"Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken" is the sixth episode of the fifth season of Game of Thrones. It is the forty-sixth episode of the series overall. It premiered on May 17, 2015. It was written by Bryan Cogman and directed by Jeremy Podeswa.
Arya continues her training with the Faceless Men. She cleans a corpse methodically, which is then taken away by two men. Arya is obviously curious about what is on the other side of the door through which the corpse was taken. Arya is about to walk through the door when the Waif obstructs her path and latches the door. Arya wants to know what happens to the bodies she scrubs clean, but the Waif tells her that she will know when the time is right. Frustrated at the lack of answers, Arya demands to play the game of faces. The Waif tells her that Arya has already tried playing the game but failed. She again asks Arya who she is, to which Arya replies that she is no one. The Waif simply tells Arya to get back to work and is about to walk away when Arya asks her who she is. The Waif tells Arya a story about how she was the only daughter of a widowed Lord, who remarried, producing another daughter. Her stepmother, in order to secure her own daughter’s future, tried to poison her. The Waif found out about this and sought out the help of the Faceless Men to exact her revenge. The Waif then asks Arya whether she believed the story, surprising Arya. When Arya doesn’t respond, embarrassed that she bought the Waif’s story, the Waif tells her to get back to work, hinting to Arya that to pass the game of faces, Arya must be able to lie convincingly. Later, when Arya is asleep, Jaqen H'ghar comes to test Arya again. This time, when he asks Arya who she is, Arya tells him how she came to join the Faceless Men, trying to slip in a few lies into the story. However, Jaqen is able to tell when Arya is lying and hits her with a switch whenever she does. He strikes her repeatedly when she insists she hated the Hound. Before he leaves, he tells her that she is lying not only to him, but to herself as well.
A grieving father brings his sickly daughter to the House of Black and White. He explains to Arya that he has been to every healer in Braavos and spent every penny he had. He tells her that his daughter is suffering and needs to find peace. Arya sits besides the girl and tells her a short false story, about how she was sick too, but her father brought her here and when she drank from the temple's well, she was healed. This persuades the sickly girl to drink the poisoned water from the well. The water gives the peace of death to the sickly girl, and Arya, having successfully proven that she can lie, is brought to the Hall of Faces with Jaqen H'ghar, a great underground chamber that houses thousands of faces. All the faces had been taken from the corpses that the acolytes wash in the temple. The Faceless Man then asks Arya if she is ready to give up who she is to become "no one". After a moment of silence, he then states that she is not ready to become "no one" (she is too attached to her past as a Stark), but that she is ready to become "someone else".
In Slaver's Bay
On the western side of Slaver's Bay, Tyrion Lannister and Jorah Mormont are still making their way to Meereen (on the far opposite eastern side of the region) on foot, after losing their boat passing through the Smoking Sea and the ruins of Old Valyria. Tyrion is annoyed that they didn't find any villages to steal a boat or supplies from as Jorah had hoped, so they're slowly walking and only have berries and roots to eat. The topic of just why Tyrion was even in Volantis comes up, and Tyrion is surprised that Jorah did not ask earlier: he explains that he actually fled from Westeros because he killed his own father Tywin. He says he did it because his father tried to have him executed for a crime he didn't commit, and then he found his father screwing the woman he loved - Jorah nods, as this seems as likely a motivation for Kinslaying as any. Tyrion then says that despite how miserable Jorah is now, at least he can say that he had a good father. Jorah asks how he could have known his father Jeor Mormont, but Tyrion explains he visited the Wall once and met him: he was a great leader who seemed to genuinely care about all of his men, a rare thing in the world, but now as the eulogy for Night's Watch members goes, "the world will not see his like again." Jorah is shocked to realize he means that his father is dead. Tyrion becomes apologetic and says he thought that Jorah knew already. Jorah asks how he died: Tyrion says he only knows the report he heard, which said that his father led an expedition beyond the Wall, but there was a mutiny, and Jeor was murdered by his own men. Jorah processes this in silent grief, then changes the subject by saying that they have to keep moving.
As they walk, Tyrion asks why Jorah would support Daenerys Targaryen and how she would be better than any other rulers , or why Westeros would even support her, given that her father was the Mad King. Jorah explains that he never used to believe in things like destiny and was very cynical, but after seeing Daenerys emerge from the flames unharmed with baby dragons, he believes in her now, and the Iron Throne is hers by right. Tyrion remains skeptical that this doesn't automatically mean she will be a good queen, given that the Targaryens were famous for going insane, just like Daenerys's own father.
Spotting a slaver ship in the distance, Jorah pulls Tyrion to the ground. However, the pair has already been spotted before they start hiding, and the slavers emerge from the trees behind them and take them captive. The lead slaver, Malko, intends to return them back to their destination in Volantis. Tyrion, however, manages to successfully persuade him that Jorah is one of the most skilled knights in Westeros, and would fetch a better price being sold to the fighting pits in Meereen, which have just reopened. Though not in the circumstances they hoped, Tyrion and Jorah are once again quickly heading towards Meereen and Queen Daenerys.
Bronn and Jaime approach the Water Gardens, wearing Martell disguises from the soldiers they killed. Bronn wonders what Jaime will do once they get inside and find Myrcella, to which Jaime replies that he likes to improvise; Bronn sarcastically remarks "That explains the golden hand." Meanwhile, Ellaria Sand and the Sand Snakes are already inside the Gardens. Ellaria sends them out to abduct Myrcella, telling them to do it "for Oberyn."
Myrcella herself is enjoying another stroll with her betrothed, Trystane Martell, Trystane's father Prince Doran Martell and his bodyguard Areo Hotah watch from above. Doran comments that they look lovely together, but that they don't realize how dangerous their betrothal is, and that he and Areo must protect them. Doran asks if Areo remembers how to uses his longaxe, and Areo assures him that he does.Jaime and Bronn infiltrate the Water Gardens and soon come upon Myrcella kissing Trystane. Jaime tries to convince Myrcella to come with him, but Trystane interferes, suspicious of the bloodstains on Bronn and Jaime's Dornish robes. When Trystane tries to draw his sword, Bronn quickly knocks him down, to Myrcella's horror. Jaime tries to lead her away, but they are suddenly attacked by the Sand Snakes. Bronn fights against Tyene and Nymeria, while Obara attacks Jaime with her spear, driving him away from Myrcella. Obara orders Nym to break away from Bronn and take Myrcella prisoner, but as Nym tries to pull her away, they are cut off by Areo and Prince Doran's guards, who surround them and force them all to drop their weapons. Jaime, Bronn, Ellaria and the Sand Snakes are all taken into custody.
In King's Landing
Petyr Baelish arrives in King’s Landing and is on his way to meet Cersei when he is confronted by Brother Lancel and some other Sparrows. Lancel warns Baelish that they have purged King's Landing of its corrupt ways, and the new King’s Landing will not tolerate his prostitution business. Baelish dismisses these threats.
Cersei, meeting with Baelish, continues to deny her involvement in Loras Tyrell’s arrest by the Faith Militant. Baelish is not fooled and warns that House Tyrell will not tolerate this insult. Cersei claims that she is the insulted one since Ser Loras, who was promised to her, prefers the company of men. Cersei then explains why she summoned Baelish; she is suspicious where his loyalties truly lie and asks him whether she can rely on the the Vale to fight for the Throne if the time comes. Baelish assures her that young Robin heeds his advice and he will always counsel loyalty to the Throne. Baelish then reveals that Sansa is back in Winterfell, where Roose Bolton has arranged for her to marry Ramsay. Cersei is infuriated by the Boltons’ betrayal. To add fuel to the fire, Baelish adds that marrying the last remaining Stark gives the Boltons a stronger hold over the North than an alliance with a hated southern house. Baelish counsels patience and suggests letting the Boltons and Stannis fight each other, and when the victor is still recovering from the battle, step in and defeat him. He suggests that Cersei’s uncle Kevan Lannister muster a force or have Jaime Lannister lead an army to the North. Cersei contemptuously claims that her uncle doesn’t have the courage to lead an army, while Jaime is away on a “sensitive diplomatic mission.” Baelish proposes that the soldiers of the Vale could fight instead but Cersei is unsure of Baelish’s ability to lead an army. Baelish convinces her, stating that he "lives to serve". All Baelish wants in return is to be named Warden of the North. Cersei agrees to talk to the King about this.
Olenna Tyrell returns to King’s Landing after learning of her grandson’s arrest. Olenna tries to talk Cersei into releasing Loras. Cersei sticks to her claim that it was the Faith Militant who arrested Loras and she had nothing to do with it. Olenna warns Cersei that her actions have endangered the Lannister-Tyrell alliance – the very alliance that is supplying the capital with food. Cersei informs Olenna that the High Septon has called for a preliminary hearing to determine whether the charges against Loras have merit and expresses confidence that Loras will be acquitted.
The High Sparrow interrogates Loras first, who refutes the accusations against him. He then questions Margaery, who also denies any knowledge of it. The High Sparrow then calls in Olyvar, in character as Loras’s "squire", who claims that the accusations against Loras are in fact true. Olyvar also admits that Margaery walked in on them once, but didn’t seem surprised. To support his testimony, Olyvar tells the High Sparrow of a birthmark Loras has that is shaped like Dorne, much to Loras' shock and fury. Deciding that this is more than enough evidence for a trial, the High Sparrow has Loras arrested. Since Margaery bore false witness before the Gods, she is arrested too. As Margaery is forcefully dragged away, she calls out for Tommen, paralyzed with indecision, while Olenna sadly regards Cersei's barely contained smug expression.
In the North
At Winterfell, Sansa is joined by Myranda in her room. She offers to help Sansa take a bath, so she is presentable to Ramsay during the wedding. While she is washing Sansa's back, Myranda mentions three other girls whom Ramsay had been with, and how he ultimately victimized them after a while because they bored him. Knowing that Myranda is trying to frighten her, Sansa startles Myranda by revealing that she knows about her relationship with Ramsay. She coolly tells Myranda that she is a Stark of Winterfell and will not be intimidated by the likes of her, and dismisses her to finish her bath herself, though she is visibly shaken by Myranda's story.Later, when Reek comes to fetch Sansa for the wedding, she refuses to hold Reek’s arm, even after he pleads with her to do so, saying that Ramsay will punish him if she doesn’t. Sansa coldly asks if he thinks she cares what Ramsay does to him, and strides past him. Then, in front of the Godswood, Reek gives Sansa away to Ramsay (who actually allows Reek to call himself Theon Greyjoy) during the wedding ceremony, which is officiated by Roose Bolton and attended by many Northern Lords. After retreating to the bedroom, Ramsay orders Sansa to take her clothes off. Reek is about to leave but Ramsay tells him he must stay. Ramsay quips to Reek, "You grew up with her as a girl, now watch her become a woman." Annoyed by Sansa's hesitance, he angrily rips open the back of her dress and pushes her face-down over the side of the bed. As he unbuckles his clothes, Sansa obediently remains still but begins crying softly. Reek is visibly distraught and begins silently crying himself, as Ramsay proceeds to rape her, and forcefully consummate their marriage.
- Ghita, poisoned by Arya Stark
- 15 of 27 cast members for the fifth season appear in this episode.
- Starring cast members Emilia Clarke (Daenerys Targaryen), Kit Harington (Jon Snow), Stephen Dillane (Stannis Baratheon), Liam Cunningham (Davos Seaworth), Carice van Houten (Melisandre), Conleth Hill (Varys), John Bradley (Samwell Tarly), Hannah Murray (Gilly), Michiel Huisman (Daario Naharis), Nathalie Emmanuel (Missandei), Gwendoline Christie (Brienne of Tarth) and Kristofer Hivju (Tormund Giantsbane) are not credited and do not appear in this episode.
- This episode takes its title from the motto of House Martell of Dorne: "Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken", which refers to the fact that Dorne is the only one of the Seven Kingdoms never to be successfully conquered by outsiders. When the Targaryens conquered the rest of the Seven Kingdoms three centuries ago, the Dornish were able to resist them by resorting to guerrilla warfare, harassing Targaryen armies in their deserts until they withdrew. The Martells only united with the Iron Throne one century ago, but through a voluntary marriage-alliance on equal terms. This naming choice is similar to how the first episode of Season 1 was named "Winter is Coming", after the House words of the Starks, and the Season 1 finale was named "Fire and Blood", after the words of House Targaryen.
- The Night's Watch and The Wall do not appear in this episode, nor do House Baratheon (though Stannis Baratheon and his followers departed from the Wall last episode). Meereen and Daenerys Targaryen do not appear in this episode (though other characters do discuss Stannis and Daenerys). Brienne of Tarth does not appear in this episode (she was last seen in the winter town outside of Winterfell castle). House Greyjoy has not appeared so far this season.
- This episode marks the first full introduction of Trystane Martell and the reintroduction of Myrcella Baratheon after she left King's Landing in Season 2 (and the role was recast with actress Nell Tiger Free). They both first appeared four episodes ago in "The House of Black and White" but had no significant dialogue.
- For the first time, this episode also indirectly explains how Myrcella has been doing for the past three seasons. Back in Season 2, Cersei was outraged that Myrcella was being sent away to forge a marriage-alliance with Dorne, saying it was selling her like a common whore, just as she was sent away by her father into her miserable marriage to Robert Baratheon. In Season 4, Cersei assumed that Myrcella was a glorified prisoner surrounded by enemies, even though Oberyn said she was laughing and playing with his younger daughters in the Water Gardens. As it so happened, while their match was arranged, both Myrcella and Trystane fell madly in love with each other, proverbial star-crossed lovers from rival Houses. Myrcella has actually been having a rather enjoyable time in Dorne since she was last seen in Season 2.
- The religion of the Old Gods of the Forest simply has no clergy or priesthood whatsoever, explaining why Roose Bolton officiates the ceremony himself (as he did in the novels). In the Faith of the Seven, marriages are officiated by a Septon or Septa, such as when Tommen and Margaery married earlier this season. As presented here, the ceremony seems relatively simple, with the bride and groom exchanging brief vows officiated by the groom's father - though it isn't clear if this is a rule, or if Roose happened to be the one to officiate in this instance.
- Theon wears the same clothes Robb Stark wore during the Red Wedding. The only difference is that Theon doesn't wear Robb's direwolf head pins - as most, if not all Stark-related symbols in Winterfell have been removed or defaced by the Bolton occupiers - but a pair of crossed straps shaping an "X" - a subtle reference to the Bolton sigil, in which the flayed man is bound to an x-shaped cross. Roose Bolton may have kept some of Robb's belongings following the latter's murder and the desecration of his corpse by the Frey and Bolton retainers.
- Closer inspection of Sansa's wedding gown reveals that she is actually wearing her mother Catelyn's House Tully trout-sigil pins. She must have found them wherever her mother stored other ones in the castle.
- In the first novel, Sansa is 11 years old, but she was aged-up to be 13 in Season 1 of the TV series. Also, time moves more slowly in the TV continuity (at the rate of one year per TV season), so that about four years have passed by Season 5 - making Sansa around 17 to 18 years old at this point in the TV series. In the novels, the legal age of majority in Westeros is 16, though girls are often married off younger than this - as Sansa was to Tyrion - if they have flowered already. The TV series has Samwell Tarly make some comments which imply that the legal age of majority in the TV version was also increased by two years, to 18 years old. The show is constantly unclear on its timelines and ages tend to be muddled as a way for the writers and producers to mitigate whatever controversy may arise from depicting children or teenagers in 'adult' situations.
- A point brought up between Ramsay and Sansa on their wedding night is the status of her virginity - she tells him the truth, that Tyrion was kind and gentle that he wouldn't force her to consummate the marriage (he was disgusted that his father forced him to marry her). TV-first viewers might be confused why Ramsay wouldn't simply be able to tell if Sansa was still a virgin when he had sex with her for the first time, breaking her hymen (called a "maidenhead" in the books). The novels actually give some extra cultural background about this - Cersei around this time ponders making the accusation that Margaery isn't a virgin anymore, but realizes this would be impossible to prove: because girls from noble families in Westeros spend so much time riding horses for basic transport, almost none of them have intact hymens by the time they marry. The husbands of noble-born girls usually just have to take them at their word that they are virgins.
- When Myranda is bathing Sansa, she mentions to her that one of Ramsay's lovers, Violet (who we saw in Season 3), was killed by him after she got pregnant. In Season 4, Violet was supposed to come back for another scene in which Ramsay flippantly turns on her and kills her with his hunting dogs. Similar to her character, however, actress Stephanie Blacker got pregnant and could not return. Instead a third character was invented, Tansy (whom Myranda also mentions in this episode) for Ramsay to kill, though as a result of these production issues the point was a bit lost that Ramsay will gleefully kill any of his loyal servants on a whim.
- The Faith of the Seven believes that homosexuality is a sin, but not a very severe one, on par with adultery or having sex with prostitutes. Olenna Tyrell somewhat highlights this in the episode itself when she is talking with Margaery and in disbelief that this is anything more than a stunt by Cersei to shame them, because it is highly unusual to outright put Loras on trial for something as comparatively trivial as homosexuality - it is somewhat like if Robert Baratheon were suddenly put on trial by the Faith for being a whore-monger. The Sparrows and the Faith Militant, however, are fanatics with an extremist view of the religion.
- The Faith also doesn't normally have the right to hold its own ecclesiastical courts - that was one of the powers it lost when the Targaryens disbanded the Faith Militant over two centuries ago. When Cersei had the Faith Militant recreated, she also granted the High Sparrow the power to hold ecclesiastical trials for things such as adultery and homosexuality.
- Loras Tyrell is described as "the heir to Highgarden". Loras and Margaery actually have two older brothers in the novels, Willas and Garlan. Margaery is also the fourth and youngest Tyrell child, but because actress Natalie Dormer is older than Finn Jones, the TV-version of Margaery is officially older (this affects little, due to the male-preference inheritance system in all of the Seven Kingdoms except for Dorne). The TV series has been deliberately ambiguous about the status of Willas and Garlan - they actually were listed in the official HBO family trees in Season 1, but were subsequently omitted, and have never been referred to otherwise. The producers seem to be strongly leaning to the position that they simply don't exist in the TV continuity - though they have avoided outright stating this. It is similar to how in Season 2 the writers were careful to say that Stannis Baratheon has "no sons", because they were not sure if they would later be able to introduce his daughter Shireen, and wanted to keep their options open. In Season 3's "The Climb", Olenna has a long conversation with Tywin (invented for the TV series) in which he threatens to name Loras to the Kingsguard, who foreswear all claim to inheritance when they join. The conversation heavily implied that the only Tyrell heirs would be through Loras or Margaery - if Loras couldn't inherit, they said the Tyrells' only heirs would be Margaery's Lannister children with Joffrey. This ignores the detail from the novels that even without their other two sons, there are numerous minor Tyrell cousins. Whatever the case, even that scene between Olenna and Tywin never stated in as many words that "Loras and Margaery have no brothers". Similarly, in this episode he is called the heir to Highgarden, but the writers avoided directly stating that Mace Tyrell has no other sons. If Loras is "the heir" that means that he is at least the eldest son in the TV continuity, but there is room to plausibly say that he has younger brothers. Or perhaps Willas could be introduced as a cousin. Even so, for the moment, Willas and Garlan do not exist in the TV continuity, and it seems strongly implied that Loras is an only son.
- Littlefinger's goals remain unclear in the TV series, given that it is heavily condensing the narrative from the books. In the novels, his plan was to have Sansa marry the heir to the Vale, then after slowly poisoning Sweetrobin to death, have her urge the fresh armies of the Vale to retake the North from the Boltons - apparently leaving her as his grateful puppet ruling over both the North and the Vale. Doing so would openly turn against the Lannisters, but he explains to Sansa that he considers them to be a spent force, too busy intriguing against the Tyrells to risk sending their few remaining armies to the far side of Westeros. In the TV series, Littlefinger explains to Sansa that he thinks Stannis will defeat the Boltons (he is an experienced military commander and the rest of the north would gladly turn on the Boltons to aid him): if Stannis wins, he will make Sansa the new ruler of the North, but on the chance that Stannis is killed, she will still be in a position to subvert the Boltons from within. The Boltons were also only willing to risk angering Cersei by marrying Sansa Stark because they are desperate to secure their hold over the North before Stannis's attack - meaning Sansa couldn't wait to marry Ramsay until after Stannis is defeated, it had to be before their confrontation. In this episode, Littlefinger outright tells Cersei about Sansa's marriage - in order to manipulate her into granting him permission to lead the Vale's armies to the North to defeat the Boltons. This way he can seize the North without openly turning on the Lannisters, which is what this action is going to mean in the novel version. Either way the Boltons lose.
- The complication this introduces is that Cersei specifically demands that he present her with Sansa's head. It isn't clear if Littlefinger is outright willing to kill Sansa, given his obsession with her, or if he is just promising that to Cersei's face in order to placate her. If the latter case, it is possible that he intends to fake Sansa's death so he can have her in his possession again. Alternatively, he might just be lying to Cersei's face to buy time - after the Vale's armies secure the North, he might just openly renege on his agreement to kill Sansa, because as in the novels, he considers the Lannisters to be a spent force in no shape to oppose him after he already possesses both the Vale and the North (given that they are bankrupt, their armies half-exhausted, and the challenges they face from the Tyrells, Martells, and Greyjoys). Cersei was going to find out about Littlefinger's betrayal sooner or later: in the novels, it would be sooner, once she heard that the Vale's armies had begun to invade the North, and she would have more time to react against it with Lannister armies. Telling Cersei about Sansa now but feigning that he was uninvolved will serve to delay her eventual retaliation.
- Notice that Olenna Tyrell's costume has subtlely changed: costumer designer Michele Clapton developed the detail that back in Seasons 3 and 4, House Tyrell was "playing nice" with the Lannisters, so instead of wearing bold green and gold colors, their costumes actually used more of a softer teal color, to give them a more gentle appearance. Once Margaery is officially Tommen's new Queen, however, the Tyrells no longer pretend to be getting along with the Lannisters, and start openly demanding concessions. As a result, the Tyrells are literally revealing their "true colors", and they switch from softer teals to darker greens and are more liberal with the amount of gold fabric they wear. Margaery has actually been dressing this way for much of the season, but the difference is more obvious with Olenna's costume. See "Costumes: The Seven Kingdoms - The Reach".
- This is the first episode in which the infamous nickname of Olenna Tyrell, "the Queen of Thorns", is mentioned on-screen.
- As Olenna's carriage is approaching King's Landing, she remarks that you can smell the shit five miles away. This is no mere throwaway line: numerous times in the novels, characters remark on how bad the air in King's Landing smells, how overcrowded and filthy it is. It is a city of half a million people but was quickly constructed as the new Targaryen capital city and grew haphazardly as a boomtown without much careful urban planning, leading to smelly slum districts such as Flea Bottom. As an audio-visual medium, the TV series can't often convey smells as well as descriptions in the novels can.
- Olenna's carriage is accurately depicted as traveling up the Roseroad from the south side of the Blackwater River, opposite from King's Landing on the north side.
- Cersei's scene with Olenna in the Tower of the Hand parallels the scenes in Season 3 during which Tywin was Hand of the King and dismissively met with supplicants. In episode 3.1 "Valar Dohaeris", Tyrion came to ask him about his inheritance, while Tywin was dismissive of him by continuing to write a letter and only half-paying attention to him at first. In episode 3.4 "And Now His Watch is Ended", he used the same routine on Cersei when she came to ask about inheriting his legacy, continuing to write a letter. Olenna also came to meet him there in episode 3.6 "The Climb", but in contrast, Tywin spoke to her directly and even offered her wine, creating a very different atmosphere.
- In-universe, Olenna herself realizes that Cersei is trying to imitate the intimidation routine that Tywin used in these past episodes - but also notes to her face that she is imitating it badly. She would know, given that of the three people who met with Tywin, Olenna was the only one who wasn't totally dominated in the conversation. To begin with, Tywin was shown to be actually writing and then sealing real letters - while Olenna points out that Cersei is blatantly not actually writing anything, just randomly scratching with her pen. Olenna then bluntly points out that the Lannisters rely on the Tyrells' support of soldiers, gold, and food now: whereas Tywin would have cultivated several cunning strategies as leverage against his enemies, Cersei's entire plan seems to be just to take petty enjoyment in harassing her own badly-needed allies, with no thought to the consequences. Even assuming that Cersei did succeed in lowering the power of the Tyrells at court, it only drives away allies she desperately needs - as highlighted two episodes ago, the Lannisters are bankrupt and the Tyrells are their only major remaining source of money with which they can even hope to pay off their massive debts to the Iron Bank of Braavos. They also need Tyrell armies to enforce their rule, particularly now that Stannis Baratheon is mounting a new offensive to free the North from Lannister-Bolton control. Olenna is left aghast at Cersei's smug self-satisfaction, when in truth she isn't implementing some sort of successful long-term master strategy. As Tywin himself pointed out in "And Now, His Watch Is Ended", one of Cersei's major flaws is that she thinks she is much smarter than she actually is.
- This episode marks the debut of the ribald song The Dornishman's Wife. Bronn keeps insisting on getting to the ending: he gets to sing it in the next episode.
- Viewers have been warned that "Winter is Coming" since the Season 1 premiere, and the ten year long summer turned into autumn back at the beginning of Season 2. The end of autumn is indeed finally approaching: in previous episodes, both Stannis and his enemies have pointed out that he will have to march on Winterfell soon, because if he waits a matter of weeks he would risk getting snowbound at the Wall. Cersei says to Littlefinger in this episode that the weather has started to turn. Seasons in The Known World that Westeros and Essos are located in can last for years, compared to the months in real life. Tyrion said back in Season 1 that the winter he was born in lasted three years, which is considered unusually long, and in the past three decades or so there have only been nine winters including that one. Ten year long seasons are very rare, usually occurring only once every century - Pycelle said that the recent ten year long summer was the longest in living memory. Note the distinction that a single season can last over three years, not the full four-season cycle, which is even longer. The seasons are longer in Westeros but when they turn it isn't like someone simply flipped a switch and the seasons change without warning. Much like on real life Earth, people can tell that a season is gradually starting to shift into the next one - though the rate at which this occurs in Westeros can be difficult to determine. While it is not officially winter yet, the weather is starting to get noticeably cooler (compare to November in the Northern Hemisphere: it is not technically winter but the weather is getting colder). It is known to snow in the North even during summers from time to time (light dustings called "summer snows", mentioned in Season 1). In this episode, it is lightly snowing in the North - though this is not very unusual for that location. In contrast, younger people in southern Westeros have never even seen it snow.
- The Hall of Faces in the House of Black and White in Braavos was actually built as a fully realized set: instead of making one pillar slightly taller than the actors filed with masks and then doubling it up digitally, multiple pillars over thirty feet tall were built to fill out the entire room. The production team even invested the time and resources to make fully 600 individualized faces masks in this set, each unique and handcrafted.
- The backstory that the Waif tells Arya about herself doesn't exactly match how her backstory is given in the novels, although it is relatively close - but then again, the Waif does strongly imply to Arya that she was lying about several details of her story.
- Tyrion remarks that Daenerys Targaryen "has not spent a single day of her adult life in Westeros". His use of exact phrasing is accurate: Daenerys never spent a day of her adult life in Westeros. She was born on Dragonstone island at the end of Robert's Rebellion, a few months after her father died, and the island is considered part of Westeros. A matter of days or weeks later, a hastily assembled rebel fleet was finally advancing on the island, so a loyal knight fled with the royal children to the Free Cities. Therefore, Daenerys has absolutely no memories of Dragonstone or Westeros at all. Back in Season 2 at Qarth, the Spice King even directly asked if she had ever even been in the Seven Kingdoms, and she explained that she left there when she was a baby.
- It is no empty boast that Jorah is one of the most skilled knights in Westeros: in his youth, he was actually quite a successful tournament knight. This is assuming that the backstory is the same as in the novels, and the TV series didn't change it to have Tyrion being facetious (there is no reason to think this). Jorah's tournament victories are how he impressed Lynesse Hightower to wed him (though she later left him due to his lack of wealth). The "Tourney at Lannisport" isn't something Tyrion made up on the spot: after the Greyjoy Rebellion ended, King Robert Baratheon held a tournament in celebration of the victory. Jorah himself performed very well during that war and was knighted by Robert himself. Tyrion is also not inventing the detail that Jorah even defeated Jaime Lannister that day - he didn't unhorse him, but he did break nine lances against Jaime at the joust, after which the judges declared him the winner (Jaime was one of the best tournament knights alive but he wasn't invincible; in Season 1 the TV show mentioned that Loras also surprisingly managed to defeat him on one occassion). Jorah's passion for Lynesse was so great at the tournament that he personally defeated at least seven men (including Jaime and Lord Yohn Royce). As the episode acknowledges, of course, this was all when Jorah was much younger - but much like Ser Barristan Selmy, he is a very experienced and skilled fighter. He also mentions how he fought and killed the Dothraki bloodrider Qotho back in Season 1.
- Tyrion doesn't tell Jorah that his father is dead in the novels, and how he died. During the Battle of the Fist of the First Men, Sam sends two messages by ravens to Castle Black and the Shadow Tower, reporting that the ranging force is under attack (without specifying who the attackers are). The defenders of Castle Black, fearing that the ranging force has been destroyed by the Wildlings, send distress messages to all kings and lords at Westeros. Pycelle brings one of those messages to the Small Council, and that way Tyrion is aware that Jeor Mormont is probably dead - although Mormont is killed later, and not by wildlings but by the mutineers at Craster's Keep. Only after the loyalists return to Castle Black (around the middle of the book) do they report that Mormont was killed by the mutineers - but the defenders do not send any more reports to the Small Council, thus all Tyrion could tell Jorah was that his father was probably dead, killed by wildlings. The third novel is very long so the TV series split it into two seasons of material, Season 3 and Season 4. The TV series used the Battle of Castle Black as the climax of Season 4, and it happened at the end of the third novel - but due to the way the content was split, both Jon and Samwell return to Castle Black by the Season 3 finale. The result was that the Night's Watch storyline had to be padded out in Season 4, because in the novels the battle occurred very soon after they returned (the equivalent of if the battle happened in the second or third episode of Season 4, not episode nine). Samwell is shown writing letters to all of the high lords of Westeros in the Season 3 finale, warning them that the White Walkers have returned and that Lord Commander Mormont is dead (only Stannis responded to help). Tyrion is only arrested some weeks afterwards when Joffrey is poisoned at the Purple Wedding. Due to the way the scenes were moved around, therefore, in the TV version it is entirely plausible that Tyrion actually received news of Jeor Mormont's death from one of Samwell's letters, shortly before Joffrey's wedding (i.e. around the time of the first episode of Season 4).
- Michele Clapton recalled that Sansa's wedding dress caused some production issues on-set: it is supposed to be snowing, but the dress was so big and heavy that it acted like a snow plow, clearing a path in the snow. Because the scene was filmed in multiple takes, this would have made it obvious that Sansa walked up and down the aisle multiple times, when in-universe, she is only supposed to have walked down the aisle once (more than just footprints in the snow, which plausibly the other characters might have made before she arrived). Therefore, extra time and energy had to be spent resetting the snow between each take. Moreover, because when they arrive in their wedding chambers Ramsay rips the back of her dress open, the prop-dress was engineered to be easily ripped, sewn with weak cotton thread. This scene was also filmed in multiple takes, so it had to be sewn back together between each one.
The Sand Snakes fight scene
The fight scene between Jaime, Bronn, and the Sand Snakes which the first half of the season was building to was heavily criticized in virtually all major professional reviews, most declaring it one of the worst the TV series has ever produced, filled with lackluster fight choreography, poor camerawork, and bad editing.
- The main cause for the rushed production of this sequence was the restrictive nature of filming at the Alcázar of Seville, a real-life royal palace in Spain and UNESCO World Heritage site. The production team only had one week to film in this location, and the preserved nature of the site meant that the physical placement of cameras was limited.
- Moreover, as was revealed by Bryan Cogman in Season 5's Blu-Ray commentary for this episode, the production was only allowed to shoot at the Alcazar during the day, even though the whole sequence was supposed to take place at night: Jaime's and Bronn's infiltration of the Water Gardens and Ellaria's assassination attempt were written in the script itself as night-time raids, which would make more sense for both of their plans and could've lended a more appropriate atmosphere for the fight scene. Many reviewers were also puzzled at why both Jaime/Bronn and the Sand Snakes would mount a brazen daylight attempt to reach Myrcella if they were worried about infiltrating past the castle's guards.
- Much later, in August 2015, the episode's director Jeremy Podeswa was asked about the Sand Snakes fight scene in an interview with YahooTV. Podeswa confirmed that he personally oversaw filming on the scene (it wasn't delegated to someone else). In the interview he admitted that filming in the Alcazar castle affected how the fight sequence was filmed, given that it is a UNESCO World Heritage site and the Spanish government almost never allows filming within it, so there were restrictions on what they could shoot - i.e. they couldn't film a tight action scene in the corridors of the castle's interiors. Instead, Podeswa said that filming in the outer plaza of the castle was the only choice. Podeswa admitted that filming in the open plaza was problematic because it was much too open of a space to film a fight scene, meaning that they had to resort to static wide-shots instead of being able to zoom in on individual blows as they would in a more narrow area. They apparently realized these problems even as they were filming, because Podeswa admitted that the film crew moved in potted plants and trees around the edges of the fight in an attempt to make the plaza appear a little more narrow (notice the small trees planted in box frames around the edge of the scene - all of these were moved in, not permanent parts of what is otherwise a very wide and open plaza). In his own words:
- Podeswa: "It was all shot at the Alcazar castle in Seville, which is a major tourist attraction in Spain. It’s a location that’s almost never closed for shooting, but the Spanish government really supported our show and allowed us to shoot there..."
- Question: "Did the limitations of the location impact the choreography as well?"
- Podeswa: "It was all shot in the Alcazar, and we had to find a big enough area for the amount of action we had to have happen. So when I was scouting the location, that plaza was the most obvious place. There was really no other choice of where to shoot it. In fact, the space was too big, so we put trees and stuff in there to make the characters seem more entrapped."
- To complicate matters, the fast, kinetic Dornish fighting style in the TV series is heavily based on the Chinese wushu martial art, as seen with the Oberyn/Gregor fight in Season 4, which is difficult to master in a relatively short amount of time. As a result, stunt doubles have to be heavily relied upon in such scenes. To hide the presence of stunt doubles, the camerawork has to make frequent quick-cuts in closeup, and also film them from faraway in wide-shots - the drawback being that the audience can only see those complex moves from a far distance, without the camera zooming in and out to follow the movement of the weapons, so the expert stuntwomen's fast moves are ultimately difficult to see anyway.
- The rushed production on the scene extends to its editing, with several basic continuity errors between shots: near the end when Nymeria Sand runs up to Myrcella she is clearly holding her large whip in her right hand, but in the very next shot when the camera angle shifts to Myrcella's side to see Nymeria approaching her, Nymeria's whip has suddenly disappeared, and she is instead holding a dagger she uses to threaten Myrcella. The shot wasn't simply flipped horizontally in editing, in which case Nymeria's left hand would be holding her whip - instead, she is using her left hand to grab Myrcella's arm, and her whip has simply vanished. It is possible that they could only film a limited number of takes given their tight time schedule for filming at the location, and simply didn't have time to do any quick reshoots - in which case there was only so much that could be done in post-production editing to try to hide it.
- It also isn't clearly explained why Nymeria grabs Myrcella and tries to flee with her, when their intention is to kill Myrcella, not kidnap her.
- Another factor that may have affected the production of this sequence is that the show's new stunt coordinator, Rowley Irlam, did not have an opportunity to spend many weeks of coordinated training with the three Sand Snake actresses: Keisha Castle-Hughes (Obara) lives in New Zealand, Rosabell Laurenti Sellers (Tyene) lives in Italy, and Jessica Henwick (Nymeria) lives in London, so they were all trained remotely by Irlam. While the actresses worked extensively for weeks to use their weapons correctly, in the end the three of them, together with Jerome Flynn (Bronn) and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Jaime), did not spend as much time all together on the same set practicing a complicated three versus two person fight sequence. A key point that the actresses repeatedly emphasized in interviews is that the Sand Snakes are supposed to fight as a team, synchronizing their attacks. Nymeria in particular doesn't independently attack other people but is supposed to alternate between Jaime and Bronn, tripping them up with her whip to create openings for her sisters to attack. Therefore, to a far greater degree than when two other characters happen to be in a multi-person fight scene (such as when Bronn and Jaime fight off several Dornish guards earlier in the season), it was actually crucial that the Sand Snakes fight as a coordinated unit.
- Two of the three actresses that the TV series cast as the Sand Snakes had no prior stage fighting experience, compared to other physically demanding roles in which the TV series simply cast professional stuntmen to play the parts. Laurenti Sellers (Tyene) even clarified in an interview with Entertainment Weekly that while the actresses spoke of extensive "training" with their weapons, she considered "training" and "fight choreography" to be two separate things, and admitted that they only started learning the fight choreography quite late in the production process. Keisha Castle-Hughes, however, is an Emmy and Oscar-nominated actress, and actually had a fair amount of prior weapons experience (thought not stage fighting), as due to her half-Maori background she said she was familiar with the spear-like taiaha weapon.
- Matt Easton of Schola Gladiatoria, a Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA)/Historical fencing expert, posted a detailed video review of the fight scene. Although he disliked the scene, he admitted that upon careful slow-motion rewatch, actors and stunt men were actually performing what he judged as more or less adequate and realistic fight moves (i.e. Obara parrying with the blade of her sword then whirling her spear to club her opponent with the other end). He felt that the lack of choreography training for the fight (as admitted by Laurenti-Sellers) showed a little, but on the whole wasn't outright terrible. The only part of the actual fight he criticized was equipping Nymeria with a whip, which isn't very practical: he assessed that she was supposed to be acting in a support role to the other two girls, tripping out Jaime and Bronn with her whip, which he felt did make sense, but the choreography failed to use it adequately. Nonetheless, Easton's final assessment was that the fight work itself was either good or at least tolerable. As Easton summed up, most movie fight scenes actually look like this on-set, because the stuntmen aren't actually hacking at each other with weapons, but the camera will zoom in on a moving sword in such a way as to make it look like that. Instead, Easton squarely laid the blame on what he judged to be awful camerawork and editing for the sequence (which as the director admitted, stemmed from insisting on filming inside a UNESCO World Heritage site and not a sound stage, despite major physical limitations as a result).
Sansa's wedding night scene with Ramsay
While the storylines with the Boltons in the North and Sansa Stark in the Vale are related in the novels, the TV series made a major condensation by having Sansa actually marry Ramsay Bolton. In the novels, Sansa marries Robert Arryn's cousin and heir Harrold Hardyng, in order to rally the Vale against the Boltons, while Ramsay marries Jeyne Poole, an old friend of Sansa's who was taken prisoner, brutalized and passed off as Arya.
Ramsay's treatment of her bride was relatively toned down compared to the novels, in which he tortures her in several violent and sadistic ways, bizarre even by his own standards. Ramsay makes Reek "warm up" Jeyne by performing oral sex on her, to humiliate them both (threatening to cut out Reek's tongue if he doesn't). Among his other torments, it is implied that Ramsay forced Jeyne to have sex with one of his hunting dogs for his own sick amusement, threatening to cut off her feet one at a time if she didn't. Jeyne is left a horrified shell weeping uncontrollably, the sound of her sobs filling the halls of Winterfell, to the consternation of Northern lords who came to the wedding feast.
Regardless of how this specific scene was filmed in this episode, many professional reviewers were very critical of this condensation on the grounds that it didn't make sense in Sansa Stark's overall storyarc, in which she had been growing away from being a prisoner and victim into a political player in her own right in the Vale. Many critics panned the entire subplot, both as an adaptation and artistic choice:
- TheMarySue.com officially announced that they will no longer actively promote the TV series, including canceling their running recap and review article series devoted to it. Their chief editor Jill Pantozzi said this cannot be waved aside as an inevitable result of the need to condense longer story arcs in adaptation, but that Benioff and Weiss were aware or should have been aware that this would both offend viewers in the short term and damage the integrity of Sansa's characterization in the long term. She concluded that: "The show has creators. They make the choices. They chose to use rape as a plot device. Again."
- U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill publicly announced on her Twitter account that she was similarly going to stop watching the TV show entirely after this episode:
- "Ok, I'm done Game of Thrones. Water Garden, stupid. Gratuitous rape scene disgusting and unacceptable. It was a rocky ride that just ended.
- Salon's Steven Attewell said: "We already knew that Ramsay Bolton was a sadist and an abuser of women, we already knew that Theon Greyjoy was his tormented puppet. Showing Sansa’s dress ripped, showing her face shoved down into the bed, hearing her screams did nothing to reveal character, or advance the plot, or critique anything about Westerosi society or about our own conceptions of medieval society that hasn’t already been critiqued."
- Wired's Laura Hudson said: "In general, I'm not a big fan of people getting raped in entertainment as a manipulative way of heightening the stakes, but I'm even less of a fan of people getting raped in entertainment when it accomplishes absolutely nothing."
- Vanity Fair's Joanna Hudson said: "Was it really important to make that scene about Theon's pain? If Game of Thrones was going to go there, shouldn't they at least have had the courage to keep the camera on Turner's face? But the last thing we needed was to have a powerful young woman brought low in order for a male character to find redemption. No thank you."
- Vulture's Nina Shen Rastogi said: "To show Sansa being raped as the kicker to an episode — and then to cut to Theon, as if it’s his view, his reaction, his internalizing of the moment that matters — just felt like more of the same old same old we’ve been getting since Ros died, since Tansy was hunted, since Cersei was raped."
- Hypable's Michal Schick said: "What character development could be wrung from this tragedy that could not have been created without a violent rape? Why does Game of Thrones — and so much popular entertainment — revert to this horrific crime when they want their female characters to “grow”?"
- Bustle's Rachel Semigran said: "There are thousands of ways to make a character and a series compelling without having to humiliate and dehumanize her with sexual force. Come on, Game of Thrones, you should know better than that."
- Vox's Jen Trolio said: "Now with Sansa and Ramsay, Game of Thrones is seemingly confirming that it has no idea how to use rape as a storytelling device — crass as it may sound, fictional sexual violence can be extremely powerful if managed carefully (see: The Americans) — and rape is just about the worst storytelling device to deploy clumsily."
- New York Daily News's Lauren Morgan said: "The show pretty much added a new, and in my opinion, entirely unnecessary victimization to her story. More concerningly, after Jaime’s rape of Cersei last season, it’s yet another rape Benioff and Weiss decided to add to the show that was not in the text and at this point, we don’t need anymore."
Other critics have been favorable to the scene:
- Slate.com's Laura Bradley proposed that Sansa might have realized Ramsay is too insane to ever seduce to her will, but she wouldn't want to tip him off that she is actively planning to betray the Boltons. So, if Ramsay was expecting her to be frightened and submissive, she may have just been putting on a performance to match his expectations - and thus erase his suspicions.
- Rolling Stone's Sean T. Collins said: "[B]y involving a multidimensional main character instead of one introduced primarily to suffer, the series has a chance to grant this story the gravity and seriousness it deserves. The novels present this material through Theon’s eyes, relegating Bolton’s bride to a supporting role in a man’s story. Sansa has a story of her own, of which this is now an admittedly excruciating chapter — but she, not Theon, is the real victim here, and it remains her story nonetheless."
- The Guardian's Sarah Hughes said: "I have repeatedly made clear that I’m not a fan of rape as a plot device – but the story of Ramsay and Sansa’s wedding was more than that. From the moment she agreed to Littlefinger’s plan, this evening was coming, as it came to many young women throughout history married off against their will for dynastic power. [...] The writers are walking a very fine line here. They handled it well tonight, telling a gothic tale of innocence sacrificed, which at times recalled Angela Carter and Neil Jordan’s dark and haunting The Company of Wolves, and hinted perfectly at horrors to come, but they must be careful not to tip from there to gratuitous violence for its own sake."
- The Washington Post's Alyssa Rosenberg said the scene "managed to maintain a fine balance, employing a dignity and care for the experiences of victims that “Game of Thrones” has not always demonstrated." She also criticized the writers who found this scene unacceptable: "The science fiction and fantasy site the Mary Sue [...] seemed to fatally misunderstand the difference between doing journalism about and criticism of a show and acting as a publicity subcontractor for HBO. [...] I think it’s important to preserve the distinction between saying that something simply isn’t for me and drawing a more definitive conclusion that something is a poor artistic choice. You can assert the former, but you have to argue the latter, using the text and the language of the artistic form at hand. For me, the scene of Sansa’s rape was tremendously unpleasant, but the care taken in the staging, acting and shooting of the scene made it impossible for me to regard it as lazy or slapdash. [...] Instead, this scene felt of a piece with the way I’ve always understood “Game of Thrones” and George R.R. Martin’s “Song of Ice and Fire”: as a story about the consequences of rape and denial of sexual autonomy. […] Sansa Stark isn’t ruined, as a character or as a person, because she was raped. She lives, and her story continues, even if you’re not tuning in to watch it."
- RawStory's Amanda Marcotte, in response to the claim that the scene doesn't tell us anything new, argued it did advance the plot in terms of "whether or not Ramsay was going to be able to hold back once he got Sansa alone", and it "completely altered" the relationship between Theon and Sansa. As for why Theon didn't save Sansa, she denounced it as the kind of cliche this TV series always takes and turns on their head. Similarly, she decried the criticism that Sansa should've attacked Ramsay, as it "relies on the ugly and sexist belief that being a victim of sexual assault means you are weak or lack agency", calling it "victim-blaming". Marcotte then added "this whole storyline shows how strong Sansa is, because she went into this with open eyes and a will to survive—and to try to take Winterfell back." Likewise, she argued "the series is not siding with Ramsay and Littlefinger when it comes to using Sansa as a pawn." Regarding the charge that "they made it about Theon instead of Sansa" she retorts that "both experiences were well-represented. But done so in a way that minimized seeing Sansa actually get fucked. Which was clearly done so that the scene was not titillating." Marcotte concluded by disputing the idea that showing the rape was gratuitous or unnecessary: "It would be ludicrous to do a series that investigates the consequences of a patriarchal, semi-feudal society where women are used as objects to be sold and swapped in the game of thrones and then pretend that somehow rape isn’t a part of that process." As for the book-based argument that it should have been a lesser-known non-protagonist such as Jeyne Poole who suffered the rape, she laconized: "That assumes rape is less horrible if we don’t know the victim as well. Morally indefensible."
The cast and crew has commented on this issue in a number of ways:
Sophie Turner herself was first "informed" of the change from the books, which involved her character now being raped, as part of a joke that director Alex Graves made at her expense during filming of Season 4. As Turner explained in an interview with Entertainment Weekly a day after this wedding night scene aired: "Last season [Thrones director] Alex Graves decided to give me hints. He was saying, 'You get a love interest next season.' And I was all, 'I actually get a love interest!' " -- It appears that Turner thought it would be Harrold Hardyng, as in the novels. Instead, Turner said, "So I get the scripts and I was so excited and I was flicking through and then I was like, "Aw, are you kidding me!?'"
Turner did go on to say in the interview that, though she was horrified to find out her character would marry Ramsay and have to go through this, she loved the scene.
Even through the end of Season 6, showrunners Benioff and Weiss only ever discussed the change to Sansa's storyline in a single interview - with Entertainment Weekly after episode 5.3 aired and revealed that they were going to betroth Sansa to Ramsay (but before this episode aired, and thus not addressing that they actually had Ramsay rape Sansa). In addition, Benioff and Weiss subsequently skipped the official Game of Thrones San Diego Comic Con 2015 panel a few months after the episode aired - officially because they were "busy filming Season 6", though so far it is the only time they have ever skipped an SDCC panel. Benioff and Weiss ultimately didn't make another live panel appearance at any location until the SDCC 2016 panel for Season 6. Benioff and Weiss did not discuss reasons behind the change to Sansa's storyline in the Season 5 Blu-ray commentary. Writer Bryan Cogman, who was personally tasked with scripting this episode, did discuss it at length in the commentary track for it. Reviewing Cogman's commentary track, almost a year later, even Entertainment Weekly noted that "showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss, have largely avoided discussing the scene"
The extreme reticence that showrunners had about discussing the change means that the exact sequence of decisions and creative choices that led to it remains unknown. Even Cogman, in the Blu-ray commentary, focuses primarily on addressing the inevitability that if Sansa was married to a serial rapist like Ramsay, it would be untrue to the situation if he didn't rape her - yet avoiding the fundamental question of why they chose to marry Sansa to a serial rapist in the first place, why they chose to merge the Sansa and Jeyne Poole storylines.
The Entertainment Weekly article summarized the interview with Beniof and Weiss by saying that "the showrunners first thought about putting Sansa and Ramsay together back when they were writing Season 2" - but didn't provide direct quotes, and it is difficult to draw specific conclusions from this vague comment. Open questions are:
- Does "first thought about" merging the Sansa and Bolton storylines during Season 2 mean that the showrunners were experimenting with the idea as one of several future options? Or were they simply toying with the idea as one of several options until they wrote Season 5 itself?
- If the showrunners "first thought about" merging the Sansa and Bolton storylines since Season 2, did they plan to have Ramsay not only marry but actually rape Sansa this entire time? Or did they only have vague ideas about it until they were actually scripting Season 5? If they did intend for Sansa to be raped since Season 2, why did Sansa's Season 4 subplot incongruously climax with her character arc rising in strength and influence as her "Dark Sansa" persona?
- At what point did the showrunners discuss their decision to change Sansa's subplot with George R.R. Martin, and to what extent? Did they have long drawn-out deliberation on it, or did they barely tell him about it? Martin was a staff writer himself for one episode per season, up until Season 5. If they were toying with the idea, at least, of this merger since Season 2, did they share this idea with Martin in Season 2 itself, or only when they actually scripted it in Season 5? At what point did Martin learn of this change and what was his professional reaction to it in the writer's room? To date, Martin has not commented on his reaction to this major change.
The Entertainment Weekly interview went on to describe Benioff as saying that part of the decision was due to Sophie Turner's increasing strength as an actress, before directly quoting:
- Benioff: "We really wanted Sansa to play a major part this season. If we were going to stay absolutely faithful to the book, it was going to be very hard to do that. There was as subplot we loved from the books [the Jeyne Poole rape subplot], but it used a character that’s not in the show."
Jeyne Poole actually did appear in the TV series, during the feast at Winterfell in the first episode - indeed her identity was only confirmed because Benioff and Weiss pointed her out by name in their Blu-ray commentary. Nonetheless it was an extremely minor appearance with no speaking lines and she never appeared again, nor was any attempt made to reintroduce her in subsequence seasons. Depending on what was meant by "first thought about" merging Sansa and Jeyne during Season 2, this may have been a self-fulfilling prophecy: they are the ones who decided not to introduce Jeyne Poole in the first place, during any of the first four seasons of the TV series.
The Entertainment Weekly interview then switched to Cogman, who did clarify that it wasn't so much that they couldn't set up Jeyne Poole in earlier seasons, as that they felt the rape subplot was so emotionally charged that it would be wasted on a relatively minor character, compared to a primary cast member the audience was invested in:
- Cogman: "The seeds were planted early on in our minds. In the books, Sansa has very few chapters in the Vale once she’s up there. That was not going to be an option for one of our lead characters. While this is a very bold departure, [we liked] the power of bringing a Stark back to Winterfell and having her reunite with Theon under these circumstances...You have this storyline with Ramsay. Do you have one of your leading ladies — who is an incredibly talented actor who we’ve followed for five years and viewers love and adore — do it? Or do you bring in a new character to do it? To me, the question answers itself: You use the character the audience is invested in."
Cogman didn't provide an explanation of what sense this makes for Sansa's storyarc, only pointing out Sophie Turner's strength as an actress and that the audience would be more emotionally affected if a primary character they've been invested in was raped. Cogman also makes it fairly clear that it wasn't a matter of Sansa's Vale subplot being too long to be fit into Season 5, but that the writers felt it was too short and a waste of Sophie Turner's talents compared to the rape subplot.
Benioff was also asked why Littlefinger would be willing to give up Sansa to further his plans, and he pointed out that Littlefinger doesn't fundamentally "care" about anyone, even Sansa: "That's the thing about Littlefinger—as much as he might care for Sansa, he cares for nothing more than power. And now he sees an opportunity to gain more power for himself."
In another EW interview with Cogman, after the episode aired, he said that Sansa was not intended to simply be a victim in her wedding night with Ramsay. Rather, he feels that she"is a hardened woman making a choice and she sees this as the way to get back her homeland." Cogman later clarified that by the "choice" he was referring to "Sansa’s choice to marry Ramsay and walk into that room. She feels marrying him is a vital step in reclaiming her homeland" and that this was not supposed to be "an attempt to ‘blame the victim.’"
Bryan Cogman later discussed the scene at length in the Season 5 DVD commentary. Cogman explained that the decision to merge Sansa's storyline with the Bolton storyline in the first place was made not because of the shock of the wedding night but because they wanted to have Sansa back in Winterfell, trying to reclaim it from the Boltons, as well as encountering Theon again, which would allow for the two actors to play off each other:
- "If you ask why we wanted to bring Sansa into this world, it didn't have to do with this [rape] scene —It had to do with the idea of her coming back to reclaim her family home and encountering this broken character who betrayed her family, and the fireworks of these actors, two of our finest actors, playing off each other. That's why we made the decision to put Sansa in Winterfell."
Earlier in the commentary, Cogman stressed that once this decision was made it was a foregone conclusion that if Sansa married Ramsay he would mistreat her on the wedding night:
- "I think it's important to talk about because of the response this storyline got. It's sort of 'damned if you do, damned if you don't.' If you don't talk about it, people think you're ashamed of it; if you do talk about it, everything you say is taken out of context. Basically, when we decided to combine Sansa’s storyline with another character in the books it was done with the idea that it would be hugely dramatically satisfying to have Sansa back in her occupied childhood home and navigate this Gothic horror story she’s found herself in and, of course, to be reunited with Theon – setting her on the path to reclaiming her family home and becoming a major player in the big overall story.
- That said, when we decided we were going to do that we were faced with the question: If she’s marrying Ramsay, what would happen on her wedding night? And we made the decision to not shy away from what would realistically would happen on that wedding night with these two characters, and the reality of the situation, and the reality of this particular world...
- It was a very difficult scene for me to write. I've known Sophie since she was a kid...I think it was the attack on our motives behind it that upset me. Because I love these characters. I've spent the better part of the last decade with these characters, and I love these actors – I'm getting emotional talking about it – I love Sophie, I love Alfie, I love [Maisie] and it's...very personal to me and it's not an easy thing to put a character that I love through a scene like this."
Cogman didn't actually address the question of why they chose to merge Sansa with Jeyne Poole in the first place. He seems to be describing it as a two-step process which may have occurred years apart - though the description is so vague it is impossible to discern. There are generally two scenarios:
- 1 - The writers experimented with the idea of "sending Sansa to Winterfell" since Season 2, apparently as a betrothal, focusing on that she's meet Theon again there, and the effect this would have on his redemption arc...but hadn't yet decided that Ramsay would outright rape Sansa. Years later, while scripting Season 5 itself, they felt locked in by this prior decision and had no choice but to have Ramsay rape Sansa, or else be untrue to the situation. In this case, the incongruous rise of "Dark Sansa" in Season 4 only to become a victim again in Season 5 was simply due to lack of long-term planning.
- 2 - The writers did plan to have Ramsay actually rape Sansa since Season 2. When Cogman describes this seemingly two-step decision - first the desire to send Sansa back to Winterfell, second the realization that Ramsay would probably rape her - it was actually all part of one big writers' room discussion, possibly across days or weeks, but which was ultimately settled during Season 2, long before Season 5. In this case, the writers knew even during the rise of "Dark Sansa" in Season 4 that she would fall down to be a victim again in Season 5, and it is unclear what exactly they intended her character arc to be as a result.
Cogman also discussed in the DVD commentary that some critics were upset and felt that the camera cutting away to Theon's face at the end as Ramsay tears Sansa's clothes off was changing the scene from being about Sansa to being about Theon - though other critics felt this was more tasteful. Cogman reiterated and confirmed the position of the latter group of critics: he felt the entire scene was from Sansa's perspective and about Sansa, not Theon, and the camera only focuses on Theon's reaction at the end because they felt it was more tasteful not to actually show Ramsay raping Sansa on-camera:
- "Another argument – and I get why this criticism was leveled at us – is idea that we took Sansa's story away from her and made it all about Theon. I personally don’t believe that’s the case...Certainly Theon's redemption journey is an element of the subplot. But if you really watch this scene it's played from Sansa's viewpoint, for the most part. The main reason we cut away at the end, frankly, is that this was Sophie's first scene of this nature, and we didn't want to show the attack. And so we cut to Theon to hear the attack. I understand why many people reacted to that, [thinking] we were making this scene about Theon and not Sansa. I’m sorry it was viewed that way. All I can say is it's certainly not my intention when I wrote it or when we were producing it...We could have stayed on her face of the entirety of the attack, that would have been a perfectly valid choice. To me it was about being respectful to Sophie."
This was the quote from Cogman's DVD commentary given in an Entertainment Weekly summation which was heavily circulated - EW's report, however, omitted several key lines from the commentary. In the very next line in the commentary, Cogman went on to admit that the production team did, in fact, consciously choose to zoom in on Alfie Allen's face during post-production editing: they were so impressed by Alfie Allen's non-verbal performance during the shot that they felt they owed it to him to zoom in on the existing footage to showcase it. As originally filmed, the camera just pans away to a wideshot of the room, and Theon happens to be in it - they zoomed in on the existing footage during the editing process (thus, if you look very carefully, the screen resolution is slightly lower during the final shot of Allen's face - because it wasn't actually filmed as a closeup shot). Other critics picked up on the EW summation article, and based on it defended that the camera focuses on Theon purely as a discretion shot, instead of actually showing Sansa being raped - when these were actually two separate and unrelated decisions: first, not to actually put the camera on Sansa while she is being raped, and second, to zoom in on the footage of Allen's face, specifically to show off his performance during a scene which was originally supposed to be "about" Sansa. In Cogman's own words, continuing immediately after the longer quote:
- ...but for me it was about being respectful to Sophie. That wasn't even Alfie's closeup, he had already done his closeup, then Jeremy [Podeswa] saw what he was doing, in a wider shot, and then he just said 'go in go in' and that's what they used."
Apparently the cognitive dissonance never occurred to Cogman that immediately after denying that the shot shifted attention from Sansa to Theon, he admitted that they zoomed in on the shot to show off Allen's performance.
Cogman did stress in his Blu-ray commentary that Sansa's storyline isn't over yet, that her rape might be setting up things in Season 6, but he didn't want to give them away before they aired.
Speaking later in December 2015, director Jeremy Podeswa said that the widespread negative reaction to this rape scene and change from the novels actually did reach executive producers David Benioff and Dan Weiss and has influenced how they are moving forward with Season 6 in some fashion. Podeswa said:
- "[Benioff and Weiss] were responsive to the discussion and there were a couple of things that changed as a result. It is important that (the producers) not self-censor. The show depicts a brutal world where horrible things happen. They did not want to be too overly influenced by that (criticism) but they did absorb and take it in and it did influence them in a way...I welcomed the discussion about the depiction of violence on television and how it could be used as a narrative tool sometimes and the questionable nature of that. We were aware ahead of time that it was going to be disturbing but we did not expect there would be people in Congress talking about it [Senator Claire McCaskill]."
Later during an Entertainment Weekly spotlight issue leading up to the Season 6 premiere, however, Benioff and Weiss specifically denied that criticism had influenced any of their choices in Season 6, and they speculated that Podeswa's comments were taken out of context and misunderstood.
In the books
- The episode is adapted from the following chapters of A Feast for Crows:
- Chapter 2, The Captain of the Guards: In fear that Obara, Nym and Tyene will draw Dorne into a war against the Lannisters, Prince Doran commands Areo Hotah to imprison the Sand Snakes and Ellaria.
- Chapter 21, The Queenmaker: On Doran’s orders, Areo puts a stop to the plot to use Princess Myrcella to spark a war between the Martells and the Lannisters, although Myrcella is almost assassinated.
- Chapter 22, Arya II: The Faceless Man warns Arya that the Many-Faced God will take all her body parts, and her hopes and dreams and loves and hates as well. He wonders if Arya can allow that, yet answers for her —he doesn't believe she can. The Waif teaches the lying game to Arya.
- Chapter 34, Cat of the Canals: While playing the lying game, the Waif lies about her background and asks Arya if she can spot the lies, and encourages Arya to try and do the same.
- Chapter 39, Cersei IX: Cersei forces an entertainer to admit to sleeping with an accused Tyrell.
- Chapter 41, Alayne II: Petyr Baelish intends to rally the Vale against the Boltons in Winterfell.
- Chapter 43, Cersei X: Cersei conspires for the Faith Militant to imprison Queen Margaery, though a Tyrell leader marches back to the capital in order to free her.
- The episode is adapted from the following chapters of A Dance with Dragons:
- Chapter 37, The Prince of Winterfell: Before the heart tree in the Godswood, Reek gives Ramsay’s “Stark” bride away during the wedding ceremony, which is officiated by Roose Bolton and attended by many Northern Lords. Later, during the bedding, Ramsay rapes his new wife and forces Reek to watch.
- Chapter 38, The Watcher: Cersei’s Kingsguard arrives in Doran’s court.
- Chapter 40, Tyrion IX: On their way to Meereen, Tyrion and Jorah are spotted by slavers.
- Chapter 47, Tyrion X: Tyrion and Jorah are captured by slavers, to be sold in Meereen and perform in its fighting pits, which they learn Daenerys has reopened. Tyrion convinces their captors of their usefulness.
- Chapter 64, The Ugly Little Girl: The Faceless Man tells Arya she must don a new identity, and leads her down to the Hall of Faces, where the walls are covered with the faces of those who die at the temple.
- The sixth novel, The Winds of Winter, remains unpublished, so there are some events brought forward from it that may occur in the story, yet the specific chapters are unknown. This may include Sansa's wedding and her return to Winterfell, both of which are also part of Littlefinger's plan in the books but have not happened yet.
Lancel: "Step carefully, Lord Baelish. You'll find there's little tolerance for flesh peddlers in the new King's Landing."
Petyr Baelish: "We both peddle fantasies, Brother Lancel. Mine just happen to be entertaining."
Cersei Lannister: "I will skin him and his bastard like that wretch on their bloody sigil!"
Olenna Tyrell: "Put the pen down, dear. We both know you're not writing anything."
Cersei: "Ah yes, the famously tart-tongued Queen of Thorns."
Olenna: "And the famous tart, Queen Cersei."
Olenna: "I didn't trust your father. I didn't particularly like him but I respected him. He was no fool. He understood that sometimes we must work with our rivals rather than destroy them."
Cersei: "House Lannister has no rival."
Areo Hotah: "When you were whole, it would have been a good fight."
Roose Bolton: "Who comes before the Old Gods this night?"
Theon Greyjoy: "Sansa of the House Stark comes here to be wed. A woman grown, trueborn and noble. She comes to beg the blessings of the Gods. Who comes to claim her?"
Ramsay Bolton: "Ramsay of House Bolton, heir to the Dreadfort and Winterfell. Who gives her?"
Theon Greyjoy: "Theon of House Greyjoy who was...who was her father's ward."
Roose Bolton: "Lady Sansa, do you take this man?"
Sansa Stark: "I take this man."
Ramsay Bolton: "You've known Sansa since she was a girl. Now watch her become a woman."