Season 8, Episode 1: Winterfell

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

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

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

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

A Credit to the Credits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Melodrama in Winterfell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

King’s Landing

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

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

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

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

The Mystery Spiral

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aegon Targaryen

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

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

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SEASON 7, EPISODE 2: STORMBORN

Disclaimer: There are no spoilers in this article. I have no knowledge of what is to transpire in this story. Any views or content expressed are solely personal theories, opinions and insights.

STORMBORN

Since the end of last season, one thing was clear: Winter Is Here. Now, just as quickly, war is here. The premiere episode last week more than set the stage and made clear the alliances that were being formed in the war to come. Just one week later, first blood has been drawn and the war is officially on. The first battle came rather abruptly and it is clear that there will be several more battles to unfold before this war is decided. And while the epic sea battle might be what is most remembered from this episode, there were several other significant developments, from Arya turning back for Winterfell to Sam Tarly attempting to save the life of Ser Jorah. Another consistent theme throughout this episode was past events and relationships affecting present day decisions, from Jon Snow’s decision to head to Dragonstone because of the relationship he developed with Tyrion in the first season, to Samwell’s willingness to risk his life to cure Jorah because of the relationship he had with Jorah’s father, Lord Commander Mormont. The dots continue to be connected as characters continue to move closer and closer towards one another. And as these characters continue to be pulled towards one another, the stage is set for several key reunions and also some powerful first meetings.

DRAGONSTONE

The episode opens up at Dragonstone as a powerful storm sends waves crashing upon the towering Targaryen castle. It is this storm that the episode, entitled Stormborn, derives its name from. The opening dialogue of the episode have Varys and Tyrion talking about the storm 20 years ago that came across Westeros as Daenerys was birthed at Dragonstone. Now, 20 years later, another storm is upon the land as Daenerys and her advisers plot their next move. Daenerys shifts her attention to Varys and attacks him for the manner in which he has conspired behind the backs of previous rulers. In response, Varys delivers an impassioned speech to defend his actions, telling that he has always been a man of the people who refuses to pledge blind allegiance to incompetent rulers. Daenerys seems to work past her distrust of Varys after he pledges his loyalty and promises to tell her directly if he ever disagrees with the manner in which she rules.

Moments later, The Red Lady, Melisandre, arrives at Dragonstone to speak with Daenerys. We saw her last in season six, ordered by Jon Snow to ride south after having learned about the role Melisandre played in sacrificing and burning Princess Shireen. Ironically, it was Jon Snow’s order that would send Melisandre to Daenerys, where the topic of conversation would be Jon Snow himself. Melisandre tells Daenerys that she believes she is the Prince (or Princess) That Was Promised. As we’ve discussed before, The Prince That Was Promised is a prophecy in the religion of the Lord of Light, which says that the ancient warrior, Azor Ahai, who fought back the White Walkers during The Long Night, will eventually be reincarnated to fight back death and darkness once more. At first, Melisandre believed Stannis was the Prince That Was Promised, which turned out to be incorrect. Since then, many have argued that it will either be Daenerys or Jon Snow that will turn out to be TPTWP.

Beyond this, Melisandre tells Daenerys of Jon Snow and how he is now the King in the North. She also tells Daenerys of how Jon Snow has done something nobody else has ever done — he let the Wildlings south of The Wall and successfully united the Wildlings with the great houses of the North. Melisandre encourages Daenerys to summon Jon Snow to come to Dragonstone so that she can hear first hand of the things that Jon Snow has seen. So, while Jon Snow may have banished Melisandre, in reality, it is Melisandre who is advocating for Jon Snow and setting up the meeting between the two. While she often slips off our radar, it is important to remember that Melisandre, perhaps more so than any other character, is well aware of the war against darkness that is coming and will do anything within her power to win it. She knows that Daenerys and Jon Snow must meet, and thanks to her actions, it seems as though this will happen sooner than later.

WINTERFELL

Right on queue, Jon Snow receives not one but two ravens, each carrying an important message. Samwell Tarly has passed along the valuable information that Dragonstone is built upon a cache of Dragonglass — an important material that they will need to turn into weapons to battle the White Walkers. This message is juxtaposed perfectly against the next, which is raven from Tyrion, inviting Jon to meet Daenerys at Dragonstone. To no surprise, his supporters react adversely, stating that neither a Targaryen nor a Lannister is to be trusted. What they do not realize is that Daenerys and Tyrion are outliers — they are not typical Targaryens or Lannisters. Jon Snow argues that he must go to Dragonstone, as they are in great need of both Dragonglass and a powerful ally. So just like that, after six years of Thrones, in just one episode, Daenerys is made aware of Jon Snow and Jon Snow is made aware of Daenerys. What neither of them have been made aware of yet is that Daenerys is Jon’s aunt and Jon is Daenerys’ nephew. Of course, Jon is not yet even aware that he is half Targaryen. But, with the way ravens have been flying around and dropping knowledge in these first two episodes, it might not be much longer until he finds that out.

As I often try to do with these recaps, let’s dig a little bit deeper into this plot-point and acknowledge some of the amazing development that has led us to where we are today. Rightfully so, the Northerners argue against Jon Snow going to Dragonstone as they do not trust a Targaryen or a Lannister. But Jon Snow does not listen to any of them, not even to Lyanna Mormont who has been his strongest advocate to date. Why doesn’t he listen? Sure, in part, it is because he knows the threat they are facing and is willing to take a risk to acquire the Dragonglass and the powerful ally that he needs. But it is more than that. It is also because he trusts Tyrion, the very man who sent him this raven. And six years ago, we witnessed the establishment of their relationship, the very basis for why Jon Snow will decide to trust him and head to Dragonstone six years later. In the very first season, Jon and Tyrion travel to The Wall together and develop a real bromance. In many ways, they were both bastards, even though in fact, neither actually are. At the time, Tyrion empathizes with Jon Snow and tells him, “All dwarfs are bastards in their father’s eyes.” Six years later, these are the same words he adds to the raven he sends to Jon Snow, referencing the connection they made many years back. Now, at the time, not a person in the world could have thought the casual trip they made together could have had any sort of significant impact upon the future. But as we’ve seen time and time again, it is this kind of development that makes the Thrones story so beautiful and ingenious. That George R.R. Martin had this kind of foresight to establish a relationship between the two unlikeliest of characters, only for it to turn out to be extremely meaningful so many years later, is nothing short of brilliant.

So now, Jon Snow is headed to Dragonstone, despite the pleas of everybody around him, including his own sister. Sansa reminds him of what happened to their grandfather the last time a Stark was summoned by a Targaryen. She is referring to an event that was the catalyst for Robert’s Rebellion. After Rhaegar Targaryen “captured” Lyanna Stark and rode off with her, her brother, Brandon rode to King’s Landing to demand her release. The Mad King arrested Brandon for treason and sent raven to Lyanna/Brandon’s father, Rickard, demanding that he ride to King’s Landing to answer for his children’s crimes. When Rickard arrived at King’s Landing, he was also arrested and then burned alive, while his son Brandon was forced to watch, before eventually being strangled to death. With this in mind, it is no surprise that Sansa does not want Jon to RSVP ‘yes’ to the next invitation that has been extended to a Stark by a Targaryen. But Jon knows the odds they are facing and departs for Dragonstone, leaving Sansa in charge of Winterfell. This of course leaves the door wide open for Baelish and whatever his next move might be.

KING’S LANDING

At King’s Landing, Cersei continues to develop her army and has assembled many of the powerful lords to the Throne Room. She manipulates them with a fabricated story of another mad Targaryen that is coming to bring destruction to Westeros, and asks them to join her fight against Daenerys. Most of these lords have pledged fealty to House Tyrell, so while they may be willing to join Cersei’s side to oppose a Targaryen invader, this will by default also position them against House Tyrell. One man that appears unwilling to break his oath is Randyll Tarly, father of Samwell. He is a proud and powerful man who has known Olenna Tyrell since birth. Jaime tries to persuade him to join their side by offering to appoint him as a key general of the Lannister army, and also offers him position of Warden of the South after the war is won. It’s unclear whether Randyll will join or not, but it seems as though he can be convinced. Separately, we see Dickon Tarly, Randyll’s son and Samwell’s younger brother. He is heir to House Tarly and will likely have an important role to play. Again, this is another example of sides being chosen, and this decision will have interesting implications down the road. One thing we know is that Samwell will not be on the side of Cersei, and it is entirely possible that at some point, Samwell will come face to face with his father and brother, potentially in a time of war.

SAM & THE CITADEL

Randyll is not the only Tarly who has a critical decision to make in this episode. Again proving to be one of the more knowledgable characters in the story, Sam shares with the archmaestar his awareness that Princess Shireen was cured of her greyscale disease as a baby. However, the archmaestar dismisses Sam and gives Jorah one more day before sending him off to Old Valyria to join the others afflicted with greyscale. Looking over at his sword, Jorah considers taking his own life before accepting the archmaestar’s scenario, and we see Jorah preparing what was likely a goodbye letter to his Khaleesi. But then enters Sam, with a plan to perform a risky procedure to save Jorah’s life. Once again, we see a relationship from many years ago having significant impact upon the decisions being made by characters in present day. Years ago, Sam joined the Night’s Watch and served under Lord Commander Mormont, for whom he developed tremendous respect and admiration. When Sam learns that Jorah is the Lord Commander’s son, he is willing to risk not only being exiled from the Citadel, but also his own life, in the attempt to save Jorah’s. We do not see how things play out, but it seems as though Jorah may have found his lucky star and could be back in action sooner than later.

At the end of last season, when Samwell finally reached the Citadel, I wrote an interesting piece about the significance of the Citadel and what Samwell’s role could be in the future of this story. You can read more about that here. In that piece, I explored the idea that it is possible that it is in fact Samwell that is the narrator of the entire story we are being told today. First, we know that Sam is obsessed with books and storytelling, so if there is any character that recognizes the importance of recording and retelling history, it’s Sam. His arrival at the Citadel only strengthens this theory, as this is the very place where history is recorded and eventually retold to those who care to listen. When you consider this, coupled with the fact that we know the war against darkness is coming, this theory starts to seem even more possible. If you are open to the idea that it is possible that the humans lose the war against darkness, or at least a large percentage of humanity is wiped out, then it follows that somebody will need to be around to tell the story we are seeing today. Who better than Sam? And, in this most recent episode, there was another tidbit which strengthens this theory. When the archmaestar told Samwell of the book he was writing about Robert’s Rebellion, Sam responds that he would personally choose a title that was “a bit more poetic.” Perhaps something like “A Song of Ice and Fire” or “Game of Thrones.” As we have seen time and time again, there is no coincidental dialogue in Game of Thrones — things are said for a reason, even if we don’t find out that reason for many years to come. The writers would not choose to randomly include a line in this episode where Sam comments on the title of a story which recounts the events of recent history, unless it was supposed to mean something. I believe that this is a subtle hint which points to Sam eventually recording and retelling the story that is unfolding before our eyes today.

THE WOLVES REUNITE

On her way for King’s Landing to take out Cersei, Arya stops at the inn where she last split with her good friend Hot Pie. The relationship that developed between the two many years ago would prove to be quite valuable, as Hot Pie informs Arya that the Boltons no longer occupy Winterfell. He tells her of how Jon Snow defeated Ramsay and reclaimed Winterfell. Learning she now has a home to return to and family possibly waiting for her, Arya looks ahead at the road to King’s Landing, before deciding to turn back to head home. This moment again speaks to the ongoing development of Arya’s character and the question of who she wants to be. Is she Arya Stark of Winterfell, or a cold-blooded assassin whose sole purpose is to cross names off her list? With each episode, it appears more and more that she is some combination of the two. In this episode, we see that she values being Arya Stark and returning home to Winterfell more than she does the pursuit of avenging those she has lost.

In one episode, Arya reunites with her old friend Hot Pie, and the information he presented her with now presents the opportunity for her to reunite with her family. But the reunions did not stop there. Sitting over a fire in the woods, Arya is surrounded by a pack of wolves. She is outnumbered and out of luck, until the leader of the pack emerges. Two or three times the size of all the other wolves, this must be a direwolf and Arya immediately recognizes her to be Nymeria. Nymeria was Arya’s direwolf who she set free all the way back in the first season after Cersei ordered for Nymeria to be executed for biting Joffrey. For many years, Arya and Nymeria have been separated, and just like Arya has emerged a much more powerful version of herself, so too has Nymeria. Demonstrating the clear connection the Starks have with their direwolves, Nymeria appears to recognize Arya and looks deeply into her eyes. Arya pleads with Nymeria to come back to Winterfell with her, but Nymeria backs away with the rest of her pack. Arya whispers “That’s not you,” maybe trying to convince herself that it was a different wolf, but we all well know that it was in fact Nymeria. And though they did not immediately join together, Nymeria is out there, with a pack of wolves and it’s a safe bet that we’ll see them again.

“BE A DRAGON”

At Dragonstone, we see Tyrion’s role continuing to grow by the week, as too is his influence over Khaleesi. Tyrion tells her that she is not meant to be the queen of the ashes, a line that she directly repeats to the Greyjoys and Martells who are encouraging her to attack King’s Landing now. And when these allies question her, it is Tyrion that puts forth their military strategy. His strategy is for the Tyrell and Martell armies to surround King’s Landing, while Greyworm and the Unsullied attack the Lannister stronghold, Casterly Rock. The Greyjoys, Martells and Tyrells are amenable to this plan and it appears to be a sound strategy. But while Tyrion continues to put forth a more diplomatic and peaceful plan, Lady Olenna has other advice for Khaleesi.

Sitting alone, the wise Lady Olenna tells Khaleesi that Tyrion is a very clever man and that she has been around many clever men in her life, all of whom she has managed to outlive. She has done so by simply ignoring these clever men, a strategy she is subtly encouraging Khaleesi to employ with Tyrion. More explicitly, she tells Khaleesi that all the others are sheep, but that Khaleesi is a dragon. She tells her to “Be a dragon.” As usual, Lady Olenna shows her wisdom and offers a new vantage point. Khaleesi has been so concerned with being a fair, peaceful and diplomatic ruler, that she has perhaps suppressed the dragon inside of her. While nobody wants to see her repeat the madness or cruelty of her father, at the same time, it is important that Khaleesi remembers who she is. She is the Mother of Dragons, and to get to where she needs to be, she will have to be willing to embrace the fire, even if that fire produces ashes.

WAR HAS BEGUN

Without warning, battle breaks out and the Cersei vs Khaleesi war has officially begun. As the Greyjoys and Martells follow Tyrion’s plan and ride to Dorne to bring the Dornish army back to King’s Landing, Euron Greyjoy attacks and all hell breaks loose. Suffice it to say, nobody does battles scenes like Game of Thrones, and the last few minutes of this episode delivered heart-pounding action. First, it was very cool to see a landless battle. We’ve all seen dozens of portrayals of battles that have taken place on land, but much less have we seen battles that have taken place on the sea. It was powerful to see Euron’s fleet descend upon the unsuspecting Greyjoy fleet and the all-hands-on-deck (pun intended) battle that would ensue.

We got first look at Euron’s fighting skills and see that he not only talks the talk, but can walk the walk. He takes down dozens of Ironborn, followed by taking out two of the three Sand Snakes. He was badly wounded several times, but continued fighting and seemed to embrace the bloody chaos — a true pirate. We also saw the Greyjoys, both Theon and Yara, show off their fighting skills. Below deck, Euron’s men surround Ellaria and the remaining Sand Snake, at which point Ellaria begs for death. But Euron has other plans for her, and she will likely be the gift that Euron promised to bring Cersei. Above deck, Euron has his blade to the throat of his niece, Yara, giving Theon the opportunity to protect his sister as he has pledged to do. As he looks around and sees death and destruction all around him, he is reminded of the torture he inflicted at the hands of Ramsay. He reverts back into his oldself — Reek — and jumps overboard.

And just like that, Euron has delivered the decisive first blow, weakening Khaleesi’s position. In one battle, Khaleesi has lost both of her Greyjoy supporters, their Iron Fleet, as well as her Martell supporters. Tyrion’s proposed strategy is now in serious jeopardy. They do not have the ships to bring back the Dornish army, nor do they have the Martell leaders to lead the Dornish army. Additionally, she’s lost the Greyjoy support and ships she had. Nobody is feeling too bad for Khaleesi with her three dragons and thousands of soldiers, but this definitely was not the start she wanted. As the episode comes to a close and Theon floats away like a piece of driftwood, Lady Olenna’s advice rings loud and true. Khaleesi must be wary of listening to the wise advisers around her and instead must embrace her inner dragon.

 

HONORABLE MENTION

  • Missandei and Greyworm finally get together. Not sure what this is about.

 

  • Qyburn has worked up another one of his mysterious inventions and shows Cersei a giant dragon-killing weapon.

 

  • Through two episodes, we’ve still not seen much from Bran, other than his brief arrival to The Wall.

 

  • Last, but certainly not least, there is a very significant reveal in the season seven intro segment. As you can see in the pictures below, The Wall was built to span the entire width of Westeros, blocking off the White Walkers from traveling north to south. There are seas to the east and west of the land, where the Night’s Watch has castles to ensure the White Walkers cannot pass by water. But now that Winter Is Here, the White Walkers have actually frozen over the seas, allowing them to simply walk around The Wall. This revelation can be seen in the new opening segment. (See below) The White Walkers have brought winter and frozen the entire sea!! This is what The Hound saw last week in the fire when he said “It’s where The Wall meets the seas. The dead are marching past it. Thousands of them.”

Season 6, Episode 3: Oathbreaker

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.

THINGS ARE MOVING FAST (AND SLOW)

Blink and you might miss something big — that’s the way the story is moving this season, and things only accelerated in episode 3, entitled Oathbreaker. I remember times in earlier seasons where I could only wait for the story to speed up and for us to get to the good stuff. But now that that time has arrived, I can’t help but feel that many parts of the story are moving too fast. Or at least, too fast for the brief 55-minute episode that we are granted each week. What’s more, I feel a major inconsistency in speed of plot between certain characters and storylines in a given episode. For instance, in a matter of basically one episode, Jon Snow has been brought back to life, executed his murderers and abandoned his post as Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. In the past, these each would’ve been monumental twists and turns of their own, spread across many episodes. But Jon Snow’s story has hit the turbo-speed button, and all of this has been packed into such a short time period. Meanwhile, the same episode then flashes to Khaleesi’s story, which continues to drag along at a speed that might make a snail chuckle. I am struggling to find an internal homeostasis as I watch this show, with certain points appearing to reach a climax, while others struggle to find an inflection point at all. With that, let’s jump in to it.

THE OATHBREAKER

When I saw this episode was entitled Oathbreaker, a name that had been ascribed to Jaime Lannister in reference to him breaking his oath to protect the (Mad) King, I thought that we might be in store for some flashbacks of Robert’s Rebellion, and maybe a glimpse of a younger Jaime actually putting his sword through the back of the Mad King. And while we did get a flashback from the era of Robert’s Rebellion, it was an entirely different flashback, and had nothing to do with Jaime. Rather, in the final moment of the episode, we find out that it is in fact Jon Snow who will be breaking his oath and abandoning his post as Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch.

But let’s cut him some slack, he was just brought back from the dead and came face to face with his own murderers — an experience that must be pretty weird to say the least. But let’s step back for a moment to the beginning of the episode, which picked up right where last week’s episode left off. Jon Snow gasps for air as he somehow tries to contemplate what has happened and the fact that he is alive once again. To her disappointment, he tells Melisandre that he saw nothing after he died, just darkness (sorry Melisandre, no Lord of Light encounters). Jon Snow tells Davos that he failed in his mission and that he does not know how to keep fighting — again, we see another character that has lost faith and hope. But, we continue to see Ser Davos serve as the strength for characters who have lost faith, as he reminds Jon Snow that he must keep fighting, and that he should “go out and fail again.”

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Perhaps more significant that any of these encounters that Jon Snow had after being brought back to life was the general way about him. Perhaps I was naively expecting the same Jon Snow, more motivated than ever to lead the remaining Night’s Watch and Wildlings, who would take back the North from Ramsay and eventually fight back the White Walkers. But this is far from the Jon Snow we got, underscored by one of the first things he tells Ser Davos, “I should not be here.” Bringing somebody back from the dead is not natural, and Jon Snow certainly seems to sense this. The cozy warmth of Jon Snow that we’ve come to know was nowhere to be found — traded for a cold, unnatural darkness about him. It almost seemed as if he wished he had been left in his resting place. Perhaps this was exacerbated by Ser Alliser’s final words, when he told Jon Snow that he’s accepted his resting place, but Jon Snow will be stuck fighting this war for thousands of years to come. It’s a pretty heavy thing to be thrown at a guy who has just been brought back from the dead, and maybe Jon Snow doesn’t want to be burdened with this enormous load. So just like that, he calls it quits and names Dolorous Edd the new Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. But not before executing the traitors that murdered him, even Ollie who was just a boy. In the past, this might have been something that Jon Snow would not have been able to do, but this cold and hardened Jon Snow swung his sword and ended their lives. And then appeared to leave the Wall…

THE TOWER OF JOY

The Tower of Joy is an extremely significant scene from the GoT books that takes place all the way back in the very first book George R.R. Martin wrote; through Bran’s flashback, we got to see this scene relived. The scene takes place about 20 years prior to the start of the show, and Robert’s Rebellion is coming to a close as King’s Landing has been sacked by the rebels and the Mad King has been overthrown. Ned Stark has rode across Westeros in search of his sister Lyanna, who he believes was kidnapped by Rhaegar Targaryen (son of the Mad King, oldest brother of Khaleesi), while others believe Lyanna chose to ride off with Rhaegar. When watching this scene, it is important to consider that the search for Lyanna was one of the major factors that sparked Robert’s Rebellion in the first place.

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Finally, Ned and his band of Northerners arrive at the Tower of Joy, located in Dorne, where it appears Lyanna is being held captive. While the war took place further North around King’s Landing, it is interesting to consider that Rhaegar had two of his best men all the way south in Dorne guarding this tower. After the first Targaryen knight is killed, we get glimpse of the famed Ser Arthur Dayne, regarded as the greatest knight in all of Westeros, take on four men at once. After defeating the first three, he fights Ned, who is clearly overmatched, and is destined for death after being de-sworded. But just like that, Howland Reed puts his knife in the back of Ser Arthur, before Ned gets the kill. There were several interesting takeaways from this scene: 1) We got to see one of the more epic fights of Westeros history come to life 2) Howland Reed is the one to save Ned; years later his children Jojen and Meera Reed would go on to save/guide Ned’s son, Bran 3) Ned did not defeat Ser Arthur honorably as the tale was told to Bran. Rather, Ser Arthur was murdered dishonorably, stabbed in the back, which did not sit well with Bran.

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As the fight came to an end and we hear a female scream come from the Tower of Joy, Ned begins to ascend the stairs, but not before Bran calls out to his father, to which his father pauses and turns around. Clearly, Ned sensed Bran’s presence, which is an interesting wrinkle to this scene. But the scene would end there and Bran would not get to see what was inside the tower, though we can speculate that it will be his sister Lyanna inside. It seems as though we are getting closer and closer to finding out if there is any truth to the R + L = J theory (a theory which proposed the idea that Rhaegar and Lyanna are in fact the parents of Jon Snow, making Jon Snow part Targaryen). You can read more about that theory from a season 4 recap here.

KING’S LANDING

In King’s Landing, we continue to struggle to understand who truly holds the power. Whereas we are used to seeing the absolute power in King’s Landing of a king and his army, things continue to remain very ambiguous these days. Finally, Tommen decides to exercise a bit of power and demands that the High Sparrow allow his mother to visit the resting place of her daughter, Myrcella. Though, the High Sparrow refuses, noting that his wish cannot be granted until she atones for all of her sins. As Tommen’s guards stand behind him, so too do the Sparrow’s men, showing a clear standoff and vision of power. But things soon settle down, as the High Sparrow is able to manipulate Tommen in telling him that a good king always listens to the wisest council, none which can be wiser than god. In other words, he appears to be convincing Tommen that he should listen to the council of himself, the High Sparrow.

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Elsewhere, Jaime and Cercei join the small council, where we see Tywin’s brother, Kevan, sitting as Hand of the King, along with Mace and Olenna Tyrell, and Maestar Pycelle. Cercei and Jaime try to impose their will to join the small council, though the small council prefers to keep them out. Later, we see Cercei approach Maestar Qyburn in his dungeon, where she tells him that she wants birdies in every corner of Westeros, from Highgarden (home to House Tyrell) to Dorne (home to House Martell). If there is anybody looking to make the Lannister losses their gains, Cercei wants to know. Of course, this is no surprise. But, what was somewhat of a surprise, was learning that Varys’ “little birds” were in fact little children. This of course makes sense — using poor little children who are able to roam around unsuspected is an intelligent strategy — and this is at least part of Varys’ network of little birdies. But some of these birds are now under the power of Qyburn, and in turn Cercei, so we’ll see how they can turn information into power.

A LITTLE PRESENT

In the North, we see the Lord of House Karstark has gotten even cozier with Ramsay, sitting at the table with him, as a Lord of House Umber arrives. Again, it is important to note that House Karstark and House Umber were the two most powerful houses in the North after House Stark. Lord Umber notes that Jon Snow has brought the Wildlings south of the Wall and they are now a threat to his land. He requests support from Ramsay to fight off the Wildlings, and while he is not willing to bend the knee to Ramsay, he does offer a pretty significant present: Rickon Stark, along with the Wildling Osha. And as confirmation that this is in fact Rickon, we see the head of Rickon’s direwolf, Shaggydog. Sansa, Robb and now Rickon have all had their direwolves murdered, showing that the poor luck and cruel murders do not just stop at the Starks themselves, but also their wolves. Needless to say, Ramsay now has a major bargaining chip, and we can only hope that Rickon is not subjected to Ramsay’s sadistic torture games.

rickon

A GIRL IS NOBODY

Last week Arya refused the offer of getting her vision back if she stated her name — a sign that showed she was in fact getting closer to becoming nobody. This week, as her training continued, she took even further steps towards becoming nobody, culminating with her drinking from the well that causes a painless death to those who wish it. Arya was not only willing to part with her vision, but she has now parted with all her fears, willing to risk her life to become nobody. In doing so, Arya actually gets her vision back, an ironic turn of events. What I find most interesting about this storyline is the question of whether or not Arya will actually remain nobdy, or will still be guided by her identity of Arya. Clearly, she has been training to become nobody, but it was Arya’s very sense of self that made her the strong character that she has been throughout. And if you stop and think about what Arya has endured since season one, it’s an incredible struggle that she has survived. So, the idea of ridding herself of that very character seems strange and I am interested to see if she will truly remain nobody.

arya

One other tidbit that I found interesting was an excerpt from her training/interrogation from the “nobody girl.” During this exchange, every time Arya told a lie, the girl could sense it and would hit her with her stick. When she asked Arya if she wanted the Hound to die, Arya said yes, and got hit by the stick. Arya then said no, and then admitted it was “complicated.” As Arya journied throughout the Riverlands with the Hound and we got to experience what was by far my favorite relationship in this story, Arya still proclaimed that she wanted to kill the Hound, even though we felt like that wasn’t true. In the end, I was very sad to see her leave him there to die (and still hope that he is alive). It is interesting that several seasons later, we see this topic reemerge, and in a scene where Arya’s lies do not work, we hear her confess the truth which was that she did not in fact want to see him die.

KHALEESI AND THE OTHERS

Elsewhere in Easteros, I continue to be extremely bored by Khaleesi’s plot. Every now and then there are some great twists and turns within this story, but for the most part, it feels like I am just watching a lot of people walk through the hot and dry desert, with not much else happening. Of course, I am oversimplifying, and more has happened, but it seriously is taking way too long and has become very boring to me. After things came to a head with the Sons of the Harpies last season and Drogon flew in to save the day and Khaleesi flew off on the back of her dragon and Tyrion/Varys became part of the crew, I really thought we were headed somewhere with this storyline. But to date, we’ve been thrown back into the same monotonous story. Khaleesi is back in trouble once again and somebody needs to save her, blah blah blah.

kahleesi

Even worse, Khaleesi’s boringness has rubbed off on all characters in this part of the world, including Varys and Tyrion. Never did I think I would be bored by the ever-interesting duo of Varys and Tyrion. But Khaleesi has managed to suck them into the boringness of her story. Yes, Varys uses his cunning to discover that it is the slave masters of Yunkai, Astapor and Volantis that have been backing the Harpies and trying to overthrow Khaleesi, but I’m still bored. And the implications of this are even worse — is it possible that Khaleesi is actually going to go back to these slave cities that she took so many seasons to conquer, and make us watch and she tries to do it all over again? I have to believe that this will not happen, for our sake, so it will be interesting to see how these slaves cities are dealt with (once again).

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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?

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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.