I said at the start of my last post on this subject that doing this “new series and old series at the same time” thing was a headfuck. Finishing up season three for the recaps, I became worryingly aware that it had slid from “headfuck” into “genuine engagement killer”.
Oh, also, this post contains spoilers for all of Game of Thrones that exists at time of writing and, even more randomly, for a 1971 Michael Caine movie.
Right now pretty much the entire GoT community is engaged in … well it’s engaged in the things all media communities are engaged in, so memes, infighting, bickering and fan theories but there’s at least a marginal focus right now on who is going to survive the upcoming Battle of Winterfell (I made two predictions last post, one of which has already been proven wrong—I said we might just cut to King’s Landing but apparently that’s not happening because we’re getting not only a battle sequence but an eighty minute battle sequence. Sigh.) Reddit is full of lists and images of people trying to work out who lives and who dies and as a result it’s really hard not to come to feel two annoying things:
- Anybody who isn’t at that battle (apart from Cersei who’s now the only one in King’s Landing) basically doesn’t matter.
- Anybody who is at that battle and dies was only in the series at all so we’d feel sad-slash-shocked when they kicked it fighting the Night King.
Incidentally there’s a fantastic thread on Reddit right now in which a random Redditor points out quite how badly the terrible army of the dead should get its arse kicked, because literally every single piece of evidence we’ve seen in the last however many seasons suggests that both wights and white walkers are actually incredibly bad at fighting. Like the Oathbreakers of Dunharrow, their primary weapon is fear and the fact that most weapons can’t hurt them. But with dragonglass, fire, or valyrian steel, they’re actually very, very easy to kill even if you aren’t defending a fortified position. The only thing the AotD really has going for it is that the Inverse Ninja Law seems to apply to the good guys as much as the bad guys. I mean yes, right now they’re outnumbered ten to one, but last season Jon and his droogs were outnumbered literally hundreds to one, and surrounded and trapped on an ice sheet with no food or shelter and they still suffered exactly one casualty. And that was fighting a bear.
Anyway, this post is supposed to be about season 3 rather than season 8, but the intent was always for it to be about the experience of watching season 3 while also watching season 8 (because like, I suspect, most people who aren’t real hardcore fans, my interest in any given bit of Game of Thrones is at its peak when I’m watching some other bit of Game of Thrones), and this was where the experiences really started to clash.
The characters we saw in S8E2 having their dark nights of the soul before the penultimate battle were, in alphabetical order: Arya, Bran, Beric Dondarrion, Brienne, Daenerys, Davos Seaworth, Gendry, Gilly, Grey Worm, the Hound, Jaime Lannister, Jon Snowgaryen, Jorah Mormont, Missandei, Sam, Sansa, Theon, Tormund, Tyrion, and Varys. Watching S3 having just watched S8E2 it was really hard to give a shit about anything that happened to anybody who wasn’t one of those people. Worse, it was also pretty hard to give a shit about anything that happened to anybody who was one of those people that didn’t flow directly (either causally or thematically) into their being in Winterfell before the eighty minute battle for the end of the world.
And in a lot of ways, this fucking kills me (I mean, in a having-a-sense-of-perspective kind of way, it’s just at TV show after all) because there’s so much great stuff in season 3 that I just couldn’t really enjoy because of how abruptly and pointlessly it was all going to get cut off. Like I freaking adore the Tyrells (for a start they’re the ones who produce all the fucking food #showusthegrainsilos) and the scene where Margaery explains to Sansa that sex is way cooler and more complicated than she’s been raised to understand, and then Sansa is all like “did your mother explain that to you,” and Margaery is all like “yup, that’s definitely what it is, I have certainly not been boinking my way around Highgarden at all” is absolutely to die for. But it all goes … where, exactly? Up in a cloud of wildfire for what feels uncomfortably like the sake of a cool set-piece. And I know that setting stuff up only to have it cruelly ripped away is what the show does but the problem is that doing that once is clever, doing it twice (or eleven thousand times) is a gimmick.
When I rewatched season one, I could still invest in Ned Stark’s story even though I knew it would wind up being cut abruptly short because it still had a coherence to it. I understood what mystery Ned was investigating (and yes, it was the mystery of Robert Baratheon’s magic semen, but we play the hand we are dealt), why he was motivated to pursue it, and what the stakes were for everybody involved. His death was shocking because it cut short a story that could reasonably have continued (I remember when I first read the book nearly twenty years ago how excited I’d been as I looked forward to seeing what happened when he was reunited with Jon Snow at the Wall) but it still has weight even when you know that story won’t continue because it also, in retrospect, created its own equally complete story. Ned Stark is a tragic figure in an almost classical sense, and he dies because of decisions he and other people make that stem from real and understandable flaws in his and their characters (insofar as “just too darned honourable” is a flaw and “just a psycho” is understandable). So it’s engaging to watch his story as many times as you like, because it doesn’t actually go nowhere, it’s just that the somewhere it goes happens to be his head getting chopped off on the steps of the Sept of Baelor.
The Red Wedding is the same way. I was less invested in Robb Stark’s story this time around, but not because I knew he would get massacred at a wedding. His arc still has a completeness to it, and his downfall still follows naturally from his choices, so it’s still a compelling story. It’s just that, as I explained at length in my previous post (and thanks for bearing with me, by the way, I’m aware that this is going to wind up being suuuuuper long when it’s all put together, although that’s kind of my metier blogging-wise), I think married to preserve the virtue of a woman I would otherwise have ruined fits a lot better than married for lurve. Hell there’s even a bit in this series where Robb tells Walder Frey that he broke his oath for love, and Walder replies “you broke your oath for firm tits and a tight fit, and I can’t say I blame you.” Which … like … I mean when you’re losing the moral high ground to Argus Filch from the Harry Potter movies, you’re in a bad place. But again, despite its shocking ending, Robb’s story doesn’t actually go nowhere. It just goes somewhere bad.
Even the out-of-nowhere deaths are often thematically resonant in the earlier series. Sure Joffrey suddenly drops dead at his own wedding and it’s shocking and dramatic and unexpected, but it still fits thematically. It’s like the end of Get Carter (see, I told you this post would include spoilers for a 1971 Michael Caine movie) where having finished off all his enemies, he’s randomly shot in the back of the head by a sniper we don’t even see. Joffrey is a cruel, capricious, and arbitrary ruler who does cruel, capricious and arbitrary things, and dies a cruel, capricious, and arbitrary death.
But Margaery Tyrell just … gets blowed up. It’s not like she underestimates Cersei. It’s not like a vast explosive death by wildfire is a fitting consequence of choices she makes or an ironic commentary on the way she lives her life. It’s just … poof, gone, turns out everything is arbitrary. What was clever about the early series was that they communicated a sense of arbitrariness in ways that were not, in fact, at all arbitrary. Looking back, the deaths of Joffrey and Robb and Eddard actually have a massive sense of inevitability to them, they’re all destroyed by their own weakness and the question is only ever when, not if.
But for the twenty-or-so named characters sitting in Winterfell awaiting the coming of the White Walkers there’s nothing so neat. A battle is coming. Battles are the sorts of things that get people killed. These characters are all going to be in the battle because the battle is kind of the plot, and also because it’s kind of a literal zombie apocalypse. And of course there’s ways to have character-defining moments in a fight scene. People can sacrifice themselves for people they care about, or die doing characterful things, but that’s not the same as the every-step-has-brought-you-here weight of fatalism that characterised the earlier series. Whoever dies at the battle for Winterfell will have died because they were just kind of doing a dangerous thing that they were going to have to do anyway at some point, and that a bunch of other people were also doing and pretty much anybody else could also have done.
This was supposed to be about season three, wasn’t it?
The thing is, so much of S3 is so coloured by S8 that it’s hard not to bounce between them like a thing that bounces between things. Several of the characters who are now waiting to die at Winterfell have arcs that either begin or kick into high gear in S3, but which also … don’t particularly require those characters to die or not die fighting the Night King at Winterfell.
S3 is where Brienne the Beauty forges her bond with Jaime, where he lies to Roose Bolton’s men to protect her and loses his hand as a consequence. It’s where she fights a bear with a wooden sword (I mean, she has the wooden sword, not the bear) and where we start to get a great sense of how cool and honourable and awesome she is. But it’s also, in the overall scheme of things, kind of … pointless. She’s spent the whole show wandering the seven kingdoms being generically cool but … well … now isn’t she just kind of making up the numbers? What exactly does Brienne, by being Brienne, bring to this fight other than a general fondness for her character that kind of exists in a vacuum?
And don’t even get me started on Beric Dondarrion. In a relative sense, he is actually quite a major part of this season—he captures Arya and the Hound, interacts with Melisandre and the Red God plot, and sends Gendry off to Stannis—but even looking back from season eight, even looking back from the episode before the one where there is a good chance he will die, I still don’t quite understand what he’s doing. The Lord of Light brought him back from the dead twenty times (according to his conversation with the Hound) and Melisandre keeps insisting he has a role to play in the battle to come. But right now I don’t really see what that role can be. Because ultimately he’s just a guy with a fiery sword. Not even a magic fiery sword, as far as I can tell. There’s nothing he needs to do. He’s just … there.
Interestingly in the books he quite specifically dies fairly early on, passing the flame of the Lord of Light to Catelyn Stark who comes back as Lady Stoneheart. I understand a lot of fans are upset that this was cut from the TV show, but I honestly don’t mind that the change was made for focus and time constraints. I just wish they’d gone further and cut him out entirely, because he doesn’t really bring anything to the table. In season three or season eight.
And once again, I’m over two thousand words in and I’ve barely talked about the thing I came here to talk about (that is, the actual story arcs of S3). Some of these I’ve got a lot to say about, others less so. We’ll do the less-sos first.
Arya and the Hound. Brilliant character dynamic. Virtually nothing happens. See above re: Beric.
Jon and North of the Wall. Jon/Ygritte is amazing. Almost problematically amazing. I mean Kit Harrington and Rose Leslie have so much chemistry that they literally got married in real life. That’s the kind of thing that casts a long shadow, and (I’ll stop with the season 8 stuff soon I promise) it actually causes real problems for Jon/Dany because they just don’t live up. No amount of dragon riding and knee bending and white-walker slaying can live up to the iconic simplicity of “you know nothing, Jon Snow.”
King’s Landing. Sansa is great but now she’s less in Joffrey’s orbit I feel she has less to do. Margaery is great but I can’t care because I know she goes nowhere. Cersei is still surprisingly great despite also achieving very little. Tyrion is cool but this is actually the start of a slow decline for his character (as one podcast I was listening to pointed out, nothing he tries or recommends actually works after Blackwater). Tywin is fucking awesome, and watching him repeatedly school Joffrey is incredible. Although even here, knowing that eventually he’ll be dead and we’ll basically have forgotten all about him and none of the things he’s fighting for will wind up being narratively important kind of makes him feel hollower than he should.
And actually, hold that thought for a second because I think there’s a one here that bears being gone off on. And yes, this is going to be an S8 thing again, sorry.
Sort of a central theme of Game of Thrones is that people become fixated on things like honour or wealth or glory or tradition, when what really matters are the things that can keep you alive, and the things that can kill you. Part of the point of all the pointless posturing that occupies the middle six seasons of the show is that it is pointless. If the White Walkers eat the world it doesn’t matter who’s king. It doesn’t matter if you bring honour or shame on the name of your family. It doesn’t matter if you betray your guests at a wedding or blow up the Sept of Baelor. We’re ultimately invited to condemn Cersei (and by extension Tywin) for being more interested in playing politics than in safeguarding the realm, but … well … it seems very likely that next episode the armies of the living are going to fight the armies of the dead and … well … they’re probably going to win? And yes that victory will be costly, but not really any costlier than any other battle they’ll have fought. More than that, since it became show canon that killing a White Walker kills all the wights it created and since it seems to have been accepted as a canonical extension of this fact that killing the Night King will destroy all the White Walkers, this great threat that was supposed to take real unity and compromise and coordination to overcome seems increasingly like it’s going to come down to … two guys duelling on dragonback?
And obviously I might be eating my words next Tuesday. Maybe the Battle of Winterfell will be lost, and lost in such a way that it becomes clear that it would have been won had only the Southern lords put their differences aside and banded together to fight it. But if not, then basically Cersei is right. And Tywin is right. Or if they’re wrong, they’re not wrong for failing to recognise the threat posed by the White Walkers (who it seems increasingly probable will literally not come within three thousand miles of King’s Landing), they’re wrong for failing to recognise the threat posed by Daenerys’ dragons (there’s a bit early in S3 when Tywin insists that magic is gone from the world and dragons are never going to be a meaningful threat again—if there’s one thing he is mega wrong about it’s this). It winds up in this weird situation where the narrative thrust is saying one thing: that the Battle for Winterfell is the last stand of humanity against a terrible darkness, and those who did not pledge their support to it erred grievously and to their cost. But the actual course of events that happen in the world is saying a completely different thing: that for all the people in the castle are bigging up how apocalyptic this whole thing is, the Battle of Winterfell is no grander or more significant than the Battle of the Bastards or the Battle of Blackwater.
The story tells us Tywin Lannister’s worldview is fatally flawed. The history of the world proves he’s essentially right.
There are two other storylines I wanted to talk about in more detail, those being Stannis and Daenerys. I’m going to start with Stannis, because I expect the Daenerys one to run long and complicated.
Stannis was kind of my favourite character in season three, for a whole bunch of reasons, but chiefly because he actually does what Jon and Danaerys (and this is a season eight thing again, sorry) claim to be doing but aren’t.
Now obviously it isn’t great that Stannis has converted to a foreign religion that might be legitimately evil and which calls for actual human sacrifice, but aside from that single tiny flaw he’s clearly the best qualified candidate in the entire battle of five kings (indeed were I being cynical I might suggest that the whole reason for his conversion is that it’s really his only disqualifying quality and otherwise there’s no reason that literally everybody else doesn’t flock to his banner). He’s a seasoned general, a dutiful commander, genuinely cares for his wife and daughter despite the fact that they’re both—by the standards of his society—what you might call sub-optimal, and he seems to fit the all important Aslan criterion of not necessarily actually wanting the throne so much as feeling it’s his duty to take it.
But the bit that really sold me on Stannis was the bit where at the end of S3, Davos brings him a message from the Night’s Watch explaining that the White Walkers have come back, and his immediate response is “well I’d better go deal with that, then.”
And I suppose to be fair, Jon Snow sort of does that as well, but never as wholeheartedly as he pretends to. One of the parts of season seven I found most frustrating was when Jon, Dany and Cersei got together at the Dragonpit in King’s Landing and presented their demands to Cersei. The scene mostly annoyed me because nobody in that group was willing to give any ground on the matter of the Iron Throne, but it was presented as if only Cersei was the one who was being intransigent, and the fan reaction seemed to reflect that. I’m straying out of my depth again here, but this is something I’ve noticed being an endemic problem with the notion of compromise—people naturally think that “compromise” means their side getting pretty much everything it wants and, strangely, the more important the side in question seems to think the thing they want is the less willing they seem to be to give up other stuff to get it. Which is pretty much the opposite of how negotiations actually work.
I’m going to shy away from real world examples here (but I’m sure you can supply your own from basically anywhere the political spectrum), but Jon and Dany’s attitude seems to be that because the Army of the Dead is super important to them that Cersei should concede that importance and give up things she wants so that they can be better placed to solve their zombie problem. I’ve never seen anybody suggest that the right thing for Jon to do is persuade his allies to just let Cersei have the Iron Throne, even though her ruling in King’s Landing is in no way getting in the way of his avowed goal of stopping the Night King, and trying to stop her from ruling in King’s Landing actually, to some extent, is.
But you know who does effectively decide to give up fighting for the Iron Throne entirely once he realises that there’s a more important battle that needs his attention? Our boy Stannis. No questions, no posturing, no “I’ll only do this if the North submits”. Just “yeah, this needs doing,” and it’s done. That is the kind of no bullshit problem solving you want in a king.
To put it another way, the great thing about Stannis is that he’ll do what it takes to do what has to be done, but his idea of “what has to be done” is usually measured, considered, and unglamorous. Because pretty much everybody in the War of Five Kings has their own version of being able to “do whatever it takes” when the situation calls for it, but for everybody else there’s always just that edge of showing off. Cersei loves to show how inventively cruel and vindictive she can be. Jon will always take the heroic option over the option that’s most likely to actually help people. Renley only ever cared about appearances. Daenerys is pretty much always looking for an excuse to set something on fire. Stannis is the only person who you ever get the sense really considers multiple options and picks the best one. Team him up with Sam, the only man who reads, and you’d have an unstoppable combination of dull but efficacious government.
Indeed if Stannis has a flaw it isn’t really that he’s too uncompromising (which the show keeps telling us right from series one but profoundly fails to demonstrate), it’s that he has a tendency to see the merit in multiple strategies and fail to commit completely in one direction. This is symbolised to some extent by his punishment/elevation of Davos Seaworth, unwilling to let him go unpunished for smuggling or unrewarded for his support (“The good doesn’t wash out the bad, nor the bad the good” is pretty much Stannis’ whole MO). The problem is he lives in a world where everybody else is selling easy solutions that require wholehearted buy-in, and he’s often left in the middle. So he throws in with the cult of the Red God, but he leaves Melisandre behind at the Blackwater and (so she says) loses the battle as a consequence. He does just enough R’hllor shit to alienate people who are uncomfortable with sinister magic and dodgy fire gods, but doesn’t double down on it hard enough that it comes through when he needs it. If he’d stayed faithful to the Seven, he’d have wound up with more men. If he’d fully embraced the Red Lady, he’d have had more magic. Instead he went for a path between the two, and we all know dual-classing is underpowered.
Which is a shame, because he’s exactly the king the Seven Kingdoms needs. Although at this stage I kind of feel Jon is the king it deserves.
The plotline I’ve avoided talking about so far—semi-deliberately—is Dany’s plotline in Essos. I think I mentioned in my look back at season one or two that her whole arc with the Dothraki horde followed by the trek across the Red Wastes to Qarth could be interpreted either as a problematic white saviour narrative (she drops into Dothraki culture, flawlessly assimilates, earns the pretty much immediate respect of the entire horde, gets to bang a really hot dude, and develops literal superpowers) or a subversion of it (her insistence on pushing back against Dothraki traditions gets her husband killed, she trusts a witch for no reason, she leaves her people stranded in a desert with no plan or way out). Her season three arc looks … very much not subversive.
And this is … complicated. Like dealing with non-European-inspired cultures in fantasy is complicated, and dealing with the fact that slavery was a thing in a lot of the non-European cultures you might be taking as inspiration is complicated. You don’t want to sanitise the history of the slave trade, because that’s really problematic but you also want to avoid the thing you sometimes get in more lighthearted fantasy series where the existence of slavery in the non-quasi-European civilisations is confronted as a terrible social evil, while the existence of serfdom and the many attendant inequities of hereditary aristocracy in the quasi-European civilisations are glossed over entirely. And obviously it gets even more complicated because the biggest recent example of slavery in the real world (barring modern slavery which is also a thing but brings its own set of, y’know, complications) is the transatlantic slave trade, which ties into modern—especially modern American—racial politics in a whole bunch of complex and intersectional ways. And this makes talking about (or for that matter creating) fictional settings that contrast non-European-style slave-owning societies against non-slave-owning European-style societies really difficult, because you don’t want to either minimise the historical evils of slavery (which a couple of centuries after the time period that inspired Game of Thrones will very much have been something Europeans were into) or to perpetuate the problematic idea that medieval Europe was a broadly more just society than the medieval East, when actually the opposite was often true.
Anyway Dany’s arc begins with her arriving in Astapor and negotiating the purchase of 8000 “Unsullied”, who are unstoppably terrifying slave-soldiers trained from birth to have no sense of self or identity, and to be absolutely loyal to whoever commands them. Dany trades all of the Unsullied for one of her dragons, and then does what you would obviously do to a city that had just sold you literally their entire army and commands the Unsullied to kill the slavers. Then she takes her dragon back, but not before commanding her dragon to kill the guy she “sold” it to and striking a cool pose.
Then once the masters are all dead, she tells the unsullied that she will not keep them as slaves, but that those who wish can follow her as free men. Then they all bang their spears on the ground and cheer.
Now … what has happened here? Because to my mind there are two possibilities.
Either Daenerys successfully orchestrated a slave revolt, and the Unsullied were so grateful to her for freeing them and their city that they followed her freely. Or Daenerys bought a slave army, then commanded them to act like they weren’t her slaves, and they went along with it because they were slaves and had no choice. The second scenario makes Daenerys a delusional hypocrite in a way that the show has never really called her on. The first scenario denies the agency of enslaved people. I’m not sure which scenario I prefer.
Because the thing is, Daenerys really brings nothing to the table here. Her dragon kills one man, the Unsullied do all of the rest of the fighting. Effectively they free themselves and then both they and Dany, and Dany’s followers and—most problematically—the framing provided in the show give Daenerys the credit. If their conditioning was so strong that they literally could not imagine the idea of rebellion then fair enough, but in that case we’re in the Dany-is-a-hypocrite scenario. If the Unsullied are so brainwashed that they don’t realise that they are the only people in the entire damned city with swords, then they are too brainwashed for Daenerys “freeing” them to be anything more than a fiction. If they have enough free will that they can meaningfully accept Dany’s offer of freedom and be grateful to her for it, then they should have rebelled long ago.
And I’m on thin ice here (and I know I say that a lot) because I am absolutely not meaning to imply that slaves only stay slaves because they lack the necessary gumption, manliness and rugged individualism to rebel. I’m not trying to go full Kanye and insist that eight thousand heavily armed soldiers not rebelling against their totally unarmed masters “sounds like a choice”. What I am saying (and what I think might have led to that unfortunate comment from Mr Kardashian) is that when we look at the history of slavery—or for that matter of any kind of oppression—we tend to do so in a way that implies oppressed people just sat around waiting to be rescued, and that usually isn’t true. The rebellion that Spartacus led in Rome was called the “Third Servile War” because it was … well … the third massive slave rebellion they’d had in about sixty years.
Now often slave revolts fail, because the thing about slaves is they tend not to have much in the way of resources, but slave-soldiers have a long history of winding up with a huge amount of actual power if they aren’t kept in check. The Janissaries wound up as one of the most powerful forces in the Ottoman empire, the Mamluks eventually straight up ran Egypt, and neither group had to wait for a white person to show up and give them permission.
And obviously I’m not suggesting that Slaver’s Bay had to be in the middle of an all-out slave revolt when Dany showed up, or that it’s unreasonable for the conditioning the Unsullied went through to have been sufficient to keep them from rebelling (although in that case then it would suggest that they really have been conditioned not be able to countenance freedom, which brings us back to scenario two above, where Dany just has a slave army and is really hypocritical about it). But the show seems to be creepily unbothered by the implications of Dany showing up and “freeing the slaves” in Astapor in a way that involves the slaves themselves doing all of the hard work and fighting while Dany gives one order and fries one dude. It makes it very hard not to walk away having drawn the inference that freedom was a gift Dany was somehow innately able to bestow upon these people that they could never have imagined taking for themselves.
It doesn’t help that literally every single Unsullied soldier chooses to stay with her, and that Grey Worm is so explicitly grateful to her and that Missandei falls into line so quickly and so unquestioningly. I mean no wonder Daenerys fails to foresee the terrible after-effects her attempts to abolish slavery would have on Slaver’s Bay, her personal experience is that when you free a slave, what happens is that they carry on happily doing the exact same job they were doing before you freed them, still for no pay, and without the uncomfortable moral questions.
This is why I was simultaneously pleased and infuriated by the scene in S8E2 where Grey Worm and Missandei make plans to retire to Naath. It was great to see them finally realise that they could just bail on this whole thing and go home, but I was frustrated that it (a) seemed to be a response to the realisation that Northmen are racist (in, as I discussed last post, what I interpret as a weirdly twenty-first century way) and (b) was clearly never going to happen and only there to make it sadder when one or both of them eventually die. If going back to Naath was on the table as an option, why didn’t she do it years ago? Just once I’d like to see a fantasy story in which the morally virtuous protagonist acquires a slave who will clearly be useful to their agenda/quest/goals, plays the “you are free but I ask that you come with me now as an equal” card and the former slave immediately comes back with “actually, I have a bunch of things I want to do with my life that don’t involve following around some random I just met. Peace, out.”
At least when Dany gets to Yunkai she actually has an army with her, and while the Yunkish do seem to employ slave-soldiers they also have an army of sellswords which explains why the slave-soldiers haven’t done what the only people with swords always do. But then she conquers the city with literally three guys. And fair enough, one of those guys is Daario Naharis (side note, my single favourite thing about Ed Skrein’s sadly unreprised performance here is the way he has a completely different accent for saying his name than for saying anything else) who is literally in charge of the army that is supposed to be defending the city, so the leaders of said city might reasonably have decided capitulation was their best chance. Although this leads me to another issue I’m beginning to have with Dany’s arc which is … wow when you think about it she gets handed a lot of stuff. And yes she also suffers, but her suffering and her acquisition of power and status are pretty much unrelated. There’s a bit when she shows up outside Yunkai where the Masters point out that she’s still in a pretty weak position, and she responds with something along the lines of “a month ago, I had no army. A year ago, I had no dragons.” And I think this is supposed to be evidence that Dany shouldn’t be underestimated but it’s sort of also evidence that she keeps … getting given things she hasn’t really earned? The dragon eggs were literally a gift, and while apparently she had “a dream” that told her how to hatch them, it’s not like she went to any effort to figure that out. And as I’ve rambled on about at length above, the Unsullied just freed themselves then decided to work for her for no reason.
And in a sense the same thing happens at Yunkai. The three leaders of the Second Sons decide that the quickest way to deal with Daenerys is for one of them to sneak into her camp and murder her in the night. They draw lots for who gets to do it, and Daario gets the short (or possibly long) straw. The next time we see him, he’s successfully infiltrated Daenerys’s tent, but twist it turns out that he’s killed the other two leaders of the Second Sons and decided to throw in his lot with her. An outcome that she has, once again, put no effort into producing.
Put in the context of that slightly-too-right-on conversation Dany and Sansa have about being a female ruler, it’s a bit awkward to realise quite how much of Daenerys’s power she owes directly to dudes wanting to bone her. And obviously there’s an element of problematic historical misogyny going on here in that (again I’m going to cite Cleopatra as an example) powerful female leaders tend to get defined in terms of their sexualities in retrospect or—like with Cersei and Euron Greyjoy—are problematically expected to put out even when what they’re actually offering is a perfectly advantageous and traditional military alliance. But in Dany’s case, so much of her rise to power pretty much relies on her being an attractive young woman. Daario was absolutely in a position to kill her while she was in the bath, and even if he hadn’t been when you’re defending a walled city 2000 mercenaries and a large number of armed slaves would have put up enough of a fight, even against the Unsullied, that taking Yunkai would have seriously hampered her chances of taking the Seven Kingdoms. He swapped sides instead specifically because she was young, female, and hot.
I’m honestly not sure what to think about this. On the one hand I think it’s really interesting to recognise that in a society with extremely rigid gender roles there will be some paths to power that are closed off to men just as there are many more that are closed off to women. And it’s almost interesting to take a step back and compare the way sexism in a historically modelled society like Westeros—where men and women have almost totally different spheres, crossing between them borders on impossible, and women are repressed primarily because the social spheres to which they’re relegated are inherently disempowering—and the way it works in the modern world—where men and women are now expected to interact in largely the same spheres but women face a large number of institutional barriers. But it does also play into some really difficult tropes that are not-un-misogynistic when they go unexamined. Because the idea that conventionally attractive women spend their whole lives just being given stuff and having men fall all over themselves to do their bidding is, as I understand it, mostly false. But for Daenerys it’s … mostly true?
And this is super awkward, and I am super out my lane.
Anyway, the Yunkai arc ends with the city’s slaves pouring out to greet the woman who liberated them, which leads to a scene I personally found really, really, really uncomfortable where we zoom into an overhead shot of Daenerys as the only white person (and since she’s got that Targaryen pseudo-albinism thing going on, she looks super white) surrounded by a crowd of dark-skinned people all reaching out their hands towards her in adoration and calling her “Mhysa”.
Which … yeah. I know it gets more complicated later on, but this no longer feels like it’s really a deconstruction of a white saviour trope.
Final #showusthegrainsilos notes.
This is actually the season where we get the estimated population of King’s Landing (Qyburn tauntingly asks Jaime how many lives he’s saved and Jamie replies “half a million” because he stopped the Mad King burning down King’s Landing). There’s also a scene at the start where Olenna Tyrell breaks down the supplies her family have provided for the winter as:
- A million bushels of wheat.
- Half a million bushels each of barley, oats and rye.
- twenty thousand head of cattle, and similar numbers of sheep but I couldn’t make notes that fast and rewinding was getting obnoxious.
I’m going to tweak my earlier numbers and assume that the “wagons” that Margaery said were coming from Highgarden can each hold 100 bushels (that’s 6000lb or so, which should be okay for two horses on a good road). They’ve apparently sent 100 carts a day, so 10,000 bushels of supplies. They claim to have provided 2.5 million bushels so far, which suggest that these carts have been running solidly for 250 days—has that much time really passed? And isn’t there a civil war?
Anyway, 2.5 million bushels of assorted grains should last King’s Landing about 300 days. Which is the first 16% of the Winter taken care of. Hopefully it’s not coming too quickly, because they need to step their game up.
Also, where are they keeping it.