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Game of Thrones Watch: Sons and Daughters

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Spoilers for last night’s Game of Thrones below:

“I think mothers and fathers made up the gods because they wanted their children to sleep through the night.” —Davos Seaworth

Davos is a lowborn smuggler, but partly because of that, he has something that counts as a luxury in the world of Game of Thrones: the freedom to love his children, and worry about them–and sadly, in his case, mourn them–as his children, not as assets or bargaining pieces. It is Davos, who lost a son, who is able to talk Stannis out of sacrificing his own blood (in the form of Gendry’s blood) in the interests of power and of his royal house. And it makes him one of the few moral lights of “Second Sons,” an episode very much about heredity and power, bad parents and traded-away children.

A bit of trivia about that title. The Second Sons, in this episode, are the mercenary company under contract to Yunkai. The Second Sons are in the original source novels, but Benioff and Weiss have done a little rejiggering here—in the books, Daario (the mercenary who crosses over to Dany) is a member of a different sellsword group, the Stormcrows. (I won’t go into the details of the switch here, and I ask fellow book-readers not to do so in the comments either.) I don’t know if they did it intentionally for thematic reasons, but the name change and title brought together the circumstances of many of the characters in this episode.

What is a second son, after all? He’s not the heir. He’s the spare. He might try to jump himself up, but as Renly Baratheon discovered, that’s frowned upon. He might—and one wonders if this is where the name comes from—go out and make his fortune in a mercenary company.

Or he might, like Tyrion, find himself married off unwillingly to an unwilling bride, while his father dismisses his accomplishments and his douchebag nephew takes away his stool and sniggers. As played by Peter Dinklage, Tyrion has been a delight for his swagger and wordplay. But Dinklage is excellent here in showing his cleverness fail him, as is Sophie Turner as Sansa, the other and even less powerful partner in this royal-breeding arrangement.

Sansa’s growth, from naive girl to wary but not wholly broken prisoner, has been something to watch, all the more so because Turner so often has to communicate Sansa’ feelings through what she doesn’t say. In the grand scheme, as she’s admitted herself, she’s luckier than Margaery not to be marrying Joffrey (though she’s not free of his unwelcome attentions). But Tyrion is hardly her type himself, and letting him know that–“What if I never want you to?”–is the one measure of independence she’s still allowed.

In any case, she’s hardly the only pawn being shuffled around on Tywin Lannister’s unsentimental genetic chessboard. As Olenna comically tries to explain to her grandchildren, there are some complex relationships being drawn here–“your brother will become your father-in-law, that much is beyond dispute”–but of course, you can look at a European royal family tree to see how common that sort of thing is.

What’s distinctive about Tywin is the brutal way he goes about his arrangements, and the way Game of Thrones suggests his viciousness—and the Lannisters’ historically, if you believe “The Rains of Castamere”—has poisoned his family. Tywin treats his children as commodities (and others’ children as even less). And while that may ever be the way of feudal monarchies, you can’t help but feel that there’s a direct line between Tywin’s cruel patriarchy and the sadism of Joffrey; much as Tywin disdains the boy, in his way he helped to make him. His children, and their children, have an ugly idea of human interrelations, having never been treated as more than gene-pool fodder themselves. Weirdly, Jaime and Cersei’s relationship–incestuous and murderous though it is—is arguably the healthiest, least corrupted, and most loving in the family.

It’s a cruel world for second sons–and third sons, and daughters–but that doesn’t have to mean they become cruel. I’ll admit, I rolled my eyes when Sam and Gilly suddenly wandered on screen at the end of the episode–I realized this had to be leading somewhere, but their scenes the entire season have felt randomly dropped into episodes.

But here, suddenly, their pairing made sense, and so did their placement in the episode. They’re near-strangers; he’s a soft-handed noble from the far south and she’s a toughened commoner from the north. But they’ve both the children of horrible fathers—Gilly’s “a different manner of cruel,” as Craster raped his daughters and gave their infant sons to the Walkers, literally giving away the future for his safety and satiety in the present. Sam, too, is the child of a murderous Dad, who was ready to have his fat, disappointing son killed if he did not renounce his inheritance and join the Night’s Watch. This comes back to him when Gilly remarks that Randyll–his father’s name–has a nice ring: “Please don’t name him Randyll.”

The final scene–besides being visually awesome, starting with the gradually growing swarm of crows–was also a fine thematic capper. Sam is a smart guy, but he’s not been especially competent (“You had one job!”) or courageous. And yet, confronted by the Walker, something more horrible than any living knight has faced, he does what neither his nor Gilly’s fathers ever did: stands up to defend an innocent child.

When he sinks his dragonglass blade into the Walker’s back and it crumbles to a fine snowy powder, we get the sense that we have seen an important moment in Game of Thrones’ larger, mythological story—we know how these things can be killed. But its also an emotional moment, which persuades you that Sam has killed more than an external monster. Happy early Father’s Day, Samwell Tarly.

Now for the hail of bullets:

* We haven’t seen much “sexposition” this season—defined as sex to give visual interest to a talky information download–but I’m not sure the Melisandre-Gendry seduction scene was strictly necessary. We know that sexuality is part of her spiritual practice, but as it turns out, she’s not seducing him, as with Stannis, to birth some sort of spirit baby. Nor is this a way of making sure, as she’d said to Stannis, that Gendry’s not frightened at the moment of sacrifice: the leeches do an effective job of that, no less than if she’d simply had guards seize him. So in the end it felt like a sex scene because it was time for a sex scene. If you have a better explanation for it, I’m glad to hear it, though.

* Speaking of Mel: I really like what this season is doing with the religion of the Lord of Light and how–comparably, maybe, to monotheism entering ancient civilizations–represents a battle of cultures in polytheistic Westeros. And it’s especially charged because while the Seven, as far as we can see, are just spent objects of ritual, the Lord of Light, as Mel puts it, gets crap done. Imagine, say, the culture of Europe if it encountered another religion whose god appeared to achieve honest-to-Him miracles. It’s at least worth asking: is the Lord of Light the real deal?

* “In Flea Bottom, we called them bowls of brown. Pretended the meat in them was chicken. We knew it wasn’t chicken.” Ironic line from a guy who’s about to be on the leeches’ menu.

* “A man who fights for gold can’t afford to lose to a girl.”

Just two more episodes until the end of the season. I welcome your comments, but remember: no book spoilers! Thanks for playing nicely.

30 comments
benlbates
benlbates

Can anyone tell me what happened to the other Baratheon child? I'm talking about the one that Cersei was going kill on the iron throne if they lost the battle of blackwater bay. Sorry for any misspellings.

baramos
baramos like.author.displayName 1 Like

@benlbatesThe character (Tommen) doesn't do anything this season, so they didn't bother casting him. In fact he'll probably be recast for Season 4. Same with Myrcella (his sister).

WechooseNoFate
WechooseNoFate

Ok. Melisandre scene: earlier she talked about lambs and how fear can poison the blood, what does desire do? I would say amplify and strengthen. So yes obviously a chance for nudity but I believe her way of using sex - or more accurately the peak of living - to produce blood at its most potent.

Next - Tywin. You can sense disappointment at every turn. But less so with Joeff than Tyrion. This episode made me think of how different the faces we see are from the souls within. Tyron's pain and heartache have never been clearer than in this episode. Do you see how the ugly and misformed are purer than most? Stannis' daughter, Tyrion are both considered monsters and yet they are noble even surrounded by evil. Jaime had been transformed as well - as we saw previously. But it was heartbreaking - the scenes between Tyrion and Sansa. Seeing so much said without a word.

Once again awesome review.

jponiewozik
jponiewozik moderator

@WechooseNoFate See, about the Melisandre scene--I heard her explanation about why you don't frighten a lamb when slaughtering it, but by the time she ties Gendry up and bleeds him, he's terrified. So, defeats that purpose. But I could see your theory that in her practice of magic there is some tie between sex/sexuality and the potency of the magic--hence conceiving the shadow baby.

WechooseNoFate
WechooseNoFate

You're right - I thought about that, but I feel like the initial response is what is important. For example the lambs initial response to the blade is fear and it "sinks in" and ruins everything. So that even if that blade was then put away, the meat is forever spoiled. I think the same thing holds true with the opposite. The initial response of desire is so potent that the fledgling fear that follows is not enough to ruin the core. I think they screwed up the scene though. What's at odds here is his reaction to the leeches. Aside from the third placement, are leeches as terrifying as a blade? Is the fear he feels Really that intense? One last thought has to do with the strength and virility of the Robert side of the Baratheon house. Melisandre is maximizing the potency of the blood by focusing on what made Robert so famous - his ability to father children? Do you think that has a role to play in this?

voronwae
voronwae

Plot holes not present in the book: 

- Joffrey forgets his promise to rape Sansa after his uncle has passed out.

- If Melisandre could sentence other kings to death with a little bit of king's blood, why didn't she just use blood from Stannis?

  And why are we supposed to think that leeches are so painful, anyway?  They aren't in real life.

hotandbothered
hotandbothered

@voronwae Stannis is not the true king. Gendry is even though he's illegitimate. Robert Baratheon was the king. His surviving children - which looks like only Gendry is still breathing - would take precedent before Stannis or Renly or anyone else.

Lucelucy
Lucelucy

@hotandbothered @voronwae And speaking of true kings, why are the Baratheons considered "true kings" in the first place when they overthrew the Targaryens? Enquiring minds want to know.

vrcplou
vrcplou

@voronwae Joffrey didn't exactly promise, I thought he said he "might" pay her a visit.  Really far crueler - now that she knows what's on his mind she can wait and worry every single day.  I'm sure she might have though marriage to Tyrion would at least provide some safety from Joffrey, but no.

Melisandre - I kept thinking she meant to breed with Gendry so I'm a bit confused by the leeches and I'm also confused why Stannis would want Theon dead?  Or am I mistaken?  I always watch each episode 2 or 3 times so I have everything straight but I'm posting this after only watching last night so forgive me if I have my details wrong!

voronwae
voronwae

@vrcplou @voronwae Now I get it.  They substituted Gendry for Edric, who got shipped off to the Free Cities in the books.  That enabled them to do a superfluous and useless sex scene, except that I'm so accustomed to nudity and people mating at this point that I just yawn.

As has been pointed out before, the books are so rich and so detailed that you'd think they wouldn't waste our time with superfluous sex scenes; there's too much to get done!

Martin obviously parked Gendry with the Brotherhood so that he could pull Gendry out when he was needed.  Now that Gendry's stuck in the bizarre grip of Melisandre, I can think of all kinds of complications that would cause.  Uh, are they now just going to put him back where they got him?  No harm done!  We just needed him for the leech scene!

I now remember wondering about the Edric leech scene in the book.  Why even bother hatching the shadow assassins?  Maybe leeches are in short supply.  "Ugh.  I swear it's easier to give birth than to find a few leeches these days!"

tempest729
tempest729

@vrcplou @voronwae stannis said 'Balon Grayjoy' not Theon, and he wants Balon dead simply for declaring himself King of the Iron Islands, an act of open rebellion against the Iron Throne.  


As far as using Gendry's blood instead of leeching Stannis, Melisandre mentioned before seeking out Gendry that Stannis's 'fire was burning low', so presumably Gendry's blood has more power in it than the blood of someone whose power was used to spawn a shadow. 

vrcplou
vrcplou

Ah, yes, that makes sense! I count on multiple viewings and the commentary here to keep me straight!

tempest729
tempest729

@uij676 @tempest729 @vrcplou @voronwae While Robb isn't interested in claiming the Seven Kingdoms, he has claimed the North, which Stannis believes is his by right.  Just like Balon Grayjoy, Robb is in open rebellion against the Iron Throne.  Stannis mentioned this during the parlay with Renly and Catelyn-  he considers Robb a traitor is not willing to give up the North just because they have a common enemy in the Lannisters. 

Manueluruguay
Manueluruguay

Hola, me encontré por casualidad con esta columna hace unas semanas y me ha parecido inteligente la elaboración propuesta por Poniewozik en su análisis de Gane of Thrones. HBO ha realizado una puesta en escena muy buena teniendo en cuenta las dificultades de recrear no sólo los siete reinos y sus personajes, sino las brillantes escenas de batallas escritas por Martin. Me gusta mirarlas, jugar con su vinculación con la obra escrita pero mirar sin duda la serie como un espectáculo en si mismo. Todos los personajes tienen virtudes y defectos lo que los hacen esencialmente humanos. Tyrion esta excelentemente actuado. A la escena de Melisandre y Gendry creo que le faltó más "naturalidad" y se incorporó porque era necesaria una escena de sexo. Podría haberse explotado mejor.

vicbell99
vicbell99

I think Melisandre had to get Gendry excited(for lack of a better term), to bring blood to his penis before she put the leach there.  That would explain why there was a sex scene.  There is power in the Kings blood you know.

anon76
anon76

@vicbell99 

Did the third leech really need to go there?  Was the blood from his chest somehow less powerful?  I think it was pretty much sex for sex's sake, though two (weak) ways to defend it are either that it was misdirection for us to think she was going to produce another shadow baby, or else misdirection to make us think she was distracting him before killing him.  Either way, the justification is external to the story.

Aces86
Aces86 like.author.displayName 1 Like

It might be symbolic for "fertility" kinda like how the Mayans would make a small cut in the scrotum of kings/ or priests and they'd drop the blood in soil where they'd plan to plant crops. Supposedly it was done to "please the gods and make the land fertile and full of crops". Meh idk - I don't want the season to end... Woe is me :'(

NiciKobrowski
NiciKobrowski like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 3 Like

Was anyone else a bit disappointed when Sam didn't take the dragonglass dagger with him after he killed the Walker? Everyone in my house was astounded he didn't take it.

Joey_Hancock
Joey_Hancock

In the book the fight is completely different and the dagger shatters.

anon76
anon76

@Joey_Hancock  You're referring to TWO different episodes in the book, one of which ends with Sam taking the dagger with him.

TIMEreader0001
TIMEreader0001

Disagree with almost all of your discussion about the Lannisters.  Tywin and Joffrey have N.E.V.E.R. met before this season/book.  To suggest that the former had anything at all to do with the latter's development is simply wrong-headed.  Giving birth to a cruel madman is the risk one runs when having a child born of brother-sister incest, and both the show and the books make clear that Cersei was in over her head raising Joffrey alone for so many years (Robert never gave a damn and Jaime was always distant).  I think the books do an infinitely better job with Tywin; the show makes him a lot more shallow and one-dimensional, rather than the complex individual that most humans are.  He loves his children--including Tyrion--and his late wife was his everything.  Oh, and he saved their family from the follies of his weak father.  HBO needed a bad guy, so it stripped Tywin of almost everything that made him interesting.

baramos
baramos

Also I think the show did a much better job of "humanizing" Tywin than the books, which I read long before the show came out. In the books we see him briefly at the end of A Game of Thrones, and then his first scene in Storm of Swords is the one where Tyrion asks for his rights to Casterly Rock. He basically comes off as a despicable villain, completely unlikable.


The show on the other hand had him interacting with Arya (basically having him fill in for Roose Bolton) and through their conversations I think did a much better job of making him a three-dimensional character.

baramos
baramos

@TIMEreader0001 I think the author was saying that because Tywin treated his children so badly, Cersei in turn did not raise Joffrey properly (she spoiled him and gave him incredibly bad life lessons about the value of life and other people). As such Joffrey's spoiled behavior can be blamed partially on Tywin.

DermotMoloney
DermotMoloney

@TIMEreader0001 

?

 Tywin is much more developed in the show than he ever was in the books, this is helped by Dances strong performance along with having tywin in those scenes with arya which helped convey certain additional aspects to his character.

AndrewBosiack
AndrewBosiack

There is nothing in the books that suggests that Tywin loves Tyrion whatsover.  Quite the opposite in fact.

dan_trudeau
dan_trudeau

@TIMEreader0001While Tywin is more one-dimensional on the show, I don't think he's much more sympathetic than in the novels.  In terms of Tywin making Joffrey who he is, he raised the boy's mother to be a cold, ambitious woman.  This set the standard to which Joffrey was raised.  I think this had at least as much of an effect on him as the inbreeding.  

And did Tywin really save his family from the follies of his weak father?  Have his children turned out more successful than him?  If anything, I think Tywin can be looked at as a lesson in how you can't be successful if you set up your life as a giant knee-jerk reaction to the way you were raised.  He may appear calm and controlled but given his feelings about his father, you can look at the way he's conducted his life as a long, drawn-out tantrum against his own father.