The Gift

(27 comments)

State of Play

The choir goes off. The board is laid out thusly:

Lions of Meereen: Tyrion Lannister
Lions of Dorne: Jaime Lannister
Lions of King's Landing: Cersei Lannister
Dragons of Meereen: Daenerys Targaryen
Direwolves of the Wall: Jon Snow
Mockingbirds of King's Landing: Petyr Baelish
Roses of King's Landing: Margaery Tyrell
The Burning Hearts, Stannis Baratheon and Mellisandre
The Ship, Davos Seaworth
Archers of the Wall: Samwell Tarly
Paws of the Wall: Tormund Giantsbane
Flowers of the Wall: Gilly
Stags of King's Landing: Tommen Baratheon
Kraken of Winterfell: Reek
Direwolves of Winterfell: Sansa Stark
Flayed Men of Winterfell: Ramsey Bolton
Shields of Winterfell: Brienne of Tarth
Chains of Dorne: Bronn
Swords of Meereen: Dario Noharis
With the Bear of Meereen, Jorah Mormont.

Braavos is abandoned.

The episode is in twelve parts. The first is three minutes long and is set at the Wall. The opening image is of a horse.

The second is three minutes long and is set in Winterfell. The transition is by hard cut, from a reaction shot of Gilly to an establishing shot of the hall outside Sansa's room.

The third is three minutes long and is set at the Wall. The transition is by image, from Brienne watching for a candle in the window to candles lit around Maester Aemon's deathbed. It features the death of Aemon Targaryen, who dies of old age.

The fourth is four minutes long and is set in Winterfell. The transition is by image, from snow falling over Maester Aemon's funeral pyre to snow falling on the battlements at Winterfell.

The fifth is four minutes long and is set on the road between Winterfell and the Wall. The transition is by image, of snow falling, and by dialogue, from Ramsey talking about Stannis in the winter to Stannis's camp in the winter.

The sixth is six minutes long and is set at the Wall. The transition is by hard cut, from Stannis to Gilly tending a fire.

The seventh is five minutes long and is in two sections; it is set in Meereen. The first section is three minutes long; the transition is by hard cut, from Sam and Gilly having sex to slaves being marched. The other is two minutes long; the transition is by hard cut, from Tyrion to Daenerys and Dario in bed.

The eighth part is seven minutes long and is in two sections; it is set in King's Landing. The first section is four minutes long; the transition is by hard cut, from Daenerys to an establishing shot of the Great Sept of Baelor. The second is three minutes long; the transition is by dialogue, from Oleanna talking about Margaery to Tommen and Cersei doing the same.

The ninth part is five minutes long and is in two sectionsl it is set in Dorne. The first section is one minute long; the transition is by family, from Cersei and Tommen to Jaime and Myrcella. The second section is four minutes long; the transition is by image, from Jaime standing in front of a window to a window in the prison.

The tenth part is two minutes long and is set in King's Landing. The transition is by image, from the window in the prison to Littlefinger peering through a hole in the wall.

The eleventh part is five minutes long and is set in Meereen. The transition is by hard cut, from Littlefinger to a man putting on armor.

The twelfth is eight minutes long and is set in King's Landing. The transition is by family, from Tyrion to Cersei. The final image is of the door to Cersei's cell.


Review

Well I suppose we should start with Winterfell, which, to say the least, did not go satisfyingly. Although perhaps it is most sensible to talk about that in relation to Meereen, where far more interesting things are afoot, as the show makes the glorious decision to have Tyrion and Daenerys meet, in marked contrast to the books where the meeting is still being delayed as of the end of A Dance With Dragons. It's a fantastic move full of possibility. Meanwhile, it's torture porn for Sansa, with an episode whose entire plot can be summarized, in terms of her, as "Brienne does not get involved."

Obviously, in a story with lots of moving parts, a major part of writing is figuring out how to not have things happen. Large swaths of Game of Thrones have necessarily been spent furiously not having characters do things - consider Tyrion in Season Three, for instance. It's often frustrating, but understandable.

All the same, when one plot is being brilliantly accelerated it makes the fact that we're stuck in a banal plot in which nothing happens save for a desperately unpleasant character ruling with cruel impunity over more interesting characters all the more frustrating. And I want to be clear, that's my objection. My objection is that Ramsey raping Sansa every night while she's powerless to do anything is fucking boring and banal. It's all stuff Game of Thrones has done before and done better. Ramsey isn't as good a sadist as Joffrey. The supporting cast around him and Sansa isn't as interesting as Tyrion, Shae, and Cersei. And on year five the show's attempt at one-upping its previous shocks are just feeling desperate and strained. Especially when it's done through pathetically contrived means like "Ramsey Bolton is eating dinner in a ruined tower for no apparent reason."

Because to be clear, I'm not opposed to using rape as a plot point. I accept that for a text that's invested in providing a commentary on the brutal material reality of politics and history to ignore the use of rape as a means of enforcing power would be dishonest.

I'm just opposed to being boring. And right now the Winterfell plot of "awful things happen to the only interesting character while the plot resolutely fails to advance" is the single dullest thing Game of Thrones has done since the Theon scenes in Season Three. Which, notably, included many of the same barely watchable characters.

And, of course, none of this is helped by the fact that Winterfell alternates with a not entirely satisfying Wall plot over the course of the episode's first twenty-three minutes. It's not that the Wall scenes are bad. But they're dealing with firmly secondary characters, which means they're not exactly long on momentum. And the attempted rape of Gilly was not a satisfying element to have sliced in with Winterfell's plot, given the issues that plot is having, and I have to admit, "have you considered murdering your daughter" isn't really a compelling Stannis plot either, at least at this point, whcih is a problem, especially as Stannis's plot is what Sansa's plot is waiting to catch up with. (Indeed, in some ways the biggest question here is "why are there seven minutes of nothing happening in Winterfell and only four of the plot Winterfell is on hold for?")

Thankfully after the first third of the episode things pick up, although it has to be said, the Dorne sequences are both messes, with Bronn's scene being particularly gratuitous both in terms of pointless nudity and in terms of a superfluous plot. The big revelation scene can't come soon enough for this plot.

King's Landing is delightful, on the other hand, with Olenna finally finding herself on the back foot and proving to be just as interesting when she can't make any progress as when she's slapping every other character around. Similarly, Cersei's comeuppance is delightful, and the slow inevitability of the trap closing around her is very well done.

And, of course, there's Meereen, which had what is probably the single most satisfying moment of the season so far as Tyrion and Daenerys actually, properly meet. Although one kind of wonders why nobody thinks telling Daenerys that the fighters are all slaves might be an interesting thing to do right now.

But with the first third of the episode spent wheel-spinning in the north and a turkey of a Dorne section breaking up the latter portion this is not an especially satisfying episode, which is particularly disappointing after last week's massive bomb.

Ranking

1. High Sparrow
2. The Wars to Come
3. Kill the Boy
4. Sons of the Harpy
5. The House of Black and White
6. The Gift
7. Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken

Predictions

(As always, book spoilers abound)

Looks like Braavos, Winterfell, King's Landing, Meereen, and the Wall, with no Dorne. From what I'm most confident in to what I found trickiest.

King's Landing: Looks mainly focused on Cersei raging futilely in the dungeon. I don't expect this to be a huge part of the episode, and it would not surprise me if Cersei is the only major King's Landing character to appear.

Braavos: Not in the trailer, but mentioned in the episode description with the very vague "Arya makes progress in her training." This will presumably be the Cat of the Canals material in which she's bringing three facts back to the House of Black and White daily. Eventually she's going to whack Meryn Trant, and I kind of expect him to show up this episode. [Addendum: The description for Episode 9 makes it clear that Trant will be showing up there.]

The Wall: From the title and trailer this looks like it will be the biggest part of the episode. They've made a lot of changes to what Jon is doing with the Wildlings, but I expect the broad strokes to remain in place, with him successfully negotiating a settlement with them.

Meereen: Looks like Daenerys is going to be spectacularly unmoved by Jorah's gift of Tyrion. Based on photos of what's probably the big scene of Drogon's return, I would guess she sends Jorah back to the pits, but keeps Tyrion around.

Winterfell: No evidence of Stannis, or really of anything besides Sansa and Tyrion, so I expect this will be a whole lot of nothing happening, although maybe there will be some meaningful progress in Theon's character arc.

Comments

Ezakur 2 years, 5 months ago

The show did a very poor job with the visuals, but Ramsey it's not eating in the broken tower where the candle is supposed to go... Theon betrayed Sansa and went instead to Ramsey's room... The visuals tried to trick us, until the reveal of Ramsey... Just a bad transition and a bad walking up the stairs...

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John 2 years, 5 months ago

It was your classic Silence of the Lambs switcheroo.

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Ezakur 2 years, 5 months ago

On second thought it was okay... Theon walks away of the tower and the camere while the point of view is from the tower's window. So we're supposed to asume the walking up the stairs bit is another place other than the tower... Still is somewhat jarring...

Don't know which Silence of the Lambs switcheroo are you talking about... Hannibal's flesh mask? If that's the one, I think the trick is completly different...

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Ciaran M 2 years, 5 months ago

I am still opposed to the idea that rape ought to be depicted because it was the social reality of the time, because:

a) It wasn't. The time doesn't exist. It's all made up.

b) The obsessiveness the showrunners have towards rape goes beyond the call of duty of an honest depiction

c) The use of rape to delineate between 'goodies' and 'baddies' is not a reflection of the social reality of the time. It is using rape to impose modern morality on a supposedly medieval society. As awfully handled as the Jaime/Cersei scene was, at least it put forward the notion that even the 'nicer' characters still have whacked-out understandings of gender roles. All the figurative moustache-twirling before the rapes is just insane and awful and highlights how dumb this show is. The closest the show got to understanding this was with Drogo and Dany.

I'd like to say I'm done with the show, but Stephen Dillane, Jonathan Pryce and Diana Rigg provide some bright lights for me to follow. The show is at its best when it's not pretending to be anything other than mostly well-acted medieval melodrama with some occasional sword fights.

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Neo Tuxedo 2 years, 5 months ago

the Winterfell plot of "awful things happen to the only interesting character while the plot resolutely fails to advance"

That's actually a pretty good summary of how I experienced Arya's plot up to the time I bailed out of the books.

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Philip Sandifer 2 years, 5 months ago

In order, then.

a) Yes, but the time being depicted is still meant to serve as an analogue for real history. Yes, you could exclude rape if you wanted to, but I think the burden of proof there shifts to "why is the use of rape as a means of enforcing power an aspect of history we should exclude?"

b) I agree, inasmuch as by this point in the show they have rendered it, as I said, banal.

c) Yes, I agree. There's a (very modern) aesthetic going on at this point where rape is the ultimate and unforgivable crime, which is a tricky thing to do in a world where mass murder is a routine thing. I on the one hand wish that some of the books' moral greyness regarding sex - particularly around Tyrion - had been retained. On the other, as much as I dislike the conversations we have around the show, the rape apologism that would start up if Tyrion were portrayed as he were in the books would be outright unbearable. I suspect, dismally, that the world of 2015 is simply not one in which a massive television show can do moral ambiguity around rapists.

For what it's worth, though, there are several instances where I think the show has handled rape very well. Cersei's cruel casualness when she says that everyone "will be in for a bit of a rape" if Stannis takes the city in Blackwater was, for instance, flat-out genius.

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Philip Sandifer 2 years, 5 months ago

Arya's plot in Books Two and Three is neither book's highlight, I agree. (And correspondingly, in Seasons Two and Three, though the sheer brilliance of the Arya/Hound double act largely salvaged it in Season Four.)

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Matt Marshall 2 years, 5 months ago

I loved the Arya/Tywin show of season 2, that was a great change from the book

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Philip Sandifer 2 years, 5 months ago

Yes. I think it rewatches better than it watches, though. It's vastly improved by having seen Tywin in the next two seasons and knowing him better as a character.

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Simon (formerly Johnny Sorrow) 2 years, 5 months ago

The House of Black and White has constantly demanded that Arya surrender her identify in order to become "no one." So she has to give up her old clothes and her old name. Is it possible, therefore, that she will also have to give up her kill list as well? It would be classic dramatic irony: Arya cannot become the faceless killer, except by forsaking the very reason she so desires that transformation.

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TheOncomingHurricane 2 years, 5 months ago

For what it's worth, though, there are several instances where I think the show has handled rape very well. Cersei's cruel casualness when she says that everyone "will be in for a bit of a rape" if Stannis takes the city in Blackwater was, for instance, flat-out genius.

I don't think the show really deserves credit for that as it's pretty much lifted directly from A Clash of Kings Sansa VI, and the episode was written by Martin anyway.

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TheOncomingHurricane 2 years, 5 months ago

I think that Tyene scene is one of the most stupid scenes I have ever seen. Bring back sexposition, at least it had a point? Nothing is exposited and nothing advances anything...it's just...there? It's completely pointless as anything apart from the most contrived reason to get an actress out of their clothes. I thought it was building to Bronn being killed but apparently not? What was the point?

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Ciaran M 2 years, 5 months ago

A point of clarification for a), which was more about commentators claiming that Sansa's rape was depicted in the most tasteful way possible, whereas I would argue that the most tasteful scenario would be not contriving a situation where a made-up young girl is repeatedly raped by a made-up sadist.

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Ciaran M 2 years, 5 months ago

As for c), I very much agree that our media just isn't ready for that level of moral complexity in its depictions of rape, but I just wish it didn't keep pulling shit like this and Gone Girl, both of which feel like we're pushing out in the wrong direction

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Shane Cubis 2 years, 5 months ago

Remember the good old days, when boobs were their own reward?

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HarlequiNQB 2 years, 5 months ago

I believe John means the scene where the police apparently arrive at Buffalo Bill's front door, but it turns out to be a different door entirely.

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encyclops 2 years, 5 months ago

I'm trying to remember if Stannis has said "no" to Melisandre on a semifrequent basis in the past, or if this is sort of new, where his drawing a line at sacrificing his daughter will start to divide the two of them. That's about all I can figure about that scene.

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Daru 2 years, 5 months ago

I found that prison scene really dull.

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Daru 2 years, 5 months ago

That would be interesting and feels possible, as the Many Faced ones serve the many faced God and not their own agendas.

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Daru 2 years, 5 months ago

I don't remember hearing this question from Melisandre before, and he did seem shocked and definite in his no, but it feels a bit like Melisandre grasping.

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Daru 2 years, 5 months ago

"It's all stuff Game of Thrones has done before and done better. Ramsey isn't as good a sadist as Joffrey. The supporting cast around him and Sansa isn't as interesting as Tyrion, Shae, and Cersei."

I am wearying of these scenes in Winterfell and find myself wishing for Brienne just to storm in and do something dramatic and awful to Ramsay, simply to get it finished there.

I do like Iwan Rheon, as he was really enjoyable in Misfits but I have found him pretty two dimensional as Ramsay. It could have been possible to explore more than just a rape plot as surely if he has secured both his marriage to Sansa and at least on some level his name as a Lord, then there could have been a wider story possible regarding his position as a Lord ?

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Daru 2 years, 5 months ago

And then we may have seen more of Iwan's acting range.

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encyclops 2 years, 5 months ago

He's a weird character. In a world where so many (relatively) nuanced characters do awful things for nuanced reasons, he's a straightforward homicidal sociopath and seems imported from some other less interesting show (or, unfortunately, from reality). Rheon is pretty much the only reason he's watchable, I think, but I agree he can only do so much.

What I was hoping to see is that Ramsay would unexpectedly treat Sansa well, confusing everyone around him, creating suspense, and perhaps giving Miranda a reason to fuck some shit up. Not that I think a catfight is much of a step up, but it would at least have been more intriguing.

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Froborr 2 years, 5 months ago

Honestly, my main hope at this point is that Sansa manipulates him into a conflict with Roose Bolton over the impending birth of a rival. Or shanks him with whatever that was she picked up--a bottle opener? Some kind of hook?

Preferably something that results in the deaths of the Boltons and Theon so all the boring characters at Winterfell can be swept off the board just in time for Stannis and Melisandre to show up.

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Froborr 2 years, 5 months ago

Yeah, following a terrible episode with one that was was mediocre at best was not a good move. And having the attempted rape of Gilly just an episode after Sansa? It's starting to feel like the writers are just running down the list of female characters, ticking off anyone they haven't shown being raped yet. It's both repulsive and boring--much as I like Danaerys and Tyrion meeting, and everything happening in King's Landing, this show needs to get better fast or I'm done.

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Daru 2 years, 5 months ago

Aye encyclops it really would have been interesting to see Ramsay do something utterly surprising, as we have been down the road so often now of characters doing terrible things.

And yep Froborr, getting those characters off of the gameplay area would be great wouldn't it? I do see to some kind of manipulated conflict being possible as there are real tensions there - and it would also be good to see Sansa's intelligence come to the fore.

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