In our discussion of “High Sparrow,” this week’s episode of Game of Thrones, we are going to explore the battles that will be waged in season 5. Because as we found out this week, many battle lines have been drawn. The setup appears to be winding down and in its wake will come the bloody battles that will define the show’s fifth year.
This discussion includes spoilers for season 5, episode 3 and while it is informed by some book knowledge, there will be no book spoilers. This is a column for people who love reading in between the lines of the show. If you are interested in hearing my most spoilery thoughts, you should listen to A Storm of Spoilers, a new episode of which will drop on Thursday. For now though, let’s dig into this episode and the battles of season five after a visit from Walter White Walker, Lord of Spoilers.
The battles of season five are known:
Daenerys vs. The Sons of the Harpy
The only reference we get to Dany and her war against insurgence in Meereen this week is some talk via Tyrion and Varys, who have finally exited their metaphorical and literal box to take a walk through the still-slaving city of Volantis (don’t forget Volantis, it may become more relevant later). We learn that Mother of Dragons cosplay is now big in the brothels of The Free Cities. At least we know she’s made it.
Even though we don’t get an update on Dany and her Meereen troubles, this battle is one of the central plots of season 5, so it’s worth mentioning while we’re on the subject.
The North Remembering vs. The Boltons
Three episodes in and Littlefinger’s plan is starting to come to light. As we found out last season, Lord Petyr is one of Westeros’ most agitating figures. He has been creating chaos and making ambitious moves since the beginning. Now he’s set on getting Sansa Stark, newly reborn with a new hairdo and some training in the art of intrigue, into the game. We don’t know all of his reasons yet, but it’s clear that Littlefinger wants to push Sansa toward avenging her family with the Boltons.
The sweetest moment of this entire exchange, in which Sansa and Littlefinger arrive at Winterfell, is the moment in which the servant of Winterfell shows Sansa to her room. “The North Remembers,” she says quietly. It’s meant to remind us – as was the Lady Mormont letter to Stannis from last week’s episode – that the people of The North are incredibly loyal to the Starks. So as Sansa pursues her vengeance against the family that killed her brother and mother, she will not doubt have some assistance from just about everyone else in The North.
Brienne vs. Stannis
What is the show going to do with Brienne and Pod? This is a question that book readers have been asking all season, as their storyline has deviated quite dramatically from the books. This episode includes a great bit of storytelling from Brienne about how she became such a fiercely loyal follower of Renly Baratheon. It also gives us an insight into what Brienne’s new goals might include now that she has been rebuked by both remaining Stark girls.
“Nothing is more hateful than failing to protect the one you love,” she explains to dear, sweet Pod. “One day I will avenge King Renly.” This episode told us a few things that make this particular statement interesting: (a) Brienne and Pod are tracking Sansa (b) Sansa and Littlefinger are now at Winterfell and (c) Stannis tells Jon that his army will be heading to Winterfell within a fortnight. Brienne may get her chance at revenge. Because “Stannis is a man not a shadow. And a shadow can be killed.”
Queen Mother vs. Queen Wife
Back in King’s Landing, the prophecy foretold to Little Cersei in episode one is becoming more and more relevant. Now that Tommen and Margaery have consummated their marriage in a way befitting an experienced woman and a teenage boy, it’s hard to imagine that the young king is going to be choosing his mom’s side for very long.
More importantly, we seem to be headed for more simmering confrontations between Margaery and Cersei. With the promise of more dragons, ice zombie, large armies marching south and the inevitable coming of Winter, it’s likely that this will be one of the last great battles of wits in King’s Landing before everything goes to hell. And it couldn’t have happened to two more capable combatants. Every single ounce of dialogue in the back-and-forth between Natalie Dormer and Lena Headey is laced with subtext. This is going to be fun.
The High Sparrow vs. Shoes
Somewhere amidst all of these familiar storylines, the titular High Sparrow eventually shows up in the form of the always brilliant Jonathan Pryce. Not only does Pryce have an appropriately spelled name for Westeros (Martin does love to lay down a y where an i usually belongs), he also brings a strong presence to a humble character. The High Sparrow is a fundamentalist who serves the Seven. He believes strongly in being a servant of the people in the name of the gods, giving up his worldly possessions (including his shoes) and choosing a simple life that will hopefully inspire others to renounce wealth and serve their fellow man.
This service also includes the lancing of the boils of hypocrisy, which involves publicly humiliating the High Septon for his deviant behavior. This is usually a place where a reasonable Lannister might strike down such a movement, choosing to stick by the High Septon and continue to do business with the devil you know. But Cersei is growing both restless and desperate in her quest to keep her children safe. As we saw last week in her Small Council scene, she is eager to bring in people loyal to her. This leads her to form an unlikely alliance with the new religious icon in town. Cersei sees aligning herself with a movement she deems to be powerful as potentially useful in her battle against Margaery. But wait until the High Sparrow finds out that the Lannisters are basically the Darkest Timeline Wu Tang Clan of Westeros: Cash Rules Everything Around Me, and whatnot. The guy doesn’t even wear shoes, there’s no way he’s going to be okay with everything that Cersei is into.
Qyburn vs. The Laws of Nature
In our time at King’s Landing, we also see Qyburn in his dungeon laboratory doing unsavory things to rats. So far season five seems very willing to do a number of things, one of which is the brutal killing of pigeons and rats.
More importantly, remember that big body on his table? That monstrous presence who “died” late last season? He’s still moving…
Jon Snow vs. Haters
“High Sparrow” is an episode full of great little moments. All the Margaery/Cersei stuff is wonderful, as are the moments between Sansa and Littlefinger. But by far my favorite moment is when Jon orders the men of The Night’s Watch to seize Lord Janos Slynt after he refuses the Lord Commander’s Order. For a moment it appears as if Ser Alliser Thorne may stand up for his buddy, only to step aside at the last moment. For all his faults, Ser Alliser has always been a very smart man. He understands that at some point, Jon Snow is going to have to make a strong show of his leadership. In this instance, he chooses wisely and the sniveling Lord Slynt pays the price.
To his credit, Jon has become more like Ned Stark than we ever expected. His commitment to honoring his vow is now strong, even fundamental. This season continues to explore how fundamentalism affects the ways people lead in Westeros. Jon Snow’s commitment to his Night’s Watch vow may finally earn him some respect as a leader, both from his men and from Stannis, who gives him an approving nod following the big beheading. This is not likely to be the last time Jon’s leadership is challenged, but it’s nice to know that he’s up to the task.
Observations vs. This Episode
Dark Arya is Coming: We spend a lot of time in this episode getting to know the inner workings of The House of Black and White. Like Arya, we don’t really know what it is they do other than kill people. What we do learn is that in order to join the Faceless Men, Arya must give up her past. In a very emotional moment, she gives up her past. Well, most of it, at least. Is this the end of Arya Stark as we’ve known her?
The Green Wedding: Since all Westerosi weddings need to be assigned a color, I’m calling the wedding of Tommen and Margaery The Green Wedding. It was the quickest, least eventful wedding ceremony and reception yet. No one died. And one of the participants isn’t exactly ripe yet. The Green Wedding.
The Red Priestess in Volantis: As Tyrion and Varys take their walk through the crowded streets of Volantis, we meet a Red Priestess preaching about the savior Daenerys Targaryen. This scene has two wonderful elements. One is the casting of Rila Fukushima, who you may recognize from The Wolverine and Arrow. The other is the knowing glance her Red Priestess gives to Tyrion. Is she simply scowling at him because he was interrupting her sermon or is there something more to that look?
Ser Friendzone is Back: The final mid-major character we have to check in on is Ser Jorah Mormont, who was last seen leaving the service of Daenerys in disgrace. He’s been hiding out in Volantis and in a stroke of luck, he now finds himself in possession of the most wanted half-man in the world. “I’m taking you to the queen,” he tells Tyrion as he drags him off. The only question is: which queen?
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