This week, Sam dropped out of university due to his disagreements with the administration. In spite of that, his stay there was fruitful for the plot.
Less so for the viewer.
Our first Citadel scene this week was with Sam conveniently hanging around a key meeting of senior maesters as they discuss their response to current events. It’s straight out of every disaster movie, as our protagonist desperately tries to convince all those unimaginative scientists that the aliens really are invading, or that the best way to stop that asteroid really is to send Bruce Willis. Sam fails for the reason every protagonist fails here—because he is the protagonist in this scene and he has to fix that sort of thing himself.
Is it arbitrary? Again, yes. It’s known to the maesters that Sam’s come down from the Night’s Watch to train with them. And again, we have an instance of a protagonist being completely at a loss as to how to present a convincing argument, because if they thought for thirty seconds about any proof or details they might be able to bring in, the plot would break.
Tip to Sam. It’s not that Bran survived beyond the Wall for years (years!) where nobody else could (apparently), it’s that you can verify the information about his crossing, vouch for his identity, suggest a few other people the maesters can contact to further corroborate the details, and add your own account of killing a White Walker. Like Jon Snow, you may find that that’s more persuasive than “I’ve seen them; you have to believe me.”
In the books, of course, the maesters are actively anti-magic, rather than totally oblivious and incapable of reading their own books or doing their own research.
It Doesn’t Work Like That
The other scene of note with Sam this week was the reveal. You know. That reveal. The one that’s a few kinds of bad. Let’s go from least bad to most bad.
First and least, the logistics here are absurd. In a period of crisis in King’s Landing, the High Septon snuck off to Dorne, all sneaky-like, and annulled Rhaegar’s marriage? When “where’s Rhaegar” and “where’s Lyanna” were two of the most pressing political questions in the realm? And nobody noticed the High Septon taking a vacation? It might be easier if you have teleporter access—I don’t know.
Then there’s the fact that annulments don’t work like this. It’s not a divorce. It makes the marriage as if it had never happened, which is serious, serious business in this case. Rhaegar’s wife Elia was a Princess of Dorne. They had two children together, one of them a boy. Annulling the marriage would have been a grave insult to Elia and her family, and taken Elia’s children out of the line of succession for the throne. There needs to be a good reason for this. Political, legal, religious, something. Mind you, the show has botched annulment before, with Sansa’s marriage to Tyrion (so she could be married off to Ramsay and raped). There, it was dispensed simply with “never consummated, doesn’t count,” rather than being an official religious procedure with legal implications.
Next is the issue of how much of a dick show!Rhaegar is for this. Book!Rhaegar was thoughtless and reckless bordering on callous already, but show!Rhaegar’s actions are incredibly cruel. He left Elia and their children in the capital with his racist, murderous, dangerously insane father, headed off to Elia’s own birthplace to unilaterally and secretly annul their marriage and remarry his mistress, and when he came back, he pressed Elia’s relatives and countrypeople into fighting and dying for his family. The family he’d just kicked Elia and their children out of (while leaving them as hostages to her brother’s good behaviour). Just…holy crap, this guy is a massive douchebag.
And finally, Elia Martell herself. Humiliated, raped, and murdered, along with her children, never receiving justice. On top of all this, we’ve now had the reveal that her husband threw her aside like so much trash. Without even mentioning her name, in spite of a powerful scene where her brother demands that her murderer acknowledge what he did to her, by name. Why is this reveal here? To serve Jon. To make Jon more special. For that specialness to occur, another woman had to be mistreated. It wasn’t necessary.
Oh, and all through the scene, Sam continues to be horrible to Gilly. This time he’s angrily condescending instead of happily condescending. It’s character development.
Find Problem Fix Problem
More broadly speaking, however, the problem with Sam’s Citadel storyline is how functional it is. In five episodes, not all of which this storyline featured in, Sam found a critical deposit of obsidian, cured greyscale, discovered evidence of a crown prince annulling his marriage in favour of a metaphysically significant union, and I’d be shocked if the scrolls he’s made off with now didn’t contain the material to “stop the army of the dead, for good.”
This is an astounding hit rate for solving thought-to-be-intractable dilemmas. The nigh-omniscient character has not been so successful in finding this sort of plot-important info. Needless to say, this is both lazy and unimaginative. Sam’s storyline is where plot dilemmas go to die.
The greyscale incident is probably the most egregious. Since season five we’ve heard all about how dangerous this disease is. It’s almost universally fatal, driving its victims to madness before death. The only survivor we knew of, Shireen Baratheon, had permanent scars from her bout – and this was expressly stated to be a best-case scenario. Turns out all you have to do to cure greyscale is scrape it off! Who knew!
Not only is this not how this sort of disease works, dammit. We saw this episode that Jorah’s entirely unscathed. No scars, not even from having his skin hacked off and cauterized, in a rare male case of beauty is never tarnished. For a season and a half Jorah’s characterisation has been dictated by greyscale. The first thing he did upon getting back to Dany was engage in yet more love triangle shenanigans, this time with Jon Snow as the third point rather than Daario Naharis. It’s like he never stared down his own mortality and confronted the idea that he might well never see Queen Daenerys, First of Her Name, crowned and sitting on the Iron Throne.
A season and a half of character development down the drain. Because without even a research montage, Sam picked up a book and the answer was right in front of him.
Mind you, the obsidian deposit thing was also terrible, since we’d known about that for ages. The show even had to make Sam say, somewhat unconvincingly, “oh yeah that obsidian deposit, the one Stannis told me about! What a card that man was. What a jokester.”
This was a cheap, lazy, functional storyline. Every problem of research Sam encountered was fixed with the first book Sam picked up and/or stole. The problem with the maesters was not so easily fixed, but it was not cleverly done either. Then Sam packed up and left.
At the end of this experience, Sam rides off repeating his father’s words about reading of the achievements of better men, as if he hadn’t cured greyscale, armed the living against the dead, done his best to lobby the maesters to lobby southron leaders in turn, and probably brought the key to defeating the army of the dead for good. And that’s just insult to injury.