This post contains spoilers through the April 1 episode of Game of Thrones. If you want to discuss events beyond the ones depicted here, please flag your comment for spoilers.
This episode begins with Sansa Stark uttering the words she needs to stay alive, a bitter, hollow mantra: “I am loyal to my beloved Joffrey.” It may be obvious to Tyrion, who tells her tenderly, “Of course you are,” what she’s doing, but to everyone else in his family, this sick pantomime of consent is enough to keep her at their tables, as Joffrey’s fiancee. That disparity says everything about the divide between the way the Lannisters approach governance. Cersei and Joffrey don’t care if there’s contempt behind a facade of compliance, as long as that compliance holds. “Peasants should be in the fields,” she says, in ordering the City Watch to bar the poor from King’s Landing as they seek shelter from winter. But Tyrion wants the feeling behind the words.
There are, however, some truths that matter beyond the name to even the most mendacious of the Lannisters. “I heard a disgusting lie about Uncle Jamie. And you,” Joffrey asks his mother, as he redecorates his throne room. “Father had other children, besides me and Tommen and Myrcella…I’m asking if he fucked other women when he grew tired of you? How many other bastards does he have running around?” Once he finds the answers in his mother’s silence, Joffrey may not be able to rewrite the facts of his birth, but he will have others kill to remake the world closer to the image he’d prefer to have.
The Lannisters aren’t the only family who are defined by their relationship to the truth and the consent of the governed. But where the Lannisters hope to bend reality to meet their preferences, Stannis Baratheon can’t even stand for the smallest, most strategic of lies as he sets out on his campaign to assert his right to the throne. “My beloved brother? I didn’t love him. He didn’t love me,” Stannis spits as he dictates a letter outlining the circumstances of Joffrey’s birth to circulate across the land, brindling at the scribe who calls it “a harmless courtesy.” “A lie. Take it out.” But he’ll give credit where it’s due, noting that the letter should refer to “Jamie Lannister the Kingslayer, call him what he is…Make it Ser Jamie Lannister the Kingslayer. Whatever he is, he’s still a knight.”
And Sansa isn’t the only woman who faces a choice between the truth of her heart and the truth that will keep her alive. “This is our place,” Gilly tells the men of the Night’s Watch when they arrive at Craster’s Keep. “Our husband keeps us safe. Better to live free than die a slave.” Her submission to a vile man who would gladly kill her child if it happens to be born a boy is an illustration of how deep the subjugation of women is in Westeros, even beyond the Wall and the formal social structures of Westeroi society. In fact, they may be more vulnerable—the isolation of the world beyond the wall leaves Gilly and the rest of Craster’s wives fewer options to dream of. She can’t make like Arya, cut her hair, and hook up with the Night’s Watch, marry out of her wretched family, or even gain the limited financial freedom that working as a prostitute would afford her (that means another kind of lying, of course. “She pretends she doesn’t speak the common tongue so people will think she’s exotic,” Ros remarks of one of the prostitutes she’s running at Littlefinger’s brothel. “She grew up just around the corner in Flea Bottom.”) There’s just the forest, and the cold.
That sense that the world is vast and unknowable isn’t the sole provenance of Gilly, or of the wildlings. Bran initially denies that he’s having unsettling dreams of inhabiting the body of his wolf, before admitting to the profound strangeness that’s been plaguing him. And Osha continues to hint to Bran that the world is larger and contains more things than are dreamed of in Maester Luwin’s philosophy. “the stableboys say it’s the color of blood to mark the death of your father,” she tells Bran, running through the theories. “Stars don’t fall for men. A red comet means one thing, boy. Dragons.” While Bran begins to grapple with the possibility of miracles, Dany, who’s already accepted that, grapples with geography and the mysteries of governance. Mired in what seems like endless wastes, she longs for an enemy she can fight. “I promised our enemies would die screaming. How do I make starvation scream?” Dany asks Ser Jorah Mormont. That she asks marks her as a queen. But the lack of an answer seems likely to dog her and everyone else. Winter is coming.