This Water Ain't Going to Tread Itself: Book Readers' "Game of Thrones" - "First of His Name"
Welcome to the book readers’ edition of recapping Game of Thrones! As we established last week, if you haven’t read all of the books (yes, all the way through A Dance of Dragons, it’s been just shy of three years on that count, so it’s fully in play) kindly either depart gracefully or accept that there will be spoilers in what follows.
I thought this was a better episode than last week. Or maybe to be more specific: it was still just sort of treading water and not moving anywhere, but it was at least moderately entertaining while it did so instead of being actively infuriating. And bonus points for no albino Buffy villain at the end.
Let’s talk about the other side of the world first. It’s interesting that Jorah argues against invading, while everyone else has these coy half-smiles of wanting to take the plunge. A bit that I’ve come to appreciate in the novels is that Dany has had little need for Westeros. That was Brother Mine’s obsession, and while she’s carried the torch for it, she almost seems to be unconsciously looking for excuses not to go to Westeros.
The show is playing up more the idea of earning the right to rule with Dany: why should anyone follow her if she can’t run a couple of cities? This is a great dichotomy with the previous scene, speaking of Tommen as a decent boy. And echoes the subtext in the novels of who is fit to rule, but lifted up and made more of the text than the subtext. Hell, one of the distressing things of the novels is that Stannis is the only one to really consciously take up the mandate: if you want to be king, fulfill the duties of king, of protecting the realm and the people. And of course the contrast with Jon at the end of this novel, who turns down being lord of the North. Because the only ones fit to hold power are those who don’t want it. So I like what the show is doing here, laying the ground work for a statement of deserving power that is buried much deeper in the novels.
I’ve always pictured the Aerie much differently in my head, but that’s an inevitable part of adaptation. But the scenes with Lysa were perfectly done, just nailing the cracked insanity of the character. We also checked in with the Pod and Brienne show and the Arya and the Hound show. Pretty much everything here is original, but it’s wonderfully done, and I think gets right at the spirit of the characters. The two pairs make for perfect foils of variously broken and unwanted souls. One of the major problems with the last two books of the series is that Arya basically disappears. Oh we get a couple of chapters over on the other side of the world, but she’s more compelling close to the action in Westeros, and it was a shame that her time with the Hound didn’t last longer, because even in text it was top notch.
It’s also intriguing how much more of the Iron Bank we’re getting in the show. It’s in the books, but I recall it far more as subtext than the text it is here. But notice that Tywin speaks only in terms of who is useful, he’s all realpolitick. And I think that the Iron Bank in the books is a red herring, something that rumbles ominously and ends up not being the real threat at all. I have a suspicion that once the tottering regime stops paying, the Iron Bank is going to fund Dany, in keeping with the implications that when you don’t pay the Iron Bank, they find someone that will. But that will only be the start of the story. Remember the last time that Dany owed someone something? Dragonfire has a way of paying down debt in a hurry.
This series, both in book and show, has been about the steady ripping down of those with power, and I think by the time the story is done, everyone and everything that held power - be it kings, slavers, or banks - will be torn apart and put at the mercy of people rising from below.
But back in Kings Landing, I think Cersei is getting unfairly maligned in conversations about the episode. She’s playing the mother card a lot, but I don’t find that out of character. As has been remarked on before, Cersei values nothing higher than her children. The fact that she’s sort of making an awkward hash of it is also in character. Remember, Cersei is terrible at the game of thrones. As Tyrion points out on more than one occasion, she’s not nearly as smart as she thinks she is. And again, we get a shout out to power and its uses: what good is power if you can’t protect the ones you love? Ah, but the unspoken subtext again: why do any of you deserve power if the only ones you try to protect are those you love.
We get a counter-response to this at Craster’s Keep, with Jon offering kindness and salvation to the women there, setting him still further on this trajectory of thinking about the normal people. Look at how Jon does come to power: his brothers make it happen with no effort, no even consciousness of the fact, on his part. Jon in the text is the epitome of this idea of earning power through rejecting it at every turn.
And at least the Craster’s Keep plot itself is done with. I sarcastically love how they send Locke on super secret stealthy recon and then the battle itself is just raaaarrr charge into the thick of it. Them Starks and their subtlety, eh? Though I’m still angry about making it so that Jon knows Bran is alive. It takes a lot of the punch out of his turning down Winterfell when Stannis offers it to him in the next few chapters. But I did appreciate the callback to Pod though, the stabbing through the back of the head, no honor but protecting the innocent.
As I said, I was happier with this episode than the last couple, but still wary that the changes they’ve put into play greatly damage some of the really good plot points coming down the pipeline.
Steven Lloyd Wilson is a hopeless romantic and the last scion of Norse warriors and the forbidden elder gods. His novel, ramblings, and assorted fictions coalesce at www.burningviolin.com. You can email him here and order his novel here.