Season 5, Episode 1: The Wars to Come

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

A NEW SEASON, A NEW WORLD

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

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

THE END OF A LANNISTER ERA

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

unnamed-11

The young Cercei

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

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

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

OUT OF THE BOX

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

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

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

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

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

tyrion

TROUBLE IN KHALEESI’S NEW WORLD

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

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

Kh

Khaleesi & her dragons

THE WALL

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

mance

EVERYTHING ELSE

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

sansa

Sansa, appearing darker than ever

Advertisements

Episode 10 Recap: The Children

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

THE CHILDREN

Last week’s episode took place in just one location and was dedicated entirely to one plot-line. At the other end of the spectrum, the season finale not only catapulted us into the plot-lines of almost every character, but also progressed each of these stories rather abruptly. Outside of Sansa, nearly every character was featured in the finale and each one had a major development in one way or another. In a world where we’ve come to expect rather slow character and plot development, this episode was a smack in the face — a major departure from any episode we’ve seen in four years of Thrones.

But, what was actually so special about this episode? Sure, lots of “stuff” happened pretty quickly, but was there something more to the finale than just tons of action? The answer is yes. There were several layers at the core of the finale which made the episode special and are worth discussing. First, the ways in which several independent plot-lines all of a sudden began to intersect. Second, the many different plot-lines to which the episode’s title, The Children, significantly refers to, and the way these children have been both imprisoned and liberated. And finally, the many ways in which this “game” has changed drastically in just one episode.

CONVERGING STORIES

The finale episode did not only offer up major progressions of each character’s story, but it also offered a taste of the way several of these previously independent plot-lines will begin to merge into one. In any other fictional world, the intersection of characters would probably not be worth mentioning. Why? Because from the onset of almost any story, even if we do not know the exact roles each character will fulfill, we have a basic understanding of the ways each character shares in the world that we are experiencing. And this is just another way that Thrones is completely unique from almost everything else out there.

Rather than a set of characters in a shared world, Thrones is composed of so many characters with story arcs that have remained completely separate from one another, existing in parallel. It’s almost as if we have been watching many different shows — each about a different character with a story unique and exclusive from every other character. Ultimately, this has left us to wonder when, and more importantly, how these independent stories would start to bleed into one another. But in the season finale, some of these questions began to be answered as we were offered a glimpse into the way several characters’ plot-lines will begin to come crashing together. And this — the way the pieces of the puzzle will start to come together — made the finale uniquely special from all other episodes.

Right out of the gate, the plot-lines of Jon Snow and Stannis meet face to face. For so long, we have experienced the independent journeys of each character. Prior to a couple episodes ago when hints began to be offered that Stannis was going to make his way to the Wall, did you ever stop to consider the story-lines of Stannis and Jon Snow coming together? Probably not. But that is exactly what happened. Stannis, a man once committed to taking the Iron Throne which rightfully belonged to him, he later realized that the war over the Throne was meaningless compared to the imminent war in the North involving the Night’s Watch, Wildlings and possibly White Walkers. And Jon Snow, a character who started as a boy and has grown into a man while overcoming his bastard issues, he has infiltrated the Wildlings before making his way back to the Night’s Watch, ultimately appearing completely willing to give his life to defend the Wall. For four seasons we have seen these two characters develop, completely independent of one another. And in the blink of an eye, just like that, their stories come together as Stannis arrives at the Wall and crushes Mance’s camp of Wildlings. The arrival of Stannis has breathed new hope into the war on the Wall, which was all but lost by the Night’s Watch. More significantly, it crosses the paths of Stannis and Jon Snow, and is one of the first hints at the way major characters might begin to intersect one another to reveal the roles they will play in the greater storyline.

Screen shot 2014-06-16 at 12.59.17 PM

Similarly, the journeys of Brienne/Podrick and the Hound/Arya abruptly come together as Brienne stumbles upon Arya on her way to the Vale. For seasons now, Brienne has been on a journey to honor Catelyn Stark and find Sansa. Ironically, it is Arya that she stumbles upon rather than Sansa. Likewise, the Hound has been on a seemingly never-ending journey with Arya, arriving at the Twins just after the Red Wedding, and then getting to the Vale just days after Lysa Arryn was killed. And just like that, these journeys — ones that have developed over the course of so many episodes — come crashing together without any warning at all. But whereas the arrival of Stannis at the Wall gave us hope and probably felt good to watch, the clash of Brienne and the Hound’s stories was not as nice to watch. After Brienne insists on honoring her oath and refuses to leave without Arya, the Hound professes that he is a better fit to look after her. A brutal fight ensues in which Brienne is ultimately victorious and the Hound is thrown over a cliff and possibly left to die.

Screen shot 2014-06-16 at 12.53.38 PM

In the Thrones world, we’ve seen plenty of good guys fighting bad guys. We’ve even seen bad guys fighting bad guys. But this might be the first time that we saw a good guy fight a good guy, which probably left most of us wishing the fight never happened in the first place. In and of itself, the fact that we are calling the Hound a “good guy” speaks volumes to his character development. If you go back and watch the first couple seasons of Thrones, you probably would not have guessed that you would have grown to love the Hound — but most of us have. And after we came to see the warmer, more human side of him, and the many ways he opened up to and cared for Arya, it was painful to see him go down like that — especially in a fight to protect Arya. And as he lay  there in brutal shape before the eyes of Arya, the irony of their situation could not have been any greater. Since season one, the Hound has been a name on Arya’s list — one of the people she has committed herself to eventually killing and crossing off her list. She has even told the Hound directly that she will one day kill him. Yet, when the opportunity presented itself, so much so that the Hound actually wanted her to kill him, she would not do it. As he pleaded with her to put him out of his misery, Arya looked on with cold eyes, almost immune to the immense pain you could hear in his voice. Emotionless, she took his gold and left him to die a more painful death than the one she could have offered.

Screen shot 2014-06-16 at 12.55.19 PM

THE CHILDREN AND THEIR LIBERATION

In the Thrones series, the title of each episode is often significant and generally speaks to an underlying message or overtone within each weekly installment. Perhaps more so than ever, the title of the finale, The Children, has many meanings all rolled into one. The most literal meaning, the finale episode refers to many of the characters’ identities which have been defined by the parent-child relationship that they exist within. And generally, these relationships have been imprisoning to several of these characters. But, in the finale episode, things changed for many of “the children,” and several of them were liberated, while others were further imprisoned.

Perhaps more so than any other characters in the show, the three Lannister children have been defined by their roles as children, to none other than Lord Tywin. From the first moments we’ve encountered them, we have known the Lannister siblings as children — their identies almost completely dictated by the fact that they were Lannister children. More times than not, it has seemed that their roles as children have been already decided for them and they’ve often had no free will what so ever. Cercei was used as a tool of marriage, forced to endure King Robert in order to become queen and further the Lannister cause. Jaime was forced to serve on the Kingsguard to the Mad King. And Tyrion was forced into a life of ridicule. Each had a role to play forced upon them as children to Lord Tywin, and for the most part, it seemed as if there was nothing they could do to change this.

But all of that changed in the finale, and we begin to see some of The Children that the episode title refers to. It all begins as Cercei refuses to marry Ser Loras Tyrell, another marriage Lord Tywin is set to force upon her. However, it is not because of her personal preferences or desires that she refuses, but rather a decision dictated by the children of her own. With Joffrey dead and Myrcella shipped off to Dorne, Tommen is the only child she has left, and she refuses to lose him to the self-serving influences of Margaery Tyrell and Lord Tywin. It’s an interesting juxtaposition as the child of Lord Tywin, Cercei, stands up to one of the most powerful men and threatens to do whatever she needs to in order to protect her own child. She tells Lord Tywin the truth of her incestuous relationship with Jaime, and threatens that she will ruin the Lannister legacy by letting it be known to all. She then goes and tells Jaime that he is the one she wants; she no longer wants to hide the truth and does not care what anybody thinks. She liberated herself from the prisoner she had been as a child to Lord Tywin. And, in certain ways, she also liberated Jaime, who was forced to keep his love for Cercei a secret for so many years.

The liberating continues as Jaime frees Tyrion and saves him from imminent execution. While Tyrion was the one literally freed, this was equally liberating for Jaime, who has desperately wanted to save his little brother, but has been ultimately helpless to the will of his father, Lord Tywin, who wanted Tyrion dead. Like Cercei, no longer would Jaime be prisoner to the commands of his father, and he frees his little brother. Ironically, this leads to the death of their father and the ultimate liberation for all three Lannister children. But before he kills Lord Tywin, Tyrion stumbles upon Shae, who not only betrayed him during his trial, but is now sleeping with the very man who threatened to kill her if he found her with Tyrion — the very reason Tyrion was forced to send her away — to save her life. A bittersweet revenge, Tyrion kills the woman he loves, before killing the father that never loved him. With Lord Tywin dead, what happens next in King’s Landing? Who will claim the power that was previously held by him?

Though only in the episode for a brief moment, Khaleesi is another story-line that the The Children refers to. Once a child, Khaleesi has quickly become a mother, which has become both liberating and imprisoning at the same time. Stepping into the fire and hatching petrified dragon eggs, Khaleesi first became the mother of dragons. And much the way Lord Tywin ultimately could not control of the actions of his own children, Khaleesi was told from the onset that she would not be able to fully control her dragon children. Khaleesi used these children to become the mother, or “mhysa,” to thousands of additional children as she freed the slaves of Yunkai, Astapor and Meereen.

Khaleesi has has achieved great power, but is beginning to struggle to successfully navigate it. Freeing these children while governing them at the same time often do not go hand in hand, and Khaleesi is beginning to experience a great paradox. She conquered cities and freed the slaves, only to find out that many of them have lost their purpose as free men and do not in fact wish to be liberated. She has grown dragons, one set of children, who are causing chaos amongst her other set of children, the freed slaves. As Khaleesi learns that one of her dragons has killed the three year-old daughter of a Meereenese man, she realizes what she must do. Khaleesi became the breaker of chains, making her “myhsa” to the slaves she freed, but in order to protect these children, she now must impose another set of chains to her other children — the dragons. Just as the Lannister children had so long been imprisoned by their roles as children, it appears that Khaleesi is beginning to become a prisoner to the burdens of her role as a mother, to both thousands of slaves that she has promised to lead and protect, as well as the dragons that she birthed from the fire.

Screen shot 2014-06-16 at 1.03.29 PM

THE CHILDREN (OF THE FOREST)

The more literal reference to the finale’s title is the Children of the Forest, a magical race of creatures that existed on Westeros prior to the arrival of the First Men from Easteros. Since the beginning of the Thrones series, there have been references to the Children of the Forest, especially in the North, where the current inhabitants are descendants of the First Men. But, it was entirely unclear, if not altogether doubtful, that the Children of the Forest still existed today. And just like that, we get first glimpse of the Children and the magic they possess.

Screen shot 2014-06-16 at 1.08.14 PM

In large part, this blog was started to provide background on the 12,000 year history of the Known World — a history that is incredibly rich and detailed — one that can be fully appreciated from reading the books, but is pretty much incredible to grasp from the show. In each 1000+ page book, there is more detail and reference to the history that occurred prior to the time period that we are currently experiencing. In the show, at best, there are quick references via character dialogue — and if you do not already have an understanding of the history being referred to, most of these historical mentions won’t mean much. And, this history — this unbelievable 12,000 year history, it all begins with the Children of the Forest. They existed on Westeros before anybody else got there. For how long they existed, it’s unknown. But they were there when the First Men arrived 12,000 years ago. And, after a period of initial war between the Children and the First Men, they lived together in peace for 4,000 years, until the Andals arrived and pushed the Children to the brink of extinction.

Today, much mystery surrounds the Children of the Forest — they have not been seen for thousands of years and some believe them to be a myth. But, history tells that the Children of the Forest lived amongst the weirwood trees and derived their magic from the forests. The First Men eventually adapted the practices of the Children, honoring the weirwood trees and praying to the Old Gods. This explains why today, in the North, where most are descendants of the First Men, they still pray to the Old Gods and honor the weirwoods — practices and customs that were originally learned from the Children of the Forest.

Before being nearly wiped off during the Andal Invasion, the Children of the Forest played an important role, and during the Long Night, it was the Children of the Forest that fought alongside the First Men to push back the White Walkers. It is also said that the Children of the Forest lent their magic in assisting Brandon Stark, founder of House Stark, in building the Wall nearly 8,000 years ago. In short, the Children of the Forest are incredibly significant, and to learn that there are still some alive today in the deep North is the greatest reveal that we’ve seen in 40 episodes to date.

To learn more about the Children of the Forest, check out this page, which was one of the first ever published on this blog. I would also recommend checking out this timeline which will provide some context on the history of the world we are experiencing and how far back it dates.

WHERE ARE WE AT NOW?

As the fourth season comes to a close and we reach the approximate midway point of this entire magical journey, it is important to not only reflect upon this individual episode and the craziness that unfolded, but also to step back and reflect upon how this entire “game” has changed in just one episode. So, here’s a quick recap:

The episode begins where last week left off, as Jon Snow journeys north of the Wall to find and kill Mance Rayder. However, before he has the chance to, Stannis’ forces arrive and crush the small band of Wildlings at Mance Rayder’s camp. Presumably, Stannis used his funding from the Iron Bank of Braavos to strengthen his army and fleet of ships, which he used to sail back to Westeros north of the Wall. Wanting no more Wildling bloodshed, Mance surrenders, and per Jon Snow’s advice, Stannis takes Mance prisoner. Also of interest, through the fire, Jon Snow and Melisandre exchange a long glance — was this a foreshadow of something to transpire between these two characters? A lot is left to wonder, but in the blink of an eye, the entire situation at the Wall has changed completely.

In King’s Landing, we discover that the Mountain is in fact still alive, though inflicted with poison from a rare venom that was on the spear of the Red Viper. Qyburn tells Cercei that he believes he can save the Mountain; his methods are unorthodox and he acknowledges it will change the Mountain, though not for the weaker. Will he in fact be able to save the Mountain? And, if so, could Qyburn actually be turning the Mountain into a greater monster than he is already?

As one brother is saved, another is left to die. Though, we would have hoped it was the other way around. After the powerful development of the relationship between Arya and the Hound, we might have guessed that Arya would have tried to save the Hound. Or, at least have granted him his wish and put him out of his misery. But, she did neither and instead stole his gold, much the way he had done to his victims in the past. In this moment, we see Arya’s true nature. She doesn’t just talk about killing, she means it. In her heart and at her core, she has been completely hardened by all the death and despair she experienced around her, losing her mother, father and brother. She has no compassion for the Hound, even though he at times expressed compassion for her. And as she journeys on alone, she finally uses the magical coin given to her by Jaqen H’ghar two seasons ago, and says those famous Braavosi words, “valar morghulis,” meaning “all men must die.” Instantly, she is granted passage on the Braavosi ship and just like that, she is on her way to Braavos. What will happen when she gets there? And will she reunite with Jaqen H’ghar?

Screen shot 2014-06-16 at 12.55.38 PM

Back in King’s Landing, after taking down Shae and Lord Tywin, Tyrion ends up with Varys, who he trusts to get him out of the capital city safely. Many of us have questioned Varys’ motives and whether or not he is a “good” character. During Tyrion’s trial, Tyrion reminded Varys that Varys once told Tyrion that he would never forget that he saved the city during the Battle of Blackwater Bay. When Tyrion asked Varys if he had forgotten, Varys replied, “Sadly, I do not forget a thing.” Additionally, it was Varys that attempted to get Shae out of King’s Landing, bribing her with gems. When she asked him why, Varys told her that he believed Tyrion was one of the few men that existed on Westeros who was truly capable of achieving good, and that Shae was a distraction to him. And, when Tyrion needed him most, Varys made good on his word, playing his part to save Tyrion, a man he clearly believes in. Turning back to return to King’s Landing, Varys hears the city bells erupt and realizes that Tyrion has committed a great act of murder. Rather than returning to this scene of chaos, Varys decides to join Tyrion on their journey to Easteros — Varys’ original birthplace and a location where he has many friends and resources, namely Illyrio Mopatis.

And finally, perhaps the most significant part of the episode, after a seemingly never-ending journey, Bran and company reach their destination — the great weirwood tree in the deep North. Just as they arrive, skeletons emerge from beneath the freezing snow, perhaps some sort of wights that exist in the deep North. Bran again showcases his ability to change into the skin of another human, fighting off many of these skeletons, before one of the Children of the Forest emerges, helping to protect them by shooting off magical rays of light. Jojen Reed is killed, though it is revealed that he knew the whole time it would end this way. After being led through a cavern of tree roots below the beautiful weirwood, Bran finally arrives to the three-eyed raven, who is now in the form of a mysterious old man. The man tells Bran that he has taken many different forms and has been watching each of them their entire lives through a thousand eyes. Though he will never walk again, Bran is told that he will fly. Naturally, tons of question marks are raised by this entire development. What exactly is this man and what kind of powers does he possess? Why was Bran specifically so special that he has been watched his entire life? What will his role be in the war coming and will he literally take flight, or perhaps he will fly in the skin of a dragon? Also, how many more Children of the Forest exist, if any?

Screen shot 2014-06-16 at 1.08.54 PM

All in all, the season four finale significantly progressed the plots of most of the stories we’ve been experiencing, setting up season five in a major way. Between Stannis’ arrival at the Wall, Arya leaving for Braavos,  Tyrion killing Lord Tywin before leaving with Varys for Easteros and Bran discovering the Children of the Forest and the mysterious man, we’re in the thick of it now. For those disappointed with the lack of progression of Khaleesi’s story — don’t be. If you are watching the show through the lens of what you want it to be, rather than appreciating it for what it is, you are doing yourself a major disservice. As we’ve already touched upon, there are so many plot-lines, each which will organically develop at its own pace. Some will begin to intersect and mature sooner than others, while others may lead us down a longer and slower path. But, would you really want it any other way? If all the stories emerged at once, the Thrones world would be no different than most other shows on TV. It is the disciplined nature and meticulous development of each character that makes Game of Thrones so special. Two years ago Arya encountered Jaqen H’ghar and was given this magical coin. Did she use it in the following episode? Did she use it a few episodes down the road? Or even in the following season? The answer is no. It was not until two full seasons later that we saw that nuisance come to fruition. And when did, it makes it all the more powerful. It did not happen because the writers wanted to write it — it happened at the point it did because that is when it was supposed to happen. So for anybody getting impatient, take your eye off the destination and enjoy the ride that we are on to get there.

Episode 9 Recap: The Watchers on the Wall

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

THE WATCHERS ON THE WALL

The episode leading up to a season finale is often more significant than the finale itself. Whereas the finale is tasked with the focus of bringing an end to season, the episode prior has the opportunity to still deliver a some poignant messages, before things come to an end in the finale. And in The Watchers on the Wall, the second to last episode of this season, a powerful experience is exactly what we got as we were immersed in the greatest battle scene of Thrones history.  So powerful a battle that it commanded every second of the episode, quickly making most of us forget about the extraordinarily heart-wrenching death of Prince Oberyn from last week. But why was this battle so significant that it needed to consume the entire 50-minute episode?

For starters, battle scenes are extremely rare in the Thrones world. Although battle may always seem present and the prospect of war is always lurking, it is is a very rare occurrence to actually see the battles that go down. In fact, in nearly 40 episodes, we’ve only seen one true battle — the epic Battle of Blackwater Bay, when Stannis nearly sacked King’s Landing. So, when we do see battle, it is a rare, and generally massive experience.

And all the more so when the battle has been building up for such a long period of time. In this case, the progression of the Wildling siege on the Wall has been developing for dozens of episodes — dating all the way back to early last season when Jon Snow infiltrated the Wildlings to learn of their plans. Compared to how immersed we are in other plot-lines, perhaps we felt removed from the build-up of this battle, probably due to the fact that this entire season we have not seen or heard from Mance Rayder or the army he has been uniting.  Yet, episode after episode we were reminded that war was coming as the Wildlings inched closer to the Wall. And tonight, the multi-season development of the Wildling attack on the Wall reached climax and quickly became very real.

But, beyond the rarity of actually seeing a battle scene in this world, and beyond that this battle had been building up for so long, this episode was meaningful for more profound reasons. As with most everything in this world, the significance of this battle was not the battle itself — but rather the ways in which each character was exposed by the battle. Whether revealing men as cowards or providing them a platform to become heroes; whether demonstrating a man’s purpose or taking from them the person they love — this battle provided a lens through which we were able to see deeper into the soles of each character.

IN THE FACE OF DEATH, WHO WILL WE BECOME?

Most of us will never face imminent death. But what if we were faced with the prospect of realizing that death was so likely and so close for us, how would we react? Who would we become? Death is the great revealer and for the brothers of the Night’s Watch who faced imminent death, these were questions they were forced to answer. And, in the face of death, we saw who each man became — we saw the truth of each character. And therein lies the magic of this episode.

Men like Jon Snow proved their heroism and bravery — the prospect of death was unimportant compared to the duty of protecting the Wall. Fear was not an option and Jon took lead from atop the Wall as he shouted out his first commands. And when it was time to join the fight at the bottom of the Wall, we saw just how skilled a warrior he has become, taking down many Wildlings including Styr.

Ser Alliser Thorne was another of the episode’s heroes, proving himself a worthy commander of the Night’s Watch, at least in battle. As unlikable of a character as he has been, perspective is offered in an episode like this and we see the truth of his character; we quickly forget about his unlikability and only care to respect him for his valor in leading the Night’s Watch and courageously fighting back in the face of death. He took the fight to the much larger Tormund Giantsbane, though he sustained a deadly wound before being dragged away.

Grenn was another hero of the episode, serving Jon Snow loyally and obeying his orders to protect the inner gate. Facing down a giant, Grenn quelled the fears of his brothers and kept them united to fight. And though we do not see the fight scene, we learn that Grenn and the others fought valiantly and gave their lives to protect the gate, while also succeeding in killing the giant. In the face of death, when everything else was stripped away, we saw true greatness in the soles of these men.

On the other hand, we saw the ways in which certain characters were completely crippled by the fear that overtook them. Truly believing that death was so close for him, Pip was unable to fight, and as result, he took one of Ygritte’s arrows to the throat before dying in Samwell’s arms. Even worse, Ser Janos Slynt, a man who was once Lord Commander of the Kingsguard, completely deserted the fight and took cover behind a locked door. He abandoned his vows and his brothers, showing the truth of what he was made of.

THE WILDLING ARMY

For nearly two seasons, we have been hearing about the Wildling army that Mance Rayder has assembled. And we finally got to see it, or rather a small portion of it. We see the giants that Mance was able to get to fight for him and the giant mammoths that they ride. To unite over 90 clans of Wildlings to fight together as one united army is something that nobody has ever been able to do before Mance Rayder. We are reminded of the dialogue last season when Jon Snow asked Mance how he did it, to which he responded, “I told them we would all die if we didn’t get south. It’s the truth.” So, while this battle for the Night’s Watch was about fighting back the Wildlings, for the Wildlings, it’s not really about fighting the Night’s Watch, but rather doing what is necessary to get out of the North. That Mance was able to unite all the Wildlings of the North in their quest to march south is an alarming reminder that Winter is Coming and perhaps the threat of imminent death is coming on a much larger scale.

DEFENDING THE WALL

Another layer to the episode that was particularly gripping was getting to actually see the reality of being The Watchers on the Wall — the absolute last hope and line of defense between the Seven Kingdoms and all the threats that lurk north of the Wall. It was amazing to see the intricacies of the top of the Wall — intricacies that were built by Brandon Stark over 8,000 years ago, using the help of giants and the magic of the Children of the Forest. It was equally special to actually witness the way the Night’s Watch defends the Wall, using tactics and strategies that have been practiced for thousands of years. Prior to this episode, we had understood that this Wall was a defense structure and that the Night’s Watch defends the wall, but we had no idea exactly how the Wall was constructed, especially atop, or the way the Night’s Watch actually protects the Wall. We finally got to see the Night’s Watch defend the Wall from the rare position of being 700 feet in the sky.

LOVE IS THE DEATH OF DUTY

Even in an action-packed episode depicting a bloody battle, love finds its way in. Samwell is discovered reading about the Wildlings, fearful of what they have done to Gilly after they raided the brothel in Mole’s Town where she had been staying. Maestar Aemon tells Samwell that “Love is the death of duty,” suggesting that one cannot love a woman and also be dutiful to the Night’s Watch. Maestar Aemon goes on to speak of a girl that he once loved and the vision of her that he still holds on to. As a man who cannot see the world around him, Maestar Aemon tells Samwell that the visual memory of the girl he once loved is in fact more real to him than is Samwell. Maestar Aemon also re-reveals that he is a Targaryen and that he was next in line to be a Targaryen king, yet he passed to become a maestar. Though this had been subtly revealed to viewers already, most were probably unaware that he was a Targaryen. Maestar Aemon was the uncle of the Mad King and is great uncle to Khaleesi, but he is so old and has been so far away at the Wall for so many years that most are completely unaware that he is a living Targaryen. For viewers, previously, it was thought that Khaleesi was the last living Targaryen — it is interesting to consider the potential implications of the reveal that she in fact has a great uncle alive on Westeros.

At that moment, Samwell has chosen love over duty. Or rather, love had chosen him. But perhaps Maestar Aemon’s wise words change this, as he tells Gilly that he must go join the fight after the two reunite. What is most revealing is his reason for joining the battle with the rest. He tells Gilly, “I made a promise to the brothers of the Night’s Watch. I have to keep it because that’s what men do.” In this one line, the entire truth of Samwell’s character is established — he is merely a boy on a quest to become a man. He does not join the fight out of bravery or wanting to defend the Wall. He joins because honoring an oath is what men do. And he is desperately trying becoming a man. Once he has this realization and kisses Gilly, everything has changed for him. He tells Pip that in the moment he killed a White Walker, he had no fear because he was nothing — and when you’re nothing, you have nothing to lose or fear. But now, in this battle he has fear, as he tells Pip, “I am no longer nothing.”

Unlike Samwell who at moments chose love over duty, Jon Snow has chosen duty over love. Sadly, Ygritte has chosen love over duty, and for this love, she gives her life. Despite all her talk of killing Jon Snow, when faced with the opportunity, she was unable to kill the man she loved. And with the kind of irony that can only be found in the Thrones world, we see that the arrow that kills her is shot by Olly, the unlikeliest of people — the young boy who had picked up a weapon on Samwell’s recommendation. And as Jon Snow holds the woman he loves and she takes her last dying breaths, the entire scene makes a powerful shift from a massive battle being fought by hundreds, to the world of just two people. We are brought into Jon’s consciousness as everything around him is faded out and we must watch the sadly beautiful scene of him holding the woman he loves as she dies in his arms, telling him that she wished they just stayed in the cave.

The death of Ygritte is particularly heart-wrenching because of how special the love was between her and Jon Snow, and the opportunity they had to act on their love and leave everything else behind. After meeting her, Jon Snow could have, and should have disappeared to spend the rest of his life with the woman he knew he loved. But, in a world where most people would fight for love, Jon Snow’s nature was to fight for duty over love. Sadly, Ygritte would have abandoned her duty to the Wildlings in a heartbeat to live a life with the man she loved. Though brave and valiant, Jon Snow was naive in the way he believed he needed to honor all the codes and oaths — things that Ygritte viewed as just words. How could these words be more important than love? And it was this naivety that Ygritte was probably referring to all the times she said, “You know nothing, Jon Snow.”

A DEPLETED NIGHT’S WATCH

In the aftermath of this bloody battle, we see just how undermanned the Night’s Watch truly is, and how unprepared they are to fight back the Wildling army. Once a great and powerful order, at the time of its formation, the Watch is said to have had 10,000 men that manned 19 castles along the Wall. Today, their numbers have dwindled down to less than 100. Though the Wall was built after the Long Night, over the next 8,000 years, the White Walkers never really came. Over time, people began to doubt the true existence of the White Walkers and the danger of their threat. The Long Night became more myth than truth and the Night’s Watch found themselves defending the realm from Wilding raids, rather than a White Walker invasion. The Seven Kingdoms began to forget the true purpose and importance of the Watch and they received less and less support each year from the rest of Westeros. And now, today, the Night’s Watch, with less than 100 men, is tasked with keeping out the Wildling army of over 100,000. Jon Snow tells Samwell that Mance Rayder was merely testing their defenses and that they have no chance at defeating the Wildlings, who will attack again at nightfall. Jon Snow leaves the Wall to seek out Mance Rayder, as he believes this is the only chance of defeating the Wildlings. Before he leaves, he gives his sword, Longclaw, to Samwell for safekeeping.Where he is going, his sword will do him no good, and he wants to protect the family sword given to him by Lord Commander Mormont.With Jon Snow gone and Ser Alliser badly wounded, who will take leadership of the Night’s Watch? And what is even left to lead?

 

Mance Rayder

Mance Rayder, otherwise known as the King Beyond the Wall, was born a wildling child, but was captured as a baby by the Night’s Watch and raised as one of their own. Tired of the lack of freedoms afforded by the Night’s Watch, Mance broke his oaths and fleed north of the Wall. Understanding that winter is coming, Mance Rayder has successfully united many Wildling clans in an attempt to march on the Wall.

mance

 

Episode 3 Recap: Breaker of Chains

SANSA’S GREAT ESCAPE

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

baelish

“AM I STILL QUEEN?”

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

ONE KING DIES AND ANOTHER KING IS READIED

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

joff dead

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

“I JUST UNDERSTAND THE WAY THINGS ARE”

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

hound 2

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

WE NEED AN ARMY

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

LORD TYWIN & PRINCE OBERYN

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

TYRION & PODRICK

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

THE WILDLINGS RAID

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

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

wildling

BREAKER OF CHAINS

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

chain