For every life, there is a line to be crossed; it’s the line between you and your desires. Crossing always comes at a price. For some, it can be nothing they care about, for others it means everything to them. All men and women from king to commoner will face the same choice over crossing their line to get what they want. Many in Game of Thrones do so this week, but some painfully underestimate the price to suffer more than they could possibly have imagined.
The Gift – Sam finds himself alone at Castle Black when Jon sets off to find the Wildlings. Jorah and Tyrion begin their pit fighting career but not everyone approves. Winter comes to the North and neither Sansa nor Stannis is having good fortune in it. Things take a turn for the civil but crazy in Dorne and in Kings Landing even the most powerful find themselves answering to the High Sparrow.
As we reach the business end of the season, the need to keep everything moving is clear and mostly achieved. The Gift achieves good significant advancement in many stories and in some cases very efficiently with conservative amounts of screen time. The best moments come from King's Landing and from some of the oldest hands in the game. If there is any justice in this world, (ours, not theirs.... let’s be realistic) we need to next get Dianna Rigg and Jonathan Pryce together again this season for another round of Sparrow Vs Thorns. Their scene in the Sept is the almost the episode’s highlight as these two no nonsense straight takers go at with mutual respect but zero tolerance for either’s intimidation. Their quarrel is a great example of power lying where people believe it does. Olenna believes the Tyrell’s control over the food supply gives her the power but The High Sparrow eloquently reminds her that by giving his power to the people, he empowers into an even stronger and unstoppable force, “You are the few, we are the many and when the many stop fearing the few...”. This idea of power echoed by many in King's Landing Littlefinger finds his brothel broken, Margery looks anything but her glamorous self under imprisonment, but most hilariously by a powerless King Tommen channelling his soppy poppy equivalent of Joffrey’s, “I am the King!”. It’s an increasingly popular Lannister phrase as others pay the price of getting what they want from The Sparrows, and affirms The High Sparrow as both the most humble and most powerful man in the capital.
Speaking of Lannisters, we find little time for Jaime this week but just enough establish some daddy issues with Myrcella. It’s a little groan worthy as she storms off telling her unknown dad he doesn’t really know her (at that moment we could be watching the Disney Channel) but thankfully the bigger bulk of Dorne’s screen time is absolutely awesome. The jail cell banter between Bronn and Sand Snakes is incredibly entertaining from Bronn’s first musical notes to the last as jests give way to Bronn’s aptly-described Dornish mix of sex, violence, and madness. The Sand Snakes haven’t bedazzled us so far this season but now, at least one certainly has. Rosabell Laurenti Sellers as Tyene is the episode's real gift. Though some male viewers may struggle, any who manage to look at her in the face are in for a feast as she bubbles in delight at teasing Bronn and making him beg for it on many levels. Although it’s not clear what the future holds for this pair, hopefully we’ll get to see more of them forming some form of bizarre relationship.
At the Wall, the big moments are more fan-pleasing than story-progressing but are a lot more enjoyable than most of Sam lead scenes this year. Giving him the isolated spotlight does him the world of good and even (by his standards) earns him a genuinely badass moment as once more Gilly’s peril brings the man kicking and screaming out of him. He even gets a heroes reward for it too. Since last season, he’s constantly been an accessory character but can be immensely fun when placed as a central unlikely hero. It’s good to see this episode reprise that. He also boasts by far, the most moving moment of the week as he toasts Maester Aemon’s funeral pyre, “He was the blood of the dragon but now his fire has gone out”. Of all the many elaborate and frequently wonderful ways characters depart this show this blind Targaryen maybe the first to be greeted by death as an old friend and he feels the right character to do it.
Last episode’s Winterfell scenes caused their fair share of controversy, and now, it’s morning after the rape before and from that sounds of it not the first one. Sansa’s having a rather more abusive start to her 2nd marriage with Mr Oh-So-Wrong as Ramsay treats her as a Reek with red hair and moderate boobs. This week, the story suffers by not covering the same lengths as its other map counterparts. Indeed, the biggest Northern news comes from the approaching and snow floundering Stannis' army with Melisandre are trying to drag Stannis across his biggest line yet: his heart. It is good to see Sansa putting aside her grudges against Theon in the face of a greater evil, and even more so when she continues to build an affirming form of strength from her struggles, abusing him with a careful choice of words just as she did with Joffrey. After last week’s ending, we’re gagging for her (or maybe Theon) to go medieval on the former bastard but for now, at least her curt little stabs over Ramsey’s unstable inheritance situation will suffice. We definitely need Brienne more involved as well so somebody just light that bloody candle!
There’s mixed gifts from Slavers Bay. The slave auction is a great laugh from Mr Echo’s ridiculous exaggeration over Jorah’s fighting resume and Tyrion’s efforts to make himself out as a half man sidekick. However, the resulting pit fight skirmish is more of a disappointment. Some of the action is good as we see Ser Jorah fighting dirtier than we’re used to, but the overall melee scene feels unusually low budget for the show. The set feels very confining and inspires little for the scene. Although this finally sees certain big forces crossing paths, the reunion is more of an anticlimax. This still feels like it’s going to be a great story once it gets all these pieces in the right places (presumably the season finale) but unlike many previous episodes this season, the journey feels more required than requested.
This episode is not the best gift of the season but does deliver plenty of likeable moments even if some can’t quite marry entertainment with story significance to the usual high standard. The ending is worthy of a darn good fist pump as karma works its long way around to a certain individual. The debuting director Miguel Sapochnik is back for more next episode. Maybe he’s saved the real gifts for then?