25th May2015

‘Game of Thrones 5×07: The Gift’ Review

by Gretchen Felker-Martin

“Have you ever sowed the field, Lady Olenna?  Have you ever reaped the grain?”

Everybody in ‘The Gift” is trying to lend a helping hand, but from the irascible Olenna to the desperate ser Jorah they’re all operating with one eye squeezed shut against the unpleasant realities of their world. As Myrcella informs her uncle/father Jaime after he tells her he doesn’t understand why she wants to remain in Dorne, “Of course you don’t. You don’t know me.” It’s one thing to try to lend aid to someone and another entirely to unpack both how best to go about it and why you want to do so in the first place.

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Olenna wants her grandchildren freed from the dungeons under the Great Sept of Baelor, but her usual mix of bluster, incisive wit, and naked threats don’t phase the High Sparrow. Instead, scrubbing the floor on his knees, he commiserates with her about the pain of getting older. Life has taught this man that people like Olenna are so used to getting their way, they don’t really know what to do when someone tells them what they want can’t be bought at any price. “This must be quite an experience for you,” the High Sparrow observes after taking Olenna to task over forgetting that everything she has comes to her on the backs of men and women leading lives of toil and hardship.

Margaery and Loras are benched for the time being, giving Cersei a chance to switch up her bad cop routine in favor of a sweetness and light approach to her son, King Tommen. She convinces her son she’s got nothing but the best intentions toward his wife, then uses being sent to check in on the younger woman as an excuse to gloat at how far Margaery has fallen. That Cersei ends the episode in an identical cell, finally paying the price for the wave of Old Time Religion she unleashed as part of her grudge match against the rest of the human race, is less cathartic than frightening. Even at her worst and most twisted, we know Cersei means it when she says she loves her son, but the High Sparrow has few thoughts to spare for family and fewer still for mercy.

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Across the Narrow Sea the mother of dragons is getting ready to marry her adviser Hizdahr, but her real enthusiasm is reserved for her main squeeze, the dangerous and responsibility-flouting mercenary Daario Naharis. Dany wants to heal Meereen; Daario wants to gut it. He advises his queen to kill the city’s elite, all of them, at the re-opening of the great fighting pits, a suggestion Dany rejects in disgust.  “I’m a queen,” she tells him, “not a butcher.”

Daario shrugs.  “All rulers are either butchers or meat.”  It’s in the pits, too, that Tyrion and Dany finally cross paths. Tyrion is the episode’s titular gift, a desperate ploy by Jorah Mormont to win back his khaleesi’s favor.  Mormont even takes the day on the field of battle, incapacitating his foes to spare Dany the sight of their blood, but when his helm is removed her first words are: “Remove him from my sight.”  Only Tyrion’s appearance keeps her from having the knight dragged off in chains, and it’s electrifying to watch two characters who’ve spent the entire series on opposite sides of the sea finally trade glances. Jorah’s future, though, seems uncertain. His attempt to win his way back into Dany’s good graces shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the woman he worships: she cannot be bought, not with gestures, not with prisoners, and not with love.

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The dragonglass dagger Sam gives to the departing Jon is only one of the many physical and symbolic gifts exchanged over the episode’s course, but it’s Sam who needs arming. Not long after Jon’s leave-taking, Sam’s friend and mentor, maester Aemon, breathes his last. “I dreamed that I was old,” he whispers to the ghost of his brother, a king whose throne Aemon himself might have sat if he wished. Instead he dies peacefully with his last protege holding tight to his hand and Gilly watching over him. His death, though, as ser Alliser is quick to mention, leaves Sam dangerously short on friends. When his sworn brothers turn on Gilly, only her fortitude, Sam’s willingness to take a beating, and the intervention of Jon’s direwolf prevents what would, at best, have been a brutal rape.

Later, as Gilly washes Sam’s battered face, she tries to extract a promise from him: that he’ll keep out of any other trouble that befalls her. Sam protests, citing both his feelings and his manhood, but Gilly’s practical concern over who will raise her son if they’re both killed cuts through his attempt to blow off her concerns. What he feels compelled to give her isn’t what she wants. The sex scene between the two is tender and awkward, a moment of solace after a traumatic experience, and that it’s one of two in the episode’s course to traverse Westerosi cultural norms only throws into sharp relief the horror of Sansa’s societally-endorsed predicament.

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Things haven’t improved for Winterfell’s last surviving Stark. Imprisoned by her husband and subject to his violent whims, she searches in steely desperation for a way out of her own private hell. She turns to Theon, finding even in the middle of one of the worst ordeals of a life marked primarily by terrible ordeals the strength to try showing her broken foster-brother a path back to his identity. “He’ll hurt us,” Theon stammers.  Sansa meets his tortured gaze with understanding.  “He already hurts me every night.” In the end, though, the gift of Sansa’s trust falls on fear-deafened ears. Reek runs to his master and the old servant who showed Sansa kindness is flayed to death and strung up in the courtyard.

For all Ramsay’s swagger about northerners being born to fight in the frost, it’s Stannis who represents Sansa’s best chance at escape.  The king, despite his horses dying all around him and his men shivering in the cold, is determined to press on to Winterfell. He knows another retreat will brand him a coward forever, and he knows that his battle against Roose and Ramsay could be his last. Is he desperate enough, though, to accept Melisandre’s loathsome suggestion that he sacrifice his own daughter to R’hllor?  A few episodes ago we saw just how far he’d go to protect Shireen, but that the offer is unthinkable makes it no less tempting to a man who would be king.

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