Cosmo Tip #3476
When he’s about to climax, whisper “the Lannisters send their regards” seductively in his ear and then stab him in front of his weeping mother.
When he’s about to climax, whisper “the Lannisters send their regards” seductively in his ear and then stab him in front of his weeping mother.
Family. The greater good. Self-interest. Love. Freedom. Human life. What value do each of these concepts have in governing Westeros? How does one decide how to live one’s life when one’s life is that of a ruler? Do you work to advance your own family’s standing? Are individuals expendable in the name of the greatest outcome for the collective? What if your personal interests are at odds with your societal goals? In “Mhysa,” the third season finale of Game of Thrones, characters present twisted notions of duty and familial love. People use lofty notions to justify terrible acts, and we are left to wonder how much longer Westeros can survive with such people in charge.
We have known since the beginning of the show that family lines are of great importance to those in Westeros, but “Mhysa” underscored just how great a motivation family can be. Arya puts herself and Sandor in danger when she attacks a group of Frey men because they insulted the memories of her mother and brother. Rather than ensure she will remain safe, she elects to attack a group of fully-grown men, knowing she is outnumbered. In the name of her family’s honor, she puts herself in danger and takes a life for the first time. The lowborn Davos Seaworth accepted knighthood and lordship from Stannis because he wanted his son to have a better life.
But to many, “family” does not mean the people you love or are bound to by blood. “Family” is a concept beyond that, an institution that will carry on your name, providing immortality. To Lord Tywin Lannister and King Balon Greyjoy, “family” is an organization, and one that must work in concert to accomplish goals for the family’s common good. The desires, concerns, even lives of individual members are irrelevant. All that matters is the family’s social status and power. Balon already had a low opinion of Theon, and when his tormentor, the bastard son of Roose Bolton, sends Theon’s penis as incentive to withdraw the Ironborn from The North, Balon reasons that Theon’s inability to further the Greyjoy line has finally made him worthless. That Theon is his son is meaningless; Theon may be related by blood, but being part of the family requires contribution. If Theon cannot perform, he has no place in the family. Tywin, on the other hand, puts some stock in the notion that blood makes you family, but not much. He decided not to kill the infant Tyrion because Tyrion is a Lannister, and therefore part of the family. But the fact that Tywin had to convince himself not to kill an innocent infant reinforces that Tywin expects those who share his name to do their part. Like Davos, Tywin wants his children to have better lives. Unlike Davos, Tywin does not desire this for the sake of his children, but for the sake of his name. If the Lannisters have comfortable lives, it is proof that they are doing well for themselves, and that they retain their power. Davos let his son choose his destiny, and his son died fighting for Stannis. Tywin directs the course of his children’s lives, ensuring their desires and happiness don’t get in the way of the family’s prosperity.
The concept of family isn’t the only thing Tywin has twisted to suit his needs. He says that rape, a crime for which perpetrators are sent to the Wall as punishment, is “the way of the world” if it suits him. He and Tyrion both know that Sansa won’t willingly let Tyrion impregnate her, and he has no problem commanding Tyrion to do so forcibly. And he justifies convincing Walder Frey to kill Robb, Catelyn, and the Stark bannermen by stating that it is better to end a war that is destroying a nation by killing a dozen men than by prolonging said war and being forced to kill thousands of men. And yet this reasoning, as well as his scoff that a crown does not give you power, are completely at odds with “the way of the world.” In asking Walder Frey to kill his guests, he ordered a lord to violate the sacred rite of hospitality, something taken so seriously in Westeros, a terrible fable was created to reinforce its meaning. And when Tywin talks back to Joffrey and commanding him to leave the small council meeting, he upsets the social order by commanding a king. Joffrey believes that the king should go unquestioned, but that isn’t quite right; the king has the Hand to serve as advisor, as well as the small council to discuss issues, and if the people become upset, they can revolt (something Joffrey proudly commends Robert Baratheon for doing). But as with Walder Frey last week, the notion that a lord can command a king goes against the social order of Westeros. Tywin is correct that the crown does not convey power, but he is quite selective about invoking the “this is how the world works” argument.
Tywin is also not alone in his view of what constitutes the greater good. Many people in Westeros view the lives and happiness of individuals as unimportant next to the collective whole. Varys would rather have Tyrion without the happiness that Shae brings him because it would allow Tyrion to work toward a better Westeros without her as a “distraction.” Stannis and Melisandre are willing to sacrifice Gendry to ensure a quick end to the War of Five Kings, for what is one lowborn bastard against the lives of thousands?
So many in Westeros put a value on the greater good, but what they see as the greater good is sorely limited to the good for themselves and their families. People like Tywin, Balon, and Walder are so concerned with the good for their own families, they don’t realize that every time they destroy one enemy, two more rise in their place. Two kings referred to by the “War of Five Kings” are dead, but things in Westeros continue to get worse for all but the most powerful of families, and even they don’t have it that great. The North will remember the betrayal by the Freys and the Boltons. Lord Brynden Tully remains at large. The people still despise the man who sits the Iron Throne. Even if one family finally “wins” this war, that family will have to deal with a fractured nation, full of people who hate them. And the greatest threat is one that is largely ignored. The White Walkers are returning, and only Sam Tarly, Jojen Reed, and Davos Seaworth seem to understand the danger to the greater good posed by them.
In Westeros, the way that people have understood family to matter has put many in danger and blinded others to the nature of threats. So it makes a kind of sense that across the Narrow Sea, in lands that are not Westeros, Danearys Targaryen has won the support of thousands not because of who her family is or because she is the “rightful” heir to the Iron Throne. She has support because of her actions. After freeing the slaves of Yunkai, they choose to make Dany their leader. They choose to make her their “mother.”
· I loved the rapport that was developing between Tyrion and Sansa. They are both in a terrible situation (understatement), and it was nice to see them trying to find a way to make the best of it, in whatever way they could. Of course, the death of Sansa’s mother and brother at the hands of Tyrion’s family put an end to it rather quickly.
· Tyrion continues to threaten his psychotic king. Probably not the best idea.
· For all of Joffrey’s petulance and sadism, he’s not exactly wrong when he accuses Tywin of “hiding under Casterly Rock” while Robert Baratheon deposed Aerys Targaryen.
· Tywin doesn’t like being questioned any more than Joffrey does. Although Joffrey has none of Tywin’s pragmatism, they certainly share traits.
· What meaning is a title and powerful family name to someone who has had his power stripped?
And who are you, the proud lord said,
that I must bow so low?
Only a cat of a different coat,
that’s all the truth I know.
In a coat of gold or a coat of red,
a lion still has claws,
And mine are long and sharp, my lord,
as long and sharp as yours.
And so he spoke, and so he spoke,
that lord of Castamere,
But now the rains weep o’er his hall,
with no one there to hear.
Yes now the rains weep o’er his hall,
and not a soul to hear.
The whole season has been building to this moment. Orell the Wildling said that people are only loyal to you for as long as it suits them, and then they kill you. Jaime Lannister and Roose Bolton postulated about the pragmatism of being on the side of Tywin Lannister, a ruthless man who can reward loyalty with riches, and who has been know to punish disloyalty harshly. The song The Rains of Castamere is a testament to his brutality; when another noble house dared defy House Lannister, Tywin exterminated it. We’ve been reminded numerous times that marriage is a key part of Westerosi politics, and that alliances are made and wars are won as the result of strategic marriages. So now, we come to the wedding of Edmure Tully and Roslin Frey, a wedding that is supposed to be a defining moment for King Robb Stark’s campaign. And it becomes so. Just not in the way Robb intended.
Why does anyone in Westeros bother with kindness? This episode, also titled “The Rains of Castamere,” went to great lengths to argue that kindness and honor are the marks of fools in Westeros, and that only those who act in their own self-interest, with maximum pragmatism, will survive. Let’s start with Jon Snow and Arya, who are both presented with similar situations. Each one must argue against the killing of an innocent at the hands of their traveling companions. When Arya and Sandor Clegane come upon a pig farmer on the road, Sandor knocks the man out so they can steal his cart, pose as farmers, and get Arya to the wedding at the Twins. When Sandor goes to kill the man, Arya protests, arguing that it isn’t necessary to kill him. The two argue about the risk in leaving him alive, but the matter isn’t settled until Arya shows that she is aware that people will have to get hurt for their mission to succeed. When the man starts to come to, she whacks him again. Arya’s actions leave the man alive and are born out of a respect for innocent life, but they are tainted by her willingness to cause non-lethal harm for the purpose of furthering her own goals. Jon, meanwhile, tries to convince the Wildlings that they should leave alive a horse breeder from whom they are planning to steal. As with Arya, his kindness is born from his respect for the lives of innocents. When questioned, he filters his concern through a lens of pragmatism, telling the Wildlings that the man is under the protection of the Night’s Watch. If they rob him, the Watch will send men after them. If they kill him, the Watch will send many men after them. The prospect of killing many crows rather than some crows excites Tormund, and they decide to go through with killing him. And to twist the knife even more, they demand that Jon do it, as a show of loyalty. To the Wildlings, if Jon chooses not to take the life of an innocent, it means that he is still on the side of the Westerosi. And it’s not a stretch to think that, if things were reversed and the Night’s Watch demanded that Jon take the life of a Wildling who had done them no harm, a refusal would call his loyalty into question. No matter who’s side Jon fights for, there is no room for kindness or human decency. Respect for the lives of innocents is seen as a weakness if those innocents happen to live in enemy territory.
And yet, things don’t seem all that bleak. Sam continues to show kindness to Gilly. True, he’s crushing on her, but Sam has always been a kind, gentle person, so his kindness toward her is genuine. Osha, a Wildling who was introduced attacking Bran, has come to truly care for the young prince and his brother, and she has buried the hatchet with Meera Reed. Danearys is an exceedingly interesting example, because although her scenes in this episode depict her sacking a city, we are reminded that she commands the loyalty of enough soldiers to sack a heavily fortified city because of her kindness. Jorah, Barristan, and Grey Worm practically fall over themselves to serve her. She is a leader they follow willingly because they believe in her leadership style, not just her birthright to the throne.
But this is Westeros. Kindness will only get you so far, and at the end of the day, those who make kindness and honor their guiding stars are doomed. You would think that Robb and Catelyn Stark would know this better than anybody. Robb declared himself King in the North after the death of his father, a man who was honorable to such a fault, it was what got him killed. When Ned had information that would destroy his enemies, he told them about it, so that they would have a chance to confess their crimes or leave King’s Landing. They chose to strike back and smear Ned as a traitor, then offer him up to a psychotic king for judgment. Ned’s death remains a sore spot for the Starks. But Robb is his father’s son, and he remains a kind and honorable guest in the presence of Lord Walder Frey. Robb cannot succeed in his war without Frey’s assistance. In a strange inversion of the power dynamics of Westeros, a king and a liege lord must grovel before a lessor lord to get his help. Frey has pledged fealty to House Tully, and it is his duty to do as House Tully commands. Seeing as how House Tully pledged fealty to the free North, Robb is Frey’s king, and Frey should do as he says. The first time Robb visited the Twins, he could have pointed out that Frey was bound to follow him. Instead, he pledged an oath. Then he broke it. Now, Robb returns, and finds that he must smile and be polite to Lord Walder Frey as the man wastes Robb’s time, insults his wife, and demeans Robb’s reasons for marrying Talisa. Robb puts up with it, first because it is honorable, and then, when his patience is nearly gone, because he feels he must. And then Robb and Cat meet the same fate as Ned; Walder Frey and Roose Bolton betray their king to the Lannisters. Frey has a personal stake in betraying Robb, while Bolton learned weeks ago that it pays to be on Tywin Lannister’s side. As the wedding band plays The Rains of Castamere, the Starks and Tullys are slaughtered, save for Edmure and Brynden, who left to use the bathroom before the killing started. And so ends the reign of King Robb and the independence of the North. He was killed by kindness. His own.
· As a reader of the books, I knew this was coming and have been looking forward to it since I read A Storm of Swords. But the producers still found a way to surprise me. In the books, Robb’s wife, Jeyne Westerling, survives. In the show, his wife, Talisa, does not. I was not expecting that.
· Unless it turns out that the Freys did not know about Talisa’s true nature, it looks like this theory, which I bought into, isn’t true. *Swish*
· This might have been my favorite performance yet by Maisie Williams as Arya. Girl is such a little badass, standing up to Sandor Clegane, seriously threatening him, and playing on his fears. Sandor and Arya telling each other that they understand the other’s fears was absolutely wonderful.
In a society that adheres to strict succession of property and titles through the male line, being a lord’s second son is not a good position to be in. Your older brother will inherit your family lands and titles and will receive more appealing betrothal offers simply because he had the good fortune of being born first. Fate gives second sons a bum hand, so men in that position must shape their own destinies.
And yet, of the many second sons we see in this episode, only two are actively shaping their own destiny, and of those two, one has only started doing so recently. That one is Sandor Clegane, who used to act as Joffrey’s guard dog. Until the Battle of the Blackwater, he did what he was told, killing whomever the crown told him to kill without question. He never made his own choices, never had his own ambitions. But now he is free to do what he wants and be the man he wants to be. He is still not a good man, openly stating that he will do the right thing for the wrong reasons. But he is a better man than many in Westeros (which is a sad fact indeed).
The other second son who forges his own path is Daario Naharis, a captain (or possibly just a leftenant) in the sellsword army known as the Second Sons. As explained in the books, the Second Sons were started by a group of second sons hoping to make their fortune. Knowing that they would never inherit the family fortune, they set out to earn what fate had denied them, and built a reputable company of warriors (or as reputable as a group of mercenaries can be). Daario is a particularly interesting case; whereas most people on this show feel bound by duty, even people who are second sons, Daario does what he wants when he wants to. Tyrion is going through with a marriage he has no interest in and Stannis is fighting for a throne he doesn’t want because “they have no choice.” But Daario is never without a choice. When told that he must kill Dany or die, he takes a third option, killing his comrades. Duty, honor, and loyalty mean nothing to Daario. All that matters is what he wants.
Let’s look at the other two second sons this episode focused on: Tyrion Lannister and Stannis Baratheon. First up, how great was Peter Dinklage tonight? From his tongue-tied attempt to put Sansa at ease to his drunken barbs to his father, to his threat to the psychopathic king, every minute of Dinklage’s performance was stunning. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same of Stephen Dillane. Stannis Baratheon in the books starts out as an unlikeable character who thinks things should go his way because he believes that they should. This viewpoint doesn’t change, but Martin slowly alters our perspective of him by revealing that although Stannis is a slave to duty, that doesn’t mean he likesit. Stannis believes in the rule of law to a fault, and if the law says something is so, then it is so, whether he likes it or not. Stannis in the book does not want to be king, but he knows that the laws of Westeros, as well as destiny, have made it so. With Robert leaving no issue, he is next in line, and although he does not want to be king, he has no choice. Dillane says as much, and Davos tells him (for the purpose of telling the audience) about these qualities, but Dillane does not play Stannis as a man burdened by destiny and duty. He plays Stannis with a smirk that suggests that he is pleased by the turn of events that made him next in line for the Iron Throne. Either way, Stannis is a second son who is content to let destiny dictate his life, something he admits to this episode (basically stating that it is not our place to question destiny). But the book portrayal makes him much more sympathetic.
Tyrion, meanwhile, tries to rebel against destiny, tries to avoid his duty. Or at least he says he does. As I pointed out in a previous review, Tyrion does have a choice. He and Shae could run away to Essos and live the lives they want to. But Tyrion chooses to stay, citing the fact that his place is in Westeros. So he does everything he can to mitigate the awful fate that is given to him; he tries to put Sansa at ease about the marriage that neither of them wants, he (drunkenly) reminds Tywin that he is not so easily manipulated, and he stands up to Joffrey. But at the end of the day, he still allows others to dictate the course of his life. His intelligence could earn him a great life in Essos, but instead, he chooses not to forge his own path, but to remain bound by a duty to a family he despises. Daario’s devotion to only himself makes him dangerous and unpredictable, but when compared to how Stannis and Tyrion live their lives, it does not look like the wrong choice.
· Thank you, Cersei, for obviating the need for me to explain the song “The Rains of Castamere” to non-readers. I was all set to open the next review (episode title: “The Rains of Castamere”) with the story of House Reyne’s demise.
· Braavos is once again tied to death. When Daario and the other Second Sons captains try to decide who should assassinate Daenerys, they draw coins, each one from a different city. Whoever draws the Braavosi coin will kill Dany. When Daario draws it, he says “valar morghulis,” all men must die. Unfortunately for the other two captains, Dany is not a man.
· Is it just me, or are the sex scenes getting more intense? This week’s Melisandre/Gendry scene and last week’s Theon three-way would not have looked out of place in a porn film, but for the lack of on-screen penis.
· I also have to give props to Sophie Turner, who does so much to make Sansa into a great character. Unlike many, I like Sansa in the books (starting in book 2; she was a bit grating on my first read of book 1 before I realized what Martin was really going for), but Turner adds a level of pathos not present on the page.
· Olenna Tyrell points out how incestuous the powerful families of Westeros become due to limited marriage pools. Siblings Loras and Margeary Tyrell are planning on marrying an mother and son, respectively, turning Loras into Margeary’s stepfather.