Monday, June 27, 2016

Winter is here. (Spoilers, Season Six)

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Opening shot shows Cersei's view across the city from the Red Keep to the Great Sept.

Today I settle all family business... —Michael Corleone. The Godfather.
It is time for the trials in the Great Sept of Baelor. Loras fades like a chameleon into the walls of his cell. Everyone assembles for the trial in the Sept except Cersei and Tommen.

The Grand Maester Pycelle is distracted by a small child who leads him to the defrocked Maester Qyburn. The kid is one of Lord Varys's little birds, of whom Cersei and Qyburn usurped control to serve their purposes. Pycelle has time to get off one last insult to Qyburn before the birds swoop down and stab him multiple times.

The proceedings in the Sept begin. Loras confesses, and the Sparrows carve the septagram into his forehead. Margaery objects, but the High Sparrow defends his actions as justifiable even though he has not told the whole truth. The High Sparrow's currency has always been half-truths.

Another of Game of Thrones's symmetries lies in the Faith of the Seven's Sparrows and the Little Birds, the urchins formerly in the service of Lord Varys but now under Qyburn and Cersei's wings.

With Loras's forehead carved, the High Sparrow sends his leading militant sparrow—ironically Cersei's cousin, Lancel Lannister, formerly Cersei's boy toy with the blond page boy haircut—to escort Cersei back from the Red Keep. Another of the little birds leads the sparrow into catacombs that, in a kind of Edgar Allan Poe maneuver, double back beneath the Sept. At the end of the tunnel dozens of barrels stand in racks, and there is a green puddle on the floor with candles serving as fuses. The urchin had disappeared, but now leaps out from hiding, and he slices the Lancel Lannister's tendon so he is disabled. So part of Cersei's plan is to be doubly sure of Lancel's demise in the core of the explosion. This is not mere vengeance but vengeance underscored.

Margaery tries to reason with the Septon about Cersei's absence, but he is unable to see beyond his rules of order: the High Septon's mind is trapped within his own tyranny. He is set to try Cersei whether she is here or not, though Margaery realizes Cersei's absence is about much more than stubbornness, and she tries to get out of the building, but she is blocked.

That is how their lives end as they are consumed in the explosion of the Mad King's wildfire stockpiled beneath the Great Sept of Baelor.

Tommen is the second boy driven out a window on Cersei's behalf. Another parallel.

During Cersei's incarceration a particular septa tormented her—the chief septa, the one who called "Shame. Shame. Shame," during the walk of atonement. As for Lancel Lannister, Cersei has reserved a personal revenge for this person too. "I told you my face would be the last thing you saw when you died, do you remember?"
The septa naïvely thinks that a few glasses of wine poured in her face as Medieval waterboarding are the beginning, middle, and end of her punishment, and she says she does not fear death. Cersei almost laughs. You're not getting off that easy.

She opens the door and reveals the Mountain in his heavy armor waiting. "This is your God now." She closes the door behind her, but through the face panel she says, "Shame. Shame. Shame."

Episode ten is not a good night for Walder Frey. In his hall—yes, the same hall in which Catelyn Stark, Robb Stark, Talisa Stark, and others get killed—Frey is toasting and feasting with Jaime and his sidekick Bron. (Have we ever seen Frey when he wasn't feasting?) Frey tries to buddy up with Jaime Lannister, but Jaime has always been harshest with those who sidle up to him—probably because Jaime himself is a master of charming and sidling, so he sees through it in anyone else. Jaime asks Frey if he does much fighting. Well, not now, I'm too old, Frey says. But back in your day, did you? Frey avoids the question, and Jaime makes his point: "We gave you the Riverlands to hold. If we have to ride north to win them every time you lose them, why do we need you?" Exit Jaime.

Then later in the show. Walder Frey is eating again. A woman brings him food. He notices she's new, and slaps her ass. She grimaces but holds her patience for just a moment more. He complains that his sons are not here yet. Oh yes they are, my lord. He looks around, but there's nobody in the hall but Frey and the woman. Where are my sons? he asks.

"Here, my lord" (as Tywin Lannister points out long ago, she's obviously high born because she says "my lord" and not "m'lord"). The sons Walder's asking for are in the pie. Frey lifts a crust and finds a finger. Arya pulls off the face she's wearing, and she smiles as she slits his throat.
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The library at the Citadel.
Sam and Gilly arrive at the Citadel. There is some question about the authority by which Sam was sent because the college still has Jeor Mormont listed as Lord Master and Aemon as the Maester. The implication is that they will send a raven to check out Sam's claims, and in the meantime he is given access to the library. The Citadel is the Alexandria of Westeros. Its library is huge and byzantine in design with flying staircases from one level to the next and spiral staircases in between. In the center is a great pillar of light, a symbol of the wisdom at the heart of this library.

Last week I noted that episode nine ended with Davos in mid-stride as he walked across the courtyard of Winterfell to confront Melisandre. This week's scene begins where last week's left off: he enters the room where Melisandre is talking to Jon Snow. The scene is a minimalist trial in which Davos is the accuser with the charred stag as his evidence; Jon Snow is the judge; and Melisandre stands accused. Davos asks for her execution. Jon asks if she has anything to say for herself. Snow banishes her—he does owe her a life, after all.

Jon Snow and Sansa converse among the ramparts. Jon, wary of his sister's trafficking with Petyr Baelish, asks her if she trusts him. "Only a fool would trust Littlefinger," she says. "We need to trust each other," Jon says. He is of course referring to her bringing the Knights of the Vale to the battle without his prior knowledge.

As an afterthought, Sansa adds, "A white raven came. Winter is here." They smile because this sign of winter affirms the words of the House Stark that they have heard all their lives. Presumably this raven bears the inquiry from the Citadel about Sam. But the arrival of winter is like the unfolding of the Stark family destiny.

Meanwhile, in Dorne, Lady Olenna of House Tyrell is visiting Ellaria Sand, with whom she has formed an alliance. Ellaria is promising her survival.

"Cersei killed my son, my grandson, and my granddaughter," Lady Olenna says. "Survival is not what I'm after now."

Ellaria corrects herself. Then you may have your heart's desire.

"And what is my heart's desire?"

"Vengeance. Justice."

Suddenly, Lord Varys, whom we haven't seen since he left Meereen in search of ships, enters and says, "Fire and blood." Before the wedding celebration of Joffrey and Margaery, Lord Varys and Lady Olenna spent a great deal of time together in the gardens of the Red Keep, though Olenna, a persnickety crone, tired of both the the gardens and Varys. So while his appearance now may not be like the unexpected arrival of an old friend, it is nevertheless timely since he brings something of great value to Ellaria and Olenna's preliminary talks of war.

Varys, like Littlefinger, is a tad serpentine in his dealings, but he is fiercely loyal "to the realm," whatever that means in this context. His vision of "the realm" has taken on Targaryen hues, and it is Targaryen force he has come to offer the alliance of Highgarden and Dorne. Lord Varys is functioning like the CIA advance man prior to an American invasion.

In Meereen, Daenerys Targaryen breaks the news to her paramour, Daario Naharis, that he will stay in Meereen as home guard, and it gets mentioned in passing that the bay at Meereen is no longer Slaver's Bay but Dragon's Bay. Being nubile is political capital, so Daenerys will enter Westeros as a single woman so that she can form political alliances by marriage if necessary.

She then talks with Tyrion, whose counsel it likely was to not bring Naharis with the invasion force. "Do you know what frightens me? I said goodbye to a man who loves me. And I felt nothing. Only impatience to get on with it."

Tyrion is cynical as always, and she tells him, "Well, you have completely failed to console me."

Tyrion makes a good short speech, pledge of loyalty, and almost a profession of love. "For what it's worth, I've been a cynic for as long as I can remember. Everyone's always asking me to believe in things—family, gods, kings, myself. It was often tempting until I saw where belief got people. So I said no thank you to belief. And yet here I am. I believe in you. It's embarrassing really. I'd swear you my sword but I don't actually own a sword."

"It's your counsel I need," Daenerys says.

"It's yours. Now and always."

"Good. I, um, I had something made for you. I'm not sure if it's right." She pulls out a medallion. "Tyrion Lannister, I name you Hand of the Queen." So once again Tyrion will work as a Hand, a job he enjoyed in King's Landing.

Sansa and Petyr Baelish have a conversation—one that seems terminal—by the heart tree near Winterfell. He woos her with a vision of himself as king and her as queen. But Sansa has been through far too much to fall for Littlefinger's manipulative fantasies anymore.

Uncle Benjen ends his escort of Bran and Meera Reed. There's magic in the wall, so Benjen cannot pass. However this means Bran and Meera are near Castle Black and then Winterfell. Benjen leaves Bran at the base of a heart tree, and Meera moves him so he can lay his hand on the face carved into the trunk. Plugging in, Bran sees Ned finally get through to Lyanna massive post partum hemorrhaging. This baby is Jon Snow, which is an understated but shocking revelation: Jon Snow's father isn't Ned Stark. Lyanna whispers to Ned who the father is, but we don't hear this. Before we thought we knew who Jon Snow's father was, but not his mother. Now we know who the mother was, but not the father.

Just as Sansa witnesses the crowd at Winterfell proclaiming that Jon Snow is the King of the North, Jaime returns to kings landing just in time to see Cersei's coronation. It was a good day for siblings. Cersei is wearing something reminiscent of sequined black armor. She has lost all her children, as the prophecy fortold. She has eliminated all her immediate enemies and settled all family business.

On one ship sailing out of Dragon's Bay, Theon and Yara stand proudly. On another, Tyrion stands alongside Daenerys and all her retinue. The fleet carries Daenerys's armies to Westeros. Overhead fly the three dragons.

Thus ends Season Six of Game of Thrones, so these little analyses come to an end until next year.