‘Game of Thrones’ Postmortem: Lena Headey Talks Cersei and the High Sparrow

Spoiler warning: Do not read on unless you’ve seen “Game of Thrones” episode 503, titled “High Sparrow.”

The many disparate factions of Westeros continued to collide in unexpected ways in the third episode of “Game of Thrones” season five, with Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) being unexpectedly snatched up by the banished Ser Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen) in a Volantis brothel, and Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) returning home to Winterfell to grudgingly marry the sadistic Ramsay Bolton (Iwan Rheon) — in what we hope is part of a long con to incite a Northen uprising and murder the entire Bolton clan as payback for their betrayal of the Starks at the Red Wedding. Even further north, Jon Snow (Kit Harington) declined Stannis Baratheon’s (‎Stephen Dillane) tempting offer to make him Jon Stark and help him reclaim Winterfell from the Boltons, and cemented his position as Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch by killing the slimy Janos Slynt (Dominic Carter) after the former Gold Cloak tried to disobey Jon’s orders and humiliate him in front of his brothers.

While we didn’t check back in with Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) following her ill-conceived decision to make an example out of one of Meereen’s former slaves by publicly killing him in last week’s episode, we did catch up with Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) following her induction into the House of Black and White, where we saw the assassin formerly known as Jaqen H’ghar (Tom Wlaschiha) dispensing death as a form of mercy. As Wlaschiha told Variety last week: “The whole sect of the Faceless Men is a very respected but also feared group of people, because they have the ultimate gift to give in the name of their god, the Many-Faced God, which is the gift of death. And it can come in different ways. They work as assassins — they will kill people for a very high price; but they will also hand out the gift of death as a merciful treat, and that’s what I really like about the Faceless Men is that they’re not corruptible. Everybody’s equal in front of them and their god — they don’t care if someone has power or is poor, it’s all the same to them.”

Arya was eager to learn the ways of the Faceless Men, but it wasn’t until she let go of the last vestiges of her life as a Stark — her clothes and coin and stolen silver (but thankfully not Needle, which she hid under a pile of rocks outside) — that Jaqen brought her into the inner sanctum of the house and allowed her to take part in preparing the bodies of the dead for whatever lay ahead. She also met another resident of the House, an antagonistic girl that Wlaschiha revealed is called “the waif,” who seemed to have a competitive side and took great pleasure in attacking Arya with a stick.

“We meet a few characters in the House of Black and White — acolytes — and they all have different chores and jobs within that system,” Wlaschiha explained. “So what we basically learn over the course of the season is how the Faceless Men function and how the House of Black and White works. We learn a bit about how they perform their magic, even though it might not be magic in the end, it might just be skill…”

<p>“Game of Thrones”season 5, premieres on April 12 at 9 p.m.</p>

The episode also saw the long-awaited marriage between Margaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer) and Tommen Baratheon (Dean-Charles Chapman), and the pair had barely finished consummating their nuptials before Margaery was attempting to undermine Tommen’s mother, Cersei (Lena Headey), and get her shipped back to the Lannisters’ ancestral home at Casterly Rock. After getting wind of Margaery’s not so subtle plan, Cersei changed tack from her previously passive aggressive dynamic with her daughter-in-law, instead going to Margaery and offering her services, should there be anything Margaery needed.

During a recent interview, Headey told Variety that Cersei’s softer side was yet another tactic to try and keep the upper hand with her wily usurper. “She values Margaery’s intelligence, and she’s wary of it, and she respects her because she’s a female — it’s like, ‘I know what I’m up against, I know what I’m capable of, and this woman is just as capable — but I’m slightly smarter and older and more able to use a bit of trickery, and play below the lines,'” Headey laughed. “So I think her first M.O. with Margaery is to get her on side and make sure she doesn’t get too in Tommen’s head without Cersei knowing. And then she’s also thinking, ‘I’ll also formulate another plan which isn’t quite so friendly.'”

That backup plan involved befriending the High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce), a seemingly benevolent religious leader whose followers burst into one of Littlefinger’s (Aidan Gillen) brothels to publicly shame the current High Septon (Paul Bentley) for making use of the establishment’s workers, forcing him to walk naked through the streets as punishment for making a mockery of the gods. Instead of doing as the High Septon asked and punishing the High Sparrow or his faithful for the attack, Cersei massaged his ego and agreed that the High Septon’s behavior was unacceptable, telling the High Sparrow, “The faith and the crown are the two pillars that hold up this world — one collapses, so does the other. We must do everything necessary to protect one another.” But is the charitable old man as meek as he appears? Headey gave us a hint.

“She believes the High Sparrow is an old gentleman who’s religious and easily manipulated to her advantage, and religion is obviously highly respected and highly powerful, so if she can get him on side, she can do pretty much anything she wants and he’ll do anything she wants,” Headey noted. “And yet again she finds herself, sadly, underestimating an ally, who she believes to be an ally.”

Elsewhere in Westeros, Brienne (Gwendoline Christine) and Pod (Daniel Portman) continued to track Sansa and Littlefinger towards Winterfell, with Brienne finally starting to soften towards Pod after his near-death experience in last week’s episode.

“Game of Thrones” season 5 premieres on April 12 at 9 p.m.

“I think there is a moment when she looks at him, where she realizes she hasn’t taught him to ride, and there are many other things that he needs to be taught in order to give him the skills he needs to be a better person,” Christie noted of the evolution between the pair. “And I think that there’s a reassessment of the relationship, which is quite beautiful because we see yet again another relationship between a man and a woman that is based on mutual respect, the overturning of preconceptions, and a growth together, [as] we saw with Jaime Lannister [Nikolaj Coster-Waldau] and Brienne. We now see similar themes in entirely different form with Brienne and Podrick.”

The series (as with George R. R. Martin’s novels) excels at putting unexpected characters together and using their contrasting ideologies to add depth to both, as we previously witnessed with Arya and The Hound, and will no doubt see with Jaime and Bronn (Jerome Flynn) during their quest to Dorne. Those relationships often become symbiotic, with both characters facilitating some kind of character growth in their companion, and Christie believed the same is true of Brienne and Pod. In this week’s episode, she agreed to teach him how to fight, and in return, Christie said, “I think she’s learning to have a greater degree of compassion. It seems Brienne has been treated harshly in her upbringing, and she’s had to work very hard to have the kind of life that she wants, and I think the relationship with Pod has made her reassess the way in which she treats other people. And it makes her question her immediate responses towards other people’s weaknesses. I love playing Brienne because she becomes more and more complex with each season, in ways that we don’t expect, and in ways which are increasingly unexpectedly human. She seems to be a very unconventional form, but what she reveals are beautiful conventions of humanity.”

That humanity was further explored in a poignant scene between the two, in which Brienne revealed why she was so loyal to Renly Baratheon (Gethin Anthony), and fell in love with him despite knowing he would never return her desire. “I was delighted when I got the script, when I saw that scene. That scene is my very favorite scene of Brienne’s, and it was a real gift of David Benioff and Dan Weiss to write me such a scene. And I was very excited about it from the minute that I go it, and I looked at it a lot — really, really, really a lot,” Christie recalled. “It was just, in terms of the story, so beautiful to me to see this woman and this younger man together, forming a bond, and Brienne showing real vulnerability and pulling back the cloak on her interior life and the formations of her early world and sharing them with another person. It seals the bond between the two of them. I think it really seals their friendship, and it’s a new friendship, and a different kind of friendship, and I was very excited about shooting it… It’s beautifully written. Daniel Portman is such a wonderful actor. He’s really, genuinely great to act with, and he’s so collaborative, and you really feel like you’re a team working together on the material. And I couldn’t have hoped to work with anyone better in that scene.”

Although Brienne eventually came to trust Jaime, and opened up to him in ways she and the audience might not have expected last season, Christie admitted that she thought this week’s discussion with Pod was the most vulnerable that Brienne has ever been before in her whole life: “I think it’s more fun to play it as though it’s the first time. I think it’s more fun to play it that the stakes are so high, because this is a big risk to her. The risk she takes physically, she sees as nothing, but this risk of intimacy is Brienne’s greatest risk so far in the story.”

“Game of Thrones” airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on HBO.

Do you think Cersei is right to form an alliance with the High Sparrow? Will Sansa be able to avenge her family now she’s back at Winterfell? Weigh in below.

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