Every week, Todd VanDerWerff will be joined by two of Vox's other writers to discuss the latest episode of Game of Thrones over the course of that week. Check out the recap for this episode here, and follow the whole discussion here. This week, Todd is joined by culture writer Kelsey McKinney and politics writer Andrew Prokop. Come back throughout the week for entries.
Kelsey McKinney: Andrew, it's interesting that you draw a parallel between Daenerys's insistence that she is not her father and her brutal, confusing relationship with her dragon triplets. That's so often the flip side of revenge, isn't it? The family relationships that push things to the breaking point.
When the series began, members of the show's various families were — for the most part — very close, both in proximity and in relationship. Parents were with children; husbands and wives were sleeping in the same bed. Part of the pain and anguish Game of Thrones has created is due to how drastically it has created upheaval within those family structures in the episodes after those first few.
By now, almost nothing once held sacred remains. The first season taught viewers that the only people anyone in the Seven Kingdoms could trust were those in their immediate families, but that truism has been continuously broken down as the show has gone on. If your family members are still alive, they may not have your best interests at heart.
And yet that draw toward one's family, no matter how misguided, seems to be the unbreakable pull that drives so many of the characters and determines how they respond to the world around them.
The show is also consistent in how it portrays the way children engage with their parents, no matter the generation or family. Children are so often defiant, and angry with their parents. They feel misunderstood, and they act as if they would never behave the same way their parents did, even as they make decisions that reveal just how completely they are the descendants of their parents.
Take Cersei, for instance. She was often furious with her father for his manipulations, particularly how he used her to create political balance by promising her to Loras Tyrell. At the same time, she (not without protest) agreed to have her own daughter shipped across the world to form an alliance. But her appreciation for alliances only extends so far as her father and brother are present. Once the former is dead and the latter gone, she immediately tries to reverse the decision to send Myrcella away. She is linked to her brother and father by her paranoia, her certainty that everyone is out to get her, and the thought that she might ultimately be right.
Politics might be a mess on this show, but they're based in the even bigger mess that is family and the question of how to be loyal to one's family while disagreeing with them. We see this with Sansa, who has formed a strange allegiance with Littlefinger based on a very loose thread of family at best. Littlefinger married her Aunt Lysa, making him her family at a time when Sansa isn't sure how much of her family — if any — is left.
I was also struck by Dany's dismissal of her father's behavior while she herself struggles against her own moral conscience. In the scene where she tells the slave he will be sentenced to death for his behavior, we're invited to see the scene from her perspective. We know she is trying to be just and fair, because she believes in the law.
But when she stands in front of the people of Meereen and sentences him to death, they cry out to her for mercy. They do not see her decision as an act of justice; they see her as cruel. Here is a man who killed someone who terrorized her soldiers and the city, and she stands in front of them saying he must die. The camera flashes between her view of the crowd and their view of her, where she must seem just as mad as her father.
Family cannot be escaped. Even as the people of this series try to avenge or support their families, they try to keep from becoming them. But that's an impossible task.
Read the recap. Kelsey will return with more thoughts tomorrow.