Wednesday, June 25, 2014

RECAP: Game of Thrones 4x10 - The Rise of the Murder Child

At last, at last I have finally gotten around to recapping this episode. Oddly, it's not because I hadn't seen it. I saw it a few days ago, but it's more because I've gotten so in depth with my recapping here (don't lie, you've noticed), that it takes me for-freaking-ever to finish a single episode recap. I'm not really saying that's a bad thing, since I do appreciate the ability to parse every single minute detail of the episode, but it is, well, time consuming.

Also I'm on vacation, and it's weirdly hard to find a couple hours to sit down and write when you're couch-surfing. Funny thing.

But here it is! Done at last. The recap of the finale of the fourth season of Game of Thrones. Oh yes. 

When it comes to the season as a whole, I feel like this was a season of very high highs and very low lows, particularly as regards female character development. On the one hand you have Arya and Sansa's developments into two very different but both incredibly formidable women. Arya has grown ever more bloodthirsty, while Sansa has learned the truth of political machinations. Daenerys has had her own thing going on, which seems to be neither particularly bad or good, and Brienne has been Brienne, because she never really changes that much and that's okay.

On the bad side, however, we have seen the destruction of Shae's character, which is problematic at best, as well as Cersei's rape and character assassination. Margaery Tyrell was retconned as a naive adorable little princess, while Lysa Arron was basically a psychopathic shrew from every misogynist's nightmares. There was bad and there was good. But, tragically, mostly bad.

I mean, this season had an incredibly high level of sexualized violence even for this show, going so far as to show casual rape in the background of exposition scenes. It featured a teenage girl being blamed for her sexual harassment, and was chock-a-brick full of male characters demanding control of female characters' sexuality. All deeply and meaningfully problematic. The show couldn't and didn't go a single episode without a reference to sexual violence. Just in general? Not a great year.

Which is really sad when you consider that a lot of this isn't from the books. A lot of this is new, added into the story to create "color" and "depth" and "realism" by the television adaptation. It unfortunately takes a relatively feminist book series (relatively) that deals explicitly with the bad implications of a patriarchal ruling structure, and turns it into a sexist fairy tale.

But that's enough ranting for now. What actually happened in the episode?

Picking up literally seconds after we left off last episode, Jon Snow is walking out onto the battlefield to have a chat with (and attempt to assassinate) Mance, the "King Beyond the Wall." Jon knows that they the Black Brothers have virtually no resources left to withstand more attacks, and he also knows that Mance does. So he needs to bluff like hell, and ideally kill Mance. 

Mance, who as you may recall last season saved Jon from being murdered for being a member of the Night's Watch, is a bit miffed to find that his little protege is back to being a "crow". Mance was really rooting for you, Jon! How dare you! But Mance, being a shockingly nice guy, agrees to parlay. They meet in his tent-hut-thing, where Jon reveals that yes, he was lying the entire time he was cozying up to the Wildlings. Also they talk about how Ygritte is dead, and it is sad.

Interestingly, Mance offers Jon a drink and they speak much as equals. I don't want to read too much into this scene (though I'm not sure that's humanly possible in this story), but I do find it interesting that before sitting down to negotiations, the two of them share refreshments. It's an old tradition in the real world, that when you share a drink or meal with someone, you are then family, or at least not enemies, and therefore refreshments are typically served during negotiations. Whether or not one party eats and drinks is a big political statement. Anyway. I just think that's interesting.

Jon and Mance talk about the battle and the good soldiers who will be missed. Mance eulogizes the giant, Mags. Jon talks about Ren. They drink a toast. And then they get down to business. Mance knows that Jon has almost no men left and that he can't sustain another battle. He's willing to offer Jon a deal: let the Wildlings over the Wall (through the tunnel, specifically) and Mance's army will not kill another man. If the Night's Watch continues to fight, then they will lose.

For obvious reasons, Jon doesn't want to take that deal. But he does listen as Mance explains what they're doing. I mean, it's not like the Wildlings are just out for a stroll. They're running. Running and hiding from the White Walkers, and they want to hide behind that giant Wall just as much as everyone else does. 

Which brings up the really solid reason why Jon should take this deal: Ultimately, Mance is not the enemy. The White Walkers are. And every Wildling they leave unprotected on the other side of the Wall is a potential White Walker. That's a looooooot of potential unkillable zombies, you know? Makes sense to bolster your numbers and face the real threat together. I mean, how much more effective would the Night's Watch be with an army of a hundred-thousand fighters manning the Wall. A hundred-thousand fighters who know exactly what they're fighting and why it is imperative that they win.

I'm just saying. Logic.

But Jon doesn't really do logic. He considers it for a minute, but then he reveals his real purpose in being there: he wants to kill Mance. Mance isn't super surprised. We never get to find out what Jon will do, though, because a horn sounds. The Wildling camp is under attack, and it's definitely not the Night's Watch. They don't have the men. It's also not the White Walkers. 

They're being attacked by an incredibly coordinated army on horseback that ride through the Wildling horde like knives and meet in the center around Mance. Who the heckity heck is this? Mance and Jon stand at the center of the attack, and Mance orders his men to stand down. There has already been too much death (Mance is, for the record, pretty much the only good king we've yet seen on the show - he is a legitimately good and just ruler). 

The leaders of this mystery army come forward and...it's Stannis Baratheon and Davos Seaworth. I guess they got that army they were trying to buy. And their attack strategy seems to be conquering the North. Not a bad strategy. Still, Stannis is as charisma-less and dour as ever (I kind of wish they'd cast Christopher Eccleston in the part, but that wouldn't work since Eccleston is so stinking charismatic in everything). He demands that Mance bow to him, because he is the "One True King". 

Mance rightly points out that they're not in Stannis' kingdom, but Stannis will hear none of it. Jon intervenes eventually, and demands that Stannis recognize and appreciate what Ned Stark did. Ned Stark, if you recall, died an honorable death in support of Stannis' claim to the throne. Jon successfully shames Stannis into not killing Mance for refusing to bow, and they take Mance prisoner instead. After all, Mance has good information to tell them.

But Jon isn't done. He also warns Stannis, "Your Grace, if my father had seen the things that I've seen, he'd also tell you to burn the dead before nightfall. All of them." Clever boy. He's learning.

Down in King's Landing, Gregor Clegane, the Mountain, is dying from the manticore venom that Oberyn dipped his blade in. Oberyn might be dead, but his influence is still being felt, in the vengeance-y, killing a dude from beyond the grave kind of way. Maester Pycell, who as you may recall is completely useless, doesn't think anything can be done, but Cersei refuses to believe that. Instead, she turns to a rogue healer who was too radical to be a Maester. This guy very well might be able to save the Mountain. But the Mountain might come back a little different. As in more murder-y. Cersei has no problem with that, and that's not comforting.

She then goes to have a chat with her Daddy, good old Tywin Lannister, about how she is absolutely, definitely not going to marry Loras Tyrell. Partly because she doesn't want to marry a gay guy (but then again, who is she to judge who Loras wants to sleep with, I mean, really?), and partly because she refuses to leave Tommen alone on the throne. She knows that Margaery has sunk her claws in, and she knows that Tywin would love nothing more than to manipulate the boy around his own finger. She won't let that happen. Lion mom!

Tywin, however, will hear nothing of the sort. He is sure that he has the upper hand and that she'll fall into line. But Cersei has a trump card. The trump card, really. If Tywin tries to force her to marry Loras and abandon Tommen, she will burn their House to the ground. She'll tell everyone the truth, that Joffrey and Tommen and Myrcella are Jaime's children, not Robert's. Tywin refuses to believe it, but she knows he knows she's not lying. Because she isn't. Those are some incest-babies. Tywin's legacy is a lie.

Tywin is not having a good day, is he? I mean, he's a jerk-face, but it's still not a good day. Also I should note that this episode aired on Father's Day, and that just makes me giggle. In a mean way.

Next on her tour through abandoned plotlines, Cersei goes to see Jaime and crow about her victory. She affirms her commitment to her family, and when he points out that Tyrion is her family, she denies it. She calls him a sickness, blames him for killing their mother, everything. And then they have sex. Confusing messages, guys. Not feeling like Cersei is particularly well written.

And then we transition over to Meereen, where Daenerys is still ruling, and unfortunately still having to hear the problems that her salt and burn style of conquering has caused. I think it's excellent writing, to force her to face her issues, but it's not particularly fun to watch. You want to cheer Dany on, right? And yet here she is, getting another much deserved punch in the face. Sigh. 

This particular punch comes in the form of a lovely old man who actually quite liked his position in the household where he was a slave. He understands that she needed to kill the Masters, but points out validly that when he left his home with his Master, he was put out onto the streets. The barracks and homes for the freed slaves are poorly managed and full of abuse, because that's how they are. That's how people are. 

The man has one desire: that Daenerys allow him to sell himself back into slavery and return to his old life. And there are more men outside ready to beg the same. Dany is unhappy with this concept, but as she rightly understands, she conquered the city in order to allow men to make their own choices about what they do with their lives. He may sign a contract to put himself back into the service of his old master, but the contract may not be for more than a year. Huh. So Dany is learning.

I mean, as Barristan points out, this will be easily abused, but there's not a huge amount she can do about that other than what she is already doing. She will simply have to keep a close watch and continue to keep a close watch.

Then the next petitioner comes in, and his case is a little more complex. He holds a bundle in his hands: it's his daughter. Burned to death by dragonfire. Ugh, my heart is breaking, and so is Dany's. She consults with Missandei and Grey Worm after. Drogon, the dragon that did it, is missing and has not been seen in days. But she can do something about the other two. Dany calls her other two dragons down into the catacombs. She has meat for them there. And also massive freaking chains.

Daenerys comes down and sits with her boys. As they fall into a drugged sleep, she puts the chains around their necks and walks away. Holy crap this is heartbreaking. Which makes me a little sad, actually. I mean, people dying? No problem. Dragons getting chained up? I am made of tears. It's not proportionate, no, but it is, well, understandable. These dragons have done nothing wrong, not really, and yet I can understand why Dany would do this. She has to do this. It's just still heartbreaking. I find the situations that have no clear answer to be the most tragic.

And then we're back at Castle Black, with Maester Aemon eulogizing the dead. Now their watch has ended, and he sends them off to whatever depressing afterlife Westeros has. They do have the presence of mind to burn the bodies, fortunately, saving us all from yet more ice zombies stumbling around next season. The camera lingers on Ren and Pip, Jon and Sam's two friends who died in the battle, and we watch as flames engulf the bodies and Jon Snow is baptized in smoke. Metaphors!

Jon goes back into a storeroom at Castle Black, apparently to talk to that big mean Wildling in charge dude. I really wish I were better at remembering names. The guy wants to know what will happen to him now. But Jon is more concerned with dealing with the dead. They will also be burned, and Jon wants to know what the Wildling's funeral practices are. They really only have one, and it's about Ygritte: she belongs in the North. The real North.

So Jon carries his dead lady-love up through the Wall and into the real North, where he then burns her on a pyre. Sadness is felt, but you know it's one of those things where this is all going to make Jon a better leader and more interesting character. You know, because the lady died to give him character development. Hurray.

Further up North, Jojen, Meera, Hodor, and Bran are continuing their quest to find the "three-eyed raven". Meera is afraid that they're not going to make it, since Jojen is already collapsing in the cold, but Jojen assures her that "we're already here". Not sure if that's supposed to be comforting or not, because it isn't. Still, Bran calls them over, and it's true. They are "here", wherever "here" is. They're staring out across the barren, snowy wilderness at a giant freaking tree, divinely lit and covered with autumn leaves. I am sure this is in some way really important.

As they approach the tree, though, Jojen falls on the ice and gets grabbed by what appear to be much more literal zombies. Not just White Walkers, these are straight up zombies. And reanimated skeletons. It feels a little out of place, not gonna lie. But yeah, Jojen falls, and everyone else books it for the tree, while crying and being really sad and stuff. Bran uses his Warg skills to control Hodor and fight off the zombies so they can get away. I wonder if Hodor is okay with this. I mean, I know that he's clearly some form of neurologically atypical, but we really don't know what kind. All we know is his verbal tic (saying Hodor instead of any other word). Just saying.

And then a horrifyingly creepy child shows up and says, "Come with me, Brandon Stark!" and they're just like, "Okay, seems legit. It's not like you're a mysterious creepy child standing in the middle of an arctic snow field or anything." Also the child can throw zombie defeating fireballs. This is weird. Very very weird.

But whatever, our gang has now finally reached the giant tree. In fact, they're not just at the tree, they're actually inside it. When asked what it is, the child replies, "The First Men called us the Children. But we were here long before them." Well that's ominous. And spooky. Then she (he?) brings Bran to another part of the tree where "he" is waiting. They come to a more open area where an old dude is sitting on a wooden throne. He's the three-eyed raven.

The Raven explains that Jojen always knew that he would die in the attempt to get there. Also the Raven tells them that he has watched them all through all of their lives. And now they're here, "though the hour is very late." Bran thinks for a moment that the Raven is going to help him walk again. He won't. But he will teach Bran to fly.

It's interesting. I really do enjoy these scenes that give us more explicit information on how Westeros was formed, since it is becoming increasingly clear that the "First Men" were nothing of the sort, and that whatever was there before was more powerful and a bit scarier. Sort of like how I always wish we could get more information on the Godswood and the Old Gods of the North. That crap is interesting. Then again, little interludes like this feel very weird and out of place in the show. I'm not sure what the solution is here, but it's a problem I would like to see resolved. 

Further South (quite a bit further), Brienne and Podrick wake up to find their horses gone. Good job Podrick. And now they have to walk to the Eyrie. Fun times for them, huh? They walk on a bit, and then come upon a strange little girl practicing her dancing. Arya. She's working with her sword, and when she sees people coming she makes the Hound stop going to the bathroom so they can greet them. 

Brienne and Pod are still on their way to the Bloody Gate, and ask for directions. Arya gives them, and then Brienne and Arya have the conversation we've all been waiting for, wherein our two favorite lady fighters talk about sexism and frustrations and fighting. Nice. Unfortunately, it devolves as soon as Brienne recognizes Arya and spouts off about her vow to Lady Catelyn and how she's supposed to take care of Arya. Neither Arya nor the Hound are comfortable with this proclamation. Especially when Brienne reveals that the reason she didn't save Catelyn because she was escorting a Lannister. 

Finally it breaks down into a fight between the Hound at Brienne. It's interesting because the Hound has come to really care for Arya, and thinks of her as his daughter. He watches over her. It's a solid character arc, even if we do have to remember that Arya still wants him dead. What follows is a fight that is both brutal and cringe-inducing in its realism. This isn't pretty, it's not graceful, it's just a slugfest with swords.

Nobody wins, in the end. The Hound is mortally wounded, and Brienne is left wondering where Arya has gone. She and Pod go after the girl, who honestly just hid in the rock and comes down to watch the Hound die. He begs her to kill him. She doesn't. She just watches, then takes his money, then goes away. Because Arya is a terrifying murder child. Kudos to Maisie Williams, though. That scene was fantastic.

It's also really interesting to wonder at what precisely Arya is doing as she watches the Hound bleed out. He begs her to kill him, reminds her that he's on her list, even tries to incite her to violence by shouting about the butcher's boy he killed and how he murdered her sister's wolf. But Arya doesn't kill him. We don't know if this is because she loves him, as he is her protector, or if it's becaues she hates him, as he did kidnap her and also murder her friend. The ambiguity seems to be largely what defines Arya's character.

In the King's Landing jail, Jaime comes to spring Tyrion. He might be willing to let his little brother suffer a while but he's not about to let him die. He's got a ship waiting, and he's ready to get Tyrion out of the city. Tyrion, however, has other plans. He's not about to rush away from the city with all of his unfinished business hanging out. Jaime and Tyrion say a heartfelt goodbye, and Tyrion runs.

Not very far, actually though. He runs upstairs into the castle, where he finds Shae lying in Tywin Lannister's bed. To be fair, she is a prostitute, so it's not like this is the most surprising turn of events ever. It's honestly rather hard to blame her too, since we have no idea whether or not this is consensual, and, well, we never did get to see things from Shae's perspective. Anyway, Tyrion attacks her and goes nuts and proceeds to straight up murder the woman he called the love of his life.

I am not okay with this. I am not even a little bit okay with this.

I mean, not only is this an incredibly brutal scene of domestic violence and murder, of specifically sexualized murder as it is a man killing his former lover in a fit of rage, but it's also, well, Tyrion. I like Tyrion, or I want to like him, and I had always thought of him as a character who respected women more than the average Westerosi male. Apparently I was wrong in that, since his immediate reaction on seeing Shae is not, "Hey, remember how you lied on the stand about me? What was up with that? Is that really how you remember it?", it's murder.

And this is a bit problematic in the narrative because Tyrion is our hero. He's a "good guy." So when Tyrion refuses to even consider the possibility that his girlfriend didn't see their relationship the same way he did, it gives us license to discount her testimony. It wasn't like that, because Tyrion says it wasn't like that, and obviously Tyrion is right. Except for the part where that's not obvious or necessarily true at all. Most insulting of all? He says sorry afterwards. 

Tyrion leaves the scene of the crime, goes into the privy, where he finds his father. Then he shoots Tywin with a crossbow. Like a lot. Tywin says that Tyrion isn't his son. He also admits that he's always wanted his son dead. He admires that Tyrion keeps on refusing to die. Which is nice, I guess. But when Tyrion asks why Tywin would sleep with Shae, and Tywin points out that she's a whore, Tyrion freaks the crap out. He doesn't want Tywin to call her that. Somehow he is managing to completely ignore that he also paid her, and that most importantly, he literally just murdered her.

Ignore all this and look at murder child.
Then Tywin calls her a whore again, and Tyrion shoots him, and he's dying. Tywin says that Tyrion isn't his son, and Tyrion affirms that he is. Personally though, I think Tywin was trying to actually get some information across in that moment, that Tyrion really isn't his son. He's a secret Targaryen. 

But that's not the really salient point here. Let's talk about Tyrion murdering his girlfriend for daring to contradict his version of events, and basically for being a whore, then murdering his father for admitting that she was a whore. The problem here is that Tyrion's actions are being framed as good and right. He's doing this not because he's a crazypants murderer, but because these people have wronged him. And that's an issue in and of itself. But it's even more frightening to think that literally moments after he murders her, Tyrion kills his own father to protect Shae's dignity. No one's allowed to call her a whore, even if Tyrion did just murder her for being one.

This is the kind of double-think that is particularly endemic in rape culture. We're supposed to understand why Tyrion killed her, and then applaud him for standing up for her honor afterwards. We're not supposed to question or mind the issues inherent here. But I do. Question and mind.

Okay, back to the story. Varys turns up, is all shocked at what Tyrion did, and then packs him into a box, loads him on a ship, and gets him the crap out of King's Landing. Thanks, Varys. But as he's turning to leave, Varys hears the bells in the sept ringing, and apparently that makes him get back on the boat and sit down right next to Tyrion's box. I guess Varys is leaving too?

Finally, we come across a lone Arya, who rides her horse through the hill country. She spots a shipyward and races up to see the Captain. She asks him to take her North to the Wall. But the ship isn't going North. Its going to Braavos. And at first the Captain brushes her off, but Arya has something for that too. She hands him the piece of iron she got from Jacquen Hagar, tells him "Valar morghulis", and he lets her on the ship. Our baby Arya is off to learn how to murder people more and better.

End of episode. End of season.

Well that was devastating.

7 comments:

  1. We're not supposed to question or mind the issues inherent here. But I do. Question and mind.

    I can't really add anything to what you've said there except for fervent agreement. But I do fervently agree.

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    1. Actually, there is one thing I can add. Even if Shae did see their relationship the way Tyrion did, he clearly told her that she was wrong to do so, and that he did just see her as a whore. As with his guilt and innocence of Joffrey's murder, the show increasingly seems to treat Tyrion's perspective as being an immediately obvious truth, and thus duplicity as the only reason for anyone to profess doubt of him - in this case, treating it as if it should have been obvious to Shae that he was lying there - but why should it have been obvious?

      If she was loyal to Tyrion, he deliberately showed her that it was misplaced. And then killed her for not staying loyal anyway.

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    2. Although, on rereading, I see you pretty much made that point already.

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    3. Tyrion is a cool and interesting character, but he is in large part interesting because of his flaws. Because he's an unreliable narrator. Other than the really problematic elements inherent in privileging Tyrion's POV over everyone else's, the main issue is that it hurts the story. When Tyrion is always right, that means that we as an audience are given less meaty material to digest. It's like they've simplified the show into baby food. Tyrion is good. Tywin is bad. Shae is bad. Daenerys is good. Cersei is bad. Etc.

      I don't like it.

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  2. It's an old tradition in the real world, that when you share a drink or meal with someone, you are then family, or at least not enemies, and therefore refreshments are typically served during negotiations.

    Yeah. One thing I would like to see is the Red Wedding come back to bite Walder Frey. Not just in the revenge sense, but in the sense of there coming a point where he badly needs to negotiate with someone, and they refuse because it's likely just a pretext to murder them. There's a difference between realistic and "evil wins" cynical and that would be a chance to show it.

    Varys hears the bells in the sept ringing, and apparently that makes him get back on the boat and sit down right next to Tyrion's box. I guess Varys is leaving too?

    Perhaps oddly, I found this scene more heartwrenching than any other (Shae's death was enraging, and everything with Arya was empty, but in a good way). But Varys hears the bells. realises what must have happened, realise what it will mean for him if he stays, and abandons everything.

    And, yep, Shae's death pissed me off just as much in the seeing of it than the reading about it. Such a waste.

    Looking forward to see Arya find her way in Bravos, though.

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    1. I kind of want Walder to be killed in a weird, offhand kind of way by someone who knows nothing of what he did, and for everyone to get all creeped out because it was the gods taking their revenge. I love stuff like that.

      Yeah. Varys realizing that he has to go was really hard. I've always loved how he's the only person who actually cares about the country. So it's weird to see him (very literally) adrift now.

      Arya in Braavos is going to be amazing.

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