[This is a review of Game of Thrones season 5, episode 7. There will be SPOILERS.]
Comeuppance is a rare delicacy in the world of Game of Thrones. The world that David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have shepherded for a little over four and a half seasons hasn't been one to encourage any sort of faith that the wicked will eventually be punished, or that justice will one day be meted out. No, instead it is a world where the just are met with undeserved fates and the rest are, well, forced to somehow settle for something less. And yet seeing Cersei tossed in a cell, on the command of a monster of her own making, feels like retribution in a way. It's an infrequent sight, and yet it seems to have become more common as the series has begun to run short of seemingly untouchable villains always one step ahead of those who typically emerge triumphant in genre fiction.
In fact, it's as infrequent as a man dying from old age. And yet, that's precisely what happens in 'The Gift', an episode that lives up to its title in more ways than one. There's a hint that the winds are changing in Westeros and beyond, and that's not just because they've begun to batten down the hatches in Winterfell for reasons other than the delayed arrival of Stannis Baratheon. There's significance to the death of Aemon Targaryen aside from the fact that he leaves Sam right around the same time Jon does. It's a sign that sometimes the just can make it through to the end of the game without being chewed up by an opponent along the way.
Sure, Aemon spent his days at The Wall, but his backstory (the guy refused the throne, choosing instead to keep his vows – if that sound familiar) comes as close to restoring one's faith in this ever-expanding Game of Thrones as anything. And for a brief moment, so too does Cersei's predicament at the episode's climax. That is, until you realize the queen mother's imprisonment is her own fault, and therefore isn't really justice; it's closer to irony. Maybe in this world that's as near as anyone's going to get to justice, but that gift seems mighty suspicious when it comes wrapped in the shiny fanaticism of a religious group that proudly places the word "militant" in its name.
Still, the swift rise of the Faith Militant and their persecution of those in power is a major development, and after last week's unfulfilling, problematic, and controversial episode, it's a welcome sight to see Game of Thrones getting back to the notion of pushing its story along rather than wallowing in everyone's misery as though there's a lesson to be learned from all the suffering. This time around, the audience wasn't asked to take it on faith that some dodgy narrative choices would be justified through the progression of the storyline. Instead, 'The Gift' keeps threads like Tyrion and Jorah's moving swiftly along, which is surprising considering we could easily have spent the next three weeks sailing to Meereen, listening to pirates discuss the current market value of certain dwarf parts, while Mr. Echo attempted to validate Mormont's credentials.
But it's telling that the most engaging moments came from Meereen and The Wall, places where the show has typically dragged in previous seasons, while what seemed like guaranteed buddy comedy gold at the season's beginning has turned to dull lead, and threatens to drag the entire season down. That's right, the Adventures of Jaime and Bronn has been reduced to a series of seemingly inconsequential scenes where Myrcella chooses her betrothed over her uncle, while a sand snake strips in a jail cell to speed up the poison running though Bronn's bloodstream, only to toss him the antidote in exchange for a superficial compliment. It's clear that the season is in a bit of a time crunch right now, but Dorne is in serious need of a few extra minutes to make the trip worthwhile.
Maybe Dorne's dragging storyline is an unintended byproduct of Tyrion and Jorah's swiftly told tale of high seas hijinks and undisclosed greyscale infestations. That is, what worked for one was assumed would work for another. As was mentioned above, the unlikely duo could have been in the cargo hold of a pirate ship for weeks, but instead make their way through a low-level fighting pit in record time, thanks to the thoughtful gift presented to the storyline by its old friend coincidence. Sure, it seems more than a tad convenient that the Mother of Dragons would be slumming it in Meereen's equivalent of the bar from Road House on the exact day the disgraced Jorah and his traveling companion were scheduled to fight there, but there are only 10 hours in a season, and if Tyrion plus Daenerys equals her story getting the propulsion it's needed since the walk across the Red Waste, then so be it.
It's far more engaging than what's going on in Winterfell, where not only are they preparing for a long, dark winter, they're willingly locking themselves away in a years-long deep freeze with the one guy who would make a worse snowbound companion than Jack Torrance. But unlike Jack's psychosis, Ramsay doesn't come with entertaining catch phrases and eyes remiss of the humanity that once lay behind them. Instead the recently converted bastard is just all glass-eyed death dealer all the time.
As the episode managed to demonstrate several times over, there's no shame in moving the story forward, even if it relies more on coincidence that it should. Bad people are firmly entrenched all across Westeros, that much is true. But if 'The Gift' showed us anything it's that even the deeply embedded can be at the mercy of progress. With any luck, the coming weeks will bring such progress to the threads that are now in desperate need of it.
Game of Thrones continues next Sunday with 'Hardhome' @9pm on HBO. Check out a preview below:
Photos: Macall B. Polay and Helen Sloan/HBO