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‘Game Of Thrones’ Recap: Violence Is A Choice

For an episode with more than one decapitation, this week showed a lot of restraint.

This is a recap of the latest episode of Game of Thrones. Spoilers!

As The Hound demonstrated this week with some primo axing, Game of Thrones can be a pretty gory show. Its fans often defend the violence as historically realistic, while non-watchers often cite that same violence — especially its notorious sexual violence — as their reason for avoiding it. It’s tempting to view these acts as unavoidable within an imagined society where life is “nasty, brutish and short”.

But this week should remind us that, in Game of Thrones, violence is always a choice. It’s not some nebulous force that unavoidably happens; the show emphasises it’s an expression of human will, with contexts and consequences. And because violence is a tactic, not a personality trait, this episode also explores the equally consequential decisions to withhold it.

In the Red Keep, Cersei’s cousin Lancel and his Faith Militant thugs demand The Mountain step aside, “or there will be violence”. Like a true Lannister, Cersei chooses violence, and The Mountain offers a taste of his true purpose. But, because the High Sparrow isn’t an idiot, he promptly has Tommen outlaw trials by combat in favour of Spanish Inquisition-style tribunals.

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“Geez, you rip one guy’s face off..”

But in rejecting his mother’s counsel, has Tommen fatally provoked her? Cersei has had Qyburn and his little birds looking into certain “old rumours”. The first thing I thought of was Tyrion’s old discovery that mad king Aerys had wildfire stashed underneath King’s Landing. What if Cersei decides to blow the whole city to the seventh hell?

Either way, Tommen’s ruling is bad news for Cleganebowl fans. As one fan on YouTube observed, their pet theory was “Killed by King Tommen: Hypeslayer, son of Kingslayer.” Still, what is hype may never die, but rises again, hyper and stronger.

In the Riverlands, the much-hyped Hound finds the lemon-cloaked slaughterer of Ray and his villagers, just as Beric Dondarrion and Thoros of Myr are about to execute the three murderers for their PR damage to the Brotherhood Without Banners. (Important: hanging is the Brotherhood’s way.) After grudgingly kicking away the stumps (“All over in an instant — where’s the punishment in that?”), he shares a meal with the Brotherhood (never forget, he prefers chicken).

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“Hello, welcome to our friendly neighbourhood lynching.”

I missed the Hound’s grim banter. He’s not keen to commit more “horrible shit” under a different ideology — but it looks like the Brotherhood know about the White Walkers and are heading north to help stop them. And when Beric echoes Septon Ray’s argument that a once-violent man can still do good, Sandor pauses for thought. Will he go north, or south to face his brother? Either way, he’ll be fighting the undead.

In Meereen, the freed slaves are responding to Tyrion’s religious PR campaign, allowing him a puffed-up moment to call himself “the most famous dwarf in the world”. But then hostile ships arrive in Meereen; the slave Masters have spurned diplomacy. “No more talking from you; your talking gave us this,” snaps Grey Worm at Tyrion.

Aww, just when he and Missandei were finally loosening up with a few vinos and laffs. By the way, Tyrion’s peacetime fantasy of running his own vineyard is unbearably poignant.

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Ain’t no party like a Meereen party.

But then in struts Daenerys, having sped home via Drogoncorde. No prizes for guessing whether she chooses violence.

Brienne of Tarth’s nomadic career is also proof that Westerosi history is borne along on many tides of violent decisions. Arriving at Riverrun with Podrick — who gets some much-needed lessons from Bronn in fighting dirty – Brienne persuades Jaime to let the Tullys surrender Riverrun peacefully, so they can join Sansa in the north. Of course, the Blackfish flat-out refuses, seeing peaceful surrender as a failure. Brienne also believes she’s failed, and sends Sansa a raven to this effect.

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“Wait, this isn’t a letter. It’s a Reddit thread.”

But the sword, Oathkeeper (which dealt Stannis his doom, just as Brienne wanted) binds Stark, Tarth and Lannister more surely than love or fealty alone. Bronn mocks Brienne because she so obviously adores Jaime; but Jaime’s own feelings for Brienne are conveyed in complicated gazes and coded gestures. When she tries to return Jaime’s gift, he reminds her Oathkeeper is hers. And he lets her and Podrick escape Riverrun, waving solemnly with the hand she saw him lose.

The Kingslayer knows honour is a minefield. “So many vows! They make you swear and swear,” he mockingly told Catelyn Stark back in season two. Only later, to Brienne, in that incredibly charged bathtub scene, did he admit the injustice of his nickname: he’d killed his king to protect the realm from Aerys’s violent choices.

While he bluffs to Edmure Tully that Cersei is literally all he cares about, Jaime has actually engineered a way to resolve the Riverrun siege without breaking his oath to Catelyn never to take up arms against Starks or Tullys. In this regard, Cersei will never understand her twin — indeed, in season four she responded contemptuously when Jaime tried to explain it. I wonder what violent act of hers would horrify him enough to cause a rift between them?

Is Edmure now doomed to be a Lannister puppet, or do his actions — coupled with Robett Glover’s rebuff of Jon and Sansa last week — suggest the next generation is tiring of violence? The Blackfish, however, is determined to go down fighting and the show dishonours this legendary warrior by giving him an offstage death, narrated by a messenger as if in a Greek tragedy.

Speaking of stage deaths, Lady Crane is reaching new dramatic heights in Braavos thanks to Arya’s acting advice. So she returns the favour after discovering the wounded girl cowering in a wardrobe. I’m skeptical that a milk of the poppy-aided nap can effectively treat deep abdominal wounds. But under Lady Crane’s unexpectedly tender care, Arya recovers to the point where she’s back on her feet to witness the actress’s horrific end at the hands of the inexorable Waif!

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Say… that’s a nice knife.

You may know, and pity, my tragic Terminator fandom, but everything about the Waif’s demeanour as she pursues a desperate, bleeding Arya through the city reminded me of Robert Patrick in T2. The Faceless Girl’s smugness is again her undoing, as Arya draws Needle and snaps shut the trap of her windowless room. Only one of them can fight blind.

A popular Fight Club-esque fan theory had it that Arya and The Waif were the same person: that The Waif would kill Arya, return to the House of Black and White and remove her face to reveal Arya’s underneath, declaring herself finally to be ‘no one’. This is the kind of cool shit fans love to dream up. But it’s much more exciting to see Arya own her name in a house without identity: to hold Jaqen’s death in her hands, yet refuse to grant it.

As Arya learned all those years ago, there is only one thing we say to death. “Not today.”

Game of Thrones is on Showtime at 11am and 7.30pm every Monday.

Mel Campbell is a freelance journalist and cultural critic. She blogs on style, history and culture at Footpath Zeitgeist and tweets at @incrediblemelk. Read more of her Game of Thrones recaps here.