Has there ever been a more heart wrenching and then hilarious cut to black on a show? I don’t even think The Sopranos has managed something as darkly funny with its credits. We go from seeing poor Jaime’s hand severed to a phenomenal rendition of George R. R. Martin’s “The Bear and the Maiden Fair,” a song I enjoyed even when I read A Storm of Swords. I flinched at the hand and then had a huge smile as the song came on. Having a huge goofy smile is not something that one associates with Game of Thrones but nevertheless I had one. I love sudden changes in tone in fiction, it’s a daring move, and this one worked perfectly.
However, let’s get to the meat of the episode (although I must mention I’m totally downloading “The Bear and the Maiden Fair” once it hits iTunes). Game of Thrones has always been a show (and a book series) interested in how the events of the past affect the events of the present and how so many ignore it. Robert’s Rebellion is one of the key pieces of history that informs virtually all of the show’s plotlines. Because of Robert’s Rebellion Dany was thrown out of Westeros, Robert took the throne, Tywin Lannister gained more power, Cersei became queen, Jaime became famous, and Ned married Catelyn. We get only one reference to Robert’s Rebellion tonight, courtesy of a nice conversation between Ser Barristan and Ser Rodrick, but its legacy hangs over not just the episode but the entire show.
Let’s circle back to the last scene. Just before Jaime bids farewell to his sword hand Locke teases him that he’s nothing without his father. It’s his father’s legacy that truly defines Jaime, Locke argues, and Jaime has been coasting on his father’s reputation. There’s some truth to the accusation and Jamie knows it. Yes, Jamie is an incredible swordsman (well, he was), but he’d be nowhere without Tywin Lannister. He only turned on King Aerys because Tywin decided to bring House Lannister to Robert’s side once his victory became clear.
In writing the books, Martin draws from a lot of history and it’d be foolhardy to think that recent events haven’t influenced him as well. He lives in America which is a young country that is nevertheless extremely impressed, some might even say obsessed, with its past. We’re also a country that doesn’t seem to much learn from its past (the Great Depression, Vietnam etc.) despite our infatuation with it. The same can be said for most in Westeros. Littlefinger has been borrowing money from the bankers of Braavos, a group that Tyrion says will turn on those who don’t pay them back. “They always get their gold,” he warns. I’m inclined to believe Tyrion since he’s probably the most practical of those in King’s Landing. After all, the man reads and is aware of what’s gone on before him, something so many of the other characters try to ignore, usually to their peril. Tyrion has been able to come out on top by playing the game correctly and that involves learning from others’ past mistakes. Last season he told Varys that he didn’t want to repeat the mistakes Jon Arryn and Ned Stark made; smart move and one that has kept him alive.
Little Arya is bound to a past she didn’t experience. She’s stuck with the Brotherhood Without Banners now that they know she’s Ned Stark’s daughter. What they intend to do with this knowledge is still up in the air and that makes Arya, and the viewer, nervous, too. She also gets to experience firsthand the denial of the past when she confronts the Hound, asking if he remembers when he was last at the Inn, when he killed her friend, the butcher’s boy. He says he doesn’t. That’s a mistake as Arya remembers and we know she wants to enact her vengeance upon him. A battle between Arya and the Hound? Anyone’s game, if you ask me.
Of course, the absolute biggest mistake is not acknowledging that the White Walkers were once a monstrous threat and could be again. The folks in King’s Landing don’t know their history like the Wildlings do and the Wildlings seem to be the only group truly on top of their game. They fear the White Walkers and rightfully so. They know the tales that have been told about them and take them seriously. Winter is coming and they’re ready to take action.
History could be such an ally to the players of the Game, but learning from it requires sacrificing and that’s something few are willing to do. We can only hope that the actions of those who acknowledge it will be enough to stop the threats that loom.
But I’m not counting on it. I’ve seen those in the real world deny it on a daily basis and the characters in a Game of Thrones are certainly no wiser. Let’s be honest: they’re fucked.
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.