‘Game of Thrones’: Through a glass darkly

Game of Thrones
“The Red Woman”
April 24, 2016

So, I guess I’m going to recap Game of Thrones, y’all? This isn’t an easy decision for me. I love this series, and have read all the books, but I’m no supernerd when it comes to the Known World of A Song of Ice and Fire. It’s part of the reason that I avoided recapping this series until now: we’ve finally come to a place where the series has outpaced the books, and I can’t be harangued for getting something wrong from the text, or misremembering something. Another reason, I love the series so much, I want to do it justice and bring something interesting to the loud conversation already taking place about it, but worry that I will disappoint. And the other reason I avoided it was that my dear friend and former Tubular colleague, Andrew Dansby, has a history with the book series, and I was hoping against hope that he would take up his blogging duties once more. Alas, like Sansa, I’m beginning to realize that there is no white knight out there to save me, and I’m just going to have to take care of myself.

Valar morghulis.

Winterfell:

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Having set Stannis’ supplies on fire and putting into motion the last remaining Baratheon’s ruin (I mean aside from all of Robert’s bastards running around), Ramsay Bolton returns to Winterfell only to find that his favorite psychopath/playmate, Myranda, has been killed by ReekTheon and Lady Sansa when they made their escape. Ramsay is NOT HAPPY, but rather than give Myranda a proper burial, he orders her body to be fed to the dogs, because one thing Ramsay is not is a sentimentalist. Other things Ramsay is not: romantic, considerate, sane.

Not improving Ramsay’s day, his father’s irritation that Lady Sansa has fled the castle. “It’s great you exasperated Stannis into defeat and all, but did you actually kill him? No? You didn’t? You didn’t actually deal the killing blow? Huh. In the meantime, we’ve got ourselves a Sansa problem. I rebelled against the Lannisters so you could marry her, and now you’ve gone and driven her off into the freezing woods by being your nasty creep self. There’s no way the North is going to support us without her, so you might want to go find her already, and get to work on an heir lest you be replaced by your legitimate half-brother who is on the way,” Roose warns, and Ramsay is all, “GAH, DAD, I KNOW.”

So, last we saw of Lady Sansa and her buddy-enemy TheonReek, they were leaping off the walls of Winterfell, trying to Bran themselves. Fortunately for them, there was a healthy snowpack to fall in, and they headed off into the woods. Unfortunately for them, Ramsay’s dogs and men are hot on their frozen numb heels.

Running through the woods, running through the woods, running through the woods. TheonReek has to practically drag Sansa through a river in an attempt to get away from the dogs, but their soggy socks are for naught, as the dog handlers follow them across. Cornered, TheonReek shoves Sansa into a bramble and is like, “BE COOL AND RUN NORTH. Your brother is Lord Commander now, he’ll help you out.” And this is why Westeros needs a reliable wireless network, y’all.

TheonReek then throws himself in front of Ramsay’s men and is like, “Uh, Lady Sansa died?” But they’re all, “OH PLEASE,” and push him aside to find Sansa in her little nest. But just when things look their grimmest for our Lady and her bitless companion, Brienne and Pod appear and kill them some Flayed Men (or would they technically be the Flaying Men?). Fight fight stab fight, and Brienne and Pod with an assist or two from TheonReek save our Sansa, because Brienne = badass.

brienne-you-done-bro

Brienne then pledges her loyalty to Sansa, the two women exchanging the same oaths (with a little help from Pod) Brienne exchanged with Sansa’s mother (~sniffle~).

Dorne: 

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Over in sunny Dorne, Doran is chatting with Ellaria and is all, “I mean, it’s sad that Oberyn is dead, but hey! He lived a good life!” Which is when a messenger delivers a note alerting him to the fact that Myrcella is dead and he’s like, “DO WHAT NOW?” But there’s no time to explain, Ellaria and her daughter Tyene opt instead to just go straight to the murdering of everyone. Areo Hotah? You’re murdered. Doran? You’re murdered. Messenger? You’re totally murdered. And as the guards do nothing while Doran bleeds out, Ellaria explains that he’s weak and no one likes him. Boy, bye.

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King’s Landing:

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Jamie’s ship returns to King’s Landing from Dorne full of dead princesses, Dornish princes, Sand Snakes, and future awkward conversations.

When Jamie shows up with the shrouded body of their daughter, Cersei is all, “OH HELL NO.” Cersei then launches into a soliloquy about the chemistry of a rotting body, how good Myrcella was despite having Cersei as a mother, and the prophecy that promised she’d bury three children (WATCH YOUR BACK, TOMMEN). Jamie promises revenge and Cersei is like, “OH HELLS YES.”

Unfortunately for him, Prince Trystane stays on the ship instead of coming into King’s Landing with Jamie, and he is promptly murdered by the Sand Snakes who stowed away just for this very purpose. That said, had he come ashore with Jamie, he certainly wouldn’t have been any safer around Cersei, so.

Meanwhile, over in the Sept, The Sparrow is trying to convince Margaery to just confess already:

The Sparrow: “Confess!”

Queen Margaery: “No!”

The Sparrow: “Confess!”

Queen Margaery: “Uh, nope!”

The Sparrow: “Confess!”

Queen Margaery: “How about I don’t!”

Repeat.

Meereen:

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Tyrion and Varys play dress-up as common merchants and climb down from the pyramid to see how the common folks are doing. (At one point, Tyrion tries to give a poor woman money to help buy her baby something to eat, only to have the woman think he was trying to buy her baby to eat, which is the funniest moment of the entire episode. Perhaps Tyrion and Varys should have their own sitcom spin-off  — something to chew on, HBO.)

They find Meereen in a heightened state of panic, what with Daenerys off Old Gods only know where and the Sons of the Harpy terrifying the freed slaves. And just to make a bad situation worse, that’s when someone sets fire to the Meereen fleet. Not helpful. Varys notes that the Sons of the Harpy are organized, and promises to use his “little birds” to find their leader.

Meanwhile, somewhere in Scotland, Jorah and Daario are looking for Daenerys, when Jorah finds one of Daenerys’ rings that she dropped all Hansel and Gretel-like. He then looks pensively at his developing Greyscale. Get thee to a dermatologist, Jorah!

However, Daenerys has had quite the walk because despite leaving her ring in Scotland, she and the Dothraki horde that found her are clearly in Northern Africa I MEAN the Dothraki Sea. Her captors make crude jokes about raping her, not realizing she understands every word and has a long memory. And dragons. Many dragons.

The riders deliver her to their Khal, some guy named Moro, whose wives urge him to behead her because, I mean, just look at her — you wouldn’t want to compete with her, either. Instead, Moro makes a bunch of noise about how he’s going to strip her naked (the one of the five greatest things in life being seeing a beautiful woman naked for the first time) and do sex things to her, at which point Daenerys is, in Dothraki, all, “STEP OFF. I am Daenerys  Stormborn of the House Targaryen, the First of Her Name, the Unburnt, Queen of Meereen, Queen of the Andals, the Rhoynar and the First Men, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, Breaker of Chains and Mother of Dragons, so you’re going to need to stop being so handsy.” Khal Moro thinks this is HILARIOUS, until she announces that she is also the widow of Khal Drogo, and Khal Moro is like, “Oh, well, in that case, we’ll make sure you get dropped off with the rest of the widows over in the Vaes Dothrak, the Widow Cave. Thanks for the heads up!”

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Bravos:

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Arya is still blind. She’s blind and begging on the streets of Braavos which is where the Waif finds her, throws her a stick and demands that she defend herself. “BUT I’M BLIND!” Arya protests. Waif don’t care, and proceeds to beat Arya about the head and neck with her beating stick until she grows bored. “Cool, good fight,” the Waif says, “Same time tomorrow.”

The Wall:

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So, Jon Snow’s dead. Still. He just lies there alone, bleeding in the snow and no one but his murdering murderers know except Ghost, whose wailing alerts Davos to go take a looksee outside. Edd and some of Jon’s other buddies also go outside and FREAK OUT when they find his body underneath the “TRAITOR” sign that Thorne and the others left for him like the jerks they are.

As Jon Snow’s buddies hurry his body inside to safety, Davos takes a long hard look at the blood pattern left behind:

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Davos spends a lot of time looking at this, so make of it what you will.

Once safely inside a storeroom, Davos and Jon’s buddies assess the situation and realize they can pretty much only trust the men in this room, which is why everyone is SUPER JUMPY when there’s a knock at the door. But calm down! It’s just Melisandre, the sex witch! She’s clearly upset at seeing Jon’s corpse on the table, protesting that she saw him in the flames, fighting at Winterfell …

HMMM.

Meanwhile, in the common room, Throne gathers the rest of the Night’s Watch to announce that he’s murdered Jon Snow and doesn’t feel bad about it all, so put that in your pipes and smoke it.

Back in the storeroom, Davos reminds Jon’s buddies that there aren’t enough of them to take a stand against Thorne and the rest of the Night’s Watch, but if they were maybe to get word to the Wildlings… and with the Edd heads out to go find Tormund and the rest.

Sometime after he leaves, there’s a knock at the storeroom door. “Candygram. Hey, Davos, we’re cool here. Just open the door and we’ll grant amnesty to all the brothers inside and give you a horse so you can go home. Deal?” Thorne offers. But Davos knows a land shark when he hears one and sends Throne away, promising that he and the brothers will discuss the offer and come back with an answer later. When the brothers begin to worry that this is only going to buy them so much time, Davos assures them that they have the Red Sex Witch on their side and believe you him, she’s done some stuff. Like, magic stuff.

Speaking of… we’ve gone almost an entire hour with nary a dragon nor a boob, so it’s time to rectify that. Melisandre, alone in her quarters and having something of a crisis of faith, strips down in front of a dim mirror, taking off her robes and her giant ruby necklace. Except, when the necklace comes off, it takes with it her young, beautiful appearance, revealing that she’s actually centuries older than we realized.

shocked-cat

That Melisandre reveal, how shocking, right? Except, in retrospect, maybe it shouldn’t have been all that surprising, not really? Here’s the thing, what we know about Melisandre is that she is a red “priestess” who possesses magical powers and knowledge of the supernatural that makes powerful men bend to her will, while freaking out everyone else — also known as a witch. And what we know about witches is that they are regarded as evil and deceptive, and often depicted as ugly old crones. Both of these tap into straight male psycho-sexual anxieties: the idea that women are inherently deceitful and will manipulate them and a fear and repulsion at the elderly female body which holds no sexual utility for them. But what does it mean that Melisandre is actually some 200~ years old?

Part of this reveal is another examination of this question of identity, a major theme in this series. Daenerys, who spent most of her life in hiding, is attempting to reclaim her identity by reclaiming her throne. Sansa (moreso in the books) had to hide her true identity as she was being hunted by the Lannisters. Arya’s entire story is a Ph.D. thesis on the quest for identity: after disguising her gender for a large chunk of her story, Arya goes to the House of Black and White where she is taught to let go of her “someone-ness” to become “No One,” so has to honor the God of Many Faces. Tyrion never feels accepted as a true Lannister, particularly not by his family (more on that later). And Jon Snow’s parentage, which he himself died never knowing, might hold the very key to saving this entire world from the White Walker threat.

And so, Melisandre gazes into this darkened mirror — a symbol of truth, knowledge — and sees her actual self. It’s a moment of doubt for Melisandre; with Stannis and Jon Snow now both dead, she is having a crisis of faith. However, this revelation is also a confirmation of her faith: her magic is real. For whatever it might be worth, Melisandre not only can perform powerful glamouring spells, but she clearly has good reason to believe in the Lord of Light if this is who she truly is. I think showing us that she is someone very different than who we believed her to be is a reminder to the audience that though she might have been wrong about Stannis being Azor Ahai, and she might have inadvertently led him to his death, Melisandre is nevertheless powerful and contains great magic, just as Davos promised right before this scene.

Specifically, it’s a reminder that Melisandre has the specific power to glamour, to enchant, to make others see things as they are not. Forgive me if this is wrong, but I can only think of one other time on the show when Melisandre glamours people — when in the second season (“The North Remembers”) she performs a ceremony to the Lord of Light, and tells the crowd the story of Azor Ahai’s sword Lightbringer. She concludes the story by having Stannis withdraw a flaming sword, to suggest that he is Azor Ahai; however, it’s just a bit of magic Melisandre has cast to convince everyone — including Stannis. In the books, when the Night’s Watch intend to burn Mance Rayder alive at the stake, poor Rattleshirt is put in his place, but Melisandre glamours him to make the crowd think they are killing The King Beyond the Wall. I’m wondering if they are reminding us of her ability to glamour because it will come into play sometime later in the season…

But I also think in a more subtle way, Melisandre’s reveal is another example of this show’s powerful feminism. I have read many — too many — essays and comments complaining that this series and these books are misogynistic and violent towards women for no other reason than to be exploitative. And I could not disagree more.  This series is fiercely and importantly feminist — it is all about women struggling to find their power in a repressively patriarchal society. Women within this world are treated as chattel, property, objects whose only value lies in their reproductive capabilities. Yes, women are raped and killed and we voyeuristically watch, but it is to remind us just what these women are up against, and how dangerous this world is for them. And yet, time and again these female characters don’t just bristle against this world, they do whatever they can within their limited means to defy it.

Arya, Brienne, Ellaria and the Sand Snakes are the most obvious rebels to this misogynistic culture that tries to dictate a limited idea of femininity. They are violent, physically strong and enjoy a good fight, and it is easy for us to root for them. Similarly, there is Daenerys, who rose from being a timid child sold into marriage by her brother, raped by her then-husband, and burnt alive by her adopted people. But she emerges from the ashes perhaps the strongest, and potentially most dangerous, character on the series. These are women we want to identify with because they so powerfully stand up to the misogyny within their culture.

Harder to sympathize with are your Cerseis and Sansas, and yet, they are both exercising their power the only way they know how: from within the system. They both have been raised to be princesses, valuable pawns in a political game who will be married off to secure relationships and strengthen strategic bonds. To that end, as young girls they were fed a diet of fairy tales and romantic hoo-ha and groomed to be “ladies,” and they internalized this version of femininity. However, for both women, reality was a disappointment, and so they strove to regain their agency the only way they could — by marrying into their power. Cersei often rails against her misfortune at being born a woman and thus made ineligible for the Iron Throne. So instead, she becomes a brood parasite, giving birth only to pure-blooded Lannister children and then killing King Robert off so as to secure their places on the throne, and make her the most powerful woman in Westeros.

As for Sansa, she has received the brunt of the audience’s disgust, which is unfortunate. Yes, she began on the series as a spoiled, self-centered princess whose head was filled with nonsense, but it doesn’t take long for all of her romantic notions to be dashed. And though she’s not as tough and self-reliant as her sister Arya, her character arc is in some ways a more interesting one, taking her from a silly girl who believes she’s going to marry the prince and live happily ever after to a young woman who is willing to do whatever it takes — including marry a monster — if it means taking her home, and her power, back.

How this all relates to Melisandre? Again, Melisandre is a woman seeking her power in a man’s world. The crone, the hag, is at worst a terrifying figure to men, and best, worthless to them. Melisandre understands that she’ll never be taken seriously by men as her true self, that her power as a woman lies in sexuality, youth and beauty, and that it is through sex that she can control men. It’s interesting, Daenerys’ plot this week serves as a leitmotif of this idea of the old woman as simultaneously wise, frightening and useless, and a young woman’s power being located within her sex. The Khal treats her first as a whore, and then as potential breeding stock. However, when she reveals herself to be the widow of Drogo, Khal Moro’s sexual interest in her vanishes immediately: she is nothing more than a crone, and must be banished with the rest of the crones. Because in a man’s world, there is nothing more terrifying than a woman who is wise, powerful and has no use for a man.

Status of Jon Snow: Still dead.

Game of Thrones airs on HBO and will return in the summer of 2017.

This post originally appeared on the Hearst site chron.com.

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