I’ve written before about how Game of Thrones excels at heteroglossia: many, often contradictory, voices coming together in a massive chorus of mimesis. No one character—not even Tyrion—speaks for the author or for the show’s message. Because there is no “message” to reality or its skillful imitation. There is just the drama and chaos of existence.
Varys: “I did what I did for the good of the realm.”
Littlefinger: “The realm? Do you know what the realm is? It’s the 1000 blades of Aegon’s enemies, the stories we agree to tell each other over, and over, until we forget that it’s a lie.”
Varys: “And what do we have left, once we abandon the lie? Chaos. A gaping pit waiting to swallow us all.”
Littlefinger: “Chaos isn’t a pit. Chaos is a ladder. Many who try to climb it fail and never get to try again. The fall breaks them. And some are given a chance to climb, but they refuse. They cling to the realm, or the gods, or love. Illusions. Only the ladder is real. The climb is all there is.”
The conversation between Varys and Littlefinger made that clear, as many of their conversations do. It was really a conversation in two parts: first, the idea that the nation requires representation. Benedict Anderson talks about this in Imagined Communities. We are only our nationality because we agree that “the United States” (or wherever) is a place with shared meaning; national identity and stability rests on much more than shared laws, language, or even custom. Tyrion isn’t wrong in thinking that the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros have a common fear of Tywin Lannister, but there is more to it than that—as Robb knows, and as Robb is counting on in his continued quest to become the King in the North.
The second part of the conversation was, of course, about power. Varys sees chaos as a pit: something the nation must avoid falling into, something that is hard to climb out of. Littlefinger disagrees. He sees chaos as a ladder of opportunity, which made me imagine a ladder of corpses in the style of Hieronymus Bosch.
Is it that climb that the title refers to? Or the more obvious climb—Jon, Ygritte, and the wildlings climbing all 700 feet of the Wall? They were cut loose (a very Littlefinger move), but Jon saved Ygritte, and she saw the world from the Wall. Both worlds, in fact: the land beyond the Wall that she has always known, and the land south of the Wall that Jon wanted to show her.
Jon, Ygritte, and the Wildlings are at the Wall. Bran, the Reeds, etc. are coming towards it from the south. Will they meet up, perhaps with Sam? He is headed there from the north, toting an obsidian dagger that must be subject to Chekhov’s Dagger Law: if a dagger glints in the firelight in the first act, it must be used for some yet-unknown purpose by the end of the season.
Chekhov’s Dagger Law (aka) applies to every scene in this show, of course. Melissandre’s departure from Stannis a few episodes ago? It wasn't random. She was off to look for Gendry. (And those of us who have read the books should talk about that in the spoiler thread.) Gendry hates that the Brotherhood let him go for god and for gold. As much as I like Gendry’s and Arya’s friendship, and as much as I distrust Melissandre, I was so moved by Thoros’s speech that I understand his decision. Paul Kaye did a phenomenal job with that monologue, and “they were the only words I knew” perfectly sums up the agony of disbelief. In fact, let’s just take a minute and enjoy the monologue again:
“By the time I came to Westeros, I didn’t believe in our Lord. I decided that he, that all the gods, were stories we tell the children to make them behave. So I wore the robes and every now and then I’d recite the prayers. It was just for show—a spectacle for the locals. Until the Mountain drove a lance through this one’s heart. I knelt beside his cold body and said the old words. Not because I believe in them, but he was my friend, and he was dead, and they were the only words I knew. And for the first time in my life, the Lord replied.”
Of course—as Theon’s torturer reminded him—if you think this has a happy ending, you haven’t been paying attention. Beric Dondarian says there is no “other side,” just darkness, which might mean that even those who worship the Lord of Light don’t completely understand the nature of the universe.
And who does? Even in a land like Westeros, where magic is slowly coming alive, most people are too caught up in themselves to ask those larger questions. Take Theon, who has been reduced to begging to be mutilated. Such is the power of pain, misery, and torture. Or take Edmure Tully, who wants to haggle for a prettier wife from the Frey clan, even if the delay means that Robb loses the war. Pinky fingers, wives—those little distractions make up the excitement, happiness, and sadness of everyday life.
Especially for people like Tyrion, Sansa, Shae, Cersei, and Loras. The nightmarish marriage pact is slightly hilarious, since Sansa didn’t know Loras was gay during their conversation, and now doesn’t know that Tyrion is in love with Shae, her maid. Tyrion said that would be an “awkward” conversation, and that doesn’t begin to cover it. Cersei is still miserable without her true love Jaime, but at least she and Tyrion are bonding (sort of) over their shared misery. Cersei even revealed that it was Joffrey who ordered Tyrion killed during the Battle of the Blackwater.
Ugh, Joffrey. He got a chance to try a “fresh experience”: shooting Ros with a crossbow while she was tied to a bed in what I thought at first was skimpy lingerie, and then realized was blood. Lots and lots of blood. What a horrible fate. Joffrey…shudder. And Littlefinger mentioned he was grateful. How grateful? Joffrey aligned with Littlefinger is a horrible idea.
Although last week’s episode left me a little cold (I just didn’t love it as much as I usually do), this week delighted me. Quite a few conversations were more fun than they should have been: Lady Olenna and Tywin Lannister trading barbs and threats. Jaime, Brienne, and Lord Bolton. (I loved Brienne helping Jaime with the steak.) Loras loving gold and green brocade. (“I’m sure he does,” says Shae.) Varys referring to the Iron Throne as “the Lysa Arryn of chairs.” So, without further ado:
Three and a half out of four sword swallowers.
Reminder: Book-related spoilers and discussions 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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