Game of Thrones: The Old Gods and the New

“I have done many things that a righteous man would condemn. And here I am, with no regrets.”

Violent encounters between people who should not be enemies were the heart of this episode, but dancing around each exchange was the complicated history of conquest and violence writ large across the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros.

The Targaryen family were themselves conquerors: they ruled from King’s Landing thanks to the force of their dragons. The “free folk” beyond the Wall see the Southron lords (everyone south of the Wall, that is) as preventing them from the safety of a slightly warmer climate. The North only “bowed the knee” a few generations ago. The Iron Islanders live by conquest. Dany desires it, but is unwilling to pay the price. The Lannisters, on the other hand, are willing to pay any price.

The Seven Kingdoms of Westeros haven’t forgotten the meaning of their name: the division of the large island of Westeros into seven parts is built into the nation’s identity. Divisive politics, odd affiliations, and the way a country’s fate can turn on an individual personality just as much as mob violence are themes that run throughout the books.

Joffrey is a failure as a king, because he lusts for power but does nothing to deserve it or honor the responsibility that comes with it. Robb is forgetting his promise to wed one of the Frey women, because he’s found a hot little Volantin piece. Jon’s responsibilities are no smaller, just less-often praised: the sacrifice demanded of the Black Brothers are increasingly hard for him to deal with. Theon does not see the responsibility of conquest, just his own thirst for approval and vengeance. And while Arya seems not to have any responsibility, she has opportunity—but continues to misuse it.

Joffrey’s sadism in “Garden of Bones” horrified many people, including myself. But the violence against Sansa this week was harder for me to watch, perhaps because it was so messy, so hands-on, and she so clearly could not get free. Her conversation with Shae (“Why did he hate me? He doesn’t even know me.”) showed just how much Joffrey has cultivated her victimization: she can almost understand hatred, cruelty, and sexualized violence from acquaintances, just not from strangers. Until now.

The mob scene in King’s Landing was, except for the lack of horses, nearly identical to what happened in the book, and that made it all the worse. The walls of King’s Landing (aka Dubrovnik) seemed taller and mazier than usual, and I felt genuinely bad for the Lannisters. Men like Tyrion and the Hound are the unsung heroes of the Lannister reign, hiding nobility in bodies perceived as ignoble. Of course, neither of them worked particularly hard to save the king. Tyrion wanted to make sure “the prince” (aka Tommen, Joffrey’s little brother) was safe, and the Hound went after Sansa. Their hearts are in the right place.

Joffrey, of course, does not have a heart. “Kill them all” is a horrifying statement from a king, and Tyrion’s reaction was appropriate, although it was obviously too little, too late. Mad King Aerys was deposed for being a crazy pyromaniac sadist. How long can Joffrey maintain this style of ruling? How long can the Small Council, Tyrion, and Cersei keep him in check?

Theon’s attempts to rule Winterfell were just as horrifying. He has all the anger of the “small folk” of King’s Landing, plus a chip on his shoulder the size of the Frostfangs. Given a choice by the maester to choose the path of mercy, he listened instead to his first mate, who emphasized that Rodrick must pay the iron price. Theon doesn’t realize that he, too, pays a price when he chooses the cruel savagery of his native lands. And his inability to decapitate well is a clear indication that he is not fit to rule anything.

Jon, with his “bastard sword” (one and a half times bigger than a regular sword, but not as big as a two-handed great-sword like Ned Stark had), looked like he had the nerve to strike true—just not the desire. Well, he had desire for something, but not for decapitation. Maybe he and Igritte can make little furry babies to keep each other warm. (The sex would keep them warm, that is. Not the babies.) Jon’s wolf seems more at home beyond the wall, which is where direwolves mostly live these days. Does Jon belong there, too?

Arya, meanwhile, continues to lose her way just as she’s lost her wolf. Having lost her father and Yorick, Arya has found a new father-figure in Tywin: she looked adorably, subtly pleased that he noticed her intelligence and suggested that she devise the next battle plan. I think it’s that desire for a father figure, however much she may hate him, that prevents Arya from realizing she should use one of her death-wishes to kill Papa Lannister. That would have solved the Amory Lorch problem, too. Although the solution we did get was hilarious.

Grumpkins and Snarks:

• Theon: “I’ve taken Winterfell. I took it. I’m occupying it. I sent men over the walls with grappling claws and ropes.”
Bran: “Why?”
Thanks to Morgan, I look at Theon…and see a chihuahua.

• Joffrey: “Is your little brother a prince? Not really relevant than, is it?”

• Tryion: “We’ve had vicious kings and we’ve had idiot kings. But I don’t think we’ve ever been cursed with a vicious idiot for a king.”

• Cersei: “I want you to know what it’s like to love someone, to truly love someone, before I take her from you.”

• The Mob. Ripped. A limb. Off.

• Jaime is dyslexic. That’s a completely odd fact that I think is just meant to remind us he exists.

• Where are Dany’s dragons?

• A big, invisible prize to the person who can explain the relevance of the title to the episode.

This episode is hard to rate, because it is obviously heading towards the inevitable bloodbath and violent disaster of the second half of the season. So I’ll go with:

Three out of four cow pies.

Reminder: Book-related discussions (including spoilers) take place here.

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

10 comments:

Siddharth M. said...

I think the title itself refers to the shifting nature of the world of Westeros and the choices that characters have to make to either follow the old ways or adapt to the new world
1. Maester Luwin and Rodrik Cassel goading Theon to abide by the ways of Winterfell versus the belief system of the Iron Islands
2. Robb being reminded of his kingly responsibilities by both Roose Bolton (who has a bastard, whom I just cannot wait to show up) and Catelyn and being told to act like a Stark of Winterfell rathar than an 18 year old boy.
3. Halfhand forcing Jon Snow to choose between his natural Twilighty wishy-washiness and the decisiveness of action that comes with being a ranger of the nights watch
4. The entire story for Arya where she is looking to balance her survival in Harrenhall with loyalty to her family and house (in essence, learning to choose between sticking to the moral code her father taught her and the value of shifting allegiences in the time of war. Arya was absolutely right when she said Loyalty killed her father and the one time she tried her hand at being a spy, she was caught)

and finally,

5. Dan's claim to the crown of Westeros coming more from a misguided belief of it being her birthright rather than coming from any position of power. Her adamant refusal to use the one bargaining chip she does possess ( her dragons ) and stubborn reliance on false promises and empty threats cost her the dragons leaving her very very vulnerable

Such a terrific episode. And thats not even mentioning that fact that we got naked Tonks...

Anonymous said...

Theon is just the worst.

Anonymous said...

I agree with CoolSid on the interpretation of the episode title. It seems as if every character has to face the choice of where to put his loyalties and beliefs. It also seems as if everyone if being tested... after all, it's an easy thing to follow a certain moral code when you're in a safe, happy enviroment, and it is only now, when everything is going to hell, that morals and beliefs are becoming a matter to think of and to choose rather than something your learnt from your family.

As for Theon, as much as I wanted to despise him for turning against Robb (I always felt as if he wasn't so much betraying the Starks but Robb, who I firmly believe Theon considers a brother) I always had a hard time doing so. I love how they have translated the book to the TV show here, because you can feel Theon's head in its constant turmoil. I never justified his actions, but it's truly not black and white when it comes to him, and it's actually these shades of grey in the characters that make GRRM's books so awesome to me.

In a completely shallow comment, how adorable was Robb trying to ask his girl on a date? And then going "I know, I know" to Catelyn. I felt like he wanted to say "But, mom...".

Also, Ygritte, I appreciated her efforts, but I just don't think there was a lot of feeling going on with 32 layers of clothing both her and Jon where wearing. I would have tried too, though.

Iago said...

My understanding of the title is this: in Westeros oaths are taken "in the sight of the old gods and the new" and this episode was all about oaths and (mostly) oathbreaking. Those keeping their oaths are shown to suffer for it: Tyrion has pledged to defend the realm and his family, even though that means defending Joffrey and Cersei, Sansa is keeping her oath to love Joffrey and marry him and look at all the abuse she gets, and Jaqen Haqar put himself in a lot of danger fulfilling his oath to Arya.

Jon Snow and Theon are trapped by oaths: killing Ygritte was the wrong thing to do despite his path ordering him to and there's the nonsensical part about no sex which Ygritte took full advantage of. Theon is caught between oaths: his loyalty to his natural family and the Drowned God, and his loyalty to the family who raised him. Issac Hempstead-Wright did a great job of showing Bran's sheer bewilderment. Littlefinger was blithely planning getting the Tyrell's to switch sides, reasoning they can't keep an oath to a dead man: something Robb and most of the northerners would disagree with.

Osha exemplified the difference: Theon had tried to instruct her in the power structure of the Seven Kingdoms and what it meant to submit and she laughed it off whereas she shows true service to Bran and Luwin, helping them out without hesitation. Bran earned Osha's oath in a way Theon never could.

Anonymous said...

How heartbreaking were the scenes with Bran?! And slapping the vicious ideot could be the running gag of the show. Dany´s behaviour and speeches really start to annoy me. I hope that the theft of the dragons will spice her storyline a little bit up.

Interesting interpretations of the title choice. I´m really clueless here,too.

And can I just say how beautiful the Island scenes are...

Mark Greig said...

The execution of Ser Roderick reminded me of a similar shoddy execution on The Tudors. Difference is Theon isn't drunk so he has no excuse for his terrible head chopping skills. Should've used Valyrian steel, mate. Nine out of ten Northern lords whose ways are the old ways fully recommend it.

ChrisB said...

Can I just say, by far the best of the second series. I absolutely loved it.

As if there weren't already enough wonderful women in this world, we are introduced to Ygritte. (Played by Rose Leslie, Gwen in the first series of Downton Abbey -- another woman whom I adored.) She is certainly going to give our Jon a run for his money.

I continue to be fascinated by Arya. For someone so young, she seems to be able to suss out a situation and do whatever it takes to survive without blinking. Yes, she is going against the teachings of her father, but arguably, they didn't end up serving him too well at the end.

I like CoolSid's interpretation of the title. Put a lot of the episode into perspective for me.

Josie Kafka said...

Chris, I'm so glad you decided to stick with the show!

ChrisB said...

Josie -- me, too! I must admit that this is the show that sits in my DVR, but today I watched the two most recent episodes and really, really loved them both. I can't believe I'm actually going to say (type?) this, but I can't wait until Monday now.

A lot of my perseverance is down to your reviews, Josie. Thanks.

sunbunny said...

Oh, Theon. I out and out hated him in the books, but Alfie Allen plays him so conflicted. His face after he beheaded Roderick killed me a little. The horror of his taking Winterfell was lessened slightly by his very brotherly conversation with Bran in which he explains, matter-of-factly, that he has taken Winterfell. Despite literally stealing the house out from under him, Theon still can't bring himself to treat his almost baby bro Bran with contempt.

Maybe my favorite part of the episode was Tyrion, sensing the riot and thinking only of Tommen. The mob can kill his horrible sister and vicious nephew, but Tommen is a sweet, innocent boy and thus is priority number one. Tyrion has his head on straight. AND he slapped Joffrey again, which is always fun.

It always bugged me in the book that Arya wastes her FREE hits on such unimportant people. She's a smart girl (as Tywin points out). If she's not gonna take out big bad Daddy Lannister, at least get the Mountain.

Jaime's dyslexia was the randomness of details. Maybe supposed to humanize the Lannisters?