A Brief Treatise on the Rules of Thrones 2.07: A Man Without Honor

(10 comments)


State of Play

The choir goes off. The board is laid out thusly.

Lions of King’s Landing: Tyrion Lannister, Cersei Lannister
The Lion, Jaime Lannister
The Direwolf, Catelyn Stark
Dragons of Qarth: Daenerys Targaryen
Bears of Qarth: Jorah Mormont
Direwolves of the Wall: Jon Snow
Lions of Harrenhal: Tywin Lannister
Direwolves of Winterfell: Brandon Stark
The Direwolf, Robb Stark
Direwolves of King’s Landing: Sansa Stark
Direwolves of Harrenhal: Arya Stark
Kraken of Winterfell: Theon Greyjoy
Flowers of King’s Landing: Shae
Dogs of King’s Landing: Sandor Clegane

The episode is in seventeen parts. The first is three minutes long and is set in Winterfell. The opening image is Theon in bed.

The second is three minutes long and is set north of the Wall. The transition is by family, from Bran and Rickon to Jon Snow. 

The third is six minutes long and is set in Harrenhal. The transition is by image, from Ygritte as a prisoner to a man hanging.

The fourth is one minute long and is set in King’s Landing. The transition is by family, from Arya to Sansa Stark.

The fifth is one minute long and is set in Qarth. The transition is by hard cut, from a close-up of the Hound to Daenerys walking through Qarth.

The sixth is two minutes long and is set north of the Wall. The transition is by family, from Daenerys Targaryen to Jon Snow, who knows nothing.

The seventh is three minutes long and is set in the Stark camp in the Riverlands. The transition is by family, from Jon Snow to Robb Stark. 

The eighth is two minutes long and is set in Winterfell. The transition is by family, form Robb Stark to Bran, in abesntia. 

The ninth is two minutes long and is set in Qarth. The transition is by hard cut, from Maester Luwin being led away to Daenerys and her empty cages.

The tenth is three minutes long and is set north of the Wall. The transition is by family, from Daenerys Targaryen to Jon Snow. 

The eleventh is five minutes long and is set in King’s Landing. The transition is by family, from Jon Snow to Sansa Stark. 

The twelfth is six minutes long and is set in the Stark camp in the Riverlands. The transition is by family, from Cersei to Jaime Lannister. It features the death of Alton Lannister and Torrhen Karstark, killed by Jaime Lannister. 

The thirteenth is four minutes long and is set in Qarth. The transition is by image, from Jaime Lannister’s carnage to Quaithe’s. It features the death of most of the ruling council of Qarth. 

The fourteenth is two minutes long and is set in the Stark camp in the Riverlands. The transition is by hard cut, from Pyat Phree to a Stark banner serving as establishing shot.

The fifteenth is three minutes long and is set in King’s Landing. The transition is by family, from Jaime to Cersei and Tyrion Lannister, and by dialogue, with Tyrion’s message mentioning Tarth. 

The sixteenth is four minutes long and is set in the Stark camp in the Riverlands. The transition is by family, from Tyrion and Cersei to Jaime Lannister. 


The seventeenth is seconds long and is set in Winterfell. The transition is seemingly by family, from Catelyn to Bran Stark. The final image is of Theon, realizing that the correct answer to his riddle was not, in fact, “hang the remains of two burnt children on the ramparts of Winterfell,” but rather “chess.” 

Analysis

The title, of course, refers to the Kingslayer, Jaime Lannister, making his first appearance in six episodes. This is by some margin the longest period of absence of one of the initial main characters in the entire history of play. In the context of a seventeen-part episode, the six minute segment that is basically a two-hander in which he manipulate his cellmate and then murders him borders on outright decadence. The only other characters to get a scene that long are Arya and Tywin, and it’s the only scene for those characters in the entire episode. (It is, of course, brilliant, with Arya’s “most girls are stupid” and Tywin’s wary enjoyment of her being, as usual, a highlight.) Jaime, on the other hand, gets another four minute scene towards the end, and another two minute scene in between in which he’s a secondary character. Which is to say, he has both the longest single scene and the most screen time in the episode. 

But this takes place in an episode consciously framed by Theon in his pursuit of Bran and Rickon. And although the title drop goes to Jaime (or, rather, Catelyn talking about Jaime), it must be said, it applies just as well to Theon, whose reckless selfishness careens him progressively towards disaster even in the form of seeming victories. It’s not even that he makes any decisions that are strategically unwise as such. As he points out, the stakes for him if he loses Bran and Rickon are significant. Thus far at least his only real error in terms of taking Winterfell is simply the fact that he should have sacked the castle and left instead of trying to hold it, as will be pointed out shortly. In other words, ironically, it is the presence of honor that dooms Theon, a point tacitly raised by Jaime as he casually deconstructs the underlying notion.

Framed like this, the rest of the episode ripples outwards. Jon Snow and Ygritte provide a dialectical discussion of freedom in which the synthesis is a bunch of angry Wildlings with swords, but where Jon’s position is one of honor. The ongoing Robb/Talia plot is similarly focused. And, of course, Jorah, who gets the biggest practical moment of honor in the episode as he manages to find a way to serve his Khaleesi, but who has this juxtaposed with Quaithe’s reminder of his disloyalty. (Left relatively unclear in the show, but eventually explicit in the books is the fact that Jorah sent another report to Varys while absent last episode. It would appear the show at least intended to follow this, since Varys has gotten word of Daenerys’s dragons next episode, but when Jorah’s treachery is eventually revealed the dispatch from Qarth is not mentioned, whereas in the books it is one of the factors in Daenerys’s decision to exile him.) 

Qarth also marks the moment when the theme that has governed this stretch of play is finally made explicit, with Xaro Xohan Daxos bluntly saying, “Those on the margins often come to control the center.” Qarth’s strange mixture of genuine magic (in the form of Pyat Pree and Quaithe) and a stiffly artificial pastiche of the game has been building up to being used as a metonymy for the larger board for a while, and here it finally becomes so. What’s particularly interesting about Qarth, however, is that it exists completely outside the dualism that otherwise defines the board. The House of the Undying is not straightforwardly allied with light or dark, fire or ice, life or death. Nor is Quaithe. The former’s magic is dismissed as the work of a charlatan even within its society; the latter is unseen and exists in the shadows, seemingly related to a level of carnality (implied by the transition into Quaithe’s scene). It would appear to be entirely marginal. Which is to say, it would appear to be entirely dangerous. 

Comments

Sean Dillon 1 year, 8 months ago

I'm not entirely sure if the fifth is a hard cut. It reads like it's a cut by mirror image from a man who is scarred by fire to a woman unharmed by it.

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Jeff Heikkinen 1 year, 8 months ago

Hey Phil;

Quick question not directly relevant to this post as such (I just thought it would be most likely to get your attention as a comment on a fairly new post). When is the Super Nintendo Project continuing?

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Philip Sandifer 1 year, 8 months ago

Soon as this run of Brief Treatise finishes with 2.10.

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Jeff Heikkinen 1 year, 8 months ago

Right, of course. I had temporarily forgotten they were occupying the same "slot" in your blogging schedule. (Though at least that means my question was closer to being on-topic than I gave it credit for!)

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Daru 1 year, 8 months ago

I know it's been said loads before, but I do utterly adore the double act of Arya and Tywin.

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Philip Sandifer 1 year, 8 months ago

I'm itching to get back to it. It's possible I'll end up disappointed with the result, but the "Lemmings" post in my head is fucking awesome. :)

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Aylwin 1 year, 8 months ago

the Kingslayer, Jaime Lannister

The Kingslayer, Ser Jaime Lannister. Whatever else he is, the man's still a knight.

For me, this is the episode where his characterisation gets irretrievably screwed. The murder of Alton, and more definitively the manner of it, the totally convincing appearance of slightly condescending kindness abruptly giving way to killing-with-a-quip, unequivocally establishes him as a stone-cold psychopath. Only by pretending it didn't happen (which I suppose from the book-supremacist point of view it didn't) can you take seriously the subsequent not-such-a-bad-old-stick schtick. His critiques of the honour system, however inherently convincing they might be, end up in the moral-censure-from-Davros category.

That pretence would be easier if it had been an isolated incident, but it's very much of a piece with the attempted murder of Brandon. It's even more true there that the manner of the deed cuts deeper than the basic fact of it, given that on that occasion he had such overwhelming cause to do what he did from a pragmatic point of view. His ruthlessness there would not be an insurmountable barrier to giving him moral credit for other things, but getting past his nonchalance would be a big ask. Taking the two events together, I can't help but feel that those crafting the character are hopelessly adrift.

And I haven't even seen That Scene yet.

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Philip Sandifer 1 year, 8 months ago

I'm unbothered by it, actually. He's a captive. His duty is to escape. He does so, sacrificing a basically useless man in the process. What I quite like about the scene, though, is that I am inclined to read it as being entirely honest and sincere in his reminiscing about old battles.

I mean, yes, he is a stone cold psychopath, but I watch Hannibal; that's hardly a barrier.

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Jarl 1 year, 3 months ago

I just started watching the show two days ago, and I believe it was this episode where the trick of Jaime Lannister, as a character, suddenly came into crystal clear focus for me. I'd already picked up, back around the time he said he always won fights because he was good at picking opponents, on the fact that he's superficially the tall, handsome prince charming that this program's eager to subvert and reveal as the scheming, villainous, vain beast we always expect the jocks to be. In other words, I'm pretty sure the same character appeared in one of the Shrek movies.
But in this episode, with all his quipping back and forth, it suddenly struck me exactly what he was and why he worked: Every loathsome quality he brings to bear is the same quality we would exhort in the hero of any other story. I've played as and played alongside Jaime Lannister in dozens of D&D campaigns. Take away his skill in combat and he's most of the Doctors, give it back and he makes up the difference. Were it not for, y'know, the child murder and the incest he'd be any number of modern action fantasy heroes, and if you leave those two in he's any number of classical action fantasy heroes. He mocks his jailers, he's inspirationally disadvantaged but in a socially acceptable way, he's got a mutual disdain for his father that's tempered by a grudging mutual respect. He's Luke if the Skywalkers never broke up, he's Robin Hood without his Merry Men. Once I picked up on it, it suddenly recast his entire character through the first season.

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Jarl 1 year, 3 months ago

Having watched further, I should add that I came to the above conclusion before he got his hand cut off.

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