“If you want justice, you’ve come to the wrong place.” – Tyrion Lannister
Like everyone else in the world of “Game of Thrones,” Tyrion feels deprived of justice. His only recourse? Vengeance against his enemies–even if all he can do is briefly upset or delay their plans. Elsewhere, characters who are similarly trapped in a world without justice just want some relief from the bleakness of it all.
Consider the dying old man that Arya and the Hound encounter on the road. In death, he is an educated man: He knows the present world is fundamentally cruel and unjust. He speaks of the way he once conducted his affairs: by trade. The free exchange of labor and goods is held up as a moral and desirable way for society to conduct itself. Unfortunately, war has wrecked this common, decent way of doing business, and now the only way to obtain goods is to steal them from someone else. “Nothing could be worse than this,” he says. (RELATED: Game of Thrones Review: Even Diehard Fans Were Shocked To Meet This Monster)
Arya disagrees. She is filled with cold, dead nothingness, and in her opinion, it’s better than pain. Having suffered so much, having lost everything and everyone she once held dear, she can no longer allow herself to feel anything… except the thrill of vengeance. Luckily for her, she stumbles across more old enemies, and dispatches them with increasing ease and confidence.
“You are learning,” says the Hound. In truth, they are learning from each other. Arya has adopted the Hound’s killer instincts and aloofness. The Hound, in turn, has clearly come to care for Arya. He sticks by her, even as he comes to accept that he will never collect the reward, and could never be compensated handsomely enough to justify such hardship. In that sense, justice eludes the Hound as well. And as he grows more attractive on the inside, he grows uglier on the outside: Now he has a life-threatening bite on one side of his neck and an embarrassing, disfiguring burn on the other.
The source of the burn is his brother, Gregor Clegane, the Mountain That Rides (book readers and TV viewers with good memories will remember him as the tournament fighter who cut his horse in half after losing a joust with Loras Tyrell in season one). The Mountain is “freakish big and freakish strong.” He has no agenda. He likes killing, and that’s all. He tells Cersei that it doesn’t even matter who his opponent is.
For a while, he doesn’t even have one. Jaime can’t fight, and Bronn considers an opportunity to fight the Mountain to be an invitation to suicide. Unlike practically everyone else, things have turned out well for Bronn. Why throw that away so that Tyrion can live a while longer? Aside from the practicality of it, Bronn realizes that his dear friend is doomed, even if he somehow survives the trial by combat. The enemies of Tywin and Cersei Lannister do not live long in this world.
Perhaps the only person who can dispatch enemies faster than Tywin is Lady Melisandre, the red priestess. She burns the guilty and the innocent alike, but she does so for an express purpose: the ascension of the king she supports. Episode seven gave us a rare glimpse of Melisandre at ease, finally speaking the truth. Much of her magic is trickery, she admits. Much, but not all of it. The kind that requires king’s blood–that has slain Renly, Robb and Joffrey–is quite real. It is discomforting, to say the least, for Melisandre to mention Shireen in this context. Is Shireen expendable, like Gendry was? She does have Stannis’s blood, after all. And while Stannis would clearly never let Melisandre harm Shireen, Selyse is much more devoted to the red god. And of course, the last hero of the Lord of Light, Azhor Ahai, was only able to triumph after plunging his sword through the heart of his beloved. Melisandre believes that power requires sacrifice. There is good reason to fear for the kindhearted child.
Selyse sees something in the flames, but what is it? And is what she sees a trick–like so much of Melisandre’s magic–or the real thing? As always, “Game of Thrones” treats Melisandre’s religion very evenhandedly. Can a crazed witch who burns people alive really be on the side of good? Knowing that Stannis’s next goal is to rescue the Wall–and knowing, after episode four, the icy horror that waits beyond the Wall–Melisandre and the Lord of Light might actually be the good ones.
“Game of Thrones” also treat’s the reign of Daenerys with considerable nuance. She is of course justified in her war against the slavers, but is she justified in crucifying them? As has been pointed out to her, not all slavers supported outright butchery, and by choosing an-eye-for-an-eye, she risks further bloodshed. But she has already promised to answer “Injustice with justice,” rather than with mercy. Still, she changes her mind after an intervention from Ser Jorah. Ser Jorah holds sway over her mind, but not her heart, which he would clearly prefer.
Daario Naharis may have neither her heart nor her mind, but he has the approval of her body. The Kings of Westeros take whores; does the queen not deserve her own pleasures? The scene reminds viewers that exercising power is not only about moving armies, and the great rulers of the medieval world exert control over all aspects of their lives. And Daenerys is now every bit as powerful as Robert Baratheon or Tywin Lannister or Petyr Baelish.
The last of these characters may have been the episode’s biggest winner, however. Having won the Vale through marriage, Baelish dispatches Lysa Arryn, a tool that outlived her usefulness. Now he has two kingdoms–he was already proclaimed lord of Harrenhal and the Riverlands–and Sansa all to himself. Littlefinger’s goal has always been something of a mystery, even as he professes to desire the throne itself. The throne and Sansa, perhaps? He is certainly making better progress than anyone else.
In an episode where characters are continuously frustrated in their quest for justice, the possibility of revenge rears its head for Prince Oberyn. He has sworn to avenge his sister’s death by killing her murderer: the Mountain. By temporarily allying with Tyrion, he will have that chance It may be just that–a chance–but it’s better than nothing.
Or is nothing better than nothing?