Tuesday, 29 May 2012

The Equaliser

As you get weaker, it will get harder.

War, eh?  That's a big old sausage-fest, am I right?  And with the whole length of Game of Thrones' second season been in large part the ramp-up to what looks to be a truly apocalyptic battle, there might not be a great deal for the women to do come Episode 9.

In the interests of balance, then, "The Prince of Winterfell" is (almost) all about Eve.

More specifically, this time around we're dealing explicitly with something the show dips into on regular intervals: how do women wield influence in this male-dominated world?  When physical strength matters even more than it does in our reality, how do they protect those they want alive, dispatch those they want dead, and just survive in general?

The quickest answer this of course is that they can recruit men to their cause.  That's what Arya has done, albeit unintentionally, and she uses her hold over Jaquen H'ghar this week, ensuring she gains her freedom as a result of a pact that was meant to involve only assassination (love her shrug when H'ghar accuses her of lacking honour; this Stark isn't going to fall into that trap, thank you very much).

Equally unsubtle in its applications is Cersei's ordering around of the men in Joffrey's Kingsguard, as they drag in Tyrion's decoy whore to parade in front of him.  The Queen Regent is also good enough to explain the overall thrust of this episode - women don't want the same thing as men, and that makes them dangerous to a gender most often found planning new and elaborate ways to get their rocks off.

This being Cersei, of course, she overstates her case (as well as falling for an obvious bluff because she can't possibly conceive of Tyrion being cleverer than her).  There are less direct methods by which a man will end up doing a woman's bidding.  Ygritte, for example, keeps Jon alive in the Wildling camp by persuading its commander that the King Beyond the Wall will want to decide Jon's fate personally.  Ygritte's no coward, but she's not an idiot either; she's quickly shot down when she tries to argue for Jon's life on the grounds she wants him breathing (a debt of honour for him sparing her), so she falls back on telling the man in front of her that there is a stronger man behind her.

Yara tries something similar with her brother Theon, by invoking the will of their father.  Interestingly, she doesn't pursue the point when he doesn't react to it.  I say "interestingly" because of all the women in Westeros, even more so than Brienne, who has the martial prowess to make her the equal of any knight but still struggles to gain respect, Yara doesn't need to play the cards dealt Westerosi women (though, unlike Brienne, she can if she chooses); she's already found acceptance in the testosterone-fuelled Iron Fleet.

Indeed, combined with the contempt the Ironborn show for the de facto landlubber Theon, one could almost argue that there's some gender-reversal going on here, though Theon is behaving like such a petty whining ingrate that it would be dangerous to label him as "effiminate".  Then again, once you see Theon as another woman (which seems to pretty much be what his crew think of him), his reliance on Dagmar to do his dirty work almost makes him a (very, very) distorted image of Cersei, another character more than willing to have children killed, but not with the dagger held in their own hand.

Speaking of Brienne, she didn't get much to do this episode, but what we did see was pretty good.  Up until now there's not been much to her character beyond her loyalty to (and love for) Renly, and her determination to be taken seriously as a warrior by throwing sword-thrusts at anyone who comes within ten paces.  Jaime has all this figured out within seconds, and tries desperately to exploit it by repeatedly suggesting that she's basically just role-playing a knight because she's too ugly to be of interest as a lady.  What makes this scene so good is Brienne's utter refusal to get anywhere near pissed off.  Jaime manages a few ripples of annoyance, but he can't get anything more, because it's not that Brienne wants validation from men, it's that she wants validation from knights, and in her mind Lannister is so thoroughly soiled that it couldn't matter less what his opinion is of her.  Especially since she's the one with the sword/

So, Arya controls a man through debt, Brienne with chains and a sword, and Cersei through power, fear, or lust.  Ygritte sets one man against another, and Yara seems to have managed to pretty much become a man in her own right.  Simple enough, right?  Well, it is in comparison to Catelyn, at least, who's used a woman acting as a man to free a man in hope that man will then free two more women (well, girls).  Whilst we're on the subject, I'd like to state for the record that the scene where Robb confronted his mother was utter balls.  Not because of Robb's reaction, which seemed entirely reasonable, but because the writers seemed to have entirely forgotten what happened in their own show the week before.  Where the fuck does Lord Karstark get off bitching about treason when a few hours earlier he was threatening to chop Jaime's head off.  "How can it be treason to kill Lannisters?" he bellowed at the time.  Robb is furious he returned to find his captive gone, but in actuality the only alternative was to find him dead.  I guess one could argue Catelyn is keeping her mouth shut to prevent Robb falling out with a major bannerman, but it was still infuriating to watch Karstark taking the moral high ground about how losing two sons hadn't driven him to treason.

Were we less observant, it would be tempting to continue the control and manipulation metaphor as we move on to Lady Talisa's first sexual encounter with King Robb.  Thank God we're smarter than that, huh?  None of that "crafty succubus seduces a noble man" nonsense here, thank you very much.  Not that there wasn't a hint of craftiness about reminding Robb that he's betrothed to a stranger over nothing more than a bridge, of course, but hey, that's how flirting goes sometimes.  Still, the fact that we're not dragging Talisa into our "how women exert power" framework doesn't mean her actions (along with Robb's) aren't liable to exert a great deal of influence over future events.

Right, that just about does it for "The Prince of Winterfell".  I'll just note that the episode ends nicely with inversions of the dynamic we've been discussing, with Jorah Mormont clearly under Dany's power in more ways than one, and with the heir to the Kingdom of the North and his little brother entirely reliant on a serving woman to keep them alive, and also give a shout out to Stannis: dog lover and ultimate bad-ass.

Next time around: the Baratheon fleet finally reaches King's Landing, and we consider the amusing irony that makes medieval battles so many times more expensive to film than those set in the far future.

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