To use a bad medieval metaphor, Game of Thrones is truly beginning to throw down the gauntlet to its would-be rulers. Tommen, Cersei, Jon, and even Daenerys are put through their paces as rulers in the fourth episode of Season 5. Once again, the show is reminding us, “ruling is hard.”
Meereen and King’s Landing are both in turmoil as two armed militant factions promise to cause serious trouble. We also meet the Sand Snakes who are on the verge of defying their lord, Prince Oberyn.
Best of all, this show also gives us some tantalizing tidbits about Rhaegar Targaryen, the heir to the Iron Throne before Robert’s Rebellion. The information isn’t anything new, but what it implies is delightfully intriguing.
I’ve placed theories and comments that may be spoilers in spoiler tags in this post.
Rescuing a Princess in Dorne
After Cersei and Jaime received the red-viper statuette with Myrcella’s necklace dangling from its fangs, it is now certain that Myrcella is in danger in Dorne.
Jaime and Bronn sail to Dorne. Aboard the ship, Bronn asks some awkward questions about why Jaime has to go rescue Princess Myrcella. Obviously, Jaime can’t tell Bronn that Myrcella is his daughter. The one-handed knight reveals he is rescuing Myrcella to atone for his role in his Tyrion’s death. (Jaime also discloses that he wants Tyrion’s blood for killing their father.)
When night falls, Jaime and Bronn surreptitiously row ashore and sleep on the beach. Before Jaime awakes, Bronn saves him from death-by-snake when a red-patterned snake slithers by his slumbering head.
Reflecting on Jaime’s almost death, Jaime and Bronn discuss how they want to die. Bronn is uninterested in a glorious death in battle. Jaime, on the other hand, wants to die in the arms of the woman he loves. Bronn gets to the heart of the matter: “She want the same thing?”
Bronn warns Jaime that his family is so hated that the large bag of gold he gave the captain to buy his silence may not stop the man from betraying them to the Dornish. Just then, four mounted Dornish guards drive ride over a sand dune, and order Jaime and Bronn to throw down their swords.
In a classic Bronn move, the knightly sellsword complies but then hurls his “back-up” dagger at one of the of the guards. Bronn swiftly dispatches a second guard and then a third’s horse.
Bronn leaves Jaime to eliminate the dismounted warrior who should be “slow enough for him.” This is Jaime’s first real fight since he lost his hand. The guard nearly defeats Jaime until his gold hand catches the guard’s sword and this lets Jaime impale the man in the stomach.
Jaime and Bronn win the battle.
Jaime quickly reverts to his cocky self, however, and tells Bronn to dig the holes in the sand to bury the dead guards.
Finally, the whip-wielding Sand Snakes are here! Three of Oberyn’s illegitimate daughters — Tyene, Nym, and Obara — meet with Ellaria Sand in the desert. Ellaria wants them to help avenge Oberyn’s death. The bereaved women want war, but Prince Doran has refused.
Ellaria, however, points out “We don’t need an army to start a war.” Ellaria proposes they start a war with the Lannisters by harming Cersei’s beloved daughter. Ellaria asks who supports her – and one-by-one Oberyn’s daughters agree.
When Ellaria reaches Obara, her reply reveals her warrior backstory:
“When I was a child, Oberyn came to take me to court. I’d never seen this man, and yet he called himself my father. My mother wept, saying I was too young, and a girl. Oberyn tossed his spear at my feet and said, ‘girl or boy, we fight our battles. But the Gods let us choose our weapons.’ My father pointed to the spear, and to my mother’s tears. I made my choice long ago.”
Commentary: Cersei has made the situation with the Dornish worse by foolishly mishandling Oberyn’s death. She should have sent the Dornish the Mountain’s head as she was advised. Instead, she let her pet Qyburn “save” him. A more strategic ruler like her father or Tyrion would have realized that the Dornish have Princess Myrcella and attempted to appease them. Instead, Cersei thinks short-term: she wants to keep the Mountain around as her personal weapon.
The Kidnapped Imp
Jorah Mormont sails in a tiny skiff with a bound Tyrion. Jorah isn’t taking Tyrion to Queen Cersei. Jorah is taking Tyrion to see Queen Daenerys in an effort to redeem himself. Tyrion warns Jorah that he could easily end up dead – and, last time we saw Jorah, Dany warned him never to return.
Meereen: Traditions as Glue
In a tender moment, Selmy tells Daenerys how her older brother Rhaegar liked to walk or sit among the people, and sing to them. This tale surprises Dany. Viserys had only ever told her about Rhaegar’s warrior side.
Selmy replies that Rhaegar never liked killing. He was more minstrel than warrior. When Rhaegar sang for the smallfolk, he would collect money like any other minstrel to see how well people liked his music. Sometimes he gave the money to an orphanage in Flea Bottom and once he got rip-roaring drunk with Selmy.
Ser Barristan leaves to go down to Meereen while the annoying supplicant Hizdahr Zo Loraq is back asking Dany to reopen the fighting pits. Hizdahr makes an excellent argument: the slaves and masters need some common cultural traditions or else they will have nothing in common and this will lead to discord.
Meanwhile, the Sons of the Harpy cause chaos in Meereen. They draw out the Unsullied by killing a few people. Once the Unsullied emerge, the Sons of the Harpy trap them in a long building and massacre them. Grey Worm is one of the last standing. Just as his strength begins to fail, Barristan Selmy heroically arrives. Even though he is greatly outnumbered, he doesn’t hesitate to enter the fray.
Selmy almost certainly saves Grey Worm, but he may die in the process. Selmy took a blade in the gut. The scene ends as both Grey Worm and Selmy collapse amidst a pile of dead Unsullied and Sons of the Harpy.
King’s Landing: Know Who Your Enemies
Driven by fear of losing her only remaining son, Cersei continues to plot to eliminate the competition: namely, the Tyrells. Her scheme this week? Make Margaery vulnerable by isolating her.
The crown needs money. Although the fabulously rich Mace Tyrell offers to loan it some cash, Cersei wants Mace to go negotiate with the Iron Bank. On a somewhat ominous note, Cersei offers up Ser Meryn to personally escort Mace Tyrell to Braavos. As Pycelle wisely observes, the small counsel grows smaller and smaller. (To which Cersei replies, “Not small enough.”)
Professing to care about the kingdom’s moral state, Cersei pays a visit to the High Septon (former High Sparrow). Not surprisingly, the dowager queen has ulterior motives. To achieve her ends, she sanctions re-arming the Faith Militant so they can “clean up” King’s Landing. In particular, she wants them to punish Loras Tyrell for his homosexuality.
No sooner has Cersei let the Faith re-arm itself, than they are raiding King’s Landing and ferreting out “moral transgressors.” Like an Inquisition on steroids, the Faith burst into Littlefinger’s brothel. When the bawd Olyvar sees what they have in store for two of his gay customers, he runs.
Meanwhile the increasingly radical Lancel Lannister has transformed his knightly idealism into religious radicalism. He has the seven-pointed star of the faith carved into his forehead. When he leads the men who arrest Loras Tyrell, he announces himself as “Justice.”
Margaery instantly recognizes Cersei’s hand at work in her brother’s arrest. She confronts Tommen, who is still naïve to his mother’s ways.
For all his kindness, however, Tommen is still not ready to assume the mantle of kingship. He is good, but he is not strong or ruthless enough to rule. He doesn’t understand how to demonstrate power or flex his muscles.
When the bashful Tommen confronts his mother, she smoothly denies involvement and advises Tommen to speak to the High Sparrow.
Tommen follows his mother’s suggestion. When he attempts to walk up the steps of the Great Sept, the Faith Militant block his way and claim the High Septon is not available. Tommen’s entourage offer to kill the Faith Militant, but the boy is reluctant to shed blood on the steps of the Sept. Meanwhile in the background, the smallfolk shout, “Bastard” and “You’re an abomination” at Tommen. The whole affair is pretty degrading to Tommen; he certainly doesn’t come across as a king to be feared (which should be the goal of any medieval king). Game point to the Faith Militant.
When Tommen reports his failure back to Margaery – that there was no way to free Loras without bloodshed – she has to struggle to hide her rage so she can continue to adroitly maneuver the king. Tommen doesn’t seem to understand (yet) that Loras could be in real danger. Margaery plays the strongest card in her hand: she removes herself from the lovesick king’s presence so she can be with her family until Loras is free. (And, also undoubtedly because Loras’ situation genuinely pains Margaery.)
Like the other rulers in Westeros and Meereen, Night’s Watch commander Jon gets his own lesson in political reality. Faced with only fifty men to hold the castles, he writes to the northern lords requesting men and supplies. He balks at writing to his brother’s killer, Roose Bolton, who has now replaced his father as Warden of the North. Sam reminds Jon of his vow and their desperate situation.
Melisandre wants Jon to ride south with Stannis. Jon refuses because his place is in Winterfell and he took a vow to serve the Night’s Watch. To gain Jon’s cooperation, Melisandre tries to seduce him and fails.
Jon claims he cannot because of his vow. But, then, the real reason comes out: he is still in love with Ygritte. As the frustrated Red Priestess leaves, she makes a parting jab: “You know nothing, Jon Snow.” Jon’s mouth nearly hits the floor. Is Melisandre Ygritte incarnate? Does Melisandre have secret knowledge?
In a tender moment, Shireen asks her father if he is ashamed of her. We learn not only how much the icy Stannis loves his daughter and the lengths he has gone to cure her but also that he blames himself for her skin-rotting disease, the greyscale (presumably the Westeros equivalent to leprosy).
Deep within the earth, in the dark crypt at Winterfell, Sansa lights candles for her dead ancestors. She picks up the fallen feather Robert Baratheon once placed in the hand of his beloved Lyanna’s effigy and is blowing off its dust when Littlefinger finds her.
Gazing at Lyanna’s effigy, he tells Sansa about the start of Robert’s Rebellion. How the crowd gasped when the handsome Rhaegar Targaryen won the Tourney of Harrenhal, rode right past his wife Ellia Martell, and placed the crown of blue winter roses in Lyanna’s lap.
Sansa repeats the story that the victors of Robert’s Rebellion typically tell: “Yes, he chose her. And then he kidnapped her and raped her.”
Littlefinger is leaving for King’s Landing. Cersei has summoned him and he doesn’t want her to become suspicious. This means that Sansa will be left unprotected at Winterfell with the brutal Boltons. Littlefinger believes that Sansa — his protégé — can handle the Boltons. He tells Sansa that she has “learned to maneuver from the very best.”
Littlefinger may be woefully overestimating Sansa and underestimating the Boltons. He tells Sansa that the North will be yours. Littlefinger says goodbye to his “ward” by kissing her on the mouth.
Perhaps to keep Littlefinger at bay, Sansa states she will be a married woman by the time he returns. In response, Baelish just chuckles as though he knows something she does not.