SEASON 7, EPISODE 6: BEYOND THE WALL

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

BEYOND THE WALL

In typical Thrones fashion, this year’s penultimate episode did not disappoint. As we’ve come to see, the second-to-last episode of each season generally accounts for some of the shows biggest and most dramatic events (i.e. Ned’s beheading, The Battle of Blackwater Bay, The Red Wedding, etc…) But this season’s penultimate episode, entitled Beyond the Wall, took us to entirely new heights. This episode was not just beyond the wall, it was beyond. Period. This behemoth of an episode featured the most significant battle we’ve seen to date — one that brought the all-important entities of fire and ice face to face for the first time. But there was much more. This installment offered the most extended look we’ve ever had into the army of the dead; the biggest dragon scene to date; and this season’s most important moment between two of its most important characters (Jon and Dany). As if all of that was not enough, there were some significant deaths, as well as an awesome surprise entrance from a character we haven’t seen in a while. There was also a crucial reveal about how team humans can possibly defeat team White Walkers in this battle for survival. Oh, and as if all of that was not enough, the Night King now has a dragon to call his own!

FIRE AND ICE

If you don’t yet know that this entire story created by George R.R. Martin is entitled A Song of Ice and Fire, then shame on you. In adapting his multi-book series for TV, HBO decided that Game of Thrones (which was the title of the first book in this series) would be more marketable. And while the latter may roll off the tongue a bit better, there is one pitfall — the importance of fire and ice gets lost. The Game of Thrones titles makes it seem as though this story is ultimately about a game whose winner will ascend the Iron Throne. And while that was the game being played in the first few books/seasons (and to some extent still is), we know that the endgame here is something much greater, which is what the title of the series spoke to. Kings and thrones are insignificant in the face of fire vs ice, light vs darkness, good vs evil. And though the show has obviously made it quite clear, especially as the story has progressed, that fire and ice is where this whole thing is headed, it still seemed unclear how and when these opposing elements would face off.

Well, heading into tonight’s episode, there were just seven episodes remaining, so we knew it couldn’t be too much longer. Yet still, I’m not sure anybody was wagering that this episode would bring a full-on collision between fiery dragons and icy White Walkers. But that’s precisely what we got as Dany flies her dragons into the deep north to save Jon and the Dream Team from certain death at the hands of the army of the dead. And boy was it a powerful sight to see.

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Hitting rewind for a moment, Jon and company venture into the deep north on their quest to find a wight. I get questions each week about what a wight is, so let’s quickly clear this one up. In the show, the wights are the undead zombies which account for most of the army of the dead. The wights are led by the more powerful and mythical White Walker creatures. If it seems confusing that the story would refer to the zombies as wights and their leaders as White Walkers, given that wights/Whites sound the same, well, it is. But, in the books, this confusion did not exist, as the White Walkers were called The Others. So, in the books, you had wights (zombies) being led by The Others. After the hit show Lost popularized the moniker The Others, referring to the other inhabitants of the island, HBO decided not to use the term The Others and came up with a new name for them — The White Walkers. So, today you have the wights and the White Walkers. But let’s get back to more important things.

Jon and squad don’t make it too far north before a run-in with an enormous undead bear. Because the bear has been turned by the White Walkers, it is uncharacteristically aggressive in its pursuit to kill the humans. But, the bear being turned does not explain its size — so it was pretty cool to see how big this bear was (more like a mini dinosaur). It was our first time seeing a creature like this in Thrones and builds on some of the other unusually large/mythical creatures we’ve seen (giants, direwolves, dragons, etc…) As the team bands together to fight off the bear, Thoros gets pinned down and The Hound is the closest one able to assist. Underscoring the juxtaposition of fire and ice, The Hound was literally frozen by the fire and we see that his fear of the flames still runs deep. As a result, Thoros gets badly mauled, though not killed, as Beric cauterizes his wound.

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Fast forward, Jon and company find themselves deserted on an island of ice, surrounded by not only thousands of wights, but also the Night King and his highest-ranking White Walkers. After Jon instructed Gendry to run back to Eastwatch to send a raven to Daenerys, the table was set, and it all of a sudden became entirely feasible that fire would meeting ice very soon. As night turns into day, the men wake up to find themselves still surrounded, only now with one less man. Thoros has not survived the night and Beric sets his corpse aflame to prevent the White Walkers from being able to turn him into a wight. I found it somewhat strange that the story had Thoros surviving the bear attack, only to die the next morning. In any event, it was sad to see Thoros go and he was definitely one of the more enjoyable characters of the show — a man who fought for those who could not fight for themselves — and a man who ultimately gave his life to serve what he believed to be a greater purpose. Most significant, this means that whatever role Beric is to play, he must make this life count as he likely will not have another to live. Thoros is no longer around to bring him back to life as he has done many times in the past, underscoring once again, that this story is nearing its end.

The Hound had already lost some points in my book for not saving Thoros from the bear. He now loses additional points for deciding that it would be a wise idea to start throwing rocks at the wights. Sure enough, the wights realize that the water has frozen back over and they can now resume their attack on Jon and company. Somehow, this single-digit group of men are able to fight off what felt like several hundred wights. While I was ecstatic to not see any more of them die, there were points where they appeared so engulfed by a sea of wights that it seemed unrealistic for them to survive, yet they somehow continued to fight them off. No doubt, we got to see the fighting prowess of each of these men — some of the realms greatest warriors, assembled together, each fighting with their weapon of choice. And though The Hound made some poor decisions in this episode, he’s back in my good graces after saving Tormund from what looked like a certain death. I’m not sure I could have handled losing Thoros and Tormund all in one episode.

Though they were able to fight off hundreds of wights, no matter how many they killed, more kept coming. Eventually, they were completely surrounded, and we went into a slow motion sequence where everything quieted down. This sequence was mostly focused on Jon and offered a slower, more focused vantage point of what it might feel like to acknowledge the imminent death that you and your men are facing. We saw a very similar sequence in the Battle of the Bastards when everything slowed down for Jon and it seemed like their defeat was certain. But just as Jon and his men were saved in the Battle of the Bastards by a surprise entrance, the same would happen in this battle, as Daenerys arrives with all three of her dragons and sets everything ablaze.

Her powerful flames engulf the wights by the hundreds, if not thousands, and in that moment, fire finally meets ice. For the first time, we see with our own eyes what we’ve been imagining for so long — how the dragons will ultimately help to defeat the army of the dead. Things are looking great for the good guys (well, I will pause on calling them the good guys, because that implies that the Night King and White Walkers are bad guys, and I believe it’s too early to determine that given that we don’t truly understand the Night King and what he is trying to achieve yet. But we’ll save that for another time). Everything changes as the Night King picks up his ice spear and takes down one of Daenerys’ dragons, Viserion, from what seemed like hundreds of yards away. The Night King must have been spending some serious bro-time with Tom Brady, because that dragon was hundreds of yards away and flying at a pretty high elevation.

Just like that, the tables are dramatically turned, and Daenerys is helpless as she watches her beautiful dragon fall from the sky like a plane that has been shot down out of the air. Her other two dragons let out a painful cry as they watch their sibling fall to its death. Seeing this, Jon Snow advances for the Night King, who attempts to take down Drogon, the dragon that Daenerys and the others are aback. Jon is attacked by more wights and pulled underwater, and Daenerys is forced to abandon Jon, though reluctantly, in order to save her two remaining dragons.

When Jon does reemerge from the water, he is frozen stiff and appears to have no chance at fighting off the new pack of wights that are headed his way. Not to fear, Uncle Benjen is here. We hadn’t seen Benjen since last season when he had to part ways with Bran because he could not pass through The Wall. At the time, he explained that the dead cannot pass through The Wall, due to powerful magic The Children of the Forest used in helping to build The Wall, thus confirming he was in fact technically dead. When Bran asked him what he would do, he confirmed that he would continue to fight off the dead for as long as he could, and in this episode, he made good on his word. Fighting with his flaming ball-and-chain, Benjen takes out a bunch of the wights and buys Jon just enough time to escape back to Eastwatch. Benjen is consumed by the wights and the assumption is now that he is fully dead…Or maybe he will be turned into a wight… But safe to assume he’s gone as the Uncle Benjen we know. What was most significant, and also most sad about this, is that Uncle Benjen (Ned’s brother) and Jon Snow were very close. Uncle Benjen was a big reason that Jon joined the Night’s Watch in the first place, and when Benjen went missing north of The Wall in the first season, Jon tried to go after him. Ironically, Benjen’s disappearance north of The Wall so many seasons ago is what would turn him into what he is today, and set him on the track to save his nephew when it really counted. Sadly, after all these years, their reunion was just a couple of seconds.

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Jon and Uncle Benjen atop The Wall in Season 1

A SILVER LINING

Coming into this episode, the dragon count was 3-0 in favor of the humans. After this episode, the count is now much more even at 2-1. Whereas the humans once had 3 more dragons, they now only have 1 more. That’s because not only did the Night King take out Viserion, but he wisely turned him into a wight that he will now be able to use in his army. This of course begs a ton of questions about how Viserion will be used and what he will be able to do. Will he now breathe ice instead of fire? Will he be able to freeze over entirely masses of land and kill all life? Will his newfound dragon allow The Night King to quickly and easily fly over The Wall and pose a greater threats to the humans? And how do you kill Viserion? The other wights can be killed by fire, but dragons are immune to fire, so is Valyrian steel/dragonglass the only way kill Viserion? Time will tell, but it raises all kinds of interesting questions. Also, as a sidenote, to turn Viserion into a wight, The Night King placed his hand upon the dead dragon’s snout, much the same as Jon Snow had touched Drogon a couple episodes back.

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No matter which way you slice it, The Night King getting his hands on a dragon is a huge blow to Daenerys and all of humanity. Though the Night King always posed a great threat, Daenerys was always approaching the level of invincibility with three full-grown dragons. But now, the playing field is a lot more level and The Night King may have what he needs to launch a full-blown offensive. All that said, there were some very significant silver linings to be found in this episode, some of which will have huge implications on how this all unfolds.

Silver lining number one: mission accomplished. The men did not go home empty-handed and they achieved what they had set out for — capturing a wight that they could present to Cersei, and presumably anybody else who is a nonbeliever. Arguably, the biggest problem the humans have faced in the great war to come is that they simply do not know it is coming. Jon Snow and a few others have been trying to spread the word, but most of the realm still regards the entire thing as mythology. But now, they have hard proof and it will be interesting to see how people react.

Silver lining number two: a very significant reveal about how the humans can possibly win this war. We knew a few things coming into this episode: 1) White Walkers can be killed with Valyrian steel or dragonglass; 2) wights can be killed with either of those, but are best defeated with fire. What we did not know, and learned tonight, is that there is some sort of link between White Walkers and wights, and killing a White Walker can actually take out many more wights in one fell swoop. As Jon battled and eventually defeated a White Walker, we saw several wights around him collapse and crumble. The assumption is that if you take out a White Walker, so too are you killing the wights that White Walker had turned. This is critical as it implies that killing a few hundred or even a few dozen White Walkers could wipe out a huge volume of the army of the dead. But what was even more significant, was Beric’s assertion that perhaps taking out The Night King would wipe out all the White Walkers and wights at once. We don’t know if this is true, but perhaps we just learned how this entire war can be won.

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Silver lining number three: Jon and Dany are in a great place. It was no secret that something was brewing between these two, yet Dany was still quite focused on fighting Cersei for the Iron Throne and wasn’t totally sure how credible Jon’s claims were regarding the army of the dead. But now, Dany has seen the threat with her own two eyes. What’s more, she’s lost one of her children at the hands of the Night King, so she is now more invested in this war than anybody. Alignment between Jon and Dany as it pertains to them coming together to defeat the Night King is absolutely huge.

But that’s not where the alignment stops. The emotions and potential romance continued to elevate in this episode and the two even ended up in a bed together, holding hands. Jon has declared Dany his queen, after an interesting dialogue with Tormund earlier in the episode where Tormund reminded Jon of Mance Rayder, the king of the Wildlings, who refused to bend the knee to any southern ruler. Tormund reminds Jon that Mance’s pride ultimately got him killed. Jon takes this advice to heart and decides that others must see the greatness that he sees in Dany. No doubt, he will face real backlash, especially amongst the Northerners, who view House Targaryen as definitive enemies. This should set up for a very interesting dynamic in the North, and the potential that the Northerns choose to no longer follow Jon, opening the door for a new Northern leader, which plays right into the Arya-Sansa drama we are seeing unfold — but more on that in just a bit.

One other thing to point out is that it was not just Jon that is buying into Dany and declaring her his queen, but also she that is buying more into him, especially after she sees the wounds that he sustained when he was murdered. Recall that in the fist scene they met, Ser Davos mentioned that Jon Snow was brought back from the dead, and Dany took particular interest to this. When she asked about it, Jon made it seem like he was not really brought back from the dead and that Ser Davos was embellishing. Just last episode, Dany asked Jon about this again, but before he could respond, Ser Jorah returned and stole the spotlight. Now, she is seeing first-hand the brutal wounds he sustained and she realizes that he did in fact die and come back to life. Ultimately, though Viserion’s death was tragic, you could make the argument that it was a cost well worth paying if it resulted in Jon and Dany coming together the way they did, Jon declaring Dany his queen, and that queen now being fully invested in the war against darkness.

Also, one smaller but additional silver lining is that we got some more color on the “who will be the 3 riders of Dany’s 3 dragons?” As we know, Aegon, alongside his two sisters, rode their three dragons during his Conquest. Many have theorized that there would have to be two additional riders to ride alongside Dany, but that theory now seems to be out the window.

DRAMA IN WINTERFELL

Though it seems much less significant than what we saw unfold north of The Wall, the tensions building at Winterfell will have important implications. After all, don’t forget, Winterfell and The North are one of the first lines of defense south of The Wall. So, if the White Walkers do pass through The Wall, Winterfell is one of the first places they will reach. Having a definitive leader at Winterfell who can unite The North will be critical. And that’s the opposite of what we are seeing today.

Picking up on last week’s episode, Sansa and Arya are falling right into Baelish’s trap. Unbeknownst to her, Baelish planted a note for Arya to find which presents Sansa as a Joffrey-loving traitor who was willing to denounce her own father in support of the Lannisters. What we know as viewers (as does Baelish because he was there at the time), is that Sansa was forced to write this latter as she was more or less Cersei’s prisoner. Sansa attempted to plead this case to Arya, though Arya’s mind seems to be made up about who her sister is and where her loyalties lie. Interestingly, the show has seemed to present this conflict much more from Arya’s vantage point than from Sansa’s. Both girls have been through trying times and actually appear to both want to do what’s best for Winterfell, yet the show has made Arya feel like the protagonist who is onto her antagonist sister.

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Just as Baelish had hoped, he is able to find himself in private quarters with Sansa, offering her advice of how to proceed. He notes that Brienne has sworn an oath to protect both sisters, and as such, is a valuable asset to rely upon. Sansa takes this advice and sends Brienne to King’s Landing after her attendance was requested. Brienne objects to going and tells Sansa that she cannot trust the people around her, especially Baelish, even if she is home at Winterfell. Naively, Sansa believes that because she is at home that she is safe. With Brienne gone and Arya and Sansa at odds, Baelish is setting the table for him to make his next move — whatever move that might be.

Another sidenote on Winterfell — where has Bran been as all of this drama is unfolding between his sisters? After all of this time, he has finally returned to Winterfell, so where is he hiding? As an all-knowing being, you would think he’d be able to step in and drop some knowledge on his sisters to help them navigate their issues. Also, speaking of things missing at Winterfell, where the hell is Jon’s wolf, Ghost? We have not seen him this entire season, so keep an eye out for that.

HISTORY THROUGH DIALOGUE

In the first few minutes of their journey north of The Wall, there was some incredibly rich dialogue amongst the men, most of which recounted some important Thrones history. Here’s a recap:

Jon and Jorah talk further about their past as Jon reveals that Jorah’s father had given him Longclaw, a Valyrian steel sword that was meant for Jorah. Jon offers the sword to Jorah, but Jorah admits that he is unworthy. But it is not just Jon that knows Jorah’s father; Jorah also knew Jon’s father (well, he knew the man Jon currently believes to be his father, Ned. Jorah recalls that Ned wanted Jorah executed (which is why he had to flee Westeros and eventually ended up meeting Khaleesi in Essos). You can read more about why Ned wanted him executed here.

Jorah and Thoros recount their time in battle together during Robert’s Rebellion. They fought together for the rebels in a battle where they stormed Pyke (seat of the Iron Islands). History tells that Thoros rode into battle with his flaming sword and helped to win this decisive victory.

Tormund and The Hound end up discussing Brienne, though their interactions with her could not be further apart. Tormund tells The Hound of his affections for Brienne and how he hopes to marry her and have giant children together. Though The Hound does not reveal it, we know that it was Brienne that nearly killed The Hound a few seasons back.

Gendry and Thoros also recall some history as Gendry calls them out for selling him to Lady Melisandre. He tells them what she did to him though they appear to move past it pretty quickly.

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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.

SEASON 6, EPISODE 9: BATTLE OF THE BASTARDS

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.

BATTLE OF THE BASTARDS

This may not have been the episode we wanted, but it was the episode we needed. After a week’s worth of buildup leading up to the ninth episode, and what feels like years worth of buildup leading to the battle for the North, expectations were sky-high for the Battle of the Bastards. This excitement was heightened even further by the fact that the penultimate (second to last) episode of each season is generally the boldest and most shocking (the ninth episode of previous seasons included the killing of Ned Stark, the Battle of Blackwater Bay, the Red Wedding, etc). So it was no surprise that the Thrones world was hyped like never before for the battle that would pit the beloved Jon Snow and Sansa against the hated Ramsay Bolton, with the future of the North and glory of House Stark/Winterfell on the line. In turn, it was also no surprise that the episode simply didn’t live up to these lofty expectations. But like I said, this may not have been the episode you wanted, but it was certainly the one that we needed.

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This episode lacked the surprise factor that we’ve come to expect from previous ninth episodes — it was not the beheading of Ned Stark or the Red Wedding massacre, events which nobody saw coming. The battle itself was not glorious, like the Battle of Blackwater Bay that lit up the King’s Landing sky with fantastic green mysterious wildfire. This battle was down and dirty. It was bloody. It was muddy. It exposed the brutal realities of hand-to-hand combat, a form of battle that we haven’t really seen in-depth to date. And to the extent that one of the goals of this episode was to do just that — make you feel the fear, the adrenaline, the rush, the bloody nature of hand-to-hand battle, well then this episode excelled as measured against that goal.

But there was so much more than just bloody battle. In fact, you could argue that the high-points of the episode were found outside the boundaries of the battle altogether. The exchange between Ser Davos and Tormund prior to battle — the most unlikely of characters to have ended up united in their support for Jon Snow. The palpable uneasiness of it being the night before battle, and Jon Snow’s camp not having much of a strategy at all. Jon Snow and Ramsay finally coming face to face as Sansa looks on — the hatred could be felt through the TV screen. These were just some of the moments leading up to the battle itself, which evoked a range of emotion.

Then there is still so many other aspects of the episode to consider. One of the most important, the fact that Sansa totally distrusted Jon Snow and did not reveal the support she had from Baelish and the Knights of the Vale. Good thing this was the case, for if she did reveal this, it is entirely likely that they would’ve gone down with the rest of Jon’s army and the battle would’ve been lost. There was also Sansa finally getting her revenge and symbolically feeding Ramsay back to his dogs. Oh, and let’s not forget finally getting to see the Stark banner fly over Winterfell, as it has for thousands of years. Ser Davos found Princess Shireen’s toy, and is likely onto Melisandre. And then there’s everything that happened in Mereen. In truth, this episode was more important than probably any to date…So again, I remind that this was the episode we needed.

SANSA & JON

A huge piece of this episode which will likely fly under the radar is the fact that Sansa won the battle. She may not have been physically fighting, but it was her newfound attitude which lends her to really trust nobody that ultimately won the battle at a time when all hope was lost. But let’s backtrack for a moment. It is the night before battle and Jon Snow doesn’t have much of a gameplan. He’s outnumbered and even his closest advisors in Ser Davos and Tormund can’t seem to conjure up a plan that makes us feel as though they really stand a chance against the Bolton forces. Jon Snow is so desperate for answers that he pays a visit to Melisandre, who still appears to be in a funk. There’s not much she can tell him, other than that Jon Snow is here for a reason, and that she will bring him back if he dies again, if that is the Lord of Light’s command. Melisandre has been pretty absent from the show as of late, and I thought many episodes back after she revived Jon Snow, that she would fade into the darkness. But, she’s still around, so keep an eye out for what comes next, which will likely involve Ser Davos and his realization that Melisandre was behind the burning of Princess Shireen. But I digress…

Jon Snow can’t seem to muster up a plan, and it is finally Sansa who scolds him for seeking the advice of all his advisors, without turning to her. After all, Sansa lived with Ramsay and knows him better than anybody, wouldn’t Jon Snow want that insight? As it turns out, not really, and see that in many ways, Jon Snow still knows nothing. But he placates and offers her an opportunity to speak, at which point she explains that it will not be Jon Snow laying any trap, but rather Ramsay who will be setting up Jon Snow’s army to fall into his trap. She knows that nobody is better at playing these games than Ramsay, and boy is she right. She also tells Jon that if they are to lose the battle, she will not be taken alive — death is preferable to reassuming her position as Ramsay’s prisoner and play-thing. Jon Snow insists that he will protect her, but Sansa tells him that nobody can protect her…Nobody can protect anybody.

snow rises

What we are really seeing here is the coming of age of Sansa’s character, which we’ve of course been seeing unfold over recent episodes. She was once the foolish, naive little child who only wanted to marry Joffrey and become queen. Well, after years of torture at the hands of Joff and then Ramsay, any semblance of innocence or youth has been taken from her. She’s also been burned by Baelish, who she trusted to protect her after being freed from King’s Landing, only for him to be the one to turn her over to Ramsay. So now, years later, can we blame her from feeling like nobody can protect her, not even her brought-back-to-life brother?

But the depth of her mistrust runs much deeper. In the face of being drastically outnumbered and desperately needing more men, you would think that Sansa might mention the Knights of the Vale so that he could account for them in his battle plan. After all, if he knew he had them as reinforcements, he could’ve planned accordingly and stood a much better chance at defeating the Boltons. But Sansa doesn’t trust Jon. Sansa doesn’t trust anybody. Not only does she not mention the Knights of the Vale, she doesn’t even let on to the fact that she is in touch with Baelish, or that there could be any possibility of additional troops to support their cause. It’s a pretty bold decision on her part, but she did not trust anybody but herself to control these additional troops. They were her last line of protection for when everything else went wrong. And as everything does in fact start to go wrong, we see what a wise decision she made.

Jon Snow does just what Sansa warned him not to — he falls into Ramsay’s trap. Nobody should have to watch a family member die, but sacrificing Rickon would be a price Jon Snow would have to be ready to pay if he wanted to win this battle. But that’s not who Jon Snow is. So he rides out into hostile territory to save his little half-brother, only for Ramsay to put an arrow through Rickon’s heart as Jon Snow took his front-row seat to watch his brother die. At this point, Jon Snow could’ve retreated, but he takes the bait and rides full force towards the Bolton army, one man against thousands. Sure to be slaughtered, the rest of Jon’s army is forced to charge at his back. Of course, the very limited battle strategy they did have was to force the Bolton’s to charge at them — so now they’re totally screwed, all because Jon Snow fell right into Ramsay’s trap, even against the warning of Sansa. And as Jon Snow is thrown from his horse and the Bolton forces are riding full force towards Jon, it looks like he may just die again. But Jon’s army collides full speed with the Bolton cavalry and we feel the immense impact of two forces charging each other full speed to engage in war.

What happens next is about 20 minutes of bloody, brutal, hand-to-hand combat. This wasn’t the movie version of war, where things are organized and tactical, if not predictable. This was the messy, chaotic, fight-for-your-life version of warfare, which was so unbelievably intense, that it was almost difficult to watch. One of the most powerful takeaways for me in this battle was watching Jon Snow fight, free of any fear of death. We always knew Jon Snow was one of the greatest warriors and swordsmen, but like any man, a natural fear of death can inhibit you in a life-threatening war like this. But Jon Snow has died. And been brought back. He believes that he has a purpose, and he is freed from any fear of death. So he fights like no other man on that battlefield — the weight of death has been lifted from him and he knows no fear.

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But that doesn’t mean he is superhuman or supernatural. He eventually gets buried beneath a mound of bodies, and the suspense is overwhelming as we feel the very real possibility that he could die from simply being stampeded and suffocated. But his journey isn’t done, and he rises up, only to find that his depleted forces have been surrounded by Bolton men. In Greek-Trojan style, the Bolton’s form a shielded perimeter, and simply constrict what’s left of Jon’s army, slaughtering them a few at a time. Tormund was prepared to die as he fights with Lord Karstark (once-supporter of House Stark), and eventually kills him by stabbing him in the gut and biting into his throat. But all hope seems lost, and even worse than watching the good guys run almost come to an end, was feeling the emotion of this group of men who now know that their death is imminent. Jon Snow, Tormund, Ser Davos — none of them can do or say anything — they are out of options and out of time.

That is, until Sansa arrives on the scene with Baelish to save the day with the Knights of the Vale, who easily mow down the unsuspecting Bolton troops. We see that Sansa’s distrust of Jon Snow as a commander eventually wins the battle. Her insistency on keeping these resources close to the chest and not telling anybody about them, ensured that the Knights were not swallowed up by the Bolton army, the way the rest of Jon’s army was, and Sansa’s decision saved the day. And just like, Ramsay retreats to hide behind the walls of Winterfell, walls which he believes cannot be sieged. But Jon Snow advances with Wun Wun the giant, who is able to break down the doors of Winterfell, as he is wounded with arrow after arrow. As he serves his fulfills his duty and breaches Winterfell, it is none other than Ramsay who delivers the last arrow to Wun Wun, putting the giant to sleep for good. For context, giants were once powerful creatures that existed north of the Wall for thousands of years, but today there are only a handful left. So, to see Wun Wun die, like we saw some of the Children of the Forest die to save Bran in a recent episode, is sad and powerful. It also speaks to the role that Jon Snow (and likely Bran) will have to play in the greater war that is to come.

wun

With no more games to play, Ramsay challenges Jon to hand-to-hand combat, to which Jon gladly excepts. We once again see that he is totally unbounded by any fear of death, so much so that he throws down his sword and approaches Ramsay as arrows are shot his way. When he gets his hands on Ramsay, he beats him to a pulp, finally looking over at Sansa as to acknowledge that they’ve accomplished what they came for. Winterfell is theirs and Ramsay has been defeated. But Ramsay is not Jon’s to kill, and we see Sansa get her final revenge — the revenge that she has been wanting for so long — as she tells Ramsay that his house will be wiped out and his name will be forgotten. And just like that, Ramsay’s dogs tear him to shreds, as he had done to so many before him. Sansa walks away with a grin on her face, knowing that she has no doubt not only gotten revenge, but also regained some of her freedom, knowing that Ramsay is gone for good. For me personally, I would’ve liked to see Ramsay suffer a bit more. Being torn apart by the hounds is of course an excruciating way to go, but after all the torture, after all the sick and twisted games, after all the terror he inflicted upon Theon, Sansa and so many others, I would’ve surely liked to have seen him tied up and tortured for a while. But, that is not the Stark way, and they have bigger issues to contend with.

The Stark banner once again flies over Winterfell, as it has for thousands of years ago, and the Starks have reclaimed their ancestral home. But what comes next? Well, for starters, Jon and Sansa are going to have to work out their trust issues. The North is still divided, and though they will surely regain a lot of Northern support, they also still have enemies in the North, especially what’s left of some of the houses that chose to back the Boltons. But that’s small potatoes. What really matters is the fact that Winterfell is on front lines with the war against the White Walkers that is heading their way, and nobody is more familiar with this impending war than Jon Snow. Having reclaimed Winterfell, Jon Snow will now have to assemble a much larger army if they are to stand any chance.

There are a lot of question marks about what comes next. Who stays at Winterfell? Who leaves? Who becomes Lord of Winterfell? How does Baelish fit into the picture and what does he actually want? Where is Ghost? Most of this probably will not be tied up in the finale episode next week, as there are larger stories they have to turn back to (Bran, Arya, Cercei/King’s Landing). But for now, we can and should all rejoice in knowing that Ramsay is dead, Jon and Sansa have won the battle and House Stark is back where it belongs — at Winterfell.

KHALEESI, DRAGONS AND A NEW ALLIANCE

As if all of that was not enough, a totally separate and pretty intense battle rages on across the Narrow Sea in Mereen. Picking up where last episode left off, Mereen continues to be assaulted by fiery catapults as Khaleesi and Tyrion discuss their next moves. Khaleesi tells Tyrion that she will use her dragons to burn the slave-cities to the ground. But, Tyrion reminds her that her father, the Mad King, once also planned to burn the city of King’s Landing to the ground. In her father’s plan, like hers, thousands of innocent would have died. It was Tyrion’s brother, Ser Jaime, who prevented that from happening by putting his sword through the back of the Mad King, earning him the honor-less nickname of Kingslayer. In reality, had he not done this, King’s Landing and all those who inhabited it may have been burned to the ground. Drawing an interesting parallel, years later, it is once again a Lannister preventing a Targaryen from burning a city to the ground. However, unlike the Mad King, Khaleesi is receptive to Tyrion’s words, and will settle for simply killing the masters and their army, and letting word spread to the rest of Slaver’s Bay about what happens to anybody who crosses Khaleesi.

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We are once again reminded why Tyrion is there and the value he brings to the table. This was a major building block for the relationship between Khaleesi and Tyrion. Following his plan, Khaleesi rides Drogon and burns the masters’ ships, or at least some of them, while Grey Worm executes two of the three masters, leaving the third to go back home and spread the word of what he has seen. In short, the time for peace-talks and half-measures is over, and Khaleesi, under advisement from Tyrion, burns her enemies to ashes. This was the first time we really see Khaleesi fly on her dragon into battle, but it certainly won’t be the last. We also see her other two dragons join as Khaleesi and her three dragons fly the sky. Wisely, they do not burn all the ships, and they claim many of the masters’ ships for themselves.

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Speaking of ships, Theon and Yara arrive to Mereen and stand before Khaleesi to plead their case. They explain that they come with the offering of 100 ships and their support for Khaleesi’s claim to the Iron Throne. All they ask in return is that they are allowed to remain leaders and Lords of the Iron Islands. 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 and power-hungry 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. 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.

Going even a step further, as mentioned above, House Greyjoy was one of the houses that pledged their fealty to Aegon Targaryen. At the time, the evil King Harren Hoare otherwise known as Harren the Black ruled over the Iron Islands and the Riverlands. House Hoare had ruled as kings of the Iron Islands for hundreds of years, and had invaded and conquered much of the western coast of Westeros, including the Riverlands. An oppressive leader, King Harren ruled from his newly built castle, Harrenhal, the strongest castle that Westeros had ever seen. When Aegon Targaryen arrived to Westeros, the first kingdom he sought to overthrow was King Haren and the Iron Islands. At the time, House Greyjoy was a smaller house, but pledged their allegiance to Aegon if he would help them overthrow the oppressive King Harren. When King Harren refused to bend the knee, Aegon and his sisters flew their dragons right over the walls of Harrenhal and destroyed it with fire. Not only did they burn Harrenhal, but they incinerated King Harren Hoare and the entire Hoare bloodline. To this day, Harrenhal appears burnt and black from Aegon’s dragons. As a result of House Greyjoy pledging their allegiance over 300 years ago, Aegon raised House Greyjoy up as lords of the Iron Islands. With this in mind, it is all the more powerful and significant to consider that 300 years later, the Greyjoys are once again pledging their allegiance to a Targaryen leader who is pledging to retake the Seven Kingdoms and award them lordship over the Iron Islands.

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This is of course a big win for Yara and Theon, who face a great threat from their Uncle Euron. But, it is also a coup for Khaleesi, who has made her first significant alliance with a major house of the Westeros. With her loyal council, three dragons, armies of the Unsullied and Dothraki, and now the support of House Greyjoy and 100+ ships, things are starting to look pretty good for Khaleesi. My guess is that we won’t see her depart for Westeros until next season, though.

HEADING INTO THE FINALE…

So, heading into the finale, there’s a lot of unfinished business. And unlike previous seasons that had great penultimate episodes with disappointing finales, I think this finale episode will be extremely exciting. So here are a lot of open-ended items, some larger than others, but all good to be thinking about:

  • Bran hasn’t been in quite a few episodes and we’re not quite sure what he’s been up to with Meera and Uncle Benjen. I think we’ll see a major development in his storyline that might shed some more light on the ultimate direction he’s headed and the role he’s to play in the war to come. He’s not all that far from Winterfell, so a possible reuniting with Jon and Sansa is possible, though it seems unlikely.
  • Arya is another character that was not in this last episode, and while I don’t think Khaleesi will yet sail across the Narrow Sea, my guess is that the finale episode will feature Arya returning back to Westeros. It would be pretty special to see her finally make it back to Winterfell and to reunite with Jon Snow — as Jon and Arya were always very close.
  • Perhaps the most important development in the finale episode will take place in King’s Landing, where Ser Loras and Cercei are both due to stand trial. Things will have to come to a head, with Margaery deciding whether or not she will continue to play the High Sparrow’s game, Tommen likely being faced with some important decisions as well, and these very important trials unfolding. After all, let’s not forget the House Tyrell is arguably the most powerful in all of the Seven Kingdoms right now (as measured by wealth, land, standing army, etc) and Ser Loras is heir to Highgarden, so even though he’s been locked up in a cell and off-screen for a while, he’s a very important character. And of course, so is Cercei, but things are looking pretty bleak for her after Tommen outruled trial-by-combat, eliminating her advance of the Mountain. Let’s also remember that Jaime is not in King’s Landing to protect her either, not that he necessarily could anyway. My prediction is that Cercei’s road will come to an end in this finale episode, freeing Jaime from the very thing that has always held him back from being a truly good man — his devotion to Cercei. With her out of the picture, Jaime would be liberated to become the good character that we’ve always wanted him to fully become, and go on to play a larger role in the story to come. It just feels like the days of Jaime and Cercei as a duo are coming to an end.
  • The Hound has joined the Brotherhood Without Banners, and it would be nice to see what direction they’re heading in.
  • There are still two living Stark wolves out there; Jon’s Ghost, which I would’ve expected to see in this battle, and also Arya’s Nymeria who we haven’t seen in many seasons. With Arya headed back to Westeros, expect her to be reunited with Nymeria at some point.
  • I also noted in the primer I wrote before this season started that Gendry is still out there somewhere. Ser Davos risked an awful lot to save his life, and considering he does have King’s Blood, I think we’ll have to see him at some point, though very possibly not in this finale episode.

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 5, Episode 2: The House of Black and White

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 TRUTH OF EACH CHARACTER

While there are many wonderfully unique characteristics of the Game of Throne series, perhaps one of the most identifiable is the unpredictability of most of this worlds characters. In most television, we understand who each character is at their core, what motivates their action and what they ultimately want to achieve. However, in the GoT world, as viewers, we’ve often had a difficult time discerning the true nature of a character. What truly lies at the core of each character? What do they really want? For one thing — we know that what they say they want, and what they actually want, are often two very different things. And for the first few seasons, we were often completely lost in trying to figure out things such as who we could trust or when a character was telling a lie.

But as we continue deeper into the fifth season, much of that is beginning to change; the true nature of each character is coming more acutely into focus. We are moving further away from the surface layer “games,” which often confused or misled us, and we are now dealing more in truth. Of course, this is still Game of Thrones, and mystery is never far from sight, but that thick cloak of deception that surrounded so many characters is beginning to be pulled back, and what’s left for us to see is the truth of each character — a truth that will drive each character as they continue on their individual journeys. And as we look back at the second episode of season five, The House of Black and White, it is important to assess the truth that continues to emerge out of each character.

ARYA IS MORE FEARLESS THAN EVER

After four years in the making, Arya finally arrives to Braavos, the mystical Free City where we hope she will find the tools needed to become the revenge-fueled assassin she desperately wants to be. After a horn blows announcing their arrival, the captain of the ship tells her to have no fear. In response, she gives one her emotionless stares into the distance and responds, “I’m not afraid.” And while she might’ve been responding to the captain in that moment, as she stares off into the distance and went off to a deeper place, we know that she is reaffirming that she is not afraid…of anything..period. After losing most of her family and enduring a tremendously painful journey, what could she possibly have left to be afraid of? And it is this fearlessness, this idea of having absolutely nothing left to lose, that we see as the undeniable truth of Arya’s character.

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Arya reciting the names on her list in front of the House of Black and White

As the wonderful Braavosi music plays in the background and the camera pans out to show Arya’s ship passing under the Titan of Braavos, the message is sent…finally, she has arrived. As she pulls into the harbor and looks on to see the local Braavosi merchants and villagers, we see a smile come across her face..that’s right — Arya shows a glimpse of joy and happiness. Perhaps there is hope for Arya after all in the land of Braavos. But things will not come easy. As she arrives at the colossal House of Black and White, the black man wearing all white tells her that there is no man there by the name of Jaqen H’ghar. But Arya is resolute, more determined than ever and driven by her fearless desire for revenge. She sits there day and night, repeating the names on her list: Cercei, Walder Frey, the Mountain and Meryn Trount — a list that has gotten much smaller.

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Arya arrives to Braavos, passing under the Titan of Braavos

BRIENNE THE OATHKEEPER

As Brienne and Pod enjoy a meal at the inn, Pod spots Baelish with Sansa and we see that Arya’s journey is not the only one that seems to have reached a destination. Finally, after much time, Brienne has her sights on Sansa. Before being approached by Brienne, Sansa asks Baelish about the scroll he received in the previous episode, to which he responds that his marriage proposal has been accepted..but to whom?

As Brienne approaches and pledges her service to Sansa, Baelish reminds her that Brienne failed to keep safe Renley or Catelyn, and also that Brienne had been implicated in the murder of Renley. As Brienne swears her honor and is intent upon keeping the oath she swore to protect Sansa, we see that Baelish’s manipulation and cunning words will be more convincing than those of Brienne, which are rooted in truth and honor. And, we are sadly reminded that noble concepts such as honor and duty will not always prevail, and often in this world, as in real life, the deceptive manipulator might come out on top.  We also see that Sansa quickly dismisses Brienne, showing no interest at all that Brienne had sworn an oath to her mother. It appears that Sansa continues to grow colder and darker — not the sweet little girl she once was. She also seems more willing to go along for Baelish’s ride and less questioning of what his motives might be.

Brienne and Baelish

Brienne and Baelish

As Baelish invites Brienne to travel with them, wanting to keep her close and eliminate a potential threat, Brienne makes a run for it and kills several of Baelish’s knights with her Valyrian steel sword, Oathkeeper, given to her by Jaime. After saving Pod from near-death, he suggests to Brienne that she might be free of her oath, considering that both Arya and Sansa refused her protection. But, Brienne does not think Sansa is safe with Baelish and refuses to abandon her vow. We continue to see a more realistic portrayal of the world around us, rather than the storybook version we are used to seeing in most television and film. That is, we did not see a picture-perfect reuniting when Brienne finally found Arya or Sansa. In this more realistic world, things do not go to plan and Brienne’s travels and hardships were all for nothing. But more importantly, we see what will continue to drive Brienne — the unrelenting dedication to her vow. Despite unfortunate results when she encountered the Stark girls, she will not give up and she will continue to be driven by the thing she holds more dear than all else — the words she swore to Catelyn Stark before she died.

KING’S LANDING

King’s Landing is appearing less and less like the grandiose capital city it once was, and more and more like a darker, grim place to be. It feels like a party — after most people have left and gone home — and there are just a few people left sticking around to clean up the mess. The cunning and deceptive characters of Varys and Baelish, so fundamental to the “game” once played at King’s Landing, are both gone. Tyrion as well. Joffrey and Tywin are both dead. Sansa has departed as well. King’s Landing is feeling less regal than ever before.

Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Nikolaj Coster Waldau as Jaime Lannister in Game of Thrones S5 Game of Thrones Season 5 Image Gallery Shows New Cast Members

Jaime and Cercei

But in the ashes that remain, we see a miserable Cercei who has received a threatening message, presumed to be sent from House Martell of Dorne. A viper, a symbol of House Martell, with her daughter, Myrcella’s necklace in it. Cercei tells Jaime that he has never been a father to any of their children, to which he responds that he had no choice as he had to protect the fact that they were born of incest. Cercei reminds him that in the end, his caution did nothing to actually save them — Joffrey was murdered, Tommen is going to be lost to Margaery Tyrell and Myrcella is hostage to House Martell in Dorne. Interestingly, in the previous episode, we recall that the witch Cercei went to see in her flashback who told her that “Gold will be their shrouds,” referring to the funeral shrouds of her future-children and alluding to their ominous fates.

Jaime tells Cercei that he will go to Dorne to rescue Myrcella and enlists the assistance of Bronn, who he tells they are headed “as far south as south goes.” And we again see the true nature of both Cercei and Jaime. The games, the politics, the schemes…those are all no longer important. Titles such as Kingslayer and Queen Regent no long matter. At their core, they are parents, and they will be driven to protect their children.

DORNE

And we finally get our first glimpse of Dorne, the most southern of the Seven Kingdoms, and home to House Martell. Princess Myrcella walks the Water Garden with a Martell prince, appearing to be safe after all. We also finally meet Prince Doran, the ruling prince of Dorne, and the older brother of Prince Oberyn. Suffering from the sickness of gout, what he lacks in physical ability, he appears to make up for in wisdom and patience. As Ellaria Sand, Oberyn’s lover, begs Doran to exact revenge for the death of the Red Viper, Doran reminds that his death in trial by combat was not murder, and that he will not go to war over this. Ellaria tells him that the Sand Snakes, the bastard daughters of Oberyn, support her and also seek revenge for the death of their father. She suggests that they torture Myrcella and send her mutilated body parts back to Cercei, to which Doran again refuses. He tells her that he will not let these things happen while he is still ruler, to which she responds “And for how long will that be?”

Prince Doran Martell of Dorne 

While the scene in Dorne was brief, it is clear that Dorne will play an important role as a new locale for season five. Furthermore, it appears that House Martell will be a major new house in the mix in the aftermath of the death of the Red Viper. We also continue to see the hot-headed nature that drives many of the Dornish, which we saw in the Red Viper and now in his revenge-driven paramour, Ellaria.

MORE PROBLEMS FOR KHALEESI

In Khaleesi’s seemingly never-ending stop in Mereen, the problems continue to stack up as Daario Naharis and Grey Worm discover the Son of the Harpy responsible for the murder of one of the Unsullied soldiers. Discord amongst her advisors continues as they express differing opinions regarding what they should do with their prisoner. And as Ser Barristan tells her of her father, the Mad King, and his practices of burning people alive as punishment, she vows to give this man a fair trial. But before that can happen, her ex-slave-turned-advisor kills the Son of the Harpy and mounts his body in the city for all to see. He explains to Khaleesi that he did this to protect her and serve justice. Her hands were tied as she was forced to offer a fair trial, when in reality, the punishment that needed to be served was death, which he was willing to do for her.

The dead Son of Harpy

The dead Son of the Harpy

Regardless of his loyal intentions, for his actions, Khaleesi sentences him to death. The irony is that she was unwilling to sentence to death the Son of the Harpy, who had committed the actual crime, while she was willing to sentence to death her own advisor who was acting loyally. Through these actions, we see what continues to drive Khaleesi: justice at any cost. She continues to make the difficult decisions, even sparing the lives of her own, if that is the cost of justice.

The ex-slave Khaleesi executes

The ex-slave Khaleesi executes

So driven by the idea of maintaing justice, Khaleesi has not even mentioned taking the Iron Throne of Westeros in quite some time — after all, how can she rule the Iron Throne before she achieves justice in Mereen? And the problems continue, as the death of the ex-slave enrages the other ex-slaves, Khaleesi’s “children.” As a result, a riot ensues between her children and the Masters and chaos breaks loose. And just when things appear to have hit rock bottom for Khaleesi, Drogon returns, the largest of her dragons who had been missing for weeks. While his return is significant in showing that he’s still in the picture, it was the timing of his return that was even more significant — a reminder that Khaleesi truly is the Mother of Dragons, and that an emotional connection exists, as Drogon returns to her and lifts her up when she is at her lowest.

Drogon returns to Khaleesi

Drogon returns to Khaleesi

TYRION AND VARYS

It is undeniable that the characters created by George R.R. Martin are simply amazing. They are unique while still identifiable; they are bold while still rooted in reality; they are relatable, even if unlikable. He has created a depth to each character with which viewers can form a meaningful connection. And of course, the evolution of each character and the different perspective we’ve been exposed to, make them all the more amazing. One minute you thought you hated a certain character and the next you felt like you loved them.

And the only thing greater than these characters on their own is when they are together, particularly in twosomes and often on some sort of wonderful journey that forces them to grow together. Whether it was Brienne and Jaime, Arya and the Hound or now Tyrion and Varys, there is nothing quite like the way George R.R. Martin creates one-on-one relationships between characters who appear very different on the surface, only to show us that they ultimately are not very different at all.

Jaime and Brienne appeared to be characters completely antithetical to each other, only for their season-long journey to show us that in the end, they were not different at all, and they were binded by their true nature of honor and duty. Similarly, Arya and the Hound couldn’t have been more different at the onset of their relationship, but as they endured the troublesome journey through the Riverlands, we saw them united by their shared love of killing. And now, ass Tyrion and Varys continue on their journey from Pentos to Volantis to embark upon the road to Mereen, we are seeing the emergence of another of these priceless relationships.

Tyrion and Varys travel to Volantis

Tyrion and Varys travel to Volantis

At first glance, Tyrion and Varys appear to be completely different characters. One is a a sarcastic dwarf from a very powerful Westeros family with an affinity for drinking and fucking. The other is a eunuch born into slavery on Easteros with a more serious disposition and no interest at all in the vices of sex or alcohol. Yet as they continue on their journey, we are beginning to see that when these surface features are stripped back, at their core, they are actually quite similar. They discuss the fact that they could both actually be quite good rulers, as they are two of the few men truly interested in making the world a better place to live in. Yet men like them could never rule as they are repulsive to society. And in turn, society is repulsive to them. And so they surround themselves with large comfortable boxes, such as the one they are confined to right now on their travel. Yet, at the end of the day, men like them are never really satisfied with being in the box…not for long.

And so we see the shared desire of each man to break out of the proverbial (and literal) box that they are in. They are driven by their true desires to make the world a better place. And while they cannot be the rulers themselves, Varys continues to try to sway Tyrion into realizing that this ruler does exist, and that they must find her to help her ascend the Iron Throne.

THE SMALL COUNCIL GETS SMALLER

Back at King’s Landing, we see the head of another dwarf brought to Cercei, albeit the wrong dwarf. Interestingly, Qyburn requests to keep the head as it may prove useful in his experiments. Which begs the question — what are these experiments he is working on? And what will they produce? And this also brings us back to the finale episode of last season when Qyburn performs one of his eery science-lab experiments in an attempt to save the life of the Mountain. He tells Cercei that if it saves him, it certainly will not make the Mountain any weaker. An already freakish monster — what happened to the Mountain and when, if ever, will we see him again?

Cercei and her new Small Council

Cercei and her new Small Council

At the Small Council, we see Cercei attempting to maintain control, though with little success. She appoints Qyburn new Master of Whispers in place of Varys, reminding the council of his qualification of loyalty. She appoints Mace Tyrell Master of Coin in addition to Master of Ships. And she appoints her uncle, Tywin’s brother, Kevan Lannister, Master of War. However, he refuses to acknowledge her authority and tells her that he will be returning to rule over Casterly Rock.

SOME BIG EVENTS AT THE WALL

At the Wall, Jon Snow tells Stannis that the Wildlings will never follow him after he killed their king, and that they will only follow one of their own. Stannis must figure out another way to win back the North, and he offers to remove Jon Snow’s bastard status and raise his up as Jon Stark, Lord of Winterfell. As such, he would have Jon Snow lead the North as part of Stannis’ cause. Becoming a Stark is all that Jon Snow has ever wanted his entire life, yet still,  the truth of his character — his unrelenting dedication to the vows he took to the Night’s Watch, prevent him from accepting Stannis’ offer. The discipline Jon Snow shows creates a pretty amazing moment. We can all probably think of 1 or 2 things we have always wanted our entire lives — or at least a couple things we want more than anything right now in our lives. And for most of us, these things we want most would be impossible to turn away if ever presented to us. For Jon Snow to pass on the opportunity of no longer being the bastard of Winterfell, and to become not only a proper Stark, but Lord of Winterfell, shows unbelievable character and strength.

And moments later, after Samwell’s passionate speech about Jon Snow’s heroism, he is elected 998th Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. There are many major implications about Jon Snow being Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, such as how will Ser Allisor Thorne react and how will Jon Snow command over the depleted Night’s Watch.

Kit Harington as Jon Snow Stephen Dillane as Stannis Baratheon and Liam Cunningham as Davos Seaworth in Game of Thrones S5 Game of Thrones Season 5 Image Gallery Shows New Cast Members

Stannis offers to make Jon Snow a Stark

Also at the Wall, we see Shereen, Stannis’ daughter, teaching Gilly how to read. The two begin to discuss Grey Scale, the disease that has scarred Shereen’s face. Gilly tells Shereen of her two sisters who were inflicted with this disease, who eventually turned into grotesque monsters, before being put out of their misery. Interestingly, unlike them, Shereen appears to have been spared as the disease never took over her full body. It is also interesting to think back to last season when Lady Melisandre told Lady Selyse that Shereen must come with them to the Wall as she will have a role to play.

A GIRL MUST BECOME NOTHING

As the episode concludes, Arya crosses paths with a couple street bandits who she tells to turn the other way if they want to live. Despite being one small girl against three larger men, we again see the absolute fearlessness that drives Arya. But before any fight ensues, the men flee as they see the black man in the white hood that Arya encountered early in the episode. As they stand back in front of the House of Black and White, the man gives her the coin back that she threw in the water, before changing his face back to that of Jaqen H’ghar. When she asks why he told her earlier that there was no man by the name of Jaqen H’ghar at the House of Black and White, he tells her “A man is not Jaqen H’ghar. A man is nobody. And that is who a girl must be come.”

The face of Jaqen H'ghar returns and lets Arya into the House of Black and White

The face of Jaqen H’ghar returns and lets Arya into the House of Black and White

These words are interesting for several reasons. First, it continues to show the mysterious and magical side of the Faceless Man, a league of assassins that we are dying to learn more about. But more importantly, it is the idea of becoming nobody or nothing. In response to the words Valar Morghulis, meaning “all men must die,” the Braavosi respond Valar Dohaeris, meaning “all men must serve.” As Faceless Men, they appear to strip themselves of any true identity, becoming nothing, and dedicate themselves to their service. This seems to be just the place for Arya, a girl who already has been stripped of most of her identity and is driven by the sole desire for revenge. In many ways, she has already been reduced to nothing and she could be a perfect fit for the Faceless Men.