Wednesday, April 16, 2014

RECAP: Game of Thrones 4x01 - President of the Brienne Fanclub

I refer not to myself in the title, but to Olenna Tyrell, because how awesome was that scene where we discover that the generally straight-talking Olenna absolutely adores Brienne, for, as she put it, "knocking my grandson into the dirt like the silly little boy he is." I think I'm in love.

In other news, I've decided that while recapping isn't really the regular thing I do on here (that would be raging against the tyranny of mass media and our patriarchal/oligarchical societal structure), there are some shows that deserve an episode by episode analysis. Like Sherlock, with its new episodes every two years, or, say, Game of Thrones, that fits more plot development into a single hour than can be found in the entire nine year span of Friends.

So, with that in mind, I am a little behind. Let's talk about last week's episode, "Two Swords", that kicked off Season 4 for us and really got the blood pumping. The blood of our enemies that is. Pumping out a hole in their necks.

Arya is a scary child. 

SPOILERS from here on out, but it's a recap, so you might have guessed that.

When last we left the medieval land that no one in their right mind would ever want to inhabit, Westeros was reeling in the aftermath of the "Red Wedding", where the Lannisters paid Roose Bolton and Walder Frey to murder all the Starks at a wedding between someone not important and someone else not important. We said goodbye to Robb Stark and his pregnant wife, and also (probably) Catelyn, while Arya (Maisie Williams) came super close to reuniting with her family only to see them all die. Oh, and Sansa (Sophie Turner) was married off to Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) in the weirdest match since Cersei (Lena Headey) and Loras (Finn Jones).

The story picks back up with preparations underway for Margaery (Natalie Dormer) and Joffrey's (Jack Gleeson) wedding, and everyone is in fine form. Sansa is devastated over her family's death, Tyrion is absolutely convinced that someone is going to either try to kill Sansa, or murder his actual love, Shae (Sibel Kikilli), and Cersei is generally bitter and drunk and angry that she was born a woman and can't just rule the country without all these jerks telling her what to do.

Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) have finally made it back to King's Landing, but all is not smooth sailing. Well, not for Jaime, at least. His father, Tywin (Charles Dance), wants him to give up the King's Guard and go be lord of Casterly Rock, but Jaime insists that will shatter all the honor he has left, which isn't much. Upon his refusal, Tywin basically disowns Jaime, but does give him a nice special sword as a compensation. 

He's also saddened to find that his sister, Cersei, doesn't really want to get with him anymore (oh this show, this terrifying show), because he lost a hand and she's kind of busy with the whole her son getting married and also being paired off with someone she will absolutely never be compatible with thing. She did buy him a nice replacement hand, though. It's very pretty.

Brienne, meanwhile, is trying to figure out where she fits now. She was sworn to Renly Baratheon, but then he died. Then she was sworn to Catelyn Stark. And then Catelyn Stark died. Right now, it seems, Brienne is free to swear to anyone she chooses, but I think she might be a little hesitant to hitch her wagon again so soon. At least Olenna Tyrell (Diana Rigg) loves her, and Margaery accepts her condolences for Renly's death. Personally, I hope she winds up sworn to Margaery or Sansa, or someone with sense.

In between trying to manage his wife and his mistress, meanwhile, Tyrion is forced to greet the diplomatic visitors for the royal wedding. Among them? Oberyn Martell (Pedro Pascal), and his consort, Ellaria Sand (Indira Varma - yay!). There's some historic bad blood between the Martells and the Lannisters, which certainly isn't helped when the Lannisters send their second son out to greet the diplomatic party, and find that the Martells sent their second son to the wedding. Apparently this is bad on both sides.

Oberyn is happy to pay his respects to the king, but he reminds Tyrion that the Lannisters aren't the only ones who pay their debts - his sister was married to Prince Rhaegar in the last war, and her fate was worse than death, at the hands of men sworn to Tywin Lannister. So, you know, they're super happy the Lannisters are in charge now. Totally.

Also, Oberyn Martell is pretty much Captain Jack Harkness but with political ambitions, and it's rather terrifying.

In the North, Jon Snow (Kit Harrington) has to face a tribunal of the Night's Watch to determine his fate. He did, after all, abandon the Watch and kill a member of it, as well as join with the Wildlings to invade the land below the Wall. But since he did all of that on a spying mission, and he comes bearing valuable news about an attack from beyond the Wall, it's forgiven. Mostly. A little. Not really.

Some ways away, his ex-girlfriend, Ygritte (Rose Leslie) and her band of Wildlings are meeting up with some other Wildlings to form and army to attack Castle Black (the place where the Night's Watch is). The other Wildlings are scary and threaten Ygritte with sexualized violence, because of course they do. Have you seen this show?

Let's see... The adventures of Arya and the Hound (Rory McCann) continue. This time they stop at an inn for food, when Arya spots the man who killed her friend and stole her sword. They try to play it cool, but inevitably a fight breaks out when the men accuse the Hound of being unfaithful to King Joffrey (which, to be fair, he is), and Arya can't help herself from helping. Also from straight up murdering a guy in cold blood and watching him die because Arya Stark is pretty much the scariest character on the show.

Across the sea, Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) and her gigantic army of freed slaves are gearing up to attack another city of jerks. Also her dragons have gotten a tiny bit bigger (read: freaking massive) and they aren't exactly tame, not even for her. Still, she has other problems to worry about, like how Jorah (Iain Glen) is still following her around like a lovesick puppy, and her other two generals are stuck in a pissing competition over who gets to be her favorite. Thankfully, she handles this in the best possible manner, by emasculating them and denying them the opportunity to compete. Doesn't stop one of them from hitting on her though. I'm sure Jorah is plotting his death.

Fortunately, Daenerys still has Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel). Together they're pretty much unstoppable, and let's be real, Missandei is the only really useful person in that army, because she's the only one not trying to get into Daenerys' stylish and adorable pants.

Like with most things, I think I would enjoy this show much more (and that's saying something because I enjoy it a lot already) if we got some scenes where the female characters team up to rule the world. Give me Sansa and Margaery, Olenna and Brienne taking over King's Landing by force, kicking out all the stupid stupid men, and then just ruling peacefully. Arya and Brienne can run the Queen's Guard, Daenerys will come over and rule. Missandei is Hand of the Queen, while Olenna, Margaery, and Sansa form the Queen's Privy Council, and all the other badass ladies of Westeros trickle in. Deal? Deal.

Dang. That was a lot of show to recap. But it was such good show, wasn't it?

So here's the thing. In going back over this, which was probably really good for my memory capacity, I've been reminded yet again that Game of Thrones, for all that the television writers try to cover it over with layers of sexualized violence and scandal, is a story about the way that a patriarchal government system is detrimental to woman and men. You see so many men who are damaged because they are not suited to this kind of brutal, codified "masculinity", and we see many more women who are shoved down and denied their place because of it.

Westeros would be a much better place if these women had power. Even forget the women I've just named - we've still got Ellaria Sand, Shae, Cersei, Ygritte, Melisandre, and many, many more. Women who would probably be pretty great at ruling, if only given the chance.

It seems to me that this really is the message of the story - that those deemed least fit to rule are usually those who would be best at it. How else can you explain the narrative's emphasis on Tyrion, who is discounted because of his physical disability, and Jon Snow, ruled out because of the circumstances of his birth, and Daenerys Targaryen, considered unfit because she happens to be a woman. All of them would be great at ruling Westeros, and all of them aren't even considered an option.

Plus there's that little conspiracy theory where they all just might be relatives of each other.*

It's a great start to the season, and personally I'm excited to see where we go from here. My one real problem with the show was and remains its emphasis on the "shocking" violence, especially needlessly sexual violence, but that wasn't really present so much in this episode. Mostly it was backstabbing, politics, snarky one-liners, and the detrimental effects of a patriarchal society. All things I like!

I'm curious to see if this changes in the weeks ahead, or if the solid writing in this episode is indicative of a really spectacular season. Let's hope so!

*We don't know Jon Snow's parentage, not really, but there is strong suspicion that he is actually the son of Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen, because he was born during the siege where they both died, and let's be real, Ned Stark would never cheat on his wife. Daenerys obviously is a Targaryen, but there's also stuff in the books about how Tyrion's birth defects are actually something rather common to the Targaryen line, and he resembles them, and also the Mad King was rather enamored of Tywin Lannister's wife. It would explain a lot.


  1. Having seen it now...

    Olenna absolutely adores Brienne, for, as she put it, "knocking my grandson into the dirt like the silly little boy he is." I think I'm in love.

    Varys once said of Ned that he disdained the game and those who played it - trying to remain above it was his downfall. Olenna disdains the game too, but knows she can't stay out of it, so she plays. But that doesn't mean she can't love it when someone else finds a way to break the rules.

    One thing I like about the show is that the Iron Throne itself, however impressive the story of its creation, looks like a piece of junk. I like Olenna because she's the only one of the main noble characters I could imagine saying it.

    1. Olenna's disdain for the game is one of the more interesting details about her character, and also how it all informs our understanding of Margaery. I mean, we get that Margaery was raised to play the game and play it well, but if Olenna hates the game, then we can think for a minute that Margaery might have been raised with that as well. Which is very interesting.

      And yeah, that thing does totally look like a hunk of junk.