Westeros Explainer: The Six Questions You Had About ‘Game of Thrones’ 4×3

'Breaker of Chains'

Cersei goes full Norma Bates. (HBO)

Cersei goes full Norma Bates. (HBO)

1. Who the f*ck is this new king? And where the hell was Tywin with the history lessons when his LAST grandson was growing up to become a crazy king???

Why, the new king is Tommen Baratheon, of course! You know, Joffrey’s younger brother? Another blond uberbaby byproduct of Cersei and Jaime’s fornication? No, not ringing any bells?

Well, don’t worry about it. Just think of him like Rickon Stark, or more precisely, don’t think of him as Rickon Stark, because no one is ever thinking about Rickon Stark. Now that Tommen is the new Lannister king (though technically the throne should belong to…jeez, the Crone only knows at this point… I think Stannis has the best claim, unless you want to call the whole Baratheon clan usurpers, in which case it’s Daenerys,) he’s going to be slightly more prominent of a character than the youngest Stark brother, but it’s an apt parallel between the two warring clans that the youngest kid is always going to get last place. Well, second-to-last: the ward is going to come in last. And also, the half-brother. So third-to-last. Though still before the girls.

How about: the youngest son in any given family is going to be the worst-off direct male descendant. Unless there is a cripple ahead of you.

It never really gelled for me why Tywin would let Joffrey run around acting like a goddamn sociopath without a G.E.D., but start in with the history lessons for his younger brother before the boy king’s body was cold on the table. But while we were watching the episode, Noam pointed out that Tywin wasn’t really around for the raising of Joffrey…he was in Casterly Rock. Robert and Cersei raised that little freak, and although Tywin might have found their child-rearing methods…distasteful…he didn’t have much of a leg to stand on in challenging King Robert about absentee parenting. After all, this is the guy who somehow missed the fact that his two eldest children were making eyes out of the womb-gate.

But with Tommen, Tywin has a chance to mold the mind of an impressionable young boy, which is still probably going to be an improvement over Cersei’s smothering “Norma Bates in a crown” technique. As much as we loathe Tywin for being a cold, calculating pragmatist, he’s no dummy, and his first lesson to Tommen is a sound one: if only more of the Kings of Westeros had listened to their Hands, wouldn’t they all still be alive?

The only case in which that isn’t applicable is with King Aerys II Targaryen, whose Hand betrayed him. That Hand’s name? Tywin Lannister.

2. How does Joffrey’s lying in state reference and invert the first time we met Cersei and Jaime?

In the very first episode of the show, in the first scene in which we see King’s Landing, we see the recently murdered Jon Arryn laid out exactly like Joffrey is here, with the same creepy-ass stones on his eyes. And this scene is our introduction to Cersei and Jaime: the queen looks out as the Silent Sisters tend to Jon Arryn’s body, and Jaime comes up behind her to tell her she’s worrying too much.

This is a clever callback on the show’s part, because not only does it remind us of how far Cersei and Jaime have come since that scene (or conversely, how little they have grown), but the present moment also reverses the terms of almost everything in that scene. There Cersei was worried that her part in Jon Arryn’s murder would be discovered, and now she is desperate to discover who killed her son. Now-murdered Joffrey was the product of their incestuous union, the very secret they killed Arynn to protect. And so on.

But more than this, the reference to that scene prepares us—as much as one can be prepared—for the grim brutality of the sex we are about to see. Back then, Cersei spoke admiringly of Jaime’s fearlessness and recklessness, the very qualities that make him hateful to her now, and the very ones that let him violate her and the sanctity of her son’s resting place so callously. And though she seems very concerned with what is respectful now, her whole posture and attitude toward Jon Arryn’s body in the earlier scene was decidedly disrespectful. We are certainly not meant to think Cersei deserves this, but neither are we allowed to forget the chain of events that led her here.

3.This episode makes us want to hate people we had grown to like: Jaime, The Hound, the Wildlings. Does the Hound’s pragmatism make us hate him or love him more? Is Arya being naive or honorable? Are WE just being naive for feeling betrayed?

This episode spends quite a lot effort on making us remember what a brutal, terrible place Westeros is: it begins with Littlefinger’s Machiavellian musings for Sansa’s benefit, and shows us many innocent people being randomly murdered by wildlings (that scene, with its benign, mundane “Your mom is making boiled potatoes again” opener, is totally shocking even on a third viewing). It is almost as if the show is saying, “Hey everyone, I know you all had parties last week when Joffrey died, but don’t celebrate just yet. The world still majorly sucks.” Westeros did not break out in flowers and songs in the wake of the tyrant king’s death. Its problems are systemic, not based on any one sociopath’s edicts.

The Hound probably understands this as well as anyone. He goes without attachments or loyalties because he knows they are fleeting, and therefore stupid distractions. He believes these systems of the world are inevitable as the cycle of the seasons — the kindly farmer he steals from won’t survive the winter no matter what happens, and so lifting his silver is more than just convenient; it’s logical.

Arya is young, but she is also smart, much smarter than the Hound. She is just starting to see her way into and around the systems that rule the world, and where her companion sees only inevitability, she seems the possibility of change. The trick that got them a hot meal and a bed was a trick of empathy—Arya saw a situation she understood and used it to her advantage, but it wasn’t just cold calculation. She understood what she saw because she had also lost a parent. She felt for these people, and they returned feeling in kind. And she is beginning to see that this may be a way around the cold and brutal systems that rule her world.

This is only naive if we think Arya really doesn’t know how bad the world can get—and this is a girl who saw her father beheaded in front of her. The Hound, a blunt instrument, can only see her sympathy as the shortsightedness of a sheltered child, but she’s really anything but sheltered.

She wants to believe, like her father, that the world can be changed through justice: do good to the good and punish the bad. But she saw where that got Ned, and she’s far from stupid. In trying to figure out why she still believes the Hound is wrong, she is working out her own understanding of world systems for herself—and we’re working it out along with her.

4. How does Ser Davos’s “Eureka” moment echo what Tywin was saying about how wise kings rule? How are the two “hands” similar in this regard?

Poor Ser Davos! All he wants to do is read and be loyal to his increasingly unhinged king. He’s the bromance version of what Ser Jorah is to Dany: hopelessly devoted, consistently overlooked, fated for the friend zone. (Especially if you believe, as I do, that “friend zone” would be the perfect name for a dungeon at Dragonstone.)

But Davos and the merciless Tywin would probably agree on one thing at least, as we learned this episode. Namely, that in order to be wise you have to realize you’re not the cleverest person in the room. That being just, pious, and strong won’t get you far if you can’t figure out which choice is wise and which isn’t. Time and time again (so…twice) Davos has managed to thwart a nasty fate by humbling himself in front of Stannis’s lizard-faced daughter Shireen. She’s been teaching him how to read, and that’s finally paying off, as he is reminded during one of his frequent trips down memory lane during book time that the Lannisters are basically broke now, and the one Savings & Loan in town, the Iron Bank of Braavos, are not going to like the king’s revised motto: “The Lannisters always pay their debts…eventually.”

Davos realizes he might be able to persuade the Bank to fund Stannis instead of the Lannisters, in which case they could go out and buy a bunch more subprime mortgages ships. Though after the housing bubble Siege of King’s Landing, you’d think Davos would try another tactic, instead of re-mortgaging his house buying more boats. (Analogies!)

But Tywin would be proud of Davos, if they weren’t on completely opposite sides of this fight: even after his moment of brilliance, the Onion Knight keeps himself in check by having Shireen write the letter to the bank. Which is probably for the best, because no one wants is going to give a loan to a Charlie Kelly.

UnhIEYv

Translation? “Need more monies.”

5. What does Gilly represent to Sam, besides a love interest? What does Sam represent to Gilly?

Oh, Sam. His foray into wildling love has been either less successful or more successful than Jon Snow’s, depending on how you look at it. On the one hand, Gilly isn’t shooting arrows into his legs and constantly trying to kill him. On the other, Sam’s started white-knighting a girl with major daddy issues (her dad is also her baby’s daddy, so…yeah) whom he’ll probably always be too scared to make a move on.

The thing about Sam is that he’s totally relatable: he’s the only character on Game of Thrones who looks and acts like he’d be really into reading the George R. R. Martin books. He’s the ultimate protective Dungeon Master dweeb, and it’s amazing he’s lasted this long. But to Gilly, Sam isn’t just a mouth-breather with a perma-crush on his BFF Jon, he’s part of a conquering army that freed her from her dad’s enslavement and saved her son from death. Also, he inadvertently killed some White Walkers, in what amounts to the Game of Thrones equivalent of slipping on a banana peel and accidently knocking the schoolyard bully unconscious.

Not that Sam’s any more clear-eyed: he’s putting that wildling punany so high up on the pedestal that he’s basically Hello M’Lady-ing her when she’s already DTF.

To Sam, Gilly has to be the damsel in distress so he can see himself as the hero. That’s why he needs to get her out of Castle Black but is equally uncomfortable when she ends up in that whorehouse town nearby. He needs her to need him, and his brain short-circuits at any inkling that she may be an adult with her own sexual needs or someone who could take of herself. Luckily for him, she’s neither…and that’s kind of why these two make the perfect match.

6. Why would Tywin wait until his family is at his weakest to try to make a pact with Dorne? It kind of rings hollow, especially since Oberyn is possibly in on the conspiracy to murder Joffrey.

Tywin’s fronting, hard. The fact that he’d even float this idea to Oberyn shows you how serious the matter is, because not only is there a snowball’s chance in hell that Oberyn would accept a seat on the high council unless it was purposely to betray the Lannisters, but because the Dornish have straight-up insulted him at every turn this wedding, which you know is more galling to Tywin than the idea that they may have actually had a hand in Joffrey’s murder. Having to negotiate with Oberyn must be eating him alive.

But the Lannisters are hurting. Now that the family is basically broke, with his grandson-squared murdered on the throne, their weak spots are there for the world to see. All a usurper would need to do is knock off a 12-year-old and the Iron Throne would be up for grabs. And after all that hard work!