After last week’s controversial and clunky episode, Game of Thrones returned this week for “The Gift,” an episode that reminded us that sometimes every single storyline must be accelerated quickly in order to get to the big finish. It’s a formula the show has followed, for better or worse, for several seasons (with the exception of season 4, which was seemingly filled with big moments). These middle 3–4 episodes are all about getting the pieces into their final positions and setting up the season’s most iconic moments. At least, we hope so. It’s hard to tell with season 5, as a lot of what the show has been doing has been all over the place.
This erratic streak extends beyond the show’s writers and has seeped into the storylines themselves. It seems as if everyone has a plan these days. In this episode in particular, some of these plans were turned on their heads. Other schemes moved into their latter phases, setting up some solid drama.
The show seems to be rushing to tell us how this is all going to work out. Then again, there are only three episodes left. And if my spoiler-free intuition is correct, we’re in for some fireworks. In this week’s column, we’re going to take a hard look at each of the big schemes that remain and explore their viability. Whose plans actually stand a chance to work out?
Obligatory Spoiler Warning: What follows will discuss everything through the most recent episode of Game of Thrones: season 5, episode 7, “The Gift.” It does not include any book spoilers. My spoiler column will be up on Thursday with the new episode of A Storm of Spoilers.
Sansa Stark’s Plan
With the way that last week’s episode ended, it’s hard to think of Sansa as being much of an active participant in this situation with Ramsay. The show sought to tear down her agency and make her a victim. But in this week’s bounce back, we see a few interesting things that suggest that Sansa is still very much in the game. It is through her will, not the traumatic experience, that Theon almost snaps out of his Reek-state. Even though that ultimately fails, leading to the horrific flaying of “The North Remembers” Lady, it’s good to see that Sansa is not resigned to her circumstances. It doesn’t make that wedding night scene any more necessary, but it does prove that the show is interested in Sansa being more than a victim.
By the time we leave Winterfell this week it’s clear that Sansa isn’t escaping anytime soon. She’s also not any closer to being “saved” by Theon, who showed us why Reek rhymes with meek. She’s squirreled away a small weapon (a corkscrew, if I caught that correctly) and she’s now going to have to regroup. Meanwhile, Brienne and Pod are losing their staring contest with the exterior facade of Winterfell.
Viability of Sansa’s Plan: She’s still in a lot of trouble, but we can see her starting to work things out. She’s now excessively aware of how Ramsay plays the game, so if there’s going to be any triumph for the Wardenesse of the North, she’s going to have to do it on her own. I’d like to say that I believe it’s going to work out for Sansa, but that seems like some seriously misplaced optimism at this point.
King Stannis’ Plan
“Winter is coming isn’t just the words of the Starks,” explains Stannis, whose army has become increasingly buried by a major snowstorm. The show has been promising us some Winter for five seasons and now here it is, primed to muck up Stannis’ plans to take down the Boltons. To the chagrin of Ser Davos, The One True King is pushing on regardless of the cost. We can’t ignore the fact that things don’t look good for Stannis. Part of his army has run off in the night, food is dwindling and his supply lines are frozen shut. The advice of his most trusted counsel, Ser Davos, is to turn back. The advice of his other most trusted counsel, Melisandre, is far darker. She wants to do something terrible to his daughter Shireen (who saw that coming?) that likely involves a stake and some fire.
For Stannis to execute his ultimate plan, it appears as if he’s going to have to put more faith in the Lord of Light than ever before. I’ve long been a skeptic about how much Stannis really believes in the power of the Lord of Light. He keeps Melisandre around because she’s proven herself useful, but he’s also a pragmatic guy who values results over anything else. He subscribes to the “Whatever It Takes” school of warfare because he believes in his own right to the Iron Throne over anything else. Would he let go of that pragmatism and put his full faith in the Lord of Light, sacrificing the daughter he fought so hard to save from Greyscale? Those are some huge sacrifices with huge stakes.
Viability of Stannis’ Plan: This seems to all be coming down to a big decision: To sacrifice Shireen or not. And what if burning the little girl doesn’t work? Stannis is in a tough spot, one that requires faith and terrifying sacrifice. I can’t see this working out well. The snow isn’t stopping anytime soon and if he does decide to let Melisandre have his child, that’s not going to go over well with Ser Davos. It feels like a lose-lose for poor Stannis and a major opportunity for those sneaky Boltons.
Jon Snow’s Plan
Jon went riding off with my spirit animal Tormund Giantsbane (don’t you just love the look he gave Ser Alliser Thorne after being unchained?) to rescue the remaining Wildlings. While we can’t yet see the direct consequences of his actions, his decisions have begun to afflict everyone around him. Maester Aemon’s passing only enhanced the feeling that any protection of Sam (and subsequently Gilly) has been stripped away.
What follows is a moment of intense threat – two Night’s Watch bros trying to assault Gilly – followed by two heroic moments. The first is Sam standing up for her in a situation in which he’s far outmatched. The second and more subtle heroism is Gilly’s urging of Sam that no matter what happens, protecting little Sam should be his top priority. We get a showing of fortitude from Sam, inspired by love, followed by a showing of fortitude by Gilly, born out of her protective motherly instincts. It is perhaps one of the best scenes in the episode, a well acted culmination of a long-blossoming love story. Two characters, on equal terms, surviving the darkness and finding small bits of happiness along the way. With a little help from The Preeminent Feminist of Westeros: Ghost.
Viability of Jon’s Plan: Still up in the air. Despite the good feelings we get from Sam and Gilly’s continued survival, darkness looms. If Jon even makes it back from his journey, what will be left of his friends upon his return? The Wall is a dangerous place, after all.
Far from the events in The North, Cersei Lannister’s plan seems to have come to fruition. She has used the arming of the Faith Militant to put the Tyrells on notice. In her mind, this was probably a reasonable course of action. All she cared about was protecting her remaining son Tommen from the clutches of Margaery and preventing the prophecy we saw in the opening scene of this season.
But as we see in this week’s big finish, Cersei isn’t quite the cunning strategist that her father was. She gravely miscalculated the notion of arming the many against the rich and devious few. In the march toward the big turn for Cersei, King’s Landing delivered several exceptional scenes. Lady Olenna and the High Sparrow verbally sparring, leading the Queen of Thorns to discover that the High Sparrow’s “man of the people” routine is not a ruse, but something far more dangerous (a genuine commitment to his ideals). We also get some Lady Olenna and Littlefinger action, reaffirming their alliance. For the first time, Lady Olenna is in a tough spot, lashing out and threatening to expose Littlefinger’s role in Joffrey’s death. And as per usual, the Master of Chaos delivers. He’s playing all sides, even the one that gives Lady Olenna the ammo she needs to pay Cersei back.
It’s a muddy situation for the show’s writers, as we could infer that Lancel Lannister has already revealed his Cersei-related sins (killing King Robert, sleeping with his married cousin, etc.) to the High Sparrow. What’s the point of having Littlefinger and Lady Olenna involved at all? In my book, that doesn’t matter so much. Any excuse to put those two characters in a room together is fine. The same can be said for the High Sparrow’s big speech at the end. Jonathan Pryce has brought a towering presence to this role and this scene feels like his big coming out party as a major player.
It all ends with Cersei in trouble, crouched in a cell, revealing her true Lioness nature: “Look at me. Look at my face. It’s the last thing you’ll see before you die.”
Viability of Cersei’s Plan: It’s all gone to shit for Cersei, but in a way that is immensely entertaining. I can’t wait to see where it goes from here.
Jaime and Bronn’s Plan
The storyline in Dorne continues to be treated like an afterthought, but we do get a few peeks into the southernmost of the Seven Kingdoms this week. In one scene, Jaime finds out that his daughter-niece Myrcella doesn’t want to leave Dorne. She seems to have grown fond of her betrothed, she’s not a fan of her mother’s hot-and-cold demands and she is having none of Jaime’s “it’s not safe” argument. To be continued, I suppose.
In the Dornish dungeons, we finally get a decent moment for the Sand Snakes. The best of which is the eye-rolls from Obara and Nym as Tyenne begins her seduction/death threat routine with Bronn. It’s as if they’ve seen this tired routine before, providing a little bit of color for these otherwise one-dimensional characters. For Bronn, he may have met his sexy-dangerous match in Tyenne, who isn’t afraid to use all of the weapons at her disposal. I’m glad he didn’t die. I really like that guy.
It’s a short scene, but one that still has me hoping that our trip to Dorne won’t end after this season. There are some fine characters and storylines to be explored and even though it’s been an utter disaster thus far, the show can still turn it around.
Viability of Jaime and Bronn’s Plan: File under: at least they are still alive.
Ser Jorah’s Plan
In the preliminaries of the great fighting pits tournament, Ser Jorah gets some heroic fighting action. And while he thinks that might get him back into the good graces of Queen Daenerys, she doesn’t seem quite to happy to see him. What did he expect? Regardless of the quality of his “gift,” Jorah is still very much in Dany’s doghouse (dragonhouse?)
The moment we’ve all been waiting for since the release of the season five poster has arrived, however. Tyrion Lannister has introduced himself to the Mother of Dragons. This meeting alone should help elevate the Meereen storyline considerably. And she needs the help, as we’ll explore in the next section.
Viability of Jorah’s Plan: Dany will likely come to appreciate his gift in time, as Tyrion could become a very useful advisor, but the notion that it’s going to save Jorah from her wrath seems a bit silly. And if the Mother of Dragons doesn’t dispatch him, he’s still got Greyscale.
I continue to worry about Dany’s plan to unite with the 1% of Meereen in the hopes that it will bring stability to the region. For starters, every step she takes toward fortifying her position in Slaver’s Bay takes her one step back in her quest to retake the Iron Throne. Beyond that, no one trusts this Hizdhar guy. Especially not her sidepiece Daario Naharis. What if he’s right about Hizdhar being the leader of the Sons of the Harpy? What if this was all a ruse to slide him into a position of power only to ultimately turn on Dany and try to seize her throne, her army and even her dragons?
Hopefully Tyrion can provide a quality third-party perspective and help her navigate these murky waters.
Viability of Dany’s Plan: We can only hope that she keeps both Tyrion and her dragons close, because this could all go wrong in a hurry.
The Benioff and Weiss Plan
After being upset with the show’s creators for a week after that last episode, I’m feeling a little better about the work that Benioff and Weiss are doing in season 5. This episode took a number of major storylines and pushed them forward in a big way. It feels like a bit of a rush, but this creates space for the last three episodes to find some major moments. Anyone who has been reading my Game of Thrones columns all season or listening to me on the Storm of Spoilers podcast will note that I’m not yet sold on a number of storylines, including the major diversions from the book in Winterfell and Dorne. But I remain hopeful that both can be turned into something interesting by the time the season concludes.
This marks the end of season 5’s gestation period – those middle episodes that are all about getting the pieces into place. The time for action is coming and it’s hard not to be very excited.
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