There are no spoilers for any events beyond this episode.
I have read all five of George R. R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” novels. I’ve read the first four twice. I come to the show with a unique perspective because unlike a lot of fans I’m fine with the story going in a different direction because I’ve watched a fair bit of TV, to say the least and to dramatically insult my social life, and know it can’t possibly be what the books are. If anything, I’ve been surprised at how damn accurate the show has been.
That’s no commentary on my love for the books, however. “A Storm of Swords,” which this season is based on, is one of my absolute favorite novels. It’s perfect in almost every respect. So while I do understand the show will be different, I can’t deny that I have sky high expectations. But that’s for later. For now, we are being reintroduced to this fascinating world and I’m fine with that as we’ve been away for far too long. I’m ready to see all our favorites again and as the HBO slogan came up I couldn’t help but sit on the edge of my seat. I knew we’d be in for a treat.
And then I saw a black screen. It’s an odd choice. The season two finale left us with the promise of a battle between the White Walkers yet the show doesn’t put this onscreen. Instead we get darkness with the sounds of White Walkers screaming in rage and the clanging of steel on steel. I’m sure some saw it as a cheat but I didn’t mind. For one, it preserves the mystery of the White Walkers and for another a battle that didn’t result in any major character deaths or development isn’t one that I want the show to spend money on. After all, Sam is away from the battle, Jon Snow is joining the Wildlings, and Mormont survives the battle albeit with a cut or two. If we did see the battle then I’d imagine we’d see a lot less in the way of dragons this year. We don’t want that, I’d wager.
So I didn’t mind. Did you? If you did then I understand. I can see it feeling like one of the stalling tactics that LOST pulled early on in its run. As a matter of fact, this entire episode doesn’t really advance the plot in general. Is that a problem? It depends. If you’re invested in the characters and the show’s themes then it’s not a problem at all. The devastating scene between Tyrion and Tywin in which Tywin denies Tyrion not just Casterly Rock but also any sense of respect was probably more than enough for you. I adore Tyrion and felt like I was gut punched yet at the same time can I really claim that Tywin was wrong? Tyrion does like to joke around; he does like to play games with people. He’s not interested in honor and he is more than fine with bedding prostitutes, at least before he met Shae. If the legacy of the Lannisters is what Tywin cares the most about then appointing Tyrion as leader of their House is not the greatest idea. Tyrion would likely do what is right, at least usually, but he wouldn’t do what’s best for the advancement of the Lannisters.
This complication of character is what makes the show work so well. Take the Starks, for instance. Most viewers, I’d imagine, want the Stark to best the Lannisters. But do we really want Tyrion to be bested by them? Do we want Varys executed? Do we want Bronn face down in the dirt? I don’t think so. Sure, we want to see the end of Cersei and Joffrey but it comes at a high price, one that both the characters and the viewers have to decide if they want to pay.
This is a violent show, one of the most violent I’ve seen, but the complications of character and plot is what makes me see it as a decidedly pacifistic show. I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen a television show so damning of war. The Starks want to beat the Lannisters. We understand why. We want them to. Yet at the same time we’re not sure if it’s worth the price. So far we’ve seen a lot of bloodshed with almost no results to show for it except the deaths of characters we like. Are we ready for more of our loved characters to kill other loved characters?
Take Daenarys. Daenarys has been a breakout character for the show but if she gets what she wants then Tyrion, Robb, Catelyn, Davos, and Jaimie will likely all be dead or locked in a dungeon somewhere. Suddenly a victory for Daenarys does not sound so appealing. The only victory we can really hope for is that the Night’s Watch prevails against the White Walkers and the wildlings. Of course, now that Jon Snow is among the wildlings we may soon come to like them. Mance Rayder certainly hits as an intriguing character right off the bat. I wouldn’t want his head on a spike by the end of the next episode because I can’t help but feel that he has an interesting story to tell. I don’t want Mormont dead either, though. Can the same two characters coexist? Can Tyrion and Robb? Can Daenarys and Catelyn? Right now, so long as war rages, the answer seems to be a resounding no. So long as there is war we will lose friends on all sides.
The red priestess Melisandre said that the night is dark and full of terror. So far even the most honorable of our characters appears willing to end this dark night. Perhaps this season, they’ll finally wake up and realize the real threat is the one they’ve been ignorant of because they’re busy fighting among themselves. One plot point this episode does make clear is that the White Walkers are coming and no one south of the Wall realizes the hell that is coming their way.
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.