Become the Man
A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
Everyone has to grow. There’s always something nascent about that reality, something difficult about reaching that juncture in one’s life where you realize that making impetuous decisions is no longer a viable option. It’s not that those options no longer exist, it’s the simple confrontation that you have to pick the tougher road if you want any degree of legitimacy to the rest of your existence. For example, there’s only so many times you can slam a door shut out of annoyance and impatience before that repetition of momentary triumph translates into a nagging melancholia. There’s only many times you can give into your immediate emotional impulses before you’ve crossed the point of return. Everyone tonight on an unusually compact episode of Thrones faces that crossroad of making the right decision, despite the baggage of consequences that arrive in its wake. That is especially true for Jon and Daenerys this week as they both make arguably the toughest and potentially most catastrophic decisions of their lives that shed the skin of their former selves as they step towards creating legitimacy for their adulthood. They’re not simple steps, but at that critical juncture mentioned above, simple steps are hard to come by. Maester Aemon encapsulated this all to Jon in the famed speech that gives the episode its title. “Kill the boy and let the man be born,” he commands simply.
Jon is worried that his decision to strike a deal with the wildlings if they agreed to fight together against the White Walkers and assorted company will go over poorly. Half the men, he muses, will hate him over his decision while the other half agree. Maester Aemon, who perhaps would have been the wisest king to ever sit upon the Iron Throne, tells him that half of the men hate him already, calling back to the moment when he had cast the deciding vote in Jon’s favor. The decision can be big or small, popular or unpopular, it doesn’t matter. The decision that Jon is trying to explain to Maester Aemon could be anything in terms of the actual context, that doesn’t matter. What matters more than anything else are the motivations, the context within which each decision is made. Jon’s proposal that will send him north to the seaside town of Hardhome and allow the wildlings safe passage is built upon an understood, practical fact. The White Walkers will inevitably attack and when they do, the wildlings can either fight with the Night’s Watch as allies or against them as wights. No matter how catchy the line “We can learn to live with the wildlings or we can add them to the army of the dead” sounds, the men of the Watch are simply not going to parlay into the idea of giving anything to the group they had bloodily fought such a short time ago. Even Edd and Olly are against him on this. If Jon is truly going to be the leader he wishes to be, he has to shed the skin of a brother and don the cloak of the Lord Commander. And the Lord Commander cannot afford to make decisions based on popularity.
Daenerys’s struggle has always been between doing what she feels is necessary and doing what would be the most acceptable decision. Surrounded by her advisors, she has largely listened to them, trying to be the most rational and responsible ruler she can be. At other times, she has given into her impetuous impulses and crucified 163 slave masters in Meereen, which felt great but albeit at the cost of achieving almost nothing productive. Seeing Ser Barristan’s body lying in the Great Pyramid made her as angry as any book reader last week and Daenerys initially feeds into the impetuous anger that had built up inside of her. She gathers up the leaders of the greatest families in Meereen and they take a little field trip down into the catacombs, where she slowly has a couple of the nobles walk forward. They’re notably terrified and one of them finds himself listed as the main entree on the menu of Café Catacombs in what is one of the best purely guilt entertainment moments this show has ever done (the gif is below for your repeated viewing pleasure).
Dany, still unsatisfied, asks Missandei for advice considering that she has largely remained silent in Small Council meetings so far. Missandei at last says something that has been missing from Daenerys’s advice circle so far. The crux of her advice is that there was always a better way and Daenerys is the one who saw it. The amount of strength Daenerys puts into her words needs to be put into her actions. From Missandei’s point of view, that ability of Daenerys that had sort of been lost was evidenced in what has so far been her greatest victory: the sack of Astapor and the acquisition of the Unsullied. That victory was when Daenerys saw every option around her but crafted one by herself to yield the desired result. Perhaps that is why the showrunners decided to kill off Ser Barristan when they did, to leave Daenerys particularly alone at this critical juncture. She can’t turn to someone with greater experience and wisdom this time around. Ever since her acquisition of her army, Daenerys has perhaps allowed for time to erode her faith in herself but if she truly wants to go forward, Daenerys has to kill the girl and let the woman be born. She does so and in that moment we see the return of the Daenerys we’ve been missing for so long. She frees Hizdahr, lets him know that the fighting pits will be reopened but only with free men, and informs him that she will get married to a Meereeneese noble. Thankfully, that search will be a bit short. As Daenerys notes, a suitor is already on his knees.
Up at Winterfell, we were thankfully spared any physical Sansa torture at the hands of Ramsay (I’m still not counting that out, but hopefully it never occurs). There’s a quiet, nostalgic melancholia that is evocative of all the Winterfell sequences, most powerfully constructed when Sansa arrives at the tower from where Bran had been thrown out of the tower and the story had begun in earnest. Myranda leads Sansa to Reek, a horrific discovery for her that is only made even more ostensibly uncomfortable amidst what may be the most awkward dinner in the entire series (that’s a BuzzFeed article waiting to happen). Sansa sits quietly, speaking only a sentence or two before arriving at the part of the conversation that makes her smirk in what may be the closest thing to a smile she’s had for a significantly long time. Roose gives his own bit of good news, which is Walda’s impending pregnancy, a pregnancy that Roose has been insured will give birth to a boy.
Ramsay is notably terrified at the prospect – a noble birth will surely trump a legitimated bastard, a slight whiff of conversation that Sansa notes and leads to that aforementioned smile. There is little doubt that Ramsay’s mind is swimming with the most literal interpretation of the title, but regardless of the exact psychopathic thoughts in his mind, Fat Walda is in a fairly precarious position. Not that Roose is a particularly good father figure to begin with, noted by his tale of Ramsay’s birth. He had hanged a man and then raped his wife underneath his swaying body. When she came back with his child, he had almost hanged her and then thrown Ramsay into the river. But when he looked at the child, he saw a Bolton. It was as if the show was testing if you could hate Roose anymore than you already do (answer: yes), but it also provides a key psychological insight into one of the most damaged minds in the series. It’s no wonder that Ramsay is as twisted as he is.
Within the idea of “kill the boy” lies the inherent concept of allowing something greater to be born from the ashes of something that existed before, much like a phoenix. But just as easily something great can descend to absolute ruin, as represented in the ruins of Old Valyria, an empire that had been built by Daenerys’s ancestors and whose sudden end had pushed them to conquer Westeros. The Smoking Sea and the massive empire that had once roared from its shores now lies decimated, a vividly gorgeous, haunting edifice. Tyrion and Jorah bond over a bit of historical poetry, which comes to an abrupt end when Tyrion spots the massive mass of Drogon flying ahead. He gapes in absolute awe, all of the stories that had reached him about the mysterious girl queen who had given birth to dragons manifesting themselves into an instantaneous reality. Suddenly that trance is broken and Jeremy Podeswa’s camera cleverly catches just an ounce of the Stone Men before they attack the narrow boat. Tyrion nearly drowns in the attack as he’s desperately trying to avoid one of the Stone Men touching him, but Ser Jorah finds and saves him, but it may be too late to save himself. Suddenly all of the emphasis on greyscale this season and its various infections makes more sense. As the camera pans away from the gorgeous beach, Ser Jorah rolls back his sleeve to find a small spot of greyscale forming on his wrist. Ser Jorah had tried to escape the pirates by going through the ruins of Old Valyria, but he found something much, much darker instead.
Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+Missandei and Grey Worm
+“But a good mother never gives up on her children.”
+“A Targaryen alone in the world is a terrible thing.”
+“Hard to lead when you’re in chains.”
+Brienne and Pod outside Winterfell
+“You remember what happens to people who bore me.”
+“If you’re ever in trouble, light a candle in the window.” Are we going to see a Northern Rebellion? Lord Wyman Manderly? Please? Please?
+“I’d rather have a mother.”
+Sansa not drinking to Ramsay’s toast.
+“It’s the people who are strange.”
+Theon’s sincere apology for something he didn’t do followed by the news that he’s going to give Sansa away
+Sam and Gilly taking about the Citadel
+“Keep reading, Samwell Tarly.” I’m really liking Stannis this season, considering he at least understands that readers are just as important as warriors.
+Davos asking Shireen to protect him on the battlefield
+Grey Worm ashamed because he felt afraid, afraid that he would never see Missandei again
+That snarl on Daenerys’s face when she tells Hizdahr that he’s marring her is an expression I’ve been missing for a really long time.
+I honestly cannot praise enough how utterly GORGEOUS this episode was.
+Great direction from Thrones newcomer Jeremy Podeswa
+“I am a person who drinks.”
+“What about the demons and the flames?”
+“I would clap.”
Title: Kill the Boy
Written By: Bryan Cogman
Directed By: Jeremy Podeswa
Image Courtesy: HBO, io9