Game of Thrones – Season 5 Episode 3: “High Sparrow”

Episode three of this show gave me enough heart attacks and moments of joy for me to call it my favourite episode of the season thus far. This episode is named after the leader of the fundamentalist and potentially dangerous sect of the Faith of the Seven, the Sparrows, and it’s safe to say that this episode introduces a key player into the politics of Westeros and its complex counterbalance of faith and royalty.

Here’s my recap and take on the episode – please watch out for spoilers!

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We begin the episode in Braavos, inside the House of Black and White that Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) entered at the conclusion of her arc in the previous episode. We see strange religious figures up on the walls – the Stranger, the Harpy, the Drowned God, the Weirwood Face. Jaqen H’ghar (Tom Wlaschiha) gives a man a cup of water from the pool in the centre of the House and the man walks away. Arya is sweeping the chamber and has done so for days, she isn’t here for that, she’s here to be a Faceless Man. Jaqen makes the good point that all men must serve – valar dohaeris. Jaqen also makes the good point that Arya seems to want to make something of herself at that point in time, when she must learn to become no one, and truly faceless. The man who drank the water is now dead on the ground and is carried away by mysterious figures towards a door that remains closed to Arya for now.

I am so ridiculously excited for Arya’s storyline. I probably looked forward to her chapters the most in the fifth book, so I’m really looking forward to seeing how they build her arc further. I think the show has done a good job so far in piquing viewers’ interests in Arya’s current situation and where she’ll go in future. It’s pretty clear that this is a strange place, the likes of which we haven’t seen before in the show. Braavos is a very strange city indeed.

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Back in King’s Landing, it’s possibly the happiest wedding of Game of Thrones history – Tommen Baratheon (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Margaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer) are wed, and are now King and Queen of the Seven Kingdoms. We get an amazing shot of Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) between Tommen and Margaery, looking like she’s lost yet another son.

Then, probably the most awkward moment of Game of Thrones history – we then see Margaery and Tommen in bed together and I seriously want to vom because the book version of Tommen is either eight or ten years old (can’t remember). We get the sense that Tommen doesn’t really know what he’s doing, and fair enough. Margaery is using this situation to her advantage, to charm her new husband in a post-coital context and to sow the seeds of doubt about his mother potentially having more control over him than he would like. We get the feeling that she might be attempting to get Cersei out of King’s Landing. Will she succeed?

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Then, Cersei and Tommen are going for a mother and son walk together. Cersei is attempting to sow the seeds of doubt in Tommen’s mind about Margaery, insinuating that she might not be very clever, but she is pretty, which is essentially all that should matter. Tommen reflects that Cersei always loved her home at Casterly Rock and that she may want to return there. Cersei says that her family is in King’s Landing and she won’t be leaving any time soon. I loved this scene because it showed the parallel manipulations that are going on with this new King, totally outside of his awareness. He’s being pulled in a number of directions by the two very important women in his life.

The next most awkward moment of the episode occurs when Cersei goes to see Margaery in her chambers. Surrounded by her ladies, Margaery is bragging about having sex with Tommen approximately a billion times. My brain is vomiting again because he’s still eight or ten according to my book knowledge. Margaery greets Cersei as “mother” and Cersei’s distaste is tangible. Margaery delivers the zinger of the episode – “I wish we had some wine for you, it’s a bit early in the day for us”. So sassy! Margaery then brags to Cersei about her son’s sexual prowess. I couldn’t imagine anything worse. She then asks Cersei how to address her and tells her that she may be The Queen Grandmother soon, which is possibly worse. I also loved this scene because this was where the parallel processes of Margaery and Cersei collided. I cannot wait to see more of this because Margaery’s face as Cersei walked away was priceless, and I know there’s more in store for this schemer. The image of Cersei walking away as the laughter of the ladies in the background increased in volume was genius, and a beautiful indicator of Cersei’s growing instability after her father’s death and her son’s marriage.

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Next, if you thought the Bolton sigil being on Winterfell in the opening credits was heartbreaking, seeing the Boltons actually in situ in Winterfell is worse. Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen) continues to be an amazing actor even though he has no lines this episode, he has a great face for storytelling with emotions. Ramsay Bolton (Iwan Rheon) has flayed and hung up a Lord’s wife and brother because the Lord didn’t want to pay his taxes, and because he is a bit of a psychopath. Ramsay’s antics worked, the taxes were paid, but his father Roose Bolton (Michael McElhatton) is none too pleased. Roose acknowledges that the Boltons don’t have enough men to hold the North now that Tywin Lannister is dead and that flaying everyone will get them nowhere. The Lannisters will never send their men that far North to assist them either. Roose says that they have to join forces with other Houses to increase their numbers.

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Cut to Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) and Littlefinger (Aiden Gillen). They look upon Moat Cailin, which the Boltons conquered last season. Littlefinger tells Sansa he’s taking her home, but she says the Boltons have Winterfell. Sansa then puts two and two together and realises that Littlefinger is marrying her to a Bolton. Sansa’s and the audience’s heads collectively explode because Roose Bolton was behind the murder of her brother and mother during the Red Wedding in season three, what kind of sicko would arrange that? Well, that sicko is Littlefinger, who knows that Sansa is the true heir to Winterfell and the North. He tells Sansa to avenge her family, to essentially get at the Boltons from the inside; a big task that he’s been training her for this whole time. Littlefinger urges Sansa to consider his proposal and she does so, eventually agreeing with him. She rides with Littlefinger to Winterfell.

Yet again my brain explodes this episode because Sansa’s storyline has been merged with a character by the name of Jeyne Poole from the books. So I think I know where this is going, and I don’t like it, but I’m interested to see how they interpret it on screen. Sophie Turner’s acting can be a bit hit and miss, and I’m not quite sure she hit the mark here. I don’t think she was able to coherently express the conflict within Sansa, to marry someone who was a part of the plot to murder her family, but weighing up the potential for revenge as well. But maybe this will change in future episodes as her story develops.

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Again, Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) and Podrick Payne (Daniel Portman) are still following Sansa and Littlefinger, and they look on from a cliff. Brienne knows Sansa and Littlefinger are heading for Winterfell, so that’s where they’ll go too as she continues to honour her vow to Catelyn Stark to protect Sansa. We get a nice bit of backstory about Pod and how he came to be a squire. Pod says he’s proud to be Brienne’s squire and that she’s the best fighter he’s seen. Brienne promises to train Pod with a sword and to teach him how to ride a horse properly, finally.

Then, we get some amazing backstory on Brienne. Honestly, Gwendoline Christie is an excellent actress and I love what she brings to Brienne’s story. Brienne tells us that when she was younger on the island of Tarth, her father held a ball in her honour and that many young and eligible men danced with her and made her happy. Unfortunately, the ball was a ruse, and the young men laughed at her as they couldn’t keep the joke a secret, they really thought she was as “mulish” as she thought herself to be. Brienne says, “I realised I was the ugliest girl alive, a great lumbering beast”, and my heart breaks into a thousand pieces because Brienne has the biggest heart and truest intentions of anyone on this silly show. Brienne then tells us of Renly Baratheon (remember him?), who comforted her and danced with her genuinely, protecting her from the boys who laughed at her, which led to her dedicating her life of military service to him. Brienne reminds us that she saw Renly get killed, stabbed by a shadow with the face of Stannis Baratheon.

Then Brienne does the worst thing imaginable – is it just me or did she essentially say she’s going to assassinate Stannis? Excuse me, no, this literally was never mentioned once in the books and I don’t want to be that person, but this seriously puzzles me so much that I can’t put a literate sentence together. This was a great scene except for the bit at the end. If Brienne actually kills Stannis I will jump out of a window.

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Meanwhile, at the Wall, Jon Snow (Kit Harington) meets with our main man Stannis the Mannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane). Jon has nominated a kid named Olly (the kid who killed his beloved Ygritte last season) as his steward. Jon refuses Stannis’ offer to be legitimised as he’s now the Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch and his place is at the Wall. Stannis reflects that Jon is honourable, but that’s what got his father (reminder: Ned Stark) killed, which is a very good point. Stannis has offered Jon Winterfell and the North, and the Stark name, and Jon has refused.

Jon asks how long Stannis and friends will be at the Wall as there aren’t enough rations to go around forever, and Stannis states he will march on Winterfell within the fortnight. Stannis suggests that Jon send Alliser Thorne away because he and Jon don’t get along at all. Interesting! My favourite Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham) tells Jon that Stannis wants what’s right for the Realm, and reminds everyone that Stannis’ claim to the throne is completely legitimate. Jon vows to stay apolitical and Davos makes a good point that the Night’s Watch is “the shield that guards the realms of men” – all men, not just the men at the Wall, regardless of their political affiliations. Davos makes another good point that the Boltons are the worst and as long as they rule in the North, the North will suffer.

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Back in Braavos, Arya is being bothered by a random girl at the House of Black and White who is repeatedly asking Arya “Who are you?” whilst belting her with a stick. Arya doesn’t like it and tries to tell her that she is no one, resulting in the best C-bomb of the season thus far. Jaqen enters and makes the good point that Arya wants to be no one, but is surrounded by her possessions. How can she be no one when he is surrounded by the identity of Arya Stark? Arya then throws all her possessions into the sea but her sword Needle, which she isn’t ready to let go of. She hides it in some rocks by the bay. Maisie Williams’ acting during this scene was top notch.

Arya is then sweeping the floors again at the House of Black and White. To her surprise, the mysterious door at the end of the chamber is left open for her to investigate. Arya follows Jaqen through the door and is confronted with the girl from the above scene and a dead man on a table. She and the girl begin to wash the dead body. Arya asks the good question, “What do we do with them after we wash them?”, which is never answered. The answer to this question remains a mystery to both Arya and the audience, until we’re both ready to know it.

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Back at Winterfell, Sansa and Littlefinger arrive to meet with the Boltons. Sansa meets Roose Bolton and for a moment she appears hesitant to greet him, presumably remembering the murder of her family. Then, she turns on the charm just like Littlefinger trained her to do, and greets him pleasantly. Sansa meets her newly betrothed Ramsay and his old girlfriend looks on with what can only be interpreted as malice. Sansa then goes to her chambers where she is met by a servant of Winterfell. The servant tells Sansa, “Welcome home Lady Stark, the North remembers”, reminding the audience that the North is full of ancient alliances and that the people of the North will always be loyal to the Starks, regardless of who occupies Winterfell at the time.

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At the Wall, Jon Snow is loving being Lord Commander as he’s cracking jokes about digging latrine pits with the men, which the men appear to love as well. Jon appoints Alliser Thorne (Owen Teale) as First Ranger, which is met with applause. However Alliser appears either surprised or skeptical. Jon is keeping him closer than he thought he would be kept. Jon then appoints Alliser’s best friend Janos Slynt (Dominic Carter) to the castle of Grey Guard, which is a ruin and needs to be rebuilt. Janos defies Jon’s order in the stupidest way possible as he doesn’t want to go to a ruined castle. He rebels publicly and tells Jon to “stick your order up your bastard arse”.

Unfortunately, this was not the right day to mess with Jon Stark, and he chooses to have Janos executed for his defiance. Janos initially rebels and puts on a show, but when it comes to having his neck physically on the chopping block, he confronts his mortality; he apologises to Jon and admits that he is afraid. Janos wants mercy, but Jon decides he must have a hardline stance on dissent. He executes Janos, chopping his head off in one fell swoop. Stannis, who has watched Jon from afar, subtly nods his approval. We again see the theme of justice versus mercy. Jon has chosen the path of justice when it comes to those who challenge his authority (but also those who have antagonised him for a seriously long time).

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At King’s Landing, the High Septon, essentially meant to be the Pope equivalent of the Seven Kingdoms, is having a fun time at a brothel with some lovely ladies. The Sparrows (the fundamentalist and militant sect of the Faith of the Seven) burst in and sack the place, saying the Septon has profaned their faith. They make him walk the streets of King’s Landing naked, as they chant “sinner” over and over again, for all to see. At the next Small Council meeting, the High Septon approaches the Council and tells them that he was beaten and assaulted by the Sparrows, at a brothel as well, but he was totally helping the sex workers with matters of faith and totally not having sex with them. The High Septon wants the High Sparrow, the leader of the Sparrows, to be jailed and executed for this assault. Cersei vows to meet with the High Sparrow to discuss it.

Cersei meets the High Sparrow (revealed to be none other than Jonathan Pryce), who is out feeding the sick and poor, and in fact has given his shoes to someone who needed them. Cersei reflects on the presence of the Sparrows in King’s Landing and the assault on the High Septon. The High Sparrow says that hypocrisy is like a boil, and that lancing a boil is never pleasant. Cersei says that if the High Septon had his way, the High Sparrow would be executed. But in actual fact, she put the High Septon in the dungeons as a result of his brothel predicament, as his behaviour was “corrosive”. Cersei reflects that the faith and the crown are “the two pillars that hold up this world”, and that she and the High Sparrow must protect one another. Cersei bargains with him and I think this could be the beginning of a very interesting power play indeed; one of my favourite story arcs of book five.

Cersei goes to Qyburn (Anton Lesser) who is experimenting with cutting a rat open because he is creepy. Cersei gets Qyburn to send Littlefinger a letter – they’re still in contact, that’s interesting. There is what can only be described as a body underneath a sheet behind Qyburn. The body shakes violently and he shushes it, comforting it by saying “easy, friend”. Creepy and weird.

Remember Ned? Don't trust this person.

Remember Ned? Don’t trust this person.

In Winterfell, Theon hides from Sansa as she walks past, and he hasn’t had any dialogue yet. Littlefinger and Ramsay discuss Sansa. Ramsay indicates his approval of the impending marriage and Littlefinger informs him that Sansa is still a virgin. Roose then enters the scene and assures Littlefinger that they need Sansa’s name, not her virtue. He tells Littlefinger that as Tywin Lannister is now dead, the Lannister name is decreasing in value. Now that Tywin has been killed, there is uncertainty, but it’s also a good time for them to build power and rise up in the ranks to truly rule the North. Roose offers Littlefinger a scroll from Cersei, the seal of which has been broken; Roose doesn’t trust Littlefinger’s communication with her. Roose questions Littlefinger’s motivations and Littlefinger questions him back; there’s an interesting dynamic between these two. Roose will monitor Littlefinger’s communications from now on, and I think that’s fair enough because who knows what Littlefinger’s up to (see above picture for reference).

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Our favourite roadtripping friends Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) and Lord Varys (Conleth Hill) are still in the wheelhouse on the way to Volantis. Tyrion is going slowly stir crazy and successfully convinces Varys to let him outside, or he’ll actually go crazy and will be of no worth to anyone. Tyrion walks through the bustling markets of Volantis (not very good CGI in this sequence as the camera pans over the scene). Tyrion sees another red priest from Asshai, where Melisandre (Carice van Houten) is from. She is preaching about the saviour Dragon Queen, and she mysteriously makes eye contact with Tyrion, presumably recognising that he is quite important. Tyrion makes a quick quip about greyscale and the Stone Men which he does not explain fully, but I’m mentioning because I think it may be important later on.

Tyrion and Varys go to a brothel at Tyrion’s request. There is a sex worker there who is dressed as Daenerys with the butt cut out of her dress and for some reason this is strangely offensive to me. Apparently people pay a lot of money to have sex with a queen, so says a lady that Tyrion is initially interested in, however he finds himself unable to even think about getting together with her. Maybe he’s still grieving for his dead lover Shae. Unbeknownst to Tyrion and Varys, someone familiar is also in the brothel – Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen), Daenerys’ exiled protector. He looks at the fake Daenerys with a heartbroken and painful expression.

When Tyrion goes to urinate into the river from the bridge, he is approached by someone from behind who is assumes is Varys. Actually, it’s Jorah, and he binds Tyrion and gags him. Jorah has captured Tyrion and tells him, “I’m taking you to the queen”. Interesting! I wonder which queen he is referring to!

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I really liked this episode. As predicted after the previous episode, there is a lot of good story development happening – whether or not it’s in alignment with the story development in the books, and whether or not this is a good or bad thing eventually, remains to be seen. I suppose in some ways I enjoy what the showrunners are doing and my inability to guess the poetic license they’re taking with the source material, but if Brienne ever actually kills Stannis I will be writing some very stern letters. I think my favourite moment of this episode was learning of Brienne’s backstory. She’s another of my favourite book characters and I love what Gwendoline Christie brings to the role.

In any case, next episode looks pretty interesting as in the trailer we see some Sons of the Harpy again, the mysterious Sand Snakes of Dorne, some more drama with the Sparrows, some more of my favourite HBIC Cersei Lannister, and some glimpses of Jaime Lannister fighting amongst a sandy environment. I wonder what will happen!

4/5

9 comments

  1. If you jump out of a window I’m going with you!!!

    #jumpsies

    1. Ha, seriously, if the showrunners jump the shark with that ridiculousness then there’s some other jumping to be done!

      #jumpsies
      #trampolinesies

  2. I’m still a little confused why Brienne insists that the shadow assassin had Stannis’s face. I’ve looked at high-res stills of it and it’s really not that obvious. But she’s still one of my favorite parts of the show. I miss the Hound though.

    1. I thought I could almost see it, but it’s pretty ambiguous. In the book it’s clearly described as looking like Stannis but they didn’t do such a great job of illustrating that! I miss the Hound too, there was some great character development there. Hoping we’ll see him again, we did never technically see him die!

  3. Great write up. I enjoyed this one a lot…still not all that much happening, but some great set up for later on in the series presumably. I loved that scene with Cersei and Margaery…haven’t read this far in the books but I’m presuming that’s not going to end well. And yes!!!! Best C-bomb of the series to date.

    1. Thanks Stu! 🙂 There’s some great setup for Cersei’s story happening so I hope that blows everyone out of the water. And there’s normally a couple of great C-bombs per season but I think Arya definitely won this round!

  4. I have finally managed to get my subscription service back up and running and I have watched the first episode so I should be able to read your posts from next week. Yay!

    1. Hooray! 😀 Hope you enjoy!

  5. Sigh, reading over these old recaps is making me a bit sad. The showrunners made some… interesting decisions this season. Even having not read the books, I could usually tell when a scene had been scripted from scratch with no reference to the source material.

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