Saturday, May 7, 2016

The Secret Targaryens - Part 2

Well, so much for the worst kept secret in TV history. We can now move away from the focus on the return of the show’s most recently fallen hero – Jon Snow. My previous article highlighted two things about him: how given all the compelling hints and foreshadows that he will be back, and how his possible Targaryen lineage might play a role in it. In light (or absence) of the method of his resurrection, we’re no closer to any hints about his lineage than we were a year ago. But perhaps the big reveal will present itself in the now confirmed Tower of Joy scene from the next episode.

In this article however, I’m going to closely examine and speculate on another key character from the show and demonstrate how symbolism and foreshadowing has made me realise there might be more to his story and future than the show has let on. That character is Tyrion Lannister.

We’ve seen Tyrion struggled to find his place in his family throughout the past 5 seasons. From the show, we know there is little love lost between him and his father. Tywin Lannister constantly displayed his disdain and hatred for him. Ever since Tyrion killed his father at the end of season 4, he’s been on the run and now resides in Essos serving as adviser to Daenerys Targaryen. For the first time, we see Tyrion being driven by something greater than himself. There’s a reason why his story arc has now converged with that of Daenerys but what will he accomplish with her remains to be seen.

Taking a closer look at the show, you will find several important hints pointing to the fact that their union might lead to a larger and significant reveal that few show fans would’ve anticipated without interpreting the show’s use of symbolism and foreshadowing, especially in Tyrion’s case; that revelation is that Tyrion is actually a Targaryen.

Before I go further into explaining this revelation, I’d like to first establish the show’s very heavy use of symbolism and foreshadowing in Tyrion’s storyline. This is one of my favourite examples: in season 2, on the eve of the Battle of the Green Fork, Tyrion met Shae for the first time inside the Lannister camp. A conversation took place between him, Bronn and Shae. Early clues to his eventual betrayal by Shae and his murder of his father can be found as far back into the show as this scene.

Tyrion recounts the horrifying story of his first marriage to Tysha and how his encounter with her was all arranged by his father Tywin Lannister:

Tyrion: First, my father had Jamie tell me the truth. Girl was a whore, you see. Jamie had arranged the whole thing; the road, the rapers, all of it. He thought it was time I had a woman. After my brother confessed, my father brought in my wife and gave her to his guards. He paid her well; a silver for each man. How many whores command that kind of price? He brought me into the barracks and made me watch. By the end, she had so much silver that the coins were slipping through her fingers and rolling onto the floor.

Bronn: I would’ve killed the man who did that to me.

Shae: You should have known she was a whore.

Tyrion: Really?

In the books, it turns out that Tysha wasn’t a whore and was actually in love with Tyrion but was forced by Tywin to admit otherwise to teach Tyrion a lesson. In the show, when Tyrion brought Shae to King’s Landing, he should’ve realised that she was a whore, who will ultimately betray him in his trial.

During Tyrion’s trial, Shae comes forward as the final witness and the ultimate symbolism of betrayal for Tyrion as he listens helplessly to all of her lies.

Tyrion: Shae, please don’t.

Shae: I’m a whore, remember?

I could almost imagine Tyrion in the show adding in, “No kidding, really?” Anyway, during Tyrion’s escape, he finally killed the man who did this to him – his father. So the parallels of both stories above and its seemingly circular narrative are undoubtedly symbolic and its eventual outcome already foreshadowed prior.

Now that we have established the literary techniques used in the show are well thought out, let’s talk about the reason that initially started me off on this theory about Tyrion. It began with the visions that Daenerys had when she went to the House of the Undying to rescue her dragon whelps from the warlocks of Qarth in season 2’s finale.

In my previous article, I briefly mentioned that Daenerys dreamed of a three-headed dragon which loosely implied three riders for her three dragons. I then mentioned how the depiction of her visions in the show gave a more visually compelling argument for Daenerys, Jon and Tyrion to be our future dragon riders than the books did. I’ll get to the visions in the show at the end of this article.

For now, let’s take a look at the ones from the books. In it, Daenerys had this one vision where she saw her brother Rhaegar whom she had never met before speaking of his son being “the prince that was promised and that his is the song of ice and fire”, adding “there must be one morethe dragon has three heads.” Keep in mind that Rhaegar only had two children, putting Jon Snow aside.

This has also something to do with the Targaryen sigil which features a three-headed dragon. During a conversation between Tywin and Arya Stark at Harrenhal in season 2, we learned that Aegon the Conqueror had three dragons and two sisters who helped him conquered Westeros. Arya was a captive at Harrenhal which was occupied by the Lannisters at the time. In this scene, Tywin was explaining to Arya how this War of the Five Kings will be his last war, the one he will be remembered for as his legacy.

Arya eats and listens interestedly to Tywin’s story of how Harrenhal became a ruin because it was built to repel a land attack but not an attack from the air:

Tywin: Aegon Targaryen changed the rules. That’s why every child alive still knows his name three hundred years after his death.

Arya: Aegon and his sisters.

Tywin: Hmph?

Arya: It wasn’t just Aegon riding his dragons. It was Rhaenys and Visenya too.

Tywin: Correct. Student of history are you?

Although subtle, this is an example of how the show is potentially hinting at its own future much like the scene between Tyrion, Bronn and Shae in the Lannister camp did. It also seems that the number three is deeply rooted in Targaryen history as it isn’t enough to just put it on sheer coincidence that the number three appears a lot in the show in relation to the Targaryens. For example, Daenerys also happens to have three dragons.

So what am I getting at? I believe there will be three Targaryens to match the three dragons. If you’ve read my previous article, you’ll know that Jon is very likely to be the second Targaryen. But why would Tyrion be the third? So let’s now begin with season 3 in a scene between Tyrion and Tywin discussing Tyrion’s rightful claim to Casterly Rock.

Tyrion sits in painful disbelief as he suffers Tywin’s ultimate insult:

Tywin: And I will let myself be consumed by maggots before mocking the family name and making you heir to Casterly Rock.

Tyrion: Why?

Tywin: Why?! You ask that? You who killed your mother then come into the world? You are an ill-made spiteful little creature, full of envy, lust and low cunning. Men’s law give you the right to bear my name and display my colours since I cannot prove that you are not mine.

Were those last few words meant to be figurative or literal? Why would Tywin say he cannot prove Tyrion is not his child? In the books, it’s been mentioned that the Mad King was infatuated with Tyrion’s mother, Joanna Lannister. There’s also a whole backstory about the animosity between Tywin and the Mad King. So, if Tyrion is the Mad King’s bastard son with Joanna, it would make sense why Tywin despises him so much. Since he cannot prove the legitimacy of Tyrion’s birth, he knows he is forced to raise Tyrion as his own.

Then, another conversation took place between them again at the end of season 3 just after the events of the Red Wedding.

As Tywin preaches how the house that puts families first will always defeat the house that puts the whims and wishes of its sons and daughters first, Tyrion remarks how it’s easier for his father to say that when he’s the one making all the decisions:

Tywin: Easy for me is it?

Tyrion: When have you ever done something that wasn’t in your interest but solely for the benefit of the family?

Tywin: The day that you were born! I wanted to carry you into the sea and let the waves wash you away. Instead, I let you live. And I brought you up as my son.

And ultimately, this final scene when Tyrion visits his father in his privy to kill him took it home for me. Watch out for Tywin’s last words.

As Tyrion decides to end his father’s life for wanting him dead, he reloads his crossbow one more time to finish the deed:

Tywin: You’re no son of mine.

Tyrion: I am your son. I have always been your son.

All these scenes above are meant to highlight the duality of Tywin’s words and how they can be interpreted in multiple ways. But the subtle consistency of it being uttered by the same man over and over again at the same person is very foretelling and compelling.

Is this all evidence enough though? Probably not yet. So let’s recall something from my previous article where I mentioned how Melisandre’s interest with Jon might actually hold a deeper and more significant meaning related to his lineage than his resurrection. There is something to be said about her fascination with Jon. She is clearly drawn to him from the moment she arrived at the Wall. So why is this important? It’s because I suspect there’s a connection between the Targaryens and the Red Priestesses of the Lord of Light.

The first hint of this connection between Tyrion and the Red Priestesses was first revealed in season 5. On his way to find Daenerys, he and Varys stopped at Volantis. He then came upon a Red Priestess preaching to a crowd about Daenerys.

As Tyrion sits on the steps drinking his wine and listens to the Red Priestess, something unexplainable happens:

Red Priestess: He has sent you a saviour! From the fire she was reborn to remake the world! The Dragon Queen!

Tyrion: [Turns to Varys] We’re going to meet the Saviour. You should’ve told me. Who doesn’t want to meet the Saviour?

Tyrion turns back to the crowd and suddenly the Red Priestess turns her head slowly, first towards Tyrion’s direction, then looking at him directly as though she was searching his presence out from the crowd before. Her look is that of unplaced familiarity and curiosity. Unsettled, Tyrion quickly leaves from the scene with Varys.

Knowing the show by now, there is little chance that the event above was a filler scene or that the Red Priestess just randomly looked at Tyrion without explanation for dramatic effect. Could it be because she somehow sensed something strange and unique about Tyrion? Much like how Melisandre is drawn to Jon? Is it because of their possible joint Targaryen lineage? There is a very obvious connection that the show is trying to hint at with this scene.

To further this theory, let’s take a look at the scene in season 5 where Tyrion saw a dragon for the very first time in the ruins of old Valyria. In very typical Game of Thrones fashion, that scene might have been a symbolic one foreshadowing a future event. You have to wonder, what is the significance of showing that scene? Every scene is important and usually has a purpose in the grand scheme of storytelling in the show. If that’s not enough to convince you, then take a look at the latest hint in last week’s episode 2 where we saw Tyrion in the dungeons of Meereen and his surprising but successful attempt at dragon whispering.

Finally, let’s go back to the visions Daenerys had at the House of the Undying as depicted in the show. As mentioned before, the vision that Daenerys had in the books was about a three-headed dragon which loosely translates into three riders for her three dragons. But it ends there. No further clues on the identities of the three dragon riders can be gleaned from it.

In the show however, the showrunners recreated that same scene in a more visually compelling version and took its subtleties to a whole new level. From the start of this article, I’ve talked a lot about the use of symbolism and foreshadowing as the show’s primary narrative tools. These tools are most deftly used here in the following scenes below.

Inside the House of the Undying, Daenerys hears the wailing of her dragons and steps through the first door and into her first vision. She finds herself inside the Great Hall of the Iron Throne in the Red Keep of King’s Landing. She next steps out of the Hall and finds herself on the other side of the Wall. And finally, she sees a Dothraki tent in the distance and enters it to find Khal Drogo with her son Rhaego in his arms.

There’s a lot of ways to interpret these visions. But having now rewatched the entire 5 seasons in the last month and having a better understanding of the show’s narrative mosaic coupled together with a deep understanding of its literary techniques, this is how I interpreted the visions. All three locations of her visions symbolise the identities of the three dragon riders that were foreshadowed in the book’s visions. The Great Hall in the Red Keep symbolises Tyrion as no one else in King’s Landing has a stronger argument as a secret Targaryen other than him. The Wall obviously symbolises Jon. And the Dothraki tent symbolises Daenerys herself.

If all the above is still not enough to convince you that Tyrion may be a Targaryen, do you remember how in my previous article I highlighted that the showrunners even hinted at Jon’s possible lineage from as early on as season 1 in the form of Jon’s parents’ initials being etched onto a wooden beam next to him?

In my opinion, here’s another example of the same attempt from the showrunners poking fun at us. Let me cast your attention to the premiere of season 4 when Daario Naharis sought out Daenerys’ audience to discuss a “matter of strategy” on their journey to Meereen. In that scene, Daario presented Daenerys with three flowers as an underhanded attempt at wooing her. Again remember, this is a show we know that interlaces many of their scenes with subtle nuances meant to foreshadow bigger things to come.

Daenerys relents to Daario’s attempt at an apology disguised as a strategy discussion for being late and not attending to her earlier in the morning.

Daenerys: Alright, what is this “matter of strategy”?

Daario: A dusk rose [Daario takes out a blue rose and hands it to Daenerys].

Daenerys: Would you like to walk at the back of the train instead of riding?

Daario: And this one’s called Lady’s Lace [Daario takes out a white bunch of flowers].

Daenerys: Would you like to walk without shoes?

Daario: You have to know a land to rule it; its plants, its rivers, its roads, its people. Dusk rose tea eases fever. Everyone in Meereen knows that, especially the slaves who make the tea. If you want them to follow you, you have to become a part of their world; strategy.

And finally, Daario presents the final flower; red of petal and gold of stalk.

Daario: Harpy’s Gold. No tea from this one; beautiful but poisonous.

In the books, the blue winter rose is often associated with Lyanna Stark as it was the flower that Rhaegar gave her when he won the tourney at Harrenhal when they both meet for the first time. So it could be loosely interpreted that the blue rose symbolises Jon. The white flowers could also be loosely interpreted as symbolic of Daenerys due to her white silver hair. But then again, from what we’ve seen so far, is there really such a thing as loose interpretation in Game of Thrones? As for the final flower, the red and gold can only symbolise one person who is relevant to this story.

If I have to be any more obvious than that, it’s Tyrion’s house sigil: a golden lion in a field of red.

TL;DR: Tyrion Lannister is a Targaryen.

Enjoy watching season 6!

Sunday, May 1, 2016

The Secret Targaryens - Part 1

The scene of Jon Snow getting stabbed by his Night’s Watch brothers and Olly shocked most fans of the show at the end of last season. All the book fans knew of Jon’s impending fate but many show fans weren’t aware and were completely blindsided by the death and loss of one of the show’s most beloved and major characters. Having said that, his death was heavily foreshadowed by the conversations Jon had with Ser Alliser Thorne and Olly’s slowly changing behaviour towards Jon in the episodes leading up to the season 5 finale. If you’re an avid fan of the story and a close follower of the show, you’d know that the crew behind the hit HBO series often infuse their storytelling and plots with a great deal of foreshadowing and creative camerawork.

Fast forward approximately 10 months and after the premiere of season 6 last week, Jon’s fate and his resurrection prospect remain unknown. He is deader than ever as evidenced by his pale white skin and lifeless body in episode 1. But all that doesn’t change the fact that there are still many questions left unanswered about the snowy character. Who is Jon’s mother? Why were there scenes where characters questioned the fact that Ned was Jon’s father? Why did the show emphasised so much on the Night’s King’s fascination with Jon and their intense stare-off at Hardhome if not to foreshadow a bigger showdown to come between them? If there’s anything I’ve learned from the show in the past 5 years, it’s that the series has very little filler scenes.

For most people who have followed the show closely, they will realise that Jon’s resurrection is inevitable and his lineage will play a large role in it. Ever since his death last season, most fans by now have become aware of the possibility that Jon may be resurrected via Melisandre by the simple fact that the Red Priestess was seen returning to Castle Black before Jon’s death, and from the previous season’s knowledge that another devotee to the Lord of Light in the form of the Red Priest Thoros of Myr having resurrected Ser Beric Dondarrion 6 times. Adding those two pieces together, it makes a lot of sense at first, that this will be how Jon will return. However, having recently rewatched the entire 5 seasons in the past month, a new and unlikely theory has dawned on me regarding Jon’s resurrection.

But before we get to that, let’s take a closer look at Jon’s supposed lineage. We are almost certain that he is a Stark from Ned’s reassurance in season 1.

During the farewell scene at Winterfell before they separated, Jon and Ned spoke with each other, for the very last time:

Ned: There’s great honour serving in the Night’s Watch. The Starks have manned the Wall for thousands of years. And you are a Stark. You might not have my name, but you have my blood.

It is also needless to say that Jon looks a lot like Ned, Benjen, and some of his siblings which will help his Stark claim. But the biggest mystery of all remains: who is Jon’s mother and is Ned actually his father? Season 5 reinforced these questions even further when the pivotal scene that might foreshadow the answer took place below:

As Stannis Baratheon watches Jon training the brothers of the Night’s Watch at Castle Black’s battlements below, his wife Selyse, fanatic servant of the Lord of Light joins him, casting doubt on Ned’s infidelity under a new light:

Stannis: Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch.
Selyse: A bastard by some tavern slut.
Stannis: Perhaps, but that wasn’t Ned Stark’s way.

So what was Ned Stark’s way? We all know from season 1 that Ned is loyal and moral to a fault. Even when faced with imminent death during his imprisonment, he was reluctant to falsely admit treason to save his daughters’ lives and his own. So if Ned did not dishonour Catelyn by having Jon as his bastard son, that only leaves Brandon (Ned’s elder brother), Benjen and Lyanna as possible parents to Jon. But the secrecy behind Jon’s lineage and Ned’s sacrifice of his honour to protect that secret wouldn’t make much sense in the story if Brandon and Benjen was Jon’s father. But that secrecy becomes extremely important and would make the most sense and significance if Lyanna Stark was indeed his mother.

From that, it becomes very plausible that Jon’s father was indeed Rhaegar Targaryen who is the eldest son of the Mad King. Which was exactly the reason for Ned’s secret. It has been brought up many times in the show that Lyanna, who was promised to Robert Baratheon, was kidnapped by Rhaegar which started Robert’s rebellion and eventually saw the overthrow of the Targaryen dynasty in Westeros. But recent hints from season 5 have brought a new nuance to that account. What if Lyanna was never kidnapped but chose to elope with Rhaegar instead because they were both secretly in love? And if Jon is a product of that doomed and tragic union, it would make sense why there was so much secrecy surrounding his birth. This would explain why Ned knew he cannot reveal Jon’s identity because Jon would be a Targaryen and we all know from season 1 that Robert was hell-bent on killing all the Targaryens, even going so far as to order the assassination of Daenerys when he learned of the existence of her unborn child despite great misgivings from Ned.

This scene below from season 5 that took place between Littlefinger and Sansa Stark in the crypts of Winterfell sealed the deal for me.

Littlefinger approaches Sansa Stark who was standing in deep thought in front of the statue of Lyanna Stark:

Littlefinger: How many tens of thousands had to die because Rhaegar chose your aunt. [It was a rhetorical question]
Sansa: Yes he chose her, and then he kidnapped her and raped her.

A split second after that, Littlefinger’s eyes immediately looked down with a smirk on his left cheek, turned his head towards Sansa, cast his eyes down and smiled knowingly. Throughout all that, he held his tongue.

It’s pretty obvious that Littlefinger knew more to that contrary to the popular story but decided to keep it to himself then.

The next follows the true motive behind Ned’s decision to raise Jon as his own and take his secret to the grave, literally. From the show, we know that Rhaegar and Lyanna were killed during Robert’s rebellion. Rhaegar was killed by Robert in single combat at the Battle of the Trident, a death that he would forever relive in his dreams for his failure to keep Lyanna alive. But Lyanna’s death was never fully discussed in the show. However, we now know that that piece of vital information will be revealed this season from the trailer in the form of the events from the Tower of Joy scene during the rebellion which has until now, been only revealed in the books.

The Tower of Joy is where Ned went to rescue Lyanna towards the final days of Robert’s rebellion. Upon his arrival, Ned and six of his most trusted warriors found the Tower to be guarded by three Kingsguards. One of them being Ser Arthur Dayne who is arguably the most legendary and chivalrous warrior of the Seven Kingdoms to ever lived, and the other was a Lord Commander of the Kingsguard. After the ensuing battle, of which everyone died except Ned and one of his companion, Ned – according to texts from the books – found Lyanna in a “bed of blood” making her an undisclosed promise before her death. It is very likely that this was the promise to take Jon and raise him as his own bastard and the bed of blood mentioned was in fact blood from her labour of her newborn son. And this is exactly why Ned had to do what he did for Jon since a Targaryen Jon will likely be hunted and killed by Robert.

This supposition is further supported by the fact that the Tower was guarded by three of the seven members of the Kingsguard during the war. A Kingsguard’s duty is to always be at the King’s side or guarding the crown. But three was found guarding Lyanna at the Tower; one a legendary fighter and the other a Lord Commander. Why would they be there and not at the Mad King’s side or with the crown prince Rhaegar at the Trident unless there was more to it? Maybe to protect the future heir of the Targaryens in case Rhaegar and Aerys lost the war?

The show also continues to develop and build on Rhaegar and Lyanna’s story well into season 5 last year. Why would the showrunners do this if not for the fact that these stories are relevant? In fact, for the very first time last season, the show shed a new light on Rhaegar’s supposedly antagonistic character – a kidnapper, rapist and warmonger – when Ser Barristan Selmy painted a new and likable light of him in his conversation with Daenerys.

Right before Ser Barristan met his untimely and heroic death in the alleys of Meereen, he was recounting his days of escorting Rhaegar outside the Red Keep into the streets of King’s Landing disguised as a singer to walk among his people:

Ser Barristan: Viserys never told you?
Daenerys: He told me Rhaegar was very good at killing people.
Ser Barristan: Rhaegar never liked killing. He loved singing.

So could it be that the truth is closer to the surface than we thought? That maybe Rhaegar never did in fact kidnap and rape Lyanna out of lust and greed, but that he and Lyanna eloped together and had Jon out of true love for one another? Imagine this fact in the Game of Thrones for a second. If this was true, what a game changer that would be.

Now that we know what Jon’s supposed lineage looks like, let’s go back to the new unlikely theory of Jon’s resurrection. Because let’s face it, this is Game of Thrones and if there’s anything we’ve all learned from 5 seasons so far is that the obvious conclusion isn’t always the likelier one. So it does not necessarily follow that because Thoros of Myr resurrected Ser Beric that Melisandre will resurrect Jon at Castle Black. This is not taking into account the fact that Ser Beric was freshly resurrected in all 6 deaths whereas Jon has been dead for more than 24 hours at least if not more.

But one thing we can all agree on is that the hints toward Jon’s resurrection have been there all along. Melisandre’s interest in Jon leading to his resurrection is too obvious a choice but may actually hold a deeper, more significant meaning related to his lineage than his resurrection. But that’s a story for my next article. The alternative theory I’m proposing is probably unlikelier but far more interesting and more significant. To explain my point, we must go back to season 3 in the bath scene between Jamie Lannister and Brienne of Tarth. The clues of Jon’s resurrection can be found in that conversation:

Brienne listens intently in silent shock to Jamie’s revealing monologue painstakingly explaining the true story behind the reason why he slayed King Aerys Targaryen. Had he not done so, all of King’s Landing would’ve burned in wildfire at Aerys’ command and thousands would have died.

Jamie: Then the King turned to flee. I drove my sword into his back. “Burn them all!” he kept saying. “Burn them all!” I don’t think he expected to die. He meant to burn with the rest of us and rise again, reborn as a dragon, to turn his enemies to ash.

And the clues for the reason for Jon’s resurrection can be found in the conversation below between Melisandre and Ser Davos Seaworth when she first learned of Jon’s death at Castle Black:

Melisandre enters into a deep state of shock as she sees Jon’s lifeless body on a table. Each step she takes towards the table feels like a step backwards in her faith for the Lord of Light:

Melisandre: I saw him in the flames, fighting at Winterfell.
Davos: I can’t speak for the flames, but he’s gone.

So how does this all relate to Jon? If he’s a Targaryen, the possibility of his rebirth in fire exists, much like how Daenerys was reborn when she stepped into the burning pyre of Khal Drogo at the end of season 1. What happens to all the dead at Castle Black? They burn them. So it’s very likely that we will see Jon’s body placed on a pyre – along with his Valyrian sword Longclaw – to be burned. When that happens, he will be resurrected in the fire and be reborn. Thus, fulfilling Melisandre’s vision and making her realise that he’s the warrior – Azor Ahai – that she’s been looking for all along, an ancient warrior who would draw a burning sword from the fire called Lightbringer to fight off the Darkness. In the books, Azor Ahai was prophesised to be a descendant of the Targaryen bloodline.

Furthermore, we know from the season 6 trailer that there will be a huge battle at Winterfell between the Wildlings and the Boltons. And then Melisandre had a vision of Jon fighting at Winterfell. Suppose that does become true, why would he be there? When Robb Stark went south to war, Jon kept his oath and remained at Castle Black. When Ned, Robb and Catelyn were all murdered, Jon remained loyal and continued his service at the Night’s Watch. So why? Because if and when he does return, his death and rebirth will technically absolve him from his oath to the Night’s Watch thus leaving him free to partake in the battles between men south of Castle Black. I also doubt that he will continue to remain fully loyal to the Night’s Watch after this considering their betrayal and treachery.

I believe that this is a far likelier scenario that will explain Jon’s true lineage and further his plot along with the events in the north. If Melisandre were to resurrect him using the Lord of Light, there will be no indication of his Targaryen roots and his return would be with a questionable purpose.

In the final living days of Maester Aemon Targaryen, a pivotal conversation took place between him, Samwell Tarly and Jon that foreshadowed Jon’s imminent death, which we now know of, and his very likely return. But more subtle was the hidden meaning of how the scene was shot that foretells a greater tale of his supposed Targaryen lineage. And I want to stress here how this is not the first time that the show has used creative camerawork to depict a scene that tells a larger story that is far more interesting than the obvious. But I’ll get to that at the end of this article:

Maester Aemon listens intently and ruefully as Sam reads aloud the latest news of Daenerys’ exploits in Essos:
Aemon: And she’s alone, under siege, no family to guide her or protect her. Her last relation thousands of miles away, useless, dying.
Sam: Don’t say that, Maester Aemon.
Aemon: A Targaryen alone in the world is a terrible thing.

No sooner does Aemon finishes that sentence than Jon walks into the chamber; the camera focuses in on Jon immediately as he enters.

Jon comes in to seek Aemon’s counsel on his decision to rescue the Wildlings and bring them across the Wall. But he fears it will divide the Night’s Watch in a profound way:

Aemon: Do it.
Jon: But you don’t know what it is.
Aemon: That doesn’t matter. You do. You will find little joy in your command. But with luck, you will find the strength to do what needs to be done. Kill the boy, Jon Snow. Winter is almost upon us. Kill the boy, and let the man be born.

In one sweeping conversation between two different characters, Aemon’s words and the subtle camera shot not only hinted at Jon’s potential lineage and presented the possibility that the Targaryen in the east is not necessarily alone in the world, but he also foreshadowed Jon’s murder and his potential rebirth into a new identity. A Targaryen perhaps?

So if Jon does indeed return, having seen what he’s seen, you’d expect that his first priority is to deal with the imminent White Walker invasion. But he hasn’t the men for such an undertaking, which will divert his attention to the south for a while in the form of bringing the Wildlings or Freefolk under his command by first taking back Winterfell as verified by the season 6 trailer and Melisandre’s vision before setting himself up for the battle against the supernatural threat from beyond the Wall.

But long before that ultimate showdown happens, I’d expect a third Targaryen to be revealed in the form of Tyrion Lannister, who may actually be the Mad King’s bastard son born to Joanna Lannister, Tywin Lannister’s deceased wife, but that is a story for my next article. What’s with the Targaryens’ obsession with highborn noblewomen having names ending with Anna anyway? All I will say for now is that in the books, Daenerys dreamed of a three-headed dragon which could loosely be interpreted into three riders for her three dragons, her being one of them. But her dream sequence from the show is a more visually compelling argument for Daenerys, Jon and Tyrion to be our three future dragon riders. To be further explained.

TL;DR (1): I’d expect to see Jon Snow to be back very soon. As if I haven’t pointed out enough about the usage of foreshadows and subtle nuances in this show, here’s another one:

Olly enters Sam’s chambers bringing him food after he was badly beaten up by some brothers of the Night’s Watch for protecting Gilly. What ensued was a conversation between them on the nuances of Jon’s decision to bring the Wildlings back through the Wall.

Sam: Sometimes a man has to make hard choices, choices that might look wrong to others, but you know are right in the long run.
Olly: You believe that?
Sam: With all my heart. Try not to worry Olly. I’ve been worrying about Jon for years. He always comes back.

What’s interesting about that conversation above is that Olly might have taken some liberties to Sam’s advice on making the hard choices too literally. In other words, Sam might have been responsible for why Olly decided to betray Jon.

TL;DR (2): Now, remember what I said earlier about how creative camerawork in the show may have been utilised much earlier in the show? If all the above isn’t enough to convince you that Jon is a Targaryen, then let me bring you back to episode 4 of season 1 where that conclusion may have already been cast in stone by the show beyond any shadow of a doubt, or more literally in this case, etched in wood. Depending on which media you watch your show on, the scene is somewhere between the 38 and 43 minute mark. Once again, pay close attention to the camerawork and how things lined up literally in this shot.

As Jon and Sam are serving time scrubbing tables at the mess hall at Castle Black for misbehaviour, they talked about Jon’s opportunity with a prostitute and why he ultimately abstained because of his bastard last name and the fact that he doesn’t know who his mother is. Then, Ser Alliser suddenly barges in on their camaraderie. In that moment, Jon and Sam freeze and look at Ser Alliser. To the left of Jon is a wooden beam. Etched on it are the very clear letters of R and L, with Jon standing at the right end of these two letters.

If I have to be any more obvious than that, it’s Rhaegar + Lyanna = Jon.

Have fun rewatching!

Sunday, January 10, 2016

The Politics of Fear

As we step into the 16th year of the 21st century, the world is never more disparate than this. While we are more advanced and integrated than ever, endowed by the leaps in our technologies and discoveries, we are also reverting to more subversive ways of the barbaric past. 2015 was a year filled with violence and fear perpetrated by religious revolutionaries and preening politicians. The former spawned headlines with all the same subtext; they were all acts of crimes against humanity. And the latter engendered new ways of advocacy and propagandising. After all, politicians often campaign in poetry and govern in prose. They do know what’s best for the people.

The road to hell is often paved with good intentions and there are many roads that lead to political disasters: greed, hubris, charisma and perhaps most dangerous of all, fear. Fear leads to ignorance, ignorance leads to panic, and panic often leads to violence. Lately in America and Europe, when it comes to the people, politicians tend to play the “us or them” card in the battlescape of life or death. Not so long ago in a country not too far away, a young German by the name of Adolf Hitler rose to power and forever reshaped the world through his use of greed, hubris, charisma, and the idea that the “Aryans” and Jews were locked in a struggle for survival.

Fast forward to the Western demagogues of today and you’ll find the not too dissimilar types of Donald Trump from the United States or Marine Le Pen of France. Like Hitler two generations ago, these modern day demagogue tropes are definitely serving up the politics of fear on a silver platter. Trump promotes greed by openly boasting of his wealth achievements and somehow managed to refine his unbridled hubris and contradictory posturing into a comical form of charisma. Le Pen is a preening demagogue surfing on discontent and fear whose nationalistic political party preaches identity politics – the realm of fundamentalism, not reasoned debate – in venomous populist tones beseeching the French people to embrace the ethnic definition of the nation. But of course the comparison to Hitler ends there as neither character has promoted dictatorship or genocide.

In the run up to the next presidential primaries, the message from Trump and his Republican colleagues is contradictorily clear. While they promise the American people to fix all the problems of the world and to adopt a hardline approach on the likes of China, Russia, and even the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) to show them who is the boss, they claim that their vast and powerful country is unable and unwilling to receive the desperate Syrian refugees, even going so far as to engender Islamophobia by saying Muslims should be barred from entering the US.

Yet, when it comes to the 30,000 people who die in the US each year due to gun violence, the Republican candidates have no compunctions against gun control. In fact, they oppose it. They have no issues with people carrying concealed weapons into schools or public areas. Trump even went so far as to say if the Parisians were allowed to carry guns, the November attacks would not have taken place so easily. However, they perceive a handful of Muslim refugees as too big a threat to even consider. It isn’t about whether horrific acts of Islamist terror could or could not happen in the US or other parts of the world – because they have before and they will again so long as the Middle East is in turmoil and radical and revolutionary Islam appeals to disaffected and marginalised youths – but the nuance of the threat here is hardly existential.

Despite all these common senses, Trump is still in the lead for the Republican nomination as he trumpets his way to the Oval Office with fear. At this rate, the Americans might just be one terrorist act away from a Trump presidency, galvanising the general American populace into voting for the greatest fear-monger the US has ever known in recent history. The possibility is likely but the intelligence and common sense of the American majority prevailing is likelier. There’s a reason why the anagram of the word leader is dealer. Because a leader is a dealer of hope and people vote their hopes, not their fears.

As the politics of fear propagates unchecked, mainstream politicians succumb to the rabid rhetoric of the demagogues. The French President François Hollande, whom despite his unpopularity, has always been a sensible leader to the French people. But even sensible leaders are not immune to the popular opinions of the public when the fabric of their leadership is being shredded by the far right political adversaries. Thus, he issued a national state of emergency immediately after the Paris attacks last November and declared war on ISIS.

The former decision revealed a potential landscape of a Western democracy in the near future where the military takes over law enforcement, where people are arrested without warrants, and where public properties are taken over with armed force for “national security”. The military and the police are separate for a reason. While one fights the enemy of the state, the other serves and protects its people. But when the military becomes both, then the enemies of the state tend to become the people.

So, the latter decision is not going to stem the tide of the Islamist revolution for young, frustrated and marginalised people in French slums. If anything, it is generating fear and resentment among Muslims in Europe and America. There’s an expression that says the old believe in everything; the middle-aged suspect everything; and the young know everything. As the West and ISIS play out this reflexive psychological plot, the old reacts with fear and the younger ones with resentment. The result of this mutually self-reinforcing exercise is a breeding ground for potential terrorists and revolutionaries.

Furthermore, a war can only be declared between states, not on a network of radicals and revolutionaries. By declaring war on ISIS, France is indirectly acknowledging ISIS as a state when the purpose of the United Nation’s recent resolution against ISIS is to dismantle the radical organisation and derail its goal of forming a caliphate state from the illegally seized territories of Iraq and Syria. When the wolf attacks the sheep herd, it is drive for the sheep to run and duty for the shepherd to stand ground.

When Hollande confused duty with drive, he drove the French people into fright and fanned the flames of Islamophobia such that prejudicial measures like this became widely supported. Decisions based on emotion aren’t decisions at all any more than conclusions based on intellect aren’t conclusions either. They’re both just instincts and logic which can be of value. But the rational and the irrational complement each other. Individually they’re far less potent.

Hence, a hardline approach such as this has only made it easier for ISIS to convince Muslim youths worldwide that there is no alternative to terrorism. The prejudice, misconception and fear bred from this worldview will only allow ISIS to win over more European recruits. Most Muslims are not violent revolutionaries who condone acts of violence or mass murders. So the more the West feeds fear into the frenzy of young disenfranchised Muslims by persecuting them in the name of security, the more they will rally to the siren song of ISIS singing the tunes of true Muslims engaged in an existential war with the West and the infidels as their mortal enemies. For ISIS no less than for Trump and all the other demagogues, fear is an effective weapon in their abysmal arsenal, the kind of apocalyptic “us or them” worldview adopted by both camps.

Ironically, the flaw and foible of Western society is the fear of death and ISIS knows this. When that fear is stoked by horrific acts of terror and gruesome execution videos, it leads sensible people in an otherwise free and open society to abandon their reason. To understand why these demagogues can think and behave irrationally is to understand that emotion and intellect are essential components of human reasoning. When hardliner politicians like Trump uses our fear of death to peddle violent revolutionaries as an existential threat to our society, emotions overcome intellect, and instinct overcomes logic to activate the primitive part of our brains that upholds the values and principles of a free and open society.

We all belong to the untested generation; a group who inherited a free and open society from their parents. Compared to the previous generations before us, we’ve had it easier so far. And so long as we remain untested and do not learn how to keep our fear from corrupting reason, we will never understand what it takes to preserve and protect the freedom and openness of this society. Just like how the fear of fascism and communism tested our grandparents’ generation, and how the fear of nuclear fallout tested our parents’ generation, we will be defined by how we face the issues surrounding violent revolutionaries in this generation much like how climate change will test the next generation. There is a common theme to be found in all of this; all societies are always at risk from the threat posed by their response to fear which will then ultimately define that generation.

17 lives from the Charlie Hebdo shootings in Paris as the world ushered in the new year of 2015. 102 lives in the Ankara central railway station bombings on a Saturday morning at Turkey’s capital in October. 224 lives from the bombing of a Russian Metrojet commercial airliner over Sinai in Egypt on another early Saturday morning in October. 130 lives from the recent Paris attacks in November. And finally, the recent 14 lives from the San Bernadino attack in California just last month. Unfortunately, the count will not stop here or in the Middle East. There is a very real need in the world right now to fight the revolutionary Islamist violence that ISIS is spreading. Arbitrary persecution on a targeted group of people is not the way to go and will only fan the flames of radicalisation even further. Gaining the trust of the majority of law-abiding Muslims living in the West will be a good start.

For the past 30 years, the wars in the Middle East and Central Asia have been brewing and raging as the West employed foreign policies that adopted barely restrained strategies to this day resulting in hasty military intervention driven by domestic fear. Following the recent murder sprees in Paris and San Bernadino, Republican candidates in the US renewed their political attacks on President Barack Obama and laid further blame on the Democratic Party for being weak. To show strength and make America great again, Trump promised the American people to “bomb the shit out of ISIS”. There is no shortage of bellicosity coming from Trump and his supporters. This militant attitude has had the effect of causing Hillary Clinton, the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, into distancing herself from Obama. Like Hollande’s situation in France, she has had to promise more military response with hardline talks to ease the fear of the American public, all in the name of demagoguery. And the cycle continues.

While Obama’s foreign policy record may have been inconsistent and irresolute in the past, his consistency in resisting the temptation to intervene militarily in the Middle East has become the hallmark resolution of his administration. It is very easy to mistake his caution for fear and deliberation for indecisiveness. But in his refusal to relent to the politics of fear, he has shown to be far braver than all the braggarts and trumpeters who accuse him of being a weakling.

At the end of the day, the politics of fear are about controlling our reality and pretense. The message between their ravings reads like hypocrisy. These demagogues will claim to know and not to know. They’re constantly aware of the transparent truthfulness of their words while in chorus with their carefully conceived lies, holding two opinions that cancel out in parallel at any one time. Theirs is the subconscious that embraces their own opinions as contradictions yet believing in both of them enough to use logic against logic and achieve superiority over morality while laying claim to it. And their ultimate subtlety of all is to believe that democracy is impossible without heeding their siren calls – the lies always one note ahead of the truth – yet believing their party is the guardian of democracy.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

A Poignant Purple Prose

The Horsehead Nebula in the Orion constellation, as captured by the Hubble back in 2001

I read about Al Worden’s experience in space today, back when he was the pilot for the command module of Apollo 15 in 1971. He officially became the “most isolated human being” in history and entered the record books when his command module orbited the far side of the Moon. That is the furthest any human has ever gone in this universe. But something about what he said reminded me of what I said to myself a few years ago. When asked if he felt lonely during that experience, he replied “There’s a thing about being alone and there’s a thing about being lonely, and they’re two different things. I was alone but I was not lonely.” This got me thinking about the significance of his statement and the insignificance of its context.

If our Sun is one star among the 200 billion stars in our galaxy, and if the Milky Way is but one galaxy of the 350 billion galaxies in our observable universe, and if our observable universe is infinite, then time and space is immemorial with only the Big Bang as the common origin of all beginnings and endings. Because the Big Bang didn’t just happen over there, or right here. It happened everywhere. All space was present in that time when the universe was hot and dense and it has expanded and cooled ever since. But it was all there – the centre of the universe – and also everywhere. And in a beautifully narcissistic way, aren’t we also at the centre of the universe?

That last thought was from a period when we first started to measure our place in space and time. But ever since the days of Giordano Bruno and Nicolaus Copernicus we humans have gone through a tremendous intellectual ascent. We were no longer at the centre of the universe and the pursuit to attain that consciousness, and the intellectual climb necessary to demote ourselves after that was stunning. We ascended ourselves into insignificance, and rightly so.

H.G. Wells sums it up very nicely for me in this rather poignant purple prose that still resonates well into today’s era more than 100 years after it was spoken: “It is possible to believe that all the past is but the beginning of a beginning, and that all that is and has been is but the twilight of the dawn. It is possible to believe that all that the human mind has accomplished is but the dream before the awakening; out of our lineage, minds will spring that will reach back to us in our littleness to know us better than we know ourselves.” In short, we humans are not the pinnacle of emergent life.

The somewhat pessimistic undertone makes me wonder about our story and its ending. With the things that are going on in our world today, there is no telling when our final chapter will be prematurely written. The media and literature we consume in this day and age may give us reasons to look out ahead for an asteroid, some new disease or the re-emergence of an age-old pestilence, even terrorism or a 21st century Cuban missile crisis. Or it could be just Mother Nature doing her chores, or maybe even self-replicating machines pulling a Skynet on Homo sapiens. Whatever the reason, the practical pause that stems from the human instinct has evolved in modern times to account for our cautionary cause to observe the signs for our harbinger of death.

The promise and peril of the 21st century is a reflection of the mixed optimism and anxiety of our times; a time of intellectual culture where it is worse for scholars and scientists to fool themselves into believing in something that did not exist, than not to believe in something that did. As the stakes get higher and higher, the area between science and speculation is more muddled than ever.

If scientists from before the 16th century could look at us today, they will be captivated and overwhelmed by our expanded understanding of nature and the cosmos. But they would be even more disturbed by the threats and risks we have knowingly and naively put ourselves in. Although new advances in science offer new breakthroughs, it is the costs and consequences of our discoveries that could jeopardise our survival. There is a very real concern out there in the scientific community that this “auto-pilot” mode that humanity is on at the moment is going so fast that neither the leaders nor the masses can cope with.

So consider our isolation and position in the universe, consider our insignificance and infancy, and consider our obsession and hubris. Then weigh in the man-made threats, natural disasters and even the existential ones. Will this be our final century?

I came across some scientific journals a while back that stated the odds of humans perishing at our own hands are a lot higher than us being wiped out by an extinction-level event asteroid impact. It is interesting how we like to place a greater importance in ourselves over nature. So it went on that asteroid impacts are one of the few threats that can be quantified because every 10 million years, an asteroid a few kilometres across will hit us and cause a global cataclysm. And ever so rarely like every 100 million years or so, there will be one major asteroid impact so large it will wipe out nearly all life on Earth – like a “reset” button. But can we pause long enough to give ourselves cause to look ahead for these unknown dangers?

There are already scientific endeavours by private corporations and governments to survey and monitor the millions of asteroids that cross our planet and track their orbits close enough to predict impacts way before they happen. With these warnings in place, actions could be taken well in advance to evacuate certain areas and save lives. But is that enough?

There is a theory currently circling among scientists – especially from the data gathered recently on the Philae landing – that existing technologies like the thousands of satellites and probes that roam the Earth’s orbit or those that are scattered around our Solar System could be directed toward the asteroid months or years before the impact. Upon arrival, the satellite or probe can be positioned in such a way that it is close enough to cause a “nudge” on the asteroid due to the interaction of forces between the two bodies in space. Unlike popular conventional wisdom, there is no need to shoot the asteroid off course with satellites or missiles. Every single mass of body in space acts like a gravity well and exerts a gravity force of its own, no matter how small. That small force from the proximity of another object close to the asteroid is all that is required to nudge the asteroid and change its velocity by a few millimetres per second. Over time, that velocity displacement would accumulate and increase to a point where its path would be deflected away from Earth. Risk and crisis averted.

Which leads me to wonder is Earth covered by insurance against an asteroid impact? Unsurprisingly enough, some think tank out there has already done the math by multiplying the probability by its consequences. The premium turns out to be approximately 1 billion dollars a year to reduce an asteroid impact risk. That is nothing when compared to the government budgets of most countries.

If anything, these interstellar threats are actually more predictable than your natural disasters on Earth. Our grasp and understanding of the laws of nature on our planet are still fundamental at best and flawed at worst. Two things all these threats have in common are that they are known and the risks they pose are getting smaller each year. But it is the unknown threats that we should really be preparing for.

As with all infinite possibilities and finite probabilities, mathematics dictates that there will be the existence of at least one unknown threat we believe to not exist that we did not prepare for. So it does not follow that because a threat is unknown and yet exists, that any threats, in order to exist, need only be unknown.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Chasing Butterflies

Over the years, I have written many and thought about even more, but they have always been anything but finished. Two things they all had in common: they were all beginnings, and they were many. They were endless beginnings. In recent years, I have been reading and writing more than usual. That was the one sport I was consistently at, and I was good. Then I started having all these dreams almost every day an hour before dawn. Vivid but mostly incoherent dreams, all undeniably relevant to me somehow. I’d then wake and forget them later. I should start leaving a notepad on my bedside table to write them down when I wake up. Sometimes I’d have these incredible stories. It felt like chasing butterflies. But it was more like catching dreams. I could use some dreamcatchers nearby as my writing muse. Alas, I am averse towards gambling of any sorts, it isn’t in my nature. And that may be why I do not yet dare take the step in writing regularly and making something more out of it. Because if you are looking for security, look elsewhere. Writing is a career for gamblers. It isn’t about getting published or receiving a fat pay check or signing autographs. It’s all about being in a room, quiet, singular, immersed, and writing. Very little about being a writer is being afraid of never selling another book, than doubting you’d write another book. I wish someone had told me to start writing sooner. Do not hesitate. Do not wait for permission. So two things they had in common and they were all endless beginnings. I suppose then it’s very simple now that there should be two rules: I must write, and I must finish what I write.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

A Bookmark in the Park

Yesterday afternoon, while I was happily minding my own business in an intelligently-hidden park at this weather-forsaken piece of land, some random excuse of an old stranger decided to crash my tea party. And not just some random stranger at that, but possibly the most absorbing and magnetic personality I have come across thus far in this city.
The park was not short of oak benches but the old stranger decided, perhaps stirred by a sense of deep-rooted cultural communal etiquette, to share my bench. Out of politeness – and habit – I glanced over and dispensed a smile and said “Hi!”
We started exchanging meaningless remarks; about the weather, who we are, what we do and so forth. Throughout this initial banter, I noted two very important things that will determine the rest of the course of this encounter: this Romanian came to the park empty handed, while I held a book in my hand; and he spoke with a stentorian subtleness in an accent that made anything uttered by this old man felt like cotton buds in my ears. Ok, maybe not.
But that’s when it dawned on me that this Ionel – his name was called – was eager to return in kind and dispense on me a glut of oral prescription. It was verbal diarrhoea unleashed, with class. And so I decided to tuck the bookmark in between the pages and put aside my book. As he revealed with nostalgic pride that he was one of the hundreds of architects who built the People’s Palace in Bucharest, I can’t help but discerned a hint of shame seeping through his porous disposition and made a mental note. “The Palace of the People is seven times the Palace of Versailles,” Ionel started.
I nodded on the outset but my mind was trying to recall if I’ve read anywhere before on the size or enormity of Versailles. My memory had none.
Ionel nudged me and continued, “And you know the Pentagon? USA? The Palace is the second largest government building in the world after Pentagon,” he declared in meek pride.
I soon learned from him that this “Palace” – which was more like a civic centre – was commissioned during a dark period in the communist past of Romania’s history between the 1970’s and 1980’s, by its former communist president. During his rule, the construction of this Palace scarred Romania deeply in terms of her people and the landscape. Forced labours were used during its construction and deaths at the construction site were a common daily occurrence. And large sections of Bucharest city was cleared – numerous churches demolished and thousands of people displaced literally overnight – to pave way for its construction. Eventually, there was a revolution and the president and his wife was executed; his communist party finally overthrown.
After listening to his story, I finally understood the hint of shame he briefly displayed earlier. My neck began to ache as my head was turned to the left – listening to him – for a very long time. I switched across to the bench opposite and said, “So it’s kind of like a modern day building of the pyramids.”
“Yes, yes. Like the pyramids,” Ionel agreed. “But the pyramids are a pride for Egyptians and a wonder to the world,” he pointed out.
“But not the Palace?” I tried to conclude.
He briefly scratched his eyebrow as if the gesture would soften the gravity of his admission.  “No, not really.” I kept still and silent and allowed him to continue.
“Not to my generation. More so the younger people today. You see, they are proud of the Palace and see it as a symbol of Romania democracy today,” he said in an empathetic tone.
“But to your generation, it is a symbol and a reminder of your country’s gruesome communist past,” I stated, not asked.
 “Yes, yes. Most of them won’t remember the day when the Palace was completed, it used more electricity in three hours than all the two million people in the city used in one day.”
“Wow! No way,” I was in disbelief. “That must have taxed the people a lot, especially during those days.”
“It was ridiculous! Sometimes when the president would fly over the city in his heli, streets below where he flew had to be closed and emptied of people,” he waved his hand in disgust.
And the recollections went on. He would continue to describe the terrible state of affairs in those days and how he’d secretly take pictures of what he saw; where people queued for hours in the cold of winter for meat to be cooked at communal halls, queuing up for cheese, eggs and sugar, where people scrounged for sugar coupons rationed at 1 kilogram a month, or a church literally being moved to accommodate new communist flats, or even men lining up for gas cylinders that never showed up. I got really intrigued on what he meant by “secretly” taking pictures but decided not to interrupt his trip down memory lane then.
He suddenly smiled and his eyes seemed to look right through me when he mentioned about the gas cylinders. “What were they used for? These gas cylinders,” I asked quickly.
“Used for laughing!” and as if to reinforce his statement, he guffawed.
I just smiled and chuckled lightly and waited for him to continue. “Those days, the president’s wife, she enforced LPG on buses, claiming to save fuel,” he scoffed. “They put those long cylinder tanks on top of the buses. Make it look like spaceship but they were always empty. And men had to sometimes push the buses around.”
I laughed out loudly this time to his last remark. It was unbelievable. And as the conversation went on a little further, I began to piece together that Ionel seemed to have some sort of a military background or ties. I decided to risk the question and to my amazement but not surprise, he did. And here is where it got really interesting.
Apparently, his uncle was married to the daughter of a very prominent public figure; a TV and radio producer back in those days, who was showing hints of antipathy towards the regime in his work and was slowly gathering some popular opinion from the public. He would sometimes not comply with the government in what was allowed to be aired through his station.
“My uncle who was part of the securitate, was involved in a foreign counter-intelligence operation,” Ionel elaborated.
Securitate?” I asked about this unfamiliar term.
“The secret police,” Ionel explained sternly.
I nodded and he continued, “One day, he and his team found an information leak that led back to his wife’s father. They found out this man was actually a defector. A traitor and a fugitive from a neighbouring country.”
“So was he revealed?” I inquired.
“No, no. Too sensitive. At that time, the politics and economy was very stressed. The party would not risk it. So the securitate was instructed to handle it differently. First, they confirmed his identity from Bulgaria. When they got the governmental communique through, this man was gas.”
“So the Bulgarian communique obviously came through? Did it do the job then?”
“Totally, yes. He was condemned as a defector of the state and was accused of treason in the strongest terms.”
“Did that finished him?” I asked.
“It weakened his public status very much. There were few people who accepted his stories of the party now. Yes, he was revealed as a liar. And even worse, yes, he was caught at it.”
“Caught at it, yes,” I said thoughtfully and mimicked his affirmative response unconsciously. “So merely to be sneaky is to be sly and that may be commendable, while to be caught is to be stupid and that is never commendable.”
“Yes, yes.”
“Then he was no longer a problem?”
“The securitate could never be too sure of that one. At that time, they thought he may recover. He still had his station and his supporters. History shows us examples of men who have come back after disasters even such as this one.”
I suddenly lit up to his simple but often taken for granted dose of wisdom there. “So they didn’t try to execute him?”
Ionel shook his head. “That would be bad policy. They did not want to create a martyr or to make themselves appear to be dictator.” At that, Ionel made a mocking laugh and I joined in.
I smiled approvingly. “But you would think that since the president is already a dictator, he would just proceed to execute him anyway on grounds that leaders in the past before him would have taken forceful action anyway and were admired as a result and considered to be of strong and decisive character.”
“True, yes. But we lived in troubled times back then. Execution was not needed. The party wanted to achieve their purpose in a way that will still make them seem tolerant and reasonable.”
I briefly shuffled my feet uneasily at the thought of those words. At this point, I couldn’t be sure if Ionel was actually proud of what they tried to do or resented what they had achieved. Maybe it was both; the unconscious doublespeak employed by Ionel wasn’t exactly lost on me – as I realised later when I did my own finding – from the strong Soviet ties the communist regime had at that time.
Ionel raved on oblivious to my thoughts. “If we executed the man, the people would see it like revenge. And maybe they would think it was dishonourable. But the securitate was ordered to always create a show for the people that the president has a kind – even fatherly kind – of reputation to the people. No favouritism.”
“So what action was taken then? What are you trying to say?” I asked with credulity.
“What I’m saying is that this man offended the sensibilities of Bulgaria and as the president, he was shocked at his crimes against the state. So what better can he do but to hand this traitor back to the Bulgarians and let them deal with him? Like this, the president would be commended on his proper management of foreign relations and keeping the state of peace in that region.”
“I see. So did the Bulgarians execute him?”
“They would, yes. Treason was capital punishment then I think, so yes. Or at best he will be in prison for life.”
“This president was quite smart. He got the credit for tolerance and mercy and Bulgaria got to do the dirty work for him,” I quipped with eagerness.
“That would be the case, yes, if he was handed over to them. But you still don’t see, no?” he jibed at me.
“What do you mean? He wasn’t?” I furrowed and creased my brow intently with confusion.
“If he was handed over to them, they will still create a martyr of the man.”
“Now you confused me. So what actually happened then?”
“I heard the securitate gave him a choice. They told him that the president’s concern for the welfare of his men and his people pushed him to hand the traitor over to Bulgaria for trial but his humanity was afraid that his – the traitor’s – government may be too severe.”
I suddenly understood the psychological underhand that was being played here and cut in, “Like pleading to his compassionate side, his gratitude?”
“Gratitude, yes,” Ionel nodded. “So the president offered him a different way out; exile to a different place where he claimed to have come from – not Bulgaria – to live there forever in confinement, low-profile and peace. And he ordered securitate forces to keep him under house arrest.”
“And he really took exile?”
“Yes. If he didn’t, he would be committing suicide by going back to Bulgaria. And my uncle told me this man wasn’t the suicide type. He would choose exile as the only logical way out, although maybe not so heroic. Because he will become like refugee, and a refugee could not lead any movement against the party. His followers will become lost and disenfranchised.”
“Why would that happen?”
“Because people would follow a martyr like fanatics. But people won’t follow a coward. Very difficult,” he explained with a grin.
“All those people knew what they were doing. It’s a very, very good story,” I said. And now that finally his story was over, I still couldn’t shake off the splinter of thought in my head regarding his earlier comment of how he “secretly” took pictures in the street at that time.
“Ionel, I have something to ask. You said earlier that you secretly took photos of what was happening at that time. How were you allowed to do it? Wouldn’t a communist state ban such an open act of freedom and expression?” I asked.
He laughed, and briefly scratched his eyebrow again. “Easy, boy. I was doing part-time photography for sports news. So I had permit to carry my camera.”
“Wow! No wonder. You were committing your very own crimes against the state under their very noses,” I exclaimed. “But that was just the means – a very good one – of how you achieved it. But how did you bring yourself to do it? Wasn’t it risky and dangerous?”
“Just understand the policemen’s psychology. Their mind, very strange,” he joked. “If you were scared, they will know. And they will be aggressive. I was not afraid, did not show it. And they were not aggressive with me. Confidence. Don’t hide if you don’t want to get caught.”
I laughed vehemently with agreement and said, “A lie that isn’t ashamed of itself could only possibly hope to succeed.” He shook my hand at that.
I mentally thanked George Orwell as I wrapped up my conversation and walked away from another very interesting encounter. Definitely a better story by far than the book I was reading.