Warning: this review contains spoilers and a discussion of rape
Having set the scene last week, the sixth episode of this season continues to ratchet up the tension, as a lot of our major players face the grim facts that neither Westeros nor Essos are particularly forgiving lands. The personal conflicts of last time have exacerbated and some of the consequences are difficult to watch, but there is plenty of character development here and a few dramatic twists, mostly, in true ‘Thrones’ style, for the worse.
To begin, we rejoin Arya in her quest to become one of the Faceless Men in Braavos. She has been tasked with washing the corpses in the temple, her frustration at her seeming lack of progress simmering under the surface, though she soon learns that there are some things she hasn’t yet mastered, like the art of lying. Having unsuccessfully tried to prove to Jaqen that she can lie convincingly with painful results (it appears he is not afraid to hit her with a stick), her chance comes when a sickly girl comes to the temple to die.
Line of the week: The dwarf lives until we find a cock merchant. – Malko the Slaver
In Essos, Tyrion and Jorah are making their way to Meereen on foot after the stone men rendered them boatless, but their journey is interrupted by slavers and things take a turn for the worse as they’re both captured. Jorah catches the eye of the slavers as a good investment, but they order Tyrion’s death since the only valuable part of him… is his penis. Dwarf penises are valuable as good luck charms apparently, and Tyrion manages to use this to keep himself alive, though only until they come across a ‘cock merchant.’ Apparently that’s a thing. It’s also one of the best lines of the series.
We’re then transported to Dorne, where Jaime and Bronn reach their target and attempt to take Myrcella, who has fallen head over heels for Quentyn Martell. The Dornish storyline has been derided in some quarters, largely down to some baffling over-acting from some of the Sand Snakes, who enjoy jumping around in a manner that would be more fitting of the Power Rangers and announcing their names like cartoon villains, but there’s enough here of merit to ignore their antics. Jaime and Bronn’s dynamic is as strong as ever, and it’s good to catch another glimpse of Alexander Siddig’s Doran, who looks like he’ll be the best part of the whole segment.
In King’s Landing Petyr ‘Littlefinger’ Baelish is welcomed back to the capital by Lancel and his merry band of religious fanatics, who warn him that brothels are no longer on the list of respected business enterprises. Never one to appear shocked for too long, the esteemed Lord Baelish gets a few snide remarks in before meeting Cersei in order to discuss a few very important matters. Having hashed out a few details, Baelish is certainly going to be deceiving someone, but who is as yet unclear. It’s definitely clear though that he is intent on moving up in the world, and relentless in pursuit of what he wants.
Meanwhile, Margaery calls in her grandmother Olenna to help deal with Loras’ situation with the very same Faith who harassed Baelish. Diana Rigg’s return is definitely welcome – her biting remarks and sarcastic humour made for some of the most entertaining scenes of the previous two seasons, and seeing her spar with Cersei is brilliant. The Tyrells lose this battle though, as things only get worse, with Jonathan Pryce’s High Sparrow working things to his favour much to Cersei’s enjoyment. It’ll definitely be interesting to see where this one goes, because it’s excellently set up for something big.
Which brings us to this episode’s final story line, up in Winterfell. Sansa is preparing to get married to Ramsay with all of the steely resilience that she has picked up over time, even seeing straight through Myranda’s twisted games. Sadly though, there is some truth to her tales about Ramsay, who is every bit as psychotic as he always was and was never going to go down the same route as the kindly Tyrion with this sort of marriage. After the ceremony is when Ramsay shows his true colours. Menacing and entirely without remorse, he rapes Sansa in front of Reek (intermittently known as Theon, when Ramsay allows it), who can only stare on in horror.
This scene has been highly controversial, with many labelling it as gratuitous and entirely misjudged to the extent that they have vowed not to watch the show, but the scene, while horrifying, is neither. Since the day that Sansa agreed to Littlefinger’s plan, both entirely unaware of Ramsay’s true depravity, we have known that something like this was coming, and as highly unpleasant as it is, throughout history it has been a grim reality that women have had marriages and indeed consummation forced upon them in much the same way for power or land or whatever it may be. It’s definitely a tough thing to show and to even approach, but here it is done always with that grim reality in mind.
‘Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken’ is an example of the show at its most ambitious, seeking to explore the dark side of this incredibly rich world. We get a cacophony of slavers and fanatics and a stark and horrible example of the consequences of a society as patriarchal and feudal as this world is. Sure it sometimes missteps, like in the case of the uneven revenge tale in Dorne, but on the whole it succeeds in examining these themes in a powerful way, not shying away from the horror and the depravity that always lurks in societies as skewed as these.