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