Game of Thrones Season 3, Episode 8: Second Sons
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.