television -> Game of Thrones 503 recap/ review

Game of Thrones 503 recap/ review

High Sparrow


Recaps have spoilers regarding “Game of Thrones” as well as “A Song of Ice and Fire.”

After an anticlimactic conclusion last week, director Mark Mylod (Ali G Indahouse, What’s Your Number?) opens his first “Game of Thrones” episode looking directly down a dark, circular chasm/ well. The rest of the room has the same air of spooky to it and finally the camera rests on Arya Stark sweeping the floor.  This is the House of Black and White. She looks over at the well where not Jaqen H’ghar offers a suffering man a bowl of water from the well and they exchange the Braavosi traditional greeting/ parting/ general expression, “Valar Dohaeris.” “Valar Morghulis.” Viewers of season four will remember the HBO advertising campaign “Valar Morghulis—All Men Must Die” for the bloody, violent ten-episode run that saw many shocking deaths. Arya sets her broom aside to complain to her mentor. “I’ve been sweeping this floor for days… I didn’t come here to sweep the floors.” Jaqen asks her why she even appeared at all to which Arya responds that he told her he would train her as his apprentice.  The Faceless Man then reminds her of the first half of the expression. “Valar Dohaeris, all men must serve.”  Arya expresses a desire to serve, but her mentor says she only serves herself and not the many-faced god. It looks like this isn’t the glamorous life of violence she expected. Arya can’t figure which is the correct deity in the temple, though she recognizes most.  Jaqen reminds her that she already knows the god’s name—something Syrio Forel, the First Sword of Braavos, taught her in King’s Landing during the first season—Death.  Although neither character breathes the word “death,” Jaqen declares that all men know his “gift.” As her mentor leaves the room, Arya looks down at the corpse of the suffering man who drank from the bowl Jaqen offered him. A few cloaked men enter the room to retrieve the dead man’s body. A passerby ignores Arya’s inquiry of where the men will take the body.  A door closes on Arya and she stands alone in the silence.

In King’s Landing, a caravan of servants carrying boxed carriage through streets heads up a flight of stairs.  Cersei sits in hers with the same stern look and loathes the crowd’s shouts of admiration for Queen Margaery.  Has the witch’s predicament from Cersei’s flashback in “The Wars to Come” partially come to fruition? Seemingly. A voiceover provides Tommen and Margaery’s wedding vows until the camera takes us into the chapel, returning to a familiar shot from last season’s “The Lion and the Rose” of a Baratheon king kissing his Queen Margaery with Cersei between them in the far background.  The crowd applauds and even Cersei manages a smile as the camera quickly jets past the ceremony and straight to the king and queen right after they’ve consummated the marriage. Not even Joffrey got that far. Third husband’s a charm for the former daughter of House Tyrell.  Tommen wants to go again, but Margaery wants to pace things and talk. Margaery complements her husband’s performance, but quickly slips into manipulation mode.  Is it that easy to control a boy king? Yes. Tommen notes that he’s “married the most beautiful woman in the world” because his brother died.  It may be a throw-away line, but it corroborates the witch’s premonition from Cersei’s flashback from “The Wars to Come.” Tommen oddly doesn’t feel guilty and changes the subject to sailing. Margaery manages to mention Cersei and plants a few seeds of dissension in the Queen Mother’s son. 
Royal Wedding

Naturally, the next scene features Tommen with the other woman vying for his control, Cersei. They walk about King’s Landing as her arm holds her son’s.  Cersei takes a few obvious digs at Tommen’s new bride (Margaery is far more subtle and less loquacious) before Tommen brings up Casterly Rock out of the blue. Cersei can’t understand why Tommen brings it up because she says there’s nothing left for her at the Lannister family castle and that her life is in the capital with her son.  Tommen can’t understand Cersei’s reasoning because the only words she says about the city are complaints.  She always said “King’s Landing smells of horse dung and sour milk.” You can practically hear Margaery putting these ideas in Tommen’s noggin. He just wants his mother to be happy, and Cersei recognizes this in her son.  However, she also recognizes when somebody has manipulated her son—because that’s exactly how she wields power. We stay with Cersei as the two women struggling to control the king meet. Cersei interrupts Margaery gossiping about her new sex life with the king.  “Mother!” Margaery happily exits the table to embrace a frigid Cersei.  These women are on two ends of the same spectrum, fighting toward the middle from opposite ends with different means.  Margaery has to kiss ass in addition to perpetually feigning happiness, whereas Cersei has no problem wearing her emotions and offending others. “I wish we had some wine for you. It’s a bit early in the day for us.” Margaery calls her mother-in-law a wino before Cersei understands it. Cersei offers to help, but Margaery merely suggests she’s only tired from all the sex she’s had with Tommen.  The new queen asks the old one what title she prefers, but Cersei says it’s all too formal.  Margaery states it won’t matter because “the Queen Mother will be a Queen Grandmother” soon enough. Cersei interrupts her to again offer her help in regard to any matter, but make no mistake; it’s really a veiled threat. When Cersei leaves, Margaery turns and smirks at her handmaidens.  As Cersei treads away, she hears all of them laughing at her expense.  A week before, she could have had them all silenced.

A group of soldiers from House Bolton ride through the North with Winterfell before them. Reek (Alfie Allen in his seasonal debut) walks through his former home during his days as Theon Greyjoy. He stops and sees two flayed men hanging.  What could have been, perhaps? A cart with more flayed men rests next to Theon as a raven lands on one of the bodies.  Is it Bran? Bloodraven? The scene heads deeper into Winterfell with the Bolton boys’ season five debut. “We can’t hold the North with terror alone,” says Roose Bolton (Michael McElhatton). It seems Roose charged Ramsey with collecting taxes among the lords of the North, but these lords are fiercely loyal to the Starks, so Ramsey ended up flaying all of them.  Reek serves them without a word. Ramsey devours his food through this scene, with Roose even asking him to stop and listen.  However, Roose never eats in this scene. Could he be a vampire? Ramsey believes their pact with the Lannisters will keep them safe, but Roose wisely points out that the pact involved Tywin and that they’ll need Northern houses to keep their hold.  Lord Bolton explains that marriage—not flaying—is their key to prosperity.  He has the perfect candidate for his son, now that Ramsey bears the Bolton name.  Reek hears every word as the camera turns to Sansa Stark, who the camera would lead us to believe is Ramsey’s betrothed.  This is a gigantic deviation from source material as Ramsey Bolton is instead betrothed to Sansa’s friend, Jeyne or “Not Arya”, in A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons.

House Bolton 

Sansa and Littlefinger lead the soldiers of House Arryn into the North. Littlefinger explains the marriage proposal he’s talked about this season involves not himself, but Sansa and Ramsey Bolton.  Sansa wants nothing to do with this as the Boltons are murderous traitors. Littlefinger points out that this is an opportunity for Sansa to quit her life as a “bystander” and “make justice” by avenging her family.  He won’t make her do anything she doesn’t want to do, but this is a delicious opportunity for Sansa to take her home, Winterfell, back. Sansa mounts her horse which means she accepts Littlefinger’s plan.  As they leave, the camera pans to an overlooking cliff where Brienne and Pod have tracked them. Brienne says they’ll have to go on a roundabout path, but that she doesn’t need to track them because she understands where they’re headed.  We stay with these two as they build camp. The tall knight kicks off the conversation with asking Podrick how he came into Tyrion’s service.  Podrick tells Brienne he was a squire for a knight who drunkenly “borrowed” a ham. They were caught and sentenced to be hanged, but Tywin recognized that Podrick was from House Payne, spared him, and appointed him to Tyrion. Brienne guesses that the sentencing was to punish both Tyrion and Pod, but he suggests it never seem that way—he’s always served kind people.  Brienne suggests that he probably doesn’t care for her; however, Pod points out that he’s proud to serve her. “You’re the best fighter I’ve ever seen. You beat the Hound.”  Podrick Payne may not be a dangerous knight, but he’s knows enough from his days in King’s Landing with Tyrion and on the road with Brienne. She tells her squire that she can’t knight him, but she can train with the sword and on the saddle. As Podrick takes her armor off of her clothes, he asks how she came into Lord Renly’s service.  Brienne tells a story of her childhood when several boys picked on her and Renly saved her from becoming a joke.  She maintains that she’ll avenge Renly, but Podrick wants to know how she can fight a shadow—referring to the second season death of Renly by the hand of a shadow creature that resembled Stannis Baratheon. Brienne states that a man—Stannis—can be killed.

Stannis and Davos enter Jon’s quarters in the next room where Jon introduces them to Oly, his new squire.  Jon kindly thanks Stannis for the offer but insists his place is in the Night’s Watch now that they’ve elected him Lord Commander.  Stannis points out everything that Jon turns down: vengeance for his family, Winterfell, and subsequently ruling the North as Jon Stark. Jon wishes he could fight for Stannis, but points out that he took a sacred oath to serve the Night’s Watch. Stannis insults Jon’s honor and compares it to Ned’s.  Instead of retaliating, Jon asks how long the Baratheon men are staying as winter is coming and they’re running out of reserves. Stannis announces he’ll soon march on Winterfell, and that they should treat with Tormund as to what to do with the wildlings.  Stannis leaves, suggesting Jon sends Thorne out to Eastwatch-by-the-Sea because they’re enemies. Davos sticks around and tries to ease Jon into Stannis’ way of thinking. He tells them they are the shield of all the realms of men and that maybe they should leave the wall to fight and become that shield.  In the House of Black and White, Arya and the passerby from earlier chat.  She taunts Arya before not Jaqen arrives and points out that Arya is still Arya because she’s kept all of her old belongings. We then see Arya with a completely new look as she casts her belongings—Braavosi coin included—into the sea.  She holds and contemplates her sword, Needle—a departing gift from Jon in the first season—but ultimately keeps it, hiding the sword in some boulders. We stay with her as the camera takes us back inside where she sweeps the floor again. A few monks carry another body out and when they leave the room, she looks in that direction with curiosity until that curiosity is interrupted by Jaqen. He leads her down a series of stairs, deep into the temple, until he leaves her in a room with the girl who had earlier taunted her.  A body lies on a slab and the girl reaches for his clothes to undress the corpse.  Arya understands the lesson and dives in to help the other girl without a word.  When they finally undress the body, the other girl begins to wash the body.  “What do we do with them after we wash them?” Arya asks. The girl looks at Arya, but never replies.  When a response isn’t given, she grabs a brush and assists her silent companion.


Arryn soldiers enter Winterfell with Lord Baelish and Sansa leading the party. Sansa dismounts her steed to look Roose Bolton in the eye for the first time since he murdered Robb in “The Reins of Castamere.” Sansa hasn’t been in Winterfell since she left in the first season. She reigns in her anger, and bows to greet him.  She meets Ramsey as the camera pans to five women standing off to the side. We recognize one as Ramsey’s consort from last season, but the others are a mystery. Could they be Mance Rayder’s spearwives from A Dance with Dragons?  An old woman leads Sansa to her chambers and leaves her with a cryptic message. “Welcome home, Lady Stark. The North remembers.”  A little farther north, we return to Castle Black yet again as Jon broods before a meeting. Sam tells him that Aemon can’t attend because he’s fallen and Jon charges his friend with looking after the old maester before addressing the brothers. Against Stannis’ advice of sending him to Eastwatch, Jon names Alliser Thorne as first ranger because he’s proven his abilities many times and Benjen hasn’t returned.  The men take to this idea as Jon then gives command of Grey Guard to Janos Slynt, who simultaneously rejects the order and insults him, considering it beneath a former knight of King’s Landing to garrison a ruin.  Jon gives him a chance to save face, but Slynt convinces himself that a few others have his back and tells the Lord Commander to stick his order “up his bastard arse.” Jon commands the men to take Janos outside and calls Olly to fetch Longclaw. All the men rise and Edd approaches Janos as Thorne stands between them.  Slynt, having followed Thorne for almost three seasons, thinks the newly-christened First Ranger will defend him.  Thorne steps aside and the brothers drag Slynt outside to the courtyard for a public execution. Jon finishes the ale in his mug and is the last brother outside. Olly waits patiently with Longclaw as Jon accepts it and approaches Slynt. Jon gives Slynt a chance for final words then quietly contemplates executing a brother of the Night’s Watch with his Valyrian steel sword exactly like Ned in the pilot episode, “Winter is Coming.” Slynt cops to being “afraid” and begs for mercy before Jon executes him, avenging Ned in the process by killing his father’s betrayer. He looks up at Stannis who nods in approval. 

In King’s Landing, the High Septon kneels naked in Littlefinger’s brothel as Olyvar presents him with seven prostitutes from which to choose for a bizarre religious fetish. Several monks interrupt the act and arrest the High Septon for his sins. As they lead him naked through the streets, everyone in the crowd directs a “Sinner!” toward the septon.  Qyburn and Mace Tyrell question why he was found in Littlefinger’s brothel when the High Septon visits the small council to complain about a new religious fanatic in the capital.  After a flimsy alibi, Pycelle insists a man’s business is private. Figures. The High Septon asks that Cersei execute the “High Sparrow,” but she wants to know where this man is before making a final judgment. We stay with Cersei as she visits the impoverished streets of the capital. She and some Kingsguard follow a soup line to the High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce), who serves the soup. He doesn’t care for his nickname, but accepts it nonetheless. “It’s only a name. An easy burden to bare.” He assumes that Cersei is there to arrest him for arresting the High Septon, but he shows no shame, calling the act “lancing a boil.” She tells the mysterious newcomer that the High Septon wanted him executed, but she instead imprisoned the humiliated religious leader below the Red Keep because she agrees with the ruling. Then in Qyburn’s laboratory, Cersei instructs Qyburn to send a raven to Littlefinger and asks about the progress of his “project.” “Still a way to go,” he replies.  She exits the lab, leaving Qyburn to his work. The camera lingers with Qyburn as the covered corpse on the slab behind him shakes and rattles beneath a sheet, strapped to the slab.  The last corpse we saw on that slab belonged to Ser Gregor Clegane, “The Mountain That Rides.” Qyburn shushes the body as the camera fades. 


Sansa walks through the courtyard of Winterfell and without recognizing Reek.  Perhaps Jeyne Poole’s story will get swept up into hers?  Littlefinger and Ramsay look on at her from above. Ramsey promises not to hurt his future bride as Littlefinger says he’s heard very little about him—a rare thing. Roose interrupts and excuses his son for a walk-and-talk with Littlefinger. Baelish assures Lord Bolton that Sansa remains a virgin, but Bolton clearly states his sole interest is the girl’s name.  They talk about the potential Lannister reaction to Ramsey marrying Tyrion’s wife, but Littlefinger states the Lannister name died with Tywin and that the last time the lords of the North and the lords of the Eyrie combined forces, they overthrew a dynasty— the Targaryens. “Every ambitious move is a gamble,” states Littlefinger.  It seems Lord Baelish wrapped everyone around his little finger. He requests a raven to reply to Cersei. “I would like to read that reply,” states Bolton, still not sold on their alliance. Speaking of Sansa’s husband, the camera then hops all the way to the Varys and Tyrion’s stagecoach where cabin fever appears to have struck. Varys warns him that many people could recognize him in such a vast city as Volantis. “I will not be of any use to Daenerys Targaryen if I lose my mind!” Tyrion declares. We stay with this odd couple and follow them through a slave market—on foot and outside of the box. They fall upon a red priestess (Rila Fukushima) preaching the same message of R’hllor as Melisandre to a crowd. Varys immediately feels uncomfortable (viewers recall his aversion to magic), but Tyrion makes light of the whole situation because the red priestess preaches that Daenerys is Azor Ahai. “We’re going to meet the savior!” Tyrion sarcastically jests as the crowd gets silent and the priestess stares directly at him.

They exit for a brothel where they spot a prostitute dressed and looking like Daenerys. “It appears you’re not the only Targaryen supporter.” Tyrion’s sense of humor never left.  The camera jumps across the room to a man, Jorah Mormont,resting his mug. When Tyrion sees the Daenerys lookalike is drumming up business across the room, he seeks out another woman.  He charms a prostitute into an arrangement, but when it’s time to go to bed, he just can’t do it.  Obviously killing Shae, his former love and a former prostitute, last season in “The Children” for the shocking season finale still weighs heavily on his conscience. He excuses himself to urinate, ditching Varys.  As Tyrion urinates off of a window, Mormont sneaks up and ties the youngest Lannister sibling for a hostage. “I’m taking you to the queen!” Abrupt end.  “High Sparrow” seriously raised the stakes for season five.  With a rather stagnant couple of episodes to open the season, this week’s episode advanced several storylines. Margaery wed Tommen and may subsequently be pregnant. Jon proved his word to the brothers and Stannis while exacting revenge at the Wall when he beheaded Slynt.  Sansa finally returned to Winterfell to begin her course of revenge on the Boltons.  A man formerly known as Jaqen promoted Arya from sweeping duties to dead guy duties (to quote Nacho Libre)at the House of Black and White. The High Septon met public humiliation, prompting Cersei to meet the High Sparrow and set the wheels in motion for an arrangement.  Brienne and Pod have an idea where to find Sansa and Jorah abducted Tyrion to present to “the queen.” Daenerys and Jaime were absent this week, but one wonders how the ten episode absence of Bran will affect the series’ dynamic once he returns, but was that raven squawking at Reek an indication of his presence?

Keywords: Game of Thrones, High Sparrow, recap, review, HBO, Westeros, A Song of Ice and Fire
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