SEASON 6, EPISODE 10: THE WINDS OF WINTER

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

THE WINDS OF WINTER

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

loras

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

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

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

DARKNESS IN KING’S LANDING

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

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

sept explosion

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

wildfire

From Bran’s vision

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

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

KING IN THE NORTH

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

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

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

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

king north

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

NEW FRIENDS

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

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

ONE MORE NAME OFF THE LIST

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

arya frey

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

R+L=J

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

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

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

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

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

HOMEWARD BOUND

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

khaleesi ships

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

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SEASON 6, EPISODE 6: BLOOD OF MY BLOOD

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

Screenshot 2016-05-30 at 11.05.43 AM

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

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

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

BRAN’S VISIONS & UNCLE BENJEN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SAM & GILLY

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

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

KING’S LANDING

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

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

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

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

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

WHO IS A GIRL?

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

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

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

KHALEESI THE CONQUEROR

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

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