Game Of Thrones season five episode three, 'High Sparrow', continued this year's slow burn beginning.
It feels as though David Benioff and D. B. Weiss have decided to cash in on the enormous good-will the show has generated by deliberately taking their time, letting characters and plot lines develop, without feeling the need for any big shocks or set pieces, which actually makes for a good change of pace.
Surely, it won't last. For now, here are the 5 big talking points from last night.
1 | The first happy wedding in Westeros history…
As soon as we saw Tommen exchanging vows with Margaery Tyrell we braced oursevles for something gruesome: a Greyjoy axe to suddenly land in the boy-King’s skull, perhaps, or Cersei to leap forward and claw the young Queen’s eyes out. It wasn’t to be. Instead, we witnessed the first happy nuptials in Game of Thrones history as Tommen immediately took his bride to bed – this time with Ser Pounce firmly shut outside.
A few agitated viewers have bemoaned the lack of action / spilled guts so far this season, but personally we're finding the psychological war games a more than entertaining replacement (for now). Cersei and Margaery both trying to manipulate the naïve Tommen to their own ends is great drama. Unsurprisingly, the King is being swayed more strongly at present by the woman playing with his sceptre than his dear old Mum, a sad fact of life Mothers-in-laws the world over will recognise.
2 | …Swiftly followed by the unhappiest wedding in Westeros history
Poor old Sansa Stark. First she was betrothed to King Joffrey, the sadistic brat and official Worst Person In The Seven Kingdoms, now she’s being paired off with Ramsay Bolton, the skin-peeling torturer and official Second Worst Person In The Seven Kingdoms. By season 6 we fully expect her to be walking down the aisle with Qyburn’s Frankenstein-reboot of The Mountain.
Of course this time, though, we’re talking about Level 2 Sansa, who has developed a mean streak and gives as good as she gets (you can tell because she wears black now). Coached by the Littlefinger – the man with a plan for everything except which accent to use – she sees an alliance with the Boltons as a chance to avenge her family and win back the North. For the love of the Gods, can someone win back the North already.
3 | Jon Snow might try and win back the North
As we’re sure to be reminded sometime in May, an election can turn a man who gives a good speech into a bloody tyrant. So it has proved with Jon Snow, who cemented his surprise rise to Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch by executing Janos Slynt for dissent. There was a telling moment when the snivelling Janos begged for mercy and Jon hesitated, before Janos confessed, rather pitifully, that he had ‘been scared his whole life’. Jon’s face curled in disgust at such weakness and he promptly lopped his head off – a rare example of a character no one likes meeting a fate he deserves.
Watching on with approval was Stannis, the smirking sort-of-King who is still trying to figure out how to leave the Wall and take the North. Honestly, the man moves more slowly than the White Walkers. Anyway, his best plan at the moment involves recruiting Jon to march south with him – a plan Jon resisted at first, but may have been won around to by a speech from the Onion Knight who argued fairly convincingly that it might be The Right Thing To Do. And if there is anything Jon Snow likes, it’s The Right Thing To Do.
4 | Religion on the rise
The much-talked about rise of religion across the Seven Kingdoms in season 5 is already looking like rich ground for the show’s more cerebral strands. We saw two intriguing manifestations of it this episode. First the rise of fundementalist cult the Sparrows in King’s Landing continued with the introduction of the High Sparrow, who must be significant because they named the episode after him (and hired British heavyweight Jonathan Pryce to play him). Second, Tyrion walked through the chaotic streets of Volantis and saw a preacher delivering some of Mellisandra’s old lines about the Night Being Dark And Full Of Terrors, showing that support for the Lord Of Light is on the rise, too.
What was great about that scene is how it gave us a sense of the wider Game Of Thrones world – something the show has done more and more as budgets and ambitions have grown. The Volantis preacher also talked about ‘the saviour’ Daenerys Targaryen, while in the brothel, we saw a prostitute dressed as the Queen of Dragons proving a big hit among the assorted horny drunks. Seeing how word of distant events is spreading across the Kingdoms is giving the show a welcome new depth and richness. More than anything this season seems to be about characters, places and ideas coming together.
5 | Other bits
Are there too many characters now? Brienne of Tarth was given her Sad Anecdote scene – a Game of Thrones rite-of-passage – when she told Pod about being bullied as a kid. But really, where are these two characters going? And do we care? A big challenge for the show is now to decide what to do with these bit-part players hanging around on the fringes. Lessons need to be learned from last year’s Bran In The Woods-debacle.
How heartbreaking was Maisie Williams’ face as she contemplated casting her sword Needle into the sea? For the first time since she left the Hound to die alone, we saw a sign that the young Stark hasn’t been hardened to the world completely. Needle obviously represents her childhood and family, two things she isn’t ready to cast aside completely quite yet. She buried it in the wall instead.
Is Peter Dinklage the greatest actor alive, or his is just surrounded by relative mediocrity? It is sometimes hard to tell, but as with every other season, when he comes on the screen the show seems to be elevated to a whole new level. His inability to sleep with the prostitute he charms, who bore a passing resemblance to Shae, was oddly touching. And no one can play a drunk man pissing with quite the same authenticity.