Thursday, 17 May 2012

White Riot

All the power's in the hands
Of people rich enough to buy it

This week, we're going to be talking about captives, imprisonment, and how difficult it can sometimes be to realise that we might be trapped, because bars and cells are not always as obvious as those beneath the Red Keep.  Indeed, I'd have been tempted to call this post "Stockholm Syndrome", were it not for the fact that the Clash never sang about that.

(WHERE ARE MY SPOILERS!?!  Oh, wait.  They're below, as usual).

There are four immediately obvious example of captives in "The Old Gods and the New"; Bran and his people, Ygritte, Arya (though of course Tywin doesn't know exactly who it is he has cornered), and Dany's poor, screaming dragons.  Indeed, the fall of Winterfell and the theft of Dany's "children" book-ended the episode most effectively.  Or at least, they would have if Theon's conquest hadn't been so ridiculously cheap.  I realise that there's only so much money to go around, and enough had to be sunk into the riot in Kings Landing later in the episode, but that can't alter the fact that having a main character stride into a bedroom and announce he's taken control of (arguably) the show's most important location during the pre-show ad break is weak tea indeed.

The loss of Dany's dragons, on the other hand, was far more effective, and involved no more money being spent on the action budget, though make-up was probably looking pointedly at its wallet more than once.  The horrible screams of Dany's "children" as their kidnapper dragged them away provided probably the best ending an individual episode has had since, well, since the last time the air was alive with the songs of dragons.  Or that chick from Valkyrie squeezed out killer shadow baby.  One or the other.

(Of course, it helps that this is the only cliffhanger the show has managed which isn't taken from the books - Jon's encounter with a White Walker aside.  It's not particularly difficult to work out who's responsible, but it's still nice to know the show can throw up a surprise every now and again).

Sticking with the opening and closing of the episode, what's really interesting is that pretty much everyone involved is a captive of something.  Dany, obviously, is essentially stuck in Qarth, since no-one is prepared to offer her two or more ships, and the asking price for the one she found was pretty damn steep.  More importantly, though, Theon is being held captive as well, bound to obey the demands of his crew lest they abandon him long leagues from home.  So powerful is the hold his captors have over him that he's forced to execute the man who - maybe even more than Eddard Stark - replaced his own father, and moreover taught him how to use the sword that he's wielding like a headman's axe.  This of course feeds into Theon's arc this season, he's basically had no choice in anything at all - Robb sent him to his father, his father sent him to the Sea Bitch, and the crew of same basically sent him to Winterfell and his encounter with Sir Rodrik - and his greatest crime so far seems to be that he's determined to at least enjoy himself along the way.

That said, one can only maintain this argument if we ignore another option: that Theon casts his pride aside and slinks away.  There's no chance of that, though.  Balon Greyjoy's youngest son is as much a prisoner to his pride as he is to his messed-up family.  But then, Rodrik Cassel has the same flaw; had he shown the slightest deference to Theon, or even just resisted the urge to spit in his face, he'd still have his ridiculous sideburns within four feet of his body.

This idea of mutual captivity is returned to more than once here.  Jon might be the one with the sword to Ygritte's neck (or scraping off the nearby rocks - Gods, the people in this show treat their swords like crap), but as Qhorin Halfhand was so keen to point out, Jon's fighting against the North as well, and that enemy most certainly has him surrounded.  There's less than a half-dozen rangers out there right now, and hundreds of thousands of Wildlings; you don't need to be an expert in probability to realise just how badly Jon is screwed right now.

The best case of symbiotic captivity, though, is in Kings Landing.  The smallfolk are on the verge of revolting because Joffrey's war has left them trapped and starving.  When the wave finally breaks, though, and a cowpat to the face ignites a full-scale, zombie-peasant riot, Joffrey is presented with an important lesson: a king is surrounded by his people, and only keeping them sweet keeps you alive.  In that sense at least, a ruler is simply a prisoner with exceptionally easily bribed guards.

Of course, Joffrey knew this going in, or at least he should have done, and has no-one but to blame but himself (and his parents) for the fact he doesn't.  Robb Stark's imprisonment is equally self-inflicted; he knows (and is reminded by his mother this episode just in case he wasn't) that he isn't free to follow his heart and see what Talisa might be able to do with a tool very different from her amputation saw, because he made a wedding pact at the end of last season, as the price of being allowed to avenge his father.  But is Robb then the clearest reminder that sometimes the prisons we build for ourselves are the most difficult of all to endure?

I suspect we may not have long to wonder.  If episode 16 was about captivity, then, it follows that we'll soon be coming to the point where it all becomes about escape and liberation.  Of course, just as not all cells are obvious, or even undesirable, not every escape is necessarily for the best.

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