You think you have a hard time fitting in? Pah. The denizens of Westeros and the Dothraki horde spit on your pathetic feelings of mal dans la peau. Try being a bastard, a disabled lord, or a cowardly Night's Watchman.
Last night's Game of Thrones was dedicated to the people who will never quite fit in — some of them quite subtle, some of them glaring. And it featured the freestyling greatness of Ser Alliser Thorne, the rapping sword master. What more could you ask? Spoilers ahead...
So the title of the episode pretty much gave away the theme: "Cripples, Bastards and Broken Things." It's a quote from Tyrion Lannister, who's the one who gets to the heart of matters, as usual. But the misfits in the episode went beyond just the obvious ones, like poor Bran or the fresh recruit Samwell. Almost everybody in the episode is having a hard time fitting in to their appointed role in the scheme of things.
And let's start with one of the least obvious cases:
He's not a character who stands out much in the novel, but he definitely catches your attention in his brief appearance in last night's episode. Why is he a misfit? Because he's an undeserving knight, who's done nothing to earn it. And he's too dumb to realize his place — you wish that Tyrion would come and slap him around a bit, or at least deliver a few words of withering reality checksum. Ser Hugh doesn't really fit in with the culture of knights, who are mostly veterans of great battles or scions of great houses. And the arrogance with which he dismisses Jory Cassel's questions about the death of his former master, Jon Arryn, is astounding. In that one moment, you can see exactly why Ser Hugh is going to be toast when he goes up against a real knight in the tourney.
Speaking of people who haven't ever won a battle — Viserys doesn't have a Dothraki braid, because the only person he's ever defeated in battle is his sister. Which, whoops — looks like he can't even claim that victory any longer. Viserys starts out channeling Starbuck, shouting "We're going the wrong way!". And unlike Ser Hugh, he at least realizes he's out of place, completely failing to fit in with the culture of the Dothraki, whom he dismisses as savages. But like Ser Hugh, Viserys completely fails to realize that sometimes when you're a misfit, you need to be both proud and humble — proud of who you really are, and humble enough to realize that you're not all that.
I've been a bit sad that the show has been underplaying the Viserys/Daenerys arc, including Daenerys not being the one to tell Viserys that he has to walk. But the show managed to give Daenerys a great moment this week, where Viserys finally goes too far and she kicks his ass. And tells him that the next time he raises a hand to her will be the last time he has hands. Viserys is pissed because Daenerys is trying to dress him up in Dothraki clothing and invite him to dinner and get him to stop treating the Dothraki like dirty savages — because unlike Viserys, Daenerys is learning to make the best of life among the Dothraki, and actually growing into the role of Khaleesi. Go back to bullying sex workers, Blondie.
And then there's the more obvious misfit, and the character the episode is structured around. Poor Samwell is absolutely the worst person to join the Night's Watch — he's a professed coward, and not exactly built like a great warrior. He can barely hold a sword, and we soon find out that his dad gave him a choice between taking the black or meeting with a tragic accident. And he's still not sure he made the right choice.
Jon Snow, who's the other ultimate misfit of the bunch, takes pity on Samwell, and takes him under his protection, convincing or coercing the other trainees to stop abusing poor Samwell — even when the sadistic swordmaster Ser Alliser Thorne orders them to. If Ser Alliser hated Jon Snow before, now he really hates the bastard. Somebody needs to edit together a rap video of Ser Alliser's "You will die... like flies" freestyling session. Seriously, please?
He's bedridden and miserable, with nothing to do but listen to scary stories and have weird psychedelic dreams where he can walk and there's a freaky three-eyed crow. Everybody feels bad for him, but nobody does a damn thing about it — except for Tyrion who designs him a fancy new saddle to let him ride tall. Yay Tyrion. Does everybody slap the Imp on the back and buy him a round of beer? Umm... not exactly. Read on.
He's a hard character to get you to care about, honestly. He doesn't really do much in the first book of the series, beyond standing around and being "Stark minion #2". But this episode actually gets a few moments about Theon in the mix — at the risk of feeding the viewer a bit too much exposition, but it's probably necessary. Theon's father led a rebellion back in the day, and managed to burn all the boats in Lannisport before he was stopped. And the only surviving son of the Greyjoys, Theon, is now a squire at Winterfell, doing whatever the Starks tell him to. He's almost forgotten that he's supposed to be a Lord in his own right, and that he's basically a prisoner, so Tyrion takes great pleasure in pointing it out. And later, Jaime Lannister says he highly doubts that Theon Greyjoy is really a good lad.
Speaking of which, we wondered a while back if there was any character that this TV show might be offering to us as the hero of Game of Thrones, and now we have a clear contender: Roz, the red-haired sex worker who's so beloved of Tyrion, Theon Greyjoy and even the virginal Jon Snow. She's clearly the unsung hero of the saga. Although I don't think we've met her yet.
She's still training to be a water dancer, while her sister is dreaming about all the babies she's going to have and all the ladylike things she's going to do when she's a real princess OMG. Arya has a very brief, but sad, moment with her dad, when she asks if she can be the lord of a holdfast someday, and Ned is like, "Uh, no." But actually, both Stark daughters are out of their element this week — Sansa is surrounded by brutality, from the fact that her uncle and grandfather both died horribly in the throne room to the outstanding brutality of the Clegane brothers, Sandor and Gregor. (That's some bloody good jousting.) Don't worry, Sansa — it's not as if all the nobility and finery that you so admire is actually built on brutality and nastiness or anything.
What does Ned have in common with Mal Reynolds? He was a soldier in the great war — and he's still a soldier, deep down. When Queen Cersei confronts Ned in his Handy chamber, she practically repeats Badger's speech from the first Firefly episode about how Mal is still a sergeant, deep down. Ned is still a soldier, who just wants to obey orders and go out and kill whoever needs killing. The business of trying to keep the city from melting down in brothel fires, not to mention doing all this messy detective work, is enough to give him a permanent headache. Actually, there's a lot of "still a soldier deep down" going around.
And finally, Tyrion himself
Poor Tyrion. The episode begins and ends with him getting dissed by Starks, when he's just trying to be helpful and brutally honest. Actually, Tyrion finally sees the drawback of pointing out the thing that people are trying to ignore or hide. You can only point out what's right in front of your nose so many times, before somebody takes it the wrong way. And when Lady Stark is trying to hide in plain sight in the middle of a busy tavern, the smart thing to do might be just to go along with it, and later try to find out what her scheme was. But Tyrion is too clever to be smart — and he winds up paying a sharp price. Alas, Tyrion — he may need to learn when it's best to shut up, after all.