Game of Thrones Ep. 1 Review: The Balkanization of the Seven Kingdoms

The underlying theme of the opening episode of Game of Thrones season 6 was the continued Balkanization of the Seven Kingdoms. The north is in turmoil and has basically seceded from the Seven Kingdoms, in King's Landing the different factions are vying for control and in Dorne we saw a coup d'état that ended the rule of the Martells as part of the conspiracy against the crown. The Ironborn, who were absent in the season opener, have already seceded in season 2.

Yes, winter is still coming and the dragons are still here, but most of the 51 hours of the show have focused on the politics of the kingdom and cities across the Narrow Sea, and on how the characters experience this ever-changing political landscape. Because of the sheer volume of events that have transpired make it hard to understand where the story is going, it makes sense to look at the three basic narratives of Game of Thrones.

1. The Civil War of the Seven Kingdoms
2. The Exiled Monarch
3. Winter is Coming

Click here for a review of Game of Thrones season 6 episode 1

There's a vacuum of power in the Seven Kingdoms which has only grown ever since the pilot episode, when the Hand of King Robert, Jon Arryn, was murdered. Right away, the Starks and Lannisters started fighting, then the Riverlands, Baratheons and Tyrells joined in, and the Ironborn and now the Martells. Not to mention the Wildlings, that reject the legitimacy of lords and kings and their laws.

The political situation seems intractable. There's no light at the end of the tunnel and the current players in Westeros cannot emerge as clear winners. Daenerys can theoretically still win, but she is more likely to unite the Dothraki behind her and turn from ruler and liberator to cruel conqueror. Also, if you want to tell a story about an exiled queen that sweeps back into power on the back of a dragon you don't need 8 seasons - 3 would have been enough.

Instead, Game of Thrones has been focusing on the different forms of government in Westeros and Essos, on the ailments of feudalism, the fragility of loyalty, the plight of the people and religion's role in society.

So how can this civil war be resolved? What will make the different factions lay down their weapons? Who can unite them?

Well, the antidote can be one of the factors in the show that was missing in this episode - the White Walkers. There's no better way to unite lions, wolves, stags, snakes, Wildlings and Crows than a common enemy that threatens their very existence, not just their petty political ambitions. These northern monsters do not care what sigil you fight under.

If we think of the state as a living breathing organism, the best way for new ideas to take hold is for the body's immune system to break down. And it is. Westeros will need to adapt in order to fight climate change, most notably: a central power that can juggle between the will of the nobles and that of the people, the low born, farmers and Wildlings; and a common national army that fights for the realm as a whole (aka the Night's Watch).

Another monster that can be part of the solution is the imp, Tyrion Lannister, a good person who wants to rule well, even though people always assume the worst of him. Come on, woman, do you really think he's going to eat your baby?

In this episode we saw Tyrion putting his political ideas to practice in Mereen, and we can learn a lot about his leadership style from his conversation with Varys about how you cannot rule from an ivory tower - you have to take the 99% into account. If Tyrion does a good job over there, he might end up in a position of real power back home in the new Westeros that will have to come about when it's all said and done, because let's not forget that he's a Lannister who is still married to a Stark girl, and this Stark girl is quickly turning into a woman that is considered to be the key to holding the north. Let's not forget she's also a Tully from the Riverlands. These are three of the seven pieces of the puzzle. It might not be much, but it's the best Westeros has.

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