“There is but one (hell), Princess. The one we live in now.”
The bedside manner of Lady Melissandre of Asshai, Priestess of R’hllor may leave much to be desired, but she’s at least forthright with the innocent girl who asks her if the stories and books she’s read are true or not. To her, the only hell that exists is the one in this world; in the darkness that lies outside the warm bosom of her Lord of Light. The rest are simply lies and stories we tell ourselves to deny this fact. It’s better to be upfront with the young daughter of her King. But is she right? I’m not so sure. Consider the various hells the other characters experience
Theon Greyjoy, the former Prince of Winterfell, is now a mere pet of his tormentor, Ramsay Snow. And the Bastard of Bolton has put him to good use. He trails after him as he enjoys his hunt. He uses him as a very good barber. And when Lord Roose Bolton returns and chides him for the torture of Theon, it is the revelation of the Stark heirs being alive that gives Ramsay a way to earn himself a higher position in the eyes of the father who distrusts his bloodlust. Theon’s hell is far from over as he is finally told of the betrayal and murder of Robb Stark, the man who he grew up with and whom he once considered a brother. But a brother he then betrayed for the affection of a father who left him to die. Theon Greyjoy is clearly in one type of hell – that reserved for betrayers.
One of those betrayed Starks, Bran, meanwhile moves ever northward towards a date with a strange destiny. One that is as unsure as the frozen wasteland that he and his companions travel. Bran’s powers and abilities grow, but Jojen Reed warns him: he must not allow his powers to consume him out of his humanity. But with no guide to teach him and no means to deny him the power that rises from within him, can Bran help himself? As he communes with the weirwood tree, he sees past and present and things happening miles away. And a voice that tells him “North”. Bran and his friends may be in a hell of doubt – unable to go back and unsure of what lies ahead.
Jaime Lannister may be stuck in the same hell. A swordsman who cannot swing a sword with skill is useless. And yet, he foreswore his inheritance and denied his father his chance for his heir and opted to remain Lord Commander of the Kingsguard. It may be easy for Tyrion to tell him to command others to fight, but Jaime Lannister has always done his own fighting. So he picks up a sword and agrees to train with Ser Bronn the sellsword. His silence can be bought until he can learn to fight properly.
What of the hell Stannis is creating in Dragonstone? He’s sacrificing family members and loyal lords for refusing to pray to his Lord of Light. Or is it his Lord of Light? His wife is a true believer, that much is certain. But his daugther has doubts. His Hand, Ser Davos, has doubts. When he stares at the pyres of his offerings to the Lord of Light, he doesn’t seem to carry the same internal flame that his wife or his priestess bear. As Davos reminds him, the Lord of Light doesn’t bring him ships and armies with which to take the Iron Throne. And yet, Stannis has seen things in the flames. In Stannis’ kingdom, none but the true believers may remain.
But no one had more of a hellish time than Tyrion Lannister. His marriage to Sansa Stark continues to vex him. Aware that his lover’s position is compromised, he forces himself to dismiss Shae from his side in order to protect her. Instead of finding peace, it only tears him apart even more to do so. Then, he’s forced to become the butt of jokes from his nephew, King Joffrey. No one – not his father, his sister or any of the nobles in attendance – stands up on his behalf, even as they all recognize the boorish behavior of the drunken brat. His hell is his whole life.
Even the sudden death of the King brings no peace to Tyrion. Instead, he’s quickly accused by his sister, Queen Cersei, of the crime. Did he do it? Did he finally find a way to rid the Kingdoms of a future tyrant and madman? Or is he being hung out to dry by another player in the game of thrones? It’s a question that will hang over much of King’s Landing in episodes ahead. Even so, as she holds onto her child, Cersei’s petulance and brittle nature in her interactions with the Tyrells and Martells falls to the side. She has risen as her family has risen and suffered none for it. Now death comes knocking at her door and she finds herself unable to react with anything but grief and lashing out at her nearest target: her brother she loathes.
So perhaps Lady Melissandre is right. Perhaps there are not seven hells, but one. The one each character has made for him or herself. Theon suffers for his betrayal. Stannis burns others for his doubts. Bran starves to seek out his destiny. Jaime struggles because he refused his rightful place. Tyrion suffers from his inability to allow his shitbird nephew his triumph. Cersei cries because she raised a monster in her own quest for power.
And Joffrey of Houses Baratheon and Lannister, King of the Rhoynar and the First Men, Lord of the Seven Kingdoms and Protector of the Realm lies dead because he was a spoiled brat who tortured those weaker than he and because he never understood that, though a king, he could be felled by someone who had had enough of his growing bloodlust. The list of those who are glad he dies is long. Those who mourn him are few, because the fact is he may have constructed a greater hell than even Melissandre could have imagined.