Five Essay Questions for Game of Thrones 3×4: ‘And Now His Watch Has Ended’

Illustration by Alex Bedder
Illustration by Alex Bedder

These questions regard last night’s episode of HBO’s Game of Thrones. Please answer the prompts with specific examples from LAST NIGHT’S EPISODE, though supplementary material will be accepted as a secondary source. Please write legibly. No. 2 pencils only. You have an hour to finish this test. See below for questions and sample responses.

1. The Spider has perhaps the greatest scene all season in this week’s episode, wherein he finally tells Tyrion (and the audience) how he lost his balls and why he hates magic. Real talk: since Varys was originally planning to tell Tyrion this story in season one, how often do you think he trots out his death box to make a point? Things to consider: that the moral of Varys’s story to Tyrion was “Revenge is a dish best served cold,” and the way more awesome points one could make if the climax of his tale was “And now … look what’s in my box”; Varys trying to persuade the Queen of Thorns to recognize Littlefinger as a threat.

So the box is like Varys’s PowerPoint presentation/magic trick that he can trot out every time he needs to give his message some oomph or rhetorical flourish? With like a live human just hanging out inside it? Damn, son, that is cold, even for this show. Seems pretty unlikely, though, for any number of reasons. If the story he tells is true (and really, it loses all effect if it is not), then Varys has been waiting his whole life for this moment. This revenge isn’t just cold; it’s been cryogenically frozen for years like Ted Williams’s head. So now that, after years of biding his time, accreting power by the tiniest degrees, we finally has the opportunity for vengeance, he’s going to put the lid back on and wait some more? Sure, he’ll probably stretch out his actual torture of the magician, because he’s patient, and this show is all about the torture. But he’s gonna start right away, not put the box and his revenge away until the next time he happens to need to make this particular point. Besides, the Spider doesn’t need visual aids to give his arguments force, not when he can whip out perfectly-crafted gems like “He’d let the world burn if he could be king of the ashes” as if he’d just thought them up.

2. Richard Connell’s 1924 short story “The Most Dangerous Game” is known as being one of the best examples of the man-vs-man narrative conflict. But considering the ease with which Jaime, Theon, and Sam throw in the towel, can we find a better archetype for Game of Thrones. Man vs. White Walkers? Man vs. Lady Knight? Man vs. Queen of Thorns? Man vs. Eunuch? Man vs. warg? Please show your work.

Oh, but it is really all just man vs. man, when you get right down to it, right? One of my friends recently made the excellent point that in Game of Thrones, unlike, say, The Lord of the Rings, magic exists in the world, but it is largely irrelevant to the main story. Sure, there are dragons, but the way Daenerys has used them so far, they may as well have been a huge pile of diamonds, or nuclear launch codes. And the Knight’s Watch has just proved they don’t need White Walkers to kill them; they can do it just fine themselves. It’s like Macbeth: sure, there are ghosts and witches, but in the end it’s all just people being shitty to one another.

But “The Most Dangerous Game” is specifically about big-game hunters becoming the quarry in a hunt of human beings. And this episode presented us with quite a few variations on the “hunter becomes the hunted” theme: the Hound is hounded for his past crimes, the scheming Littlefinger is schemed against, the head of a slave army becomes his own army’s target, and Cersei’s dad uses the exact same words against her that she used to insult Tyrion in the first episode of the season. And most notably, of course, Theon, who unsuccessfully hunted the two youngest Starks, has now been literally Most Dangerous Gamed, set out to pasture like a scared rabbit and then rounded back up. With so many characters being given their just deserts, as it were, this episode was more emotionally satisfying than we’ve come to expect from GoT. But we’re only a third of the way into the season, and this satisfaction is bound to be short-lived, what with so many other shoes left to drop.

3. Cersei is quickly losing ground this season; first with her son and then, most awesomely, by her own father. “I don’t distrust you because you are a woman, I distrust you because you are not as smart as you think you are.” Out of all of Cersei’s failings–being an evil, manipulative, walking Oedipal complex; consorting with her brother; almost killing her youngest son preemptively with poison–is “not being as smart” as she thinks she is really the BIGGEST reason to distrust the Queen?

Well, of course not. The best reason to distrust her is that she is trying to glad-hand her own dad right now, after abjectly failing to glad-hand her own kid and her black sheep brother. She is flailing, and so she’s stabbing above her station, and for someone who previously was so measured and careful, that signals a very dangerous level of desperation. Cersei has always been someone not to trust, but never so dangerous as now, when she’s unpredictable as well. Varys claims to be scared of Littlefinger, but at least he understands Littlefinger’s motives. Cersei is on the brink of some wildly erratic behavior, and when that grenade gets launched, it’s best to be far, far away.

4. Softball: Who gets the best speech/last word this episode? There are so many!

Those are two very different things. Last word, obviously, must go to Daenerys, who has an almost literal drop-the-mic-and-walk-off moment. But as for best speech? You’re right, there is a wealth to choose from, but I think the edge goes to Theon’s. Everyone else is so rehearsed; their speeches are artful, planned, and thus less interesting. But watching someone work out just how huge an asshole he is, coming to understand it in the moment of explaining it: priceless.

5. “I ship them so hard,” is something millennials say when they want two fictional characters to hook up. But Game of Thrones gives us almost the opposite when the Queen of Thorns asks Varys: “What happens when the nonexistent bumps against the decrepit?” What’s the grossest possible coupling has GoT presented to us thus far, and can you think of a grosser one? (Hint: Beastiality, maybe?)

Grossest, there are perhaps too many to mention, from young Robert Arryn and his own mother’s breasts to Theon almost getting ass-raped to … imagining Robert Baratheon actually fathering his hundreds of children. But who do our nameless millenials ship the least? I believe that distinction belongs to Littlefinger and Sansa. If everyone seems to think that for you to hook up with a gay dude instead is your best course of action, you know that your other alternative has to be just the grossest. Objectively, the idea of a whoremonger not sampling his own “wares” seems gentlemanly, not to mention sensible. But somehow Littlefinger is grosser because he doesn’t screw his own hookers. The fact that he instead wants to do a sweet little teenager because she has a “good name” is the rapiest thing this show has yet presented us with, and that includes actual rapes. Five Essay Questions for <em>Game of Thrones</em> 3×4: ‘And Now His Watch Has Ended’