We've had many episodes of buildup in the past few weeks on Game of Thrones. The High Sparrow and his followers have steadily stamped out corruption and sin in King's Landing. Two sets of traveling companions (Jaime and Bronn; Tyrion and Jorah) have gone through thick and thin to get where they're going. And Sansa has been destroyed, over and over again, left holding on to a mere sliver of hope.
But in this episode, the shit hits the fan.
In "The Gift," some characters see their longstanding plans come to fruition, and some see theirs crash and burn. These are the moments everyone will be talking about today (spoilers ahead).
Aemon Targaryen's watch comes to an end
Maester Aemon has one of the most surprising deaths on the series so far. He isn't stabbed, flayed, poisoned, or beheaded. No, he dies of old age.
Of course, Aemon didn't live like most characters, either. He's one of the few major characters who isn't playing the game of thrones. He's an unbiased eye, a moral compass for the bloodthirsty world that surrounds him. In his youth, Aemon went so far as to refuse the throne when it was offered to him after his father's death, simply because he didn't think he was fit for the position. It's tough to imagine anybody else in this universe making that kind of decision.
With Aemon's death, Sam has lost one of his most trusted mentors — and he's also lost his last real ally on the Night's Watch. Sam is now more alone than ever in Castle Black, and the consequences play out quickly and harshly: with Jon Snow gone and Aemon dead, two brothers assault Gilly and beat Sam when he tries to stop them. Jon's direwolf, Ghost, intervenes at the last minute, but it's a close call.
Sansa, loses all but one final hope (and then loses that one, too)
After a gratuitously brutal wedding night scene in last week's episode, Sansa has been holding on to one last shred of hope: making a cry for help through the candle in the tower. Since she can't make the trip to the top of the tower herself, she entrusts Theon/Reek to the task, but he turns on her, telling Ramsay.
Just as Sansa pokes at the potential threat Roose's unborn child holds for Ramsay's right to power, her plans for escape come to a halt. Ramsay takes the token of Sansa's foiled plot — the flayed, crucified body of the old woman who promised Stark loyalty — and parades it in front of her, hanging the corpse in the main courtyard.
Brienne of Tarth is waiting just on the horizon, ready to jump into action and fulfill her promise to Catelyn Stark. But from Sansa's point of view, things are looking pretty grim.
After a long trip to Dorne, Jaime's plans crumble
Jaime and Bronn have traveled a great distance to retrieve Myrcella from Dorne. But the two see no payoff. Jaime's young daughter (who has no idea she's his daughter) doesn't want to leave her new home or her new beau. And Jaime doesn't have much sway to convince her otherwise.
Meanwhile, Bronn, in a prison cell across from the Sand Snakes, learns he's been poisoned by the blade that grazed him in the water garden. One of the Snakes gives him an antidote — but not before flashing her body to him and making him call her the most beautiful woman he's ever seen. It's hard to see where this is going just yet, but at least we've learned Bronn has a lovely singing voice.
Jorah and Tyrion finally make it to Meereen, meet Daenerys
In one of the episode's most heart-pounding scenes, Jorah and Tyrion make it to the fighting pits, which Daenerys has reluctantly reopened. Jorah, waiting to enter the ring, overhears that his queen is watching the fights and bursts out into the fray. She's not happy to see him — not initially, at least — until he tells her that he's brought her a gift.
Tyrion, who has freed himself as well, makes his entrance to the field, and introduces himself to a shocked Daenerys.
There are a lot of things Daenerys doesn't understand about ruling, and a whole lot of things she doesn't understand about Westeros. With Tyrion by her side, that could change.
Cersei falls victim to her own manipulation
Ah, Cersei. For the entire season now, she's played the religious fundamentalist sect as her bargaining chip to wipe her city and her family clear of the Tyrells. She forgot one key problem, though: the faithful are committed to their own ideological agenda, not to Cersei's political one. And even if she is queen, incestuous adultery doesn't fly by their rules.
For the High Sparrow, it's all about the rule of law. In an exchange with Olenna Tyrell, he explains that he can't make any exceptions for royalty. If he doesn't hold them up to the same standards as everyone else, the standards don't really exist.
After Cersei visits Margaery (who rightly knows that Cersei is behind the imprisonment of her and her brother Loras), she visits the High Sparrow in a chapel. The High Sparrow monologues a bit about the value of an altar minus the frills of a church — it's the foundation that counts. Cersei's foundation, he accuses, is a twisted one.
It's some of the first serious pushback to Cersei's manipulation that we've seen since Joffrey's death. And it's an ironic twist, too: Cersei gave the High Sparrow the power that's now being levied against her.
As the episode ends, she's imprisoned, vowing to destroy those who've wronged her. But those threats ring more hollow than ever before.