A blog of ice and fire: Thoughts on Game of Thrones seasons 4 & 5

1200I’m still mad about the infamous “red wedding,” but nevertheless, my first-time viewing of Game of Thrones continues with seasons 4 and 5.

I’m really starting to pick up speed now — I watched the first season in about a month, but I finished season 4 in a week. It’s interesting because even though I heard what I thought were a lot of spoilers about this show, there’s still a lot of details I don’t know, and I’m dying to find out what happens to certain characters. (Also, they had better not let any harm come to poor Samwell Tarly — he has such a lovely, kind soul and at least ONE PERSON on this show deserves to find happiness, darn it!)


Revenge and forgiveness

***Warning: Spoilers ahead!***

The Stark family keeps running into worse and worse luck, but at least now it’s time for the Lannisters to have a little taste of their own medicine. Karma finally catches up with King Joffrey and he’s poisoned at his own wedding. Also, Tywin’s days of manipulating his family are over, as the patriarch also meets his end, at the hands of his son Tyrion.

While Joffrey’s death comes as a relief to viewers (and just about everyone in Westeros), his absence doesn’t really settle the political tensions in the realm. In fact, it kicks off a murder “trial” (I’m putting “trial” in quotation marks here because there’s nothing particularly just or impartial about it), which eventually leads to Tyrion first killing his father, as referenced earlier, and then officially joining #TeamTargaryen.

As viewers we’ve been waiting a long time to see Joffrey get his comeuppance. He’s both a terrible ruler and a terrible person, and he was bad news for the future of Westeros. And yet, it’s interesting how revenge is never really as satisfying as you think it’s going to be. Joffrey’s death doesn’t erase all the evil things he’s done; Ned Stark is still dead, and there’s still a war going on. The legacy he left continues to poison those around him.

Speaking of revenge, I’m curious to see how Arya Stark’s character continues to develop, and how her feelings regarding her quest for vengeance may or may not change. (Side note: Her time training with the shape-shifters is super interesting, and I’m excited to see more magic making its way into the show.)

Arya has experienced far too much trauma and tragedy for someone who’s still so very young, and I don’t blame her for wanting to avenge her family. Still, there’s a very fine line between justice and revenge, and a good person who’s consumed by a desire for vengeance can easily cross over to the dark side themselves.

The opposite of revenge is, of course, forgiveness, and I’m curious to see what Game of Thrones has to say in regards to this theme. We haven’t seen much forgiveness at work, which is a shame because redemption and forgiveness are two of my favorite themes in stories (it’s why I love Star Wars so much, and it’s also why “Return of the Jedi” is one of my top favorite Star Wars movies). I believe that forgiveness and healing are an important part of the human experience.

Game of Thrones is challenging, though, because there are some characters that I really, really hate, and who seem beyond redemption. Some of the villains on Game of Thrones display a level of evil and cruelty that force me to look away from the screen. How does a character like Arya reach a place of forgiveness and peace within herself, while also ensuring that justice is done and that corrupt leaders are prevented from harming others in the future?

Daenerys is also wrestling with these same questions, as she tries to cement her status as queen and end corruption in the realms she encounters. What kind of punishment should she dole out in the lands she conquers, to the people who have done genuinely bad things? How do you mix mercy with justice?

I don’t think the show has really revealed what it thinks the answers to these questions are yet, but I’m sure this will continue to be explored in coming seasons.


A dangerous dynasty

Even though I’m very much #TeamStark (a fact I’ve probably mentioned too many times already in this series of blogs), a character who has really grown on me throughout this series is Tyrion, and it was hard to watch almost all his friends and family abandon him during the trial where he is falsely accused of murder.

Peter Dinklage puts so much emotion and depth into his performance, and you can’t help but empathize with him. And what an epic speech when he tells off the entire courtroom full of people from King’s Landing; it didn’t exactly go over well with his audience, but I was definitely cheering!

It’s interesting to watch how the Lannisters regularly serve as the architects of their own doom. Jaime Lannister started this whole mess all the way back in season 1 by pushing Bran out the window. Joffrey’s selfish cruelty paints a giant target on his back. Then, Tywin’s repeated mistreatment of his son Tyrion leads to his own death and the loss of one of King’s Landing’s best strategists.

Well, the capital’s loss is Dany’s gain, as Tyrion takes his clever wits and political prowess to the Mother of Dragons, lending his support to the Targaryen dynasty. I can’t wait to see how their partnership plays out.

Tyrion will also be extra glad that he got out of King’s Landing when he finds out about the dumpster fire that place has turned into. Cersei gambles on an alliance with the High Sparrow, only to have him turn on her and throw her into prison. Cersei really can be a nasty person, but in the end I do pity her, because her life, on the whole, has probably been a very unhappy experience.

Cersei is smart and capable, but in the male-dominated world of Westeros, she’s treated dismissively. She has to fight for whatever power she does wield. If both she and Tyrion had been treated with more respect, and were placed in a more welcoming environment that allowed them to truly flourish, it’s interesting to ponder what they may have accomplished.

There are way too many other character arcs to cover in one blog, but it’s also cool to see Jon Snow emerging as a leader and trying to combat the growing threat of the White Walkers. Brienne of Tarth continues to be one of my favorite characters, and I love that we get to learn more about her backstory. Plus, Podrick is a great sidekick for her, and I love seeing their adventures together.

Also, in the beginning I really hated Theon Greyjoy, and I’m surprised to admit that I now genuinely feel sorry for him. He’s done some bad things, but seeing the way Ramsay Bolton has broken him physically, mentally, and emotionally is just gut-wrenching.

Speaking of Ramsay Bolton, he now joins King Joffrey on my list of most hated fictional characters of all time. I flinch every time he’s onscreen, and I’m getting mad just writing about him. Ugh ⁠— it’s time for him to go!


Responsibility in storytelling

This leads me to the final point I’d like to discuss, and it’s one I’ve heard other viewers talking about throughout the series. Does Game of Thrones sometimes go too far in its depiction of violence, particularly its focus on sexual violence against women?

There’s a scene in season 5 involving Ramsay Bolton and his new wife, Sansa Stark, that so deeply troubled me that I don’t even really want to write about it. I don’t cry a lot while watching movies/TV, but his horrible treatment of Sansa really got to me. We’ve seen many female characters who have been sexually mistreated throughout the series, including Cersei, Dany, and nearly Brienne.

Is this something that should be shown onscreen? I’m sure that events like this happened in the real-life medieval era; however, any time you portray a sensitive topic in fiction, you have to do it responsibly. Hopefully Ramsay will be called to account for all the awful things he’s done, but that won’t erase the trauma Sansa has experienced.

I love Game of Thrones, but I believe it is perfectly fair to call out the writers, and to wish that they’d handled these sensitive scenes with greater care. Also, the scene of Jaime forcing himself on his sister Cersei felt out of character and has made it tough for me to root for a redemption arc for him anymore. According to an article I read, that scene wasn’t even in the books, which makes its inclusion in the show all the more frustrating.

This issue is more complex than can be covered in one article, but I think it’s good to talk about it. Fiction can raise awareness about the realities of sexual violence throughout history, and motivate people to take action against it. But this topic should never be sensationalized or used for mere shock value, which is sometimes the case in Game of Thrones.


Closing thoughts

I am now over halfway through this series, and pieces of the narrative continue to fall into place. Also, thank goodness I have heard some spoilers about season 6, because the ending of season 5 is definitely a shocker. The Night’s Watch turns on Jon Snow and leaves him bleeding out on the ground, presumably dead.

I definitely would have been raging at “red wedding” levels of angry, but thankfully I already know he comes back, so the scene wasn’t as traumatic as it otherwise would have been. Still, I’m definitely going to be in a hurry to get to the library after work today to pick up a copy of season 6!


A blog of ice and fire: Thoughts on Game of Thrones seasons 2 & 3

1200“If you think this has a happy ending, you haven’t been paying attention.”

If there’s one bit of dialogue you should keep in mind while watching Game of Thrones, it’s probably that one. While I’ve only just now finished season 3, multiple characters have already met untimely/unfair ends. There’s no telling who will actually make it to the end, and who will come out as a winner or a loser in the fight for the Iron Throne.

Earlier this year, I started watching Game of Thrones after years of hearing all the buzz about it. I purposely waited for the final episode to air before I began, so that I could experience the series as one complete arc. I also decided to blog my thoughts along the way. I’m not normally much of a binge-watcher, so I’ll probably be working on this project for a while, but it’s been a fascinating journey so far.

While I enjoyed the first season and meeting all the characters, the second season is where this show really started drawing me in. All the political maneuvering is captivating to watch, and even though I’ve already heard a decent amount of spoilers regarding the show’s ending, I quickly found out that, much like poor Jon Snow, there’s still a lot I don’t know.

(Fair warning, spoilers abound!)


Pawns and players

Our heroes and villains have been scattered across Westeros (and beyond), every person working towards his or her own goal (some more altruistic than others). Robb continues to lead the war between the Starks and the Lannisters; Joffrey continues to be an utterly awful human being; Arya grows into a toughened survivor; Dany is nurturing her dragons and building an army; and Jon Snow is…well…doing whatever the heck he’s trying to do beyond the Wall. (I’m not totally sure what his ultimate plan is, but I don’t think he necessarily knows either. Jon is sometimes what I’d call “lovably clueless.” You know I still adore you, though, Jon!)

I just keep finding myself amazed at the scope of this show; the sets and costumes are even higher quality than some big-budget films I’ve seen. It’s also impressive the amount of depth the actors are able to add to their characters. There are some characters I didn’t really like when I first met them, but thanks to some subtle details added by the actors and/or the script, I actually pity them now. Many of these characters haven’t really led happy lives thus far, and they’re trying to survive in the only way they know how.

One of the main characters who really stands out to me after watching the first three seasons is Tyrion Lannister, played by Peter Dinklage. What an interesting character, and what a great performance. Tyrion can be both ruthless and compassionate, and he’s obviously one of the smartest players in the game of thrones going on around him. He cares more than he’s willing to let on, and he’s definitely the best of the Lannisters (though to be fair, that’s not really a high bar to clear).

Tyrion is treated cruelly by both his family and the people around him, simply because he is shorter than the average height. His father, Tywin, treats Tyrion and his other children as mere pawns to be used in building the family’s reputation. One of the hardest scenes to watch is the forced wedding between Tyrion and Ned Stark’s daughter, Sansa, because these are two people who are utterly miserable yet also utterly powerless. Tyrion is also one of the few people in King’s Landing who shows kindness to Sansa. I’m really hoping both of these two will be okay!

Another character whose arc really intrigues me is Tyrion’s brother, Jaime. I really hated Jaime at first, but the past several seasons have marked a rather intense period of personal growth for him. He loses his hand — and therefore, part of his identity as a warrior — and his interactions with Brienne of Tarth show that he does have a sense of nobility and decency buried deep within him. I also love how Brienne puts up with zero percent of his nonsense.

Speaking of Brienne, she has quickly become one of my favorite characters. Even in a society that’s prejudiced against her, she’s managed to become a female warrior and demands the respect of those who get to know her.

And I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention Olenna Tyrell. She is to Game of Thrones what the Dowager Countess is to Downton Abbey. Olenna has a sharp wit and an even sharper tongue, and she always has the best lines. She’s not intimidated by the Lannisters, and she is never afraid to speak her mind. If this was a democracy, she’d definitely have my vote to sit on the Iron Throne.


Themes in the narrative

I love digging deeper into stories and pondering what they’re trying to say, both about the world they’re depicting and the real world beyond the fantasy. And Game of Thrones has plenty to dig into.

In my first Game of Thrones blog, I mentioned that I was frustrated by how the show portrayed some of the female characters, and I hoped that future seasons would give them more of a voice. Although the show still could use some improvement in this department (female characters are still objectified far more than their male co-stars), I really love some of the arcs that are developing. Female characters also are being allowed to voice some of their frustrations about the system that is inherently biased against them.

And even though the society depicted here is set up to give men more power, the show’s oppressive system of government really isn’t doing anyone any favors. The monarchy based on birthright has resulted in some truly terrible rulers (looking at you, Joffrey), and only a few people really have the power to make significant decisions. Everyone else has to scheme behind the scenes and simply hope they can survive.

I’ll be curious to see if, in later seasons, characters are able to succeed in their quest to break the cycle of violence and abuse, or if they simply become part of the system, unable to diverge from the traditions of past generations.

It’s easy to look at the harsh world of Game of Thrones and think, “Oh yeah, we’re better than that!” But are we really? For example, even now, in 2019, issues like racism and misogyny rear their ugly heads. You don’t even have to dive that deeply into social media to find examples of this. And even though politicians may not be literally stabbing each other in the back, as they are in Game of Thrones, we’ve seen too many examples of power’s corrupting influence.


It’s time to talk about THAT scene

Finally, before I watched Game of Thrones, I’d heard about an infamous “red wedding” but I didn’t know what it was or when it was going to occur. Well, now I know what it is AND I HATE IT.

Apparently I was expressing my thoughts about this scene loudly enough that my husband (who was upstairs) could hear me complaining as I sat in front of the TV in the basement. I don’t know that I’ve ever been so mad about a fictional plot twist before, officially surpassing my feelings about “Mockingjay,” the final book in the Hunger Games series (and, to date, the only book I’ve ever thrown across the room after finishing it).

As I mentioned before, I’m definitely #TeamStark, and Robb and Catelyn were two of my favorite characters. I’m both mad that they died, and I’m mad about the way they died. I watched this episode Friday night and was haunted by it throughout the weekend. Game of Thrones, why????

All right — I could keep ranting for a while, but you get the idea. Even though I’m upset about saying goodbye to two of my favorite characters too soon (especially since Ned Stark already was on the show all-too-briefly), to be fair I did know going in that this show was going to kill off some major characters in upsetting ways.

This did get me to thinking about unexpected major character deaths in fiction as a narrative device, and how it’s not always my favorite type of plot twist.

Yes, it technically adds realism, because life doesn’t always follow a neatly plotted narrative. But personally, I’d rather sacrifice some realism to get more time with interesting characters. Ned, Catelyn, and Robb Stark, as well as Renly Baratheon (who died in season 2), are all characters I wanted to see more of.

This isn’t really a criticism of the show, because it’s not wrong to aim for more of a realistic style. It’s just a personal preference. Or maybe I’m just bitter because my favorite characters happen to be the ones targeted by these shocking plot twists. 😉

Anyway, despite my feelings about the red wedding, I now have season 4 of Game of Thrones on hold at the local library, and I’m planning to pick it up after work! Things are not looking good for the Starks, but I’m still rooting for them.