Game of Thrones – What is Dead May Never Die

by deerinthexenonarclights

Game of Thrones is a series fond of syndicated sentences; every character, clan and continent has their own catchphrase – the Starks and the shows promotional people have made “Winter is Coming” the most famous of these – and this episode (finally) clarified something for me; thought the world of Westeros is a wide and varied one that holds many warring tribes within it, the continents culture is actually quite homogenized ( literally in the case of the Lannisters) to the point that their war cries actually all mean the same thing. “The North Remembers!”, “A Lannister always Pays Their Debts!” and the latest line, which is also this weeks title, “What is Dead May Never Die” are the creeds of the three most prominent families in the show – the Starks, the Lannisters and the Greyjoys respectively – three families in the midst of an unreconcilable fight, three families that have always seemingly been in the midst of such a struggle and yet those three mottos can all basically be boiled down to the same core conceit: the past matters.

The past also matters for this show; its story lines started several centuries before the series did and all stem directly from events that have happened in the eras between then and now; which of course means that there has been a lot of catching up to do. I been quite harsh on the show’s second season over the past few weeks and for the most part my criticisms had to do with just how well it was handling the past. When you are trying to tell stories in a world as rich and multi-faceted as this one it is easy to get bogged down in exposition by having your characters exist only to share history, reciting line after line of lore; for the most I felt that the first season handled this element well but was less impressed here, however this third episode has moved my mind on the issue, even with the high expectations I have set thanks to the perfection of the past.

You can get away with doing a lot of telling on a television show like this, because of how interesting the world is to be in and the characters to be with all moments tend to be good, but a truly great scene will find a way to stop us from ever realizing that we are being educated – sexposition is the bluntest example of this method – and that is what this week delivered. Every scene was compelling on its own merit and not just because it could be building to something later: Tyrion’s tricky three way was twisty like all the best televisual maneuvers are and it began and ended within an episode, while the children getting caught in Cersei’s crusade was an awesome, adrenaline pumping action sequence that would have worked without any prior knowledge of character or intent. It’s not news that Game can do these things, it has a reputation for them already, but these kinds of sequences were what I missed in those last two episodes.

What What is Dead did differently then everything else that has come before came in the way that its script adhered to those old adages that it has set for it’s characters. The Past has always been important in this show, but it has been the distant past that illuminated events in the present, those periods that occurred offscreen; now though the show has been going long enough that many mentions of that distant past will evoke memories in us as well as the characters. When Tyrion tells Littlefinger of his plan to marry of his niece to the Eyrie the pimp is perplexed and explains to Tyrion that he has more than a checkered past with those people, that he was captured, caged and nearly killed by them; this is exposition akin to all those other mentions of meetings and marriages that came in the first season, but now we have an investment in it, now we know what they’re talking about and that makes it much more fascinating than any nearby nudity could.

As I said last week, and well the week before too, Game of Thrones is not a show that struggles in the moment to moment for me, hell it breezes by faster in its off weeks than any other show I know off, but it’s arcs have seemed iffy of late. If, however, the writers can continue to remember, to take the dead men and moments – big and small – from the shows past and bring them back, paying them off like they did this week then I’ll be a happy man. Well, I know I’ll be a happy man because we’re heading ever closer to the time that the present starts presenting enough of its own reasons to rejoice, but more of this in the meantime would help get me through this Winter.