Game of Thrones: 507 “The Gift” Review
Reviewed by Mark McCullough.
With last week’s episode having an unfortunate end point with the handling of Sansa’s storyline, I was naturally a little apprehensive about this week. I’m not convinced that I made myself completely clear in last week’s review, so I’ll reiterate now. My grievance was with the decision to go down that line with Sansa’s character, not the fact that act itself was too gruesome for Game of Thrones. There have been worse things happen in the show, but there hadn’t been worse decisions in terms of characterisation. With that in mind I feel it appropriate to open this review by having a look at Sansa’s storyline.
In that respect I’m am slightly annoyed that the scene in question was utilised as a shock dénouement to the previous episode. In retrospect I think it would have fared much better had it been held over for this week’s instalment where some of its repercussions could have been felt instead of leaving the audience with a week to digest such a drastic character moment in isolation. Now the impact on Sansa is clear as she has become virtually a slave to Ramsay. So what does this actually mean in terms of her character arc? Undoubtedly she is at her lowest, notice too how winter has started to set in at the same time. I believe that is undoubtedly the writer’s intention to parallel Sansa’s struggle with the coming winter synonymous with hardship, toil, long nights and difficult times. The Stark words: Winter is Coming were repeated in this episode again, which makes me think the writers may have put a little bit more thought into how this fits her character arc than first meets the eye.
If we go back through Sansa’s journey from the start of the show it isn’t hard to see that throughout it she has been protected by some of the bigger names in Westeros. Until her father’s death, she was under his protection. Afterwards despite being a prisoner of the Lannisters, she still held value to them as leverage against Robb, this protected her against anything too drastic at the hands of Joffrey because that would have reduced her value. Even still during this time she also had allies in the form of Margaery, Tyrion, Littlefinger and to a lesser extent Sandor Clegane who stopped her making foolish decisions and prevented her from being raped in the riots in King’s Landing. Fast forward now, and the last her allies have abandoned her as part of his own play for power, she has married and thus doesn’t hold the same value to Ramsay anymore. So for the first time in Sansa’s story she is left fully exposed to the brutality of Westeros.
On one hand it represents an overestimation of the ability of the character to play the game of thrones when left to her own devices. On the other it is a massive setback to the character’s development, but perhaps still a fitting one. Sansa’s time with the Lannister’s changed her as a person, teaching her the abilities of manipulation and feigning loyalty. But faced with a preposition of Ramsay Bolton, those abilities have proved to have little use. The little girl who idolised the romantic notion of ladies and knights has finally found herself facing the truth. There’s no denying that it has broken her, the fact she turns to Theon for help is evidence enough for this.
Then again there is the scene where Ramsay takes her to see the flayed woman which is very reminiscent of Joffrey taking her to see Eddard’s head. Like back then, Sansa is able to not give him the satisfaction of seeing her hurt, an indicator perhaps that she is ready to fight him and use this horrible situation to redefine her character. Perhaps too salvation lies at the hands of her only ally left, as the narrative is keen to remind us with the solitary shot of Brienne standing on the hill. Definitely not my preferred option for Sansa’s character so far, but it is beginning to look like it could work. In the interests of objective reviews and enjoyment of future stories, I am more than willing to keep an open mind about the storyline.
Whilst Sansa’s ability to play the game may have been sub-par, her previous mentor Littlefinger seems to have taken his to a whole new level. With what has happened to Sansa, it is safe to say that he has effectively took the last surviving (in his knowledge) Stark out of the game. This was all but confirmed last week when he bartered for position of Warden of the North with Cersei. This week it is heavily implied that it was he who informed Cersei of the witness that lead to Margaery’s incarceration. Going one step further, this week he offers Lady Olenna a gift of the same nature, and low and behold, a witness against Cersei appears too leading to her own arrest at the end of the episode.
Looking at this from Littlefinger’s perspective, in light of the recent events of the narrative: The Lord of the Vale has effectively removed the Starks and formed an alliance with the Boltons, had both heirs to the Tyrell dynasty locked in jail and now Cersei arrested. In the latter’s case with her brother entangled in Dorne and Tyrion an outcast as King and Kin Slayer. What that means is that effectively the three biggest players in Westeros have effectively received a knock-out blow, and young Tommen is sitting on the throne unprotected. Realistically Littlefinger and the audience knows that the Bolton’s are not likely to make a move for the Throne, so in terms of Westeros that means Stannis is the only viable candidate for power, although this week sees him face a difficult decision and even more difficult weather conditions which calls into question the likelihood of him ever reaching King’s Landing. Potentially Littlefinger had manoeuvred himself into a position where he could take the throne himself, but I don’t think he’s stupid enough to do so. For now it looks like the balance of power sits with the High Septon who shared arguably the scene of the episode with Lady Olenna. His line about the many fearing the few certainly seems like foreshadowing for what’s to come before the series ends.
House Targaryen suffers a loss too this week in the form of Maester Aemon. And whilst it was sad to see him go, it’s hard not to look at his death as being symbolic of the end of an era, both within the narrative and in real world terms. This week’s story marked the biggest shift from the source material yet by accelerating the stories of the two most popular characters beyond the point of the books. Seeing Tyrion walk out in front of Daenerys and introduce himself is undoubtedly one of my favourite moments in the entire show, but it could actually mean a whole lot more than meets the eye. Furthermore it would appear that a specific character has been neglected by the narrative as of late and as such forgotten by the audience. A clever ploy by the writers perhaps to withhold the clues until an appropriate time? Or maybe I’m reading too much into it. But it still poses a valid question: What happened to Varys?
What I love about this point of a series is that it is where you can form theories as to what will transpire. In light of what has happened in this episode I have decided to share with you a potential theory. Stannis isn’t going to kill his daughter, we seen the affection he had for her in a previous episode this series. Littlefinger specialises in information, and this week we seen Lady Olenna threaten him with exposing his role in Joffrey’s murder. I fully expect him now to do what he did with Eddard and turn it on Lady Olenna effectively destroying the Tyrells once and for all, not only that, such an action would also grant Tyrion a pardon as it would prove him innocent. He also knows the true parentage of King Tommen, so having him removed too should come at relative ease.
I mentioned Varys because he and Littlefinger have always been akin to partners in crime, and I find it hard to imagine that the two didn’t discuss the potential of Daenerys as Queen. I’m beginning to wonder if this has been their plan all along, Littlefinger has reduced the powerbase in Westeros whilst Varys has gone to bring Daenerys to power. Regardless of Tyrion’s status as the Imp and the crimes he has committed, if he were to be pardoned, surely he represents the perfect vessel to deliver Daenerys to the people of Westeros. With lack of a suitable leader and the support of the remaining big names of Westeros, it would appear that now is the perfect time for Daenerys to make the move west, something that would have been nearly unthinkable at the start of the series. If previous series are anything to go by, then Episode Nine will see something with extreme significance occur. Whilst this might be a little premature, an episode called The Dance of Dragons surely holds some Targaryen significance. Could we actually see her take the first steps towards the Iron Throne.
No other verdict really fits the episode. Game of Thrones at its sparkling best, deaths, plots, arrests, changes in power dynamic. Sure there many have been a few unnecessary additions to the plot but they didn’t detract from the overall narrative in my opinion. Last week’s episode was written to get a reaction, this week’s was to set up the future of the show. The writers used ‘The Gift’ to give us one of the best gifts of all: the gift of the unknown and the freedom for all to speculate equally regardless of whether they have read the books or not.