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.
What Just Happened?
Shocked. Confused. Disappointed. Baffled. There is no shortage of adjectives to describe the way I feel after the final installment of Game of Thrones, but simply put, it was an emphatic explanation point on an utterly disappointing season. At its best, Game of Thrones took us to highs that few stories have before; and as we saw in this finale episode, at its worst, Thrones was capable of reaching equally extreme lows. With each episode that passed this season, the simple (and terribly sad) reality became more and more apparent: the folks producing this show simply were not going to be able to deliver a successful end to this story. And despite a season defined by poor story telling, inexplicable character development, pacing of events that often made no sense — despite all of that — I still held out a bit of hope that the final episode would have one final magical twist or turn that would help to make things right. After all, this is Game of Thrones we are talking about — this was the one show that simply would not, and could not, mess up the end to its story the way so many other shows have.
But the truth is now plain to see and there is no hiding from it. The reality is that the magic of this world we became so captivated by — the characters, the history, the locales, the families, the lore, the mythology — all of it — it all lived in a series of books. And while HBO did an absolutely masterful job at adapting the magic of those books to TV, the reality is that we were always destined, to some extent, to end up exactly where we did. George R.R. Martin took the better part of 20 years to create the enthralling world that we fell in love with over the first six seasons. But those six seasons were based on the five books he had written — two short of the seven books that will (hopefully) be published to bring the A Song of Ice and Fire saga to a close. Writing for the sixth book, The Winds of Winter, began over eight years ago, and is still not out. It’s anybody’s guess when final book, A Dream of Spring, will be published, but it likely will not be for another 10 years or so.
So what does this tells us? It tells us that the homestretch of this story, a story that has taken over 25 years to write, simply does not yet exist, and likely won’t for many years to come. There is a reason George R.R. Martin takes so many years to write each book and it’s not simply because the writing itself takes so long. It’s because he is actually taking an incredible amount of time to continue to create and develop the story itself. And as the story starts getting towards it’s final chapter, it becomes increasingly more challenging to think about how each character’s journey comes to an end, how various storylines converge, and how this epic saga ultimately reaches its finale.
The predicament we find ourselves in is that while George R.R. Martin will take as much time as is required to finish this story the right way, HBO could not. So, what we were left with for the last two seasons, was a story that was based on loose directional feedback provided by George R.R. Martin, which left Thrones writers and producers filling in some very large gaps. Sure, George R.R. may have been able to tell Thrones producers what the singular endpoint of this story was, but he simply hasn’t yet conjured up and all the intricate subplots and character journeys that lead us to that endpoint. And without having his story to tell, we were left with a watered down, overly simplified, dumbed down version of what I believe the ending to this story will be when he tells it through the books. To some extent, the show was always destined to end this way, only I don’t think anybody thought it could ever get this bad.
The finale episode, entitled The Iron Throne, was riddled with one cringe-worthy cliche after the next. As has been the case throughout most of the season, the pacing felt totally off, with certain moments being totally rushed, and other less significant ones dragging on. The writing, specifically much of the dialogue, landed somewhere between embarrassing and comical. The aftermath of last week’s total destruction of King’s Landing simply felt totally contrived, with writers bringing rather abrupt endings to each character’s story. So much so, that it almost felt as if this finale episode was disjointed from the entire story that preceded it. It was as if this finale episode was given to a brand new team of writers that knew absolutely nothing about the story that has spanned the last 10 years, and were asked to do their best to synthesize some sort of close that forced endings for each character. One moment I felt I was watching a soap opera, the next I felt I was stuck in a bad SNL skit. How could this be? I mean I wasn’t expecting a whole ton after how disappointing this entire season has been, but really, I never could have imagined the new lows that were reached. There was absolutely nothing interesting. Nothing unique. No twists or turns. Very little emotion. Only cheap storytelling that made this episode feel like it was an obligation — a chore to get this thing wrapped up — rather than a vehicle to truly end this story in a meaningful way.
A Mess in King’s Landing
The episode begins as we see Tyrion and others taking in the aftermath of Dany’s fire and blood escapades. King’s Landing has now become a wasteland, with only skeletons and ash to speak of, which further underscored the ridiculousness of how far Dany took things last week. As Tyrion continues through King’s Landing, he eventually makes his way below the Red Keep where he finds Cersei and Jaime’s final resting place. Despite all his efforts, Tyrion could not stop all the death that was to come, and all he can do now is look on at his last remaining family members, gone forever. As Jaime and Cersei lay together, it was a poetic reminder that Tyrion really has been alone in this world most of his life, and even though Jaime cared about him a great deal, he was always an outsider compared to the twin bond that Cersei and Jaime shared.
Continuing her plunge into madness, we see Dany standing over a ruined King’s Landing, delivering an impassioned speech to her army, in which she basically tells them that this was just the beginning, and she plans to take her show on the road. While we all saw her evolve into The Mad Queen last week (at a pace that made absolutely no sense), the door was still left open for her to show some remorse in this finale episode. But that door shut pretty quickly and it became evident that no amount of death and destruction would be too great a cost for her to “break the wheel.” In reality, Dany herself sounded like a ruthless tyrant, one capable of committing devastating acts — the very type of ruler she has so badly wanted to rid from the world. It continued to be frustrating to watch just how cruel and vicious she has become so quickly, and it felt totally contradictory to who Dany was for the better part of the last 10 years.
Realizing he was on the wrong side of things, Tyrion gave Dany a big “f you” as he denounces her slaughter and abandons his post of hand to the queen. He’s quickly taken as her prisoner as Jon can only look on. Jon then goes to visit Tyrion, where they continue to go back and forth about whether or not Dany must be stopped. In their exchange, Jon references something Maestar Aemon told him all the way back in season one, “Love is the death of duty.” At the time, Maestar Aemon was explaining to Jon why brothers of the Night’s Watch could not have families — love would interfere with their duty to protect the realm. In response, Tyrion flips the idea that Maestar Aemon presented, and tells Jon that “sometimes, duty is the death of love.” No doubt, a suggestion that Jon’s duty to protect the realm might bring about the death of his love with Dany. Before Jon departs, Tyrion urges him that he must decide and he must decide now.
Moments later, surprise surprise, we see Dany in the Throne Room, a replay of basically the same vision she had in an earlier season where we saw the ruined Throne Room that she is now walking through. Once again, a reminder that she has become nothing more than queen of the ashes. If you asked me a few years ago what one of the most powerful moments in this story could have possibly been, I would have told you that at the top of the list would be the moment Dany finally reaches the Throne Room and ascends the Iron Throne that her ancestor, Aegon Targaryen, built 300 years before her. Sadly, the realization of this moment felt plain and unemotional, probably because of how little was left of the Throne Room itself, thanks to Dany’s temper tantrum that brought about the destruction of King’s Landing on the whole. She had finally reached the Iron Throne — the powerful symbol of all she had wanted — all she had sacrificed so much to achieve — and all for what?
Duty Over Love
The predictable and soap opera nature of the episode continued as Jon arrives, right on cue, and reprimands Dany for the slaughter she carried out. The two go back and forth about their differences of opinion, blah blah blah, which once again ends in a Dany/Jon kiss. But then, out of nowhere, Jon puts his dagger through her heart. And by out of nowhere, I mean everybody saw that coming from a mile away and it was totally unsurprising. The whole thing felt like “okay, everybody knows this is coming, let’s just get it over with.” But worse than this moment’s predictability was how emotionless and fleeting the scene was as a whole. Out of a 90-minute episode, much of which was filled with gratuitous and irrelevant banter, we can only spare 60 seconds to the death of the show’s most powerful character? I mean come on. Just like that, Dany is gone, and before we even have a moment to really soak it in, I’ve got this dragon in my face…again.
Talk about a botched opportunity. You have Daenerys Targaryen, one of the most beloved characters ever created in any fictional format; opposite her, the equally beloved Jon Snow; and between them, a magical story that intertwines the ideas of power, morality, duty and love. And though many people saw it coming, even so, that this story would end with Jon choosing duty over love, and sacrificing the woman he truly loved, is incredibly powerful. So why didn’t I feel that way watching it? And then just like that, Drogon scoops up Dany and flies her out of there. Oh, but not before melting the Iron Throne, the very throne the Targaryens created in the first place. I’m not sure there’s any real explanation for Drogon flying away with Dany’s dead body, other than a setup for somehow bringing her back to life for some future Thrones spinoff, which seems highly unlikely. The end to Dany and Jon’s story was a total miss of epic proportions.
One Strange Council
Just a moment later, we’re past the emotionless death of Dany, and we’re now all business as the “who’s who” of Westeros have gathered to determine the fate of the realm. It kind of felt like all the unimportant remaining characters were scrapped together and this is when the episode went from bad to just silly. First of all, half of these characters had absolutely no business being there. Edmure Tully, Catelyn’s brother is all of a sudden making a return after having had zero role in this story for many seasons? Yara Greyjoy is back, without anything from her since she went back to The Iron Islands? Oh and let’s not forget about introducing a brand new Dornish prince (who doesn’t even speak) to join this mish-mosh of a crew. And perhaps the absolute funniest of all is Robert Arryn, the sickly son of Lysa Arryn, who previously didn’t know how to do anything other than breastfeed…He’s now got a seat on this council? There were a few others that I did not even recognize, furthering the ridiculousness of this gathering.
The group goes back and forth about what to do next, and apparently after all that has transpired, after King’s Landing has basically been totally destroyed and the world of Westeros has been turned upside down, this silly council is going to solve for the future of the realm in one simple conversation. And all of a sudden Grey Worm is mr chatterbox, driving much of the direction of the council’s decisions. In this one episode, Grey Worm speaks more than he has in the past seven seasons combined. After the death of Dany, he wants revenge, but Tyrion reminds him that it’s not his decision to make, which leads to the debate of who should take power next. Comically, Edmure Tully stands up to state his case, before Sansa tells him to sit down. Why? Why would the writers choose to include dialogue in this final episode that sees Edmure Tully, a completely irrelevant character, stand up and make a claim for the throne? Unless they were going for some sort of comedic relief, it just doesn’t belong. But the comedy didn’t stop there. Samwell suggests they consider a more democratic election where the people have a say, and for some reason, others found this to be comical, poking fun and sarcastically asking if their dogs and horses would get a say. The whole thing felt like a bad SNL skit.
Finally, we arrive at the moment that pretty much caps this entire story — the reveal of who would end on the throne. And to be quite honest, I couldn’t have cared less at this point. The realization of who would take the Throne was not decided by any significant final moment in the story, but rather by a cast of irrelevant characters making forced decisions, so the reveal of who would end on the Throne simply felt like an anticlimactic “who cares” moment. But the only thing that could have been less sensible than everything that has already transpired would be to make Bran the one to end on the throne. And of course, that’s precisely what happens. The logic behind it makes sense — Tyrion paints the picture that the most powerful thing in life is a story and we know Bran is keeper of all stories and memories. So we get it. But, we are talking about a guy that has totally lost his human mind. He’s been on a multiyear journey where his entire life has been dedicated to an existential evolution, which saw him become the Three-Eyed-Raven. In doing so, he has experienced all kinds of visions, past, present and future, that revealed powerful moments which changed him forever. We’re talking Children of the Forest, White Walkers, The Night King — Bran was in the thick of it all. When all of those mythological elements of the show died along with The Night King in an unbelievably disappointing fashion, it definitely created some question marks for what was left for Bran in this story, if anything. I mean we haven’t even seen the guy in several episodes. Now, all of a sudden, he’s being named the king of Westeros? Talk about delivering a cheap ending to this story — did nobody working on this show stop to realize how senseless this was? We are talking about the character who had reached total enlightenment, so much so, that he didn’t even really know how to be a human anymore. And now we are going to plunge him into the politics of being the ruler of the realm?
But he won’t be the king of the Seven Kingdoms. He only gets six. Sansa had to get her two cents in and tell Bran that she wants The North to remain its own independent kingdom as it had been for thousands of years before Aegon’s Conquest. And that’s fine, but the only problem is that ALL the kingdoms had been independent prior, so why would the representatives of Dorne and The Vale and The Iron Islands all be okay with The North not bending the knee while they have to? Also, given that it was another member of House Stark ending up on the throne, Sansa’s desire to annex The North just makes that much less sense — it’s her own brother on the throne. Totally illogical storytelling and it just felt like a forced way to be able to show Sansa as the queen of The North, without regard for the fact it did not make sense to the story itself. But hey, not much has to really make sense anymore, so let’s go with it.
Back to The Wall
So that’s that. Bran is some sort of Three-Eyed-Raven king and Sansa is queen in the North. But we’ve got to come up with some sort of contrived ending for Jon, right? How about we send him back to The Wall, where his story began. That sounds like a cheap, easy and poetic ending for his character — so let’s go with that. I also found it strange that while the council was trying to figure out who should take the throne, Jon wasn’t mentioned once. True, he had just killed Dany, but if we subscribe to the idea that he was the rightful heir, then it was Dany who was revolting and trying to claim a throne that was not hers. That would provide some justification for Jon having to kill Dany, to eliminate a usurper. So, with her gone, and everybody grasping at straws to figure out who should be next in line, why is nobody bringing up Jon, the actual rightful heir?
Anyway, just like that, he’s back in his Night’s Watch garb, hair back down like it used to be in the old days, and headed back to The Wall. Another character with a massive arc that gets a senseless ending. We are talking about the guy that was arguably the most important character; the guy that became Lord Commander of The Night’s Watch; the guy that risked it all to put the world on alert about The Night King; the guy that fought and won in countless fate-determining battles; the guy that was broughtback from the dead; and the guy that made the ultimate sacrifice as he took the life of Daenerys Targaryen. And after all of that, we just send him to The Wall? I mean what an unbelievably disappointing, unsatisfying and silly way to end his story.
But before he departs, we get a round of cliche goodbyes with each of his siblings, the best of which reveals that Arya is now channeling her inner Christopher Columbus/Dora the Explorer. She’s off to explore the world, whatever is west of Westeros. I mean how cheesy do we want to get here? If they wanted to set up Arya for her own spinoff, they certainly left that door open, but man, after all that Arya has gone through and all her incredible character development, that’s where we end her story? Sending her to cheerfully explore westward made her feel more like a Disney character than anything else. A Cheap and easy cop-out, just like all the others. It’s also confusing to consider how central she was to last week’s episode, with no follow up in the finale. She was a major point of view character last week, running through the streets and the episode ending with her riding out on her white horse. It seemed like she was being set up for some major ending to her character. But it ended up being all for her to play basically zero role in the story’s end. If you think about, since killing The Night King (which was another big screw-up), she basically had zero involvement in the story since — just noise.
Before the episode comes to a close, we get to see the new council that will support King Bran, and it’s a total joke. Tyrion as hand; Davos a Master of Ships; Bronn as Master of Coin; Samwell as archmaestar; Brienne as commander of the King’s Guard. It felt like the writers threw darts at the wall to see who they’d randomly choose to fill each of these roles. The council meeting itself was so comical that it’s hard to believe writers were going for anything else. In the finale episode of this entire story, we have to listen to their light-hearted banter about what their first objectives will be and whether they’re going to rebuild ships or brothels first? And what about Samwell Tarly, casually presenting Tyrion with a book of recent history called A Song of Ice and Fire. Talk about forcing something into the script and an egregious namedrop. Embarrassing stuff.
Assembling a hodgepodge council like this simply disrespects the greatness of the history of the council, one that was once comprised of characters like Tywin Lannister, Varys, Littlefinger, etc… Now we’ve got Bronn and Davos joking about where they’ll allocate their funds first, as if King’s Landing wasn’t only recently completely decimated. Speaking of which, Bran asks if anybody has heard about the location of Drogon, but nobody has. In another weird moment, Bran tells them not to worry and that he’ll take care of figuring out where Drogon is. My first question: given the entire series is about to come to a close, why are we wasting time talking about where the dragon went? My second question: Bran, you are the Three-Eyed-f*cking-Raven — why are you going to this council of C-listers for advice in the first place — aren’t you the all-knowing one? What a total mess.
Finally, Jon returns to The Wall, where of course there will be a couple more cliche reveals. Tormund and Ghost are both waiting for him there, and eventually, they continue north of The Wall, presumably to live a life with The Free Folk. As they enter into the depth of the forest, the show comes to an end, and the confusion reaches its climax. Why is that the final image of this entire story? Jon walking into the forest with the Wildlings hardly seems like the final takeaway to leave viewers with.
And just like that, it’s all over. It was an ending that was obvious, uninspiring and simply silly in many ways. It was so beneath the greatness of Thrones and I cannot think of many ways they could have delivered a more disappointing end to this story. All that said, it would be a mistake to overlook the greatness that this show offered for so many years. Game of Thrones took television to heights it had never been before and captivated a global audience with its magic. Though I will forever be confused and disappointed by how the show brought closure to this story, I will also be thankful for all that it offered for so many years. I would highly encourage each of you to consider picking up the books and starting this journey over the right way, setting yourself up to experience the true ending to this story once it is properly told by George R.R. Martin himself.
Finally, thanks to all the fans and readers of ThronesLife. It has been great to share the passion with so many of you. Keep an eye out for what comes next : )
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.
By now, everybody knows that in the world of Thrones, penultimate episodes are a big deal. Ned’s beheading, The Battle of Blackwater Bay, The Red Wedding, The Battle of the Bastards — some of the most epic and memorable events in Thrones history, all happened in the second to last episode of their respective seasons. So, in what was not only the penultimate episode to this season, but the penultimate episode to the entire series, things were taken to a whole new level. In trying to balance the sheer “hugeness” of this episode, with writing and storytelling that continues to feel uneven and ill-conceived, I suspect that many viewers will be left asking themselves how content they truly are with this episode.
To that end, I’d like to point out that in any given episode, there is no harm in separating an assessment of the episode’s production from the actual story told. On the production side, there are many technical and artistic disciplines at work. To name a few, there’s the director’s overall vision of how an episode will be delivered, special effects, music, cinematography, etc… And on the storytelling side, the same can be said: writing and dialogue, character development, pace of storytelling — these all shape the overall narrative we are experiencing. So, it would be foolish to try and lump all of these together with a wholesale assessment of the success of a given episode. When you go to a restaurant, you may ultimately determine whether it was good or bad, but more likely, you pass judgement on the food, the ambiance, the service — all distinct elements — one of which could be great, while another not so much.
So before we jump into a more detailed assessment of this week’s episode, I’d like to separate the production from the story. Without doubt, from a production standpoint, tonight’s episode was one of the most successful we’ve seen to date. Delivering 80 minutes of epic chaos and destruction and fire and blood and everything else that went into this episode is no easy feat. The “hugeness” of this episode cannot be denied, and Thrones once again set a new standard for the production value of a television show — a standard once reserved only for the big screen. I start by calling out the success of tonight’s production for a smaller and bigger reason. The smaller reason: because it truly was special and commands tremendous admiration; the bigger reason: I want to get it out of the way early so that it does conflate further commentary which will be focused on the story itself. After all, it is the Game of Thrones story — the magic of its characters, the richness of its history; the intrigue of its myth and legend — that won my heart so early on. And while I would never want to minimize all that this show has achieved on the production front, the story itself will simply always be much more important to me.
So, with that in mind, let’s jump into the story.
The second to last episode in the Game of Thrones series was entitled The Bells, a symbolic foreshadowing of some of the milestone events that would unfold in the episode. The ringing of King’s Landing’s bells generally means one of three things: a city under siege, surrender, or the death of a king (or queen). Given the gravitas of these events, when you hear the ring of a King’s Landing bell, you know there is some serious weight to what it signifies. And tonight, the ringing of King’s Landing’s bells underscored all three: the siege of the city, the surrender of its troops, and the death of its queen.
But tonight we saw so much more — enough to keep those bells ringing for many days to come. Destinies were fulfilled as Dany followed in the footsteps of her father and became The Mad Queen. Heartbreaking final goodbyes were said between Tyrion and Jaime; The Hound and Arya. Regret is everywhere, as characters such as Tyrion and Jon realize their mistakes — ones that may well alter the course of history. And the consequences of those mistakes — almost too much to watch — could not have been higher. Fire and blood is everywhere, and death is ubiquitous. There is no coming back from tonight’s episode, and although there is still one final twist to be told in the finale episode, this story is all but told.
The episode kicks off at Dragonstone as we see Varys writing letters stating that Jon, not Dany, is true heir to the Iron Throne. Over the years, there were many questions as to the true motives of Varys, and at times, it was not clear if he could be trusted. Well, it’s become quite clear that unlike many other characters in the show, Varys was always forthright about his true motives: to protect the realm and its impoverished citizens who couldn’t protect themselves. To that end, he is steadfast in his belief that the realm is best off in the hands of Jon, so much so that he is willing to die for it. In last week’s episode, he was forthright with Tyrion about his feelings regarding Dany’s claim to the throne. He could have been deceptive about it, but he wasn’t. Again, in tonight’s episode, he did not try to mask his true motives. Sitting in a room at Dragonstone, with Dany just a few doors down, Varys is preparing to send ravens discrediting her claim to the throne. Varys knew what he was risking and was willing to die to protect the realm.
As Varys is brought down to the beach, there is no secret as to what is about to happen. John and Tyrion are forced to look on, rather helplessly, as Dany used her dragon’s fire to take the life of Varys. No doubt, a foreshadowing of what was just around the corner; perhaps Jon and Tyrion should have trusted their instincts the way Varys had his. Sadly, Varys, the one who had the correct hunch about Dany, ends up dead, while Jon and Tyrion, who had gravely misjudged their queen, are the ones who end up living. Interestingly, Varys being burned on the beach mirrors a scene from the first episode of season two when Melisandre and Stannis also harness the Lord of Light’s fire, using it to burn those who question this religion. Many seasons later, Varys suffered a similar death, which was quite fitting, given his mysterious connection to the flames and the Lord of Light.
In season three, Varys reveals to Tyrion how he was mutilated by a sorcerer as a young boy. The sorcerer threw Varys’ “parts” into the fire, and Varys heard a voice call out from the flames, a voice that haunted him forever since. In a more recent season, The High Red Priestess Kinvara visited Varys in Mereen, and reminded him of the voice he had heard in the flames. She told him that as long as he was a friend of the queen’s, then he had nothing to fear from The Lord of Light. Well, he eventually turned away from being her friend, and the Lord of Light did not take kindly to this, begging the question: is the Lord of Light actually good? Of course, this question assumes that there is a “good” and a “bad,” when in reality, this story has reminded us that often the line between the two is not that simple. But still, after The Lord of Light’s fire played a pivotal role in eliminating The Night King’s army, it felt as thought The Lord of Light was guiding us in the right direction. But maybe not. It was the Lord of Light’s highest priestess, Kinvara, who all but threatened Varys; it was the Lord of Light’s fire that eventually took the life of Varys; and it was the Lord of Light’s fire that brought the ultimate destruction to King’s Landing. Where’s The Night King’s wintery frost when you need it?
The Mad Queen
From the moment we lay eyes on Dany in this episode, we can tell that something is very wrong. She looks disheveled to say the least — her usually neatly braided hair is all out of sort and her eyes dark. She hasn’t eaten in days and it’s clear that she is quickly becoming unhinged, maybe even inching closer to becoming The Mad Queen. It’s not just her physical appearance, but also her tone, that starts to sound like that of her father, The Mad King, before her. She is becoming increasingly paranoid, and doesn’t accept the idea that it is Varys who betrayed her, but also believes Jon betrayed her by telling Sansa of his true identity, Sansa who betrayed her by telling Tyrion, and Tyrion who betrayed her by telling Varys. She tells Tyrion that the next time he fails her will be his last — a flat out death threat. It seems that any semblance of the sweet and compassionate Khaleesi that we once new is all but gone.
And this is confirmed moments later in a scene that included an embrace which could be the last between Jon and Dany. Dany tells Jon, “I don’t have love here, I only have fear.” As the two come together, Dany makes one last attempt to keep their love affair alive, but Jon just isn’t having it. It appeared he already had some misgivings about the relationship before learning of his true identity. Once he learned that she was his aunt, that was just too much. While the Targaryens have a long lineage of incestuous marriages, Jon is still a northerner at heart and just doesn’t roll like that. As Dany steps back from him, the two literally separated by Targaryen fire, she decides, “Alright. Let it be fear.” Though Dany has experienced a ton of loss in recent episodes, capped by Missandei’s beheading last week, it was ultimately Jon’s decision to not love her the way she wanted that pushed her over the edge. All she had left was fear.
But before the idea of having to resort to ruling through fear gets the best of her, Tyrion tries to make one last plea. He begs Dany to end her siege if he is able to get Cersei’s forces to surrender, which he will signal by ringing the city bells. Dany does not respond to Tyrion’s request, and instead looks at Grey Worm and gives him a small head nod. At the time, I felt that perhaps she was affirming to Grey Worm that his troops should stand down should Tyrion be able to negotiate Cersei’s surrender, but in retrospect, we realize she was giving a totally different type of nod to Grey Worm. It was a show-no-mercy head nod; a fire and blood to avenge Missandei’s death head-nod.
Tyrion, attempting to avoid mass carnage at all costs, even commits treason against his queen by freeing her prisoner, Jaime. Tyrion convinces Jaime to save Cersei, escape King’s Landing and ride off into the sunset to start a new life together. This was a direct allusion to a conversation Missandei and Grey Worm had a few episodes back, in which they discussed sailing back to Missandei’s homeland to have a life together. Well, if Missandei and Grey Worm can’t have it, neither can Jaime and Cersei (but we’ll get there later). I had mixed feelings about this scene (as I did Jaime’s uneven character arc as a whole). On the one hand, I was touched by the heartfelt goodbye between the brothers. In a season that has botched so many of these moments, they managed to get this one right (perhaps that full credit should go to the acting of Peter Dinklage). In one of the biggest moments, with a huge war impending, we are reminded of Tyrion’s humanness as he breaks down to Jaime, telling him that he was all he had. The relationship shared between Tyrion and Jaime was always complex but beautiful and one of the heartwarming parts of this story. On the other hand, I took slight issue to the convenient spontaneity of the plan Tyrion proposed, as well as Jaime’s willingness to accept it. All of a sudden, Jaime is going to just convince Cersei to surrender, the two will escape King’s Landing, and ride off into the sunset no strings attached? To me, this felt like another example of the show getting ahead of the books, the writers not knowing how these characters’ journeys will end, and lazy writing leading to the creation of an implausible event to get Jaime from point A to point B. Had this not been the 100th example of this type of thing this season, I probably wouldn’t even mention it. Anyway, moving on…
At this point, battle is imminent and there’s no turning back. The impoverished of King’s Landing flood into the city gates by the tens of thousands. Outside the gates, The Golden Company (Cersei’s paid mercenaries), oppose what’s left of Jon’s northern forces alongside The Unsullied and Dothraki. On the water, Euron mans his ships with their dragon-slaying weapons ready to go. Only this time, Dany swoops in from a much steeper angle, making it difficult for their weapons to be utilized, and in a matter of moments, Dany takes out all of Euron’s ships. The fact that Dany was able to take out all of these ships with such ease undermines the fact that she lost a dragon to these very same ships last week. Again, uneven storytelling in my opinion.
Dany had three dragons — the first dragons born into the world in hundreds of years — massive beasts that fly the sky and breathe fire. They should be extremely difficult to take out. I looked the other way when the Night King threw his ice spear thousands of feet into the sky and took out Dany’s first dragon, but I felt frustrated when Euron was able to take out a second dragon by shooting a fairly immobile projectile at a dragon flying through the sky at a high speed. But okay, it happened. But then one week later, Dany is able to eliminate this very same fleet in a matter of moments? It makes the death of her dragon feel like it was so avoidable.
After burning Euron’s fleet, Dany sets her sights to the city walls, and lays the initial round of fiery destruction, allowing for Jon and Grey Worm to lead their troops into the city on foot. Dany provides aerial support, and it’s only a matter of moments before it becomes abundantly clear that this battle was over before it started. Cersei’s troops lay down their weapons, and at this point, the battle has been won. Team Dany could have reinforced their position, sacked the city and Dany could have been sitting on that shiny Iron Throne by nightfall. But as Dany sat atop her dragon overlooking King’s Landing, a strange combination of sadness, excitement and terror came over her face all at once. Ladies and gentleman, The Mad Queen had arrived, and King’s Landing would stand no chance.
“Madness and greatness are two sides of the same coin. Every time a new Targaryen is born, the gods toss the coin in the air and the world holds its breath to see how it will land.” As those bells rang loud and clear, signifying the surrender of King’s Landing, it became crystal clear which side of the coin had landed. The Mad Queen and Grey Worm shared in a thirst for blood and revenge, as he led the slaughter on the ground, while from the air, Dany burned the city to a crisp. Symbolic of the broader dynamic he is caught in, Jon literally got stuck in the middle as he had no desire to slaughter the surrendered troops, but was forced to keep fighting, as he also attempted to get his troops to fall back. Jon’s morality was outmatched and he could not stop the fire and blood that was to come.
Arya & The Hound
It’s no secret, The Hound has been my favorite character in this story for many years. There have been many great duos in this story, but the journey he shared with Arya was by far my favorite. So it was exciting to see them sneak into King’s Landing together and arrive at The Red Keep, though also nerve-wracking as a sense of death was imminent. The Hound and Arya arrived at King’s Landing for the very same thing — revenge. For pretty much as long as we have known these characters, they have both been driven by their unrelenting quest for vengeance. The Hound has been wanting to exact revenge on his older brother, The Mountain, who held his face to the fire as a young boy and forever changed his physical and emotional identity. Similarly, Arya was forever changed when she lost her father (and others) at the hands of The Lannisters, and for that, Cersei has always been at the top of her hit list.
But as the two reach their moment of destiny, their roads fork in different directions. The Hound knows that ascending The Red Keep will only lead to death, and though he has not been able to find it himself, knows that there is more to life than revenge. The Hound delivers an absolutely masterful performance in this final scene between the two, a final moment that reminds us of what we always knew and loved about him — beneath that tough and damaged exterior, there is a great man. His words were powerful enough to convince Arya to walk the other way, and before they part, Arya calls out to him “Sandor, thank you.” It has only been a couple of times that anybody has called him Sandor, and this was a powerful reminder that he is not a hound, but a human, and a great one at that.
I’ve included two videos below. The first is an audition tape of Rory McCann reading for the part of The Hound. I’ve included this video because 1) it captures how perfect Rory McCann was for the part of The Hound, even from his first read; 2) the lines he reads tells the story of what his brother did to him; 3) at about 1:08 in, he has a line where he yells “look at me!” The producers of GoT said right after that part of the audition, they were sold that he was the one for this part. Writers chose to use that same “look at me!” line in the final exchange between The Hound and Arya tonight (at about 48 seconds in the second video). Pretty amazing that they went all the way back to his audition from about 10 years ago and used his performance of that line as one of his very last lines he would speak before dying.
As The Hound faces off with The Mountain, it quickly began to feel like his death was imminent. There was no coming back from this — something he himself had already known. The Hound fought with great determination, but we quickly learned that this zombie-version of The Mountain simply couldn’t be killed. In some ways, this felt very frustrating — the revenge The Hound had been searching for all his life simply wasn’t attainable. Though, his death was poetic, as he realized he too would have to die in order to eliminate his brother. And, in doing so, he tackles his brother off the ledge as the two fall into the fire below, the very fire that The Hound had been scarred by his entire life.
I would like to offer a heartfelt RIP to Sandor Clegane, aka The Hound. In my opinion, he was one of the most beautifully complex and sadly tragic heroes of this entire story. In the earliest days of the show, when he was protector of Joffrey, we thought he was nothing but a grotesque monster. But then we saw the ways in which he protected Sansa from Joffrey’s cruelty, eventually trying to get her to escape King’s Landing with him (though she refused). In his own way, he began on a path towards righteousness, first protecting Arya on their journey together and later serving his purpose in The Great War against The Night King. The juxtaposition of his hardened exterior next to his warmer interior made him such a wonderful character. At the same time, it is so tragic to consider the life he was condemned to; betrayed by his older brother at such a young age, physically and mentally scarred forever as a result. This changed the way he would see the world, yet still, he was able to show in his own ways what a good man he truly was. RIP Sandor, we will miss you.
What’s The Deal with Arya?
While I always enjoy screentime with Arya and The Hound together, once she went out on her own, I was rather confused by what the hell was going on with her story. For starters, I felt like she was a rat in a maze, running along the streets of King’s Landing with no discernible destination. I totally appreciate that she pivoted from her plan to exact revenge on Cersei, and now is playing the role of hero in helping others try to escape the fiery mess, but I mean what is going on with her story arc here? She comes back to King’s Landing and ends up being the one to take out The Night King. Cool. Then she learns of Jon’s true identity and it seems like she is going to take a stand against Dany and push him to pursue his claim to the throne. That then goes out the window as she joins up with The Hound to head to Kings Landing. Okay, I can live with it. But, then she gets to King’s Landing, and in a matter of 30 seconds, she is completely talked out of the very reason she came there. This is where my issue starts.
While I don’t want to take anything away from The Hound and the beauty of him ultimately protecting Arya from the death that was awaiting her above, this storytelling just didn’t feel right. First off, Arya has been wanting to kill Cersei for years now; Cersei was at the top of her list and at times, it was the only thing that got her through the day. After all of those years, in a matter of mere seconds, she can so easily be talked out of her grand plan? And if so, why didn’t they have this conversation in Winterfell? Or, better yet, along the two-week journey from Winterfell to King’s Landing? Were they that busy during the two weeks it took them to get to King’s Landing, that they couldn’t have spoken about Arya not living a life fueled by revenge? Did it need to wait to the very moment that they had finally reached The Red Keep and Cersei was just a few more steps from Arya?
And, food for thought, given how the next scene played out where Cersei simply walked by The Hound untouched, Arya actually could have very quickly taken her out without dying. All that withstanding, I found the rest of Arya’s involvement in this episode frenetic and confusing. It felt like she was running around for the sake of it, getting knocked out several times, then getting back up, all for what? In the end, she didn’t save anybody. And then she just rides off on her white horse? I could write five different things her riding off on that horse could be symbolic of, but honestly, I don’t want to bail out the poor storytelling. It’s been rather unclear for most of this season what Arya is really after, and though I enjoyed the fact that it was The Hound that saved her, I simply don’t feel her character arc is being closed out soundly.
Jaime & Cersei
Speaking of uneven character arcs, what the hell kind of ending is this for Jaime? Another one of this story’s more complex characters, he went through much self-discovery and we saw the many different sides of who Jaime truly was at his core. If the show wanted to end his story with the message that his identity was ultimately defined by his love for Cersei, I am okay with that, but why so much back and forth in between? He went from bad guy at the beginning of the story, to good guy when he saved Brienne, back to questionable guy who returned to King’s Landing to support Cersei, then again to good guy who went to Winterfell and fought to save humanity. At that point, it seemed like his good-guy status was cemented, especially after his deepened relationship with Brienne, but then with the flip of a switch, he’s off in the middle of the night to return back to Cersei. Many hypothesized that he was putting on an act and that he was actually returning to King’s Landing to take out his sister, but that turned out not to be the case. He actually returned to try and once again support her, which in my opinion, simply undermines so much of his previous story.
Sure, it was a storybook ending to see Cersei and Jaime go out of this world the same way they came in — together. But what was it all really about? Again, I have to believe this is just another example of the writers not really knowing how Jaime’s character arc truly arrives to his final moments, and the show having to come up with something. I also felt a little underwhelmed with Cersei’s ultimate demise. I didn’t need an expected ending such as her being killed by Arya, but I did expect a bit more from her on her way out. After all, since The Night King got killed earlier in the season, didn’t that mean she was the ultimate villain? She basically just stood there, looking on, for the entire episode, as Dany burned the city. All of a sudden Cersei doesn’t have a counterpunch planned or trick up her sleeve? This battle was supposed to be Cersei vs Dany, but ended up being Dany vs nobody, and I was a bit flabbergasted that the story ends with Cersei simply watching on and doing nothing.
Lastly, I have to ask, what in the world was the deal with Cersei’s “baby?” First she was pregnant and it was Jaimes. Next she’s drinking copious amounts of wine as if she’s not pregnant at all. Then Euron wants to put a baby in her belly, and then out of nowhere, she tells him that the baby is his. Was she pregnant? Was she not pregnant? Who was the father? Does it even matter? The answer seems to be no, and if it ended up not mattering at all, why so much dialogue in so many episodes about this damn baby? Not cool.
Oh, and I forgot to mention that Jaime fought Euron. Perhaps, because it was completely forgettable, as is Euron’s entire character in this show since day one. Another example of not having any better way to end Euron’s story, an obligatory fight between he and Jaime is thrown into the story. How fortuitous that the very moment that Jaime is trying to sneak into King’s Landing through a hidden entrance, Euron happens to be stumbling onto the very same shore after his boat just got blasted by dragon-fire. The fight was nothing special, and I found it particularly strange that they chose to write him a final line of “I’m the man who killed Jaime Lannister,” given that he didn’t kill Jaime, and Jaime ended up dying with Cersei after being buried beneath the destruction of The Red Keep.
Who’s at Fault?
One of the more powerful parts of this episode was watching Tyrion rummage through the rubble of the utter death and destruction that Dany had caused. This was obviously painful for Tyrion to see, knowing just how badly he wanted to avoid this very outcome. And all the more so given that he is hand to the very queen that was capable of such brutal destruction. But above all else, the sharpness of this moment is the realization that he was totally and completely wrong, in almost every way possible. In the episode prior, when Varys had been questioning Dany, Tyrion told him “It’s about picking one person you believe in and defending that person.” Well, boy did Tyrion pick the wrong person.
But I believe it goes a layer deeper than just picking the wrong person. After all, it’s not as if he just picked her and walked away, unable to have any affect on the outcome. It was the opposite. He was her hand — her closest adviser — he had more ability to influence her decisions and their outcomes than anybody else in Westeros. And yet, he finds the capital city burnt to a crisp with tens of thousands of innocents dead. So, it begs the ultimate question: was Tyrion a good adviser to Dany?
I say no. Tyrion is a lot of things; he is kind, he is compassionate, he is clever — the list goes on. And I think he would make an excellent hand to many, given his wonderful balance of these critical attributes — but not to Dany. In the end, I believe it was Tyrion’s sense of compassion that led to Dany becoming The Mad Queen. What we know about Dany, above all else, is that she is not only the mother of dragons, but a dragon herself. She came out of the fire unburnt, she brought dragons into the world, and she is as fierce a Targaryen as they come. We always knew Dany had both compassion and ferocity in her, the balance of which would make her a great ruler. She had the capacity to show kindness and empathy when needed, and did want to make the world a better place if given the chance. At the same time, she was fierce and ruthless when she needed to be. Possessing such diametrically opposed attributes, I would argue that the most important task of Dany’s hand would be to keep these two sides of the coin in check. And that is something Tyrion failed to recognize altogether.
Tyrion was always encouraging Dany to be patient, to be compassionate, to be merciful. He wanted her to be how he himself would be in the situations she faced. And in doing so, he often kept her Targaryen fire extinguished. Dany is a dragon, and if it were up to Tyrion, that dragon would have always been kept in its cage. Looking back, Dany’s decision to lay waste to King’s Landing had been foreshadowed many times and Tyrion knew this, but was ignorant to it. For instance, in season six, when Mereen was at conflict with other slave cities, Dany told Tyrion “I will crucify the masters. I will set their fleets afire. I will kill every last one of their soldiers and return their cities to the dirt. That’s my plan.” And what did Tyrion do? He talked her out of it, pushing the dragon back into her cage. Even before that, in season two, Dany talked about how she planned to “lay waste to armies and burn cities to the ground.”
As we can see above, Dany decided to crucify the slave masters as punishment for their actions. While I’m sure none of us felt bad for them, it does take a certain kind of crazy to stake humans to a post while they are still alive and breathing. Looking back on all of this, we always knew Dany possessed the fiery madness to take things too far when provoked. Tyrion had a single-minded approach of trying to always extinguish Dany’s fire, and he was successful in doing so for quite some time. She listened to him time after time as he coached her to take the highroad, to avoid becoming the kind of tyrant that she herself wanted to rid from the world. What he didn’t realize, though, was that he was helping to create that very person. His guidance of continuing to show restraint, coupled with some poor military decisions, led to Dany losing a lot of what she held most dear, including two of her dragons, half her army, Jorah and Missandei. Not all of these losses were Tyrion’s fault, but he shares in plenty of the blame and played a large role in the back-against-the-wall scenario that Dany found herself in. Great a man as he may be, Tyrion simply was not the right hand for Dany, and ultimately played as large a role as anybody in turning her into The Mad Queen.
Queen of the Ashes
I cannot say Dany’s character turning into The Mad Queen came as a surprise, though I can say I am somewhat irked by it. I get all the reasons why it happened, but I do feel that A) it was a bit rushed and B) it undermines her seemingly never-ending journey leading up to this moment. On the first point, I think her transition into becoming The Mad Queen simply could have been a bit slower and more developed. For 67 episodes she was on a mission to rid the world of the cruel rulers, and for the last five she all of a sudden started to show signs of a transition into The Mad Queen. Yes, I recognize how much she lost in the last few episodes — but that too was rushed — and I simply feel there is great incongruity between the amount of time she spent being one person, and how quickly she was able to full-fledge become another. As I pointed out above, there were certainly flashes of her madness along the way, so it’s not as if this came out of the blue, but still, her transition could have been developed at a pace that was a lot more balanced.
But more so than the pace at which this all happened, I feel like the first seven seasons of her story were totally undermined. We are talking about the girl that went to the end of the earth and back; the mother of dragons; the breaker of chains; the girl who so many times could have taken the easy route and ended things with fire and blood, but chose not to, because her entire character’s motivation was built around the idea of leaving the world a better place. The lengths she went through to preserve this very idea are mind-boggling. At times, it truly felt like she was on a never ending journey, solely guided by the faith in her desire to change the world. And tonight’s episode simply made all of that worthless. She could have done what she did tonight years ago, and saved a whole lot of people a whole lot of time. But she didn’t, because she was meant for something greater. Why save so many slaves only to kill so many innocents? Why save an entire city only to destroy another? I get that character arcs can change and that is often what makes characters in this story so wonderful — the unpredictable nature in which their motivations and actions may pivot. But this was different. This was too much of a pivot, all too quickly, and it simply undermined way too much of her backstory for it to be understandable.
The irony of it all? Dany destroyed the very city that her ancestors built. It was 300 years ago that Aegon Targaryen landed ashore Westeros and eventually united The Seven Kingdoms under his kingship. As new king, he founded the capital city at the spot where he had landed his dragons, and named the city King’s Landing. Over the years, House Targaryen built a great capital city as they ruled for 300 years, and in just one day, Dany destroyed almost all of it. Her father, The Mad King, is regarded as an absolute madman for his intense paranoia, obsession with fire, and the cruelty he demonstrated in punishing people with death by fire. If that’s the reputation he built for those actions, how will history remember the woman that burnt down the entire capital city that her ancestors built, killing thousands of innocents along the way?
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.
After significant tragedy, many experience the five stages of grief and loss, which are: 1. Denial and isolation; 2. Anger; 3. Bargaining; 4. Depression; 5. Acceptance. Safe to say, after last week’s episode, I went through almost every one of these five stages. Denial was stage one; I simply couldn’t believe what I had witnessed. Truly, I actually had trouble believing that after all this time, after everything we had been conditioned to believe about what The Night King represented, that in the blink of an eye, he was gone…just like that. Next came stage two: anger. Had I wasted the better part of the last decade enveloping myself in a story that I wholeheartedly trusted was destined for an ending that could be nothing short of greatness? Stage three kicked in soon thereafter with bargaining. Wasn’t there something that could have been done differently? If only the writers knew what they were doing to us, wouldn’t they have offered a more satisfying ending? Stage four: depression. The black cloud lingered, and normal life moments would be interrupted by that depressing reminder that this had actually happened, and there was nothing I could do to change it. And finally, stage 5: acceptance. Unfortunately, I’m not quite there yet, but this week’s episode has helped me to take a step, if only a little one, towards accepting the disappointment of epic proportions that was thrusted upon us last week.
First, the bad: whatever hope was being held out that this week’s episode would offer some closure to the abrupt death of Westeros’ ultimate villain, was likely met with great disappointment. After The Night King’s unspectacular slaying, which was surely unbefitting of the world’s most terrifying villain, many hoped there would be more to his story in the follow-up episode. Of course, this was not an unreasonable hope, given that the Thrones story conditioned us to believe The Night King and all the mythological components tied to him were central to the ending of this story. Who was The Night King? Why, of all the humans, was he chosen by The Children? Did The Children know what they were creating when they inserted dragonglass into his heart? Sure, we were told of his desire to wipe out the world’s memory, but was that truly his only motivation? Was there no deeper connection between he and Bran/The Three-Eyed Raven? The list of questions can go on; but the answers do not. The story has moved on, and moved on quickly, from The Night King and all his legend…almost as if he never existed at all.
How could that be? How could we move on so quickly from the greatest villain known to mankind? Well, the answer presented tonight was quite simple: the greatest threat to mankind is not any singular individual, but rather the complexities and identities that live within each and every one of us. Don’t get me wrong, I will not defend this idea or the show’s decision to end The Night King’s story the way they did, leaving so many intriguing questions totally unanswered. In fact, I am now altogether dubious of an ending to this show that will satisfy the desires created within me to understand the more existential themes presented in this show that I thought underpinned the story’s true meaning (i.e. Ice vs Fire, gods and religion, light vs dark, The Children of the Forest, etc..). But, we all must move on. Even though when compared to the battle for humanity’s existence, a battle between mere mortals for a throne feels like the wrong battle to be “the last one,” I have to admit that this episode started to reinvigorate some excitement. After last week’s episode, I felt completely deflated; after this week’s episode, only partially.
I am also rather dissatisfied with the overall soap-opera feel of the show. There’s no question that the writing has gone considerably downhill, ever since the show surpassed the books in season six, and writers have more or less been on their own. The speed of various character journeys and storylines has felt jumbled and bumpy at times. There’s a bit of drama that I feel is beneath this story, and certain characters have just started to feel a bit too winey.
All that said, I generally try to measure the quality of a story, or a given episode, not by how much or little I “liked” it, but rather by how well it succeeded at whatever it was trying to achieve. Following last week’s Battle of Winterfell, this follow-up episode had one clear goal: to turn our attention towards, and build suspense for, the final battle to come. And to that end, this episode was a great success, certainly achieving its intended purpose. So much so, that The Night King feels like old news, and I’m inching closer to that fifth stage of acceptance (well, only sort of).
A week ago, it felt like intra-human dynamics were irrelevant, and all that mattered was humanity banding together to preserve its existence. It was a homogenous and uniform view of the human race — that is, all humans were basically the same, coming together as one massive force to. One week later, and we are at the opposite end of the spectrum — the varied and often divergent spirit of human nature is highlighted. We are quickly reminded of the complexities of the human way, and the way these complexities can cause great divide amongst characters in this story. And while we can analyze each of the last two episodes independently, the true beauty is realized when taken in tandem. Only when forced to band together to fight for its existence could mankind show union and cooperation. The moment that threat is eradicated, we are back to seeing the truth of human nature — one that reminds us of mankind’s inherent propensity to create, perceive, and rationalize reasons for divide. The human inability to stand together unless out of necessity is indeed a sad reminder of the world we live in today. Nonetheless, bravo to the success this episode achieved in highlighting the often flawed nature of humanity, while building a wonderful sense of suspense for the final two episodes of this story. Let’s dig in:
As grave a threat as was brought about by The Night King’s army, it allowed most characters to temporarily suspend their more intricate cognitions and individual identities. Whose side will I take? With whom can I create an ally? How can I advance in this game? None of these questions mattered as fighting to live took precedent over all. But as that threat abruptly disappeared, characters were immediately thrusted back into decision-making mode. Allegiances, loyalties, secrets, love — all of these behavior-shaping ideas — immediately came back into play. And as they did, we saw several characters navigate the complexities of their “humanness,” in an attempt to make a decision that felt right to them.
We saw this theme start to play out after Dany names Gendry Lord of Storm’s End, the historic great castle of House Baratheon. Without hesitation, Gendry asks Arya to be his wife so that he can share life’s offers with the woman he loves. True to her self, Arya turns down his proposal, reminding us that she has never been a lady. In a Thrones world where so many characters are battling to figure out their true identity, Arya knows hers quite well. This, of course makes great sense, given the years she spent training in Braavos, when “a girl had no name,” and was forced to examine the truth of her identity. She emerged more connected to her truth and sure of her identity than probably any character in this story, giving her the strength and resilience to do great things.
But while Arya’s perception of self might be iron-clad, the same cannot be said for all. Jaime’s character continued along his complex character-journey, one that has been marked by a conflicting self-identity. As Jaime reminded us in this episode, he did terrible things in the earlier days of this story, including crippling Bran and murdering innocents, all in the name of love. But then something changed. His identity, which was largely built upon a representation of him being a great warrior, was torn down when he lost his fighting hand — and lost it as a result of him protecting Brienne. Literally and figuratively, his identity changed overnight, and we started to realize that perhaps the handsome knight willing to do anything for Cersei was just a mask that he wore, and there was a lot more to the truth of his character. In a powerful scene between he and Brienne, we saw great pain and vulnerability, and realized that there was a lot more to the man we had come to know only as The Kingslayer.
Eventually, Jaime fell back in the hands of Cersei, and it was unclear whether the “good guy” or “bad guy” Jaime would prevail (though, in reality, the point is that there really is no good or bad to human nature, only the complex makeup of each human, as we see in Jaime). This week, Jaime and Brienne finally lay together, which seemed to have cemented the side that Jaime would ultimately fight for in the battle to come. But after hearing word that Cersei had killed one of Dany’s dragons and realizing the imminent attack that Dany would bring to King’s Landing, Jaime decided he must return to his sister (or at least, that’s what he tells Brienne).
Brienne begged Jaime to stay, reminding him that he is a good and honorable man, only for him to remind her, in heartbreaking fashion, that he is in fact, anything but. This was devastating on so many levels. First, it was painful to hear Jaime profess how low he truly thinks of himself. Often, identity is less about how others perceive you, but more about how you perceive yourself. Of course, many are not even aware of their true self-perceptions, and if they are, often struggle to acknowledge them. But in this moment, Jaime is not only true with Brienne, but true with himself. He tells Brienne, and himself, that he essentially believes himself to be a terrible person. In this Thrones story, Jaime is the closest thing to a Greek Tragedy. In so many ways, he is a tragic hero; his greatest flaw, his massive vulnerability that prevents him from realizing the good man that he is. And can you blame him? After being casted out as “Kingslayer” and “Oathbreaker,” for so many years, is it really any surprise that his self-esteem is nonexistent? Sure, on the outside, he has worn the mask of knight in shining armor well, but beneath it, he is deeply pained by the wrongs he has committed, so much so that he believes there to be no good in him at all. The worst part? All the crimes he committed were to protect the ones he loved; at no point did he do any evil out of malice or selfish motives.
And while Jaime’s story is incredibly tragic, perhaps this moment is even more heartbreaking for Brienne’s character. For as long as we’ve know Brienne, her identity has been defined by a total lack of femininity. For all intents and purposes, Brienne has been characterized as a man, from her appearance to her desires. This very episode highlighted that idea by calling out her virginity — after all of these years, she had never even lay with a single man. Yet, Jaime changed all of that. And while their sleeping together certainly has significant physical meaning for Brienne, it really underscores the emotional tie between the two characters. If Jaime was the tragic hero unable to see the good in himself, Brienne was the one person who understood his vulnerabilities, and truly knew the honor that lived within Jaime. Coupled with the fact she truly loved him, it was not enough for her to know he was a good man — she needed him to know it as well. Several times throughout this story, even when on opposing sides, Brienne has reminded Jaime of his goodness. Often, it almost felt like a plea, like she was begging him to realize the same.
And finally, as the story is headed towards its closing moments, it seems as though Jaime has settled into the idea that he is in fact a decent man. He has chosen the right side, he is going to remain at Winterfell, with the woman who loves him — all is well. Absolutely nobody could be happier about this than Brienne herself, knowing that not only has she received love back from the man she loves, but she has finally gotten him to realize his goodness. But, in typical Thrones style, everything changes with the flip of a switch, and Brienne’s world is turned upside down as she finds Jaime set to depart Winterfell in the middle of the night.
A character who rarely displays any emotion, Brienne is devastated, tears streaming down her face, as the man she loves is leaving her, and reminding her of what a horrible person he believes himself to be. His words go in the face of everything she has believed; in many ways, her world is turned upside down. For the first time, Brienne let herself be vulnerable; vulnerable to love, vulnerable to her femininity, vulnerable to emotion — and it all came crumbling down. How truly heartbreaking. I can only hope that Jaime ends up on the right side of this fight, if not to see his story end realizing his own heroism, than at least for Brienne’s sake, so that she doesn’t lose the man she loves to a false sense of identity.
The complicated nature of the human makeup and identity continues to shine through elsewhere in Winterfell. Sansa continues to display a mistrust for anybody outside of her family, putting her at great odds with Daenerys. When we size up Sansa’s identity, it’s a pretty simple diagnosis. Her trust was betrayed by so many at such a young age, from Cersei and Joffrey to Ramsay Bolton to Littlefinger. At this point, how could she ever trust anybody other than her own? In an exchange between her and The Hound, he tells her that she should have left King’s Landing with him when she had the chance — had she done so, she would have avoided all those that wronged her along the way. Sansa responds to The Hound, telling him that had she left with him, she would still be “a little bird” today. You can watch the video below, from season two, when The Hound tried to save Sansa from King’s Landing.
Sansa’s response to The Hound makes it clear that she understands who she is and has grown smarter from all those that have wronged her. But, one must ask the question: is it advantageous to be guided by a general distrust for all those around you? Sure, being able to outsmart others is a good thing, but not being able to trust anybody outside of your family, maybe not as much. And this is the very conflict that will soon reach climax, between her and Jon. While Jon wants to honor his Queen Daenerys, Sansa is unable to trust Daenerys, or even trust Jon who is willing to vouch for her. Interestingly, Arya has picked her side in this conflict, and strongly voices her distrust for Daenerys as well.
And, all of that is before they even learn that Jon is not in fact their brother, but rather their cousin. Though the scene cuts away, Jon tells Bran to reveal the truth of who he really is to Sansa and Arya. This news only serves to embolden Sansa’s distrust for Daenerys, as learning Jon’s true identity also reveals that he, not Daenerys, is the rightful heir to the throne. Sansa’s identity, largely defined by her inability to trust anybody, is at odds with her loyalty to family, and she is going to have decide between the two. From her conversation with Tyrion where she reveals she thinks there is somebody better than Daenerys to to rule, it seems as though she will not be able to shake her achilles heal, and this is going to set up a very tricky dynamic in the final episodes, where Jon and Sansa may actually find themselves in direct opposition.
As the episode continues, we see Jon’s secret quickly starting to spread — a secret that Dany begged him to keep. But, Jon, being the honorable (and sometimes foolish) man that he is, decided he must tell his sisters. Sansa broke her oath to keep this secret, by telling Tyrion, who then told Varys. Rightfully so, and as Dany predicted, this news is already starting to cause greater divide, at a time when Team Dany/Jon can ill afford it. Sansa and Arya are not the only ones starting to defect from Dany’s claim to the throne. Varys, pointing out that Jon is the rightful heir, a male, and more even-tempered, also now believes Jon is the one to be backed, not Dany. Though Varys and Tyrion have generally seen eye to eye, their sense of identity will bring about an abrupt departure. While Tyrion is defined by his ability to see and support the best in others, Varys’ identity is centered around protecting those who cannot protect themselves. Born a pauper and sold to a sorcerer who committed terrible acts to Varys when he was just a boy, Varys now uses his cunning to try and “protect the realm.” He and Tyrion now have differing views of who is best suited to do this, and Varys makes it clear that he will do what he must to protect those in need. Keep an eye out for what Varys’ next move will be.
Fire and Blood
And just as the episode was starting to feel like it was going to be another setup for next week’s battle, things go haywire. Things go from bad to worse for Dany, and out of nowhere, Rhaegal is taken out with three harpoons. Dany can do nothing but watch as she loses yet another one of her children. In a state of blood-seeking fury, Dany flies her dragon straight into the danger, but eventually retreats as she cannot risk losing her last dragon. Euron’s fleet destroys Dany’s ships, and in doing so, takes Missandei prisoner.
At this point, Dany has had enough. Her plan to show restraint and minimize the loss of innocent life is not working. In the span of days, she lost Jorah, one of her most loyal advisers; her entire Dothraki army; half of her Unsullied army; the second of her three dragons; and Missandie, her most trusted adviser. Things have gone from bad to worse, fast. Though Tyrion and Varys beg her to continue to show restraint and to not pursue Cersei at the cost of killing thousands of innocents, Dany is at her breaking point. She agrees to offer Cersei the opportunity for surrender, so the people of King’s Landing can know that it was Cersei who refused surrender.
In a powerful final scene, Tyrion makes one last desperate plea, first with Qyburn, and then directly to his sister. In this plea, we can feel just how badly Tyrion truly wants to avoid the loss of innocent life — something we can see he knows is imminent. But even Tyrion’s clever words are not enough, and Cersei gives him a big “f**k you” by not only refusing surrender, but beheading Missandei first. The pain felt by Dany and Grey Worm was palpable; and the look on Dany’s face was clear as day: all bets are off. Fire and blood is coming, which begs the question, will she become The Mad Queen, just as her father was The Mad King? Clearly, this is Varys’ concern, but which side of Dany will prevail? The one that has defined her identity for many years — the one that wants to leave the world a better place than she found it? Or will her Targaryen wrath prevail and will her desire for revenge get the better of her? With just two episodes remaining, things are more up in the air than ever before, and great battle is upon us.
Odds and Ends
Jaime and Cersei: It’s worth pointing out, that it’s possible Jaime was tricking Brienne in order to get out of Winterfell, perhaps to get to King’s Landing to kill Cersei himself.
The Hound and Arya: The ultimate duo are back together again on their way to King’s Landing. They both have unfinished business, namely killing their ultimate foes. Arya will surely want to be the one to take out Cersei and cross that name off her list. At the same time, The Hound will want to take out his brother, The Mountain, who burned him as a young boy and is responsible for all the identity issues that The Hound suffers today.
Other Allies: Though Dany’s forces have been significantly diminished, there are other allies out there. In this episode, it was mentioned that a new Dornish Prince has declared for Dany. Dorne has not played much of a role in this story as of late, but it’s safe to assume that they will show up in the final battle. It’s also worth remembering that Cersei still has Ellaria Sand and her sandsnake daughter locked in a cell beneath King’s Landing. Presumably, they are not yet dead, and could have a role to play as well. Yara Greyjoy is also still alive and has retreated to The Iron Islands — additional allies for Team Dany.
Bronn: A character I’ve generally enjoyed throughout the show, I was disappointed to see Bronn turn on Jaime and Tyrion. I’m not quite sure how his story finishes up, and with only two episodes to go, and it doesn’t seem very relevant that Tyrion promised him Lordship over Highgarden if they win the war. But, we’ll see how this one develops.
Cersei’s Baby: It’s unclear what’s happening here. Question 1: Is Cersei pregnant? Question 2: Who is the father? Neither answer is very clear, but it seems this will be somewhat important as the story comes to a close. Cersei first told Jaime the baby was his, but this could have been a lie to keep him close. In this last episode, Cersei tells Euron that she’s pregnant with his baby — again, unclear what the truth is. Going back to season five, we saw a flashback of Cersei as a young girl, encountering Maggy the Frog, a witch who offered Cersei a prophecy. She basically told Cersei that she would have three children, all of whom would eventually die. We saw this prophecy come true, as all three of Cersei’s children were eventually killed. Again, this prophecy stated Cersei would have three children (not four), so if we believe this prophecy to be true, than Cersei is either not actually pregnant, or will have her baby killed.
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.
Here’s an idea for the framework of a story. Let’s start off with a series of events that will initially seem like the main purpose of the story, say a battle for supremacy over a throne. Let’s weave in countless battles, twist and turns, all in the name of conquering that throne. Let’s then start to pivot a bit and make our story multi-dimensional. Let’s tickle the curiosities and spark the imaginations of our viewers by starting to slowly and methodically offer the idea that the original premise of this story is actually not the end-all be-all. Sure, that first story about the battle for that throne once seemed all-important, but what if we start to craft another story, which starts to make the first seem less significant? In doing so, we offer a powerful idea: relativity. A plot-line that once fully consumed us, may now start to feel more disposable, when considered relative to a much more powerful story we can tell. And, say, that more important story will be centered around a much more existential philosophy….Maybe good vs evil, light vs dark, Ice vs Fire.
Of course, as we start to build this seemingly much more significant story arc, we will do so in a slow and calculated manner. We will start by offering breadcrumbs, early on, maybe even teasing the villain, a mysterious White Walker, in the very first scene of the very first episode. From there, we will build slowly over nearly a decade of storytelling, consistently reinforcing to our audience that there is a much more important storyline lurking in the distance — one that will continue to come into greater focus with each passing day.
And as our story nears its ultimate conclusion and this seemingly all-important storyline appears to be reaching its climax — the point where our audience will finally be rewarded with a a more illuminated view into the true message or meaning underpinning this story — let’s do the following: In the blink of an eye, let’s completely pull the rug out from under them. Let’s offer up a huge plot twist that undermines everything we’ve been telling our audience for the past 10 years. That original story we hooked you with — the one about humans battling for a throne — the one we worked so hard to remind you is actually less significant than that bigger and more important plot-line — let’s do a complete 180′ on that and decide it’s going to be the plot-line that the ending of this story will be dedicated to.
How does this framework sound to you? Shocking? Frustrating? Downright idiotic?
The Game of Thrones was fun. But it was just the first book in the Song of Ice and Fire series. Which, as we saw in the show, meant that this story ultimately was about something so much greater than mere mortals battling for a throne — a story that’s been done a dozen times over. This story was going to explore a much deeper, more powerful theme — one that cuts to the very existential core of human nature. The eternal struggle between good and bad, light and dark, which in this story, will be embodied by Ice and Fire.
It was not long before we started to understand that the battle for the throne was small potatoes compared to The Great War to Come. You know, that war that was going to determine the very fate of human existence. The war that pitted the dark and mysterious Night King against pretty much the rest of humanity. The war that tied in elements of gods, magic, dragons, and so much more. And what this show more than succeeded at was the masterful nature in which they built this story. Visions, flashbacks, allusions to events that happened thousands of years ago — these were just a few of vehicles that allowed us to start to understand the power of this storyline being built.
First, it was just White Walkers — pretty badass creatures of darkness that certainly made it clear that there’s a real threat to humans — a threat that makes bickering over a throne quite futile. But this story became all the more intriguing when we were introduced to The Night King, the mysterious leader of the White Walkers. Slowly, we were offered breadcrumbs which built the anticipation of this story, but also generally raised more questions. In season four, we learned how White Walkers were created, when we saw The Night King touch his finger to the face of a baby.
Two years later, things got even more interesting, when we saw how The Night King himself was created. Through one of Bran’s visions, we learned that The Night King was created by the Children of the Forest after they inserted Dragonglass into his heart. This certainly raised many more questions. Why exactly did The Children do this? They mentioned to Bran it was to save their kind from The First Men who had been slaughtering them. But how does creating The Night King save their people? Wouldn’t you just want to kill the humans you are at war with? Why insert Dragonglass into his heart? Seems like a strange ritual. And did The Children know they would be creating The Night King? Was that their intention? And who was the human they chose? Was he random or a significant character? And what about those spirals? We know those spirals were used by The Children, and then The Night King started using them as well — why? What was the ultimate connection between The Night King and The Children?
So many questions to be answered, and it was never a guarantee that they all would be, but as this story approached its final hours, it became abundantly clear that at minimum, there was a major connection between The Night King, The Children of the Forest and Bran. So with just a few episodes left before this 10-year journey comes to a close, I was expecting to learn a lot more about who The Night King was, why he was created, what his ultimate motivations were, how he was connected to The Children, what was the significance between he and Bran, etc… I felt that this entire saga, A Song of Ice and Fire, would be just that — a beautiful harmony, that as it reached its crescendo, would delight me with a a moment of clarity — a moment that allowed me to understand what this whole thing really was about.
What actually happened in tonight’s episode couldn’t have been further from this. What we got tonight, in the most highly-anticipated Thrones episode of all time, was an edge-of-your-seat 80-minute battle scene, and a 2-minute mindblowingly disappointing ending. As for the battle itself, hats off to Thrones for once again delivering another absolutely epic battle — one that took 11 weeks to shoot and required over 750 actors on set! No small feat. And while it was pretty suspenseful, it was actually one of my least favorite battles to date. The Battle of Blackwater Bay, the first real battle we ever witnessed on Thrones, watching those ships light up the sky with green wildfire, will always be a special one. Watchers on The Wall, the penultimate episode of season four (and the only other episode besides tonight’s to be fully dedicated to one battle scene), was spectacular as we got to watch The Night’s Watch defend The Wall for the first time against The Wildlings. Even the more recent Battle of the Bastards grabbed me more than this battle tonight.
First, I really found the battle to be a bit too all over the place. No doubt, this is precisely what producers/directors were going for — trying to create the feeling that this was not a singular battle happening in one location, but rather spread throughout many parts of Winterfell. Yet still, I found it a bit disjointed trying to follow the many different characters battling wights in many different nooks and crannies of the castle. I also found the coloring of the episode to be challenging. Again, this was no doubt intentional, but the combination of darkness from this battle being fought at night, mixed with a lack of visibility from The Night King’s foggy mist, made a lot of simply hard to follow — a big miss in my opinion.
I also flat out did not enjoy the role of the dragons in this battle. It was hard to see who was riding what dragon, which dragon was which, and ultimately I just didn’t feel the dragons were used well in this battle. This is all the more disappointing given that dragons versus White Walkers is the embodiment of Ice vs Fire, and it’s been nearly 10 full years that we’ve been talking about that moment when we’d finally see a battle where dragons are going against the army of the dead. I can’t say I was too impressed with it. I also found it a bit tiring the number of times a main character was about to be consumed by a clan of wights, only to be saved by another. Sure, once or twice I can chalk it up to writers taking some liberties, but it happened a half-dozen times, and at a certain point, it just becomes gratuitous. I get we can’t kill off all our main characters in one episode, but we also can’t pretend that they are all capable of fighting off 10 zombies at a time, and set each up to appear as though it’s about to be their last moment, only for them to be miraculously saved just in the nick of time.
But I can put to the side the above grievances I had with the battle itself. What I cannot put to the side is the way the episode ended. It utterly and completely rocked my world, and undercut everything I thought this story would ultimately be about. This episode was the one. Bran and The Night King were likely going to come face to face, and something major had to happen. As the humans are losing the battle, and the very real possibility of The Night King winning starts to set in and the climax is upon us. The Night King approaches Bran, with nobody left to defend him (remind me why anybody thought Theon would be able to defend Bran from The Night King?), and something BIG is about to happen. On the edge of my seat, my heart was racing in anticipation, feeling as though I was finally about to learn what the hell it is that The Night King is really after.
But it just wasn’t in the cards. Arya jumps from what seemed like a solid 10 feet, but is caught by The Night King, and it looked like this might be Arya’s last moment. But she makes a nice maneuver to drop the dagger into her other hand, plunge it into his side, and just like that, poof, The Night King is no more. Nothing even special about the way he was destroyed. He able to be killed the same as all the other White Walkers, with Valyrian steel. And he exploded into glass pieces, just like the White Walkers when they are killed. This was The Night King — not just another White Walker — and not that he had any business dying here, but I was even disappointed with the fact there was nothing special about what it took to kill him or the display of his death.
The way he died also simply felt too easy, too quick, too unimportant. Not taking any credit away from my girl Arya, but a 12-inch dagger to the side and the all-evil Night King is dead? That’s it? Let’s not forget, this is a Night King that has been around for hundreds, if not thousands of years. And that’s all it took to defeat him? Big miss there.
Anyway, just like that, in the blink of an eye, everything changed. In anti-climatic fashion, all the White Walkers are destroyed, and then their wights. The great war is over, the humans have won, and I am left feeling as though this is an ending to a story I have seen 100 times over. But wait! We still get to see who is going to win the Iron Throne — totally more important than a great war intended to decide the very fate of mankind — a war that we had every reason to believe was going to reveal a great deal of what this story was ultimately all about. And now, sadly, it seems we’re back where we started, and that it’s simply about humans fighting for a Throne. Can’t wait for more blah blah blah from Cersei in King’s Landing!
Maybe it’s my fault. Maybe I gave Thrones too much credit. Maybe I shouldn’t have believed this story was about something a lot deeper. But then again, this is a story with a 10,000 year back-history, one that was referenced hundreds of times throughout the show. We were given every reason to believe that there was great magic and mystery that happened prior to the start of this story — things we were going to learn about before this story concluded — things that would underpin the true meaning of this story. One very simple example of this is in season six when the show decided to take us back in time to show us The Children of the Forest creating The Night King. That gave us every reason to believe that we were going to learn more about The Night King, who he was, why he was chosen, what The Children were trying to achieve, the connection between the spirals, etc… Why even show that scene if we are never going to unpack it further?
Now, before I conclude this post, let me acknowledge the chance that there are still some big reveals around some of these topics. Bran is still alive, which means we still have a portal into the past (and future). So, it’s still entirely possible we learn more about The Night King, The Children, and what A Song of Ice and Fire is truly about. And I really hope this is the case. But, with the entire army of the dead defeated, it seems like that is now in the rearview, and the last few episodes will go back to human vs human battle to determine who will sit upon the Iron Throne at the story’s completion.
I am saddened and shocked by all of this. I find it hard to believe that George R.R. Martin created this masterful story, the ending of which is not concerned with Ice and Fire, but rather humans competing for the throne. It seems beneath where the story was going and feels like we took 100 steps backwards to a much less intriguing storyline. I hope the next few episodes have some course-correcting surprises, otherwise Lost may have just lost its top spot as worst end to a TV show of all time.
Odds and Ends
Arya’s Dagger: We’ve touched upon this dagger in several previous posts, but the Valyrian steel dagger that Arya uses to kill The Night King has a pretty cool backstory. It was originally used by Baelish who gave it to an assassin to try and kill Bran in season one (Baelish’s goal was to blame the Lannisters for the assassination attempt on Bran, to pit House Stark and Lannister against each other, which is precisely what happened). After the assassination attempt failed, the dagger ended up back with Baelish, who gave it to Bran when they reunited at Winterfell earlier this season. Bran then gave it to Arya, telling her he had no use for it. Had he already seen the vision of how Arya would use it to defeat The Night King? (Arya also used this dagger to kill Baelish).
The Prince(ess) That Was Promised: Obviously a theory we’ve been touching upon for years now. In a recent episode, the idea of The Prince That Was Promised was being discussed in Valyrian. Missandei, who speaks this language well, corrects Dany and Lady Melisandre, telling them that in Valyrian, that word has no gender, meaning it could be a Prince or Princess. This created more speculation around who would play this prophesied roll, with many people now thinking Dany, and some more recently even believing Brienne. Looks like, after all, it was Arya.
Bran’s Warging: What exactly was Bran doing when he was warging for so long in this episode? We saw he warged into some ravens, seemingly to get a better glimpse of what was going on in the battle. But we never really saw where the ravens were going, or what Bran saw through their eyes, if anything. If nothing significant, then it felt kind of pointless that he was sitting there warging this entire scene.
The End: It’s important to remind that the show is now far ahead of the books, and while George R.R. Martin has definitely provided direction for the show to work around, they are taking more liberties now than ever before. The first six seasons were based directly off books that were written. Characters, events, even most dialogue was direct from the books. Starting last season, the show jumped ahead of the books, and as a result, it seems a lot more liberties are being taken. It’s hard to know if the books will culminate the same exact way the show does.
RIP: Rest in peace to Beric, Jorah, Theon and Melisandre. Beric’s death was not too eventful, but he served his role in The Great War and helped to save Arya who would ultimately take out The Night King. Jorah’s death was the most noble, and there is no way he would rather die than fighting to protect his beloved Khaleesi. Theon’s death was so-so. I appreciated that Bran told him that he was a good man and thanked him, giving him the closure he had been searching for, prior to his death. That said, I found it silly that he was out there in the first place trying to protect Bran from The Night King, as if Theon stood a chance. We’ve seen the last of Melisandre as well, as she harnessed the power of The Lord of Light, played her role, then faded off into the distance, dying as the old woman she is (remember, it was the necklace she removed that kept her youthful).
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 end of an era. The dark before the dawn. A preamble to death. Call it what you’d like, but make no mistake, the end is here. Now.
The thing is, we always knew this moment was coming. It’s been clear for some time that the finality of this story was lurking around the corner, perhaps just out of sight. But knowing that the end is near in your head, truly feeling it in your heart, are two very different things. And tonight, for the very first time, we were forced to feel the weight of the end, and all the consequences that will come along with it. What was once out of sight, is now in crystal clear focus, and there is no turning back.
After a rather slow setup episode to kick off the season, many anticipated an action-packed episode this week. I myself suspected that we might get our first battle tonight. But what we were offered tonight was more profound — more emotional — than perhaps any battle scene ever could be. In a subtle, yet powerful way, we were reminded of all that has happened over the past 10 years — intense character journeys that saw foes become friends; great sacrifice and heart-wrenching loss; glorious victory and crushing defeat — all that has led us to this very final moment. And as we processed the great journey that led us here today, we were reminded of the great fragility that characterizes the world we live in — a reminder that overnight, everything can change; life can turn to death, while the things we hold most dear can be taken away in the blink of an eye.
The great paradox, and genius of this episode, was that we were ultimately reminded of what we will soon forget. Like a montage of memories before our eyes, it will all soon be over, and most of it will soon be forgotten. The ingenuity of this concept is that it speaks true both externally, of us viewers, who likely will forget most of what we’ve witnessed over the past decade, once this great saga comes to an end and the years go by. But on a meta level, the same can be said true of the characters in the story. As the end approaches, so does the very real possibility of human extinction, which would bring about the end of all recollection and memory. And, as we learned from Bran in this episode, that is precisely what The Night King is after (we’ll get to that more later).
The last night of sleep-away camp where you stay up all night, knowing that morning will bring about the moment where you’re forced to say goodbye to those friends who you may not see again until the following summer. Those last moments leading up to college graduation before you close the chapter on your college days and embark upon that next phase of life. This was all of those goodbye moments rolled into one and amplified times 100. We were readied for what may be the final goodbye. Life is not guaranteed. Death is imminent. Loss is certain. And tomorrow may not come at all, which forces us to reflect back upon the most magical of journeys, which in concert, create what we have come to know as A Game of Thrones.
All You Need is Love
To date, character relationships have often been complicated and unpredictable, but as the end nears, all of that has begun to change. Staring down the face of death, what we saw in this episode was characters mostly stripped of all the layers that no longer matter. And when you peel back all those layers, we’re left with relationships that are defined by one simple constant: love. And it is the power of this love, combined with an awareness of how quickly this love can come to an end, that made this episode so sad, yet beautiful. Characters coming together, knowing full well that this might be their last sip of wine together; their last laugh; their last kiss. Their realization of the impending finality allowed us to view these characters stripped of what has defined their very existence in this story for so many years — the lies, the schemes, the deception, the games…None of that matters anymore, and we got to see the true essence of these wonderful characters.
This theme starts early in the episode when Jaime is reunited with Brienne, one of the few people in all of Westeros who got to hear his side of the story regarding his slaying of The Mad King. Their journey was intensely powerful, and it was Brienne’s character that served as the foil for Jaime’s first evolution. It was through her that we first saw a different side of Jaime — a more vulnerable character that had been carrying the burden of being unfairly labeled Kingslayer and Oathbreaker. Below is a clip from season three in which Jaime breaks down to Brienne and she learns who he really is. This scene is hugely important as it allowed Brienne to understand what Jaime had been through and the truth of his character — the very character she would come to the defense of all these years later in his moment of judgement.
As we heard Brienne recount in tonight’s episode, it was Jaime that saved her life, and lost his hand for it, back in season three. Years later, it is now Brienne saving Jaime. And if all that is not poetic enough, with death at Winterfell’s doorstep, it is Jaime who is able to give Brienne what she wants most in the world, her knighthood. Underscoring the importance of this moment, Thrones producers chose to name the episode after it, A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms. Whether it is a love of romance or a love of loyalty and admiration (likely the latter), the feelings displayed between Jaime and Brienne offer a shimmering light before the darkness that is just around the corner.
The moments of love continued between many other characters, again offering reminders of the richness and depth of experiences that have shaped these relationships in seasons past. The reunion between Theon and Sansa proved that even a short-lived exchange can be powerful and emotional, when delivered the right way (something the premiere episode seemed to be totally unaware of). Theon’s return to Winterfell only lasted about 30 seconds, but his pledge to fight for Sansa and Winterfell brought things full circle for him. His character has been tormented for years as to who he should try to be: a Greyjoy or a Stark. He has made some excruciating decisions along the way as he battled this identity crisis, but his return to Winterfell signals that he has found some closure and realizes who he ultimately wants to be in the final moments of this story.
But what made this scene even more emotional was the embrace shared between Sansa and Theon. Both characters have been through some unimaginable circumstances, and their experiences intersected at the hands of the sadistic Ramsay Bolton, who held both of them prisoners. At the end of season five, the two came together to escape Winterfell, a moment that liberated them both literally and figuratively. They went separate ways shortly thereafter, but they will forever share a powerful bond built upon a shared understanding of what it meant to endure Ramsay’s torturous ways, as well as knowing that they came together to escape. Their present-day reunion is a reminder of all that they had been through, and their embrace reminds us of the ways in which shared adversity can bring us closer together, perhaps more-so than anything else.
Lastly, this scene reminds us that perhaps Theon’s tale is ultimately about one thing above all else: redemption. Lost in the fray of hating so many others (i.e. Ramsay Bolton, Joffrey, Walder Frey, etc), you may not remember it, but there was a time when you hated Theon more than anybody in the entire Thrones universe. This was the guy that turned on the family that raised him as he brought destruction to House Stark and Winterfell. Some time thereafter, he was taken prisoner by Ramsay and turned from Theon into Reek, and became such a broken man that there was nothing left to hate. And then for some time following his escape, he vacillated back and forth, trying to figure out whether he was Reek, Greyjoy or Stark, and as viewers, it was unclear where his path would lead. But, after rescuing his sister Yara, and now returning to Winterfell to fight alongside House Stark, Sansa’s embrace reminds us that redemption is possible, almost always. Looking back, Theon’s character offered viewers an unbelievably complex and rich character journey. Given that he’s arguably not even one of the top-ten most important characters in the story, this is just another testament to the absolute genius of George R.R. Martin. In any other story, a character of such complexity would be the main star of the show — but in George R.R. Martin’s world, each character, no matter how prevalent or how peripheral, is exceptionally well-developed and never overlooked.
The theme of characters coming together in their final hour did not stop there. Arya made it clear that she’s all grown up and did not want to die a virgin, as she took control of Gendry. I guess one needle wasn’t enough for her. (For anybody who didn’t catch that one, the name of her sword is Needle). Before seducing him, he presented her with the weapon she’d been asking him to make — a fighting stick adorned with Dragonglass on either end. Again, even in a small detail such as the presentation of a singular weapon, we are reminded of the incredible journey that Arya has been on — one that will be altogether forgotten if darkness prevails.
Back in season six, Arya endured great sacrifice, including total loss of vision, as she trained to become a Faceless Man under Jaqen H’ghar in Braavos. This part of her journey, more-so than any other, ultimately shaped who she would become, so it is powerful to see that in what might be her final moments, she chooses to fight with a weapon similar to that which she trained with in Braavos. In this scene, we also heard that mysterious Braavosi music in the background, which once again begs the question: will we ever see Jaqen H’ghar again?
The unions continued throughout the episode, including one last kiss between Missandei and Greyworm. I must say, I am still puzzled by this part of the story. I never understood what the significance of their relationship is or what purpose it serves. Nonetheless, we are reminded that in the face of darkness, this might be the last kiss they ever share together. Same goes for Sam and Gilly as they are shown laying in bed with their baby boy between them, perhaps the last time they will ever be united as a family.
Finally, on the topic of this episode bringing characters together that remind us of the past, I’d like to point out one other scene that hardly anybody will talk about, but I found emotional: the scene between Ser Davos and the little girl in the square of Winterfell. For many seasons, Davos’ one true love was Princess Shireen, the daughter of Stannis Baratheon. Because she was afflicted with Greyscale, Stannis kept her contained to a cell beneath Dragonstone, where Davos would often sneak down; he would tell her stories while she would affectionately teach him to read. It was a loving and heart-warming relationship, which ultimately ended with her death at the hands of her own parents, who sacrificed her at the advice of Lady Melisandre. This was heartbreaking for Ser Davos, and ultimately led him to depart from the service of Stannis, and brought him to where he is today. Make no mistake about it, the girl in this last episode with the scar on her face was not randomly placed. The intent was to remind viewers of the love Davos had for Princess Shireen, a love that will fuel him to continue to fight for life against the army of the dead.
After a disappointing and underwhelming reunion last week, Arya and The Hound had another moment together, which did a slightly better job at recognizing the history they had together. Arya questions what The Hound is doing in Winterfell, asking him “When have you ever fought for anybody but yourself?” He looks back at her, and responds, “I fought for you, didn’t I?” In this simple dialogue, we are reminded of the great journey Arya and The Hound shared together, and that neither would be standing where they are today if not for that journey. After all that they’ve been through together, it’s painful to consider that we have witnessed their very last exchange. I could see The Hound making one final sacrifice, giving his life to save Arya in battle.
Last, but certainly not least, towards the end of the episode we see another wonderful reunion which reminds us of an important past that we cannot forget. Jon is reunited with what you could argue was his first true love — his brothers of the Night’s Watch. Standing beside his brothers, Sam says “Think back to where it all started,” before they repeat their words, probably for the last time, “And now our watch begins.” After having spent years defending The Wall and building a bond that most could never imagine, it is unlikely that these three will ever stand together again. What a sad thought.
The King and I
If the planned Thrones spinoff proves unsuccessful, HBO could always pivot to a Thrones satire featuring The Night King and Bran, entitled The King and I. All joking aside, in this episode we got a bit more color on The Night King’s intentions as well as his connection to Bran.
For starters, Samwell flat out asked the question we’ve all been asking for quite some time now: what does The Night King want? Bran provided a fairly direct response: “He wants an endless night. He wants to erase this world, and I am its memory. He’ll come for me, he’s tried before many times with many Three-Eyed-Ravens.”
So while Bran provides some more color on what The Night King wants, I can’t say it was a real “ah-ha” moment. I still don’t quite understand what The Night King wants to achieve. Or better yet, maybe I just don’t understand why he wants to. Sure, he wants an endless night where the world is erased. But why? Say he wipes out humanity and gets his endless night, then what? I still believe, and really hope, that there’s more to the Night King’s true ambitions than what Bran has divulged. There has to be more to what he’s after and why he’s after it. I am hoping we’ll still have a big reveal of who The Night King really is, why The Children of the Forest created him, and what this eternal battle between Ice and Fire is really about.
What’s also interesting to think about is that Bran alluded to the fact that The Night King has tried “many times with many Three-Eyed-Ravens before.” How many Three-Eyed-Ravens have there been before Bran? And does this dispel the theory that Bran was the earlier Three-Eyed-Raven all along, essentially the future version of himself guiding the present-day version of himself? What has happened to the other Three-Eyed-Ravens, and what has their role been compared to Bran’s? No answers for you on these questions, but interesting to think about.
Another takeaway from this scene was that Bran was speaking to a room filled with all the key players in the story (Dany, Jon, Tyrion, Arya, Davos, etc). Of all these characters that could have responded to Bran’s declaration about what The Night King wants, it was Samwell who responded, stating “That’s what death is…Forgetting, being forgotten…If we forget where we’ve been and what we’ve done, we’re not men anymore, just animals. Your memories don’t come from books, your stories aren’t just stories. If i wanted to erase the world, I’d start with you.”
What’s interesting about this is that it ties back to an idea that we’ve spoken about in earlier posts — that perhaps Samwell will be the ultimate storyteller — perhaps the very person narrating the story we are being told today. This idea has never held more weight than after this episode, in which Bran declares that The Night King’s entire mission is to erase the world and its memory. If that is the case, than the Night King’s ultimate opposition would be the storyteller who possesses the power to perpetuate the story of humanity. As we know, there is nobody that has embraced the power of books, story and recorded history more-so than Samwell Tarly. You can read a more detailed account about that theory here, but I found it very telling that Samwell was the one to respond to Bran in this scene.
After learning that The Night King will come after Bran, team humanity decides their best play is to set him out in the weirwood forest as bait in an attempt to lure in The Night King. Theon offers to protect Bran, though alone, he’ll be no match for The Night King. This raises the ultimate question: how do you kill The Night King? It’s unclear whether Valyrian steel, Dragonglass or even dragon fire will work.
The Crypts of Winterfell
The crypts of Winterfell were mentioned no less than a dozen times in this episode. And each time, they were mentioned as the “safest” place to be. I get the sneaking suspicion that perhaps they are not as safe as everybody assumes. Or that there will be a major reveal about the crypts in the coming episode(s).
After Thrones producers chose for the location of the season eight teaser to be the the crypts of Winterfell, I dedicated a post to a theory about these crypts and their very mysterious history. Given how much these crypts were mentioned in tonight’s episode, I would highly recommend reading that theory here.
Discord in Winterfell
As the story nears its end, everybody in Winterfell seems to be on the same page. Well, almost everybody. Sansa and Dany have a heart-to-heart and it seems as though they are going to emerge the better for it, until Sansa asks the difficult question: what are Dany’s intentions if the war against death is won? Dany makes it clear that she intends to reclaim the Iron Throne, and Sansa makes it clear that The North does not intend to bend the knee again. With just four episodes to go, it seems unlikely that we ever see this conflict play itself out, but what’s important to note is that the very fact this conflict is lurking in the distance could cause enough discord between these characters as to affect their much-needed union today.
Making matters even more confusing, Jon reveals to Dany his true identity, and she quickly realizes that if true, he would be heir to the Iron Throne, not her. Her first reaction was one of disbelief, but she told Sansa just moments before that she knows Jon is a man of his word, so it will be difficult for her to deny the truth of his identity. The question is, will she be able to accept it. Unfortunately, this is not something she’ll have much time to ponder, as their conversation gets interrupted by the war horns that signal the army of the dead have arrived and the battle is just moments away. Without time to further discuss, how will this impact Dany’s loyalty to Jon, House Stark and her prioritization of this battle versus the battle for the Iron Throne? In short order, we will see Dany’s true colors, and while it feels unlikely, it is possible that she could turn on Jon if she now views him as a threat to the Iron Throne.
And just like that, The Great War is here. As the episode comes to an end, we see the front line of The Night King’s army, and he’s not messing around with any wights out there. His front line is comprised of all White Walkers, many more of them together than we have ever seen. Expect next week’s episode, all 82 minutes of it, to be edge-of-your-seat battle action. A word of advice: prepare yourself mentally and emotionally, because many great characters will die.
Odds and Ends
With The Great War upon us, will The Prince That Was Promised finally emerge to lead the war against death and darkness as the prophecy states? If so, who will it be? If you aren’t familiar with the theory of The Prince That Was Promised, read here. Lady Melisandre originally, and incorrectly, believed Stannis to be The Prince, while the popular theory then became Jon, and more recently Dany. With Jaime back in Winterfell and Bran alluding to the role he has to play in The Great War to Come, Jaime could in fact emerge as The Prince That Was Promised. And with Brienne’s recent knighthood, it could even be her.
If you didn’t catch it, Jon’s wolf, Ghost, is back. This begs the question of whether or not we’ll see Arya’s wolf, Nymeria. I say yes.
In the scene between Jaime and Bran under the weirwood tree, Jaime asks Bran what will happen afterwards, to which Bran responds “How do you know there is an afterwards?” An ominous response to say the least, which highlights the very real possibility that darkness does in fact prevail.
Samwell gave Jorah Heartsbane, a great Valyrian sword that has been in House Tarly for centuries. Jorah would have been in line to receive Longclaw, the great Valyrian longsword that belonged to his father, Lord Commander Jeor Mormont, but because of Jorah’s exile, the sword instead went to Jon. We know that Jorah was one of Westeros’ greatest warriors, and now he has an epic sword with which he can slay some White Walkers.
Where was Varys in this episode? We know he was in Winterfell, but it was peculiar that he was not involved in any of the key scenes or dialogues. Keep an eye on this. And remember that we still do not know what he heard in the fire all those years back.
Which major characters that have been killed off will we see reemerge as wights in The Night King’s army? I think it’s safe to say we’ll have to see at least one or two characters that have been turned into zombies. Stannis would make a pretty wicked wight.
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.
At long last, the wait is over. Don’t feel totally satisfied? That’s okay, don’t beat yourself up over it. While the season eight opener was devoid of any major jaw-dropping moments, it achieved exactly what it set out to — it laid the ground work for what will no doubt be a massive conclusion to this epic saga.
Sure, after waiting almost two years, we all would have enjoyed a classic Thrones battle scene. We even would have settled for a more subtle reveal that perhaps would shed light onto any one of the many burning questions we have. Be patient, young grasshoppers — all of that will come.
What the premiere episode, entitled Winterfell, lacked in big moments, it made up for in powerful (and often awkward) reunions. These reunions paid homage to the past; they served as a subtle reminder of all the story’s twists and turns that have led these characters to where they are today. But these reunions also starkly foreshadow the future, reminding us that it is the present-day configuration of characters that will likely determine the very fate of mankind. The past, present and future are all here, now. So before you tell all your friends and co-workers how disappointed you were with the season-opener, take a moment to appreciate it for what it was — the quiet before the storm. There will be no shortage of action to come in the remaining five episodes, so let’s take a moment to analyze and appreciate all the nuances from the season premiere.
A Credit to the Credits
The opening credits are an often overlooked and under-appreciated facet of most TV shows. In the past decade or so, HBO has started to change that in a big way, as productions of some of their biggest shows have brought the opening credits to the forefront. From True Detective, to Westworld, to Game of Thrones — opening credits have morphed from obligatory bore to masterful pieces of art. None more-so than Game of Thrones. Could there be a more triumphant blend of imagery, music and motif? I say not. Thrones transformed the way we think about the opening credits altogether. No longer just a static introduction to offer information about the show’s cast and crew, but rather an immersive vehicle to enhance and evolve the storytelling itself.
So as the final season approached and you asked yourself what Thrones producers would choose for the very first scene, you likely overlooked considering the opening credits themselves. And that is where, once again, Thrones delivered in a way we could have never seen coming. In short, the opening credits were completely revamped, in just about every way possible. The scope of locations presented? Different. The sequence in which they were presented? Different. The looks and feel? Different. The astrolabe that offers up Westeros’ biggest historical events? Different. With all this change, before you even think about breaking down the show, you must dive deeper into the credits themselves to truly appreciate the first episode.
For starters, the opening credits simply looked a lot cooler. They looked newer, shinier, sleeker — almost as if this version of the credits was produced 10 years after the original version. Oh wait, it was. But the “coolness” of the credits is just the beginning. There were a bunch of very material changes, the first of which can be seen on the astrolabe, an object that has served as the central motif to the show’s opening credits since day one (and likely has a great significance that I hope will be revealed before the show’s culmination). If you’re not sure what the hell an astrolabe is, see below.
As you’ll see in the above photo, which features an astrolabe from the older credits, we can see images recorded on it which tell the story of Westeros’ history. The major historical events that have always been displayed are The Doom of Valyria, Robert’s Rebellion and the rise of House Baratheon. These three events, the fall of the greatest civilization, Valyria, (~400 years ago), the great war that would see the Targaryen dynasty overthrown (~20 years ago), and Robert Baratheon usurping the Iron Throne (~20 years ago), would set into motion the story we would then begin watching. So, it made sense that the astrolabe in the opening credits captured these three major historical events — they clued us into the important moments that transpired before our time.
But in the course of the last 10 years, there have been entirely new events, ones that will likely change the course of history, so it was only right that the opening credits of season eight featured a much-updated astrolabe. As you’ll see in the photos below, three new historical events are highlighted: the reemergence of dragons into the world, The Red Wedding and The Night King using his undead dragon to tear down a chunk of The Wall. Check them out below:
If you were too hyped up for the opening scene and overlooked the show basically telling you that history has been rewritten in front of your very eyes, not to worry, you weren’t alone. But the magic of the opening credits continued from there. One huge change in approach is the direction in which locations were presented. Historically, viewers were always taken on a journey from south to north, generally ending around The Wall. The new credits did a complete 180, starting at The Wall (which now has a huge hole in it), and working down south. For one, this was an out-of-the-gate reminder that The Night King and his army have done something that has never been done before: they have successfully destroyed a chunk of The Wall, a magical structure built over 8,000 years ago. And as such, they are now on the loose, making death and destruction imminent.
As we continue just past The Wall, the opening credits used a new technique to offer viewers a glimpse into where the Night King and his army are lurking. The terrain they present is made up of tile-like pieces, which they flip from normal snowy white to icy White Walker blue to show the march of the Night King’s army. As the story evolves and their march continues, my guess is that we’ll see a lot more of these icy blue tiles being flipped.
Speaking of the Night King’s descent south, we are introduced to a brand new location, The Last Hearth, which was a castle belonging to House Umber. We see the army of the dead’s tracks leading right up to this castle, and to no surprise, we find out by the end of the episode that The Night King had definitely been there (we’ll get more into that later). What you also might have missed in the opening credits, is that they showed this castle built upon a small spiral mountain — the same spiral that has been synonymous with The Night King/White Walkers (we’ll get more into that one later as well).
The opening credits just got better from there, as we were offered new perspective into some of the most important castles, locations we now know will be central to the end of this story. At Winterfell, for instance, we got so much more than the castle exterior we have seen the past seven seasons. The opening credits took us deep into the interior of the castle, through the Great Hall, and more importantly, deep below, into the almighty crypts. (As an aside, before the start of this season, I wrote a deep theory about the significance of the crypts of Winterfell. That theory is only underscored by the opening credits choosing to show them once again. If you haven’t already, I would recommend reading it here).
Similarly, our arrival to King’s Landing took us deep into the castle, from The Red Keep to the Throne Room. It is no surprise that the locations ended there — a reminder that the majority of Westeros’ other locations are no longer as relevant to this story, one that has become acutely focused around just a few locales. What’s also worth noting is that the credits end in The Throne Room, with a final glimpse of the good ole’ Iron Throne. As of late, we’ve been told time and time again that the Iron Throne simply doesn’t matter all that much when compared to the war to save the human race. But the opening credits, which come to a close at the foot of the Iron Throne, perhaps would tell us otherwise…
If nothing else happened in this episode, I was enthralled by the magic of these newly revamped opening credits. Take a minute to soak it in one more time. Bravo…
A Melodrama in Winterfell
If I had one knock against this episode, it was not the lack of entertainment or action, but rather that it often felt more like soap opera than epic fantasy. I appreciate the nuanced conflicts presented by the many character reunions that took place in this episode, but the ensuing drama felt a bit tiresome, especially given the backdrop of fire-breathing dragons patrolling the skies and a freakin’ army of the dead at the doorsteps of Winterfell. Given these fantastical elements, the absolutely dire situation that every person in The North (and beyond) faces, I found it frustrating and childish some of the melodrama that took place. Sansa, there’s no time for you to be a whimpering child just because you are not as pretty or powerful as Daenerys. Northerners, there’s no time for you all to continue to be stupidly naive in condemning Jon for joining forces with Daenerys. Yet, this is the drama that I felt consumed Winterfell, and I simply thought we were past it.
What quickly became clear is that a story once characterized by a plethora of teams all trying to out-strategize each other, has condensed into just two sides. And what we quickly see from the opening scene is that it seems like just about everybody not named Cersei is on team Dany/Jon. Characters from all corners of the world, entangled by a complicated series of events over the years, have now all united where it all began: Winterfell. The once-enslaved Unsullied soldiers, the nomadic Dothraki warriors, even Dany and her dragons — all of which would have otherwise existed thousands of miles from Winterfell, have come together to fight back the army of the dead (who are just miles away).
As so many of the story’s main characters descend upon Winterfell, awkward reunions are inevitable. For starters, this couldn’t have been the homecoming Jon Snow was hoping for. All he did was put aside his King in the North crown in an attempt to forge an alliance with allies that could help protect The North. Oh, and he also ventured north of The Wall (again) and led a battle against The Night King’s army, while successfully capturing a wight and proving to the world that the army of the dead exists. No big deal. What should have been a hero’s welcome was anything but.
Sansa continues to be a whiny pain in the a**, continuing to chastise Jon for “abandoning” The North, despite the reality that he was trying to save it. But it doesn’t stop there — Sansa has something new to be upset about — a prettier and more powerful female. She makes clear her distaste and distrust of Daenerys, despite the clear facts: 1) Daenerys has the strongest army in the world; 2) Jon risked everything to forge this alliance; 3) Nothing else matters other than the fight against the dead. But still, Sansa is having a tough time backing Jon, and as a result, Jon is left having to continue to argue with Sansa behind closed doors. Their conversation culminates when she asks if he bent the knee because he believes in her or because he loves her. They are interrupted before he can respond, though the answer is likely both.
Jon’s reunion with his younger brother, Bran, whom he had not seen in many years, was also nothing to write home about. He wasn’t able to get more than a stoic word or two out of his younger brother. Even his reunion with Sam, his closest friend, was pretty quickly soured by Sam informing Jon that Daenerys had executed Sam’s father and brother. The poor guy, Jon risks it all, only to return home to a temperamental sister, a younger brother that has now turned into a Three-Eyed Raven, and a best friend whose family has been executed by the woman he’s brought into the fold. Not exactly a storybook homecoming. But if there was a silver lining, it was his long-awaited reunion with Arya. Of all the Stark children, Jon and Arya were always the closest, sharing the bond of being the outsiders of the family. Standing beneath the sacred weirwood tree, we are reminded of the Northern blood that runs through their veins, and that in many ways, they are all that’s left of House Stark.
Jon aside, there were a handful of other reunions, none of which offered much satisfaction. The one I have been waiting on for so many years finally happened between The Hound and Arya. Their storyline together was always one of my favorites, and I was hoping for more, if and when their paths crossed again. Comprised of just a few meaningless words, their reunion was short-lived and unmemorable. Arya also reunited with her longtime friend, Gendry, who to no surprise, is using his smith skills to oversee the construction of White-Walker-killing weapons made of dragonglass. There wasn’t much to this reunion either, again, a bit disappointing. After storylines that spanned several seasons and characters that developed deeply rich relationships, I couldn’t help but feel the show really missed capturing the power and emotion that should have been present for some of these reunions. But then again, compared to the impending war to preserve humanity, how important are any of these relationships really?
Last, but not least, we had a couple Lannister reunions worth mentioning. Tyrion and Sansa, once man and wife, shared a brief exchange, in which Sansa continued on her mission to let everybody know how displeased she is. After Tyrion mentions that Cersei is sending the Lannister troops north to join the fight, Sansa insults Tyrion by telling him that he was once the cleverest man she knew. In fact, Sansa’s instincts are correct, and we know as viewers that Cersei does not intend to send her troops north. The only other person who knows that, is the person she told it to: Jaime, who makes an appearance at King’s Landing in the final scene.
Speaking of awkward reunions, the first person he makes eye contact with is Bran, whom he pushed off the ledge and paralyzed all the way back in season one. If that’s not enough for all of the Starks to want to execute him, Jaime is all the Kingslayer, the man who killed Daenery’s father. It’s safe to say he hasn’t exactly stumbled upon an audience of allies, and he’s going to really need some good defense if he’s to stay alive. Lucky for Jaime, Brienne cannot be too far (strange that we did not see her in this episode), and she knows a side of Jaime that few other do. During their travels together, Jaime opened up to Brienne in a way that we had never seen before, and we started to realize the impossible situation he found himself in (sworn to protect the Mad King as he served in his Kingsguard, yet also sworn to uphold the honor of his father, Tywin, who was plotting to overthrow The Mad King during Robert’s Rebellion). I imagine Daenerys will want to execute Jaime for these crimes, while Brienne will come to his defense. Given Bran’s visions of the future, perhaps he too will come to Jaime’s defense, especially if he has seen a role Jaime will play in the Great War to Come.
Before we move on from Winterfell, there was one more scene that really rubbed me the wrong way. Jon and Dany riding their dragons together felt more a scene out of a Disney kids movie than it did a serious fantasy drama. It also felt incredibly rushed and contrived. I get it, Jon is a Targaryen, and he’s the one that is meant to ride one of Dany’s dragons with her. But anybody other than Dany mounting a dragon for the first time should be an incredibly powerful moment. It should be slow. It should be thoughtful. It should be emotional. This was anything but. One minute he’s talking to Daenerys, the next he’s full blown riding this dragon like it’s no big deal. And the way they swished and swooped through the air together just undercut what should have otherwise been a major moment in this story — two Targaryens riding their dragons together, something that has not happened for hundreds of years.
To top it all off, they made an already cheesy moment cringe-worthy as Jon comments “You’ve ruined horses forever for me,” before he and Dany kiss, while their dragons look on as two parents would look onto their teenage kids kissing for the first time. Eek. If this is the kind of thing I’m looking for, I’ll tune into the Disney channel. Disappointing stuff for what should have otherwise been a monumental moment in this story. Also, for what it’s worth, there are many characters I would be okay with mounting Dany’s other dragon, but Jon Snow just isn’t one of them. There is no person in this world that more strongly defines the character that rides a horse, sword in hand, ready for battle, than Jon Snow. The idea that he will abandon that to now fly through the skies on a dragon just doesn’t feel right.
King’s Landing feels quieter than ever, but there are still some things brewing in the country’s capital. Most notably, Cersei (via Euron Greyjoy), has secured The Golden Company, a paid army of 20,000 soldiers. This will certainly get her a lot closer to leveling the playing field against Dany’s army, though no amount of soldiers truly pose a threat to dragons that breathe fire from the skies. After Euron secures this army for Cersei, he pursues the prize he has been after. While Cersei initially shuts him down, she appears to have a pretty quick change of heart, and just moments later, the deed is done. Again, the pacing of this felt a bit off, and something about Cersei sleeping with Euron feels a bit forced, but maybe that’s the point. The two have a strange exchange, which culminates with Euron rubbing her belly and telling her he is going to impregnate her with a prince. Not exactly sweet nothings in her ear, but hey, to each his own.
What was peculiar about this exchange is last season Cersei had led us to believe she was pregnant with Jaime’s baby. Was that perhaps a lie to try and keep Jaime’s loyalty and make others believe she had something to live for? Note that in this very scene, she is drinking wine, which points to the fact that perhaps her pregnancy was nothing more than a manipulative ploy. In any event, with five episodes to go, I find it hard to believe that her pregnancy, or lack thereof, will have a material impact upon this story.
While Euron was off sexing up Cersei, Theon was able to rescue his sister, Yara. It all felt like a bit too easy of a rescue given this is Euron’s prized prisoner, but we’ll let that one go. Yara plans to reclaim the Iron Islands and mentions it could be refuge should the army of the dead take the land of Westeros. Yara gives her blessing for Theon to return to Winterfell to fight alongside the Starks.
In other King’s Landing news, Bronn, one of the few remaining characters in the city, is approached by Maestar Qyburn and asked to hunt down Tyrion and Jaime. He is given the very same crossbow that Tyrion used to kill his father, Tywin, several seasons back. It feels hard to believe that Bronn would kill Tyrion or Jaime, the two people he forged bonds with throughout this story, though perhaps for the right price he would. More likely than not, this is a plot-point to get him to Winterfell, where perhaps he will have another role to play. Before he departs King’s Landing, does he save the Sand Snake that Cersei still presumably has locked up in a cell?
The Mystery Spiral
In what was the most entertaining sequence of the episode, Tormund, Beric and several brothers of the Night’s Watch arrive to The Last Hearth to find that The Night King has made mincemeat of whatever humans were at the castle. But before he departed, he left a very clear message, which centered around a symbol we have now seen numerous times throughout the show: the mystery spiral.
So what does this spiral signify? Well, it’s hard to really know at this point, but there are a couple important takeaways. First, the spiral is connected all the way back to The Children of the Forest who were the first inhabitants of Westeros, before The Night King, or man even existed. This spiral arrangement was significant to them. In the image below, from one of Bran’s vision, we can see the spiral arrangement that they created:
In the image below, we can also see an inscription in the caves below Dragonstone, which Jon discovered last season when mining for dragonglass. He explained to Dany that these inscriptions were made thousands of years ago by The Children of the Forest. One of those inscriptions again shows this very same spiral:
So we’ve established that this spiral was significant to The Children of the Forest. The other key thing we know is that it was these very same Children of the Forest that were responsible for creating The Night King in the first place by inserting dragonglass into the heart of a human (see below).
From there, we know The Night King adapted the spiral and this marking started appearing throughout the show, generally associated with death.
So while we don’t know exactly what the spiral represents, we do know it underscores the connection between The Children of the Forest and the Night King. There are major questions to be answered, which have significant implications around what this story is ultimately about. The first question is why did The Children create the Night King as we saw above? Was there some type of balance they needed to create between good and evil, light and darkness, fire and ice? The next question is who was the human they turned into The Night King and why was he chosen? As mentioned in a previous post, that scene takes place in The North, so it is likely a Northerner, and perhaps even a Stark, which would further explain the connection between The Night King and Bran, who is now the Three-Eyed Raven. This all leads to perhaps the most important questions, which is: is The Night King actually evil? My money says no. I believe he was a human that was turned into The Night King against his will and he has been in some eternal struggle to accomplish something we are not yet sure of. I don’t believe he is killing humans to just kill humans — that’s too simple. I think there is a greater task at hand, one we will learn more about in this season. And the spiral may be a major clue to unearthing answers to some of these game-changing questions.
Before the first episode comes to a close, Jon finally learns his true identity, thanks to Samwell. Sam breaks the news that Jon is in fact the son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark, and that his real name is Aegon Targaryen. This means that he, not Daenerys, is the rightful heir to the Iron Throne. Sam asks Jon, “You gave up your crown to save your people — would she do the same?” In addition to dealing with the psychological baggage of learning that his entire life has been a lie, Jon also must now figure out how he is going to play his cards with Daenerys. Does he establish that he is rightful heir to the throne and ask her to step aside? If so, is she willing to? Furthermore, how does this impact their relationship? Jon’s father, Rhaegar, was Daenerys’ older brother, making her Jon’s aunt. Do they continue their romantic relationship after learning of their aunt/nephew connection?
Lots of questions to be answered here and lots of different ways this could play out. Yet, like many other parts of this episode, I felt this was another moment that should have been a lot more powerful than it was. This storyline has been building for years now and was one of the most popular fan theories. Once we learned the truth of who Jon really was, it was just a waiting game until he himself found out the same. I imagined something more impactful than a quivering Sam Tarly just coming out with it. And Jon’s reaction rubbed me the wrong way — he seemed to be more focused on the fact that Ned had been lying to him than the fact he just learned he was half Stark, half Targaryen, has two totally different parents than he’s thought his whole life, and is also heir to the Iron Throne. I would have hoped for more from a scene like this, period.
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.
So, here we are. The beginning of the end is less than one week away. This awe-inspiring, magical journey that has been part of our lives for the better part of the last decade — it all comes to an end in just six short episodes. It’s hard to imagine such an unbelievably rich and complex story actually coming to a singular endpoint, but that is what is about to happen, so it’s time to get caught up on everything that should be top of mind as we head into the final season. Heads up, this post is long, so don’t try to rush few it in a few minutes. This is the end of a saga, so give it the time it deserves : )
Targaryens Unite at Dragonstone
For nearly 5,000 years, The Targaryens lived in Old Valyria, capital city of the Valyrian Freehold, which consumed almost the entire continent of Essos. Approximately 400 years ago, The Doom occurred, obliterating Old Valyria and forcing the few remaining Targaryens to migrate westward. Fleeing their homeland, a select few Targaryens arrived at a small island off the coast of Westeros, where they would go on to build the great castle of Dragonstone. It was from this castle that Aegon Targaryen, alongside his two sisters, would plot their conquest of the kingdoms of Westeros (which at that point were independent kingdoms with separate rulers). After living the Targaryens lived at Dragonstone for about 100 years, Aegon and his sisters launched Aegon’s Conquest, about 300 years ago, as they rode their three dragons across Westeros and eventually united all the kingdoms under one king. Aegon Targaryen would be the first Targaryen king to rule over Westeros, and his Targaryens descendents would rule over the continent for the next 300 years, until Robert’s Rebellion.
Understanding that Dragonstone was home to the last remaining Targaryens and their dragons after they fled Valyria, and that it was from this castle that Aegon plotted his conquest of Westeros, makes Daenery’s arrival to this castle in the first episode of Season 7 an incredibly powerful moment. To no surprise, like Aegon before her, Dany spends much of season seven plotting her strategy to conquer and unite the lands of Westeros, focusing on the removal of Cersei Lannister from the Iron Throne. To start the season, Dany and her advisors (primarily Tyrion and Varys), have assembled what appears to be an unstoppable force. She already had the powerful armies of the Unsullied and Dothraki, as well as three full-grown dragons at her disposal — likely enough firepower to conquer Westeros in short order. But Dany’s army got even stronger in season seven as she forged an alliance with Ellaria Sand and the Sand Snakes of Dorne, while securing some of Iron Island the naval forces through an alliance with Theon and Yara Greyjoy. And let’s not forget that Ser Jorah Mormont returns to Dany’s side at Dragonstone after his greyscale disease is cured at the Citadel by none other than Samwell Tarly (who served under Jorah’s father, Lord Commander Jeor Mormont, when Samwell was still a brother of the Night’s Watch).
But the various key players from many of the Great Houses uniting on Dragonstone would not end there; there would be one more character to join, and though unknowing, he too would be a Targaryen. After receiving a raven from Samwell Tarly who had learned that Dragonstone was built atop a mass of dragon-glass (which can kill White Walkers), Jon Snow travels to Dragonstone in an effort to try and secure dragon-glass and convince Dany to join the Northern forces in the Great War to Come. However, Dany has other ideas and is focused on winning the Iron Throne. Though he refuses her request to bend the knee, Dany does ultimately agree to allow Jon to mine for dragon-glass, and in doing so, Jon discovers ancient cave images from thousands of years ago which depict the First Men and Children of the Forest banding together to fight the White Walkers — a chilling reminder of the Long Night and the the threat of darkness has been present since near the beginning of time. Though Jon is starting to win over Dany, she is still unconvinced of the White Walker’s existence, as is most of Westeros, and Jon soon realizes he must find a day to prove to Dany and the rest of Westeros the real threat that everybody should be focused on.
The Dream Team Goes Beyond the Wall
Once again, Jon shows his heroism and understanding of the risks he must take to preserve humanity as he decides to lead a raid beyond The Wall to capture a wight (reminder: the wights comprise the army of the undead, led by the White Walkers and Night King). He is join by a cast of some of my absolute favorite characters who come together through a random (or perhaps not so random) series of events — I like to call them The Dream Team.
The Dream Team starts to take form when Ser Jorah, who recently joined Daenerys at Dragonstone after being cured by Samwell at The Citadel, joins Jon and his trusted advisor, Davos Seaworth. But before they head into the deep North, Tyrion must meet with his brother, Jaime, to ensure that they will have an audience with Cersei if they are able to successfully capture a wight as proof of the army of the dead. Ser Davos offers to travel to King’s Landing alongside Tyrion, and while Tyrion is off meeting with Jaime, Ser Davos’ true intentions for returning to King’s Landing are revealed as he seeks out Gendry, Robert Baratheon’s bastard son who Davos saved many seasons earlier. All the way back in season three, it was Gendry who was being held at Dragonstone by Stannis Baratheon and the Red Priestess Melisandre, who used his King’s Blood (remember, he was the son of King Robert Baratheon), and eventually planned to sacrifice him to the Lord of Light. Not agreeing with Melisandre’s blood magic and unwilling to stand by while the innocent Gendry was sacrificed, Ser Davos defies Stannis and risks his life to set Gendry free. The last we saw of Gendry, he was rowing away from the shores of Dragonstone in a tiny rowboat, and it is not until all these years later that Davos rediscovers him, still working as a smith in the streets of King’s Landing. Without hesitation, Gendry joins Davos and volunteers to join the Dream Team in their quest beyond The Wall. It is worth pointing out that unlike most characters, Gendry does not choose to fight with a sword, but rather a warm hammer. Going back many years, it was his father, Robert Baratheon, who is described as a legendary warrior who swung a powerful war hammer (with which he defeated Rhaegar Targaryen, Jon Snow’s father, during Robert’s Rebellion). It’s also worth pointing out that given Jon’s newfound stockpile of dragon-glass, he will need a skilled smith to help craft White Walker-killing weapons, and Gendry may likely play this important role in the final season.
Elsewhere, the remaining Brotherhood without Banners, Beric Dondarrion and Thoros of Myr, unite with The Hound, bringing together three of the show’s greatest characters. Despite his extreme fear of fire, The Hound starts to believe in Lord of Light, after he sees in the fire the army of the dead marching south, past Eastwatch by the Sea (the most eastward castle of the Night’s Watch). After seeing this, The Hound agrees to venture north with Beric and Thoros, to fulfill their purpose in the Great War to Come. At the same time, Jon, Gendry, Davos and Jorah also head to Eastwatch by the Sea, where Tormund Giantsbane, who had been manning the castle for Jon, reveals to Jon and company that he’d been holding prisoner Beric, Thoros and the Hound after their capture.
In this moment, many characters are reunited which reveals a great mistrust amongst many of them. Gendry tells Jon not to listen to anything Beric and Thoros have to say, since they sold Gendry to the Red Priestess, Lady Melisandre, all the way back in season four. Similarly, Tormund does not trust Ser Jorah, since his father was Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch and battled Tormund’s people, the Wildlings, for many years. Despite all the history and many of these characters having been on opposite sides at times, Beric and Jon remind the group that none of this matters and that they all share a common cause — to serve their purpose in the Great War to Come as the Lord of Light commands. And just like that, their differences become a thing of the past as the Dream Team unites to head north of The Wall.
As they march into the frigid depths of the deep North, the group comes upon a band of wights, led by their White Walker master. As a small battle ensues, Jon eventually eliminates the White Walker, which causes all the other wights to fall like dominos. This was not the first time we have seen a White Walker killed, but it was the first time we were exposed to the idea that if you kill a White Walker, the wights that White Walker has turned also perish. We know that the army of the dead numbers in the hundreds of thousands, so the realization that you need not kill each wight individually, but rather you can take them out in much bigger numbers by killing a White Walker, is critical to know in the war to come. It also begs the question: if killing a White Walker ends the existence of all the wights that White Walker has turned, does killing the Night King end all of the White Walkers he has created? If so, and killing the Night King destroys all White Walkers, which then destroys all wights, then killing the Night King could bring an end to the entire army of the dead.
But this battle was a mere scuffle compared to the fight that lays ahead for the Dream Team. As they continue deeper into the North, they are eventually discovered by a massive army of the dead, led by several more White Walkers, and the appearance of the Night King himself. Despite being vastly outnumbered, the Dream Team fights valiantly, and destroys hundreds of wights — a reminder that we are watching an assemble of some of the greatest warriors Westeros has ever known. But eventually, the men are outnumbered and their deaths appear imminent — until Daenerys arrives with her dragons, and for the first time, we see a direct face-off between Ice and Fire. Remember, this entire story is entitled A Song of Ice and Fire, and seeing these powerful elements go toe to toe is a signal that the end is near. Dany and her dragons burn the wights by the thousands, but not before The Night King lands an icy spear into one of Dany’s dragons, Viserion, sending it plummeting to its death.
And just like that, the tables are dramatically turned — Daenerys can only helplessly watch her beautiful dragon fall from the sky like a plane that has been shot down out of the air. Her other two dragons let out a painful cry as they watch their sibling fall to its death. Seeing this, Jon Snow advances for the Night King, who attempts to take down Drogon, the dragon that Daenerys and the others are aback. Jon is attacked by more wights and pulled underwater, and Daenerys is forced to abandon Jon, though reluctantly, in order to save her two remaining dragons.
When Jon does reemerge from the water, he is frozen stiff and appears to have no chance at fighting off the new pack of wights that are headed his way. Not to fear, Uncle Benjen (Ned’s brother) is here. Fighting with his flaming ball-and-chain, Benjen takes out a bunch of the wights and buys Jon just enough time to escape back to Eastwatch. Jon had not seen his Uncle Benjen since the very first season, when they were together at Castle Black (remember, Jon was very close with Uncle Benjen and he was a big part of the reason why Jon joined the Night’s Watch in the first place). When Benjen went missing north of The Wall in the first season, Jon tried to go after him. Ironically, Benjen’s disappearance north of The Wall so many seasons ago is what would turn him into what he is today, and set him on the path to save his nephew when it really counted. Just another ingenious example of how Thrones sets a character on a path at a certain point in time, for them not to be seen for many years, and to ultimately reemerge in the distant future to play a major role. Sadly, after all these years, the reunion between Jon and Uncle Benjen lasted only a couple of seconds, but Uncle Benjen served his purpose and saved Jon when it counted most.
We also must say RIP to one of the story’s greatest (even if not most popular) characters, Thoros of Myr, who does not make it out alive. He too served his purpose, bringing Beric Dondarrion back to life many times over the years. With Thoros finally gone, Beric is likely now on his last life, again a reminder that the end is near.
A Winterfell Reunion
As Jon departs Winterfell to meet with Daenerys and eventually go north beyond The Wall, he leaves Sansa to look after Winterfell and maintain order in the North. Had he stayed just a little while longer, he would have found out his true identity, as it was not long after he left that Bran, who knows the truth of who Jon is, returns to Winterfell. Only Bran is no longer Bran — he is now the Three-Eyed Raven, seemingly devoid of all human emotion or feeling. After years of travels throughout the North without having any contact with any Stark family member, Bran finally returns home to Winterfell to be reunited with sister, Sansa. What would be expected to be an emotional and heartfelt reunion was anything but; Bran lacks the human emotion to even hug her, as he tells her how he can remember what it felt like to be Bran, but now he remembers so much else… He even dismisses Meera, who had been traveling with him for the last several years, who lost her brother, Jojen, and risked her life many times to keep Bran alive. What’s clear is that Bran is completely gone at this point, consumed by his all-knowingness, and we will likely never see him again.
The Stark sibling reunion continues from there, as Arya too finally makes her way back to Winterfell after a harsh and long journey. Like Bran, she returns home as a totally different person, no longer a young and innocent girl, but now a hardened assassin trained by the Faceless Men. While Arya and Sansa are happy to see one another after all these years, their differences and distrust quickly reemerge. It is important to remember that Arya and Sansa did not get along when they were younger, and one of Arya’s last memories of Sansa was her older sister sucking up to Prince Joffrey and the Lannisters in an attempt to become princess. Years later, Arya believes that Sansa has not defended the honor of their brother, Jon, and that Sansa has again made a play for power as the acting Lady of Winterfell.
Conversely, Sansa does not recognize the sister that has returned home, and starts to believe that perhaps Arya has intentions of killing her. Baelish, who has been hanging around at Winterfell, does not miss his opportunity to capitalize off this discord and attempts to strengthen his position by driver a further wedge between the sisters. Knowing that Arya has been following him, he plants an old note that Sansa had sent back to Winterfell all the way back in season one, when she was being held by Cersei in King’s Landing. In the note, Sansa notes that Ned has been a traitor and urges her family to pledge fealty to the Lannisters. What’s not clear from reading this note is that Sansa was forced to write this note under duress, and Baelish purposely plants this note for Arya to find, in an attempt to further Arya’s distrust and hatred for Sansa. At the same time, Baelish speaks with Sansa and furthers the idea that Arya has perhaps returned to Winterfell to kill her so that she can become the lady of Winterfell. Baelish’s plot dates all the way back to season one and is incredibly intricate — see the bottom half of this episode recap which provides a lot more detail about what Baelish went through to set up this scheme.
Throughout several episodes, it appears as though Baelish’s schemes are working perfectly, leading up to a final scene where Sansa calls Arya into the great hall in front of all the Northern lords. Sansa, prepared to pass judgement, states “You stand accused of treason. You stand accused of murder.” All appears as though Baelish has pulled off another epic manipulation, and that Arya will pay the price, until Sansa looks over towards Littlefinger and adds “How do you answer to these charges…Lord Baelish?” The tables are quickly turned, and we realize that Sansa and Arya had actually been working together to outsmart Baelish. Littlefinger does all he can to beg Sansa for mercy, but his many years of lies, schemes and manipulation have finally caught up with him. He cannot talk his way out of this one, and though Sansa passes the judgement, it is Arya that plays executioner.
What’s interesting to note is the weapon she uses to take his life. All the way back in second episode of season one, an assassin almost takes Bran’s life, though Bran’s direwolf, Summer, jumps in to save him. At the time, Baelish tells the Starks that it was the Lannisters who sent the assassin, which is what sends Ned Stark to King’s Landing and ultimately leads to his death and many of the events that would follow. What we later find out is that it was not the Lannisters that sent this assassin, but rather Baelish himself, in an attempt to pit the Starks against the Lannisters (which he succeeded in doing). It was Baelish himself who equipped the assassin with the dagger, which ends up back in Baelish’s possession after the failed assassination attempt. All these years later, Baelish gives the dagger to Bran as a reminder of the man who attempted his life. In a later scene, Bran gives this dagger to Arya, telling her has no use for it. In his all-knowing wisdom, perhaps Bran already saw the future and knew Arya would use this dagger to kill Baelish, which is exactly what happened. Again, this is just another example of how Thrones does such a masterful weaving plot-points that span from the first season to the seventh. Baelish gives a dagger to an assassin to kill Bran; the assassination goes wrong and Baelish recovers the dagger; Baelish gives the dagger to Bran; Bran gives the dagger to Arya; all comes full circle as Arya uses this dagger to end the life of the all-cunning Littlefinger. RIP.
Though King’s Landing and the Iron Throne is becoming increasingly less relevant in comparison to the Great War to Come, there is still quite a bit happening in the capital of Westeros, with Cersei at the helm. Just as Daenerys has made alliances with other great houses, Cersei too has forged a union with Euron Greyjoy, who strengthens her army with his naval prowess and strong fleet of ships. As a reminder, Euron is the uncle of Theon and Yara, and killed their father, Balon, back in season six, in an attempt to take control of their homeland, the Iron Islands. Theon and Yara fled the Iron Islands with their forces (and forged a union with Daenerys), while Euron sailed to King’s Landing to secure an alliance with Cersei.
This alliance quickly proves valuable for Cersei, as Euron strikes first blood in the war between Cersei and Daenerys. Carrying out a battle strategy devised by Tyrion, the Greyjoys are en route to escort Ellaria Sand and her three Sand Snake daughters back to their home of Dorne to rally the Dornish troops with the plan to lay siege to King’s Landing. However, Euron is one step ahead of them and shows his naval strength as he intercepts their ships with an attack in the night. His men kill two of the three Sand Snakes, while capturing the third, along with her mother, Ellaria Sand. As well, Euron captures Yara Greyjoy, while Theon jumps ship and leaves his sister behind.
Euron returns to King’s Landing and delivers Cersei the gift he had promised her — Ellaria Sand along with her daughter, Tyene. Back in season five, it was Ellaria that killed Cersei’s daughter, Princess Myrcella, by kissing her and poisoning her with a poison called The Long Farewell. This was Dornish revenge for the Lannisters killing Elia Martell (Rhaegar Targaryen’s wife), during Robert’s Rebellion, as well as the more recent death of Oberyn Martell (aka The Red Viper) at the hands of The Mountain. Now, Cersei has her daughter’s murderer right where she wants her, and kisses Ellaria’s daughter, Tyene, with the same poison that Ellaria used on Myrcella. Only whereas Myrcella died far from Cersei, Ellaria will have to watch her daughter die right before her eyes as they are locked up in a cell together.
That said, we did not see Tyene die, which in the Thrones world, often hints that she may yet survive and have a role to play in the days to come. One prediction is that perhaps she will be saved by Bronn. Why you ask? Well, back in season five, when Bronn ventured south to Dorne alongside Jaime in an attempt to rescue Princess Myrcella, Bronn himself was poisoned with the same Long Farewell poison. And, as you will see in the video below, who was it that saved him? None other than Tyene Sand, the Sand Snake who he says is the most beautiful woman int he world. So, is it possible that Bronn will return to King’s Landing and save Tyene who is poisoned in a cell, much the way she did for him? Time will tell. Let’s not forget that Dorne is still a major part of Westeros and it’s hard to imagine the Dornish not having a role in the final season.
But Ellaria and Tyene were not the only captives Euron secured during his attack — they were just the gifts he presented to Cersei. But, he kept a gift for himself, Yara Greyjoy. It is unclear what his plans for her are, but in one of the final scenes of the season, Theon comes alive and is hellbent on saving his sister. In brutal hand-to-hand combat, he defeats one of the other Ironborn who was opposed to saving Yara, takes command of a small crew and sets sail to rescue Yara from Euron.
Dany Strikes Back
Back at Dragonstone, Daenerys has been letting Tyrion act as military strategist, only to find that his first two plans have backfired miserably. After losing several of her alliances as well as her naval fleet at the hands of Euron Greyjoy, Dany suffers a second defeat after Tyrion advises her to have the Unsullied attack Casterly Rock, the castle of the Lannisters. He believes that if they can take Casterly Rock, they will be in a stronger position to eventually take King’s Landing. However, the Lannisters are one step ahead of Tyrion’s plan, and while Dany sends her troops to attack Casterly Rock, the Lannisters have already pulled their forces from Casterly Rock and sent them to lay siege to Highgarden, castle of House Tyrell. While there is not much left of House Tyrell, besides Lady Olenna, Highgarden has the most fertile land in all of Westeros, as well as plenty of gold. While Dany’s forces are attacking an empty Casterly Rock, the Lannisters successfully sack Highgarden and all its riches. During this siege, Jaime kills Lady Olenna, but not before she admits to being the mastermind behind the death of his son, King Joffrey. Though many, including Cersei and Tywin Lannister, accused Tyrion of being behind the murder of Joff, we knew it was actually Lady Olenna who orchestrated his murder, to prevent her granddaughter Margaery from having to marry such a monster. However, not many were aware of this, and Lady Olenna reveals this to Jaime just before she dies. And with her death, just like that, one of the noblest and greatest houses of Westeros is all but wiped out.
But for every one of Cersei’s moves, Dany has had a counter. No longer willing to sit back and listen to Tyrion’s conservative military strategy, she decides to take action into her own hands and show the Lannisters the true power of her dragons. As the Lannister forces are traveling from Highgarden to King’s Landing, Daenerys unleashes her dragons in a southern battle for the first time. Dany roasts the Lannister army by the hundreds, showing just how devastating her dragons can be in war. But, she does not kill them all. She gives the remaining men the chance to bend the knee and pledge their fealty. Two men in particular choose to defy her and refuse to bend the knee — Randyll Tarly and his son, Dickon (Samwell Tarly’s father and brother). Though Tyrion cautions Daenerys to show restraint, she ignores his advice and burns them alive, showing the others what is to come should they not pledge their fealty. This scene is an allusion to The Field of Fire, a legendary event 300 years ago when Aegon Targaryen battled the Lannisters and forced them into bending the knee.
In addition to seeing the sheer power of dragons in battle and the devastation they can cause, this scene was critical in that was the first time that anybody in the south of Westeros has seen a dragon. Jaime and the rest of the Lannister forces now know what they are up against, and he rides back to King’s Landing to warn Cersei that they do not stand a chance. Daenerys has put the world on notice, and though she chooses not to take Westeros with fire and death, she has shown that she is willing to when she must.
The Dragonpit Summit
After such extraordinary recent events, all sides are trying to figure out what their next move is. Daenerys, once focused on taking out Cersei and restoring rightful Targeryen rule to the Seven Kingdoms, has now seen the army of the dead and understands that this is the only war that matters. Yet, if she invests her forces into fighting the war in the North, she allows Cersei to strengthen her position and reclaim more of Westeros. So, the only way Daenerys can focus on joining Jon in fighting the Night King is if Cersei agrees to a temporary armistice. Even better would be if Cersei agrees to lend her troops to fight in the Great War to Come.
So, Dany, Jon and their team risk it all by traveling to King’s Landing to meet with Cersei. Of course, they do not arrive empty-handed, and they bring the wight that they captured during their raid north of The Wall. Cersei now sees what few others in the world have, and must decide whether she wants to continue her war against Dany for Westeros, or put aside their differences and focus on the much important war to come. After much deliberation, Cersei agrees to a temporary truce and offers to direct her troops north to join in the fight against the dead.
The End is Near
Just as it looks like the good guys humans are banding together to fight the dead, things go a bit haywire and reach an absolute climax as season seven comes to a close. To start, we learn that Cersei was full of sh*t and lied to Jon and Dany when pledging her troops to join the fight against darkness. After they depart, she tells Jaime that she intends to continue to fight against her true enemies, even if it leads to their death. Jaime attempts to reason with her, explaining that if they do not do all they can to fight back the dead, everybody in King’s Landing will eventually die. Yet, Cersei is blinded by the only thing that she has left to live for — revenge against those who have wronged her. No longer able to stand by the madness of his sister, Jaime rides off from King’s Landing, just as the snow begins to fall. Snow, all the way south over King’s Landing? The end must be near…
But before season seven comes to a close, we see the two elements that this story has already centered around, Fire and Ice, take center stage and set up the Great War to Come in season eight.
First, we see Fire emerge stronger than ever, personified by who we once believed to be Jon Snow, but now know to be Aegon Targaryen. Thanks to one of Bran’s visions, for some time now, we have known that Jon was birthed by Lyanna Stark after being impregnated by Rhaegar Targaryen. This was an absolutely massive reveal in season six, when Bran sees a young Ned Stark sitting over his dying sister, Lyanna, with baby Jon in hand. The implications were huge as we realized that Ned had sacrificed his honor, the thing he valued most, and pretended to have an extramarital affair in order to explain the birth of his bastard son, Jon. This false understanding of who Jon really was led to a series of events, too long to lay out here, so the reveal of who Jon’s true identity was massive. But even with Bran’s visions and wisdom, he only got half the story — the half that allowed him to understand that Jon’s parents were Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark. But, since Rhaegar was married to Elia Martell, Bran incorrectly assumed that Jon was a bastard born out of wedlock, and since he was born in the south, his bastard name would be Jon Sand instead of Jon Snow (each region of Westeros has a different last name that bastards take, in the North it’s Snow, in the south it’s Sand, etc).
However, there was another half to this story that even the all-knowing Bran had not figured out. Earlier in season seven, Gilly was reading through an old Maestar’s record at the Citadel, and she came across a passage that talked about a Maestar performing an annulment for Prince Rhaegar Targaryen and performing a secret wedding ceremony to another. Unknowingly, Gilly came across a passage that contains one of the most confidential and important secrets across the entire continent of Westeros — one that changes everything. Gilly uncovers the fact that Prince Rhaegar annulled his marriage to Elia Martell, and then remarried to Lyanna Stark in a secret wedding ceremony.
The implications of this reveal are massive. First, Robert’s Rebellion was built upon a complete lie. As we know, Robert was in love with Lyanna Stark, and launched his rebellion against the Targaryens primarily under the premise that Rhaegar had kidnapped his beloved Lyanna, rode off with her and raped her. He joined forces with her brother, Ned, and together they led much of the North to King’s Landing to overthrow The Mad King and usurp the Targaryen dynasty. Before taking the Iron Throne for himself, Robert killed Rhaegar during The Battle of the Trident. With Lyanna and Rhaegar both dead, the truth of Jon’s parents could only be found within the pages of this old Maestar’s private journal, discovered by the unlikeliest of characters.
Perhaps more important than the fact Robert’s Rebellion was built upon a lie is what this reveals about Jon’s true identity. He is not a bastard as Bran assumed, but rather the true and lawful son of Rhaegar and Lyanna who were in love and legally married. As we later hear when Bran revisits his vision, Jon’s true name is Aegon Targaryen. No big deal that he’s named after the man that conquered the Seven Kingdoms and the first Targaryen king to rule over Westeros. This also makes him one of the first, if only, throughout history to have both Targaryen and Stark blood — some would argue a mix of Fire and Ice. Most of all, this means that Jon (or Aegon), not Daenerys, is the rightful heir to the Iron Throne (Rhaegar was the older brother of Daenerys, so after their father, The Mad King died, the throne would have gone to Rhaegar, not Daenerys. And after Rhaegar, it would go to his son, Jon/Aegon). Of course, Jon still does not know any of this, but it now appears only a matter of time until Bran/Samwell fill him in on who he really is.
In the Thrones world, Targaryens equal fire, so learning that Jon is one of the last remaining Targaryens, and arguably the most powerful, amplifies the existence of Fire heading into the final season. But the season does not end without Ice making its counterpunch. In the final scene of the season, we see the army of the dead reemerge once more, this time looking to get past The Wall, something they’ve been unable to do for thousands of years since The Long Night.
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 when The Children of the Forest, The First Men and the Giants all came together to fight for their survival against the White Walkers. 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 rides on the back of his undead dragon, Viserion, he unleashes a fury of icy fire that is able to easily reduce a portion of 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.
Some Final Thoughts & Theories
As we reflect back upon the last seven seasons, there are so many storylines that feel unfinished, characters whose destinies have not been revealed, and plot-points that lend to certain theories which or may not come to fruition in the final season. I thought I’d call out just a few that I have found most intriguing.
What Does the Night King Really Want?
I often get asked who I think is going to win the war and how this story will end. I generally respond that I think darkness will prevail. Unlike most stories, George R.R. Martin has a proclivity for reminding us that in real life, good does not always win and life can be full of darkness and hardship. For that reason, I am intrigued by the idea of evil prevailing and the “good guys” not necessarily winning.
But this leads me to the realization that the Night King and White Walkers are not necessarily evil. Sure, that’s how we’ve perceived them thus far — I mean anytime you have an army of zombies led by an evil Night King trying to destroy humanity, you are going to assume they’re pretty evil, right? But that’s a simple interpretation of what we’ve actually witnessed. If you go a layer or two deeper, you start to realize that things are not that simple, and the line between good and evil may not be that clear.
For starters, the Night King did not choose to be the Night King. He was not born into being the Night King, nor did he decide for this to be his life. It’s important to remember that he was a human, who against his will, was turned into the Night King. And by who? By the Children of the Forest, the ones who are supposed to be “the good guys.” You can rewatch the scene below in which the Night King is created. Of course, we don’t know exactly why The Children did this and what they were actually trying to achieve. Presumably, they were not trying to create the Night King, but who knows. We also don’t yet know who this human was and why he was chosen — was he just a random sacrifice or perhaps somebody more significant? From the context, we can see this happened at a weirwood tree in the North, so it’s safe to assume he was a Northerner, perhaps even a Stark? If you believe that, it leads to further theories around the close ties between the Night King and the Starks, and the possibility that the Night King could even be Bran Stark, who we now see as the Three-Eyed Raven. But that’s another theory for another day.
So, as we saw above, the Night King didn’t set out to become the Night King. He was turned into what he became, and once he became it, presumably has some objective he is trying to accomplish. I do not believe for a second that it’s as simple as killing humans for the sake of killing humans. I believe there is something greater he is driven to accomplish. Perhaps he is fighting for the preservation of his people, much the same way the humans are. Perhaps to survive they must get south of The Wall to accomplish some unknown feat. It’s hard to know exactly what his motivation is, but without knowing, and considering the fact he was forced into becoming The Night King, can we really call him evil? My money says that in the final season, we will learn a lot more about who he is and what he is trying to achieve, and that perhaps our perception of him being evil will change. George R.R. Martin has an uncanny ability to constantly force us to reassess our perception of a given character (i.e. consider how many times we have reassessed how we felt about a character like Jaime? First he was bad, then showed signs of being good, then got sucked back into Cersei’s games, and now has reemerged as a potential good guy). I think something similar might happen with the Night King, and we might be reminded that the lines between good and evil can often be unclear.
Who is the Prince That Was Promised?
As we’ve talked about many times throughout the seven seasons, during the Long Night, Azor Ahai was an ancient warrior that led the fight against darkness and saved humanity from the White Walkers. He was known as The Prince That Was Promised and there is a prophecy in the religion of the Lord of Light that has stated The Prince That Was Promised will be reincarnated to fight back the darkness once more. In the first few seasons of the show, Lady Melisandre incorrectly believed Stannis to be The Prince That Was Promised, but things did not end up well for him (although we never actually saw him die, and it’s still theoretically possible he is alive). So, the question remains, will The Prince That Was Promised once again reemerge? This question may never get answered outright, but it seems like it may be either Jon or Daenerys. One interesting callout: In the second episode of season seven, Daenerys is speaking in High Valyrian with Lady Melisandre, who once again references The Prince That Was Promised, the person that will fight back the darkness once more. Missandei, whose native language is Valyrian, interjects and corrects them, stating that the word they are using in Valyrian actually has no gender, meaning it can be a Prince or Princess. This of course leads us to believe that perhaps Daenerys could be the Princess That Was Promised. (See video below, starting at 1:10).
What’s Up with the Direwolves?
The Starks’ direwolves were very present in the first few seasons, until things started to go haywire for the Starks, and so too for their wolves. You probably don’t recall exactly where things left off and which wolves are still out there. Well, sadly, only two of the original six direwolves are alive, and I’m guessing they’ll have a role to play in the final season. With everything else going on in the show, and the wolves being absent for the better part of the last few seasons, it’s fair that we’ve forgotten about them. But don’t overlook their significance as the story comes to an end. Remember, direwolves are not just big wolves — there is a magical connection they have to their Stark owners and they should reemerge into the story in the final season.
The two wolves left are Nymeria and Ghost, belonging to Arya and Jon, respectively. Last season, Arya actually encountered Nymeria, who had grown quite large and was leading a pack of pretty ferocious wolves. It’s fair to assume that this pack of wolves will fight for Arya/the Starks at some point in the final season. We last saw Jon’s wolf, Ghost, before The Battle of the Bastards, at which point Jon held Ghost back to avoid him being harmed. The assumption is that Ghost has been hanging around Winterfell ever since, though we have not seen him.
One other interesting thought to consider is that thus far, the Starks that have been killed who have wolves that have also been killed, have been killed by the same people. Robb Stark was killed by the Freys at the Red Wedding, as was his wolf, Greywind. Rickon Stark was killed by the Boltons, as was his wolf Shaggydog. If we are to believe this pattern will hold true, this means that Bran, if killed, will die at the hands of the White Walkers (who killed Summer when they attacked the cave he was in with the Three-Eyed-Raven), and Sansa will die at the hands of a Stark (Ned swung the sword that killed Lady after Cersei demanded Lady’s death for attacking Joffrey, even though it was actually Arya’s wolf, Nymeria, that attacked Joff).
Samwell As The Final Storyteller?
When Samwell arrived at The Citadel in season six, I was fascinated by those giant astrolabes hanging in The Citadel. What were they? What purpose did they serve? Most viewers probably did not realize that we have been seeing those astrolabes since the very first episode, and in every single episode since. Yes, that’s right, they appear in the opening credits of every episode. As you can see from the image on the right below, the top half shows a more detailed view of the astrolabe from the Citadel, and the bottom right shows a strikingly similar image from the opening credits. This is not something that can be overlooked, and upon digging deeper, it lends some very interesting insights as to what Sam’s role in this story may end up being. One thought is that if darkness prevails and humanity perishes, there will need to be somebody left to tell this story — the very story that we are watching unfold before our eyes. We know Sam has always been obsessed with books, preserving history and storytelling, and it just may be Samwell Tarly that is telling the very story we are witnessing today. For more color, read the full post on this theory here.
Significance of the Spirals We’ve Seen
Throughout the show, we’ve seen a specific spiral design that seems to be shared by both The Children of the Forest and the White Walkers. It’s unclear what these spirals signify, but given that some of the images we’ve seen date back thousands of years, and that they’re shared by two of the most significant/magical groups of beings in the show, I am willing to bet it’s something significant. It may even lend a clue to the link between The Children and the Night King. You can see below for a few examples of these spirals that we’ve seen, and read the episode recap here that explains this theory in much greater detail.
Are Syrio Forell and Jaqen H’ghar the Same Person?
Another theory we’ve talked about for many seasons on this blog, and another burning question that may or not get answered in the final season of this story. But there’s a lot of credence to the fact that Syrio Forell, Arya’s Braavosi fighting instructor, could have been Jaqen H’ghar all along. For starters, back in season one, the last we see of Syrio is when he is attacked by Lannister guards and Arya is forced to flee. It is assumed that he will be killed, but we never see him die, keeping the door open for the fact he may be alive.
After Arya flees, she cuts her hair to look like a boy and joins a group heading North. In that group, there are several men locked up in a cage, one of which is Jaqen H’ghar. If you think about this for a moment, it makes no sense. We go on to learn that Jaqen H’ghar is one of the most cunning, nimble and outright magical assassins in all of the land. We seem him perform incredible feats that few others could. Yet, this same man finds himself locked up in a rickety cage as a prisoner? It doesn’t add up, not one bit. An entirely more plausible explanation would be that Syrio Forell was Jaqen H’ghar the whole time, just wearing the face of Syrio. He never got killed and was able to escape after Arya ran away, and to avoid being detected, he changed his face to that of the Jaqen we saw throughout most of the show, and allowed himself to appear as a prisoner. He continued to look over Arya as she continued north, and at the right time, revealed himself to Arya as the Faceless Man we came to know. For several more years, he would continue to train Arya, just as Syrio (who was really Jaqen) had been doing since the very beginning in King’s Landing. If you compare the two men, they are quite similar. Both were excellent fighters, both hailed from the secret land of Braavos, both spoke of the Many-Faced God and saying no to death. The list goes on. Again, who knows if this is something that will be addressed in the final season, but at minimum, it would be great to see Jaqen reemerge before the story comes to an end.
What Did Varys Hear in the Flames?
Back in season six, Varys and Tyrion are visited by The High Red Priestess, Kinvara, one of the highest ranking officials of the Lord of Light. Though her appearance was brief, she dropped a pretty big question that has never been answered. As Varys is typically skeptical of religion, he questioned The Lord of Light, to which Kinvara references a voice that Varys heard in the flames when he was castrated as a young boy. Usually cool and collected, Varys’ face becomes flush with fear, making it clear that he knows what she is talking about. Will we ever learn what Varys heard in the flames? As we’ve highlighted many times, it’s rare that Thrones inserts these kinds of plot-points if not to come back to them at a later point in time, so I would hope to learn more about this. But then again, with only a handful of episodes left, it’s entirely possible that we never learn what Varys heard in the flames.
Other Odds and Ends
The Three-Eyed Raven told Bran that he will never walk again, but he will fly. Will we see Bran fly? Perhaps he will warg into a dragon?
Is Stannis definitely dead? Seems like yes, but I’m always wary when we don’t see the character actually die.
What is the connection between Bran and the Night King? Every time the Night King sees Bran in one of his visions, Bran is pulled from his vision. It seems like there is a deeper connection between the two.
In season seven, I wrote an interesting theory about The Eye of the Giant. You can read more about that here.
More recently, I wrote a theory on the significance of what’s beneath the crypts of Winterfell. The teaser for the upcoming season focused on the crypts of Winterfell, so I think it will have significance on the season eight. You can read that here.
That’s it folks. Enjoy the countdown to season eight and savor each minute!
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.
After what has felt like an eternity of an offseason, the end is now in sight as we are just 2 months away from the final season of Thrones. Hard to believe this epic journey that has consumed us for the better part of the last decade will all boil down to just six more episodes. The early word is that the first two episodes will each clock in at the standard 60-minute length, while the last four will each be 80 minutes long. And so, as we set our sights upon the beginning of the end, HBO recently released an official Season 8 teaser, and boy was there a lot to take from it. In this post, we will break down the teaser and some of the significant takeaways. So, if you haven’t yet seen it, watch it below. And if you have seen it, watch it again!
For starters, let’s reestablish something we’ve talked about before: HBO and the Thrones writers/producers do not do anything by accident. There are no random choices in this show; from each character and location, down to every word that is spoken, everything is thoughtfully chosen to serve a purpose. Remember, Thrones producers are tasked with cramming nearly 7,000 pages worth of George R.R. Martin’s story into what will amount to a total of 67 episodes when all is said and done — that’s over 100 pages of super rich text packed into each episode — so there is absolutely no reason for the show to incorporate any fluff or irrelevant content. Every single thing you see and hear is carefully selected to be there for a reason.
With that in mind, it would be foolish to casually gloss over the above teaser and not give it a thorough examination. After all, this is the very first footage that producers are choosing to expose you to — and not just footage to tease any season — it’s to tease the final season. Again, consider that everything you just watched in this teaser has great significance, especially as we embark upon the conclusion of this epic saga. So, let’s jump in and analyze what I found to be two extremely important takeaways from this teaser: The first, a bold reminder that the Starks of Winterfell have always been, and will always be, at the center of this entire story; the second, the significance of the crypts of Winterfell, and what might be hiding within.
Let’s begin by breaking down the first 50 seconds of the teaser, in which we see Jon, Arya and Sansa walking beneath the crypts of Winterfell. For starters, this is a powerful reminder that the remaining Stark children (not including Bran, who has now turned into the Three-Eyed-Raven) are all reunited at their home of Winterfell. It’s hard to believe, but for the entirety of this story, we have only witnessed the children together at Winterfell for just one episode — the very first one! In just the second episode of the series, Jon leaves for The Wall, and the other Stark children start to go their separate ways from there. So, if nothing else, seeing Jon, Sansa and Arya back together at Winterfell, where it all started, and perhaps where it will all end, is incredibly significant.
But the teaser quickly reminds us that House Stark is made up of so much more than just the three children we see; the crypts of Winterfell lay rest to some of the most important Stark family members — ones that the teaser quickly brings back to life by replaying some of their most important quotes. Though they may be physically dead, we get the feeling that their influence and impact is very much alive, and it is this very idea that gives such great drive and power to House Stark. What we can also take away is that three of the most influential members of House Stark (Lyanna, Ned and Catelyn) sacrificed their lives so that the present-day members of House Stark could serve their future purpose in the great war to come. As we see the statues of each of these dead members of House Stark, accompanied by their words, we are reminded of a rich history of Stark lineage, filled with great death and sacrifice, all of which is presented in a way that makes us feel like everything that has happened has been leading up to this very moment. Particularly, leading up to Jon’s final moments, given that all three quotes we hear in this teaser relate to him. So let’s dig a bit deeper into the statues we saw and the words we heard from some of the late great Stark family members.
The first part of this teaser shows Jon passing the statue of Lyanna Stark, who we know (though he doesn’t) to be his mother. As a quick refresher, in the finale of season six, Bran travels back in time to the Tower of Joy, where we see Ned arrive to his dying sister, Lyanna, who has recently given birth. In season seven, through another one of Bran’s vision, we see the joyous wedding between Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen, confirming that Jon is half Stark and half Targaryen (and also debunking the idea widely spread across much of Westeros that Lyanna was kidnapped and raped by Rhaegar; rather we see that they were in love. This is hugely significant as it was Robert Baratheon who was in love with Lyanna and used the false premise that Lyanna had been kidnapped by Rhaegar Targaryen as the main justification to launch Robert’s Rebellion and overthrow the Mad King, setting the entire Thrones story into motion. But I digress…)
While we as viewers, as well as Bran, know the truth of Jon’s parents, he himself does not. As he walks past the statue of his mother, we hear the words she spoke to Ned, as her soft and dying voice tells him, “You have to protect him.” Honoring the last dying wish of his sister, Ned does just this, and fools the world into thinking that Jon Snow is his bastard son. Ned was willing to sacrifice his own honor, the very thing he valued most, by making others believe he impregnated a whore who birthed his bastard son. All of this to conceal the true fact that Jon was not a bastard, but rather was half Targaryen. Had Robert Baratheon (or many others who believed the Targaryens to be a threat) learned this truth, he likely would have killed Jon. Thinking about the great lengths Ned went to in order to protect Jon, the impact it had on Catelyn Stark who hated Jon because she incorrectly believed him to be a reminder of the affair Ned (never) had, and then listening to Lyanna’s words one more time “You have to protect him,” provides such meaning to the opening of this teaser. And that Jon does not even realize this is his mother provides all the more poetic irony.
One other interesting thing to call out here is the feather that we see fly out of the hands of Lyanna’s statue (go back and watch the beginning of the teaser if you did not catch this). For one, we have to ask ourselves what is the significance of this feather? As we spoke about earlier, absolutely nothing is random or by chance in this story, so why show a feather flying out of her hand and landing upon the ground? (Later in the teaser, at about 1:04, you will see the feather again, this time starting to freeze over as the frigid air creeps in, but we’ll get to that later). So where did this feather come from?
Well, the answer is simple. In the very first episode of the entire series, we see Robert Baratheon place this feather into the hand of Lyanna’s statue. See below:
Of course, eight years ago, in the very first episode of this story, when we saw Robert place this seemingly insignificant feather in Lyanna’s hand, we thought nothing of it. And therein lies the genius of this show — eight years later, as we near the end, things come full circle as we once again see this feather.
But that wasn’t the only time we saw this feather. Four years later, halfway through the fifth season, we again see this very same feather. This time, it’s Sansa down in the crypts of Winterfell, and she comes across the feather which must have fallen out of Lyanna’s hand. She picks it up, dusts it off and places it back in her aunt’s hand. See video below at about 35 seconds in (feel free to watch the entirety of the video, in which Baelish and Sansa talk about Lyanna Stark, and Sansa repeats the incorrect theory that Rhaegar had kidnapped her Aunt Lyanna, to which Baelish smirks, insinuating he knows that is not the truth of what happened).
We need not spend any more time talking about the feather, but it is worth pointing out that there is likely a significance to it, given that we saw it in the very first episode, midway through this series in season five, and now again in the teaser for the final season. But while the feather may have a significance, let’s not forget Lyanna herself, one of the most significant Starks of all time — the one who forged a union with House Targaryen, gave birth to Jon and gave her life in doing so. Now, all these years later, we are reminded of her contribution to House Stark and hear her last dying words as her unknowing son walks past her statue.
Next, we see Sansa walk past the statue of Catelyn, as we hear her words, “All this horror that has come to my family, all because I couldn’t love a motherless child.” This quote comes all the way back from the beginning of season three, where Cat is talking with Lady Talisa. As a quick refresh, you can watch the clip below:
What’s most interesting is the juxtaposition of seeing Catelyn’s statue and hearing these words right after seeing the statue of Lyanna with her words. It was actually the first set of words we heard (Lyanna asking Ned to protect Jon) that caused the second set of words we heard (Catelyn believing she caused all the death that had fallen upon House Stark because she couldn’t love a motherless child). As we talked about above, Lyanna asking Ned to protect Jon led him to pretend Jon was a bastard child birthed out of wedlock. This lie caused Catelyn great pain, and as she talks about in the clip above, she even wished Jon death as a sick baby. But she soon changed her mind, and prayed to the gods to save him and swore that she would love him as her own if they did. Well, Jon did not die, but she confesses to being unable to hold up her end of the promise as she was unable to love him. She talks about him being a reminder of the affair Ned had. Again, this is all actually not true and she was completely mistaken in her belief of all of this (as most people were). In the end, like Lyanna, Catelyn died trying to protect her children, and seeing both their statues with some of their last words serve as an important reminder of the sacrifices they made to House Stark.
As the first two quotes both pertained to Jon, so does the third, as we see Jon walk past the statue of Ned and we hear “You are a Stark. You might not have my name, but you have my blood.” Of course, these are the final last words Ned will ever speak to Jon, all the way back in the second episode, as Jon says goodbye to Ned and departs for The Wall. In this scene, Ned also tells Jon that the next time they see each other, they’ll have a talk about Jon’s mother. But, as Ned gets killed at the end of this season while Jon is still at The Wall, they never get a chance to talk again, and Jon never learns the true identity of his mother. As we see the Herculean grandeur of Ned’s statue, it is again a strong reminder of the influential Starks that have come before, many of which gave their lives to lead up to this very moment. While the show started in The North and centered around House Stark of Winterfell, things quickly went awry for this honorable house, and as viewers, we probably lost sight of the importance of House Stark. In fact, after all the turmoil suffered, many of us probably wondered if we’d ever see House Stark really come together again. This teaser put that thought to rest, and then some. It boldly reminded us of the deep and rich Stark heritage — one that cannot be forgotten — and one that continues on within the living Starks of today. No doubt, just as the story started with the Starks of Winterfell, so too it shall end with them.
So, we’ve covered the first major takeaway from this teaser: House Stark and Winterfell have always been and will continue to be central to this story, particularly as we near the end. And, we were reminded of the strength of House Stark — much of which is derived from the deep lineage of Starks that have come before those alive today. But there’s another, perhaps more interesting, topic to dive into. The question is: What’s the significance of the crypts of Winterfell? After all, this teaser could have taken place in 50 other locations and still stressed the importance of House Stark — but it took place in the crypts. There must be a reason why.
From the past seven seasons, and even more so from the books, we know that the crypts of Winterfell are extremely important to the Starks. It’s the place where they bury their loved ones. But it’s certainly seemed as more than just a resting place for the dead — the crypts of Winterfell have always been wrapped in a veil of mystery — why? And why now, as we near the end of this story, would HBO choose to make this the only location that we see in the teaser. And perhaps the most important question is, what’s with the freezing air that starts to creep into the crypts towards the end of the teaser? Sure, at first glance, it could just be symbolic that Winter has come, that the Night King is near, that the White Walkers are coming, etc… Or, is there an entirely deeper and more revealing explanation? By starting to add up everything we’ve learned about the crypts throughout the seven seasons thus far, much of which was via character dialogue that viewers likely skipped over, and also sprinkling in some excerpts about the crypts from the early books, we start to see an entirely different view of what the crypts might be. The hypothesis: perhaps the crypts were built not just as a resting place for deceased Starks, but perhaps as a prison to keep darkness locked within. Let’s start to unpack this thing.
In order to consider the true purpose of the crypts of Winterfell, we must first reexamine their origin. That would require us to go back in time to The Age of Heroes, about 8,000 years ago (if you want some quick context on The History of The Known World, see here for a great timeline). It was at this time that The Long Night swept across Westeros — the longest winter that Westeros had ever seen — and with it came the White Walkers, who nearly wiped out all of humanity. Azor Ahai (aka The Prince Who Was Promised), led the great fight against the White Walkers, pushing them back into the deep north. It was at this time that Brandon Stark (aka Brandon the Builder, founder of House Stark), along with the help of The Children of the Forest and Giants, built The Wall, a defense to keep the White Walkers out. Subsequently, The Night’s Watch was founded to man The Wall and keep the realm protected from White Walkers.
So after humanity is almost wiped out and Brandon Stark builds a great magical wall to keep the realm safe, what does he do next? He builds the first line of defense south of The Wall: Winterfell. And what part of Winterfell does he build first? You guessed it — the crypts! If the very first thing the legendary founder of House Stark did after building The Wall was build the crypts of Winterfell, there must be major significance. In trying to understand that significance, it’s important to realize just how big the crypts were, which is hard to tell from the few scenes in which we’ve seen the Starks walking its corridors. But the second book in the series, A Clash of Kings, offers some more color on the crypts: “The crypts were located beneath Winterfell and contained the tombs of the members of House Stark. The cavernous vault is larger than Winterfell itself, with older Starks buried in the deepest and darkest levels. The lowest level is said to be partly collapsed. The statues have large stone direwolves curled at their feet. According to tradition, iron longswords lay across each lord’s lap to keep vengeful spirits within the crypts.”
Let’s break that description down for a moment. First of all, it’s remarkable to consider that the crypts themselves are larger than the entirety of the Winterfell fortress. From the show, it’s always seemed like the crypts was simply a long hall lined with statues. But, the description above paints an entirely different picture and presents the crypts as an absolutely massive cavern of tombs that goes many levels beneath the earth. Surely, something this large and magnificent would not have been built solely to house the tombs of deceased Starks.
But, the last sentence of the description is perhaps most intriguing — that iron longswords lay across each lord’s lap to keep vengeful spirits within the crypts. It is this breadcrumb that makes me wonder what vengeful spirits George R.R. Martin was referring to? And the fact that it reads that they wanted to keep these spirits within, presents an entirely new vantage point as to what these crypts may have been built for — not just a resting place for the Starks, but perhaps as a prison to keep dark spirits, perhaps those of the White Walkers, within. After all, remember that Brandon Stark built these crypts right after The Long Night. He would have just been returning from a long war in which humanity was almost wiped out by darkness — is it possible that he could have had White Walkers or other evil darkness that needed to be locked up somewhere? Perhaps it was even the Night King himself that needed a place to be buried. It’s hard to say for sure, but the description of the crypts in conjunction with it appearing to have been such a high priority for Brandon Stark to build, as well as the sheer size of the crypts, certainly makes it plausible that this was a place used to keep darkness locked up. But that’s just the beginning of evidence to support this theory…
The description above also reveals one more important piece of information — it talks about iron longswords being laid across each lord’s lap to keep the spirits within. But why iron longswords? Was there any significance to iron being in the crypts or did the longswords simply happen to be made out of iron? Well, later in that very same book, Bran has a quote where he states, “The door to the crypts was made of ironwood. It was old and heavy and lay at a slant to the ground. The door was located in the oldest section of Winterfell.” And just like that, we have another mention of iron in the crypts, seeming to demonstrate that there’s something to this whole iron thing. What’s more, Bran’s quote calls out that this ironwood door was located in the oldest section of Winterfell, which means it was the part that was constructed first by Brandon Stark, builder of Winterfell. So there you have it — iron longswords that sit across the statues to keep evil spirits within, as well as an ironwood door to the crypt that was built in the oldest part of Winterfell. So, clearly there’s a great significance to the iron in the crypts, and possibly as a means to keep evil within, but why iron? Have we ever heard that the White Walkers are averse to iron? Well, actually yes, we have — but I’m sure none of us caught it at the time.
You may recall Old Nan, the very old lady who used to sit bedside with Bran and tell him old tales. In many ways, she was a conduit to a lot of the ancient mythology of the Thrones world, and it was never clear how much of her tales were fact and how much were fiction. In one of those tales, she tells Brans about The Long Night, “In the darkness, the White Walkers came for the first time. They were cold things, dead things, that hated iron and fire and the touch of the sun, and every creature with hot blood in its veins.” Of course, none of us could have known at the time that her reference to iron meant anything. In fact, without reading this post, even if you went back and watched that scene 100 times over, you still would not know that there was any significance to her reference of the White Walkers hating iron. It’s only when we start to put the pieces of the puzzle together does this dialogue seem to be significant. So combining this information from just a few parts of the books/show, we know: A) the statues in Winterfell had iron longswords across them to keep evil spirits within; B) the door to the crypts in the oldest part of Winterfell was also made of iron; and C) the White Walkers hated iron. Piecing this all together and it surely does not seem coincidental that the Starks had so much iron in the crypts, and it starts to become a real possibility that the crypts of Winterfell were some type of prison for the dead and the iron was there to keep them within.
So let’s go with this theory for a minute and assume the crypts are some sort of prison for the dead. What’s the significance and how does that tie back to what we saw in the teaser? Well, the back half of the teaser shows that winter frost starting to creep into the crypts. First thought is to assume that just represents that winter is here, the Night King is coming, etc… But what if there’s a greater significance that ties back to this theory? What if rather than this symbolizing the Night King or White Walkers coming into the crypts, it’s a foreshadowing of these dark prisoner spirits coming out? Just a theory, you might say. But what if I told you that Jon Snow had one dream and Ned had two, both of which alluded to this very idea? Again, let’s not forget, George R.R. Martin would not include characters’ dreams in the books without some purpose.
In the first book, George RR Martin tells us of a dream Jon had: “He was wandering the empty castle, searching for his father, descending into the crypts. Only this time the dream had gone further than before. In the dark, he heard the scrape of stone on stone. When he turned, he saw the vaults were opening, one after the other. As the dead kings came stumbling from their cold black graves.” In this dream, Jon flat out sees the dead kings coming out from their graves. Sure, this could just be a reference to past Stark kings that are coming alive, but it could also be a reference to Night Kings or kings of darkness. After all, the dream does mention “cold, black graves,” the type of grave an ancient White Walker would be climbing out of.
But it doesn’t stop there. In that very same book, Ned has a dream: “He was walking through the crypts beneath Winterfell, as he had walked a thousand times before. The Kings of Winter watched him with eyes of ice.” First, let’s point out the significance that there is yet another dream happening in the crypts. Second, let’s acknowledge the dark and ominous tone to the dream, similar to that of Jon’s. Lastly, it’s worth noting that George R.R. Martin calls out “the Kings of Winter” and their “eyes of ice.” Again, the Kings of Winter could refer to past Stark kings, or it could refer to previous Night Kings or Kings of the White Walkers. After all, why would Stark kings have “eyes of ice”? We know that it is the Night King/White Walkers that have these eyes of ice. Speaking of which, let’s rewind to the very first pages of the prologue of the very first book — the first words any Game of Thrones reader would have read — which is also the very first scene of how the show started. If you recall, Will, a deserter of the Night’s Watch, encountered a White Walker, and the book starts “Will saw its eyes; blue, deeper and bluer than any human eyes; a blue that burned like ice.” Interesting to consider that the series of books (and show) begins with Will seeing the icy eyes of a White Walker, nearly identical to the way George R.R. Martin describes the eyes of ice on the statues of the Kings of Winter that Ned sees in his dream in the crypts.
But if there really were some dark White Walker-esque spirits buried down in the crypts beneath Winterfell, why would they be creeping free now? After all, we established that they hate iron and the iron longswords + iron door should keep them contained. Well, what if that iron was starting to fade? Turns out Ned has one more dream in the first book that speaks to this very idea: “By ancient custom an iron longsword had been laid across the lap of each of who had been a Lord of Winterfell, to keep the vengeful spirits in their crypts. The oldest had long ago rusted away to nothing, leaving only a few red stains where metal had rested on stone. Ned wondered if that meant the ghosts were free to roam the castle now. He hoped not.” Another rather eerie dream which notes that some of these very old iron longswords had started to fade, which led Ned to wonder if the vengeful spirits were able to roam free. If Brandon Stark did in fact bury these first evil bodies 8,000 years ago when he built the crypts, it makes perfect sense that the iron would have started to disintegrate, possibly allowing these spirits to break free. Which again begs the question of the wintery ice we saw creeping into the crypts at the end of the teaser: was it a simple reminder of army of the dead that is soon to arrive to Winterfell, or was it an allusion to something more — dark spirits that have been prisoner to the crypts of Winterfell, that are finally breaking free.
Only time will tell, and perhaps the crypts will not turn out to be as significant as this theory assumes. But if I had to bet, I would say that there will be some sort of major reveal tied to the crypts of Winterfell before this story comes to an end…
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.
BEYOND THE WALL
In typical Thrones fashion, this year’s penultimate episode did not disappoint. As we’ve come to see, the second-to-last episode of each season generally accounts for some of the shows biggest and most dramatic events (i.e. Ned’s beheading, The Battle of Blackwater Bay, The Red Wedding, etc…) But this season’s penultimate episode, entitled Beyond the Wall, took us to entirely new heights. This episode was not just beyond the wall, it was beyond. Period. This behemoth of an episode featured the most significant battle we’ve seen to date — one that brought the all-important entities of fire and ice face to face for the first time. But there was much more. This installment offered the most extended look we’ve ever had into the army of the dead; the biggest dragon scene to date; and this season’s most important moment between two of its most important characters (Jon and Dany). As if all of that was not enough, there were some significant deaths, as well as an awesome surprise entrance from a character we haven’t seen in a while. There was also a crucial reveal about how team humans can possibly defeat team White Walkers in this battle for survival. Oh, and as if all of that was not enough, the Night King now has a dragon to call his own!
FIRE AND ICE
If you don’t yet know that this entire story created by George R.R. Martin is entitled A Song of Ice and Fire, then shame on you. In adapting his multi-book series for TV, HBO decided that Game of Thrones (which was the title of the first book in this series) would be more marketable. And while the latter may roll off the tongue a bit better, there is one pitfall — the importance of fire and ice gets lost. The Game of Thrones titles makes it seem as though this story is ultimately about a game whose winner will ascend the Iron Throne. And while that was the game being played in the first few books/seasons (and to some extent still is), we know that the endgame here is something much greater, which is what the title of the series spoke to. Kings and thrones are insignificant in the face of fire vs ice, light vs darkness, good vs evil. And though the show has obviously made it quite clear, especially as the story has progressed, that fire and ice is where this whole thing is headed, it still seemed unclear how and when these opposing elements would face off.
Well, heading into tonight’s episode, there were just seven episodes remaining, so we knew it couldn’t be too much longer. Yet still, I’m not sure anybody was wagering that this episode would bring a full-on collision between fiery dragons and icy White Walkers. But that’s precisely what we got as Dany flies her dragons into the deep north to save Jon and the Dream Team from certain death at the hands of the army of the dead. And boy was it a powerful sight to see.
Hitting rewind for a moment, Jon and company venture into the deep north on their quest to find a wight. I get questions each week about what a wight is, so let’s quickly clear this one up. In the show, the wights are the undead zombies which account for most of the army of the dead. The wights are led by the more powerful and mythical White Walker creatures. If it seems confusing that the story would refer to the zombies as wights and their leaders as White Walkers, given that wights/Whites sound the same, well, it is. But, in the books, this confusion did not exist, as the White Walkers were called The Others. So, in the books, you had wights (zombies) being led by The Others. After the hit show Lost popularized the moniker The Others, referring to the other inhabitants of the island, HBO decided not to use the term The Others and came up with a new name for them — The White Walkers. So, today you have the wights and the White Walkers. But let’s get back to more important things.
Jon and squad don’t make it too far north before a run-in with an enormous undead bear. Because the bear has been turned by the White Walkers, it is uncharacteristically aggressive in its pursuit to kill the humans. But, the bear being turned does not explain its size — so it was pretty cool to see how big this bear was (more like a mini dinosaur). It was our first time seeing a creature like this in Thrones and builds on some of the other unusually large/mythical creatures we’ve seen (giants, direwolves, dragons, etc…) As the team bands together to fight off the bear, Thoros gets pinned down and The Hound is the closest one able to assist. Underscoring the juxtaposition of fire and ice, The Hound was literally frozen by the fire and we see that his fear of the flames still runs deep. As a result, Thoros gets badly mauled, though not killed, as Beric cauterizes his wound.
Fast forward, Jon and company find themselves deserted on an island of ice, surrounded by not only thousands of wights, but also the Night King and his highest-ranking White Walkers. After Jon instructed Gendry to run back to Eastwatch to send a raven to Daenerys, the table was set, and it all of a sudden became entirely feasible that fire would meeting ice very soon. As night turns into day, the men wake up to find themselves still surrounded, only now with one less man. Thoros has not survived the night and Beric sets his corpse aflame to prevent the White Walkers from being able to turn him into a wight. I found it somewhat strange that the story had Thoros surviving the bear attack, only to die the next morning. In any event, it was sad to see Thoros go and he was definitely one of the more enjoyable characters of the show — a man who fought for those who could not fight for themselves — and a man who ultimately gave his life to serve what he believed to be a greater purpose. Most significant, this means that whatever role Beric is to play, he must make this life count as he likely will not have another to live. Thoros is no longer around to bring him back to life as he has done many times in the past, underscoring once again, that this story is nearing its end.
The Hound had already lost some points in my book for not saving Thoros from the bear. He now loses additional points for deciding that it would be a wise idea to start throwing rocks at the wights. Sure enough, the wights realize that the water has frozen back over and they can now resume their attack on Jon and company. Somehow, this single-digit group of men are able to fight off what felt like several hundred wights. While I was ecstatic to not see any more of them die, there were points where they appeared so engulfed by a sea of wights that it seemed unrealistic for them to survive, yet they somehow continued to fight them off. No doubt, we got to see the fighting prowess of each of these men — some of the realms greatest warriors, assembled together, each fighting with their weapon of choice. And though The Hound made some poor decisions in this episode, he’s back in my good graces after saving Tormund from what looked like a certain death. I’m not sure I could have handled losing Thoros and Tormund all in one episode.
Though they were able to fight off hundreds of wights, no matter how many they killed, more kept coming. Eventually, they were completely surrounded, and we went into a slow motion sequence where everything quieted down. This sequence was mostly focused on Jon and offered a slower, more focused vantage point of what it might feel like to acknowledge the imminent death that you and your men are facing. We saw a very similar sequence in the Battle of the Bastards when everything slowed down for Jon and it seemed like their defeat was certain. But just as Jon and his men were saved in the Battle of the Bastards by a surprise entrance, the same would happen in this battle, as Daenerys arrives with all three of her dragons and sets everything ablaze.
Her powerful flames engulf the wights by the hundreds, if not thousands, and in that moment, fire finally meets ice. For the first time, we see with our own eyes what we’ve been imagining for so long — how the dragons will ultimately help to defeat the army of the dead. Things are looking great for the good guys (well, I will pause on calling them the good guys, because that implies that the Night King and White Walkers are bad guys, and I believe it’s too early to determine that given that we don’t truly understand the Night King and what he is trying to achieve yet. But we’ll save that for another time). Everything changes as the Night King picks up his ice spear and takes down one of Daenerys’ dragons, Viserion, from what seemed like hundreds of yards away. The Night King must have been spending some serious bro-time with Tom Brady, because that dragon was hundreds of yards away and flying at a pretty high elevation.
Just like that, the tables are dramatically turned, and Daenerys is helpless as she watches her beautiful dragon fall from the sky like a plane that has been shot down out of the air. Her other two dragons let out a painful cry as they watch their sibling fall to its death. Seeing this, Jon Snow advances for the Night King, who attempts to take down Drogon, the dragon that Daenerys and the others are aback. Jon is attacked by more wights and pulled underwater, and Daenerys is forced to abandon Jon, though reluctantly, in order to save her two remaining dragons.
When Jon does reemerge from the water, he is frozen stiff and appears to have no chance at fighting off the new pack of wights that are headed his way. Not to fear, Uncle Benjen is here. We hadn’t seen Benjen since last season when he had to part ways with Bran because he could not pass through The Wall. At the time, he explained that the dead cannot pass through The Wall, due to powerful magic The Children of the Forest used in helping to build The Wall, thus confirming he was in fact technically dead. When Bran asked him what he would do, he confirmed that he would continue to fight off the dead for as long as he could, and in this episode, he made good on his word. Fighting with his flaming ball-and-chain, Benjen takes out a bunch of the wights and buys Jon just enough time to escape back to Eastwatch. Benjen is consumed by the wights and the assumption is now that he is fully dead…Or maybe he will be turned into a wight… But safe to assume he’s gone as the Uncle Benjen we know. What was most significant, and also most sad about this, is that Uncle Benjen (Ned’s brother) and Jon Snow were very close. Uncle Benjen was a big reason that Jon joined the Night’s Watch in the first place, and when Benjen went missing north of The Wall in the first season, Jon tried to go after him. Ironically, Benjen’s disappearance north of The Wall so many seasons ago is what would turn him into what he is today, and set him on the track to save his nephew when it really counted. Sadly, after all these years, their reunion was just a couple of seconds.
Jon and Uncle Benjen atop The Wall in Season 1
A SILVER LINING
Coming into this episode, the dragon count was 3-0 in favor of the humans. After this episode, the count is now much more even at 2-1. Whereas the humans once had 3 more dragons, they now only have 1 more. That’s because not only did the Night King take out Viserion, but he wisely turned him into a wight that he will now be able to use in his army. This of course begs a ton of questions about how Viserion will be used and what he will be able to do. Will he now breathe ice instead of fire? Will he be able to freeze over entirely masses of land and kill all life? Will his newfound dragon allow The Night King to quickly and easily fly over The Wall and pose a greater threats to the humans? And how do you kill Viserion? The other wights can be killed by fire, but dragons are immune to fire, so is Valyrian steel/dragonglass the only way kill Viserion? Time will tell, but it raises all kinds of interesting questions. Also, as a sidenote, to turn Viserion into a wight, The Night King placed his hand upon the dead dragon’s snout, much the same as Jon Snow had touched Drogon a couple episodes back.
No matter which way you slice it, The Night King getting his hands on a dragon is a huge blow to Daenerys and all of humanity. Though the Night King always posed a great threat, Daenerys was always approaching the level of invincibility with three full-grown dragons. But now, the playing field is a lot more level and The Night King may have what he needs to launch a full-blown offensive. All that said, there were some very significant silver linings to be found in this episode, some of which will have huge implications on how this all unfolds.
Silver lining number one: mission accomplished. The men did not go home empty-handed and they achieved what they had set out for — capturing a wight that they could present to Cersei, and presumably anybody else who is a nonbeliever. Arguably, the biggest problem the humans have faced in the great war to come is that they simply do not know it is coming. Jon Snow and a few others have been trying to spread the word, but most of the realm still regards the entire thing as mythology. But now, they have hard proof and it will be interesting to see how people react.
Silver lining number two: a very significant reveal about how the humans can possibly win this war. We knew a few things coming into this episode: 1) White Walkers can be killed with Valyrian steel or dragonglass; 2) wights can be killed with either of those, but are best defeated with fire. What we did not know, and learned tonight, is that there is some sort of link between White Walkers and wights, and killing a White Walker can actually take out many more wights in one fell swoop. As Jon battled and eventually defeated a White Walker, we saw several wights around him collapse and crumble. The assumption is that if you take out a White Walker, so too are you killing the wights that White Walker had turned. This is critical as it implies that killing a few hundred or even a few dozen White Walkers could wipe out a huge volume of the army of the dead. But what was even more significant, was Beric’s assertion that perhaps taking out The Night King would wipe out all the White Walkers and wights at once. We don’t know if this is true, but perhaps we just learned how this entire war can be won.
Silver lining number three: Jon and Dany are in a great place. It was no secret that something was brewing between these two, yet Dany was still quite focused on fighting Cersei for the Iron Throne and wasn’t totally sure how credible Jon’s claims were regarding the army of the dead. But now, Dany has seen the threat with her own two eyes. What’s more, she’s lost one of her children at the hands of the Night King, so she is now more invested in this war than anybody. Alignment between Jon and Dany as it pertains to them coming together to defeat the Night King is absolutely huge.
But that’s not where the alignment stops. The emotions and potential romance continued to elevate in this episode and the two even ended up in a bed together, holding hands. Jon has declared Dany his queen, after an interesting dialogue with Tormund earlier in the episode where Tormund reminded Jon of Mance Rayder, the king of the Wildlings, who refused to bend the knee to any southern ruler. Tormund reminds Jon that Mance’s pride ultimately got him killed. Jon takes this advice to heart and decides that others must see the greatness that he sees in Dany. No doubt, he will face real backlash, especially amongst the Northerners, who view House Targaryen as definitive enemies. This should set up for a very interesting dynamic in the North, and the potential that the Northerns choose to no longer follow Jon, opening the door for a new Northern leader, which plays right into the Arya-Sansa drama we are seeing unfold — but more on that in just a bit.
One other thing to point out is that it was not just Jon that is buying into Dany and declaring her his queen, but also she that is buying more into him, especially after she sees the wounds that he sustained when he was murdered. Recall that in the fist scene they met, Ser Davos mentioned that Jon Snow was brought back from the dead, and Dany took particular interest to this. When she asked about it, Jon made it seem like he was not really brought back from the dead and that Ser Davos was embellishing. Just last episode, Dany asked Jon about this again, but before he could respond, Ser Jorah returned and stole the spotlight. Now, she is seeing first-hand the brutal wounds he sustained and she realizes that he did in fact die and come back to life. Ultimately, though Viserion’s death was tragic, you could make the argument that it was a cost well worth paying if it resulted in Jon and Dany coming together the way they did, Jon declaring Dany his queen, and that queen now being fully invested in the war against darkness.
Also, one smaller but additional silver lining is that we got some more color on the “who will be the 3 riders of Dany’s 3 dragons?” As we know, Aegon, alongside his two sisters, rode their three dragons during his Conquest. Many have theorized that there would have to be two additional riders to ride alongside Dany, but that theory now seems to be out the window.
DRAMA IN WINTERFELL
Though it seems much less significant than what we saw unfold north of The Wall, the tensions building at Winterfell will have important implications. After all, don’t forget, Winterfell and The North are one of the first lines of defense south of The Wall. So, if the White Walkers do pass through The Wall, Winterfell is one of the first places they will reach. Having a definitive leader at Winterfell who can unite The North will be critical. And that’s the opposite of what we are seeing today.
Picking up on last week’s episode, Sansa and Arya are falling right into Baelish’s trap. Unbeknownst to her, Baelish planted a note for Arya to find which presents Sansa as a Joffrey-loving traitor who was willing to denounce her own father in support of the Lannisters. What we know as viewers (as does Baelish because he was there at the time), is that Sansa was forced to write this latter as she was more or less Cersei’s prisoner. Sansa attempted to plead this case to Arya, though Arya’s mind seems to be made up about who her sister is and where her loyalties lie. Interestingly, the show has seemed to present this conflict much more from Arya’s vantage point than from Sansa’s. Both girls have been through trying times and actually appear to both want to do what’s best for Winterfell, yet the show has made Arya feel like the protagonist who is onto her antagonist sister.
Just as Baelish had hoped, he is able to find himself in private quarters with Sansa, offering her advice of how to proceed. He notes that Brienne has sworn an oath to protect both sisters, and as such, is a valuable asset to rely upon. Sansa takes this advice and sends Brienne to King’s Landing after her attendance was requested. Brienne objects to going and tells Sansa that she cannot trust the people around her, especially Baelish, even if she is home at Winterfell. Naively, Sansa believes that because she is at home that she is safe. With Brienne gone and Arya and Sansa at odds, Baelish is setting the table for him to make his next move — whatever move that might be.
Another sidenote on Winterfell — where has Bran been as all of this drama is unfolding between his sisters? After all of this time, he has finally returned to Winterfell, so where is he hiding? As an all-knowing being, you would think he’d be able to step in and drop some knowledge on his sisters to help them navigate their issues. Also, speaking of things missing at Winterfell, where the hell is Jon’s wolf, Ghost? We have not seen him this entire season, so keep an eye out for that.
HISTORY THROUGH DIALOGUE
In the first few minutes of their journey north of The Wall, there was some incredibly rich dialogue amongst the men, most of which recounted some important Thrones history. Here’s a recap:
Jon and Jorah talk further about their past as Jon reveals that Jorah’s father had given him Longclaw, a Valyrian steel sword that was meant for Jorah. Jon offers the sword to Jorah, but Jorah admits that he is unworthy. But it is not just Jon that knows Jorah’s father; Jorah also knew Jon’s father (well, he knew the man Jon currently believes to be his father, Ned. Jorah recalls that Ned wanted Jorah executed (which is why he had to flee Westeros and eventually ended up meeting Khaleesi in Essos). You can read more about why Ned wanted him executed here.
Jorah and Thoros recount their time in battle together during Robert’s Rebellion. They fought together for the rebels in a battle where they stormed Pyke (seat of the Iron Islands). History tells that Thoros rode into battle with his flaming sword and helped to win this decisive victory.
Tormund and The Hound end up discussing Brienne, though their interactions with her could not be further apart. Tormund tells The Hound of his affections for Brienne and how he hopes to marry her and have giant children together. Though The Hound does not reveal it, we know that it was Brienne that nearly killed The Hound a few seasons back.
Gendry and Thoros also recall some history as Gendry calls them out for selling him to Lady Melisandre. He tells them what she did to him though they appear to move past it pretty quickly.
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.
Without question, Eastwatch was the most important episode in Thrones history. Yes, you read that correctly — let it sink in for a moment. Tonight’s episode was so critical for three reasons: 1) It sets the stage in a major way for the great war that is to come — the only war that matters — the event that will dictate the outcome of this entire saga; 2) There were some HUGE reveals which brought to light some very important things from the past — things that most viewers likely did not register in this extremely fast-paced episode; 3) There were some incredibly important reunions in this episode which bring back events from the past, but also point to what is to come in the future.
If we know anything about Thrones, we know that the penultimate (second to last) episode of each season is the one in which big things go down. Season 1 — Ned’s beheading; Season 2 — The Battle of Blackwater Bay; Season 3 — The Red Wedding; Season 6 — The Battle of the Bastards. All of these major events occurred in the second to last episode of their respective seasons. So gear up, because in this shortened season, the second-to-last episode will arrive next week and we are in for a huge adventure as Jon and Co. venture north of the Wall.
Last week we saw fire; this week we saw ashes. The episode opens with Jaime and Bronn emerging from the water (surprise, surprise). Jaime immediately realizes the magnitude of the enemy that the Lannisters are facing and doesn’t seem to like his odds. Bronn tells Jaime that he will be long gone before Khaleesi’s dragons burn King’s Landing.
Not too far away, Tyrion surveys the battlefield, or what is left of it. Last week, Tyrion looked on as Khaleesi’s dragons brought fire and blood. Now, this week, Tyrion experiences the ashes and ruins — the death and destruction. To say the least, he doesn’t seem so comfortable with it. But things are about to get worse. The remaining Lannister soldiers are rounded up, offered the choice to bend the knee or face death. Of course, this is a significant event, as it mirrors Aegon’s Conquest, in which he offered the same choice to one kingdom at a time, before eventually uniting them all and establishing the Seven Kingdoms under Targaryen rule.
Most of the men wisely bend the knee, but Randyl Tarly, as well as his son, Dickon, choose honor, even at the cost of death. This is somewhat ironic in that just a few episodes prior, Randyl Tarly objected to serving Cersei and did not want to break his oath to House Tyrell. Now, just a few weeks later, he is willing to die for for Cersei — or better yet — he is willing to die if that is the price of refusing to bend the knee to a foreign invader. His son makes the same choice and Khaleesi lines them up for imminent death. Looking increasingly uncomfortable and wanting to save the lives of these men, Tyrion tries his best to provide an alternative to Khaleesi. He proposes that they send them to The Wall to serve out their days on the Night’s Watch, followed by suggesting that they lock them up in a cell until they agree to bend the knee. His clever words bear no fruit and Khaleesi is firm in her decision; she will give all men the opportunity to bend the knee or die — the choice is theirs.
Just like that, Drogon unleashes a massive ball of fire, engulfing the Tarly men in flames. Just like that, Samwell becomes heir to House Tarly. But there is a bigger takeaway here. The Tarly’s perception of Daenerys as a foreign invader underscores a major issue she will have to face as an overwhelming majority of Westeros will likely see her as the same. If this is the case, it begs some questions: How many people will Khaleesi have to kill, or threaten to kill, in order to secure the fealty of Westeros’ citizens? And is offering somebody the choice to bend the knee or die really much of a choice at all? The actions required for Khaleesi to become queen seem to be at odds with the queen she wants to be and her M.O. of leaving the world a better place than she found it.
Back at Dragonstone, Khaleesi casually pulls up on her dragon as Jon Snow watches on. As Drogon lands and Khaleesi remains on his back, Drogon locks eyes with Jon and slowly inches closer. One wrong move and Jon could have been set aflame, but he stood his ground and looked deep into the eyes of the dragon. As Drogon comes face to face with him, Jon removes his glove and slowly places a hand against the dragon — a physical connection to cement the deeper connection we see in this scene. In the Thrones world, dragons are said to be extremely intelligent creatures with a keen sense of awareness to the people around them. With this in mind, it is a powerful moment to see Khaleesi’s main dragon see something in Jon Snow.
What’s more, Khaleesi witnesses the entire encounter, and is drawn even closer to Jon Snow as a result. After all, these dragons are Khaleesi’s children, so seeing them connect with Jon is an emotional moment for her. Following this, we see the way she looks at Jon — a look that speaks to a combination of admiration, attraction and possibly love. She seems captivated by Jon, something we’ve not seen from her before, even with Khal Drogo who she married or Daario Naharis who she became intimate with in Mereen. As viewers, we are left scratching our heads and wondering when Jon will find out what we all know — the reason Drogon recognized him is because he is in fact a Targaryen. And not just any Targaryen, but Khaleesi’s nephew. The show is doing a masterful job of building this up and it will certainly be a magical moment when the truth comes to light for Jon and Daenerys.
In an incredibly fast-paced episode, we didn’t even have a moment to let the Drogon/Jon/Khaleesi moment fully sink in, because just like that, Ser Jorah is on the scene. Yes, that’s right, after all this time, Jorah is back in the presence of his beloved Khaleesi, cured and ready to serve his queen. While it was great to see Jorah back where he belongs, I was more interested in the significance of Jon and Jorah now meeting. As we know, Jorah’s father, Jeor Mormont, was the Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch when Jon arrived at The Wall. To say the Lord Commander trained Jon would be a major understatement. From the very moment Jon arrived at The Wall, Lord Commander Mormont knew there was something special about Jon. He believed in him and instilled in Jon the importance of believing in himself — a quality that drives Jon on his challenging journey today. Jon saved the Lord Commander’s life early in season one (against the attack of a wight), and the Lord Commander later gave Jon his epic Valyrian steel sword, Longclaw. At the time, Lord Commander Mormont mentioned that the sword would have gone to his son had he not been exiled from the Seven Kingdoms (Jorah was banished from Westeros for his involvement in slave trade). Little did we know that six years later, Jon, with Longclaw at his side, would meet this son that the Lord Commander had spoken of. In many ways, Lord Commander Mormont was the father Jon never had, which in some ways, makes Jorah the brother he never knew.
Sitting in the Throne room, Tyrion and Varys talk about Khaleesi’s recent victory. Only, it doesn’t feel like a victory. Tyrion has seen too many people die and Varys has no stomach for the destruction that Khaleesi has recently brought to Westeros. Varys implores Tyrion to find a way to make Khaleesi listen to him, underscoring the importance of Tyrion’s role. Khaleesi is walking a fine line between being an inspirational figure and a ruthless invader, and there are very few people that can influence which side of the line she lands on, Tyrion being one of those people.
Later, Khaleesi gathers her entire cabinet as they contemplate their next move. After receiving a raven and learning that Bran and Arya are not only both alive, but home at Winterfell, Jon informs Khaleesi that he must return back to the North. The show moved past this revelation so quickly that it felt entirely unimportant. So to restate the significance — after all these years of thinking two of his siblings were dead, Jon finds out that they are in fact both alive and safe at Winterfell. Though it may have felt like this learning was unimportant to Jon, another way to look at it is that it puts into context the massive significance of the great war that he knows is to come. In other words, it’s not that learning his sibling were alive is unimportant, it’s just that the great war to come is so much more important. How excited can Jon actually get about Arya and Bran being alive, if he knows of the war to come that could quickly take the lives of not only Arya and Bran, but also the rest of humanity.
Jon is now committed to return back to Winterfell to fight the impending war with whatever men he has. He offers Khaleesi to join, but she notes that she cannot join this fight and open up the country for Cersei to retake. Enter Tyrion with a clever strategy. He notes that Cersei believes White Walkers to be nothing more than myth, but if she could be convinced of the imminent threat to the realm, perhaps she can be won over. This sets into motion the mission for Jon Snow to venture north of The Wall to capture a wight so that a soldier of the dead army can be presented to Cersei. But first they would need to know they have an audience with Cersei, something that Ser Davos and Tyrion will work on. But, before Tyrion departs Dragonstone, he reconnects with Ser Jorah, just another one of several meaningful reunions in this episode. Like so many things in this episode, the significance of this moment was quickly glossed over, but don’t look past this moment between Tyrion and Jorah. They spent the better part of an entire season on an adventurous journey together, including their passing through Old Valyria, where they came into contact with the Stone Men (and Jorah contracted Grey Scale). They eventually became separated, and now all of this time later, they are reunited in a position to serve their queen.
Back at good old King’s Landing, Jaime returns to tell his sister of the defeats they’ve suffered at the hands of Daenerys. He reveals that their odds to win this war do not look good and that they should reconsider their position. Cersei makes it clear that she will die fighting before she gives up. Having faced near-certain death, Jaime feels differently, and as viewers, we sensed that a split between Jaime and his sister could be imminent. And then she tells him that she is pregnant with his baby. If there was one thing in the whole world that could be used to bind Jaime to Cersei, it was this — the idea that they are bringing another child into the world — and that Cersei would tell the world it was Jaime’s. Joffrey, Tommen and Myrcella were all Jaime’s children as well, but they were presented to the world as the children of Cersei and Robert Baratheon. As a result, Jaime had to watch his kids grow up, unable to influence their lives in any meaningful way. Though the show does not go into this subject, the books elaborate on the struggle Jaime dealt with, unable to be a father to his own children. So now, learning that they are bringing a new child into the world, and one that he could tell the world is his own, is perhaps the greatest gift Jaime could have ever asked for. And this will be the glue that holds Jaime and Cersei together. Of course, there is the possibility that Cersei made this up, or that there is in fact a child, but that it is not Jaime’s. Either way, for now, Cersei has Jaime exactly where she wants him.
As if we didn’t have enough reunions so far, we see another huge moment when Tyrion comes face to face with his brother, Jaime. There is so much built-up emotion inside both of these characters around what has transpired over the last couple years. Jaime is relieved that he saved his brother years ago, after more recently finding out that it was Lady Olenna who killed Joffrey, not the wrongfully-accused Tyrion. At the same time, some part of him has to regret setting Tyrion free, as that led to Tyrion being able to murder their father. Even more, it led to Tyrion joining sides with Daenerys and becoming Jaime’s de facto enemy. But still, in this moment, Jaime knows, as he always has, that Tyrion has lived a difficult life, one in which he has been punished for things out of his control (the death of his mother at birth and being a dwarf). With tears in his eyes and passion in his voice, Tyrion shows a side of himself that we rarely see, as he pleads his case to Jaime, explaining that their father, Tywin, would have executed him for a crime he knew he did not commit, all because he was a dwarf. In another life, Jaime would have probably loved to have been the caring older brother to console Tyrion in this moment, but in this life, at this moment, that was not possible. In this life, Tyrion is the enemy to Cersei — and Cersei is the mother of Jaime’s unborn child. We do not see how the conversation ends, but Jaime later tells Cersei of his encounter with Tyrion and that Daenerys has requested an audience to present them with proof of the army of the dead. Cersei seems to agree to grant this audience, and notes that if they want to win the war, they will have to outsmart Daenerys. It sounds like she has a trick or two up her sleeve.
While Tyrion, Jaime and Cersei are engaging in their Lannister drama, Ser Davos has other plans in King’s Landing. He heads to Flea Bottom, the slums of King’s Landing, where he lived most of his life. Knowing how to navigate these parts of the city, he quickly finds Gendry, who is back at work crafting swords and other weaponry. It was just a matter of time before we saw Gendry, and I had a million ideas of where he might be since Ser Davos saved him in season three, but King’s Landing never crossed my mind. After Ser Davos risked his life to set Gendry free from Dragonstone (because Lady Melisandre and Stannis were going to sacrifice him), Davos once again risks his life to find him. As if he has been waiting all these years for the day Davos would come back for him, Gendry grabs a bag and is ready to join the fight. But a bag is not all he grabs — he also grabs a war hammer — his preferred weapon of choice. Though we never got to see it in the show, we know from stories that Robert Baratheon also fought with a legendary war hammer. In fact, Robert used his war hammer to defeat Rhaegar Targaryen during the Battle of the Trident (the last major battle before the rebels stormed King’s Landing). As we know, Gendry is the bastard son of Robert, and rather than choosing to fight with a sword, he too will go into battle with a war hammer. Before Tyrion, Davos and Gendry depart, we see Gendry make quick use of his war hammer as he bashes in the skulls of two King’s Guard.
Robert Baratheon defeats Rhaegar Targaryen with his war hammer during the Battle of the Trident
Sitting beside a Weirwood tree, Bran has warged into a flock of ravens and has them flying north of The Wall, near Eastwatch by the Sea. It is worth pointing out that in the past, we’ve seen Bran warg into one entity, but not multiple at the same time. Bran’s abilities continue to develop, as he is now able to control an entire flock. To no surprise, Bran sees the army of the dead marching around The Wall, on the sea that has frozen over. This of course supports several things we have seen/heard this season. First, what you might not have noticed in the opening credits, is that the sea to the east of Westeros has completely frozen over. That’s right, the wintery cold that the White Walkers have brought has frozen the entire sea. What does this mean? It means that The Wall is no longer protecting the realm from the White Walkers, as they can now simply go right around it. The image below shows the sea in the opening credits from seasons 1-6, versus the frozen sea that you can see in the opening credits from this season.
Bran’s vision shows us that the army of the dead is in fact marching along this frozen sea. This vision also confirms what The Hound saw in the flames a few episodes back, when he said “I see where The Wall meets the sea. There’s a castle. The dead are marching past it. Thousands of them.” As we see later in the episode, this vision The Hound saw in the flames led them to go to Eastwatch by the Sea, but we’ll touch more upon that later.
After flying over the enormous army of the dead, Bran sees the Night King himself. As the Night King turns his head to see the flock of birds, Bran is shaken from his vision. This is not the first time we’ve seen the Night King do this. It appears as though the Night King is well aware of Bran’s presence and is able to affect Bran once he acknowledges him. As Bran comes out of his vision, he alerts the Maestar that they must send ravens to alert the Seven Kingdoms of what he’s just seen. Moments later, we see Sam at the Citadel as the archmaestar and his top advisers read over the raven they have received from Winterfell. Most believe the message to be fictitious but Sam steps in to convince them that the threat is real. Interesting to note is that these men are supposed to be the most knowledgable and wise of any men in the world, yet they themselves do not believe in the existence of White Walkers. If the most scholarly of men are not open to considering this possibility, we can imagine how the rest of the Seven Kingdoms will react. And though the archmaestar does not dismiss Sam, he also does not act with the urgency that is required.
Sam’s frustration reaching a boiling point, he decides to take matters into his own hands. He steals some important books and scrolls before departing The Citadel with Gilly and the baby. On his way out, he looks back once more to glance at that giant astrolabe object hanging in the middle of The Citadel. I still believe there is going to be a huge reveal about the importance of this object, and that Sam Tarly is ultimately going to be the one narrating the story we are seeing today.
Before Sam leaves, there is a MAJOR REVEAL, which once again, was skipped over incredibly quickly. As Gilly is reading through a book, she asks Sam what an annulment is. Sam explains that it is a process to void a marriage, and Gilly goes on to read from High Septon Maynard’s record book. The book reveals that the High Septon performed a secret annulment in Dorne for Prince Rhaegar, followed by a marriage ceremony to somebody else. What Gilly, the unlikeliest of characters, coincidentally stumbled upon in this book, is a piece of information which has HUGE IMPLICATIONS. Ironically, the implications are for Jon, Sam’s best friend, and Sam was not even focused enough to catch onto the meaning of what Gilly had read.
As we know, Prince Rhaegar was The Mad King’s eldest son (and older brother of Daenerys). Prince Rhaegar was married to Elia Martell (sister of The Red Viper, Prince Oberyn) of Dorne. During Robert’s Rebellion, Rhaegar was killed in battle by Robert, and Elia plus their two babies were eventually murdered by The Mountain (at the orders of Tywin Lannister). Had he not died, Rhaegar would have been next in line to become king of the Seven Kingdoms. But Rhaegar’s character is most significant to this story for an entirely different reason. As we’ve learned through bits and pieces of dialogue, Rhaegar rode off with Lyanna Stark (Ned’s sister) many years ago. Some say it was mutual and that the two were in love, while others claimed Rhaegar kidnapped Lyanna (the latter viewpoint was held by Robert and Ned, which would ultimately be the catalyst for Robert’s Rebellion against the Targaryens). Through Bran’s vision last season, we saw the Tower of Joy, where a young Ned finds his sister dying. She gives the baby (Jon Snow) to Ned and whispers something in his ear — presumably the truth, that Jon’s father is Rhaegar and that Ned must protect Jon. As we know, Ned went on to claim that Jon was his bastard son and concealed that Jon’s father was a Targaryen. So, while we learned that Jon’s parents were Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen, there were still a lot of questions around what happened between Lyanna and Rhaegar. More specifically, the most important question of whether or not Rhaegar raped Lyanna, making Jon a bastard (albeit Rhaegar’s bastard instead of Ned’s), or if Jon was a legitimately conceived Targaryen.
Well, all of that was just answered, as Gilly unknowingly informs us that Rhaegar had a secret annulment performed, voiding his marriage to Elia Martell, followed by a marriage ceremony, which we can assume with near certainty was to Lyanna Stark. This means that Lyanna Stark was no longer Lyanna Stark, but rather Lyanna Targaryen. And more importantly, that Jon is a fully legitimate Targaryen, born to two Targaryen parents who were lawfully married. What’s even more, after Rhaegar, this makes Jon the next in line for the Iron Throne! The normal succession would have been The Mad King –> Rhaegar Targaryen (The Mad King’s Son) –> Jon (Rhaegar’s son). Today, this means that it is actually Jon that has the claim to the Iron Throne, not Daenerys! This is a huge revelation with new knowledge about what happened in the past and implications about how this could affect things moving forward. Based on what we’ve learned, it now seems like the theory that Rhaegar and Lyanna were in love and ran off together, and eventually got married, is a lot more likely than the theory which hypothesizes that Rhaegar kidnapped Lyanna. It is insane to consider that Robert and Ned’s principal reason for starting an entire rebellion was under false pretenses, given that it looks like Lyanna was not in fact kidnapped. That’s right — an entire rebellion which would bring most of the realm into war and cause years of struggle for control of the Iron Throne, was all based on an idea that we are now finding out might be totally erroneous. You would be fair to assume that a revelation of this magnitude would be spelt out explicitly for viewers, but you would also be wrong. Rather, all of this was wrapped up in a 15-second dialogue where Gilly, who we’ve barely seen in ages, stumbles upon this fact that has such enormous meaning.
At Winterfell, tension is continuing to build between Arya and Sansa and there was another major reveal around the letter that Arya found. Arya watches on as some of the Northern lords complain to Sansa about Jon’s decisions, namely that he should be in the North and not at Dragonstone. Arya confronts Sansa for not sticking up for Jon and criticizes her older sister for caring too much what other people think. Later in the episode, Arya uses her stealth to spy on Baelish, who she first sees give a coin to an unknown woman, before then seeing him speaking with some of the Northern lords. Finally, she sees him speaking to the Maestar Kressen, who provides Baelish with a message and confirms that it is the only copy of that message. Arya, like us, really wants to know what that message is about, so she breaks into his room and finds the message. But before we go into the contents of that message, let’s remember that after Arya sneaks out of the room, we see Baelish watching on. While we initially thought Arya was outsmarting Baelish, we soon realize that Baelish in fact had the upper hand and that he led Arya to the message he wanted her to find.
Back in episode three of this season, there was a very brief piece of dialogue, which at the time did not seem important. Maestar Kressen mentioned to Baelish that Maestar Luwin kept a copy of every raven scroll. As a reminder, Maestar Luwin was the original Maestar of Winterfell, serving House Stark for many years, until he was killed by Theon when after he sacked Winterfell. In the third episode of this season, the new Maestar — Meastar Kressen — is telling Baelish that the old Maester Luwin kept a record of every raven scroll that was ever sent to Winterfell (see below).
So what does Baelish do with this knowledge? He uses it to his advantage. If only there was some raven scroll that he knew was sent to Winterfell that he could use as part of his game. Well, there is, and it is another example of Thrones incredible ability to tie back an event from many seasons ago into the current day story. All the way back in season one, after Ned was beheaded, Cersei had to decide what to do with Sansa. A young and frightened girl, Sansa of course swore to Cersei that she would be a good wife to Joffrey. Cersei orders Sansa to write a message to Robb, who was King in the North at the time, telling him that he should pledge House Stark’s fealty to King Joffrey. Because she was writing this letter under duress, she of course could not tell Robb the truth about why the Lannisters beheaded Ned or that she was being help captive against her will. Instead, she had to go along with Cersei’s story that Ned was a traitor and also had to pretend that she loved Joffrey. The full message she sent is below, as is a video of the scene from the first season. What is critical to note, is that Baelish was present during this scene and was/is fully aware of this message Sansa was forced to send to Winterfell.
“Robb, I write to you with a heavy heart. Our good king Robert is dead, killed from wounds he took in a boar hunt. Father has been charged with treason. He conspired with Robert’s brothers against my beloved Joffrey and tried to steal his throne. The Lannisters are treating me very well and provide me with every comfort. I beg you: come to King’s Landing, swear fealty to King Joffrey and prevent any strife between the great houses of Lannister and Stark.” — Sansa
Given that Baelish knew Sansa sent this raven to Winterfell, and that Maestar Kressen just informed Baelish a few episodes back that every raven ever sent to Winterfell was kept, Baelish can piece one and one together and deduce that Sansa’s message is lying around somewhere to be found at Winterfell. Then, the question for Baelish simply becomes how he can use this as a tool in his game. And right now, the objective of his game is to take advantage of the tensions he sees mounting between Arya and Sansa. You will recall last week’s episode, when Baelish and Sansa look down at Arya fighting with Brienne. After Arya defeats Brienne, Sansa walks off frustrated and Baelish smirks down at Arya, realizing his opportunity to capitalize off the tensions brewing between the sisters.
So, Baelish has Maestar Kressen bring him the scroll that Sansa sent to Robb many years ago. Though he is fully aware that Sansa sent this message under duress and that these are not her own words, Arya does not have the benefit of this context. As such, getting this scroll in the hands of Arya would further her belief that Sansa is willing to lean away from her own family to gain acceptance and status. It would make her think that Sansa was so desperate to become a noble princess/queen, that she was willing to betray their father and encourage Robb to bend the knee to the Lannisters (remember, Cersei is #1 on Arya’s kill-list, so nothing would make her more angry than believing Sansa would support the Lannisters). So, Baelish pretends that he is not aware that Arya is spying on him and sets the mousetrap for her. Sure enough, she goes for the cheese and reads the message from Sansa. She sees Sansa referring to Joffrey as her “beloved” and also calling their dead father a traitor who tried to steal the throne.
It is also important to remember that Arya’s last memories with Sansa go all the way back to season one. At the time, Sansa was trying to win over Prince Joffrey and this is what Arya probably remembers. Even then, Sansa chose to defend Joffrey over her own sister. The video below shows this, and also is a reminder of Nymeria, Arya’s direwolf, jumping in to save Arya from Joffrey. Interestingly, as a result, Cersei ordered Nymeria to be executed, and to save her wolf, Arya set Nymeria free. In Nymeria’s place, Sansa’s wolf, Lady, was executed. Looking back on this, there was a ton of early foreshadowing even in the first season of the riffs that would build between the sisters.
Now, all these years later, Arya reads a letter that essentially has Sansa throwing their father under the bus and declaring her love for Joffrey and the Lannisters. Coupled with memories from the video above, as well as just seeing Sansa’s failure to defend their brother Jon to the Northern lords, Baelish has successfully planted the perfect seed to put a major wedge between Sansa and Arya. What’s more is that Baelish is fully aware of Arya’s discovery and continues to maintain the upper-hand.
THE DREAM TEAM
Ser Davos arrives with Gendry at Dragonstone and introduces him to Jon Snow. Gendry comes right out and tells Jon that he is the bastard son of Robert Baratheon. Again, we have an incredibly important meeting between two characters. For years, Houses Baratheon and Stark fought alongside one another. Most recently, their “fathers” Ned and Robert fought together during Robert’s Rebellion. Gendry is the last living Baratheon (which is quite significant in and of itself) and he is prepared to fight alongside his “Stark” counterpart. As a sidenote, we see the backdrop of their meeting being the cave where men have begun to mine the Dragonglass that will soon be needed.
Jon, Gendry, Davos and Jorah depart for Eastwatch where they catch up with Tormund. They explain to him their plan to capture a wight to bring it back to Cersei as proof of the army of the dead’s existence. He informs them that they aren’t the only ones who want to go north of The Wall, and brings them down to a cell where Thoros, The Hound and Beric Dondarrion are locked up. And the reunions continue one after the next.
Jon immediately recognizes The Hound, who he saw back in season one when he came to Winterfell as Joffrey’s protection. Beric jumps in to tell Jon that they must go beyond The Wall and that the Lord of Light has commanded it. And yet another reunion as Gendry jumps in, recognizing Thoros and Beric, who sold him to Lady Melisandre, which almost got him killed. Gendry tells Jon not to trust any of them. But before Jon can respond, another set of characters identify each other. Jorah recognizes Thoros of Myr, and though we never saw them on screen together, in the third season, Jorah recounts to Ser Barristan Selmy the story of when Robert’s army laid siege to the Iron Islands during Robert’s Rebellion. Ser Jorah and Thoros fought together during that battle, which is how they know each other. It looks as though they will soon fight together once again. But not just yet. Once Tormund hears that Jorah is a Mormont, he jumps in, realizing that Lord Commander Mormont was his father — a man who killed many of Tormund’s people. In no more than 60 seconds, we see half a dozen characters who have been intertwined over the years, come together and recount a significant amount of history.
Finally, Beric jumps back in and says “Here we all are, at the edge of the world, at the same moment, heading in the same direction for the same reasons. There’s a greater purpose at work and we serve it together, whether we know it or not.” Jon Snow responds, “He’s right. We’re all on the same side. We’re all breathing.” And just like that, one of the greatest crews of all time is assembled. Thoros of Myr who is able to bring people back from the dead; Beric Dondarrion who fights with a flaming sword; The Hound who is just the greatest of all time; Jon Snow who needs no introduction; Tormund who is the bad-ass Wildling leader; Gendry, the last Baratheon, back on the scene with his war hammer; Ser Jorah who is one of the greatest sword-fighters in the land; and of course Ser Davos, who’s not much of a fighter, but a great addition to this already fantastic crew.
If there was ever an unlikely band of characters, this is it. To stop and think about each of these seven characters’ journeys and what it took for them to all come together in this very moment is rather mind-blowing. Yet here they are, united in their realization of the threat that is out there. They are the first line of defense, protecting an entire realm that doesn’t even know it needs protecting. Next week, they will head beyond The Wall to try and capture a wight, but as we saw from Bran’s vision, they are outnumbered by thousands. Buckle up, because there are only eight episodes left until this story comes to a close and next week’s episode is sure to be a wild one.