SEASON 6, EPISODE 10: THE WINDS OF WINTER

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 WINDS OF WINTER

Put in the books…Season six is officially over, which means we have about a full year to wait until the return of Thrones. But if there was ever a season which delivered enough magic, enough surprise and enough excitement to last us until next season, this was it. And putting an exclamation point on this incredible season was the finale episode, The Winds of Winter, which delivered enough major plot-twists for multiple finale episodes. In past seasons, we would’ve gotten one major event in the finale episode to make us go “wow, that was amazing,” and hold us over until the following season. In this episode, we got four or five of those moments, seemingly one after the next. Cercei blowing up the Holy Sept of Baelor and killing all her enemies in one fell swoop, including basically all of House Tyrell. Oh, and doing it with wild fire no less. Tommen casually jumping out the window to his death. Jon Snow being declared King in the North. Cercei assuming the freakin’ Iron Throne. Arya revealing she’s already back in Westeros and taking out her enemies. After six years, Khaleesi is actually leaving Easteros to take what is hers — the Iron Throne of Westeros. Oh, and did we mention that Winter is officially here?

loras

Any one of these events could’ve been enough to end the finale on, especially after last week’s epic Battle of the Bastards. But as season six came to an end, we didn’t get one major event, we got them all. Because whereas the objective of past seasons’ finales was to wind the show down and bring things to a close, the purpose of this finale was the exact opposite: to propel the show to all-time highs and position characters for the final lap ahead. That’s right, there’s not much left and the end is near. Likely split over two more seasons, we are looking at 12-14 more episodes total, and that’s it for Game of Thrones, folks. So there is no wind-down at this point. There is no deliberation or hiatus. We are in the thick of it now, full force, and The Winds of Winter pointed us in the direction we are headed.

But before we jump into a recap of the episode, let’s explore what the show is really about at this point. To date, Thrones has been about a lot of things: power, loyalty, war, love, vengeance, deception, to name a few. But as the show has evolved through the years, and now nears its end, what is it really about? As I asked myself this question and reflected back on the finale episode and this season as a whole, I thought about thing: survival. It was once about who could play the Game of Thrones, now it’s about who can survive it. In this finale episode, we saw three major characters who have survived and now risen to the top: Khaleesi, Cercei and Jon Snow, each of whom is now a King/Queen.

What is also interesting when thinking about the survival of characters is how dominant the females are as season six comes to a close. For a show that was often-criticized about the subjection of its female characters (which hit an all-time high last season after the rape of Sansa by Ramsay), it is now the females who are in positions of power and dictating the outcome of this story. Cercei has ascended the Iron Throne and is the Queen of the Seven Kingdoms. Khaleesi is the Mother of Dragons and commands an army of loyal followers that appears to be growing by the day. Yara, not Theon, is calling the shots for House Greyjoy and has joined up with Khaleesi. Arya is crossing names off her list in Westeros. Sansa won the battle against Ramsay and got her revenge, and also pushes off Baelish in this episode. In Dorne, it is the Tyrell and Martell females that convene to discuss their revenge against the Lannisters. Even Lyanna Mormont, an 11-year-old girl, appears more powerful than all the men of the North, as she reminds that House Mormont stands with House Stark and that the North remembers, ultimately swaying the other Northern houses to support the Stark cause. Even once-powerful men like Tyrion and Varys have now abandoned their personal endeavors to support the greater cause of a female character. In fact, when you stop and look around, it’s almost hard to name the major male characters that are really in the picture, other than Jon Snow. We’ve come a long way since the earlier seasons which covered the Battle of the Five Kings, mostly all males fighting for the Iron Throne. And now, winter is no longer coming. Winter is here.

DARKNESS IN KING’S LANDING

Many people, including myself, were predicting a possible death for Cercei in the finale episode. She was weakened by her walk of shame, never seemed to quite recover from it and appeared relatively powerless this entire season. And when trial-by-combat was ruled out, it looked like the end might be near for Cercei. Boy, were we wrong. The episode opens as we see various characters dressing for the trial. Margaery and Tommen both dress in regal garb, fit of a king and queen, while the High Sparrow throws on his minimalist robes. But Cercei is preparing for something entirely different, as she dresses in an all black piece that almost resembles armor. This entire segment, which was one of the longest we’ve seen, was accompanied by a beautiful piano arrangement called Light of the Seven by Ramin Djawadi, which can be heard in the video below. It was unlike any other music that has ever been played in an episode before, and captured a particular eeriness, hinting that something terribly out of the ordinary was going to happen. It was masterfully executed, and though I don’t think it’s worthwhile to compare the books to the show, since they’re both genius in different ways, this was an example of how music, and visuals and directorial vision can setup a major event that was to come in a way that the books never could.

As everybody stands around the Sept of Baelor, it is Queen Margaery who realizes that something is wrong after Cercei and Tommen both no-show. She warns that everybody must leave the Sept, but the High Sparrow’s stubborn faith gets the best of him as he instructs the Faith Militant to prevent anybody from leaving. Elsewhere, Maestar Pycelle is tricked into entering the tunnels below King’s Landing, as is one of the Faith Militant, Lancel Lannister, both of whom are stabbed by Qyburn’s little birdies. It’s unclear what Qyburn has done to these little peasant children or why children were needed to do the actual killing, and maybe we’ll find that out down the road, but we did see Qyburn with these children in an earlier episode this season, so we knew he was up to something. What we also saw a few episodes back, after Tommen declared that trial-by-combat would be illegal moving forward, was Cercei asking Maestar Qyburn whether the rumors were true, to which he responded that they definitely were, more so than she could even imagine. We now know that she was asking him about the wild fire, which she would use to blow up the Sept of Baelor and kill everybody inside.

sept explosion

Beyond the power of this scene and the way it unfolded, there are some very interesting takeaways. First, we got a glimpse of this wild fire explosion many episodes back in one of Bran’s visions, which very quickly showed the green flames engulfing the tunnels below King’s Landing (see photo below). So, Bran saw this before it actually happened, and so did we. This speaks volumes to other visions he may have of events that are yet to unfold, with the potential to stop them before they happen. Next, it is very powerful to consider that Cercei did the very thing that her brother killed the Mad King to avoid from happening. Going back to the Mad King Aerys Targaryen (Khaleesi’s father), when Robert’s Rebellion succeeded and the rebels arrived at King’s Landing, rather than surrender, the Mad King kept saying “Burn them all.” He was obsessed with wild fire and wanted to use the wild fire to blow up all of King’s Landing and burn everybody alive, rather than let the rebels usurp the Iron Throne. Though he was sworn to protect the king, Jaime put his sword through the Mad King’s back, and would forever be known as Kingslayer. He broke his sworn oath to protect the king in order to save tens of thousands of innocent lives who otherwise would’ve been burned alive. Ironically, years later, it is his own sister who ends up doing this very same thing, albeit in a more controlled fashion as to eliminate her enemies in the Sept of Baelor and not all of King’s Landing.

wildfire

From Bran’s vision

As Tommen looks on and sees the Sept explode into the sky, realizing everybody has just died, including his Queen Margaery, he is in total disbelief. He is just a boy — a boy that watched his older brother murdered when he was king and who then lost his sister to murder as well. His mother was locked away and then forced into a humiliating walk of shame. The High Sparrow and Margaery have been in his ear telling him to follow the Faith. Rumors swirl around about who his true parents are. Talk about stress — the things Tommen has dealt with since being a little boy are enough to drive anybody to suicide. So now, after watching the Sept explode, he’s had enough, and in an indifferent fashion, decides to simply fall to his death. This marks the third child that Cercei has lost, and unlike the murders of her first two children, Cercei has nobody to blame but herself for the death of Tommen. Interestingly, in the premiere episode of season five, we saw a flashback of Cercei as a child as she wanders into the woods to find a witch. The witch tells her of a prophecy in which all of her children would eventually die (see video below). Now, decades later, this prophecy has been fully realized and Cercei has lost all of her children. Well, at least most of the prophecy has been realized. The witch also tells Cercei that she will eventually be replaced by another queen, younger and more beautiful. It’s safe to assume that this will be Khaleesi.

Perhaps, in some ways, Cercei wanted Tommen to die, even if subconsciously. After all, as she stated so many times, her purpose in life was to protect and defend her children. Well, clearly she wasn’t so good at that. Or maybe, it was a greater drive that she had which outweighed her ability to truly protect her children. Maybe it was her undying quest for power. And after losing two-thirds of her children and sort of already losing the third to all the madness of King’s Landing, she was ready to rid herself of all her motherly baggage, which is in fact what happened. And now, free of any responsibility or burden to her children, Cercei is able to ascend the Iron Throne and take what is hers. Dressed in all black, the Throne Room looks darker than ever before, nobody daring to question her claim. She appears cold and ruthless, hardened by the deaths of her children and the torture she experienced at the hand of the Faith. Now that Cercei has taken the Throne, she’ll be free to pursue vengeance against the murderers of her children, namely the Martells of Dorne. But how will Jaime fit into this? He looked rather unpleased, if not shocked, at the scene he saw upon arriving back to King’s Landing. Perhaps, Cercei and Jaime’s union is starting to unravel, and maybe Jaime resists Cercei’s pull to the dark side.

KING IN THE NORTH

We get first glimpse of Jon Snow in the halls of Winterfell as he stands with Melisandre, moments before Davos storms in commands Lady Melisandre to tell Jon Snow what she’s done to Princess Shireen. Davos is more emotional and angry than we’ve ever seen him before and it is clear that he truly loved Princess Shireen like a father. Melisandre confesses to her crimes, but adds that she has only done what the Lord of Light commanded. Once again juxtaposing Melisandre’s faith to her god against Davos’ commitment to morality and reason, Davos exclaims “If your god commanded you to burn an innocent little girl, then your god is evil!” Davos appeals to Jon Snow and demands that Melisandre be executed, to which Melisandre tells Jon Snow that her work is not done. Clearly, Jon Snow believes this, and knows that he may yet need her down the road. He commands her to ride south, rather than executing her.

As Melisandre rides off, Jon Snow and Sansa stand atop the ramparts of Winterfell. Jon Snow acknowledges that it was Sansa who won the battle by securing the Knights of the Vale, but notes that they must trust each other moving forward. He tells her that he is not a Stark, and wishes for Sansa to be the Lady of Winterfell, rather than he. Sansa also tells Jon that a white raven has come from the Citadel and the Maestars have determined that winter is officially here. As if we didn’t already realize that the show is really reaching an all-time highpoint, we just got explicit confirmation — after six years of waiting, winter has now come.

Standing beneath a weirwood tree, Sansa tells Baelish that she no longer prays and is done with the gods. As they discuss what it is that Baelish really wants, a question we would all love answered as well, Baelish tells Sansa that he wants to sit on the Iron Throne as king with Sansa as his queen. As he goes into kiss her, she pushes him off and tells him that it’s a “pretty picture.” Again, we see that Sansa is not a naive child and will not be easily manipulated. But more importantly, we finally hear Baelish explicitly reveal what he wants, which is ultimate power. Throughout the last six seasons, there have been breadcrumbs along the way which have pointed us in the direction of Littlefinger’s true intentions. In the very first season, Baelish has a conversation with the keep of his whorehouse in King’s Landing, and he retells the story of how he challenged Brandon Stark (Ned’s older brother) to a duel, to win the love of Catelyn Tully. He lost that duel to the much fiercer Stark warrior and was badly embarrassed and injured that day. “You know what I learnt losing that duel? I learnt that I’ll never win. Not that way. That’s their game, their rules. I’m not going to fight them: I’m going to fuck them. That’s what I know, that’s what I am, and only by admitting what we are can we get what we want.” When she asks him what it is that he wants, he responds “Oh, everything, my dear. Everything there is.” Littlefinger has also often referenced investments he has made, some good and some bad, in an effort to achieve his means. In an earlier season, Varys also noted “Baelish would let the whole country burn if he could be king of the ashes.” And finally, years later, he comes right out and tells Sansa what he wants — the Iron Throne with her beside him.

Later, in Winterfell, the remaining houses of the North gather and Jon Snow makes his case for their support. Winter is here and the North will be the front line against the White Walkers that are coming — nobody knows this better than Jon Snow. Still, the Northern houses have doubt and express uncertainty about once again supporting House Stark. Lyanna Mormont, not only the only female in the room (besides Sansa), but also youngest in the room, delivers a passionate speech noting that House Mormont stands with House Stark and that the North remembers. Houses Manderly and Glover are moved by her words and pledge their support of House Stark, declaring Jon Snow the King in the North. Before long, the whole hall is shouting for Jon Snow as King in the North, much the way they once did for Robb Stark — hopefully this one has a better ending.

king north

Certainly, Jon Snow will be a much different kind of king. He has no interest in the Iron Throne or petty battles — his eyes are set on defending humanity from the army of the dead. Moreover, he’s seen a lot and experienced much more than his brother Robb ever did, including dying and being brought back from the dead. Jon Snow now has the beginning of an army, but it’s unclear how Sansa feels about this. Just moments before, he was telling her that it should be her who leads House Stark, not him. Sansa exchanges a glance with Baelish, who quietly observes like a fly on the wall. The look they exchanged was almost as if Baelish was saying “Hey, my offer is still on the table. I am still on the quest for power and you can share that quest with me, rather than going back to being the sister of the King in the North.” We’ll have to wait until next season to see how this all unfolds, but to see Jon Snow brought back from the dead, defeat Ramsay to reclaim Winterfell and now to be declared King in the North with House Stark finally supported again by the other Northern houses, is a welcomed and long-awaited turn of fortune for the Starks. And let’s not forget, both Bran and Arya are not not too far away from Winterfell.

NEW FRIENDS

After not having seen Dorne since the first episode when the Sand Snakes executed Prince Doran, we are taken back to the southernmost region of Westeros, where Lady Olenna Tyrell is convening with the Sand Snakes. Lady Olenna has basically lost everything, including her son and two grandchildren, with no apparent heir to Highgarden. She makes it clear that all the world can offer her is revenge. Perfect timing, as Varys enters the scene, offering fire and blood. The Martells and Tyrells both have a common enemy in the Lannisters, namely Cercei. Luckily for them, the Lannisters are also the enemy of Khaleesi (it was Jaime who killed her father and Lord Tywin who orchestrated much of the rebellion). So, Varys offers the Martells and Tyrells to join Khaleesi’s cause, with the promise of imminent revenge.

This is an extremely significant development for Khaleesi’s camp, which was already in great shape with three dragons, a wise and loyal small council, armies of the Dothraki and Unsullied, support of House Greyjoy and 100 ships to travel to Westeros. Now, Khaleesi has landed the support that she’ll need when she finally arrives to Westeros. And not just any support. House Tyrell is the wealthiest and largest house in all of Westeros, making them an incredibly important asset to Khaleesi. The support of the fierce Dornish people is also very valuable, but not as valuable as their land. Dorne is the southernmost region of Westeros, isolated from all the other kingdoms, making it a great landing place for Khaleesi, her dragons and her army. Outside of Dorne, there are not many places on Westeros Khaleesi could land without being thrown right into conflict with other houses. But because Dorne is so far removed from the rest of the continent, it makes the most ideal landing place. It is also interesting to note that during Aegon’s Conquest 300 years ago, Aegon was able to conquer and unite six of the Seven Kingdoms, with Dorne being the only one he was unable to hold. The reason being that it was too far from the rest of the continent, proving too difficult to conquer. It wasn’t until many years later that Dorne became the seventh kingdom through an arranged marriage between Houses Martell and Targaryen. Unlike Aegon, the first Targaryen to conquer the land of Westeros, Khaleesi is now entering Westeros with an alliance with the Martells of Dorne, which should prove hugely valuable to her conquest of the Iron Throne.

ONE MORE NAME OFF THE LIST

As Walder Frey continues to gloat upon his recent successes, Jaime reminds him that it was House Lannister that was responsible for these victories, and that House Frey is dispensable. Proving this true, moments later, we learn that Arya is not only back in Westeros, but is crossing names off her kill list. And, even more, she made sure to grab some faces from The House of Black and White before she left Braavos. Arya killed the two Frey sons and cooked them into a pie that she fed to Walder. She reveals all of this just moments before slitting his throat.

arya frey

Besides the awesomeness of seeing Arya back in Westeros and avenging the deaths of her family murdered in the Red Wedding, there was another layer to the way she did it, which goes back to a season three episode in which Bran told the story of the Rat Cook. According to legend, thousands of years ago, a King once visited a castle of the Night’s Watch. During his stay, the King offended members of the Night’s Watch, and as revenge, the cook killed the king’s son, baked him into a pie and served the pie to the king. The king enjoyed the pie so much that he asked for a second helping. The gods punished the cook by turning him into a giant rat, forced to run the halls of the castle and eat his own offspring. According to Bran, the gods were not offended by the murder or even by the cook feeding the king his own son. Rather, the gods could not forgive the ancient law of guest right which the cook had violated. This scared law dictates that a person shall commit no harm to any other person who’ve they’ve taken in as their guest. Bran tells, “It wasn’t for murder the gods cursed the Rat Cook, or for serving the King’s son in a pie… he killed a guest beneath his roof… that’s something the gods can’t forgive.” Many years later, Walder Frey would commit this very same crime as he brutally murdered the Starks who he had taken in as his guests. Rather than just killing him, Arya feeds his sons to him, an allusion back to the story of the Rat Cook and the violation of guest right. It will be interesting to see what comes next for Arya. She is as close to home as she has ever been, but something tells me she’s not quite ready to journey back to Winterfell just yet.

R+L=J

Still north of the Wall, Benjen tells Bran that he cannot join him south as he cannot pass under the Wall. He reminds us of what we’ve heard before: the Wall was built with powerful magic of the Children of the Forest, preventing the dead White Walkers from passing through. Benjen confirms that he is in fact considered dead as he cannot pass under the Wall. So, he will go his separate way and continue to fight off the dead for as long as he can. The reunion between Bran and Benjen was short-lived, but we will likely see Benjen again at some point.

As Bran looks up, he sees a weirwood tree, the magical trees of the Children of the Forest, and he goes to connect with it. Before he does, Meera questions if he is ready, to which he responds that he is now the Three Eyed Raven and he must be ready. This statement can be taken figuratively, as he is now taking on the responsibilities of the Three Eyed Raven. But, maybe it can also be taken literally. What if Bran actually is the Three Eyed Raven? What if they are the same person? The Three Eyed Raven that we saw in the show could be Bran thousands of years in the future, coming back to guide a younger version of himself along his journey to save the world. After all, The Three Eyed Raven stayed propped up in his tree and we never saw him move, just like Bran cannot move. So, maybe Bran and the Three Eyed Raven literally are the same person.

In any event, Bran’s vision takes him to the final reveal of the Tower of Joy, where the younger Ned ascends the tower to find his sister Lyanna, bloody and dying. After many years of hearing about Lyanna, we finally get to see her. Before she passes, she tells Ned that she must take her baby and protect him. If they figure out who he really is (a Targaryen), they will kill him, she says. And just like that, we get confirmation of the most popular fan-theory, R+L=J (Rhaegar Targaryen + Lyanna Stark = Jon). This might not have come as a shock, since it was in fact such a popular fan theory. But, this is arguably the most important reveal that we’ve seen in the entire six seasons. The implications of this reveal are huge.

First, we now understand that Ned raised Jon to be his own, even though he in fact was not. This point backs to the nobility of Ned’s character and what a great man he was. So much so, that he made up a story which reduced his character, claiming that he had a relation with a whore who gave birth to the bastard Jon Snow. Of course, when you consider Ned’s character, this story never made any sense, as his defining characteristic was his moral character. What’s more, his wife Catelyn always resented Ned for this, and every time she saw Jon Snow, she was reminded of this “affair” that Ned had. She hated Jon Snow so much because of this. In reality, none of it was true. Ned never had an affair and Jon wasn’t a bastard. But Ned had to protect Jon Targaryen. If anybody found out he was Targaryen, especially Robert Baratheon, he would have immediately been killed.

So, looking back, it’s pretty powerful to think of everything Ned did to protect Jon Snow. But, looking forward, there’s even more to consider. First, like we said, Jon is a Targaryen. Moreover, he’s half Stark as well, which is quite genetic makeup, arguably the two greatest families. He could be the link between uniting the strength of the North with the power of his Aunt Khaleesi and her Targaryen bloodline. Yes, Khaleesi is Jon’s aunt (her older brother, Rhaegar, was Jon’s father). And perfect timing as Khaleesi is headed to Westeros with her dragons and all. Naturally, this begs the question of when Jon will find out who he is and what type of union might follow between Khaleesi and Jon. But, this also debunks the idea that Jon is Ned’s son, which weakens his claim as King in the North. It was this very episode that Lyanna Mormont stated that Jon had Ned’s blood running through his veins, which we now know to be false. All in all, this was a mind-blowing reveal which will have a huge impact on what is to come.

HOMEWARD BOUND

In Mereen, Khaleesi makes the difficult decision to leave Daario behind to protect the city of Mereen. She notes that in order to make allegiances, she may have to marry, and having him around would be a liability. Even after a heartfelt plea, she remains stone-cold and commands him to stay behind. As she convenes with Tyrion, we learn that this was his advice, to which she once again listened. Quicker than anybody before him, Tyrion has had a major influence on Khaleesi and she continues to value his counsel. Tyrion and Khaleesi have a wonderful exchange, in which she expresses doubt and fear for what is to come next, but he reassures her that he believes in her more than anything in his life. She formalizes their relationship by naming him Hand of the Queen. In a world where nothing is as it seems and peoples intentions have to be constantly questioned, the support that Tyrion and Varys were offering Khaleesi was not necessarily 100% pure. But now that Tyrion has become Hand, we get the feeling that Tyrion is going to be by her side until the end, as one of the wisest strategists and politicians in the world.

khaleesi ships

And as if all of this was not enough to end the episode on, we get one final truly epic scene, in which Khaleesi and her entire following finally departs Mereen. For six seasons we have seen her endure to build the army and following of loyalists that she has today. She never forced anybody to join her cause; rather they all saw her greatness and made the decision to follow. And now, all united, they head for Westeros, stronger than ever before. Fire and blood will surely be coming….

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SEASON 6, EPISODE 9: BATTLE OF THE BASTARDS

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.

BATTLE OF THE BASTARDS

This may not have been the episode we wanted, but it was the episode we needed. After a week’s worth of buildup leading up to the ninth episode, and what feels like years worth of buildup leading to the battle for the North, expectations were sky-high for the Battle of the Bastards. This excitement was heightened even further by the fact that the penultimate (second to last) episode of each season is generally the boldest and most shocking (the ninth episode of previous seasons included the killing of Ned Stark, the Battle of Blackwater Bay, the Red Wedding, etc). So it was no surprise that the Thrones world was hyped like never before for the battle that would pit the beloved Jon Snow and Sansa against the hated Ramsay Bolton, with the future of the North and glory of House Stark/Winterfell on the line. In turn, it was also no surprise that the episode simply didn’t live up to these lofty expectations. But like I said, this may not have been the episode you wanted, but it was certainly the one that we needed.

snow.2jpg

This episode lacked the surprise factor that we’ve come to expect from previous ninth episodes — it was not the beheading of Ned Stark or the Red Wedding massacre, events which nobody saw coming. The battle itself was not glorious, like the Battle of Blackwater Bay that lit up the King’s Landing sky with fantastic green mysterious wildfire. This battle was down and dirty. It was bloody. It was muddy. It exposed the brutal realities of hand-to-hand combat, a form of battle that we haven’t really seen in-depth to date. And to the extent that one of the goals of this episode was to do just that — make you feel the fear, the adrenaline, the rush, the bloody nature of hand-to-hand battle, well then this episode excelled as measured against that goal.

But there was so much more than just bloody battle. In fact, you could argue that the high-points of the episode were found outside the boundaries of the battle altogether. The exchange between Ser Davos and Tormund prior to battle — the most unlikely of characters to have ended up united in their support for Jon Snow. The palpable uneasiness of it being the night before battle, and Jon Snow’s camp not having much of a strategy at all. Jon Snow and Ramsay finally coming face to face as Sansa looks on — the hatred could be felt through the TV screen. These were just some of the moments leading up to the battle itself, which evoked a range of emotion.

Then there is still so many other aspects of the episode to consider. One of the most important, the fact that Sansa totally distrusted Jon Snow and did not reveal the support she had from Baelish and the Knights of the Vale. Good thing this was the case, for if she did reveal this, it is entirely likely that they would’ve gone down with the rest of Jon’s army and the battle would’ve been lost. There was also Sansa finally getting her revenge and symbolically feeding Ramsay back to his dogs. Oh, and let’s not forget finally getting to see the Stark banner fly over Winterfell, as it has for thousands of years. Ser Davos found Princess Shireen’s toy, and is likely onto Melisandre. And then there’s everything that happened in Mereen. In truth, this episode was more important than probably any to date…So again, I remind that this was the episode we needed.

SANSA & JON

A huge piece of this episode which will likely fly under the radar is the fact that Sansa won the battle. She may not have been physically fighting, but it was her newfound attitude which lends her to really trust nobody that ultimately won the battle at a time when all hope was lost. But let’s backtrack for a moment. It is the night before battle and Jon Snow doesn’t have much of a gameplan. He’s outnumbered and even his closest advisors in Ser Davos and Tormund can’t seem to conjure up a plan that makes us feel as though they really stand a chance against the Bolton forces. Jon Snow is so desperate for answers that he pays a visit to Melisandre, who still appears to be in a funk. There’s not much she can tell him, other than that Jon Snow is here for a reason, and that she will bring him back if he dies again, if that is the Lord of Light’s command. Melisandre has been pretty absent from the show as of late, and I thought many episodes back after she revived Jon Snow, that she would fade into the darkness. But, she’s still around, so keep an eye out for what comes next, which will likely involve Ser Davos and his realization that Melisandre was behind the burning of Princess Shireen. But I digress…

Jon Snow can’t seem to muster up a plan, and it is finally Sansa who scolds him for seeking the advice of all his advisors, without turning to her. After all, Sansa lived with Ramsay and knows him better than anybody, wouldn’t Jon Snow want that insight? As it turns out, not really, and see that in many ways, Jon Snow still knows nothing. But he placates and offers her an opportunity to speak, at which point she explains that it will not be Jon Snow laying any trap, but rather Ramsay who will be setting up Jon Snow’s army to fall into his trap. She knows that nobody is better at playing these games than Ramsay, and boy is she right. She also tells Jon that if they are to lose the battle, she will not be taken alive — death is preferable to reassuming her position as Ramsay’s prisoner and play-thing. Jon Snow insists that he will protect her, but Sansa tells him that nobody can protect her…Nobody can protect anybody.

snow rises

What we are really seeing here is the coming of age of Sansa’s character, which we’ve of course been seeing unfold over recent episodes. She was once the foolish, naive little child who only wanted to marry Joffrey and become queen. Well, after years of torture at the hands of Joff and then Ramsay, any semblance of innocence or youth has been taken from her. She’s also been burned by Baelish, who she trusted to protect her after being freed from King’s Landing, only for him to be the one to turn her over to Ramsay. So now, years later, can we blame her from feeling like nobody can protect her, not even her brought-back-to-life brother?

But the depth of her mistrust runs much deeper. In the face of being drastically outnumbered and desperately needing more men, you would think that Sansa might mention the Knights of the Vale so that he could account for them in his battle plan. After all, if he knew he had them as reinforcements, he could’ve planned accordingly and stood a much better chance at defeating the Boltons. But Sansa doesn’t trust Jon. Sansa doesn’t trust anybody. Not only does she not mention the Knights of the Vale, she doesn’t even let on to the fact that she is in touch with Baelish, or that there could be any possibility of additional troops to support their cause. It’s a pretty bold decision on her part, but she did not trust anybody but herself to control these additional troops. They were her last line of protection for when everything else went wrong. And as everything does in fact start to go wrong, we see what a wise decision she made.

Jon Snow does just what Sansa warned him not to — he falls into Ramsay’s trap. Nobody should have to watch a family member die, but sacrificing Rickon would be a price Jon Snow would have to be ready to pay if he wanted to win this battle. But that’s not who Jon Snow is. So he rides out into hostile territory to save his little half-brother, only for Ramsay to put an arrow through Rickon’s heart as Jon Snow took his front-row seat to watch his brother die. At this point, Jon Snow could’ve retreated, but he takes the bait and rides full force towards the Bolton army, one man against thousands. Sure to be slaughtered, the rest of Jon’s army is forced to charge at his back. Of course, the very limited battle strategy they did have was to force the Bolton’s to charge at them — so now they’re totally screwed, all because Jon Snow fell right into Ramsay’s trap, even against the warning of Sansa. And as Jon Snow is thrown from his horse and the Bolton forces are riding full force towards Jon, it looks like he may just die again. But Jon’s army collides full speed with the Bolton cavalry and we feel the immense impact of two forces charging each other full speed to engage in war.

What happens next is about 20 minutes of bloody, brutal, hand-to-hand combat. This wasn’t the movie version of war, where things are organized and tactical, if not predictable. This was the messy, chaotic, fight-for-your-life version of warfare, which was so unbelievably intense, that it was almost difficult to watch. One of the most powerful takeaways for me in this battle was watching Jon Snow fight, free of any fear of death. We always knew Jon Snow was one of the greatest warriors and swordsmen, but like any man, a natural fear of death can inhibit you in a life-threatening war like this. But Jon Snow has died. And been brought back. He believes that he has a purpose, and he is freed from any fear of death. So he fights like no other man on that battlefield — the weight of death has been lifted from him and he knows no fear.

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But that doesn’t mean he is superhuman or supernatural. He eventually gets buried beneath a mound of bodies, and the suspense is overwhelming as we feel the very real possibility that he could die from simply being stampeded and suffocated. But his journey isn’t done, and he rises up, only to find that his depleted forces have been surrounded by Bolton men. In Greek-Trojan style, the Bolton’s form a shielded perimeter, and simply constrict what’s left of Jon’s army, slaughtering them a few at a time. Tormund was prepared to die as he fights with Lord Karstark (once-supporter of House Stark), and eventually kills him by stabbing him in the gut and biting into his throat. But all hope seems lost, and even worse than watching the good guys run almost come to an end, was feeling the emotion of this group of men who now know that their death is imminent. Jon Snow, Tormund, Ser Davos — none of them can do or say anything — they are out of options and out of time.

That is, until Sansa arrives on the scene with Baelish to save the day with the Knights of the Vale, who easily mow down the unsuspecting Bolton troops. We see that Sansa’s distrust of Jon Snow as a commander eventually wins the battle. Her insistency on keeping these resources close to the chest and not telling anybody about them, ensured that the Knights were not swallowed up by the Bolton army, the way the rest of Jon’s army was, and Sansa’s decision saved the day. And just like, Ramsay retreats to hide behind the walls of Winterfell, walls which he believes cannot be sieged. But Jon Snow advances with Wun Wun the giant, who is able to break down the doors of Winterfell, as he is wounded with arrow after arrow. As he serves his fulfills his duty and breaches Winterfell, it is none other than Ramsay who delivers the last arrow to Wun Wun, putting the giant to sleep for good. For context, giants were once powerful creatures that existed north of the Wall for thousands of years, but today there are only a handful left. So, to see Wun Wun die, like we saw some of the Children of the Forest die to save Bran in a recent episode, is sad and powerful. It also speaks to the role that Jon Snow (and likely Bran) will have to play in the greater war that is to come.

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With no more games to play, Ramsay challenges Jon to hand-to-hand combat, to which Jon gladly excepts. We once again see that he is totally unbounded by any fear of death, so much so that he throws down his sword and approaches Ramsay as arrows are shot his way. When he gets his hands on Ramsay, he beats him to a pulp, finally looking over at Sansa as to acknowledge that they’ve accomplished what they came for. Winterfell is theirs and Ramsay has been defeated. But Ramsay is not Jon’s to kill, and we see Sansa get her final revenge — the revenge that she has been wanting for so long — as she tells Ramsay that his house will be wiped out and his name will be forgotten. And just like that, Ramsay’s dogs tear him to shreds, as he had done to so many before him. Sansa walks away with a grin on her face, knowing that she has no doubt not only gotten revenge, but also regained some of her freedom, knowing that Ramsay is gone for good. For me personally, I would’ve liked to see Ramsay suffer a bit more. Being torn apart by the hounds is of course an excruciating way to go, but after all the torture, after all the sick and twisted games, after all the terror he inflicted upon Theon, Sansa and so many others, I would’ve surely liked to have seen him tied up and tortured for a while. But, that is not the Stark way, and they have bigger issues to contend with.

The Stark banner once again flies over Winterfell, as it has for thousands of years ago, and the Starks have reclaimed their ancestral home. But what comes next? Well, for starters, Jon and Sansa are going to have to work out their trust issues. The North is still divided, and though they will surely regain a lot of Northern support, they also still have enemies in the North, especially what’s left of some of the houses that chose to back the Boltons. But that’s small potatoes. What really matters is the fact that Winterfell is on front lines with the war against the White Walkers that is heading their way, and nobody is more familiar with this impending war than Jon Snow. Having reclaimed Winterfell, Jon Snow will now have to assemble a much larger army if they are to stand any chance.

There are a lot of question marks about what comes next. Who stays at Winterfell? Who leaves? Who becomes Lord of Winterfell? How does Baelish fit into the picture and what does he actually want? Where is Ghost? Most of this probably will not be tied up in the finale episode next week, as there are larger stories they have to turn back to (Bran, Arya, Cercei/King’s Landing). But for now, we can and should all rejoice in knowing that Ramsay is dead, Jon and Sansa have won the battle and House Stark is back where it belongs — at Winterfell.

KHALEESI, DRAGONS AND A NEW ALLIANCE

As if all of that was not enough, a totally separate and pretty intense battle rages on across the Narrow Sea in Mereen. Picking up where last episode left off, Mereen continues to be assaulted by fiery catapults as Khaleesi and Tyrion discuss their next moves. Khaleesi tells Tyrion that she will use her dragons to burn the slave-cities to the ground. But, Tyrion reminds her that her father, the Mad King, once also planned to burn the city of King’s Landing to the ground. In her father’s plan, like hers, thousands of innocent would have died. It was Tyrion’s brother, Ser Jaime, who prevented that from happening by putting his sword through the back of the Mad King, earning him the honor-less nickname of Kingslayer. In reality, had he not done this, King’s Landing and all those who inhabited it may have been burned to the ground. Drawing an interesting parallel, years later, it is once again a Lannister preventing a Targaryen from burning a city to the ground. However, unlike the Mad King, Khaleesi is receptive to Tyrion’s words, and will settle for simply killing the masters and their army, and letting word spread to the rest of Slaver’s Bay about what happens to anybody who crosses Khaleesi.

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We are once again reminded why Tyrion is there and the value he brings to the table. This was a major building block for the relationship between Khaleesi and Tyrion. Following his plan, Khaleesi rides Drogon and burns the masters’ ships, or at least some of them, while Grey Worm executes two of the three masters, leaving the third to go back home and spread the word of what he has seen. In short, the time for peace-talks and half-measures is over, and Khaleesi, under advisement from Tyrion, burns her enemies to ashes. This was the first time we really see Khaleesi fly on her dragon into battle, but it certainly won’t be the last. We also see her other two dragons join as Khaleesi and her three dragons fly the sky. Wisely, they do not burn all the ships, and they claim many of the masters’ ships for themselves.

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Speaking of ships, Theon and Yara arrive to Mereen and stand before Khaleesi to plead their case. They explain that they come with the offering of 100 ships and their support for Khaleesi’s claim to the Iron Throne. All they ask in return is that they are allowed to remain leaders and Lords of the Iron Islands. Khaleesi agrees, but explains something very powerful: they will leave the world a better place than they found it. This means that the Ironborn will not be able to go back to their savage ways of raiding the mainland, stealing, raping and pillaging. Yara reminds Khaleesi that this is their way of life, but Khaleesi does not budge on her terms. She also reminds them that all three of their fathers (the Mad King, Lord Tywin and Balon Greyjoy) were ruthless and power-hungry men who brought much evil into the world. The parallels that were drawn between the previous rulers of their powerful houses and the next generation of rulers is very important to consider. What’s more is that this scene is a direct allusion to Aegon Targaryen and his Conquest of the Seven Kingdoms, during which he made very similar pacts with the powerful houses of Westeros. Like Khaleesi did, he granted them lordship and autonomy over their regions of Westeros, so long as they pledged their allegiance to him — the new Targaryen king that would unite all of Westeros for the first time. Those who refused ultimately suffered catastrophic losses. Those who bent the knee (House Stark, House Tully, House Greyjoy, etc) were allowed to live in peace and oversee their lands and smaller-houses autonomously.

Going even a step further, as mentioned above, House Greyjoy was one of the houses that pledged their fealty to Aegon Targaryen. At the time, the evil King Harren Hoare otherwise known as Harren the Black ruled over the Iron Islands and the Riverlands. House Hoare had ruled as kings of the Iron Islands for hundreds of years, and had invaded and conquered much of the western coast of Westeros, including the Riverlands. An oppressive leader, King Harren ruled from his newly built castle, Harrenhal, the strongest castle that Westeros had ever seen. When Aegon Targaryen arrived to Westeros, the first kingdom he sought to overthrow was King Haren and the Iron Islands. At the time, House Greyjoy was a smaller house, but pledged their allegiance to Aegon if he would help them overthrow the oppressive King Harren. When King Harren refused to bend the knee, Aegon and his sisters flew their dragons right over the walls of Harrenhal and destroyed it with fire. Not only did they burn Harrenhal, but they incinerated King Harren Hoare and the entire Hoare bloodline. To this day, Harrenhal appears burnt and black from Aegon’s dragons. As a result of House Greyjoy pledging their allegiance over 300 years ago, Aegon raised House Greyjoy up as lords of the Iron Islands. With this in mind, it is all the more powerful and significant to consider that 300 years later, the Greyjoys are once again pledging their allegiance to a Targaryen leader who is pledging to retake the Seven Kingdoms and award them lordship over the Iron Islands.

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This is of course a big win for Yara and Theon, who face a great threat from their Uncle Euron. But, it is also a coup for Khaleesi, who has made her first significant alliance with a major house of the Westeros. With her loyal council, three dragons, armies of the Unsullied and Dothraki, and now the support of House Greyjoy and 100+ ships, things are starting to look pretty good for Khaleesi. My guess is that we won’t see her depart for Westeros until next season, though.

HEADING INTO THE FINALE…

So, heading into the finale, there’s a lot of unfinished business. And unlike previous seasons that had great penultimate episodes with disappointing finales, I think this finale episode will be extremely exciting. So here are a lot of open-ended items, some larger than others, but all good to be thinking about:

  • Bran hasn’t been in quite a few episodes and we’re not quite sure what he’s been up to with Meera and Uncle Benjen. I think we’ll see a major development in his storyline that might shed some more light on the ultimate direction he’s headed and the role he’s to play in the war to come. He’s not all that far from Winterfell, so a possible reuniting with Jon and Sansa is possible, though it seems unlikely.
  • Arya is another character that was not in this last episode, and while I don’t think Khaleesi will yet sail across the Narrow Sea, my guess is that the finale episode will feature Arya returning back to Westeros. It would be pretty special to see her finally make it back to Winterfell and to reunite with Jon Snow — as Jon and Arya were always very close.
  • Perhaps the most important development in the finale episode will take place in King’s Landing, where Ser Loras and Cercei are both due to stand trial. Things will have to come to a head, with Margaery deciding whether or not she will continue to play the High Sparrow’s game, Tommen likely being faced with some important decisions as well, and these very important trials unfolding. After all, let’s not forget the House Tyrell is arguably the most powerful in all of the Seven Kingdoms right now (as measured by wealth, land, standing army, etc) and Ser Loras is heir to Highgarden, so even though he’s been locked up in a cell and off-screen for a while, he’s a very important character. And of course, so is Cercei, but things are looking pretty bleak for her after Tommen outruled trial-by-combat, eliminating her advance of the Mountain. Let’s also remember that Jaime is not in King’s Landing to protect her either, not that he necessarily could anyway. My prediction is that Cercei’s road will come to an end in this finale episode, freeing Jaime from the very thing that has always held him back from being a truly good man — his devotion to Cercei. With her out of the picture, Jaime would be liberated to become the good character that we’ve always wanted him to fully become, and go on to play a larger role in the story to come. It just feels like the days of Jaime and Cercei as a duo are coming to an end.
  • The Hound has joined the Brotherhood Without Banners, and it would be nice to see what direction they’re heading in.
  • There are still two living Stark wolves out there; Jon’s Ghost, which I would’ve expected to see in this battle, and also Arya’s Nymeria who we haven’t seen in many seasons. With Arya headed back to Westeros, expect her to be reunited with Nymeria at some point.
  • I also noted in the primer I wrote before this season started that Gendry is still out there somewhere. Ser Davos risked an awful lot to save his life, and considering he does have King’s Blood, I think we’ll have to see him at some point, though very possibly not in this finale episode.

SEASON 6, EPISODE 8: NO ONE

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.

For a while, it seemed like the great battle against the White Walkers, the one that will decide the fate of all humanity, was getting closer than ever. But, outside of Bran’s storyline, we really haven’t seen much of the White Walkers at all. And, several of the times we did see the White Walkers in Bran’s storyline, it was via his visions, and not actually happening in real present-day life. At the end of last season, when Jon Snow traveled to Hardhome with Tormund and ended up battling the White Walkers (and saving many of the Wildlings), it certainly felt like it wouldn’t be too much longer until the White Walkers made their move. And even though most viewers assume that this major battle won’t happen for some time, as it will likely be the ultimate battle that decides the fate of this story as a whole, it still felt like all the other “games” were starting to take a backseat to the only “game” that really mattered — the one against the Night King and his White Walkers.

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But, in recent episodes, that has started to shift and we’ve been reminded that although that may in fact be the greatest game of all that viewers need to always be aware of, there are still many smaller games that need to unfold first. In many ways, the last few episodes, especially last night’s No One have felt like early-season episodes, in that they are focused around lots of smaller games with smaller characters jockeying for position. However, the one main difference is that in the first couple seasons, it felt as though most characters were playing a certain role in their respective game due to the position they were put in. This character was fighting for that king’s claim because his house pledged fealty, and so on. But at this point in the story, most of those notions have been broken down, and characters are acting on free will and making their own choices. The lines have all been blurred, the “rules” of which house is suppose to be pledged to another house have all been broken, most characters are far away from their starting points, and ultimately each is making decisions as to who they want to be and what role they want to play in their respective game. And now, as we approach the final two episodes of the season, it is starting to become more clear than ever the role that each character will in fact play in the wars to come.

NO ONE

This episode was entitled No One, pointing to the fact that Arya has officially become no one, as Jaqen tells her in the final moments of the episode. But in fact, Arya is somebody — she boldly responds that she is Arya Stark of Winterfell and she is going home. Rewinding a few minutes, Arya’s story in Braavos opens with Lady Crane playing the part of Cercei in the local play. This time, she takes Arya’s advice and portrays Cercei’s anger caused by losing the one she loved before she got to say goodbye, and her pledge to avenge the death of her son. As we talked about in earlier recaps, the moment Arya gave Lady Crane this advice seemed to be the very moment that Arya’s journey turned and she realized she did not want to kill Lady Crane or join the Faceless Men. Rather, like the advice she was giving Lady Crane, she wanted to avenge the death of those she had lost before she got to say goodbye. And in order to do this, she must in fact be somebody — she must be Arya Stark. So watching the episode open with Arya’s advice to Lady Crane come to life, certainly pointed at the fact that this would be the episode was Arya finally becomes Arya.

After Lady Crane dresses Arya’s wounds and attempts to nurse her back to safety, we see that Arya’s saving Lady Crane’s life would in turn result in Lady Crane saving Arya’s. What wasn’t quite clear was how a few bandages from Lady Crane was able to save Arya — after all, she got stabbed pretty intensely in the gut, the type of thing that doesn’t just get resolve by a few bandages, but we’ll let that one go. As we suspected, the Waif comes for Arya and kills Lady Crane before chasing Arya throughout the city of Braavos. Arya finally ends up in a dark cavern, the very place where she had lay Needle to rest a few episodes back. No doubt, this makes us wonder whether Arya somehow had this whole thing planned out. In any event, we see that all the blind training that Arya endured, mostly at the hands of the Waif, turned out to be her ultimate savior, as she cuts out the light and defeats the Waif by being the superior fighter in the dark. Arya takes the face back to the House of Black and White, a final gesture, where she finds Jaqen who tells her that she has finally become “no one.” Arya tells him who she really is, and you could send a slight grin on the face of Jaqen, as if this was his plan for her all along.

Maybe Jaqen was some sort of magical man who was pushing her to become nobody in the hopes that it would actually make her somebody — Arya Stark — and a stronger version of that somebody. Or, maybe Jaqen was trying to protect her from the dangers that come along with being Arya and trying to kill all the names on her list — so he was training her to become no one. Or maybe it was neither. Regardless, what continues to be confusing to me is the idea of becoming no one. It seems like Arya became no one so many times. After she became blind and Jaqen offered Arya her vision back if she would say that she was Arya, she refused, showing that she was willing to sacrifice her vision in order to remain nobody. At this point, she was told that she was ready. Then, she drank from the fountain that we know causes death, again showing that she was ready to become nobody and was even willing to risk death to do so, and once again, she was told that she was ready to become nobody, and even got her eyesight back as a show of this. So now, in their final moment together, for Jaqen to once again tell her that she is ready to become no one was just old news to me. Ya ya, we get it, we’ve heard it before. I was hoping Jaqen would tell her something more meaningful, something more profound — but we just got more of the same. I’m left scratching my head trying to understand the true meaning of Arya’s journey over the last few years. She traveled halfway across the world, dedicated her entire being to joining the Faceless Men, took countless beatings, begged on the street, lost her eyesight — the list goes on — all to eventually realize this isn’t who she wanted to be and that it was Arya all along that she truly way. I understand the premise of going through a journey of self-realization and don’t deny that she will now come out a stronger Arya, ready to kick some ass, but still — it seemed like a very long and confusion journey that was destined for some greater ending — and instead we just got Arya realizing she wants to be Arya and not no one. Feels like a waste of time, and probably a realization she could have had after one season in Braavos, not several, but none the less, Arya’s now destined for Westeros as a more seasoned fighter. It will be exciting to see whether she heads back to Winterfell to join her Stark siblings, or whether she has other business to attend to first. Reuniting with the Hound could also be on the table.

I CHOOSE VIOLENCE”

These were the infamous words spoken by Cercei that have been all over the season six trailers for many months. So naturally, I was expecting a bit more violence in King’s Landing this episode when those words were finally spoken. Instead, we got the Mountain just ripping off one of the Faith Militant’s heads. So for now, the fight in King’s Landing is still not here, but we see Tommen further himself down the path of being a complete pussy. In his latest decree, he announces that trial-by-combat is outlawed, no doubt a decision aimed towards weakening the position of Cercei, who will now face a normal trial in front of seven priests who will decide her fate. Even more disappointment than Tommen who dooms his own mother, was the realization that we might not get to see the Mountain fight in another trial by combat.

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So what comes next? Well, Cercei asks Qyburn if the rumors are true, and he responds that they are definitely true, more so than they had even thought. We’re left to wonder what these rumors might be, and we presume them to be a rumor that could maybe save Cercei. But, let’s explore another possibility. Maybe Cercei doesn’t get saved. Maybe she faces trial, is found guilty, and maybe, just maybe, is executed. Sure, our natural reaction is to say that there’s no way Cercei can die just yet. But, as we know all too well, anybody can die at any moment. And, it’s been a minute since any major character has been killed off. So, why not Cercei? The way I see it, Cercei has been holding Jaime back for quite some time, as was reconfirmed in this episode when Jaime tells Edmure that everything he is doing is just to get back to his sister. But what if his sister wasn’t in the picture? Think about who Jaime could become. He wouldn’t be tied to the evils of his sister or House Lannister. He’d be free to become the truly good man that we’ve seen glimpses of — the one that we want him to fully embrace. As the story starts to approach its final lap, and characters begin to assume their final position, it just feels like Jaime needs to be out there on his own, uninfluenced by his sister — and maybe that’s the direction this whole thing is headed.

RIVERRUN

Speaking of Jaime, we move over to Riverrun where he engages in a conversation with his prisoner, Edmure. This reminded me of earlier seasons and similar conversations, namely when Catelyn had Jaime as prisoner in the Riverlands. It was eerily similar — same location, same families (Lannister and Tully), only now the tables have turned and Jaime has the upper hand. We haven’t seen or heard from Edmure in many seasons, and he’s in no mood for Jaime’s small talk. He cuts right at the core of Jaime’s character, asking how he truly sleeps at night and accepts himself as a man. After all, Jaime is the guy who threw Bran from the walls of Winterfell (which should’ve killed him), put his sword through the back of the Mad King, and committed many other honorless acts. Edmure’s poignant words seem to cut through Jaime’s crimson and gold armor, as he looks off and appears to pondering the truth of himself. But then he quickly moves past these words, reminding himself of why he’s there — for Cercei — and tells Edmure that he would slaughter every last Tully to get back to Cercei. We’ve heard words like these before, and it goes back to the idea presented above — the idea that Cercei has consistently brought out the worst in Jaime, and that he’s been willing to commit terrible acts for the sake of Cercei.

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Moments later, we see Edmure enter the walls of Riverrun and command that the Tully forces lay down their weapons. He also demands that Blackfish is turned over to the Freys. The assumption here is that Jaime’s words got through to him and that Edmure does not want to see any more Tullys killed. To avoid this, he’s willing to part with the castle of Riverrun. It seemed as though Jaime made good on his word and took over the castle without shedding any blood. As this is all happening, Brienne and Pod make off in a small boat, and it looked for a moment as though Blackfish would join them at Winterfell to help the rest of his family. But instead, he stays back to fight and die. After watching this, I kind of questioned Blackfish’s reinsertion into the story. After not seeing him for many seasons, we learn of his return and that he’s reclaimed the castle of Riverrun. At the same time, Jaime’s army is heading to Riverrun to retake the castle, and Brienne is headed that way as well to get Blackfish to join Sansa’s fight in the North. Certainly, we’d get to see at least one of these plots unfold — maybe even both. Blackfish would fight Jaime to keep the castle, or maybe Jaime would in fact take the castle peacefully, allowing Blackfish to take his men north to join Sansa. Instead, neither of these things happen and Blackfish apparently dies off-camera fighting a few insignificant men. So again, I ask, what was the purpose of reinserting Blackfish into the story many seasons later, for him to do not much of anything and go on to die an insignificant death? A bit disappointing for a character that was an epic fighter and legendary character in the books. And now, as Brienne heads back to Winterfell without any more men than she left with, we must assume that Sansa’s letter has landed in the hands of its recipient (likely Baelish) and that Stark-supporting men are on the way (likely the Knights of the Vale). If not, Sansa, Jon and company simply do not have enough men to even attempt to overthrow the Boltons.

MEREEN

For those who read this blog weekly, you know that I am generally not too high on Khaleesi’s slow-moving storyline in Mereen and the surrounding areas. After so much time, it just adds up to a whole lot of nothing. Most of the time, I readers tell me that they agree with this assessment, but every now and then there are some who disagree. So, I try to open myself up to Khaleesi’s story each week and approach it with an open mind. But like last night, time after time I continue to be disappointed. I’m not going to rant about how little Khaleesi’s story has progressed over the last few seasons, but let’s just look at last night’s Khaleesi story as a microcosm of her overall journey.

A solid 3-5 minutes was wasted as Tyrion drinks wine with Missandei and Grey Worm and encourages them to tell some jokes. Sure, it was nice to see Grey Worm and Missandei smile and laugh, something we’ve not yet seen to date. But with everything going on in the story right now, can anybody really tell me that this is not an utter waste of time? Even worse, this is not the third or fourth time we’ve had to watch Tyrion have a meaningless dialogue in Mereen. It’s almost as if Khaleesi’s storyline is so boring, that in her absence, the other characters literally have nothing to do other than drink wine and have insignificant conversation.

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Then, a bit of excitement, as least compared to Tyrion’s converation. The Masters of Yunkai and Astapor have arrived to attack Mereen as a result of Tyrion’s negotiations. Khaleesi and her dragons are gone and Tyrion and company appear vulnerable. So what could happen next? Of course, Khaleesi is back with her dragon. But do we get to see what happens once she returns? Nope. Only that she’s now back. But for how long? The entire struggle of the slavery plotpoint consumed Khaleesi’s storyline a long time ago, and we’re still seeing that today. Of course, Khaleesi had to grow as a character and evolve with her dragons before being ready to take back Westeros, but the way the story has tried to achieve this, namely through an ongoing and never-ending saga centered around the slaves that she is trying to keep free versus those that want them in chains, has just been boring. No other way to say it. Oh, and Varys left Mereen to presumably head back to Westeros after telling Tyrion that the queen will need friends in Westeros.

IT’S NEVER TOO LATE

If there was one saving grace in this otherwise boring episode (though I’m okay with it being boring since this season has been so amazing), it was watching the Hound fall in with the Brotherhood Without Banners. The Hound stumbles upon a few of them and totally decimates them with his ax, which is a totally awesome weapon for him. He then arrives at the others who were responsible for the massacre of his village, who have nooses around their necks, thanks to the Brotherhood Without Banners. As I predicted in my last recap, these man were rogue members of the Brotherhood and their actions were not sanctioned by the Brotherhood, who are generally good men. As a result, the Brotherhood is making them pay for their crimes and sentencing them to death.

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The Hound arrives on the scene and tells Beric and Thoros that he wants to be the one to kill these man. As usual, Beric and Thoros are reasonable men and offer up two of the three men. Yet, they will not let the Hound butcher these men, only kill them as humanely as possible. The Hound tells them that there was a time that he would’ve fought all seven of the Brothers, just to kill these three men the way he wanted. No doubt, that is true. But that time is in the past, and the Hound is a different kind of man these days. As they sit around the fire, Thoros sends a very similar message as did the priest the Hound was with. He tells him that everybody has a purpose and it’s never too late to do some good. They mimic the priest’s words in telling him that there is something greater than them and a great war is coming. Thoros reminds the Hound that the Lord of Light has saved Beric from death many times and that Thoros will have a great role to play. Though we haven’t seen these character in several seasons, and never saw much of them to begin with, it will be interesting to see what kind of role Beric does in fact play. The Hound seems sold and appears to be falling in with the Brotherhood, and he fits right in with these band of men who are rough around the edges, don’t kiss ass or serve any particular house and ultimately fight for the good of mankind.

SEASON 6, EPISODE 7: THE BROKEN MAN

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 BROKEN MAN

Seven episodes down, three more to go. And after this season, only approximately 13 more episodes to go…For the entire show. As I talked about in the season six primer, the entire show and its vast storyline is a lot closer to coming to an end than most people realize. And, last week, Thrones producers confirmed that after this season, there will only be about 13 episodes left, split into two seasons — meaning we’ll get a seventh and eight season, each of which will be shorter 6 or 7 episode seasons.

So why is this so important? Well, it changes how each of  us should be viewing and thinking about each episode at this point. For a long time, it seemed like we were just at the beginning of a story that would take years to unfold. So, everything we watched seemed a little less important, because we knew that a lot more still had to transpire before we started to near the end. But all of that has changed; we are there now. The finish line is in sight, and every episode, every scene, every dialogue should be relished at this point. There is no more room for any filler episodes or even filler scenes. Everything we see now is important. We are inching towards the end, and the glorious end that we will see shortly down the road is being set up right here, right now.

In the seventh episode, entitled The Broken Man, we saw just that — a lot of broken characters, trying to put themselves back together. More importantly, we saw these characters starting to cement their positions — the positions that will likely dictate how they fit into the greater end of this entire story. Theon made the decision to no longer be a broken man, and to serve his sister as the strong Theon that she needs him to be, as we learn of their plan to sail to Mereen to parlay with Khaleesi — no doubt a decision that will shape how they fit into this story’s final act. We see another broken character, Cercei, who has pretty much reached rock bottom, and is attempting to piece things back together by proposing a union with the Tyrells. Unfortunately for her, she is rejected by Lady Olenna, and it seems like desperate times will call for desperate measures as violence is imminent for Cercei in  King’s Landing. In Braavos, Arya certainly has become the broken man, now fighting just to stay alive, putting her voyage back to Westeros in jeopardy.

The list goes on. But perhaps the most obvious broken man of them all, and also the greatest surprise (for me personally) to date, is The Hound. Dreams do come true, and The Hound is alive! For several seasons, I have been saying that The Hound must still be alive. After Arya left him bloody and wounded, it was assumed that he was left for dead — after all, he was in pretty bad shape. But generally speaking, if Thrones is going to kill off a major character, they are going to milk it for all the dramatic value that death is worth. So, to not show the death itself, led me to believe that The Hound would find a way to survive and eventually reemerge.

After being Hound-less for a couple seasons, and witnessing his amazing reemergence, let’s explore the greatness of his character for a moment. The Hound was always my favorite character, especially after the evolution of his character via his bond with Arya. The show originally presented him as the ultimate villain — Joffrey’s dog who would carry out whatever brutal acts Joff commanded. And of course, his appearance made him look all the scarier and less likable. But slowly, we came to see that this man was not all evil and surprised us all with a conscience. Several times he protected Sansa from Joffrey and even offered to help get her out of King’s Landing. Then, we learned about his brutal disfigurement at the hand of his brother, The Mountain, when they were just small boys. We learned that this was the cause for his deep fear of fire and we started to develop a sense of sympathy for this once brutal villain — we began to see his humanity. But at the same time, there was a realness to his character — even as we began to see his softer side, he did not hide the fact that he was driven by one thing — his love of killing.

To me, this was the beauty of his character. On the one hand, he had a conscience that guided his actions and ultimately made him a purer character than most of the sinners in the Thrones world. On the other hand, he loved nothing more than the ultimate sin — taking lives. And this is what made him so real. In a Thrones world full of pretenders, schemers and social-climbers, The Hound knew exactly who he was and he did not try to hide it. The juxtaposition of the good and bad in him made him such an interesting, wonderful and relatable character. And then he joined up with Arya and we got to see the continued exploration of this as his good shined through in trying to protect Arya, but his love of killing was also brought out by Arya, who also shared a similar love for killing, albeit hers driven by revenge. So when Arya was the one to leave him for dead, it was heartbreaking, when we knew deep down that this was a good guy who got dealt a bad hand. But The Hound was strong and survived, and now reappears as another broken man, trying to rebuild himself and figure out exactly who he wants to be.

KING’S LANDING

For some time, the stew has been simmering in King’s Landing, and there’s no doubt that it’s about to come to a boil. Between the Tyrells, the Lannisters, the Faith Militant and everything else going on, blood will definitely be spilt very soon. We start in King’s Landing with Margaery studying the holy text, continuing to play the part of the pious repenter. In fact, she is playing the part so well, that some of us might be wondering whether she is acting at all; perhaps she has truly turned to the Faith of the Seven. But, Margaery has always been the master manipulator, with her eyes set on becoming queen and raising House Tyrell to the top, so my money is on the fact that she’s just playing the game. It seems to be working as she has Tommen fooled into prioritizing the Faith Militant over his own family, weakening the positions of Cercei and Jaime. She also appears to have the High Sparrow himself fooled into thinking that she is on his side. So, she takes his advice and tells her grandmother, Lady Olenna, that she must return to Highgarden, while secretly slipping her a piece of parchment. On that parchment turned out to be a rose, the sigil of House Tyrell, implying that Margaery is in fact still in favor of her own house and just playing this role to help strengthen the position of House Tyrell.

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Separately, Cercei pays Lady Olenna a visit and proposes a union between the two houses. But, Lady Olenna is getting out of town and has no interest in any sort of coalition with Cercei or House Lannister. She is quick to point out the truth, which is that Cercei is single-handedly responsible for all the trouble they are facing now. After all, it was Cercei who put her trust in the High Sparrow in an effort to further her cause. That eventually backfired when we learned who the High Sparrow and Faith Militant really were, which ended up crippling those in power in King’s Landing — the Lannisters and the Tyrells. Lady Olenna chose some particularly poignant words, appearing to honestly reflect as she tells Cercei “I wonder if you might be the most horrible person I’ve ever met.” Rubbbing salt in Cercei’s wounds, she continues “You’ve lost, Cersei — it’s the only joy I can find in all this misery.”

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So in an episode entitled The Broken Man, we see that Cercei may be the most broken of them all. She’s now endured the deaths of two children — both murdered, while her third has been all but taken from her, under the spell of Margaery and the High Sparrow’s manipulation. Jaime is off fighting in Riverrun. She has so little at the moment that she might have even realized some solace from having Tyrion around — the brother that she always hated. So here she is, in the middle of King’s Landing, almost completely alone and more powerless than ever. But what she does have is her undying vengeance. As she’s stated dozens of times before, she tells Lady Olenna that she is driven by her mother’s love, and we know that Cercei will stop at nothing to protect Tommen from those using him and to avenge the deaths of the children she’s lost thus far. Since her great walk of shame, Cercei has appeared weak and fragile, but let us not forget who she truly is. She is fierce, she is cold and she will stop at nothing. Let’s also not forget that she’s got the freekish Mountain at her side, sworn to fight for her; it seems like that fight is about to take place.

RIVERRUN

It’s good to see the Riverlands again, the middle area of Westeros which was a common setting in previous seasons, especially for the Hound and Arya. We arrive at the seat of the Riverlands, Riverrun, home to House Tully, or what’s left of it, which is really just The Blackfish (Catelyn and Edmure’s uncle). We see House Frey attempting to lay siege to Riverrun, as commanded in last week’s episode by Walder Frey. Their attempt to win over the castle by threatening to kill Edmure does not even command the attention or respect of Blackfish. He’s much wiser than them and knows that they will not kill Edmure — they need him as a bargaining chip. The Freys are also a bunch of bumbling fools and just simply do not know what they’re doing.

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Enter Jaime and Bronn, with a sizable Lannister army at their backs. Jaime lets it be known that the siege is now under his command and Bronn barks out orders to start to set up a perimeter for an actual siege. But before blood is shed, Jaime wants to speak face to face with the Blackfish. As we know, Jaime is not a bad man, and he has no desire to engage in an unnecessary war, especially against a side that he does not feel to be his true enemy. So the men talk face to face, and Jaime tells the Blackfish that the war is over and there is no reason to shed any additional blood. But which war is Jaime really talking about? The war for the Iron Throne? Sure, that war might be over, but there are many more wars to fight. Starks vs Boltons, Lannisters vs Faith Militant, dead vs living, etc… Surely, war is not over. That aside, the Blackfish tells Jaime that Riverrun is his home, the place of his birth, and he will not simply turn the castle over to the Lannisters. Furthermore, there is no doubt that he too is driven by vengeance for the death of his family and all the horror the Lannisters have inflicted upon the Starks and Tullys. Before he retreats into his castle, the Blackfish tells Jaime that he simply wanted to measure him up, and that he is unimpressed with what he saw.

It seems like battle is imminent in the Riverlands, save for one possible X-factor, Brienne of Tarth. Sansa sent Brienne to Riverrun several episodes ago once she learned that Blackfish had retaken the castle. Sansa wants Brienne to get the Blackfish to join their northern cause in the fight against the Bolton. That was several episodes ago, so it’s a bit illogical that Jaime arrived to Riverrun before Brienne has. But, in any event, it sets up the perfect scene. Brienne arrives to Riverrun as battle is impending between the Lannisters and Tullys, with Brienne appealing to Jaime, the character with which she had once grown so close. Jaime will be pitted between helping Brienne and fighting for the Lannister cause. It will be an interesting dynamic and ultimately the most important outcome will likely be whether or not Blackfish and his army can/will join the Stark cause in the North.

A NORTH DIVIDED

Speaking of the North, Jon, Sansa and Davos are on the campaign trail, trying to win as many supporters to their cause as they can. With the help of Tormund, they win over the Wildlings, about 2,000 in all. They next stop at House Mormont, where we find the 10-year-old Lyana Mormont sitting in power. After Jeor Mormont joined the Night’s Watch, his son Jorah was exiled from Westeros and many more Mormonts died during Robb’s war, there is little left of House Mormont. And Lyanna appears unwilling to sacrifice any more life to support the Stark cause, until Ser Davos steps in and explains to her that this is not a matter of a Stark war, but a matter of the war that is coming for everybody — the war of the living vs the dead. And if the North is divided, they will stand no chance against fighting the dead.

When all hope seemed lost, Ser Davos proves himself once again as an invaluable asset. In this example specifically, perhaps it was his love for Princess Shireen (Stannis’ daughter) and his experience in talking with her that allowed him to speak to Lyanna in a way that resonated with her. House Mormont only has 62 men to offer, but the Starks will take what they can get. It will be interesting to see whether Jorah plays any role in this storyline at all. We know he’s on the move to find a cure and perhaps his journey will take him back to Westeros? After all, his exile was lifted a couple seasons back (note of the termination of his exile was intercepted by Ser Barristan, who forced Jorah to confess to Khaleesi, which is what got him banned from her). So, it’s entirely possible that he makes it back to Westeros and sits as the rightful Lord of House Mormont, and joins the Northern cause…But maybe a long shot.

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Next they arrive at House Glover, where they are again met with hostility. As viewers, we are getting to see all the Northern houses that once supported House Stark and fought behind Robb without hesitation. But Robb’s poor decisions didn’t just cause his own demise, but also great loss for all the other Northern houses that followed him into war. So now, today, when asked to do the same again, most Northern houses are not interested. This time, in the face of rejection, Sansa reminds House Glover that it is their sworn duty to pledge their allegiance to House Stark. It was a bold statement, met with an equally bold response, “House Stark is dead.” Certainly, for quite some time, we have always felt that House Stark was dead. It was only until recent episodes that some hope is starting to brew for House Stark. But, we’ve never really heard anybody say outright, that House Stark is dead, until now. Sansa, having heard this bold proclamation, and perhaps finding some truth in it, resorts to sending a raven, presumably asking for help. We can only assume that she is reaching out to Littlefinger, who can support with the Knights of the Vale. Hopefully, she isn’t making a mistake by reaching out to him.

THEON, YARA (AND KHALEESI?)

Having stolen some of the best ships with a fleet of their best men, Yara and Theon arrive at Volantis and enjoy themselves at a brothel. Well, at least Yara does. The idea of naked women, once Theon’s greatest joy, now appears to trigger the Reek inside of him. Without his manhood, it’s hard for him to be around this, and he starts to regress into his Reek shell. But Yara pulls him out quickly with some tough love. Some very tough love. She tells him to be the Theon she needs him to be, or to kill himself. Harsh, for sure, but it’s the words Theon has needed to hear for some time now. It’s enough of him wimpering around and time for him to step up and be the hard, bold, brave Ironborn brother that Yara needs. He nods at this, before Yara tells him that they will sail to Mereen to convene with Khaleesi.

A few things to consider are: 1) Will they get to Mereen before Euron, their uncle, does? 2) How will Khaleesi receive them? 3) Most importantly, if they do join forces with Khaleesi, what will their cause be? For so long, Khaleesi’s goal was to reclaim the Iron Throne that rightfully belonged to House Targaryen. But, in recent episodes, we’ve seen Khaleesi become more of a conqueror than a ruler. And, in last week’s episode, Daario explicitly told her that she is meant to conquer, not to sit on a Throne. Similarly, we know that the Greyjoys want to conquer and take back the Iron Islands, and perhaps more. So this begs the question, what will their goals actually be? Are they the good guys who will take back what is rightfully theirs? Or do they become the bad guys who conquer and destroy? It’s hard to think that it will be the latter, but maybe that’s the direction this is headed.

ARYA IS IN TROUBLE

Before we talk about Arya’s story in this episode, I have to say, I am still having trouble understanding how Arya did a complete 180 so quickly. For many seasons, she was training to join the Faceless Men. She slept on the streets, she begged, took countless beatings, lost her eyes and even swallowed poison and risked her life to show that she was willing to part with her Arya identity and truly become nobody. And then, just like that, in the course of one episode, all that goes out the window and she suddenly wants to become Arya again. Now, to be clear, I am not complaining about it. We all love Arya and Arya as nobody just wasn’t the same. We want Arya as Arya, with Needle at her side and the kill-list on her tongue. And I understand why she turned back to Arya — her conversation with Lady Crane about Cercei (who Lady Crane was portraying in the play) wanting to avenge the deaths of those who were taken from her before she got to say goodbye, made Arya realized that she wanted the same. She also seemed to disapprove of killing somebody without knowing why she was killing them or what they did to deserve it. Arya kills, but she has a code. She kills those who deserve it. So it all makes sense — but it just happened very fast.

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Anyway, that train has left the station and Arya is back to being Arya. And she can’t wait to get the hell out of Braavos as she books passage to Westeros. She then looks out at the Titan of Braavos, the ultimate symbol of all things Braavos, and the object under which she’ll have to sail to leave Braavos. But she becomes sloppy. She becomes Arya again and with that comes emotion and reflection as she gazes into the distance. Perhaps, a reminder that her identity could get the best of her. In any event, she lets her guard down and is fooled by the Waif, wearing the face of an old woman, who stabs her several times in the stomach. For a moment, my heart dropped and I thought maybe that was it for Arya, but she headbutts the Waif and rolls over the bridge into the water. She walks through the streets of Braavos, badly wounded and losing a lot of blood. We are left to ponder who might help her, and will she in fact make it out of Braavos? Could it be Lady Crane, the life she saved, who in turn saves Arya’s life? A more daring guess is Syrio Forel — Arya’s Braavosi sword-teacher who taught her many seasons back, and is presumed dead at the hands of the King’s Guard, those we never saw him die.

THE HOUND IS BACK

As Arya walks through the streets, blood oozing from her stomach, we fade back to The Hound, chopping trees in forest. It was an interesting transition of scenes, when considering that not long ago, the tables were turned and The Hound lay wounded and bloody, as Arya left him to die. Much has changed since then, and we now see The Hound has joined a small community somewhere in the hills of the Riverlands. They are a simple people, led by Brother Ray, a priest who confesses to not knowing if any of the gods are real. The Faith of the Seven, the Old Gods, the Lord of Light — who knows if any of them are real — or maybe they are all the same. What he does know, and all that matters to him, is that there is something greater than humans, whatever that may be. And he tells The Hound that this power of something greater has a plan for The Hound. Through their dialogue, we learn that Brother Ray found The Hound nearly dead and saved his life. He tells The Hound that he thought he’d die several times, but The Hound kept fighting for his life. When he asks him what drove him to keep fighting, The Hound states that it was hate. But Brother Ray doesn’t believe this, and insists that The Hound is part of a greater plan.

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During his small sermon, Brother Ray confesses that he once was ordered to murder a boy and felt tremendous guilt for the things that he had done. But that it is never late too late to make a change, to start doing good, to start helping the people around you. It’s unclear whether this was a real story, or one he made up for The Hound to hear, but either way, it seemed to strike a chord with The Hound as he realized that he no longer needs be a broken man, and ponders who he wants to become next. And then a few men from the Brotherhood Without Banners arrive, all but promising to return to take what they want. The Hound tells Brother Ray that they will return, but their options are limited as none of them, minus The Hound, are fighters. Still, neither assumed that the Brotherhood would slaughter the entire village. The Hound, off chopping wood, somehow misses the entire slaughter, but returns to see the entire village dead, with Brother Ray hanging before his eyes.

This was a bit of a strange event. The Brotherhood Without Banners have been presented to date as good characters, who do not pledge their allegiance to any one king or house, which is why they have no banners. Instead, they roam the lands, protecting the people from evil. They might be a bit rough around the edges, and need to do some amoral things to get by, but we’ve surely never seen them commit murder of the innocent, much less slaughter an entire village. So, my assumption is that these brothers went rogue and acted on their own. Thoros of Myr and Beric Dondarrion (leaders of the Brotherhood), wherever they might be, will not be okay with what these men have done. But The Hound has seen enough. He knows who he is and who wants to be. He is on the hunt, now with an axe as his weapon of choice.

SEASON 6, EPISODE 6: BLOOD OF MY BLOOD

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.

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The Mad King, Aerys Targaryen, seen for a glimpse in Bran’s vision

In the season six primer I wrote before this season started, I discussed the importance of understanding the context of where the Thrones story currently is in its timeline. In that post, I wrote “For many of the earlier seasons, it always felt like there was so much of the story that still needed to unfold — there was a feeling that we were still just scratching the surface of the story and that it would be a very long time before we really started to near the climax of this magical journey. Well, my Thrones loyalists, I am here to tell you that the time is here…now. As we embark upon Season 6, it is crucial to understand that there will likely only be about 10-12 more episodes after this season. So, in short, we are in the homestretch…The 4th quarter…The final act… There will be no filler episodes or slow-moving plots. We are arriving at our final destination, and it will be a fast-moving and bumpy ride, so buckle up and savor every minute of what’s left.”

Well, six episodes in and we can definitely confirm the above to be true. Things are moving faster than ever, with major advancements in each episode of many of the storylines. Most of the episodes have been action-packed, and each seems to get better than the one before it. After such a busy episode last week that included the major reveal that the Children of the Forest created the first White Walker (the Night King), and learning the reason behind Hodor’s condition while simultaneously viewing his tragic death, I figured that this episode would be an opportunity for the show to pull back a bit and offer up a slower-moving episode. After all, that’s how the show has always been in the past — generally following up an action-packed episode with a more subdued one. But not this season; not when we are so deep in the thick of things like we are now. And with four episodes to go this season, don’t expect things to slow down now. The show’s foot is pressed to the gas pedal and it’s not coming off anytime soon.

BRAN’S VISIONS & UNCLE BENJEN

Bran’s storyline continues to be the most facinating and enjoyable for me as it continues to offer a glimpse into scenes and moments that predate the start of this story. In short, Bran’s visions are allowing us to see things that we’ve only heard about through other characters. And we aren’t just seeing any old scenes — we are seeing flashes of hugely momentous and history-changing events. And while it’s quite interesting and exciting for us to see these as viewers, it’s important to remember the person these visions are really intended for — Bran. As Bran now continues along his path towards becoming the Three Eyed Raven, he is being downloaded on more knowledge than ever before. If he is to fulfill his destiny and play a major role in saving the world, he’ll have to be equipped with a weapon greater than all others — the knowledge of everything that is happening all around him, past, present and future.

So let’s freeze-frame some of the visions Bran saw, most of which only appear on the screen for one second, and could be easily missed. Let’s start with the things Bran saw, that we as viewers had already experienced. Bran got first-hand glimpse of Khaleesi and her dragons, the execution of his father Ned in King’s Landing, the executing of his mother Catelyn at the Red Wedding and the Night King turning a baby into White Walker — all pretty significant learnings (see below). And not only is Bran getting to learn about these happenings, but he’s getting to experience them…He’s getting to relive them…

So now that Bran has seen a lot of the things we’ve seen, let’s talk about the visions he had of things that we had never seen before…Most of which were extremely significant events in recent history. For starters, we got first glimpse of the Mad King as he sits on the Iron Throne and screams “burn them all!” To date, we have heard a lot about the Mad King (Khaleesi’s father), and know that he began to lose his mind and became obsessed with fire, to the point he was burning a lot of people alive. He was the object of Robert’s Rebellion and overthrowing the Mad King was really the event that set in motion most of the story that we are watching today. After all, it affected so many characters so greatly (Jaime murdered the Mad King, Robert/Ned were central to overthrowing him and Robert became king, Khaleesi and her brother had to flee King’s Landing, etc…) So after all of this time, to get first glimpse of the Mad King, to see the last Targaryen king that ever sat on the Iron Throne as he screams to “burn them all” was powerful to say the least. In conjunction with seeing the Mad King, we see his maestars pouring the green wildfire that he often used to burn people alive (the same wildfire that we saw Tyrion use to fend off Stannis during the Battle of Blackwater Bay). And as if all of that was not enough, we actually got to see the moment that Jaime earned his infamous nickname of Kingslayer as he puts his sword into the back of the Mad King.

These were pretty incredible images to see and it cannot be understated the importance that these events had upon setting in motion the story we are seeing today. The overthrowing of the Mad King changed everything for just about everybody, and set up the Game of Thrones. One last image we saw that was less clear is an image of what looks to be a bloody hand touching a wounded body. We saw this image just after Bran saw the young Ned Stark ask where his sister was at the Tower of Joy. I’m guessing that this is an image that we’ll see more of, as Ned arrives to his sister Lyanna to find her dying. This would also add more firepower to the R+L=J theory, assuming that Ned may find his sister dying (along with the baby that she had with Rhaegar Targaryen), and decides to save the baby that will go on to be Jon Snow.

Another significant vision that Bran has, which we’ve seen before, is the shadow of a dragon flying over King’s Landing (seen below). We’ve seen this in Bran’s earlier visions from seasons past, so it seems like it’s just a matter of time until Khaleesi makes her way to Westeros and sees her dragons fly over King’s Landing.

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And as if all of that amazingness isn’t enough for the opening scene, there’s much more to come. Bran regains consciousness and tells Meera that they’ve been found. What I loved about this moment was the calmness with which Bran tells Meera. He was not panicked or scared — those are mere human emotions. And while Bran is of course still human, he’s on his journey to becoming something much greater. He is taking steps towards becoming all-knowing, and even as they are found by the wights, Bran is calm and seems to know that everything will be okay. And boy was he right.

Just like that, a dark figure wielding a fire-mace weapon comes out of nowhere to fight off the wights and save Bran and Meera. And who else could it be but Uncle Benjen — or at least a semi-alive/semi-wight version of Uncle Benjen. But before we get into what happened to Uncle Benjen and what this might mean, let’s refresh on who Benjen was. Benjen Stark was the younger brother of Ned, and in Bran’s visions we’ve recently seen him and Ned as young boys. After Ned came of age and became Lord of Winterfell as the eldest Stark, Benjen joined the Night’s Watch to protect the realm. He quickly rose in the ranks and became First Ranger, a position responsible for leading explorations north of the Wall. 63 episodes ago, in the third episode of the first season, Benjen goes north of the Wall to investigate claims of White Walkers, but he never returns. He is presumed dead after this much time, though many of my posts have hypothesized that he is still out there somewhere and will return at a significant time. 63 episodes later, Benjen makes his return to save his nephew Bran…Though he’s not the same Benjen.

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This Benjen has a cold, white face, looking semi-dead. Well, that’s because he is kind of somewhat dead. He explains to Bran that he went north of the Wall to find the White Walkers, only the White Walkers found them first. One of the White Walkers plunged his icy sword into Benjen, which would’ve resulted in his death and his turning into a wight. But the Children of the Forest intervened and saved Benjen by inserting dragonglass into his heart (the same magic in reverse as when we saw them create the first White Walker by inserting dragonglass into his heart). This is a very important piece of information, because it teaches us that there is a way to perhaps stop the White Walkers from growing their army of the dead, and to even perhaps bring those who are already dead back to life. The Children’s magic resulted in Benjen staying alive, and presumably working with the Children of the Forest and the Three Eyed Raven over the last five years to become some sort of White-Walker assassin. Benjen seems to know what’s going on, and tells Bran that when the Night King comes for Bran, Bran will be ready.

Finding out that Benjen is still alive all this time later was a huge reveal. Finding out what happened to him, and learning that he will now join Bran in his mission is even bigger. It’s also very significant, as it comes at a time when Bran really needs some support besides just Meera. I am very excited to see Bran and Benjen join forces to take down the White Walkers. But before we totally move on from Benjen, let’s talk about Cold Hands. For non-book-readers, you’ve never heard of Cold Hands, so allow me to share this tidbit with you. And for book-readers, seeing Benjen emerge and appearing to be Cold Hands gives his presence in this episode whole new meaning.

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Very early on in the books, a character emerges in the deep north called Cold Hands. He is a dark, shadowy figure that appears to be somewhat dead, and earns the name Cold Hands…well due to his cold, deathly hands. He is a significant character as he helps Bran on his journey much earlier in the story, assisting him in finding the Three Eyed Raven. He also intercepts Sam and Gilly early in the journey north and helps them as well. He was one of the more mysterious characters in the books, but the show completely left him out altogether. Bookreaders have often wondered who or what Cold Hands was, and if he’d ever return. Some hypothesized that Cold Hands could be Benjen, as it would make sense since Benjen disappeared in the deep north and could be this dark mysterious character that is helping Bran in his journey in the north. Well, it seems like there were some pretty clear answers here. Though the show did not mention the name Cold Hands or explicitly connect the dots, Benjen’s appearance and also the fact that he is semi-dead matches the description of Cold Hands perfectly. Maybe Cold Hands will turn out to be Benjen in the books. Or, maybe the show, as it often does, is taking some liberties and blurring the lines between the two characters by turning them into the same one. In any event, it’s pretty clear that the show is confirming Benjen as cold hands, that dark and mysterious character that had helped Bran along his journey much earlier on in the books, and is now doing so in the show. I am very interested to learn exactly what Benjen has been doing for the last five years and how advanced his White-Walker-killing powers are.

SAM & GILLY

Further south, Samwell and Gilly arrive to Sam’s home of Horn Hill. As Sam had mentioned many times throughout seasons past, his father is a powerful man and House Tarly is a prominent house of Westeros. Things appear well at first, with Sam’s mother pleased to see them both. But everything goes sour pretty quickly as Sam’s father does indeed appear to be the hateful and cruel man that Sam had cracked him up to be for many seasons. Watching him treat his own son with such cruelty reminded me scenes between Tywin and Tyrion, where it was unfathomable how a father could loathe their own son to such a great extent. I was really hoping that Sam would stand up for himself — after all, as Gilly pointed out, Sam killed not only a Then wildling, but also a freekin’ White Walker! What have you done Lord Tarly? Hunt a few boar?

Anyway, that didn’t happen, and Sam got chewed out pretty bad by his dad. But at least Sam took a stand, and decided that he would not split with Gilly or the baby, and that they’d stick together. Before leaving Horn Hill, Sam made a bold move and decided to take Heartsbane, the Valyrian steel sword that has been in his family for many centuries. As we know, swords in this show are very significant, especially ones that have names (and are generally Valyrian steel). Ice was Ned Stark’s sword, which eventually ended in the hands of Lord Tywin, who melted it down into two smaller Valyrian steel swords, one of which Brienne now has (Jaime gave it to her). Longclaw was Lord Commander Mormont’s Valyrian steel sword and he eventually gave it to Jon Snow. Heartsbane is one of the other significant Valyrian swords, and these swords should become all the more important as the war against the White Walkers becomes more prominent (we know that Valyrian steel can take down a White Walker after Jon Snow killed one at Hardhome last season). So, keep an eye on these beautiful Valyrian steel swords, and take not of who possesses them.

KING’S LANDING

In my least favorite storyline, things take an interesting turn in King’s Landing, as Margaery comes around to the High Sparrow and starts to see things his way. What’s more, she is able to convince Tommen to do the same. My money says that Margaery has not actually become a devout woman, and that she is manipulating Tommen to buy into the High Sparrow’s rhetoric. By doing so, and bringing the crown and the High Sparrow together, Margaery is weakening the position of House Lannister, which ultimately still remains an enemy to House Tyrell. Her reasoning worked out well for her, as we see Tommen relieve Jaime of his rank of Lord Commander of the King’s Guard. Needless to say, Jaime is furious and wants to kill the High Sparrow, though Cercei reminds him that he will probably die if he does this, and they need to stay alive for each other so they can strategically take down their enemies and restore glory to House Lannister.

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Cercei reminds Jaime that her trial is coming up but that she will demand a trial by combat and the Mountain will be her champion. The trial by combats we’ve seen to date have all been highly entertaining, most notably the last one that included the Mountain (vs the Red Viper), and actually was the reason that the Mountain is the way he is today. It should be quite exciting to see the Mountain fight in another trial by combat, assuming he does. It will also be interesting to consider who the hell would step in to fight against him?

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Last, but not least, Cercei tells Jaime that he should follow the orders of King Tommen and go to retake Riverrun from the Blackfish. We also see Walder Frey, in the same hall where he executed the Red Wedding, telling his sons to do the same and to take back Riverrun from the Blackfish. Walder Frey also mentions that the Brotherhood Without Banners has been raiding the Riverlands, causing additional difficulty for House Frey. We haven’t seen the Brotherhood Without Banners, led by Thoros of Myr and Beric Dondarrion, in quite some time, so it was exciting to hear their mention and hopefully we’ll see them soon.

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Thoros of Myr, saving Beric Dondarrion, both of who lead the Brotherhood Without Banners

The Frey sons tell Walder Frey that they do not have enough men, so it’ll be interesting to see just how large Blackfish’s army is. In any event, it seems like the Freys and Jaime are both headed for Riverrun. But they aren’t the only ones — let’s not forget that in last week’s episode, Sansa sent Brienne to Riverrun to speak with Blackfish and to hopefully unite forces. Which makes us wonder — will Jaime and Brienne reunite at Riverrun? If so, it should be quite interesting, consider that they’ll be on opposite ends of this fight. Brienne will be going to Riverrun as an ally of Blackfish, while Jaime will be going there as an enemy to retake Riverrun from him. Brienne and Jaime became quite close, Jaime even risked his life to save her, so perhaps there will be a middle-ground that can be found and the microcosm of the relationship between these two characters can bring a greater good to the sides that they represent. Oh, and one more note — we saw in this episode that Walder Frey still has Edmure Tully alive and has been holding him prisoner since his wedding night (the Red Wedding).

WHO IS A GIRL?

Talk about an identity crisis… Is Arya more confused than ever? Or has she perhaps finally found clarity as to who she wants to be? It seems like the latter. For a very long time, Arya was having trouble shaking her identity of Arya Stark, even as the Faceless Men trained her to do so. And finally, we saw a major breakthrough, as Arya was offered her vision back if she would say that she was Arya Stark, but she refused to do so, insisting that she was nobody. Then, going even a step further, to truly become nobody, Arya was willing to drink the poison and risk her own life. So, it seemed like after so many seasons of training to rid herself of her identity, she finally had done so and was willing to become nobody.

Then, just like that, Arya decides otherwise and doesn’t go through with her orders to execute Lady Krane. The dialogue between Lady Krane and Arya was very important and made Arya realize who she truly is. When Lady Krane asked Arya how she would change the play, Arya responds that the queen (Cercei) wouldn’t just be sad at the the loss of her son — she would be angry and want revenge against those who took him from her before she got to say goodbye. Of course, we know that Arya is really relating this back to herself, and the father, brother and others whom were taken from her before she got to say goodbye. Lady Krane then tells Arya that she has “very expressive eyes” and asks her if she likes to pretend to be other people (alluding to becoming an actress). Arya, who for quite some time had lost her eyes due to the Faceless Men, is now realizing the power of seeing things through her own eyes. And perhaps Lady Krane’s question about whether Arya would enjoy being other people made Arya realize that she did not want to wear other peoples faces and pretend to be other people. She wants her own face. She wants to see things through her own eyes. She wants to be herself — Arya Stark.

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I am definitely not complaining. Arya was one of my favorite characters and it was Arya’s identity — her sense of self — and her desire to avenge those who wronged her, that made her such a great character. Slowly, most of that had been stripped away from her as she stepped closer to becoming nobody. But who wants to be nobody? So now, it seems like Arya is on track to become Arya again. Maybe a different, smarter Arya — but Arya none the less. An Arya that now has more advanced training in the ways of the Faceless Men. And what could be more symbolic of this than Arya going back to retrieve her trademark sword, Needle. As Jaqen learns that Arya has failed in her mission, he gives the girl the green light to kill Arya, but tells her not to make her suffer. Little do either of them know, that Arya is waiting in the dark with Needle, prepared to take down the girl that has beaten her for so many seasons now. It seems that the real Arya has reemerged and remembered who she truly is — after all, she still has names on her list and Stark siblings in Westeros that could use her more now than ever.

KHALEESI THE CONQUEROR

In the final scene, we see Khaleesi riding next to Daario, with all of the Khal’s at her back. Each Khal leads thousands of Dothraki, and you add that to the army of Unsullied and Second Sons that she already has, plus three dragons, and you can’t blame Daario for telling Khaleesi that it is time for her to be the conqueror that she was meant to be. But, Daario also points out that Khaleesi wasn’t meant to just sit on a throne, which begs the question — what will Khaleesi do after she conquers? In any event, Khaleesi mentions riding across the Narrow Sea to arrive at Westeros, and Daario tells her that she’ll need about 1,000 ships, the  same exact number that Euron Greyjoy has set out to build. Maybe they will join forces after all, as Euron has planned. Khaleesi’s time on Easteros could be winding down, and my guess is that we may see her cross the Narrow Sea this season, perhaps in the finale episode.

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Before the episode comes to a close, Khaleesi rides off, seeming to apparently sense that Drogon was nearby. And after a moment, she returns, on the back of Drogon who appears larger than ever. I’m not quite sure where Drogon came from, or how Khaleesi knew he was nearby. And I was kind of left scratching my head, thinking to myself “why now?” We’ve seen Khaleesi ride on the back of Drogon before. We’ve also seen Khaleesi give a similar speech to inspire her followers. Both times we saw these things, they seemed to have more purpose. So why show us all of this again? It was kind of an anti-climatic finish to an action-packed episode. But, I guess the fact that Khaleesi is getting closer than ever to reaching Westeros was the main takeaway here. I hope she doesn’t take anymore steps backwards or get sidetracked with the slave cities of Easteros — time to look to the west.

SEASON 6, EPISODE 5: THE DOOR

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.

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If season five ended here and now, I could wait until next season, fully satisfied with what I’ve gotten from this season thus far. More accurately, I would be fully content with what I got from the fifth episode, entitled The Door.

There were a number of reasons that I started this blog a few years back, but the number one reason was my fascination with the Thrones world that took place long before the time in history at which the show starts. The books touched upon so much of this rich history, which dates back over 12,000 years, and includes incredibly fascinating backstories of things such as the First Men to inhabit Westeros, the Children of the Forest whom they encountered, the founding of the Night’s Watch, and so much more (to learn more about this history, refer to this timeline I created which offers context of just how far the history of this world goes). I wanted to create a blog that offered viewers a bit more insight into this incredible history, which ultimately adds context to the show we are watching today, making it more enjoyable and hopefully, more meaningful. As much as I enjoy the story that is unfolding in present day, I have always been much more fascinated with questions about things that happened thousands of years ago, way before any of what we are seeing today. For that reason, I’ve really enjoyed Bran’s flashbacks as they’ve offered a window into significant events that predate the story we are watching today. But most of his flashbacks have been to relatively recent events that have occurred within the past 20-30 years. That all changed with this episode, as Bran flashes back more than 8,000 years ago to witness the creation of the very first White Walker. Yes, you heard that right — eight thousand years ago to witness the first White Walker being created. My mind was blown, and as far as Thrones is concerned, I could die a happy man. But there was a hell of a lot more that we found out in this episode, so let’s get into it.

SANSA & BAELISH

At the Wall, Sansa receives a raven from Littlefinger and she travels to Mole’s Town to meet him. But things are quite different from the last time they were together. Sansa is no longer the vulnerable and naive child who foolishly put her trust in Baelish to keep her safe. She is now a woman that is all too aware to the evils of the world, thanks to Ramsay, whom she was given to by Baelish. As she confronts Baelish, Sansa forces him to recognize the things that Ramsay has done to her — things that she can still feel today — not just in her heart — but things she can still physically feel. Sansa forces Baelish to guess the things Ramsay has done to her — in a way, forcing him to acknowledge and own the terrible things that he is responsible for her. At minimum, Baelish is terribly uncomfortable, not only by the position Sansa has put him in, but also in the fact that for once, he no longer has the manipulative upper hand in the situation he finds himself. Even more, Baelish may actually feel bad about what has happened to Sansa, and perhaps he truly did not know what Ramsay was capable of — but we never really know where the line between truth and lies starts and ends with each word that comes out of Baelish’s mouth, which is of course the genius of his character as a whole.

In any event, it was satisfying to see Sansa’s strength in forcing Baelish to acknowledge what he had done, and also that Sansa no longer has any illusions about who Baelish really is (even though we, as viewers, are still trying to figure that one out). Before he departs, he drops one pretty sizable bomb — Brynden Tully aka Blackfish, is not only alive, but has raised an army to retake the Tully stronghold of Riverrun. Last we saw Blackfish was in the third season, during the infamous Red Wedding episode. Just before the doors of the wedding hall were locked shut and the Red Wedding massacre began, Blackfish stepped outside to use the bathroom. We never saw what happened to him, but clearly he escaped and has been able to raise an army to retake Riverrun. Well, at least according to Littlefinger.

If true, this is a huge reveal, as it presents another ally that can join the Sansa/Jon Snow alliance in their quest to retake Winterfell. And even though we never got to see too much of him from the show, Blackfish is a pretty badass character, so it would be great to see him back in action. Sansa decides to send Brienne to seek him out, fearing that a raven could be intercepted by Ramsay. Meanwhile, Jon Snow has proposed trying to win the support of the 10-12 other smaller houses of the North, who Sansa believes will support their cause. After all, the North remembers. (One interesting tidbit to note is that one of these smaller northern houses that Jon Snow named was House Mormont. Perhaps the timing will work such as that Jorah returns back to Westeros to find his cure, just in time to unite with the Starks).

THE FACELESS MEN

Arya continues her training to join the ranks of the Faceless Men, but she is still questioned and told that she is not one of them. In another juicy historical reference, Jaqen tells Arya that the Faceless Men date back many thousands of years ago and that they came from the mines of Old Valyria (the same place dragons were discovered). After fleeing Valyria, the Faceless Men founded Braavos, and much like the elusive nature of the Faceless Men, Braavos was a hidden city, completely disguised from the rest of the world, until it revealed itself only a few hundred years ago.

Jaqen tasks Arya, or better yet a girl with no name, with killing a woman that serves as an actress in a local play. When Arya goes to scout her target, she stumbles upon a reinterpretation of the death of Robert Baratheon, the rise of King Joffrey and the beheading of Ned Stark. Whereas she was forced to look away when Ned was actually beheaded, this time she was forced to face it head-on (no pun intended). No doubt, this was a test of who she really is, and if she is truly just a girl with no name, then watching this should not have bothered her. She is able to get past what she sees without much emotion, and decides that she will execute her victim by poisoning her rum. Yet still, she notes to Jaqen that she seemed like a decent woman and asks questions about who wants her killed. Jaqen tells her that servants do not ask questions and that the price has already been paid — raising a separate set of questions about what that price was and who paid it.

THE FIRST WHITE WALKER

No big deal, Bran flashes back 8,000 years ago to see the Children of the Forest huddled around an ancient weirwood tree. But that’s not all he sees. A man is tied up to the tree, and one of the Children inserts what appears to be dragon-glass into his chest, taking his life and creating the very first White Walker. Since day one, if any of you are like me, you’ve been wondering how the hell these White Walkers came to be in the first place, and what exactly they are. And just like that, we got an answer — and a completely amazing answer at that. The fact that the Children of the Forest created the White Walkers is totally twisted and ironic and amazing all at the same time.

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As a quick refresher, the Children of the Forest were a magical humanoid species that lived peacefully on Westeros, namely in the forests from which they derived their magic and power. About 12,000 years ago, the First Men traveled from Easteros to Westeros, becoming the first humans to inhabit Westeros. For 2,000 years, they warred with the Children of the Forest, destroying their forests and nearly pushing them to the brink of extinction. Eventually, the Pact was signed, which brought thousands of years of peace and prosperity between the Children and the First Men. But before this would happen, in an effort to save their species, the Children used their magic to create the first White Walker. Presumably, the White Walkers were used by the Children to fight back the First Men, and at some point, things went terribly wrong and the White Walkers became their own evil order.

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It is ironic to consider that the Children of the Forest created the first White Walker to fight off man, only for the man to eventually band with the Children to fight off the White Walkers (most notably, during the Long Night, when the White Walkers nearly pushed all life to extinction). That aside, it was just amazing to get to see the creation of the very first White Walker, who we assume to the Night King that we see today. That the Children used dragon-glass to kill the human and create the White Walker would also explain their present-day vulnerability to dragon-glass. As Thrones so often does, this reveleation also forces us to reconsider our previous notions about the Night King, whom we perceived to be the embodiment of pure and absolute evil. However, after this scene, we actually realize that the Night King was in fact once a human, and in this scene, even appeared to be an innocent one. There is always more than meets the eye, and the Night King very well may have once been a good and just human. Separately, it was also interesting to see that the tree the Children used to kill the man and create the first White Walker, is the very same tree where the White Walkers and their army are camped presently, which we see in Bran’s second vision. And the spiral rocks we see at the tree of the Children, is a similar pattern that we saw used by the White Walkers in season three (photos further in this post).

THE IRON ISLANDS

We often forget that the Iron Islands are one of the Seven Kingdoms, and undoubtedly will have an important role to play in what is to come, but we were reminded of this tonight. A Kingsmoot is taking place, which is their semi-democratic process by which a new king is selected to lead the Iron Islands. Yara declares herself to be the first queen of the Iron Islands, and when it is pointed out that Theon would be the rightful heir over Yara, he steps up and delivers a passionate speech about why Yara would be the best leader. Notice that his hair is short again, his beard gone, and he is back in the armor of the Iron Islands — in short, pretty much all signs of Reek appear to be gone.

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Before Yara can be selected, Euron, Balon’s brother and their uncle, steps forward to declare himself king. Even more, he openly admits to killing Balon, and justifies it by noting that Balon was leading them nowhere at all. He tells the Islanders that he’s sailed all around the world and knows what’s out there. His campaign platform is to sail to Easteros, join up with Khaleesi, and offer her the strong fleet of ships that she has desperately needed to arrive to Westeros. Not a bad plan, kind of makes sense (minus the part about him fucking her, she probably won’t be down with that part). And like that, the Islanders are won over, and Euron receives the Iron Island version of a baptism as a ritual ceremony to officially become king.

While this is going on, Theon and Yara flee the scene along with some of their best men, and steal a handful of the best ships. It’s good thing they did, because Euron’s first words when he regains consciousness are to kill Theon and Yara. But, they’re long gone and Euron demands that all of the Iron Islands get to work to build 1,000 ships. It will be interesting to see where Theon and Yara are headed, and also whether or not Euron will follow through in his attempt to provide Khaleesi with the fleet of ships she has been waiting for. One other item worth noting is that the priest on the Iron Islands with the long grey hair who oversees the Kingsmoot — that’s Aeron Greyjoy — the other brother of Balon and Euron, and also uncle to Theon and Yara. In the books, he plays a central role in determining who the next king will be. In the show, they’ve all but cut him out, and most viewers probably do not even realize that he is also a Greyjoy.

JORAH AND KHALEESI

Across the sea, Jorah stands before Khaleesi, who notes that she has exiled him twice, yet both times he returned to save her. She cannot keep him, but she also cannot command that he leaves. But he will make her decision easier, as he reveals his greyscale and tells her that he will be leaving her for good. But not before finally confessing his love for her. Khaleesi shows great emotion, and commands him to find a cure for his disease, so that he can return to her side and help her rule over Westeros. It was a powerful moment, and a reminder that Jorah has been by her side since the beginning (even if as a spy for a short while). It will be interesting to see the journey that Jorah is taken on in an effort to find a cure. Recalling back to last season, Stannis told a story about his daughter Shireen, who also had greyscale, and noted that he had every doctor and maestar from across the world brought in to treat her. Finally, they were able to prevent the spreading of the disease which kept her alive. So, we do know that there is some sort of cure out there.

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THE HIGH RED PRIESTESS

In Mereen, Tyrion proposes that they must find a way to spread the news that it is Khaleesi who is responsible for creating peace in the lands. They turn to the High Red Priestess, who proclaims that it is in fact Khaleesi who was the one that was born from the flames to save the world from darkness, so naturally she is willing to help. While Tyrion is glad to hear this, Varys is a bit more skeptical. He points out that another Red Priestess, Melisandre, had proclaimed that it was Stannis who was the savior. And though he doesn’t know it yet, as viewers, we know that Melisandre is now putting her faith in Jon Snow as the Prince That was Promised. So this kind of muddies the waters in terms of trying to figure out who the Prince That was Promised really is. The Red Priestess responds to Varys by telling him that there is still much that he does not know, and recalls the story of his mutilation, referencing a voice that spoke words as his parts were thrown into the fire. Varys face is taken by fear and wants no more part in this conversation, leaving us to wonder what those words were. Either way, at a time when some of us might have been doubting, the Lord of Light’s power and knowledge reemerges.

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HOLD THE DOOR…

Bran embarks upon another vision, this one taking him to the very same place as his previous vision, though this one takes place in modern day, whereas his first was thousands of years ago. The below photos reveal some very interesting tidbits. First, the tree that Bran visited where he saw the Children create the Night King (first photo below), appears to be the very same tree that Bran visits in his second vision when he sees the White Walkers (second photo below). Of course, in the second photo, it’s thousands of years later and winter has made the whole landscape cold and icy. But it’s interesting to consider that thousands of years later, the Night King holds his army of the dead at the very location where he himself was turned from a human to a White Walker by the Children. Going a step further, the third photo below shows a scene from season three, where Jon Snow and the Night’s Watch stumble upon a whole bunch of dead and mutilated horses in the deep north, left by the White Walkers. You will notice that the spiral pattern follows the spiral pattern found in the first two photos, which was a pattern created by the Children and used in their magical rituals. So, in some way, the Night King and his White Walkers are still referencing the Children, which created the White Walkers in the first place.

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Aerial view of  of Bran’s first flashback to the tree where the Children of the Forest created the first White Walker

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Aerial view of Bran’s second flashback. Thousands of years later, we see the White Walkers’s basecamp is the same location as where the Children created the first White Walker

Dead horses left by the White Walkers in a spiral configuration that matches the spiral of the Children

Dead horses left by the White Walkers in a spiral configuration that matches the spiral of the Children

As Bran journeys through the sea of wights, he arrives at the Night King and a few White Walkers. To his surprise, the Night King is able to see him, and eventually touches him. As he regains consciousness, we see the mark on his arm, showing that what happens in his visions can have very real effects on his present-day life. The Three Eyed Raven tells him that the Night King can now find him, and that they must leave right away. But before they can pack up shop and get out of dodge, the Night King and his army are at the door of the cave and moving in quickly. The Children dispatch their firebombs and eventually set a ring of fire around the entrance, a very literal depiction of the battle between Ice and Fire that has already begun.Screenshot 2016-05-22 at 11.37.31 PMMeera runs back to get Bran, but he’s in another vision, this time back at Winterfell, looking at his grandfather, father and uncle, with Wylis (aka Hodor) in the background. All hell is breaking loose underneath the tree, as Meera, the Children and Summer (Bran’s wolf) try to fight off the wights. They fend off the first few, and Meera even kills a White Walker, which was pretty awesome. Sadly, Summer dies, leaving just Ghost and Nymeria (wolves of Jon Snow and Arya, even though we haven’t seen Arya’s in many seasons) as the only Stark wolves still alive. The death of Summer has both literal and metaphorical meaning; literal in the sense that Bran’s wolf Summer actually dies, and a deeper metaphorical significance in showing that summer really is over. No longer can we say winter is coming… Winter is here.

Hodor needs to help get Bran out of there, but is in one of his Hodor freak-outs, perhaps sensing his imminent death. Meera shakes Bran and shouts for him to wake up, and Bran begins to hear Meera’s voice, even though he is in a totally different time and place. He hears her tell him to warg into Hodor, and he does so, taking over Hodor’s body and helping to drag Bran’s body down a long tunnel leading to an exit. What is significant to note is that Bran was now occupying several consciousnesses; not only was he himself in his vision, but at the same time, he was also controlling Hodor’s consciousness — something we’ve never seen before.

Meanwhile, the Night King finds the Three Eyed Raven, and strikes him down, but not before the Three Eyed Raven tells Bran that it is time for Bran to become him. And just like that, the Three Eyed Raven that had been waiting thousands of years and watching Bran all his life, is now gone, adding even more pressure to what Bran must become. And as if all of this wasn’t enough — the flashbacks to the Children of the Forest, seeing the creation of the first White Walker, Bran seeing the White Walkers in his vision etc etc, the show takes us for one more final, but tragically sad turn, as we learn how Hodor became Hodor.

As they escape the cave and Meera drags Bran’s body as quickly as she can, she shouts over and over “hold the door!” to Hodor. At the same time, although actually many decades earlier, young Hodor appears to see Bran in his vision, and can also clearly hear Meera shouting “hold the door,”even though this event would not in fact take place for another 30-40 years. But the damage was done. Thanks to Bran, Wylis was experiencing his own future death, and a terrible death at that. He falls into a seizure, shouting “hold the door” over and over again, as his consciousness goes into present day Hodor to experience his own death as he is ripped to shreds by an army of the dead. What we then realize is that Hodor has been experiencing his own death ever since that moment, affecting him so greatly that he’s only ever been able to say “Hodor,” a variation of the words that would change him forever — “hold the door.” All at once, we learn the cause of Hodor’s condition, watch his excruciatingly painful death and realize the sad fact that Bran was responsible for both.

hodor

There were a few very key takeaways from this part of the story. First, there is a massive amount of pressure on Bran’s shoulders at this point. At the end of last season, Jojen Green (Meera’s brother) died to keep Bran alive. In this episode alone, Children of the Forest and the Three Eyed Raven, all of whom were thousands of years old, give their lives for Bran. Not to mention, Bran’s wolf, Summer dies to protect him, as does Hodor. Whatever role he is to play in the impending war can be nothing less than huge, after all the people that have died in recognizing the importance of keeping him alive. Speaking of which, let’s recall that in the finale episode two season ago, the Three Eyed Raven told Bran that he will never again walk, but he will fly. With Hodor, Bran’s primary source of transportation, now gone, we have to wonder how Bran will get around, and if he’ll start to use his warg abilities in a greater way.

The other thing I found amazing, albeit in a sad way, is how George R.R. Martin, through incredibly powerful storytelling, was able to make us feel deep emotion for a character we’ve otherwise probably never felt anything at all. After all, Hodor was the goofy oaf who literally spoke only one word — “Hodor.” There was no depth to his character, no real emotion and overall not much for us as viewers to really connect to. If there was one character on the show that you could cast off without thinking twice about, it probably would’ve been him — he just didn’t really offer much — he was just Hodor.

But in the course of just three minutes, that all completely changed, as we abruptly learn the cause of Hodor’s condition in the past, while also watching him die in the present…all at the same time. And that was the beauty of it — the fact that we watched present day Hodor dying at the very same time he was experiencing his own future death as a kid. We now understood that Hodor had been bearing a tremendous weight his entire life — knowing that he would eventually die, being ripped to shreds by the wights. But, we only learn this as we actually watch his death come to fruition, making this sad realization so much more impactful. That one word — Hodor — all of a sudden took on such meaning, as we realize each time he says Hodor, he is referencing the event in which his life will come to an end. The (sad) beauty about how George R.R. Martin chose to reveal this was by delivering that revelation at the same time as his death, forcing viewers to take it all in at once, making it such a tragic death. Poor Hodor, RIP.

Season 6, Episode 4: Book of the Stranger

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.

REUNITED AT LAST

Game of Thrones is a show that is often centered around the struggles and hardships that its characters must endure, perhaps none more prevalent than the struggle of separation and distance. For some characters, it is a physical separation from their family or loved ones; for other characters, it’s a metaphorical separation from their goals, or a distance from what they are trying to achieve. Whatever it may be, there is always a distance which the story’s characters are trying to work against as they try to inch closer to what they want most. And in Book of the Stranger, we saw several characters take giant steps, if not leaps, towards reducing the distance that stands between them and their goals. Most notably, great distances which existed between certain characters were eliminated as several characters were reunited, including Sansa with Jon Snow, Theon with Yara, Khaleesi with Jorah/Daario, and even Baelish with Robin Arryn. And while several of these characters being reunited represented the elimination of a physical distance, it is all the more significant for the implications it has upon the larger goals that are now more attainable with some of the new bonds that have been forged. So look at, because a lot of what had been brewing below the surface is starting to bubble to the top and battle appears to be imminent.

TWO STARKS, ONE ROOM

The idea of a Stark being in the same vicinity as another Stark is an idea that seems foreign. Aren’t the Starks destined to a life of complete isolation from all their family and loved ones? It sure felt that way, and rightfully so — we haven’t seen two Starks together since the second episode of this entire series — that’s right, 53 episodes go! And that’s precisely why the reuniting of Sansa and Jon Snow was quite underwhelming for me. In this Game of Thrones world, there are so many terrible things going on all around us. Every now and then, we get a glimpse of something really positive, something really moving, something really uplifting. And in this world, where the Starks who we loved so very much, have endured years of pain, misery and agony, we could only hope that one day we would see them get back together — a moment that would be so incredibly powerful, that I couldn’t even imagine how good it would make us all feel. But then it happened, and it was just eh.

snow

Sure, it was great to see Sansa walk through the gates of the Wall and to actually feel for once that she was safe, finally in a place where nobody could hurt her and there was actually somebody there to protect her. And it was really nice to Sansa and Jon Snow embrace in a Stark hug, to feel the warmth and familiarity of holding their own family again. But it was just okay, nothing more, and here’s why. Jon Snow and Sansa were never very close — in fact, they didn’t get along very well. As they mentioned in the episode, Jon Snow thought Sansa was a spoiled brat and Sansa thought Jon Snow didn’t really belong. Jon was much closer with some of his other half-siblings, particularly Arya and Bran; Sansa was much closer with others as well, particularly Robb. So while it was really nice to see two Stark children reunited, it kind of sucked that we got the least emotional version of it, since they really weren’t that close in the first place. And, that this was 53 episodes in the making makes it all the more disappointing. I just wish that after all the turmoil we’ve had to watch the Starks endure, that the reuniting would have been more meaningful, or at least more moving.

On the flip side of the coin, perhaps this is exactly the point of why these two siblings are reunited. Maybe that they were not super close to begin with is all the more important, as we will now see them come together to fight the Boltons and win back the North. All that aside, what I did enjoy most was Sansa’s conviction to take back the North. In her eyes, it was not even a question, not even a thought — it was a responsibility — the North has and always will belong to the Starks, in her eyes. And as Jon Snow tells her that all he has been doing is fighting since he left Winterfell, and is ready to resign altogether, it is Sansa that tells him that she will take back the North with or without him, though she prefers he helps. Perhaps another Stark was the only person that could have broken Jon Snow’s defeatist attitude and refocused him on the mission ahead. Though, Ramsay’s letter certainly did not hurt Sansa’s cause, and Jon Snow now appears ready to fight at least one more battle, after learning that Ramsay has Rickon prisoner. Jon Snow, Sansa, Ser Davos, Lady Melisandre, Tormund Giantsbane, a couple thousand Wildlings, a few Giants — it’s a pretty unlikely band of characters that appear to be coming together to form Jon Snow’s army.

Worth noting, elsewhere at the Wall, Brienne finds herself face to face with Ser Davos and Melisandre, and there are a few interesting reveals. First, Brienne confirms to them (and to us) that she in fact killed Stannis, though we never saw it. She also tells Melisandre that she was there when Renley was killed by shadow magic, and seems to know that Melisandre had some part in it. She makes a point of mentioning that she will not forgive and she will not forget, so it is worth keeping an eye on the dynamic between Brienne and Melisandre. Davos also finds out that Shireen was killed, though Melisandre does not offer up that she was burned alive by her own parents (at the advice of Melisandre). Melisandre again notes that Jon Snow is the Prince That was Promised, though Davos points out she was wrong once before when she claimed the same of Stannis. Melisandre is in a weird, distant place, seemingly having regained some of her faith after bringing Jon Snow back to life, but still unsure in the Lord of Light or her own purpose on this journey.

KHALEESI, THE UNBURNT

We knew that Khaleesi would be just fine and find a way to escape the Dothraki Khals– even cooler, she knew it as well. What I enjoy most about Khaleesi is her utter faith and confidence, even in the face of challenging and life-threatening situations. The problem is that we have not seen enough of this side of Khaleesi — not enough of Khaleesi being a leader, not enough Khaleesi burning down temples and killing all the Khals, not enough Khaleesi walking out of fires unburnt…not enough of Khaleesi being the badass she’s supposed to be. We’ve way too much of Khaleesi sitting in a pyramid, unsure of what to do with the slaves in her city, unsure of what to do with her dragons, unsure about pretty much everything. So it was nice to see the badass Khaleesi return — welcome back. Now, I can only hope that this Khaleesi is here to stay, and that her story won’t follow the same pattern it’s followed for the last five years — fight the battle, free the slaves, slaves embrace Khaleesi, Khaleesi leaves city, freed-slaves become enslaved again, Khaleesi wanders through the desert and encounters some new enemy, Jorah and Daario swoop in to save the day, etc etc… My hope and guess is that Khaleesi’s story will really pick up now, and it is presumed that she now has thousands of Dothraki added to her army.

khALEESI

Back in Mereen, Tyrion takes a meeting with the slave masters of Astapor and Yunkai, and agrees to give them seven years to phase out slavery, if they’ll agree to stop funding the Sons of the Harpy. Missandei and Grey Worm and not pleased, as seven years is a long time to allow slavery to continue, and certainly not in line with Khaleesi’s previous edicts. But, Tyrion is trying a new way and it’s safe to assume that Khaleesi will initially not be too pleased when she returns to Mereen to find out what he’s done.

THE IRON ISLANDS

Jon Snow and Sansa weren’t the only siblings to be reunited, as Theon finally makes it back home to Pyke and is reunited with his sister, Yara, who is reminiscent of their father, sitting in his rigid wooden chair and staring off into the fire. Yara is still pissed that Theon didn’t come back with her when she attempted to save him from Ramsay, and she shows him some tough love. She assumes he has returned to claim kingship of the Iron Islands now that their father has died, though he confesses that he has no interest in becoming king. Rather, he wants to back Yara and help her to rule the Iron Islands. What it really seems like he wants most is to continue to atone for his sins, and my guess is that he helps Yara become ruler of the Iron Islands in order to do good in the larger war that is to come.

theon

LITTLEFINGER IS BACK

It’s been quite some time since we’ve seen Baelish and the master manipulator has returned to the Eyrie to continue to use those around him as pawns in his game. Robin Arryn is a bit older and remains Lord of the Vale, which means he still commands a sizable army. As Baelish returns, Lord Royce questions what Baelish has done with Sansa — last they left the Eyrie, Baelish told him he was taking her back home, but ended up in fact marrying her to Ramsay. Baelish doesn’t like Lord Royce’s interrogation, and shows that he in fact is the one in power, as he could easily have Robin execute Lord Royce. But, Lord Royce pledges his absolute loyalty and will live to see another day — but keep an eye on him, as he certainly is onto Baelish. Most important about this scene, Baelish tells Royce to round up the troops, as it’s time to “join the fray.” Baelish is calculated in his every move and has probably planned for this next move for some time now. It will be interesting to see what side Baelish backs, and more importantly, what Baelish’s end-goal really is.

KING’S LANDING

And last, but not least, there’s King’s Landing — perhaps the only storyline that I currently enjoy less than that of Khaleesi. The whole High Sparrow plot just doesn’t do it for me, and I kind of want it to just come to an end. Thankfully, it looks like things might be heading towards a climax, with the Tyrells and Lannisters reaching an alliance. For the sake of freeing Margaery and Loras, as well as eliminating the High Sparrow, Jaime proposes that the Tyrells march their army (the second largest in Westeros) into King’s Landing, while the King’s army will stand down. They propose to do this quickly and quietly without Tommen knowing about it. Seems like it should be easy enough and though the High Sparrow has many followers and people willing to fight and die, it seems like they wouldn’t stand a chance against an actual army. But this is precisely why I think there might be more to it — after all, this whole time, it’s seemed so simple — why hasn’t an actual army just taken out the High Sparrow? Maybe it was simply because all the players in King’s Landing were on different pages and are finally coming together against their common threat. Or, maybe it’s not that simple and there’s more to the High Sparrow’s plan. In any event, things should be coming to a head very shortly (I hope).

NEXT WEEK’S EPISODE

If you don’t watch the scenes from next week specifically because you don’t want to know anything about the next episode, then stop reading now. Every now and then when something particularly interesting grabs by eye from next week’s preview, I choose to include it in my recap. And this past preview showed something that I think could be very interesting. The preview showed a mysterious woman approaching Varys, telling him that there is still much that he does not know. I think this is a woman that we saw all the way  back in the second season — her name is Quaithe, otherwise known as Quaithe of the Shadow, because she comes from the Shadow Lands of Asshai (the same place where Lady Melisandre comes from). We saw her in Qarth in the second season, where she has a mysterious conversation with Jorah, and appears to know many things, including that Jorah had spied on Khaleesi, and also where Khalessi’s dragons are being held (see vide below). Perhaps more significant, she also has an exchange with Khaleesi where she tells Khaleesi that she should visit Asshai as soon as possible, and tells her the mysterious message, “To go north, you must journey south. To reach the west, you must go east. To go forward you must go back, and to touch the light you must pass beneath the shadow.”

And just like that, we never saw her again. But in the preview for next week’s episode, we saw a woman unmasked, that appears to be wearing a similar necklace as Quaithe (and Melisandre) wore, and is clearly a red priestess like Melisandre (photo below). It’s possible that this is a completely different character, and very well might be, since their eyes are different colors. But either way, it is worth mentioning, as I think we will see the character Quaithe at some point again, and also because the red priestess below will likely be significant, whether or not she is in fact Quaithe.

Screen Shot 2016-05-16 at 11.29.19 AM

Season 6, Episode 3: Oathbreaker

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.

THINGS ARE MOVING FAST (AND SLOW)

Blink and you might miss something big — that’s the way the story is moving this season, and things only accelerated in episode 3, entitled Oathbreaker. I remember times in earlier seasons where I could only wait for the story to speed up and for us to get to the good stuff. But now that that time has arrived, I can’t help but feel that many parts of the story are moving too fast. Or at least, too fast for the brief 55-minute episode that we are granted each week. What’s more, I feel a major inconsistency in speed of plot between certain characters and storylines in a given episode. For instance, in a matter of basically one episode, Jon Snow has been brought back to life, executed his murderers and abandoned his post as Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. In the past, these each would’ve been monumental twists and turns of their own, spread across many episodes. But Jon Snow’s story has hit the turbo-speed button, and all of this has been packed into such a short time period. Meanwhile, the same episode then flashes to Khaleesi’s story, which continues to drag along at a speed that might make a snail chuckle. I am struggling to find an internal homeostasis as I watch this show, with certain points appearing to reach a climax, while others struggle to find an inflection point at all. With that, let’s jump in to it.

THE OATHBREAKER

When I saw this episode was entitled Oathbreaker, a name that had been ascribed to Jaime Lannister in reference to him breaking his oath to protect the (Mad) King, I thought that we might be in store for some flashbacks of Robert’s Rebellion, and maybe a glimpse of a younger Jaime actually putting his sword through the back of the Mad King. And while we did get a flashback from the era of Robert’s Rebellion, it was an entirely different flashback, and had nothing to do with Jaime. Rather, in the final moment of the episode, we find out that it is in fact Jon Snow who will be breaking his oath and abandoning his post as Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch.

But let’s cut him some slack, he was just brought back from the dead and came face to face with his own murderers — an experience that must be pretty weird to say the least. But let’s step back for a moment to the beginning of the episode, which picked up right where last week’s episode left off. Jon Snow gasps for air as he somehow tries to contemplate what has happened and the fact that he is alive once again. To her disappointment, he tells Melisandre that he saw nothing after he died, just darkness (sorry Melisandre, no Lord of Light encounters). Jon Snow tells Davos that he failed in his mission and that he does not know how to keep fighting — again, we see another character that has lost faith and hope. But, we continue to see Ser Davos serve as the strength for characters who have lost faith, as he reminds Jon Snow that he must keep fighting, and that he should “go out and fail again.”

snow

Perhaps more significant that any of these encounters that Jon Snow had after being brought back to life was the general way about him. Perhaps I was naively expecting the same Jon Snow, more motivated than ever to lead the remaining Night’s Watch and Wildlings, who would take back the North from Ramsay and eventually fight back the White Walkers. But this is far from the Jon Snow we got, underscored by one of the first things he tells Ser Davos, “I should not be here.” Bringing somebody back from the dead is not natural, and Jon Snow certainly seems to sense this. The cozy warmth of Jon Snow that we’ve come to know was nowhere to be found — traded for a cold, unnatural darkness about him. It almost seemed as if he wished he had been left in his resting place. Perhaps this was exacerbated by Ser Alliser’s final words, when he told Jon Snow that he’s accepted his resting place, but Jon Snow will be stuck fighting this war for thousands of years to come. It’s a pretty heavy thing to be thrown at a guy who has just been brought back from the dead, and maybe Jon Snow doesn’t want to be burdened with this enormous load. So just like that, he calls it quits and names Dolorous Edd the new Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. But not before executing the traitors that murdered him, even Ollie who was just a boy. In the past, this might have been something that Jon Snow would not have been able to do, but this cold and hardened Jon Snow swung his sword and ended their lives. And then appeared to leave the Wall…

THE TOWER OF JOY

The Tower of Joy is an extremely significant scene from the GoT books that takes place all the way back in the very first book George R.R. Martin wrote; through Bran’s flashback, we got to see this scene relived. The scene takes place about 20 years prior to the start of the show, and Robert’s Rebellion is coming to a close as King’s Landing has been sacked by the rebels and the Mad King has been overthrown. Ned Stark has rode across Westeros in search of his sister Lyanna, who he believes was kidnapped by Rhaegar Targaryen (son of the Mad King, oldest brother of Khaleesi), while others believe Lyanna chose to ride off with Rhaegar. When watching this scene, it is important to consider that the search for Lyanna was one of the major factors that sparked Robert’s Rebellion in the first place.

ned

Finally, Ned and his band of Northerners arrive at the Tower of Joy, located in Dorne, where it appears Lyanna is being held captive. While the war took place further North around King’s Landing, it is interesting to consider that Rhaegar had two of his best men all the way south in Dorne guarding this tower. After the first Targaryen knight is killed, we get glimpse of the famed Ser Arthur Dayne, regarded as the greatest knight in all of Westeros, take on four men at once. After defeating the first three, he fights Ned, who is clearly overmatched, and is destined for death after being de-sworded. But just like that, Howland Reed puts his knife in the back of Ser Arthur, before Ned gets the kill. There were several interesting takeaways from this scene: 1) We got to see one of the more epic fights of Westeros history come to life 2) Howland Reed is the one to save Ned; years later his children Jojen and Meera Reed would go on to save/guide Ned’s son, Bran 3) Ned did not defeat Ser Arthur honorably as the tale was told to Bran. Rather, Ser Arthur was murdered dishonorably, stabbed in the back, which did not sit well with Bran.

dayne

As the fight came to an end and we hear a female scream come from the Tower of Joy, Ned begins to ascend the stairs, but not before Bran calls out to his father, to which his father pauses and turns around. Clearly, Ned sensed Bran’s presence, which is an interesting wrinkle to this scene. But the scene would end there and Bran would not get to see what was inside the tower, though we can speculate that it will be his sister Lyanna inside. It seems as though we are getting closer and closer to finding out if there is any truth to the R + L = J theory (a theory which proposed the idea that Rhaegar and Lyanna are in fact the parents of Jon Snow, making Jon Snow part Targaryen). You can read more about that theory from a season 4 recap here.

KING’S LANDING

In King’s Landing, we continue to struggle to understand who truly holds the power. Whereas we are used to seeing the absolute power in King’s Landing of a king and his army, things continue to remain very ambiguous these days. Finally, Tommen decides to exercise a bit of power and demands that the High Sparrow allow his mother to visit the resting place of her daughter, Myrcella. Though, the High Sparrow refuses, noting that his wish cannot be granted until she atones for all of her sins. As Tommen’s guards stand behind him, so too do the Sparrow’s men, showing a clear standoff and vision of power. But things soon settle down, as the High Sparrow is able to manipulate Tommen in telling him that a good king always listens to the wisest council, none which can be wiser than god. In other words, he appears to be convincing Tommen that he should listen to the council of himself, the High Sparrow.

qyburn

Elsewhere, Jaime and Cercei join the small council, where we see Tywin’s brother, Kevan, sitting as Hand of the King, along with Mace and Olenna Tyrell, and Maestar Pycelle. Cercei and Jaime try to impose their will to join the small council, though the small council prefers to keep them out. Later, we see Cercei approach Maestar Qyburn in his dungeon, where she tells him that she wants birdies in every corner of Westeros, from Highgarden (home to House Tyrell) to Dorne (home to House Martell). If there is anybody looking to make the Lannister losses their gains, Cercei wants to know. Of course, this is no surprise. But, what was somewhat of a surprise, was learning that Varys’ “little birds” were in fact little children. This of course makes sense — using poor little children who are able to roam around unsuspected is an intelligent strategy — and this is at least part of Varys’ network of little birdies. But some of these birds are now under the power of Qyburn, and in turn Cercei, so we’ll see how they can turn information into power.

A LITTLE PRESENT

In the North, we see the Lord of House Karstark has gotten even cozier with Ramsay, sitting at the table with him, as a Lord of House Umber arrives. Again, it is important to note that House Karstark and House Umber were the two most powerful houses in the North after House Stark. Lord Umber notes that Jon Snow has brought the Wildlings south of the Wall and they are now a threat to his land. He requests support from Ramsay to fight off the Wildlings, and while he is not willing to bend the knee to Ramsay, he does offer a pretty significant present: Rickon Stark, along with the Wildling Osha. And as confirmation that this is in fact Rickon, we see the head of Rickon’s direwolf, Shaggydog. Sansa, Robb and now Rickon have all had their direwolves murdered, showing that the poor luck and cruel murders do not just stop at the Starks themselves, but also their wolves. Needless to say, Ramsay now has a major bargaining chip, and we can only hope that Rickon is not subjected to Ramsay’s sadistic torture games.

rickon

A GIRL IS NOBODY

Last week Arya refused the offer of getting her vision back if she stated her name — a sign that showed she was in fact getting closer to becoming nobody. This week, as her training continued, she took even further steps towards becoming nobody, culminating with her drinking from the well that causes a painless death to those who wish it. Arya was not only willing to part with her vision, but she has now parted with all her fears, willing to risk her life to become nobody. In doing so, Arya actually gets her vision back, an ironic turn of events. What I find most interesting about this storyline is the question of whether or not Arya will actually remain nobdy, or will still be guided by her identity of Arya. Clearly, she has been training to become nobody, but it was Arya’s very sense of self that made her the strong character that she has been throughout. And if you stop and think about what Arya has endured since season one, it’s an incredible struggle that she has survived. So, the idea of ridding herself of that very character seems strange and I am interested to see if she will truly remain nobody.

arya

One other tidbit that I found interesting was an excerpt from her training/interrogation from the “nobody girl.” During this exchange, every time Arya told a lie, the girl could sense it and would hit her with her stick. When she asked Arya if she wanted the Hound to die, Arya said yes, and got hit by the stick. Arya then said no, and then admitted it was “complicated.” As Arya journied throughout the Riverlands with the Hound and we got to experience what was by far my favorite relationship in this story, Arya still proclaimed that she wanted to kill the Hound, even though we felt like that wasn’t true. In the end, I was very sad to see her leave him there to die (and still hope that he is alive). It is interesting that several seasons later, we see this topic reemerge, and in a scene where Arya’s lies do not work, we hear her confess the truth which was that she did not in fact want to see him die.

KHALEESI AND THE OTHERS

Elsewhere in Easteros, I continue to be extremely bored by Khaleesi’s plot. Every now and then there are some great twists and turns within this story, but for the most part, it feels like I am just watching a lot of people walk through the hot and dry desert, with not much else happening. Of course, I am oversimplifying, and more has happened, but it seriously is taking way too long and has become very boring to me. After things came to a head with the Sons of the Harpies last season and Drogon flew in to save the day and Khaleesi flew off on the back of her dragon and Tyrion/Varys became part of the crew, I really thought we were headed somewhere with this storyline. But to date, we’ve been thrown back into the same monotonous story. Khaleesi is back in trouble once again and somebody needs to save her, blah blah blah.

kahleesi

Even worse, Khaleesi’s boringness has rubbed off on all characters in this part of the world, including Varys and Tyrion. Never did I think I would be bored by the ever-interesting duo of Varys and Tyrion. But Khaleesi has managed to suck them into the boringness of her story. Yes, Varys uses his cunning to discover that it is the slave masters of Yunkai, Astapor and Volantis that have been backing the Harpies and trying to overthrow Khaleesi, but I’m still bored. And the implications of this are even worse — is it possible that Khaleesi is actually going to go back to these slave cities that she took so many seasons to conquer, and make us watch and she tries to do it all over again? I have to believe that this will not happen, for our sake, so it will be interesting to see how these slaves cities are dealt with (once again).

Season 6, Episode 2: Home

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.

HOMECOMING

After a slower kickoff episode to Season 6 in which viewers were reminded where each character stood, the next episode catapulted us back into action. And, as I wrote about in the Season 6 primer, I think the entire season will continue at this pace of action. So let’s jump into it. In an episode entitled Home, we certainly saw homecomings for many characters in the show. Some were literal, some were symbolic, but all were rather meaningful. Whether it was Bran traveling back in time to his home of Winterfell to catch a glimpse of Ned as a kid, Ramsay killing his father to claim lordship over his new home of Winterfell, Tommen finding himself back in the home of his mother’s arms, Arya returning back home with Jaqen or Theon deciding to return home to the Iron Islands, almost every character in this episode embarked upon a journey back home, or at least upon a journey towards forging a new one. Oh, and I almost forgot…This guy named Jon Snow found his way back home…But who could have seen that one coming?

THE RETURN OF BRAN

For me personally, the most enjoyable part of this episode was seeing Bran. It had been so long, and I was always most intrigued by the power of the journey that he was on, and the role he will likely play in the “war that is to come.” No doubt, we were quickly reminded of this war, as one of the Children of the Forest tells Meera of the important role that she will play in supporting Bran once they leave the cave. So let’s not forget, the White Walkers are still out there, and war is impending — my guess is that we’ll be reminded of this in the next episode and get first glimpse of White Walkers this season.

flashback

What I loved about this episode was the use of flashback to see Winterfell as a thriving, happy place — the seat of the Starks and the stronghold of the North. Theon, and later Ramsay, totally destroyed that image of Winterfell, and turned it into a dark and cruel place — so it was nice to be reminded of what Winterfell once was — and maybe a foreshadow of what it could perhaps return to be? What we see in this flashback is the three Stark brothers (Ned, Benjen, and Brandon), as well as their sister Lyanna. It is interesting to note that of the four siblings, all are now dead, with the possible exception of Benjen (aka Jon Snow’s Uncle Benjen), who disappeared north of the Wall in Season 1, and has not been seen since. The Season 6 primer offered that Uncle Benjen is still alive, somewhere out there, and I think seeing this flashback supports this theory. But we’ll have to wait and see on that one.

Benjen Stark before he disappeared

Benjen Stark before he disappeared

The significance of the flashback is not so much about what Bran saw in that moment, but more likely what he will see in his flashbacks to come. In all likelihood, his flashbacks will continue to follow his deceased father, Ned, and Bran will likely learn something that will guide him on his journey. And, if you looked very closely at the preview for next week’s episode, we see Bran in another flashback, with what appears to be a young Ned Stark fighting against Targaryen knights (see photos below, pardon the poor quality). So, this flashback was more of a table-setter or introduction, with future flashbacks to likely be more meaningful.

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Targaryen Knight

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Young Ned Stark?

It was also interesting to see that Hodor spoke as a kid, which naturally raises the question of what happened to him to make him the way he is today. I have to believe that this question would not be introduced if it won’t be eventually answered, so look out for an event in which we see what actually happened to Hodor. Is it possible that he is a more significant character to this story than we originally assumed? Time will tell. But I continue to be most excited for Bran’s story, especially as his flashbacks shed light on the events that took place before the beginning of this show’s timeline.

WELCOME BACK MR. SNOW

It was less of a question IF Jon Snow would be brought back and more of a question WHEN. My concern was that he might not be brought back until later in the season, and until he did, it would weigh on the minds of viewers, distracting them from the rest of the story. Thankfully, producers decided to bring him back in the second episode, and we can now stop talking about whether or not Jon will be coming back. But let’s backtrack for a minute. How awesome was it to see Tormund, Wun Wun the Giant, and the rest of the Wildlings raid through the Wall’s gate and reclaim power over Ser Alliser and the other traitors of the Night’s Watch? After Wun Wun literally decimated one of the brothers, the others lay down their weapons, before Dolorous Edd threw them in the cells to be held as prisoners. First off, props to Dolorous Edd for rounding up Tormund and the others to save the day, and second, nice to see that honor has not been lost as he chooses to throw them in the cells rather than condemn them to execution.

Later in the episode, we see Melisandre, back in her younger form, but continuing to have lost all faith. She tells Davos that everything she believed all along was a lie. But Davos feels differently and even though he is not a pious man and does believe in any of the gods, one thing was for sure: Melisandre had convinced him that miracles were real. And with that, she was willing to give a shot at bringing Jon Snow back to life. What was great about this exchange, and is a common thread to the Thrones story, is the continual shifting of relationships between characters. One minute two characters are juxtaposed as complete opposites or enemies, and the next they are finding that they actually need each other (i.e. Sansa/Theon is another current example of this).

And just like that, we had to endure the most anxiety-provoking few minutes that I can recall, as we wait to see if Jon Snow’s eyes are going to open. One by one, Tormund, then Melisandre, then Davos each leave the room, as her magic appears to have been unsuccessful. For a second, I actually thought that maybe, just maybe, Thrones was going to do what it always does — surprise the crap out of us — and not bring Snow back! And then, it happened, his eyes opened, he took in a gasp of air, and the episode came to a close. But before that happened, let’s also consider the focus that was put on Ghost. As Jon Snow lay dead on the table, Ghost appeared in some sort of deep sleep or trance. And just seconds before Jon Snow comes back to life, Ghost comes back to consciousness. This could just be symbolic of the human/direwolf connection that exists between Jon and Ghost, as existed between most of the Stark children and their wolves. Or, it could mean more, that maybe Jon also has some sort of warg or skin-shifting capabilities, and perhaps had been living in Ghost’s consciousness.

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In any event, Jon Snow is back, and things are all set up for him to really kick some ass. The traitor brothers of the Night’s Watch have been removed from power; Tormund, the Giant, and the Wildlings are back at the Wall, as are his loyal brothers, as well as Ser Davos and Melisandre. Or at least, we assume Melisandre will still be in the picture — but it’s conceivable that maybe her final act was bringing Jon Snow back to life, and perhaps she’ll fade off now as the old woman we saw her as in the last episode. It will be very interesting to see Jon Snow’s first interactions, especially with the traitors who killed him — how will he handle them? And, does this confirm that Jon is indeed Azor Ahai, the Prince Who Was Promised? Maybe not yet…

THE LORD OF WINTERFELL

Elsewhere in the North, Walda Frey gave birth to Roose Bolton’s son, making him the rightful heir to Winterfell. Naturally, this did not sit well with Ramsay, and he ruthlessly murdered his father, making Ramsay the new Lord of Winterfell. Of course, he had probably been planning this for some time. As if that wasn’t enough, the sadistic Ramsay had to kill Walda and her new baby (his new brother), and in the most brutal fashion possible — letting the dogs rip them to shreds. Ramsay’s sick and twisted actions continue to know no bounds, and with the killing of his own father, Ramsay has emerged as the ultimate villain. There is nothing he won’t do in his quest for power, and he now has the support of House Karstark, after Robb Stark executed Rickard Karstark for murdering the Lannister children (as revenge for Jaime murdering Rickard’s son). We see Robb’s actions all the way back from Season 2 coming back into play, as the Karstarks are one of the most powerful Northern houses, and they are now backing Ramsay. House Umber is the next most powerful house, and it will be interesting to see where their allegiance lies, though Ramsay mentioned that he has won their support.

SANSA, THEON AND THE IRON ISLANDS

Now that Sansa is safe with Brienne and Pod, Theon tells her that he will return home to the Iron Islands. As he continues to gain back more and more of his Theon identity, he cannot bare the guilt for the actions he has taken against the Starks, and he tells Sansa that he would’ve died protecting her in her quest to get to the Wall. But now that she’s safe, he feels that returning home to the Iron Islands is his only choice, since he does not want to be forgiven. What is most striking to me is how quickly and willingly Sansa has been willing to forgive Theon. After all, he was single-handedly responsible for betraying the Starks, laying siege to Winterfell, killing two innocent boys and pretending they were Bran/Rickon and also killing the beloved Maestar Lewin. At the time, we hated him perhaps more than we even hated Joffrey. But the moment he came to Sansa’s rescue and helped her escape, she was able to look past all of that and forgive him — so much so that they continue to hug each other in warm embraces. Kind of shocking that she is able to show so much emotion towards the person that wronged her family so greatly. Separately, in speaking with Brienne, Sansa learns that Arya is in fact alive; she now knows that Arya, Bran and Rickon are all alive.

So, Theon is going to embark upon a journey back home, which takes us back to the Iron Islands. Pyke to be more precise, which is the seat of House Greyjoy, from which Balon rules over the Iron Islands. It was nice to see the Iron Islands again after so long away, the massive towers of Pyke constructed along the thunderous wrath of the sea. Picking back up where we left off, Yara Greyjoy is arguing with her father Balon, after they just lost control over the last mainland stronghold that they possessed, Deepwood Motte. Without control over that castle, the Greyjoys are confined to the Iron Islands and do not have a base on the mainland that they can use to capture more land. Wisely, Yara suggests that the Greyjoys can defeat anybody at sea, but her father Balon is old and stubborn and has always been intent on growing his mainland footprint, no matter what the cost.

But what he wants becomes irrelevant, and we meet his brother, Euron Greyjoy, who murders him and throws him off the roped bridge. As they send Balon’s body out to the ocean, Yara swears revenge for whoever was responsible for the death of her father, and notes that she will rule over the Iron Islands. However, her other uncle (and Balon’s other brother), Aeron (otherwise know as Damphair), tells her that there must be a kingsmoot, which is an ancient ceremony where the captains of the Iron Islands vote on who the next ruler will be. The takeaway here is that power over the Iron Islands is now up for grabs, with different players vying for the power position. Considering the context that the Iron Islands are one of the Seven Kingdoms, the decision of who the next ruler will be is a very important one.

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On a totally separate note, there is another interesting thought about Balon’s death. If you recall, he was one of the kings fighting for the Throne during the War of the Five Kings (the other 4 being Renly, Robb, Joffrey and Stannis). First, it is interesting to consider that ALL 5 of these “kings” are now dead. This reinforces the idea that this show was never actually about the war for the Iron Throne, even though that was the storyline that dominated the first few seasons. That was always just a smaller game being played, with much larger games on the horizon. But more significantly, it is also interesting to consider the episode in which Balon died — the same episode in which Melisandre’s magic resurfaced, and perhaps the last episode we’ll ever see Melisandre. Seasons ago, back at Dragonstone, it was Melisandre who used Gendry’s king’s blood to prey for the death of the other four false kings, referring to them all as “usurpers.” As she threw the bloody leeches into the fire, she cast down Robb, Renly, Balon and Joffrey — all the kings that were not Stannis. One by one, they all fell, and seasons later, Balon marks the death of the final king. It is interesting that the final king she cast down died in the very same episode that her magic returned to bring Jon Snow back to life.

OVERTHROWING AN EMPIRE

For some time now, it appeared very unclear where the lines of power were drawn in King’s Landing. Did Tommen really control the king’s army? If so, why hadn’t he stepped in to free his mother and wife (Cercei and Margaery) from the cells of the High Sparrow? How much power did the High Sparrow actually have? What did the High Sparrow actually want? But, after this most recent episode, the lines became a lot more clear, and we start to better understand how things might play out in King’s Landing.

Jaime is now back and has already professed in episode 1 that he plans to take back everything that he and Cercei have lost. He convinces Tommen that he must go to see his mother, and in doing so, Tommen confesses that he has been a weak king and asks his mother for help. No doubt, that was music to Cercei’s ears, as she finally has Tommen right where she wants him — under her control. And by extension, she will also have control over the king’s army, which she will surely need for the impending battles that she’ll have to fight. She also has the freakish Mountain, who we see get his first kill after he smashes a man’s head like a peanut. With Jaime and Cercei back together, Tommen under the control, and the king’s army/the Mountain at their backs, they are starting to strengthen their position.

Yet, it still remains unclear what the High Sparrow truly wants. Is he truly a pious and humble man that wants nothing more than to cleanse King’s Landing of sin? If so, his means of doing so are unorthodox to say the least. After an exchange with Jaime in the Sept of Baelor, the threat is clear: even a group of powerless men can overthrow an empire by banding together. Will the High Sparrow in fact try to overthrow the empire altogether and claim the Iron Throne?  We will find out…

“I DRINK AND I KNOW THINGS”

In Mereen, Khaleesi’s council gathers and Tyrion suggests that they must free the two captive dragons in order to ensure their health. Certainly, he has never had experience with dragons, but he already begins to show the value he brings to the table — his knowledge and cunning. But let’s not forget about his bravery; Tyrion is willing to go face to face with two giant flesh-eating dragons (who have not eaten in days) in order to set them free. This is not the first time that we’ve seen Tyrion use his cunning to devise a gameplan, and also his bravery in willing to be the one to risk his life to execute that plan (the other time being the Battle of Blackwater Bay). Tyrion is a big talker, but he backs it up when it counts, and  you must respect him for this (among other things).

A GIRL IS NOBODY

Elsewhere in Easteros, Arya may have finally become nobody in Braavos. After begging on the streets and suffering with her blindness, Jaqen (who is really nobody, wearing Jaqen’s face), tempts Arya with food and shelter if she will say her name, but she insists that she is nobody. Finally, Arya if offered her vision back, if she will state her name, and even to this, she insists she is nobody. Willing to trade her vision to become nobody, it appears that Arya is finally ready to abandon her identity and join the Faceless Men. Things should start heating up for Arya in Braavos.

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Season 6, Episode 1: The Red Woman

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.

FAITH HAS BEEN LOST

Just like that, we’re back in the wonderful world of Thrones, and without any hesitation, we already have much to ponder from the season’s first episode. In large, the premiere Thrones episode did what it always does — it picked up the pieces from where things left off last season and got viewers back in the swing of each character’s storyline. It served as much as a reminder as it did to offer any new information. And that’s okay — that’s what the first episode is supposed to do — it gently eases us back into the swing of things. That said, there were still several major twists and turns, some which left us scratching our heads in confusion, and others which will have major implications upon the story that is to unfold in the coming episodes.

I thought that the episode felt a little choppy — jumping around from one character to the next without necessarily establishing much of a rhythm. One moment we were in the freezing cold North and the next minute we were in the desert of Easteros. That is not to say that a normal Thrones episode doesn’t move around — of course, it does. But there is a generally a deeper exploration into what is going on in each location, whereas this episode seemed to just scratch the surface before passing onto the next location and story. Again, that’s okay. But even with the choppiness of the episode, there was one theme that seemed to be constant, regardless of character or location: a loss of faith.

In a world where the stakes are often so incredibly high, faith, and where each character chooses to put their faith, has been a common theme since the beginning. Whether it’s believing in a certain god, backing a certain character or house in war, or simply believing in one’s self, faith has been a driving force behind many of the characters’ actions and the plot’s story-lines. Yet, as we began our journey into the sixth season, we saw that many characters’ faith had begun to erode, if not vanish altogether. A once bold and confident Arya is now begging on the street, seemingly having lost faith in the Faceless Men and her mission to avenge the deaths of her loved ones. Cercei appears to have lost faith in the one thing she always had faith in —  herself. Roose Bolton hinted at beginning to lose faith in his son, Ramsay. The Sand Snakes lost faith in their Prince Doran, so much so that it led to a murderous coup. In her absence, Khaleesi’s followers appear to have lost faith, as Mereen has become a dark and empty city. And last, but certainly not least, we get glimpse of Melisandre as a 200-something-year-old weak and fragile woman, appearing to have lost all faith in the Lord of Light, tucking herself into bed as she resigns to her faithlessness. As this season continues, it will be interesting to monitor the arc of each character’s faith, and how that faith, or lack thereof, will drive the actions of each of the story’s characters.

YES, HE’S DEAD

For those viewers who spent all offseason asking, “Is he definitely dead?”, Thrones producers were sure to answer that question right off the bat. The answer: yes, Jon Snow is definitely quite dead. But, that of course doesn’t mean that he will stay dead. So, the real question is whether or not he is going to be brought back to life. If so, when, and by whom? My personal hope is that this question is answered sooner rather than later. If not, I fear that this question will linger in the mind of each viewer, and ultimately risk overshadowing everything else going on in the story.

As Jon Snow’s supporters group around his dead body, Ser Alliser Thorne boldly admits to the treason he and the others have committed, but justifies their actions. As Thrones so effectively and so often does, we are offered a glimpse into a certain characters vantage point, and shift our views on that character, even if just for the moment. Sure, we are all going to hate Ser Alliser and Olly and the other characters that murdered Jon Snow — we’ll hate them forever. But, after hearing Ser Alliser speak, I hated him just a little less. He did not make any excuses or hide the truth — he outright confessed to the treason they all committed. But he also explained it. He, and the others, have dedicated their lives to the Night’s Watch. They live a cruel and bitter existence in the freezing cold at the Wall, defending the realm from the evil that lurks beyond. It is a life that certainly no person could or would ever envy. And in their eyes, there was a crazy and radical Lord Commander who was making terrible decisions that not only put their lives at risk, but also compromised the Wall and everything south of it that they are sworn to protect. Keep in mind, in the thousands of years that the Wall has been around, no Lord Commander has ever let Wildlings through — the very thing Jon Snow was trying to do.

Sure, desperate times call for desperate measures, and I’m not saying that Jon Snow’s attempt to unit the Wildlings with the Night’s Watch wasn’t the right decision — maybe it was the only one that gave them a legitimate chance of fighting off the impending White Walkers. But that’s just our opinion. The opinion of the other brothers of the Night’s Watch was that he was insane for even considering doing this and it would put all their lives at risk. And, this was a sentiment that they often shared with Jon Snow throughout season 5. Remember, it was Ser Alliser that told Jon Snow, “You have a good heart, Jon Snow. It will get us all killed.” They often expressed their discontent with Jon Snow’s decisions, and that discontent later turned into warnings — but Jon Snow ignored them all. Part of being a good and effective leader is not just making the right decision, but also listening to those around you. And while Jon Snow might’ve been making the right decision, he was failing miserably at listening to those around him. So finally, when Jon Snow actually tried to return to the Wall with hundreds of Wildlings, the sworn enemies of the Night’s Watch, some of the brothers felt they had no choice but to remove the man who was putting all their lives at risk. As Ser Alliser stated, “Jon Snow forced this decision upon us; and I made it.”

To be clear, I am not defending the actions of Ser Alliser and the other brothers of the Night’s Watch. It was cold-blooded murder of the worst kind. But, it is important to stop and think about why these brothers did what they did. And up until Ser Alliser’s speech, that’s something that I had not done. I was too blinded by my hatred for them to stop and think about what actually drove them to this extreme — the fact that they actually thought that Jon Snow was risking all their lives, the Wall itself, and all that they were sworn to protect. It’s understandable that Snow’s extreme measures cornered them into feeling vulnerable and threatened. So finally, they did the one thing they thought they had to do — and I don’t believe they took any joy in it. Even though Ser Alliser never liked Snow, he himself proclaimed that he never once disobeyed an order. In some ways, looking back, Jon Snow’s continual ignorance of all the warnings he received about what he was doing with the Wildlings, reminds me of how his brother, Robb Stark, often ignored the counsel he was given. Both thought they knew best and were largely blinded by honor and duty. And both ended up betrayed and brutally murdered by the people they failed to listen to.

DAVOS & THE OTHERS

As Ser Alliser tries to unite the rest of the brothers, Ser Davos, Ghost and the others gather around Snow’s dead body. To date, Ser Davos has always played wingman to Stannis, though he often showed an ability to make important decisions of his own, even sometimes defying Stannis (i.e. setting Gendry free after Stannis and Melisandre decided to sacrifice him). So if you think about it, he always showed instances of stepping out and being a leader — and now he finally can. With Stannis gone, Melisandre in no shape to lead (we’ll get there), and Jon Snow laying there dead, Davos is thrusted into the position of having to lead, whether he likes it or not.

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One of Snow’s closest supporters from the beginning, Dolorous Edd makes a run for it to try and rally up support, after Davos tells them that they were not the only ones Jon Snow had helped (implying that there are others out there who will rally to support them). It’s not crystal clear to whom Davos is referring, but one guess is that Edd is off to find Tormund Giantsbane, the Wildlings and the Giants that Jon Snow had saved from the White Walkers at Hardhome. Even a small fraction of those Wildlings that Jon Snow saved, with the support of Tormund and/or a Giant or two, should easily be able to take on the 40 brothers of the Night’s Watch. But, time is ticking and Davos only has until nightfall to give Ser Alliser an answer. And, who knows if Ser Alliser will honor his offer of setting them free if they surrender, or just murder them on the spot. One thing is for sure, if Edd doesn’t return soon with some reinforcements, Davos and the others may be out of luck.

THE RED (AND VERY OLD) WOMAN

Davos and the others may be saved by somebody other than Dolorous Edd, or at least Ser Davos thinks so. He tells the others, “You haven’t seen her do what I’ve seen her do.” And just when we think the Red Woman, Lady Melisandre might be coming to the rescue, we are thrown a total curveball in the final scene of the premiere episode. As Lady Melisandre begins to take off her clothes, (and I begin to think to myself “Does this chick ever keep her clothes on?”), we see her stare into the mirror with hopeless eyes. Those very same eyes that once burned with faith for her fiery god, now appear cold and empty, no faith to be found. Then, she removes her choker that holds the fiery red gem, and we see that she now appears as an extremely old, weak and fragile woman, who crawls into bed, almost as if to say “I’m done. I’ve lost all faith. I’ve given up and now I am going to sleep for good.”

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So let’s break it down for a minute and consider what we really just saw and what this might mean. The first option is that Melisandre is in fact a 200+ year old woman who has used her magic and potions to trick us this whole time and maintain the physical appearance of a young and beautiful woman. That is, she is an old woman simply masking her appearance — and this is what probably came to mind for most people. But, another theory could be the complete opposite — she is in fact a young woman who has physically aged so much as a result of all her blood magic and witchcraft. That is, the Melisandre we have seen to date is actually her real age, but all the dark magic she has practiced and sacrifices she has made to the Lord of Light have aged her so much that she actually looks like the woman we saw at the end of the show.

In either scenario, one question to be asked is: what is it that has kept her looking so young, and why all of a sudden did she look so old? The first assumption is that it was her magic choker necklace with the fiery red gem inside of it that keeps her young, and removing that revealed her true appearance. But, we can squash that theory, at least to some degree, by looking at the below photo, which shows Melisandre taking a bath, choker-free, and still looking young and beautiful.mel1

So, maybe it’s not the choker, or at least not only the choker. Another hypothesis is that it has something to do with those potions we saw on the table next to the mirror she was looking into. The camera was definitely focused on those potions, and as we know, Thrones is not the type of show to focus on something without there being a purpose to it. So, maybe, it was the potions that she has been taking to maintain a youthful appearance. What’s very interesting is to consider the below two photos/gifs, both from the very same bathtub scene as the photo above. The first shows a different angle of Melisandre in the bathtub, in which you see that although she is not wearing her choker, she actually has a bottle of one of her potions in hand! So maybe she pours that into her bathwater, a fountain of youth if you will. The second photo shows her standing near a whole array of elixirs and potions. So I’m definitely going with the potion theory here.

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One last theory is that maybe Melisandre’s constant desire to obtain king’s blood was not to sacrifice it to the Lord of Light, but rather because she needed it to stay young. Let’s recall, she seduced Stannis and had sex with him. She did the same with Gendry and used his blood as well. And, she attempted to seduce Jon Snow as well, though he withstood her attempts. Perhaps she needs contact or actual king’s blood to stay young, and now that she has none, this is why she is appearing as she did in the last episode.

So maybe that last scene signified her resignation; Melisandre is finally giving up, no longer taking any potions, and getting into bed as the old woman that she truly is. But this begs the question, why has she lost all her faith? Well, the answer to that question seems pretty simple. For seasons, she proclaimed that Stannis was the Prince Who Was Promised, the one true king who would fight back the darkness. After all, she herself had seen it in the flames. Well, that quickly turned out to be a false prophecy, as Stannis’ army got slaughtered by the Boltons. And, let’s not forget that Melisandre convinced Stannis to sacrifice his only daughter by burning her alive, as an offering to the Lord of Light. Then there was Jon Snow, who in the flames Melisandre saw fighting at Winterfell — wrong again about that one (or was she?). After all that Melisandre had seen in the flames, and all the faith she had acted upon, it’s natural that she is ready to give up after learning that she was wrong about everything.

But, let’s pause for a second. If Melisandre is truly hundreds of years old, that means she’s been around for quite some time and has many many years of experience with the Lord of Light and its mysterious ways. Even if she was wrong about Stannis, Jon Snow and the things that have transpired over the last couple of seasons, it seems odd that she would give up altogether, given all the years that it appears she has been practicing. In other words, if that’s really how old she is, it seems like she’s been doing this a really long time, and wouldn’t be so shaken or distraught by the recent happenings — it would just be a small dot on her timeline. Then again, maybe she’s been doing this for so long that she no longer has the will to go on. Or, back to one of the original theories above — maybe she in fact is not that old — maybe she is only the age of the Melisandre we’ve seen to date, but all the dark magic has taken a toll on her physical body — that’s the price she’s had to pay, and she’s now ready to give up.

And then, there’s one final theory. It’s not necessarily one that I believe, but it’s one worth pondering. Maybe Melisandre isn’t giving up. Maybe she hasn’t lost faith. Maybe, just maybe, she is making the ultimate sacrifice. She is taking off her jewelry, giving up her beauty, and perhaps even going to sleep forever — a final sacrifice to the Lord of Light — an ultimate show of her faith. Why you ask? To bring back Jon Snow of course! Again, this is not necessarily what I think to be, but it’s a theory worth keeping in mind. We’ll soon find out what comes next for Melisandre, but with her in no apparent condition to be saving the day, be on the lookout now more so than ever, for Thoros of Myr.

SNAKES IN THE SAND

Prince Oberyn’s bastard daughters, the Sand Snakes, really gave meaning to their name in this last episode. Like snakes in the sand, they colluded out of sight, and pounced to strike as they preyed upon the weak. Of course, it was Ellaria that orchestrated all of this and ultimate stuck her blade into Prince Doran, but the Sand Snakes were just as much a part of the plan, as one of them killed Prince Doran’s guard and the other two took care of Trystane. As Prince Doran took in his last breaths of air, Ellaria reminded him of why they did this: Prince Doran refused to take action to avenge the deaths of Elia Martell (Oberyn and Doran’s youngest sister who was married to Rhaegar Targaryen, and raped/murdered by the Mountain during the overthrowing of the Mad King), and also once again when Oberyn was murdered by the Mountain after he himself tried to avenge the death of his sister and her babies. The Dornish have always been a hotheaded people that seek revenge and are quick to strike. But, Prince Doran was different and cared more about keeping the peace. Ellaria and the Sand Snakes had enough of it, and to begin their quest for revenge, they first had to remove Prince Doran from the equation. It will be interesting to see what happens next and to what extent Ellaria and the Sand Snakes have the people of Dorne behind them. They may first face a civil war within Dorne, before they can pursue their larger war against the Lannisters, but that remains to be seen.

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US AGAINST THE WORLD

As Cercei looks out onto the boat returning from Dorne, she sees Jaime without Myrcella, and she already knows that she has lost another child. The feeling is all too familiar, and her motherly instincts have become keen to sensing the loss of a child. But we see a much different side of Cercei, a side that is without faith or conviction; she appears defeated altogether. Where she once would have responded with outrage, demanding to spill the blood of those who took her children from her, she now appears despondent — her instinct for vengeance has been dulled by all the suffering she has endured. Losing Joffrey to poison, losing Tommen to Margaery and the crown, being held prisoner until she was broken by the High Sparrow, and now losing Myrcella — the daughter that was “pure good.”

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The old Cercei would have screamed at Jaime, telling him that it was his fault for not protecting her; the new Cercei has lost all faith, telling Jaime it is not his fault, and stating that it was the prophecy of the witch she saw when she was child (see video below for refresher on this flashback). The old Cercei would have never believed in some tale from a witch in the forest. But the new Cercei is broken and faithless. Instead, it is now Jaime who tells Cercei that it is just the two of them against the world and that they will take back what they have lost and so much more. The Lannisters now have quite a few battles on their hands and we will need to see where their support will come from, and to what extent House Lannister has a standing army prepared at Casterly Rock.

THE BOLTONS

At Winterfell, Ramsay Bolton mourns the loss of Myranda, in his own sick and twisted way. Moments later, Roose Bolton chastises Ramsay for his loss of Sansa and Theon, heirs to the North and the Iron Islands, respectively. Once again, we see a loss of faith, and Roose seems to question the amount of trust he can truly put in Ramsay and all of his “little games.” So much so that Roose mentions that he is trying to put a baby in Walda, in which case he wouldn’t need Ramsay as an heir. As a refresher, Walda is one of the Frey daughters that Walder Frey gave to Roose Bolton as part of their collusion in the Purple Wedding. Roose also mentions that Ramsay’s victory over a depleted Baratheon army is nothing compared to the battle they will face against a well-provisioned Lannister army. Though the Lannisters now have other fish to try (namely against the Martells and possibly the High Sparrow), Roose Bolton defied the Lannisters by marrying Sansa to Ramsay, and that positions House Bolton and House Lannister as enemies.

SANSA, THEON, BRIENNE & POD

Elsewhere in the North, Sansa and Theon miraculously survived their jump from the top of the Winterfell walls, which was a bit inexplicable, but I guess unimportant to the story. As they run through the forest and arrive at a freezing river that they must cross, Theon talks Sansa through it and gets them safely across. This is a major progression for a character who was once no more than an obedient dog to Ramsay. In fact, so much so, that I almost feel that they are progressing his character too fast. For seasons, he appeared as an irreparably damaged thing — he couldn’t even be called a person. He was so far beyond coming back from whatever he had come. Then, all of a sudden, he is defying Ramsay, saving Sansa, jumping off walls of castles, and now even has the strength to calm Sansa and help guide her through the forest. I am all for the character progression and it’s great to see some semblance of Theon back, but it all just feels a bit rushed.

sansa theon

Anyway, after Sansa and Theon embrace in a comforting hug, Theon risks his life to save Sansa as the Bolton bannermen find them. And just as it seems that George R.R. Martin might be the cruelest man alive and actually subject them (and us) to the idea of going back to Ramsay, Brienne and Pod arrive to save the day. But more significant than Brienne saving Sansa was her pledge to protect Sansa as she continues on her journey. As Sansa accepted Brienne’s pledge, it was a powerful and symbolic moment — a proverbial passing of the torch — as Sansa forms a union with Briene and takes ownership of House Stark, as her mother did before her. And with Arya in trouble in Easteros and Bran and Rickon both split up, Sansa is the only Stark that now appears to be headed in a positive direction. Maybe, just maybe, she is approaching the light at the end of the tunnel and will be able to restore some good to House Stark. Theon had told her to proceed north to the Wall to link up with Jon Snow, which might not be the best of ideas. We’ll see which direction they head, but with Theon, Brienne and Pod at her side, Sansa finally appears safe, even if just for the moment. We’re all rooting for House Stark, that’s for sure.

KHALEESI

When is the Khaleesi storyline ever going to go where we want it to go? It seems like every time she takes one step forward, she takes two steps back. She’s got 3 dragons, a huge army, a circle of loyal supporters — yet somehow she ends up alone and captive to the Dothraki. After the Khal tells her how he is going to rape her and kill her, he quickly changes his mind after she tells him that she was married to Khal Drogo. But, things are not looking so great for her, as they tell her that she will be brought to Vaes Dothrak to a temple with all the other Khals’ widows. It is safe to assume that rescue is not far away, but who will do the rescuing? Will it be Daario and Jorah, who fortuitously happened upon the ring that she dropped in the hundreds of miles of grassland? Will Drogon rescue her once again? And what about her other two dragons — are they still locked up? All I can say is that I hope it’s not another season of Khaleesi drama and that her storyline really takes us somewhere soon — ideally to Westeros.

khaleesi

MEREEN

Back in Mereen, things are looking pretty bleak. What was recently a more vibrant and populous city under Khaleesi, now appears to be a dark ghost town. Where did everybody go? As Tyrion and Varys roam the streets, I couldn’t help but wonder where their protection was. Where are the dragons? Where are the Unsullied? Why are they walking the streets so freely, without any protection, as they discuss the threats that are still lurking out there — namely the person who must have been leading the Harpies. And just like that, a massive fire breaks out, as they note that they will not be going to Westeros anytime soon. Wonderful.

BLIND IN BRAAVOS

Elsewhere in Easteros, Arya is another character that appears to have lost all faith, not only in herself, but also in her quest to become a Faceless Man and avenge the deaths of her loved ones. She has resorted to sitting on the street, begging for change. Until the girl from the House of Black and White returns and beats her with a stick, telling her she’ll be back tomorrow. Needless to say, Arya’s training will resume, and she’ll be forced to learn how to become a blind warrior. It remains to be seen how this will fit back into the larger plot and intertwine with the other story-lines going on.

arya

THE TYRELLS & TOMMEN

And last, but not least, let’s not forget about House Tyrell and King Tommen. We see that Margaery is still being held captive, and it is presumed that her brother, Loras, is as well, though we don’t actually see him. It was one thing when Tommen didn’t rescue his mother, but it is another that he is not attempting to free Margaery, his wife and queen of the Seven Kingdoms. It makes us question what is going on with Tommen, and to what extent he even retains power and control. Also, keep in mind that Lady Olenna Tyrell is still out there, and in the past she has been a master schemer, always looking to improve the position of House Tyrell  and weaken those that she sees as threats (i.e. she colluded with Baelish to orchestrate the entire Red Wedding and get rid of Joffrey). Another Tyrell to remember is Mace Tyrell, Margaery/Loras’ father, who Cercei had shipped off to Braavos just before she got thrown in a cell. Keep an eye on how everything in King’s Landing plays out between the Tyrells/Lannisters/King Tommen/High Sparrow.

PEOPLE AND PLACES TO KEEP AN EYE OUT FOR…

Bran & Rickon Stark

Baelish

Thoros of Myr & Beric DondarrionthoroGendrygYara & Balon Greyjoy/Iron Islandsyara