If you’re Robb Stark, King in the North, you sacrifice the men who follow you and the men who oppose you. Their lives and their futures are offered up in exchange for the chance to rescue your sisters and avenge your father. But at the very least, you don’t go deeper than that. You don’t linger on the promises of further knowledge that may be obtained via Lord Roose Bolton’s methods. (Side note: I was wondering if he was ever going to show up). And you may not wonder how the people of the Seven Kingdoms will make do once you’ve won your war. You’re after justice and family and then you’re going home – Seven Kingdoms be damned. “Winter is coming” seems to be more a motto for King Robb than the warning it is meant to be.
If you’re Dany, and your people are dying, you fire and rage at the Thirteen of Qarth, knowing full and well there is nothing you can do at that moment, all in a desperate attempt to convince the old men and women who can rescue you from thirst and death to be let inside the city. And when the noble Xaro Xan Daxos steps forward to champion you, you accept his hand and thank your stars to be out of the wasteland and into a city of food, water and comfort. But what if that’s not all he wants? What if it’s all a ruse to get you to trust in him with your life, your people and your dragons?
If you’re Tyrion and you want to serve your family and ensure the longevity of your House’s rule, you try to balance out the greed of your sister and the growing and disturbing affinity for cruelty that your nephew is displaying towards women. You do this because you know that your family’s future is tied into the claim that Joffrey has for the Iron Throne. You do this because you’ve begun liking the game. But could your affinity for the “game of thrones” be getting in the way of recognizing how dangerous a threat Cersei and Joffrey are?
That’s what makes tonight’s episode so intriguing. At some point in this story, every character will be tasked with coming to terms with what they want and the price that comes with it. For most, that price will go beyond what they are willing to pay. So do you pay it? Do you make that deal with the red-haired priestess in order to remove your enemies? What if want you’ve done is make a deal with something far deadlier and more powerful than you understand? What if you’re unleashing a greater threat to the realm – YOUR realm – than you can possibly imagine? Stannis Baratheon may be only interested in his claim to the Iron Throne but he should be aware that Melisandre is more than just your pretty face. And he’s not alone in being dismissive of his action.
We see that the Thirteen of Qarth are more than willing to let Dany and her Dothraki “horde” starve right outside their gates just to ensure they’re no threat. We see that the Northmen – the presupposed heroes of our story – are not above robbing the corpses of the Lannister dead. Likewise we see that Lord Tywin’s men enjoy torturing the peasants and prisoners under their power all in their quest to capture the “Brotherhood”. (Spoler alert: The Brotherhood was a band of warriors led by Ser Beric Dondarrion that was sent by Ned Stark last season to capture Ser Gregor). Ser Tywin puts a stop to it, not out of any sense of implied justice, but because he knows he needs smiths and laborers and men to do all the menial tasks his soldiers can’t be tasked with while a war rages on.
What “Game of Thrones” asks tonight though is “what if that price for your deal with the devil must be paid by others?” It’s one thing to sacrifice yourself for your cause or desires. It’s another thing to sacrifice your family, your friends, your people and all you hold dear. The intriguing response seems to be that “Well, no one cares, because everyone else has made a deal too.”
Everyone playing the “game of thrones” has to make a deal in order to get what they want. The first deal seems to be “give no fucks about anyone else.” It’s a great concept if all you care about is winning. But what happens afterwards? How can you rule a kingdom (or seven) if you don’t care about anyone but yourself? How can you expect anyone to follow you if you are ready to sacrifice them for your own gain? Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish seems to realize that when Catelyn Stark rebukes him – if his machinations were to get him to love him, well, they’ve well and truly failed. All those deals were for nothing.
That’s the thing about deals with the devil: there’s rarely just one deal and it’s almost never one devil. It’s one deal. Then another. Then another. And then one more. Until it all leads you to the night when you have to beat a young girl to a bloody pulp for the perverse amusement of the boy who holds the power of life and death over you.