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Where did all the religious fundamentalists on Game of Thrones come from?

No! Not Barristan!
No! Not Barristan!
HBO

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 foreign policy writer Zack Beauchamp and politics writer Andrew Prokop. Come back throughout the week for entries.

Andrew Prokop: Todd, I have to say I wasn't a huge fan of this episode's ending fight sequence, in story terms.

Barristan Selmy is a character the show has almost entirely ignored for two years. So, as you say, the heartwarming tale he told Daenerys at this episode's end was about as subtle as McBain's partner planning to sail the world in his new boat, the Live-4-Ever. Of course he would then immediately walk into an ambush from a horde of faceless goons. George R. R. Martin tends to avoid cliché in his battle scenes, but this whole sequence reeked of it.

In another post, I speculated about why the show decided to kill off Barristan, who's still alive in the books. Basically, I think the showrunners worried that the Meereen material from A Dance With Dragons was too boring, so they decided they'd better kill somebody. But when you're killing off a character you've never properly developed anyway, and sacrificing the potential to actually make him someone viewers care about, it seems like a missed opportunity. Hopefully this bloodshed will take Dany to some interesting places in future weeks, as she weighs how to respond.

The other significant developments in this episode take place in King's Landing, where Cersei empowers the High Sparrow to raise an army, which subsequently goes rampaging through the city targeting sinners — including busting up a brothel owned by Littlefinger for the second consecutive week. This time, they murder a man patronizing a male prostitute inside, before eventually arresting Loras Tyrell.

Scenes in Littlefinger's brothels have been an omnipresent, and frequently ridiculous, feature of Game of Thrones for years, helping lead to the Saturday Night Live joke that a 13-year-old boy was on set to "make sure there are lots of boobs." The parody wasn't very far from reality — director Neil Marshall later disclosed that he was urged to add nudity to a scene by an executive producer who claimed to represent "the pervert side of the audience." Still, these scenes have become so ordinary that it's actually unsettling to see the Sparrows turn them upside down with brutal violence.

A gripe I have here, though, is that the show doesn't do a good job of explaining why all these fundamentalists have suddenly appeared in the city, and where they've come from. The books have a clear and simple explanation: it's the war. The devastation of the countryside and the peasantry, and the various atrocities committed, has fueled a turn toward religion.

"They never would have come to the capital when Tywin was alive," Kevan Lannister said in the season premiere. But in realitym it was Tywin, with his civilian-massacring henchmen like the Mountain and his ruthless tactics like the Red Wedding, who birthed the sparrows.

The best part of this week's King's Landing material was, easily Lena Headey's portrayal of Cersei. After a season and a half of grieving, we finally get to see the queen mother's infamous smirk again, as she delights in her own apparent cleverness and scheming, with complete indifference to the pain it's causing others.

We see this early on, as Cersei and her new confidant Qyburn try and fail to stop grinning as she gives Mace Tyrell a one-way ticket to Braavos with his very own Kingsguard escort. And then again later, as she patiently explains to her son that she simply can't free Ser Loras, because she's not the one holding him. Cersei is infuriating, but when she's in the spotlight she's definitely one of the show's most compelling villains.

Another Lannister also finally breaks free from his depression to have a bit of fun. Tyrion's now a prisoner of Jorah Mormont, and he spends his first scene and the start of his second with a gag in his mouth. He eventually annoys Jorah enough that the gag is removed.

Then, in just over two minutes, he figures out his captor's identity, that Jorah's now in bad standing with Daenerys despite his representations, and the exact reason why he lost her good graces. It's great to see Tyrion's brain working again, even if he's perhaps a bit too eager to show off his own cleverness, earning a blow to the head from Jorah for his efforts.

Zack, what do you think about the sudden rise of religious fundamentalism in Westeros? And, as a fellow book reader, how did you react to the bloody demise of Barristan Selmy?

Read the recap. Come back for thoughts from Zack tomorrow.

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