First of all, I rather enjoyed this episode (except for Dorne, which still sucks). But, let me say this: the obvious through line the writers intended was gifts given between the characters, but that is only a mildly interesting connection. A better title for this episode would have been “Butchers and Meat.”
Every storyline involved some sort of gift. Tyrion from Jorah to Daenerys, information from Littlefinger to the Queen of Thorns, dragon glass from Sam to Jon, sex from Gilly to Sam, the antidote from the Sand Snake to Bronn, and a flayed body from Ramsay to Sansa. You could write a review just picking apart these gifts and their intentions and probable results.
But, that would still keep all the plotlines separate, when they all actually function on the same principle. What we’ve really learned this week comes directly from Daario: “Rulers are either butchers or meat.” This is, in fact, one of the major themes of the entire work, whether in novel or series format. The structure of power that separates the powerful from the people they control favors brutality. In this power structure, sadism is a feature, not a flaw. So, even those who would seek to mitigate that brutality and create a fairer system are faced with the choice of engaging in violence or succumbing to it.
The application of this lesson in Meereen is obvious (although, I do wonder how, exactly, Tyrion is going to help her). But, the same lesson carries into everything this episode offered.
Ramsay is a butcher. He showed that to Sansa directly. It will take much more than a poorly thought-out plan to make him meat. More interesting is Stannis. Does he kill his daughter to gain power, or will he be ground up by a northern winter?
And then there’s Sam. Sam’s face was tenderized, but he certainly found his bravery. As a reward, Gilly breaks his vow for him. But that bravery will last only so long. He needs to escape to the South before the crows set on him. I’m curious to see how they’ll get him out without the elaborate - and genius - plan Jon implemented in the novels, but it’s gotta happen soon, or Sam is done.
Here’s my Dornish comment for the week: The Dornish subplot in this adaptation is a boring soft-core porn with slightly better dialogue. It may have been a tad slow in the novels, but the sensual portions were earned through real and complete character development. Here, it’s become tits-for-tits’-sake, terrible accents, thin characters, and predictable actions. It’s really beneath this show.
However, King’s Landing has finally clicked back into the necessary plot. The addition of homosexuality to Ser Loras has been occasionally interesting, but it makes the arrest of Margery less believable if she’s only arrested for perjury. Had she been arrested for lechery, Tomen’s reluctance to act would have been more understandable. But what’s past is past. The error of Cersie’s Faith Militant gambit finally hit home. I’ve been wondering why Lancel hadn’t confessed his sins with Cersei to the High Sparrow (I still wonder), but if the High Sparrow was put on his case by the Queen of Thorns, so much the better. Both women have used the sparrow to achieve their ends.
One more thing that I’ve wondered since the end of Dance with Dragons and now: how will the Sparrow lose? It’s clear that Martin is using the sparrows to represent the Puritanical elements of the Protestant Reformation. And, historically, the Puritans did topple a dynasty in England for decades seeking to purify the nation. However, that rebellion was put down with great violence and bloodshed. But, despite their fanaticism, we should be rooting for the sparrows. Only the sparrows want to break the sadistic power structure and raise up the poor. That’s why he threatened the Queen of Thorns. “When the many stop fearing the few,” they will overthrow them. This is essentially the same idea as, “People should not be afraid of their governments; governments should be afraid of the people.” The sparrows offer a more democratic path forward, if just as brutal. Therefore, they will fall to those more comfortable with brutality and power. The only question is, when will the butchers slaughter the meat?