Game of Thrones Season 7 Overview Episodes 1&2 “Land and Sea”

Episode 1: Dragonstone

“For in heroic societies life is the standard of value. If someone kills you, my friend or brother, I owe you their death and when I have paid my debt to you their friend or brother owes them my death. The more extended my system of kinsmen and friends, the more liabilities I shall incur in a kind that may end in my death.”[1] The world of Game of Thrones is a heroic society, and I shall interpret it as such. It is more akin to the Greek and Roman cultures than the European Medieval culture. Although a religion claimed supremacy, The Faith of the Seven, by briefly establishing a theocracy, it was soundly defeated and reduced to ashes, both literally and symbolically by Cersei Lannister in Season 6 of the show.

At the beginning of the first episode of Season 7, we hear “Walder Frey” speaking in front of the Freys gathered at a feast, in fact Arya in disguise. In her speech she mocks them by calling the gathered Freys “heroes”, for murdering a woman pregnant with a child and a mother of five at the infamous Red Wedding. MacIntyre’s quote from the beginning of this essay finds its true meaning in this light. This is blood revenge, and since the Frey’s system of kinsmen is rather extended, a great number of them are poisoned. In Season 6 we saw that Arya fed Walder Frey with his sons, stuffed in a pie. This is an obvious allusion to the Greek myth of Atreus’ killing Thyestes’ sons and tricking him into eating them. This was a sin which caused all the horrors the House of Atreus endured. In this case, Arya has already lost a mother and a brother due to the Freys’ murders and what we see is a debt payed. “The North Remembers.”

In Winterfell, Jon devises his strategy to man the castles of the Wall by the Wildlings, thus integrating them into a polity. In a fashion which might be called “progressive” today, but was suggested by Plato in his Politeia, he commands the women to be armed and prepared for the battle with the Dead. Contrary to Sansa’s advices, in other words, her questioning of Jon’s authority in front of his vassals, he decides not to strip the Kastarks and the Umbers of their titles, although they fought under the Bolton banner. His policy is to integrate each and every one of his subjects as warriors protecting the North, in a manner which almost seems republican. Sansa was, from the beginning of the show, obviously a character who represents the sufferings of women under premodern regimes.  They were used as a tool for making alliances with other Houses and families. In Sansa’s case, she was given to Joffrey and Ramsay, epitomes of sadistic cruelty. Now, that she has escaped those torturous predicaments, the will to power has awaken in her.

In King’s Landing, we see the new queen Cersei, standing over a map of Westeros painted on the floor of the hall. At this moment, it could be useful to say a few words about the cartography of Westeros seen from the aspect of modern philosophy of space. The map we see painted on the floor consists mostly of land, the seas are scarce: it seems that the people of Westeros cannot imagine vast oceans just like European Medieval cartographers could not. Earlier in the show, Arya is wondering what lies West of Westeros. We do not know; there is an image of open space beyond, of void, but on the maps the land is dominant. Cersei speaks of  the enemies in the west: “Olenna, the old cunt”, “Ned Stark’s bastard… named king in the North and that murdering whore Sansa stands beside him” and enemies in the East, Daenerys Targaryen who landed at Dragonstone with her armada.

The only true maritime power in Westeros is the Greyjoy armada, now commanded by Euron Greyjoy, the king of the Iron Islands. In his work, Land and Sea, Carl Schmitt speaks of three stages of the evolution of cultures. The ‘potomian’ or fluvial culture of the Middle East, in the Eastern Empires of Assiria, Babylon and Egypt, was followed by the ‘thalassic era’, “the culture of closed seas and the Mediterrean basin, represented by the Greek and Roman antiquity and the Mediterrenean Middle Ages…. Venice, a maritime power, came to a halt at the second stage, the thalassic age.”[2]

The Kingdoms of Westeros belong to thalassic age, as their maps show, the ocean and the open seas are alien to them. On othe other hand, the Grejyoys are a sea-oriented nation, “married to the sea”, in other words, “the children of the sea”, to use Schmitt’s language. Euron offers marriage to Cersei, and she declines, speaking of the lack of trust since he betrayed and murdered everyone who stood in his way. Earlier, she said to Jamie that everyone does that, when it is opportune. In other words, the lack of trust might be caused by the lack of trust in the distinctly maritime power which is “married to the sea”, not trustworthy, alien to the understanding of life of the rest of Westeros. Euron promises to come back with a gift to prove his loyalty.

At the Citadel, Sam is having a conversation with the Archmaester, and the particularly important theme is introduced. They are talking about the Long Night and the Archmaester says that it may very well be true, since there are too many similiarities from unconnected sources. It is pretty much obvious that the threat from beyond the Wall in the shape of the White Walkers and the Night King is a metaphor for climate change which endangers our planet. This will be important later on when the stance toward the threat from beyond the Wall and the immediate threat of other humans will be discussed. The scholars at the Citadel are sceptic, as they should be, as the Archmaester points out, it is their job. He also speaks of hope, that everyone believed that the end was near many times in history, but the mankind prevailed. Daenerys Targaryen lands at Dragonstone, she touches the land she was exiled from, and standing at the table with the map of Westeros on it built by her ancestor Aegon, proclaims that the game can begin.

[1] Alasdair MacInyre, After Virtue: A Study In Moral Theory, University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame, 2001: 124

[2] Carl Schmitt, Land and Sea, Plutarch Press, Washington DC, 1997: 10

 

Episode 2: Stormborn

At Dragonstone, Daenerys devises a military strategy with her allies, Olenna of House Tyrell, Yara, rebelled Ironborn, and Ellaria of Dorne. Notably, all of them are women; men of their houses were murdered or they rebelled against them, but they have survived. The strategy is to lay a siege on King’s Landing, which can be compared to Venice, due to its location by th sea, a port which can maintain a great fleet, and thus be the seat of maritime power, but it is also located in the closed seas. Following Tyrion’s advice, Daenerys is aware that she cannot lay a siege with Dothraki forces and the Unsullied, since it would mean that she deployed foreign forces to attack Westeros, a propaganda card Cersei would certainly use. The Unsullied are to attack Casterly Rock, the seat of financial power of the Lannisters, and so far the strategy seems sound. Olenna advises Daenerys not to listen to “clever people”, like Tyron, who are cunning, but may lack the natural instinct to survive.

Daenerys confronts Varys, accusing him of lack of loyalty, for plotting against every ruler he serves in order to advance his own agenda. She also accuses him of ordering her own murder while she was still an infant. In other words, he is the one who wants to rule from the shadows through intrigue and conspiracy. In his most famous work, Il Principe, Niccolò Machiavelli writes about prince’s servants, his advisors: “But to enable a prince to form an opinion of his servant there is one test which never falls; when you see the servant thinking more of his own interests than of yours, and seeking inwardly his profit in everything, such a man will never make a good servant, nor will you be able to trust him; because he who has the state of another in his hands ought never to think of himself, but always of his prince, and never pay any attention to matters in which prince is not concerned.”

Varys defends himself from the acussions regarding his disloyalty to his former kings by the claim that he does not think of himself, but the people, since he is low-born and he knows very well that the people prosper under the just rule of the prince and suffer under the unjust one. Machiavelli would most certainly advise him to let go of such a servant in an instant, but Daenerys tells him that if he ever believes that she is unjust, he ought to tell her, and never think of conspiring behind her back. We will see if trusting Varys is a good option for her, but bearing in mind Machiavelli’s thoughts on this we can perceive Varys as a servant disloyal to his ruler, since he believes himself to be the one who judges who is unjust, who lacks wisdom and virtues which make a good ruler.

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Cersei gathers the lords loyal to House Tyrell and demands their loyalty to the crown. At first, Samwell’s father, Randyll Tarly is reluctant to fight for Cersei, since he is a vassal to House Tyrell and his House has served them for centuries. His loyalty lies with the enemies of the crown due to the traditional allegiance and an oath he has taken. Jamie manages to use the argument which manages to win Tarly over. He asks him if he will fight alongside Dothraki hordes, the foreign savages and enuchs, or with the crown. Tarly is a figure not entirely unlike Viktor Orban, a ruler in Europe, the Hungarian prime minister. If the former would be asked to fight side by side with Turks against the forces of Central Europe, one might easily presume what would his answer be.

Meanwhile, at Dragonstone, a debate is held whether the dragons should be used to attack King’s Landing. Ellaria and Olenna are advocating the full-force attack, but Daenerys claims that she does not want to be the queen of the ashes, the policy which Tyrion strongly supports. Dragons can be compared to weapons of mass destruction, a nuclear bomb, for instance since the devastation which they can cause may seem tantamount to the bombing on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. For the moment, they are “paper tigers”, as Mao Zedong said about nuclear weapons the same reason dragons are in fact useless when it comes to attacking King’s Landing. No one dares to use nuclear wapons because of the dangers of retaliation and in this case, Daenerys is well aware that if she uses dragons, she would be the Queen of Ashes.

I will dedicate some space to Jon’s decision to travel to Dragonstone and meet Daenerys, ask her to mine dragonglass and come to his aid in the fight against the White Walkers in the following articles, as well as to the conflict with Littlefinger and the satisfaction of Sansa’s appetite for power by leaving Winterfell in her hands. For now, I will focus on Euron’s attack on Yara’s ships, while they travel to lay siege on King’s Landing. Their ships are boarded, and the ships’ hulls are breached. In a work mentioned in the previous article, Land and Sea, Carl Schmitt gives a brief genealogical account of the naval battles in European history.

He writes: “In the ancient naval battles, the oar vessels threw themselves upon each other, seeking to ram and board each other. The naval battle was always a hand to hand confrontation ‘like pairs of wrestlers, the ships hurled at each other’. It was at the battle of Mylae that for the first time the Romans boarded enemy vessels by thrusting gang planks at them as bridges and so were able to board their enemy’s ships in a way that made the confrontation look like a land battle. Swords were crossed on the decks as on the theatre stage.” Schmitt writes about the naval battles in a way which presents them as spectacles of some kind. The battle between Euron, the Dornish and the rebelled Greyjoys truly is a spectacle. Two Sand Snakes are killed and Ellaria and Yara are captured, along with Ellaria’s daughter. Euron and his half-mad tenacity win the day in the night drenched with blood, illuminated with fire and filled with screams of the dying. The “children of the sea”, worshippers of Drowned God, take the battle to the land, the land they are familiar with, and win the day.

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