Westeros is one big poker game, and now it’s time to for everyone show their hand.
Where it first appears Ceirsi is engaged in another plot, she’s actually being set up. In what she thinks is the onset of her victory, she’s roundly defeated by Daenerys, who’s decided to show her hand with her Dragon.
Dany’s increasingly showing that while she’s been lucky as a conqueror, she’s just not fit to rule long-term.
I’m not a big fan of the Mother of Dragons anymore. For a while I was all Team Daenerys. In truth, though, she’s conquered mostly by luck, fate or a moment of inspired bravado: not by skill or strategy, and that is starting to show, along with her sense of entitlement. Her expressed claim to the throne is based on birthright alone, and she clearly believes this claim to be a) inviolate and b) all that’s required of her.
Dany’s real weakness, though, is indecisiveness. For several episodes, maybe even seasons, most of her ruling style is to stand around and ask the men around her what she should do. She’s great at the show of power and independence, but she can’t formulate a strategy on her own, and when her choices to rely on her advisors fail (as some plans do), she flies into a petulant snit, most recently with Tyrion and Jon Snow.
Unlike Daenerys, Jon Snow gave the Wildings something in return for their allegiance.
One writer drew a parallel between Jon’s refusal to bend the knee now, and the almost verbatim conversation he had with Mance Rayder of the Wildings. That’s true, but there’s one big difference: Jon met the Wildings halfway. Unlike Daenerys, Jon Snow gave the Wildings something in return for their allegiance: permission to settle south of The Wall, which was on their agenda. Dany, on the other hand, hasn’t really offered anything: she’s said she’ll fight the Night King and the Whitewalkers, but as he’s tried to explain, that’s partly her fight too.
That’s like me thinking I’m doing my husband a big favor when I agree to pull my own weight in paying the bills on time. It’s our fight together, and if one of us goes down, we both go down. Dany doesn’t see it that way, and she’s putting the long-term survival of her own people at risk. The sin of pride endangering her subjects, which she raises to Jon Snow, is not his, but hers.
What happens if she goes through with her ultimatum, and Jon refuses to bend the knee? I don’t think she’s played that scenario out. Worst case scenario looks like this: Jon leaves and fights the Whitewalkers with his obsidian. Jon loses. The Whitewalkers, their number increased by all the Northerners and Wildlings they just slaughtered, march right to one of her kingdoms. How does she explain that to her subjects?
There’s really no incentive for Jon Snow to bend the knee, essentially meaning he’s better off holding with his hand and staying in the game, rather than folding. If Jon holds out, Dany’s advisors may eventually convince her that fighting the Whitewalkers is her fight, too. He’s got the obsidian. If anything, she may be a liability down the road: Dany may lose all her resources fighting for Ceirsi, and can’t bring anything to the war with the Whitewalkers, then what would he have gained in selling out his kingdom to Dany?
And, if by chance, Jon’s lineage comes to light, then unbeknownst to him, he’s held out for the jackpot.
More games afoot …
Petyr Baelish showed his hand, and lost, with Bran Stark. There were some musing within the show and in reviews as to why Baelish “gave” Bran the dagger. Maybe I’ve known too many Petyr Baelish’s in my day (they’re out there), but I read it as a clear message of intimidation and threat to Bran. And even though Bran is being the second biggest jerk right now (although I’m willing to excuse some of it in the name of trauma), he didn’t fold. In one phrase, he let Petyr know exactly who had the upper hand.
Arya also showed what she has up her sleeve in her “training session” with Brienne of Tarth. Rather than being a win-lose game with Arya, though, I think she was showing she had the goods to play the high-stakes game. If I didn’t have so much invested in the poker metaphor by now, I’d say the sparring match was Arya’s audition. She genuinely wants Brienne as a mentor, I (want to) believe, and she needs Brienne’s moral compass. I could be wrong.
Sensa’s look of horror when watching Arya disappointed me, though. She’s the most fit to rule at this point. She has the guile that Jon lacks, the sense of benevolence to her subjects as far as their real, material needs that Dany lacks. She’s no conquerer, but she’s a born administrator and bureaucrat, and when the battles are won, that’s what a people at peacetime need: someone who makes sure the army is fed, warm and ready, the people have food and shelter, and everyone’s prepared in case of an emergency. So, I was disappointed that Sense didn’t seem overjoyed at the realization what a real asset she has in Arya, who is, okay, a bit psychopathogical at this point, but Brienne can work on that (please do, Brienne).
Having a one-person, adolescent CIA assassin at your disposal, though, can’t be all bad.
Random Fan and Critic Theories:
One theory that the chambermaid who observed Jaime in Ceirsi’s bed was Arya, there to carry out an assassination. I missed that possibility, and I’m glad, because I’d have been wrong.
One writer pondered if Jon might have created the drawings in the cave. I say absolutely not. Jon Snow is brave, true, kind and wise. But he is absolutely guileless. He’s also in a panic right now. It took Tyrion Lannister giving Jon more than a nudge to remind him he’d come all that way for obsidian, not just to sell Daenerys on the Whitewalkers danger. He doesn’t have the foresight or guile to pull that off.
Jon did, however, completely misread the cave drawings. Interesting …