Season 5, Episode 8: Hardhome

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

THE ONE TRUE GAME

In the Game of Thrones world, for better or worse, there are so many games being played all at once. For the first few seasons, the most significant and end-all game that was being played was the battle for the Throne. At the time, this appeared to be the defining game of the show and the only one that really mattered. And though five seasons later, this game is yet to be resolved as Stannis and Khaleesi are both still major players battling for the Throne, we continue to see so many additional games that are introduced. Whether it be a game of love or a game of revenge; a game of truth or a game of deception — the Thrones world has done something that few stories have ever done before, creating so many different layers of plot-lines, all occurring simultaneously. And with each game comes its respective players, its location of play and so many other details that make each game so interesting and enjoyable to watch unfold. But the multitude of all these games all being played at once also proves to do one other thing very well — it distracts us from the one true game being played — the only game that matters — the game of Ice and Fire. And in the 48th episode to date, we were abruptly and violently reminded, more so than ever before, of the game that we should all be focused on — the one that will likely determine the fate of all mankind.

JON SNOW LEADS THE FIGHT AGAINST DARKNESS

As Jon Snow approaches Hardhome, the basecamp of the Wildlings, alongside his new ally Tormund Giantsbayne, the mood is colder than ever before. The mission at hand is a nearly unthinkable one — to unite the Wildlings and the Night’s Watch — two clans that have been warring for thousands of years. Yet is is also clear that Jon Snow has no choice — he must unite all men if they are to have any chance at fighting off the White Walkers and avoiding a fate of death and darkness.

After a hostile welcome from the Lord of Bones, Tormund beats him to death, showing the other Wildlings that he means business, while also making it clear to viewers that his allegiance to Jon Snow is true. After Jon Snow and Tormund make their pitch to the leaders of each Wildling clan, some agree to join their cause while others stubbornly refuse. And as Jon Snow starts to look a lot like Moses, leading an exodus of Wildlings onto the sea to the promised land of Castle Black, all hell breaks loose as an avalanche of wights (the army of dead led by the White Walkers), descends upon Hardhome.

Jon Snow approaches Hardhome

Jon Snow approaches Hardhome

Once again, Jon Snow shows that his bravery and leadership is unparalleled; where most men would have fleed, Jon Snow stays back to defend the Wildlings and fight off the wights. But perhaps he regretted that decision just moments later, as he looks up to see a band of White Walkers on a cliff, looking down at the battle below. And not just any White Walkers. These appear to be the leaders of the White Walkers, the ones we saw just once before, in a season four episode when they took one of Craster’s babies into the far North and turned it into a White Walker, by touching a finger to the baby’s face and turning its eyes a deep blue. It was assumed that we had just witnessed how a White Walker is created (which begs the question — how was the first White Walker created?), and we also learned what the White Walkers have been doing with the babies Craster had been leaving for them.

Season 4 episode where we saw a White Walker king turn a baby into a White Walker

Season 4 episode where we saw a White Walker king turn a baby into a White Walker

Unlike other White Walkers we’ve seen (such as the one killed by Samwell Tarly), which do not wear any clothes, carry real weapons, and generally appear less advanced, the White Walkers that Jon Snow looked up at wore dark black clothes, carried weapons and clearly appeared to be the leaders and/or more advanced White Walkers. And just a few moments later, Jon Snow finds himself in a one-on-one battle with one of these White Walkers. But first, we saw one of the Thenns attempt to fight this White Walker, but his battle axe is shattered when it meets the icy sword of the White Walker, and he is of course then killed. Jon Snow is up next, but cannot find the dragon-glass, and is getting his ass handed to him by the White Walker. But just as it’s looking like he might not win this fight, Jon stumbles upon his sword, Longclaw, the Valryian steel sword given to him by Lord Commander Jeor Mormont. And whereas we’ve seen and heard that all steel swords are shattered when they meet the icy touch of a White Walker, Longclaw in the hands of Jon Snow, stands up to the weapon of the White Walker, and Jon Snow is then able to but his sword through the White Walker, joining Samwell Tarly in the White Walker kill club.

Jon Snow, with his Valyrian steel sword, slays a White Walker

Jon Snow, with his Valyrian steel sword, slays a White Walker

Things get even worse as hundreds more wights descend upon Jon and whatever’s left of the Night’s Watch and Wildlings, and they’re forced to retreat to their boat and head back to Castle Black. But not before we saw what was one of the, if not the single most powerful and revealing scene in the five seasons we’ve been watching Game of Thrones. It was a single image that epitomized what lies at the core of this epic story created by George R.R. Martin — a series entitled A Song of Ice and Fire. Martin named this series A Song of Ice and Fire for a reason…after all, at it’s core, it’s a story about Ice, darkness and evil versus Fire, light and good. But viewers often lose sight of these themes and the true name of the series itself, since HBO for its TV adaptation chose to use the name of the first book in this series, A Game of Thrones, presumably because it was a more marketable title. But the Game of Thrones was merely the title of the first book — and as we know — a much smaller game compared to the greater game of Ice versus Fire.

And now, as Jon Snow exchanges a long, cold, hard stare with one of the White Walker’s leaders — we see these very themes personified. Ice, darkness and evil versus Fire, light and good — two opposing forces that have been in a constant struggle since the beginning of the world. And as Thrones history tells us, during the Long Night, thousands of years ago, a great battle transpired between these two forces, and darkness almost prevailed as all of mankind was pushed near the brink of extinction, until Azor Ahai, with his burning sword called Lightbringer, fought back the White Walkers. It was at this time that the Wall was built to keep out the White Walkers and defend the realm from the darkness that lived beyond. In the religion of the Lord of Light, it was prophecized that at some point in the future, Azor Ahai would be reincarnated as the Prince that was Promised, to once again fight back the White Walkers in a battle that would determine the fate of all mankind. And, as we know, Melisandre has often spoke the words of the Lord of Light, telling that there is only light versus dark, good versus evil and Ice versus Fire. As we’ve seen before, the religion of the Lord of Light seems to be the most legitimized, the most rooted in truth and perhaps the most significant to the outcome of this world. And now as Jon Snow stares down a White Walker leader, it appears that prophecy about Azor Ahai being reborn to once again fight back the White Walkers might be true and that this battle is more imminent than ever; Fire and light will oppose Ice and darkness, with the prevailing side determining the fate of all mankind.

The Night King raising up his wights

The Night King raising up his wights

And yet if we dig a bit deeper, there are additional layers of significance to what we saw in this episode. First, this is the most screen-time we’ve gotten with the White Walkers, by far. And not just any White Walkers, but what appeared to be the more advanced White Walkers — and the spikey-head White Walker who appears to the king of the White Walkers. Additionally significant, we saw him raise up all the dead corpses and turn them into wights. While we knew that wights were dead corpses that the White Walkers turned into zombies that march in their army of the dead, this is something that we had never seen happen before this episode. We’ve now seen this White Walker (the one with the spikey head), turn a human baby into a White Walker, as well as turning dead corpses into wights to serve in his army of the dead. We now have a lot more color on the White Walkers. The spikey-head White Walker appears to be the king and perhaps the purest of all White Walkers. The other White Walkers with the long hair are possibly the White Walkers that the king turns from human babies.  And finally we have the wights which are dead corpses that the spikey-head White Walkers are able to convert into zombie foot soldiers to fight in their army.

Still, perhaps the greatest takeaway is one regarding Jon Snow, his ability to kill a White Walker and what this tells us about who he might be. For five seasons, we’ve heard quite a bit about dragon-glass being the only weapon to be able to kill White Walkers, but haven’t heard much about Valyrian steel being able to do the same. And apparently, most of the Thrones characters had ever heard about Valyrian steel being used as a weapon to kill the White Walkers — after all, if they had, Jon Snow would have reached for his Valyrian steel sword before going for the dragon-glass. So it was quite a revelation when Jon Snow’s Valyrian steel sword stood up to the White Walker’s sword of ice, and then was able to destoy the White Walker altogether. For starters, this reveals quite a bit more about Valyrian steel itself. To date, we knew it was the strongest and sharpest steel around, while also being the lightest. We knew that it stayed razor sharp without being tended to. More or less, it just seemed like the best steel sword that money could buy. What we didn’t know, and what we just learned, is that perhaps there is more to Valyrian steel — perhaps an element of magic. After all, we’ve been told that only the Valyrians knew how to forge this great steel and that this knowledge was lost when Old Valyria perished in the Doom. We also know that dragon-glass, the only weapon we knew that was able to kill White Walkers, also comes from Valyria. So, perhaps Valyrian steel has some magical elements from the ancient days of Old Valyria, that allow it to destroy the White Walkers, just like dragon-glass. This all plays right back into the greater theme of Ice versus Fire; the White Walkers, which can be defeated only by dragon-glass and Valyrian steel, represent the Ice; the dragon-glass and Valyrian steel, each of which are said to have been forged using the magic of Valyrian dragons and fire, represent the Fire which can defeat the Ice of the White Walkers.

What was also interesting was the combination of the Valryian steel sword being in the hands of Jon Snow himself.  After all, we know that Targaryens come from Valyria — so if Jon Snow is in fact a Targaryen, as hypothesized in my recap three weeks ago, this would make him a descendant of Old Valyria. Which would mean that we just witnessed a very rare Valyrian steel sword being swung by the even rarer Valyrian. Of course, this is just conjecture, but that the Valyrian steel sword, Longclaw, ended up in the hands of Jon Snow, could be another hint at the idea that he is in fact a Targaryen.

A QUICK RECAP OF EVERYTHING ELSE

Compared to the final scene which brought us back to the only game that matters and to the title of this series itself — Ice versus Fire — evil versus good — dark versus light — the other scenes of this episode appear almost insignificant. But, in the greatest game that is yet to unfold and the great battle that is yet to take place, the other smaller games will decide the roll each player is to play in the greatest game of all. So here’s a quick recap…

In Mereen, we see how things play out between Jorah, Tyrion and Khaleesi. Tyrion quickly establishes his cunning and intelligence before Khaleesi and after she seeks his advice regarding what to do with Jorah, Tyrion counsels that she should show him mercy because Jorah is devoted and loyal, yet he cannot be seen marching by her side after he betrayed her. Jorah is banished from the city and goes back to his previous master in hopes of fighting at the great pit before Khaleesi. Behind closed doors, Tyrion and Khaleesi chat about Khaleesi’s quest for the Throne and Tyrion suggests that she should consider remaining in Easteros, where perhaps she can do more good for the common people. But, Khaleesi reminds him that Easteros is not her home, and refers to all the powerful houses of Westeros as spokes on a wheel that go round and round — one day this family is on top — the next day another family is on top. Tyrion tells her that many before her have tried to stop the wheel — to which she powerfully responds that she is not going to stop the wheel, she is going to break the wheel.

Tyrion before Khaleesi

Tyrion before Khaleesi

In King’s Landing, Cercei remains in a cell without any tricks or schemes to get her out — she appears completely powerless for the first time. But, Qyburn, one of her few remaining loyalists, reminds her that he is “still working,” probably referring to the Mountain, whom remains in his lab as some sort of evil science experiment. With only two episodes left this season, will we see what kind of freakish monster Qyburn has perhaps turned the Mountain into? And will he help free Cercei?

In Braavos, Arya continues with her training as she begins to assume a new identity. Jaqen tells her that she will study “the gambler” and learn everything about him, before giving her a vile assumed to be poison. We are left to conclude that this will be a test to see if she is capable of committing her first assassination and joining the Faceless Men.

Arya's new identity

Arya’s new identity

In Winterfell, after an exchange between Sansa and Theon/Reek, Sansa learns that her brothers Bran and Rickon are in fact alive. She joins the Boltons and Samwell Tarly as the only people who are aware of this powerful information. Elsewhere in Winterfell, Roose and Ramsey discuss the impending battle with Stannis and Roose suggests that they stay behind the newly mended walls of Winterfell, while Stannis’ men freeze and starve in the winter cold. However, Ramsey says that they should take the fight to Stannis and that he only needs twenty good men — leaving us to wonder what kind of plan he’s got that would only need twenty men to defeat Stannis’ army.

With only two episodes left, things have accelerated exponentially and it will be interesting to see how much is wrapped up in the final two episodes. One major battle looks to be just around the corner between Stannis and the Boltons, while the greater battle between light and dark doesn’t appear to be too far behind. In King’s Landing, the Throne is more vulnerable than ever before, with major houses Lannister and Tyrell both weakened as their principal house members are locked up in cells. Across the world, Khaleesi might just have found the counsel that she’s been waiting five seasons for. Elsewhere in Easteros, Arya is taking steps closer towards joining the Faceless Men. Sansa has learned some major information that her brothers are still alive and let’s not forget Brienne is not far away, waiting to help her at just the right moment. Baelish is somewhere behind the scenes scheming and Varys is out there somewhere as well. Most importantly, it no longer appears that Winter is Coming — winter is now here. And with just two episodes until the 50 episode mark, buckle up because the home stretch of season five is sure to be a bloody, brutal and bumpy one.

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Season 5, Episode 3: The High Sparrow

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

THE GAME CONTINUES…AND NEW IDENTITIES ARE FORGED

In the third episode, entitled The High Sparrow, we see that “the game” continues to be played and all the players that continue to make their moves. Whereas the first two episodes of this season appeared to be “setup” episodes, in this episode, we see many new plot progressions and are offered insight into the direction that things seem to be headed. Some characters take on new roles as others plot revenge; once-powerful characters now appear all but powerless while some of the weaker characters have gained strength. Some characters finally return home, while others appear further away than ever before.  But more apparent than anything, is the fact that many characters are emerging with newfound identities.

volantis

And now, there appear to be more games being played than ever before — and the “game of thrones,” that is the battle for the Iron Throne, appears to be one of the least important games being played at the moment. Unlikely allegiances appear imminent and new plots are starting to take shape. Characters are more mixed up than ever, and most importantly, in this chaotic world that seems less structured than ever before, everything seems to be up for grabs.

A GIRL MUST BE NOBODY

As the episode begins, we get first glimpse inside the House of Black and White, the temple of the Many-Faced God. Whereas most temples we are used to seeing are light, beautiful and full of life, this temple is dark and a place to serve death. As Jaqen H’ghar offers a man a drink from the temple’s pool, he kneels peacefully before dying a few moments later. And as his body and others are removed and washed, we are left to wonder what is done with these bodies?

Jaqen, offering a peaceful death from the fountain

Jaqen, offering a peaceful death from the fountain

Arya, tired of sweeping the floors, tells Jaqen that she is ready to become a Faceless Man, to which he responds “Valar Dohaeris,” meaning “all men must serve.” She tells him that she is ready to serve, but he reminds her that she is only ready to serve herself. “There is only one god,” he tells her, “and all men know his gift,” referring to the gift of death. Later, Arya again tells Jaqen that she is ready to become nobody, to which he asks her how nobody came to be surrounded by all of Arya Stark’s possessions. A girl cannot become nobody until she strips herself of her full identity, including all her belongings.

As Arya tosses her clothes and silver in the water, eyes full of tears, she holds Needle in her hand. Through the murder and death of so many of her family members, not once did we see Arya cry or show any emotion at all. Yet, as she is faced with the task of saying goodbye to the sword given to her by Jon Snow, tears come to her eyes, as she is ultimately unable to let go. And while there is surely some sentimental value associated with her sword as it was given to her by her older brother, at her home of Winterfell, at a time when her entire family was still alive, this is ultimately not what brings tears to her eyes. Rather, it was the idea of having to part with the symbolic identity of the one thing that she has been able to hold onto: revenge. In many ways, Arya has already stripped herself of much of her identity — she has lost so much of herself already — but the one thing she has always had was revenge. And Needle was the tool  of her revenge — the one tangible thing in her life to give her hope. And now, as she is forced to let go of Needle, a symbol of her letting go of her need for revenge — she is unable to do so, a sign that she ultimately is not yet ready to fully let go of her identity as Arya Stark.

Arya, unable to let go of Needle

Arya, unable to let go of Needle

THE TABLES HAVE TURNED

In King’s Landing, Tommen is wed to Margaery, and unlike her last marriage, she is sure to consecrate this one. As they lay in bed together, Tommen innocently asks Margaery several times if he hurt her, a subtle demonstration of the difference between he and his older brother who only wanted to hurt people. Behind closed doors, we see the manipulative ways of Margaery as she uses her beauty, sex and age to wrap Tommen around her finger. She tells Tommen that she wants to know everything about him, and reminds him that Cercei will always be a lioness and Tommen her cub — an attempt to have Tommen put distance between he and his mother. And we see the affect of Margaery’s words, as the very next scene shows Tommen asking Cercei if she wants to return to Casterly Rock, where he thinks she would be happier.

Cercei, having lost much of her power, looking on at Margaery

Cercei, having lost much of her power, looking on at Margaery

While she may be losing her power, she is not losing her wit, and Cercei is well aware of Margaery’s influence over Tommen. And as she approaches Margaery, we see that the tables have turned big time. For so long, Margaery was forced to suffer and endure the cruelty of Cercei. But now, with Tywin and Joffrey dead, and Margaery officially the queen, Cercei has lost much of her power to Margaery. In short, Margaery has forged a new identity as Queen of the Seven Kingdoms, while Cercei has a new identity as well — that queen that used to be. And Margaery is keen to remind Cercei of this fact, as she asks Cercei if she should refer to her as Queen Mother or dowager queen, both references to her queenship only being of title, but not actual power. She also adds that it will not be long before Cercei is a grandmother, not only referring to the fact that she and Tommen will further consecrate their marriage by having children, but also a sarcastic reminder to Cercei that she is getting older. No longer able to make her usual threat or command, Cercei storms out, with a look on her face that tells us that she will not sit by idly or go down quietly.

HOME SWEET HOME

Further north, we see Winterfell for the first time since Theon burned it to the ground. More importantly, we see that Winterfell is being resurrected as the new seat of House Bolton, powerfully underscored by the flayed bodies we see hanging. But as Ramsey sits with his father, Roose tells his son that with Tywin dead, they no longer have the backing of the Lannisters, and that they must gain control over the smaller houses of the North, or risk being overrun by these houses. And as Winterfell is repaired, we see Theon roaming around, appearing completely lost, and we are left to wonder what role he will play, if any, in the coming days.

Baelish and Sansa

Baelish and Sansa

As Baelish and Sansa near Winterfell, Baelish tells Sansa that the marriage which had been accepted was the one he arranged between her and Ramsey Bolton. She refuses to marry him, telling him that she would die before marrying into the family that betrayed her family and killed her brother, Robb. Baelish reminds Sansa that she is the eldest surviving Stark and her home will always be Winterfell. He tells Sansa that he will not force her, and as he pulls her in close, almost like a father, he tells her, “You’ve been running all your life. You sit alone in a dark room mourning the fates of your family. You’ve been a bystander to tragedy. Stop being a bystander, stop running. There is no justice in the world…not unless we make it. You loved your family, avenge them.”

Sansa seems to have received the message, but the real question we are all left wondering, is does Baelish actually care about Sansa? When he pulls her close and kisses her head, is he truly trying to comfort her? Or is she merely a pawn in his game of chess? Is she just a means to his end? It’s still unclear whether we can trust this man or what his actual intentions are. And as they arrive to Winterfell, Sansa is forced to step back into the home that she has been away from for years now…a home that she no longer recognizes…a home that is now occupied by the man who put his dagger through the heart of Robb Stark. And she is forced to play her part, pretending that she is amenable to the marriage that has been arranged. Although forced by her external environment, Sansa too is forging a new identity, as soon-to-be wife of Ramsey Bolton. But even more so, she is assuming the identity as somebody who is learning to “play the game,” as she takes Baelish’s advice and looks to get close to House Bolton before exacting her revenge.

Baelish & Roose Bolton

Baelish & Roose Bolton

Perhaps most significant is the conversation that transpires between two men that have both been scheming and plotting in their own rights, Roose Bolton, who has a new identity as Lord of the North and Petyr Baelish, also with a new identity as Lord of the Vale. Roose asks Littlefinger if he is prepared for the consequences when the Lannisters find out that he was responsible for helping Sansa escape from King’s Landing and that he is now marrying her to Ramsey Bolton. But, Littlefinger appears unworried, reminding Roose that House Lannister is not what it once was, with Tywin dead, Jaime having but one hand and Cercei no longer the true queen. But, Roose intercepts a message sent by Cercei to Littlefinger, which makes him further question Littlefinger’s motives. When Bolton asks Littlefinger why he would gamble with his position, Littlefinger tells Bolton that every ambitious move is a gamble, even Bolton’s betrayal of House Stark was a gamble, a gamble which clearly paid off. But Roose reminds Littlefinger that with Tywin dead, House Bolton remains vulnerable with little backing. Baelish tells him that because of his marriage to Lysa before her death, he is now Lord of the Vale, while Bolton is now Lord of the North. Littlefinger powerfully notes that the last time the Lords of the Vale and the Lords of the North came together, they brought down the most powerful dynasty the world had ever known, referring to when Jon Arryn of the Vale and Ned Stark of the North joined forces (along with House Baratheon) to overthrow the Mad King during Robert’s Rebellion. It’s unclear what will come next and with Stannis looking to overtake the North, things appear shaky at Winterfell for House Bolton.

Smaller, but also worth noting, is that twice in this episode we saw Ramsey’s girl, as she looked on while Ramsey was introduced due his future wife, Sansa. Last season, this girl killed Ramsey’s other girl, the blonde, when she became jealous of her. Rarely does this show put these kinds of characters on camera without foreshadowing something to come.

Ramsey's old girl looking on at Ramsey and Sansa

Ramsey’s old girl looking on at Ramsey and Sansa

BRIENNE THE AVENGER

Not too far away from Wintefell, Brienne and Pod are keeping a close eye on Sansa. More importantly, Brienne offered a powerful revelation in this episode and a rare show of emotion. Since we first met her, we knew Brienne loved Renley, but we never knew exactly why. And years later, through a conversation with the unlikeliest of people, we are offered a glimpse into Brienne’s past and why she loved Renley so much. She tells Pod a story about her father who set up a ball to arrange a suitor for her daughter. And as the boys fought over her, she felt special and beautiful, until learning that it was all a joke that the boys were in on. As she felt more foolish and ugly than ever before, she ran off, only to be stopped by the kind-hearted Renley, who reminded her that these shits were not worth her tears. He was the one person who comforted her, who truly cared for her. And for that, she would always love him. She tells Pod that she will avenge his death, mentioning the shadow with Stannis’ face who killed him, alluding to the fact that she seeks to kill Stannis. And we now question the true identity of Brienne — is it defined by her honor and duty to the words she swore to Catelyn Stark to protect her daughters, or is it the dark desire to avenge the death of her one true love, Renley Baratheon?

Brienne telling Pod of her love for Renley

Brienne telling Pod of her love for Renley

LORD COMMANDER SNOW

Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, Jon Snow is again offered the opportunity by Stannis to become Jon Stark and rule over the North. But again, he refuses the offer and we see the unwavering strength of Jon Snow who is completely dedicated to honor and duty, the words he swore and vows he must uphold. Stannis reminds Jon that it was this very same stubborn honor that got Ned killed. Interestingly, Jon Snow is actually torn between three different identities: Jon Snow the bastard, Jon Snow the new Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, and Jon Stark, the Lord of Winterfell.

Before departing the room, Stannis mentions that Jon should talk to the Wildling prisoners one more time, and that perhaps Tormund Giantsbayne will be more reasonable than was Mance Rayder. After he leaves the room, Ser Davos sticks behind and tells Jon that Stannis sees something in him. He also offers that part of the Night’s Watch vow is to be “the shield that protects the realms of men,” pointing to the fact joining Stannis and protecting the North is in fact part of his duty.

The man who passes the sentence must swing the sword

The man who passes the sentence must swing the sword

In the dining hall, Jon Snow makes his identity clear as he gives his first commands as Lord Commander, but not before Samwell tells him that Maestar Aemon is not feeling well. Jon first appoints Ser Alliser Thorne the coveted position of First Ranger, perhaps because Ser Alliser was deserved of the position, or perhaps because Jon wanted to keep a potential enemy close. Either way, it was a honorable move — when Ser Alliser was Lord Commander, he did nothing but use his power to make life difficult for Jon; but Jon Snow as new Lord Commander shows that he is a better man. And as he appoints Janos Slynt with a more remedial task, Janos refuses, thinking that his once powerful position as Commander of the Kingsguard excuses him from such commands. Jon Snow must gain the respect of all the brothers and demonstrate his power, so he sentences Janos to death.

More importantly, he sets to carry out the execution himself, an allusion back to the very first episode of this series when Ned Stark beheads a deserter of the Night’s Watch and reminds his son that the man who passes the sentence must swing the sword. But as Janos confesses that he has always been a weak and scared man and begs for mercy, it looks as though Jon is going to grant his mercy and not go through with the execution. We’ve seen time and time again, Jon unable to carry out the executions that he must — once when he had to execute the Wilding Ygritte, and another time when he had to kill the horsebreeder for the Night’s Watch. But with all the brothers of the Night’s Watch looking on, Jon strikes true and carries out the execution — a powerful statement pointing to the identity transformation of Jon Snow’s character.

THE HIGH SPARROW

Back at King’s Landing, several of the sparrows, led by Lancel Lannister, take the High Septon from the brothel and beat him in the streets. When he demands Cercei to serve justice, she prefers to throw him in jail and go to visit the High Sparrow. Impressed with the man she finds, she tells him that faith and the crown are the two pillars that uphold the realm, and without one, everything crumbles. One cannot co-exist without the other and they must do everything in their power to help one another. Being that she appears to be losing powers over one of these pillars, the crown, perhaps she seeks to gain power over the other, religion. Though her exact intentions are unclear, Cercei is cultivating a new relationship that she will undoubtedly seek to use to her advantage.

Cercei & the High Sparrow

Cercei & the High Sparrow

As she returns to the Red Keep, she gives Maestar Qyburn a message to send to Littlefinger, adding “make sure he is very clear on the word immediately.” This is the message that Roose Bolton will later intercept, though its contents are unclear. Most interesting is the “thing” that is being restrained under the sheet on Qyburn’s medical table. Of course, we are left to assume that this is the Mountain, Qyburn’s latest science experiment who will be brought back to life as an even greater monster than he already was.

VOLANTIS

And finally, Tyrion and Varys arrive at Volantis, and not a moment too soon as Tyrion was beginning to lose his mind, having been cooped up in one box after the next. As they venture through the market of Volantis, we are exposed to the newest of the Free Cities of Easteros, and we see many of the cultural differences of this city, namely the caste system where everybody has a clearly marked social status in society. They stumble upon another Red Priestess who speaks of the Mother of Dragons who has been sent by the Red God as a savior. As Tyrion watches her, she slowly glances up at him, before staring for several moments, with a look in her eye that almost gave the appearance that he is the savior she had been speaking of, not Khaleesi.

The Red Priestess staring at Tyrion

The Red Priestess staring at Tyrion

As they enter Tyrion’s most familiar home, a brothel, Tyrion engages in a conversation with one of the whores. But, when it is time to move forward, he is unable to. As she stands over him, a girl of Easteros, holding his hand, perhaps he is reminded of Shae, who was also a whore from Easteros. And as he becomes choked up, he cannot move forward. Also interesting to note was one of the whores who was dressed like Khaleesi, which demonstrates her widespread influence across Easteros. Varys adds, “Somebody who inspires both priestesses and whores is somebody worth taking seriously.”

And then we see Ser Jorah, drinking in his despair, before recognizing Tyrion. And as the episode comes to a close, Ser Jorah ties and gags Tyrion as he tells him, “I am taking you to the Queen.” But which queen will he be taking Tyrion to? Cercei, the queen who has a massive bounty out on Tyrion’s head, for which Ser Jorah will certainly receive a large reward? Or the one-true queen in his eyes, Khaleesi, whose father was killed by Jaime Lannister and whose Throne was usurped due to large support from House Lannister?

Ser Jorah kidnaps Tyrion

Ser Jorah kidnaps Tyrion

Episode 2 Recap: Lion & the Rose

OVERVIEW

Though not usually aware of it, as viewers of television and cinema, we are constantly making certain anticipations or predictions about what we’re watching. We suppose that there are certain “givens,” or things we know are safe to assume. We are able to do this because most of these shows or movies abide by a certain set of “rules” with which we’ve become familiar. It doesn’t mean we know every little thing that is going to happen, but we achieve an understanding of what’s in the realm of possibility and what simply isn’t. We can safely assume that there is no way Character A can die in this movie or Thing B can happen in that show. And while there is generally comfort for the viewer in being able to make certain assumptions, these very assumptions ultimately take away from the “realness” of what we are watching. The predictability, however small it may be, reminds us that we are in fact being told a predetermined story, bound by limitations of what we know can and cannot happen, rather than watching a real experience unfold before our eyes.

And this is one of the many brilliant ways that Thrones sets itself apart from just about everything else out there. George R.R. Martin has ignored all the conventional “rules” that often limit the possibilities of a story. Instead, he created a world that mirrors our own; one where possibility is endless, things are unpredictable and we are not always in control of what will come next. As a result, his story is not only more authentic, but also more relatable. It feels more real because it is more real.

While most of us will take away from this episode the death of King Joffrey, in reality, this was not necessarily the most significant plot-point of the episode. Rather, this was a simple reaffirmation that there is no “safe-zone” in this world; no assumptions can be made and no one life is more or less important than any other. We have been reminded of this fact time and time again, first with the death of beloved Ned Stark, then with the behanding of Jaime, and finally the unforgettable Red Wedding. Death is random, life is chaos and nothing can be taken for granted. Forget that, and you are in for a rude awakening, often without any warning at all.

And while the death of Joffrey was shocking, it should not be the only takeaway of this episode. Bran’s continued journey and the visions he experienced are far more meaningful than the loss of one life, even the death of a king. Moreover, Tyrion was forced to pretend that he no longer loves Shae; Lord Bolton finds out a powerful piece of information that few others know — the Stark children are still alive and rightful heirs to the North; Theon has gone completely mad; and Sansa appears to be on the run. Each of these events in their own right are quite significant, and despite Joffrey’s death being the headlining event of the episode, it would be a mistake to overlook all the other things that happened.

THE DWARF, THE CRIPPLE & THE MOTHER OF MADNESS

As Tyrion and Jaime catch up, Tyrion notes the unenviable position that the three Lannister children find themselves in: a dwarf, a cripple and a mother of madness. For them, power does not imply happiness. On the contrary, they have each had great prices to pay in order to help their family achieve this power. And now that they have it, their personal happiness appears to be more deteriorated than ever. After Jaime acknowledges to Tyrion that he is no longer an effective swordsman, Tyrion suggests that he needs a paid sword with whom he can train. Tyrion arranges for Jaime to meet and train with Bronn.

“YOU’RE NOT A BOLTON, YOU’RE A SNOW”

In another one of his perverse games, Ramsay Snow chases through the forest one of the girls that had been at his service previously. Claiming that she had been making his other girl jealous, they hunt her down and feed her to the dogs. At the Dreadfort, seat of House BoltonRoose Bolton returns home after playing his part in the Red Wedding. We now see that the months of extreme torture have broken Theon; he has lost his mind and has become an obedient servant to Ramsay Snow. However, when Roose Bolton learns of this, he scolds Ramsay and reminds him of his bastard status, telling him “you’re not a Bolton, you’re a Snow.” The ironborn currently hold Moat Cailin, a strategic stronghold of the North that allows for passage from the south. Lord Bolton’s plan was to return Theon to his father, Balon, in exchange for Balon pulling all the ironborn from Moat Cailin. Thanks to Ramsay, Theon is now useless and Lord Bolton has lost his leverage.

Theon, after learning of Robb Stark's death

Theon, after learning of Robb Stark’s death

However, Ramsay did accomplish one thing — through all the torture and “training” of Theon, Ramsay was able to learn that Bran and Rickon Stark are not in fact dead. After their escape from Winterfell, Theon killed two other boys and burned their bodies, pretending that they were the Stark boys to cover up that he let them escape. Only Theon and a couple others knew this very important fact — with Bran and Rickon still alive, they are the the rightful heirs to Winterfell and present a major threat to Roose Bolton, new warden of the North. Lord Bolton learning this information is a game-changer and he orders Vargo Hoat, the man who cut off Jaime’s hand, to lead a party in the search of the Stark boys. Theon also offers to them that Jon Snow is at Castle Black and could be protecting them. Last season, after Bran and Rickon split, it was decided that in fact, Rickon would head to Castle Black with Asha to seek out Jon Snow. Lord Bolton offers Ramsay a chance to prove that he is a Bolton and tells him to round up whatever men he can and to take back Moat Cailin for the family.

Of course, it was very significant that Lord Bolton learned of the Stark boys survival, as well as his order to Ramsay to take back Moat Cailin from the ironborn. However, the most powerful part of this all was to see the transformation of Theon. Episode after episode, we witnessed the brutal physical and emotional torture that he had to endure. And now, we see the full effects of what that torture has done to him. Like a dog, he has been fully trained to be obedient to his master. So much so that Ramsay trusted him to hold a blade to his neck. And, even as Theon held this blade to his neck and Ramsay told Theon that Lord Bolton had killed Robb Stark, Theon was still unable to do anything other than follow order.

THE COST OF LOVE

For much time, Tyrion has expressed to Shae the dangers of their relationship. And, now that Tyrion is married to Sansa, their relationship only grew more complicated and dangerous. After Varys tells Tyrion that Lord Tywin has threatened to hang the next whore that Tyrion is caught with, Tyrion realizes that he must take drastic action to get Shae out of King’s Landing. He has tried many times to tell her how dangerous it is, but she refuses to listen. So, now, he must lie to her and endure the pain of acting as if he doesn’t truly love her. The sad irony is that he is actually doing it all for love and trying to save her life. He tells her that she is a whore and not fit to be with him. He declares, “I have enjoyed my time with you most of all, but now that time is over.”

To save her life, Tyrion must break her heart and pretend that he does not love her

To save her life, Tyrion must break her heart and pretend that he does not love her

We once again see the recurring theme which reminds us that love will not always prevail. Though Tyrion loves Shae and she loves him back, there are other variables that simply make a life together impossible. It is sad to watch, but offers a more realistic view of love, rather than the romanticized storybook version we are used to seeing. Sometimes love is not enough and the realities of life can get in the way.

“THERE IS ONLY ONE HELL…AND WE ARE LIVING IN IT”

At Dragonstone, Stannis sacrifices several more of his men to the Lord of Light, including his own brother-in-law. True to form, Ser Davos is against these actions and tells Stannis that they were innocent men merely worshipping the gods of their fathers. Interesting to see, Stannis’ wife, Lady Selyse, appears to have become passionate about the Lord of Light. During dinner, she tells Stannis that their daughter, Shireen, needs to rot, claiming that the marks on her face show that she has been cast out by the Lord of Light. However, Stannis orders that he will not strike down his own daughter.

At Selyse’s recommendation, Melisandre goes to visit Shireen and they have a discussion about the gods. Shireen notes that she has read about the Faith of the Seven, though Melisandre quickly replies that these are only lies and fables. There are only two gods, one representing fire, good and light and the other representing cold, fear and darkness. She explains that these two gods are forever locked in an eternal struggle against one another. Asking about the many heavens of the Faith of the Seven, Shireen asks, “so there are not seven heavens?” to which Melisandre coldly responds, “there is only one hell and we are living in it.”

“IF WE LOSE YOU, WE LOSE EVERYTHING”

Though most viewers are probably still thinking about the death of Joffrey, it was Bran’s role in this episode that was truly major. Once again, we are taken into one of Bran’s skinchanger states where he has inhabited the mind of his direwolf, Summer. This one was longer and more personal than any we’ve seen before; we were able to feel what Bran might feel controlling the mind and body of his direwolf. When he is woken up, he tells that he was hungry and was just eating. The connection between he and Summer grows stronger, and it appears that he is starting to blur the line between his own identity and that of his direwolf. Jojen reminds him that he cannot survive off the food his direwolf eats and that Bran himself is not a direwolf.

Through his power of skinchanging, Bran is able to transcend the limits of his actual human life. As a cripple, Bran has lost his mobility — once a great climber, Bran can now barely move. However, all this changes when he takes over the mind and body of Summer. He is liberated, he is free. Able to run freely through the forest, hunt down food and feel the cold ground beneath him, Jojen acknowledges that it must be glorious for Bran to feel whole again. However, Jojen reminds Bran that spending too much time in the skin of another can be dangerous and Bran could start to forget what it is to be human. Reaffirming the importance of Bran’s journey, Meera chimes in telling Bran “if we lose you, we lose everything.”

As they continue through the forest, Bran sees Summer standing beneath a weirwood tree, illuminated by a mysterious light. As he approaches the tree, we see a face carved into it, a traditional practice of the Children of the Forest from thousands of years ago. As Bran connects with the tree, he again experiences greensight, or prophetic visions — this time, more powerful than any other we’ve seen.

The weirwood tree that Bran connects with

The weirwood tree that Bran connects with

In a brief moment, it appears he learns of everything that has happened, seeing visions of the past and learning clues of the future. Most of the things he sees were pulled from all different scenes of all different episodes that we’ve seen to date, though certain images we have never seen before. He first sees the three-eyed raven flying beneath the crypts of Winterfell, then a vision of Ned Stark being held a prisoner in King’s Landing. The three-eyed raven then lands on what appears to be a tree in the North, and we see a glimpse of a beautiful weirwood tree. Bran then sees the wight that we saw in the very first episode of Thrones, followed by the flock of crows that we saw after Samwell Tarly killed the White Walker. A mysterious voice says “look for me beneath the tree” as we again see a beautiful weirwood tree that is glowing in the light, followed by a brief glimpse of the roots below the tree. He then sees the dead horse missing half its face, resurrected back to life and ridden by a White Walker.

The weirwood tree in Bran's vision; he hears the words "Find me, beneath the tree."

The weirwood tree in Bran’s vision; he hears the words “Find me, beneath the tree.”

Interestingly, he then sees a vision which Khaleesi also saw in the Season 2 finale, when she entered the House of the Undying and fell under the magic of the Warlocks. It was during this “dream” that she was reunited with Khal Drogo and saw their baby. What she also saw, was a very dark and bleak vision of the Great Hall, the powerful room from where the king resides over the Iron Throne. In her vision, the Great Hall was completely empty and desolate. Walls were torn down and snow covered the hall. It was a powerful vision, and one that Bran is now sharing himself.

The desolated Throne room, a vision Bran and Khaleesi both saw.

The desolated Throne room, a vision Bran and Khaleesi both saw.

Bran then sees some sort of face, either being reflect by, or peering through what looks to be ice. It is not clear what this is a face of, but does not look human. He then sees the vision of himself being pushed by Jaime from Winterfell, and for the first time, remembers what happened. He sees the shadow of dragons flying over King’s Landing. And finally, he once again sees the beautiful weirwood tree, with the same voice proclaiming “North!”

A mysterious face that appears for a brief moment in Bran's vision

A mysterious face that appears for a brief moment in Bran’s vision

To say the least, it was a lot to take in. There were so many images and visions and it happened so quickly. It is important to realize the visions he had and the select things that he saw. Several of the images we had seen already, and appear to simply provide Bran insight on some of the things that we as viewers already know. Bran being pushed by Jaime, what happened to Ned, and the existence of the White Walkers are all realizations that Bran now has, but did not before. However, there were also several powerful visions he had which were not about filling him in on the past, but rather about providing him clues of the future or guiding him on his journey. Several times we saw the same beautiful weirwood tree and the mysterious voice exclaimed “look for me beneath the tree,” before adding the clue “North.” When Bran regains his human consciousness, he now knows where he needs to go.

To understand the power of this scene, it is essential to stop and consider the power of the weirwood trees, their historical significance and the role these mystical trees played with the Children of the Forest thousands of years ago. For thousands of years, before anybody else arrived to Westeros, the magical Children of the Forest lived in harmony with the weirwood forests and worshipped these trees. They derived much of their power and magic from these trees and many of the Children of the Forest, like Bran, were greenseers who were able to connect with the trees and realize prophetic visions. After the First Men and the Andals invaded, most of the weirwood trees were cut down and the Children of the Forest were pushed near extinction; yet thousands of years later, Bran has powerful visions as he connects with a weirwood tree, and it appears that there is another weirwood tree, somewhere in the North, that Bran must find.

THE DEATH OF ANOTHER KING

In a scene that lasted 23 minutes, we finally see the grandiose wedding of King Joffrey and Margaery Tyrell. As the wedding party begins, Jaime bumps into Ser Loras Tyrell, who is set to marry Cercei. Jaime tells Ser Loras that he will not marry Cercei, in a way which implied Ser Loras would have no say in the matter.

Prince Oberyn comes face to face with Lord Tywin, and though no direct threat is made in this episode, Prince Oberyn, through backhanded remarks, makes it clear that there is still much bad blood between the Martells and Lannisters.

And finally, after Margaery announces that all the leftovers from the wedding feast will be donated to the poor of King’s Landing, Cercei orders Maestar Pycelle to feed the leftovers to the dogs. At this point, it is clear that Cercei is threatened by Margaery and attempts to thwart her plan, which would help Margaery to gain the love and support of the people of King’s Landing’s. When Maestar Pycelle notes that Margaery is now queen and that he must obey her orders, Cercei makes it clear who still holds the power and threatens his life should he disobey her orders.

And finally we arrive to the part of the episode that we all secretly hoped would happen, but still were not expecting — the death of King Joffrey. After Joffrey makes a point of publicly humiliating Tyrion and making him his cupbearer, he begins to cough violently, before falling to the ground and dying several moments later. As he gasps for air, it is Jaime Lannister that tries to revive him — one last attempt to save a son that he was never able to truly father.

It was unclear whether Joffrey was choking or was poisoned. It was also unclear who was behind this, if anybody. Though, in his last breathing moments, Joffrey points at Tyrion and Cercei immediately accuses her brother of the murder. Tywin does not object, and Tyrion is taken by the Kingsguard. In the madness of it all, we again see Ser Dontos, who grabs Sansa and tells her it is time to go. With Joffrey dead, his younger brother, Tommen, is next in line for the Throne. Though, like Joffrey, Tommen was born of incest and has no true claim to the throne, as he is actually a Lannister, not a Baratheon.

Ser Dontos tells Sansa that it's time to leave

Ser Dontos tells Sansa that it’s time to leave