In Game Of Thrones, You Can’t Always Get What You Want
Unless it's a bath? Welcome to our latest weekly recap, beware of spoilers.
This week’s Game Of Thrones spotlights the clash between desire and honour. Characters are reminded of their oaths and allegiances, but instead pursue other goals. “How did you know that I wanted to?” a breathless Ser Loras asks his twinky squire Olyvar, who can only reply pityingly, “My lord…” because everyone in the Seven Kingdoms (except Sansa Stark) knows Ser Loras wants it that way.
It was almost shocking to see Ned Stark crop up in the opening clip reel, but his rigid code of honour looms large over this episode. “He was a good man,” says Lord Beric Dondarrion to Ned’s weeping daughter Arya, whose thirst for vengeance comes from the same Stark sense of right and wrong.
But just as Arya fails to recognise how brave the Hound was to prevail over fire, his greatest fear, Ned’s honour was pitiless. Jaime Lannister bitterly tells Brienne in his climactic, compelling bathtub monologue, “Do you think honourable Ned Stark wanted to hear my side?” This was a wonderful scene. Not just for launching a thousand ’ships, but for showing Brienne’s own uncompromising moral code softening in the water.
Up at Riverrun, Robb’s running his King in the North campaign from the ‘What Would Dad Do?’ playbook, having failed to learn Ned’s final, fatal lesson. His execution of grief-crazed Lord Karstark so clearly echoes Ned’s beheading of a Night’s Watch runaway back in season one that you can practically hear Ned whispering in Robb’s ear to get the head off in one clean stroke.
Robb’s campaign is falling apart because for him, honour and desire are mingled and confused. He desperately wants to do the ‘right’ thing, so he disdains political compromises and, as a result, is actually less honourable. Now, having defied his betrothal deal with the Freys to marry Talisa, he thinks he can waltz back to ask Walder Frey for more men to help him take Casterly Rock. I mean, COME ON!
Jon Snow was always close to Robb, and now Jon’s struggling to reconcile his Stark-forged honour — since transmuted into his Night’s Watch vows — with the need to maintain his deep cover. But Ygritte’s keen for Jon to go deeper still.
Their cave scene intriguingly parallels Jaime and Brienne’s bath scene, and not just for much-needed personal hygiene reasons. It’s a warm, dark respite from the world where people feel safe to speak from their hearts (except about the number of wildling dudes they’ve fucked).
But they’ll have to emerge sometime. I’m pretty sure Jon will angst poutingly for ages (he always does). Meanwhile at Dragonstone, Queen Selyse Baratheon and her terrifying cheekbones are surprisingly cool with her husband’s decision to bone Melisandre… even if Stannis isn’t.
Of the three Baratheon boys, Stannis was always the most moral – Robert and Renly preferred to chase their appetites, which made Robert a terrible king and Renly never a serious contender. Now his “fires burn low” in Melisandre’s absence, Stannis is belatedly wracked by guilt about cheating on his wife (but not, oddly, about locking up Ser Davos Seaworth, his most loyal advisor).
This is the first time we’ve explored Stannis’s home life, and I really enjoyed the episode’s introduction to the whacked-out Selyse and innocent, greyscale-scarred Princess Shireen. Selyse’s pickled babies were seriously creepy; you can see why Stannis keeps her in a tower like Bertha Rochester. And I really hope Shireen instills some jailhouse literacy in Ser Davos.
It’s no accident that Shireen tells Ser Davos about Aegon the Conqueror; Westeros remains fascinated with Targaryens past and present. Jaime might have been right to slay Mad King ‘Burn Them AAAAAALL!’ Aerys, but history has judged him poorly. Ser Jorah Mormont’s name is also mud in Westeros, but Daenerys doesn’t yet know that her pet knight is also Varys’s spy. She’s just beginning to discover that giving freedom to former slaves — a fundamentally honourable gesture — might not be what they themselves want. Instead, they want a strong leader to follow. So does Ser Barristan Selmy, but can Daenerys deliver?
“It doesn’t matter what we want,” Littlefinger tells Sansa Stark. “Once we get it, we want something else.” Lord (“call me Petyr”) Baelish probably hungers most urgently for power and respect, but you wouldn’t know it from his courteous smiles and dead, dead eyes. He’s playing a long game and it’ll be fascinating to see how he manoeuvres through the remainder of this season.
Tywin Lannister is pretty much unfuckwithable, and the final scene shows how he’s trampled his children’s happiness. Tywin has one ironclad code of honour, and that’s the continued dominance of House Lannister, long after he and all his children are dead. He can’t let wily Olenna Tyrell trap him in her thorns, even if Tyrion does. So Tyrion’s marrying Sansa and Cersei’s marrying Ser Loras, and that’s final.
I love to hate Cersei — she’s like the Pete Campbell of Westeros — yet I couldn’t help but feel sorry for her, pushed into yet another loveless marriage, giving up her hard-won political power to be a “brood mare”. Tywin leaves his kids sitting silently. Have they finally decided to cut loose and pursue their own desires?
Mel Campbell is a freelance journalist and cultural critic. She is the founding editor of online pop-culture magazine The Enthusiast and the national film editor of the Thousands network of city guides. Her debut book, Out of Shape: Debunking Myths about Fashion Sizing and Fit, will be published in June 2013 by Affirm Press.