“The High Sparrow” (Episode 3, Season 5) is all about shifting identities. Many of the characters take on new roles and shed old ones. Transformation is key in this episode.
Arya continues her stay with the faceless men of Braavos. Margaery becomes a Baratheon (again) when she marries Tommen. Tommen becomes a married man. Cersei is no longer queen. Sansa agrees to marry again. Winterfell not only has a new lord in residence but its facelift is underway. Jon makes a choice that solidifies his identity as commander. New alliances are forged. And, perhaps, the most exciting new identity of all: Qyburn’s “work” makes itself known.
Arya in Braavos: Self-mortification
Self-mortification is a fancy phrase for the process of killing off one part of yourself to let another in (or develop). To become a faceless man of Braavos, Arya must kill off her identity as “Arya Stark.” In fact, she must destroy all of her identity except for that of an anonymous one who serves.
The episode begins with Arya sweeping and the man formerly known as Jaqen H’gar (“the Man”) giving a sickly-looking man a cup of water from a pool in the dimly lit House of White and Black.
She complains to the Man that all she has done is sweep floors for days. She didn’t come to sweep floors; she wants to learn how to be a faceless man. The Man reminds her that “all men must serve” and tells her that she is there to serve herself. To serve well, a girl must become no one, the Man tells her. There is only one god – Death – and all men know his gift.
As the Man talks, the sickly looking man lies on the floor motionless. Two men collect the man and carry him away on a stretcher. Arya asks where they are taking him, but nobody replies.
A young faceless girl in the House of Black and White strikes Arya in an attempt to get her to begin to forget her identity as Arya Stark. The Man breaks up the quarrel, but he points out that Arya is surrounded by the belongings (which continually reconfirm her identity as Arya Stark). She must divest herself of her possessions so she can begin her journey towards forgetting her identity and becoming truly “faceless.”
Arya helps the faceless girl undress the dead man’s corpse with the young faceless girl.
Later on, Arya sinks her belongings in the lagoon, but she cannot bear to give up Needle so she hides it instead. Much to our relief, she is not ready to completely surrender her identity to this strange cult.
After Tommen and Margery recite their wedding vows, the couple consummate their wedding. After a night of torrid love making, Tommen pants, “Did I hurt you?” to Margaery. She laughingly replies that he did not. (Hmmm… Is Margaery as chaste as she would have us believe?) Meanwhile Margaery bonds with her groom, currying his favor, and already revealing her adept skill at manipulating him.
Tommen, meanwhile, after what is presumably his first night of sex is overjoyed. His new bride is beautiful. He is king. And, as a second son, he expected none of these things. He reflects that he never would have been in this position if Joffrey hadn’t died.
Curiously, he states that he does not feel guilty because his brother died. In his own words, “I don’t feel guilty. That’s the strange thing.” (By the way, I still believe my wacky theory that it is actually Tommen – and not Littlefinger and Olenna — who murdered Joffrey. They simply believe they murdered him.)
Meanwhile, as Tommen basks in postcoital bliss, Margaery subtly implies that Tommen is less than a man because his mother is around: Tommen will always be Cersei’s little cub.
The next day Tommen suggests that Cersei might prefer her childhood home of Casterly Rock better than the capital.
And, so begins Dowager Queen Cersei’s vulnerability.
Cersei is not a complete fool; she realizes that the Highgarden rose is already wrapping herself around her son. Cersei pays Margaery a visit to suck up, but this is too little too late. Cersei’s greatest fear is losing her children. As Margaery giggles with her ladies about the first night of her marriage, Cersei enters to warmly offer help. Margaery, however, has not forgotten Cersei’s threats (the “Rains of Castamere” story in the Sept) and shabby treatment. The new bride smoothly, and indirectly, reminds Cersei of her now-lowered status – “What’s the proper way to address you now, Queen Mother or Dowager Queen?”
At Littlefinger’s brothel, a little role playing is going on. A flabby gray-haired man stands in the center of seven whores pretending to be gods. The man is the High Septon and he is about to “worship” these “gods.” The sparrows break in to the brothel and denounce his blasphemy. They force the naked High Septon to walk the streets of King’s Landing as they whip him.
Furious and indignant, the High Sparrow goes before the small council to ask for justice. “An assault on me is an assault on the Faith,” he tells them. He wants the sparrows who flagellated him thrown into the Black Cells and the High Sparrow executed.
Later on, Cersei pays a visit to the humble, scruffy High Sparrow, whom she finds feeding the poor. She tries to forge a bond, stating that the crown and religion must be partners. She also lets the High Sparrow know that she has dealt the High Septon an even harsher punishment for his immorality. She has imprisoned the High Septon in the Red Keep.
Cersei pays Qyburn, her spymaster, a visit asking him to send a raven to Littlefinger. As Qyburn sits at his desk to prepare the message, Qyburn’s “work” jerks in the background under its sheet. Shhh… Easy friend, Qyburn tells it.
Ramsay is up to his old tricks again. As his men rebuild Winterfell, Ramsay is making sure that House Bolton’s vassals pay their taxes using the technique he knows best: flaying and instilling fear.
When the Lord Cerwyn refuses to pay his taxes, Ramsay flayed the man, his wife and brother alive in front of the lord’s son. The result? The “new Lord Cerwyn” (that is, the terrified son) now pays his taxes. Roose isn’t altogether pleased.
Roose Bolton’s status as Warden of the North is vulnerable without Tywin as his ally. House Bolton does not have enough men to defend their position if the other northern houses rise up against them. To consolidate the Bolton rule over the north, Roose wants a new alliance. The Lannisters will never send their armies to the North to defend the Boltons. Flaying will never be as effective as a marital alliance.
Enter Sansa. Somehow Littlefinger orchestrates a match; he manages to convince Sansa to marry into the family that killed her brother and mother and whose treachery has led them to inhabit her childhood home. The match secures Littlefinger’s alliance (as pseudo-Lord of the Vale) with House Bolton. When the Eyrie and the North allied in the past, they brought down the greatest dynasty this world has ever known.
Although Sansa initially refuses, Littlefinger points out that she will be vulnerable if she does not marry somebody strong. If she marries Ramsay, Sansa will get to live at Winterfell and she can avenge her family’s deaths. It is so hard to tell if Littlefinger genuinely cares for Sansa, or if he is just coldly maneuvering to achieve his ends.
There is no justice in the world, not unless we make it.
Sansa arrives home to Winterfell. It is more than bittersweet. Later, in her chamber, a servant greets her warmly, “Welcome home, Lady Sansa. The North Remembers.”
Meanwhile Brienne and Pod travel discreetly behind Sansa and Baelish. They watch over her from a distance. As they sit by the campfire, they exchange past histories and bond. Brienne offers to teach Pod to fight and ride properly so he can move from squire to fighter good enough to be a knight. She feels guilty for always being so ornery with Pod. In a touching moment, he tells Brienne he is proud to be her squire and that she is the best fighter he has ever seen.
Littlefinger chats with the humble, pleased, and almost likeable Ramsay. Petyr notes he has heard little about Ramsay. Would Petyr still endorse the match if he knew about Ramsay’s proclivities? Petyr then converses with Roose, who does not fully trust Baelish yet.
Jon refuses Stannis’ offers to make him legitimate and give him Winterfell. Jon also wants Stannis’ men gone; he can’t afford to feed them indefinitely. After all, winter is coming. Nonetheless, Stannis sees talent in Jon and advises him to send Alliser Thorne away. Davos tries to tempt Jon to get involved in politics, ostensibly to prevent suffering in the North. (Incidentally, Jon has also taken Olly, the orphan boy who shot Ygritte, as his steward.)
When the treacherous Ser Janus Slynt refuses Jon’s order to command the dilapidated Greyguard castle, Jon promptly has him hauled outside. Janus blusters that he has “important friends in the capital” who will protect him. Even though Janus begs for his life, Jon is resolute. Jon needs to assert his will or else his other men will disobey him. He swings his sword and takes off Janus’ head with one blow, as Stannis nods him approval from afar.
Finally, Jon gets revenge on this insufferable slimebag who betrayed his father.
Back in Season 1, Janos Slynt was the City Watch commander in King’s Landing. He promised to support Ned Stark when he was to reveal the truth about Joffrey’s parentage. At the critical moment, however, Janos and his men turned against Ned in favor of Cersei and Littlefinger. Later on, when Tyrion was Hand, he banished the untrustworthy Janos to the Wall. Ever since Janos arrived at the Wall, Jon has had to tolerate the presence of the man who led to his father’s death.
Tyrion & Varys in Volantis
A restless Tyrion pressures Varys to let him get out of the “wheelhouse” and go into town (Volantis), despite Varys’ warnings of what could happen if somebody if somebody recognizes him. A priestess for R’hllor preaches to a market crowd about the savior, the dragon queen. Varys and Tyrion continue to a brothel. Despite his lack of coin, Tyrion manages to seduce a whore. When the moment comes, Tyrion can’t seal the deal. His vows to Sansa appear to be keeping him faithful.
Tyrion leaves to relieve himself. As the Imp passes his water, Jorah Mormont — Dany’s disgraced adviser — captures him and says, “I’m taking you to the queen.”
As I wrote this recap, I found myself wondering about the following:
- Any thoughts on why Cersei suggested Margaery as Tommen’s bride in the first place? Certainly, she needs Highgarden’s food, but she has been nothing but unkind to her up to now.
- Would Baelish care if he knew of Ramsay’s violence and cruelty? Would he have still persuaded Sansa to marry him?