Game of Thrones: The Gift Review

game-of-thrones-the-gift-headerAccording to Rotten Tomatoes, last week’s episode of Game of Thrones was the lowest rated among critics in the show’s history. The final scene was that controversial, apparently. I guess people who watched all 46 episodes of the show are few and far between. Actually, that makes sense given viewership has grown with each season.

This week’s episode was a lot less controversial but did nothing less to move the plot forward. As the show moves toward this season’s conclusion, The Gift certainly gave us a sharp push towards a thrilling conclusion to stories in King’s Landing and Winterfell.

So let’s start with the High Sparrow and Faith Militant. It might have been a portrayed as a bit of an afterthought in this episode but it was the most important part of this episode.

One assumption that everyone in the Seven Kingdoms works under is that everyone something more than they already have. Nobody is happy with their lot so everyone is making exchanges to get what they want. So, for example, the Tyrells desire power and have armies and gold. To get that power, they traded access to their army to save King’s Landing for a marriage arrangement between Margaery and King Joffrey (and later King Tommen).

Unfortunately for both Lady Olenna Tyrell and Queen Mother Cersei Lannister, the High Sparrow isn’t your standard resident of King’s Landing. While they each think that they can make an exchange to get what they want from the High Sparrow, he isn’t interested. Either the new High Septon is so interested in his cause that there is legitimately nothing that the pair could give him to deter him or he’s playing his game for a bigger prize. Logically, that bigger prize would be religious rule of the Seven Kingdoms. Of course, the High Sparrow sounds so sincere in his cause that he could just be trying to clean things up.

That being said, Cersei running afoul of the same Faith Militant and High Sparrow that she empowered was not entirely a surprise. During his conversation with Lady Olenna, the High Sparrow didn’t seem interested or intimidated by the Queen of Thorns. With him not willing to bow to the Queen and her family, that he acted on information from Brother Lancel Lannister about Cersei’s sexual deviance is no surprise.

Empowering the Faith Militant has thrown the already weak crown into utter disarray. There’s no Queen to guide Tommen. Both the Lannisters and Tyrells have seen their political power locked up in cells. There’s the not insignificant possibility that Tommen could be stripped of the crown because he’s a product of incest. Wouldn’t that be a hilarious irony that Stannis could be handed the Iron Thrown by a fanatic of the religion he abandoned for the Lord of Light.

This week’s Adventures in Essos was actually a lot more pleasant than one would expect of Game of Thrones. How many close calls have we seen the Starks have or actual encounters go horribly wrong?

This time, Ser Friendzone’s plans to get into the fighting pits of Meereen to have someone from Daenerys Stormborn of yada yada yada’s entourage notice him and rescue he and Tyrion from the slavers actually worked. In fact, it was a bit premature but what man wouldn’t be with… Never mind. Jorah didn’t make it to the fighting pits proper but to a sort of qualification round that Dany just so happened to be attending.

Jorah managed to impress by defeating everyone in the pit without killing them which impressed her right until the point Jorah took his helmet off and revealed himself as Jorah. Then it was Tyrion who saved the day with a timely appearance as Jorah’s gift to Dany. And Varys is? Seriously, we all need more of Tyrion and Varys’ travelling road show in our lives.

With this sequence closing out the show, it’s a very stark contrast to the end of last week’s episode. While The Gift was likely in the can for weeks before the controversy over Sansa’s rape, I would hazard that it’s likely this “happy” ending is by design. Compared to how miserable everyone else is in this episode and after that last episode, a little levity before next week is a much-needed addition to the show. After all, we can only get brow-beaten so much before you want to give up. I intend to revisit this in my review of Game of Thrones: A Telltale Games Series later this week.

Earlier in the episode, while in bed with Daario, Dany was quite insistent that she was a queen and not a butcher. Not a butcher who just fed several of the heads of leading houses of Meereen to her dragons. Not a butcher who put the town of Astapor to the torch while slaughtering the slavers. Not a butcher who sacked Yunkai and killed countless guards and probably slave masters there as well. Not a butcher who crucified over 163 slave masters after taking Meereen.

I realize that everyone in Game of Thrones has their own perception of themselves and the world around them. In this case, Dany sees what she does as being for the greater good, even if there is carnage and ruins in the wake of her and her Unsullied and sellsword army. I guess that Obi-Wan was right about things being true from a certain point of view. Granted, it’s not hard to find a point of view that says that every potential ruler of the Seven Kingdoms is a terrible choice.

Meanwhile, in butcher land- I mean, Winterfell- Ramsay is continuing where last week left off. While the sigil of House Bolton is the flayed man and Ramsay does so love living up to the House’s reputation, Ramsay’s preferred weapon is psychological torture. It’s evidenced by completely breaking Theon and slowly working on Sansa.

Theon was so broken that he immediately ratted out Sansa’s escape attempt and Ramsay answered Sansa’s attempts to get under his skin by breaking her hope by revealing that Reek sold her out to him. And then he showed her the flayed body of the woman who was supposed to help save Sansa. While Sansa had learned well under the tutelage of Petyr Baelish, all the preparation in the world can’t save you from the psychological torment of one who is better at mind games and doesn’t care for anyone else’s. We saw that last week and we’re seeing that again this week.

And we also got a shot of Brienne starring towards the tower where Sansa’s candle is to go. Just when she seems poised to do something right, she isn’t doing it right. Not that she knows any better but even she should know that Sansa needs saving from the Boltons regardless of whether a signal has been given or not. It looks like Sansa is beyond the ability to save herself so it has to be Brienne. Or Pod. Especially Pod.

Happy moments on this show tend not to precede something good happening. That brings me to the Mannis’ contribution to this week. After seeing Jorah catch the greyscale (and nothing come of it in the fighting pits), I was willing to write-off all of the focus on Shireen as a way of building up greyscale as a major plot point this season.

Jorah and the stone men of Valyria might play out to be important given how much we heard about greyscale but it turns out that the importance Stannis places on his family and his daughter was the real heart of the season. With his forces struggling to Winterfell as winter bears down on the north, he faces the question of whether power or family is more important as Melisandre tells him that he needs to sacrifice Shireen to the Lord of Light to ensure victory against the Boltons.

So the whole season wasn’t really about greyscale or whitewalkers or power but what you’re willing to do for the people you love. This week, we saw what Sam was willing to do to save Gilly. Until this week, Cersei had empowered the Faith Militant to get Tommen back from Margaery. Jaime put his one-handed self on the line to rescue his daughter from Dorne. Arya is willing to sacrifice her existence to get revenge on those who killed the people she loved.

While the likes of the Tyrells and Littlefinger are solely motivated by the acquisition of power and Dany is clinging to her birthright (as if that matters), it seems as though most of the other characters take action for love. Perhaps Jaime’s final line of the pilot (“the things I do for love”) wasn’t just a line to justify throwing Bran out the window. In hindsight, that set the tone for most of the series. For the most part, those guided by love have been the ones to fall while those merely out for power haven’t gotten any comeuppance. We’re taught that they’ll get theirs eventually but so far, only love has really gotten the better of the show’s villains.

So now that this episode has finally revealed what the show is actually about, I’d say that this is one of the most brutal, terrifying and soul-crushing love stories ever told. It makes you want to never fall in love lest someone behead you or flay you or torture you or send their regards.

Anyway, this week’s episode was fantastic. I don’t think we’ve quite hit the highs of last season but there isn’t much to complain about with what the producers are doing with the show overall. There are compelling stories, interesting characters and the plot is moving forward finally. It looked touch and go early this season but we’re charging hard to Episode Nine.

Other random points of note:

  • I told you that I had reason to be worried about the little cut that Bronn got. It doesn’t explain why the Sand Snakes would give him the antidote. Isn’t it always interesting to see what games are being played by everyone?
  • I’m just not buying Dany and Daario. She looked like love/lust-filled teenager when she was in bed with him. To be swept off her feet by a good-looking guy doesn’t match with the front that Dany has the rest of the time when she’s going full-Khaleesi.
  • Should HBO ever look to cash in on Game of Thrones with non-GoT “spin-offs,” I think a Peter Dinklage and Conleth Hill helmed travel show would be one of the best things on TV.

Next week, Dany, Ser Friendzone and Tyrion meet in her throne room which looks very different when you shoot it from the other side. Sansa tries to pull Theon out from Reek again. Cersei deals with her detention by the High Sparrow and the Faith Militant. And Jon heads north to treat with the Wildlings. The same crew that wrote and directed The Gift are back next week for Hardhome.

Cross-posted from et geekera. For more from et geekera, follow us on FacebookTwitterGoogle+Tumblr, Steam and RSS.

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