Game Of Thrones Season 5 Episode 6: 'Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken' Recap

The five biggest talking points from this weeks episode

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Just over half way through season five, it feels like time to face an uncomfortable truth. So far, the show feels spread desperately thin, and like it may be running out of ideas.

The main problem is that the story is struggling under the weight of so many characters, we don’t get enough time with the ones we care about or enough time with new characters to decide if we care about them too.

On top of that, all season we’ve been waiting for a ‘big moment’, and unfortunately it arrived last night in a way that reminded us of the show’s weaknesses rather than its strengths.

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We still have faith David Benioff and D. B. Weiss – who now have the most difficult job in television – to turn it around with the remaining episodes, and certainly there are still plenty of reasons to feel excited. But the midterm report on season five has to be ‘could do better’.

Five talking points from ‘Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken’.

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1 | The worst thing that has ever happened in Game of Thrones

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First, let’s address the biggest moment from the episode. Ramsay Bolton raped Sansa Stark on their wedding night, and for an added horrible twist, forced Reek / Theon to watch. The scene has already caused at least one website to refuse to cover the show any longer, and revived long-standing criticisms that Game of Thrones plays fast and loose with rape, using it as a gratuitous plot device.

My personal feeling is that, while this was probably the most stomach-churning scene in the show’s history, it was sadly believable, both within the plot and the moral universe we’ve all signed up to. The moment Sansa agreed to marry sexual sadist Ramsay, we all knew this moment was probably coming, even if she didn’t. Ramsay forcing Reek to watch was awful, but not really a surprise either from a character we know gets his kicks from torture.

A lot of people have written that it somehow didn’t ‘make sense’ within Sansa’s story arc as a newly mature badass, who is no longer a meek victim, knows how to ‘play the game’, dresses in black, etc. What show have they been watching? Bravery isn’t rewarded in Game of Thrones, nor is honour, strength, integrity or anything else noble. Good things don’t happen to good people. Complaining about this scene is a bit like watching The Sopranos and getting upset when Tony whacks a rat.

In terms of how it was filmed, at least we were spared watching Sansa in the way we were shown Daenerys as she was raped by Khal Drogo in season one (while we're on that, Dani's 'recovery' from her rape to fall in love with Khal remains for my money the most galling and offensive thing the show has ever done). The decision not to wallow in Sansa’s despair, or Ramsay’s violence, to instead show the horror on Reek / Theon’s face, at least partially redeemed the scene for me. The writers could have interrupted the wedding night by having Stannis show up and start a battle, or – as I was praying – Theon come to his senses and attack Ramsay in the bedroom. But that would be a different show. The very things we have spent years celebrating Game of Thrones for – its brutality, its sadism, its unwillingness to bend to conventional, comfortable narratives – has come back to bite us. It feels awful, but I am not sure we can claim to be surprised.


2 | Is Arya becoming the new Bran?

Never thought we’d say this, but Arya’s storyline has become the most boring thing in the show. Squinting to make out what the hell she is doing in the House of Black and White is getting as tiresome as watching Hodor drag Bran around in the woods. It’s a reminder that Game of Thrones is at its weakest when it is being 'magical'. How I longed for the Hound to burst through the door, smack Jaqen H'ghar on his silly mouth and drag Arya off to garotte some drunkards in a tavern somewhere. That said, the moment she claimed to hate her former partner in crime – and was told she was lying – felt like an oddly touching nod to adventures past.


3 | Littlefinger finally shows his hand

So here’s the Littlefinger master plan: let Stannis and the Boltons kick the crap out of each other in Winterfell, then ride in with the Knights of the Vale – backed by Cersei – to mop up the remains and claim the North for himself. Littlefinger’s betrayal of Sansa finally vanquished any lingering hope that he might have a good side, but it does reassert him at the most ambitious character in the show. Could Littlefinger eventually end up on the Iron Throne himself? It’s a depressing, if increasingly plausible, idea.


4 | The Dorne storyline isn’t really working

Something about Jaime's quest to rescue Princess Myrcella from Dorne has felt flat from the start, and this episode did nothing to change that. The fact he and Bronn walked into the Water Gardens and found her right away felt like a tacit acknowledgement that the show now has too many storylines and too little time. And the Sand Snakes – those characters everyone was excited about before the season began – are so far about as compelling and three dimensional as the characters in Taylor Swift’s latest music video. Too little screen time is the problem; that and the fact their father was the most charismatic character in the show’s history.


5 | We miss King Joffrey

And not just to love to hate, either. The rise of the Sparrows in King’s Landing is now complete – last night, they even managed to imprison the Queen for her role in covering up her brother’s homosexuality – and the problem is King Tommen, who is proving that of the faults a leader can have, weakness is the worst. Joffrey would have chopped their zealot heads off the second they touched his beloved. As it is, Cersei’s risky plan to destroy the Tyrells by proxy appears to be working. But what about when they find out that her own sexual past includes incest? A serious power vacuum is opening up in the capital.


LINE OF THE WEEK:
Brothel owner Littlefinger to religious fanatic Brother Lancel: “We both peddle fantasies… mine just happen to be entertaining.”