The opening scene of last night's Game of Thrones sets the tone. Arya Stark is in the woods, peeing by a stream. Nervously, lest she betray her big secret. The camera creeps up right behind her, like the viewpoint of someone spying on her. Until at last, the voyeuristic lens gets right up to Arya, and she turns to look at it. And we realize who's spying on Arya: It's us, the viewers. It's a clever use of horror movie tropes to underscore a crucial truth: it's never easy to tell who's spying on whom, in Westeros.
Last night's episode was full of scenes where the watcher becomes the watched. Proving, yet again, that everybody thinks they're the hero of their own story, but George R.R. Martin's world doesn't necessarily agree.
One of Jean-Paul Sartre's most famous bits of writing (after "Hell is other people") is the parable of the Look, from Being and Nothingness. It's pretty simple, when you boil it down: There's a guy in a hallway, who's looking through a keyhole into someone's room, watching whatever's going on there. Until the guy in the hallway realizes that someone else, in turn, is watching him. (And he's got some 'splaining to do.) The subject becomes an object, and the guy who thought of himself as just an omniscient consciousness observing other people's tawdry dealings realizes that he, too, has a physical presence that can be observed. He sees himself, because he is seen.
Last night, Game of Thrones actually gave us a sexed-up rendition of this very scene. At the Best Little Whorehouse in King's Landing, a couple is having sex and the woman is faking arousal, just as Ros taught last week. And we pull back to realize a man is watching them screw through a peephole, while a woman fellates him. He gets an extra thrill from being a voyeur.... but then the camera pulls back again, and Littlefinger is watching him, in turn.
But then Littlefinger is pulled away from his spying by a disgruntled client, who barely even touched poor Ros before she started weeping. Ros is still upset over the little matter of watching Janos Slynt murder a baby right in front of her, and Littlefinger is deeply sympathetic, telling her to take the night off... and then return tomorrow, chipper and full of that can-do spirit that he so prizes. Because the last time one of his sex workers was weepy, he sold her off to a rich man who violated her in ways most men wouldn't even think of. That woman was still sad, but Littlefinger's losses? Totally mitigated. Ros agrees that she will have a night off, and then buck up.
A man has a thirst
Meanwhile, even though nobody was watching Arya pee, that doesn't mean she's not being watched.
She's caught the eye of Jaqen H'ghar, one of the three murderers locked in a cage, who already knows her name. Jaqen asks "Arry" for water, referring to himself in the third person as "a man" — but then the other two murderers ruin everything by threatening to sodomize Arya with a tree branch. Soon after, some gold cloaks arrive from King's Landing with a warrant from Good King Joffrey. Arya thinks they're there searching for her — but they're actually looking for Gendry, the former blacksmith and bastard son of King Robert Baratheon.
And Yoren, who's guiding Arya, Gendry and the other rejects up to the Wall to join the Night's Watch, proves once and for all that he's an ultimate badass, by showing that a tiny knife can be more powerful than a big sword — if you know where and how to use it. The gold cloaks go away, but they'll be back. Later on, Arya confides in Gendry who she really is, and he freaks out that he's been peeing in front of her and talking about cocks. (This is after Gendry explains to Lommy and Hot Pie that you don't have to be a knight to have armor, in one of the funniest scenes ever committed to video. Also great: "You shouldn't insult people that are bigger than you." "Then I wouldn't get to insult anyone.")
So anyway, back to people who think they're watching, when they're actually being watched. Poor, poor Theon Greyjoy. He surveys the towers of Pyke, his father's stronghold, from the boat that's bringing him home for the first time in nine years, and thinks how small it all looks. He's expecting a hero's welcome, as he tells the boat captain's daughter in between screwing her brains out and treating her like total crap. For he is the only living son of Lord Balon Greyjoy, sent to live with House Stark as a hostage/ward after Greyjoy's rebellion failed. Instead, nobody greets him at the pier, and Theon is left looking around the docks in disgust at how squalid it all is.
Luckily, a woman shows up and offers him a ride to the castle, and he gets to check her out thoroughly while he rides on her horse. He's so busy looking her over and deciding she might be worthy to share his lordly bedchamber, it never even occurs to him that she might be looking him over as well. Until they reach the castle, and he finds out she's his sister Yara (and I will never get used to her not being named Asha). While Theon's been gone, she's become the commander of her late brother's ship. "She's commanded men. She's killed men. She knows who she is," says Lord Balon under his big stone kraken carving.
Theon wants his father to join forces with King Robb Stark against the Lannisters and Good King Joffrey — but Balon says that nobody will give him a crown. He'll take his crown by force, and it's not the Lannisters he'll be fighting. Theon looks crestfallen, and not just because he was groping his sister's boobs on horseback. He thought he was going to look down on his family and his people, and instead they're looking down on him.
Tyrion knows how this game is played
This episode has two notable instances of someone being sneaked up on. First and foremost, there's Janos Slynt, the horrible baby-killing Commander of the City Watch, who is staring down Tyrion Lannister without realizing there's someone standing right behind him.
Janos Slynt thinks he's having a friendly dinner with Tyrion at first, until Tyrion brings up the unpleasant business of all that regrettable baby-slaughter. And also the fact that Slynt betrayed Tyrion's predecessor as Hand of the King, Ned Stark. Slynt says Tyrion is questioning his honor, but Tyrion says not at all: He is denying its existence. Slynt thinks he can win a staring contest with Tyrion, given his height advantage and his bluster about friends at Court — until he turns around to see Bronn the Awesome surveying him, with obvious amusement.
Janos gets carted off to the Wall, to fight zombies as part of the Night's Watch. (A threat that Tyrion professes to be quite concerned about, in a meeting of the Small Council.) And then Tyrion asks Bronn, the new City Watch commander, if he would kill a baby without question. Nope, says Bronn. "I'd ask how much."
But Tyrion is not immune to being spied on — because Lord Varys the Spider sees everything. Tyrion comes home at one point in the episode, to find Varys and Tyrion's own private concubine, Shae, whooping it up together. Shae is pretending she met Tyrion when she was a cook, and he raised her up. "You should taste her fish pie," Tyrion advises Varys, who seems unappetized. And then Varys does the dark-insinuation thing that's so popular in King's Landing, and Tyrion takes umbrage at being threatened. If Varys tries to blackmail or threaten the Imp, he'll be thrown into the sea. Tyrion might be disappointed in the result, says Varys, because no matter what, "I keep on paddling."
Meanwhile, Tyrion tries to convince his sister Queen Cersei that she's being watched by "the people" — and they're turning against her. I think this is the first time anybody has mentioned "the people" as something to be concerned about, rather than this lord or that lord. Cersei responds to concerns about the people the exact same way she does to reports of zombies in the North — it's just crazy talk. But the people are the ultimate unseen watchers, and when winter finally does show up and they're starving, they will plot Cersei's overthrow, now that she's a baby-killer. Cersei doesn't repent the baby-killing, even though Tyrion guesses it wasn't her doing. She says: "This is what ruling is: lying on a bed of weeds, ripping them out one by one, before they strangle you in your sleep." Which is a bit of a mixed metaphor, but never mind. Tyrion says he thinks there's more to ruling than that, and this turns into Cersei bringing up Tyrion's first and best witticism: their mother's death giving birth to him. The look of heartbreak on Tyrion's face is terrible to behold.
Daenerys and Davos
We only get one scene of Daenerys and her small group of followers in the Red Waste this week, and it's a bleak, bleak one. Last week, she sent three riders on her last remaining horses to go search for cities or water. And this week a horse returns — with no rider, but the head of Rakharo, her most dependable follower. His corpse has been defiled and his braid cut off, probably by Khal Pono. (Please, no jokes about being pwned by Pono.) The Khals don't like the idea of a woman leading a khalasar, says Jorah Mormont. "They will like it far less when I am done with them," says Daenerys. And she promises to build Rakharo a funeral pyre, so he can still ride with his ancestors. (Or at least, his head can. Futurama-style, maybe?)
We pull back to an ultra-wide shot of Daenerys, alone in the middle of the wasteland, with nothing but grief for company. In an episode that's full of scenes that suddenly pull back to show the bigger picture, this is the most disturbing instance.
Meanwhile, Davos Seaworth is caught between two very different perspectives: that of Salladhor Saan, a saucy Lysene pirate with 30 ships, and his own son Matthos. They are both going to follow King Stannis, for very different reasons that are not entirely sound.
Salladhor Saan wants to help sack King's Landing because he hopes to seize a ton of gold in the process — and he thinks his name will be sung about afterwards. (Actually, Davos' arguments for Salladhor joining their cause are mutually contradictory. On the one hand, he says few pirates live long, but then he also says piracy is too easy and Salladhor needs a real challenge. Which is it: Is this a way to live longer, or to take a bigger risk?) And then Salladhor goes off on a weird tirade about wanting the chance to seduce Queen Cersei, and the only god being between a woman's legs. (And actually, this was the one scene in the episode that needed an edit, because that stuff seemed pointless and bizarre.)
Meanwhile, Matthos is a true believer in the fire religion that Stannis has reluctantly signed on to, the worship of R'hllor. He's deeply offended by Salladhor's desire to make this all about him — because it's all about Stannis, the "Lord of Light." Meanwhile, Davos doesn't worship gold, like Salladhor, or R'hllor, like his son — he worships Stannis, who raised him up and gave his son an education and a future. Both Davos and Salladhor say that all over the world, people worship different gods, but prayer never works. Matthos points out that Davos always came home safely from his sea voyages. Davos responds that he wasn't praying, but Matthos says that he was the one praying for his father's safe return.
Oh, and then after Davos and his son visit King Stannis and Melisandre the fire priestess, she whispers creepily in Matthos' ear about the wonderful purity of death by fire. And then once alone with Stannis, she talks him into screwing her on top of his war map, so she can give him a son. Ah, that old time religion.
Jon Snow's girl trouble
I mentioned above that there are two scenes where someone gets sneaked up on in this episode — the second comes at the very end. Jon Snow is spying on the mysterious figure (creature?) who carries away the new-born son of Craster, the man who marries his daughters and sacrifices his sons. And then suddenly, Craster comes up behind Jon Snow and whacks him in the head, proving that sometimes going from being the watcher to the watched can be a painful experience.
Snow has been trying to follow the orders of the Lord Commander Jeor Mormont (Jorah's father) last episode: to keep his mouth shut and turn a blind eye to the wrongness of Craster's household. But Samwell Tarly hasn't helped, what with befriending one of Craster's daughters, the pregnant Gilly. (The same girl who parroted the words about being safe with her lord Craster last week.) Jon Snow quite sensibly points out that he and Samwell can't do anything for Gilly — but then when he sees Craster going into the woods with a baby boy, he can't resist following and seeing what happens to the baby — which leads to the aforementioned wallop on the back of the head.
Game of Thrones is a show that features blinding reversals on a super regular basis — but last night's episode was just jam-packed with them. Rakharo goes from the steadfast savior to a head in a bag. Janos Slynt goes from a high lord to an exile, in an instant. Theon goes from the proud returning son to a preening disappointment. Ros learns to turn her frown upside-down. And so on. And many of these reversals have to do with a basic fact of life in the Seven Kingdoms: there are eyes everywhere, and you never know who's watching — and what they're going to make of you.