Review: Game of Thrones Season 5, Episode 4 – The Sons of the Harpy

This week on Game of Thrones, Jaime arrives in Dorne, and Cersei makes her move in King's Landing. Plus, we're prompted to start questioning everything we thought we knew about this show. Again.

The most thrilling aspect of watching a long-running television show like Game of Thrones is those rare moments when the story arc seems to split wide open like a ripe pomegranate, laying every seed of plot bare for the viewer. That didn’t happen this time round – not exactly, anyway – but I can’t help feeling that this episode is far more significant than it appears at first glance.

We get some very watchable moments this week between characters we’ve not really seen interact too much before. Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and Bronn (Jerome Flynn) engage in banter over roasted snake (Jaime is prince of the ‘fake hand’ jokes), and there’s a nice Brienne-heavy moment when Jaime spies the Isle of Tarth. What are we calling them? Jienne? Braime? Whatever, I’m loving it.

Also Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) comes back into his own a little bit in conversation with Ser Jorah (Iain Glen). He cleverly figures out who the knight is from a few cryptic clues, and takes great amusement from the fact that he’s being kidnapped to somewhere he was planning to go anyway. Dinklage has been slightly underused so far this series, so it’s good to see him cracking wise again; he probably won’t hit us with any really juicy scenes until he actually gets to Meereen (if there’s one thing I love, it’s watching Tyrion/Dinklage hold his own in a royal court – remember his trials at the Eyrie and King’s Landing? GOT at its absolute best).

In the meantime, Cersei’s (Lena Headey) master plan involving the High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce) and his minions moves on to its next stage, which appears to be persecuting some of King’s Landing’s resident homosexuals. At first this is a bit of a surprise, what with the generally relaxed attitude towards gay goings-on that we’ve seen so far in Game of Thrones. But once Queen Margaery’s (Natalie Dormer) brother Loras (Finn Jones) is arrested, the plan starts to become a little clearer. Margaery, of course, goes running straight to her husband to get her brother released, but what she didn’t count on when she married an easily controllable boy-king was that he would be too weak-willed to step up to the plate when she needed some heads breaking.

Say what you like about Joffrey, at least the kid had some backbone. If he’d marched up the steps of the Sept of Baelor and demanded an audience with the High Sparrow, only to be told that he was too busy praying, those self-same steps would have been running with blood within thirty seconds, and the head of every single ‘Sparrow’ in the city would have been on a spike by sundown. Instead, we’ve got weak gentle, stupid naïve Tommen (Dean-Charles Chapman), who runs home at the first stumbling block. Long story short, Cersei has struck back at Margaery, big time, but Margaery is about to call in reinforcements in the form of her grandmother Olenna (Diana Rigg), and they don’t call her the Queen of Thorns for nothing.

Now, onto the heavy plot discussion. Two important conversations took place this week, although we won’t find out just exactly why they were important until later – GOT is all about the slow burn, after all. They both concerned events that took place long before season one even began, and have been strategically placed to remind us of the beginnings of this whole narrative. And, to make us start questioning the very foundations that narrative is apparently built on.

First, we have Sansa (Sophie Turner) and Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen) in conversation in the crypt at Winterfell. They end up discussing Lyanna Stark (Sansa’s aunt, Ned Stark’s sister). Lyanna is a crucial agent in Game of Thrones, in spite of the fact that we viewers have never met her, and she’s been dead for twenty odd years. She was the alleged spark for Robert Baratheon’s rebellion. Betrothed to Robert, the story goes that she was kidnapped and raped by Rhaegar Targaryen – heir to the Mad King, and older brother of Daenerys (Emilia Clarke). She was eventually freed, but swiftly died (it’s not made clear how – food for thought), and Rhaegar was killed in battle by Robert.

Littlefinger tells Sansa the story of a tournament where Rhaegar fought Ser Barristan Selmy (Ian McElhinney) and won, then snubbed his wife Elia (Martell) by giving a wreath of roses to Lyanna instead. This romantic image of courtly love doesn’t quite square with what we’ve been told about Rhaegar before, does it?

The dead prince pops up again later, in the second of our two crucial conversations, this time between Daenerys and the afore-mentioned Barristan. Barristan knew Rhaegar well, and tells Daenerys stories of how he loved music, and would go down into the streets of King’s Landing and sing to the people, giving or drinking away the money he collected. Daenerys is enchanted, having only ever heard stories about Rhaegar from Viserys, who told her that he ‘loved killing people’, and not much else.

And it’s here we begin to realise something significant; up to now, we too have only heard about Rhaegar from Viserys (a disturbed, power-hungry princeling) and Robert, who hated Rhaegar’s guts for ‘stealing’ the woman he loved. To hear Barristan tell it, Rhaegar was a handsome, slightly cheeky rogue, not a murdering madman like his father. Robert was presented to us as the conquering hero – slaying the evil Rhaegar on the battlefield, scattering rubies from the prince’s armour as he did so – but was he?

And then comes our second little revelation; if what we’ve been told about Rhaegar wasn’t true, then what else have we been lied to about? Which important plot point, presented to us as being true from the get-go, is actually a lie? What great mystery are these little clues pointing us towards? What fresh hell is this?!

Last but definitely not least, just to make up for all that bare naked plot, we get some serious action between the Unsullied and the Sons of the Harpy. Numerous people are deaded, and our faves Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson) and Barristan are very probably mortally wounded. My gut feeling tells me the resilient Grey Worm is going to pull through, but that we should prepare ourselves for a heartfelt death bed scene for Ser Barristan in the next ep.

We’ll be sad to see him go, if indeed he does go; he’s one of the few living links with with the past, after all. But perhaps he’ll drop a few more truth-bombs on Daenerys before he dies?

Best Kill: Sand Snake Obara expertly aiming a spear into that dude’s head

Best Scene: You have to love the battle choreography of the face-off with the Sons of the Harpy, plus the heartfelt scene between Stannis and Shireen

Best Line: Tommen to Margaery – “Aren’t you and mother getting along?” Wake up and smell the loathing, kid

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