Recap: Fearing For Game Of Thrones’ Babes In The Woods
This week, Game of Thrones dispatches innocent characters into dangerous situations, where predators lurk with malicious intent.
This is a recap of the most recent episode of Game of Thrones. Spoiler alert.
All sorts of upsetting things happen on Game of Thrones. Yet somehow, it’s especially upsetting to see a baby alone, crying, in the woods.
There’s a reason this trope is so prevalent in fairytales. It dramatises our fear of vulnerability, abandonment and betrayed trust. This week, Game of Thrones dispatches innocent characters into dangerous situations, where predators lurk with malicious intent.
That crying baby is Craster’s youngest son, abandoned to the White Walkers by Rast, one of the villainous Night’s Watch mutineers. Their leader, unrepentant former King’s Landing footpad Karl, sees no reason to mess with tradition. Even he’s a bit weirded out when Craster’s poor abused wives (yay, more cheap sexual brutality) start chanting, “Gift of the gods, gift of the gods!” (I sort of hope this turns into a catchphrase to match Tod Browning’s immortal “Gooble gobble, one of us!”)
By contrast, the episode begins with a language lesson between two people whose childhoods were devoid of innocence: Missandei and Grey Worm. She remembers the destruction of her home village as she was abducted into slavery; he claims to recall nothing before being Unsullied, and to yearn only for the deaths of slave masters.
Grey Worm is becoming an increasingly complex and interesting character. Now, he urges the slaves of Meereen to abandon their childish passivity. Only through adult agency will they win their freedom! This is pretty easily accomplished, as it turns out.
As Daenerys leans on a balcony of such CGI hyperreality it feels pasted in from the movie 300, the death shrieks of the crucified Masters ringing in her ears, Ser Barristan’s grandfatherly warning to “answer injustice with mercy” seems very silly indeed. But is this ‘Mother’ – still just a girl herself – too naïve to rule wisely?
Speaking of child rulers, it’s time for a wonderful treat: the introduction of King Tommen’s cat, Ser Pounce!
Margaery wins some serious brownie points with her future husband simply by liking the cat. But Tommen is both old enough to realise there’s a sexual charge to Margaery’s friendliness, and still young enough to feel uneasy about it. Thank the gods Ser Pounce caused a seriously cute diversion just before Tommen spilled a “secret”!
Even Margaery, with all her Tyrell machinations, is innocent of the regicide pact that unfolded under her nose at her own wedding. And so is Sansa, who also learns this week of her unwittingly major role in what turns out to be a Lady Olenna/Littlefinger poisoned-necklace collab.
I’ve been hinting at this for weeks, and now it’s time to show you how it was under our noses, too.
In the above screen caps, you can see the Queen of Thorns casually fondling Sansa’s hair – while bemoaning the immorality of murdering a man at a wedding – and then in the following shot, there’s clearly a bead missing from Sansa’s necklace.
If you were wondering about the fallout from last week’s rape scene, there’s absolutely none. It wasn’t mentioned, or even really alluded to; Cersei treated Jaime with the same mean coldness she’s adopted with him since he returned to King’s Landing. Dispiritingly, we must conclude the rape was indeed only about audience titillation.
(Side note: I really do deplore that strand of commentary that goes, “Shut up about this, it’s just fantasy you guys, this show has, like, dragons!” Audiences are sophisticated enough to interpret Game of Thrones on the level of metaphor, not mimesis. And it’s on this level that the series reflects – and romanticises – the ways in which real-life rape is treated as an uncontrollable, inevitable moment that both victim and perpetrator are urged to pretend never happened.)
Clearly we’re not meant to dwell on this… even if it does throw a pall over Jaime’s ongoing rediscovery of his honour. He remembers that Tyrion genuinely likes and respects him. And he neatly repudiates his dad’s actions from episode one, gifting Brienne the sword forged from Ned Stark’s greatsword – which she names Oathkeeper, for she plans to wield it on a quest to find and protect Sansa Stark, this fulfilling her promise to Lady Catelyn.
Gwendoline Christie and Nicolaj Coster-Waldau use subtle facial movements to communicate a yearning, bittersweet farewell. Her trembling lower lip! My heart!
Despite everything, Brienne is still innocent. Because she fervently subscribes to the mingled honour, loyalty and sublimated eroticism of courtly love, being sent on a quest by the knight she loves, equipped with his sword and in perfectly fitting armour whose dimensions he guessed by observation, is profoundly emotional. It also reveals that Jaime cares more for her than he admits.
“I almost forgot – I have one more gift,” he murmurs. Is it a kiss? Sigh, it’s the next best thing, I suppose…
Despite his worldly wildling sojourn, Jon Snow still lacks guile. That’s what wins him the loyalty of his peers, and infuriates the cynical Alliser Thorne and Janos Slynt. But Jon’s determination to see the best in people also blinds him to the newest snake in the Night’s Watch: Roose Bolton’s attack dog, Locke. Seeing Locke just show up here was chilling… and seeing Jon Snow fall for his partridge-and-bull story was worse.
The northerly expedition of Bran, Hodor and the Reeds always had a certain Enid Blyton quality: children leading children, accompanied by a man with a child’s mind. Their self-sufficiency has got them this far, but now their true vulnerability is exposed. Seeing Hodor shackled, taunted and wounded was awful in the same way that the idea of Joffrey skinning and gutting Ser Pounce is awful. They are both innocent creatures incapable of understanding cruelty, but all too vulnerable to having it visited upon them.
I’m both dreading and eagerly awaiting the events that Jon’s mop-up expedition to Craster’s Keep will catalyse, given he’ll now find Bran’s party held captive there. (A thought: doesn’t Jon have a close enough bond with his direwolf to wonder why he hasn’t seen Ghost in ages?)
One thing I really enjoyed about this episode was that the story is moving forward more boldly. I’m fascinated by this week’s glimpse into what the White Walkers do apart from being general sources of terror. But what kind of innocence are they snuffing out?
Game of Thrones airs on Showcase at 3.30pm on Mondays, fast-tracked from the US.
Mel Campbell is a freelance journalist and cultural critic, and author of the book Out of Shape: Debunking Myths about Fashion and Fit. She blogs on style, history and culture at Footpath Zeitgeist and tweets at @incrediblemelk.
Follow her Game of Thrones recaps here.