This article is part of Quibbl’s coverage of Game of Thrones. For a map of coverage, go here
By Jacob Lieberman
Survival of the Fittest
“I’m a survivor, Arry. Like you.” – Hot Pie
While much of the action in this episode (and there’s plenty of action) centers around the political machinations of the Seven Kingdoms, this episode is, at its core, about survivors. It focuses on how people who have been through hell or who have been left for dead pick themselves up and move forward. Most characters in the show are “survivors”, but for this article let’s focus on a few who show us the range of responses to trauma:
We’ll start in the Riverlands with Arya and Hot Pie, because, well, HOT PIE!!! I literally yelled at the screen when he showed up. But he also serves a plot purpose, informing Arya that the Boltons no longer control Winterfell and that her brother, Jon Snow, is the newly crowned King in the North. Until this point, Arya had been focused solely on avenging the family she lost. Now she has a chance to reunite with whatever family she still may have left, so she turns abandons her plan to kill Cersei and heads for Winterfell.
Arya has survived a gauntlet of horrors since she last saw her childhood home, witnessing Ned’s execution and escaping from King’s Landing, only to wind up in the clutches of Tywin Lannister and the Mountain at Harrenhal, followed by a cataract-inducing stay in Braavos and the House of Black and White. Her traumatic experiences have transformed her, consumed her with vengeance, and she’s now a finely tuned a killing machine. She’s chosen a solitary existence, preferring to keep her distance from people rather than develop bonds of friendship or love that could ultimately be severed by fate.
But when she thinks she’s ready to heal just a little – after sharing a rabbit with Ed Sheeran and trading baking tips with Hot Pie – Arya gets a visit from another old friend. A very large, very toothy, friend: her erstwhile pet from season 1, Nymeria. Arya tries to coax Nymeria – who is now fucking gigantic – into joining her on the trek to Winterfell, but the wolf isn’t interested. Like Arya, she’s not cut out for domestic bliss and happy reunions. So Arya bids a tearful farewell, and carries on. Because that’s what she does to survive.
Completely oblivious to the fact that she may or may not be in the crosshairs of a world-class assassin, Cersei is busy plotting to survive another siege of King’s Landing (remember the Battle of the Blackwater?). She’s gathered a bunch of Westerosi lords before the Iron Throne, and after regaling them with tales of the cruelty of the Mad King’s daughter (bringing up the crucifixions in Slaver’s Bay and the fact that one of Dany’s dragons has, you know, eaten people), she enlists their help defending Westeros from a second Targaryen invasion. Needless to say, they seem less than enthused at the prospect of being burned alive.
Cersei, of course, has survived a gauntlet of her own: from the deaths of her three children, to her war with the High Sparrow, to her marriage to Robert Baratheon. (I guess you just can’t keep a good woman down!) And it’s only made her pettier and more cruel than she was to begin with. She’s an easy contender for Worst Person in Westeros, and would probably hold the crown outright if she didn’t have Jamie to moderate some of her worse impulses. In some ways, given her fondness for fire and the obvious glee she took in the immolation of the Sept of Baelor, she is the true heir to the Mad King.
Now she’s engaged in possibly the most important fight of her life, and she’s willing to do anything to win – from the sociopathic (blowing up an entire building full of people), to the comically absurd (building a gigantic crossbow that can theoretically bust a hole in a dragon’s skull). I’m skeptical that this will work, but pretty sure a dragon will die at some point, so I guess we’ll have to wait and see. One thing I know for sure is that Cersei’s experiences have changed her, from a conniving queen grounded by love for her children, to a power-mad tyrant with no limits to her cruelty.
In the North, Jon Snow has survived being murdered, and, after some convincing, recommitted himself to his duty. That duty, currently, is making a tough decision about two very interesting ravens. One raven is from his friend Sam Tarly, letting him know about the cache of dragonglass beneath Dragonstone. The other is from his former traveling companion, Tyrion Lannister, inviting him to Dragonstone to meet with the Mother of Dragons. What a coincidence! Over the objections of his sister and his bannermen, who are convinced he’s walking into a trap, Jon decides to go to Dragonstone to see if he can procure the dragonglass. He decided to leave the North in Sansa’s very capable hands. The tension between the two was reaching a fever pitch as Sansa very publicly lobbied Jon to remain in the North, but things seemed to level off when he announced she was now in charge. Smart move, Your Grace. Smart move. But how long will this alliance last? Who knows…
Before riding south, Jon visits the crypts of Winterfell to pay his respects to his father-uncle, Ned Stark. Ned, of course, is the opposite of a survivor, and his mistakes cast a shadow over this episode. After all, no one – not Arya, not Cersei, not Jon – wants to wind up with their head decorating a spike on the walls of the Red Keep.
A man who looks like he is soon to be a survivor is Jorah Mormont! Good for you, buddy. Given less than six months to live before greyscale turns him into a full-fledged Stone Man, Jorah is about to commit suicide when Sam Tarly offers an ancient and unproven cure that no one else is willing to try (probably because it involves scraping off the infected skin and draining a massive amount of pus). Very few people have been known to survive greyscale, and where Jorah goes next, and in what mental state, is anyone’s guess.
Who are we kidding? He’s going to find his Khaleesi, who is running a bad-ass war council of women from her perch high above Dragonstone. While Yara Greyjoy and Ellaria Sand are pushing an all-out assault on King’s Landing – fire and blood! – Dany doesn’t want to be Queen of the Ashes. She’s a survivor, too, and she’s trying her hardest to be a different ruler – a more just ruler – than her “stupid and weak” brother, Viserys, and her insane father. By the end of the episode, she may realize that this might simply be impossible in Westeros, and that, in the words of Olenna Tyrell, she may have to “act like a dragon” to win…
For now, she has a plan, devised with the help of her oh-so-clever Hand of the Queen, Tyrion Lannister. The plan is to lay siege to King’s Landing with Lady Olenna’s army of Tyrell bannermen, while Yara Greyjoy and Ellaria Sand take the Iron Fleet to pick up the Martell army and ferry them back to King’s Landing for an invasion. At the same time, Greyworm and his Unsullied will head west to take Casterly Rock – and all the gold that lies beneath. It’s a good plan. If it works. Which it doesn’t. In the episode’s closing scene, we finally get to see the Iron Islanders do their Iron Islander thing when Euron destroys Yara’s fleet, kills two of the three Sand Snakes, and kidnaps Ellaria Sand – the gift for Cersei?
In the middle of all this, we’re reminded that Theon is a survivor too, but he might not have made it all the way back. As Euron holds a knife to Yara’s throat, dead and dying men all around him, Theon turns back into Reek. He falls apart and betrays Yara by jumping off the ship rather than taking on Uncle Euron. Oops!
One final thought…
There are now two instances of someone knowing something they shouldn’t about Dany’s movements – Cersei in episode 1 knowing that Dany was coming to Westeros with the Martells and Tyrells, and now Euron knowing the plan to pick up the Martell army by sea, and even knowing what ship the Sand Snakes and Yara were on. In my opinion, the only person who could supply this information is…the Spider, Lord Varys, also known as the ultimate survivor. But what the fuck is his long game here, and who does he truly serve, since it doesn’t appear to be the realm…?
- Will Randyll Tarly stay loyal to Cersei in a war against Olenna Tyrell? Quibbl Here
- Will Sam successfully cure Jorah’s greyscale? Quibbl here
- Will Sansa redistribute the Karstark and Umber territories in Jon’s absence? Quibbl here
- Since the iron fleet is lost, will Dany be forced to take kings landing by dragon? Quibbl here
- Will Dany loose a dragon next episode? Quibbl here