Game of Thrones: A bittersweet death

Helen Sloan/HBO
Helen Sloan/HBO

Westeros lost a true knight in this week’s Game of Thrones. Barristan Selmy fought his last battle in Meereen, where the Sons of the Harpy launched a massive assault on Danaerys’ Unsullied. Barristan is the second still-living character in the books to be killed off this season, after the death of Mance Rayder in the premiere. Compared to that death, this one seemed far more bittersweet. Confused? Let me explain.

Barristan left Westeros at the end of the first season after Joffrey tried to force him into retirement from the Kingsguard. Furious, he threw down his white cloak, protesting that he swore an oath to live and die protecting the king. He left in search of Daenerys for a chance to not only protect her, but for the opportunity to die as a knight. While it was a brutal and unfair way to go, at least Barristan had the chance to die the way he wanted to. The truly bitter part of his death is the effect it will have on poor Dany, who has now lost her last tie to Westeros and her family. However, having such an important person in Dany’s life be killed will undoubtedly make her realize how dire the situation in Meereen really is. There may be a lot of death in Game of Thrones, but much more often than not, each death plays an important part, and Barristan is no exception.

It’s always around the mid-point of each season that my love-hate relationship with the show really intensifies. There’s no denying Game of Thrones has a rich plot, with moments of masterful dialogue and breathtaking sets. However, one of the show’s major problems has always been its treatment of women, which has been greatly highlighted with the changes to Dorne.

A big change from the novels is that, instead of trying to raise Myrcella to replace Tommen on the throne in accordance with Dornish inheritance laes, the Sand Snakes plan to kill her in order to start a war. Last season, Oberyn painted Dorne as a beautiful place where little girls are safe from harm. While it’s certainly beautiful to look at, Season 5 has wasted no time in depicting Dorne as a brutal place, from the Sand Snake’s willingness to kill an innocent girl out of revenge to Bronn’s description of the Dornish as violent and sex-obsessed. And, truth be told, I don’t see how Ellaria can believe killing Myrcella will accomplish anything. Oberyn’s death was all about avenging the death of his own innocent sister–how could his lover and his daughters think he would want that kind of revenge? The last thing Game of Thrones needs is more unnecessary violence against women.

Helen Sloan/HBO
Helen Sloan/HBO

Another female character that has been getting the raw treatment is Melisandre, who tried and failed to seduce Jon Snow at the Wall. At this point in the series I’m fairly certain that Melisandre has shown her naked body to every man she’s spoken more than five words with. She’s a powerful red priestess who can see the future, but time and again she is reduced to using her body to get her way. The value of her body and her fertility is only made more clear if you contrast her with Selyse, who consistently body shames herself for not being able to produce an heir, to the point of rejecting Shireen. If Melisandre really does go with Stannis to take Winterfell, I hope the writers finally give her back some of the allure and mystery she had back in Season 2. There’s more to a red priestess than just producing shadow babies.

Finally, Sansa learned more about Littlefinger’s plans for her in Winterfell. He told her he’s betting on the fact that Stannis will arrive sooner or later with an army to take back the North and name her the Wardeness of the North. He tells her he’s leaving for King’s Landing on Cersei’s request and ends the conversation with another creepy kiss. The scene reminded me of the very first episode of the series, back when Viserys gave Dany away to Drogo, explicitly stating that she was his property to give. Littlefinger’s kiss felt like a reminder that she can do what she wants with Ramsay Bolton, but at the end of the day she knows who she really belongs to. Sansa knows this, of course, and hints as much during their conversation about Rhaegar and Lyanna. While Littlefinger romanticizes that Rhaegar chose Lyanna, Sansa quickly reminds him that he kidnapped and raped her. It’s an interesting reversal in character that really shows how much Sansa has grown and gives me hope that she may endure this new marriage yet.

It wasn’t just the ladies of Westeros having a rough time in this episode. In a flawed attempt to hurt Margaery, Cersei gave the Sparrows some new talons, in the form of the faith militant, which led to violent raids in brothels and the arrest of Loras Tyrell. While I’m not a fan of the rampant homophobia we’ve seen on the show so far, it’s intriguing to see yet another religion turn to violence, such as the flame sacrifices made by the follows of R’hllor. The scene where Lancel has his forehead branded was brutal, but it was great in showing how devoted he is to the Sparrows. Does Cersei realize she just empowered the one person who knows about her role in the death of King Robert? As well as her affinity for having sex with Lannisters?

Despite the problems I had with the episode, I really did enjoy it overall. There was a good amount of action between the scenes in Dorne and in Meereen, as well as a good amount of character development. Stannis may have shown the most affection we’ll ever see from him during his touching conversation with Shireen and in the midst of Melisandre’s failed seduction, we saw that Jon really is still recovering from Ygritte’s death. Jaime also really came into his own, surviving his first real battle and addressing his anger towards Tyrion for the death of their father.

My favourite scene still had to be Barristan’s story about Rhaegar pretending to be a minstrel in the streets. It was the first time Dany really learned anything about her family, besides what she was told by Viserys and it further confuses the conflicting images of Rhaegar as a great man and a selfish rapist, which should satisfy believers of a certain popular fan theory. While great writing doesn’t excuse Game of Thrones‘ overriding issues, it will always bring us back in the hopes that the next episode will only be better.

More thoughts from the realm:

  • In her bid to isolate Margaery from her family, Cersei sent Mace Tyrell to Braavos along with Meryn Trant, which could be a costly mistake. Will Arya Stark make a reappearance to cross another name off her list?
  • Peter Dinklage is a great actor, but the scenes between Jorah and Tyrion felt fairly unnecessary, unless you a) needed a refresher on why Jorah isn’t in Meereen anymore or b) seriously thought Tyrion was being taken to Cersei.
  • When Jaime said he wants to die in the arms of the woman that he loves, I couldn’t help but wonder if he meant Brienne or Cersei, especially considering the brief nod to Tarth near the beginning. I think Jaime really has become the unexpected rom com lead of Westeros.
  • One of the biggest mysteries for me this season is what role Shireen and greyscale will play later on. Will there be an outbreak? Will she cause it? Will she stop it? These are questions I need answered.

How did you feel about this week’s episode? Sound off in the comments blow. In next week’s “Kill the Boy,” Jon meets with the Wildlings and Dany reacts to the loss of her dear knight.

Game of Thrones airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO and HBO Canada.