This episode left me unsettled. Part of it was due to troubling last scene between the Lannisters, and part due to a few earlier scenes that didn’t quite hit their mark. Ultimately, though, I was unsettled because, even though I’ve read the book and know what’s happening and what will happen, I am worried for many of our characters.
If there’s a theme this week, it’s service: servants knowing more than masters, people calling in favors and not realizing their “servants” (read: Littlefinger) are working against them, various authority figures demanding they be obeyed.
The final scene, in which Tywin commanded his children to adhere to a strict devotion to “family” in the abstract, highlighted the key difference between Cersei and Tyrion. Tyrion is horrified at the prospect of being inflicted on Sansa; Cersei is horrified at the prospect of an arranged marriage being inflicted on her. Tyrion’s quick, disgusted response broke my heart: he genuinely thinks he is so horrific that his first thought was for how terrible a marriage to him would make Sansa feel.
Cersei, on the other hand…Well, let me start with a disclaimer. I’m hardly an apologist for arranged marriage: I can’t imagine what sort of terrible match my parents would make for me if given the opportunity. But in Westeros, high-born ladies are almost always set up in arranged marriages (as are the men, obviously). Sure, Cersei was mistreated by Robert, her first husband—but because that scene doesn’t exist in the books, I have a hard time taking it to heart. And doesn’t a marriage to a handsome gay man sound like the perfect set-up for Cersei? But she’s horrified at the thought, and I’m mostly annoyed at her horror, especially in contrast to Tyrion’s selfless reaction to his similar proposal.
Tywin demanded that both his children fulfill their family duty, obeying him as the patriarch, and they resisted. In a neat parallel, Jaime Lannister also described his disobedience to a patriarch (the old Mad King Aerys) in the bath scene with Brienne. Jaime’s nickname, “Kingslayer,” emphasizes his treachery: as a sworn member of the Kingsguard, Jaime should have died to protect his king. But he couldn’t, since the king was crazy and wanted to burn the world along with himself. “Kingslayer” ought to be an honorific, but in a world in which oaths and fidelity are worth more than coin, it’s a curse. Jaime let his reputation be sullied as expiation for breaking his oath, but he seems to feel like it’s time to let that self- flagellation go, as the awkward “My name is Jaime” at the end of the scene made clear.
Duty cuts both ways, though. The Lannisters may struggle with what their leaders demands of them, but leaders like Beric Dondarian and the Lord of Light manage to create disciples by offering companionship, choice, and noble outlawry. The best kind.
Oh, and resurrection. Book readers were expecting Beric Donadarian’s resurrection, which may be why the writers chose not to end the episode on what should have been a shocking scene. It’s a pity they didn’t, as the Lord of Light seems to be the one effectual god in Westeros, where the Seven are more than fancy chapel decorations, and the “old gods” are sleeping in their trees. Resurrection, shadow babies, fire: I suspect the Lord of Light, or at least his acolytes, will be useful and important in the coming zombie wars. I hope so, at least.
As it was staged, however, the highlight of the Brotherhood without Banners wasn’t Beric’s resurrection but Arya’s reaction to it: she wants her father back, by any means. That Beric loses parts of himself with each resurrection doesn’t seem to matter to her—which is reasonable, given that she is a young girl whose entire world collapsed when her father was treacherously beheaded. That Gendry is choosing the Brotherhood over Arya’s offer of family is even more poignant.
Speaking of beheadings: alas, Lord Karstark. He killed the young, irrelevant Lannister hostages to avenge the death of his sons and commit suicide-by-king. Karstark’s actions, ironically, would make perfect sense to Tywin Lannister: he sacrificed everything for “family” in the abstract, forgetting what it would mean for specific, individual family members and bannermen.
Now, without the forces of the Karstarks behind him, Robb is stuck in the upper-middle of Westeros with no home to return to and nowhere to go. His decision to sack Casterly Rock is interesting, as it would take the fight right to the Lannisters (except that they’re all busy in King’s Landing). And it requires an alliance with the Freys, whom Robb snubbed by breaking his betrothal to one of the Frey girls and marrying his current wife instead.
Speaking of wives: ugh, shudder, ugh. Stannis’s wife is insanely creepy. She keeps fetuses in jars in her bedroom. (No wonder Stannis has the hots for Melissandre.) She locks up her daughter just because the daughter has “greyscale.” That was horrifying, and cruel. It was so horrifying, in fact, that I’m not going to say any more about it.
So I’ll move on to Dany and her wonderful army. The liberated slaves seem awfully happy with their freedom. (It’s amazing how a change in perspective can make exactly the same activity seem better or worse.) But Jorah and Barristan the Bold aren’t quite coalescing into the seamless advisory team Dany might need. Jorah is clearly nervous about whether or not Barristan knows that Jorah was a spy for King Robert. Barristan is clearly nervous about throwing his lot in with Jorah, whose name is mud in Westeros. Tensions, secrets, distrust—actually, Dany’s advisors might be perfectly suited to the small council in King’s Landing.
As long as they serve Dany as well as Grey Worm, who is devotedly grateful. And as long as they serve better than Littlefinger, who was tasked by Cersei to find out about the marriage plot with Sansa and Loras, and is using that information for his own ends. (Cersei really isn’t as smart as she thinks she is, is she?) As long as they serve better than Lord Karstark, who let vengeance overrule oaths and loyalty. And as long as they serve better than the Lannister children, who do what they must and spend their entire lives resenting it. As long as Dany manages to convince her advisors, her armies, and eventually the people of Westeros to choose her--since, in a world filled with resentment, only those who choose to serve are any good at it.
Three out of four warm, sultry caves.
Reminder: book-related discussions and spoilers live in the discussion thread.
Josie Kafka reviews The Vampire Diaries, True Detective, Game of Thrones, and various other things that take her fancy. She is a full-time cat servant and part-time rogue demon hunter. (What's a rogue demon?)
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