Season Five, Episode Four — “The Sons of the Harpy”
By Jarrod Jones. Chess metaphors are exhausting. But with Game of Thrones they’re practically mandatory, so guess what. Hey, you guys, guess what: Daenerys just lost both of her knights. That’s right, Sir Barristan Selmy (king of knights and king of quits) finally got to unsheathe his legendary sword only to have death given to him by a motley crew of gold fetishists. Yep, Game of Thrones is back, only with 1000% more throat slashes. It’s been a long road for Tyrion and Varis, but it looks like Jorah is helping us all out by expediting their travels to Essos. The Sparrows now operate with impunity, and it’s as silly as you’d imagine. Melisandre makes a move on Jon. Tommen finally suffers from impotence. Another day in purgatory.
WHAT WORKED: Watching Bronn (Jerome Flynn) and Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) traipse about the Narrow Sea worked so well that this entire subplot ought to be expanded into a pilot and screened as a potential series. Buddy mercenaries! Subplots in Game of Thrones can be some real “abyss gazes also” stuff, but the chemistry between these two men worked so naturally that I felt like I was watching some kinda medieval Lethal Weapon. And speaking of weapons, Jamie employing his artificial appendage in battle (by accident, because this is Jaime Lannister we’re talking about here) was pretty hilarious too.
WHAT DIDN’T: While it’s vitally important that a show with a profile like Game of Thrones place women in a position of power that transcends mere status (Brienne! Arya! Where were you this week?), this episode’s subplot in introducing the Sand Snakes (Keisha Castle-Hughes, Jessica Henwick, and Rosabell Laurenti Sellers) was an utter non-starter. Watching Ellaria Sand (Indira Varma) attempting to galvanize her daughters into sweet, sweet revenge for dear, departed Oberyn with some of the episode’s worst dialogue (“You must choose… Doran’s way and peace, or my way… and war“) was an exercise in narrative nose-picking. As much as it still stings to see Oberyn dead as fuck, I’m hoping like hell the Sand Snakes pick up some agency beyond simple vengeance, because it ain’t working.
Listening to Sir Barristan (Ian McElhinney) give a dusty old tale to Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) only meant that we were about to see the man die. It’s a common, nagging trope to have someone actually enjoy life onscreen only to have them die horribly in the following sequence in Game of Thrones (Red Wedding, anyone?), and as he related his story of singing and revelry with the would-be Queen’s brother, the only thought going through my mind was, “oh, great. They’re going to kill Sir Barristan.”
The episode’s sharp, frenetic edits only help matters in small instances (Bronn tossing a blade at a snake next to Jaime’s head, for instance) but they deter quality in a profound way when the show gets to serious business. The final battle between Sir Barristan, the Unsullied, and the Sons of the Harpy was filmed with the patience of a ritalin-riddled fourteen year-old who just discovered puberty.
“Aren’t you and mother getting long?” – Tommen, painfully adorable.
“You are the Princess Shireen of the House Baratheon. And you are my daughter.” – Stannis, getting me misty.
“I want my death to be boring. How would you go?” – Bronn. “In the arms of the woman I love.” Jaime.
“How many do you count?” “Four.” “How many do you think you can you take?” “One, if he’s slow.” – Bronn and Jamie, sussing things out.
BEST MOMENT: Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane) has rarely held my attention longer than the length of any sequence that held him, but a quiet moment with his young daughter Shireen (Kerry Ingram) got me all kinds of misty. “Are you ashamed of me, father?” Shireen asks with an adorable pout. She knows that her dear old dad has had to bear a put-upon indignity with his only heir a scarred female, but we finally get a good, long listen at Stannis’ heartbeat. Only we didn’t hear a heartbeat. We heard a heart-thunder. (*mic drop*)
EPISODE’S MVP(s): It’s a two-fer this week. Bronn and Jaime are the team-up this series deserves, and the one it really needs right now.
– Obviously, the big time wink and nod came from Sansa’s visit to the Stark family tomb. We’re talking first episode shit here. That feather in her hand, if you don’t already know, is the exact same feather that King Robert Baratheon placed in the stone hand of his dearly departed true love, Lyanna Stark. (Who, y’know, is totally Jon Snow’s mom.) Placing that feather in Sansa’s hand is quite a tell for a season that is beset with narrative uncertainty. Sansa has the feather, does this mean she will have the power too? Only time will tell.
– That smirk Littlefinger gives Sansa after she mentions that Rhaegar Targaryen raped her aunt killed me. He knows something.
– Whoever choreographed this week’s episode ought to be given notice. Whoever edited theses fight scenes ought to be run out of town.
– The more the show diverges from the books, the more it gets downright silly: you mean to tell me that five of the Unsullied would be trounced by a bunch of chumps in gold masks? And Sir Barristan? Come on.
– I swear to god, if one more person tells Jon about how little he knows, I’m quitting this show.
– Also, anyone who takes time out of their lives to inform a character (and by proxy, the audience) that “winter is coming,” yeah. Quitting.