Saturday, March 9, 2019

HBO Game of Thrones Final Season: Lannisters, Greyjoys, and Tyrells

Damn It Feels Good To Be A Lannister
HBO's Game of Thrones series, adapted from George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire starts its final season on April 14th. The initial antagonist family pitted against the proud but sternly moralistic Starks was the sybaritic and equally proud but more numerous, wealthier, and far more vindictive Lannisters. Rich as a Lannister, A Lannister always pays his debts, and Hear Me Roar were just a few of the sayings associated with the Lannisters, who maintained firm control over the Westerlands and successfully made a power play for the Iron Throne, cuckolding the Baratheon King and arranging his death. 

The noble but hapless Ned Stark failed to prevent this. After all of the wars, murders, attempted murders, backstabbing, taboo breaking betrayals, intra-family squabbling and patricide, a Lannister still sits on the Iron Throne. Utterly pragmatic, Lannisters will use any tool to win-force, lies, money, sex, treachery. Just win baby.

As it turns out the Iron Throne may not be worth anything because Winter Is Coming And This Time We Really Mean It but Cersei Lannister has never been known for her ability to let go of old resentments. Nursing resentments is after all a Lannister family trait.  Cersei may be a mean drunk, not as intelligent as she thinks, and a nasty brother-f****r but she does seem to have learned something from having been previously outsmarted by the High Sparrow and her little brother Tyrion. In the last season it was Cersei who outplayed Tyrion, despite having an objectively weaker position during Daenerys' return. 

House Lannister is hanging onto power by a thread but as Cersei Lannister patiently explained to both Ned Stark and Littlefinger, maintaining power is the entire point of her existence. Either you have it or you don't. So where does House Lannister stand as the end game begins?

  • Joffrey Baratheon (Lannister): Dead. Malevolent boy king murdered by Olenna Tyrell and Littlefinger. No one missed him except for his mother Cersei.
  • Tywin Lannister: Dead. Murdered by his son Tyrion Lannister. Scarily competent ruthless Lannister Patriarch and power behind the throne. A terror to all but especially to his children. Didn't tolerate incompetence or insubordination. Offered free sharp lessons to any and all who opposed his iron will. Gang-rape, wholesale slaughter, biting insults, physical intimidation-it was all the same to Tywin. He was feared and respected but never loved. 
  • Jaime Lannister: Alive. Formerly the best swordsman in all of Westeros and unabashed incest enthusiast.  Having lost his right hand and seen Cersei's nasty tendencies fully unleashed, Jaime is having second thoughts about following his twin sister wherever she leads. He probably won't be trying to murder any more children to save Cersei. Probably. Jaime seems to be constantly wondering where it all went wrong and why most people don't like him.
  • Myrcella Baratheon (Lannister): Dead. Murdered by Ellaria Sand.
  • Tommen Baratheon (Lannister): Dead. Suicide. Tommen was too nice and decent for his family. He did not want to continue living when his mother murdered his wife and most other Lannister opposition.
  • Kevan Lannister: Dead. Murdered by Cersei Lannister.  Kevan was Cersei's uncle, who attempted to rein her in after Tywin's murder. It didn't work.
  • Lancel Lannister: Dead. Murdered by Cersei Lannister. Cersei's cousin and former lover. By Westeros standards the cousin on cousin loving wasn't a big deal.
  • Tyrion Lannister: Alive. Currently serving as Hand to would be Queen Daenerys Targaryen. His influence with her is on the decline. Tyrion likes to think of himself as the smartest man in the room at all times. Unfortunately all of his most recent moves were predicted and successfully countered by his big sister Cersei, who once wrongly believed that Tyrion murdered her son and still rightly believes that Tyrion murdered their father. She will never forgive him for either. Tyrion is having some doubts about everything. Well except for killing his Dad. 
  • Cersei Lannister: Alive. Cersei stopped hiding her incestuous relationship with Jaime. She is PO'd that she can't manipulate Jaime with her body/emotions any more. But she's unwilling to kill Jaime. But everyone else had better get down or lay down. Cersei has claimed the Queenship of all of Westeros and would very much like to talk with anyone who disagrees. A looming invasion by White Walkers didn't change her mind. Cersei remembers the prophecy that her children will die before she does, that a younger more beautiful queen shall take all that she holds dear and that she will be killed by the little brother. Cersei is bringing more mercenaries to Westeros to fight against any non-Lannister forces, after of course her enemies have bled themselves dry against White Walkers.
I think that either Arya Stark or Jaime Lannister will kill Cersei. Jaime Lannister killed the Mad King because he was worried that Aerys might do what Cersei has done. I think that Tyrion Lannister survives until the end, whatever that might be. And The Hound will have his duel with his (undead) brother, The Mountain. The Lannisters show that even as a family maintains its strength against outsiders, it can be destroyed by infighting and lack of respect from its so-called allies. People fight for Ned Stark's memory and to save his children, even when it's against their interest to do so. Few people do anything for House Lannister except from fear or for cash. Although Lena Headey as Cersei didn't physically match the Cersei of my imagination, she captured Cersei's smug entitlement, arrogance, paranoia and essential meanness. Great acting work.

Greyjoy Hillbilly Elegy 
House Greyjoy's reason for existing seems to be to show other Houses (and the viewer/reader) why it is important to think thru actions before you actually perform them. Many of the calamities that have befallen House Greyjoy seem to be because most of its members have a very high time preference. They want what they want right now and don't give a single f*** as to what that means for tomorrow. 

This behavior should be expected from people whose House Words are "We do not sow" and who have a religiously based disdain for obtaining goods by any means other than stealing them or killing for them. Neither farming nor patience is a virtue in Iron Islander culture. Robb Stark asked the Greyjoys for assistance in the War of The Five Kings. This alliance would have helped the Iron Islands gain independence. It would have given Theon Greyjoy, who grew up in Winterfell as more than a hostage, if not quite a guest, greater authority and a chance to reclaim his position as his father's heir. It would have let Balon Greyjoy plunder the wealthy Westerlands and Reach. It would have given the Starks a naval arm while letting the Greyjoys have an army watching their backs. It would have prevented or at least complicated the Tyrell decision to intervene in the Battle of the Blackwater. It was a win-win offer.

But being both stubborn and like most Ironborn, not big on analysis, Balon Greyjoy decided that attacking the Starks/North to avenge his loss in his previous rebellion was the more satisfying move. Seeking to impress his father, Theon Greyjoy attacked and briefly held Winterfell. This set off a chain of events that ended up with House Stark losing the War of the Five Kings and the Ironborn being slaughtered and evicted from the North by the far more ruthless House Bolton. Theon was figuratively and literally unmanned by Ramsay Bolton. Theon's uncle Euron was elected King.
  • Balon Greyjoy: Dead. Murdered by his brother Euron Greyjoy.
  • Euron Greyjoy: Alive. Merciless. Kinslayer. Possibly insane. And loving every minute of it.
  • Theon Greyjoy: Alive. Castrated. He'll never do his thinking with little Theon again. Emotionally and physically crippled from torture and other bad experiences.
  • Aeron Greyjoy: Alive.
  • Yara Greyjoy: Alive. And imprisoned by her uncle Euron, who may be abusing her in horrible ways. Named Asha in the books this character was renamed in the show, possibly to avoid confusion with the wildling woman named Osha. The show also altered her sexuality for no apparent reason.
Last season the show played fast and loose with timelines and logic and this was nowhere more apparent than with the Greyjoys. Fleets are stolen and remade in no time flat. Ships without lights, radar or sonar find each other in the middle of the night. We're running out of time. The showrunners were apparently eager to wrap up storylines. Jon Snow, while not quite forgiving Theon Greyjoy, still inspired Theon to recover his courage and become both a Greyjoy and Stark. Theon ended the season by owning his previous cowardice, putting down a revolt by his crew, and setting out to find his uncle and rescue his sister. I like that the actors playing Theon and Euron have a notable resemblance.

The Tyrell Rose Bush Is Pulled Up By The Roots And Burned
The Tyrells were the nouveau riche of Westeros. They became the Lords Paramount of the Reach by the expedient move of being the first and most prominent House of their region to bend the knee to Aegon the Conqueror. This allowed them to jump over older, more martial or even wealthier families to claim fame, riches and fortune for themselves. 

Like their House symbol, the rose, the Tyrells were a hardy clinging  sort with a tenacious grasp on what they thought was theirs. They also had their thorns, most notably Olenna Tyrell, who was the real power in the House despite being a Tyrell by marriage.  Olenna was the paragon of the old grandparent who has lost interest in politesse. Margaery Tyrell told Littlefinger, she didn't want to be a queen, she wanted to be The Queen. Her grandmother Olenna did everything she could to make that happen. Olenna may have been living vicariously thru her granddaughter. 

When Renly looked like the surefire winner of the War of The Five Kings Margaery married Renly and even offered to arrange bisexual threesomes with Renly's true love, her brother Loras, in order that she might become pregnant with Renly's child. Awkward. When Stannis murdered Renly, the Tyrells seamlessly switched to the Lannister side, marrying Margaery to Joffrey. When Olenna confirmed that Joffrey was thoroughly psychopathic, cruel, and personally dangerous to any wife, she murdered him and married Margaery to Tommen. The Tyrells also worked assiduously to reduce Cersei's influence. This was easier to do with Tommen as he was conflict-averse. The Tyrells, primarily Margaery, were cognizant of the uses of soft power and public relations.

Because they had arguably the largest army in Westeros as well as being the second wealthiest House in terms of gold and provisions, the Tyrells were always going to be power brokers. Unfortunately for them, their relative new position and open ambition, combined with their misreadings of Cersei, the High Sparrow, and their own bannermen proved to be fatal flaws. Last season ended with the Tyrells completely eliminated when Cersei Lannister went full Michael Corleone and settled all family business. It might have been cold comfort to the Tyrells to know that that their strongest bannermen and would be replacements, the Tarlys, didn't live long enough to enjoy the fruits of their betrayal. I guess the lesson that we learn from the Tyrells and their followers is that sometimes your reach exceeds your grasp.
  • Margaery Tyrell: Dead. Murdered by Cersei Lannister. Smart enough to deduce Cersei's intentions but did so too late to save herself and her family.
  • Olenna Tyrell: Dead. Suicide. Killed herself rather than be turned over to Cersei or be killed by Jaime. But typically she made sure Jaime knew she murdered his son.
  • Mace Tyrell: Dead. Murdered by Cersei Lannister. Mace was the formal leader of his House but he usually deferred to Mama Olenna. He was a day late and a dollar short when it came to brains or guts. Mace's father rode off a cliff while hawking, showing why male Tyrells aren't known for smarts. Mace had a gift for stating the obvious. Neither respected nor feared by anyone in or out of his House. Nice guy who only wanted the best for his children. 
  • Loras Tyrell: Dead. Murdered by Cersei Lannister. If he hadn't convinced Renly to attempt to seize the throne, the wars would have proceeded quite differently. It's unclear if he did this primarily for love for Renly or because his sister Margaery stood to benefit.
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