What’s Hiding Beneath the Crypts of Winterfell?

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.

After what has felt like an eternity of an offseason, the end is now in sight as we are just 2 months away from the final season of Thrones. Hard to believe this epic journey that has consumed us for the better part of the last decade will all boil down to just six more episodes. The early word is that the first two episodes will each clock in at the standard 60-minute length, while the last four will each be 80 minutes long. And so, as we set our sights upon the beginning of the end, HBO recently released an official Season 8 teaser, and boy was there a lot to take from it. In this post, we will break down the teaser and some of the significant takeaways. So, if you haven’t yet seen it, watch it below. And if you have seen it, watch it again!

For starters, let’s reestablish something we’ve talked about before: HBO and the Thrones writers/producers do not do anything by accident. There are no random choices in this show; from each character and location, down to every word that is spoken, everything is thoughtfully chosen to serve a purpose. Remember, Thrones producers are tasked with cramming nearly 7,000 pages worth of George R.R. Martin’s story into what will amount to a total of 67 episodes when all is said and done — that’s over 100 pages of super rich text packed into each episode — so there is absolutely no reason for the show to incorporate any fluff or irrelevant content. Every single thing you see and hear is carefully selected to be there for a reason.

With that in mind, it would be foolish to casually gloss over the above teaser and not give it a thorough examination. After all, this is the very first footage that producers are choosing to expose you to — and not just footage to tease any season — it’s to tease the final season. Again, consider that everything you just watched in this teaser has great significance, especially as we embark upon the conclusion of this epic saga. So, let’s jump in and analyze what I found to be two extremely important takeaways from this teaser: The first, a bold reminder that the Starks of Winterfell have always been, and will always be, at the center of this entire story; the second, the significance of the crypts of Winterfell, and what might be hiding within.

Let’s begin by breaking down the first 50 seconds of the teaser, in which we see Jon, Arya and Sansa walking beneath the crypts of Winterfell. For starters, this is a powerful reminder that the remaining Stark children (not including Bran, who has now turned into the Three-Eyed-Raven) are all reunited at their home of Winterfell. It’s hard to believe, but for the entirety of this story, we have only witnessed the children together at Winterfell for just one episode — the very first one! In just the second episode of the series, Jon leaves for The Wall, and the other Stark children start to go their separate ways from there. So, if nothing else, seeing Jon, Sansa and Arya back together at Winterfell, where it all started, and perhaps where it will all end, is incredibly significant.

But the teaser quickly reminds us that House Stark is made up of so much more than just the three children we see; the crypts of Winterfell lay rest to some of the most important Stark family members — ones that the teaser quickly brings back to life by replaying  some of their most important quotes. Though they may be physically dead, we get the feeling that their influence and impact is very much alive, and it is this very idea that gives such great drive and power to House Stark. What we can also take away is that three of the most influential members of House Stark (Lyanna, Ned and Catelyn) sacrificed their lives so that the present-day members of House Stark could serve their future purpose in the great war to come. As we see the statues of each of these dead members of House Stark, accompanied by their words, we are reminded of a rich history of Stark lineage, filled with great death and sacrifice, all of which is presented in a way that makes us feel like everything that has happened has been leading up to this very moment. Particularly, leading up to Jon’s final moments, given that all three quotes we hear in this teaser relate to him. So let’s dig a bit deeper into the statues we saw and the words we heard from some of the late great Stark family members.

The first part of this teaser shows Jon passing the statue of Lyanna Stark, who we know (though he doesn’t) to be his mother. As a quick refresher, in the finale of season six, Bran travels back in time to the Tower of Joy, where we see Ned arrive to his dying sister, Lyanna, who has recently given birth. In season seven, through another one of Bran’s vision, we see the joyous wedding between Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen, confirming that Jon is half Stark and half Targaryen (and also debunking the idea widely spread across much of Westeros that Lyanna was kidnapped and raped by Rhaegar; rather we see that they were in love. This is hugely significant as it was Robert Baratheon who was in love with Lyanna and used the false premise that Lyanna had been kidnapped by Rhaegar Targaryen as the main justification to launch Robert’s Rebellion and overthrow the Mad King, setting the entire Thrones story into motion. But I digress…)

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While we as viewers, as well as Bran, know the truth of Jon’s parents, he himself does not. As he walks past the statue of his mother, we hear the words she spoke to Ned, as her soft and dying voice tells him, “You have to protect him.” Honoring the last dying wish of his sister, Ned does just this, and fools the world into thinking that Jon Snow is his bastard son. Ned was willing to sacrifice his own honor, the very thing he valued most, by making others believe he impregnated a whore who birthed his bastard son. All of this to conceal the true fact that Jon was not a bastard, but rather was half Targaryen. Had Robert Baratheon (or many others who believed the Targaryens to be a threat) learned this truth, he likely would have killed Jon. Thinking about the great lengths Ned went to in order to protect Jon, the impact it had on Catelyn Stark who hated Jon because she incorrectly believed him to be a reminder of the affair Ned (never) had, and then listening to Lyanna’s words one more time “You have to protect him,” provides such meaning to the opening of this teaser. And that Jon does not even realize this is his mother provides all the more poetic irony.

One other interesting thing to call out here is the feather that we see fly out of the hands of Lyanna’s statue (go back and watch the beginning of the teaser if you did not catch this). For one, we have to ask ourselves what is the significance of this feather? As we spoke about earlier, absolutely nothing is random or by chance in this story, so why show a feather flying out of her hand and landing upon the ground? (Later in the teaser, at about 1:04, you will see the feather again, this time starting to freeze over as the frigid air creeps in, but we’ll get to that later). So where did this feather come from?

Well, the answer is simple. In the very first episode of the entire series, we see Robert Baratheon place this feather into the hand of Lyanna’s statue. See below:

Of course, eight years ago, in the very first episode of this story, when we saw Robert place this seemingly insignificant feather in Lyanna’s hand, we thought nothing of it. And therein lies the genius of this show — eight years later, as we near the end, things come full circle as we once again see this feather.

But that wasn’t the only time we saw this feather. Four years later, halfway through the fifth season, we again see this very same feather. This time, it’s Sansa down in the crypts of Winterfell, and she comes across the feather which must have fallen out of Lyanna’s hand. She picks it up, dusts it off and places it back in her aunt’s hand. See video below at about 35 seconds in (feel free to watch the entirety of the video, in which Baelish and Sansa talk about Lyanna Stark, and Sansa repeats the incorrect theory that Rhaegar had kidnapped her Aunt Lyanna, to which Baelish smirks, insinuating he knows that is not the truth of what happened).

We need not spend any more time talking about the feather, but it is worth pointing out that there is likely a significance to it, given that we saw it in the very first episode, midway through this series in season five, and now again in the teaser for the final season. But while the feather may have a significance, let’s not forget Lyanna herself, one of the most significant Starks of all time — the one who forged a union with House Targaryen, gave birth to Jon and gave her life in doing so. Now, all these years later, we are reminded of her contribution to House Stark and hear her last dying words as her unknowing son walks past her statue.

Next, we see Sansa walk past the statue of Catelyn, as we hear her words, “All this horror that has come to my family, all because I couldn’t love a motherless child.” This quote comes all the way back from the beginning of season three, where Cat is talking with Lady Talisa. As a quick refresh, you can watch the clip below:

What’s most interesting is the juxtaposition of seeing Catelyn’s statue and hearing these words right after seeing the statue of Lyanna with her words. It was actually the first set of words we heard (Lyanna asking Ned to protect Jon) that caused the second set of words we heard (Catelyn believing she caused all the death that had fallen upon House Stark because she couldn’t love a motherless child). As we talked about above, Lyanna asking Ned to protect Jon led him to pretend Jon was a bastard child birthed out of wedlock. This lie caused Catelyn great pain, and as she talks about in the clip above, she even wished Jon death as a sick baby. But she soon changed her mind, and prayed to the gods to save him and swore that she would love him as her own if they did. Well, Jon did not die, but she confesses to being unable to hold up her end of the promise as she was unable to love him. She talks about him being a reminder of the affair Ned had. Again, this is all actually not true and she was completely mistaken in her belief of all of this (as most people were). In the end, like Lyanna, Catelyn died trying to protect her children, and seeing both their statues with some of their last words serve as an important reminder of the sacrifices they made to House Stark.

As the first two quotes both pertained to Jon, so does the third, as we see Jon walk past the statue of Ned and we hear “You are a Stark. You might not have my name, but you have my blood.” Of course, these are the final last words Ned will ever speak to Jon, all the way back in the second episode, as Jon says goodbye to Ned and departs for The Wall. In this scene, Ned also tells Jon that the next time they see each other, they’ll have a talk about Jon’s mother. But, as Ned gets killed at the end of this season while Jon is still at The Wall, they never get a chance to talk again, and Jon never learns the true identity of his mother. As we see the Herculean grandeur of Ned’s statue, it is again a strong reminder of the influential Starks that have come before, many of which gave their lives to lead up to this very moment. While the show started in The North and centered around House Stark of Winterfell, things quickly went awry for this honorable house, and as viewers, we probably lost sight of the importance of House Stark. In fact, after all the turmoil suffered, many of us probably wondered if we’d ever see House Stark really come together again. This teaser put that thought to rest, and then some. It boldly reminded us of the deep and rich Stark heritage — one that cannot be forgotten — and one that continues on within the living Starks of today. No doubt, just as the story started with the Starks of Winterfell, so too it shall end with them.

So, we’ve covered the first major takeaway from this teaser: House Stark and Winterfell have always been and will continue to be central to this story, particularly as we near the end. And, we were reminded of the strength of House Stark — much of which is derived from the deep lineage of Starks that have come before those alive today. But there’s another, perhaps more interesting, topic to dive into. The question is: What’s the significance of the crypts of Winterfell? After all, this teaser could have taken place in 50 other locations and still stressed the importance of House Stark — but it took place in the crypts. There must be a reason why.

From the past seven seasons, and even more so from the books, we know that the crypts of Winterfell are extremely important to the Starks. It’s the place where they bury their loved ones. But it’s certainly seemed as more than just a resting place for the dead — the crypts of Winterfell have always been wrapped in a veil of mystery — why? And why now, as we near the end of this story, would HBO choose to make this the only location that we see in the teaser. And perhaps the most important question is, what’s with the freezing air that starts to creep into the crypts towards the end of the teaser? Sure, at first glance, it could just be symbolic that Winter has come, that the Night King is near, that the White Walkers are coming, etc… Or, is there an entirely deeper and more revealing explanation? By starting to add up everything we’ve learned about the crypts throughout the seven seasons thus far, much of which was via character dialogue that viewers likely skipped over, and also sprinkling in some excerpts about the crypts from the early books, we start to see an entirely different view of what the crypts might be. The hypothesis: perhaps the crypts were built not just as a resting place for deceased Starks, but perhaps as a prison to keep darkness locked within. Let’s start to unpack this thing.

In order to consider the true purpose of the crypts of Winterfell, we must first reexamine their origin. That would require us to go back in time to The Age of Heroes, about 8,000 years ago (if you want some quick context on The History of The Known World, see here for a great timeline). It was at this time that The Long Night swept across Westeros — the longest winter that Westeros had ever seen — and with it came the White Walkers, who nearly wiped out all of humanity. Azor Ahai (aka The Prince Who Was Promised), led the great fight against the White Walkers, pushing them back into the deep north. It was at this time that Brandon Stark (aka Brandon the Builder, founder of House Stark), along with the help of The Children of the Forest and Giants, built The Wall, a defense to keep the White Walkers out. Subsequently, The Night’s Watch was founded to man The Wall and keep the realm protected from White Walkers.

So after humanity is almost wiped out and Brandon Stark builds a great magical wall to keep the realm safe, what does he do next? He builds the first line of defense south of The Wall: Winterfell. And what part of Winterfell does he build first? You guessed it — the crypts! If the very first thing the legendary founder of House Stark did after building The Wall was build the crypts of Winterfell, there must be major significance. In trying to understand that significance, it’s important to realize just how big the crypts were, which is hard to tell from the few scenes in which we’ve seen the Starks walking its corridors. But the second book in the series, A Clash of Kings, offers some more color on the crypts: “The crypts were located beneath Winterfell and contained the tombs of the members of House Stark. The cavernous vault is larger than Winterfell itself, with older Starks buried in the deepest and darkest levels. The lowest level is said to be partly collapsed. The statues have large stone direwolves curled at their feet. According to tradition, iron longswords lay across each lord’s lap to keep vengeful spirits within the crypts.

Let’s break that description down for a moment. First of all, it’s remarkable to consider that the crypts themselves are larger than the entirety of the Winterfell fortress. From the show, it’s always seemed like the crypts was simply a long hall lined with statues. But, the description above paints an entirely different picture and presents the crypts as an absolutely massive cavern of tombs that goes many levels beneath the earth. Surely, something this large and magnificent would not have been built solely to house the tombs of deceased Starks.

But, the last sentence of the description is perhaps most intriguing — that iron longswords lay across each lord’s lap to keep vengeful spirits within the crypts. It is this breadcrumb that makes me wonder what vengeful spirits George R.R. Martin was referring to? And the fact that it reads that they wanted to keep these spirits withinpresents an entirely new vantage point as to what these crypts may have been built for — not just a resting place for the Starks, but perhaps as a prison to keep dark spirits, perhaps those of the White Walkers, within. After all, remember that Brandon Stark built these crypts right after The Long Night. He would have just been returning from a long war in which humanity was almost wiped out by darkness — is it possible that he could have had White Walkers or other evil darkness that needed to be locked up somewhere? Perhaps it was even the Night King himself that needed a place to be buried. It’s hard to say for sure, but the description of the crypts in conjunction with it appearing to have been such a high priority for Brandon Stark to build, as well as the sheer size of the crypts, certainly makes it plausible that this was a place used to keep darkness locked up. But that’s just the beginning of evidence to support this theory…

The description above also reveals one more important piece of information — it talks about iron longswords being laid across each lord’s lap to keep the spirits within. But why iron longswords? Was there any significance to iron being in the crypts or did the longswords simply happen to be made out of iron? Well, later in that very same book, Bran has a quote where he states, “The door to the crypts was made of ironwood. It was old and heavy and lay at a slant to the ground. The door was located in the oldest section of Winterfell.” And just like that, we have another mention of iron in the crypts, seeming to demonstrate that there’s something to this whole iron thing. What’s more, Bran’s quote calls out that this ironwood door was located in the oldest section of Winterfell, which means it was the part that was constructed first by Brandon Stark, builder of Winterfell. So there you have it — iron longswords that sit across the statues to keep evil spirits within, as well as an ironwood door to the crypt that was built in the oldest part of Winterfell. So, clearly there’s a great significance to the iron in the crypts, and possibly as a means to keep evil within, but why iron? Have we ever heard that the White Walkers are averse to iron? Well, actually yes, we have — but I’m sure none of us caught it at the time.

You may recall Old Nan, the very old lady who used to sit bedside with Bran and tell him old tales. In many ways, she was a conduit to a lot of the ancient mythology of the Thrones world, and it was never clear how much of her tales were fact and how much were fiction. In one of those tales, she tells Brans about The Long Night, “In the darkness, the White Walkers came for the first time. They were cold things, dead things, that hated iron and fire and the touch of the sun, and every creature with hot blood in its veins.” Of course, none of us could have known at the time that her reference to iron meant anything. In fact, without reading this post, even if you went back and watched that scene 100 times over, you still would not know that there was any significance to her reference of the White Walkers hating iron. It’s only when we start to put the pieces of the puzzle together does this dialogue seem to be significant. So combining this information from just a few parts of the books/show, we know: A) the statues in Winterfell had iron longswords across them to keep evil spirits within; B) the door to the crypts in the oldest part of Winterfell was also made of iron; and C) the White Walkers hated iron. Piecing this all together and it surely does not seem coincidental that the Starks had so much iron in the crypts, and it starts to become a real possibility that the crypts of Winterfell were some type of prison for the dead and the iron was there to keep them within.

So let’s go with this theory for a minute and assume the crypts are some sort of prison for the dead. What’s the significance and how does that tie back to what we saw in the teaser? Well, the back half of the teaser shows that winter frost starting to creep into the crypts. First thought is to assume that just represents that winter is here, the Night King is coming, etc… But what if there’s a greater significance that ties back to this theory? What if rather than this symbolizing the Night King or White Walkers coming into the crypts, it’s a foreshadowing of these dark prisoner spirits coming out? Just a theory, you might say. But what if I told you that Jon Snow had one dream and Ned had two, both of which alluded to this very idea? Again, let’s not forget, George R.R. Martin would not include characters’ dreams in the books without some purpose.

In the first book, George RR Martin tells us of a dream Jon had: “He was wandering the empty castle, searching for his father, descending into the crypts. Only this time the dream had gone further than before. In the dark, he heard the scrape of stone on stone. When he turned, he saw the vaults were opening, one after the other. As the dead kings came stumbling from their cold black graves.” In this dream, Jon flat out sees the dead kings coming out from their graves. Sure, this could just be a reference to past Stark kings that are coming alive, but it could also be a reference to Night Kings or kings of darkness. After all, the dream does mention “cold, black graves,” the type of grave an ancient White Walker would be climbing out of.

But it doesn’t stop there. In that very same book, Ned has a dream: “He was walking through the crypts beneath Winterfell, as he had walked a thousand times before. The Kings of Winter watched him with eyes of ice.” First, let’s point out the significance that there is yet another dream happening in the crypts. Second, let’s acknowledge the dark and ominous tone to the dream, similar to that of Jon’s. Lastly, it’s worth noting that George R.R. Martin calls out “the Kings of Winter” and their “eyes of ice.” Again, the Kings of Winter could refer to past Stark kings, or it could refer to previous Night Kings or Kings of the White Walkers. After all, why would Stark kings have “eyes of ice”? We know that it is the Night King/White Walkers that have these eyes of ice. Speaking of which, let’s rewind to the very first pages of the prologue of the very first book — the first words any Game of Thrones reader would have read — which is also the very first scene of how the show started. If you recall, Will, a deserter of the Night’s Watch, encountered a White Walker, and the book starts “Will saw its eyes; blue, deeper and bluer than any human eyes; a blue that burned like ice.” Interesting to consider that the series of books (and show) begins with Will seeing the icy eyes of a White Walker, nearly identical to the way George R.R. Martin describes the eyes of ice on the statues of the Kings of Winter that Ned sees in his dream in the crypts.

But if there really were some dark White Walker-esque spirits buried down in the crypts beneath Winterfell, why would they be creeping free now? After all, we established that they hate iron and the iron longswords + iron door should keep them contained. Well, what if that iron was starting to fade? Turns out Ned has one more dream in the first book that speaks to this very idea: “By ancient custom an iron longsword had been laid across the lap of each of who had been a Lord of Winterfell, to keep the vengeful spirits in their crypts. The oldest had long ago rusted away to nothing, leaving only a few red stains where metal had rested on stone. Ned wondered if that meant the ghosts were free to roam the castle now. He hoped not.” Another rather eerie dream which notes that some of these very old iron longswords had started to fade, which led Ned to wonder if the vengeful spirits were able to roam free. If Brandon Stark did in fact bury these first evil bodies 8,000 years ago when he built the crypts, it makes perfect sense that the iron would have started to disintegrate, possibly allowing these spirits to break free. Which again begs the question of the wintery ice we saw creeping into the crypts at the end of the teaser: was it a simple reminder of army of the dead that is soon to arrive to Winterfell, or was it an allusion to something more — dark spirits that have been prisoner to the crypts of Winterfell, that are finally breaking free.

Only time will tell, and perhaps the crypts will not turn out to be as significant as this theory assumes. But if I had to bet, I would say that there will be some sort of major reveal tied to the crypts of Winterfell before this story comes to an end…

 

 

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Season 5, Episode 3: The High Sparrow

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

THE GAME CONTINUES…AND NEW IDENTITIES ARE FORGED

In the third episode, entitled The High Sparrow, we see that “the game” continues to be played and all the players that continue to make their moves. Whereas the first two episodes of this season appeared to be “setup” episodes, in this episode, we see many new plot progressions and are offered insight into the direction that things seem to be headed. Some characters take on new roles as others plot revenge; once-powerful characters now appear all but powerless while some of the weaker characters have gained strength. Some characters finally return home, while others appear further away than ever before.  But more apparent than anything, is the fact that many characters are emerging with newfound identities.

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And now, there appear to be more games being played than ever before — and the “game of thrones,” that is the battle for the Iron Throne, appears to be one of the least important games being played at the moment. Unlikely allegiances appear imminent and new plots are starting to take shape. Characters are more mixed up than ever, and most importantly, in this chaotic world that seems less structured than ever before, everything seems to be up for grabs.

A GIRL MUST BE NOBODY

As the episode begins, we get first glimpse inside the House of Black and White, the temple of the Many-Faced God. Whereas most temples we are used to seeing are light, beautiful and full of life, this temple is dark and a place to serve death. As Jaqen H’ghar offers a man a drink from the temple’s pool, he kneels peacefully before dying a few moments later. And as his body and others are removed and washed, we are left to wonder what is done with these bodies?

Jaqen, offering a peaceful death from the fountain

Jaqen, offering a peaceful death from the fountain

Arya, tired of sweeping the floors, tells Jaqen that she is ready to become a Faceless Man, to which he responds “Valar Dohaeris,” meaning “all men must serve.” She tells him that she is ready to serve, but he reminds her that she is only ready to serve herself. “There is only one god,” he tells her, “and all men know his gift,” referring to the gift of death. Later, Arya again tells Jaqen that she is ready to become nobody, to which he asks her how nobody came to be surrounded by all of Arya Stark’s possessions. A girl cannot become nobody until she strips herself of her full identity, including all her belongings.

As Arya tosses her clothes and silver in the water, eyes full of tears, she holds Needle in her hand. Through the murder and death of so many of her family members, not once did we see Arya cry or show any emotion at all. Yet, as she is faced with the task of saying goodbye to the sword given to her by Jon Snow, tears come to her eyes, as she is ultimately unable to let go. And while there is surely some sentimental value associated with her sword as it was given to her by her older brother, at her home of Winterfell, at a time when her entire family was still alive, this is ultimately not what brings tears to her eyes. Rather, it was the idea of having to part with the symbolic identity of the one thing that she has been able to hold onto: revenge. In many ways, Arya has already stripped herself of much of her identity — she has lost so much of herself already — but the one thing she has always had was revenge. And Needle was the tool  of her revenge — the one tangible thing in her life to give her hope. And now, as she is forced to let go of Needle, a symbol of her letting go of her need for revenge — she is unable to do so, a sign that she ultimately is not yet ready to fully let go of her identity as Arya Stark.

Arya, unable to let go of Needle

Arya, unable to let go of Needle

THE TABLES HAVE TURNED

In King’s Landing, Tommen is wed to Margaery, and unlike her last marriage, she is sure to consecrate this one. As they lay in bed together, Tommen innocently asks Margaery several times if he hurt her, a subtle demonstration of the difference between he and his older brother who only wanted to hurt people. Behind closed doors, we see the manipulative ways of Margaery as she uses her beauty, sex and age to wrap Tommen around her finger. She tells Tommen that she wants to know everything about him, and reminds him that Cercei will always be a lioness and Tommen her cub — an attempt to have Tommen put distance between he and his mother. And we see the affect of Margaery’s words, as the very next scene shows Tommen asking Cercei if she wants to return to Casterly Rock, where he thinks she would be happier.

Cercei, having lost much of her power, looking on at Margaery

Cercei, having lost much of her power, looking on at Margaery

While she may be losing her power, she is not losing her wit, and Cercei is well aware of Margaery’s influence over Tommen. And as she approaches Margaery, we see that the tables have turned big time. For so long, Margaery was forced to suffer and endure the cruelty of Cercei. But now, with Tywin and Joffrey dead, and Margaery officially the queen, Cercei has lost much of her power to Margaery. In short, Margaery has forged a new identity as Queen of the Seven Kingdoms, while Cercei has a new identity as well — that queen that used to be. And Margaery is keen to remind Cercei of this fact, as she asks Cercei if she should refer to her as Queen Mother or dowager queen, both references to her queenship only being of title, but not actual power. She also adds that it will not be long before Cercei is a grandmother, not only referring to the fact that she and Tommen will further consecrate their marriage by having children, but also a sarcastic reminder to Cercei that she is getting older. No longer able to make her usual threat or command, Cercei storms out, with a look on her face that tells us that she will not sit by idly or go down quietly.

HOME SWEET HOME

Further north, we see Winterfell for the first time since Theon burned it to the ground. More importantly, we see that Winterfell is being resurrected as the new seat of House Bolton, powerfully underscored by the flayed bodies we see hanging. But as Ramsey sits with his father, Roose tells his son that with Tywin dead, they no longer have the backing of the Lannisters, and that they must gain control over the smaller houses of the North, or risk being overrun by these houses. And as Winterfell is repaired, we see Theon roaming around, appearing completely lost, and we are left to wonder what role he will play, if any, in the coming days.

Baelish and Sansa

Baelish and Sansa

As Baelish and Sansa near Winterfell, Baelish tells Sansa that the marriage which had been accepted was the one he arranged between her and Ramsey Bolton. She refuses to marry him, telling him that she would die before marrying into the family that betrayed her family and killed her brother, Robb. Baelish reminds Sansa that she is the eldest surviving Stark and her home will always be Winterfell. He tells Sansa that he will not force her, and as he pulls her in close, almost like a father, he tells her, “You’ve been running all your life. You sit alone in a dark room mourning the fates of your family. You’ve been a bystander to tragedy. Stop being a bystander, stop running. There is no justice in the world…not unless we make it. You loved your family, avenge them.”

Sansa seems to have received the message, but the real question we are all left wondering, is does Baelish actually care about Sansa? When he pulls her close and kisses her head, is he truly trying to comfort her? Or is she merely a pawn in his game of chess? Is she just a means to his end? It’s still unclear whether we can trust this man or what his actual intentions are. And as they arrive to Winterfell, Sansa is forced to step back into the home that she has been away from for years now…a home that she no longer recognizes…a home that is now occupied by the man who put his dagger through the heart of Robb Stark. And she is forced to play her part, pretending that she is amenable to the marriage that has been arranged. Although forced by her external environment, Sansa too is forging a new identity, as soon-to-be wife of Ramsey Bolton. But even more so, she is assuming the identity as somebody who is learning to “play the game,” as she takes Baelish’s advice and looks to get close to House Bolton before exacting her revenge.

Baelish & Roose Bolton

Baelish & Roose Bolton

Perhaps most significant is the conversation that transpires between two men that have both been scheming and plotting in their own rights, Roose Bolton, who has a new identity as Lord of the North and Petyr Baelish, also with a new identity as Lord of the Vale. Roose asks Littlefinger if he is prepared for the consequences when the Lannisters find out that he was responsible for helping Sansa escape from King’s Landing and that he is now marrying her to Ramsey Bolton. But, Littlefinger appears unworried, reminding Roose that House Lannister is not what it once was, with Tywin dead, Jaime having but one hand and Cercei no longer the true queen. But, Roose intercepts a message sent by Cercei to Littlefinger, which makes him further question Littlefinger’s motives. When Bolton asks Littlefinger why he would gamble with his position, Littlefinger tells Bolton that every ambitious move is a gamble, even Bolton’s betrayal of House Stark was a gamble, a gamble which clearly paid off. But Roose reminds Littlefinger that with Tywin dead, House Bolton remains vulnerable with little backing. Baelish tells him that because of his marriage to Lysa before her death, he is now Lord of the Vale, while Bolton is now Lord of the North. Littlefinger powerfully notes that the last time the Lords of the Vale and the Lords of the North came together, they brought down the most powerful dynasty the world had ever known, referring to when Jon Arryn of the Vale and Ned Stark of the North joined forces (along with House Baratheon) to overthrow the Mad King during Robert’s Rebellion. It’s unclear what will come next and with Stannis looking to overtake the North, things appear shaky at Winterfell for House Bolton.

Smaller, but also worth noting, is that twice in this episode we saw Ramsey’s girl, as she looked on while Ramsey was introduced due his future wife, Sansa. Last season, this girl killed Ramsey’s other girl, the blonde, when she became jealous of her. Rarely does this show put these kinds of characters on camera without foreshadowing something to come.

Ramsey's old girl looking on at Ramsey and Sansa

Ramsey’s old girl looking on at Ramsey and Sansa

BRIENNE THE AVENGER

Not too far away from Wintefell, Brienne and Pod are keeping a close eye on Sansa. More importantly, Brienne offered a powerful revelation in this episode and a rare show of emotion. Since we first met her, we knew Brienne loved Renley, but we never knew exactly why. And years later, through a conversation with the unlikeliest of people, we are offered a glimpse into Brienne’s past and why she loved Renley so much. She tells Pod a story about her father who set up a ball to arrange a suitor for her daughter. And as the boys fought over her, she felt special and beautiful, until learning that it was all a joke that the boys were in on. As she felt more foolish and ugly than ever before, she ran off, only to be stopped by the kind-hearted Renley, who reminded her that these shits were not worth her tears. He was the one person who comforted her, who truly cared for her. And for that, she would always love him. She tells Pod that she will avenge his death, mentioning the shadow with Stannis’ face who killed him, alluding to the fact that she seeks to kill Stannis. And we now question the true identity of Brienne — is it defined by her honor and duty to the words she swore to Catelyn Stark to protect her daughters, or is it the dark desire to avenge the death of her one true love, Renley Baratheon?

Brienne telling Pod of her love for Renley

Brienne telling Pod of her love for Renley

LORD COMMANDER SNOW

Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, Jon Snow is again offered the opportunity by Stannis to become Jon Stark and rule over the North. But again, he refuses the offer and we see the unwavering strength of Jon Snow who is completely dedicated to honor and duty, the words he swore and vows he must uphold. Stannis reminds Jon that it was this very same stubborn honor that got Ned killed. Interestingly, Jon Snow is actually torn between three different identities: Jon Snow the bastard, Jon Snow the new Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, and Jon Stark, the Lord of Winterfell.

Before departing the room, Stannis mentions that Jon should talk to the Wildling prisoners one more time, and that perhaps Tormund Giantsbayne will be more reasonable than was Mance Rayder. After he leaves the room, Ser Davos sticks behind and tells Jon that Stannis sees something in him. He also offers that part of the Night’s Watch vow is to be “the shield that protects the realms of men,” pointing to the fact joining Stannis and protecting the North is in fact part of his duty.

The man who passes the sentence must swing the sword

The man who passes the sentence must swing the sword

In the dining hall, Jon Snow makes his identity clear as he gives his first commands as Lord Commander, but not before Samwell tells him that Maestar Aemon is not feeling well. Jon first appoints Ser Alliser Thorne the coveted position of First Ranger, perhaps because Ser Alliser was deserved of the position, or perhaps because Jon wanted to keep a potential enemy close. Either way, it was a honorable move — when Ser Alliser was Lord Commander, he did nothing but use his power to make life difficult for Jon; but Jon Snow as new Lord Commander shows that he is a better man. And as he appoints Janos Slynt with a more remedial task, Janos refuses, thinking that his once powerful position as Commander of the Kingsguard excuses him from such commands. Jon Snow must gain the respect of all the brothers and demonstrate his power, so he sentences Janos to death.

More importantly, he sets to carry out the execution himself, an allusion back to the very first episode of this series when Ned Stark beheads a deserter of the Night’s Watch and reminds his son that the man who passes the sentence must swing the sword. But as Janos confesses that he has always been a weak and scared man and begs for mercy, it looks as though Jon is going to grant his mercy and not go through with the execution. We’ve seen time and time again, Jon unable to carry out the executions that he must — once when he had to execute the Wilding Ygritte, and another time when he had to kill the horsebreeder for the Night’s Watch. But with all the brothers of the Night’s Watch looking on, Jon strikes true and carries out the execution — a powerful statement pointing to the identity transformation of Jon Snow’s character.

THE HIGH SPARROW

Back at King’s Landing, several of the sparrows, led by Lancel Lannister, take the High Septon from the brothel and beat him in the streets. When he demands Cercei to serve justice, she prefers to throw him in jail and go to visit the High Sparrow. Impressed with the man she finds, she tells him that faith and the crown are the two pillars that uphold the realm, and without one, everything crumbles. One cannot co-exist without the other and they must do everything in their power to help one another. Being that she appears to be losing powers over one of these pillars, the crown, perhaps she seeks to gain power over the other, religion. Though her exact intentions are unclear, Cercei is cultivating a new relationship that she will undoubtedly seek to use to her advantage.

Cercei & the High Sparrow

Cercei & the High Sparrow

As she returns to the Red Keep, she gives Maestar Qyburn a message to send to Littlefinger, adding “make sure he is very clear on the word immediately.” This is the message that Roose Bolton will later intercept, though its contents are unclear. Most interesting is the “thing” that is being restrained under the sheet on Qyburn’s medical table. Of course, we are left to assume that this is the Mountain, Qyburn’s latest science experiment who will be brought back to life as an even greater monster than he already was.

VOLANTIS

And finally, Tyrion and Varys arrive at Volantis, and not a moment too soon as Tyrion was beginning to lose his mind, having been cooped up in one box after the next. As they venture through the market of Volantis, we are exposed to the newest of the Free Cities of Easteros, and we see many of the cultural differences of this city, namely the caste system where everybody has a clearly marked social status in society. They stumble upon another Red Priestess who speaks of the Mother of Dragons who has been sent by the Red God as a savior. As Tyrion watches her, she slowly glances up at him, before staring for several moments, with a look in her eye that almost gave the appearance that he is the savior she had been speaking of, not Khaleesi.

The Red Priestess staring at Tyrion

The Red Priestess staring at Tyrion

As they enter Tyrion’s most familiar home, a brothel, Tyrion engages in a conversation with one of the whores. But, when it is time to move forward, he is unable to. As she stands over him, a girl of Easteros, holding his hand, perhaps he is reminded of Shae, who was also a whore from Easteros. And as he becomes choked up, he cannot move forward. Also interesting to note was one of the whores who was dressed like Khaleesi, which demonstrates her widespread influence across Easteros. Varys adds, “Somebody who inspires both priestesses and whores is somebody worth taking seriously.”

And then we see Ser Jorah, drinking in his despair, before recognizing Tyrion. And as the episode comes to a close, Ser Jorah ties and gags Tyrion as he tells him, “I am taking you to the Queen.” But which queen will he be taking Tyrion to? Cercei, the queen who has a massive bounty out on Tyrion’s head, for which Ser Jorah will certainly receive a large reward? Or the one-true queen in his eyes, Khaleesi, whose father was killed by Jaime Lannister and whose Throne was usurped due to large support from House Lannister?

Ser Jorah kidnaps Tyrion

Ser Jorah kidnaps Tyrion