Game of Thrones: “Sons of the Harpy” Review

I told them all to go to hell. You did not belong along across the world with the bloody stone men. You are the Princess Shireen of House Baratheon, and you are my daughter. 

Stannis Baratheon is a hard man to figure out. Back in season two, he was the scorned older brother with the most legitimate claim to the Iron Throne, yet he had no clue how to command the loyalty of the other lords. Renly knew how to do that. He was likable guy, charismatic and humble, yet he was younger than Stannis and no where close to the front of the line of succession. People supported him anyway because they didn’t want to support Stannis. The Lord of Dragonstone was not only extremely cold and rigid, he had forsaken the Faith of the Seven for the mysterious Lord of Light, represented by the mysterious and seductive Melisandre. Stannis couldn’t defeat his brother on the field of battle, so he used Melisandre’s magic to slay his own flesh and blood and steal all of the bannermen. When Stannis was defeated in the Battle of the Blackwater, he retreated back to Dragonstone, threw his friend Ser Davos into a dungeon and spent his time brooding and listening to Melisandre as she whispered into his ear.

In other words, Stannis was no one’s favorite character.

Flash forward to season five and my how things have changed. Not only was Stannis the only king who came to the aid of the Night’s Watch (you never saw the King in the North spare any of his men for the Wall) but now he’s the only one who wants to bring the Boltons to justice. And now we even get lovely little scenes like this, where Stannis reveals a side of himself that we never get to see. It was almost Ned Stark-esque in the way that Stannis revealed not only is he not ashamed of his daughter, but he did everything he could to save her when everyone else had already given up on her.

In other words, Stannis is one of the best characters on the show. He may have murdered his brother, but in the words of the Hound, there are others who are plenty worse.

Stannis’ mission to retake the north and chase the rats out of Winterfell is a tall order. Even if he succeeds, he still has to venture through the Twins and the Riverlands (which all belong to Walder Frey) and then take another crack at sacking King’s Landing, defended currently by the Lannisters, Tyrells and Faith Militant. But it’s his duty to wipe out all of his enemies, so Stannis will go through with it anyway. That’s the thing about men driven by necessity and not desire: they never really consider the odds. You think Ser Barristan was weighing how outnumbered he was in his decision to help Grey Worm? Nope. He went down that alley because he was the Captain of Daenery’s Queensguard, and it was his job to protect her and her men.

The death of Barristan came as a surprise, if only because he seemed to be positioned as a key cog in Dany’s quest to (eventually?) conquer Westeros. Maybe that’s a naive point-of-view. After all, this is the show where more significant characters have suffered an even more unexpected demise, but she’s going to need someone who knows their way around King’s Landing. Does this create the opening for the inevitable return of Jorah with Tyrion? That probably depends on whether or not Jorah can even get to Meereen without killing Tyrion himself.

Add Jaime to the list of people who want Tyrion dead. At least, that’s what he wants Bronn to think. Jaime and Tywin didn’t seem very close. They spent the duration of season four bickering and taking jabs at each other’s legacy, so you wouldn’t think Jaime would be that broken up over his “beloved” father’s death. I guess we’ll never know. This subplot is more about keeping two characters with nothing else to do on the screen anyway, but on the plus side it reminds us of how much of a badass Bronn is. He’ll need to be at his best in a part of the world where everyone hates the Lannisters, and as feared Jaime is practically useless in battle.

Can’t say the Tyrells care much for the golden-haired shits either, considering Cersei sent Mace on a suicide mission to the Iron Bank and then persuaded the Faith to take action against Ser Loras. The power struggle between Cersei and Margaery has been brewing for awhile now, but there were always more experienced members of the family involved to keep the peace. That isn’t the case anymore, and we’re beginning to see the result of Cersei’s unchecked authority. Whereas Tywin did his best to pacify the Tyrells to ensure their loyalty, she wants them out of the way as quickly as possible. Not such a great idea considering since that alliance has held things together in King’s Landing, but the conflict was inevitable.

The northerners have no such freedom to differentiate between their allies and enemies. Jon and Sansa are stuck playing nice with the Boltons because they are the Lords of Winterfell, and there’s no time for revenge yet. The North may remember, but no one is going to do anything if it means going the way of the Starks. In the meantime, everyone just has to be patient and hold out. Wait for Stannis to get to Winterfell. Wait for Jon to make peace with the Wildlings. Wait for the conflicts to be resolved in Meereen, King’s Landing and Dorne. Wait wait wait.

At it’s best, Game of Thrones mixes elements of fantasy and harsh realism together to build towards a spectacular payoff. At it’s worst, we get lots of exposition and people talking in rooms while we wait for for things to boil over. So far we’ve received far more of the latter than the former and for that reason, season five has been less interesting than past seasons.

But the payoff is coming friends. It may take a little longer to get here than usual, but it always comes eventually.

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