Spoiler Note: This post is intended for those who have read the books in the Song of Ice and Fire series. As such, the post itself and the comments will contain spoilers. If you haven’t read the books yet, you can discuss this episode in our non-book reader (Unsullied) recap. Thanks!
Having avoided the place last week, “The Gift” kicks off in Castle Black, where we see Jon Snow loading up his horse in a succession of quick shots—he puts his pack on the horse, he puts his saddle on the horse, he sheathes his sword. I’m not sure why the quick cuts were necessary, but maybe first-time Game of Thrones director Miguel Sapochnik just wanted to make his mark. He’s got big dreams.
Jon meets Tormund, who’s still in chains, in the Castle courtyard. Jon removes the chains while a fleet of Night’s Watchmen look on disapprovingly. Alliser Thorne disapproves so much that he just up and tells Jon that traveling to Hardhome to rescue a bunch of wildlings is a terrible, terrible idea. “Thanks a bunch,” Jon says, basically. Insert menacing shot of Olly, future member of the Jon Snow murder brigade, just in case anybody had yet to get the hint.
Jon’s farewell with Sam is a little more cheery, at least, as the loyal steward gives Jon a bunch of daggers made of dragonglass. “It’s what I used to kill the White Walker,” Sam says. “I hope you don’t need them.” So Jon will absolutely positively need them, then.
Elsewhere at Castle Black, Sam and Gilly watch over an ailing Maester Aemon and let him play with “Little Sam,” Gilly’s child. The show gives a nod to book readers when Aemon starts reminiscing about his little brother Aegon “Egg” Targaryen, before warning Gilly to take her son south.
He probably meant further south than Winterfell, where things remain uncomfortable and weird for our heroes. Apparently, Ramsay has been keeping Sansa trapped in a bedchamber all day and “hurts” her every night, so those fans wishing for swift retribution for the Bastard of Bolton have already been disappointed.
Sansa’s not sitting idle, though. After Theon brings her a meal, she leans on him to light a candle in the broken tower, just like the tough ol’ broad told her to do back in “Kill the Boy.” Theon is resistant—Reek rhymes with “weak,” after all—but he agrees. He stalks through one of Winterfell’s courtyards while snow falls all around him in a series of striking shots. He does indeed climb a tower, but then the show pulls a Silence of the Lambs on us, as it ends up he was climbing the one where Ramsay hangs out so he could tattle on Sansa to his master.
Outside the walls of Winterfell, Brienne waits to see a light in the broken tower, but it doesn’t come. Incidentally, this is the only appearance Brienne makes in the episode, yet her story warranted an entire line in HBO’s official synopsis. HBO: you never know what it’s gonna do.
It appears that Ramsay doesn’t keep Sansa confined to her bedroom 24/7, as we next see her join her husband on the Winterfell battlements for a chat amid the falling snow. There’s a lot of snow in this episode—winter sure took it’s sweet time, but it appears to finally be coming. The two make what’s going to have to pass for romantic banter in their marriage—i.e. Ramsay smiles like he just dissected a live raccoon while Sansa looks for good places to shove him over the railing—and Sansa picks up some kind of trinket once Ramsay’s back is turned. I couldn’t tell what is was. Any ideas?
Anyway, Ramsay fills Sansa in on Stannis’ approach and how his army is probably stuck in the blizzard right now. After the conversation turns toward Ramsay’s eventual wardenship of the North, Sansa decides it’s time to start playing a few mind games. She points out that Fat Walda’s pregnancy could result in a male heir who’ll displace Ramsay. It’s a convincing argument that unsettles the former bastard, but he definitively gains the upper hand once he reveals the raw, flayed body of the tough ol’ broad who’d been sneaking Sansa messages since her arrival at Winterfell. Her plan foiled before it began, Sansa bites back tears as she’s escorted to her chamber.
A little further south, Stannis’ army is indeed stuck in the blizzard, but as HBO’s synopsis hilariously projected, the one true King of Westeros “remains stubborn.” Davos recommends he take his entire army back to Castle Black to wait out the winter, but Stannis figures that if he doesn’t conquer the Seven Kingdoms now, he’s never gonna get around to it.
But don’t worry, Stannis! Melisandre has a one-size-fits-all answer to your problem: just kill your kid. You know, the cute little scamp that the show has gone out of its way to make extra appealing this year. Oh, Game of Thrones, you pathologically cruel murder goddess. Melisandre figures that sacrificing Shireen will help with the war effort—after all, burning a couple of leeches fat with Gendry’s blood killed a couple of kings. Shireen is so chock-full of king’s blood that it’ll probably blow Winterfell right off the map. To his credit, Stannis refuses to murder his own daughter, although we should all be afraid for her, and should maybe start a pointless letter-writing campaign to keep her alive.
Back at Castle Black, Maester Aemon breathes his last. As a consolation, he goes out with a beautiful line taken directly from the books. “Egg, I dreamed I was old.” I’m a bitter cynic of a recapper, but I think I can squeeze out a tear or two for that one.
The next day, Sam performs the funeral rites. “He was the blood of the dragon, but now his fire has gone out. And now his watch has ended.” And now I’m getting more emotional than I thought I would. Peter Vaughan always did a lovely, understated job with this part, and even though we didn’t get Maester Aemon’s journey south with Sam and Gilly, the show still included all the things that made the character memorable. Plus, it’s nice to have someone die of natural causes on this show every once in a while.
Things just can’t stay civil at the Wall, though. A pair of Night’s Watchmen accost Gilly while she’s doing laundry, and things look like they’re going to turn ugly until Sam shows up and threatens the jackasses with his sword. And then they beat Sam bloody and look like they’re going to rape Gilly, so I guess things did turn ugly. But just as they’re about to turn even uglier, Ghost saunters up and sends the Black Brother’s running. I mean, he’s the size of a bear and looks like he means business, so I’d have run too.
Later, Gilly washes Sam’s wounds as they talk about how much he sucks at fighting. Still, his gallantry seems to have moved her, so she mounts him and takes what I’m going to assume to be his virginity right then and there. So, which sex scene was more awkward? This one or the one between Tommen and Margaery earlier this year?
Across the Narrow Sea, the slaver who kidnapped Tyrion and Jorah last week talks them up on an auction block. He exaggerates a little, telling the crowd that Jorah killed “the great Khal Drogo in single combat.” That’s salesmanship for you. Jorah gets bought pretty quickly, and Tyrion, sensing that he’s better off with Jorah than he would be elsewhere, quickly claims to also be an excellent fighter, and proves it by knocking over some bystander and beating him with a chain. Well, that wasn’t nearly as amusing as what Tyrion did to sell himself in A Dance with Dragons, but he gets bought by the same guy who bought Jorah, so it got the job done.
In Meereen, Daenerys and Daario share a night of passion, possibly the last they’ll be able to have in a while if Dany’s really going to get married to Hizdahr zo Loraq. In between rounds of doin’ it, Daario offers Dany some advice: 1) Marry me; and 2) On the day of the great games, kill the entire Meereenese ruling class. She’s not too keen on either idea, but the presence of “Dany’s contemplative theme” in the background indicates that all these political games are wearing on her.
And now, the moment that’s been a season in the making. Tyrion and Jorah prepare to battle to the death in a fighting pit. Not Daznak’s Pit, mind you—it’s more like the disappointing second cousin of Daznak’s Pit, a “lower pit” where they hold the gladiatorial semi-finals. Anyway, Daenerys is making an appearance there with Hizdahr, since it’s apparently “tradition,” and of course Jorah doesn’t waste the opportunity to show off in front of his Queen. He wipes the floor with the rest of the combatants, taking care not to kill them, before revealing himself to Daenerys. She’s about to exile him all over again, but then Tyrion steps out and introduces himself as Jorah’s “gift” (hey, there’s the title again!) and east and west finally collide. It’ll be interesting to see how these two get along going forward.
Dorne: as far south as south goes. Jaime, despite being locked away in a (very posh) prison cell, is still under the impression that he’s going to be taking Mrycella back to King’s Landing. She’s having none of it. Myrcella tells her father-uncle that she’s in love with Trystane and that this is her home now and that he’s not her dad anyway. She takes her pink frilly dress and politely storms out.
Bronn’s prison cell isn’t nearly as nice as Jaime’s, but he seems to be having more fun. He finishes singing “The Dornishman’s Wife” while the Sand Snakes listen in the next cell over, which leads to he and Tyene sharing some sexy banter. Naturally, Tyene proceeds to perform a striptease through the bars of her cell. At the same time, Bronn’s head gets woozy because of the poison that was, as expected, on the tip of the dagger Tyene cut him with in “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken.” However, Tyene gives him the antidote in exchange for an admission that she is, indeed, the most beautiful woman in the world. Well, that scene went nowhere and was shamelessly exploitative, but it’s still the best scene involving the Sand Snakes all season.
Finally, we come to King’s Landing. Lady Olenna is in the Great Sept of Baelor, looking for “the High Septon or High Sparrow or whatever bloody fool name he’s got.” The High Sparrow ends up being the guy scrubbing the floors. He overheard her tirade, which would embarrass Lady Olenna if she had any shame, which she doesn’t, which is sort of the problem.
Like Cersei, Olenna seems to be under the impression that the High Sparrow’s religious fanaticism is an act, and that he can be bargained with like other men. The High Sparrow, however, is unwilling to let Loras or Margaery go free, not even after Olenna threatens to cut off the supply of food coming to King’s Landing from the Reach. He has more leverage, and of a different kind, than Olenna expected. “You are the few and we are the many,” he tells her. “And when the many stop fearing the few…” Ominous.
Later, Olenna has a second mano-a-mano with Littlefinger, although this one’s a little more in her comfort zone. The two meet in the dilapidated remains of one of Littlefinger’s brothels, still in disrepair since the Sparrows swept through. After exchanging the traditional threats, Littlefinger implies that he has a gift (hey, there’s the title again!) for Olenna. Although he doesn’t say what it is, it’s implied that he’s the one who manipulated Olyvar into spilling the beans on Loras, and that now he’s going to tell Olenna about how Lancel can do the same for Cersei.
Meanwhile, up in the Red Keep, Tommen’s going through serious Margaery withdrawal. Usually such a sensible lad, he actually takes a page from Joffrey’s book and suggests storming the Sept and killing all the Sparrows just to free his queen. Cersei plays it cool, though, and urges him to send her to talk to the High Sparrow in his place. She promises to do whatever she can to get Margaery and Loras freed, and while of course she doesn’t mean it, she does seem sincere when she tells Tommen that she would do anything to keep him from harm.
Cersei keeps her word in a nominal sense by visiting Margaery underneath the Sept, and even keeps up appearances by bringing her dinner and remarking on the unacceptable conditions of her cell. Still, it’s all Cersei she can do to keep from grinning and clicking her heels together in mid-air, and Margaery isn’t buying it. “Get out, you hateful bitch!” she screams. From the way Cersei smirks afterward, that was the most satisfying thing she’d heard in years.
Still, the smirk doesn’t last for long, as anyone who’s read A Feast for Crows has been eagerly anticipating. Cersei meets with the High Sparrow to discuss what’s going to happen to Margaery and Loras, and he gives an interesting speech about his faith: it should be clean, simple, and true, without vanity or finery. “What will we find when we strip away your finery?” he asks her.
Enter Lancel Lannister. He’s told the Faith all about Cersei’s dirty deeds, and if Loras and Margaery can be put away for buggery and perjury, adultery and regicide seem more than adequate to warrant a holy prison sentence. Cersei is dragged away while Lancel and the High Sparrow look on (the show is really getting its money’s worth out of Jonathan Pryce, by the way—he’s super creepy here). She finally lets that placid mask fall and starts to scream and rail, and for the first time this season, I think the producers are doing right by the Sparrow plotline. The door shuts on Cersei’s cell, and we’re out.
Odds and Ends
The short way around. It’s been interesting to watch the show grow bolder and bolder with its adaptation choices over the years. Had the show approached Jon Snow’s plotline from A Dance with Dragons with the same reverence with which it approached his plotline from A Game of Thrones, we would probably be watching Jon oversee the wildling’s migration north of the Wall, instead of seeing him go to Hardhome. And yet, I understand why the show would send him there—that’ll give it a chance to have a battle scene (one that will very likely include White Walkers), and will leave plenty of time for the Night’s Watchmen to grow surly (that was one frosty funeral this week) so they can stab Jon upon his return. The destination’s the same, but the path to get there is a little more TV-friendly.
Sansa Stark’s waking nightmare, still going strong after all these years. At the end of “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken,” Ramsay Bolton raped Sansa Stark in a scene many thought was gratuitous, repetitive, and distasteful. One of the big problems people had with it was that the scene robbed Sansa of agency, and seemed to be setting up a redemption arc for Theon rather than paying the proper respect to her experience.
I think the show will be playing out the ramifications of the rape for episodes to come, but it didn’t seem to inspire Theon to do anything new, at least not in this episode. When offered the choice to help Sansa, he immediately ran to Ramsay. Also, it’s great to see that Sansa hasn’t let the experience break her. She tried to manipulate Theon, probed Ramsay’s insecurity about his status as the true Bolton heir, and picked up whatever she picked during her walk on the Winterfell battlements, presumably so she can use it later. The idea of “Dark Sansa” seems not to have panned out, but I feel like that was something viewers constructed in their heads to begin with. I still have hope Sansa will come out of this Season scathed but triumphant.
Balon who? When Melisandre was trying to convince Stannis to kill Shireen, she held up the deaths of Robb Stark and Joffrey Baratheon as proof that her whole blood-sacrifice shtick gets results. However, she didn’t mention Balon Greyjoy, who also had a magic leech with his name on it. As far as we know, Balon’s still alive, although he hasn’t been mentioned in ages. It’s really starting to seem like the show is going to just ignore him, and the entire Iron Islands plot, entirely. Given what a stuttering mess that plot was in A Feast for Crows, I can’t say I’m displeased, but it renders all the previous footage of him oddly pointless.
Speaking of Melisandre, isn’t it amazing how she can lobby for the outright murder of a little girl and still sort of come across as a good guy? The show has done a good job of preserving the moral ambiguity of her character. Also, I thought this was a good opportunity for her to bring up the story of Lightbringer, the magic sword that gained power after its smith shoved it into his wife’s chest. The show has seemed eager to dive into the mythology from the novels this year, but it was not to be.
Tyrion (will be) back on top. This season, the show has changed up Daenerys’ story in some significant ways. First, it killed off Barristan Selmy, which eliminated the possibility of Barristan taking over for Dany once she flies away on Drogon. Now, it seems a little more clear why the show did that: it wants Tyrion to take Barristan’s place. I could be wrong, but I don’t see why the show would move up the inevitable meeting between Dany and Tyrion if it wasn’t lying the groundwork for this. Whether the producers can pull this off convincingly is another matter, but I’ll reserve judgment on that until I see episodes eight and nine.
Putting the “fun” back in “religious fundamentalism.” I’ve been complaining about the Sparrow plotline for weeks, but “The Gift” went a long way toward addressing my concerns. Mainly, I was happy with how it provided context for what the Sparrows are doing. They’re not just a random religious sect that cropped up out of nowhere without reason. They’re a group of people who have become fed up with these noble lords and ladies bickering among themselves while the common folk go hungry. We’ve witnessed the brutality of the game of thrones firsthand for several season now, and the Sparrows are looking to throw out the game board. That’s scary for our characters, and this episode got that across.
“The Gift” was an effective episode and an upgrade after last week’s uneven affair. Yes, the meeting between Daenerys and Tyrion seems a bit rushed, but it was still a cool moment, and Cersei’s storyline finally hit with the force I’ve been wanting it to all year. Overall, I think the pieces are being effectively maneuvered into place for a satisfying final chunk of episodes. Let us know what you guys thought of “The Gift” below!