This episode of “Game of Thrones” opens with a series of near misses. Catelyn Stark’s idiotic, self-satisfied and incompetent brother is trying to light his father’s funeral pyre as it floats down the river. He aims his bow three times, and three times he fails to connect, the flaming arrow ineffectually plunking into the water. His gruff uncle, the brother of the corpse in the boat, finally takes the matter into his own more competent hands and with one arrow, sets the pyre ablaze. It’s a funny moment, in an unusually funny episode of “Game of Thrones,” where the jokes function kind of like those errant arrows: an amusing preamble to the final sure shot. It’s an episode of near misses — or really, near rapes — until the very last moment, a brutal make: Jaime Lannister’s sword hand getting lopped off.
If the episode ends on a howl, it begins with one of the funniest “Game of Thrones” scenes I can think of, Power Seating 101: If you can’t find the seat you want, move your chair. Tywin calls a meeting of his advisers. Littlefinger, ever the brown-noser, hustles to get the seat closest to him. Cersei walks into the room, takes its measure, coolly picks up a chair and drags it around the table, seating herself at her father’s right hand, facing the rest of the participants as if she’s co-leading the meeting. Cersei is misguided and unkind, but this whole bit is so deliciously baller: The utter disdain she exudes even makes the chair-on-floor screeching sound icily graceful. Tyrion, not to be outdone by Cersei, parks himself at the head of the table opposite Tywin, but his sister’s one-upped him this time, coming up with the creative seating strategy first. You can tell they both know it as she laughs at Tyrion and his new, crappy job as master of the coin.
That’s not it for funny: Rob’s wife, Talisa, deadpan informs a little Lannister that her husband doesn’t eat children unless there’s a full moon. Podrick turns out to be a sexual genius (which, fine, was also an excuse for the first well-shorn pudenda of this season), prompting Tyrion and Bronn to get positively “Sex and the City” on him. (“We’re going to need details, lots of details.”) And, sweetest of all, Hot Pie bakes Arya a ridiculous looking goodbye wolf bread — I will admit to tearing up when she told him it tasted good.
But alongside all this good humor, there’s much discussion of rape and gender. Life is difficult for both men and women in Westeros, who, depending on the circumstances, can both be made targets because of their genitalia. But this episode shows a clear preference for a certain sort of female-skewing self-awareness: an awareness of one’s own vulnerability. It is better to know that terrible violence can befall you than to exist in a macho bubble like Jaime Lannister, under the illusion that having a penis or a father will somehow spare you from brutality, from rape, from humiliation, from powerlessness. Everyone is weak in some ways. Better to know it than not.
Brienne and Jaime, tied together, prisoners of the Boltons, seem to be having a humorous debate about who’s a better swordsman, that takes a sharp turn into rape. Jaime warns Brienne that she’s going to be raped that night and it will only be worse if she fights back. He’s callous and rude about his concern: “Close your eyes and pretend they’re Renly,” he says. Brienne isn’t having it: “If you were a woman, you wouldn’t resist?” she says. “If I were a woman I’d make them kill me, but thank gods I’m not,” he replies.
But Jaime’s blind: He’s not any safer for being a man. Far away, where Theon’s escape is foiled, his captives are pulling down his pants and one is saying, “I’m going to fuck you into the ground.” Theon’s not raped, but it’s not because he’s a man, it’s because someone shoots his would be rapist with an arrow. Up above the wall, a new infant is born, and the very fact of his having a penis is a death sentence. He’ll be left in the woods as an offering to the ice zombies. Stannis’ junk is in working order — he tells Melisandre he wants to have a child— but that’s not enough to have any power or influence over her. She pooh-poohs him, “Your fires burn low, my king,” leaving him to wish he lived in a world where there was Cialis.
That night, Jaime’s prediction comes to pass: Brienne is taken off to be raped. She fights back and Jaime, who has come to respect Brienne and her will, intervenes. He tells the Boltons that Brienne is worth her weight in sapphires, so long as she is returned to her father with her virtue intact. It works, but Jaime pushes things too far. As a man and a Lannister, he has an overinflated sense of security, that things will work out for him, that his daddy can just pay his way out, or he can fight his way out. He’s mistaken. Jaime is too smug, too confident his manipulations will work, and before he quite knows what is happening, his hand is gone.
Part of Jamie’s error here comes from his sense of his father as security blanket, a lion who will pay the Boltons whatever they want. (And Tywin would: We see him early this episode furious, in a way he would never be for Cersei or Tyrion, for Jaime’s safety.) “You’re nothing without your daddy and your daddy ain’t here,” Jaime is taunted right before he loses his hand. Catelyn, fully grown, mourns that her father will never return, while also mourning her accidental abandonment of her own children.
Daenerys, meanwhile, has no such relying-on-daddy issues: When her two dad-like advisers both question her decision to give a creep a dragon, she rips into them. They will never question her in front of strangers again. Before then, however, the three of them engage in a lively debate about whether Daenerys wants an army of unsullied or not. “Unsullied are not men, they do not rape. If you buy them, the only men you’ll kill is the ones you want dead,” Jorah argues while Selmy counters that it’s better to have an army that fights because they love you, whatever the side effects.
But the whole hope of Daenerys is that she might be a different kind of — not incidentally female— leader, one who takes the advice of both Jorah and Selmy, and figures out how to be loved by loyal subjects who don’t rape as their reward. As she puts it, her crash-bang, on the nose but in the best possible way response to her new servants ‘”valar morghulis,” “All men must die, but we are not men.” Is that the feminine mirror of Jaime’s masculine hubris? Or, as I’m inclined to think and hope, another intimation that Dany’s on her own original path to power.