There are some things that are universal human desires- things that every person intrinsically wants, independent of any outside influence. Chocolate milk. Foot massages. Snow that tastes like coconut. All cats wearing hats at all times. I could go on, but you get the idea. When it comes to Game of Thrones, the phenomenon is no different. There are certain things that all fans of the show place at the top of their list of “things we really really really want to see happen.” Some of these desires have already materialized: Joffrey turning blue (because of asphyxiation, not because he ate an experimental blueberry pie-flavoured candy); Tywin being bolted like the dickens while on the John. Some of them we’re still hoping for: Ramsay drowning slowly in a vat of diarrhea produced by a flock of English bulldogs who’ve been drinking a lot of sour milk; Jorah being cured of Greyscale by Stephen Hawking and then being proclaimed Most Awesome Chairman of the Multiverse. The list goes on. But the longest-tenured of our universal fan desires has been to see Cersei Lannister get hit in the face by a big steaming bowl of comeuppance. With “The Gift,” our dream finally came true, as the episode’s climax saw Cersei tossed into a religious dungeon for, you know, all that incest and murder and such. When this whole High Sparrow business got going, I remarked that Cersei plotting to have her enemies arrested for sexual deviancy was probably a sword with more edges than the manufacturer’s recommended number of edges. Like, two edges, at the very least, I guess. Whatever, so this week, Cersei’s schemes proved too edgy for her, and this is one case where I am ecstatic to be able to say “I told you so!”
This cathartic payoff has been a long time coming, and I think most of us knew that Cersei’s unmitigated arrogance had reached a breaking point this season. Throughout the show’s run, she has been by far the boldest and most vicious character, but not the most cunning (that title goes to the superstar tag-team of Olenna Tyrell and Petyr Baelish, obviously). She has pursued her ambitions with an unapologetic single-mindedness, which is in many ways admirable. But she has always been too focused on her own prestige, too impulsive and spiteful, and she has absolutely never had a good sense of her own limitations. With Tywin no longer around to keep her in check, it seemed inevitable that she would overextend her reach and fall flat on her face. She is, after all, the most hated person in all of Westeros. Other ruthless and despotic characters--Roose, Stannis, Baelish, hell, even Tywin and Ramsay--all of them have still had the good sense to cultivate allies, and to treat them as allies (for the most part) instead of as subjects. Her famous “power is power” moment with Baelish in Season One was a magnificent piece of sardonic wit, but it also succinctly demonstrated Cersei’s most debilitating flaw: she is the only character in the series who honestly subscribes to the self-delusion that she has achieved her position in the titular game entirely on her own, and who has steadfastly refused to recognize the importance of bargaining, cooperation, and compromise. And when you spend your life treating absolutely everyone around you like shit, chances are that when you find yourself backed into a corner, they’ll be more likely to kick you in the shins and twist your nipple than to help you out. We might even say that Cersei and Dany are intentionally presented as foils for each other this season: the lessons on ruling that Dany has learned over the course of Season Five are the very same lessons that Cersei has never learned (even with Tywin last season and Olenna this season trying to hammer them home).
Can we talk about Gilly and Sam for a minute? It’s no secret that I’ve never really liked either of these characters, or their awkward semi-romance. And yet, somehow, after “The Gift” (Ha! I just realized that the episode title could refer to Gilly giving Sam the gift of sweaty lovin’, in addition to Jorah’s “gift” of Tyrion), I don’t hate them quite so much. It could be because this is the most we’ve ever seen either of them act like real people instead of flimsy archetypes flailing about on a string. Sam dealing with the death of Maester Aemon is quite touching, and serves as a kind of reaffirmation that he does in fact play a part in the Night’s Watch besides “bumbling sidekick.” And of course, it’s always satisfying to see a sweet and kind person like Sam stand up to bullies, even if he does get the bejeezus beaten out of him. I also feel like the writers have done a better job this season playing up Gilly’s no-nonsense pragmatism against Sam’s wistful idealism. In previous seasons, they both just seemed like naïve cupcakes. Now at least Gilly is played more as a sheltered but still a world-wise foil to Sam’s complete practical inexperience (though not quite so “inexperienced” anymore! Amirite? Amiriiiiiiite?). And let’s be honest, we all laughed at John Bradley’s excellent delivery of “oh my!” A hilariously honest expression of a nervous virgin being introduced to the wonderful world of interconnected genitals for the first time. It might be that Sam and Gilly will win me over yet. Addendum: wait a minute, where was little Sam (the baby, not the pet-named penis) while all this hot awkward sex was going on? OH GOD HE WAS IN THE ROOM, WASN’T HE!? WHY!?!?!?!
Hands down, the most satisfying scene of the episode came when Olenna and Petyr had a conspirators’ heart-to-heart in King’s Landing. These are the two most devious characters in the show, and even though we already knew that they were behind last season’s well-deserved and much-lauded regicide, it was great to finally have them come together to confirm that they are indeed the two premier players in this crazy ol’ game of thrones. The most intriguing bit of this is how honest Baelish has been with Cersei and Olenna about Sansa. It seems almost unthinkable, given how often we’ve been reminded that Petyr was obsessively devoted to Catelyn (and how he clearly sees Sansa as a proxy Catelyn), that he would actually betray her. But with Littlefinger, there’s always some doubt, right? My gut instinct tells me he’ll wind up using the Knights of the Vale to bolster an otherwise shaky Stannis offensive at Winterfell, then march with Stannis on King’s Landing. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves aren’t we?
I am cautiously optimistic about Jorah’s chances of achieving some kind of happiness before he goes crazy from Greyscale. Dany’s interest seems to have been piqued by Tyrion, and we can only hope that she’ll be grateful (and that Tyrion doesn’t let her know that he was on his way to Meereen anyway before Jorah kidnapped him). My heart has done nothing but ache for poor Jorah since he was exiled last season, and all I really want at this point is for Dany to forgive him and acknowledge how important he has always been to her cause. As long as I get at least that, I’ll be able to grit my teeth and forgive the showrunners if Jorah winds up dying a tragic Greyscale-related death before he has a chance to fulfill his destiny by beating every single person in Westeros in a combination arm wrestling/guitar solo contest to be proclaimed king.
So, hey guys: Dorne! Yeah… Dorne… Are we having fun there yet? Honestly, when Jaime and Bronn set out on what I assumed was going to be an awesome bromantic laugh-filled spy mission, I was not expecting it to be quite so goddamned BORING. That being said, what even was the ridiculous jailhouse seduction scene we saw in this episode? I mean, I guess it was kind of fun and titillating, but ultimately it felt pointless. I’m all for looking at boobs and all. Boobs are some of the best things to look at. But this felt kind of weird and creepy. Is it somehow vitally important that we know Tyene is hella vain and Bronn is a sucker for a pretty face (and exposed breasts)? Or is this just another ham-fisted example of men writing a female character who is “strong” because of her “sexuality” (read: she gets naked and she don’t even care, brah!). This reminds me of the deeply ridiculous and patently exploitative opening episode of Sherlock’s second season, where Steven Moffat tried to sell the audience on the tired idea that sexual objectification is empowering if women do it to themselves. I mean, even if we accept that premise, this is a trope that has been done to death. And every time I see it, I lean more and more towards thinking that this is just a flimsy excuse for gratuitous nudity. But hey, it’s not like Benioff and Weiss have ever relied on gratuitous exploitation material to drive interest in the show, rig- sorry I can’t even keep a straight face while typing that, let alone saying it.
The last thing to mention about “The Gift,” and another kind of “I told you so!” moment: Theon totally betrays the hell out of Sansa. This actually infuriates me. What the hell was the point of focusing on Theon’s pain during Sansa’s rape in “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken,” if it didn’t actually do anything to embolden his resistance to Ramsay? If Theon is going to remain Ramsay’s trained animal forever, then the showrunners’ choice to make the rape scene about him instead of about the person actually being raped, is even more grotesque and inexplicable. We already knew Theon was utterly broken and beholden to Ramsay’s will. Using the brutal rape of Sansa just to tease the possibility that Theon might finally snap out of it, only to immediately squash this possibility, is sadistic and, to be honest, artistically bankrupt. Benioff and Weiss’ track record on meaningful narrative treatment of sexual violence is, well, deranged. But this is just unconscionably awful. I had a feeling that dubious choice to focus on Theon during the rape would wind up being meaningless. I wanted desperately to be wrong. I wanted the showrunners to have at least a smidge more tact than that. And yet, here we are…