Is there anyone trustworthy left in Westeros?
"Loyal service means telling hard truths."
- Ser Davos Seaworth
The players in the Game of Thrones have rarely benefitted from telling hard truths. Jon Arryn sought King Robert Baratheon's bastard children and was poisoned. Ned Stark uncovered the truth of Joffrey's parentage and paid for the knowledge with his head. And Maester Cressen—who originally, emphatically gave Stannis the advice that Davos repeated in tonight's "The Ghost of Harrenhal"—died for the hard truths he offered about Melisandre. But none of the show's four remaining kings—and one remaining khaleesi—can conquer without a loyal army, or rule without loyal subjects. As the war rages on, and lines are drawn and redrawn, is there any loyalty left in Westeros? And in a world full of shifting priorities and uneasy alliances, who can each of the players in the game of thrones really trust?
It's a question that literally means life and death for Arya, who was snatched from the jaws of death and dropped into a Lannister lion's den. In "The Ghost of Harrenhal," Arya's greatest ally came in an unexpected form: Jaqen H'ghar, whom she saved from a burning wagon in "What is Dead May Never Die." As a sellsword, Jaqen's loyalty can be bought for a price. But Arya's bravery has earned her the right to a higher loyalty than money can purchase: three murders of her choice, which Jaqen offers as a kind of homicidal genie. Across Westeros, Catelyn's bravery is simailarly rewarded by Brienne, who swears loyalty to Catelyn in admiration of her "woman's kind of courage" in the face of Renly's death.
But as we learned from the opening scenes of Game of Thrones' pilot, there's no oath that can't be broken. Westeros is ruled by families, and as of "The Ghost of Harrenhal" there's no clan more powerful than the Lannisters. But bloodlines don't ensure loyalty, either. Davos' advice about loyal service could benefit each of the Lannisters in King's Landing—a city that continues to descend further and further into chaos as Joffrey deafens himself to the plight of the townspeople. Joffrey snottily (and incorrectly) insists that he's owed loyalty by virtue of his birthright. But if loyal service means telling hard truths, Joffrey has inherited a particularly disloyal King's Council. Unchecked by advisors like Littlefinger and Varys, Joffrey is free to engage in his most selfish and sadistic tendencies. There are only two advisors who have his best interests at heart: Tyrion, who genuinely wants to protect the realm, and Cersei, whose affection for Joffrey sets a new standard for the depth of a mother's love. Cersei and Tyrion's goals happen to overlap; Joffrey's ability to reign successfully requires the will of the people, and Tyrion's ability to keep the peace requires stability on the Iron Throne.
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But in the case of Cersei and Tyrion, hard truths make them enemies, not allies. After all, Lannisters always pay their debts, and Cersei is still holding Tyrion accountable for his greatest debt against their family: the loss of their mother, who died giving birth to Tyrion. And Tyrion carried the knowledge of Cersei and Jaime's incestuous affair—and their subsequent efforts to kill Bran Stark—long before their sexual habits were the common gossip of Westeros. And even with personal differences aside, all Westerosi siblings are born into competition with one another, as power and land are passed down by birthright. From Stannis and Renly to Theon and Yara, Cersei and Tyrion are in good company.