May 18, 2015 by kbaldy15
“Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken”
Season 5, Episode 6 Review
I’ll say it straight-off: this was the worst episode of the season, and ranks towards the bottom for the entire series. I had issues with a lot of the four storylines they focused on this week: King’s Landing, Arya, Sansa, and Dorne (and a little bit of Tyrion and Jorah’s fantastic adventures in Essos, but that was just a quick scene). I will obviously talk about all of the issues I had. However, before we get into that, I do have to say that this was still a good hour of television. Just as last week’s episode set up the potential endings, or the “where we are going,” of Jon, Stannis, and Dany’s stories, that’s what this week did for the aforementioned storylines. The only problem? Most of this week’s stories are either radically different from the books, or from Feast for Crows, which is far and away the book that most relies on its ending to justify its middle. This episode isn’t the show-equivalent of the Doom of Valyria; it’ll be just fine next week (presumably). So all the people freaking out about how this episode has ruined everything–just settle down. It’ll all be okay. There’s plenty in this episode that was still good, and some parts that I think people are blowing out of proportion. But anyways, enough prefacing. On to the episode.
Firstly, and kind of out of step with the rest of the review, I’ll hit on Tyrion and Jorah. The interaction between the characters this week was notable–Tyrion accidentally reveals to Jorah that his father was killed by the same men he took so much effort to welcome into the Watch. Their discussion of why Jorah follows Daenerys and what exactly the plans are once she rules was on point, and hints and why Tyrion may be so crucial to Dany’s success. However, the path to Dany may have gotten a bit trickier, as the slavers may not make that meeting possible. Still, thanks to Tyrion’s quick thinking, they’re still on their way to Meereen (Even though the slavers won’t be able to force Jorah to fight in the pits, considering Dany’s only allowing freemen to fight…?).
As for the rest of the episode, which fell into more of a theme, I’ll start with Arya, who still seems to be mired in the monotony of washing corpses, scrubbing floors, and getting told she’s not ready for the big show. This can only go on for so long before it’s painfully boring. If they cut Bran’s entire storyline for this season for fear of his training with the Three-Eyed Raven becoming plodding, I’m not entirely sure why they fell into the same trap with Arya. I fully support them focusing on the training–after all, Arya getting accepted into the House of Black and White and suddenly being capable of season-two-Jaqen levels of badassery isn’t exactly realistic–but how many weeks do we need to see her being told she isn’t quite no one yet? And isn’t that cheapened by Jaqen now telling her she’s not ready to become no one, but she is ready to become someone else, so we can progress a little bit now? Now, with all that being said (and perhaps with the knowledge of what Arya’s training becomes), there’s still plenty to like about this storyline. Firstly, the Room of Many Faces was done pretty well. That’s a heck of a lot of people for Arya to become. Secondly, I did like Arya’s story for the little girl. Even if I’m not the biggest fan of her training thus far, they did a good job with the arc for this episode at least. Thirdly, we do have an idea of where it’s heading. We’ve seen what Jaqen can do, so we can safely assume that Arya will get there at some point. Really, the biggest question that remains is what Arya will do once she gets there. Will she be “no one,” and simply serve the Many-Faced God? Or will she hold onto “Arya” and look to shorten her list? Regardless of any dragging so far, the payoff is still promising enough to forgive any missteps so far.
In what will almost assuredly be a theme of this review, the same can be said about the Dornish storyline. So far: not great. Outlook: promising. I don’t like the Sand Snakes, for a variety of reasons. They haven’t had much screen time, and the screen time they’ve had so far has been spent giving somewhat forced and cheesy backstories about how they’re Oberyn’s daughters (as Obara feels the need to remind us any time she speaks) and why they want to kill Myrcella as a way to avenge Oberyn who was trying to get vengeance for the Lannisters killing his niece because “they don’t hurt little girls in Dorne”….wait a second….
So yeah, Ellaria’s plan seems a bit hypocritical, and the Sand Snakes seem a bit one note and cheesy (reinforced by them using the Martell house words–unbowed, unbent, unbroken–as the equivalent of a pre-snap huddle “break”). However, they aren’t the only ones who have been hurt by lack of screen time. We were finally introduced to the Trystane/Myrcella dynamic this week, and really all we see is that they’re madly in love, largely due to Trystane apparently possessing all of Oberyn’s lady-killing suaveness. Now, I’m not asking for a bunch of time to be spent on their little love story, but maybe a little more character time before the Sand Snakes and Jaime both come for Myrcella would have been nice. Speaking of which, I really can’t get over Jaime/Bronn* getting there at the same time as Ellaria and the Sand Snakes, and the fact that both parties waltzed right into the Water Gardens, where the Prince, Princess, and King all like to hang out. Now, maybe Doran (the King) knew about everything going on* and just wanted all of the people fighting against his plans for peace in one place at the same time. Areo Hotah and the rest of the guards putting a stop to things seems to indicate that they had some idea of what was going on (that and Doran’s ominous verification that Hotah still knew how to use his axe-spear), but I guess we’ll have to wait and see. For now, we’re stuck with shoddy fight scenes (does anyone else feel like this one was just kind of weak? Too many different weapons and the Sand Snakes apparently not being good enough to take down Bronn and a one-handed Jaime), forced dialogue and plot advancements, and the hope that Doran has some plans to get this story back on track.
One ruler whose plans are coming to fruition is Cersei, although she appears to be in over her head so far that she can’t even see how far gone she is. We got another installment of “Cersei yelling and pacing” when Littlefinger told her about Sansa and the Boltons–“I will burn their cities to the ground,” “I will skin them alive”–and we saw her get insulted by Lady Olenna after the Queen of Thorns saw right through Cersei’s failed attempts at being Tywin. There were a couple instances this week of seeing Cersei not being very adept at dealing with things that don’t go her way or responding poorly to people who don’t just bend to her will, and I think we’re due for an even bigger outburst in the next couple weeks. So far, all of her planning with the High Sparrow and the Faith Militant seems to be going accordingly, but there’s no way it keeps up. She may have dragged down Loras and brought Margarey along with him, but how long until the Faith turns its attention towards some other sinners, like those who commit incest and adultery? Or, even worse, children born of incest? We’ve already been reminded that people still believe the “rumors” about their King and saw the prophecy that Cersei’s children would die–the set up is there for Cersei’s plans to come back and bite her in the ass. Again, we wait for the ending.
And finally–the ending. Now, I’ve looked at the outrage on the Internet over the final scene of the episode, and I agree and disagree with bits and pieces of it all. I’m going to try to address most of the criticism I’ve seen while offering up my own take on Sansa’s wedding-night rape, and I think it’ll be easiest to do that in bullet points as opposed to my usual paragraph form. So here goes:
Critique 1: Sansa being raped is a step back in her character development. It puts her right back in the position of a “bystander to tragedy”
I disagree here. Now, I have to tread carefully on this one, so I want to make it very clear: This was rape. 100% it was a rape, and I’m not disagreeing with that. Sansa did not want it to happen. BUT, she allowed it to, because she recognizes that it needs to. Sansa is playing the game now, which sometimes means doing horrible things. She’s not allowing Ramsey to use her by letting him rape her, she’s saving herself from Ramsey killing her or suspecting her. Could she have resisted and tried to kill Ramsey? Yes. But then she dies for it. If Sansa wants to play the game and take down the Boltons, she has to abide by the marriage-night customs, and to sacrifice one of the last symbols of her innocence, her maidenhead. I’m not saying it’s pleasant, I’m not saying it’s not rape because Sansa let it happen, and I’m not saying it was even a necessary for her character to develop more. What I am saying is that this wasn’t out of character, nor does it set Sansa back.
Critique 2: Benioff and Weiss have now thrown in another non-book scene of rape, and they use it for shock value instead of respecting how serious of an issue it is.
This isn’t non-book! Does Sansa get raped in the books? No, she doesn’t. However, Sansa’s show storyline is completely different than her book storyline. Without revealing too much, or venturing too far into “spoiler” territory, I’ll give the basics. In the book, Ramsey is going to be married to Jeyne Poole, one of Sansa’s childhood friends who the Boltons are posing as Arya in order to solidify their hold on the North. Sansa isn’t in the North. In the show, Sansa’s storyline has been merged with Jeyne Poole’s in order to put her character in position in the North and streamline things a bit. So not only is this scenario in the books, it’s actually a lot worse! Ramsey does some seriously terrible things to Jeyne Poole that go above and beyond the already-terrible rape. Benioff and Weiss aren’t using rape as shock value–they actively made it less shocking than its book counterpart. Also, everyone knows how much of a monster Ramsey is–were we really to believe anything else would happen? What about his behavior was all that shocking? So sure, strictly speaking, Sansa being raped is non-book. But Sansa being raped in the show completely fits with the role her character is assuming.
Critique 3: By focusing on Theon during the act itself, the show cheapens what is being done to Sansa
I don’t actually have much of a rebuttal to this one. The critique itself is on point–to a degree. I don’t believe that camera shot was done to make it “about Theon” or with the intent of weakening the impact on Sansa. Personally, I’m grateful we didn’t actually see Sansa being raped. Not only is Sophie Turner (the actress) only 19, making any on-screen sexual act she engages in only barely non-illegal and vastly more uncomfortable, but no viewer with any connection to Sansa’s character should want to watch her go through that. Having to hear it happening was bad enough. By showing Theon, whose forced viewership is incredibly disturbing in its own right, the director creates more of a connection to the act, and, therefore, to Sansa, one that I’m assuming will be essential moving forward (especially considering the quick look at the two of them in the preview for next week’s episode). I wanted to see Theon snap out of his position as Reek and stab Ramsey in the back as well, but Theon may be too far gone. Hopefully, his reaction to what he was watching (and I’m sure it’ll be overshadowed by the controversy surrounding the scene, but Alfie Allen continues to be spectacular) will be the first step in him breaking free from Ramsey’s control. So, overall, this critique isn’t entirely wrong and I agree to a point. Even my justifications for it feel a bit off or cheap to me. But, I don’t think we were better off with some of the alternatives.
So there’s my thoughts. I don’t like what happened to Sansa any more than anyone else, but it’s not exactly out of step with the show as a whole or Sansa’s storyline itself. If anything, the words of House Martell weren’t necessarily about the Dornish this week. Sansa’s been through more tragedy than just about anyone, and her wedding night is certainly a terrible addition to that list, but Sansa’s not done yet. Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken. Like the majority of the other characters this week, she’s been tested in almost every which way, but broken she is not. And like most of the stories this week, we can only hope the ending makes the middle worth it.
Spoilers and Speculation:
*Bronn is done for. No way they included the shot of him getting cut without the blade being poisoned. After all, it is Dorne. Kind of a weak way for him to die, honestly. Wish it had been more in line with the way Arys Oakheart dies in the book, if only to show how powerful Hotah is.
*If Doran isn’t pulling all the strings right now, I’m going to be a little bummed. The whole Dornish plot in the books was kind of boring to me until he revealed all of his plans and gave his “Vengeance. Fire and blood” speech. If we don’t get some iteration of that in the show, I’m deeming the Dornish subplot a bit of a failure.