With all of the new and reborn unions that came about this episode, the parallels between characters with previously minimal contact have become increasingly clear. The emergence of these parallels is a hallmark of just how close the show is to finishing, and these arcs that have long run alongside each other are beginning to converge.
Cersei and Daenerys
This week’s episode finds Dany backpedaling in the face of her adversary, Cersei, who has swiftly reduced much of Dany’s sea power thanks to Euron’s fleet and a bout of clever strategizing. But the two foes share some of the clearest parallels within the show as well.
Both rose above the yokes of their family names and the reputations of their respective fathers to establish titles for themselves. In Cersei’s case, her hunger for power and her impetuousness — culminating in the burning of the Sept of Baelor — far overshadows the quieter scheming and preference for background dealings that Tywin was known for in his life. As Robert Baratheon’s queen and essentially a figurehead, Cersei had to orchestrate her own husband’s death to reclaim her full power as a Lannister.
Dany, on the other hand, had to find a way to distance herself from her family’s history, if not its name; the Targaryens became notorious across Westeros for a fervent obsession with blood purity that led to many incestuous marriages as well as a resultant inborn madness. To contend with her family’s reputation, Dany established herself as a “breaker of chains” through an aggressive slave liberation campaign. It also helps that she is the surrogate mother of three now fully grown dragons that make her claim to the throne difficult to refute.
In more recent developments, both queens have embraced alliances their predecessors would have shied away from. Cersei, while opaque and standoffish, understands the power behind Euron’s fleet enough to seize upon his requests for an alliance, although she has yet to keep up her end of the bargain.
Dany, meanwhile, not only allied with the now-defeated Tyrells (the historical rivals of the Targaryens’ Martell allies in Sunspear, who were also thwarted this episode) and, at least tenuously, the Starks (two of whom her father roasted alive and another whose illegitimate relationship with Rhaegar caused the downfall of her family), but also Cersei’s own brother.
Both Cersei and Daenerys have demonstrated a penchant for ruthlessness with their enemies, a tendency that promises to explode spectacularly when the two finally go toe to toe. Be it by wildfire or by dragon, both have literally burned their enemies alive, and regardless of their intentions, both of them strengthened their claims to power by doing so.
While this ruthlessness has made Cersei out to be more of a villain than Daenerys, who is more often portrayed as an avenger, the scene compositions this episode hint at some changing dynamics.
Lit warmly by the fires of the dungeons beneath King’s Landing, Cersei heartwrenchingly narrates the care with which she raised Myrcella, never depending on a wet nurse as a queen might be expected to do; for a moment, without the context of torture, she could almost look angelic. Meanwhile, when Dany first appears this episode, she is poised upon her throne awaiting Jon’s audience; Dragonstone’s unique architecture renders a striking chiaroscuro on her face, implying that Dany’s dark side might be closer to the surface than it seems. In any case, when wildfire meets dragon fire, a battle for supremacy is pretty evenly matched.
Jon and Tyrion
Both the underdogs of their families, Jon and Tyrion now find themselves in positions of greater power than they were ever expected to yield. Both of their ascents, too, were unconventional, lasting through the entire lifespan of the show so far. After finally meeting once more after so many seasons, in fact, one of their first conversation touches upon the similarly convoluted trajectories they followed into power.
Both Jon and Tyrion were put into power when they wanted nothing less; Jon had just lost his greatest love and several allies on both sides of the wall when he was made Lord Commander, and Tyrion’s appointment as Dany’s Hand and chief advisor came just as he was losing his will to live at all following his unjust sentencing for Joffrey’s death. Nonetheless, they both accepted their positions, performing their duties to the best of their abilities.
Both, as is now abundantly apparent, also struggle with their family ties. This conflict was always clear for Tyrion, who sought to abandon his Lannister name just as his father tried to abandon him in a river as a baby. Just like Tywin, however, he is unable to; like it or not, his cleverly informed strategies make him most similar to Tywin, unlike the straightforward Jaime and belligerent Cersei (this contrast remains to be seen, however, as Jaime and Cersei proved themselves able competitors against Tyrion with their gambit at Highgarden this episode).
Jon, meanwhile, struggled for his entire life with the reputation of being Ned Stark’s bastard son; his strong Stark features didn’t help erase his ties to his alleged father. What he (and everyone, except for Bran) is unaware of is that his features are actually his mother’s; his legitimate name isn’t Stark at all — it’s Targaryen. That irony was clear at Dragonstone this episode for a moment: after Jon declared that he is merely a Stark bastard, Drogon swoops dangerously close, almost as if the dragon wants to claim its unaware family member. With Jon having met his last living paternal relative this episode, the conflict continues to simmer, although the truth threatens to burst forth soon, especially now that Bran is now on the Westerosi side of the Wall.
Jaime and Theon
Like Jon and Tyrion, Jaime and Theon have trouble with their roles as sons. Especially in the quasi-medieval setting of Westeros, producing an heir is an important role of highborn men. Both Jaime and Theon have had this job essentially taken from them, with Jaime’s role in the Kingsguard preventing him from marrying and Theon’s castration at the hands of Ramsay Bolton taking his viability.
Both Jaime and Theon also underwent harrowing storylines of humbling. The two began as painfully arrogant characters, with Jaime being an entitled knight of the Kingsguard and Theon the Starks’ ward with a chip on his shoulder that manifested as pride. Through the loss of parts of their body essential to their familial roles, both Jaime and Theon had to face the existential conflict of what their new place in Westeros could be.
The two had to face their insecurities head on this episode. Jaime’s perceived impotence as Cersei’s protector following the loss of his sword hand is made painfully clear by Euron, but in the end, his military skill prevails when he successfully leads the invasion of Highgarden. Theon, having been pulled from the water and insulted by his allies for his cowardice, has yet to surmount his own self-doubt and rescue Yara.
Bran and Benjen
Although Benjen only briefly entered the plot whenever he was relevant, his impact as the last remaining Stark from the previous generation is still felt, especially by Bran. In this week’s episode in particular, after Bran’s reunion with Sansa, the gap between the Stark siblings is excruciatingly obvious.
The figurative veil between Bran and Sansa mimics the true one between Benjen and his deceased siblings; as the only Stark adult to have witnessed the destruction of his family, Benjen is separated from his siblings further, who died while their family still enjoyed prominence.
However, as is the case with Bran, Benjen recognized the higher relative importance of the war between the living and the dead compared to the battle for the Iron Throne. Bran’s role as the Three-Eyed Raven, having acquainted him with the cycle of life and death, isolates him further from his sister now that Sansa is more embroiled in the political proceedings that now look small to him.
As the penultimate season of “Game of Thrones” rises to a fever pitch, the lurid plot elements are proving to have an effect on subtler character traits of main and side characters alike. Knowing Westeros, and how fickle the throne is, the reverse will most probably also prove to be true.
Sahana Rangarajan covers “Game of Thrones.” Contact her at [email protected].