Game of Thrones Season 2, Episode 6: The Old Gods and the New
So far, this season has asked viewers many times what the source of power is. Does power come from knowledge? The size of a leader’s army? Divine right? Many people have presented strong arguments for each answer. But tonight, the question became “how does one maintain power?” Daenarys and Bran believe in being kind, just rulers. Joffrey rules with an iron fist and threatens to kill anyone who crosses him. And Theon believes that ruling requires the respect of one’s subjects. Unfortunately for those in Winterfell, only certain people’s respect matters to him.
Let’s begin with what we already know. Joffrey is, in Tyrion’s words, a psychotic idiot. The citizens of King’s Landing are starving because of a war Joffrey helped start, and his tyrannical rule isn’t helping matters. Throughout the series, we’ve seen him lack even the semblance of empathy and concern for others, and it finally came to a head tonight when his subjects rioted. Joffrey’s response: kill anyone who participated. To Joffrey, all that matters is being feared and maintaining “order” at all costs. He sees himself as more god than king, thinking he is above the law, and that everyone must worship him. No one else merits a second thought. Not the people he rules over, who he needs to fight in his name so that he can keep his throne; not his betrothed Sansa, who he needs as leverage to get back his uncle; and not his uncle Jamie, who is the best fighter in his Kingsguard. Clearly, this is not the way to keep power. Not in the long run.
Bran and Daenarys don’t do much better with their philosophies, though. In Qarth, she tries to convince the city’s elite to give her ships and other means to retake (or, rather, to take) Westeros. She asks the councilman with no name for help, and gives him a long list of reasons why her campaign will be successful. She will be a good and just queen. She is owed the Iron Throne by birthright. She will have allies once she arrives, because the people are aching for her return. None of this persuades the man with no name, and her last ditch effort, a dramatic speech in which she vows that her enemies will burn, does even less. Xaro tries to tell her that her view of being a “good” and just queen is misplaced for the time being. Right now, she is still a peasant who would call herself queen. Birthright is nothing without the means to enforce it, and the path to riches and glory is paved with deceit, treachery, and impure actions. To Xaro, this is a fact of life and nothing to be ashamed of, but a fact nonetheless. Until Dany is willing to get her hands dirty, she’ll never achieve her goals. And until she shows that she is willing to fight, beyond just making threats, she will forever be a target of those looking to take advantage of her.
Along those same lines, Bran learns the hard way that ruling isn’t only about making wise and fair decisions to help one’s bannermen. Last week, we saw that Bran is one of Westeros’ better rulers, understanding that justice, fairness, and kindness is essential to ruling. If you do not help your subjects, why will they help you when the time comes? This is essential for ruling in the long run. Unfortunately, this is not enough if you are outnumbered or are taken by surprise. Sometimes, outsiders arrive to try and take your land, and even if you have the most loyal bannermen in the Seven Kingdoms, it sometimes won’t be enough. As it was alluded to last week, Theon arrives in Winterfell as a conqueror. Few are happy about this regime change, and many insult Theon’s loyalty, having been raised by the Starks. Any respect the people of the North had for him is now gone, and Theon will have to rely on his ironmen to keep his rule. That means that he has to do things according to the ways of the ironmen, even if he doesn’t want to. He would rather hold Ser Rodrick prisoner, as (1) he is more valuable alive than dead and (2) Ser Rodrick helped raise him. But Theon is forced to kill him, knowing that if he doesn’t, he won’t have the support of the ironmen either. Most men would look at this situation, in which they have to do something they don’t believe in to keep power over those they once called friends, and realize that something was wrong. Theon Greyjoy is not most men. He wants power, even if that means forcing himself to betray all of his beliefs to hold it.
· Theon says he is nothing but a Greyjoy when Rodrick and Lewyn appeal to the fact that he was raised by Ned Stark, but he clearly was uncomfortable with the Greyjoy ways. He is a man without a country now.
· Tywin alluded to his philosophy about why rulers need to be ruthless, but didn’t quite go all the way. He mentioned that his father was a weak ruler, but didn’t go much deeper than that. In the books, we learn that while his father was loved, it was partly because he would let anyone have whatever they wanted, and people often took advantage of his kindness, and House Lannister was nearly bankrupted. Tywin vowed not to make the same mistake.
· Speaking of Tywin, his scenes with Arya were fantastic. At first, it looked like Arya was going to learn that she needed to be even more careful in her actions, as even something as innocuous as reading gave away the fact that she was much more intelligent than a peasant girl had a right to be. And yet this intelligence endeared her to Tywin, and caused him to open up to her.
· MAJOR PLOT CHANGE FROM THE BOOKS: Littlefinger now knows for certain that Arya is alive. This gives him a fair amount of leverage.
· Also, things between Jon and Ygritte are going in a much different direction, which could complicate Jon’s return to the Night’s Watch (or rather, complicate it even more than it is in the books).
· Sounds like we’ll meet Ramsay Snow next week. Should be interesting.
· After the food riots, the first person Tyrion asks about is Sansa, despite the fact that his sister and his 2 nephews were also present (and he actually likes one of those people). He soon makes clear that his concern was more about Jamie than Sansa, but still, this could be more foreshadowing about something next season.