Ben Adams, Peter Fenzel, and Matthew Wrather recap Game of Thrones Season 5 Episode 8, “Hardhome.”[audio:http://podone.noxsolutions.com/launchpod/overthinkingitrecap/mp3/oti-recap-got-s05e08.mp3]
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Does anyone else cringe when the show tries to convince us that Varys was on Daenerys’s side from the beginning. I’ll explain.
Going back to the start of season one Robert Baratheon ruled over a long period of relative peace (OK, there was the Iron Island thing but that was all on the Greyjoys). Robert’s flaws are that he spent too much on tournaments and partied too much. Nobody got burned alive and Varys was one of the 5 people actually running the nation.
I can’t see Varys, the single minded caretaker of the realm, saying to himself “What this situation needs is 50,000 Dothraki raiders and the two teenagers children of an insane dictator”. Which is of course, why Varys tried to have Daenerys killed. It was only Jorra’s change of heart and a lot of luck that saved her.
If the show thinks it can ret-con this hard then it feels like they can change anything, and nothing matters. I half expect a scene next episode where Jamie actually didn’t throw Bran from that tower.
This is a shame because season 5 Varys has a lot of reasons to like Daenerys. Westeros has descended into chaos. Daenerys stopped being a pawn for Dothraki conquerors and became the Breaker of Chains. Varys could use that big brain of his and choose another path without reaching back in time. A change of heart like that is potentially a great moment of growth for a character.
Instead it feels like Lord Vader stuck his head over the railing to shout “Gotcha Palpatine, Obi-wan and I were working together the whole time”. So lame.
I don’t know. I think Varys is a pretty effective spy — that if he’d actually wanted the kids killed, they’d have been killed. He had to carry out the orders of the Baratheon small council, but it was probably within the his powers to make sure the assassins arrived a couple minutes late, and that the failure got chalked up to bad luck.
There’s some stuff early in the books that supports this reading, notably a scene between Varys and Ilyrio Mopatis, who is over from Pentos. But then there’s a longer sub-plot in Book IV, omitted from the show, that features (spoilers) another character related to the Targaryens; this character may have been the focus of Varys’ hopes.
I don’t really trust Varys – particularly in his constant insistence that he is doing what is best for the realm.
I mean, I believe he thinks he is doing what is best for the realm, but it’s remarkable how many different kinds of political, social and ethical philosophers, when describing who should be in charge of the government under ideal circumstances, come up with “someone like me.”
Hardly a coincidence, that.
Varys and Illyrio sent Daenerys far away and basically set up Viserys to fail and die in obscurity. And my own take on the attempted assassination is that it was an effort to plant Jorah Mormont more firmly in Daenerys’s inner circle, so they could keep a better eye on her.
The show seems to have changed what they are up to, but I have to think the whole idea that Daenerys is the ideal queen who will save Westeros is, at least to some degree, Varys telling Tyrion what he knows he wants to hear and what will influence him.
I don’t doubt Varys wants Daenerys for _something_ – but for what exactly, I’m not so sure.
Although I would totally understand it if the show made Varys really simple and straightforward at this point, as there’s already a lot of stuff to keep track of, even if, in the books, this is the part where he gets really complicated.
Maybe at the beginning Varys was just a loyalist to the Targaryens which is why he “failed” to kill Dany and her brother (I don’t feel like looking up how to spell his name). Varys rose to his position as spymaster due to his skill and intelligence but he would never have gotten it if Aerys or someone in his regime hadn’t recognized it and put him on the Small Council. So it would make sense he would have some allegiance to them.
Life might have been fairly good under Robert but anyone who saw Joffrey surely would have realized how horrible he was and what a terrible king he would be. Tommen was also clearly not equipped to lead either so he couldn’t just bump off Joffrey. So perhaps that is why Varys went from simply not killing them to actively aiding them.
I should have thought of that. I was on the wiki for 15 minutes correcting things.
I read on a Wiki somewhere that Varys only has one goal in life, which is to return a Targaryan to the throne. When he says he is working toward the “good of the realm”, this is what he means: a Targaryan on the throne is the only thing that can save the realm. Varys and Danerys were the last Targaryans (maybe), and he focused all his efforts on helping them. He’s probably the one who made sure the dragon eggs got to Danerys.
Varys was ordered to send assassins to kill Danerys, but he also sent Jorah to protect her from the assassins he sent. Which to me explains why Jorah was so good at sniffing out the wine merchant.
I watched the assassination scene again. It still looks like a very near miss. And if handing Jorra his pardon at that exact moment was a contingency plan it was a pretty bad one.
If there was something in the books that contradicts season 1 but supports season 5 that is only slightly more satisfying. Maybe I should just focus on the boobs and zombie fights. We had a fantastic zombie fight this week and I’m caught up in this. What’s wrong with me?
All I can really say without giving things away is to reiterate that there’s no reason to think Varys is telling Tyrion the whole truth, and it would indeed be very in-character for him to be lying or withholding critical information.
I feel like Varys’ plan for the Targaryens is the same as it was for Robert: Be the man behind the crown, let the state continue to exist. He doesn’t need Dany or that kid from the books because their bloodline makes them awesome people; he needs their name.
The Baratheon brand is dead, no one’s buying it. Dragons are back in style, baby!
Regarding Pete’s observation about Jaqen’s ambiguous assassination instructions: Mitchell and Webb. (Audio NSFW)
I’m troubled by the low signal-to-noise ratio of this episode, but I want to focus on what for me was your moment of lucidity.
This was the discussion of the leadership styles of the rulers we have met, focusing on the braah-iness of the Stark men (and I would add, Robert Barathian). It’s true, Ned and Rob made social calls all over their domain, and showed off how well they could walk the tightrope of maintaining their integrity while still being total backslapping brahs.
That is certainly the best way to rule the North, but we shouldn’t come away thinking that it’s the only way. Remember that the Boltons are not new to power in the North. They know much more about the region than we, mere viewers of the show. Their nastiness has been an effective strategy for generations, as we viewers shouldn’t underestimate it just because it’s different from Ned or Rob. The Starks tried to organize the North. That needs a lot of retail politics, BBQ, unsavory marriages and other concessions. The Boltons don’t want to matter in the world, much less “be a force for good”. They basically just want to collect taxes and be in charge. And we should take seriously the possibility that their leadership style might really suffice to achieve their goals. Here’s what I learned about the North: Getting them all to pull on the same rope is about as hard as teaching cats to march. There is no such thing as spontaneous order and alignment. That kind of Balkanization makes each weak little Northern fiefdom susceptible to Bolton intimidation. Boltons don’t need to fear that the North as such will rise up against them. The North never spontaneously takes collective action. Boltons just keep local order, and get the general order comes for free.
Also worth noting is that Jon is the last of the Stark brahs. If he were put in charge, you can imagine him brahing his way from town to town, attending the BBQs and weddings of the local powers. But not Sansa, not Bram, not Arya. These Starks are completely bereft of any capacity for keepin it brah real, even if they wanted to.
This brings back a theme from earlier episodes, about whether it’s important for rulers to be loved. It may not be, though it matters very much to the vanity of the ruler. In this, Denarys is the most vain. If you made a queen out of a sophomore at some small liberal arts college, that would be Denny. She finds slavery repugnant, so she’ll break chains. She doesn’t like the wheel, so she’ll break it. And she thinks that because these actions are right, the people will inevitably love her, and there will never be any need for compulsion, except maybe for compulsion of the people who are “bad”. For her, the love she receives is validation that she’s being good.
Because many show viewers have the same college sophomore moral scheme, they see her as an admirable character: Her vanity is a good match for our own. But now consider the Boltons. They have their vices, but vanity is not one of them. Whatever they are, they will not pander for the sake of being loved. In fact, they work hard to resist their family devolving into common panderers. The reason why Ramsay wasn’t killed is because his father saw in him the right sort of treachery. They put the flayed man on their banners so as to discourage future generations from the vanity of seeking the love of the people. That’s their special way of keepin it Bolton-real. The talent they cultivate is in detecting someone’s vulnerability, and hitting them there.
Earlier, the podcasters remarked insightfully that we are asked to like the characters who are good at what they do, even if they’re morally dubious. So let’s consider the Boltons by their own standards, and we must acknowledge that they are good at what they do. Of course GoT is a show for us, and since we must be pandered to, the Boltons must eventually get their comeuppance (just stating the obvious, not spoilers). But now that I get them better, I gradually find myself rooting for them, simply because their ultimate triumph would force us to confront the fact that Bolton-like strategies can work.
In great contrast, consider Denarys and her naive college confidence that she knows more about what the people want than they do. Some treacherous Lanister scofflaw shows up, and wants input on how the kingdom should be run. Of course. Every self-serving lordling has advice for how the queen should conduct her business. To his proven track record of deep treachery add the fact that Tyrian is clearly smarter and more worldly than Denny. And now he shows up and wants to put his hand on the rudder. How naive do you have to be to let him? Remember when GW Bush claimed he saw into Putin’s soul, and was reassured? Is that what Denny did to Tyrian? Is it any less naive? Here would be my advice: When convicts who have scores to settle in every fucking kingdom in the world, and openly claim allegiance to the guy who killed your father, and have every reason to manipulate you, and are way smarter than you, and have no obvious personal stake in your success, don’t give them a cabinet position just because you’re in a good mood that day.
Yes, I am saying that Denarys is basically George W. Bush with dragons. Is she gonna be a good leader? Maybe, but if so, it’s because GoT is nothing but a show. Think about it. George W. Bush with dragons. Do you see that turning out well?
Fenzel, I liked where you were going with your characterization of the role of the Many-Faced God in Braavos. In his classic believe-it-or-not anthropological investigation of Haiti “The Serpent and the Rainbow” (1985), author Wade Davis writes about a secret society called the Bizango. As Haiti is mostly a rural nation, where government, political authority, and wealth are isolated in the capital region, there is no authority to settle family and property disputes. The Bizango are a quasi-religious force that dispenses justice in the middle of the night – a real life bogeyman. And apparently, they foster and enhance their fearful reputation, because it helps keep people in line. On one hand, they’re dark, dangerous, and frightful. But on the other hand, they capture rapists and thieves, and punish people who are bad neighbors. Real life zombi Clavius Narcisse was supposedly made a zombi and relocated across the island by the Bizango because he was a miser who did not distribute his family inheritance fairly. Fascinating book, and at least part of it is real. The movie version was awful.
Anyway, thinking of the Many-Faced God as an organization that dispenses justice to people in places where the government has little authority is appealing to me. But if anybody knew that’s what they were doing, it wouldn’t work – which is why it all has to be done in secret, and why the shadowy reputation has to be maintained.
Haiti is of course also a liberated slave colony, so that might contribute to the common deployment of secret institutions to administer justice. The traditions perhaps developed within the constraint of avoiding the attention of the slavemasters, and thus everything being extra-legal even under the “liberated” government.