Game of Thrones sometimes gives us explosive conflict that takes our breath away. Other times it shows us the slow process of building influence and establishing a position, similar to a game of chess. “High Sparrow” has the feel a chess game, as many of our characters have charted new paths in the ever-changing landscape of Game of Thrones.
[For the recap, continue reading—but if you want to go straight to the review analysis of this episode, click here.]
Arya in Braavos
At the House of Black and White, Arya Stark is trying to understand how things work. We’re not exactly sure what goes on at the House of Black and White, but it certainly doesn’t involve anything fun. Arya watches as a man drinks a cup from a fountain surrounded by statues of various gods. He then prostrates himself before one of the gods.
Arya has become fed up with her sweeping duties at the House of Black and White. She’s impatient to become a faceless man and tells the Faceless Man formerly known as Jaqen H’ghar (who we will refer to as Jaqen H’ghar for convenience’s sake) she wants to learn how to become a faceless man.
Jaqen H’ghar: “A man teachers a girl Valar dohaeris—all men must serve. Faceless men most of all.”
Arya: “I want to serve.”
Jaqen H’ghar: “A girl wants to serve herself. Here we serve the Many-faced God. To serve well, a girl must become no one.”
Arya: “Which one’s Many-faced God? I see The Stranger, I see the Drowned God, I see the Wayward Face.”
Jaqen H’ghar: “There is only one god. A girl knows his name. And all men know his gift.”
Arya looks over at the man who drank from the fountain; he now lies dead after having received the gift of the Many-faced God.
Arya is challenged by another girl serving at the House of Black and White, who asks her, “Who are you?” Jaqen H’ghar interrupts them. He questions how Arya can be “no one” when she’s surrounded by the belongings of Arya Stark. Later, Arya discards the vestiges of her former life, but she can’t bear to throw Needle into the waterway. Instead she hides her sword in some rocks. When she returns to The House of Black and White, Jaqen H’ghar brings her to a lower level, where she begins to assist with the preparation of the body of the man who died earlier. Sweeping doesn’t seem so bad, after all.
Cersei, Margaery, and Tommen in King’s Landing
Tommen Baratheon has just wed Margaery Tyrell. Game of Thrones has wisely made him look significantly older than when we last saw him. Apparently he’s old enough to consummate the marriage—it’s all very creepy. Margaery is using their time together wisely—getting him to think about whether he wants his mother watching so closely over him now that he is a husband and King. The next day Tommen asks his mother if she misses Casterly Rock and if she wouldn’t prefer living there. Cersei manages to keep her cool, but realizes the game is afoot. Cersei goes to see Margaery, telling her to let her know if there’s anything she needs. Margaery uses this opportunity to remind Cersei of her altered status by asking her if she prefers the title of Queen Mother or Dowager Queen. Margaery tells Cersei, “In any event, judging from the King’s enthusiasm, the Queen Mother will be a Queen Grandmother soon.” Grandchildren will make Cersei even more irrelevant. Margaery knows how to stick the knife in, in a very polite way.
Elsewhere in King’s Landing, the High Septon of the Faith of the Seven is dragged out of a brothel by a group of Sparrows, a radical religious group. The Sparrows, who include Cersei’s cousin Lancel Lannister, force the High Septon to walk naked down the streets of King’s Landing for his sin. After his walk of shame, the High Septon comes to the Small Council, asking that they execute the leader of the Sparrows, the High Sparrow, for what they’ve done to him.
Cersei goes into the city to talk to the High Sparrow in person. Though he admits the Sparrows could have been more careful in their dealings with the High Septon, he tells her that his hypocrisy had to be addressed. When the High Sparrow asks if she has come to arrest him, she answers:
“The High Septon’s behavior was corrosive, as was his attitude. Having a man like that reside in the Sept eats away the Faith from the inside. So now he resides in the Red Keep’s dungeons instead. The Faith and the Crown are the two pillars that hold up this world. If one collapses, so does the other. You must do everything necessary to protect one another.”
When Cersei returns to the Red Keep she finds Qyburn working in his sinister laboratory. She gives a note to Qyburn and tells him to have it sent to Petyr Baelish, adding, “Make sure Littlefinger is clear on the meaning of the word “immediate.” After she leaves, the mass laying on the table under a sheet makes some jerky movements, and Qyburn quietly says, “Shhh … Easy, friend.” That can’t be good.
The Boltons at Winterfell
Ramsey Bolton has been busy flaying Northerners. This time he flayed a Lord alive for refusing to acknowledge the Boltons as the wardens of the North. As they eat dinner, nervously served by Theon Greyjoy, Ramsey’s father Roose Bolton points out they don’t have enough men to hold Winterfell if the other houses rise up against them. With Tywin’s death they can’t expect help from the Lannisters, and will need to forge new alliances. He tells Ramsey it’s time his son gets married.
Petyr Baelish and Sansa Stark have reached Moat Cailin. Sansa realizes they are on the way to the North and that Petyr intends for her to marry a Bolton. Naturally she is upset, pointing out that Roose Bolton is a traitor and murderer. He tells Sansa he promised her to Ramsey Bolton. If she he thinks Roose is bad, wait until she understands the depravity of Ramsey Bolton. She refuses, telling Petyr she will die first. Petyr responds:
“I won’t force you to do anything. Don’t you know by now how much I care for you? Say the word and we turn the horses round, but listen to me. Listen. You’ve been running all your life. Terrible things happened to your family and you weep. You sit alone in a dark room, mourning their fates. You’ve been a bystander to tragedy from the day they executed your father. Stop being a bystander, you hear me? Stop running. There’s no justice in the world. Not unless we make it. You loved your family. Avenge them.”
His words have an impact. She gets back on her horse and they head toward Moat Cailin.
Brienne of Tarth and Podrick Payne are watching Baelish and Sansa from a distant ridge. Though they will have to go around the valley to keep following them safely, Brienne says she knows where they are going. They make camp and talk. He tells her that she is the best fighter he has ever seen and that he is proud to be her squire. Brienne softens towards him and agrees to teach him how to fight and ride properly. Podrick asks Brienne how she came to serve Renly Baratheon. She shares her story with him and tells Podrick that someday she will avenge Renly by killing Stannis Baratheon.
Baelish and Sansa arrive at Winterfell. Sansa manages to keep her composure when meeting the Boltons. A servant shows Sansa her room, saying, “Welcome home, Lady Stark. The North remembers.” Hopefully this will help to steel Sansa’s nerves for what she must do, whatever that may be.
Ramsey gives Petyr his word that he’ll never hurt Sansa. Somehow we do not believe him. Roose and Petyr discuss the impact Ramsey and Sansa’s marriage will have on the Lannisters. Petyr has received a message from Cersei, causing Roose to question their new alliance. Petyr tells Roose, “The Eyrie is mine. The last time the lords of the Eyrie formed an alliance with the lords of the North, they brought down the greatest dynasty this world has ever known.”
Jon Snow at the Wall
Jon Snow tells Stannis Baratheon he won’t accept his offer to be legitimized as a Stark and take back Winterfell.
Jon: “I pledged my life to the Night’s Watch.”
Stannis: “You’re as stubborn as your father. And as honorable.”
Jon: “I can imagine no higher praise.”
Stannis: “I didn’t mean it as praise. Honor got your father killed.”
Stannis tells Jon he is leaving for Winterfell within a fortnight, without the wildlings. He points out that instead of executing the wildlings, Jon could approach Tormund. Stannis also advises sending Alliser Thorne to another part of the Wall.
Jon: “I heard it was best to keep your enemies close.”
Stannis: “Whoever said that didn’t have many enemies.”
Who knew Stannis was funny.
Despite having the option to give him the job of digging a new latrine pit, John names Alliser Thorne First Ranger of the Night’s Watch. Jon tells Lord Janos he has command of Greyguard, which Janos isn’t exactly thrilled about it. Janos makes the mistake of refusing Jon’s order and gets his head chopped off as a result. Jon does the beheading himself, just as Eddard Stark taught him.
Varys and Tyrion in Volantis
As they journey to Meereen, Tyrion can’t bear being in the carriage any longer. Despite Varys’ warnings, Tyrion demands they visit Volantis. While out in the streets of the city, Tyrion’s sarcastic remarks get him noticed by a Red Priestess, and not in a good way. Varys and Tyrion go to a brothel, where it happens that Ser Jorah Mormont is also drinking, unnoticed. After finding a dark-haired girl he likes, Tyrion is overtaken by sadness. He leaves the girl and goes up to the roof to urinate onto the city streets. Someone comes up behind him and we see it’s Ser Jorah Mormont. Jorah ties up Tyrion, saying that he will take him to the Queen. Perhaps Tyrion is going to get to meet Daenerys Tagaryen in different circumstances than he expected.
“High Sparrow” Review
Arya’s reluctance to dispose of Needle was touching. The sword was a gift from Jon Snow and has served her well through difficult times. Arya’s determination to become a Faceless Man was driven by her thirst for vengeance, yet to become a Faceless Man she will have to give up her past life and desires.
It’s fascinating to watch Margaery and Cersei compete for power through Tommen. They are careful to only speak well of each other with Tommen, but their words have an undercurrent of malice. Cersei tries to show that she is in charge by telling Margaery to come to her if she needs anything, while Margaery asserts herself by pointing out how Cersei’s position has changed with Tommen’s marriage. Both women seem to be playing their cards close to the vest, but we can only imagine their conflict will only grow. Cersei appears to be acting in a much more restrained manner in “High Sparrow” than in the first two episodes of Season 5. Her visit to the Sparrows seems out of character for Cersei. After seeing how beloved Margaery is by the people of King’s Landing, perhaps Cersei needs her own allies among the common folk.
Sansa is taking a huge risk by going to Winterfell. What is her plan of vengeance? Is she hoping to create a Red Wedding-type massacre, or will it be a long-term approach? Whatever the plan is, let’s hope that she can implement it before Ramsey Bolton does something horrible to her. We feel a bit better knowing that Brienne will be in shadows to provide assistance.
We’re loving Jon Snow as Lord Commander. He’s off to a great start by trying to bring Alliser Throne into the fold and asserting his power by executing Lord Janos. Will he be able to consolidate his power and help the Night’s Watch survive the coming winter?
It’s great to see Ser Jorah Mormont return. When he tells Tyrion he is taking him to the Queen, we can only assume he means Daenerys, as it doesn’t seem like Jorah would go to Cersei. Jorah may see this as his chance to get back in Daenerys’ good graces, but she did tell him she would kill him if he ever returned. Is bringing a disgraced Lannister to Daenerys enough for her to commute Jorah’s sentence?
“High Sparrows” continues to show us how many of these characters have changed in Season 5 of Game of Thrones. Those who once sought power indirectly are now making bolder moves, while those whose influence has waned look to rebuild their positions through more subtle means. “High Sparrows” shows us that there are a lot of players looking for opportunities in Game of Thrones.