Dan Kois: Hey Willa! We’ve been talking about Game of Thrones all season on the Slate Plus members’ only podcast. But now the season’s over and I thought we should IM about the characters we lost this episode and the season as a whole—and also weigh in, as we do weekly on the podcast, on the Worst Person in Westeros. (Cue Arya: “You’re the worst shit in the Seven Kingdoms!”) Which corpse do you want to talk about first: The strangled one, the crossbowed one, the soon-to-be corpse with the broken leg and no ear, or the one blown up by a teensy elf who throws fireballs?
Willa Paskin: I think he was actually mercy-slaughtered by his sister, but let’s start with him: Jojen, the one I care least about.
Kois: You gotta feel for a guy who gets killed by Harryhausen skeletons! That’s a bad way to go. But if his entire purpose is to get Bran to the tree of life, seems like he is narratively unnecessary.
Paskin: For this storyline, Game of Thrones jumped ahead two books, which is to say: Thank you Game of Thrones, for keeping us from two more seasons of Bran and company stomping through the woods. That whole scene felt kind of like a knowing gift to us, the audience: You have watched this whole, boring story and your reward is this crazy zombie fight.
Kois: Yeah, seriously. This is a clear case of the show being superior to the books.
Paskin: In the context of the rest of the episode, which had a lot of loved ones killing loved ones (or burning the corpses of loved ones, or killing people that should have been loved ones but were actually hated ones), I did like that this death sort of set the edge for kindness: In this horrible, horrible world, there is such a thing as a mercy kill, and Jojen’s sister, slicing him before she raced to Carcosa so the zombies wouldn’t get him, provided an example of it. It was in very stark (sorry) contrast to the next death we should talk about, the Hound’s. Arya not mercy killing the Hound ended up being a real act of cruelty (though maybe, also, a little of respect).
Kois: I got REAL mixed messages from that. True respect in the context of Arya’s current life would be to kill him! Seemed contemptuous and ice-cold of her to walk away. Was it weakness? That she liked him and couldn’t bring herself to be the one who did the deed?
Paskin: It was definitely contemptuous and ice cold and cruel. He was in immense pain. He did, in fact, beg her to kill him. But I think there was also a smidge of her knowing him well enough that he is no longer a name on her list. From their time on the road together, she could take him off—and leave him to suffer, without an ear and a gaping leg wound. With Arya all season—and I expect for seasons in the future—in almost every episode I would wish for her humanity: Arya, find your decency! But she’s just not going down that road. She’s murdering her decency, even as she’s not murdering the Hound.
Kois: I guess killing the Hound would be the human thing to do and she’s no longer willing to be human. So off to Braavos with you, Arya!
I imagine you do not mourn Shae.
Paskin: Not particularly, but man, that was a brutal scene. I do feel bad for Shae, almost on a purely symbolic level. We haven’t seen her since the trial. We never really got the details of Tywin’s manipulations of her. We just see her turn up in Tywin’s bed and pull a knife on Tyrion. It’s wrenching and pathetic and sad, in no small part because she was such a cipher, such a piece of walking sexposition.
Kois: Yeah, she was not well-served by the story. Such is the problematic nature of Game of Thrones that I feel thankful for the small favor that at least they let her keep her top on while she got strangled.
Paskin: Yes! Unexpected! But respectful!
On to Tywin’s much less respectful death? Even before we get into the particulars of Tywin dying on the toilet, Game of Thrones is just really burning through centralizing characters. Tywin in his way is as big a death as Ned Stark, just in terms of story coherence.
Kois: Yes! Who have we left to hate? Who is there to assemble the forces of evil? The forces of evil at this point are:
* those bald guys north of the wall who steal babies
* skeleton zombies
* Ramsay Bolton
Willa Paskin: OK, so back to Tywin. Condescending to the very, very end.
Kois: Yeah, he really seriously thought he could talk his way out of this one—that reminding Tyrion “you are my son” would be all Tyrion needed.
Paskin: Also, having Tyrion have to climb into a box with holes in the side like he’s an animal right after murdering the woman he loves and his father was one of the bleakest beats in this insanely bleak episode.
Kois: But at least Varys is going with him! Those guys make a fun team.
Paskin: They do. They may be our best road pair left, since Arya and the Hound are no more, Stannis and Davos are boring, and Pod and Brienne have no chemistry yet.
Kois: Pod can’t even hobble a horse.
Paskin: This was a jam-packed episode, but this season has felt really scattered—and I think this reflects the books, and also Martin’s larger dedication to proving the center can never ever hold. I don’t see that ending anytime soon. I only see it getting worse.
Kois: Yeah, I think the message of the books is an essentially anti-dramatic one—which is that, as Don DeLillo once cogently wrote (I think about A Feast for Crows), “all plots move deathward.” All plans come to naught, even those that seem at first to be working as designed. And all alliances break. And all friendships are betrayed.
Paskin: Spoiler alert!
Kois: And all siblings bang atop the Kingsguard library table. And all dragons eat people.
Paskin: It’s … what they do.
Kois: Who’s your Worst Person in Westeros, Season 4 edition?
Paskin: I think on a gut level the worst person in Westeros, for the season, is almost unquestionably Ramsay Bolton, sadist extraordinaire. He had me hissing with hate the most. But compared to Littlefinger or even Tywin he’s no tactician: Those guys have done a lot more long-term, carefully planned, wide-scale bad.
Kois: Although he can really see a plan through, if that plan involves psychologically torturing and physically castrating a guy into becoming his manservant! But it’s hard to imagine a version of Game of Thrones where Ramsey Bolton is a serious threat, long-term.
So I am going a different direction: The Worst Person in the Seven Kingdoms Who Is Actually Trying to Be the Best Person in the Seven Kingdoms is totally Daenerys.
Paskin: You know I love a Dany burn.
Kois: She’s a training-wheels queen with tight braid game but no idea how to rule, and so Meereen has no infrastructure. I assume disease is sweeping the city. Slaves want to go back to being slaves. She has sex with DAARIO, ugh. And meanwhile her dragons are burning goats and 3-year-olds to a crisp! Drogon: Worst Dragon in the Seven Kingdoms.
Paskin: Or best dragon??
Kois: Most Effective Dragon.
Paskin: I think that’s actually a really good lens through which to see so many of these characters: people trying to do their best, and their best is just … not good at all. It is, in fact, downright bad. I think Cersei and Arya fall into this category, too.
Kois: And Tyrion! He thought he had HIS city under control, but even he couldn’t keep the center together. Entropy won. Entropy ALWAYS wins.
Paskin: And this is also what makes the loss of Tywin such a big deal: He was the last remaining entropy-conqueror, and now he’s dead.
Kois: Now there is only fear and squalor.
Paskin: And, like, what, we have to hope Stannis can get it together?
Kois: [fart noise] Stannis. I wanted Mance Rayder to pick him up and throw him.
Paskin: Then we would have another death—Mance’s—to talk about.
Kois: All that said, I am looking forward to next season. More warm-weather locales, I think. Some Braavos, and rumors of Dorne.
Paskin: Yes, but there is a way that the themes of the show are starting to really drastically affect the form of the show.
Kois: As they do the books, where the center could not hold so badly that the story itself fell into so many pieces, he needed two books just to follow all the new characters.
Paskin: All the new characters who have to die, too. I’m happy for it to be warm (winter is never coming! where is it already?!) but not really for everyone to be scattered to even more continents.
Kois: But that’s fine! The show faces the same challenge Martin does. How do you bring it all together? Because surely somehow it all comes together, once Pod assumes the Iron Throne. (OOPS, SPOILER.)
Paskin: I’m still holding out for Gendry.
Kois: Thanks for watching and complaining about this season with me, Willa!
Paskin: Thank you Dan! It was fun and grisly.
Kois: Valar morghulis.
Paskin: Valar dohaeris.