'Game of Thrones' S05E05: The Struggle Against Tradition

05/19/2015 11:54 am ET | Updated May 19, 2016

The appeal of Game of Thrones rests in its progressive take on a traditional, fictional setting inspired by medieval Western civilization. Its leading characters comprise of women, bastards and a cunning-yet-lovable dwarf. The show proposes modern concepts such as women's empowerment -- with Daenerys, Brienne, Arya -- and social equality for all -- think of the diverse pool of sworn brothers in the Night's Watch. This week's episode is no different, save for one thing. The overarching theme of tradition reminds us of the authenticity of a fantasy series that accurately captures social realities.

The Mother of Dragons decided to reinstate the fighting pits despite her previous disapproval of it. Daenerys Targaryen, known to be liberator rather than a conqueror by her people, conceded the role of the pits in this week's episode. The reason behind this is, of course, the general theme we're going to explore in each subplot: tradition.

In spite of her best efforts to modernize the city of Meereen by ridding it of slavery, several counterrevolutionary forces, led by The Sons of the Harpy, proved to be a stubborn resistance. The Sons, suspected of being the leaders of noble Meereenese families, intended to subvert the progressive policies Daenerys had implemented, and return the ancient city to its original way of life. The aftermath of a brutal massacre that resulted in the death of the queen's trusted knight forced her hand. The fighting pits were reopened, and despite her set condition of forbidding slaves from entering the competition, Daenerys succumbs to the advantages following tradition had to offer. The truth is that tradition united the Meereen people, a tradition that once provided stability to a Meereen intensely shaken by the queen's new policies. Furthermore, "in order to gain a lasting bond" with the city's people, Dany decided to marry the head of an ancient family. It seemed as if The Mother of Dragons was being reined in herself.

What we have to remember here is earlier in the series, Dany Targaryen was being pimped out by her own brother to Khal Drogo in exchange for his army. And though she would learn to appreciate the barbarian ruler, the fixed marriage was something she was vehemently against. Yes, we can concede that the decision to marry Hizdahr zo Loraq was a calculated move meant to consolidate her power. But for someone who prides herself as being so principled and adamant about her progressive policies, and more importantly, someone who had experienced the reality of arranged marriages, she comes off as a hypocrite. This, however, all goes back to the power of tradition and its vice-like grip on society. As much as the queen thought she was changing Meereen, its people and their tradition was doing the same to shape her.

Another example of tradition's incredible influence is the scathing feedback Jon Snow received upon his decision to have the Night's Watch fight alongside the Wildlings. The Lord Commander had to endure dissenting opinions that were based in the history of animosity between the two people. "We've been fighting them for thousands of years, they've killed our people, they've killed our brothers" Alliston Thorne reminded Snow in the much heated argument. Despite Snow's noblest intentions of protecting the realm of men -- that consist even of the Free Folk according to him -- millenia of endless vendettas have molded the crows to resent the Wildlings. This will be a significant dilemma as the Lord Commander proceeds with his plan.

Worth mentioning as well is the sadistic, power-hungry former bastard Ramsey Bolton. Upon hearing that his father was going to have a child with his legitimate wife, Bolton immediately questioned his future position in the family both personally and professionally, having to deal with his father's questionable approval and the struggle to rule the North. Family still matters even in a world filled with whores, mistresses and illegitimate children. What tradition has established as a conventional family has a powerful impact on those that are deemed not part of it. On a personal level, even Ramsey Bolton, the twisted, manipulative, aspiring King in the North, showed his vulnerability, his need for his father's approval. On a social level, a legitimate heir is always a threat to the power of a former bastard like Ramsey. Tradition dictates that legitimate children can automatically rule while the rest are left to claw their way to the top.

The brilliance of Game of Thrones lays in its accurate portrayal of realities. In spite of the scale of imagination it takes to build a world like Westeros and beyond, GoT's characters and problems come from real-world truths. Traditions preserve and bind society as much as progressive ideas revolutionize it. A world with intertwining traditional and modern ideas has to convey this constant conflict. What this week's episode reminds us is the struggles of those who seek to change the status quo will always be met by the stubborn and awesome force of tradition. There are times when they succumb to it such as Daenerys' case; there are times when they overcome, such as the Lord Commander's triumph; there also times where we are left to wait and see how the struggle will end. Leave it to Game of Thrones to get a psychopathic bastard like Ramsey Bolton and his cold-hearted, calculating father to keep us guessing how things will turn out.