Season 5, Episode 9:
There are so many themes and so many topics that GoT forces you to discuss that it is an impossibly daunting task. Still, attempt we must. But anything and everything must come after The Death. Shireen.You can come to terms with Eddard’s death. Refer to it mockingly after a few years by saying Ned getting his head chopped off was shocking. Red Wedding was exhilarating, King Evil-Fucktard’s death jubilant and so on. But this one, was painful in a way none of the others were. It is just as pivotal as Ned’s was because it defines what the show and the world within it really is. Brutal and Cruel respectively. It happens off-screen which in itself is excruciating enough as is. It may not have hit us as viscerally as Ned’s or the Viper’s, but it packed a good wallop tonally. It was a deeply saddening moment to say goodbye to a child who was wise beyond her years and yet naive. In a show where every minute is important, spending more than five on her conversations with her real and surrogate fathers gave her death the depth it demanded. The parable of the Dance of Dragons is where our story begins.
As wise as she is, Shireen is still naive. Of course this comes as an afterthought for those of us watching. Even in our lives we have this refuge in the innocence of idiocy of not examining the repercussions of our current actions, in the future and, geometrically in the landscape of the lives of those around us. When the two Targaryen brothers fight, not choosing a side is the most logical option, in hindsight. When caught in the ravages of war, we must choose. Not choosing is not a choice that is usually available. If we don’t choose, someone else will surely choose for us. And once we choose, there are corresponding consequences. Tyrion says later in the episode, “It is easy to confuse what is with what ought to be, especially when what is has so often worked out in your favour.” Shireen’s idealistic view of the things is right. Had the rest of the people chosen not to participate in the fight between the two brothers in the parable, one would have in some form or another emerged victorious and that would have been that. There would have been no further bloodshed. But she is naive. She attempts to teach this to everyone. Peacefully. Through debate. And by being eloquent. But the eloquent are wrong just as often as the imbeciles, as Tyrion teaches us (Every great line is given to Tyrion. Save one which belong to Ygritte. The fan in me loves that. Keep it up ! 😀 ). This is an idealistic worldview which clashes with reality. We divorce what is within us, with what’s on the without, the outside world. By believing in one and rejecting the other, we attempt to reimagine the world as something it is not. This world does not behave that way. Obviously her endeavour is thus doomed to fail. Credit the Onion Knight for he is the real deal. Davos is the genius although he is not literate (education sucks. Down with the schooling system!) and he effectively manages to separate intelligence in Shireen’s teachings from the naivette when he counsels.
On the other end of the spectrum we have Stannis who does the same thing, recreate the world in his own image. Except that he is willing to slaughter everyone to achieve this. Man-made progress is always faster than Natural progress. By doing what he feels he must do, unmediated passion for ‘natural’(in his mind) progress has exacerbated his desire to bring the world to a state of ‘natural’ equilibrium. Through his actions namely to rule the world, be just etc, he tries to reduce the frequency and impact of Natural progress. History is witness to the lack of deference he has towards the consequences that those actions will inevitably have. For now, the voice of cold, hard reason tells Stannis that his *past sacrifices have worked in his favour and by induction, this one will too. His familial love however makes him pause. Davos is capable of persuading him to not commit the horrendous act of filicide (I swear, I’ve learnt so many ‘-cide’ words since ASOIAF !!!). They both know this. So he sends him away to the Wall before that can happen. And in doing so, he loses the capacity for positive virtue. He becomes simply a machine. There is this poem titled Miller of Dee that kinda captures this so aptly (can’t believe this poem I memorized as a child would be used some day !!!!! YAY. 😀 ), a verse from it goes…
“I live by my mill, God bless her! she’s kindred, child, and wife;
I would not change my station for any other in life;
No lawyer, surgeon, or doctor e’er had a groat from me;
I care for nobody, no not I, and nobody cares for me.”
This was the final step in his evolution. Stannis can’t go beyond this. He has cut away the humanity in him and married the rest with nature. There is no man versus nature with him. But few in history will judge him harshly as those in the present. Most will herald his actions. They might write songs and tales about the ‘noble’ sacrifice he made in the name of greater good.
Greater good. A topic that even Harry Potter in it’s finest hour philosophized. There is an intricate relation between politics and morality. There have been revolutions in the past in GoT. All of them were more violent, radical, crazy than this one. But none match the social agitation that underlay this one. What is this one perpetuated by? I think one of the reasons is faith and I shall once again defer that discussion for next week when Cersei’s downfall is complete. The other reason is morality and that I can speak about right now. The possibility of fabricating a social, political and cultural self-identity with none to very little recourse to moral codes speaks to an antiquated stylization of attitudes as evinced by Stannis. There is no longer any aesthetic to one’s existence (which is perhaps just a fancy way of saying that Stannis can now die for all I care 😛 ) after such a cruel recourse. Greater good when studied with a moral codification of knowledge, is open to interpretation. This subject of hermeneutics opposes or repudiates the grounding of oneself in a single objective (in this case, that of becoming the ruler) and allows one to recognize the place of the one in the context of many. I guess what I mean is, Stannis is so focused on becoming the ruler because he thinks he will be a good ruler and that Westeros as a whole will benefit from that, that he forgets what he is losing and what any other person is losing. In Spock’s immortal words, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one.” The weighing of the needs comes from our sense of morality which is non-existent when it comes to pure reason. The greatest ruler is the progeny of rationality and morality. One without the other leads to foeticide AND matricide AND patricide. (see what I mean about the ‘-cide’ words? Plus, carrying the metaphor LikeABoss !) On a final note on this subject, kudos to Stephen Dillane, the actress playing Lady Selyse whose name I don’t remember and Liam Cunningham. Davos’ final moments with Shireen were heart-wrenching and the final scene before the sacrifice was just as brilliant.
I’ll pivot straight to the other main story, the Great Games in Meereen. I am running out of time and so this will be shorter. The world isn’t black and white as much as we would like to convince ourselves. In fact, it is infinite shades of grey (not finite, say for example 50. And please note the spelling of the last word). There is no single winning situation. Dany has seemingly restored peace to Meereen by marrying Hizdahr do Loraq, but to maintain that she reopens the fighting pits and with each clap, sends men to their deaths. Again there is thematic alignment with the greater good idea that was earlier set up. She is fighting an internal battle and she must face the consequences of her actions. Of course, this soon turns into a fully fledged battle when the Sons of Harpy emerge from the crowds. Any and all illusion of peace is shattered as there is an open riot. Hizdahr talks about how greatness can’t be achieved without cruelty and poetically falls at the hands of the masters too rooted to their pasts to accept the future. Dany survives because of the mercy she showed Jorah following Tyrion’s advice about devotion. Compare that with Stannis who wants his loyal soldiers who did not detect Roose and his men from setting the camp alight, beheaded. He who kills those devoted to him, does not inspire devotion ! Had Tyrion and not Melisandre joined Stannis, he would be winning, except with his humanity intact. But the circumstances crafted by GRRM were so perfect, that Tyrion joining Stannis was simply not possible and joining the Dany, the only logical choice. Did I mention I love Tyrion?
Lastly, the love quadrangle between Hizdahr, Daario, Jorah and Dany, punctuated by quips from Tyrion, was a treat to watch. It would have taken something very special to turn the frown after Shireen upside down. But the dragon ex machina (see what I did there? 😀 ) that they pulled did just that. Dragon rider ! I mean, Dragon rider ! To their credit though, Drogon arriving to save the day did not entirely feel like a cop out to me. It felt almost natural. It felt as if that is what would have happened anyway. Except perhaps the timing of, just when they were surrounded and about to die, was taking dramatic liberties, but we can of course grant them that. Meereen was never fully under Dany’s control. And her abandoning it to the onlooking four advisors is a magnificent conclusion to her story arc for this season.