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The Price of Survival & “The Night Lands”

How do you stay alive in a dark, dangerous, cruel and horrible world?  Tonight’s episode of “Game of Thrones” sought to provide some examples.  And I guess, you could say the first way is (to quote Russell Brand in Forgetting Sarah Marshall) to “lose yourself in fuck.”  Cause damn, there was a lot of screwing going on!

But let’s put that aside since, as humorous as watching all those sex scenes can prove, there was some serious stuff going on.

Game-Of-Thrones-The-Night-LandsTonight we met the fifth claimant to the title of King in Westeros: Balon of House Greyjoy, Lord Reaper of Pyke and the Iron Islands.  He rebelled nine years before and was brought down by King Robert and Lord Eddard.  His two older sons died in the fighting and his youngest, Theon, was taken as ward/hostage by Lord Stark.  How does a man like that survive such losses?  He raises his daughter to be his heir – a bold action in a world that treats women as second-class citizens – and bides his time until he can strike back.  When Theon returns with Robb Stark’s letter, he sees his opening for vengeance and conquest.

But he also chides his son for betraying his culture and his family to become like one of the Northerners.  His disgust at a son wearing fine clothes and trinkets bought with gold and not with violence is evident.  Lord Balon should perhaps have some mercy on Theon; a child who was never at home in Winterfell and a man who has grown always a step away from death if his father ever rebelled – the whole point of him being a ward was to act as a deterrent.  How could Theon make peace with who he was, where he was and the reasons for him being there without taking on some of the Northern customs?  How could he survive in the house of his jailors without becoming as pariah to the Northerners as the Bastard, Jon Snow?

Poor, poor Jon.  He spends his days sullenly sharpening his Valyrian steel sword and trying to avoid any contact with the women of Craster.  Even so, when Sam shows up with Gilly in tow, he understands that there is nothing he can do in spite of Sam’s protestations.  They are there to deal with a great threat and not to save some poor, young, scared girl from the life of servitude and misery at the hands of her lecherous father.  Groups like the Night’s Watch survive because they focus single-mindedly on their mission and ignore the rest.  Otherwise, they’d be kicked out of every ally’s house.Jon-Snow-Samwell-Tarly-Game-Of-Thrones-Season-2

Unfortunately for Jon, it seems as if Craster’s method of survival in the harsh lands north of The Wall are tied in directly in the Night’s Watch mission.  (BTW, was this added on by the show’s creators?  I always thought Craster killed his children).  Craster is a lecher, a pervert and a horrible excuse for a human being.  And yet, even his type find ways to live in the world.  They make allies out of monsters.  They pay a price even greater than iron.  They pay a price of blood.

Craster’s price may be similar in nature to the one Stannis Baratheon is willing to pay for the Iron Throne.  He’s not so foolishly devout to Melisandre’s god to believe he can just move against Renly or Joffrey and win.  He knows he needs armies and ships.  To that end, he sends Ser Davos to make treaties with smugglers and pirates (#Teamblackguy).  Saladhor Saan survives by taking the wealth of others for his own, as Davos did long ago.  So he’ll sign on with Davos and with King Stannis for the promise of great wealth – and great tail.

But what of Stannis? He knows that pirates won’t be enough.  He knows he needs a way to bring Renly’s armies – the ones he believes should rightfully be his – to his side.  Melisandre promises a way and promises an heir.  All he has to do is forsake his honor with her atop the Painted Table and give in to the promises of the Lord of Light.  Perhaps he believes.  Perhaps he won’t.  In the end, he’s a man who knows he cannot achieve his goals without a little divine help – whatever the cost.

Whatever the cost should be the words of Lord Petyr Baelish and Lord Varys.  They’re men who’ve shown time and again that they will survive no matter what it takes.  For one, that involved telling a distraught girl that, if she doesn’t shape up, he will have no trouble in selling her to the vilest and most sadistic of men.  For the other, it involved surreptitiously threatening Tyrion Lannister, appointed Hand of the King.  One had the power to threaten back and one did not.  But in the end, Baelish, Varys, Ros and Tyrion are all survivors.  They know that the best way to survive is to find “friends” or allies who can help them weather the storm.  Not that they’ll be friends with them for longer than it takes to survive the current threat – just ask Lord Janos Slynt as he heads for The Wall.  Or go ask the head of Eddard Stark.

2x02-The-Night-Lands-game-of-thrones-30398955-1024-575But friendship, if true, can help you through any difficulty, as Arya Stark is finding out.  She fears for her life from the Queen’s men.  And even as she knows that she shouldn’t, she makes a quick friend out of Gendry, the former apprentice and (unknown to either of them) Robert’s bastard son.  She tells him who she really is because she knows she needs someone she can trust.  Gendry needs someone like that too, given that the Gold Cloaks are after him now.  But so far from home, and having no real power, they may find they’ll need to make new friends amongst the desperate and downtrodden who accompany them to The Wall.

So while not much may appear to have happened, pay attention as the pieces move into place.  Just because the pawns have to be sacrificed for the kings and queens, it doesn’t mean they don’t want to survive.  Or live just long enough to seduce and have sex with a queen.

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