You Know Something, Red Woman
One theme that Game of Thrones continuously returns to is the fragile nature of power, especially for anyone who finds themselves in the unfortunate position of holding it. The current power dynamics of the world of Westeros are not ideal, but are generally an improvement over the war-torn anarchy of earlier seasons: King Tommen is definitely not fit to be a proper king, but he’s at least a much more compassionate ruler than his brother Joffrey was, while Daenerys has managed to liberate an entire nation from the clutches of slavery (The North, in contrast, is admittedly in the worst shape it’s ever been thanks to the Boltons). However, as “Sons Of The Harpy” makes clear, it doesn’t matter if you’re a just ruler or a tyrant because there will always be forces at work seeking to undermine and seize your power for themselves.
“Sons of the Harpy” feels like the most focused episode of season 5 so far, as some of the plot lines introduced in prior episodes really start to develop. In particular, the Jaime and Bronn bromance is given lots of time to grow naturally and is already one of the most entertaining character pairings in the show’s history. Their playful back-and-forth ribbing reveals some significant details about their states of mind, especially Jaime’s, who seemingly shares Cersei’s desire for vengeance against their brother Tyrion. Jaime is also given his first taste of real combat since losing his sword hand; it’s refreshing to see how much he struggles against the Dornish soldier, ironically defeating him with the aid of his fake hand. These lighthearted (well, for Game of Thrones at least) scenes are inter-cut with the reveal of the Sand Snakes, the previously referenced group of Prince Oberyn’s warrior daughters who seem every bit as terrifyingly lethal as promised. With Oberyn’s mistress Ellaria in command and Princess Myrcella in their sights, Jaime and Bronn are in real danger of starting yet another war with their rather poorly-planned rescue mission.
Returning to events in the North — Game of Thrones is either positioning Sansa to become a major power player or yet another unfortunate victim of Ramsay Bolton’s torture schemes. The scene set in Winterfell’s catacombs is an excellent way of calling out the history of the Starks and what Sansa’s role will be in the family’s future, even if it’s frustrating to have to wait at least another episode to see how the dynamic between Sansa and Ramsay will play out. Littlefinger’s reference to Rhaegar Targaryen’s infatuation with Sansa’s deceased Aunt Lyanna is a nice touch that is echoed in a different context in a later scene between Daenerys and Ser Barristan, but the real standout moment is Littlefinger’s apparent confidence in how events in the North will play out. Knowing Littlefinger, he likely hasn’t placed all his bets on the belief that Sansa will become Wardeness of the North once Stannis defeats the Boltons. Of course, events in Game of Thrones never play out according to plan, but it’s good to see that Littlefinger leaves Sansa with some added confidence and hope for the future.
The most confounding scene of the episode has to be Melisandre’s seduction attempt on Jon Snow, as it only further complicates her readability. It constantly feels like the Red Woman is the only character who has any real idea of what’s going on and throwing herself at Jon suggests that the new Lord Commander has some hidden importance that only she knows of. Jon, ever the gentleman, refuses Melisandre’s offer, but her departing comment of, “You know nothing, Jon Snow”, really emphasizes how in the dark every character is about what the future holds for them (and also surely sets up a future confrontation between the two, as Jon is surely a bit curious to find out how Melisandre knows his deceased lover Ygritte’s favorite catchphrase).
The last few episodes have done an excellent job of framing a dichotomy between the events in King’s Landing and Meereen, along with the different ruling styles of Cersei and Daenerys, respectively. In “Sons of the Harpy”, both cities fall victim to insurgent attacks, but under different conditions. Cersei is playing divide and conquer with Margaery. First, she sends her father and Master of Coin Mace Tyrell to the Iron Bank in Braavos under the guise of a diplomatic mission (sending the dastardly Kingsguard knight Ser Meryn with him suggests poor Mace may not be coming back). Strengthening her new allegiance with the High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce) and his fanatical religious flock, Cersei reinstates the “Faith Militant” in a bid to cleanse the sinful from the city (which conveniently includes Margaery’s homosexual brother Loras, who finds himself imprisoned). Cersei is seemingly gaining the upper hand in her power struggle with Margaery, but as Pryce ominously intones, “all sinners are equal before the Gods” — and Cersei has some big sins to answer for.
Daenerys, in contrast, is still trying to keep the peace in Meereen, but refuses to back down on her stance against the city’s fighting pits, even on the traditional opening day. The young Queen believes she is in the right for not bending to what she views as a barbaric tradition, but Meereen’s own band of fanatical rebels, the titular Sons of the Harpy, decide to stage their own fighting pits in the streets against Dany’s forces. The surprise attacks on the Unsullied are brutal affairs, made all the more nail-biting thanks to the close quarters nature of the fighting. The episode closes with two of Dany’s biggest allies wounded and possibly dead, and the Queen’s grasp on power even more tenuous. Season 5’s premiere, “The Wars to Come”, hinted at the conflicts bubbling under the surface of the show; in “Sons of the Harpy”, these conflicts are beginning to boil over.
Other Events This Week:
-Having Jaime pass by Brienne’s home island of Tarth is a smart little detail that serves as a reminder of the close connection between these characters and how distant they now are from one another.
-The best scene of the night might just belong to Stannis and his daughter Shireen, who have had limited interaction on the show up to this point. Stannis is frequently framed as a hard man willing to go to extremes to achieve his goals, but we get a glimpse of the compassionate man lurking beneath that stone-faced exterior through his recounting of the way he saved his daughter’s life when she was younger. His closing line, “You are the Princess Shireen of the House Baratheon…and you are my daughter”, is probably the closest he’s ever come to showing his emotions.
-The brief scene between Jorah and Tyrion is relatively light on interesting developments, but at least answers the question of which queen Jorah is bringing his captive to. That sucker punch was pretty terrific though.
-Without getting into potential spoilers, the episode’s references to Rhaegar and Lyanna suggest that the show might be setting up an unconfirmed fan theory as canon. Again, the way the show has been embracing changing things up with its storytelling is fantastic.