Have you ever heard baby dragons singing? It's hard to be a cynic after that.
Written by: Bryan Cogman
Directed by: Jeremy Podeswa
I am willing to bet money that nearly every review of the Game of Thrones episode "Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken" starts off with a heated discussion of the episode's controversial rape scene. It is not at all a pleasant scene, but it shouldn't completely minimize the impact of everything that comes beforehand. If we're judging strictly off of Rotten Tomatoes percentage scores, this is, mathematically, the lowest rated episode of the entire series, which would translate, to some, as this being the worst episode of the whole series. In an effort to not be completely like other reviews, I am going to save my discussion for the rape scene until the end, so scroll down a bit further if that's all you came to read my thoughts on.
There is typically a theme to every Game of Thrones episode, and this time around, it's about various characters have things take a turn for the worst. The name of the episode is the motto of House Martell, and, in typical Game of Thrones fashion, the words are the complete opposite of what you'd expect. It's an episode designed to be as extremely unpleasant as possible, which is why - I'm going to mention it now- I believe there is justification for the rape scene. This is so far not saving talk of the rape scene until the very end, I get that.
Why don't I start off with what's happening in Dorne, since it's House Martell's motto given for this episode's title? Things really accelerate here with the Dornish story line, as Jaime and Bronn come into contact with Myrcella, followed by a fight with the Sand Snakes. After their encounter with the Dornish guards, there really wasn't anything left for Bryan Cogman and likewise D&D to do with Jaime and Bronn. What fun would that be if precious minutes were wasted on the two taking it slow through the Dornish landscape, having conversations that would likely repeat things we've heard before? We can criticize Game of Thrones for rushed pacing in certain areas, but I think they get it just right with the Dornish plot: Everything we see involving this story line doesn't feel either too quick or too slow, and it's exciting to see the two opposing sides in this ordeal square off. Unfortunately, this is not one of the better executed fight scenes in the show: the editing is pretty chaotic with not one frame lasting longer than approximately three seconds. Thankfully, Bronn continues to prove that he is one of the show's masters of one liners, providing some much needed humor in an episode that has seemingly no room for humor.
So I said this episode takes a turn for the worse for several characters. Well, Jorah Mormont is already ahead of the game, as the end of last episode revealed that he has been infected with greyscale. The highlight of this scene is not the Tyrion and Jorah being taken by slavers; it's the conversation that comes right beforehand as Tyrion raises several valid points about why Daenerys deserves to rule the Seven Kingdoms. I highly doubt that D&D ever take the time to seek out nitpick criticisms that people have about Game of Thrones, but given the kind of dialogue that Tyrion is given in this episode, you can't help but think that D&D, as well as Bryan Cogman, think a lot about why certain characters deserve to be in the positions they are in and what sort of objections someone else might have. What kind of good television could they make if no one dared to question why Daenerys deserves to pursue the Iron Throne, or why Jon Snow deserves to be Lord Commander of the Night's Watch, or why certain other characters believe they have the right to hold other positions of power? Strong dialogue has always been one of D&D's gifts as writers, and even with less and less of George R.R Martin's source material to rely on, they still know how to put the right words into character's mouths.
I'm glad I brought that up, because Olenna Tyrell is back! The Queen of savage insults goes right back to work, this time having some verbal jabs with Cersei. With Bronn's one liners, and now Olenna Tyrell's caustic dialogue, I might have to take back what I said about this being a very unpleasant episode. Turns out that Olenna's savage remarks have no effect on the Sparrows, as the High Sparrow interrogates both Loras and Margaery and ends up having them both arrested. Several characters, one being Loras Tyrell, have long held secrets that they know could get them into a heap of trouble. Since everyone on this show gets punished sooner or later, it only becomes a matter of time until those secrets are revealed, and now was the perfect time to do it for someone like Loras, as his House is currently at odds with the Crown. Knowing what's yet to come, this is the beginning of the end for House Tyrell.
Alright, I won't put it off any longer: what are my honest-to-God thoughts on that ending rape scene? First of all, let's get the facts straight: absolutely nothing graphic is shown to us, mostly because Sophie Turner has never agreed to a nude shoot and never will do one for as long as Sansa remains alive. The irony is that Turner herself has stated she kind of loved the scene when she first read it, praising how disturbing the nature of the scene was, particularly how Ramsay has Theon/Reek stay and watch. Anyway, the worst it gets is Ramsay ripping open the back of Sansa's dress, followed by the camera easing in on Sansa's distraught face as she's lying over on the bed. I don't care what harsh statement anyone has for this scene: the acting is spectacular from Turner, Iwan Rheon, and Alfie Allen. The way Allen's face shakes with terror is the kind of stuff they need to show people in film and theater schools. It looks as natural as any reaction an actor may be required to show in a movie or TV show, and it's the most appropriate final shot of the episode. It's as if Theon/Reek is acting like all the people watching the episode on their televisions at home or somewhere else like a bar, completely spooked and unable to do a thing about it.
Yes, I am one who will praise this scene. No, I do not think of it is as some kind of artistic porn or anything else like that. I praise this scene because I think it's an excellent coming together of three characters and what they've been known for in the time they've been a part of the series. Sansa has been a subject of constant mistreatment, Ramsay is basically the devil incarnate, and Theon/Reek has frequently been the character who gets shoved to the sideline and forced to watch others play the game. It's a coming together party that assures of our worst nightmares: Sansa can't feel safe anywhere, and Ramsay just loves to hurt people and get away with it. Here's another thing: this isn't the very first time that Game of Thrones has had a scene involving rape or some other form of sexual violence. Have we forgotten Theon getting his manhood stripped of him or the scene between Jaime and Cersei right after Joffrey died? The times when it's questionable for Game of Thrones to use sexual violence are those times when said violence doesn't seem to do anything to support the narrative. This is Ramsay revealing his true sadistic nature to Sansa, confirming the fear we had the moment that Sansa walked into Winterfell and greeted the Boltons. At the same time, Ramsay is continuing to assert his control over Theon/Reek, now subjecting him to some pure mental torture. Man, that guy is messed up.
Do not let the rape scene completely overshadow everything else that happens in the episode. Characters like the Tyrell siblings, Tyrion, Jorah, and all the lovely folks in Dorne all have their respective plans go awry, and what we get is another strong episode to season five, one that is intent on being as uncomfortable as possible. Despite that, the episode still boasts some nice humor, particularly in Bronn's one liners and the return of everyone's favorite grandma: Olenna Tyrell. "Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken" will most certainly leave you a little bit bowed, bent, and broken.
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