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Game of Thrones asks: When does the desire for revenge go too far?

By Amanda Marcotte
Monday, June 2, 2014 9:39 EDT

Now that Mad Men is over, I have some space freed up to talk about the last three episodes of Game of Thrones. Scott Kaufman has recapped last night’s shocking episode here, so I won’t be doing that, but I want to add a couple of thoughts about the themes of justice and revenge in that episode. It’s common for many viewers of GoT to think of the show as more escapist than most “prestige” TV, and its shocks are more akin to a horror movie’s than those of more elite, literary shows. Having read the books, I can see why it’s easy to dismiss the whole enterprise that way, since George R.R. Martin favors a pulpy, overblown prose style to a more literary one. But, I think, last night’s episode served as a reminder that there’s something deeper going on with this show, and while the themes might be harder to ascertain than, say, those on Mad Men, they are still important and fascinating.

The staging of the fight between Oberyn and the Mountain was masterful, if gruesome. It’ll be hard to work myself back up to watching it again, but I loved how the choreography telegraphed the theme. Prior to the fight, Ellaria expresses concern about the size of the Mountain, and Oberyn waves it off, saying that everyone is the same on their back. That’s a statement that will come back to haunt him, since it’s on his back that Gregor Clegane finally gets the upper hand over Oberyn and ends up killing him. That bit of irony there shows that this episode, like “The Rains of Castamere”, owes as much to classic tragedy as it does to more schlocky fare.

I loved watching people on Twitter lose their shit at Oberyn’s death, by the way. You definitely go into that fight expecting one kind of story—the story of the graceful underdog overcoming brute force with wits and skill—and end up with, you know, crushing beetles.

But what it actually was, I think, was a classic tragedy. Oberyn is a tragic hero: A man with a mission whose one fatal flaw, his obsessive drive to get revenge, results in his death. The fight scene’s choreography was so great in this, because it’s crystal clear that Oberyn has the upper hand. If he had finished Clegane the second Clegane hit the ground, Oberyn would still be alive and Tyrion would be free. Instead, Oberyn gives into the urge to run around, celebrating before he had successfully won, and, more importantly, keeping Clegane alive in order to extract a confession. The lesson is driven home, in the grossest way possible: If you hold out for total revenge, you’ll get none at all. Take what measure of justice you can and walk away. This desire to even all scores and to have every debt owed you paid will only be your ruin.

And really, would it even be possible to fully avenge what happened to Elia Martell? As Oberyn says, over and over again, she was raped, murdered, and had her children killed in front of her. There’s nothing in the world that can be done to make that right again. The Mountain needed killing, don’t get me wrong. Just as a preventive measure to stop future violence, if nothing else. But Oberyn let his need to have all wrongs righted overcome this more pressing and immediate concern.

Lest there be any doubt about where this was headed, the conversation between the Hound and Arya drove it home, with the Hound gently prodding and teasing her about her anger that she didn’t get to witness, much less participate in, Joffrey’s death. I love Arya as much as the next viewer, but let’s be clear here: Her all-consuming desire for revenge is a bad thing. Oberyn’s death should make that clear. His family has now lost yet another beloved member to the Mountain.

I’ve read A Storm of Swords, which seasons 3 and 4 are based on, so I have a little more context, but I think the show has done a really great job at laying out the theme of how brutality tends to compound itself. We’ve watched in these past two seasons as brutality wipes out some of the values of the people of Westeros, such as guest right, honor, and justice. Which is why it’s so critical to consider what’s going on in Meeren and whether or not Dany will learn the value of mercy. The only way to stop brutality is to stop perpetuating it, the show seems to argue. Oberyn should have killed the Mountain quickly, instead of brutally slicing him up in hopes of getting a confession. But if Oberyn, who is a clever and (we discover) compassionate man can’t seem to get that, what hope does anyone else have?

How dare you feminists besmirch the good name of misogyny?!

By Amanda Marcotte
Friday, May 30, 2014 14:50 EDT

Updated: One of the people criticized in this piece has already thrown a fit and accused me of suggesting he supports woman-killing. Now anyone with basic reading comprehension skills would see that I not only did not say that I believe any of these folks approve of woman-killing, but I explicitly labeled woman-killing as “something so bad that conservatives can’t get behind it”, right there in the first paragraph. The point of the piece is…


Hey, animal lovers: Another reminder that PETA is a terrible, no good organization

By Amanda Marcotte
Thursday, May 29, 2014 16:44 EDT

Kittens deserve better than PETA I often wonder if PETA exists solely to be a bunch of assholes while pretending to “care” about animals.* Their latest effort to try to bully people into veganism:: This is reprehensible. I’m personally a vegetarian and do try to eat vegan frequently, so let’s…



By Amanda Marcotte
Wednesday, May 28, 2014 20:10 EDT

The thing I love about living in New York City is that it often feels like, when you’re feeling low (brought down, in this case, by right wingers responding to the shooting with a double down) the city conspires to cough up a moment so bafflingly strange and wonderful that…


Masculine insecurity and entitlement are a big, tangled-up mess

By Amanda Marcotte

I don’t generally shout out stock photographers by name, but Gilles DeCruyenaere deserves special note for this work of art. This horrible UCSB shooting has, I think, been something of a wake-up call to the country. Elliot Rodger was clearly out of his head in some ways, but his copious…


The dangerous discourse of “the friend zone”.

By Amanda Marcotte
Tuesday, May 27, 2014 10:42 EDT

This is the first image I got when I did a stock image search for “friend zone”. The implication is clear: Women have nothing of value to say besides, “I get to suck your cock now?” In response to the Elliot Rodger shooting, I wrote a piece for the American…


The Orange Couch Does Mad Men: S7E7, “Waterloo”

By Amanda Marcotte
Monday, May 26, 2014 9:53 EDT

Last Orange Couch until next year! The seven episode half-season made it all go so quickly, almost too quickly. (Though Marc will be happy to go to bed a little earlier on Sunday nights, instead of editing clips!) Last night’s episode, as we note in the video, had a light…


Music for the end of the world

By Amanda Marcotte
Friday, May 23, 2014 11:23 EDT

I’ve definitely fallen off doing Friday music posts, but I thought I would revive it here because I’m happy about this mix I made of songs that are either about the apocalypse or were apocalypse-appropriate. I made this mix for a friend’s party, and the theme was his idea. But…


Are feminists trying to upgrade butt-grabbing creeps to criminals? No.

By Amanda Marcotte
Thursday, May 22, 2014 13:57 EDT

 Is defending this really the hill to die on? Yesterday afternoon at TPM, I wrote a rebuttal to A.J. Delgado of the National Review arguing both that feminists have “brainwashed” women into believing consensual sex after imbibing alcohol is “rape” and her insinuation that women routinely accuse men of rape in…


Petty tyrants at Georgia high school want to ban girl from graduation for making a science joke

By Amanda Marcotte
Tuesday, May 20, 2014 11:40 EDT

Oh high school graduation time. The kids are all excited and the parents are wavering between proud and anxious and everyone is so involved in the whole process that no one can spare a minute to pity the petty tyrants that infest every high school, who are losing yet another…