Friday, January 8, 2016

Game of Thrones Season Four – Episode 403 “Breaker of Chains”

Money Buys A Man’s Silence For A Time. A Bolt In The Heart Buys It Forever

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(This article will contain spoilers from Game of Thrones Season 4 Episode 3).

Point and counterpoint.

As last week’s episode, The Lion and the Rose, ended with the Purple Wedding and focused on the dangers of having power.  This week’s episode, Breaker of Chains, focuses on the aftermath of Joffrey’s death and the dangers of being powerless.

Westeros’ Patriarchal Society Exposed By The Powerless

The above sub-heading reads like an old school newspaper heading.  Yet in nearly every scene in Breaker of Chains we see powerless people – or people with the inability to change their situation – no matter how dire it is.  In this episode, viewers see how the feeling of powerlessness leads to terrible decisions or morally compromised decisions being made by certain characters, how powerlessness leads certain characters into situations where they are at risk for being victimized, and how powerlessness actually does victimize certain characters.

The most interesting thing about this episode is how nearly each instance of being powerless exposes the faults of Westeros’ patriarchal society. Morally compromised and terrible decisions are all made by powerless men, while potentially powerless and actually powerless victims are people that are usually treated detrimentally by the patriarchal system.


Powerlessness Motivating Terrible Behavior

Jaime Lannister perpetrated some of the most terrible behavior witnessed on this episode of Game of Thrones. In short Jaime rapes his sister.

What motivates this?

Being powerless.

Ever since Jaime lost the Siege of Riverrun to Robb Stark he has been a powerless man, and his life’s gone downhill from there. Since then Jaime’s endured being a P.O.W., he’s had a failed escape attempt, he was bested in a sword fight against Brienne, he’s lost his sword arm, he’s been recently disowned by his father, and now his lover/sister doesn’t want anything to do with him. Quite simply it’s too much for Jaime, and being powerless motivates him into committing an act that was wrong on so many levels.

Another powerless figure, The Hound, see’s himself change the rules to his personal code whenever he believes it’s convenient. After being given shelter, a decent meal, and being offered fair wages for fair work by a farmer and his daughter, the Hound beats the man and robs him.  With the limited information we’re given about this character, it’s fair to surmise the Hound’s never had it easy.  He grew up with Gregor Clegane as an older brother, his face was permanently scarred by said older brother, he had to serve under a sociopath child king, and ever since he’s said “Fuck the King” and tried to go his own way (arguably his most heroic moment) he’s been a dog that’s constantly been kicked down.  The Hound was unfairly imprisoned and robbed by the Brotherhood, he’s got a valuable hostage that just became a lot less valuable after a certain Red Wedding, and furthermore this hostage hates his guts.  The Hound essentially uses Social Darwinism to defend his actions, no matter how wrong they were:

“He’s weak. He can’t protect himself.  They’ll both be dead come winter. Dead man don’t need silver.”


Powerlessness Forcing Morally Compromised Decisions

Stannis and Davos learned just how limited their power was when they realize they won’t be able to capitalize on the death of Joffrey Baratheon.  With the capital in chaos and Stannis’s Dragonstone only a short distance away, he doesn’t even have the numbers to launch an assault.  Stannis forces the pressure of the situation onto Davos.  Davos begins to appeal to the Iron Bank of Braavos for funds for a military – a moral compromise for Stannis who moments earlier was opposing hiring sell-swords. Getting in debt with the Iron Bank is also a very risky venture as Olenna Tyrell was kind enough to remind Tywin Lannister on last week’s episode.  For Stannis and company, desperate times lead to desperate measures.

A confrontation between Tywin and Oberyn in a brothel ends with Oberyn working with the man he despises. Tywin implies that Oberyn, given Oberyn’s reputation with poison, may have some responsibility in Joffrey’s death as either the poisoner or someone who assisted Tyrion in the poisoning. He’s also come to offer Oberyn a deal. To not insult Oberyn he offers some generous terms: a judge’s seat at Tyrion’s trial, revenge against the Mountain, and a spot on the Small Council.

Tywin here has hit Oberyn with a sweet, but still veiled threat: help me condemn my son, or I will use the extra power Joffrey’s death is currently granting me to implicate you in his death.  I think in any other circumstance, Oberyn would reject Tywin’s offer. Oberyn, believe it or not, is powerless. He see’s Tywin’s threat and compromises his morals – morals that you would have thought two episodes ago could never have been compromised on.

Feeling powerless also leads Sam into making a bad decision: he sends Gilly to Molestown.  As the first Night’s Watch scene in the episode opens, viewers hear in the background a voice labeling individuals from the Night’s Watch as former murderers and rapers … right before Sam appears and is harassed by Thorne about being called Slayer and about Gilly.  Feeling the pressure from his brothers, Sam decides to move Gilly to Molestown.  However, Molestown, despite Sam’s good intentions, is portrayed to the viewers as a scummier and even less safe place for Gilly to be than Castle Black.  Sam’s feelings of being powerless unwittingly leads him into a decision that looks like it’s going to have poorer results for the person he cares most about.

A Northern child witnesses his family and village getting annihilated by the Wildlings. A vicious Thenn sends the child running to the Wall to report what has happened.  As the Night’s Watch reviews the story, a dilemma is presented: do the Night’s Watch help the largely undefended local villagers, or do they not send help and keep their already depleted numbers intact to defend Castle Black against Mance’s imminent invasion? The decision to keep everyone at Castle Black is what’s decided, and for the first time in this show we see both Alliser Thorne and Jon Snow coming to a wise agreement. Per Tywin Lannister earlier in this episode, “wisdom is what makes a great king” echoes through this scene. This is a particularly Machiavellian decision by the Night’s Watch, and yet you can see every man that is apart of that group has just comprised their morality.


Powerlessness That May Potentially Victimize People

To explain this subheading very quickly, these are the people in this episode that can be seen as powerless, and are in situations that could potentially be very dangerous for them, but they are never specifically victimized in this episode.

Breaker of Chains opens with Sansa and Dontos fleeing King’s Landing.  Sansa is completely powerless here. Her life is in the hands of a drunk fool.  Sansa has dreamed about leaving Kings Landing since the end of the first season, and it’s finally happening.  Visual imagery like the sky getting darker, Sansa getting into a rickety row boat, sailing through some dark mist, and Sansa entering a boat that looks like it would be navigated by ghost zombies insinuates to viewers that this may not necessarily be a good thing.  As Sansa climbs the ladder into the boat she reunites with Mr. “Chaos is a Ladder.”  Littlefinger shows Sansa how he manipulated her into coming to him, and it’s clear to the viewer that Sansa is still a powerless pawn, despite her newly found freedom from the Lannisters. Ironically, her situation may have just become more dangerous.

Later in the episode we see Olenna talking with Margaery.  Margaery is technically a Queen now, but with Joffrey’s sudden death and the wedding never being consummated, she wonders what her future as “Queen” will be. Margaery has now been married to two kings, both of whom died before technically legitimizing their unions with her.  This puts Margaery in a dangerous situation, especially now that the Lannister’s will likely be a great deal more paranoid. Will they suspect the Tyrell’s of foul play? Either way with the death of Joffrey, tension between the two families will only rise.


Powerlessness That Victimizes People

Cersei Lannister is almost always portrayed as a powerful figure, but in this episode viewers are slammed with a lengthy scene of Cersei being utterly violated as a mother and as a woman. While mourning Joffrey in the Sept with her only living son, Tommen, they are visited by Tywin who immediately violates the sanctity of their praying and begins quizzing Tommen on what makes a good king?  Throughout this lengthy exchange Cersei only gets one half hearted sentence of resistance across to her father:

“This is hardly the place or the time.”

The rest of the scene is almost exclusively shot while focusing on Cersei reacting to Tywin violating her mourning.  Tywin concludes his questioning of Tommen by further soiling the memory of Joffrey (not to say he doesn’t deserve it):

“Your brother was not a wise king. Your brother was not a good king. If he was, then perhaps he would still be alive.”

After saying this, he whisks Tommen away from his mother, where he will presumably be under Tywin’s tutelage.  As they leave, Jaime enters and tells Tommen he’ll see to his mother, and that she’ll be alright. As Cersei stands in the Sept with Joffrey’s body, she implores Jaime to kill their brother Tyrion.  They soon start kissing, but Cersei puts a stop to it.  Jaime, however refuses to stop and rapes his lover/sister in a Sept that is currently holding their dead son. Losing her only living son to her father, and being raped, all while being unable to do anything about it shows how Cersei is a victim of this patriarchal society.  Despite being the Queen of the Seven Kingdoms, a very powerful title, she still can’t prevent two of the most horrific crimes that could be committed against a person. A powerful title has its limits in Westeros, when you are a woman.

Tyrion has been taken to a cell where he’s being held until a rapidly approaching trial.  In this episode we see the odds in favor of him are not good. Tyrion is literally left alone without any support with the exception of his squire Pod. His lover Shae has been sent away on a ship, his family are his accusers and they don’t even bother to try and say he’s innocent – they’re easily powerful enough to clear him – but they don’t, his wife has left him, and Bronn is denied access to him.  Tyrion has always been seen as a lesser man in Westeros because he is dwarf.  We finally see him become a victim of his disabled status, as past grudges from his father and sister have led him to being imprisoned for Joffrey’s murder with an unfair trial likely on its way.

Arya is victimized by being an accomplice to a theft she didn’t want to be a part of.  She is powerless here as she can’t stop the Hound from stealing from the farmer.  She can’t take up the farmer’s deal to work over the season, because he specifically asked for the Hound’s help. Finally, she can’t leave the Hound because otherwise she will be stranded in the middle of the Riverlands with no protection and will likely die. Arya has to accept the Hound’s actions, and continue to travel with a man who hates her. She’s denied the ability to make a morally correct decision because she’s a child and she’s a girl.

As mentioned above earlier, Gilly is subjected to moving to Molestown, a place she repeatedly tells Sam she doesn’t want to go.  As a woman she has no say in the matter, since Sam is responsible for taking care of her at Castle Black.  The unnamed Northern boy who witnesses his family’s murder can’t do defend himself against the Wildlings because he is a child.  Ser Dontos, an alcoholic, and a man who exhibits signs of mental deficiency, is sucked into a plot by Littlefinger, and is murdered.  Littlefinger explains with the quote:

“Money buys a man’s silence for a time. A bolt in the heart buys it forever.”

It’s this quote that summarizes the opening segment – a quote about maintaining power – that acts as a justification for how the powerful treat the powerless in Westeros.  Early in the episode, while it looks like Dontos is the man in charge of Sansa’s escape, it’s quickly revealed that he’s not.  With Littlefinger revealed as the plotter, we sadly see Ser Dontos as the slow witted man that everyone was lead to believe he was, get killed for essentially being just that.  It’s this moment that sets the tone and theme for the rest of the episode: patriarchal society victimizes women, children, disabled, and mentally challenged people.


Breaker of Chains

Point and counterpoint.

After countless scenes of powerless people being violated, it’s as if on cue this episode ends very hopefully as viewers see Daenerys continuing her successful military campaign.  In the title of this episode it’s fair to assume that the word chains in the title can mean more than just the chains that are enslaving people in the East.  The chains are a metaphor for being powerless.  When they are broken, people will not be powerless anymore.
Here we see Daenerys, a woman who has power, and a woman who could defy the current patriarchal society that has founded Westeros.  As she symbolically catapults broken chains into the city of Meereen, we’re reminded that being powerless doesn’t always last.  The episode ends with a lone slave picking up one of these broken chains with vengeance in his eyes.  The implication of the final scene with everything else that happened in this episode can best be surmised with a question: will Daenerys be able to save the powerless in Westeros?

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