Season 8, Episode 3: The Long Night

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.

Here’s an idea for the framework of a story. Let’s start off with a series of events that will initially seem like the main purpose of the story, say a battle for supremacy over a throne. Let’s weave in countless battles, twist and turns, all in the name of conquering that throne. Let’s then start to pivot a bit and make our story multi-dimensional. Let’s tickle the curiosities and spark the imaginations of our viewers by starting to slowly and methodically offer the idea that the original premise of this story is actually not the end-all be-all. Sure, that first story about the battle for that throne once seemed all-important, but what if we start to craft another story, which starts to make the first seem less significant? In doing so, we offer a powerful idea: relativity. A plot-line that once fully consumed us, may now start to feel more disposable, when considered relative to a much more powerful story we can tell. And, say, that more important story will be centered around a much more existential philosophy….Maybe good vs evil, light vs dark, Ice vs Fire.

Of course, as we start to build this seemingly much more significant story arc, we will do so in a slow and calculated manner. We will start by offering breadcrumbs, early on, maybe even teasing the villain, a mysterious White Walker, in the very first scene of the very first episode. From there, we will build slowly over nearly a decade of storytelling, consistently reinforcing to our audience that there is a much more important storyline lurking in the distance — one that will continue to come into greater focus with each passing day.

And as our story nears its ultimate conclusion and this seemingly all-important storyline appears to be reaching its climax — the point where our audience will finally be rewarded with a a more illuminated view into the true message or meaning underpinning this story — let’s do the following: In the blink of an eye, let’s completely pull the rug out from under them. Let’s offer up a huge plot twist that undermines everything we’ve been telling our audience for the past 10 years. That original story we hooked you with — the one about humans battling for a throne — the one we worked so hard to remind you is actually less significant than that bigger and more important plot-line — let’s do a complete 180′ on that and decide it’s going to be the plot-line that the ending of this story will be dedicated to.

How does this framework sound to you? Shocking? Frustrating? Downright idiotic?

The Game of Thrones was fun. But it was just the first book in the Song of Ice and Fire series. Which, as we saw in the show, meant that this story ultimately was about something so much greater than mere mortals battling for a throne — a story that’s been done a dozen times over. This story was going to explore a much deeper, more powerful theme — one that cuts to the very existential core of human nature. The eternal struggle between good and bad, light and dark, which in this story, will be embodied by Ice and Fire.

It was not long before we started to understand that the battle for the throne was small potatoes compared to The Great War to Come. You know, that war that was going to determine the very fate of human existence. The war that pitted the dark and mysterious Night King against pretty much the rest of humanity. The war that tied in elements of gods, magic, dragons, and so much more. And what this show more than succeeded at was the masterful nature in which they built this story. Visions, flashbacks, allusions to events that happened thousands of years ago — these were just a few of vehicles that allowed us to start to understand the power of this storyline being built.

First, it was just White Walkers — pretty badass creatures of darkness that certainly made it clear that there’s a real threat to humans — a threat that makes bickering over a throne quite futile. But this story became all the more intriguing when we were introduced to The Night King, the mysterious leader of the White Walkers. Slowly, we were offered breadcrumbs which built the anticipation of this story, but also generally raised more questions. In season four, we learned how White Walkers were created, when we saw The Night King touch his finger to the face of a baby.

Two years later, things got even more interesting, when we saw how The Night King himself was created. Through one of Bran’s visions, we learned that The Night King was created by the Children of the Forest after they inserted Dragonglass into his heart. This certainly raised many more questions. Why exactly did The Children do this? They mentioned to Bran it was to save their kind from The First Men who had been slaughtering them. But how does creating The Night King save their people? Wouldn’t you just want to kill the humans you are at war with? Why insert Dragonglass into his heart? Seems like a strange ritual. And did The Children know they would be creating The Night King? Was that their intention? And who was the human they chose? Was he random or a significant character? And what about those spirals? We know those spirals were used by The Children, and then The Night King started using them as well — why? What was the ultimate connection between The Night King and The Children?

So many questions to be answered, and it was never a guarantee that they all would be, but as this story approached its final hours, it became abundantly clear that at minimum, there was a major connection between The Night King, The Children of the Forest and Bran. So with just a few episodes left before this 10-year journey comes to a close, I was expecting to learn a lot more about who The Night King was, why he was created, what his ultimate motivations were, how he was connected to The Children, what was the significance between he and Bran, etc… I felt that this entire saga, A Song of Ice and Fire, would be just that — a beautiful harmony, that as it reached its crescendo, would delight me with a a moment of clarity — a moment that allowed me to understand what this whole thing really was about.

What actually happened in tonight’s episode couldn’t have been further from this. What we got tonight, in the most highly-anticipated Thrones episode of all time, was an edge-of-your-seat 80-minute battle scene, and a 2-minute mindblowingly disappointing ending. As for the battle itself, hats off to Thrones for once again delivering another absolutely epic battle — one that took 11 weeks to shoot and required over 750 actors on set! No small feat. And while it was pretty suspenseful, it was actually one of my least favorite battles to date. The Battle of Blackwater Bay, the first real battle we ever witnessed on Thrones, watching those ships light up the sky with green wildfire, will always be a special one. Watchers on The Wall, the penultimate episode of season four (and the only other episode besides tonight’s to be fully dedicated to one battle scene), was spectacular as we got to watch The Night’s Watch defend The Wall for the first time against The Wildlings. Even the more recent Battle of the Bastards grabbed me more than this battle tonight.

First, I really found the battle to be a bit too all over the place. No doubt, this is precisely what producers/directors were going for — trying to create the feeling that this was not a singular battle happening in one location, but rather spread throughout many parts of Winterfell. Yet still, I found it a bit disjointed trying to follow the many different characters battling wights in many different nooks and crannies of the castle. I also found the coloring of the episode to be challenging. Again, this was no doubt intentional, but the combination of darkness from this battle being fought at night, mixed with a lack of visibility from The Night King’s foggy mist, made a lot of simply hard to follow — a big miss in my opinion.

I also flat out did not enjoy the role of the dragons in this battle. It was hard to see who was riding what dragon, which dragon was which, and ultimately I just didn’t feel the dragons were used well in this battle. This is all the more disappointing given that dragons versus White Walkers is the embodiment of Ice vs Fire, and it’s been nearly 10 full years that we’ve been talking about that moment when we’d finally see a battle where dragons are going against the army of the dead. I can’t say I was too impressed with it. I also found it a bit tiring the number of times a main character was about to be consumed by a clan of wights, only to be saved by another. Sure, once or twice I can chalk it up to writers taking some liberties, but it happened a half-dozen times, and at a certain point, it just becomes gratuitous. I get we can’t kill off all our main characters in one episode, but we also can’t pretend that they are all capable of fighting off 10 zombies at a time, and set each up to appear as though it’s about to be their last moment, only for them to be miraculously saved just in the nick of time.

But I can put to the side the above grievances I had with the battle itself. What I cannot put to the side is the way the episode ended. It utterly and completely rocked my world, and undercut everything I thought this story would ultimately be about. This episode was the one. Bran and The Night King were likely going to come face to face, and something major had to happen. As the humans are losing the battle, and the very real possibility of The Night King winning starts to set in and the climax is upon us. The Night King approaches Bran, with nobody left to defend him (remind me why anybody thought Theon would be able to defend Bran from The Night King?), and something BIG is about to happen. On the edge of my seat, my heart was racing in anticipation, feeling as though I was finally about to learn what the hell it is that The Night King is really after.

But it just wasn’t in the cards. Arya jumps from what seemed like a solid 10 feet, but is caught by The Night King, and it looked like this might be Arya’s last moment. But she makes a nice maneuver to drop the dagger into her other hand, plunge it into his side, and just like that, poof, The Night King is no more. Nothing even special about the way he was destroyed. He able to be killed the same as all the other White Walkers, with Valyrian steel. And he exploded into glass pieces, just like the White Walkers when they are killed. This was The Night King — not just another White Walker — and not that he had any business dying here, but I was even disappointed with the fact there was nothing special about what it took to kill him or the display of his death.

The way he died also simply felt too easy, too quick, too unimportant. Not taking any credit away from my girl Arya, but a 12-inch dagger to the side and the all-evil Night King is dead? That’s it? Let’s not forget, this is a Night King that has been around for hundreds, if not thousands of years. And that’s all it took to defeat him? Big miss there.

Anyway, just like that, in the blink of an eye, everything changed. In anti-climatic fashion, all the White Walkers are destroyed, and then their wights. The great war is over, the humans have won, and I am left feeling as though this is an ending to a story I have seen 100 times over. But wait! We still get to see who is going to win the Iron Throne — totally more important than a great war intended to decide the very fate of mankind — a war that we had every reason to believe was going to reveal a great deal of what this story was ultimately all about. And now, sadly, it seems we’re back where we started, and that it’s simply about humans fighting for a Throne. Can’t wait for more blah blah blah from Cersei in King’s Landing!

Maybe it’s my fault. Maybe I gave Thrones too much credit. Maybe I shouldn’t have believed this story was about something a lot deeper. But then again, this is a story with a 10,000 year back-history, one that was referenced hundreds of times throughout the show. We were given every reason to believe that there was great magic and mystery that happened prior to the start of this story — things we were going to learn about before this story concluded — things that would underpin the true meaning of this story. One very simple example of this is in season six when the show decided to take us back in time to show us The Children of the Forest creating The Night King. That gave us every reason to believe that we were going to learn more about The Night King, who he was, why he was chosen, what The Children were trying to achieve, the connection between the spirals, etc… Why even show that scene if we are never going to unpack it further?

Now, before I conclude this post, let me acknowledge the chance that there are still some big reveals around some of these topics. Bran is still alive, which means we still have a portal into the past (and future). So, it’s still entirely possible we learn more about The Night King, The Children, and what A Song of Ice and Fire is truly about. And I really hope this is the case. But, with the entire army of the dead defeated, it seems like that is now in the rearview, and the last few episodes will go back to human vs human battle to determine who will sit upon the Iron Throne at the story’s completion.

I am saddened and shocked by all of this. I find it hard to believe that George R.R. Martin created this masterful story, the ending of which is not concerned with Ice and Fire, but rather humans competing for the throne. It seems beneath where the story was going and feels like we took 100 steps backwards to a much less intriguing storyline. I hope the next few episodes have some course-correcting surprises, otherwise Lost may have just lost its top spot as worst end to a TV show of all time.

Odds and Ends

Arya’s Dagger: We’ve touched upon this dagger in several previous posts, but the Valyrian steel dagger that Arya uses to kill The Night King has a pretty cool backstory. It was originally used by Baelish who gave it to an assassin to try and kill Bran in season one (Baelish’s goal was to blame the Lannisters for the assassination attempt on Bran, to pit House Stark and Lannister against each other, which is precisely what happened). After the assassination attempt failed, the dagger ended up back with Baelish, who gave it to Bran when they reunited at Winterfell earlier this season. Bran then gave it to Arya, telling her he had no use for it. Had he already seen the vision of how Arya would use it to defeat The Night King? (Arya also used this dagger to kill Baelish).

The Prince(ess) That Was Promised: Obviously a theory we’ve been touching upon for years now. In a recent episode, the idea of The Prince That Was Promised was being discussed in Valyrian. Missandei, who speaks this language well, corrects Dany and Lady Melisandre, telling them that in Valyrian, that word has no gender, meaning it could be a Prince or Princess. This created more speculation around who would play this prophesied roll, with many people now thinking Dany, and some more recently even believing Brienne. Looks like, after all, it was Arya.

Bran’s Warging: What exactly was Bran doing when he was warging for so long in this episode? We saw he warged into some ravens, seemingly to get a better glimpse of what was going on in the battle. But we never really saw where the ravens were going, or what Bran saw through their eyes, if anything. If nothing significant, then it felt kind of pointless that he was sitting there warging this entire scene.

The End: It’s important to remind that the show is now far ahead of the books, and while George R.R. Martin has definitely provided direction for the show to work around, they are taking more liberties now than ever before. The first six seasons were based directly off books that were written. Characters, events, even most dialogue was direct from the books. Starting last season, the show jumped ahead of the books, and as a result, it seems a lot more liberties are being taken. It’s hard to know if the books will culminate the same exact way the show does.

RIP: Rest in peace to Beric, Jorah, Theon and Melisandre. Beric’s death was not too eventful, but he served his role in The Great War and helped to save Arya who would ultimately take out The Night King. Jorah’s death was the most noble, and there is no way he would rather die than fighting to protect his beloved Khaleesi. Theon’s death was so-so. I appreciated that Bran told him that he was a good man and thanked him, giving him the closure he had been searching for, prior to his death. That said, I found it silly that he was out there in the first place trying to protect Bran from The Night King, as if Theon stood a chance. We’ve seen the last of Melisandre as well, as she harnessed the power of The Lord of Light, played her role, then faded off into the distance, dying as the old woman she is (remember, it was the necklace she removed that kept her youthful).

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Season 8, Episode 2: A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms

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 end of an era. The dark before the dawn. A preamble to death. Call it what you’d like, but make no mistake, the end is here. Now.

The thing is, we always knew this moment was coming. It’s been clear for some time that the finality of this story was lurking around the corner, perhaps just out of sight. But knowing that the end is near in your head, truly feeling it in your heart, are two very different things. And tonight, for the very first time, we were forced to feel the weight of the end, and all the consequences that will come along with it. What was once out of sight, is now in crystal clear focus, and there is no turning back.

After a rather slow setup episode to kick off the season, many anticipated an action-packed episode this week. I myself suspected that we might get our first battle tonight. But what we were offered tonight was more profound — more emotional — than perhaps any battle scene ever could be. In a subtle, yet powerful way, we were reminded of all that has happened over the past 10 years — intense character journeys that saw foes become friends; great sacrifice and heart-wrenching loss; glorious victory and crushing defeat — all that has led us to this very final moment. And as we processed the great journey that led us here today, we were reminded of the great fragility that characterizes the world we live in — a reminder that overnight, everything can change; life can turn to death, while the things we hold most dear can be taken away in the blink of an eye.

The great paradox, and genius of this episode, was that we were ultimately reminded of what we will soon forget. Like a montage of memories before our eyes, it will all soon be over, and most of it will soon be forgotten. The ingenuity of this concept is that it speaks true both externally, of us viewers, who likely will forget most of what we’ve witnessed over the past decade, once this great saga comes to an end and the years go by. But on a meta level, the same can be said true of the characters in the story. As the end approaches, so does the very real possibility of human extinction, which would bring about the end of all recollection and memory. And, as we learned from Bran in this episode, that is precisely what The Night King is after (we’ll get to that more later).

The last night of sleep-away camp where you stay up all night, knowing that morning will bring about the moment where you’re forced to say goodbye to those friends who you may not see again until the following summer. Those last moments leading up to college graduation before you close the chapter on your college days and embark upon that next phase of life. This was all of those goodbye moments rolled into one and amplified times 100. We were readied for what may be the final goodbye. Life is not guaranteed. Death is imminent. Loss is certain. And tomorrow may not come at all, which forces us to reflect back upon the most magical of journeys, which in concert, create what we have come to know as A Game of Thrones.

All You Need is Love

To date, character relationships have often been complicated and unpredictable, but as the end nears, all of that has begun to change. Staring down the face of death, what we saw in this episode was characters mostly stripped of all the layers that no longer matter. And when you peel back all those layers, we’re left with relationships that are defined by one simple constant: love. And it is the power of this love, combined with an awareness of how quickly this love can come to an end, that made this episode so sad, yet beautiful. Characters coming together, knowing full well that this might be their last sip of wine together; their last laugh; their last kiss. Their realization of the impending finality allowed us to view these characters stripped of what has defined their very existence in this story for so many years — the lies, the schemes, the deception, the games…None of that matters anymore, and we got to see the true essence of these wonderful characters.

This theme starts early in the episode when Jaime is reunited with Brienne, one of the few people in all of Westeros who got to hear his side of the story regarding his slaying of The Mad King. Their journey was intensely powerful, and it was Brienne’s character that served as the foil for Jaime’s first evolution. It was through her that we first saw a different side of Jaime — a more vulnerable character that had been carrying the burden of being unfairly labeled Kingslayer and Oathbreaker. Below is a clip from season three in which Jaime breaks down to Brienne and she learns who he really is. This scene is hugely important as it allowed Brienne to understand what Jaime had been through and the truth of his character — the very character she would come to the defense of all these years later in his moment of judgement.

As we heard Brienne recount in tonight’s episode, it was Jaime that saved her life, and lost his hand for it, back in season three. Years later, it is now Brienne saving Jaime. And if all that is not poetic enough, with death at Winterfell’s doorstep, it is Jaime who is able to give Brienne what she wants most in the world, her knighthood. Underscoring the importance of this moment, Thrones producers chose to name the episode after it, A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms. Whether it is a love of romance or a love of loyalty and admiration (likely the latter), the feelings displayed between Jaime and Brienne offer a shimmering light before the darkness that is just around the corner.

The moments of love continued between many other characters, again offering reminders of the richness and depth of experiences that have shaped these relationships in seasons past. The reunion between Theon and Sansa proved that even a short-lived exchange can be powerful and emotional, when delivered the right way (something the premiere episode seemed to be totally unaware of). Theon’s return to Winterfell only lasted about 30 seconds, but his pledge to fight for Sansa and Winterfell brought things full circle for him. His character has been tormented for years as to who he should try to be: a Greyjoy or a Stark. He has made some excruciating decisions along the way as he battled this identity crisis, but his return to Winterfell signals that he has found some closure and realizes who he ultimately wants to be in the final moments of this story.

But what made this scene even more emotional was the embrace shared between Sansa and Theon. Both characters have been through some unimaginable circumstances, and their experiences intersected at the hands of the sadistic Ramsay Bolton, who held both of them prisoners. At the end of season five, the two came together to escape Winterfell, a moment that liberated them both literally and figuratively. They went separate ways shortly thereafter, but they will forever share a powerful bond built upon a shared understanding of what it meant to endure Ramsay’s torturous ways, as well as knowing that they came together to escape. Their present-day reunion is a reminder of all that they had been through, and their embrace reminds us of the ways in which shared adversity can bring us closer together, perhaps more-so than anything else.

Lastly, this scene reminds us that perhaps Theon’s tale is ultimately about one thing above all else: redemption. Lost in the fray of hating so many others (i.e. Ramsay Bolton, Joffrey, Walder Frey, etc), you may not remember it, but there was a time when you hated Theon more than anybody in the entire Thrones universe. This was the guy that turned on the family that raised him as he brought destruction to House Stark and Winterfell. Some time thereafter, he was taken prisoner by Ramsay and turned from Theon into Reek, and became such a broken man that there was nothing left to hate. And then for some time following his escape, he vacillated back and forth, trying to figure out whether he was Reek, Greyjoy or Stark, and as viewers, it was unclear where his path would lead. But, after rescuing his sister Yara, and now returning to Winterfell to fight alongside House Stark, Sansa’s embrace reminds us that redemption is possible, almost always. Looking back, Theon’s character offered viewers an unbelievably complex and rich character journey. Given that he’s arguably not even one of the top-ten most important characters in the story, this is just another testament to the absolute genius of George R.R. Martin. In any other story, a character of such complexity would be the main star of the show — but in George R.R. Martin’s world, each character, no matter how prevalent or how peripheral, is exceptionally well-developed and never overlooked.

The theme of characters coming together in their final hour did not stop there. Arya made it clear that she’s all grown up and did not want to die a virgin, as she took control of Gendry. I guess one needle wasn’t enough for her. (For anybody who didn’t catch that one, the name of her sword is Needle). Before seducing him, he presented her with the weapon she’d been asking him to make — a fighting stick adorned with Dragonglass on either end. Again, even in a small detail such as the presentation of a singular weapon, we are reminded of the incredible journey that Arya has been on — one that will be altogether forgotten if darkness prevails.

Back in season six, Arya endured great sacrifice, including total loss of vision, as she trained to become a Faceless Man under Jaqen H’ghar in Braavos. This part of her journey, more-so than any other, ultimately shaped who she would become, so it is powerful to see that in what might be her final moments, she chooses to fight with a weapon similar to that which she trained with in Braavos. In this scene, we also heard that mysterious Braavosi music in the background, which once again begs the question: will we ever see Jaqen H’ghar again?

The unions continued throughout the episode, including one last kiss between Missandei and Greyworm. I must say, I am still puzzled by this part of the story. I never understood what the significance of their relationship is or what purpose it serves. Nonetheless, we are reminded that in the face of darkness, this might be the last kiss they ever share together. Same goes for Sam and Gilly as they are shown laying in bed with their baby boy between them, perhaps the last time they will ever be united as a family.

Finally, on the topic of this episode bringing characters together that remind us of the past, I’d like to point out one other scene that hardly anybody will talk about, but I found emotional: the scene between Ser Davos and the little girl in the square of Winterfell. For many seasons, Davos’ one true love was Princess Shireen, the daughter of Stannis Baratheon. Because she was afflicted with Greyscale, Stannis kept her contained to a cell beneath Dragonstone, where Davos would often sneak down; he would tell her stories while she would affectionately teach him to read. It was a loving and heart-warming relationship, which ultimately ended with her death at the hands of her own parents, who sacrificed her at the advice of Lady Melisandre. This was heartbreaking for Ser Davos, and ultimately led him to depart from the service of Stannis, and brought him to where he is today. Make no mistake about it, the girl in this last episode with the scar on her face was not randomly placed. The intent was to remind viewers of the love Davos had for Princess Shireen, a love that will fuel him to continue to fight for life against the army of the dead.

After a disappointing and underwhelming reunion last week, Arya and The Hound had another moment together, which did a slightly better job at recognizing the history they had together. Arya questions what The Hound is doing in Winterfell, asking him “When have you ever fought for anybody but yourself?” He looks back at her, and responds, “I fought for you, didn’t I?” In this simple dialogue, we are reminded of the great journey Arya and The Hound shared together, and that neither would be standing where they are today if not for that journey. After all that they’ve been through together, it’s painful to consider that we have witnessed their very last exchange. I could see The Hound making one final sacrifice, giving his life to save Arya in battle.

Last, but certainly not least, towards the end of the episode we see another wonderful reunion which reminds us of an important past that we cannot forget. Jon is reunited with what you could argue was his first true love — his brothers of the Night’s Watch. Standing beside his brothers, Sam says “Think back to where it all started,” before they repeat their words, probably for the last time, “And now our watch begins.” After having spent years defending The Wall and building a bond that most could never imagine, it is unlikely that these three will ever stand together again. What a sad thought.


The King and I

If the planned Thrones spinoff proves unsuccessful, HBO could always pivot to a Thrones satire featuring The Night King and Bran, entitled The King and I. All joking aside, in this episode we got a bit more color on The Night King’s intentions as well as his connection to Bran.

For starters, Samwell flat out asked the question we’ve all been asking for quite some time now: what does The Night King want? Bran provided a fairly direct response: “He wants an endless night. He wants to erase this world, and I am its memory. He’ll come for me, he’s tried before many times with many Three-Eyed-Ravens.”

So while Bran provides some more color on what The Night King wants, I can’t say it was a real “ah-ha” moment. I still don’t quite understand what The Night King wants to achieve. Or better yet, maybe I just don’t understand why he wants to. Sure, he wants an endless night where the world is erased. But why? Say he wipes out humanity and gets his endless night, then what? I still believe, and really hope, that there’s more to the Night King’s true ambitions than what Bran has divulged. There has to be more to what he’s after and why he’s after it. I am hoping we’ll still have a big reveal of who The Night King really is, why The Children of the Forest created him, and what this eternal battle between Ice and Fire is really about.

What’s also interesting to think about is that Bran alluded to the fact that The Night King has tried “many times with many Three-Eyed-Ravens before.” How many Three-Eyed-Ravens have there been before Bran? And does this dispel the theory that Bran was the earlier Three-Eyed-Raven all along, essentially the future version of himself guiding the present-day version of himself? What has happened to the other Three-Eyed-Ravens, and what has their role been compared to Bran’s? No answers for you on these questions, but interesting to think about.

Another takeaway from this scene was that Bran was speaking to a room filled with all the key players in the story (Dany, Jon, Tyrion, Arya, Davos, etc). Of all these characters that could have responded to Bran’s declaration about what The Night King wants, it was Samwell who responded, stating “That’s what death is…Forgetting, being forgotten…If we forget where we’ve been and what we’ve done, we’re not men anymore, just animals. Your memories don’t come from books, your stories aren’t just stories. If i wanted to erase the world, I’d start with you.”

What’s interesting about this is that it ties back to an idea that we’ve spoken about in earlier posts — that perhaps Samwell will be the ultimate storyteller — perhaps the very person narrating the story we are being told today. This idea has never held more weight than after this episode, in which Bran declares that The Night King’s entire mission is to erase the world and its memory. If that is the case, than the Night King’s ultimate opposition would be the storyteller who possesses the power to perpetuate the story of humanity. As we know, there is nobody that has embraced the power of books, story and recorded history more-so than Samwell Tarly. You can read a more detailed account about that theory here, but I found it very telling that Samwell was the one to respond to Bran in this scene.

After learning that The Night King will come after Bran, team humanity decides their best play is to set him out in the weirwood forest as bait in an attempt to lure in The Night King. Theon offers to protect Bran, though alone, he’ll be no match for The Night King. This raises the ultimate question: how do you kill The Night King? It’s unclear whether Valyrian steel, Dragonglass or even dragon fire will work.

The Crypts of Winterfell

The crypts of Winterfell were mentioned no less than a dozen times in this episode. And each time, they were mentioned as the “safest” place to be. I get the sneaking suspicion that perhaps they are not as safe as everybody assumes. Or that there will be a major reveal about the crypts in the coming episode(s).

After Thrones producers chose for the location of the season eight teaser to be the the crypts of Winterfell, I dedicated a post to a theory about these crypts and their very mysterious history. Given how much these crypts were mentioned in tonight’s episode, I would highly recommend reading that theory here.

Discord in Winterfell

As the story nears its end, everybody in Winterfell seems to be on the same page. Well, almost everybody. Sansa and Dany have a heart-to-heart and it seems as though they are going to emerge the better for it, until Sansa asks the difficult question: what are Dany’s intentions if the war against death is won? Dany makes it clear that she intends to reclaim the Iron Throne, and Sansa makes it clear that The North does not intend to bend the knee again. With just four episodes to go, it seems unlikely that we ever see this conflict play itself out, but what’s important to note is that the very fact this conflict is lurking in the distance could cause enough discord between these characters as to affect their much-needed union today.

Making matters even more confusing, Jon reveals to Dany his true identity, and she quickly realizes that if true, he would be heir to the Iron Throne, not her. Her first reaction was one of disbelief, but she told Sansa just moments before that she knows Jon is a man of his word, so it will be difficult for her to deny the truth of his identity. The question is, will she be able to accept it. Unfortunately, this is not something she’ll have much time to ponder, as their conversation gets interrupted by the war horns that signal the army of the dead have arrived and the battle is just moments away. Without time to further discuss, how will this impact Dany’s loyalty to Jon, House Stark and her prioritization of this battle versus the battle for the Iron Throne? In short order, we will see Dany’s true colors, and while it feels unlikely, it is possible that she could turn on Jon if she now views him as a threat to the Iron Throne.

And just like that, The Great War is here. As the episode comes to an end, we see the front line of The Night King’s army, and he’s not messing around with any wights out there. His front line is comprised of all White Walkers, many more of them together than we have ever seen. Expect next week’s episode, all 82 minutes of it, to be edge-of-your-seat battle action. A word of advice: prepare yourself mentally and emotionally, because many great characters will die.

Odds and Ends

  • With The Great War upon us, will The Prince That Was Promised finally emerge to lead the war against death and darkness as the prophecy states? If so, who will it be? If you aren’t familiar with the theory of The Prince That Was Promised, read here. Lady Melisandre originally, and incorrectly, believed Stannis to be The Prince, while the popular theory then became Jon, and more recently Dany. With Jaime back in Winterfell and Bran alluding to the role he has to play in The Great War to Come, Jaime could in fact emerge as The Prince That Was Promised. And with Brienne’s recent knighthood, it could even be her.
  • If you didn’t catch it, Jon’s wolf, Ghost, is back. This begs the question of whether or not we’ll see Arya’s wolf, Nymeria. I say yes.
  • In the scene between Jaime and Bran under the weirwood tree, Jaime asks Bran what will happen afterwards, to which Bran responds “How do you know there is an afterwards?” An ominous response to say the least, which highlights the very real possibility that darkness does in fact prevail.
  • Samwell gave Jorah Heartsbane, a great Valyrian sword that has been in House Tarly for centuries. Jorah would have been in line to receive Longclaw, the great Valyrian longsword that belonged to his father, Lord Commander Jeor Mormont, but because of Jorah’s exile, the sword instead went to Jon. We know that Jorah was one of Westeros’ greatest warriors, and now he has an epic sword with which he can slay some White Walkers.
  • Where was Varys in this episode? We know he was in Winterfell, but it was peculiar that he was not involved in any of the key scenes or dialogues. Keep an eye on this. And remember that we still do not know what he heard in the fire all those years back.
  • Which major characters that have been killed off will we see reemerge as wights in The Night King’s army? I think it’s safe to say we’ll have to see at least one or two characters that have been turned into zombies. Stannis would make a pretty wicked wight.

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.

Season 6, Episode 1: The Red Woman

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

FAITH HAS BEEN LOST

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

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

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

YES, HE’S DEAD

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

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

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

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

DAVOS & THE OTHERS

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

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

THE RED (AND VERY OLD) WOMAN

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

mel old

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

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

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

mel 2mel 3

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

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

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

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

SNAKES IN THE SAND

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

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US AGAINST THE WORLD

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

jaime

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

THE BOLTONS

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

SANSA, THEON, BRIENNE & POD

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

sansa theon

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

KHALEESI

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

khaleesi

MEREEN

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

BLIND IN BRAAVOS

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

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THE TYRELLS & TOMMEN

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

PEOPLE AND PLACES TO KEEP AN EYE OUT FOR…

Bran & Rickon Stark

Baelish

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