I’m gonna just say this outright – as soon as this episode went off Sunday night, I was already dreading this writeup.
Thanks to the way the show ended, and the subsequent internet blowout, this review was already being written under a shadow. That the majority of its run was actually pretty tame as a Game of Thrones episode was a non-issue. The fact remained – no matter what, those last five minutes would be what all the discussion centered on or inevitably came back to.
And I’m not gonna deny there’s a LOT to unpack there, because there is. It was an incredibly disturbing turn of events, and one some viewers have been dreading since this season set this chain of events in motion. Now that it’s been sprung, there’s been a LOT of backlash, discussion, and speculation about it, with many cutting ties with the series and others questioning if this is the proverbial bridge too far.
Suffice it to say, it’s made for a pretty volatile topic and one I’ve been hesitant to approach.
At the same time, I intend to see this season through to the end- at least – and I can’t just skip an episode simply because it’s touchy subject matter (anyone familiar with some of the material I’ve covered pre-MP can see how that would be hypocritical as Hell.)
So with that in mind, I’m going to just take on this elephant head-on. If you wish to discuss it further, feel free to drop me a line, cause I’m not sure I want to pull the site in on a full debate here.
Stripped of the backlash and taken just on its own, I feel very mixed on the scene. On the one hand, as I said before, this is something I’d been bracing for since this plot went in motion. Knowing what we know of Ramsey, this was less a surprise and more a grim, inevitable consequence of the show’s decision to go all MAD fold-in on adapting storylines. That said, while it was very uncomfortable to watch, I was also surprised to admit (and this is something I normally would NOT say for a moment like this) it was surprisingly not as bad as it could have been.
I mean, Benioff and Weiss have had more than a few moments in this series that were carried out in ways that landed with a resounding thud: last season’s Jaime and Cersei controversy and the entirely new scene of Joffrey forcing Ros to beat another prostitute being two previous ‘hits’. With that in mind, this scene showed, for them, a surprising level of restraint. In fact, strange as this sounds to say amid all the controversy, this season overall has been the show’s most reeled in on the ‘sexposition/sexploitation’ front, with the raciest moment so far arguably being the season’s opening ‘geography lesson’ between Loras and his lover, and that didn’t even get to sex.
That said, it then turns into the wider issue of the role of rape within this series. Which is…that’s an article in and of itself, and to be honest, one I’m sure others are better suited to discuss than myself. For my part, I’ll agree the show’s track record is far from exemplary, though given many of the other acts of cruelty depicted in the series the fandom has not only rolled with, but in many cases played for laughs, it’s hard not to feel like we were something of an accomplice in it getting where it is now.
But I’m getting off-point again.
Within this episode, Sansa’s storyline is something of an inevitability. Looking back, I was struck by how much it felt like the show itself was even trying to brace us for what was to come. The scene where Myranda tries to scare Sansa with stories of Ramsey’s atrocities, for example, feels like it’s as much for the audience as it is for her. It’s that reminder that she’s marrying the man who stole Joffrey’s claim to the title of The Patrick Bateman of Westeros, and both the series, and Myranda, want to make sure this is remembered.
Prior to the infamous scene, the arc is honestly pretty well done, which is part of why I can see why they waited till the end of the episode to spring said scene. Otherwise it would completely override anything that came after.
Turns out they called that right.
Which is the other thing I’m somewhat keeping in mind here – we left off on that note. Where the show goes with it can either save or damn this turn of events. I know for a lot of people this goes beyond ‘wait and see’, and I can respect the decision. As it is, I’m waiting to see how the dust settles before fully deciding if this was truly as unnecessary as it’s been described (especially given, even before season 4 we had been getting warnings that something bad would happen to Sansa in The Winds of Winter which leads me to wonder if this decision was informed by that event still to come).
As far as the rest of the episode, this week alternated between some arcs working and others running out of steam.
The Dornish storyline made some progress this week, albeit in a way that was somewhat underwhelming. Yes, the fight that broke out between the Sand Snakes and Jaime and Bronn looked nice, but the fact was, it was largely an anticlimactic cap-off to a plot that rushed along. In the middle of which we got a possible death flag on Bronn, given the significance they made of his getting cut in the fight. That aside, at this point I’m more interested in seeing what the show proposes to do with the inevitable talks between Jaime and Doran.
King’s Landing is an arc I’m simultaneously liking and feeling mixed on. On the one hand, we’re getting to see a potential battle of wits and wills break out between Olenna and Cersei, which has the potential to make for a great title bout this season. On the other (and will be discussing this more in the Black Cells), the changes in motivation with the Faith Militant and Cersei’s machinations do seem like they could potentially diminish the impact of the purpose of the Militants’ storyline – the idea that Cersei let a mad dog off the leash that could then turn against her.
Arya, meanwhile, takes her next steps into the world of the House of Black and White, being introduced to the room of faces. It’s another case of ‘liking it, but…’ for me. Visually, the room of faces is a Hell of a sight, and it is set up well here. But at the same time, with all the other things unfolding, it’s hard not to notice how much slower Arya’s storyline this season is.
Really, those are the main points this week. We get a bit more from Tyrion and Jorah, re-railing their storyline with the two being picked up as slaves, but compared to everything else, it’s really not that strong this week. I mean, Dinklage gets some choice one-liners, but that’s par for the course. Otherwise, the two are still kind of on course, albeit by another road.
Whew…this was…this was a lot and I still feel like I missed things. This week really opened the floodgates for a LOT of people, and even now, discussing it still feels like trying to trim a Christmas tree decorated with live grenades.
Even though everything’s filmed/in the can now, this does put a fair amount of pressure on The Gift to try and diminish some of the mess unleashed by this week.
Hopefully it fairs better than the actual producers have to this point. We’ll just have to wait and see.
-House of Black and White, while a slow story, is great on atmosphere
-Can we just get a whole episode of Lena Headey and Diana Rigg verbally sparring?
-While Dorne still has potential to bounce back from it, this week was disappointingly anticlimactic, barring that cool entrance from Hotah
-That ending…yeah, that’s gonna be hanging over this series for a good long while.
THE BLACK CELLS
So…again, if you want to discuss that scene, try to reach me elsewhere lest this run out of control. In the meantime, amid all this, I do find the changes to the Faith Militant storyline an interesting turn of events. Amid the concerns of the show’s treatment of women, it is surprising that the show actively dodged Cersei’s initial plan to have the Militants crack down on Margery by framing her up as a shameless adulteress, only to have those barrels turned against her later. Having it instead framed as going after Loras for his homosexuality and having Margery busted for lying on her brother’s behalf is an interesting turn, particularly since the series also seems to have – for as much as we all joked about it – done away with Cersei’s lesbian trysts that would have made this shift backfire on her. As it is, Cersei may still get charged for incest during all of this, though it will now be more than likely due to the efforts of the Queen of Thorns rather than her own carelessness and overconfidence. Which, again, I will be a bit disappointed by, since I found the arc of her being the instrument of her own downfall one of the stronger plots in A Feast For Crows. But, again, I can only speculate at this point.