Of Modern Justice (Part 1: Hypocritical Reflections on Game of Thrones)

In light of my prior comments on the series, I’m committing a blatant act of hypocrisy and catching up with A Game of Thrones. A close friend believes there’s some redeeming qualities to the series overall themes that need an ending to properly play out. I’m skeptical, but the show gives me more than enough food for thought to make it worth seeing if this plays out. I’m picking up at season 5 and certain events are making me think about justice.

Daenerys’ Dilemma

Let me paint the picture: In the fallout of Daenerys Targaryen’s capturing of the exotic city of Meereen and the outlawing of it’s major industry – slavery – this would-be-queen is confronted with the problem of integrating the high class of freeborn men, still called the Masters, with the lower class of freedmen. Certain freedmen are unhappy with this and are basically going Klu Klux Klan on the new regime – calling themselves Sons of the Harpy (the god-symbol of Meereen), they are performing acts of terrorism and trying to restore the old order.

In episode two, one of these Sons of the Harpy is captured. Daenerys, following the advice of her council, elects to have the man face trial for his crimes. Her freedman advisor takes it upon himself to murder this man without trial and hang his body publicly with the inscription “Kill the Masters.” Daenerys, after gaining confession from the advisor, has him publicly executed.

The Fallout: Do we actually want justice?

As will become clear in a few upcoming reflections, I’m something of an authoritarian in most people’s eyes, especially when it comes to matter of law and order. The law must be respected, order must be kept, and one cannot restore justice by acting unjustly. I have no problem with Daenerys carrying out justice and executing the advisor. While I was more than ready to see the Son of the Harpy get his comeuppance, it had to be in a form where justice was served, not an appeasement of vengeance.

Thus my repulsion at the fallout of Daenerys act. The Masters were, of course, happy with the outcome, but the freedmen immediately turn on Daenerys, hissing her when they were calling her mother only moment before, and inciting a riot. The Masters, as soon as a rock or two go their way, join in the riot to put down those uppity freedmen.

Throughout the sequence of carrying out the condemned to the execution, Daenerys has cries of “Mother, please!” and “Mercy!” thrown at her. Being among the, maybe, four actually moral characters in the show, this pulls at her heartstrings. Still, she knows she is queen and justice must be upheld if freedom is to be properly ordered.

We are meant, though, to see this as a dilemma. Sure, it’s an emotional dilemma – we’ve grown to like the fiery little advisor; the Sons of the Harpy’s are complete jerks; Daenerys is trying to not be a tyrant like her father, and that means both protecting the weak and not letting some act above the law. All this ratchets up the emotional matter of the story.

But the dilemma appears to be more than an emotional one. The show is attempting to highlight some sort of inability to see black-and-white. The act of justice is seen as contrary to mercy. We want mercy instead of justice. Beyond the question of how Daenerys (and the viewer) feel about the situation, do we think she’s done the right thing? The show attempts to hold back an answer by an appeal to a kind of utilitarianism or ethics based on effect – Daenerys’ act brought disorder, rioting, even attempts on her life, confusion and worry among her council. Did she do the right thing?

Well, yes. She did. But we don’t want justice anymore. We don’t trust justice anymore.

(To be continued…)

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About Tomas

Catholic. Texan. Philistine. Teacher.
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3 Responses to Of Modern Justice (Part 1: Hypocritical Reflections on Game of Thrones)

  1. One problem with Daenerys’ process: the captured son of the Harpy was going to be given something like a public trial, which would have given Team Dany a chance to control the narrative. Instead, Mossador reacted fearfully that Dany might free the insurgent, and took it upon himself to kill the man, thus robbing Dany of this PR move.

    Unfortunately, Dany then summarily executed Mossador without a similar process, where Mossador could be put on trial publicly, and the slain Harpy as well in absentia.

    Instead, Mossador gets brought out without much explanation and is killed. All the people know is that Dany seems to be punishing those trying to stop the Harpies, which is an odd message to be giving.

    • Tomas says:

      I can agree about the PR issue, by and large, but there’s enough in the events that can lead one to assume a hasty trial – not hasty for reasons of expediency, but hasty because, well, it seem Mossador didn’t really attempt to hide his crime.

      It should also be recognized that Mossador isn’t executed for killing the captured son of the harpy. He’s killed for going against Dany’s command – it’s not only for murder but for treason.

      • That’s fine distinction, since the killing of the harpy was going against her command, but I agree that Dany had him executed for violating her commands. I don’t know if I’d call it treason, since treason implies a much more grievous action against the government. For example, Janos Slynt is executed for insubordination in refusing to follow orders, but not really treason. (I’m not saying that you asserted anything about Slynt, I’m just drawing a parallel, which isn’t an exact one.)

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