Monday, 21 May 2012

Stay Free

Go easy... step lightly... stay free

Welcome to the second half of Game of Thrones' two-part consideration of the nature of captivity and freedom, as we dive into: "A Man Without Honor".

(Spoilers swim beneath the surface.)

"I might be your prisoner, but I'm still a free woman."  Helpful of Ygritte to sum up our considerations this week, wasn't it?  Saves me some time.  Jon's exasperated come-back was funny, but his flame-haired captive has the right of it: there's more than one way to be a prisoner, and more than one way to escape.

We talked a lot last time around about the captives in this series - time now to talk about their escapes.  The most obvious example here of course is Jaime Lannister, who literally escapes his literal cage.  Not that he gets too far, of course, but then Jaime's brief taste of the outside world isn't really what's interesting here.  The more vital development here isn't how Jaime escaped the stockade; it's how he escaped his vows.  This show spends a great deal of time examining ties of honour, duty, and loyalty (consider Ygritte's arguments in this installment, or Arya telling Tywin her father was killed by loyalty last episode).  It comes to Jaime to finally spell out the awful truth (Lord Frey touched on this last season, but only as part of a bargaining session): sooner or later the oaths you swear run contrary to each other.  Caught between a father and a king who hated each other, and a king (and, if we're being honest, a father) with no concern or sympathy for the innocents their manoeuvres claim, Jaime just... gave up.

The price of his freedom was his honour, of course, but he doesn't care about that, or at least he puts a lot of effort into pretending he doesn't care.  It certainly is freedom, though, freedom to murder your cousin without hesitation in exchange for the slimmest chance of returning to his sister.  Ygritte, whose escape attempt goes rather better, makes a similar point: freedom is choosing who you follow.  Jon, like his father, got to make that choice exactly once in his life; Ygritte makes it daily.

Mind you, Cersei made the same choice each time she got up in the morning, and all it's gotten her is a dick for a son and one hundred Baratheon ships for an incoming fleet.  Of all the characters in this show, it makes the most sense that she wouldn't be able to tell the difference between tactics and strategy - she's spent so much time making sure she climbed the ladder she didn't think to bring any rope with her.  And now the ladder is burned away - as apparently will Kings Landing if Joffrey "Kill Them All!" Baratheon gets his way - and all she has left is her younger brother.  The only person to have any reason to help her retain her power rather than barter it away.  Not that that matters; after seventeen years of building her own cage, Cersei will be damned if she leaves it on the Imp's arm.

But we were talking about oaths, weren't we?  Silly squid, to get distracted.  Let's move on to... ah, yes!  The Young Wolf!  Reminded so coolly by his mother last week that he's engaged to be married to a Frey of the Twins.  Why, 'tis almost as though he's trapped.  Trapped, by the Old Gods!  Let's not brood, though, for what could make a more pleasant diversion for a prisoner than to ride off with a beautiful young woman in order to help her fetch silk and opiates.  What could possibly go wrong there?  Still, you have to hand it to him; this will probably be the most pleasant escape attempt this series will offer.

It certainly hasn't been too much fun for Bran and Rickon, accompanied by Osha, Hodor, and the boys' direwolves.  Chased - the ignomy! - by their own former dogs, and surviving on a diet of walnuts (between this and Rickon's nut smashing hobby in Episode 12, there must be a snack vendor in Winterfell feeling pretty fucking good about himself).  Of course, it's been nothing but fun for Theon, or so he want Maester Luwin to believe.  I mentioned last time around that I had some sympathy for Theon, since up until now he's really mainly been guilty of doing what he had to do whilst also enjoying it.  That's not true anymore.  Now it looks very much as though Theon has escaped his own trap by deciding, like Jaime, that it's all just a grand adventure.  Of course, Jaime is a bottomless fountain of charm and a lethal swordsman to boot.  Theon is an above average archer with a handful of men and two burned corpses strung up in his courtyard. Plus a host of Dreadfort men headed his way to break every kraken's limb they can.

Let's return to the fugitives, though.  Their arrival at a nearby farm, and their apparent choice to hide or at least past through there despite Bran knowing full well what Theon will do to the farmer for sheltering them, brings up another issue: the price of freedom.  Bran (at Osha's urging, admittedly) gambled the lives of a farmer and his two sons in the hopes of not being taken hostage once more.  If Robb gives into temptation and plays a few rounds of Rub My Wounds with Talisa, he'll lose the support of the Freys, who at the very least are sitting on his only route home if the war takes a turn for the worse.  Jaime, as mentioned, paid for his (brief) escape with his cousin's life, thereby adding "kinslayer" to his resume and pretty much losing anyone left who might still give a shit about him, including quite possibly his father.  Theon just burned two boys to cement his hold on Winterfell ("it's better to be cruel than weak" was an unpleasant line, made all the worse by how clear it was that Theon is both).

And Catelyn?  She's been telling every man who would listen for the last seven episodes that she's trapped as well, trapped by her love for her two daughters, and the knowledge that keeping them safe is paramount. Nobody seemed particularly willing to hear it, though, least of all Lord Karstark, who's determined that gaining revenge for his murdered son is easily worth the lives of his king's two sisters.  I can only see one way out of the cage for Catelyn, and as she stands before Jaime Lannister, Brienne's sword in her hand, it looks an awful lot like she gets it as well...

A few odds and sods to finish off:

  • Now that I've seen him in action, I can say with more confidence: new Mountain = shit.  He's got a kind of sullen Christopher Lee thing going on, but he's still too thin, and not nearly a good enough actor for me to see what was gained by the switch;
  • Pyat Pree is the ultimate bad-ass (sorry, Hudson)!  I suppose his sudden synchronised throat-slashing and general invulnerability might be a little much in such a low-magic TV show (sure, there was Melisandre's shadow-baby, but at least that seemed difficult to pull off), but it was certainly an awesome scene.  Was Pree so Scottish the last time we saw him, though?
  • Ygritte's attempts to figure out exactly how the Night's Watch gets their rocks (sorry, "stones") off was hilarious.  Interesting that she moves from people straight to sheep;
  • I'm getting repetitive on the subject, but just a reminder: Tywin and Arya are brilliant together every single time;
  • Poor Irri.

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