I watch Mad Men right after Game of Thrones each week, and for some reason this combination of elements got me wondering what a tourism campaign for the world of Game of Thrones would look like. I imagine they would try to highlight the spectacular sights, like The Wall and the big white and red tree outside Winterfell. Maybe they would talk up the cosmopolitan beauty of King’s Landing. Then again, if Don Draper was feeling salty, he might pitch something backhandedly-truthful, like: Welcome to Westeros, where no one is likable and anything can happen, but usually very slowly.
If you haven’t done it in a while, I suggest that everyone go back and rewatch the first season of Game of Thrones. I recently did and I was surprised to find a massive gap not only in the quality of the episodes, but also of the story in general. To my eyes, Game of Thrones has changed into an almost inexplicably different kind of show, moving from epic yarn of politics and honor and into the realm of fantasy soap opera. The change was thrilling and subtle at first, giving us dragons – which, after all, are biological animals, not so far out into the realm of magic. Then we got Melissandra, the Red Lady, who seemed at first like just another false prophet. Then she had a smoke baby. Then we got some teleporting, self-cloning warlocks. Now we have Wargs (which I mistook to be written Wogs last week).
How this affects your viewing experience is probably tied into what you liked about the show in the first place. If you were in it for the brutality, soap opera-esque sexual and power politics, and the copious nudity, you’re probably feeling pretty good right now. However, if you are like me and you first got into Game of Thrones because of your identification with the struggle of Lord Eddard Stark, the one good man in a kingdom of thieves and lowlifes, you’re probably wondering when and if you should jump ship.
Because really, who are we supposed to care about now? So much stuff happens in this episode, and yet all of it is motivated by forces we barely understand and really have no reason to care about. I haven’t really found myself rooting for anyone since probably the beginning of the second season, and while I was able to chalk that up to the moral complexity of people for a while, I’m beginning to think it’s the symptom of a larger problem. Everyone is either completely unlikable, or boring.
For a while Tyrion Lannister was my main man, the only person who seemed conscious of his wickedness and able to wield it like a scalpel. He was a man forced through family and social pressure to live down to everyone’s worst expectations, until he found himself as the only one who could save a whole city. Then he was stripped of rank and importance and all narrative momentum.
Now he’s a glorified CPA and he’s buying whores for Pod, his squire. This scene gives up the requisite nudity to keep us engaged both after and before some long talks about inter-familial politics, and gives us an effective but suspect bit of comedy. It turns out Pod was so good – despite his virginity – that the whores refused to take money. Part of me feels like that was just another level of Tyrion paying him back, which would be both in character and insanely shrewd.
Outside of that one clever maneuver, we have people either making mistakes, getting yelled at for making mistakes, or paying for their mistakes. The episode opens with quite the embarrassing mistake, as Rob’s cousin fails to ignite his grandfather’s Viking funeral, eventually getting shoved out of the side so his grand-uncle can get it done like a real man. Then the cousin gets a tongue-lashing for botching a military operation and capturing two teenage Lannisters of no real importance. While batting that no-hitter, the cousin also makes the faux pas of calling Rob “cousin” and not “king.”
This scene is at least useful in showing Rob’s skill as a military mind, though it also involves showing his dotty wife, who is helping to bandage up the hostage Lannister brats. They reintroduce us to the widely held belief that Rob is a shapeshifter, which is useful in letting us know that his reputation isn’t diminished, even though his army is.
We also get another scene post-funeral in which Lady Stark hope for some solace from talking to her uncle, the aforementioned grand-uncle of Rob. He talks of her need to be strong and be there for Rob, just like she wishes should could have been for Bran and Rickon. It doesn’t seem like he knows she already botched that up, and the look of heartbreak on her face is substantial and moving.
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