We are all taught to “forgive and forget” when we are young. It is a noble sentiment. One borne from a desire to keep a civil society, but also because we are all, one day or another, the cause of someone’s pain. If we all set about immediately recompensing that pain with violence or anger, there wouldn’t be anyone left to live with. For some of the characters in Game of Thrones, it becomes a source of power while it becomes a reason for living for others.
Jon Snow is having a hard time forgiving his Sworn Brothers after his return from being dead. After executing the traitors, his path is set on leaving Castle Black. This sits difficult with his friend Dolorous Edd, who tries to convince him to forgive the Night’s Watch given their dire need for his leadership as the White Walker threat nears. However, it’s Sansa’s arrival at Castle Black that immediately stops the Lord Commander in his tracks. The half-siblings, who have each suffered in the War of the Five Kings, bond over their shared misery and happier pasts. In there, Sansa asks for Jon’s forgiveness for how she acted as a child against her bastard brother. But she needs him in to help her take back their home, Winterfell, from the Boltons. Jon tries to refuse, tired of the killing, the death and the pain that he has weathered, but Sansa is right to call him on their need. The Boltons will never give them peace while they live.
As if to settle the issue, Ramsay sends a letter sealed and titled as the “Lord of Winterfell and Warden of the North” – the ancient titles of the Starks and the ones Ned wore with honor for as long as Jon knew him – demanding that he return Sansa to him and threatening Rickon’s life if he does not. Ramsay, a cold and calculating monster, knows what he’s doing. He’s expecting Jon to lead the wildlings into battle against him, where he can crush him with superior force. (As if to give us an example, we see Ramsay murder Osha while she’s trying to seduce him. He’s not a fool). If Jon is to command an army, he’s going to have to find his mettle once again and be the man he was destined to be before he was betrayed.
Forgiveness, however, doesn’t come easy for all. Brienne of Tarth, having learned the truth of Renly’s murder from Stannis before she executed him, finally comes face to face with Melisandre, the Red Priestess of R’hllor responsible for that murder. Brienne was devoted to Renly and his cause and it was his murder which cast her, accused of his murder, on the long road that brought her to Castle Black. Ser Davos tries to play the peacemaker but the embers of vengeance that Brienne carries in her heart does not mean she will forgive the Red Priestess who took her king from her. And that anger may come to impact things down the road.
Likewise, for those like Missandei and Grey Worm, the idea of forgiving the Masters of Slaver’s Bay is anathema. It’s impossible. They may be fueling a rebellion that they cannot put down in the Sons of the Harpy. And still for the former slaves, they cannot see how to build a peace with the men who used them, abused them and killed their families. But a peace is what Tyrion is desperate to build. He knows that the world around Meereen is fragile and that, if they are to have any city for Daenerys to return to, they need a solution to the Sons of the Harpy. So he proposes to give the cities of Slaver’s Bay a seven-year grace period during which they can slowly phase slavery out. This doesn’t sit well with the Meereenese or with Missandei and Grey Worm, but if there is to be peace with their enemies, there must be measures drawn to pacify things around them. You cannot fight the whole world.
Another character who remains full of anger and refuses to forgive is Yara Greyjoy. Dealing with the fallout of her father’s death and the upcoming kingsmoot, Yara is likely not interested in seeing her brother, the heir to King Balon, walking into Pyke once again. She remembers how she sacrificed her men and defied her father and king to rush to his rescue when word of his torture at the hands of Ramsay Bolton came. And she is finding it hard to forgive him for what she feels was his betrayal of her actions. But Theon tries to calm her by explaining all that has happened to him and that he’s not there to take her rightful position as the Greyjoy heir. Can the sister forgive the brother? Can the brother forgive himself?
Such internal debates are what’s fueling the High Sparrow’s rise to power and his ability to hold Queen Margaery Tyrell and her brother, Ser Loras, captive. He’s a man of piety who offers forgiveness to the sinners – provided they repent their sins and share them with him. Unable to break Margaery via his traditional methods, he opts to use a different tactic: he tells her of his past. A past spent mired in the normal quest for wealth and power to influence the merchants and friends around him. It’s a small past but one that he eventually rejected for the chance to serve the poor and the Faith. His story is meant to explain to Margaery how he found the Seven’s forgiveness and he Margaery can too. But Margaery is not interested in the man’s words. Her goal is to reach her brother and she does, finding him nearly beaten and broken. The Knight of Flowers, the best young warrior in the land, has been stripped of nearly all his will and is ready to break. If Margaery cannot find a way to encourage him or to end their torture, he will be exposed and she with him.
A solution is perhaps coming from the unlikeliest of allies: the Lannisters. Cersei and Jaime have been trying like crazy to get some control over the court of Tommen away and they find it when the boy king shares with his mother the conversation he had with the High Sparrow. Using that and the guilt that Lady Olenna Tyrell and Lord Kevan Lannister have over their situation – one’s heirs are prisoners while the other’s has renounced it all for the Faith – Cersei and Jaime plot to have the Tyrell army move on King’s Landing and the High Sparrow. This will obviously have the dual effect of ruining Margaery’s reputation with the common folk while destroying the High Sparrow. The suggestion only works because the two elders of their respective houses are desperate to end the situation.
Another elder who is outmaneuvered by a more astute manipulator is Bronze Yohn Royce, who cannot play on the same level as Petyr Baelish. Lord Royce thinks he can put Littlefinger on the spot with his knowledge that Sansa Stark ended up wedded to Ramsay Bolton at Winterfell. Instead, Baelish deftly puts Lord Royce on the spot of having to ask forgiveness from young Lord Arryn, the heir to the Vale and a young man who is entirely devoted to Littlefinger. Whatever tale Lord Baelish will spin will be swallowed whole by dear, sweet Robin Arryn – and Lord Royce’s life would hang on it. So what tale does Littlefinger spin? That they were set upon by the Boltons and it is time the knights of the Vale entered the war. Where does he mean to march them though?
A similar question could be posed to Dany. Her day of reckoning at the hands of the khals is finally at hand as are her purported saviors – Jorah and Daario. The two men sneak onto Vaes Dothrak and manage to kill their way to her quietly. For Jorah, this entire quest has been about atoning for his betrayal and finding a measure of forgiveness in the eyes of the Queen he loves. His secret is finally revealed to Daario – that he’s doing all this while struck with greyscale. Time is running out for Jorah to get that measure of forgiveness from Dany. So when they find her, they think they’re going to rescue her.
Instead, it is Dany who rescues herself – and in a way – she rescues the Dothraki too. Brought before the khals, she refuses to bow and beg for her life. Instead, she lays them bare with the truth of their small-mindedness and their shallowness. She explains how they have used the Dothraki horde for little and how they are unfit to lead it. It is then, when Khal Moro thinks he can threaten her most that Dany reminds them of why she is dubbed “The Unburnt” and burns the Temple of the Dosh Khaleen down around them – the doors barred by Jorah and Daario. The temple burns and the khals burn but Daenerys Targaryen, Mother of Dragons, does not burn. Instead she walks out of the inferno and into sight of the whole of the Dothraki. who bow before the Khaleesi. Dany continues to tear the rules of old – and now she’s got a larger army than anyone has seen at her command.
The act of forgiveness is the first step in atoning for past mistakes. It acknowledges one’s guilt and seeks to redress the past. For many, it can be the force that propels their actions towards good. For others, it becomes the millstone with which others can use them. Whichever way one character or another is going, in the midst of war and violence, it is unlikely that none will carry no reason to ask for forgiveness. However, without seeking forgiveness, the world cannot be built. Not for individuals and not for peoples.