Game of Thrones Season 5
I recently caught up on this past season of Game of Thrones. The only time I’ve blogged about this before was in critisizing how often naked women appear really only as props. I’m not sure if this season was any better on that front – not worse, but probably still bad. But there were a few other themes I did enjoy that made this the most interesting season to me so far. Spoilers will follow.
Protect the Status Quo?
My favourite line of the season, and the show in general so far, came from Tyrion Lannister. This may be a slight paraphrase:
It’s easy to confuse what is with what ought to be, especially when what is works out in your favour.
That statement can be applied to a lot of issues in real life. When you are in a position of privilege, it is pretty common to assume that the ways things are is the way they should be. In this context, Daenerys has become Queen of Meereen. Her story to get there included freeing thousands of slaves. This season is focused on the backlash from those who previously owned slaves. After a few smaller cases of this violent backlash, one of these formerly-owners who is more sympathetic suggests she reinstate the fighting pits – using only free men this time – as a concession to the traditions. She initially resists and there is more violence, and she ultimately gives in but it is too little too late.
I have some sympathy for saying that sometimes we need to take changes slowly. And Daenyers definitely enacted a lot of dramatic changes very quickly. She’s got the right vision. Now that Tyrion has joined her, I hope to see that optimistic progression to a better world taken at a realistic and sustainable pace.
The Cost of Breaking Down Walls
Another main thread in the season deals with Jon Snow and others at the Wall. The wildlings have been stopped, thanks to the help of Stannis at the end of the last season, but the White Walkers – much more dangerous – are still coming. Jon realizes that he needs the remaining wildlings on his side to stand a chance. Near the end of the season, he meets with some of their leaders and most agree to come, although the Walkers attack as the boats are being loaded so many do not make it out. Those who do make it are given unused land behind the wall, under the condition that they help fight when the Walkers arrive. It’s a pretty good deal for all involved.
But there’s a problem. The wildlings are the long-time enemy of the Night’s Watch who guard the wall. Many of these people, who theoretically follow Jon, hate them. Their whole life has been devoted to stopping them from getting past the wall. Many of them lost family and friends to wildlings. Now their Commander just let them through and they’re supposed to be allies.
So, even though it’s a good deal from a logical perspective, several of his own men kill him in the final scene of the season. Or at least it looks like they do. Lots of Internet discussions are convinced he’s not really dead or is but will be brought back to life. If the latter, that’s a strong Jesus parallel: betrayed by his own people because he was too generous with those who are different but brought back to life.
Church and State Cooperation
There are two more storylines that both touch on the interaction of religion with the state. In the camp of Stannis, his adviser finally convinces him to sacrifice his daughter – burned alive while we hear her scream – to buy favour with the Lord of Light (a rare monotheistic religion for the GoT world). The daughter’s mother hangs herself the next morning, half the army deserts him, and the adviser leaves before the battle where this sacrifice was supposed to guarantee him a win. He loses the battle and presumably his life (it isn’t directly shown). If he had just attacked with his full army, he probably had a good chance. It’s an interesting story of a political/military ruler trying to buy power through religion and it backfiring spectacularly.
The same theme runs longer throughout the narrative in King’s Landing. Cersei, now Queen Mother as her son is married, gets stuck in a power struggle with the new Queen attempting to influence the weak-willed King. To gain an edge, she imprisons the current High Septon (the highest in the religion of the 7 gods) for taking advantage of his position to get rich, enjoy prostitutes, and so on. She puts in a very strict and simple leader instead, then gives him free reign to use force cracking down on immorality within the city. This includes the brother of the Queen who is gay, and then the Queen who defends him by lying under oath.
Unfortunately for Cersei, it also backfires for her. She is arrested for her various crimes – perjury, incest. After this time in a dark cell by herself, after being used to the life of nobility, she does confess – to as much as she needs to in order to get out, which was less than we the viewers know she has done. The followers of the High Septon clean her up, cut her hair short, and then parade her naked through the city as she walks back to the castle. While she walks forward, one of the female followers of the High Septon repeatedly ring a bell and call out the single word “SHAME!” After a few minutes, the civilians catch on – it’s interesting that they don’t seem to think of the idea themselves – and start yelling at her, throwing food and feces, and jumping out in front of her naked. She ultimately makes it to the castle where she collapses crying. It will be interesting to see how next season progresses; she’s back in her seat of power, but has lost most of her influence.