Game of Thrones recap: 'Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken'
Was this the HBO drama's most disturbing episode ever?
"Is the girl ready? To give up her ears, her nose, her tongue? Her hopes and dreams, her loves and hates, all that makes a girl who she is, forever? No, a girl is not ready to become no one. But she is ready to become someone else." - Jaqen H'gahr
This week's "Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken" takes its name from the motto of House Martell. The family is famed for their claim — unique among everyone else in Westeros, including the Lannisters and the Starks — as a house that has never been conquered. In the Targaryen dynasty that set the stage for the events of Game of Thrones, the Martells were only brought under the Iron Throne's control by a political double-marriage, fortifying their reputation as a family that will not compromise, surrender, or be defeated.
Refusing to yield runs through this week's episode, which forgoes bigger set pieces to focus on a few individual characters as they struggle to remain stoic. The words may belong to the Martells, but it's a mantra that will prove just as useful to Arya Stark, Sansa Stark, Cersei Lannister, and Margaery Tyrell.
"Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken" rejoins Arya at the House of Black and White in Braavos, as she doubles down on her commitment to a path filled with secrets and deception. From playing the "game of faces" with Jaqen (it's like the Game Of Thrones, but with more slapping) to the chilling revelation that the lower levels of the ancient house are filled with the faces of the dead, Arya begins to realize that everything she knew before pales in comparison to the world of possibilities unfolding before her.
Back in King's Landing, Ser Loras is forced to answer for the "indecency" of his homosexual affairs. At a hearing led by the High Sparrow, Loras denies the charges. When she takes the stand, Queen Margaery also denies any knowledge of her brother's sexuality. But the High Sparrow has a surprise witness: Ser Loras' lover Olyvar, who is whisked in for a brisk interrogation.
Olyvar doesn't just throw Loras under the bus when he references the Dorne-shaped birthmark Loras bears in an intimate place. He undoes the new queen by telling the High Sparrow that Margaery has walked in on them having sex before. On the strength of his testimony, both Tyrell children are seized and imprisoned, with Margaery finally losing her cool and screaming through the halls as she is taken away.
The Tyrells' own house motto, "Growing Strong," has symbolized the family's steady growth and subtle shifts in power. The Tyrells have always shown ambition and cunning — Margaery has, after all, married three separate kings. But whether it's carelessness, danger, or sheer bad luck, the solidarity shown by the Tyrells is starting to buckle.
Luckily, their grandmother — Olenna "Queen of Thorns" Tyrell (Diana Rigg) — has returned to King's Landing to try and smooth things over, and she's an absolute, ruthless pro at playing the game. After seeing her usual strategies fail in the face of religious fanaticism, Olenna seems prepared to try to one-up Cersei in order to save her family. And what do the Sparrows hate even more than gay sex? Incest!
But even Olenna Tyrell might bow to the intricate, strategic web woven by Littlefinger, whose plan is more far-reaching and complicated than it first appeared. In "Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken," Littlefinger returns to the capital to butter Cersei up, promising her the Vale's support in the chaos to come. He also drops the bomb that Sansa has been "spotted" in Winterfell — as if he had nothing to do with it — and is due to marry Ramsay. Cersei, in turn, is outraged that the Boltons would deal behind her back.
Littlefinger soothes Cersei outrage with a simple promise: Let Stannis Baratheon and Roose Bolton slaughter each other in the oncoming battle of ice, and he will send in his Vale knights to clean up the mess. As a reward, he wants her promise that he will be made Warden of the North, which Cersei accepts. It's a bold endgame, and — presuming Littlefinger had a hand in his employee Olyvar's damning testimony of the Tyrell family — an extremely complicated one.
If only Littlefinger could see the personal fallout of his political machinations. There's been much talk of his former ward, Sansa Stark, going "dark" this season — and after last week's unfortunate trip to Winterfell's dog pound, it seemed like Ramsay's former flame Myranda was only there to rattle Sansa's cage.
But Sansa is wiser now. She knows there's a plan, she knows she is capable, and she recognizes her value as, presumably, the last remaining Stark. Her experiences have given her confidence; where once she was content to marry Joffrey and become a Lannister, Sansa is now hellbent on retaining her identity as a northerner.
That puts her above the lesser players in the game of thrones. Myranda is sent scuttling off after her scare tactics don't work. Later, when Sansa is dressing for her wedding, she turns Reek into a twitching mess when she refuses to link arms with him, as Ramsay commanded.
The marriage ceremony, which takes place in the candlelit Godswood, is a sedate affair. The atmosphere is tense. Sansa says her vows, and she becomes a Bolton, if only in name.
What follows in the episode's closing scenes is horrible — perhaps the most disturbing scene Game Of Thrones has ever done. Ramsay and Sansa go to their bedchamber. Ramsay rips her gown and forces himself on Sansa, and he makes Reek watch as he rapes her. The camera focuses almost entirely on Sophie Turner's face as she screams, and the episode cuts to black.
This is a painful and complicated scene. It feels needlessly explicit — especially after the highly criticized incident last year between Jaime and Cersei. If "Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken" is trying to remind us that Ramsay is a complete monster, it's wasting time; the show has repeatedly driven home his psychopathy in the most lurid shades possible.
"Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken" leaves season five in a tricky place. In some ways, this season has the potential to be one of Game of Thrones' finest — but for every plot strand that seems strong, there are several, like the continuing adventures in Dorne, that are weighted down with bad dialogue and flat characters. Like the themes that the episode drew its name from, Game of Thrones feels like it's starting to buckle under the weight of everything that's come before, and everything that's yet to unfold. Maybe the final four episodes of the season will rectify that.
Read more Game of Thrones recaps:
* Game of Thrones recap: 'Kill the Boy'* Game of Thrones recap: In the mood for love* Game of Thrones recap: Goin' to the chapel* Game of Thrones recap: 'The House of Black and White'
* Game of Thrones season premiere recap: 'The Wars to Come'