Monday, 6 June 2011

Gaming The System

What with my anniversary break this weekend, and driving to and from same, I haven't really had time to digest my re-watch of "You Win Or You Die", which happened late last night.  Fortunately, someone else has done the heavy lifting.

This manages to successfully capture what might be the biggest issue people have with the episode: the fact that Ned Stark is really, really stupid. Whilst it's hard to disagree with the majority of points these LOLStark pictures make (I still think people calling him an idiot because his excitable pre-pubescent child tells him he learnt savages wanted to kill him whilst she was hiding in a dragon - "I think one of them was fat" - are thinking too much like viewers, and not enough like fathers), there are two things to say about this.  Firstly, part of the whole theme of the series is that good men, good soldiers, good thinkers and good leaders are all different things, and even in some combinations maybe mutually exclusive.  Ned's terrible performance in his role as D.I. Stark is part of that.  Indeed, there's no reason at all to think Ned is particularly bright in any case.  I quite like the idea of having a hero be spectacularly dim-witted, and no-one noticing because all he's done before that is be great at killing people, and loving towards his family.

The second point is actually in defence of his actions: Ned, we know, is a pious man, who likes to sit beneath the tree of his Gods whilst tending to his sword.  And, whilst the Old Gods may not work in the same mysterious ways as do the Seven worshipped in the South, I'd still point out that the whole principle of trial by combat demonstrated in the Eyrie is that the Gods will intervene to ensure the guilty party loses.  Bronn would defeat Ser Vardas Egan if and only if Tyrion was guilty innocent of the crimes he was accused of. [1]

In other words, it is an accepted idea in Westeros that the Gods will actually intervene on the side of justice. So was Ned naive because he thought he would succeed against the conniving Lannisters with his brand of rough, simple honesty?  Or did he just expect his Gods to deliver more than they were ever going to? [2]

I'm not saying that necessarily absolves Stark of accusations of stupidity.  I just think it changes the frame of consideration a bit.

In any event, there's no way Ned was as stupid as that idiot assassin.  What self-respecting purveyor of poisons wouldn't either a) have an antidote to his own wares or b) use poisons slow-acting enough to allow him to retch them back up if forced to ingest them?  I'm also not sure why they altered the scene from the book so that rather than changing wines when he discovered his customer was a Khaleesi (which makes some sense), he did so when he knew which specific Khaleesi he was addressing.

This is the best Varys can come up with?  You'd almost think he wanted Dany to survive...

I'll fold any further comments I think up into my post on tonight's episode, what with it being in half an hour or so.  I'll just finish off by saying how much I love Charles Dance as Tywin Lannister.  More than a few people have argued he's fairly different to the Tywin of the book.  I think they have a point.  I also don't care.  This Tywin, at first glance at least, is actually an improvement, all lithe coldness and nihilism. I await his next appearance with far more interest than I did his scenes in print.

[1] I acknowledge that this is something either difficult or impossible to pick up if one is new to the series.  Frankly, you could argue it's a ball dropped, but there's time to rectify the situation later.  I don't think I'm spoiling anything to say this won't be the last time two people hack at each other with swords to decide complex legal issues.

[2] There's an interesting point here in that I've no doubt Cersei believes the Seven are on her side, too.  After seventeen years of being ignored, drunkenly fondled, and occasionally struck by her bloated, boorish King, she now has the opportunity to usher in a new era of de facto Lannister rule.  She was simply smart enough to ensure she helped her Gods out a little bit, is all.  In this one sense it's a little bit of a shame that the Starks have a different pantheon to the Lannisters.  I always find it intriguing when two different sets of people both pray to the same Gods for incompatible outcomes.  This is a topic for another time, but one wonders what exactly they believe is the metric by which God judges.


Jamie said...

The LOLNed that threw me was the one about Ser Hugh of the Vale - wasn't it fairly obvious (from both the show and the book) that Ned found Hugh's death very suspicious?

I think you're misremembering the wine-seller scene, it plays out pretty much the same with regards to when he switches types of wine, and he addresses her as 'khaleesi' as he first encounters her.

Admittedly, the plot isn't great, but he would have gotten away with it if it wasn't for that pesky knight. This is kind of what bothers me about the scene - if we believe that Varys ultimately wants to keep the Targaryens alive, surely he would have a better failsafe than hoping that Mormont would intervene. Unless the latter was ordered to, in another communication he might have received.

And yes, Charles Dance nails it utterly.

N.B. I think you mean 'if and only if Tyrion was innocent of the crimes...'

SpaceSquid said...

I went back and checked, and you're right. It doesn't feel quite so obvious in the book, because of him pretending to think she's Tyroshi first of all, but fair enough - it's much closer to the TV scene than I'd remembered.

If we assume for the sake of argument that Varys wants to keep the Targaryens alive (and his conflab with Illyrio certainly lends weight to that theory), then we should bear in mind that his main task would be to keep Viserys alive. Again, as Gooder has pointed out, it's pretty much impossible to gauge time passing in the show, but we know the order to kill Dany was given by King Robert back when Viserys was still alive. Varys might have put all (or the majority) of whatever assets he has in Essos into that task, only for the stupid berk to get himself deaded in any event.

I've changed the grammatical error, thanks for pointing it out (and disguising your reason for commenting better than you normall do ;) )

Jamie said...

Your point about Viserys makes sense I suppose.

Hey, the other points I made were at least as important! Well, almost...