“Lord Snow… Bringing me back for trial? We had a good thing here, we were free men. You’ll never be free. You’ll never know what that’s like… Learn how to fight in a castle? Some old-man teach you how to stand? How to parry? How to fight with honor? Do you know what’s wrong with honor…?”
A new king is crowned in the fifth installment of “Game of Thrones,” and Tommen has a crush on his dead bro’s widow. Cersei isn’t exactly thrilled with the idea of Margaery collecting another of her sons into marriage, but also knows that what Papa Tywin says goes, so she begins to make inroads with the seductive former and would-be queen. Cersei learns of the true source of her family’s wealth (the Iron Bank) from her father, and she also takes Oberyn Martell on a stroll through the Betrayal Garden, worried over her daughter, and campaigning against her brother Tyrion, in the forthcoming (and much hyped) murder trial, for which Oberyn will stand as one of the judges.
Podrick and Brienne have emerged as a terrific comedy duo to rival Abbott and Costello in their unconventional storyline, an incompetent squire and his extraordinarily proportioned charge. Podrick is showing utterly incapable of everything from horse-riding to basic cooking and Brienne has no patience for such foolishness. The two do share a moment after Pod tells the story of how he saved Tyrion’s life at the Battle of Blackwater Bay. Brienne seems to at least open up to the notion of accepting Pod as her squire, shocked that this awkward little klutz could kill off a King’s Guard, assenting to let him help her with the tricky business of escaping her new plate armor.
Sansa’s storyline gains some intrigue, bringing audiences to the Eyrie’s Bloody Gate, which was gloriously staged in the books and conspicuous by its absence in the show until now. The visual artistry thereof was magnificent. Crazy-ass Lysa Arryn has, at long-last, gained her heart’s desire in the form of Petyr Baelish’s hand in marriage. While it seems clear that this is purely a political maneuver for Littlefinger, Lysa is very much enamored with the idea of finally getting to be with her childhood crush and first lover (even going so far as to warn the Septon presiding over her marriage that she intends to be very vocal in the bedroom upon consummation of their rushed nuptials). Even with her only sincere rival for Petyr’s attention (her sister Catlyn Stark) dead—Lysa is still jealous and crazy as ever—projecting her insecurities on poor Sansa in the form of clenched-fist hand-holding and teeth-grinding intensity (not to mention the nighttime screaming sessions) over the issue of her chastity. Once reassured by a fresh batch of Sansa-sobbing, Lysa goes on to promise the already married Sansa to her breast-milk drinking cousin Robin Arryn.
Still more conspirators are coming to light in the murder of King Joffrey. Not only does Lysa admit her complicity in the murder of the King, but also goes on to confide in her coconspirator Littlefinger, that she (not the Lannisters as she’s so often proclaimed) poisoned Jon Arryn, setting the entire course of events in motion that sent Eddard Stark South to King’s Landing in the first place and set the entire narrative into motion. In a way, Lysa and Littlefinger are the sole conspirators in the grand scheme which has caused nearly every Westerosi death in the entire run of the series. Mind = Blown.
Another unlikely duo returns, as Arya tries to translate the finer points of Water Dancing to Sandor “The Hound” Clegane, who is (not surprisingly) unimpressed. Fighting for the honor of her long-slain tutor Syrio Forel, Sansa tries (in vain) to stab the Hound through his studded, boiled leathers, receiving a backhanded lesson in the value of Westerosi arms and armor.
At last, we come to the crux and central controversy of recent weeks, north of the wall: Craster’s Keep. The controversy has derived largely from the noticeable increase in rape sequences in this fourth season, made more insidious by the fact that many of these uncomfortably graphic demonstrations of sexual force are not derived from the source material. Make no mistake, the “Song of Ice and Fire” series is not in any way shy, or even hesitant to depict innocent women being raped, brutalized, humiliated and/or murdered—but the deviation from the lore, specifically to delve into these gutters (speaking of the sequences of Jamie forcing himself on Cersei in episode 3 and the ongoing gang-rape that the mutineers have converted Craster’s Keep into) has raised some criticism from the show’s fan-base.
Overall, “Game of Thrones” has built a large part of its following on the pro-feminist depiction of women as wise and powerful leaders, in a setting where they have been historically ignored, objectified or stereotyped. The historical legacy of the setting George R. R. Martin has chosen to ground his fantasy saga in was not a friendly one for women, and the notions we have today of the roles and capabilities of women were virtually nonexistent in Medieval times.
Michelle Maclaren, who has directed episodes of “Breaking Bad” and “The Walking Dead”, directed both “Oathkeeper” and “First of His Name”, so the graphicness of Craster’s Keep has been a decision on the part of her and her screenwriters. Of Karl and the mutineers’ interactions with Craster’s widows, Maclaren told The Hollywood Reporter “…it’s got to be horrible. They’ve gone over to the dark side. So when Jon and his guys show up, we want them to take these guys down.”
If the goal was to make audiences root for Jon and his Night’s Watch brethren, I’d say that this was a mission accomplished. By the time Jon and his crew arrive just in the nick of time to thwart yet another graphic rapesploitation sequence, this time of Meera Reed (Screaming: ‘Leave Meera alone! LEAVE HER ALONE!!!’), the metal-clashing, ass-kicking, post-war fight sequence that this writer has been severely craving from this season finally unfurled in grand fashion.
You know that moment when the slot machine you’ve been playing at for hours finally hits three cherries and coins just start falling into the tray? This moment in the episode and that moment at the casino sound almost identical: “Clang, clang, clang, clang, clang!”
Jon swinging wildly and pushing steel through a guy in the mud, Bran warging into Hodor and damn-near tearing Locke in half, Ghost reunited with Jon and the dagger-fighting brilliance of Karl from Fleabottom. So much awesome in ten minutes of film! The fight choreography and execution of stunt work remains impeccable in this series, and the violence is also exploitative, but much less targeted in its exploitation and therefore less egregious.
Karl’s victim of choice takes back her dignity, by saving Jon (made into a damsel in distress by Karl’s streetwise dagger-work), backstabbing her rapist and imposing the role of protector on Jon! Lord Snow reestablishes his gendered superiority by finishing the job, stabbing through the back of Karl’s neck and out his mouth … Leave it to “Game of Thrones” to undercut its own implied redemption, for the sake of increased brutality. SMH.
The episode concludes with the eldest of Craster’s widows spitting on the door of her home for the last thirty-odd years, a house of horrors for all of the women abused inside it. It’s agreed that the entire Keep should be burned with all the bodies inside. The widows decide that they’ll go their own way, understandably dubious of the Night’s Watch and seem to reclaim their dignity, at least in some sense. Let’s hope that David Benioff and D. B. Weiss can resist too much more deviation from the lore, into the realm of increased exploitation, but if they do, let’s hope that it’s exploitative violence and gore instead of exploiting the abuse of women’s bodies.
Quote by Michelle Maclaren
‘Game of Thrones’ Director: Jon Snow Bloodbath Was ‘Justified’ Violence (Q&A)