Game of Thrones: The Children

The Game of Thrones season finales are always relatively quiet, after the huge, shocking action of the week before. With episode 9 famous for beheading protagonists, epic battles and mass slaughters at weddings, episode 10 traditionally deals with the emotional fall-out, tying up loose ends and setting up for the season to come.

In that context, The Children was a pretty dramatic episode. Plot twists, epic sword fights, death, drama, the fate of at least one character still hanging in the balance… plenty of material for the most dramatic season finale of the show so far.

Yet it didn’t have emotional coherency. And, of course, some of the narrative choices were enough to make my blood boil.

Where do whores go?

Let’s start where the real drama was, shall we? After months of horrified viewer anticipation, Tyrion murdered Shae.

I suppose I could say that the scene was better than expected. At least Tyrion didn’t kill Shae out of self-righteous revenge while the viewer cheered him on. But somehow, despite that change, the scene somehow came out worse. Tyrion killed her in self-defence, while Shae stayed silent, not a character or a suffering person but an event in Tyrion’s narrative.

Even in her final moments, Shae had no opportunity to explain herself. She disappeared crying in episode two, took her moment on the stand during the trial in episode seven, and was now found in Tywin’s bed and killed without the chance to say a single word in episode ten. A once compelling character was reduced to a series of disconnected dramatic moments, without any attempt to show how they actually fit together. Why didn’t Shae leave King’s Landing at the start of the season? Why did she implicate Sansa as well as Tyrion in the trial? Why would she believe Tyrion’s lies in the first place, or testify against him at all when leaving would be the safest thing? Why was she in Tywin’s bed — because of fear for her life? Because she wanted Tywin to spare Tyrion‘s life? Because she’s just going where the power is? We just don’t know, beyond the dismissive idea that she’s “just a whore.” Her voice, her story, no longer mattered.

But hey. In the end, she turned out to be “just a whore,” and we don’t need any more explanation than that.

This lack of concern over Shae’s characterization then shaped her death itself. Shaw saw Tyrion and instantly grabbed a knife, but we don’t have the slightest idea why. Did she think Tyrion would hurt her and so wanted to protect herself? Did she just really want to kill Tyrion after what he did to her? Hey, maybe she got a badass new knife and just wanted to show it off. We don’t know. Her character’s internality doesn’t matter, because her character doesn’t matter — she’s just an accessory to Tyrion’s character, and Tyrion needed to remain a tragic hero in the scene. So she raised a knife, allowing Tyrion to kill her “in self defense.” He got to not only overpower her and subdue her but strangle her to death with his bare hands, all while feeling terribly bad about it, because he had to do it to save himself from his traitorous whore ex-girlfriend, and because we weren’t given any emotional context for Shae’s actions, we can easily sympathize with him. She spluttered and died, and all we saw was a close-up of Tyrion’s tearstreaked face, because his pain was the one we were supposed to empathize with. And once she was dead, he whispered, “I’m sorry,” firmly placing him in the “tragic hero forced to do something tragic” camp and erasing any possible objections to his actions. After all, he didn’t want to do it. He was sorry.

In fact, he’s such a good guy that he shot his father for calling Shae a whore! Forget that Tyrion called Shae a whore to her face in episode two to drive her away. Forget that he just murdered her, which is a tiny bit worse than insulting her. He’s a good guy, desperately in love with someone who betrayed her, and even then, he will defend her until the last.

Of course, in the books, Tywin wasn’t talking about Shae in his final moments. Tyrion shot him because he called Tyrion’s once-wife Tysha a whore. This backstory has even been mentioned in the show before — Tyrion met a girl named Tysha, fell in love with her and married her. His furious father told him that she was just a prostitute that Jaime had paid to pretend to love him, and “proved” it by paying her to sleep with all of his men, and Tyrion, one after the other.

The backstory was there, so why replace Tysha with Shae in these scene? After all, Tyrion cannot murder Shae one moment and then murder his father to protect her in the next. It presents an incredibly messed up interpretation of heroism and True Love, where one can murder someone and still be their champion and protector.

But invoking Tysha would screw up other male characters’ plotlines, at least as far as the show is concerned. In the books, when Jaime releases Tyrion from prison, he tells his brother that Tysha wasn’t a prostitute, but a girl who genuinely did love him. Tyrion despises his brother for this betrayal, denounces his entire family, and gets his revenge by telling Jaime about all the people Cersei had been sleeping with in his absence. But if Jaime revealed that he went along with his father’s plan, we’d have to see him as someone who did something terrible to his brother. And although sister-rape is all fine and dandy in a heroic redemption arc, hurting your brother when you were both teenagers is absolutely beyond the pale. Better for them to part as loving brothers, without any of that confusing moral ambiguity getting in the way.

The things I do for love

Surprisingly, by avoiding besmirching Jaime’s good name, the show also missed an opportunity to villainize Cersei and her cruel lack of faithfulness to him. Since Hero Jaime had just won his sister back in this episode, it’d be a punch to his gut to find out how much she’d betrayed him after all. And who doesn’t love a good “he’s a great guy, she’s a whore” narrative? Right?

But no. Jaime and Cersei are a permanent item again, because… well, because they are. I’m not too clear on the justification for this one. Tywin threatens Cersei with marriage to Loras Tyrell, and she argues against it by saying she’s been in love with Jaime all along and is going to be with him, no matter what anybody else says. So, Joffrey aside, that means Cersei’s character arc this season is all about how wonderful Jaime is. She rejected Jaime, she was raped by Jaime, and then she realized that he was right all along, that she loved him and wanted to be with him, the rest of the world be damned. Isn’t that great?

Even setting the “it totally didn’t happen, guys!” rape scene aside, Cersei’s decisions in this episode make absolutely no sense. Cersei has always cared desperately about two things: protecting her children and increasing her own power and influence. Confirming her relationship with Jaime directly endangers both of those things. But I guess motherly instinct and personal ambition are nothing compared to finally embracing true love with your rapist brother lover.

So Jaime gets what he wants, Jaime gets to have been right all along, and Cersei just becomes part of his heroic narrative, putting everything else she values in danger in the process. And I can’t even be surprised.

Two Swords

But the biggest twist of the episode, at least to book readers, was the meeting between Brienne and Arya. To be clear, this doesn’t happen in the books. As far as Book!Brienne is concerned, Sansa is the only living Stark child. But Brienne’s search for Sansa does get somewhat repetitive, so throwing in a second Stark sibling has the potential to keep things compelling.

I have mixed feelings on this one. Really, really mixed feelings.

The bonding between Arya and Brienne was incredibly sweet. It felt genuine, and I think Brienne would make a fantastic ally and rolemodel for Arya, perhaps even helping to pull her back from the brink. And although Brienne would of course try to take Arya, the Hound also had a point. Where would she take Arya to safety? There’s nowhere safe left. Arya has no family left. The south is hostile to her, the north is hostile to her, and the only potentially safe place is currently crawling with soldiers and wildlings and giants and killer ice zombies. Plus, although Jon is probably Arya’s best shot at happiness, show!Brienne hasn’t done her research, so she probably doesn’t even know about his existence. As far as protectors go, she hasn’t shown herself capable of doing a good job so far, so perhaps Arya would be better off with the Hound.

Except, of course, that the two of them end up fighting, the Hound is grievously wounded, and Arya runs away.

And this leaves us with two points of confusion. In the books, Arya leaves The Hound to suffer because she doesn’t want to give him the mercy a quick death. But in the show, Arya and the Hound have become unlikely allies. They’re not friends, but there’s something of a bond between them. Something like trust. Yet she still leaves him to die slowly, without it really being clear why. Because she couldn’t bring herself to do it? Unlikely, with all the cold killing she’s done so far. Because of the things he said to goad her into stabbing him? She didn’t seem affected by it. Because she’s mindlessly cruel now? Not so mindless that she’s willing to see anyone suffer. So why? It’s a moment where the demands of book!canon — Arya must leave the Hound and he must not be shown to die — clash with the storyarc seen on the show, but where, strangely, the writers decided to cling to the book’s instructions at the moment where it no longer made any sense.

The second problem involves Brienne. What will she do now? She’s supposed to be hunting for Sansa, but she has a lead on Arya. She knows where she was recently, who she was with, has a current description of her, and may be able to track the direction she fled in. If she shrugs and goes back to looking for Sansa, that means she’s pretty terrible at fulfilling her vow. But if she forgets Sansa and pursues Arya, we lose the “princess and her heroic knight” trope subversion that this arc is all about, and see Sansa left to fend for herself with Littlefinger. And despite her new badass talent for costume design and stair descending, she’s still a young teenager who could use someone to protect her.

——–

Ultimately, the problem with this episode was a problem we’ve seen all season. It didn’t develop things or think things through. We watched a long sword fight between Brienne and the Hound, but if the Hound was willing to fight Brienne to protect Arya instead of using her for the ransom he’d been after all along, why was Arya then willing to ignore his wishes and abandon him to die slowly and painful? Cersei declared her love for Jaime, but what’s changed to make her do that since last week? Stannis came storming in to save the Wall, but how did he defeat all of the wildlings without even a semblance of a battle? And although Tyrion’s trial and potential death have been the main focus of the entire season, it was resolved incredibly quickly and easily. We didn’t see Tyrion preparing for his inevitable death, or Jaime worrying over what to do for his brother. They ran out of a seemingly guardless prison, exchanged a few words, and were gone. Tyrion went up to his father’s chambers, saw Shae, killed her, and was done. We got a more drawn-out death scene for Tywin, but it all felt a little empty and anti-climactic. Big drama on paper, yes, but not portrayed in the most convincing or compelling way. And since we had time for Tyrion’s epic beetle speech a couple of weeks ago, surely we should have had time for more development here.

But hey, narrative flaws are far better than graphic nudity and titillating rape scenes. So, kudos to the show for getting through a finale without either of those. It’s pretty tragic when that has to be mentioned as a point in a show’s favor, but this is Game of Thrones. It’s got much bigger issues than bad pacing and the story simply not making sense.

20 comments on “Game of Thrones: The Children

  • Lars Sjöström , Direct link to comment

    They missed the(in my opinion) most important thing about Tyrion killing Shae. By doing so for vengeance his evil side showed, and he proved that he meant the words from the trial that he wish he had killed all of the people who spoke against him. Tyrion is now an enemy of everyone he once defended with is life. When he kills his father he says “I am you writ small,” he had a line about him being Tywins son in the show, but it didn’t seem as important as it should. Because the reasons that Tyrion kill Shae and his father and are resourceful enough to accomplish it is that he is so much like Tywin, that is also the reason why he is such a dangerous enemy to everyone else who turned against him. Like father like son.

    As for Shae, her death in the books is another display of the tragedy of her life and unfairness of the world. She died alone and unmourned, in the books even Tyrion doesn’t seem to care much about her. While Tywin who was the villain will be mourned and most of all respected. In ADWD Tyrion honors his father on occasions by remembering his lessons about how to be a Lannister. But Shae was a nobody and died as one.

    • Rhiannon , Direct link to comment

      I think it’s really interesting that Tyrion was the strategist son that Tywin really wished he had… and the son that he most wanted to be rid of. But also, perhaps, he only gained Tywin’s ruthlessness because of Tywin’s rejection and all the other cruelty he faced. You’re right, it’s a really interesting character dynamic, and as much as I hate the dark misogynistic figure that Tyrion becomes, I’m disappointed that the show’s decided to whitewash all of it so that Tyrion can remain an unconflicting hero.

      • Lars Sjöström , Direct link to comment

        I think we all have gender based prejudices and sometimes think or behave quite weird from a moral point of view, and misogyny and other weird behaviour makes the characters more realistic.
        However in Tyrion’s case, I think it’s more than the usual cultural attitudes towards women. In my opinion he is addicted to sex like a drug, most likely the result of the outcome of his first marriage. He is attempting to recreate his relationship with Tysha, not realizing that he recreates the pain and constant insecurity as well.

  • Alexa , Direct link to comment

    For a second, I though the show was finally giving Tyrion the moral ambiguity that the books allow him. And then I realized that most show watchers think Shae deserved it. Not just that what Tyrion did was understandable, which in a way it is, but that Shae objectively deserved to be strangled to death for testifying against him. Never mind the fact that there is a very good chance she was coerced into doing it. You’re absolutely right, there are too many holes in her story arc. I wish the show would stop making “feistier” versions of the female characters and then reducing them to objects when it’s time for them to die.

    As for Arya, I think what went on in her head was pretty complicated. Something big died in her after that last straw with the death of her aunt, and I don’t think she had the emotional energy either way – she didn’t have enough compassion to kill the Hound out of mercy, or enough hatred. She’s not cruel, exactly, just empty.

    • Rhiannon , Direct link to comment

      Yeah, as Maddy said, I think a lot of people either think that Shae got what she deserved for betraying him, or else that Tyrion was just acting out of self defense and had no choice. I guess the second conclusion is better than the first, but both are extremely disappointing.

      That’s a really good point about Arya. I think you’re absolutely right.

  • Mark , Direct link to comment

    I disagree about Cersei. She didnt get back together with Jaime because she loves him. She was most likely trying to manipulate Jaime into killing Loras. Now that she will be queen Regent again, I expect her to drop Jaime. She was basically using her relationship with Jaime to blackmail Tywin. The whole loras thing was dumb anyway. would’ve just been better if the Tyrells dont agree to the match between Cersei/Willas(Loras).

    I dont like that Jaime and Tyrion ended as best friends. They should’ve brought up Tysha.

    • Mark , Direct link to comment

      Okay, I will admit that my view on Cersei is tainted by the books.

      The thing is that everytime Cersei tries to gain sympathy or is suddenly nice to someone, I assume she is lying to get some sort of advantage.

    • Rhiannon , Direct link to comment

      Hmm, that’s a really interesting idea. It does seem very in-character for Cersei to use Jaime to blackmail her father and get what she wants, and to be honest, I’d be happy if that’s what she’s doing. Otherwise, it does seem like her entire storyarc this season was “Jaime, I don’t love you any more” to “Jaime, of course you’re right, I DO love you.”

      But yeah, I do wonder why they’re still even pressing the Cersei/Loras plotline. It led to some interesting scenes last season, but it seemed forgotten until this week, and I really don’t see what it’s supposed to add.

  • Rachel , Direct link to comment

    Don’t get me wrong, that episode gave me plenty to get worked up about, including everything you said about Shae,

    But I have to say, the scene with Tywin and Cersei was really, really satisfying. Cersei finally got to have her moment where she could tell her father “NO. Just NO. I will NOT let you dominate my life anymore! SUCK IT.” Whatever happens with Jamie, she has been waiting her whole life for when she could finally challenge Tywin like this, and it was beautiful. Whatever cruel, stupid things she has done and will do, THIS was the moment when I really felt for Cersei, as she deals with a father who does everything for his conceptual “family” but nothing for lives of his real flesh and blood.

    • Rhiannon , Direct link to comment

      Yes, that was a good scene! And Lena Headey really nailed it, in my opinion. I just wish the context gave it better implications.

  • Maddy , Direct link to comment

    I am really pissed off about how they silenced Shae. I knew they would never give her an opportunity to explain herself because who cares? It’s all about Tyrion. And yes it was that way in the books because we are constrained by Tyrion’s POV but the show is not the books. They don’t suffer from those same constraints. They could give Bronn a whole scene explaining his motivations but not Shae? Bros before hoes guys.

    Also Tyrion, you don’t get to be so indignant on Shae’s behalf to Tywin. YOU JUST MURDERED HER. Unfortunately Sibel had to do all the heavy lifting unsupported by the writing of her character.

    Sibel Kikelli’s interview was really good: http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/live-feed/game-thrones-shae-dies-finale-711981

    ”Even if the fans don’t understand Shae—or some of the fans don’t—I have to understand why she is acting like that after she was loyal and did everything for [Tyrion]. She really loved him. At the end, she’s angry, hurt, and lost and maybe also blackmailed and forced into this by the Lannisters. But part of her thinks, ‘Tyrion, it’s your fault we are in this situation’… Shae is low-born. This is after Tyrion said, ‘Go away. You’re a whore.’ She was thinking, ‘I’m again where I was before I met Tyrion. Once again I’m a prostitute. Again, I’m by myself, on my own. I have to take care of myself. I have to survive.’… The fans are so great—but they can be tough on Shae. They either say ‘I love Shae or I hate you,’ whereas Tyrion is considered untouchable by the fans. Some fans might say Shae somehow deserved it because she’s in Tywin’s bed. But it’s a very emotional and complicated scene.”

    I don’t even want to talk about Cersei. In case you didn’t get it before, yes we really are pretending that rape scene never happened. Saint Jaime is annoying me too. SPARE ME.

    • Rhiannon , Direct link to comment

      Thanks for linking to the Sibel Kikelli interview! She always has such interesting things to say about Shae, and how she was screwed over by the writers. She really seems to get what’s going on in Shae’s head. If only the show had given her half a chance to express *any* of this before Shae died.

  • Kat , Direct link to comment

    Totally agree about everything Shae (ugh). But I think the reason that they didn’t have Arya kill the Hound is that there is evidence in the books (and a pretty strong fan theory) that the Hound isn’t dead, but living incognito in the monastery that Brienne visits eventually. The decision not to have Arya mercy-kill him pretty much confirmed this one for me, otherwise I agree that the choice doesn’t make sense for her character.
    It’s just another example of how changes from the source material trip them up if they aren’t handled right. Make Shae a million times more awesome than in the book? Ok, but then you really need to give an explanation for her betrayal that makes sense. Develop a strong rapport between Arya and the Hound? You have to deal with the consequences at the moment of their parting with that in mind.

    • Rhiannon , Direct link to comment

      I really don’t understand how they get themselves in these messes, to be honest. They are clearly capable of writing compelling characters — even compelling female characters! — and some of their original stuff is actually really good. Yet it all seems to collapse whenever they have to conclude anything, as though a shrug and a “well, it’s that way in the books” will cover any ills when they’ve changed so much from the books already.

  • Sean C. , Direct link to comment

    Brienne in the books knows that Arya is alive (or, rather, that she was alive and traveling with the Hound for a while). What she doesn’t know is whether she survived the massacre at Saltpans.

  • yo , Direct link to comment

    In the first place, I want to apologize for my english. Is not my native language.

    I don’t agree with all the Tyrion point. In the show, as in the books, there are almost no villains or heroes. There are a few exceptions of white and black. Ned and Daenerys on the white side, or Joffrey or Ilyn Payne on the black side. But almost all the rest (Tyrion, Arya, Tywin, Brienne…) are grays. Darker or lighter grays, but grays. Tyrion is not a hero, is an antihero. And that’s why he is so carismatic (the same for Arya). He has good intentions, but he is selfish too, he is misogin, he is an alcoholic, he doesn’t treat very well the servants… He use to empathize with people (as Sansa) but over all, he does what he does because of him in the first place. He is ambiguous, like the rest of us. A hero wants to save the people, he just want to save himself. Hurting as few people as possible, but save him over the rest anyway.

    In the Shae story, I think the reason why the screenwriters changed the plot is because the whole show is made simpler than the books. This has certain logic. When you read a book, you don’t go on until you undestand what you just have read. Bringing the complexity of the book to the show would get to the people to don’t understand anything. They have done the same over and over. Some of the decisions they made are maybe a mistake, but most of them are accurate. No because the story is better that way, just because they are different “platforms” (I don’t know how you call in English the concept of something that is used to tell a story, as a book, a movie, a play… :S). You cannot try to scare someone in a book as in a movie, and you cannot bring the complexity of a complex book to a TV show.

    So, you say that Shae doesn’t get the opportunity to explain herself. In the show, what happens is that a woman that loved a guy feel betrayed. If it was explained, how would you fit in the whole plot of the assasination? “- Oh, Tyrion, I really loved you, but you used me + I was trying to protect you, but now I will kill you anyway”. The spectator knows why she did it, Tyrion knows why she did it, but he killed her anyway. Although he loved her. Is a crime of passion.

    And I don’t think it was self-defense either. It has been something more evil. Tyrion was hurted because of what he saw, and even knowing that he has caused that situation, he kill her. Because he is not a hero. Could you imagine Ned Stark or Jon Snow doing the same thing?

  • Nico , Direct link to comment

    I agree with you on the inconsistency of the show. Although I haven’t read the books, the way the writers of the show are handling their own take on the story is kind of interestingly confusing, and makes for great discussion on book adaptations. That said, although I agree that Shae’s motives are weirdly left out in favor of a character that comes off as just kind of dumb and naive, I can’t see Tyrion’s character as the culprit exactly…
    The “I’m sorry”, for me emphasized the moment’s confusion and heart break; why had all this happened. It pointed the situation’s fucked-upness, and combined with his actions afterwards, it made me feel not as if Tyrion was a good man who loved a wicked woman, but as if no one really knew what the hell had happened; what she had done or why she had done it. The only thing for certain (it appeared to me), was that Tywin was to blame. When Tyrion killed his father I definitely caught the subject of his ex-wife subtly pointed out by Tywin, and it felt like Tyrion was blaming him for whatever he had done to Shae to make her believe possible lies about his lover; that he didn’t love her, that he had lied to her, etc. And afterwards, it felt as if Tyrion had just lost his innocence, his sense of justice. Because he had killed the woman he loved, and his own father. He had lost his “good guy” status and his motivation to keep being one.
    Of course, even if that was the intention the show is still kind of clueless. And I definitely see that, even in that case, that would still be Tyrion’s story, with Shae just being a tool for his narrative to expand, which would be kind of frustrating even if that was kind of what happens in the book.
    Still, I don’t think the flaws in the show would enrage viewers so much if there wasn’t true potential in there somewhere.

  • Kate , Direct link to comment

    I feel that TV viewers are sometimes too lazy and need everything spelled out for them, not to mention that they often miss pretty big chunks of layers between black and white – that is my impression about the author when it comes to Shae and Tyrion. Shae took a great step forward in series compared to two dimensional, dimwitted character we had in the books. Obviously, TV show made their relationship much deeper and more meaningful – mutually.

    Shae was asked to leave Westeros and she was asked to behave in a different way if she wants to stay – but she refused to do any of this. Actually, she offered Tyrion a new life in Essos – and he refused it, showing that he still loved game of thrones more than he loved her. And when he told her she was just a whore, he didn’t say it because he meant it (I can’t believe you actually put that nonsense in your commentary and used it as a fact), he said it because he knew that offending a proud woman Shae actually was, was the only way to make her leave King’s Landing, not to mention that his motivation was saving her life. But Shae didn’t know that. In her perspective, the man she loved shunned her in a cruel and cold manner for a highborn younger beauty, just like she always feared.

    Everything she did after that – for me, it was a revenge of a heartbroken woman whose love turned into bitter hate. Was her testifying all right? It wasn’t. But her motivation was pretty clear to me. She tried to kill Tyrion by testifying against him. She didn’t succeed. He killed her because she decided to go for revenge. Revenge for a revenge and Tyrion won. Tyrion and Shae are both extremely passionate and hot headed characters and their last fight was a climactic collision of their dark sides. And that scene left me sad in a way that I saw it as a terrible tragedy of both characters, mutual betrayal – a whore and an imp, both with their place in the world.

    So, Shae IS Tysha in so many ways.

What do you think?

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