From taiaha to spear
Well that felt like progress - with a spot of regress too. Because while episode four finally got season five into gear after some idling predecessors, it also filled in quite a bit of back story on various dearly departed relatives which undercut some accepted family histories in both the Stark and Targeryen clans and cast a new light on the spark of the feuds between them.
So while it was an instalment which rewarded the studiousness of book-powered genealogist-level fans (some of whom appear on this very page), there was plenty to chew on for those of us who dare not enter the thicket-like GoT family trees for fear of never being able to escape.
It was an episode introducing a new family too. At long last we got to meet the Sand Snakes, the bastard daughters of the late Dornian price Oberyn Martell, who, with mother/step-mum Ellaria Sand, are plotting revenge against the Lannisters for Dad's season four demise.
Just as Jon Snow hangs out in the snow, the Sand Snakes hang out in the sand, practicing being lethal. One of them, Obara, is of course, played by our very own Keisha Castle-Hughes. As a youngster she spun a taiaha around a bit in Whale Rider. Her spear skills have improved somewhat, as the poor bloke the twisted sisters had buried up to his neck in the dunes found out.
Oddly, the first thing that Jamie Lannister and Bronn encountered after landing on the beaches of Dorne was snakes. They had them for breakfast, followed by a spot of bother with a Dornian border patrol.
But that was a minor skirmish compared to the violence elsewhere. In King's Landing, the "Faith Militant" rearmed with the blessing of a scheming Cersei were on the warpath against sinners, a campaign which has put Loras Tyrell - her newlywed son King Tommen's brother-in-law - in prison for being gay. Tommen's attempts at freeing him failed after being confronted by the High Sparrow's own legion of zealots.
It seems that whatever balance there was between church and state seems to be crumbling and Tommen's crown is already slipping.
Likewise, at Meerren, where Queen Daenerys' benevolent rule is losing its grip, the insurrecton by the Sons of the Harpy has led to pitched battles in the alleys and the probable deaths of her loyal soldiers Grey Worm and the old knight Barristan Selmy.
They both fought the good fight. But surely, the mother of dragons is really in trouble now.
Meanwhile, things were calmer up north at Castle Black, Stannis Baratheon and his afflicted offspring Shireen had a touching dad'n'daughter moment, showing the grim throne claimant has a softer paternal side.
Still, there was scheming afoot. Stannis' witch-in-waiting Melisandre attempted to seduce Jon Snow, whose Night's Watch vows frown on that sort of thing. So he frowned upon it too.
Rebuffed, Melisandre left, telling him "You know nothing Jon Snow." That's the second time a woman has said that to him. He better be prepared with a decent comeback for next time or we'll start to think he actually is a bit dim.
- Russell Baillie (latter day convert to the show, hasn't read the books)
A helping hand
Being a hired hand isn't an easy life. Especially if the chap who's hired you to be his hired hand only has one hand himself. This is because it makes you his hired hands. A small, yet crucial difference.
So spare a thought for poor old Bronn of the Blackwater. This highly skilled mercenary for hire now finds himself the total dogsbody of the one-armed Jaime Lannister as they embark on a perilous mission to rescue, not kidnap, Jaime's - ahem - "niece" from the sand-dwelling Dornishmen.
As it turns out Jaime and his one hand just ain't that useful when it comes to extremely dangerous, covert operations on foreign soil. He's as much use as... well, a one-armed man.
His arched brow and semi-apologetic shrug however are both in fine working order and used liberally every time a struggling Bronn asks for a little help. It's a great running gag that adds moments of good natured levity and camaraderie to the pair's extremely serious mission. They want to rescue a princess, not start a war. Though I fail to see how that can be anything other than the direct result of their scheme.
But for now it means we see one of the greatest swordsmen in Westeros essentially reduced to a lowly squire. He's rowing boats, making camp, cooking food and digging graves while Jaime kicks back and chillaxes. And, on top of all that, Bronn also has to face terrible odds every time they stumble across people that would very much like to kill them. Which is apparently the entirety of Dorne's population.
They'd barely finished their tasty breakfast of Snake Benedict when a contingent of four horsemen discovered them hiding out on the shoreline. A dismal attempt at blagging their way to freedom led directly to the duo's big fight scene, which was a standout in an episode that had another big fight scene as its centrepiece.
Bronn's kickassery is always awesome to see and Jaime's eventual realisation that perhaps his golden hand isn't such a hindrance after all promises to lead to some sweet battle choreography later on as the pair slash, cut and kill their way across the sandy Dornish lands.
- Karl Puschmann (Thrones noob who doesn't know his Westeros from his Braavos)
RIP Ser Barristan
The events on Game of Thrones show are rapidly overtaking the events in the original novels, and it's inevitable that some of the story's biggest twists will be revealed on screen, long before George RR Martin actually writes them down. This week's episode takes a huge step in this direction and all but confirms one of the greatest mysteries of the saga: who was Jon Snow's mum anyway?
It's a mystery that's been boiling away since the very start of the series, more than two decades ago, and there is a general consensus on the subject of Jon's parentage. This episode lays several heavy - and almost hamfisted - hints in that direction. Both of his suspected parents are prominently mentioned in the same episode, and Stannis, who always calls it how he sees it, waves away the very idea that the noble and honourable Ned Stark would father a bastard child.
There might still be swerves in the story - maybe Jon is really one of those bloody Freys - but with only a couple of seasons left, some of the big questions are starting to be answered.
Fortunately, it's not all about the big mysteries, and there is still plenty of fantastic swordplay. Jaimie Lannister's brilliant improvisation with his steel hand was one of the best punchlines to a swordfight in the entire series, and seeing Barristan the Badass finally unleash some of the skills that made him the greatest warrior of his age was awesome, even if it might be his last fight ever. At least Ser Barristan went out doing what he did best.
- Robert Smith (has read every book, watched every episode, owns several T-shirts, and spends too much time wondering who Coldhands really is)
Crazy little thing called love
It seems Jon Snow certainly has a thing for redheads. Last night's episode was all about love running the show in Westeros. The Red Lady made her feelings very clear for our man the Lord Commander and tried to seduce Jon Snow. She wants him to fight for Stannis' army, but probably also wants to make another smoke-demon baby.
In a rare tender moment, Stannis showed true love and compassion for his daughter. Stannis is quickly becoming one of the most likeable characters on the show, and reminded me a bit of Ned Stark (RIP Eddard). Meanwhile in King's Landing, Margaery showed her love for her brother was stronger than for her husband King Tommen, when he was too scared to take on the armed Sparrows to free her brother.
Jamie's love for his daughter/"niece" princess Myrcella, took him to take on real danger in Dorne with his best mate Bronn. Tied up and sober in a boat, Tyrion is on a fast-track to Meereen thanks to Jorah Mormont's love for Daenerys. Tyrion couldn't have been happier, until he was knocked out for running his mouth off.
However, it doesn't look like Sansa is going to experiencing much love in her life. After a chaste kiss on the lips from Lord Baelish, she said she expected she'd be a married woman by the time he returned to Winterfell. That's a better fate than dead, which would be likely, it is Game of Thrones after all. I hope Jon Snow does decide to back Stannis and march on Winterfell, where he will find Sansa, his long-lost sister, and stay to protect her.
Nothing like a bit of sibling love, unless you're a Lannister, then things get a bit weird.
- Sophie Ryan (Hasn't read the books, but thinks she and Sansa would be BFFs)
Back in the day
With all the 'back in the day' chats last night we should probably call the episode, Game of Thrones Genisys. And I bet Daenerys would love to have a few T-1000s to go with her dragons.
As showrunners Benioff and Weiss run out of source material there will probably be more and more retelling from the good old days which proved to be quite revealing in The Sons of the Harpy. Viewers were finally enlightened on what was the catalyst that started this whole mess. The married older brother of Daenerys, Rhaegar hit on Robert Baratheon's shawty Lyanna Stark after winning a jousting event. Sansa had obviously heard the story before adding the fact that Rhaegar then raped and murdered her aunty - but Littlefinger's reaction to that remark proved yet again Sansa, like Jon Snow, knows nothing.
We then had hardened Stannis showing his soft side by revealing to his daughter that it's his fault she's disfigured with greyscale. Then Barristan Selmy turned back the clock by telling Daenerys about how Rhaegar preferred singing to the common folk over killing and fighting. There was still time for one more backstory when Keisha Castle-Hughes' character Obara talked about the time the Red Viper took her away from her mother. Usually back stories feel like filler but it was well worth travelling down memory lane last night - and a path Selmy should have probably stayed down instead of the back alley which led to his demise.
- Cameron McMillan (a Thrones trainspotter who can always be relied upon for up-to-date statistics and random factoids. He spent the time between seasons reading all the books)
Stuck in the sand
"Mmmm ... yaaawn ... that was such a good sleep! I barely moved. It's so cosy and dark and warm in here. I wonder what time it is. Let's pull the curtains ... WAIT! Why can't I move? Did I drink too much of Rohar Varner's stolen rum last night? It's strong stuff. Urgh ... Where am I? WAIT! What's that brushing against my face? There it goes again! It's a bit nippy. What's going on? ARGH! It's so bright! Oh there was a hat over my face the whole time. No wonder I couldn't see. AHA! Here are some lovely ladies! Thank you for removing my hat. Ladies? Can you help me please? I seem to have become accidentally buried in the sand. This isn't my normal sleeping arrangement. I think I drank too much rum and got lost in the sand dunes. WAIT! Why are you all dressed like Princess Leia when she was enslaved by Jabba the Hutt? What are you talking about? Why are you so angry? Who is this Oberyn? What is that thing that keeps flicking me in the face? WAIT! Is that a scorpion? ARGH! HELP! Oh, here comes that lovely girl with the strange accent. She seems friendly. She'll help me out of here so I can get back to my ship and finish up that barrel of rum. Mmm. I'm just a humble fisherman and I love drinking rum for breakfast, lunch and dinner. WAIT! Why are you picking up that spear? You'll need a shovel to ... "
-Chris Schulz (only watches Game of Thrones for scenes involving the amazing Gwendoline Christie, aka Brienne of Tarth, aka the greatest woman on Earth)