As the show’s title suggests, the core storyline to Game of Thrones has a certain Milton Bradley-esque quality to it, wherein the various players are all jockeying for position and designation on an enormous scale. And as is typically the point of playing such a game, the fortunes and futures of all those involved are sometimes decided by a player’s skill – or something far more arbitrary.
The idea of positioning pieces on and around a board isn’t anything new to the series – it’s been going on since the first time the credits rolled – but such allusions have never been so blatant (nor blatantly amusing) as they are early on in ‘Walk of Punishment’ where positions are handed down, haggled for or simply snatched up in another crowded, but still very entertaining episode.
There’s been some grumbling about the level of table setting going on early this season and humorously enough, when the Hand of the King calls for a meeting, it happens to feature some lengthy exposition combined with two highly transparent acts of deliberate positioning around Tywin’s table. First Cersei is seen dragging a chair to be seated next to her father, while the recently slighted Tyrion takes a defiant place directly across from him – lest he disappear somewhere in the periphery.
But that’s just where Tywin seems intent on sending the shrewdest of his children. Making him Master of Coin grants Tyrion a role of sorts, but he’s only replacing Littlefinger who is stepping into a new title of his own. “Titles do seem to breed titles,” Baelish muses, as his good fortunes seem to be weighed directly against Tyrion’s losses. But considering the state of the crown’s finances, it’s clear Baelish couldn’t have picked a better time to add a few titles to spruce up his otherwise disreputable name.
Still, coveted as they are, official titles are but one way for a person to increase his or her profile in the world of Westeros. Just look at Podrick: after slaying Tyrion’s would-be assassin, he winds up denied a knighthood because, as a man falls, so too does his squire, but once word gets out the young man returned still flush with coin from a lengthy afternoon in the company of some very nimble ladies, well, an unofficial title may soon be in the works.
That kind of designation might be useful in certain parts of King’s Landing (and it’s certainly earned Pod Tyrion’s ear), but when you’re thousands of miles away from the throne you’re fairly certain belongs to you, it’s hard to do better than the Mother of Dragons. Daenerys wasn’t seen much in last week’s ‘Dark Wings, Dark Words,’ but that’s because she was stuck haggling for 8,000 of the Unsullied and as much fun as it would have been to watch Dany argue with Westeros’ version of the worst used car salesman ever (through his interpreter, no less), seeing her seal the deal by offering one of her dragons as payment was far more satisfying.
Besides, the real drama surrounding the last of the Targaryens is the quiet positioning between Ser Jorah Mormont and Barristan Selmy – Jorah’s sudden rival for the undivided attention of a serious contender for the Iron Throne. For now, however, they agree: offering up a dragon out of pity for those on a ‘Walk of Punishment’ is a little like trading your car for all the puppies in the pound. Sure, you’ll sleep well that night, but how’re you going to get to work in the morning?
Labels and titles (and dragons) certainly have a way of increasing an individual’s value – especially when they’ve nothing left to bargain with – a notion Jaime uses to great effect preventing Noah Taylor’s Locke from defiling Brienne. Though she may have lost her swords, her armor and her advantage, Brienne’s position, lineage and the promise of sapphires too numerous to count manage to put off Locke’s abhorrent intentions toward her, but it inadvertently directs them at Jaime – or, more specifically, his sword-hand and the source of his skill, moniker and sense of self-worth.
Maybe that’s why the Brotherhood Without Banners are such an interesting lot. Aside from displaying a generally jovial nature – that includes failing to alert the Hound to a wagon’s low-hanging entryway and using arrows as a means of encouraging the portliest of Arya’s traveling companions to move – they’ve given themselves a title that (despite being a title) insists they’re just not into things like allegiances and the trappings of position. They may be vagabonds and roustabouts, but at least they’re free. They answer to no one, which, in the end, is the loftiest of goals and the most sought after of positions.
And once the books have been checked and the debts added up, that’s something not even Joffrey can put claim to.
Game of Thrones continues next Sunday with ‘And Now His Watch Is Ended’ @9pm on HBO. Check out a preview of the episode below: