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A Primer for Season 3 of Game of Thrones

GOT 3 - SandinoOn February 21, 1934, Nicaraguan rebel leader Augusto Cesar Sandino met with President Juan Bautista Sacasa at the Presidential Palace.  Sandino had only recently stopped his guerilla war against government forces that were supported by the United States Marine Corps – a constant presence in Nicaragua since 1912 on missions to end uprisings and brushfire wars.  Soon after President Sacasa had assumed power in 1933, negotiations had begun between Sacasa’s government and Sandino’s forces – a peace accord hinging on laying down of arms in trade for land rights and amnesty.  Sandino was also asking for Sacasa to dismantle the US-trained National Guard, which had been left under the command of General Anastasio Somoza Garcia (left under his command at the behest of the US Ambassador, whose niece was married to Somoza).

As they left the negotiations talk on February 21st, Sandino’s car was stopped at the Palace’s gates by members of the National Guard.  The men inside were forced out of the car and led to a nearby crossroads.  There, Sandino, his brother and two of his generals were executed.  They were buried nearby in an unmarked grave.  That they had been at the Palace under an implied truce to discuss peace didn’t matter.  With Sandino gone, his rebel forces were summarily routed.  Two years later, General Somoza would depose President Sacasa and send him into exile – beginning a dictatorship that would rule Nicaragua for over 40 years.

It’s easy to draw parallels between this historical example and the overall theme of Season 3 of Game of Thrones.  If Season 2 was all about power – who had it, how to get it, the price to pay for it – then Season 3 is a treatise on betrayal and treason.  We’ve seen people betrayed before who’ve died as a result of it – think of Robert Baratheon or Ned Stark.  Still, Season 3, which will roughly follow the first half of Book 3 of “A Song of Ice and Fire” AKA A Storm of Swords, is going to bring us a nonstop diet of betrayal, duplicity and treachery.  Not just in new situations for our old characters, but in new characters who are skilled in the game of thrones.  If you think that you’ve met the best players in this game, stay tuned.  Some sharp operators are just around the corner.

GOT 3 - PosterAs Season 3 begins, the court at King’s Landing is in upheaval.  The arrival of Lord Tywin Lannister to assume his post as Hand of the King will create shifts in allegiances and those who were once powerful will find themselves on the outside looking in.  The clearest example is that of his son, Tyrion, who after saving the court and the city from Stannis Baratheon’s army has been cast down.  A victim of his own activities during Season 2, Tyrion will find it bitter to see how the very people who he bled for, fought for and nearly died for turn their backs on him.  All because he’s got the enmity of the three most powerful people at the court – King Joffrey, Lord Hand Tywin and Queen Regent Cersei; his own family.  Worse, he will have a painful scar to remind him that someone in his own house thought it’d be better if he died outside the Mud Gate.  Can he stand the betrayal of those closest to him without replying in kind?

He won’t be the only one who’ll face betrayal in King’s Landing.  The recently-unbethroted Sansa Stark will find that, though no longer bound to Joffrey, her troubles and the dangers around her aren’t gone.  There are many who will cast lascivious eyes at her growing frame and at the promise of wealth that comes with wedding an heir of Stark. So far, she’s been nothing more than a pawn in the great game of thrones.  As her importance grows, so will the dangers for her.  The Red Keep now houses Joffrey’s new bride, Margaery Tyrell, as well as many of her family – people who are skilled in climbing the social ladder.  Will Sansa be able to recognize friend from foe?  Will she finally learn how to spot who she can trust and who will betray her?

These very questions will eat at the insides of Stannis Baratheon, whose defeat at Blackwater Bay will force him to question everything and everyone who stands near him.  For a man as hard and as proud as he is, defeat goes hand in hand with betrayal.  But is that the case?  Can he learn to turst Melisandre? Or his wife?  Or any of the people around him?  To be a King means to know who is trustworthy.  Stannis had that in Davos Seaworth, but last anyone saw of him was being launched into the air by a gigantic ball of green fire into the waters of the Blackwater.  Who does Stannis turn to now?

Meanwhile, far to the west, Sansa’s mother, Catelyn, has betrayed her son, King Robb Stark, by releasing Jaime Lannister in a desperate gamble to regain her two captive daughters.  Her betrayal, though born out of love, will not only sting Robb personally, but it will leave him exposed in front of his Northern and Riverlands vassals.  It’s not like Robb is doing any better though.  His wedding to Talisa has betrayed the vow he made to the Freys to wed one of Lord Walder’s daughters.  Just like his mother, this is a betrayal made out of love.  But love has to be sometimes subdued by duty in order to play and win in the game of thrones.  For a young man, desperately trying to hold onto his alliance, these many betrayals are pulling at the foundations of the alliance that supports both his crown and his desperate quest for independence.

At the very least, Robb is not surrounded by his enemies like his half-brother, Jon Snow.  A brother of the Night’s Watch in the midst of the entire wildling army of the King Beyond the Wall, Jon appears to be the latest Watcher toGOT 3 - Mance Rayder come off The Wall in hopes of finding a different life.  In truth, he is only appearing to betray the Night’s Watch as he was instructed by Qhorin Halfhand before he killed him.  So, in a sense, Jon is two-times a turncloak – betraying both sides of The Wall.  How long can Jon last before the façade fades away?  Or does he learn to live the lie so well that it begins to become the truth?  Jon had only recently begun to find his place among the black brothers.  Amidst the forces of Mance Rayder, he will find friendship, relevance and love.  After all, Ygritte has also betrayed the wildlings by covering up for Jon.  How strong is your oath when compared to the warmth of a lover?  Maester Aemon asked this of Jon back in Season 1.  Poor Jon is about to learn firsthand how hard that decision really is.

Jon’s half-siblings and friends are also living with the legacy of betrayal.  Far to the south, Arya, Gendry and Hot Pie have escaped the dark halls of Harrenhal, but they’ll find that the ravaged, war-torn countryside is no better.  With no sense of direction and many dangers on the road, they are as likely to fall into enemy hands as they are friendly.  Meanwhile, Bran and Rickon are trying to keep hidden, being forced out of their home in Winterfell by the betrayal of Theon Greyjoy, who was then betrayed by his Iron Islanders.  They’ll have to stay hidden and out of sight, even in their ancestral lands of the North.  And what happened to Theon after his fall?  Who betrayed him?  Who has him?  Finally, Jon’s friends in the Night’s Watch are going to find themselves very much alone in their war against the white walkers.  Sam, Pyp, Grenn, Edd and Lord Commander Mormont will find no refuge north of The Wall.  At their most critical of times, they will find the Seven Kingdoms have turned their backs on them as they fight for the Iron Throne.

Meanwhile, the most famous of betrayers, Jaime Lannister, is being herded to King’s Landing by Brienne of Tarth.  Their road will be just as hard as Arya’s or Bran’s as they seek to avoid capture from every other army.  Remember, the Starks want Jaime back in chains while the Lannisters are as likely to hurt him and Brienne as they are to help.  This gets to a greater point about warfare – there’s no guarantee that your highbrow name won’t be a danger when you encounter angry, lustful, armed, dangerous men on the road.  Jaime may be the most famous of swordsmen in the Seven Kingdoms and he may be the most notorious Lannister, but even his father’s men would turn on him and betray him if they had to.

GOT 3 - Dany 2And somewhere out in the East, Daenerys Stormborn is making the slow march back to the land of her ancestors.  It’d be tough to argue that anyone has borne the number of betrayals that Dany has felt.  From her own brother to Mirri Maz Duur to, most recently, by Xaro Xhoan Daxos and her own handmaiden, Irri, Danny has had to overcome a lot of treachery in her young life.  But none of them compare to the one that she has yet to discover; the one act of betrayal from the man who stands by her side and claims to be “blood of her blood.”  What will she do if she finds out about the traitor in her midst?

In order to play and win in the game of thrones, you must at times betray your own cause or friends to it.  At other times, you must convince others to do likewise for you.  Master manipulators like Lord Varys and Petyr Baelish know how to do this.  Powerful schemers like Cersei Lannister and Margaery Tyrell are experts in this.  But the words of Robert Baratheon should be echoing in the distance, “Backstabbing doesn’t prepare you for a fight. And that’s all the realm is: backstabbing and scheming and arse-licking and money-grubbing.”  In order to win the game of thrones, the players are not above doing the dirty deeds that will end lives, depose lords and wipe out whole towns.

However, even in their victory, betrayers can lay the seed of destruction for all they hold dear.  That’s what happened to Somoza.  The legend of Carlos Sandino grew throughout the Americas and he became a revolutionary icons, inspiring a new generation of rebels who took his name as their own.  They became the Sandinistas and, 40 years later, they would overthrow the Somoza dictatorship and exile his family.  Sadly, the story doesn’t have a happy ending, as the Sandinistas would, in turn, create a communist dictatorship that ruled Nicaragua for a decade and led to equal amounts of bloodshed in more civil war.

Which is perhaps the greater lesson that this season of Game of Thrones will impart: all the scheming, treachery and betrayal to win the Iron Thrones will only lead to more scheming, treachery and betrayal in a cycle of death and destruction that never ends.

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