Game of Thrones Season 3, Episode 10: Mhysa
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?