(NOTE: Sorry for missing last week’s episode write-up. I’ve been really sick this past week. You can imagine that this has contributed to me not being in a writing kind of mood).
Halfway through tonight’s episode, Ser Barristan Selmy tells Danaerys the story of her father’s rule and his version of justice against those who wronged him. How he torched castles and villages. How he murdered fathers in front of their children and burnt many with wildfire, laughing all the while. He laid before her all the various actions that rightfully earned him the title of “The Mad King” – not just lies spread by her family’s enemies – and how it was those actions that resulted in the people of the Seven Kingdoms rising in revolt against his rule. Mad King Aerys did all these things because he feared for how people would react if they did not in turn fear his power. All it did is lead to the end of his dynastic line.
Fear is a powerful motivator. It’s one of the earliest ones we learn and it’s the one that most often dictates how people who are lost will choose their directions. And like people, fear can be different and individual, even as everyone shares in its collective sense. In tonight’s episode, it led some to choose to step forward and it led others to refuse a helping hand.
Cersei’s fear over what the Dornish will do to her young daughter is, ironically enough, not unwarranted. Even without the cryptic threat sent to King’s Landing of a snake’s head with Myrcella’s necklace in its mouth, Cersei’s one abject fear is the fate of her children. With Joffrey just buried and Tommen sitting the Iron Throne, there’s reason to worry. She knows that the Dornish are mad over the death of Oberyn Martell. His lover, Ellaria Sand, is desperately whispering to Prince Doran Martell, Oberyn’s brother and the ruler of Dorne, to give her the chance to enact vengeance on the innocent girl. But Doran will not, even if his brother’s lover, his brother’s children and the whole of Dorne angrily demand it. He will not angrily demand it out of some fear fear of his own rule.
Cersei’s and Jaime’s fear for Myrcella leads Jaime to set out on a quest for Dorne. Knowing his own current deficiencies, he conscripts Bronn with the promise of a better marriage proposal and dowry than sweet, innocent Lollys Stokeworth. What will the Kingslayer find in Dorne when he gets there? Oberyn arrived at King’s Landing seeking justice for his dead sister and died there. Will the same thing happen to him when he arrives at the court of Prince Doran?
It’s this fear of the unknown that keeps Sansa from heeding Brienne’s pleas to care for her. She’s only barely beginning to know how to play the game from Littlefinger and a total stranger declares herself true to her cause? As Littlefinger says, even if Brienne is true, she’s shown herself a poor defender of her charges: Renly, Catelyn. But it’s not this that turns Sansa away, it’s her fear of going back into the hands of the Lannisters – which Brienne had been seen with during Joffrey’s wedding. This leads to Littlefinger’s men trying to stop Brienne, who fights her way out before choosing to tail Sansa and Baelish anyway. Her charges may both have turned her away, but Brienne will not allow for her quest to die like that.
Fear of the unknown is also what’s driving Tyrion into his bottle. For a man who is as intelligent as he is, he’s been defined by two things: the loathing of his father and his status as a rich dwarf. Both of these are now gone. In fact, his status as a dwarf now makes him a target for anyone who’s willing to step up and collect the lordship promised by Cersei. It’s why Varys has them traveling in a closed carriage towards Volantis and eventually Meereen. But Tyrion’s fear of what his life could be now keeps him from seeing the possibilities. All he sees is his failings and his heartbreak. Maybe Varys will break through that one day.
But what will they find in Meereen when they arrive? Dany is being trapped between her desire to dole out the justice she promised herself and the former slaves who call her “Mother” and the need to prove her strength to everyone around her. But the fear from the murders caused by the Sons of the Harpy appear set to rob her of everything she’s worked for. It’s got the former slaves both fearful and full of rage at the one man arrested for murder. In their rage, they choose to rob Dany of the trial she had promised the man. This forces Dany to have to mete out justice against the counselor chosen by the freed slaves, which causes a riot.
What happens to Danaerys now? She has defined herself by her twin roles of “Mother of Dragons” and “Breaker of Chains.” But in the last few days, she’s seen how her dragons don’t particularly like her nor how the freed slaves find her all that appealing as “Mhysa”. She sits atop a powder keg of a city, broiling with rancor and old wounds and finding a fair and just path is proving harder than ever. All these fears she carries – for her ability to rule justly, for the people she has freed, for her own power over the dragons she brought from the fire – may lead her to a moment where she cannot lead.
Which will be a concern now also for Jon Snow, the newly-elected 998th Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. Presented just hours earlier with the opportunity to become the Lord of Winterfell under King Stannis’ banner, Jon had thought of it – all his dreams made real – and turned them down for the value of his word. Instead, fearful of what life would be under the command of Ser Alliser Thorne, it fell to Samwell Tarly to stand up and speak on Jon’s behalf. Ultimately, Maester Aemon cast the deciding vote and has put Jon Snow in charge of the ancient order of Sworn Brothers. Sam’s fear and Aemon’s hopes converge on the promise of what Jon might be for their order.
Far to the East, Jon’s half-sister, Arya, finally reached her destination: the titular House of Black & White, the home of the Faceless Men. Having had no other course in which to go, she had opted to follow this road and was instead turned back by an old man. She lingered. She hoped. She recited her list. Then gave up and wandered Braavos looking for a way to eat. When she encountered three hoodlums looking for an easy mark, she faced them fearlessly. For what else did she have to lose? House Stark is gone. Her family is gone. Her one hope was Jaqen H’gar and he too was gone. She stood bravely against three and did not flinch.
And this is when Jaqen made his return into her life. Or was it Jaqen? As the Faceless Man told her, to be one of them is to have no identity. To be no one. Because when you’re no one, you can move where you will. No one has fear. No one is seen. No one can move about and bring the gift of the God of Death. Into their house entered Arya Stark. Will she lose even that? If so, then perhaps she should have some fear.