Game of Thrones, Season 6, Television

Season 6, Episode 8: No One

In this latest episode, ironically titled “No One,” characters throughout the land reclaim their identities and humanities. Over the years, inspired by Brienne, Jaime has found a sense of honor worthy of his true name, not the Kingslayer moniker that labeled him with disrepute. In this episode, Jaime may pretend to be the Kingslayer in his words to Edmure Tully, but his actions fulfill a long-held duty not only to Cersei, but also to Brienne and the late Catelyn Stark.

The former queen Cersei chooses not to give up the fight for her life and the life of her last remaining child. Even as her son outlaws trial by combats, she makes a clear choice: “I choose violence,” she tells Lancel and the Faith Militant, and though we only see one of their deaths, we can be sure that Cersei will continue to choose violence if it means protecting herself and her son. “Catelyn and Cersei… they’d do anything to protect their babies: start a war, burn cities to ash, free their worst enemies,” Jaime tells Edmure. Cersei has been pushed aside for too long. This is the episode where she reasserts the only kind of power she believes in: power, pure and simple. “Power is power.”

In Meereen, Greyworm and Missandei find their humanity in humor, laughing and smiling for what feels like the first time in their lives. Both of them—Greyworm especially—have been deprogrammed of their selves for their whole lives. Over time, with the help of Daenerys and now Tyrion, they are figuring out how to become someone more than a mindless cog in someone else’s machine.

Sandor Clegane is still searching for his larger purpose, but rediscovers his true nature as the Hound. For some time now, he has ignored his instincts and sought to live in peace, chopping wood for a rural septon and his followers. After last week’s massacre, the Hound emerges once again as he uses his superior skills of violence to get revenge on the rogue members of the Brotherhood Without Banners.

Finally, Arya has at long last stopped pretending to be anyone other than Arya Stark of Winterfell, running from her family and her past. She refuses to be No One, as the Faceless Men (seemed to have) wanted. She reclaims her true identity and sets on a path towards home.

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Game of Thrones, Season 6, Television

Season 6, Episode 7: The Broken Man

The characters in Game of Thrones have suffered a lot over the years. Most are almost unrecognizable to their former selves. This episode’s title, “The Broken Man,” may be referring most specifically to the surprising return of Sandor Clegane (the Hound), but many other men and women bear this title, as well. One of the most important themes of the series is that war is awful business. George R.R. Martin was a conscientious objector in Vietnam and has spoken out against the glorification of war in other fantasy series. None of his characters escape the damaging effects of war.

In this episode, Jon Snow, still reeling from his murder, is unable to articulate the importance of his cause to the wildlings and minor Northern houses. He needs the help of Tormund, Sansa, and most importantly Ser Davos to sell a cause for which he once argued passionately.

Theon and Jaime have both been physically broken, a trauma that has similarly marked their psyches for life. Jaime wears his father’s armor (or something made to look like it) and plays the part of stern commander, but he is missing more than a sword hand in his limp confrontation with the Blackfish at Riverrun. Theon’s sister, Yara, does not understand what it means to be abused and urges him to find himself, not realizing that a broken man cannot just flip a switch to be healed again.

Sansa also carries around the trauma she suffered at the hands of Ramsay, using it to fuel her quest for vengeance on the Boltons. She tells Lyanna Mormont, “I did what I had to do to survive, my lady. But I am a Stark. I will always be a Stark.” Her sister, who only recently realized the same, is physically broken in this episode. Stabbed and left for dead, Arya searches the unfriendly Braavosi faces and finds no help or sympathy.

Finally, Margaery plays the part of a broken woman in her complete conversion to the Faith. Unlike the other characters, she has not actually been broken, but pretends to be in order to play the High Sparrow. Even her grandmother fears for her until Margaery is able to slip her a reassuring drawing of their house rose. She is still a Tyrell, and as their house motto goes, she is “growing strong.”

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Game of Thrones, Season 5, Television

Season 5, Episode 10: Mother’s Mercy

In war, death is arbitrary and knows no bounds; the likable die as easily as the unlikable. Though a fantasy, Game of Thrones often draws better historical parallels than true historical fiction; it is raw, real, and complex, just like true times of war. Too often in fiction, protagonists are protected from any real harm even in times of chaos and danger. The risk to them is minimal, the stakes relatively low. One of the greatest conceits of Game of Thrones was established in the first season with Ned Stark’s surprising death: Valar Morghulis, “all men must die,” even your favorites.

In “Mother’s Mercy,” the Season 5 finale, the death toll soars, with many major characters offered up to the God of Death. Ironically, there is no peace or mercy of the Mother in this episode—not for anyone. Viewers were left reeling when the credits rolled on this season as one beloved character’s blood stained the snow, but there may be more to some of these deaths than meets the eye.

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Game of Thrones, Season 5, Television

Season 5, Episode 6: Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken

With the season already more than half over, it’s interesting to see how far the characters have come since we started. Arya and Tyrion are both a whole continent away; Arya, an initiate of the band of assassins known as the Faceless Men, and Tyrion, a captive again, yet still on the road to Meereen. Jaime is in enemy territory, hoping to rescue his niece/daughter Myrcella from Dorne. Thanks to Cersei, Queen Margaery and her brother are in jail. And thanks to Littlefinger, Sansa has married her second so-called “monster”– this time, a real one.

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Game of Thrones, Season 4, Television

Season 4, Episode 8: The Mountain and the Viper

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In one of the most anticipated episodes of the season, aptly titled “The Mountain and the Viper,”Game of Thrones takes another look at the power of families. “Family, honor, all that horseshit. It’s all you lords and ladies ever talk about,” the Hound says to Arya. What he doesn’t acknowledge is the overwhelming affect that families have– not only on the course of events in Westeros, but also over the individuals within.

For starters, Gilly’s very life is spared because Ygritte finds her with baby Sam in her arms and takes pity. Grey Worm and Missandei, who never had an opportunity to really know their own families, are beginning to cultivate a relationship and find comfort in each other. For Ramsay Snow, the bastard of Roose Bolton, it means so much to be officially acknowledged as a Bolton: heir to the North, but more importantly, a legitimate member of the family. Theon uses his family name to invade and influence the otherwise-impregnable Moat Cailin and the immovable Greyjoy forces stationed within. Sansa reveals her family name in order to gain the confidence and compassion of the powerful lords of the Vale, but later sheds the Stark name in order to take on a new identity that is all her own. Tyrion and Jaime bond as brothers right before the trial by combat, and Oberyn Martell fights bravely because he demands justice– not for Tyrion, but for his sister. In the game of thrones, family is an important, ever-present source of power.

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Game of Thrones, Season 4, Television

Season 4, Episode 7: Mockingbird

When Arya and the Hound come upon a dying stranger in Sunday’s episode, he expresses regret for the way the world has changed: “Fair. A balance. No balance anymore.” It’s hard to imagine that this is possible, that the world shown in Game of Thrones has ever been fair or balanced. He has seen, at the very least, four kings in his lifetime. Several wars have been fought over the throne, the current War of the Five Kings being only the latest of many.

Even on a personal level, few adults in Westeros have made it out of childhood unscathed. It’s almost impossible to imagine that a fair and peaceful society made any of these characters. These people seem to have been “born to woe,” as historian Barbara W. Tuchman writes in her book A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century. Like the medieval man, the characters of Game of Thrones have grown up in a world where a “habit of violence” and adversity rule more effectively than any government.

In “Mockingbird,” we see several adults who have survived a childhood of violence, abuse, and misery, but not without scars, both physical and emotional. This episode shows how these adults revert back to childishness to cope when present traumas aggravate old wounds. Meanwhile, the actual children, Arya and Sansa, continue to experience the brutality that has already begun to make them into scarred adults.

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Game of Thrones, Season 4, Television

Season 4, Episode 5: First of his Name

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In “First of His Name,” we begin with a coronation, when official power in Westeros is transferred to Tommen, the “first of his name” to rule on the continent. However, de facto power in the land is held elsewhere, taking as many different forms as there are people who hold it. “You really think a crown gives you power?” Tywin asked Joffrey last season, and this episode further proves that, though many people are fighting to hold it, the seat on the Iron Throne is not the most powerful position in the land.

One of the most enduring themes of the show has been the examination of power and how it can change over time and circumstance. In the second season, Varys presented Tyrion with a riddle to show that power is an illusion, a “shadow on the wall.” Power means different things to different people, and is often little more than a perception. It is not fixed, as even Cersei has come to realize (the woman who once professed that “power is power” now admits, “What good is power if you cannot protect the ones you love?”), and it comes in different forms. According to Littlefinger, one man (or woman) “can be worth ten thousand,” and this sets the theme for the episode.

One woman could become queen through force (Daenerys), another by playing politics (Margaery). Sometimes the greatest swordsman is no match for an armored man with a big sword. A Kingsguard can be killed by a squire who can’t even cook a rabbit or ride a horse. Power is not transferred through a crown alone; even though women are often marginalized and abused (“Everywhere in the world, they hurt little girls”), this episode highlights the many different ways that they, too, can find power in a masculine world.

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