Monday, June 13, 2016

Game of Thrones Rewatch 1.4: "Cripples, Bastards, and Broken Things"

Read the previous entry in this series here.
Read the next entry in this series here.

Episode 1.4 “Cripples, Bastards, and Broken Things”
Written by Bryan Cogman
Directed by Brian Kirk
Commentary by Bryan Cogman and Kit Harrington (Jon Snow)

Finding a theme to discuss in episode 1.4, “Cripples, Bastards, and Broken Things” wasn’t difficult; it’s all right there in the title. Not only is this episode home to Tyrion’s iconic line that he has a “soft spot in [his] heart for cripples, bastards, and broken things,” the whole episode focuses on outsiders, people who don’t quite fit right, and their way of dealing with (or not dealing with) that lack of fit.
The most obvious “broken thing” in the episode is Bran, who is literally broken, having lost the use of his legs after his fall. Last episode, he told Robb he’d rather be dead than crippled, and this episode he initially refuses to leave his room to greet their visitors. Theon essentially forces him into it, calling on Hodor to carry Bran down, which Bran can’t really do anything about. He’s still in a bit of denial, as shown when he insists to Tyrion that he’s not a cripple. Tyrion, as usual, has a quick comeback: “Then I am not a dwarf. My father will be delighted to hear it.” While Tyrion can’t fix Bran any more than he can stop being a dwarf, he does offer Bran a little bit of hope in the shape of schematics for a saddle that will allow him to ride—“On horseback, you’ll be as tall as any of them,” he assures Bran, winning a little smile.

Bran is not the only person in this scene who is broken, of course. Hodor doesn’t have a huge part, but he’s there, and he’s also disabled. Tyrion treats him with just as much dignity as he treats Bran, asking nicely that Hodor kneel to bring Bran to Tyrion’s eye level. At no point is he rude to either Bran or Hodor, just a bit brusque with Bran’s initial refusal to admit to his new disability. Tyrion’s method of dealing with his own outsider status is frequently blunt truthfulness, tempered with a bit of dry humor, as much at his own expense as anyone else’s. He has little to no patience with people refusing to admit the truth of their situations, as is seen in his scene with Theon immediately after this one.

Theon, eager to share his knowledge of local whores with Tyrion, follows him out to the yard and gets a typical Tyrion takedown and reminder that he doesn’t belong in Winterfell. He’s a hostage to his father’s good behavior after the Greyjoy Rebellion, not a member of the Stark family, and Tyrion reminds him of it. Theon’s gotten a bit too comfortable with the Starks, forgetting that he’s not a fosterling or a brother, but a symbol of his father’s defeat. Jaime remarks in another scene that seeing Theon in Winterfell was like seeing a shark on a mountain; he’s out of place there but refuses to admit it to himself until Tyrion takes him down a peg. Bryan Cogman mentions that Tyrion can’t really help himself from poking at Theon because he sees the anger simmering just under the surface, and it’s similar to the anger Tyrion himself lives with constantly. Of course, this scene also provides a bit more backstory about the Greyjoy Rebellion and helps set up Theon’s arc for the next season.

On the Wall, Jon meets another broken thing: Samwell Tarly, whom the other trainees immediately start calling “Piggy.” Sam is extremely overweight and terrified of everything, and as he explains to Jon later in the episode, his father gave him a choice between taking the black and renouncing his claim—or being killed in a “freak hunting accident.” (Randyll Tarly is a real piece of work, and I don’t remember how much of him we see in the show, but the books are not shy about his utter contemptibility.) Sam accepts the bullying from Grenn, Pyp, and Rast because he believes that’s what he deserves for being fat and a coward. After all, even his own father didn’t want him. He’s completely given up at trying to be anything other than a coward, terrible with a sword, and a disappointment to everyone around him. Keeping with the theme of the broken things starting toward being mended, Jon decides to be friends with Sam, assuring him that he’s not weird for never having been with a woman and getting the other boys to agree not to beat Sam up in the training yard, regardless of Alliser Thorne’s orders.

Viserys is shown to be another of the broken things in this episode. In one way, he is one of the last of a broken line of kings; he and Daenerys represent the destroyed Targaryen dynasty, and as Dany began to realize in the last episode, under Viserys, the line will never be reforged. But Viserys himself is also broken, partially because the Targaryen dynasty practiced lots and lots of inbreeding and Viserys is barely clinging to sanity (madness as a birth defect specifically resulting from incest is a topic for a whole other discussion, but it’s definitely a theme in A Song of Ice and Fire). His discussion with Doreah about the dragon skulls shows that he comes from a powerful family, and he was promised all the power and privilege that comes from being in that family, but it was taken away from him. He’s old enough to remember his father, the throne, and the dragon skulls, unlike Dany, who was born right as Robert’s Rebellion was ending. Viserys is also an outsider among the Dothraki, at least partly by choice; he sees them as savages, tools to be used to take back his throne, and no more. He refuses to learn to speak Dothraki, refuses Dany’s gift of Dothraki-style clothing, and pooh-poohs the city of Vaes Dothrak. Unlike Bran and Sam, Viserys does not accept attempts to bring him into the fold and help him live with or work around his brokenness. Instead, he harshly reminds Doreah that she is a slave and further abuses Dany, taking out his frustration, loneliness, and, well, insanity on them. Thus, he lacks the support structure that other “broken things” in the episode have, setting him up for his later death.

Slavery is a minor theme of the episode, but there is some focus on how slavery breaks people—not only the slaves, but sometimes the slavers, as in the case of Jorah. Doreah tells Viserys she’s fascinated by dragons because of their freedom and power; they can fly away whenever they want and burn their enemies to death. Freedom and power are two things Doreah demonstrably does not have. Viserys reminds her that he bought her, that he owns her, and that her job is to give him pleasure, regardless of her own mindset or mood. Later, he drags her by her hair into Dany’s tent, screaming about Dany sending a whore to give him commands. Unlike a dragon, Doreah cannot fly away from Viserys, or burn him for hurting her. Dany might be a kind mistress, but she doesn’t belong to Dany. Most importantly, she doesn’t belong to herself.

Dany reminds Jorah that he lost his family and home and nearly his life because of slaving, and he shows regret, though whether it’s genuine remorse for doing something so horrible as attempting to sell a couple of poachers into slavery or regret for what he lost when he got caught is harder to tell. In the books, he’s not a nice person; he clearly has little regard for human life, especially when slavery or war is involved. He sees absolutely nothing wrong with buying, selling, or keeping slaves, and brushes off battlefield rape as an unfortunate side effect of the Dothraki style of raiding and pillaging. The Jorah of the show is, so far, a bit more sympathetic—but only a bit. Of course, Dany’s still starting to figure out what she thinks of the whole slavery thing; she generally seems to dislike it, but she owns a couple and uses them. She treats them better than the other Dothraki treat their slaves, more like handmaidens than slaves, but the truth is that they are still slaves. They can’t leave and they can’t refuse her orders. We never learn much about Irri and Jhiqui’s lives before becoming slaves, but Doreah has been one most of her life. These are also broken people, separated from family, heritage, and culture and forced to serve.

Besides Jon, the other “bastard” of the episode is Gendry, who makes his first (rather sullen) appearance here. In order to figure out why Jon Arryn was killed, Ned is retracing his last few steps, including borrowing a “ponderous tome” from Grand Maester Pycelle and visiting “the boy” at the armorsmith’s. Pieces are beginning to click into place for Ned as he realizes Gendry is one of Robert’s, though he’s not yet quite sure why Gendry is important beyond that. Robert’s left bastards all over the place, after all. Ned leaves instructions with the smith to send Gendry to him if he ever wants to be a soldier, then sends a note to Robert, probably letting him know he has a bastard son.

Other hints of brokenness in people are sprinkled throughout the episode. Jaime is forced to stand guard while Robert has a small orgy in his room, showing extreme disrespect for Jaime’s sister (and lover, though Robert doesn’t know that). Sansa is still upset over the loss of Lady, the schism between her and Joffrey, and the one between her and Ned. Arya once again tries to tell Ned that she doesn’t fit into his idea of what a young lady should be (I kind of wish they’d kept the “That’s Sansa. That’s not me” when she rejects the idea that she’ll be the mother of lords and knights and heroes; I feel like that juxtaposition on Arya’s part is important). Petyr tells Sansa the story of how Sandor Clegane got his face all burnt (again, I wish they’d had Sandor tell her the story as he does in the books, but Cogman says there were production reasons for the change). A broken lance kills Ser Hugh, who could possibly have given Ned some information about what Jon Arryn was up to. And Catelyn arrests Tyrion, which of course is a major instigating factor of the War of the Five Kings, which breaks the entire kingdom. (Way to go, Cat.)

RIP: Ser Hugh “I’m a knight and you’re not” of the Vale

Next week: Cat makes another dumb decision. Tyrion stands “trial.” Ned finds another bastard. Arya overhears plotting.

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  1. Another excellent piece, this.

    I have to wonder, though, about the depiction of Tyrion in Martin against the depiction of dwarfs in the chivalric literature. His inclusion seems an echo of the commonplace of diminutive persons in, say, Arthuriana, but I wonder if something might be said about how he refigures the trope.

    1. I don't know a whole lot about the dwarf trope in Arthuriana, but I do plan to write a piece on ableism in ASOIAF/GOT at some point, and I'm sure I'll have to look into it then.

    2. It might be a thing to investigate, although I want to think that issues of different ability and issues of being a small person are different in the medieval literature.