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Spoiler Alert Thursday

In response to an observation by Adam on Twitter that the “fantasy” genre is largely about dominating and owning women, I quipped that Game of Thrones was clearly a latter day The Color Purple. That observation didn’t go anywhere. Too bad because while I was joking at the time, it is clearly a plausible interpretation of the series, both the novels and the show. Indeed, even more so of the novels than the show, which leads to the interesting question of why the redemptive aspects are missing or, in terms of those events in the “source material” which have not yet happened, why they might be muted?

I complained last season that the show isn’t particularly clear on The Hound and Sansa relation–for instance, why does he stop her from trying to push Joffrey off the catwalk when Joffrey is showing Sansa her father’s head on a spike? Or, in the most recent episode, the premier to the second season, why The Hound supports Sansa’s intervention on behalf of Ser Dontos? The answer goes back to the first day of the Hand’s Tournament when a drunken Hound escorts Sansa back to the Hand’s Tower and tells her, himself–not Lord Baelish, the story of The Hound and The Mountain.

It isn’t clear to me why Sansa’s development–which would make her much more sympathetic rather than merely “prissy self-involved naive bitch with a princess complex gets what she deserves” that she’s been portrayed as so far (not that the source material produces much sympathy for her; we are just better able to understand her motivations)–is obscure in the interest of developing other characters. For instance, Ros is referred to but does not appear in the source material, but suddenly not only was she the best whore near Winterfell, and not only did she ride a turnip cart to King’s Landing in record time, but now–after a few months!–she’s running Baelish’s main brothel? Really? The scene itself was important and could have been done without her; indeed, it would have been more powerful, given the previous scene where Cersei threatens Baelish’s life, to have Lord Slynt and his Gold Cloaks force Baelish to turn over Robert’s bastard. I’m just not sure what Ros added to this. Likewise, not only do I find the accent they have Shae using to be really, really annoying, but it seems like her role is being increased–unduly. Tyrion’s relationship to Shae is important–especially once he becomes Hand–but in the source material, Shae is always the refuge that Tyrion seeks and he spends most of his time worrying what Cersei and his father will do if they ever find her. He doesn’t trapse her around the Hand’s Tower!

So, why make Shae and Ros more important, but cut down on Sansa, which would make her more sympathetic? Why are they cock-blocking the The Color Purple reading? I just hope they don’t do the same to Arya–everyone’s favourite single-minded ten year old sociopath in training.

Returning to the episode itself. In terms of locations, this is the most expansive episode yet. We go beyond The Wall, to Winterfell, to the camp of Rob’s army, to Dragonstone, to King’s Landing, and to the Red Waste across the sea.

Beyond The Wall, the Night’s Watch expeditionary force arrives at Craster’s Keep–really just a long log cabin with some sharpened stakes out front. The Night’s Watch has passed through a number of Wildling villages along their way, but they’ve all been abandoned. Craster’s Keep is the first place they found people. Craster himself is not especially trustworthy and certainly disreputable: he rules as a despot, marries his daughters, and treats them as his own property–he’s kind of the northern version of Lord Frey, if you will. He doesn’t like the wildlings and he doesn’t like the Night’s Watch, but he is willing to exploit both for supplies, especially steel weapons and wine. Samwell and Jon notice that there aren’t any males at Craster’s Keep and wonder what happened to all of his sons. During their meeting with Craster, Jon gets impertinent and Craster tells him off. Later, Lord Mormont tells him off: “You have to learn to follow before you can lead.” We can see the outcome of this expedition a mile away.

At Winterfell, we begin with Bran acting as Lord of Winterfell with Maester Luwin doing most of the deciding. One minor lord is complaining that his holdfast is crumbling because Robb has taken all his men south to war. Luwin points out that lords are responsible for the upkeep of their forts themselves, but ultimately relents and lends him four masons for a week. Luwin points out that sometimes to make problems go away, you just have to give in. New we see Summer running through the Godswood, but the perspective and colours are off. We cut to Bran who suddenly wakes up, exactly the same way he woke up from his coma the first time around. Clearly, there is a connection between Bran’s “dreams” and his direwolf, Summer. Bran and Osha trace Summer’s footsteps through the Godswood–Bran is let down and crawls on all fours–like Summer–to the pool and looks in, just as Summer did. They’re virtually the same! They then notice a comet in the sky and discuss what it means: its red for Lannister, its red like the color of Lannister blood, or, more presciently, Osha asserts it means that the dragons are back.

At Robb’s camp, we have two scenes. First, Robb talks to Jaime who is still being held prisoner. Outcome: Jaime is a better fighter, but Robb is more devious. “I trust my bannermen with my life; I don’t trust them with yours.” But, the best part, of course, is when a fully-grown (we hope!) Grey Wind walks into the cell. Grey Wind is easily half the size of Robb and, thus, as large as a small horse. For the first time ever in his life, Jaime is clearly afraid. Next, Robb summons a captured Lannister–a composite character apparently named Alton Lannister–who will be an envoy to King’s Landing where the terms of peace are laid out: return the girls, return Ned’s body, recognize northern sovereignty, etc. Robb knows the terms will be refused, but his goal is to use this time to send Theon to the Grey Isles to get the Greyjoys to join his cause and to send Catelyn to Renly’s camp to make an alliance with them. Before leaving, Theon says something to the effect of, “Your father raised me to be honorable.” We’ll see about that.

At Dragonstone we are finally introduced to Stannis Baratheon, Ser Davos Seaworth (styled “The Onion Knight”), and Melisandre, a priestess of some sort from across the sea. Two major things happen here. First we see Melisandre conducting some sort of rite whereby statues of The Seven, the most widely worshipped gods in Westeros outside the North (the so-called new gods in opposite to the old gods of the First Men–whose cult is connected to the weirwood trees), as burnt as an offering to her own god, R’Hllor. Melisandre’s religion is manichean, posed in terms of an eternal struggle between R’Hllor, the Lord of Light who is associated with fire and life, and “the god whose name should not be spoken” (sometimes called “The Great Other”–note: in the novels, The White Walkers are called The Others!) who is associated with ice and death. As part of her ritual, she declares Stannis to be “Azai Ahai,” some sort of messianic figure who will lead the final win the final battle between fire and ice, life and death. He is armed with a flaming sword, which Melisandre has him pull from one of the burning gods. Many of Stannis’s men have apparently converted to this new religion, but two have not: Ser Davos Seaworth and Maester Cressen. The Maester believes that Melisandre needs to be stopped and Davos seems to agree, but he thinks it is too dangerous to make any overt move against her. Nonetheless, at a strategy meeting, Cressen attempts to poison Melisandre despite Davos’s warning. He drinks from the poisoned wine offering the rest of the glass as a peace offering to Melisandre. Cressen immediately begins to hemorrhage and dies. Melisandre then drinks the poisoned wine without any ill-effect.

To this point, all that we have been told about Stannis is that no one likes him at all. He doesn’t disappoint in the strategy/failed assassination scene. He has his junior Maester writing a letter which is to be distributed all over Westeros declaring himself to be the rightful king, outing Joffrey as the bastard incest offspring of Jaime and Cersei, and calls Renly an imposture. The Maester originally has “my beloved brother, Renly” in his letter. Stannis has him strike “beloved” from the letter because he does not love Renly. Overall, I really like how unlikable Stannis is. Sadly, he is somehow more likable in the show than he is in the source material.

At King’s Landing, we see that Joffrey is a completely incompetent and psychopathic ruler. We begin with a poorly attended tournament celebrating his name day. It would seem that the tournament is foregoing the standard jousting, archery and melee competitions. For Joffrey there is one-on-one elimination combat, preferably ending in death. We begin with The Hound brutally killing some knight of no importance and throwing him from the ramparts. A certain Ser Dontos is called upon to fight next. He is fat and drunk and cannot even get his armour on. Joffrey has him force-fed wine and orders his execution. Sansa intervenes pointing out that it is bad luck to execute someone on your name day, which Joffrey dismisses as the superstition of women. The Hound, however, intervenes on behalf on Sansa agreeing with her point. Sansa then suggests that it would be more suiting if Ser Dontos were made the new court fool and Joffrey seems satisfied with this humiliating punishment.

At this point, Tyrion arrives on the scene with his hill tribe entourage. He goes out of his way to recognize the younger two bastard children of Cersei and Jamie–named Tommen and Myrcella. He mostly mocks Joffrey. Thereafter Tyrion crashes a meeting of the Small Council where, to Cersei’s horror and Tyrion’s delight, he announces that he has been appointed Hand in Tywin Lannister’s absence and that his stock has been elevated in their father’s eyes while Cersei’s has been somewhat devalued. To try to regain favour with her father–after being mocked by Tyrion for having lost Arya and his suggestion that Arya and Sansa is all that will secure the release of Jaime–Cersei seeks out Arya and orders the murder of Robert’s bastards. While Joffrey is having the throne room renovated, Cersei slaps Joffrey and Joffrey threatens to have her killed if she does that again. Joffrey is so out of control that not even Cersei is able to control him. Finally, we see Janos Slynt, the leader of the Golden Cloaks, hunting down all of Robert’s bastards and murdering them in the streets. The cityfolk, needless to say, are not especially impressed and Joffrey continues his winning streak in terms of securing legitimacy from the populace. Not.

Lastly, across the sea, Daenerys and her khalasar are running out of food and water, all of their horses have died, and her dragons are refusing to eat. Her khalasar is starving to death. Upon the death of her Silver, the wedding gift she received from Drogo, Daenerys resolves to have each of her bloodriders go off in different directions in search of cities dead or alive.

Oh, and the results are conclusive: the Long Summer has come to an end. It is fall.


April 5, 2012 - Posted by | Spoiler Alert Thursdays


  1. This is an amazingly thorough, even scholarly summary. Clearly you love this show. We caught up over the last couple weekends and love it as well, though I won’t be reading the books any time soon.

    One thing that struck me this episode is that there’s still a taboo on HBO: you can’t directly show the murder of an infant. (Give it a couple years, though.) It also seems that Joffrey is showing the danger of having a child king — they don’t actually understand that you need to build legitimacy. It’s all magical thinking, such that people will obey just because he’s the king. His exchange with the queen is telling: “It’s not a claim to the throne — I am the king.” He doesn’t understand that even a very powerful office still depends on social recognition. I’m reminded of Lacan, who says that the beggar who thinks he’s the king is no crazier than the king who thinks he (really, immediately) is the king.

    The story with Sansa seems to be playing that out on a smaller scale: he can’t gain legitimacy by force, and he can’t gain love by force. Every time she responds as though she’s dead inside, you can tell he’s thinking, “Come on, I’m the fucking king, be impressed with me!”

    I’m interested to see how Tryion’s turn as Hand of the King plays out. I don’t see how he can govern effectively given Joffrey’s uncontrollable outbursts — unless perhaps he puts him in some kind of bubble where he can endlessly exercise his cruelty and then attends to the real world while Joffrey’s distracted. (In fact, now that I say that, it’s the obvious solution.)

    Comment by Adam Kotsko | April 7, 2012

  2. I didn’t notice that. Were none of the children killed onscreen? Not even the one in the water? Will have to re-watch the scene. Wonder what else HBO won’t show? Loras blowing Renly is only implied, as was Eric Northman buttfucking Talbot on “True Blood,” but Omar and Brandon (and Kima and her girlfriend) kiss open-mouthed. Children are killed in “Generation Kill,” but only from artillery, bombs and missiles; children killed by bullets are shown as corpses.

    I don’t think Joffrey ever wanted Sansa’s love–“Do I have to marry her?” he whines to Cersei in the first season. He’d identify love as “womanly” and inferior. He takes the “its better to be feared than loved” line, which is opposite to Renly’s “it’s better to be loved than feared” line. Joffrey might want Sansa to sincerely believe what she’s saying, but I don’t think he cares. Being as cruel as he is, he’d like it more if she didn’t actually believe what she was forced to say.

    I didn’t mention it above, but Ser Dontos’s armor was pure Captain America.

    Comment by Craig McFarlane | April 8, 2012

  3. I meant the murder of an actual infant — namely, the one in the brothel (the camera cut away).

    Comment by Adam Kotsko | April 8, 2012

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