An old foe comes back into the picture. Gilly meets Sam’s family. Arya faces a difficult choice. Jaime faces off against the High Sparrow.
It is no surprise that with the fifth episode’s major reveals and the passing of the half-way point of the season, the sixth episode is more of a setup episode for the remainder of the season, moving characters into the next phase of their journeys. Unfortunately, in some cases those journeys make little sense.
The weakest part of the episode in terms of characters and story has to be Sam and Gilly. They finally reach his family home, Horn Hill, and as one might have expected given Sam’s relationship to his father, things do not end well. When Randyll Tarly learns that Gilly is a wildling as opposed to a Mole’s Town whore, he banishes Sam for good. That he’d have more issues with her being a wildling than a whore is somewhat baffling to me and at odds with how Sam thinks he will react in the books. Initially, Sam appears to accept his father’s decision and prepares to leave Gilly and little Sam (whom he has claimed as his own) while he goes on to the Citadel. But, he changes his mind and in the middle of the night he tells Gilly that they belong together and are leaving right then and there—though not before Sam has stolen his family sword, Heartsbane.
Does this mean Sam is not going on to the Citadel? That he is completely abandoning any sense of duty towards the Night’s Watch over Gilly? I sincerely hope not, but at this stage I am prepared for anything as the producers seem to think that little matters more than keeping their chosen romances going.
This is also a huge problem for the King’s Landing storyline. The revelation of Margaery’s and Tommen’s shift of allegiance (whether true or convincingly faked to get them out of “jail”) is overshadowed by what follows. First we have the removal of Jaime from the Kingsguard, and while the removal of Barristan has created precedent for this it still seems quite far-fetched when one considers how integral the Kingsguard should be to Jaime’s development as a character. Then, following upon that, a scene of Jaime and Cersei reaffirming their love for each other and how they are the only two that matter. At this point in the story, it is just sad to see Jaime’s character in this situation. I cannot understand why the “twincest romance” is so appealing to the producers that they have to keep it going instead of having Jaime realize what a poisonous person Cersei is and having the tragedy of him breaking off with her even though he did love her deeply—more so than she ever loved him. The story that they are creating instead cannot compare with this on any level and most of all it feels like a soap opera where nothing really changes the relationship between the characters for more than a scene or two.
The lure of standardising elements of the show to what is typical for TV also plagues two otherwise solid parts of the episode. Bran’s storyline opens with a flash of images of the past and, possibly, the future as he remains locked in a trance during his and Meera’s flight from the wights. As the undead catch up with them, a rescuer arrives in the nick of time. He’s later revealed to be Benjen Stark, who was stabbed by a White Walker but rescued by the Children who used their magic to stop him from turning into a wight. He’s essentially filling the role of “Coldhands” from the novels, but although it has been a popular theory that Benjen is Coldhands, it seems unlikely that this is the case since Martin denied it in the margins of the manuscript to A Dance with Dragons, a fact that came to light when a fan visited the archive of his writings at Texas A&M’s Cushing Library. Access to that manuscript has since then been withdrawn at his request.
This change, however, is not the real problem with this scene. In the final conversation between Benjen and Bran, where he tells Bran that he has to learn to be the Three-eyed Raven so that he can be ready for the Night’s King when he breaks through to the realm of men has such a weight of fantasy clichés hanging over it. To me, this is all due to the insistence on having a recognizable villain among the White Walkers, rather than having them be more of a mysterious, implacable force of nature. Martin purposefully eschewed having a “dark lord” in A Song of Ice and Fire, yet the producers seem unable to resist the lure of individual villains.
Indeed, even Arya’s storyline has become plagued by this. The play continues to be fun and well-executed and Arya’s scene with Lady Crane is quite strong, with good performances from both actresses. However, then Arya refuses to carry out the killing of Lady Crane and from there it becomes more problematic. I find it hard to buy that the Arya who killed Meryn Trant in such a sadistic fashion last season would balk at this task (or that the Arya that we see in the Mercy chapter, which is where the play is drawn from, would do so) just because she finds Lady Crane sympathetic. I find it even harder to accept the full-on animosity now displayed by the Waif as she reports to Jaqen that Arya failed which apparently means she gets to kill her. This is someone who has been trained in the House of Black and White for some time—who may even be a full-fledged Faceless Man—and yet she seems very driven by her personal dislike for Arya. All, it seems, to create a specific, named obstacle for Arya.
The final segment is the conclusion of the episode, with Daenerys’s dragon-back speech to the Dothraki. Visually, it is stunning. I also thought that Emilia Clarke did a fine job with the delivery of the speech—somehow, speeches in Dothraki seem to suit her better. However, structurally there are huge problems with this scene when looked at in the light of the rest of Daenerys’s journey this season. It begins with a small, but annoying detail: why is Daario telling Daenerys that she is a conqueror rather than her expressing this realisation herself? Indeed, if she needed to be told this to give her speech, what was the ending of episode four about? She certainly seem to demonstrate her desire for conquest there. No, the scene between her and Daario should have had her stating to him that she’s a conqueror, ideally with enough of a dark edge for him to understand that this is not necessarily a good thing. They already played with a darker edge to the imagery around her when she conquered Meereen and raised the Targaryen banner behind her, but this moment is treated as nothing but triumphant.
This might have worked better had they merged the endings of episode four and six by having Drogon arrive to set fire to the temple of the Dosh Khaleen, followed by Daenerys giving her speech to the awestruck Dothraki. Then the ominous overtones could have been left for later. Having these two separate scenes essentially accomplish the same thing, just once without the dragon and once with, is simply poor structuring and ineffective storytelling. Ultimately, it shows yet again the show’s focus on the big moments, rather than the way to those moments.
Inspired by the Books
Possible Developments in Future Books