Monday, April 15, 2019

HBO Game of Thrones Recap: Final Season Episode 1

In 1066 Duke William the Bastard of Normandy invaded England, defeated the Anglo-Saxon King Harold Godwinson, and became King William the Conqueror of England, changing the course of English and eventually world history. Now his descendants later intermarried with Saxon relatives/descendants of Harold with the result that today's English royal family boasts descent from both William and Harold. But somewhere out there there is likely a person who can claim to be the direct Anglo-Saxon descendant of Harold with none of that Norman-French "taint".  

Is this person the "true heir" to the English throne?  Similarly Britain used to be ruled by the Romans. Maybe in Greece or Italy there is a person who has direct descent from the last Roman emperor who ruled a unified Empire. Is this person the "true heir" to the English throne? These questions go on throughout history. 

They are very much reflected in Game of Thrones. Daenerys Targaryen is insistent that she is the rightful ruler of all of Westeros because her father was and his father before him and all the way back for three hundred years when Aegon The Conqueror and his sister-wives first invaded and conquered much of Westeros. However what is gained by violence may be lost by violence. Robert's Rebellion put an end to Targaryen rule because enough people decided that the Mad King Aerys Targaryen had forfeited the right to rule by his capricious, violent and yes insane actions. Daenerys doesn't see things that way. And she has two massive armies and two dragons to enforce her point of view.  But just saying that you're a Queen or King doesn't make you one, as Tywin Lannister once pointed out to Joffrey. People have to accept it. Will people in the North accept Daenerys? The initial results don't look too promising. 

And given that Daenerys still thinks that Targaryen rule is legitimate how will she react to the fact that even under a Targaryen framing Jon Snow (Aegon Targaryen) has a claim to rulership which is superior to hers? Given what we see, her reaction might not be that stable.

This episode continued to bring back everyone to the place where the story started: Winterfell. There was a very tight storyline in this episode with not many different settings. There were plenty of callbacks to previous seasons and what I thought was a shoutout to The Princess Bride in the Arya: Gendry interactions.

Winterfell/The North
Jon and Daenerys arrive at Winterfell as part of a massive army that includes mercenaries, Dothraki, Unsullied, and of course dragons. The Northerners are shocked and a little scared of the dragons. Sansa has called all of the bannermen (and bannerwomen) to Winterfell. Everyone has heard of the breach at the Wall. Jon suggests that everyone make their stand-hopefully not a last stand- at Winterfell. The Northern Lords and Ladies aren't happy with Jon at all. Lyanna Mormont points out that the North voted to make Jon the King in the North. He promptly went south against their wishes. He's returned having bent the knee to some self-styled Queen few people have ever heard of before.  People died to make Jon their ruler. And for what? When Lyanna Mormont is unhappy, kid or not, you're going to know about it.  Tyrion tries to give a boilerplate answer about fighting together but it falls flat. Jon says that titles are meaningless and he needed allies. That was also the wrong thing to say. Sansa points out that there's not enough food for all of Daenerys' armies. Sansa and Daenerys rather clearly do not like one another.

Tyrion and Sansa share notes and exchange what amount to apologies. Tyrion believes that his sister Cersei will send help. Sansa says she USED to think Tyrion was the smartest man she met but that he is a fool if he can't see that his sister is lying.

Jon and Arya finally meet and embrace at the weirwood tree. Jon is unaware of all the moral and skill changes that Arya has undergone. He is happy to see that she still has her sword Needle and unironically asks if she's had a chance to use it. She gives a deadpan answer of "once or twice". Jon complains about Sansa's distrust of him but Arya defends Sansa by saying that Sansa is smart and is defending family. Jon says he's family too. Later Sansa tells Jon that she shares the North's frustration with Jon so cavalierly rejecting independence and the King in the North title. Jon gets upset and says have some faith in him. Jon says Daenerys is not her father, the Mad King. Sansa retorts that, no, Daenerys is prettier. She wonders if Jon bent the knee to save the North or for a little piece of something strange. Oh and by the way House Glover has refused the summons to Winterfell.

Talking with Tyrion and Varys, Davos bluntly (I like this guy!!) points out that the sullen and suspicious looks they've all been getting are par for the course. The Northerners don't like outsiders. They take a long time to warm up to people, time that nobody has right now. Northern loyalty must be earned, not bought or extorted. The North is loyal to Jon Snow, not Daenerys. Perhaps if the two were to marry???

Discussing logistics and the like Jon and Daenerys walk around Winterfell and the Stark lands. We see here as we will later that Daenerys can be tone deaf when it comes to people accepting her as Queen unconditionally. She tells Jon that she knows that Sansa doesn't like her and that Sansa had better get with the program or.. Before Jon can respond to the implied threat to his sister's wellbeing a Dothraki tells Daenerys that the dragons are not eating enough. Daenerys thinks the dragons don't like the North and are not feeling well. She cajoles/teases Jon into mounting a dragon and racing her. This was a pretty long scene, perhaps too long I thought. But it was another confirmation that Jon is indeed a Targaryen as his dragon sniffs him deeply before letting him climb aboard. This race could also be a metaphor for both sex and more ominously civil war between Targaryens, an event which happened before.

Gendry has been overseeing the delivery of dragonglass (obsidian) and working day and night along with other smiths turning out obsidian weapons. Arya visits him in the forge to ask him to make a weapon for her and not to call her "milady". He responds"As you wish" which is of course an echo of similar interactions between Wesley and Buttercup. Gendry has also made an obsidian axe for the Hound. When the Hound sees Arya he reminds her that she left him to die. He calls her a "cold little bitch" which is about as close as "I'm happy to see you again and I love you" as you're going to get from the Hound.

In an excellent example of why not doing your research can really mess things up, Daenerys and Jorah go to meet Sam to thank him for saving Jorah's life. Daenerys offers Sam any favor he likes. Sam typically is very modest and just wants a pardon for taking books from the citadel and stealing his family's heirloom sword. At that point it clicks in Daenerys' head that Sam is a Tarly. She explains that she executed his father. Awkward silence. Sam says well at least now that my brother is running things I can go home. Daenerys says no I lit him up too.

Holding back tears Sam begs leave to depart. He sees Bran and says that Bran has got to tell Jon the truth and now. Bran says he's not Jon's brother any more and that doing that is Sam's job. Sam finds Jon in the crypts lighting a candle for Ned.  Sam lays it all on the line. Jon doesn't want to believe it. Sam says that Jon has declined personal honor and rulership for the greater good and wonders if Daenerys would do the same.

Tormund and Beric Dondarrion survived the breach of the Wall. They head for Winterfell. 
Jaime Lannister arrives at Winterfell and sees Bran, who looks right thru him.

King's Landing/The South
Qyburn tells Cersei of the Wall's breach. Cersei is happy to hear it. Euron has returned with the Golden Company mercenary force, 20,000 men strong, 2000 of them on horseback. Cersei wanted elephants but it would have been too difficult to transport them across the sea. 

Euron doesn't like the smile that Cersei gave to the Golden Company commander. He wants Cersei to give it up or turn it loose right now. He's done everything she's asked and more. Cersei says that a man should buy a whore and earn a queen but Euron insists.  Cersei gives in. Euron is very egocentric. He wants to know how he compared to Robert or Jaime. Cersei says she killed men who gave less offense than Euron. Euron responds then those must have been lesser men weren't they? Humble Euron is not. It's an open question though if Cersei had sex with Euron because she needed physical release or didn't want to lose the opportunity to keep manipulating him. Knowing Cersei, it's almost certainly the latter.

Qyburn interrupts Bronn's "me-time" at the brothel. Cersei has a job for him. Kill Tyrion AND Jaime. Cersei wants both of her brothers dead. I guess just about all of the taboos have been broken. Incest, kinslaying, violation of guest right--what's left?  Qyburn declines a prostitute's offer of some fun, telling Bronn that the girl will be dead of pox within the year. Bronn. who wasn't paying attention, perks up at that and wants to know which one. Theon rescues Yara. She headbutts him for leaving her in the first place but has no other grudges. She suggests taking back the Iron Islands. The White Walkers and dead can't cross water.  The Iron Islands could be a final refuge. Theon disagrees but says she's the Queen. Recognizing her brother's wish Yara gives him permission to go to Winterfell.

Although it's teased in the Jon/Arya interactions, as I have mentioned before someone coming back from the dead is an occurrence that would probably start a new religion. At the very least it would make people treat the resurrected person with almost divine deference. It's a BIG F****** DEAL!!! The show hasn't made a lot out of this so far. Mistake.

Although allies are good to have as Jon keeps saying, as other people in both the book and televised version of this story have learned, it pays to be on your guard when you invite someone into your home or go into someone's home. Daenerys likely has more armed forces in and around Winterfell than anyone else in the North. There are still armies from the Vale, which are loyal to Sansa, but much of the Northern military force has been depleted. If people don't do what Daenerys commands, they may find they lack the muscle to stop or evict her.

I liked the reminders that Daenerys (and for that matter Jon) comes from a House with a reputation for instability. Burning alive anyone who disagrees with you is an excellent way to get yourself poisoned or stabbed in the back. The Targaryens often practiced royal incest. In real life a history of marriages between first cousins, siblings and aunts:nephews or uncles:nieces tends to lead to infertility, insanity, diseases, deformities and other problems.  Charles II of Spain was so inbred that he couldn't speak until he was four or walk until he was eight.  He had trouble eating and closing his mouth. His parents were uncle and niece.  Daenerys' parents were brother and sister. Maybe some of what looks like Daenerys' bold decision making is actually capriciousness and sadism?

I appreciated that Cersei and Euron are short sighted and stupid enough to put things like revenge and sex at the top of their agenda over little items like the survival of humanity-at least the Westeros portion. There is I think a deliberate analogy towards current human approaches to pollution, clean water, climate change, and other challenges which require that we put our self-interest aside, at least temporarily.  Cersei and Euron are bad people of course but at least in that regard they aren't that different from most of us. Most people have difficulty letting go of their self-interest, even when the threat is clear as it is in Westeros.
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