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GAME OF THRONES Re-Throned: “What Is Dead May Never Die” (S2, E3)

GAME OF THRONES Re-Throned: “What Is Dead May Never Die” (S2, E3)

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 2, Episode 3: “What Is Dead May Never Die”

Original Air Date: April 15th, 2012
Director: Alik Sakharov
Written by: Bryan Cogman

Before we get to this season’s third episode, “What is Dead May Never Die,” let’s take a moment to look back at last week’s, where we reconsidered whether or not Theon was worthy of empathy, because this is the episode where he decides to betray Robb (though his decision to attack Winterfell will come later), and it has one of the most visually beautiful shots in the show’s run. It’s not subtle (it actually stands out for its theatrical framing), but it’s powerful nonetheless.

Theon sits in a dark room, rereading what he wrote to the man he just swore was his king, his friend, and then he puts the letter up to the single candle on his desk. The camera pulls out as he watches his friendship and oath to Robb literally go up in flames. It’s like a moving, breathing, Caravaggio painting. It’s hauntingly beautiful, sad and poignant, showing how alone Theon is right now, and the darkness he is embracing by doing this, and that was true even before we knew what this decision would mean for so many at Winterfell, for Bran and Rickon, for Maester Luwin, for the North, for Robb and Catelyn, and, of course, for Theon.

As for this episode, which introduces us to Margaery and Brienne, it is significantly better than last week’s unusually dull affair, and a big reason why is how many wonderful Tyrion moments we get. This is the episode where he pulls off his clever ruse to weed out anyone on the Small Council that might betray him to his sister, by telling Varys, Baelish, and Pycelle that he is sending his niece Princess Myrcella away to be promised to a noble house to ensure their loyalty. Of course, he tells all three a different destination, so he knows it’s Pycelle that betrayed him when Cersei flips out on him about her going to Dorne. That leads to the great scene where he and Bronn arrest Pycelle in his bedchamber.

(Note: Tyrion is really smart, and he knows his history, like how Pycelle told the Mad King to let Tywin and his forces into King’s Landing during Robert’s Rebellion, even as Varys pleaded with him not to. Pycelle has always served House Lannister, and it’s not exactly foolish for Tyrion to expect Pycelle to serve Cersei over himself. He was never marrying Myrcella to Theon as he told Varys, or to Robin Arryn as he told Baelish, he just needed to test their loyalty and service. He was always sending her to Dorne, regardless of who betrayed him. He just expected it to be Pycelle, so Pycelle was told the truth.)

It’s another Tyrion scene though that stands out this week, though it’s Varys who does the heavy lifting. The two smart, underestimated men sit and talk, with Varys praising Tyrion for his ruse, when the Master of Whisperers poses a riddle to Tyrion about a “curious thing,” power.

“Three great men sit in a room: a king, a priest, and a rich man. Between them stands a common sellsword. Each great man bids the sellsword kill the other two. Who lives? Who dies?”
“Depends on the sellsword.”
“Does it? He has neither crown, nor gold, nor favor with the gods.”
“He has a sword, the power of life and death.”
“But if it’s swordsmen who rule, why do we pretend kings hold all the power? When Ned Stark lost his head, who was truly responsible? Joffrey? The executioner? Or something else”
“I’ve decided I don’t like riddles.”
“Power resides where men believe it resides. It’s a trick, a shadow on the wall. And a very small man can cast a very large shadow.”
This is the same exact lesson Daenerys will learn at the end of this season, when she opens up Xaro Xhoan Daxos’ vault and finds it empty, a mere illusion of wealth and power (which she then uses to entomb him and Doreah alive for betraying her).
Now that Tyrion is her Hand of the Queen, and they are sailing back to Westeros, it’s hard not to think about what this scene might foretell, because there has never been a greater force in the Seven Kingdoms than dragons. They are not an illusion, they are actual, tangible power. Stannis’s power was an illusion, as was the High Sparrow’s, just like Ned Stark and his piece of paper couldn’t sway the sellswords. They had illusions of power that vanished as such.
“Power is power.” Those are the exact words Cersei said to Baelish in the season premiere, when he tried to intimidate her and tell that knowledge is power. She had her guards seize him and ordered his throat slit before letting him go. Her point was proven, that you might think you have power, but you don’t.
It’s a lesson the current Cersei might want to remember now, because the hold she has on the Iron Throne is an illusion. She has no support, enemies on all sides, and a fleet of ships accompanied by three dragons heading towards her.
So what about her brother? Tyrion knows how to treat and speak to the people, how to root out enemies, how to lead men, and how to rule a kingdom. Yet, when you have dragons what does any of that matter? You have the most powerful force the world has ever known, not an illusion.
Rather than focus on Varys’ lesson about the nature of power, it could be the literal shadow Tyrion might cast that ends up mattering, because if the theory that Tyrion is secretly the son of the Mad King (which you can read more about here), than he might be one of the three heads of the dragon. A small man on a large dragon would cast a very large shadow.
And if any man alive would know the truth, it would be the man who served the Mad King as Master of Whisperers, a man who has been secretly been plotting to install a Targaryen on the throne in hopes that person might be able to bring peace to the realm. Might Varys have been merely teaching one Targaryen how to rule all those years ago, long before anyone knew that real power would soon return to the world?
This conversation might be referenced by Varys sooner than later, when he reminds Tyrion about the very large shadow a small man can cast, even if he didn’t mean it so literally at the time.
What did you of this episode? What about Varys’ riddle? Talk about it with us in the comments below.

Don’t miss our fan theory about Varys’ true history on The Dan Cave:

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Images: HBO
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