Political Analysis of HBO’s Game of Thrones, Season 5 Episode 7, “The Gift”

Apologies for the lateness of getting this up, but I’m currently on a train, and internet is being a bit spotty. Anyway, my usual column is up at Salon.com – this time, I examine the theme of sacrifice.



43 thoughts on “Political Analysis of HBO’s Game of Thrones, Season 5 Episode 7, “The Gift”

  1. Winnie says:

    Great analysis as always Steve. On a OT note, perhaps you could consider writing for Salon more often on other topics besides GoT-other reviews/cultural analysis. Just a thought.

    Back to “The Gift,” I must say I found this episode to be an immense improvement over last week. The pacing was great, it flowed naturally, it was well written and well directed, and we *finally* got some important climaxes, namely Cersei being hoist on her own petard, (and Margaery isn’t even the real threat-she’s not the YMBQ, I’m sure of it,) and Tyrion meeting Dany. I was pleasantly surprised that happened when it did and I can’t tell you how glad I am that it did happen. It should have happened in ADWD, but sadly Martin *wasn’t* willing to sacrifice some of the world building/travelogues to finally get to that point.

    • Son of fire says:

      Technically it’s “someone younger more beautiful”,the word queen is never given in maggy’s speech on show or in book.
      I thought they dropped the ball with cersei’s capture….i mean the reveal with lancel was great but she should of pushed her way out and ran to the great hall of the sept & then been surrounded by 10 septa’s in an over head camera shot using a crane,sort of like the rapor scene in jurasic park the lost world….with septa’s coming in from all angle’s to grab her.

      • FourTen says:

        They should have saved Lancel’s S5 debut for this episode. Have the High Sparrow make the accusations of Cercei’s crimes, get the denials, then checkmate with the Lancel reveal.

        • The problem is then you have to explain who Lancel is. You don’t want the reaction of a large section of your audience to be “who is that?”

          • Fourten says:

            That would be the explanation. First tease it in the previouslys (keeping Kevan’s statement but without Lancel being there too), then intercut the High Sparrow’s generalities-about-society-becoming-increasingly-specific-accusations-against-Cercei with shots of a unrevealed figure getting his hair shaved and his forehead carved until Cercei (and the audience) realize that there is only one person who’d know all her ‘sins’. Lancel is then revealed, a shocked Cercei says “Lancel…” (for that segment of the audience that needs it) Lancel doles out pleasantries about finding peace with The Faith, Cercei instead runs for it/her invisible guards attack but she is still dragged off.

  2. allenips says:

    This episode was indeed a gift, a gift to all. The arrival of Tyrion in Dany’s presence, Jorah Mormont representing what a Westerosi Knight can do, and even the darkest gift to Ramsay of the Northern infiltrator into his hands via Reek. The best gift of all was the beginning of Cersei’s fall from Grace. As we ramp up for the last three episodes of the season, I hope we see all her machinations fall apart, perhaps with a reveal a threat was never sent from Dorne, and that Cersei produced that to manipulate Jaime into taking Myrcella back against political interests.

    • Winnie says:

      That’s actually a great theory-and that could easily be the last straw that convinces Jaime to desert Cersei’s cause entirely and instead head off to help Brienne up North.

      Or maybe Jaime just finds out about Lancel and/or what she’s been up to with the Faith.

      Must say, Steve, I like your reasoning that Baelish is offering to kill Olyvar, on whom the whole case against Loras and Margaery rests. Hope it works too-I want to see House Tyrell survive all this, I truly do. But they’re not going to be staying in KL much longer.

      Man the final three episodes are going to be packed…

      • Keith B says:

        “I want to see House Tyrell survive all this, I truly do.”

        What have you seen in the last four and a half seasons that makes you think the show will cater to your desires? They’ve continually stacked the deck against the characters the audience sympathizes with. Why should they change now?

        The Lady Olenna we’ve seen is a very savvy individual who is the de facto ruler of the richest and most powerful House in Westeros. By now she would understand what she’s up against, both with Cersei and the High Sparrow, and would start making good on her threats and using the great resources of House Tyrell to first stop the Sparrows, then remove Cersei and fill the Small Council with Tyrell supporters. King Tommen would remain what he is now, a figurehead.

        Instead, she’s reduced to hatching plots with the most dangerous and least trustworthy person in Westeros. Why? Because the authors say so.

        What I’m hoping is that she show starts to take a more surrealist turn, with the characters fighting back against the authors and saying, “No, I won’t do this stupid thing just because the plot calls for it.”

  3. artihcus022 says:

    If they removed the Sansa section and the attempted rape of Gilly, it would have been a good episode.

    The sansa section is a black hole, it sucks all joy and its incredibly illogical, even moreso than the Dornish section. Why does Sansa, who knows that Theon Greyjoy betrayed Robb, who believes that Theon killed her baby brothers and who she hated in all the previous five episodes, why would she suddenly decide to trust this man? Why give him her one trump card, and tell him her secret about lighting a candle on the tower when she has zero reason to believe that Theon is actually sympathetic or on her side? The logic is so poor and senseless that it just makes me sad that this stuff has to be pointed out. Even Book!Sansa had better motivations for telling Cersei about Ned’s travel arrangements and she never made that same mistake again.

    • Sean C. says:

      Given that he’s apparently the only person who comes to see her apart from Ramsay’s rape visitation periods, I guess it’s a lack of options.

      Though the question of why the old lady couldn’t figure out that Sansa, now imprisoned within her room 24 hours a day, was no longer in a position to light the candle herself is one for the ages.

      • artihcus022 says:

        The point is it totally makes sense for Book!Jeyne to rely on Theon because she is actually helpless and has no secret Stark loyalist to rally to her and likewise after being taken under Littlefinger and separated from all her friends and loved ones for years, seeing Theon would have been a burst of familiarity and her only best chance (and which totally worked, we don’t give Jeyne enough credit but she was far more logical about her escape than what we see in this show). But Show!Jeyne (formerly known as Sansa) has been in King’s Landing for three years, and on the road with Littlefinger, she knows Ser Dontos, she knows Lysa Arryn and she’s been repeatedly disillusioned. It makes zero sense for her to even think Theon would help her based on what she knows. It beggars disbelief.

        I mean she could have tried guilting Theon a little better, or been more subtle instead of outright telling him her only means of escape. It’s rotten writing and stupidity.

        • “It’s rotten writing and stupidity”.

          Just as this entire storyline has been from the start, so I guess they are consistent in that regard.

          I love the idea of calling her Show! Jeyne. I’ve also seen people call her Jeynsa. It certainly doesn’t make sense to call her Sansa. And yes, book! Jeyne was acting smarter, and more proactive – she begged Theon to help her escape *before* the wedding, as she had heard about Ramsay’s reputation and knew what awaited her. Which means she also had better intelligence (in both senses of the word) than show! Littlefinger.

          Some of my Tumblr friends have started calling show characters by different names, to differentiate from book characters they don’t resemble at all: Deadpan Stormborn, Carol Lannister, Larry Lannister, Saint Tyrion, Fauxlaria, Brienne the Brute, Sand Fakes, Varys Marx, the Faith Taliban, Batfinger, Meli-sans-bra… It seems that Sophie Turner has so far played at least 3 different characters on the show: Show! Sansa (who also may have been two different people, switching often between smart Sansa and stupid Sansa), a strange character called Darth Sansa, who took great pride in the empowered way she changed her dress and dyed her hair, before morphing this season into an even stranger character with deeply mysterious and unexplainable motivations, Jeynsa. Who knows what she will turn into next season?

  4. SummerIsComing says:

    There are plenty a characters to wish for more precious screentime, but in particular, just for the sake of the story, I kind of wished we’d get a bit more Myrcella Baratheon since really hasn’t had that much and she’s so central to Jaime’s storyline. I do like that people are singling out the directing. The shot of Septa Unella throwing Cersei into her cell was really well framed and executed. Usually down for some Sansa storyline bashing, but I didn’t feel that she was so bad this episode in what they gave her to do. If not Theon, who else is she going to ask? It is kind of weird that there are no other Northerner lords are at her wedding, but I get it for making the story more simplified (probably a better term would more focused) on Sansa, Theon, Ramsay and Brienne (c’mon Brienne). I gave the show credit for Shae’s S1 line about Tysha, “A girl who was almost raped doesn’t invite another man into her bed two hours later.” and seem like a keen observation so it seems a bit weird to throw that out with Gilly and Sam although I guess Tysha’s situation was “more progressed” than Gilly’s grabbing and verbal threats? Man alive this show likes its uncomfortable comparisons (was what happened to Gilly “worst” than Tysha or was what happened to Theon “worst” than what Sansa is going through… urgh… next topic please).

    • Son of fire says:

      Gilly’s father was craster…i’ll say no more!

      • SummerIsComing says:

        Tyrion and Tysha are total strangers to each other whereas Sam and Gilly have been into each since the first time they saw each all the way back in Season Two so that’s important difference I guess.

    • Sean C. says:

      The reintroduction of Myrcella has been a complete dud, unfortunately. I don’t want to blame the actress, because she’s working with badly-compromised material. Myrcella has never really been a character on the show til now, but the writers have just dropped her into the narrative as if she should already be very familiar with her personality, her wants and desires, her current status quo, etc. Both of her scenes feel like we switched on an episode midway through and missed the establishing scenes.

      • Captain Splendid says:

        Eh, the whole Dorne storyline is in exactly the same thing as the Sansa storyline. Sansa and Jaime are obviously going to be needed to some degree in the endgame, and thus need to be kept around and warmed up narratively, so hence we get “Your turn to get raped” and “Boring action filler” because anything more involved would screw up the rhythm.

        • And the fact that they see “getting raped” as on the same level and no more of a detour for a character than “boring action filler” tells you all you need to know about the show and the way it deals with sexual violence and female characters.

  5. Jim B says:

    Technically, Cersei isn’t on trial for her alleged incest with Jaime — and, if the books are any guide, she’ll escape conviction on that point — but if that were to come to light, what would the High Sparrow do?

    Tommen and Myrcella would be condemned as abominations. That leaves Stannis as the lawful heir, but would the Faith tolerate a king who follows R’hllor? What alternative would they have — supporting a Targaryen restoration under Dany?

    Which brings to mind a question I haven’t figured out an answer to: if Tommen, Myrcella, Stannis, Shireen, (f)Aegon, and Dany are all dead/defeated/ineligible, who has the best claim?

    I guess the answer is Jon, if we assume R+L=J and that Jon is considered legitimate (because R+L were secretly and lawfully married). And I guess you can argue that GRRM is clearing the decks for precisely that outcome, though I’ve never thought it would be that straightforward.

    But who are the other potential claimants? Assuming no other secret Targaryens (e.g. some unmentioned descendant of Duncan and Jenny of Oldstones), would it be the “unknown descendents” of Aegon V’s younger sisters Rhae and/or Daella? Or the descendants (if any) of the Maegor Targaryen or Vaella Targaryen who were passed over by the Great Council in favor of Aegon V? Do any of the Great Houses have a claim like the Baratheons did? It’s hard to imagine GRRM would follow up on Aegon with yet another claimant we’ve never heard of.

    Would anyone support crowning Edric Storm notwithstanding his bastardy? (Edric at least has highborn contacts, which you can’t say for Gendry.)

    • Winnie says:

      I think it’s entirely possible we *will* see the Faith supporting the Targaryen restoration under Dany. I think they were setting it up in the books for the Faith to back fAegon, but in the show, it will be for Dany as part of Varys’s riddle to Tyrion about where power lies.

      Dany will have the power of being a King-she has the Targaryen name, (and dragons to prove it.)

      She will have the power of the Rich man, (Magister Illyrio is going to be backing her in the show just as he backed fAegon in the books.)

      And she will have the backing of the Priest as well.

      For that matter, (on the show at least) it’s also plausible that Dany’s going to get the support of House Martell and Dorne, with Doran perhaps trying to arrange a match between her and Trystane.

      • Jim B says:

        I think you’re making the riddle into more than it is. Varys was just making the point that “power resides where men believe it resides,” not specifying a formula for the ideal monarch.

    • Keith B says:

      “I guess the answer is Jon, if we assume R+L=J and that Jon is considered legitimate (because R+L were secretly and lawfully married).”

      But R was already married to Elia, the woman the Mountain raped and murdered (along with her children) when Tywin sacked King’s Landing. So how could he be married to someone else?

      Anyway, why does the question of Jon’s mother even matter anymore? Jon swore a lifelong commitment to the Night Watch. As Lord Commander, he may be the most important person in Westeros, but his scope is limited. He can’t be King. Aemon Targaryen kept his oath to the Night Watch even when his entire family was destroyed, should we hold Jon to a lower standard?

      The identity of Jon’s mother would have mattered immensely years ago, especially to Catelyn and Jon. It would still matter to Jon’s peace of mind. But it no longer affects anything. It’s a dead issue.

      • Jim B says:

        Keith, I basically agree with you — it shouldn’t matter, and Jon should abide by his oath to the Night’s Watch. When it’s come up before, I’ve heard people argue that his presumed death/rebirth post-DwD will somehow “release” him from his vow to the Night’s Watch (because he “died” and that supposedly means his watch his ended), but that strikes me as too cute by half.

        However, Targaryens have practiced bigamy before, haven’t they? So I’m not sure the objection regarding Rhaegar’s existing wife would mean much.

      • winnie says:

        Targaryens were known to take multiple wives. Aegon the conqueror married both his sisters. So Jon could be legitimate.

        The NW oath is a whole other question but I have my theories.

        • Grant says:

          Bigamy was one of those things that irritated the Faith, though probably not so much as incest, so our High Sparrow wouldn’t just accept that. Besides, so far as anyone knows, Rhaegar would have never married Lyanna. That makes Jon still a bastard, and he’d really need the legitimizing royal decree making him part of a formal family.

    • Lann says:

      I would guess they would have little choice but to call for a Grand Council. The faith would have a strong position but if there is a North-Vale-Riverlands alliance in play they may be able to dictate the winner. So Queen Sansa?

    • Mr Fixit says:

      Since the unified monarchy stands on extremely shaky grounds as is, losing all the people that have at least somewhat reasonable claim to the throne might be the final impetus to dissolve the 7K completely.

    • SummerIsComing says:

      Random theory that won’t ever happen. With the precedent of trials of Tyrion, Loras, Margaery, etc.. that the show is really into people being on trial for stuff they actually done on-screen already. In the books, when Robert’s newest bastard daughter Barra is murdered, her prostitute mother is also killed. In the show, that prostitute mother played by Antonia Christophers is still alive and sort of never seen again. Maybe (and by maybe I mean never) Antonia Christophers’ character became septa and now following the sparrows and she’ll show up at the trial?

    • Rufus Leek says:

      If House Baratheon is seen as the legitimate rulers but Stannis and Shireen are out of the picture, I could see people backing Edric, Mya Stone, or even Gendry.

  6. Jim B says:

    Anyone have any ideas why Jon left Ghost behind at Castle Black instead of taking him to Hardhome? (Other than that the plot and/or effects budget require it) Was he anticipating the need to protect Sam and Gilly?

  7. FourTen says:

    Where are the Kingsguard this season? There should be 5 in KL, and they’ve lost TWO queens recently.

    Even if you take into account their lousy record with keeping Royals safe of the past 5 years, Cersei used to walk around with 4 Lannister troopers in her own house.

    • SummerIsComing says:

      Yeah, the Kingsguard are kind of random. I think it’s a consequence of filming in both Belfast and Dubrovnik and it’s really worth bring background extras from one place to the other so they hind their faces so anybody can play them in the background of a scene. That’s my hunch at least. Ser Meryn Trant has certainly got some screentime and heading to Braavos with Lord Mace Tyrell. Outside Jaime, Trant seems like the only Kingsguard we ever get to see. There was that one unnamed kill-happy Kingsguard who went to Great Sept with Tommen earlier this season. Back in S2 when Myrcella is leaving King’s Landing, you can see a Kingsguard (although not his face) in the barge with her. Rather than the weird fake snake with a Lannister Lion necklace (which Cersei says only she and Myrcella have one yet there was a whole scene of Joffrey giving the exact same necklace to Sansa back in S1 so that’s one for the IMDb goofs page I guess), why not be the news of death of Ser Arys Oakheart be the event that sets off Cersei to worry about Myrcella’s safety (even with the combination of that snake-necklace treat). It would give an opening to Frankenmountain (or Mountainenstein) to join it. I wonder if you were a show-only viewer would you get that getting onto the Kingsguard is like the U.S. Supreme Court in that you only get on with a vacancy since Tywin seems kind of random about appointing Loras to the Kingsguard when it’s been some time in the show between then and when Pod kills Ser Mandon Moore.

    • minj4ever says:

      There should be 4 actually. Arys Oakheart had a severe case of plot-hole-itis.

    • Mr Fixit says:

      Well, that’s what you get when you stack the Kingsguard with incompetent yesmen. Long gone are the days when wearing the white cloak actually meant something. (If those days ever truly existed; I have my doubts about that.)

  8. illrede says:

    The High Sparrow is at least some kind of iconoclast, it remains to be determined if that extends to policy (immediate or ultimate); he does realpolitik. What perked me up was his comments on the Sept of Balor. Was it merely an iconoclastic offhand remark driven by sentiment, or does he mean to completely undo the association of the Throne with the Faith itself- making the Faith the only relevant enforcer of the Faith’s interests- ergo the only relevant power?

    • Jim B says:

      Not sure what you mean by the “only relevant power.” If I had to guess at the High Sparrow’s goals, I would say he would imagine the role of the Faith to be like it was during the more influential periods of the Roman Catholic Church in our world, i.e. when popes were choosing kings rather than the other way around, loosely speaking.
      Day-to-day governing would still come from the Iron Throne, but the Faith would enforce matters of religious doctrine, heresy, etc. — and would still expect some influence in the “secular” matters as well, if the Throne knows what’s good for it.

  9. artihcus022 says:

    The Sparrows don’t compare with the Protestants on significant details i.e. priests can marry and of course the Printing Press (getting people to read and the Holy Text in vernacular was part of their movement). That’s why I feel its closer to Savonarola and the Weepers with a significant modification in the fact that Girolamo was an “unarmed prophet” (as noted by Machiavelli) whereas the Sparrow has his army and has taken over the Septacy. Girolamo ran Florence for a few years but eventually he fell when he tried to tackle the Pope.

  10. artihcus022 says:

    “If you look at the history of the church in the Middle Ages, you had periods where you had very worldly and corrupt popes and bishops. People who were not spiritual, but were politicians. They were playing their own version of the game of thrones, and they were in bed with the kings and the lords. But you also had periods of religious revival or reform—the greatest of them being the Protestant Reformation, which led to the splitting of the church—where there were two or three rival popes each denouncing the other as legitimate… So now she has to deal with a militant and aggressive Protestant Reformation, if you will, that’s determined to resurrect a faith that was destroyed centuries ago by the Targaryens.”.

    I think GRRM is talking on more general themes really. He’s mixing and matching stuff like the Avignon Papacy and the Popes and Antipopes with the early stirrings of Protestantism (i.e. Pre-Luther). And since we know he has read Machiavelli’s Prince, Savonarola is obviously in that stew.

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