Miscellaneous Mental Musings of an Emerging Artist
Assorted thoughts on Game of Thrones, s7e1, “Dragonstone.”
— For as enjoyable as it was to watch Arya Stark redefine the “cold” in “cold open,” what was most compelling to me was what she didn’t do: Tell the Frey serving maids her name. The message she sends is that “The North remembers,” and “Winter came for House Frey.” It was important to her that Walder knew before he died, but while not being one of the Order of Faceless Men, she has otherwise embraced being Faceless. The Arya Stark who went off to Braavos would have been driven by her duty and spite to announce that she was Arya Stark.
Likely without intending it, she’s nonetheless done a great service for her family. If Jon and Sansa were made aware that at least somebody claiming to be their lost sister were rampaging through the Riverlands, Jon in particular would be sorely tempted to go rescue her–not realizing she needs no rescuing–and lose sight, even briefly, of his goal. He would remain haunted by the sight of Rickon dying before him, and would continue to reject Sansa’s foreseeably practical assessment that Arya must be left to her own devices. Meanwhile, the Lannisters would immediately begin scouring the realm for Arya, hoping to use her as leverage against the Northmen if not simply executing her outright. Her choice to preserve her anonymity gives her freedom to move but it also gives the warring factions of Westeros the room to focus.
— Similarly, even though Bran has now made it back to Castle Black, I don’t suspect any reunions between him and Jon to occur anytime soon. With the message enroute from the Citadel that Dragonstone has a mountain made of obsidian, Jon’s mandate will surely be to travel there as soon as possible, where he will no doubt have to entreat Daenerys and swear fealty to her conquest, without even realizing yet that he is her nephew.
I assume Tyrion’s presence will end up being invaluable to Jon, once this parlay finally takes place. That is, if Tyrion is even there when it happens–for it seems clear that the great gift Euron Greyjoy intends to bring to Cersei is her wayward brother.
— What’s impressive to me about the conference of the Northmen–besides the obvious awesomeness that is Lady Mormont–was that it’s written with a graceful ambiguity. I’m still not sure if Jon or Sansa was correct on the decision to let the Karstarks and Umbers retain their castles. I see no reason to distrust young Ned Umber or Alys Karstark, but we’ve also seen how decisions made by Robb Stark led other Houses to view him with disdain for his weakness, planting the seeds of betrayal.
But I do feel Jon has prevailed, for now, in not only his authority but in convincing the other bannermen of the necessity of his mercy. He speaks with a confidence borne of experience, and even the men who have never seen a White Walker seem to feel that Jon knows of what he speaks when he claims the Night’s King is marching south, and that old ways of avenging grudges and dishonor, as well as old modes of keeping the women ignorant and unable to fight, have no place in the forthcoming crisis.
— That said, despite Jon’s chastising Sansa for undermining him at the council, he is slowly growing to understand how much strength and wisdom he can gain from her. In many ways what is being shown to us is Sansa’s value as a strategist and observer of the larger picture as well as the eldest surviving trueborn heir of the House. The subtle struggle between Jon and Littlefinger isn’t so much about which one she will choose, as it is whether Jon will reach the epiphany he needs to make her his equal before Littlefinger manages to convince her that it will never happen.
— I don’t trust the Arch-Maester an inch. I suspect that he is working in what ways he can to bring forth the apocalyptic conquest of the White Walkers. He can be all sage and kindly and Jim Broadbent about it but behind his words–behind his willingness to believe Sam–is fatalism and apathy. When he says that carnage has come before and that humanity nonetheless survived, he is saying “Do not fight this. In the long run, it will work itself out, because it always has.” The Arch-Maester is operating from a sense that the Night’s King is a natural force. Not only can it not be resisted, it *should* not be resisted.
— Cersei’s description of Tommen’s suicide as a betrayal is extremely telling. For all her calm, she has gone well and truly off the rails, has taken a few more steps on the path to becoming the second coming of Mad Aerys that she began when she burned the Sept of Baelor.
And Jaime can see it, even if he’s not fully ready to admit it. Jaime isn’t necessarily afraid of Cersei. He’s afraid of what he might have to do again when the moment arrives.
— Benioff and Weiss pull off a very sly trick in this episode, presenting us with a handful of victorious moments–Arya’s revenge on House Frey, Daenerys’ return to Dragonstone–while layering an undercurrent of misery and foreboding. Twice in this episode we are reminded of the various calamities of the last war, which are the calamities of any war. We see the Hound come face to face with the product of his former cruelties and his attempt to atone in some small way for a crime he knows he cannot wash away. And we see Arya gain a sense of nuance about the difference between the kin of Walder Frey and the enlisted men of House Lannister. The men she meets in the forest may be the servants of her sworn enemy, but they are also decent men, indoctrinated with the moral lessons of their mothers and fearful for their children’s futures. Again, an Arya from a few seasons prior would be calculating how to assassinate these men and then following through. This Arya, the Faceless Arya, not only knows the strategic value of leaving them be, but also knows the value of allowing certain lives to go on uninterrupted.
When Dany stands over the war map of Dragonstone and says “Shall we begin?” it is both a triumph and a tragedy. Because for as much as we have been led to feel that the return of House Targaryen might be the right call–because certainly, neither the Lannisters nor most of the Baratheons were good sovereigns–the embers of the last war were finally cooling, and now the smallfolk and soldiers will be forced to flee and die again under the orders of those who call themselves “noble.”
— Finally: There’s something morbidly funny for this series in particular about seeing a pre-show warning for “Brief Nudity” and realizing after the episode is over that they meant the corpse on the slab in the Citadel.