“This is what remains: Something simple, solid, and true.”
In the latest episode of Game of Thrones, called “The Gift,” the show lived up to its episode’s title. It brought two fan-favorite characters into contact for the very first time. It brought justice upon the head of another of the show’s regular fixtures, with no discernible way of escape. It brought two fan-favorite characters into contact for the very first time. (Did I say that already? Well, it’s certainly worth repeating.)
“We march to victory or we march to defeat, but we go forward — only forward.”
Gifts abounded throughout the episode, so where to begin? Let’s pick up the pieces in Winterfell, where snow is piling and piling, the promised winter finally here at last. And it’s just as bitter cold inside the heart of Sansa Stark, who we learn has been violated by her new husband repeatedly since we saw her in last week’s traumatic episode. But it hasn’t ruined her spirit. She’s stronger and harder than ever before, commanding Reek to remember his name — Theon Greyjoy, the last son of Balon Greyjoy and heir to the Iron Islands — and ordering him to help her escape.
Sansa’s plan backfires, of course; this is Game of Thrones, after all. Reek goes right ahead and tattles to Ramsay Bolton, afraid of failing his master yet again, leading to the death of one of Sansa’s supporters. While she remains on lockdown with little hope of escape, Sansa’s stone-hearted resolve to make Ramsay pay gives us the hope that she’ll make good on her intentions, hopefully sooner than later.
Indeed, Sansa might get an assist from Stannis Baratheon, assuming he’s ever actually able to march on Winterfell. The “rightful” king of Westeros and his army are stuck in the snow on their way down from the Wall, with Davos Seaworth advising his liege to turn back toward Castle Black. Stannis insists that the show must go on: “We march to victory or we march to defeat, but we go forward — only forward.”
When Davos leaves, a somewhat shaken Stannis consults with the red priestess Melisandre, not entirely certain that her prophecy will hold, given their conditions. But Melisandre doubles down, saying that she’s seen the Flayed Man banners of House Bolton burned and brought down. Still, victory requires a sacrifice — a sacrifice involving king’s blood. And there’s a whole lot of king’s blood in Stannis’ daughter Shireen. To be continued…
Further north, on the Wall, Jon Snow finally leaves with Tormund Giantsbane for Hardhome, where they intend to recruit the Wildlings to return with them and become reinforcements in the coming war against the White Walkers. Before he leaves, he receives the gift of a dragonglass dagger from Sam; Chekhov’s rules apply here.
Can Dany find value in someone with the last name Lannister, given Tyrion’s father’s role in the downfall of her family?
Jon also leaves command of the Wall in the hands of Alliser Thorne, and that’s not the best news for someone like Samwell Tarly, especially after Aemon Targaryen finally succumbs to old age. As they stand beside Aemon’s funeral pyre, Aemon whispers to Sam: “You’re running out of friends, Tarly.” The warning is further reinforced when Sam nearly gets beaten to death trying to stop two of his “sworn brothers” from raping Gilly; he’s only able to save her when Jon’s dire wolf Ghost comes along to break up the fight.
It’s not all bad news for Sam, however. He receives a gift of his own, as he and Gilly finally seal the deal. “Oh my,” indeed. But what does this mean for Sam, who swore the sacred vows of the Night’s Watch? Technically, it’s not a chastity vow, so much as it’s a “don’t father any children” vow, so there’s room for interpretation. Gilly, Sam, and Little Sam could continue to live happily ever after, after all… but, again, this is Game of Thrones.
Meanwhile, in King’s Landing, Cersei Lannister learns a lesson of her own about how quickly happy endings fade away. Thanks to some plotting between Littlefinger and The Queen of Thornes, Cersei finds herself behind bars alongside Margaery Tyrell, once the High Sparrow learns of Cersei’s incestuous relationship with Lancel Lannister. The Faith Militant wouldn’t use the word “karma,” but it’s still more than applicable here. The show gives us the great gift of finally seeing Cersei suffer the consequences of her own actions.
Further south, Cersei’s brother and lover Jaime suffers some headaches of his own, in the form of a rebellious teenage daughter he can’t even publicly recognize as his daughter. Myrcella does not want Jaime’s help leaving Dorne, because she’s madly in love with Trystane. And perhaps Jaime’s pal Bronn doesn’t want to leave Dorne, either, what with him declaring that Tyene Sand is the most beautiful woman he’s ever seen. Granted, he was under the duress of poison and pleading for an antidote, but those are minor details.
But the biggest gift of all? The long awaited meeting of Daenerys Targaryen and Tyrion Lannister. The two finally meet when Tyrion and Jorah make their debut in the fighting pits of Meereen, right in front of the Mother of Dragons. Can Dany find value in someone with the last name Lannister, given Tyrion’s father’s role in the downfall of her family? We’ll have to wait and see — show-only viewers and book-readers are equally in the dark, as Dany and Tyrion have not met in the novels yet.
Even if it’s a major deviation from George R.R. Martin’s source material, there’s no question that Game of Thrones is giving us a gift by putting two of the show’s best characters and actors in the same orbit.