Season 8, Episode 6: The Iron Throne

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.

What Just Happened?

Shocked. Confused. Disappointed. Baffled. There is no shortage of adjectives to describe the way I feel after the final installment of Game of Thrones, but simply put, it was an emphatic explanation point on an utterly disappointing season. At its best, Game of Thrones took us to highs that few stories have before; and as we saw in this finale episode, at its worst, Thrones was capable of reaching equally extreme lows. With each episode that passed this season, the simple (and terribly sad) reality became more and more apparent: the folks producing this show simply were not going to be able to deliver a successful end to this story. And despite a season defined by poor story telling, inexplicable character development, pacing of events that often made no sense — despite all of that — I still held out a bit of hope that the final episode would have one final magical twist or turn that would help to make things right. After all, this is Game of Thrones we are talking about — this was the one show that simply would not, and could not, mess up the end to its story the way so many other shows have.

But the truth is now plain to see and there is no hiding from it. The reality is that the magic of this world we became so captivated by — the characters, the history, the locales, the families, the lore, the mythology — all of it — it all lived in a series of books. And while HBO did an absolutely masterful job at adapting the magic of those books to TV, the reality is that we were always destined, to some extent, to end up exactly where we did. George R.R. Martin took the better part of 20 years to create the enthralling world that we fell in love with over the first six seasons. But those six seasons were based on the five books he had written — two short of the seven books that will (hopefully) be published to bring the A Song of Ice and Fire saga to a close. Writing for the sixth book, The Winds of Winter, began over eight years ago, and is still not out. It’s anybody’s guess when final book, A Dream of Spring, will be published, but it likely will not be for another 10 years or so.

So what does this tells us? It tells us that the homestretch of this story, a story that has taken over 25 years to write, simply does not yet exist, and likely won’t for many years to come. There is a reason George R.R. Martin takes so many years to write each book and it’s not simply because the writing itself takes so long. It’s because he is actually taking an incredible amount of time to continue to create and develop the story itself. And as the story starts getting towards it’s final chapter, it becomes increasingly more challenging to think about how each character’s journey comes to an end, how various storylines converge, and how this epic saga ultimately reaches its finale.

The predicament we find ourselves in is that while George R.R. Martin will take as much time as is required to finish this story the right way, HBO could not. So, what we were left with for the last two seasons, was a story that was based on loose directional feedback provided by George R.R. Martin, which left Thrones writers and producers filling in some very large gaps. Sure, George R.R. may have been able to tell Thrones producers what the singular endpoint of this story was, but he simply hasn’t yet conjured up and all the intricate subplots and character journeys that lead us to that endpoint. And without having his story to tell, we were left with a watered down, overly simplified, dumbed down version of what I believe the ending to this story will be when he tells it through the books. To some extent, the show was always destined to end this way, only I don’t think anybody thought it could ever get this bad.

The finale episode, entitled The Iron Throne, was riddled with one cringe-worthy cliche after the next. As has been the case throughout most of the season, the pacing felt totally off, with certain moments being totally rushed, and other less significant ones dragging on. The writing, specifically much of the dialogue, landed somewhere between embarrassing and comical. The aftermath of last week’s total destruction of King’s Landing simply felt totally contrived, with writers bringing rather abrupt endings to each character’s story. So much so, that it almost felt as if this finale episode was disjointed from the entire story that preceded it. It was as if this finale episode was given to a brand new team of writers that knew absolutely nothing about the story that has spanned the last 10 years, and were asked to do their best to synthesize some sort of close that forced endings for each character. One moment I felt I was watching a soap opera, the next I felt I was stuck in a bad SNL skit. How could this be? I mean I wasn’t expecting a whole ton after how disappointing this entire season has been, but really, I never could have imagined the new lows that were reached. There was absolutely nothing interesting. Nothing unique. No twists or turns. Very little emotion. Only cheap storytelling that made this episode feel like it was an obligation — a chore to get this thing wrapped up — rather than a vehicle to truly end this story in a meaningful way.

A Mess in King’s Landing

The episode begins as we see Tyrion and others taking in the aftermath of Dany’s fire and blood escapades. King’s Landing has now become a wasteland, with only skeletons and ash to speak of, which further underscored the ridiculousness of how far Dany took things last week. As Tyrion continues through King’s Landing, he eventually makes his way below the Red Keep where he finds Cersei and Jaime’s final resting place. Despite all his efforts, Tyrion could not stop all the death that was to come, and all he can do now is look on at his last remaining family members, gone forever. As Jaime and Cersei lay together, it was a poetic reminder that Tyrion really has been alone in this world most of his life, and even though Jaime cared about him a great deal, he was always an outsider compared to the twin bond that Cersei and Jaime shared.

Continuing her plunge into madness, we see Dany standing over a ruined King’s Landing, delivering an impassioned speech to her army, in which she basically tells them that this was just the beginning, and she plans to take her show on the road. While we all saw her evolve into The Mad Queen last week (at a pace that made absolutely no sense), the door was still left open for her to show some remorse in this finale episode. But that door shut pretty quickly and it became evident that no amount of death and destruction would be too great a cost for her to “break the wheel.” In reality, Dany herself sounded like a ruthless tyrant, one capable of committing devastating acts — the very type of ruler she has so badly wanted to rid from the world. It continued to be frustrating to watch just how cruel and vicious she has become so quickly, and it felt totally contradictory to who Dany was for the better part of the last 10 years.

Realizing he was on the wrong side of things, Tyrion gave Dany a big “f you” as he denounces her slaughter and abandons his post of hand to the queen. He’s quickly taken as her prisoner as Jon can only look on. Jon then goes to visit Tyrion, where they continue to go back and forth about whether or not Dany must be stopped. In their exchange, Jon references something Maestar Aemon told him all the way back in season one, “Love is the death of duty.” At the time, Maestar Aemon was explaining to Jon why brothers of the Night’s Watch could not have families — love would interfere with their duty to protect the realm. In response, Tyrion flips the idea that Maestar Aemon presented, and tells Jon that “sometimes, duty is the death of love.” No doubt, a suggestion that Jon’s duty to protect the realm might bring about the death of his love with Dany. Before Jon departs, Tyrion urges him that he must decide and he must decide now.

Moments later, surprise surprise, we see Dany in the Throne Room, a replay of basically the same vision she had in an earlier season where we saw the ruined Throne Room that she is now walking through. Once again, a reminder that she has become nothing more than queen of the ashes. If you asked me a few years ago what one of the most powerful moments in this story could have possibly been, I would have told you that at the top of the list would be the moment Dany finally reaches the Throne Room and ascends the Iron Throne that her ancestor, Aegon Targaryen, built 300 years before her. Sadly, the realization of this moment felt plain and unemotional, probably because of how little was left of the Throne Room itself, thanks to Dany’s temper tantrum that brought about the destruction of King’s Landing on the whole. She had finally reached the Iron Throne — the powerful symbol of all she had wanted — all she had sacrificed so much to achieve — and all for what?

Duty Over Love

The predictable and soap opera nature of the episode continued as Jon arrives, right on cue, and reprimands Dany for the slaughter she carried out. The two go back and forth about their differences of opinion, blah blah blah, which once again ends in a Dany/Jon kiss. But then, out of nowhere, Jon puts his dagger through her heart. And by out of nowhere, I mean everybody saw that coming from a mile away and it was totally unsurprising. The whole thing felt like “okay, everybody knows this is coming, let’s just get it over with.” But worse than this moment’s predictability was how emotionless and fleeting the scene was as a whole. Out of a 90-minute episode, much of which was filled with gratuitous and irrelevant banter, we can only spare 60 seconds to the death of the show’s most powerful character? I mean come on. Just like that, Dany is gone, and before we even have a moment to really soak it in, I’ve got this dragon in my face…again.

Talk about a botched opportunity. You have Daenerys Targaryen, one of the most beloved characters ever created in any fictional format; opposite her, the equally beloved Jon Snow; and between them, a magical story that intertwines the ideas of power, morality, duty and love. And though many people saw it coming, even so, that this story would end with Jon choosing duty over love, and sacrificing the woman he truly loved, is incredibly powerful. So why didn’t I feel that way watching it? And then just like that, Drogon scoops up Dany and flies her out of there. Oh, but not before melting the Iron Throne, the very throne the Targaryens created in the first place. I’m not sure there’s any real explanation for Drogon flying away with Dany’s dead body, other than a setup for somehow bringing her back to life for some future Thrones spinoff, which seems highly unlikely. The end to Dany and Jon’s story was a total miss of epic proportions.

One Strange Council

Just a moment later, we’re past the emotionless death of Dany, and we’re now all business as the “who’s who” of Westeros have gathered to determine the fate of the realm. It kind of felt like all the unimportant remaining characters were scrapped together and this is when the episode went from bad to just silly. First of all, half of these characters had absolutely no business being there. Edmure Tully, Catelyn’s brother is all of a sudden making a return after having had zero role in this story for many seasons? Yara Greyjoy is back, without anything from her since she went back to The Iron Islands? Oh and let’s not forget about introducing a brand new Dornish prince (who doesn’t even speak) to join this mish-mosh of a crew. And perhaps the absolute funniest of all is Robert Arryn, the sickly son of Lysa Arryn, who previously didn’t know how to do anything other than breastfeed…He’s now got a seat on this council? There were a few others that I did not even recognize, furthering the ridiculousness of this gathering.

The group goes back and forth about what to do next, and apparently after all that has transpired, after King’s Landing has basically been totally destroyed and the world of Westeros has been turned upside down, this silly council is going to solve for the future of the realm in one simple conversation. And all of a sudden Grey Worm is mr chatterbox, driving much of the direction of the council’s decisions. In this one episode, Grey Worm speaks more than he has in the past seven seasons combined. After the death of Dany, he wants revenge, but Tyrion reminds him that it’s not his decision to make, which leads to the debate of who should take power next. Comically, Edmure Tully stands up to state his case, before Sansa tells him to sit down. Why? Why would the writers choose to include dialogue in this final episode that sees Edmure Tully, a completely irrelevant character, stand up and make a claim for the throne? Unless they were going for some sort of comedic relief, it just doesn’t belong. But the comedy didn’t stop there. Samwell suggests they consider a more democratic election where the people have a say, and for some reason, others found this to be comical, poking fun and sarcastically asking if their dogs and horses would get a say. The whole thing felt like a bad SNL skit.

Finally, we arrive at the moment that pretty much caps this entire story — the reveal of who would end on the throne. And to be quite honest, I couldn’t have cared less at this point. The realization of who would take the Throne was not decided by any significant final moment in the story, but rather by a cast of irrelevant characters making forced decisions, so the reveal of who would end on the Throne simply felt like an anticlimactic “who cares” moment. But the only thing that could have been less sensible than everything that has already transpired would be to make Bran the one to end on the throne. And of course, that’s precisely what happens. The logic behind it makes sense — Tyrion paints the picture that the most powerful thing in life is a story and we know Bran is keeper of all stories and memories. So we get it. But, we are talking about a guy that has totally lost his human mind. He’s been on a multiyear journey where his entire life has been dedicated to an existential evolution, which saw him become the Three-Eyed-Raven. In doing so, he has experienced all kinds of visions, past, present and future, that revealed powerful moments which changed him forever. We’re talking Children of the Forest, White Walkers, The Night King — Bran was in the thick of it all. When all of those mythological elements of the show died along with The Night King in an unbelievably disappointing fashion, it definitely created some question marks for what was left for Bran in this story, if anything. I mean we haven’t even seen the guy in several episodes. Now, all of a sudden, he’s being named the king of Westeros? Talk about delivering a cheap ending to this story — did nobody working on this show stop to realize how senseless this was? We are talking about the character who had reached total enlightenment, so much so, that he didn’t even really know how to be a human anymore. And now we are going to plunge him into the politics of being the ruler of the realm?

But he won’t be the king of the Seven Kingdoms. He only gets six. Sansa had to get her two cents in and tell Bran that she wants The North to remain its own independent kingdom as it had been for thousands of years before Aegon’s Conquest. And that’s fine, but the only problem is that ALL the kingdoms had been independent prior, so why would the representatives of Dorne and The Vale and The Iron Islands all be okay with The North not bending the knee while they have to? Also, given that it was another member of House Stark ending up on the throne, Sansa’s desire to annex The North just makes that much less sense — it’s her own brother on the throne. Totally illogical storytelling and it just felt like a forced way to be able to show Sansa as the queen of The North, without regard for the fact it did not make sense to the story itself. But hey, not much has to really make sense anymore, so let’s go with it.

Back to The Wall

So that’s that. Bran is some sort of Three-Eyed-Raven king and Sansa is queen in the North. But we’ve got to come up with some sort of contrived ending for Jon, right? How about we send him back to The Wall, where his story began. That sounds like a cheap, easy and poetic ending for his character — so let’s go with that. I also found it strange that while the council was trying to figure out who should take the throne, Jon wasn’t mentioned once. True, he had just killed Dany, but if we subscribe to the idea that he was the rightful heir, then it was Dany who was revolting and trying to claim a throne that was not hers. That would provide some justification for Jon having to kill Dany, to eliminate a usurper. So, with her gone, and everybody grasping at straws to figure out who should be next in line, why is nobody bringing up Jon, the actual rightful heir?

Anyway, just like that, he’s back in his Night’s Watch garb, hair back down like it used to be in the old days, and headed back to The Wall. Another character with a massive arc that gets a senseless ending. We are talking about the guy that was arguably the most important character; the guy that became Lord Commander of The Night’s Watch; the guy that risked it all to put the world on alert about The Night King; the guy that fought and won in countless fate-determining battles; the guy that was brought back from the dead; and the guy that made the ultimate sacrifice as he took the life of Daenerys Targaryen. And after all of that, we just send him to The Wall? I mean what an unbelievably disappointing, unsatisfying and silly way to end his story.

But before he departs, we get a round of cliche goodbyes with each of his siblings, the best of which reveals that Arya is now channeling her inner Christopher Columbus/Dora the Explorer. She’s off to explore the world, whatever is west of Westeros. I mean how cheesy do we want to get here? If they wanted to set up Arya for her own spinoff, they certainly left that door open, but man, after all that Arya has gone through and all her incredible character development, that’s where we end her story? Sending her to cheerfully explore westward made her feel more like a Disney character than anything else. A Cheap and easy cop-out, just like all the others. It’s also confusing to consider how central she was to last week’s episode, with no follow up in the finale. She was a major point of view character last week, running through the streets and the episode ending with her riding out on her white horse. It seemed like she was being set up for some major ending to her character. But it ended up being all for her to play basically zero role in the story’s end. If you think about, since killing The Night King (which was another big screw-up), she basically had zero involvement in the story since — just noise.

Before the episode comes to a close, we get to see the new council that will support King Bran, and it’s a total joke. Tyrion as hand; Davos a Master of Ships; Bronn as Master of Coin; Samwell as archmaestar; Brienne as commander of the King’s Guard. It felt like the writers threw darts at the wall to see who they’d randomly choose to fill each of these roles. The council meeting itself was so comical that it’s hard to believe writers were going for anything else. In the finale episode of this entire story, we have to listen to their light-hearted banter about what their first objectives will be and whether they’re going to rebuild ships or brothels first? And what about Samwell Tarly, casually presenting Tyrion with a book of recent history called A Song of Ice and Fire. Talk about forcing something into the script and an egregious namedrop. Embarrassing stuff.

Assembling a hodgepodge council like this simply disrespects the greatness of the history of the council, one that was once comprised of characters like Tywin Lannister, Varys, Littlefinger, etc… Now we’ve got Bronn and Davos joking about where they’ll allocate their funds first, as if King’s Landing wasn’t only recently completely decimated. Speaking of which, Bran asks if anybody has heard about the location of Drogon, but nobody has. In another weird moment, Bran tells them not to worry and that he’ll take care of figuring out where Drogon is. My first question: given the entire series is about to come to a close, why are we wasting time talking about where the dragon went? My second question: Bran, you are the Three-Eyed-f*cking-Raven — why are you going to this council of C-listers for advice in the first place — aren’t you the all-knowing one? What a total mess.

Finally, Jon returns to The Wall, where of course there will be a couple more cliche reveals. Tormund and Ghost are both waiting for him there, and eventually, they continue north of The Wall, presumably to live a life with The Free Folk. As they enter into the depth of the forest, the show comes to an end, and the confusion reaches its climax. Why is that the final image of this entire story? Jon walking into the forest with the Wildlings hardly seems like the final takeaway to leave viewers with.

And just like that, it’s all over. It was an ending that was obvious, uninspiring and simply silly in many ways. It was so beneath the greatness of Thrones and I cannot think of many ways they could have delivered a more disappointing end to this story. All that said, it would be a mistake to overlook the greatness that this show offered for so many years. Game of Thrones took television to heights it had never been before and captivated a global audience with its magic. Though I will forever be confused and disappointed by how the show brought closure to this story, I will also be thankful for all that it offered for so many years. I would highly encourage each of you to consider picking up the books and starting this journey over the right way, setting yourself up to experience the true ending to this story once it is properly told by George R.R. Martin himself.

Finally, thanks to all the fans and readers of ThronesLife. It has been great to share the passion with so many of you. Keep an eye out for what comes next : )

— Jacob Kent, ThronesLife Creator & Author

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Season 8, Episode 1: 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.

At long last, the wait is over. Don’t feel totally satisfied? That’s okay, don’t beat yourself up over it. While the season eight opener was devoid of any major jaw-dropping moments, it achieved exactly what it set out to — it laid the ground work for what will no doubt be a massive conclusion to this epic saga.

Sure, after waiting almost two years, we all would have enjoyed a classic Thrones battle scene. We even would have settled for a more subtle reveal that perhaps would shed light onto any one of the many burning questions we have. Be patient, young grasshoppers — all of that will come.

What the premiere episode, entitled Winterfell, lacked in big moments, it made up for in powerful (and often awkward) reunions. These reunions paid homage to the past; they served as a subtle reminder of all the story’s twists and turns that have led these characters to where they are today. But these reunions also starkly foreshadow the future, reminding us that it is the present-day configuration of characters that will likely determine the very fate of mankind. The past, present and future are all here, now. So before you tell all your friends and co-workers how disappointed you were with the season-opener, take a moment to appreciate it for what it was — the quiet before the storm. There will be no shortage of action to come in the remaining five episodes, so let’s take a moment to analyze and appreciate all the nuances from the season premiere.

A Credit to the Credits

The opening credits are an often overlooked and under-appreciated facet of most TV shows. In the past decade or so, HBO has started to change that in a big way, as productions of some of their biggest shows have brought the opening credits to the forefront. From True Detective, to Westworld, to Game of Thrones — opening credits have morphed from obligatory bore to masterful pieces of art. None more-so than Game of Thrones. Could there be a more triumphant blend of imagery, music and motif? I say not. Thrones transformed the way we think about the opening credits altogether. No longer just a static introduction to offer information about the show’s cast and crew, but rather an immersive vehicle to enhance and evolve the storytelling itself.

So as the final season approached and you asked yourself what Thrones producers would choose for the very first scene, you likely overlooked considering the opening credits themselves. And that is where, once again, Thrones delivered in a way we could have never seen coming. In short, the opening credits were completely revamped, in just about every way possible. The scope of locations presented? Different. The sequence in which they were presented? Different. The looks and feel? Different. The astrolabe that offers up Westeros’ biggest historical events? Different. With all this change, before you even think about breaking down the show, you must dive deeper into the credits themselves to truly appreciate the first episode.

For starters, the opening credits simply looked a lot cooler. They looked newer, shinier, sleeker — almost as if this version of the credits was produced 10 years after the original version. Oh wait, it was. But the “coolness” of the credits is just the beginning. There were a bunch of very material changes, the first of which can be seen on the astrolabe, an object that has served as the central motif to the show’s opening credits since day one (and likely has a great significance that I hope will be revealed before the show’s culmination). If you’re not sure what the hell an astrolabe is, see below.

As you’ll see in the above photo, which features an astrolabe from the older credits, we can see images recorded on it which tell the story of Westeros’ history. The major historical events that have always been displayed are The Doom of Valyria, Robert’s Rebellion and the rise of House Baratheon. These three events, the fall of the greatest civilization, Valyria, (~400 years ago), the great war that would see the Targaryen dynasty overthrown (~20 years ago), and Robert Baratheon usurping the Iron Throne (~20 years ago), would set into motion the story we would then begin watching. So, it made sense that the astrolabe in the opening credits captured these three major historical events — they clued us into the important moments that transpired before our time.

But in the course of the last 10 years, there have been entirely new events, ones that will likely change the course of history, so it was only right that the opening credits of season eight featured a much-updated astrolabe. As you’ll see in the photos below, three new historical events are highlighted: the reemergence of dragons into the world, The Red Wedding and The Night King using his undead dragon to tear down a chunk of The Wall. Check them out below:

Dany’s dragons being the first Westeros has seen in many generations
The Red Wedding
The Night King blows out a chunk of The Wall

If you were too hyped up for the opening scene and overlooked the show basically telling you that history has been rewritten in front of your very eyes, not to worry, you weren’t alone. But the magic of the opening credits continued from there. One huge change in approach is the direction in which locations were presented. Historically, viewers were always taken on a journey from south to north, generally ending around The Wall. The new credits did a complete 180, starting at The Wall (which now has a huge hole in it), and working down south. For one, this was an out-of-the-gate reminder that The Night King and his army have done something that has never been done before: they have successfully destroyed a chunk of The Wall, a magical structure built over 8,000 years ago. And as such, they are now on the loose, making death and destruction imminent.

As we continue just past The Wall, the opening credits used a new technique to offer viewers a glimpse into where the Night King and his army are lurking. The terrain they present is made up of tile-like pieces, which they flip from normal snowy white to icy White Walker blue to show the march of the Night King’s army. As the story evolves and their march continues, my guess is that we’ll see a lot more of these icy blue tiles being flipped.

Speaking of the Night King’s descent south, we are introduced to a brand new location, The Last Hearth, which was a castle belonging to House Umber. We see the army of the dead’s tracks leading right up to this castle, and to no surprise, we find out by the end of the episode that The Night King had definitely been there (we’ll get more into that later). What you also might have missed in the opening credits, is that they showed this castle built upon a small spiral mountain — the same spiral that has been synonymous with The Night King/White Walkers (we’ll get more into that one later as well).

The opening credits just got better from there, as we were offered new perspective into some of the most important castles, locations we now know will be central to the end of this story. At Winterfell, for instance, we got so much more than the castle exterior we have seen the past seven seasons. The opening credits took us deep into the interior of the castle, through the Great Hall, and more importantly, deep below, into the almighty crypts. (As an aside, before the start of this season, I wrote a deep theory about the significance of the crypts of Winterfell. That theory is only underscored by the opening credits choosing to show them once again. If you haven’t already, I would recommend reading it here).

Similarly, our arrival to King’s Landing took us deep into the castle, from The Red Keep to the Throne Room. It is no surprise that the locations ended there — a reminder that the majority of Westeros’ other locations are no longer as relevant to this story, one that has become acutely focused around just a few locales. What’s also worth noting is that the credits end in The Throne Room, with a final glimpse of the good ole’ Iron Throne. As of late, we’ve been told time and time again that the Iron Throne simply doesn’t matter all that much when compared to the war to save the human race. But the opening credits, which come to a close at the foot of the Iron Throne, perhaps would tell us otherwise…

If nothing else happened in this episode, I was enthralled by the magic of these newly revamped opening credits. Take a minute to soak it in one more time. Bravo…

A Melodrama in Winterfell

If I had one knock against this episode, it was not the lack of entertainment or action, but rather that it often felt more like soap opera than epic fantasy. I appreciate the nuanced conflicts presented by the many character reunions that took place in this episode, but the ensuing drama felt a bit tiresome, especially given the backdrop of fire-breathing dragons patrolling the skies and a freakin’ army of the dead at the doorsteps of Winterfell. Given these fantastical elements, the absolutely dire situation that every person in The North (and beyond) faces, I found it frustrating and childish some of the melodrama that took place. Sansa, there’s no time for you to be a whimpering child just because you are not as pretty or powerful as Daenerys. Northerners, there’s no time for you all to continue to be stupidly naive in condemning Jon for joining forces with Daenerys. Yet, this is the drama that I felt consumed Winterfell, and I simply thought we were past it.

What quickly became clear is that a story once characterized by a plethora of teams all trying to out-strategize each other, has condensed into just two sides. And what we quickly see from the opening scene is that it seems like just about everybody not named Cersei is on team Dany/Jon. Characters from all corners of the world, entangled by a complicated series of events over the years, have now all united where it all began: Winterfell. The once-enslaved Unsullied soldiers, the nomadic Dothraki warriors, even Dany and her dragons — all of which would have otherwise existed thousands of miles from Winterfell, have come together to fight back the army of the dead (who are just miles away).

As so many of the story’s main characters descend upon Winterfell, awkward reunions are inevitable. For starters, this couldn’t have been the homecoming Jon Snow was hoping for. All he did was put aside his King in the North crown in an attempt to forge an alliance with allies that could help protect The North. Oh, and he also ventured north of The Wall (again) and led a battle against The Night King’s army, while successfully capturing a wight and proving to the world that the army of the dead exists. No big deal. What should have been a hero’s welcome was anything but.

Sansa continues to be a whiny pain in the a**, continuing to chastise Jon for “abandoning” The North, despite the reality that he was trying to save it. But it doesn’t stop there — Sansa has something new to be upset about — a prettier and more powerful female. She makes clear her distaste and distrust of Daenerys, despite the clear facts: 1) Daenerys has the strongest army in the world; 2) Jon risked everything to forge this alliance; 3) Nothing else matters other than the fight against the dead. But still, Sansa is having a tough time backing Jon, and as a result, Jon is left having to continue to argue with Sansa behind closed doors. Their conversation culminates when she asks if he bent the knee because he believes in her or because he loves her. They are interrupted before he can respond, though the answer is likely both.

Jon’s reunion with his younger brother, Bran, whom he had not seen in many years, was also nothing to write home about. He wasn’t able to get more than a stoic word or two out of his younger brother. Even his reunion with Sam, his closest friend, was pretty quickly soured by Sam informing Jon that Daenerys had executed Sam’s father and brother. The poor guy, Jon risks it all, only to return home to a temperamental sister, a younger brother that has now turned into a Three-Eyed Raven, and a best friend whose family has been executed by the woman he’s brought into the fold. Not exactly a storybook homecoming. But if there was a silver lining, it was his long-awaited reunion with Arya. Of all the Stark children, Jon and Arya were always the closest, sharing the bond of being the outsiders of the family. Standing beneath the sacred weirwood tree, we are reminded of the Northern blood that runs through their veins, and that in many ways, they are all that’s left of House Stark.

Jon aside, there were a handful of other reunions, none of which offered much satisfaction. The one I have been waiting on for so many years finally happened between The Hound and Arya. Their storyline together was always one of my favorites, and I was hoping for more, if and when their paths crossed again. Comprised of just a few meaningless words, their reunion was short-lived and unmemorable. Arya also reunited with her longtime friend, Gendry, who to no surprise, is using his smith skills to oversee the construction of White-Walker-killing weapons made of dragonglass. There wasn’t much to this reunion either, again, a bit disappointing. After storylines that spanned several seasons and characters that developed deeply rich relationships, I couldn’t help but feel the show really missed capturing the power and emotion that should have been present for some of these reunions. But then again, compared to the impending war to preserve humanity, how important are any of these relationships really?

Last, but not least, we had a couple Lannister reunions worth mentioning. Tyrion and Sansa, once man and wife, shared a brief exchange, in which Sansa continued on her mission to let everybody know how displeased she is. After Tyrion mentions that Cersei is sending the Lannister troops north to join the fight, Sansa insults Tyrion by telling him that he was once the cleverest man she knew. In fact, Sansa’s instincts are correct, and we know as viewers that Cersei does not intend to send her troops north. The only other person who knows that, is the person she told it to: Jaime, who makes an appearance at King’s Landing in the final scene.

Speaking of awkward reunions, the first person he makes eye contact with is Bran, whom he pushed off the ledge and paralyzed all the way back in season one. If that’s not enough for all of the Starks to want to execute him, Jaime is all the Kingslayer, the man who killed Daenery’s father. It’s safe to say he hasn’t exactly stumbled upon an audience of allies, and he’s going to really need some good defense if he’s to stay alive. Lucky for Jaime, Brienne cannot be too far (strange that we did not see her in this episode), and she knows a side of Jaime that few other do. During their travels together, Jaime opened up to Brienne in a way that we had never seen before, and we started to realize the impossible situation he found himself in (sworn to protect the Mad King as he served in his Kingsguard, yet also sworn to uphold the honor of his father, Tywin, who was plotting to overthrow The Mad King during Robert’s Rebellion). I imagine Daenerys will want to execute Jaime for these crimes, while Brienne will come to his defense. Given Bran’s visions of the future, perhaps he too will come to Jaime’s defense, especially if he has seen a role Jaime will play in the Great War to Come.

Before we move on from Winterfell, there was one more scene that really rubbed me the wrong way. Jon and Dany riding their dragons together felt more a scene out of a Disney kids movie than it did a serious fantasy drama. It also felt incredibly rushed and contrived. I get it, Jon is a Targaryen, and he’s the one that is meant to ride one of Dany’s dragons with her. But anybody other than Dany mounting a dragon for the first time should be an incredibly powerful moment. It should be slow. It should be thoughtful. It should be emotional. This was anything but. One minute he’s talking to Daenerys, the next he’s full blown riding this dragon like it’s no big deal. And the way they swished and swooped through the air together just undercut what should have otherwise been a major moment in this story — two Targaryens riding their dragons together, something that has not happened for hundreds of years.

To top it all off, they made an already cheesy moment cringe-worthy as Jon comments “You’ve ruined horses forever for me,” before he and Dany kiss, while their dragons look on as two parents would look onto their teenage kids kissing for the first time. Eek. If this is the kind of thing I’m looking for, I’ll tune into the Disney channel. Disappointing stuff for what should have otherwise been a monumental moment in this story. Also, for what it’s worth, there are many characters I would be okay with mounting Dany’s other dragon, but Jon Snow just isn’t one of them. There is no person in this world that more strongly defines the character that rides a horse, sword in hand, ready for battle, than Jon Snow. The idea that he will abandon that to now fly through the skies on a dragon just doesn’t feel right.

King’s Landing

King’s Landing feels quieter than ever, but there are still some things brewing in the country’s capital. Most notably, Cersei (via Euron Greyjoy), has secured The Golden Company, a paid army of 20,000 soldiers. This will certainly get her a lot closer to leveling the playing field against Dany’s army, though no amount of soldiers truly pose a threat to dragons that breathe fire from the skies. After Euron secures this army for Cersei, he pursues the prize he has been after. While Cersei initially shuts him down, she appears to have a pretty quick change of heart, and just moments later, the deed is done. Again, the pacing of this felt a bit off, and something about Cersei sleeping with Euron feels a bit forced, but maybe that’s the point. The two have a strange exchange, which culminates with Euron rubbing her belly and telling her he is going to impregnate her with a prince. Not exactly sweet nothings in her ear, but hey, to each his own.

What was peculiar about this exchange is last season Cersei had led us to believe she was pregnant with Jaime’s baby. Was that perhaps a lie to try and keep Jaime’s loyalty and make others believe she had something to live for? Note that in this very scene, she is drinking wine, which points to the fact that perhaps her pregnancy was nothing more than a manipulative ploy. In any event, with five episodes to go, I find it hard to believe that her pregnancy, or lack thereof, will have a material impact upon this story.

While Euron was off sexing up Cersei, Theon was able to rescue his sister, Yara. It all felt like a bit too easy of a rescue given this is Euron’s prized prisoner, but we’ll let that one go. Yara plans to reclaim the Iron Islands and mentions it could be refuge should the army of the dead take the land of Westeros. Yara gives her blessing for Theon to return to Winterfell to fight alongside the Starks.

In other King’s Landing news, Bronn, one of the few remaining characters in the city, is approached by Maestar Qyburn and asked to hunt down Tyrion and Jaime. He is given the very same crossbow that Tyrion used to kill his father, Tywin, several seasons back. It feels hard to believe that Bronn would kill Tyrion or Jaime, the two people he forged bonds with throughout this story, though perhaps for the right price he would. More likely than not, this is a plot-point to get him to Winterfell, where perhaps he will have another role to play. Before he departs King’s Landing, does he save the Sand Snake that Cersei still presumably has locked up in a cell?

The Mystery Spiral

In what was the most entertaining sequence of the episode, Tormund, Beric and several brothers of the Night’s Watch arrive to The Last Hearth to find that The Night King has made mincemeat of whatever humans were at the castle. But before he departed, he left a very clear message, which centered around a symbol we have now seen numerous times throughout the show: the mystery spiral.

So what does this spiral signify? Well, it’s hard to really know at this point, but there are a couple important takeaways. First, the spiral is connected all the way back to The Children of the Forest who were the first inhabitants of Westeros, before The Night King, or man even existed. This spiral arrangement was significant to them. In the image below, from one of Bran’s vision, we can see the spiral arrangement that they created:

In the image below, we can also see an inscription in the caves below Dragonstone, which Jon discovered last season when mining for dragonglass. He explained to Dany that these inscriptions were made thousands of years ago by The Children of the Forest. One of those inscriptions again shows this very same spiral:

So we’ve established that this spiral was significant to The Children of the Forest. The other key thing we know is that it was these very same Children of the Forest that were responsible for creating The Night King in the first place by inserting dragonglass into the heart of a human (see below).

From there, we know The Night King adapted the spiral and this marking started appearing throughout the show, generally associated with death.

Spiral of corpses from the very first episode
Spiral of more corpses found by the Night’s Watch

So while we don’t know exactly what the spiral represents, we do know it underscores the connection between The Children of the Forest and the Night King. There are major questions to be answered, which have significant implications around what this story is ultimately about. The first question is why did The Children create the Night King as we saw above? Was there some type of balance they needed to create between good and evil, light and darkness, fire and ice? The next question is who was the human they turned into The Night King and why was he chosen? As mentioned in a previous post, that scene takes place in The North, so it is likely a Northerner, and perhaps even a Stark, which would further explain the connection between The Night King and Bran, who is now the Three-Eyed Raven. This all leads to perhaps the most important questions, which is: is The Night King actually evil? My money says no. I believe he was a human that was turned into The Night King against his will and he has been in some eternal struggle to accomplish something we are not yet sure of. I don’t believe he is killing humans to just kill humans — that’s too simple. I think there is a greater task at hand, one we will learn more about in this season. And the spiral may be a major clue to unearthing answers to some of these game-changing questions.

Aegon Targaryen

Before the first episode comes to a close, Jon finally learns his true identity, thanks to Samwell. Sam breaks the news that Jon is in fact the son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark, and that his real name is Aegon Targaryen. This means that he, not Daenerys, is the rightful heir to the Iron Throne. Sam asks Jon, “You gave up your crown to save your people — would she do the same?” In addition to dealing with the psychological baggage of learning that his entire life has been a lie, Jon also must now figure out how he is going to play his cards with Daenerys. Does he establish that he is rightful heir to the throne and ask her to step aside? If so, is she willing to? Furthermore, how does this impact their relationship? Jon’s father, Rhaegar, was Daenerys’ older brother, making her Jon’s aunt. Do they continue their romantic relationship after learning of their aunt/nephew connection?

Lots of questions to be answered here and lots of different ways this could play out. Yet, like many other parts of this episode, I felt this was another moment that should have been a lot more powerful than it was. This storyline has been building for years now and was one of the most popular fan theories. Once we learned the truth of who Jon really was, it was just a waiting game until he himself found out the same. I imagined something more impactful than a quivering Sam Tarly just coming out with it. And Jon’s reaction rubbed me the wrong way — he seemed to be more focused on the fact that Ned had been lying to him than the fact he just learned he was half Stark, half Targaryen, has two totally different parents than he’s thought his whole life, and is also heir to the Iron Throne. I would have hoped for more from a scene like this, period.

Season 8 Primer: The Beginning of the End

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.

So, here we are. The beginning of the end is less than one week away. This awe-inspiring, magical journey that has been part of our lives for the better part of the last decade — it all comes to an end in just six short episodes. It’s hard to imagine such an unbelievably rich and complex story actually coming to a singular endpoint, but that is what is about to happen, so it’s time to get caught up on everything that should be top of mind as we head into the final season. Heads up, this post is long, so don’t try to rush few it in a few minutes. This is the end of a saga, so give it the time it deserves : )

Targaryens Unite at Dragonstone

For nearly 5,000 years, The Targaryens lived in Old Valyria, capital city of the Valyrian Freehold, which consumed almost the entire continent of Essos. Approximately 400 years ago, The Doom occurred, obliterating Old Valyria and forcing the few remaining Targaryens to migrate westward. Fleeing their homeland, a select few Targaryens arrived at a small island off the coast of Westeros, where they would go on to build the great castle of Dragonstone. It was from this castle that Aegon Targaryen, alongside his two sisters, would plot their conquest of the kingdoms of Westeros (which at that point were independent kingdoms with separate rulers). After living the Targaryens lived at Dragonstone for about 100 years, Aegon and his sisters launched Aegon’s Conquest, about 300 years ago, as they rode their three dragons across Westeros and eventually united all the kingdoms under one king. Aegon Targaryen would be the first Targaryen king to rule over Westeros, and his Targaryens descendents would rule over the continent for the next 300 years, until Robert’s Rebellion.

Understanding that Dragonstone was home to the last remaining Targaryens and their dragons after they fled Valyria, and that it was from this castle that Aegon plotted his conquest of Westeros, makes Daenery’s arrival to this castle in the first episode of Season 7 an incredibly powerful moment. To no surprise, like Aegon before her, Dany spends much of season seven plotting her strategy to conquer and unite the lands of Westeros, focusing on the removal of Cersei Lannister from the Iron Throne. To start the season, Dany and her advisors (primarily Tyrion and Varys), have assembled what appears to be an unstoppable force. She already had the powerful armies of the Unsullied and Dothraki, as well as three full-grown dragons at her disposal — likely enough firepower to conquer Westeros in short order. But Dany’s army got even stronger in season seven as she forged an alliance with Ellaria Sand and the Sand Snakes of Dorne, while securing some of Iron Island the naval forces through an alliance with Theon and Yara Greyjoy. And let’s not forget that Ser Jorah Mormont returns to Dany’s side at Dragonstone after his greyscale disease is cured at the Citadel by none other than Samwell Tarly (who served under Jorah’s father, Lord Commander Jeor Mormont, when Samwell was still a brother of the Night’s Watch).

But the various key players from many of the Great Houses uniting on Dragonstone would not end there; there would be one more character to join, and though unknowing, he too would be a Targaryen. After receiving a raven from Samwell Tarly who had learned that Dragonstone was built atop a mass of dragon-glass (which can kill White Walkers), Jon Snow travels to Dragonstone in an effort to try and secure dragon-glass and convince Dany to join the Northern forces in the Great War to Come. However, Dany has other ideas and is focused on winning the Iron Throne. Though he refuses her request to bend the knee, Dany does ultimately agree to allow Jon to mine for dragon-glass, and in doing so, Jon discovers ancient cave images from thousands of years ago which depict the First Men and Children of the Forest banding together to fight the White Walkers — a chilling reminder of the Long Night and the the threat of darkness has been present since near the beginning of time. Though Jon is starting to win over Dany, she is still unconvinced of the White Walker’s existence, as is most of Westeros, and Jon soon realizes he must find a day to prove to Dany and the rest of Westeros the real threat that everybody should be focused on.

The Dream Team Goes Beyond the Wall

Once again, Jon shows his heroism and understanding of the risks he must take to preserve humanity as he decides to lead a raid beyond The Wall to capture a wight (reminder: the wights comprise the army of the undead, led by the White Walkers and Night King). He is join by a cast of some of my absolute favorite characters who come together through a random (or perhaps not so random) series of events — I like to call them The Dream Team.

The Dream Team starts to take form when Ser Jorah, who recently joined Daenerys at Dragonstone after being cured by Samwell at The Citadel, joins Jon and his trusted advisor, Davos Seaworth. But before they head into the deep North, Tyrion must meet with his brother, Jaime, to ensure that they will have an audience with Cersei if they are able to successfully capture a wight as proof of the army of the dead. Ser Davos offers to travel to King’s Landing alongside Tyrion, and while Tyrion is off meeting with Jaime, Ser Davos’ true intentions for returning to King’s Landing are revealed as he seeks out Gendry, Robert Baratheon’s bastard son who Davos saved many seasons earlier. All the way back in season three, it was Gendry who was being held at Dragonstone by Stannis Baratheon and the Red Priestess Melisandre, who used his King’s Blood (remember, he was the son of King Robert Baratheon), and eventually planned to sacrifice him to the Lord of Light. Not agreeing with Melisandre’s blood magic and unwilling to stand by while the innocent Gendry was sacrificed, Ser Davos defies Stannis and risks his life to set Gendry free. The last we saw of Gendry, he was rowing away from the shores of Dragonstone in a tiny rowboat, and it is not until all these years later that Davos rediscovers him, still working as a smith in the streets of King’s Landing. Without hesitation, Gendry joins Davos and volunteers to join the Dream Team in their quest beyond The Wall. It is worth pointing out that unlike most characters, Gendry does not choose to fight with a sword, but rather a warm hammer. Going back many years, it was his father, Robert Baratheon, who is described as a legendary warrior who swung a powerful war hammer (with which he defeated Rhaegar Targaryen, Jon Snow’s father, during Robert’s Rebellion). It’s also worth pointing out that given Jon’s newfound stockpile of dragon-glass, he will need a skilled smith to help craft White Walker-killing weapons, and Gendry may likely play this important role in the final season.

Elsewhere, the remaining Brotherhood without Banners, Beric Dondarrion and Thoros of Myr, unite with The Hound, bringing together three of the show’s greatest characters. Despite his extreme fear of fire, The Hound starts to believe in Lord of Light, after he sees in the fire the army of the dead marching south, past Eastwatch by the Sea (the most eastward castle of the Night’s Watch). After seeing this, The Hound agrees to venture north with Beric and Thoros, to fulfill their purpose in the Great War to Come. At the same time, Jon, Gendry, Davos and Jorah also head to Eastwatch by the Sea, where Tormund Giantsbane, who had been manning the castle for Jon, reveals to Jon and company that he’d been holding prisoner Beric, Thoros and the Hound after their capture.

In this moment, many characters are reunited which reveals a great mistrust amongst many of them. Gendry tells Jon not to listen to anything Beric and Thoros have to say, since they sold Gendry to the Red Priestess, Lady Melisandre, all the way back in season four. Similarly, Tormund does not trust Ser Jorah, since his father was Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch and battled Tormund’s people, the Wildlings, for many years. Despite all the history and many of these characters having been on opposite sides at times, Beric and Jon remind the group that none of this matters and that they all share a common cause — to serve their purpose in the Great War to Come as the Lord of Light commands. And just like that, their differences become a thing of the past as the Dream Team unites to head north of The Wall.

As they march into the frigid depths of the deep North, the group comes upon a band of wights, led by their White Walker master. As a small battle ensues, Jon eventually eliminates the White Walker, which causes all the other wights to fall like dominos. This was not the first time we have seen a White Walker killed, but it was the first time we were exposed to the idea that if you kill a White Walker, the wights that White Walker has turned also perish. We know that the army of the dead numbers in the hundreds of thousands, so the realization that you need not kill each wight individually, but rather you can take them out in much bigger numbers by killing a White Walker, is critical to know in the war to come. It also begs the question: if killing a White Walker ends the existence of all the wights that White Walker has turned, does killing the Night King end all of the White Walkers he has created? If so, and killing the Night King destroys all White Walkers, which then destroys all wights, then killing the Night King could bring an end to the entire army of the dead.

But this battle was a mere scuffle compared to the fight that lays ahead for the Dream Team. As they continue deeper into the North, they are eventually discovered by a massive army of the dead, led by several more White Walkers, and the appearance of the Night King himself. Despite being vastly outnumbered, the Dream Team fights valiantly, and destroys hundreds of wights — a reminder that we are watching an assemble of some of the greatest warriors Westeros has ever known. But eventually, the men are outnumbered and their deaths appear imminent — until Daenerys arrives with her dragons, and for the first time, we see a direct face-off between Ice and Fire. Remember, this entire story is entitled A Song of Ice and Fire, and seeing these powerful elements go toe to toe is a signal that the end is near. Dany and her dragons burn the wights by the thousands, but not before The Night King lands an icy spear into one of Dany’s dragons, Viserion, sending it plummeting to its death.

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

When Jon does reemerge from the water, he is frozen stiff and appears to have no chance at fighting off the new pack of wights that are headed his way. Not to fear, Uncle Benjen (Ned’s brother) is here. Fighting with his flaming ball-and-chain, Benjen takes out a bunch of the wights and buys Jon just enough time to escape back to Eastwatch. Jon had not seen his Uncle Benjen since the very first season, when they were together at Castle Black (remember, Jon was very close with Uncle Benjen and he was a big part of the reason why Jon joined the Night’s Watch in the first place). When Benjen went missing north of The Wall in the first season, Jon tried to go after him. Ironically, Benjen’s disappearance north of The Wall so many seasons ago is what would turn him into what he is today, and set him on the path to save his nephew when it really counted. Just another ingenious example of how Thrones sets a character on a path at a certain point in time, for them not to be seen for many years, and to ultimately reemerge in the distant future to play a major role. Sadly, after all these years, the reunion between Jon and Uncle Benjen lasted only a couple of seconds, but Uncle Benjen served his purpose and saved Jon when it counted most.

We also must say RIP to one of the story’s greatest (even if not most popular) characters, Thoros of Myr, who does not make it out alive. He too served his purpose, bringing Beric Dondarrion back to life many times over the years. With Thoros finally gone, Beric is likely now on his last life, again a reminder that the end is near.

A Winterfell Reunion

As Jon departs Winterfell to meet with Daenerys and eventually go north beyond The Wall, he leaves Sansa to look after Winterfell and maintain order in the North. Had he stayed just a little while longer, he would have found out his true identity, as it was not long after he left that Bran, who knows the truth of who Jon is, returns to Winterfell. Only Bran is no longer Bran — he is now the Three-Eyed Raven, seemingly devoid of all human emotion or feeling. After years of travels throughout the North without having any contact with any Stark family member, Bran finally returns home to Winterfell to be reunited with sister, Sansa. What would be expected to be an emotional and heartfelt reunion was anything but; Bran lacks the human emotion to even hug her, as he tells her how he can remember what it felt like to be Bran, but now he remembers so much else… He even dismisses Meera, who had been traveling with him for the last several years, who lost her brother, Jojen, and risked her life many times to keep Bran alive. What’s clear is that Bran is completely gone at this point, consumed by his all-knowingness, and we will likely never see him again.

The Stark sibling reunion continues from there, as Arya too finally makes her way back to Winterfell after a harsh and long journey. Like Bran, she returns home as a totally different person, no longer a young and innocent girl, but now a hardened assassin trained by the Faceless Men. While Arya and Sansa are happy to see one another after all these years, their differences and distrust quickly reemerge. It is important to remember that Arya and Sansa did not get along when they were younger, and one of Arya’s last memories of Sansa was her older sister sucking up to Prince Joffrey and the Lannisters in an attempt to become princess. Years later, Arya believes that Sansa has not defended the honor of their brother, Jon, and that Sansa has again made a play for power as the acting Lady of Winterfell.

Conversely, Sansa does not recognize the sister that has returned home, and starts to believe that perhaps Arya has intentions of killing her. Baelish, who has been hanging around at Winterfell, does not miss his opportunity to capitalize off this discord and attempts to strengthen his position by driver a further wedge between the sisters. Knowing that Arya has been following him, he plants an old note that Sansa had sent back to Winterfell all the way back in season one, when she was being held by Cersei in King’s Landing. In the note, Sansa notes that Ned has been a traitor and urges her family to pledge fealty to the Lannisters. What’s not clear from reading this note is that Sansa was forced to write this note under duress, and Baelish purposely plants this note for Arya to find, in an attempt to further Arya’s distrust and hatred for Sansa. At the same time, Baelish speaks with Sansa and furthers the idea that Arya has perhaps returned to Winterfell to kill her so that she can become the lady of Winterfell. Baelish’s plot dates all the way back to season one and is incredibly intricate — see the bottom half of this episode recap which provides a lot more detail about what Baelish went through to set up this scheme.

Throughout several episodes, it appears as though Baelish’s schemes are working perfectly, leading up to a final scene where Sansa calls Arya into the great hall in front of all the Northern lords. Sansa, prepared to pass judgement, states “You stand accused of treason. You stand accused of murder.” All appears as though Baelish has pulled off another epic manipulation, and that Arya will pay the price, until Sansa looks over towards Littlefinger and adds “How do you answer to these charges…Lord Baelish?” The tables are quickly turned, and we realize that Sansa and Arya had actually been working together to outsmart Baelish. Littlefinger does all he can to beg Sansa for mercy, but his many years of lies, schemes and manipulation have finally caught up with him. He cannot talk his way out of this one, and though Sansa passes the judgement, it is Arya that plays executioner.

What’s interesting to note is the weapon she uses to take his life. All the way back in second episode of season one, an assassin almost takes Bran’s life, though Bran’s direwolf, Summer, jumps in to save him. At the time, Baelish tells the Starks that it was the Lannisters who sent the assassin, which is what sends Ned Stark to King’s Landing and ultimately leads to his death and many of the events that would follow. What we later find out is that it was not the Lannisters that sent this assassin, but rather Baelish himself, in an attempt to pit the Starks against the Lannisters (which he succeeded in doing). It was Baelish himself who equipped the assassin with the dagger, which ends up back in Baelish’s possession after the failed assassination attempt. All these years later, Baelish gives the dagger to Bran as a reminder of the man who attempted his life. In a later scene, Bran gives this dagger to Arya, telling her has no use for it. In his all-knowing wisdom, perhaps Bran already saw the future and knew Arya would use this dagger to kill Baelish, which is exactly what happened. Again, this is just another example of how Thrones does such a masterful weaving plot-points that span from the first season to the seventh. Baelish gives a dagger to an assassin to kill Bran; the assassination goes wrong and Baelish recovers the dagger; Baelish gives the dagger to Bran; Bran gives the dagger to Arya; all comes full circle as Arya uses this dagger to end the life of the all-cunning Littlefinger. RIP.

King’s Landing

Though King’s Landing and the Iron Throne is becoming increasingly less relevant in comparison to the Great War to Come, there is still quite a bit happening in the capital of Westeros, with Cersei at the helm. Just as Daenerys has made alliances with other great houses, Cersei too has forged a union with Euron Greyjoy, who strengthens her army with his naval prowess and strong fleet of ships. As a reminder, Euron is the uncle of Theon and Yara, and killed their father, Balon, back in season six, in an attempt to take control of their homeland, the Iron Islands. Theon and Yara fled the Iron Islands with their forces (and forged a union with Daenerys), while Euron sailed to King’s Landing to secure an alliance with Cersei.

This alliance quickly proves valuable for Cersei, as Euron strikes first blood in the war between Cersei and Daenerys. Carrying out a battle strategy devised by Tyrion, the Greyjoys are en route to escort Ellaria Sand and her three Sand Snake daughters back to their home of Dorne to rally the Dornish troops with the plan to lay siege to King’s Landing. However, Euron is one step ahead of them and shows his naval strength as he intercepts their ships with an attack in the night. His men kill two of the three Sand Snakes, while capturing the third, along with her mother, Ellaria Sand. As well, Euron captures Yara Greyjoy, while Theon jumps ship and leaves his sister behind.

Euron returns to King’s Landing and delivers Cersei the gift he had promised her — Ellaria Sand along with her daughter, Tyene. Back in season five, it was Ellaria that killed Cersei’s daughter, Princess Myrcella, by kissing her and poisoning her with a poison called The Long Farewell. This was Dornish revenge for the Lannisters killing Elia Martell (Rhaegar Targaryen’s wife), during Robert’s Rebellion, as well as the more recent death of Oberyn Martell (aka The Red Viper) at the hands of The Mountain. Now, Cersei has her daughter’s murderer right where she wants her, and kisses Ellaria’s daughter, Tyene, with the same poison that Ellaria used on Myrcella. Only whereas Myrcella died far from Cersei, Ellaria will have to watch her daughter die right before her eyes as they are locked up in a cell together.

That said, we did not see Tyene die, which in the Thrones world, often hints that she may yet survive and have a role to play in the days to come. One prediction is that perhaps she will be saved by Bronn. Why you ask? Well, back in season five, when Bronn ventured south to Dorne alongside Jaime in an attempt to rescue Princess Myrcella, Bronn himself was poisoned with the same Long Farewell poison. And, as you will see in the video below, who was it that saved him? None other than Tyene Sand, the Sand Snake who he says is the most beautiful woman int he world. So, is it possible that Bronn will return to King’s Landing and save Tyene who is poisoned in a cell, much the way she did for him? Time will tell. Let’s not forget that Dorne is still a major part of Westeros and it’s hard to imagine the Dornish not having a role in the final season.

But Ellaria and Tyene were not the only captives Euron secured during his attack — they were just the gifts he presented to Cersei. But, he kept a gift for himself, Yara Greyjoy. It is unclear what his plans for her are, but in one of the final scenes of the season, Theon comes alive and is hellbent on saving his sister. In brutal hand-to-hand combat, he defeats one of the other Ironborn who was opposed to saving Yara, takes command of a small crew and sets sail to rescue Yara from Euron.

Dany Strikes Back

Back at Dragonstone, Daenerys has been letting Tyrion act as military strategist, only to find that his first two plans have backfired miserably. After losing several of her alliances as well as her naval fleet at the hands of Euron Greyjoy, Dany suffers a second defeat after Tyrion advises her to have the Unsullied attack Casterly Rock, the castle of the Lannisters. He believes that if they can take Casterly Rock, they will be in a stronger position to eventually take King’s Landing. However, the Lannisters are one step ahead of Tyrion’s plan, and while Dany sends her troops to attack Casterly Rock, the Lannisters have already pulled their forces from Casterly Rock and sent them to lay siege to Highgarden, castle of House Tyrell. While there is not much left of House Tyrell, besides Lady Olenna, Highgarden has the most fertile land in all of Westeros, as well as plenty of gold. While Dany’s forces are attacking an empty Casterly Rock, the Lannisters successfully sack Highgarden and all its riches. During this siege, Jaime kills Lady Olenna, but not before she admits to being the mastermind behind the death of his son, King Joffrey. Though many, including Cersei and Tywin Lannister, accused Tyrion of being behind the murder of Joff, we knew it was actually Lady Olenna who orchestrated his murder, to prevent her granddaughter Margaery from having to marry such a monster. However, not many were aware of this, and Lady Olenna reveals this to Jaime just before she dies. And with her death, just like that, one of the noblest and greatest houses of Westeros is all but wiped out.

But for every one of Cersei’s moves, Dany has had a counter. No longer willing to sit back and listen to Tyrion’s conservative military strategy, she decides to take action into her own hands and show the Lannisters the true power of her dragons. As the Lannister forces are traveling from Highgarden to King’s Landing, Daenerys unleashes her dragons in a southern battle for the first time. Dany roasts the Lannister army by the hundreds, showing just how devastating her dragons can be in war. But, she does not kill them all. She gives the remaining men the chance to bend the knee and pledge their fealty. Two men in particular choose to defy her and refuse to bend the knee — Randyll Tarly and his son, Dickon (Samwell Tarly’s father and brother). Though Tyrion cautions Daenerys to show restraint, she ignores his advice and burns them alive, showing the others what is to come should they not pledge their fealty. This scene is an allusion to The Field of Fire, a legendary event 300 years ago when Aegon Targaryen battled the Lannisters and forced them into bending the knee.

In addition to seeing the sheer power of dragons in battle and the devastation they can cause, this scene was critical in that was the first time that anybody in the south of Westeros has seen a dragon. Jaime and the rest of the Lannister forces now know what they are up against, and he rides back to King’s Landing to warn Cersei that they do not stand a chance. Daenerys has put the world on notice, and though she chooses not to take Westeros with fire and death, she has shown that she is willing to when she must.

The Dragonpit Summit

After such extraordinary recent events, all sides are trying to figure out what their next move is. Daenerys, once focused on taking out Cersei and restoring rightful Targeryen rule to the Seven Kingdoms, has now seen the army of the dead and understands that this is the only war that matters. Yet, if she invests her forces into fighting the war in the North, she allows Cersei to strengthen her position and reclaim more of Westeros. So, the only way Daenerys can focus on joining Jon in fighting the Night King is if Cersei agrees to a temporary armistice. Even better would be if Cersei agrees to lend her troops to fight in the Great War to Come.

So, Dany, Jon and their team risk it all by traveling to King’s Landing to meet with Cersei. Of course, they do not arrive empty-handed, and they bring the wight that they captured during their raid north of The Wall. Cersei now sees what few others in the world have, and must decide whether she wants to continue her war against Dany for Westeros, or put aside their differences and focus on the much important war to come. After much deliberation, Cersei agrees to a temporary truce and offers to direct her troops north to join in the fight against the dead.

The End is Near

Just as it looks like the good guys humans are banding together to fight the dead, things go a bit haywire and reach an absolute climax as season seven comes to a close. To start, we learn that Cersei was full of sh*t and lied to Jon and Dany when pledging her troops to join the fight against darkness. After they depart, she tells Jaime that she intends to continue to fight against her true enemies, even if it leads to their death. Jaime attempts to reason with her, explaining that if they do not do all they can to fight back the dead, everybody in King’s Landing will eventually die. Yet, Cersei is blinded by the only thing that she has left to live for — revenge against those who have wronged her. No longer able to stand by the madness of his sister, Jaime rides off from King’s Landing, just as the snow begins to fall. Snow, all the way south over King’s Landing? The end must be near…

But before season seven comes to a close, we see the two elements that this story has already centered around, Fire and Ice, take center stage and set up the Great War to Come in season eight.

First, we see Fire emerge stronger than ever, personified by who we once believed to be Jon Snow, but now know to be Aegon Targaryen. Thanks to one of Bran’s visions, for some time now, we have known that Jon was birthed by Lyanna Stark after being impregnated by Rhaegar Targaryen. This was an absolutely massive reveal in season six, when Bran sees a young Ned Stark sitting over his dying sister, Lyanna, with baby Jon in hand. The implications were huge as we realized that Ned had sacrificed his honor, the thing he valued most, and pretended to have an extramarital affair in order to explain the birth of his bastard son, Jon. This false understanding of who Jon really was led to a series of events, too long to lay out here, so the reveal of who Jon’s true identity was massive. But even with Bran’s visions and wisdom, he only got half the story — the half that allowed him to understand that Jon’s parents were Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark. But, since Rhaegar was married to Elia Martell, Bran incorrectly assumed that Jon was a bastard born out of wedlock, and since he was born in the south, his bastard name would be Jon Sand instead of Jon Snow (each region of Westeros has a different last name that bastards take, in the North it’s Snow, in the south it’s Sand, etc).

However, there was another half to this story that even the all-knowing Bran had not figured out. Earlier in season seven, Gilly was reading through an old Maestar’s record at the Citadel, and she came across a passage that talked about a Maestar performing an annulment for Prince Rhaegar Targaryen and performing a secret wedding ceremony to another. Unknowingly, Gilly came across a passage that contains one of the most confidential and important secrets across the entire continent of Westeros — one that changes everything. Gilly uncovers the fact that Prince Rhaegar annulled his marriage to Elia Martell, and then remarried to Lyanna Stark in a secret wedding ceremony.

The implications of this reveal are massive. First, Robert’s Rebellion was built upon a complete lie. As we know, Robert was in love with Lyanna Stark, and launched his rebellion against the Targaryens primarily under the premise that Rhaegar had kidnapped his beloved Lyanna, rode off with her and raped her. He joined forces with her brother, Ned, and together they led much of the North to King’s Landing to overthrow The Mad King and usurp the Targaryen dynasty. Before taking the Iron Throne for himself, Robert killed Rhaegar during The Battle of the Trident. With Lyanna and Rhaegar both dead, the truth of Jon’s parents could only be found within the pages of this old Maestar’s private journal, discovered by the unlikeliest of characters.

Perhaps more important than the fact Robert’s Rebellion was built upon a lie is what this reveals about Jon’s true identity. He is not a bastard as Bran assumed, but rather the true and lawful son of Rhaegar and Lyanna who were in love and legally married. As we later hear when Bran revisits his vision, Jon’s true name is Aegon Targaryen. No big deal that he’s named after the man that conquered the Seven Kingdoms and the first Targaryen king to rule over Westeros. This also makes him one of the first, if only, throughout history to have both Targaryen and Stark blood — some would argue a mix of Fire and Ice. Most of all, this means that Jon (or Aegon), not Daenerys, is the rightful heir to the Iron Throne (Rhaegar was the older brother of Daenerys, so after their father, The Mad King died, the throne would have gone to Rhaegar, not Daenerys. And after Rhaegar, it would go to his son, Jon/Aegon). Of course, Jon still does not know any of this, but it now appears only a matter of time until Bran/Samwell fill him in on who he really is.

In the Thrones world, Targaryens equal fire, so learning that Jon is one of the last remaining Targaryens, and arguably the most powerful, amplifies the existence of Fire heading into the final season. But the season does not end without Ice making its counterpunch. In the final scene of the season, we see the army of the dead reemerge once more, this time looking to get past The Wall, something they’ve been unable to do for thousands of years since The Long Night.

In a story that centers around Ice and Fire, evil and good, light and dark, it is The Wall that symbolizes the fine line between these ever-opposing forces. The Wall was not built yesterday; or a few years ago; or even a few hundred years ago. The Wall was built 8,000 years ago when The Children of the Forest, The First Men and the Giants all came together to fight for their survival against the White Walkers. For 8,000 years, The Wall was more than a structure that kept out the dead — it was an indestructible symbol that divided good from evil, light from dark, Ice from Fire. And now, we have just seen that wall fall. A structure that protected the realm for thousands of years has finally been breached, and now, nobody is safe.

As the Night King rides on the back of his undead dragon, Viserion, he unleashes a fury of icy fire that is able to easily reduce a portion of The Wall to rubble. What’s important to remember is that The Wall was constructed using powerful magic from The Children of the Forest — magic that has kept the White Walkers out for thousands of years. And since The Wall is more than just ice and is also made up of this magic, it would take more than just ordinary force to destruct The Wall. Which is why the Night King, on the back of a dragon — representing the union of fire and ice — is able to destroy a good chunk of The Wall. Seeing this also again reminds us of the ties that the Night King has to the Children of the Forest. After all, it was the Children that created the Night King in the first place and he has shown to carry some of their magical powers. It then makes perfect sense that he is the one who is able to counteract the power of their magic used to build The Wall as he tears it down.

Some Final Thoughts & Theories

As we reflect back upon the last seven seasons, there are so many storylines that feel unfinished, characters whose destinies have not been revealed, and plot-points that lend to certain theories which or may not come to fruition in the final season. I thought I’d call out just a few that I have found most intriguing.

What Does the Night King Really Want?

I often get asked who I think is going to win the war and how this story will end. I generally respond that I think darkness will prevail. Unlike most stories, George R.R. Martin has a proclivity for reminding us that in real life, good does not always win and life can be full of darkness and hardship. For that reason, I am intrigued by the idea of evil prevailing and the “good guys” not necessarily winning.

But this leads me to the realization that the Night King and White Walkers are not necessarily evil. Sure, that’s how we’ve perceived them thus far — I mean anytime you have an army of zombies led by an evil Night King trying to destroy humanity, you are going to assume they’re pretty evil, right? But that’s a simple interpretation of what we’ve actually witnessed. If you go a layer or two deeper, you start to realize that things are not that simple, and the line between good and evil may not be that clear.

For starters, the Night King did not choose to be the Night King. He was not born into being the Night King, nor did he decide for this to be his life. It’s important to remember that he was a human, who against his will, was turned into the Night King. And by who? By the Children of the Forest, the ones who are supposed to be “the good guys.” You can rewatch the scene below in which the Night King is created. Of course, we don’t know exactly why The Children did this and what they were actually trying to achieve. Presumably, they were not trying to create the Night King, but who knows. We also don’t yet know who this human was and why he was chosen — was he just a random sacrifice or perhaps somebody more significant? From the context, we can see this happened at a weirwood tree in the North, so it’s safe to assume he was a Northerner, perhaps even a Stark? If you believe that, it leads to further theories around the close ties between the Night King and the Starks, and the possibility that the Night King could even be Bran Stark, who we now see as the Three-Eyed Raven. But that’s another theory for another day.

So, as we saw above, the Night King didn’t set out to become the Night King. He was turned into what he became, and once he became it, presumably has some objective he is trying to accomplish. I do not believe for a second that it’s as simple as killing humans for the sake of killing humans. I believe there is something greater he is driven to accomplish. Perhaps he is fighting for the preservation of his people, much the same way the humans are. Perhaps to survive they must get south of The Wall to accomplish some unknown feat. It’s hard to know exactly what his motivation is, but without knowing, and considering the fact he was forced into becoming The Night King, can we really call him evil? My money says that in the final season, we will learn a lot more about who he is and what he is trying to achieve, and that perhaps our perception of him being evil will change. George R.R. Martin has an uncanny ability to constantly force us to reassess our perception of a given character (i.e. consider how many times we have reassessed how we felt about a character like Jaime? First he was bad, then showed signs of being good, then got sucked back into Cersei’s games, and now has reemerged as a potential good guy). I think something similar might happen with the Night King, and we might be reminded that the lines between good and evil can often be unclear.

Who is the Prince That Was Promised?

As we’ve talked about many times throughout the seven seasons, during the Long Night, Azor Ahai was an ancient warrior that led the fight against darkness and saved humanity from the White Walkers. He was known as The Prince That Was Promised and there is a prophecy in the religion of the Lord of Light that has stated The Prince That Was Promised will be reincarnated to fight back the darkness once more. In the first few seasons of the show, Lady Melisandre incorrectly believed Stannis to be The Prince That Was Promised, but things did not end up well for him (although we never actually saw him die, and it’s still theoretically possible he is alive). So, the question remains, will The Prince That Was Promised once again reemerge? This question may never get answered outright, but it seems like it may be either Jon or Daenerys. One interesting callout: In the second episode of season seven, Daenerys is speaking in High Valyrian with Lady Melisandre, who once again references The Prince That Was Promised, the person that will fight back the darkness once more. Missandei, whose native language is Valyrian, interjects and corrects them, stating that the word they are using in Valyrian actually has no gender, meaning it can be a Prince or Princess. This of course leads us to believe that perhaps Daenerys could be the Princess That Was Promised. (See video below, starting at 1:10).

What’s Up with the Direwolves?

The Starks’ direwolves were very present in the first few seasons, until things started to go haywire for the Starks, and so too for their wolves. You probably don’t recall exactly where things left off and which wolves are still out there. Well, sadly, only two of the original six direwolves are alive, and I’m guessing they’ll have a role to play in the final season. With everything else going on in the show, and the wolves being absent for the better part of the last few seasons, it’s fair that we’ve forgotten about them. But don’t overlook their significance as the story comes to an end. Remember, direwolves are not just big wolves — there is a magical connection they have to their Stark owners and they should reemerge into the story in the final season.

The two wolves left are Nymeria and Ghost, belonging to Arya and Jon, respectively. Last season, Arya actually encountered Nymeria, who had grown quite large and was leading a pack of pretty ferocious wolves. It’s fair to assume that this pack of wolves will fight for Arya/the Starks at some point in the final season. We last saw Jon’s wolf, Ghost, before The Battle of the Bastards, at which point Jon held Ghost back to avoid him being harmed. The assumption is that Ghost has been hanging around Winterfell ever since, though we have not seen him.

One other interesting thought to consider is that thus far, the Starks that have been killed who have wolves that have also been killed, have been killed by the same people. Robb Stark was killed by the Freys at the Red Wedding, as was his wolf, Greywind. Rickon Stark was killed by the Boltons, as was his wolf Shaggydog. If we are to believe this pattern will hold true, this means that Bran, if killed, will die at the hands of the White Walkers (who killed Summer when they attacked the cave he was in with the Three-Eyed-Raven), and Sansa will die at the hands of a Stark (Ned swung the sword that killed Lady after Cersei demanded Lady’s death for attacking Joffrey, even though it was actually Arya’s wolf, Nymeria, that attacked Joff).

Samwell As The Final Storyteller?

When Samwell arrived at The Citadel in season six, I was fascinated by those giant astrolabes hanging in The Citadel. What were they? What purpose did they serve? Most viewers probably did not realize that we have been seeing those astrolabes since the very first episode, and in every single episode since. Yes, that’s right, they appear in the opening credits of every episode. As you can see from the image on the right below, the top half shows a more detailed view of the astrolabe from the Citadel, and the bottom right shows a strikingly similar image from the opening credits. This is not something that can be overlooked, and upon digging deeper, it lends some very interesting insights as to what Sam’s role in this story may end up being. One thought is that if darkness prevails and humanity perishes, there will need to be somebody left to tell this story — the very story that we are watching unfold before our eyes. We know Sam has always been obsessed with books, preserving history and storytelling, and it just may be Samwell Tarly that is telling the very story we are witnessing today. For more color, read the full post on this theory here.

Significance of the Spirals We’ve Seen

Throughout the show, we’ve seen a specific spiral design that seems to be shared by both The Children of the Forest and the White Walkers. It’s unclear what these spirals signify, but given that some of the images we’ve seen date back thousands of years, and that they’re shared by two of the most significant/magical groups of beings in the show, I am willing to bet it’s something significant. It may even lend a clue to the link between The Children and the Night King. You can see below for a few examples of these spirals that we’ve seen, and read the episode recap here that explains this theory in much greater detail.

Are Syrio Forell and Jaqen H’ghar the Same Person?

Another theory we’ve talked about for many seasons on this blog, and another burning question that may or not get answered in the final season of this story. But there’s a lot of credence to the fact that Syrio Forell, Arya’s Braavosi fighting instructor, could have been Jaqen H’ghar all along. For starters, back in season one, the last we see of Syrio is when he is attacked by Lannister guards and Arya is forced to flee. It is assumed that he will be killed, but we never see him die, keeping the door open for the fact he may be alive.

After Arya flees, she cuts her hair to look like a boy and joins a group heading North. In that group, there are several men locked up in a cage, one of which is Jaqen H’ghar. If you think about this for a moment, it makes no sense. We go on to learn that Jaqen H’ghar is one of the most cunning, nimble and outright magical assassins in all of the land. We seem him perform incredible feats that few others could. Yet, this same man finds himself locked up in a rickety cage as a prisoner? It doesn’t add up, not one bit. An entirely more plausible explanation would be that Syrio Forell was Jaqen H’ghar the whole time, just wearing the face of Syrio. He never got killed and was able to escape after Arya ran away, and to avoid being detected, he changed his face to that of the Jaqen we saw throughout most of the show, and allowed himself to appear as a prisoner. He continued to look over Arya as she continued north, and at the right time, revealed himself to Arya as the Faceless Man we came to know. For several more years, he would continue to train Arya, just as Syrio (who was really Jaqen) had been doing since the very beginning in King’s Landing. If you compare the two men, they are quite similar. Both were excellent fighters, both hailed from the secret land of Braavos, both spoke of the Many-Faced God and saying no to death. The list goes on. Again, who knows if this is something that will be addressed in the final season, but at minimum, it would be great to see Jaqen reemerge before the story comes to an end.

What Did Varys Hear in the Flames?

Back in season six, Varys and Tyrion are visited by The High Red Priestess, Kinvara, one of the highest ranking officials of the Lord of Light. Though her appearance was brief, she dropped a pretty big question that has never been answered. As Varys is typically skeptical of religion, he questioned The Lord of Light, to which Kinvara references a voice that Varys heard in the flames when he was castrated as a young boy. Usually cool and collected, Varys’ face becomes flush with fear, making it clear that he knows what she is talking about. Will we ever learn what Varys heard in the flames? As we’ve highlighted many times, it’s rare that Thrones inserts these kinds of plot-points if not to come back to them at a later point in time, so I would hope to learn more about this. But then again, with only a handful of episodes left, it’s entirely possible that we never learn what Varys heard in the flames.

Other Odds and Ends

  • The Three-Eyed Raven told Bran that he will never walk again, but he will fly. Will we see Bran fly? Perhaps he will warg into a dragon?
  • Is Stannis definitely dead? Seems like yes, but I’m always wary when we don’t see the character actually die.
  • What is the connection between Bran and the Night King? Every time the Night King sees Bran in one of his visions, Bran is pulled from his vision. It seems like there is a deeper connection between the two.
  • In season seven, I wrote an interesting theory about The Eye of the Giant. You can read more about that here.
  • More recently, I wrote a theory on the significance of what’s beneath the crypts of Winterfell. The teaser for the upcoming season focused on the crypts of Winterfell, so I think it will have significance on the season eight. You can read that here.

That’s it folks. Enjoy the countdown to season eight and savor each minute!

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…

 

 

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.

volantis

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