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Game of Thrones explains where power really comes from...

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GREAT article from Charlie Jane Anders.

It begins:

On one level, last night's Game of Thrones was about parents and their damaged sons. (Along with the age-old maxim, "You broke it, you bought it.") But really, it was about offering one plausible answer to the question the show has been asking from the beginning: Where does power come from? Who really has it, and why?

That question about the sources of power is at the epicenter of the show because it comes straight from the source material, George R.R. Martin's books. It's spelled out, in particular, in the riddle that Varys poses to Tyrion, about the swordsman who has to choose between killing for money, loyalty to the crown or religion.

In last night's season finale, we get a kind of answer, direct from Tywin Lannister, the man who more or less rules Westeros at this point. He tells Tyrion that power comes from putting your family's interests before your own, in essence. The (noble) family that acts as a unit, wins. "You really think a crown gives you power?" he asks. "The House that puts family first will always defeat the House that puts the whims of its sons and daughters first."

Did Game of Thrones finally explain where power really comes from?

This comes right after a crackling, brilliant confrontation between Tywin and his grandson, King Joffrey, in which Joffrey tries to throw his weight around and finds that his nominal title as the king doesn't add up to as much as Tywin's position as patriarch of the Lannister family. "Any man who must say 'I am the King' is no true king," says Tywin. (And in Joffrey's world, being King means that "everyone is mine to torment.")

And the rest of the episode shows the fates of various families, along with hints of how they did or did not apply Tywin's principle of "putting family first." And yes, that includes rather a lot of fathers dealing with their damaged (or dead) sons.

But maybe there's more to the wielding of power than just having your family's best interests solely at heart (and thus having the strength of your family behind you)? Varys offers a slightly more nuanced version of Tywin's lesson, when he explains to Shae why he still believes that Tyrion is one of the few people who can make Westeros a better place. Tyrion has the Lannister name, but he also has the will and the mind for it. And the ability to make Westeros better.

Did Game of Thrones finally explain where power really comes from?

But Varys also believes that Tywin's insistence on the importance of family, above all else, does hold sway after all. "We break bread with [the Westerosi lords], but that doesn't make us family," Varys warns Shae. "Here only the family name matters." But Shae doesn't listen to Varys' explanation of why she can't be part of Tyrion's family, and why she's only endangering the man she loves — she refuses Varys' bribe to get out of Dodge, and instead she's going to stick around and probably be a major problem for Tyrion.

There's a lot more in the article -- definitely food for thought, worth reading:

Here's the riddle:

I love this!

This part of the article on power is all kinds of awesome:

Both Tywin and Stannis make basically the same argument — it's better to slaughter a handful of Starks at a wedding feast, or sacrifice one bastard boy, than to condemn tens of thousands to die on the battlefield. Committing an atrocity to guests under your roof, or using blood magic, is practically an act of mercy.

It sounds good on paper, except that we've spent too much time getting to know poor Gendry. And we see too much of the aftermath of the Red Wedding, where the Stark encampment is in flames and the remaining Stark soldiers are being put to the sword. And Robb Stark's body has been defiled, with an animal head crudely sewn onto his shoulders.

Arya Stark, who already witnessed the beheading of her father Ned Stark, sees a lot of this stuff first hand, and later when she hears a camp of men gloating about it all, she can't help making a pitstop to murder one of them, with Sandor Clegane reluctantly helping her. Sandor notably doesn't tell her not to endanger them with small acts of revenge again — instead he just instructs her to tell him in advance, next time. Because he knows what it's like to have no family and nobody to lean on.

But Arya has one thing Sandor doesn't: a coin from the isles of Braavos, which entitles her to passage to the land of awesome mystical assassins. As she picks it up, she mouths the words that will buy her free passage from any Braavosi: "Valar morghulis," all men must die.

The other person in this episode who doesn't have a family name, of course, is Ramsay Snow, who's revealed as the guy who's been torturing Theon, one way or another, all season. Ramsay is the bastard son of Roose Bolton, lord of the Dreadfort, who stabbed Robb Stark last week. And like Jon Snow and Gendry, Ramsay's bastard status entitles him to absolutely nothing. He doesn't get the family name, or the titles, or any respect.

But unlike those others, Ramsay turned his lack of family name into a source of power — he kept Theon guessing about his identity, and where his loyalties lay, while he was laying the groundwork to take away Theon's own family name. Ramsay was sent to capture Theon and bring him to Robb Stark, but he doesn't give a crap about Robb Stark. He wants Theon for himself, either out of pure sadism or because Theon can help with some power play that also includes his letter to Balon Greyjoy. Given that Ramsay is a cunning manipulator, that letter to Balon probably isn't intended to get Balon to surrender at all — it's intended to goad Balon into taking rash action in the name of protecting his flesh and blood.

That's what makes Ramsay Snow such a uniquely dangerous person — he has no family name of his own, and like his father he seems to have pretty much no loyalty to anyone. But he understands how families and family allegiances work, well enough to manipulate them to his own ends. Because if Tywin believes that the ultimate source of power is loyalty to your own family, Ramsay seems to believe the opposite: you get power by manipulating the family ties of others.