I wonder if I’m alone in subconsciously applying (what I’ll call for now) “Retrospective Downgrading” of an episode, based on what happened later.
Take for example, “Battle of the Bastards”:
– I was already in the minority about this episode since I wasn’t thrilled with the Team Bolton vs. Team Stark battle outside WF; in addition, the KotV ex machina didn’t work for me, and Sansa’s unexplained concealment of KotV made her look duplicitous or selfish.
– However, I really liked the Battle of Mereen portion of the episode, especially Dany’s retort to that overconfident clown who asserted “Your reign, is over,” and the entire Dany + Dragons vs. Masters’ Armada sequence.
Tyrion and Grey Worm also got to shine in the Mereen portion of BoB. (Loved Grey Worm’s neck-slice of the two Masters standing up, instead of the trembling Master on his knees, followed by Tyrion’s warning to the still-trembling Master, with a pat on the shoulder as he strolled away.)
– Also, as I think I’ve commented before, the visual of Dany’s three dragons’ streaming fire in unison from the sky, roasting + boiling the ship, made for an enjoyable rewatch – and a still image that became one of my favorite screensavers.
• Here’s the problem: Knowing now what I didn’t know then, has sort of lessened my appreciation in hindsight:
– If there was a unifying theme of that Mereen segment of BoB, it was Dany using methods to prevail against her adversary that maximized “optics” while minimizing casualties:
– With the Masters’ invasion fleet bombarding Mereen, Dany’s initial impulse was to destroy all of the Masters’ armies and navies and “return their cities to the dirt.’’ At Tyrion’s urging, Dany chose a surgical strike that nonetheless made an impression, i.e., flame-broiling a single ship.
– For the Masters’ treachery in violating the peace treaty brokered by Tyrion, Dany didn’t punish them all – but still required that one of them be executed to teach them a lesson. (Grey Worm got two for the price of one after the two cowardly Masters tried to throw the third one under the bus.)
– As reflected in Tyrion’s parting warning, Dany had used a surgical demonstration of the lethality her WMDs as a show of force, to give the Masters second thoughts should they entertain any bright ideas about starting another war in the future.
– During the parlay with the three Masters’ representatives, Grey Worm (I think… maybe Tyrion?) conveyed to the Masters’ guardsmen that they had the choice of either (A) fighting for their leaders who wouldn’t for them; or (B) laying down their arms and going home to their families. They all chose option B.
– Dany achieved her objective of winning the war through her enemies’ unconditional surrender before and without going full-on fire & blood, and without decimating their soldiers and civilians: An elegant, preemptive “shock and awe” counterattack that convincingly demonstrated to her enemies that she was more than capable of annihilating them – while showing them that she was not a bloodthirsty conquerer. Perhaps she gained their capitulation to her rule through “fear,” but she did so with minimal loss of life. She also showed the enemy combatants that she was merciful and therefore they need not fight to the death.
– I think there’s a Latin phrase that roughly translates to “Kill or be killed.”
– I recall that phrase being used to describe the mindset of soldiers who may not necessarily agree with their leaders and might even detest them. They might realize that their military leadership or monarch(s) are power-hungry warmongers willing to use the soldiers as cannon fodder in pursuit of selfish aims. The soldiers may actively oppose the reasons for launching a war of aggression.
– And, as explained by the friendly Lannister soldiers (aka the Ed Sheeran Regiment) in S7e1, echoing the theme of the books! “Broken Man” speech, armies weren’t ordinarily composed of only professional warriors. Rather, their ranks consisted primarily of conscripts: young men and boys forced to leave their farms and families to “fight in someone else’s war.” At least on the show, standing armies were the exception. When it came to battles and wars, when the lords “called their banners,” untrained and ill-equipped commoners and “small folk“ had to drop everything and march off to war.
– Yet, the soldiers go into battle anyway, and fight with whatever zeal they can muster, because of the “kill or be killed” axiom. Their enemies wouldn’t show mercy. Battles were slaughterfests.
Peaceful surrender without consequences wasn’t an accepted concept, e.g., “lay down your weapons and go home to your families.”
– From the portrayals of conflicts on the show (e.g., NW vs. Wildlings; Boltons vs. Stannis, etc.), defeated or surrendering combatants were often executed – if for no other reason than their captors didn’t have the resources to feed and house them.
– From other incidents on the show (like Tywin’s retribution against upstarts [the Raynes?] memorialized in song in “The Rains of Castamere” and recounted by Cersei to Margaery; Tyrion’s musing during the Battle of the Blackwater about his likely fate in the event Stannis won), defeated adversaries and their families often had their “heads on a spike” or had their rotting corpses strung up in public.
– POWs were only kept alive if they had value as hostages.
(Even then, as Lord Karstark demonstrated, the captors’ bannermen’s default setting was to kill hostages as a tit-for-tat act of revenge. I suppose
the victor of a battle could also try to use surrendering soldiers to supplement his forces, e.g., like Stannis’s “bend the kneel or die” ultimatum to Mance to either agree to join his army, or fry. I’m not sure how commonplace that was; Dany resorted to a similar “kneel or fry” ultimatum to the Lannister POWs after Field of Fire 2.0.)
– Giving enemy combatants a choice between continuing to fight to the death or going home to their families was a progressive notion on Dany’s part – similar to bombarding a city with barrels of broken slave collars instead of artillery. It would arguably endear combatants and civilians to her cause, even at the risk that some soldiers would see it as an opportunity to live to fight another day against her.
• The underlying premise of Dany’s approach in Mereen was appealing to the viewer (well, to me).
She showed enemies she could readily destroy them on the battlefield, while also exhibiting the capacity for mercy and a preference to first pursue a peaceful transition to a better way of life for the populations of the states she intended to rule.
• My initial “scoring” of S6e9 got bonus points, and my enjoyment of that episode was positively impacted, by the way Dany, Tyrion, Grey Worm and Missandei conducted themselves.
– It contrasted with the way other characters might have (justifiably) repaid the Masters’ treachery with no mercy.
– It also appeared to confirm that Daenerys Targaryen was not in fact like her father, belying the “Mad King’s Daughter” narrative (e.g., in Cersei’s excellent propaganda speech in S7e2, and the prejudices exhibited by the whinging Northerners when King Jon announced his intention to travel south to seek an alliance with Dany).
• – Now, however, after the events of S8 culminating in Dany going full-on Mad Queen and commuting mass murder of civilians for no reason after she’d already won the war against Cersei, my appreciation of S6e9 has been diminished considerably.
– All of Dany’s positive attributes in that episode were negated by subsequent events. I no longer feel any desire to rewatch that episode. The presentation of Dany as an a messianic figure and enlightened leader who’d “make the world a better place” – built up over seven seasons and exemplified by her actions in the Mereen segment of S6e9, was completely undermined by her transformation into mass murderer, aka The Worst Tyrant of All Time.
– It’s impossible for me to rewatch S6e9 without being influenced by S8e5 and e6.
– That’s what I mean by “Retrospective Downgrading.”
Does that make any sense?