“Game of Thrones”: “Or is the little girl the bravest one here?”

Revenge and dragons!

Topics: Game of Thrones, game of thrones recap, recaps, TV, Television, HBO,

"Game of Thrones": "Or is the little girl the bravest one here?" (Credit: HBO/Helen Sloan)

At the beginning of this season, one of “Game of Thrones’” TV overlords, David Benioff, told Grantland’s Andy Greenwald that “Themes are for eighth-grade book reports.” There is a reason the people who make stuff don’t get the final say on the meaning of that stuff. “And Now His Watch Is Ended” was particularly theme-y — the theme being revenge but it also demostrated how little “Game of Thrones” cares about creating “normal” episodes of television. The huge cast of characters have been flitting in and out all season. Now they are starting to show up for what amount to special appearances, both short — Bran appeared in one scene — and long — Daenerys gets the most fist-pumping segment of the season thus far, but only in the episode’s last 10 minutes. Four episodes in, it still feels like the season’s pieces are being put into place, and it seems that the best way to watch would be to wait and binge on it all at once.

But on to revenge: In this episode, revenge is presented as a reason to keep living. Difficult, taxing, gross, revenge is still a thing that gives one’s life purpose, not a force that hollows one out and makes him a terrible, terrible person — even though it surely does that, too. Spymaster Varys tells Tyrion the story of how he was castrated: As a boy he was purchased by a sorcerer who, without anesthesia, sliced him “root to stem” and lit his testicles on fire. (They spoke; the burning balls or some such sacrilege.) An impatient Tyrion has not yet taken the full measure of Varys and quibbles that he “wants actual revenge against the actual person who tried to have me killed.” Varys then demonstrates, as “Game of Thrones” female characters often do, how little real stones matter to having stones. After the sorcerer abandoned him, Varys sold his body and gathered information, his “influence [growing] like a weed” until he was powerful enough to go get that sorcerer — who now lives, rotting and trapped, in a coffin in Varys’ care. “I have no doubt the revenge you want will be yours in time, if you have the stomach for it,” he tells Tyrion.



If revenge gave Varys the will to survive, it is also Brienne’s suggestion for Jaime. After being fed horse piss, humiliated and beaten senseless in a mud pit, he is not that keen on living. “You need to live to take revenge,” Brienne tells Jaime, but he doesn’t care. Brienne, who also doesn’t need stones to have stones either, sneers at him, “You have a taste — one taste — of the real world, where people have important things taken from them, and you whine and cry and quit. You sound like a bloody woman.” Jaime eats his bread, having been wholly chastised by a woman much tougher than he, a woman who is upending the stereotype of what a woman “sounds like” even as she’s using that same stereotype to make a point. (Arya, the bravest little munchkin in all the land, continues to do her part to dispense with this stereotype, too. She fingers the Hound for Micah’s long-ago murder, trying to serve her revenge up cold.)

Meanwhile, Cersei is over being discounted because she’s female. She tells her father it’s crap he won’t let her be his adviser. She’s learned his lessons best of all his children. Tywin counters that he doesn’t want her advice, not because she’s a woman, but because she overrates her intelligence and has let her psychopathic son run wild. While I don’t buy Tywin as an open-minded feminist for one second, he sure is right about Cersei’s lack of judgment. Her anxiety about the Tyrells springs from her jealousy and competitiveness with Margaery, who is running manipulation circles around her. (And also wooing Joffrey by telling him that cruelty’s totally fine if you’re real special: “Sometimes severity is the price we pay for greatness.”) Cersei should be making friends with the Tyrells, but she’s too paranoid and short-sighted. When Lady Olenna banters with her — “We mothers do what we can to keep our sons from the grave, but they do seem to yearn for it …” — Cersei rebuffs her. Perhaps before accusing her father of dismissing women, Cersei should stop dismissing women.

Back to theme of this week’s book report! Theon is the counterpoint to how revenge can sustain you: Revenge, especially misplaced revenge, can also destroy you. (Another counterpoint: Up above the wall, the Night’s Watch get fratricidal after one of their members takes issue with “daughter-fucking wilding bastard” Craster’s crappy food.) Trying to prove himself, to seek a revenge on the Starks that he didn’t quite feel but imagined his father might, Theon has destroyed his life, and, as he far knows, that of the young Starks. To correct for his insecurities, for the simple fact of his not being Robb Stark — whose “life fit him better than his clothes” (a great line) — he has done grievous misdeeds. “My real father lost his head at King’s Landing,” Theon cries. “I made a choice, and I chose wrong. And now I’ve burned everything down.” Immediately after this epiphany Theon is returned to captivity — someone else’s idea of revenge. (Themes aside, this particular storyline didn’t quite scan to me. Theon’s emotional modulation from “I could never be a Stark” to his sadness at killing Starks happened way too quickly — Theon could have used the time devoted to a re-statement of Podrick’s sexual prowess — and I don’t understand why the guy that freed him turned him back in.)

And then we come to Daenerys, who has been walking the vengeful path for some time. In this episode, she takes a huge step toward becoming the just, fearsome, badass Mother of Dragons she’s supposed to be. This sequence is filled with all sorts of “hell yeah!” moments: She speaks Valyrian! She has her dragon light that greedy, jerky slave master on fire! She has the unsullied kill all the bad guys but definitely not the babies! And then she gets the unsullied to follow her as free men! She’s so awesome she somehow doesn’t need a megaphone to communicate to 8,000 dudes! Dany then leads her massive, volunteer army out of the city, one step closer to the iron throne, but not all that much closer to Westeros. We’ve got too many seasons to go.

Willa Paskin

Willa Paskin is Salon's staff TV writer.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>