Season 8, Episode 5: The Bells

DISCLAIMER: THERE ARE NO SPOILERS IN THIS ARTICLE. I HAVE NO KNOWLEDGE OF WHAT IS TO TRANSPIRE IN THIS STORY. ANY VIEWS OR CONTENT EXPRESSED ARE SOLELY PERSONAL THEORIES, OPINIONS AND INSIGHTS.

The Bells

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

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

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

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

The Bells

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

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

Dragonstone

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

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

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

The Mad Queen

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

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

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

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

King’s Landing

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

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

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

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

Arya & The Hound

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

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

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

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

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

What’s The Deal with Arya?

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

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

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

Jaime & Cersei

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

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

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

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

Who’s at Fault?

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

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

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

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

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

Queen of the Ashes

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

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

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

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Season 8, Episode 3: The Long Night

DISCLAIMER: THERE ARE NO SPOILERS IN THIS ARTICLE. I HAVE NO KNOWLEDGE OF WHAT IS TO TRANSPIRE IN THIS STORY. ANY VIEWS OR CONTENT EXPRESSED ARE SOLELY PERSONAL THEORIES, OPINIONS AND INSIGHTS.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Odds and Ends

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

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

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

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

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

Season 7 Primer

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.

SEASON SEVEN PRIMER

With just about one week until GoT Season 7 kicks off, the wait is officially over.  Though this year-long delay between seasons has felt like an eternity, it’s safe to assume that this wait will be well worth it. The seventh (and penultimate) season is sure to be nothing short of epic, spectacular, heart-pounding action from start to finish. Producers took an extra three months on this season, namely to wait for the right climate in the areas around the world they are shooting. After all, winter is here, and producers wanted to make sure the geographies they were shooting in were colder than ever before.

Before we jump into recapping where last season left off and where season seven will pick up, it’s important to step back for a moment and consider where we stand in this seven-year journey. It’s hard to believe how quick time flies and that it was seven full years ago that good old Ned was preaching that winter was coming, Daenerys was just a young girl with no dragons or army, the Starks were living peacefully in Winterfell, and the only battle that seemed to matter was the one for the Iron Throne. How things have changed. Fast forward seven years and Ned is dead, winter is here, Daenerys is now a Khaleesi with three full-grown dragons, and some of the much larger impending battles that are soon to unfold make the battle for the Iron Throne seem petty and insignificant.

So here we are…the the beginning of the end. With 60 episodes behind us, and only 13 episodes to go, it’s important to realize that we are truly embarking upon the final chapter of the Thrones saga. Everything we have witnessed over the last seven years has led up to this very moment. It’s the final act, and boy are we in for a treat. This season will consist of just seven episodes, and though that seems like we are being shorted from an already-brief 10-episode season, you can be sure that each of these seven episodes will be nothing short of spectacular. There will be no filler episodes and no time to waste. Each second of each episode will be carefully calculated and masterfully executed. Producers have even gone as far as to confirm that there will be two episodes that exceed the ordinary 60-minute airtime, one of which will be as long as 90 minutes! In short, you can think of each of these episodes as a full-fledged movie, and with a budget of approximately $15 million per episode, these 7 episodes actually far exceed the cost of producing an average Hollywood film (this season’s 7 episodes cost about $100 million, compared to average Hollywood budget of $60 million per film). Pretty incredible to consider.

So, my advice to all viewers in the coming days before the seventh season kicks off and we head towards the beginning of the end, is to spend some time appreciating thinking about all that has transpired to bring us to where we are today. Prepare mentally for the epic saga which is coming to a close. Think about all the magic we have witnessed over the last seven years. The powerful stories that have been told; the incredible character journeys and transformations that have unfolded before our eyes; the joy, the pain, the shocks and laughter we have experienced. For then, and only then, will you truly be able to savor season seven and the precious few moments we have left before Thrones comes to an end.

And now, let’s kick off the recap…

KING’S LANDING

The last few episodes of season six were action-packed, and things progressed very quickly around the world, but perhaps nowhere more so than King’s Landing. The final episode of last season was to include Cercei’s trial, where she would be tried for the sins she had confessed to the High Sparrow. Heading into the trial, the Tyrell’s appeared to be on top, with a weakened Cercei more vulnerable than ever. Many thought that she would be found guilty and perhaps even executed…boy was Cercei underestimated.

Cercei cleverly used her trial as an opportunity to secure all of her enemies in one place. She used stockpiles of Wildfire (which Tyrion previously used to fend off Stannis’ attack on King’s Landing), and blew up the Great Sept of Baelor, killing Margaery, Loras and Mace Tyrell, along with the High Sparrow and Faith Militant. In one fell swoop, Cercei took out her most immediate threats, once again showing that there are no lengths she won’t go to in order to eliminate her enemies and remain on top. However, there is another death that Cercei is responsible for — that of her last remaining child, Tommen. Realizing all the people that have just died in the explosion, and no longer able to handle the pressures of being King, Tommen jumps out of the window to his death. Without question, Cercei is directly responsible for her son’s death, ironically fulfilling the prophecy that Cercei had been told as a young girl (which was revealed to us nearly 20 episodes prior, in the first episode of season five), which stated that she would eventually lose all of her children.

With her enemies eliminated and the king now dead, Cercei takes the Iron Throne for herself, underscoring what she has demonstrated from day one — that she is the most cunning and capable, even as a woman in world ruled by men. And even though we’ve seen some evil kings to date (i.e. Joffrey), the Throne Room has a whole new darkness to it as Cercei ascends the Iron Throne, dressed in all black. Though she has always had an evil side, the one thing that humanized Cercei was her extreme love for her children. Having now lost not one, not two, but all three children, Cercei takes the Iron Throne, colder and more evil than ever before. With nothing left to lose, now more than ever, there is nothing Cercei will not do to avenge the deaths of her children. We know that at the top of her hit list will be the Martells of Dorne, who were responsible for the death of her daughter, Myrcella.

It will be interesting to see how things play out in King’s Landing with just 13 episodes to go, and whether or not season seven will end with Cercei still on the Throne. Moreover, there are big question marks around how  Jaime will fit into this new picture. Once willing to do anything to protect one another, Cercei and Jaime have become more and more estranged over time. Jaime’s character evolution and seeming desire to do good is fundamentally at odds with Cercei’s plans, and he will soon need to decide the man he wants to be.

THE NORTH

The North… Home to the Starks, Winterfell, the Wall, and the first line of defense against the impending White Walkers. There is no part of the world more significant to this story, so let’s recap where things left off.

For quite some time, House Bolton has claimed the North and Ramsay was calling the shots. Things started to take a turn for Ramsay and House Bolton when Sansa escaped (aided by Theon), who eventually reunited with her brother, Jon Snow. After being resurrected by Lady Melisandre, Jon is faced with the enormous task of taking down House Bolton and reclaiming the North. He is supported by the few remaining loyal brothers of the Night’s Watch, Tormund and the Wildlings, Ser Davos and Sansa.

In the penultimate episode of last season, we witnessed the Battle of the Bastards, where Jon’s army defeats Ramsay and reclaims Winterfell. In truth, it was Sansa that won this war and not Jon. Having been exposed to Ramsay and his sick games, Sansa knew their enemy better than Jon, and tried to warn him not to fall into any of Ramsay’s traps. Sure enough, Ramsay baited Jon into a trap by putting his little brother, Rickon, in between their armies, where Jon had the chance to ride out and save him. Sure enough, Jon Snow took the bait and fell into the trap. After a bloody and brutal battle, Jon and what was left of his army, was surrounded by the Bolton’s with death just moments away. Then, Sansa, Baelish and the Knights of the Vale appear, taking down the unsuspecting Bolton army. Ramsay retreats behind the walls of Winterfell, where he is eventually beaten by Jon Snow, before Sansa feeds him to the hounds.

There are a few very significant takeaways here leading into season seven. First and foremost, the Starks have reclaimed Winterfell and a good chunk of the North. They have gotten many of the Northern houses to pledge their allegiance, an effort that was led by the young Lyanna Mormont. In the final episode, Jon was hailed as the King in the North, much the same as his older brother Robb was years before. However, unlike Robb who faced battling an army of men, Jon knows all too well that there is an impending war against the dead, and the North will be the first line of defense in protecting the rest of the realm against the darkness that is coming.

Another important takeaway is the relationship between Sansa and Jon and the role that Baelish will play in the near future. Sansa could have told Jon that she had written Baelish and secured the Knights of the Vale, but she chose not to. Through all the traumatic experiences she has endured (Joffrey, Ramsay, Baelish, etc), she has become wiser and learned to play the game. She trusts nobody, not even her own blood, and would not let herself be vulnerable as she has been so many times before. The Knights of the Vale were her last line of defense — her safety net — and she would not tell anybody about this, not even Jon. Although they reclaimed Winterfell, Sansa did not appear too pleased that Jon was being hailed the new King in the North, and she had subtle interactions with Baelish which alluded to the fact that she may have other plans in mind. Those plans could include joining Baelish on his quest for the Iron Throne. When Sansa finally asked Baelish the question we’ve all been wondering — what exactly it is that he wants — he finally came right out and told her that he wants “everything there is,” including to marry her and rule over the Iron Throne together. Keep an eye on Baelish’s role as he has been a master manipulator behind the scenes and still likely has a few tricks up his sleeve.

BRAN KNOWS R+L=J

On the topic of Jon Snow and the Starks, the season six finale had arguably the biggest reveal in Thrones history, though many had seen this coming for quite some time. That reveal is a simple equation: R + L = J, short for Rhaegar (Targaryen) + Lyanna (Stark) = Jon Snow, the theory that Rhaegar and Lyanna were Jon’s biological parents. In the final episode, we witnessed one of the most famous scenes from the books — The Tower of Joy — and learned what Ned Stark found out 20+ years ago. What is most interesting is that it is Bran that found out the true identity of his brother, and not Jon Snow himself.

After the three-eyed-raven that had been guiding Bran dies and Bran is told he now must become the raven, Bran’s vision takes him to the Tower of Joy, where the younger Ned ascends the tower to find his sister Lyanna, bloody and dying. After many years of hearing about Lyanna, we finally get to see her. Before she passes, she tells Ned that he must take her baby and protect him. If they figure out who he really is (a Targaryen), they will kill him, she says.

First, we now understand that Ned raised Jon to be his own, even though he in fact was not. This point backs to the nobility of Ned’s character and what a great man he was. So much so, that he made up a story which reduced his character, claiming that he had a relation with a whore who gave birth to the bastard Jon Snow. Of course, when you consider Ned’s character, this story never made any sense, as his defining characteristic was his morality. What’s more, his wife Catelyn always resented Ned for this, and every time she saw Jon Snow, she was reminded of this “affair” that Ned had. She hated Jon Snow because of something that never actually happened. In reality, none of it was true. Ned never had an affair and Jon wasn’t a bastard. But Ned had to protect Jon Targaryen. If anybody found out he was Targaryen, especially Robert Baratheon, he would have likely been killed.

So, looking back, it’s pretty powerful to think of everything Ned did to protect Jon Snow. But, looking forward, there’s even more to consider. First, like we said, Jon is a Targaryen. Moreover, he’s half Stark as well, which is quite genetic makeup, arguably the two greatest families. He could be the link between uniting the strength of the North with the power of his Aunt Khaleesi and her Targaryen bloodline. Yes, Khaleesi is Jon’s aunt (her older brother, Rhaegar, was Jon’s father). And perfect timing as Khaleesi is headed to Westeros with her dragons and all. Naturally, this begs the question of when Jon will find out who he is and what type of union might follow between Khaleesi and Jon.

ARYA

Sticking with the Starks, Arya went through quite a journey in season six, and seems to have emerged as the person she will be for the final stretch of the story. For what seemed like an eternity, Arya trained to become nobody. She was instructed that in order to become nobody and learn to become a Faceless Man, she would have to strip herself of her identity as Arya Stark. She spent years in brutal training, only to realize in the end, that she was Arya Stark. If you think about the transformation, it feels like a waste of time, but then again maybe Jaqen H’ghar was pushing her to become nobody in the hopes that it would actually make her somebody — Arya Stark — and a stronger version of that somebody.

Having now reclaimed her identity and appearing stronger than ever (not to mention trained in the ways of the Faceless Men), Arya appears back on Westeros and crosses another name off her list. She slits the throat of Walder Frey, the man responsible for a good chunk of the Red Wedding that killed her brother Robb and mother Cat. What’s next for Arya is anybody’s guess. Now that she’s in the Riverlands of Westeros, she’s not terribly far from Sansa or Jon, and with Winterfell reclaimed, perhaps she’ll go reunite with her siblings. Or, even better yet, perhaps she’ll reunite with the Hound, who is also not far away. Which takes us to…

THE HOUND

After Arya leaves the Hound for dead in the finale of season four, I was heartbroken. Not just because the Hound was my favorite character, but because the bond that had developed between these two characters was unlike any other, and I couldn’t believe it was coming to an end. So I refused to believe the Hound was dead, and 17 episodes later, it was magical to learn that the Hound was still alive! He had fallen in with a small religious village and living a simple life, removed from the violence with which we have come to associate him.

That quickly changed though as a few rogue members of the Brotherhood Without Banners slay the village. The Hound eventually catches up with them as they are being held by the leaders of the Brotherhood Without Banners, Thoros of Myr and Beric Dondarrion, whom we had also not seen for several seasons. In the end, they grant the Hound his wish of killing these murderers, and the Hound agrees to join them in their mission. It is interesting to see the Hound join Thoros and Beric, as these were the very men he fought in a trial-by-combat many seasons prior. Worth noting, in that trial-by-combat, he killed Beric, though Beric was quickly brought back to life by the Red Priest, Thoros. We know that Thoros has been able to bring Beric back many times before, once again demonstrating that the Lord of Light does in fact have true power, and also highlighting the importance of the role that Beric, Thoros and likely the Hound will have to play in the coming episodes.

KHALEESI & CO.

So after five seasons of wandering through the desert and freeing a bunch of slaves, my least favorite story line, Khaleesi’s, finally advanced to where we all had hoped it would. But before we dive into that, let’s quickly recap the squad that she has assembled overt he years. Khaleesi has Grey Worm, in command of 8,000 Unsullied soldiers and Daario Naharis, in command of 2,000 Second Sons soldiers. On top of that, she has thousands of Dothraki soldiers that she won over after defeating the Khals and walking through fire. Her original advisers, Ser Barristan Selmy and Ser Jorah Mormont are both gone, with the former dead and the latter banished to find a cure for his greyscale disease. In their place, Khaleesi has received new counsel in the form of Tyrion and Varys. Tyrion has quickly become Khaleesi’s most trusted and wisest adviser, and in the finale episode, she names him Hand of the Queen. Khaleesi also has Missandei, who has has a slow-developing romance with Grey Worm, which has seemed like a waste of time, but could impact things as they unfold.

Adding to this crew that she had for most of season six, Khaleesi strikes a pact with Yara and Theon of House Greyjoy. Yara and Theon pledge their allegiance to Khaleesi and promise her their support and 100+ ships, if she will allow them lordship over the Iron Islands when she sits upon the Throne. Khaleesi agrees, but explains something very powerful: they will leave the world a better place than they found it. This means that the Ironborn will not be able to go back to their savage ways of raiding the mainland, stealing, raping and pillaging. Yara reminds Khaleesi that this is their way of life, but Khaleesi does not budge on her terms. She also reminds them that all three of their fathers (the Mad King, Lord Tywin and Balon Greyjoy) were ruthless men who brought much evil into the world. The parallels that were drawn between the previous rulers of their powerful houses and the next generation of rulers is very important to consider.

What’s more is that this scene is a direct allusion to Aegon Targaryen and his Conquest of the Seven Kingdoms, during which he made very similar pacts with the powerful houses of Westeros. Like Khaleesi did, he granted them lordship and autonomy over their regions of Westeros, so long as they pledged their allegiance to him — the new Targaryen king that would unite all of Westeros for the first time. Those who refused ultimately suffered catastrophic losses, while those who bent the knee (House Stark, House Tully, House Greyjoy, etc) were allowed to live in peace and oversee their lands and smaller-houses autonomously. 300 years later, Khaleesi is once again striking similar pacts as Aegon Targaryen did before her.

But back to the Greyjoys for a minute — it is important to remember that the reason Yara and Theon struck this alliance with Khaleesi is because they are on the run from Euron Greyjoy — their uncle who killed their father and is now on the quest for power. From what we’ve seen of him, and what the books have also described, he is a crazy man that will do anything to achieve what he wants. It will be interesting to see what alliances he forms, and one can only guess that he may join up with the Khaleesi’s number one enemy — Cercei and the Lannisters.

And if 3 dragons, tens of thousands of soldiers, and a new fleet of ships is not enough power for Khaleesi to storm Westeros, let’s not forget that it looks like she will also be backed by two more very powerful houses — House Martell and House Tyrell. In the finale of season six, we see Lady Olenna meeting with the Sand Snakes (who have recently killed Prince Doran and taken control of Dorne), telling them that all she has left in this world is the opportunity to avenge the deaths of her son, Mace Tyrell, and grandchildren, Margaery and Loras. She has come to the right place, as the Sand Snakes too have longed wanted revenge against the Lannisters for the role they played in murdering several Martells.

As a refresher, during Robert’s Rebellion, after the Mad King was overthrown, Tywin Lannister ordered The Mountain to kill any remaining Targaryens in King’s Landing. At the time, Prince Rhaegar (The Mad King’s son/Khaleesi’s oldest brother) had been wed to Elia Martell (The Red Viper/Prince Doran’s sister) and had two babies, which were half Martell and half Targaryen. Following Tywin’s orders, The Mountain raped and killed Elia Martell, before killing her two babies. House Martell has wanted revenge against House Lannister for many years, and most recently, The Red Viper had a chance to avenge these deaths when he battled The Mountain in Tyrion’s trial-by-combat. Unfortunately, he lost and was killed by the Mountain, only furthering the revenge that the Sand Snakes and House Martell seek against the Lannisters.

So, Lady Olenna, representing House Tyrell, the largest and arguably most powerful/wealthy house in Westeros today, is banding together with the Martells in their quest for revenge. Conveniently, Lord Varys joins the scene offering “fire and blood” if they join Khaleesi, who also wants revenge against the Lannisters. Assuming they join her cause, Khaleesi now not only has dragons, a fleet of ships and likely the largest army in the world, but also backing from two of the most powerful houses in Westeros (and partial backing from a third, House Greyjoy). It’s hard to imagine that anybody will be able to stop her.

SAM TARLY AND THE CITADEL

In the final episode of last season, Sam Tarly arrives at the city of Oldtown which is the second largest city in all of Westeros, and by far the oldest, dating back thousands of years. The most important feature of Oldtown is that it is the home of the Citadel, where the ancient Order of the Maestars train and study to become wise scholars. So, what is the significance of Sam finally arriving to the legendary Citadel? Well, for starters, we know that the Citadel houses tens of thousands of books which cover the history of the known world. We see the massive library that Sam walks into and it is magical to consider the rich detail of the history of the world that is contained inside those books.

In the war that is to come against darkness and death, humanity will certainly need to band together. But having a chance to win this war will require more than just soldiers — it will require wisdom and knowledge. This is likely where Sam will come into play. First, we already know that Sam killed a White Walker back in season three, using the Dragonglass that he found. Not only does this make Sam one of the very few humans alive to have killed a White Walker, but it provides him with the knowledge that Dragonglass can be used to kill the White Walkers. He will likely be able to use this knowledge, and other wisdom that he’ll need to discover from the Citadel, in order to support Jon Snow and the rest of humanity in their battle against the White Walkers. There was another very interesting reveal in the finale episode last season regarding Sam and the Citadel, and what we might have seen when he entered the library — you can read more about that here.

THE BIG PICTURE

As this recap comes to a close and we’ve recapped where things left off in season six, let’s quickly look forward to “the big picture” and the stage that has been set for season seven. The biggest takeaway is that many smaller sides are coming together to form larger alliances, and we are likely to witness some very big battles this season — bigger than anything we’ve seen to date. In the past, there were so many different games being played by so many different players. There were fights for land, houses, religion, and of course the Iron Throne. But now, as we approach the end, these smaller and less significant games will all start to come together, as will the players involved. And, as this recap has more or less outlined, we can already see the teams that are coming together.

The biggest battle that seems imminent is that between Cercei, who holds the Iron Throne, and Khaleesi, who is coming for it. With her, Khaleesi will likely be joined by houses Tyrell, Martell and part of Greyjoy. On her side, Cercei will have the power of the Lannister army, possibly the other half of House Greyjoy (if Euron joins with Cercei) and likely some other players that will join Cercei’s fight to keep the Targaryens away from the Iron Throne. In short, most of the great houses of Westeros have picked sides and a massive battle is in store.

In the North, Jon Snow is rebuilding his own northern fleet and gaining the backing of many northern houses. It will be interesting to see what role he and the North play in the battle that will take part in the south, and if they get involved at all, or solely focus on the larger war that he knows is coming — the war against death and darkness.

There are of course tons of other players to consider and it will be great to see how they pick sides, as it seems inevitable that eventually, as the many games narrow down to just one or two, everybody will have to choose a side.

OTHER THINGS TO KEEP AN EYE ON

As we know, Thrones and it’s story arc is quite detailed and intricate. Characters and plot-points are sometimes introduced in certain episode, and then not touched upon again until many episodes, or even seasons later.There have been countless instances of this, and it is this depth of plot development that is so unique to Thrones. So, as we come into the home stretch with just 13 episodes left to go, you can bet that we are going to have a bunch of “Aha! moments” where something from a long while ago, that we probably forgot about, comes back into focus. So here are some interesting tidbits to keep your eye on:

  • Gendry, who we’ve not seen in many seasons, could turn out to be a very significant character that will reemerge at some point in the near future. We have not seen Gendry since Lady Melisandre and Stannis held him prisoner in the third season so that Melisandre could use his King’s Blood (remember, he is the son of King Robert Baratheon). After Melisandre convinced Stannis that they must execute Gendry as a sacrifice to the Lord of Light, Davos undermines their efforts and sets Gendry free. Gendry took off in a small row boat, never to be seen again. But here’s what we know. First, Gendry has King’s Blood which is in important. Second, Ser Davos went through a lot of trouble and risked his life to save Gendry, so it probably wasn’t for us to never see Gendry again. Third, and arguably most important, with the recent death of Tommen (who was actually a Baratheon), Gendry is officially the last living Baratheon that we know of. When the show started, House Baratheon was one of the most powerful, with many important players (Robert, Stannis, Renly, etc). Historically, House Baratheon has been one of the most powerful houses for hundreds of years. Yet today, it has become all but extinct. Enter Gendry, the last living Baratheon who represents the possibility of reviving this once powerful house. And yet, there is one more very interesting tidbit about Gendry to consider. We were first introduced to Gendry as a bastard boy who was the apprentice to Tobho Mott. Before coming to King’s Landing and serving as a master blacksmith, Tobho Mott was originally from Qohor (in Essos), a city that is famed for producing blacksmiths that are masters in forging Valyrian steel. In an early episode, while in King’s Landing, it is mentioned that Tobho has the ability to reforge Valyrian steel. Though we never saw him do it, and it was only touched upon for a brief moment, it is entirely reasonable to consider that Tobho may have passed on this ancient skill to his apprentice, Gendry. If that is the case, Gendry would be one of the few men alive with the knowledge and ability to forge Valyrian steel, which makes him all the more significant as Valyrian steel weapons will be needed to defeat the White Walkers in the coming war.

  • Jorah Mormont is another character that is out there somewhere, though we haven’t seen him in some time and can’t be sure what he’s up to. We’ve not seen him since midway through the sixth season, at which point Khaleesi ordered him to find a cure for his greyscale, so that he can stand beside her as she retakes the Seven Kingdoms. There are some definite question marks here around whether or not he’ll be able to find a cure and whether he’ll ever reunite with Khaleesi. There is another intriguing scenario to consider — the distinct possibility that he somehow makes it back to Westeros and House Mormont, which is currently being led by the young Lyanna Mormont. Since Lyanna has pledged her support to Jon Snow/House Stark, if this did happen, Jorah could end up aligning with Jon Snow. This would be particularly powerful as Jon Snow was trained by Jorah’s father, Lord Commander Mormont, and fights with Longclaw, the Lord Commander’s Valyrian steel sword, which he gave to Jon because with Jorah banished from Westeros, he had no heir to pass it onto. It’s a very interesting scenario to consider.

  • The Prince That Was Promised: You can read more about The Prince That Was Promised here, but in short, 8,000 years ago the Long Night came, which is regarded as the longest winter ever known to man — one that brought cold and darkness to an entire generation. During the Long Night, the White Walkers came from the deep North and nearly pushed humanity to extinction. A great battle took place, led by the legendary warrior, Azor Ahai, who fought with a flaming sword called Lightbringer. Azor Ahai fought back the White Walkers, at which point the Wall was built to prevent them from ever invading again. When Azor Ahai died, it was prophesized that at some time in the future, the White Walkers would come again, and Azor Ahai would be reincarnated as the Prince That Was Promised, to once again lead the fight against darkness. Since the beginning of the show, Lady Melisandre believed Stannis was the Prince That Was Promised and destined to fight back the White Walkers, but she turned out to be wrong about that. Since then, some have thought Jon Snow to be the Prince That Was Promised, while others have noted it could be Khaleesi. Whether or not the show will definitively answer this is TBD, but it’s an interesting theory to keep your eye on.

  • Speaking of Lady Melisandre, there are some rather large question marks surrounding her and what role she might play in the future. Having once believed Melisandre was an all-knowing priestess who could interpret the words of the Lord of Light, she revealed herself last season to actually be an old decrepit woman, who has masked her appearance through the use of her potions and elixirs. She has shown clear powers many times, whether it was the ability to birth the shadow that killed Renly Baratheon or her ability to resurrect Jon Snow, but she was also wrong many times, particularly about all the faith she put into Stannis. After being banished from the North by Jon Snow for sacrificing Princess Shireen, where will Melisandre surface and what role will she play in the final hours of this story?

  • To say Direwolves are important to this story would be an understatement. After all, it was the very first episode of this series when the Starks found the six Direwolf pups, one for each child. Sadly, four of the six have been killed throughout the years. But, the good news is that there are still two living Stark wolves, one of which we have not seen since the first season!  Jon’s wolf, Ghost, is the only one that has been in the picture recently. But, Nymeria, Arya’s wolf, we have not seen since midway through the very first season. After Cercei ordered Nymeria to be executed for biting Joffrey, Arya set Nymeria free so they could not execute her (instead, they executed Sansa’s wolf, Lady). With Arya back in Westeros, and very close to the place where she originally set Nymeria free, it is worth keeping your eye out for the possibility of Arya and Nymeria being reunited.

  • Benjen Stark is also out there somewhere. After disappearing north of the Wall in season one, most of us probably forgot about Benjen altogether, and it was not until five years later, in season six, that Benjen makes a surprise return. Benjen aided Bran and Meera on their journey north of the Wall, but had to part ways once they passed south of the Wall, as he explained the Wall had ancient magic preventing the dead from passing through (thus also revealing that he is technically dead). Benjen is particularly significant because he is Ned’s brother, and thus the closest thing any of the Stark children have left to a parent. The fact that he is half-dead and has knowledge of fighting the White Walkers reveal that he will likely play a role in the war that is to come.

  • What did Varys hear in the flames? This is another important question that has been touched upon a few times throughout the seasons, most recently last season when Tyrion and Varys are visited by Kinvara, the High Red Priestess of Volantis. She asks Varys if he remembers what he heard from the flames and who the voice was that he heard, the night that he was mutilated. She is referring to what Varys revealed in an earlier season when he told the story of how he was drugged by a sorcerer when he was a small boy. As he lay helpless and paralyzed, the sorcerer castrated him and tossed his “parts” into the fire. Varys recalls hearing a voice call out to him from the flames, but adds that he was drugged and in much pain, so he could not make out what he heard. Many seasons later, this resurfaces when Kinvara visits them and tells them that she will spread the word that Khaleesi is the one who was promised (alluding to her belief that Khaleesi is the Prince That Was Promised), and the one who will fight back the darkness with her dragons. Varys is skeptical of Kinvara, as he is generally skeptical and averse to “blood magic” due to what happened to him as a child. He challenges Kinvara, noting the other Red Priestess, Melisandre, had said something similar of Stannis but was wrong. Kinvara responds to Varys, and asks “Do you remember what you heard that night? You heard a voice call out from the flames, do you remember? Should I tell you what the voice said? Should I tell you the name of the one who spoke?” Is it possible that Varys heard the voice of the Lord of Light when he was just a small boy, and has been unknowingly serving the Lord of Light ever since? It’s hard to imagine what he actually heard, but clearly it was something important, and could be something we find out in the coming episodes.

SEASON 6, EPISODE 5: THE DOOR

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

wylis

If season five ended here and now, I could wait until next season, fully satisfied with what I’ve gotten from this season thus far. More accurately, I would be fully content with what I got from the fifth episode, entitled The Door.

There were a number of reasons that I started this blog a few years back, but the number one reason was my fascination with the Thrones world that took place long before the time in history at which the show starts. The books touched upon so much of this rich history, which dates back over 12,000 years, and includes incredibly fascinating backstories of things such as the First Men to inhabit Westeros, the Children of the Forest whom they encountered, the founding of the Night’s Watch, and so much more (to learn more about this history, refer to this timeline I created which offers context of just how far the history of this world goes). I wanted to create a blog that offered viewers a bit more insight into this incredible history, which ultimately adds context to the show we are watching today, making it more enjoyable and hopefully, more meaningful. As much as I enjoy the story that is unfolding in present day, I have always been much more fascinated with questions about things that happened thousands of years ago, way before any of what we are seeing today. For that reason, I’ve really enjoyed Bran’s flashbacks as they’ve offered a window into significant events that predate the story we are watching today. But most of his flashbacks have been to relatively recent events that have occurred within the past 20-30 years. That all changed with this episode, as Bran flashes back more than 8,000 years ago to witness the creation of the very first White Walker. Yes, you heard that right — eight thousand years ago to witness the first White Walker being created. My mind was blown, and as far as Thrones is concerned, I could die a happy man. But there was a hell of a lot more that we found out in this episode, so let’s get into it.

SANSA & BAELISH

At the Wall, Sansa receives a raven from Littlefinger and she travels to Mole’s Town to meet him. But things are quite different from the last time they were together. Sansa is no longer the vulnerable and naive child who foolishly put her trust in Baelish to keep her safe. She is now a woman that is all too aware to the evils of the world, thanks to Ramsay, whom she was given to by Baelish. As she confronts Baelish, Sansa forces him to recognize the things that Ramsay has done to her — things that she can still feel today — not just in her heart — but things she can still physically feel. Sansa forces Baelish to guess the things Ramsay has done to her — in a way, forcing him to acknowledge and own the terrible things that he is responsible for her. At minimum, Baelish is terribly uncomfortable, not only by the position Sansa has put him in, but also in the fact that for once, he no longer has the manipulative upper hand in the situation he finds himself. Even more, Baelish may actually feel bad about what has happened to Sansa, and perhaps he truly did not know what Ramsay was capable of — but we never really know where the line between truth and lies starts and ends with each word that comes out of Baelish’s mouth, which is of course the genius of his character as a whole.

In any event, it was satisfying to see Sansa’s strength in forcing Baelish to acknowledge what he had done, and also that Sansa no longer has any illusions about who Baelish really is (even though we, as viewers, are still trying to figure that one out). Before he departs, he drops one pretty sizable bomb — Brynden Tully aka Blackfish, is not only alive, but has raised an army to retake the Tully stronghold of Riverrun. Last we saw Blackfish was in the third season, during the infamous Red Wedding episode. Just before the doors of the wedding hall were locked shut and the Red Wedding massacre began, Blackfish stepped outside to use the bathroom. We never saw what happened to him, but clearly he escaped and has been able to raise an army to retake Riverrun. Well, at least according to Littlefinger.

If true, this is a huge reveal, as it presents another ally that can join the Sansa/Jon Snow alliance in their quest to retake Winterfell. And even though we never got to see too much of him from the show, Blackfish is a pretty badass character, so it would be great to see him back in action. Sansa decides to send Brienne to seek him out, fearing that a raven could be intercepted by Ramsay. Meanwhile, Jon Snow has proposed trying to win the support of the 10-12 other smaller houses of the North, who Sansa believes will support their cause. After all, the North remembers. (One interesting tidbit to note is that one of these smaller northern houses that Jon Snow named was House Mormont. Perhaps the timing will work such as that Jorah returns back to Westeros to find his cure, just in time to unite with the Starks).

THE FACELESS MEN

Arya continues her training to join the ranks of the Faceless Men, but she is still questioned and told that she is not one of them. In another juicy historical reference, Jaqen tells Arya that the Faceless Men date back many thousands of years ago and that they came from the mines of Old Valyria (the same place dragons were discovered). After fleeing Valyria, the Faceless Men founded Braavos, and much like the elusive nature of the Faceless Men, Braavos was a hidden city, completely disguised from the rest of the world, until it revealed itself only a few hundred years ago.

Jaqen tasks Arya, or better yet a girl with no name, with killing a woman that serves as an actress in a local play. When Arya goes to scout her target, she stumbles upon a reinterpretation of the death of Robert Baratheon, the rise of King Joffrey and the beheading of Ned Stark. Whereas she was forced to look away when Ned was actually beheaded, this time she was forced to face it head-on (no pun intended). No doubt, this was a test of who she really is, and if she is truly just a girl with no name, then watching this should not have bothered her. She is able to get past what she sees without much emotion, and decides that she will execute her victim by poisoning her rum. Yet still, she notes to Jaqen that she seemed like a decent woman and asks questions about who wants her killed. Jaqen tells her that servants do not ask questions and that the price has already been paid — raising a separate set of questions about what that price was and who paid it.

THE FIRST WHITE WALKER

No big deal, Bran flashes back 8,000 years ago to see the Children of the Forest huddled around an ancient weirwood tree. But that’s not all he sees. A man is tied up to the tree, and one of the Children inserts what appears to be dragon-glass into his chest, taking his life and creating the very first White Walker. Since day one, if any of you are like me, you’ve been wondering how the hell these White Walkers came to be in the first place, and what exactly they are. And just like that, we got an answer — and a completely amazing answer at that. The fact that the Children of the Forest created the White Walkers is totally twisted and ironic and amazing all at the same time.

children killing

As a quick refresher, the Children of the Forest were a magical humanoid species that lived peacefully on Westeros, namely in the forests from which they derived their magic and power. About 12,000 years ago, the First Men traveled from Easteros to Westeros, becoming the first humans to inhabit Westeros. For 2,000 years, they warred with the Children of the Forest, destroying their forests and nearly pushing them to the brink of extinction. Eventually, the Pact was signed, which brought thousands of years of peace and prosperity between the Children and the First Men. But before this would happen, in an effort to save their species, the Children used their magic to create the first White Walker. Presumably, the White Walkers were used by the Children to fight back the First Men, and at some point, things went terribly wrong and the White Walkers became their own evil order.

eyes night king

It is ironic to consider that the Children of the Forest created the first White Walker to fight off man, only for the man to eventually band with the Children to fight off the White Walkers (most notably, during the Long Night, when the White Walkers nearly pushed all life to extinction). That aside, it was just amazing to get to see the creation of the very first White Walker, who we assume to the Night King that we see today. That the Children used dragon-glass to kill the human and create the White Walker would also explain their present-day vulnerability to dragon-glass. As Thrones so often does, this reveleation also forces us to reconsider our previous notions about the Night King, whom we perceived to be the embodiment of pure and absolute evil. However, after this scene, we actually realize that the Night King was in fact once a human, and in this scene, even appeared to be an innocent one. There is always more than meets the eye, and the Night King very well may have once been a good and just human. Separately, it was also interesting to see that the tree the Children used to kill the man and create the first White Walker, is the very same tree where the White Walkers and their army are camped presently, which we see in Bran’s second vision. And the spiral rocks we see at the tree of the Children, is a similar pattern that we saw used by the White Walkers in season three (photos further in this post).

THE IRON ISLANDS

We often forget that the Iron Islands are one of the Seven Kingdoms, and undoubtedly will have an important role to play in what is to come, but we were reminded of this tonight. A Kingsmoot is taking place, which is their semi-democratic process by which a new king is selected to lead the Iron Islands. Yara declares herself to be the first queen of the Iron Islands, and when it is pointed out that Theon would be the rightful heir over Yara, he steps up and delivers a passionate speech about why Yara would be the best leader. Notice that his hair is short again, his beard gone, and he is back in the armor of the Iron Islands — in short, pretty much all signs of Reek appear to be gone.

theon

Before Yara can be selected, Euron, Balon’s brother and their uncle, steps forward to declare himself king. Even more, he openly admits to killing Balon, and justifies it by noting that Balon was leading them nowhere at all. He tells the Islanders that he’s sailed all around the world and knows what’s out there. His campaign platform is to sail to Easteros, join up with Khaleesi, and offer her the strong fleet of ships that she has desperately needed to arrive to Westeros. Not a bad plan, kind of makes sense (minus the part about him fucking her, she probably won’t be down with that part). And like that, the Islanders are won over, and Euron receives the Iron Island version of a baptism as a ritual ceremony to officially become king.

While this is going on, Theon and Yara flee the scene along with some of their best men, and steal a handful of the best ships. It’s good thing they did, because Euron’s first words when he regains consciousness are to kill Theon and Yara. But, they’re long gone and Euron demands that all of the Iron Islands get to work to build 1,000 ships. It will be interesting to see where Theon and Yara are headed, and also whether or not Euron will follow through in his attempt to provide Khaleesi with the fleet of ships she has been waiting for. One other item worth noting is that the priest on the Iron Islands with the long grey hair who oversees the Kingsmoot — that’s Aeron Greyjoy — the other brother of Balon and Euron, and also uncle to Theon and Yara. In the books, he plays a central role in determining who the next king will be. In the show, they’ve all but cut him out, and most viewers probably do not even realize that he is also a Greyjoy.

JORAH AND KHALEESI

Across the sea, Jorah stands before Khaleesi, who notes that she has exiled him twice, yet both times he returned to save her. She cannot keep him, but she also cannot command that he leaves. But he will make her decision easier, as he reveals his greyscale and tells her that he will be leaving her for good. But not before finally confessing his love for her. Khaleesi shows great emotion, and commands him to find a cure for his disease, so that he can return to her side and help her rule over Westeros. It was a powerful moment, and a reminder that Jorah has been by her side since the beginning (even if as a spy for a short while). It will be interesting to see the journey that Jorah is taken on in an effort to find a cure. Recalling back to last season, Stannis told a story about his daughter Shireen, who also had greyscale, and noted that he had every doctor and maestar from across the world brought in to treat her. Finally, they were able to prevent the spreading of the disease which kept her alive. So, we do know that there is some sort of cure out there.

khaleesi

THE HIGH RED PRIESTESS

In Mereen, Tyrion proposes that they must find a way to spread the news that it is Khaleesi who is responsible for creating peace in the lands. They turn to the High Red Priestess, who proclaims that it is in fact Khaleesi who was the one that was born from the flames to save the world from darkness, so naturally she is willing to help. While Tyrion is glad to hear this, Varys is a bit more skeptical. He points out that another Red Priestess, Melisandre, had proclaimed that it was Stannis who was the savior. And though he doesn’t know it yet, as viewers, we know that Melisandre is now putting her faith in Jon Snow as the Prince That was Promised. So this kind of muddies the waters in terms of trying to figure out who the Prince That was Promised really is. The Red Priestess responds to Varys by telling him that there is still much that he does not know, and recalls the story of his mutilation, referencing a voice that spoke words as his parts were thrown into the fire. Varys face is taken by fear and wants no more part in this conversation, leaving us to wonder what those words were. Either way, at a time when some of us might have been doubting, the Lord of Light’s power and knowledge reemerges.

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HOLD THE DOOR…

Bran embarks upon another vision, this one taking him to the very same place as his previous vision, though this one takes place in modern day, whereas his first was thousands of years ago. The below photos reveal some very interesting tidbits. First, the tree that Bran visited where he saw the Children create the Night King (first photo below), appears to be the very same tree that Bran visits in his second vision when he sees the White Walkers (second photo below). Of course, in the second photo, it’s thousands of years later and winter has made the whole landscape cold and icy. But it’s interesting to consider that thousands of years later, the Night King holds his army of the dead at the very location where he himself was turned from a human to a White Walker by the Children. Going a step further, the third photo below shows a scene from season three, where Jon Snow and the Night’s Watch stumble upon a whole bunch of dead and mutilated horses in the deep north, left by the White Walkers. You will notice that the spiral pattern follows the spiral pattern found in the first two photos, which was a pattern created by the Children and used in their magical rituals. So, in some way, the Night King and his White Walkers are still referencing the Children, which created the White Walkers in the first place.

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Aerial view of  of Bran’s first flashback to the tree where the Children of the Forest created the first White Walker

tree night king

Aerial view of Bran’s second flashback. Thousands of years later, we see the White Walkers’s basecamp is the same location as where the Children created the first White Walker

Dead horses left by the White Walkers in a spiral configuration that matches the spiral of the Children

Dead horses left by the White Walkers in a spiral configuration that matches the spiral of the Children

As Bran journeys through the sea of wights, he arrives at the Night King and a few White Walkers. To his surprise, the Night King is able to see him, and eventually touches him. As he regains consciousness, we see the mark on his arm, showing that what happens in his visions can have very real effects on his present-day life. The Three Eyed Raven tells him that the Night King can now find him, and that they must leave right away. But before they can pack up shop and get out of dodge, the Night King and his army are at the door of the cave and moving in quickly. The Children dispatch their firebombs and eventually set a ring of fire around the entrance, a very literal depiction of the battle between Ice and Fire that has already begun.Screenshot 2016-05-22 at 11.37.31 PMMeera runs back to get Bran, but he’s in another vision, this time back at Winterfell, looking at his grandfather, father and uncle, with Wylis (aka Hodor) in the background. All hell is breaking loose underneath the tree, as Meera, the Children and Summer (Bran’s wolf) try to fight off the wights. They fend off the first few, and Meera even kills a White Walker, which was pretty awesome. Sadly, Summer dies, leaving just Ghost and Nymeria (wolves of Jon Snow and Arya, even though we haven’t seen Arya’s in many seasons) as the only Stark wolves still alive. The death of Summer has both literal and metaphorical meaning; literal in the sense that Bran’s wolf Summer actually dies, and a deeper metaphorical significance in showing that summer really is over. No longer can we say winter is coming… Winter is here.

Hodor needs to help get Bran out of there, but is in one of his Hodor freak-outs, perhaps sensing his imminent death. Meera shakes Bran and shouts for him to wake up, and Bran begins to hear Meera’s voice, even though he is in a totally different time and place. He hears her tell him to warg into Hodor, and he does so, taking over Hodor’s body and helping to drag Bran’s body down a long tunnel leading to an exit. What is significant to note is that Bran was now occupying several consciousnesses; not only was he himself in his vision, but at the same time, he was also controlling Hodor’s consciousness — something we’ve never seen before.

Meanwhile, the Night King finds the Three Eyed Raven, and strikes him down, but not before the Three Eyed Raven tells Bran that it is time for Bran to become him. And just like that, the Three Eyed Raven that had been waiting thousands of years and watching Bran all his life, is now gone, adding even more pressure to what Bran must become. And as if all of this wasn’t enough — the flashbacks to the Children of the Forest, seeing the creation of the first White Walker, Bran seeing the White Walkers in his vision etc etc, the show takes us for one more final, but tragically sad turn, as we learn how Hodor became Hodor.

As they escape the cave and Meera drags Bran’s body as quickly as she can, she shouts over and over “hold the door!” to Hodor. At the same time, although actually many decades earlier, young Hodor appears to see Bran in his vision, and can also clearly hear Meera shouting “hold the door,”even though this event would not in fact take place for another 30-40 years. But the damage was done. Thanks to Bran, Wylis was experiencing his own future death, and a terrible death at that. He falls into a seizure, shouting “hold the door” over and over again, as his consciousness goes into present day Hodor to experience his own death as he is ripped to shreds by an army of the dead. What we then realize is that Hodor has been experiencing his own death ever since that moment, affecting him so greatly that he’s only ever been able to say “Hodor,” a variation of the words that would change him forever — “hold the door.” All at once, we learn the cause of Hodor’s condition, watch his excruciatingly painful death and realize the sad fact that Bran was responsible for both.

hodor

There were a few very key takeaways from this part of the story. First, there is a massive amount of pressure on Bran’s shoulders at this point. At the end of last season, Jojen Green (Meera’s brother) died to keep Bran alive. In this episode alone, Children of the Forest and the Three Eyed Raven, all of whom were thousands of years old, give their lives for Bran. Not to mention, Bran’s wolf, Summer dies to protect him, as does Hodor. Whatever role he is to play in the impending war can be nothing less than huge, after all the people that have died in recognizing the importance of keeping him alive. Speaking of which, let’s recall that in the finale episode two season ago, the Three Eyed Raven told Bran that he will never again walk, but he will fly. With Hodor, Bran’s primary source of transportation, now gone, we have to wonder how Bran will get around, and if he’ll start to use his warg abilities in a greater way.

The other thing I found amazing, albeit in a sad way, is how George R.R. Martin, through incredibly powerful storytelling, was able to make us feel deep emotion for a character we’ve otherwise probably never felt anything at all. After all, Hodor was the goofy oaf who literally spoke only one word — “Hodor.” There was no depth to his character, no real emotion and overall not much for us as viewers to really connect to. If there was one character on the show that you could cast off without thinking twice about, it probably would’ve been him — he just didn’t really offer much — he was just Hodor.

But in the course of just three minutes, that all completely changed, as we abruptly learn the cause of Hodor’s condition in the past, while also watching him die in the present…all at the same time. And that was the beauty of it — the fact that we watched present day Hodor dying at the very same time he was experiencing his own future death as a kid. We now understood that Hodor had been bearing a tremendous weight his entire life — knowing that he would eventually die, being ripped to shreds by the wights. But, we only learn this as we actually watch his death come to fruition, making this sad realization so much more impactful. That one word — Hodor — all of a sudden took on such meaning, as we realize each time he says Hodor, he is referencing the event in which his life will come to an end. The (sad) beauty about how George R.R. Martin chose to reveal this was by delivering that revelation at the same time as his death, forcing viewers to take it all in at once, making it such a tragic death. Poor Hodor, RIP.

Season 6, Episode 1: The Red Woman

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

FAITH HAS BEEN LOST

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

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

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

YES, HE’S DEAD

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

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

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

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

DAVOS & THE OTHERS

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

davos

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

THE RED (AND VERY OLD) WOMAN

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

mel old

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

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

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

mel 2mel 3

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

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

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

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

SNAKES IN THE SAND

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

doran

US AGAINST THE WORLD

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

jaime

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

THE BOLTONS

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

SANSA, THEON, BRIENNE & POD

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

sansa theon

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

KHALEESI

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

khaleesi

MEREEN

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

BLIND IN BRAAVOS

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

arya

THE TYRELLS & TOMMEN

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

PEOPLE AND PLACES TO KEEP AN EYE OUT FOR…

Bran & Rickon Stark

Baelish

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

SEASON 5, EPISODE 9: THE DANCE OF DRAGONS

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

FIRE, FIRE AND MORE FIRE

What was going to happen in the ninth episode – an episode we’ve come to know as the “something big is going to happen” episode. The ninth episode of the last three seasons were three of the biggest events ever seen — Season 2 was the Battle of Blackwater; Season 3 the Red Wedding and Season 4 the epic battle at the Wall – so what would happen in the ninth episode of season 5? We had gotten a major battle with the White Walkers the previous week, so it was safe to assume that we would not see epic battles in back to back weeks. But after all, it is the ninth episode, and with most plotlines having heated up in a major way, we would have to see some big things happen, right? That’s correct…And we did.

While we didn’t see any epic battle scenes, what we saw were some unbelievably powerful scenes and plot-twists; things that will forever change the future of this story and the destiny of each character. It’s tough to truly decide how I feel about this episode. It was an episode defined entirely by two major plot-points – Khaleesi flying through the sky on the back of her dragon – an allusion to the Targaryen kings and queens before her that rode their dragons for thousands of years; and Stannis burning his own daughter to give Melisandre the magic she needs to fight the impending darkness. These two events could not have been more diametrically opposed – the first was powerfully uplifting, giving us all the magical feeling that Khaleesi is taking her biggest step yet towards becoming the hero we all want her to be; the next is tragic and heartbreaking, a sweet and innocent girl being burned to death by her own father. And while it is tough to decide how I feel about this episode, one thing is for sure – it sent two characters, Stannis and Khaleesi, down a road that there is no coming back from.

There was also quite a lot of fire in this episode. The episode opened with Stannis’ camp being burned by Ramsey’s fire, progressed to Shireen being burned to death by fire and ended with Khaleesi’s dragon, Drogon, using fire to save her and kill off the Harpies. In the all-encompassing battle of Ice versus Fire, ice has represented the darkness and evil while fire has represented the light and good. But, what we began to see in this most recent episode is that perhaps there are no constants. Perhaps there is no one thing that is entirely good or entirely bad. Rather, it is the person or people that ultimately characterize whether something represents darkness or light, evil or goodness. This is of course an age-old theme, the idea that there is no singular good or bad in life, only the people whose actions bring goodness or evil into this world. Ramsey using fire to burn down a chunk of Stannis’ camp seemed evil, but that very same fire being used by Khaleesi’s dragon to fight off evil itself of course seemed good…And Melisandre’s fire used to kill Princess Shireen of course again seemed dark and evil. So in a Thrones world, where to date we’ve been taught to believe that ice singularly represents darkness and evil while fire singularly represents light and goodness, perhaps we are starting to see a departure towards the idea that while these entities do generally represent dark or light, it is ultimately the people and the way they use these things that will define good versus evil.

DESPERATE TIMES CALL FOR DESPERATE MEASURES

As the episode begins with the Red Priestess Lady Melisandre on screen, we should’ve all suspected that there was going to be quite a bit of fire play. Still, none of us could’ve imagined the terrible ways that this fire would be used. The scene begins with Lady Melisandre looking on as much of Stannis’ camp catches fire, burning horses, men and supplies alike. It is interesting to consider that we did not see Ramsey or any of his men – which leaves us to wonder how they got into Stannis’ camp in the first place? One thing is certain, Melisandre looked entirely calm as the fire around her blazed – almost as if she had expected this to happen. Perhaps this was the case – perhaps she saw a vision of this in her flames. Or, perhaps she was simply happy that this was happening, as she knew it would put Stannis in a more desperate position than ever before, increasing the likelihood that he would be willing to sacrifice his own daughter, something that Melisandre had suggested a couple episodes back. Either way, it again makes us question Melisandre and assess how we truly feel about her. To date, she has pretty much only spoken the truth; while other characters have been engaged in less significant games, she has been one of the few characters that has recognized the only game that matters – the fight against evil and darkness that is coming. So from that perspective, she seems to be one of the shows most credible characters, and perhaps she is simply willing to do what must be done in order to fight off the darkness that is coming. Yet still, there is a great suspicion to her character, one that makes us feel as though we really cannot trust her. And as her advice to sacrifice Shireen prevails, we certainly feel this way more than ever before.

Melisandre looks on as Shireen burns

Melisandre looks on as Shireen burns

So we arrive at perhaps the most tragic event that we’ve seen in five years of Thrones-watching, the death of Princess Shireen at the hands of her own father. Something we felt was coming as soon as Stannis commanded Davos to ride back to Castle Black as Stannis knew that Davos would not allow this to happen. And sadly, it almost appeared as if Davos was aware of what was to come and stopped by Shireen’s tent to say his final goodbye, thank her for teaching him to “become an adult,” and gave her a goodbye present. And then it happened and the death of Princess Shireen was heartbreaking on so many levels. It explored the extraordinarily painful theme of a child being betrayed by her own parents. As she screams on, begging for her mother or father to save her, she is entirely hopeless, as her should-be-saviors are the very ones sacrificing her life. It is tragic and heartbreaking to explore the idea of a parent, the person in this world that a child should be able to unconditionally turn to for saving, turning on their own child and putting them in this position in the first place. It was of course all the more painful because Shireen was as sweet and precious of a girl as they come. And there was of course a whole other level of pain that came with the idea that she was completely innocent and naive to what her father was planning on doing, as she says to Stannis, “I am Princess Shireen of House Baratheon and I want to do whatever I can to help you.” Little did she understand the dark irony that she could in fact help him, by sacrificing her own life, which was set to take place just moments later.

Shireen is tied up

Shireen is tied up

And while watching Shireen die a slow death was painful for all of the reasons above, it was made all the more painful by the way the show’s writers told this story. And I say the show’s writers, not George R.R. Martin, because this never happened in Martin’s story. And while the “Inside the Episode” states that George R.R. Martin communicated this plot-point to the show-runners, who then chose to include it in the episodes, the fact is that this event never happened in Martin’s books (yet). It was included in the show without having been in the books – something that has been happening more and more as the show goes on. At first, there were just minor changes that the show would introduce, maybe changing the name of a character here or needing to leave out a character there – this is of course to be expected when adapting books to TV. But in the last couple seasons, especially this most recent season, the show has gotten more and more gratuitous with the changes they’re making and the significant ways that they are deviating from the books. And if any of the purity from George R.R. Martin’s story is to be preserved, I truly hope that the show’s producers stop taking so many liberties with all the things they are changing – especially the addition of major plot-points that simply never happened in the books – such as the killing of Princess Shireen.

All that said, I am not upset simply because the show deviated from the books. Rather, I am upset because this deviation was bad storytelling coupled with the spoiling of one of Martin’s best characters in Stannis. At first, none of us liked Stannis – we weren’t supposed to. He was cold and stern and there was nothing endearing about him. His own brother Renley challenged his claim to the Throne on the basis that Stannis was so unlikable and wouldn’t inspire greatness to the world if he were to become king. Yet, as Martin ingeniously has accomplished with so many of his characters through his expert storytelling and mastery of character development, we began to warm up to Stannis. Not because he became any more likable or friendly, but because we began to see the good and honor in him. In a world where most characters lacked integrity or morals, Stannis lived by his…And was willing to die by them too if need be. And our love for Stannis was heightened exponentially earlier this season when we saw the love and emotion that he offered for his daughter as he told her of the way he saved her when she was born with Grayscale. When others wanted to discard of her, he refused to abandon her and found a way to save her. “You were the Princess Shireen of House Baratheon,” he said. “And you are my daughter.” In this rare show of emotion, Stannis was humanized and we fell in love with his character. Not only was he the most honorable man we knew, but he also had love and compassion inside of him too. And just a few episodes later, we see how much these words resonated with his daughter, and she repeats them back to Stannis in his time of need, telling him “I am Princess Shireen of House Baratheon and I want to help you.” Little did she know what her helping him would equate to.

Stannis and his wife look on as their daughter burns

And this is where the show’s producers making up this plot-point becomes really bad story telling and really hurts Stannis’ character at the same time. We loved Stannis after we learned that he fought to defend his daughter when she was a vulnerable baby needing the protection of a parent. But all of that goes right out the window, when just a few episodes later, he now chooses to tie her up and burn her to death. Well, in his eyes, he didn’t choose at all. As he spoke to Shireen just moments before her death, he tells her that sometimes a man has no choice at all, and can only do what he must to fulfill his fate. So, in his eyes, maybe he believed that he truly had no choice. Nonetheless, it renders irrelevant everything we learned just a few episodes back about Stannis saving Shireen when she was a baby. Which just makes it all bad storytelling. You don’t show viewers in episode five how much Stannis truly loved and cared for his daughter, if just four episodes later you are going to go back on this and show his willingness to completely betray and abandon her. It’s bad storytelling and is counterintuitive to the progression of his character that was being built. And I’m not sure which is worse.

The bad storytelling part of it is a pretty tough pill to swallow. But the way they undermined everything that was great about Stannis’ character is probably worse. George R.R. Martin had been so successful at building Stannis as the unlikable hero in a world of villains. Now, he’s just another villain. And perhaps one of the worst offenders, as it doesn’t get much worse than sacrificing your own daughter. It’s a line that shouldn’t have been crossed, especially when it was not a line that even existed in the original story penned by Martin. I bit my tongue when other lines were crossed with other made-up plot-points that never existed in the real story. When Ramsey raped Sansa a few episodes back and destroyed whatever ounce of innocence was left within her, again something that never happened in the books, I turned the other cheek. Even that had gone too far. Little did I know that just a few episodes later, the show would take it even further and entirely make up another plot-point that rips out the hearts of its viewers. I will never be able to look at Stannis the same way, which is heartbreaking in and of itself, since he is supposed to be one of the characters that I want to love.

THE MOTHER OF DRAGONS & KHALEESI’S NEW CREW

In Easteros, we see a season full of petty politics in Mereen come to a head as Khaleesi resides over the fighting arena that she has allowed to reopen, against her better judgment. As we knew was going to happen, Jorah comes out to fight for her and shows that he is willing to die for her as well. Though he nearly is defeated by two different fighters, Jorah eventually kills the Mereenese warrior before throwing a spear a good 50 yards through the heart of a Harpy that was sneaking up on Khaleesi (where were all her Unsullied??). And just like that, we see hundreds of Harpies emerge out of the crowd, committing a mass slaughter of the innocent, again making us scratch our heads and wonder where the hell are all of Khaleesi’s Unsullied. It seems like any time any chaos has broken out and Khaleesi has actually need the Unsullied by her side, she never has more than 10 or 15 out of the 6,000, leaving them vastly outnumbered and vulnerable. But I digress… What I absolutely loved about this scene was watching Khaleesi’s “new crew” as they ran across the coliseum floor, only to eventually be surrounded by many more Harpies. It was our first time seeing this new group dynamic, featuring the new addition of Tyrion, the reestablishment of Jorah, alongside Daario, Khaleesi and Missandei. Did we just get first glimpse at the final makings of Khaleesi’s inner circle – the group of her closest advisors and supporters that will help her to reclaim the Iron Throne? I certainly got that feeling and thought it was actually the coolest part of the episode. And when you look at the photo below, you can’t help but love this cast of characters that have all come together. They are all truly good people with an unwavering loyalty to Khaleesi. Unlike most characters, they are a group that we feel we know and can trust — there are no ulterior motives or side-games being played. Most importantly, most of these characters have been by Khaleesi’s side since day one, and it is rewarding to see them all together, perhaps closer than ever before to reclaiming the Iron Throne.

crew

As they are surrounded by Harpies and greatly outnumbered, we knew only one thing could happen – Drogon would have to make his appearance – after all, this episode was entitled The Dance of Dragons. As he flies overhead, we see his immense power as he easily rips to shreds and burns alive dozens of Harpies, whose weapons are no match for Drogon. And then it happened… Khaleesi shows the world (or whoever was still alive in the coliseum, which probably wasn’t many people at that point) that she is the one true Mother of Dragons, as she climbs the back of Drogon and flies through the sky. This was not only an allusion to all the past Targaryens before her that rode the backs of their dragons as they conquered the world, but also a foreshadow to the future of what she is to accomplish on the back of her dragon. It was an iconic and powerful image to say the least. And while I would be the first to say that it seems like she has been in Mereen forever and things had gotten really stale over there, perhaps watching her finally ride through the sky on the back of her dragon made the wait worthwhile. After all, what’s a few seasons compared to the hundreds of years that have gone by since a Targaryen has rode on the back of a dragon?

Khaleesi and Drogon

EVERYTHING ELSE

At the Wall, Jon Snow returns with what appears to be a couple hundred Wildlings. There was a moment where it was unclear whether Ser Alliser would open the gates for them, a reminder that most of the brothers of the Night’s Watch are not on the same page as Jon Snow and do not support his actions. After all, they haven’t just battled the White Walker army that Jon Snow has. More than ever, Jon Snow seems to have enemies on all sides of him as Ser Alliser tells him, “You’ve got a kind heart…It’ll get you killed.” It will be interesting to see how the Wildlings factor into Jon Snow’s plans. His goal was to get tens of thousands to join his cause, and he only appears to have secured a few hundred, not enough of a difference to really help in the fight that is to come. But he did make it back home with the giant – so that’s a win.

Jon Snow returns to the Wall, snow falling harder than ever

Jon Snow returns to the Wall, snow falling harder than ever

In Dorne, Jaime reaches a pact with Prince Doran, who allows Jaime and Bronn to return safely back to King’s Landing, along with Princess Myrcella and her betrothed Prince Trystane. However, it is under the condition that Trystane is granted a seat on the small council. It was an interesting turn of events and it’s unclear what Prince Doran’s plan really is. Though he is more subtle and meticulous than the Sand Snakes who have explicitly declared their desire for war, we do know that Doran too will want to avenge the death of his brother at one point or another, and it seems as if he’s beginning to lay down the groundwork for a plan that is yet to unfold. It will be interesting to see Jaime return back to King’s Landing with Myrcella, which should’ve been a glorious reuniting of Cercei with her daughter, but will likely be far less than that when they return home to see Cercei rotting in a cell. Which begs the question, will Jaime save her? Can Jaime save her? And what will happen with the entire King’s Landing plot in the finale episode. I have to believe that we will finally see the Mountain and what has become of him after Qyburn has been working on him for quite some time.

Finally, in Braavos, we see Arya’s journey continue, which in its own right, is already starting to grow old on me. I truly hope that her story in Braavos will not become a long drawn out saga the way Khaleesi’s did in Mereen. Anyway, as Arya continues on her mission to scout the Gambler who hangs at the dock and poison him with her vile, she gets glimpse of Ser Meyrn Trant, who has arrived to Braavos accompanying Mace Tyrell. Cercei had sent Mace to Braavos several episodes again in an effort to get him out of King’s Landing in advance of her ploy to get Loras and Margaery Tyrell thrown in prison. Little did she know that she too would get thrown in a cell, and would need Ser Meryn Trant, one of the few remaining Lannister loyalists. Though we have not heard her recite it for quite some time, Ser Meryn Trant was one of the first names on Arya’s kill list. He was Joffrey’s most violent enforcer and committed many terrible acts, most notable for Arya was the murder of her Braavosi sword instructor, Syrio Forell, back in the first season. Immediately, Arya is confronted with a difficult decision: will she continue to strip herself of her identity as Arya and continue in her training to become a Faceless Man, or will she go back to being Arya in her quest for revenge against one of the men that was on her list. As we probably could’ve guessed, she chooses the latter and follows Ser Meryn to a brothel where we learn that he not only an evil man, but also a pedophile. It is also worth noting that at least two or three different times, Ser Meryn locked his eyes on Arya and appeared to have vaguely recognized her. Arya will have to make a decision as to whether she is going to strip herself of her identity or pursue the kill of Ser Meryn – unless she can kill Ser Meryn as a Faceless assassin and accomplish both at the same time.

Season 5, Episode 7: The Gift

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

THE GIFT

The most recent Thrones episode, entitled The Gift, let viewers know that we’re coming into the stretch of season 5. That is, after this episode, there’s only 3 left — so buckle up, because things are really going to start picking up. The title of the episode, The Gift, has a couple of meanings. Most literally, The Gift is the name of the piece of land that was carved out for the Night’s Watch thousands of years ago by Brandon Stark aka Brandon the Builder. This land has much historical significance and plays a role in what is happening today between Jon Snow and his attempt to unite the Wildlings… But we’ll touch on that in just a moment… But that’s not the only thing The Gift refers to… This most recent episode seemed like Hanukah, Christmas and a decade’s worth of birthdays combined into one, because gifts were being given out all over the place. Some characters welcomed the gifts they received while others were unpleasantly surprised. But one thing is for sure — these gifts have quickly changed the landscape of where each character stands — and will play a large role in what is to come in the final three episodes of season five.

JON SNOW’S GIFT

In the Game of Thrones series, The Gift is the name of the piece of land that was carved out in the North thousands of years ago by Brandon Stark aka Brandon the Builder. Forget who that is? Brandon Stark lived thousands of years ago and was not only the founder of House Stark, but also credited with building the Wall as well as Winterfell (hence the the nickname Brandon the Builder). He’s arguably the most important Start character to have ever lived and one of the most significant characters in Thrones’ history. Anyway, after the Wall was constructed and the Night’s Watch was created to defend it, in exchange for their service, the Night’s Watch was given a very large piece of land south of the Wall, not far from Winterfell, as a gift for their service. This piece of land would go on to be known as “The Gift.” In the years that followed, this land was often raided by the Wildlings, since it was the first chunk of land they would hit south of the Wall. Because of this, the land known as The Gift played host to many battles between the Night’s Watch and the Wildlings.

A map of Westeros, showing the land known as The Gift, just south of the Wall

A map of Westeros, showing the land known as The Gift, just south of the Wall

Interestingly enough, thousands of years later, it is Jon Snow who is now trying to unite the Wildlings and Night’s Watch and offering up the gift of peace. The way he sees it, without this peace offer, the Wildlings will die north of the Wall. After all, the snow is falling harder than ever before, and we feel that winter is closer than ever. And just like the Wildlings need him and the Night’s Watch, he too needs them. Without them, he does not have enough men to achieve any of what he’ll need to, such as defending the Wall or reclaiming the North lands from Roose Bolton. As we continue to see, many of the brothers of the Night’s Watch, namely First Commander Ser Alliser Thorne, do not agree with Jon Snow’s vision of uniting with the Wildlings. With Jon Snow gone, what will the other brothers do? Will they obey his commands or rebel as we’ve seen before?

AEMON’S GIFT (OF DEATH)

In life, death is usually a sad occurrence. And in the Thrones world, it is almost always a heart-wrenching fatality. Heads getting chopped off, painful betrayals, the good guys dying while the bad guys live on — death is almost always a curse in this world. And this is what makes Maestar Aemon Targaryen’s death a beautiful gift. Having lived over 100 years, Aemon Targaryen was not only the last living Targaryen that we know of (outside of Khaleesi), but he was also a man that we know lived a life full of rich experiences, which he often spoke of. He was content with the live he lived and the services he was able to offer. And when it was his time to die, he died peacefully, with Gilly’s beautiful baby by his side, who offered him memories of his baby brother, Aegon Targaryen, who he lovingly referred to as “Egg.”

Aemon Targaryen

Aemon Targaryen

If we peel back another layer, we see even further why his death was such a beautiful gift. In a world where nearly everybody is jockeying for position and battling for power, Aemon was a rare specimen — a man who did not care for power. Not only did he not engage in “The Game (of Thrones),” but when he was actually next in line for the Throne, he passed on the opportunity to rule as king. Yes, that’s right. He actually was next to sit the Throne — he didn’t have to lie, kill or scheme to win the Throne — it was his by right. All he had to do was say the words. But in his heart, he knew he was destined for a life of service, and he passed on the sitting atop the Iron Throne. When we think about this, the kind of man he was, he himself was a gift to the rest of the world, especially the Night’s Watch that he served for nearly 80 years. Though not a main character, we must not overlook what an absolutely rare and wonderful man Aemon Targaryen was, and the rare gift that we witnessed in this last episode — a peaceful death that happened exactly when it was supposed to.

SANSA, RAMSEY & THEON

Elsewhere in the North, Sansa is dealing with a far less desirable gift — her new husband, Ramsey Bolton. We learn that her situation has somehow gotten even worse, and that Ramsey comes to pay her a visit every night, while keeping her locked up by day. We are starting to question Baelish’s advice to Sansa in which he counseled Sansa to get close to Ramsey so she could exact revenge — it’s starting to look like Ramsey might be too smart for her and might not allow her the opportunity to get her revenge. Sansa pleads with Reek to help her and to simply light the candle in the watchtower so that help will come. Sansa reminds Reek that he in fact still Theon Greyjoy, and for a moment, it seemed like Sansa might’ve successfully convinced him. But like any good lapdog, Reek crawls right back to his master and tells Ramsey what Sansa had been planning. Will Sansa ever be able to get message to Brienne? And even if she does, how will Brienne be able to successfully rescue Sansa from the heavily guarded castle of Winterfell? Either way, it seems likely that the relationship between Theon and Sansa is not dead, and that Theon will likely find himself having to make a crucial decision of who to side with when the moment arises.

Sansa and Ramsey

Sansa and Ramsey

STANNIS’ GIFT

Still in the North, we see that the harsh realities of the imminent winter are taking its tolls on Stannis’ army. Horses and men are dying, food rations are low and they are already fighting a battle against the elements before they even arrive to Winterfell. Davos offers Stannis the advice that they should turn back and march back on Winterfell when the weather passes; but Stannis is wiser than this and knows that winter is near and this will be a winter unlike any seen in many many years. They must attack now or risk never being able to ever again.

As Davos exits and Melisandre comes into focus, Stannis again questions her Red God, the Lord of Light. She reminds him that she saw the great battle in the snow that has yet to take place and, more importantly, that he is the one true king that must lead the living in battle against the dead — the battle that ultimately will decide the fate of all men. But the Red God requires a gift of his own and Melisandre suggests that they must sacrifice Stannis’ daughter, Shireen, as she too has king’s blood running through her veins. Coming on the heels of last episode where Stannis declared his love for his daughter and told the story of how he protected her when others wanted to discard her due to her Grayscale as a baby, Stannis will once again have to decide whether to protect his daughter. But this time, it will be a much more difficult decision, as he may have to decide between saving the life of one versus the lives of thousands.

THE GIFT OF TYRION

Finally, Jorah is reunited with Khaleesi. And better yet, he has a magical gift for her — the gift of Tyrion Lannister. But jeez, what a terrible job the show did at setting this whole thing up. After Khaleesi banished Jorah in heartbreaking fashion last season, there should have been a much more climatic reuniting of these two characters, who deep down care for each other very much. And add the fact that Jorah is now with Tyrion, and this should have been an epic scene between Khaleesi, Jorah and Tyrion. Instead, we got a half-baked setup with a relatively unexciting reveal. Khaleesi decides to visit a local slave fight — not even the grand fight that a queen would attend — but the uneventful fight that happens before that to decide who fill fight in the greater fighting pits. It made no sense that she was there in the first place. And of course, of all the fighting pits she decides to visit, it happens to be the very one that Jorah and Tyrion were brought to. And even worse, Jorah happens to be the one guy who is not originally entered in the fight, only for him to realize that Khaleesi is out there so he can come up and kill all the other guys before removing his helmet and anticlimactically reveal himself to Khaleesi. And with an equally unexciting reaction from her, she tells him to get out of her sight, just before he reveals his gift of Tyrion. I can’t help but think of 10 different ways they could’ve set up what should’ve been a powerful reuniting of Jorah and Khaleesi with Tyrion making it all the more exciting.

Khaleesi watching the fight

Khaleesi watching the fight

And with all that said, we’re now in for a very interesting dynamic between Khaleesi, Jorah and Tyrion. First and foremost, House Targaryen and Lannister aren’t exactly buddy-buddy. It was Tywin Lannister who was largely responsible for the execution of her entire family, which would ultimately force Khaleesi on the less-than-smooth journey that she is on today. So, she probably isn’t too thrilled to see Tyrion and there’s a very good chance she jumps the gun and sentences him to prison or death, before he inevitably talks his way out of it. But as we know, Tyrion is not your typical Lannister, which should setup a very interesting dynamic between he and Khaleesi. In many ways, they are characters that share many characteristics, namely wisdom and compassion. We are also left to wonder how Jorah will fit into this — will she forgive him? And how might his Greyscale play a factor? And will Varys somehow find his way back into this situation? After all, it was he that was escorting Tyrion to find Khaleesi to support her in her claim of the Iron Throne.

BRONN’S GIFT

In Dorne, Jaime comes face to face with Myrcella, who tells him that she does not want to be rescued and she is intent upon marrying Trystane, the Dornish prince. Jaime is at a loss for words and it’s unclear how things will shape up here.

Jaime & Myrcella

Jaime & Myrcella

In another cell, Bronn engages in a seductive conversation with one of the Sand Snakes, only to learn that her spear which cut him was laced with a deathly poison. Going back to last season, we recall that Oberyn’s spear was laced with a similar poison, which badly wounded The Mountain, who is currently still on Qyburn’s operating table as some dark science experiment — will we see the Mountain before this season comes to an end? I digress… Before it’s too late, the Sand Snake throws Bronn the antidote for his poison, which will presumably keep him alive — maybe a play to win Bronn over to their side?

BAELISH, THE GREAT GIFT GIVER

And finally, we end with the greatest gift giver of them all, Baelish. And once again, there are some major reveals that expose the continued scheming that Baelish has been up to behind the scenes. As Baelish meets with Olenna Tyrell in his now-vacant brothel, she reminds him that if House Tyrell goes under, she will have nothing to lose and will expose the part he played in the murder of King Joffrey. Baelish alludes to the fact that his allegiance is in fact with the Tyrells, and tells Lady Olenna that he has a gift for her. When she asks what the gift is, he tells her that it is the same gift that he gave to Cercei, “a handsome young boy.” You might have been scratching your head trying to figure out what handsome young boy he was referring to and when he gave this gift to Cercei. Furthermore, what handsome young boy is he now offering as a gift to Lady Olenna?

Well, as for his gift for Cercei, the handsome young boy he gave her was the blonde-haired young man who had been manning Baelish’s brothel for him while Baelish was away. As we know, this young man engaged in sexual intimacies with Loras Tyrell. And for some time, Loras had been accused of being gay, but there was never any proof against him. And this — proof — is the very gift that Baelish gave to Cercei. This boy testified against Loras and confirmed the crimes that Loras had committed in the eyes of the High Sparrow. In short, Baelish helped Cercei put away Loras (and Margaery after she lied about having witnessed their sexual encounter).

But at the very same time, Baelish’s gift giving was not done. He had another gift, another handsome young boy, which would now help Lady Olenna. And, as we see at the end of the episode, this gift was Lancel Lannister, the once longhaired Lannister boy who slept with his cousin, Cercei, as she used him as a spy. Baelish facilitated Lancel turning against Cercei and providing all the dirt to the High Sparrow about her sins. And in an unexpected turn of events, we see that even Cercei is not free from judgment of the gods, and she too will be judged for her sins. Though she thought she was the cleverest of them all and was using the High Sparrow as her pawn, in reality, she misjudged the entire situation. The High Sparrow, unlike most, is indeed incorruptible, and he had every intention of judging all those who have sinned.

Lancel Lannister, before and after joining the High Sparrow

Lancel Lannister, before and after joining the High Sparrow

And just like that, Cercei gets the gift she had coming for quite some time… And Baelish emerges once again as potentially the wisest character of them all. He was able to gain the trust of House Lannister, while weakening House Tyrell by getting Loras and Margaery thrown in a cell. He was then able to regain footing with House Tyrell, while getting Cercei herself thrown in a cell. He has weakened two of the most powerful houses, all while leaving little trace of him having any involvement whatsoever. And perhaps that is the greatest genius of his character — his methodical ability to operate in the shadows — to make significant moves while nobody is looking — and to always ensure that there is no trail leading back to him. What’s next for Baelish? Who knows…But he’s taken another step closer to achieving his self-proclaimed desire of “conquering everything.”

 

Jeor Mormont

Jeor Mormont was the Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, before being murdered by several of the brothers of the Night’s Watch that had planned a mutiny. He was considered to be a great commander and had been seriously concerned about the depleting resources of the Night’s Watch. Before his death, he trained Jon Snow and offered his wisdom and experience.

Prior to joining the Night’s Watch, Jeor Mormont was lord of Bear Island, a remote island of the North. During Robert’s Rebellion, Jeor fought loyally alongside Ned Stark and Robert Baratheon and helped to win the Rebellion. Within a few years after, he abdicated his seat as Lord of Bear Island, so that his son, Jorah, could become Lord of Bear Island. Jeor, joined the Night’s Watch and within a few years, he rose to the position of Lord Commander.

jeor