Tuesday, May 26, 2015

[Impressions] Game of Thrones 5.7, "The Gift"

Wow, I mean wow. I didn't expect Sansa's plight to be that big a topic after watching the previous episode, but it was - and still is. You can read different opinions on the matter - including mine (though I admit I just repeat what I've said here) over at Tower of the Hand (part one) and Watchers on the Wall (part two), a lengthy discussion about - mostly - that final scene of last week's episode. And what do you know, I just realized another week and a day has passed. For the first time (probably) I haven't really been excited for a new episode. This is not because of last week, however - it's because I am genuinely less interested in this season. I think the episodes so far have some good stuff, but compared to the previous seasons, even the second (which I didn't really enjoy the first time, but which grew on me on a re-binge watch), Season Five is rather disappointing. But so were the books the season is based on, I hear myself say; but it's not even that. I do think that taking the major developments from Feast and Dance and trim down the excess bloat would make for a good season five, but somehow I feel that they have botched it this time - and I can't properly articulate why I feel this way. There's a feeling that this isn't as well-written, well-acted and well-produced as previous seasons - perhaps especially Jaime & Bronn's Adventures in Dorne, but there's a lot to be desired in other story lines as well. Oh well. I guess it's time to settle down and watch the seventh episode (already!) and see if things start to pick up; we're moving into endgame for the season, and that should provide some drama. I admit a mild curiosity as to where they are going with the Dorne story, as well as fully expecting Loras to die. Maybe not in this episode, but probably in this season. And, of course, I'm wondering if we will see Sansa Stark take control of her destiny or if she's...hey, wait a minute - is George R.R. Martin actually writing a story where Sansa fails to become a player of the game of thrones? Is that why we see Sansa not taking charge and rather bend over for Ramsay's pink mast? I can't really believe that; the books are pretty clear about setting her up to be a player - the thought just occurred to me as I was writing this, is all. Right! Let's check out "The Gift", a title which can mean a number of things - the lands south of the Wall but north of Winterfell (will we see the wildlings move south in this episode?), the Faceless Men's "gift" of mercy, and, uh, perhaps someone receives a gift in the mail. Perhaps that box with that old fellow inside that Varys was preparing for shipment finally arrives somewhere. Maybe we are gifted with a rare appearance from Balon Greyjoy, or Edmure Tully, or Thoros of Myr. Or maybe the episode will focus on someone's talents - gifts. It can in so many directions! But it probably won't.

This episode opens well enough, with nice shots of a journey being prepared. We're in the courtyard of Castle Black, with light snow falling, with horses being packed (there are some decidedly modern bits and pieces of equipment here, like the thingamagogs for the horses' reins). Tormund is brought forth - he's going to Hardhome to round up the wildlings and get them south of the Wall, and Jon Snow, of course, is going with him. I guess they needed to have Jon do something more exciting than taking stock of the larder. Nice shots. I like the choice of keeping the sequence free of dialogue while Tormund is unshackled - they rely on facial expressions (except for Jon, who scowls the same way he always does, I guess) and looks to sell the scene, and it works. When we do get dialogue, it's Ser Alliser Thorne telling Jon he's making a bad decision, and Jon's reply is to thank him for his honesty (as always) which is a surprisingly funny line from dour Jon. We also see Satin (I just can't remember what he's called in the show, is it Olly?) staring angrily at Jon, reinforcing the idea that Jon is going against the wishes of many of the members of the Night's Watch, which of course is obvious foreshadowing of the mutiny to come. I wonder if non-book readers catch on to this and start to worry about Jon's health?
Sam offers up some dragonglass and reminds the audience it can be used to kill "white walkers".

Next up is a baby. And a very old man. Aemon. And Gilly's baby. Hey, "Egg! Egg laughed like that. One of the first things I remember." Nice shoutout. So Aemon's in a bad state of health. He tells Gilly to get the baby south 'before it's too late'. Well, that was a very short scene, and while the shoutout is nice I don't think it adds anything to the story, it might just confuse people who aren't into the series hardcore.

Theon brings a sobbing Sansa food. Sansa asks for help; Theon says he's Reek, not Theon. "He already hurts me every night...Every night he comes..." So she's being raped repeatedly now. Great. That will settle the online outrage. Where was her agency, you wondered? Sansa asks him to climb to the top of the broken tower and light a candle. Theon actually nods when Sansa asks him to promise her to help. A well-acted scene, I admit, but we're not really getting what we expected to see - a Sansa in charge, but somehow this scene does help sell us a Sansa who is, if slowly, beginning to take charge - she is not afraid enough of Ramsay to not ask Theon for help, so there's that. And Sophie acts well in this gloomy scene, too.

The following shot of Theon wandering through Winterfell is great - it looks suitably dramatic, accentuated by the music and use of dark greys. Theon sees the broken tower, but of course he's too bound to Ramsay and goes to him instead of doing what Sansa begs him to do. I'm sure there was a lot of cursing in front of the screen worldwide at that. Heh. A nasty narrative trick to pull on the viewers, but ultimately showing us just how in control of Reek - because he is still Reek - Ramsay Bolton actually is. Well, so far this episode is much better directed than anything before it in the season, I have to say. Maybe it's the material, maybe it's the director, but everything seems better acted and the various shots and angles employed all draw me in (like when Theon comes up the narrow steps of the tower).

Next is a shot of Brienne waiting for a light to shine from the broken tower top. Great shot (again). Aaaand Aemon dies, telling Egg he dreamed that he was old.

Next up is Aemon's funeral (pyre). The first (and probably) the last character in the show to die of natural causes. A sad scene, with sad music, and Sam holding a speech for him. I liked Alliser's "You're losing all your friends, Tarly". Reminding us that Alliser remains a nasty piece of work.

Ramsay and Sansa on Winterfell's walls. Ramsay gives her a creepy speech - about how happy he is with her (you'd think he wasn't because she's so submissive); and he also gives some exposition on what is going on politically (Stannis marching on Winterfell, snowstorm etc.) Sansa, daringly perhaps, challenges Ramsay's position now that Fat Walda is pregnant. Ramsay says a bastard can rise high and tells her that her half-brother Jon Snow is the Lord Commander of the Night's Watch, surprising her. Will this make her seek him out? Ouch. Ramsay takes her to see Sansa's old lady friend (the one who said the north remembers), flayed. Again, we see Theon regretting what he is doing. Ramsay's great as the despicable villain here - "You should hold on to your candles...the nights are sooo long now," nice delivery, best line of the episode so far (yes I'm blogging and watching at the same time again). And Sansa looking so forlorn when she realizes her hopes have been squashed, and being forced to watch the flayed old woman - reminiscent of her being forced to watch her father's head on a pike. And the look Ramsay gives her after giving her a nice little kiss on the cheek, cree-ee-eepy.  Really, it feels like they decided that "we need to get some better directing for the last four episodes".

Stannis is on the march; Davos throws out the exposition, telling Stannis how bad things are - kind of weird, really, that a seasoned commander like Stannis decides to march through winter. Same in the books, I know. The scene does sell it, though - Stannis mentions this is their only chance. Stannis is showing doubts in Melisandre's flames and prophecies. She says she sees herself walking the battlements of Winterfell and the Bolton banners lowered; I wonder if she sees herself with Jon Snow rather than Stannis...ooooh Melisandre suggests sacrificing Shireen. Looks like I was right about her a few posts back. Stephen Dillane...he's really grown on me. I remember not thinking him a good candidate for the role. Now he's awesome in all his scenes.

Ouch, Gilly threatened by two Night's Watch men. Sam arrives on the scene with a blade. He's not a coward anymore. Sam really gets his face punched. Raw violence. Ghost comes to the rescue! And everyone said, "WTF." What was the point of this scene anyway? That he isn't a fighter after all? I guess that must be it. The two guardsmen take him down pretty easily, and Gilly fights better than him. I wonder what the two see in each other, though. She's such a complainer. And he's, well, he's Sam - trying to help her and getting his ass kicked soundly. Hey, sexytime. Awkward and kinda sweet.

Jorah in chains. Tyrion in chains. Slave market. Lol, I like how they give Thoros' story (first through the breach at Pyke during Greyjoy's Rebellion) to Jorah (as told by the pirate selling him). Tyrion kicks the crap out of a slave holding his chains to get sold as well, and so he and Jorah become owned by the same fellow.

Dany and Daario in bed, prattling. Sexytime interrupted by political talk and exposition. Not a very strong scene, but there's some necessary reminders here for the viewers as well as some foreshadowing for the season's endgame. And Emilia Clarke + Dany-wig remains eye candy.

Queen of Thorns versus High Sparrow. Nice. Solid acting, well written lines of dialogue. Buggery. Lol. That word. Olenna threatens to stop sending food to King's Landing. However, the High Sparrow has more than enough ammunition to counter her, even hinting that all the noble Houses will go down. Great scene, I have to say, explaining in clear dialogue how the political situation is developing in Westeros through the two characters' views.

Tommen is pretty upset about Marge being imprisoned (but still no outrage over beets). Cersei and Tommen's chat echoes vaguely Cersei's chats with Joffrey. Kind of sweet when Tommen says he loves her. It remains one of the least convincing things of the story, however - that Tommen is the way he is, fundamentally unlike anyone else in the Lannister household (along with his sister, I guess). Touching moment when Cersei professes her love for Tommen, even with a tear in her eye. Good stuff.

Oh no, Dorne! Jaime realizes Myrcella doesn't want to go home. Bronn keeps singing The Dornishman's Wife. Not a bad singer. Gets applause from the Sand Snakes who are also imprisoned. They remain silly additions to the story. Oh, all right. Beeeewbs! So they hint that Bronn is poisoned all right. At least one of the Sand Snakes - Tyene I guess this is - bewb lady - gets a little personality here, and immediately the character becomes a little more believable. Their shenanigans last episode really didn't do the Dorne story any good, and it wasn't very interesting to begin with. He's getting worse as they speak. Tyene shows him the antidote, in the world's tiniest bottle. And that's how she gets people to say she's the most beautiful woman in the world. Hey, but that means Bronn lives? Unless she lies about the antidote, of course. Don't know where they wanted to go with this scene.

Littlefinger checking out his ruined brothel, destroyed by the zealots. Olenna's there. The two have a chat..obviously. Olenna seems to see through Littlefinger better than anyone else. She threatens him; if anything happens to her, she will reveal that he was part of the murder of Joffrey. He has a gift for Olenna - a handsome young man. Loras, I guess?

Ser Jorah preparing for a fight in a game (pit?) - if Jorah wins, he will fight in Daznak's Pit before the Queen herself. So once again, handy. Wow but is the Tyrion story stripped down, eh? Jorah looks old. Oh, but Dany is present at this "lesser pit" with Hiznos Ko Doras. I spotted a blood rider! Ser Friendzone sees her, that will put the spirit in him for his turn in the pit. Gratuitous violence ensues, obviously. What a long episode. I'm glad I'm finding it almost on par with better episodes. Definitely my favorite episode this season overall, I guess. Unless the last twelve minutes or so are spectacularly bad. But I don't really need to see more throats slit and all that, action sequences tend to bore me more in the show these days, because we've seen it all before. They also feel substance-less; though this particular one does have a nerve as the audience wonders whether Ser Jorah will be forgiven by his queen - and whether Tyrion will be able to do anything useful as a gladiator (personally I'd rewrite this so that the slave owner wants Tyrion as a lucky charm, or as a scribe, or some such). But the fighting itself...yawn. Same with Tyene's bewbs, really. It becomes a bit old. Characters talk while showing bewbs. Characters fight and nameless background characters get harmed in a variety of ways involving spurts of blood and gore. These sequences make me lose interest, and it feels as if the story loses focus. However, I realize that an episode of this length must have some brain-dead action in it to counter the talk. The talky scenes this episode, however, deliver in a way they haven't so far in the season. So why is Tyrion chained and Jorah not? Jorah steps into the fray and starts killing like a butcher.

What's with the fighting choreography this season? It looks so silly. It doesn't have weight or gravity. Tyrion's chains are struck by some strange fellow. Jorah practically slaughters everyone so he can take off his helmet and show himself to Dany. He has brought her a gift - Tyrion. And so they meet! This is Winds material! Shit.

Marge in her cell. Cersei pays a visit. Love Cersei's obviously false concern. Lol @ "I fear the Faith has left reason behind". Lena Heady is great in this scene. So satisfied. She goes to have a chat with the High Sparrow, and we get another great scene where the talky talk has some tension to it as the two characters are at odds yet Cersei tries to play him (not realizing it's the other way around). And then Lancel appears, and Cersei realizes that the High Sparrow knows she's a sinner too (casual viewers might have needed a reminder in the "what's gone before" section, showing her and Loras, but that was, strangely, not included). And so Cersei is thrown in a cell just like Margaery and of course the irony is exhilarating as it was in the books.

I do have to say that I miss a lot of the material from Cersei's chapters in Feast - like the burning of the Tower of the Hand, and, well, her scenes with Merryweather, and the new Small Council. Apparently all this stuff isn't important enough (as is Margaery's virginity).

Yep, best episode of the season. Still some moments where I wonder what they were thinking, but not nearly as often as in the first six. Here's to the rest of the season being as consistently interesting as this one was (or better).


  1. The Hair. Ramsay's hair...... adds 30% to the creep factor.

  2. Yes, definitely agree that this was the most solid episode of this season.

  3. On the direction: Agreed it's hit and miss! The show runners indicated that the scense are not shot sequentially. The shoot according to a master schedule based on set details, availability and other factors. It must be enormously complicated. The individual cited director and authors must really be a judgement call - based on who does most of the shots for the particular episode. The Dorne scenes really are dumb regardless of the episode. All of them frankly.

    On the notion of how compelling the new stuff is: I think you'd really need to poll viewers who haven't read the books about this in some scientific way. Readers have an enormous tapestry of info to weave together in and out of the story to give life to what little world building there is time for on screen. The "egg" references are a case in point. The new stuff has no launching point for readers. It could mean the established plot details depicted on screen are just as hokey and rush seeming as the new territory? Who knows - but I'm having alot of fun watching the convergence of characters, and fresh edits!