The title of episode six is the words of the House Martell of Dorne, a statement of their peoples’ resilience and resistance. This episode’s title is incredibly ironic in a unfunny sense, as several characters emerged broken by its conclusion. Before watching this episode I accidentally read a spoiler about it that made me very angry. After watching the episode on Monday, I put off writing about it until today (Friday) because the episode made me feel so frustrated and upset that I couldn’t put my feelings into words. So I will try to be as rational as I can about it!
We begin the episode with Arya in the House of Black and White. Arya’s chapters in the fifth book (which, coincidentally, is titled A Dance With Dragons) were my absolute favourites and the ones I looked forward to reading the most. So far, her story is picking up nicely. We see Arya washing a dead body again, but this time she is working deftly and taking pride in her work. She can work alone now, cut the dead’s fingernails and wash their hair. But when she tries to enter a mysterious door where the dead are taken, she is barred, and not yet ready to enter. Arya is confronted by the bitchy girl who works with her who tries to test Arya’s ability to pick up truths and lies. Unfortunately Arya loses the test, but at least she now somewhat knows the steps she needs to climb to get where she needs to be.
Next, Jaqen confronts Arya when she is sleeping. He asks who Arya is. Arya says her name, that she came from Westeros and Winterfell, names her father and tells her story. Jaqen hits Arya every time she tells a lie or a half-truth. Most significantly, he hits her when she says she hated the Hound – maybe she didn’t really hate him, maybe she appreciated his protecting her and respected him in the end. Does Arya really want to be no one? This is something Arya needs to think on before she can progress at the House of Black and White. Maisie Williams continues to impress me this season. This story is a completely different adventure for Arya and I love how Williams is playing it.
Back to Jorah and Tyrion, they’re still on the beach where we left them last episode. Tyrion confesses to Jorah that he was sent from King’s Landing to Pentos in a crate after killing his father, and tells Jorah that he is escaping execution. Tyrion tells Jorah that his father Tywin slept with the love of his life, and Jorah seems to really empathise with wanting to kill someone for sleeping with the woman they love (lord of the friendzone strikes again). Tyrion tells Jorah he met Jorah’s father, the Lord Commander Mormont of the Night’s Watch. Unfortunately Jorah didn’t know that his father had died as a result of being killed in the Night’s Watch mutiny beyond the Wall. Tyrion and Jorah keep moving to find some villages, in order to eventually get to Meereen. Iain Glen’s acting is so subtle, and I’ve enjoyed his work this season. Heartbroken Jorah is different to pining Jorah and tricksy Jorah, and I like the different dimensions Iain Glen is bringing to this role.
Back to Arya, she is confronted with the sight of a child being brought to the House of Black and White to die. It is explained to her by the child’s father that the child is sick and in constant pain, unable to be helped, so Arya must help her die. Arya comforts the child and lies to her about the mysterious pool of water in the centre of the House, saying it heals the sick. She lies to the child and provides comfort to her as a result. She gets the girl to drink whilst Jaqen watches from afar.
Then, Arya washes the body of the dead girl. Jaqen approaches and allows Arya through the mysterious door, knowing that she has successfully lied to the child who believed her enough to drink the water that actually kills people. Jaqen takes Arya to a huge cavernous room with pillars that are lit by candles. Arya walks towards them and sees faces on the pillars – human faces framed, looking like death masks. Jaqen asks if Arya is ready to get rid of what makes her who she is, forever. Jaqen says that maybe Arya isn’t ready to become no one, but she is ready to become someone. Suspense! Is Arya finally ready to become a face-changer like Jaqen? I love her story so much.
My only issue with the House of Black and White scenes is that the scenes are so damn dark that I can hardly see anything! It makes the whole setting very creepy and intriguing, but I want to see the little details that are lost in the overwhelming shadows. The production and set design for this part of the story is amazing and it makes me sad that I can’t see it all clearly. I do love the minimal music for the House of Black and White though. So unsettling.
Back to Jorah and Tyrion, Tyrion asks Jorah why he follows Daenerys if the Mormont family fought against the Targaryens when Robert Baratheon usurped the Iron Throne from the Mad King Aerys Targaryen back in the day. Jorah says that he has faith in Daenerys after seeing her emerge unburnt from Khal Drogo’s funeral pyre, with her baby dragons. Tyrion rightly states that the Targaryen dynasty were famously insane and how could Daenerys even think of ruling the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros if she has no experience and also a possible inherited mental condition. Jorah says that Daenerys is the rightful heir, which is technically correct but doesn’t really answer the question.
Jorah and Tyrion then see a slave ship and are attacked by slavers. To my extreme excitement, one of the slavers is Adebisi from Oz! Also known as Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje. But where’s his little hat? The slavers want to kill Tyrion and cut off his penis as dwarf penii are magical. There are some great dick jokes here, classic Thrones. Jorah and the slavers (cool band name) discuss Meereen opening the fighting pits, and he and Tyrion escape capture as they convince the slavers to make money off Jorah fighting in the pits rather than just killing them. Whether this will be successful or not remains to be seen. Jorah knows he’ll die from greyscale either way, so being killed in the fighting pits is probably a mercy.
Now we’re back in King’s Landing after not being there last episode. Littlefinger arrives and Brother Lancel (formerly Lancel Lannister) and his Sparrow gang approach him and state that they do not appreciate the fact that he owns brothels, calling him a “flesh peddler”. Littlefinger in typical fashion provokes Brother Lancel and this will probably come back to bite him later on.
Littlefinger then goes to see Cersei. He asks if it was wise to arrest Loras Tyrell and Cersei says that the Sparrows did it, typical Cersei. Littlefinger assures Cersei of his loyalty but I think we all know better than that, Littlefinger is in this for his own long-term interests. He makes the dumb decision to tell Cersei that Sansa Stark is in Winterfell and about to marry Ramsay Bolton, and that as a result this makes Roose Bolton extremely powerful, and also a traitor as he initially plotted with the Lannisters to kill the Starks. Cersei is pissed. However Littlefinger advises Cersei to have patience. He says that Stannis Baratheon (the One True King) is on his way to Winterfell and that his army and the Bolton army will battle; he advises Cersei to let the traitors fight one another and then the Lannisters will be there to pick up the pieces. Littlefinger offers to send the Knights of the Vale to assist, but only if upon their success he is named Warden of the North. Cersei casually says she wants Sansa’s head and Littlefinger basically says “yeah, okay, shall do”.
Littlefinger is in this for the long haul and I think he’ll survive these political shenanigans. I think Littlefinger is like the cockroach that survives the nuclear holocaust (unless the showrunners decide to kill him off).
And in Dorne, we see Prince Trystane and Princess Myrcella – she looks different because a new actor was cast for her. Trystane wants to marry Myrcella as soon as possible. Prince Doran and his guard Areo Hotah watch from afar, and Areo swears to protect them.
Then, Jaime and Bronn have successfully stolen the Dornish soldiers’ uniforms from the soldiers they killed the other episode, and they’re heading towards the Watergardens to rescue Princess Myrcella. Jaime doesn’t seem to have a solid plan apart from just rescuing Myrcella and he doesn’t have a proposed exit for them. There is some gorgeous architecture in this scene though.
We see a brief scene of the Sand Snakes (Obara, Tyene and Nymeria) who chant the words of House Martell – Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken – and then set off on their mission to assassinate Princess Myrcella. The way that they’re dressed reminds me a lot of the castle guards in the Nintendo 64 game, Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. They say that they’re off to kill Myrcella to avenge Oberyn’s death so that the audience doesn’t forget, since we’ve seen them approximately once so far this season. This part of the story is completely one dimensional and boring.
Bronn and Jaime then arrive at the Watergardens of Dorne, and by chance see Trystane and Myrcella. Bronn punches Trystane but Myrcella wants to protect him and be with him, and she won’t go with Jaime. Then Bronn and Jaime are attacked by the Sand Snakes, and a fun fight scene occurs where long-range weapons (whip, spear) are used as well as close-range (sword, double daggers). The fight scenes this season have been very well choreographed and pretty exciting to watch, it’s just a shame that this good fight scene is surrounded by a really silly plot.
The one who wields the whip, I think her name is Obara (I honestly haven’t bothered myself to tell the Sand Snakes apart at this point), takes Myrcella. Bronn is cut by the tip of a spear and I slightly freak out because we all know that the Dornish have poison-tipped weapons. Areo Hotah and his guards intervene and make everyone drop their weapons. Areo recognises Jaime even though he’s wearing Dornish soldier garb and he and Bronn are captured. Then, Ellaria Sand is also captured, considering that she masterminded the Sand Snakes to attack Myrcella in the first place.
Next up, my favourite sassy old lady Olenna Tyrell is heading to King’s Landing. She and Margaery walk together and discuss Loras’ fate, both knowing that Cersei must be behind it. Olenna says that she will deal with Cersei – and she does, when the two have an extremely bitchy and sarcastic meeting that I absolutely loved. Olenna says that Loras’ capture throws the Lannister-Tyrell alliance out of balance, and threatens to withdraw their assistance of food, gold, and armies. Olenna does want them to work together even though she hates Cersei. Cersei states that a trial for Loras will occur as this is an issue for the Sparrows. I love Lena Headey and I love watching her interact with amazing actors like Diana Rigg. I’m so glad that Diana Rigg is back as she is the best I could have ever imagined for Olenna Tyrell.
Finally, we see the pre-trial of Loras Tyrell, overseen by the High Sparrow himself. Loras denies the accusation that he participates in homosexual acts which are forbidden by this fundamentalist sect of the Faith of the Seven. Margaery gives evidence as per Holy Law and vouches for her brother, stating that the rumours are lies and he is innocent. Unfortunately, the High Sparrow brings Olyvar the brothel man to the trial, who tells that Loras is definitely gay and that they have had sex together, giving evidence but also embellishing the truth. As a result, the High Sparrow is satisfied that there is enough evidence for a proper trial of Loras – but also Margaery, as she essentially lied under oath. They are both taken, with Margaery calling out to King Tommen to stop this. Olenna’s face is priceless. But so is Cersei’s, as she finally has what she always wanted – a way to get both Loras, her betrothed, and Margaery, her son the King’s wife, out of her way once and for all. Is this a good idea? Cersei has quite a few skeletons in the closet herself. Probably not a good idea to discuss the rumours about her with the High Sparrow.
Now we come to the part of the episode that I actually am dreading writing about. We’re in Winterfell with Sansa who is about to be married. Ramsay Bolton’s girlfriend Myranda enters and warns Sansa not to bore Ramsay who has a history of setting the dogs on his ex-girlfriends and killing them. Myranda runs Sansa a bath and washes the black hair dye out of her hair. Sansa rightfully guesses that Myranda loves Ramsay. She tells Myranda that Winterfell is her home and that Myranda cannot frighten her. There is so much suspense and a genuine feeling of doom in this scene. Sansa is telling the audience that she has grown to understand that she has value, and that she knows Winterfell is rightfully hers.
Next, Sansa tries on her wedding gown and it’s beautiful and winter-appropriate. Theon/Reek visits her to escort her to the Godswood to be married, but Sansa won’t touch his arm to be escorted. This episode (unfortunately) contains some of Sophie Turner’s best acting to date, but Alfie Allen’s acting is probably my favourite actor out of the entire series (not just this season – the whole thing). More on that later.
There is a beautiful wedding scene where Sansa and Theon/Reek approach the Heart Tree of the Godswood. There are candle-lit lamps everywhere amongst the snow and trees and it looks gorgeous. Shame about the wedding itself. This wedding did not happen in the book.
The ceremony begins and Sansa looks beautiful with her dress and the resurgence of her red hair. Ramsay announces himself and asks who gives Sansa away. Theon/Reek announces himself as Theon of House Greyjoy – and you can almost see a glimmer of independence lighting in his eyes. Sansa reluctantly agrees to take Ramsay’s hand in marriage, and they are officially married.
Next scene – Ramsay, Sansa, and Theon/Reek are taken to Ramsay’s bedroom. Ramsay tells Sansa that he wants her to be happy. He asks if Sansa is still a virgin and Sansa says yes. Ramsay asks why, and Sansa says that Lord Tyrion was kind to her and never touched her. Ramsay says that they are man and wife now, and that he wants her to be honest. He kisses Sansa and tells her to take off her clothes, and tells Theon/Reek to watch. There is some admittedly very good sound design here as the musical score warps and twists to become discordant, making the scene feel even more disturbing than it already is. The music warps as Sansa begins to remove her clothes, with a blank stare on her face. Ramsay tells Theon/Reek to keep watching as Sansa “becomes a woman”, and he tears Sansa’s clothes, bending her onto the bed. Sansa begins crying and as the camera mercifully looks away to focus entirely on Theon/Reek’s face with tears brimming and falling, whilst we hear Sansa’s pained cries. End scene.
I really am struggling to put into the words the disgust I felt after watching this episode. I will play the devil’s advocate first, though – there is no way that a marriage to Ramsay Bolton could have ended any differently, given his sadism and tendency towards sexual violence, and it would be unrealistic to think that he wouldn’t harm Sansa in some way. Additionally, Sansa’s story appears to have been officially merged with that of a character by the name of Jeyne Poole in the books, whose marriage to Ramsay ends with a similar fate (the descriptions of that in the book literally made my stomach churn). This has interesting implications for Sansa’s long-term story in the show if they continue to follow Jeyne Poole’s story from the book. But still, this doesn’t excuse what we saw on Monday.
My concern is that this is the third female character in the history of the show that they have decided to give rape as a plot device, where the character was not raped in the books. First, Daenerys, whose initial sexual relationship with Khal Drogo was entirely consensual in the first book, then Cersei and Jaime last season, which received a massively negative backlash as well. The writers appear to have some kind of fascination with writing this in as something that happens to strong women to take them down a peg or two, and I think that is completely offensive. Yes, the world of Westeros is dangerous for women, but that’s no excuse. Writer George R. R. Martin has written a bit about this scene but focuses more on the diversion from the source material rather than the rape issue.
What is the point of building up Sansa Stark as someone who is growing her ability to interact independently with the tricky people around her, showing that she is finally building a sense of pride in her damaged self-image, showing that she is developing her sense of agency in a dangerous world, and understanding that she is more powerful than she thinks she is – what is the point, then, to invent a rape scene to bring her character back to square one? Adaptations that willfully cause harm to women that otherwise didn’t exist in the source material makes me so uncomfortable because my question is, what are the writers trying to do in making people watch a woman being harmed that could have been otherwise avoided? What is the line between rape-as-entertainment and rape as a legitimate part of a story? The scene felt exploitative and gratuitous even though we didn’t see anything. It was sickening, because it didn’t have to happen, and yet it did.
The disgust for the end of this episode was pretty universal in the media, which does give me some consolation. The only good thing I can take away from it is the masterful performance of Alfie Allen, whose look of pain, conflict, and pure developing rage as he was forced to watch Ramsay raping Sansa was completely heartbreaking.
I’m not even going to give this episode a rating. I really want to rate it 1/5 because the writers continue to make completely offensive choices in developing this godforsaken story, but that wouldn’t be fair because the rest of the episode was not bad at all, apart from the Sand Snakes who have been so diluted from the vibrancy of their book counterparts that I can’t even tell the three of them apart. But maybe that’s just me.
We didn’t even get to see Stannis this episode. I had the horrific thought the other day that maybe the writers just included that beautiful moment with Shireen the other episode to endear Stannis to the audience before they kill him off, which shows just how much faith I have in these idiots. Please don’t kill Stannis, writers of Game of Thrones.
In any case, the next episode looks to be a cracker of a time, with some of Jon Snow and the Wall, Stannis and Davos marching to victory or defeat, Ramsay and Sansa in Winterfell, Tyrion being shocked at something, Olenna Tyrell and the High Sparrow, Cersei, and Margaery looking tired and unkempt in a dungeon cell. Very interesting indeed.