But piece by piece he unburdened himself. Let go of pride, vanity, sin.
Written by: David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Directed by: Miguel Sapochnik
It's kind of amazing just how much Game of Thrones can pack into one single episode. "The Gift" gives you a little bit of everything, and then some: action, drama, and meaningful plot developments to name a few. Not every ongoing story line is here, however: Arya takes this episode off, but we'll do some catching up with her the next time. As for everyone else that's present, it's a mad busy time of the season, as the penultimate episodes are right around the corner. "The Gift" does two things at once: deliver satisfying payoffs after build-up from previous episodes and set the stage for the events of the season finale. It's not a perfect episode, but damn those who say it isn't one of season five's best.
The weird thing about "The Gift" is that it's a very un-Game of Thrones like episode, in that one can watch what unfolds and walk away feeling...optimistic? Maybe 'optimistic' isn't the right word to use: Ramsay Bolton is still alive, and there's still an Army of the Dead waiting to invade Westeros and crush all our hopes and dreams. A better word to use would be 'cheerful', because some of our most beloved characters like Sam and Daenerys have good things happen to them, while some of the more despised characters like Cersei get some long-awaited punishment. I know how elated I felt the very first time I saw this episode some time back: Tyrion and Daenerys are two of my favorite characters, while Cersei has always been my most hated character. What more could I ask for in an episode where Tyrion and Daenerys meet, while Cersei gets locked in a dungeon?
There is far more to like than dislike in this episode, so I'll actually start off with what doesn't work so well in this episode. A nice, touching scene between Jaime and Myrcella is followed by a scene of Bronn and the Sand Snakes in the Dornish cells. Bronn nearly dies of poison, until Tyene (Rosabell Laurenti Sellers) gives him the antidote. This scene in the cells begs the question: what's the point? Why show us Bronn nearly getting killed if he just ends up surviving? There's nothing about this moment that moves anything along story-wise, other than to make us think for about half a second that a character we've come to know and love since the first season is going to die a slow and horrible death. The absolute best reason I can come up with as to why this scene matters at all is to let us know that the Sand Snakes are sneaky devils that can secretly hit you with poison. That's something we'll see again at the end of the season, so I guess Bronn secretly being poisoned counts as foreshadowing? It's not very good foreshadowing, and D&D take this as another opportunity to show off another pair of female breasts, as if Bronn dying slowly wasn't enough to hold a viewer's attention. D&D give in to some of their old habits here, and it only serves to fuel the hatred that people have towards the Dornish story line.
That's actually it in terms of not so good stuff in "The Gift". Everything else is rock solid television. The toughest thing this episode had going for itself was winning back viewers after many of them were left scarred by the ending to "Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken". Sansa turns out to be doing pretty okay after her traumatizing wedding night: she even has the courage to question Ramsay on his claim to being the future Warden of the North. One of the best things about Sansa's character development has been simply how much smarter she gets over time about how things work in Westeros and why people are the way they are. Before, she was a frightened little girl who did anything and everything she had to to avoid getting hurt. Now, although she still gets tossed around like a rag doll by forces she can't control, she has become so much more adept at making the most of her current predicaments. She can't fight Ramsay or take his power away, but she can question him and find various ways to piss him off. For a child who has had to accept living without either of her parents around, she sure has found some unique ways to grow up and mature.
You would think the supposed heir to the Iron Throne Stannis Baratheon would know when a risky decision is not always a smart one. Marching towards Winterfell in the midst of an unforgiving snow-storm: anyone in their right mind would call it quits and turn back. Not Stannis, though: he will press onwards no matter how many supplies are lost nor how many horses die from the cold and snow. It may not cross your mind right away, but the truth is that this is Stannis' last chance to achieve any sort of meaningful victory and get at least one step closer to ruling the Iron Throne. No other character is grasping at straws more than him right now, and you just know there is something truly sinister afoot when Melisandre proposes that he sacrifice his own daughter in order to ensure his victory. D&D must have some steroid-induced guts if they don't mind continuing the disturbing trend that "Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken" started of doing horribly malevolent things to some of the series' younger characters.
Well anyway, "The Gift" wraps up with its two most significant plot happenings: Tyrion meets Daenerys, and Cersei Lannister finally getting her comeuppance. If you think about it, Daenerys Targaryen is the only person who is capable of giving Tyrion a reason to move on with his life and get back to doing what he truly loves. There's no doubt that Tyrion must have been feeling at least a little lousy after killing his father and fleeing his home country. How long would he stay happy if he tried to spend the rest of his days drinking, gambling, and visiting brothels? Tyrion has always had a knack for politics, and despite his King in Westeros being a sadistic child, he still proved he was capable of being a worthy adviser. Now here's another ruler, but this one is quite worthy of having his services. Tyrion can get back to the world he loves to be a part of, and finally, he can feel good about what he's doing. I also don't think people fully understand how important Tyrion is to Daenerys: he is the bridge that will connect her to allies in Westeros, the one that will truly motivate her to continue her quest of returning to Westeros and taking the Iron Throne. It's still a little while before we get to Daenerys sailing for Westeros, but these are very exciting times, as Daenerys now finally has one of the most famous persons from Westeros by her side. No offense to Ser Barristan Selmy: Tyrion just had the luxury of being right there, participating in the top link of Westeros' food chain.
So yeah, what better way to top two of Game of Thrones' most popular characters meeting up than to have Cersei finally have one of her own schemes work against her? Cersei has been best known for two things: her love for her children and her insatiable desire for power. She has taken every possible ploy imaginable in order to ensure that she is the one in power, and even when it seemed like the deaths of her eldest son and her father would knock her down a few pegs, she found a way to rise back up again, bringing the Faith Militant into power and stopping Margaery from influencing Tommen. What Cersei fails to take into account is that the Faith Militant is a double-edged sword: they won't tolerate the crimes that she's committed, and they'll give her the same treatment they've given everyone else that has been arrested. It seemed that sooner or later, one of Cersei's power schemes would eventually backfire on her, and, at long last, one of them goes horribly wrong. She has been one of the very few characters since the start of the series to completely avoid having something terrible happen to her, and it's so satisfying to finally watch her be rendered powerless. Knowing Cersei though, her imprisonment won't last very long.
It's worth repeating: "The Gift" is a fully loaded Game of Thrones episode that is all the more special for some truly memorable plot turns. With also enough action and character drama to spare, it's one of the most well-rounded episodes in recent memory, and the first of what is a fantastic second half stretch that will close out season five. I'm kind of bummed that the borderline pointless cell scene in Dorne keeps this episode from being a masterpiece. You would think Game of Thrones would become less and less capable of having masterpiece episodes as it gets farther and farther away from the A Song of Ice and Fire novels that are currently published. Episodes like "The Gift" should say a lot about what D&D are capable of on their own.
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