SEASON 7, EPISODE 4: THE SPOILS OF WAR

Disclaimer: There are no spoilers in this article. I have no knowledge of what is to transpire in this story. Any views or content expressed are solely personal theories, opinions and insights.

THE SPOILS OF WAR

Clocking in at a duration of 46 minutes, the shortest episode in Thrones history felt anything but. In just one short episode, Arya makes it back to Winterfell after an impossibly challenging journey; things heat up between Jon Snow and Dany in the caves below Dragonstone; and last, but certainly not least, we see Dany ride a dragon into battle for the very first time. Oh, and let’s not forget about the ancient inscriptions we saw in the caves below Dragonstone. These symbols are thousands of years old and point to some of the most significant hidden truths of this world — truths that may just determine how this entire story ends. But we’ll get to that. Any of these developments were meaningful enough to carry an entire episode, so getting all at once was quite a bit to process. So let’s begin.

TO THE VICTOR GOES THE SPOILS

In an episode entitled The Spoils of War, there were many “spoils” of recent battles revealed in this episode, both good and bad. The most obvious spoils were those won by Cercei in her siege of Highgarden, which we see as the episode opens up with Jamie sending all of Highgarden’s gold off to King’s Landing. Cercei is seen moments later talking with Tycho of the Iron Bank, reminding him that his gold is on the way and that a Lannister always pays their debts. But Cercei mentioned something else — something many may have missed — something which revealed a part of her future plan. Cercei tells Tycho that she has reached out to the Golden Company to help her secure some of the things that belong to her.

As a quick refresher, the Golden Company is an Essos-based army of sellswords who do not fight for any house or ruler, but rather for whoever contracts and pays them. We’ve heard of the Golden Company in the past as Daario Naharis once fought for the Golden Company, prior to pledging his allegiance to Khaleesi. (Speaking of Daario Naharis, what’s he been up to and when will we see him again? I digress…) Anyway, it was a very quick nugget of dialogue, but not one that was coincidental, so it’s worth considering what Cercei is hiring the Golden Company for and what it is that she hopes they can return to her. But back to Jaime and Bronn at Highgarden, as they send their newfound gold back to King’s Landing, they instruct Randyll and Dickon Tarly to collect all the farmland produce of Highgarden, an additional spoil of war (remember, Highgarden has the most fertile lands in all of the Seven Kingdoms). Little do they know that those carts of food are never making it back to King’s Landing…

A MYSTERIOUS DAGGER

Things have been quite busy at Winterfell as of late and that trend surely continued this week. We arrive at Winterfell as we see Bran sitting in his new wheelchair, looking just as distant and aloof as he did last week. Knelt before him is Baelish, who presents him with the Valyrian steel dagger that was used in the attempt to kill Bran back in season one. Bran asks Baelish if he knows who the dagger belonged to and Baelish tells Bran that he does not. For starters, this is inconsistent with what he told Catelyn Stark back in season one, so Baelish was either lying to Catelyn or is now lying to Bran. Let’s do a quick recap of what we know about this dagger — because my bet is that there is more to come on this.

Back in season one, Bran was climbing the walls of Winterfell and saw Jaime and Cercei sleeping together, at which point Jaime pushed Bran from the wall to protect the secret of their incest. But when Bran survived the fall and lay comatose in bed, somebody came to finish the job — a man with the Valyrian dagger we saw this week. Catelyn tried to save Bran, but it was Bran’s direwolf, Summer, who killed the assassin and saved Bran’s life. Catelyn then left for King’s Landing (with the Valyrian dagger) to inform Ned (who was already at King’s Landing at the request of King Robert) of the attempt to kill Bran. In a scene at Baelish’s brothel, Catelyn presents the dagger, at which point Baelish tells her that the dagger had belonged to him but that he had lost it to Tyrion in a bet. Believing this to be true, Catelyn had Tyrion arrested when she encountered him on her trip back to Winterfell (this led to Tyrion being held prisoner at the Vale, before demanding a trial-by-combat, at which point Bronn fought for Tyrion and won, gaining him his freedom). After Ned was arrested in King’s Landing, Baelish retook possession of the dagger and has presumably had it ever since. Now, years later, he chooses to present it to Bran, but tells Bran that he does not know who it belonged to, which is quite different from what he told Catelyn years prior.

Going one step further, a few episodes back, we saw a dagger that looked quite similar in one of the books that Sam Tarly was reading. My guess is that they were not showing a different dagger that looked very similar to this one, but rather that they were the same dagger, which further amplifies the significance of the dagger we saw today. There are some definite question marks around this Valyrian steel dagger, but it seems to be a safe assumption that it is of moderate to major significance.

After Baelish presents Bran with the dagger, he tries to appear empathetic to the “chaos” Bran has returned home to. However, Bran cuts him off and reminds him that “chaos is a ladder.” Bran is referring to the “chaos is a ladder” speech that Baelish gave to Varys in the third season. Baelish’s face turns stern and he appears threatened by the fact that Bran is aware of these words he once spoke. After all, if Bran knows this, what else might he know about Baelish? But looking one layer deeper — what does this “chaos is a ladder” reference tell us? After all, if the sole intention of this scene was to expose Baelish and show us that because Bran is now the Three-Eyed Raven, he is aware of something Baelish once said, well then writers could have chosen any of Baelish’s wise words for Bran to repeat. But they chose these words for a reason. Baelish’s full quote follows, with the video below: “Chaos isn’t a pit. Chaos is a ladder. Many who try to climb it fail, and never get to try again. The fall breaks them. And some, given a chance to climb, they refuse. They cling to the realm, or the gods, or love. Illusions. Only the ladder is real. The climb is all there is.

Now, let’s piece that quote together with present-day context. Baelish has been lurking around Winterfell, often hidden in the shadows, leaving all of us to wonder what he’s up to and what his true intentions are. Well perhaps these words — the words he spoke many years back — words the all-knowing Bran chooses to repeat — sum up Baelish’s true intentions. For him, the climb is all there is. It is not so much about the endpoint, as much as it is the climb to get there. In short, it is all about the game and how you play it — to him, that is the very purpose of life. If the words he speaks are true, then he is not interested in love or the gods or the good of the realm — his only interest is the climb itself and Bran appears to be aware of this.

And yet, there is another interesting layer to this scene, one that can only be understood when considering Baelish’s history. About 20 years ago, it was Brandon Stark (Ned’s oldest brother and heir to Winterfell) who was set to marry Cat. Baelish, a young boy in love with Cat, challenged Brandon to a duel to win the hand of Cat. Brandon agreed to the duel, promising Cat that he would not kill Baelish. Brandon was a powerful warrior and Baelish was far from a fighter, so as one would assume, Baelish was badly beaten and severely injured. Brandon would later ride to King’s Landing to free his sister Lyanna, and would be killed by the Mad King, which resulted in Ned marrying Cat instead of Brandon. In any event, this experience would forever impact Baelish, as he was severely humiliated, physically beaten and also lost the woman of his dreams. Though he would not admit it, he developed a strong jealousy and hatred for the Starks as a result, and many believe this is why he would betray Ned and have him arrested in King’s Landing many years later.

Now, in this scene, Baelish tells Bran “Anything I can do for you Brandon, you need only ask.” When assessing the authenticity of Baelish’s statement, it’s significant to note that he refers to him as Brandon instead of Bran. Very few have referred to Bran as Brandon. Couple that with the fact that it was Brandon Stark (Bran’s uncle) who badly defeated Baelish, and there is some definite undertone to Baelish’s choice to refer to Bran and Brandon. And going back to Baelish’s earlier quote: “Many who try to climb it fail, and never get to try again. The fall breaks them.” Baelish’s fall was his defeat at the hands of Brandon Stark — a fall that would not break him as it has broken so many others. For Baelish, it was that very fall that serves as the driving factor for him to keep climbing the “ladder of chaos.”

HOMECOMING

Elsewhere in Winterfell, Arya finally makes her return home. After years separated, the reunions of so many of the Stark children so close together seems a bit odd, but let’s look past that. Let’s reflect upon all that Arya has been through to lead up to this moment. Witnessed your father’s beheading? Check. Present for the Red Wedding when your mother and brother are ruthlessly murdered? Check. Spent years getting beaten, blinded and tortured in Braavos? Check. Arya has been through enough pain and torture to last 10 lifetimes, yet she has overcome it all and prevailed as an incredibly powerful character who has willed herself back to Winterfell against all odds.

But, similar to the reunion last week between Sansa and Bran, the reunion this week between Arya and Sansa was less than emotional. After all the time these family members have spent apart, we all assumed their reunions would be wonderful and emotional and joyous. But, the reality is that these characters have experienced an incredible amount of hardship and have been reunited as very different people. That said, what is interesting about the reunion between Sansa and Arya is that the juxtaposition of their characters is still quite similar to what it was all the way back in season one. At that time, Sansa only wanted to be a lady and Arya was the rebel who wanted to fight with the boys. Fast forward years later and they are reunited with Sansa being the lady of Winterfell and Arya being a ruthless assassin. Ironically, in many ways, they’ve both become the people they always wanted to be — albeit neither forecasted the pain they’d experience to become those people.

While it is nice to see these characters reunite, there are giant question marks around what comes next for these siblings and whether or not they are even truly on the same team. As they stood in the crypts of Winterfell, Arya tells Sansa about her list — the list of people she wants to kill. Sansa laughs this off, assuming her sister must be joking. Yet, moments later, she sees the skilled fighter Arya has become as she is able to best Brienne, one of the most skilled fighters in the land. Interestingly, when Brienne asks Arya who taught her, she cleverly responds, “Nobody.” As Sansa witnesses this, she realizes the truth of what her little sister had revealed about her list and the person Arya has become. She seems displeased to say the least, and she walks away, Baelish looks on with a grin, perhaps identifying a new opportunity that he can leverage.

Out in the Godswood, Bran, Sansa and Arya are all reunited together, in a place that is most sacred to House Stark (and now, especially to Bran). Sansa casually reveals to Arya that Bran is able to see everything that any person has ever experienced. Moments later, Bran gives that mysterious dagger to Arya, furthering the significance of this weapon. Given Bran’s wisdom, it is unlikely that he gave it to Arya simply because he did not have use for it. Rather, it is more likely that Bran is aware of the significance of this dagger and the role it may play in the hands of Arya. Looking on, Sansa seemed somewhat displeased, furthering the tension that exists between the two.

IT’S ALL ABOUT THE SPIRAL

At Dragonstone, Jon Snow has discovered the cache of Dragonglass and takes Dany into the cave to see it. The scene (intentionally) felt intimate and steamy, with Jon and Dany alone in a dark cave — a familiar setting to Jon Snow (it was in a dark cave that he first got it on with Ygritte many seasons ago). It felt as though there was potential for Jon and Dany to get it on right then and there, and though this never would have happened that quickly, the stage is certainly set for the possibility of it happening in the future. Yes, they are blood and she is his aunt, but they don’t know that yet. And even if they did, remember that the Targaryens practiced incest for thousands of years to keep their bloodline pure. And while the alone time Jon and Dany had was a nice buildup to what might come, there was a much bigger takeaway from this scene.

First, Jon discovered the Dragonglass — enough of it to presumably make weapons for an entire army to fight off the White Walkers. But even that was not the biggest takeaway here. Imagine that — supplies were just discovered which will enable the humans to possibly fight off an army of the dead that threatens the very existence of humanity — and that wasn’t even the most important discovery! So what was the biggest takeaway here? The answer is the inscriptions on the walls, more specifically, the spirals. Though we do not fully understand what the spirals represent, we do know they are extremely significant and possibly represent the ultimate clue to how this entire story will play out.

So here’s what we know. The inscriptions on the walls were made by the Children of the Forest thousands of years ago. As we know from this story, the Children were the very first inhabitants of Westeros, having lived off the land for thousands of years before the First Men ever arrived. You can read more about the Children of the Forest and the First Men here — and if you aren’t fully clued in on this history, I would highly recommend you refresh yourself. Though the Children lived without humans for thousands of years, the inscriptions on the wall show the Children and the First Men together. As Jon explains to Dany, they banded together to fight off the White Walkers, which we also saw on the wall. But that wasn’t all we saw on the wall. Perhaps most significant were the spirals — a symbol we have seen throughout the show since the very first season — and one that is going to be extremely important. So let’s recap where we’ve seen this symbol to date.

In the very first episode, a ranger of the Night’s Watch stumbled upon some dead bodies north of the Wall. When he returned, he saw the corpses mutilated and rearranged in the below orientation.

A few seasons later, again north of the Wall, we see a bunch of dead horses arranged in an even more definitive spiral (below), again the work of the White Walkers.

But things get a lot more interesting, because we later learn in season six, that it is not just the White Walkers that deal in these spirals, but also the Children of the Forest. In one of Bran’s vision, and in an incredibly important reveal, we learn that it is actually the Children of the Forest that create the very first White Walker (who is probably the Night King we see today) by inserting Dragonglass into his heart (see below for a refresher).

What we also see in this vision is a bird’s-eye-view of the tree where the Children created the first White Walker. At this very important location, we see a similar spiral (below).

And last, but certainly not least, the teaser trailer for this season culminated with another similar spiral, before it is engulfed by the blue eye of the Night King (below). The importance of this spiral and what it has to do with the White Walkers could not be made any more clear.

So what does all of this tell us? Well, we may not know exactly what the spiral represents, but we know it is important. Perhaps the spiral represents some sort of balance between dark and light, good and evil, fire and ice. Whatever it represents, what we do know is that it was something significant to the Children of the Forest, who were a magical species. What’s more, we know that the White Walkers learned this truth from the Children and are referencing it today. Bringing it full circle to tonight’s episode, we see that these very same spirals were carved into the cave thousands of years ago. And not just in any cave — into the cave which shares the story of the Children banning together with the First Men to fight off the White Walkers — and the cave that also contains the Dragonglass needed to fight off the White Walkers today. In short, these spirals are extremely significant and could contain the secret to what is really going on here — a fundamental truth shared between the Children and the White Walkers — and one we will likely find out before this story comes to an end.

FIRE AND BLOOD

It was only a matter of time until Khaleesi flew a dragon into battle, and after being dealt several decisive blows in the last few weeks, she decided to take matters into her own hands. Khaleesi, on the back of Drogon, flew into battle with her Dothraki army and decimated the unsuspecting Lannister army. For the first time, we saw the full impact that a dragon can have in battle, burning men by the hundreds with each breath of fire. And we saw the destruction that Targaryens have inflicted for hundreds of years, scorching alive those who defy them, watching their flesh melt and burn. This battle was a direct allusion to the Field of Fire — perhaps the most famous battle of Aegon’s Conquest.

As Khaleesi approached, Bronn encouraged Jaime to flee but Jaime refused to abandon his men. Incredibly, Jaime and Bronn both managed to remain unscathed (at least for most of the battle). One of the more powerful moments of this battle was Tyrion ascending over the hill to look on at the Lannister army being destroyed, men being burnt alive. Though he is obviously not a typical Lannister, the reality is that these are still the people that he called his own his entire life. It is one thing to strategize about how to defeat your family when they are halfway across the world; it is another to come face to face with the realities of your decision, especially when those realities result in the death and destruction of your people. As much hate as Tyrion had for Tywin and still has for Cersei, a part of him had to be questioning his decision as he watched the Lannisters forces being burned alive.

And then he sees Jaime, who he can only hope is smart enough to flee. The timing could not be more poignant, as just last week, Jaime learns that he made the right decision in saving his brother Tyrion, who was in fact not responsible for the death of Joffrey for which he was accused. Yet one week later, Jaime’s life is at risk, in large due the brother he saved. Jaime sees a vulnerable Khaleesi within striking distance, and decides to go after her, no doubt willing to risk his life to eliminate the principal threat to his sister’s reign. Just feet away from taking out Khaleesi, who has been grounded after Drogon was harpooned, Drogon turns to Jaime and breathes fire in his direction. Jaime is all but dead, until he is tackled off his horse and into a body of water, just in the nick of time. It appears to be Bronn that saves Jaime, but this is not definite. It also appears that Jaime avoided the fire, though the nature in which he continues to sink deeper, seemingly lifeless, brings question to this. Assuming that he is alive, will the tables now be turned, with Tyrion having the opportunity to save his brother, the way Jaime once saved him?

Above all, one thing is abundantly clear. The world will soon know of the fire and blood that Khaleesi’s dragons can bring. How will the people of Westeros react when they hear this? Will they support the return of a rightful ruler or fear the madness of a Targaryen?

ODDS & ENDS

  • Meera informs Bran that she must return home to her family. She knows the White Walkers are coming and she must be there to protect her family. (Though the show does not really touch upon it, House Reed is a major house in the North and it will be interesting to see if we get to see Meera’s family). Much like when he was reunited with Sansa last week, Bran once again shows no emotion as he says goodbye to Meera. Meera reminds Bran of all the people that died to save him, and though he understands her point, he reminds her that he is no longer Bran, but rather the Three-Eyed Raven.

 

  • Though Drogon was wounded, he will likely be okay. A non-lethal wound might turn out to be a small price to pay for Team Khaleesi to have learned about the secret weapon Cersei has been working on.

 

  • When Brienne asks Arya who trained her, she responds “Nobody.” She could have been referring to Jaqen H’ghar, the Faceless Man who trained her quite some time. But the man who truly taught her what we witnessed in this scene, was Syrio Forel, the man who taught her the Water Dance (a Bravoosi way of fighting) all the way back in season one. While Jaqen was a Faceless Man and it would make sense to refer to him as “nobody,” the same cannot be said of Syrio, unless Syrio was in fact Jaqen H’ghar all along. It is entirely possible that Jaqen was training Arya since the very beginning, pretending to be Syrio Forel in the first season.

 

  • Dany again asks Jon Snow to bend the knee and the next thing we see is the two walking out from the cave. It is possible that he bent the knee without us seeing.

 

  • Jon Snow comes face to face with Theon and does a pretty good job at composing himself.
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Season 7 Primer

Disclaimer: There are no spoilers in this article. I have no knowledge of what is to transpire in this story. Any views or content expressed are solely personal theories, opinions and insights.

SEASON SEVEN PRIMER

With just about one week until GoT Season 7 kicks off, the wait is officially over.  Though this year-long delay between seasons has felt like an eternity, it’s safe to assume that this wait will be well worth it. The seventh (and penultimate) season is sure to be nothing short of epic, spectacular, heart-pounding action from start to finish. Producers took an extra three months on this season, namely to wait for the right climate in the areas around the world they are shooting. After all, winter is here, and producers wanted to make sure the geographies they were shooting in were colder than ever before.

Before we jump into recapping where last season left off and where season seven will pick up, it’s important to step back for a moment and consider where we stand in this seven-year journey. It’s hard to believe how quick time flies and that it was seven full years ago that good old Ned was preaching that winter was coming, Daenerys was just a young girl with no dragons or army, the Starks were living peacefully in Winterfell, and the only battle that seemed to matter was the one for the Iron Throne. How things have changed. Fast forward seven years and Ned is dead, winter is here, Daenerys is now a Khaleesi with three full-grown dragons, and some of the much larger impending battles that are soon to unfold make the battle for the Iron Throne seem petty and insignificant.

So here we are…the the beginning of the end. With 60 episodes behind us, and only 13 episodes to go, it’s important to realize that we are truly embarking upon the final chapter of the Thrones saga. Everything we have witnessed over the last seven years has led up to this very moment. It’s the final act, and boy are we in for a treat. This season will consist of just seven episodes, and though that seems like we are being shorted from an already-brief 10-episode season, you can be sure that each of these seven episodes will be nothing short of spectacular. There will be no filler episodes and no time to waste. Each second of each episode will be carefully calculated and masterfully executed. Producers have even gone as far as to confirm that there will be two episodes that exceed the ordinary 60-minute airtime, one of which will be as long as 90 minutes! In short, you can think of each of these episodes as a full-fledged movie, and with a budget of approximately $15 million per episode, these 7 episodes actually far exceed the cost of producing an average Hollywood film (this season’s 7 episodes cost about $100 million, compared to average Hollywood budget of $60 million per film). Pretty incredible to consider.

So, my advice to all viewers in the coming days before the seventh season kicks off and we head towards the beginning of the end, is to spend some time appreciating thinking about all that has transpired to bring us to where we are today. Prepare mentally for the epic saga which is coming to a close. Think about all the magic we have witnessed over the last seven years. The powerful stories that have been told; the incredible character journeys and transformations that have unfolded before our eyes; the joy, the pain, the shocks and laughter we have experienced. For then, and only then, will you truly be able to savor season seven and the precious few moments we have left before Thrones comes to an end.

And now, let’s kick off the recap…

KING’S LANDING

The last few episodes of season six were action-packed, and things progressed very quickly around the world, but perhaps nowhere more so than King’s Landing. The final episode of last season was to include Cercei’s trial, where she would be tried for the sins she had confessed to the High Sparrow. Heading into the trial, the Tyrell’s appeared to be on top, with a weakened Cercei more vulnerable than ever. Many thought that she would be found guilty and perhaps even executed…boy was Cercei underestimated.

Cercei cleverly used her trial as an opportunity to secure all of her enemies in one place. She used stockpiles of Wildfire (which Tyrion previously used to fend off Stannis’ attack on King’s Landing), and blew up the Great Sept of Baelor, killing Margaery, Loras and Mace Tyrell, along with the High Sparrow and Faith Militant. In one fell swoop, Cercei took out her most immediate threats, once again showing that there are no lengths she won’t go to in order to eliminate her enemies and remain on top. However, there is another death that Cercei is responsible for — that of her last remaining child, Tommen. Realizing all the people that have just died in the explosion, and no longer able to handle the pressures of being King, Tommen jumps out of the window to his death. Without question, Cercei is directly responsible for her son’s death, ironically fulfilling the prophecy that Cercei had been told as a young girl (which was revealed to us nearly 20 episodes prior, in the first episode of season five), which stated that she would eventually lose all of her children.

With her enemies eliminated and the king now dead, Cercei takes the Iron Throne for herself, underscoring what she has demonstrated from day one — that she is the most cunning and capable, even as a woman in world ruled by men. And even though we’ve seen some evil kings to date (i.e. Joffrey), the Throne Room has a whole new darkness to it as Cercei ascends the Iron Throne, dressed in all black. Though she has always had an evil side, the one thing that humanized Cercei was her extreme love for her children. Having now lost not one, not two, but all three children, Cercei takes the Iron Throne, colder and more evil than ever before. With nothing left to lose, now more than ever, there is nothing Cercei will not do to avenge the deaths of her children. We know that at the top of her hit list will be the Martells of Dorne, who were responsible for the death of her daughter, Myrcella.

It will be interesting to see how things play out in King’s Landing with just 13 episodes to go, and whether or not season seven will end with Cercei still on the Throne. Moreover, there are big question marks around how  Jaime will fit into this new picture. Once willing to do anything to protect one another, Cercei and Jaime have become more and more estranged over time. Jaime’s character evolution and seeming desire to do good is fundamentally at odds with Cercei’s plans, and he will soon need to decide the man he wants to be.

THE NORTH

The North… Home to the Starks, Winterfell, the Wall, and the first line of defense against the impending White Walkers. There is no part of the world more significant to this story, so let’s recap where things left off.

For quite some time, House Bolton has claimed the North and Ramsay was calling the shots. Things started to take a turn for Ramsay and House Bolton when Sansa escaped (aided by Theon), who eventually reunited with her brother, Jon Snow. After being resurrected by Lady Melisandre, Jon is faced with the enormous task of taking down House Bolton and reclaiming the North. He is supported by the few remaining loyal brothers of the Night’s Watch, Tormund and the Wildlings, Ser Davos and Sansa.

In the penultimate episode of last season, we witnessed the Battle of the Bastards, where Jon’s army defeats Ramsay and reclaims Winterfell. In truth, it was Sansa that won this war and not Jon. Having been exposed to Ramsay and his sick games, Sansa knew their enemy better than Jon, and tried to warn him not to fall into any of Ramsay’s traps. Sure enough, Ramsay baited Jon into a trap by putting his little brother, Rickon, in between their armies, where Jon had the chance to ride out and save him. Sure enough, Jon Snow took the bait and fell into the trap. After a bloody and brutal battle, Jon and what was left of his army, was surrounded by the Bolton’s with death just moments away. Then, Sansa, Baelish and the Knights of the Vale appear, taking down the unsuspecting Bolton army. Ramsay retreats behind the walls of Winterfell, where he is eventually beaten by Jon Snow, before Sansa feeds him to the hounds.

There are a few very significant takeaways here leading into season seven. First and foremost, the Starks have reclaimed Winterfell and a good chunk of the North. They have gotten many of the Northern houses to pledge their allegiance, an effort that was led by the young Lyanna Mormont. In the final episode, Jon was hailed as the King in the North, much the same as his older brother Robb was years before. However, unlike Robb who faced battling an army of men, Jon knows all too well that there is an impending war against the dead, and the North will be the first line of defense in protecting the rest of the realm against the darkness that is coming.

Another important takeaway is the relationship between Sansa and Jon and the role that Baelish will play in the near future. Sansa could have told Jon that she had written Baelish and secured the Knights of the Vale, but she chose not to. Through all the traumatic experiences she has endured (Joffrey, Ramsay, Baelish, etc), she has become wiser and learned to play the game. She trusts nobody, not even her own blood, and would not let herself be vulnerable as she has been so many times before. The Knights of the Vale were her last line of defense — her safety net — and she would not tell anybody about this, not even Jon. Although they reclaimed Winterfell, Sansa did not appear too pleased that Jon was being hailed the new King in the North, and she had subtle interactions with Baelish which alluded to the fact that she may have other plans in mind. Those plans could include joining Baelish on his quest for the Iron Throne. When Sansa finally asked Baelish the question we’ve all been wondering — what exactly it is that he wants — he finally came right out and told her that he wants “everything there is,” including to marry her and rule over the Iron Throne together. Keep an eye on Baelish’s role as he has been a master manipulator behind the scenes and still likely has a few tricks up his sleeve.

BRAN KNOWS R+L=J

On the topic of Jon Snow and the Starks, the season six finale had arguably the biggest reveal in Thrones history, though many had seen this coming for quite some time. That reveal is a simple equation: R + L = J, short for Rhaegar (Targaryen) + Lyanna (Stark) = Jon Snow, the theory that Rhaegar and Lyanna were Jon’s biological parents. In the final episode, we witnessed one of the most famous scenes from the books — The Tower of Joy — and learned what Ned Stark found out 20+ years ago. What is most interesting is that it is Bran that found out the true identity of his brother, and not Jon Snow himself.

After the three-eyed-raven that had been guiding Bran dies and Bran is told he now must become the raven, Bran’s vision takes him to 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 he must take her baby and protect him. If they figure out who he really is (a Targaryen), they will kill him, she says.

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 morality. 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 because of something that never actually happened. 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 likely 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.

ARYA

Sticking with the Starks, Arya went through quite a journey in season six, and seems to have emerged as the person she will be for the final stretch of the story. For what seemed like an eternity, Arya trained to become nobody. She was instructed that in order to become nobody and learn to become a Faceless Man, she would have to strip herself of her identity as Arya Stark. She spent years in brutal training, only to realize in the end, that she was Arya Stark. If you think about the transformation, it feels like a waste of time, but then again maybe Jaqen H’ghar was pushing her to become nobody in the hopes that it would actually make her somebody — Arya Stark — and a stronger version of that somebody.

Having now reclaimed her identity and appearing stronger than ever (not to mention trained in the ways of the Faceless Men), Arya appears back on Westeros and crosses another name off her list. She slits the throat of Walder Frey, the man responsible for a good chunk of the Red Wedding that killed her brother Robb and mother Cat. What’s next for Arya is anybody’s guess. Now that she’s in the Riverlands of Westeros, she’s not terribly far from Sansa or Jon, and with Winterfell reclaimed, perhaps she’ll go reunite with her siblings. Or, even better yet, perhaps she’ll reunite with the Hound, who is also not far away. Which takes us to…

THE HOUND

After Arya leaves the Hound for dead in the finale of season four, I was heartbroken. Not just because the Hound was my favorite character, but because the bond that had developed between these two characters was unlike any other, and I couldn’t believe it was coming to an end. So I refused to believe the Hound was dead, and 17 episodes later, it was magical to learn that the Hound was still alive! He had fallen in with a small religious village and living a simple life, removed from the violence with which we have come to associate him.

That quickly changed though as a few rogue members of the Brotherhood Without Banners slay the village. The Hound eventually catches up with them as they are being held by the leaders of the Brotherhood Without Banners, Thoros of Myr and Beric Dondarrion, whom we had also not seen for several seasons. In the end, they grant the Hound his wish of killing these murderers, and the Hound agrees to join them in their mission. It is interesting to see the Hound join Thoros and Beric, as these were the very men he fought in a trial-by-combat many seasons prior. Worth noting, in that trial-by-combat, he killed Beric, though Beric was quickly brought back to life by the Red Priest, Thoros. We know that Thoros has been able to bring Beric back many times before, once again demonstrating that the Lord of Light does in fact have true power, and also highlighting the importance of the role that Beric, Thoros and likely the Hound will have to play in the coming episodes.

KHALEESI & CO.

So after five seasons of wandering through the desert and freeing a bunch of slaves, my least favorite story line, Khaleesi’s, finally advanced to where we all had hoped it would. But before we dive into that, let’s quickly recap the squad that she has assembled overt he years. Khaleesi has Grey Worm, in command of 8,000 Unsullied soldiers and Daario Naharis, in command of 2,000 Second Sons soldiers. On top of that, she has thousands of Dothraki soldiers that she won over after defeating the Khals and walking through fire. Her original advisers, Ser Barristan Selmy and Ser Jorah Mormont are both gone, with the former dead and the latter banished to find a cure for his greyscale disease. In their place, Khaleesi has received new counsel in the form of Tyrion and Varys. Tyrion has quickly become Khaleesi’s most trusted and wisest adviser, and in the finale episode, she names him Hand of the Queen. Khaleesi also has Missandei, who has has a slow-developing romance with Grey Worm, which has seemed like a waste of time, but could impact things as they unfold.

Adding to this crew that she had for most of season six, Khaleesi strikes a pact with Yara and Theon of House Greyjoy. Yara and Theon pledge their allegiance to Khaleesi and promise her their support and 100+ ships, if she will allow them lordship over the Iron Islands when she sits upon the Throne. Khaleesi agrees, but explains something very powerful: they will leave the world a better place than they found it. This means that the Ironborn will not be able to go back to their savage ways of raiding the mainland, stealing, raping and pillaging. Yara reminds Khaleesi that this is their way of life, but Khaleesi does not budge on her terms. She also reminds them that all three of their fathers (the Mad King, Lord Tywin and Balon Greyjoy) were ruthless men who brought much evil into the world. The parallels that were drawn between the previous rulers of their powerful houses and the next generation of rulers is very important to consider.

What’s more is that this scene is a direct allusion to Aegon Targaryen and his Conquest of the Seven Kingdoms, during which he made very similar pacts with the powerful houses of Westeros. Like Khaleesi did, he granted them lordship and autonomy over their regions of Westeros, so long as they pledged their allegiance to him — the new Targaryen king that would unite all of Westeros for the first time. Those who refused ultimately suffered catastrophic losses, while those who bent the knee (House Stark, House Tully, House Greyjoy, etc) were allowed to live in peace and oversee their lands and smaller-houses autonomously. 300 years later, Khaleesi is once again striking similar pacts as Aegon Targaryen did before her.

But back to the Greyjoys for a minute — it is important to remember that the reason Yara and Theon struck this alliance with Khaleesi is because they are on the run from Euron Greyjoy — their uncle who killed their father and is now on the quest for power. From what we’ve seen of him, and what the books have also described, he is a crazy man that will do anything to achieve what he wants. It will be interesting to see what alliances he forms, and one can only guess that he may join up with the Khaleesi’s number one enemy — Cercei and the Lannisters.

And if 3 dragons, tens of thousands of soldiers, and a new fleet of ships is not enough power for Khaleesi to storm Westeros, let’s not forget that it looks like she will also be backed by two more very powerful houses — House Martell and House Tyrell. In the finale of season six, we see Lady Olenna meeting with the Sand Snakes (who have recently killed Prince Doran and taken control of Dorne), telling them that all she has left in this world is the opportunity to avenge the deaths of her son, Mace Tyrell, and grandchildren, Margaery and Loras. She has come to the right place, as the Sand Snakes too have longed wanted revenge against the Lannisters for the role they played in murdering several Martells.

As a refresher, during Robert’s Rebellion, after the Mad King was overthrown, Tywin Lannister ordered The Mountain to kill any remaining Targaryens in King’s Landing. At the time, Prince Rhaegar (The Mad King’s son/Khaleesi’s oldest brother) had been wed to Elia Martell (The Red Viper/Prince Doran’s sister) and had two babies, which were half Martell and half Targaryen. Following Tywin’s orders, The Mountain raped and killed Elia Martell, before killing her two babies. House Martell has wanted revenge against House Lannister for many years, and most recently, The Red Viper had a chance to avenge these deaths when he battled The Mountain in Tyrion’s trial-by-combat. Unfortunately, he lost and was killed by the Mountain, only furthering the revenge that the Sand Snakes and House Martell seek against the Lannisters.

So, Lady Olenna, representing House Tyrell, the largest and arguably most powerful/wealthy house in Westeros today, is banding together with the Martells in their quest for revenge. Conveniently, Lord Varys joins the scene offering “fire and blood” if they join Khaleesi, who also wants revenge against the Lannisters. Assuming they join her cause, Khaleesi now not only has dragons, a fleet of ships and likely the largest army in the world, but also backing from two of the most powerful houses in Westeros (and partial backing from a third, House Greyjoy). It’s hard to imagine that anybody will be able to stop her.

SAM TARLY AND THE CITADEL

In the final episode of last season, Sam Tarly arrives at the city of Oldtown which is the second largest city in all of Westeros, and by far the oldest, dating back thousands of years. The most important feature of Oldtown is that it is the home of the Citadel, where the ancient Order of the Maestars train and study to become wise scholars. So, what is the significance of Sam finally arriving to the legendary Citadel? Well, for starters, we know that the Citadel houses tens of thousands of books which cover the history of the known world. We see the massive library that Sam walks into and it is magical to consider the rich detail of the history of the world that is contained inside those books.

In the war that is to come against darkness and death, humanity will certainly need to band together. But having a chance to win this war will require more than just soldiers — it will require wisdom and knowledge. This is likely where Sam will come into play. First, we already know that Sam killed a White Walker back in season three, using the Dragonglass that he found. Not only does this make Sam one of the very few humans alive to have killed a White Walker, but it provides him with the knowledge that Dragonglass can be used to kill the White Walkers. He will likely be able to use this knowledge, and other wisdom that he’ll need to discover from the Citadel, in order to support Jon Snow and the rest of humanity in their battle against the White Walkers. There was another very interesting reveal in the finale episode last season regarding Sam and the Citadel, and what we might have seen when he entered the library — you can read more about that here.

THE BIG PICTURE

As this recap comes to a close and we’ve recapped where things left off in season six, let’s quickly look forward to “the big picture” and the stage that has been set for season seven. The biggest takeaway is that many smaller sides are coming together to form larger alliances, and we are likely to witness some very big battles this season — bigger than anything we’ve seen to date. In the past, there were so many different games being played by so many different players. There were fights for land, houses, religion, and of course the Iron Throne. But now, as we approach the end, these smaller and less significant games will all start to come together, as will the players involved. And, as this recap has more or less outlined, we can already see the teams that are coming together.

The biggest battle that seems imminent is that between Cercei, who holds the Iron Throne, and Khaleesi, who is coming for it. With her, Khaleesi will likely be joined by houses Tyrell, Martell and part of Greyjoy. On her side, Cercei will have the power of the Lannister army, possibly the other half of House Greyjoy (if Euron joins with Cercei) and likely some other players that will join Cercei’s fight to keep the Targaryens away from the Iron Throne. In short, most of the great houses of Westeros have picked sides and a massive battle is in store.

In the North, Jon Snow is rebuilding his own northern fleet and gaining the backing of many northern houses. It will be interesting to see what role he and the North play in the battle that will take part in the south, and if they get involved at all, or solely focus on the larger war that he knows is coming — the war against death and darkness.

There are of course tons of other players to consider and it will be great to see how they pick sides, as it seems inevitable that eventually, as the many games narrow down to just one or two, everybody will have to choose a side.

OTHER THINGS TO KEEP AN EYE ON

As we know, Thrones and it’s story arc is quite detailed and intricate. Characters and plot-points are sometimes introduced in certain episode, and then not touched upon again until many episodes, or even seasons later.There have been countless instances of this, and it is this depth of plot development that is so unique to Thrones. So, as we come into the home stretch with just 13 episodes left to go, you can bet that we are going to have a bunch of “Aha! moments” where something from a long while ago, that we probably forgot about, comes back into focus. So here are some interesting tidbits to keep your eye on:

  • Gendry, who we’ve not seen in many seasons, could turn out to be a very significant character that will reemerge at some point in the near future. We have not seen Gendry since Lady Melisandre and Stannis held him prisoner in the third season so that Melisandre could use his King’s Blood (remember, he is the son of King Robert Baratheon). After Melisandre convinced Stannis that they must execute Gendry as a sacrifice to the Lord of Light, Davos undermines their efforts and sets Gendry free. Gendry took off in a small row boat, never to be seen again. But here’s what we know. First, Gendry has King’s Blood which is in important. Second, Ser Davos went through a lot of trouble and risked his life to save Gendry, so it probably wasn’t for us to never see Gendry again. Third, and arguably most important, with the recent death of Tommen (who was actually a Baratheon), Gendry is officially the last living Baratheon that we know of. When the show started, House Baratheon was one of the most powerful, with many important players (Robert, Stannis, Renly, etc). Historically, House Baratheon has been one of the most powerful houses for hundreds of years. Yet today, it has become all but extinct. Enter Gendry, the last living Baratheon who represents the possibility of reviving this once powerful house. And yet, there is one more very interesting tidbit about Gendry to consider. We were first introduced to Gendry as a bastard boy who was the apprentice to Tobho Mott. Before coming to King’s Landing and serving as a master blacksmith, Tobho Mott was originally from Qohor (in Essos), a city that is famed for producing blacksmiths that are masters in forging Valyrian steel. In an early episode, while in King’s Landing, it is mentioned that Tobho has the ability to reforge Valyrian steel. Though we never saw him do it, and it was only touched upon for a brief moment, it is entirely reasonable to consider that Tobho may have passed on this ancient skill to his apprentice, Gendry. If that is the case, Gendry would be one of the few men alive with the knowledge and ability to forge Valyrian steel, which makes him all the more significant as Valyrian steel weapons will be needed to defeat the White Walkers in the coming war.

  • Jorah Mormont is another character that is out there somewhere, though we haven’t seen him in some time and can’t be sure what he’s up to. We’ve not seen him since midway through the sixth season, at which point Khaleesi ordered him to find a cure for his greyscale, so that he can stand beside her as she retakes the Seven Kingdoms. There are some definite question marks here around whether or not he’ll be able to find a cure and whether he’ll ever reunite with Khaleesi. There is another intriguing scenario to consider — the distinct possibility that he somehow makes it back to Westeros and House Mormont, which is currently being led by the young Lyanna Mormont. Since Lyanna has pledged her support to Jon Snow/House Stark, if this did happen, Jorah could end up aligning with Jon Snow. This would be particularly powerful as Jon Snow was trained by Jorah’s father, Lord Commander Mormont, and fights with Longclaw, the Lord Commander’s Valyrian steel sword, which he gave to Jon because with Jorah banished from Westeros, he had no heir to pass it onto. It’s a very interesting scenario to consider.

  • The Prince That Was Promised: You can read more about The Prince That Was Promised here, but in short, 8,000 years ago the Long Night came, which is regarded as the longest winter ever known to man — one that brought cold and darkness to an entire generation. During the Long Night, the White Walkers came from the deep North and nearly pushed humanity to extinction. A great battle took place, led by the legendary warrior, Azor Ahai, who fought with a flaming sword called Lightbringer. Azor Ahai fought back the White Walkers, at which point the Wall was built to prevent them from ever invading again. When Azor Ahai died, it was prophesized that at some time in the future, the White Walkers would come again, and Azor Ahai would be reincarnated as the Prince That Was Promised, to once again lead the fight against darkness. Since the beginning of the show, Lady Melisandre believed Stannis was the Prince That Was Promised and destined to fight back the White Walkers, but she turned out to be wrong about that. Since then, some have thought Jon Snow to be the Prince That Was Promised, while others have noted it could be Khaleesi. Whether or not the show will definitively answer this is TBD, but it’s an interesting theory to keep your eye on.

  • Speaking of Lady Melisandre, there are some rather large question marks surrounding her and what role she might play in the future. Having once believed Melisandre was an all-knowing priestess who could interpret the words of the Lord of Light, she revealed herself last season to actually be an old decrepit woman, who has masked her appearance through the use of her potions and elixirs. She has shown clear powers many times, whether it was the ability to birth the shadow that killed Renly Baratheon or her ability to resurrect Jon Snow, but she was also wrong many times, particularly about all the faith she put into Stannis. After being banished from the North by Jon Snow for sacrificing Princess Shireen, where will Melisandre surface and what role will she play in the final hours of this story?

  • To say Direwolves are important to this story would be an understatement. After all, it was the very first episode of this series when the Starks found the six Direwolf pups, one for each child. Sadly, four of the six have been killed throughout the years. But, the good news is that there are still two living Stark wolves, one of which we have not seen since the first season!  Jon’s wolf, Ghost, is the only one that has been in the picture recently. But, Nymeria, Arya’s wolf, we have not seen since midway through the very first season. After Cercei ordered Nymeria to be executed for biting Joffrey, Arya set Nymeria free so they could not execute her (instead, they executed Sansa’s wolf, Lady). With Arya back in Westeros, and very close to the place where she originally set Nymeria free, it is worth keeping your eye out for the possibility of Arya and Nymeria being reunited.

  • Benjen Stark is also out there somewhere. After disappearing north of the Wall in season one, most of us probably forgot about Benjen altogether, and it was not until five years later, in season six, that Benjen makes a surprise return. Benjen aided Bran and Meera on their journey north of the Wall, but had to part ways once they passed south of the Wall, as he explained the Wall had ancient magic preventing the dead from passing through (thus also revealing that he is technically dead). Benjen is particularly significant because he is Ned’s brother, and thus the closest thing any of the Stark children have left to a parent. The fact that he is half-dead and has knowledge of fighting the White Walkers reveal that he will likely play a role in the war that is to come.

  • What did Varys hear in the flames? This is another important question that has been touched upon a few times throughout the seasons, most recently last season when Tyrion and Varys are visited by Kinvara, the High Red Priestess of Volantis. She asks Varys if he remembers what he heard from the flames and who the voice was that he heard, the night that he was mutilated. She is referring to what Varys revealed in an earlier season when he told the story of how he was drugged by a sorcerer when he was a small boy. As he lay helpless and paralyzed, the sorcerer castrated him and tossed his “parts” into the fire. Varys recalls hearing a voice call out to him from the flames, but adds that he was drugged and in much pain, so he could not make out what he heard. Many seasons later, this resurfaces when Kinvara visits them and tells them that she will spread the word that Khaleesi is the one who was promised (alluding to her belief that Khaleesi is the Prince That Was Promised), and the one who will fight back the darkness with her dragons. Varys is skeptical of Kinvara, as he is generally skeptical and averse to “blood magic” due to what happened to him as a child. He challenges Kinvara, noting the other Red Priestess, Melisandre, had said something similar of Stannis but was wrong. Kinvara responds to Varys, and asks “Do you remember what you heard that night? You heard a voice call out from the flames, do you remember? Should I tell you what the voice said? Should I tell you the name of the one who spoke?” Is it possible that Varys heard the voice of the Lord of Light when he was just a small boy, and has been unknowingly serving the Lord of Light ever since? It’s hard to imagine what he actually heard, but clearly it was something important, and could be something we find out in the coming episodes.

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.

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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.

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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….

SEASON 6, EPISODE 6: BLOOD OF MY BLOOD

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

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

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

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

BRAN’S VISIONS & UNCLE BENJEN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SAM & GILLY

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

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

KING’S LANDING

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

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

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

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

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

WHO IS A GIRL?

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

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

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

KHALEESI THE CONQUEROR

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

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

SEASON 6, EPISODE 5: THE DOOR

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

wylis

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

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

SANSA & BAELISH

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

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

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

THE FACELESS MEN

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

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

THE FIRST WHITE WALKER

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

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

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

THE IRON ISLANDS

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

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

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

JORAH AND KHALEESI

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

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THE HIGH RED PRIESTESS

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

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HOLD THE DOOR…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

hodor

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

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

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

Season 6, Episode 3: Oathbreaker

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

THINGS ARE MOVING FAST (AND SLOW)

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

THE OATHBREAKER

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

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

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

THE TOWER OF JOY

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

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

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

KING’S LANDING

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

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

A LITTLE PRESENT

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

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A GIRL IS NOBODY

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

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

KHALEESI AND THE OTHERS

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

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

Season 6, Episode 2: Home

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

HOMECOMING

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

THE RETURN OF BRAN

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

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

Benjen Stark before he disappeared

Benjen Stark before he disappeared

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

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Targaryen Knight

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Young Ned Stark?

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

WELCOME BACK MR. SNOW

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

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

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

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

THE LORD OF WINTERFELL

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

SANSA, THEON AND THE IRON ISLANDS

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

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

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

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

OVERTHROWING AN EMPIRE

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

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

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

“I DRINK AND I KNOW THINGS”

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

A GIRL IS NOBODY

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

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Season 6, Episode 1: The Red Woman

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

FAITH HAS BEEN LOST

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

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

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

YES, HE’S DEAD

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

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

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

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

DAVOS & THE OTHERS

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

davos

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

THE RED (AND VERY OLD) WOMAN

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

mel old

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

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

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

mel 2mel 3

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

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

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

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

SNAKES IN THE SAND

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

doran

US AGAINST THE WORLD

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

jaime

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

THE BOLTONS

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

SANSA, THEON, BRIENNE & POD

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

sansa theon

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

KHALEESI

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

khaleesi

MEREEN

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

BLIND IN BRAAVOS

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

arya

THE TYRELLS & TOMMEN

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

PEOPLE AND PLACES TO KEEP AN EYE OUT FOR…

Bran & Rickon Stark

Baelish

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

Season 5, Episode 8: Hardhome

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 ONE TRUE GAME

In the Game of Thrones world, for better or worse, there are so many games being played all at once. For the first few seasons, the most significant and end-all game that was being played was the battle for the Throne. At the time, this appeared to be the defining game of the show and the only one that really mattered. And though five seasons later, this game is yet to be resolved as Stannis and Khaleesi are both still major players battling for the Throne, we continue to see so many additional games that are introduced. Whether it be a game of love or a game of revenge; a game of truth or a game of deception — the Thrones world has done something that few stories have ever done before, creating so many different layers of plot-lines, all occurring simultaneously. And with each game comes its respective players, its location of play and so many other details that make each game so interesting and enjoyable to watch unfold. But the multitude of all these games all being played at once also proves to do one other thing very well — it distracts us from the one true game being played — the only game that matters — the game of Ice and Fire. And in the 48th episode to date, we were abruptly and violently reminded, more so than ever before, of the game that we should all be focused on — the one that will likely determine the fate of all mankind.

JON SNOW LEADS THE FIGHT AGAINST DARKNESS

As Jon Snow approaches Hardhome, the basecamp of the Wildlings, alongside his new ally Tormund Giantsbayne, the mood is colder than ever before. The mission at hand is a nearly unthinkable one — to unite the Wildlings and the Night’s Watch — two clans that have been warring for thousands of years. Yet is is also clear that Jon Snow has no choice — he must unite all men if they are to have any chance at fighting off the White Walkers and avoiding a fate of death and darkness.

After a hostile welcome from the Lord of Bones, Tormund beats him to death, showing the other Wildlings that he means business, while also making it clear to viewers that his allegiance to Jon Snow is true. After Jon Snow and Tormund make their pitch to the leaders of each Wildling clan, some agree to join their cause while others stubbornly refuse. And as Jon Snow starts to look a lot like Moses, leading an exodus of Wildlings onto the sea to the promised land of Castle Black, all hell breaks loose as an avalanche of wights (the army of dead led by the White Walkers), descends upon Hardhome.

Jon Snow approaches Hardhome

Jon Snow approaches Hardhome

Once again, Jon Snow shows that his bravery and leadership is unparalleled; where most men would have fleed, Jon Snow stays back to defend the Wildlings and fight off the wights. But perhaps he regretted that decision just moments later, as he looks up to see a band of White Walkers on a cliff, looking down at the battle below. And not just any White Walkers. These appear to be the leaders of the White Walkers, the ones we saw just once before, in a season four episode when they took one of Craster’s babies into the far North and turned it into a White Walker, by touching a finger to the baby’s face and turning its eyes a deep blue. It was assumed that we had just witnessed how a White Walker is created (which begs the question — how was the first White Walker created?), and we also learned what the White Walkers have been doing with the babies Craster had been leaving for them.

Season 4 episode where we saw a White Walker king turn a baby into a White Walker

Season 4 episode where we saw a White Walker king turn a baby into a White Walker

Unlike other White Walkers we’ve seen (such as the one killed by Samwell Tarly), which do not wear any clothes, carry real weapons, and generally appear less advanced, the White Walkers that Jon Snow looked up at wore dark black clothes, carried weapons and clearly appeared to be the leaders and/or more advanced White Walkers. And just a few moments later, Jon Snow finds himself in a one-on-one battle with one of these White Walkers. But first, we saw one of the Thenns attempt to fight this White Walker, but his battle axe is shattered when it meets the icy sword of the White Walker, and he is of course then killed. Jon Snow is up next, but cannot find the dragon-glass, and is getting his ass handed to him by the White Walker. But just as it’s looking like he might not win this fight, Jon stumbles upon his sword, Longclaw, the Valryian steel sword given to him by Lord Commander Jeor Mormont. And whereas we’ve seen and heard that all steel swords are shattered when they meet the icy touch of a White Walker, Longclaw in the hands of Jon Snow, stands up to the weapon of the White Walker, and Jon Snow is then able to but his sword through the White Walker, joining Samwell Tarly in the White Walker kill club.

Jon Snow, with his Valyrian steel sword, slays a White Walker

Jon Snow, with his Valyrian steel sword, slays a White Walker

Things get even worse as hundreds more wights descend upon Jon and whatever’s left of the Night’s Watch and Wildlings, and they’re forced to retreat to their boat and head back to Castle Black. But not before we saw what was one of the, if not the single most powerful and revealing scene in the five seasons we’ve been watching Game of Thrones. It was a single image that epitomized what lies at the core of this epic story created by George R.R. Martin — a series entitled A Song of Ice and Fire. Martin named this series A Song of Ice and Fire for a reason…after all, at it’s core, it’s a story about Ice, darkness and evil versus Fire, light and good. But viewers often lose sight of these themes and the true name of the series itself, since HBO for its TV adaptation chose to use the name of the first book in this series, A Game of Thrones, presumably because it was a more marketable title. But the Game of Thrones was merely the title of the first book — and as we know — a much smaller game compared to the greater game of Ice versus Fire.

And now, as Jon Snow exchanges a long, cold, hard stare with one of the White Walker’s leaders — we see these very themes personified. Ice, darkness and evil versus Fire, light and good — two opposing forces that have been in a constant struggle since the beginning of the world. And as Thrones history tells us, during the Long Night, thousands of years ago, a great battle transpired between these two forces, and darkness almost prevailed as all of mankind was pushed near the brink of extinction, until Azor Ahai, with his burning sword called Lightbringer, fought back the White Walkers. It was at this time that the Wall was built to keep out the White Walkers and defend the realm from the darkness that lived beyond. In the religion of the Lord of Light, it was prophecized that at some point in the future, Azor Ahai would be reincarnated as the Prince that was Promised, to once again fight back the White Walkers in a battle that would determine the fate of all mankind. And, as we know, Melisandre has often spoke the words of the Lord of Light, telling that there is only light versus dark, good versus evil and Ice versus Fire. As we’ve seen before, the religion of the Lord of Light seems to be the most legitimized, the most rooted in truth and perhaps the most significant to the outcome of this world. And now as Jon Snow stares down a White Walker leader, it appears that prophecy about Azor Ahai being reborn to once again fight back the White Walkers might be true and that this battle is more imminent than ever; Fire and light will oppose Ice and darkness, with the prevailing side determining the fate of all mankind.

The Night King raising up his wights

The Night King raising up his wights

And yet if we dig a bit deeper, there are additional layers of significance to what we saw in this episode. First, this is the most screen-time we’ve gotten with the White Walkers, by far. And not just any White Walkers, but what appeared to be the more advanced White Walkers — and the spikey-head White Walker who appears to the king of the White Walkers. Additionally significant, we saw him raise up all the dead corpses and turn them into wights. While we knew that wights were dead corpses that the White Walkers turned into zombies that march in their army of the dead, this is something that we had never seen happen before this episode. We’ve now seen this White Walker (the one with the spikey head), turn a human baby into a White Walker, as well as turning dead corpses into wights to serve in his army of the dead. We now have a lot more color on the White Walkers. The spikey-head White Walker appears to be the king and perhaps the purest of all White Walkers. The other White Walkers with the long hair are possibly the White Walkers that the king turns from human babies.  And finally we have the wights which are dead corpses that the spikey-head White Walkers are able to convert into zombie foot soldiers to fight in their army.

Still, perhaps the greatest takeaway is one regarding Jon Snow, his ability to kill a White Walker and what this tells us about who he might be. For five seasons, we’ve heard quite a bit about dragon-glass being the only weapon to be able to kill White Walkers, but haven’t heard much about Valyrian steel being able to do the same. And apparently, most of the Thrones characters had ever heard about Valyrian steel being used as a weapon to kill the White Walkers — after all, if they had, Jon Snow would have reached for his Valyrian steel sword before going for the dragon-glass. So it was quite a revelation when Jon Snow’s Valyrian steel sword stood up to the White Walker’s sword of ice, and then was able to destoy the White Walker altogether. For starters, this reveals quite a bit more about Valyrian steel itself. To date, we knew it was the strongest and sharpest steel around, while also being the lightest. We knew that it stayed razor sharp without being tended to. More or less, it just seemed like the best steel sword that money could buy. What we didn’t know, and what we just learned, is that perhaps there is more to Valyrian steel — perhaps an element of magic. After all, we’ve been told that only the Valyrians knew how to forge this great steel and that this knowledge was lost when Old Valyria perished in the Doom. We also know that dragon-glass, the only weapon we knew that was able to kill White Walkers, also comes from Valyria. So, perhaps Valyrian steel has some magical elements from the ancient days of Old Valyria, that allow it to destroy the White Walkers, just like dragon-glass. This all plays right back into the greater theme of Ice versus Fire; the White Walkers, which can be defeated only by dragon-glass and Valyrian steel, represent the Ice; the dragon-glass and Valyrian steel, each of which are said to have been forged using the magic of Valyrian dragons and fire, represent the Fire which can defeat the Ice of the White Walkers.

What was also interesting was the combination of the Valryian steel sword being in the hands of Jon Snow himself.  After all, we know that Targaryens come from Valyria — so if Jon Snow is in fact a Targaryen, as hypothesized in my recap three weeks ago, this would make him a descendant of Old Valyria. Which would mean that we just witnessed a very rare Valyrian steel sword being swung by the even rarer Valyrian. Of course, this is just conjecture, but that the Valyrian steel sword, Longclaw, ended up in the hands of Jon Snow, could be another hint at the idea that he is in fact a Targaryen.

A QUICK RECAP OF EVERYTHING ELSE

Compared to the final scene which brought us back to the only game that matters and to the title of this series itself — Ice versus Fire — evil versus good — dark versus light — the other scenes of this episode appear almost insignificant. But, in the greatest game that is yet to unfold and the great battle that is yet to take place, the other smaller games will decide the roll each player is to play in the greatest game of all. So here’s a quick recap…

In Mereen, we see how things play out between Jorah, Tyrion and Khaleesi. Tyrion quickly establishes his cunning and intelligence before Khaleesi and after she seeks his advice regarding what to do with Jorah, Tyrion counsels that she should show him mercy because Jorah is devoted and loyal, yet he cannot be seen marching by her side after he betrayed her. Jorah is banished from the city and goes back to his previous master in hopes of fighting at the great pit before Khaleesi. Behind closed doors, Tyrion and Khaleesi chat about Khaleesi’s quest for the Throne and Tyrion suggests that she should consider remaining in Easteros, where perhaps she can do more good for the common people. But, Khaleesi reminds him that Easteros is not her home, and refers to all the powerful houses of Westeros as spokes on a wheel that go round and round — one day this family is on top — the next day another family is on top. Tyrion tells her that many before her have tried to stop the wheel — to which she powerfully responds that she is not going to stop the wheel, she is going to break the wheel.

Tyrion before Khaleesi

Tyrion before Khaleesi

In King’s Landing, Cercei remains in a cell without any tricks or schemes to get her out — she appears completely powerless for the first time. But, Qyburn, one of her few remaining loyalists, reminds her that he is “still working,” probably referring to the Mountain, whom remains in his lab as some sort of evil science experiment. With only two episodes left this season, will we see what kind of freakish monster Qyburn has perhaps turned the Mountain into? And will he help free Cercei?

In Braavos, Arya continues with her training as she begins to assume a new identity. Jaqen tells her that she will study “the gambler” and learn everything about him, before giving her a vile assumed to be poison. We are left to conclude that this will be a test to see if she is capable of committing her first assassination and joining the Faceless Men.

Arya's new identity

Arya’s new identity

In Winterfell, after an exchange between Sansa and Theon/Reek, Sansa learns that her brothers Bran and Rickon are in fact alive. She joins the Boltons and Samwell Tarly as the only people who are aware of this powerful information. Elsewhere in Winterfell, Roose and Ramsey discuss the impending battle with Stannis and Roose suggests that they stay behind the newly mended walls of Winterfell, while Stannis’ men freeze and starve in the winter cold. However, Ramsey says that they should take the fight to Stannis and that he only needs twenty good men — leaving us to wonder what kind of plan he’s got that would only need twenty men to defeat Stannis’ army.

With only two episodes left, things have accelerated exponentially and it will be interesting to see how much is wrapped up in the final two episodes. One major battle looks to be just around the corner between Stannis and the Boltons, while the greater battle between light and dark doesn’t appear to be too far behind. In King’s Landing, the Throne is more vulnerable than ever before, with major houses Lannister and Tyrell both weakened as their principal house members are locked up in cells. Across the world, Khaleesi might just have found the counsel that she’s been waiting five seasons for. Elsewhere in Easteros, Arya is taking steps closer towards joining the Faceless Men. Sansa has learned some major information that her brothers are still alive and let’s not forget Brienne is not far away, waiting to help her at just the right moment. Baelish is somewhere behind the scenes scheming and Varys is out there somewhere as well. Most importantly, it no longer appears that Winter is Coming — winter is now here. And with just two episodes until the 50 episode mark, buckle up because the home stretch of season five is sure to be a bloody, brutal and bumpy one.

Episode 10 Recap: The Children

Disclaimer: There are no spoilers in this article. Any views or opinions expressed are based solely on where the Game of Thrones TV series currently is and no other knowledge or information is presented in this article.

THE CHILDREN

Last week’s episode took place in just one location and was dedicated entirely to one plot-line. At the other end of the spectrum, the season finale not only catapulted us into the plot-lines of almost every character, but also progressed each of these stories rather abruptly. Outside of Sansa, nearly every character was featured in the finale and each one had a major development in one way or another. In a world where we’ve come to expect rather slow character and plot development, this episode was a smack in the face — a major departure from any episode we’ve seen in four years of Thrones.

But, what was actually so special about this episode? Sure, lots of “stuff” happened pretty quickly, but was there something more to the finale than just tons of action? The answer is yes. There were several layers at the core of the finale which made the episode special and are worth discussing. First, the ways in which several independent plot-lines all of a sudden began to intersect. Second, the many different plot-lines to which the episode’s title, The Children, significantly refers to, and the way these children have been both imprisoned and liberated. And finally, the many ways in which this “game” has changed drastically in just one episode.

CONVERGING STORIES

The finale episode did not only offer up major progressions of each character’s story, but it also offered a taste of the way several of these previously independent plot-lines will begin to merge into one. In any other fictional world, the intersection of characters would probably not be worth mentioning. Why? Because from the onset of almost any story, even if we do not know the exact roles each character will fulfill, we have a basic understanding of the ways each character shares in the world that we are experiencing. And this is just another way that Thrones is completely unique from almost everything else out there.

Rather than a set of characters in a shared world, Thrones is composed of so many characters with story arcs that have remained completely separate from one another, existing in parallel. It’s almost as if we have been watching many different shows — each about a different character with a story unique and exclusive from every other character. Ultimately, this has left us to wonder when, and more importantly, how these independent stories would start to bleed into one another. But in the season finale, some of these questions began to be answered as we were offered a glimpse into the way several characters’ plot-lines will begin to come crashing together. And this — the way the pieces of the puzzle will start to come together — made the finale uniquely special from all other episodes.

Right out of the gate, the plot-lines of Jon Snow and Stannis meet face to face. For so long, we have experienced the independent journeys of each character. Prior to a couple episodes ago when hints began to be offered that Stannis was going to make his way to the Wall, did you ever stop to consider the story-lines of Stannis and Jon Snow coming together? Probably not. But that is exactly what happened. Stannis, a man once committed to taking the Iron Throne which rightfully belonged to him, he later realized that the war over the Throne was meaningless compared to the imminent war in the North involving the Night’s Watch, Wildlings and possibly White Walkers. And Jon Snow, a character who started as a boy and has grown into a man while overcoming his bastard issues, he has infiltrated the Wildlings before making his way back to the Night’s Watch, ultimately appearing completely willing to give his life to defend the Wall. For four seasons we have seen these two characters develop, completely independent of one another. And in the blink of an eye, just like that, their stories come together as Stannis arrives at the Wall and crushes Mance’s camp of Wildlings. The arrival of Stannis has breathed new hope into the war on the Wall, which was all but lost by the Night’s Watch. More significantly, it crosses the paths of Stannis and Jon Snow, and is one of the first hints at the way major characters might begin to intersect one another to reveal the roles they will play in the greater storyline.

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Similarly, the journeys of Brienne/Podrick and the Hound/Arya abruptly come together as Brienne stumbles upon Arya on her way to the Vale. For seasons now, Brienne has been on a journey to honor Catelyn Stark and find Sansa. Ironically, it is Arya that she stumbles upon rather than Sansa. Likewise, the Hound has been on a seemingly never-ending journey with Arya, arriving at the Twins just after the Red Wedding, and then getting to the Vale just days after Lysa Arryn was killed. And just like that, these journeys — ones that have developed over the course of so many episodes — come crashing together without any warning at all. But whereas the arrival of Stannis at the Wall gave us hope and probably felt good to watch, the clash of Brienne and the Hound’s stories was not as nice to watch. After Brienne insists on honoring her oath and refuses to leave without Arya, the Hound professes that he is a better fit to look after her. A brutal fight ensues in which Brienne is ultimately victorious and the Hound is thrown over a cliff and possibly left to die.

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In the Thrones world, we’ve seen plenty of good guys fighting bad guys. We’ve even seen bad guys fighting bad guys. But this might be the first time that we saw a good guy fight a good guy, which probably left most of us wishing the fight never happened in the first place. In and of itself, the fact that we are calling the Hound a “good guy” speaks volumes to his character development. If you go back and watch the first couple seasons of Thrones, you probably would not have guessed that you would have grown to love the Hound — but most of us have. And after we came to see the warmer, more human side of him, and the many ways he opened up to and cared for Arya, it was painful to see him go down like that — especially in a fight to protect Arya. And as he lay  there in brutal shape before the eyes of Arya, the irony of their situation could not have been any greater. Since season one, the Hound has been a name on Arya’s list — one of the people she has committed herself to eventually killing and crossing off her list. She has even told the Hound directly that she will one day kill him. Yet, when the opportunity presented itself, so much so that the Hound actually wanted her to kill him, she would not do it. As he pleaded with her to put him out of his misery, Arya looked on with cold eyes, almost immune to the immense pain you could hear in his voice. Emotionless, she took his gold and left him to die a more painful death than the one she could have offered.

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THE CHILDREN AND THEIR LIBERATION

In the Thrones series, the title of each episode is often significant and generally speaks to an underlying message or overtone within each weekly installment. Perhaps more so than ever, the title of the finale, The Children, has many meanings all rolled into one. The most literal meaning, the finale episode refers to many of the characters’ identities which have been defined by the parent-child relationship that they exist within. And generally, these relationships have been imprisoning to several of these characters. But, in the finale episode, things changed for many of “the children,” and several of them were liberated, while others were further imprisoned.

Perhaps more so than any other characters in the show, the three Lannister children have been defined by their roles as children, to none other than Lord Tywin. From the first moments we’ve encountered them, we have known the Lannister siblings as children — their identies almost completely dictated by the fact that they were Lannister children. More times than not, it has seemed that their roles as children have been already decided for them and they’ve often had no free will what so ever. Cercei was used as a tool of marriage, forced to endure King Robert in order to become queen and further the Lannister cause. Jaime was forced to serve on the Kingsguard to the Mad King. And Tyrion was forced into a life of ridicule. Each had a role to play forced upon them as children to Lord Tywin, and for the most part, it seemed as if there was nothing they could do to change this.

But all of that changed in the finale, and we begin to see some of The Children that the episode title refers to. It all begins as Cercei refuses to marry Ser Loras Tyrell, another marriage Lord Tywin is set to force upon her. However, it is not because of her personal preferences or desires that she refuses, but rather a decision dictated by the children of her own. With Joffrey dead and Myrcella shipped off to Dorne, Tommen is the only child she has left, and she refuses to lose him to the self-serving influences of Margaery Tyrell and Lord Tywin. It’s an interesting juxtaposition as the child of Lord Tywin, Cercei, stands up to one of the most powerful men and threatens to do whatever she needs to in order to protect her own child. She tells Lord Tywin the truth of her incestuous relationship with Jaime, and threatens that she will ruin the Lannister legacy by letting it be known to all. She then goes and tells Jaime that he is the one she wants; she no longer wants to hide the truth and does not care what anybody thinks. She liberated herself from the prisoner she had been as a child to Lord Tywin. And, in certain ways, she also liberated Jaime, who was forced to keep his love for Cercei a secret for so many years.

The liberating continues as Jaime frees Tyrion and saves him from imminent execution. While Tyrion was the one literally freed, this was equally liberating for Jaime, who has desperately wanted to save his little brother, but has been ultimately helpless to the will of his father, Lord Tywin, who wanted Tyrion dead. Like Cercei, no longer would Jaime be prisoner to the commands of his father, and he frees his little brother. Ironically, this leads to the death of their father and the ultimate liberation for all three Lannister children. But before he kills Lord Tywin, Tyrion stumbles upon Shae, who not only betrayed him during his trial, but is now sleeping with the very man who threatened to kill her if he found her with Tyrion — the very reason Tyrion was forced to send her away — to save her life. A bittersweet revenge, Tyrion kills the woman he loves, before killing the father that never loved him. With Lord Tywin dead, what happens next in King’s Landing? Who will claim the power that was previously held by him?

Though only in the episode for a brief moment, Khaleesi is another story-line that the The Children refers to. Once a child, Khaleesi has quickly become a mother, which has become both liberating and imprisoning at the same time. Stepping into the fire and hatching petrified dragon eggs, Khaleesi first became the mother of dragons. And much the way Lord Tywin ultimately could not control of the actions of his own children, Khaleesi was told from the onset that she would not be able to fully control her dragon children. Khaleesi used these children to become the mother, or “mhysa,” to thousands of additional children as she freed the slaves of Yunkai, Astapor and Meereen.

Khaleesi has has achieved great power, but is beginning to struggle to successfully navigate it. Freeing these children while governing them at the same time often do not go hand in hand, and Khaleesi is beginning to experience a great paradox. She conquered cities and freed the slaves, only to find out that many of them have lost their purpose as free men and do not in fact wish to be liberated. She has grown dragons, one set of children, who are causing chaos amongst her other set of children, the freed slaves. As Khaleesi learns that one of her dragons has killed the three year-old daughter of a Meereenese man, she realizes what she must do. Khaleesi became the breaker of chains, making her “myhsa” to the slaves she freed, but in order to protect these children, she now must impose another set of chains to her other children — the dragons. Just as the Lannister children had so long been imprisoned by their roles as children, it appears that Khaleesi is beginning to become a prisoner to the burdens of her role as a mother, to both thousands of slaves that she has promised to lead and protect, as well as the dragons that she birthed from the fire.

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THE CHILDREN (OF THE FOREST)

The more literal reference to the finale’s title is the Children of the Forest, a magical race of creatures that existed on Westeros prior to the arrival of the First Men from Easteros. Since the beginning of the Thrones series, there have been references to the Children of the Forest, especially in the North, where the current inhabitants are descendants of the First Men. But, it was entirely unclear, if not altogether doubtful, that the Children of the Forest still existed today. And just like that, we get first glimpse of the Children and the magic they possess.

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In large part, this blog was started to provide background on the 12,000 year history of the Known World — a history that is incredibly rich and detailed — one that can be fully appreciated from reading the books, but is pretty much incredible to grasp from the show. In each 1000+ page book, there is more detail and reference to the history that occurred prior to the time period that we are currently experiencing. In the show, at best, there are quick references via character dialogue — and if you do not already have an understanding of the history being referred to, most of these historical mentions won’t mean much. And, this history — this unbelievable 12,000 year history, it all begins with the Children of the Forest. They existed on Westeros before anybody else got there. For how long they existed, it’s unknown. But they were there when the First Men arrived 12,000 years ago. And, after a period of initial war between the Children and the First Men, they lived together in peace for 4,000 years, until the Andals arrived and pushed the Children to the brink of extinction.

Today, much mystery surrounds the Children of the Forest — they have not been seen for thousands of years and some believe them to be a myth. But, history tells that the Children of the Forest lived amongst the weirwood trees and derived their magic from the forests. The First Men eventually adapted the practices of the Children, honoring the weirwood trees and praying to the Old Gods. This explains why today, in the North, where most are descendants of the First Men, they still pray to the Old Gods and honor the weirwoods — practices and customs that were originally learned from the Children of the Forest.

Before being nearly wiped off during the Andal Invasion, the Children of the Forest played an important role, and during the Long Night, it was the Children of the Forest that fought alongside the First Men to push back the White Walkers. It is also said that the Children of the Forest lent their magic in assisting Brandon Stark, founder of House Stark, in building the Wall nearly 8,000 years ago. In short, the Children of the Forest are incredibly significant, and to learn that there are still some alive today in the deep North is the greatest reveal that we’ve seen in 40 episodes to date.

To learn more about the Children of the Forest, check out this page, which was one of the first ever published on this blog. I would also recommend checking out this timeline which will provide some context on the history of the world we are experiencing and how far back it dates.

WHERE ARE WE AT NOW?

As the fourth season comes to a close and we reach the approximate midway point of this entire magical journey, it is important to not only reflect upon this individual episode and the craziness that unfolded, but also to step back and reflect upon how this entire “game” has changed in just one episode. So, here’s a quick recap:

The episode begins where last week left off, as Jon Snow journeys north of the Wall to find and kill Mance Rayder. However, before he has the chance to, Stannis’ forces arrive and crush the small band of Wildlings at Mance Rayder’s camp. Presumably, Stannis used his funding from the Iron Bank of Braavos to strengthen his army and fleet of ships, which he used to sail back to Westeros north of the Wall. Wanting no more Wildling bloodshed, Mance surrenders, and per Jon Snow’s advice, Stannis takes Mance prisoner. Also of interest, through the fire, Jon Snow and Melisandre exchange a long glance — was this a foreshadow of something to transpire between these two characters? A lot is left to wonder, but in the blink of an eye, the entire situation at the Wall has changed completely.

In King’s Landing, we discover that the Mountain is in fact still alive, though inflicted with poison from a rare venom that was on the spear of the Red Viper. Qyburn tells Cercei that he believes he can save the Mountain; his methods are unorthodox and he acknowledges it will change the Mountain, though not for the weaker. Will he in fact be able to save the Mountain? And, if so, could Qyburn actually be turning the Mountain into a greater monster than he is already?

As one brother is saved, another is left to die. Though, we would have hoped it was the other way around. After the powerful development of the relationship between Arya and the Hound, we might have guessed that Arya would have tried to save the Hound. Or, at least have granted him his wish and put him out of his misery. But, she did neither and instead stole his gold, much the way he had done to his victims in the past. In this moment, we see Arya’s true nature. She doesn’t just talk about killing, she means it. In her heart and at her core, she has been completely hardened by all the death and despair she experienced around her, losing her mother, father and brother. She has no compassion for the Hound, even though he at times expressed compassion for her. And as she journeys on alone, she finally uses the magical coin given to her by Jaqen H’ghar two seasons ago, and says those famous Braavosi words, “valar morghulis,” meaning “all men must die.” Instantly, she is granted passage on the Braavosi ship and just like that, she is on her way to Braavos. What will happen when she gets there? And will she reunite with Jaqen H’ghar?

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Back in King’s Landing, after taking down Shae and Lord Tywin, Tyrion ends up with Varys, who he trusts to get him out of the capital city safely. Many of us have questioned Varys’ motives and whether or not he is a “good” character. During Tyrion’s trial, Tyrion reminded Varys that Varys once told Tyrion that he would never forget that he saved the city during the Battle of Blackwater Bay. When Tyrion asked Varys if he had forgotten, Varys replied, “Sadly, I do not forget a thing.” Additionally, it was Varys that attempted to get Shae out of King’s Landing, bribing her with gems. When she asked him why, Varys told her that he believed Tyrion was one of the few men that existed on Westeros who was truly capable of achieving good, and that Shae was a distraction to him. And, when Tyrion needed him most, Varys made good on his word, playing his part to save Tyrion, a man he clearly believes in. Turning back to return to King’s Landing, Varys hears the city bells erupt and realizes that Tyrion has committed a great act of murder. Rather than returning to this scene of chaos, Varys decides to join Tyrion on their journey to Easteros — Varys’ original birthplace and a location where he has many friends and resources, namely Illyrio Mopatis.

And finally, perhaps the most significant part of the episode, after a seemingly never-ending journey, Bran and company reach their destination — the great weirwood tree in the deep North. Just as they arrive, skeletons emerge from beneath the freezing snow, perhaps some sort of wights that exist in the deep North. Bran again showcases his ability to change into the skin of another human, fighting off many of these skeletons, before one of the Children of the Forest emerges, helping to protect them by shooting off magical rays of light. Jojen Reed is killed, though it is revealed that he knew the whole time it would end this way. After being led through a cavern of tree roots below the beautiful weirwood, Bran finally arrives to the three-eyed raven, who is now in the form of a mysterious old man. The man tells Bran that he has taken many different forms and has been watching each of them their entire lives through a thousand eyes. Though he will never walk again, Bran is told that he will fly. Naturally, tons of question marks are raised by this entire development. What exactly is this man and what kind of powers does he possess? Why was Bran specifically so special that he has been watched his entire life? What will his role be in the war coming and will he literally take flight, or perhaps he will fly in the skin of a dragon? Also, how many more Children of the Forest exist, if any?

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All in all, the season four finale significantly progressed the plots of most of the stories we’ve been experiencing, setting up season five in a major way. Between Stannis’ arrival at the Wall, Arya leaving for Braavos,  Tyrion killing Lord Tywin before leaving with Varys for Easteros and Bran discovering the Children of the Forest and the mysterious man, we’re in the thick of it now. For those disappointed with the lack of progression of Khaleesi’s story — don’t be. If you are watching the show through the lens of what you want it to be, rather than appreciating it for what it is, you are doing yourself a major disservice. As we’ve already touched upon, there are so many plot-lines, each which will organically develop at its own pace. Some will begin to intersect and mature sooner than others, while others may lead us down a longer and slower path. But, would you really want it any other way? If all the stories emerged at once, the Thrones world would be no different than most other shows on TV. It is the disciplined nature and meticulous development of each character that makes Game of Thrones so special. Two years ago Arya encountered Jaqen H’ghar and was given this magical coin. Did she use it in the following episode? Did she use it a few episodes down the road? Or even in the following season? The answer is no. It was not until two full seasons later that we saw that nuisance come to fruition. And when did, it makes it all the more powerful. It did not happen because the writers wanted to write it — it happened at the point it did because that is when it was supposed to happen. So for anybody getting impatient, take your eye off the destination and enjoy the ride that we are on to get there.