There’s been a lot of buildup for this season — and here we are almost at the midpoint with the wheels still turning as plotlines continue to gain relentless momentum.
Arya is still in try-outs at the House of Black and White while Jorah Mormont and Tyrion Lannister are still on their way to Meereen. Jaime Lannister and Bronn still haven’t saved Myrcella who is still alive despite Ellaria Sand’s efforts.
With a title like Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken, you shouldn’t be surprised at how much of a grind this episode is on its characters — the three words seem the appropriate response to all of the conflicts and tribulations coming down like sledgehammers on top of their heads.
At the House of Black and White, Arya continues washing and cleaning the dead for whatever curious purpose. Having waited weeks to play “the game,” her impatience leads to another heated exchange with the Waif, the only other familiar face besides Jaquen H’ghar.
The Waif tells Arya her life story, a compelling bit that gets Arya’s attention and sympathy. But when the Waif finishes her story and asks whether it was a truth or a lie, Arya’s left looking like she just had the floor open up under her.
Later that night, Jaquen appears in Arya’s bedroom and wakes her up for a game of truths and lies. Asking her the question that she posed on the Waif — “Who are you?” — Jaquen whips Arya with his stick every time she fibs while she recounts her history. Eventually, Arya gets to the part about Sandor Clegane’s death, and she tells Jaquen that she left him in the mountains to die because she hated him.
Whip. “I hated him!” Whip. “That’s not a lie!” Whip.
Arya screams, “I’m not playing this stupid game anymore!” but Jaquen tells her the game never stops.
On the other side of the world, Tyrion and Jorah can’t seem to get along, bickering over everything from food to the definition of traveling companions. Tyrion gives Jorah the lowdown on his escape from King’s Landing, and then Jorah learns about the fate of his father who was murdered by mutiny.
Back at the House, Arya consoles a dying child by telling her that a drink from the well will heal her. It’s a lie, but the girl is none the wiser, and she dies with hope. Arya learns what it means to be “someone else,” the true lesson that Jaquen wanted to teach, and he allows her to accompany him deeper into the House where he shows her a room filled with the faces of the dead. The setting is mind-blowing — grotesquely beautiful and haunting, and it looks like Arya has now officially become Jaquen’s padawan.
Tyrion and Jorah — back and forth, and here we go — are captured by slavers who are easily manipulated into taking the pair to Meereen to fight in the pits. There’s a bit about dwarf penises being worth a lot of gold, and Tyrion dispells the myth about their shape.
In King’s Landing, Peter Baelish makes his way to meet with Cersei. Their conversation is brusque despite Baelish’s attempt at diplomacy. He brings up the Faith Militant and the likely consequences of their taking Ser Loras into custody. Baelish predicts conflict, but the queen-mother has no intention of giving in.
Bringing up the purpose of his visit, Baelish drops the bombshell of Sansa Stark’s marriage to Roose Bolton’s heir, Ramsay. Baelish does what he does best — Littlefinger-ception — and he advises Cersei to let Bolton have his day until Stannis Baratheon invades the North. When the fight is finished, Baelish proposes he will march immediately on Winterfell with the Knights of the Veil.
What’s in it for Baelish, Cersei wonders.
All Baelish wants is to be named Warden of the North, something Cersei will grant if he also includes Sansa’s head on a pike. Baelish says his loyalty is to the crown, but we all know Baelish believes he’s the one who should be wearing it.
In Dorne, Jaime and Bronn move to secure the princess, but Ellaria’s Sand Snakes muck things up with the worst sneak and grab ever. Ever. Before the season started, I read a little about the Sand Snakes being a group of deadly warriors, but so far, they’ve been less intimidating than the Powerpuff Girls. Walking around the garden in plain sight with weapons drawn, the three would-be kidnappers fail to overtake the sell-sword and his one-handed friend before Dornish guards appear and capture everyone, including Ellaria.
There’s more — and better — action in the next scene when Cersei goes toe to toe with the Queen of Thorns, Olenna Tyrell who’s traveled all the way from the Reach to secure the release of her grandson. The exchange is filled with political threats, name-calling, and some particularly sharpened barbs. The passive-aggressive chatter from Cersei and the blunt threats from Olenna create a nice contrast of back and forths. It all comes to a head when Olenna talks up Tywin’s ability to work with rivals. Cersei responds with a clap back, “House Lannister has no rival.”
There’s to be a inquest into whether Loras should go to trial, but Cersei believes nothing will come of it, since she also (psh!) believes Loras is innocent. During the High Sparrow’s questioning, Loras categorically denies being a homosexual despite everyone in the kingdom knowing about his relationship with Renly Baratheon. When the High Sparrow calls Queen Margaery to the chair — much to Cersei’s delight — he asks her to swear in the presence of the gods that Loras is innocent. Margaery does, and she returns to her seat.
If only she knew that she just jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire. A surprise witness is called — Olyvar, Loras’ squire who was found in bed with Loras by Margaery herself. Testifying that he had in fact had relations with Loras and in Margaery’s sight, Olyvar puts forth the strongest piece of evidence — he describes a Dorne-shaped mole high on Loras’ thigh. Loras and Margaery are taken away into custody, and Tommen … well, he just … he just … sits there.
The last act of the episode centers on Sansa’s wedding to Ramsay. Sansa’s journey has been rough, but she’s made steps towards becoming a much stronger character. Gone is the girl who wanted to marry a king — she’s had a gothic makeover and conspires to exact revenge under the pretense of marriage.
Myranda appears and offers to draw Sansa a bath. It’s also a last-ditch effort to scare the Stark girl by recounting all of Ramsay’s dead lovers. The scene is thick with tension with repeated shots of Myranda pulling the water out of Sansa’s hair– shots similar to Arya’s scene when she’s washing the dead but with a totally different atmospheric context.
In a few sentences, Sansa puts an exclamation mark on all of the development she’s been going through since last season. “I’m Sansa Stark of Winterfell,” she tells Myranda, “This is my home, and you can’t frighten me.”
That sends Ramsay’s jilted lover storming away, leaving Sansa some time to reflect before the wedding. With her hair returned to its original red color, Sansa looks stunning in her white wedding dress. The moment’s spoiled — as much as an unwanted wedding could be — by Theon Greyjoy.
“I’m to take your arm,” he pleads, explaining he’ll be punished if Ramsay’s orders are not obeyed.
“You think I care what he does to you?” Sansa ask. They walk together to the Godswood, but there’s plenty of distance between them.
Sansa and Ramsay are married, and the pair return to Winterfell where viewers will experience one of the most horrific scenes in recent history. Though you don’t see it happening at all, the final scene becomes one of the series’ most brutal because of what’s obviously happening, who it’s happening to, and the circumstances surrounding the rape.
“Good. I want you to be happy,” Ramsay says after Sansa approves of the bedroom decor. He changes the subject, calling into question Sansa’s relations with Tyrion during their marriage. He tells Sansa to disrobe, but when she nods to dismiss Theon, Ramsay orders him to stay and watch.
It’s a scene loaded with monstrosity and tragedy. It seems merciful that the camera shifts away from the bed to Theon’s face, but then we come face to face with a broken man forced to see the family he betrayed get crushed under another cruel heel.
As I tried to process the last few minutes of the episode, I thought for a moment about whether the scene, in some twisted way, was another heaping helping heapful of karmic punishment sent Theon’s way. For a show where the violent and wicked go on to greater heights in the game, Theon’s story as he devolved into Reek seemed like he was getting punished for all their sakes.
But this flipped everything on its head for me. If any part of me reveled in Theon’s destruction, my entire being felt disgusted at what was happening here — for Theon and more for Sansa. And it made me question certain things because the show has played with characters and plotlines in ways that go against type — that’s something about the show I really enjoy — and it presents common archetypes, schemas, stereotypes, and controversies in ways that make you think. In this episode we see one of the show’s villains helplessly witnessing an act so inhumane and cruel, and all we can do is sit there and watch. We can hope, but in our hoping — if it’s for more violence, more blood, more pain — where do we draw the line as to say, “That’s enough. We’ve had our fill.”
Game of Thrones
S05E06: Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken
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Directed by: Jeremy Podeswa
Written by: David Benioff and D.B. Weiss
Starring: Peter Dinklage, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, and Lena Headey
Next episode: The Gift: Game of Thrones S05E07 Recap