May 20, 2013

Game of Thrones: “Second Sons”

By Paul Krueger

Westerosi society makes much of the circumstances of your birth.  What’s between your legs, how many children came before you, how much gold your folks have to flash.  These are all things beyond your control, and with the exception of a very small number, they almost completely determine the course of your life.  This episode takes its title from a mercenary company, but the theme with which it concerns itself is second sons, both literal and metaphorical.  The people of whom we see the most this hour are those who weren’t born right in the eyes of society.

The majority of running time goes to Tyrion’s wedding, a perfect intersection of people of people of bad birth.  Tyrion is a literal second son, and with Tywin around all the spirit he showed last year is gone.  Sansa and Cersei are both highborn ladies, kept around to be married off for political gain and little else.  And what a surprise, at an event concocted by one first son (Tywin) and officiated by another (Joffrey), none of these people are happy.  While the girls are content just to sulk and drink, Tyrion gets in some great lines and attempts to show his gentle, chivalrous side.  It’s the classic nice guy trap, though; just because you’re kind to a girl doesn’t mean you’re entitled to naked time.

The collection of scenes that comprise the wedding do the most to highlight the idiocy of such a system.  In particular, Olenna delights in pointing out that once Margaery and Loras have married a son and mother, respectively, their family tree will look more like a wreath.  But it also showcases two characters who are born “right,” so to speak, but ill-suited to the part.  Loras and his sexuality have no place in a society that only cares about getting the next generation out into the world--a lesson Renly had to learn as well.  And while listing the ways in which Joffrey sucks could take up the rest of my word count, suffice it to say that he’s the absolute worst person who could inherit the Iron Throne, and under the law the only one entitled to.

...Unless you ask Stannis, anyway.  Dragonstone is another place teeming with metaphorical second sons, plus one literal one.  Melisandre was born a slave, while both Davos and Gendry come from the medieval equivalent of the projects--and Gendry’s a bastard besides.  This entire Gendry gambit, it turns out, is to get at his king’s blood, as a way to overcome Stannis’ own second son issue: he’s not getting the attention he thinks he deserves.  In a scene that seriously made me consider converting to Rh’llor’s faith and then immediately regret that idea, Melisandre gets the blood in leech form, and promises a nasty end to the three kings that stand between Stannis and his throne: Robb Stark, Balon Greyjoy, and That Little Shit.

In the middle of this, Liam Cunningham’s been given some great stuff to do as Davos.  The scene in which Stannis visits him finally allows for a continuation of the relationship they had last season.  Notice, in particular, that even though Davos is the one in the cell the shots often frame things so it looks like Stannis is the one behind bars.  It’s a nice, subtle bit of direction that says something about the character without distracting from the scene: Stannis is trapped.  By birthright, by his mixed feelings towards Rh’llor, by his own unpopularity.  Those circumstances have forced him to do things he’s not comfortable with, and he turns to another trapped man when he’s on the verge of doing something worse.  He even frees Davos; he knows deep down that it’s the only way to free himself, at least this time.

In contrast to everyone else, Daenerys is someone who’s taken her status and made it work for her.  It helps that she has no siblings to challenge her; in fact, it says everything about a society’s values when bloodthirsty sellswords are a more easily surmountable obstacle than an older brother, doesn’t it?  Latecomer Ed Skrein joins as Daario Naharis, playing the part with just enough ambiguity to leave viewers wondering if he’s a man of principles or just a sociopath.  By episode’s end, he and Dany have an understanding.  They’re both people who do what they want, when they want to do it, and society can get the hell out of their way if they don’t want a faceful of dracarys.

Or how about a back-full of stone dagger that makes you turn into a flurry and gently explode?  Almost three whole seasons of blubbering, and Sam finally grows a pair.  True to the episode’s theme, he even gets a moment to remind the audience that even though he’s a firstborn son, he might as well be a bastard in the eyes of his father, Randyll.  And while there are perks to being a firstborn, he let go of all those when he took the black.  But then again, if he had never been forced to take the black, then he never would have had a chance to be a hero.

Grade: B+

  • In the books, the Second Sons were one of two companies Yunkai employed.  Daario ran another one, the Stormcrows, who seem to have been cut from the show.
  • I imagine Cersei will get into a time machine at the end of the series, travel to 2003 Balboa Bay County, and assume a new identity as Lucille Bluth.  Tonight demonstrated she’s well on her way.
  • The passing mention of Balon Greyjoy makes me glad we didn’t see Theon this week, and wish we could check in on the ironborn at least once.  This show could always use more viking-pirates.
  • Also thematically appropos: Sandor Clegane, AKA the Hound, is a second son.  But there’s nothing to say about his scene, which basically existed to remind us what all the characters who sat out this week were up to.
  • Thanks to Memorial Day, we’re skipping a week.  We’ll be back in two weeks with “The Rains of Castamere.”

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