SEASON 5, EPISODE 10: MOTHER’S MERCY

Disclaimer: There are no spoilers in this article. I have only read the first three books and I have no knowledge of what transpires in the show moving forward. Any views or content expressed are solely personal theories, opinions and insights.

MOTHER’S MERCY…WHAT MERCY?

The finale of season five, entitled Mother’s Mercy, had anything but that. There was little mercy to be found for any character and almost every plotline took a turn for the worse for its respective characters. In fact, things got so perilous in this episode that death often seemed preferable to other alternatives, namely Arya’s excruciating blinding and Cercei’s character-breaking walk of shame, not to mention Jaime watching his daughter die in his arms just moments after she finally acknowledged that he was her father. These painful experiences cut at the very nerves of human emotion and made it one of the hardest episodes for Thrones viewers to endure, much less enjoy.

Yet still, it was one of the greater Thrones episodes to date and certainly the best finale yet. Thus far, Thrones has become notorious for an action-packed ninth episode with the finale serving as a somewhat disappointing follow-up. The ninth episode of previous seasons has offered up game-changing events such as the Battle of Blackwater, The Red Wedding and the epic battle at the Wall between the Wildlings and the Night’s Watch. What happened in the finales that followed up these events? I couldn’t really tell you. But this was a completely different type of finale – one we certainly won’t forget anytime soon as many of the events within are likely burned into our mind’s eye. The finale was bold, ruthless and intensely unforgiving to most all characters.

As we sit back and attempt to process how things got so out of hand in this episode, we must also look forward and envision how this changes the landscape of things to come. It is widely accepted that there will likely be seven seasons to the Thrones show – which means only two more seasons to go. We’re no longer in a place where there are so many seasons left that it is foolish to try and predict how this thing comes to an end. Well, it actually may still be foolish to try and imagine how this all comes to an end, because even in two more seasons there will naturally be dozens of twists and turns and unpredictable events. But, the point is, assuming that there are indeed only two seasons left, things are coming closer to an end than you may think, and the tragic events that we witnessed in this finale episode might set into motion the final series of events for each character as we head towards the homestretch. So let’s jump in…

A FALSE DUTY

The episode began with Melisandre watching a melting icicle and telling Stannis that the Lord of Light has answered their sacrifice and has melted the snow to ease their march towards Winterfell. Could it have really been that easy? Is it really as simple as just sacrificing somebody with “king’s blood” and the Lord of Light carves out your path for you? If the Lord of Light is indeed the one true god, then this would seem too easy and discredit the legitimacy of the Lord of Light. And, as we would find out moments later, it was not in fact that easy. Stannis’ sacrifice of his daughter was in vein as we see that half his army has deserted him – and they talk all the horses too. And if that wasn’t enough of a stab in the gut, moments later we see Lady Selyse hanging from a tree after she could not take the pain of knowing she allowed her daughter to be burned alive.

This spoke volumes about Stannis’ situation, considering that it was Lady Selyse that had been unrelentingly devout to the Lord of Light ever since she came into the company of Lady Melisandre. Furthermore, it was Lady Selyse that was cruel and unloving to their daughter Shireen; when Melisandre suggested the idea that Shireen may have to be sacrificed, Lady Selyse even seemed amenable to this notion if that what was required by the Lord of Light. So to now realize the guilt she felt was so great that it forced her to take her own life speaks volumes to the unspeakable emotion that must be running through Stannis, who just lost his entire family. Yet, true to form, Stannis shows no emotion and simply states that they will march on. Of course, at this point, did he really have any other choice? It was kind of like when you’re sitting at a blackjack table and you’ve already gambled away 75% of your money. You don’t really want to keep playing, you know you’re sure to lose the remaining 25%, but do you really have any other choice? You put those last few chips on the line because you’ve come too far and lost too much already — so you’re prepared to lose it all. And moments later, that’s precisely what happened as Stannis’ depleted army was slaughtered with ease.

STANNIS

But things would not come to an end before Stannis found himself face to face with Brienne, who had vowed to avenge the death of her beloved Renley by putting her sword through Stannis. As she asks Stannis if he killed Renley using Melisandre’s blood magic, he does not deny it and tells her, “Do your duty.” Simple as they may be, these are powerful final words from a man whose entire storyline was dedicated to the idea of duty – the idea of him fulfilling what he believed to be his fate, whether or not he liked it. It is powerful and moving and sad all at the same time to reflect back on one of Stannis’ quotes from an earlier season about his duty, “My duty is to the realm. How many boys dwell in Westeros? How many girls? How many men, how many women? The darkness will devour them all, she says. The night that never ends. She talks of prophecies . . . a hero reborn in the sea, living dragons hatched from dead stone . . . she speaks of signs and swears they point to me. I never asked for this, no more than I asked to be king. Yet dare I disregard her? We do not choose our destinies. Yet we must . . . we must do our duty, no? Great or small, we must do our duty.”

In the end, it was his false belief in this duty that got him killed…And killed by another person carrying out her duty. It was quite a poetic way for Stannis to go. And as we finally see that this duty was false; a duty that he had sacrificed every part of his existence for, we can’t help but to feel a terrible sadness for a good and decent man who didn’t realize the mistakes he had made until it was too late. Oh, and let’s just note that this is all assuming he is in fact dead, which he very possibly is not. Generally speaking, if a character is going to die, especially a leading character, we will see their death – it is of course more impactful this way. So, we have to assume that because the scene cut away before we actually saw his death, that he is in fact alive.

A LEAP OF FAITH

In Winterfell, no time is wasted before we see Sansa successfully sneak out of her locked room and make her way up to the watchtower to light her candle – a signal to Brienne for help. I found it a bit convenient how quickly and easily she was able to escape out of her room and find her way to the watchtower, whereas to date she hasn’t been able to sneak an inch past Ramsey, but we can let that one slide… In frustrating fashion, Sansa’s candle burns for help literally seconds after Brienne abandons her watch to go find Stannis. While Brienne swore an oath to protect Sansa, there was one oath that was even more sacred to her — the oath to avenge the death of Renley.

And so, Sansa was left on her own to escape, until Theon steps in and saves her from Ramsey’s crazy kennel keeper who was seconds away from putting an arrow or two into Sansa. And just like that, Theon and Sansa are on the run together, and the best escape they can conjure is apparently to jump from the top of the Winterfell walls, hundreds of feet high. Once again, the scene cuts away before we see what happens to these characters, which I really don’t like because I do not understand how they will pick this back up next season. Assuming they are not dead, which is again a safe assumption since we did not see them die, the show is not going to continue their scene mid-jump next season, which means we are never going to see what actually happened, and only be left to learn it through some sort of character dialogue. I guess they could’ve landed on a really cushy patch of powdery snow to break their fall, but let’s face it – a jump from that height would kill anybody – so if they’re not dead, I just don’t love the show prohibiting us from seeing how they survived and finally escaped, especially when we’ve been waiting for Sansa to escape from being a prisoner for the last five seasons.

AN EYE FOR AN EYE

We arrive back to Braavos and finally get some significant progression in Arya’s story, which was starting to get a bit stale. As Meryn Trant is brutally beating helpless little girls, we quickly learn that Arya has changed faces for the first time, as she pounces on Ser Meryn and gouges his eyes out before stabbing him several times. Her revenge is slow and drawn out as she makes a point to let him know who she is – Arya Stark – an explicit reminder that she is in fact not ready to become nobody and still holds on dearly to her identity – one that is rooted in avenging the deaths of those she has lost. Nonetheless, it was gratifying to watch Arya get this kill, not only because of what an evil man he was, but because Meryn Trant was the very first name on Arya’s kill list, dating back to season one.

Arya returns to the House of Black and White to return the face she has used, to find Jaqen H’ghar and the other girl who tell her that Meryn’s life was not hers to take and that a life is owed to the Many-Faced God. For a second, it looked like Arya’s life might be in jeopardy, but Jaqen drank his poison vile and gave his life for Arya. We see the emotion pour out of her as she once again lost another person she cared for and we are again reminded that she is not ready to become nobody. But what we quickly learn, or better yet are reminded, is that Jaqen is not the person she thinks he is – Jaqen does not in fact exist. The person that was wearing Jaqen’s face was nobody – just as she must become. He had no identity, no character – he had stripped himself of all of this to become a Faceless Man. It was simply the face that he wore, which Arya quickly peeled back to see all the faces that existed behind it.

And just like that, another person appears behind Arya once again wearing Jaqen’s face. This was presumably the other girl who was proving the point that “Jaqen” did not in fact exist, and that anybody can wear any face to become somebody else, if they are in fact nobody to begin with. Of course, the person wearing Jaqen’s face was an actual human body that existed — but the point is that it a person without any true identity. And just when things seem like they can’t get any more confusing, Arya starts to lose her vision and screams helplessly that she is going blind. It’s unclear what caused this or how it was done to her, but one idea is that this was punishment – an eye for an eye, quite literally. Just like Meryn’s life was not hers to take, nor were his eyes, and perhaps now she is losing her eyes as punishment. And perhaps, without her vision and the ability to see things through her own eyes, she will take steps closer towards becoming nobody and only be able to see the world around her through the eyes of other faces.

Arya losing her vision

Arya losing her vision

KHALEESI

Elsewhere on Easteros, Mereen is without its queen and her cast of sidekick characters are left to figure out what comes next. It is decided that Daario and Jorah will lead an expedition to find Khaleesi while Tyrion will stay back with Grey Worm to govern the city. And to no surprise, Varys is back who will certainly be an invaluable asset to Tyrion.

TYRION

We then see that Khaleesi is somewhere in the grasslands of Easteros, unsure of exactly where she is or how far Drogon has flown her. As she tries to get him to return her home, we see that she still only has minimal control over her dragons. She wanders away to find food as she is discovered and then surrounded by hundreds of Dothraki riders. Before they approach, she slips off a wrong, presumably the ring from her wedding to the highborn of Mereen that we know she married (though we never saw the wedding). Khaleesi would not want the Dothraki to know she married another after she had been married to Khal Drogo.

It was unclear whether they were circling her in a threatening way, which is entirely possible, as she did not part with the Dothraki on peaceful terms. But, it is also conceivable that they were surrounding her in a reverent manner, as she is now widely established as the Mother of Dragons and known all over Easteros, so perhaps they were honoring her as they rode in formation around her. Either way, Khaleesi ends the season more or less where she started, still on Easteros and seemingly still quite far from being ready to conquer Westeros.

THE KISS OF DEATH

For a second, it seemed like we might’ve gotten peaceful outcome to the storyline in Dorne. Myrcella would return home peacefully with both her father and Prince Trystane who she has fallen in love with. Only Myrcella doesn’t know Jaime is her father…Wait, yes she does! In an unexpected twist, Myrcella tells Jaime that she has not only been aware from a young age about Jaime and Cercei – but that she is happy that he is her father. What a moment this was for Jaime, a man who has had to live a life of denying the children that he brought into this world. Though the show has not touched upon this idea very much, the books more thoroughly expose the pain Jaime has had to endure by denying to the world the children that he has. So, to finally be acknowledged as a father, and by his daughter no less, who is happy to have him as a father, is an enormous moment for Jaime’s character. But things go full 180 just seconds later, as Myrcella dies in the arms of her father, Jaime helpless to do anything. This is now the second child that has died in his arms from poison as he’s been unable to save them (Joffrey was the first). Perhaps this is the gods way of punishing Jaime for bringing children into this world that he has failed to raise, even if not his decision.

Jaime losing another child to poison

Jaime losing another child to poison

And while this was a tragic moment for Jaime, it is more significant for the implications of what is to come. While there was already bad blood between the Lannisters and Martells, things are now exponentially exacerbated as Cercei (and Jaime’s) precious daughter was murdered by the Dornish. What is interesting to consider is that this was not Prince Doran’s doing and he was explicit in wanting to avoid war, so much so that he was willing to allow Myrcella to return safely to King’s Landing with Jaime and the rest of them. So, Prince Doran will likely have to now choose between backing Ellaria and the Sand Snakes in the war they’ve started, or perhaps turn them over to the Lannisters. We know that the Sand Snakes have a lot of the support of the Dornish people, so this could possibly ignite a civil war within Dorne as well. We’ll have to wait until next season to find out, but it seems likely the war is imminent, especially considering Cercei’s current disposition and her new weapon, the Mountain, who has pledged to kill all her enemies.

THE WALK OF SHAME

Finally, Cercei breaks and confesses to her sins, or at least to one of them. She admits to sleeping with her cousin, but denies incest with Jaime and the dozens of other sins she has committed. At the moment, it seemed like she may have just been giving a half-hearted confession in order to find her way back to the Red Keep. But when all was said and done, there was certainly no quick pass back to the Red Keep in exchange for her confession, and Cercei, like so many other characters after this episode, will never be the same. After being stripped and having nearly all her hair cut off, she is forced to walk through the peasant-filled streets of King’s Landing in an unimaginable walk of shame. As she is cursed at, spit at and completely defiled in every way possible, Cercei continues to walk through the streets towards the Red Keep which looks impossibly far away; at one point, it looked like she might not make it. The length of this scene and the seemingly never-ending walk made viewers extremely uncomfortable – something that was intentional and unmistakable. The show wanted viewers to feel Cercei’s discomfort – so much so that we may have even felt empathy for a character who has been so ruthless and vicious for as long as we’ve known her. Still, she experienced something that perhaps nobody ever should, and it seemed as though Cercei’s character was finally broken, something we might’ve thought was never possible.

Cercei preparing for atonement

Cercei preparing for atonement

As she steps back into the Red Keep, we see a much different Red Keep and cast of characters than we’ve become accustomed to. No longer is this Cercei’s home or place of rule. She looks and feels like an outsider and she doesn’t exactly get the warmest of welcomes back. Qyburn is the only one to embrace her and we finally see the Mountain, although in a disappointing reveal. After a full season of waiting to see what kind of freakish monster the Mountain has become, I was hoping to see a more impactful reveal. I was waiting for him to jump in during Cercei’s walk of shame to save her. Or at least let us see what the guy looks like, explain what he has become..Is he human? Monster? Something in between? Tell us something! It was the same giant Mountain in full armor that we’ve seen before – the only difference is that his face was discolored and we are told by Qyburn that he’s taken a vow of silence until all of Cercei’s enemies are killed. Kind of disappointing…

THE PRINCE WHO WAS PROMISED

The foreshadowing had been thick and the writing was on the wall (no pun intended). We had seen several times that Ollie was set on avenging the death of his family; the brothers of the Night’s Watch had questioned Jon Snow’s decision; and in last week’s episode, Ser Alliser Thorne had gone as far as to explicitly tell Jon Snow “You’ve got a kind heart…Be careful, it’ll get you killed.” But still, the death of Jon Snow probably took us all by surprised. Even in a world where we’ve come to learn that anybody can be killed off, we still thought that Jon Snow was in it for the long haul – that he was going to be one of the last guys standing in the battle of ice versus fire.

The good news is that still may be the case, especially if you consider the prophecy of the Prince Who Was Promised. And while the show has made several mentions of the Prince Who Was Promised, namely through Melisandre, it has failed to fully explain the importance of this idea – an idea that is more significant now than ever if you want to believe that this is not the end for Jon Snow. So let’s reexamine.

About 8,000 years ago, during the Long Night, the White Walkers invaded the Seven Kingdoms and nearly wiped all of humanity to the point of extinction. Darkness came for all, and at the time, there was no Wall or Night’s Watch to fight it back. And thus emerged Azor Ahai, otherwise known as the Prince Who Was Promised. He would go on to become the most legendary hero that the world would ever know. Recognizing that he must make a sacrifice to the Lord of Light, he put his sword through the heart of his wife, a woman that he loved more than anything. It is said that her soul became one with his sword, a flaming sword that would henceforth be known as Lightbringer. With his sword Lightbringer, Azor Ahai led the fight against the White Walkers and pushed back the darkness that almost consumed all of humanity. After this battle, the Wall was built to keep the White Walkers from ever invading and the Night’s Watch was form to protect the Wall and all that lurked beyond it. At the time, it was prophesized that at some point, Azor Ahai, otherwise known as the Prince Who Was Promised, would be reincarnated to once again fight back the darkness. Throughout history, many characters have been thought to have been the Prince Who Was Promised – most recently Rhaegar Targaryen and then Stannis Baratheon.

Since the inception of the show, Melisandre has told Stannis that he was the Prince Who Was Promised – the one chosen soul to fight back the darkness that was once again coming for all of humanity. But what if she was wrong? What if Stannis was not the Prince Who Was Promised? Well, as it turns out, it seems like we found out that he was in fact not the Prince Who Was Promised and sadly he sacrificed everything all for nothing. What is interesting is that before Stannis even went into battle, Melisandre deserted his cause. The moment she heard that half his army had been lost, a look came over her face – not a look of complete shock, but rather a look of “oh shit, I knew there was a chance I was wrong about all of this..and it turns out I was.” Had Melisandre truly believed 100% that Stannis was the Prince Who Was Promised, the revelation that he was not would have been shattering to her – the point that she would have nothing left to live for. After all, she has been living solely for the Lord of Light, so to find out it was all bullshit would leave her with little left to live for. But she didn’t collapse into despair – rather she knew exactly where she had to go the moment she realized that Stannis was not the Prince Who Was Promised – and she went straight there – to Jon Snow.

Which leads us to one conclusion – Jon Snow is in fact the Prince Who Was Promised. Of course, looking back at previous episodes, there are other tidbits that point to the idea that Melisandre may have thought this, or at least considered it, all along. The very first time Melisandre arrived with Stannis at Castle Black, she exchanged a long stare with Jon Snow – that was not for no reason. Then, there was of course the scene where she tried to seduce him and told him that he had king’s blood. So, in reality, she probably had some idea all along and the moment things went sour for Stannis, it seems like she immediately realized the mistake she had made and who the Prince Who Was Promised truly was.

And now, with Jon Snow dead, she has the opportunity to prove the truth of her magic and that of the Lord of Light – will she be able to bring Jon Snow back to life? We’ve already seen the Lord of Light’s magic and the Red Priest, Thoros of Myr, bring back to life Beric Dondarrion several times. So we know this is a possibility. It is also important to consider the very final image we saw after Jon Snow died. While his face was powerful as he lay there dead – it was not the most prominent component of the final image we were left with. Rather, it was his blood as it crawled through the snow, looking dark and mysterious, almost having a life of its own. It looked eerily similar to me to the way Melisandre’s dark shadow moved through the air – another allusion to the idea that Melisandre’s magic could be used to bring him back to life. (Check out the video below, you will see the way his blood moves through the snow, appearing to have a life of its own like Melisandre’s shadow ghost).

OUTRO

It’s unclear whether or not Jon Snow is dead for good – just as it’s unclear whether or not Stannis, Theon and Sansa or dead or not. What we do know is that everything has changed in a major way. Stannis, if not dead, is without any army at all and it will be interesting to consider what role he might play if he is in fact alive. What comes next for Sansa and Theon if they are alive and on the run? Will Arya be blind for good, and if so, will that force her to abandon her identity and finally become a Faceless Man? What happens in Mereen with Varys and Tyrion and do Daario and Jorah find Khaleesi? And what about Khaleesi’s other two dragons? What kind of person will Cercei be after her life-changing experience and will she wage war against Dorne after she learns of the death of her daughter? There are so many questions and we’ve got a full year to wait to get any real answers…And so it begins, life without Thrones… Stay tuned into ThronesLife for updates and interesting content…

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SEASON 5, EPISODE 9: THE DANCE OF DRAGONS

Disclaimer: There are no spoilers in this article. I have only read the first three books and I have no knowledge of what transpires in the show moving forward. Any views or content expressed are solely personal theories, opinions and insights.

FIRE, FIRE AND MORE FIRE

What was going to happen in the ninth episode – an episode we’ve come to know as the “something big is going to happen” episode. The ninth episode of the last three seasons were three of the biggest events ever seen — Season 2 was the Battle of Blackwater; Season 3 the Red Wedding and Season 4 the epic battle at the Wall – so what would happen in the ninth episode of season 5? We had gotten a major battle with the White Walkers the previous week, so it was safe to assume that we would not see epic battles in back to back weeks. But after all, it is the ninth episode, and with most plotlines having heated up in a major way, we would have to see some big things happen, right? That’s correct…And we did.

While we didn’t see any epic battle scenes, what we saw were some unbelievably powerful scenes and plot-twists; things that will forever change the future of this story and the destiny of each character. It’s tough to truly decide how I feel about this episode. It was an episode defined entirely by two major plot-points – Khaleesi flying through the sky on the back of her dragon – an allusion to the Targaryen kings and queens before her that rode their dragons for thousands of years; and Stannis burning his own daughter to give Melisandre the magic she needs to fight the impending darkness. These two events could not have been more diametrically opposed – the first was powerfully uplifting, giving us all the magical feeling that Khaleesi is taking her biggest step yet towards becoming the hero we all want her to be; the next is tragic and heartbreaking, a sweet and innocent girl being burned to death by her own father. And while it is tough to decide how I feel about this episode, one thing is for sure – it sent two characters, Stannis and Khaleesi, down a road that there is no coming back from.

There was also quite a lot of fire in this episode. The episode opened with Stannis’ camp being burned by Ramsey’s fire, progressed to Shireen being burned to death by fire and ended with Khaleesi’s dragon, Drogon, using fire to save her and kill off the Harpies. In the all-encompassing battle of Ice versus Fire, ice has represented the darkness and evil while fire has represented the light and good. But, what we began to see in this most recent episode is that perhaps there are no constants. Perhaps there is no one thing that is entirely good or entirely bad. Rather, it is the person or people that ultimately characterize whether something represents darkness or light, evil or goodness. This is of course an age-old theme, the idea that there is no singular good or bad in life, only the people whose actions bring goodness or evil into this world. Ramsey using fire to burn down a chunk of Stannis’ camp seemed evil, but that very same fire being used by Khaleesi’s dragon to fight off evil itself of course seemed good…And Melisandre’s fire used to kill Princess Shireen of course again seemed dark and evil. So in a Thrones world, where to date we’ve been taught to believe that ice singularly represents darkness and evil while fire singularly represents light and goodness, perhaps we are starting to see a departure towards the idea that while these entities do generally represent dark or light, it is ultimately the people and the way they use these things that will define good versus evil.

DESPERATE TIMES CALL FOR DESPERATE MEASURES

As the episode begins with the Red Priestess Lady Melisandre on screen, we should’ve all suspected that there was going to be quite a bit of fire play. Still, none of us could’ve imagined the terrible ways that this fire would be used. The scene begins with Lady Melisandre looking on as much of Stannis’ camp catches fire, burning horses, men and supplies alike. It is interesting to consider that we did not see Ramsey or any of his men – which leaves us to wonder how they got into Stannis’ camp in the first place? One thing is certain, Melisandre looked entirely calm as the fire around her blazed – almost as if she had expected this to happen. Perhaps this was the case – perhaps she saw a vision of this in her flames. Or, perhaps she was simply happy that this was happening, as she knew it would put Stannis in a more desperate position than ever before, increasing the likelihood that he would be willing to sacrifice his own daughter, something that Melisandre had suggested a couple episodes back. Either way, it again makes us question Melisandre and assess how we truly feel about her. To date, she has pretty much only spoken the truth; while other characters have been engaged in less significant games, she has been one of the few characters that has recognized the only game that matters – the fight against evil and darkness that is coming. So from that perspective, she seems to be one of the shows most credible characters, and perhaps she is simply willing to do what must be done in order to fight off the darkness that is coming. Yet still, there is a great suspicion to her character, one that makes us feel as though we really cannot trust her. And as her advice to sacrifice Shireen prevails, we certainly feel this way more than ever before.

Melisandre looks on as Shireen burns

Melisandre looks on as Shireen burns

So we arrive at perhaps the most tragic event that we’ve seen in five years of Thrones-watching, the death of Princess Shireen at the hands of her own father. Something we felt was coming as soon as Stannis commanded Davos to ride back to Castle Black as Stannis knew that Davos would not allow this to happen. And sadly, it almost appeared as if Davos was aware of what was to come and stopped by Shireen’s tent to say his final goodbye, thank her for teaching him to “become an adult,” and gave her a goodbye present. And then it happened and the death of Princess Shireen was heartbreaking on so many levels. It explored the extraordinarily painful theme of a child being betrayed by her own parents. As she screams on, begging for her mother or father to save her, she is entirely hopeless, as her should-be-saviors are the very ones sacrificing her life. It is tragic and heartbreaking to explore the idea of a parent, the person in this world that a child should be able to unconditionally turn to for saving, turning on their own child and putting them in this position in the first place. It was of course all the more painful because Shireen was as sweet and precious of a girl as they come. And there was of course a whole other level of pain that came with the idea that she was completely innocent and naive to what her father was planning on doing, as she says to Stannis, “I am Princess Shireen of House Baratheon and I want to do whatever I can to help you.” Little did she understand the dark irony that she could in fact help him, by sacrificing her own life, which was set to take place just moments later.

Shireen is tied up

Shireen is tied up

And while watching Shireen die a slow death was painful for all of the reasons above, it was made all the more painful by the way the show’s writers told this story. And I say the show’s writers, not George R.R. Martin, because this never happened in Martin’s story. And while the “Inside the Episode” states that George R.R. Martin communicated this plot-point to the show-runners, who then chose to include it in the episodes, the fact is that this event never happened in Martin’s books (yet). It was included in the show without having been in the books – something that has been happening more and more as the show goes on. At first, there were just minor changes that the show would introduce, maybe changing the name of a character here or needing to leave out a character there – this is of course to be expected when adapting books to TV. But in the last couple seasons, especially this most recent season, the show has gotten more and more gratuitous with the changes they’re making and the significant ways that they are deviating from the books. And if any of the purity from George R.R. Martin’s story is to be preserved, I truly hope that the show’s producers stop taking so many liberties with all the things they are changing – especially the addition of major plot-points that simply never happened in the books – such as the killing of Princess Shireen.

All that said, I am not upset simply because the show deviated from the books. Rather, I am upset because this deviation was bad storytelling coupled with the spoiling of one of Martin’s best characters in Stannis. At first, none of us liked Stannis – we weren’t supposed to. He was cold and stern and there was nothing endearing about him. His own brother Renley challenged his claim to the Throne on the basis that Stannis was so unlikable and wouldn’t inspire greatness to the world if he were to become king. Yet, as Martin ingeniously has accomplished with so many of his characters through his expert storytelling and mastery of character development, we began to warm up to Stannis. Not because he became any more likable or friendly, but because we began to see the good and honor in him. In a world where most characters lacked integrity or morals, Stannis lived by his…And was willing to die by them too if need be. And our love for Stannis was heightened exponentially earlier this season when we saw the love and emotion that he offered for his daughter as he told her of the way he saved her when she was born with Grayscale. When others wanted to discard of her, he refused to abandon her and found a way to save her. “You were the Princess Shireen of House Baratheon,” he said. “And you are my daughter.” In this rare show of emotion, Stannis was humanized and we fell in love with his character. Not only was he the most honorable man we knew, but he also had love and compassion inside of him too. And just a few episodes later, we see how much these words resonated with his daughter, and she repeats them back to Stannis in his time of need, telling him “I am Princess Shireen of House Baratheon and I want to help you.” Little did she know what her helping him would equate to.

Stannis and his wife look on as their daughter burns

And this is where the show’s producers making up this plot-point becomes really bad story telling and really hurts Stannis’ character at the same time. We loved Stannis after we learned that he fought to defend his daughter when she was a vulnerable baby needing the protection of a parent. But all of that goes right out the window, when just a few episodes later, he now chooses to tie her up and burn her to death. Well, in his eyes, he didn’t choose at all. As he spoke to Shireen just moments before her death, he tells her that sometimes a man has no choice at all, and can only do what he must to fulfill his fate. So, in his eyes, maybe he believed that he truly had no choice. Nonetheless, it renders irrelevant everything we learned just a few episodes back about Stannis saving Shireen when she was a baby. Which just makes it all bad storytelling. You don’t show viewers in episode five how much Stannis truly loved and cared for his daughter, if just four episodes later you are going to go back on this and show his willingness to completely betray and abandon her. It’s bad storytelling and is counterintuitive to the progression of his character that was being built. And I’m not sure which is worse.

The bad storytelling part of it is a pretty tough pill to swallow. But the way they undermined everything that was great about Stannis’ character is probably worse. George R.R. Martin had been so successful at building Stannis as the unlikable hero in a world of villains. Now, he’s just another villain. And perhaps one of the worst offenders, as it doesn’t get much worse than sacrificing your own daughter. It’s a line that shouldn’t have been crossed, especially when it was not a line that even existed in the original story penned by Martin. I bit my tongue when other lines were crossed with other made-up plot-points that never existed in the real story. When Ramsey raped Sansa a few episodes back and destroyed whatever ounce of innocence was left within her, again something that never happened in the books, I turned the other cheek. Even that had gone too far. Little did I know that just a few episodes later, the show would take it even further and entirely make up another plot-point that rips out the hearts of its viewers. I will never be able to look at Stannis the same way, which is heartbreaking in and of itself, since he is supposed to be one of the characters that I want to love.

THE MOTHER OF DRAGONS & KHALEESI’S NEW CREW

In Easteros, we see a season full of petty politics in Mereen come to a head as Khaleesi resides over the fighting arena that she has allowed to reopen, against her better judgment. As we knew was going to happen, Jorah comes out to fight for her and shows that he is willing to die for her as well. Though he nearly is defeated by two different fighters, Jorah eventually kills the Mereenese warrior before throwing a spear a good 50 yards through the heart of a Harpy that was sneaking up on Khaleesi (where were all her Unsullied??). And just like that, we see hundreds of Harpies emerge out of the crowd, committing a mass slaughter of the innocent, again making us scratch our heads and wonder where the hell are all of Khaleesi’s Unsullied. It seems like any time any chaos has broken out and Khaleesi has actually need the Unsullied by her side, she never has more than 10 or 15 out of the 6,000, leaving them vastly outnumbered and vulnerable. But I digress… What I absolutely loved about this scene was watching Khaleesi’s “new crew” as they ran across the coliseum floor, only to eventually be surrounded by many more Harpies. It was our first time seeing this new group dynamic, featuring the new addition of Tyrion, the reestablishment of Jorah, alongside Daario, Khaleesi and Missandei. Did we just get first glimpse at the final makings of Khaleesi’s inner circle – the group of her closest advisors and supporters that will help her to reclaim the Iron Throne? I certainly got that feeling and thought it was actually the coolest part of the episode. And when you look at the photo below, you can’t help but love this cast of characters that have all come together. They are all truly good people with an unwavering loyalty to Khaleesi. Unlike most characters, they are a group that we feel we know and can trust — there are no ulterior motives or side-games being played. Most importantly, most of these characters have been by Khaleesi’s side since day one, and it is rewarding to see them all together, perhaps closer than ever before to reclaiming the Iron Throne.

crew

As they are surrounded by Harpies and greatly outnumbered, we knew only one thing could happen – Drogon would have to make his appearance – after all, this episode was entitled The Dance of Dragons. As he flies overhead, we see his immense power as he easily rips to shreds and burns alive dozens of Harpies, whose weapons are no match for Drogon. And then it happened… Khaleesi shows the world (or whoever was still alive in the coliseum, which probably wasn’t many people at that point) that she is the one true Mother of Dragons, as she climbs the back of Drogon and flies through the sky. This was not only an allusion to all the past Targaryens before her that rode the backs of their dragons as they conquered the world, but also a foreshadow to the future of what she is to accomplish on the back of her dragon. It was an iconic and powerful image to say the least. And while I would be the first to say that it seems like she has been in Mereen forever and things had gotten really stale over there, perhaps watching her finally ride through the sky on the back of her dragon made the wait worthwhile. After all, what’s a few seasons compared to the hundreds of years that have gone by since a Targaryen has rode on the back of a dragon?

Khaleesi and Drogon

EVERYTHING ELSE

At the Wall, Jon Snow returns with what appears to be a couple hundred Wildlings. There was a moment where it was unclear whether Ser Alliser would open the gates for them, a reminder that most of the brothers of the Night’s Watch are not on the same page as Jon Snow and do not support his actions. After all, they haven’t just battled the White Walker army that Jon Snow has. More than ever, Jon Snow seems to have enemies on all sides of him as Ser Alliser tells him, “You’ve got a kind heart…It’ll get you killed.” It will be interesting to see how the Wildlings factor into Jon Snow’s plans. His goal was to get tens of thousands to join his cause, and he only appears to have secured a few hundred, not enough of a difference to really help in the fight that is to come. But he did make it back home with the giant – so that’s a win.

Jon Snow returns to the Wall, snow falling harder than ever

Jon Snow returns to the Wall, snow falling harder than ever

In Dorne, Jaime reaches a pact with Prince Doran, who allows Jaime and Bronn to return safely back to King’s Landing, along with Princess Myrcella and her betrothed Prince Trystane. However, it is under the condition that Trystane is granted a seat on the small council. It was an interesting turn of events and it’s unclear what Prince Doran’s plan really is. Though he is more subtle and meticulous than the Sand Snakes who have explicitly declared their desire for war, we do know that Doran too will want to avenge the death of his brother at one point or another, and it seems as if he’s beginning to lay down the groundwork for a plan that is yet to unfold. It will be interesting to see Jaime return back to King’s Landing with Myrcella, which should’ve been a glorious reuniting of Cercei with her daughter, but will likely be far less than that when they return home to see Cercei rotting in a cell. Which begs the question, will Jaime save her? Can Jaime save her? And what will happen with the entire King’s Landing plot in the finale episode. I have to believe that we will finally see the Mountain and what has become of him after Qyburn has been working on him for quite some time.

Finally, in Braavos, we see Arya’s journey continue, which in its own right, is already starting to grow old on me. I truly hope that her story in Braavos will not become a long drawn out saga the way Khaleesi’s did in Mereen. Anyway, as Arya continues on her mission to scout the Gambler who hangs at the dock and poison him with her vile, she gets glimpse of Ser Meyrn Trant, who has arrived to Braavos accompanying Mace Tyrell. Cercei had sent Mace to Braavos several episodes again in an effort to get him out of King’s Landing in advance of her ploy to get Loras and Margaery Tyrell thrown in prison. Little did she know that she too would get thrown in a cell, and would need Ser Meryn Trant, one of the few remaining Lannister loyalists. Though we have not heard her recite it for quite some time, Ser Meryn Trant was one of the first names on Arya’s kill list. He was Joffrey’s most violent enforcer and committed many terrible acts, most notable for Arya was the murder of her Braavosi sword instructor, Syrio Forell, back in the first season. Immediately, Arya is confronted with a difficult decision: will she continue to strip herself of her identity as Arya and continue in her training to become a Faceless Man, or will she go back to being Arya in her quest for revenge against one of the men that was on her list. As we probably could’ve guessed, she chooses the latter and follows Ser Meryn to a brothel where we learn that he not only an evil man, but also a pedophile. It is also worth noting that at least two or three different times, Ser Meryn locked his eyes on Arya and appeared to have vaguely recognized her. Arya will have to make a decision as to whether she is going to strip herself of her identity or pursue the kill of Ser Meryn – unless she can kill Ser Meryn as a Faceless assassin and accomplish both at the same time.

Season 5, Episode 8: Hardhome

Disclaimer: There are no spoilers in this article. I have only read the first three books and I have no knowledge of what transpires in the show moving forward. Any views or content expressed are solely personal theories, opinions and insights.

THE ONE TRUE GAME

In the Game of Thrones world, for better or worse, there are so many games being played all at once. For the first few seasons, the most significant and end-all game that was being played was the battle for the Throne. At the time, this appeared to be the defining game of the show and the only one that really mattered. And though five seasons later, this game is yet to be resolved as Stannis and Khaleesi are both still major players battling for the Throne, we continue to see so many additional games that are introduced. Whether it be a game of love or a game of revenge; a game of truth or a game of deception — the Thrones world has done something that few stories have ever done before, creating so many different layers of plot-lines, all occurring simultaneously. And with each game comes its respective players, its location of play and so many other details that make each game so interesting and enjoyable to watch unfold. But the multitude of all these games all being played at once also proves to do one other thing very well — it distracts us from the one true game being played — the only game that matters — the game of Ice and Fire. And in the 48th episode to date, we were abruptly and violently reminded, more so than ever before, of the game that we should all be focused on — the one that will likely determine the fate of all mankind.

JON SNOW LEADS THE FIGHT AGAINST DARKNESS

As Jon Snow approaches Hardhome, the basecamp of the Wildlings, alongside his new ally Tormund Giantsbayne, the mood is colder than ever before. The mission at hand is a nearly unthinkable one — to unite the Wildlings and the Night’s Watch — two clans that have been warring for thousands of years. Yet is is also clear that Jon Snow has no choice — he must unite all men if they are to have any chance at fighting off the White Walkers and avoiding a fate of death and darkness.

After a hostile welcome from the Lord of Bones, Tormund beats him to death, showing the other Wildlings that he means business, while also making it clear to viewers that his allegiance to Jon Snow is true. After Jon Snow and Tormund make their pitch to the leaders of each Wildling clan, some agree to join their cause while others stubbornly refuse. And as Jon Snow starts to look a lot like Moses, leading an exodus of Wildlings onto the sea to the promised land of Castle Black, all hell breaks loose as an avalanche of wights (the army of dead led by the White Walkers), descends upon Hardhome.

Jon Snow approaches Hardhome

Jon Snow approaches Hardhome

Once again, Jon Snow shows that his bravery and leadership is unparalleled; where most men would have fleed, Jon Snow stays back to defend the Wildlings and fight off the wights. But perhaps he regretted that decision just moments later, as he looks up to see a band of White Walkers on a cliff, looking down at the battle below. And not just any White Walkers. These appear to be the leaders of the White Walkers, the ones we saw just once before, in a season four episode when they took one of Craster’s babies into the far North and turned it into a White Walker, by touching a finger to the baby’s face and turning its eyes a deep blue. It was assumed that we had just witnessed how a White Walker is created (which begs the question — how was the first White Walker created?), and we also learned what the White Walkers have been doing with the babies Craster had been leaving for them.

Season 4 episode where we saw a White Walker king turn a baby into a White Walker

Season 4 episode where we saw a White Walker king turn a baby into a White Walker

Unlike other White Walkers we’ve seen (such as the one killed by Samwell Tarly), which do not wear any clothes, carry real weapons, and generally appear less advanced, the White Walkers that Jon Snow looked up at wore dark black clothes, carried weapons and clearly appeared to be the leaders and/or more advanced White Walkers. And just a few moments later, Jon Snow finds himself in a one-on-one battle with one of these White Walkers. But first, we saw one of the Thenns attempt to fight this White Walker, but his battle axe is shattered when it meets the icy sword of the White Walker, and he is of course then killed. Jon Snow is up next, but cannot find the dragon-glass, and is getting his ass handed to him by the White Walker. But just as it’s looking like he might not win this fight, Jon stumbles upon his sword, Longclaw, the Valryian steel sword given to him by Lord Commander Jeor Mormont. And whereas we’ve seen and heard that all steel swords are shattered when they meet the icy touch of a White Walker, Longclaw in the hands of Jon Snow, stands up to the weapon of the White Walker, and Jon Snow is then able to but his sword through the White Walker, joining Samwell Tarly in the White Walker kill club.

Jon Snow, with his Valyrian steel sword, slays a White Walker

Jon Snow, with his Valyrian steel sword, slays a White Walker

Things get even worse as hundreds more wights descend upon Jon and whatever’s left of the Night’s Watch and Wildlings, and they’re forced to retreat to their boat and head back to Castle Black. But not before we saw what was one of the, if not the single most powerful and revealing scene in the five seasons we’ve been watching Game of Thrones. It was a single image that epitomized what lies at the core of this epic story created by George R.R. Martin — a series entitled A Song of Ice and Fire. Martin named this series A Song of Ice and Fire for a reason…after all, at it’s core, it’s a story about Ice, darkness and evil versus Fire, light and good. But viewers often lose sight of these themes and the true name of the series itself, since HBO for its TV adaptation chose to use the name of the first book in this series, A Game of Thrones, presumably because it was a more marketable title. But the Game of Thrones was merely the title of the first book — and as we know — a much smaller game compared to the greater game of Ice versus Fire.

And now, as Jon Snow exchanges a long, cold, hard stare with one of the White Walker’s leaders — we see these very themes personified. Ice, darkness and evil versus Fire, light and good — two opposing forces that have been in a constant struggle since the beginning of the world. And as Thrones history tells us, during the Long Night, thousands of years ago, a great battle transpired between these two forces, and darkness almost prevailed as all of mankind was pushed near the brink of extinction, until Azor Ahai, with his burning sword called Lightbringer, fought back the White Walkers. It was at this time that the Wall was built to keep out the White Walkers and defend the realm from the darkness that lived beyond. In the religion of the Lord of Light, it was prophecized that at some point in the future, Azor Ahai would be reincarnated as the Prince that was Promised, to once again fight back the White Walkers in a battle that would determine the fate of all mankind. And, as we know, Melisandre has often spoke the words of the Lord of Light, telling that there is only light versus dark, good versus evil and Ice versus Fire. As we’ve seen before, the religion of the Lord of Light seems to be the most legitimized, the most rooted in truth and perhaps the most significant to the outcome of this world. And now as Jon Snow stares down a White Walker leader, it appears that prophecy about Azor Ahai being reborn to once again fight back the White Walkers might be true and that this battle is more imminent than ever; Fire and light will oppose Ice and darkness, with the prevailing side determining the fate of all mankind.

The Night King raising up his wights

The Night King raising up his wights

And yet if we dig a bit deeper, there are additional layers of significance to what we saw in this episode. First, this is the most screen-time we’ve gotten with the White Walkers, by far. And not just any White Walkers, but what appeared to be the more advanced White Walkers — and the spikey-head White Walker who appears to the king of the White Walkers. Additionally significant, we saw him raise up all the dead corpses and turn them into wights. While we knew that wights were dead corpses that the White Walkers turned into zombies that march in their army of the dead, this is something that we had never seen happen before this episode. We’ve now seen this White Walker (the one with the spikey head), turn a human baby into a White Walker, as well as turning dead corpses into wights to serve in his army of the dead. We now have a lot more color on the White Walkers. The spikey-head White Walker appears to be the king and perhaps the purest of all White Walkers. The other White Walkers with the long hair are possibly the White Walkers that the king turns from human babies.  And finally we have the wights which are dead corpses that the spikey-head White Walkers are able to convert into zombie foot soldiers to fight in their army.

Still, perhaps the greatest takeaway is one regarding Jon Snow, his ability to kill a White Walker and what this tells us about who he might be. For five seasons, we’ve heard quite a bit about dragon-glass being the only weapon to be able to kill White Walkers, but haven’t heard much about Valyrian steel being able to do the same. And apparently, most of the Thrones characters had ever heard about Valyrian steel being used as a weapon to kill the White Walkers — after all, if they had, Jon Snow would have reached for his Valyrian steel sword before going for the dragon-glass. So it was quite a revelation when Jon Snow’s Valyrian steel sword stood up to the White Walker’s sword of ice, and then was able to destoy the White Walker altogether. For starters, this reveals quite a bit more about Valyrian steel itself. To date, we knew it was the strongest and sharpest steel around, while also being the lightest. We knew that it stayed razor sharp without being tended to. More or less, it just seemed like the best steel sword that money could buy. What we didn’t know, and what we just learned, is that perhaps there is more to Valyrian steel — perhaps an element of magic. After all, we’ve been told that only the Valyrians knew how to forge this great steel and that this knowledge was lost when Old Valyria perished in the Doom. We also know that dragon-glass, the only weapon we knew that was able to kill White Walkers, also comes from Valyria. So, perhaps Valyrian steel has some magical elements from the ancient days of Old Valyria, that allow it to destroy the White Walkers, just like dragon-glass. This all plays right back into the greater theme of Ice versus Fire; the White Walkers, which can be defeated only by dragon-glass and Valyrian steel, represent the Ice; the dragon-glass and Valyrian steel, each of which are said to have been forged using the magic of Valyrian dragons and fire, represent the Fire which can defeat the Ice of the White Walkers.

What was also interesting was the combination of the Valryian steel sword being in the hands of Jon Snow himself.  After all, we know that Targaryens come from Valyria — so if Jon Snow is in fact a Targaryen, as hypothesized in my recap three weeks ago, this would make him a descendant of Old Valyria. Which would mean that we just witnessed a very rare Valyrian steel sword being swung by the even rarer Valyrian. Of course, this is just conjecture, but that the Valyrian steel sword, Longclaw, ended up in the hands of Jon Snow, could be another hint at the idea that he is in fact a Targaryen.

A QUICK RECAP OF EVERYTHING ELSE

Compared to the final scene which brought us back to the only game that matters and to the title of this series itself — Ice versus Fire — evil versus good — dark versus light — the other scenes of this episode appear almost insignificant. But, in the greatest game that is yet to unfold and the great battle that is yet to take place, the other smaller games will decide the roll each player is to play in the greatest game of all. So here’s a quick recap…

In Mereen, we see how things play out between Jorah, Tyrion and Khaleesi. Tyrion quickly establishes his cunning and intelligence before Khaleesi and after she seeks his advice regarding what to do with Jorah, Tyrion counsels that she should show him mercy because Jorah is devoted and loyal, yet he cannot be seen marching by her side after he betrayed her. Jorah is banished from the city and goes back to his previous master in hopes of fighting at the great pit before Khaleesi. Behind closed doors, Tyrion and Khaleesi chat about Khaleesi’s quest for the Throne and Tyrion suggests that she should consider remaining in Easteros, where perhaps she can do more good for the common people. But, Khaleesi reminds him that Easteros is not her home, and refers to all the powerful houses of Westeros as spokes on a wheel that go round and round — one day this family is on top — the next day another family is on top. Tyrion tells her that many before her have tried to stop the wheel — to which she powerfully responds that she is not going to stop the wheel, she is going to break the wheel.

Tyrion before Khaleesi

Tyrion before Khaleesi

In King’s Landing, Cercei remains in a cell without any tricks or schemes to get her out — she appears completely powerless for the first time. But, Qyburn, one of her few remaining loyalists, reminds her that he is “still working,” probably referring to the Mountain, whom remains in his lab as some sort of evil science experiment. With only two episodes left this season, will we see what kind of freakish monster Qyburn has perhaps turned the Mountain into? And will he help free Cercei?

In Braavos, Arya continues with her training as she begins to assume a new identity. Jaqen tells her that she will study “the gambler” and learn everything about him, before giving her a vile assumed to be poison. We are left to conclude that this will be a test to see if she is capable of committing her first assassination and joining the Faceless Men.

Arya's new identity

Arya’s new identity

In Winterfell, after an exchange between Sansa and Theon/Reek, Sansa learns that her brothers Bran and Rickon are in fact alive. She joins the Boltons and Samwell Tarly as the only people who are aware of this powerful information. Elsewhere in Winterfell, Roose and Ramsey discuss the impending battle with Stannis and Roose suggests that they stay behind the newly mended walls of Winterfell, while Stannis’ men freeze and starve in the winter cold. However, Ramsey says that they should take the fight to Stannis and that he only needs twenty good men — leaving us to wonder what kind of plan he’s got that would only need twenty men to defeat Stannis’ army.

With only two episodes left, things have accelerated exponentially and it will be interesting to see how much is wrapped up in the final two episodes. One major battle looks to be just around the corner between Stannis and the Boltons, while the greater battle between light and dark doesn’t appear to be too far behind. In King’s Landing, the Throne is more vulnerable than ever before, with major houses Lannister and Tyrell both weakened as their principal house members are locked up in cells. Across the world, Khaleesi might just have found the counsel that she’s been waiting five seasons for. Elsewhere in Easteros, Arya is taking steps closer towards joining the Faceless Men. Sansa has learned some major information that her brothers are still alive and let’s not forget Brienne is not far away, waiting to help her at just the right moment. Baelish is somewhere behind the scenes scheming and Varys is out there somewhere as well. Most importantly, it no longer appears that Winter is Coming — winter is now here. And with just two episodes until the 50 episode mark, buckle up because the home stretch of season five is sure to be a bloody, brutal and bumpy one.

Season 5, Episode 7: The Gift

Disclaimer: There are no spoilers in this article. I have only read the first three books and I have no knowledge of what transpires in the show moving forward. Any views or content expressed are solely personal theories, opinions and insights.

THE GIFT

The most recent Thrones episode, entitled The Gift, let viewers know that we’re coming into the stretch of season 5. That is, after this episode, there’s only 3 left — so buckle up, because things are really going to start picking up. The title of the episode, The Gift, has a couple of meanings. Most literally, The Gift is the name of the piece of land that was carved out for the Night’s Watch thousands of years ago by Brandon Stark aka Brandon the Builder. This land has much historical significance and plays a role in what is happening today between Jon Snow and his attempt to unite the Wildlings… But we’ll touch on that in just a moment… But that’s not the only thing The Gift refers to… This most recent episode seemed like Hanukah, Christmas and a decade’s worth of birthdays combined into one, because gifts were being given out all over the place. Some characters welcomed the gifts they received while others were unpleasantly surprised. But one thing is for sure — these gifts have quickly changed the landscape of where each character stands — and will play a large role in what is to come in the final three episodes of season five.

JON SNOW’S GIFT

In the Game of Thrones series, The Gift is the name of the piece of land that was carved out in the North thousands of years ago by Brandon Stark aka Brandon the Builder. Forget who that is? Brandon Stark lived thousands of years ago and was not only the founder of House Stark, but also credited with building the Wall as well as Winterfell (hence the the nickname Brandon the Builder). He’s arguably the most important Start character to have ever lived and one of the most significant characters in Thrones’ history. Anyway, after the Wall was constructed and the Night’s Watch was created to defend it, in exchange for their service, the Night’s Watch was given a very large piece of land south of the Wall, not far from Winterfell, as a gift for their service. This piece of land would go on to be known as “The Gift.” In the years that followed, this land was often raided by the Wildlings, since it was the first chunk of land they would hit south of the Wall. Because of this, the land known as The Gift played host to many battles between the Night’s Watch and the Wildlings.

A map of Westeros, showing the land known as The Gift, just south of the Wall

A map of Westeros, showing the land known as The Gift, just south of the Wall

Interestingly enough, thousands of years later, it is Jon Snow who is now trying to unite the Wildlings and Night’s Watch and offering up the gift of peace. The way he sees it, without this peace offer, the Wildlings will die north of the Wall. After all, the snow is falling harder than ever before, and we feel that winter is closer than ever. And just like the Wildlings need him and the Night’s Watch, he too needs them. Without them, he does not have enough men to achieve any of what he’ll need to, such as defending the Wall or reclaiming the North lands from Roose Bolton. As we continue to see, many of the brothers of the Night’s Watch, namely First Commander Ser Alliser Thorne, do not agree with Jon Snow’s vision of uniting with the Wildlings. With Jon Snow gone, what will the other brothers do? Will they obey his commands or rebel as we’ve seen before?

AEMON’S GIFT (OF DEATH)

In life, death is usually a sad occurrence. And in the Thrones world, it is almost always a heart-wrenching fatality. Heads getting chopped off, painful betrayals, the good guys dying while the bad guys live on — death is almost always a curse in this world. And this is what makes Maestar Aemon Targaryen’s death a beautiful gift. Having lived over 100 years, Aemon Targaryen was not only the last living Targaryen that we know of (outside of Khaleesi), but he was also a man that we know lived a life full of rich experiences, which he often spoke of. He was content with the live he lived and the services he was able to offer. And when it was his time to die, he died peacefully, with Gilly’s beautiful baby by his side, who offered him memories of his baby brother, Aegon Targaryen, who he lovingly referred to as “Egg.”

Aemon Targaryen

Aemon Targaryen

If we peel back another layer, we see even further why his death was such a beautiful gift. In a world where nearly everybody is jockeying for position and battling for power, Aemon was a rare specimen — a man who did not care for power. Not only did he not engage in “The Game (of Thrones),” but when he was actually next in line for the Throne, he passed on the opportunity to rule as king. Yes, that’s right. He actually was next to sit the Throne — he didn’t have to lie, kill or scheme to win the Throne — it was his by right. All he had to do was say the words. But in his heart, he knew he was destined for a life of service, and he passed on the sitting atop the Iron Throne. When we think about this, the kind of man he was, he himself was a gift to the rest of the world, especially the Night’s Watch that he served for nearly 80 years. Though not a main character, we must not overlook what an absolutely rare and wonderful man Aemon Targaryen was, and the rare gift that we witnessed in this last episode — a peaceful death that happened exactly when it was supposed to.

SANSA, RAMSEY & THEON

Elsewhere in the North, Sansa is dealing with a far less desirable gift — her new husband, Ramsey Bolton. We learn that her situation has somehow gotten even worse, and that Ramsey comes to pay her a visit every night, while keeping her locked up by day. We are starting to question Baelish’s advice to Sansa in which he counseled Sansa to get close to Ramsey so she could exact revenge — it’s starting to look like Ramsey might be too smart for her and might not allow her the opportunity to get her revenge. Sansa pleads with Reek to help her and to simply light the candle in the watchtower so that help will come. Sansa reminds Reek that he in fact still Theon Greyjoy, and for a moment, it seemed like Sansa might’ve successfully convinced him. But like any good lapdog, Reek crawls right back to his master and tells Ramsey what Sansa had been planning. Will Sansa ever be able to get message to Brienne? And even if she does, how will Brienne be able to successfully rescue Sansa from the heavily guarded castle of Winterfell? Either way, it seems likely that the relationship between Theon and Sansa is not dead, and that Theon will likely find himself having to make a crucial decision of who to side with when the moment arises.

Sansa and Ramsey

Sansa and Ramsey

STANNIS’ GIFT

Still in the North, we see that the harsh realities of the imminent winter are taking its tolls on Stannis’ army. Horses and men are dying, food rations are low and they are already fighting a battle against the elements before they even arrive to Winterfell. Davos offers Stannis the advice that they should turn back and march back on Winterfell when the weather passes; but Stannis is wiser than this and knows that winter is near and this will be a winter unlike any seen in many many years. They must attack now or risk never being able to ever again.

As Davos exits and Melisandre comes into focus, Stannis again questions her Red God, the Lord of Light. She reminds him that she saw the great battle in the snow that has yet to take place and, more importantly, that he is the one true king that must lead the living in battle against the dead — the battle that ultimately will decide the fate of all men. But the Red God requires a gift of his own and Melisandre suggests that they must sacrifice Stannis’ daughter, Shireen, as she too has king’s blood running through her veins. Coming on the heels of last episode where Stannis declared his love for his daughter and told the story of how he protected her when others wanted to discard her due to her Grayscale as a baby, Stannis will once again have to decide whether to protect his daughter. But this time, it will be a much more difficult decision, as he may have to decide between saving the life of one versus the lives of thousands.

THE GIFT OF TYRION

Finally, Jorah is reunited with Khaleesi. And better yet, he has a magical gift for her — the gift of Tyrion Lannister. But jeez, what a terrible job the show did at setting this whole thing up. After Khaleesi banished Jorah in heartbreaking fashion last season, there should have been a much more climatic reuniting of these two characters, who deep down care for each other very much. And add the fact that Jorah is now with Tyrion, and this should have been an epic scene between Khaleesi, Jorah and Tyrion. Instead, we got a half-baked setup with a relatively unexciting reveal. Khaleesi decides to visit a local slave fight — not even the grand fight that a queen would attend — but the uneventful fight that happens before that to decide who fill fight in the greater fighting pits. It made no sense that she was there in the first place. And of course, of all the fighting pits she decides to visit, it happens to be the very one that Jorah and Tyrion were brought to. And even worse, Jorah happens to be the one guy who is not originally entered in the fight, only for him to realize that Khaleesi is out there so he can come up and kill all the other guys before removing his helmet and anticlimactically reveal himself to Khaleesi. And with an equally unexciting reaction from her, she tells him to get out of her sight, just before he reveals his gift of Tyrion. I can’t help but think of 10 different ways they could’ve set up what should’ve been a powerful reuniting of Jorah and Khaleesi with Tyrion making it all the more exciting.

Khaleesi watching the fight

Khaleesi watching the fight

And with all that said, we’re now in for a very interesting dynamic between Khaleesi, Jorah and Tyrion. First and foremost, House Targaryen and Lannister aren’t exactly buddy-buddy. It was Tywin Lannister who was largely responsible for the execution of her entire family, which would ultimately force Khaleesi on the less-than-smooth journey that she is on today. So, she probably isn’t too thrilled to see Tyrion and there’s a very good chance she jumps the gun and sentences him to prison or death, before he inevitably talks his way out of it. But as we know, Tyrion is not your typical Lannister, which should setup a very interesting dynamic between he and Khaleesi. In many ways, they are characters that share many characteristics, namely wisdom and compassion. We are also left to wonder how Jorah will fit into this — will she forgive him? And how might his Greyscale play a factor? And will Varys somehow find his way back into this situation? After all, it was he that was escorting Tyrion to find Khaleesi to support her in her claim of the Iron Throne.

BRONN’S GIFT

In Dorne, Jaime comes face to face with Myrcella, who tells him that she does not want to be rescued and she is intent upon marrying Trystane, the Dornish prince. Jaime is at a loss for words and it’s unclear how things will shape up here.

Jaime & Myrcella

Jaime & Myrcella

In another cell, Bronn engages in a seductive conversation with one of the Sand Snakes, only to learn that her spear which cut him was laced with a deathly poison. Going back to last season, we recall that Oberyn’s spear was laced with a similar poison, which badly wounded The Mountain, who is currently still on Qyburn’s operating table as some dark science experiment — will we see the Mountain before this season comes to an end? I digress… Before it’s too late, the Sand Snake throws Bronn the antidote for his poison, which will presumably keep him alive — maybe a play to win Bronn over to their side?

BAELISH, THE GREAT GIFT GIVER

And finally, we end with the greatest gift giver of them all, Baelish. And once again, there are some major reveals that expose the continued scheming that Baelish has been up to behind the scenes. As Baelish meets with Olenna Tyrell in his now-vacant brothel, she reminds him that if House Tyrell goes under, she will have nothing to lose and will expose the part he played in the murder of King Joffrey. Baelish alludes to the fact that his allegiance is in fact with the Tyrells, and tells Lady Olenna that he has a gift for her. When she asks what the gift is, he tells her that it is the same gift that he gave to Cercei, “a handsome young boy.” You might have been scratching your head trying to figure out what handsome young boy he was referring to and when he gave this gift to Cercei. Furthermore, what handsome young boy is he now offering as a gift to Lady Olenna?

Well, as for his gift for Cercei, the handsome young boy he gave her was the blonde-haired young man who had been manning Baelish’s brothel for him while Baelish was away. As we know, this young man engaged in sexual intimacies with Loras Tyrell. And for some time, Loras had been accused of being gay, but there was never any proof against him. And this — proof — is the very gift that Baelish gave to Cercei. This boy testified against Loras and confirmed the crimes that Loras had committed in the eyes of the High Sparrow. In short, Baelish helped Cercei put away Loras (and Margaery after she lied about having witnessed their sexual encounter).

But at the very same time, Baelish’s gift giving was not done. He had another gift, another handsome young boy, which would now help Lady Olenna. And, as we see at the end of the episode, this gift was Lancel Lannister, the once longhaired Lannister boy who slept with his cousin, Cercei, as she used him as a spy. Baelish facilitated Lancel turning against Cercei and providing all the dirt to the High Sparrow about her sins. And in an unexpected turn of events, we see that even Cercei is not free from judgment of the gods, and she too will be judged for her sins. Though she thought she was the cleverest of them all and was using the High Sparrow as her pawn, in reality, she misjudged the entire situation. The High Sparrow, unlike most, is indeed incorruptible, and he had every intention of judging all those who have sinned.

Lancel Lannister, before and after joining the High Sparrow

Lancel Lannister, before and after joining the High Sparrow

And just like that, Cercei gets the gift she had coming for quite some time… And Baelish emerges once again as potentially the wisest character of them all. He was able to gain the trust of House Lannister, while weakening House Tyrell by getting Loras and Margaery thrown in a cell. He was then able to regain footing with House Tyrell, while getting Cercei herself thrown in a cell. He has weakened two of the most powerful houses, all while leaving little trace of him having any involvement whatsoever. And perhaps that is the greatest genius of his character — his methodical ability to operate in the shadows — to make significant moves while nobody is looking — and to always ensure that there is no trail leading back to him. What’s next for Baelish? Who knows…But he’s taken another step closer to achieving his self-proclaimed desire of “conquering everything.”

 

Season 5, Episode 6: Unbent, Unbowed, Unbroken

Disclaimer: There are no spoilers in this article. I have only read the first three books and I have no knowledge of what transpires in the show moving forward. Any views or content expressed are solely personal theories, opinions and insights.

A GAME OF FACES

Episode six opens at the House of Black and White as Arya continues to clean the bodies of the dead, wondering what is done with these corpses she’s been cleaning. Little does she know that she is soon about to face the answers to all her questions, quite literally. And as we continue to learn more about the Faceless Men, we realize that a face is much more than just a physical appearance, but a window into the truth of a character. As the girl Arya is with tells her that she is originally from Westeros but ended up at Braavos serving the Faceless Men after they killed her stepmother for her, she then goes on to ask Arya whether her story was true or not. In short, she’s asking Arya if she’s able to read her face and see the truth of her character — something Arya is unable to do. Jaqen H’ghar plays a similar game with Arya, as her asks her questions and is able to read the lies on her face every time she tells one. Most notably, he calls outs her lies when she says she hated the Hound, an explicit confirmation to all viewers of what we already assumed — that deep down she cared for the Hound and identified with his character.

Later, when a girl enters the House of Black and White in pain and dying, Arya takes a step closer towards becoming a Faceless Man, as she acts as a servant of death and lies to the girl in order to comfort her as she drinks from the fountain of death. It is at this point that Jaqen takes her down to the lower levels of the House of Black and White, where we see the thousands of faces which are used by the Faceless Man to assume new identities. And as the scene comes to an end, Jaqen tells Arya that she is not yet ready to become nobody, but is perhaps ready to become somebody else.

Artist depiction of Arya and the faces

Artist depiction of Arya and the faces

TYRION & JORAH

Elsewhere on Easteros, hostilities have defused between Tyrion and Jorah as they are becoming more buddy-buddy. And just like that, we are taken back to the very first season, when Tyrion visited the Wall and met Lord Commander Mormont. Tyrion tells Jorah that the brothers of the Night’s Watch spoke of Lord Commander Mormont very highly, saying he was a man “the likes of which we will never again see.” As viewers, we get a major perspective shift, as we see Tyrion realize that Jorah wasn’t aware that his father had died, though we have been aware for several seasons. Immediately, we see the pain and shock that comes over Jorah’s face.

What makes this moment especially sad, which viewers don’t realize from the show, is the backstory surrounding Jorah and his father. House Mormont was the most noble house of Bear Island, and Jeor Mormont was Lord of Bear Island. He was a proud and honorable man and left his home to serve the Night’s Watch, eventually becoming Lord Commander. He left Bear Island to his heir, Jorah, assuming he would carry on the Mormont tradition and lineage. Sadly, Jorah was exiled for slave trading (something he was forced into doing) and forced to flee his home of Bear Island. Jorah was separated from his father and would never get to carry on his father’s legacy. This is why Lord Commander Mormont gave his sword, Longclaw, to Jon Snow, and not his own son, Jorah, breaking the centuries-long tradition of passing that legendary sword from Mormont father to son. And as Lord Commander Mormont was killed by his own men, traitors of the Night’s Watch, Jorah would be thousands of miles away, separated from his father and unable to even say goodbye.

The pain on Jorah's face after learning of his father's death

The pain on Jorah’s face after learning of his father’s death

As Jorah and Tyrion continue on, they are captured by pirates who are taking them back to Mereen to compete in the fighting pits which Khaleesi just reopened. One thing’s for sure — it will be an interesting reuniting of Jorah and Khaleesi — each of whom is more desperate than ever. Khaleesi, is now without her two most loyal advisors, Jorah and Ser Barristan, and Grey Worm has been badly wounded. Similarly, Jorah, now without a father, is more alone and without purpose than ever before. Could it be that Jorah will be caught in a compromising situation in the fighting pits and Khaleesi will have to decide whether or not to save him?

BAELISH IS STILL SCHEMING…

After months away, manipulating things in the North, Baelish returns to King’s Landing to “play the game” with Cercei. He lies to Cercei, telling her that House Bolton has decided to marry Ramsey to Sansa, leaving out the fact that he was the one who in fact arranged the marriage. He tells Cercei to let Stannis fight the Boltons, and that he will swoop in with the knights of the Vale to crush the loser and claim the North for House Lannister. All Cercei has to do, in exchange, is name Baelish warden of the North. And once again, we are left scratching our heads and wondering what Baelish really wants here — just as we were starting to consider trusting him and thinking he might actually care for Sansa. And now, we wonder whether he is playing Sansa and still serving Cercei….Or playing Cercei and still looking out for Sansa…Or serving other motives altogether… And in a very precise choice of words, Baelish reminds Cercei that he “always serves the Throne,” rather than stating that he serves the Lannisters.

DESPERATE TIMES CALL FOR DESPERATE MEASURES

In another storyline occuring in King’s Landing, desperate times called for desperate measures. Cercei is more alone than ever before — no father, no brothers, even her uncle left her to return to Casterly Rock. And in her most vulnerable moment, she makes a bold play to weaken the position of House Tyrell. Using the High Sparrow as her tool, she has Loras and Margaery both indicted and they now stand to face trial. And let’s not forget, several episodes ago, she sent Mace Tyrell away to handle “financial dealings” with the Iron Bank of Braavos. This was a bold move indeed, one that could have serious repercussions from House Tyrell. And if Lady Olenna’s face gave us any clues, it looked like she was telling Cercei, “This isn’t over, and you better believe we will get our revenge for this.”

Lady Olenna stares down Cercei

Lady Olenna stares down Cercei

DORNE

At the Water Gardens of Dorne, we see the Dornish prince who tells Myrcella he plans to marry her. And just moments later, her father, Jaime, along with Bronn, is on the scene to rescue her…Only she doesn’t want to be rescued. And then all hell breaks loose, as the Sand Snakes, Oberyn’s bastard daughters, also make a move to capture Myrcella to avenge the murder of their beloved father. Both sides fail, as Prince Doran’s guards arrive on the scene and take everybody into custody.

Jaime & Bronn

Jaime & Bronn

GOOD GIRL GONE BAD

At Winterfell, before the weirwood trees of her Old Gods, Sansa is married to Ramsey Bolton and her situation has become more paradoxical than ever before. Finally, she is closer to home than ever before, yet she is perhaps in more danger than ever before. Even in her precarious situations before, there was always somebody looking after her. In King’s Landing, even when she had to endure the cruelty of Joff, the Hound was there to keep her safe. And after that, though we weren’t sure how much we could trust him, there was some level of comfort believing Baelish was looking after Sansa. But now they are both gone and she seems all alone…But let’s not forget, Brienne is not far and is watching over Sansa — if only Sansa had taken Brienne’s protection when she offered it several episodes ago.

Preparing for her wedding, Miranda washes Sansa’s hair and attempts to scare her. But, Sansa is no longer a scared child, and she won’t let Miranda frighten her — least of all in her own home of Winterfell. With nobody there to protect her and no longer able to avert the imminent danger that has been surrounding her for so long, Ramsey finally gets his hands on Sansa. As he forces Theon to watch, he rapes Sansa, officially marking the end of the Sansa we once knew. Even through all the terror and torture she has endured over the years, and even as she has evolved into a darker character that has begun to understand the evils of the world, she still had one thing that nobody had taken from her — her virginity — the one remaining symbol of her innocence, her youth, her purity. And just like that, it’s all gone, and Ramsey eliminates whatever innocence was left of Sansa. And as Theon is forced to look on, we see the theme of faces come full circle, as Theon is unable to hide the truth of his character — deep down, he is not Reek, he is still Theon, and we see the disgust and terror on his face as he is forced to watch the last drops of innocence taken from Sansa.

Theon looking on as Ramsey rapes Sansa

Theon looking on as Ramsey rapes Sansa

Season 5, Episode 5: Kill the Boy

Disclaimer: There are no spoilers in this article. I have only read the first three books and I have no knowledge of what transpires in the show moving forward. Any views or content expressed are solely personal theories, opinions and insights.

OLD VALYRIA!!!

The last 10 minutes of the most recent episode, Kill the Boy, immediately made it one of the most significant to date. The fact that we arrived at Old Valyria, completely unexpected, is a total game-changer and offers perspective into the world of a time long gone. And unlike some of the other more significant Thrones episodes to date, this one is so important not because of the implications it has on what is to come, but because of the ideas it offers about the past.

The ruins of Old Valyria

What we saw tonight were the remains of the greatest civilization to have ever existed; the home to a people long extinct; and the ancient relics of the most magical land that ever was. Today, they say no man can sail to the ruins of Valyria and make it back to tell the story. Many travel to these mysterious lands in search of valuable relics such as Dragonglass or Valyrian Steel, but no man that reaches Old Valyria makes it out alive. And as a result, there is mystery and magic surrounding the tales of what is left of Old Valyria. But tonight, we got first hand glimpse of this land — a lagoon of ruins entrenched in a foggy cloud of mysticism — and we are left to wonder what life thousands of years ago was like on Old Valyria.

Screen shot 2015-05-11 at 2.25.23 AM

So let’s rewind… 5,000 years ago, Valyria was no more than a small village on the continent of Easteros. The Valyrians were an ordinary people; a peaceful tribe of sheep-herders — nothing special or magical about them. But that quickly changed when the Valyrians first discovered the existence of dragons beneath the Fourteen Flames, an enormous chain of volcanoes located on Valyria. Along with the discovery of these dragons, it is told that the powers of magic began to appear on Valyria, and that the Valyrians used this magic to tame the dragons. Once tamed, the Valyrians attained an unrivaled power that the world had never before known. And, in the coming years, the Valyrians would use the power of their dragons to unite many of the smaller cities of Easteros, establishing the Valyrian Freehold.

Valyrians use magic to tame dragons

Valyrians use magic to tame dragons

The Valyrian Freehold was a collection of city-states under the control of the Valyrians. Some of these city-states were governed directly by the Valyrians, while others were granted autonomy to govern themselves independently, thus earning the name The Free Cities. Today, we often hear many of these cities still referred to as the Free Cities, such as Pentos, Braavos and Volantis, a term that dates back 5,000 years to the establishment of the Valyrian Freehold. Established as the capital of the Freehold, Valyria develops into the greatest civilization that ever existed. Magic flourishes, towers are built to the heavens, dragons fly the skies and great swords made of Valyrian steel are forged.

Over the next 5,000 years, Valyrians used the power of their dragons to conquer the majority of Easteros. They defeated the two greatest and most powerful civilizations that existed at the time — the Ghiscari Empire and Rhoyne — showing that even armies in the millions were no match for dragons. After defeating the two most powerful civilizations, the Valyrians would go on to unite several more cities of Easteros until their Freehold covered almost the entire continent of Easteros. The Valyrian culture would spread across Easteros, and to this day, High Valyrian is still spoken across all of Easteros as a result of their conquest of the continent and widespread influence.

More recently, approximately 500 years ago, the Valyrians set their eyes further west and claimed control of a small island just off the coast of Westeros. This marked the most western piece of land that is claimed by the Valyrian Freehold, and is only a few miles off the coast of Westeros. The island is controlled by one of the strongest Valyrian families, the Targaryens, who go on to build a castle with towers that look like dragons, earning it the name of Dragonstone.

Dragonstone, the castle where Stannis resided at in the first few seasons, was originally built by Targaryens

Dragonstone, the castle where Stannis resided at in the first few seasons, was originally built by Targaryens

Shortly thereafter, we arrive at the Doom of Valyria, perhaps the most legendary historical event in the entire Thrones world. Though the exact cause is unknown, the Doom of Valyria was a cataclysmic event that involved the eruption of the Fourteen Flames, the chain of Valyrian volcanoes where dragons were first discovered. Mountains exploded, volcanoes shot molten rock to the sky and the earth opened up to swallow entire land masses. In just one day, most of Old Valyria was destroyed and sank below the sea, as did most of the Valyrians and their dragons, bringing end to one of the greatest civilizations the world had ever known…just like that. What took nearly 5,000 years to build was wiped out in just one day, with only ruins left behind to tell of the once great civilization that existed. But there was one Valyrian family that would survive The Doom.

The Doom of Valyria

The Doom of Valyria

While all other noble Valyrian families perished in The Doom, House Targaryen survived, making them the only living family that could trace their bloodline back to that of Old Valyria and the Valyrian Freehold. 12 years prior to The Doom, Aenar Targaryen had a daughter, otherwise known as Daenys the Dreamer, who had a prophetic dream in which Valryia was destroyed. Moved by his daughter’s dream, Aenar left Valyria and relocated his family to Dragonstone, becoming henceforth known as Aenar the Exile. 12 years later, Daenys’ vision would come true, and as the Doom wiped out all of Valyria, her Targaryen family would be the only major family to survive Old Valyria. And their five dragons would be only dragons left in all of the world. Over the next 100 years, the Targaryens would live at Dragonstone and engaged in incest to grow their bloodline. But with Old Valyria gone, magic began to disappear, and their dragons began to die. All died but one — Balerion the Dread — a dragon that would grow to be the fiercest dragon ever known. And 300 years ago, Aegon the Conqueror, perhaps the most important man to have ever lived, would decide it was time to leave Dragonstone, and set his eyes on Westeros. Like the Valyrians did thousands of years prior with the Valyrian Freehold, Aegon Targaryen would ride on the back of his dragon Balerion during Aegon’s Conquest, and unite the independent kingdoms of Westeros, establishing one united realm henceforth known as the Seven Kingdoms.

Drogon flies over the Valyrian ruins

Drogon flies over the Valyrian ruins

And now, 300 years after Aegon’s Conquest, all that is left to know of Old Valyria are its surviving ruins — a glimpse into an ancient past  — a mystical land where dragons were discovered, magic was practiced and Valyrian steel was forged. And as Jorah and Tyrion approach the foggy ruins, the eerie magic that still surrounds the land is unmistakable — a clear feeling of “we’re not supposed to be here.” And just like that, Drogon flies over the sky, and not only do we see where Drogon has been hanging out all this time, but we see a dragon fly over Valyria — a throwback to several thousand years ago when dragons roamed the sky of Old Valyria, the place where they were first discovered.

tyrion

And finally, we learn why many of those who travel to Old Valyria might not make it out alive, as the Stone Men attack Jorah and Tyrion. As Stannis spoke about in the previous episode to his daughter Shereen, the Stone Men are a people afflicted with Grey Scale, and sent to the doomed lands of Old Valyria to live out their days in isolation. Stannis tells Shereen that when she was a baby, he was told to send her to Old Valyria to live with the Stone Men, though he refused and found the best care to mitigate the effects of her disease. While she was lucky, we see that the Stone Men of Old Valyria are not, as they add to the dark magic of Old Valyria. And though Jorah successfully fights them off, he has been infected by the disease himself. It is unclear whether we will ever see Old Valyria again, but we should consider ourselves lucky to have gotten glimpse of the place where it all began — a place that would give shape to all the world we know today.

The Stone Men

The Stone Men

EVERYTHING ELSE

In the North, the plot continues to thicken, and though we haven’t seen the White Walkers in quite some time, it feels as though winter is closer than ever. And as winter is coming, desperate times call for desperate measures. Stannis tells Davos that winter could come any day now, and without further notice, he leads his army towards Winterfell to take back the North from House Bolton. But Roose Bolton is anticipating his arrival, as he tells his son Ramsey that Stannis will arrive at Winterfell any day now, and implores his son to help him defend the castle. We are left to wonder how Roose Bolton will fend off the much larger army of Stannis and defend the North. Stannis also commands Samwell to continue reading his books to try and find a way to defeat the White Walkers.

Elsewhere, Jon Snow pops onto the scene just as Maestar Aemon is telling Samwell Tarly that Khaleesi is the last Targaryen with no family, stranded halfway across the world– another possible supporting piece of evidence of the theory mentioned in last week’s recap, positing that Jon Snow might in fact be a Targaryen, son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyana Stark. As the new Lord Commander sits with Maestar Aemon, who is dying, the wise Maestar tells him that it is time to kill the boy, and become the man who must make difficult decisions. He takes these words to heart as he devises a plan to make peace with the Wildlings. He convinces Tormund Giantsbayne that peace is best for all, and that with the White Walkers looming, they must all fight together if they want to live. But Tormund insists that the new Lord Commander come with him to convince the Wildlings himself. And so we see the difficult decision that Jon Snow must make, one for which he must kill the boy inside of him to transform into the powerful Lord Commander that he must become.

At Winterfell, Sansa is reunited with the almost-brother who she knew has Theon, who has now become the decrepit Reek. Over dinner, Ramsey makes Reek apologize to Sansa for killing her brothers, something Ramsey and Theon both know he did not actually do, concealing the fact that Bran and Rickon are in fact still alive. As Theon was forced to pretend he committed the murders of Sansa’s brothers, it appeared as though he was particularly averse to this command from Ramsey, and could potentially turn on him to help Sansa. Another potential threat to Ramsey is Miranda, the kennel master’s daughter who expressed her jealousy of Sansa. We also saw the message delivered from Brienne to Sansa, telling her to light a candle in the highest window should she ever need help. Sansa still has people looking out for her…The North Remembers…

And finally, in the never-ending saga that is Khaleesi in Mereen, as a result of the death of Ser Barristan, we see her first threaten punishment of the masters by having her dragons kill one of them, only to later acknowledge the error of her ways. She tells Hizdahr zo Loraq, that she will not only heed his advice and reinstate the fighting pits, but that she will also marry him…What?? When did that become an option? Oh, and let’s not forget the kiss between Grey Worm and Missandei, which is such an irrelevant waste of time that we won’t expand on it further. It’s unclear what Khaleesi’s plan is, whether she will actually marry him, or what the hell is going on in Mereen, but we are again left scratching our head and wondering when the hell she is going to get her eye back on the prize — the Iron Throne of Westeros!

Season 5, Episode 4: Sons of the Harpy

Disclaimer: There are no spoilers in this article. I have only read the first three books and I have no knowledge of what transpires in the show moving forward. Any views or content expressed are solely personal theories, opinions and insights.

WHO IS JON SNOW?

One of the most intriguing storylines in the GoT series is that of Jon Snow. On the surface, we go through each episode believing what we are told — that he is the bastard of Ned Stark. But, deep down, we know that Jon Snow is not just another bastard and that he’s something much more. Throughout the first five seasons, there have been many breadcrumbs left for viewers to pick up on which would support the theory that he is in fact, not a bastard. And in episode four, Sons of the Harpy, we got some major additional information which not only points to the possibility that he’s not a bastard, but also offers up a theory of who his actual parents could. But, before we go into any theories as to who Jon Snow is, let’s first analyze what we knew going into this episode which supports the idea of who he is not…a bastard.

1. Deep down, Jon Snow being a bastard never felt right. There’s nothing ordinary about him. He’s special. There’s a greatness about him. So the idea of him being just another bastard and his mother being just another tavern whore doesn’t quite add up.

2. We believed Jon Snow to be the bastard son of Ned Stark because it’s what we were told from the very moment this show began. But if you stop for a second to actually think about it, it makes no sense for Ned Stark to have a bastard son. It’s completely antithetical to everything that Ned’s character is about. Ned Stark was the most honorable man in all of Westeros. He died for his honor — something the show reminds us of quite often. So does it really make any sense that this very same Ned Stark would dishonor his wife, break his vows and birth a bastard son after fucking a whore?

3. In season one, when Ned Stark is leaving Winterfell to head for King’s Landing to serve as the Hand to Robert, Jon Snow asks Ned one more time about his mother. Ned responds that the next time they see each other, he’s going to tell Jon Snow all about his mother. Well, that never happens because Ned gets his head chopped off. But, the point is, Ned clearly implied that there was a story to tell about Jon Snow’s mother. This is not a show where dialogue is added for the sake of conversation, and when something like that is alluded to, it generally has a very real significance.

Ned tells Jon he will tell him all about his mother next time they meet

Ned tells Jon he will tell him all about his mother next time they meet

Now that we’ve considered the evidence to support the idea that Jon Snow might not be a bastard, let’s look at the major points that were offered in this last episode to guide us on the journey of figuring out who Jon Snow might actually be.

1. At the Wall, Stannis is conversing with his wife as they watch Jon Snow training some of the brothers of the Night’s Watch. After Stannis acknowledges that he sees something great in Jon Snow, his wife responds that he is just a bastard birthed by a tavern slut. Stannis responds, “Perhaps, but that wasn’t Ned’s way,” again reminding us that it really doesn’t make sense for the honorable Ned Stark to have cheated on his wife and that Jon Snow might not be a bastard.

2. Melisandre makes her move on Jon Snow and tells him, “There’s power in you, but you resist it.” We are again reminded that there is nothing bastard-like about Jon Snow and that he appears to be something greater. Even more powerful, as Melisandre walks out, she tells him “You know nothing, Jon Snow.” Of course, this is something Ygritte used to always tell him, but when the prophetic Melisandre says it to him, it appears to take on a totally new meaning. She says it in a way that implies that there is a great knowledge that he knows nothing of, perhaps the knowledge of who he actually is and the power that is inside of him.

Melisandre telling Jon Snow that he has great power inside of him

Melisandre telling Jon Snow that he has great power inside of him

3. The plot really thickens when Sansa and Baelish are in the crypts below Winterfell and Baelish offers up what a very significant piece of history from the timeline before the show started. He tells Sansa about the tourney which took places about 20 years ago, when Rhaegar Targaryen, son of the Mad King and oldest brother of Khaleesi, dueled against Ser Baristan Selmy. After Rhaegar won the duel, he presented Lyana Stark with a bed of roses, choosing Lyana over his own wife, Elia Martell. It is unclear what happened after he declared his affection for Lyana, but Rhaegar and Lyana dissapeared — some say he kidnapped her while others believe she chose to go with him. Robert Baratheon, who loved Lyana and was supposed to marry her, believed that Rhaegar kidnapped her, and used this as justification for Robert’s Rebellion, a war started by he and Ned Stark to get back Lyana…a war that would put an end to the Mad King and the 300 year Targaryen dynasty and land Robert on the Iron Throne. Sure, there were other reasons for Robert’s Rebellion, such as the fact that the Mad King had completely lost his mind and was burning people for fun, or the fact that the Mad King killed Ned Stark’s brother and father. But, ultimately, it was Lyana Stark’s disappearance with Rhaegar Targaryen that would be the catalyst for Robert Rebellion’s. So, we know that when Baelish shares this story with Sansa, it’s extremely significant.

During the war of Robert’s Rebellion, tens of thousands of people died, some fighting to defend the Mad King and the Targaryen Dynasty, while others fought for the banners of the Stark/Baratheon/Arryn rebels. 20+ years later, Baelish references all these lives that were lost as he asks Sansa “How many thousands had to die because Rhaegar chose Lyana?” In response, Sansa states “He chose her. And then he kidnapped her and raped her.” Baelish responds with a quiet grin, as if to say “That’s not quite what happened,” and that there is more to the story than Sansa knows. Again, this is not a show where dialogue is in there for the sake of conversation, especially when it’s dialogue that is referencing historical events that took place before the show started. If Baelish is talking to Sansa about Lyana Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen, there’s a reason. And the quiet smile he offered in response to Sansa’s belief that Rhaegar kidnapped her and raped her implies that there’s more to the story.

All that, coupled with the focus on Jon Snow’s character in this episode, added with all the clues offered in the first few seasons, and a theory starts to take shape… Jon might not be a bastard… He might not even be the son of Ned Stark… But maybe, just maybe, he’s the son of Lyana Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen, which would make Khaleesi his aunt. Or it’s even possible that Lyana was raped by the Mad King himself, making Jon Snow Khaleesi’s brother! And when we then think about some other things we’ve learned throughout the show, there’s quite a bit we’ve seen to support this theory:

Baelish smirks as if to imply he knows more about Lyana and Rhaegar

Baelish smirks as if to imply he knows more about Lyana and Rhaegar

1. We know that Rhaegar and Lyana ran off together. Whether they had consensual sex or she was raped, it’s entirely possible, if not probable, that a baby came from this.

2. Ned and Robert were on the warpath during Robert’s Rebellion, headed for King’s Landing to overthrow the Mad King and the entire Targaryen family, with Rhaeger being primary target #2 right after the Mad King. Along the way, it’s entirely possible that Ned discovered that Lyana had a baby with Rhaegar. And we know that if Robert discovered this, he would’ve likely had the baby killed, as it would’ve been the son of Rhaegar, and thus a Targaryen baby. We also know that the two babies Rhaegar had with his actual wife, Elia Martell, were killed at the end of Robert’s Rebellion (by the Mountain, which is why Prince Oberyn wanted revenge against the Mountain for the death of his sister, Elia, and her babies). So, in an effort to protect this baby, the baby of his own sister, Ned could’ve claimed the baby as his own. Of course, to have done this, he would’ve had to lie and pretend that he had sex with a whore and that the boy was a bastard.

2. In season one, when Ned and Robert were headed back to King’s Landing after Robert recruited him as Hand to the King, Robert mentioned that he heard whispers about a Targaryen girl who has three dragons and could be a threat to the Iron Throne. Robert suggests that they should eliminate this threat and have the girl killed. Immediately, Ned tells Robert that he cannot be serious and cannot consider murdering an innocent girl. But why would Ned object to eliminating a Targaryen threat? Well, If Jon Snow was in fact the son of Lyana and Rhaegar, that would mean he is technically a Targaryen himself, and Khaleesi would be his aunt (the sister of his father, Rhaegar). So naturally, Ned would object to the idea of murdering her.

3. Earlier this season, Jon Snow was elected as the new Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. And who cast the final vote to break the tie and give Jon Snow the final vote he needed to win? Maestar Aemon Targaryen. Furthermore, Maestar Aemon mentioned in an earlier season that he and Rhaegar were quite close and corresponded through letters often. It’s possible that Maestar Aemon is actually aware of who Jon Snow really is. Which is all the more interesting, because two episodes back, Samwell mentioned to Jon that Maestar Aemon is sick — which again, we know would not be mentioned without cause. So it’s possible that Maestar Aemon is dying and might die with the knowledge of who Jon Snow really is — or maybe he’ll tell Jon Snow before he dies.

For now, this is just a theory. But when examining everything we know, it seems unlikely that Jon Snow is a bastard. And even more unlikely that the honorable Ned Stark would be the one to have a bastard son. And in this most recent episode, we got three more tidbits to build the case for Jon Snow not being a bastard, and one major piece to suggest who is actual parents could be. Stannis reaffirms that sleeping with whores was not Ned’s way. Melisandre tells Jon Snow that he knows nothing, in a way that implied there is something great about him that he is totally unaware of, such as who he might be. And finally, we learn all about Rhaegar and Lyana, a story that would not have been offered if there was nothing something meaningful to come from it. We will see what direction this heads in, but hopefully sooner than later we will find out what Ned was referring to, if anything, when he told Jon Snow that he would tell him all about his mother the next time he saw him.

RECAP OF EVERYTHING ELSE

Jaime and Bronn arrive to Dorne on their mission to rescue Jaime’s “niece,” Myrcella. Bronn questions why Jaime is there himself, versus sending a more capable, two-handed person on the mission, and Jaime insists that he must be the one to do this. The question is, who is he doing this for? Does he truly feel a need to be a father rescuing his daughter? Or is this all about getting the job done for Cercei? And speaking of Cercei, as Bronn and Jaime enjoy a Dornish viper for breakfast, Bronn asks Jaime how he’d want to die, to which Jaime responds “In the arms of the woman I love.” Bronn asks him if that woman wants the same, and we see Jaime look off into the distance, providing no answer to Bronn’s question. Which begs another question — what is the future of Jaime and Cercei and in what direction is their relationship headed? And after Bronn whoops some Dornish ass and he and Jaime take down the four Dornish riders, we see that Ellaria has rounded up the Sand Snakes, Oberyn’s bastard daughters, all of whom will support Ellaria’s campaign to go to war to avenge the death of Oberyn. Furthermore, they have been made aware that Jaime is already in Dorne to rescue Myrcella, and realize that they must not let Jaime get to Myrcella before they do, or else they will lose their only piece of leverage.

Ellaria and the Sand Snakes

Ellaria and the Sand Snakes

In King’s Landing, Cercei is quickly shaking things up and we see now, more than ever, that she will not go down quietly. She will not be written off and continue to show her wit and strength, a cunning determination that is rivaled by few other characters in this show. She sends Mace Tyrell off to Braavos to meet with the Iron Bank, accompanied by none other than Sir Meryn Trant, Cercei’s sworn guard who will do as she commands. Perhaps she is getting him far away, or perhaps this is a play to kill him. Additionally, we see her reinstate the Faith Militant, a fanatical army of men who will serve the “justice of the gods.” But really, they appear to be serving Cercei, as she uses them to imprison Ser Loras Tyrell, further improving her position over House Tyrell. And when Margaery finds out and demands her King husband free Ser Loras, we see a weak boy who is unable to exercise his power to do what is needed in order to free him.

Cercei smirking after sending off Mace Tyrell

Cercei smirking after sending off Mace Tyrell

In Mereen, we see even more trouble for Khaleesi, who hasn’t mentioned trying to reclaim the Iron Throne of Westeros in what seems like ages. As the Sons of the Harpy kill in the streets, they draw the Unsullied into a trap where they are vastly outnumbered. After killing most of the Unsullied, we see Grey Worm fight valliantly to kill off many of the Sons of the Harpy. However, he can’t fight them all off and is about to be killed, when Ser Barristan comes onto the scene and we see why is revered as one of the greatest knights in all of the Seven Kingdoms. He too kills many, but not before he is outnumbered, and appears to be killed himself. We witness what looks to be the death of one of the few truly great men of Westeros. It is unclear whether he is definitely dead, or if Grey Worm is dead as well, but one thing is for sure: Khaleesi is going to need some new support by her side, and what perfect timing for Jorah, who is on his way back to Khaleesi, with the gift of Tyrion Lannister.

Ser Barristan laying dead next to Grey Worm

Ser Barristan laying dead next to Grey Worm

At the Wall, we also see a powerful scene between Stannis and his daughter Shereen, in which he shows rare emotion and tells her the story of how he fought to keep her alive when nobody else would. We see her eyes filled with tears as she gives her dad a big hug, and he slowly hugs her back, an affection we’ve not seen to date from Stannis. Furthermore, we also learn that Baelish must go back to King’s Landing to meet with Cercei. Sansa tells him that he cannot leave her alone, appearing to have completely put all her trust in him and having abandoned any doubts she once had about his true motives. He continues to off her guidance and gives her a kiss on the lips before departing, again leaving us to wonder what is going to happen between the two and what does Baelish ultimately want?

Season 5, Episode 3: The High Sparrow

Disclaimer: There are no spoilers in this article. Any views or opinions expressed are based solely on where the Game of Thrones TV series currently is and no other knowledge or information is presented in this article.

THE GAME CONTINUES…AND NEW IDENTITIES ARE FORGED

In the third episode, entitled The High Sparrow, we see that “the game” continues to be played and all the players that continue to make their moves. Whereas the first two episodes of this season appeared to be “setup” episodes, in this episode, we see many new plot progressions and are offered insight into the direction that things seem to be headed. Some characters take on new roles as others plot revenge; once-powerful characters now appear all but powerless while some of the weaker characters have gained strength. Some characters finally return home, while others appear further away than ever before.  But more apparent than anything, is the fact that many characters are emerging with newfound identities.

volantis

And now, there appear to be more games being played than ever before — and the “game of thrones,” that is the battle for the Iron Throne, appears to be one of the least important games being played at the moment. Unlikely allegiances appear imminent and new plots are starting to take shape. Characters are more mixed up than ever, and most importantly, in this chaotic world that seems less structured than ever before, everything seems to be up for grabs.

A GIRL MUST BE NOBODY

As the episode begins, we get first glimpse inside the House of Black and White, the temple of the Many-Faced God. Whereas most temples we are used to seeing are light, beautiful and full of life, this temple is dark and a place to serve death. As Jaqen H’ghar offers a man a drink from the temple’s pool, he kneels peacefully before dying a few moments later. And as his body and others are removed and washed, we are left to wonder what is done with these bodies?

Jaqen, offering a peaceful death from the fountain

Jaqen, offering a peaceful death from the fountain

Arya, tired of sweeping the floors, tells Jaqen that she is ready to become a Faceless Man, to which he responds “Valar Dohaeris,” meaning “all men must serve.” She tells him that she is ready to serve, but he reminds her that she is only ready to serve herself. “There is only one god,” he tells her, “and all men know his gift,” referring to the gift of death. Later, Arya again tells Jaqen that she is ready to become nobody, to which he asks her how nobody came to be surrounded by all of Arya Stark’s possessions. A girl cannot become nobody until she strips herself of her full identity, including all her belongings.

As Arya tosses her clothes and silver in the water, eyes full of tears, she holds Needle in her hand. Through the murder and death of so many of her family members, not once did we see Arya cry or show any emotion at all. Yet, as she is faced with the task of saying goodbye to the sword given to her by Jon Snow, tears come to her eyes, as she is ultimately unable to let go. And while there is surely some sentimental value associated with her sword as it was given to her by her older brother, at her home of Winterfell, at a time when her entire family was still alive, this is ultimately not what brings tears to her eyes. Rather, it was the idea of having to part with the symbolic identity of the one thing that she has been able to hold onto: revenge. In many ways, Arya has already stripped herself of much of her identity — she has lost so much of herself already — but the one thing she has always had was revenge. And Needle was the tool  of her revenge — the one tangible thing in her life to give her hope. And now, as she is forced to let go of Needle, a symbol of her letting go of her need for revenge — she is unable to do so, a sign that she ultimately is not yet ready to fully let go of her identity as Arya Stark.

Arya, unable to let go of Needle

Arya, unable to let go of Needle

THE TABLES HAVE TURNED

In King’s Landing, Tommen is wed to Margaery, and unlike her last marriage, she is sure to consecrate this one. As they lay in bed together, Tommen innocently asks Margaery several times if he hurt her, a subtle demonstration of the difference between he and his older brother who only wanted to hurt people. Behind closed doors, we see the manipulative ways of Margaery as she uses her beauty, sex and age to wrap Tommen around her finger. She tells Tommen that she wants to know everything about him, and reminds him that Cercei will always be a lioness and Tommen her cub — an attempt to have Tommen put distance between he and his mother. And we see the affect of Margaery’s words, as the very next scene shows Tommen asking Cercei if she wants to return to Casterly Rock, where he thinks she would be happier.

Cercei, having lost much of her power, looking on at Margaery

Cercei, having lost much of her power, looking on at Margaery

While she may be losing her power, she is not losing her wit, and Cercei is well aware of Margaery’s influence over Tommen. And as she approaches Margaery, we see that the tables have turned big time. For so long, Margaery was forced to suffer and endure the cruelty of Cercei. But now, with Tywin and Joffrey dead, and Margaery officially the queen, Cercei has lost much of her power to Margaery. In short, Margaery has forged a new identity as Queen of the Seven Kingdoms, while Cercei has a new identity as well — that queen that used to be. And Margaery is keen to remind Cercei of this fact, as she asks Cercei if she should refer to her as Queen Mother or dowager queen, both references to her queenship only being of title, but not actual power. She also adds that it will not be long before Cercei is a grandmother, not only referring to the fact that she and Tommen will further consecrate their marriage by having children, but also a sarcastic reminder to Cercei that she is getting older. No longer able to make her usual threat or command, Cercei storms out, with a look on her face that tells us that she will not sit by idly or go down quietly.

HOME SWEET HOME

Further north, we see Winterfell for the first time since Theon burned it to the ground. More importantly, we see that Winterfell is being resurrected as the new seat of House Bolton, powerfully underscored by the flayed bodies we see hanging. But as Ramsey sits with his father, Roose tells his son that with Tywin dead, they no longer have the backing of the Lannisters, and that they must gain control over the smaller houses of the North, or risk being overrun by these houses. And as Winterfell is repaired, we see Theon roaming around, appearing completely lost, and we are left to wonder what role he will play, if any, in the coming days.

Baelish and Sansa

Baelish and Sansa

As Baelish and Sansa near Winterfell, Baelish tells Sansa that the marriage which had been accepted was the one he arranged between her and Ramsey Bolton. She refuses to marry him, telling him that she would die before marrying into the family that betrayed her family and killed her brother, Robb. Baelish reminds Sansa that she is the eldest surviving Stark and her home will always be Winterfell. He tells Sansa that he will not force her, and as he pulls her in close, almost like a father, he tells her, “You’ve been running all your life. You sit alone in a dark room mourning the fates of your family. You’ve been a bystander to tragedy. Stop being a bystander, stop running. There is no justice in the world…not unless we make it. You loved your family, avenge them.”

Sansa seems to have received the message, but the real question we are all left wondering, is does Baelish actually care about Sansa? When he pulls her close and kisses her head, is he truly trying to comfort her? Or is she merely a pawn in his game of chess? Is she just a means to his end? It’s still unclear whether we can trust this man or what his actual intentions are. And as they arrive to Winterfell, Sansa is forced to step back into the home that she has been away from for years now…a home that she no longer recognizes…a home that is now occupied by the man who put his dagger through the heart of Robb Stark. And she is forced to play her part, pretending that she is amenable to the marriage that has been arranged. Although forced by her external environment, Sansa too is forging a new identity, as soon-to-be wife of Ramsey Bolton. But even more so, she is assuming the identity as somebody who is learning to “play the game,” as she takes Baelish’s advice and looks to get close to House Bolton before exacting her revenge.

Baelish & Roose Bolton

Baelish & Roose Bolton

Perhaps most significant is the conversation that transpires between two men that have both been scheming and plotting in their own rights, Roose Bolton, who has a new identity as Lord of the North and Petyr Baelish, also with a new identity as Lord of the Vale. Roose asks Littlefinger if he is prepared for the consequences when the Lannisters find out that he was responsible for helping Sansa escape from King’s Landing and that he is now marrying her to Ramsey Bolton. But, Littlefinger appears unworried, reminding Roose that House Lannister is not what it once was, with Tywin dead, Jaime having but one hand and Cercei no longer the true queen. But, Roose intercepts a message sent by Cercei to Littlefinger, which makes him further question Littlefinger’s motives. When Bolton asks Littlefinger why he would gamble with his position, Littlefinger tells Bolton that every ambitious move is a gamble, even Bolton’s betrayal of House Stark was a gamble, a gamble which clearly paid off. But Roose reminds Littlefinger that with Tywin dead, House Bolton remains vulnerable with little backing. Baelish tells him that because of his marriage to Lysa before her death, he is now Lord of the Vale, while Bolton is now Lord of the North. Littlefinger powerfully notes that the last time the Lords of the Vale and the Lords of the North came together, they brought down the most powerful dynasty the world had ever known, referring to when Jon Arryn of the Vale and Ned Stark of the North joined forces (along with House Baratheon) to overthrow the Mad King during Robert’s Rebellion. It’s unclear what will come next and with Stannis looking to overtake the North, things appear shaky at Winterfell for House Bolton.

Smaller, but also worth noting, is that twice in this episode we saw Ramsey’s girl, as she looked on while Ramsey was introduced due his future wife, Sansa. Last season, this girl killed Ramsey’s other girl, the blonde, when she became jealous of her. Rarely does this show put these kinds of characters on camera without foreshadowing something to come.

Ramsey's old girl looking on at Ramsey and Sansa

Ramsey’s old girl looking on at Ramsey and Sansa

BRIENNE THE AVENGER

Not too far away from Wintefell, Brienne and Pod are keeping a close eye on Sansa. More importantly, Brienne offered a powerful revelation in this episode and a rare show of emotion. Since we first met her, we knew Brienne loved Renley, but we never knew exactly why. And years later, through a conversation with the unlikeliest of people, we are offered a glimpse into Brienne’s past and why she loved Renley so much. She tells Pod a story about her father who set up a ball to arrange a suitor for her daughter. And as the boys fought over her, she felt special and beautiful, until learning that it was all a joke that the boys were in on. As she felt more foolish and ugly than ever before, she ran off, only to be stopped by the kind-hearted Renley, who reminded her that these shits were not worth her tears. He was the one person who comforted her, who truly cared for her. And for that, she would always love him. She tells Pod that she will avenge his death, mentioning the shadow with Stannis’ face who killed him, alluding to the fact that she seeks to kill Stannis. And we now question the true identity of Brienne — is it defined by her honor and duty to the words she swore to Catelyn Stark to protect her daughters, or is it the dark desire to avenge the death of her one true love, Renley Baratheon?

Brienne telling Pod of her love for Renley

Brienne telling Pod of her love for Renley

LORD COMMANDER SNOW

Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, Jon Snow is again offered the opportunity by Stannis to become Jon Stark and rule over the North. But again, he refuses the offer and we see the unwavering strength of Jon Snow who is completely dedicated to honor and duty, the words he swore and vows he must uphold. Stannis reminds Jon that it was this very same stubborn honor that got Ned killed. Interestingly, Jon Snow is actually torn between three different identities: Jon Snow the bastard, Jon Snow the new Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, and Jon Stark, the Lord of Winterfell.

Before departing the room, Stannis mentions that Jon should talk to the Wildling prisoners one more time, and that perhaps Tormund Giantsbayne will be more reasonable than was Mance Rayder. After he leaves the room, Ser Davos sticks behind and tells Jon that Stannis sees something in him. He also offers that part of the Night’s Watch vow is to be “the shield that protects the realms of men,” pointing to the fact joining Stannis and protecting the North is in fact part of his duty.

The man who passes the sentence must swing the sword

The man who passes the sentence must swing the sword

In the dining hall, Jon Snow makes his identity clear as he gives his first commands as Lord Commander, but not before Samwell tells him that Maestar Aemon is not feeling well. Jon first appoints Ser Alliser Thorne the coveted position of First Ranger, perhaps because Ser Alliser was deserved of the position, or perhaps because Jon wanted to keep a potential enemy close. Either way, it was a honorable move — when Ser Alliser was Lord Commander, he did nothing but use his power to make life difficult for Jon; but Jon Snow as new Lord Commander shows that he is a better man. And as he appoints Janos Slynt with a more remedial task, Janos refuses, thinking that his once powerful position as Commander of the Kingsguard excuses him from such commands. Jon Snow must gain the respect of all the brothers and demonstrate his power, so he sentences Janos to death.

More importantly, he sets to carry out the execution himself, an allusion back to the very first episode of this series when Ned Stark beheads a deserter of the Night’s Watch and reminds his son that the man who passes the sentence must swing the sword. But as Janos confesses that he has always been a weak and scared man and begs for mercy, it looks as though Jon is going to grant his mercy and not go through with the execution. We’ve seen time and time again, Jon unable to carry out the executions that he must — once when he had to execute the Wilding Ygritte, and another time when he had to kill the horsebreeder for the Night’s Watch. But with all the brothers of the Night’s Watch looking on, Jon strikes true and carries out the execution — a powerful statement pointing to the identity transformation of Jon Snow’s character.

THE HIGH SPARROW

Back at King’s Landing, several of the sparrows, led by Lancel Lannister, take the High Septon from the brothel and beat him in the streets. When he demands Cercei to serve justice, she prefers to throw him in jail and go to visit the High Sparrow. Impressed with the man she finds, she tells him that faith and the crown are the two pillars that uphold the realm, and without one, everything crumbles. One cannot co-exist without the other and they must do everything in their power to help one another. Being that she appears to be losing powers over one of these pillars, the crown, perhaps she seeks to gain power over the other, religion. Though her exact intentions are unclear, Cercei is cultivating a new relationship that she will undoubtedly seek to use to her advantage.

Cercei & the High Sparrow

Cercei & the High Sparrow

As she returns to the Red Keep, she gives Maestar Qyburn a message to send to Littlefinger, adding “make sure he is very clear on the word immediately.” This is the message that Roose Bolton will later intercept, though its contents are unclear. Most interesting is the “thing” that is being restrained under the sheet on Qyburn’s medical table. Of course, we are left to assume that this is the Mountain, Qyburn’s latest science experiment who will be brought back to life as an even greater monster than he already was.

VOLANTIS

And finally, Tyrion and Varys arrive at Volantis, and not a moment too soon as Tyrion was beginning to lose his mind, having been cooped up in one box after the next. As they venture through the market of Volantis, we are exposed to the newest of the Free Cities of Easteros, and we see many of the cultural differences of this city, namely the caste system where everybody has a clearly marked social status in society. They stumble upon another Red Priestess who speaks of the Mother of Dragons who has been sent by the Red God as a savior. As Tyrion watches her, she slowly glances up at him, before staring for several moments, with a look in her eye that almost gave the appearance that he is the savior she had been speaking of, not Khaleesi.

The Red Priestess staring at Tyrion

The Red Priestess staring at Tyrion

As they enter Tyrion’s most familiar home, a brothel, Tyrion engages in a conversation with one of the whores. But, when it is time to move forward, he is unable to. As she stands over him, a girl of Easteros, holding his hand, perhaps he is reminded of Shae, who was also a whore from Easteros. And as he becomes choked up, he cannot move forward. Also interesting to note was one of the whores who was dressed like Khaleesi, which demonstrates her widespread influence across Easteros. Varys adds, “Somebody who inspires both priestesses and whores is somebody worth taking seriously.”

And then we see Ser Jorah, drinking in his despair, before recognizing Tyrion. And as the episode comes to a close, Ser Jorah ties and gags Tyrion as he tells him, “I am taking you to the Queen.” But which queen will he be taking Tyrion to? Cercei, the queen who has a massive bounty out on Tyrion’s head, for which Ser Jorah will certainly receive a large reward? Or the one-true queen in his eyes, Khaleesi, whose father was killed by Jaime Lannister and whose Throne was usurped due to large support from House Lannister?

Ser Jorah kidnaps Tyrion

Ser Jorah kidnaps Tyrion

Season 5, Episode 2: The House of Black and White

Disclaimer: There are no spoilers in this article. Any views or opinions expressed are based solely on where the Game of Thrones TV series currently is and no other knowledge or information is presented in this article.

THE TRUTH OF EACH CHARACTER

While there are many wonderfully unique characteristics of the Game of Throne series, perhaps one of the most identifiable is the unpredictability of most of this worlds characters. In most television, we understand who each character is at their core, what motivates their action and what they ultimately want to achieve. However, in the GoT world, as viewers, we’ve often had a difficult time discerning the true nature of a character. What truly lies at the core of each character? What do they really want? For one thing — we know that what they say they want, and what they actually want, are often two very different things. And for the first few seasons, we were often completely lost in trying to figure out things such as who we could trust or when a character was telling a lie.

But as we continue deeper into the fifth season, much of that is beginning to change; the true nature of each character is coming more acutely into focus. We are moving further away from the surface layer “games,” which often confused or misled us, and we are now dealing more in truth. Of course, this is still Game of Thrones, and mystery is never far from sight, but that thick cloak of deception that surrounded so many characters is beginning to be pulled back, and what’s left for us to see is the truth of each character — a truth that will drive each character as they continue on their individual journeys. And as we look back at the second episode of season five, The House of Black and White, it is important to assess the truth that continues to emerge out of each character.

ARYA IS MORE FEARLESS THAN EVER

After four years in the making, Arya finally arrives to Braavos, the mystical Free City where we hope she will find the tools needed to become the revenge-fueled assassin she desperately wants to be. After a horn blows announcing their arrival, the captain of the ship tells her to have no fear. In response, she gives one her emotionless stares into the distance and responds, “I’m not afraid.” And while she might’ve been responding to the captain in that moment, as she stares off into the distance and went off to a deeper place, we know that she is reaffirming that she is not afraid…of anything..period. After losing most of her family and enduring a tremendously painful journey, what could she possibly have left to be afraid of? And it is this fearlessness, this idea of having absolutely nothing left to lose, that we see as the undeniable truth of Arya’s character.

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Arya reciting the names on her list in front of the House of Black and White

As the wonderful Braavosi music plays in the background and the camera pans out to show Arya’s ship passing under the Titan of Braavos, the message is sent…finally, she has arrived. As she pulls into the harbor and looks on to see the local Braavosi merchants and villagers, we see a smile come across her face..that’s right — Arya shows a glimpse of joy and happiness. Perhaps there is hope for Arya after all in the land of Braavos. But things will not come easy. As she arrives at the colossal House of Black and White, the black man wearing all white tells her that there is no man there by the name of Jaqen H’ghar. But Arya is resolute, more determined than ever and driven by her fearless desire for revenge. She sits there day and night, repeating the names on her list: Cercei, Walder Frey, the Mountain and Meryn Trount — a list that has gotten much smaller.

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Arya arrives to Braavos, passing under the Titan of Braavos

BRIENNE THE OATHKEEPER

As Brienne and Pod enjoy a meal at the inn, Pod spots Baelish with Sansa and we see that Arya’s journey is not the only one that seems to have reached a destination. Finally, after much time, Brienne has her sights on Sansa. Before being approached by Brienne, Sansa asks Baelish about the scroll he received in the previous episode, to which he responds that his marriage proposal has been accepted..but to whom?

As Brienne approaches and pledges her service to Sansa, Baelish reminds her that Brienne failed to keep safe Renley or Catelyn, and also that Brienne had been implicated in the murder of Renley. As Brienne swears her honor and is intent upon keeping the oath she swore to protect Sansa, we see that Baelish’s manipulation and cunning words will be more convincing than those of Brienne, which are rooted in truth and honor. And, we are sadly reminded that noble concepts such as honor and duty will not always prevail, and often in this world, as in real life, the deceptive manipulator might come out on top.  We also see that Sansa quickly dismisses Brienne, showing no interest at all that Brienne had sworn an oath to her mother. It appears that Sansa continues to grow colder and darker — not the sweet little girl she once was. She also seems more willing to go along for Baelish’s ride and less questioning of what his motives might be.

Brienne and Baelish

Brienne and Baelish

As Baelish invites Brienne to travel with them, wanting to keep her close and eliminate a potential threat, Brienne makes a run for it and kills several of Baelish’s knights with her Valyrian steel sword, Oathkeeper, given to her by Jaime. After saving Pod from near-death, he suggests to Brienne that she might be free of her oath, considering that both Arya and Sansa refused her protection. But, Brienne does not think Sansa is safe with Baelish and refuses to abandon her vow. We continue to see a more realistic portrayal of the world around us, rather than the storybook version we are used to seeing in most television and film. That is, we did not see a picture-perfect reuniting when Brienne finally found Arya or Sansa. In this more realistic world, things do not go to plan and Brienne’s travels and hardships were all for nothing. But more importantly, we see what will continue to drive Brienne — the unrelenting dedication to her vow. Despite unfortunate results when she encountered the Stark girls, she will not give up and she will continue to be driven by the thing she holds more dear than all else — the words she swore to Catelyn Stark before she died.

KING’S LANDING

King’s Landing is appearing less and less like the grandiose capital city it once was, and more and more like a darker, grim place to be. It feels like a party — after most people have left and gone home — and there are just a few people left sticking around to clean up the mess. The cunning and deceptive characters of Varys and Baelish, so fundamental to the “game” once played at King’s Landing, are both gone. Tyrion as well. Joffrey and Tywin are both dead. Sansa has departed as well. King’s Landing is feeling less regal than ever before.

Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Nikolaj Coster Waldau as Jaime Lannister in Game of Thrones S5 Game of Thrones Season 5 Image Gallery Shows New Cast Members

Jaime and Cercei

But in the ashes that remain, we see a miserable Cercei who has received a threatening message, presumed to be sent from House Martell of Dorne. A viper, a symbol of House Martell, with her daughter, Myrcella’s necklace in it. Cercei tells Jaime that he has never been a father to any of their children, to which he responds that he had no choice as he had to protect the fact that they were born of incest. Cercei reminds him that in the end, his caution did nothing to actually save them — Joffrey was murdered, Tommen is going to be lost to Margaery Tyrell and Myrcella is hostage to House Martell in Dorne. Interestingly, in the previous episode, we recall that the witch Cercei went to see in her flashback who told her that “Gold will be their shrouds,” referring to the funeral shrouds of her future-children and alluding to their ominous fates.

Jaime tells Cercei that he will go to Dorne to rescue Myrcella and enlists the assistance of Bronn, who he tells they are headed “as far south as south goes.” And we again see the true nature of both Cercei and Jaime. The games, the politics, the schemes…those are all no longer important. Titles such as Kingslayer and Queen Regent no long matter. At their core, they are parents, and they will be driven to protect their children.

DORNE

And we finally get our first glimpse of Dorne, the most southern of the Seven Kingdoms, and home to House Martell. Princess Myrcella walks the Water Garden with a Martell prince, appearing to be safe after all. We also finally meet Prince Doran, the ruling prince of Dorne, and the older brother of Prince Oberyn. Suffering from the sickness of gout, what he lacks in physical ability, he appears to make up for in wisdom and patience. As Ellaria Sand, Oberyn’s lover, begs Doran to exact revenge for the death of the Red Viper, Doran reminds that his death in trial by combat was not murder, and that he will not go to war over this. Ellaria tells him that the Sand Snakes, the bastard daughters of Oberyn, support her and also seek revenge for the death of their father. She suggests that they torture Myrcella and send her mutilated body parts back to Cercei, to which Doran again refuses. He tells her that he will not let these things happen while he is still ruler, to which she responds “And for how long will that be?”

Prince Doran Martell of Dorne 

While the scene in Dorne was brief, it is clear that Dorne will play an important role as a new locale for season five. Furthermore, it appears that House Martell will be a major new house in the mix in the aftermath of the death of the Red Viper. We also continue to see the hot-headed nature that drives many of the Dornish, which we saw in the Red Viper and now in his revenge-driven paramour, Ellaria.

MORE PROBLEMS FOR KHALEESI

In Khaleesi’s seemingly never-ending stop in Mereen, the problems continue to stack up as Daario Naharis and Grey Worm discover the Son of the Harpy responsible for the murder of one of the Unsullied soldiers. Discord amongst her advisors continues as they express differing opinions regarding what they should do with their prisoner. And as Ser Barristan tells her of her father, the Mad King, and his practices of burning people alive as punishment, she vows to give this man a fair trial. But before that can happen, her ex-slave-turned-advisor kills the Son of the Harpy and mounts his body in the city for all to see. He explains to Khaleesi that he did this to protect her and serve justice. Her hands were tied as she was forced to offer a fair trial, when in reality, the punishment that needed to be served was death, which he was willing to do for her.

The dead Son of Harpy

The dead Son of the Harpy

Regardless of his loyal intentions, for his actions, Khaleesi sentences him to death. The irony is that she was unwilling to sentence to death the Son of the Harpy, who had committed the actual crime, while she was willing to sentence to death her own advisor who was acting loyally. Through these actions, we see what continues to drive Khaleesi: justice at any cost. She continues to make the difficult decisions, even sparing the lives of her own, if that is the cost of justice.

The ex-slave Khaleesi executes

The ex-slave Khaleesi executes

So driven by the idea of maintaing justice, Khaleesi has not even mentioned taking the Iron Throne of Westeros in quite some time — after all, how can she rule the Iron Throne before she achieves justice in Mereen? And the problems continue, as the death of the ex-slave enrages the other ex-slaves, Khaleesi’s “children.” As a result, a riot ensues between her children and the Masters and chaos breaks loose. And just when things appear to have hit rock bottom for Khaleesi, Drogon returns, the largest of her dragons who had been missing for weeks. While his return is significant in showing that he’s still in the picture, it was the timing of his return that was even more significant — a reminder that Khaleesi truly is the Mother of Dragons, and that an emotional connection exists, as Drogon returns to her and lifts her up when she is at her lowest.

Drogon returns to Khaleesi

Drogon returns to Khaleesi

TYRION AND VARYS

It is undeniable that the characters created by George R.R. Martin are simply amazing. They are unique while still identifiable; they are bold while still rooted in reality; they are relatable, even if unlikable. He has created a depth to each character with which viewers can form a meaningful connection. And of course, the evolution of each character and the different perspective we’ve been exposed to, make them all the more amazing. One minute you thought you hated a certain character and the next you felt like you loved them.

And the only thing greater than these characters on their own is when they are together, particularly in twosomes and often on some sort of wonderful journey that forces them to grow together. Whether it was Brienne and Jaime, Arya and the Hound or now Tyrion and Varys, there is nothing quite like the way George R.R. Martin creates one-on-one relationships between characters who appear very different on the surface, only to show us that they ultimately are not very different at all.

Jaime and Brienne appeared to be characters completely antithetical to each other, only for their season-long journey to show us that in the end, they were not different at all, and they were binded by their true nature of honor and duty. Similarly, Arya and the Hound couldn’t have been more different at the onset of their relationship, but as they endured the troublesome journey through the Riverlands, we saw them united by their shared love of killing. And now, ass Tyrion and Varys continue on their journey from Pentos to Volantis to embark upon the road to Mereen, we are seeing the emergence of another of these priceless relationships.

Tyrion and Varys travel to Volantis

Tyrion and Varys travel to Volantis

At first glance, Tyrion and Varys appear to be completely different characters. One is a a sarcastic dwarf from a very powerful Westeros family with an affinity for drinking and fucking. The other is a eunuch born into slavery on Easteros with a more serious disposition and no interest at all in the vices of sex or alcohol. Yet as they continue on their journey, we are beginning to see that when these surface features are stripped back, at their core, they are actually quite similar. They discuss the fact that they could both actually be quite good rulers, as they are two of the few men truly interested in making the world a better place to live in. Yet men like them could never rule as they are repulsive to society. And in turn, society is repulsive to them. And so they surround themselves with large comfortable boxes, such as the one they are confined to right now on their travel. Yet, at the end of the day, men like them are never really satisfied with being in the box…not for long.

And so we see the shared desire of each man to break out of the proverbial (and literal) box that they are in. They are driven by their true desires to make the world a better place. And while they cannot be the rulers themselves, Varys continues to try to sway Tyrion into realizing that this ruler does exist, and that they must find her to help her ascend the Iron Throne.

THE SMALL COUNCIL GETS SMALLER

Back at King’s Landing, we see the head of another dwarf brought to Cercei, albeit the wrong dwarf. Interestingly, Qyburn requests to keep the head as it may prove useful in his experiments. Which begs the question — what are these experiments he is working on? And what will they produce? And this also brings us back to the finale episode of last season when Qyburn performs one of his eery science-lab experiments in an attempt to save the life of the Mountain. He tells Cercei that if it saves him, it certainly will not make the Mountain any weaker. An already freakish monster — what happened to the Mountain and when, if ever, will we see him again?

Cercei and her new Small Council

Cercei and her new Small Council

At the Small Council, we see Cercei attempting to maintain control, though with little success. She appoints Qyburn new Master of Whispers in place of Varys, reminding the council of his qualification of loyalty. She appoints Mace Tyrell Master of Coin in addition to Master of Ships. And she appoints her uncle, Tywin’s brother, Kevan Lannister, Master of War. However, he refuses to acknowledge her authority and tells her that he will be returning to rule over Casterly Rock.

SOME BIG EVENTS AT THE WALL

At the Wall, Jon Snow tells Stannis that the Wildlings will never follow him after he killed their king, and that they will only follow one of their own. Stannis must figure out another way to win back the North, and he offers to remove Jon Snow’s bastard status and raise his up as Jon Stark, Lord of Winterfell. As such, he would have Jon Snow lead the North as part of Stannis’ cause. Becoming a Stark is all that Jon Snow has ever wanted his entire life, yet still,  the truth of his character — his unrelenting dedication to the vows he took to the Night’s Watch, prevent him from accepting Stannis’ offer. The discipline Jon Snow shows creates a pretty amazing moment. We can all probably think of 1 or 2 things we have always wanted our entire lives — or at least a couple things we want more than anything right now in our lives. And for most of us, these things we want most would be impossible to turn away if ever presented to us. For Jon Snow to pass on the opportunity of no longer being the bastard of Winterfell, and to become not only a proper Stark, but Lord of Winterfell, shows unbelievable character and strength.

And moments later, after Samwell’s passionate speech about Jon Snow’s heroism, he is elected 998th Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. There are many major implications about Jon Snow being Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, such as how will Ser Allisor Thorne react and how will Jon Snow command over the depleted Night’s Watch.

Kit Harington as Jon Snow Stephen Dillane as Stannis Baratheon and Liam Cunningham as Davos Seaworth in Game of Thrones S5 Game of Thrones Season 5 Image Gallery Shows New Cast Members

Stannis offers to make Jon Snow a Stark

Also at the Wall, we see Shereen, Stannis’ daughter, teaching Gilly how to read. The two begin to discuss Grey Scale, the disease that has scarred Shereen’s face. Gilly tells Shereen of her two sisters who were inflicted with this disease, who eventually turned into grotesque monsters, before being put out of their misery. Interestingly, unlike them, Shereen appears to have been spared as the disease never took over her full body. It is also interesting to think back to last season when Lady Melisandre told Lady Selyse that Shereen must come with them to the Wall as she will have a role to play.

A GIRL MUST BECOME NOTHING

As the episode concludes, Arya crosses paths with a couple street bandits who she tells to turn the other way if they want to live. Despite being one small girl against three larger men, we again see the absolute fearlessness that drives Arya. But before any fight ensues, the men flee as they see the black man in the white hood that Arya encountered early in the episode. As they stand back in front of the House of Black and White, the man gives her the coin back that she threw in the water, before changing his face back to that of Jaqen H’ghar. When she asks why he told her earlier that there was no man by the name of Jaqen H’ghar at the House of Black and White, he tells her “A man is not Jaqen H’ghar. A man is nobody. And that is who a girl must be come.”

The face of Jaqen H'ghar returns and lets Arya into the House of Black and White

The face of Jaqen H’ghar returns and lets Arya into the House of Black and White

These words are interesting for several reasons. First, it continues to show the mysterious and magical side of the Faceless Man, a league of assassins that we are dying to learn more about. But more importantly, it is the idea of becoming nobody or nothing. In response to the words Valar Morghulis, meaning “all men must die,” the Braavosi respond Valar Dohaeris, meaning “all men must serve.” As Faceless Men, they appear to strip themselves of any true identity, becoming nothing, and dedicate themselves to their service. This seems to be just the place for Arya, a girl who already has been stripped of most of her identity and is driven by the sole desire for revenge. In many ways, she has already been reduced to nothing and she could be a perfect fit for the Faceless Men.

Episode 10 Recap: The Children

Disclaimer: There are no spoilers in this article. Any views or opinions expressed are based solely on where the Game of Thrones TV series currently is and no other knowledge or information is presented in this article.

THE CHILDREN

Last week’s episode took place in just one location and was dedicated entirely to one plot-line. At the other end of the spectrum, the season finale not only catapulted us into the plot-lines of almost every character, but also progressed each of these stories rather abruptly. Outside of Sansa, nearly every character was featured in the finale and each one had a major development in one way or another. In a world where we’ve come to expect rather slow character and plot development, this episode was a smack in the face — a major departure from any episode we’ve seen in four years of Thrones.

But, what was actually so special about this episode? Sure, lots of “stuff” happened pretty quickly, but was there something more to the finale than just tons of action? The answer is yes. There were several layers at the core of the finale which made the episode special and are worth discussing. First, the ways in which several independent plot-lines all of a sudden began to intersect. Second, the many different plot-lines to which the episode’s title, The Children, significantly refers to, and the way these children have been both imprisoned and liberated. And finally, the many ways in which this “game” has changed drastically in just one episode.

CONVERGING STORIES

The finale episode did not only offer up major progressions of each character’s story, but it also offered a taste of the way several of these previously independent plot-lines will begin to merge into one. In any other fictional world, the intersection of characters would probably not be worth mentioning. Why? Because from the onset of almost any story, even if we do not know the exact roles each character will fulfill, we have a basic understanding of the ways each character shares in the world that we are experiencing. And this is just another way that Thrones is completely unique from almost everything else out there.

Rather than a set of characters in a shared world, Thrones is composed of so many characters with story arcs that have remained completely separate from one another, existing in parallel. It’s almost as if we have been watching many different shows — each about a different character with a story unique and exclusive from every other character. Ultimately, this has left us to wonder when, and more importantly, how these independent stories would start to bleed into one another. But in the season finale, some of these questions began to be answered as we were offered a glimpse into the way several characters’ plot-lines will begin to come crashing together. And this — the way the pieces of the puzzle will start to come together — made the finale uniquely special from all other episodes.

Right out of the gate, the plot-lines of Jon Snow and Stannis meet face to face. For so long, we have experienced the independent journeys of each character. Prior to a couple episodes ago when hints began to be offered that Stannis was going to make his way to the Wall, did you ever stop to consider the story-lines of Stannis and Jon Snow coming together? Probably not. But that is exactly what happened. Stannis, a man once committed to taking the Iron Throne which rightfully belonged to him, he later realized that the war over the Throne was meaningless compared to the imminent war in the North involving the Night’s Watch, Wildlings and possibly White Walkers. And Jon Snow, a character who started as a boy and has grown into a man while overcoming his bastard issues, he has infiltrated the Wildlings before making his way back to the Night’s Watch, ultimately appearing completely willing to give his life to defend the Wall. For four seasons we have seen these two characters develop, completely independent of one another. And in the blink of an eye, just like that, their stories come together as Stannis arrives at the Wall and crushes Mance’s camp of Wildlings. The arrival of Stannis has breathed new hope into the war on the Wall, which was all but lost by the Night’s Watch. More significantly, it crosses the paths of Stannis and Jon Snow, and is one of the first hints at the way major characters might begin to intersect one another to reveal the roles they will play in the greater storyline.

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Similarly, the journeys of Brienne/Podrick and the Hound/Arya abruptly come together as Brienne stumbles upon Arya on her way to the Vale. For seasons now, Brienne has been on a journey to honor Catelyn Stark and find Sansa. Ironically, it is Arya that she stumbles upon rather than Sansa. Likewise, the Hound has been on a seemingly never-ending journey with Arya, arriving at the Twins just after the Red Wedding, and then getting to the Vale just days after Lysa Arryn was killed. And just like that, these journeys — ones that have developed over the course of so many episodes — come crashing together without any warning at all. But whereas the arrival of Stannis at the Wall gave us hope and probably felt good to watch, the clash of Brienne and the Hound’s stories was not as nice to watch. After Brienne insists on honoring her oath and refuses to leave without Arya, the Hound professes that he is a better fit to look after her. A brutal fight ensues in which Brienne is ultimately victorious and the Hound is thrown over a cliff and possibly left to die.

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In the Thrones world, we’ve seen plenty of good guys fighting bad guys. We’ve even seen bad guys fighting bad guys. But this might be the first time that we saw a good guy fight a good guy, which probably left most of us wishing the fight never happened in the first place. In and of itself, the fact that we are calling the Hound a “good guy” speaks volumes to his character development. If you go back and watch the first couple seasons of Thrones, you probably would not have guessed that you would have grown to love the Hound — but most of us have. And after we came to see the warmer, more human side of him, and the many ways he opened up to and cared for Arya, it was painful to see him go down like that — especially in a fight to protect Arya. And as he lay  there in brutal shape before the eyes of Arya, the irony of their situation could not have been any greater. Since season one, the Hound has been a name on Arya’s list — one of the people she has committed herself to eventually killing and crossing off her list. She has even told the Hound directly that she will one day kill him. Yet, when the opportunity presented itself, so much so that the Hound actually wanted her to kill him, she would not do it. As he pleaded with her to put him out of his misery, Arya looked on with cold eyes, almost immune to the immense pain you could hear in his voice. Emotionless, she took his gold and left him to die a more painful death than the one she could have offered.

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THE CHILDREN AND THEIR LIBERATION

In the Thrones series, the title of each episode is often significant and generally speaks to an underlying message or overtone within each weekly installment. Perhaps more so than ever, the title of the finale, The Children, has many meanings all rolled into one. The most literal meaning, the finale episode refers to many of the characters’ identities which have been defined by the parent-child relationship that they exist within. And generally, these relationships have been imprisoning to several of these characters. But, in the finale episode, things changed for many of “the children,” and several of them were liberated, while others were further imprisoned.

Perhaps more so than any other characters in the show, the three Lannister children have been defined by their roles as children, to none other than Lord Tywin. From the first moments we’ve encountered them, we have known the Lannister siblings as children — their identies almost completely dictated by the fact that they were Lannister children. More times than not, it has seemed that their roles as children have been already decided for them and they’ve often had no free will what so ever. Cercei was used as a tool of marriage, forced to endure King Robert in order to become queen and further the Lannister cause. Jaime was forced to serve on the Kingsguard to the Mad King. And Tyrion was forced into a life of ridicule. Each had a role to play forced upon them as children to Lord Tywin, and for the most part, it seemed as if there was nothing they could do to change this.

But all of that changed in the finale, and we begin to see some of The Children that the episode title refers to. It all begins as Cercei refuses to marry Ser Loras Tyrell, another marriage Lord Tywin is set to force upon her. However, it is not because of her personal preferences or desires that she refuses, but rather a decision dictated by the children of her own. With Joffrey dead and Myrcella shipped off to Dorne, Tommen is the only child she has left, and she refuses to lose him to the self-serving influences of Margaery Tyrell and Lord Tywin. It’s an interesting juxtaposition as the child of Lord Tywin, Cercei, stands up to one of the most powerful men and threatens to do whatever she needs to in order to protect her own child. She tells Lord Tywin the truth of her incestuous relationship with Jaime, and threatens that she will ruin the Lannister legacy by letting it be known to all. She then goes and tells Jaime that he is the one she wants; she no longer wants to hide the truth and does not care what anybody thinks. She liberated herself from the prisoner she had been as a child to Lord Tywin. And, in certain ways, she also liberated Jaime, who was forced to keep his love for Cercei a secret for so many years.

The liberating continues as Jaime frees Tyrion and saves him from imminent execution. While Tyrion was the one literally freed, this was equally liberating for Jaime, who has desperately wanted to save his little brother, but has been ultimately helpless to the will of his father, Lord Tywin, who wanted Tyrion dead. Like Cercei, no longer would Jaime be prisoner to the commands of his father, and he frees his little brother. Ironically, this leads to the death of their father and the ultimate liberation for all three Lannister children. But before he kills Lord Tywin, Tyrion stumbles upon Shae, who not only betrayed him during his trial, but is now sleeping with the very man who threatened to kill her if he found her with Tyrion — the very reason Tyrion was forced to send her away — to save her life. A bittersweet revenge, Tyrion kills the woman he loves, before killing the father that never loved him. With Lord Tywin dead, what happens next in King’s Landing? Who will claim the power that was previously held by him?

Though only in the episode for a brief moment, Khaleesi is another story-line that the The Children refers to. Once a child, Khaleesi has quickly become a mother, which has become both liberating and imprisoning at the same time. Stepping into the fire and hatching petrified dragon eggs, Khaleesi first became the mother of dragons. And much the way Lord Tywin ultimately could not control of the actions of his own children, Khaleesi was told from the onset that she would not be able to fully control her dragon children. Khaleesi used these children to become the mother, or “mhysa,” to thousands of additional children as she freed the slaves of Yunkai, Astapor and Meereen.

Khaleesi has has achieved great power, but is beginning to struggle to successfully navigate it. Freeing these children while governing them at the same time often do not go hand in hand, and Khaleesi is beginning to experience a great paradox. She conquered cities and freed the slaves, only to find out that many of them have lost their purpose as free men and do not in fact wish to be liberated. She has grown dragons, one set of children, who are causing chaos amongst her other set of children, the freed slaves. As Khaleesi learns that one of her dragons has killed the three year-old daughter of a Meereenese man, she realizes what she must do. Khaleesi became the breaker of chains, making her “myhsa” to the slaves she freed, but in order to protect these children, she now must impose another set of chains to her other children — the dragons. Just as the Lannister children had so long been imprisoned by their roles as children, it appears that Khaleesi is beginning to become a prisoner to the burdens of her role as a mother, to both thousands of slaves that she has promised to lead and protect, as well as the dragons that she birthed from the fire.

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THE CHILDREN (OF THE FOREST)

The more literal reference to the finale’s title is the Children of the Forest, a magical race of creatures that existed on Westeros prior to the arrival of the First Men from Easteros. Since the beginning of the Thrones series, there have been references to the Children of the Forest, especially in the North, where the current inhabitants are descendants of the First Men. But, it was entirely unclear, if not altogether doubtful, that the Children of the Forest still existed today. And just like that, we get first glimpse of the Children and the magic they possess.

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In large part, this blog was started to provide background on the 12,000 year history of the Known World — a history that is incredibly rich and detailed — one that can be fully appreciated from reading the books, but is pretty much incredible to grasp from the show. In each 1000+ page book, there is more detail and reference to the history that occurred prior to the time period that we are currently experiencing. In the show, at best, there are quick references via character dialogue — and if you do not already have an understanding of the history being referred to, most of these historical mentions won’t mean much. And, this history — this unbelievable 12,000 year history, it all begins with the Children of the Forest. They existed on Westeros before anybody else got there. For how long they existed, it’s unknown. But they were there when the First Men arrived 12,000 years ago. And, after a period of initial war between the Children and the First Men, they lived together in peace for 4,000 years, until the Andals arrived and pushed the Children to the brink of extinction.

Today, much mystery surrounds the Children of the Forest — they have not been seen for thousands of years and some believe them to be a myth. But, history tells that the Children of the Forest lived amongst the weirwood trees and derived their magic from the forests. The First Men eventually adapted the practices of the Children, honoring the weirwood trees and praying to the Old Gods. This explains why today, in the North, where most are descendants of the First Men, they still pray to the Old Gods and honor the weirwoods — practices and customs that were originally learned from the Children of the Forest.

Before being nearly wiped off during the Andal Invasion, the Children of the Forest played an important role, and during the Long Night, it was the Children of the Forest that fought alongside the First Men to push back the White Walkers. It is also said that the Children of the Forest lent their magic in assisting Brandon Stark, founder of House Stark, in building the Wall nearly 8,000 years ago. In short, the Children of the Forest are incredibly significant, and to learn that there are still some alive today in the deep North is the greatest reveal that we’ve seen in 40 episodes to date.

To learn more about the Children of the Forest, check out this page, which was one of the first ever published on this blog. I would also recommend checking out this timeline which will provide some context on the history of the world we are experiencing and how far back it dates.

WHERE ARE WE AT NOW?

As the fourth season comes to a close and we reach the approximate midway point of this entire magical journey, it is important to not only reflect upon this individual episode and the craziness that unfolded, but also to step back and reflect upon how this entire “game” has changed in just one episode. So, here’s a quick recap:

The episode begins where last week left off, as Jon Snow journeys north of the Wall to find and kill Mance Rayder. However, before he has the chance to, Stannis’ forces arrive and crush the small band of Wildlings at Mance Rayder’s camp. Presumably, Stannis used his funding from the Iron Bank of Braavos to strengthen his army and fleet of ships, which he used to sail back to Westeros north of the Wall. Wanting no more Wildling bloodshed, Mance surrenders, and per Jon Snow’s advice, Stannis takes Mance prisoner. Also of interest, through the fire, Jon Snow and Melisandre exchange a long glance — was this a foreshadow of something to transpire between these two characters? A lot is left to wonder, but in the blink of an eye, the entire situation at the Wall has changed completely.

In King’s Landing, we discover that the Mountain is in fact still alive, though inflicted with poison from a rare venom that was on the spear of the Red Viper. Qyburn tells Cercei that he believes he can save the Mountain; his methods are unorthodox and he acknowledges it will change the Mountain, though not for the weaker. Will he in fact be able to save the Mountain? And, if so, could Qyburn actually be turning the Mountain into a greater monster than he is already?

As one brother is saved, another is left to die. Though, we would have hoped it was the other way around. After the powerful development of the relationship between Arya and the Hound, we might have guessed that Arya would have tried to save the Hound. Or, at least have granted him his wish and put him out of his misery. But, she did neither and instead stole his gold, much the way he had done to his victims in the past. In this moment, we see Arya’s true nature. She doesn’t just talk about killing, she means it. In her heart and at her core, she has been completely hardened by all the death and despair she experienced around her, losing her mother, father and brother. She has no compassion for the Hound, even though he at times expressed compassion for her. And as she journeys on alone, she finally uses the magical coin given to her by Jaqen H’ghar two seasons ago, and says those famous Braavosi words, “valar morghulis,” meaning “all men must die.” Instantly, she is granted passage on the Braavosi ship and just like that, she is on her way to Braavos. What will happen when she gets there? And will she reunite with Jaqen H’ghar?

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Back in King’s Landing, after taking down Shae and Lord Tywin, Tyrion ends up with Varys, who he trusts to get him out of the capital city safely. Many of us have questioned Varys’ motives and whether or not he is a “good” character. During Tyrion’s trial, Tyrion reminded Varys that Varys once told Tyrion that he would never forget that he saved the city during the Battle of Blackwater Bay. When Tyrion asked Varys if he had forgotten, Varys replied, “Sadly, I do not forget a thing.” Additionally, it was Varys that attempted to get Shae out of King’s Landing, bribing her with gems. When she asked him why, Varys told her that he believed Tyrion was one of the few men that existed on Westeros who was truly capable of achieving good, and that Shae was a distraction to him. And, when Tyrion needed him most, Varys made good on his word, playing his part to save Tyrion, a man he clearly believes in. Turning back to return to King’s Landing, Varys hears the city bells erupt and realizes that Tyrion has committed a great act of murder. Rather than returning to this scene of chaos, Varys decides to join Tyrion on their journey to Easteros — Varys’ original birthplace and a location where he has many friends and resources, namely Illyrio Mopatis.

And finally, perhaps the most significant part of the episode, after a seemingly never-ending journey, Bran and company reach their destination — the great weirwood tree in the deep North. Just as they arrive, skeletons emerge from beneath the freezing snow, perhaps some sort of wights that exist in the deep North. Bran again showcases his ability to change into the skin of another human, fighting off many of these skeletons, before one of the Children of the Forest emerges, helping to protect them by shooting off magical rays of light. Jojen Reed is killed, though it is revealed that he knew the whole time it would end this way. After being led through a cavern of tree roots below the beautiful weirwood, Bran finally arrives to the three-eyed raven, who is now in the form of a mysterious old man. The man tells Bran that he has taken many different forms and has been watching each of them their entire lives through a thousand eyes. Though he will never walk again, Bran is told that he will fly. Naturally, tons of question marks are raised by this entire development. What exactly is this man and what kind of powers does he possess? Why was Bran specifically so special that he has been watched his entire life? What will his role be in the war coming and will he literally take flight, or perhaps he will fly in the skin of a dragon? Also, how many more Children of the Forest exist, if any?

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All in all, the season four finale significantly progressed the plots of most of the stories we’ve been experiencing, setting up season five in a major way. Between Stannis’ arrival at the Wall, Arya leaving for Braavos,  Tyrion killing Lord Tywin before leaving with Varys for Easteros and Bran discovering the Children of the Forest and the mysterious man, we’re in the thick of it now. For those disappointed with the lack of progression of Khaleesi’s story — don’t be. If you are watching the show through the lens of what you want it to be, rather than appreciating it for what it is, you are doing yourself a major disservice. As we’ve already touched upon, there are so many plot-lines, each which will organically develop at its own pace. Some will begin to intersect and mature sooner than others, while others may lead us down a longer and slower path. But, would you really want it any other way? If all the stories emerged at once, the Thrones world would be no different than most other shows on TV. It is the disciplined nature and meticulous development of each character that makes Game of Thrones so special. Two years ago Arya encountered Jaqen H’ghar and was given this magical coin. Did she use it in the following episode? Did she use it a few episodes down the road? Or even in the following season? The answer is no. It was not until two full seasons later that we saw that nuisance come to fruition. And when did, it makes it all the more powerful. It did not happen because the writers wanted to write it — it happened at the point it did because that is when it was supposed to happen. So for anybody getting impatient, take your eye off the destination and enjoy the ride that we are on to get there.