Miscellaneous Mental Musings of an Emerging Artist
Assorted Thoughts on Game of Thrones, s7e3, “The Queen’s Justice.”
– Despite two very significant and scale-shifting battles occurring towards the episode’s end, “The Queen’s Justice” is focused on the subtler arts of negotiations, diplomacy, and the theatricality of power.
Daenerys’ overture to the North begins not in the chambers of Dragonstone, but on the shore, immediately after Jon and Davos have left the rowboat. Whether of her own mind or under advisement from her most trusted aides, she is certain that a Dothraki warrior is among the retinue who greets the men. While Tyrion placidly claims that the dragons flying around are simply a feature of the new occupation that one must grow used to, the nature of Jon’s first encounter with them has been clearly planned as a show of force. Both of these experiences then play into the image of intimidation that Daenerys wishes to project towards the upstart King in the North, sitting regally upon her massive stone perch and being named by the full litany of her titles.
In addition we can also see the ways that Dany and her advisers stand in the room to receive Jon and Davos, and observe the protocols that they create, which the two men in front of her struggle to keep pace with. Observe the moment she chooses to stand, and to walk forward, after Jon taking one step in her direction puts the guards on alert–a signal that she controls every inch of the room. Observe how Davos waits to speak on behalf of Jon until after Tyrion has also stepped forward to speak on behalf of Dany.
All of these motions and dances are the stones upon which she lays out her authority, a declaration that she is not to be denied, by any one, for any reason. Nonetheless, she is not quite prepared for who and what Jon is, and what he isn’t, and part of the frustration that gradually begins to emanate from her is that he is unique in the tone of his refusal. Daenerys has spent her entire reign, from Khaleesi to Conqueror of Essos, quelling defiance and punishing betrayal from an exhausting series of rough and condescending men. Jon Snow is peculiar to her because his defiance is devoid of such arrogance. She senses within him a similar notion of trying to enact a type of justice in the realm, although what justice means to each of them is currently separated by a wide gulf. But Tyrion clearly sees it in both of them as well, making him the ideal man to handle the backchannel between them.
– And it really is enjoyable to watch Jon and Tyrion interact again, after their long roads and hard-earned scars. Despite the serious times they now live in and the responsibilities they now wield, there remains a genuine simpatico between them. Tyrion continues to treat Jon as the decent young man he accompanied to the Wall, and Jon seems relieved to have one person in his life who isn’t looking to him for leadership. With his father and Lord Commander both dead, Jon finds himself with few mentors left in the world, and he is smart enough to understand what Tyrion has left to teach him.
– So many moments of Jon and Dany’s conversations were loaded with the knowledge we have that they do not. When she angrily asks him if his father, Robert Baratheon’s best friend, knew that Robert had ordered her slain in her crib, it is a moment fraught with misunderstanding. Not only is Dany unaware that Ned once resigned his Handship over Robert’s continuing drive to assassinate her, but both her and Jon are unaware that Ned decided to forge a lie of his own dishonor and save Jon’s life, by claiming the newborn was his own common-born bastard instead of the son of Rhaegar Targaryen. Later, when Dany introduces Jon to two of her dragons by referencing her dead brothers Rhaegar and Viserys, she doesn’t know that she’s telling him about his own father and uncle.
We do discover in this second exchange that despite everything Jon remains something of an optimist–when she observes that he has also lost two brothers, he doesn’t correct her to say “three.” Robb’s death was indisputable and Rickon died in his arms. Sansa was told by Theon that Bran didn’t die at Winterfell during the Ironborn takeover, and she surely told Jon, but he has no other proof that Bran–who Jon last saw as a small boy with a life-altering injury–might still be alive. Still: He has only lost two brothers. And until he knows otherwise, both of his sisters are also alive.
– The lore of the Lannister family is that they rose to power through the scheming of Lann the Clever, a trickster figure from Westeros’ vaunted Age of Heroes, who swindled the Casterly family of their home, destroyed all of its heirs, and then proceeded to engage in a triumph of branding by adopting a melodramatic lion sigil and a pompous house slogan (“Hear Me Roar!”). By the time we arrive at the present narrative, the Lannisters aren’t only the most powerful family in the realm because of their gold, but because they have convinced Westeros that they were ALWAYS the most powerful family in the realm.
We can see in the present generation of the family just how much of their founding father resides in each of them. Tyrion has long been a clever fellow, but he now finds himself outwitted by Euron Greyjoy at sea and by his own brother in both the westerlands and the Reach–a clear case of his book-smarts not being good enough to overcome men of greater experience (and in Jaime’s case, the wisdom that can come with defeat).
Cersei, for her part, spends as much time overseeing the punishment of Ellaria Sand and the final destruction of House Tyrell as she does the wavering faith of the Iron Bank. Her careful manipulation of the bank representative is played with a wink–she pretends to maintain the fiction that the burning of the Sept of Baelor was a tragic accident specifically so that the banker can pretend he is in on the joke. More significantly, as we learn from Olenna during her last moments, the Lannister mines have run dry. Cersei has no way to call upon them to pay off their debts. Which is why the defeat of Highgarden is a masterstroke–not only did it harm Daenerys’ military might, it removed another of her Westerosi allies and earned Cersei the funds to pay back the Iron Bank.
Cersei does exhibit a momentary vulnerability when she asks Ellaria Sand why Myrcella was murdered, but this is not a question she needs answered, nor would any answer be satisfactory. If anything, the moment gives Cersei one additional needle to stab into Ellaria’s skin–the image of a mother who still mourns her daughter, a preview of Ellaria’s own pains to come.
Indeed, the only person Cersei remains completely honest with is her own brother, that honesty taking the form of raw desire and a liberation from shame. Jaime has long been the only person with whom she can be fully and unabashedly herself, but at the same time the two share a history of her manipulating him to her own ends by using his weakness for her against him. It may no longer be possible for either of them to know where her passion ends and her machinations begin.
– Euron Greyjoy also takes several opportunities to indulge his sense of showmanship in order to announce his ascension. He plays every bit the swashbuckling pirate he is to the joyous rabble of King’s Landing, and enjoys every taunt he levels at Jaime about the coital bliss he intends to enjoy with Cersei. That she then denies him with a reasonable delay causes only a shadow of disappointment to cross his face–Euron is a patient man, who waited years and traveled leagues before finally usurping his brother Balon. He no doubt simply relishes having power over any Lannisters, who have repelled and punished the Ironborn time and time again during their regular reavings of the westerlands. If the war must be won before he may have Cersei, then he will win the war.
– Olenna’s closing remarks only enhance her reputation as the Queen of Thorns, and her final thorns were both carefully preserved and truly shot through the hearts of her conquerors. Besides making a point of repeatedly referring to Cersei as a monster in front of Jaime, she revels in the pain she creates by confessing her own worst crime. With the knowledge she imparted of her guilt in Joffrey’s assassination, Jaime finds himself carrying a burden he did not expect to carry away from such a decisive victory. By telling Cersei, he would give Olenna the satisfaction from beyond her own grave. Although he can claim that their son is now avenged, it will be a soured fruit, with Cersei aware that Olenna received a peaceful, painless death instead of the justice that Ellaria and Tyene Sand now suffer.
Such revelation also exonerates Tyrion, incidentally, but that point is certainly now irrelevant, with the wayward Lannister brother now a Targaryen Queen’s Hand and the architect of the sacking of Casterly Rock. That he’s wholly innocent of regicide after all only makes him unique among his siblings, but not likely to be welcomed back into their arms.
– It is intriguing to watch Varys left unbalanced by his interaction with Melisandre, another of many instances in this episode of somebody in a position of power failing to predict exactly what they would receive from the other. Varys approaches Melisandre with the same mellifluous tones and venomous fangs that he has used to approach men like Littlefinger, those he viewed as peers of a sort. But Melisandre has truly rejected the influence games she once played, and as such is immune to his sting. Instead, she reads enough of Varys to know that she doesn’t even have to tell him when he will die in Westeros, just as she will–she only has to remind him that the day is coming.
– Nothing on this show makes me cry quite like watching the children of the Stark family reunite after all the pain and sorrow they’ve experienced while apart.
But Bran Stark has changed, significantly, and in ways much different than Arya has changed. The ice water that runs through her veins now is still capable of warming; Bran has become as cold and unforgiving as the Wall itself. He is at Winterfell not for sympathetic reasons or for a sense of security; he is there because his role as the new Three-Eyed Raven deems that he should be. Sansa’s presence tells him only that he is safe there for now, but he no longer understands how to relate to her, no longer has the sense of empathy that would lead him to keep to himself the mention of her marriage to Ramsay Bolton. He has slowly learned to see beyond our perceptions of time and space, and knows many of the secrets that were long hidden from not only his family, but from Westeros as a whole.
It is notable that an all-seeing being as Bran has become should arrive immediately after Littlefinger has advised Sansa to imagine every possible battle, alliance, friend, and enemy, in such a way that every outcome will fail to surprise her. Bran may or may not yet have intimate understanding of all that Littlefinger has done to spark the War of the Five Kings, he may well have stood in the room when Littlefinger held the knife to Eddard Stark’s throat and admonished him for trusting him. Should Sansa unwittingly reveal to Littlefinger that Bran seems to have such abilities, it puts Bran in severe danger within Winterfell.
– It’s a relief for Samwell to have been so successful treating Jorah and a relief for Jorah to have potentially passed through his bout with greyscale–although we know so little of the disease and of this method of treating it that it’s important we hear the way the Arch-Maester refers to the infection as “no longer active.”
And speaking of the Arch-Maester, I remain suspicious. His praise of Sam’s talents for carrying out a difficult procedure with nothing more than his eye for study and steady hand is an admission that Sam is not a fool. The old strategic saw is to keep your friends close but your enemies closer. In this case, perhaps by assigning them mounds of distracting busy work.
– It is a bold storytelling move to have so quickly punctured the fearsome sight that ended the last season and the confidence that began this one. Three chapters ago we were watching in awe as a massive army and three dragons came charging across the Narrow Sea with all of the foreboding that accompanied Daenerys’ ancestor Aegon the Conqueror. Two chapters ago we were watching her solemnly take command of her birthright at Dragonstone, with a simple and powerful “Shall we begin?” as her promise to complete her return.
Between then she has lost the armies of Dorne, the resources of Highgarden, and her contingent of ships from Pyke. Her Unsullied forces have been divided and damaged by an attack on Casterly Rock that turned out to not have been worth the losses sustained. Her alliance with the North is tenuous, built on an uneasy agreement for a mineral she finds meaningless. She has barely set foot in Westeros before she finds herself losing the war.
Cersei is forcing Daenerys to choose between the benevolent sovereign she has wanted to be and the vicious conqueror she might have to become. Danaerys has held back her most terrifying weapons–the dragons and Dothraki–because she does not fully control their ferocity, and she wishes to be welcomed back to Westeros as its long-awaited ruler.
She might not be allowed such a luxury. She may indeed have to be as Olenna demanded of her–a dragon, feeding on sheep. And at that point, Cersei needs but a few key victories–such as using Qyburn’s device to take down even one of Dany’s dragons–to help turn the people to her side. The people and the bankers both prefer to back a winner.
– Historical Trivia Tidbit: Westeros is Not The Real World, but when Olenna describes the destruction of the Sept of Baelor, and the resulting mass murder, she refers to her lack of foresight as “a failure of imagination.” This phrase was used often by intelligence analysts after the fact when the United States failed to stop the 9/11 attacks.