All they want to do is fight and fuck, and fuck and fight.
Written by: Dave Hill
Directed by: Mark Mylod
Sometimes, Game of Thrones stops the talking and just gives us some good, blood-filled action. Benefiting from the build-up of the previous three episodes, "Sons of the Harpy" is the first episode of season five in which there is far more moving than there is talking, as the Unsullied and Sons of the Harpy do battle in Meereen, the Faith Militant arises to cleanse King's Landing of sin, and Jaime and Bronn arrive in Dorne and get a little bit closer to rescuing Myrcella. It's a fast and action-packed affair that also gives us a nice dollop of meaningful character interactions.
King's Landing is where we get the best of both worlds: the Faith Militant invade one of Petyr Baelish's brothels, and they arrest Loras Tyrell, the latter of which has Margaery up in arms. She approaches Tommen to do something about it, but the mild-mannered Tommen proves unable to get violent with the Faith Militant when he goes to confront the High Sparrow. To start with, this is a perfectly good time for us to see Tommen and Margaery talk more; I've always felt this was a relationship between two characters that was somewhat forced upon us and didn't get the time it needed to ignite and make us want to see more of them. They are the King and Queen of the Seven Kingdoms after all; the issue has been that this is a relationship that essentially boils down to a timid young boy being forced into a position of power, all the while taking a bride that he doesn't know very well. Dean-Charles Chapman and Natalie Dormer continue to work quite well together; once again there is a decent amount of chemistry at work as the two have their first argument, assuring us that Tommen and Margaery won't be just a lovey-dovey power couple. Dave Hill does some good work getting these two more involved in the current story line, instead of just leaving Margaery to continue her underhanded dislike towards Cersei. Meanwhile, the scenes with the Faith Militant arresting and butchering people are pretty amusing, like watching a live news broadcast of people rioting in the streets. Is it weird to say that at this point, you might start rooting for some of the characters that you used to hate so much?
Certainly, we can be rooting for Jaime and Bronn on their rescue mission. The two make landfall in Dorne, and have a brief scuffle with some Dornish guards. I love how Jaime finally uses his golden hand to his advantage, stopping the sword of one of the attacking guardsmen. Then this scene gets a bit awkward, as we are introduced to Oberyn's three bastard daughters: the Sand Snakes. The conversation between Ellaria and the Sand Snakes is....odd, odd as in the dialogue is a bit stiff in how its spoken and a bit odd in Ellaria's logic about starting a war with the Lannisters. She goes on about the Sand Snakes must choose either Doran's way or her way, and, sure enough, they choose her way. You know what would have made this scene more interesting? One or two of the Sand Snakes questioning Ellaria on how can she justify her actions, as Oberyn was legally killed in a trial by combat. It's not enough that Doran brings up this fact once in "The House of Black and White"; I think this story line would have won some more people over had a little more time been given towards Ellaria explaining her actions and how, despite Oberyn not being technically "murdered", the Sand Snakes and other Dornish people would still have good reason to follow her. At the very least, this story line as constructed opens the door for some more action.
The one area completely devoid of action this time is the Night's Watch. Then again, we did just witness Jon Snow execute a man, so I think we'll be okay without some more blood-filled violence at Castle Black this time around. What we do get are more scenes that make Jon struggle against his dedication to the Night's Watch versus other important matters in Westeros that could use his services. He is forced to send a letter to the Boltons, requesting for more men to help out at Castle Black. He also has to fight off the sexual advances of Melisandre, and I am happy that this is one of the better times in which Game of Thrones uses sex and nudity to fuel the storytelling, not just for eye candy. It's as if Jon is living on an island that he thinks is completely cut off from the rest of the world. However, there is so much noise going on outside that he doesn't want to listen to, because he knows if he doesn't stay shut up in his office and do his work, he might start second-guessing himself. The problems in the Seven Kingdoms, day by day, are turning into problems that Jon will soon have no choice but to address. However, even in these dark times, Jon wants to stay loyal and remain honorable. Ned would be so proud.
So then, "Sons of the Harpy" appropriately culminates with an alley way battle involving Grey Worm, Ser Barristan, and a group of Unsullied against the titular Sons of the Harpy. Game of Thrones is surprisingly good at making action in tight spaces look well-choreographed and well shot. Alik Sakharov did a nice job directing the claustrophobic battle in the Dreadfort back in "The Laws of Gods and Men"; Mark Mylod does great work here too in a narrow Meereen alley. This is finally a good opportunity for us to see the Unsullied in action, especially Grey Worm. No strategical techniques necessary in this fight: just good, bloody fighting where bodies are falling left and right. The episode ends with Grey Worm and Barristan finishing off all the remaining Harpies in the alley, but Barristan is fatally wounded, while Grey Worm falls over and passes out. This is honestly one of the more surprising deaths that the show has had in recent memory. It, to me, is a lot like Jeor Mormont's death: it comes with no prior heads up, whatsoever. I think this is one of D&D's ways of reminding everyone that, even if the show is becoming more of a traditional television series, they're still capable of conjuring up some George R.R. Martin-style magic every once in a while. Yes, it's not fair that Ser Barristan was killed in an alley way. Didn't Ned Stark's death teach us that no one is safe? I don't think Ser Barristan was exempt from that fact.
With enough action to satisfy and some commendable character interplay on top of it, "Sons of the Harpy" keeps Game of Thrones' fifth season on the right track, delivering on everything that happened in the previous few episodes while setting up even more action down the road. It's not entirely flawless: the scene with the Sand Snakes is a bit awkward, but let's not jump the gun on the Dorne story line just yet and dismiss it as terrible. That'd be like saying a football or basketball game was bad just because the first quarter didn't go the way you wanted it to. There has yet to be a story line in this series that encourages eye-rolling as opposed to giddy anticipation, and while the execution is a bit spotty in places, I am not one to claim the Dorne story line as that eye-rolling story line. But I'm getting bogged down on one thing. Story lines are converging and we are getting closer and closer to the point where nearly all of Game of Thrones' action is at cinematic levels. Jon can only talk about the Army of the Dead for so long before the time comes where everyone needs to get their swords out and start swinging. That's sort of what "Sons of the Harpy" does for the first half of season five: give everyone a breather from talking to do some more sword-swinging.
Here you'll find my reviews on just about any film you may have seen. I try to avoid major spoilers as much as possible. I structure my reviews in the following way: