After each episode in Game of Thrones Season 5, we’ll be discussing a crucial question: Who is currently the worst person in Westeros? This week, Slate assistant editor Miriam Krule is joined by Slate senior editor Rachael Larimore.
Miriam Krule: Rachael! Thanks so much for joining me to discuss “High Sparrow.” So much happened in this week’s episode that I don’t even know where to begin! My favorite topic—religion on the show—is back front and center in at least three of our story lines: The episode starts with Arya being told by the faceless man that there’s only one God; the ascetic Sparrows grow stronger as Cersei embraces them; and, finally, Tyrion meets another red priestess like the terrible Melisandre. But that won’t help us figure out the worst person in Westeros (or will it?). This week I was more drawn to two characters: Margaery and Petyr Baelish, aka Littlefinger. They seem to be the two master manipulators on the show. The actors who play them are great, but the characters are even better actors. So which character on the show do you think is the best actor?
Rachael Larimore: The Oscar for best performance by a scheming Westerosi has to go to … Littlefinger. Margaery is delightful; I adore the fact that she is the one person who can get under Cersei’s skin. Last week, Cersei’s (er, Tommen’s) small council meeting went poorly and her Uncle Kevan just up and stormed off, but she maintained her steely reserve. When Margaery asked whether she should call her new mother-in-law the Queen Mother or the Dowager Queen, I couldn’t tell if Cersei was going to melt or explode. Margery’s attempts to have Tommen ship Cersei off to Casterly Rock show how much potential she has, but right now she feels like a bit of a lightweight compared to Littlefinger, who is deeper, and more subtle. Littlefinger made Sansa (who has the worst luck with arranged marriages of any woman in Westeros) believe he was empowering her to decide for herself as to whether she should marry Ramsay (né Snow) Bolton.
Krule: Oh my god, you’re right. This is her third arranged marriage! And all three of them (though I guess only one of them took place and that one wasn’t even consummated) have been into families that killed members of her family. Did you notice that Reek didn’t say a WORD in this episode and that just made him all the more creepy—and made me more terrified of Ramsay than ever? My latest theory about the show is that everyone serves as a foil for us to better understand Jon Snow. The past two episodes we’ve seen him turn down going from a “Snow” to a Stark. I’m not sure if that was the right decision, but it definitely made me think poorly of Ramsay in comparison. (Remember how he achieved that feat!) I can’t wait to hate him even more as this Sansa plot develops.
Larimore: Ramsay was, personally, my preliminary choice for Worst Person in Westeros this week. We were reminded, brutally, that the sigil of Bolton sigil is a “flayed man” for a reason. And if that act of blatant brutality seems too simplistic, given the complex scheming being conducted by more intelligent characters, bear with me. (It all ties into Littlefinger and Jon Snow.) One thing I noticed this week—and enjoyed, because I’m a huge Stark partisan—is that all of the Starks (plus Brienne, who is sworn to the late Catelyn) were demonstrating their sense of duty. Jon Snow discussed duty and honor with Stannis, and then lopped off someone’s head to earn the respect he needed to carry out that duty. Arya wrestles with giving up her identity so that she can continue her training under Jaqen H’ghar. And Sansa, poor sweet Sansa. Littlefinger really got to her with the “Avenge them” line. She is walking, somewhat blindly, into a trap. If she thought it was horrible to have to marry Roose Bolton, the man who murdered her brother, well, it’s actually worse to be marrying his crazy son. One question, since you mentioned Theon/Reek: When he looked at the flayed couple being drawn up, did you think he had a flashback to when he killed the two children and told everyone it was Bran and Rickon? Alfie Allen plays the role so well it’s hard to tell what might be going on in his mind.
Krule: Wait, are there people who AREN’T Stark partisans? They must be those mysterious Stannis Baratheon fans I’ve heard rumors about. The creepier he gets, the more interesting Theon is as a character. I have a feeling we’ll find out soon enough what he was thinking about! But as terrifying as Ramsay is, and has always been, I don’t know if he wins for worst person this week. He seemed to be enthusiastically embracing his newfound title. I cringed when he promised Littlefinger he’d never hurt Sansa—this pretty much guarantees that he will, right?—but aside from that, he was pretty tame. I actually think it has to be Littlefinger! Were you not surprised by the reveal that he’s in communication with Cersei?
Larimore: Littlefinger said one thing that kind of rallied me to his side. He was talking to Roose Bolton about the Lannisters, and Roose asked him why he was interested in partnering with the North, when he had the Eyrie. Littlefinger reminded Roose that the last time Winterfell (the Starks) paired up with the Eyrie (John Arryn, who was Robert Baratheon’s guardian), they overturned the greatest dynasty Westeros had ever known. (The Targaryens*.) And who doesn’t want to see the Lannisters go down in particularly painful fashion? At least Cersei. But, on the other hand, Littlefinger is playing poker with someone else’s chips: It’s Sansa’s who’s in danger, more so than he is.
Krule: There are just too many things that Littlefinger does in this episode that made me skeptical. His motives keep getting muddled, and while he doesn’t propose that he marry Sansa (which would ensure his place in Worst Person in Westeros Hall of Fame) he manages to make the next-worst choice. At least with Margaery we know what her end goal is; Littlefinger is a mystery.
Larimore: OK! Littlefinger it is. He’s a creepy bastard. Winterfell is huge, but I’m not sure it has room for two creepy bastards. Speaking of bastards, we kind of skipped over Jon Snow. For all that he’s been picked on in previous seasons, I do think he’s coming into his own. He stands up to Stannis, however respectfully. He makes a smart decision to keep Alliser Thorne close but separate him from Janos Slynt. And when Slynt challenges his authority, Jon does what he has to do. There were certain parallels to Daenery beheading Mossador last week and Jon dealing with Slynt this week that can’t be ignored. However, Jon set himself apart, I think, with his hesitation. Yes, he had to kill Slynt or he’d lose his authority. But he didn’t relish it, and he demonstrated his humanity. Tell me more about your theory that everything is about Jon Snow.
Krule: See! It holds! Dany’s execution, which left everyone yelling mercy but no mercy shown, was a disaster. Jon Snow, on the other hand, had the person he was executing ask for mercy and then he winced and chopped his head off. Yet, people still rallied behind him. What was different about his execution? But this also goes back to the pilot episode—Ned Stark telling Rob Stark and Jon Snow that sometimes you have to execute people. Jon Snow understands this; Dany doesn’t seem to. But neither of them are the worst person, at least not this week (my wish came true! we had a Dany-less episode!). This week that title goes to the conniving Littlefinger.
Correction, April 30, 2015: This post originally misspelled the name Targaryen.