Shock value is not something that Game of Thrones has ever been accused of lacking but the question surrounding the final scene of the sixth episode of this season of the season, ‘Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken’ is whether the writers have any method behind their collective madness. This isn’t the first time the show has courted controversy over its depiction of sexual assault but where previous instances eventually sorted themselves out, if this one is handled poorly, it might just be the straw the breaks the backs of legions of fans that crave an adaptation more loyal to the original source material. For better or worse, the scene itself, already dubbed the White Wedding, was somewhat tastefully done with fantastic acting from all involved and was also especially one of the best scenes in an episode that had some truly awful ones. The story line in Dorne is a cancer that the writers need to remove from the show before it spreads to other plotlines while King’s Landing is becoming increasingly convoluted and unpleasant, but not irredeemably so. Having firmly crossed the halfway mark, now would be as good a time as any to take a look back at the season and give some thought to what lies ahead in each of our respective storylines.
Let’s begin at the capital. The emergence of the Faith Militant was one of the stronger sections of this part of the plot, especially with the additional detail that the show provided into the brutality of the religious fanatics. This episode especially, changes the High Sparrow from a kindly, likable old man into despicable, terrifying fanatic. Lena Headey and Natalie Dormer have wasted absolutely no time in taking ample advantage of the void that Charles Dance and Peter Dinklage have behind in King’s Landing. Their rivalry has been greatly entertaining to watch though the tension between them has yet to reach its boiling point. Having said that, the decision to use Loras’ homosexuality as the issue on which the anti-Tyrell plot hinges was questionable at best. Loras, as a character, has already been shafted multiple times during the course of the show – he went from being deeply in love with Renly to essentially sleeping with anyone that caught his eye. Using the character’s homosexuality also feels like a shallow attempting at being edgy for the sake of it, but in the show’s defence, there was simply insufficient time to develop Margaery’s possible infidelity with any other character. Getting Margaery into hot water by proxy of Loras was a little clumsy, but it would seem that depending on how the next four episodes play out, it could be nothing more than a minor roadblock.
On the other hand, it would seem that there is absolutely no salvaging the fiasco in Dorne. At this point, it almost feels as though the show should have quit while it was ahead and left the Sand Snakes out entirely. As things stand right now, the Sand Snakes not only feel like an exceptionally ham-fisted attempt at leveraging the popularity of Oberyn Martell, but also an attempt at keeping characters like Bronn and Jaime Lannister relevant to the story. Elaria Sand’s mission of vengeance also greatly changes her character but she is minor enough that few tears will be shed over that change. The real trouble with the storyline, and what makes it so very worrying, is that it almost entirely a figment of the showrunners’ imagination and despite that, has been abysmally executed. It’s worrying because the next few seasons are looking increasingly like they will not have a book to be based on, which means that the fans are going to be left at the mercy of a crew that does not seem entirely capable of handling scenes that Martin has not already mapped out for them. The Sand Snakes, so far at least, have not only been extremely awkward, but the show’s efforts at legitimizing their motives have made the whole affair seem pathetic. We don’t need hastily added speeches about these characters’ pasts nor do we need poorly executed storylines in which laziness instead of proper planning dictates what’s going to happen next. The show is also, for some mysterious reason, trying to give us the impression that Jaime isn’t totally useless in a fight when the truth is, if any of these so-called Sand Snakes were even a tenth as good as they claim, Jaime should have been killed a dozen times over. Instead, Jaime somehow defends himself without a scratch, but it is Bronn, the highly skilled killer, who gets cut with a knife that is almost certainly poisoned. The one saving grace in all this is Doran Martell himself, played by Alexander Siddig. Siddig has captured the quiet strength of the Dorne’s handicapped leader but with the rest of the cast around him in disarray, it looks like he will remain the lone bright light for a while.
Across the stories share a similar tedious pace. Arya’s training has been going extremely slowly but that lack of progress has been well masked by the mystery surrounding her new hosts. In all fairness, her character has been developing steadily over the course of the past few seasons and in this season as well, as evidenced by this week’s episode. The execution still feels a little sloppy, and it feels like Arya isn’t actually earning the right to move on to the next step of her training on her merit, but instead through complaining and whining. This isn’t entirely true of course; we see from the way she lies to the dying girl that she is picking up some interesting new skills, but she doesn’t feel like she has internalized the cult’s teachings fully yet but her true test will come when Meryn Trant appears in Braavos. Meanwhile, Tyrion and Jorah continue to proceed without any real meaningful progress. If there was any plotline to cut HBO some slack over, it is this one and Daenerys’; the infamous Meereenese knot was a bitch to cut through and HBO has already cut out a sizable chunk of Tyrion’s pointless meandering and his depression-driven inebriation. However, despite that, it has felt like Tyrion hasn’t made much of an impact this season – he’s taken a much more reactionary and passive role in the proceedings, first following Varys’ lead and now Jorah’s. Jorah’s recent infection with grayscale ought to liven things up as it adds some much needed urgency to that storyline. Jorah is slowly becoming an amalgamation of various characters – himself, of course, but also the omitted Jon Connington and Victarion Greyjoy. The season’s final scene at Draznak’s Pit will be a lot of fun to watch, but first we must get there, which means enduring more Meereenese politics. Compared to the unengaging events of her plot in the last season, Dany’s season is going much better. The deaths of Grey Worm and Barristan the Bold, were undeniably bullshit; for reasons beginning with how two fighters as skilled as those two would never have lost to an ambush as poorly executed as that one and ending with their deaths feel a cheap attempt at raising the stakes in Daenerys’ storyline. Emilia Clarke herself has been as good or bad as she has been in the seasons past but last week showed a marked improvement. Her performance last week was noteworthy not just because of how convincing her ruthlessness was but also because she carried her scenes entirely on her own, something we haven’t seen from her since the show’s early seasons. Hopefully, she can keep the momentum going – it’ll certainly make for an exciting finale.
Last, but not least, we have the nightmare in the North. There were never many smiles to go around in the North, but these days, it would be amazing if anyone is walking around without a look of horror on their faces. At the Wall, the men of the Night’s Watch have two very unpalatable options to consider – allying with the Free Folk, or defending an impossibly long Wall from hordes upon hordes of the undead. It’s a sign of the deep-seated hatred between the Watch and the Wildlings that they would opt for the second, but for now, Jon’s better sense has prevailed, not that it will do him much. If the betrayal is coming, it’s coming a little too soon – it feels like we have barely had time to really get used to Jon as Lord Commander, but it’s a necessary price to pay given the show’s time constraints. The Wall’s saviour, the One True King, Stannis Baratheon, marches to liberate Winterfell from Bolton hands but the odds, while technically in his favour, seem stacked against him once we account for how HBO loves its ironic twists. It would be just like them to have one of the most respected military leaders in Westeros lose a battle to a sadistic but inexperienced bastard despite having more troops. At some point, his daughter is going to die, be sacrificed by Melisandre and everyone in the universe is going to hate it but beyond that the battle for Winterfell, if it makes it into this season, is going to be interesting to watch. Speaking of Winterfell, Littlefinger, as revealed in this episode, has played his cards such that no matter how things turn out, he is fully insured. With Sansa’s marriage to Ramsay, the North is hers but it remains to be seen whether she will be in any mental state to make use of that. The White Wedding was a fascinating study in discomfort. Naturally, it was extremely uncomfortable for the characters we sympathize with; Sansa, obviously, but Theon too, who we sympathize with because he has the all-important characteristic of not being a Bolton. The consummation of the marriage shouldn’t have been surprising, but it was. Until Sansa and Ramsay (and Theon) were in their bedroom, you had to wonder if there wouldn’t be some miracle that would save us from having to watch that (or know that it happened, as it turned out) but no, there would be no denying Ramsay. For all the controversy however, Sophie Turner’s take on Sansa in that scene, although very much anxious and afraid didn’t seem broken, or at least, not nearly as much as the second man standing nearby, forced to watch. Alfie Allen needs to be recognized for his incredible performances as Theon Greyjoy, not just in this season but right since season two. It’s hard to imagine the character being more broken than he is now but his redemption, hopefully, is coming soon and hopefully Sansa too gets a chance to exact her revenge on the bastards that murdered her family.