Game of Thrones, Season 3, Television

Season 3 Recap

Note: This season, I will be writing for a new website called KingsLanding.Net. I am very excited for the opportunity to launch this fan page and hope you will follow me over there. In the meanwhile, I will continue to post snippets of my recaps. For the full versions, be sure to check out KingsLanding.Net!

[ETA March, 2015: KingsLanding.Net is no longer available to read my posts from Season 4. You can continue to read all my recaps here on my homepage!]

The fourth season of Game of Thrones is upon us at last. We’ve all grown to miss our friends from Westeros over the last few months. Next Sunday, the oft-tormented characters of George R.R. Martin’s medieval fantasy pick up right where they left off, and if your memory is anything like mine, you might easily find yourself a step behind.

Here’s a guide to help you catch up on the major events of last season so you won’t have to pepper your loved ones with questions, like, “Wait—what desert city is Daenerys in this time?”

I’ve split up the pertinent events under character headings so that you can catch up on the major characters’ arcs from last season. It’s impossible to include every detail, so feel free to go back and read my full recaps here. However, these details should at least help you not be “that guy/girl.”

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Game of Thrones, Season 3, Television

Season 3, Episode 10: Mhysa

Daenerys continues her round-about recapture of the Seven Kingdoms by winning former slaves to her cause. (There is a prophecy in the books that Daenerys learns back in Qarth: "To go north, you must journey south. To reach the west, you must go east.") Added to her army, she now has the opposite problem of Stannis Baratheon: how to maintain a growing force and marshal their energies towards the conquest of Westeros. We'll just have to wait until next season to see how (or if) she manages it.

Daenerys continues her round-about recapture of the Seven Kingdoms by winning former slaves to her cause. (There is a prophecy in the books that Daenerys learns back in Qarth: “To go north, you must journey south. To reach the west, you must go east.”) Added to her army, she now has the opposite problem of Stannis Baratheon: how to maintain a growing force and marshal their energies towards the conquest of Westeros. We’ll just have to wait until next season to see how (or if) she manages it.

The Season 3 finale, “Mhysa” (meaning “Mother” in an old language, Ghiscari), had the misfortune of following a knockout episode; anything was going to feel slow after the Red Wedding. The tenth episode of each season so far has served as a resolution to the climax of episode 9, a dénouement for both the characters and the viewers. After resolving the journeys that many of these characters have been on all season (Arya to her mother and brother, Jaime to King’s Landing, Davos back into the good graces of his king, Jon Snow back to Castle Black, Bran to the north of the Wall, etc.), the tenth episode also sets up the rising action of the next season to come: where can Arya go next? How will a crippled Jaime fit in with a Lannister family known to despise the handicapped? How will Davos cope with being in league with Melisandre and the Red God just to stay in his King’s good graces as they march on the Wall? How much will Jon Snow give away about the wildlings (and therefore, Ygritte) now that he’s at Castle Black? What, exactly, do Bran and the Reeds plan to do to save the world north of the Wall?

The format of these seasons is  much more like the traditional narrative structure than the typical television show, which tends to end its seasons on the climax and save the resolution for the beginning of the next, months away. If Game of Thrones operated in that manner, the same people who bemoaned last night’s episode, calling it “boring,” would be complaining that they have to wait nine months to find out “what happens next.” The show actually subverts the traditional and (by now) cliched television plot structure with an even more traditional dramatic structure that hearkens back to the time of Aristotle. I think the Red Wedding left a lot of people chasing the high of the shock factor, myself included. However, whether it was exciting or not, the finale was no less important to the overall narrative.

All that being said, there was very little by way of plot in this episode. Still, there are several interesting threads to pick up in anticipation of next season.

The episode opens on the continued slaughter of Stark men outside the castle at the Twins. Arya, dazed from being knocked out by the Hound, awakens to a commotion. Frey men shout “King of the North!” as Robb’s headless body rides out strapped to a horse with his direwolf’s head propped on top. They call him, mockingly, the “Young Wolf” and laugh as the grotesque figure is paraded through the camp.  Even the Hound appears to be disgusted by this act, and rides Arya safely away.

After fleeing the scene, Arya and the Hound ride past a band of Frey men who claim to have taken part in the butchery of Robb and Catelyn. Not only do they mock her mother’s death in an obscene fashion, but one man brags about putting Grey Wind’s head on Robb’s decapitated body. This is too much for Arya to bear. She approaches them numbly, offering an unfamiliar coin for food and the chance to warm herself by their fire.

At the end of last season, Arya, Gendry, and Hot Pie were able to escape Harrenhal with the help of Jaqen H’ghar, the Faceless Man. When she met him outside the castle, he offered to take her to Braavos to join the Faceless Men. This group of religious assassins holds many powers, as he was able to show her, but most of all they would be able to help her deal with the many names on her hit list (Joffrey, Cersei, Tywin Lannister, Illyn Payne, the Hound…). At first, she was tempted by the deal, but then stated that she needed to find her brother, mother, and sister. Jaqen left her with “a coin of great value.” If she ever wanted to find Jaqen in the future, she need only present that coin to a Braavosi and say “Valar Morghulis” (All men must die).

After spending all season trying in vain to get to her mother and her brother, Arya is finally ready to present that coin. She uses it as a trick to get the Frey man to lower his defenses, dropping it on the ground and then pouncing on him with a dagger, stabbing him repeatedly in the neck. That this act is morally questionable hardly registers for us as viewers, as we are too busy cheering her on. As his partners point out, the Frey man was unlikely to have been the one to actually strap the head of Grey Wind to Robb’s body. Arya murders the man for much pettier reasons than she’s accused the Hound of doing in the past. This is an all new Arya: the honor of Starks be damned. After seeing how far it has gotten the family, you cannot help but forgive Arya for choosing to hang up her mantle of righteousness, nor can you help celebrating her transformation in the process. Those Frey guys were slimy anyway.

The Hound comes to her rescue after the remaining Frey men surround her and her little dagger. In the end, he doesn’t tell her not to go murdering again, just that he wants her to give him a heads up next time so he might help. D.B. Weiss (one of the show’s creators and writers of this episode) rightly observes, “There’s something kind of weirdly sweet about that.” The Hound, for all his faults, has shown his own brand of kindness towards the Stark girls. In a world of so little heart, his understanding and rough sympathy for Arya is more touching than perhaps it should be, considering their friendship now appears to be based solely on a mutual appreciation for the art of killing and getting revenge on worse men. It is worth noting that, though the Hound features prominently on Arya’s hit list, she managed to steal the dagger from him and chose not to use it against him, though she clearly had opportunity (he did not even realize it was gone). I am most excited for how this father-daughter version of a Bonnie and Clyde-like duo plays out next season.

Like Arya, Tyrion collects a list of people who have done him wrong, though his intentions for revenge are much less violent. With a shared dislike for the cruel people of the capital, Sansa and Tyrion seem to be getting along at last. Sansa encourages him to get even with two men who laugh at the sight of him standing next to the statuesque Stark girl, sharing a trick called “sheep shifting” (“shift” because she doesn’t know that the actual vulgar word for dung is “shit”), which is where you sew sheep’s dung into someone’s mattress. As she tells him about the sheep shift, she takes a seat, meeting him eye to eye for perhaps the first time. While she would not bend for him to cloak her at the wedding ceremony, she is now eager to meet him at his level. This simple move is symbolic of their growing affection, which never features prominently in the books but is a nice touch for the show; after all, Tyrion is very kind and likable, though too often guilty by association.

It’s not hard to see why Tyrion gets pulled into such negative characterizations when he shares blood with a bunch as loathsome as Joffrey, Tywin, and Cersei, and I mean that in the most affectionate way possible. Lannister scenes continue to be some of the most entertaining of the series, despite the fact that most of them play out as simple conversations around a table.

In this particular case, the Small Council is called to meet about Robb Stark’s death. Joffrey is practically twitching with excitement when Tyrion arrives, prompting his uncle to ask rather coincidentally, “Killed a few puppies today?” Joffrey is all too happy to announce that instead of mere puppies, three wolves have been slaughtered. He gleefully states his intention to serve Robb’s head to Sansa at his wedding to Margaery Tyrell. Varys and even Cersei are appalled at the thought. Cersei tries to explain away her son’s statement as a joke, which only prompts him to reassure everyone that he is absolutely intent on abject cruelty. “Everyone is mine to torment.”

Despite his claim, Joffrey is unable to successfully rise above the power and command of his grandfather. At first, Tywin belittles Joffrey after the boy threatens Tyrion (though there is no love between father and son, they at least can share in their mutual contempt for the king): “Any man who must say ‘I am the king’ is no true king. I’ll make sure you understand that when I’ve won your war for you.” Joffrey, who is the only one in Westeros who still believes that his father was Robert Baratheon, snaps back feebly that Robert won the real war while Tywin “hid under Casterly Rock.”

Tywin did sit back idly, ignoring King Aerys Targaryen’s calls to arms during Robert’s Rebellion until the Baratheon who would be king had secured a sure victory at the Battle of the Trident. This move was of course not due to cowardice but to shrewd calculation, a finer point that Joffrey seems incapable of understanding. Tywin managed to back the winning side without much consequence to himself and his people. Quietly enraged at Joffrey’s insolence, Tywin literally puts his grandson to bed. Though he insists that he is not tired, like any petulant young child would do, Joffrey does not need to be dragged from the Tower of the Hand.

“You really think the crown gives you power?” Tywin asks Tyrion when they are finally alone, pointedly referring to his own unparalleled reach, as evidenced most recently in his orchestration of the Red Wedding. So many men have been fighting for the crown in the past three seasons. Five men in particular have laid claim in the War of Five Kings, but after the losses of Renly Baratheon and Robb Stark, only three remain, each of them weaker than the next. Tywin is right; it is not the crown that gives power, but the man who lends his power to the crown. Absent a strong king, true power lies elsewhere, and the vacuum of power is filled in other ways. So long as Joffrey remains the weak and ineffectual king he is, Tywin and the Lannisters will reign.

For aiding Tywin in his plan to cut short the Stark campaign, Robb’s bannerman Roose Bolton has been named the Warden of the North. The right and responsibility of the wardens is to control the regional armies. For a long time, the Wardens of the North were the Starks. In the West, of course, is Tywin Lannister. The Warden of the South is Mace Tyrell, Margaery and Loras’s father, and in the East is Robin “Make the Bad Man Fly” Arryn, whom we have seen little of in some time because House Arryn has stayed out of the war. Eventually, Tywin hopes that Tyrion’s son of Sansa Stark will be Warden of the North, thereby securing half of Westeros under strong Lannister influence. “One way or another, you’ll get that girl pregnant,” he commands Tyrion, who gallantly refuses to rape his young wife.

When he does go back to see Sansa, wanting to break the news about her brother and mother’s deaths himself, he finds her by a latticed window looking out at a view that is not dissimilar to that of a jail cell. Her face is red and swollen from tears. The good footing they found is now lost, and Tyrion is once again guilty by association.

At the Nightfort, Sansa’s brother Bran shares a story with his companions of a cook who, after disliking the king for some reason, killed the king’s son and cooked him into a pie to serve to him. According to the tale, the gods turned the cook into a giant white rat who could only eat his own young. Bran insists that it wasn’t for murder or for cooking the son’s meat and serving it to the father; rather, he was punished for killing a guest beneath his roof. “That’s something the gods cannot forgive.” We don’t know if his visions have provided him knowledge of Robb’s death, but at least this story further explains the sheer atrocity that was the Red Wedding: a shockingly unprecedented move in a lawless society that tries to maintain some order with the promise of a “guest right” and all the protections it affords guests and hosts alike.

Later, Samwell Tarly and Gilly meet Bran and his companions after they enter the Nightfort from the secret passage Sam found in his books. It’s amazing that Meera pounces on Sam before the direwolf does, but it’s Summer who gives Bran’s identity away, since Sam is well acquainted with Jon’s own direwolf. Sam bravely offers to help Bran in whatever way he can. Though he hesitates to take him beyond the wall, he eventually relents.

Sam is surprised to find out that Jojen knows about the White Walkers, since everyone else south of the Wall remains in not-so-blissful ignorance of the impending doom. “The Night’s Watch can’t stop them. The kings of Westeros and their armies can’t stop them,” the Reed boy says, knowingly. Sam immediately understands that they believe the crippled Bran is the one to stop the White Walkers and is unable to convince them otherwise. Before they depart, Sam gives them each dragonglass daggers and arrowheads, which he uncovered north of the Wall and was smart enough to take with him. As Bran and crew trudge down the long passage beneath the Wall, there’s a great shot of the light on the other side in the distance, with Summer’s form outlined against it as he leads the way into the unknown (also known as Season 4).

Sam and Gilly head on to Castle Black and meet with Maester Aemon Targaryen. The blind man agrees to let Gilly stay at the castle and orders that Sam send ravens to all the major kings and lords of Westeros to warn them of the creatures that have been spotted north of the Wall. “Dark wings, dark words,” indeed:

“To all the lords and noble men of Westeros,

The Night’s Watch implores you to heed our warnings. Winter is coming, but not as we have seen for hundreds of years past. Only one man has returned from North of the Wall, the only man left from my company of brothers with news of sights I never thought to report.

The White Walkers have risen again and they ride through the northern lands beyond the wall, taking our fallen and making them their own kind. An army of their dead marches forth hundred, perhaps thousands, who can only be killed by fire. Prepare your defenses my lords. They are coming.

Aemon, Maester of the Night’s Watch, Castle Black”

The note is soon received by Ser Davos on Dragonstone, who as the newly literate Hand, goes through the messages for King Stannis. He holds on to it until later, when he uses it fortuitously to his own advantage. In the meanwhile, he argues with Stannis and Melisandre over their intention to execute Gendry. The two of them use the atomic bomb defense, claiming that the life of one can and should be weighed against the lives of the many. Davos, who bonds with Gendry earlier in the episode, finding a bit of his deceased son and himself in the boy who came from nothing, believes strongly that the ends do not justify the means. Meanwhile, Stannis, who took the news of Robb Stark’s death to mean that the red priestess was successful in her technique of throwing the Gendry-filled leeches into the flame, believes that sacrifices must be made in order to achieve greatness. He justifies this view by reminding Davos that magic helped Aegon Targaryen conquered the kingdom when he used dragons to overcome his troop deficiencies, which Stannis himself suffers from. “A great gift requires a great sacrifice,” reminds Melisandre. What is the life of one against a kingdom?

Watching Stannis alone in his stone fortress, you can’t help but feel that he has no right to lead, and it’s amazing that a good man like Davos remains loyal to his cause, despite everything. We rarely see him with any of his people, the ones he claims to be fighting for. He is a sad, weak, and lonely man who uses his religion and sorcery to conjure up a campaign for a crown that would be meaningless upon his head, so little support does he have.

However, when Davos faces the charge of death for helping Gendry escape Dragonstone, he bargains for his life with the one chip that might promise a real victory for Stannis: an impending war against the White Walkers. “This war of Five Kings means nothing. The true war lies to the north, my king.” In recent history, the lords of Westeros have failed to support the Wall in every way imaginable, hence why the once-great and proud tradition of defending the Wall has fallen upon murderers, rapists, and outcasts, and most of the castles along the line have been abandoned. Davos implores Stannis to save the kingdom from a doom they do not yet comprehend, to fight a war that might truly be the battle of Good versus Evil Stannis so desires. This is the only opportunity Davos sees to recast his beloved king into the good man he once knew.

Melisandre quickly comes around to the new strategy, saying that suddenly Stannis’s divine right is to protect the kingdom when others will not, and it makes sense from a tactical standpoint. He has not the troops nor the allegiance of the people of Westeros. A successful campaign in the north when no one else would take it could bring him the hero status he so requires in order to claim dominion over the rest of the Seven Kingdoms. Davos manages to live, despite his treasonous release of Gendry and continued blasphemy against the Red God, by reminding the king that he is the only one who is capable of rounding up all of the pirates and sellswords necessary for such a campaign.

Melisandre, amazingly, agrees. She is surprisingly practical for a religious zealot. Melisandre, like Roose Bolton, is cold and calculating, acting not with passion but with careful tact: even her supposed passions are deployed with precision (as the virginal Gendry can attest). She is anything but vindictive, particularly towards Davos, who has defied her every step of the way. This alone proves that she both wants and needs Stannis to succeed, and will not let anything stand in the way of it– not even her own pride, which is the weakness of so many others. Everything she does is in the name of R’hllor, the Lord of Light. Throughout this scene, the setting sun shines directly into their dark castle and surrounds them with yellow and orange light, making it feel like the Lord of Light is truly among them.

For the first time in a while, we head over to the Iron Islands and drop in on the world’s most cuddly family, the Greyjoys. As it turns out, Theon was turned over to Ramsay Bolton (the torturer now named) by his own men. Now that Ramsay’s father, Roose, is the Warden of the North, his son plays an integral role in maintaining their power in the northernlands. They do not take too kindly to the continued presence of Greyjoys in their midst, and since “Ramsay has his own way of doing things,” he has sent a package to the Iron Islands with an ultimatum: remove your troops from my land or continue to receive choice bits of Theon in a box. As always, I won’t even discuss the scene between Ramsay and Theon because I’m still protesting its inclusion (you only ever hear reference to Theon once– once— in the whole of the third book, and it occurs right before the Red Wedding, when people have more important things on their mind). However, it’s clear the process of dehumanizing his prisoner has been successful, now that Theon has a new name: Reek.

Despite the fact that his lone surviving heir is now incapable of furthering the Greyjoy line (or, rather, because of that fact), Balon cannot be shaken from his disinterest in his son. He won’t withdraw his troops from the North, thereby sacrificing his son up to certain torture. Yara bravely declares to go after her brother, and is seen on her ship setting sail to rescue him with fifty of her best men. She is a great warrior, well-respected among them despite her gender, but what’s even cooler about this scene is the fact that she chooses to go at all. After all, she hates her brother and thinks him a weak fool (and boy, is he); but, like the Lannisters, Yara has pride in her blood and is willing to put family above all else. She, too, sails off into the distance (and into Season 4).

Back in King’s Landing, Varys meets Shae looking out at the sea. He compliments her, acknowledging that Shae and Tyrion genuinely love each other, and that Shae has reformed Tyrion at least in some small measure. When she complains about his marriage to Sansa, Varys again comes to the Stark’s defense: “She is a sweet young thing. None of this is her fault.” (Sometimes the viewers need that reminder, too.) Shae, who obviously feels kinship enough with Varys to open up to him, counters immediately, “I love that girl. I would kill for her.” Sansa may have lost the protection of her direwolf, Lady, when Joffrey and Cersei had her beheaded back in Season 1, but it’s clear she’s acquired a fiercely loyal lady-in-waiting in her stead.

Varys hopes Shae will leave King’s Landing, and gives her diamonds to help her set up in another city, Pentos. He is banking on Tyrion’s goodness and influence over the corrupt court. “Tyrion Lannister is one of the few people alive who can make this country a better place. He has the mind for it, he has the will, he has the right last name. You are a complication.”

Varys wants the best for the country, as evidenced several times before. The first time we learn hints of Varys’s shady motives is when he meets with Ned Stark in the dungeons of King’s Landing. Though he could have freed Ned, he didn’t, but offered him a way out: if he forgave Cersei and the Lannisters for the multitude of wrongs done, she was likely to let him live, since Varys thought her smart enough to realize the value of an obedient wolf. Ned, of course, refused to forgive the Lannisters of anything and was prepared to die (until Varys reminded him of his daughter Sansa, who was and still is at the Lannisters’ mercy). When Ned demanded to know what Varys truly wanted, the man replied, “Peace… I want you to serve the realm.” Now, he wants Tyrion to do the same, but Shae’s continued presence in the capital is only going to enrage Tywin. Naturally, Shae does not accept the bribe.

Cut to Tyrion drinking, the one habit Shae hasn’t broken. As much as Cersei hates Tyrion, and vice versa, the two of them sure do seek each other out a lot. Like true siblings, they may want to kill one another, but they also love each other. More this season than ever, they share a strong connection of loneliness and disappointed dreams. Both have been proclaimed a disappointment to their father, and nothing they do seems to work in the way they hope it will. Their world has become programmed against them. Tyrion has Shae’s stubborn jealousy to contend with, while Cersei’s beloved son turns a cold and murderous shoulder to her.

Cersei is a southern version of Catelyn, a fiercely protective mother who does not always make the right decisions in her steadfast efforts to protect them. She lives only for her children– “even Joffrey.” She reminisces about how he once was, back when he was an innocent babe in her arms, before he was murdering prostitutes for sport. Tyrion listens sympathetically and asks, “How long does it go on? …Every time we deal with an enemy, we create two more.” Next season, perhaps, we’ll see the true cost of the Lannister’s sinister dealings in the North.

Cersei, at least, need not be lonely much longer. Her brother and lover, Jaime, returns to King’s Landing and is unrecognizable not only to the people of Flea Bottom but also to his own sister, who can hardly see him for the stump where his hand once was. (Flashback to Season 1, Episode 2, where Jaime said: “Well, even if [Bran Stark] lives, he’ll be a cripple, grotesque. Give me a good, clean death any day.”) Brienne looks on him sympathetically as they enter the town gates as just another travel-weary band of nobodies, but she’s not there to give him comfort when he meets his sister. Jaime’s famed Lannister confidence and swagger is gone along with his hand, and Cersei is horrified.

In one of the most painful scenes of the series, Ygritte manages to catch up with Jon Snow on foot. She holds an arrow trained on him and looks ready to burst into tears at any moment. “I know you won’t hurt me,” he says to her, a bit hopefully. “You know nothing Jon Snow.” (Is this really the last time we’ll get to hear the famed phrase?) “I do know some things. I know I love you. I know you love me.” She starts to cry, but her aim is unwavering. She shoots him as he turns to go– not once, but three times. A woman scorned, right? Perhaps. However, remember: Ygritte is a great shot, as we know from the seemingly-insignificant (at the time) deer hunting scene a few episodes ago. She hits him in the back and the legs, hardly in critical areas, and watches him ride off.

This is as great a love scene in all of Game of Thrones. Though she could have killed him, Ygritte chooses not to. Yet, why does she still shoot him if she loves him? Remember, Ygritte is a wildling, born and bred. In the wildling tradition of marriage and courtship, the men are expected to literally steal women away. It’s meant to be a very violent and aggressive occasion, but not just from the man’s end. The women, upon their capture, are supposed to put up a fight all along the way. This ritual celebrates not only the strength of men, but also the woman’s own independence and might. The men normally try to steal women from far away clans and bring them home to strengthen their own.

In his own way, Jon Snow came north and stole Ygritte from her clan, and then brought her south again to his own lands. However, he has no intention to take her any further, and it’s unclear really if she would want to go. What is clear is that they love one another. What if Ygritte shot Jon as part of this ritual of wildling marriage? What if she expected Jon to grab her and drag her to Castle Black with him? When he rides away without her, she bursts into tears, utterly heartbroken (and heartbreaking to us as viewers).

Outside of Yunkai, Daenerys is positioned with her troops at the ready as the people spill forth from the city. They are on edge, unsure of how they will be received. As Daenerys points out, “People learn to love their chains.” When Missandei starts to give a speech about their savior, Dany interrupts to play semantics with her words, insisting that she cannot give the people their freedom, but that they must take it for themselves. Everyone starts to shout the old Ghiscari word for “mother,” Mhysa, the title of the episode. She begins to walk through the crowd, unconcerned for her own safety, and the people hoist her up on their shoulders like she just won the championship match.

As the camera pans back from her ecstatic face, and we take a dragon’s-eye view of the scene outside the walls of Yunkai, we see thousands of people forming a radial symmetric organism around Daenerys at the axis. Beside them are the troops, still perfectly organized into rows of rectangular formations. In one shot, we see the three-pronged attack strategy of Daenerys Stormborn. First and foremost are the dragons, swooping high above everyone. To supplement these mystical creatures are the actual land forces,  fierce fighters who have been bought not with gold, but with their freedom and her respect. Finally, the radial circle of freed slaves represents not only the support of the people, but more importantly, the justification for the state she intends to set up… eventually. When she gets to it.

We’ll just have to wait until next season.

Other thoughts from “Mhysa”:

  • As awesome as that final shot was, the last scene was a little heavy-handed and uncomfortable, to put it mildly. When the slaves spill out of the city to surround literally the whitest girl in Westeros and Essos, we add yet another work of fiction to the pile of countless “White Savior” stories. The show has, for some unknown reason, chosen to depict many of the more “tribal” and “primitive” societies of Essos as having darker skin. There’s not really a reason why the show could not have written a more diverse crowd of slaves to call mesmerized after their uber-blond savior. Also, the fact that they act like an unthinking hoard gravitating to Daenerys, uttering only one simple word in a primitive language, doesn’t help, and calls to mind the historical justifications for colonization in human history. All of this when, in fact, the books make a fairly big deal out of the variety of different people enslaved by the Yunkai and freed by Daenerys. Anyway…
  • Thanks to Tyrion, we have a new rallying cry to pull out at the next party: “It’s not easy being drunk all the time. Everyone would do it if it were easy.”
  • Tywin: “A good man does everything in his power to better his family’s position, regardless of his own selfish desires.” Tyrion: “When have you ever done something that wasn’t for your interest but solely for the interest of the family?” Be careful what you ask for, Tyrion. As his example of a time when he did not act out of his own selfish interest, Tywin chooses to share with Tyrion his wish to commit infanticide upon him. He let Tyrion live only because he was a member of the Lannister family, but not because he wanted him. Geez, Tywin. Twist the knife a little more this season, will you?
  • Like a few others in this series, Roose Bolton is very calculating and unpredictable. Though he once served Robb quite faithfully, as soon as the tides of favor turned against the Young Wolf, he made a shrewd but not altogether honorable move to back the winning side. “He ignored my advice at every turn,” Bolton points out as-a-matter-of-factly, walking over the blood that still stains the Frey’s Great Hall. It’s not hard to imagine a situation where Roose would have stayed a loyal subject, but the winds of favor turned against poor Robb Stark, and a rational, dishonorable Bolton immediately made his play. Walder Frey toasts him, saying, “Here’s to the Young Wolf!” Drolly, Bolton replies in his best Alphaville impression, “Forever young.”

  • Viewership spiked between seasons two and three, guaranteeing many more seasons to come. HBO is all too happy to continue one of their most successful shows ever. In fact, this season Game of Thrones became HBO’s most successful show since The Sopranos. Approximately 13.6 million people watched each episode this season, compared to the 14.4 million average that watched The Sopranos (impressive considering there was no DVR or streaming back then, though you have to wonder how many thousands of people are watching Game of Thrones through more “undocumented channels,” shall we say). Anything that is good news for HBO is good news for us. Now, let’s just cross our fingers that George R.R. Martin puts out the last two books of the series fast enough so that the television show doesn’t lap him. There are several potential problems on the horizon for the show because of George’s tendency to take forever to write each book, and they are discussed by the showrunners, HBO, and George R.R. Martin himself in an interesting, but terrifying article on the show’s future. George’s denial of the problem is most troubling.
  • Filming for Season 4 will begin in July. For book fans, Oberyn Martell, known as the “Red Viper of Dorne,” is currently being cast. (Dorne is the desert-like area of the Seven Kingdoms where Myrcella Baratheon, Cersei’s daughter, was shipped off to last season as a part of an elaborate marriage pact orchestrated by Tyrion.) This means that the fourth season will likely take its material largely from the second half of the third book in the series, A Storm of Swords. In case you want to prepare some summer reading, you may also want to go ahead and finish books four and five. A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons both occur simultaneously to one another in terms of the story chronology. If they move some pieces from later books into the next season, as they are likely going to do at least in some measure, then you will want to have read both books. As always, spoilers abound on the internet. Be very careful what you search for on Google, as before I finished book five I was spoiled in a big way simply by typing a character’s name in the search box. Game of Thrones‘s greatness is derived in part from its shock value, as the Red Wedding proved once again. The best way to preserve that experience is either to read the books or avoid general searches on the internet (ditto comments sections on anything Game of Thrones related– commenters are the Flea Bottom of the Internet).
  • Thank you to all my readers for another great season! Your support has meant a lot to me. I appreciate the many conversations that this has started, and hope we will continue them together next season!
Game of Thrones, Season 3, Television

Season 3, Episode 9: The Rains of Castamere

Even after all of the shocks and tragedies unleashed upon us by Game of Thrones over the seasons, nothing could have fully prepared us for “The Rains of Castamere.” This was easily the hardest episode to watch; even though I’ve read all the books and knew what was coming, it still elicited a very physical reaction from me, as I’m sure it did from many others. I have anticipated this episode ever since the start of the series and, somehow, it still did not disappoint.

After three seasons, we have gotten used to the idea that the climax will occur in the ninth episode of the cycle. Even if you haven’t read the books, you expected something shocking and horrible from this episode. From the first season, we were primed with Ned Stark’s death to expect the unexpected– or, more over, to expect the absolute worst. Despite this, it’s hard to say that anyone expected what happened in last night’s episode, and for that, this show reaches new heights of television greatness.

While some people rush to cancel their HBO membership in naive protest over daring storytelling, the rest of us can sit back and continue to appreciate the magic of this series. The last scene of the episode, which depicts the so-called “Red Wedding” blood bath that book readers have tip-toed around for the last few years, instantly became one of the most memorable death scenes in television history. Maybe we expected someone to bite the dust, but not the entire Stark force: including not only Robb, but Talisa, their unborn child, his mother Catelyn, and his direwolf Grey Wind. That’s a long enough list without adding to it the countless number of Stark men that were slaughtered in the camps just outside the castle. A family beloved to this series just took a hit so great they may never rise again. Talk about a shockingly devastating episode.

It is important that the episode starts with the Starks receiving bread and salt from the Freys. The tradition of giving food in this way is called the “guest right” and dates back to the first men to settle Westeros. Guests who receive food from their hosts are then supposed to be protected from harm for the duration of their stay. Travelers will often request food immediately upon arrival; in the book, Catelyn urges Robb to take food right away so as to be protected under the “guest right.” The gods are said to punish those who do not honor this tradition.

It is no surprise that the Starks put their faith in these ancient customs. Throughout the series, they have been blinded by their own honor, unable to see the world for what it is. For the Starks, their inherent goodness has always been their greatest weakness. Since they would never betray the “guest right,” they don’t expect others to do so. Catelyn and Robb think that there are rules to this game of thrones even as the other teams continuously break them. No one’s word is as good as a Stark’s, and that will ultimately be the cause of their undoing: when a Stark finally breaks a vow, he embitters a weak-minded but geographically-powerful old man to his cause, who then begins the plotting of his demise.

Before we talk more about the Red Wedding, we’ll need to visit the other storylines of Westeros and Slaver’s Bay. First, let’s head across the Narrow Sea to Yunkai. On Daario’s advice, Daenerys sends her best warriors to sack the city from the back gates, choosing Ser Jorah Mormont and Grey Worm to join her new champion. They encounter the slave soldiers in the streets and fight them all off in one of the best, most expansive sword fights we have been treated to yet. When they return, Daario lagging behind, Daenerys looks around with concern for him, much to Ser Jorah’s chagrin. His jealousy is as plain as the blood on his face, for he, too, has brought her the city of Yunkai, only it is Daario who receives all the credit.

On their way to the Twins, Arya and the Hound come upon an old man on the road, and Sandor sees an opportunity to gain access to the castle without notice. He intends to steal the pig farmer’s horse cart and is about to kill the man to prevent him from squealing when Arya stops him. The Hound is not necessarily wrong in his instincts; after all, Jaime and Brienne are first captured by Bolton’s men when they let a witness on the road go unharmed. Jaime wanted to kill him, but Brienne proclaimed him to be an innocent man unworthy of such a fate. Brienne, like Arya and even Jon later in the episode, clings to her honor as readily as she clings to her sword. In that case, her honor bound her to a fate that ultimately led to the loss of Jaime’s hand and nearly to the forcible seizure of her innocence.

Arya belittles the Hound and says he’s nothing compared to the “real killer” she met once, referring of course to Jaqen H’ghar. Surprisingly, the Hound listens and relents. Though more than a little rough around the edges, the Hound seems to have a soft spot in his poor heart for the young Stark girls. Still, he warns Arya about her goodness, just as he warned Sansa about her own behavior in a rough-hewn effort to keep her safe from Joffrey’s abuses. “You’re very kind. Someday, it’ll get you killed,” he says to the younger sister.

Arya is not quite like the rest of her family, however; she has seen enough to know that goodness alone will not prevail, and that sometimes you have to get your hands dirty in order to survive. Like Jon Snow, she is able to balance her sense of morality with a slightly more realistic worldview than her parents and elder brother– and that, in large part, is reason enough for why they’re still alive.

Jon Snow also spares an innocent man’s life when his band of wildlings sets upon an old horse breeder’s home. Not only do they want to raid it for his gold and his horses, but they also want to kill the man in the process. They, like Jaime and the Hound, are concerned that leaving the man will mean leaving a witness. Jon argues against this, insisting that the Night’s Watch will hunt murders faster than thieves. He’s able to warn the old man by knocking his sword against a rock as they are all running towards his home, and in the end calls off Ygritte’s bow shot as she has the old man dead to rights. She releases her bow a second too late, after pausing for Jon’s imploring, and it strikes a tree. Ygritte, famed for her battle strength, would surely not have missed if not for the call of her lover. She is later repaid for the favor with abandonment as Jon flees a bloody scene of his own making.

The innocent man is eventually captured by the wildlings and Jon is ordered to kill him as final proof that he is no longer a crow. Jon, like Arya and Brienne before him, cannot seem to betray his dignity enough to follow through. At last, Ygritte, desperate to keep her lover in good graces, shoots the man with an arrow. The wildlings turn on Jon at last, and he is saved only by the assistance of his half-brother Bran, who unknowingly hides only yards away from him. Bran, a warg, is able to inhabit the body of his direwolf and use the beast to save Jon from the wildlings. He sees Jon through the wolf’s eyes, only realizing how close he came to his seeing his brother again as he watches him ride away.

Sadly, Ygritte also watches Jon ride off into the distance as he abandons her with Tormund, who was holding her back from helping the Snow boy. She has risked so much in order to be with him, knowing all along that, in his heart, Jon was not fully allied to the wildling cause. She goes against her own people, for whom she clearly still has a vast amount of respect, by knowingly siding with him in a number of sketchy situations, the old horse breeder being only the latest of many. At first, she runs off after his horse, and for a moment you almost think he might scoop her up and they’d ride off together. After all, before they climbed the Wall, Ygritte insisted that they be loyal to each other above their loyalty to either the wildlings or the crows. In the end, all she can do is watch him ride off without her, a crow after all, bound by his honor to the Night’s Watch over her.

To me, this scene, like the final scene of the episode, called back to the ninth episode of the first season (you know, the one where we thought only one Stark’s death was devastating). In it, Jon Snow was ready to leave the Night’s Watch and betray his oath to maintain no other allegiances. He wanted to aid in his brother’s campaign to avenge Ned’s death, and told Samwell Tarly as much. The old, blind Maester Aemon found out about it and shared with him his story. Once, Maester Aemon chose to honor the oath to the Night’s Watch over his duty towards those he loved: his family, the Targaryens, were all slaughtered (so far as he knew) and yet he never once rode south.

“Love is the death of duty,” he told Jon Snow. “We all do our duty when there’s no cost to it. Honor comes easy then. Yet, sooner or later, in every man’s life there comes a day when it is not easy, a day when he must choose.”

At the time, Jon was faced with his choice between his family and the Night’s Watch and, of course, chose not to ride south to meet up with his brother’s forces, in part because of this speech from the maester. After all, easy honor is never what Jon Snow has sought. Jon is a martyr for his duty, choosing a life of celibacy, starvation, and freezing weather over that of a Lord’s son (albeit a bastard one) so that he might prove to Catelyn and all the others who might judge him that he, too, is a Stark: that honor flows just as freely and purely in his veins as in Ned’s purebred sons.

Again, when faced with the choice, Jon chooses honor over his love of Ygritte. Though we don’t see his reaction, Maester Aemon’s words are sure to haunt him when he realizes what he sacrificed on the altar of his Stark duty: “You must make that choice yourself and live with it for the rest of your days.”

Bran, hidden with his travel-weary band in a tower overlooking the scene, learns not only of Jon Snow’s presence, but also of his superior ability to put himself into the minds of animals and humans alike. When Hodor grows agitated over the storm and the threat of wildlings below, he cannot be calmed until Bran inhabits his mind and forces him to settle. Many wildlings are known to have the ability of a warg, including Orell, who possesses an eagle just as Jon Snow kills his human form. However, Osha and Jojen Reed insist that no one has the power to possess another person, only Bran. Crippled as he might be in his own body, Bran has unlocked a very powerful gift– one that no one can claim to share.

With newfound confidence, Bran takes charge, ordering that Rickon and Osha split off from their group so that, should anything happen to Robb or Bran, a Stark heir may live. This proves to be a prescient move, given later events. Still, it’s a difficult scene to watch. Just as two different groups of Starks get closer than they have been since Season 1, they get ripped even more asunder than before. As difficult as the Red Wedding is to watch, one of the most tragic aspects of this episode is how close Arya gets to reuniting with her mother and brother, only to have them ripped from her just as she reaches the castle gates. The same goes for Jon Snow and his long-lost brothers Bran and Rickon. Not only does Jon flee before they can reconnect, but Rickon leaves his brother in search of the home of Great Jon Umber, the first man to declare Robb the King of the North.

As king, Robb has won every battle. He’s inspired loyalty from his men, ruling in the image of his deceased father with honor and respect for all, even the Lannister hostages that his bannermen so foolishly executed. He was true to every word he ever made, except for the one word that would cost him his life. “What is honor compared to a woman’s love?” Unlike Jon Snow, Robb chose love over honor when it came to his word to marry one of Walder Frey’s daughters. Not even the promise of his uncle’s hand in marriage could assuage the grievance that this did to old Walder Frey’s pride. Frey’s castle is old and decaying, much like himself, and little could restore glory to its dilapidated halls than the promise of a king and queen among them.

When Robb arrives with Talisa, his mother, and his troops en route to Casterly Rock, the presence of the wrong queen is an added insult to the old man and his wounded ego. Though Edmure Tully is pleasantly surprised by the beauty of his young Frey wife, the ceremony and reception are both tense affairs with plenty of not-so-thinly veiled insults from Walder Frey.

However, it’s not until the musicians begin to play the infamous Lannister song “The Rains of Castamere” that something seems truly amiss. Catelyn, always perceptive, grows suspicious of this choice. As it says in the books, “[The musicians] began to play a very different sort of song… no one sang the words, but Catelyn knew.” Those words tell of how every man, woman, and child of the House Reyne of Castamere were slaughtered by Tywin in revenge for their lord’s rebellion against the Lannisters. The song is a harbinger of doom for the Stark family, who meets a similar fate for daring to mount a revolt against Lannister rule.

After all, Robb is declared King of the North after his father is murdered by the Lannisters. Their whole goal is not to unite the entire Seven Kingdoms under Stark rule, but to secede the North from Lannister rule and enact revenge on them for Ned’s death. “Show them how it feels to lose what they love,” Catelyn urges Robb when he asks whether or not he should attack Casterly Rock. They are perhaps as foolish as the Reynes to suppose that they could be successful in this, and in the end, it is Catelyn who again learns what it feels to lose what she loves.

Even as someone who knew what was going to happen, the scene of the Red Wedding is so plainly tragic and violent that it was nearly impossible not to have a physical reaction to it. It was this scene that every book reader imagined the moment they heard HBO had picked up the rights to portray this story on screen. It is such a devastating scene that George R.R. Martin, the original author, declared it the hardest he’s ever written across the first five books.

A particularly heartbreaking addition to the television version is Talisa’s gruesome death, added perhaps as a special surprise to anyone who read the books and thought they knew exactly what to expect. Talisa and her unborn child are both killed with several graphic stabs to her waist, forever putting to bed the hypotheses that she was a Lannister honeypot all along, writing letters to Tywin instead of her mother. In the world of Game of Thrones, Talisa and Robb get no heartfelt goodbye; one of his last living memories will be of the light going out of his wife’s eyes before he, too, can join her. In the books, Robb’s wife is not at the wedding, for she stays behind in Riverrun to avoid aggravating her husband’s already-tenuous relationship with the Freys. So, seeing Talisa die, especially in that manner, was a real shock.

Catelyn, who knew something was up when she heard “The Rains of Castamere” play and saw chain mail hidden under Roose Bolton’s shirt, begs desperately for her son’s life. The great tragedy of Catelyn’s last few moments is that she believes almost all of her children to be dead, and then is forced to watch her eldest son get stabbed through the chest by his own sworn bannerman. As Bolton drives the blade through Robb, he says, “The Lannisters send their regards”  (remember, Bolton is married to a Frey woman and commands several Frey men– he makes for a likely, opportunistic broker between the disgruntled Freys and Lannisters). Though Jaime said the same thing to Bolton before they parted ways (“Tell Robb Stark I’m sorry I couldn’t make his uncle’s wedding. The Lannisters send their regards.”), this plan has Tywin written all over it.

With nothing left to live for, filled with hate and revenge, Catelyn grabs Walder Frey’s wife and holds her hostage at knife-point. She desperately tries to exchange the woman’s life for her son’s, not knowing or realizing how disposable Frey’s wives and daughters are to him. When Bolton kills Robb once and for all, she lets out an Emmy-award-winning scream (seriously, look out for Michelle Fairley to be nominated for this one) and throws all Stark and Tully honor to the wind. Unlike her daughter Arya and adopted son Jon, she executes an innocent without feeling or emotion and stands there dead before a blade is put to her own neck.

It hurts so much, she thought. Our children, Ned, all our sweet babes. Rickon, Bran, Arya, Sansa, Robb… Robb… please, Ned, please, make it stop, make it stop hurting… Then the steel was at her throat, and its bite was red and cold.” – A Storm of Swords, George R.R. Martin

Just outside the castle, Arya lets herself smile to see her brother’s direwolf. She’s been so afraid that she wouldn’t get to see her family, despite being so close. As the Hound noticed earlier: “You’re almost there and you’re afraid you won’t make it. The closer you get, the worse the fear gets.” For a moment, she believes that it is at last time to reunite with her mother, who has not seen her since she was a little girl. So much has changed for her since then, but Arya has fought and struggled just to get back to her mother. Seeing the direwolf, she finally lets herself let go of the fear, but only for a moment. Just as quickly as Maisie Williams lets the smile cross Arya’s lips, she dashes it all with concern and confusion as Frey troops draw their weapons on her brother’s men. Then, the final blow comes when she witnesses the execution of Grey Wind, locked in his pen and shot with crossbows much in the same way his owner was sealed and slaughtered in the Great Hall.

From the beginning, the Stark family has been beloved by viewers and readers alike. Now, with only a few strokes from a spiteful and relatively insignificant Lord Frey (aided, of course, by the conniving Tywin Lannister), any hopes of the great House Stark rising again have been dashed. Robb, Catelyn, Talisa, Robb’s unborn heir, and the vast majority of his remaining troops have been slaughtered, like House Reyne before them: now the rains weep o’er his hall, with no one there to hear.

However, as they like to say, “The North remembers.” This is not likely to be something any of us forgive, and less likely something any of us forget.

Other thoughts on “The Rains of Castamere”:

  • “You have a very suspicious mind. In my experience, only the dishonest people think this way,” Daario says to Ser Jorah when the older knight questions the younger man’s siege plans. Don’t forget, we learned a while ago that Ser Jorah was supplying Robert Baratheon with intel on Daenerys in order to potentially earn himself a pardon for his illegal dealings in the slave trade, which got him banished from Westeros. Clearly, he now seems to regret that deal, but in recent weeks we have been repeatedly reminded of his treachery. How long until Daenerys finds out?
  • Samwell Tarley and Gilly also get a nice, but brief scene together. Sam tells Gilly of his plan to take them to the Nightfort, a huge castle that was abandoned after it became impossible to maintain. Though it is on the other side of the Wall, he knows of a secret sally port called the Black Gate that will lead them through the Wall and into the Nightfort. The path has gone unused for centuries on account of no one knowing where it is. However, Sam claims to know how to find it. When Gilly is shocked, he explains that he read about it in a very old book. “You know all that from staring at marks on paper?” she says. “You’re like a wizard.” Sam gives a special smile at this remark, since it is a sweet callback to Season 1, Episode 7 when he told Jon Snow, “I always wanted to be a wizard.”
Game of Thrones, Season 3, Television

Season 3, Episode 8: Second Sons

Arya sees a different side to the Hound in the eighth episode of the third season.

Arya sees a different side to the Hound in the eighth episode of the third season.

“Second Sons,” written by the showrunners David Benioff & D.B. Weiss, focused on a much smaller cast of characters than usual. From this, we got to dwell on some great interactions, albeit at the expense of the Jaime/Brienne, Robb Stark, or Jon Snow storylines. I don’t think anyone missed Theon.

The title, “Second Sons,” comes from the name of the mercenary troops hired by the Yunkai to protect their city from Daenerys. They are aptly named, for in this world, second sons stand to inherit nothing. Many of them join the ranks of the mercenaries for glory and gold, or are forced to marry girls against their will, or have to use mystical powers to claim the throne that is only ambiguously theirs. This episode featured many of the second sons of Westeros and beyond.

Sandor Clegane (the Hound) is one of the Seven Kingdom’s most infamous second sons. His older brother, the Mountain, makes the Hound look downright cuddly by comparison, as Sandor points out to his very reluctant captive, Arya Stark. Arya tries to kill him in his sleep, and he grants her one attempt, but dares her to make it good or else he’ll break both her hands. Wisely, she restrains herself, but not her tongue. She continues to lash out at him, thinking that he has her captured for the Lannisters. Instead, the Hound continues his profanity-laden tirade from last season (“Fuck the Kingsguard. Fuck the city. Fuck the king.”) by replying, “Fuck Joffrey. Fuck the queen.” In a way, his list of “fucks” to give about the people he used to serve mirrors the hit list Arya recites before her sleep.

Not only is the Hound not taking her to King’s Landing, but he is returning her to her mother and brother at the Twins, where her uncle’s wedding will be held. When he tells Arya about the time he saved her sister from getting raped by an angry mob, Arya clearly does not want to believe him. She cannot reconcile this man who is returning her to her family and saving Sansa with the loyal Lannister dog she met en route to King’s Landing in Season 1. Still, the Brotherhood Without Banners couldn’t fulfill their promise to bring her back to her family, and she can’t possibly hide her happiness at the prospect of returning home at last, even if it might mean giving up her vow to kill the Hound for what he did to her friend Mycah.

Across the Narrow Sea, Daenerys finally meets the “friends” of Yunkai: a mercenary band of warriors called the Second Sons after all the younger siblings who join them in search for whatever glory they can grab in this hierarchical world. Essos (the other continent east of Westeros) is not especially known for national militaries. Instead, they have a great mercenary tradition, with many “Free Companies” for hire; the Second Sons is one of them.

Daenerys tries to woo the Second Sons to her cause, attempting to bluff them into submission. The three men seem unconcerned about the threat of her troops. They’re not going to lose to a girl, no matter the fact that her troops outnumber theirs. Mero, also known as Titan’s Bastard, makes many sexually aggressive suggestions and threats, which always works to endear men to Dany. Prendahl na Ghezn, also a captain alongside Mero, has a handsome young lieutenant named Daario Naharis. The two captains turn down Daenerys without hesitation, knowing that their share of the riches from the contract won’t come until she conquers the Seven Kingdoms. Considering she has now shouldered a moral obligation to free the slaves of Essos, that could be years off. The three men leave and Dany tells Barristan that, if they should have to fight the Second Sons, he should kill Mero first.

Stannis, the second Baratheon son, and the one who was always overlooked, is still striving to remount his campaign from Dragonstone. He lost so many ships and men to the Battle of Blackwater that he can rely on nothing else but the sorcery of the Red Priestess, Melisandre. Still, Stannis has a rare quality of honor. Even though he is slightly more of a zealot for honor than the late Ned Stark, he is still striving to lead with integrity; he seeks power in part to save people from the Lord of Light’s version of the Rapture. But, in order to do that, he may need to sacrifice an innocent.

This leaves him torn in spirit, if not outwardly so, but Daavos is quick to pick up on his inner conflict. He comes to free his old friend and adviser from his cell on that particular day because part of him needs to hear Daavos tell him that he’s better than the man who sacrifices an innocent to the cause. He’s not convinced by the captive’s reasoning, but the fact that he’s still willing to seek Daavos’s counsel (and that Daavos is still alive in the first place) is cause enough to believe that perhaps this is not the end of Gendry, after all.

After the leeching, it’s unclear what, if anything, was accomplished from a mystical standpoint. The three men whose names were said aloud as the leeches were thrown into the fire (Balon Greyjoy, Robb Stark, and Joffrey Baratheon– the three remaining kings) are still living, though there was a cut to Joffrey immediately after. Will Gendry still be sacrificed, will he continue to be leeched, or is his work done? Melisandre made a lot of her butcher analogy– if you reveal your blade too early to the animal, the fear taints the taste of the meat– so it would seem odd if there was more yet to come for Gendry. But, knowing Melisandre, she couldn’t let her new toy off so easily.

Back in King’s Landing, the second son of Tywin Lannister is prepping for his wedding to Sansa Stark. The Stark girl readies herself in front of a mirror, next to which she has propped the doll her father gave her. She’s still a little girl, despite all that she has experienced. But it’s her wedding day, and even though it’s not the one that she has been dreaming of since her youth, she manages to put on her best teenage sulk and bear it.

The wedding is a dull and dreary affair, the opposite of the joyous occasion that it ought to be. The lone moments of quasi-joy for us as viewers come from the total displeasure of all of the attendees. For one, Margaery tries to ply Cersei with the same sister line she worked on Sansa. Unfortunately, the older woman does not take to it so kindly. In fact, Cersei responds with a long and elaborate death threat.

First, she references a famous and popular song (which was already sung by Bronn in Season 2) called the “Rains of Castamere.” This is the house song of the Lannisters, since it tells of Lord Tywin’s slaughter of a rebellious lesser lord, Reyne. House Reyne, we learn, was the second most powerful and prosperous family in the land. The first was and still is the Lannisters, of course. The Reynes wanted more, and so they launched a foolhardy rebellion against Tywin, and got utterly crushed in return. Cersei draws a not-so-subtle parallel between the Reynes and the Tyrells, who are now the striving family in second place. Margaery’s smile grows forced and frigid as Cersei finishes off the threat with a promise to wring her neck in her sleep, should she try to get friendly again. There is no love lost between these two.

Meanwhile, King Joffrey still likes to show that he can do virtually whatever he wants, despite the authoritative threat of his grandfather in attendance. He chooses to walk Sansa down the aisle, since naturally her father cannot be there to do it. Joffrey is like the cat who keeps the mouse alive just enough to continue to play with it. He gets some kind of base pleasure from goading Sansa. Whether that stems from actual desire for her is unclear; though he does threaten to rape her if she won’t have him willingly, it is not clear if he’s interested in her, or if he simply wants to torture her, as he has tortured Ros and other prostitutes in the past. The costuming in this scene is interesting, especially with the armor that Sansa wears around her waist. Taking a note from Cersei, she has armored herself for her wedding by fortifying her hips. She is quite literally steeling herself for her wedding night.

Tyrion, the quintessential second son, is tormented throughout his wedding by Joffrey, who cannot help showing off his power over his uncle. First, he steals the stool that Tyrion was going to use to perform the ceremonial robe-draping. Later, when he taunts his drunk uncle over the bedding ceremony, which would likely be a great humiliation for both Tyrion and Sansa, Tyrion threatens Joffrey with sincere malice. What’s interesting is that no one corrects him. No one puts him in his place, acknowledges his insubordination, or even declares him an outright traitor for speaking against the king. Making threats against a king’s life or person would have cost anyone else dearly, but Tyrion somehow gets a pass. Tyrion may not be loved by those around him, but he is able to get away with giving Joffrey a piece of his mind because people tend to agree with him. Even Cersei seems fed up with Joffrey, who doesn’t listen to her when she encourages him to make moves on his bride-to-be instead of pursuing the Stark girl with threats. The episode is ultimately smoothed over by a generally disproving and dour Tywin.

Back in the room, Tyrion and Sansa begrudgingly go through the initial motions of consummating their marriage, as Tywin has ordered his second son to do. Back during the Battle of the Blackwater, Cersei encouraged Sansa to drink when things got stressful, and though she did not enjoy the thought of wine before the wedding, she lunges for it now, pouring a hearty cup before the bedding. Tyrion takes all this in and halts her in her undressing, noble as always. Tyrion himself doesn’t get enough credit for the honor he holds, since he’s no saint like Ned Stark, but he’s always been kind and fair with Sansa and the other Starks. He promises not to sleep with her until she’s ready, and even plays off the suggestion that she may never want to sleep with him with a half-hearted recital of the Night’s Watch oath (they are sworn to chastity). They pass out without consummating the marriage, much to Shae’s apparent delight the next morning.

Outside Yunkai, the young lieutenant of the Second Sons, Daario, has been ordered by his captains to kill the dragon queen, despite his belief that they should join their ranks to hers. It appears as if he accepts this order willingly until we see him later, sneaking into Daenerys’s tent with an assassin’s blade held to Missandei’s neck. Daenerys is stern and commanding even in her vulnerable state, nude and in the tub. This clearly entices Daario, who made the decision to behead his captains so that he may ally the Second Sons to her cause. He presents Dany with both of their heads and swears an oath of his loyalty and love. He has a lot of confidence and bravado, not to mention physical strength and good looks– traits that are not unlike Daenerys’s deceased husband, Khal Drogo. The two beautiful and powerful people are naturally drawn to one another, but one hopes that Daario is sincere; his sword hilt is a naked woman not unlike the mudflap girl you see on many trucks in the US, and he uses a silver tongue on both Mero’s prostitute and Daenerys. It is yet unclear whether this man will be a true ally for Daenerys’s cause, or if he is a skilled and opportunistic Lothario. Either way, Dany has acquired more troops and weakened Yunkai before even stepping onto the battlefield. Her victories are piling up.

Finally, we visit the north where Sam and Gilly are still trying to outrun the undead menace with a baby in tow. Samwell Tarly may as well be a second son to his father, Randyll, whom he references in their conversation over what to name the baby. Gilly is originally drawn to his father’s name, but Sam urges her against it. After all, his own father forced him to renounce his rights of inheritance as the first born son, since Randyll found Sam utterly lacking as a male. Sam’s younger brother is the son that Randyll Tarly always wanted, and the only one he deemed worthy to carry on his titles and his legacy. Sam was forced to join the Night’s Watch so that his younger brother could inherit what was rightfully his. Sam is made to be the second son because he is weak, frightful, and unwanted. He doesn’t tell Gilly all this, but clearly he feels it strongly.

However, Sam gets a chance to defy even his own expectations when Gilly and the baby are attacked by a White Walker. Before that, ominous crows perched on the Heart tree they had camped beneath. This tree, with red leaves and a face in its trunk, is typically at the center of the godswoods, which are important to the Starks and the old religion. The crows serve as a warning to Gilly and Sam, who emerge from their hut in time to see the White Walker coming. Sam arms himself, but his blade is instantly shattered by the monster. As the White Walker descends on Gilly and the baby, Sam reacts without fear or hesitation, driving his secondary blade made of dragonglass into the thing’s back. The walker is instantly stunned and collapses in a heap of shards, leaving only the blade behind in the snow. The monsters that were so hard to kill have a weakness after all, and it’s Samwell, the fearful and cowering second son, who is finally brave enough to find it.

Other thoughts on “Second Sons”:

  • Next weekend there will not be a new episode on Sunday night due to Memorial Day weekend in the US. Last year they aired their penultimate episode of the season (“Blackwater”) on the Sunday night of Memorial Day and it took a little bit of a ratings hit. To avoid this, HBO decided to delay the airing of the 9th episode, which is all for the best. You never want to miss the 9th episode of the season of Game of Thrones (Ned Stark’s beheading, the Battle of Blackwater…). Just thought I’d give you a heads up after my friend Charlie reminded me (“I was totally about to have people over and give them bread and salt…right before the Liberace movie.”).
  • I loved this quote from Laura Hudson’s recap of the latest episode:
“The roles that women are permitted to play in Westerosi society are painfully narrow, but the show’s female characters respond to those limitations in very different ways: Some, like Sansa, accept what is expected of them because they see no other choice or can’t imagine one; some, like Ygritte, Arya, Shae and Brienne, look at the expectations and say bullshit—a proposition that can prove very dangerous; others, like Cersei, do something a little more complicated where they internalize the ideas they’re taught about what women should be, but still feel resentful and repressed by them. This attitude can lead to women actually perpetuating the power structures that made them miserable in the first place, competing viciously with other women for whatever limited power is available, or lashing out at women simply because they’re the most vulnerable targets. Cersei–who says over and over in the books that she should have been born a man–does all of the above.”
Game of Thrones, Season 3, Television

Season 3, Episode 7: The Bear and the Maiden Fair

"Oh I'm a maid, And I'm pure and fair, I'll never dance, With a hairy bear, A bear! A bear! I'll never dance, With a hairy bear!" The bear,the bear! Lifted her high, into the air! The bear, the bear! "I called for a knight! But you're a bear! A bear! A bear, All black and brown, And cover in hair!" - "The Bear and the Maiden Fair," traditional song of the Seven Kingdoms

“Oh I’m a maid, And I’m pure and fair, I’ll never dance, With a hairy bear, A bear! A bear! I’ll never dance, With a hairy bear!” The bear,the bear! Lifted her high, into the air! The bear, the bear! “I called for a knight! But you’re a bear! A bear! A bear, All black and brown, And cover in hair!” – “The Bear and the Maiden Fair,” traditional song of the Seven Kingdoms

“The Bear and the Maiden Fair” was written by George R.R. Martin and directed by Michelle MacLaren, who has also filmed some very popular episodes of Breaking Bad (including the amazing “One Minute,” which featured one of the best-directed action sequences on modern television). The direction is far more successful than the writing, which is surprising, given the fact that this whole series is Martin’s brainchild. His one episode credit from last year, “Blackwater,” was much better, but perhaps that was given the innate strength of the events. This episode is a stall piece that functions more to catch the characters up on things we already know as viewers, further preparing them for the inevitable climax in episode 9. Before that, the pieces not only need to be in the right place geographically, but also mentally and emotionally.

Still, we as viewers have gained so little from this episode that it difficult to analyze. There are several things we already know, and a few things we learn.

First, for what we already know:

1. Gendry is the bastard son of King Robert.

We’ve known this for what feels like ages, but Melisandre takes a moment to explain it to the blacksmith himself on their way back to Dragonstone, where Stannis remains. They’ve made it out of the Riverlands and are now launching ships from King’s Landing. It is pretty cool that Gendry ends up finding out who his true father is, since that part is not made clear in the books, but it’s also narratively insignificant compared to the amount of time we spend on it. “There is power in a king’s blood.” Yeah, yeah, we get it!

The one advantage of this scene is that we get a chance to see the visually stunning aftermath of the Battle of Blackwater. The ship ruins are still scattered about as monuments to last season’s best episode. I can’t help but feeling like nearly every storyline hasn’t come all that far from last year’s climax, except for Daenerys and Jaime/Brienne.

2. Sansa doesn’t want to marry Tyrion, and Tyrion doesn’t want to marry Sansa. Also, they are both afraid of having sex with each other.

This has been made pretty clear over the last couple of episodes. Also, if you know anything about either character’s sensibilities, then you would probably have guessed that this would be their reaction without so much precious screen time spent talking about it.

Sansa is clearly going to detest any Lannister she is set up with. Not only that, but the girl has had a hard time letting go of the innocence and desires of her youth. “Growing up at Winterfell, all I ever wanted was to escape, to come here, to the capital. To see the southern knights and their painted armor, King’s Landing after dark, all the candles burning in all those windows.” She is– or, at least was– the “maiden fair” in the title’s song, expecting a knight to save her. Reality (and Joffrey) beat those notions out of her until the Flowers wooed her once more with the promise of a shiny young warrior, Ser Loras. Reality once again has set in, and it is not the beautiful knight she is getting, but the “hairy bear.”

She acknowledges that she’s a “stupid little girl with stupid dreams” for wanting things like a suitable husband from a family that hasn’t abused her for the last couple of years. But still, she’s being more than a little judgmental of Tyrion’s physical abilities. Luckily, the scene-stealing Margaery is here to instruct Sansa in the mysteries of sex, and in the end, Sansa seems to come away feeling a little comforted by the fact that Tyrion is the nicest of the Lannisters*, their babies would be lords and ladies of Casterly Rock and– potentially– the North, and she might actually enjoy herself in the process.

*Even if we don’t, Sansa surely remembers that her mother accused Tyrion of attempting to have her younger brother, Bran, killed. The knife was supposedly traced back to the Lannister. This is what set off the whole storyline in the Vale, where Catelyn had Tyrion fight for his innocence in a trial by combat. Bronn won the fight in Tyrion’s stead, so a Stark should be forgiven for not considering Tyrion to be fully “innocent” (though we know better as viewers).

Tyrion, meanwhile, frets over bedding Sansa. Part of the problem with understanding Sansa and other characters’ reactions to her is the fact that Sophie Turner is so tall and pretty that it’s very, very easy to forget just how young her character is supposed to be. She only just “flowered” last year. The decisions she makes, and the way people react to her, should all be viewed through the lens of a very young teenage girl. We can therefore forgive her for being utterly naive about sex. (“Did your mother teach you?” she wonders to a bemused Margaery, who seems to know an awful lot about finding pleasure in many forms.) Also, it means Tyrion is noble to be squeamish about having to perform his marital duties with her, and not so silly as he may seem to Bronn. But, still, it is nothing new to learn that he is hesitant about this marriage, and any more time spent on it is wasted, beyond the simple enjoyment of seeing Bronn and Tyrion banter on screen.

Still, this was probably the weakest Sansa sequence yet. George R.R. Martin is probably the worst scriptwriter for Sansa out of the whole bunch, which is odd if not unsurprising. Sophie Turner’s performance has been able to win more viewers than readers to her cause, though it’s episodes like this one that fuel the flames of irritation with her. Like Theon, there’s nothing left to learn of her strife and despair. Until she chooses to do something about it, if she chooses to do anything at all, it’d be best to avoid more pointless scenes of her being upset, no matter how justified those emotions may be.

3. Daenerys is using the intimidation of her dragons to free slaves from their oppressive overlords along the coast of Slaver’s Bay.

Daenerys once again flexes her new muscles, the Unsullied. On a high from successfully freeing the slaves from Astapor, Dany takes it upon herself to try the same with Yunkai. “We have 200,000 reasons to take that city,” she tells Ser Jorah after learning about how many slaves they own.

She meets with a wealthy Yunkai’i slaveowner, Grazdan, who offers her gifts of gold and ships in return for her promise not to attack. Daenerys, meanwhile, is much more concerned about the slaves that bore the weight of Grazdan’s litter up to her camp. This scene only further proves that Dany is on a spiritual quest to free the oppressed from bondage. “You will release every slave in Yunkai. Every man, woman, and child shall be given as much food, clothing, and property as they can carry as payment for their years of servitude. Reject this gift and I shall show you no mercy.”

Her new adversary reminds her that this mission is a sidetrack from her ultimate goal, and it’s hard not to agree. Certainly, she is no closer to Westeros than she was a season ago, and in fact seems to be drifting further away as she makes enemies in the East. Ser Jorah is concerned about getting mired in an attack on the walled city. However, the sooner she begins an actual siege on Yunkai, the sooner we’ll forgive her the distraction, because… dragons!

As for the friends Grazdan refers to, there are a couple of different theories. They may simply be other cities involved or invested in the slave trade. Or, since Yunkai is one of the biggest cities in Slaver’s Bay and unlikely to get much more aid from anyone else, especially after the fall of Astapor, there may be another group involved that is yet unknown to us.

4. There are wights beyond the Wall, and they’re dangerous.

Osha refuses to go beyond the Wall, as Bran intends to do. She tells Bran and the Reeds about how, when she was once above the Wall, her lover disappeared only to show up again as an undead creature with crystal blue eyes. (“He was mine, and I was his,” she says, a callback to how Ygritte describes her relationship with Jon.) When he attacked her, not even her blade could stop him. Only fire managed to put him down for good, as we saw when Jon Snow saved Lord Commander Mormont from a wight in season 1’s “The Pointy End” (also written by George R.R. Martin). This scene served almost no purpose. If anything, it only proved to Bran that the stories his former servant Old Nan used to tell him about winter and all its terrible creatures may be true, but it looks unlikely that it will affect his decision-making. Osha insists that she will take him to Castle Black to find his half brother, but no further.

5. Ygritte loves Jon, and Jon loves Ygritte.

Orell continues to be suspicious of Jon Snow, and now even seems to have some jealousy issues over his relationship with Ygritte. Orell and Ygritte both realize that Jon is not a true wildling at heart, only Ygritte doesn’t seem to care. Instead, she reminds him of his pledge to her over all else. We are also reminded that they are having sex, and how.

For one thing, we do get a little more insight into their relationship. It’s always nice (and rare) to see a couple in this series growing together with their clothes on. Ygritte has some great lines here, especially as she marvels over a simple windmill (“Who built it? Some king?”) and defies gender stereotypes (“What’s swooning?”). But Jon grows genuinely concerned that Ygritte is not being realistic when she imagines her band of wildlings conquering the North. He is clearly worried for her life, as there have been six wildling attacks in the last 1,000 years, all of which have failed. His honesty is open treason against the wildling cause, but Ygritte cares only that he is loyal to her, and he shows her as much with his heartfelt concern. She pulls him into a close embrace. “If we die, we die. But first we’ll live.”

6. Theon is being tortured, and we still don’t know why.

This is just too aggravating to discuss. We all understand that Theon is under extreme physical, and now psychological, distress. This scene was dangerously inane, from the nudity to the dialogue, and should have never happened. We learn nothing, and the writers are now at risk of making us numb to sympathizing with Theon. Any more of this and I feel the storyline is in serious jeopardy. This might be the show’s most problematic adaptation of the book’s material yet. Clearly, the producers have no faith in the power of our imagination with regards to this storyline, which was revealed in an entirely different (and more successful) way in the books.

Still, there were a handful of new developments in the episode:

1. Out of the fying pan and into the fire: Arya has been captured by the Hound.

Arya’s growing discontent with the Brotherhood Without Banners comes to a head when she realizes that they are not going to bring her to her mother and brother for ransom. When added to their selling Gendry to the Red Priestess, Arya can no longer suffer their hypocrisy. They have no honor and are not men of their word, which is surprising for such a religious group. When Beric Dondarrion preaches once more about the “One True God,” Arya retorts, “He’s not my one true god.” Beric is not surprised. “No? Who’s yours?” In homage to her old swordsmanship teacher Syrio Florel, she replies, simply: “Death.”

Syrio: “Do you pray to the gods?”

Arya: “The old and the new.”

Syrio: “There is only one God and his name is Death, and there is only one thing we say to Death: ‘Not today.'”

She can bear to wait for the group no longer, and takes advantage of their distraction over news of a group of Lannister bannermen nearby. As she flees them, their torches lit in the distance, she is caught among the trees by a tall creature we know instantly as the Hound.

2. Tyrion and Shae are on the rocks.

“I’m not your lady. I’m your whore.” Shae is heartbroken and jealous over the news of Tyrion’s impending marriage to Sansa. While supportive in the past, it appears that she cannot abide by disloyalty, and it’s hard to blame her, though it’s surprising for someone of her profession. In past outings, the show has done a good job building a genuine love between the two. Tyrion tries to coax her with verbal reminders of this affection, but only after he attempts to ply her forgiveness with an expensive gift, a move we’ve seen from many a scumbag in the past (i.e. the supposed “apology ring,” among countless others). He spends as much time describing the home and servants he’ll give her as he does on his actual feelings for her. We know that Tyrion has the best of intentions, but for once his silver tongue and sharp wits have failed him, and he’s unable to convince Shae of his love as easily as he should. While, in theory, Shae should be more understanding of this eventuality as a woman of her circumstance loving a man of his, it doesn’t necessarily mean that she has to be happy about it. And boy, is she not.

The scene ends when Shae leaves the room. As she goes, she leaves the door open, with the camera staring through at a forlorn Tyrion. She has not yet shut the door between them, but it is hard to see how a positive ending could come from this.

3. Talisa is pregnant with Robb’s baby.

There’s not much more to it than that, really. In my opinion, this couple is the least convincing of their love for one another. While both actors do a fine enough job, and are rather gorgeous to boot, this scene relies too heavily on Oona Chaplin’s butt and Richard Madden’s abs.

Aside from a very few couples in the history of Game of Thrones, most of the development of love between characters occurs because they have sex. They get closer by having more sex, or by talking after having sex– still naked, of course. This is not unique to the show, either, and is a favorite technique of George R.R. Martin in the books. The most compelling “love stories” in the TV  series either haven’t happened at all (i.e. Jaime and Brienne; Arya and Gendry; Sansa and The Hound, to go off “The Bear and the Maiden Fair” theme) or are enriched by a shared experience that does not involve sex (i.e. Jon Snow saving Ygritte’s life on the Wall). I can’t help but feel that Robb and Talisa have been forced upon us through shots of these beautiful actors’ bodies entwined on many a bear skin rug.

There are theories out there about Talisa that I won’t mention here, though they are simply speculation at this point. Remember, Talisa is an invention of the show and is not a character from the books, so her pregnancy (and very existence) is a surprise even to book readers. Still, if you are curious about the theory, click here.

The interesting twist regarding the baby Stark is how it potentially affects the marriage of Sansa and Tyrion. After all, besides being a thorn in the Tyrell’s side, Tywin Lannister is hoping to secure the North by killing Robb and using Sansa to open it to him. With this pregnancy, Talisa now carries the potential heir to Winterfell, which would make Robb (and his cause) immortal. With an heir, Robb achieves immortality in the natural world; even if he is brought down on the battlefield, his line will live on through his child.

4. Joffrey is right, for once, but he’s still an insignificant joke compared to his grandfather.

In one of the best scenes of the episode, Tywin Lannister arrives as summoned (and begrudgingly escorted by the Kingsguard) to the throne room. The room is large an empty, though Joffrey took the time to have the large torches lit around the columns and sits in casual indifference at the other end. This act is quickly thwarted by an impatient Tywin, who is brought there to hear Joffrey’s complaints about being left out of the Small Council. Tywin has been conducting meetings in the Tower of the Hand, which is obviously closer to home. However, this location means that the king would have to travel quite a distance (and up a lot of stairs) to attend the meetings: a grievance for which Joffrey will not tolerate. That is, until Tywin mounts the dais. Suddenly, brought to his great height over his slouching grandson, the two once again assume their hierarchical roles, determined not by rank but by age. Joffrey is once again the little boy in his grandfather’s presence, and he backs down on his demands almost immediately.

When he changes the subject to Daenerys and the word of her dragons to the East, Tywin is unmoved, as always. He, too, has heard the news of the dragons (likely from Varys), but believes that the biggest race of these mystical creatures died out centuries ago. Joffrey, for once, is perhaps more correct in his caution over the threat, supposing that these dragons are of a race that will once again bring “the whole world to heel.” George R.R. Martin is of course having a bit of fun with us, letting us in on the secret that Joffrey is probably right in this instance; however, it’s just too irresistible to see him be verbally smacked around by his grandfather to give him much credit for foresight.

5. Jaime is amazing.

It’s official. It is now perfectly acceptable to openly and unabashedly proclaim my love for Jaime Lannister. As a character, Jaime has proved to be one of the most interesting of the series. He has gone from a smarmy sister-lover who pushes innocent children out of windows to a heroic rogue turned good guy. In the great tradition of Sawyer (Lost) or Han Solo (Star Wars), Jaime has proven himself to be a bad boy with a heart. Over the course of the last season or so, Jaime’s character has developed through a rich and multi-layered storyline. Ultimately, he has become one of the most successful characterizations in the entire series, and someone truly worth rooting for.

When he visits Brienne, who is locked up as a prisoner in Harrenhal, he finds her attempting to retain her dignity as she asks, cautiously, “Have they told you want they plan to do with me?” She tries to hold her chin high, but the utter stillness in her pink-garbed body belies her inner fears. Jaime can give her no comfort, as Locke has been left in charge of her. Certainly now, without the meddling and infinitely more valuable Kingslayer, there will be little chance of her escaping abuse. When she looks upset over this news, Jaime rushes to tell her that he owes her a debt, for when she kept him alive on the road when he had all but given up. In her infinite capacity for honor, Brienne asks not for herself, but for Jaime to aid in the fulfillment of her vow to Catelyn Stark, and to return Arya and Sansa to the North.

When Jaime agrees without reservations, Brienne calls him “Ser Jaime” for the first time, after he had been only “Kingslayer” for so long. This is the ultimate show of the faith they have placed in each other: Jaime takes on Brienne’s oath as his own, even though it will inevitably go against his family’s wishes; and Brienne, an expert on a dying breed of honor, finds enough honor in Jaime to see him as he wants to be seen, as a true knight and not, simply, a dishonorable Kingslayer. Jaime appears to be so moved that starts to say something, but is unable to continue. He leaves without saying goodbye.

Outside the walls of Harrenhal, as the maester Qyburn tends to his wounded arm, they discuss destroying lives in order to save them. For one, Qyburn has performed experiments on living sick men in order to better understand disease and ailments. When Jaime gives him a hard time for the morality of this, Qyburn asks how many people Jaime has killed. “Countless” is the answer. But, when asked how many lives he has saved, Jaime has a number immediately at the ready: “Half a million. The population of King’s Landing,” which he saved from the Mad King’s attempted chemical warfare by killing the man and betraying his oath as Kingsguard. Apparently, he makes Qyburn’s point, and both men move on to discussing Brienne and her father’s ransom.

Brienne’s father offers 300 dragons for her safe return, which is seen as an insult to Locke, who has somehow got it in his head that Tarth is full of sapphires. Therefore, Brienne is all but worthless as a ransom and, according to Qyburn, will be used by Locke and his men in ways that will turn the supposed insult around on Brienne’s father. Jaime appears horrified, because it was his story that put the idea of sapphires into Locke’s head, so he demands to go back to Harrenhal.

In the books, this decision is considered a little differently, and I think that it’s worth looking at, because it perfectly illustrates their relationship. It’s not a spoiler, but an added detail that works better in the book’s medium than on television. In the book, Jaime decides to return to Harrenhal after having a fever dream that he is trapped with Brienne in the caves under Casterly Rock. He dreams that the shadowy forms of the old Kingsguard and Prince Rhaegar Targaryen have come to pass judgment on him for slaying the Mad King Aerys and betraying his oath. He battles them with a lit sword, but it goes out. Only Brienne’s bright sword continues to fight the shadows for him.

When he returns for her in this episode, he finds a tragic imagining of “The Bear and the Maiden Fair,” as the pink-suited Brienne has been tossed into a ring with a menacing bear. Her pleased audience sings the song as she fights desperately to ward off each of the animal’s attacks. Jaime’s first reaction is horror, but not simply at her presence in the ring. He yells, “You gave her a wooden sword?” because, to him, that is the most egregious detail of this whole tragic performance. He believes in Brienne so much that he would expect her to defeat the creature if given the dignity of a fighting chance (and a real sword); the practice sword is not only a death sentence, but an insult to her honor, and that Jaime cannot abide.

Jaime jumps into the ring to help save Brienne, and his new Bolton protectors are all too happy to aid him if it means greater glory with Tywin Lannister. Jaime and Brienne are both pulled from the gruesome theater and released to continue their journey south, together.

The episode’s title comes from a popular bawdy song about thwarted expectations. A beautiful maiden attends a fair and hopes to be rescued by a handsome knight. A bear, attracted to her honey gold hair, saves her instead. At first, she is fearful and disappointed, but by the end of the song she’s singing “My bear so fair.”

Overall, the song is representative of a couple of popular motifs on Game of Thrones. For one, fair maidens are not often rescued by handsome knights, outside of fairy tales (Game of Thrones loves to remind us that it is not, in fact, one of them). It also shows how, for the most part, humans have a great capacity for coming to terms with their own realities, and even to find a sort of happiness in them.

Just as the girl is eventually able to find something in the bear, Jaime and Brienne are able to find something in each other. At the start, they are both the bear to the other’s fair maiden: alien, unattractive creatures unworthy of loyalty or love, because they did not fit either person’s fairy tale ideal. By song’s end, they have both not only come to terms with each other, but have found something to love and respect. “My bear so fair.”

Other thoughts on “The Bear and the Maiden Fair”:

  • Not many more thoughts, since I still spent so much time on an episode I found to be relatively underwhelming.
  • Ygritte’s observations about the ridiculousness of swooning and fainting females are perfect: “Girls see more blood than boys.” I love her gender non-conformity, and I love Jon Snow for also loving her for it.
  • Jaime Lannister: “Tell Robb Stark I’m sorry I couldn’t make his uncle’s wedding. The Lannisters send their regards.”
Game of Thrones, Season 3, Television

Season 3, Episode 6: The Climb

The Lord of Chaos, Petyr Baelish, gives his favorite adversary a lesson in power politics.

The Lord of Chaos, Petyr Baelish, gives his favorite adversary a lesson in power politics.

“Chaos isn’t a pit. Chaos is a ladder. Many who try to climb it fail, never get to try again. The fall breaks them. And some, given a chance to climb, they cling to the realm, or the gods, or love. Only the ladder is real. The climb is all there is.” – Littlefinger

There are only two more episodes before the inevitable Episode 9 of the third season. As previous years have illustrated (with the beheading of Ned Stark and the Battle of Blackwater in Seasons 1 and 2, respectively), the ninth episode is the true climax of the season, with the tenth providing something of a resolution. Therefore, “The Climb” plays an important, if unexciting, part in the series. Here, the showrunners are moving all of the pieces into place, readying them for the eventual turning point. There is only one thing that is yet clear, as the strange torturer was kind enough to remind us: “If you think this has a happy ending, you haven’t been paying attention.”

We start beyond the Wall, where Sam and Gilly are making a camp for the night in the midst of a very dark and threatening forest. Gilly’s slightest movements prove that she is more attuned than Sam to the telltale noises of the woods at night, but she doesn’t let on about her fear. Instead, she encourages Sam to sing a song to distract him, and he ends up singing “Song of the Seven,” which is dedicated to the old gods of the Faith of the Seven. Though we only hear the start of the song, it ends, “The Seven Gods who made us all, are listening if we should call/ So close your eyes, you shall not fall, they see you, little children.” Gilly and Sam find comfort in this faith, just as Littlefinger says: they cling to their gods for distraction from the chaos around them.

What Littlefinger does not acknowledge (or perhaps even understand), is the similar cause he shares with Melisandre– a woman who is highly motivated by the gods (or, more correctly, God). Melisandre herself is a great climber on the ladder of power that Littlefinger imagines. Instead of using carefully-orchestrated political moves to achieve personal gain, the Red Priestess uses her religion and magic to gain power by getting others to submit to the Lord of Light. Though she does use her God to her own ends, her belief appears to be genuine; as she meets with Thoros of Myr, the Red Priest traveling among the Brotherhood of Banners, she seems almost jealous to hear that he has been able to resurrect Beric Dondarrion six times.

In their conversation, we learn that Thoros was sent to convert the late King Robert, and that he and Melisandre seem to know each other. Clearly, there is a network of priests that has been waging its own coordinated attack on the lands of Westeros. If Melisandre, Thoros, and Littlefinger are any indication, the battle for the Iron Throne extends far beyond the major houses of the Seven Kingdoms. There is not just a war for the territory of Westeros, but for the minds of its people.

In the beginning of the season, when Melisandre bid farewell to her king, Stannis, she implied that she needed to seek something of greater power than the shadow baby she bore from her union with the king. She needed to make a sacrifice of king’s blood to the Lord of Light. She could not take it from Stannis, but at least, “There are others with your blood in their veins.” At the time, this was an allusion to any of Robert’s bastard children who happened to survive Joffrey’s purge. Though he is thought to have sired over a dozen bastards, the lone survivor of Robert’s litter seems to be Gendry– unbeknownst to the young blacksmith, of course. The Brotherhood trades him to the priestess for two sacks of gold. When he is outraged, Melisandre quiets him by assuring him that, “You are more than they can ever be. They are just foot soldiers in the great war. You will make kings rise and fall.” Little does he know just how she intends to have him be someone of such consequence.

Arya is right to feel uneasy about this trade, and is the only one who seems to understand the true implications of this transaction.  (“You’re a witch. You’re going to hurt him.”) When she confronts Melisandre about it, the Red Priestess looks deep into her eyes and tells the young Stark that she sees a darkness in her. Darkness, of course, is the antithesis of light; Arya is a natural antithesis to Melisandre and the Lord of Light. The red woman alludes to the people Arya will kill in the future (the “eyes you’ll shut forever”) and promises that they will meet each other again.

Meanwhile, Arya’s younger brothers are still journeying towards the Wall. While Osha and Meera Reed bicker over who is contributing more to their survival, Jojen Reed has a vision in which he sees Jon Snow on the wrong side of the Wall. This news makes Bran Stark both concerned and confused, though the news is not as shocking as the toll that these visions appear to take on Jojen. As he experiences the vision of Jon Snow, he has something similar to a seizure and has to be physically restrained by his sister. Jojen and Bran may share a great power, but the premonitions come at a cost previously unseen.

North of that Wall in Jojen’s vision, Jon Snow is indeed “surrounded by enemies” but for one. Ygritte, his new wildling lover, admits that she knows that he is loyal to a fault; therefore, he must still be loyal to the Night’s Watch, despite what he’s said to the others. This terrifies Jon until he realizes that Ygritte doesn’t mean to slit his throat over it. Instead, she gives him the gift of a set of spiked shoes for climbing the wall and demands that, en lieu of being loyal to the crows or to the wildlings, that he be loyal to her above all else.

Jon proves his dedication to her almost immediately by saving her life on the Wall. When a layer of the wall crumbles under Ygritte’s pickax, Tormund Giantsbane and Orell are forced to bear the lovers’ weight. Orell, never Jon Snow’s biggest fan, determines to cut them loose. Jon acts fast to swing to another, more structurally-sound piece of ice, burying his ax deep just as the warg severs the rope. He saves Ygritte’s life and brings her to the top of the Wall. “I’ve waited my whole life to see the world from up there,” she told him earlier, and by the end of the episode, having survived the climb together, they share the view locked in each other’s arms.

Back south in the Riverlands, Black Walder and Lothar Frey have come to discuss the alliance between the Freys and the Starks. Lord of the Crossing, Walder Frey, the dirty old man with over a hundred descendants (none of them attractive), demands several things of Robb in order to ally himself once again with the Stark cause. Among his other demands, Walder has required that Edmure Tully marry his daughter, Roslin. After some debate, another marriage is agreed upon, and the list of weddings that must be attended by season’s end grows that much longer.

In Harrenhal, Lord Roose Bolton eats with Jaime and Brienne of Tarth. Brienne is clean and dressed in a beautiful pink gown. She looks very pretty, which is reason enough for her complete discomfort. She wears the femininity of the cut and color with an unease that is only heightened when she is told by Roose that she will be held at Harrenhal for aiding a traitor. Jaime, once again sensing the harm that might come to her, tries to convince their captor to let the two of them go in (relative) peace, but Bolton won’t hear it. It’s amazing that he is letting Jaime go at all; if he was truly loyal to Robb and his cause, he would be sending Jaime north, not south. Instead, he is protecting himself by sending Jaime to King’s Landing. He wants the Kingslayer to assure Tywin Lannister that Roose had no hand in him, well, losing his hand. Roose has clearly determined that the North is will fall– if not now, then eventually. If so, it’s best for him that he ends up on the right side of Tywin.

Roose is wise to be mindful for Tywin, for even the sharp-witted Lady Olenna Tyrell cannot outmaneuver the ruthless old man. When she hears that her marriage plot has been foiled, she is slow to give up her plan to unite the North and South by wedding Loras to Sansa Stark. She trades damning evidence with Tywin– Loras’s homosexuality is pitted against Cersei and Jaime’s incest– but eventually, Tywin is able to strong-arm her into breaking the engagement between her grandson and Sansa by threatening to make Loras a knight of the Kingsguard. This would mean that the Flowers’ most eligible bachelor would be unable to marry and continue the Tyrell name. With a calm resignation, Olenna accepts that Cersei will wed the boy, and Sansa will be given to Tyrion.

The behind-the-scenes plotting occurs unbeknownst to Loras and Sansa, who are busy going about the painful process of a loveless courtship. Loras appears to be more excited about the planning of the wedding than about actually marrying Sansa. Sansa clearly has a huge crush on the handsome young knight, but Loras is noticeably bored of her. They struggle through a conversation about their impending marriage, but end on a rather sweet note when they both find consolation in their shared disgust of King’s Landing. To the two of them, the town is “the most terrible place there is.” They take comfort in this commiseration without knowing that at least one of them has just been irrevocably tied to this place.

Overlooking the short-lived couple, Cersei and Tyrion discuss how the two of them are being “shipped off to hell together.” They share their typical thinly-veiled barbs, but come to some kind of understanding by the end. As it turns out, Cersei was not dumb enough to order hit on Tyrion during the Battle of Blackwater. It was Joffrey who commanded that Ser Mandon Moore to kill his uncle, because Tyrion was the only one who dared to stand up to him. The two siblings both seem equally miserable over the part they are playing in their father’s new marriage plot, and equally sorry to have to break the news to Sansa Stark.

Tyrion, of course, volunteers to speak with Sansa, whom he interrupts in her delight over the beautiful Highgarden gowns Loras has promised her. Making matters worse, he is unable to warn Shae ahead of time, who is also forced to hear this terrible news in the presence of her lady. Tyrion offers Sansa a great kindness by warning her of her new fate. By comparison, in the book, Sansa is simply dragged to the wedding ceremony under the threat of  physical harm. However, the news is no less devastating. Shortly thereafter, we see a shot of Sansa sobbing as she watches Petyr Baelish’s ship sail away from King’s Landing. She had long dreamed of sailing away from the Red Keep, and managed to find happiness in not one, but two potential escape plans. In one move, Littlefinger has removed both hopes of flight. Sansa is plainly heartbroken. Shae, standing at her side, is unreadable.

This scene provides one of many devastating visual backdrops to an important Littlefinger monologue. Petyr Baelish is found staring at the iron throne when Varys arrives on scene. Littlefinger reveals that he has uncovered one of Varys’s spies, Ros, who was given to a “friend” looking for a “new experience.” As he warned Ros herself long ago, Littlefinger has made a habit of searching for otherwise unsavory investors to recoup the losses of what he deems to be “bad investments.” Ros, who was spying on Littlefinger for Varys, was the very definition of a bad investment, and so she was sold to the boy king, who put the bolts of his crossbow through her body. Though Arya performed the same routine on a straw man earlier in the episode, practicing her marksmanship in order to get revenge on those who have done her family wrong, Joffrey does this only for some kind of sadistic pleasure. Like the Mad King before him, Joffrey’s descent into madness is terrifying for the position of power he currently holds.

But, for how long will Joffrey’s power endure? Not only does he have to worry about the contending kings, but also the shadow players like Littlefinger and Varys. Earlier, Varys showed himself to be more powerful than originally assumed with his connection to Daenerys’s uprising. The shocking reveal of this episode is when Littlefinger pulls the curtain back on his own machinations.

Like any nation, Westeros relies on a carefully-constructed mythology to legitimize its unified rule. For the Seven Kingdoms, their national myth is founded on the thousand blades of Aegon’s enemies that were forged into the Iron Throne. Naturally, a realist like Littlefinger has counted all the blades and finds the tale wanting; the blades total no more than 200. He knows that the story of Aegon the Conqueror is nothing but state-sponsored propaganda, used to legitimize the power of the man who sits on the throne. Liberal and tyrannical governments alike use national myths to many different political and social ends, but primarily they are used to maintain stability and order.

Littlefinger is interested in neither, because a man like him has no place of power in a stable regime established by a strong familial dynasty. Littlefinger has come from nothing, and he stands to gain little in a system where a relative order is maintained under the rule of great families. He needs chaos to disrupt the rigid social order in order to find himself a place at the top, and no one knows how to orchestrate chaos better than Littlefinger.

Despite the war and the bloodshed of the past few years, Littlefinger has found Westeros to be far too orderly.  Powerful families still rule and scheme together to keep the power among themselves. As Henry Adams, great-grandson to John Adams, once said, “Chaos often breeds life, when order breeds habit.” Littlefinger initiates creative destruction by directing small or seemingly unnoticeable changes behind the scenes, only then to turn the entire system on its head.  In the physical sciences, chaos often emerges when something’s condition is sensitive enough to have small, unnoticeable causes produce large effects. This is Littlefinger’s modus operandi in the game of thrones.

People falsely define chaos as random or uncontrollable. However, the chaos theory in nature is not caused by random events. Chaotic systems may be unpredictable in the short term, but in the long term, certain trends emerge. Littlefinger has always played the long game.This does not make it random, but hard to predict. In a chaotic system, new forms of order are produced because it is not, in fact, random. Unlike instability, chaos itself is a creative force because it exists within parameters, and those parameters are being deliberately influenced by Littlefinger.

But there is a flaw in relying on chaos as a means for personal advancement. The very nature of chaos is one in which seemingly unimportant causes produce effects that are almost impossible to predict. So far, Littlefinger’s efforts have played right into his own hands, but according to the theory, it should be impossible for him to play the long game to perfection. After all, Littlefinger knows less than Varys about the forces gathering to the east. If the butterfly effect is to be believed, the flapping of dragons’ wings in Slaver’s Bay will have consequences yet unseen on the trajectory of power in Westeros.

Other thoughts on “The Climb”:

  • Many people were upset that this feature did not head east to Daenerys. I believe that is a real testament to the show’s treatment of Dany’s storyline; around this time in the books, most readers were not so heartbroken to go a little while without checking in on her. This season, Daenerys’s storyline has felt very fresh, even to longtime book fans.
  • I think I omitted only one major scene from my discussion of this episode, and that was the one with Theon and his unknown torturer. To be quite honest, I find these scenes not only disgusting, but also infuriating. Without giving away anything, the torture porn seems as gratuitous as the sexposition this series was known for in Seasons 1-2. They’re hardly worth commenting on. If you still don’t know who the torturer is, there is another major clue in the episode, which you can see by clicking here and looking in the background of the scene.
  • In the books, Melisandre never meets the Brotherhood Without Banners, nor does she meet Arya. She also doesn’t take Gendry hostage. Gendry has apparently been combined with a character in the books named Edric Storm, who is another one of Robert’s bastards living on Dragonstone. This is yet another instance of the show needing to cut from a huge cast of book characters in the interest of simplicity and time constraints.
  • Here are some amazing links for more reading on Game of Thrones from this week: “What is Going on with the Accents in Game of Thrones?” by Max Read of Gawker; the Game of Thrones Lady Power Rankings: Week Six, by the amazing Alyssa Rosenberg; and Economics of Ice and Fire, Part 4: The Link Between Bad Weather and Economic Equality by Slate’s Matthew Yglesias.
Game of Thrones, Season 3, Television

Season 3, Episode 5: Kissed By Fire


Robb Stark continues to live his life in his father’s memory. The honorable Ned Stark still looms large in the Young Wolf’s life. Though he was a good warrior, Ned was also a hesitant leader, and accepted the job as acting Hand of the King only under pressure. Still, Robb keeps trying to fold his father’s value system into his own leadership, because taking stock in values and virtues worked out well for Ned… right?

“Kissed By Fire,” the fifth episode of a season now half over, opens on the flames of the Brotherhood Without Banners. Later in the episode, Ygritte will explain the episode’s title, telling Jon Snow that “kissed by fire” is a wildling phrase to represent people with red hair, who are said to have good luck. There are many other people who use fire throughout, though not all of them experience the same amount of luck as ginger wildlings.

In the hideout with the Brotherhood, the warrior priest Thoros of Myr recites a now-familiar prayer to the Lord of Light, and Beric Dondarrion sets his sword on fire. This party trick was also what made Thoros a household name among warriors in Westeros: he is remembered for laying siege to Pyke (part of the Iron Islands) with a flaming sword during Robert’s Rebellion, as Jaime Lannister and Stark bannerman Jory Cassel reminisced on in Season 1, back when lions and wolves could be friendly to one another.

In this case, Beric is the one wielding the flaming sword, as Thoros and Stannis have done before him. The Hound has been sentenced to a trial by combat to prove his innocence or guilt in the eyes of the Lord of Light. Sandor Clegane is almost laughably larger than Beric, but he seems to struggle against the older knight. Not for nothing, the Hound has a proven aversion to fire, given the trauma of his youth (wherein his older brother, the Mountain, shoved his face into a fire– hence the scars). It’s what sent him running from King’s Landing during the Battle of Blackwater. He looks no less terrified in this scene, especially when his shield goes up in flames, but the fear also seems to propel him. He fights back desperately and ultimately slices deeply into Beric’s shoulder.

Almost as quickly as he dies, Thoros is able to resurrect Beric back from the dead. We’ve heard that the White Walkers do something similar, but their reanimations are more like zombies than wounded old warriors. We learn that this is the sixth time that Beric has come back from the dead. (Is the Lord of Light looking favorably on him, or not? Six times seems an awful lot of times to die for someone so honored by God.)

While Arya is indignant over this seemingly-incorrect judgment, Beric calmly supposes that the Lord of Light isn’t done with the Hound yet, though he is certainly not innocent as proclaimed. This may simply be a case of Beric rationalizing his loss to the bigger, stronger man so that it fits the religious ideology he preaches. Still, no matter what we believe, there’s no denying that Beric rose from the dead. Ultimately, there is some greater power at work, and that power has more in store for the Hound.

When Arya screams, “It isn’t fair!” she serves as a mouthpiece for an audience full of fantasy fans who have been trained to expect the triumph of the good and the just. This belief comes from the medieval myths and stories of our youth. Trial by combat was a very real aspect of medieval culture, and though at the time similar hopes were placed on the ability of good to triumph over evil (or the innocent to triumph over the damned), physical strength and a cunning with the sword was undoubtedly what produced winners in the end, no matter the peoples’ beliefs in the intervention of God. Despite this reality, countless stories have been produced during and after the Middle Ages to further the myth of the era: the good shall always (or, at least, often) prevail, no matter the struggles they may face along the way. This ethos is powerful in our Western mythology; even the hugely-influential Lord of the Rings trilogy follows these values, as well as the entire Harry Potter series.

Whenever I introduce our unit on the Middle Ages to my classes, I play a word association game with them. Inevitably, when my adolescent students think of the medieval era, they think of kings, castles, maidens, knights, and chivalry. They think of heroic knights and King Arthur’s round table, and they are certainly not alone, even among adults. Our view of the Middle Ages has been tainted by fairy tales and fantasy novels. Though everyone can recall the horrors of the era, including the Black Death and the unwashed masses, the abject violence and imperious class distinctions are not often reconciled with our idea of the codes of honor, duty, and heroism. As with much of history, we want to believe in the myths of the begone era without always confronting its brutal realities. Fantasy has long provided us that outlet. However, as with Sansa (an admitted lover of fairy tales), it also blinds us to the harsher truths of that world, and leaves us unprepared for its reality.

Ultimately, it is this phenomenon which sets up the shock in all of Game of Thrones‘s famed twists. The series is brilliant largely because it subverts our expectations. The Hound beats Beric in a trial he should have never won, and it’s not fair to those of us who were raised to expect differently. The Stark family in particular serves to represent many of the typical fantasy tropes: honor, duty, family, loyalty, pride, service, beauty, love. Undeniably, this family is (was?) the most popular of the series, at least throughout the first season, and that fact alone seems telling of the audience’s expectations for the triumph of the good. However, a major theme of the series  is that the Starks are horribly, horribly wrong about the world they live in, and the major tragedy of this show revolves around the fact that we have to sit through the gradual undoing of the family for their overly-simplistic worldview– the same worldview that we too often share.

It’s not until Sansa and Arya are away from their family and isolated from all they’ve ever known that they start to acquire more of the skills needed to play the game. No longer sheltered by their naive parents, they are forced to adapt to the harsh world, and each adopts a different approach. Sansa, though largely passive as of yet, arms herself with lies and subterfuge. Still, she’s not anywhere near mastery; in this episode, she is unable to  fool Littlefinger about her plans to marry Loras Tyrell.

Arya, on the other hand, arms herself by meeting (or, attempting to meet) violence in kind. It is all she can do to stop herself from jumping into the trial by combat and slaying the Hound herself. Gendry has to restrain her when the Hound is found innocent in victory. Her first reaction is to grab a knife and attack.

Meanwhile, Robb, who is the only Stark who has been surrounded by his northern bannermen from the start, continues to make one terrible decision after another. He is still very much motivated by his ideals, no matter how misguided they may be. Love triumphed in his decision to marry Talisa over one of Lord Frey’s daughters– a sticky situation, to say the least, now that he has to go beg the Freys for a new alliance in order to have any hope of surviving the war.

Then, he feels himself honor-bound to execute Lord Karstark for killing their two young Lannister hostages. This decision happens to fly in the face of all the advice he is receiving to the contrary. Robb is still living in a fantasy world where honor matters, as it did to his father before him. (Side note: for a fantastic analysis of Robb Stark’s military failings, be sure to check out “Young Wolf, Bad General: What Robb Stark Doesn’t Understand About War” by Spencer Ackerman: “the Young Wolf is a case study in the difference between winning battles and winning wars.”)

Last week, I spoke about honor as it related to Jaime and Brienne. Brienne herself is also living in a different world, separated from reality, where her principles are as important to her as armor, shields, and swords. Unlike with the Starks, where honor is a catalyst for tragedy, Brienne’s honor is a beacon of hope to an otherwise dejected Jaime Lannister. She inspires him to be more than his moniker, “The Kingslayer.” In a great scene at the baths of Harrenhal, Jaime confesses that he broke his solemn oath as Kingsguard and besmirched his honor by killing the Mad King Aerys Targaryen, but not for the reasons everyone thinks. Jaime admits that he chose to break his vows not for personal greed, but because the man was ordering Jaime to kill his own father and threatening to light the city with wildfire.

Jaime’s character highlights the moral ambiguities of the real world: is it more honorable to keep your oaths, or to protect your father? What about to save innocent civilians from the use of a weapon of mass destruction? Jaime doesn’t want to be seen as the Kingslayer, because that name is too morally unambiguous. He is condemned by scores of people simply because they perceive him to be an oathbreaker, fitting him neatly into the “evil” category in their dichotomous outlook on life.  At one time, this misconception was perpetrated by Ned Stark. Jaime says that Ned judged him guilty the moment he set eyes on him, without waiting to hear the complex factors that informed the Kingslayer’s decision. He wants to be free of this name, to gain some sense of his personal honor back, and with his last bit of strength insists to Brienne (who still calls him Kingslayer) that his name is Jaime. For better and for worse, Jaime is more than just a Kingslayer. He’s a real man, who is so much more than his myth.

Ultimately, Brienne wants the same as Jaime. She doesn’t want to be known simply as “the woman,” or “the wench,” or “the freak,” but as Brienne of Tarth and all that comes with it. When Jaime insults her ability to protect anyone she serves, including Renly, she stands defiantly to face him, daring him to take it back. She is naked above the waters, but the camera captures her just above her breasts. This is not a moment of attraction for the two. She is more than just a woman, she is a warrior. It is an exchange that exists outside of gender, or sexuality, because she is more than simply “the wench.” She stands up to him bravely, and Jaime, out of much respect, immediately apologizes. We don’t see a raised eyebrow or winking grin from him, nor do his eyes take a slow path down her body, as you might have seen in less serious shows. The show stays true to its multifaceted characters, and to reality. Ultimately, this exchange only furthers the bond between the two misunderstood fighters.

Meanwhile, in King’s Landing, Cersei and Littlefinger form a temporary alliance of convenience to help each other get what they want. Cersei wants to tear down Margaery for being younger and hotter (though, I believe that’s a matter of opinion). Littlefinger still wants to keep Sansa for himself. They come to the realization that they can achieve both of their goals together by ensuring that Sansa and the Tyrells are thwarted.

In the last episode, Cersei was goaded by her father Tywin, who claimed that she has done little in service to the Lannister name, despite what she may think. So, she has served him the North on a silver platter, much to Tyrion’s horror. After all, it is Tyrion’s cross to bear. He will have to marry the beautiful young Sansa. He feels a noble sense of pity for the girl (who has already suffered much at the hands of Lannisters) that she should now have to marry him instead of the handsome young Loras. Cersei is delighted by his disappointment until Tywin informs her that she will now wed Loras instead, sentencing her to yet another loveless marriage. Not only that, but she will likely be shipped off to Highgarden, far from the capital and from her longtime ambitions as Queen.

Though we’re all busy sympathizing with how far her brothers have fallen from power, it’s worth taking a moment to pause and reflect on the tragedy of Cersei’s current circumstances. Cersei, ice queen though she may be, is also not as inept as her father claims. In her youth, she was married off to Robert Baratheon, which was not a pleasant, loving, or committed marriage, and may have also verged on abusive at times. She took it all in stride for the good of her family and for the opportunity that one day she might see her son on the throne. Among her bad ideas are good ones, including her disagreement over her son’s decision to behead Ned Stark. Like Tyrion, she keeps on trying to prove to her father that she should have a place in this administration. Still, she is brushed aside by everyone she loves, largely for misogynistic prejudices against her abilities. In the end, she is exchanged to the Tyrells in order to live out her days with a man who does not seem to have an ambition to match hers, nor love to spare her. Though she strives for more, her fate, her life’s purpose, has always been tied to the man she is forced to marry. She is certainly not the best leader in Westeros (though, at this point, who is?). But, in an odd way, it’s a bit sad to see her ambitions squashed by her own father for the simple fact that she is a woman and has no place in his political sphere, outside of creating marriage alliances.

On Dragonstone, we finally meet Stannis’s wife, Selyse. We have apparently not been missing much. Selyse is a brainwashed cult member of the Lord of Light’s following. She believes so strongly in the divine right of Stannis to the throne that she is incredibly willing (and happy, in fact) to overlook his infidelity. She rationalizes this by claiming that it is what the Lord of Light wants Stannis to do in service to him, especially considering that she has been unable to give him a male heir. She even keeps her three dead sons suspended and preserved in jars as a gruesome reminder of her shame (side note: mothers in this series are all portrayed, at times, as crazy– why is that?).

Shireen, their daughter, seems to be hidden away, unacknowledged by the mother until Stannis reminds her (and us) that he has an actual, living child in there somewhere. She appears to be a happy kid with a skin affliction on half her face that may repulse her own father, but not Davos. This disease, called greyscale, is similar to the leprosy of the medieval era in both its symptoms and its stigma. When she finds out that Davos has been put in the dungeon, the smart and precocious young girl sneaks down there and offers to teach him to read to pass the time. This friendship is an invention of the show, but it is a great addition. It’s not too often that we get to see sweetness in Westeros.

There is a lot made of physical differences and handicaps in Game of Thrones. Some of the greatest depth of moral character comes from characters who have had to overcome physical limitations. Even the Hound had his principals, refusing to participate in the abuse of Sansa Stark, and eventually saving her from a mob with lethal intent. Something in Jaime has changed since losing his hand; or, maybe it was there all along, but it took the loss of his hand to get past the cocky exterior to the heart underneath. Granted, he did still push a child out the window, and the Hound did still run down an innocent peasant boy (albeit on Joffrey’s orders), but there’s a definite trend in the characterization: these characters are more than they appear on the surface. What is the source of this? Does George R.R. Martin want to make these characters more obviously sympathetic to the audience, not trusting us to find our way to sympathizing with a character like Jaime without it? I would hate for this to be what’s happening. Or, as in the case of Tyrion and now Shireen, do the physical differences and their internal struggles to overcome them seem to create great mental and emotional character?

The scene with Shireen ends with her describing to Davos how Aegon Targaryen once lived on that same island, Dragonstone. From there, he was able to launch his conquest of Westeros, establishing the Targaryen dynasty. Aegon I was known as “the Conqueror” and “the Dragon.” Sound familiar? Across the sea, Daenerys is also hoping to reinstall the Targaryen dynasty in much the same way as her predecessor, and these stories are juxtaposed in the show’s narrative by having Shireen’s description of Aegon as a voice-over during the transition to Daenerys’s scene.

In the opening credits, we see a new city called Yunkai for the first time, but Daenerys hasn’t quite reached it yet. While they are en route, heading north from Astapor, Daenerys has the Unsullied select a leader for themselves from their ranks. They choose Grey Worm. When Daenerys finds out that the names of the Unsullied are given after castration to represent different forms of vermin, she instructs them to pick new names. However, Grey Worm says that his has brought good luck, since he had it when Dany gave him his freedom, so he intends on keeping it.

Meanwhile, in a conversation between Ser Jorah Mormont and Ser Barristan Selmy, the two men circle back to the question of honor. According to Ser Barristan, who has served on the Kingsguard of many terrible kings, a man of honor always keeps his vows, regardless of who he serves, whether he be drunk or mad. Clearly, Barristan’s code of honor is much different from Jaime’s, but it hasn’t done him much good. He was quickly tossed out of the Kingsguard by Joffrey, who found him a relic of a bygone era. Thanks to the imposition of harsh realities on his idealized world of oaths and chivalry, Barristan may actually get his chance to serve a king (or queen) worth fighting for.

For many decades, the lands of Westeros have been held hostage by inept rulers. It is a wonder that they have been able to keep the peoples’ faith in the institution throughout the crisis of leadership, though tides finally seem to be turning against them. As Lady Olenna says, that’s what elaborate royal weddings are for: giving the masses something to look forward to, lest they start to find reason to riot in the streets. After this week, and after the multitudes of failures among the leaders of Westeros, it appears that we will have many more weddings in our future.

Other thoughts on “Kissed by Fire”:

  • Ser Barristan reminds us of the whole reason why Jorah was banished from Westeros: Jorah, himself, sold people into slavery, which is not likely to be a great way to ingratiate himself to Daenerys and her followers.
  • Another cause for tension between Barristan and Jorah is that Jorah fears that the man might know that he once acted as a spy for Varys on behalf of the Small Council. After all, the only reason why Robert Baratheon knew that Daenerys was alive and with child was due to intel from Jorah. Ned Stark mistrusted Jorah’s information entirely, since, according to Ned, “Once a tratior, always a traitor” (I’m paraphrasing here). Once again, Ned seemed incapable of appreciating multiple perspectives.
  • Lots of butts in this episode, right? At least there were equal-opportunity butts this time. Male butts, female butts. Butts for everyone!
  • In the books, Robb does not decide to head to Casterly Rock and the heart of the Lannister’s homeland. Instead, he decides to head home to retake the North, which is what Talisa suggests.
  • Just as it was nice to see Shireen teaching Davos how to read, it was similarly heartening to see Arya tell Gendry, “I’ll be your family.” It was also great to see what’s called the “Lord’s Kiss” scene (as the book readers call it) between Jon Snow and Ygritte. It’s fun to see these people being kind and/or happy every once and a while!
  • I think I’m the only person who was actually rooting for the Hound against Beric. Love you Arya,  but you’re wrong about the Hound. “There is still good in him.” – Luke Skywalker
  • “She’s a lovely girl. Missing some of Ser Loras’ favorite bits, but I’m sure they’ll make do.” – Tyrion, on Sansa’s planned engagement to Ser Loras
  • Another great, surprisingly emotional scene was a simple one: Arya, after seeing Thoros bring Beric back to life, asks with tears in her eyes, “Could you bring back a man without a head?”