Snakes in the Sand
A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
Faith is one of those words that in one sense sounds astonishingly simple. It is composed of five letters, two vowels, three consonants, and a single syllable. Perhaps it is because fate loves irony more than anything else in the world that such a simple word can be imbued with such profound, infinite power. Sons of the Harpy is a terrifically violent episode, albeit one that suffers a little from moving at a rapid pace that just has to get some things out of the way and consequently feels a bit clunky in those respective places. But on every corner of the globe this week, including a new serpent-laden Dorne in the opening credits, the word “faith” causes tremendous carnage to spill out into the streets. On one hand, Cersei goes on the offensive against Margaery, using the tool of the Sparrows’ faith that she had found to be so appealing in the closing moments of last week’s episode. She has faith not in their actual belief system, but in their ability to get back at the Tyrells and undermine Margaery. Above all she has faith that she would actually be able to control the Sparrows, that somehow they’re going to do her bidding in entirety. “There’s a sinner in our midst, shielded by gold and privilege,” she says quietly to an unsettlingly serene High Sparrow, whose faint whisper of a smile suggests that he understands the complete irony of the sentence that had just been uttered.
The faith that the Sparrows have been able to spread has been sowing its seeds for a time in the discontent that has been brewing in King’s Landing ever since the Battle of Blackwater Bay. The Sparrows can tap into that discontent without a magnanimous amount of effort. Medieval society after all was greatly religious, the faith placed within a higher being or beings of some sort providing some semblance of comfort in what otherwise were pretty terrible lives. If there’s something that humanity innately requires besides basic sustenance, it is faith in something. What the Sparrows provide, however, is not just an outlet for their faith. They also provide an outlet for the anger that has been simmering in the poor of King’s Landing, who more than anything rightfully blame the aristocrats in their grand castles for making their lives even more miserable than they already were. The reinstallation of the Faith Militant, the military wing of the Seven, underneath the new High Septon wastes no time in rampaging through the city, destroying every vice that lies within their purview. Alcohol, iconography, not even Littlefinger’s iconic brothel is spared. The editing here is a bit jarring, the suddenness of it juxtaposed against the scene between Cersei and the High Septon in an awkward fashion.
The new High Septon may be a pious man who gives food to the poor, but that doesn’t mean that his ideological purview is as benevolent. The bloody execution of homosexuals in Littlefinger’s brothel is a fine example. Cersei in trying to undermine Margaery has the unintentional affect of undermining the rule of her own son. After an understandably furious Margaery (the word “furious” is a real understatement here) urges Tommen to go and free her brother, he leads his Kingsguard to the stairs of the sept but he’s instantly blocked. His Kingsguard urges Tommen to order the execution of the Sparrows, but Tommen stands down. The chants of his incestuous birth make him visibly uncomfortable and perhaps that adds to him being sickened at the thought of spilling blood all over the stairs of the Septs.
As the Faith Militant undermine Baratheon/Lannister rule in King’s Landing, the Sons of the Harpy are doing the exact same thing in Meereen. They follow a similar pattern of absolute bloodshed, albeit on the power of an orthodox ideology instead of a religious one. For the Harpies of Meereen, Daenerys has rooted out the foundation of their civilization and the inhumanity of that foundation escapes them or they simply don’t care. Geurilla warfare against an occupying force is a fairly common military strategy that can be found throughout history, with the occupied often having the advantage of simply knowing the terrain better. The ambush in a Meereenese hallway just seems like chaotic bloodshed and then in a great moment, an Unsullied’s helmet comes off and we’re looking at Grey Worm. Immediately the stakes are raised far higher, right before Ser Barristan shows up, his great sword in hand as the Harpies close in around him.
As the Faith Militant undermine Baratheon/Lannister rule in King’s Landing, the Sons of the Harpy are doing the exact same thing in Meereen. They follow a similar pattern of absolute bloodshed, albeit on the power of an orthodox ideology instead of a religious one. For the Harpies of Meereen, Daenerys has rooted out the foundation of their civilization and the inhumanity of that foundation escapes them or they simply don’t care. Guerrilla warfare against an occupying force is a fairly common military strategy that can be found throughout history, with the occupied often having the advantage of simply knowing the terrain better. The ambush in a Meereenese hallway just seems like chaotic bloodshed and then in a great moment, an Unsullied’s helmet comes off and we’re looking at Grey Worm. Immediately the stakes are raised far higher, right before Ser Barristan shows up, his great sword in hand as the Harpies close in around him. As the most legendary fighter in the Seven Realms, seeing Ser Barristan wipe the floor with the Harpies was deeply satisfying and his death is the most serious blow dealt yet to Daenerys’s rule of this city. Game of Thrones has always stayed away from super flashy swordsmanship and I appreciate that level of realism, but the fight choreography was simply lacking in this final sequence and while Ser Barristan’s death had emotional heft, it wasn’t executed to Thrones standards.
Ellaria is placing faith in the desire for vengeance that Doran seemingly lacks into Oberyn’s bastard daughters, hoping that the Sand Snakes are much more ready to take vengeance for their father’s death in the capital than his elder brother. If the spear through the head is any indication, these four Dornish women are ready to take on the Lannisters, like the one that appeared on their beaches. Jaime’s faith in Bronn appears to be well-placed at least, his early spearing of the snake saving Jaime’s life while serving as an eerie piece of foreshadowing. Bronn’s curious as to why Jaime is on this mission by himself in the first place, to which Jaime’s tepid response is that he simply has to be the one to get his niece out of Dorne. Bronn’s raised eyebrows at the word “niece” is a nice little indication of how much Bronn already knows and how poorly kept in general the secret heritage of the Baratheon children is. Yet Bronn still fights for him with some suave moves, motivated by more than just money (even if he won’t ever admit that). Jamie suddenly realizing that his golden hand can act as a shield was a great little moment, but if this is the beginning to their Dornish journey, I can only imagine how the rest of it is going to fare.
The North is shaping up to be an immense battlefield, primarily revolving around Littlefinger leaving Sansa to go to King’s Landing (um, take your time riding there, Petyr) and Castle Black. Once again, I have to note that this meeting of characters is doing absolute wonders for Stannis and Jon both. Stannis gets what may be his most humanizing moment to date on this show, where Shireen openly asks him if he is ashamed of her. Stannis, never the cuddling paternal sort, is fairly surprised at this line of questioning and he notes that no, he is not and in fact it is quite the opposite. “You are the Princess Shireen of House Baratheon. And you are my daughter,” he notes sternly, but with affection. A tearful Shireen hugs him and Stannis reciprocates, albeit after a bit of a pause. As Shireen’s faith in her father’s love for her is cemented even further, Melisandre is confirming to Jon that her faith in Stannis has wavered. In the most obvious seduction attempt yet, she calmly notes that their joining has power, but Jon after a struggle says no. His love for Ygritte is still too strong for him to betray it. “You know nothing, Jon Snow,” Melisandre says coldly as she leaves the room, her eyes twinkling dangerously at Jon’s expression of shock. Jon has always had a firm faith in the power of his vows and principles and Stannis has been one of the few people in his life to truly understand that. But with the impending departure of one of the few true allies he has been able to make, that faith is most certainly going to face its most precarious position yet.
Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+Tyrion admonishing Jorah for his fairly stupid plan of taking him to the place where he was already going
+The Isle of Tarth
+“You set your brother free, didn’t you?”; “If I ever see him, I’ll split him in two.”
+Iron Bank has asked for a tenth of their debt
+Cersei sending Mace to Braavos
+“The small council grows smaller and smaller.”; “Not small enough.”
+“Wars teach people to obey their swords, not the gods.”
+“May they all be judged justly.”
+“All sinners are equal in the eyes of the gods.”
+“You’re an abomination!”
+The show this episode all but seemed to confirm the R + L = J theory. The conversations with Stannis, Littlefinger, and Daenerys were far too pointed otherwise.
+Jon struggling to write to Bolton
+Life against death.
+“Then we shouldn’t tell him.”
+The doll transmitted greyscale? It adds more detail to his now important disease while adding a bit of guilt into Stannis’s character in regards to his relationship with his daughter.
+Sansa in the crypts, blowing the dust off of the feather Robert had placed there
+“Crown of winter roses in Lyanna’s lap…”
+Sansa as the Wardeness of the North? Yes, please.
+“As far as I’ve seen, they’re all shit ways to die.
+“I want my death to be boring.
+“[I want to die] In the arms of the woman I love.”
+Obara chose the spear over her birth mother
+“Girl or boy, we fight our battles, but the gods let us choose our weapons.”
+“I made my choice long ago.”
+“You were spying on her, weren’t you?”
+“Everything looks peaceful from up here.”
+Rhaegar liked to sing in the streets and give the money away
+“I think I can protect me from Hizdahr zo Loraq.”
+“All men must die, but not all can die in glory.”
Title: Sons of the Harpy
Written By: Dave Hill
Directed By: Mark Mylod
Image Courtesy: Highlight Hollywood