by: Geoffrey Golia
Game of Thrones is back for its sixth season and so is Across the Margin’s Thrones Guru to help make sense of the madness…
I’m so happy to be back, answering questions and providing witty (hopefully!) commentary on everyone’s favorite epic, quasi-pornographic adventure television program. I was really torn about watching this season. As a book reader, I wanted the story to continue on the page before the screen. But when the fine folks at Across the Margin asked me to reprise my albeit short-lived role as their GoT Guru (Hashtag: #GoTGuru), I saw it as a sign from the Old Gods and the New that I must sacrifice the purity of my experience for the entertainment of our readers. So, here we go…
ATM: The general assumption is that with the commencement of the 6th season, and Sunday night’s season premiere entitled, “The Red Woman,” we have now moved past the novels, beyond The Song of Ice and Fire. Is this indeed the case? Has the playing field been leveled for everyone?
G.G.: We’re definitely beyond the last published book, A Dance with Dragons, but remember, this entire epic is the Song of Ice and Fire, which is actually a good place to start. When I finished Dance in the summer of 2011 (yes, five years ago, George!!), Jon had just been stabbed up by his traitorous Nights Watch brothers, and Dany was wandering the Dothraki Sea with her dragon, Drogon, which is where we found them in Sunday night’s episode. There are other storylines that are indicative of this, like Stannis’, though in Dance and in the already released chapters of the 6th book, The Winds of Winter, he’s still alive and ready to kick some Bolton ass. I know there’s some controversy about whether or not Stannis (the Mannis … Yes, an actual fan nickname) is truly dead, but I have sort of resigned to the fact that the show spoiled this, and will soon enough spoil other developments of the story.
My only real gripe is that, like many book readers, I love the immense size and scope of George R. R. Martin’s world, and while the show is very well-done, it is, by necessity, compressed. I think this compression will make the coming revelations less satisfying, but I’m open to being proven wrong here. Still, I don’t know that the field is leveled because those who haven’t read the books, but who are passionate about the story, are missing a lot of depth that can enrich their experience.
ATM: We found Arya in a bit of a tight spot in this episode, without sight and begging for help on the street. What can you tell us about the House of Black and White that can help us make sense of what is happening to Arya and to help us understand what might happen to her moving forward?
G.G.: I’m still waiting for her training montage. Jogging, sparring, Frank Stallone music, all of it. But, seriously, Arya’s story arc, from her training with Syrio Forel, to her time with The Hound, to her current service to the House of Black and White, has been the narrative of someone furiously trying to sublimate their feelings of powerlessness, loss, and rage into something productive. In Arya’s case, this means becoming a face-changing, ninja-assassin.
This is also a popular trope, cribbed from Kung Fu and martial arts films: a novice, seeking ancient wisdom and power, and maybe to avenge some loss, yearns for guidance from a mystical teacher who, while ostensibly abusive in the treatment of the novice, eventually imparts the invaluable lessons and skills sought. The House of Black and White, by specializing in the production of “Faceless Men,” may be creating the most effective and disciplined assassins in Planets, and utilizing cruel but effective methods of training, is a great example of this mystical teacher archetype.
Arya was blinded, and seemingly abused, by The Waif to impart humility and discipline, and rein in her rather liberal murder-whomever-I-want policy. But, like Jean Claude Van Damme in Bloodsport, I suspect it will have some practical training value (ahem, for killing people).
ATM: The gals of Dorne don’t fuck around. Ellaria Sand and her crew (strong finishing move by Obara the Sand Snake!), staged quite a powerful coup Sunday evening, taking out Areo Hotah, Doran Martell, and Trystane Martell one after another. Are they this badass in the book?
G.G.: I’m glad we’re still on the topic of totally badass women. But here’s something really interesting: in the books, Ellaria Sand, arguably the mastermind of the coup, vociferously argues against Dornish retaliation against King’s Landing and the Lannisters, understanding the futility to the continued bloodshed. It’s one of the few complete 180s that the show does, second only to Tormund Giantsbane (“Tall-talker,” “Horn-blower,” “Breaker of Ice,” “Husband to Bears,” “Mead-King of Ruddy Hall,” “Speaker to Gods,” and “Father of Hosts”) not being nearly as hilarious and good-natured as he is in the novels.
In the books, the Sand Snakes, who really spearhead (get it?) the war policy against the Lannisters, are known more by their fierce reputations than on-page exploits. Clearly, these violent and shrewd reputations are well-deserved, but we’re seeing a good deal more action in the show.
ATM: Tell us more about Melisandre. That final scene where she was revealed to be an Old Gray Mare felt poignant beyond what we could fully comprehend. What, exactly, is she?
G.G.: While it has certainly been indicated that there is more to Mel than meets the eye, and that she is probably older than her appearance suggests, I suspect that that scene is meant to set up something more dramatic: her letting go of her temporal and, in many ways, contrived self, in preparation for her resurrection of Jon Snow, which will most likely mean her death.
Here’s a bit of backstory: She was born a slave named Melony in Asshai, on the far side of the world from Westeros. She was sold to the Red Temple as a small child, and became a devotee and true believer. Followers of R’hllor believe in the story of Azor Ahai – the legendary hero who, wielding a fiery sword, Lightbringer, saved the world from darkness and evil – and Melisandre sought him out. I mean, it’s hard to see why she chose Stannis Baratheon – as much as I love that crazy fascist – because he doesn’t strike me as the redeemer of the world-type.
From there it’s all killer shadow-babies and burning people alive and realizing that she hitched her cart to the wrong stag. So she’s imperfect, and she’s clearly going to play an important part in the story moving forward.
I’ll say just one thing more: Lightbringer’s most symbolic attribute was that it glowed like fire, or was a blade made of fire, or somesuch insanity. The sword could only be imbued with the magic through a grave sacrifice: Azor Ahai had to plunge the sword into his life-partner, Nissa Nissa, in order for it to become a sword capable of defeating the darkness. Will Mel be Jon’s Nissa Nissa? Tune into our next episode.
ATM: We are incredibly fond of Davos Seaworth over here. His loyalty and integrity are honorable, two things that are never rewarded in Westeros. It seemed that he sent for help however. Do you know whom he sent Dolorous Edd to find? And does the line, spoken by Davos, “I can’t speak for the flames, but he’s gone” put the Jon Snow controversy to bed? Can we move on? Or is there more to it?
G.G.: Davos is one of the good ones, for sure. I think his spirit from the books is well captured by the show, due in large part to great acting by Liam Cunningham. The Jon Snow loyalists are also some of the good ones as well. The books chronicle Jon’s relationship with his closest friends at Castle Black, including the challenges he faces negotiating those friendships in light of his position as Lord Commander. The show presents the development of these friendships, the camaraderie between the men, and the loyalty Jon’s friends display even after he’s ostensibly murdered.
Davos sends Dolorous Edd Tollett to get help, which I have to imagine means letting the Wildlings know what has happened. As Davos mentions in the episode, Jon just saved these people from being butchered and then reanimated into a frozen army of the dead; clearly they’re going to be upset by his assassination. (Let’s not lose sight of the fact that Jon’s Wildling policy, while controversial, was sound!)
Book readers probably laughed to themselves a little bit when they saw Dolorous Edd defiantly march out of the room intent on enlisting the Willings, as in the book, he’s dour and dry, and it provides some comic relief here and there. (This is someone, for instance, who said: “The dead are likely dull fellows, full of tedious complaints – the ground’s too cold, my gravestone should be larger, why does he get more worms than I do.…”)
As for Jon, as I mentioned in a previously, I don’t see how he won’t be resurrected. At which point, we can move on to more important questions like, will Jorah Mormont choose the right medication to treat his adult-onset Greyscale? And, if so, will there be a spin-off about Jorah and Daario?
I hope to answer those questions and more this season!
Geoffrey Golia is the host of A Trivia of Ice and Fire: Presented by the Upjumped Sellswords. Find more information and the schedule of events here.