A common point of contention as this third season has started is whether or not the structure of the episodes is too chaotic. We go from one character’s story to another’s within minutes and sometimes, such as with Sam and Tyrion in tonight’s episode, we will only see a character for one scene. A few critics have said that the show should adopt the more focused narrative that season two’s penultimate episode, “Blackwater,” had since it gave us such a powerful story.
Yet I can’t help but feel that narrowing the story would be a mistake. I’m not against the episodes’ having more focus, that’s needed for many episodes to work, and I’m not against there being a focused episode like “Blackwater” occasionally. However, I am against the episodes giving us only a few characters per hour as it not only obfuscates the timeline of the show but it also takes away from one of the show’s primary themes: shifting allegiances.
Our characters are constantly forced to make alliances and pacts with people who they previously fought against or are morally repulsed by. Wildling leader Mance Rayder says as much when he explains that he had to align the various Wilding factions by explaining that if they didn’t move south together then they would all die (from the White Walkers, presumably, although also likely from the oncoming winter). While the Wildlings had previously fought amongst each other they’ve willingly put aside their differences even though they still harbor animosity. Jon Snow may have to do much the same. Even if he’s a spy among the Wildlings, and I don’t think he’s sure if he is or isn’t, he will still have to admit that if it came down to the White Walkers versus the Wildlings, well, there’s no real choice at all to be made. The Wildlings have killed rangers but the White Walkers are the living fucking dead. I know which side I’d rather be with and I have a feeling that Jon Snow does, too.
We’ve seen in the past that Brienne of Tarth has been forced into a similar situation as Jon Snow. Brienne has had to do battle against northerners in order to carry out her mission for Catelyn who herself is a northerner and whose son is their kind. By this hour’s end it appears Brienne will once again be shedding the blood of northmen.
Consider Robb. He’s the closest we have to an actual hero on this show but the people he’s aligning himself with are questionable. As Jaime points out, the Boltons, who are a key part of the Stark army, have a flayed man as their sigil. Let’s read that again: a flayed man. As in, a man with his skin ripped off is the House’s sigil. This House, lead by Roose Bolton, cannot possibly be the type of House that Robb Stark would’ve wished to align with yet he’s made his choice to battle until he reaches the Iron Throne. In his mind it’s no doubt all for the “greater good” but how much “good” will there be when you’re fighting beside men who fly a flag like that? It’s not a relationship Robb of a few years ago would’ve made and certainly not one his father would be fond of.
And then there’s Theon. A man born to the Greyjoys, who became a Stark, returned to being a Greyjoy, and is now being tortured in who the hell knows where. Theon has switched sides too many times and is so untrustworthy that the only person he can hope will save him is the sister that he despises.
Theon’s situation leads to another intriuging aspect of shifting allegiances. The characters are not just implicated as people who will switch loyalties to if need be, but the audience is implicit as well. Like I mentioned last week, most viewers are attached to characters who are doing battle with one another. This week, I think we can take it a step further. Theon Greyjoy was seen as absolute filth last year because of his actions during his occupation of Winterfell but now we pick up with him being viciously tortured by what appears to be an unhinged interrogator. Are we now feeling for Theon? Are we supposed to take his side? I now that I couldn’t help but hope he’d somehow manage to escape. As furious as I was with him last year, I squirmed as I watched him in pain.
How about Jaime Lannister? Jaime pushed Bran out a window in the first episode yet we can’t deny that he’s a charming person. He’s quick with a blade and quick with an insult. He’s a fan favorite without a doubt and his relationship with Brienne is fascinating as we wonder just how far it’ll go. How quickly we’re willing to forget his past actions.
The shifting viewpoints in the episodes are so important because they allow us to constantly question our points of view. Characters are clearly villains from one perspective while from another they are tragic heroes. Is the audience too willing to be won over or is it that the audience realizes no situation is clear cut and it’s impossible to permanently label?
Donald McCarthy is a teacher and writer. His fiction has appeared with KZine, Cover of Darkness, and The Washington Pastime. His non-fiction has been featured in The Progressive Populist, Screen Spy, and AOL Patch News. And here, too, but that was probably obvious. His twitter is @donaldtmccarthy and his website is donaldmccarthy.com.