“If you think this has a happy ending, you haven’t been paying attention," taunts Theon's captor during a particularly brutal moment of last night's Game of Thrones. While the taunter claims to be a liar, he isn't lying here; Theon's luck will not be looking up anytime soon, though that said, whose is? The unnamed torturer would have been speaking equal truth had he addressed any character in the entire GoT universe. By thinking things will get better, all anyone's really doing is demonstrating how naive and hopeless they are. This is true for Theon, it's true for Sansa, Gendry and Edmure, it's certainly true for Ros, but is it true for us? Will we get any semblance of a happy ending or are we dumb for even thinking that's a possibility?
This is a show that has never shied away from the gruesome or tragic. We've seen Ned Stark lose his head, Jaime lose his hand, the charred corpses of children, countless sexual assaults and, as of last night, a finger flaying, but I don't know if I've ever come away from an episode feeling more pessimistic or grim than I did last night — strange seeing as it began and ended with touching scenes of domesticity, the first between Sam and Gilly as he sings to her by the fire and the second shared between Ygritte and Jon Snow as they share a kiss at the top of the wall, truly living at the edge of the world.
Sam and Gilly have successfully fled from Craster's Keep along with her newborn. Their newfound circumstances should be hopeless. They have no food or warmth; Sam, equipped solely with the skills of kindness and compassion, isn't capable enough to protect a mother and child from the dangers that are barely being kept at bay. In spite of all this, the scene is sweet. Gilly teaches Sam how to build a fire and rolls her eyes at his privileged upbringing and Sam — out of tune, but wanting so much to make her happy — sings her songs about mothers and fathers south of the wall. No white walkers or rogue crows will attack tonight and at least they have that.
In King's Landing, Sansa also enjoys a short-lived moment of romance — it's a fake moment, seeing as her betrothed Loras is, in the words of his own grandmother, a sword swallower, but Sansa doesn't know that and for once she's happy. Her naivete is protecting her here if nowhere else as Loras goes on and on about how excited he is to plan the wedding festivities and her wedding dress, but then nearly throws up when he has to say the word "wife." He actually has nothing to worry about — Sansa won't be marrying Loris at all as the Lannisters will be keeping her for themselves and marrying her off to Tyrion. Of course being married to Tyrion, even if he doesn't love you, wouldn't be so bad. He's kind and clever in the best of ways, but Sansa doesn't know that. All she knows is that she came close to freedom, close to never having to see the family who has emotionally tortured her since the death of her father, only to be tossed right back into her nightmares. Sansa isn't blameless for her circumstances, but it's moments like watching her sob as her hopes are dashed that force you to remember what she is — a small-town kid who made the mistake of daydreaming rather than learning to scheme, craft and manipulate. (All of her pain is almost worth it when it leads to scenes of Lady Olenna going head to head with Tywin Lannister.)
Gendry, having grown up with nothing and facing adversity his entire life, should know better than Sansa, but even he lets his fantasies of a happy ending get carried away as he falls in deeper with the Brotherhood Without Banners, a true democracy that will appreciate his craft and see him as more than the bastard son of a prostitute. Too bad that there are two things the Brotherhood holds in higher esteem than egalitarianism — the Lord of Light and cold hard cash. Gendry falls victim to both with the arrival of Melisandre. "I don't like that woman," Arya says immediately upon seeing her. "That's 'cause you're a girl," responds the Brotherhood archer, implying that Arya is jealous of Melisandre's attractiveness. Gendry guffaws at the dumb joke, but the joke is really on him. The Fire Priestess asks for Gendry and Bruvs hand him over in exchange for two heavy satchels of coins. "You are more than they can ever be," Melisandre promises as he's forced — devastated — into a wagon. "You will make kings rise and fall." She also sees something Arya. "I see a darkness in you," the priestess tells her. "And in that darkness, eyes staring back at me — brown eyes, blue eyes, green eyes — eyes you'll shut forever." If Melisandre is right, Arya just may end up getting her wanted ending (revenge), but it'll be far from happy.
Robb also might be getting what he wants, but it will come at a cost. Walder Frey will forgive him for backing out of his marriage contract and continue their alliance if Robb agrees to give him a whole mess of things including the opportunity to marry off one of his daughters to Catelyn's brother Edmure Tully. (Relax with the daughters, Frey.) He's learned his lesson from Robb — this time he wants a short engagement with a wedding scheduled only a couple weeks away. Edmure must marry the girl sight unseen — an idea that doesn't sit too well as he'd prefer to wait and see if Frey has any prettier daughters for him to choose from. Robb, who is really at fault for all this, tells him no and apologizes for making his uncle pay for his mistakes. Remember what the unnamed man told Theon, Edmure — you could wait and choose all you want, but if you think this has a happy ending for you, you haven’t been paying attention. That goes for you, too, Robb.
Now back to Theon and his captor. Is the torturer the most terrifying and maniacal villain that we've yet to encounter? Perhaps what makes him most scary — to us and to Theon — is that so far there's been no why to justify his cruelty or insane games of manipulation. Many would dub Theon himself a villain, but at least there's always been some sort of answer as to why he is the way that he is that allows you to feel some empathy for him. Even Littlefinger and Joffrey have been given some backstory to provide an understanding of their demented characters (Littlefinger because of humiliation and insecurity, Joffrey because of hubris and a posse of enablers)— though after the heartbreaking and disgusting murder of Ros, another person who had once been foolish enough to hope for a happy ending, it's hard (read: impossible) to say that we feel anything but disgust for them.
The episode closes with Jon, Ygritte and the other wildlings reaching the top of the wall after a harrowing climb that almost led to the young couple's death. Jon, by the way, has gotten waaaaaay chill since having sex for the first time. What? No guilt? No "but I'm a bastard!" or "my vows!"? He just goes from being an über serious bummer all of the time to smiling and joking and macking on some girl atop the wall? Fiiiiiiine. ANYWAY, Snow and Ygritte almost don't complete their mission. In fact, if Gareth Keenan had his way, the pair would be dead. He's luckily foiled and they both make it to the top, giving Ygritte the chance she's waited her whole life for — to see the other side of the world. Dawn breaks on the horizon, Jon and Ygritte are exhausted but happy, they kiss and the episode ends on a seeming note of positivity.
Sadly, Theon's unnamed man's words are more applicable now than ever before. Could this be a happy ending? Only if you're dumb enough to think so. What world exists for Jon Snow and Ygritte when they make it over the wall? Go south and Jon risks beheading for abandoning his vows. Go north and their prospects aren't much better. As Ygritte points out, regardless of how they feel about one another, the world regards them merely as pawns and a pawn's only purpose is to die to protect someone more powerful than they are. Then there's Sam and Gilly — they might be comfortable for one night as they sing and warm themselves by the fire, but tomorrow will be a new day for them to fight for survival.
Valar Morghulis — Game of Thrones very own "Did I do that?" catchphrase — translates into "All men must die," but maybe it should be retranslated as "All men get to die." From the looks of the living in Westeros, death seems like the happiest ending you could possibly ask for.
There was one example of nudity in this week's episode, but the circumstances of the nakedness were so sad and violent that (again, poor Ros) that it seems flippant to count it here. We'll be back with a count when the nudity is a little more silly and fun.