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Hands down, “High Sparrow” is the strongest episode Game of Thrones has had since way back in season three. So many strong character moments, excellent plot movement, and a major storyline twist even book readers didn’t see coming (mostly because Sansa is far beyond her book character, but still). I was completely engrossed throughout the entire hour, and that, I’m sad to admit, hasn’t happened all that much with the most recent slate of episodes. Was it the perfect Game of Thrones episode? Probably not, but wow, it was pretty exceptional.
I feel like I must begin by saying some kind words about Kit Harrington’s work as Jon Snow in this episode. Rather than his usual dead-eyed looks, there was some excellent acting going on. Harrington gave us the perfect blend of Jon Snow the Lord Commander (a touch of smugness combined with knowing power) along with the bastard boy who always dreamed of something more. From a character perspective, Jon Snow’s first major command decision drew nicely on his past and built on that to show us who Jon may become. The beheading of Janos Slynt harkened directly back to the opening scene of the series five years ago, with Jon heeding Ned Stark’s lesson and beheading the man himself. He even took a brief moment to pray, identical in every way to Ned. Certainly not a coincidence, it shows us that Jon, despite being the Bastard of Winterfell, has become more of Ned’s son than any of his others. I, for one, think Ned would be very proud of who Jon has grown up to be.
Speaking of children emulating their parents, Sansa becomes more and more like Catelyn every episode, cordial to a fault while planning an internal escape. But, man oh man, I cannot see how her latest betrothal will end well. To be fair to Littlefinger, I truly believe he doesn’t know how vicious and sadistic Ramsay actually is. That being said, he’s knows the type of man Roose is, so he can’t believe the Bolton heir is much better. But it appears, despite Roose’s predilection for poor wedding behavior, he genuinely wants this match to work in his favor. And that means keeping Ramsay under control. The question is, can that even be done?
Another interesting point in this storyline was Littlefinger’s promise of revenge to Sansa. Perhaps another wedding event? One would believe that, given his deep love for Catelyn, Littlefinger would want revenge for her death himself. And, installing himself as Warden of the North with Sansa as his wife? That might be just too tempting to pass up. Considering this storyline is not tied to the book universe in any way, it’s rather wonderful to have book readers and those who haven’t tackled the novels on the same page for once.
The latest developments in the Sansa storyline also answer the lingering question regarding what Brienne will be up to for the rest of the season (or, at least for the immediate future). I have a strong suspicion she will factor into whatever befalls Lady Sansa while she remains within the control of the Boltons. While it is nice to know that Brienne and Podrick won’t simply be riding around the countryside looking for a new quest, I can’t help but hope Sansa doesn’t need saving particularly soon. Spending time around the campfire with Brienne and Pod is already turning out to be one of the best things about the show. Hearing Pod’s true backstory, and how his family name saved him from certain death, was an unexpected delight. Daniel Portman is doing excellent work as Pod, walking that delicate line between playing the clown and showing us the smart, but damaged, boy underneath. And then there’s Gwendoline Christie and Brienne. Christie is one of the true stars of this series, and she was woefully underused last season. Watching her reveal the origins of Brienne’s loyalty toward Renly was absolutely heartbreaking. Brienne is a character that is consistently overlooked by those in Westeros, but man, is she smart and empathetic. Such a rare combination in that world.
With our remaining storylines, we saw Arya officially begin her training in the House of Black and White and saw Cersei meet the mysterious High Sparrow (played by the delightful Jonathan Pryce). It is clear that the Sparrows aren’t a particularly kind and loving cult, and that they have a rather strict moral code (although, I think they have a point regarding the High Septon’s extracurricular activities). Considering that the Lannisters haven’t exactly been the more moral of families, I can’t fault Cersei for trying to get on the High Sparrow’s good side. I just worry that she may have finally found someone who can’t be bought.
— Since we’re now back at Moat Cailin for Sansa’s story, it made me wonder where Blackfish is. Last we heard, he escaped from the Red Wedding. Seems like he should be skulking around the area.
— In addition to taking after Ned, it seems that Jon is also listening to Stannis’s counsel. We’ll see how that works.
— I will admit to being a bit put off by the Tommen-Margaery sex scene, such as it was. Dean-Charles Chapman is only 17 and Natalie Dormer is significantly older. I was grateful we saw as little as we did.
— Fitting that we should fine Jorah in a brothel with a girl who looks suspiciously like Dany.