Last night's Game of Thrones featured exciting things like discussions of insurrections and national debt. The show, as is apparent to everyone who watches it, is very much committed to not being a standard fantasy story, and last night it bellowed that very loudly, affirming that even though it's all about dragons and swords, it's still utterly committed to the intricacies of fake politics.
Spoilers after the jump.
All hail King Not-A-Jerk! Tommen Baratheon, Joffrey’s younger, less repulsive brother, and owner of Ser Pounce the kitty was crowned King of the Andals and the First Men in last night’s episode. Cersei noted that he could be the first man in fifty years who actually deserves to sit on the Iron Throne. She wasn’t wrong. After the Mad King, after the decadent and neglectful Robert, and after the fiasco that was Joffrey, it’s probably a breath of fresh air for Westeros to have a nice little milksop who will do what the courtiers and advisors tell him to do.
After the coronation Cersei and Margaery had a moment that was part bonding, part sparring match. Margaery attempted to play the role of grieving widow, but Cersei cut her off with some real talk, admitting that Joffrey was a monster. Book Cersei’s rivalry with Margaery seems to stem mostly from just vanity (which is kind of sexist) but here they seem to be very fundamentally different people who genuinely don’t like each other. That’s quite the improvement over the source material.
Conquest is easy. Control is not. In an interview with Rolling Stone recently George R. R. Martin mused about the difference between winning a crown and ruling as a king. The whole thing is worth a read, but the main thrust of it is when he asks “What was Aragorn’s tax policy?” Simply saying that a king is good and wise is not the same as, for instance, showing their skill at foreign relations.
That concern for ruling as opposed to conquering was on display when Daenerys, faced with an insurrection asked "How can I rule seven kingdoms if I can’t control Slaver’s Bay?”
Meanwhile, the crown of the Seven Kingdoms is in debt. Tywin Lannister made very clear to Cersei that mining, the Lannister’s traditional source of revenue, is done. The monarchy has been living off borrowed money from the Iron Bank of Braavos, and Tywin is resigned to somehow paying off the government debt.
Insurrections! Rogue nations! Stagnant industry Debt! This is high fantasy people. Adventure beyond compare.
Lysa Arryn is a creeper. We get a lot of brutes and bullies on Game of Thrones, so last night it was nice to see a villain who’s more of a creepy obsessive than a thug. Lysa Arryn has a long history with Littlefinger, badly wants to marry him, and would apparently do anything for him. Including, it seems, kill her former husband. I was sort of surprised the writers kept that in the show. I’ve read the series twice, spent more time on the Internet than I should have, and tried to puzzle out Littlefinger’s vast conspiracy plan. I still have no idea how it’s supposed to work.
Lysa later torments Sansa, accusing her of possibly seducing Littlefinger. Sansa, gripped by her horrible aunt, insisted that she was a virgin. It was a very uncomfortable scene to watch. Lysa is a nemesis who uses shame rather than swords. She assured Sansa that Tyrion would soon be tried and killed, and that Sansa (who, as far as anyone knows, is the heir to Winterfell) would be free to marry the creepy child Sweetrobin. Sansa, more than any other character, gets smarter and wiser as the series progresses. However, that development comes at a cost that’s often very hard to watch and read.
I’m sure that Lysa and Littlefinger will have a long and happy marriage.
Oberyn! And also Cersei. I feel like I’ve been complaining a great deal about this show recently, but I still think that, on balance, it is highly good and superior to the books. One of the best and most consistent improvements in the adaptation has been seeing Cersei Lannister not portrayed as a cackling villain, but as someone you can actually feel sorry for. In an unexpectedly nice scene, she asked Oberyn Martell about her absent daughter Myrcella. He told Cersei that the last time he saw her, she was happy and playing with other children. The conversation had a few barbs in it, but they were small. Both Cersei and Oberyn have lost relatives to Westeros’ war and politics, and Cersei asks “What good is power if you cannot protect the ones you love?” It’s not a bad question to ask.
Arya and the Hound: Buddy cops! Arya and the Hound do not have a good relationship. They are not a dynamic duo like Batman and Robin, or Captain America and Bucky, or even the Flash and Kid Flash. They are more like two people obsessed with murder who realize that if they stick together, they will each probably be better murder doers. They do not like each other. Arya even said that she wants the Hound dead. The Hound made fun of her swordplay and mocked Syrio Forel which is not cool (I miss you, Syrio) but they had a moment where they bonded over sword things. It was like seeing two cops who don’t like each other suddenly like each other a little. D’aww.
Podrick and Brienne: Additional buddy cops! Podrick Payne is not good at horses. He is also not good at cooking rabbits or being useful. When Brienne asks what he did for Tyrion he says “mostly I poured wine.” He also mentioned killing a member of the Kingsguard who tried to kill Tyrion at the Battle of the Blackwater. This, Brienne respects. They have a moment and he helps her with her armor. It was, as the kids recently said, adorbs.
HODOR SMASH! Things got slightly more exciting up in the North with an extended sequence that featured both Bran & Co. and Jon Snow. Bran and his gang had been captured by the gross Night’s Watch mutineers who, because they are terrible cartoon villains, threatened to rape Meera. Game of Thrones, can you please ease up on the rape? Rape or threat of rape have featured in the last three episodes, and it's not cool. Show, you’re better than that.
The fracas with the mutineers, though, was really an excuse for exposition. Jojen tried to explain to the nasty bad guys that he’s psychic and had visions of them dead. In doing so the young Mr. Reed helpfully reminded us, the audience, that Bran is probably important in some nebulous fashion, and that we should care about his very chilly vision quest.
Bran ended up warg-ing Hodor who smashed through his chains, cut them free, and offed Locke, the undercover agent sent by Roose Bolton to off Bran and Rickon. Bran caught a glimpse of his brother, Jon Snow, but they forgoed (forewent? I’ve never been clear on that) a family reunion in favor of continuing on their journey. For his part, Jon had a boss fight with the head mutineer, killed all of the other guys, and burned down Craster’s keep. There was death and fire and terrible weather. Literally everyone in Westeros has PTSD.
And we got to see the cute direwolves! I like the cute direwolves. See you next week!