Every week in the Game of Thrones TV Club, Rachael Larimore will IM with a different fan of the show about the goings-on in Westeros and across the Narrow Sea. This week she chats with Slate business correspondent Matthew Yglesias, who also covers the Westeros economic beat.
Rachael Larimore: Matt, welcome! I can only hope that our discussion is half as scintillating as the chatting we saw in “Bear and the Maiden Fair.” That was some crackling dialogue. What did you think of the episode? Any favorite moments?
Matthew Yglesias: The scene where Tywin confronts King Joffrey on the Iron Throne has to have been the standout moment of the episode. Not only was it great to see the young king put in his place, but there’s a certain irony in the fact that the older and wiser Tywin seems to be actually wrong on the merits as regards the threat of dragons.
Larimore: This is the third or fourth episode where Lord Tywin has had the defining scene. Charles Dance been great this season. On the one hand, I have a certain measure of sympathy for Tywin. While he’s spent half the season being disappointed in and scolding his adult children—generally unnecessarily—in his grandson, he has someone who actually needs a scolding. Joffrey complaining that he couldn’t come to the small council meetings because of all those steps was priceless. But you’re right that the whiny little brat has a point about the dragons. Unfortunately for Westeros, Tywin is not likely to question his own judgment based on something Joffrey said.
Yglesias: Exactly—though Tywin will hardly be the first politician to be excessively focused on short-term matters to the exclusion of big picture threats that seem far away. On the flip side, I have to say I was a bit disappointed by Jaime, Brienne, and the bear. Somehow the whole scene seemed to me to lack the tension and drama that two unarmed individuals trapped in a pit with a bear ought to have. And Lord Bolton’s men seemed to agree a little too easily to Jaime’s request that they turn around and return to Harrenhal. Disobeying direct orders seems like bad practice, even if your liege doesn’t use a flayed man as his sigil.
Larimore: When I’m looking forward to something a great deal, I tend to be in denial when it fails to live up to those expectations. (It was awesome! No, really!) But this is one of the pivotal moments in Storm of Swords, and I agree that the on-screen drama didn’t match the hype. (Hype that started building a few weeks ago, for those in the know, when a Hold Steady version of “Bear and the Maiden Fair” played over the credits right after Jaime lost his hand.) It came off as just one more example of Jaime trading on his Lannister name, both in getting Bolton’s men to turn around and when he jumped into the bear pit. He did gamble that someone would save him (and hence, Brienne) from the bear because he’s more valuable dead than alive, but it was a safe bet. And there were, frankly, better examples of actual daring and recklessness. Arya ran away from Beric and Thoros, and got caught by the Hound. And Jon Snow is being increasingly careless in his conversations with Ygritte about attacking Castle Black, about his true loyalties. Is love making him delusional?
Yglesias: One read of Jon is that he’s losing his undercover skills and accidentally revealing too much. But I think it may be that on another level he’s probing Ygritte’s loyalties. How committed is she to Mance Rayder’s plan? Does he have any hope of persuading her to abandon a futile attack on Westeros? Something I liked in this episode was that after having been treated to a heap of “You know nothing, Jon Snow” ever since he crossed the Wall, now that we’re back in the Seven Kingdoms we’re seeing the limits to Ygritte’s knowledge. She mistakes a windmill for a palace, and appears to be genuinely ignorant of the military benefits of regular discipline. She should consider the possibility that on Jon’s turf, she’s the one who knows nothing. Meanwhile, on the subject of knowledge, Melisandre dropped an enormous truth bomb on Gendry—part of a plot line that I’m not sure is all that fascinating on the merits but that’s intriguing to us book readers since the TV writers have gone off script.
Larimore: I was glad that Jon called out Ygritte on her wonder at the windmill and said she’d “swoon” at the site of Winterfell. She always acts as though she’s not interested in the trappings of Jon Snow’s noble upbringing, but she gives herself away a bit here. And I do think that Jon believes an attack on Castle Black would be disastrous for both the Night’s Watch and the wildlings. As for Gendry and Melisandre, I get why the show is using him in this role rather than introducing yet another character (as they did with the Tyrells trying to marry Sansa to Loras). But I’ve always disliked Melisandre, so I’m mostly intrigued in seeing whether this departure from the script results in a particularly gruesome demise for her. Speaking of gruesomeness … should we talk about Theon or just leave the poor fellow be?
Yglesias: Oh, Theon… To me this just feels like too much. Screen time is a precious resource, and there are dozens of plot threads dangling in the air. I’m not sure we really need to be watching all this. What is the incremental value of another torture scene in helping us understand the character of his captor? I don’t like it. They could have cut that whole business and given us something with Stannis or Arya and the Hound. Meanwhile, I get that Melisandre is dislikable, but I’m surprised that the Lord of Light hasn’t made more converts. I’m not observant, personally, but if I ever see a priest resurrect the dead before my eyes I promise to revisit my atheism. Arya just kind of shrugs this off and sticks to her path. But what have the Old Gods ever done for her? And the same with Stannis earlier. The manifest powers of R’hollor compared to the puniness of the Seven and these random trees ought to make more of an impression. Maybe he is the one true god?
Larimore: Melisandre is like a really annoying televangelist who warns that you need to heed or the devil will come to get you. Thoros, meanwhile, is the kindly neighborhood pastor whom everyone adores. But both have had their moments that make you wonder about R’hollor. Ser Davos has seen enough of Melisandre to be afraid, to be very afraid. I’m curious to see what he does when he finds out she’s gone and found herself some kingsblood. I do want to touch on another departure from the script, and that’s the scene with Margaery and Sansa. I find Margaery to be likable but not entirely trustworthy, as there’s always an ulterior motive. But what reason does she have for trying to convince Sansa that marrying Tyrion won’t be terrible? The scene did show that Margaery is light years ahead of Sansa in understanding how their world works, but there also seemed to be genuine warmth there. Was I missing anything?
Yglesias: I enjoy the show’s version of Margaery, who’s more of an active agent than what we get in the books, but the Queen of Thorns will always be top Tyrell in my book, and I wish we’d seen some of her this week. If I were to try to suss out sinister motives in Margaery’s sisterly dispensing of advice, I’d say part of the Tyrell strategy has to be to exploit the fact that the various members of House Lannister don’t seem to actually like one another. But there’s no real need to be cynical about it. Nothing Margaery did this week came at any cost to her or her House. Being nice when you can afford to just seems like sound practice. Sansa continued to be a strategically important pawn in the Game of Thrones, and all else being equal, it’s better to have her like you than hate you. Besides which, despite her supreme poise Margaery must have some trepidation about the marriage she’s about to walk into and perhaps enjoys the opportunity to play the wise and self-confident role as a distraction from the high-risk high-reward situation she’s about to enter.
Larimore: I do enjoy the scenes with Margaery and Sansa … and I can never get enough Queen of Thorns. Now, you’ve been writing on the economics of Westeros all season. In closing, do you have any economic takeaway from this episode? Is 300 dragons a fair price for the Lady from Tarth? If so, what might Arya be worth to the Hound?
Yglesias: Unfortunately, George RR Martin does not give us a lot of clarity about the price level in Westeros. But in Storm of Swords we’re told at one point that wartime shortages have pushed the price of a bushel of corn up to one silver stag. It’s 210 stags to a dragon, so Lord Tarth offered up 63,000 bushels of corn for his daughter. A bushel of corn costs about $6.44 today (and, like wartime Westeros, we’re currently experiencing unusually high corn prices), so you can think of him as having offered about $400,000. A pretty nice chunk of change, though it would also make sense to expect more if you falsely believed Lord Tarth to be one of the richest men in the Kingdoms. On the other hand, if I thought I were getting low-balled on my ransom offers, I’d try to negotiate before immediately throwing my hostage into the bear pit. Lord Bolton may have some virtues, but I’m not sure that business savvy is one of them.