Season 8, Episode 5: The Bells

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 Bells

By now, everybody knows that in the world of Thrones, penultimate episodes are a big deal. Ned’s beheading, The Battle of Blackwater Bay, The Red Wedding, The Battle of the Bastards — some of the most epic and memorable events in Thrones history, all happened in the second to last episode of their respective seasons. So, in what was not only the penultimate episode to this season, but the penultimate episode to the entire series, things were taken to a whole new level. In trying to balance the sheer “hugeness” of this episode, with writing and storytelling that continues to feel uneven and ill-conceived, I suspect that many viewers will be left asking themselves how content they truly are with this episode.

To that end, I’d like to point out that in any given episode, there is no harm in separating an assessment of the episode’s production from the actual story told. On the production side, there are many technical and artistic disciplines at work. To name a few, there’s the director’s overall vision of how an episode will be delivered, special effects, music, cinematography, etc… And on the storytelling side, the same can be said: writing and dialogue, character development, pace of storytelling — these all shape the overall narrative we are experiencing. So, it would be foolish to try and lump all of these together with a wholesale assessment of the success of a given episode. When you go to a restaurant, you may ultimately determine whether it was good or bad, but more likely, you pass judgement on the food, the ambiance, the service — all distinct elements — one of which could be great, while another not so much.

So before we jump into a more detailed assessment of this week’s episode, I’d like to separate the production from the story. Without doubt, from a production standpoint, tonight’s episode was one of the most successful we’ve seen to date. Delivering 80 minutes of epic chaos and destruction and fire and blood and everything else that went into this episode is no easy feat. The “hugeness” of this episode cannot be denied, and Thrones once again set a new standard for the production value of a television show — a standard once reserved only for the big screen. I start by calling out the success of tonight’s production for a smaller and bigger reason. The smaller reason: because it truly was special and commands tremendous admiration; the bigger reason: I want to get it out of the way early so that it does conflate further commentary which will be focused on the story itself. After all, it is the Game of Thrones story — the magic of its characters, the richness of its history; the intrigue of its myth and legend — that won my heart so early on. And while I would never want to minimize all that this show has achieved on the production front, the story itself will simply always be much more important to me.

So, with that in mind, let’s jump into the story.

The Bells

The second to last episode in the Game of Thrones series was entitled The Bells, a symbolic foreshadowing of some of the milestone events that would unfold in the episode. The ringing of King’s Landing’s bells generally means one of three things: a city under siege, surrender, or the death of a king (or queen). Given the gravitas of these events, when you hear the ring of a King’s Landing bell, you know there is some serious weight to what it signifies. And tonight, the ringing of King’s Landing’s bells underscored all three: the siege of the city, the surrender of its troops, and the death of its queen.

But tonight we saw so much more — enough to keep those bells ringing for many days to come. Destinies were fulfilled as Dany followed in the footsteps of her father and became The Mad Queen. Heartbreaking final goodbyes were said between Tyrion and Jaime; The Hound and Arya. Regret is everywhere, as characters such as Tyrion and Jon realize their mistakes — ones that may well alter the course of history. And the consequences of those mistakes — almost too much to watch — could not have been higher. Fire and blood is everywhere, and death is ubiquitous. There is no coming back from tonight’s episode, and although there is still one final twist to be told in the finale episode, this story is all but told.

Dragonstone

The episode kicks off at Dragonstone as we see Varys writing letters stating that Jon, not Dany, is true heir to the Iron Throne. Over the years, there were many questions as to the true motives of Varys, and at times, it was not clear if he could be trusted. Well, it’s become quite clear that unlike many other characters in the show, Varys was always forthright about his true motives: to protect the realm and its impoverished citizens who couldn’t protect themselves. To that end, he is steadfast in his belief that the realm is best off in the hands of Jon, so much so that he is willing to die for it. In last week’s episode, he was forthright with Tyrion about his feelings regarding Dany’s claim to the throne. He could have been deceptive about it, but he wasn’t. Again, in tonight’s episode, he did not try to mask his true motives. Sitting in a room at Dragonstone, with Dany just a few doors down, Varys is preparing to send ravens discrediting her claim to the throne. Varys knew what he was risking and was willing to die to protect the realm.

As Varys is brought down to the beach, there is no secret as to what is about to happen. John and Tyrion are forced to look on, rather helplessly, as Dany used her dragon’s fire to take the life of Varys. No doubt, a foreshadowing of what was just around the corner; perhaps Jon and Tyrion should have trusted their instincts the way Varys had his. Sadly, Varys, the one who had the correct hunch about Dany, ends up dead, while Jon and Tyrion, who had gravely misjudged their queen, are the ones who end up living. Interestingly, Varys being burned on the beach mirrors a scene from the first episode of season two when Melisandre and Stannis also harness the Lord of Light’s fire, using it to burn those who question this religion. Many seasons later, Varys suffered a similar death, which was quite fitting, given his mysterious connection to the flames and the Lord of Light.

In season three, Varys reveals to Tyrion how he was mutilated by a sorcerer as a young boy. The sorcerer threw Varys’ “parts” into the fire, and Varys heard a voice call out from the flames, a voice that haunted him forever since. In a more recent season, The High Red Priestess Kinvara visited Varys in Mereen, and reminded him of the voice he had heard in the flames. She told him that as long as he was a friend of the queen’s, then he had nothing to fear from The Lord of Light. Well, he eventually turned away from being her friend, and the Lord of Light did not take kindly to this, begging the question: is the Lord of Light actually good? Of course, this question assumes that there is a “good” and a “bad,” when in reality, this story has reminded us that often the line between the two is not that simple. But still, after The Lord of Light’s fire played a pivotal role in eliminating The Night King’s army, it felt as thought The Lord of Light was guiding us in the right direction. But maybe not. It was the Lord of Light’s highest priestess, Kinvara, who all but threatened Varys; it was the Lord of Light’s fire that eventually took the life of Varys; and it was the Lord of Light’s fire that brought the ultimate destruction to King’s Landing. Where’s The Night King’s wintery frost when you need it?

The Mad Queen

From the moment we lay eyes on Dany in this episode, we can tell that something is very wrong. She looks disheveled to say the least — her usually neatly braided hair is all out of sort and her eyes dark. She hasn’t eaten in days and it’s clear that she is quickly becoming unhinged, maybe even inching closer to becoming The Mad Queen. It’s not just her physical appearance, but also her tone, that starts to sound like that of her father, The Mad King, before her. She is becoming increasingly paranoid, and doesn’t accept the idea that it is Varys who betrayed her, but also believes Jon betrayed her by telling Sansa of his true identity, Sansa who betrayed her by telling Tyrion, and Tyrion who betrayed her by telling Varys. She tells Tyrion that the next time he fails her will be his last — a flat out death threat. It seems that any semblance of the sweet and compassionate Khaleesi that we once new is all but gone.

And this is confirmed moments later in a scene that included an embrace which could be the last between Jon and Dany. Dany tells Jon, “I don’t have love here, I only have fear.” As the two come together, Dany makes one last attempt to keep their love affair alive, but Jon just isn’t having it. It appeared he already had some misgivings about the relationship before learning of his true identity. Once he learned that she was his aunt, that was just too much. While the Targaryens have a long lineage of incestuous marriages, Jon is still a northerner at heart and just doesn’t roll like that. As Dany steps back from him, the two literally separated by Targaryen fire, she decides, “Alright. Let it be fear.” Though Dany has experienced a ton of loss in recent episodes, capped by Missandei’s beheading last week, it was ultimately Jon’s decision to not love her the way she wanted that pushed her over the edge. All she had left was fear.

But before the idea of having to resort to ruling through fear gets the best of her, Tyrion tries to make one last plea. He begs Dany to end her siege if he is able to get Cersei’s forces to surrender, which he will signal by ringing the city bells. Dany does not respond to Tyrion’s request, and instead looks at Grey Worm and gives him a small head nod. At the time, I felt that perhaps she was affirming to Grey Worm that his troops should stand down should Tyrion be able to negotiate Cersei’s surrender, but in retrospect, we realize she was giving a totally different type of nod to Grey Worm. It was a show-no-mercy head nod; a fire and blood to avenge Missandei’s death head-nod.

Tyrion, attempting to avoid mass carnage at all costs, even commits treason against his queen by freeing her prisoner, Jaime. Tyrion convinces Jaime to save Cersei, escape King’s Landing and ride off into the sunset to start a new life together. This was a direct allusion to a conversation Missandei and Grey Worm had a few episodes back, in which they discussed sailing back to Missandei’s homeland to have a life together. Well, if Missandei and Grey Worm can’t have it, neither can Jaime and Cersei (but we’ll get there later). I had mixed feelings about this scene (as I did Jaime’s uneven character arc as a whole). On the one hand, I was touched by the heartfelt goodbye between the brothers. In a season that has botched so many of these moments, they managed to get this one right (perhaps that full credit should go to the acting of Peter Dinklage). In one of the biggest moments, with a huge war impending, we are reminded of Tyrion’s humanness as he breaks down to Jaime, telling him that he was all he had. The relationship shared between Tyrion and Jaime was always complex but beautiful and one of the heartwarming parts of this story. On the other hand, I took slight issue to the convenient spontaneity of the plan Tyrion proposed, as well as Jaime’s willingness to accept it. All of a sudden, Jaime is going to just convince Cersei to surrender, the two will escape King’s Landing, and ride off into the sunset no strings attached? To me, this felt like another example of the show getting ahead of the books, the writers not knowing how these characters’ journeys will end, and lazy writing leading to the creation of an implausible event to get Jaime from point A to point B. Had this not been the 100th example of this type of thing this season, I probably wouldn’t even mention it. Anyway, moving on…

King’s Landing

At this point, battle is imminent and there’s no turning back. The impoverished of King’s Landing flood into the city gates by the tens of thousands. Outside the gates, The Golden Company (Cersei’s paid mercenaries), oppose what’s left of Jon’s northern forces alongside The Unsullied and Dothraki. On the water, Euron mans his ships with their dragon-slaying weapons ready to go. Only this time, Dany swoops in from a much steeper angle, making it difficult for their weapons to be utilized, and in a matter of moments, Dany takes out all of Euron’s ships. The fact that Dany was able to take out all of these ships with such ease undermines the fact that she lost a dragon to these very same ships last week. Again, uneven storytelling in my opinion.

Dany had three dragons — the first dragons born into the world in hundreds of years — massive beasts that fly the sky and breathe fire. They should be extremely difficult to take out. I looked the other way when the Night King threw his ice spear thousands of feet into the sky and took out Dany’s first dragon, but I felt frustrated when Euron was able to take out a second dragon by shooting a fairly immobile projectile at a dragon flying through the sky at a high speed. But okay, it happened. But then one week later, Dany is able to eliminate this very same fleet in a matter of moments? It makes the death of her dragon feel like it was so avoidable.

After burning Euron’s fleet, Dany sets her sights to the city walls, and lays the initial round of fiery destruction, allowing for Jon and Grey Worm to lead their troops into the city on foot. Dany provides aerial support, and it’s only a matter of moments before it becomes abundantly clear that this battle was over before it started. Cersei’s troops lay down their weapons, and at this point, the battle has been won. Team Dany could have reinforced their position, sacked the city and Dany could have been sitting on that shiny Iron Throne by nightfall. But as Dany sat atop her dragon overlooking King’s Landing, a strange combination of sadness, excitement and terror came over her face all at once. Ladies and gentleman, The Mad Queen had arrived, and King’s Landing would stand no chance.

“Madness and greatness are two sides of the same coin. Every time a new Targaryen is born, the gods toss the coin in the air and the world holds its breath to see how it will land.” As those bells rang loud and clear, signifying the surrender of King’s Landing, it became crystal clear which side of the coin had landed. The Mad Queen and Grey Worm shared in a thirst for blood and revenge, as he led the slaughter on the ground, while from the air, Dany burned the city to a crisp. Symbolic of the broader dynamic he is caught in, Jon literally got stuck in the middle as he had no desire to slaughter the surrendered troops, but was forced to keep fighting, as he also attempted to get his troops to fall back. Jon’s morality was outmatched and he could not stop the fire and blood that was to come.

Arya & The Hound

It’s no secret, The Hound has been my favorite character in this story for many years. There have been many great duos in this story, but the journey he shared with Arya was by far my favorite. So it was exciting to see them sneak into King’s Landing together and arrive at The Red Keep, though also nerve-wracking as a sense of death was imminent. The Hound and Arya arrived at King’s Landing for the very same thing — revenge. For pretty much as long as we have known these characters, they have both been driven by their unrelenting quest for vengeance. The Hound has been wanting to exact revenge on his older brother, The Mountain, who held his face to the fire as a young boy and forever changed his physical and emotional identity. Similarly, Arya was forever changed when she lost her father (and others) at the hands of The Lannisters, and for that, Cersei has always been at the top of her hit list.

But as the two reach their moment of destiny, their roads fork in different directions. The Hound knows that ascending The Red Keep will only lead to death, and though he has not been able to find it himself, knows that there is more to life than revenge. The Hound delivers an absolutely masterful performance in this final scene between the two, a final moment that reminds us of what we always knew and loved about him — beneath that tough and damaged exterior, there is a great man. His words were powerful enough to convince Arya to walk the other way, and before they part, Arya calls out to him “Sandor, thank you.” It has only been a couple of times that anybody has called him Sandor, and this was a powerful reminder that he is not a hound, but a human, and a great one at that.

I’ve included two videos below. The first is an audition tape of Rory McCann reading for the part of The Hound. I’ve included this video because 1) it captures how perfect Rory McCann was for the part of The Hound, even from his first read; 2) the lines he reads tells the story of what his brother did to him; 3) at about 1:08 in, he has a line where he yells “look at me!” The producers of GoT said right after that part of the audition, they were sold that he was the one for this part. Writers chose to use that same “look at me!” line in the final exchange between The Hound and Arya tonight (at about 48 seconds in the second video). Pretty amazing that they went all the way back to his audition from about 10 years ago and used his performance of that line as one of his very last lines he would speak before dying.

As The Hound faces off with The Mountain, it quickly began to feel like his death was imminent. There was no coming back from this — something he himself had already known. The Hound fought with great determination, but we quickly learned that this zombie-version of The Mountain simply couldn’t be killed. In some ways, this felt very frustrating — the revenge The Hound had been searching for all his life simply wasn’t attainable. Though, his death was poetic, as he realized he too would have to die in order to eliminate his brother. And, in doing so, he tackles his brother off the ledge as the two fall into the fire below, the very fire that The Hound had been scarred by his entire life.

I would like to offer a heartfelt RIP to Sandor Clegane, aka The Hound. In my opinion, he was one of the most beautifully complex and sadly tragic heroes of this entire story. In the earliest days of the show, when he was protector of Joffrey, we thought he was nothing but a grotesque monster. But then we saw the ways in which he protected Sansa from Joffrey’s cruelty, eventually trying to get her to escape King’s Landing with him (though she refused). In his own way, he began on a path towards righteousness, first protecting Arya on their journey together and later serving his purpose in The Great War against The Night King. The juxtaposition of his hardened exterior next to his warmer interior made him such a wonderful character. At the same time, it is so tragic to consider the life he was condemned to; betrayed by his older brother at such a young age, physically and mentally scarred forever as a result. This changed the way he would see the world, yet still, he was able to show in his own ways what a good man he truly was. RIP Sandor, we will miss you.

What’s The Deal with Arya?

While I always enjoy screentime with Arya and The Hound together, once she went out on her own, I was rather confused by what the hell was going on with her story. For starters, I felt like she was a rat in a maze, running along the streets of King’s Landing with no discernible destination. I totally appreciate that she pivoted from her plan to exact revenge on Cersei, and now is playing the role of hero in helping others try to escape the fiery mess, but I mean what is going on with her story arc here? She comes back to King’s Landing and ends up being the one to take out The Night King. Cool. Then she learns of Jon’s true identity and it seems like she is going to take a stand against Dany and push him to pursue his claim to the throne. That then goes out the window as she joins up with The Hound to head to Kings Landing. Okay, I can live with it. But, then she gets to King’s Landing, and in a matter of 30 seconds, she is completely talked out of the very reason she came there. This is where my issue starts.

While I don’t want to take anything away from The Hound and the beauty of him ultimately protecting Arya from the death that was awaiting her above, this storytelling just didn’t feel right. First off, Arya has been wanting to kill Cersei for years now; Cersei was at the top of her list and at times, it was the only thing that got her through the day. After all of those years, in a matter of mere seconds, she can so easily be talked out of her grand plan? And if so, why didn’t they have this conversation in Winterfell? Or, better yet, along the two-week journey from Winterfell to King’s Landing? Were they that busy during the two weeks it took them to get to King’s Landing, that they couldn’t have spoken about Arya not living a life fueled by revenge? Did it need to wait to the very moment that they had finally reached The Red Keep and Cersei was just a few more steps from Arya?

And, food for thought, given how the next scene played out where Cersei simply walked by The Hound untouched, Arya actually could have very quickly taken her out without dying. All that withstanding, I found the rest of Arya’s involvement in this episode frenetic and confusing. It felt like she was running around for the sake of it, getting knocked out several times, then getting back up, all for what? In the end, she didn’t save anybody. And then she just rides off on her white horse? I could write five different things her riding off on that horse could be symbolic of, but honestly, I don’t want to bail out the poor storytelling. It’s been rather unclear for most of this season what Arya is really after, and though I enjoyed the fact that it was The Hound that saved her, I simply don’t feel her character arc is being closed out soundly.

Jaime & Cersei

Speaking of uneven character arcs, what the hell kind of ending is this for Jaime? Another one of this story’s more complex characters, he went through much self-discovery and we saw the many different sides of who Jaime truly was at his core. If the show wanted to end his story with the message that his identity was ultimately defined by his love for Cersei, I am okay with that, but why so much back and forth in between? He went from bad guy at the beginning of the story, to good guy when he saved Brienne, back to questionable guy who returned to King’s Landing to support Cersei, then again to good guy who went to Winterfell and fought to save humanity. At that point, it seemed like his good-guy status was cemented, especially after his deepened relationship with Brienne, but then with the flip of a switch, he’s off in the middle of the night to return back to Cersei. Many hypothesized that he was putting on an act and that he was actually returning to King’s Landing to take out his sister, but that turned out not to be the case. He actually returned to try and once again support her, which in my opinion, simply undermines so much of his previous story.

Sure, it was a storybook ending to see Cersei and Jaime go out of this world the same way they came in — together. But what was it all really about? Again, I have to believe this is just another example of the writers not really knowing how Jaime’s character arc truly arrives to his final moments, and the show having to come up with something. I also felt a little underwhelmed with Cersei’s ultimate demise. I didn’t need an expected ending such as her being killed by Arya, but I did expect a bit more from her on her way out. After all, since The Night King got killed earlier in the season, didn’t that mean she was the ultimate villain? She basically just stood there, looking on, for the entire episode, as Dany burned the city. All of a sudden Cersei doesn’t have a counterpunch planned or trick up her sleeve? This battle was supposed to be Cersei vs Dany, but ended up being Dany vs nobody, and I was a bit flabbergasted that the story ends with Cersei simply watching on and doing nothing.

Lastly, I have to ask, what in the world was the deal with Cersei’s “baby?” First she was pregnant and it was Jaimes. Next she’s drinking copious amounts of wine as if she’s not pregnant at all. Then Euron wants to put a baby in her belly, and then out of nowhere, she tells him that the baby is his. Was she pregnant? Was she not pregnant? Who was the father? Does it even matter? The answer seems to be no, and if it ended up not mattering at all, why so much dialogue in so many episodes about this damn baby? Not cool.

Oh, and I forgot to mention that Jaime fought Euron. Perhaps, because it was completely forgettable, as is Euron’s entire character in this show since day one. Another example of not having any better way to end Euron’s story, an obligatory fight between he and Jaime is thrown into the story. How fortuitous that the very moment that Jaime is trying to sneak into King’s Landing through a hidden entrance, Euron happens to be stumbling onto the very same shore after his boat just got blasted by dragon-fire. The fight was nothing special, and I found it particularly strange that they chose to write him a final line of “I’m the man who killed Jaime Lannister,” given that he didn’t kill Jaime, and Jaime ended up dying with Cersei after being buried beneath the destruction of The Red Keep.

Who’s at Fault?

One of the more powerful parts of this episode was watching Tyrion rummage through the rubble of the utter death and destruction that Dany had caused. This was obviously painful for Tyrion to see, knowing just how badly he wanted to avoid this very outcome. And all the more so given that he is hand to the very queen that was capable of such brutal destruction. But above all else, the sharpness of this moment is the realization that he was totally and completely wrong, in almost every way possible. In the episode prior, when Varys had been questioning Dany, Tyrion told him “It’s about picking one person you believe in and defending that person.” Well, boy did Tyrion pick the wrong person.

But I believe it goes a layer deeper than just picking the wrong person. After all, it’s not as if he just picked her and walked away, unable to have any affect on the outcome. It was the opposite. He was her hand — her closest adviser — he had more ability to influence her decisions and their outcomes than anybody else in Westeros. And yet, he finds the capital city burnt to a crisp with tens of thousands of innocents dead. So, it begs the ultimate question: was Tyrion a good adviser to Dany?

I say no. Tyrion is a lot of things; he is kind, he is compassionate, he is clever — the list goes on. And I think he would make an excellent hand to many, given his wonderful balance of these critical attributes — but not to Dany. In the end, I believe it was Tyrion’s sense of compassion that led to Dany becoming The Mad Queen. What we know about Dany, above all else, is that she is not only the mother of dragons, but a dragon herself. She came out of the fire unburnt, she brought dragons into the world, and she is as fierce a Targaryen as they come. We always knew Dany had both compassion and ferocity in her, the balance of which would make her a great ruler. She had the capacity to show kindness and empathy when needed, and did want to make the world a better place if given the chance. At the same time, she was fierce and ruthless when she needed to be. Possessing such diametrically opposed attributes, I would argue that the most important task of Dany’s hand would be to keep these two sides of the coin in check. And that is something Tyrion failed to recognize altogether.

Tyrion was always encouraging Dany to be patient, to be compassionate, to be merciful. He wanted her to be how he himself would be in the situations she faced. And in doing so, he often kept her Targaryen fire extinguished. Dany is a dragon, and if it were up to Tyrion, that dragon would have always been kept in its cage. Looking back, Dany’s decision to lay waste to King’s Landing had been foreshadowed many times and Tyrion knew this, but was ignorant to it. For instance, in season six, when Mereen was at conflict with other slave cities, Dany told Tyrion “I will crucify the masters. I will set their fleets afire. I will kill every last one of their soldiers and return their cities to the dirt. That’s my plan.” And what did Tyrion do? He talked her out of it, pushing the dragon back into her cage. Even before that, in season two, Dany talked about how she planned to “lay waste to armies and burn cities to the ground.”

As we can see above, Dany decided to crucify the slave masters as punishment for their actions. While I’m sure none of us felt bad for them, it does take a certain kind of crazy to stake humans to a post while they are still alive and breathing. Looking back on all of this, we always knew Dany possessed the fiery madness to take things too far when provoked. Tyrion had a single-minded approach of trying to always extinguish Dany’s fire, and he was successful in doing so for quite some time. She listened to him time after time as he coached her to take the highroad, to avoid becoming the kind of tyrant that she herself wanted to rid from the world. What he didn’t realize, though, was that he was helping to create that very person. His guidance of continuing to show restraint, coupled with some poor military decisions, led to Dany losing a lot of what she held most dear, including two of her dragons, half her army, Jorah and Missandei. Not all of these losses were Tyrion’s fault, but he shares in plenty of the blame and played a large role in the back-against-the-wall scenario that Dany found herself in. Great a man as he may be, Tyrion simply was not the right hand for Dany, and ultimately played as large a role as anybody in turning her into The Mad Queen.

Queen of the Ashes

I cannot say Dany’s character turning into The Mad Queen came as a surprise, though I can say I am somewhat irked by it. I get all the reasons why it happened, but I do feel that A) it was a bit rushed and B) it undermines her seemingly never-ending journey leading up to this moment. On the first point, I think her transition into becoming The Mad Queen simply could have been a bit slower and more developed. For 67 episodes she was on a mission to rid the world of the cruel rulers, and for the last five she all of a sudden started to show signs of a transition into The Mad Queen. Yes, I recognize how much she lost in the last few episodes — but that too was rushed — and I simply feel there is great incongruity between the amount of time she spent being one person, and how quickly she was able to full-fledge become another. As I pointed out above, there were certainly flashes of her madness along the way, so it’s not as if this came out of the blue, but still, her transition could have been developed at a pace that was a lot more balanced.

But more so than the pace at which this all happened, I feel like the first seven seasons of her story were totally undermined. We are talking about the girl that went to the end of the earth and back; the mother of dragons; the breaker of chains; the girl who so many times could have taken the easy route and ended things with fire and blood, but chose not to, because her entire character’s motivation was built around the idea of leaving the world a better place. The lengths she went through to preserve this very idea are mind-boggling. At times, it truly felt like she was on a never ending journey, solely guided by the faith in her desire to change the world. And tonight’s episode simply made all of that worthless. She could have done what she did tonight years ago, and saved a whole lot of people a whole lot of time. But she didn’t, because she was meant for something greater. Why save so many slaves only to kill so many innocents? Why save an entire city only to destroy another? I get that character arcs can change and that is often what makes characters in this story so wonderful — the unpredictable nature in which their motivations and actions may pivot. But this was different. This was too much of a pivot, all too quickly, and it simply undermined way too much of her backstory for it to be understandable.

The irony of it all? Dany destroyed the very city that her ancestors built. It was 300 years ago that Aegon Targaryen landed ashore Westeros and eventually united The Seven Kingdoms under his kingship. As new king, he founded the capital city at the spot where he had landed his dragons, and named the city King’s Landing. Over the years, House Targaryen built a great capital city as they ruled for 300 years, and in just one day, Dany destroyed almost all of it. Her father, The Mad King, is regarded as an absolute madman for his intense paranoia, obsession with fire, and the cruelty he demonstrated in punishing people with death by fire. If that’s the reputation he built for those actions, how will history remember the woman that burnt down the entire capital city that her ancestors built, killing thousands of innocents along the way?

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SEASON 6, EPISODE 9: BATTLE OF THE BASTARDS

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

BATTLE OF THE BASTARDS

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

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

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

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

SANSA & JON

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

KHALEESI, DRAGONS AND A NEW ALLIANCE

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

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

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Speaking of ships, Theon and Yara arrive to Mereen and stand before Khaleesi to plead their case. They explain that they come with the offering of 100 ships and their support for Khaleesi’s claim to the Iron Throne. All they ask in return is that they are allowed to remain leaders and Lords of the Iron Islands. Khaleesi agrees, but explains something very powerful: they will leave the world a better place than they found it. This means that the Ironborn will not be able to go back to their savage ways of raiding the mainland, stealing, raping and pillaging. Yara reminds Khaleesi that this is their way of life, but Khaleesi does not budge on her terms. She also reminds them that all three of their fathers (the Mad King, Lord Tywin and Balon Greyjoy) were ruthless and power-hungry men who brought much evil into the world. The parallels that were drawn between the previous rulers of their powerful houses and the next generation of rulers is very important to consider. What’s more is that this scene is a direct allusion to Aegon Targaryen and his Conquest of the Seven Kingdoms, during which he made very similar pacts with the powerful houses of Westeros. Like Khaleesi did, he granted them lordship and autonomy over their regions of Westeros, so long as they pledged their allegiance to him — the new Targaryen king that would unite all of Westeros for the first time. Those who refused ultimately suffered catastrophic losses. Those who bent the knee (House Stark, House Tully, House Greyjoy, etc) were allowed to live in peace and oversee their lands and smaller-houses autonomously.

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

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

HEADING INTO THE FINALE…

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

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

Season 5, Episode 5: Kill the Boy

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.

OLD VALYRIA!!!

The last 10 minutes of the most recent episode, Kill the Boy, immediately made it one of the most significant to date. The fact that we arrived at Old Valyria, completely unexpected, is a total game-changer and offers perspective into the world of a time long gone. And unlike some of the other more significant Thrones episodes to date, this one is so important not because of the implications it has on what is to come, but because of the ideas it offers about the past.

The ruins of Old Valyria

What we saw tonight were the remains of the greatest civilization to have ever existed; the home to a people long extinct; and the ancient relics of the most magical land that ever was. Today, they say no man can sail to the ruins of Valyria and make it back to tell the story. Many travel to these mysterious lands in search of valuable relics such as Dragonglass or Valyrian Steel, but no man that reaches Old Valyria makes it out alive. And as a result, there is mystery and magic surrounding the tales of what is left of Old Valyria. But tonight, we got first hand glimpse of this land — a lagoon of ruins entrenched in a foggy cloud of mysticism — and we are left to wonder what life thousands of years ago was like on Old Valyria.

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So let’s rewind… 5,000 years ago, Valyria was no more than a small village on the continent of Easteros. The Valyrians were an ordinary people; a peaceful tribe of sheep-herders — nothing special or magical about them. But that quickly changed when the Valyrians first discovered the existence of dragons beneath the Fourteen Flames, an enormous chain of volcanoes located on Valyria. Along with the discovery of these dragons, it is told that the powers of magic began to appear on Valyria, and that the Valyrians used this magic to tame the dragons. Once tamed, the Valyrians attained an unrivaled power that the world had never before known. And, in the coming years, the Valyrians would use the power of their dragons to unite many of the smaller cities of Easteros, establishing the Valyrian Freehold.

Valyrians use magic to tame dragons

Valyrians use magic to tame dragons

The Valyrian Freehold was a collection of city-states under the control of the Valyrians. Some of these city-states were governed directly by the Valyrians, while others were granted autonomy to govern themselves independently, thus earning the name The Free Cities. Today, we often hear many of these cities still referred to as the Free Cities, such as Pentos, Braavos and Volantis, a term that dates back 5,000 years to the establishment of the Valyrian Freehold. Established as the capital of the Freehold, Valyria develops into the greatest civilization that ever existed. Magic flourishes, towers are built to the heavens, dragons fly the skies and great swords made of Valyrian steel are forged.

Over the next 5,000 years, Valyrians used the power of their dragons to conquer the majority of Easteros. They defeated the two greatest and most powerful civilizations that existed at the time — the Ghiscari Empire and Rhoyne — showing that even armies in the millions were no match for dragons. After defeating the two most powerful civilizations, the Valyrians would go on to unite several more cities of Easteros until their Freehold covered almost the entire continent of Easteros. The Valyrian culture would spread across Easteros, and to this day, High Valyrian is still spoken across all of Easteros as a result of their conquest of the continent and widespread influence.

More recently, approximately 500 years ago, the Valyrians set their eyes further west and claimed control of a small island just off the coast of Westeros. This marked the most western piece of land that is claimed by the Valyrian Freehold, and is only a few miles off the coast of Westeros. The island is controlled by one of the strongest Valyrian families, the Targaryens, who go on to build a castle with towers that look like dragons, earning it the name of Dragonstone.

Dragonstone, the castle where Stannis resided at in the first few seasons, was originally built by Targaryens

Dragonstone, the castle where Stannis resided at in the first few seasons, was originally built by Targaryens

Shortly thereafter, we arrive at the Doom of Valyria, perhaps the most legendary historical event in the entire Thrones world. Though the exact cause is unknown, the Doom of Valyria was a cataclysmic event that involved the eruption of the Fourteen Flames, the chain of Valyrian volcanoes where dragons were first discovered. Mountains exploded, volcanoes shot molten rock to the sky and the earth opened up to swallow entire land masses. In just one day, most of Old Valyria was destroyed and sank below the sea, as did most of the Valyrians and their dragons, bringing end to one of the greatest civilizations the world had ever known…just like that. What took nearly 5,000 years to build was wiped out in just one day, with only ruins left behind to tell of the once great civilization that existed. But there was one Valyrian family that would survive The Doom.

The Doom of Valyria

The Doom of Valyria

While all other noble Valyrian families perished in The Doom, House Targaryen survived, making them the only living family that could trace their bloodline back to that of Old Valyria and the Valyrian Freehold. 12 years prior to The Doom, Aenar Targaryen had a daughter, otherwise known as Daenys the Dreamer, who had a prophetic dream in which Valryia was destroyed. Moved by his daughter’s dream, Aenar left Valyria and relocated his family to Dragonstone, becoming henceforth known as Aenar the Exile. 12 years later, Daenys’ vision would come true, and as the Doom wiped out all of Valyria, her Targaryen family would be the only major family to survive Old Valyria. And their five dragons would be only dragons left in all of the world. Over the next 100 years, the Targaryens would live at Dragonstone and engaged in incest to grow their bloodline. But with Old Valyria gone, magic began to disappear, and their dragons began to die. All died but one — Balerion the Dread — a dragon that would grow to be the fiercest dragon ever known. And 300 years ago, Aegon the Conqueror, perhaps the most important man to have ever lived, would decide it was time to leave Dragonstone, and set his eyes on Westeros. Like the Valyrians did thousands of years prior with the Valyrian Freehold, Aegon Targaryen would ride on the back of his dragon Balerion during Aegon’s Conquest, and unite the independent kingdoms of Westeros, establishing one united realm henceforth known as the Seven Kingdoms.

Drogon flies over the Valyrian ruins

Drogon flies over the Valyrian ruins

And now, 300 years after Aegon’s Conquest, all that is left to know of Old Valyria are its surviving ruins — a glimpse into an ancient past  — a mystical land where dragons were discovered, magic was practiced and Valyrian steel was forged. And as Jorah and Tyrion approach the foggy ruins, the eerie magic that still surrounds the land is unmistakable — a clear feeling of “we’re not supposed to be here.” And just like that, Drogon flies over the sky, and not only do we see where Drogon has been hanging out all this time, but we see a dragon fly over Valyria — a throwback to several thousand years ago when dragons roamed the sky of Old Valyria, the place where they were first discovered.

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And finally, we learn why many of those who travel to Old Valyria might not make it out alive, as the Stone Men attack Jorah and Tyrion. As Stannis spoke about in the previous episode to his daughter Shereen, the Stone Men are a people afflicted with Grey Scale, and sent to the doomed lands of Old Valyria to live out their days in isolation. Stannis tells Shereen that when she was a baby, he was told to send her to Old Valyria to live with the Stone Men, though he refused and found the best care to mitigate the effects of her disease. While she was lucky, we see that the Stone Men of Old Valyria are not, as they add to the dark magic of Old Valyria. And though Jorah successfully fights them off, he has been infected by the disease himself. It is unclear whether we will ever see Old Valyria again, but we should consider ourselves lucky to have gotten glimpse of the place where it all began — a place that would give shape to all the world we know today.

The Stone Men

The Stone Men

EVERYTHING ELSE

In the North, the plot continues to thicken, and though we haven’t seen the White Walkers in quite some time, it feels as though winter is closer than ever. And as winter is coming, desperate times call for desperate measures. Stannis tells Davos that winter could come any day now, and without further notice, he leads his army towards Winterfell to take back the North from House Bolton. But Roose Bolton is anticipating his arrival, as he tells his son Ramsey that Stannis will arrive at Winterfell any day now, and implores his son to help him defend the castle. We are left to wonder how Roose Bolton will fend off the much larger army of Stannis and defend the North. Stannis also commands Samwell to continue reading his books to try and find a way to defeat the White Walkers.

Elsewhere, Jon Snow pops onto the scene just as Maestar Aemon is telling Samwell Tarly that Khaleesi is the last Targaryen with no family, stranded halfway across the world– another possible supporting piece of evidence of the theory mentioned in last week’s recap, positing that Jon Snow might in fact be a Targaryen, son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyana Stark. As the new Lord Commander sits with Maestar Aemon, who is dying, the wise Maestar tells him that it is time to kill the boy, and become the man who must make difficult decisions. He takes these words to heart as he devises a plan to make peace with the Wildlings. He convinces Tormund Giantsbayne that peace is best for all, and that with the White Walkers looming, they must all fight together if they want to live. But Tormund insists that the new Lord Commander come with him to convince the Wildlings himself. And so we see the difficult decision that Jon Snow must make, one for which he must kill the boy inside of him to transform into the powerful Lord Commander that he must become.

At Winterfell, Sansa is reunited with the almost-brother who she knew has Theon, who has now become the decrepit Reek. Over dinner, Ramsey makes Reek apologize to Sansa for killing her brothers, something Ramsey and Theon both know he did not actually do, concealing the fact that Bran and Rickon are in fact still alive. As Theon was forced to pretend he committed the murders of Sansa’s brothers, it appeared as though he was particularly averse to this command from Ramsey, and could potentially turn on him to help Sansa. Another potential threat to Ramsey is Miranda, the kennel master’s daughter who expressed her jealousy of Sansa. We also saw the message delivered from Brienne to Sansa, telling her to light a candle in the highest window should she ever need help. Sansa still has people looking out for her…The North Remembers…

And finally, in the never-ending saga that is Khaleesi in Mereen, as a result of the death of Ser Barristan, we see her first threaten punishment of the masters by having her dragons kill one of them, only to later acknowledge the error of her ways. She tells Hizdahr zo Loraq, that she will not only heed his advice and reinstate the fighting pits, but that she will also marry him…What?? When did that become an option? Oh, and let’s not forget the kiss between Grey Worm and Missandei, which is such an irrelevant waste of time that we won’t expand on it further. It’s unclear what Khaleesi’s plan is, whether she will actually marry him, or what the hell is going on in Mereen, but we are again left scratching our head and wondering when the hell she is going to get her eye back on the prize — the Iron Throne of Westeros!

Season 5, Episode 4: Sons of the Harpy

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

WHO IS JON SNOW?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RECAP OF EVERYTHING ELSE

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

Ellaria and the Sand Snakes

Ellaria and the Sand Snakes

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

Cercei smirking after sending off Mace Tyrell

Cercei smirking after sending off Mace Tyrell

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

Ser Barristan laying dead next to Grey Worm

Ser Barristan laying dead next to Grey Worm

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

Season 5, Episode 1: The Wars to Come

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

A NEW SEASON, A NEW WORLD

Finally…We can all breathe a sigh of relief, the wait is over and Thrones is back. Yet, after watching the Season 5 premiere, some of us may have been left feeling a bit underwhelmed, perhaps even a bit slighted. After all, we waited a full year for Thrones to return, shouldn’t the kickoff episode have been packed with a bit more action? No beheadings, no betrayals, no battles and no scandalous sex scenes at all — I mean come on — where were all the things that we’ve grown so accustomed to seeing out of Thrones on weekly basis?

And yet still, it would be foolish to not read between the lines and recognize the way that this premiere episode set the stage for the journey that we are about to embark upon. While there weren’t any major plot progressions or jaw-dropping reveals in this premiere episode, one very loud and unmistakable message was sent: viewers beware, we are in a bold new world. This is not the Thrones world you’ve come to know over the last four seasons and the whatever predictability of the world we grew to know is now gone. Tywin, the man responsible for directing so much of “the game” we’ve come to understand,  is dead; Tyrion, another Lannister who kept much of the game in motion, is now halfway across the world; House Bolton officially rules from the seat of Winterfell; while Stannis now calls the shots at the Wall. And these were just a few of the major changes we faced in the opening episode. In this new world, there are new games to be played, new rules to those games and new players to play them. In an episode entitled The Wars to Come, it is important to recognize that the landscape of Westeros has vastly changed in the aftermath of Season 4, and believe it or not, what comes next in this new world appears even more unpredictable than ever.

THE END OF A LANNISTER ERA

Hinting at the fact that things are more different than ever, Season 5 kicks off with something viewers have never before seen — a flashback. We not only see the bratty malevolence that Cercei possessed even as a youth, but we also learn that much of the ill fate Cercei is experiencing before our eyes today, she was actually made aware of 20+ years ago. As Cercei goes to visit a witch in the woods, she tells the witch that she’s been promised to be married to a prince but the witch tells her that she will in fact marry a king. As viewers, we now know that the prince young Cercei was referring to was Rhaegar Targaryen, but that they never married, as he was killed by Robert Baratheon during Robert’s Rebellion. And instead, Cercei ends up marrying King Robert, as the witch told that she would. The witch goes on to tell her that she will be queen, until she is replaced by one younger and more beautiful (Margaery). Most important, referring to Cercei’s three future children, the witch states “Gold will be their crowns, gold will be their shrouds,” referring to their funeral shrouds, implying that death surrounds Cercei’s children. Having lost one child already during his reign as king, having a second son reigning as current king, and her third child, Myrcella, halfway across the world in the hands of their enemies, House Martell, perhaps Cercei should have listened a bit closer to the prophetic words of the fortune teller she sought out as a child.

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The young Cercei

Flash forward, we see that Cercei’s problems extend beyond just her children, and that an enormous void is left by the death of Tywin Lannister. Though never actually king, as we look upon Lord Tywin laying dead in the Great Sept, we feel as though we have witnessed the death of a king, a testament to the immense power that Tywin commanded in his life. And as the morose notes of The Rains of Castamere play in the background, a song which once reminded of the strength of House Lannister, we now see a much different version of this once all-powerful house — one that appears to have been reduced to no more than the revenge-driven Cercei and one-handed Jaime. And as they discuss all that Lord Tywin built for their house, Jaime reminds his sister of all the schemers and plotters that will look to prey upon their weakness as he tells her, “they are going to try to take it away…all of it.” And while it appears that we’ve witnessed the end of the Lannister era as we once knew it, Jaime tells Cercei that they must stick together to defend what their father has built, while Cercei seems more intent upon focusing on the fact that Tyrion is still out there somewhere. To say the least, with Tywin dead and Tyrion across the Narrow Sea, there’s discord amongst the Lannister twins at a time when they can least afford it.

The death of Lord Tywin, marking the end of a Lannister era

The death of Lord Tywin, marking the end of a Lannister era

OUT OF THE BOX

After weeks of being confined to a crate on a ship, Tyrion is finally released to see the realities of his new world — one where he finds himself in Pentos, with Varys, at the palace of Illyrio Mopatis, a character we’ve not seen since the first season. And right away, Varys reveals something very major. He tells Tyrion that he and Illyrio belonged to a group of people who saw King Robert’s reign as a disaster and aimed to do what was best for the realm by restoring the Targaryen dynasty. In other words, the two of them had been working together behind the scenes to help Khaleesi retake the thrown. Looking back to season 1, we can connect many of the dots. For starters, it was Illyrio Mopatis who hosted Khaleesi and her brother, Viserys, at his palace in Pentos when season 1 started.

From Season 1: Illyrio, in Pentos, harboring Viserys and Daenerys Targaryen

Illyrio brokered the marriage to Khal Drogo in an effort to put an army at the back of the Targaryens. It was also Illyrio who gave Khaleesi her three dragon eggs as a wedding present, which would go on to hatch into three living dragons — the first in hundreds of years. It had been clear that Illyrio was aiding the Targaryens, but it was not until halfway through the first season that we learned that Varys was equally involved with this plot, though much more behind the scenes. As Illyrio visits King’s Landing and walks the dungeons with Varys, Arya overhears them talking about the Targaryen claim which they are backing, and as they discuss the impending war between the Starks and the Lannisters, Illyrio notes that Khal Drogo and the Targaryens are not yet ready to make their move on Westeros, and that they need to buy more time. In short, this scene (see video below) showed us that Illyrio and Varys were plotting for a long time to back the Targaryen restoration. And now, four seasons later, it all comes full circle as Tyrion and Varys end up in Pentos at the palace of Illyrio, and Varys for the first time explicitly tells Tyrion of his plot, one that went terribly wrong.

And as we so often ask ourselves what the true motives of certain characters are, especially ambiguous ones such as Varys, we once again hear what Varys professes to want to most: peace and prosperity for Westeros. Though his plan to get Khaleesi back on the Throne did not yet come to fruition, he seems more decided than ever that she is the one true ruler who could achieve this — one that could strike fear in the powerful Lords of Westeros while inspiring greatness and compassion amongst the weaker. She has the army, the dragons and the right last name. And he now turns to Tyrion to assist him in the pursuit of helping Khaleesi to ascend the Iron Throne.

Speaking of which, it will be interesting to see what comes next for Tyrion. To date, he has been a character utterly defined by his Lannister last name. In Season 4, when Shae would so often beg Tyrion to leave King’s Landing and start a life elsewhere with her, he would always reply that he is a Lannister — what purpose would he possibly have in Easteros, away from “the game” taking place at King’s Landing? After professed that he was good at the game and he enjoyed playing it. Ironically — away from King’s Landing, halfway across the world in Easteros is now precisely where he finds himself, only under an entirely new set of circumstances. So far from his familiar world of King’s Landing and almost entirely removed from his Lannister landscape, will Tyrion find new purpose? What man will he become? And will he ultimately make his way to Mereen, along with Varys, and meet the Mother of Dragons?

tyrion

TROUBLE IN KHALEESI’S NEW WORLD

Which brings us to the new world that Khaleesi is trying to create amongst the slave cities of Easteros. Symbolic of the old ways she is uprooting and the new world she is creating, Khaleesi’s Unsullied tear the giant harpy off the Great Pyramid of Mereen. And as we recall from the end of Season 4, Khaleesi offers that the slave masters of Yunkai could “live in my new world, or die in their old one.” We see that the more Khaleesi tries to cultivate this new world, one where slavery is absolutely forbidden and justice will always be recognized, we also see the obstacles she faces — ones that may deter her from her eventual goal of reclaiming the Iron Throne. First, we see one of her Unsullied murdered by a member of the Sons of the Harpy, a resistance group that has raised up in defiance of the new world she is trying to create. Khaleesi insists that he be buried publicly in the Temples of the Graces, despite her advisors warning that this will further anger the Sons of the Harpy.

In addition to these issues she faces in Mereen, as Daario Naharis returns from Yunkai, Khaleesi learns that the ex-slave masters have asked her to allow the continuance of the fighting pit, something which she refuses. As she later chats about this with Daario in bed, he reminds her that she is the Mother of Dragons and that if she wants to have success in her new world, her dragons must be a part of it. But, when she goes to check on her two dragons which have been locked up for some time, we see that they have not only grown extremely large, but that they also appear more uncontrollable than ever. Furthermore, it’s been weeks since anybody has spotted Drogon, the largest of the three dragons. As this season unfolds, it will be interesting to see how dedicated Khaleesi remains to establishing her new world versus shifting her sights towards the ultimate goal of claiming the Iron Throne.

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Khaleesi & her dragons

THE WALL

Elsewhere, we once again see that everything has changed with major unpredictably surrounding what comes next at the Wall. In the aftermath of the battle between the Night’s Watch and Mance Rayder’s army of Wildlings, we see a depleted Night’s Watch that is now somewhat backed by Stannis Baratheon’s army. As Jon Snow ascends the Wall, Melisandre asks him if he is a virgin. When he informs her that he is not, she responds, “good,” with a sinister grin. Atop the Wall, Stannis tells Jon Snow that he plans to retake Winterfell from House Bolton and wants the Wildlings to fight for him. All Mance has to do is bend the knee, to which he of course refuses. As Jon Snow tells Mance he is making a mistake, Mance responds “All I ever wanted was the freedom to make my own mistakes.” Even when faced with being burned alive, Mance would rather die a free man than acquiesce to the rules of the southern kingdoms and bend the knee. And as everybody looks on as he begins to burn, Jon Snow puts an arrow in his heart to prevent the horrible death Mance was about to experience.

mance

EVERYTHING ELSE

In a roundup of some of the smaller scenes of the premiere episode, we see the continued journey of Brienne and Pod, who in their new world, appear to lack any true purpose or destination. Sansa, appearing darker than ever, continues to journey on with Littlefinger, and on their new path together, leave Robin Arryn with Lord Royce for safekeeping. We also see Lord Baelish receive a message, which undisclosed, he stashes in his sleeve. Once in private, Baelish tells Sansa that they are going somewhere so far away that even Cercei cannot find Sansa. And back in King’s Landing, Lancel Lannister, Cercei’s cousin, reappears as a Sparrow, stating that he has found peace in the Light of the Seven. He apologizes to her for their unnatural relations, and also for the part he played in serving Robert Baratheon the very strong wine, which led to his hunting accident and eventual death. Though it had been implied previously, we receive explicit confirmation of the role that Cercei played in killing her husband and the King. And as the season premiere comes to a close, while we may not have witnessed any singularly gamechanging events, this new season presents a new world, one where the game appears to be changing and anything could be possible.

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Sansa, appearing darker than ever

Grey Worm

Grey Worm is the commander of the Unsullied, the army of 8,000 warriors that were once slave-soldiers in the slave-city of Astapor. After freeing them, the Unsullied came under the command of Khaleesi, at which point they elected Grey Worm as their leader. He is a proud warrior and originally from the Summer Isles of Easteros.

Episode 4 Recap: Oathkeeper

KILL THE MASTERS

Episode Four begins with a conversation between Missandei and Grey Worm, both of whom were born into slavery, but now serve freely under Khaleesi. Missandei recollects her home and notes that she might one day return, while Grey Worm has no memory of his life prior to being a slave and expresses no desire to ever return to his birthplace. After Khaleesi tells Grey Worm “it is time,” Grey Worm and the Unsullied infiltrate the city of Meereen through the sewage system, and rally the Meereneese slaves while providing them with weapons. As Khaleesi once preached to the Unsullied, the Unsullied now preach to the Meereneese: freedom cannot be given, it must be taken back by the slaves.

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After the slaves uprise and kill many of the masters, Khaleesi successfully takes the great city of Meereen and grows her loyal following of freed slaves. Despite Ser Barristan’s suggestion to respond to injustice with mercy, Khaleesi boldly exclaims that she will treat injustice with justice, before pinning up 163 of the masters to the mile-markers leading to Meereen. An extremely powerful final image, we see Khaleesi has ascended the Great Pyramid of Meereen, overlooking the city she has conquered — the bronze harpy, once the symbol of Meereen, has now been replaced with the flag of House Targaryen.

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Many of us might be thinking “Great. Big deal, Khaleesi sacked another city and freed some more slaves.” We might be getting a bit bored with her journey — one that seems like it’s been going on forever and is just more of the same each time she reaches a new slave city. And that is exactly why it is important to stop and process the massive feats that Khaleesi has accomplished. She has now sacked three of Easteros’ most powerful civilizations — Astapor, Yunkai and Meereen — while freeing hundreds of thousands of slaves and increasing her power, resources and following. And, arguably more important than what she has accomplished is how she has accomplished it. The range of attributes displayed by Khaleesi has been astounding. She has been loving and compassionate, yet unafraid to be fierce and bold when needed. Wise and calculated in every decision made, yet also unafraid to admit to what she does not know. Selfless in wanting to liberate those sentenced to a life of slavery, yet unrelenting in serving justice to those who have enslaved others. Calculated but unafraid; unsure but completely faithful; compassionate but fierce — as Ser Jorah once told her “A thousands years could come and go without ever seeing a ruler like you.”

KING’S LANDING

In King’s Landing, Jaime visits the imprisoned Tyrion, after Bronn tells Jaime that Jaime was Tyrion’s first choice in his trial by combat at the Eyrie. Though Jaime appears to believe that Tyrion is innocent, he also appears helpless and limited in the ways he can assist. Once one of the more powerful figures of Westeros, Jaime’s influence and resources seem to be deteriorating. He also appears helpless with Cercei, who demands that Jaime bring her the head of Sansa, who she believes also played a part in the murder of Joffrey. In such a short time, Jaime’s world has been turned upside down — a father that has disowned him, a sister who resents him for things he had no control over and a brother that he is too weak to help. Nonetheless, we continue to see some of the good in Jaime as he presents Brienne with his Valyrian sword, which she names Oathkeeper, before setting off with Podrick Payne to find Sansa and get her to safety.

Also at King’s Landing, Lady Olenna sits with Margaery and alludes to the fact that she played a part in the murder of Joffrey. She says this just as she rearranges Margaery’s necklace — much the same way she touched Sansa’s necklace during the wedding — a necklace that we now know was produced by Lord Baelish, containing a vile of poison that killed Joffrey. So there it is — we now know exactly how Joffrey was killed. Littlefinger had a necklace created with one of the jewels actually being a vile of poison. Ser Dontos played his part, presenting the necklace to Sansa as a family heirloom. Lady Olenna was in on it, and removed the vile from Sansa’s necklace during the wedding and put the poison into Joffrey’s wine cup.

Lady Olenna, removing the poison vile from Sansa's necklace

Lady Olenna, removing the poison vile from Sansa’s wedding

Lady Olenna rearranging Margaery's necklace as she admits to her role in Joffrey's death

Lady Olenna rearranging Margaery’s necklace as she admits to her role in Joffrey’s death

She also tells Margaery of the importance of forging a relationship with Tommen and winning over his allegiance. As things come to light, we see the Tyrells emerge as cunning and calculated, quietly making moves to “play the game” and grow their power. Late in the night, Margaery visits Tommen and plants a seed, telling him that it will be important that they are able to have secrets that are kept from Cercei.

“A MAN WITH NO MOTIVE IS A MAN NOBODY SUSPECTS”

These were the words spoken by Littlefinger as he continues to reveal to Sansa the details of the plan he has plotted. Lord Baelish takes responsibility for the murder of Joffrey and tells Sansa that they are en route to the Eyrie, where he will marry Lysa Tully, sister of the Catelyn, the woman he has loved since childhood. When Sansa asks Littlefinger why he would play a part in the murder of Joffrey when the Lannisters had given him so much power, he explains the importance of never letting anybody know his motives as to remain unsuspecting. Sansa doesn’t believe what he is saying, and he goes on to admit the truth — that he is a man willing to risk everything to achieve what he wants. When Sansa asks him what it is that he wants, he tells her “Everything.” Now free of the powers of King’s Landing, we see the truth of Littlefinger — he is a man whose ambitions are rivaled only by the means he is willing to exercise to achieve these ambitions.

“LET THE MUTINEERS TAKE CARE OF SNOW…”

Jon Snow continues to impress upon the importance of going north of the Wall to eliminate the mutineers at Craster’s Keep. Brothers of the Night’s Watch prior to their rebellion, these mutineers know all the secrets of the Wall and the Night’s Watch. Should Mance Rayder and the Wildlings get this information out of them, they would have all they need to march on the Wall and crush the Night’s Watch. Likely out of dislike for Jon Snow, acting Lord Commander Alliser Thorne rejects Snow’s proposed plan, until Janos Slynt points out that Thorne will not be Lord Commander forever as there will be a vote for new Lord Commander after the murder of Lord Commander Mormont. Slynt points out that Snow is very well liked and could be elected new Lord Commander. To avoid this, he suggests that Thorne approve Snow’s plan to march to Craster’s Keep and let the mutineers “take care of him.”

Acting Lord Commander Alliser Thorne and Janos Slynt

Acting Lord Commander Alliser Thorne and Janos Slynt

After Jon Snow gives a passionate speech about the unjust murder of Lord Commander Mormont, who was a father to them, several of the brothers of the Night’s Watch agree to join Snow, including Locke, one of Roose Bolton’s men, who is posing as a new recruit of the Night’s Watch, but is really there on a mission to find Bran and Rickon.

Locke, pretending to be a recruit of the Night's Watch

Locke, pretending to be a recruit of the Night’s Watch

CRASTER’S KEEP

We finally see what’s been going on at Craster’s Keep since the mutiny that took place last season. Karl, once a brother of the Night’s Watch, appears to be calling the shots. The men have taken Craster’s daughters/wives as captives, raping and beating them. We also see that they’ve captured Ghost, the direwolf of Jon Snow. When Karl is presented with a baby boy, the last of Craster’s sons, he is told of the ritual that gives all  of Craster’s male babies to the “gods,” referring to the White Walkers. After the baby is placed out in the forest, Bran and company hear the crying baby, and Bran skinchanges into Summer to explore the situation, but falls into a trap just after seeing Ghost. Insisting that they move closer, Bran gets the group captured and is forced to give up his identity after Karl holds a knife to Meera.

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FURTHER NORTH

Since the second season, we’ve known that Craster leaves his male babies in the forest for the White Walkers to take. Yet, it’s been unclear what exactly they do with these babies. Do they eat them? Sacrifice them? Well, in the final scene of the episode, we got an answer to this question — a glimpse of something that never took place in the books. As a White Walker marches on his dead horse with the baby in hand, we get the feeling that we are now in the very deep North, perhaps the Land of Always Winter — the most northern part of Westeros — a region that is always stuck in winter and where it is said the White Walkers come from. The White Walker arrives at what looks to be a mysterious ice city or castle and we finally get some glimpse into where the White Walkers might reside.

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As the baby is placed in the middle of what we would believe to be an altar of some sorts, another creature comes for the baby. It is assumed that this creature was a White Walker, but clearly had a much different appearance from the White Walkers we’ve seen thus far. He appeared to be wearing all black clothing, different from that of the White Walkers. His eyes were a much deeper blue and he had spikes coming out from his head, versus the long grey hair of the White Walkers we have seen thus far. As such, we are left to wonder what exactly this creature is — perhaps a leader or god of the White Walkers? Or perhaps a creature greater than the White Walkers, which appear more zombie-esque than did this creature.

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Pressing a finger to the face of the baby, the baby’s eyes turn a deep blue, like that of the White Walkers and it appears that we may have just witnessed how a White Walker is created.

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It is interesting to note, that we actually got a glimpse of this creature two episodes ago during Bran’s prophetic vision sequence. As greenseers do, Bran had a vision of the future and saw this White Walker’s reflection in the ice, before it actually happened.

An image from Bran's vision, that we now realize is the face of this creature reflecting in the ice

An image from Bran’s vision, that we now realize is the face of this creature reflecting in the ice

Episode 3 Recap: Breaker of Chains

SANSA’S GREAT ESCAPE

As the episode begins, Sansa, led by Ser Dontos, attempts a suspenseful escape of King’s Landing — the torturous prison that has been her home for what seems like years. For so long, Sansa has dreamed of a hero freeing her and escaping the cruel and miserable life she has been forced to live in the capital. And now, that moment has finally arrived. Yet, as she finally makes it out onto the open water, things appear a bit more eerie and unsure. The scene becomes dark and a foggy haze fills the air. We soon learn that Ser Dontos was following the orders of Littlefinger, who plotted the rescue and escape of Sansa. Though, Lord Baelish’s motives are unclear, and Sansa appears wary, especially after Littlefinger kills Ser Dontos, the unlikely hero that saved her life. Littlefinger holds Sansa close and tells her, “You are safe now with me, sailing home.”

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“AM I STILL QUEEN?”

Margaery sits with her grandmother, Lady Olenna, asking her whether she is still the queen, now that Joffrey is dead. Lady Olenna confirms that she is still technically the queen, and that the death of Joffrey was more pleasant than would have been a life married to him. She also reminds Margaery that the Tyrell alliance is very important to the Lannisters, and that a life married to Tommen, rather than Joffrey, will be better for Margaery.

ONE KING DIES AND ANOTHER KING IS READIED

In the Great Sept of Baelor, overlooking the corpse of Joffrey, Lord Tywin questions Tommen about the virtues that make a good king. As Tommen mentions several characteristics, such as strength, holiness and justice, Tywin points out many great kings that possessed each of these virtues, but ended up dying or being killed. Finally, Tommen understands it is wisdom, the characteristic that all these kings lacked. Tywin points out that the wisest of kings acknowledge what they do and do not know. “A wise young king listens to the advice of his counsel until he comes of age. The wisest of kings continue to listen long thereafter.” As Tywin walks out with Tommen, Cercei looks on, perhaps realizing that she has just lost another son to the “game” of thrones.

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As Jaime clears the Sept, he and Cersei stand over the body of their dead son — a son that Jaime was never able to truly father. Cersei insists that Tyrion has murdered Joffrey and asks Jaime to kill him for it. Jaime refuses and defends Tyrion as their brother, who will receive a fair trial. As her grieving turns to lust, Cersei kisses Jaime, but pulls away after being reminded of his golden hand. Jaime exclaims “You are a hateful woman. Why have the gods made me love a hateful woman?” He then forces himself upon her, tired of being rejected and pushed away.

“I JUST UNDERSTAND THE WAY THINGS ARE”

As Arya and the Hound continue towards the Eyrie, Arya asks him where he will go once they reach their destination. He says that he has considered crossing the Narrow Sea and becoming a sellsword in Easteros. Arya responds that she too would like to go to Easteros and that she has friends in Braavos. As they stumble upon a modest man of the Riverlands, Arya pretends that the Hound is her father, a man who fought for the Tullys of Riverrun. Believing they support the same houses, the man takes in Arya and the Hound. Over dinner, the man discusses the Red Wedding and reminds that Walder Frey committed sacrilege that day, breaking the ancient and sacred law of Guest Right. “The gods will have their vengeance and Walder Frey will burn in hell for what he did.” The man also speaks of the impending attacks from Wildling raiders and mentions that the “whole country has gone sour.” The man offers the Hound fair wages for fair work, but the Hound rather steal the man’s silver than work for it. As expected, Arya is outraged after the Hound steals from the innocent man who took them in, and as viewers, we were too. But, as happens so often in this world, our perspective quickly shifts after the Hound explains himself. “They will both be dead come winter and dead men have no need for silver.” After Arya tells him that he is the worst shit in the Seven Kingdoms, he poignantly replies “There are plenty worse than me. I just understand the way things are. How many Starks have they got to behead before you figure it out?”

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Like the juxtaposition of their relationship as a whole, this powerful exchange underscores the diametrically opposed philosophies of these two characters. Arya, a character fighting desperately to defend the ideals of the world as she sees it — more than anything, wanting to achieve justice and preserve whatever good is left around her. Versus the Hound, a character with a more realistic perspective of the world around him. He has been exposed to the evils that exist and understands the way things are. In his dialogue to Arya, he points out that the romantic ideals of House Stark have gotten many of them killed, and perhaps it is time for Arya to abandon these notions and to start realizing the truths of the world around them — and what must be done to stay alive.

WE NEED AN ARMY

At Dragonstone, Stannis receives word of the death of King Joffrey and believes this to be another validation of the magic of the Lord of Light. Though, time is running out and he tells Ser Davos, “If I do not press my claim, my claim will be forgotten. I will not become a page in somebody else’s history book.” Ser Davos promises to raise an army for Stannis and has the idea to seek from the Iron Bank of Braavos the funding needed to raise an army of sellswords.

LORD TYWIN & PRINCE OBERYN

Back in King’s Landing, we continue to see the way the Dornish customs differ from the rest of Westeros, as Prince Oberyn enjoys the sex of both men and women. The room clears as Lord Tywin enters to discuss more important matters with Prince Oberyn. After discussing the murder of Oberyn’s sister, Elia, and her two babies, Lord Tywin denies giving those orders to the Mountain. Tywin proposes an allegiance: he will provide Prince Oberyn the opportunity to serve justice to the Mountain, if Oberyn will serve as a judge to Tyrion’s trial and help serve justice to the king’s assassin. However, this arrangement is only a microcosm of the alliance that must be strengthened between between Dorne and the rest of Westeros, should they want to survive the impending evils that Lord Tywin speaks of. He tells that Stannis still presents a threat, while Wildlings march south from beyond the Wall, and across the Narrow Sea Khaleesi has raised three dragons. Tywin reminds that Dorne was the only one of the Seven Kingdoms which Aegon was unable to conquer during his Conquest, and that Dorne and the rest of Westeros need each other.

TYRION & PODRICK

Tyrion’s squire, Podrick Payne, visits Tyrion in his cell and informs him of the trial that is to take place. Podrick was offered knighthood in exchange for testifying against Tyrion, though Podrick refuses the offer. Fearing for his safety, Tyrion demands that Podrick leaves King’s Landing. Tyrion tells him that this is farewell and with much emotion, tells him that “there has never lived a more loyal squire.” In this moment, our perspective once again shifts as we realize the power of this relationship — one that we probably took for granted and never gave much thought. Perhaps more so than anybody else, Podrick knows that beneath all the wine and whores, Tyrion is a good man with a soft heart. And conversely, Tyrion recognizes the unwavering loyalty of Podrick and the true care that he has for Tyrion. And just like that, after all those years, Tyrion must insist that this is farewell.

THE WILDLINGS RAID

Further north, we see the first major Wildling raid on a small village as they savagely murder the men, women and children. There is a clear vengeance about them — they are coming for blood and appear unwilling to let anything get in their way. They spare one child and tell him to run for Castle Black and let the Night’s Watch know that the Wildlings are coming.

When the Night’s Watch find out, they first call for retaliation, but Jon Snow reminds them that if the Wildings get past the Wall, they will raid a thousand more villages before they come upon an army that can stop them. As such, they cannot leave the Wall — they must stay put and prepare for the Wildlings that are coming. However, a moment later two brothers return from beyond the Wall — brothers we have not seen since the mutiny at Craster’s Keep which resulted in the murder of Lord Commander Mormont. They inform the Night’s Watch that the brothers who conspired are still at Craster’s Keep and Jon Snow tells that they now must go north of the Wall to murder these brothers. It is a matter of security — they know the truth that there are only about 100 men at the Wall, and if Mance Rayder were to learn this truth, he would descend upon the Wall immediately and smash the depleted army of the Night’s Watch.

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BREAKER OF CHAINS

Khaleesi finally arrives at Meereen with her armies, and we see grand city for the first time — reminiscent of an ancient Egypt with great pyramids. Meereen sends out a rider to champion the city and Daario Naharis is selected by Khaleesi as her champion, after Grey Worm, Ser Barristan and Ser Jorah all offer to fight for her. A strategic fighter, Daario Naharis kills with ease the champion of Meereen, setting the stage for Khaleesi’s speech. Rather than speaking to the masters, she speaks directly to the slaves, telling them that it is not her, but rather their masters who are the enemy. She notes the freed slaves of the city of Yunkai and Astapor that now stand behind her and offers them the same opportunity. She tells them, “I bring you a choice. And I bring your enemies what they deserve.” She then catapults into the city dozens of barrels filled with broken slave chains. The episode ends as one slave picks up the broken chain, realizing the immense power and symbolism of a chain that has been broken, before looking back at his master.

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