Game Of Thrones season 5 episode 4 review: Sons Of The Harpy

All praise goes to the fight scene choreography in this week's Game Of Thrones, a show where fighting defines character...

This review contains spoilers.

5.4 Sons Of The Harpy

I am not sure who creates the fight scenes for Game Of Thrones, but they clearly need a raise. From what I’ve been able to track down on the show’s very exhaustive cast list, the man responsible for the fights in this week’s episode is Paul Shapcott, who did similar work on the various Peter Jackson Tolkien films and multiple seasons of Spartacus, two very popular, very clever properties that depended a great deal on swords to advance the plot. I know there are many more people involved in the stabbing and slashing aspects of Game Of Thrones: Pedro Pascal’s wushu spear trainer Master Hu took a bite out of the Mountain, swordmaster CC Smiff was the mastermind behind Brienne and the Hound’s fatal duel on the rocks, and the legendary William Hobbs put the fluidity into the water dancing of Syrio Forel back in the first season.

This is a show where fighting is perhaps the most important element of any character, and those who aren’t fighters, have to think like fighters while getting others to do their violence for them. See Tyrion Lannister, Littlefinger, and Cersei Lannister, all of whom appear in this episode making decisions of various quality. Cersei, as usual, does the bulk of the plotting. After meeting with the High Sparrow, she decides that Westeros needs its religious military back once again, thus the Sparrows find themselves rearmed after hundreds of years with no Faith Militant. Never mind the fact that they were disarmed for a reason, now Westeros has armed religious fanatics smashing tables (and beer barrels, cue tears) in the streets of King’s Landing while Cersei smirks and sics her new-found dogs on the Tyrell family, despite the fact that Mace Tyrell has basically been supporting the crown’s lavish spending and the Iron Bank is calling in part of its significant loan to the Seven Kingdoms. It seems like a really bad time to kick off a wave of fanaticism, but she’s interrupting Littlefinger’s profit stream and publicly shaming the Tyrell fiance she has no interest in being a beard for, so in the short term, it’s a win for Cersei.

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We’ll see how long that lasts. As Daenerys has discovered, just because you’re in charge doesn’t mean you’re in control, and that’s one of the most spectacular fight scenes in the show’s run thus far. In the streets of Meereen, the Unsullied and Second Sons patrol for danger, hunting down the Sons of the Harpy. Good luck with that; as we see this week, the Harpy forces are dangerous and clever, using trickery and subterfuge to lure the Unsullied into tight angles and confines where their spears are as much hindrance as help, then slaughter them. At least Cersei can think she’s in charge of the Sparrows; Dany knows she’s not in charge of these characters, and she might pay a very high price for her hubris based on the beautiful, troubling final shot of the episode.

Hubris seems to be a perennial theme in the Game Of Thrones universe. When you get a big head, someone comes along with an axe and cuts it off. When you stick your neck out in an attempt to get an edge on your opponents, your throat will be cut. Especially if you’re standing between Cersei Lannister and power. Look at the ominous scene in which Mace Tyrell gets sent off to Braavos with Ser Meryn as a bodyguard. Mace loves the idea, because he’s as dumb as a post, but Grand Maester Pycelle can see the writing on the wall. It’s a great scene for two reasons. One, Roger Ashton-Griffiths is hilariously clueless as poor colourful Mace. Two, everyone else but Mace knows this is a naked power grab by Cersei, much like reactivating the Faith Militant is a cat’s paw attack at the peskier Tyrells like the imprisoned Loras and an incensed Margaery.

Mark Mylod has a tough task on his plate; he’s got multiple fight scenes and they all have to be drastically different due to the differences in the fighters: Jaime and Bronn murder a Dornish welcome party, the Sons of the Harpy and the Unsullied, and the Faith’s smashing up of Littlefinger’s brothel and the torture and possible murder of his clients and staff. Each fight feels appropriate; Jaime and Bronn get dirty in the Dornish hills, the Faith is more like an angry mob armed with clubs attacking innocent whoremongers, and the Unsullied/Sons fight is a great testament to the difficulties open-field fighters have in a guerrilla warfare situation, as the Sons use surprise and numbers to take out everyone they square off against, despite the casualties. Also, full credit: the reveal that Grey Worm is one of the Unsullied trapped in the alley and that Barristan is there to cut through ten people to come to his aid was thrilling—and a true Westerosi-style knife to the guts with every slash and stab inflicted upon the folks we like by the faceless Sons. 

The visuals have more impact than the writing from Dave Hill, but that’s probably by design. The discussion scenes, particularly Bronn/Jaime, Tyrion/Jorah, and most surprisingly Stannis and Shireen, tap into the emotions quite deftly. The Baratheon men are known for their big hearts… well, all but Stannis, but watch him awkwardly embrace his grayscale-faced daughter and tell me he’s not as big-hearted as the Brienne-saving Renly or the Ned-loving Robert. It’s a lovely moment, and it shows a newly human side to Stannis The Mannis (knocked out of the park by Stephen Dillane). Absolutely wonderful; it’s nice to see there’s still a human king of Westeros involved in the war between sycophants and psychopaths.

Is that glimpse of humanity something positive for Stannis, or a sign of weakness that’s going to bring him down when push comes to shove? He is a formidable opponent militarily, and he’s the rightful king of Westeros, in so much as anyone’s the rightful king of anything. Hopefully he’ll be able to use his clever daughter to his advantage, just not in a creepy Sansa/Littlefinger way.

Read Ron’s review of the previous episode, High Sparrow, here.

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US Correspondent Ron Hogan is officially the Head Cheerleader of Team Stannis. Find more by Ron daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.

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