Sunday, June 26, 2016

(Cont.) Season 6, Episode 9. Analysis: What about Baelish

OK, very quickly now, because some people have asked, and I meant to post this sooner.

The other day, we argued that Sansa didn't tell Jon about the Vale soldiers because she thought that the only way Ramsay could be defeated was to give him the (extremely realistic) impression that victory was imminent, thus lulling him into abandoning his defensive positions.

Today, I'll discuss a wrinkle that I omitted before for the sake of simplicity (though I intended to get back to it)--namely, Baelish's potential role in this plan. Who's plan is it really, Sansa's or Baelish's? In truth, there's no way to know at this point, but it really doesn't affect the specific question of why Sansa didn't reveal the plan to Jon. Whether the plan originated with Sansa or Baelish, Sansa concealed its content from Jon for the reasons we've established -- she thought it was necessary to have Jon clueless and near-defeat in order to ensure that Ramsay would fall.

Of course, if Baelish is the one who hatched the plan, he likely has different interests from Sansa. Sansa's primary interest, I would argue, is to defeat Ramsay. She doesn't care what it takes to do so -- if Jon's army is savaged,  if Jon himself is killed, that's collateral damage to her overall goal of seeing Ramsay defeated and dead. Baelish, however -- assuming he designed the plan -- might very well have intended for Jon to be killed. Overall, do I think it was Baelish's plan or Sansa's? I'd have to guess that Baelish drew it up. Sansa admitted in the last episode that she has no experience with battle plans ("I don't know. I don't know anything about battles"). Hopefully, this week's episode will at least deal with the origins of the plan, to some degree.


Ok, back now to Sansa's decision not to tell Jon about the Vale soldiers. What I started pointing out last week -- and wish now to elaborate upon -- is just how RIGHT Sansa was to recognize that Jon was ill-prepared to effectively plan an attack against Ramsay. If you look at it in retrospect, it's  clear that the show was hitting us in the face with evidence that Jon and his army were truly outmatched.

(1) We mentioned that Sansa and Jon had grossly different approaches to the matter of Rickon, as evident in this exchange:

JON: Alright, tell me. What should we do? How do we get Rickon back?SANSA: We'll never get him back. Rickon is Ned Stark's trueborn son, which makes him a greater threat to Ramsay than you, a bastard, or me, a girl. As long as he lives, Ramsay's claim to Winterfell will be contested, which means he won't live long.JON: We can't give up on our brother.

What we didn't stress in the earlier post, however, is that in this conversation, Sansa essentially predicted  that Jon's sympathy for Rickon was going to lead to his downfall; in fact, that's exactly what happened. Jon's army was supposed to be patient and not charge first. However, Jon's foolish need to try to save Rickon led him to abandon his battle plans and singlehandedly charge (toward) the opposing army. This, in turn, led Davos to send in the army after Jon. All of this would have been avoided had Jon heeded Sansa's explicit warning, but he didn't, and Sansa knew he wouldn't.

(2) Jon's confrontation with Ramsay the day before the battle also highlights how savvy Ramsay is and how pointless is Jon's effort to provoke him:

RAMSAY: Come, bastard, you don't have the men, you don't have the horses, and you don't have Winterfell. Why lead those poor souls into slaughter? There's no need for a battle. Get off your horse and kneel. I'm a man of mercy.
JON: You're right. There's no need for a battle. Thousands of men don't need to die.
Only one of us. Let's end this the old way.You against me.
RAMSAY: (chuckling) I keep hearing stories about you, bastard. The way people in the North talk about you, you're the greatest swordsman who ever walked. Maybe you are that good. Maybe not. I don't know if I'd beat you. But I know that my army will beat yours. I have 6,000 men. You have, what, half that? Not even? 

In this exchange, Jon attempts to provoke Ramsay into deciding the battle via single-combat. Ok, worth a try -- no faulting Jon for giving it a shot. However, it didn't work. At all. Ramsay calmly explains that he has an advantage in resources that he would be a fool to waste. 

Accordingly, when in conference with his officers and Sansa, Jon explains, "I wanted to make him angry. I want him coming at us full tilt"-- we should know full well, as Sansa does, that his strategy will not work. Ramsay does not fly off the handle and make mistakes. The same cannot be said of Jon.

(3) As mentioned previously, Jon's assurance to Sansa that he would protect her ("I won't ever let him touch you again. I'll protect you, I promise.") rings hollow to a girl whose mother and brother were murdered by supposed friends, and who has been engaged to one man and married to another who have mercilessly abused her, the first of whom also killed her father.

(4) There's a very short back-and-forth involving Tormund and Jon that also highlights what a ragtag group of men Jon leads.  

TORMUND: It's not his men that worry me. It's his horses. I know what mounted knights can do to us. You and Stannis cut through us like piss through snow.
JON: We're digging trenches all along our flanks. They won't be able to hit us the way that Stannis hit you, in a double envelopment. A pincer move. (Tormund is confused). They won't be able to hit us from the sides. TORMUND: Good.

This bit of conversation seems like it's added to the show for a bit of amusement. And it is, from a certain angle (the viewer's angle), kind of funny. You have this ranking leader of the army, Tormund, who doesn't even know classic battle terminology and tactics. But from a different angle -- Sansa's standpoint -- this misunderstanding is not very funny at all. This army in whose hands she's placing her life and freedom is entirely incompetent. It has a commander too emotional and idealistic to recognize his deficits and craft an appropriate strategy, and it has leaders who don't even know the basics of military tactics and strategy. Small wonder, then, that Sansa would prefer using these misfits as part of a larger plan that has a better chance of defeating Ramsay. Inshort, Sansa calculates correctly.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Season 6, Episode 9. Analysis: Why didn't Sansa tell Jon Snow that the Vale soldiers were about to arrive?

OK, so you saw Sunday night's episode. I did, too. Amazing battle scene. Obviously. But you, like me, probably were left - at least temporarily - with one nagging, or even overwhelming, question.


Admittedly, it's a good question, one that any decently intelligent viewer should ask. Some of my friends stopped there and concluded that it was a plot hole. Ruined the episode. What were the writers/directors thinking?

In this instance, those friends were wrong. Not stupid, just wrong. However, they crossed the line into stupidity once I explained to them what really was going on and they refused to admit that they had been wrong. Don't be stupid or wrong. Here's what happened and why:


In short, Sansa knew that the knights of the Vale were coming and purposely instructed them to intervene only once the Snow forces were about to lose, which was by far the most likely outcome to materialize.


The thinking behind Sansa's strategy is evident from the conversation she has with Jon Snow the night before the battle (and perhaps from some additional indications I will mention). Note this critical dialogue:

SANSA: You've known him for the space of a single conversation, you and your trusted advisors, and you sit around making your plans on how to defeat a man you don't know. I lived with him. I know the way his mind works. I know how he likes to hurt people....You think he's going to fall into your trap. He won't. He's the one who lays traps... He plays with people. He's far better at it than you. He's been doing it all his life...
JON: Alright, tell me. What should we do? How do we get Rickon back?
SANSA: We'll never get him back. Rickon is Ned Stark's trueborn son, which makes him a greater threat to Ramsay than you, a bastard, or me, a girl. As long as he lives, Ramsay's claim to Winterfell will be contested, which means he won't live long.
JON: We can't give up on our brother.
SANSA: Listen to me, please. He wants you to make a mistake.
JON: Of course he does…
SANSA: Just don't do what he wants you to do...

JON: We're lucky to have this many men.
SANSA: It's not enough.
JON: No, it's not enough. It's what we have. Battles have been won against greater odds.
SANSA: If Ramsay wins, I'm not going back there alive.
JON: Do you understand me? I won't let ever let him touch you again. I'll protect you, I promise.
SANSA: No one can protect me. No one can protect anyone.

There are a bunch of things that we can take away from this conversation regarding Sansa's estimation of Jon Snow: (1) Jon is underestimating Ramsay. (2) He's not as good a strategist as Ramsay. (3) Jon's forces can only be victorious if they are unpredictable, forcing Ramsay into a mistake. (4) Jon is incapable of formulating an unpredictable strategy, partially because (5) he's substituting optimism and idealism for military strategy (e.g., "We can't give up on our brother...Battles have been won against greater odds...I'll protect you, I promise").

Given this outlook, Sansa knows that she needs to engineer the unpredictability and display the ruthlessness that Jon is incapable of exhibiting. And this she does. In spades. For her gambit to work, however, Jon Snow must be kept completely in the dark.

Ramsay's battle strategy is brilliant and methodical, as Sansa knew it would be. Ramsay wields his forces like a chess master, allowing his cavalry (i.e. "pawns") to inflict maximum carnage before sacrificing them to his own archers, knowing that the arrows will also devastate enemy soldiers. Once the cavalry and the archers have wrought their damage, and only then, Ramsay springs his infantry trap, releasing his archers to surround Snow's forces in a vise from which there will be no escape.

But here's the catch. In springing this brilliant, effective trap, Ramsay COMPLETELY EXPOSES BOTH HIMSELF AND THE CASTLE TO ATTACK. It's undeniable. Check out the arrival of the Vale forces. Ramsay is on his horse with, literally, only two other mounted soldiers near him. No archers, no rear-guard, nobody. All of Ramsay's men are on the battlefield, primed for the kill - the kill that would undoubtedly have taken place if not for Sansa's incredible, successful gamble.

So why didn't Sansa tell Jon about the Vale troops? Don't you see? She couldn't! If Jon had known they were coming, he'd most likely wait for the Vale soldiers to arrive and draw up battle plans for the (newly) enlarged army. Conventional, unimaginative, battle plans that Ramsay--once he sees the new soldiers arrive--would easily anticipate and counter. The only way that Ramsay would make a mistake, the only way, was to spring a genuine surprise on Ramsay, with no warning and no compunction about the lives the strategy would cost.

And that's the incredible irony underlying Sansa's strategy. She "out-Ramsays" Ramsay. The show makes a point of contrasting Ramsay's willingness to shoot his own soldiers with Davos's (=Jon's) unwillingness to do the same. But Sansa goes even further than Ramsay. She is willing to risk Jon's entire army--and Jon himself!--because, she is convinced, only (the pretense of) impending victory would induce Ramsay to lower his defenses.

This post is lengthy enough. I'll try to add some evidence and color in a new post soon.

Thanks for reading!

Monday, June 20, 2016

Statement of Purpose

I am starting this blog for a number of (mostly narcissistic) reasons. I will list some of them here:

(1) I make a lot of predictions about GOT. Some of them have proven correct, and some of them have been wrong (and the jury's still out on some). But only my friends know about my predictions. Therefore, when I want to take credit for accurate predictions, only like 10 or 15 people know that I made the predictions. I would prefer to have more people know when I have made amazing predictions. More people will also know about my bad predictions, but I don't think that will bother me.

(2) Even some of my friends deny that I have made my correct predictions. This occurs because we discuss GOT on Whatsapp, and I don't have all my past messages because I changed my phone and lost many old messages. This blog will allow me to more permanently record my analysis and predictions. That way, when my friends challenge me about whether I have said things in the past, I can send them links proving that they're wrong. 

(3) I am a member of multiple GOT whatsapp groups. One for books, another for the show. It gets confusing what I'm allowed to talk about in each group. Sometimes that's annoying. This blog is for me to say anything GOT-related - show, books, analysis, theories, predictions, etc. 

(4) I love GOT. Writing about it - I imagine - will be more enjoyable than other things I could (and probably would) do with the time.

I intend to follow up soon with an analysis of an issue from yesterday's episode (6:9).

Welcome, thanks for reading!