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Well, it looks like a perverse form of justice has finally caught up with Cersei. And, considering the kind of world Game of Thrones exists within, it’s amazing that justice of any kind has reached a character, particularly one so well versed in scheming as Cersei. But here we are, with Cersei in a Black Cell, alongside Loras and Magaery. Something tells me she won’t do all that well in isolation.
But I’m getting a bit ahead of myself. “The Gift” was a very strong episode when it focused on the goings on in King’s Landing, but a much weaker piece when it briefly touched on the various other storylines the show is juggling. Sansa is slowly being bled of hope in the face of Ramsay’s machinations (and Reek’s continual betrayal). Sam is now isolated from all his allies with Jon’s leaving and Maeter Aemon’s death (but, at least he finally got the girl). Bronn and Jaime have failed in their attempt to rescue Myrcella and are at the mercy of Dorne (although it looks like Jaime is in a much better position than Bronn, even if Bronn is apparently no longer dying). Stannis is stuck in the snow and is being forced to decide if sacrificing Shireen to the Red God is worth it (here’s a tip, Stannis: it’s not worth it). And Tyrion and Jorah have stumbled into the presence of Dany and revealed themselves. Small baby steps forward for each story, setting up the next beat in the tale rather than taking time to expand upon what we already knew. The real story of “The Gift” came from the so very interesting plot movement within King’s Landing.
It has been clear since the Sparrows came into their power that Cersei’s past was about to catch up with her. After all, you don’t plug Lancel Lannister into such a pivotal role if he’s not about to “unburden” his soul of all that Cersei has done (and, one presumes, all that Cersei and Jaime have done, as well). I must give credit to David Benioff and DB Weiss for successfully playing the long game with the character of Lancel. It has paid off beautifully this season. But the real gift within “The Gift” is watching Lena Headey and Jonathan Pryce face off.
Cersei is a character who revels in her ability to outsmart the men (and lately, the women) around her. She has survived as long as she has in the capital through her amazing ability to play politics in a way no one expects from a woman, making her greatest handicap into a strength. But if there’s one thing Game of Thrones has taught us through the years, it is that as soon as a character believes they have reached the pinnacle of truth or power, something comes to sweep them back down to reality. Years spent building up power through using everything within her grasp – money, her body, her family name, her position in relation to the king, her brother – have all come back to bite Cersei just when she had managed to move her bishop into check against the Tyrell king. And Lena Headey was glorious in this episode, exploring Cersei’s smug joy at seeing Margaery, her rival in both the affection of her sons and power on the throne, a dirty mess, slowly beginning to lose her mind in solitary confinement. But it was the slow draining of color and the loss of the smirk on her face, as the High Sparrow revealed his own plan for her downfall, that sold it all. Headey has had a lot to do over the years, but she has never been given as juicy a storyline as this one. Considering Cersei still needs to be stripped bare of her secrets, I know the best is still yet to come from her as Cersei’s fall heads toward the bottom of a very rocky cliff.
As excellent as Lena Headey’s performance was this week, Jonathan Pryce, as the High Sparrow, was even better. He has humanized a character that, in the books, is aloof and not particularly appealing. But this High Sparrow? It’s very easy to see why people are drawn to follow him. And, anyone who can go toe-to-toe with Lady Olenna and survive gains major points in my book. Pryce has found the right balance between stern dictator and the quiet scholar who never wanted this level of power. In his scenes with Olenna, there is a relatability there once he throws of the guise of his downtrodden outward appearance. We are shown that this is a man who understands the politics of King’s Landing and is willing to do whatever he needs to do in order to advance his own agenda – including toppling the great families of Westeros. With Cersei, we see how excellent he is at reading individuals and springing the perfect trap to ensnare even the most cunning of players in the game of thrones. While Headey is excellent in her scene opposite Pryce, it’s is Pryce that makes the scene spectacular. His slow, plodding delivery, taking his time (with a measured and calm look on his face) as he parses out the final death blow to Cersei’s own aspirations is a study in the subtleties of acting. Never once does he tip his hand (although, we are in on the secret from the beginning, and really, Cersei should have seen this coming herself), but within his eyes, you can see the joy of winning the chase. It is a truly wonderful piece of acting.
With Cersei now in the clutches of the Sparrows, it is only a matter of time before she hits rock bottom, and I cannot see her doing that gracefully. And then there is poor Tommen. All alone and expected to rule. I assume uncle Kevan will be returning to help him with that (oh how that will anger Cersei). All of our major characters are now at major crossroads with only three episodes remaining in the season. I, for one, am truly interested to see how some of these stories begin to resolve themselves before the season’s end. Season five has been a return to form for the series, and I’m eager for next week’s installment.
— It is just cruel to give us a single shot of Brienne sitting in a window watching the broken tower for sign of a candle. Although, it does answer the question as to who is going to save Sansa once that candle finally gets placed there. If it gets placed there.
— My one major disappointment with the episode was the Sand Snakes scene with Bronn. Not that I wanted Bronn to die, but if you are going to poison him and make a huge show of it, I expect there to be consequences greater than Bronn getting to see one of the Snakes naked. And, did we really have to go all out with the naked Sand Snake (although, points to the two others for the excellent eye rolls)? I understand that this is the particular thing with this particular Sand Snake, and it’s part of how she entraps foes, but come on now.
— I could also have done without the attempted rape of Gilly. It served no purpose outside of being the impetus for Gilly and Sam to finally have sex. That storyline could have reached that point through a myriad of other means and we didn’t need yet another instance of sexual violence to get there.
— I’m very intrigued to see where the Stannis storyline goes. Considering how well the show has set up the relationship between Stannis and Shireen this season (and fleshed out Shireen as a character) I really don’t know which way they will go with it.