This post discusses plot points from the April 14 episode of Game of Thrones. As always, if you want to discuss events from the books in comments, please mark your posts as such.
This episode of Game of Thrones begins with Edmure Tully shooting flaming arrows at the boat that’s carrying his father’s body—and falling short, repeatedly. It’s an apt opening to an episode of the show that’s concerned with rituals and institutions, and that argues, often in dreadful ways, that Westeros’ best institutions and traditions are frequently doomed to failure or misinterpretation, while its worst are the ones to which people adhere most rigorously.
First, there’s the drive for individual glory, which leads Edmure to attack the Mountain rather than listening to Rob’s strategy, and recognizing that long-term goals sometimes involve short-term losses of face, and understanding how badly the King in the North needs to preserve his resources. “I wanted to draw the Mountain into the West, into our country where we could surround him and kill him,” Robb tells Edmure despairingly. “I wanted him to chase him, which he would have done because he is a mad dog without a strategic thought in his head. I could have had his head on a spike right now. Instead, I have a mill.”
South in King’s Landing, Tyrion Lannister is learning that his family has pursued another opportunity open to them to ruinous ends: the ability to finance their war to hold the kingdom together with debt, rather than through taxation or budget cuts. “For years I’ve herad that Littlefinger is a magician. Whenever the crown needs money, he rubs his hands together and poof! Mountains of gold,” Tyrion tells Bronn wearily. “He’s borrowing it…We can’t afford to pay it back, that’s what’s wrong with it. The crown owes millions to my father” Bronn tries to brush his concerns aside, telling the man he serves, “Seeing as it’s his grandson’s ass on the throne, I imagine he’ll forgive that debt,” an assessment that ignores the fact that the Lannisters have a tendency to collect on their debts as well as to pay them. And Tyrion points out a larger problem, explaining that unlike the United States, Westeros has gotten itself in hock to people who will more than gladly move against the regime. ” It isn’t my father I’m worried about,” he tells Bronn. ” It’s the Iron Bank of Braavos. We owe them tens of millions. If we fail to repay these loans, the bank will fund our enemies. One way or another, they always get their gold back.” If the Chinese government worked the same way, then we’d really have a problem.
Overseas and in the countryside, other characters are discovering the weaknesses of institutions and reputations they depended on. “I bet you feed that pig better than you feed us,” a ranger complains bitterly to Craster when the deeply depleted Night’s Watch patrol returns to his keep on their way back to the Wall. “That pig has value to me,” Craster tells him. Craster may never have been particularly deferential to the institutions of the civilized world, given the harem he’s built for himself beyond it, and the extent to which he’s able to enforce his will as law. But the venom of his contempt demonstrates the extent to which the stock of the Night’s Watch has deteriorated as the wildlings organize and as winter approaches. And so has the Greyjoy family’s brand. “I’ll make you a Lord of the Iron Islands for this,” Theon tells the mysterious man who is helping him escape. “We’re not in the Iron Islands,” the man warns him cryptically, though whether he regrets Theon’s lack of power to reward him or is only to happy to reinforce is left an open question by his tone.
And Theon is one of the characters who learns one terrible tradition that seems to remain when all other institutions and traditions are rotting: the use of rape as a weapon of war. In previous seasons, Game of Thrones had a tendency to depict sexual assaults, whether it was Drogo’s marital rape of Dany on their wedding night after their marriage was arranged by her brother in exchange for the promise of an army, or the assault King Joffrey ordered Ros to perform on another prostitute after his Tyrion sent the two women to the king in the hope of redirecting his vicious energies away from Sansa Stark. This season, however, sexual assaults tend to be discussed or interrupted, rather than completed on-screen, and they’ve gained additional horror as they’ve become more abstract. “I’m going to fuck you into the dirt,” one of Theon’s pursuers tells him, and Theon’s abject horror registers much more clearly than the sight of his stripped body.
That same sense of fear builds throughout the episode in another storyline, as Jaime Lannister tries to prepare Brienne of Tarth for the likelihood that she’ll be assaulted once they end the day’s traveling. “When we make camp tonight, you’ll be raped. More than once. None of these fellows ever been with a noblewoman. You’ll be wise not to resist,” Jaime warns her. “They’ll knock your teeth out.” “You think I care about my teeth?” Brienne asks, assuming he’s accusing her of some sort of vanity. And Jaime has the decency to be plain with her. “No, I don’t think you care about your teeth,” he clarifies. ” If you fight them, they will kill you, do you understand? I’m the prisoner of value, not you. Let them have what they want, what does it matter…Close your eyes. Pretend it’s Renly.” Brienne points out that he’s treating her like a woman, not a warrior, wanting to know: “If you were a woman, you wouldn’t resist? You’d let them do what they wanted?” And Jaime grimly agrees with her assessment, acknowledging “If I were a woman, I’d make them kill me. I’m not, thank the Gods.” When they do camp, his prediction’s proven correct. “I’ll take the big bitch first. When she’s good and wet, you can finish her off,” the leader of their party declares, treating the coming attack as if it’s sex that Brienne will warm up to, rather than an assault. But Jaime, moved by Brienne’s desire to defend her own honor like a knight, finds a way to protect her by treating her like a woman. “Lord Selwyn would pay his daughter’s weight in sapphires if she’s returned to him,” he tells their captors. “But only if she’s alive. Her honor unbesmirched.” It’s a strategy that works, but a bit of arrogance that, coupled with his attitude elsewhere, costs him his hand. People who want to be cruel can find more than one way to emasculate a man.
And the subject is very much under discussion in Astapor, where Dany is still contemplating whether or not she wants to purchase a slave army. Jorah Mormont provides her with the most compelling argument in favor of the ugly transaction when he tells her that purchasing the Unsullied is one of the only ways for her to override the normal dynamics and traditions of war. “I was in King’s Landing after the sack, Khaleesi. Do you know what I saw? Butchery. Babies, children, old men. More women raped than you can count. There’s a beast in every man, and it stirs when you put a sword in his hand,” he warns her. “But the Unsullied are not men. They do not rape. They do not put cities to the sword unless they’re ordered to do so. If you buy them, the only men they’ll kill are the ones you want dead.”
But in the midst of these grim meditations, there’s at least one lovely moment that’s a reminder that some humanity survives in Westeros. “I’m staying,” Hot Pie tells Arya as she’s dragged further off to war, choosing to remain behind in a town that’s been touched by the conflict, but perhaps not irrevocably injured by it. “I baked some brown bread for the innkeep and she said she’d never had better. Told Thoros she’s keeping me as payment for all the free meal she’s given them…I made you something…It’s a wolf.” Arya has her doubts—there’s little sweetness that’s been promised her in her young life that hasn’t turned out bitter. But she takes a chance, and for once, is rewarded. As she rides off with Thoros and the rest of the Brotherhood Without Banners, she calls back to her friend “Hey Hot Pie! It’s really good!” There’s something worth fighting in Westeros, even if the people in a position to move the pieces in the game of thrones have lost sight of it.