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 5, EPISODE 9: THE DANCE OF DRAGONS

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.

FIRE, FIRE AND MORE FIRE

What was going to happen in the ninth episode – an episode we’ve come to know as the “something big is going to happen” episode. The ninth episode of the last three seasons were three of the biggest events ever seen — Season 2 was the Battle of Blackwater; Season 3 the Red Wedding and Season 4 the epic battle at the Wall – so what would happen in the ninth episode of season 5? We had gotten a major battle with the White Walkers the previous week, so it was safe to assume that we would not see epic battles in back to back weeks. But after all, it is the ninth episode, and with most plotlines having heated up in a major way, we would have to see some big things happen, right? That’s correct…And we did.

While we didn’t see any epic battle scenes, what we saw were some unbelievably powerful scenes and plot-twists; things that will forever change the future of this story and the destiny of each character. It’s tough to truly decide how I feel about this episode. It was an episode defined entirely by two major plot-points – Khaleesi flying through the sky on the back of her dragon – an allusion to the Targaryen kings and queens before her that rode their dragons for thousands of years; and Stannis burning his own daughter to give Melisandre the magic she needs to fight the impending darkness. These two events could not have been more diametrically opposed – the first was powerfully uplifting, giving us all the magical feeling that Khaleesi is taking her biggest step yet towards becoming the hero we all want her to be; the next is tragic and heartbreaking, a sweet and innocent girl being burned to death by her own father. And while it is tough to decide how I feel about this episode, one thing is for sure – it sent two characters, Stannis and Khaleesi, down a road that there is no coming back from.

There was also quite a lot of fire in this episode. The episode opened with Stannis’ camp being burned by Ramsey’s fire, progressed to Shireen being burned to death by fire and ended with Khaleesi’s dragon, Drogon, using fire to save her and kill off the Harpies. In the all-encompassing battle of Ice versus Fire, ice has represented the darkness and evil while fire has represented the light and good. But, what we began to see in this most recent episode is that perhaps there are no constants. Perhaps there is no one thing that is entirely good or entirely bad. Rather, it is the person or people that ultimately characterize whether something represents darkness or light, evil or goodness. This is of course an age-old theme, the idea that there is no singular good or bad in life, only the people whose actions bring goodness or evil into this world. Ramsey using fire to burn down a chunk of Stannis’ camp seemed evil, but that very same fire being used by Khaleesi’s dragon to fight off evil itself of course seemed good…And Melisandre’s fire used to kill Princess Shireen of course again seemed dark and evil. So in a Thrones world, where to date we’ve been taught to believe that ice singularly represents darkness and evil while fire singularly represents light and goodness, perhaps we are starting to see a departure towards the idea that while these entities do generally represent dark or light, it is ultimately the people and the way they use these things that will define good versus evil.

DESPERATE TIMES CALL FOR DESPERATE MEASURES

As the episode begins with the Red Priestess Lady Melisandre on screen, we should’ve all suspected that there was going to be quite a bit of fire play. Still, none of us could’ve imagined the terrible ways that this fire would be used. The scene begins with Lady Melisandre looking on as much of Stannis’ camp catches fire, burning horses, men and supplies alike. It is interesting to consider that we did not see Ramsey or any of his men – which leaves us to wonder how they got into Stannis’ camp in the first place? One thing is certain, Melisandre looked entirely calm as the fire around her blazed – almost as if she had expected this to happen. Perhaps this was the case – perhaps she saw a vision of this in her flames. Or, perhaps she was simply happy that this was happening, as she knew it would put Stannis in a more desperate position than ever before, increasing the likelihood that he would be willing to sacrifice his own daughter, something that Melisandre had suggested a couple episodes back. Either way, it again makes us question Melisandre and assess how we truly feel about her. To date, she has pretty much only spoken the truth; while other characters have been engaged in less significant games, she has been one of the few characters that has recognized the only game that matters – the fight against evil and darkness that is coming. So from that perspective, she seems to be one of the shows most credible characters, and perhaps she is simply willing to do what must be done in order to fight off the darkness that is coming. Yet still, there is a great suspicion to her character, one that makes us feel as though we really cannot trust her. And as her advice to sacrifice Shireen prevails, we certainly feel this way more than ever before.

Melisandre looks on as Shireen burns

Melisandre looks on as Shireen burns

So we arrive at perhaps the most tragic event that we’ve seen in five years of Thrones-watching, the death of Princess Shireen at the hands of her own father. Something we felt was coming as soon as Stannis commanded Davos to ride back to Castle Black as Stannis knew that Davos would not allow this to happen. And sadly, it almost appeared as if Davos was aware of what was to come and stopped by Shireen’s tent to say his final goodbye, thank her for teaching him to “become an adult,” and gave her a goodbye present. And then it happened and the death of Princess Shireen was heartbreaking on so many levels. It explored the extraordinarily painful theme of a child being betrayed by her own parents. As she screams on, begging for her mother or father to save her, she is entirely hopeless, as her should-be-saviors are the very ones sacrificing her life. It is tragic and heartbreaking to explore the idea of a parent, the person in this world that a child should be able to unconditionally turn to for saving, turning on their own child and putting them in this position in the first place. It was of course all the more painful because Shireen was as sweet and precious of a girl as they come. And there was of course a whole other level of pain that came with the idea that she was completely innocent and naive to what her father was planning on doing, as she says to Stannis, “I am Princess Shireen of House Baratheon and I want to do whatever I can to help you.” Little did she understand the dark irony that she could in fact help him, by sacrificing her own life, which was set to take place just moments later.

Shireen is tied up

Shireen is tied up

And while watching Shireen die a slow death was painful for all of the reasons above, it was made all the more painful by the way the show’s writers told this story. And I say the show’s writers, not George R.R. Martin, because this never happened in Martin’s story. And while the “Inside the Episode” states that George R.R. Martin communicated this plot-point to the show-runners, who then chose to include it in the episodes, the fact is that this event never happened in Martin’s books (yet). It was included in the show without having been in the books – something that has been happening more and more as the show goes on. At first, there were just minor changes that the show would introduce, maybe changing the name of a character here or needing to leave out a character there – this is of course to be expected when adapting books to TV. But in the last couple seasons, especially this most recent season, the show has gotten more and more gratuitous with the changes they’re making and the significant ways that they are deviating from the books. And if any of the purity from George R.R. Martin’s story is to be preserved, I truly hope that the show’s producers stop taking so many liberties with all the things they are changing – especially the addition of major plot-points that simply never happened in the books – such as the killing of Princess Shireen.

All that said, I am not upset simply because the show deviated from the books. Rather, I am upset because this deviation was bad storytelling coupled with the spoiling of one of Martin’s best characters in Stannis. At first, none of us liked Stannis – we weren’t supposed to. He was cold and stern and there was nothing endearing about him. His own brother Renley challenged his claim to the Throne on the basis that Stannis was so unlikable and wouldn’t inspire greatness to the world if he were to become king. Yet, as Martin ingeniously has accomplished with so many of his characters through his expert storytelling and mastery of character development, we began to warm up to Stannis. Not because he became any more likable or friendly, but because we began to see the good and honor in him. In a world where most characters lacked integrity or morals, Stannis lived by his…And was willing to die by them too if need be. And our love for Stannis was heightened exponentially earlier this season when we saw the love and emotion that he offered for his daughter as he told her of the way he saved her when she was born with Grayscale. When others wanted to discard of her, he refused to abandon her and found a way to save her. “You were the Princess Shireen of House Baratheon,” he said. “And you are my daughter.” In this rare show of emotion, Stannis was humanized and we fell in love with his character. Not only was he the most honorable man we knew, but he also had love and compassion inside of him too. And just a few episodes later, we see how much these words resonated with his daughter, and she repeats them back to Stannis in his time of need, telling him “I am Princess Shireen of House Baratheon and I want to help you.” Little did she know what her helping him would equate to.

Stannis and his wife look on as their daughter burns

And this is where the show’s producers making up this plot-point becomes really bad story telling and really hurts Stannis’ character at the same time. We loved Stannis after we learned that he fought to defend his daughter when she was a vulnerable baby needing the protection of a parent. But all of that goes right out the window, when just a few episodes later, he now chooses to tie her up and burn her to death. Well, in his eyes, he didn’t choose at all. As he spoke to Shireen just moments before her death, he tells her that sometimes a man has no choice at all, and can only do what he must to fulfill his fate. So, in his eyes, maybe he believed that he truly had no choice. Nonetheless, it renders irrelevant everything we learned just a few episodes back about Stannis saving Shireen when she was a baby. Which just makes it all bad storytelling. You don’t show viewers in episode five how much Stannis truly loved and cared for his daughter, if just four episodes later you are going to go back on this and show his willingness to completely betray and abandon her. It’s bad storytelling and is counterintuitive to the progression of his character that was being built. And I’m not sure which is worse.

The bad storytelling part of it is a pretty tough pill to swallow. But the way they undermined everything that was great about Stannis’ character is probably worse. George R.R. Martin had been so successful at building Stannis as the unlikable hero in a world of villains. Now, he’s just another villain. And perhaps one of the worst offenders, as it doesn’t get much worse than sacrificing your own daughter. It’s a line that shouldn’t have been crossed, especially when it was not a line that even existed in the original story penned by Martin. I bit my tongue when other lines were crossed with other made-up plot-points that never existed in the real story. When Ramsey raped Sansa a few episodes back and destroyed whatever ounce of innocence was left within her, again something that never happened in the books, I turned the other cheek. Even that had gone too far. Little did I know that just a few episodes later, the show would take it even further and entirely make up another plot-point that rips out the hearts of its viewers. I will never be able to look at Stannis the same way, which is heartbreaking in and of itself, since he is supposed to be one of the characters that I want to love.

THE MOTHER OF DRAGONS & KHALEESI’S NEW CREW

In Easteros, we see a season full of petty politics in Mereen come to a head as Khaleesi resides over the fighting arena that she has allowed to reopen, against her better judgment. As we knew was going to happen, Jorah comes out to fight for her and shows that he is willing to die for her as well. Though he nearly is defeated by two different fighters, Jorah eventually kills the Mereenese warrior before throwing a spear a good 50 yards through the heart of a Harpy that was sneaking up on Khaleesi (where were all her Unsullied??). And just like that, we see hundreds of Harpies emerge out of the crowd, committing a mass slaughter of the innocent, again making us scratch our heads and wonder where the hell are all of Khaleesi’s Unsullied. It seems like any time any chaos has broken out and Khaleesi has actually need the Unsullied by her side, she never has more than 10 or 15 out of the 6,000, leaving them vastly outnumbered and vulnerable. But I digress… What I absolutely loved about this scene was watching Khaleesi’s “new crew” as they ran across the coliseum floor, only to eventually be surrounded by many more Harpies. It was our first time seeing this new group dynamic, featuring the new addition of Tyrion, the reestablishment of Jorah, alongside Daario, Khaleesi and Missandei. Did we just get first glimpse at the final makings of Khaleesi’s inner circle – the group of her closest advisors and supporters that will help her to reclaim the Iron Throne? I certainly got that feeling and thought it was actually the coolest part of the episode. And when you look at the photo below, you can’t help but love this cast of characters that have all come together. They are all truly good people with an unwavering loyalty to Khaleesi. Unlike most characters, they are a group that we feel we know and can trust — there are no ulterior motives or side-games being played. Most importantly, most of these characters have been by Khaleesi’s side since day one, and it is rewarding to see them all together, perhaps closer than ever before to reclaiming the Iron Throne.

crew

As they are surrounded by Harpies and greatly outnumbered, we knew only one thing could happen – Drogon would have to make his appearance – after all, this episode was entitled The Dance of Dragons. As he flies overhead, we see his immense power as he easily rips to shreds and burns alive dozens of Harpies, whose weapons are no match for Drogon. And then it happened… Khaleesi shows the world (or whoever was still alive in the coliseum, which probably wasn’t many people at that point) that she is the one true Mother of Dragons, as she climbs the back of Drogon and flies through the sky. This was not only an allusion to all the past Targaryens before her that rode the backs of their dragons as they conquered the world, but also a foreshadow to the future of what she is to accomplish on the back of her dragon. It was an iconic and powerful image to say the least. And while I would be the first to say that it seems like she has been in Mereen forever and things had gotten really stale over there, perhaps watching her finally ride through the sky on the back of her dragon made the wait worthwhile. After all, what’s a few seasons compared to the hundreds of years that have gone by since a Targaryen has rode on the back of a dragon?

Khaleesi and Drogon

EVERYTHING ELSE

At the Wall, Jon Snow returns with what appears to be a couple hundred Wildlings. There was a moment where it was unclear whether Ser Alliser would open the gates for them, a reminder that most of the brothers of the Night’s Watch are not on the same page as Jon Snow and do not support his actions. After all, they haven’t just battled the White Walker army that Jon Snow has. More than ever, Jon Snow seems to have enemies on all sides of him as Ser Alliser tells him, “You’ve got a kind heart…It’ll get you killed.” It will be interesting to see how the Wildlings factor into Jon Snow’s plans. His goal was to get tens of thousands to join his cause, and he only appears to have secured a few hundred, not enough of a difference to really help in the fight that is to come. But he did make it back home with the giant – so that’s a win.

Jon Snow returns to the Wall, snow falling harder than ever

Jon Snow returns to the Wall, snow falling harder than ever

In Dorne, Jaime reaches a pact with Prince Doran, who allows Jaime and Bronn to return safely back to King’s Landing, along with Princess Myrcella and her betrothed Prince Trystane. However, it is under the condition that Trystane is granted a seat on the small council. It was an interesting turn of events and it’s unclear what Prince Doran’s plan really is. Though he is more subtle and meticulous than the Sand Snakes who have explicitly declared their desire for war, we do know that Doran too will want to avenge the death of his brother at one point or another, and it seems as if he’s beginning to lay down the groundwork for a plan that is yet to unfold. It will be interesting to see Jaime return back to King’s Landing with Myrcella, which should’ve been a glorious reuniting of Cercei with her daughter, but will likely be far less than that when they return home to see Cercei rotting in a cell. Which begs the question, will Jaime save her? Can Jaime save her? And what will happen with the entire King’s Landing plot in the finale episode. I have to believe that we will finally see the Mountain and what has become of him after Qyburn has been working on him for quite some time.

Finally, in Braavos, we see Arya’s journey continue, which in its own right, is already starting to grow old on me. I truly hope that her story in Braavos will not become a long drawn out saga the way Khaleesi’s did in Mereen. Anyway, as Arya continues on her mission to scout the Gambler who hangs at the dock and poison him with her vile, she gets glimpse of Ser Meyrn Trant, who has arrived to Braavos accompanying Mace Tyrell. Cercei had sent Mace to Braavos several episodes again in an effort to get him out of King’s Landing in advance of her ploy to get Loras and Margaery Tyrell thrown in prison. Little did she know that she too would get thrown in a cell, and would need Ser Meryn Trant, one of the few remaining Lannister loyalists. Though we have not heard her recite it for quite some time, Ser Meryn Trant was one of the first names on Arya’s kill list. He was Joffrey’s most violent enforcer and committed many terrible acts, most notable for Arya was the murder of her Braavosi sword instructor, Syrio Forell, back in the first season. Immediately, Arya is confronted with a difficult decision: will she continue to strip herself of her identity as Arya and continue in her training to become a Faceless Man, or will she go back to being Arya in her quest for revenge against one of the men that was on her list. As we probably could’ve guessed, she chooses the latter and follows Ser Meryn to a brothel where we learn that he not only an evil man, but also a pedophile. It is also worth noting that at least two or three different times, Ser Meryn locked his eyes on Arya and appeared to have vaguely recognized her. Arya will have to make a decision as to whether she is going to strip herself of her identity or pursue the kill of Ser Meryn – unless she can kill Ser Meryn as a Faceless assassin and accomplish both at the same time.

Season 5, Episode 4: Sons of the Harpy

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.

WHO IS JON SNOW?

One of the most intriguing storylines in the GoT series is that of Jon Snow. On the surface, we go through each episode believing what we are told — that he is the bastard of Ned Stark. But, deep down, we know that Jon Snow is not just another bastard and that he’s something much more. Throughout the first five seasons, there have been many breadcrumbs left for viewers to pick up on which would support the theory that he is in fact, not a bastard. And in episode four, Sons of the Harpy, we got some major additional information which not only points to the possibility that he’s not a bastard, but also offers up a theory of who his actual parents could. But, before we go into any theories as to who Jon Snow is, let’s first analyze what we knew going into this episode which supports the idea of who he is not…a bastard.

1. Deep down, Jon Snow being a bastard never felt right. There’s nothing ordinary about him. He’s special. There’s a greatness about him. So the idea of him being just another bastard and his mother being just another tavern whore doesn’t quite add up.

2. We believed Jon Snow to be the bastard son of Ned Stark because it’s what we were told from the very moment this show began. But if you stop for a second to actually think about it, it makes no sense for Ned Stark to have a bastard son. It’s completely antithetical to everything that Ned’s character is about. Ned Stark was the most honorable man in all of Westeros. He died for his honor — something the show reminds us of quite often. So does it really make any sense that this very same Ned Stark would dishonor his wife, break his vows and birth a bastard son after fucking a whore?

3. In season one, when Ned Stark is leaving Winterfell to head for King’s Landing to serve as the Hand to Robert, Jon Snow asks Ned one more time about his mother. Ned responds that the next time they see each other, he’s going to tell Jon Snow all about his mother. Well, that never happens because Ned gets his head chopped off. But, the point is, Ned clearly implied that there was a story to tell about Jon Snow’s mother. This is not a show where dialogue is added for the sake of conversation, and when something like that is alluded to, it generally has a very real significance.

Ned tells Jon he will tell him all about his mother next time they meet

Ned tells Jon he will tell him all about his mother next time they meet

Now that we’ve considered the evidence to support the idea that Jon Snow might not be a bastard, let’s look at the major points that were offered in this last episode to guide us on the journey of figuring out who Jon Snow might actually be.

1. At the Wall, Stannis is conversing with his wife as they watch Jon Snow training some of the brothers of the Night’s Watch. After Stannis acknowledges that he sees something great in Jon Snow, his wife responds that he is just a bastard birthed by a tavern slut. Stannis responds, “Perhaps, but that wasn’t Ned’s way,” again reminding us that it really doesn’t make sense for the honorable Ned Stark to have cheated on his wife and that Jon Snow might not be a bastard.

2. Melisandre makes her move on Jon Snow and tells him, “There’s power in you, but you resist it.” We are again reminded that there is nothing bastard-like about Jon Snow and that he appears to be something greater. Even more powerful, as Melisandre walks out, she tells him “You know nothing, Jon Snow.” Of course, this is something Ygritte used to always tell him, but when the prophetic Melisandre says it to him, it appears to take on a totally new meaning. She says it in a way that implies that there is a great knowledge that he knows nothing of, perhaps the knowledge of who he actually is and the power that is inside of him.

Melisandre telling Jon Snow that he has great power inside of him

Melisandre telling Jon Snow that he has great power inside of him

3. The plot really thickens when Sansa and Baelish are in the crypts below Winterfell and Baelish offers up what a very significant piece of history from the timeline before the show started. He tells Sansa about the tourney which took places about 20 years ago, when Rhaegar Targaryen, son of the Mad King and oldest brother of Khaleesi, dueled against Ser Baristan Selmy. After Rhaegar won the duel, he presented Lyana Stark with a bed of roses, choosing Lyana over his own wife, Elia Martell. It is unclear what happened after he declared his affection for Lyana, but Rhaegar and Lyana dissapeared — some say he kidnapped her while others believe she chose to go with him. Robert Baratheon, who loved Lyana and was supposed to marry her, believed that Rhaegar kidnapped her, and used this as justification for Robert’s Rebellion, a war started by he and Ned Stark to get back Lyana…a war that would put an end to the Mad King and the 300 year Targaryen dynasty and land Robert on the Iron Throne. Sure, there were other reasons for Robert’s Rebellion, such as the fact that the Mad King had completely lost his mind and was burning people for fun, or the fact that the Mad King killed Ned Stark’s brother and father. But, ultimately, it was Lyana Stark’s disappearance with Rhaegar Targaryen that would be the catalyst for Robert Rebellion’s. So, we know that when Baelish shares this story with Sansa, it’s extremely significant.

During the war of Robert’s Rebellion, tens of thousands of people died, some fighting to defend the Mad King and the Targaryen Dynasty, while others fought for the banners of the Stark/Baratheon/Arryn rebels. 20+ years later, Baelish references all these lives that were lost as he asks Sansa “How many thousands had to die because Rhaegar chose Lyana?” In response, Sansa states “He chose her. And then he kidnapped her and raped her.” Baelish responds with a quiet grin, as if to say “That’s not quite what happened,” and that there is more to the story than Sansa knows. Again, this is not a show where dialogue is in there for the sake of conversation, especially when it’s dialogue that is referencing historical events that took place before the show started. If Baelish is talking to Sansa about Lyana Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen, there’s a reason. And the quiet smile he offered in response to Sansa’s belief that Rhaegar kidnapped her and raped her implies that there’s more to the story.

All that, coupled with the focus on Jon Snow’s character in this episode, added with all the clues offered in the first few seasons, and a theory starts to take shape… Jon might not be a bastard… He might not even be the son of Ned Stark… But maybe, just maybe, he’s the son of Lyana Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen, which would make Khaleesi his aunt. Or it’s even possible that Lyana was raped by the Mad King himself, making Jon Snow Khaleesi’s brother! And when we then think about some other things we’ve learned throughout the show, there’s quite a bit we’ve seen to support this theory:

Baelish smirks as if to imply he knows more about Lyana and Rhaegar

Baelish smirks as if to imply he knows more about Lyana and Rhaegar

1. We know that Rhaegar and Lyana ran off together. Whether they had consensual sex or she was raped, it’s entirely possible, if not probable, that a baby came from this.

2. Ned and Robert were on the warpath during Robert’s Rebellion, headed for King’s Landing to overthrow the Mad King and the entire Targaryen family, with Rhaeger being primary target #2 right after the Mad King. Along the way, it’s entirely possible that Ned discovered that Lyana had a baby with Rhaegar. And we know that if Robert discovered this, he would’ve likely had the baby killed, as it would’ve been the son of Rhaegar, and thus a Targaryen baby. We also know that the two babies Rhaegar had with his actual wife, Elia Martell, were killed at the end of Robert’s Rebellion (by the Mountain, which is why Prince Oberyn wanted revenge against the Mountain for the death of his sister, Elia, and her babies). So, in an effort to protect this baby, the baby of his own sister, Ned could’ve claimed the baby as his own. Of course, to have done this, he would’ve had to lie and pretend that he had sex with a whore and that the boy was a bastard.

2. In season one, when Ned and Robert were headed back to King’s Landing after Robert recruited him as Hand to the King, Robert mentioned that he heard whispers about a Targaryen girl who has three dragons and could be a threat to the Iron Throne. Robert suggests that they should eliminate this threat and have the girl killed. Immediately, Ned tells Robert that he cannot be serious and cannot consider murdering an innocent girl. But why would Ned object to eliminating a Targaryen threat? Well, If Jon Snow was in fact the son of Lyana and Rhaegar, that would mean he is technically a Targaryen himself, and Khaleesi would be his aunt (the sister of his father, Rhaegar). So naturally, Ned would object to the idea of murdering her.

3. Earlier this season, Jon Snow was elected as the new Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. And who cast the final vote to break the tie and give Jon Snow the final vote he needed to win? Maestar Aemon Targaryen. Furthermore, Maestar Aemon mentioned in an earlier season that he and Rhaegar were quite close and corresponded through letters often. It’s possible that Maestar Aemon is actually aware of who Jon Snow really is. Which is all the more interesting, because two episodes back, Samwell mentioned to Jon that Maestar Aemon is sick — which again, we know would not be mentioned without cause. So it’s possible that Maestar Aemon is dying and might die with the knowledge of who Jon Snow really is — or maybe he’ll tell Jon Snow before he dies.

For now, this is just a theory. But when examining everything we know, it seems unlikely that Jon Snow is a bastard. And even more unlikely that the honorable Ned Stark would be the one to have a bastard son. And in this most recent episode, we got three more tidbits to build the case for Jon Snow not being a bastard, and one major piece to suggest who is actual parents could be. Stannis reaffirms that sleeping with whores was not Ned’s way. Melisandre tells Jon Snow that he knows nothing, in a way that implied there is something great about him that he is totally unaware of, such as who he might be. And finally, we learn all about Rhaegar and Lyana, a story that would not have been offered if there was nothing something meaningful to come from it. We will see what direction this heads in, but hopefully sooner than later we will find out what Ned was referring to, if anything, when he told Jon Snow that he would tell him all about his mother the next time he saw him.

RECAP OF EVERYTHING ELSE

Jaime and Bronn arrive to Dorne on their mission to rescue Jaime’s “niece,” Myrcella. Bronn questions why Jaime is there himself, versus sending a more capable, two-handed person on the mission, and Jaime insists that he must be the one to do this. The question is, who is he doing this for? Does he truly feel a need to be a father rescuing his daughter? Or is this all about getting the job done for Cercei? And speaking of Cercei, as Bronn and Jaime enjoy a Dornish viper for breakfast, Bronn asks Jaime how he’d want to die, to which Jaime responds “In the arms of the woman I love.” Bronn asks him if that woman wants the same, and we see Jaime look off into the distance, providing no answer to Bronn’s question. Which begs another question — what is the future of Jaime and Cercei and in what direction is their relationship headed? And after Bronn whoops some Dornish ass and he and Jaime take down the four Dornish riders, we see that Ellaria has rounded up the Sand Snakes, Oberyn’s bastard daughters, all of whom will support Ellaria’s campaign to go to war to avenge the death of Oberyn. Furthermore, they have been made aware that Jaime is already in Dorne to rescue Myrcella, and realize that they must not let Jaime get to Myrcella before they do, or else they will lose their only piece of leverage.

Ellaria and the Sand Snakes

Ellaria and the Sand Snakes

In King’s Landing, Cercei is quickly shaking things up and we see now, more than ever, that she will not go down quietly. She will not be written off and continue to show her wit and strength, a cunning determination that is rivaled by few other characters in this show. She sends Mace Tyrell off to Braavos to meet with the Iron Bank, accompanied by none other than Sir Meryn Trant, Cercei’s sworn guard who will do as she commands. Perhaps she is getting him far away, or perhaps this is a play to kill him. Additionally, we see her reinstate the Faith Militant, a fanatical army of men who will serve the “justice of the gods.” But really, they appear to be serving Cercei, as she uses them to imprison Ser Loras Tyrell, further improving her position over House Tyrell. And when Margaery finds out and demands her King husband free Ser Loras, we see a weak boy who is unable to exercise his power to do what is needed in order to free him.

Cercei smirking after sending off Mace Tyrell

Cercei smirking after sending off Mace Tyrell

In Mereen, we see even more trouble for Khaleesi, who hasn’t mentioned trying to reclaim the Iron Throne of Westeros in what seems like ages. As the Sons of the Harpy kill in the streets, they draw the Unsullied into a trap where they are vastly outnumbered. After killing most of the Unsullied, we see Grey Worm fight valliantly to kill off many of the Sons of the Harpy. However, he can’t fight them all off and is about to be killed, when Ser Barristan comes onto the scene and we see why is revered as one of the greatest knights in all of the Seven Kingdoms. He too kills many, but not before he is outnumbered, and appears to be killed himself. We witness what looks to be the death of one of the few truly great men of Westeros. It is unclear whether he is definitely dead, or if Grey Worm is dead as well, but one thing is for sure: Khaleesi is going to need some new support by her side, and what perfect timing for Jorah, who is on his way back to Khaleesi, with the gift of Tyrion Lannister.

Ser Barristan laying dead next to Grey Worm

Ser Barristan laying dead next to Grey Worm

At the Wall, we also see a powerful scene between Stannis and his daughter Shereen, in which he shows rare emotion and tells her the story of how he fought to keep her alive when nobody else would. We see her eyes filled with tears as she gives her dad a big hug, and he slowly hugs her back, an affection we’ve not seen to date from Stannis. Furthermore, we also learn that Baelish must go back to King’s Landing to meet with Cercei. Sansa tells him that he cannot leave her alone, appearing to have completely put all her trust in him and having abandoned any doubts she once had about his true motives. He continues to off her guidance and gives her a kiss on the lips before departing, again leaving us to wonder what is going to happen between the two and what does Baelish ultimately want?

Bronn Stokeworth

Bronn Stokeworth is a low-born sell-sword, somebody who offers their sword of protection to anybody willing to pay for it, rather than fighting for a specific house. In an interesting chain of events, Bronn comes into the service of Tyrion Lannister and the two develop a close bond. Suspicious that Tyrion was responsible for the attempted murder of her son, Catelyn Stark went into the nearest inn and asked the men to help her arrest Tyrion, after she intercepted him on her way back to Winterfell. Bronn assists in arresting Tyrion and they bring him to the Eyrie for holding. After Tyrion chooses trial by combat, Bronn offers to champion Tyrion in battle and defeats the man he fights, saving Tyrion’s life and earning him his freedom. From that day forth, Bronn came into service of Tyrion.

bronn