Game of Thrones: Nasty, Brutish, and Short


Ethan Gach

I write about comics, video games and American politics. I fear death above all things. Just below that is waking up in the morning to go to work. You can follow me on Twitter at @ethangach or at my blog, And though my opinions aren’t for hire, my virtue is.

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36 Responses

  1. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    These doom and gloom fantasy stories are no more realistic than the ones about shining knights doing feats of daring do to rescute beautiful princes. By our standards, Medieval Europe or even most of the world at the time where not fun places to live. If I lived during the Medieval ages, I’d be a second-class citizen at best from the tip of Morrocco to the Indus River and from Scandivanian in the north to the Sahara in the south. Not an experience I’d like to live. Even our Catholic contingent would not have a particualr easy time if born in the wrong socio-economic class.

    Yet it wasn’t complete chaos. Most of the Kings and othe rulers in Europe liked things orderly. Its really tough for the commoners to farm and do their other jobs and fill your coffers with tax money if there is contanst fighting in the country side. Other parts of society also had interest in there being peace more than war for the most part. The Middle Ages were more violent than our times but a lot of this had to do with the fact that policing as we know it today was not possible back than. The courts did generally try to be more the distributors of arbitrary decisions.Report

    • Avatar Glyph says:

      @leeesq – I tend to side with this comment.

      @ethan – where you been, man?

      Tyrion’s speech, which Dinklage killed as usual but might have been a bit too on-the-nose (yet, still seemed like what would preoccupy Tyrion’s mind at that time) speaks to it – the idiot god (writer?), snuffing humans out one after another – a concept Hannibal has also explored (except Hannibal‘s ‘god’ isn’t an idiot; he’s an aesthete).

      On the flip side of why we come back to GoT week after week, is small mercies like, you know, a baby being spared. At least we get that much.

      On Fargo a couple weeks ago (a show I can’t really get into) one character tells a parable, the moral of which is basically “the man who tries to save the world will be destroyed”.

      To which another character responds, naively, and as we want our heroes to, with: “But…ya gotta TRY, don’t’cha?”Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        Also: I’m pinning for the days when someone as ruthlessly precise and able as Tywin

        After Oberyn’s death, I told my wife, “Tywin Lannister got to be so old by never making speeches or explaining his plans before he kills you.”

        (Or better yet, has you killed at a remove).Report

    • Avatar James Hanley says:

      Yet it wasn’t complete chaos. Most of the Kings and othe rulers in Europe liked things orderly.

      Yes, but you’re talking about times when a king was relatively secure. Westeros is in a state of civil war, of the kind that caused Hobbes to write of the state of nature as a state of war, and to coin the words that title this article.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        Even during a state of war, the nobles did attempt to make sure things weren’t too bad for the commoners if only because an army has to eat.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        At least for their commoners, not necessarily the commoners of other sides. The thing that gets me about Westeros is the complete disregard for commoners by the nobles. In our world, nobles might not have liked commoners and would have looked down upon them but they knew who grew their food, made their armors and weapons and more even if they exploited them ruthlessly.Report

      • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

        The historical documents that survive first hand about everything from the Danish invasions of England to the Hundred Years War suggest this isn’t the case. Rapacity is a common thread throughout humanity’s history of warfare.

        (Although to be fair, Hobbesian anarchy was something of a more distinctly early Modern sort that punctuated the Wars of Religion in Europe…that said, all the stuff about Henry V coveting only honor? Hogwash, his army systematically raped and looted its way through France…there’s a reason Jeanne D’Arc is still revered as a Saint in France and it’s not because Milla Jovich played her.)Report

      • Avatar North says:

        Lee, if you consider the books in more detail I think you will find that your analysis is off. We see commoners suffer enormously but the commoners we see suffering and a very specific group: almost all the most piteous commoner suffering occurs in the Riverlands. Historically that region has always been a terrible battleground possessing none of the natural defenses of the other regions. Additionally the region has grown rather populous as a result of the long (relative) peace of the Tagaryen dynasty. Finally the Riverlands lord is debilitated and his bannermen are rather disorganized being led initially by Edmure who is, suffice to say, a bit of a naif. Other than the Riverlands the only commoners we see suffering in any great numbers are the citizenry of Kings Landing which is, let’s face it, just one big city. The various lords do treat the suffering citizens we see in the books like crap; they’re not their citizens. In the Riverlands they’re enemy citizens and in Kings Landing they’re mostly rabble. We don’t see a particularily large amount of mass suffering in the Westerlands, Highgarden or even the North (though it starts getting worse in the North under Bolton’s none too gentle hand and during the Kraken invasion).Report

      • Avatar Kolohe says:

        “The thing that gets me about Westeros is the complete disregard for commoners by the nobles.”

        Not by the Starks. And as far as I can tell, not by the Tyrells, Martells, or pre-Lord of Light cult fratricide Baratheons.

        It’s really only the Freys and Boltons that are complete jerkoffs. And only the Riverlands and the post-Stark North that’s getting major pillage action.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        Not even by the Lannisters. The Westerlands are doing just fine.

        Historically [the Riverlands] has always been a terrible battleground possessing none of the natural defenses of the other regions.

        Excellent point. Pre-Conquest, the Riverlands were ruled by the Iron Islanders. The Targaryens drove them off and handed the area over to the Tullys, who had never been kings, had no tradition of defending an entire region, and had never developed the military skills for doing so (nor needed them until recently.)Report

  2. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    “Your friend’s dead, and Meryn Trant’s not, ’cause Trant had armor. And a big fucking sword.” — Sandor Clegane.

    After the first book, I came to think that the whole Song of Ice and Fire is about how people react to trauma. GRRM fought in the Nam, didn’t he? And PTSD is sort of a signature issue for some combat vets. So, in order to show various characters reacting in various ways to trauma, they have to be traumatized first. And, in order to create the reader’s (or viewer’s) sympathy for that trauma and the responses the characters have, it helps the author to have the reader (or viewer) to fall in love with various characters before inflicting trauma on them.Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

      According to Wikipedia, he was a conscientious objector who did alternative service as a VISTA volunteer in Cook County.Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        Cook County, eh? Perhaps he was traumatized by an epic car chase led by two brothers (on a mission from God – or in today’s parlance, terrorists), followed by hundreds of police, some Illinois Nazis, a woman with a bazooka, and an RV full of very angry rednecks, that caused untold damage to his city.Report

  3. Avatar Michael M. says:

    Oberyn died because he was obsessed with avenging prior wrongs. I thought the episode was particularly good at highlighting how people clinging to the past were in trouble. It might as well have been called “Adapt or Die.” The Ironborn believed they would be allowed to retreat if they surrendered because Theon/Reek convinced them that is how it is always done. Instead they ended up flayed and skewered. Bjorn clung to old alliances to the point of betraying the Khaleesi, and ended up banished. (He got off the easiest!). The Hound assumed old family ties would be the source of his reward for sticking with Arya, only to be thwarted by untimely death. And the Night Watch seems positioned to be destroyed because they won’t consider new tactics.

    Only Sansa Stark, of all people, seems to have learned to adapt to changing circumstances. Her regal and forbidding descent down the stairs was almost as exciting as Oberyn getting his head caved in.Report

    • Avatar Glyph says:

      Borela qvqa’g jnag gb “jva” sbe Glevba, ur jnagrq gb trg Gur Zbhagnva, naq uheg gur Ynaavfgref.

      Fb Gur Zbhagnva qvrf, naq Gljva’f fba Glevba gbb?

      Borela zvtug pbhag gung nf n gjb-sre.Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko says:

      Sansa is a good deal more interesting on TV than she is in the books, where she’s usually terrified to the point of paralysis. Her deciding to start using her sex appeal and to portray herself as A Woman Who Could Still Be Queen was much more explicit, and aggressive, than she gets in the books.Report

      • Avatar North says:

        Yes the show has deviated enormously from the books on the subject of Sansa ever since she got to the Erie. She’s been accelerated in development immensely.
        I suspect part of this is the necessity of eliminating extraneous plot twists and an even larger part of this is that Sansa of the TV show is significantly older than Sansa in the books was.

        For me, since Sansa was oddly my favorite PoV character, this has been pure gravy.Report

    • Avatar Glyph says:

      The Ironborn believed they would be allowed to retreat if they surrendered because Theon/Reek convinced them that is how it is always done

      And that scene was a nice callback to Theon’s own betrayals.Report

    • Avatar Kolohe says:

      “Bjorn clung to old alliances to the point of betraying the Khaleesi, and ended up banished. (He got off the easiest!). ”

      I’m guessing you mean Ser Friendzone?

      This is good point, and goes both ways in this example. The Dragon Queen and her court could have used Jorah Mormont’s more recent service (and his deflection of the poison) as a mitigating factor against his previous activities, but did not, rather using the more inflexible code of honor they are all familiar with. (though it was tempered by mercy)Report

      • Avatar Michael M. says:

        Ha, I had not seen anything about the Friendzone meme before. Can’t figure out how Jorah became Bjorn since I wasn’t using auto-complete or -correct or anything. But I was in a big hurry.

        Daenerys has already done so much adapting that it is hard for me to fault her for reacting the way she did to Jorah’s betrayal. Someone somewhere commented that she could have made use of Jorah as a double-agent, if she had decided she could trust him now. I tend to think the Daenerys of just a few episodes ago — the one who slaughtered all the Masters — would have barbecued Jorah on a dragon spit, so banishing him but letting him live was a relative sign of maturity. Still, she is too beholden to the code you speak of.Report

  4. Avatar North says:

    I disagree Ethan, Oberyn Martel was not killed because he was weaker or less skilled. Oberyn was killed by his hate. Small spoilers:

    Oberyn, an infamous poisoner, coated his spear blade in a deadly but horrifically slow and baleful poison. In a world possessed of substances like The Strangler you can be certain that the Viper of Dorne could have applied a poison to his blade that would have utterly debilitated and quickly slain even The Mountain. Note, also, that Oberyn’s skill was sufficient to lay the Mountain out on his back exposed to any finishing move the Prince cold have chosen to apply. Oberyn did not; he wished a confession, he also wished for his enemy to die slowly in terrific agony. He achieved both of these goals at the cost of his own life as the mortally poisoned, but still in the short term deadly, Mountain crushed his head.

    I don’t think the GoT world is particularly dark; I’m no historian but it seems to me that the horrors wracking Westeros could be quite typically expected in the battlegrounds of any civil war riven medieval state. It seems horrific only in that Martin insists on forcing us, the readers, to confront it instead of glossing it over with the fog of war. In that he does a considerable service.

    And in their adaptation GoT is some damn fine television. I am beginning to wonder both A) if this may be a case where the adaptation ends up superior to the books and B) if it’ll be a series that ends up finishing before its inspirational books are finished being written.Report

    • Avatar Glyph says:

      @north – As I say above, Oberyn got what he came for. He was never Tyrion’s friend, Tyrion was a means to an end.

      Oberyn got his confession, The Mountain dies in agony, and Oberyn’s own death additionally buys the death of one of Tywin’s sons.

      It was a cost he was willing to pay.Report

      • Avatar North says:

        I dunno, I never got the impression from the books or from the show that Oberyn was willing to die, especially since he was probably well aware that leaving Tyrion alive would vex Tywin far more than killing him would. Tywins expression when he sentenced Tyrion to death was very much “well at least there’s a cherry on top of this turd sunday, I get to off the dwarf.”Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        I haven’t read that far in the books yet, and I am sure all else equal Oberyn would have preferred to live, but I can certainly see him taking more risks than need be in trying to extract a confession from The Mountain, knowing that whoever wins, a Lannister loses.Report

    • @north : “I am beginning to wonder…if it’ll be a series that ends up finishing before its inspirational books are finished being written.”

      A quite valid concern, and one that the showrunners and others have been discussing in recent interviews. Particularly for some of the Stark children, their storylines are approaching a point where they will run out of source material quite soon — possibly next season. And the child actors aren’t getting any younger.

      Supposedly, Martin has given the showrunners the broad outlines of how he envisions the larger story arcs resolving, but I think it would be suboptimal for the series to outpace the books.

      Martin needs to finish the sixth book already. (But then, it is said, every time fans ask Martin to hurry up on the books, he kills another direwolf.)Report

  5. Avatar Ethan Gach says:

    So if we’re gona talk ‘trial by combat’ shop, I think Oberyn’s biggest mistake was not having a more thorough game plan.

    If I were to Monday morning quarterback this, which I am about to, I’d say you cripple all four major extremities before trying to extract the confession. Soooo, note to self, if I ever improbably best a man twice my size and two feet taller in mortal combat, maybe sever a few more of those tendons before bowing to the crowd.Report

    • Avatar Glyph says:

      Also, I think they’ve mostly discredited the whole “don’t have sex the night before the big game” theory, but Oberyn seemed determined to test that theory to the max, with every boy and girl at the brothel.

      Dude’s legs were probably tired, maybe it slowed him down.

      Probably not a problem many of us would have, though.Report

    • Avatar North says:

      It was very much hate and passion that killed him. The battle was excellent TV but as the books tell it Oberyn was far far more emotionally charged in the books than his actor portrayed. The battle was also considerably more drawn out with the Mountain being worn down gradually by a series of wounds to his joints/extremeties as Oberyn could quite literally not wound the Mountain on his torso because his spear simply could not penetrate Clegane’s armor.

      IIRC Oberyn was either standing near the mountain or was attempting a showboat finishing manuver when he got killed and I think screaming his sisters name was a major part of that. The Prince was simply not fighting with a clear head and his passion very obviously got the better of him. He could have killed The Mountain the same way that he defeated him; by keeping his distance and poking him, but he needed more than that to satisfy the fury that had been festering in him for decades.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley says:

      I’d say you cripple all four major extremities before trying to extract the confession

      “the first thing you lose will be your feet, below the ankles, then your hands at the wrists. Next, your nose.”Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        I’ve enjoyed the little nods to other works that the GoT showrunners have thrown in. There have been a couple Grail jokes (Davos and ‘ka-niggets’), and of course Oberyn had a bit of Inigo Montoya about him, and there was the sadistic Bolton henchman (can’t remember his name) that looked a LOT like Count Rugen.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        Some of this comes from GRRM, e.g. Oberyn was channeling Inigo in the book, too. There’s also a terrific Miles Vorkosigan reference in A Dance with Dragons (Tyrion cleaning the drains at Casterly Rock.)Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        Tyrion cleaning the drains at Casterly Rock.

        Dude, spoiler! Warn us next time. 😉Report

      • Avatar KatherineMW says:

        There have been a couple Grail jokes (Davos and ‘ka-niggets’)

        Glyph – You might be amused by this: Apparently the taunts from the Meereenese champion who Daario kills in one of this season’s early episodes were the taunts from the French knight in Monty Python, translated into Meereenese Valyrian.

        Here’s the translation by the guy who writes the Valyrian (and Dothraki) for the show:

  6. Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

    I’m probably alone in this, but of the two authors where Sean Bean was the faceman for a TV adaptation, I prefer Bernard Cornwell to GRRM by about two country miles.Report