“You know, there are some who know every verse of the sacred texts but don’t have a drop of the Mother’s mercy in their blood. And savages who can’t read at all who understand the Father’s wisdom.”
The High Sparrow says these words to Queen Margaery of House Tyrell to reflect on her newfound piety and devotion to the Faith of the Seven. There’s a difference, you see, between what people say they are and what they really are. For example, Margaery used her help for the poor as a means to increase her standing in King’s Landing, but she admits that she never did it for any altruistic reason. It was a power play for her. That difference between the stated and the unstated – the act versus the real – can be so vast that it makes different people out of everyone. And it’s where some of our characters in tonight’s episode were being forced to come to: to find the difference between the act and the real; between who they said they were versus who they really are.
So back to Queen Margaery. The High Sparrow basically instructs her to return to having sex with her husband, the King. He paints it as a sacred duty to the Faith and the Realm, but make no mistake, there are selfish reasons also. The High Sparrow’s power is drawn from his new alliance with the Crown and the easiest way to keep the king happy is to make sure his beautiful queen is taking care of him. He also takes the time to surreptitiously threaten the Queen of Thorns, Lady Olenna Tyrell, to her granddaughter. Knowing what the High Sparrow is capable of doing, Margaery is quick to ensure her grandmother departs King’s Landing – but not before revealing to her that her new pious way of life is nothing more than a charade; a well-maintained ruse to keep the leader of the Faith on her side.
Lady Olenna, for her part, willingly leaves the capital city, but not before casting down the act that Cersei Lannister had been putting on for her. She calmly states how all of their recent misfortunes – the imprisonment of Loras and Margaery, the army at the beck and call of the High Sparrow – is all a result of Cersei’s own scheming and mad quest for power. And, as Lady Olenna states, Cersei is in a more dire position; for with Jaime gone, there are none who will defend her or stand with her. The Queen of Thorns tells her to leave King’s Landing before she returns to the cell from which the High Sparrow threw her in, but Cersei refuses. The love for her last living son is the only truth she really has. It’s the only thing about her that has never been an act. And for that, she’s willing to risk it all by staying in the capital.
Her brother, for his part, arrives at what the two Frey sons call a siege on Riverrun, the ancient home of House Tully. Jaime and his army march right onto the front of the lines to see Lothar and Black Walder Frey threated Ser Brynden “The Blackfish” Tully with the death of his nephew, Edmure. The Blackfish hears their threats and calls their bluff. Jaime knows it too – the Freys were never going to kill Edmure. He’s the only piece they have to threaten the Blackfish with. Jaime quickly takes over and commands Bronn to start resetting things into an actual siege. Then, he goes to parlay with the Blackfish, who starts things by calling him “Kingslayer” to his face – basically daring Jaime to take umbrage and attack. The Blackfish ignores Jaime’s threats of storming the castle and tells him to try it. Why? Because he knows that it’s really the only alternative they have. The forces holding Riverrun can withstand a two-year siege. Jaime is desperate to get back to King’s Landing. He doesn’t have two years to sit and wait the Blackfish out. A smarter man he may be, but Ser Brynden Tully saw through his act.
Someone who is accustomed to seeing through people’s acts is Arya. Her training with the Faceless Men has taught her to read people and know them for what they are. Looking for passage back to her home, she quickly found a Westerosi captain and bought a cabin with gold stolen from others’ purses. She has every reason to want to get out. Her time at the House of Black & White is over. However, she’s not as clever as she thinks and she misses the Waif approaching her to kill her. Her former nemesis is quicker than Arya and stabs and wounds her deeply before Arya is able to escape. When she emerges from the canals of Braavos, wounded and bleeding, Arya begins to stare at the crowd with new terror. For if the Faceless Men can be anyone, then how will she know who truly is out to kill her? Who is a real threat? Who is acting out as friend to get her to drop her guard?
A mental guard is what Theon Greyjoy is putting on in front of his sister and her men. Having fled their uncle Euron, it appears that Yara has decided to try and beat him to the punch and try to reach Daenerys Stormborn with her fleet of ships. Docking in Oldtown ahead of their long voyage, the ironborn revel and party in a whorehouse. All but Theon that is, who continues to behave meekly and afraid. Angry at him, she confronts him with the truth of his escape and dares him to kill himself if all that is left of her young brother is the terrified being in front of her. In that moment, the act drops from Theon for a moment and he shows a glimpse of his old self – driven deep within by the cruelty of Ramsay Snow but not destroyed entirely. Yara takes heart in this. Maybe Theon can be most of what his old self was and the act that was Reek dissolved away.
Theon’s foster siblings, meanwhile, are marching through the North trying to put on an act for the other Houses. They are calling themselves Stark because that is the name to which they all swore allegiance to. But as young Lady Lyanna of House Mormont points out, he is Jon Snow – a bastard – and she is Lady Sansa Bolton or Sansa Lannister – depending on which wedding vow you think should matter most. She is eventually convinced by Ser Davos Seaworth of their cause. But they are not so lucky with other houses and the army they recruit is not as numerous as the one they will face. They at least have success convincing the wildlings to fight for them and they do so, surprisingly enough, with no act or no pretention. They, the savages the High Sparrow spoke of earlier, display the wisdom that their more august southern neighbors could not. The free folk know of the threat of the White Walkers and that is why they will fight Ramsay Bolton’s army. But they will not be enough. Instead, it may fall to Sansa to send a raven and call on someone who promised her an army of support.
But what of the men who make these various armies being moved by the rich and powerful from one end of the world to another? They don’t simply return to their homes and pick up their old lives. For Brother Ray, a man who once murdered and destroyed, he’s trying to lead and teach others a way of peace. It’s a message that resonates with others, including the Hound, Sandor Clegane. Like Brother Ray, Clegane was an unrepentant killer and thief. Whatever it took to keep drunk, fed or free, that’s all that mattered to him. Until death nearly discovered him after his battle with Brienne of Tarth. It was Brother Ray who found him, healed him and is trying to help him lead a new life; one that is free of the blood-shedding and the chaos. And Sandor seems to be slowly taking to it.
That is, until members of the Brotherhood Without Banners arrive at their camp and start making demands for anything of value. The peasants have nothing to offer but the food they grow. For the outlaw group that once swore to protect the common folk of the Riverlands, that is enough. They return while Sandor is trying to gather more firewood for that night and kill all the peasants and hang Brother Ray. Enraged at seeing the brother dead and his new-found group murdered, Sandor retrieves an axe and opts to go find the Brotherhood. The brother’s act may have been real, but the one the Brotherhood put on wasn’t. And Sandor knew the difference. For while he may have been trying to act like a man of peace, it is just as likely that the real Sandor is a man of violence. A man who reflects the world in which he lives in. And in order to survive in this real world of violence, the act of being a man of peace cannot survive. Not for the Hound. And likely not for any of the other actors in the great game of thrones.