A stark return to normal pacing for the series, Sons of the Harpy felt like an episode more interested in setting up future installments than standing on its own merits. It’s an undeniable step down from last week’s High Sparrow – but when all is said and done, it’s still a pretty serviceable effort.
Game of Thrones: Season 5, Episode 4, ‘Sons of the Harpy’ Review
WARNING – SPOILERS AHEAD
Last week saw Cersei make a desperate alliance with the monastic High Sparrow and this week saw the effects of that gambit take shape. Cersei is at the top of her game here – sending Mace Tyrell off to Braavos as an envoy of the crown, giving the High Sparrow permission to militarize his followers and arrest Loras as a result of his sexuality. The whole sequence was handled in a very visually impressive way and it made a nice mirror to the violence that closed the episode.
Margaery is in a much more vulnerable and isolated position now and though the nature of her inevitable-response is (for now) unknown, it’s apparent that she will get little help from Tommen with the matter.
Sons of the Harpy did a great job of demonstrating how toothless Tommen is compared to his brother. His weak will when (attempting) to confront both his mother and the High Sparrow was hilarious to watch – though it doesn’t bode well for his ability to hold the Iron Throne in the long term.
Over at Winterfell, things were relatively quiet but (for book-readers especially) it was exciting to learn a bit more about the late Rhaegar Targaryen. Sansa and Baelish had a delightful, if-brief, scene in the Winterfell crypts where he honed in on how Rhaegar’s romantic interests brought ruin to his family. This characterisation of Rhaegar was later fleshed out a bit by Barristan and makes a stark contrast for the version of Rhaegar painted by Robert Baratheon.
Otherwise, there’s little happening on the northern front. HBO seems be pushing the idea that Sansa’s newfound manipulation skills will allow her to ‘tame’ Ramsay but I’m not sold yet. It’d be disappointing to see Sansa become a victim forced into marriage again but it’s unclear to me just how she plans to get the better of the Boltons here.
The scenes at Castle Black this week were refreshingly strong (considering they were non-book scenes) and despite offering little in terms of plot movement they were probably the highlight of the episode for me. In particular, Stephen Dillane killed it when it came to vocalizing Stannis’ unconditional love for his daughter. That aspect of his character has always been hovering below the surface but this scene did a great job of adding a vital touch of humanity to one of the show’s coldest characters.
Arguably, the episode’s strongest front lay to the south with Jaime and Bronn taking their first steps into Dorne.
Though I dug the almost-arabian aesthetic to the landscapes here, I was little lukewarm when it came to our first taste of the Sand Snakes. It didn’t help that they only had a (relatively) unfamiliar character to bounce off, but some of the lines here felt dangerously close to camp and only Obara received any significant characterization.
Oberyn’s daughters are a genuinely cool and diverse set of characters, it’d be a shame if HBO nullified their role down to mere eye-candy to fill their sex-violence quota.
Finally, the end of the episode brought with it the first real consequences of Dany’s rule in Mereen. The deaths of Grey Worm and Barristan are sure to throw things in the city off balance and it’ll be interesting to see how their absence shapes Dany’s response next week. This is the fourth episode in a row now that Thrones has ended with a minor character death and there was a definite sense of diminishing returns that played into my impressions of the episode as a result.
Sons of the Harpy was far from a bad episode, but it was clearly a bridge episode between last week’s episode and the ones to come. It paid the price to set up future installments – let’s hope the results land with enough punch to be worth it.