Game of Thrones Revisited: 5.04 Sons of the Harpy
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Game of Thrones, the critically acclaimed TV series by David Benioff and DB Weiss and developed from the best-selling series of novels by George RR Martin, has become a cultural icon. The tentpole of HBO's programming with a stellar cast and mix of medieval-style political drama and war with a healthy dash of fantasy, Game of Thrones has enthralled audiences worldwide. And this year, the show will come to a dramatic end in its final run of feature length episodes. In the lead up to season eight, I explore every episode leading up to the final battle for Westeros, continuing with an episode filled with escalation and violence...
Warning: There may be spoilers for seasons one to seven...
The power plays of Cersei and Margaery take on another level this episode as Cersei sends Lord Tyrell away and forges a dangerous alliance with the High Sparrow that sees his religious fanatics run rampant through King's Landing. The iron rule of Tywin Lannister is gone and in its place Cersei's cruelty and greed see the capital in chaos. The scenes of the sparrows smashing their way through the streets and brothels is a violent turn of events, culminating in the imprisonment of Loras Tyrell, for his 'depravities.'
As a result of this chaos, the happy marriage of Tommen and Margaery is already crumbling, the boy king's inability to do anything about Loras's imprisonment. Her fury is understandable but you can't help but feel sorry for Tommen, who can barely stand up to his mother, let alone the High Sparrow. The scene at the steps of the Sept of Baelor quickly establishes how quickly the rise of the Sparrows has cemented its grip on the city; the threat of violence and the rants of the people of Tommen being an abomination reveal just how little power he really has.
This is a violent episode overall; the arrival of Bronn and Jamie in Dorne leads to a dangerous encounter with Dornish guards in the deseret dunes. It's an intriguing start to a storyline that will stumble and falter. The debut of the Oberyn Martell's daughters, the sand snakes, feels exposition-heavy and violent but doesn't offer much other than to have vengeful Ellaria realise that Jamie is here to free Myrcella from their clutches.
And then there is Mereen, which descends into greater violence in a bloody, brutal climax to the episode. After a lovely scene where Barristan Selmy regales Daenerys with memories of her brother Rhaegar singining in the streets of King's Landing - a far cry from the brutal killer he was made out to be - the Queen sends him down among the locals just as the Sons of the Harpy make a bloody swathe through the streets.
The slaughter of the Unsullied and other men loyal to Daenerys is swift and violent; the fight in the close quarters between Grey Worm and a handful of Unsullied against a superior number of Sons of the Harpy makes for a tense, almost claustrophobic scene. Barristan arrives to save Grey Worm (though his fate is not confirmed as he collapses just as the credits roll), while Barristan himself goes out in a blaze of glory. Ian McElhinney made for a formidable and endearing presence on the show, and his loss is felt. Barristan of course still lives in the books, but given that we the plotlines have started to differ significantly at this point and everything from seasons six and seven has yet to be told in written form, it's unclear whether the character's fate will differ much in either medium.
Interestingly, Rhaegar Targareyn is also spoken off in the crypts beneath Winterfell as Sansa visits the grave of her dead aunt Lyanna. This is perhaps the point in the series where Rhaegar and Lyanna's story is first tackled beyond the established rape and murder of Ned's sister. Certainly Littlefinger staying silent as Sansa speaks of those established actions suggests he knows more. Coupled with Barristan's story of a man who sang and gave his earnings to orphaned children in Flea Bottom speaks of a man very different from how the history books have portrayed him. The truth won't be revealed until the end of the seventh season, but with moments like those in Sons of the Harpy, audiences had already suspected that Rhaegar and Lyanna had had a doomed loved affair.
The stories at the Wall continue to explore the motivations of Jon Snow and Stannis Baratheon. Perhaps suspecting his role as the true Lord of Light, Melisandre turns her naked charms on Jon to no success; his love for dead lover Ygritte still holds true, something she keenly observes when she mutters the immortal words "you know nothing Jon Snow". And there is a very sweet scene between Stannis and daughter Shireen, the second only perhaps between them in the whole series, where he admits his love for the young girl. His pride in her and how he refused to send her away when she contracted greyscale are bittersweet, given the dark and tragic actions he will take later this season. It's quite hard to watch, knowing Shireen's eventual fate, given how beautiful a performance young Kerry Ingram gives to the role.
Sons of the Harpy is a violent episode reflecting the ever changing world of Game of Thrones in the wake of season four. The death of Barristan Selmy is a tragic affair, as the titular Sons of the Harpy step up their game, while the Sparrows rampaging through King's Landing show that nowhere is safe. While not the greatest episode of season five, it is the most eventful one so far and one that has a lasting impact on the episodes still to come.