Snow White does not exist in the world of Game of Thrones, but once upon a time, Sansa Stark shared that Disney princess’ fairy tale dreams. You could practically hear “Someday My Prince Will Come” blaring in her ears as she used to imagine herself having babies with a handsome, highborn husband.
Those days crashed and burned the minute she set foot on the Kingsroad so many moons ago, even if she didn’t know it at the time. Since then, Sansa has been betrothed to a monstrous boy king in Joffrey Baratheon, married to a kind but not-her-type man with a repulsive family name in Tyrion… and now, Sansa’s newest match makes it clear that there are no fairytale endings in Westeros.
The latest episode of the HBO series, “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken,” sees Sansa and Ramsay Bolton making their union official, with a hauntingly beautiful ceremony at night in the Godswood outside of Winterfell — before giving way to a hauntingly horrible wedding night inside Winterfell, as Theon “Reek” Greyjoy is commanded to stand and watch while Ramsay takes his bride. It’s not how Sansa ever envisioned her wedding night. It’s not how we, the audience, ever envisioned Sansa’s wedding night, either. The rape of Sansa Stark is a brutal, stomach-churning scene, among the most cold-blooded and awful in the show’s five-season history.
For some, it’s a tragedy too far, an “enough is enough” moment that will repel some viewers from tuning in again. For others, it’s the disgusting but logical outcome of anyone marrying the man who cut off Theon’s penis back in season three. No matter where you stand, we can all agree that Ramsay Bolton is an absolute monster, more than worthy of Stannis Baratheon’s army coming to tear him to pieces. Here’s hoping it happens sooner than later, before Ramsay can destroy any shot Sansa has left at happily ever after.
Elsewhere in the world of ice and fire, Sansa’s sister Arya endures some trials and tribulations of her own, as she attempts to join Jaqen H’ghar’s league of extraordinary Faceless Men. She fails some tests (she can’t tell a lie, and can’t tell when someone else is lying) and passes others (she’s pretty good at feeding death juice to people), ultimately leading her beyond a secret door and into a great chamber filled with countless faces, resting inside of columns. Although she’s not quite ready to become no one, Jaqen says Arya Stark is now ready to become “someone else.” If we’re in line for a shape-shifting Stark in the coming weeks, then at least some good came out of this week’s Game of Thrones.
The rape of Sansa Stark is a brutal, stomach-churning scene, among the most cold-blooded and awful in the show’s five-season history.
The show’s other signature siblings, the Lannisters, take the limelight in “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken.” Let’s start with Tyrion and his traveling companion Jorah Mormont, still keeping his spot of Greyscale a secret for now. But how much longer will it remain a secret now that Tyrion and Jorah have been captured by slavers? Tyrion manages to talk the slavers down from pulling a Ramsay on his Theon, and instead convinces them to bring them to Meereen, where they can use Jorah, one of the greatest warriors Westeros has ever known, as a money-maker in the reopened fighting pits. The slavers like this plan, and it’s off to Meereen we go.
Meanwhile, Jaime encounters the titular house words of the Martells in Dorne as he attempts to rescue his daughter/niece Myrcella. She does not want to be rescued, seeing that she authentically loves her betrothed, Prince Trystane, and he seemingly loves her as well. But neither party has much of a choice when the Sand Snakes show up. Jaime and Bronn battle off the late Red Viper’s bastard daughters, but not much bloodshed comes of it, save for one of the Snakes slashing Bronn’s arm. (You always need to be wary of that signature Martell poison.) Instead, axe-wielding bodyguard Areo Hotah busts up the street fight and arrests everyone involved, including Oberyn’s paramour Ellaria Sand. How the cautious Prince Doran chooses to act next is anyone’s guess.
Even harder to predict than Prince Doran? Queen Mother Cersei. She makes big, bold moves against House Tyrell in this episode, even bolder than when she used the Faith Militant to arrest Ser Loras. When the Queen of Thorns returns to King’s Landing to give Cersei an earful, the Queen Mother arranges for an inquisition of Loras, with the other Tyrells on hand as witnesses. Loras defiantly denies the charges that he’s gay, and Margaery swears the same oath. Both of their testimonies are called into question when Loras’ lover Olyvar takes the stand and identifies Loras by the Dorne-like birthmark on his thigh, and calls out Margaery for walking in on them once upon a time. So Loras is arrested again — and Margaery is arrested as well, with little boy king Tommen unable to do anything but watch as his wife is dragged away by the Faith Militant.
Beyond positioning herself as the Head Baratheon in Charge of King’s Landing, Cersei sets her eye on the North, following a conversation with Petyr Baelish, who informs her that Sansa Stark is not only alive, but back home in Winterfell, married into House Bolton. Cersei fumes, and wants nothing more than Sansa’s head on a platter. Littlefinger promises he can deliver exactly what Cersei wants, but first, they ought to let the upcoming battle between Stannis and the Boltons destroy one of the two armies, if not both, before Littlefinger and his knights of the Vale arrive to shatter the remnants.
In exchange for crushing whatever remains of the Boltons and Baratheons (Stannis Baratheon, anyway), Littlefinger wants to be named Warden of the North. Cersei signs off on the plan without hesitation. It’s her haste to trust a man like Littlefinger, if not her hastiness against the Tyrells, that makes Cersei’s weaknesses clear: She sees herself as the hero of her story.
But much like Sansa, Cersei’s bound to learn the lesson soon — there are no happy endings in this fairytale.