Game of Thrones – A Man Without Honor
What’s in a name? Given how important names are in the world of this show, how much having this one or the other affects your stance, position and fate as well as your family ( and how much the fans revolt over the changing of them), it’s funny how the names given to episodes are almost always irrelevant, or rather imprecise. Ghost of Harrenhal for example would apply more to this one than the last: there was that thrilling talk of the halls history had by Arya and her replacement patriarch – one that evoked the exposition of the shows early days – and the frenzied search for the missing man behind the mysterious murder that both tie into it, whereas the actual episode didn’t connect at all. All of that to say that these titles are usually disposable, though this weeks was different; not only was it relevant but it really tied the room together.
The entire time that I was watching the episode I couldn’t stop from wondering to myself, “Who was the titular man”? Usually this question would be either blunt or rhetorical but here it had an innumerable amount of possible answers. See there are many men within this show and many of them are very, very bad, but the title is not The Dishonorable Dozen, there is one in particular to whom it does refer. Before I get to the answer I need to clarify something bad does not equate to dishonorable, nor does evil and that in a way was the point of the episode, as we shall see; but firstly we will deal with the man part and solve its mystery.
The first step of any good detective is to rule out the innocent, in so much as anyone in this show can claim to be. Xato Xanos Zultanexpialodocious attempts to be an honorable man because he is worried about what others will think of him, he hungers for people respect, though only up until the point where he has them killed; this though still shows some honour…I guess. Dany’s man on the other hand Jorah Mormont is madly in love with his Lady, so for her he acts and is honourable in spite of his any secrets. Jon Snow is off the list because he can think of no higher virtue than the eschewing of vice; when given the options of shouting at or sleeping with the sexy redhead in the arctic tundra he chose the former, which makes him a fool but an honourable one at that.
The Hound too is a man of honour, he shows it in the way that he serves his liege – he is instantly akin to Brienne here – but look at how: supporting a sociopath and killing babies, is there really honour in that? This evidence introduced the next mystery to my mind, though it is a much more metaphysical one. Should honour stand as the be all and end all? More than anyone else Ned Stark was a man with honour and look where that got him. If honour comes at the cost of freedom, as it does to Jon, then is it still something to be sought? What if it comes at the cost of conscience, like it does the Hound? At what cost should honour come, and should we wish it come at all?
Initially it seemed most likely that Theon Greyjoy would be the man of the title given his recent acts: betraying family, breaking sexual law, slaughtering innocents and suckerpunching subordinates, to name some. He has thrown aside all aspect of honour (though not humanity) in this sudden quest to shine in his fathers eye but look now at how that has worked for him. With each step down on his descent towards hell he has gained more and more power, not only has he taken Winterfell (defeating his old dad well and true) but in doing so in such a brutal fashion he has found the respect of him men. Theon Greyjoy has never stood stronger than he does now, he’s never been so ‘great’. Of course he will come to a reckoning and rather soon most likely, extreme actions always evoke extreme reactions, but for now these foggy morals favor him.
To take this talk to a meta level, Benioff and Weiss have been honouring the source material so far: sometimes strongly – “You know nothing” was namedropped – but at others they have broken their vows and changed words – those said by people and those said to represent a person, their names – and though they may be to many, for me these are not occasions of dishonor. The reality of fiction is that medium matters, different styles are required of different approaches and so sometimes flayed will be read as burnt for budget purposes, or changed to Jeyne for the sake of cohesion. Where you stand on this issue reflects strongly your stance on honour I would say. My say is that for this show to work the writers need to not be bound by arbitrary rules, they cannot claim chastity, but at the same time I expect the show to stay sane and orderly and to have a strong structure to its story. Where, I wonder, is the line?
If there is an answer given to that question within the episode then it is most likely to be found alongside the others in that incredibly important exchange between Jamie and his cousin. The squire soliloquy scene epitomizes everything that the episode has hinted at in regards to its theme and even tells us straight out that this shit-stained man is the same one we have been seeking all along: in essence the man of honour is beaten and bested by the man who is willing to do whatever he has to to get what he wants.
Honour, like love, is a weakness in the world of Westeros and maybe our own too. It’s a liability, it makes you linger a second longer before acting, it makes you less aware of the more dastardly dangers that surround you; though as always things here are not quite that simple. Though they may well be superior the dishonorable are a lonely and unloved people; Jamie escapes on his own and is as such caught by the mob, without even a second of on-screen freedom. The Stark sons though are loved for their righteousness, they have allies and through them their escape is made possible. The lack of honour is a strength, but seemingly only in the short term.
In the long term I think the show would do well to tie their names in more often because the result here was one of the most cohesive episodes that the show has delivered to date. That term though is another double-edged sword, for while there was nary a weak scene in sight there were also very few of those amazing ones that the show has made its name by; and the final reveal was a little naff. It came from out of nowhere given the way we jumped from only seeing Theon in the first half to that sudden shock and the answer to its twist is obvious though the question may not be. Overall it was an episode best served by its words, be them in the title or on the page; the speeches, banter, summary metaphors all made for great moments while the plot they existed within petered on of its own volition. This script set a standard and if it is one that the show can continue to honour then i may well quit whinging about it. That though is not a promise.
(Filth’s review can be found HERE)