Friday, January 8, 2016

Game of Thrones Season Three Episode 304 “And Now His Watch Has Ended”

Revenge: The Bitter, Sweet, and Bittersweet

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(Spoilers below for the fourth episode of Game of Thrones season three).

Revenge is an occasionally explored idea in Game of Thrones, but in the fourth episode of the third season the idea is explored in multiple plot-lines making it the central idea of what is explored in this episode.  Arya, Jaime, Brienne, Daenerys, Tyrion, Varys, Theon, and the men of the Night’s Watch are all involved in some sort of revenge or vengeance related scenario.

The idea of revenge is an emotionally complicated one, and the show looks to make its characters and morals more ambiguous through the wider spectrum of human emotions by using an idea like revenge.

Revenge and Vengeance in Game of Thrones

Revenge as a motive for the characters in Game of Thrones was introduced in the very first episode of the show.  In the first episode we learn that Robert Baratheon started a war with the Targaryens to avenge the kidnapping of Lyanna Stark, and across the Narrow Sea, Viserys and Daenerys Targaryen eagerly await their turn for revenge on Robert Baratheon for ruining their House.  The point is revenge is not a new idea, rather it’s an idea that is explored intermittently throughout the series, but it’s inclusion in the very first episode suggests that revenge is and will be an important idea throughout the duration of the series.

In the most recent episode of Game of Thrones, revenge is explored in many different ways.  Many characters get revenge throughout the episode, and depending on the circumstances, the revenge is either bitter, sweet, or bittersweet.  These three types of revenge are emotional ideas, and they largely cover the wide emotional spectrum that the idea of revenge can bring to a story.

In addition to the emotional value revenge can bring to a story, this episode also explores it as a motivational tool that can help characters battle the harsh realities that have become part of their lives.


Bitter Revenge

Bitter revenge, to be clear, is revenge that occurs in the show that leaves a bitter taste in your mouth.  Bitter revenge in this episode isn’t explored with characters in the show getting revenge on another character that has previously wronged them, rather it plays with viewers expectations in wanting a character who has done great wrong in the series to suffer for their previous actions.   A lot of the revenge that leaves a bitter taste in your mouth in this episode is very ironic due to how it exploits viewer expectations.

Jaime earned viewers hatred in the first season for assaulting Ned Stark, turning Bran Stark into a paraplegic, and for having an incestuous relationship with his sister.  Jaime does all of this without any regret, and all while carrying a smirk on his face.  Viewers of the show want vengeance to be taken on Jaime for his horrendous actions.  In this episode, along with the ending of the previous episode, viewers finally get to see some form of vengeance being taken on his character.
In the most recent episode Jaime is left to fall off his horse, he is forced to drink horse piss, and then he takes a severe beating from his captors.  After Jaime’s actions in the previous seasons, you would think Jaime’s fate would feel like justice, but it doesn’t.  Although the people that are torturing Jaime have no direct reason for vengeance on his character, the viewer does, and it plays into the unifying idea of revenge, which engulfs this episode.

Theon like Jaime is in a nearly identical situation.  Loyal to the Starks in season one, he betrays them in season two to support his family’s ambition to conquer the North.  Theon’s betrayal earns him the hatred of the viewers as he sacks Winterfell, brutally beheads Ser Roddrick, and kills two orphan boys that are meant to represent the bodies of Bran and Rickon.  As it is revealed in this episode, Theon has been led back to his own torture chamber instead of the freedom he was promised by the boy who promised to help him escape.  When this occurs, a distasteful feeling is left in the stomachs of viewers.

Like Jaime, viewers have wanted to see Theon suffer for the crimes he has committed, and like Jaime we have seen him suffer this season.  However, now that we are seeing Theon suffer, the vengeance being thrust upon him leaves viewers with a bitter feeling.  The bitterness viewers are feeling is only compounded minutes before Theon is led back to his cell, when he admits he made the wrong decision by siding with the Greyjoy’s, and when he admits that his real father died in Kings Landing.

The show has also done a lot to get viewers to wish for vengeance on some of the characters that have committed great crimes throughout the show.  Jaime and Theon are two examples, and they are finally having a form of vengeance thrown at them.  They are being brutally tortured, and the show leaves viewers without any complete satisfaction that these characters truly deserve to be treated this way, which is ironic.  The expected fulfillment of vengeful feelings doesn’t occur, and instead a form of pity takes its place.


Sweet Revenge

Mentioned earlier in the article, Daenerys has had the idea of revenge instilled in her since the very first episode of the show.  Her larger quest for the Iron Throne is motivated by avenging the fallen members of her family.  However, in every season of Game of Thrones, Daenerys has had a revenge subplot added on to her larger goal of claiming the Iron Throne.  Usually this occurs in the season finale of each season: Daenerys burns the witch Mirri Maz-Duur for killing her unborn child and husband, and Daenerys locks Xaro Xoan Daxos in a vault after he tries to steal her dragons.

Viewers don’t have to wait for Daenerys to begin executing revenge until the finale this season, rather she executes revenge in the sweetest way possible in this episode.  She acquires a slave army, kills all their former masters, sacks the city of Astapor, and frees all of the slaves while convincing them to remain and fight for her.  Daenerys who has been treated poorly by the slave masters, and the slaves who have suffered in enslavement get their revenge on one of the most heinous institutions ever created.

In this example, revenge is looked at as a form of justice, and it’s implementation is both necessary and fulfilling.  This is a rare moment of emotional fulfillment that can be found on Game of Thrones, since most of what befalls the characters is very harsh and negative.  Daenerys success against the slavers serves to remind us that justice can be accomplished.  It provides the opposite emotional state of the bitter forms of revenge found in the episode, and it skews the overall emotional feeling of the episode.


Bittersweet Revenge

Bittersweet revenge makes its way in this episode in the sequence of scenes featuring the Night’s Watch and Craster.  Craster is a terrible human being: he kills all of his sons, he has incestuous relationships with his daughters, and he greedily exploits the Night’s Watch for material goods.  After the men of the Night’s Watch begin their retreat from the Fist of the First Men, they passive aggressively force themselves back onto Craster’s land.

Craster, despite allowing the Night’s Watch to stay at his place, barely feeds the men despite having enough food to do so, and he mocks their dire state while telling them to put their wounded out of their misery.  All of this is an effort by Craster to get the Night’s Watch off his land.  Disobeying orders, the Night’s Watch kills Craster who deserves to die, but they also kill Mormont who didn’t deserve to die.  Shortly after both Craster and Mormont die, an all out battle breaks out where sides are not clearly drawn and everyone is killing everyone.

The death of Craster liberates his wives and serves to act as a form of vengeance for the Night’s Watch who had been cruelly treated by Craster.  It’s a sweet moment.  However, the death of Mormont and the ensuing battle, where we can presume a great many of Craster’s wives were killed or raped, is extremely bitter.

It’s this scene with the Night’s Watch where revenge is depicted as a sweet reward, but with a bitter aftertaste. Bittersweet revenge is the most ambiguous form of revenge when thinking about how it effects a person’s emotional state. The whole Craster and Night’s Watch sequence has emotional ups and downs, or in other words it’s emotionally ambiguous. Since Game of Thrones is a show that loves its ambiguities, treating viewers to some bittersweet revenge helps to keep everything very ambiguous in this scene, and ultimately, it does this with the overall tone of the episode.


Revenge as a Motivator and Revenge Patiently Awaited

Revenge isn’t just a state for providing a cathartic reaction out of viewers, it also acts as a motivator for many of the characters actions, and in many cases it gives characters the will to survive.  The desire for vengeance on Locke is what eventually convinces Jaime to continue living, which is symbolically represented by his starting to eat again.

In season two Arya found that revenge was what motivated her to keep going after Ned’s death, which is why she started listing names off of people she wants to kill.  In this episode Arya now has to confront one of those names on her list, the Hound, and she manages to get him put on trial for killing Mycah in the first season.  Arya is close to partially fulfilling one of her desires for vengeance, and is motivated to get the Hound put on trial because of her wish to enact vengeance.  Revenge acts as a catalyst for justice in this case.
Daenerys entire story arc is defined by revenge.  She wants the Iron throne to avenge her family.  She wants the Unsullied slave army to conquer it for her, and she wants revenge for them due to their harsh treatment at the hands of the slave masters in Astapor.  Daenerys journey has been a large struggle since the first episode of the series, and the show has not been ambiguous about what’s motivating her.  It’s revenge.

Tyrion and Varys discuss Tyrion getting his revenge for losing his status after the Battle of Blackwater, and for the assassination attempt on his life that left him scarred.  Varys urges Tyrion to patiently await his opportunity for revenge.  Patience becomes another motivator, one that is closely associated with the idea of revenge.  This point is further emphasized by Varys telling Tyrion the story of how he was castrated by a sorcerer.  Varys now having risen high in society has used his power to find this sorcerer, capture him, and presumably to get his revenge.  Patience is what allows Varys to successfully do this.


Revenge’s Broad Emotional Spectrum

Revenge’s broad emotional spectrum is something that a show like Game of Thrones thrives on.  Although the concept has been underlying the series since the beginning, this episode features a number of storied incidents where the idea of revenge is explored to further develop the characters (Jaime and Theon), motivate the characters to action (Tyrion, Jaime, Daenerys, and Arya), and it is shown in its many different emotional forms (bitter, sweet, and bittersweet) to engage the audience emotionally.  Revenge takes center stage in this episode to remind viewers of its importance to the themes, ideas, and development of characters in Game of Thrones.

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