[rating=3.00] “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken”
There are moments of significance to be had in the sixth episode of Game of Thrones’ fifth season, though it’s mostly due to the longevity of show’s characters we’ve spent years invested in. The gradation of Arya Stark, Jorah Mormont, and Tyrion Lannister has proved satisfying to varying degrees, as long-running plotlines seem to be moving towards completion, albeit quite slowly.
However, as these same plotlines trudge forward, their ability to hold the same kind of austerity wanes significantly, as the once-grounded fantasy show begins to erode into a graceless adumbration of its former self.
“I’m from Westeros, just like you. I’m the daughter of a Lord, just like you.”
One of the easiest examples conveniently opens the episode, as Arya is seen sponging off corpses in The House of Black and White. Predictably, a mysterious doorway is left open, cajoling her to look before she’s stopped by another, slightly more advanced, corpse-sponger.
Arya is brash in her defiance, to the point where it counterintuitive her character’s growth, as she hears this girl tell of her past, which is not unlike her own. She then asks Arya rather directly “Was I telling the truth?”
Shortly thereafter, as Jaqen whips Arya for lying as she tells him her life story, a poignant moment occurs as her sole protest comes at him calling her hatred of The Hound a lie. Only after she fabricates her backstory to another girl does Arya inevitably lead her to the same corpse table she’s been working at for weeks, is she taken into a hall filled with countless faces.
What seems like it was designed to an awe-inspiring moment is instead demystifies the mystique of The Faceless Men into a sinister parlor trick. While Arya’s initial interest in Braavos, her first meeting with Jaquen, and her eventual journey, it stillll felt like it was building to something profound.
Instead, it becomes a clumsy, imbalanced juggling of the mystical and practical, with neither one able to work with the other.
“We shall never see his like again.”
Another plotline ripe with these shortcomings involves Tyrion and Jorah, who were a world apart for years before finding themselves cast out and reliant on one another to survive. There’s some early payoff, as Tyrion tells Jorah of his time at The Wall, and the great respect his father, Jeor, commanded from his troops. When Tyrion then speaks of his death, the pause Jorah takes is the kind of moment that resonates most with viewers. A kind of morose reward for the emotional investment of paying too much attention.
Of course, this particular nod rewarding viewer loyalty is also undercut, this time by a scene involving their capture by slavers, which is so hackneyed and unnecessary it overshadows the nuance of their preceding moments.
“A Lannister and a Martell. They have no idea how dangerous that is.”
As Ellaria Sand, still in mourning over Prince Oberyn, sees Myrcella as an opportunity to extort her revenge, Oberyn’s older brother, Doran, sees it as a tactical method for the betterment of Dorn. Marriage, as has been shown time and again, serves as an efficient way to consolidate power and cultivate alliances without bloodshed.
Doran, a seemingly reasonable leader, for his all of three minutes of screen time so far, reasserts this importance to his guard, Areo Hotah. Normally, this would be a precursor to something that would take several episodes, if not seasons, to cultivate.
However, as is par for the course these days, it all comes carelessly into play minutes later, as Jamie and Bronn “sneak” into Dorne in a scene that seems more like an outtake from Ishtar than from a show of this pedigree. Of course, the Sand Snakes also just happen to be there, while we, the audience, get to sit through an over-choreographed fight scene that we’re assured should seem captivating, but just… doesn’t.
“One’s choice of a companion is a curious thing.”
In the meantime, Littlefinger, back at King’s Landing, counsels with Cersei. Again, it serves as a great reminder to the cunning wielded by these two characters. Cersei, who invites a fanatical religious rule over King’s Landing, shrugs off its importance while refusing to intervene. Littlefinger, however, speaks of Sansa, back home at Winterfell, though from a third person perspective, while claiming to rely on spies to for this knowledge.
“I always counseled loyalty to the throne,” he assures Cersei, while once again upping the ante to play both sides against one-another. Cersei, meanwhile, continues to build a house of cards on shaky ground, with her sole focus being on revenge — at the expense of everything else.
“House Lannister has no rival.”
So much so that she blatantly ignores the “veiled threats” of Olenna Tyrell, who’s irate over the imprisonment of Ser Loras, so much so that when she’s called out, Cersei simply replies “what veil?”
To Cersei, it’s the last move she has, as her family, and by extension the crown, is significantly in debt. Now, in the wake of Tywin’s death, her boy-king of a son has already proven incapable of any semblance of leadership, authority or command.
This is proven in the High Sparrow’s trial (who, incidentally, is played by a TERRIBLY conspicuous and miscast Jonathan Pryce), as Ser Loras’ “immoral” actions are called into question.
It’s at least consistent with this episode, with all its setup and intrigue. But when the story actually moves forward, it completely loses its shit.
The trial itself is a confounded affair, poorly written and ultimately just a poor excuse to imprison Margaery. Sure, this may have been Cersei’s plan all along, but seems oddly short-sighted of her to allow religious fanaticism to rule — despite her feigning protests to the contrary.
“This is my home, and you can’t frighten me.”
Perhaps a moment that will be singularly responsible for more lost viewers than any other thus far, starts by relying on the gravitas the show has cultivated over the years of its on-screen history: The sacred Weirwood tree of Winterfell.
Sansa, in a hauntingly still and serene moment, is married to Ramsay Bolton. Theon, broken from unending torture endured since his misguided “siege” of Winterfell years earlier, was invited as another sadistic act from Ramsay himself. This moment is a cumulative masterpiece of the show’s own layered history playing upon itself.
And, consistent with the rest of this episode, its undermined with the not only the brutal, heartless act towards an already long-suffering character, but a completely tactless approach cinematically, with strikingly little left to the imagination. Instead, we’re forced to stare into Theon’s warped and broken face, contorted with horror as some sort of sad, hollow reflection that the audience experiences alongside him.