Brow Beat

This Week’s Worst Person(s) in Westeros: The Maesters

Pictured: A man shirking his responsibilities. 


After each episode in Game of Thrones Season 7, we’ll be answering a crucial question: Who is currently the worst person in Westeros?  This week, technology and culture writer Jacob Brogan is joined by Slate books and culture columnist Laura Miller.

Brogan: Hi, Laura, thanks for joining me to discuss “Eastwatch.” It was a narratively jagged episode, and also one that definitively proved this show has given up any semblance of geographic and temporal realism. Maybe that’s for the best: After all, as Davos puts it, “Nothing fucks you harder than time.” To be fair, it was also full of charming character moments and some pretty bonkers revelations.

But we’re not really here for the revelations, are we? We’re here to talk about all the dicks on this show. One unexpected jerk: George R.R. Martin proxy Sam, who freaks out at Gilly, screaming at her as she gleefully reads from some dead maester’s diary. Notably, he does so just as she’s providing a piece of information that would—if I understood right—prove that Jon is the rightful heir of the Targaryen line. I don’t think I’ve ever asked this before, but is Sam the worst?

Miller: If I had to pick a worst person in Westeros this episode, it would have to be the snooty maesters of the Citadel. Sam is being unusually un-astute, but he’s really been pushed to the brink by their complacency. That’s no reason to snap at Gilly, but, hey, we’ve all done it on occasion. Dany is debatably the worst for roasting two Tarlys alive, but I’m having a hard time thinking that was somehow worse than torching a bunch of ordinary soldiers

Brogan: We’re going to have to take those one at a time, so let’s start with the maesters: Confronted with evidence of an imminent threat to all human life, they just sort of laugh it off. I suppose they are men of science, and the archmaester does suggest that he’ll write back for confirmation, but it seems like they could, maybe, I dunno, take their jobs more seriously? They don’t even tell Sam that his whole family is dead!

Ultimately, Sam is really freaking out about their treatment of him (though he certainly owes Gilly a very earnest apology), and their treatment of him is effectively representative of the way they’re treating Westeros as a whole: All seven kingdoms a toilet into which they dump their scholarly excrement.

Miller: They’re definitely an Ivory Tower bunch.

Our nagging question here on the Upper West Side is why Littlefinger is manipulating Arya. He obviously wants to drive a wedge between the Stark sisters, but how does that help him?

I’m also curious about Cersei’s long game. I’m firmly in the Cersei is Stupid camp: Cersei is convinced that she’s terribly clever, but she has no idea how to muster any real support. She thinks you rule by intimidation alone. It’s hard to believe that even if she won the war, her reign would be particularly stable, especially if she announced she was pregnant by her brother, whereupon everyone would realize that she’d been unfaithful to Robert with him. We’re supposed to think that she’s a master of intrigue like her father, but her father was never actually king.

Brogan: I’m not sure if Cersei’s stupid, exactly, but her schemes are far more baroque than they need to be. Here, she seems to be manipulating poor Jaime with what can only be a fake pregnancy, all in the name of … what? Keeping him from inevitably turning on her as he’s sure to in time. And, as you point out, if it is real, she’s probably worked herself into a corner. At least the Faith Militant isn’t around to shake their fingers at her. She’s as terrible as ever here, but she’s almost too dumb to truly be the worst.

By contrast, Littlefinger’s slow brewing scheme has me wondering. Here’s a guy who actually is smart, even if he uses it for the most self-serving possible purposes. Plus, there was a moment when I realized he was playing Arya when I was genuinely worried for her. But I can’t fathom what his scheme could possibly be. Maybe he’s the worst for turning the two living Stark siblings (I’m cutting Jon out of the lineage at this point) against one another?

Miller: He wants to marry Sansa, and I think he views Arya as too dangerous to keep around. He wants Sansa to lean on him, especially with Jon gone and possibly not coming back. He’d like to cut Jon out of the picture somehow, so the restlessness of the lords of the North is possibly something he’s stirred up.

I find his skulking in corners and smirking annoying these days, but I’ve never disliked him as much as some fans do. He deserves some cred for not getting where he is simply by being born into the right family. The aristocracy in Westeros are basically a bunch of warlords, like all medieval rulers, and everything they look down on him for is what he’s had to do to get any power at all as a commoner.

Cersei could win Worst Person any day of the week, but I don’t think her pregnancy is faked. I think she’s spent her whole life thinking that if she were in charge she could do anything she wanted. And now she’s going to make the world accept her relationship with Jaime and her child as the heir to the throne.

Brogan: OK, but if we’re going to talk about irresponsible aristocrats, I’m going to have to point to Jon, who continues to insist on his kingliness, while being truly terrible at actually being a king. Having abandoned his people for an unknown period of time (has it been weeks since he left for Dragonstone? Months? Years?), he now leads a ragtag band of misfits north of the Wall, as if cosplaying some Westerosi reboot of Marvel’s Avengers. The dude has responsibilities back home!

Does Jon actually want to be King in the North? Is he even trying?

Miller: Kingship was pretty much thrust upon Jon, who never showed much ambition before being more or less elected to do this. Not being a superhero fan, I thought of The Magnificent Seven, but theirs is definitely a crackpot scheme.

I’m still going to vote for the maesters. Their whole brief is to value ancient knowledge, and they are completely falling down on the job. Jon is mostly just a hapless galoot, doing the best he can. (Let’s face it, Sansa is the best ruler on the continent, so picking her to sub for him was a good choice.)

Brogan: I think you’re right: Unless Jon’s bizarre plan to capture a zombie somehow works, they’re going to have the blood of thousands on their fancy white robes. As far as I can tell, their only smart play was banishing Qyburn, and even that doesn’t seem to have worked for them. Maesters of the citadel …

Miller: You are the worst people in Westeros.