We all come into this world innocent and unaware of the difficulties of the world. Slowly, but surely, the world strips that away from us. Regardless of our desire to learn its harsh lessons, they are part of the process of change from childhood into adulthood. Sadly, the process is not an easy one and we bear the scars it leaves behind for the rest of our life. So it is for the characters of Game of Thrones; many of which are fighting to retain a shred of that innocence they once had.
The most obvious examples are the Stark sisters, Sansa and Arya. For Sansa, it has been a slow, horrible process that has taken her to this point – from a girl that believed in the tales of gallant knights and noble ladies to seeing all her innocent fantasies crashing down. She has lost her father, has been abused by her “noble” prince and his “gallant” knights and has been reduced to a political pawn. Now comes the worst of it all: a forced marriage with Tyrion Lannister. Tyrion the Imp. Tyrion the dwarf. Let’s not forget that her betrothal to King Joffrey was also a forced marriage that her father agreed – she had no choice in the matter. But that one was to a young, handsome prince. This one is to an old, lecherous dwarf. It speaks to Sansa’s desperation to cling to her fantasies that she cannot see the nobility and warmth in Tyrion. She’s more worried about her children being born dwarves than she is being forced to marry her family’s enemy.
Meanwhile, Arya is finding that her own innocent dreams are as much a falsehood as the ones her sister had. If she believed that knights were the way that her father or Syrio were or even Jaqen are, she is finding that they are the exception. The vows and oaths that the Brotherhood Without Banners proclaims ring hollow when, instead of moving to sell her back to her family, they opt to ride south to attack a small band of Lannister men – the quest for gold greater than their honor. So she runs away from them and into the arms of Sandor Clegane. It may be a case of out of the frying pan and into the fire for Arya. For if there’s one man in the whole of the Seven Kingdoms who bears no innocence, it is The Hound.
For many, their innocence has acted as a shield to protect them from certain ugly truths. For Arya’s friend, Gendry, it has been a way to ignore the questions he has had about his parentage. Every time he has been asked, he has deflected it by proposing it could be any man in King’s Landing – a Gold Cloak, a sellsword, a merchant, etc. But he is forced to shed the fantasy when the truth of his parentage is revealed by Melisandre. He is the bastard son of King Robert Baratheon. That makes him noble born and explains his strength and abilities – and why he looks more like a son of Robert than Joffrey does – as well as why he’s been a target ever since Robert’s death. As Melisandre tells him, it is unimportant where one starts in their journey. Of course, she tells him that without telling him why she’s bringing him to Dragonstone or why she’s after “king’s blood.”
For others, their innocence is a recurring theme. Take Dany for example. She was a babe in the woods when she was sold to Khal Drogo by her brother. But she’s been gaining experience and finding her strength to move through the hardships that life has thrown at her – betrayed by Mirri Maz Duur, betrayed by Xaro Xhoan Daxos, betrayed (in secret) even by Ser Jorah Mormont. She’s learned from every setback and become more powerful because of them. So she’s aware that the offer from the Yunkai masters is nothing but a payoff to get her to move her khalasar onwards. The smart thing to have done would be to have taken the gold and the ships and move closer towards her desired goal of Westeros. But having suffered as a slave, she will not suffer slavery. So she picks a fight with a man she despises without having ever met. She is extremely innocent of how much she is upsetting the status quo or how those who benefit from it will fight to keep their way of life continuing.
Dany’s innocence is one shared by Ygritte. She counts the vast thousands that follow Mance Rayder and thinks that they cannot be stopped by The Wall or the Night’s Watch. She thinks that it is a matter of when, not if, the wildling army will move south and claim the lands below The Wall. But Jon Snow knows better. He knows that wildling armies have tried before and failed miserably. The Wall defends itself. The Night’s Watch protects the realms. For the wildlings to win, they need to be an army, focused, united and ready. And they are not that. Ygritte may see the crow behind Jon’s pleas, but she should fear the truth of his words. Instead she rushes to simplify the situation – you and me versus the world. Children do that. Young lovers do that. People who cannot accept the complexities of the world do that.
Speaking of children, Bran is slowly learning of the meaning of his dreams thanks to Jojen Reed. This has upset Osha a great deal. As she reveals, she didn’t run down south of The Wall because of Mance Rayder, but because her mate returned one night as an undead wight. To Bran and the Reeds, the lands on the other side of The Wall may appear to be wondrous; full of the stuff of legends. But they’re innocent of the threats that exist up there. Osha isn’t and she is adamant that she will not return to face those threats on their behalf. She promised Maester Luwin she would return the Stark boys to Castle Black – to the hands of their half-brother Jon Snow – before turning tail and running back south. She knows better than to brave the Frozen North and its terrors.
No one is experiencing more terrors than poor Theon Greyjoy – and yes, we can start saying poor Theon Greyjoy by now, despite any of his treasonous or callous actions when he took Winterfell. The amount of abuse and torture he’s suffering every time is devised to rip from him another part of him, layer by layer. Go back to the scene in Season 1 where he speaks of the Iron Islanders and he says they’re fierce warriors and renowned lovers. His torturer has taken his fierceness and his warrior spirit from him. Now he’s going after his prowess with the fairer sex. Look at that scene. They’re emasculating Theon before removing from him that one part of him that he was most attached to. And they’re not doing for any reason beyond the enjoyment of the torture. No innocence here.
But if any character can be said to be a true innocent, it has to be Brienne of Tarth. She holds herself up to a high chivalrous code for a knight. She believes wholeheartedly in the oaths and vows she has taken and will not suffer anyone denigrating her beliefs. To the world she inhabits she is a fool, a Westerosi version of Don Quixote. For their amusement, the men of Lord Bolton put her in a pen with a wooden sword against a live bear. The bear and the maiden fair. Jaime Lannister forces his escort to return to Harrenhal to her partly due to the debt he owes her for ensuring he didn’t die. But he also returned because in Brienne there is a lot of the innocent person Jaime used to be – the man who swore to protect his King and defend the Realm and uphold his oaths. In the whole of the Seven Kingdoms, no one gets Jaime Lannister like Brienne of Tarth; not even his own sister.
And nothing is as innocent as a new life being brought into the world. The King in the North thought he had enough reasons to keep fighting – his sisters, his people’s freedom – but a son and heir coming into the world has a way of making everything else seem small. For Robb and Talisa, it is both a blessing and a threat. His heir will inherit Winterfell and be the next Lord Stark. And he will disinherit Sansa’s son whenever she is wed to Tyrion Lannister. A son legitimizes Robb Stark’s kingdom and will likely give him a greater drive to succeed in his war. In the game of thrones, such an innocent is a threat to the realm – and we know how players like Tywin Lannister deal with such threats.