Game of Thrones: 506 “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken” Review
Reviewed by Mark McCullough.
It’s not often that I find myself in the position of dreading an episode of Game of Thrones, however this week that was the case. My review of Episode Four – The Sons of the Harpy – highlighted particular issues that I had with certain locations. Namely these were Kings Landing and Dorne, both of which (as revealed in the next time teaser) would feature again this week. Sadly whilst the situation in Dorne was a little bit more tolerable this week, it still fell short of what I would have hoped. I’ll cover both now before addressing the rest of the episode as this week gives us a lot to talk about.
My biggest criticism of Dorne is that it has been totally undermined by its wasted potential. When introduced early in the series, the plotline offered the promise of expansion to an already vast universe in which the narrative is set. Not only that, but it also opened the door to establish some strong new characters who could perhaps fill the void left by the death of others. For that reason I find it rather bizarre that the showrunners have dedicated it so little time to it. What actually makes things worse is the fact that the plotline is an addition which those involved in the show conceived, yet it would appear that only a half-hearted attempt was made to translate the concept to a successful narrative.
With a promise of interesting new set of characters in a new location, all we really have to show for it after six episode is a developing bromance between Jaime and Bronn, and now a fight scene against an enemy who haven’t been given the time to make them a credible threat. Like the storyline itself, the whole plan collapses in on itself and ends in farce. Can it be redeemed at this late stage? I’m doubtful, but at least I can hope that it continues to receive a disproportionately low share of the series run-time. Ironically the episode is named after the Martell: ‘Unbent. Unbowed. Unbroken.’ yet the Martell’s barely feature.
Onto King’s Landing now where previously I had criticised Cersei’s actions in empowering the High Sparrow with an army. This week sees her plot actually come to fruition, as she finally gets one over on Margaery who ends the episode on being arrested for bearing false witness before the gods. I’ll concede that Cersei will go to any lengths to protect what is hers, both her son and the power she feels is rightfully hers. However I will maintain that her actions are unrealistic and reckless, which does somewhat undermine the narrative in King’s Landing, although that said this week’s instalment is still highly entertaining.
This may be due to the assumption that the writers were aware of this fact which is why the return of Olenna Tyrell was very much welcome. Not only did she add a bit of sass to the narrative, but also highlighted the impact of the vacuum left by Tywin’s death. In light of that I think the key scene of the episode is when Cersei assumes the Lannisters have no rivals. This is in fitting with the Lannister motto: ‘Hear me roar’, Cersei talks a good game, but she has very little in way to back it up. In doing so she underestimates Olenna who has been ‘growing stronger’ ever since we were introduced to her. I’m quite excited to see where this particular narrative strand goes, we know ‘a Lannister always pays her debts’, and Cersei has some huge ones ready to be collected. Not only that, but she is fast running out of allies too.
Olenna wasn’t the only character to return to King’s Landing this week, Littlefinger was also present (somehow making a one thousand mile journey between episodes). I think I’ve said before that Littlefinger is one of my favourite characters, mostly because of his ability to play the game of thrones better than anyone else. For that reason King’s Landing feels like his rightful home, as it is the location which affords him the most influence over others. This week we see him strike a deal with Cersei which shines a completely new light on his actions this series. It is worth remember that this is the man who betrayed Eddard Stark, so can we really believe his affection for Sansa will stop him trying to seize power in the North? The fact that we don’t know who he’s lying to is enough to keep us on edge for every scene he is in.
Lies form the crux of ’s storyline this week for a story which represents a vast improvement on previous outings for the character this series. It is my opinion that Arya’s desire to become no-one was stripping the character of what made her story enjoyable. There is a lot of build-up centred on Arya’s ability to tell effective lies, which also reveals more depth to the character and her relationship with the Hound. The payoff to this build-up is arguably the scene of the episode where Arya misinforms a sick girl in order to end her misery. I thought this was a very poignant scene and provided a perfect contrast of cruelty vs kindness with Arya’s last kill. It shows us how much Arya has changed in such a short time, she might not be ready to become no-one, but she has already become someone else, and that character is even stronger than the one it replaced.
Tyrion and Jorah also receive a fair share of the narrative this week as they learn more about each other. When we think of Tyrion, it is easy to get caught up in the comic side of the character, something which rears its head again this week in the form of his manhood. But it is quite easy to miss the depth underneath that. Jorah is quick to judge his captive based on his name and reputation alone, but it is here that he finally learns about the side of Tyrion that we have come to know and love over the last four and a half seasons. It’s a reminder for us too of how far the character has come, but by far the most effective aspect of the scene is the parallels it draws between Jorah and Tyrion. We witness Jorah learn about his father’s death, a scene in which I have to commend the directors choice and Iain Glen’s phenomenal ability to convey so much emotion with nothing other than his face. This leaves both men in the position of being exiled and having lost their father in disgracing circumstances. Later in the episode we learn that Jorah can also rival Tyrion in terms of wit as the two are able to talk their way into having Jorah fight in the newly opened fighting pits, a nice way to show the impact of Daenerys over them still.
I really wanted to give the episode this score because I found it highly entertaining and a vast improvement on many of my criticisms of previous weeks. I have included the verdict at this stage however because I feel the episode up until this point warranted it, and I did not want that to be forgotten or overshadowed by what came next. I really wanted to be able to view what happened in a semi-positive light in terms of the narrative, but after a conversation with a couple of friends I realised that this was next to impossible. Unfortunately it is irredeemable and unforgiveable which leaves me in the unfortunate position of having to say…
At the end of the Sixth Episode of Season Five of Game of Thrones, the show made a potentially fatal decision with the narrative choice for one of its more popular characters. The scene in question featured the brutal rape of Sansa Stark at the hand of Ramsay Snow. Now rape is not a term that I would throw around loosely, but there is no way that anyone could watch that scene and believe that there was any form of consent. There is a possibility that Sansa could have made different choices in the earlier episodes this series, but even still that does not change the fact that it was rape. Besides the argument can be made effectively that she was under the manipulation of Littlefinger, and therefore lacked the freedom of choice. This makes the attack on her character all the more brutal and even less forgivable.
So what could warrant such a heinous act on one of the show’s strongest women? The answer in fact is part of the problem, there was literally nothing gained by adding this scene to the narrative. If the intention was to make Ramsay more hated, there was really no need as the character had surpassed King Joffrey in that regards long before. Could it have been to provide a contrast between Stark and Bolton? As we know the show made a point of changing the story so as Lord Eddard did not bed his wife in the traditional manner following his wedding, so to have Ramsay brutally rape Sansa showed us how far from Eddard’s nobility the young bastard was. It is a nice parallel but one we already knew from various other deeds throughout the show, so was it really worth destroying Sansa’s character and leaving the show with but a thread of integrity over? The only reason I can actually fully believe to be the reason behind the decision is shock factor, which actually makes the decision even worse.
Having one of the strongest women in the show humiliated, and all her character development thrown out the window, just for a cheap shock is very dangerous territory indeed. The show has been subject to criticisms of its treatment of female characters for a while. It was my belief that due to the setting of the show and beliefs of the time period it was set in, that this wasn’t as big a problem as it was made out to be. But this week’s dénouement sees that pushed too far and finally become a problem for me, not in narrative however, but for the writers and their basis for decision making.
I’m not a book reader, but I know that Sansa’s storyline this season has replaced another character from the books, this means that they had intended for this to happen to Sansa all along. Perhaps that also explains the reason they changed the details of Eddard’s wedding night too, because it may have given them a leg to stand on. It’s without question that the decision to have a female character raped entirely for shock value represents a misogynistic thought process, and that quite simply is not good enough.
To be honest that wasn’t even the worst part; that honour falls to the decision to make the scene about Theon. Perhaps his inclusion was to make the scene symbolic of the Bolton’s asserting total dominance of what was left of the Starks, but if that is indeed what they were going for it could not have been handled in a worse way. The focus of the scene should have been Sansa, but the production team thought that it would be effective to humiliate her further by relegating her to a supporting character in her own rape. Instead we are given a crying Theon which as pointed out to me by a friend made the scene about his pain whilst Sansa’s screams of agony fell on deaf ears. If that decision doesn’t scream misogyny, then I don’t know what does.
It is with great regret that I say that I have lost a lot of respect for the show over this scene, not only did they destroy one of my favourite characters, but they did so in a disgraceful way that showed themselves in a bad light. I can only hope that now they have given Sansa a storyline of this fashion that they follow it through sufficiently and give the character the attention she deserves. The show has a long long way to go to recover from this monumental mistake, and if something like this is swept under the rug and not dealt with to a very high manner, I fear I will find myself in the position of losing any respect I have left for the show.
It’s tragic that a lot of good work can be destroyed in an instant, but that is the case with Unbowed. Unbent. Unbroken. I’m not quite sure where the show will go from here, or if it is possible for it to fall any lower. Never before have I found myself in a position where one of the shows I love has made me feel physically sick. Suffice to say this is an episode I never want to watch again, and if I do I’ll be stopping as soon as it switches to Winterfell. The episode before this point was very good (as shown by my rating above) but what follows doesn’t even deserve a numerical rating because that would not let me convey my true disgust. Suffice to Game of Thrones is Bowed, Bent, and Broken, and I feel it needs a miracle to reach the heights where it once stood again.