Every week, a handful of Vox's writers will discuss the latest episode of Game of Thrones. Check out the recap for this episode here, and follow the whole discussion here. This week, we'll be hearing from culture editor Todd VanDerWerff, politics writer Andrew Prokop, executive editor Matthew Yglesias, and deputy culture editor Jen Trolio. Come back throughout the week for entries.
Matthew Yglesias: I'm with you, Todd, that the lack of quantification on the show is sometimes frustrating. For me, the frustration is not so much in trying to understand the tactical military situation as in attempting to grasp the nature of this world's society and economy. To my eyes, the encampment at Hardhome looked like it hosted an awfully large group of people for a pre-industrial civilization in an arctic climate:
That seems to imply it was composed of refugees from throughout a whole vast territory, and that there may only be isolated groups remaining elsewhere.
This is a nice tie-in to one of my hopes for the final two episodes of season five, which is that we'll get to see more of the wildlings.
Tormund Giantsbane is a somewhat compelling character, and I'd like to learn more about the Free Folk. They remind me of James C. Scott's great book The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia, in which Scott argues that "primitive," "tribal" groups living in rough terrain in Southeast Asia are often misunderstood by "civilized" folks as existing in a form of pre-state antiquated authenticity. In reality, he says, these are societies of runaways. Not pre-state, but post-state peoples who have escaped the exploitative dynamic of peasant agriculture to pursue a more egalitarian lifestyle in a harsher climate where armed men can't make a living by expropriating the agricultural surplus of people who work for a living.
The wildlings need to get south of the Wall, and the Night's Watch needs extra bodies to man the Wall, so the deal between the two groups is natural. But in addition to manpower, the wildlings could conceivably bring a much-needed agenda of social reform to the bankrupt politics of Westeros.
The High Sparrow talks a good talk in terms of equality, but it's the wildlings who walk the walk.
In my dreams, we'll also get a swift and decisive resolution to whatever is happening with Ramsay, Roose, Sansa, Theon, and Brienne, since I think their story is tedious. It's tedious in the books, and somehow, changing it up entirely for the show has also left it tedious. I'll be shocked if we don't end up with two more episodes' worth of tedious buildup capped by a tedious cliffhanger. But I'm hoping David Benioff and D. B. Weiss will show us mercy.
My other great wish is that we see something cool happen with dragons, as implied by the title of season five, episode nine, "The Dance of Dragons."
Dany's initial plan of solving her political problems by feeding local elites to her fire-breathing pets was unsound in many ways. But she often tends to go astray when she forgets how essential the dragons are to her agenda. At this point, the mere fact that she's the legitimate claimant to the Iron Throne of Westeros isn't going to get her anywhere. And in Slaver's Bay, she has no legitimacy at all. She's gotten to where she is by being smart about how fascinating, valuable, and powerful her dragons are. And if she wants to go further, she does need to expand her skill set. But she also needs to learn how and when to deploy those dragons effectively.
Read the recap. Come back throughout the week for more entries.