Following last week’s ho-hum episode, Game of Thrones returns to form this week with “The Gift.” Sansa’s characterization resumes while Stannis is faced with a tough decision and Cersei’s machinations finally backfire on her. While not everything landed this week—romantic subplots faced something of a nosedive at The Wall and in Meereen—most of the stories managed to keep both me and J engaged.
We begin at The Wall where Jon Snow has left with Tormund (Kristofer Hivju) to meet with the Freefolk at Hardhome, leaving an ailing Maester Aemon (Peter Vaughan) and undefended Sam behind. This pays off in an excellent final scene for Peter Vaughan, featuring a final line that J had hoped the show would keep from the books. I wasn’t totally sold on the subsequent sex scene with Sam and Gilly, but it’s clear they’re building that relationship up for some sort of dramatic payoff.
In Winterfell, Sansa (Sophie Turner) attempts to signal for help from Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) and other loyal Northerners. While that plan doesn’t quite pay off, her subsequent interactions with Ramsay gave us hope that they’re heading in the right direction with her character. Meanwhile, Reek/Theon (Alfie Allen) continues to demonstrate his depressing loyalty to Ramsay by rejecting Sansa’s plea for aid.
Stannis (Stephen Dillane) is having a rough go of it now that winter has reared its ugly head. To make things worse, Melissandre (Carice van Houten) has revealed her plans to use Stannis’s daughter Shireen (Kerry Ingram) as a sacrifice to the Lord of Light. J isn’t convinced that arc will go anywhere on its own, but that Queen Selyse (Tara Fitzgerald) will take matters into her own hands due to her devotion to the Red God. I’m hoping Stannis will put his foot down. It may come at the cost of victory, but he’ll at least maintain his honor.
Much to our delight, Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) and Jorah (Iain Glen) have already crossed paths with Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) over in Essos. We see their quick turnover from pirate custody to the pits where Jorah quickly proves his worth as a fighter. Daenerys has little patience for Jorah when he reveals himself, but once he presents the eponymous “gift” (in the form of Tyrion), her face changes from a look of disgust to one of intense interest. This should be a fascinating arc moving into the last stretch of the season.
In King’s Landing, Olenna Tyrell (Diana Rigg) spars with both the High Sparrow and Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen) in an attempt to free her children from the Faith Militant’s custody. J and I delve into the High Sparrow’s motivations; I argue his religious ideology is a vehicle for him to exert control, while J hopes his convictions are more pure than that. His rhetoric culminates in a fabulous scene with Cersei by the Black Cells; both Jonathan Pryce and Lena Headey stand out in this exchange more than ever before.