“A fair exchange that is.…Always held to the notion of fair exchange in all my dealings….You give me, I give you. It’s fair….Not balanced…No balance anymore.”
There’s many ways to define balance. In its most basic and understood application, it’s of an even distribution of weight. There is a stability to things, equal weight on both ends of a scale that leads to things evening out. “Different elements are in equal or correct proportions” or “The difference between the amount due and an amount paid” – the last one being what the dying old man Arya and The Hound met was referring to as he drew his last breaths outside his burnt home. These various definitions were on display in tonight’s episode, as the question of balance was put forward to the various pairs of characters who interacted.
The fact of the matter is that the world of Game of Thrones is in anything but balance. The powerful have abandoned their charges in a mad quest for power while the common folk suffer and die. The mad killers of House Lannister run roughshod over much of the continent; given free reign by their noble lord to subjugate it all for the good of his house. Ser Sandor Clegane was once one of those killers. He guarded the heir to the throne and did as he was bid – cruelly running down children if that was what he was ordered to do. But now he’s the one on the run, as his actions in that tavern several weeks back have now put a price on his head of 100 silver pieces. And who should come to collect but Rorge and Biter, two of the killers Yoren was transporting with Arya to The Wall. The Hound makes quick work of Biter, but not before he lives up to his name while Arya deftly deals her strike on an unsuspecting Rorge. But is that balance? A killer being sought out by other killers?
As he later reveals to Arya, his life has been one of pain and suffering. Foremost at the hands of his own brother, Ser Gregor Clegane AKA “The Mountain.” It was he who bestowed The Hound with his infamous facial burns as a child. Instead of protecting his son, their father blamed an accident for them. But it was the child monster that The Hound calls brother that pushed his face into the fire for daring to play with one of his toys. Betrayed by his brother and his father, The Hound has spent his life raging against all the lies he sees in Westerosi society – the noble lords, fair maidens and heroic knights who murder, betray and break the balance of the just society they proclaim to want. When those who should protect you fail you, what hope is there for balance in the world?
It’s a similar question that Ser Jorah Mormont proposes to his Queen, Daenerys Targaryen. She’s sent Daario Naharis.and the Second Sons to retake Yunkai, the city where she obtained her Unsullied Army, with orders to kill all the Slave Masters Naharis finds. As Mormont points out, had Ned Stark followed the same harsh code of conduct as she, he would be dead. Her response is to question whether she should balance the horror that the Slave Masters have visited upon the land with kindness. Is that a fair and proportional response to the misery and death the Slave Masters have given to their slaves? Perhaps not, but an attempt at a new way should be sought is Jorah’s answer. And so, Dany sends Hizdar no Loraq to Yunkai with the Second Sons: as an ambassador and a bearer of grim news for those who’d chain others for their own wealth.
But what of the hidden affections that Jorah has for Dany? What’s the counterbalance to that? Danaerys is attracted to Daario Naharis, even as she clearly states she does not trust him. Meanwhile, she clearly trusts Jorah Mormont’s counsel, intellect and advice, but has either no idea or no interest in the affections he has for her. Maybe there’s no balance to unrequited feelings of love for poor Jorah the Andal.
Like Jorah, poor Tyrion Lannister has found out the hard way that there may be no balance to the harshness of the world. First, his brother reproaches his rash call for a trial by combat to determine his fate. Tyrion is right that, with that action, he has denied his father all he sought to gain: his heir’s return and the banishment of the family black sheep. But he’s also undone the noblest sacrifice Jaime could make too. Now Jaime cannot help due to his lost hand and inability to fight. And neither will Bronn, whom his sister has bought off with a betrothal to a noble lady with a castle and limited mental capacity. As Bronn chides Tyrion, they were friends, but it’s always been him who’s had to stick his neck out for Tyrion – never the other way around. Besides, with The Mountain as Cersei’s champion, there is no reason for Bronn to consider getting involved in it. So he takes his bribe from Cersei, bids farewell to Tyrion and leaves for a life better than he had when met The Imp.
Why does Cersei hate her little brother so much? It falls to Prince Oberyn Martell to provide the answer. “He killed my mother,” is his statement when he visits a nearly-broken Tyrion in his cell. Like her father, Cersei blames Tyrion for the death of Joanna Lannister, who perished bringing her child unto the world. Even the tales of his monstrous nature were seen by many in Westeros as a counterbalance to the pride and greed of Lord Tywin Lannister. So how else would the gods punish a man as mighty and powerful as he but to rob him of his great love while bringing onto the world a monster?
Except that, as Oberyn states, that wasn’t the case. Tyrion was just another baby. And Tywin’s great sins were yet to be committed. But in Tyrion’s plight, the Red Viper sees a chance for balance of a kind. If he stands as Tyrion’s champion, he will be finally confronted with the man who raped and murdered his sister and her children – the Mountain. What’s better is that this will be a sanctioned duel that will allow him the chance to enact his revenge with impunity. This won’t be a Prince striking against another House’s knight, but a duel between champions to determine the innocence or guilt of a man accused of king slaying. The Lannisters won’t be able to retaliate.
Retaliation is a form of balance after all. You seek to hurt someone who hurt you or someone you love. Sansa Stark finds the snowed gardens of The Eyrie and tries for a moment of childish peace in building a snow castle version of her old home, Winterfell. When the petulant Robin Arryn shows up and smashes it in his rage, she cannot help but retaliate against him. He hurt him by being careless and she returned it in kind. And it’s this transgression for which she thinks her aunt, Lysa Baelish is ready to punish when she summons her to the throne room and the Moon Door.
But it’s for the perceived seduction of Petyr Littlefinger that the mad woman nearly throws her niece through the Moon Rock to her death. Not that Sansa did anything to incite Littlefinger. His lust and desire for her mother, Catelyn Stark, have never abated and so much of the chaos, destruction and pain he has caused across Westeros can still be laid at the feet of his inability to win young Catelyn Tully away from her arranged marriage to the heir of WInterfell. And in her young, innocent daughter, Littlefinger sees a lot of what she has never stopped desiring.
Obviously, his only reaction to Lysa’s threats to Sansa could be to do unto her what she threatened to do and he pushes her to her death out of the Moon Door. He can’t balance the scales to make up for Catelyn’s murder. He cannot bring her killers – the Freys, Boltons and Lannisters – to justice. At least, not yet. But he is working his way up his ladder. And though brief, his marriage to Lysa Arryn gives him control of the Vale and protector ship over its future lord, Robin. Lysa’s jealousy is dangerous and her use has exhausted itself. So Littlefinger calmly pushes the woman who has actually loved and lusted for him to her death.
The threat that Littlefinger represents is that, in order to build a new balance, he’s set on destroying the old one. He and Danaerys are toppling the foundations of the world to build new ones. Just like she stated “they can live in my new world or die in their old one”, so stands Petyr’s own words. “If you want to build a better home, first you must demolish the old one.” But again, is that balance? Neither one of them is simply building something new out of nothing. They are repurposing the old world, its trappings, its structures and its people to make something new and allegedly better. For their new worlds to build, they will spend capital of lives and suffering.
And in the process, their new balance will give rise to new Danaerys and new Petyrs who’ll seek to unbalance things and build new worlds atop their bones. This is the game of thrones.