11th May2015

‘Game of Thrones 5×05: Kill the Boy’ Review

by Gretchen Felker-Martin

“Every time you wear something you made, you can remember her.”

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Myranda’s phony words of comfort to Sansa pluck uncomfortably at something every human struggles to reconcile within themselves.  What claim do the dead have on us, and is it more important to honor their memory than it is to work toward a better future?

For all that her arc ends in compromise and an overture toward peace with Meereen’s former rulers, Dany lets grief over the death of loyal ser Barristan drive her to do exactly the kind of vicious grand-standing the old knight abhorred.  The scene in which she feeds a patriarch of one of the city’s great houses to her ravening dragons is a grisly as any of the executions-by-wildfire her father the Mad King loved so much, and that .  Dany is guided by rage and frustration, unable to abandon the idea that symbolic punishments can right the wrongs perpetrated against Meereen’s slaves, and against her inner circle.

Ser Barristan’s death, though, comes directly after another vigil over the rest of a fallen warrior.  Missandei sits red-eyed and exhausted at Grey Worm’s bedside, and when he wakes she gives him space to explain that he didn’t fear death at the knives of the Sons of the Harpy but a future in which he never saw her again.  The juxtaposition of these two scenes firmly establishes the different responses people have to tragedy.  Where Dany sees an incitement toward vengeance, Missandei and Grey Worm see a chance to share their lives with one another.  Their tender first moments in bed together sketch a picture of love in the face of loss, a commitment to life and the living.

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Ramsay, nervous at the idea of being unseated from favor by a trueborn son of his father’s new wife, is a creature entirely of the present.  He loathes boredom and reflection, preferring instead the reckless momentum of a life filled with risk, violence, and conquest.  He pushes people not because he doesn’t understand they break, but because the tension excites him and alleviates the boredom of life.  “You’ve never asked me about your mother,” his father observes while winding up for some major-league ego stoking and manipulation.  “Why would I?” Ramsay replies, his every outsize grimace and mocking goggle-eyed stare given uncomfortable and hilarious life by Iwan Rheon.  “She had me.  She died.”  Roose goes on to tell him about how he was conceived by rape in the shadow of his mother’s previous husband, but Ramsay seems unaffected; women are diversions to him, not people who could inform his origin or identity.

Elsewhere in the north, Brienne stubbornly clings to an oath she made to a dead woman while Jon struggles to overcome millennia of strife between the Wildlings and the Night’s Watch in order to give Westeros a fighting chance.  Pushing hard for an alliance between his men and their mortal enemies against the encroaching threat of the White Walkers(themselves a living, breathing embodiment of death’s permanence and its hold on the living), he encounters predictable resistance.  “They killed fifty of our brothers,” says Edd, his voice shaking with emotion.  “I can’t forget that, and I can’t forgive it.”  Even his loyal pipsqueak of a steward, Olly, can’t set his grief aside or see the Wildings as an undifferentiated mass of killers.  Stannis, Jon’s grammar-conscious and emotionally unavailable surrogate dad, is shipping out for battle with the Boltons while Jon sails up the coast to see if he and Tormund can convince the remnants of Mance’s army to come south.  Everything hangs by a thread, and it’s not too much of a leap to imagine that at least one of those journeys will end in disaster.

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With the intersection of the Wildings, Stannis’s court, and the Night’s Watch, things at the Wall are finally involved and complex enough to feel interesting.  When maester Aemon tells Jon to “kill the boy,” a metaphorical self-murder of the desire to please others in favor of an ability to make hard choices displeasing to many in service of a greater good, it feels like an ethos with imminent consequences instead of the blustering rhetoric about service spouted by Night’s Watch stalwarts like ser Alliser and the late Qhorin Halfhand.  The weight of history at the wall is tremendous, and in an episode without the scheming and sneering of King’s Landing and its resident vipers it’s appropriate that the north provide its own dry and scowling but equally deadly mix of politics and family dysfunction.

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The closing sequence, set in abandoned and overgrown Valyria, is Game of Thrones at its best.  From the lonely grandeur of the ruins of the empire that spawned the Targaryen dynasty to the melancholy of the poem Tyrion and Jorah recite together, the entire segment oozes fantasy splendor and gut-churning dread.  Drogon soaring high above the bog where the towers of old Valyria rise up like gnarled fingers is a quiet note of majesty before the Stone Men show up and shit hits the fan.  Tyrion and Jorah do some pretty solid chemistry-building in the minutes before snarling greyscale victims leap onto their ship, and when Tyrion goes overboard in the ensuing struggle the exhausted pace of his rescue by Jorah feels earned.

The two men end the episode standing a little way apart from one another on a lonely beach at the edge of the world, a fragile measure of trust growing between them as Jorah undoes Tyrion’s bonds.  Both are exiles, both have betrayed the women they loved, and now each is all the other has.  The poem about Valyria’s Doom echoes as the waves lap at the shoreline, Tyrion staring out to sea and Jorah looking down at the telltale blight of greyscale on his wrist.

“They held each other close and turned their backs upon the end”.

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