SEASON 6, EPISODE 7: THE BROKEN MAN

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

THE BROKEN MAN

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

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

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

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

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

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

KING’S LANDING

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

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

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

RIVERRUN

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

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

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

A NORTH DIVIDED

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

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

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

THEON, YARA (AND KHALEESI?)

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

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

ARYA IS IN TROUBLE

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

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

THE HOUND IS BACK

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

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

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

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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.

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

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

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

BRAN’S VISIONS & UNCLE BENJEN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SAM & GILLY

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

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

KING’S LANDING

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

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

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

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

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

WHO IS A GIRL?

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

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

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

KHALEESI THE CONQUEROR

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

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