In both continents, the seeds of rebellion have been properly sowed, with two parallel uprisings occurring in both Westeros and Essos. Perhaps now more than ever, the instability that so many have tried to tame to their will is too wild to control. “The Sons of the Harpy” sets the stage for the remainder of the season with a lot of explanation and backstory, and a hearty helping of bloodshed to spice things up.
The episode opens where we left off, with Jorah Mormont heaving Tyrion like a sack of goods into a stolen boat. Later, at sea, Tyrion rightly guesses Jorah’s identity and laughs to realize that the “Queen” he is taking Tyrion to is not Cersei, but Daenerys. When he admits that he was also traveling to meet up with the Targaryen queen, Jorah wonders why. “Gold and glory. And hate. If you’d ever met my sister, you’d understand,” Tyrion replies.
Then, in an attempt to get Jorah to remove his binds, he reveals just how much he can deduce about Jorah’s predicament. He correctly assumes that Jorah was exiled for spying on Daenerys for the Westerosi king. “Now you hope to win back her favor with a gift. Risky scheme. One might even say desperate. You think Daenerys will execute me and pardon you? I say the reverse is just as likely,” he quips. When Jorah gets up from his seat at the rudder, Tyrion readies himself to be untied. Instead, the silent knight hits him across the face.
On another boat, Jaime and Bronn head to Dorne on a mission to rescue Jaime’s “niece” Myrcella. Bronn may be a simple sellsword, but his sharp intuition always made him a fitting match for the quick-witted Tyrion. He’s already figured out that Myrcella is Jaime’s daughter, not niece, and that he was the one who released Tyrion from his cell.
Jaime neither admits nor denies anything, but professes to want to split Tyrion in two if he ever sees his brother again. His father’s murder was never part of the plan in releasing Tyrion, and he appears more than a little conflicted about it. Jaime has always loved his brother, unlike Tywin or Cersei; however, Tyrion’s act has not only resulted in the loss of his father, but has also further alienated him from his sister and lover.
As Bronn points out, this quest to rescue Myrcella seems like an odd choice for “a one-handed man who happens to be one of the most recognizable faces in Westeros.” Jaime is not clear about his reasoning for wanting to personally lead the mission, saying only, “It has to be me.” The biggest clue might come later in their discussion over how they would prefer to die. Jaime’s answer? “In the arms of the woman I love.” This mission is not about rescuing his daughter, a young girl he has never been able to know or love as a father, but about bringing comfort to the love of his life, Cersei.
When Jaime and Bronn land on Dornish shores, they are almost immediately found by patrolling knights. They battle the men, with the one-handed Jaime realizing just how hard it will be for him to fight with his non-dominant sword hand. However, he discovers just how useful a metal hand might be as another melee weapon when he is able to use it to block his opponent’s sword long enough to stick him through the gut.
“The Dornish are crazy. All they want to do is fight and fuck, fuck and fight,” Bronn tells Jaime, and no one embodies that more than Ellaria Sand, Oberyn Martell’s vengeful paramour. She meets up with three of Oberyn’s eight bastard daughters, also known as the Sand Snakes: “Sand” is the last name of bastards from Dorne (like “Snow” in the North) and “Snakes” are a play on Oberyn’s nickname, the Red Viper.
The youngest of the three, named Tyene, is Ellaria’s own daughter. The mother greets her and then rallies the other girls to prepare for war. Without an army to march into King’s Landing, Ellaria plans to kill Myrcella Lannister in order to spark the conflict they seek.
Nymeria (“Nym”) replies that they may have a problem and uses a whip to knock a bucket off the head of the merchant ship’s captain, buried with scorpions in the sand. Obara, the eldest Sand Snake, says the man found her in Planky Town and offered to sell her valuable information about Jaime Lannister’s plot to rescue Myrcella. As Bronn suspected, though Jaime bribed the captain to keep quiet, the man gave him up easily in search of a bigger payday, hoping to capitalize on the Dornish hatred for Lannisters. He gets Obara’s expertly-thrown spear through the head as payment.
“You must choose: Doran’s way and peace, or my way and war,” Ellaria says. One by one, each of the Sand Snakes joins Ellaria’s side and determines to murder Myrcella to avenge the death of their father.
“When I was a child, Oberyn came to take me to court. I’d never seen this man and yet he called himself my father. My mother wept, said I was too young, and a girl. Oberyn tossed his spear at my feet and said, girl or boy, we fight our battles, but the gods let us choose our weapons. My father pointed to the spear, and then to my mother’s tears. I made my choice long ago.”
In Kings Landing, Cersei receives counsel from her new Master of Coin, Mace Tyrell. He says that the Iron Bank of Braavos (the city where Arya currently resides in the House of Black and White) is recalling one tenth of their loan to the crown. When Littlefinger was Master of Coin, he managed to balance the books by borrowing heavily from foreign banks, including the Iron Bank. With the cost of an ongoing war and “given the expense of rebuilding the crown’s fleet” after the Battle of Blackwater, the Lannisters are unable to pay their debts (contrary to their famous house motto); Mace admits that they can only afford to repay half of what the Iron Bank demands, or one-twentieth of what they owe.
In Season 3, when Tyrion was the Master of Coin, he told Bronn that “if we fail to repay these loans, the bank will fund our enemies. One way or another, they always get their gold back.” As predicted, though currently unbeknownst to the Lannisters, the Bank funded Stannis Baratheon so that he could buy enough troops to secure the Wall and begin a southern march through Westeros. Stannis is effectively the Iron Bank’s debt collector.
Cersei decides to send Mace Tyrell to the Iron Bank in order to negotiate better terms. However, this is a hollow gesture; Cersei knows full well that you do not haggle with the Iron Bank. Last season, in a discussion with her father (where Tywin admitted that the last Lannister gold mine ran dry three years ago), Tywin told his daughter, “You can’t run from them, you can’t cheat them, you can’t sway them with excuses.”
Most likely, Cersei does not intend for Mace to be successful, as becomes further apparent when she appoints Ser Meryn Trant as his personal guard. Ser Meryn is the main Kingsguard ever-willing to do the Lannisters’ bidding, no matter how low or disturbing (the Hound despised him for participating in Joffrey’s abuses against Sansa: “any boy whore with a sword could beat three Meryn Trants”). There’s no telling what she intends for Mace, but with Ser Meryn as his guard and a hopeless mission laid out for him, the prospects are bleak for the dim-witted head of the Tyrell family.
Cersei’s vendetta against the Tyrells is not only shocking, but also reckless; in the same conversation with Tywin about the Iron Bank, he instructed her that only the Tyrells and the riches of their fertile lands could save the crown from their debts.
“The Small Council grows smaller and smaller…” – Maester Pycelle
“Not small enough.” – Cersei
Further complicating her relationship with the Tyrells, Cersei rearms the Faith Militant in order to use them against Ser Loras, Margaery’s brother and Cersei’s betrothed. The Faith Militant was disbanded by the Targaryens two hundred years ago, but Cersei suggests to the High Sparrow that she will repeal the law banning them so that they might protect those who are unable to protect themselves—particularly the clergymen and smallfolk. Cersei takes this risky maneuver with the hope that this army of religious zealots will be hers to control.
For the time being, she is successful; the murderous monks not only raze the brothels, alehouses, and marketplaces, but they also execute homosexuals and arrest Ser Loras. Cersei’s cousin and former lover, Lancel Lannister, is among the leaders of this group committing atrocities in the name of the Seven, and even gets the Seven-Pointed Star carved into his forehead before personally arresting Ser Loras.
When Margaery finds out, she is furious with her young husband, the king. She demands that Tommen take action. At first, he goes to Cersei, who only sets her son up for failure. “Can’t allow fanatics to arrest the queen’s brother, no matter his perversions,” she taunts him, punishing him for daring to be loyal to Margaery over her.
Instead of summoning for the High Sparrow, like a true king, the young lord tries to march into the Sept. When he is barred from entry by a force of armed Sparrows, he backs down in order to avoid conflict. In the background, the smallfolk shout ridicule about his parentage. “Bastard!” and “You’re an abomination!” echo through the crowd. Did Cersei know that, in attempting to best the Tyrells, she would be putting her own son in the very danger she obsessively fears?
It will be interesting to see how Cersei deals with the militant extremists now that the genie is out of the bottle. Cersei may currently have the upper hand in her feud with Margaery and the Tyrells, but when she told the High Sparrow “we have a great sinner in our midst, shielded by gold and privilege,” she could have easily been referring to herself. How long until the Sparrows decide to root out the sins of the Lannisters and the king, who is a product of Cersei and Jaime’s incest?
On the Wall, Melisandre tries to “serve [her] Lord” in rather interesting ways. This time, the lord she refers to is not the Lord or Light, nor is it Stannis. Instead, she means the newly-made Lord Commander Jon Snow. She attempts to seduce him, as she has seduced other men with powerful blood. “In our joining, there’s power—power to make life, power to make light, and power to cast shadows,” she says, alluding to her ability to conceive murderous shadows, like the shadow with Stannis’s face who murdered Renly Baratheon. These shadow babies, when conceived with important men, are more potent. (As she said in Season 2, “Shadows cannot live in the dark… They are servants of light, the children of fire. And the brighter the flame, the darker they are.”)
When Jon Snow refuses to break his vow, she pushes him, saying he’s already broken his vow once before. He admits that he still loves Ygritte, even though he knows that is foolish. Melisandre turns to go, leaving Jon with a hauntingly familiar refrain: “You know nothing, Jon Snow.”
Elsewhere on the Wall, Shireen Baratheon, the young princess who is sweet and smart despite her cold and zealous parents, has a rare moment with her father—one in which we all get to see a new side of Stannis. The young girl has been shunned by her mother and offered little comfort from her father, who has always tacitly supports her in the face of Selyse’s abuses. “I should have given you a son… I gave you nothing but weakness and deformity,” his wife tells him earlier in the episode, looking across the courtyard to her own daughter in disgust.
“Are you ashamed of me, father?” Shireen wonders, and looks worried about the response. Then, Stannis surprises her with the story about how she contracted Greyscale from a doll he bought for her from a Dornish trader. He tells her that he refused to send her to the “ruins of Old Valyria,” a leper-colony for people with the disease (also referred to as “Stone Men” because of the hardening effects it has on the skin). Instead, he summoned maesters, healers, and apothecaries, who are able to stop the disease and save her life. “You are the princess Shireen of House Baratheon, and you are my daughter,” he declares proudly.
When she hugs him, it takes him a beat to return her affections, and then only uncomfortably. Still, it is a scene more telling of his character than any we have yet seen. Stannis is proud, cold, stubborn, and overzealous with his religious beliefs, but he is principled in his rule and in his love for his daughter. Loras once claimed that Stannis had the “personality of a lobster,” but more and more we are seeing why good men like Ser Davos choose to follow the hard, but honorable king.
We meet Sansa in the crypts under Winterfell, lighting candles in the memory of both the ancestors entombed there and her father, whom she used to find at the statue of his sister, Lyanna. As she lights a candle for her aunt, she considers the feather Robert Baratheon left for Lyanna back in Season 1 (in honor of their courtship, when he used to bring her, a northern lady, the feathers of an exotic southern bird).
When Littlefinger joins her, they discuss his plans to leave Winterfell for King’s Landing at Cersei’s behest. In the meanwhile, he expects Stannis to take Winterfell before winter can prohibit him from marching south. If Stannis succeeds in defeating the Boltons, he believes Stannis will make Sansa Wardeness of the North. If Stannis is unsuccessful, he instructs Sansa to play the Boltons for control. “Even the most dangerous men can be out-maneuvered, and you’ve learned to maneuver from the very best.”
He seals this advice with a kiss, which Sansa takes calmly, without passion nor disgust (which she showed the last time he tried that move, pushing him away). Either they are developing into a weird power couple, or Sansa is running her own small game on the man who was obsessively in love with her mother.
Finally, in Meereen, Daenerys and Ser Barristan Selmy discuss her brother, Prince Rhaegar, as they look out from her royal perch in the Great Pyramid. Her view from the top of the pyramid symbolizes the distance she maintains from the actual people of Meereen. Hizdahr zo Loraq continues to stress her need to reopen the fighting pits, saying, “Traditions are the only thing that will hold this city, your city, together. Without them former slaves and former masters have nothing in common.” Still, she refuses to change her position.
Therefore, on the streets down below, the rebellion is gaining momentum. The Sons of the Harpy coordinate larger-scale attacks on the Second Sons (the mercenaries led by her lover and advisor, Daario Naharis) and the Unsullied troops. The same prostitute who slit White Rat’s throat in the beginning of the uprising leads the Unsullied into a narrow alley, where the Sons of the Harpy ambush them. Grey Worm is among them, and though he takes out many of the masked rebels, his troops are outnumbered and killed one-by-one.
Ser Barristan Selmy, whom Daenerys gave the day off, hears the commotion and heads toward trouble while others flee around him. As one of the greatest knights in the world, he is able to take out seven Sons, but is felled by the eighth. He effectively saves Grey Worm in the process, who tries to return the favor by killing Ser Barristan’s attacker, but it is likely too late. Ser Barristan and Grey Worm both collapse on the floor, gravely wounded.
With the potential loss of Ser Barristan and maybe even Grey Worm, Daenerys is going to be without much of her council in a time of great need. Her children (dragons) have either fled or turned on her, and her father figure (Ser Barristan) is likely dead at the hands of the rebellion she is unable to extinguish. Daenerys stands largely on her own, lonely on her perch over the smoldering Meereen. Little does she know that two potential advisors, Ser Jorah Mormont and Tyrion Lannister, are on their way; she may be less likely to turn away their counsel now that her forces are dwindling.
Other thoughts on “The Sons of the Harpy”:
- This episode underwhelmed me in general, with the chief disappointment being the scene with the Sand Snakes. Hopefully things improve with this lot; I’m optimistic with Keisha Castle-Hughes (Obara Sand) at the head. There are interesting threads to pick up from this episode, but it wasn’t my favorite of the season.
- The letter Cersei receives from Littlefinger is shown only briefly. You can tell it’s the raven he sent last week from Winterfell because of the mockingbird sigil. The only words I could make out were “further” and, on a separate line, “my establishment.” Interestingly enough, these are the same words used later in the episode by Olyvar when the Sparrows come tearing through Littlefinger’s brothel: “This is Lord Petyr Baelish’s establishment!”
- When Tommen fails to bring Loras home, Margaery calls on her grandmother, Lady Olenna, to return to the capital and deal with her brother’s arrest. Last time Olenna was in town, she conspired to poison King Joffrey just so her daughter wouldn’t have to live with “that beast.” Watch out, Lannisters.
- We heard an awful lot about Rhaegar Targaryen this episode. Since there is rarely a line of dialogue that means nothing to plot or character development, this has to be intentional. So, what have we learned about Rhaegar, the former Prince, son of the Mad King Aerys, and older brother to Daenerys? I think it’s important enough to break it down.
- In talking with Sansa, Littlefinger describes the scene of a massive tournament at Harrenhal where he first saw Ned Stark’s beautiful sister, Sansa’s aunt Lyanna. At this tournament, Prince Rhaegar Targaryen defeated Ser Barristan Selmy (the same knight who met his fate in Meereen) and rode past his own wife, Elia Martell (Oberyn’s sister) to lay a crown of winter roses in Lyanna’s lap. At the time, Lyanna Stark was engaged to Robert Baratheon.
- As the story goes, reiterated here by Sansa (who would have heard it from her own parents), Rhaegar is said to have kidnapped and raped Lyanna. This alleged event is what sparked Robert’s Rebellion and the eventual toppling of the Targaryen dynasty.
- Bran Stark echoed this story back in Season 1, when he also stood before Lyanna’s statue: “That’s Lyanna, my father’s sister. King Robert was supposed to marry her, but Rhaegar Targaryen kidnapped her. Robert started a war to win her back, he killed Rhaegar, but she died anyway.”
- Littlefinger says only that Rhaegar “chose” Lyanna. When Sansa corrects him with her version of the tale, Littlefinger only gives a wry smile and moves on.
- “Beautiful, noble Rhaegar Targaryen left her for another woman. That started a war,” Oberyn Martell told Tyrion when they first met in Season 4, Episode 1. While he is not happy that Rhaegar ditched his sister, it’s perhaps notable that he does not mention a “rape.” Certainly, the vengeful brother of Rhaegar’s scorned wife would include that tid-bit if it were true, no? Perhaps Oberyn does not know about it, but that seems unlikely.
- Ser Barristan Selmy tells Daenerys about how her brother Rhaegar used to go among the people, singing for their entertainment. He then would donate whatever money he received, unless he and Ser Barristan used it to get drunk. When Daenerys says that she was always told that her brother was good at killing, Ser Barristan replies, “Rhaegar never liked killing; he liked singing.”
- If Rhaegar truly kidnapped and raped Lyanna Stark, would the honorable old Kingsguard tell such fond stories of him and his gentle, jolly temperament? Maybe, but the story we’ve heard– the origin story of Robert’s Rebellion and this whole messy war in the first place– is less clear than ever.
- Why does this matter? It’s not yet clear for either viewers OR book readers. However, last night’s episode seems to provide strong evidence for a long-held and very popular fan theory. This theory is still only that– a theory. There has been no more evidence in the books than in the show, as of last night. If you want to know more about it, continue reading. Again, these are not spoilers from book readers; we do not know about this theory’s validity. But, some of you may prefer to stay away from theories, in any case.
- In this episode, Selyse Baratheon says about Jon Snow, “A bastard by some tavern slut?” Stannis replies, “Perhaps, but that wasn’t Ned Stark’s way.” This is a nod to a long-held theory that there is no way Ned Stark, honorable to a fault, would ever have fathered Jon Snow with a random mistress.
- In fact, he may not have fathered Jon Snow at all. A popular theory called R + L = J hypothesizes that Rhaegar and Lyanna are Jon Snow’s parents, making him half Stark and half Targaryen. If you’re interested about this theory, I highly suggest watching this fan-made explainer video, which has no spoilers for anyone who has seen Game of Thrones Seasons 1 and 2.