Are all women bought and sold? For that matter, are all men whores too? Last night's Game of Thrones delved into sex worker psychology, while a major character made the ultimate sacrifice for a girl.
Just what is a whore, and do whores have feelings too? Game of Thrones asks the tough questions so hard, it might just knock your head off. Spoilers ahead...
There were four women or girls at the center of last night's Game of Thrones. In which:
- Sansa Stark successfully sells herself and her father out, but doesn't get what she was hoping for in return.
- Daenerys faces life without her husband Khal Drogo, in which she's just an ex-Khaleesi. And discovers she'll pay any price to keep her man alive.
- Catelyn Stark goes horse-trading with a dirty old man, and sells him one of her daughters (and one of her sons, too.)
- And a camp follower named Shae hits the jackpot: Tyrion Lannister, who turns out to have a very complicated relationship with sex workers but doesn't understand Shae at all.
These four storylines interweave, and meanwhile the deaths of powerful men loom on the horizon.
First, there's the death of Ned Stark, who finally discovers that there are things worth giving up honor for. He has one last confrontation with Varys, the eunuch and spymaster, who reveals that he used to be an actor, and everything he does is just an improvisational theater performance. Varys is eager to avoid a war between the Starks and the Lannisters, because a lot of ordinary people will suffer in such a conflict. So he urges Ned Stark to give in and accept Joffrey as the true king. Ned is all determined to do the honorable, right thing — until Varys mentions Ned's two daughters, who are basically hostages. (Well, Sansa is a hostage. Arya's off catching pigeons.)
So Ned finally throws away his precious honor, and lies in front of everyone. He confesses his fake treason, to spare his daughter Sansa, who has been pleading for his life. Unfortunately, Ned's confession doesn't please the wicked King Joffrey, who still claims Ned's head for his severed-head collection.
It's good thing Jon Snow isn't here to see this, since he was so confident that his father would "do the right thing" no matter what. Jon is torn between abandoning his vows as a celibate, non-partisan man of the Night's Watch, or riding to join his half-brother Robb Stark in making war on the King and his family. Jon gets a lecture from the blind old scholar, Maester Aemon, who reveals that he was once Aemon Targaryen — uncle to the Mad King and member of the old royal family. Maester Aemon had to stand by while his entire family, including the little babies, were slaughtered.
Family attachments always get in the way of doing your duty, Maester Aemon insists. That's why the men of the Night's Watch have no wives or other attachments.
So did Ned sell out for nothing? Or will Sansa still be better off, now that the Lannisters have gotten a public confession of treason? Maybe Sansa will still get to marry her handsome prince and it'll all be worthwhile.
Oh, and meanwhile Jon Snow has gotten himself a bitchin new sword called Longclaw, as a reward for saving Lord Mormont from the zombies. The sword was supposed to belong to Ser Jorah Mormont, who's off with the horse clans, but Ser Jorah dishonored the family.
Speaking of Ser Jorah, he's urging Daenerys to get out of Dodge before Khal Drogo dies — because without a powerful man by her side, Daenerys is nothing. All of the power that Daenerys has been learning to wield, all of her new fierceness and self-confidence, will count for nothing — because it all comes from Drogo, in the end. She only matters as long as he is around. And his wound, which he suffered defending her honor last week, is festering.
So Daenerys decides she'll do whatever it takes to save Drogo, whom she really seems to love. She'll resort to forbidden blood magic. She'll sacrifice Drogo's horse. She even considers giving her own life for his. But then her baby starts to come in the middle of the dark blood magic ritual, and Daenerys rushes into the tent to enlist more help from the possibly evil witch Mirri Maz Duur.
Can Daenerys be a powerful woman in her own right? Or is she nothing, without the man she was sold to as a child bride? We may find out soon enough.
Besides Sansa and Daenerys, a third underage girl is offered in marriage as part of a deal. But at least Arya Stark gets to wait until she's come of age before she has to marry one of the sons of the loathsome Lord Walder Frey, who controls the strategically vital crossing at the Twins. When we meet Lord Walder, he's holding court among his vast number of sons and bastards, while groping the butt of his new 15-year-old wife, who looks absolutely overjoyed to be the umpteenth Lady Frey. And Lord Walder understands exactly one type of loyalty: the loyalty of wives and sons. Lord Walder only gets a few chances to have everybody kiss his ass, and he's going to make the most of them: by marrying off as many of his children as possible.
Catelyn's haggling over which of her children she's going to trade in marriage in return for some of Lord Walder's soldiers and passage through his gates, while her husband is facing the executioner's axe, is sort of amazing. And in the end, her horse-trading does help Robb Stark clinch a crucial victory: defeating Jaime Lannister's forces and taking him captive.
Too late to save Ned, though.
And then there's Shae, who is unambiguously a sex worker — but she's not interested in living up to your stereotypes. The scene in which Tyrion attempts to use his "keen judge of character" powers on Shae, and totally strikes out, is weirdly hilarious. Tyrion is pretty good at delving into the depths of his hired sword Bronn — such as they are — but when it comes to Shae, he's at a loss. He reaches for the Dean Winchester rule of sex worker analysis: there's always an absentee father. But every time Tyrion tries to sum up Shae with a ridiculous stereotype, she shoots him down. Tyrion winds up having to drink a lot of liar's wine.
And then Tyrion tells his own sob story: he once fell in love with a low-born woman whom he and his brother Jaime saved from "rapers." They were married and lived happily together for two weeks — until Tyrion's father, Lord Tywin, revealed that the woman, Tysha, was just a sex worker that Jaime had hired so that Tyrion could get laid. The whole story about the woman being a victim whom Tyrion and Jaime rescued was a set-up. And Tyrion had to watch all of his father's guards having sex with Tysha, paying a silver coin each for her. (Although Tyrion leaves out the kicker: Tyrion had to have sex with Tysha last, paying a gold coin because a Lannister is worth more.)
Shae says that Tyrion should have known Tysha was a sex worker, because no woman would take a man as her lover right after almost getting raped. But the moral of the story could easily be that Tysha really did want Tyrion's protection, and he let her down. Tyrion has turned the story of Tysha into his personal foundation myth, in which the one time he loved a woman she let him down and he learned never to let himself love again. Because anyone who would love someone as hideous as Tyrion simply has to be in it for the money, or personal gain.
It's ironic: The Tysha business was Tywin's way of teaching Tyrion that he was too good for the common Tysha. By devaluing her and showing that she was just a sex worker, and that Tyrion was worth a whole gold coin, Tywin was attempting to show that Tyrion deserved better. But instead, the lesson that Tyrion took away was that he's so debased and hideous, that he's essentially worthless. And no woman would ever want him, unless he paid for it.
But as Ned Stark could tell you — if he could still talk — there's paying for it, and then there's paying for it. And some prices turn out to be too high.