Getting in the Way

The Mandalorian just revealed what Game of Thrones got wrong

Favreau and Filoni are avoiding D&D's worst habit.

Despite being a total mystery — or perhaps because of it — The Mandalorian Chapter 15 was a great episode. After weeks of title leaks, name reveals, and returning cameos, Season 2 Episode 7, "The Believer," came out of the blue and set the emotional plot back on course after last week's action-heavy "The Tragedy."

It's difficult to put your finger on what made the episode great, but it becomes clear when you compare The Mandalorian to the weekly television obsession that came before — Game of Thrones.

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The Mandalorian and Migs Mayfeld

Many thought this episode would be yet another prison break, where Mando would have spring Empire ex-pat Migs Mayfeld (Bill Burr) out of his labor camp without arising suspicion. Luckily, that turned out to be the easy part, as Cara Dune could just walk in and take Mayfeld into her custody.

After convincing Mayfeld to venture back into an Empire mining base, Migs lays down a dilemma for Mando. He can't go in alone, but at the same time, he can't exactly take in someone dressed in head-to-toe beskar armor (no one else in the quickly expanding crew qualifies either, for various unimportant reasons). Mando compromises, changing offscreen into an Imperial transport soldier's uniform and keeping the drab green helmet firmly on.

Migs Mayfeld and a be-helmeted Din Djarin in the Imperial transport.Lucasfilm

Mayfeld, just like Burr the comedian, jumps on the opportunity to point out the impracticality of the Mandalorian Way. "I don’t know how you people wear those things," he says, "and by you people, I do mean Mandalorians." Migs gives Mando what he's long needed — a blunt, straightforward talk about how "The Way" may not be the best way.

"If you were born on Mandalore, you believe one thing, if you’re born on Alderaan, you believe somethin’ else. But guess what? Neither one of ’em exist anymore. Hey, I’m just a realist. I’m a survivor, just like you."

Every line Migs says cuts directly to the core of the crisis of faith The Mandalorian has been teasing since Mando encountered Bo-Katan Kryze. She revealed he's a member of a zealous cult called the Children of the Watch. It turns out the code of ethics we thought was default for Mandalorians is actually seen as old-fashioned and fundamentalist by the rest of his kind.

"I’m just sayin’, we’re all the same. Everybody’s got their lines they don’t cross until things get messy. As far as I’m concerned, if you can make it through your day and still sleep at night, you’re doin’ better than most."

This Mayfeld line provides the thesis statement for the entire episode. What beliefs are you willing to sacrifice for a cause you really, truly believe in? Of course, the poignant moment is quickly interrupted by pirates looking to take over the Imperial transport.

The Mandalorian and “themes”

Pirates!Lucasfilm

It’s the exact piracy scenario from Chapter 11, except now Mando is on the “bad” side. The Mandalorian even goes out of its way to humanize the civilian pirates in the scene prior, and it’s obvious Din Djarin sees himself in one of the boys they pass. He was a war orphan and now he must fight off native people who just want to defend their land. "Empire, New Republic, it's all the same to these people," Mayfeld says earlier. "Invaders on their land is all we are."

The themes of belief, guilt, and survival are underlined in every single scene in this episode. It begs comparison to Game of Thrones, which completely dismissed the concept of themed episodes where multiple characters are confronted with parallel but different conflicts. Infamously, David Benioff went so far as to tell a reporter "themes are for eighth-grade book reports" around the time Season 3 was being released.

The Mandalorian looked like it would fall into that same trap. Jon Favreau told Entertainment Weekly he wanted the series to be more like Game of Thrones in its second season. It seemed like The Mandalorian would become yet another fantasy soap opera where multiple storylines ran concurrently with no thematic or emotional connection. "The Believer" disproved that immediately with its second half.

The themes are amplified once Mando and Mayfeld reach the Imperial base. Migs sees his former commanding officer eating in the "Officer's Mess" where the terminal with the information they need is located, and that's apparently a dealbreaker to him. He tries to convince Mando to abort, but Mando is so determined he's willing to approach the terminal himself. There's only one issue — the terminal requires a face scan.

Both Mando and Mayfeld are approached with their lines in the sand, and both of them cross those lines. Mando takes off his helmet, exposing his face to all around them, and when he gets questioned by Migs's CO Valin Hess, Migs jumps in to save the day, despite his former protestations.

How themes explain The Mandalorian Chapter 15

Migs, a helmetless Din, and Valin Hess.Lucasfilm

As the two impostors sit with Hess for a drink, Mayfeld brings up the issue that's obviously been sitting with him for a while. He brings up Burnin Konn, where thousands were lost thanks to Emperor Palpatine's controversial Operation: Cinder, and wonders if the destruction was necessary. Valin Hess assures him that the rhydonium they delivered just a few scenes earlier will create even more destruction.

Mando's justification in crossing his personal threshold and taking off his helmet is found in getting Moff Gideon's coordinates, but Mayfeld's is found a lot more impulsively. Upon flying away in Boba Fett's Slave I, he asks for Fett's cycler rifle, expertly shooting the rhydonium cargo and destroying the base. He echoes back to his earlier speech, saying, "We all need to sleep at night."

Migs Mayfeld is a textbook example of survivor's guilt. He mourns the loss of those who died around him, and feels immense guilt and even shame that he outlived the rest. Cara Dune's resolution to his sentence is the perfect coda to his emotional conflict and the episode as a whole. She turns to Mando and says that Mayfeld died in the explosion, equating him to the thousands of lives lost over the years. He gets to start fresh, which is exactly what he needed.

Both Migs and Mando are dealing with unique challenges, but they both come to the same conclusion. Anything is worth the risk if it means supporting a cause you believe in. In a time where the line between television and movies is getting increasingly blurry, these 34 minutes of a streaming series prove the episode is not yet a lost art, and themes aren't something you skip like the recaps before the show starts.

The Mandalorian Season 2 is now streaming on Disney+.