Game of Thrones Season 6, Episode 8 Deconstructed

by Geoffrey Golia

ATM’s Game of Thrones Guru prepares us for the upcoming Battle of the Bastards…

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MCS: This is possibly an odd place to start after such a fulfilling and jam-packed episode, one where Dany triumphantly returned to find Meereen under siege and Arya declared she does have a name and is going home, but….Jaime and Brienne’s storyline has always struck a chord with me. Initially I despised The Kingslayer, but it was in their travels together, specifically in Episode 5 of Season 3 (“Kissed by Fire”), when I grew to empathize and understand Jaime. And I was touched in this week’s episode (“No One”) when Jaime wouldn’t accept his former sword, Oathkeeper, back and when he ominously waved farewell to her. What’s their relationship like in the book, and where do you see things going between them?

G.G.: It’s clear that Jaime and Brienne have a fascinating and complicated relationship, which I think the show does as good a job as it can highlighting. But this is one of the many places where the show, by virtue of its narrative structure, just cannot provide the depth that the books can. Both characters, in the books, are point-of-view (POV) characters, which means we are privy to their thoughts, feelings, and past experiences which, in turn, play a part in how they regard one another. And while Brienne is changed in discrete ways by her relationship with Jaime (she, I believe, becomes bolder and more confident as a result of his influence), I think Brienne’s influence is what, ultimately, forces Jaime to take a long and critical look at his life and legacy. To seek out change, to act with honor and integrity, and try to conduct himself ethically in a deeply unethical society.

It didn’t start out this way of course, as book readers and Unsullied alike can attest. And while their story arc was streamlined for television, key themes remain unchanged. Jaime, initially, had nothing but contempt for “the Wench,” given her gender and physical appearance, but also due to her sense of duty, which he found naive and unrealistic. Additionally, this sense of duty – Brienne’s sincere belief in honor, chivalry, and knightly virtues – most likely reminded Jaime of the ways in which he had fallen short, whether in the public’s perception or in fact. Consider: Jaime argues very persuasively, to Brienne and others, that his killing of the Mad King was, in fact, a righteous and honorable act, as it saved tens of thousands of lives. It’s hard to say if Jaime was always a rule-breaking, bad boy of Westeros, but killing Aerys certainly gave him the opportunity to define his image as the Kingslayer despite, deep down, resenting the moniker and his reputation. Meeting Brienne forced him to examine his image, why he may have embraced it, and his desire to act in a way that would earn him more respect and admiration. All of this without the assistance of a modern psychotherapist.

There’s this incredible moment in A Feast for Crows when Jaime is sent to subdue the Riverlands. While marching out of King’s Landing, he has what I can only describe as a moment of serenity. The sun is warm, he feels at home and is comfortable, and he begins to fantasize about ending the long and devastating conflict that has afflicted the region since Robb Stark came south. After he orders the hanging of some violent outlaws, Jaime allows himself to consider a different future for himself: “Make a habit of it, Lannister, and one day men might call you Goldenhand, after all. Goldenhand the Just.” It’s a bit of joke, but underneath it is a yearning to be admired for doing good. This ability to even begin to think about this future for himself is Brienne’s doing.

Now, I get the sense that the spirit of this question is: are they going to make sweet, sweet love, and maybe run off together? And you wouldn’t be alone in considering that….or writing erotic fan fiction on that very topic. Heck, I often think about it, and it’s not without textual support, though I think that twist would cheapen the heretofore richness of their relationship. Yes, the romantic and erotic moments flavor the relationship, but they are more powerful in the way they indicate their evolving regard, respect, and love for one another. Upon being captured by Vargo Hoat (or, in the show, Roose Bolton’s evil bannerman, Locke), Jaime and Brienne both experience some pretty acute psychological and physical trauma. Much of it, they go through together. They support each other, care for one another, see each other through. When they are given a reprieve from their suffering, they encounter one another in the bathhouse at Harrenhal. It is here that they see each other naked and when Brienne describes Jaime as “half a corpse, half a god,” Jaime gets aroused. On its face, sure, they’re into one another. But the deeper point is, this physical attraction speaks to a deeper interpersonal connection, particularly as their bath together starts a conversation in which Jaime reveals the truth about Aerys’ plot to burn the entire capital down with wildfire and, in doing so, his moral compass.

The world presented in the series is one that generally lacks happy endings, particularly if you knew where the books leave off in terms of Jaime and Brienne’s relationship, which I won’t spoil here. This, however, is not why I stress the emotional and psychological impact the two have on one another, rather than the physical. Any perceived physical desire for one another is merely the facade to the deep interpersonal impact the two have had on one another.

MCS: Arya slicing the candle and taking out the Waif gave me chills. Can you tell me more about the Waif and then we can be done with her for good? Also, a smirk of sorts came upon Jaqen’s face when Arya declared her name and intentions? Is he really down with all that?

G.G.: There’s not a lot to say about the Waif. I wouldn’t describe her role in the books as minor. She does play an important role in Arya’s development as a Faceless Man (Faceless Woman? Faceless Adolescent?), but she is not nearly as hostile, vindictive, and murderous as the character in the show.

In the books, her backstory is, in some ways, reminiscent of Arya’s own, and speaks to notion that the House of Black and White tends to become a home for the dispossessed and mistreated. The Waif was the child and heir of a wealthy Lord. Her mother passed away when she was young, and her father remarried and had another child with the stepmother. Hoping to secure a better deal for her newborn, the stepmother sought to kill her by poisoning her. While she survived, the poisoning left her in a state of permanent adolescence. Her moniker, the Waif, references her childlike appearance, despite being nearly forty years old. (While the actress that plays the Waif appears young, Martin’s characterization of the character is someone who appears as a young girl, maybe eleven or twelve years old.)

It’s important to point out that, in the books, the House of Black and White is led by the “Kindly Man,” not Jaqen H’ghar – who is merely one of many Faceless Men (Women? People?) roaming the world searching for the next contract killing. (Clearly, the showrunners place Jaqen in the House of Black and White in an effort to simplify the plot and not confuse viewers.) The Kindly Man provides much of Arya’s instruction in the ways of the House, particularly as it relates to the history of the group and their “code of ethics,” for lack of a better phrase. The Waif provides a lot of Arya’s training, including “the lying game,” which trains Arya to become “no one.” The show does present a more violent version of this training (which I discuss in one of my previous columns), but you get the sensation that the Waif is duty-bound to train Arya in a kind of “it’s business, not personal” sort of way. She certainly doesn’t desire to murder Arya, whether out of jealousy or whatever reason she harbors throughout the previous episodes of this season.

It’s hard to read Jaqen’s expression or guess at his feelings regarding Arya going rogue. I really can’t imagine he would feel happy about this turn of events. Think about it: Jaqen invested a lot in Arya in terms of on-the-job training. Additionally, she broke a contract, and the House of Black and White is majorly dependent on contract killing and their reputation for efficiency, secrecy, and execution (no pun intended). As the kids say, this is not a good look for Jaqen and his business. Face it, Jaqen doesn’t care about a Stark restoration.

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MCS: Dany is back! Is she going to give Tyrion a royal tongue lashing for all his drinking peer pressure and for the decisions he has made that has led to Meereen coming under fire? And how soon before Tyrion’s wine, “The Imp’s Delight” hits stores?

G.G.: Dany certainly knows how to make an entrance! I think she has bigger Harpy’s to fry, however…

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MCS: OK, so let’s talk Riverrun. I need some help here. Jaime’s discussion with Cat’s brother Edmure was indeed powerful. Yet, I was surprised to see how rash Edmure’s actions were following Jaime’s threats. Can you share your thoughts on the turn of events that led to Jaime taking control of Riverrun and the Blackfish (supposedly) ending up dead? And how did this play out in the books?

G.G.: Picking up where I left off last week…Edmure, not the Blackfish, is the rightful Lord of Riverrun, as was demonstrated in this episode. Jaime, understanding this, and confident in his ability to persuade/threaten Edmure into capitulating, used this fact to force the surrender of the remaining Tully forces, allow the Freys to take the castle and for Jaime to avoid much bloodshed. There are two main differences between the books and show in this sequence; one is matter of execution, the other constitutes a major plot differences.

The difference in execution relates to what I discussed in my incredibly long introduction to last week’s column: Jaime’s threats towards Edmure, in A Feast for Crows, are far more subtle and dramatic, and allude to deeper and more complex plot points:

“When the castle falls, all those inside will be put to the sword. Your herds will be butchered, your godswood will be felled, your keeps and towers will burn. I’ll pull your walls down, and divert the Tumblestone [River] over the ruins. By the time I’m done no man will ever know that a castle once stood here. You’ll want your child, I expect. I’ll send him to you when he’s born. With a trebuchet.”

The show’s version, I felt, was forced and rushed, and lacked Jaime’s je ne sais quoi.

The major plot difference is that, in the book, Edmure ultimately pulls a fast one on Jaime by allowing the Blackfish to escape to whereabouts unknown. It’s the sweetest revenge Edmure can hope for before being sent to his luxurious captivity at Casterly Rock. So, for the last eleven years (since A Feast for Crows was released), book readers like me who LOVE the Blackfish have spent a substantial amount of time fantasizing on how the Blackfish would return in power and glory to avenge the wrongs done to his house. Maybe this is one of those places where the show and the books diverge, and I can still hold on to the hope the Blackfish will re-emerge and wreak havoc on the Lannister-Frey forces. If not, it’s going to take some time to get over the Blackfish’s death….although you know that off-screen deaths can be “greatly exaggerated.”

And I know I’m not the only one who feels that his death just seemed so unnecessary, our love for the character notwithstanding; why not join the Stark cause? Why throw your life away? Sure, dying with a sword in your hand aligns with your warrior values, but you have so much more to offer?! It just left a bad taste in my mouth.

MCS: What were Cersei and Qyburn talking about? Wildfire, right? There is substantial buzz about the Internet that Cersei is about to burn King’s Landing to the motherfucking ground. Frankly, go ahead girl! I want to see her make it happen. Now that a trial by combat with The Mountain in her corner is out of the question, do you see her invoking this “nuclear” option?

G.G.: Some people just want to see it all burn! I can envision her, along with that nihilist Qyburn, just burning the whole fucking place down. It certainly won’t do anything to tamp down the “secret Targaryen” theories that swirl around the Lannister children.

MCS: Are you ready for The Battle of The Bastards?

G.G.: I was born ready, but I’m really hoping we see:

1. Sansa giving a great speech (a la Elizabeth I at Tilbury)

2. Some Direwolf justice!

 

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