The seventh episode of Game of Thrones Season 5 - The Gift - just ended and it was one of the better episodes of the season. The previous episode - Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken - was almost painfully tense to watch, and this one serves as more of a breather. Only three episodes are left, and we're expecting two big events in particular, in episodes 8 and 9.
This episode was titled The Gift, which is the name of the land just South of the Wall, and so it was fitting that this week, the action starts at the Wall, where Tormund Giantsbane is being freed by Jon Snow for a mission to save Wildlings trapped in the village of Hardhome, North of the Wall. The rest of the Watch looks on like Jon is the biggest traitor in the world. Young Olly, the boy whose parents we saw Ygritte and the other wildlings kill last season looks ready to kill, but Sam is supportive as usual, and gives Jon a dragonglass knife, just like the one he used to killed a White Walker.
Maester Aemon is dying, and after Jon leaves, we see Sam and Gilly spending time with the old man. Aemon tells them that the child reminds him of Egg - Sam explains that the old man is talking about his brother Aegon Targaryen. Aegon is the subject of a series of novellas that George R R Martin has written, which serve as a kind of prequel to Game of Thrones, called the Tales of Dunk and Egg. Aemon then suddenly tells Gilly to get the baby South, "before it's too late".
In the books, Jon sends Sam and Gilly away himself, because he wants Sam to study in the Citadel in Oldtown to become the Watch's new Maester. He also wants to send Mance Rayder's son, and Maester Aemon both away from the Wall, so that the Red Priestess Melisandre [who doesn't travel to Winterfell with Stannis in the books] doesn't have royalty at hand to sacrifice.
In their next scene together, Aemon suddenly says, "Egg, I dreamed I was old," and then dies. This is a line from the books as well, but there, we'd had a chance to spend some time with the old man, and it was a much more emotional moment. Here, it just seems like a line that was thrown in to keep the book-readers from complaining about the other changes, so while lighting Aemon's pyre, Sam also gives the speech he did in the book. At the funeral, Alliser Throne leans over to Sam and warns him that he's losing all his friends. He's only mostly right, as we see soon enough.
At the Wall some of the other men of the Watch start to harass Gilly, but before things get too out of hand, Sam shows up. That's not the end of things though, and on seeing Sam the two rangers just get rougher towards the Wildling woman. When Sam rushes forward to stop them, he gets knocked down, and has his head nearly bashed in. The two men then turn their attention back to Gilly, but Sam stands up and delivers a speech about being the only person to kill a White Walker and a Thenn both. It doesn't really impress the two however, and they seem set to kill Sam, when Ghost [Jon Snow's direwolf] shows up out of nowhere to save the day.
Sam passes out, and Gilly tends to his wounds, and while doing this, she decides to have sex with Sam. This also happens in the books soon after Aemon Targaryen dies, but the sequence of events is a little different, and there's no threat of rape. Of course, the show doesn't seem to be able to go a single episode without someone getting nearly - or even actually getting - raped these days.
Are the latest events at Castle Black going to be what propels the two to leave the Wall and travel South? Or will that happen after Sam gets the news from Hardhome? Also, why is Ghost still at Castle Black instead of traveling with Jon?
Meanwhile, at Winterfell, we see Sansa lying huddled in bed with her arms covered bruises. The show's creators seem to be following the Jeyne story with Sansa... and when she says "It can't be worse," to Theon/ Reek, we really wanted to echo him when he says "it can, it can always be worse." How much worse? We find out quickly enough. She tells him to light a candle at the top of the broken tower - something that the maid had told her, while saying "the North remembers." This can't end well, but for whom?
Theon climbs the tower to ominous music, but he's not gone to light the candle - he's climbed up to Ramsay's table, to tell him what happened.
In the next scene in Winterfell, Ramsay is taking Sansa along the battlements while it snows. He calls her beautiful, and says that she makes him very happy, and then tells her about Stannis and his army, and how the snow is a gift from the Northern gods, since it will hurt Stannis and his host much more than it does the troops in Winterfell.
It feels a lot like Joffery's boasting in season one, but this time Sansa doesn't just stand mutely. Instead, she reminds Ramsay that he's a bastard, and when he says that he was legitimised by King Tommen, she calls the king another bastard, with no right to rule. These are all true things, but the result would only be to make Ramsay more angry. Sansa thinks she knows how bad things can get with Ramsay, but as Reek said - it can, it can always be worse.
And we see how much worse right away - they round a turn in the walls, and suddenly Sansa is brought face to face with the old maid who offered to help her. The woman has been flayed and then nailed to a wall, and Ramsay looks delighted while Sansa looks sick. It's a grotesque reminder that Ramsay holds all the power in Winterfell, and that while Sansa's Stark name might help rally support for the Boltons, it won't be a shield against Ramsay.
Stannis, Tyrion, and Jaime all have small parts this week, that will hopefully have some payoff soon.
Somewhere between the Wall and Winterfell are Stannis and his army, but they're facing the weather, just like Ramsay said. Apparently, in one night, the army lost 40 horses, and 500 men of the company of the Stormcrows abandoned Stannis as well. In the books, the Stormcrows were led by Danaerys' boyfriend Daario Naharis, but on the show they were replaced by the Second Sons. Either way, Stannis didn't have any mercenaries at this point beause he still didn't have the gold from Braavos, but it's a minor change.
Davos argues that conditions are too bad to keep pressing on, and that the army should turn away from Winterfell. But while he dismisses Davos full of confidence, he is more doubtful when he talks to Melisandre. But the priestess tells him again about the importance of sacrifice, and when he says that they don't have Robert Baratheon's bastard son with them, Melisandre reminds him that there is someone else, nearer - his daughter Shireen. He's not pleased, and dismisses her entirely but we're a little worried for Shireen anyway, because we've spent many episodes this season seeing how important she is to Stannis, and how she's the one person he seems to genuinely care for. Knowing this show, that probably means that something horrible is bound to happen to her.
The book version is pretty similar, save that Shireen and Melisandre are both at the wall, but we've long expected trouble on that front.
Near Mereen, we get to the slaver's market, with Jorah and Tyrion on sale. Jorah goes for a handsome 20 gold honors, and Tyrion worries about being left to die, so he calls out that they have to be sold together, and says that they're a team, that he's a great fighter too. When everyone is laughing, he proves it by beating up the slaver who held his chains, which seems to work.
As soon as he's hired, Tyrion tries his at luck fast talking his way to freedom as well, only to get his head smacked in. This is another departure from the books, but given how much was cut from Tyrion's story already, it seemed the only likely way to move the story forward. One big change is that Mereen's troubles are all internal now, with no armies besieging the city, which probably explains why Barristan Selmy had to die the way he did. This wasn't really connected to Tyrion's story, but it provided a lot of colour to the world of Essos, and led into what could well be a pretty cool battle scene, so we're sorry the story doesn't seem to be headed in that direction.
In Mereen, Daario and Danaerys are in bed, and suddenly we see that Daario worries that Hizdar is the leader of the Sons of the Harpy. This seems to come from nowhere in the show while it made sense in the book. He tells her to marry him instead, but she laughs it off - but then he gives a simple piece of advice. He tells her that on the day of the great games, when the different masters of Mereen will all be out in public, she should kill them all. It's good advice, but she's not inclined to follow it.
Tyrion and Jorah are part of the fighter trials to decide who will fight in the great pit of Daznak for Danaerys. Unexpectedly, she's also there to witness their fight. When the pit fighters call out the Queen's name, Jorah nearly comes running out, and before Danaerys can leave, he handily dispatches every other warrior there, before taking off his helmet and revealing himself to the queen. She's not impressed and tells him to leave, but he shouts that he brought a gift. Then Tyrion steps out, and puts his words to good use. He introduces himself to her, and while she might not know him, she certainly knows the name Lannister.
In Dorne, Jaime Lannister is sitting in a cell - a nicer one - and is even allowed to meet Myrcella. She's an annoying teenager as well - oh those Baratheon children eh? Bronn is also in a cell, across from the Sand Snakes, where he's singing again. Tyene [the one with the short hair, since that's about all the characterisation these roles have been given so far] says he has a good voice, and Nymeria [the one with the whip] says that they're lucky he's a singer, not a fighter, because if he was a fighter they'd be in trouble.
Last week, someone pointed out Tyene's line from the audition last year, and it shows up here. She asks Bronn about his arm, while stripping and flashing him for no reason. Bronn was cut in their fight, and her dagger was poisoned, so we watch him slowly suffer. But then she asks him who the most beautiful woman in the world is, and when he painfully croaks that it is her, she gives him the antidote. It's a stupid scene still, but at least they did something for once. Oh but we've come a long way from articles like this one, which pre-emptively called the Sand Snakes the show's best new characters. None of this happened in the books of course - as we've pointed out before, the entire Jaime goes to Dorne plotline was invented just for the books - but the characters as we see them are also pretty different. The Sand Snakes all had very different personalities, and different goals. The show's creators on the other hand seem to have spent all their ideas in coming up with a situations where they could have some nudity
The King's Landing plot is a little more interesting, and a little less contrived. It kicks off when Lady Olenna goes to meet the High Sparrow, and the two spar, joking about titles and old joints. Olenna then offers him gold, but the Septon turns her down, and tells her the simple truth - that he has no hidden agenda. He offers her a copy of the Seven Pointed Star, the holy book of Westeros. Since he's unmoved by bribes, the Queen of Thorns tries threats next.
She says that if her grandchildren are to remain prisoners, then House Tyrell will stop sending its crops to King's Landing. The Sparrow is not impressed though, and says only that when the many stop fearing the few... he trails off there, but the meaning is obvious. We've seen the Tyrell's in a most sympathetic light so far, but this episode does a good job of pointing out that they're a noble family like any other. Some are better, and some are [much much much] worse [like the Boltons] but no matter who's in charge, the life of the average person in the Seven Kingdoms is likely to be short, miserable, and unfair.
Meanwhile, in the Red Keep, Tommen is just starving himself like an idiot because he realises that there is nothing he can do. It's annoying, and actually makes Joffery look a little better in comparison, even if only a little. In the books, Tommen is a lot younger, and that makes his scenes play off as a lot more sympathetic. In the show, he is instead simply pathetic. Finally, he says that he's going to talk to the High Septon, and Cersei says that she will go instead, and delivers a rousing speech about how she would burn cities to the ground for her children.
Which is probably true, but with Cersei we're worried that cities would get burned to the ground of out paranoia, boredom, or drunkenness as well.
But while Cersei is busy gloating, Lady Olenna gets a letter from Littlefinger, and goes to meet the former Master of Coin in his [now ruined] brothel. The Faith are harming his business and Littlefinger has no reason to love them, or Cersei for inflicting them upon him, that much is clear. But when he boasts about how amazing the brothel used to be, Lady Olenna cuts him short and says, "You've always been impressed with yourself, haven't you?" She then reminds him [and us] that they worked together to murder Joffery, and then Littlefinger offers her a gift of information.
The payoff is swift - we next see Cersei when she goes to visit Margaery in the cells under the sept, to offer her sympathy and some food, but really to gloat. Margaery isn't taken in by her at all, and throws the food away, and tells Cersei to keep away. This plays out pretty closely to the events in the books, but Margaery's trial there is for a completely different reason.
In the books, Cersei has raised up a family of knights called the Kettleblacks to prominence, including making one of them a member of the Kingsguard that is supposed to protect the King from all harm. She convinces one of the Kettleblacks to go to the High Septon and confess to having slept with Queen Margaery, so that she can be arrested for adultery. Here though, she's arrested for lying under oath to protect her brother Loras from justice, and the difference is that while Margaery is probably innocent in the books, she's very clearly guilty in the show. Will that affect how things unfold for her? It's hard to tell at this point.
Cersei leaves Margaery's cell with a happy smirk, but her celebration is short lived when she meets with the High Septon. First, he tells her that Margaery and her brother Loras will face trial, and that he will be one of the judges. She thanks him for bringing them the justice they deserve, but as she turns to leave, the Septon starts to talk again.
He promises her that the Tyrell's finery will be stripped away until only the truth remains, and Cersei can barely contain her gloating, but then the Septon turns to her and asks, "What will we find if we strip away your finery?" He tells her of a broken down young man who came to confess, and then orders the arrest of Cersei as well. It was Lancel, who confessed about his affair with the Queen Regent, who gets thrown into a cell exactly like the one Margaery is locked in.
This is pretty close to how things go in the books as well. That's because in the books, the High Septon is a little dubious when Kettleblack comes to confess, and orders the man whipped to learn what else he might be lying about. Kettleblack, who had slept with Cersei as an incentive for his false confession about Margaery, quickly confessed to that, and to other crimes including killing the previous Septon on her orders. The end result is the same though, and this is one of the changes from the books that was handled very well, unlike the entire Dorne storyline.
It's also a great point to end the episode, and sets up the next one quite neatly, where we'll pick up on what's happening with Cersei, along with Sansa in the North, Jon Snow beyond the Wall, and of course, Danaerys, Jorah and Tyrion in Mereen.
The episode focuses on gifts in different places - the most obvious is of course Tyrion, but there's the gift that Ramsay made for Sansa, from her one ally in Winterfell. There's also Littlefinger, who has a gift of information for Lady Olenna, and Tyene, who gifts the antidote to Bronn. The next episode is called Hardhome, and will likely focus on the Wildling town north of the wall.
Last year, episode eight was The Mountain and the Viper, and contained Oberyn Martell's dramatic duel, and death. This year, the ninth episode is titled The Dance of Dragons, and hints towards a certain event at Mereen. This suggests that the next episode is going to be for the Watch. Jon Snow's storyline has been a little badly paced as well, and we'll hopefully know soon enough how one of the cliffhanger endings of the books is resolved.
We'll continue watching every Monday morning to keep you up to date in case you miss the episode, but did you watch this one already? What were your favourite parts of the episode? Tell us, via the comments.