Episode 568: The Rich Tapestry of Whatever

On the Overthinking It Podcast we tackle the series finale of “Game of Thrones,” with some discussion of the “Song of Ice and Fire” novels as well.

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Peter Fenzel and Matthew Wrather overthink Game of Thrones. We liked the final episode, even though so much nonsense has transpired at this point that it’s hard to bring yourself to care. But we discuss the finale, the final season, and where the characters all end up. Bonus discussion: a really good capsule history of Westeros and Essos from Pete.

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20 Comments on “Episode 568: The Rich Tapestry of Whatever”

  1. Jay #

    Just wanted to say I checked out Bruce Springsteen after Matt talked about him on Episode 566 and I really enjoyed the songs. Thank you


  2. yellojkt Member #

    I liked Matt Wrather’s comment on the Leni Riefenstahl framing of Daenerys’ Nuremberg Rally. In all the other post mortem commentary I’ve seen it’s been under-recognized. It’s always a great shorthand for pure evil. It’s the same styling used for the First Order in The Force Awakens. My only concern is that Nazis set the bar too high for recognizable evil. Anything short of genocide just doesn’t cut it any more.


    • Peter Fenzel OTI Staff #

      Yeah I don’t understand how people could miss it. Are they not paying attention? Even Daenerys’s foreign consonants were Hitleresque.


  3. Margo #

    Unfashionable opinion: I LOVED the finale. A better world was created. Not perfect, better. King Bran makes for a fun ruler. Not everything was wrapped up neatly, the New Westoros is unformed, there will be unintended consequences and basic human nature is still present, people will always seek power for its own sake. Yet we have the beginnings of a more equitable and peaceful Westoros. This is still a society in the process of being made and I’m happy and excited for the people who survived.

    I want to know about Arya’s trip the the land of the Spin Off. Does she encounter the control centre of Westworld? Present day New York City? Does she find some baby dragons? In any case, I think she sails west as she has the self-knowledge to wander off for a bit and take a break from all the killing. Maybe.

    Is winter over? There was a definite Spring Metaphor going on here.


    • Peter Fenzel OTI Staff #

      One of the very cool ideas we get in the latest Fire and Blood book that the show doesn’t explore is that what is West of Westeros is Asshai, and particularly that there _is_ someone who went there by boat – the estranged female lover of an estranged Targaryen princess – Elissa Farman. The gist is that the princess fell in love with this woman, married her brother to hide their relationship, and had them both move into Dragonstone with her – and the result was a lot of betrayal and backstabbing, leading to Elissa stealing three dragon eggs and commissioning a boat to sail the Sunset Sea.

      It is strongly implied that the three dragon eggs Elissa steals become Daenerys’s three eggs later, and Elissa’s one-of-a-kind ship was later seen by explorers in Asshai, where we know shadowbinders can achieve a sort of immortality.

      So there’s a fan theory to explain all this that Quaithe, the woman with the laquered mask who talks to Daenerys, is Elissa, her great-great-great-great-etc. aunt’s lover – who successfully found what was West of Westeros – it’s a lot of dark magic that can transform you and give you powers – and she sees something of her old flame in Daenerys and is trying to restore her to glory by proxy – in an interesting queer twist on the Jorah Mormont narrative.


  4. John C Member #

    I know just enough about the series to be disappointed that the title isn’t proposing a new venery term: Murder of crows, school of fish, game of super-fancy chairs. But regardless, I appreciate the Grand Unified Theories of what the story might be trying to do…probably more than I’d enjoy another content-heavy fantasy franchise. I’m surprised that there aren’t many (any?) stories that are literally about ignored metaphysical realms fighting back against more structured religious beliefs, especially since there are a lot of people who read the opening lines of Genesis (as in the Bible-part, not the band) as mocking local polytheistic religions in an “our god can beat up your smelly old gods” kind of way.


    • Three Act Destructure #

      There are definitely some out there. It’s one way to interpret H.P. Lovecraft, for example. I believe some Stephen King also deals with that. I seem to also recall a John Constantine story that was literally about nameless gods from the past coming back to mess with present-day society.

      The most on-the-nose version I can think of though would be the Silent Hill film adaptation. I wonder if Japanese and European audiences would just be more generally amenable to stories about ancient realms and dieties possessing antedeluvian powers which modern religious rituals and hierarchies are powerless to contend with?


    • Peter Fenzel OTI Staff #

      I’ll recommend one I’ve talked about previously on the podcast and the gift guides, _Memory, Sorrow and Thorn_ by Tad Williams. Game of Thrones is very heavily based on it.

      In that series, the Abrahamic-ish religion and the Celtic-ish elfy pagan religion are in a sort of postmodern/postcolonial conflict with each other that manifests in reality through a dream realm similar in certain ways to the Warp in Warhammer 40k. And the way this is experienced by the characters really hits the nail on the head with regards to what you’re talking about.


    • Stokes #

      This is actually an extremely common theme in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books. Like it’s almost the *default* plot, although the underdog metaphysical systems are as likely to be new as old, and it’s all played for laughs. Small Gods is probably the most explicit about it (and a real highlight of the franchise, for me).


    • stokes #

      Also, Kraken by China Mieville. (Note that it’s typical Mieville, meaning it’s stunningly inventive and beautiful to read paragraph by paragraph but also What Is An Editor?)


  5. Stokes OTI Staff #

    Since you summoned me, Matt, your summary of tonal music is basically right, with one caveat. There are actually four big categories of chords, not three: the tonic (I) and dominant (vii and V), which you described well, the subdominant (ii and IV), which is the “stuff that leads to the dominant”… and then also the mediants (iii and vi), which are oddly weightless, leading from nowhere and to nowhere. A lot of late Romantic music spends a lot of time floating around in mediant-land, precisely because the other options feel too deterministic. (The mediant in Westeros would be your GoT episodes where it’s just Tyrion and Jorah reading poetry on a boat.)


  6. Stokes OTI Staff #

    By the way, Pete: how much of this Lovecraftian war-of-the-Gods stuff is actually in the books, how much is in the associated short stories, and how much is pure fan speculation? I’ve read the novels, and I recognized… basically none of that, but it’s been a long time and they’re long books.


    • Peter Fenzel OTI Staff #

      Good question – GRRM does play a bit of a trick on the reader, in that the story has tons of unreliable narrators, most of them are children, and the core story is very subjective on their experience and what they think is important. They, of course, have a very limited perspective on what is going on in the world. So part of the “theorizing” of what is “happening” in the Game of Thrones books is what are the things that are actually steering events that the main characters are only peripherally aware of.

      The big test case for this, which proves unambiguously that this is what is going on, is the big reveal at the end of A Storm of Swords, where Littlefinger reveals that the Starks were all wrong about the Lannisters – that the Lannisters hadn’t actually been plotting against them, and didn’t actually kill Jon Arryn, but that he had set everything up to frame them in order to get the Starks and Lannisters to fight each other.

      This is the big climactic scene at the end of the book, you can’t miss it.

      The question is how much to extrapolate from that as to how important the kind of information that led you to think this might have been the case… is.

      And then you have Varys and Illyrio, who Arya sees in A Game of Thrones but doesn’t recognize. And we find out in A Dance With Dragons that they have been scheming the whole time to destabilize the realm and put their Aegon on the throne. This connects Varys and the capital with Daenerys, etc.

      So the point is that the stuff you find out early that suggests that there are big puppet masters out there really pays off later on, when it is revealed that there actually are puppet masters.

      And this raises the question of what is going on with the many, many discussions of supernatural beings or beings with supernatural powers looking to manipulate events.

      The Drowned God, R’hllor, the connection between Bran and Euron in their childhood dreams, the Doom of Valyria, the Shrouded Lord, Greyscale, the prophesies that kept the Valyrians from invading Westeros…

      It’s all in the books, but as of now in the books we don’t know if it’s _important_.

      Bran gets the briefing from the Children on the M.O. of the old gods, and he muses about the Old Gods taking vengeance on mankind, but it could just be a throwaway line.

      So the question in interpretation is whether Littlefinger and Varys (killing people for their sport) are microcosms of the gods – and of course I don’t means God qua God – not like the actual creators of the universe – but the supernatural interests that are associated with sorcery, prophesy, etc., which in the end, based on the Melisandre POV character and the revelations in Bloodraven’s Cave, are just players just like everybody else who have creative branding departments.

      But yeah, we don’t know how much it matters. It’s in there, it could just be lore, it could be the key to the whole conflict – there isn’t even a Night King in the books, really (yet anyway) – so the matchups for the big battles at the end of the books are not set up.

      The stuff from the short stories is mostly situations where similar information is offered early, in a similar way, and it seems just like flavor, but then it turns out, actually, “gods” are masks for political manipulators, whether they’re humanoid (like the Society of Liars in The Way of Cross and Dragon or Tuf in Tuf Voyaging), incomprehensibly inhuman (like the Mazemakers in The Stone City, the Sandkings in Sandkings, or the pyramids in And Seven Times Never Kill Man), or just blind and dumb and without intelligence, but offering some sort of benefit like collective immortality or psychic powers that then has an effect on people indistinguishable from a political misdirection (like the grenshi in A Song for Lya, the Volcryn in Nightfliers, or the spider venom in This Tower of Ashes).


      • Stokes #

        But I feel like a confounding element, here, is… well, at least to me, one of the major themes of GoT is that all prophecies and legends are mostly nonsense (and when true, not in the way that you’d think). So like Melisandre can work magic, but Stannis’s magic sword is a fraud. The prophecies about Dany’s pregnancy turn out to be false. (And this too has plenty of secular equivalents: the kingsguard are moral paragons! Except not really. House Bolton pledges its undying fealty to House Stark! Yeah, pull the other one, and then probably make me eat it.) I feel like your interpretation requires us to accept as gospel truth a LOT of stuff that is only rumor… which is how it works, to be fair, in a lot of high fantasy, but I’m skeptical here. (True or not, though, it is awesome for sure.)


        • Peter Fenzel OTI Staff #

          I’d take it a step further and say that it’s not quite that prophesies and visions in the story are nonsense, but rather that they are at best misunderstandings and at worst lies meant to manipulate people. Stannis does not know his sword is a lie, and because of that he goes to his doom. The sword and prophesy are not inconsequential in his life – he ends up killing his entire family (or trying – he misses Edric/Gendry) on behalf of whoever or whatever. So it’s convenient if, say, someone wanted to eliminate all the legitimate royal dynasties. If you ascribe to the Jojen Paste theory Jojen’s green dreams end up in him wandering off into nowhere and subjecting himself to an horrific death, cannibalized by his new friend. Was any of it ever really in Jojen’s interest? Are any of the prophesies anyone gets ever beneficial to them?

          Well, the dream Jamie gets on the stump in the books I think influences him positively, but we don’t really know because we ultimately don’t know what happens to him.

          We also know humans can send dreams and visions like gods by using glass candles or drinking shade of the evening. So there’s potential for masquerades as much as for actual wars between gods.

          So yeah, the explanation usually isn’t “legit,” but it does tend to end up having an effect. Incorrect prophesy is “merely” powerful propaganda and manipulation.


          • Peter Fenzel OTI Staff #

            And yeah, with the books, this is all still theory, but in the show, the three-eyed raven, whatever it is, wins.

          • Stokes #

            Well, the 3-Eyed Raven wins in human terms. Those may or may not be the right terms.

            There are two ways of reading Bran’s “why do you think I came all this way?” One is “checkmate, douchenozzles!” The other is “yes, I have seen that me becoming king is the thing that happens next at this time. I feel no way about this in particular.”

          • Stokes #

            Also, “incorrect prophecy is… propaganda,” ok, in some cases, but I feel like this is pulling two directions at once.

            On the one hand you have Melisandre, who talks a big game about her religious obligations and beliefs but is clearly spending most of her time in kayfabe. Her prophecies are propaganda, and she probably doesn’t believe in them herself.

            On the other hand we have Old Nan telling Bran about grumpkins and snarks and the Night King. And she is… actually a deep cover agent for the Old Gods? Blindly repeating the messages sent to her by some third party using a glass candle? Or just an old lady who tells fairy tales because that’s a kind of gendered labor that old women do in reasonably-well-thought-out pseudo-medieval pseudo-Europe? (I mean, does “snark” give the game away on this one?)

            Certain aspects of the stuff Melisandre says might be true, and certain aspects of what Old Nan says might be true, but we know to a certainty that SOME parts of what they say are false, and so it seems a little weird to construct giant Pepe Silva flowcharts based on their testimony.

  7. Mike #

    Three acceptable endings to ASoIaF:
    1. Preston Jacobs theory – a far off future, on a distant post apocalyptic colony world. Magic is telekentic powers, and monsters are mutants.
    2. White Walkers a metaphor for global warming. Political intrigue is a petty wasteful endeavour, only weakening everyone in face of the real threat.
    3. Political intrigue is the real danger. All issues like white walkers (global warming) could easily be solved if only taken seriously for a moment. But the machinations of man is the greatest weapon of mass destruction.


  8. JSC #

    Was anyone else slightly disappointed that we didn’t get a definitive explanation for why the seasons on Westeros were of such dramatically varying length? Do you think an explanation is being saved for the books, or was there something I missed in the show? Or, perhaps, is it best left ambiguous as to the exact cause?


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