Each week, Adam and David Shimer analyze the latest episode of Game of Thrones from the perspective of a non-book reader. This week they discuss ‘The Gift,’ but first they would like to assign some weekly awards:

Tywin Lannister In Memoriam Award for Best Political Maneuvering: The High Sparrow
Honorable Mention: The High Sparrow

Eddard Stark In Memoriam Award for Worst Political Maneuvering: Cersei
Honorable Mention: All of the Tyrells

Brandon Stark Award for Most Boring Storyline: Jaime and Myrcella’s soap opera (“You don’t know me!!”)
Honorable Mention: Brienne’s three second scene that only showed her staring longingly at Winterfell (does she just stand there all day?)

Jaime Lannister’s Right Hand Award for Best Fight Sequence: Jorah beating up slaves to try to win back his Queen
Honorable Mention: Cersei snarling at the scary nun to close the episode: “Look at my face. It’s the last thing you’ll see before you die.”

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AS: ‘The Gift’ as an episode was all over the place, with every major character making an appearance other than Arya. Even so, a recurring theme did emerge from the many disparate plot lines: the fallacies of a victim/savior complex. Whether it be Cersei promising to help Tommen save Queen Margaery, Lady Olenna running around King’s Landing bartering for her grandchildren’s freedom, or Sam coming to Gilly’s defense, there were always characters that needed a knight in shining armor to come to their aide. But how did our heroes fare? Not so well. Cersei got thrown in prison, Olenna came up empty handed, and poor Sam needed Jon’s abandoned pet to be his savior. (Does that make Ghost a savior of a savior? Should we call him the High Savior?) The only rescuer that seemed to have any success this episode was the seductive ‘Sand Snake’ who toyed with Bronn’s life only to “shockingly” toss him the antidote he needed to survive. Game of Thrones definitely has a twisted idea of what a savior should be. But what about the victim that pleaded for someone to rescue her only to be turned away? Or the victim that decided that she didn’t need any rescuing? Sansa begged Theon to save her — begged him to be the good hearted person that he used to be — only to have him betray her to Ramsay. Similarly, Jaime made a big fuss about heroically riding off to Dorne to save his ‘niece’ (wink, wink), only to have her dramatically storm off and declare, “You don’t know me!” A knight in shining armor and damsel in distress relationship is too cliché for Game of Thrones — too much like a fairytale — which is why the failure of all these relationships sticks to the realism that the show has always tried to foster even while telling a fantasy story.

DS: I’d like to set the record straight on Theon and Olenna. Let’s not pretend Theon — the womanizer and turncoat — used to be a saint, and Olenna didn’t come up empty-handed. She acquired Lancel from Littlefinger, which she then used to put Cersei in chains. But I agree with you completely regarding the importance of realism in the show. Part of what made me like Game of Thrones more than other TV series is that it never felt like other TV series. Its plots were too well-constructed; its characters were too complex; its twists were too unpredictable — until now. Don’t get me wrong; Season 5 has had plenty of classic Game of Thrones moments. Take Theon’s latest betrayal for example. I wanted to believe that he would help Sansa, but wouldn’t that have been too easy? Too unrealistic? I know it sounds crazy, but I sort of love to hate that Theon went straight to Ramsay. I hated every second of it, but I believed it. I wish I could say the same for the disaster that is Dorne. Building on last episode’s ridiculous garden showdown, this week’s prison scene raised the stupidity stakes. What if Bronn hadn’t been incarcerated right next to the Sand Snakes? How did Tyene know exactly when Bronn’s vision would blur? Why do all of the Sand Snakes speak exclusively in awkwardly constructed and awkwardly delivered monologues? The showrunners shouldn’t have poisoned Bronn, but they did. And they should have let him die for the same reason that they had Theon betray Sansa — because it would have felt true to the show.

AS: I agree that the Dorne storyline felt forced at times, but the engaging and multifaceted political theater of King’s Landing more than made up for it. One of my favorite scenes this episode was when Cersei comforted Tommen and explained to him that losing control is a part of life — even for a king: “No matter who you are, no matter how strong you are, sooner or later you’ll face circumstances beyond your control.” I doubt Cersei realized that she would have to heed her own advice so soon. It was easy for Cersei to talk about how even a king cannot control everything, but never did she think there would be a situation in King’s Landing beyond the Queen Mother’s power. She unleashed the High Sparrow, who has quickly turned from a nice old man ladling soup to hungry children into a creepy fanatic with a hidden agenda. Because if he truly were only serving the Gods, would he take such obvious pleasure in scolding Olenna about her privilege? How about that twisted smirk on his face as Cersei got carried away in chains? In Game of Thrones everyone is attracted to power, and the holiest of holy High Sparrows is no exception.

DS: The High Sparrow is certainly on a rampage amongst the King’s Landing elite. But once he strips away Cersei and the Tyrell’s “finery”, what will he find? I am inclined to believe that all of the Tyrells — Olenna, Loras, Margaery, and even “The High Oaf of Highgarden” — are good people, at least in Game of Thrones standards. Olenna said it herself: Loras engaged in some buggery and Margaery tried to protect her brother. I don’t see much wrong with that, and I don’t think the church will either. The same can’t be said for Cersei. When the High Sparrow asked Cersei what hid under her finery, lots of memories raced through my mind. She has murdered a king, lied with ease on countless occasions, and engaged in incest. Sure, the Tyrells have committed minor sins, but the High Sparrow just caught the big fish, and he knows it.

AS: Cersei certainly has a lot of baggage — possibly the most of any character on the show — but she’s not the only one. King Stannis has been on quite the upswing this season, with his likability skyrocketing along with his rise to prominence. But Stannis’s army is now bogged down in snow, and Melisandre has asked him to sacrifice his only child to the Lord of Light. Let us not forget that Stannis murdered his own brother, King Renly, in Season 2 without batting an eye. But now Melisandre has put him in an even more horrifying position. How badly does he want the Iron Throne? How far is he willing to go? Let me remind you that Lady Shireen would not just be sacrificed, but burned at the stake — dying in the most painful way imaginable. The showrunners have actively humanized Stannis this season, and it seems that it has all led to this moment — to the moment in which he has to choose either his daughter or the Seven Kingdoms. Let us hope that he makes the right choice. If Game of Thrones lacks something, it is the presence of genuinely good people to root for. Stannis finally has the chance to be one of the good guys, so he better not let us down.

DS: Random thoughts to close the review —

  • Best line of the episode: “They’ll never even find what’s left of you.” – Olenna
  • Shoutout to Brienne for getting three seconds of screentime—more than the Greyjoys.
  • If half of the Night’s Watch voted for Jon three episodes ago, how is Sam the only one who still supports him? Maybe everyone is mad that Jon executed Slynt (RIP).
  • I’m excited (and nervous) to see what Sansa does with that sharp thing next episode.
  • Poor Tommen has no one left to manipulate him.
  • Dany sure knows how to hold a grudge…

M.I.A. this episode: Arya, Roose Bolton, Loras and Varys

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