“If you think this has a happy ending, you haven’t been paying attention.”
These gloating words, uttered by Ramsay Bolton in Season 3, aptly describe the tragic character arc of Sansa Stark. To date, the would-be queen of Westeros has been forced to endure the death of her pet direwolf, the execution of her father, endless abuse at the hands of Joffrey, the destruction of her ancestral home and the brutal slaughter of her remaining family. But last night’s episode served up the biggest ignobility yet. Winter has come for Sansa — and it’s a cold, stone-hearted bitch.
Warning: Spoilers within!
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Before we jump into the recap, we need to talk about last night’s climactic ending. After several weeks of psychological taunting, Ramsay Bolton finally “consummated” his marriage to his terrified bride. It was every bit as awful as we were dreading.
I find this storyline highly problematic for several reasons. Firstly, it’s an invention by HBO that never occurred in the books. (Indeed, the two characters haven’t even met.) More importantly, it felt gratuitous and unnecessary – a ‘Red Wedding moment’ added purely for shock value. Once again, the show has concocted the rape of a major female character in a cheap bid to jolt its audience. Not cool.
Sansa’s victimisation was infinitely worse than last season’s controversial encounter between Jaime and Cersei. Unlike the queen regent, Sansa was a captive, a virgin and possibly underage. There was crying. There were screams. A man she hated was in the room, watching. I feel that a line was crossed by the show, and all for a scene that doesn’t even appear in the source material!
I’m not sure where the showrunners are planning to go with this. If they attempt to sweep such a traumatic event under the carpet – as they did with the aforementioned Cersie/Jaime scene – I may well be done with the show entirely. In any event, the character of Sansa had surely suffered enough. The only thing I'll say in the scene's defence is that Alfie Allen's reaction really helped to sell the horror — but it was horror we didn't want or need.
Otherwise, episode 5.6 was much like the rest of season five thus far: decent, without ever being truly terrific. The theme was all about captivity this week – in quick succession, Jaime and Bronn, Tyrion and Jorah and Ser Loras and Margery were incarcerated by the Martels, slavers and Sparrows, respectively. (Despite this, the episode never felt repetitive which is to the director and writing team’s credit.)
In King's Landing, the Faith Militant continue to harass innocent members of House Tyrell at the urging of Queen Cersei. Despite the intervention of Lady Olenna (the always hilarious Diana Rigg), the High Sparrow has Ser Loras imprisoned for the crime of buggery, along with Queen Margery who was caught lying under oath in an attempt to save her brother's skin. Until now, Cersei has spent most of this season winning over viewers' sympathies. Last night, she reminded us that she's as wicked as they come with one barely concealed smile. Well played.
Elsewhere in King's Landing, Littlefinger lays out his cards to the queen — after the armies of Stannis and the Boltons decimate each other in the impending battle for Winterfell, he plans to sweep in and reclaim it for the Lannisters. In return, he humbly requests to be made Warden of the North. Doubtlessly he envisions himself ruling with Sansa by his side; presumably after dispatching Cersei who is hell-bent on the girl's execution. It would seem Peter Baelish has various wheels in motion; some of which have yet to be revealed to the audience. Could an alliance with the Sparrows against Cersei be on the cards?
Over in Dorne, Jaime and Bronn vied with each other to pull off the best Laurence Of Arabia impression before botching their attempted rescue of the queen's daughter. As luck would have it, the vengeful paramour and warrior daughters of Oberyn Martell show up at the exact same moment, leading to a bland and bloodless battle scene. Eventually, some soldiers break up the melee and the lot of them are carted off in chains. Ho-hum.
While it certainly looks nice, Dorne has proven to be the biggest disappointment of the season so far. It's not really adding anything to the show and the newly introduced characters have conspicuously failed to make up for Prince Oberyn's absence. Hopefully things will pick up in future episodes although they are fast running out of time. Fingers crossed, eh?'
On the road to Mereen, Tyrion and Jorah Mormont run afoul of some slavers and narrowly escape having their throats cut. In a nice piece of world building, Tyrion attempts to big up Jorah as the knight who unhorsed the fabled Jaime Lannister. This of course means nothing to the slavers, who all hail from the East. Jorah then boasts that he slew one of Khal Drogo's blood riders in single combat which has the desired effect. Also, we learned that "cock merchant" is a viable profession in Essos. Interesting.
Episode 5.6 also delivered some quality time with Arya. Everyone's favourite wolf cub is still learning the trade of the faceless men, which currently involves sweeping, cleansing corpses and learning how to lie effectively. While nothing particularly important happened, it was great to catch up with the coolest member of the Stark family. (It is known.)
Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken is destined to be remembered as a controversial episode; and probably not in a good way. What did you guys think? Did you find Sansa's wedding scene to be an appalling misfire or did it work for you dramatically? What sort of impact will it have in the rest of the season? Also, just how does one become a cock merchant? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.
Note: Please, no spoilers from the books in the comments below!
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