In the Agony of War

BY JOANNA HAYES

Tyrion looks on at his own creation of mass destruction as the pivotal Battle of the Blackwater rages between the Lannisters at King’s Landing and the Baratheons from Dragonstone. (Credit: HBO)

Season 2, Episode 9 (“Blackwater”) was yet another pivotal episode in the overall arch of the series – so pivotal, in fact, that we spent the entire duration within a single setting for the first time since the show began. The pace and structure of this episode, though still moving quickly between different character perspectives, made it feel like a different show. In its own way, it was refreshing. Very often, like with Episode 8 (“The Prince of Winterfell”), the game pieces are moved in very slow and almost imperceptible ways. In “Blackwater,” the consequences are more clear, and more clearly far-reaching.

“Blackwater” is, like its title, focused solely on the actions occurring in and around King’s Landing. Stannis Baratheon, after a season of buildup and preparation, is finally attacking the well-fortified King’s Landing with an army that vastly outnumbers the Lannister troops and fleets within. It has been made clear that Stannis is a man of conviction, and he believes that it is his right to take the throne from the “false” King Joffrey. Meanwhile, inside the walls, everyone within the Lannister camp faces the impending battle in very different ways. Within the hour, the balance of power shifts from the Baratheons to the Lannisters and around again several times. Given the fractures within the Lannister leadership, it is a wonder how their side comes out on top, even with the advantage of chemical warfare. In the end, it is only a surprise (and perfectly-timed) visit from Tywin and his new allies from Highgarden that ends up ultimately tipping the scales in the lion’s favor. War is the second season’s climax, the point of no return, and in the end it is the Lannisters who reign victorious.

Though violent on the whole, “Game of Thrones” has been more about politics than war. We’ve heard of battles and skirmishes, but have seen very few of them. Jaime’s capture was a coup and Theon all but waltzed into Winterfell, but primarily, the game of thrones has been waged through small, localized campaigns and an intricate web of alliances and betrayals. The Blackwater is the first major, cataclysmic event in the fight between the kings, and the first with such high mortality. As the consequences of these five (now four) men’s bid for power are mounting, which of them would you have as your king, and is the cost of war for their own personal power worth it?

Robb seems to be the obvious choice, given the viewer’s clear and easy affinity for the Stark family. They’re noble and loyal, and there aren’t nearly as many examples of rapists and murderers in their camp (nor, certainly, among their principal family). However, is even Robb’s personal (and prideful) quest for power in the North worth all of the lives and suffering of the men and women who will bear the burden of that quest?

Within the episode, Tyrion hits on an important point about leadership during times of war. It is clear that the men at King’s Landing are demoralized by their king’s early departure from the battlefield (Joffrey sulks away with just the right amount of childish cowardice, showing his true youth for the first time in what feels like ages). So, to rally them, Tyrion implores them to defend their homes, their families, their women, their city – not, necessarily, their king. It is a rare moment in the series where we see the effects this war has been taking on the common people (as was the scene in the start with the Baratheon soldier vomiting before the battle). While we have been so focused on the leadership and the political machinations of the more aristocratic players, it has been all too easy to forget what Cersei calls the “small folk.” This episode made real the broader world of Westeros, and the broad consequences of war.

War is rarely waged after popular appeal; nations, no matter their political affiliations, are more often steered into war by their leaders. The willingness of the citizens to wage war after they have begun is one thing, but the impetus for war is often wielded by a very few men.   “Naturally, the common people don’t want war,” Hermann Göring said during his Nuremberg trial in 1946. “[The] people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy.” Göring, famous for founding the German Gestapo, was an influential leader in the Nazi party during the Second World War, a war in which many atrocities were committed by regular people, all of which are still hard to understand today. As Franklin Delano Roosevelt wrote for his undelivered Jefferson Day Address (he died the night before), “…we have learned in the agony of war that great power involves great responsibility.” There is no one who understands this more than Tyrion Lannister.

Many great leaders within the world of “Game of Thrones” (and history, after all) have wielded their power rather lightly. Stannis hardly blinks as he witnesses the carnage wrought on his men by Tyrion’s wildfire attack. Instead, he uses it as motivation to rally his troops around him and continue to lay siege on King’s Landing, no matter the death toll.

An even more notoriously cold-blooded leader, Tywin Lannister has long been the example of someone who acts harshly without much moral conscience. The song that Bronn and the other men sing in the brothel is a famous tune celebrating Tywin’s utter destruction of the House Reyne, once a vassal family to the Lannisters who rose up in rebellion. Tywin has also always seemed content to keep bad company within his ranks, housing the likes of The Mountain (Ser Gregor Clegane), a man notorious for his penchant for rape and murder. In one famous incident during Robert’s Rebellion (before the events of the show, though alluded to several times already), Gregor and Ser Amory Lorch climbed into Maegor’s Holdfast (the same place where Sansa, Cersei and the other women and children were holed up in this episode) and smashed the head of a baby in Daenerys Targaryen’s brother Rhaegar’s chambers. Then, with the blood of his gruesome deed still on his hands, he found, raped and murdered the baby’s mother, Princess Elia of Dorne.

Princess Elia’s horrible fate is something Cersei is obviously remembering throughout the duration of the attack. In the start, she procures the means to cause a speedy death should she or her children fall into the wrong hands. Then, she proceeds to get raucously intoxicated and makes a sport out of nagging Sansa. Though entertaining for the audience, it is clear that Cersei’s style of leadership is hardly an inspiring one. She keeps Ser Illyn Payne with them in Maegor’s Holdfast to not only protect them from the potential for mutinous sellsword guards, but also to intimidate and punish anyone who steps out of line. Given her history with the man (he did, after all, cut off her father’s head), Sansa even believes him to be a threat to her own safety, which ultimately makes her leave for her own chambers.

Cersei and Sansa’s scenes are important because they show so clearly two very contrasting styles of leadership. Cersei, for one, leads through fear and intimidation. She orders the execution of a couple of looters who capitalize on the chaos of the war, and complains openly about having to stay hidden away with all of the women (“I should have been born a man.”), though she clearly is well aware of the unique dangers that women face in a siege.

For the last two seasons, Cersei has taken a perverse pleasure in instructing Sansa on the ways of ruling as a woman. Before, it was, “The more people you love, the weaker you are.” Now, she teaches the Stark girl about the harsh realities of being a woman in war (“If the city falls, these fine women should be in for a bit of a rape.”), the feminine powers of sex and tears, and ruling through fear. While in some ways Cersei seems to do this to bully the poor girl, there is also an interesting element of genuine desire to instruct her on being queen. Clearly, it is a position she relishes, and by instructing the next in line, she may be hoping in some way to validate her own experiences.

Sansa, meanwhile, seems both scared and unsure, obviously unwilling or unable to trust in Cersei’s advice. Though we don’t see much of it, this scene is our first glimpse at the potential leadership style of Sansa Stark as she leads women through prayers and hymns, and generally tries to bolster their morale, even as Cersei storms off. She is a child still, to be sure, but maturing slowly despite the negative influences around her. At a couple different points, when the queen is trying to instruct Sansa on the “only way to keep the small folk loyal” through fear, it is clear she disagrees. Sansa was raised to believe it is the queen’s responsibility to protect those in her charge, just like her father and her brother. Sophie Turner does a good job of making Sansa’s discomfort obvious, but in the book, where we get to see more of the inner thoughts of the characters, this scene is more obviously a pivotal one in her development:

“The only way to keep your people loyal is to make certain they fear you more than they do the enemy.”

“I will remember, Your Grace,” said Sansa, though she had always heard that love was a surer route to the people’s loyalty than fear. If I am ever a queen, I’ll make them love me.

Another important scene occurs when Sansa leaves the Holdfast on Shae’s insistence, fleeing the threat of Illyn Payne. As I’ve said before, one of my favorite aspects of George R.R. Martin’s series is his character development. Even a couple characters that are originally weak, naive, or unsavory in some way grow and change in unique ways. Perhaps two of the best examples of this are Sansa and The Hound, both of whom are complicated characters that have been, to many people, difficult to like. Gradually, over the course of the last season, both have been developed in subtle ways, and much of it has led up to this scene. (However, both character arcs have not been given the same treatment they were in the books, and therefore may be harder to interpret in this way without that background knowledge.)

Once in her room, Sansa picks up a doll and looks at it with a bit of longing. It took me a little while to remember, but this was the same doll that her father gave her back in Season 1. At that time, she turned up her nose at him; she was trying very hard to seem like a full-grown lady ready for the king and a kingdom. “I haven’t played with dolls since I was eight,” she said. Still, despite this posturing, Sansa was at this time in the show still very much a child: naive, prone to temper, selfish, and more than a bit unsympathetic towards others. It is ironic, then, that she picks up the doll now when she is more adult than she has ever been. She is far more sympathetic towards Shae than she ever was to poor Septa Mordane. She has suffered abuse without breaking, seen Joffrey for what he is, and repeatedly called him out for it (something only Tyrion seemed capable of doing).

She has also developed a real sympathy for The Hound, and he for her, which is why he shows up in her room after his emotional departure from the battlefield. All of the fire and the carnage caused a real psychological break in Sandor and, finally, dislodged the loyalty of the dog to his master – a loyalty that made less and less sense the more he tried to protect Sansa from Joffrey’s cruelty. This scene from the books is, admittedly, one of my favorites, and I think it is handled mostly well in its translation to the screen (though the book’s has a far more Gothic-romance quality to it, like the obvious parallels to the Beast of “Beauty and the Beast”, or even Wuthering Heights’ Heathcliff). Sansa sympathizes with The Hound for his wounds and all he has suffered, and recognizes his heart despite his outwardly rough demeanor (he is drunk and bloody when he gets to her, after all). The Hound sees in Sansa someone who has been bullied in the same cruel and physical ways that he was as a child, and has a real desire to protect her.

Though she has matured, there is still a tendency for Sansa to wish for Sandor to be her knight, and he gives her an opportunity here. He offers to take her back to Winterfell (“I’ll keep you safe. Do you want to go home?”), to save her like something out of one of her beloved songs. She’s still clutching to the doll when this happens, so when she wisely turns him down, it is surprising. Her maturity to know that she would be safer in King’s Landing, especially given the price that will be on The Hound’s head the moment he flees, is unexpected given her past: a naivety symbolized in the doll in her hands. As this juxtaposition attempts to make clear, she has grown since then.

She rejects the knight’s offer, for which he seems upset. She claims that she’ll be safe even with Stannis, but The Hound believes that, like him, the king is a killer and would have the capacity to hurt her. Sansa, looking at him honestly and completely in the face, says, “You won’t hurt me.” It’s not a question, but a statement. The Hound replies: “No, Little Bird, I won’t hurt you.” Perhaps he realizes that the target on his back is too big for even him to shake, that he would most certainly endanger her life by taking her with him. Because of that, and because he does not want to hurt her, he has to leave her behind.

While Sansa shows some unexpected maturity in her own small moments of leadership, there is no one who more aptly represents the qualities of good leadership like Tyrion. He, more than perhaps any other character on the show, recognizes that with great power comes great responsibility. Though he has clearly taken to the role of Hand and its increased political power with a relish, he has not made his decisions lightly. Unlike so many others, he seems to grasp the moral complexities of leadership. As he looks out over the wildfire burning through ships and men, his expression is both stirred and horrified: stirred because he is proud to have executed such an effective plan (one which no one – especially not his family – expected of him), and horrified because of the death he has dealt to so many men. Peter Dinklage, as always, plays this wordless scene perfectly, and so accurately captures the essence of Tyrion’s character.

The price he ultimately pays for this good leadership is a slice across the face from one of his nephew’s own Kingsguard, Ser Mandon Moore. While it is unclear how this was orchestrated or by whom, it is safe to assume that someone very close to him was in on the plan, given Moore’s sworn loyalty to the crown.

With only one episode left, the resolution of Season 2 will leave us in a very different place than we were a year ago. The Lannisters have just defeated the Baratheons with a very critical alliance to the resource- and manpower-rich Tyrells of Highgarden. Arya seems hardly closer to Winterfell than she was the day of her escape from King’s Landing, which doesn’t matter much anyway, since Theon Greyjoy still has control of it. Jon Snow is a captive above The Wall, and Jaime is once again on the loose. Then, there’s Tywin Lannister who is now in town, throwing into question Tyrion’s role (and overall safety) as the Hand. And, oh yeah, Dany’s dragons are still missing…

Is Joan Lovely Rita?

BY EMILY VIVIANI

The “Sgt. Pepper”/”Mad Men” theory has maintained its popularity in the social media world. (Credit: Capitol Records/E. Viviani)

Editor’s Note: Three weeks ago, our resident “Mad Men” expert Emily Viviani posited that the Beatles’ classic album “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” is actually serving as a structural and thematic template for the fifth season of the series. The theory was quite a hit on “Mad Men” message boards and chat rooms across the country, and was even referenced in a recent article on New York Magazine’s website. Below is an update on the theory and how it fits into the season’s most recent episode, “Christmas Waltz.”

SIDE TWO

1. Within You Without You (Lady Lazarus)

2. When I’m Sixty-Four (Dark Shadows)

3. Lovely Rita (Christmas Waltz)

4. Good Morning, Good Morning (The Other Woman)

5. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band (Commissions and Fees)

6. A Day in the Life (The Phantom)

510: “Christmas Waltz” (“Lovely Rita”)

About the song: “Lovely Rita”

“This song is about a female traffic warden and the narrator’s affection for her. The term ‘meter-maid’ was largely unknown in the U.K. prior to the song’s release. It is American slang for a female traffic warden, now officially known by the gender-neutral term parking attendant. According to some sources, the song emanates from when a female traffic warden named Meta Davies issued a parking ticket to McCartney outside Abbey Road Studios. Instead of becoming angry, he accepted it with good grace and expressed his feelings in song. When asked why he had called her ‘Rita,’ McCartney replied ‘Well, she looked like a Rita to me.’[1]

How it relates to 510:

This episode explores Don’s relationship with Joan.  Their performance for the Jaguar salesmen and the innocent flirtation they exchange over cocktails mimics the whimsical musicality of McCartney’s improbable romantic fantasy about his muse for this song, the meter-maid he names Rita. I suspected that Joan would play Rita in this episode when Lane tells Joan in the Season 5 premiere that she was irreplaceable at SCDP because the other secretaries “Couldn’t operate a parking meter, they’re imbeciles!” (right before he tells her “it’s only a matter of time before they find out he’s a sham,” which also kind of works well with this episode). Don’s comment that Joan received so many flowers he used to think she was dating Aly Kahn (the name under which he sends her roses later in the episode) also relates to the song, since Aly Kahn was the husband of the Hollywood starlet Rita Hayworth. His suggestion that she was initially intimidating to him could also be a nod toward the lyric “made her look a little like a military man,” which could also be referenced through Roger’s “Cause the Army is treating you so well,” comment. Sadly, unlike in the song, Rita is the one who gets served in the episode.

Applicable lyrics:

Lovely Rita meter maid

Lovely Rita meter maid (Lane’s parking meter comment in “A Little Kiss”)

 

Made her look a little like a military man (“Cause the Army’s treating you so well.”/Intimidating Joan)

 

Took her out and tried to win her

Had a laugh and over dinner

Told her I would really like to see her again

Got the bill and Rita paid it

Took her home I nearly made it (Don to Joan: “I struck out.”)

A Girl Lacks Honor

BY JOANNA HAYES

This week builds on the theme of the last: honor (or the lack thereof). While the last episode focused mostly on the men, this time the women add to the discussion on the meaning of honor and the price it takes to either keep it or give it up. Image Credit: capuniverse

There are only two episodes left in Season 2 and, much like King’s Landing itself, Episode 8 (“The Prince of Winterfell”) spends most of its time preparing for a decisive battle on the Blackwater Bay. Each storyline moves the pieces a step closer to Stannis Baratheon’s siege on the iron throne, but for now, all is (mostly) quiet in Westeros. There is very little violence and a lot of subtle conversations that shift the gears of war imperceptibility, as of yet. But by the season finale, “The Prince of Winterfell” will likely prove a critical set piece in the arc of Season 2.

Several changes occur that are so slight, it would be understandable to miss them (in fact, many have already written this episode off as “boring”). Perhaps the biggest changes are among the Stark camp. Catelyn and Robb both betray their honor in very profound ways. Though, for now, it may seem like a drop in an already-tumultuous bucket, the political ramifications of their two major decisions could ripple out for episodes – and potentially seasons – to come.

First, Catelyn lets Jaime Lannister go without consulting her son and lands herself under house (tent) arrest. Robb is furious when he finds out what she has done. He believes that she has failed to understand the imbalance between the life of two girls and the life of a great military commander. What Robb fails to understand is that his mother has willfully decided not to care about this imbalanced trade, especially not when faced with the volatile and vengeful attitudes among the Karstark portion of the camp. Would Jaime even have lasted another week in captivity? And what, then, would have happened to the Stark girls (or at least the only one remaining in Lannister hands)? As the male king and commander, this is a risk Robb has to be willing to endure: no matter how much he may love his sisters, in the world of Westeros they are not worth the cost of having the Kingslayer back in charge of Lannister men. Moreover, as he confides in Talisa, Robb believes strongly in justice above all else. To him and the men who follow him, there can be no justice in letting Jaime go.

Catelyn, on the other hand, has always been more politically-minded. As she sees the door closing fast on the opportunity for a more diplomatic solution to their feud with the Lannisters, Cat makes a unilateral decision that will clearly affect the geopolitics of the kingdom for a long time to come (regardless of whether Brienne is actually successful in delivering Jaime to King’s Landing, when the odds are obviously stacked against her).

For all of his love of justice, oaths, and honor, Robb finds himself compromising his hitherto-unmovable integrity by sleeping with Talisa (a decision no one could be surprised by, at this point). Though he is quick to see the effects of his mother’s choice to release Jaime (“You’ve weakened our position, you’ve brought discord into our camp, and you did it all behind my back.”), he is unable or unwilling to see the similar consequences of his own actions. After all, he admits earlier to Talisa that his betrothal to an unnamed daughter of Walder Frey is for not just any bridge, but an important one: the Freys hold the key to the South from the North and vice-versa. Without the Freys, it would have been impossible for Robb to march south with such speed after his father’s murder. Likewise, without the Freys, Robb could be cut off from the North, from his brothers and bannermen, and pinned against the Twins like a wall as Lannister loyals attack up through the Riverlands. The implications of this decision, though not yet realized, portend dark times ahead for the Starks. These scenes – both Catelyn and Robb’s decisions to breech their own codes of honor – will surely be looked back upon as critical turning points.

North of the Wall, Qhorin Halfhand begins to position Jon Snow as a traitor to the Night’s Watch in the eyes of the wildlings, a deception that Ygritte falls for a little too easily, (perhaps in her desire for the bastard Stark). It is still unclear why such a strong, feisty freewoman would want such a prudish, bumbling crow (besides, you know, his luscious locks and full-lipped pout). After all, Jon has blundered his way into getting most of his fellow rangers killed and the legendary Qhorin captured. By thinking with something other than his head (somewhere between his foolhardy honor and childish lust), he has endangered a critical mission and all of Westeros, as it happens, since the King Beyond the Wall means to march on it. It will take the mentorship of a great tactician like Qhorin for Jon to learn valuable lessons of strategy, leadership and worthy sacrifice. Jon has a lot of growing to do, and fast. But at least this week marked the start.

Meanwhile, back down south, Arya finally escapes Harrenhal after out-witting Jaqen H’ghar at his own game, though only after the opportunity to kill Tywin Lannister passes before her. In lieu of Tywin, Arya cleverly names Jaqen himself as her third kill when he refuses to help her friends and her escape. “A girl lacks honor,” he says begrudgingly. Arya merely shrugs her shoulders. She has already determined that she is willing to kill and lie to stay alive (starting with the young farmhand that tries to stop her initial escape from King’s Landing in Season 1). She, like Jaqen himself, is developing her own sense of honor.

Another important change in the narrative occurs when Brienne is dispatched with Jaime, tasked by Catelyn with bringing him safely to King’s Landing in exchange for the Stark girls. This new course should hopefully mean more screen time for both fan-favorites as they try to evade the dozens of Stark troops sent after them in the episodes to come. Both great fighters are literally and figuratively unfettered and beginning an odd couple’s hero quest. The early promise of their banter and the sight of them gliding off in a boat downriver will hopefully prove to be a fun change of pace among the relatively static-setting narratives so far.

Tyrion and Cersei have been trading slights, deceptions and cruelties ever since he arrived in King’s Landing, but it was not until this week that the seriousness of their rivalry became apparent. Cersei has escalated their war of wits, brutally attacking the prostitute Ros, whom she mistakes for Tyrion’s secret whore. There is apparently no love between the two siblings and no end to the pain they will indirectly inflict on one another. The only thing stopping them from harming each other outright is the blood they both share – an odd limitation given the lengths they are both willing to go to torment the loved ones in each other’s orbit. Tyrion promises: “I will hurt you for this. The day will come when you think you’re safe and happy and your joy will turn to ashes in your mouth, and you will know the debt is paid.” This, too, sounds premonitory. The look in his eyes make it clear that, though there is little Tyrion says that isn’t shrouded in sarcasm, this statement could not be more forthright and true.

Finally, the big reveal of two Stark boys hiding in the Winterfell crypts ends the episode with a major, moving twist. Though it was clear early on that George R.R. Martin had no qualms with killing off major and favorite characters, this is one of the few times when he gives us loyal House Stark fans a modicum of hope and relief. The series is an emotional rollercoaster, and some people respond by attempting to shut off to forming favorites or empathizing with certain characters too much. However, both the source and the show make this impossible, and though I knew the eventual outcome of Bran and Rickon, I could not help but fill with excitement to see them alive and well. No matter what we do to try and avoid it, these characters pull us in. What blissful torture this journey will prove to be.

Though there is not much by way of action, this episode foreshadows some incredibly tumultuous and dark times to come. From all their words and deeds throughout this episode, the characters involved have sowed the seeds of profound change within the show’s narrative. We will have to wait until next week to see the first germination of these effects, and likely whole seasons before the implications of this week’s episode truly take root. Surely, “The Prince of Winterfell” will prove to be a pivotal episode in years to come.

Other thoughts on “The Prince of Winterfell”:

  • While Jon is not one of my favorite Point of View (POV) characters from Martin’s books, I have never thought he was portrayed so weakly as he has been in the HBO series. Unfortunately, the needs of the medium have apparently dictated that Jon and Qhorin’s capture need to follow Jon’s ineptitude at killing (or releasing) the wildling girl. In the book series, Jon and Qhorin are pursued by the wildlings and try hard to evade capture, and the connection to Jon’s youth and incompetence is less clear. Jon is one of a couple of characters I feel have been weakened by the differing structure of the HBO show. Taking the storyline out of individual characters’ POV’s has changed their portrayal for better (Sam, Tywin, Theon) and for worse (Catelyn, Jon). I love the show for its own merits and try hard never to judge it based on its source text (which could never and should never be exactly replicated). But there are some areas in which I believe the writers of the series could be doing a better job to more faithfully reproduce the true essence of the characters.
  • Another sticking point for me with the screen adaptation is the writers’ portrayal of Catelyn Stark, and that has only become clearer with this latest installment. While Michelle Fairley works wonders with the material she is given, imbuing her expressions with true feeling and inner conflict, taking Catelyn out of the POV structure has really harmed her characterization. The show does not seem to understand the Robb/Catelyn dynamic of the books, or is otherwise willfully ignoring it. Robb is not only younger in the books, but also a lot less politically savvy. He is a great commander, but naive when it comes to politics. It’s his mother who helps him play the game. Since the first episode of the season, the show has been rewriting their scenes to put her political strategies in Robb’s mouth (like the idea of mediating peace between the warring Baratheon brothers) and to take her away from the table almost entirely. The show has given her a “woman’s kind of courage” (as Brienne describes it) that is not entirely faithful to her representation on the page.
  • I wish Catelyn was portrayed as she ought to be: the brains behind the Stark camp. That would make her decision to release Jaime more ambiguous, as it ought to be seen, and less as a flighty, feminine blunder. After all, Jaime would have likely been murdered by those in Robb’s camp who wanted revenge (which the show does make an attempt at explaining), and what then would happen to Sansa and Arya? The move does not happen in a mother’s moment of weakness. Though her maternal instincts do play a part, Cat makes the decision with reasoning and forethought. Though it is an imbalanced trade in a masculine world (two girls for one knight), Catelyn initiates it when she is faced with losing Jaime – and, therefore, her girls – to the vengeful hands of Rickard Karstark.

When Betty’s 64

BY EMILY VIVIANI

The “Sgt. Pepper”/”Mad Men” theory has maintained its popularity in the social media world. (Credit: Capitol Records/E. Viviani)

Editor’s Note: Two weeks ago, our resident “Mad Men” expert Emily Viviani posited that the Beatles’ classic album “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” is actually serving as a structural and thematic template for the fifth season of the series. The theory was quite a hit on “Mad Men” message boards and chat rooms across the country, and was even referenced in a recent article on New York Magazine’s website. Below is an update on the theory and how it fits into the season’s most recent episode, “Dark Shadows.”

SIDE TWO

  1. Within You Without You (Lady Lazarus)
  2. When I’m Sixty-Four (Dark Shadows)
  3. Lovely Rita (Christmas Waltz)
  4. Good Morning, Good Morning (The Other Woman)
  5. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band (Commissions and Fees)
  6. A Day in the Life (The Phantom)

509: “Dark Shadows” (“When I’m Sixty-Four”)

About the song: “When I’m Sixty-Four”

“The song is sung by a young man to his lover, and is about his plans of growing old together with her. Although the theme is ageing, it was one of the first songs McCartney wrote, when he was 16. The Beatles used it in the early days as a song they could play when the amplifiers broke down or the electricity went off. Both George Martin and Mark Lewisohn speculated that McCartney may have thought of the song when recording began for Sgt. Pepper in December 1966 because his father turned 64 earlier that year.

Lennon said of the song: ‘Paul wrote it in the Cavern days. We just stuck a few more words on it like ‘grandchildren on your knee’ and ‘Vera, Chuck and Dave’ … this was just one that was quite a hit with us.” In his 1980 interview for Playboy he said, ‘I would never even dream of writing a song like that.’”[1]

How it relates to 509:

The concept of growing old together is ironically showcased in this episode, as the central plotlines revolve around the shifting marital relationships of Don, Betty and Roger. “Bert, how do you not know I’m getting a divorce?” Roger asks. “Already?” Bert responds. Betty recognizes an opportunity to disrupt Don and Megan’s seemingly blissful new life when Sally is given a homework assignment to draw a family tree. Betty coyly reminds Sally not to forget to include Don’s first wife, Anna Draper— deceased, knowing it will trigger questions and cause tension in paradise on 73rd and Park. Similar to “Getting Better,” the sing-song melody of the Sinatra-inspired[2] tune is undercut by the ominous interrogative structure of its lyrics, which may suggest “Dark Shadows” ahead.

I also think the contrast of the “When I’m Sixty-Four” traditional rhythm, in relation to the overall psychedelic tone of the album, somewhat mirrors the staleness of Don’s pun-tastic Snowball pitch relative to the random slapstick impact of Ginsberg’s competing progressive pitch.

Applicable lyrics:

If I’d been out till quarter to three

Would you lock the door? (Don kicking in the locked door in “Far Away Places”)  

 

I could be handy mending a fuse when your lights have gone  (Don’s note: “Lovely Megan, I went to get a light bulb…”)

 

You can knit a sweater by the fireside

Sunday mornings, go for a ride

Doing the garden, digging the weeds

Who could ask for more? (Betty: “I’m thankful that I have everything I want, and nobody else has anything better.”)

Will you still need me

Will you still feed me (Henry feeding Betty steak)

When I’m sixty-four

 

Grandchildren on your knee

Vera, Chuck, and Dave (Sally’s family tree)

Men Without Honor

BY JOANNA HAYES

In Episode 7, Jaime Lannister philosophizes about what it means to be “honorable” while his sister Cersei despairs in his absence: “The more people you love, the weaker you are.” Photo Credit: lavondysss.

“Game of Thrones” is no medieval fairy tale. George R.R. Martin and the writers of HBO’s series have made it clear that any romantic notions, often a hallmark of neo-medieval literature, have no bearing on the events unfolding in and around Westeros, no matter how much it may resemble the world of our fairy tales. In case you had any remaining illusions (even after witnessing nearly two seasons of emotional, physical and psychological torment), the writers remind us of this once more with this season’s aptly-titled seventh episode, “A Man Without Honor.”

It is rather brilliant that they use the singular “man,’” leaving us to debate the relative dishonor of any one of the male characters on the show. Could it be the cripplingly insecure Theon Greyjoy, who hoists the roasted bodies of two young boys before a horrified Winterfell? Or, could it be Jaime Lannister, who is complimentary and warm to a young relative, only then to kill him in an attempt to escape confinement? What about the Hound, who has never claimed to be honorable, but inexplicably flaunts his bloodlust in front of a girl he presumably cares for? There’s also Jon Snow, who seems to be sorely tempted to break his vows of chastity with the fiery young wildling woman (and internet troll in the making), Ygritte. Or could it even be Robb Stark, who probably thinks of himself as honorable, but is stumbling closer to a bone-headed decision of epic proportions (one so bad, even Roose Bolton seems to disapprove)?

The “Man Without Honor” is intended to be Jaime, though the argument could be made about any man on the show – even the beloved Tyrion. “You are a man without honor,” Catelyn says to her newest Lannister captive. This prompts him to argue that, from an alternative perspective of fidelity, he could appear to have more honor than even the “honorable” Ned Stark, who fathered a bastard.

Just before that, Jaime philosophizes on honor, duty and loyalty. “So many vows, they make you swear and swear… What if your father despises the king? What if the king massacres the innocent? It’s too much. No matter what you do, you’re forsaking one vow or another.” He really gets to the heart of my favorite theme of this story: reality is never as simple as good versus evil, or right versus wrong. The world is morally grey, not black and white. No one side is unambiguously good nor unambiguously evil. There are no forgone conclusions, especially not in Martin’s series. Good will not always triumph over evil, because there is no such thing.

As a history teacher, every day is a fight against the oversimplification of players into dichotomous spheres. The Romans are good and the Vandals bad. Or are the Vandals good and the Romans bad? We still see this phenomenon occur today at the expense of a more nuanced view of the alternative perspectives and motivations of people who are different. As Martin is wont to point out (with the Hound, Jaime and Tyrion as his favorite mouthpieces), this misconception is highly dangerous. No one can be wholly good or wholly evil, and a dishonorable act to one may be an honorable act to another. As the Hound explains to Sansa, who still does not quite seem to get it, “You’ll be glad of the hateful things I do someday when you are queen and I’m all that stands between you and your beloved king.” Today’s vengeful murder is tomorrow’s protection of the innocent.

In many ways, the show is the perfect blend of fantasy, history, politics and psychology. It has consistently used elements of the Middle Ages to highlight its very modern ideas of psychological and political realism. Its juxtaposition with traditional, medieval fantasies and fairy tales only make the point more stark. Though modern Westerners hold classical Greek and Roman ideals, they are often only in vague terms, removed and distant from our daily realities. Instead, in our everyday lives, we continue to dwell in the institutions and structures of the Middle Ages.

This is a point that Umberto Eco (The Name of the Rose) made famous in his 1973 essay “Dreaming in the Middle Ages.” In it, he argues that the themes of the Middle Ages are often revived and reconfigured within modern Western culture because we continue to live in a world that is still highly influenced by the medieval era – not Greece and Rome, as is often assumed. We still wrestle with the separation of church and state, attend universities and identify with the nation-state. The classicists gave us our ideals, the medievalists our realities.

What makes “Game of Thrones” so effective is its ability to reproduce modern philosophies and politics within a faux-historical setting that is both familiar and unknown. Every week, we learn new lessons about our modern condition through the lens of a fantastical medieval setting. The simultaneous familiarity and strangeness is what gives the show its undeniable allure. It’s what keeps us coming back each week. We can use its neo-medieval framework to try to understand something of our modern existence. Though we may not often like what we see, it is too hard to look away. We’re hooked.

Other thoughts from “A Man Without Honor”:

  • Tywin: “Aren’t most girls more interested in the pretty maidens from the songs? Jonquil, flowers in her hair?” Arya: “Most girls are idiots.” It is known.
  • The acting continues to be outstanding on this show (except for maybe Dany and her increasingly-prominent eyebrow-acting, a la Emma Watson’s Hermione Granger). In this week’s Emmy-worthy scenes, Cersei and Tyrion have a heart-to-heart that ends in a brilliantly real and awkwardly tense silence. Lena Headey shows us Cersei’s vulnerability, and Peter Dinklage displays Tyrion’s compassion. Cersei is forced to confide in her brother Tyrion because there is no one else around who will listen, though it is clear she has no love for him. Tyrion, on the other hand, can find humanity in anyone. You can see him drawn to her (I was shouting, “Hug already!” at my television), but he doesn’t actually reach out to console her. Still, the motion itself triggers something in Cersei’s face. Is it gratitude? Revulsion? Relief? Yet again, really brilliant work from these two real-life best friends.
  • Theon may be cruel and stupid, but his kind of evil is slightly more sympathetic than most. Like Joffrey, he often acts out of his severe insecurity. He’s never been a leader, not ever, and now he is desperate to make a name for himself at his father’s table. The only way he believes this is possible is by holding Winterfell and commanding the respect of his men, but since he is no leader, he has struggled from the start. He is deeply flawed and cruel in his own self-doubt, much like Joffrey has become. Yet, unlike Joffrey, there are hints of real remorse and deep, underlying psychological torment. Theon may not be a pleasant character to watch, but he is one of the most interesting.
  • I’ve been thinking for a while that Arya and her sister Sansa are suffering opposite fates that are really two sides of the same coin, and the parallels continue to stack up. Arya is playing a servant in castle ruined by dragons. Meanwhile, Sansa is playing princess in a castle built by the dragons (originally, Aegon the Conqueror). Both are putting on masks and acting the part to survive. When Cersei takes Sansa aside and gives her advice, woman-to-woman (“The more people you love, the weaker you are. Love no one but your children.”), it is clear that she sees some of herself in Sansa. She, too, was once on the verge of a loveless and often-cruel marriage, and it does seem like she admires Sansa for her determined resolve to fake-it-until-she-makes-it. At the same time, Arya also reminds Tywin of Cersei, particularly when she goes on about her strong female role models from history, not the songbooks. While it is mostly clear that neither girl is a true Cersei, it is interesting (and not likely coincidental) that both get compared to her within minutes of one another.
  • Worst period ever, am I right? Nothing like having your first flowering witnessed by the Hound.
  • You may have noticed fans of the book series getting overly-excited after Ygritte said, It really is a perfect line, because honestly, Jon Snow knows nothing. Ygritte has always been a favorite of mine because she speaks to Jon the way we all want to speak to him. After all, has he done anything this season but pout, argue, look cold and get caught with his pants down (figuratively, of course, since he’s an infamous prude)? I have never thought Jon’s motivations for joining the Night’s Watch and remaining adamantly loyal to its vows were all that clear, and Ygritte throws this into stark relief. I don’t even think they’re clear to Jon Snow. He has no idea who he is and neither do we, which makes him a weak character in my mind. I’m excited to see if his wildling capture will inspire him to sort out his own desires and motivations, and allow him to grow out of his whiny-adolescent routine.

The Next Steps For The Knicks

BY JORDAN O’DONNELL

Despite glimpses of promise, it’s hard to look at the 2011-2012 season as anything but a disappointment for the team and its fans. (Credit: AP)

I had originally planned to write a long, well-organized postmortem on the New York Knicks’ season, which ended Wednesday night with a loss to the Miami Heat. But their season could be best described as a multi-faceted mess, so several thousand rambling words may be more apt.

With a team that finally had realistic expectations of success, the Knicks surely disappointed their starving fan base. Perhaps those expectations were too high for this squad, which lacked a point guard for most of the season, battled injuries to literally every key contributor, and was coached for the first two-thirds of the season by a man whose offensive strategy allowed Jared Jeffries to take jumpers and emphasized defense less than the coaches in the NBA All-Star Game.

However, there is no doubt the Knicks had potential. In some games, whether it was a thrashing of the Indiana Pacers or an overtime victory over the Chicago Bulls (with Derrick Rose), the Knicks seemed capable of beating anyone. But more often than not, they looked like anybody could beat them. And the Charlotte Bobcats – the worst team in NBA history – did just that. At Madison Square Garden, no less.

Achieving the seventh seed in the East doomed the Knicks. They could not surpass the Orlando Magic, a team forced to deal with Dwight Howard’s drama all season and lacking any other legitimate scoring threat who could create his own shot. And thus, the Knicks were unable to avoid the Bulls or Heat in the first round. To say injuries affected this series against Miami would be an understatement, as Iman Shumpert and Baron Davis suffered excruciating knee injuries, Amar’e Stoudemire rendered his left hand inoperable due to a fire extinguisher that got in his way and Jeremy Lin was only 85 percent and thus unable to play (let’s just move past this).

But the Knicks also lost the series (and lost it badly) because they forgot what attributes led them into the playoffs with an 18-6 record under interim coach Mike Woodson. Most significant during that period was Carmelo Anthony’s hot shooting, but a major reason he was able to take advantage of match-ups and avoid double teams was ball movement that had everyone involved. They also fully embraced defense, hustling after loose balls and getting back to stop the fast break. Fatigue was a massive factor against the Heat, but the Knicks stopped playing their best basketball. Smart defense suddenly became an afterthought. No one got back to stop the Heat, who thrive off of transition baskets. Carmelo and J.R. Smith threw up contested, ill-advised shots —frequently. No one moved on offense. Steve Novak, who led the league in three-point percentage, could not get a shot off because no one tried to set a screen for him.

Saying much more about this Knicks teams is a fruitless exercise because the season is over and it was never likely to last much further than this point. Maybe getting to six or seven games against Miami would have given fans something to smile about, but the Knicks were not in the same class as the Heat. It’s more prudent to look toward next year, examine the good and bad things we’ve learned about this team and begin to reconfigure the pieces to truly contend for a title.

Positives:

  • Jeremy Lin: The Knicks have an above-average point guard who doesn’t shy away under pressure. He’s not going to be Chris Paul or Steve Nash, but for a team that has plenty of scorers, he can be an asset. It will be up to Woodson or whoever coaches next to get the most and the best out of Lin. He may be destined to be a solid back-up who provides a spark off the bench, but considering that he came out of nowhere and made Knicks fans think that anything was possible on a given night, Lin was truly the high point of this season. “Linsanity” can be mocked at this point, with its heavy monetization and the media obsession, but it was the first time the Knicks were fun to watch without simultaneously proving to be a disappointment because of unreached potential.
  • Iman Shumpert: Taken in the latter half of the first round of last year’s draft, Shumpert immediately became one of the best perimeter defenders in the league. Assuming he can rebound from his ACL tear, he will only improve. For a team that has some glaring defensive deficiencies in its lineup, he is tremendously important.
  • Tyson Chandler: The Knicks gambled, amnestying Chauncey Billups and essentially giving up on the Chris Paul sweepstakes, hoping that Chandler would completely change the defensive identity of this team. He did just that, earning his first NBA Defensive Player of the Year award. This focus should only increase in his second season with the team, but Chandler should try to find more of an offensive game and needs to avoid foul trouble and unnecessary technical fouls.
  • Steve Novak: The Knicks found and harnessed a legitimate offensive weapon. Novak will be a free agent, but the Knicks hope to re-sign him. Assuming there is an effort to set screens for Novak (you think Reggie Miller created all of his own shots?), there is no reason to think his offensive spurts off the bench should subside.
  • Carmelo Anthony: When Anthony is feeling it, he is the best scorer in the league. His “clutchiness” cannot be disputed based on the big shots he hit in the closing moments of multiple games this year. He is the offensive key to this team and showed the ability to play solid defense, rebound and get others involved. We’ll get to his negatives, but the point is this: it’s there. He can be an elite, all-around player.

Negatives:

  • Amar’e Stoudemire: Three years and $60 million remain on his contract. He has uninsured knees, a bad back, apparently a temper and nothing near the dominant offensive ability he showed with Phoenix, or even last season, when he was an MVP candidate prior to Carmelo’s arrival. He doesn’t play defense because he can’t. He’s still a good scorer, but is now vastly overpaid, and probably untradeable for the above mentioned reasons. Not. Very. Good.
  • Landry Fields: He may have a minimal negative impact because he is a role player, but man, is he overrated! Sure, he can leap, rebound well for a guard and is an above-average defender, but his offensive value is somewhere between that of Spike Lee and Woody Allen. His shot has so little arc, I often fear the ball will bounce off the ground before hitting the rim. He shot 25.6 percent from three-point range this year (down from 39.3 percent as a rookie). Most of his drives end up in heaves that miss entirely and only occasionally go in, to his own surprise. He’s a second-year player with talents that make him a bench player at best. So why did he start all but four games this season?
  • Carmelo Anthony: He sulks, forces too many shots, is streaky, doesn’t always commit to defense, quit on Mike D’Antoni and stunk for the first half of the season. Carmelo also needs to drop a few pounds. His conditioning has been questioned by commentators as well as Woodson, and you can see that ‘Melo isn’t exactly svelte when compared to his colleagues LeBron James and Dwayne Wade. Added quickness and strength might help him finish more on fouled drives to the basket, or play more consistent defense. Of course, the day after the loss, he disagreed with this sentiment, so don’t expect anything to change. After all, this team once featured both Zach Randolph and Eddy Curry, so I presume there is a Krispy Kreme in the locker room. Anthony also said: “For the most part, we had an unbelievable season. Once we found that consistency we took advantage of that. The last two months we played some of our best basketball. Guys were feeling great about themselves and the team. The energy that we created for ourselves, for the city, for the fans was phenomenal. The fans stuck with us throughout. The last couple of months we found our identity as team – on the defensive end and offensive end.” He’s setting the bar awfully low, there. First-round exits and schizophrenic, underachieving regular seasons really aren’t what the faithful are hoping for. This season was certainly “unbelievable,” but not in way I think he is suggesting.
  • Coaching: The results say this is not an issue. Woodson was 18-6 and had the team playing its best. If he is not retained, it will be due to Phil Jackson’s hiring, and surely that is not a bad thing. But the odds on Jackson coming to this mess are slim, and if Woodson is retained, can he really control this team? We just saw the wheels fall off immediately once the playoffs started as the team sputtered when Stoudemire returned from his back injury. He can win with just Carmelo, but can he win with Carmelo and Amar’e?

The Knicks have quite a few questions to resolve for next year. As mentioned above, one is coaching. Beyond that, there are some major personnel decisions to be made (or to be made for them).

  • The Knicks have nearly $45 million tied up in Anthony, Stoudemire and Chandler. So don’t expect a big splash. But this is obviously a great core, with Stoudemire’s health and effectiveness being the biggest issue.
  • Also under contract is Shumpert, Toney Douglas, Josh Harrelson and Jerome Jordan. This provides a starting two-guard in Shumpert and a player in Douglas the Knicks could try to rehab, or just cut ties with. But Shumpert probably won’t be back for the start of the season, so the Knicks need to find a two-guard in the interim. Which takes us to…
  • Smith has a player option of $2.5 million, which he will probably opt-out of to go sign for more money. This, of course, will be in spite of Smith’s 11-for-48 shooting performance in the last three games of the Heat series, which included going 1-for-17 from downtown. And if money wasn’t enough, Smith tweeted this: “Damn didn’t know this man people didn’t want me in #NY might just get what you asking for! #sorrykidz.” Even if opting out isn’t the smartest thing Smith could do, Smith has never been known for his sage decision-making skills.
  • Players the Knicks will definitely try to bring back and who should be back: Lin, Novak, Jeffries. Jeffries wanted to come back to New York this year, won’t cost much and is a great help defender.
  • Fields will probably be back because my luck isn’t that great. He can sign elsewhere (please do!) but the Knicks can also match. Management likes him, so I wouldn’t be shocked if he returned.
  • Players who won’t be back, but it’s the Knicks, so never count it out: Davis, Mike Bibby, Bill Walker. Walker never got minutes, Davis may have to retire, and despite Bibby pretending he was on the court with Chris Webber and Vlade Divac in Game 5 and turning in a decent performance, he is really old. Woodson likes him, so if he came back it would be for very few minutes.

So the Knicks will have to find themselves either a starting or back-up point guard and another scorer off the bench to replace Smith, as well as a starting two-guard, at least for the start of the season. But these are minor issues when compared to the elephant in the room: Carmelo and Amar’e. If Amar’e can be moved for a respectful take, then the Knicks should do it. It’s clear that Anthony excels at the power forward spot, which Stoudemire happens to occupy. Neither has been their best with the other on the court, and Stoudemire is only going to get worse as time goes on. Which of course will make it more difficult to trade him. Fortunately, the NBA is full of dumb general managers.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go watch Larry Johnson’ four-point play on loop.

Within You Without You

BY EMILY VIVIANI

The “Sgt. Pepper”/”Mad Men” theory has grown in credence during the last week. (Credit: Capitol Records/E. Viviani)

Editor’s Note: Last week, our resident “Mad Men” expert Emily Viviani posited that the Beatles’ classic album “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” is actually serving as a structural and thematic template for the fifth season of the series. The theory was quite a hit on “Mad Men” message boards and chat rooms across the country, and Sunday’s episode only made the idea more credible. Below is an update on the theory and how it fits into the season’s most recent episode. A recap and analysis of the episode (“Lady Lazarus”) can be read here.

SIDE TWO

1. Within You Without You (Lady Lazarus)

2. When I’m Sixty-Four (Dark Shadows)

3. Lovely Rita (Christmas Waltz)

4. Good Morning, Good Morning (The Other Woman)

5. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band (Commissions and Fees)

6. A Day in the Life (The Phantom)

508: “Lady Lazarus” (“Within You Without You”)

About the song: “Within You Without You”

“‘Within You Without You’ was composed on a harmonium following a dinner party at the London home of Klaus Voorman, the German artist and musician whom the Beatles first met in Hamburg. Written by George Harrison, it was the only non-Lennon-McCartney song on the Sgt. Pepper album. The song was George Harrison’s second full-blown Indian recording, after Revolver‘s “Love You To.” Although regarded by some as a dull interlude in the otherwise masterful Sgt. Pepper, ‘Within You Without You’ encapsulated the exploration of spiritual themes that had become popular in 1967’s Summer of Love.” [1]

How it relates to the song “Tomorrow Never Knows”:

“The song was also included on the 2006 remix album Love. For this album, George Harrison’s vocal and sitar parts were mixed over McCartney’s bass and Ringo’s drum parts from “Tomorrow Never Knows,” although the opening lyric, ‘Turn off your mind…Relax and float downstream…It is not dying…it is not dying,’ comes from ‘Tomorrow Never Knows,’ as does the set of reversed sound effects utilized in the mashup. During part of the second verse of the mashup version, the drums and bass of ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ are silenced, replaced by the tabla percussion parts of ‘Within You Without You.’ Also, Harrison’s vocals are heard in the song’s intended key of C major. The blending of these two songs is considered the most effective form of mashup on the album.” [2]

How it relates to episode 508, “Lady Lazarus”:

Thematically, the song relates to several of the spiritual allusions touched upon in this episode. Sylvia Path’s “Lady Lazarus” was textually based on the concept of reincarnation, which correlates with the Indian instruments and Hindu beliefs that inspired Harrison melodically and lyrically to create this song. The concept of divorcing oneself from their ego is also explored in this episode, as Don allows Megan to leave his kingdom at SCDP and pursue her dream.

Love healing the world is touched upon during Pete and Beth’s drive from the train session when Beth explains that she could never live in the city because of her empathy for all the homeless people. Pete says, “I guess were supposed to get used to not seeing them,” and Beth replies, “Yes, that’s exactly what happens.”  Beth also suggests the smallness of humanity through her comparison of Pete’s eyes and the photographs of earth from space. “It didn’t bother you to see the earth tiny and unprotected, surrounded by darkness?” Later, Pete and Harry discuss the images, with Pete asking Harry if they made him feel small and insignificant.

The notion that internal change comes from within oneself is touched upon in Don and Pete’s attempts to transcend themselves through another person (Megan and Beth), and finding they are still alone. The idea of one’s material success contributing to the loss of their soul could relate to Megan’s artistic appetite, feeling better failing at something she loves than succeeding at something she’s good at, etc. and to Don’s reluctance to get with the times.

Applicable lyrics:

We were talking-about the space between us all

And the people-who hide themselves behind a wall of illusion (Everyone’s playing a part, also could be referenced through the numerous strange telephone calls)

 

With our love-we could save the world-if they only knew (Beth hates poverty)

Try to realize it’s all within yourself

No one else can make you change (Megan and Beth will not solve your problems)

 

And to see you’re really only very small,

And life flows on within you and without you (Photos of earth from space, reincarnation)

 

We were talking-about the love that’s gone so cold and the people,

Who gain the world and lose their soul-

They don’t know-they can’t see-are you one of them? (Don, turning off the Beatles)