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Game of Thrones - High Sparrow - Review

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Game of Thrones, “High Sparrow,” was written by the team of David Benioff and DB Weiss and was directed by Mark Mylod, whose other credits include Shameless and Entourage. This episode saw a number of characters assume new roles and new names. While we don’t get to see anything of the Sons of the Harpy in this episode, we do see important evidence of four other religions. The episode also visits two brothels, features one marriage and one engagement. The series continues to be a feast for the eyes with wonderful sets for Winterfell, Moat Cailin, Castle Black, and in particular Voltantis.

Arya’s (Maise Williams) training isn’t going quite the way she’d envisioned it. She’s made to sweep a chamber that seems to be dedicated to the gods. Jaqen (Tom Wlaschiha) gives a man a drink from the pool, who is then seen praying, and then the man dies. When Arya complains to Jaqen she’s told she needs to learn to serve and to become no one. He also tells her there is only one god.

There is one other girl who also seems to be there to serve – the Waif (Faye Marsay) who comes to Arya in her chamber to torment her. Arya is about to pull her sword on her when Jaqen intercedes. He asks Arya how no one come to be surrounded by Arya Stark’s things. In order to become no one, she must get rid of her old life and identity and Arya throws everything into the bay – everything except her sword. Williams is excellent as she agonizes over losing the sword that mean so much to her. In the end, she can’t do it and hides it in some rocks instead.

She goes back to sweeping but is soon invited through the door where earlier she had seen the dead man taken. Jaqen leaves her with the Waif and the two prepare the dead man’s body. Arya asks what happens after they clean the body, but the Waif doesn’t answer – whether she knows or not.

Tommen (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Margaery (Natalie Dormer) wed. Cersei (Lena Headey) is not happy. Headey does a wonderful job of almost making me feel sorry for Cersei in this episode. As she rides to the wedding, it’s clear that she is not just angry but also jealous and hurt at the crowd’s love for Margaery. She has now very officially been pushed aside by the new Queen.

Tommen very much enjoys his wedding night. He tells Margaery that he’d like to spend all of his time that way, which is exactly what she wants to hear. Margaery wastes no time in planting the seeds to get Cersei far away from them. She tells Tommen that she adores Cersei and suggests she’d be happier at Casterly Rock. Not to be outdone, Cersei and Tommen walk the walls and Cersei comments that Margaery smiles a lot – “Do you think she’s intelligent?” Tommen is no match between these too forceful women. He ineffectually tries to suggest Cersei go to Casterly Rock, and she essentially ignores him.

Interestingly, Cersei goes to Margaery to tell her to come to her if she needs anything. Why do I think she’s going to take great delight in NOT helping Margaery when she comes to her. Margaery is having breakfast with her ladies and having great fun telling them about the wedding night. This scene is quite hilarious – “Surely four times is enough?” she tells them she said to Tommen. “Do you want to set a record?” To which he innocently replied, “What is the record? I’m sure we can break it!” Cersei comes upon them giggling over this – surely something to make any mother uncomfortable.

Margaery takes great delight in this scene in making Cersei uncomfortable and ridiculing her in front of her ladies in waiting. Dormer and Headey are both excellent as they smile at each other and appear on the surface to be exchanging pleasantries when all the while the subtext is easy to ascertain. Margaery offers food or drink, but mentions she’s sorry she can’t offer wine as it’s a bit early for them, suggesting it isn’t for Cersei. Just before Cersei can get away, Margaery wants to clarify Cersei’s new title and position. “Do I call you Dowager Queen or Queen Mother?” She goes on to make it worse by saying that she would soon be having a child who would make Cersei Queen Grandmother.

In addition to the wedding, there is also a pretty surprising betrothal. Ramsey (Iwan Rheon) has been trying to bring the North to heel through terror, and there are some gruesomely flayed corpses hanging at Winterfell to prove it. We don’t see much of Reek/Theon (Alfie Allen), but Allen gives us a lot of insight into Theon just in the reaction shots we have of him. He’s clearly very affected by the flayed corpses – an interesting turnaround from the burned bodies he’d displayed himself in that very courtyard. He looks stricken, no doubt tormented by the knowledge of the part he’s played in what’s become of Winterfell. Roose (Michael McElhatton), like Stannis (Stephen Dillane) knows that the Warden of the North will always be a Stark for the northerners, and he’s found the perfect girl for Ramsey.

Sansa (Sophie Turner) is, of course, that girl. She has definitely come a long way from the na├»ve girl that she was – though I’ll never see her as being the most gifted of the Stark children or a match for either Cersei or Margaery. Sansa realizes immediately on seeing that they are at Moat Cailin that Baelish (Aidan Gillen) intends for her to marry. She thinks at first that it is Roose, but he assures her it’s his son. Baelish tells her he won’t force her, but he uses his considerable powers of persuasion and motivates her perfectly: “You’ll be running all your life. You’ve been a bystander since they executed your father. Stop being a bystander. Stop running. There’s no justice in the world. Not unless we make it. You loved your family. Avenge them.” Gillen is, as always, a joy to watch.

Turner is also excellent as she meet Roose. Again, we see Theon watching her as she enters the courtyard with Baelish. Roose welcomes her and there’s a delicious moment of tension before she smiles sweetly and curtseys to him. A servant (Stella McCusker) takes her to her room and tells her, “Welcome home, Lady Stark. The North remembers.” It looks like Sansa will have some allies and that both Roose and Stannis were correct in who the northerners would look to. Later, as she crosses the courtyard, Theon hides his face so she won’t recognize him, but it’s unlikely that she would even if she looked right at him.

Ramsey promises Baelish that he’ll never hurt Sansa. Do any of us believe that to be the case? I wonder if that will be the catalyst to break Theo out of Reek. We have the servant woman who may also come to Sansa’s aide. Baelish, however, is clearly not going to be sticking around to protect her. Cersei has sent Baelish a message which Roose intercepts and reads. Both are indebted to the Lannisters for their current positions but with Tywin dead, both are ready to betray that alliance. As Baelish tells Roose, “Every ambitious move is a gamble.” Again, Baelish uses his powers of persuasion to appeal to exactly what Roose wants most and reminds him that the last time the Lord of the Eyrie and the Lord of the North combined forces the toppled the most powerful dynasty the world has ever known. Roose still doesn’t trust Baelish, insisting on seeing his reply to Cersei.

Also in the north, Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) and Podrick (Daniel Portman) continue to shadow Sansa. Brienne quickly surmises what’s going on as soon as they arrive at Moat Cailin, and she rides ahead, knowing they are ultimately heading to Winterfell. Once again, there is a terrific scene between Christie and Portman and it’s their performances that make up for not getting to see Brienne fighting! The two share some of their background with each other. Podrick tells of how he came to be in the service of Lord Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) – as punishment for both of them after Podrick’s first master was hung for stealing a ham.

Brienne somewhat sarcastically apologizes for being so difficult a master and for snapping at him all the time. Podrick insists that he’s proud to be her squire – she’s the best fighter he’s ever seen – and he even says he wouldn’t learn if she didn’t correct him. Brienne finally relents and tells him she will start training him with sword fighting twice a day and teaching him to ride even if she can’t ever actually knight him. Podrick asks how she came to be a King’s Guard for Renly, and Brienne tells the heartbreaking story of the ball her father threw her. Christie is excellent as she tells the story. Portman really only has to react, but also does an excellent job. He’s smiling as she tells him about all the boys fighting over dancing with her, and then slowly his face falls, and he’s clearly disgusted at their behavior and sad for her. Finally, she tell him that Renly stopped her from running away and danced with her telling her the others were “Nasty little shits” and not worth crying over.

Podrick starts to bring up Renly’s preference, and Brienne’s answer is terrific: “Yes Pod, he liked men. I’m not an idiot.” She tells Pod that he danced with her because he was kind and didn’t want to see her hurt. She finished by telling Pod that he saved her but she was unable to save him, and “Nothing is worse than failing to protect the one you love.” She goes on to vow that the shadow that killed Renly couldn’t be killed, but Stannis can – and of course, Stannis is also heading to Winterfell!

Meanwhile, in Winterfell, Jon (Kit Harrington) is settling into his new role as Lord Commander. Stannis tries one last time to get Jon to accept the title of Lord Stark, but he declines, citing his vow to the Black Watch. Jon wants to know how long he’s going to have to feed and house Stannis’ men. Stannis says they will be heading to Winterfell soon, but still need more men. Stannis also advise Jon that Jon has a lot of enemies at Castle Black and to send Ser Alliser (Owen Teale) away. Jon prefers to keep his enemies close, however.

After Stannis leaves, Ser Davos (Liam Cunningham) stays to have a word with Jon. He asks Olly (Brenock O’Connor) to recite part of the Night Watch vow: “I am the sword in the darkness, the watcher on the walls, the shield that guards the realms of men.” Davos suggest that the vow means more than merely waiting and holding the wall: “Maybe it means more than waiting.” He goes on to tell Jon, “As long as the Boltons rule the North, the North will suffer.”

Jon begins his first meeting without Maester Aemon, who Sam (John Bradley) tells them is sick. It's more likely that Aemon is making sure that Jon is able to command the respect that he will need to rule as Lord Commander without having, Aemon by his side - which given Aemon's age, wont' be forever anyway. Jon’s first order of business is to appoint a captain to dig the latrine. I had a horrible moment when I thought he would pick Alliser, but he picks another. Instead, he makes Alliser First Ramger – an honor. His next act is to appoint Janos (Dominc Carter) commander of the Greyguard. Janos refuses, saying it’s a ruin. Jon tells him, “You mistake me my Lord. That was a command not an offer.” Janos says no again, ending with “You can stick your order up your bastard ass.” Jon orders him taken outside and calls for Olly to bring his sword.

It seems things might go badly for Jon. Alliser is smiling as Janos defies Jon, but Alliser still steps aside to let Tollett (Ben Crompton) take Janos. Harrington has been quoted as saying this was the hardest thing he’s done as Jon – murder someone essentially in cold blood. Janos is defiant right up until Jon arrives and takes his sword out, and then he grovels. Janos tells Jon he’s sorry and he’ll go away. He asks for mercy and says he’s afraid and has always been afraid. In a sense, Jon killing him is a mercy because he no longer has to be afraid. More importantly, it sends the message to all those under his command – or watching it from without. Stannis watches and gives Jon the barest nod of approval.

The first brothel visited is Little Finger’s in King’s Landing. The Sparrows, lead by Lancel (Eugene Simon), interrupt the High Septon’s (Paul Bentley) “ministering” to the prostitutes and march him naked through the streets, beating him. He goes to the Small Council to demand they execute the High Sparrow.

Cersei visits the High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce) offering him an alliance and telling him the High Septon has been thrown in the dungeon. The High Sparrow appears to be devout as she finds him barefoot and feeding the poor. However, he doesn’t seem terribly upset by what the more militant faction of his religion have been doing.

Cersei tells him, “the two pillars of faith and crown hold up this world,” and suggests that they must do everything they can to protect each other. The Queen may command the King’s Guard (through the King), but Cersei seems to be securing her own army. Qyburn (Anton Lesser) also seems to be working on a project for her – is there any doubt that the thing under the sheet on his operating table is the Mountain?

The second brothel and the final religion are both encountered by Tyrion in Voltanis. Tyrion finally insists on getting out of his “wheelhouse” and heads to the nearest brothel with Varys (Conleth Hill). On the way, they encounter a Red Priestess (Rila Fukushima). She’s a former slave, preaching that the savior is The Dragon Queen (Emilia Clarke). Anybody else think that her outfit made her look like a dragon when she spread her arms? At the end of her speech, she looks directly at Tyrion and they share a long look before Tyrion becomes uncomfortable and suggests they leave. Fukushima is an excellent fighter, especially with a sword, so I’m looking forward to seeing more from her! And what did that look mean?

At the brothel, there is even a prostitute (Samantha Bentley) dressed as The Mother of Dragons. It would seem that Voltanis is primed to be liberated by Daenerys. We see that for all his devil-may-care attitude, Tyrion is still deeply affected by what happened with Shae – her betrayal and his killing her. So much so that he can’t go with the prostitute who he charms. Dinklage once again manages to charm us and rip our hearts out. The episode ends with Jorah (Iain Glen), who just happens to be in the brothel – there for the Dragon Queen perchance? – taking Tyrion hostage to take to the Queen. Varys does immediately miss Tyrion and gets up to follow, so there’s some hope that he may see Jorah take him.

What did you think of the episode? If you’ve seen the leaked following episode, please do not comment on it here. The show continues to satisfy, but this episode does (apparently) take a very different path from the books. I haven’t read the books, so I’m satisfied with the character development we see here. It would seem that we may finally see a family reunion of sorts in Winterfell finally. What does Jaqen have in store for Arya? Is Cersei playing with fire that will eventually burn her? Is Margaery a match for Cersei? Will Alliser be the problem we all expect him to be? Will Brienne kill Stannis or will he kill her? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

About the Author - Lisa Macklem
I do interviews and write articles for the site in addition to reviewing a number of shows, including Supernatural, Arrow, Agents of Shield, The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, Forever, Defiance, Bitten, Glee, and a few others! Highlights of this past year include covering San Diego Comic Con as press and a set visit to Bitten. When I'm not writing about television shows, I'm often writing about entertainment and media law in my capacity as a legal scholar. I also work in theatre when the opportunity arises. I'm an avid runner and rider, currently training in dressage.

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