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Game of Thrones historical references: S06E02 “Home”

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Welcome back for my analysis of the historical  references in the second episode of the sixth series of Game Of Thrones. Keep in mind that I am writing this as I watch the episode for the first time, so some stuff I write might not be entirely consistent with what happens later in the episode. You can read the analysis of the first episode here.

King’s Landing
We start of with a drunk in King’s Landing reminiscing fondly of Cersei’s walk of shame. The guy has a big mouth, but when elephants dance, mice attend at their own risk.
By order of the King, Cersei is confined to the Red Keep. Note how the High Sparrow has separated the young king from the women in his life, both his wife and his mother. Controlling access to the other sex is a phenomenal lever of power. For example, medieval lords decided whether their knights could marry, which I’m sure improved their motivation to do well in battle. Tommen and Cersei did meet, but I’m betting a contingency plan is already in place. The motives of the High Sparrow are at this point open to interpretation. He could either be a cynical manipulator who saw an opportunity to use the faith to amass power, or a legitimate social reformer out to extirpate what he sees as perversion. The latter is actually infinitely more dangerous for all concerned. However if his ultimate goals might be idealistic, his methods show a remarkable shrewdness. Note how he didn’t build a sodomy case against some random guy in the streets: he went for the Queen Mother, and for the Queen’s consort brother, knowing it would lead to the fall of the Queen consort as well. Is it possible for the motives of such a calculating person to be pure? Obviously if you’re going to harass people for their (in universe) moral failings, I guess you can start at the top and use them as examples.
But if this is part of some wider power scheme, what kind of an endgame is he going for? Does he want to turn Westeros (or just King’s Landing) into a theocracy, like Iran or the Vatican? If so he needs to leverage his influence to bring the king’s guard under his control. This is potentially easy, since everybody and their brother already suspects that Jamie (Lord Commander of the King’s Guard) did the naughty with Cersei. The problem is how to get rid of Jaimie, without calling into question the legitimacy of Tommen, which besides being an ideal stooge for the High Sparrow, is the only surviving legitimate descendant OR sibling of Robert Baratheon. If Tommen is removed from the picture, it’s not clear what would happen to the Iron Throne.
If the High Sparrow doesn’t want to go the theocratic route, he could use his power to get some of his faithful into positions of power, and then use this leverage to get the faithful important government contracts. This will lead to a cascade of sudden conversion, as the movers and shakers of King’s Landing fall over themselves to accept the faith. This would be similar to what some Catholic organizations allegedly have done with the national hospital service in a few regions of Italy. If he decides to go this route, he will try to get his proxies appointed as the Master of Coin, Master of Laws, or perhaps Master of Ships (lots of ship building and maintenance contracts to go around). Of these three offices, the Master of Laws has been vacant since Renly left, while the other two are held by Mace Tyrell, father of Margaery. Filling an empty slot would be easier, but we have seen how the High Sparrow likes to kill two birds with one stone, and presumably Mace also knew of his son’s escapades, so it would not be impossible to remove him as well. If he does so, I would expect the Tyrells to break  with the Lannisters for good, though perhaps having three out of four members of their family hostage under the control of the High Sparrow will keep a lid on things for some time.
The discussion about Tommen makes us realize how pissed off some families in Dorn must be at this point. Before the Sand Sisters decided to go on their little killing spree, Myrcella was on track to have a son with Trystan, which would give said son a high probability of eventually rising to the Iron Throne (given the high adolescent mortality for royals in King’s landing). So the in-laws of the Martells were within spitting distance of having a cousin on the Iron Throne, and now they have nothing. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a spot of bother over that at some point.

North of the Wall
Bran is having visions. We see some backstory which could potentially become important, but it’s unclear what it means just now. Perhaps Bran can reawaken Hodor’s fighting instincts. Bran’s visions remind me of Caesar’s epilepsy. In the olden days epileptic fits were often seen as communication with the gods, and altogether not an undesirable trait in a leader. Bran can continue having visions as long as he wants, but eventually it is imperative that he joins Sansa.

Castle Black
The Wildlings save the day, so his friends don’t join Jon as corpses just yet. But the problem remains: Jon Snow was the link that could make the wildlings-south-of-the-wall thing go sort of smoothly. Even if Davos and the Wildling leader have the best intentions, will they trust each other enough? By the way, remember Mance surrendering? The situation, and the way he was shot is strongly reminiscent of Vercingetorix’s capitulation to Caesar, and funnily enough the actor that plays Mance was Caesar in the “Rome’ tv series. Though it also has echos of the US Cavalry vs Plains Indians endgame.

Tyrion in Mereen
The Sons of Harpy are almost certainly led by whatever was the second most powerful family in Mereen before Dany came along. They didn’t like how Hizdar curried favor with Daenerys, and saw the risk of being marginalized. A risk which was confirmed when they actually got engaged. They have made a decision, and are unlikely to reverse course. Come clean, and hoping for leniency would be extremely dangerous, and even in the best case scenario would see them exiled, or at least severely marginalized. No, if Tyrion wants to crack this nut, he has to either get Hizdar’s clan behind him, or else find the third most important family and help them destroy the second.
Anyway, the Mereen navy went up in smoke. This could actually be a sheep in wolf’s clothing. When Cortez reached the new world, he burnt his ships. As a result his men were very well motivated. There’s been a constant tension between Daenerys using Mereen only as a springboard for getting her and the Second Sons into Westeros, and her actually settling down to rule the place. The two are obviously contradictory. If she stays forever, the local rich guys may at some point decide it’s better to have her as an ally than enemy, and some will take a stake into her power structure, aligning their incentives. But if the expectation is that she will leave in six months anyway, there is no point in anybody putting their bets on her, and resistance will continue. The problem of course is that presumably that fleet wasn’t just there for looks, and the loss can compromise the continued viability of Mereen. Presumably most of the ships burned were warships, since merchant ships spend most of their time at sea, so losing a harbor full of them doesn’t make much of an impression on their absolute numbers. Who were they built to defend against? Will these foes decide to use their newly found control of the seas? I would expect that at a minimum, piracy incidents should become more frequent.
One of the big problems faced by the Targaryen faction is the lack of reproductive feed stock. Sure, Dany can do her bit, but if her children continue to be dragons it won’t make for a very stable court, as years go by. Even if the dragon thing is something she can turn on and off, she can only pick one spouse. She has no other living relatives, and Varys is a eunuch, as are all of her soldiers. That leaves Tyrion and Daario, and while both seem perfectly capable of producing heirs, one woman and two men is not much to start a dynasty with. Presumably some of the former slave girls, particularly the former clerical slaves such as Missandei, could be part of the foundation, but it is unclear weather former slave holders could see themselves as sufficiently invested in the status quo, just because one of their family is married to a former slave – however trusted and well-liked by the queen.
We also learn that the other cities liberated by Dany have gone back to slavery (what happened to the garrisons?), leaving Mereen isolated, and without a fleet. Troubling times. On the plus side, Tyrion seems to be making friends with the dragons. I guess the closest historical paragon would be with be with the domestication of the horse, which must have given an incredibly decisive military advantage to those first cavalry warriors.

Arya in Bravos
Arya looks very plump for a girl that’s been begging for a few months. Perhaps her friends with no face were looking after her. Anyway, she seems to have gotten on the good side of her mentor again.The whole Faceless Men things is clearly taken from the Assassin Sect.

In Winterfell
The Boltons have some good news and some bad news. They lost track of Sansa and found the hunters (bad fieldcraft on the part of Team Sansa, they should have hidden the bodies). This makes it very hard for Ramsay to father a son, as “enthusiastic” as he was to do so. Unless of course Sansa is already pregnant of course. On the plus side, Ramsay now has a little baby brother. This is good news for the family, but bad news for him. Oooh surprise, Ramsay just killed his father (I am writing this as I watch). Well that does change things… So Bolton Sr.  was retroactively “poisoned by his enemies” as the Maester will confirm (before he gets killed for being an eyewitness). Presumably we’ll get a couple of episodes of Ramsay torturing various people “he suspects of being behind this”. What follows is of course Ramsay being Ramsay. His end will be a very teachable moment.

Team Sansa
Theon decided to go home, while the rest continue North. On the minus side, Jon is already dead, but on the plus side the Wildlings must at this point be looking for a leader from south of the wall to ease their transition. Team Sansa is actually not in a horrible place. Right now there’s only Sansa, Brienne, and Pod. Sansa has the birth, Brienne has the brawn, and Pod – well, he’s loyal, and can take care of one or two redshirts.
 What they are lacking is brains, unless Sansa starts seeing sense, she gave some indication of this in the Ayre. Brienne is a great – if unlucky – King’s guard, but I don’t see her as a great military strategist. If Bran stops sitting in his cave visioning of yesteryear and decides to join her sister, they could be quite a team. The advantage they would have over the other houses is that they are remarkably free to make their own destiny. The Lannisters are in hock to the Iron Bank, the Tyrells have a high incarceration rate and an uneasy alliance with the Lannisters, Ramsay will eventually find himself buried in a burnt hole he himself dug and set fire to, Dany is going to some Dothraki temple, and her faction is busy playing cops and robbers with the Sons of Harpy. If Bran and Sansa can get together (presumably with the archery girl  and Hodor in tow) they would be a pretty good special operations outfit. They could get the North to revolt to the Boltons in a heartbeat. Incidentally, speaking of Theon, what happened to him is not some weird fantasy thing. It’s called learned helplessness, and it was the basic intermediate objective in e.g. the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah (“He capitulated the first time.  We chose to expose him over and over until we had a high degree of confidence he wouldn’t hold back”). So not exactly that thing, but that sort of thing actually does happen.

On the Iron Islands

(clearly inspired by the Norsemen) the king and his daughter are discussing the war. They had the great idea of capturing a bunch of towns, but with the war on the mainland over, they have now lost all of their continental garrisons. Even for the Vikings, raiding was always a lot easier than holding ground. It’s true that they conquered a lot of places, but for every success there were dozens of failures we never get to read about. But loosing the garrisons to the last man sounds more like lack of planning, or bad orders. A maritime culture makes war by hit and run. I’m not saying the Ironborn have to be exactly like the Norsemen, but what’s the point of sea supremacy if you’e not going to cut your losses when outnumbered? Conversely, if they are (usually) so strong that they never needed to run, why haven’t they taken over Westeros? If the garrisons were a significant part of the Ironborn military force, why lose them for nothing? Or, if the Ironborn had manpower to spend, why didn’t they reinforce the garrisons?
Now the King’s brother comes back from sailing, raping, and pillaging elsewhere and kills the King. Presumably this is why the other ruling families have King’s guards. And nobody saw him do this, despite the event taking place on some rope bridge which presumably should have somebody standing next to it ready to cut it, for it to be of any use.

Castle Black
They are bringing back Jon from the dead. Historical precedents… well there was that one alleged time… Other than that, I guess the closest parallels are with literature rather than history. The whole scene had more of a Dr Frankenstein feel than anything else, but we’ll see what kind of undead Jon proves to be.
At this point, can I just bring to your attentions that in the last two episodes, three of the main ruling families in the series suffered violent changes of management brought about by their own blood? Let’s just say that by the time the Iron King met his brother, I would have been surprised if they both walked away from the scene. This level of internal strife makes it surprising that they are able to wage wars against enemies outside the family at all. I guess part of the explanation could be the brutalizing effect of the war on relationships within the family?

Nato e cresciuto a Palermo, per poi studiare economia a Milano, Barcellona e Tolosa. Mi occupo principalmente di Storia Economica ed Economia dello Sviluppo e dal 2015 insegno a Mosca.

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