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Game of Thrones ends its season asking hard questions about identity

By Amanda Marcotte
Monday, June 16, 2014 11:27 EDT
hound arya

As per usual when I do this, this isn’t a recap of Game of Thrones and I recommend reading Scott Kaufman instead for that. Instead, I want to talk about themes. In an episode called “The Children”, the theme of being a child and having a parent was clearly a big one. But on a deeper, more subtle level, this episode really was the introduction of a theme that book readers know will become a bigger and bigger deal as the story goes on: The question of what identity means and how, exactly, people determine who they are. Are we who our parents say we are? Our communities? Do we determine who we are for ourselves? Is there an “authentic” self that constrains who you can be—are we even trapped by destiny? Or can we reject our given identities and follow a different star?

Every major character who has a storyline this week asks him or herself a variation of that question, and different answers are given for each. Dany’s story, which causes me all sorts of grief because it’s just so sad, is another example. As Scott notes, she’s the “breaker of chains” and yet there she is, locking her dragon-children in chains. I can’t even with that. It’s just so heart-breaking. Same story, books. The fact that Dany feels the need to lock her own dragons up in this way makes me want to throw things, though obviously there’s not really much else she can do at this point in time. Anyway, identity crisis, for sure.

Jon is the most obvious, another riff on his parentage and his invoking his father, Ned Stark, in order to ingratiate himself with Stannis Baratheon.*

Indeed, at this point in the story, all the living Stark children, except Rickon, have basically reinvented themselves. The battle over Arya Stark—invented for the show—was just so well-done for this reason. Brienne’s arrival means Arya has a choice. Does she go with Brienne, which amounts to reclaiming her identity as “Arya Stark”, an identity she’s been concealing now for years? Or does she walk away from it all? The Hound’s little speech about how there is no safe place is the important thing here. Without her family, is Arya Stark really Arya Stark? Apparently, she believes not, as she walks away, abandoning not just any attachment to possible remaining family members but to Westeros itself.

There’s a secondary discourse about Arya and identity, as well, in her brief discussion with Brienne about being able to break free from fathers telling them than their gender is a trap from which there is no escape. Both Brienne and Arya reject that claim, and both live lives that suggest that a measure of freedom is possible if you fight for yourself.

Bran is an interesting counterpoint, as it seems he really doesn’t have a choice so much as a destiny. But it’s clear that whatever his destiny is, he seems to have permanently abandoned any hope of returning to Winterfell and taking his role as the lord of Winterfell or, even, the King of the North.

We don’t see Sansa in this episode, but it’s well worth remembering she is going by the name Alayne Stone, as far as most people are concerned. Just a few lords of the Vale and Littlefinger know otherwise, and she’s even covered up her red hair to hide herself even further.

The Lannister children also confront the concept of “identity” in this episode, though in a much different way, by challenging Tywin Lannister’s long-standing belief that the individuals in the family should be subsumed to their role as “Lannisters” and to submit to the tyrannical patriarchal authority he enforces on their lives. Each one, in turn, finds a way to finally extricate themselves from Tywin’s control over their lives and assert, instead, that they are autonomous people. Granted, Cersei does it in the grossest way imaginable, by treating her incestuous relationship with Jaime like it’s an act of revolution, but it’s a testament to what a monster Tywin is that I was cheering her on. Jaime, of course, defeats Tywin quietly by helping Tyrion escape. And, of course, there’s the final act of rebellion, Tyrion’s patricide.

The conversation between Tyrion and Tywin before Tyrion murders him is really a marvel, riffing wonderfully on all these issues of identity and meaning. Throughout their relationship, they’ve had this ongoing discourse about whether or not Tyrion is an authentic son of Tywin’s, a dialogue that continues here, with Tywin alternating between trying to placate Tyrion by claiming him as a son and when that doesn’t work, trying to bully him by denying that he is his son. Tyrion gets the last word by saying that he is, in fact, his son, and proves it by taking a Tywin-like action, which is ruthless murder of an unarmed man. But I feel the question is not actually resolved, and Tyrion will continue to struggle with the question of what it means to be a Lannister, and whether or not he can rise above it.**

There is also the secondary question of what a “whore” is and what it means to be one. Tywin clearly believes “whore” to be a category of people that is subhuman, there to be used as toys instead of regarded as people deserving of love and respect. Tyrion disagrees, no doubt in part because he realizes many people think the same of him for being a little person. It’s the discourse over identity distilled to its purest form, with Tyrion realizing—and killing his father because of this realization—that “whore” is a designation given in order to steal away someone’s right to love and dignity. I’d take it a step further and argue that everything odious and shameful about Shae, particularly the way she betrayed Tyrion, is a direct result of her being labeled a “whore” from an early age. The label is a trap from which she could not escape, and all her choices are constrained by it. She briefly tricked herself into believing that Tyrion’s love for her would mean she could escape her fate, but when ran her off by calling her a “whore”—i.e. putting her in her place—she basically reverted to type. “Whore” is her box, and all her choices, no matter how repulsive they may seem to the rest of us, are a direct result of her not having any choices outside of that box.

And so this is how the show ends, with a question: Can you escape your identity? Is reinvention possible? Or are you doomed to live out the life assigned you at birth when you were given your name? Different characters come to different conclusions. And I suspect season five is going to dive deeper into these questions.

*SPECULATION SPOILER. As avid fans usually know, the prevailing fan theory is Jon is not Ned Stark’s son, but in fact the son of Rheagar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark. I believe that meaningful look Melisandre gives him is confirmation of that. She’s always looking out for someone with king’s blood, after all. So magic. Wow.

**SPECULATION SPOILER. There is, of course, the fan theory that Tyrion is not Tywin’s son, but the bastard child of the Mad King and Tywin’s dead wife. This entire scene will end up being major fuel for that fire.

A definitive list of the weirdest people on the internet

By Amanda Marcotte
Friday, June 13, 2014 13:46 EDT

I put the clarion call out on social media for suggestions on this list, and I’d like to thank everyone who contributed. This the 10th anniversary year for a lot of bloggers, including myself, and I thought it might be fun to look back on the past decade and honor/mock some of the strangest characters that keep popping up in all corners of the internet. To get on this list, a group of weirdoes has…


Let’s try out conservative economic theories on rich people!

By Amanda Marcotte
Thursday, June 12, 2014 14:45 EDT

So I’m reading about another idiotic Republican candidate—John Johnston of Indiana—floating the widely discredited theory that social spending causes poverty by discouraging people from working. Johnston got in some hot water for writing a Facebook post where he said “no one has the guts to just let them wither and…


Have you considered screaming and running away?

By Amanda Marcotte
Wednesday, June 11, 2014 10:44 EDT

Well, ladies? Have you considered all your options in rape prevention? So I wrote a post explaining that Miss USA’s response to a question about sexual assault, in which she focused strictly on the idea that women need to be “aware” so they can defend themselves, is a problem because…


Las Vegas shooting highlights how right wing violence has changed since the 90s

By Amanda Marcotte
Tuesday, June 10, 2014 11:39 EDT

The horror show that went down in Las Vegas on Sunday, when Jerad and Amanda Miller reportedly shot two police officers, a third person, and then themselves was awful and terrifying but sadly not surprising. As with Elliott Rodger back in May, the thing that’s important to remember is that…


Anti-choice website supposedly chronicle pro-choicers, actually displays anti-choice propensity to lie

By Amanda Marcotte
Monday, June 9, 2014 10:57 EDT

Welp, I’m not writing about Game of Thrones today, because while that was entertaining to watch, it was just straightforward action and all the thematic stuff is getting clearly punted to next week. I can’t even speculate without getting deep into spoilers from the books. So I’ll leave it here.…


There is no “scientific” argument for claiming deliberately childless people are failures

By Amanda Marcotte
Friday, June 6, 2014 17:51 EDT

I was on CNN to talk about a piece I wrote for the Daily Beast about the pope shaming people for not having kids. As usual, I think the pope has an amazing track record of being wrong in nearly every utterance about child-bearing, marriage, sexuality, etc. So you can…


Turns out the thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a hall monitor with pepper spray

By Amanda Marcotte

Tragic story of another school shooting at Seattle Pacific University, but luckily the damage was clearly limited compared to what it could have been. While the police believe he intended to kill many, many people, he only hit four and only one has died. That is because, as reported, a…


Sorry, Ross Douthat, but old Hollywood icons of masculinity were violently misogynist

By Amanda Marcotte
Thursday, June 5, 2014 14:42 EDT

He didn’t even mention Clark Gable, probably because one of his most famous scenes is him literally raping his wife as she fights him.* Ross Douthat, as everyone knows, is on a crusade to blame basically anything that goes wrong in society to that sordid imaginary day, occurring sometime in…


NRA apology to Open Carry shows that the NRA is a gun marketing group, not a rights lobby

By Amanda Marcotte
Wednesday, June 4, 2014 10:16 EDT

They say, once you own ten of these, your wife starts wearing an apron and your dick grows two inches! Well, that didn’t last long. In a story that spread like wildfire, the NRA seemingly distanced themselves from the Open Carry Texas nuts, the guys whose anxieties about their suburban,…