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GAME OF THRONES Recap: The Flayed Women of Westeros

The night is dark and full of spoilers, fair friends of the Realm. Which is to say if you have yet to watch Sunday night’s episode of Game of Thrones, “The Gift,” we highly suggest you turn away from this very informative lil recap tout de suite. Don’t say we didn’t warn ya, ya gooses.

OK, Thrones fans — gotta be honest with you: we’ve got a lot of conflicting feelings about Sunday night’s episode, “The Gift.” Yes: we finally saw paths cross we’ve long waited for, and of course, it was downright cathartic to see Cersei get what’s coming to her at long friggin’ last. (C’MON COMEUPPANCE!) But we’ve got to be honest with you: we were a bit troubled by some of the other goings on of the evening, on both a story and situational level. Hey, Game of Thrones, if you’re working towards something grand here, the message is getting way-muddled in the madness.

It all starts, of course, with last week’s episode‘s end. Though we were hoping against it, Sansa’s rape has so far been used to service Theon’s storyline than her own. Which is not only frustrating but kind of offensive given all the character advancing Sansa has done thus far. Weeks have passed since their wedding day and she’s been clearly, visibly harmed for most of that time. To see her reduced to spending her days locked in a tiny room and her nights enduring Ramsay’s brutality wasn’t great. And, frankly, it was all quite hard to watch, what with the physical remnants of Ramsay’s violence against her.

We will admit we saw one glimpse of a, perhaps, more self-serving and empowered Sansa — her grabbing the vague tool whilst out with Ramsay was one such instance — but we’re anxious for her to actually take control in the situation. She should’ve learned by now she has to save herself rather than pass the buck to someone as weak and broken as Theon. What about everything Littlefinger taught you, Sansa? Self-reliance is the only way and it’s downright annoying to see a whole episode where she was yet again reduced to victimhood.

Still, it does seem as though she may be attempting to craft a plan given that stolen moment (GIVE US SOMETHING, THRONES), but that doesn’t take away from the fact that we’re still disheartened by this whole situation.

As we were, too, by the Dornish scenes — in particular, the one with the Sand Snakes. This season has not been kind to the badassery of Oberyn Martell’s bastard daughters. They’ve shown pretty much zero personality and individuality in the writing of them, which is a shame considering their book lives are so vivid. So far their moments on screen have felt slapdash and maligned (I mean, c’mon/be really honest with yourselves: that fighting sequence last week was pretty lame). And we’re not entirely sure what we gained from their scene in the dungeon with Bronn — did Tyene really give him the antidote to “The Long Farewell” or was it just another poison? And to be frank, the nudity felt pointless. Yes, we know he needed to get his heart rate up in order for the poison to take hold, but still: with an overabundance of female nudity on the show, this moment felt particularly shoehorned.

As did the attempted rape of Gilly. I mean holy jeez you guys — are we just running out of ideas now? I understand this is a world of violence and aggression above all else, and I really feel as though I’ve been more than fair in my defense of it all: trying to give this show the benefit of a doubt in the name of storytelling. But tonight’s episode made my justification of its doings that much harder.

We get it: The Wall is very dangerous and these are a bunch of thirsty virgins running around, risking their lives and tired of rubbing one out all by their lonesomes. But all of it — particularly when juxtaposed to the subsequent Gilly and Samwell sex scene that followed immediately after — has given us pause as to whether or not people are really thinking about the implications here. It made the moment feel gross and exploitative rather than intimate and sweet. Which feels REALLY HARD TO DO considering how hard everyone has rooted for Gilly and Samwell to get together. It takes a lot to take away from that tender romance, and yet Thrones has managed it.

Samwell and Gilly getting together should’ve been a moment where these two poor souls choose one another over their outside obligations. The whole series thus far has been slowly — and delightfully — unfolding their powerful, intimate, and tender connection. In perhaps any other scenario, this scene would have worked, but instead it was contextualized by attempted rape, and therefore rendered tone deaf and uncomfortable.

Yes, we understand Gilly is hardened by her circumstances and has come to understand sexual violence as de rigueur in this world, but even the most hardened and harmed among us still feel and react and have emotional responses to things that happen to us. The whole thing had literally zero consideration of her in the name of building up Samwell Tarly. It was a shame and a pity and completely neutered and all-but-uneuterable moment of tender grace.

It was pretty shocking to see such a misstep.

And frankly we’re astounded that no one considered this in the process of making this episode. Is everyone working on this show SO desensitized to sexual violence that they don’t see the inherent problem here? Because if so that’s maaaaaybe pretty telling about how messed up Thrones‘ priorities have become in regards to women this season. It had SO much promise in the beginning — so many interesting deviations and iterations of female power, and to what have they been reduced? Objectification, sexual violence, and nudity for the sake. Sigh.

All of which, when one considers what happened last week, tend to make us feel less hopeful about what’s to come than we were in our “let’s try to be reasonable here” defense. Could they turn it around? Anything’s possible, so we’d never say “no way” outright, but it does feel a bit more insurmountable an issue than it was before.

Elsewhere in the episode was actually pretty great. (Hence the conflicting emotions we spoke of before.) We saw Tyrion and Ser Jorah finally encounter Daenerys in the fighting pits (yay!), Littlefinger’s return to King’s Landing in order to scheme it up with Lady Olenna (uh huh uh huh), plus a super-messed-up plan from Melisandre to kill Shireen in order to Stannis the Mannis to win (which: UGH LAWD SERIOUSLY?!). There was also the return of Ghost — where’ve you been, MFer?! And why aren’t you with Jon Snow who’s off with the Wildlings North of The Wall? That ish is DANGEROUS — and the death of Aemon Targaryen (which was incredibly sad and even had a nice hat-tip to The Tales of Dunk and Egg). All of which? Good, interesting, plot-forwarding stuff. Here’s hoping we get more of that actually interesting business next week. See? We really, really want to be on your side, Game of Thrones.

Choice Quotes

– “All rulers are either butchers or meat.”
– “A lifetime of wealth and power have left you blind in one eye. You are the few, we are the many. And when the many stop fearing the few…”
– “What will we find when we strip away your finery?”
– “The people who built this place didn’t inflict their vanity upon the future as others did.”
– “We march to victory or we march to defeat but we march, we go forward.”
– “Egg, I dreamed that I was old.”

What did you think of the episode? Agree or disagree? Let us hear it in the comments.

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