Disclaimer: There are no spoilers in this article. I have no knowledge of what is to transpire in this story. Any views or content expressed are solely personal theories, opinions and insights.
THE DRAGON AND THE WOLF
24 months. 104 weeks. 730 days. This is roughly how long we will have to wait until we embark upon the 8th and final season of Thrones. That’s right — it will be approximately two years (if we are lucky, it could be as little as 18 months) until Thrones returns to bring this epic saga to a close. The good news is that this finale episode left us with so much to think about as we enter the Thrones off-season. In just one episode, the army of the dead has finally broken through The Wall; a fairly-major character, Baelish, is killed off; Jon Snow’s legitimate Targaryen identity is confirmed; and the dragon and the wolf finally come together. If it hadn’t already, after tonight, this story has definitely reached its climax and with just 6 episodes remaining, we are truly approaching the end.
A HOLE IN THE WALL
In an episode filled with monumental moments, the most significant was the (partial) destruction of The Wall at the hands of the Night King and his newly turned undead dragon. At first glance, this was a crucial development for obvious reasons — it allowed the White Walkers and their army of the dead to pass The Wall and begin their march on the Seven Kingdoms. But digging a bit deeper and considering the full context of The Wall will allow you to consider the magnitude of this moment in a whole other perspective.
In a story that centers around Ice and Fire, evil and good, light and dark, it is The Wall that symbolizes the fine line between these ever-opposing forces. The Wall was not built yesterday; or a few years ago; or even a few hundred years ago. The Wall was built 8,000 years ago — that’s right — eight-thousand years ago. And it wasn’t built by mere mortals using mundane means. It was built when The Children of the Forest, The First Men and the Giants all came together to fight for their survival against the White Walkers. During The Long Night, the White Walkers brought the longest and darkest winter that Westeros had ever experienced, and they nearly wiped out all life that inhabited the continent. However, The First Men and Children of the Forest banded together to push back the White Walkers, and then built The Wall to keep them out. It is said that Brandon Stark, otherwise known as Brandon the Builder, a legendary architect (and founder of House Stark), had the vision to build The Wall. Using magic from The Children of the Forest and the manpower from many giants, Brandon the Builder successfully built The Wall, which stretched 300 miles across and stood 700-feet tall. After the completion of the The Wall, the Night’s Watch was formed to man the wall and defend the realm from the dead that lurked beyond.
For 8,000 years, The Wall was more than a structure that kept out the dead — it was an indestructible symbol that divided good from evil, light from dark, Ice from Fire. And now, we have just seen that wall fall. A structure that protected the realm for thousands of years has finally been breached, and now, nobody is safe. As the Night King rode on the back of his undead dragon, he unleashed a fury of icy fire that was able to easily reduce The Wall to rubble. What’s important to remember is that The Wall was constructed using powerful magic from The Children of the Forest — magic that has kept the White Walkers out for thousands of years. And since The Wall is more than just ice and is also made up of this magic, it would take more than just ordinary force to destruct The Wall. Which is why the Night King, on the back of a dragon — representing the union of fire and ice — is able to destroy a good chunk of The Wall. Seeing this also again reminds us of the ties that the Night King has to the Children of the Forest. After all, it was the Children that created the Night King in the first place and he has shown to carry some of their magical powers. It then makes perfect sense that he is the one who is able to counteract the power of their magic used to build The Wall as he tears it down.
In just a few minutes, the Night King was able to completely eradicate a good chunk of The Wall and also took out Eastwatch by the Sea, the Night’s Watch castle built into that portion of The Wall. If he was able to destroy that much of The Wall that quickly, one could deduce that it would only be a matter of weeks before he was able to take out The Wall in its entirety. But perhaps he won’t have to — perhaps all he really needed was a singular entry point for the army of the dead to march through. Now, that is exactly what he has and the army of the dead have reached the other side of The Wall. And what will be the first meaningful destination they arrive at? More likely than not, good old Winterfell.
“THE LONE WOLF DIES”
“When the snows fall and white winds blow, the lone wolf dies, but the pack survives.” These were the words originally spoken by Ned Stark, and repeated by Sansa to her sister Arya, as the finale episode comes to a close. How poignant these words are. Though it has become more and more of a distant memory as the years have passed, the death of Ned and Catelyn Stark still remain a major driving force behind the actions of each Stark child. After all, they were both betrayed and brutally murdered at the hands of people they trusted. Arya realized a measure of revenge in the premiere episode this season as she killed Walder Frey, the man who colluded with the Lannisters to kill her brother and mother during the Red Wedding. And she seeks further revenge for the death of her father, which is why Cersei Lannister remains at the top of Arya’s kill-list. Yet these were/are the obvious enemies — the ones who boldly claimed responsibility for the deaths of several Stark family-members. But there were others; there were snakes in the grass who’ve continued to slither along, concealing their true motives.
Of course, there was no greater snake in the grass than Baelish — the master manipulator and ultimate schemer. Sure, Joffrey (and Cersei) ordered the beheading of Ned Stark, but it was Baelish that played such a pivotal role in setting that stage. Even worse, it was Baelish that the Starks had trusted, namely because Catelyn had been so close to him since a young age. And now, all these years later, the Stark children are enacting their measure of revenge. The scene is set up beautifully, as viewers are led to believe that Baelish’s plan to drive a wedge between Sansa and Arya has reached its tipping point. That is, it appeared as though Baelish had successfully manipulated Sansa into believing that Arya was going to kill her and that she must execute her sister first. As Arya is brought into the great hall of Winterfell and stands before her brother and sister, Sansa declares that “You stand accused of murder and treason,” before turning her focus to Baelish and shifting these charges from Arya to he. That’s right — it was not Arya that Sansa is charging these crimes to, but rather the unassuming Lord Baelish. With the help of Bran’s visions and knowledge, Sansa is finally able to piece together the whole puzzle. What she reveals is significant not just because it renders Baelish the guilty party, but rather because it shows the immense role that Baelish played in triggering many of the show’s most important events.
So, let’s rewind for a minute to recap the full extent of how far back Baelish’s scheming actually goes. The show began with Catelyn Stark receiving a raven from her sister, Lysa Arryn, stating that her husband, Jon Arryn had been killed. At the time, Jon Arryn war Lord of the Vale and was serving as Hand of the King to Robert Baratheon. Though he died before the show started and we never got to see him, Jon Arryn was revered as a great man and father figure to both Robert Baratheon and Ned Stark. The raven that Lysa Arryn sent to Cat went on to state that she suspected the Lannisters were responsible for Jon Arryn’s death. When Catelyn shared this message with her husband, Ned, he of course immediately became suspicious of the Lannisters. He set out for King’s Landing, and upon his arrival, he started digging into what he thought Jon Arryn may have discovered — the possible reason why the Lannisters may have had him killed. This led to Ned’s discovery that Joffrey (and his siblings) were not the children of Robert Baratheon, but rather the products of Cersei and Jaime’s incest. This was an important learning for Ned as it illegitimized Joffrey’s claim to the Throne. In King’s Landing, without many trustworthy peers, Ned confided in Baelish and shared with him the damaging information he learned about the Lannisters. Ned made a big mistake in trusting Baelish, who went back to Cersei and warned her that Ned was uncovering some of the Lannisters biggest secrets. With the help of Baelish, Cersei was able to get one step ahead of Ned and had him arrested, which led to his eventual beheading.
However, very few people knew that role Baelish played in getting Ned Stark killed. Now, thanks to Bran’s visions, all the Stark children are made aware that their father’s blood is all over Baelish’s hands. But that’s not all that Sansa revealed as she berated Baelish with a recount of the elaborate scheme he put into place many years ago. You see, it wasn’t that Ned simply became suspicious of the Lannisters, at which point Baelish betrayed Ned’s trust and informed Cersei of Ned’s suspicions. Rather, it was Baelish who purposefully deceived Ned by supplying him with false information. As we mentioned above, Lysa Arryn sent her sister Catelyn a raven stating that her husband Jon Arryn had been murdered — probably poisoned by the Lannisters. The problem here is that Jon Arryn was not murdered by the Lannisters, but rather by Baelish himself, who supplied Lysa with a poison to slip her husband. Baelish would then persuade Lysa to mislead her sister into thinking the Lannisters were responsible, which set Ned down the path that would eventually lead to his tragic demise. But it doesn’t stop there. What was also revealed/confirmed is that Baelish was responsible for the attempted murder of Bran back in season one. In an attempt to further implicate the Lannisters, Baelish told Catelyn when she supplied him with the dagger that the assassin used, that he had lost that dagger in a bet to Tyrion. Again, Baelish is attempting to make the Starks believe that the Lannisters are their enemies by painting the picture that Tyrion had something to do with the attempt on Bran’s life.
As Baelish stands before Bran, Sansa and Arya — the judge, jury and executioner — we are able to look back and realize the incredible impact Baelish has had upon a good chunk of the story that we’ve seen unfold to date. He fabricated a completely fictional context which would serve as the backdrop for some of the show’s most important events. And this fictional reality that he created would not only lead to the death of Ned, but it would serve as the foundation upon which much of the story’s conflict was built. Ned’s beheading led to Robb Stark declaring himself King in the North with the intention to seek revenge against the Lannisters. Of course, that then led to the Red Wedding and many more Starks dying. You can continue to unravel the storyline and attribute many more major events to the master manipulator — Petyr Baelish.
But the deception has come to an end. The Stark children finally pieced together all of his manipulations and have found him guilty. As Baelish drops to his knees and begs for his life, we see the truth of his character. He is out in the open, exposed and totally vulnerable. There are no more games to play or stories for him to whisper. His attempt to drive a wedge between Arya and Sansa would prove to be less successful than his attempts to do the same between Houses Stark and Lannisters. And just like that, Littlefinger’s time comes to an end as Arya cuts his throat. The irony — she takes his life with the very dagger that belonged to him — the one used in the assassination attempt on Bran’s life in season one.
Most rewarding is that the season comes to a close with House Stark in a good place. For the last few episodes, things seemed very shaky and the possibility of Arya or Sansa turning on the other seemed very real. But, the tables were quickly turned and the children are reminded that when winter comes, the lone wolf dies while the pack survives. These were Ned’s words, repeated by Sansa after his death was avenged. And it’s a good thing that the Starks were able to come together, because the White Walkers are just a hop, skip and a jump away.
THE DRAGON AND THE WOLF
From Bran’s previous visions, we learned that Jon Snow was not the son of Ned and Catelyn Stark. It was confirmed that Jon was actually the son of Lyanna Stark and that Ned was protecting Jon’s true Targaryen identity. However, what was not clear at the time was whether or not Jon was a legitimate Targaryen or if he was still a bastard, just of a different father. In other words, did Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen legitimately birth Jon, or was Lyanna raped by Rhaegar, making Jon Rhaegar’s bastard? Well, a couple episodes back, when Gilly was stumbling through a book, that question was answered. In reading the High Septon’s personal record, she discovered that the High Septon had performed an annulment, followed by a secret wedding in Dorne. In short, this confirmed that Rhaegar’s marriage to Elia Martell was annulled, and that he was legitimately married to another (safe to assume Lyanna Stark).
Though Bran was aware through his vision who Jon’s parents were, he assumed him to be a bastard of Rhaegar. After all, the scene he saw of Lyanna laying bloody and dying, seemed to confirm the idea that Rhaegar had raped and harmed Lyanna. However, Samwell Tarly offered to Bran what Gilly had discovered, and all of the information was pieced together. Rhaegar and Lyanna were legitimately wed, making Jon Snow a true Targaryen. What’s more, we are taken back to Bran’s vision and we are able to hear the name that Lyanna whispered to her brother Ned — the true identity of the man we’ve known as Jon Snow. AEGON TARGARYEN. As we know, the original Aegon Targaryen is arguably the most important Targaryen of all time. He is the man who conquered the independent kingdoms of Westeros and united them under his rule as the first Targaryen king. So, Jon not just being a Targaryen, but named after the most important Targaryen ever, is quite the reveal. As a result of Aegon’s Conquest, the Targaryens would rule over Westeros for the next 300 years, until Robert Baratheon usurped the throne during Robert’s Rebellion.
Speaking of Robert’s Rebellion, what we saw tonight answers one of the most important and controversial questions around the entire Thrones story. Was Lyanna wrongfully kidnapped by Rhaegar Targaryen or did she choose to ride off with him to follow their love? As we know, Robert’s Rebellion was the multi-year war that would put Robert Baratheon, Ned Stark and the Northern rebels against the Targaryen armies, as the rebels sought to overthrow the Mad King and the Targaryen dynasty. But what caused Robert’s Rebellion? Why did they want to overthrow the Targaryens after 300 years of rule? Well, the biggest catalyst for Robert’s Rebellion was the disappearance of Lyanna Stark. She was betrothed to Robert Baratheon and was the sister of Ned Stark, so both men had a deep love for her. When she disappeared, Robert and Ned clung to the idea that she was kidnapped by Rhaegar Targaryen. They rallied the North behind this idea and launched Robert’s Rebellion. However, there has also been plenty of whisper that has alluded to a contrary idea — one that paints Rhaegar as a great man and contradicts the idea that he would kidnap Lyanna. This version of the story says that Lyanna and Rhaegar were madly in love and rode off together to tie the knot. The truth of this debate has been hidden until tonight.
Through Bran’s vision, we saw that Rhaegar and Lyanna, the dragon and the wolf, were truly in love. Learning that Rhaegar did not kidnap Lyanna is so significant because it invalidates the very justification for Robert’s Rebellion. Had Ned and Robert known the truth, it is entirely possible that this rebellion never would have even taken place. Which means that Rhaegar would probably still be alive (he was killed in battle by Robert), the Targaryens would likely still be on the throne, and Jon would have grown up as Aegon Targaryen, son to Lyanna and Rhaegar Targaryen. It is absolutely incredible to think that an entire multi-year war which shaped the entire story we are seeing today was built upon a lie. It is even more incredible to consider we are finding this out so many years later.
But here’s what’s not a lie. Jon Snow is a Targaryen — a legitimate one. And because his father, Rhaegar, was next in line for the Throne, Jon is now the legitimate heir to the Iron Throne. He supersedes Daenerys’ claim to the Throne, as he is Rhaegar’s son while she is Rhaegar’s sister. But they’ll have plenty of time to figure that out down the road. Right now, Jon and Daenerys have more important matters to focus on as they finally come together intimately. In an episode entitled The Dragon and the Wolf, we learn of Jon’s true identity as we see the original dragon and wolf that came together (Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark), while simultaneously seeing another dragon and wolf (Daenerys and Jon) also getting together. So, now it’s official. There is no Jon Snow. There is no bastard. There is only Aegon Targaryen, son of Rhaegar and true heir to the Iron Throne. Bran tells Samwell, “He needs to know, we need to tell him.”
CERSEI AGAINST THE WORLD
In King’s Landing, we get almost all of the story’s most significant characters together at once. To date, we’ve never seen anything like this. Once again, there are all kinds of reunions between characters that have great history with one another. Jaime is reunited with Brienne, who he was on an epic journey with a few seasons ago, which culminated with him risking his life to save hers. Tyrion was reunited with his longtime squire, Pod, as well as Bronn, with whom he fought closely in the Battle of Blackwater Bay. The Hound comes face to face with Brienne, who left him for dead a few seasons back. He us also reunited with his zombie-brother, The Mountain, and reminds him that death is coming for him.
As Tyrion and company enter the dragon-pit and are surrounded by Lannister soldiers, the suspense begins to set in. It is entirely possible that they could all be killed and if anybody is capable of such a thing, it would be Cersei. Despite coming face to face with a wight, Cersei is unwilling to join their cause to fight the army of the dead. Tyrion risks his life to talk some reason into his sister and it appeared as though his attempts were successful. Cersei returns to the dragon pit and declares that she will join their fight. It seemed as though this was a big moment for Cersei who finally saw the bigger picture, and that the stage was now set for basically all of humanity to band together to fight back the army of the dead.
However, moments later, behind closed doors, Cersei reveals to Jaime that she will say anything to anybody to win the war against those who have wronged her. She does not actually intend to lend them any men, even though Jaime proposes the very obvious lose-lose scenario for them if she does not. Once known as the Oathbreaker for killing the Mad King, Jaime refuses to again break his oath and tells Cersei that she will have to kill him to stop him. Unable to do so, Jaime leaves King’s Landing and rides off to join the fight against darkness. Seasons ago, when Jaime was on his journey with Brienne, it appeared as though his character had gone through a major transformation. But then, he got sucked back into Cersei’s wicked games and it was unclear whether he would finish this story by her side or not. Now, he has finally left King’s Landing and is off to join the war that everybody seems to realize is most important, except for Cersei. And not a minute too soon. Snowfall has made its way down south and begins to descend upon King’s Landing. If the southerners didn’t yet know, they will now see that Winter Is Here.
ODDS & ENDS
- We as viewers were not the only ones who saw the Night King take out a chunk of The Wall. We actually saw this through Bran’s vision as he warged into the crows that sat atop the wall. So, the good news is that Bran is well aware of what just happened and Winterfell can prepare accordingly as the first line of defense.
- Cersei confirms she has secured a contract with the Golden Company, an army of 20,000 men who will fight for her. How will this army help her against Cersei’s forces? Perhaps they will end up being more manpower for the fight against darkness.
- Theon receives forgiveness from Jon Snow and is now off to save his sister, Yara. I think the show did a pretty poor job at demonstrating what happened to make Theon strong again. Last we saw him, he had reverted back to being Reek and jumped off the ship, leaving his sister stranded. Now, all of a sudden, he’s once again back to being the Theon that wants to save his sister? Seems very wishy-washy.
- With Baelish now dead, that’s another face that Arya could possibly use. We know her goal is to kill Cersei — could she possibly use his face to get back in front of Cersei at King’s Landing?
- At Eastwatch when the Night King attacked, did Tormund and Beric survive? The obvious guess is yes, but worth the thought.
- With Jaime having fled King’s Landing, what will Bronn do? We mentioned in a post a few weeks back the possibility that Bronn will save the Sand Snake who he had a fling with in Dorne, who is now locked in the dungeons below King’s Landing. With Jaime now gone, it’s entirely possible that he does save the Sand Snake and flee King’s Landing.