’t buy it and yells at her to get out. Cersei looks so pleased with herself. Her former allies in prison, a religious cult given power over the royal family, her own son’s rule destabilized. Has she ever been so misguidedly happy?
— Cersei and High Sparrow: Just in case we weren’t entirely sure, Cersei makes it clear in her chat with the High Sparrow that she wants Margaery and Loras to receive full punishment. “Thank you for bringing them whatever justice they deserve,” she tells him. Then the High Sparrow starts rambling about architecture. This bores Cersei because it doesn’t involve making Margaery cry. But then he starts talking about a young man who joined their cult, and she grows very still. As always, Lena Headey is a master at showing us a lot while saying very little. The High Sparrow trots out Lancel, who knows all about Cersei killing King Robert, among her other sins.
Cersei turns to leave—and she is blocked by some creepy septas, who throw her into a cell. “I am the queen!” she yells. That’s a very interesting comment because she hasn’t fully been the queen since Joffrey was crowned. But her remark shows she’s truly never stopped thinking of herself as queen these past years, which have included several scenes where other characters kept pointing out that her title has shifted. In every one of those scenes, she looks uncomfortable, and now it’s confirmed why: She thinks she’s still queen, and that her son is not the king (or if he is the king, then she is his queen, which is even creepier). “Look at my face. It’s the last thing you’ll see before you die!”
Finally, Cersei is getting some comeuppance. What’s interesting is that no matter what Cersei does, some fans root for her because she’s a strong female character. But are we that starved for strong female characters in Hollywood that we root even for those who are, by any non-Ramsay standard, really terrible, cruel and not very bright? Cersei always reminds us how she does everything for her children. She’s the ultimate helicopter parent. But her actions this season are endangering Tommen more than keeping him safe, and all because of her petty fight with Margaery. Frankly, Cersei’s got nothing on Olenna.
And great: Now Tommen’s going to be really confused. By the time the Sparrows are finished, Ser Pounce will be only member of the royal family not in jail (perhaps this is all his nefarious plot?). And what will happen to the prisoners? There’s Cersei, Margaery and Loras all awaiting punishment. Surely not all will survive…
Next: We have showrunner David Benioff giving some insight on the decision to have Tyrion and Daenerys meet. Also: George R.R. Martin reveals the real-life religion that inspired season 5’s Faith Militant.