‘Game of Thrones’ Recap: When Vengeance Becomes Your God
The seventh season of Game of Thrones opens in its most infamous locale: The Twins. This was the place where the story shattered—where the rules of Westeros, the rules of hospitality, the rules of fantasy stories themselves sheared away from themselves like a great wall of ice and floated away into the sea. It’s often hard to pinpoint, exactly, when a civilization starts to fall, when the culture or the temperature changes by enough degrees that there is no way back, only forward in a way where nothing is the same as it was before.
“You’re wondering why I brought you all here,” says Walder Frey, like the emcee at the final act of of every good murder mystery. Walder Frey is dead, of course. Arya slit his throat, the same way they slit her mother’s, but it wasn’t enough. That’s the problem with vengeance when it becomes your god; it is never enough. The past is forever.
Frey tells them all to raise their glasses to their slaughter of the Starks. Toasts are convenient that way: everyone drinks. As men fall across the banquet hall, Arya Stark takes off his face and reveals her own, reveals that she has poisoned them all, that she isn’t no one. “Tell them the North remembers,” she says to the one woman who survives the mass death. “Tell them that winter came for House Frey.” She has been waiting for this as long as we the viewers have. Are we satisfied?
Perhaps we could call Arya Stark a traditionalist. She feels, more than anything else, betrayed by a world that promised her something better, a world that she was raised to believe was better. Her Kill Bill-style vendetta against everyone who unmade that world could be seen as a way to balance the scales, to make it right.
Arya herself once unbalanced that scale—in Season 4, when a farmer and his daughter met her and the Hound on the road and took them in. She and the Hound took their bread and their water, and they talked about the Twins, about the great and terrible transgression against gods and men that the Freys had perpetrated. “He offered them guest right,” the farmer said angrily of the murdered Starks, referring to the Westerosi custom that guest and host shall not harm one another. “The gods will have their vengeance.” (It has taken some time, but Arya has finally made this particular prophecy come true, with her god of many faces.)
The farmer’s hospitality to two strangers was small but meaningful—and how did it end for him? Left to die, after the Hound beat the man and took his money. “He’s weak,” the Hound told an angry Arya then. “He can’t protect himself. They’ll both be dead come winter… I just understand the way things are. How many Starks do they have to behead before you figure it out?”
When the Hound returns to the same farm now, bannerless brothers Beric and Thoros in tow, to find the father and the daughter skeletonized in the corner, does it make him a murderer or make him right? And standing over a banquet hall full of fresh corpses, whose child is Arya now: Ned Stark’s or the Hound’s? Or is she a daughter of the House of Black and White, claiming knowledge of exactly where and when a man needs to die?
Standing over a banquet hall full of fresh corpses, whose child is Arya now: Ned Stark’s or the Hound’s?
Back in the North, the remaining Starks are in the midst of their own conflict between avenging past sins and sowing a civilized future. Sansa wants to strip the Umbers and the Karstarks of their ancestral homes for betraying them to the Boltons; Jon wants to offer amnesty to what remains of their families, and reunite the North. “So there’s no punishment for treason and no respect for loyalty?” asks Sansa furiously. She and Arya have never been closer, even though they barely know each other now. They have become more ruthless than any of the men around them, because they have survived them.
After Sansa and Jon confront each other in their Northern town hall, he bristles at her aggressive tactics, her unwillingness to acquiesce. She is like Cersei, he says. “I learned a great deal from her,” Sansa replies. Her plea to Jon is the same one that every Game of Thrones fan has been screaming at the screen for years: wise up. “You have to be smarter than Father,” says Sansa. “You have to be smarter than Robb. I miss them, I loved them, but they made stupid mistakes and they lost their heads for it.” How many Starks have to die before they figure it out?
Cersei says something almost identical to Jaime, as they contemplate their future after the deaths of their own family members—Tywin, Joffrey, Myrcella, Tommen. “I loved them, I did,” says Cersei. “But they’re ashes now. We’re still flesh and blood.” No more to build on there, and so they turn to their affairs.
This was the stuff of civilization, of parley and sanctuary. These were the rules of Ned Stark, of Robert Baratheon, and all the men whose bodies line the road to the world that comes next.
The most unexpected demonstration of guest right comes as Arya is riding away from the Twins, fresh from her murder of basically everyone, when she discovers a camp of redcloaks sent from King’s Landing to “keep the peace.” The last time we saw Arya come upon a camp of men near the Twins, it ended with all of them dead; you could be forgiven for thinking this would end the same way. But this group of men does what the Frey soldiers did not: they welcome her to their fire, offer her food and wine and shelter. For some reason, Ed Sheeran is there. “My mother always told me to be kind to strangers,” says one of the men, offering her the first bite of a rabbit. “Strangers will be kind to you.”
It’s an inconvenient narrative: the redcloaks of King’s Landing showing the sort of hospitality and humanity that we have rarely seen on the show, the kind that Arya was once taught was the way of the world. This was the stuff of civilization, of parley and sanctuary, the sacred spaces that were protected by mutual agreement from all of the worst impulses of humankind. These were the rules of Ned Stark, of Robert Baratheon, and all the men whose bodies line the road to the world that comes next. What will it look like? How much of the past, with all its glories and its sanctuaries and its pains, will they carry into the future?
And no matter where we look in Westeros, the future is female: Cersei to the South, Sansa to the North, Daenerys to the East. When the Dragon Queen finally lands on the shores of Westeros, clutches a handful of sand in her palm, and walks into the ancestral home of her people, she feels like both: the future and the past. Isn’t that what Jon was saying, when he chose forgiveness? The future can be better and more just than the pain of the past, if we choose it. Yet, with the kingdoms heaving, each traveler is picking their own path to the throne—and hoping they’ve guessed right. And what does Daenerys say, when she walks into the halls of power and stands at the board of the great game? “Shall we begin?”
via Wired Top Stories https://www.wired.com
July 17, 2017 at 02:54PM