Game of Thrones, Season 5, Episode 3: So Many Beheadings!

A weekly conversation between an avid Game of Thrones fan, and someone who has actively avoided it until now.

A photograph of the writer.

SCAACHI KOUL was born and raised in Calgary, Alberta. Her writing has appeared in The New Yorker, BuzzFeed NewsThe HairpinThe Globe and Mail and J...

A photo of the editor standing outside a house

Haley Cullingham is Hazlitt's editor-in-chief, and a senior editor at Strange Light and McClelland & Stewart. Books and pieces she's edited have won...

Haley: Scaachi, your first Game of Thrones beheading. How exciting. You’re a woman now.

Scaachi: Finally, I have lost yet another virginity.

To me, the most pressing thing I want to talk about is Cersei’s new daughter-in-law.

Haley: Proceed.

Scaachi: What exactly is wrong with her? Why is her face like that? Is this show actually just an old-timey version of Monster In Law? Because I would watch Jennifer Lopez and Jane Fonda in some drapery-type gowns, fighting over some man-baby. Is Cersei bad? I can’t figure out if she is bad. I have a pretty good idea that the daughter-in-law is bad but otherwise it’s still up in the air who is bad.

Haley: Most successful Game of Thrones re-cast ever.

So, to answer your question: You know how in The Wire, no one is really bad, and that’s the point? That is kind of true of Cersei and Margaery. Both want the same thing, which is to be queen. Both got what they wanted, but not without a significant amount of sacrifice. The difference here is that Margaery has always had more agency than Cersei, which is perhaps why she seems more evil. She’s been much more strategic from a much younger age, whereas Cersei pretty much got sold to the highest power-bidder at the end of a war. Now, though, I suppose one could say that Cersei’s intentions are a little more noble: I think at this point, she’s really just trying to stay close to the children she has left, whereas Margaery is all about power. I realize that that reading is very maternal-trope-y, which is gross, but you have to go into Game of Thrones knowing that a lot of the gender stuff is very problematic.

Scaachi: Sure—there does seem to be a line in this show between what the dudes are up to (Wars! Punching! Swords! Eating out of bowls!) and what the women are doing (glaring at each other murderously), with a few exceptions. Also how dumb is The Dink? Like, if your sister (sister?) is trying to kill you, maybe don’t go outside to hit on ladies.

Oh, and, I don’t want to make too fine a point about this but Jon Snow is consistently, almost unapologetically, the worst.

Haley: How have you found one of the only unimpeachable characters in this universe and decided to hate him?

Also re: gender stuff, there’s the obvious, but there’s also some really subtle stuff going on. For the first three books, any time a woman takes action, there’s some catastrophic consequence. It’s almost like a joke. “A lady made a decision and she TRIED HER BEST but now there’s a WAR!”

Anyway, back to Jon Snow, your sworn enemy.

Scaachi: Wait, that wasn’t my first beheading, was it? Blonde Braids did it last week, did she not?

Haley: Ah, you’re so right. So many beheadings to keep track of!

Scaachi: I will say, that while I hate Jon Snow, I think Arya is perfection (for reasons yet to be determined). I just like an angry girl!

Haley: You are correct, she is absolutely the best thing about this whole enterprise. You should find some Arya supercut on the Internet and watch all the awesome things she’s done up until now.

Scaachi: But you’re right, there is a lot of weird gender stuff in this show. I mean, it’s interesting how that girl (the one who’s with the guy with the Van Dyke) is marrying into a bloodline she hates but she’s doing it to get more power. Plus the way Daughter in Law is marrying to become queen, and how Cersei clearly has a history of trying to gain more. Meanwhile, a bunch of the dudes get agency by punching and fighting and various murder. Is it less political? I probably have to watch more episodes to make any kind of judgement on that. But that’s sort of what’s so refreshing about that very tall Lady Knight. How is the GoT patriarchy not trying to kill her all the time? GIRLS CAN’T DO SPORTS.

Haley: Yeah, maybe George R.R. deserves more credit than we give him. I think it all comes back to something we were talking about last week, the responsibility of fantasy to either reflect the (garbage) world we live in, or try to create something better. On the one hand, books = influence = power to change, so it would be great if they tried to craft a better world. I feel as though both of us have probably experienced the validation that comes from reading work like that. But, on the other hand, would Arya, Brienne, and Daenerys’ characters be as powerful were it not for characters like Cersei, Sansa, and Margaery, who are still trapped in the system? I see what you’re doing, R.R. I do.

Scaachi: Yeah, that’s the trouble when you’re a white dude writing about The Other. (Not to be confused with The Others. -ed) It can be hard to determine if some of the things you’re putting down are short-sighted or reasonable considering the context. I don’t think it’s a “problematic” show. It might actually be accomplishing exactly what it’s intending to do, which is make me have feeling about the current state of the world.

I need you to talk to me more about Handsome Goatee and his Daughter (?).

Haley: Do you mean Petyr Baelish and Sansa, the redhead he’s trying to marry off to the bastard son of the man who was responsible for the destruction of the castle she grew up in? You’re throwing me off with all this facial hair classification!

Scaachi: Yes! Him! He is so handsome! Why does he need to be bad? CAN’T THIS SHOW GIVE ME ONE THING.

Haley: YES OKAY. That Petyr Baelish pep talk! How do we feel about it? I kind of loved it! I mean, not ideal, of course, but very inspiring. Call me, Petyr, I need to talk about my five-year plan.

Sometimes I feel like these Game of Thrones discussions we have are very schoolyard politics. You are the new kid in school, and I’m warning you about everyone who looks nice but will steal your juice.

Petyr Baelish probably wouldn’t steal your juice, as long as you’re the offspring of the woman he’s spent his entire life in love with, whom you strongly resemble.

Scaachi: Oh is that why he’s all Hot For Step-Daughter? (Please tell me she is his step-daughter and not his actual daughter.)

Haley: She is technically his niece. He married her crazy aunt and then pushed her out a Moon Door, which is when you live in a very high place and cut a hole in your floor for murders.

Scaachi: He thinks of everything.

Well, I very much enjoyed his speech because I like any speech that has to do with making yourself deeply, wildly unhappy in the never-ending pursuit of VENGEANCE.

Haley: I think there is a lot in this show for you to look forward to.

Scaachi: Can you explain to me a bit more why people like The Dink? He just seems like—and forgive me if this seems to be an obvious indictment—a dink. Why would you leave a safe space? Where is he going? Why did he murder everyone? Can’t you call your sister and just be like, “Look, chill out, let’s have a chat about this.”

Haley: Oh, there is no fixing things between the Dink and Cersei.

So, why does everyone love him? First of all, he’s smart. Second of all, he’s the underdog. Third of all, he spent a period of time effectively ruling King’s Landing as the Hand of the King and saved the city from being destroyed, but didn’t get any credit for it. And it was very poetic, because everyone in King’s Landing hates him for being different. In terms of leaving the safe space, I think he’s become pretty nihilistic at this point. Varys, this bald, is convinced that Dink can save the realm (mostly because he’s one of the only people in it with a brain who doesn’t use his brain for the powers of evil), but I don’t think the Dink is convinced that the realm is worth saving. I think he’s tired, and sick of dealing with everyone’s shit.

Scaachi: What I wouldn’t give for a character who stops trying.

A photograph of the writer.

SCAACHI KOUL was born and raised in Calgary, Alberta. Her writing has appeared in The New Yorker, BuzzFeed NewsThe HairpinThe Globe and Mail and Jezebel. She is the author of One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter.

A photo of the editor standing outside a house

Haley Cullingham is Hazlitt's editor-in-chief, and a senior editor at Strange Light and McClelland & Stewart. Books and pieces she's edited have won the Governor General's Literary Award, the Kobo Emerging Writer Award, and several National Magazine Awards. She is from Toronto.