SEASON 6, EPISODE 7: THE BROKEN MAN

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 BROKEN MAN

Seven episodes down, three more to go. And after this season, only approximately 13 more episodes to go…For the entire show. As I talked about in the season six primer, the entire show and its vast storyline is a lot closer to coming to an end than most people realize. And, last week, Thrones producers confirmed that after this season, there will only be about 13 episodes left, split into two seasons — meaning we’ll get a seventh and eight season, each of which will be shorter 6 or 7 episode seasons.

So why is this so important? Well, it changes how each of  us should be viewing and thinking about each episode at this point. For a long time, it seemed like we were just at the beginning of a story that would take years to unfold. So, everything we watched seemed a little less important, because we knew that a lot more still had to transpire before we started to near the end. But all of that has changed; we are there now. The finish line is in sight, and every episode, every scene, every dialogue should be relished at this point. There is no more room for any filler episodes or even filler scenes. Everything we see now is important. We are inching towards the end, and the glorious end that we will see shortly down the road is being set up right here, right now.

In the seventh episode, entitled The Broken Man, we saw just that — a lot of broken characters, trying to put themselves back together. More importantly, we saw these characters starting to cement their positions — the positions that will likely dictate how they fit into the greater end of this entire story. Theon made the decision to no longer be a broken man, and to serve his sister as the strong Theon that she needs him to be, as we learn of their plan to sail to Mereen to parlay with Khaleesi — no doubt a decision that will shape how they fit into this story’s final act. We see another broken character, Cercei, who has pretty much reached rock bottom, and is attempting to piece things back together by proposing a union with the Tyrells. Unfortunately for her, she is rejected by Lady Olenna, and it seems like desperate times will call for desperate measures as violence is imminent for Cercei in  King’s Landing. In Braavos, Arya certainly has become the broken man, now fighting just to stay alive, putting her voyage back to Westeros in jeopardy.

The list goes on. But perhaps the most obvious broken man of them all, and also the greatest surprise (for me personally) to date, is The Hound. Dreams do come true, and The Hound is alive! For several seasons, I have been saying that The Hound must still be alive. After Arya left him bloody and wounded, it was assumed that he was left for dead — after all, he was in pretty bad shape. But generally speaking, if Thrones is going to kill off a major character, they are going to milk it for all the dramatic value that death is worth. So, to not show the death itself, led me to believe that The Hound would find a way to survive and eventually reemerge.

After being Hound-less for a couple seasons, and witnessing his amazing reemergence, let’s explore the greatness of his character for a moment. The Hound was always my favorite character, especially after the evolution of his character via his bond with Arya. The show originally presented him as the ultimate villain — Joffrey’s dog who would carry out whatever brutal acts Joff commanded. And of course, his appearance made him look all the scarier and less likable. But slowly, we came to see that this man was not all evil and surprised us all with a conscience. Several times he protected Sansa from Joffrey and even offered to help get her out of King’s Landing. Then, we learned about his brutal disfigurement at the hand of his brother, The Mountain, when they were just small boys. We learned that this was the cause for his deep fear of fire and we started to develop a sense of sympathy for this once brutal villain — we began to see his humanity. But at the same time, there was a realness to his character — even as we began to see his softer side, he did not hide the fact that he was driven by one thing — his love of killing.

To me, this was the beauty of his character. On the one hand, he had a conscience that guided his actions and ultimately made him a purer character than most of the sinners in the Thrones world. On the other hand, he loved nothing more than the ultimate sin — taking lives. And this is what made him so real. In a Thrones world full of pretenders, schemers and social-climbers, The Hound knew exactly who he was and he did not try to hide it. The juxtaposition of the good and bad in him made him such an interesting, wonderful and relatable character. And then he joined up with Arya and we got to see the continued exploration of this as his good shined through in trying to protect Arya, but his love of killing was also brought out by Arya, who also shared a similar love for killing, albeit hers driven by revenge. So when Arya was the one to leave him for dead, it was heartbreaking, when we knew deep down that this was a good guy who got dealt a bad hand. But The Hound was strong and survived, and now reappears as another broken man, trying to rebuild himself and figure out exactly who he wants to be.

KING’S LANDING

For some time, the stew has been simmering in King’s Landing, and there’s no doubt that it’s about to come to a boil. Between the Tyrells, the Lannisters, the Faith Militant and everything else going on, blood will definitely be spilt very soon. We start in King’s Landing with Margaery studying the holy text, continuing to play the part of the pious repenter. In fact, she is playing the part so well, that some of us might be wondering whether she is acting at all; perhaps she has truly turned to the Faith of the Seven. But, Margaery has always been the master manipulator, with her eyes set on becoming queen and raising House Tyrell to the top, so my money is on the fact that she’s just playing the game. It seems to be working as she has Tommen fooled into prioritizing the Faith Militant over his own family, weakening the positions of Cercei and Jaime. She also appears to have the High Sparrow himself fooled into thinking that she is on his side. So, she takes his advice and tells her grandmother, Lady Olenna, that she must return to Highgarden, while secretly slipping her a piece of parchment. On that parchment turned out to be a rose, the sigil of House Tyrell, implying that Margaery is in fact still in favor of her own house and just playing this role to help strengthen the position of House Tyrell.

margaery

Separately, Cercei pays Lady Olenna a visit and proposes a union between the two houses. But, Lady Olenna is getting out of town and has no interest in any sort of coalition with Cercei or House Lannister. She is quick to point out the truth, which is that Cercei is single-handedly responsible for all the trouble they are facing now. After all, it was Cercei who put her trust in the High Sparrow in an effort to further her cause. That eventually backfired when we learned who the High Sparrow and Faith Militant really were, which ended up crippling those in power in King’s Landing — the Lannisters and the Tyrells. Lady Olenna chose some particularly poignant words, appearing to honestly reflect as she tells Cercei “I wonder if you might be the most horrible person I’ve ever met.” Rubbbing salt in Cercei’s wounds, she continues “You’ve lost, Cersei — it’s the only joy I can find in all this misery.”

cercei

So in an episode entitled The Broken Man, we see that Cercei may be the most broken of them all. She’s now endured the deaths of two children — both murdered, while her third has been all but taken from her, under the spell of Margaery and the High Sparrow’s manipulation. Jaime is off fighting in Riverrun. She has so little at the moment that she might have even realized some solace from having Tyrion around — the brother that she always hated. So here she is, in the middle of King’s Landing, almost completely alone and more powerless than ever. But what she does have is her undying vengeance. As she’s stated dozens of times before, she tells Lady Olenna that she is driven by her mother’s love, and we know that Cercei will stop at nothing to protect Tommen from those using him and to avenge the deaths of the children she’s lost thus far. Since her great walk of shame, Cercei has appeared weak and fragile, but let us not forget who she truly is. She is fierce, she is cold and she will stop at nothing. Let’s also not forget that she’s got the freekish Mountain at her side, sworn to fight for her; it seems like that fight is about to take place.

RIVERRUN

It’s good to see the Riverlands again, the middle area of Westeros which was a common setting in previous seasons, especially for the Hound and Arya. We arrive at the seat of the Riverlands, Riverrun, home to House Tully, or what’s left of it, which is really just The Blackfish (Catelyn and Edmure’s uncle). We see House Frey attempting to lay siege to Riverrun, as commanded in last week’s episode by Walder Frey. Their attempt to win over the castle by threatening to kill Edmure does not even command the attention or respect of Blackfish. He’s much wiser than them and knows that they will not kill Edmure — they need him as a bargaining chip. The Freys are also a bunch of bumbling fools and just simply do not know what they’re doing.

jaime

Enter Jaime and Bronn, with a sizable Lannister army at their backs. Jaime lets it be known that the siege is now under his command and Bronn barks out orders to start to set up a perimeter for an actual siege. But before blood is shed, Jaime wants to speak face to face with the Blackfish. As we know, Jaime is not a bad man, and he has no desire to engage in an unnecessary war, especially against a side that he does not feel to be his true enemy. So the men talk face to face, and Jaime tells the Blackfish that the war is over and there is no reason to shed any additional blood. But which war is Jaime really talking about? The war for the Iron Throne? Sure, that war might be over, but there are many more wars to fight. Starks vs Boltons, Lannisters vs Faith Militant, dead vs living, etc… Surely, war is not over. That aside, the Blackfish tells Jaime that Riverrun is his home, the place of his birth, and he will not simply turn the castle over to the Lannisters. Furthermore, there is no doubt that he too is driven by vengeance for the death of his family and all the horror the Lannisters have inflicted upon the Starks and Tullys. Before he retreats into his castle, the Blackfish tells Jaime that he simply wanted to measure him up, and that he is unimpressed with what he saw.

It seems like battle is imminent in the Riverlands, save for one possible X-factor, Brienne of Tarth. Sansa sent Brienne to Riverrun several episodes ago once she learned that Blackfish had retaken the castle. Sansa wants Brienne to get the Blackfish to join their northern cause in the fight against the Bolton. That was several episodes ago, so it’s a bit illogical that Jaime arrived to Riverrun before Brienne has. But, in any event, it sets up the perfect scene. Brienne arrives to Riverrun as battle is impending between the Lannisters and Tullys, with Brienne appealing to Jaime, the character with which she had once grown so close. Jaime will be pitted between helping Brienne and fighting for the Lannister cause. It will be an interesting dynamic and ultimately the most important outcome will likely be whether or not Blackfish and his army can/will join the Stark cause in the North.

A NORTH DIVIDED

Speaking of the North, Jon, Sansa and Davos are on the campaign trail, trying to win as many supporters to their cause as they can. With the help of Tormund, they win over the Wildlings, about 2,000 in all. They next stop at House Mormont, where we find the 10-year-old Lyana Mormont sitting in power. After Jeor Mormont joined the Night’s Watch, his son Jorah was exiled from Westeros and many more Mormonts died during Robb’s war, there is little left of House Mormont. And Lyanna appears unwilling to sacrifice any more life to support the Stark cause, until Ser Davos steps in and explains to her that this is not a matter of a Stark war, but a matter of the war that is coming for everybody — the war of the living vs the dead. And if the North is divided, they will stand no chance against fighting the dead.

When all hope seemed lost, Ser Davos proves himself once again as an invaluable asset. In this example specifically, perhaps it was his love for Princess Shireen (Stannis’ daughter) and his experience in talking with her that allowed him to speak to Lyanna in a way that resonated with her. House Mormont only has 62 men to offer, but the Starks will take what they can get. It will be interesting to see whether Jorah plays any role in this storyline at all. We know he’s on the move to find a cure and perhaps his journey will take him back to Westeros? After all, his exile was lifted a couple seasons back (note of the termination of his exile was intercepted by Ser Barristan, who forced Jorah to confess to Khaleesi, which is what got him banned from her). So, it’s entirely possible that he makes it back to Westeros and sits as the rightful Lord of House Mormont, and joins the Northern cause…But maybe a long shot.

snow

Next they arrive at House Glover, where they are again met with hostility. As viewers, we are getting to see all the Northern houses that once supported House Stark and fought behind Robb without hesitation. But Robb’s poor decisions didn’t just cause his own demise, but also great loss for all the other Northern houses that followed him into war. So now, today, when asked to do the same again, most Northern houses are not interested. This time, in the face of rejection, Sansa reminds House Glover that it is their sworn duty to pledge their allegiance to House Stark. It was a bold statement, met with an equally bold response, “House Stark is dead.” Certainly, for quite some time, we have always felt that House Stark was dead. It was only until recent episodes that some hope is starting to brew for House Stark. But, we’ve never really heard anybody say outright, that House Stark is dead, until now. Sansa, having heard this bold proclamation, and perhaps finding some truth in it, resorts to sending a raven, presumably asking for help. We can only assume that she is reaching out to Littlefinger, who can support with the Knights of the Vale. Hopefully, she isn’t making a mistake by reaching out to him.

THEON, YARA (AND KHALEESI?)

Having stolen some of the best ships with a fleet of their best men, Yara and Theon arrive at Volantis and enjoy themselves at a brothel. Well, at least Yara does. The idea of naked women, once Theon’s greatest joy, now appears to trigger the Reek inside of him. Without his manhood, it’s hard for him to be around this, and he starts to regress into his Reek shell. But Yara pulls him out quickly with some tough love. Some very tough love. She tells him to be the Theon she needs him to be, or to kill himself. Harsh, for sure, but it’s the words Theon has needed to hear for some time now. It’s enough of him wimpering around and time for him to step up and be the hard, bold, brave Ironborn brother that Yara needs. He nods at this, before Yara tells him that they will sail to Mereen to convene with Khaleesi.

A few things to consider are: 1) Will they get to Mereen before Euron, their uncle, does? 2) How will Khaleesi receive them? 3) Most importantly, if they do join forces with Khaleesi, what will their cause be? For so long, Khaleesi’s goal was to reclaim the Iron Throne that rightfully belonged to House Targaryen. But, in recent episodes, we’ve seen Khaleesi become more of a conqueror than a ruler. And, in last week’s episode, Daario explicitly told her that she is meant to conquer, not to sit on a Throne. Similarly, we know that the Greyjoys want to conquer and take back the Iron Islands, and perhaps more. So this begs the question, what will their goals actually be? Are they the good guys who will take back what is rightfully theirs? Or do they become the bad guys who conquer and destroy? It’s hard to think that it will be the latter, but maybe that’s the direction this is headed.

ARYA IS IN TROUBLE

Before we talk about Arya’s story in this episode, I have to say, I am still having trouble understanding how Arya did a complete 180 so quickly. For many seasons, she was training to join the Faceless Men. She slept on the streets, she begged, took countless beatings, lost her eyes and even swallowed poison and risked her life to show that she was willing to part with her Arya identity and truly become nobody. And then, just like that, in the course of one episode, all that goes out the window and she suddenly wants to become Arya again. Now, to be clear, I am not complaining about it. We all love Arya and Arya as nobody just wasn’t the same. We want Arya as Arya, with Needle at her side and the kill-list on her tongue. And I understand why she turned back to Arya — her conversation with Lady Crane about Cercei (who Lady Crane was portraying in the play) wanting to avenge the deaths of those who were taken from her before she got to say goodbye, made Arya realized that she wanted the same. She also seemed to disapprove of killing somebody without knowing why she was killing them or what they did to deserve it. Arya kills, but she has a code. She kills those who deserve it. So it all makes sense — but it just happened very fast.

arya

Anyway, that train has left the station and Arya is back to being Arya. And she can’t wait to get the hell out of Braavos as she books passage to Westeros. She then looks out at the Titan of Braavos, the ultimate symbol of all things Braavos, and the object under which she’ll have to sail to leave Braavos. But she becomes sloppy. She becomes Arya again and with that comes emotion and reflection as she gazes into the distance. Perhaps, a reminder that her identity could get the best of her. In any event, she lets her guard down and is fooled by the Waif, wearing the face of an old woman, who stabs her several times in the stomach. For a moment, my heart dropped and I thought maybe that was it for Arya, but she headbutts the Waif and rolls over the bridge into the water. She walks through the streets of Braavos, badly wounded and losing a lot of blood. We are left to ponder who might help her, and will she in fact make it out of Braavos? Could it be Lady Crane, the life she saved, who in turn saves Arya’s life? A more daring guess is Syrio Forel — Arya’s Braavosi sword-teacher who taught her many seasons back, and is presumed dead at the hands of the King’s Guard, those we never saw him die.

THE HOUND IS BACK

As Arya walks through the streets, blood oozing from her stomach, we fade back to The Hound, chopping trees in forest. It was an interesting transition of scenes, when considering that not long ago, the tables were turned and The Hound lay wounded and bloody, as Arya left him to die. Much has changed since then, and we now see The Hound has joined a small community somewhere in the hills of the Riverlands. They are a simple people, led by Brother Ray, a priest who confesses to not knowing if any of the gods are real. The Faith of the Seven, the Old Gods, the Lord of Light — who knows if any of them are real — or maybe they are all the same. What he does know, and all that matters to him, is that there is something greater than humans, whatever that may be. And he tells The Hound that this power of something greater has a plan for The Hound. Through their dialogue, we learn that Brother Ray found The Hound nearly dead and saved his life. He tells The Hound that he thought he’d die several times, but The Hound kept fighting for his life. When he asks him what drove him to keep fighting, The Hound states that it was hate. But Brother Ray doesn’t believe this, and insists that The Hound is part of a greater plan.

hound

During his small sermon, Brother Ray confesses that he once was ordered to murder a boy and felt tremendous guilt for the things that he had done. But that it is never late too late to make a change, to start doing good, to start helping the people around you. It’s unclear whether this was a real story, or one he made up for The Hound to hear, but either way, it seemed to strike a chord with The Hound as he realized that he no longer needs be a broken man, and ponders who he wants to become next. And then a few men from the Brotherhood Without Banners arrive, all but promising to return to take what they want. The Hound tells Brother Ray that they will return, but their options are limited as none of them, minus The Hound, are fighters. Still, neither assumed that the Brotherhood would slaughter the entire village. The Hound, off chopping wood, somehow misses the entire slaughter, but returns to see the entire village dead, with Brother Ray hanging before his eyes.

This was a bit of a strange event. The Brotherhood Without Banners have been presented to date as good characters, who do not pledge their allegiance to any one king or house, which is why they have no banners. Instead, they roam the lands, protecting the people from evil. They might be a bit rough around the edges, and need to do some amoral things to get by, but we’ve surely never seen them commit murder of the innocent, much less slaughter an entire village. So, my assumption is that these brothers went rogue and acted on their own. Thoros of Myr and Beric Dondarrion (leaders of the Brotherhood), wherever they might be, will not be okay with what these men have done. But The Hound has seen enough. He knows who he is and who wants to be. He is on the hunt, now with an axe as his weapon of choice.

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Season 6, Episode 1: The Red Woman

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

FAITH HAS BEEN LOST

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

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

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

YES, HE’S DEAD

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

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

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

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

DAVOS & THE OTHERS

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

davos

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

THE RED (AND VERY OLD) WOMAN

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

mel old

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SNAKES IN THE SAND

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

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US AGAINST THE WORLD

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

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

THE BOLTONS

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

SANSA, THEON, BRIENNE & POD

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

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

KHALEESI

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

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MEREEN

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

BLIND IN BRAAVOS

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

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THE TYRELLS & TOMMEN

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

PEOPLE AND PLACES TO KEEP AN EYE OUT FOR…

Bran & Rickon Stark

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

Season 5 Recap/Season 6 Primer

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.

OVERVIEW

It’s that time of year again; spring is in the air, which means one thing: Game of Thrones is back to continue us along its magical journey for the next 10 weeks. And because that 10-week journey is so short-lived, when it’s done, we find ourselves in a 42-week Thrones hibernation — and as result — we forget much that has happened along this journey thus far. Not to fear, ThronesLife is here. While we won’t touch upon all that has happened in the last 5 seasons, this post will recap most of the magic from last season, while calling out some interesting plot-points to keep an eye on. In the end, you’ll be primed to jump head-first into Season 6.

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Before we begin to discuss the specifics, it’s important to step back and understand where the Thrones story is in its timeline. For many of the earlier seasons, it always felt like there was so much of the story that still needed to unfold. The story was always captivating, but there was a feeling that we were still just scratching the surface of the story and that it would be a very long time before we really started to near the climax (and ending) of this magical journey. Well, my Thrones loyalists, I am here to tell you that the time is here…now. As we embark upon Season 6, it is crucial to understand that there will likely only be about 10-12 more episodes after this season. So, in short, we are in the homestretch…The 4th quarter…The final act… There will be no filler episodes or slow-moving plots. We are arriving at our final destination, and it will be a fast-moving and bumpy ride, so buckle up and savor every minute of what’s left.

THE NORTH

In the last season, many of the show’s central characters became concentrated in the North. From Jon Snow to Sansa and Stannis to the Boltons, lots has unfolded in the North, a location which should continue to play a fundamental role in what is to come in Season 6.

Perhaps the most important location of the North is the Wall, a location in the deep north that has provided us the most exposure to the very real threat of the White Walkers — a threat that most of the rest of Westeros is unaware of. So let’s start there. Jon Snow’s plan was to unite the tens of thousands of Wildlings with the brothers of the Night’s Watch in an effort to form a large enough army to fight off the army of the dead. After becoming Commander of the Night’s Watch, he showed true grit and leadership, as he traveled with Tormund Giantsbayne to Hardhome, basecamp to thousands of Wildlings. However, convincing the Wildlings to join his cause turned out not to be his greatest challenge, after White Walkers and the Night King himself show up on the scene. As battle ensues, Jon Snow uses his Valyrian steel sword, Longclaw, to slay his first White Walker. But he is quickly forced to retreat back into the water, along with Tormund, a few Giants and a couple hundred Wildlings. As they move further from the shore, the Night King looks Jon Snow directly in his eyes and raises up all the dead bodies, turning them into wights — the army of the dead led by the White Walkers. It is more evident than ever that darkness is coming and in big numbers.

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The Night King raising up his wights

Jon Snow returns to the Wall with the Wildlings, to the dismay of most brothers of the Night’s Watch, who view the Wildlings as enemies. In an important conversation with Samwell Tarly, Jon Snow grants Samwell permission to travel to Oldtown to study at the Citadel and become a Maestar. And just like that, Samwell departs with Gilly and the baby.

And then there was the final scene — the one that was foreshadowed for quite some time, but still took us by great surprise. The brothers of the Night’s Watch turn on Jon Snow and murder him in cold blood. Ser Alliser Thorne is the first to but his blade into Jon Snow and little Ollie is the last. Even in a world where we’ve come to learn that anybody can be killed off, we still thought that Jon Snow was in it for the long haul – that he was going to be one of the last guys standing in the battle of ice versus fire. The good news is that still may be the case, especially if you consider the prophecy of the Prince Who Was Promised. And while the show has made several mentions of the Prince Who Was Promised, namely through Melisandre, it has failed to fully explain the importance of this idea – an idea that is more significant now than ever if you want to believe that this is not the end for Jon Snow. So let’s reexamine.

About 8,000 years ago, during the Long Night, the White Walkers invaded the Seven Kingdoms and nearly wiped all of humanity to the point of extinction. Darkness came for all, and at the time, there was no Wall or Night’s Watch to fight it back. And thus emerged Azor Ahai, otherwise known as the Prince Who Was Promised. He would go on to become the most legendary hero that the world would ever know. Recognizing that he must make a sacrifice to the Lord of Light, he put his sword through the heart of his wife, a woman that he loved more than anything. It is said that her soul became one with his sword, a flaming sword that would henceforth be known as Lightbringer. With his sword Lightbringer, Azor Ahai led the fight against the White Walkers and pushed back the darkness that almost consumed all of humanity. After this battle, the Wall was built to keep the White Walkers from ever invading and the Night’s Watch was form to protect the Wall and all that lurked beyond it. At the time, it was prophesized that at some point, Azor Ahai, otherwise known as the Prince Who Was Promised, would be reincarnated to once again fight back the darkness.

Since the inception of the show, Melisandre has told Stannis that he was the Prince Who Was Promised – the one chosen soul to fight back the darkness that was once again coming for all of humanity.  Well, as it turns out, it seems like we found out that he was in fact not the Prince Who Was Promised and sadly he sacrificed everything all for nothing. What is interesting is that before Stannis even went into battle, Melisandre deserted his cause. She knew exactly where she had to go the moment she realized that Stannis was not the Prince Who Was Promised – and she went straight there – to Jon Snow.

Which leads us to one conclusion – Jon Snow might in fact be the Prince Who Was Promised. Of course, looking back at previous episodes, there are other tidbits that point to the idea that Melisandre may have thought this, or at least considered it, all along. The very first time Melisandre arrived with Stannis at Castle Black, she exchanged a long stare with Jon Snow – that was not for no reason. Then, there was of course the scene where she tried to seduce him and told him that he had king’s blood. So, in reality, she probably had some idea all along and the moment things went sour for Stannis, it seems like she immediately realized the mistake she had made and who the Prince Who Was Promised truly was.

And now, with Jon Snow dead, she has the opportunity to prove the truth of her magic and that of the Lord of Light – will she be able to bring Jon Snow back to life? We’ve already seen the Lord of Light’s magic and the Red Priest, Thoros of Myr, bring Beric Dondarrion back to life several times. So we know this is a possibility. It is also important to consider the very final image we saw after Jon Snow died. While his face was powerful as he lay there dead – it was not the most prominent component of the final image we were left with. Rather, it was his blood as it crawled through the snow, looking dark and mysterious, almost having a life of its own. It looked eerily similar to me to the way Melisandre’s dark shadow moved through the air – another allusion to the idea that Melisandre’s magic could be used to bring him back to life. (Check out the video below, you will see the way his blood moves through the snow, appearing to have a life of its own like Melisandre’s shadow ghost).

So, as Season 6 begins, the number one question for all viewers will be whether or not Jon Snow will be brought back to life. And, if he is, will he turn out to be The Prince Who Was Promised?

STANNIS, MELISANDRE & DAVOS

Elsewhere in the North, things didn’t quite go as planned for Stannis and his army. Stannis was a man defined by a loyalty to his duty — the only problem is that it turned out to be a false duty that Lady Melisandre convinced him into believing. He was so convinced of this duty that he was willing to burn his own daughter alive, and sacrificed Shireen to the Lord of Light. His wife, Lady Selyse, was so guilty that she then hung herself. As if things couldn’t get any worse, Stannis lost half his men in a fire that broke out within his camp. And finally, realizing she had been wrong all along about Stannis, Melisandre deserts his cause and heads to the Wall. Still, Stannis pushes on into battle against the Boltons and loses miserably. In what appear to be his final moments, Brienne of Tarth finally confronts him and avenges the death of her beloved Renley. However, the last thing we see is Brienne lift her sword, but we do not actually see Stannis die, which leaves the door open to the possibility that he could still be alive.

STANNIS

Later in the finale episode, Lady Melisandre arrives at the Wall, where Ser Davos is as well. As mentioned above, perhaps she realized that Jon Snow is the Prince Who Was Promised and is there to help bring him back to life. As for Davos, he had lived a life supporting and serving Stannis, though if you stop and think about it, he often made his own independent decisions which went against Stannis and Lady Melisandre, showing that he is possibly more than just Stannis’ number 2 guy, and that he could stand out as a key character on his own. It will be interesting to see whether or not Davos and Melisandre work together now that Stannis is presumably gone. One thing is for sure — there are still great threats in the North — including the brothers of the Night’s Watch that betrayed Jon Snow as well as the Bolton’s army — so there will be plenty of battles for Davos to join.

SANSA AND THEON

Last but not least in the North, we have the storyline of Sansa and Theon (aka Reek). After both these characters had been held prisoner and tortured by Ramsay Bolton, they finally come together in an attempt to escape Winterfell and Ramsay. After seasons of Reek appearing to be nothing more than a bruised and battered dog that takes orders from its master, he showed that there still may be some Theon left in him, as he saves Sansa and helps them escape. As Ramsay returns back from battle, Theon and Sansa grabs each other’s hands and are forced to jump from the high walls of Winterfell. It’s unclear how they would survive that jump, but they took the leap of faith together.

Let’s remember that Sansa is the rightful heir to the North, and now free of Ramsay Bolton, perhaps she can stir up support of the North behind her cause. It will be interesting to see who emerges in this new season — Theon or Reek — and to what extent he might continue to help Sansa. One other tidbit that is important to recall is that towards the end of the season, Sansa learns from Reek that her two youngest brothers, Bran and Rickon, are in fact still alive. Recall that when Reek was still Theon and attempted to sack Winterfell, Bran and Rickon escaped with Hodor and Asha. Theon did not want their escape exposed, so he burned the bodies of two other small children and hung them at Winterfell, declaring that he had killed Bran and Rickon. The only person he ever told of this was Ramsay, until telling Sansa. So now, Sansa, rightful heir to the North, knows that her two brothers are alive and out there somewhere. Speaking of which, we’ll get to Bran in just a bit…

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Theon looks on at the hanging bodies that he claims are Bran and Rickon

KHALEESI’S NEW CREW IN MEREEN

Perhaps one of the most important story-lines, but also one of the slowest moving, is that of Khaleesi. It feels like she’s been trekking around Easteros for ages, most recently setting up shop in Mereen. But, at this point, it should be safe to assume that we are going to see some major developments this season with Khaleesi and her dragons. As always, the main question we are all wondering: will this be the season that she finally makes it across the Narrow Sea to arrive at Westeros? Maybe not. But a lot should happen with her and her dragons this season. Oh, and let’s not forget her new crew.

To quickly rewind, Season 4 ended with Tyrion killing his father, Lord Tywin, and quickly escaping King’s Landing with the help of his friend, Lord Varys. They arrived in Easteros in Season 5, before Tyrion was kidnapped by Jorah, who had been exiled from Mereen by Khaleesi after she learned that he had originally been spying on her and reporting back to King’s Landing (he had since stopped his spying for quite some time after he came to love Khaleesi). Jorah had hoped bringing Tyrion to Khaleesi would get him back in her good graces. However, he and Tyrion both ended up getting kidnapped and forced into the fighting pits. As fate would have it, Khaleesi decided to bring the fighting pits back to Mereen (after she had previously closed them), in an effort to honor the ancient traditions of Mereen. Jorah would end up fighting in front of Khaleesi, defeating his opponents before saving her life by spearing the Harpie that was about to kill her. And, all of a sudden, hundreds of Harpies emerge from the crowd, slaughtering the people and eventually surrounding Khaleesi and her new posse. It was our first time seeing this new group dynamic, featuring the new addition of Tyrion, the reestablishment of Jorah, alongside Daario, Khaleesi and Missandei. Did we just get first glimpse at the final makings of Khaleesi’s inner circle – the group of her closest advisors and supporters that will help her to reclaim the Iron Throne?

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As they are surrounded by Harpies and greatly outnumbered, Drogon, who had been missing for quite some time, returns to save them. As he flies overhead, we see his immense power as he easily rips to shreds and burns alive dozens of Harpies, whose weapons are no match for Drogon. And then it happened… Khaleesi shows the world that she is the one true Mother of Dragons, as she climbs the back of Drogon and flies through the sky. This was not only an allusion to all the past Targaryens before her that rode the backs of their dragons as they conquered the world, but also a foreshadow to the future of what she is to accomplish on the back of her dragon. Drogon and Khaleesi end up in the grassy hills outside of Mereen, where she is surrounded by hundreds of Dothraki riders. It was unclear whether they were circling her in a threatening way, which is entirely possible, as she did not part with the Dothraki on peaceful terms. But, it is also conceivable that they were surrounding her in a reverent manner, as she is now widely established as the Mother of Dragons and known all over Easteros

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Khaleesi and Drogon

Back in Mereen, Khaleesi’s inner circle is left to figure out what comes next. It is decided that Daario and Jorah will lead an expedition to find Khaleesi while Tyrion will stay back with Grey Worm to govern the city. And to no surprise, Varys is back and will certainly be an invaluable asset to Tyrion. It is also important to keep in mind that Jorah has contracted greyscale, a disease that typically spreads and can drive a person mad.

THE MARTELLS AND THE LANNISTERS

Finally, in Season 5, we got to see our first glimpse of Dorne, the southernmost of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros, where House Martell is in power. We saw Prince Doran, suffering from severe gout and confined to a wheelchair, though still ruler of Dorne. After the death of his younger brother, the Red Viper, his daughters (otherwise known as the Sand Snakes), as well as his lover, Ellaria demand revenge for the death of Prince Oberyn. However, Prince Doran does not agree and does not wish to start a war and over the course of the season, tensions continue to rise between Prince Doran and Ellaria.

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Ellaria & the Sand Snakes

In attempt to rescue his daughter, Jaime (along with Bronn), sneak into Dorne but are captured by the Dornish. Seemingly attempting to keep the peace, Prince Doran negotiates a peace deal with Jaime, and allows him to return safely with Princess Myrcella, under the condition that he also take Myrcella’s betrothed, Prince Trystane, back to King’s Landing to grant him a seat on the small council. Naturally, Jaime agrees to this deal and leaves Dorne with Bronn, Myrcella and Trystane. And after a lifetime of Jaime not being able to acknowledge his own daughter, we experience a powerful moment when Myrcella tells him that a part of her always knew, and that she was glad he was her father. But moments later, she dies of poison delivered to her from the kiss of Ellaria just before she left Dorne. Needless to say, this is sure to reignite an already hateful relationship between the Martells and the Lannisters. It will be interesting to see how things play out, being that Prince Doran was attempting to reach peace, and was undermined by Ellaria and the Sand Snakes who want war. Surely, when Jaime returns to King’s Landing with the dead body of Myrcella, Cercei will demand blood.

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Jaime losing another child to poison

BRAAVOS

Over the course of Season 5, Arya begins her training with Jaqen H’ghar in hopes to join the Faceless Men as she seeks revenge of all those on her list. But Jaqen continues to tell her that before she can become a Faceless Man, she must strip herself of any identity in order to become nobody. In the finale episode, Arya wears a face that she took from the Hall of Faces, and kills Ser Meryn Trant, the man who was King’s Guard to Joffrey and carried out much of his brutality, including the killing of Syrio Forell, Arya’s Braavosi sword instructor. Her revenge is slow and drawn out as she gauges out his eyes and makes a point to let him know who she is – Arya Stark – an explicit reminder that she is in fact not ready to become nobody and still holds on dearly to her identity – one that is rooted in avenging the deaths of those she has lost.

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Arya killing Ser Meryn Trant

Arya returns to the House of Black and White to return the face she has used, to find Jaqen H’ghar, who tells her Meryn’s life was not hers to take and that a life is owed to the Many-Faced God. Jaqen drinks a poison vile and gives his life for Arya, reminding us that Jaqen is not the person she thinks he is – Jaqen does not in fact exist. The person that was wearing Jaqen’s face was nobody – just as she must become. He had no identity, no character – he had stripped himself of all of this to become a Faceless Man. It was simply the face that he wore, which Arya quickly peeled back to see all the faces that existed behind it.

And just when things seem like they can’t get any more confusing, Arya starts to lose her vision and screams helplessly that she is going blind. It’s unclear what caused this or how it was done to her, but one idea is that this was punishment – an eye for an eye, quite literally. Just like Meryn’s life was not hers to take, nor were his eyes, and perhaps now she is losing her eyes as punishment. And perhaps, without her vision and the ability to see things through her own eyes, she will take steps closer towards becoming nobody and only be able to see the world around her through the eyes of other faces.

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KING’S LANDING

Once a focal point of the storyline, King’s Landing took a backseat in season 5 with most of its central characters now in other locations. However, King’s Landing still remains home to the Iron Throne and will always remain a very significant location. The most important development in King’s Landing last season was the introduction of the High Sparrow, a religious order that has pledged to cleanse King’s Landing of all its corruption and sin by forcing those in power to confess, and then pay for their sins. The High Sparrow has developed a strong following and gained a lot of its power after Cercei decided to back them in a play to regain some of the power that she felt she was losing to Margaery Tyrell who has married and manipulated her youngest son, King Tommen.

However, the High Sparrow quickly turned on Cercei and held her in a cell until she finally confessed to her sins. Confessing to adultery, but denying the incest between her and Jaime, the High Sparrow offered her a chance to repent for her sins, and Cercei was forced into the greatest walk of shame that ever was. Returning to the Red Keep, broken and beaten, both physically and emotionally, we finally get glimpse of Maestar Qyburn’s freakish science experiment — the Mountain is alive and has pledged a vow of silence until he eliminates all of Cercei’s enemies. The Mountain was already 8-feet tall and the largest man in all of the Seven Kingdoms — it is assumed he now will have some freakish additional strength or power — the perfect weapon for Cercei who is going to be on the warpath for blood against the High Sparrow, the Martells, and likely many others.

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The Mountain carries Cercei

BAELISH THE SCHEMER

Lord Baelish is still out there and remains likely the most scheming and deceptive of all characters in this story. In fact, he is such a clever schemer that it is hard to understand what he is even trying to achieve. As a quick recap, he played a major role in colluding with Lady Olenna Tyrell to murder King Joffrey and help Sansa escape King’s Landing. He then took her to the Vale, where he married Lysa Arryn, only to then murder her and gain control of the Vale. He then went back to King’s Landing to tell Cercei that House Bolton has arranged to marry Ramsay to Sansa, completely leaving out the fact that he was the one who arranged this marriage (putting him on good terms with House Bolton). He tells Cercei to let the Boltons fight Stannis, and that he will swoop in with the Knights of the Vale to crush the winner, as long as she will name him warden of the North. Baelish also helped to advance Cercei’s position, by providing her with the blonde-haired boy that manned his brothel, who often slept with Loras Tyrell (Margaery’s gay brother). By providing Cercei with this information and ensuring that his brothel-keeper testify against Loras, Baelish gave Cercei all she needed to have the High Sparrow arrest Loras, strengthening her position over House Tyrell. But just episodes later, Baelish is once again scheming with Lady Olenna Tyrell against the Lannisters, and tells her that he has a gift for Lady Olenna. The gift is Lancel Lannister, the cousin of Cercei who she used to sleep with in order to have him spy for her. Baelish facilitated Lancel turning against Cercei and providing all of the dirt against her to the High Sparrow, providing the basis for her arrest. So, as we see, Baelish continues to scheme and position all of the major houses against each other, ultimately weakening their positions and strengthening his. Yet, it still remains unclear what his ultimate goal is, and whether he himself wants to sit on the Iron Throne.

BRAN

Bran is the most obvious character that did not appear in Season 5 who will obviously have a major role to play in the story moving forward. As Bran’s journey unfolded in the first four seasons, we saw that he had the powers of a warg (the ability to change into the skin of other animals) as well as the power of greenseer (the ability to see visions and images of the past and future). As Bran’s journey continued, his visions became stronger, and he continued into the deep north in his quest to find the 3-eyed raven beneath the tree. And finally, in the finale of Season 5, Bran arrives at the tree, where we also get our first glimpse of the Children of the Forest, a very significant reveal in its own right. Jojen Reed is killed getting Bran to the tree, something he knew would happen all along. Beneath the tree, Bran finds the voice that had been guiding him along his journey, and this voice tells him that he has been watching Bran all his life, and though he will never walk again, he will in fact fly. Naturally, we wonder whether Bran will warg into the skin of a dragon and fly the skies. Whatever it is, Bran’s journey reached a serious climax when he finally found the 3-eyed raven, and after not being in season 5 at all, Bran’s storyline is sure to be of critical importance in season 6.

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The 3-eyed raven in the form of a man

OTHER PEOPLE AND PLACES TO KEEP IN MIND

There is a pretty substantial list of characters that we never saw die or probably forgot about altogether. So here is a quick recap of those characters, some of which will likely reemerge this season, while others may in fact be dead or gone forever.

Gendry was one of Robert Baratheon’s bastard sons who became good friends with Arya. He was taken by Lady Melisandre and his king’s blood was used as a sacrifice to the Lord of Light. However, before Melisandre and Stannis could carry out their plan to sacrifice him and take his life, Ser Davos set him free from Dragonstone and put him on a small rowboat out to see. The fact that Davos was almost killed for undermining Stannis to set Gendry free, coupled with the fact he does have king’s blood, makes us think that he still has a part to play in this story.g

The Hound is thought to be dead, as Arya left him to die after he was badly beaten and wounded from his fight with Brienne. However, the Hound asked Arya to put him out of his pain and misery, to which she refused. We never actually saw him die, and perhaps he is still alive (though this might just be wishful thinking in hoping that my favorite character will reemerge).

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Syrio Forell is similar to the Hound in that he is a character that is assumed dead, but that we never saw die. Arya even refers to him as being killed, so this probably a long shot. But in season one, just after Ned was killed and the Kingsguard comes for Arya, Syrio steps up to fight them off to give her time to escape. It is assumed he was killed, but we never saw him die.

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Benjen Stark is Ned Stark’s brother who was First Ranger on the Night’s Watch when Jon Snow joined. In the first season, he left the Wall to investigate claims of White Walkers, and never returned. Ever since, Jon Snow has brought his name up many times, but he has been gone since the first few episodes of the show. Again, it is assumed that he died, but being that the Starks are so few in number, plus that we never actually saw him die, it would be sensible to think that he’s still out there and will return to support the Stark cause.

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Rickon Stark and Osha split with Bran when things starting getting dangerous along Bran’s journey. We never saw Rickon since, and he will presumably have a role to play in this story.

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Thoros of Myr and Beric Dondarrion lead the Brotherhood Without Banners, a group of good men who were originally formed under Ned Stark to track down the Lannister parties, led by the Mountain, who were raping and pillaging villages throughout the Riverlands. We have not seen them since season 3, but when we did, they were significant characters. Like Lady Melisandre, these men worship the Lord of Light, and through them, we have seen the power of the Lord of Light. In the third season, they come into contact with Arya, and after they eventually also gain possession of the Hound, they sentence him to a trial by combat against Beric Dondarrion. The Hound wins the combat and kills Beric, though Thoros of Myr brings him back to life just moments later — something we learn he has done many times. Naturally, this brings us back to Jon Snow, and the role he could potentially play in the resurrection of Jon Snow.

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The Iron Islands were left out of last season’s storyline, though are one of the Seven Kingdoms that should not be forgotten. Balon Greyjoy still rules over the Iron Islands, and he is a bitter and cruel man, constantly seeking revenge and causing trouble for the mainland of Westeros. Yara Greyjoy, Theon’s sister, is also a character to keep an eye on. Last we saw her, she defied her father and returned to Westeros to rescue Theon from the Boltons, though Theon refused to go with her, and she was forced to retreat — we haven’t seen her since.

SEASON 5, EPISODE 10: MOTHER’S MERCY

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.

MOTHER’S MERCY…WHAT MERCY?

The finale of season five, entitled Mother’s Mercy, had anything but that. There was little mercy to be found for any character and almost every plotline took a turn for the worse for its respective characters. In fact, things got so perilous in this episode that death often seemed preferable to other alternatives, namely Arya’s excruciating blinding and Cercei’s character-breaking walk of shame, not to mention Jaime watching his daughter die in his arms just moments after she finally acknowledged that he was her father. These painful experiences cut at the very nerves of human emotion and made it one of the hardest episodes for Thrones viewers to endure, much less enjoy.

Yet still, it was one of the greater Thrones episodes to date and certainly the best finale yet. Thus far, Thrones has become notorious for an action-packed ninth episode with the finale serving as a somewhat disappointing follow-up. The ninth episode of previous seasons has offered up game-changing events such as the Battle of Blackwater, The Red Wedding and the epic battle at the Wall between the Wildlings and the Night’s Watch. What happened in the finales that followed up these events? I couldn’t really tell you. But this was a completely different type of finale – one we certainly won’t forget anytime soon as many of the events within are likely burned into our mind’s eye. The finale was bold, ruthless and intensely unforgiving to most all characters.

As we sit back and attempt to process how things got so out of hand in this episode, we must also look forward and envision how this changes the landscape of things to come. It is widely accepted that there will likely be seven seasons to the Thrones show – which means only two more seasons to go. We’re no longer in a place where there are so many seasons left that it is foolish to try and predict how this thing comes to an end. Well, it actually may still be foolish to try and imagine how this all comes to an end, because even in two more seasons there will naturally be dozens of twists and turns and unpredictable events. But, the point is, assuming that there are indeed only two seasons left, things are coming closer to an end than you may think, and the tragic events that we witnessed in this finale episode might set into motion the final series of events for each character as we head towards the homestretch. So let’s jump in…

A FALSE DUTY

The episode began with Melisandre watching a melting icicle and telling Stannis that the Lord of Light has answered their sacrifice and has melted the snow to ease their march towards Winterfell. Could it have really been that easy? Is it really as simple as just sacrificing somebody with “king’s blood” and the Lord of Light carves out your path for you? If the Lord of Light is indeed the one true god, then this would seem too easy and discredit the legitimacy of the Lord of Light. And, as we would find out moments later, it was not in fact that easy. Stannis’ sacrifice of his daughter was in vein as we see that half his army has deserted him – and they talk all the horses too. And if that wasn’t enough of a stab in the gut, moments later we see Lady Selyse hanging from a tree after she could not take the pain of knowing she allowed her daughter to be burned alive.

This spoke volumes about Stannis’ situation, considering that it was Lady Selyse that had been unrelentingly devout to the Lord of Light ever since she came into the company of Lady Melisandre. Furthermore, it was Lady Selyse that was cruel and unloving to their daughter Shireen; when Melisandre suggested the idea that Shireen may have to be sacrificed, Lady Selyse even seemed amenable to this notion if that what was required by the Lord of Light. So to now realize the guilt she felt was so great that it forced her to take her own life speaks volumes to the unspeakable emotion that must be running through Stannis, who just lost his entire family. Yet, true to form, Stannis shows no emotion and simply states that they will march on. Of course, at this point, did he really have any other choice? It was kind of like when you’re sitting at a blackjack table and you’ve already gambled away 75% of your money. You don’t really want to keep playing, you know you’re sure to lose the remaining 25%, but do you really have any other choice? You put those last few chips on the line because you’ve come too far and lost too much already — so you’re prepared to lose it all. And moments later, that’s precisely what happened as Stannis’ depleted army was slaughtered with ease.

STANNIS

But things would not come to an end before Stannis found himself face to face with Brienne, who had vowed to avenge the death of her beloved Renley by putting her sword through Stannis. As she asks Stannis if he killed Renley using Melisandre’s blood magic, he does not deny it and tells her, “Do your duty.” Simple as they may be, these are powerful final words from a man whose entire storyline was dedicated to the idea of duty – the idea of him fulfilling what he believed to be his fate, whether or not he liked it. It is powerful and moving and sad all at the same time to reflect back on one of Stannis’ quotes from an earlier season about his duty, “My duty is to the realm. How many boys dwell in Westeros? How many girls? How many men, how many women? The darkness will devour them all, she says. The night that never ends. She talks of prophecies . . . a hero reborn in the sea, living dragons hatched from dead stone . . . she speaks of signs and swears they point to me. I never asked for this, no more than I asked to be king. Yet dare I disregard her? We do not choose our destinies. Yet we must . . . we must do our duty, no? Great or small, we must do our duty.”

In the end, it was his false belief in this duty that got him killed…And killed by another person carrying out her duty. It was quite a poetic way for Stannis to go. And as we finally see that this duty was false; a duty that he had sacrificed every part of his existence for, we can’t help but to feel a terrible sadness for a good and decent man who didn’t realize the mistakes he had made until it was too late. Oh, and let’s just note that this is all assuming he is in fact dead, which he very possibly is not. Generally speaking, if a character is going to die, especially a leading character, we will see their death – it is of course more impactful this way. So, we have to assume that because the scene cut away before we actually saw his death, that he is in fact alive.

A LEAP OF FAITH

In Winterfell, no time is wasted before we see Sansa successfully sneak out of her locked room and make her way up to the watchtower to light her candle – a signal to Brienne for help. I found it a bit convenient how quickly and easily she was able to escape out of her room and find her way to the watchtower, whereas to date she hasn’t been able to sneak an inch past Ramsey, but we can let that one slide… In frustrating fashion, Sansa’s candle burns for help literally seconds after Brienne abandons her watch to go find Stannis. While Brienne swore an oath to protect Sansa, there was one oath that was even more sacred to her — the oath to avenge the death of Renley.

And so, Sansa was left on her own to escape, until Theon steps in and saves her from Ramsey’s crazy kennel keeper who was seconds away from putting an arrow or two into Sansa. And just like that, Theon and Sansa are on the run together, and the best escape they can conjure is apparently to jump from the top of the Winterfell walls, hundreds of feet high. Once again, the scene cuts away before we see what happens to these characters, which I really don’t like because I do not understand how they will pick this back up next season. Assuming they are not dead, which is again a safe assumption since we did not see them die, the show is not going to continue their scene mid-jump next season, which means we are never going to see what actually happened, and only be left to learn it through some sort of character dialogue. I guess they could’ve landed on a really cushy patch of powdery snow to break their fall, but let’s face it – a jump from that height would kill anybody – so if they’re not dead, I just don’t love the show prohibiting us from seeing how they survived and finally escaped, especially when we’ve been waiting for Sansa to escape from being a prisoner for the last five seasons.

AN EYE FOR AN EYE

We arrive back to Braavos and finally get some significant progression in Arya’s story, which was starting to get a bit stale. As Meryn Trant is brutally beating helpless little girls, we quickly learn that Arya has changed faces for the first time, as she pounces on Ser Meryn and gouges his eyes out before stabbing him several times. Her revenge is slow and drawn out as she makes a point to let him know who she is – Arya Stark – an explicit reminder that she is in fact not ready to become nobody and still holds on dearly to her identity – one that is rooted in avenging the deaths of those she has lost. Nonetheless, it was gratifying to watch Arya get this kill, not only because of what an evil man he was, but because Meryn Trant was the very first name on Arya’s kill list, dating back to season one.

Arya returns to the House of Black and White to return the face she has used, to find Jaqen H’ghar and the other girl who tell her that Meryn’s life was not hers to take and that a life is owed to the Many-Faced God. For a second, it looked like Arya’s life might be in jeopardy, but Jaqen drank his poison vile and gave his life for Arya. We see the emotion pour out of her as she once again lost another person she cared for and we are again reminded that she is not ready to become nobody. But what we quickly learn, or better yet are reminded, is that Jaqen is not the person she thinks he is – Jaqen does not in fact exist. The person that was wearing Jaqen’s face was nobody – just as she must become. He had no identity, no character – he had stripped himself of all of this to become a Faceless Man. It was simply the face that he wore, which Arya quickly peeled back to see all the faces that existed behind it.

And just like that, another person appears behind Arya once again wearing Jaqen’s face. This was presumably the other girl who was proving the point that “Jaqen” did not in fact exist, and that anybody can wear any face to become somebody else, if they are in fact nobody to begin with. Of course, the person wearing Jaqen’s face was an actual human body that existed — but the point is that it a person without any true identity. And just when things seem like they can’t get any more confusing, Arya starts to lose her vision and screams helplessly that she is going blind. It’s unclear what caused this or how it was done to her, but one idea is that this was punishment – an eye for an eye, quite literally. Just like Meryn’s life was not hers to take, nor were his eyes, and perhaps now she is losing her eyes as punishment. And perhaps, without her vision and the ability to see things through her own eyes, she will take steps closer towards becoming nobody and only be able to see the world around her through the eyes of other faces.

Arya losing her vision

Arya losing her vision

KHALEESI

Elsewhere on Easteros, Mereen is without its queen and her cast of sidekick characters are left to figure out what comes next. It is decided that Daario and Jorah will lead an expedition to find Khaleesi while Tyrion will stay back with Grey Worm to govern the city. And to no surprise, Varys is back who will certainly be an invaluable asset to Tyrion.

TYRION

We then see that Khaleesi is somewhere in the grasslands of Easteros, unsure of exactly where she is or how far Drogon has flown her. As she tries to get him to return her home, we see that she still only has minimal control over her dragons. She wanders away to find food as she is discovered and then surrounded by hundreds of Dothraki riders. Before they approach, she slips off a wrong, presumably the ring from her wedding to the highborn of Mereen that we know she married (though we never saw the wedding). Khaleesi would not want the Dothraki to know she married another after she had been married to Khal Drogo.

It was unclear whether they were circling her in a threatening way, which is entirely possible, as she did not part with the Dothraki on peaceful terms. But, it is also conceivable that they were surrounding her in a reverent manner, as she is now widely established as the Mother of Dragons and known all over Easteros, so perhaps they were honoring her as they rode in formation around her. Either way, Khaleesi ends the season more or less where she started, still on Easteros and seemingly still quite far from being ready to conquer Westeros.

THE KISS OF DEATH

For a second, it seemed like we might’ve gotten peaceful outcome to the storyline in Dorne. Myrcella would return home peacefully with both her father and Prince Trystane who she has fallen in love with. Only Myrcella doesn’t know Jaime is her father…Wait, yes she does! In an unexpected twist, Myrcella tells Jaime that she has not only been aware from a young age about Jaime and Cercei – but that she is happy that he is her father. What a moment this was for Jaime, a man who has had to live a life of denying the children that he brought into this world. Though the show has not touched upon this idea very much, the books more thoroughly expose the pain Jaime has had to endure by denying to the world the children that he has. So, to finally be acknowledged as a father, and by his daughter no less, who is happy to have him as a father, is an enormous moment for Jaime’s character. But things go full 180 just seconds later, as Myrcella dies in the arms of her father, Jaime helpless to do anything. This is now the second child that has died in his arms from poison as he’s been unable to save them (Joffrey was the first). Perhaps this is the gods way of punishing Jaime for bringing children into this world that he has failed to raise, even if not his decision.

Jaime losing another child to poison

Jaime losing another child to poison

And while this was a tragic moment for Jaime, it is more significant for the implications of what is to come. While there was already bad blood between the Lannisters and Martells, things are now exponentially exacerbated as Cercei (and Jaime’s) precious daughter was murdered by the Dornish. What is interesting to consider is that this was not Prince Doran’s doing and he was explicit in wanting to avoid war, so much so that he was willing to allow Myrcella to return safely to King’s Landing with Jaime and the rest of them. So, Prince Doran will likely have to now choose between backing Ellaria and the Sand Snakes in the war they’ve started, or perhaps turn them over to the Lannisters. We know that the Sand Snakes have a lot of the support of the Dornish people, so this could possibly ignite a civil war within Dorne as well. We’ll have to wait until next season to find out, but it seems likely the war is imminent, especially considering Cercei’s current disposition and her new weapon, the Mountain, who has pledged to kill all her enemies.

THE WALK OF SHAME

Finally, Cercei breaks and confesses to her sins, or at least to one of them. She admits to sleeping with her cousin, but denies incest with Jaime and the dozens of other sins she has committed. At the moment, it seemed like she may have just been giving a half-hearted confession in order to find her way back to the Red Keep. But when all was said and done, there was certainly no quick pass back to the Red Keep in exchange for her confession, and Cercei, like so many other characters after this episode, will never be the same. After being stripped and having nearly all her hair cut off, she is forced to walk through the peasant-filled streets of King’s Landing in an unimaginable walk of shame. As she is cursed at, spit at and completely defiled in every way possible, Cercei continues to walk through the streets towards the Red Keep which looks impossibly far away; at one point, it looked like she might not make it. The length of this scene and the seemingly never-ending walk made viewers extremely uncomfortable – something that was intentional and unmistakable. The show wanted viewers to feel Cercei’s discomfort – so much so that we may have even felt empathy for a character who has been so ruthless and vicious for as long as we’ve known her. Still, she experienced something that perhaps nobody ever should, and it seemed as though Cercei’s character was finally broken, something we might’ve thought was never possible.

Cercei preparing for atonement

Cercei preparing for atonement

As she steps back into the Red Keep, we see a much different Red Keep and cast of characters than we’ve become accustomed to. No longer is this Cercei’s home or place of rule. She looks and feels like an outsider and she doesn’t exactly get the warmest of welcomes back. Qyburn is the only one to embrace her and we finally see the Mountain, although in a disappointing reveal. After a full season of waiting to see what kind of freakish monster the Mountain has become, I was hoping to see a more impactful reveal. I was waiting for him to jump in during Cercei’s walk of shame to save her. Or at least let us see what the guy looks like, explain what he has become..Is he human? Monster? Something in between? Tell us something! It was the same giant Mountain in full armor that we’ve seen before – the only difference is that his face was discolored and we are told by Qyburn that he’s taken a vow of silence until all of Cercei’s enemies are killed. Kind of disappointing…

THE PRINCE WHO WAS PROMISED

The foreshadowing had been thick and the writing was on the wall (no pun intended). We had seen several times that Ollie was set on avenging the death of his family; the brothers of the Night’s Watch had questioned Jon Snow’s decision; and in last week’s episode, Ser Alliser Thorne had gone as far as to explicitly tell Jon Snow “You’ve got a kind heart…Be careful, it’ll get you killed.” But still, the death of Jon Snow probably took us all by surprised. Even in a world where we’ve come to learn that anybody can be killed off, we still thought that Jon Snow was in it for the long haul – that he was going to be one of the last guys standing in the battle of ice versus fire.

The good news is that still may be the case, especially if you consider the prophecy of the Prince Who Was Promised. And while the show has made several mentions of the Prince Who Was Promised, namely through Melisandre, it has failed to fully explain the importance of this idea – an idea that is more significant now than ever if you want to believe that this is not the end for Jon Snow. So let’s reexamine.

About 8,000 years ago, during the Long Night, the White Walkers invaded the Seven Kingdoms and nearly wiped all of humanity to the point of extinction. Darkness came for all, and at the time, there was no Wall or Night’s Watch to fight it back. And thus emerged Azor Ahai, otherwise known as the Prince Who Was Promised. He would go on to become the most legendary hero that the world would ever know. Recognizing that he must make a sacrifice to the Lord of Light, he put his sword through the heart of his wife, a woman that he loved more than anything. It is said that her soul became one with his sword, a flaming sword that would henceforth be known as Lightbringer. With his sword Lightbringer, Azor Ahai led the fight against the White Walkers and pushed back the darkness that almost consumed all of humanity. After this battle, the Wall was built to keep the White Walkers from ever invading and the Night’s Watch was form to protect the Wall and all that lurked beyond it. At the time, it was prophesized that at some point, Azor Ahai, otherwise known as the Prince Who Was Promised, would be reincarnated to once again fight back the darkness. Throughout history, many characters have been thought to have been the Prince Who Was Promised – most recently Rhaegar Targaryen and then Stannis Baratheon.

Since the inception of the show, Melisandre has told Stannis that he was the Prince Who Was Promised – the one chosen soul to fight back the darkness that was once again coming for all of humanity. But what if she was wrong? What if Stannis was not the Prince Who Was Promised? Well, as it turns out, it seems like we found out that he was in fact not the Prince Who Was Promised and sadly he sacrificed everything all for nothing. What is interesting is that before Stannis even went into battle, Melisandre deserted his cause. The moment she heard that half his army had been lost, a look came over her face – not a look of complete shock, but rather a look of “oh shit, I knew there was a chance I was wrong about all of this..and it turns out I was.” Had Melisandre truly believed 100% that Stannis was the Prince Who Was Promised, the revelation that he was not would have been shattering to her – the point that she would have nothing left to live for. After all, she has been living solely for the Lord of Light, so to find out it was all bullshit would leave her with little left to live for. But she didn’t collapse into despair – rather she knew exactly where she had to go the moment she realized that Stannis was not the Prince Who Was Promised – and she went straight there – to Jon Snow.

Which leads us to one conclusion – Jon Snow is in fact the Prince Who Was Promised. Of course, looking back at previous episodes, there are other tidbits that point to the idea that Melisandre may have thought this, or at least considered it, all along. The very first time Melisandre arrived with Stannis at Castle Black, she exchanged a long stare with Jon Snow – that was not for no reason. Then, there was of course the scene where she tried to seduce him and told him that he had king’s blood. So, in reality, she probably had some idea all along and the moment things went sour for Stannis, it seems like she immediately realized the mistake she had made and who the Prince Who Was Promised truly was.

And now, with Jon Snow dead, she has the opportunity to prove the truth of her magic and that of the Lord of Light – will she be able to bring Jon Snow back to life? We’ve already seen the Lord of Light’s magic and the Red Priest, Thoros of Myr, bring back to life Beric Dondarrion several times. So we know this is a possibility. It is also important to consider the very final image we saw after Jon Snow died. While his face was powerful as he lay there dead – it was not the most prominent component of the final image we were left with. Rather, it was his blood as it crawled through the snow, looking dark and mysterious, almost having a life of its own. It looked eerily similar to me to the way Melisandre’s dark shadow moved through the air – another allusion to the idea that Melisandre’s magic could be used to bring him back to life. (Check out the video below, you will see the way his blood moves through the snow, appearing to have a life of its own like Melisandre’s shadow ghost).

OUTRO

It’s unclear whether or not Jon Snow is dead for good – just as it’s unclear whether or not Stannis, Theon and Sansa or dead or not. What we do know is that everything has changed in a major way. Stannis, if not dead, is without any army at all and it will be interesting to consider what role he might play if he is in fact alive. What comes next for Sansa and Theon if they are alive and on the run? Will Arya be blind for good, and if so, will that force her to abandon her identity and finally become a Faceless Man? What happens in Mereen with Varys and Tyrion and do Daario and Jorah find Khaleesi? And what about Khaleesi’s other two dragons? What kind of person will Cercei be after her life-changing experience and will she wage war against Dorne after she learns of the death of her daughter? There are so many questions and we’ve got a full year to wait to get any real answers…And so it begins, life without Thrones… Stay tuned into ThronesLife for updates and interesting content…

SEASON 5, EPISODE 9: THE DANCE OF DRAGONS

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

FIRE, FIRE AND MORE FIRE

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

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

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

DESPERATE TIMES CALL FOR DESPERATE MEASURES

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

Melisandre looks on as Shireen burns

Melisandre looks on as Shireen burns

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

Shireen is tied up

Shireen is tied up

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

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

Stannis and his wife look on as their daughter burns

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

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

THE MOTHER OF DRAGONS & KHALEESI’S NEW CREW

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

crew

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

Khaleesi and Drogon

EVERYTHING ELSE

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

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

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

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

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

Season 5, Episode 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.

Season 5, Episode 5: Kill the Boy

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

OLD VALYRIA!!!

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

The ruins of Old Valyria

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

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

Valyrians use magic to tame dragons

Valyrians use magic to tame dragons

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Doom of Valyria

The Doom of Valyria

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

Drogon flies over the Valyrian ruins

Drogon flies over the Valyrian ruins

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

tyrion

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

The Stone Men

The Stone Men

EVERYTHING ELSE

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE TRUTH OF EACH CHARACTER

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

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

ARYA IS MORE FEARLESS THAN EVER

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

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

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

titan

Arya arrives to Braavos, passing under the Titan of Braavos

BRIENNE THE OATHKEEPER

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

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

Brienne and Baelish

Brienne and Baelish

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

KING’S LANDING

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

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

Jaime and Cercei

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

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

DORNE

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

Prince Doran Martell of Dorne 

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

MORE PROBLEMS FOR KHALEESI

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

The dead Son of Harpy

The dead Son of the Harpy

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

The ex-slave Khaleesi executes

The ex-slave Khaleesi executes

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

Drogon returns to Khaleesi

Drogon returns to Khaleesi

TYRION AND VARYS

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

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

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

Tyrion and Varys travel to Volantis

Tyrion and Varys travel to Volantis

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

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

THE SMALL COUNCIL GETS SMALLER

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

Cercei and her new Small Council

Cercei and her new Small Council

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

SOME BIG EVENTS AT THE WALL

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

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

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

Stannis offers to make Jon Snow a Stark

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

A GIRL MUST BECOME NOTHING

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

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

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

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

Season 5, Episode 1: The Wars to Come

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

A NEW SEASON, A NEW WORLD

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

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

THE END OF A LANNISTER ERA

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

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The young Cercei

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

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

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

OUT OF THE BOX

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

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

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

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

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

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TROUBLE IN KHALEESI’S NEW WORLD

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

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

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Khaleesi & her dragons

THE WALL

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

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EVERYTHING ELSE

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

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Sansa, appearing darker than ever

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.