Category Archives: Game of Thrones Season Seven Episode Four

A few somewhat more focused thoughts on Game of Thrones

I’m going to have to start numbering these puppies or something.

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Episode Four  was so epic that it just keeps on giving.  I’ve already stated my opinion that this sequence is one of the greatest battles ever on TV, and probably one of the greatest in any sort of cinematic presentation, period.  The editing and beats just keep you riveted to the screen, and our prior commitments to characters on both sides leave us in an ambiguous state of wanting everyone to win, or at least survive, simultaneously.

But online controversy about the sequence has sprung up like toxic weeds in a fair garden.  Some people, it seems, accuse Dany of being the “Mad Queen”, as her father was the Mad King Aerys, whose hobby of burning people set off Robert’s Rebellion in the first place, for burning Lannister soldiers in the battle.  Some of the criticism seems somehow tangled up with snarling diatribes against progressives, feminists, “SJWs”, and blab blah blah, as if Dany is somehow some man-hating feminist icon and anybody who roots for her is a limp-wristed, hypocritical “librul” who cheers when manly men are barbecued.

That kind of rant is too deep and convoluted for me to try to refute or even unpack here and now.  I’m going to focus instead on what I think Dany, as a character in the show, was trying to do in the Loot Train Battle, and maybe guess what show-runners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss were up to by having her do it.  And the best way I think I can do that is to compare Dany to the real mad Queen in the show, Cersei Lannister.

By now almost everyone hates Cersei.  I mean, holy shit, this is a woman who’s one redeeming feature, often noted by other characters in the show, was her love for her children, and now they’re all dead.  She blew up (with wildfire, note) the Sept of Baelor without batting an eyelash to settle the hash of her political foes, along with that of doubtless thousands of innocent bystanders.  Her treatment of Ellaria Sand and Tyene is not only the action of someone who’s never heard of “blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy”, but who would have thought it silly clap-trap if she had.  She has usurped a throne to which she has no right by terror and force, and now believes she can do what she wants precisely because she sits on the Iron Throne.  Lastly, her one remaining emotional attachment to the world of human beings is her incestuous relationship with her brother, in which she plays the role of emotional vampire on Jaime’s genuine affection for her– a parasitism to which Jaime’s starting to get wise.

Dany, for her part, is not without sin.  She has at times acted impulsively, even cruelly.  She arbitrarily put to death leading masters of Meereen as an act of vengeance.  She has at times been willing to engage in deception.  She lately has been displaying a distinct tendency toward political theater and intimidation, as well as a rather unpleasant arrogance toward Jon Snow, et. al.,  and she appears to be on the verge of accepting the idea that the ends justify the means.  Perhaps even more critically, her un-examined insistence that she is the rightful queen of the Seven Kingdoms based on her descent comes perilously close to demanding fealty she has not earned.  To put it another way, she needs to rethink the whole ‘bend the knee’ business.

Despite this, there is a qualitative difference between the actions of Cersei and what Dany has done.  Cersei has used terror, torture and outright murder as instruments of state policy.  Most spectacularly of all, she blew up the Sept of Baelor without regard to the cost in lives, an act perpetrated on largely unarmed (if we disregard the Faith Militant bozos) civilians.

For a moment in Episode Four it looked as if Dany were about to embark on the same path, when she says she will take her dragons to King’s Landing and burn her enemies out of the Red Keep (in the process, note, she quite cruelly attacks Tyrion, virtually accusing him of going easy on his relatives).  Critically, however, she does something Cersei has never done– she turns to an outsider, Jon Snow, for honest counsel.  It’s Jon who convinces her not to attack the Red Keep– and, I am convinced, is instrumental in redirecting her frustration into another course of action.

Instead, Dany launches her Dothraki and Drogon against the Lannister army.  Herein lies the qualitative difference– Cersei destroyed civilians in political vengeance, but Dany attacked soldiers as an act of war.  The two actions are not the same at all.  The online Dany haters who are trying to establish an equivalency need to rethink their premises, or perhaps, start thinking in the first place.

Cersei perpetrated a massacre.  Dany attacked soldiers who were, however inadequately, armed and ready.  The two situations are clean different.

Drogon’s attack is horrifying (it does bother me how some people in different reaction videos laugh and cheer when the Lannister soldiers burn.  Death by fire is very bad way to go, even for soldiers in the service of an evil queen).  It looks as terrible as it would be in real life, as terrible as I imagine getting hit by a pod of napalm would be.  As bad as it is, however, it is justifiable.  Because this is what you do in war.

War is the business of compelling your enemy to knuckle-under to your political will.  The mechanism of war is killing the enemy until they can no longer sustain the will to fight.  And killing, whether it’s done with a sword, or dragon-flame, or napalm, or a nuke, is always about turning another human being with feelings and hopes and loved ones into a mangled pile of meat, or, in this case, ashes.  That process is always, and inherently, horrible.

To accomplish the crushing of the enemy’s will to fight you employ every implement you have.  If you have a weapon to which the enemy has no effective reply, all the better.  It could well mean the killing will end sooner.  In effect, Dany ‘weaponized’ Drogon, and he’s a damned powerful weapon that probably sealed her victory at the start.  This is not the cruelty of Cersei, but the act of a leader intent on victory against a powerful foe.  It is not massacring innocents.  That’s Cersei’s path.  I think there’s a clear distinction between Cersei’s way and Dany’s.  I know which one I would pick.

To bring this back to the show as a show, what I believe Benioff and Weiss are doing is, quite simply, being honest about what war is and does.  If you try to pretty it up you’re lying about something that should not lied about.  B&W are too good a pair of storytellers to make that mistake.

I don’t think Dany is going to be the Mad Queen, not because she is sinless, but because she wants to do right, and listens to those who are trying to keep her on that path.  Hopefully Benioff and Weiss agree with me, and will keep on doing so right through the last episode of Season Eight.  If they have any problems, they should call me.  Really.

Later.

PS– I was also going to take on the subject of Dany and Jon, but I spent so much time on acquitting Dany of madness that I don’t think I have the energy to dive into such a fraught topic.  On top of that, I’m trying to digest my discovery of the historical fact of avunculate marriage  (it’s utterly amazing sometimes what you can learn from Wikipedia– or disturbing, depending on your point of view).  I’ll leave D&J as a subject for another post, some other time.

DD

 

 

Yet more random and wild-eyed thoughts on Game of Thrones, with particular reference to Episode Four, or, Holy crap!!!!

A day later and I’m still trying to catch my breath.

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This was probably one of the best episodes of the show ever.  It might even beat out the Battle of the Bastards.

One thing I will own up to right now– four episodes in and many if not most of my previous speculations are totally trashed and revealed to be the off-the-beam ramblings of an unhinged mind.  Oh, well, that’s the prophecy biz.  Melisandre can tell you about that….

  1. The episode started out slow with Jaime and Bronn on the road back from Highgarden,  Their relationship is fraying, and despite being handed a large bag of gold Bronn still complains that Jaime and the Lannisters (what’s left of them) haven’t lived up to their end of the bargain.  At the beginning of the episode, I would have said that Bronn would be looking for another situation soon, so to speak, but we have to take into account how this episode ended, which might throw all usual calculations out the window.
  2. Did they have to make Bran quite this distant and weird?  Some is understandable, but between when he and Meera left Benjen north of the Wall and when they reached the Wall, he turned into a total automaton.  Not sure I’m buying it.  Plus, he broke Meera’s heart.  Boo, hiss.
  3. Arya returns to Winterfell.  Talk about being wrong– my shot not only missed the target, it went over the wall, through the window of an inn, shattered a beaker of ale in a patron’s hand, and nicked the left ear in a picture of Donald Trump pinned to a dart-board.  The girl simply walks up and confronts Beavis and Butthead of Winterfell.  I kinda hope we see more of those two tossers in future episodes.
  4. Oh, wait, not Beavis and Butthead– Laurel and Hardy.  Oh, God, the potential!
  5. Not only was the scene in the obsidian mine between Jon and Dany full of eerie reveries of the most ancient past, it was the stage for escalating heat between these two.  I wish I wasn’t so damned ambivalent about the (apparent, probable?) fact that these two are related.  I’d enjoy the growing sexual tension more.
  6. It’s significant that Dany asks Jon directly for his advice about how to use her dragons.  Not only does it show Dany’s growing respect for Jon, I believe it’s something of a hidden turning-point in the episode, and maybe the show.  I suspect that, off-camera, Jon turns Dany’s attention to the fact that Lannister armies and fleets are completely fair game– this is war, and you use the weapons you have that are most likely to compel your enemy to quit the fight.  In any event, that’s how I would have written it.
  7. Speaking of sexual tension, I love the sequence where Davos and Jon are coming down the steps outside the castle at Dragonstone, Davos asks Jon what he thinks about Dany, Jon says, “I think she has a good heart” and Davos says, “I’ve noticed you staring at her good heart.”  Brilliant.
  8. And then Davos has the sand to go and get all pimply-seventeen-year-old-guy-who-just-had-a-cheerleader-smile-at-him-goofy over Missandei.  She’s taken, you skeevy old fart.  On the other hand, I can’t fault Davos’ taste.
  9. Ah, Brienne has a little sister.  A fast, deadly, face-changing sister.  I meant no disrespect…..
  10. And, finally, a battle sequence that, if it doesn’t leave you simultaneously on the edge of your seat and totally wrung-out, may mean that you’re a wight.  It starts out almost like a classic (or cliched, but it worked) Western where the cavalry scouts go, “Wait– what’s that?” and suddenly it’s time to circle the wagons.
  11. Except the Lannisters are caught flat-footed and don’t circle the wagons.  The showrunners have generally done a fair-to-good job getting medieval military tactics right, and I knew the Lannister army was in trouble the moment I saw it drawn up in two thin lines, with shields and short spears.  Infantry in Westeros have probably suffered from playing second-fiddle to armored knights for centuries, and have apparently never heard of twenty-foot pikes and block formations.  They have never faced Dothraki before, either, and so the Lannisters brought inadequate weapons and bad tactics to this field.  Bronn called it at once– “these fuckers are about to swamp us.”
  12. In about a twelve-minute sequence the battle delivers horror, carnage, courage, confusion, more horror, and the crushing panic of infantry under air attack– as if an army of the Hundred Year’s War was on the receiving end of a pod of napalm from an A-10 Warthog.  Except that the foot-soldiers are not wholly without a defense, a fact that ratchets up the tension to an almost unbearable point.  In some reaction videos I’ve seen (yes, I watch those, it’s almost like having a social life) people actually cling to one another for support.  The sequence is tightly edited, and yet there’s room for emotional moments, like when Tyrion is trying to telepathically get Jaime to flee and not charge the giant dragon that’s in a really foul mood at the moment, on the off-chance you might skewer its mother.  Who is a tiny, delicate little white-haired girl, and how could you even think of doing that, Jaime Lannister…?
  13. But perhaps the strangest aspect of the battle is how we find ourselves rooting for both sides.  Despite his residual moral ambiguity, we don’t want Jaime to fry; we don’t want Bronn, the cynical sellsword, to be barbecued; and we sure as hell don’t want Dany skewered, despite the fact that she’s showing some moral ambiguity of her own.  You don’t know who to root for, while you root for everybody.  I’ve never quite seen a film sequence that so effectively captures, in an emotional sense, how, at the level of the individual, there’s usually not a lot of difference between the two sides of a war.
  14. A final note about that moral ambiguity of Dany’s– she’s always been willing to do what is necessary, and she has been merciless with masters and slavers in the past.  But now that she is in Westeros she seems to be heeding Oleana Tyrell’s counsel to “be the dragon” a little too completely– the whole ‘bend-the-knee’ business is getting out of hand.  She seems to be on the verge of accepting the proposition that the ends justify the means– and that she is entitled to fealty she has not earned.  Dangerous stuff, and I am on tenterhooks waiting to see how it turns out.

Whew.  I don’t have the strength to launch any speculations at this point.  At some point major characters are doomed to die, although I begin to think most of that is going to be pushed to Season 8.  Jon’s expedition to the north is going to come a cropper, as is well known by now.  He and Dany are almost certainly going to grow closer, but what kind of heartbreak will that entail when his parentage is revealed?  Littlefinger is already surrounded by suspicious Starks; when will that suspicion turn into a Valyrian steel dagger in the dark?

And how the hell are they going to cram all this into just three more episodes?

Beats the crap out of me…..

Later.

A PS, a day later—

I hope I’m wrong.  I really, really hope I’m wrong.  But what if Jamie and Bronn are taken prisoner after the battle and Dany executes Bronn out of hand for hurting Drogon?  It would be another brick in the blood-slick road Dany is traveling toward becoming the tyrant everyone fears she might become.  In the previews for Episode 5 Tyrion looks pretty wrecked– I wonder if this is why?  I really want to be wrong on this one.