'Game of Thrones' Recap: 'The Gift' Brings Us Pleasure and Pain

Last week, "Game of Thrones" delivered one of the most controversial episodes in the show's history, incurring the wrath of many fans. I was one of those who felt sucker-punched by the rape of Sansa Stark. (Yes, it's a rape. We're not arguing about this anymore.) So, honestly, I would have been perfectly happy for "The Gift" to kick off with Winterfell in ruins, and Sansa emerging from the ashes with Ramsay's decapitated head in one hand, Theon's in the other.

But hey, if "Game of Thrones" teaches us anything, it's that we don't always get what we want. But sometimes we get moments satisfying enough to keep us sticking around. I'm more and more convinced the show's creators are sadists who relish in toying with us. This episode was a perfect example.

We begin at Castle Black, where a dynamic Jon Snow is taking on a seemingly impossible mission. He's a big, shiny hero, and it's fantastic to watch him mount up and ride off. But let's never forget what happens to big, shiny heroes, especially when they're Starks. Forget the foreshadowing of Sam's gift of dragon glass ("I hope you don't need it"). Darkness has already come to the Night's Watch, which is rife with rage over Jon's big move. His respected defender Aemon Targaryen has died ("I dreamed I was old!"), and with him goes any chance Sam had of life without further abuse.

When those two Crows began hassling Gilly, my finger itched to change the channel. Just how much sexual assault are we meant to take in one season? But Sam scared them off -- with the help of Ghost, who for no apparent reason is not accompanying Jon north of the Wall. And hey! Look, a sex scene on "Game of Thrones" that was about love and tenderness and not shock or horribleness! But don't get too comfortable, because now we travel to Winterfell.

"It can be worse."

Sansa isn't only being locked in her room every day, she's being raped every night. Every. Night. Locked in, she's forced to depend on friggin' Theon to put a candle in the tower and alert the rebels. But of course, Theon reeks it up. I wondered briefly what happened to Sansa's maid who gave her encouraging words and messages. Why didn't she send for help when she realized Sansa had been confined to her room? Well, maybe because Ramsay flayed her.

I hate that this arc has already jumped weeks, with Sansa wearing bruises and being subjected to untold pain every night. But I'm trying to look on the incredibly slim silver linings here: Sansa isn't broken. She did secure a weapon. She realizes pep-talking Theon is useless. She even takes the opportunity to repeatedly call Ramsay a bastard to his face. Her vengeance will come, so says that teasing shot of Brienne that was equal parts bitter and sweet.

My heart soared at the suggestion Brienne could come in and save Sansa, complete her vow, and kill that smug sadist Ramsay. But of course, she hasn't. She may not this season. And seeing her so close just makes the horrors of Winterfell feel all the more grotesque.

"We march to victory or we march to defeat. But we go forward. Only forward."

Speaking of another could-be Sansa rescue party that's infuriatingly inept, Stannis and his crew is running low on resources, losing troops and generally seems doomed. But hey, Melisandre's got visions. So, hang in there, baby! Of course, being the champion of the Lord of Light isn't all hot priestess sex and burning your in-laws alive. It also means child sacrifice of your beloved daughter so you can continue your insane effort to be King.

I know Melisandre's intentions toward Shireen have long been foreshadowed, what with Gendry's blood-letting and her casual attitude toward human sacrifice. But I was still hoping that maybe she had secret cool plans for Shireen, ones that would prove the girl's worth because of her talents and skills, not her bloodline. Le sigh.

"Game of Thrones" gave us some fun and nudity back in Dorne, courtesy of Bronn and the Sand Snakes. I enjoyed the sellsword turned lord's tune more than the gratuitous shots of what appears to be a teen girl's breasts.

"Get him out of my sight."

We got a bit of a win in that Jorah and Tyrion haven't been murdered by slavers, have managed to stick together and make to Meereen. Jorah's expertise in the fighting pit, swiftly knocking down -- but not out -- his contenders so he could make his way back to his Khaleesi was so beautifully done I can almost forget how weak sauce that Sand Snakes battle was last week. Of course, this isn't really a fun surprise for Dany. But once more Jorah's lame-ass plan is saved by the quick on this toes and still going strong* Tyrion, who presents himself as the titular "Gift." What this means for all three of them, we'll find out next week. I hope.

"You are the few. We are the many. And when the many stop fearing the few …"

But for all that went down in this episode, the biggest shakeups are happening once more in King's Landing, where Cersei's chickens have finally come home to roost. Watching Cersei this ep, I was reminded of when you hear about serial killers or child abductors who get away with their crimes for years, and see that as proof they are protected by the divine. Of course, Cersei believes in nothing but the power of her last name. So even when the High Sparrow repeatedly warned her that status won't protect sinners, she was all like.

I've said it before and I'll say it again and again: I love Cersei. She's atrocious on every level, but Lena Headey makes her one of the show's most watchable and endlessly engaging characters. When "Game of Thrones" does its inevitable Emmy pitch, I'd like this to be the episode submitted for Headey.

She had that beautiful scene with Tommen where she's lying up and down about how she'll make everything better and how his happiness is her No. 1 priority. Nope. Cersei's happiness is always her No. 1 priority, to the point where she's blind to its consequences. But then the wince when Tommen (all impotent rage and teen angst) wails that he loves Margaery, did you not feel for her? Maybe just a bit?

"What will we find when we strip away your finery?"

Still, it was so intensely satisfying to watch Cersei get hauled off at the Sept. Because we all got to have that "I told you so!" moment. As soon as her cousin/ex-lover/husband-killer showed up spouting off about salvation, she should have shut that down. Instead, she funded his cult. And now it's gotten her thrown in prison alongside her enemies. Her win was fleeting. I suspect her defeat will be spectacular.

Frankly, after last week, we needed this ep's final scene to feel like a victory. And this did. Of course, being "Game of Thrones," I look forward to next week's episode, but with loads of anxiety for Sunday night is dark and full of terrors.

Random Notes:

  • "You're name is Theon Greyjoy." I want Sansa to be rescued. I don't want Theon to be. He's too far gone for me to crave a redemption arc from him. Especially now that he outed her escape attempt. I'm hoping some of the show's creativity will be spent on a fitting demise for the Boltons and their pet. I just don't want it to stretch out for much longer. The Boltons have commandeered way too much screen time as is.
  • "He was the blood of the dragon, but now his fire has gone out. And now his watch has ended. " Imagine for a moment that Aemon Targaryen had not taken the black, and instead took his proper place on the Iron Throne instead of his brother, Aegon, father of the Mad King. Now imagine how often these very thoughts must have crossed his own mind.
  • Sophie Turner is killing it as Sansa. That little look of surprise (and pride?) when she hears that Jon is a Lord Commander, slays me.
  • I was just starting to like Stannis, and now we're going to have him kill his plucky unloved princess? Come on!
  • Considering the many many shots of Sand Snake boobs, the Dany and Daario post-sex scene seems like it is from another show entirely.
  • Dany, don't let the afterglow convince you that Daario is as politically savvy as he is pretty. He's not.
  • "You don't know me!" The Jaime-saves-Myrcella plotline continues to be painfully uninteresting.
  • "You've always been rather impressed with yourself, haven't you." Truer words, Olenna. Truer words.
  • So Olenna and Littlefinger need to work together to topple the High Sparrow, but who is this "handsome young man?" I'm assuming Olyvar, but would the sparrows just let him go free? Will killing this witness be enough to loose the Tyrells? And does this mean that Littlefinger gave Olyvar to Cersei in the first place to lock up the Tyrells? (All that SUBTEXT!)
  • Cersei's victory lap in Margaery's cell was delicious, all the more so in reflection of what came after.
  • I love that Cersei, thinking she's won the day, grins when the High Sparrow speaks of stripping the Tyrells of their finery. Then he says, "What will we find when we strip away your finery?" and you can essentially hear the record scratch. Please someone make a GIF of this moment for me to use for always. Thanks in advance.
  • Sweet Tommen is now basically defenseless with his mother in prison, his father in prison in Dorne, and subjects who call him "abomination." Good thinking, Cersei.
  • *For fun:

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