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(Spoilers for Game of Thrones Season 4 Episode 1 are below).
A lot has happened to the surviving characters on Game of Thrones in three seasons of television. Naturally the oftentimes life-scarring events have a tremendous impact on a character’s beliefs and subsequently the actions they will take next. The first episode of the fourth season takes a deeper look at how most of the major characters whom have been present since season one have changed. The thematic devices used to describe the character changes though are almost all exclusively in the form of oaths, codes, and symbols.
The Relationship Between Symbolism Alongside Oaths and Codes
Symbolism uses ideas, qualities, and sometimes objects to give meaning to different ideas than what is originally intended from their literal sense. In this episode of Game of Thrones oaths and codes are used to show how the major characters have changed. This week’s episode shows a number of characters creating new codes for themselves; characters trying and failing to live up to codes, or having codes negatively impact their lives; previously established codes created by certain characters are beneficial (at least for this week); certain characters face the fact that they have or are in the process of breaking their oaths.
In addition to an emphasis on codes an oaths a number of symbolic objects appear that foreshadow future actions by the characters, or symbolically showcase the underlying idea in this episode: people change. The book readers will know some of these foreshadowed events. Others make appearances that go beyond the scope of the books, but play up to popular theories from fans of Game of Thrones.
(Symbols beyond the scope of this episode will be discussed at the bottom in spoiler filled area – everything else up until that point is book spoiler free).
Symbolic objects start and end this episode. The opening scene is a depressing metaphor for the destruction of House Stark’s power; the final scene provides a glimpse of retribution for one Stark family member.
The cold open begins with Tywin Lannister destroying Ice, the great sword of Ned Stark, and by association the object that has come to define that family. The show begins the scene by playing the slow, sad Stark theme, before the Lannister Rains of Castamere overpowers it and takes over – the music symbolically represents the destruction of the Stark’s power at the hands of the Lannisters. It’s interesting to note that watching Ice being burned in fire is a nice nod to the title of the book series: A Song of Ice and Fire. No words need to tell the viewer the significance of this event – melancholic music and destructive imagery do what dialogue cannot.
The final scene of the episode Arya gets her sword Needle back. After trying to reunite with her family since the end of season one, and having every attempt fail horribly since then, she believes she has nothing to live for – a point she alludes to in this episode. It’s only once she see’s Polliver with Needle that she seems to find a purpose, although this purpose is a dark twisted one. Needle is a catalyst for Arya’s development as a character. The sweet girl who wants to learn how to play with swords and bows in the first episode of season one, becomes a brutal killer in the first episode of season four when she runs Needle through Polliver’s neck.
Developing New Codes
Arya is the character that is beginning to develop a new code of action that her character will follow. Early in the series her father and the family’s belief in honor guide her. In season two Arya meets Jaqen Hagar and is introduced to a philosophy that it is ok to kill people, a philosophy she’s clearly intrigued by as she witnessed her father’s unfair death sentence in the previous season. In season three with neither family nor Jaqen to guide her Arya remains at an impasse about how she should act as a person. I would venture to say she remains loyal to her father’s beliefs, but this largely due to the fact that Robb and Catelyn are alive because she believes she can reunite with them and everything will return back to normal (or as close to what normal could be).
However, after the Red Wedding Arya’s dreams of family reunification die, and shortly after we witness her commit her first unprovoked murder. Arya’s honor instructed beliefs by her family die with the man she kills with the coin and knife. To further cement Arya’s changing character we see Arya retrieve Needle in brutal fashion. She isn’t shouting Winterfell or providing any other justification for her actions that could connect her retrieval of Needle as a way to honor her house. Instead once she retrieves the sword she utters the words “Valar Morghulis.” Not only do these words indicate death, but they also indicate the new path and new code that Arya is beginning to follow – the assassin’s path, Jaqen Hagar’s path. This final scene shows that the coin murder wasn’t just a one off thing, a new Arya is emerging – one that has no regards for the living and is only interested in vengeance and murder.
Daenerys is also forming another new code, one that has the potential to go down Arya’s dark path. In this episode she orders her army to allow her to look into the eyes of each crucified slave that is pointing the way towards Meereen. With each slave placed at a mile marker, that means Daenerys will be looking into the eyes of 163 murdered innocents. Daenerys has gone from meek younger sibling to powerful Queen (excuse me Khaleesi) in three seasons. Her order in regards to facing the crucified slaves underlines that point. However, there is a dark potential here for Daenerys’ vengeance. Should she defeat the rulers of Meereen that ordered this mass execution of innocents, what sort of punishment will she concoct for them in return?
Failing At Following and Fulfilling Codes and Tradition
Failure at following codes and keeping up with traditions belong to the Lannister brothers this week. Jaime Lannister has long been the choice of his father to be heir to Casterly Rock. Even after being given a Valyrian steel forged sword Jaime still rejects his father’s offer and decides to remain with the Kingsguard. While this action saves himself from violating one code, he violates his father’s orders, which is technically breaking another code.
Tywin cruelly reminds Jaime that he has been failing to live up to the expectations of greatness that his talents as a swordsman and position as a Lannister have granted him. This seems to sting Jaime the most as he clearly does wish for greatness. The greatest burn to Jaime’s aspirations comes from Joffrey and the book that records the great deeds committed by the past and present members of the Kingsguard. As Joffrey compares Jaime’s half page of deeds to Arthur Dayne and Sir Duncan the Tall, knights that have multiple pages written about them, you can only see the disappoint in Jaime’s face at his failure to do anything great with his best years likely behind him. Jaime has failed to live up to his personal code for greatness.
Jaime also fails to rekindle his romance with his lover and sister Cersei. Cersei rejects him for leaving her in the capital alone to deal with Joffrey’s tumultuous succession, the advance of Stannis’ army, and the return of their demanding father. The reason Cersei ultimately gives for her not wanting to continue their relationship at the moment is because of change. While all the before events have changed Cersei, she can see that Jaime, as a character, has changed as well. She strongly hints that Jaime’s sticking to the Kingsguard and his notions of honor are big reasons why she has a problem with him. Jaime’s sticking with the Kingsguard and the personal changes he’s made since leaving Kings Landing see him paying the price with his family.
Tyrion fails in this episode as a diplomat and as husband/lover. Tyrion was a confident member of the Lannister family early on in this show, and he proved to be a great diplomat, especially when he was Hand of the King. However, he’s losing his confidence. This issue is prominently displayed when he confronts the Dornish envoy and is essentially run over and ignored by them. His calm air of command and his ability to manipulate people has greatly diminished. When Tyrion finally meets the Prince of Dorne, Oberyn, he fails to keep him under control. Oberyn even plainly states he will be looking for revenge against the Lannisters, particularly Tywin and Gregor Clegane, for the rape and murder of his sister Elia. Tyrion doesn’t even attempt to stop this from happening – which is must assuredly something that “Hand of the King” Tyrion would never have allowed to have happened.
As a husband Tyrion tries to console his wife Sansa as she grieves for the loss of her mother and oldest brother. Sansa rejects Tyrion’s sympathetic gestures, leaving him to go the Godswood where no one can bother her. There’s a code in marriages and relationships that lovers and spouses should be able to console one another, and here Tyrion can’t live up to that with his own wife. Shortly after this, his lover Shae demands that Tyrion satisfy her sexually, and again as a lover he fails to do just that. To put an exclamation point on Tyrion’s relationship problems, his exchange with Shae is witnessed by one of Cersei’s spy’s. So presumably Tyrion has now failed in his ultimate goal with Shae, which is to keep her safe.
Established Codes That Worked
The need for vengeance is a code that worked in favor for Oberyn Martell. It’s clear ever since the rape and murder of his sister over a decade and a half ago it’s something that he’s lusted for. Now he’s in a prime position to do some damage to Lannister power while at Kings Landing. The Lannister that has been sent to deal with him, Tyrion, was walked all over by the Prince. The guard that was singing Rains of Castamere was stabbed through the wrist. He was even set to participate in a four-way with his paramour, a whore, and Littlefinger’s procurer. Oberyn’s desire for vengeance is giving him an undue amount of confidence, and in this episode it has placed him within striking distance of finally achieving it.
The Hound’s code also paid off this week, somewhat for himself, but especially for Arya. As Arya ridicules the Hound for being broke and not stealing something from Joffrey when he left Kings Landing, the Hound responds by saying he has a code. Or, implying, in short that he doesn’t steal. Less than five minutes later he is ironically trying to steal a chicken from Polliver and his group of men. Of course it should be noted that Polliver was willing to give up a chicken if he and his men could rape Arya. The point being, the Hound’s code is really not about the ethics of stealing.
The fact that the Hound protects Arya is something really meaningful for this character who views himself the same way others view him, which is being a monster. The Hound’s code although not clearly defined has some morality to it. It could be argued that the Hound is only protecting Arya because she’s a valuable hostage, but with the Stark’s family’s power destroyed this is no longer the case. The Hound’s only hope for any ransom for Arya is to sell her to her Aunt Lysa. It’s never explicitly stated, but it’s implied that the Hound likely knows Lysa is crazy, as both characters would have been in Kings Landing together before the series started and thus would have interacted with each other. He doesn’t seem cold enough of a person to kill five people over a chicken, and he likely knows that his ransoming of Arya is worth little, so the question to be asked is: why does the Hound fight? Does his code include protecting the vulnerable, or stopping horrible things from happening to innocent people?
Nevertheless the Hound wins the fight, while Arya provides an assist. Arya’s new developing code based off of the teachings of Jaqen Hagar and The Hound’s previously established code allow each of these characters triumph for the time being.
Two characters are forced to come to terms with not following through on their oaths. The first of which is Jon Snow as he confronts Alliser Thorne and a council of Night’s Watchmen who want to try him for allegedly joining the Wildlings. Jon admits to breaking his vows – not because he joined the Wildlings, but because he developed a relationship and had sex with Ygritte.
In season one Jon Snow would occasionally be defiant to Thorne, but he carried a nervous energy as he did so. As he stands before Thorne giving testimony, Jon is brimming with confidence that he did that right the thing, and subsequently he doesn’t seem to care what the Night’s Watch decides his fate to be. Jon is beginning to show the qualities of a leader, accepting responsibility for his actions while having the confidence to do the right thing. He’s getting ready to fill the shoes that former Lord Commander Mormont has laid out for him.
The character that is heading down the road of breaking an oath is Jaime Lannister. A man of many conflicting oaths, Jaime is currently breaking the promise he made to Catelyn Stark – which is that he would return her daughters to her once he got back to Kings Landing. Jaime wants to fulfill this vow, but actions speak louder than words, and so far Jaime has done nothing to see this through. Brienne chastises him for breaking this vow, while Jaime provides a weak logical argument to counter her … or at least an argument he doesn’t even fully believe in. Whether or not Jaime fulfills this vow will show whether or not his time being imprisoned, and his journey with Brienne has turned him into a better man, or at least the type of man he wants to be – an honorable man that can fulfill his oaths.
Symbolic Objects and Foreshadowing – Book Spoilers below
(Spoilers up through the most current book are below as well as speculation beyond the books).
This is a sort of continuation of the subsection about symbolic objects above that couldn’t have gone into detail without going into spoilers, so it’s being placed down here. Two instances of symbolic objects appeared in this episode that were attached with heavy foreshadowing. The first of which is the necklace handed to Sansa by Ser Dontos. Sansa’s acceptance of this gift reminds the viewer that although she’s grown up a little bit more in every season, she’s still got along way to go. Accepting a gift from a complete stranger without questioning it shows that she’s got some more maturation needed in her future.
The second set of objects were presented to Daenerys Targaryen, and arrived in the form of three flowers – including for the first time, the infamous blue rose. Dario gives the flowers to Daenerys in an obvious romantic gesture that he coyly suggests is to talk about strategy. It’s my belief that each flower represents a person she will develop some sort of important romantic relationship or marriage with.
In the House of the Undying chapter in A Clash of Kings the following prophecies are made:
three fires must you light … one for life, one for death, and one to love
three mounts must you ride … one to bed, and one to dread, and one to love
three treasons will you know … once for blood and once for gold and once for love
A lot of speculation can come from these three lines, but the part I want to focus on is the fact that there are going to be three loves in Daenerys’ life. One lover everyone knows was Khal Drogo who could be represented by Lady’s Lace. This flower could also represent Dario though. The Harpy’s Gold could likely be a reference to Daenerys’ second husband Hizdahr zo Loraq. Loraq is speculated to be the Harpy – the symbolic leader of the resistance to Daenerys’ rule in Meereen. I don’t believe it’s a coincidence that Dario mentions that the Harpy is poisonous.
The third flower, the dusk rose, or quite visibly a blue rose, has come to represent Lyanna Stark in the books. It hasn’t been officially confirmed, but its highly likely that Jon Snow is Lyanna’s child, and subsequently the blue rose has also come to represent him. People have long speculated that Jon and Daenerys would meet up, and here for the first time in both the books and the show there is now a strong piece symbolic evidence that suggests this relationship will happen in some capacity.