Winter is coming, but not soon enough. So to help pass the time until season seven of Game of Thrones, we’re doing a weekly re-watch of the series, episode-by-episode, with the knowledge of what’s to come and—therefore—more information about the unrevealed rich history of events that took place long before the story began. Be warned, though: that means this series is full of spoilers for every season, even beyond the episode itself. So if you haven’t watched all of the show yet immediately get on that and then come back and join us for Game of Thrones Re-Throned.
Because the next best thing to watching new episodes is re-watching old ones.
Season 5, Episode 2: “The House of Black and White”
What got Robb Stark killed? The breaking of his sacred vow to marry one of Walder Frey’s daughters. But the reason he was even in the Twins the day of the Red Wedding at all was because he made a shortsighted decision to execute Lord Rickard Karstark in the name of justice. In this episode, Daenerys made the exact same foolish choice to kill an ally, but—since her mistake didn’t prove fatal for her—it may end up being one of the most valuable lessons she learned in Meereen, and may help save the living in the great war to come.
Robb beheaded Lord Karstark after Karstark broke into the cell of Martyn and Willem Lannister and killed the two child hostages of Robb. It was a heinous crime—cruel and unjust—but Robb’s family advised him to keep Lord Karstark as a hostage, assuring the loyalty of the entire Karstark force. However, ever the son of Ned Stark, he ignored their counsel and killed Lord Karstark instead, because acting with honor trumped acting pragmatically. The Karstark forces then immediately abandoned his cause, which led to Robb trying to gain back the Frey forces. We know how that all ended.
In “The House of Black and White,” Daenerys decided the captured Son of the Harpy should be given a fair trial, a decision with which former slave and member of her small council, Mossador, disagreed. Later in the episode he broke into the man’s cell and killed him. When confronted by Daenerys, he said he did it for her, because her hands were tied.
This was one of her most loyal subjects, one of the first slaves to rise up in her name. He didn’t refer to her as Khaleesi or Queen, he called her Mhysa. No one in this city loved her more than he does. And she has him executed for his crime.
The consequences were instant, as the freed former slaves quickly began pelting the former masters with rocks. But it goes beyond that, as they started hissing (yes, actually hissing) at their beloved Mhysa, whom they had begged for mercy. It’s an ugly scene, and it seemed to light a fuse on the uneasy powder keg that was Meereen.
Daenerys’s problems in Slaver’s Bay were only just beginning, though we know she’ll (barely) survive them. However, it’s not until Tyrion’s arrival that the egregiousness of her Mossador decision was contextualized. In episode eight of this season, the banished Jorah—a man she swore to kill if he ever returned—stood before Daenerys to beg for forgiveness. Asking Tyrion what she should do with him, the soon-to-be Hand to the Queen remarked: “A ruler who kills those devoted to her is not a ruler who inspires devotion. You’re going to need to inspire devotion—and lots of it—if you’re ever going to rule across the Narrow Sea.”
If only she’d understood this notion with Mossador, she may have avoided many of the problems she faced in Meereen (plus, the very much not executed Jorah ends up saving her life)—problems that nearly cost her her life, much like Robb’s mistake. She was too committed to acting within a strict code of right and wrong that she failed to act practically. She let her a rigid sense of justice blind her against making the best decision.
Now that Dany’s finally (finally!) begun her trek across the Narrow Sea, it might seem that this lesson about being a pragmatic ruler and not an ideologue will help her unite Westeros behind her, giving her the Iron Throne and making her a just and good queen.
But what this lesson might do, far more importantly, is save the world of the living from the White Walkers. The great war is coming, and it could require the entire united forces of the Seven Kingdoms to defeat them. If her first act in Westeros is to lay waste to the Lannister army, for example, or destroys all of Euron Greyjoy’s ships, there might not be enough people to fight in the only war that truly matters. If she seeks vengeance for what was done to her family, instead of doing what is best for the country, she could damn the whole continent to darkness.
And if the White Walkers come south enough, all of those defeated foes could rise again as a much scarier enemy.
One of the great themes of this show is what it takes to rule, the challenges of power, between balancing what is right and what is smart. Ned Stark’s strong sense of right and wrong got him killed, as did Robb’s. Fortunately for Daenerys she did not pay for her life for making the same mistake. As a result she might be the ruler that Westeros needs to find peace, but more importantly she might be the ruler that will save the living from the dead.
What do you think is the most important lesson Daenerys learned in Meereen? Tell us in the comments below.