“Knowledge” says Lord Baelish before the Queen crushes his answer in a simple, but profound display of force. Tyrion and Varys might agree with Baelish, even if they wouldn’t sign up for the retort from Cersei. Others might agree with the Queen: Craster, the old lecher at the edge of the North, who lives in comfort at his daughters-wives’ expense or Joffrey, the petulant boy King, who turns the noble brotherhood of the Kingsguard into his private thugs and demands fights to the death on his birthday.
Maybe power is position. That’s how it comes that grown men arrive at Winterfell to beg for aid from Bran Stark, a boy of 10. That’s how Daenerys can command warriors sworn to her to ride through to the edges of the desert in the hope of finding salvation from thirst, starvation and death and expect that they’ll return to her. That’s how Stannis Baratheon can rise up and demand the Seven Kingdoms bow down to him as their new ruler.
Or maybe power is something else; something that’s beyond our understanding. Like comets and omens. Like dragons. Like Melisandre.
A lot of this first episode in Season 2 was spent catching viewers on where the characters are since the end of Season 1: Joffrey, Cersei and the Lannisters consolidate their tenuous position in King’s Landing. Robb, Catelyn and the Starks are out on the field, fighting their war of independence and dragging along Jaime Lannister. Dany and her band follow the red comet into the wastes where no one can claim her still tiny dragons. Beyond the Wall, the Night’s Watch marches onward towards a confrontation with Mance Rayder, the King Beyond the Wall.
We also got our first scenes with King Stannis, Melisandre and Davos Seaworth. Their importance in the story will grow but for a first glimpse, it served to establish them well – Stannis, a hard and difficult man, Davos, a noble follower and Melisandre, mysterious and dangerous. Oh and devout. Very devout.
But it’s that scene between Baelish and Cersei that really intrigued me. (And yes, it may seem like I like to talk about scenes featuring Littlefinger, but that’s not by design). Cersei asks Baelish to accomplish a task which no one else has been able to achieve: find Arya Stark. Littlefinger is surprised that so many others have failed – a trick to highlight his own value to the Queen. The talk turns to how Littlefinger has risen in the world and Cersei throws his old unrequited love for Catelyn Stark in his face. When he responds by throwing her reported incest back as a sign that “knowledge is power” she responds by having her Lannister guards seize him and threaten to kill him before she capriciously changes her mind and lets him go. “Power is power” she scolds him before leaving him to compose himself in the sight of one of Varys’ little birds.
Two things stood out to me: first, how similar in nature Cersei was at that moment to her little boy, Joffrey, whom she would later try and scold for daring to ask the same question. Like mother, like son.
Second, and more importantly, how this is the first step in this season’s treatise on power. I suspect it’s a theme we will revisit again and again as the season’s 9 remaining episodes play out. It starts here though. “Knowledge” says a man with no military might. “Power” says a woman with position and might but only some knowledge.
Who’s to say who is right?