Game of Thrones: The Pointy End

“Not today.”

It’s tempting to say that the Stark children are the true heroes of Game of Thrones. Arya, Jon, and Robb are powerful beyond their years, and it’s hard not to root for the three kiddos who exemplify the best of their father’s sense of justice and their mother’s strength. However, it’s not that the Stark children are the heroes. It’s that the children are forced to become adults far, far sooner than is appropriate even in this faux-medieval world.

King’s Landing

Syrio the dancing master, first sword of Braavos, let me sing your praises! Syrio’s self-sacrifice has always been one of the most touching scenes in the book, and watching him battle armored soldiers with a wooden sword to protect his brave little protégé was heart-wrenching. He emphasized that Arya must see rather than just watch—this is both the seeing of keen swordplay and the seeing that Ned so clearly lacked as he struggled to keep his pieces on the board in King’s Landing.

The direwolves are a stronger presence in the books than they are here (so far), and it’s interesting to think of them as daemons, like in those Philip Pullman books. Sansa, having lost her daemon, has lost her moral compass and inner strength: she caved to Cersei’s demands and seemed willing to play the pawn. Arya, having forced Nymeria to run away, is strong but flits on the edge of danger: when she says “not today,” she lets Syrio sacrifice himself for her, and slays the stable boy to stay alive. Pragmatically speaking, those might be the right choices: a ten-year-old girl should do what she can to stay alive. Morally speaking, she let a kind man die for her, and killed an unarmed boy because she wasn’t able to “see” that he represented a threat that could be neutralized in another way.

Meanwhile, Ned languishes in the dungeons. Varys the eunuch blames Ned for Robert’s death, and it’s hard not the blame the Starks for everything that has gone wrong. On the other hand, it’s hard to see how they could have acted differently. And that’s the template for tragedy, isn’t it?

Varys echoed Syrio’s statement to Ned: not today. I won’t bother with disingenuous speculation, since I know how this ends. But many paths are still open to Ned and to his captors, including a few that haven’t been mentioned.

At the Wall

Up north, the bodies of the black brothers rose from the dead. Now is probably a good time for me to explain my understanding of the zombie pecking order in this universe: there are white walkers, who have “slept” or hibernated for hundreds, maybe thousands, of years. They can “make” human bodies into what I’m calling zombies, for lack of a better word. (And because zombies are cool.) We’ve seen these zombies before, in the premiere. They can only be killed by fire, although a direwolf makes a handy weapon, too. They are not to be mistaken for “wildlings,” the free-ranging pseudo-Celts who live without centralized government or central heating beyond the Wall. (If any book-readers have a different understanding of how the zombies work, please post in the comments. I've never felt like I have mastery of this topic.)

Winterfell and the North

The master looked so pleased at Robb’s decision to call the banners and go to war against the Lannister military-industrial complex—and I’m in agreement. Not only does this decision appeal to my inner warmonger, but it makes for incredibly complex games: Lannisters vs. Starks, but ranging from Casterly Rock in the west to the powerful, isolationist stronghold of the Eyrie in the east, Winterfell in the north and King’s Landing in the south. All the cardinal directions are covered, in other words.

The northerners also make for good TV. Greatjon Umber’s bluster was abruptly cut short by a direwolf eating his fingers. I don’t think a feast has ended that badly since Beowulf. Robb’s reunion with his mother was delightful, as well: she wanted to hug him, but waited until he was out of sight of his men.

Oh my goodness, Rickon the youngest Stark actually exists!

Below the Vale of Arryn and Outside Casterly Rock

In the past seven episodes, Tyrion has roamed most of Westeros and gotten into a series of wacky shenanigans. He has relied on his wits and his money—not to mention his family name—to get him out of trouble, and has always succeeded. He aced it again in this episode, convincing the frightening hill tribes that they would be better served by joining with him than making him dance for their children.

And then he reunited with his father. Tyrion’s one great weakness is completely understandable: he will do anything for family, because he desperately wants his father’s approval, and he knows that family (in the abstract, as I mentioned last week) matters more to Papa Lannister than anything. Tywin knows this, and he exploits his son’s weakness. He knows Tyrion will not say no to him, and Tyrion’s usually japery doesn’t work against his father’s iron will. Thus, Tyrion is going to lead a bunch of hill folk into battle.

The Dothraki Sea

Having decided to conquer Westeros for his unborn son, Khal Drogo has taken his horde to conquer the “sheep people” of the plains. Dany has shown herself willing to punish men for their wrongdoings: her brother, for instance, or the poisoner in last week’s episode. But she is not willing to punish the innocent for being unfortunate victims of rape and pillage. She doesn’t have a gentle heart, but she does have a trusting one, and still hopes to claim Westeros without innocent blood being shed.

Khal Drogo was willing to shed his own blood to support his wife, too. Yes, the scene was moving, but I kept thinking someone was going to make a joke about how pregnant women like pickles and rescuing slaves. Maybe they did, but it got lost in the translation from Dothraki.

Bitter Peaces:

• Syrio: “You were not seeing.”

• Tyrion: “What do you want, Bronn? Gold? Women? Golden women?”

• Tyrion: “Come, share our fire. Help yourselves to our goat.”

• Shagga, Son of Dolf: “How would you like to die, Tyrion, son of Tywin?”
Tyrion: “In my own bed, at the age of 80, with a belly full of wine and a girl’s mouth around my cock.”
Shagga: “Take the half-man! He can dance for the children.”

• Dany: “I do not have a gentle heart.”

• Tyrion: “And here we have Bronn, son of…”
Bronn: “You wouldn’t know him.”

• Hodor is the palest man I have ever seen.

• We got our first mention of the Late Lord Frey.

• Ser Barristan the Bold has left the service of the king.

This episode was another strong entry, but I’m getting increasingly eager for the sense of finality that I assume will come, at least in part, from the season finale. GoT is, like many TV shows, about deferral. “Not today” could be its catchphrase. Resolution doesn’t come easy, and that’s a good thing--but when re-watching this episode, I wound up fast-forwarding through a few scenes. They're necessary, but not incredible. This episode, like a few of the early ones, felt like one long lay-up as we wait for the slam-dunk of the next few weeks. Not today, but soon.

Three out of four golden women.

Josie Kafka is a full-time cat servant and part-time rogue demon hunter. (What's a rogue demon?)

6 comments:

Mark Greig said...

Can't believe this season is almost over. I know we've still got two more episodes to go but I'd say that, so far, Game of Thrones has been a complete triumph. There hasn't been a single duff episode and this was no different.

I got chills as all the ravens left Winterfell, calling the banners to war. It was great seeing Clive Mantel as Greatjon Umber (another example of the series' perfect casting), but I guess they're holding Roose Bolton back until season two.

Josie, my understanding of how the zombie pecking order works up north is pretty much the same.

Gus Brunetti said...

You're right, Josie, this one had the feel of the earlier eps. That's why I didn't like it. I lost interest in it three times during the hour, and went away to do other stuff. And many of my complaints have to do with the characters. An example: Syrio. I liked him right away, but it's hard to feel so much his death when we saw him for 3 scenes, none of them long. I barely got to know this amazing character; there was no time to invest.

Much of that could have been avoided if they had the usual 12 episodes a season HBO has. If the 3 first eps were "spread" into five, they wouldn't feel so rushed, they wouldn't have to cram so much information in them. Maybe on a rewatch I'll love them; maybe if read the books I'd love them even more. I'm bored now, though, despite some spectacular scenes.

And is it me or the scene where Arya killed the boy was terribly edited?

Zack said...

I enjoyed this episode, and agree with the statement that there really hasn't been a bad episode of GoT. I'm beyond amped for the final two episodes; I think this week will be a slow burner, but the finale will be action packed. I've been curious to one thing since the show started, though...next season, will the title switch to Clash of Kings? Silly, I know.

On a side note, the actual name of the "zombies" is wight. :)

Sooze said...

There has not been one episode where I haven't been on the edge of my seat...either leaning in to really hear (and understand) what is being said (and not said, in between the lines) or due to the tense action.

"Not today" for sure. That was a wonderful scene, beautifully acted by both.

I am sure worried for Ned...I have the book in my hands and I am trying REALLY hard not to skip to the end to discover his fate! But i know it'll ruin it for me if I do!

ChrisB said...

I have felt as though the past two episodes have been a bit long and dull. Yes, I am still engaged in the story, but there seems to be an awful lot of set-up for the finale. Hope it's worth the wait.

Steve S. said...

Josie, I believe you can also kill the walkers with dragonglass (obsidian) and possibly Valyrian steel.

A question: is it my imagination, or is the TV show making Eddard Stark look more stubbornly clueless than the book? Now I admit I only read the book once and that was 20 years ago (or whatever), but when I read it, Eddard's decisions and actions made sense to me, and I was surprised (and upset!) when this all went down. But watching it now, it all seems quick, neat and obvious that he's not paying attention (or doesn't care), not reading the room, and that his fatal flaw will be his tragic downfall.

In general, I love the show -- I had avoided watching it because the books were so awesome that I didn't want to spoil them. But everyone kept raving about the show so I decided to finally watch it this week. It's great. Different, faster, but great. Anyway, am I just off base on Eddard?