Some thoughts on the latest episode of Game of Thrones…
MERYN TRANT AND ARYA STARK
Meryn Trant being a pedophile just unnecessarily reeks of “the audience needs to know this guy’s really evil and deserves to die so let’s attach a character trait that hasn’t even been hinted at before to reinforce how much of an asshole he is because viewers are goldfish who can’t remember all the other terrible shit he’s done the past five seasons.” It’s also nice that the Stark girls have something in common: They immediately forget all their previous character development over the past few seasons the very moment they see something from their past and/or something that’s unpleasant.
Stannis burning his daughter isn’t a moral issue. His character introduction had him burning people who refused to give up their worship of the Faith of the Seven instead of Rh’llor…but nobody cares about that because the audience didn’t get to know them. We know Shireen, though, so him burning her makes him a huge asshole despite the fact that he already was and everyone missed that point when it was established in season 2.
However, Stannis burning his daughter has lots of writing issues. His whole army is stuck between Castle Black and Winterfell because of the winter, which somehow isn’t a problem for Ramsay Bolton’s 20 man gang. The whole scenario seems less like “Ramsay Bolton being a tactical military genius” and more “Ramsay Bolton succeeding because the plot needs him to.” Especially so because just a couple episodes ago, Melissandre brought up burning Shireen and Stannis shot the idea down. A well-written arc would have had Stannis resort to burning Shireen as a last resort after exhausting every possible option or as a response to a greater evil (i.e. the White Walkers)…instead he burns her the moment things go south.
That last sentence really needs to be reinforced, so let’s examine Stannis’ character. If people had to describe Stannis Baratheon in one word, it would probably be stubborn. He held Storm’s End for over a year during Robert’s Rebellion through sheer force of will and the help of smugglers like Davos Seaworth. He declared for the Iron Throne after his brother’s death despite all his contenders at that time (Joffrey, Renly) having larger armies. We learned earlier this season that he made sure Shireen stay alive and in his care despite doctors recommending him to send her away…but Ramsay Bolton provides one sudden setback and damn it, he’s got to burn his daughter!
While we’re examining Stannis’ character, let’s bring up how he approached his daughter about this very idea. I figured Stannis would be honest enough to tell his own daughter the truth about what she’d getting herself into when she volunteers herself unknowingly. A simple “You may have to die so that I can win” speech followed by Shireen tearfully volunteering herself would have been interesting. Instead, she’s kept in the dark about the whole burning thing. Instead of the scene playing out like a remorseful yet determined father sacrificing his own blood so that he can win, Stannis looks like a giant asshole who just surprised his daughter with the worst birthday present ever.
Let’s talk about Shireen’s mother. Selyse has had nothing but contempt for Shireen since she was born. That view point had not changed at all this season until suddenly, she decides to give a shit and start freaking out over her daughter being burned alive. People could point to the whole “even the most abusive mother would freak out in this scenario” but that falls flat because Selyse was totally cool with the idea beforehand. What the fuck did she think was going to happen? The audience needed scenes foreshadowing that, deep down, Selyse really does care for her daughter. Selyse suddenly starting to care after her daughter’s set aflame comes across as comical farce instead of tearful drama.
Finally, for the people jumping off the Stannis bandwagon, remember that he is still the best person to sit on the Iron Throne. He is Robert Baratheon’s legitimate successor since all the others are illegitimate. Tommen is a bastard born of incest. Daenerys’ father was legitimately deposed, she can’t handle her own dragons or even an insurgency in a slaver city she conquered and she might not even have a valid claim on the Iron Throne herself depending on whether succession is purely agnatic. Renly had every intention to kill his brother and his “might makes right” mindset would have been ultimately destructive. Aegon/Young Grif is “Sir Not Appearing in This Series” and the whole “enlightened despot being the best form of government” idea has been thoroughly debunked by history.
I have never been a fan of Daenerys Targaryen. Her character arc was pretty great until she decided to faff about in Essos rather than get her ass on the Iron Throne. Most of her support is based on the fact that she has DRAGONS!!! despite the fact that DRAGONS!!! exist for one purpose in fantasy literature: To establish the person who kills them as a super badass. Daenerys’ dragon can’t even get that part right! A few spears thrown by an insurgency (that she created!) are enough for Daenerys to decide to get on her dragon’s back and book it…
…leaving her friends and allies alone in an empty gladiatorial arena surrounded by said insurgents. Yes, there were scenes showing the Sons of the Harpy getting killed off by either Daenerys’ bodyguards, Jorah or the dragon. Too bad the whole arena was filled with masked bad guys and it was never given the impression that all the fighting made much of an impact. It provides a nice hook for next week (“Where is she going? What happens to Tyrion/Jorah/etc.?”) but it’s still something that should be filed under “What the hell, Dany?”
“Meaningful conflict is the soul of drama.” Game of Thrones (and the book series it’s based off of) have always been about deconstructing the idyllic fantasy viewpoint. If Lord of the Rings was idealized (in terms of characters) mythology, Game of Thrones is incredibly cynical with much of its elements influenced by historical events. It’s perfectly fine for writers to add shades of morality to characters so they aren’t just clear-cut good guys or bad guys. However, the more “gray” a character becomes at the expense of “black” or “white”, the writer risks losing the audience. The audience needs protagonists to root for and Game of Thrones is running out of them. Let’s look at the current conflicts going on in the show and see who sane people should root for…
BEYOND THE WALL: Bran Stark hasn’t shown up at all this season. Some people aren’t a fan of Bran’s storyline but that’s mainly because it took him two seasons to reach his destination…then when he finally gets there, he’s ignored. It’d be pretty cool if he could warg into animals/people and use those abilities but being absent isn’t going to make the audience grow fond of him. Bran’s been written into a corner unfortunately. If he shows up next season having completely mastered his abilities, it’ll be fucking stupid. However, if we get a more in-depth view of him training next season, we’ll wonder what the hell he was doing last year and why it couldn’t have been shown instead of, say, Dorne.
CASTLE BLACK: Jon Snow knows the White Walkers are a greater threat than the Wildlings and is just trying to get his fellow brothers to see that. Unless people are jaded enough to want the White Walkers to kill everyone, we want Jon Snow to live and lead the fight against them. Unfortunately, his tolerance of the Wildlings is sowing dissent within the Watch. Imagine if the next episode ends or next season starts with Jon getting killed via vicious mutiny…who does the audience root for with the Night’s Watch? Sam? Dolores Edd?
WINTERFELL: Stannis just burned his daughter alive and the Boltons flay people alive. Roose also let Jaime Lannister walk free instead of turning him back over to his liege lord, Robb Stark. He then helped Tywin Lannister and Walder Frey orchestrate Robb Stark’s murder at the Red Wedding. His legitimized bastard son, Ramsay, is enough of a psychopath to scare even Joffrey Baratheon. Ramsay tortures people for fun, including his physical mutilation and psychological alteration of Theon Greyjoy. Stannis as the lesser of the two evils but the audience most likely sees both as evil regardless and would like both to be killed by The Others.
We’d also like to see Sansa win against Ramsay but she can’t seem to remember any of the lessons Petyr Balish taught her. She also continues to trust Theon despite the fact he’s psychologically broken. Remember how one of the taglines for the show was “The North Remembers”? “The North Remembers But Proceeds To Do Fuck All About Ned and Robb Stark’s Death” must have been too long and accurate.
KING’S LANDING: The Tyrells are a good house for the audience to root for, what with their charitable actions and their orchestration of Joffrey’s murder. Unfortunately, Margerery is still in jail and they’re not able to do much about it. We could root for the High Sparrow since he seems able and competent to dispense justice on just about anyone. However, we’ve seen the dangers of religious fanaticism not only with the Sparrows earlier this season but with Melissandre and Stannis. Cersei’s imprisoned and should be executed but that would be too satisfying to happen.
Littlefinger’s still around but people who root for him are similar to the ones who root for the White Walkers. Sure, he threw crazy Lysa Arryn down the Moon Door and orchestrated Joffrey’s assassination but he’s still an amoral sociopath relentlessly obsessed with being a Westeros Bond villain and exacting revenge on houses that wronged him in his youth. Is this someone a general audience is really going to root for?
DORNE: Jaime and Bronn essentially invaded Dorne, an act that should result in some pretty serious consequences for them both. Instead, both are going back to King’s Landing with Myrcella, achieving their objective with considerably few strings attached. The Sand Snakes seem to have been pacified and Ellaria’s at least cordial talking with a Lannister now. Maybe this is all an elaborate ruse to throw us off for what happens next week but everything’s a little too nicely tied up. When we consider how many other stories need a resolution this season (King’s Landing, Winterfell, Daenerys, Arya, possibly the Night’s Watch), Dorne’s pretty far down the list (which, given how terrible the sequences have been this season, seems appropriate).
BRAAVOS: A girl must choose between killing a Bravossi or some guy from her past. As long as she doesn’t disguise herself as a child prostitute and get raped by Meryn Trant (which, no joke, is an entirely plausible scenario), this resolution should be pretty interesting although Arya’s damned either way. She kills the Bravossi and not Meryn Trant, she’s turning her back on the very reason she turned to the Faceless Men in the first place. She kills Trant instead of the Bravossi and she’s putting vengeance ahead of the mission.
MEEREEN: What do Jorah, Tyrion and the rest of Daenery’s team do now that the Queen has taken flight? Where is Daenerys going? What effect will Jorah’s grayscale have on the city? And because I don’t know where he is but he’s affiliated with Team Targaryen, where is Varys? These are all interesting questions but it’s worth remembering all these characters have supported Daenerys. The Queen who can barely control one of her own easily damaged dragons, whose incompetent rule has left Meereen divided by class (and if Jorah/Tyrion/etc. abandon it, in the hands of a corrupt slaver elite) and just left her friends in a coliseum/city full of people trying to kill them.
Having looked at all the areas of conflict, there are very few worthy of the audience’s interest (Braavos, Mereen, Castle Black). A show covering as vast an area as Game of Thrones is going to run into the problem of not being able to please everyone…but what’s happening is that they’re starting to displease a majority. The scenes with Dorne were some of the worst of the season (and ultimately unnecessary), Bran’s missing and the conflicts surrounding Winterfell and King’s Landing have no interest to the audience. Meaningful conflict creates the best drama and the best way to do that is to have people the audience cares about. Game of Thrones should invest in that philosophy rather than making everyone unlikeable.