Each week, Adam and David Shimer will analyze the latest episode of Game of Thrones from the perspective of a non-book reader. This week they discuss ‘Kill the Boy,’ but first some weekly awards:
Tywin Lannister In Memoriam Award for Best Political Maneuvering: Stannis
Honorable Mention: Brienne
Eddard Stark In Memoriam Award for Worst Political Maneuvering: Sansa
Honorable Mention: The pleading former slave master that got eviscerated by Daenerys’s “children”
Brandon Stark Award for Most Boring Storyline: Every scene with Gilly
Honorable Mention: Missandei and Grey Worm
Jaime Lannister’s Right Hand Award for Best Fight Sequence: Jorah and Tyrion vs. Stonemen
Honorable Mention: Again, the pleading former slave master vs. dragons (potentially the most lopsided “fight” in the history of GoT)
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AS: I found ‘Kill the Boy’ to be a strong episode overall, though a bit boring at points. It was interesting — and disappointing — that this was the second episode in a row in which Arya did not appear. King’s Landing, with all of its intrigue and wine, also did not make the cut for the first time this season. In their place, the show honed in on The Wall, Winterfell and Meereen, and in doing so was able to more deeply develop these storylines.
DS: “Kill the Boy” expanded upon one of season five’s emerging patterns: the convergence of characters, from Brienne and Sansa to Jon and Stannis. But this season — and this episode of Thrones in particular — has implicitly suggested that a much more important and natural alliance has yet to be forged. I’m talking about Jon and Daenerys, whose arcs have become markedly parallel. Both have chosen to prioritize honor over popularity — the former by defying thousands of years of precedent and accepting the Wildlings as allies, the latter by executing a former slave and alienating many of her supporters in the process. This week Aemon and Missandei had the same advice for Jon and Daenerys: trust your gut, no matter the repercussions. Daenerys’s instincts cost Ser Barristan his life; Jon’s lost him the admiration of even his young squire. These two leaders — one a queen, the other a lord commander — seem to instinctively reject compromise and politics in general.
AS: I wouldn’t go that far. This week Daenerys did capitulate by opening the fighting pit, but I will admit it took her far too long to do so. Building on the parallels between Jon’s and Daenerys’s arcs, it’s worth noting that they have similar rationales for staying in Castle Black and Meereen. Jon does not necessarily want to be a member of the Night’s Watch right now. While his head has kept him at the wall, his heart has been telling him to ride to Winterfell with the recently departed Stannis to uproot the family that betrayed his own. But he has stayed at Castle Black because he prioritizes his vows over his desires. In the same vein, the only thing keeping Daenerys in Meereen and away from the Iron Throne is her sense of duty. As her army and advisors are slaughtered in alleyways — and the very people she has tried to protect revolt against her — her justification for staying in the city has become harder to validate. Yet she feels obliged to protect the people of Meereen from returning to slavery, and has vowed to stay until their freedom is secured. And now that she is set to marry a master of Meereen, it seems she will remain in the East for the foreseeable future.
DS: You should not discount the fact that Daenerys’s insecurity as a ruler also has grounded her in Meereen. Last season she wondered, “How can I rule over Seven Kingdoms if I cannot control a single city?” I wonder the same thing. Varys sees a queen loved by millions with the right family name; I see a queen who has made “honorable” mistakes similar to those of Ned and Robb Stark. As you suggested, Daenerys will not leave Meereen until she succeeds, even though that prospect grows dimmer each week. Her best hope — perhaps her only hope — lies in her most recent decision: to finally accept the traditions of Meereen.
AS: I want Daenerys to succeed and move onto Westeros, but this episode made me wonder if Westeros as we know it will survive. Jorah and Tyrion’s conversation about the rise and fall of Old Valyria provided a new context for us to view the events of Westeros. They bonded over a mutual interest in the ancient, ruined city. Much like the smoldering castle of Harrenhal, the story behind Valyria conveys a powerful idea: Just as all men must die, societies must as well. “For thousands of years the Valyrians were the best in the world at almost everything…and then they weren’t.” Tyrion’s words highlight how fragile the Seven Kingdoms have become. With Winter around the corner, Cersei being Cersei, and an army of the dead rising, how long until King’s Landing becomes a ruin as well?
DS: The true enemy of Westerosi civilization first emerged in the opening scene of Game of Thrones and has loomed over the show ever since. The White Walkers are an existential threat to the Seven Kingdoms, yet the only character that seems to understand the danger they pose is Stannis. And he demonstrated that understanding when he told Sam to continue researching their past. This is the first time any leader outside of the Night’s Watch has taken the North’s “ghost stories” seriously, which is why tonight’s episode made me reflect on the fact that Stannis — unlike Oberyn, Ned and Renly — is still alive. He could have died at Blackwater and The War of the Five Kings would have continued, but it is becoming clear that that war never mattered. The climactic battle of this series will be between the White Walkers and the realms of men, just as Melisandre predicted. And it is Stannis’s unique ability to recognize this inevitability that makes him relevant. He realizes that in the wars to come a scroll could be worth 1,000 soldiers, which is why Sam should keep on reading.
AS: Stannis definitely is the current frontrunner to win season five’s Most Improved Player award, as he has transformed from a sullen afterthought into a likable protagonist. Game of Thrones has a tendency to turn characters from hated to beloved in the blink of an eye — Jaime and The Hound come to mind — which is why the stakes have never been higher for the seemingly imminent Battle of Winterfell. Ramsay and Roose Bolton are the most despised characters on Thrones since the late, great Joffrey Baratheon (RIP). Everyone is rooting for Stannis to take Winterfell, execute the Boltons, free Sansa, and perhaps even reunite her with Jon! But what the fans want is rarely what the show provides, so I will watch the events in the North for the rest of the season with trepidation. Everyone should pray to both the Old Gods and the New for Sansa because right now the viewers are the only ones that understand that marrying Ramsay may be a worse fate than marrying Joffrey (RIP again).
DS: I’m praying that the events of this episode were enough to make Sansa start to see Ramsay for who he is. And, let’s be honest, it’s not that hard to figure out. If Ramsay were kind, would he command Sansa to walk down the aisle with the man she believes murdered her brothers? The show’s writers have spent a considerable amount of time developing Sansa into a character who knows how to “play the game.” Just last episode Littlefinger reassured her that she learned how to play politics “from the best.” Now is the time for her to start playing, yet she let Ramsay verbally torment her and literally quivered in the kennels. It seems Sansa might need to be saved again, this time by Brienne or Stannis.
M.I.A. this episode: Arya, Bronn and Jaime, Littlefinger, King’s Landing, Ellaria and her posse