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5.5 “Kill the Boy”
Written by Bryan Cogman
Directed by Jeremy Podeswa
Commentary by Jeremy Podeswa, Greg Middleton (DP), Iwan Rheon (Ramsay Bolton), Michael McElhatton (Roose Bolton)
In this episode, everyone in a leadership position loses his or her damn mind. And then Tyrion sees a dragon.
Seriously, everyone’s making really bad and/or irrational decisions. And while many of these (not Stannis. Well, sort of) check off plot points from the books, they’re completely out of context and make no sense in the new context. Daenerys, in particular, comes off looking completely insane.
It’s maybe hours, maybe a day after Barristan’s death and Grey Worm’s serious wounding. Missandei is sitting vigil with Grey Worm, while Dany stands over Barristan’s body. Hizdahr, who has terrible timing, comes in to offer his sympathies, while Daario suggests using violence. Dany, ever the Targaryen, has the leaders of the great families arrested, which includes Hizdahr. She takes them down into the catacombs, feeds one of them to the dragons, threatens Hizdahr, then has the rest of them thrown in prison.
Also, this is the face she's making while that happens:
I think what they were going for here was that Barristan kept her violent, psychotic, fire-loving Targaryen nature in check by reminding her that Aegon was violent, psychotic, and fire-loving and wound up overthrown for it. The unfortunate implications are that he was the only thing keeping that part of her in check, and without him she has no control over it. The only advisor she has left right now is Daario, and he’s always wanted her to unleash the dragon(s) and rule with fear and violence. Sure, she’s angry. She has every reason to be angry. Book-Dany got angry and channeled that anger into outmaneuvering her political opponents with smiles and “I’m just a young girl” and then smacking them down—not always physically.
After Grey Worm wakes up, Dany and Missandei discuss the situation, and Missandei says she’s not qualified to have an opinion. She probably thinks that because Daenerys has never asked her for an opinion. Despite hanging out with the advisors, Missandei isn’t an advisor, even though she should be. Missandei thinks that Dany’s a good ruler and makes good decisions on her own after taking on board the advice of her advisors (what show has she been watching?), which apparently makes up Dany’s mind about something. She goes down to the prisons, tells Hizdahr she made a mistake in the way she rules, agrees to open the fighting pits, and informs him that he’s going to be marrying her. Hizdahr is appropriately dumbfounded.
The marriage bit smacks of Benioff and Weiss checking off plot points by cramming them awkwardly into the narrative they’ve already spun so far away from Martin’s that these plot points no longer make sense. Dany marries Hizdahr in the books, therefore Dany will marry Hizdahr in the show. However, the context for Dany marrying Hizdahr is completely gone because they didn’t introduce 75% of the intrigue and characters from the books in the show. Galazza Galare, the Green Grace (and possibly one of the leaders of the Sons of the Harpy) isn’t here to push Dany to be more Meereenese and less her, and then to marry Hizdahr and open the fighting pits. There’s no Shavepate to show the difference between the Meereenese who accept her as the ruler and those who don’t. There’s no child hostages. There’s no Brazen Beasts. There’s no promise from Hizdahr that he can stop the Sons of the Harpy, no agreement that if he does so, Dany will marry him, no protest from Barristan that Hizdahr probably is the Harpy. Heck, the Sons of the Harpy are running around randomly murdering people in the streets instead of purposefully targeting Dany’s supporters and former slaves.
So Dany’s “proposed” (read: dictated) marriage to Hizdahr pays lip service to uniting the city with the promise of reopening the fighting pits, but actually does nothing of value politically and makes Dany look completely mercurially insane. It doesn’t look like she’s rectifying a mistake; it looks like she’s flailing about, completely at a loss, an entirely incompetent leader who flies by the seat of her pants rather than thinking about things for more than a couple of seconds.
Aemon laments not being able to be there for Dany during her time of need: “A Targaryen alone in the world is a terrible thing.” Jon comes to ask for his advice, and his advice is to do whatever his gut tells him, because it’s not like the men could hate him more. Thanks for that, Aemon. Then he hits another book line taken completely out of context: “kill the boy, and let the man be born.” In the books, this is Aemon telling Jon that he’ll have to be strong—hard, even—in order to be a leader. “Kill the boy within you,” he says “it takes a man to rule” (A Dance with Dragons 7, Jon II). This advice is given before Jon beheads Janos, before “Mance” is burned alive, before Jon knows anything about Wildling refugees at Hardhome. It’s given as Jon prepares to send Sam, Aemon, Gilly, and Val’s baby to the Citadel to protect Aemon and the baby from Melisandre and to get Sam training to replace Aemon. It’s the advice he holds onto while he does all the things he knows will upset people but that have to be done for the Night’s Watch and the realm. That Benioff and Weiss move it here and make it Aemon’s tacit approval for Jon to make an alliance with the Wildlings via Tormund makes no sense.
Jon gets Tormund to agree to help get the remaining Wildlings on his side and help them fight the White Walkers when they inevitably attack the Wall, and Tormund tells him most of the people went to Hardhome (how does he know that? Is that just where they live most of the time? Was that the plan—if the assault on the Wall fails, go to Hardhome?), and they’ll need ships to evacuate that many people. Also, he insists that Jon comes with them. Because that makes total sense; let’s take the not-so-popular leader away from all the other things he needs to do to keep the Night’s Watch running, letting his opponents have a chance to gather themselves to rebel.
The Night’s Watch gathers and Jon tells them the plan. They argue, of course; they don’t want the Wildlings living with them and would actually rather the White Walkers killed them all. Jon tries to remind them that if the Wildlings die, they make a bigger wight army, but nobody cares. Olly argues that Wildlings killed and ate his whole village, and Jon tries to reason with him, but Olly’s not having it, either. (Hat tip to Stannis correcting someone's grammar.)
Speaking of leaving the Wall, Stannis is planning on doing just that, as well, but going the other way. He’s decided he can’t wait for the Wildlings anymore and he’s going to march straight at Winterfell right now. First, though, he has to go ask Sam about killing a White Walker because we need to be reminded at least once per episode about Sam the Slayer (I prefer Samwise the Brave, myself). Before Stannis gets to the library, Gilly and Sam discuss how much knowledge there is in the world and Gilly feels bad about not knowing things. Sam tells her she knows lots of stuff, and she says it’s all “useless” stuff like cooking and cleaning and mending.
This particular conversation makes me seriously dislike either Sam or Benioff and Weiss, or both. Gilly was raised on a farm. Cooking, cleaning, mending, etc. were all part of life. They were incredibly important. So where did she get the idea that they weren’t? That somehow her skills are “lesser” than Sam’s? Did she get it from Sam offscreen at some point? Because it does seem like this version of Sam might get a little condescending with her about her skillset (he does it about her reading and lack of knowledge about the world, after all). Is it more of Benioff and Weiss’ (via Bryan Cogman in this episode) bullcrap about women’s work not being important? It would fit the overall pattern of the show.
Anyway, Stannis is leaving, and Davos offers to leave a guard with Selyse and Shireen, but Stannis says they’re coming, too. Into an active war zone. Taking Melisandre kind of makes sense (it doesn’t match what happened in the books, but whatever); taking Selyse and Shireen makes no sense, especially since Stannis doesn’t know about Melisandre’s vision/plan for Shireen. Davos also thinks this makes no sense and then looks across the courtyard and makes eye contact with Melisandre, and there’s an implied dun dun duuuuuuuuuuuuun. Benioff and Weiss do not believe in subtle foreshadowing (just look at how many reaction-shots we’ve had from Olly this season. He’s totally gonna stab somebody before the season’s out).
(This is where I would include an image of Davos' eye contact with Melisandre, but the lighting on this show has gotten so bad that the screenshots are just too danged dark to see anything.)
This particular leader-plan is stupid because Stannis has absolutely no backup and not enough men to take the Bolton army—and he knows it. In the books, he spends time getting the men of the North who haven’t already sworn to the Boltons on his side, doing favors like taking back Deepwood Motte in exchange for men. It takes awhile, which is why they get caught in the snow. They’re still at a disadvantage by that point, but Stannis has plans, which don’t involve running straight at the walls of Winterfell and hacking at them Monty Python style.
Speaking of Winterfell, everything’s getting awful. Myranda is jealous of Sansa, and Ramsay tells her he’ll still have time for her after he’s married, but jealousy is totally boring and you know what happens to women who bore him. This is clearly an abusive relationship, and the way it’s handled is super gross, especially when it comes to Myranda’s interactions with Sansa. Both of these women are victims of abuse, but Myranda is clearly cast as the complicit, “asking for it” victim, whereas Sansa is the innocent. Even the costumes reflect this; Sansa’s no longer in her slinky black dress, but in what looks like Catelyn’s clothes. Her whole sexual demeanor is gone, and has been since they left the Eyrie. Myranda, on the other hand, is clearly up to no good and her bodice is unlaced despite there being snow all over the ground. Myranda takes Sansa to see Theon, probably just as a small act of defiance against Ramsay, maybe to show Sansa what happens to people who cross Ramsay, maybe to scare her a bit because Theon’s in the kennels and the dogs are vicious.
At dinner, the conversation is beyond awkward, with Walda trying to sympathize with Sansa for being in a strange place, Sansa reminding everyone that they’re the strangers here, not her, and Ramsay deciding that Theon will give Sansa away at the wedding after forcing him to apologize to her for killing her brothers. Roose yanks back on Ramsay’s chain by announcing that Walda’s pregnant and it’s probably a boy, which could challenge Ramsay’s inheritance. Later, Roose tells Ramsay the story of how he was conceived, which relies on that whole stupid and debunked prima noctem idea (the books do it, too, so that’s not Benioff and Weiss’ fault), and how he chose not to have Ramsay murdered outright when the mother handed him over. He charges Ramsay with the defense of Winterfell. Roose clearly thinks he’s in control, but has no idea just how nasty Ramsay can be, which is a difference from the book, where Roose is entirely aware of how nasty Ramsay can be, knows that he killed all his trueborn brothers, and totally expects him to kill Walda’s son unless Roose somehow stops him.
Tyrion and Jorah are still sailing, with Jorah still being sullen and Tyrion still being mouthy. They bond a bit over knowledge of poetry about Old Valyria as they sail into the ruins of the city toward the Smoking Sea, and then Drogon flies overhead. Jorah is startled because here’s a reminder of Dany and look how much bigger he is; Tyrion is in awe because he’s always wanted to see a dragon and, well, it’s a dragon. That’s when the Stone Men attack, Tyrion nearly drowns, Jorah rescues him, and Jorah ends up with the fastest-incubating case of greyscale in the world.
Obviously leaders make mistakes. Leaders sometimes make fatal mistakes. Leaders sometimes make stupid mistakes. Leaders often have really good reasons for making these mistakes, and don’t just fall into stupidity. Fictional leaders, especially the ones the writers want us to root for or sympathize with, need even better reasons for making mistakes, and these ones ain’t got them. At this point, the narratives have pulled so far away from their book antecedents that the book plot points they keep jamming in there cause whiplash with how little sense they make with regard to all the other non-book plot points that are in here.
RIP: Master Eaton (oh my god, I just realized this guy’s name is Eaton and he gets eaten by dragons. Real cute, guys)
Next week: The episode that broke The Mary Sue.
Stills from screencapped.net; Monty Python gif from tumblr.com; Drogon and Tyrion gifs from telltalesonline.com