In the fifth part of Guards! Guards!, the Supreme Grand Master moves closer to his goal, but unknowingly attracts the attention of Vimes and the Patrician. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.
Trigger Warning: For mention of alcoholism and abuse.
Goddamn, this is so good.
There truly is an undercurrent of sadness to every scene with Vimes in it because you can tell that something – which is left ambiguous – made him give up. He got to a point in his life where he resigned to be a part of the Patricians machinations. And it’s not like he’s unaware of his place in the world! He knows that he’s in the Watch, and he knows exactly what role he plays within the Watch: to be ignored.
So getting drunk is just a way to drown. It’s a way to hide every single nagging sensation that he’s being used, that he’s a cog in a machine that benefits other people, and that he has no real way to escape this endless cycle. I don’t want to imply that there’s some sort of identical experience to alcoholism, but this is most certainly the reason I drank: denial. Sadness. To forget. It’s a familiar feeling.
But as horrifying as the discovery in the Shades is, it’s an impetus. It’s a glimmer, or at least the start of one. Vimes had accepted that he was meant to obey, and so I think it’s significant that the appearance of the Grand Master’s dragon has inspired him to finally break the rules. It’s so unnerving to Vimes that all the evidence points to something being in that alley that left but never arrived. Vimes knows this, and it eats away at his apathy. And it’s not like Vimes is suddenly cured of not caring; he is not suddenly not an alcoholic. At the same time, he is openly questioning what he’s being fed, and I feel like that’s a big deal:
Right now, he needed a drink. But perhaps it ought to wait.
Have we seen that type of awareness from Vimes prior to this? In any other situation, he’d go drink. But this time, he thinks it might be prudent to hold off on the drink. He’s on to something! It’s clear that this is how Vimes will become a part of the bigger narrative in Guards! Guards! He’s going to defy the Patrician and get to the bottom of the “dragon” in Ankh-Morpork.
The Supreme Grand Master
I don’t know whether this is intentional or not, but I feel like there’s a parallel to be drawn between the Supreme Grand Master and the Patrician: both of them know which levers to pull. The Grand Master’s manipulation of the Brethren is nearly complete. For the most part, he knows how to prey on their insecurities and their sense of worth. After a second successful dragon-summoning, he doesn’t gently congratulate his minions. He insults them. It’s actually a fairly common abusive tactic. He sullies their sense of worth, and then makes them look to him for further validation. They’re all so eager to please him that they’ll do absolutely anything he asks
Except maybe Brother Fingers. I’m gonna keep my eyes on him. And why doesn’t the Grand Master want anyone following him home???
I hesitate to say that the Patrician is Machiavellian because I don’t think that is all that accurate of a description of his character. The pragmatism might be similar, sure, but I feel like the Patrician is a lot more complicated of a person. The way he runs Ankh-Morpork is both scary and impressive. He controls everything by… well, not controlling things. He’s intimidating because he often doesn’t do anything at all. His appearance alone is enough to frighten people into complicity, but that’s not the sole reason that he’s so powerful. He does do a lot to make sure that the power balances within Ankh-Morpork remain equal, so much so that no single group ever gets enough power to oust him.
Is he evil? No, not particularly. Again, I hesitate to provide any sort of dichotomous view of this character. He keeps Ankh-Morkpork “operating,” which is great, but he’s not particularly a nice person. He treats Vimes as a necessary, but ultimately disposable, part of the city. And really, that’s how he views everyone:
Of course, there were various groups seeking his overthrow, and this was right and proper and the sign of a vigorous and healthy society. No one could call him unreasonable about the matter. Why, hand’t he founded most of them himself? And what was so beautiful was the way in which they spent nearly all their time bickering with one another.
Human nature, the Patrician always said, was a marvelous thing. Once you understood where its levers were.
So he views the dragon as a minor nuisance, not because it’s killing thieves (which he finds strangely appealing), but because he hasn’t figured out how to pull its levers. If there’s any grand pronouncement I could make about the Patrician, it’s that he views every single thing within his city as something to be manipulated and molded to his needs. And he needs the city to be a perfect balance. So his interest in the dragon isn’t from sheer curiosity, like it is with Vimes. Vimes wants to find out if the legend is true, if a dragon actually is in the city. But the Patrician is more interested in using the dragon to his own end. After all, what’s a dragon in the grand scheme of things, as long as it knows what to do?
The original text contains use of the words “whore” and “idiot.”
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