Monday, August 8, 2016

Game of Thrones Rewatch 2.1: "The North Remembers"

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

2.1 “The North Remembers”
Written by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Directed by Alan Taylor
Commentary by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss

Frequently, the titles of these episodes give a hint as to what the thematic content of the episode will be, as well as some help in interpreting the unifying idea of the episode. This isn’t always the case; the title “Lord Snow” didn’t add much to the episode, and “Baelor” required some deeper digging into the world of the books that the show didn’t have time to include to tease out some unifying ideas. Then there’s a title like “The North Remembers,” which seems like it should unify the episode but doesn’t do it in as obvious a manner as “Cripples, Bastards, and Broken Things” or “Fire and Blood.”

“The North Remembers” refers to a saying in the books that promises vengeance on those who have wronged the people of the north, kind of like “A Lannister always pays his debts.” When used in the books, especially toward the end of A Game of Thrones and in A Clash of Kings, it is a warning that Ned’s death will not go unpunished, and that they wish to return to a time when the North was a free and independent kingdom, not subject to the Iron Throne. There’s some of that in this episode, but not, on first glance, enough to call the entire episode after it. Like “Baelor,” this requires some deeper digging and closer looking to figure out what, exactly, the North is remembering.

The obvious is Ned’s death. The episode provides three major scenes that deal with Robb and his entourage planning the war. First, Robb stops in at Jaime’s cage to taunt him; Jaime establishes that Robb has been visiting him fairly frequently. Robb tells him he knows about Jaime and Cersei’s relationship and how that led to Bran’s “accident.” Grey Wind, as Robb’s emotional projection, lets Jaime know exactly how Robb feels about that. A bit later, Robb sends one of his captives back to King’s Landing with peace terms that he knows the Lannisters won’t accept; he doesn’t seem to actually have any intention of making peace. Instead, he accepts Theon’s offer to get the Ironborn on his side and makes plans to send Catelyn to negotiate an alliance with Renly.

The trouble with the north remembering Ned’s death is Robb’s willingness to leave Sansa (and presumably Arya, since nobody knows what happened to her) with Cersei. He says it’s because he can’t trade Jaime for “girls” and keep the respect of his men; Cat demands, “What are we fighting for, if not for them?” Considering the whole thing started out as an attempt to free Ned from custody, that’s a damn good question. What is all of this for, if not to get the remaining Starks out of the clutches of the Lannisters?

Ironically, the very next scene has Joffrey claiming that he’s sure the Starks will trade Jaime for just Sansa, because they’re weak and “value their women too highly.”

However, if we expand the definition of “north” beyond the Starks, some other types of remembering become clear. Osha and Bran head out to the godswood and discuss the red comet that’s been hanging overhead. Everyone has an opinion on what it means—Robb will win a great victory, Ned’s blood, Lannister blood, Lannister victory—but Osha says a comet like that can only mean one thing: “Dragons.” (In the books, this is Old Nan’s interpretation, but giving it to Osha is fair, since hers is “blood and fire, boy, and nothing sweet.”) Osha’s belief is, of course, the correct one, although there’s an argument to be made that the Wildlings shouldn’t really have a memory of dragons, since they almost never went north of the Wall. However, it connects to the other thing the North (read: the Wildlings) remember, that’s only hinted about here: the White Walkers. The Night’s Watch’s Great Ranging has reached Craster’s Keep, and Jon asks a really good question about Craster’s cycle of incest: “What do they do with the boys?” While the answer isn’t forthcoming in this episode, it sets up the question to be answered later. The White Walkers are also the ultimate answer to the question of where all the Wildlings went, why they’re joining up with Mance Rayder, and what Mance plans to do with them. Mance (and the rest of the North) knows what happens when winter comes, and they don’t plan to be on the wrong side of the Wall when it does.

Finally, the North, as a region, is in a position to remember Robert’s legacy in the form of Gendry. Cersei and Joffrey send the Gold Cloaks out to slaughter all of Robert’s bastards (starting with the one in a brothel owned by Petyr and run by Ros, who we finally see with her clothes on through an entire scene) in a montage of child-slaying that’s pretty hard to watch. It’s pretty hard for the people of King’s Landing, too, and the threats of riot are already beginning. But Gendry has already left the city; he headed north with Arya and Yoren at the end of last season. Of course, book readers know he won’t make it past the Riverlands (and show-watchers know about his mysterious rowboat disappearance), but at this moment, he’s headed North, to the Wall, where things are remembered.

A few side things that should be addressed briefly:

This is the first time we hear “Rains of Castamere”; Tyrion’s whistling it as he saunters into the Small Council chamber.

Shout out to Peter Dinklage’s wonderful face-acting in this whole sequence (skip to 1:55 for the really good stuff):

We have an entirely new batch of characters on Dragonstone—Stannis Baratheon, Melisandre, Davos Seaworthy, Cressen (for a bit). While all of the casting on this show is particularly good, Carice van Houten as Melisandre is inspired.

More Joffrey slappage!

RIP: Maester Cressen, lots of dark-haired children, Daenerys’ horse

Next week: Jaqen H’ghar! Salador Saan! Gilly! Ice Zombies!


  1. Always good to read your work on this.

    I forget the timing, but I wonder how much grumbling was going on about Scottish independence as the episode was filming/airing initially and its source materials being composed. Might that be something being referenced, do you think?

    1. This aired about a year before the referendum, which means it was written about a year before that. Considering that Scotland's been kind of rumbling about independence since it was annexed, though, it wouldn't surprise me that the idea was there when Martin wrote the books. Probably not the specific 2014 referendum, though (for show or books).