This review contains spoilers.
5.3 High Sparrow
Sometimes it’s difficult to sit down and start writing about Game Of Thrones without immediately launching into praise. So much of what the show has done over its five seasons has only reinforced its brilliance, from spectacular battle scenes to essentially turning Peter Dinklage from a highly regarded actor into a star player. Of all that, what the show’s creative crew has done best is to take George R.R. Martin’s literary world and translate it seamlessly to television.
The universe of Game Of Thrones feels like an authentic place; every location feels distinct without artificially inflated differences. There’s no village of pagodas or huts or science-fiction Jetson houses; it’s all wood and stone, fitting the medieval theme without appearing to try too hard. When we get a look at a new place, it feels like something both familiar and unfamiliar. This week, Tyrion and Varys visit the Long Bridge of Volantis (played by the famous Roman Bridge of Cordoba in Spain), and the tattooed slaves and Red Priestesses therein.
We’ve heard about Volantis before, thanks to the late Queen Talisa Stark, but we’ve never seen it. It’s an interesting culture for the show to examine. The use of slaves makes it similar to the cities of Slaver’s Bay, particularly in the style of dress worn by the slaves, but it also has the burgeoning, restless feel of its fellow free city Braavos, less desert-dry and more raucous party without the classier feel of Pentos. It also feels nothing like anything from companion continent Westeros, which is as it should be considering the city’s links to Valyria. In that sense, it’s a terrific amalgam of familiar influences, but also completely foreign (and it looks great, as do most of the show’s locations).
That attention to detail filters down the the cultures we’ve been exposed to. The Dothraki are nothing like the remnants of Ghis, who are as different from the Valyrians as Greeks are to Romans. We get a look at the way the Red Priests conduct their religion at an impromptu public revival meeting, and it’s as interesting to see as the way we get introduced to the High Sparrow (a great addition in Jonathan Pryce) and the reformers of the Church of the Seven in Westeros. Two different religions, two different ways of reaching out to the poor and needy – one with fire and brimstone rhetoric, the other with public shaming and soup kitchen lines. It’s another interesting cultural conflicts, particularly when Cersei Lannister turns her attentions away from the High Septon and the traditional rulers of the church to the upstart Sparrows.
One of the more interesting threads this season has been Cersei’s drive to hang onto her power. We learn everything we need to learn about Margaery and Cersei’s relationship in one great showdown between the two when Margaery and her friends are having a laugh about the honeymoon and Cersei shows up to square off against the girl who stole away her last surviving son. It’s a great scene, handled really well by Lena Headey and Natalie Dormer, and it’s a complete inversion from their first confrontation of that sort. Neither can resist the struggle, and it’s pretty clear that Cersei is going to try to get the Sparrows attacking Margaery, but she’s a woman with plenty of sins to hide herself, and the last thing she should want is to get people digging into her background.
I have to give due credit to David Benioff and D.B. Weiss; they continue to build a really compelling television show, one that successfully balances a number of interesting narratives. Together with director Mark Mylod, they’ve put together a very smooth episode this week. From a dramatic standpoint, everything we get to see is interesting, and more importantly, it’s constructed perfectly. Margaery and Tommen in the honeymoon bed is followed by Tommen trying his best to talk his mother into leaving King’s Landing. That’s followed by Cersei and Margaery’s confrontation. Laughter at the retreating Cersei’s back takes us to the North, where the Boltons’ discussion of Ramsay’s marriage leads us right to Sansa and Littlefinger, and the horrifying revelation of just who is getting married to Ramsay Bolton. Brienne and Pod keep watch on Sansa from the cliffs overhead. Brienne wants revenge on Stannis; Stannis is meeting with new Lord Commander Jon Snow to try and recapture the North from, you guessed it, the Boltons, who lack any real support from the Lannisters, who in turn are distracted in the wake of Tywin’s death.
Everything’s connected, and everything’s building. Even what seems unconnected, like the Essos action, will have ramifications for Westeros soon enough. After all, Thoros of Myr is still out there, and Tyrion reminded us of the Red Priest’s place in Robert Baratheon’s court.
Game Of Thrones can do spectacular individual episodes, but even when it chooses to divide time among all the various threads and characters, the show’s creative crew still manage to build a propulsive rhythm, keeping multiple plates spinning at the same time in a way to keep everything moving and to slowly raise the stakes for everyone involved.
Game Of Thrones is a brilliant television show, and as the seasons stretch on, it remains a testament to the quality of the source material and the clever minds of those bringing it to life. Five seasons in, diverging from the source material (or just plain running out of source material thanks to Martin’s writing pace), things seem to be continuing in rude health in Westeros and Essos. Whether courtly intrigue or bloody combat, Game Of Thrones remains a remarkable feat in the fantasy genre. I don’t see that changing any time soon.
US Correspondent Ron Hogan may or may not have spent most of this episode yelling at his television about the evil of Littlefinger and the Boltons, or cheering on Jon Snow’s new glowering uncle, King Stannis Baratheon. Find more by Ron daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.
Follow our Twitter feed for faster news and bad jokes right here. And be our Facebook chum here.