A Game of Thrones hints of two great cataclysms coming to the Seven Kingdoms- winter and war. In the novel, George R.R. Martin builds suspense toward these two great events, showing each of the Noble Houses’ jockeying for the possibility to take the Iron Throne, preparing for the oncoming war. While the Night’s Watch, the protectors of Westeros are faced with the threat of winter and the monsters it brings to the land. “Lord Snow,” the third episode of Game of Thrones, brings these major threats to the world to the foreground, showing how each of the characters is preparing for their own private wars and how woefully unprepared the world is for winter.
The War for the Iron Throne
The Iron Throne is forged from hundreds of swords. It is sharp, uncomfortable, and the most coveted seat in the Seven Kingdoms. It is the ultimate symbol of power in Westeros. For Robert and Jaime it is a symbol of shared corruption, caused by disregarding one’s oaths to their late king. For Cersei and Joffrey, it is a symbol of control over the truth and citizenry of the Seven Kingdoms. For Petyr and Varys, it is merely a symbol, since they are the true power behind the throne. For Danerys, it is a goal and a reason to embrace her position as khaleesi. For all of the Seven Kingdoms, it is a reason to go to war.
The rebellion against Mad King Aerys began when he publically executed the families of his dissenting lords. He set the dissenters alight, while his Kingsguard, including Jaime Lannister were forced to watch in horror. When Ned and Robert call Jaime “kingslayer,” it is because he stabbed the king in the back. What Jaime calls “justice” for the murder of the dissenting families, everybody else calls “revenge” or “cowardice.” As Ned enters the throne room to begin his position as the King’s Hand, he is confronted with Jaime, who is “guarding” the Iron Throne. Ned asks him about the execution, challenging him for not taking action. Yet, when action is taken in Jaime’s mind, by killing the king, Ned remarks that he “served when serving was safe.” If there is a price for the Iron Throne, it is the betrayal of one’s morals. Robert and Jaime swore oaths to serve the king, yet both betray this oath when their families are threatened, in turn, become corrupted by it. Robert asks Jaime what the mad king’s last words were before he died. They were “burn them all.” The price of power in Game of Thrones is corruption that spreads even to the most honorable men.
Joffrey is being groomed for leadership by Robert’s wife Cersei, but mother and son each have differing opinions on the nature of power. As she nurses her son’s wound, she begins to spin a tale of how Joffrey killed the direwolf that attacked him, protecting his betrothed Sansa. Joffrey complains that this isn’t true. He admits to allowing a girl to disarm him and his child-like behavior, crying whilst his hand bled. Cersei remarks that when he is king “the truth will be what you make it.” The appearance of power is exceptionally important to her. While Joffrey doesn’t have to love his betrothed, he does have to have heirs to continue his families’ control over the Iron Throne. If Joffrey wants to “fuck painted whores” he is allowed to do so, but Sansa will still be his queen. Joffrey, unlike his mother, equates power with control. He posits that the Northerners, specifically the Starks, should supply troops to a “royal army.” If they refuse, he’ll install a new Warden of the North, one loyal to him and him alone. Unfortunately, the North is difficult to hold, it is too wild and requires delegation by those born in the area, Cersei warns her son that “winter will come” and kill off his troops. For mother and son, power is controlling one’s image and one’s men. It is power both will gain once they have the Iron Throne
Power doesn’t just rest in the hands of the man who sits on the Iron Throne; however, it is also delegated (and hidden) in the Small Council led by the spymaster Varys and the treasurer Petyr “Littlefinger” Bealish. The members of the Small Council are as Petyr notes they are “the lords of small matters.” They actually run the kingdom, while Robert drinks wine, screws, hunts, and reminisces about the war, like Cersei they understand that the king can be a mere figurehead, disguising the real power behind the throne. When Catelyn arrives with the assassin’s dagger, Petyr provides her with a safehouse in one his brothels, while he contacts Ned and aides her in her investigation. He is able to arrange this meeting with the help of the spymaster, who knew that she was arriving, despite her attempts to keep a low profile. The treasurer reveals to both Catelyn and Ned that he owned the assassin’s dagger, but lost it in a bet to Tyrion Lannister, implicating the Imp and the Lannisters at the same time. The Stark’s investigation allows Petyr and Varys to gain political leverage over both the Starks and the Lannisters. As he notes that Starks have “quick tempers” and “slow minds,” he sees no reason in not taking advantage of both Ned and Catelyn’s shared paranoia about the various threats to the Iron Throne. Petyr and Varys both know the true power over the Seven Kingdoms lies in the Small Council.
Across the Narrow Sea, Dany is learning how Dothraki rule. She has already embraced their culture, dressing like a tribesman and learning to speak their language. She is also beginning to act like khaleesi, a Dothraki warrior-queen. As Jorah Mormont explains, the Dothraki don’t covet gold or property, so the notion of sitting on an Iron Throne would bore a khal to death. When they “seek tribute” from the city-states of Essos, they give the rulers a simple ultimatum- give us your slaves or die fighting us. When Dany stops the horde, searching for a wayward slave, she is confronted by the Westerosi notions of power held by her brother Viserys. He considers her to be nothing more than a bargaining chip and a “savage’s slut.” In his mind, Dany is a means to an ends, allowing him to reclaim the Iron Throne. Dothraki ways, however, win out. Dany’s guardsman forces her brother to walk with the slaves instead of riding with the tribe, relegating him to a position below that of even a commoner in his own lands. While Dany does wish to return to home to the Seven Kingdoms, she does not hold to the notions of power held by her brother, the Lannisters, the Starks, or the Small Council. If she returns to Westeros, it will be on her terms, not anybody else’s.
A war is brewing in the Seven Kingdoms and a contender to the Iron Throne can be found across the Narrow Sea. Each faction is seeking the power represented by the throne. Jaime and Robert understand the corrupting nature of power, causing one to be lax or disloyal to one’s rulers. They have already prepared for war, because war is all they really understand. Cersei and Joffrey are willing to kill their enemies,so they can seize the throne for the control it will bring them. They’re preparing for war too. Ned and Catelyn are searching for their enemies aided by Petyr and Varys, who believe that they are the true power in the realm. Across the Narrow Sea, Dany is learning the Dothraki notions of power, gaining more influence over her tribe. Each side is preparing for a war that seems inevitable, seeking power for their own reasons, yet never really acknowledging that winter is coming.
The End of the Long Summer
The Long Summer is ending. The once idyllic Westeros will again become a dark, cold place. While the Houses of the Seven Kingdoms are preparing for war, they neglect an even greater threat to their homelands- the White Walkers. Arya and Bran are summer children naïve to the threats that surround them. They are used to long, warm days and bountiful harvests. They don’t know how to prepare for winter, much like how the Seven Kingdom’s don’t truly understand the threats beyond the Wall. While on the Wall, Tyrion skepticism of monsters is confronted by repeated pleas by the Night’s Watch’s leadership to send word to King’s Landing for more men and supplies. The commander, the first ranger, and the maester all take reports of White Walkers rising beyond the Wall seriously. When summer ends, the true threats to the Seven Kingdoms will reveal themselves, but will the Noble Houses be prepared?
Arya and Bran are both born during a summer that has lasted nine years. Bran’s summer involved climbing the towers of Winterfell, training to be a warrior, and playing with his siblings, while Arya’s summer involved learning how to be a lady and a wife to a noble lord. Winter has come early for both of these children. On the way to King’s Landing, Arya learns about the treachery of the Lannisters, who kill her friend for being a commoner. She blames herself for Micah’s (the butcher’s boy’s) death, despite wanting to kill Joffrey for his lies. When she is confronted by her father for her unladylike behavior at the dinner table, he explains to her that she is a “summer child,” but when winter comes she must be prepared to protect not only herself, but her family. In order to prepare her for winter, Ned arranges for Arya to learn how to use her stiletto Needle. Bran’s summer ends when he fell off the tower. Finally awake, he asks the old woman watching him to tell him a scary story. She tells him that he doesn’t understand fear. “Fear is for the winter, fear is for the Long Night” when the White Walkers ravage the countryside riding dead horses. It is this fear that inspires Ned to teach Arya swordsmanship. It is also this fear that keeps the men of the Night’s Watch awake at night.
Tyrion, however, is not afraid of monsters. He hasn’t seen the White Walkers kill Night’s Watch scouts in “Winter is Coming.” He doesn’t believe in White Walkers, giants, and other supernatural threats. The real threats to the kingdom are internal. They come from within King’s Landing itself, as each of Houses’ prepares for another civil war. To the leadership of the Night’s Watch, Tyrion is like Bran and Arya a “summer child” unprepared for when the monsters finally creep out during the Long Night. Ned remarks to Arya that is it dangerous to fight an internal war, when there are greater external threats. This advice is echoed to Tyrion by Benjen Stark, who tells him that half of the men in the Night’s Watch will die beyond the Wall from barbarians, cold, or starvation. He believes the reports about the White Walkers. Commander Mormont (James Cosmo) and Maester Aemon (Peter Vaughn) also believe that the reports are credible, having heard them not only from one of their own, but also from captive barbarians, who are fleeing to the South in advance of the undead. They ask the Imp to petition his sister for more support, men and supplies. If the Wall is unprotected, it won’t matter who sits on the Iron Throne.
War and winter are coming to the Seven Kingdoms. The White Walkers are rising, but so is a new war for the Iron Throne. As Ned watches his daughter learn sword fighting, he hears the clanging of steel and men dying. The fight for the Iron Throne continues tonight with “Cripples, Bastards, and Broken Things” on HBO.