Game of Thrones Revisited: 5.07 The Gift
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 the momentous meeting of Tyrion and Daenerys, as Cersei's thirst for power takes an unexpected turn...
Warning: There may be spoilers for seasons one to seven...
After six episodes of a slow but steady build up, The Gift starts to gain momentum as the fifth season heads towards its endgame. It's not without some of the faults this year suffered with (I'm looking at you Dorne) but it shows a great deal of progression, namely in Tyrion and Cersei's storylines.
As Jon leaves with Tormund for Hardhome, things begin to change at Castle Black as Sam finds himself in more danger than ever. The death of Aemon Targaryen is a big moment for him; the lovely final scene with Sam and Gilly as he fawns over her baby before dementia steps in and he regresses to childhood with his younger brother is heart-breaking.
Peter Vaughan delivers a masterful performance to the very end and with his funeral, the words of Aliser Throne ring true. Almost immediately Sam finds himself without friends when he attempts to save Gilly from being raped by two Night's Watch men and almost dies as a result. Thankfully things improve with the timely arrival of Ghost to save them, while the build up of the unspoken romance with Gilly finally changes course with their sexual encounter.
In Winterfell, we pick up a few days after the wedding of Sansa and Theon and discover that her fate has grown even worse, raped and beaten at night and locked in her room by day. Any attempt to coerce Theon to help her fails; he is no longer the Iron born but Reek and the moment she tries to get him to help her, he runs to Ramsey with her thoughts of escape. Things grow worse still as Ramsey releases her to parade the severed head of the northern woman allied to her, though at least there is some strength in her to point out his place as a former bastard and the baby that will soon supplant him.
It's a horrible place for Sansa, far worse than anything she experienced in King's Landing and gives season five a somewhat unsavoury reputation. But we also see a strength in Sansa, learned through those days and her training with Littlefinger that mean even in this fresh hell she still fights not to be a victim. Sansa of a season or two ago, might not have survived what she endures now.
North of Winterfell, the march of Stannis's army is hindered by raging snow, leading to Melisandre's suggestion that he use the blood of his daughter. It's a reminder that she is very much a villain in her own right, despite her proclamations that she is here to save everyone from the darkness. And of course, her counsel will be his undoing.
The Dorne scenes continue to add little. Jamie meets with his daughter but fails to convince her to leave while the two dimensional sand snakes taunt and titillate Bronn from their prison cell but fail to move anything to move the plot forward.
However The Gift is also some momentous changes in the Mereen and King's Landing plot lines. The Tyrion storyline is massively sped up from the books, but probably rightly so; this episode sees he and Jorah sold to a new slaver to fight in the pits of Mereen and then - by chance - brought directly into Daenerys's presence as Hizdahr convinces his betrothed to uphold the city's traditions and visit the pits in action. Jorah rushing to defeat his opponents is a great heroic moment, tinged with emotional turmoil as he faces a queen; her expression still unable to hide the impact of his betrayal. Still, contrived or not, having Tyrion and Daenerys meet is a huge crowd pleasing moment, one that will shift his storyline in an intriguing new direction as the show moves forward.
And finally, we deal with the fallout of Cersei's shady alliance with the High Sparrow. Normally the most powerful and intelligent woman in the room, Olenna Tyrell fails to convince the High Sparrow to free her grandson and granddaughter, forcing her into an unsavoury alliance of her own with Littlefinger in the ruins of his once prosperous brothel. It's a very different King's landing, the balance of power unsettled and rulers now longer in positions of power.
And that includes Cersei. Her comeuppance has been a long time coming and her machinations in having the Tyrells fed to the sparrows pushes herself closer to danger. There is still some humanity in her, as the scene where she hugs poor Tommen shows that even characters like her continue to have shades of grey. But then her malicious visit to Margaery in her cell to play the dutiful mother in law and taunt her sees her caught by the sparrows as she is trapped within the cells beneath the sept and imprisoned for her own crimes.
Cersei's gaze faltering as the High Sparrow asks what he will find as he strips away Cersei's finery is delightful; Lancel, her cousin and former lover now having revealed all her dark and sordid secrets to the High Sparrow that she thought to use. It's a fantastic, darkly ironic twist that elevates the episode and pays off on the sparrow storyline that has dominated the season so far as it kicks up a gear into its final run of episodes.