‘Sons of the Harpy’
This review contains spoilers.
As we move further into season 5, it says a lot that we’re still meeting new characters, and there are more we’re yet to meet. Mostly this is in the Dorne storyline, where this week we were finally introduced to the Sand Snakes (Oberyn’s daughters) but across the board, the show is being stretched heavily to accommodate so many complex story lines. As such, it’s a relief that ‘Sons of the Harpy’ managed to maintain a good level of quality throughout, from start to finish.
Talking of the beginning and the end, it’s very interesting to see the show continue to heavily parallel the two fanatical uprisings currently taking place – that of the Sparrows in King’s Landing, and the Sons of the Harpy in Mereen. Having slowly been building across episodes one to three, both made significant movements this episode, albeit in differing ways.
We’ll start at the end, with Ser Barristan and Grey Worm facing death in the tunnel. Following extensive combat between the Unsullied and Harpys, it made use of the established Game of Thrones subversion trend, as the two heroic characters came out at best with a Pyrrhic victory, and at worst with a straight-up loss. In nine shows out of ten, that scene would result in a grand victory for the two, with no ambiguity at all, but instead here we saw the real problem about the Harpys – their parasite, hive-like existence. With each clad in the exact same gilded mask and similar clothing, they are as one, and seemingly far greater in number than the Unsullied.
Yes all those fighting here died in the end, but they may have still accomplished their goal, and that’s the sort of enemy that often plagues protagonists most. While such decisive and drastic action made for engaging viewing, it’s noticeable thus far in this arc that it’s missing a figurehead, a central character to personify their beliefs and help to flesh out the movement beyond frenzied killing. Perhaps we’ll get exactly that in the aftermath of the ambush.
The lack of a spokesperson is not a problem concerning the Sparrows though, as Jonathan Pryce was once again on form as their reluctant leader. His and Cersei’s pact to effectively enact martial law by way of religion feels like making a deal with the devil. The key fact that will define where we go next is to establish which one of them is making the deal, and which is the devil, as it feels like there’s scope for either scenario.
Certainly, the High Sparrow has a far greater agenda than he lets on, as can be glimpsed in the Sparrows’ irreverence towards Tommen on the steps of the Sept of Baelor, but, with Cersei making various moves to stifle the Tyrell influence on proceedings – having Lord Mace carted off to Braavos and manipulating the seizing of Loras – it could all be seen as her last desperate attempt to maintain her, and indeed the Lannister presence at the top of the world. It’s already forced a wedge between the royal couple, not quite so cutesy and loved up now there’s more than consummating their marriage to think about, so maybe her plans have mileage yet.
Elsewhere, the theme was arguably imbalance – a number of situations on the verge of chaos and action, but not quite there yet. Jaime and Bronn making a violent entrance to Dorne, where the Sand Snakes, intimidatingly introduced along with the returning Ellaria, plot for war, are but two. We also saw Jorah attempt to regain favour with Dany as his kidnapping of Tyrion continues, and Sansa steel herself to manipulate the Boltons, as Littlefinger departs for Kings Landing. Of equal importance is that in each of these cases, notable story-lines could come crashing into one another very soon – Jorah re-entering Mereen just as the Harpys grow stronger, Littlefinger coming back into the political fold at a key time, and Sansa preparing for Stannis’ assault on the North. There’s a lot to play for.
‘Sons of the Harpy’ was never going to be the most focused of episodes, yet it still managed to avoid feeling too disjointed thanks in part to strong writing by Dave Smith. Next week we reach the halfway point of the season – already…?