Look at that face. This is the great evil that threatens each and every character in “Game of Thrones,” whether they know it or not.
Of course, GOT is only the name of the television series. The book series is called, “A Song of Ice and Fire,” and it’s called that for a reason. At one end of the narrative spectrum, there are fire-breathing dragons, vast deserts and hot summer days. At the other end, there are the Lands of Always Winter, endless snowy tundras… and pale beings of unspeakable evil. Was that an icy crown upon their leader’s head? (RELATED: Game of Thrones: Misery for all!)
To understand this monster-man–who appears at the close of the increasingly grim fourth hour of GOT’s fourth season–it is necessary to look at the scenes that precede him.
First, GOT drops its viewers into Mereen, where Daenerys’s forces easily convince hordes of slaves to turn on their masters. While it remains to be seen whether the Breaker of Chains will prove to be as adept a ruler as she is a liberator, her winning streak is undeniable.
Mereen, our first location, is currently the warmest place on the GOT map, and is colored by warm reds and yellows and oranges. Daenerys is recognizable for her white-blonde hair, and her dragons breath hot, red fire. Given what comes later, it’s fitting to begin here, at the other half of the Song of Ice and Fire.
Ser Barristan advises Daenerys to be merciful to her vanquished foes, but the Targaryen queen swears that justice must be had. Justice is a subjective term, of course. After all, Daenerys’s father, the Mad King, was practicing his own sense of justice when he had Ned Stark’s father and brother horrifically executed for trivial offenses. King Joffrey was practicing a similar kind of justice when he ordered Ned’s beheading. Are the judgments of rulers always just, even when the rulers are psychopaths? (RELATED: TheDC reviews ‘Game of Thrones’ season four premiere episode, ‘Two Swords’)
Consider Queen Cersei, whose paranoia and spite demonstrate over and over again how similar the Lannisters are to the worst of the Targaryens. Like the Targaryens, they are even incestuous. The result, in both cases, has been a perverted sort of justice, and now it is driving Cersei’s efforts to have her innocent brother, Tyrion, executed for treason — despite the fact that her other brother (and lover!) raped her last week as she prayed over their dead son.
Whatever Jaime’s faults — and his treatment of Cersei is certainly the foremost one — he is dedicated to achieving justice for the Stark girls, though this creates an interesting dilemma. What is the expiration date for an oath? Jaime promised Catelyn Stark he would free Sansa and Arya, but Catelyn is dead, Arya is presumed dead and Sansa is missing. And yet, he swore an oath. Of course, he has broken many oaths. He wouldn’t be the infamous Kingslayer if he had kept them all. (RELATED: Prof’s love for ‘Game of Thrones,’ earns suspension from idiotic admin)
He does have his reputation to consider, although he worries that his honor is irredeemable, no matter what great deeds he accomplishes now. The only reason he was not arrested for slaying the Mad King was because the subsequent king, Robert Baratheon, pardoned him in an example of the kind of justice that Ser Barristan–who was himself pardoned by Robert–urges Daenerys to grant the overthrown rulers of Mereen.
In the end, Jaime gives the task of upholding the oath to Brienne, though he does provide her with suitable equipment: principally, his Valyrian steel sword, which she has named, “Oathkeeper.” It may indeed take a truly just knight like Brienne to see an oath upheld, when there is no force other than personal honor propelling it.
But the further north GOT takes us, the more dire the need for oaths to be upheld and justice–even a mad king’s uncertain justice–to prevail. The brothers of the Night’s Watch are the last line of defense between humanity and oblivion, and the Wildlings are the least of their worries. The mutineers at Craster’s Keep — oathbreakers with no morals or honor — present a more direct threat. The episode takes us to Craster’s, and then it slows down, allowing us to soak in the horror of the place.
Unfortunately, the mutineers capture the four GOT characters least deserving of suffering: Bran, Jojen, Meera and Hodor. This pushes the story into uncharted territory, even for book readers, and the unresolved fates of Bran and his friends are worrisome. Jon Snow is likely leading a small army to save them — the forces of law, honor and duty going to war against oath breaking and violence — but it would not be the first time a GOT hero’s efforts came up too short to make a difference. Indeed, Jon is already too late to save an innocent baby.
The baby — the last of Craster’s infant sons — is taken far north and given over to a cold fate. He is transformed into the enemy: a White Walker. The mythical frost demons, called simply Others in the book series, represent a possible extinction event for everyone in Westeros. Their numbers are unknown, but they are capable of raising and conscripting the dead for their armies, and the Wall is all that stands in their way.
Little of the White Walkers is seen in the book series, however, and last night’s scene offered a much clearer glimpse than any described in George R. R. Martin’s novels. What became of Craster’s sons was just a theory, until now.
And who is the monstrous leader of the White Walkers, whose very touch enslaves young humans for his evil causes? It’s impossible to know his name for sure, but two legends–covered briefly in the books and TV series–offer clues.
Melisandre, who does not appear this week, practices a religion that worships the Lord of Light, the one true god. As Melisandre explained last week to Princess Shireen, R’hllor is the god of day and summer, warmth and fire, and love and joy. The only other god is the god of night and winter, of cold and ice, and sorrow and misery. His name is unknown, but Melisandre calls him the Great Other, and swears that the Lord of Light’s chosen hero–King Stannis, she believes–is destined to vanquish him. Was this the icy Satan we glimpsed in the closing minutes of the episode?
One other legend is possibly relevant. Thousands of years ago, a Commander of the Night’s Watch took a White Walker woman to be his bride. He declared himself to be a king and a god, and practiced occult magic. Those who resisted him were sacrificed to the White Walkers. He was known as the Night’s King.
Eventually, the King in the North — who was a Stark of Winterfell — and the King-beyond-the-wall, Joramun, joined forces against the Night’s King and he was slain along with his White Walker queen.
The name of the Night’s King has been forgotten, but some believe he was also a Stark, and brother of the King in the North. His name may have even been Bran.
While neither of these legends may prove relevant, for now it seems that the overarching conflict may indeed be the mythical battle between Ice and Fire, not the daily political struggle that is the Game of Thrones.