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game of thrones episode four

This review contains spoilers for the fourth episode of “Game of Thrones” season five, as well as a fan theory which could end up being a spoiler for a major character’s background. The fan theory spoiler will be clearly signposted so that you can avoid it if you want to.

This episode, entitled “Sons of the Harpy”, set the groundwork for the rest of the season, as character’s pasts and futures were explained implicitly to the audience. For those of us watching carefully enough there were numerous nods to a particular fan theory which could play a pivotal role in the story going forward, and there was also a lot of foreboding for what we might see before the end of the season, whether it be Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and Bronn’s (Jerome Flynn) conversation regarding how they would like to die, or Littlefinger’s (Aidan Gillen) final lesson to Sansa (Sophie Turner) before he left for King’s Landing. It wasn’t the most exciting episode ever, but it did a lot of the hard work for this season, introducing the Faith Militant properly, the Sand Snakes, and the aforementioned fan theory, which will no doubt give future episodes much more clarity.

The next section contains possible spoilers for the future of the series, relating to a fan theory about a certain character’s parentage.

This episode more than any other has taken us past George R.R. Martin’s books and into new territory, through what seemed to be the beginning of the end regarding the mystery of Jon Snow’s (Kit Harington) parentage. There’s a pretty popular theory among fans that R + L = J. This might not mean much to people who haven’t been paying close attention, but as far as I’m concerned it has to be right, and I can appreciate the series so much more because of that fact.

In this equation, R stands for Rhaegar Targaryen, son of the Mad King and brother to Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke). Rhaegar was killed by Robert Baratheon (Mark Addy) during Robert’s Rebellion, and he has been mentioned before on the series, most notably in the first episode when Robert and Ned (Sean Bean) were talking in front of Lyanna’s grave in the crypts of Winterfell.

L stands for Lyanna Stark, Ned Stark’s sister, who died long before the start of the series. The tale of Rhaegar’s affection for Lyanna was told by Littlefinger in this episode, followed by Sansa’s scathing comments about the supposed subsequent kidnapping and rape, although Littlefinger didn’t confirm or deny that theory, he simply smirked and carried on.

Finally, J stands for Jon Snow, meaning that, according to the theory, Jon Snow isn’t actually Ned Stark’s son at all; he’s the bastard child of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark. Without going through it too much, this makes a lot of sense and from the moment I heard about it I was sold, but the series hasn’t really made much of an effort to confirm the theory until now, other than the strange scene in the first season in which Ned refused to tell Robert who Jon’s mother was (the theory explains why he wouldn’t want to tell Robert, because Robert loved Lyanna and he wouldn’t like it if he knew that Rhaegar wasn’t actually a villainous rapist).

In this episode the writers wove this theory into the dialogue and the story beautifully, first with Stannis’ (Stephen Dillane) observation that sleeping with a woman other than his wife was very unlike Ned, second with Melisandre’s (Carice van Houten) sexual advances towards Jon (because she wanted to make another shadow baby, which requires royal blood – Targaryen and Stark would do pretty fine on that front), third with Littlefinger and Sansa’s conversation in the crypts of Winterfell, and finally with Barristan Selmy’s (Ian McElhinney) slightly out of place tale of a kind and gentle Rhaegar, who liked to sing and meet the people.

I don’t believe for a second that these comments were wasted words, rather, to me they seemed like a subtle nod from the writers to the fans, letting them know that something big is coming, and that they should all be ready. The way that the writers fit this theory into the episode really was impressive, because it wouldn’t take you out of the story if you didn’t have any idea who Rhaegar was before turning on your television, but if you do know the theory then you can appreciate the whole story right from the first episode that little bit more.

To someone casually watching the show these conversations would just seem like world-building, idle talk based around settings and the theme of leadership, yet in reality they are the beginnings of a pay-off that we’ve been waiting for since day one. The true brilliance of this episode is how the theory was worked in; how the writers winked at the audience and said ‘here we go’. That’s why I’ve taken time to spell it out, because this episode could seem completely ordinary and perhaps even lacklustre to someone who didn’t understand the bigger picture, but once you realise just how well the writers have done to not give away too much whilst also teasing their more enthusiastic fans, you see just how awesome the episode actually was.

From here on out there will only be spoilers for this episode and those that have preceded it.

My favourite scene in this episode was Sansa and Littlefinger’s conversation in the crypts of Winterfell, not because of the theory which I’ve already mentioned, but because it gave me a better grasp of their relationship. I was slightly suspicious of Littlefinger’s motives before this episode, because no matter how nice Littlefinger is trying to be, there’s usually a good reason for his trying. For example, in episode three he told Sansa that if she didn’t want to marry Ramsay (Iwan Rheon) then she didn’t have to, he would turn their caravan around and they could go wherever she wanted to go, but he only did that to give her the confidence to make her own decision to go to Winterfell and go through with the marriage. He’s a manipulator, so it’s really hard to know what’s going on in his head.

This scene made me feel like Littlefinger actually cares for Sansa in his own disgusting and slightly perverse way. He’s a father figure to her, coaching her on the ways of the world and how to get by with the skill set she’s been given, but he also kisses her on the lips and seems to have projected his love for Catelyn (Michelle Fairley) right onto her. Despite the strange nature of his affection, it was almost sweet to see him give her a pep talk and leave her with a plan – if Stannis gets the better of the Boltons she will have the North, if he doesn’t she must make Ramsay give it to her by giving herself to him. Littlefinger always has a plan B, and I enjoyed him putting the cards on the table for Sansa before leaving her with the Boltons, even if he was perhaps doing so for the audience just as much as he was for her.

What’s interesting about this scene is that it raises a lot of questions for the future; Littlefinger is heading back to King’s Landing to deal with Cersei (Lena Headey), who could have a nasty plan for him, given how she’s been treating everyone else in her inner circle. There’s also the fact that Roose (Michael McElhatton) knows that Littlefinger is headed back to King’s Landing, and he could, should he wish, tell Cersei all about Littlefinger’s betrayal (even leaving out Sansa’s inclusion if he wanted to). If Roose did that he’d have his alliance with the Lannisters back, which is arguably a better position for him to be in than having an alliance with Littlefinger. Finally, the Faith Militant are now running around King’s Landing invading whorehouses and locking up those who go against the gods, which doesn’t spell good times for Littlefinger, especially given that the whorehouse they invaded in this episode was his.

I’m extremely worried that Littlefinger could die in the next few weeks, because everything is stacked up against him, and going back to King’s Landing could be his first strategic misstep. The fact that he told Sansa all about his plan and tried to make her feel more at ease, finally showing his softer side, only heightens this worry. It feels as though the show really wants us to become invested in the pair, which usually means something bad is going to happen to at least one of them. Littlefinger’s death would also propel Sansa forward, possibly making her even more hateful of the Boltons, and giving her the motivation she might need to overcome Ramsay. It would also give Brienne’s (Gwendoline Christie) storyline a push in the right direction (although I think the mere fact that Littlefinger won’t be at Sansa’s side will have that effect). It’s a difficult time to be a fan of Littlefinger, which I most definitely am, so let’s hope that he makes it out alive!

In King’s Landing things are heating up, and it feels like it won’t be too long until they reach boiling point. Cersei is playing her usual games and this time Loras (Finn Jones) is the one to suffer. I’m extremely interested to see what becomes of him in the future, because he’s always been a bit part player in “Game of Thrones” – he feels expendable, but at the same time he’s been around since the start of the series so if he was to go I think it would be a shame. He hasn’t really been explored as a character, and now it feels like he’s just there to act as a catalyst for Margaery (Natalie Dormer) to come to blows with Cersei, so perhaps it’s time for him to bite the dust, even if only so  that Margaery finally shows her true colours.

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve actually felt sorry for Cersei, because despite how vile a human being she is, she loves her children and she’s seeing them slip through her fingers. However, this episode changed all that, because now she’s manipulating her son just like she does everyone else, just so that she can get back at Margaery. Sending Tommen (Dean-Charles Chapman) to speak to the High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce) was a really despicable and foolish thing for Cersei to do, because it could’ve quite easily resulted in his death. I think that he did the smart thing by walking away from the Faith Militant, because if he’d told his men to attack he could’ve been caught in the ensuing melee, and he might’ve also caused a riot, due to the fact that members of the crowd behind were heckling abuse such as ‘bastard’ and ‘abomination’.

At The Wall, Stannis showed his love for his daughter, proving that whilst he is a stern and formidable leader, he’s also a man that can feel something for other human beings. He’s a man with pride and honour, even if he can be overly harsh and too eager to punish. I’ve never been overly keen on Stephen Dillane’s acting in the series, because I’ve often felt that he hasn’t given the character a clear voice or direction. However, Stannis has been a far more interesting character since he arrived at The Wall, so I’m starting to think that it was Stannis’ story, rather than Dillane’s acting, which was previously lacking.

With more to do at The Wall Stannis has become one of my favourite characters, and his mannerisms now make sense to me. The scene in which Stannis told Shireen (Kerry Ingram) that she belonged with him was one of the more touching moments on the series to date, and it was also very well acted, as Dillane looked intentionally awkward and avoided physically displaying his affection, standing upright and remaining cool, before finally looking his daughter in the eye and basically telling her that he loved her. The scene fit with Stannis’ character, but also displayed another dimension to him, which in turn gave me a deeper understanding of the character and will make me care about his fate in upcoming episodes.

In warmer climates, the Sand Snakes were finally introduced, and they were… disappointing. I don’t like their accents (although one of them sounded like Oberyn (Pedro Pascal), which was sort of cool), and I don’t think I’m going to like their storyline. I have to say that all in all I’m not incredibly invested in what’s going on in Dorne. I feel like Jaime has had his arc and has become a slightly miserable and lonely man, which makes me wonder what his purpose is going forward. If he died I’d be disappointed because he’s a likeable character, but I don’t know what he offers to the series going forward after this storyline has played out. There was a bit of foreboding as he talked about how he’d like to die with Bronn, which could be a sign of things to come, but it also might’ve been a tool to make the audience think that their fight scene later in the episode was potentially a fatal one.

I hope that things in Dorne get a bit more interesting in coming weeks, but for now I’m not convinced that it can live up to the already established settings which we see on the show.

Lastly, in Meereen the stakes were raised once more, and Daenerys is yet again facing a set-back. After having a cheerful and warm exchange with Daenerys, Barristan Selmy went into the city to be with the people. He heard a ruckus and went to investigate, finding Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson, also known by the stage name Raleigh Ritchie) in a lot of trouble, as the Sons of the Harpy surrounded him, ready to kill. Selmy killed plenty of the masked men, displaying the fighting prowess that he was known for in his younger years, and possibly saving Grey Worm’s life in the process. However, it seems like his efforts were his last, because he was stabbed and at the end of the episode he laid in a pool of his own blood, presumably dying from his wounds. Grey Worm was also injured, but it was unclear whether or not his injuries were as serious as Selmy’s, so I’m not quite sure yet if his efforts were all for nothing (although I expect not).

It was a good way for Barristan Selmy to go, because he got to show off the skills that made him who he was, and he also hopefully saved the life of a friend. I have to say that I wasn’t overly surprised by what happened, because I predicted that Selmy would die before the start of the season, but I thought it was a smart way to end what was a very dialogue heavy episode. The scene didn’t feel completely convincing to me, because given the no nonsense history of the show I don’t think that Grey Worm would’ve made it; there were points in the fight at which he was surrounded, yet only one man would go to attack him, which didn’t make a lot of sense or fit with the nature of the show. Still, it was what it was, and I’m sure some people enjoyed it.

A final point regarding Daenerys and the story at Meereen relates to Hizdahr zo Loraq (Joel Fry), who has been a recurring character on the show, and I actually like watching him quite a bit. Until now he’s not had a lot to do, because he’s basically there to convey demands to Daenerys and attempt to sway her opinion, but this episode led me to believe that he’s got a much larger role in the grand scheme of things. The way that the characters referred to him as harmless was just a bit weird, so it seems to me like he’s being set up to be the bad guy in Meereen. Somebody has to be leading the Sons of the Harpy, so perhaps it’s him – if it is then I’m on board.

I was hoping that Daario (Michiel Huisman) would be a secret villain, because he’s such a waste of a character, and I’ve never connected to him as a hero, but Hizdahr would probably be the next best thing. He’s got a real authority in his voice and looks quite scary when he’s just being normal, so I think it would be very cool to see him suddenly turn on Daenerys later on in the season. It’s also worth noting that on the trailer there’s a scene in which the Sons of the Harpy are surrounding Daenerys in what appears to be the fighting pits, and those pits are Hizdahr’s main focus right now, so perhaps that adds weight to the theory.

All in all, this was another very solid episode. There was a lot of dialogue, but that’s not a problem in my view, because I usually find the conversations between the characters much more compelling than the occasional action sequence. “Sons of the Harpy” had a lot to get through; it did very well in setting up the future of the season whilst also keeping me engaged in both the characters and the isolated plot of the episode, and it was overall a really good hour of television.

8.5/10

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