I really wish I could say I was going to be caught up on the show before the season finale this Sunday, but alas it is not to be. I have a LOT to say about episode 9 that has probably already been said before, but we’re going to pretend I know nothing about it so that I can give you The Gift.
First things first let’s talk about the title. In what could be considered a bit of irony, the actual and literal Gift is not mentioned at all in this episode or indeed in the show.
The Gift is an area in the North south of the Wall that was given to the Night’s Watch by a Brandon Stark whose identity varies. Sometimes he’s Bran the Builder, other times he’s not. There are a LOT of Brandons…and I think that’s supposed to be a key to something. Anyway thousands of years later Queen Alysanne visited the Wall and something about the Night’s Watch made her convince her husband King Jaehaerys I to double the land that Brandon had granted for Watch’s continual use.
So the Gift is no paltry thing, nor are the gifts so given in this episode whether they be for good or ill. They are also a major theme in this installment though a few of them are poisoned. My alternative title for this episode is Christmas in Westeros. Come on…we all know what weddings are like in the Seven Kingdoms. Did anybody really expect Christmas to be merry? And winter is coming…
This was certainly less controversial than Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken, and in addition to that the viewers received quite a few presents of our own.
As usual here are my favorite YouTube theorists and their takes on the episodes. Bar always has hers up when I get into work Monday morning. NOT spoiler free btw, and neither is this analysis if you didn’t already know.
Then Tony Teflon gives his jump off moments review.
Preston Jacobs still maintains the most hilarious reviews in the business.
Ideas of Ice and Fire is another one of my favorites.
And of course the wonderful Small Council on James Johnson’s channel. I can’t remember if it’s this one where James gets a wee bit drunk lol or if it’s the next episode.
What I love is that most of these theorists know each other and give each other shout outs all the time. Bar and Tony do a Q and A session together every Saturday, and nearly everyone refers to James’ channel. Neither Maester Payne nor Charlie in Westeros did a review for this episode. MP is playing catch up like I am. Lord knows I understand that feel.
Well I already messed up my order of operations…last week I did videos first then title explanation. Well let me remedy that by giving a run down of what I think all of the gifts were. I’ll go into more detail in the sections, but for Westerosi Christmas, the presents received were as follows:
- Sansa gets more despair and betrayal. Hooray.
- The old woman who tries to help the above gets flayed alive, but receives the gift of mercy from the gods before Ramsay can finish.
- Daenerys gets Jorah and Tyrion, the former of which is a poisoned gift. Literally.
- Jon gets dragonglass/obsidian from Sam.
- Sam gets a flower aka Gilly (Aemon totally calls her that; don’t think I missed it. There will be more on this later. This is one of my favorite and frequently discussed paradigms. Warning: there will be bad puns.)
- Gilly gets the gift of not being raped (not like anyone should ever need that gift, but whatever…) and her, Sam, AND the viewers get the gift of Ghost saving the day in remarkable serendipity that quite a few people have commented on.
- Bronn gets the gift of life in the form on an antidote. We, the viewers, also get the gift of hearing the end of The Dornishman’s Wife, and both Bronn and us get the gift of Tyene’s boobs.
- Cersei attempts to give Margaery a gift, but it is rejected.
- Olenna finally gets something (else) from Littlefinger (he did bring her Joffrey’s death in season 3) in the form of Lancel’s confession (or so we speculate).
- Aemon Targaryen got the gift of a long life with a peaceful and natural death.
- Finally, we, the viewers, get the gift of Cersei finally getting her much needed comeuppance and being thrown in one of the black cells.
Hooray for Christmas in Westeros! I think the best gifts were most certainly given in King’s Landing and the worst gifts were definitely in Winterfell (winter most fell). Huh, you’d think the north would know how to do Christmas correctly.
This week’s analysis is broken into three sections: A Beautiful Death and a Gilly Flower, A Beaten Dog is Hard to Train, and A King’s Landing Christmas.
A Beautiful Death and a Gilly Flower
Maester Aemon manages to accomplish what no one else on the show has done and that’s die of old age. It’s quite an accomplishment in the world of ice and fire.
The Targaryen funeral custom is cremation, which I find hilariously ironic seeing as they’re rumored to be fireproof or fire resistant, though GRRM himself has vehemently denied this.
It would be nice to think that silver hair equals fire immunity, but that’s just not the case. Prior to Aemon’s death, we get an insanely sweet scene with him, Sam, Gilly, and her son. He warns them that they need to go south, calling her the sweet epithet “Gilly flower.” Even though Aemon is nigh on death’s door, he is still wise enough to know what will eventually happen, nor is this warning allayed by Ser Alliser’s grim proclamation that Sam is “losing all of his friends” just before the Slayer lights Aemon’s funeral pyre.
It doesn’t take long to see why the Maester was so keen on Sam and Gilly escaping the Wall nor why Stannis was adamant about taking his wife and daughter south on his march to Winterell (though that did NOT happen in the books. Mel, Selyse, and Shireen all are still at the Wall, but I don’t want to talk about Stannis right now…) when two of Sam’s brothers attempt to pluck a rose despite its thorns to the same. Unfortunately, those aren’t enough and Slayer Sam has to intervene…and summarily take one of the worst beatings I’ve ever seen, but he keeps getting back up. Sam consistently claims cowardice, but I’ve never seen anything further from the truth, and this goes back to the question Bran had for his father a long, long time ago.
We are seeing this paradigm manifest in Sam. He is terrified of everything, yet also does anything to make wrongs right. He’s not about to allow his friend to be assaulted by his “brothers,” and manages to hold out until Ghost comes in a saves the day.
Later Gilly tends to Sam’s many hurts, and then tends to Sam’s desires, and there are quite a few interesting things here. First, I believe James, who hosts the Small Council videos, mentioned this. We have to go all the way back to Tyrion and Tysha, his first wife, who was supposedly a crofters daughter that he and Jaime rescued from rapists on the road. Afterwards Tyrion comforted Tysha, and they had sex. Shae (I really hope I’m right about this) pointed out that no women who had almost been raped would be willing to sleep with a man so quickly, but we can see this isn’t true at all with Gilly, because rape is an atrocity and what her and Sam did was her choice. She was also on top of him, and it was no accident that she was in another opposing position to ask Sam if she was hurting him. Only a few episodes back we had the situation with Tommen and Margaery where the king ensured that he wasn’t hurting her to compare (and also show that Tommen is a decent guy). Gilly was also one of Craster’s wives and endure rape her entire life, but when a flower willingly opens, it’s a beautiful gift indeed.
Flower/sex and flower/rape metaphors are not strange in Westeros. When a maid comes of age (has her first period) it is said that she has “flowered.” Cersei at one point ask Sansa if “her red flower is still in bloom,” which is quite a pretty euphemism for the maid’s menstrual cycle from quite a harridan queen. Lyanna Stark was associated with blue roses and she was allegedly raped repeatedly by Rhaegar, which I think is a fucking lie. He crowned her Queen of Love and Beauty, giving her a bouquet of blue roses, essentially giving her herself in offering her himself. In A Game of Thrones Ser Loras, the Knight of Flowers gives Sansa a red rose during the Tourney of the Hand when he gave other maids a white. This may connect with the “red flower” Cersei speaks of later as foreshadowing to Sansa’s burgeoning womanhood. Bael the Bard, a King-Beyond-the-Wall and legendary figure, took revenge on the Lord of Winterell for calling him a coward by taking “the most beautiful flower blooming in Winterfell’s gardens,” but worse he tricked the lord into allowing this as payment for his songs. Instead of taking an actual bloom, Bael stole his only daughter, impregnated her, and when she came back she had a child in her arms. So Bael plucked an (likely) unwilling flower and brought it back with a seed.
Women as flowers and referred to using the language of blooms is not an uncommon motif. In the movie Shakespeare in Love (speaking of the Bard…) There is a wonderful line spoken by Queen Elizabeth when Viola (S’s love interest) appears in court to receive the approval of the monarch to marry Lord Wessex. The queen looks her up and down and says quietly in Wessex’s ear, “She’s been plucked…and not by you. It takes a woman to know it.” And of course there’s my obvious and always thought f reference of FFVII’s flower girl Aeris who is “plucked” in the most gruesome of ways by being impaled on an extremely long sword.
“I am the sword in the darkness.” Omg stop.
“Brandon loved to see blood on the end of his sword.” *groan* Won’t you please stop.
I did warn you there would be bad puns.
Well while we’re on the subject of stabbing (kill me now), everyone is pretty much hedging their bets on where Olly stands in line to stab Jon.
Book readers know it’s going to happen, the stabbing that is, but I’m starting to side with some of the theorists that they’re making it too obvious. Every time we see Olly he has murder written in his eyes, and the conversation with Sam where the Slayer tells him that some decisions that have to be made are hard (!!! for something that happened in episode 9, holy fuck) really drives that point home (arghhhhh). One final…point *shakes head* is Sam giving Jon dragonglass before his trip to Hardhome. This pretty much seals the deal for the trouble our young Lord Commander will find there, but for us we’re going to head south now to bide a while with poor Sansa who is realizing…
A Beaten Dog is Hard to Train
I could’ve called this section Sansa and Her Two Hounds, but I don’t even think Theon can be classified as a hound; he’s barely a mongrel. The actual Hound was a trained killer whereas Reek/Theon is a mutilated cur. Yesterday, I was called upon to defend Sansa (again). One of the blogs I follow is called Race for the Iron Throne, which is a historical and political analysis of every chapter. Of course I can’t find the exact entry now, but in the very first Sansa chapter analysis, he states a truth that I knew, but never realized: the Sansa chapters are devoted to deconstructing and idea of romantic and courtly love as portrayed in the middle ages. I’m…just kind of sick of hearing about how terrible a character Sansa is. She is a preteen girl (regardless of books or show) who was thrust into a situation most adults wouldn’t survive. She is doing the best she can with one of the worst situations I have ever seen, and in the last episode she was raped for god’s sake. Anyway…rant over.
Her current task is to retrain a thoroughly beaten Theon, which seems fairly daunting since they’re both under his sadistic master’s control. It is Sansa who gives Theon back his name and beseeches him to light the candle in the tower for her, because it is better to light a candle than curse the darkness. Of course he immediately runs back to his master like a good, fawning dog and the old woman who tried to help the true Lady of Winterfell is flayed for her efforts. I really don’t have a lot to say about the Winterfell scenes. I did take note that Sansa looks very much like her aunt Lyanna and therefore the pietá Mary with the cowl over her head. This also shows that though her virginity has been stolen, her innocence remains. She may now be encompassing the Mother instead of the Maiden, much to her soon to be (greater) rue, but this could also mean she’s going to take some of the traits of her own mother’s resurrected form Lady Stoneheart or as she is also called Mother Merciless.
But I think even Catelyn would take some satisfaction out of…
A King’s Landing Christmas
Hallelujah!!! Praise the Seven!! The day has finally dawned! I’m sure we were all just waiting for this comeuppance to happen. It’s not quite as satisfying to me as the one awaiting Ramsay Snow/Bolton, but Cersei has been in the game or far longer where Ramsay is a relatively new (if sadistic) player. When she went to see Margaery, the smug bitch was grinning like a cat in the cream, but then when she was captured, all she could do was echo Marge’s very words of “I am the queen!” That didn’t matter to the High Sparrow then and it didn’t matter to him now. Apparently Cersei thought her queen-fu was better than Margaery’s.
Let’s back up a bit. I just had to get that out of my system. That is one of my favorite parts in the books. Now it’s different in story as has been mentioned before. One of the Kettleblack brothers admits to “fucking the queen” indicating Cersei as the queen (her most coveted title), and she actually tries to run. It is the most satisfying thing ever to watch this idiot’s house of cards come crashing down, and she built it that shoddy herself by stripping away all the foundations that could keep her safe: sending away Kevan, making an enemy of Margaery and therefore the Tyrells, trusting the Kettleblacks, etc.
Prior to this is the conversation between Cersei and Tommen and seriously Tom, do not trust your fucking mother. Usually, I’m like that with step, false, or dark mothers, but in this case, the actual mother is a terrible influence.
Cersei is a parallel to Lilith, as I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, the mother of demons. In terms of birthing incestuous abominations, this title is certainly valid. One of the early translations for Lilith is “night hag” or “screech owl,” and it is here that the harpy comparisons coming into play. Cersei’s children are her hourglass ticks, and she’s already lost one. It’s hard to divine whether or not she truly loves them or only loves them because she loves herself.
Tommen’s rage was actually kind of attractive. Him threatening to burn down the church was kind of hot *groan* but Cersei (again) mollified him with her empty promises and poisoned words. She has done everything to separate herself from this religious takeover, and in the end she is separated from any and all semblances of control. When you careless toss a match, you have lost the reins on how it all will burn.
I still don’t know the High Sparrow’s motivations or whether or not he’s a guise of Howland Reed. I don’t know if he has any ulterior missions or motives besides what he says. Is he just surface or is he far deeper? I do like how he and Olenna were standing on opposite sides of the seven pointed star. He is completely unmoved by any of her threats, and again I feel this queen, too, has lost her thorns (but at least she retains her freedom). Nothing sways this man, neither threats nor gold, and she is far too old and thorny to offer him a bloom, nor would he take it anyway. The queen has more luck with Littlefinger who brings far better gifts.
Now Petyr tells Olenna the gift is a “strapping young man,” but is it Lancel to whom he’s referring? Lancel doesn’t seems terribly imposing, so I’m curious to whom Baelish does speak.
Can I talk of names for a second? I already did this above with Cersei/Lilith, but I’m going to present a theory that Littlefinger is the Lucifer of Westeros. Even the lettering of the name speaks to this: Littlefinger/Lucifer. Now this is not in the sense of the “light bringer/bearer” (that title already has a LOT of implications in ASOIA), but rather in how LF revels in chaos and is willing to disturb the current order of things to climb as high as he possibly can, but we know what happens if you climb too high.
Does Littlefinger want the actual throne or does he just want to be pulling the strings? I tend to go with the latter as Lucifer never acts as his own agent. He’d rather skulk in the shadows and manipulate others, which is what Littlefinger loves to do. He knows he can’t win by playing “their way,” as he learned long ago with Brandon. It’s interesting and odd that that incident was the catalyst for Petyr to be willing to move heaven and earth to take over the world.
At one point Varys, his supposed counterpart, states that LF would “see this whole country burn if he could be King of the Ashes.” The King of the Ashes sounds like the end game for what the ruler of hell would be, and I’m certain LF would agree ’tis better to rule in Hell than serve in Heaven. There was another willing to burn down the city rather than give it up; split the child in twain than admit it wasn’t his: Aerys. Melisandre told Arya (or Shireen. I can’t remember) there is only one hell and we are living in it.
I didn’t talk about Dorne because I try to avoid that unless I have to. Still not happy, though I am pleased that Bronn was able to finish his song. I was hoping they would do more with his poisoning as that could’ve been held up as a mystery for a bit longer, but no…they needed a gratuitous boob shot of Tyene before she gives Bronn the antidote *rolls eyes*
Something I can say that has more to do with the story itself and not just the show is how Prince Doran names sounds very much like the region Dorne itself. I wouldn’t have noticed this if my friend Andrew N hadn’t mixed up the prince’s name with the province and made me go, “Hm.” It’s as though the Doran is his country, which is an old mode of thought. The king and the realm were one and the same. It was a way to tie to sovereign to the land. In Mary Renault’s The King Must Die, a retelling/reworking of the Theseus story, the king must die in order to revitalize the earth. His life was literally tied to the land. When the crops began to fail, his blood would go into it so his people might continue to live.
Doran has been playing the long game for at least 20 years. He is the glue that is holding all of these plots together. He is well known as a “very cautious man” who makes no move without considering the hundred more after, and he could top me for contingency plans (I’m almost 100% certain the prince is a Taurus). According to Daario, all rulers are either butchers or meat, and I think we had a good preview in this episode of what side many of our leaders are going to fall.
By the time I write the next one, the finale will have aired. Forgive me for my lateness and thank you for your reading!