“If you think this has a happy ending, you haven’t been paying attention.”
If any statement could so easily encapsulate the totality of this show, then this one has to be a high candidate. Spoken by Theon’s unknown torturer as he’s taking a fingertip from the strung-up former Prince of Winterfell, it is a statement that pays up at the end of the episode. This story we are witnessing is full of darkness, misery, pain and bloodshed. Traditionally, this much darkness and sorrow gets repaid at the end with happiness, light and the promise of a brighter future – think the Lord of the Rings or Star Wars and how, with evil defeated, their worlds are set for brighter futures. But if anything is true about Game of Thrones, it’s that it is not playing in the traditional sandbox. It has proven time and again that, any time you think the good news are coming, the bottom is ready to collapse from underneath your feet.
So back to the man who is taking bits of Theon from him for his amusement. He tells Theon that if he can guess who he really is and where he is, he would be spared the pain of torture. Theon begins to spit guesses out and it seems that he may have gotten it when he blurts out that the man is a Karstark and he is in Karhold. The momentary pause, however, is just another game. “You never asked if I was a liar?” he says before finishing the job of taking the tip of Theon’s finger. Theon should have known that there was nothing he could have said that would have spared him the pain, but, like so many, he lied to himself that this was his way out. And he desperately took it.
So was for many of the characters in this episode. The bottom fell out from under their feet because they never realized just who they were around or what was going on. When Arya and Gendry heard the whole of the Brotherhood Without Banners praying to the Lord of Light before that fight between the Hound and Lord Beric, that should have raised some alarms. Instead, they are shocked as Melisandre reaches the Riverlands and buys Gendry from the Brotherhood. She needs king’s blood for a reason and, in Robert’s unknown bastard, she has it. Whether she wants drops or gallons, it’s unlikely that Gendry will enjoy the experience.
But Melisandre, Thoros and Beric are motivated by the certainty in their god’s power. They believe, thanks to the surprising resurrections of the Lightning Lord, that R’hllor is the one true god and that they are bound to bringing his truth to Westeros. This truth demands Gendry’s blood in order to raise Stannis Baratheon to the Iron Throne. If Gendry or Arya or anyone else is the price to pay for that, then so be it. Their sacrifice will be honored and remembered. Nice lie to make the hard things they must do a reality.
Robb Stark is drinking from the same cup. Let’s not forget that it was his breaking of his oath to Walder Frey that cost him the support from the prickly old pervert. Now, in order to regain the trust of the man he betrayed, he’s demanding that his uncle, Edmure Tully, do what he could not: marry Walder’s daughter. It’s surprising that Edmure doesn’t throw that fact back in his face. Or in the face of his sister, Catelyn, who released their enemy, Jaime Lannister, in the foolish belief that this would win her back her daughters. But the Starks are desperate for the forces that will come with this wedding in order to throw their gambit at the Lannisters. Edmure has no choice but to accept his wedding to Roslin Frey.
The one sister Jaime could send back, Sansa, will not be able to return. Or rather, not return without her new husband, Tyrion the Imp. Sansa believed the Tyrells lie that she would marry Loras – believed that Loras would even be interested in her – and is destroyed by the revelation from Tyrion. If one character has been believing every lie that has been told to her – noble lords, gallant knights, honest friends – it has been Sansa. It’s to be expected of someone who grew up in isolation, far away from the truth and it was easy for Ned and Catelyn to let her grow up believing these fantasies. In the court of King Joffrey, however, these fantasies are more harmful and dangerous than good.
Compare the lies that Sansa grew up believing to the harsh ways that Lady Olenna or Lord Tywin speak the truth. To the Queen of Thorns, the concept of Loras’ homosexuality is nothing to make a fuss over given the spot where Loras is – talented, handsome, heir to the wealth of the Reach. This makes him the most eligible bachelor in the Seven Kingdoms. Marrying Loras to Cersei is unthinkable to her. But Tywin Lannister has a way of making people choose his side. His threat of turning Loras over into the Kingsguard – normally a high honor, but a trap to deny the Tyrells of their popular heir – is one truth Olenna Tyrell cannot overlook. What’s interesting is that Olenna is throwing the charges of incest at Tywin’s face and his response is to shoot them down. Perhaps that is the one lie Tywin has to tell himself. After all, the man’s legacy is all-important and that legacy requires the children he clearly despises.
These children finally reach a revelation: it was Joffrey, not Cersei, who ordered Ser Mandon Moore to kill Tyrion during the Battle of Blackwater. Joffrey the bully, the monster, cannot abide someone standing up to him and so ordered a Sworn Knight of the Kingsguard to strike down the Hand of the King as he led a battle to defend him and his capital city. The problem is that the entire structure of their quest for power hinges on one lie – that Joffrey is the rightful ruler of the Seven Kingdoms. If Joffrey is the rightful king, then the Lannisters are the powerful scions, the Tyrells are their allies and all their enemies are usurpers, rebels and traitors. If Joffrey is not the king, then all their hard work is undone and they are no better than the rest of the people fighting over the lands of Westeros. So, if in order to win, they have to lie about Joffrey’s parentage and abilities, then so be it. They’ll allow a growing madman to sit the Iron Throne.
And, as we saw in the final scenes, Joffrey’s bloodlust is growing. Littlefinger finds out that Ros has been selling his secrets out to Varys and hands her over to the king for target practice. It’s not only a brutal death. It is a stark reminder that, in this world, those without power cannot hope to last for long if they’re pawns of the greater lords. But what the noble lords don’t see is that, while they play their game, Littlefinger and Varys are playing them. They’re opposite sides of the same coin: order versus chaos. Safety versus opportunity. Varys, for all his ways and off-putting talents, is someone much akin to Tyrion and Sansa: He believes that there is a way the world should work and is striving to make it so. Littlefinger, on the other hand, is more like Theon’s torturer or Melisandre. He believes in chaos, but chaos as a means to forge a new world. One where he sits on top.
But far, far away, in the lands of the Frozen North, a band of men and women climbed the famous Wall of ice and sorcery. They stuck their picks deep into the ice and, using ropes and ladders, climbed to its very top. Some fell as the Wall defended itself in its most primitive of ways – sloughing off sheets and letting them fall down. The Wall defends itself after all. And for Jon Snow and Ygritte, they have reached the point where they are aware of the lie between them – that Jon has turned his cloak. But the lie is unimportant because there is a deeper truth to them. He is falling in love with her. She is falling in love with him. That truth becomes the only thing that saves them as they climb The Wall and it may prove to be the one thing they can count on as they march towards a crucible for Jon. Because Ygritte is right. Jon is still a Brother of the Night’s Watch. At some point he will have to choose a truth and betray another.
Choose love over honor? Choose duty over life? If you think this has a happy ending…..