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(Spoilers for the eighth episode of Game of Thrones Season Three are below).
Second Sons, the title of this episode refers to the mercenary band Daenerys convinces to turn on Yunkai. However, a lot of the characters featured in this episode are metaphorical second sons, or people in Westeros’s societal hierarchy that will ultimately have less power than first sons. In other words this is an episode that largely focuses on people who are the mercy of other people.
Metaphorical second sons are one of the devices used in this episode to bring forward the thematic idea on how voluntary a person’s choices are. A point emphasized by Daario Naharis this week is that everyone has a choice, yet despite this claim, the episode features juxtapositions of people either getting to make choices or resigning themselves to their fates.
So technically everyone in Game of Thrones has the option of making choices in regards to everything in their lives (except in death), but in reality, many characters are forced to make choices, usually one’s they never wished to make. An overarching question in this episode seems to ask viewers, does anyone really have a choice?
The Difference Between a Wink and a Blink
The question about anyone having choices in this episode is put forward in a brief philosophical discussion between Sam and Gilly at the end of the episode where they discuss the differences between winks and blinks. According to Gilly, “a wink is on purpose.” Gilly is right a wink is on purpose, but a blink can be, too.
The idea here is that a person can physically stop themselves from blinking, but they truly can’t stop blinking because it is an involuntary reaction (much like a person’s breathing is). The point being, a person has a choice not to blink, but if they continue to choose not to blink, then they ultimately cause harm to themselves. A person can choose to blink, but paradoxically they also can’t choose to stop blinking.
The lack of power a person has in choosing whether or not they can blink ties in nicely with a lot of this episode’s characters not being able to make the decisions they want to make. Arya travels with the Hound, but not because she wants to. Gendry gives his blood to Melisandre’s leeches not because he wants to. Sansa and Tyrion get married to each other, but not because they want to. Loras and Cersei are engaged, but not because they chose to. These people are what we can call blinkers. Sure they have a choice to avoid their fates in this episode, but they don’t, because realistically they can’t. In a sense their choices are a kind of reminder to the act of choosing to blink. You can try to resist, but it’s inevitable that you will have to face the fact that you must blink at some time.
On the other end of this spectrum is the people who are making choices they want to make. Daenerys wants to free slaves, so she decides to wage war on Yunkai. Daario chooses to take control of the Second Sons and ally them with Daenerys. The Hound decides to take Arya back to Robb. Stannis decides to free Davos and stop Melisandre from killing Gendry. Sam decides to stay with Gilly and lead her back to the Wall. These people can be called winkers. They are making choices that they want to make right now, with no involuntary pressure forcing them to do otherwise (currently at least).
Arya and the Hound open this episode and basically state the theme about forcing people to make choices they don’t want to make. As Arya prepares to bash in the Hound’s skull with a large rock she’s found, the Hound wakes up and gives her a choice: He’ll give her one shot to bash his skull in, but if she fails than the Hound will break both of her hands. Arya knows she isn’t going to be able to bash his skull in, and she is forced to make the choice that she doesn’t want to make.
Likewise a short while later the Hound tells Arya he is not taking her back to Kings Landing but up to the Twins for her Uncle’s wedding. Here the Hound gets to make the choices he does wish to make, and it counters Arya’s position perfectly.
Gendry is also forced into doing things against his will with Melisandre. Although he welcomes her sexual advances, he is forced into being leeched of his blood against his will. Gendry’s whole situation is technically against his will. Although he is moved into a more luxurious lifestyle, he was forced from the Brotherhood without having a say in the matter. His blood is being taken with out his having a say in the matter, and its very possible that is life may be taken as well.
Loras and Cersei are engaged to be married against their will. Loras could stop the marriage if he were to join the Kingsguard, but that would require him to forfeit his titles, and status as a first son. Ironically, and contrary to the title, Loras is a first son (according to the show), and is still a pawn regardless.
Cersei cryptically reminds Margaery about the Reynes of Castamere and gives her a history of the song, before threatening to strangle her if she ever calls Cersei a friend again. Couldn’t she do the same to Loras? Cersei has an alternate solution that is implicitly suggested, but it’s not the most plausible decision since it would end the Lannister alliance with the Tyrell’s. Both Cersei and Loras are being forced to make choices they don’t want to make.
Sansa could have fled Kings Landing, and her eventual marriage to Tyrion, but Littlefinger managed to trap her. Sansa now has no choice but to endure a marriage into a family that killed her father. On the other side of the coin, Tyrion has to endure a marriage with a wife who hates him and his family.
There are some people in Game of Thrones that are not content with being resigned to their fate. This is symbolically shown with new character Daario Naharis. After meeting with Daenerys the leader of the Second Son’s, Daario, and one of his other officers discuss what to do about Daenerys. The choice by the Second Son’s leader is to have her assassinated, by either him, the other officer, or Daario.
The Second Son leaders decide to chose who the assassin will be by drawing coins, or basically they leave the choice up to fate. Daario is chosen, but instead of resigning himself to his fate like almost everyone else is doing in this episode, he kills the other two leaders of the Second Sons, presumably takes control of the group, and then allies them with Daenerys.
Daario’s actions show that it is possible to occasionally defy the odds, and more importantly he shows that not everyone is resigned to their fate. Daenerys has defied being resigned to a certain fates in the past, and this grants her a special connection to Daario.
Stannis also proves that he is able to take control of a situation as he finally releases Davos from prison, and he presumably stops Melisandre from killing Gendry. Melisandre believes her actions are guided by fate, that she must kill Gendry in order to help Stannis win the war for the Iron Throne. Davos and Stannis disagree and are able to come to what appears to be a compromise with leeches for the time being.
Resigned to Your Fate
Second Sons focuses a lot on the people in Westeros that are being resigned to fates against their wills. Daario may successfully be overcoming some odds, but there is an overwhelming feeling of being trapped and hopelessness in this episode.
Second Sons is largely asking the question what choices can a person really make? For the most part it seems that people aren’t allowed to make the choices they want, but rather they make the choices they have to in order to survive.