“Game of Thrones” recap: “We must do our duty”

Duty gets perverted while innocents try to avoid terrible fates

By Willa Paskin
Published May 20, 2013 2:00AM (EDT)
                          (Benjamin Wheelock/Salon/HBO)
(Benjamin Wheelock/Salon/HBO)

“Game of Thrones” really has it in for penises lately. Last week, poor, sad, tortured Theon had his member lopped off and this week Gendry’s gets leeched. A religious zealot attaching a leech to one’s penis is, of course, preferable to having a religious zealot slit one’s jugular, which seemed to be Melisandre’s plan for Gendry before she got into feeding him to blood slugs and having Stannis toss the nobly named results into a fire, in a kind of leech voodoo. (Those leeches reminded me of the poor unfortunate souls in the lair of “The Little Mermaid’s” Ursula.) Before she seduced him and tied him up, Melisandre had said she wanted to treat Gendry like a lamb being brought to slaughter: best to hide the knife up until the moment it slips in. Guess she decided it wasn't too soon to toss bloodsuckers on his private parts.

The lamb— the innocent destined for an unpleasant end— was one of the major themes of this episode. Melisandre is intent on sacrificing Gendry to the Lord of Light to further Stannis’s cause. Stannis seems almost entirely on board with this, but goes to tell Davos — making progress on his literacy while in captivity — about it anyway. This leads Davos to surmise that Stannis knows killing Gendry is a really immoral idea — “Is there a difference between kill and sacrifice?” he asks — but Stannis almost immediately starts justifying the deed. “In war, does blood matter?” he babbles. “I never asked for this… We do not choose our destiny but we must do our duty.”

This is not a great moment for Stannis, not that he’s had many great moments. As far as leaders go, he’s been a humorless charisma vacuum and the logic here is beyond twisted. (Melisandre’s puppet mastery is all over it.) Stannis thinks of himself as beyond reproach. He thinks that every single thing he does is ordained by the Lord of Light, just because he is doing it. He thinks every single thing he does is something that he must do, even though he is unwilling to consider the merits of his deeds. His speech is an abuse of the word “duty,” which is something one who is honorable does whether or not they want to, not, as in this instance, a justification to do something dishonorable without even thinking about it. Davos says to Stannis “you are not a man who kills innocents for gain or glory,” but this no longer seems true, if it ever was.

This question of duty comes up again in the Sansa and Tyrion arc, in which Sansa is the lamb and Tyrion refuses to slaughter her. Tyrion keeps trying to treat Sansa with great sensitivity, though she remains wary of him. “I promise you one thing my lady, I won't ever hurt you,” he tells her before the wedding. (If Tyrion doesn’t want to hurt her, Joffrey most certainly does. He takes pleasure in terrorizing her. Fear is a turn on for him, and he is increasingly aware of that, so he threatens to rape her as a matter of course.)

But Tyrion’s good intentions keep coming up against Tywin’s mandates. Tyrion gets smashed at the wedding— can you blame him? Even the usually charming Lady Olenna is rambling about all the gross, incestual connections that now bind the Lannister and Tyrell families— and Tywin tries to cut him off, worrying he wont be able to sexually perform if he’s so drunk. Tyrion informs his father that screwing while soused is one of his special skills, but Tywin is not amused: “You will do your duty” he scolds, that duty being to knock up a Stark. Again, this is an entirely enervated meaning of the word, injustice cloaked as responsibility. (This echoes Jaime’s speech earlier this season about the circumstances under which he murdered the Mad King. Everyone thought he had betrayed his duty, but what duty does one owe evil?)

Tyrion’s sense of duty to Sansa—the unperverted, righteous kind— is great enough that he ultimately disobeys his father and even threatens to give Joffrey a wooden cock: more penectomy talk. (Peter Dinklage is great in the moments right after Tyrion insults Joffrey. Tyrion’s smart enough to avoid confrontation, to know when he has to turn everything, including himself, into a joke, but you can see how distasteful and disgusted he finds doing so.)  Back in their rooms, Sansa begins to disrobe because she also knows her ‘duty.’ But Tyrion stops her. He won’t sleep with her until she wants him to. And what if she never wants him to? “So my watch begins,” he replies, a great Westerosi pun, though presumably Tyrion won’t stay as celibate as the men of the Night’s Watch. Shae looked mighty happy to see the marriage had not been consummated.

Cersei is much keener to draw blood than her brother. At the wedding Margaery loops Cersei’s arm and calls her “sister,” which is probably the dumbest thing we’ve ever seen Margaery do.  Margaery’s strategy— to keep everyone, friends and enemies close— is sounder than Cersei’s hissing at everyone reflex, but you still don’t grab a poisonous snake and call it sweetie unless you want it to lunge at you. Cersei does exactly that, telling Margeary the story of House Reyne, the last family that stepped to the Lannisters. They were all “slaughtered.” Margaery proves her mettle by hanging onto Cersei’s arm and smiling throughout this whole diatribe, but even she seems slightly freaked out. “If you ever call me sister again, I’ll have you strangled in your sleep,” Cersei says, because she does not believe in hiding the knife.

Arya, meanwhile, is being held by the Hound, who is actually taking her where she wants to go: in the direction of Robb and Catelyn and the forthcoming Frey wedding. The shot of Arya and Sandor on the horse, the camera behind them, with her tiny little hand clinging to his huge body says it all. She talks tough, but she’s just hanging on. (In this episode, there are finally some parallels between Arya and Sansa, who both find themselves at the mercy of men they despise more than they should.)  This shot is also my second favorite hug of the season, even if this one is inadvertent: the best embrace came in Ygritte and Jon Snow’s hot tub scene, when they hugged while she was fully naked and he was fully clothed, an abominable snowman hugging a maiden fair.

And then there is Daenerys, who does not fancy herself an innocent at all. She sits through a meeting with a filthy talking mercenary, almost laughing at his endless, endless lewdness, including “Show me your cunt, I want to see if you’re worth fighting for” and the way he lunges to smell Missandei’s crotch. Daenrys is learning, and learning fast, but she’s not hardened enough not to be charmed by Daario, another mercenary who “fights for beauty” and, because he has long hair, is most certainly Dany’s type. Daario is not an innocent— he kill his comrades and throws their heads at Dany’s feet— but he has an almost childlike approach to life: “I’m a simple man, I only do what I want to do,” he tells her, and he didn’t want to kill her. Daenerys is intrigued by this, and Daario pledges not just his sword and his life to her, but his heart as well. Let’s see if she knows what to do with it.

Willa Paskin

Willa Paskin is Salon's staff TV writer.

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