'Game of Thrones' Recap: 'High Sparrow' Comes With a Bride, Blood and Blasphemy

Vows were the major theme of this week's "Game of Thrones," be they wedding vows, vows of vengeance, or promises made to the Night's Watch, Faceless Men or various gods. But much of the characters we love are learning that the metaphorical fine print of such promises can be hell to handle.

Last week's episode saw Arya Stark finally welcomed into the seeming safety of the House of Black and White. But if she thought the talents and charms of Jaqen H’ghar meant her apprenticeship would be as fun as her King's Landing "dancing lessons," she has another thing coming. Namely much menial labor like sweepings floors and…scrubbing the dead? But these tedious tasks aren't Arya's greatest hardship. To truly become "a girl" and continue in her training, she must shed her identity once and for all. And that means chucking everything she owns into the water. Even Needle.

Arya's lost a lot over the course of this show, including her family, friends, and her home. But watching her consider pitching the sword Jon Snow gave her into a watery grave, these losses hit home once more. How much must this poor girl lose? I worry that hiding Needle among a crumbled rock wall will come back to bite her, but all the same I'm glad she did it. I'm not ready to let go of that little sword either.

Speaking of Jon Snow, he's still at Castle Black sparring with Stannis Baratheon on what's best for Westeros. Snow is inherently humble, and so doesn't fully grasp what influence his Stark name could bring to Stannis' cause. Even if he does fully grasp that, Jon's all tied up in his Night's Watch loyalty, believing his place is at Castle Black. With the White Walkers coming, the Wildlings king killed, and the Boltons flaying folk left and right in the North, Jon's efforts at Castle Black seem like rearranging the lawn furniture on the Titanic, don't they?

Thankfully, Davos gets where I'm coming from. He spells out that the purpose of Jon's vows are to dedicate himself to protecting the realms of men. And maybe just maybe, getting Stannis on the throne is the best way to do that. It's food for thought for sure. But while Jon takes his sweet time pondering, he doles out some justice to his enemies, including that big mouthed and cowardly Janos Slynt.

During the Battle of Castle Black, Slynt slunk away from the wall and hid himself with Gilly and her baby, as Sam helpfully recapped last week. But when Jon announces plans to ship him to a different Night's Watch post, the former Commander of the City Watch starts writing checks his ass can't cash. Slynt really must assume everyone operates on the same level of bullshit as he does, because he doesn't seem to truly recognize his situation until his head is literally on the chopping block. As for Jon, he's come full circle.

In the series premiere, he witnessed his father Ned execute a Night's Watch deserter, and take in the Of Mice And Men lesson of it all. Now, it's Jon's turn. And unlike his brother Rob, this beheading is less likely to hurt him in the long run. If anything, his decisiveness seems to have earned him some newfound respect amongst the Crows, including recently promoted Alliser Thorne.

Onto vows of vengeance, Sansa's new steely demeanor understandably crumbles into tears and threats of a hunger strike, when Littlefinger reveals his plan to wed her to vile sadist Ramsay Bolton. Being urged to marry into the family that murdered her mother, brother and sister-in-law, I wouldn't have blamed Sansa is she had opted for hurling herself right off that cliff. But Littlefinger gives Sansa a stranger sliver of hope, suggesting there's more to this marriage plot than meets the eye, "There's no justice in this world. Not unless we make it. You loved your family? Avenge them."

After so much time placating Joffrey, Sansa should be able to hide her hatred fairly well. But she might have an unexpected ally at Moat Cailin. Sure, Reek née Theon Greyjoy is a shadow of the cocky Stark buddy he was way back in season one. But he's been getting a lot of horrified close ups, which must be building to a turn. There's something in his eyes that tells us Theon is not all gone. He may have been disowned by his blood, and dismembered by his master. But as we saw when he heard of Rob Stark's death last season, Theon still feels for the family that raised him.

Here's my prediction: Ramsay stays true to his word and won't lay a harmful finger on Sansa. However, that lethally jealous lover Myranda made no such promises. Considering the look she gave Sansa upon her arrival, I suspect she'll try to maim or murder Sansa, who will be saved by Theon. I don't suspect the series will give Theon a whole redemption arc, more a flawed moment of heroics that'll likely get him killed. But as long as he actually does save Sansa, I'm good with that.

Of course, Theon isn't the only Stark friend looking out for Sansa. Perched high above she and Littlefinger's caravan are the loyal-to-a-fault duo, Brienne and Podrick. Both are still true to their vows, no matter how little the world seems to care. For all the political maneuvering this episode was packed with, I was grateful for a moment of blistered bonding between these two.

First Pod shares the story of how he came to be Tyrion's squire. Then Brienne reveals how she came to fall for Renly Baratheon. I loved that Podrick refused to feel ashamed of his story, embarrassed and regretful sure. His lord was killed. But he's glad he was given to Tyrion, and he's happy to now be serving under a "knight" he admires.

As for Brienne, her heartbreaking story of a ball gone bad gives a new depth to her unrequited love for Renly. Brienne's eye-roll when Pod basically says, "You know he was gay, right?" is priceless. But moreover, it gives Brienne's love a kind of chaste dignity. She always knew Renly wouldn't be hers. But he was kind when he didn't have to be. She loved and admired him for that. Her failure to save him still stings, but Brienne plans to avenge him yet!

R.I.P Renly. You were better than we realized.

Brienne is not alone in a failed vow fermenting into self-loathing. Having escaped the confines of his carriage, Tyrion briefly seems like his old self, mocking the zealots of the market place, mischievously mouthing off to men twice his size, and flirting with funny whores. But memories of Shae haunt him too intensely to revert fully to his old impish ways, and he flees for a piss and a moment to himself. Of course this is interrupted by another oath breaker, Jorah Mormont!

Having been cast out of the castle of his beloved Queen, Daenerys Targaryen, where could Jorah possibly go? Apparently a brothel where Dany's silver hair and blue dresses (well, actually those was so last season) are inspiring kinky cosplay. What a special hell that must be for this twice-disgraced knight! And what joy must have filled Jorah's heart, what hope, when he saw the hated Half-Man within reach. Bringing Tyrion to Dany is surely meant to be Jorah's big romantic gesture, his boombox blasting Peter Gabriel. But from the horrified look Tyrion gave at hearing, "I'm taking you to the Queen," Dany is not the royal he fears.

For all that went on in this episode, it might be Cersei whose plot got the most screen time. First, we see her approaching the Sept to see her second son marry Margaery Tyrell, and on the way she's treated to a chorus of adoring subjects. Oh, not adoring her though. The masses are all about "Queen Margaery."

The wedding itself is a pretty dull affair. No murders. No mocking of the royal guests. Just much smiling and finery meriting little screen time.

Yet Cersei has reason to worry. She fears eternally for the safety of her children. And while Jaime is off rescuing their daughter from Dorne (no update on that this episode), Cersei is keeping close to Tommen. But Margaery's had enough of her undermining and side-eye, and begins manipulating Tommen to send Cersei away from King's Landing before their consummation sheets are cold.

From her introduction in Season 2, we've known that Margaery has her eye on the throne. (The ep's funniest moment was definitely when she feigned finding it strange to be called "Queen Margaery. As if this hasn't been her internal mantra for ages.) But Margaery's active deviousness has been hard to suss out--until now. She's using Tommen's love for his mother as a tool, "sweetly" suggesting Cersei might be happier away from this particular castle. Already, she's got King Tommen whipped.

But don't expect Cersei to go away without a fight. When she spoke with Margaery, you could see real fear in her face. And a scared Cersei is an irrational and dangerous Cersei. She will not be separated from her son, and as we've seen many times before she is merciless in getting her way. As such, I can't imagine her sudden interest in the Sparrows reflects a renewed faith in The Seven. Could the High Sparrow, whom this episode is named for, become the latest pawn in Cersei's play? And what might this mean for King's Landing?

Here's hoping we'll get some answers next week.

Random Thoughts:

  • How many dead husbands does Margaery have to accrue before the people of Westeros starting calling her Black Widow?
  • "Did I hurt you?...It all happened so fast!" Oh, Tommen. You're so sweet. When you die (he has to, right?), I hope it's quick. That's about the best I suspect we can wish for in your case.
  • "Do you think she's intelligent? I can't quite tell?" / "I wish we has some wine for you. It's a bit early in the day for us." Cersei versus Margaery is my favorite "Game of Thrones" rivalry. Hands down.
  • Littlefinger tells Sansa to stop being "a bystander to tragedy," and basically get in the game. The writers are prepping us for a big power play I think. I'm pulling for something that will make all the Sansa haters out there eat their words.
  • "I'm proud to be your squire…If you didn't snap at me, I wouldn't learn anything." Podrick is the "Game of Thrones" character most likely to be a Golden Book hero "The Little Podrick That Could."
  • "He saved me from being a joke." Awe.
  • "Honor got your father killed." Ouch.
  • Westeros News headline: High Septon Indulges In Bawdy Blasphemy!
  • Note the High Sparrow does not apologize for the attack on the High Septon. He may look mild, but that move speaks to a dangerous zeal.
  • The Mountain was terrifying before he was the Frankenstein's monster of Westeros. What is going on beneath that sheet, Qyburn?
  • The preacher in Essos speaks of Dany as the Lord Of Light's savior, while up at the Wall, Melisandre says Stannis is his champion. What does this mean?
  • "This I can't do. Believe me, no one is more surprised that I am. I hope it passes. What will I do with my free time?" Let this be his Emmy submission for season five.
  • And for a bit of fun:

Kristy Puchko is a film critic, entertainment journalist and co-host of the movie review video podcast Popcorn and Prosecco.

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