Monday, April 8, 2013

Game of Thrones recap: the trials of Sansa Stark

Sansa opens up to Margaery and Lady Oleanna about the true nature of Joffrey Baratheon in a funny, tense and heartbreaking scene.

Sophie Turner as Sansa Stark.
Honestly, I'm tired of the Game of Thrones photo recaps. They were fun for a while, but eventually just turned into me making lists of things I liked about each episode, and that's fairly boring for everyone involved. So, starting today with "Dark Wings, Dark Words," I'm going to try a different approach: each week, I'll choose a scene that was particularly interesting, illuminating or memorable, and break it down for you all, both on its own and as it ties into the episode as a whole.

The stand-out scene from last night's episode featured both the whip-smart Margaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer) and the introduction of the amazing Lady Oleanna (played by the equally wonderful Diana Rigg), yet the moment was really about poor, trapped, terrified Sansa Stark. From the moment Lady Oleanna asks Sansa to tell her the truth about Joffrey, it's clear from the girl's stuttering, timid response that she is about to crumble. The mere fact of Oleanna and Margaery's kindness makes Sansa drop her guard completely, pouring out her heart to these two women and telling them that Joffrey is "a monster."

This scene, as well as the two scenes leading up to it, are interesting in that they show us that, despite everything she's lived through, Sansa is still very young, an adolescent whose naiveté is both endearing and incredibly dangerous. When she rejects Shae's suggestion that Littlefinger's offer of help comes with unsavory strings attached, or when she blushes and giggles to find Ser Loras in her doorway, her innocence is revealed. Sansa has watched her father die, been beaten and abused by Joffrey and manipulated by Cersei, but underneath all that she's still a girl who believes in fairy tales. Unlike Margaery and Lady Oleanna - and also unlike Cersei, Arya, Brienne, Dany and pretty much any other woman on the show - she's still waiting on her knight in shining armor to come rescue her. It's going to be that much more unpleasant when her knight turns out to be Petyr Baelish. (I have an unfortunate feeling that Sansa's going to end up married to the creepy, conniving Littlefinger. I really hope I'm wrong.)

This isn't to say that Sansa is totally naive; a less competent person probably wouldn't have survived this long in King's Landing. She reveals an understanding of the hard truths of politics when Lady Oleanna asks her to tell the truth about Joffrey. Sansa's response, "My father always told the truth," is brutally unvarnished, and Oleanna's response - "Yes, he had that reputation. And they named him traitor and took his head" - is equally honest. And that little bit of honesty is all Sansa needs to spill her guts about the day Joffrey destroyed her life:
Joffrey. Joffrey did that. He promised he would be merciful and he cut my father's head off, and he said that was mercy. And he took me up on the walls and made me look at it.
 It's notable that Sansa's speech here is the only time in the scene she speaks clearly and forcefully, without pausing or tipping over her words. As Littlefinger said, she is not a good liar, and the Tyrell women know it. They manage to manipulate her into telling the truth using the one tool Cersei Lannister will never have at her disposal: kindness.

Everything about Lady Oleanna's garden party is clearly designed to get Sansa talking. Having Loras escort her to the garden, speaking the truth about Ned's death, the downright maternal tone in Oleanna's voice when she reveals that she requested lemon cake because she knew it was Sansa's favorite: it's all just as much a manipulation as when Tyrion spread rumors to find out who was spying for Cersei. Margaery and Lady Oleanna clearly have Sansa outflanked, quite literally; the way the scene is staged, Sansa is positioned between the two women, and boxed in by the gazebo where they're sitting.

While the scene is primarily about Sansa, it also does a remarkably effective job of demonstrating just how powerful the two Tyrell women are. I don't think either Margaery or Lady Oleanna is out to get Sansa; I suspect their attempt to get information about Joffrey is more about being able to control him, a suspicion backed up by the way Margaery adeptly plays to the King's worst, most violent impulses later in the episode. Their intentions, however, do nothing to change the fact that these are two women who are very, very good at politics.

The question, then, becomes whether Sansa should trust the Tyrells. It's a concern that resonates throughout the episode, which features a number of characters trying to decide who is trustworthy: Arya is suspicious of the Brotherhood Without Banners, Jaime tries to convince Brienne to kill a stranger who saw them on the road, Bran quickly allows Jojen and Meera Reed to join him, Cersei tries to turn Joffrey against Margaery and Jon works his way into Mance Rayder's inner circle.

Of course, in Westeros, it's usually not a good idea to trust anyone, as Brienne learns at the end of the episode, when the man she let live sells them out to Roose Bolton's men, and as Arya is bound to learn very quickly now that Thoros of Myr knows her true identity. While it would be nice to think that Sansa now has some allies at court, when push comes to shove, I'd bet the Tyrell women are loyal only to each other. The Stark girl has some growing up to do before she can even hope to play the game with Margaery and Lady Oleanna Tyrell.


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