Most Significant Deviations From the Book Produce Most Significant Losses
For book lovers, last night was painful. Changes are something that I’ve come to expect and, for the most part, appreciate when I consider how convoluted the fourth and fifth books with the introduction of dozens of new characters and unending series of twists Martin tries to weave together. But while previous changes may have been unnerving to book readers, the dead bodies of Grey Worm (I think) and Ser Barristen laying in the alley at the end of last night’s episode were heartbreaking. These two are not the first time the show has killed characters before Martin did. But the previous deaths were either inevitable in the text (Jojen Reed is sick and unlikely to be able to leave the cave Bran and crew are in) or happened to characters whose importance in the books had dwindled with the changing narrative (Grenn and Pyp were killed at the Wall battle, but are alive and serving the Watch in the books). But both Grey Worm and Ser Barristen are both popular characters playing extremely important roles in Meereen in Martin’s text. Their deaths are a clear turning point that no one, not even people who Martin has yet to kill off in his books, are safe.
Now, I’m not saying the death of these two is a bad move in the narrative. I will always judge the book and show as separate works. And the loss of these two characters advances the narrative in that the battle between Daenarys and the Sons of the Harpy is now personal. These deaths hit closer to home for the Mother of Dragons than any of the previous havoc the sons have committed and gives them a legitimacy that before they killed her two best fighters, the Sons did not have yet. And the episode was full of some amazing introductions of new characters (Obara Sand with the spear!!!), fantastic character moments, and a reminder of backstory we may have forgotten that (at least I hope) will prove significant in future events this season. So let’s take a look back at “Sons of the Harpy” in remembrance of Grey Worm (once again, I think) and Ser Barristen (the show versions of course).
The Waters off the Coast of Volantis
Tyrion is back!!!! Maybe it’s the sobering up that a gag in one’s mouth produces, but the humor and wit of the Halfman was back in a big way. Ser Jorah steals a boat (now is it stealing if you reimburse the boat captain you rob?) and begins rowing his way to the Queen (well his queen of course, not the queen of Westeros). Tyrion is making random noise over the gag, almost sounding like a song (which had me cracking up!!!) Jorah removed the gag and those observational skills returned very quickly to the Imp. He figures out, first, that it’s Jorah and that Jorah has been removed from the “queen’s” service because he was spying on her. I remember this guy when he was hand back in season 2 outsmarting everyone in King’s Landing. Jorah didn’t appreciate it as much as I did, smacking Tyrion across the face. It is ironic that Tyrion, though he has been kidnapped, is heading to the same place Varys intended for him to go to anyway.
Congratulations Dorne on your opening credits debut!!! Nice touch with the snake up the pole there guys. But we don’t actually start in Dorne. Our first scene of Dorne centric characters involves Jamie and Bronn on a boat passing Tarth (I’m sure Jamie thought of Brienne as they sailed by it). Bronn is highly skeptical of Jamie’s plan and I have to say I agree with him. The details we become privy to as the two men speak are that Jamie intends to “rescue” his “niece.” He intends for the two of them (including a man with literally one arm) to do this against all the forces of Dorne (Doran Martell never committed any troops to the War of Five Kings). I’ve got to say that Bronn is right to be skeptical. Much like Tyrion, his inferring skills are very keen, knowing that it was Jamie who freed Tryion and Jamie means to atone for that by saving his daughte…I mean niece.
And for the first time, we get to see Jamie fight with just the one hand. The two men row their way to the shore of a beach. It is there that they are spotted by Dornish soldiers. When it becomes clear the men of Dorne will not let them go on their merry way, Bronn goes into action being the general bad ass he is, taking out several of the soldiers. Jamie is left fighting one soldier and gets to practice those new one arm sword fighting skills he practiced all last season. When Jamie looks defeated, the advantages to having a fake arm become evident as the Kingslayer is able to catch the sword with the fake arm and shove his sword in with the right arm. Bronn and Jamie survived this first confrontation with Dornish troops. But their presence is not a secret to everyone in the desert.
It’s Sand Snake time!!! Obara, Nymeria, and Tyene are the bastard daughters of the late Oberyn Martell. Tyene is the one who greets Ellaria Sand and is the only one who is her daughter. But Obara, the oldest, makes her presence known very quickly. Apparently, the ship captain Jamie thought he paid off to keep quiet showed up on shore and was ready to spill the beans about Jamie’s presence in Dorne. He does, but then gets a spear through the head, placed perfectly by Obara, who makes her desire for war very clear to her father’s paramour. The other two sand snakes are not the militant that Obara is and I look forward to their unique skill sets being introduced in the coming weeks, especially if those introductions are as effective as Obara’s spear throw was.
Another cool development tonight was the escalation of the faith militant after Cersei agrees to end their disarmament (more on that later). Continuing the theme from last week, Cersei provides this to the High Sparrow in hopes of using him to weaken the Tyrells and Margaery. And the Sparrows don’t disappoint, going through the streets of King’s Landing cutting open barrels of alcohol and shutting down (very violently) Littlefinger’s brothel. But best of all for Cersei’s cause, they arrest Loras Tyrell for homosexuality (love the continuity here with his talk with Margaery in the season premiere). And the new queen’s response to this is to contact her grandmother and try to persuade Tommen to take action. This is a very important moment in King’s Landing for the new king as, up to this point, he’s only had to rule as a puppet serving the will of either his grandfather or mother. I love the look on the young king’s face when Margaery comes in demanding action. Tommen tries to take action after Loras’s arrest for the first time as king and it does not go well, with the faith militant ignoring his request to speak to the High Sparrow. In the background, numerous insults, calling him and abomination can be heard from the people who are living outside the steps dressed like Sparrows. How long can Tommen stay king if, when he takes action, he’s this ineffective.
The two central themes at the Wall tonight were the relationship between Stannis and his daughter and the continuing temptation of Jon Snow. Previous overtures by Stannis to get Jon to ride South with him were turned down by the new Lord Commander. So Melisandre tries a different tact. She heard through the grapevine that Jon loves redheads and seduces him right there at Jon’s desk, disrobing and sitting on his lap. Jon clearly considers what Melisandre offers him, but ultimately refuses. What’s interesting to me is that Jon’s love for Ygritte seems more of his reason for rejecting Melisandre than those pesky Nights Watch Vows.
One of the best conversations of the night was between Stannis and his daughter, Shireen. Her mom has made very clear her disappointment not only in Shireen’s grayscale, but in the fact that she’s not the male heir Stannis needs. But Stannis shows a much different feeling for his daughter when Shireen confronts him about it. He explains how much he cares for her and all the lengths he went through to cure her of her grayscale when many others wanted her shipped off to another place. Stannis is one character who I am liking more and more with each episode this season, and great character moments like this are the reason.
Like much of the storyline in the North this season, there was confusion in my mind about the location of the Boltons, Littlefinger, and Sansa. I thought they were in Moat Cailin, the seat of House Bolton. But considering this week’s only scene in the North took place in the tombs of Winterfell, I guess it was in Winterfell last week (at least I hope so because otherwise, the show skipped a fairly important journey).
Otherwise, the scenes in the North were solid and brought the coherence to the story I felt it has lacked most of the season. Littlefinger’s plans were made very clear as he discussed them with Sansa in front of her Aunt Lyanna’s tomb (more on Lyanna later). Littlefinger believes Stannis Baratheon will come South and defeat the Bolton’s at Winterfell. He will then free Sansa and make her Wardeness of the North. But if he fails, Littlefinger has a backup plan. He believes Sansa can handle Ramsey and bend him to her will if she still must marry him. Of course, Ramsey has not shown himself to be much for bending throughout his time on the show, so I will believe that when I see that. Littlefinger then kisses Sansa (still creepy) and leaves her as he is on his way to Winterfell to answer that summons he received from the queen last week.
Several weeks ago, the topic of the reopening of the fighting pits came up for the first time and tonight, Hizdahr zo Loraq is back to discuss them with Dany. While he is speaking, the Sons of the Harpy are on the attack once again, terrorizing people throughout Meereen. The Unsullied get wind of what is happening and confront several of the Sons in an ally. Almost all the Unsullied are killed with the exception of Grey Worm, who fights valiantly while several of the Harpy’s after pulling a knife out of his side. Just before he is about to succumb, Ser Barristen arrives and shows the sword skills that made him head of the King’s Guard back in Westeros. But the two men are greatly outnumbered and take many wounds. Despite killing all the Sons of the Harpy they face, the wounds are too much and both men fall, dying in the alley with the rest of the men who fought there.
-Rhaegar Targaryen, the oldest brother of Daenarys and man who Robert Baratheon killed in order to claim the Iron Throne, was mentioned twice tonight. Once was in Daenarys last conversation with Ser Barristen discussing Rhaegar’s willingness to mingle with the common people. The other was in front of Lyanna’s tomb between Sansa and Littlefinger.
-Another important event discussed from the past was the Tourney at Harrenhall. This event was the first domino that lead to Robert’s Rebellion and the fall of the Targaryen’s when Rhaegar, after winning the tournament, handed a rose to Lyanna Stark (Robert Baratheon’s bethrothed) instead of his wife, Elia Martell (of “You raped her, you murdered her, you killed her children” fame). Sansa also mentions Rhaegar’s “kidnapping” of Lyanna (the next domino that lead to the Rebellion), which led to what I though was a very interesting look from Littlefinger. Maybe I’m reading into this too much, but he sure didn’t look convinced that Rhaegar and Lyanna’s running away was a kidnapping.
-Another key event in King’s Landing is Mace Tyrell being sent away with Meryn Trant of the King’s Guard to address the Iron Bank. Tywin mentioned the troubles the crown was having with its debts to the Bank last season. Also interesting that Cersei would send Lord Oath away right as she was having his son arrested by the Faith Militant.
-Speaking of the faith militant, the group existed hundreds of years ago to enforce the laws of the Holy Sept and to protect worshippers on the road who were traveling for religious purposes. They were disbanded about 300 years ago after a series of brutal uprisings 300 years ago in response to cruelty against the religious by King Jaehaerys the Concilator.
-Non sexual events involving Jon at the Wall tonight included the signing of letters requesting men for the Wall from several houses in the North. Though he initially refuses to sign the one being sent to the Bolton’s, Sam convinces him otherwise. The show keeps a foot for Jon Snow in both camps; his heritage in Winterfell and his duties he’s sworn to the Nights Watch.
-I am curious how Shireen’s grayscale will play a part in the rest of the season. They continue to bring it up with each of her interactions. If you missed it from my previous reviews, grayscale is a disease that slowly turns one’s body into stone. While most men die from it, a few children, like Shireen, have seen its progress halted at a young age.
-I love how the show gave us an example of Jamie fighting with only one good hand. In the books (at least to this point) Jamie has yet to fight anyone one handed despite training for the entire fourth book for such an occurrence. His only weapon in books four and five is diplomacy (that would make great television now wouldn’t it).
-Can we please get more Tyrion and Jorah scenes next week? I think the potential intellectual and comic gold coming from Tyrion can only increase with screen time.
-How will the other Sand Snakes be used in their intent to start a war with the Lannisters?
-How will Cersei use the Faith Militant next in her war with the Tyrells?
-Can Tommen became an effective king now that conflict has thrust itself upon him?
-Sansa is alone with the Boltons now? Will she be able to keep her head above water with Littlefinger not there to guide her?
-Will Stannis or Jon finally make their play with Thormund Giantsbane to gain the services of the Wildling army to Stannis’s cause?
-How will Dany respond now that two of her most trusted fighters and advisors have passed (once again at least one has passed, we’ll see about the other)?
We hit the halfway point next week folks. See you then.