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What We Learned from "The House of Black and White": Spoiler Whore and Book Reader Edition

By Genevieve Burgess | Game of Thrones | April 21, 2015 |


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This is a book reader review for Game of Thrones, which means that below the dragon there will be discussion of plots from the TV show up to the most current episode that has aired on HBO, as well as spoilers from all five books that have been released. Chapters from books that have not yet been released, as well as information from any episodes that have not aired on HBO, are still off-limits. Thank you for cooperating!

Arya has reached Braavos and found the House of Black and White which turns her away at first for…? Reasons? It’s not entirely clear why she wasn’t allowed in at first, or why she was allowed in after throwing her coin away, killing a pigeon, and threatening a few guys. Maybe they had to assess her level of hopelessness and ruthlessness, but I hope we get a few more hints there. Also, while Arya has apparently learned of Tywin Lannister’s death (he’s not on her list anymore), she still thinks The Mountain is healthy enough to be a target. How news of Tywin’s death reached her while she was at sea we also don’t know, so this is probably just a script error. (It happens!) But we’ve got J’aqen back and Arya is on her way to being an even better killer.

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Brienne continues to be the most honest person in Westeros and the ghost of Ned Stark would be pleased to know that it’s not working out any better for her than it did for him. I’m not surprised that both Stark sisters were wary of Brienne when she admitted that she was bankrolled by Jaime Lannister, and as a sworn sword she does have a pretty shitty track record. I am surprised that she encountered Sansa so quickly, and am interested to see how they keep her relevant from here on out. As previously mentioned, I would love for her to decide that the best way to show her devotion to the Starks is by killing all the Freys she can get her hands on, but there’s no hint of that yet. “When are Freys going to get got!” is my version of “When are they going to get to the fireworks factory!” this season. I would also settle for her actually teaching Pod how to be a competent soldier. Boy has some skills with faces and family histories (as well as, uh, whatever was going on in Littlefinger’s previous business establishment) but he can’t even throw a rock well.

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Cersei’s flip out when she receives the necklace from Dorne hints at her upcoming mental unraveling. I’m not surprised that Jaime decided that the best way for him to handle the situation was to leave before she could make things worse and/or yell at him some more. Jaime needs a pal, though, as he’s the kind of person who seems unable to think silently to himself (see: the Jaime and Brienne show) so he wrenches Bronn free from the pleasant if somewhat dim Lollys Stokeworth. Bye, Lollys! I’m really glad that of all the rapes they’ve decided to include on this show, your gang rape wasn’t one of them! And the two of them are off to quip their way down to Dorne to rescue Myrcella from what looks like an adorable teenaged love affair. I’m sure she’ll be thrilled.

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Cersei goes on to head up the Small Council with Creepy Qyburn (seriously dude, just grabbing up random heads now?) while she gets in a nice wry dig about women serving as Hand of the King, she still seems to be putting a LOT of words in Tommen’s mouth. Mace Tyrell is sufficiently flattered by Tommen’s “praise” and Pycelle has been a boot-licker too long to figure out what else to do but take it, but Kevan Lannister isn’t fooled for a minute. We don’t hear Kevan say that Tywin specifically mentioned that he wanted Cersei married and dispatched back to Casterly Rock, but it’s clear that he’s not there to play her game and assumes that waiting her out is the best course of action. Maybe he’ll regret that in a few episodes.

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We get a brief visit to Dorne, with Ellaria playing out the conversation with Doran that Obara had with him in the books. It’s a short scene, but it gives us a glimpse of Dorne and how things work there. I think Alexander Siddig is doing a good job of showing Doran’s strength while showing that he wants to avoid trouble, and is unwilling to sacrifice Myrcella. I am still sad that we’ve lost Ellaria as the voice of peace she was in the books, she spoke against war and vengeance, but I understand why they wanted to give an actress like Indira Varma a bigger role.

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At the Wall we get the election of Lord Commander, which happens far more promptly than it does in the books. I find it significant that Jon explicitly states that he intends to turn down Stannis before the election, in the books he was still debating when he became Lord Commander. Also, I liked that Sam made his case for Jon openly and even needled Janos Slynt. It shows that he’s growing as a character, and hopefully we won’t have to listen to him mope about how useless anymore. The closeness of the election shows that Jon will not have an easy time assuming command, but Sam isn’t wrong that Jon has shown a propensity for leadership and has that ineffable quality that makes men want to follow him. And luckily Kit Harrington seems to be getting better at convincing us of the same, so this should be a big season for Jon. Alliser can’t help but get in some digs at Jon for having a Wildling girlfriend, after which the hall goes quiet for a moment of silent “What a dick” reflection, and lets us know how Jon’s leadership will be undermined.

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Also, I am very interested that we’re keeping up the Grayscale weirdness from the books. I’m already sort of writing an alternative end to the series where Shireen ends up on the Iron Throne and leads a campaign to bring universal literacy to the Seven Kingdoms, but I get the sense that there’s not a happy end in store for her on the show or in the books.

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This week in Meereen, Daario and Grey Worm arrested a man in possession of daggers and a Harpy mask. After a very well-done moment with Barristan Selmy, Daenerys agreed to try him publicly in order to ascertain what he was guilty of and sentence him fairly. Then her adviser Mossador went and killed the man in his cell, while he was under Dany’s protection, and openly admitted it in full court. Dany, clearly struggling with the decision, decided that this man could not be above justice no matter how important he was otherwise and had him publicly executed. Here’s the thing, this plot felt very familiar to me. I wonder why:

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Robb didn’t even have the “I was raised by Viserys and am really just making this up as I go along” excuse. Both of them were trying to stand firm in the name of equal justice for all, which is a good and noble cause. Both of them probably could have handled the situation better. As for Daenerys, the fact that she is listening to those with valuable knowledge and considering their thoughts genuinely is a good sign. Both Robb and Daenerys are trying to be just rulers in unjust times, and pursuing a platonic ideal in open defiance of their realities. Perhaps Robb would have become more politically savvy given time, but with Ned as a father maybe not. Daenerys still has time to learn, and she has shown a willingness to do so. She’s also shown that she values the opinions of certain members of her council over others; she has not yet opened the fighting pits despite Hizdahr and Daario’s efforts, but both Barristan and Jorah were able to influence her nearly immediately in important matters.

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This is a big change from the books, and it’s clearly done in the name of expediency. We need the situation in Meereen to deteriorate rapidly and be complicated for Daenerys, and giving the former slaves reason to distrust her will do that. It also introduces the specter of the Mad King to Daenerys, which should be another motivating force in her ruling style going forward. Perhaps this is petty, but I do miss the Green Grace. I felt like it was good to have someone who could speak to the cultural traditions of Meereen who was neither a former slave holder nor a former slave. Maybe they’ll introduce a similar character soon, now that there’s a vacant spot in Daenerys’s version of a small council.

There was an undercurrent in this episode of ruling styles and how successful or unsuccessful they are. Daenerys denies Mossador mercy, in defiance of the crowd, and she is attacked for it even though it’s in the service of establishing a more equal rule of law. In Dorne, Ellaria says to Doran that the whole country wants to go to war and Doran snaps back “Then we are lucky the whole country does not decide.” It’s an open slap in the face to democratic ideals, but the right choice for Dorne made by a ruler more concerned with the long-term than with immediate emotions. And compare Barristan’s warning about the Mad King that “his efforts to stamp out dissent led to rebellion that killed every Targaryen except two” to Stannis’s assertion that “Show too much kindness, people won’t fear you. If they don’t fear you, they won’t follow you.” Is it the ruling style that matters, the people one is ruling, or the circumstances of the rule? Jon Snow is a good battle commander, but is Sam right that he would make a good ruler in peacetime? Has Daenerys shifted gears to peacetime ruling too swiftly? Would Stannis be more successful if he were more merciful, or are his problems as a ruler deeper than that? Can Doran legitimately ignore the wishes of his people without explaining his own plan to them? There’s a lot of questions being raised about rulers and how to rule, and I’m very interested to see how the show handles them.

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At the end of the episode, Drogon shows up and we get a bit of a nice moment with him and Dany before he flies away over Meereen. I’m still trying to figure out if the show is doing something deliberate with how the dragons react to Daenerys or not. Drogon isn’t aggressive towards Dany, but he doesn’t stay with her either. Perhaps it’s just a reminder that the two of them are still connected, and nothing more.

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Oh, and Tyrion and Varys are in a box headed to Volantis. I’m pleased we got to see them but there’s not a whole lot going on there. I guess we couldn’t avoid all of the “chatting while traveling somewhere” from A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons.

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