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‘Game of Thrones’ Season 7, Episode 5: High Drama and New Arrivals

Might he finally turn against Cersei and her mad desire for power? I wondered — for the last time, because I’ve wondered that before and until I see his hands around her throat, I’m done with that line of speculation. Jaime did express the doubts any man would after seeing his army flambéed, and he seemed even more emotionally conflicted after his meeting with Tyrion.

But Cersei had the ultimate trump card: a little lion in the oven. Soon the happy couple was embracing and envisioning a golden nursery in the Red Keep.

Or Jaime was, at least. Which is to say: Do we believe Cersei? We saw her night of passion with Jaime a few weeks ago and on Sunday she was meeting with Qyburn, who, Renaissance Maester that he is, no doubt has obstetrics skills to go along with his talents in weapons crafting, wildfire wrangling and dead warrior reanimating. But Cersei has to know that just the thing to motivate an increasingly hopeless Jaime is a future that seems worth defending.

Lena Headey and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau in “Game of Thrones.”
Credit Helen Sloan/HBO

She could presumably keep such a charade going for a while — I doubt they have stick tests down at the King’s Landing CVS. Might the eventual revelation of a fraudulent pregnancy be what finally turns Jaime against his …

(It’s so hard to let it go.)

The other big development in King’s Landing was the return of everyone’s favorite bastard blacksmith. “I thought you might still be rowing,” Davos told Gendry, in a fun reference to the character’s idiosyncratic place in pop culture. Now that he is back, it’s worth wondering what his big-picture role might be in the story. Here are some possibilities, presented from least to most likely:

Pair off with Daenerys This would unite two royal bloodlines and also allow the show to avoid having Jon and his Aunt Dany hook up, a pairing I continue to doubt for several reasons. Because while that coupling would be politically useful and not a huge deal, incestwise, in the context of Westerosi history, 1. It is still icky, 2. Jon and Dany each seem to represent a departure from the old way of doing things, and 3. The show has been strongly suggesting sparks between them lately (more on this below), which feels like misdirection. That said, Gendry and Dany have no history, and he doesn’t seem like a significant enough player to partner with the Dragon Queen. Also, good luck getting him to relocate to Dragonstone, site of his non-consensual leechplay with Melisandre.

Pair off with Arya Their pre-existing relationship means there would be a nice circularity to this, especially if they went on to become a powerful couple. Remember this story started with an arranged union between a Baratheon boy (Joffrey) and a Stark daughter (Sansa). But could they stop sparring long enough to strike up a romance?

Simply reprise his father’s role as a hammer warrior In retrospect, that was a fun bit of foreshadowing when we first met Gendry in Season 1, hammering away in the shop. A hammer was Robert Baratheon’s weapon of choice on the battlefield. Gendry is already going down this road as part of the frankly seemingly crazy plan to capture a wight or White Walker and take it to King’s Landing as a proof-of-concept for Cersei. How exactly do they expect to transport the cargo? And could a wight even physically handle traveling with purpose, after wandering aimlessly beyond the Wall for however long?

Joe Dempsie as Gendry.
Credit Helen Sloan/HBO

Or maybe the scheme is, in the manner of other A-Team-style adventures, so crazy it just might work. We’ll find out next week, I guess.

Finally, up in Winterfell we learned why Littlefinger was so interested in the late Maester Luwin’s scroll archives a few weeks ago. He planted the letter Sansa sent Robb from King’s Landing, the one Cersei forced her to write to urge Robb to bend the knee before Joffrey.

Here is the text of that letter, courtesy of my colleague Jennifer Vineyard:

I write to you today with heavy heart, our good King Robert is dead, killed from wounds he took in a boar hunt. Father has been charged with treason. He conspired with Robert’s brother Stannis against my beloved Joffrey and tried to steal his throne. The Lannisters are treating me well, and providing me with every comfort. I beg you to come to King’s Landing and swear fealty to King Joffrey and prevent any troubles between the great houses of Stark and Lannister. Your faithful sister, Sansa.

Robb knew Sansa had been forced into it, but Arya does not, which is why Littlefinger left it for her to find as he twirled his mustache in the shadows.

We saw last week what an excellent fighter Arya has become, but she still has a few things to learn about the art of diplomacy. She and Jon Snow shared a special relationship in the early days, and both seem fueled by a reactionary temperament. But where Jon has been knocked around as a result of his lack of political finesse — including, you know, getting killed — Arya’s experiences have left her even more eager to solve problems with her sword. Who cares about the bannermen, she told Sansa. If they don’t like it, cut off their heads.

While she surprised many, including perhaps Three-eyed Bran by choosing family over revenge a few weeks ago — I thought you were heading to King’s Landing, he told her — you still have to wonder if her heedless bloodlust and grudges are going to get her into trouble before she figures out how to be a more effective player in this game. Her old beefs with Sansa — you always liked nice things because they made you feel better than everyone else, Arya told her — certainly left her vulnerable to an operator like Littlefinger, who played her like a fiddle.

A quick(ish) tangent: Some commenters have complained about the protectiveness people express toward the Stark sisters, noting that it smacks of a patriarchal double standard that denies female heroes the approval given to their male counterparts. (Jon kills people and viewers cheer. Arya does it and they wonder if she’s O.K.) I don’t dispute that this cultural tendency exists, but I think there’s more to it with Sansa and Arya.

Whether the writers intended it, we feel closer to the Stark girls than to any other character in this show. With the possible exception of Tyrion, nearly every other player has been victimized by their own flaws or bad decisions, while more nascent heroes like Dany and Jon Snow have from the beginning displayed the distancing stink of destiny. Then there’s Bran, who’s always seemed more like a plot device than an actual person, which is not his fault but makes it hard to burn many emotional calories on him. (Disclosure: I have a longstanding Bran apathy — Branpathy? — that I plan to address as soon aszzzzzz…)

But Sansa and Arya are in many ways the soul of “Game of Thrones.” We met them as callow, half-formed children and saw them taken from their home, because the realm demanded it, and get subjected to a steady diet of persecution and loss. They were set up to be ground down by other people’s ambition, but through a combination of luck and pluck took and inflicted their share of lumps, zigged when others expected them to zag, and found a way to survive, and to reconnect and rededicate themselves to their family.

Concern about their well being, emotional and otherwise, has less to do with paternalism than with our deeper emotional investment. We’ve watched them overcome challenge after challenge and grow into strong young women shaping events. For whom, more than them, do we want this world to be redeemed?

Which is why Littlefinger’s usual manipulative game plan feels so much more despicable now that it’s directed toward pitting one against the other. They’re sisters, sure, and members of the family that has been persecuted from the beginning of this story.

But the Sansa-Arya-Baelish triangle also symbolizes the way political self-interest cynically preys on the nobler intentions of those who really would like to make a better world. Which is something I imagine most of us can understand.

A Few Thoughts While We Compare Faces

• Despite my lack of emotional investment in Bran, I am intrigued by his role in this story. Those deep-diving heroes at New Rockstars noted some tantalizing parallels between him and the Three-eyed raven portrayed by Max von Sydow, suggesting that they might be one in the same. I’ve wondered the same thing about Bran and the Night King. They too bear a pretty striking physical resemblance, though unlike with the first Three-eyed raven, the Night King’s legs work fine.

Tom Hopper and James Faulkner as Dickon and Randyll Tarly.
Credit Macall B. Polay/HBO

• “I have fewer enemies today than I did yesterday,” Dany told Jon, no doubt to the delight of Stannis, wherever he is. (I neglected to mention Davos’s grammar tribute last week.)

• Do we think it was Jon’s Targaryen flair for dragon husbandry that finally made Dany swoon? She was visibly depressed when he left Dragonstone. (The show laid on the heartache a little thick.) “If I don’t return, at least you won’t have to deal with the king in the North anymore,” he said. “I’ve grown used to him,” she murmured.

• Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Peter Dinklage haven’t shared all that much screentime together over the course of this show, but whenever they do, they manage to snap right back into their poignant, deeply felt Brothers Lannister dynamic.

• No more Dickon jokes for us. No more anything for him or his father.

• The Tarly torching was the latest event to make us wonder how far Dany has really fallen from the Mad King tree. It was an effectively rendered dilemma — Tyrion and Varys might be concerned but what was the Dragon Queen supposed to do? She demanded loyalty from a conquered force and Randyll and Dickon defied her, in front of dozens of men. “Sometimes strength is terrible,” she told Jon later.

• That said, I wonder how Sam will respond when he learns that Jon has aligned himself with the woman who killed his family?

• Nobody glowers as you do, Tyrion told Jorah. Nobody looks longingly back at his Khaleesi as he does, either.

• Here’s hoping one of the “Thrones” prequel concepts under consideration is “The Life and Times of Maester Maynard,” lifelogging pioneer and marriage-annuling shaper of future empires.

• What do you think? (Are you even still here? This one was long, sorry.) Is Cersei really pregnant? Is Gendry here to stay? Is Daenerys mad? Or just strong in occasionally terrible fashion? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Credit: Verge

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