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Throughout the history of Game Of Thrones, there are two phrases that regularly appear. They are less common in the television series, but any reader of the books knows them, and knows them well. They are the two phrases that have become the heart and soul of this world, that embody every beautiful and terrible act that occurs. Spoken in a doomed language, everyone must remember them if they are to be a part of this world. Two phrases in High Valyrian that perfectly sum up the second episode of this season, “The Lion And The Rose.”
“Valar Dohaeris”: “All Men Must Serve”
The episode began with a nightmare that we became all too familiar with last year. Ramsey Snow, Roose Bolton’s bastard, plumbing new depths of depravity and madness. Hunting through the woods of the Dreadfort, taking down a poor girl who did nothing more than exist. His is a savage madness, without conscience or consequence and all around him either serve or suffer, and thus, we find poor Theon — or Reek — a broken half-man, reduced to serving. And it’s there that we see Roose Bolton, the great betrayer from last season, as he discovers just what the cost of that madness is. This creature that he has raised is brilliant and sick and remorseless, and yet — and yet — Roose learns that there’s more to Ramsey than just insanity. There’s ambition and hunger and fury and a keen, ruthless intelligence. Thus he learns the truth of the Stark boys, alive, spared, and now — hunted. It’s why he entrusts Ramsey yet again, despite knowing that he’s releasing a wild dog into the world, inflicting suffering wherever he treads. It’s because all of those traits, that ambition and hunger and ruthlessness — they’re all traits that the two men share. And so, Ramsey will serve, and Roose will trust him, and Reek will be forced to live and re-live his tortures.
As for the Stark children, we find Bran still traveling with the Reeds and Hodor, but more importantly and more dangerously, still desperate to feel whole again, so much that he begins to lose himself in his direwolf, as if that dream-state, that nether-world of possession can somehow be a substitute for reality. Though for Bran, who knows what reality is. Is it the world around him? Or is it the world behind it, the dreams and visions, the three-eyed crows and vivid memories, some that are his, some not. Whatever it may be, it appears that his future will lie to the north, and so he will continue to follow his dreams, to serve a purpose that he still does not understand.
At Dragonstone, who is serving what master becomes a question of increasing complexity. Melisandre serves her fiery god, sacrificing the blasphemers and idolaters, converting those around her to His service. Queen Selyse Baratheon continues her unfaltering zealotry, refusing to see anything but the light of that same Lord, but it is tinged with a craziness far less measured than Melisandre’s, so much so that it now threatens her daughter. And Stannis, Lord of Dragonstone and King of nothing, serving a Lord who kills more of his own men than those of his enemies, plagued by doubts in the form of Davos Seaworth. Stannis is bitter and angry and pitiless — except when it comes to that same daughter.
As for King’s Landing, men and women serve there most of all. Tyrion must destroy Shae to save her, and so who and what she is, a whore, a servant, a woman of no consequence, is hurled into her face. He must tear her down, tear her apart, break her heart if she is to have any hope of survival. And Jaime Lannister, who desperately wants to serve, yet cannot. So Tyrion offers him the only hope he has in the unlikeliest of allies — Bronn, cocksure and arrogant and purposeful (interestingly, this is a huge departure from the books, where it was Ilyn Payne, the mute executioner, who began Jaime’s training), who must break Jaime back down to build him back up.
“Valar Morghulis”: “All Men Must Die”
But those who do not serve must rule, or they must die. That seems to be the basic law of Game Of Thrones, and so we find ourselves at the wedding of King Joffrey, and it’s there that we see the excess and opulence and vulgar graces of the royal family. It’s there that we see Joffrey sneer his way through his own wedding ceremony, and Margaery begin to dread the life that she found her way into. It’s there, at that wedding, that we see barbs traded left and right — Jaime and Loras, each bitter for different reasons, each terrified of the future with — or without — Cersei. Cersei herself and Brienne, tormenting the warrior with her only weakness, her inability to function in the world she was born into. Tywin, Cersei, and Oberyn Martell, who start with civilized proddings, and end with glowering eyes and veiled threats, simmering with violence and rage.
Joffrey and Tyrion. Tyrion, forced to be the fool. Forced to endure insult after insult, to see his gift destroyed, his wife derided yet again, his existence spat upon. For all men must serve, and Tyrion is no different, and no matter how smart and noble and clever he is, he’s still the man with wine in his hair, a wife near tears, forced to watch as his nephew does his best to break his spirit.
And yet, all men must die. We forgot this, you see. Well, perhaps we didn’t forget. Perhaps we simply lost hope in the wake of the Red Wedding, in the wake of the death of Ned Stark and Robert Baratheon and everyone else we once loved and saw destroyed. Did we lose hope that there could be justice in Westeros? Never fear, for it was this night that finally there was a sliver of justice. Who knows what it will mean — for Cersei, aggrieved, for Tyrion, accused, for Sansa, absconded, for Margaery, abandoned. The world has changed yet again, and as we watched — perhaps gleefully, perhaps with shock — we saw Joffrey choke and twist and collapse and suffer, as we saw the blood pour from his mouth and eyes and nose, as we watched a kingdom torn asunder as he fell to the ground, we must remember that no one is ever fully protected. No one — good or evil — is ever safe.
All men must die.