Monday, May 23, 2016

Paradox


There's a favorite Orwell quote of mine from his novel 1984 that represents the political ideology of Oceania, known as Ingsoc: "Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past." It's meant to represent the idea that people will usually hew to tradition if faced with a problem that they can't solve and that "tradition" will typically be defined by whoever can declare what "tradition" has always been. If historical revisionism is the order of the day (witness the current image of Ronald Reagan as basically nothing close to who he was and what he actually did while in office), then you can dictate how things will evolve based on myths and legend. I give you Brandon Stark and his trusted compatriot, Willas Hold the Door.

Now, that's one small event that Bran altered and which led to the current future. Obviously, Hodor has been key to Bran's survival and his reaching the last Greenseer, Bloodraven, in order to learn how to slip back in time in order to create Hodor from Willas (Walder in the books) so there's a certain element of time looping taking place here in that one respect, but that seems to revolve solely around Bran himself and we've yet to see him impact any other major events. It's been suggested around the Web that Bran could have influenced some of the key elements of the story, such as driving Aerys Targaryen mad, but I don't think that either D&D or GRRM will go quite that far or we'll end up in Matrix-land and no one really wants to go all the way to the Land of Allegory (hopefully.) There's a limit to how much symmetry can be applied before everyone assumes that everything is simply one more trope.


For example, the revelation that the Others were created by the Children of the Forest as a way to defend themselves against the First Men is an element of storytelling that has been seen before, assuming that they were created as a weapon that the Children later lost control over. OTOH, they could have been created as a tool of Armageddon that the creators had no interest in controlling, deciding that the future world was simply one that nothing should be living in. The fact that the locale shown where the first of the Others was created is the same one that the Night King uses to create new members of the tribe from the babies that Craster was giving to them might mean that there's some element of power in the locale and not just the ceremony that the Children initiated. But if the root of the Others lies with the Children, why is their leader, Night's King, a former member of the Night's Watch that was created to man the Wall, which was raised to resist the Others in the first place? He was the 13th commander of the Night's Watch, which means he was there long after the Others had first appeared and the Wall was even built. Why is he the leader now? Somewhere along the way, the myth, the "tradition", has been either misunderstood or perhaps intentionally altered by those who wished it to be seen in a particular way.


That perspective informs much of the rest of the episode, as Sansa and Jon (a female heir in the land of primogeniture and a bastard oathbreaker who's been raised from the dead) try to stake a claim to the North; as Tirion and Varys make reluctant alliance with a religion that neither believes in nor trusts but which also seeks to stamp a new outlook on the ancient Ghiscari culture and the world; as Asha and Theon try to assert control, again in the land of primogeniture, in the name of finally making the Ironmen something other than simply reavers clinging to the rocks with what they've been able to loot from wealthier peoples; as Arya tries to follow a path that she knows she cannot walk, as she'll never be able to leave behind her personal traditions that define her as a Stark and, in fact, as Arya, the strongest personality amongst all her siblings.

Indeed, those searching for greater symmetry in the story may not even have the animal totems of the two central houses, Targaryen and Stark, to look to. There are only two direwolves left from the five introduced at the beginning. While Grey Wind and Robb were doomed from the outset and it seems somehow appropriate that Summer died defending Bran who has now become the last Greenseer, if untimely (ahem), Ghost and Nymeria survive; the former still being the rogue element that his master, Jon, represents as the male Targaryen heir, and the latter being the living tie that embodies Arya's inability to ever leave herself behind, as the wolf that was sent away in the Riverlands but can never truly abandon who and what she is. But Sansa endures while Lady, her wolf, was the first one to die. Lady's death was symbolic of the death of a dream, while Sansa continuing is testament to the endurance of the real world and her role in it. Bran is outside of it, Robb is past it, Jon and Arya are skirting the edges of it, but Sansa persists. Is that still symmetry? It's hard to say. All we know is that what seemed to be uncharted waters, post-books, for the first 4 episodes of the season have now firmly become a path of their own. We're on the back 9 of the season and while some roads still seems fairly clear, others have become that much more difficult to predict. That's a good thing.


And, in some sense, the time paradox that represents everything simply happening again (Those who do not learn from history...) was thematically present from the opening moments, when we see Sansa sewing again, just as in her childhood, and eventually making a garment for her brother that she remembered her father wearing. Kinvara wears a necklace just like Melisandre's. Another illusion about defying time? Or an acknowledgment of the unified vision for what's to come? The past is the present is the future. Is this what Benioff and Weiss were trying to say? That we can't escape the past even as we change the future? Maybe. But I'm still hoping that there's something more to it and that Bran's personal adventure isn't the defining element of the entire story, but continues to be just another part of the whole. Similarly, while I certainly appreciate the somewhat faster pace of this season in comparison to the semi-torpor of some storylines that was pulled from similar circumstances in Feast and Dance, I admit to feeling a little rushed. The culmination of some of these stories has been a long time in coming and I really hope that Bran's adventures up and down the timeline aren't used as a shortcut around any of them.

Side notes:

It was interesting to see Littlefinger under real pressure again for the first time since Cersei instructed him on what she felt was the real definition of power. It was also inevitable that he'd be able to play mindgames with Sansa by mentioning the Blackfish, even as she was as determined as anyone has been to kill him. One questions why Sansa was willing to lie effectively on Littlefinger's behalf (Brienne's pointed question being the same as mine), but the appeal to family may have been what Baelish was counting on to spin her head around and make he still a useful asset at some point. I still almost guarantee that Littlefinger will escape with his life when this is all over, even if it means going back to being just the lord of one of the smallest of the Fingers. On a technical note, they sure like to play fast and loose with the massive distances in the North. Baelish casually mentioning that he left the knights of the Vale in Moat Cailin while he strolled up to Mole's Town means that he left them WEEKS ago.


I wonder, perhaps, if they're overdoing it a bit with Arya. Her unceasing anger in her training with the other girl is making it more obvious than ever that she'll never become a Faceless Man because she simply can't abandon who she is. The overly lengthy scene of her observing the play (although I did appreciate the parallels to Hamlet: the play within a play) and having an emotional reaction to the representations of Eddard and Sansa drove that point home a bit too much. I mean, we get it. She's Arya. She'll always be Arya. As much as she's becoming an assassin, she'll never be able to make the commitment to the religion of the Many-Faced God anymore than Tirion will become a devotee of R'hllor. Having a good chunk of season one acted out in parody took up a lot of the episode to little real end, other than to give the audience the first real gratuitous shot of full frontal, male.

The Kingsmoot scene unfortunately fell completely flat to me. It would have been much more dramatic and interesting had it taken place inside the castle on Pyke. There was some good tension in Theon's moment of truth, but Pilou Asbæk was completely uninspiring as Euron, either in the moot or as he recovered from the drowning ritual. The actor simply lacks the air of menace combined with gravitas that the character carries in the books. People want to follow this guy, why? Also, no eyepatch! WTF? Finally, with Theon and Asha having stolen what looks to be the bulk of the fleet, Euron's inspiring plan is to build a whole new one? That's going to take months, at least. And who's going to man this new fleet? Furthermore, how are there enough trees left on the islands to make it? The reavers have been operating for centuries. The books mention that the islands are largely denuded as a consequence of the shipbuilding that's been a habit for those centuries. This just seems like a really ill-considered tangent, especially since Euron of the show isn't half as interesting as Euron of the books.

I'm not sure what happened to Emilia Clarke but she looked the most assured and imperious that she ever has on this show. Change of makeup and/or hair? It was something. Up to this point, even in the scenes where she had complete control of the situation, as when she became queen of Meereen amidst the screams of the crucified, she'd still looked somewhat uncertain. Her scene with Jorah tonight was the first time I can remember thinking that her gaze had real impact. She looked like a queen.

Lines of the night (not many, as the events were more important):

"Did you know about Ramsay? If you didn't, you're an idiot. If you did, you're my enemy."
Get some!

"Does death only come for the wicked and leave the decent behind?"
We should be so lucky.

"I may not know the North, but I know men. They're the same in pretty much any corner of the world. None of them want to see their wives and children skinned for a lost cause."
There is that...

And the winner:

"You want your queen to be worshiped and obeyed. And while she's gone you want her advisers to be worshiped and obeyed."
"I'd settle for obeyed."
Me, too. Most of the time.


And, of course, it's hard to leave without including:
"Hodor."

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