The Corner

Game of Thrones Episode 1 – Are the Stark Men Still Stupid?

This should go without saying, but this episode review is spoiler-laden. Stop reading if you’re not caught up.

The first six seasons featured exactly three male protagonists who were classic fantasy-fiction heroes, warriors who were courageous, chivalrous, and honorable. Each of these men died grisly deaths, and one of them has done his best to die twice. Ned Stark blundered headlong into a decapitation, Robb Stark won every battle but lost his war, and Jon Snow was assassinated by his “brothers,” resurrected, and then promptly launched a suicidal solo charge against the entire Bolton army. 

The lesson here? The Stark men (yes, Snow is still part-Stark) need just a tad more cynicism in their lives. Enter Sansa, who’s adopted the mirror image of Cersei Lannister’s mindset. Cersei sees enemies on all sides. So does Sansa, and she knows that not even a thousand miles of frozen ground renders her family safe from Cersei. Sansa’s saved her brother once, she has Littlefinger whispering in her ear, and she’s radiating deep distrust and profound unhappiness. As I’ve written before, one of the persistent themes of the show is the extent to which honor divorced from realpolitik is suicidally foolish, while realpolitik divorced from honor makes a person monstrous. We’ve seen this war in Daenerys’s soul. We’re seeing it now in Sansa’s. 

The stunning opening scene, where Arya wiped out the Frey family in one chilling moment, should remind viewers that forces are never quite as unbalanced as they seem. In “Game of Thrones,” murderers are more potent than commanders. Going into the season there was some concern that all the drama was gone. Daenerys’s dragons were unstoppable, Cersei was under siege, and the North was finally united. To borrow a historical analogy, D-Day had happened, the outcome was no longer in doubt, and all that’s left is the bloody march to victory. Not so fast. I still think Cersei ultimately loses the great game, but she is a murderer without peer, and that makes her arguably the most powerful player left on the board. 

Finally, can we just pause for a moment and admire the cinematography of the series? Daenerys’s MacArthur-esque ”I have returned” moment was beautifully shot, and the sight of the dragons soaring above Dragonstone is a shot that fans have been anticipating for the better part of a decade. It didn’t disappoint. But lots of science fiction and fantasy shows nail those big moments. “Thrones” nails the small moments also. The Hound’s bleak and mournful burial of a father and daughter he’d long ago left to die illustrated a truth that the show captures so very well. People can change, but their past haunts them still. 

David French — David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Most Popular

Politics & Policy

Students’ Anti-Gun Views

Are children innocents or are they leaders? Are teenagers fully autonomous decision-makers, or are they lumps of mental clay, still being molded by unfolding brain development? The Left seems to have a particularly hard time deciding these days. Take, for example, the high-school students from Parkland, ... Read More

Romney Is a Misfit for America

Mitt’s back. The former governor of Massachusetts and occasional native son of Michigan has a new persona: Mr. Utah. He’s going to bring Utah conservatism to the whole Republican party and to the country at large. Wholesome, efficient, industrious, faithful. “Utah has a lot to teach the politicians in ... Read More
Law & the Courts

What the Second Amendment Means Today

The horrifying school massacre in Parkland, Fla., has prompted another national debate about guns. Unfortunately, it seems that these conversations are never terribly constructive — they are too often dominated by screeching extremists on both sides of the aisle and armchair pundits who offer sweeping opinions ... Read More

Fire the FBI Chief

American government is supposed to look and sound like George Washington. What it actually looks and sounds like is Henry Hill from Goodfellas: bad suit, hand out, intoning the eternal mantra: “F*** you, pay me.” American government mostly works by interposition, standing between us, the free people at ... Read More
Film & TV

Black Panther’s Circle of Hype

The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) first infantilizes its audience, then banalizes it, and, finally, controls it through marketing. This commercial strategy, geared toward adolescents of all ages, resembles the Democratic party’s political manipulation of black Americans, targeting that audience through its ... Read More