(I am a non book-reader and so the following is a result of what I’ve witnessed on the small screen, harrumphed about with my friends and garnered from snotty internet comments.)
Game of Thrones is in a really strange place. This episode, ‘The Gift,’ (and this season to a large degree) have really felt like a slow game of chess. Or an octogenarian driving in front of you on an otherwise wide open road. Or a group of fifth graders trying to paint lines on a soccer field before a game. We all have the sense that if we could juuuuust get past this part, something interesting is going to happen.
Independent of that desire to yell “let’s get on with it!”, one notable thing that keeps jumping out at me is the gigantic void that the death of Tywin Lannister has left in Westeros. I felt that way when Kat Stark died. Things have changed completely. When a player of Tywin’s stature was removed from the series it started feeling as relatively lawless as the wild west. He was the keystone and now everything is in flux. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Inside of that chaos, you really get the sense that powers are shifting and the face of Westeros is changing before our very eyes. The possibilities have opened up for every scrapper and shitgoblin and fundamentalist south of Craster’s Keep. I used to think I knew exactly where everyone and everything stood. It felt like the Starks against the Lannisters and I knew where everyone else landed inside of that basic layout.
Now it feels like a toilet flushing, with everyone being sucked down to lower depths than I thought possible and no real battle lines clearly drawn. Who would have looked upon Sansa’s time with Joffrey as the good ol’ days?
When Petyr Baelish used to covet the Iron Throne I thought he was a foolish, trumped-up little gnat with preposterous dreams of unattainable grandeur. Now, if I tilt my head and squint a little I can realistically imagine him claiming the Iron Throne for himself. Huh? How did this happen?
Chaos is a ladder, indeed. Really, I think that it began with the slow culling of male heads of prominent families.
Tywin Lannister DEAD - Male Heirs: Jamie (no longer a fighter), Tyrion (disgraced murderer), Joffrey DEAD, Tommen (a sweet little rabbit)
Ned Stark DEAD - Male Heirs: Robb DEAD, Jon Snow (bastard committed to the Night’s Watch), Bran (non-ambulatory Dr. Doolittle), Rickon (vanished)
Balon Greyjoy ALIVE but MIA - Male Heir: Theon (emasculated torture victim)
Robert Baratheon DEAD - Male Heirs: Stannis (Head of a Northern Burn Unit), Renly DEAD, Joffrey (not his child, but DEAD), Tommen (not his child and a rabbit)
Tyrell Family - Male Heirs: Mace Tyrell (I’m guessing he’s dead after Cersei sent him off with King o’ the D’bags Meryn Trant.), Loras Tyrell (imprisoned)
Martell Family - Male Heirs: Doran (appears sickly and weak), Oberyn DEAD, Trystane (Jean-Ralphio lookin’ club kid)
Targaryen Family - Male Heirs: Aegon DEAD, Viserys DEAD
While I certainly see the necessity to point out the unbearable situations many of the female characters have endured, The Known World feels like a place where the power of men and the number of strong men has noticeably waned. Not long ago the power players were named Robert and Tywin and Robb and Ned and Khal and Mance and Oberyn and Renly and Lord Commander Mormont. Now it seems much of the real (story) power is held by names like Oleana and Daenerys and Melisandre and Yara and Brienne and Sansa and Arya. As recently as a week or two ago there was also Margaery and Cersei. If it sounds like I’m complaining about that, I’m not. These are interesting, fully-formed female characters that I absolutely adore. More mainstream hits need to depict women more accurately, show them in powerful positions and treat them as something other than a rape or near-rape plot robot. In real life Elizabeth Warren is my Queen of Thorns and you’ll never hear me asking for less powerful women in this or any world. But where in Sam Hill have all the powerful men run off to? Where are the counterparts to these amazing women? In the fateful words of Claire from the movie The Game “where’d y’all go, you motherfuckin’ frat boys?”
Let’s just look around the Known World. Jamie has lost his ability to fight— his defining characteristic — and hasn’t cultivated anything of note to replace it. One does not simply catch swords into Mordor. Tyrion has been unceremoniously bounced around the world in crates and boats and shackles. Jorah is a desperate outcast. Barristan is dead, killed by a gaggle of what appeared to be virtually untrained novices with Olive Garden steak knives. The Hound died unceremoniously leaning against a rock. What’s left of The Mountain is twitching on a gurney somewhere. Whoever that Lannister brother of Tywin’s is was more than happy to piss off back to Casterly Rock and start fortifying his walls. The Spider is on a slow train to Meereen, cut off from his position and his army of informers and the capital of Westeros. Bronn himself almost bit it last week in what would have been the most disappointing death ever. Bran is in a tree or possibly under it. Who knows where fucking Rickon is. (Wait- there’s someone on this show named Rickon?) Grey Worm is recovering from like sixty two stab wounds. Gendry is assumably still rowing. I don’t know what’s slower: Gendry’s rowboat or the army of White Walkers that walked passed Sam like eleven seasons ago. Maybe we should be calling them the White Standers. And where’s Thoros of Myr and the Brotherhood without Banners? Fucking vanished…like the whimsical side of Jaqen H’ghar. Where’s Hodor when you need something smashed? Where’s Balon Greyjoy? Where’s Walder Frey’s backstabbing ass? The Rose Knight got ganked by a bunch of sophomores in burlap togas! You have a name, Loras Tyrell. You’re the ROSE KNIGHT. Apparently patchouli is his kryptonite. Aemon Targaryen is dead, sung off to sleep while yelling out his favorite breakfast food. All of Jon Snow’s crew of Knight’s Watch Entourage dudes are dead and Sam is like a baby pig sitting in a dunk tank. Only the Dire Wolf of Wall Street is left to protect him and Sam Jr. I mean, come on people! Is there a single man of worth anywhere south of the bloody wall? Can I get a mother effing Blackfish up in this mamma jamma?
Yes, there’s still Stannis, a man who we would adore now if he hadn’t traded all of his earthly joy for a pretty kick-ass outfit of +2 studded medium leather and hadn’t spent the first few seasons making s’mores out of people. There’s Ser Davos, who everyone wishes was their uncle in real life. He’s got a glass ceiling above him because Melisandre holds onto Stannis’s control stick tighter than the cast of Top Gear with a new Aston Martin. And Stannis has that thing that sometimes kills a character or at least makes you like them less….
SER DAVOS: Hey boss, it’s um, snowing like crazy and everyone has hypothermia and no toes and oh yeah a country assload of dudes abandoned us.
STANNIS: Nevertheless! We ride!
SER DAVOS: Yeeeaaah, about that. We ate the horses.
STANNIS: Then we’ll use scooters!
SER DAVOS: We also ate the scooters.
STANNIS: No matter! We walk very slowly through hip-high snow to victory!!!
SER DAVOS: I would audibly sigh, but I don’t want to be burned alive so, good day.
MELISANDRE: Speaking of that, ask me who the next person we get to burn is!
STANNIS: Oh goody! Who?
I know we’re supposed to admire Stannis’ unshakeable nature but it’s like the dude hasn’t even listened to the audiobook of Littlefinger reading Sun Tzu’s The Art of War while he does his morning murder Pilates. Ask the ghost of Jon Arryn how well that works out.
And yes. Jon Snoog. That’s the proper spelling according to “Ygritte’s book of verse.” Or maybe it’s Jon Snoawg. Or Jon Sgnoo. I’m lousy at Wildling. Yes, Jon Snow has really stepped it up. On our watch we’ve seen him finally mature enough for his mustache hair to connect with his beard hair.
Do I think it’s a fantastic idea to climb aboard a donkey and ride into the center of a Thennpalooza or whatever they have up there? No. No I do not. And what are the odds that after Jon Snow convinces the Perfect Storm of unschooled snow neanderthals to come with him that Alliser Thorne just opens the gates to Castle Black and lets them through? “Step lively there, fellows! I really like your ‘the only good crow is a dead crow tats!” Watch the head of that war mammoth there, lads! This tunnel was only designed to hold so many cannibals at once!”
Am I looking forward to the Khaleesi cum Tyrion cum Lord Varys dream team? (Stay classy, Pajiba) You bet your ass I am. As a non-book reader Khaleesi is easily one of the characters that I know I’m ‘supposed’ to like who I actually think is an imbecile. Every time I see her in bed with Daario I shake my head and yell for him to get off my lawn. The last Targaryen queen bumping uglies with a sellsword? How uncouth. And now she’s soliciting advice from him? E. Gad. That’s like future president Hillary Clinton boning down in the oval office with Russell Brand. While it would serve old Bill with a righteous comeuppance, you certainly don’t want the worst Arthur in history suggesting ideas to the State Department about Sino-American relations.
In closing, I have little to Bro about. Right now the dude with the most game is Ramsay Bolton and while you have to admire his political ability and inspired rise to power there was also one other thing about him…what was it? Oh yeah. He’s the most blithely evil and repellant serial killer and rapist and torturer and overall dirtbag in the universe. Right. So, yeah. Probably not going to root for him. I mean there’s Littlefinger, too, who like…left Sansa behind to get raped in order to consolidate his own power and stuff. Goddamnit. Where have all the cowboys gone?
Join me next week when I explore Valyria in my new segment “Cooking a light brunch with the Stone Men,” the only place in Game of Thrones where fearsome men still seem to drop from the sky.