Return to Westeros: “High Sparrow” Review

High Sparrow Margary and CerseiSo far I both love and hate this season. As Game of Thrones will be finishing up before A Song of Ice and Fire, it makes sense to me that the show would start deviating from the source material. After all, in the next few years it’s going to spoil some pretty big plot threads for everyone, but by deviating, it can at the very least avoid some spoilers. I like that these changes can leave me wondering what will happen next, but on the other hand, it leaves me worried for numerous characters and how well the writers will handle their new storylines. In particular, I’m terrified for Sansa.

Trigger warning for rape, violence, and Ramsay Bolton up ahead.

“High Sparrow” is so named because this episode introduces us to the High Sparrow, the leader of the Sparrows. The Sparrows are a group of religious zealots who take their faith in the Seven very seriously. While they do some good work, such as feeding and giving to the poor, we’ve already seen that they are not the best group of people to root for. When the Sparrows find out that the High Septon likes to visit brothels and role-play with the sex workers there, they punish him by dragging him through the streets naked. Not to mention, they physically assault the sex workers while they’re at it and beat the High Septon with switches.

High Sparrow Cersei and High SparrowLater on, when the High Septon goes to Cersei about this indignity he suffered, Cersei responds by throwing him in jail and heading off to meet the High Sparrow herself. She ends up siding with him in that the High Septon perverted their faith and that the faith of the Seven and the crown must be in agreement for the country to survive. For those of you who have read the book, you know only bad things will come from this.

Speaking of horrible things to happen, Petyr finally reveals to Sansa where they’re headed. They’re going back to Winterfell; Petyr has promised Sansa’s hand in marriage to Ramsay Bolton. Sansa at first wants to turn around when she finds out, but Petyr convinces her to stop running and take revenge for her family. While I would love to see Sansa own both Roose and Ramsay, that’s probably not going to happen anytime soon. In the books, Sansa’s best friend Jeyne Poole marries Ramsay while Sansa is still safely in the Eyrie. Since everyone believes Arya’s dead, the crown disguises Jeyne as Arya and sends her to the Boltons to solidify their hold on the north. And this does not end well for Jeyne, as you can probably imagine. Ramsay rapes and beats her, and he even threatens to mutilate her. He also forces an unwilling Theon to help him abuse her.

I don’t like this change for a couple reasons. The first is that I really like Jeyne Poole and her growing relationship with Theon. Theon struggles with being Reek while Jeyne struggles with being Arya. Sharing similar identity issues while being subjected to the abuse Ramsay levels at them helps them both to pull through what’s happening. I think that that storyline, while difficult to read, is one of the best storylines in the books. But the biggest reason I hate this change is my worry for Sansa. Sansa has spent Game of Thrones being manipulated and victimized. First, she was subjected to Joffrey, who had her abused and beaten in front of the court for his own amusement. He forced her to stare at her father’s severed head, threatened to rape her, and tried to give her Robb’s head at his wedding, among many other things.

High Sparrow Sansa and PeterBut in Game of Thrones, I guess Sansa really is the unluckiest person alive. She went from Joffrey to her Aunt Lysa, a neurotic woman who tried to kill her, and Petyr Fuckface Baelish, the creepy ephebopile who only likes her because he was obsessed with her mother. And now she’s being subjected to Ramsay Bolton. Do we really need to watch Sansa be abused further by someone else? Ramsay promises Petyr that he will never hurt her, and he looks sincere when he says it, but he’s still Ramsay. We know Ramsay is a great actor and we know he lures people in with kindness before hurting them. Given what he does to Jeyne, I don’t want to see what he does to Sansa.

We also see Jon Snow and Arya this episode. Arya is still off in the House of Black and White, training to be a Faceless Man. For her to do that, she has to be no one, which means she has to get rid of all the things that remind her of her old life. She bundles up her clothes and throws them into a canal, but she is unable to do the same with her sword Needle and instead hides it under some rocks. So long as she’s holding onto Needle, she’s going to have trouble becoming No One. Arya’s storyline is interesting to me because now that she’s in Braavos, she’s completely removed herself from the rest of the plot at large. And while I can see how Daenerys and Jon, two other semi-removed characters, are tied back into everything that’s happening—Daenerys is coming to Westeros and Jon is dealing with the Others—we know next to nothing about the Faceless Men. We don’t know what their end goal is or what they’ll do to affect the upcoming events.

Jon’s storyline is significantly less interesting to me. Now that he’s the Commander of the Night’s Watch, it falls to him to lead and appoint people. Stannis still wants him to take his place as the Lord of Winterfell, which Jon refuses to do. At the same time, Janos Slynt doesn’t respect his new command, and when Jon gives him an order, Janos refuses to obey. This thankfully leads to Jon cutting off his head so we no longer have to deal with his character anymore.

In the weeks to come, I guess we’ll see how everything progresses. Right now, the Faceless Men and Sansa are the two storylines I’m most invested in, and I both dread and look forward to what’s going to happen.

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5 thoughts on “Return to Westeros: “High Sparrow” Review

  1. The book sequence with Theon and Jeyne on her wedding night is about the most distressing thing I have ever read. I would be shocked if it made it into the series, particularly with Sansa, so I think we might be safe from that. But Ramsey’s still Ramsey, so I’m scared. Also, I would fight anyone who so much as takes a bite of Sansa’s lemon cakes.

    I’m really interested in seeing the aggression between Margaery and Cersei, which was mostly off-page in the books, as we just see Cersei stew about it. Margaery is so charming, and so devastatingly good at being mean, that you can’t look away.

    Also, we’re just not going to ask about how old Tommen is, right?

    • Well, Tommen was what is the first season, 4 or 5ish? As Saika pointed out to me, they did replace him with an older actor, but I was still put off by what happened.

      • It’s weird because I think it is narratively justifiable. It’s creepy because Margaery IS creepy. She can (and does) sexually manipulate him in large part because of his youth and inexperience, and then go brag about it because she knows it discomfits Cersei.

        All that said – I don’t think it really has to be depicted on screen?

  2. Sansa will kick ass at Winterfell! No way she is actually going to suffer what Jeyne did. She will likely get into some bad situations, but I firmly do not believe that they’re sending her down another abuse poor Sansa path. This is going to be when Sansa comes into her own (and likely with the help of Theon and maybe a few others).

    • I hope you are right. I never want to see Sansa hurt again, and it would be so wonderful to have her kick Ramsay’s and Roose’s asses. I’m just not sure how much I trust the show writers. GoT has done some pretty horrible stuff thus far.

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