Sunday, April 28, 2013
Steady As She Goes
Ten years ago Olive Senior published a stunning poem in this newspaper called ‘Leaving Home’. Like most of her work, it built its way to a cataclysmic ending that the beginning was pointing to all along but one had to be paying keen attention for. The poem analyzed the journey of womanhood, noting presciently the, “cruelty of choice”. She then dropped a mere four words to end it—which remain among the most devastating lines ever penned by a Caribbean writer: “here’s the knife”, “yourself”, “executioner”, “midwife”.
For the women of George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones, these four words have been shaping up to define them all at varying points in the series. If the first two seasons of the show have set the platform for male egoism to take a sharp fall, then it has stealthily shown the female counterpart of it as set to rise. Season two in particular charted very dedicated courses tied to choices that need delicate balancing acts. None more than the manipulative Queen of the Seven Kingdoms, Cersei (Lena Headey) who visits her wounded brother Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) to glean information as well as to find out if he’s discovered the many lies she’s told on him. Cersei, as the “knife” of this equation dices and shapes policy once it suits her purpose. So far, she’s had to outwit men to get what she wants. No real female has ever stood in her path but now with her son Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) taking a wife she didn’t choose. Cersai is for the first time in the show being replaced or, rather, substituted. Joffrey has fallen under the influence of Margaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer), literally a younger, sweeter version of Cersei.
Both women commence battle with each other almost immediately with back-handed compliments about their attire. For once, Cersei blinks first by testing Joffrey’s loyalty. When it fails, Cersei realizes the quicksand she’s standing on and maternal instinct gives way to a state of attrition. This is compounded by Joffrey’s own cruel-based rebellion.
Unbeknown to both women though are the outward forces coming to the kingdom. Lady Stark (Michelle Fairley) has several axes to grind—revenge being her chief concern and she’ll be the “executioner” of the entire Lannister clan if it’s the last thing she does. For the moment though, she too is faced with uncomfortable choices and their consequences. She made a deal with king-slayer Jaime Lannister (Nickolaj Coster-Waladau) and let him escape much to the chagrin of her son Rob.
And crossing the sea with her dragons gaining strength is Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) building up her converts as she goes along. Daenerys more than any other character in the show exemplifies “yourself” as she’s had to find inner belief more quickly than the rest. Game Of Thrones has gambled often on the separation of her to the other characters but it has paid off so far even though her wheel is still pretty much still in spinning mode. When her advisor Jorah exclaims that her dragons are growing fast, she retorts immediately, “not fast enough”.
As for the “midwife” persona, several women are in such a transitory state because to yield their power, they have to rely on men for its execution. Season three’s relentless march to power is being matched evenly by the new discourse between these ambitious women. Up to now, they’ve had only men to consider as opponents but as things escalate to another great war, they’re realizing that it is each other that may prove sticky to dislodge. Episode two greatly shows how they approach arguments with the men juxtaposed to when the men are beyond earshot. While Cersei remains tongue-in-cheek as Joffrey continues to alienate her, Sansa (Sophie Turner) is privy to the tart-tongue of Lady Olenna (Diana Rigg) in a precious moment of down-time. Olenna is the best new addition to the show, full of authority yet understanding. When she traps Sansa into bad-mouthing Joffrey, she reassures her, “are you frightened, child. No need for that… we’re just women here.”
Yet you can see the reason for Sansa’s concern. She’s still little more than a child playing in the league of older, wiser women. Even Margaery has more cunning than Sansa has charm. After the chat, Sansa sits, eyes lowered, full of defeat and emptiness while the other two women start mentally planning for the way to deal with Joffrey and, by extension, his sadistic streak. Sansa hasn’t yet mastered the exhausting task of being such a woman nor—as she realizes now—will she be. Her fate has already been decided by her choices. She never understood the stubborn quality in her mother yet was kept in awe always of Cersei for the same reason. As she tries to find her new place in the kingdom, both mother and erstwhile mother-in law now yearn for her return to their side. They have different reasons obviously but that she’s a valuable asset is not in question.