Every week, Todd VanDerWerff will be joined by two of Vox's other writers to discuss the latest episode of Game of Thrones over the course of that week. Check out the recap for this episode here, and follow the whole discussion here. This week, Todd is joined by culture writer Kelsey McKinney and politics writer Andrew Prokop. Come back throughout the week for entries.
Kelsey McKinney: Todd, you're right. The Seven Kingdoms really do feel like a whole new world in season five.
Last season built its tension around the way people interact and relate to each other in a world torn apart by constant upheaval. By contrast, season five has already established itself as taking place in a time when war might not be currently on screen, but it's constantly in the back of your mind as a viewer.
The producers of the show are unable to adapt George R. R. Martin's books directly to the screen in season five, because it wouldn't make for good television. Watching Brienne wander Westeros so that we might better see the heartbreak of citizens scarred by war works on the page, but it could be deathly boring on TV. All the same, it seems like showrunners David Benioff and D. B. Weiss have found small ways to make this season feel like a moment of calm between storms.
This struck me in "High Sparrow," filled with drama though it was. In particular, I found myself responding most to Margaery Tyrell, now the queen of Westeros. Women in Westeros rarely fight on the fields of war, but their fate is just as determined by what goes on there. For no character has this been more apparent than Margaery. After her first husband, Renley Baratheon, died, everything anyone around her did seemed geared toward marrying her into the royal family.
This began with an awful engagement to King Joffrey, and — as planned — ended with a crown on Margaery's head. That plan, though, was short-lived, due to Joffrey's death (which also seems to be part of the Tyrells' overall plot).
All of which brings me to Margaery's third wedding, which also took place in "High Sparrow." By the end of season four, Westerosi weddings were a good place to anticipate terrible slaughter. Many Starks had, after all, been killed at the Red Wedding in season three, and Joffrey's poisoning also occurred at a wedding. But Margaery's wedding to Tommen Baratheon bucks the overall trend of weddings ending in horrible murder (luckily for her).
Tommen is young, but he's older than the Tommen of the book. His wedding to Margaery is a lot less pompous than Joffrey's was, but it seems to end almost happily (if anything does on this show). The two of them spend a productive wedding night tangled up together, smiling and laughing. Tommen, inexperienced in sexual behavior, seems entranced by the manipulative Margaery, who aims only to drive a wedge between him and her mother.
"This is all I want to do. All day, every day, for the rest of my life," Tommen says to Margaery. She laughs, but it's the laugh of a woman for whom sex is a necessary tool to maintain stability.
The next day, we see Margaery through the eyes of Cersei when the old queen pays the new queen a visit. The camera sits behind Cersei's shoulder, and we see Margaery how the queen mother does — as a young, naive, and childish woman who dreams only of romantic things like children and a family.
But Cersei underestimates Margaery — and is starting to understand just how much. The new queen is more hardened than she might seem at first blush. She's strategic and intentional, and she's pushing Tommen to do what she needs him to do.
For Margaery, life will never be calm as it might be during a peaceful time. But she's still fighting her own war for Tommen's ultimate loyalty — and a victory there might give her the upper hand when war returns to Westeros.
Read the recap. We'll have more thoughts later in the day.