NOTE: Full spoilers for this episode of Game of Thrones, including a major character death, are present in this review
Game of Thrones continued to ratchet up the intensity this week, and against all odds, it actually brought just about all of its many season plots forward in some pretty great ways with “The Gift.” After so much slow pacing, it’s great to see the series finding its better thrills again.
After The Wall sat out last week, we catch up with the Night’s Watch, just in time for Jon Snow and Tormund Giantsbane to ride toward the other Wildling tribes, so they can rally them for the coming Winter. Surprisingly, Jon barely had any part in this episode, and things were actually all about Sam this week. Mind you, that made for great material, especially when Sam’s and Gilly’s implied relationship reaches its natural conclusion.
As Jon rides away, Sam and Gilly are left to attend to a dying Lord Aemon. In his final moments of lucidity, Aemon does eventually pass away, with Sam and the rest of the Night’s Watch seeing to a funeral pyre for him. Given how long Aemon has been a part of Game of Thrones, it was a bit disappointing that the character seemed to die so suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, but I suppose that this is no doubt the way things would go at The Wall. Regardless, Ser Alliser’s warning to Sam that he’s running out friends at Aemon’s funeral was very nicely ominous.
Sure enough, Sam runs afoul of two of his fellow brothers at the Night’s Watch, both of whom are about to beat and rape Gilly. Wow, that’s been happening more often in the North lately, hasn’t it? Anyway, Sam takes a beating for Gilly, with Ghost managing to scare the attackers off. Yes, Ghost is apparently still prowling around, and not a moment too soon either! It was very cool to see Ghost treat Sam as a charge on par with Jon as well, really highlighting how close Jon and Sam have become since Sam was first dumped at The Wall.
Speaking of close, Gilly finally gives in to her rather blatant feelings for the injured Sam while tending to him in bed. She ends up mounting him and taking his virginity, and the scene where she asks if she’s hurting him as Sam awkwardly tries to take it was as amusing as it was heartwarming. This was a nice bit of gender juxtaposition on the part of the show, and it should hopefully silence any loudmouths accusing it of being sexist.
In any case, while this is going on at The Wall, Stannis continues his march to Winterfell, against the counsel of Ser Davos. With Stannis’ army sick and dying, and an entire platoon of his sellswords deserting him, Stannis stubbornly continues on, despite his once-superior forces now appearing to dwindle as he continues toward the Boltons. Even as Davos advises him to return to Castle Black, Stannis refuses, claiming that the Winter would delay the march for years. Consulting Melisandre, Stannis is told that he will achieve victory, though Melisandre demands the sacrifice of Stannis’ daughter in return. This was the one point when Stannis seemed to shimmer with any degree of humanity, as he disgustedly tells Melisandre to get out of his tent. Still, Melisandre does have a habit of getting her way in the long-term… It’s possible that Shireen might want to start worrying. Again, why in the world did Stannis think that forcing his wife and Greyscale-afflicted daughter to march with his army was a good idea?!
Over at Winterfell proper, Sansa is continuing to feel the pain of Ramsay’s… Mistreatment, in the bedroom, and decides to plead with Theon to try and remedy the situation. Theon strongly advises against provoking Ramsay, but Sansa nonetheless takes up the old lady’s offer, by having Theon place a candle in the Northern tower.
Well, the North may remember, but it turns out that the North isn’t much help. Sansa is escorted to the old lady’s flayed body the following morning, with Ramsay recounting the event to a sickened Sansa. Getting the message pretty clearly, Sansa runs off, though grabs a nearby tool from a workbench, seemingly motivated to try and kill Ramsay herself. Meanwhile, Brienne and Podrick still sit idly by, waiting for a signal that isn’t coming. Naturally, things look grimmer than ever for Winterfell, and I have a feeling that the season’s final few episodes are going to define Sansa’s character quite a lot, going forward.
Picking up with the mission in Dorne, Jaime is visited by Myrcella in his prison, with Jaime urging her to return to King’s Landing. Myrcella refuses however, claiming that she wishes to marry Trystane. That’s all that comes from this conversation, really. The only other interesting development, and I say that loosely, is a scene with Bronn singing in a jail cell, adjacent to the also-confined Sand Snakes. Oh, cool, he finally got to finish that song! This leads to the obligatory sexy moment of the episode, with Tyene Sand forcing Bronn to admit that she’s the most beautiful woman in the world, so she can slip him the antidote to a deadly poison that her dagger happened to be coated in… While getting naked. Oberyn’s bastard daughter, indeed. It was a bit of a pointless moment, but it did speak well to the vanity behind the Sand Snakes, or at least Tyene.
That said though, I can’t understand for the life of me why the show still can’t get any real mileage out of Dorne. The introduction of Dorne this season is supposed to be a big development, but with the season into its back half now, it still hasn’t done much of note with the Dorne mission, or the Sand Snakes. Hopefully that changes before the season is done, or else this will no doubt go down as one of Season Five’s biggest missed opportunities.
At the very least, Jorah’s and Tyrion’s status in Essos went to a pretty interesting place though. After Jorah is bought by a nobleman from Meereen, as a fighter to pledge to the newly re-opened fighting pits, Tyrion convinces the nobleman to buy him as well, after he kicks the crap out of his chain holder to rather hilarious and satisfying effect. Even in chains, Tyrion is awesome!
After Daenerys is escorted by her future husband to see the fighting pits re-opened, and the fighters brutally killing each other within it, Jorah takes them all out, and unmasks himself before the queen. To his surprise however, Daenerys orders Jorah out of her sight, before Tyrion steps in, identifying himself before the queen and her betrothed. It looks like the long-awaited meeting has finally happened, and it will be very exciting to see where this leads next week.
Once again though, it was King’s Landing that took the lion’s share of big story developments this week. Olenna goes to confront the High Sparrow, with the spirited conversation between these two opposing minds being one of the best dialogue bits all season so far. Jonathan Pryce really went the extra mile as the High Sparrow this week, and it was wonderful to watch. The way that the High Sparrow is unmoved by any earthly reason feels simultaneously believable and chilling, even as Olenna threatens to withdraw House Tyrell’s export of crops to King’s Landing, if Margaery and Loras aren’t released from captivity. This uneasiness with the High Sparrow was even more apparent towards the episode’s conclusion, but I’ll get to that.
Anyway, Olenna is left to hide out in Littlefinger’s destroyed brothel, warning him that if House Tyrell falls, she’ll have no reason to further conceal Littlefinger assisting her in the murder of Joffrey last season. The real tension however came from Cersei, who continues to feign concern for Tommen, as he continues to agonize over his inability to help his queen.
Still, Cersei does go to the Red Keep to visit Margaery, pretending to show concern by bringing Margaery some food from the capital. Margaery angrily kicks Cersei out of the cell, which is predictable… But less predictable is Cersei’s subsequent meeting with the High Sparrow. Apparently, Cersei’s cousin, Lancel has gone and blabbed about Cersei’s and Jaime’s incestuous activity, and how Joffrey, Tommen and Myrcella are all bastard children that have no real claim to the Iron Throne. Uh oh. Seeing as the High Sparrow has the authority to imprison even royalty for a righteous cause, Cersei is then thrown in prison, as the episode concludes with Cersei making some pretty vicious threats to the nuns as she’s locked away.
This was a really awesome curveball, and made for a superb way to kick up the excitement in this week’s episode, more so than anything else! It’s true that Cersei was also arrested, undone by her own scheme in the novels, but if you’re only watching this TV series, this proved to be a wonderful shock development. It’s not a surprise that Cersei had this coming, as her scheming was no doubt eventually bound to catch up with her. Without having Tywin as a safety net, she’s really found herself in real trouble now, and may have unleashed trouble for King’s Landing in a way that she couldn’t have imagined before.
“The Gift” is the best episode that Season Five has yet delivered. Dorne is still lagging behind everything else, but the other plots all moved forward to excellent effect, especially with Cersei’s plot backfiring in a big way over at King’s Landing. A lot of powerful forces are about to be stirred across Westeros, with Winterfell and King’s Landing both facing some big battles very soon. Seeing as this is Game of Thrones, those big battles will also no doubt lead to some pretty big casualties too.
- Sam and Gilly finally hook up
- Tyrion and Daenerys finally meet
- Cersei's plot collapsing on her
- Yet again, Dorne material is disappointing and scant