Did You Earn The Right To Post Yet Another Game Of Thrones Commentary?
“The Night Lands” (S2: E2)
I’m really getting into the second season of Game of Thrones, so I’m going to be sporadically posting stray thoughts on episodes here. Just some context: I’ve read (and enjoyed) the first two books, but I’m more interested in talking about what’s going on in the HBO adaptation than comparing the two. Light spoilers, and I’m just going to dive right in as if people are already familiar with these characters and events.
I asked this question on Twitter, and I’ll ask it here again: are there any sex scenes in GOT that aren’t sites of shame, trauma, abuse, greed, violence, death, etc.? Most of the sex we see onscreen involve the more unsavory characters living in Westeros. Theon Greyjoy’s candid dismissal of the “salt wife” he acquires on his trip to the Iron Islands was particularly disgusting, but of course the show wants us to dislike Greyjoy, especially in this particular moment of hubris. Also, unless I’m reading too much into this, it seems like Theon is a minute man, which is a nice additional coating of slime. In any case, I had a hard time watching this particular scene.
Elsewhere, we see Littlefinger reminding one of the women in his employ of her low standing in a world ruled by the desires of men. This scene was particularly devastating because of its reliance on the language of brutality in lieu of actual violence: this poor woman doesn’t need more than an anecdote to be put back in line. And even one of the more powerful women in this season, Melisandre, looks uncomfortable when she convinces Stannis Baratheon to let her bear him the son he’s always wanted, and he promptly mounts her in the war room.
I know that the show is clearly offering a commentary on the inequality of women, the abuse of power, etc., etc. And in a world without contraception, children are always a threat hovering around sex. The War on Babies that has taken place this season — both episodes thus far have ended with children being murdered / given to monsters, probably as food — reminds us that the servants of Joffrey Lannister are hoping to will the present into a state of permanence. Most kings wouldn’t have it any other way, it seems, given the hazards of this particular position. And of course the show insists on showing us how insufficient these safeguards against time and uncertainty are: the walls that have been built up, literal and metaphorical, will inevitably be shown to offer little more than what Robert Frost calls a “momentary stay against confusion.”
Our heroes at this particular moment in time, at least from my vantage point, are Varys and Jon Snow. Both characters have been forced into lives of chastity, but the advantage here is that they can now turn toward the more noble role of safeguarding civilization as Westeros knows it. I don’t know what lies beyond A Clash of Kings, but it would be nice to see the world acknowledge these men as martyrs of their time and place, not practitioners of timeless ideals that we should all strive for. It would also be nice to see some alternative stagings of sex in the land of Westeros. Surely some couples somewhere are having a good time. I don’t know, maybe I read too much criticism by Michael Warner. But I too get kind of weary of the lack of optimistic depictions of sexuality in contemporary culture. The closest we’ve gotten to a couple that’s mutually happy in each other’s company this season has been Tyrion and Shae, but clearly that relationship is problematic: Shae is happy, but she lives locked up as a kept woman in the service of a wealthy man. And given the presence of Varys in her chamber, things do not look promising for this couple.
Based on a vague recollection of a New Yorker profile of George Martin, I’m pretty sure that the architect of Westeros does not implicitly endorse a life lived along the tenants of the Night’s Watch (have people reading about Westeros in our world taken this vow yet? Surely someone has.). And the show seems to be willing to let its viewers think about the moral codes of its various nations, rather than stage readings of their customs that guide us to particular interpretations.
For instance, the idea of the “Iron Price” as it is practiced by the people of The Iron Islands is fairly ridiculous if we think about it too long. At least in the depiction of the Dothraki people in season one, we saw challenges to Khal Drogo and a sense that his dominion over his particular group was temporary even at the height of his strength. In the world of the Iron Islands, it just so happens that the royal family of the Greyjoys has been most successful at cashing these blood-soaked checks in combat. Buying milk on The Iron Islands must be particularly hazardous. But in light of Theon Greyjoy’s own pathetic outlook and sense of entitlement, the Iron Price seems admirable, noble, a corrective to the sort of nepotism that landed Joffrey Lannister on the throne at Kings Landing.
I should reiterate that I’m really enjoying the second season of Game of Thrones. That being said, I find these particular issues worth talking and thinking about right now, and an acknowledgment that these shows contain problematic moments (or at least issues worth reflecting more on) doesn’t, for me at least, negate the show. Also, Jon’s wolf looked really cool in episode two, and I want more Yara Greyjoy.