Season 5, Episode 3: The High Sparrow

Disclaimer: There are no spoilers in this article. Any views or opinions expressed are based solely on where the Game of Thrones TV series currently is and no other knowledge or information is presented in this article.

THE GAME CONTINUES…AND NEW IDENTITIES ARE FORGED

In the third episode, entitled The High Sparrow, we see that “the game” continues to be played and all the players that continue to make their moves. Whereas the first two episodes of this season appeared to be “setup” episodes, in this episode, we see many new plot progressions and are offered insight into the direction that things seem to be headed. Some characters take on new roles as others plot revenge; once-powerful characters now appear all but powerless while some of the weaker characters have gained strength. Some characters finally return home, while others appear further away than ever before.  But more apparent than anything, is the fact that many characters are emerging with newfound identities.

volantis

And now, there appear to be more games being played than ever before — and the “game of thrones,” that is the battle for the Iron Throne, appears to be one of the least important games being played at the moment. Unlikely allegiances appear imminent and new plots are starting to take shape. Characters are more mixed up than ever, and most importantly, in this chaotic world that seems less structured than ever before, everything seems to be up for grabs.

A GIRL MUST BE NOBODY

As the episode begins, we get first glimpse inside the House of Black and White, the temple of the Many-Faced God. Whereas most temples we are used to seeing are light, beautiful and full of life, this temple is dark and a place to serve death. As Jaqen H’ghar offers a man a drink from the temple’s pool, he kneels peacefully before dying a few moments later. And as his body and others are removed and washed, we are left to wonder what is done with these bodies?

Jaqen, offering a peaceful death from the fountain

Jaqen, offering a peaceful death from the fountain

Arya, tired of sweeping the floors, tells Jaqen that she is ready to become a Faceless Man, to which he responds “Valar Dohaeris,” meaning “all men must serve.” She tells him that she is ready to serve, but he reminds her that she is only ready to serve herself. “There is only one god,” he tells her, “and all men know his gift,” referring to the gift of death. Later, Arya again tells Jaqen that she is ready to become nobody, to which he asks her how nobody came to be surrounded by all of Arya Stark’s possessions. A girl cannot become nobody until she strips herself of her full identity, including all her belongings.

As Arya tosses her clothes and silver in the water, eyes full of tears, she holds Needle in her hand. Through the murder and death of so many of her family members, not once did we see Arya cry or show any emotion at all. Yet, as she is faced with the task of saying goodbye to the sword given to her by Jon Snow, tears come to her eyes, as she is ultimately unable to let go. And while there is surely some sentimental value associated with her sword as it was given to her by her older brother, at her home of Winterfell, at a time when her entire family was still alive, this is ultimately not what brings tears to her eyes. Rather, it was the idea of having to part with the symbolic identity of the one thing that she has been able to hold onto: revenge. In many ways, Arya has already stripped herself of much of her identity — she has lost so much of herself already — but the one thing she has always had was revenge. And Needle was the tool  of her revenge — the one tangible thing in her life to give her hope. And now, as she is forced to let go of Needle, a symbol of her letting go of her need for revenge — she is unable to do so, a sign that she ultimately is not yet ready to fully let go of her identity as Arya Stark.

Arya, unable to let go of Needle

Arya, unable to let go of Needle

THE TABLES HAVE TURNED

In King’s Landing, Tommen is wed to Margaery, and unlike her last marriage, she is sure to consecrate this one. As they lay in bed together, Tommen innocently asks Margaery several times if he hurt her, a subtle demonstration of the difference between he and his older brother who only wanted to hurt people. Behind closed doors, we see the manipulative ways of Margaery as she uses her beauty, sex and age to wrap Tommen around her finger. She tells Tommen that she wants to know everything about him, and reminds him that Cercei will always be a lioness and Tommen her cub — an attempt to have Tommen put distance between he and his mother. And we see the affect of Margaery’s words, as the very next scene shows Tommen asking Cercei if she wants to return to Casterly Rock, where he thinks she would be happier.

Cercei, having lost much of her power, looking on at Margaery

Cercei, having lost much of her power, looking on at Margaery

While she may be losing her power, she is not losing her wit, and Cercei is well aware of Margaery’s influence over Tommen. And as she approaches Margaery, we see that the tables have turned big time. For so long, Margaery was forced to suffer and endure the cruelty of Cercei. But now, with Tywin and Joffrey dead, and Margaery officially the queen, Cercei has lost much of her power to Margaery. In short, Margaery has forged a new identity as Queen of the Seven Kingdoms, while Cercei has a new identity as well — that queen that used to be. And Margaery is keen to remind Cercei of this fact, as she asks Cercei if she should refer to her as Queen Mother or dowager queen, both references to her queenship only being of title, but not actual power. She also adds that it will not be long before Cercei is a grandmother, not only referring to the fact that she and Tommen will further consecrate their marriage by having children, but also a sarcastic reminder to Cercei that she is getting older. No longer able to make her usual threat or command, Cercei storms out, with a look on her face that tells us that she will not sit by idly or go down quietly.

HOME SWEET HOME

Further north, we see Winterfell for the first time since Theon burned it to the ground. More importantly, we see that Winterfell is being resurrected as the new seat of House Bolton, powerfully underscored by the flayed bodies we see hanging. But as Ramsey sits with his father, Roose tells his son that with Tywin dead, they no longer have the backing of the Lannisters, and that they must gain control over the smaller houses of the North, or risk being overrun by these houses. And as Winterfell is repaired, we see Theon roaming around, appearing completely lost, and we are left to wonder what role he will play, if any, in the coming days.

Baelish and Sansa

Baelish and Sansa

As Baelish and Sansa near Winterfell, Baelish tells Sansa that the marriage which had been accepted was the one he arranged between her and Ramsey Bolton. She refuses to marry him, telling him that she would die before marrying into the family that betrayed her family and killed her brother, Robb. Baelish reminds Sansa that she is the eldest surviving Stark and her home will always be Winterfell. He tells Sansa that he will not force her, and as he pulls her in close, almost like a father, he tells her, “You’ve been running all your life. You sit alone in a dark room mourning the fates of your family. You’ve been a bystander to tragedy. Stop being a bystander, stop running. There is no justice in the world…not unless we make it. You loved your family, avenge them.”

Sansa seems to have received the message, but the real question we are all left wondering, is does Baelish actually care about Sansa? When he pulls her close and kisses her head, is he truly trying to comfort her? Or is she merely a pawn in his game of chess? Is she just a means to his end? It’s still unclear whether we can trust this man or what his actual intentions are. And as they arrive to Winterfell, Sansa is forced to step back into the home that she has been away from for years now…a home that she no longer recognizes…a home that is now occupied by the man who put his dagger through the heart of Robb Stark. And she is forced to play her part, pretending that she is amenable to the marriage that has been arranged. Although forced by her external environment, Sansa too is forging a new identity, as soon-to-be wife of Ramsey Bolton. But even more so, she is assuming the identity as somebody who is learning to “play the game,” as she takes Baelish’s advice and looks to get close to House Bolton before exacting her revenge.

Baelish & Roose Bolton

Baelish & Roose Bolton

Perhaps most significant is the conversation that transpires between two men that have both been scheming and plotting in their own rights, Roose Bolton, who has a new identity as Lord of the North and Petyr Baelish, also with a new identity as Lord of the Vale. Roose asks Littlefinger if he is prepared for the consequences when the Lannisters find out that he was responsible for helping Sansa escape from King’s Landing and that he is now marrying her to Ramsey Bolton. But, Littlefinger appears unworried, reminding Roose that House Lannister is not what it once was, with Tywin dead, Jaime having but one hand and Cercei no longer the true queen. But, Roose intercepts a message sent by Cercei to Littlefinger, which makes him further question Littlefinger’s motives. When Bolton asks Littlefinger why he would gamble with his position, Littlefinger tells Bolton that every ambitious move is a gamble, even Bolton’s betrayal of House Stark was a gamble, a gamble which clearly paid off. But Roose reminds Littlefinger that with Tywin dead, House Bolton remains vulnerable with little backing. Baelish tells him that because of his marriage to Lysa before her death, he is now Lord of the Vale, while Bolton is now Lord of the North. Littlefinger powerfully notes that the last time the Lords of the Vale and the Lords of the North came together, they brought down the most powerful dynasty the world had ever known, referring to when Jon Arryn of the Vale and Ned Stark of the North joined forces (along with House Baratheon) to overthrow the Mad King during Robert’s Rebellion. It’s unclear what will come next and with Stannis looking to overtake the North, things appear shaky at Winterfell for House Bolton.

Smaller, but also worth noting, is that twice in this episode we saw Ramsey’s girl, as she looked on while Ramsey was introduced due his future wife, Sansa. Last season, this girl killed Ramsey’s other girl, the blonde, when she became jealous of her. Rarely does this show put these kinds of characters on camera without foreshadowing something to come.

Ramsey's old girl looking on at Ramsey and Sansa

Ramsey’s old girl looking on at Ramsey and Sansa

BRIENNE THE AVENGER

Not too far away from Wintefell, Brienne and Pod are keeping a close eye on Sansa. More importantly, Brienne offered a powerful revelation in this episode and a rare show of emotion. Since we first met her, we knew Brienne loved Renley, but we never knew exactly why. And years later, through a conversation with the unlikeliest of people, we are offered a glimpse into Brienne’s past and why she loved Renley so much. She tells Pod a story about her father who set up a ball to arrange a suitor for her daughter. And as the boys fought over her, she felt special and beautiful, until learning that it was all a joke that the boys were in on. As she felt more foolish and ugly than ever before, she ran off, only to be stopped by the kind-hearted Renley, who reminded her that these shits were not worth her tears. He was the one person who comforted her, who truly cared for her. And for that, she would always love him. She tells Pod that she will avenge his death, mentioning the shadow with Stannis’ face who killed him, alluding to the fact that she seeks to kill Stannis. And we now question the true identity of Brienne — is it defined by her honor and duty to the words she swore to Catelyn Stark to protect her daughters, or is it the dark desire to avenge the death of her one true love, Renley Baratheon?

Brienne telling Pod of her love for Renley

Brienne telling Pod of her love for Renley

LORD COMMANDER SNOW

Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, Jon Snow is again offered the opportunity by Stannis to become Jon Stark and rule over the North. But again, he refuses the offer and we see the unwavering strength of Jon Snow who is completely dedicated to honor and duty, the words he swore and vows he must uphold. Stannis reminds Jon that it was this very same stubborn honor that got Ned killed. Interestingly, Jon Snow is actually torn between three different identities: Jon Snow the bastard, Jon Snow the new Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, and Jon Stark, the Lord of Winterfell.

Before departing the room, Stannis mentions that Jon should talk to the Wildling prisoners one more time, and that perhaps Tormund Giantsbayne will be more reasonable than was Mance Rayder. After he leaves the room, Ser Davos sticks behind and tells Jon that Stannis sees something in him. He also offers that part of the Night’s Watch vow is to be “the shield that protects the realms of men,” pointing to the fact joining Stannis and protecting the North is in fact part of his duty.

The man who passes the sentence must swing the sword

The man who passes the sentence must swing the sword

In the dining hall, Jon Snow makes his identity clear as he gives his first commands as Lord Commander, but not before Samwell tells him that Maestar Aemon is not feeling well. Jon first appoints Ser Alliser Thorne the coveted position of First Ranger, perhaps because Ser Alliser was deserved of the position, or perhaps because Jon wanted to keep a potential enemy close. Either way, it was a honorable move — when Ser Alliser was Lord Commander, he did nothing but use his power to make life difficult for Jon; but Jon Snow as new Lord Commander shows that he is a better man. And as he appoints Janos Slynt with a more remedial task, Janos refuses, thinking that his once powerful position as Commander of the Kingsguard excuses him from such commands. Jon Snow must gain the respect of all the brothers and demonstrate his power, so he sentences Janos to death.

More importantly, he sets to carry out the execution himself, an allusion back to the very first episode of this series when Ned Stark beheads a deserter of the Night’s Watch and reminds his son that the man who passes the sentence must swing the sword. But as Janos confesses that he has always been a weak and scared man and begs for mercy, it looks as though Jon is going to grant his mercy and not go through with the execution. We’ve seen time and time again, Jon unable to carry out the executions that he must — once when he had to execute the Wilding Ygritte, and another time when he had to kill the horsebreeder for the Night’s Watch. But with all the brothers of the Night’s Watch looking on, Jon strikes true and carries out the execution — a powerful statement pointing to the identity transformation of Jon Snow’s character.

THE HIGH SPARROW

Back at King’s Landing, several of the sparrows, led by Lancel Lannister, take the High Septon from the brothel and beat him in the streets. When he demands Cercei to serve justice, she prefers to throw him in jail and go to visit the High Sparrow. Impressed with the man she finds, she tells him that faith and the crown are the two pillars that uphold the realm, and without one, everything crumbles. One cannot co-exist without the other and they must do everything in their power to help one another. Being that she appears to be losing powers over one of these pillars, the crown, perhaps she seeks to gain power over the other, religion. Though her exact intentions are unclear, Cercei is cultivating a new relationship that she will undoubtedly seek to use to her advantage.

Cercei & the High Sparrow

Cercei & the High Sparrow

As she returns to the Red Keep, she gives Maestar Qyburn a message to send to Littlefinger, adding “make sure he is very clear on the word immediately.” This is the message that Roose Bolton will later intercept, though its contents are unclear. Most interesting is the “thing” that is being restrained under the sheet on Qyburn’s medical table. Of course, we are left to assume that this is the Mountain, Qyburn’s latest science experiment who will be brought back to life as an even greater monster than he already was.

VOLANTIS

And finally, Tyrion and Varys arrive at Volantis, and not a moment too soon as Tyrion was beginning to lose his mind, having been cooped up in one box after the next. As they venture through the market of Volantis, we are exposed to the newest of the Free Cities of Easteros, and we see many of the cultural differences of this city, namely the caste system where everybody has a clearly marked social status in society. They stumble upon another Red Priestess who speaks of the Mother of Dragons who has been sent by the Red God as a savior. As Tyrion watches her, she slowly glances up at him, before staring for several moments, with a look in her eye that almost gave the appearance that he is the savior she had been speaking of, not Khaleesi.

The Red Priestess staring at Tyrion

The Red Priestess staring at Tyrion

As they enter Tyrion’s most familiar home, a brothel, Tyrion engages in a conversation with one of the whores. But, when it is time to move forward, he is unable to. As she stands over him, a girl of Easteros, holding his hand, perhaps he is reminded of Shae, who was also a whore from Easteros. And as he becomes choked up, he cannot move forward. Also interesting to note was one of the whores who was dressed like Khaleesi, which demonstrates her widespread influence across Easteros. Varys adds, “Somebody who inspires both priestesses and whores is somebody worth taking seriously.”

And then we see Ser Jorah, drinking in his despair, before recognizing Tyrion. And as the episode comes to a close, Ser Jorah ties and gags Tyrion as he tells him, “I am taking you to the Queen.” But which queen will he be taking Tyrion to? Cercei, the queen who has a massive bounty out on Tyrion’s head, for which Ser Jorah will certainly receive a large reward? Or the one-true queen in his eyes, Khaleesi, whose father was killed by Jaime Lannister and whose Throne was usurped due to large support from House Lannister?

Ser Jorah kidnaps Tyrion

Ser Jorah kidnaps Tyrion

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