5.2 The House Of Black And White
Game Of Thrones is one of the funniest shows on television. It’s strange to say that about a show that revels in violence, that has no problems cutting down its lead characters, its moral centers, its charming rogues, and its love-to-hate villains, but it’s true. When Game Of Thrones wants to be funny, it can be very, very funny, and tonight’s episode was full of brilliantly funny moments. Of course, it’s easy to be funny when you put all of your wittiest characters together in the same scenes.
When you think of opposites in Westeros, who do you think of? To me, there are no two characters who are more different than Littlefinger and Brienne of Tarth (except perhaps Pod and Brienne, but that’s another story). Littlefinger is the most duplicitous person in Westeros; even by politician standards, he’s a slimy little weasel who is perfectly suited for that smarmy little goatee and mustache and he’s never met an opportunity he wouldn’t milk dry. Meanwhile, Brienne is completely artless; were it not for her Lannister sword and armor, she’d be as plain as her haircut. As if that study of opposites wasn’t enough, the episode also features the triumphant return of Bronn, his new intended Lollys Stokeworth (a great, hilarious performance from Elizabeth Cadwallader), and none other than the Kingslayer, Jaime Lannister, who needs Bronn at his back for a sensitive mission to steal his daughter Myrcella Baratheon back from the Dornishmen.
It’s a bit of clever structuring and gives us some much-needed moments of levity in between unpleasant reminders of the difficulty of leadership. The fun moments are necessary for this episode, like the brief but brilliant Endor-type chase scene between Littlefinger’s men and Brienne and Pod after the confrontation in the inn with a resistant Sansa and a scheming Littlefinger. Really, he might be the best ward for her, despite also being the creepiest of all possible uncles (and when he called himself Sansa’s uncle, my skin crawled).
Fun is necessary because the episode is full of downer moments otherwise. Tyrion and Varys discuss the fact that there are rules everywhere, and most of them seem to be bad. For every good ruler or ruler that tries to be good, there’s a Mad King ready to put them to shame. Dany is struggling to do the right thing, to rule by law rather than justice or whimsy, and she finds out the hard way that doing the right thing doesn’t always mean being popular. The former slaves hissing at her after she executes one of their own is funny at first, only to have it turn ugly quickly thanks to a riot. In her own way, Cersei Lannister is proving to be just as inept at managing a crowd, except her crowd doesn’t comprise powerless peons but the most powerful men in Westeros (and her own uncle Kevan Lannister, who is more insulting and dismissive towards Cersei than Tyrion could ever hope to be).
The structure of the script works really well. Writers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss do a very good job of splitting things up and balancing them out pretty evenly between Westeros’ rulers. We get a bit more of Dany’s story, since she’s the one learning first hand how ruling can be terrible, but she needs to learn the lesson that what is right isn’t always popular, a lesson that Doran Martel (Alexander Siddiq AKA Dr. Bashir from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) knows quite well. Perhaps it is a lesson that Jon Snow, new Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, will learn in time.
Snow’s election scene was masterfully done by director Michael Slovis. Everyone knows that Sam is going to speak up for Jon Snow, otherwise, we wouldn’t get those reaction shots of him, but it’s teased out wonderfully, with Samwell speaking up at exactly the last minute before Maester Aemon starts the voting process. The speech itself is a fun character moment for John Bradley’s Sam—who is finally learning that his wit and his humour is a great weapon in his role as future archivist—and Kit Harington’s Jon Snow—whose mopey expression works great as he celebrates his election to Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch by looking like he wants to crawl into a tankard of ale and die, all slumped shoulders and hanging head. He looks like a guy that knows from experience what happens to leaders in this world, having heard about the deaths of his father, brother, and multiple friends and mentors in his short time at the Wall.
It doesn’t really matter how well you’re trained for leadership, to someone you’ll always be Joffrey, and in a world like Westeros, political enemies are more dangerous than White Walkers. Maybe Sansa and Arya have it right; Sansa’s learning to play the game from a ruthless expert, and Arya’s not playing the game at all, instead of learning to be a Braavosi assassin rather than a lady in a damp stone castle somewhere. On-the-job training tends to get rulers poisoned in this world, and a black-and-white worldview is no match for the Faceless Men from the House of Black and White.
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