SEASON 6, EPISODE 9: BATTLE OF THE BASTARDS

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

BATTLE OF THE BASTARDS

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

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

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

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

SANSA & JON

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

KHALEESI, DRAGONS AND A NEW ALLIANCE

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

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

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

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

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

HEADING INTO THE FINALE…

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

  • Bran hasn’t been in quite a few episodes and we’re not quite sure what he’s been up to with Meera and Uncle Benjen. I think we’ll see a major development in his storyline that might shed some more light on the ultimate direction he’s headed and the role he’s to play in the war to come. He’s not all that far from Winterfell, so a possible reuniting with Jon and Sansa is possible, though it seems unlikely.
  • Arya is another character that was not in this last episode, and while I don’t think Khaleesi will yet sail across the Narrow Sea, my guess is that the finale episode will feature Arya returning back to Westeros. It would be pretty special to see her finally make it back to Winterfell and to reunite with Jon Snow — as Jon and Arya were always very close.
  • Perhaps the most important development in the finale episode will take place in King’s Landing, where Ser Loras and Cercei are both due to stand trial. Things will have to come to a head, with Margaery deciding whether or not she will continue to play the High Sparrow’s game, Tommen likely being faced with some important decisions as well, and these very important trials unfolding. After all, let’s not forget the House Tyrell is arguably the most powerful in all of the Seven Kingdoms right now (as measured by wealth, land, standing army, etc) and Ser Loras is heir to Highgarden, so even though he’s been locked up in a cell and off-screen for a while, he’s a very important character. And of course, so is Cercei, but things are looking pretty bleak for her after Tommen outruled trial-by-combat, eliminating her advance of the Mountain. Let’s also remember that Jaime is not in King’s Landing to protect her either, not that he necessarily could anyway. My prediction is that Cercei’s road will come to an end in this finale episode, freeing Jaime from the very thing that has always held him back from being a truly good man — his devotion to Cercei. With her out of the picture, Jaime would be liberated to become the good character that we’ve always wanted him to fully become, and go on to play a larger role in the story to come. It just feels like the days of Jaime and Cercei as a duo are coming to an end.
  • The Hound has joined the Brotherhood Without Banners, and it would be nice to see what direction they’re heading in.
  • There are still two living Stark wolves out there; Jon’s Ghost, which I would’ve expected to see in this battle, and also Arya’s Nymeria who we haven’t seen in many seasons. With Arya headed back to Westeros, expect her to be reunited with Nymeria at some point.
  • I also noted in the primer I wrote before this season started that Gendry is still out there somewhere. Ser Davos risked an awful lot to save his life, and considering he does have King’s Blood, I think we’ll have to see him at some point, though very possibly not in this finale episode.
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Season 5, Episode 5: Kill the Boy

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

OLD VALYRIA!!!

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

The ruins of Old Valyria

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

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

Valyrians use magic to tame dragons

Valyrians use magic to tame dragons

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Doom of Valyria

The Doom of Valyria

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

Drogon flies over the Valyrian ruins

Drogon flies over the Valyrian ruins

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

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

The Stone Men

The Stone Men

EVERYTHING ELSE

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

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

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

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

Season 5, Episode 4: Sons of the Harpy

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

WHO IS JON SNOW?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RECAP OF EVERYTHING ELSE

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

Ellaria and the Sand Snakes

Ellaria and the Sand Snakes

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

Cercei smirking after sending off Mace Tyrell

Cercei smirking after sending off Mace Tyrell

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

Ser Barristan laying dead next to Grey Worm

Ser Barristan laying dead next to Grey Worm

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

Season 5, Episode 2: The House of Black and White

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 TRUTH OF EACH CHARACTER

While there are many wonderfully unique characteristics of the Game of Throne series, perhaps one of the most identifiable is the unpredictability of most of this worlds characters. In most television, we understand who each character is at their core, what motivates their action and what they ultimately want to achieve. However, in the GoT world, as viewers, we’ve often had a difficult time discerning the true nature of a character. What truly lies at the core of each character? What do they really want? For one thing — we know that what they say they want, and what they actually want, are often two very different things. And for the first few seasons, we were often completely lost in trying to figure out things such as who we could trust or when a character was telling a lie.

But as we continue deeper into the fifth season, much of that is beginning to change; the true nature of each character is coming more acutely into focus. We are moving further away from the surface layer “games,” which often confused or misled us, and we are now dealing more in truth. Of course, this is still Game of Thrones, and mystery is never far from sight, but that thick cloak of deception that surrounded so many characters is beginning to be pulled back, and what’s left for us to see is the truth of each character — a truth that will drive each character as they continue on their individual journeys. And as we look back at the second episode of season five, The House of Black and White, it is important to assess the truth that continues to emerge out of each character.

ARYA IS MORE FEARLESS THAN EVER

After four years in the making, Arya finally arrives to Braavos, the mystical Free City where we hope she will find the tools needed to become the revenge-fueled assassin she desperately wants to be. After a horn blows announcing their arrival, the captain of the ship tells her to have no fear. In response, she gives one her emotionless stares into the distance and responds, “I’m not afraid.” And while she might’ve been responding to the captain in that moment, as she stares off into the distance and went off to a deeper place, we know that she is reaffirming that she is not afraid…of anything..period. After losing most of her family and enduring a tremendously painful journey, what could she possibly have left to be afraid of? And it is this fearlessness, this idea of having absolutely nothing left to lose, that we see as the undeniable truth of Arya’s character.

coin

Arya reciting the names on her list in front of the House of Black and White

As the wonderful Braavosi music plays in the background and the camera pans out to show Arya’s ship passing under the Titan of Braavos, the message is sent…finally, she has arrived. As she pulls into the harbor and looks on to see the local Braavosi merchants and villagers, we see a smile come across her face..that’s right — Arya shows a glimpse of joy and happiness. Perhaps there is hope for Arya after all in the land of Braavos. But things will not come easy. As she arrives at the colossal House of Black and White, the black man wearing all white tells her that there is no man there by the name of Jaqen H’ghar. But Arya is resolute, more determined than ever and driven by her fearless desire for revenge. She sits there day and night, repeating the names on her list: Cercei, Walder Frey, the Mountain and Meryn Trount — a list that has gotten much smaller.

titan

Arya arrives to Braavos, passing under the Titan of Braavos

BRIENNE THE OATHKEEPER

As Brienne and Pod enjoy a meal at the inn, Pod spots Baelish with Sansa and we see that Arya’s journey is not the only one that seems to have reached a destination. Finally, after much time, Brienne has her sights on Sansa. Before being approached by Brienne, Sansa asks Baelish about the scroll he received in the previous episode, to which he responds that his marriage proposal has been accepted..but to whom?

As Brienne approaches and pledges her service to Sansa, Baelish reminds her that Brienne failed to keep safe Renley or Catelyn, and also that Brienne had been implicated in the murder of Renley. As Brienne swears her honor and is intent upon keeping the oath she swore to protect Sansa, we see that Baelish’s manipulation and cunning words will be more convincing than those of Brienne, which are rooted in truth and honor. And, we are sadly reminded that noble concepts such as honor and duty will not always prevail, and often in this world, as in real life, the deceptive manipulator might come out on top.  We also see that Sansa quickly dismisses Brienne, showing no interest at all that Brienne had sworn an oath to her mother. It appears that Sansa continues to grow colder and darker — not the sweet little girl she once was. She also seems more willing to go along for Baelish’s ride and less questioning of what his motives might be.

Brienne and Baelish

Brienne and Baelish

As Baelish invites Brienne to travel with them, wanting to keep her close and eliminate a potential threat, Brienne makes a run for it and kills several of Baelish’s knights with her Valyrian steel sword, Oathkeeper, given to her by Jaime. After saving Pod from near-death, he suggests to Brienne that she might be free of her oath, considering that both Arya and Sansa refused her protection. But, Brienne does not think Sansa is safe with Baelish and refuses to abandon her vow. We continue to see a more realistic portrayal of the world around us, rather than the storybook version we are used to seeing in most television and film. That is, we did not see a picture-perfect reuniting when Brienne finally found Arya or Sansa. In this more realistic world, things do not go to plan and Brienne’s travels and hardships were all for nothing. But more importantly, we see what will continue to drive Brienne — the unrelenting dedication to her vow. Despite unfortunate results when she encountered the Stark girls, she will not give up and she will continue to be driven by the thing she holds more dear than all else — the words she swore to Catelyn Stark before she died.

KING’S LANDING

King’s Landing is appearing less and less like the grandiose capital city it once was, and more and more like a darker, grim place to be. It feels like a party — after most people have left and gone home — and there are just a few people left sticking around to clean up the mess. The cunning and deceptive characters of Varys and Baelish, so fundamental to the “game” once played at King’s Landing, are both gone. Tyrion as well. Joffrey and Tywin are both dead. Sansa has departed as well. King’s Landing is feeling less regal than ever before.

Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Nikolaj Coster Waldau as Jaime Lannister in Game of Thrones S5 Game of Thrones Season 5 Image Gallery Shows New Cast Members

Jaime and Cercei

But in the ashes that remain, we see a miserable Cercei who has received a threatening message, presumed to be sent from House Martell of Dorne. A viper, a symbol of House Martell, with her daughter, Myrcella’s necklace in it. Cercei tells Jaime that he has never been a father to any of their children, to which he responds that he had no choice as he had to protect the fact that they were born of incest. Cercei reminds him that in the end, his caution did nothing to actually save them — Joffrey was murdered, Tommen is going to be lost to Margaery Tyrell and Myrcella is hostage to House Martell in Dorne. Interestingly, in the previous episode, we recall that the witch Cercei went to see in her flashback who told her that “Gold will be their shrouds,” referring to the funeral shrouds of her future-children and alluding to their ominous fates.

Jaime tells Cercei that he will go to Dorne to rescue Myrcella and enlists the assistance of Bronn, who he tells they are headed “as far south as south goes.” And we again see the true nature of both Cercei and Jaime. The games, the politics, the schemes…those are all no longer important. Titles such as Kingslayer and Queen Regent no long matter. At their core, they are parents, and they will be driven to protect their children.

DORNE

And we finally get our first glimpse of Dorne, the most southern of the Seven Kingdoms, and home to House Martell. Princess Myrcella walks the Water Garden with a Martell prince, appearing to be safe after all. We also finally meet Prince Doran, the ruling prince of Dorne, and the older brother of Prince Oberyn. Suffering from the sickness of gout, what he lacks in physical ability, he appears to make up for in wisdom and patience. As Ellaria Sand, Oberyn’s lover, begs Doran to exact revenge for the death of the Red Viper, Doran reminds that his death in trial by combat was not murder, and that he will not go to war over this. Ellaria tells him that the Sand Snakes, the bastard daughters of Oberyn, support her and also seek revenge for the death of their father. She suggests that they torture Myrcella and send her mutilated body parts back to Cercei, to which Doran again refuses. He tells her that he will not let these things happen while he is still ruler, to which she responds “And for how long will that be?”

Prince Doran Martell of Dorne 

While the scene in Dorne was brief, it is clear that Dorne will play an important role as a new locale for season five. Furthermore, it appears that House Martell will be a major new house in the mix in the aftermath of the death of the Red Viper. We also continue to see the hot-headed nature that drives many of the Dornish, which we saw in the Red Viper and now in his revenge-driven paramour, Ellaria.

MORE PROBLEMS FOR KHALEESI

In Khaleesi’s seemingly never-ending stop in Mereen, the problems continue to stack up as Daario Naharis and Grey Worm discover the Son of the Harpy responsible for the murder of one of the Unsullied soldiers. Discord amongst her advisors continues as they express differing opinions regarding what they should do with their prisoner. And as Ser Barristan tells her of her father, the Mad King, and his practices of burning people alive as punishment, she vows to give this man a fair trial. But before that can happen, her ex-slave-turned-advisor kills the Son of the Harpy and mounts his body in the city for all to see. He explains to Khaleesi that he did this to protect her and serve justice. Her hands were tied as she was forced to offer a fair trial, when in reality, the punishment that needed to be served was death, which he was willing to do for her.

The dead Son of Harpy

The dead Son of the Harpy

Regardless of his loyal intentions, for his actions, Khaleesi sentences him to death. The irony is that she was unwilling to sentence to death the Son of the Harpy, who had committed the actual crime, while she was willing to sentence to death her own advisor who was acting loyally. Through these actions, we see what continues to drive Khaleesi: justice at any cost. She continues to make the difficult decisions, even sparing the lives of her own, if that is the cost of justice.

The ex-slave Khaleesi executes

The ex-slave Khaleesi executes

So driven by the idea of maintaing justice, Khaleesi has not even mentioned taking the Iron Throne of Westeros in quite some time — after all, how can she rule the Iron Throne before she achieves justice in Mereen? And the problems continue, as the death of the ex-slave enrages the other ex-slaves, Khaleesi’s “children.” As a result, a riot ensues between her children and the Masters and chaos breaks loose. And just when things appear to have hit rock bottom for Khaleesi, Drogon returns, the largest of her dragons who had been missing for weeks. While his return is significant in showing that he’s still in the picture, it was the timing of his return that was even more significant — a reminder that Khaleesi truly is the Mother of Dragons, and that an emotional connection exists, as Drogon returns to her and lifts her up when she is at her lowest.

Drogon returns to Khaleesi

Drogon returns to Khaleesi

TYRION AND VARYS

It is undeniable that the characters created by George R.R. Martin are simply amazing. They are unique while still identifiable; they are bold while still rooted in reality; they are relatable, even if unlikable. He has created a depth to each character with which viewers can form a meaningful connection. And of course, the evolution of each character and the different perspective we’ve been exposed to, make them all the more amazing. One minute you thought you hated a certain character and the next you felt like you loved them.

And the only thing greater than these characters on their own is when they are together, particularly in twosomes and often on some sort of wonderful journey that forces them to grow together. Whether it was Brienne and Jaime, Arya and the Hound or now Tyrion and Varys, there is nothing quite like the way George R.R. Martin creates one-on-one relationships between characters who appear very different on the surface, only to show us that they ultimately are not very different at all.

Jaime and Brienne appeared to be characters completely antithetical to each other, only for their season-long journey to show us that in the end, they were not different at all, and they were binded by their true nature of honor and duty. Similarly, Arya and the Hound couldn’t have been more different at the onset of their relationship, but as they endured the troublesome journey through the Riverlands, we saw them united by their shared love of killing. And now, ass Tyrion and Varys continue on their journey from Pentos to Volantis to embark upon the road to Mereen, we are seeing the emergence of another of these priceless relationships.

Tyrion and Varys travel to Volantis

Tyrion and Varys travel to Volantis

At first glance, Tyrion and Varys appear to be completely different characters. One is a a sarcastic dwarf from a very powerful Westeros family with an affinity for drinking and fucking. The other is a eunuch born into slavery on Easteros with a more serious disposition and no interest at all in the vices of sex or alcohol. Yet as they continue on their journey, we are beginning to see that when these surface features are stripped back, at their core, they are actually quite similar. They discuss the fact that they could both actually be quite good rulers, as they are two of the few men truly interested in making the world a better place to live in. Yet men like them could never rule as they are repulsive to society. And in turn, society is repulsive to them. And so they surround themselves with large comfortable boxes, such as the one they are confined to right now on their travel. Yet, at the end of the day, men like them are never really satisfied with being in the box…not for long.

And so we see the shared desire of each man to break out of the proverbial (and literal) box that they are in. They are driven by their true desires to make the world a better place. And while they cannot be the rulers themselves, Varys continues to try to sway Tyrion into realizing that this ruler does exist, and that they must find her to help her ascend the Iron Throne.

THE SMALL COUNCIL GETS SMALLER

Back at King’s Landing, we see the head of another dwarf brought to Cercei, albeit the wrong dwarf. Interestingly, Qyburn requests to keep the head as it may prove useful in his experiments. Which begs the question — what are these experiments he is working on? And what will they produce? And this also brings us back to the finale episode of last season when Qyburn performs one of his eery science-lab experiments in an attempt to save the life of the Mountain. He tells Cercei that if it saves him, it certainly will not make the Mountain any weaker. An already freakish monster — what happened to the Mountain and when, if ever, will we see him again?

Cercei and her new Small Council

Cercei and her new Small Council

At the Small Council, we see Cercei attempting to maintain control, though with little success. She appoints Qyburn new Master of Whispers in place of Varys, reminding the council of his qualification of loyalty. She appoints Mace Tyrell Master of Coin in addition to Master of Ships. And she appoints her uncle, Tywin’s brother, Kevan Lannister, Master of War. However, he refuses to acknowledge her authority and tells her that he will be returning to rule over Casterly Rock.

SOME BIG EVENTS AT THE WALL

At the Wall, Jon Snow tells Stannis that the Wildlings will never follow him after he killed their king, and that they will only follow one of their own. Stannis must figure out another way to win back the North, and he offers to remove Jon Snow’s bastard status and raise his up as Jon Stark, Lord of Winterfell. As such, he would have Jon Snow lead the North as part of Stannis’ cause. Becoming a Stark is all that Jon Snow has ever wanted his entire life, yet still,  the truth of his character — his unrelenting dedication to the vows he took to the Night’s Watch, prevent him from accepting Stannis’ offer. The discipline Jon Snow shows creates a pretty amazing moment. We can all probably think of 1 or 2 things we have always wanted our entire lives — or at least a couple things we want more than anything right now in our lives. And for most of us, these things we want most would be impossible to turn away if ever presented to us. For Jon Snow to pass on the opportunity of no longer being the bastard of Winterfell, and to become not only a proper Stark, but Lord of Winterfell, shows unbelievable character and strength.

And moments later, after Samwell’s passionate speech about Jon Snow’s heroism, he is elected 998th Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. There are many major implications about Jon Snow being Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, such as how will Ser Allisor Thorne react and how will Jon Snow command over the depleted Night’s Watch.

Kit Harington as Jon Snow Stephen Dillane as Stannis Baratheon and Liam Cunningham as Davos Seaworth in Game of Thrones S5 Game of Thrones Season 5 Image Gallery Shows New Cast Members

Stannis offers to make Jon Snow a Stark

Also at the Wall, we see Shereen, Stannis’ daughter, teaching Gilly how to read. The two begin to discuss Grey Scale, the disease that has scarred Shereen’s face. Gilly tells Shereen of her two sisters who were inflicted with this disease, who eventually turned into grotesque monsters, before being put out of their misery. Interestingly, unlike them, Shereen appears to have been spared as the disease never took over her full body. It is also interesting to think back to last season when Lady Melisandre told Lady Selyse that Shereen must come with them to the Wall as she will have a role to play.

A GIRL MUST BECOME NOTHING

As the episode concludes, Arya crosses paths with a couple street bandits who she tells to turn the other way if they want to live. Despite being one small girl against three larger men, we again see the absolute fearlessness that drives Arya. But before any fight ensues, the men flee as they see the black man in the white hood that Arya encountered early in the episode. As they stand back in front of the House of Black and White, the man gives her the coin back that she threw in the water, before changing his face back to that of Jaqen H’ghar. When she asks why he told her earlier that there was no man by the name of Jaqen H’ghar at the House of Black and White, he tells her “A man is not Jaqen H’ghar. A man is nobody. And that is who a girl must be come.”

The face of Jaqen H'ghar returns and lets Arya into the House of Black and White

The face of Jaqen H’ghar returns and lets Arya into the House of Black and White

These words are interesting for several reasons. First, it continues to show the mysterious and magical side of the Faceless Man, a league of assassins that we are dying to learn more about. But more importantly, it is the idea of becoming nobody or nothing. In response to the words Valar Morghulis, meaning “all men must die,” the Braavosi respond Valar Dohaeris, meaning “all men must serve.” As Faceless Men, they appear to strip themselves of any true identity, becoming nothing, and dedicate themselves to their service. This seems to be just the place for Arya, a girl who already has been stripped of most of her identity and is driven by the sole desire for revenge. In many ways, she has already been reduced to nothing and she could be a perfect fit for the Faceless Men.

Season 5, Episode 1: The Wars to Come

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

A NEW SEASON, A NEW WORLD

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

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

THE END OF A LANNISTER ERA

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

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The young Cercei

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

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

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

OUT OF THE BOX

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

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

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

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

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

tyrion

TROUBLE IN KHALEESI’S NEW WORLD

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

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

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Khaleesi & her dragons

THE WALL

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

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EVERYTHING ELSE

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

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Sansa, appearing darker than ever