Season 8, Episode 5: The Bells

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

The Bells

By now, everybody knows that in the world of Thrones, penultimate episodes are a big deal. Ned’s beheading, The Battle of Blackwater Bay, The Red Wedding, The Battle of the Bastards — some of the most epic and memorable events in Thrones history, all happened in the second to last episode of their respective seasons. So, in what was not only the penultimate episode to this season, but the penultimate episode to the entire series, things were taken to a whole new level. In trying to balance the sheer “hugeness” of this episode, with writing and storytelling that continues to feel uneven and ill-conceived, I suspect that many viewers will be left asking themselves how content they truly are with this episode.

To that end, I’d like to point out that in any given episode, there is no harm in separating an assessment of the episode’s production from the actual story told. On the production side, there are many technical and artistic disciplines at work. To name a few, there’s the director’s overall vision of how an episode will be delivered, special effects, music, cinematography, etc… And on the storytelling side, the same can be said: writing and dialogue, character development, pace of storytelling — these all shape the overall narrative we are experiencing. So, it would be foolish to try and lump all of these together with a wholesale assessment of the success of a given episode. When you go to a restaurant, you may ultimately determine whether it was good or bad, but more likely, you pass judgement on the food, the ambiance, the service — all distinct elements — one of which could be great, while another not so much.

So before we jump into a more detailed assessment of this week’s episode, I’d like to separate the production from the story. Without doubt, from a production standpoint, tonight’s episode was one of the most successful we’ve seen to date. Delivering 80 minutes of epic chaos and destruction and fire and blood and everything else that went into this episode is no easy feat. The “hugeness” of this episode cannot be denied, and Thrones once again set a new standard for the production value of a television show — a standard once reserved only for the big screen. I start by calling out the success of tonight’s production for a smaller and bigger reason. The smaller reason: because it truly was special and commands tremendous admiration; the bigger reason: I want to get it out of the way early so that it does conflate further commentary which will be focused on the story itself. After all, it is the Game of Thrones story — the magic of its characters, the richness of its history; the intrigue of its myth and legend — that won my heart so early on. And while I would never want to minimize all that this show has achieved on the production front, the story itself will simply always be much more important to me.

So, with that in mind, let’s jump into the story.

The Bells

The second to last episode in the Game of Thrones series was entitled The Bells, a symbolic foreshadowing of some of the milestone events that would unfold in the episode. The ringing of King’s Landing’s bells generally means one of three things: a city under siege, surrender, or the death of a king (or queen). Given the gravitas of these events, when you hear the ring of a King’s Landing bell, you know there is some serious weight to what it signifies. And tonight, the ringing of King’s Landing’s bells underscored all three: the siege of the city, the surrender of its troops, and the death of its queen.

But tonight we saw so much more — enough to keep those bells ringing for many days to come. Destinies were fulfilled as Dany followed in the footsteps of her father and became The Mad Queen. Heartbreaking final goodbyes were said between Tyrion and Jaime; The Hound and Arya. Regret is everywhere, as characters such as Tyrion and Jon realize their mistakes — ones that may well alter the course of history. And the consequences of those mistakes — almost too much to watch — could not have been higher. Fire and blood is everywhere, and death is ubiquitous. There is no coming back from tonight’s episode, and although there is still one final twist to be told in the finale episode, this story is all but told.

Dragonstone

The episode kicks off at Dragonstone as we see Varys writing letters stating that Jon, not Dany, is true heir to the Iron Throne. Over the years, there were many questions as to the true motives of Varys, and at times, it was not clear if he could be trusted. Well, it’s become quite clear that unlike many other characters in the show, Varys was always forthright about his true motives: to protect the realm and its impoverished citizens who couldn’t protect themselves. To that end, he is steadfast in his belief that the realm is best off in the hands of Jon, so much so that he is willing to die for it. In last week’s episode, he was forthright with Tyrion about his feelings regarding Dany’s claim to the throne. He could have been deceptive about it, but he wasn’t. Again, in tonight’s episode, he did not try to mask his true motives. Sitting in a room at Dragonstone, with Dany just a few doors down, Varys is preparing to send ravens discrediting her claim to the throne. Varys knew what he was risking and was willing to die to protect the realm.

As Varys is brought down to the beach, there is no secret as to what is about to happen. John and Tyrion are forced to look on, rather helplessly, as Dany used her dragon’s fire to take the life of Varys. No doubt, a foreshadowing of what was just around the corner; perhaps Jon and Tyrion should have trusted their instincts the way Varys had his. Sadly, Varys, the one who had the correct hunch about Dany, ends up dead, while Jon and Tyrion, who had gravely misjudged their queen, are the ones who end up living. Interestingly, Varys being burned on the beach mirrors a scene from the first episode of season two when Melisandre and Stannis also harness the Lord of Light’s fire, using it to burn those who question this religion. Many seasons later, Varys suffered a similar death, which was quite fitting, given his mysterious connection to the flames and the Lord of Light.

In season three, Varys reveals to Tyrion how he was mutilated by a sorcerer as a young boy. The sorcerer threw Varys’ “parts” into the fire, and Varys heard a voice call out from the flames, a voice that haunted him forever since. In a more recent season, The High Red Priestess Kinvara visited Varys in Mereen, and reminded him of the voice he had heard in the flames. She told him that as long as he was a friend of the queen’s, then he had nothing to fear from The Lord of Light. Well, he eventually turned away from being her friend, and the Lord of Light did not take kindly to this, begging the question: is the Lord of Light actually good? Of course, this question assumes that there is a “good” and a “bad,” when in reality, this story has reminded us that often the line between the two is not that simple. But still, after The Lord of Light’s fire played a pivotal role in eliminating The Night King’s army, it felt as thought The Lord of Light was guiding us in the right direction. But maybe not. It was the Lord of Light’s highest priestess, Kinvara, who all but threatened Varys; it was the Lord of Light’s fire that eventually took the life of Varys; and it was the Lord of Light’s fire that brought the ultimate destruction to King’s Landing. Where’s The Night King’s wintery frost when you need it?

The Mad Queen

From the moment we lay eyes on Dany in this episode, we can tell that something is very wrong. She looks disheveled to say the least — her usually neatly braided hair is all out of sort and her eyes dark. She hasn’t eaten in days and it’s clear that she is quickly becoming unhinged, maybe even inching closer to becoming The Mad Queen. It’s not just her physical appearance, but also her tone, that starts to sound like that of her father, The Mad King, before her. She is becoming increasingly paranoid, and doesn’t accept the idea that it is Varys who betrayed her, but also believes Jon betrayed her by telling Sansa of his true identity, Sansa who betrayed her by telling Tyrion, and Tyrion who betrayed her by telling Varys. She tells Tyrion that the next time he fails her will be his last — a flat out death threat. It seems that any semblance of the sweet and compassionate Khaleesi that we once new is all but gone.

And this is confirmed moments later in a scene that included an embrace which could be the last between Jon and Dany. Dany tells Jon, “I don’t have love here, I only have fear.” As the two come together, Dany makes one last attempt to keep their love affair alive, but Jon just isn’t having it. It appeared he already had some misgivings about the relationship before learning of his true identity. Once he learned that she was his aunt, that was just too much. While the Targaryens have a long lineage of incestuous marriages, Jon is still a northerner at heart and just doesn’t roll like that. As Dany steps back from him, the two literally separated by Targaryen fire, she decides, “Alright. Let it be fear.” Though Dany has experienced a ton of loss in recent episodes, capped by Missandei’s beheading last week, it was ultimately Jon’s decision to not love her the way she wanted that pushed her over the edge. All she had left was fear.

But before the idea of having to resort to ruling through fear gets the best of her, Tyrion tries to make one last plea. He begs Dany to end her siege if he is able to get Cersei’s forces to surrender, which he will signal by ringing the city bells. Dany does not respond to Tyrion’s request, and instead looks at Grey Worm and gives him a small head nod. At the time, I felt that perhaps she was affirming to Grey Worm that his troops should stand down should Tyrion be able to negotiate Cersei’s surrender, but in retrospect, we realize she was giving a totally different type of nod to Grey Worm. It was a show-no-mercy head nod; a fire and blood to avenge Missandei’s death head-nod.

Tyrion, attempting to avoid mass carnage at all costs, even commits treason against his queen by freeing her prisoner, Jaime. Tyrion convinces Jaime to save Cersei, escape King’s Landing and ride off into the sunset to start a new life together. This was a direct allusion to a conversation Missandei and Grey Worm had a few episodes back, in which they discussed sailing back to Missandei’s homeland to have a life together. Well, if Missandei and Grey Worm can’t have it, neither can Jaime and Cersei (but we’ll get there later). I had mixed feelings about this scene (as I did Jaime’s uneven character arc as a whole). On the one hand, I was touched by the heartfelt goodbye between the brothers. In a season that has botched so many of these moments, they managed to get this one right (perhaps that full credit should go to the acting of Peter Dinklage). In one of the biggest moments, with a huge war impending, we are reminded of Tyrion’s humanness as he breaks down to Jaime, telling him that he was all he had. The relationship shared between Tyrion and Jaime was always complex but beautiful and one of the heartwarming parts of this story. On the other hand, I took slight issue to the convenient spontaneity of the plan Tyrion proposed, as well as Jaime’s willingness to accept it. All of a sudden, Jaime is going to just convince Cersei to surrender, the two will escape King’s Landing, and ride off into the sunset no strings attached? To me, this felt like another example of the show getting ahead of the books, the writers not knowing how these characters’ journeys will end, and lazy writing leading to the creation of an implausible event to get Jaime from point A to point B. Had this not been the 100th example of this type of thing this season, I probably wouldn’t even mention it. Anyway, moving on…

King’s Landing

At this point, battle is imminent and there’s no turning back. The impoverished of King’s Landing flood into the city gates by the tens of thousands. Outside the gates, The Golden Company (Cersei’s paid mercenaries), oppose what’s left of Jon’s northern forces alongside The Unsullied and Dothraki. On the water, Euron mans his ships with their dragon-slaying weapons ready to go. Only this time, Dany swoops in from a much steeper angle, making it difficult for their weapons to be utilized, and in a matter of moments, Dany takes out all of Euron’s ships. The fact that Dany was able to take out all of these ships with such ease undermines the fact that she lost a dragon to these very same ships last week. Again, uneven storytelling in my opinion.

Dany had three dragons — the first dragons born into the world in hundreds of years — massive beasts that fly the sky and breathe fire. They should be extremely difficult to take out. I looked the other way when the Night King threw his ice spear thousands of feet into the sky and took out Dany’s first dragon, but I felt frustrated when Euron was able to take out a second dragon by shooting a fairly immobile projectile at a dragon flying through the sky at a high speed. But okay, it happened. But then one week later, Dany is able to eliminate this very same fleet in a matter of moments? It makes the death of her dragon feel like it was so avoidable.

After burning Euron’s fleet, Dany sets her sights to the city walls, and lays the initial round of fiery destruction, allowing for Jon and Grey Worm to lead their troops into the city on foot. Dany provides aerial support, and it’s only a matter of moments before it becomes abundantly clear that this battle was over before it started. Cersei’s troops lay down their weapons, and at this point, the battle has been won. Team Dany could have reinforced their position, sacked the city and Dany could have been sitting on that shiny Iron Throne by nightfall. But as Dany sat atop her dragon overlooking King’s Landing, a strange combination of sadness, excitement and terror came over her face all at once. Ladies and gentleman, The Mad Queen had arrived, and King’s Landing would stand no chance.

“Madness and greatness are two sides of the same coin. Every time a new Targaryen is born, the gods toss the coin in the air and the world holds its breath to see how it will land.” As those bells rang loud and clear, signifying the surrender of King’s Landing, it became crystal clear which side of the coin had landed. The Mad Queen and Grey Worm shared in a thirst for blood and revenge, as he led the slaughter on the ground, while from the air, Dany burned the city to a crisp. Symbolic of the broader dynamic he is caught in, Jon literally got stuck in the middle as he had no desire to slaughter the surrendered troops, but was forced to keep fighting, as he also attempted to get his troops to fall back. Jon’s morality was outmatched and he could not stop the fire and blood that was to come.

Arya & The Hound

It’s no secret, The Hound has been my favorite character in this story for many years. There have been many great duos in this story, but the journey he shared with Arya was by far my favorite. So it was exciting to see them sneak into King’s Landing together and arrive at The Red Keep, though also nerve-wracking as a sense of death was imminent. The Hound and Arya arrived at King’s Landing for the very same thing — revenge. For pretty much as long as we have known these characters, they have both been driven by their unrelenting quest for vengeance. The Hound has been wanting to exact revenge on his older brother, The Mountain, who held his face to the fire as a young boy and forever changed his physical and emotional identity. Similarly, Arya was forever changed when she lost her father (and others) at the hands of The Lannisters, and for that, Cersei has always been at the top of her hit list.

But as the two reach their moment of destiny, their roads fork in different directions. The Hound knows that ascending The Red Keep will only lead to death, and though he has not been able to find it himself, knows that there is more to life than revenge. The Hound delivers an absolutely masterful performance in this final scene between the two, a final moment that reminds us of what we always knew and loved about him — beneath that tough and damaged exterior, there is a great man. His words were powerful enough to convince Arya to walk the other way, and before they part, Arya calls out to him “Sandor, thank you.” It has only been a couple of times that anybody has called him Sandor, and this was a powerful reminder that he is not a hound, but a human, and a great one at that.

I’ve included two videos below. The first is an audition tape of Rory McCann reading for the part of The Hound. I’ve included this video because 1) it captures how perfect Rory McCann was for the part of The Hound, even from his first read; 2) the lines he reads tells the story of what his brother did to him; 3) at about 1:08 in, he has a line where he yells “look at me!” The producers of GoT said right after that part of the audition, they were sold that he was the one for this part. Writers chose to use that same “look at me!” line in the final exchange between The Hound and Arya tonight (at about 48 seconds in the second video). Pretty amazing that they went all the way back to his audition from about 10 years ago and used his performance of that line as one of his very last lines he would speak before dying.

As The Hound faces off with The Mountain, it quickly began to feel like his death was imminent. There was no coming back from this — something he himself had already known. The Hound fought with great determination, but we quickly learned that this zombie-version of The Mountain simply couldn’t be killed. In some ways, this felt very frustrating — the revenge The Hound had been searching for all his life simply wasn’t attainable. Though, his death was poetic, as he realized he too would have to die in order to eliminate his brother. And, in doing so, he tackles his brother off the ledge as the two fall into the fire below, the very fire that The Hound had been scarred by his entire life.

I would like to offer a heartfelt RIP to Sandor Clegane, aka The Hound. In my opinion, he was one of the most beautifully complex and sadly tragic heroes of this entire story. In the earliest days of the show, when he was protector of Joffrey, we thought he was nothing but a grotesque monster. But then we saw the ways in which he protected Sansa from Joffrey’s cruelty, eventually trying to get her to escape King’s Landing with him (though she refused). In his own way, he began on a path towards righteousness, first protecting Arya on their journey together and later serving his purpose in The Great War against The Night King. The juxtaposition of his hardened exterior next to his warmer interior made him such a wonderful character. At the same time, it is so tragic to consider the life he was condemned to; betrayed by his older brother at such a young age, physically and mentally scarred forever as a result. This changed the way he would see the world, yet still, he was able to show in his own ways what a good man he truly was. RIP Sandor, we will miss you.

What’s The Deal with Arya?

While I always enjoy screentime with Arya and The Hound together, once she went out on her own, I was rather confused by what the hell was going on with her story. For starters, I felt like she was a rat in a maze, running along the streets of King’s Landing with no discernible destination. I totally appreciate that she pivoted from her plan to exact revenge on Cersei, and now is playing the role of hero in helping others try to escape the fiery mess, but I mean what is going on with her story arc here? She comes back to King’s Landing and ends up being the one to take out The Night King. Cool. Then she learns of Jon’s true identity and it seems like she is going to take a stand against Dany and push him to pursue his claim to the throne. That then goes out the window as she joins up with The Hound to head to Kings Landing. Okay, I can live with it. But, then she gets to King’s Landing, and in a matter of 30 seconds, she is completely talked out of the very reason she came there. This is where my issue starts.

While I don’t want to take anything away from The Hound and the beauty of him ultimately protecting Arya from the death that was awaiting her above, this storytelling just didn’t feel right. First off, Arya has been wanting to kill Cersei for years now; Cersei was at the top of her list and at times, it was the only thing that got her through the day. After all of those years, in a matter of mere seconds, she can so easily be talked out of her grand plan? And if so, why didn’t they have this conversation in Winterfell? Or, better yet, along the two-week journey from Winterfell to King’s Landing? Were they that busy during the two weeks it took them to get to King’s Landing, that they couldn’t have spoken about Arya not living a life fueled by revenge? Did it need to wait to the very moment that they had finally reached The Red Keep and Cersei was just a few more steps from Arya?

And, food for thought, given how the next scene played out where Cersei simply walked by The Hound untouched, Arya actually could have very quickly taken her out without dying. All that withstanding, I found the rest of Arya’s involvement in this episode frenetic and confusing. It felt like she was running around for the sake of it, getting knocked out several times, then getting back up, all for what? In the end, she didn’t save anybody. And then she just rides off on her white horse? I could write five different things her riding off on that horse could be symbolic of, but honestly, I don’t want to bail out the poor storytelling. It’s been rather unclear for most of this season what Arya is really after, and though I enjoyed the fact that it was The Hound that saved her, I simply don’t feel her character arc is being closed out soundly.

Jaime & Cersei

Speaking of uneven character arcs, what the hell kind of ending is this for Jaime? Another one of this story’s more complex characters, he went through much self-discovery and we saw the many different sides of who Jaime truly was at his core. If the show wanted to end his story with the message that his identity was ultimately defined by his love for Cersei, I am okay with that, but why so much back and forth in between? He went from bad guy at the beginning of the story, to good guy when he saved Brienne, back to questionable guy who returned to King’s Landing to support Cersei, then again to good guy who went to Winterfell and fought to save humanity. At that point, it seemed like his good-guy status was cemented, especially after his deepened relationship with Brienne, but then with the flip of a switch, he’s off in the middle of the night to return back to Cersei. Many hypothesized that he was putting on an act and that he was actually returning to King’s Landing to take out his sister, but that turned out not to be the case. He actually returned to try and once again support her, which in my opinion, simply undermines so much of his previous story.

Sure, it was a storybook ending to see Cersei and Jaime go out of this world the same way they came in — together. But what was it all really about? Again, I have to believe this is just another example of the writers not really knowing how Jaime’s character arc truly arrives to his final moments, and the show having to come up with something. I also felt a little underwhelmed with Cersei’s ultimate demise. I didn’t need an expected ending such as her being killed by Arya, but I did expect a bit more from her on her way out. After all, since The Night King got killed earlier in the season, didn’t that mean she was the ultimate villain? She basically just stood there, looking on, for the entire episode, as Dany burned the city. All of a sudden Cersei doesn’t have a counterpunch planned or trick up her sleeve? This battle was supposed to be Cersei vs Dany, but ended up being Dany vs nobody, and I was a bit flabbergasted that the story ends with Cersei simply watching on and doing nothing.

Lastly, I have to ask, what in the world was the deal with Cersei’s “baby?” First she was pregnant and it was Jaimes. Next she’s drinking copious amounts of wine as if she’s not pregnant at all. Then Euron wants to put a baby in her belly, and then out of nowhere, she tells him that the baby is his. Was she pregnant? Was she not pregnant? Who was the father? Does it even matter? The answer seems to be no, and if it ended up not mattering at all, why so much dialogue in so many episodes about this damn baby? Not cool.

Oh, and I forgot to mention that Jaime fought Euron. Perhaps, because it was completely forgettable, as is Euron’s entire character in this show since day one. Another example of not having any better way to end Euron’s story, an obligatory fight between he and Jaime is thrown into the story. How fortuitous that the very moment that Jaime is trying to sneak into King’s Landing through a hidden entrance, Euron happens to be stumbling onto the very same shore after his boat just got blasted by dragon-fire. The fight was nothing special, and I found it particularly strange that they chose to write him a final line of “I’m the man who killed Jaime Lannister,” given that he didn’t kill Jaime, and Jaime ended up dying with Cersei after being buried beneath the destruction of The Red Keep.

Who’s at Fault?

One of the more powerful parts of this episode was watching Tyrion rummage through the rubble of the utter death and destruction that Dany had caused. This was obviously painful for Tyrion to see, knowing just how badly he wanted to avoid this very outcome. And all the more so given that he is hand to the very queen that was capable of such brutal destruction. But above all else, the sharpness of this moment is the realization that he was totally and completely wrong, in almost every way possible. In the episode prior, when Varys had been questioning Dany, Tyrion told him “It’s about picking one person you believe in and defending that person.” Well, boy did Tyrion pick the wrong person.

But I believe it goes a layer deeper than just picking the wrong person. After all, it’s not as if he just picked her and walked away, unable to have any affect on the outcome. It was the opposite. He was her hand — her closest adviser — he had more ability to influence her decisions and their outcomes than anybody else in Westeros. And yet, he finds the capital city burnt to a crisp with tens of thousands of innocents dead. So, it begs the ultimate question: was Tyrion a good adviser to Dany?

I say no. Tyrion is a lot of things; he is kind, he is compassionate, he is clever — the list goes on. And I think he would make an excellent hand to many, given his wonderful balance of these critical attributes — but not to Dany. In the end, I believe it was Tyrion’s sense of compassion that led to Dany becoming The Mad Queen. What we know about Dany, above all else, is that she is not only the mother of dragons, but a dragon herself. She came out of the fire unburnt, she brought dragons into the world, and she is as fierce a Targaryen as they come. We always knew Dany had both compassion and ferocity in her, the balance of which would make her a great ruler. She had the capacity to show kindness and empathy when needed, and did want to make the world a better place if given the chance. At the same time, she was fierce and ruthless when she needed to be. Possessing such diametrically opposed attributes, I would argue that the most important task of Dany’s hand would be to keep these two sides of the coin in check. And that is something Tyrion failed to recognize altogether.

Tyrion was always encouraging Dany to be patient, to be compassionate, to be merciful. He wanted her to be how he himself would be in the situations she faced. And in doing so, he often kept her Targaryen fire extinguished. Dany is a dragon, and if it were up to Tyrion, that dragon would have always been kept in its cage. Looking back, Dany’s decision to lay waste to King’s Landing had been foreshadowed many times and Tyrion knew this, but was ignorant to it. For instance, in season six, when Mereen was at conflict with other slave cities, Dany told Tyrion “I will crucify the masters. I will set their fleets afire. I will kill every last one of their soldiers and return their cities to the dirt. That’s my plan.” And what did Tyrion do? He talked her out of it, pushing the dragon back into her cage. Even before that, in season two, Dany talked about how she planned to “lay waste to armies and burn cities to the ground.”

As we can see above, Dany decided to crucify the slave masters as punishment for their actions. While I’m sure none of us felt bad for them, it does take a certain kind of crazy to stake humans to a post while they are still alive and breathing. Looking back on all of this, we always knew Dany possessed the fiery madness to take things too far when provoked. Tyrion had a single-minded approach of trying to always extinguish Dany’s fire, and he was successful in doing so for quite some time. She listened to him time after time as he coached her to take the highroad, to avoid becoming the kind of tyrant that she herself wanted to rid from the world. What he didn’t realize, though, was that he was helping to create that very person. His guidance of continuing to show restraint, coupled with some poor military decisions, led to Dany losing a lot of what she held most dear, including two of her dragons, half her army, Jorah and Missandei. Not all of these losses were Tyrion’s fault, but he shares in plenty of the blame and played a large role in the back-against-the-wall scenario that Dany found herself in. Great a man as he may be, Tyrion simply was not the right hand for Dany, and ultimately played as large a role as anybody in turning her into The Mad Queen.

Queen of the Ashes

I cannot say Dany’s character turning into The Mad Queen came as a surprise, though I can say I am somewhat irked by it. I get all the reasons why it happened, but I do feel that A) it was a bit rushed and B) it undermines her seemingly never-ending journey leading up to this moment. On the first point, I think her transition into becoming The Mad Queen simply could have been a bit slower and more developed. For 67 episodes she was on a mission to rid the world of the cruel rulers, and for the last five she all of a sudden started to show signs of a transition into The Mad Queen. Yes, I recognize how much she lost in the last few episodes — but that too was rushed — and I simply feel there is great incongruity between the amount of time she spent being one person, and how quickly she was able to full-fledge become another. As I pointed out above, there were certainly flashes of her madness along the way, so it’s not as if this came out of the blue, but still, her transition could have been developed at a pace that was a lot more balanced.

But more so than the pace at which this all happened, I feel like the first seven seasons of her story were totally undermined. We are talking about the girl that went to the end of the earth and back; the mother of dragons; the breaker of chains; the girl who so many times could have taken the easy route and ended things with fire and blood, but chose not to, because her entire character’s motivation was built around the idea of leaving the world a better place. The lengths she went through to preserve this very idea are mind-boggling. At times, it truly felt like she was on a never ending journey, solely guided by the faith in her desire to change the world. And tonight’s episode simply made all of that worthless. She could have done what she did tonight years ago, and saved a whole lot of people a whole lot of time. But she didn’t, because she was meant for something greater. Why save so many slaves only to kill so many innocents? Why save an entire city only to destroy another? I get that character arcs can change and that is often what makes characters in this story so wonderful — the unpredictable nature in which their motivations and actions may pivot. But this was different. This was too much of a pivot, all too quickly, and it simply undermined way too much of her backstory for it to be understandable.

The irony of it all? Dany destroyed the very city that her ancestors built. It was 300 years ago that Aegon Targaryen landed ashore Westeros and eventually united The Seven Kingdoms under his kingship. As new king, he founded the capital city at the spot where he had landed his dragons, and named the city King’s Landing. Over the years, House Targaryen built a great capital city as they ruled for 300 years, and in just one day, Dany destroyed almost all of it. Her father, The Mad King, is regarded as an absolute madman for his intense paranoia, obsession with fire, and the cruelty he demonstrated in punishing people with death by fire. If that’s the reputation he built for those actions, how will history remember the woman that burnt down the entire capital city that her ancestors built, killing thousands of innocents along the way?

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Season 8, Episode 3: The Long Night

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

Here’s an idea for the framework of a story. Let’s start off with a series of events that will initially seem like the main purpose of the story, say a battle for supremacy over a throne. Let’s weave in countless battles, twist and turns, all in the name of conquering that throne. Let’s then start to pivot a bit and make our story multi-dimensional. Let’s tickle the curiosities and spark the imaginations of our viewers by starting to slowly and methodically offer the idea that the original premise of this story is actually not the end-all be-all. Sure, that first story about the battle for that throne once seemed all-important, but what if we start to craft another story, which starts to make the first seem less significant? In doing so, we offer a powerful idea: relativity. A plot-line that once fully consumed us, may now start to feel more disposable, when considered relative to a much more powerful story we can tell. And, say, that more important story will be centered around a much more existential philosophy….Maybe good vs evil, light vs dark, Ice vs Fire.

Of course, as we start to build this seemingly much more significant story arc, we will do so in a slow and calculated manner. We will start by offering breadcrumbs, early on, maybe even teasing the villain, a mysterious White Walker, in the very first scene of the very first episode. From there, we will build slowly over nearly a decade of storytelling, consistently reinforcing to our audience that there is a much more important storyline lurking in the distance — one that will continue to come into greater focus with each passing day.

And as our story nears its ultimate conclusion and this seemingly all-important storyline appears to be reaching its climax — the point where our audience will finally be rewarded with a a more illuminated view into the true message or meaning underpinning this story — let’s do the following: In the blink of an eye, let’s completely pull the rug out from under them. Let’s offer up a huge plot twist that undermines everything we’ve been telling our audience for the past 10 years. That original story we hooked you with — the one about humans battling for a throne — the one we worked so hard to remind you is actually less significant than that bigger and more important plot-line — let’s do a complete 180′ on that and decide it’s going to be the plot-line that the ending of this story will be dedicated to.

How does this framework sound to you? Shocking? Frustrating? Downright idiotic?

The Game of Thrones was fun. But it was just the first book in the Song of Ice and Fire series. Which, as we saw in the show, meant that this story ultimately was about something so much greater than mere mortals battling for a throne — a story that’s been done a dozen times over. This story was going to explore a much deeper, more powerful theme — one that cuts to the very existential core of human nature. The eternal struggle between good and bad, light and dark, which in this story, will be embodied by Ice and Fire.

It was not long before we started to understand that the battle for the throne was small potatoes compared to The Great War to Come. You know, that war that was going to determine the very fate of human existence. The war that pitted the dark and mysterious Night King against pretty much the rest of humanity. The war that tied in elements of gods, magic, dragons, and so much more. And what this show more than succeeded at was the masterful nature in which they built this story. Visions, flashbacks, allusions to events that happened thousands of years ago — these were just a few of vehicles that allowed us to start to understand the power of this storyline being built.

First, it was just White Walkers — pretty badass creatures of darkness that certainly made it clear that there’s a real threat to humans — a threat that makes bickering over a throne quite futile. But this story became all the more intriguing when we were introduced to The Night King, the mysterious leader of the White Walkers. Slowly, we were offered breadcrumbs which built the anticipation of this story, but also generally raised more questions. In season four, we learned how White Walkers were created, when we saw The Night King touch his finger to the face of a baby.

Two years later, things got even more interesting, when we saw how The Night King himself was created. Through one of Bran’s visions, we learned that The Night King was created by the Children of the Forest after they inserted Dragonglass into his heart. This certainly raised many more questions. Why exactly did The Children do this? They mentioned to Bran it was to save their kind from The First Men who had been slaughtering them. But how does creating The Night King save their people? Wouldn’t you just want to kill the humans you are at war with? Why insert Dragonglass into his heart? Seems like a strange ritual. And did The Children know they would be creating The Night King? Was that their intention? And who was the human they chose? Was he random or a significant character? And what about those spirals? We know those spirals were used by The Children, and then The Night King started using them as well — why? What was the ultimate connection between The Night King and The Children?

So many questions to be answered, and it was never a guarantee that they all would be, but as this story approached its final hours, it became abundantly clear that at minimum, there was a major connection between The Night King, The Children of the Forest and Bran. So with just a few episodes left before this 10-year journey comes to a close, I was expecting to learn a lot more about who The Night King was, why he was created, what his ultimate motivations were, how he was connected to The Children, what was the significance between he and Bran, etc… I felt that this entire saga, A Song of Ice and Fire, would be just that — a beautiful harmony, that as it reached its crescendo, would delight me with a a moment of clarity — a moment that allowed me to understand what this whole thing really was about.

What actually happened in tonight’s episode couldn’t have been further from this. What we got tonight, in the most highly-anticipated Thrones episode of all time, was an edge-of-your-seat 80-minute battle scene, and a 2-minute mindblowingly disappointing ending. As for the battle itself, hats off to Thrones for once again delivering another absolutely epic battle — one that took 11 weeks to shoot and required over 750 actors on set! No small feat. And while it was pretty suspenseful, it was actually one of my least favorite battles to date. The Battle of Blackwater Bay, the first real battle we ever witnessed on Thrones, watching those ships light up the sky with green wildfire, will always be a special one. Watchers on The Wall, the penultimate episode of season four (and the only other episode besides tonight’s to be fully dedicated to one battle scene), was spectacular as we got to watch The Night’s Watch defend The Wall for the first time against The Wildlings. Even the more recent Battle of the Bastards grabbed me more than this battle tonight.

First, I really found the battle to be a bit too all over the place. No doubt, this is precisely what producers/directors were going for — trying to create the feeling that this was not a singular battle happening in one location, but rather spread throughout many parts of Winterfell. Yet still, I found it a bit disjointed trying to follow the many different characters battling wights in many different nooks and crannies of the castle. I also found the coloring of the episode to be challenging. Again, this was no doubt intentional, but the combination of darkness from this battle being fought at night, mixed with a lack of visibility from The Night King’s foggy mist, made a lot of simply hard to follow — a big miss in my opinion.

I also flat out did not enjoy the role of the dragons in this battle. It was hard to see who was riding what dragon, which dragon was which, and ultimately I just didn’t feel the dragons were used well in this battle. This is all the more disappointing given that dragons versus White Walkers is the embodiment of Ice vs Fire, and it’s been nearly 10 full years that we’ve been talking about that moment when we’d finally see a battle where dragons are going against the army of the dead. I can’t say I was too impressed with it. I also found it a bit tiring the number of times a main character was about to be consumed by a clan of wights, only to be saved by another. Sure, once or twice I can chalk it up to writers taking some liberties, but it happened a half-dozen times, and at a certain point, it just becomes gratuitous. I get we can’t kill off all our main characters in one episode, but we also can’t pretend that they are all capable of fighting off 10 zombies at a time, and set each up to appear as though it’s about to be their last moment, only for them to be miraculously saved just in the nick of time.

But I can put to the side the above grievances I had with the battle itself. What I cannot put to the side is the way the episode ended. It utterly and completely rocked my world, and undercut everything I thought this story would ultimately be about. This episode was the one. Bran and The Night King were likely going to come face to face, and something major had to happen. As the humans are losing the battle, and the very real possibility of The Night King winning starts to set in and the climax is upon us. The Night King approaches Bran, with nobody left to defend him (remind me why anybody thought Theon would be able to defend Bran from The Night King?), and something BIG is about to happen. On the edge of my seat, my heart was racing in anticipation, feeling as though I was finally about to learn what the hell it is that The Night King is really after.

But it just wasn’t in the cards. Arya jumps from what seemed like a solid 10 feet, but is caught by The Night King, and it looked like this might be Arya’s last moment. But she makes a nice maneuver to drop the dagger into her other hand, plunge it into his side, and just like that, poof, The Night King is no more. Nothing even special about the way he was destroyed. He able to be killed the same as all the other White Walkers, with Valyrian steel. And he exploded into glass pieces, just like the White Walkers when they are killed. This was The Night King — not just another White Walker — and not that he had any business dying here, but I was even disappointed with the fact there was nothing special about what it took to kill him or the display of his death.

The way he died also simply felt too easy, too quick, too unimportant. Not taking any credit away from my girl Arya, but a 12-inch dagger to the side and the all-evil Night King is dead? That’s it? Let’s not forget, this is a Night King that has been around for hundreds, if not thousands of years. And that’s all it took to defeat him? Big miss there.

Anyway, just like that, in the blink of an eye, everything changed. In anti-climatic fashion, all the White Walkers are destroyed, and then their wights. The great war is over, the humans have won, and I am left feeling as though this is an ending to a story I have seen 100 times over. But wait! We still get to see who is going to win the Iron Throne — totally more important than a great war intended to decide the very fate of mankind — a war that we had every reason to believe was going to reveal a great deal of what this story was ultimately all about. And now, sadly, it seems we’re back where we started, and that it’s simply about humans fighting for a Throne. Can’t wait for more blah blah blah from Cersei in King’s Landing!

Maybe it’s my fault. Maybe I gave Thrones too much credit. Maybe I shouldn’t have believed this story was about something a lot deeper. But then again, this is a story with a 10,000 year back-history, one that was referenced hundreds of times throughout the show. We were given every reason to believe that there was great magic and mystery that happened prior to the start of this story — things we were going to learn about before this story concluded — things that would underpin the true meaning of this story. One very simple example of this is in season six when the show decided to take us back in time to show us The Children of the Forest creating The Night King. That gave us every reason to believe that we were going to learn more about The Night King, who he was, why he was chosen, what The Children were trying to achieve, the connection between the spirals, etc… Why even show that scene if we are never going to unpack it further?

Now, before I conclude this post, let me acknowledge the chance that there are still some big reveals around some of these topics. Bran is still alive, which means we still have a portal into the past (and future). So, it’s still entirely possible we learn more about The Night King, The Children, and what A Song of Ice and Fire is truly about. And I really hope this is the case. But, with the entire army of the dead defeated, it seems like that is now in the rearview, and the last few episodes will go back to human vs human battle to determine who will sit upon the Iron Throne at the story’s completion.

I am saddened and shocked by all of this. I find it hard to believe that George R.R. Martin created this masterful story, the ending of which is not concerned with Ice and Fire, but rather humans competing for the throne. It seems beneath where the story was going and feels like we took 100 steps backwards to a much less intriguing storyline. I hope the next few episodes have some course-correcting surprises, otherwise Lost may have just lost its top spot as worst end to a TV show of all time.

Odds and Ends

Arya’s Dagger: We’ve touched upon this dagger in several previous posts, but the Valyrian steel dagger that Arya uses to kill The Night King has a pretty cool backstory. It was originally used by Baelish who gave it to an assassin to try and kill Bran in season one (Baelish’s goal was to blame the Lannisters for the assassination attempt on Bran, to pit House Stark and Lannister against each other, which is precisely what happened). After the assassination attempt failed, the dagger ended up back with Baelish, who gave it to Bran when they reunited at Winterfell earlier this season. Bran then gave it to Arya, telling her he had no use for it. Had he already seen the vision of how Arya would use it to defeat The Night King? (Arya also used this dagger to kill Baelish).

The Prince(ess) That Was Promised: Obviously a theory we’ve been touching upon for years now. In a recent episode, the idea of The Prince That Was Promised was being discussed in Valyrian. Missandei, who speaks this language well, corrects Dany and Lady Melisandre, telling them that in Valyrian, that word has no gender, meaning it could be a Prince or Princess. This created more speculation around who would play this prophesied roll, with many people now thinking Dany, and some more recently even believing Brienne. Looks like, after all, it was Arya.

Bran’s Warging: What exactly was Bran doing when he was warging for so long in this episode? We saw he warged into some ravens, seemingly to get a better glimpse of what was going on in the battle. But we never really saw where the ravens were going, or what Bran saw through their eyes, if anything. If nothing significant, then it felt kind of pointless that he was sitting there warging this entire scene.

The End: It’s important to remind that the show is now far ahead of the books, and while George R.R. Martin has definitely provided direction for the show to work around, they are taking more liberties now than ever before. The first six seasons were based directly off books that were written. Characters, events, even most dialogue was direct from the books. Starting last season, the show jumped ahead of the books, and as a result, it seems a lot more liberties are being taken. It’s hard to know if the books will culminate the same exact way the show does.

RIP: Rest in peace to Beric, Jorah, Theon and Melisandre. Beric’s death was not too eventful, but he served his role in The Great War and helped to save Arya who would ultimately take out The Night King. Jorah’s death was the most noble, and there is no way he would rather die than fighting to protect his beloved Khaleesi. Theon’s death was so-so. I appreciated that Bran told him that he was a good man and thanked him, giving him the closure he had been searching for, prior to his death. That said, I found it silly that he was out there in the first place trying to protect Bran from The Night King, as if Theon stood a chance. We’ve seen the last of Melisandre as well, as she harnessed the power of The Lord of Light, played her role, then faded off into the distance, dying as the old woman she is (remember, it was the necklace she removed that kept her youthful).

Season 8 Primer: The Beginning of the End

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

So, here we are. The beginning of the end is less than one week away. This awe-inspiring, magical journey that has been part of our lives for the better part of the last decade — it all comes to an end in just six short episodes. It’s hard to imagine such an unbelievably rich and complex story actually coming to a singular endpoint, but that is what is about to happen, so it’s time to get caught up on everything that should be top of mind as we head into the final season. Heads up, this post is long, so don’t try to rush few it in a few minutes. This is the end of a saga, so give it the time it deserves : )

Targaryens Unite at Dragonstone

For nearly 5,000 years, The Targaryens lived in Old Valyria, capital city of the Valyrian Freehold, which consumed almost the entire continent of Essos. Approximately 400 years ago, The Doom occurred, obliterating Old Valyria and forcing the few remaining Targaryens to migrate westward. Fleeing their homeland, a select few Targaryens arrived at a small island off the coast of Westeros, where they would go on to build the great castle of Dragonstone. It was from this castle that Aegon Targaryen, alongside his two sisters, would plot their conquest of the kingdoms of Westeros (which at that point were independent kingdoms with separate rulers). After living the Targaryens lived at Dragonstone for about 100 years, Aegon and his sisters launched Aegon’s Conquest, about 300 years ago, as they rode their three dragons across Westeros and eventually united all the kingdoms under one king. Aegon Targaryen would be the first Targaryen king to rule over Westeros, and his Targaryens descendents would rule over the continent for the next 300 years, until Robert’s Rebellion.

Understanding that Dragonstone was home to the last remaining Targaryens and their dragons after they fled Valyria, and that it was from this castle that Aegon plotted his conquest of Westeros, makes Daenery’s arrival to this castle in the first episode of Season 7 an incredibly powerful moment. To no surprise, like Aegon before her, Dany spends much of season seven plotting her strategy to conquer and unite the lands of Westeros, focusing on the removal of Cersei Lannister from the Iron Throne. To start the season, Dany and her advisors (primarily Tyrion and Varys), have assembled what appears to be an unstoppable force. She already had the powerful armies of the Unsullied and Dothraki, as well as three full-grown dragons at her disposal — likely enough firepower to conquer Westeros in short order. But Dany’s army got even stronger in season seven as she forged an alliance with Ellaria Sand and the Sand Snakes of Dorne, while securing some of Iron Island the naval forces through an alliance with Theon and Yara Greyjoy. And let’s not forget that Ser Jorah Mormont returns to Dany’s side at Dragonstone after his greyscale disease is cured at the Citadel by none other than Samwell Tarly (who served under Jorah’s father, Lord Commander Jeor Mormont, when Samwell was still a brother of the Night’s Watch).

But the various key players from many of the Great Houses uniting on Dragonstone would not end there; there would be one more character to join, and though unknowing, he too would be a Targaryen. After receiving a raven from Samwell Tarly who had learned that Dragonstone was built atop a mass of dragon-glass (which can kill White Walkers), Jon Snow travels to Dragonstone in an effort to try and secure dragon-glass and convince Dany to join the Northern forces in the Great War to Come. However, Dany has other ideas and is focused on winning the Iron Throne. Though he refuses her request to bend the knee, Dany does ultimately agree to allow Jon to mine for dragon-glass, and in doing so, Jon discovers ancient cave images from thousands of years ago which depict the First Men and Children of the Forest banding together to fight the White Walkers — a chilling reminder of the Long Night and the the threat of darkness has been present since near the beginning of time. Though Jon is starting to win over Dany, she is still unconvinced of the White Walker’s existence, as is most of Westeros, and Jon soon realizes he must find a day to prove to Dany and the rest of Westeros the real threat that everybody should be focused on.

The Dream Team Goes Beyond the Wall

Once again, Jon shows his heroism and understanding of the risks he must take to preserve humanity as he decides to lead a raid beyond The Wall to capture a wight (reminder: the wights comprise the army of the undead, led by the White Walkers and Night King). He is join by a cast of some of my absolute favorite characters who come together through a random (or perhaps not so random) series of events — I like to call them The Dream Team.

The Dream Team starts to take form when Ser Jorah, who recently joined Daenerys at Dragonstone after being cured by Samwell at The Citadel, joins Jon and his trusted advisor, Davos Seaworth. But before they head into the deep North, Tyrion must meet with his brother, Jaime, to ensure that they will have an audience with Cersei if they are able to successfully capture a wight as proof of the army of the dead. Ser Davos offers to travel to King’s Landing alongside Tyrion, and while Tyrion is off meeting with Jaime, Ser Davos’ true intentions for returning to King’s Landing are revealed as he seeks out Gendry, Robert Baratheon’s bastard son who Davos saved many seasons earlier. All the way back in season three, it was Gendry who was being held at Dragonstone by Stannis Baratheon and the Red Priestess Melisandre, who used his King’s Blood (remember, he was the son of King Robert Baratheon), and eventually planned to sacrifice him to the Lord of Light. Not agreeing with Melisandre’s blood magic and unwilling to stand by while the innocent Gendry was sacrificed, Ser Davos defies Stannis and risks his life to set Gendry free. The last we saw of Gendry, he was rowing away from the shores of Dragonstone in a tiny rowboat, and it is not until all these years later that Davos rediscovers him, still working as a smith in the streets of King’s Landing. Without hesitation, Gendry joins Davos and volunteers to join the Dream Team in their quest beyond The Wall. It is worth pointing out that unlike most characters, Gendry does not choose to fight with a sword, but rather a warm hammer. Going back many years, it was his father, Robert Baratheon, who is described as a legendary warrior who swung a powerful war hammer (with which he defeated Rhaegar Targaryen, Jon Snow’s father, during Robert’s Rebellion). It’s also worth pointing out that given Jon’s newfound stockpile of dragon-glass, he will need a skilled smith to help craft White Walker-killing weapons, and Gendry may likely play this important role in the final season.

Elsewhere, the remaining Brotherhood without Banners, Beric Dondarrion and Thoros of Myr, unite with The Hound, bringing together three of the show’s greatest characters. Despite his extreme fear of fire, The Hound starts to believe in Lord of Light, after he sees in the fire the army of the dead marching south, past Eastwatch by the Sea (the most eastward castle of the Night’s Watch). After seeing this, The Hound agrees to venture north with Beric and Thoros, to fulfill their purpose in the Great War to Come. At the same time, Jon, Gendry, Davos and Jorah also head to Eastwatch by the Sea, where Tormund Giantsbane, who had been manning the castle for Jon, reveals to Jon and company that he’d been holding prisoner Beric, Thoros and the Hound after their capture.

In this moment, many characters are reunited which reveals a great mistrust amongst many of them. Gendry tells Jon not to listen to anything Beric and Thoros have to say, since they sold Gendry to the Red Priestess, Lady Melisandre, all the way back in season four. Similarly, Tormund does not trust Ser Jorah, since his father was Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch and battled Tormund’s people, the Wildlings, for many years. Despite all the history and many of these characters having been on opposite sides at times, Beric and Jon remind the group that none of this matters and that they all share a common cause — to serve their purpose in the Great War to Come as the Lord of Light commands. And just like that, their differences become a thing of the past as the Dream Team unites to head north of The Wall.

As they march into the frigid depths of the deep North, the group comes upon a band of wights, led by their White Walker master. As a small battle ensues, Jon eventually eliminates the White Walker, which causes all the other wights to fall like dominos. This was not the first time we have seen a White Walker killed, but it was the first time we were exposed to the idea that if you kill a White Walker, the wights that White Walker has turned also perish. We know that the army of the dead numbers in the hundreds of thousands, so the realization that you need not kill each wight individually, but rather you can take them out in much bigger numbers by killing a White Walker, is critical to know in the war to come. It also begs the question: if killing a White Walker ends the existence of all the wights that White Walker has turned, does killing the Night King end all of the White Walkers he has created? If so, and killing the Night King destroys all White Walkers, which then destroys all wights, then killing the Night King could bring an end to the entire army of the dead.

But this battle was a mere scuffle compared to the fight that lays ahead for the Dream Team. As they continue deeper into the North, they are eventually discovered by a massive army of the dead, led by several more White Walkers, and the appearance of the Night King himself. Despite being vastly outnumbered, the Dream Team fights valiantly, and destroys hundreds of wights — a reminder that we are watching an assemble of some of the greatest warriors Westeros has ever known. But eventually, the men are outnumbered and their deaths appear imminent — until Daenerys arrives with her dragons, and for the first time, we see a direct face-off between Ice and Fire. Remember, this entire story is entitled A Song of Ice and Fire, and seeing these powerful elements go toe to toe is a signal that the end is near. Dany and her dragons burn the wights by the thousands, but not before The Night King lands an icy spear into one of Dany’s dragons, Viserion, sending it plummeting to its death.

And just like that, the tables are dramatically turned — Daenerys can only helplessly watch her beautiful dragon fall from the sky like a plane that has been shot down out of the air. Her other two dragons let out a painful cry as they watch their sibling fall to its death. Seeing this, Jon Snow advances for the Night King, who attempts to take down Drogon, the dragon that Daenerys and the others are aback. Jon is attacked by more wights and pulled underwater, and Daenerys is forced to abandon Jon, though reluctantly, in order to save her two remaining dragons.

When Jon does reemerge from the water, he is frozen stiff and appears to have no chance at fighting off the new pack of wights that are headed his way. Not to fear, Uncle Benjen (Ned’s brother) is here. Fighting with his flaming ball-and-chain, Benjen takes out a bunch of the wights and buys Jon just enough time to escape back to Eastwatch. Jon had not seen his Uncle Benjen since the very first season, when they were together at Castle Black (remember, Jon was very close with Uncle Benjen and he was a big part of the reason why Jon joined the Night’s Watch in the first place). When Benjen went missing north of The Wall in the first season, Jon tried to go after him. Ironically, Benjen’s disappearance north of The Wall so many seasons ago is what would turn him into what he is today, and set him on the path to save his nephew when it really counted. Just another ingenious example of how Thrones sets a character on a path at a certain point in time, for them not to be seen for many years, and to ultimately reemerge in the distant future to play a major role. Sadly, after all these years, the reunion between Jon and Uncle Benjen lasted only a couple of seconds, but Uncle Benjen served his purpose and saved Jon when it counted most.

We also must say RIP to one of the story’s greatest (even if not most popular) characters, Thoros of Myr, who does not make it out alive. He too served his purpose, bringing Beric Dondarrion back to life many times over the years. With Thoros finally gone, Beric is likely now on his last life, again a reminder that the end is near.

A Winterfell Reunion

As Jon departs Winterfell to meet with Daenerys and eventually go north beyond The Wall, he leaves Sansa to look after Winterfell and maintain order in the North. Had he stayed just a little while longer, he would have found out his true identity, as it was not long after he left that Bran, who knows the truth of who Jon is, returns to Winterfell. Only Bran is no longer Bran — he is now the Three-Eyed Raven, seemingly devoid of all human emotion or feeling. After years of travels throughout the North without having any contact with any Stark family member, Bran finally returns home to Winterfell to be reunited with sister, Sansa. What would be expected to be an emotional and heartfelt reunion was anything but; Bran lacks the human emotion to even hug her, as he tells her how he can remember what it felt like to be Bran, but now he remembers so much else… He even dismisses Meera, who had been traveling with him for the last several years, who lost her brother, Jojen, and risked her life many times to keep Bran alive. What’s clear is that Bran is completely gone at this point, consumed by his all-knowingness, and we will likely never see him again.

The Stark sibling reunion continues from there, as Arya too finally makes her way back to Winterfell after a harsh and long journey. Like Bran, she returns home as a totally different person, no longer a young and innocent girl, but now a hardened assassin trained by the Faceless Men. While Arya and Sansa are happy to see one another after all these years, their differences and distrust quickly reemerge. It is important to remember that Arya and Sansa did not get along when they were younger, and one of Arya’s last memories of Sansa was her older sister sucking up to Prince Joffrey and the Lannisters in an attempt to become princess. Years later, Arya believes that Sansa has not defended the honor of their brother, Jon, and that Sansa has again made a play for power as the acting Lady of Winterfell.

Conversely, Sansa does not recognize the sister that has returned home, and starts to believe that perhaps Arya has intentions of killing her. Baelish, who has been hanging around at Winterfell, does not miss his opportunity to capitalize off this discord and attempts to strengthen his position by driver a further wedge between the sisters. Knowing that Arya has been following him, he plants an old note that Sansa had sent back to Winterfell all the way back in season one, when she was being held by Cersei in King’s Landing. In the note, Sansa notes that Ned has been a traitor and urges her family to pledge fealty to the Lannisters. What’s not clear from reading this note is that Sansa was forced to write this note under duress, and Baelish purposely plants this note for Arya to find, in an attempt to further Arya’s distrust and hatred for Sansa. At the same time, Baelish speaks with Sansa and furthers the idea that Arya has perhaps returned to Winterfell to kill her so that she can become the lady of Winterfell. Baelish’s plot dates all the way back to season one and is incredibly intricate — see the bottom half of this episode recap which provides a lot more detail about what Baelish went through to set up this scheme.

Throughout several episodes, it appears as though Baelish’s schemes are working perfectly, leading up to a final scene where Sansa calls Arya into the great hall in front of all the Northern lords. Sansa, prepared to pass judgement, states “You stand accused of treason. You stand accused of murder.” All appears as though Baelish has pulled off another epic manipulation, and that Arya will pay the price, until Sansa looks over towards Littlefinger and adds “How do you answer to these charges…Lord Baelish?” The tables are quickly turned, and we realize that Sansa and Arya had actually been working together to outsmart Baelish. Littlefinger does all he can to beg Sansa for mercy, but his many years of lies, schemes and manipulation have finally caught up with him. He cannot talk his way out of this one, and though Sansa passes the judgement, it is Arya that plays executioner.

What’s interesting to note is the weapon she uses to take his life. All the way back in second episode of season one, an assassin almost takes Bran’s life, though Bran’s direwolf, Summer, jumps in to save him. At the time, Baelish tells the Starks that it was the Lannisters who sent the assassin, which is what sends Ned Stark to King’s Landing and ultimately leads to his death and many of the events that would follow. What we later find out is that it was not the Lannisters that sent this assassin, but rather Baelish himself, in an attempt to pit the Starks against the Lannisters (which he succeeded in doing). It was Baelish himself who equipped the assassin with the dagger, which ends up back in Baelish’s possession after the failed assassination attempt. All these years later, Baelish gives the dagger to Bran as a reminder of the man who attempted his life. In a later scene, Bran gives this dagger to Arya, telling her has no use for it. In his all-knowing wisdom, perhaps Bran already saw the future and knew Arya would use this dagger to kill Baelish, which is exactly what happened. Again, this is just another example of how Thrones does such a masterful weaving plot-points that span from the first season to the seventh. Baelish gives a dagger to an assassin to kill Bran; the assassination goes wrong and Baelish recovers the dagger; Baelish gives the dagger to Bran; Bran gives the dagger to Arya; all comes full circle as Arya uses this dagger to end the life of the all-cunning Littlefinger. RIP.

King’s Landing

Though King’s Landing and the Iron Throne is becoming increasingly less relevant in comparison to the Great War to Come, there is still quite a bit happening in the capital of Westeros, with Cersei at the helm. Just as Daenerys has made alliances with other great houses, Cersei too has forged a union with Euron Greyjoy, who strengthens her army with his naval prowess and strong fleet of ships. As a reminder, Euron is the uncle of Theon and Yara, and killed their father, Balon, back in season six, in an attempt to take control of their homeland, the Iron Islands. Theon and Yara fled the Iron Islands with their forces (and forged a union with Daenerys), while Euron sailed to King’s Landing to secure an alliance with Cersei.

This alliance quickly proves valuable for Cersei, as Euron strikes first blood in the war between Cersei and Daenerys. Carrying out a battle strategy devised by Tyrion, the Greyjoys are en route to escort Ellaria Sand and her three Sand Snake daughters back to their home of Dorne to rally the Dornish troops with the plan to lay siege to King’s Landing. However, Euron is one step ahead of them and shows his naval strength as he intercepts their ships with an attack in the night. His men kill two of the three Sand Snakes, while capturing the third, along with her mother, Ellaria Sand. As well, Euron captures Yara Greyjoy, while Theon jumps ship and leaves his sister behind.

Euron returns to King’s Landing and delivers Cersei the gift he had promised her — Ellaria Sand along with her daughter, Tyene. Back in season five, it was Ellaria that killed Cersei’s daughter, Princess Myrcella, by kissing her and poisoning her with a poison called The Long Farewell. This was Dornish revenge for the Lannisters killing Elia Martell (Rhaegar Targaryen’s wife), during Robert’s Rebellion, as well as the more recent death of Oberyn Martell (aka The Red Viper) at the hands of The Mountain. Now, Cersei has her daughter’s murderer right where she wants her, and kisses Ellaria’s daughter, Tyene, with the same poison that Ellaria used on Myrcella. Only whereas Myrcella died far from Cersei, Ellaria will have to watch her daughter die right before her eyes as they are locked up in a cell together.

That said, we did not see Tyene die, which in the Thrones world, often hints that she may yet survive and have a role to play in the days to come. One prediction is that perhaps she will be saved by Bronn. Why you ask? Well, back in season five, when Bronn ventured south to Dorne alongside Jaime in an attempt to rescue Princess Myrcella, Bronn himself was poisoned with the same Long Farewell poison. And, as you will see in the video below, who was it that saved him? None other than Tyene Sand, the Sand Snake who he says is the most beautiful woman int he world. So, is it possible that Bronn will return to King’s Landing and save Tyene who is poisoned in a cell, much the way she did for him? Time will tell. Let’s not forget that Dorne is still a major part of Westeros and it’s hard to imagine the Dornish not having a role in the final season.

But Ellaria and Tyene were not the only captives Euron secured during his attack — they were just the gifts he presented to Cersei. But, he kept a gift for himself, Yara Greyjoy. It is unclear what his plans for her are, but in one of the final scenes of the season, Theon comes alive and is hellbent on saving his sister. In brutal hand-to-hand combat, he defeats one of the other Ironborn who was opposed to saving Yara, takes command of a small crew and sets sail to rescue Yara from Euron.

Dany Strikes Back

Back at Dragonstone, Daenerys has been letting Tyrion act as military strategist, only to find that his first two plans have backfired miserably. After losing several of her alliances as well as her naval fleet at the hands of Euron Greyjoy, Dany suffers a second defeat after Tyrion advises her to have the Unsullied attack Casterly Rock, the castle of the Lannisters. He believes that if they can take Casterly Rock, they will be in a stronger position to eventually take King’s Landing. However, the Lannisters are one step ahead of Tyrion’s plan, and while Dany sends her troops to attack Casterly Rock, the Lannisters have already pulled their forces from Casterly Rock and sent them to lay siege to Highgarden, castle of House Tyrell. While there is not much left of House Tyrell, besides Lady Olenna, Highgarden has the most fertile land in all of Westeros, as well as plenty of gold. While Dany’s forces are attacking an empty Casterly Rock, the Lannisters successfully sack Highgarden and all its riches. During this siege, Jaime kills Lady Olenna, but not before she admits to being the mastermind behind the death of his son, King Joffrey. Though many, including Cersei and Tywin Lannister, accused Tyrion of being behind the murder of Joff, we knew it was actually Lady Olenna who orchestrated his murder, to prevent her granddaughter Margaery from having to marry such a monster. However, not many were aware of this, and Lady Olenna reveals this to Jaime just before she dies. And with her death, just like that, one of the noblest and greatest houses of Westeros is all but wiped out.

But for every one of Cersei’s moves, Dany has had a counter. No longer willing to sit back and listen to Tyrion’s conservative military strategy, she decides to take action into her own hands and show the Lannisters the true power of her dragons. As the Lannister forces are traveling from Highgarden to King’s Landing, Daenerys unleashes her dragons in a southern battle for the first time. Dany roasts the Lannister army by the hundreds, showing just how devastating her dragons can be in war. But, she does not kill them all. She gives the remaining men the chance to bend the knee and pledge their fealty. Two men in particular choose to defy her and refuse to bend the knee — Randyll Tarly and his son, Dickon (Samwell Tarly’s father and brother). Though Tyrion cautions Daenerys to show restraint, she ignores his advice and burns them alive, showing the others what is to come should they not pledge their fealty. This scene is an allusion to The Field of Fire, a legendary event 300 years ago when Aegon Targaryen battled the Lannisters and forced them into bending the knee.

In addition to seeing the sheer power of dragons in battle and the devastation they can cause, this scene was critical in that was the first time that anybody in the south of Westeros has seen a dragon. Jaime and the rest of the Lannister forces now know what they are up against, and he rides back to King’s Landing to warn Cersei that they do not stand a chance. Daenerys has put the world on notice, and though she chooses not to take Westeros with fire and death, she has shown that she is willing to when she must.

The Dragonpit Summit

After such extraordinary recent events, all sides are trying to figure out what their next move is. Daenerys, once focused on taking out Cersei and restoring rightful Targeryen rule to the Seven Kingdoms, has now seen the army of the dead and understands that this is the only war that matters. Yet, if she invests her forces into fighting the war in the North, she allows Cersei to strengthen her position and reclaim more of Westeros. So, the only way Daenerys can focus on joining Jon in fighting the Night King is if Cersei agrees to a temporary armistice. Even better would be if Cersei agrees to lend her troops to fight in the Great War to Come.

So, Dany, Jon and their team risk it all by traveling to King’s Landing to meet with Cersei. Of course, they do not arrive empty-handed, and they bring the wight that they captured during their raid north of The Wall. Cersei now sees what few others in the world have, and must decide whether she wants to continue her war against Dany for Westeros, or put aside their differences and focus on the much important war to come. After much deliberation, Cersei agrees to a temporary truce and offers to direct her troops north to join in the fight against the dead.

The End is Near

Just as it looks like the good guys humans are banding together to fight the dead, things go a bit haywire and reach an absolute climax as season seven comes to a close. To start, we learn that Cersei was full of sh*t and lied to Jon and Dany when pledging her troops to join the fight against darkness. After they depart, she tells Jaime that she intends to continue to fight against her true enemies, even if it leads to their death. Jaime attempts to reason with her, explaining that if they do not do all they can to fight back the dead, everybody in King’s Landing will eventually die. Yet, Cersei is blinded by the only thing that she has left to live for — revenge against those who have wronged her. No longer able to stand by the madness of his sister, Jaime rides off from King’s Landing, just as the snow begins to fall. Snow, all the way south over King’s Landing? The end must be near…

But before season seven comes to a close, we see the two elements that this story has already centered around, Fire and Ice, take center stage and set up the Great War to Come in season eight.

First, we see Fire emerge stronger than ever, personified by who we once believed to be Jon Snow, but now know to be Aegon Targaryen. Thanks to one of Bran’s visions, for some time now, we have known that Jon was birthed by Lyanna Stark after being impregnated by Rhaegar Targaryen. This was an absolutely massive reveal in season six, when Bran sees a young Ned Stark sitting over his dying sister, Lyanna, with baby Jon in hand. The implications were huge as we realized that Ned had sacrificed his honor, the thing he valued most, and pretended to have an extramarital affair in order to explain the birth of his bastard son, Jon. This false understanding of who Jon really was led to a series of events, too long to lay out here, so the reveal of who Jon’s true identity was massive. But even with Bran’s visions and wisdom, he only got half the story — the half that allowed him to understand that Jon’s parents were Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark. But, since Rhaegar was married to Elia Martell, Bran incorrectly assumed that Jon was a bastard born out of wedlock, and since he was born in the south, his bastard name would be Jon Sand instead of Jon Snow (each region of Westeros has a different last name that bastards take, in the North it’s Snow, in the south it’s Sand, etc).

However, there was another half to this story that even the all-knowing Bran had not figured out. Earlier in season seven, Gilly was reading through an old Maestar’s record at the Citadel, and she came across a passage that talked about a Maestar performing an annulment for Prince Rhaegar Targaryen and performing a secret wedding ceremony to another. Unknowingly, Gilly came across a passage that contains one of the most confidential and important secrets across the entire continent of Westeros — one that changes everything. Gilly uncovers the fact that Prince Rhaegar annulled his marriage to Elia Martell, and then remarried to Lyanna Stark in a secret wedding ceremony.

The implications of this reveal are massive. First, Robert’s Rebellion was built upon a complete lie. As we know, Robert was in love with Lyanna Stark, and launched his rebellion against the Targaryens primarily under the premise that Rhaegar had kidnapped his beloved Lyanna, rode off with her and raped her. He joined forces with her brother, Ned, and together they led much of the North to King’s Landing to overthrow The Mad King and usurp the Targaryen dynasty. Before taking the Iron Throne for himself, Robert killed Rhaegar during The Battle of the Trident. With Lyanna and Rhaegar both dead, the truth of Jon’s parents could only be found within the pages of this old Maestar’s private journal, discovered by the unlikeliest of characters.

Perhaps more important than the fact Robert’s Rebellion was built upon a lie is what this reveals about Jon’s true identity. He is not a bastard as Bran assumed, but rather the true and lawful son of Rhaegar and Lyanna who were in love and legally married. As we later hear when Bran revisits his vision, Jon’s true name is Aegon Targaryen. No big deal that he’s named after the man that conquered the Seven Kingdoms and the first Targaryen king to rule over Westeros. This also makes him one of the first, if only, throughout history to have both Targaryen and Stark blood — some would argue a mix of Fire and Ice. Most of all, this means that Jon (or Aegon), not Daenerys, is the rightful heir to the Iron Throne (Rhaegar was the older brother of Daenerys, so after their father, The Mad King died, the throne would have gone to Rhaegar, not Daenerys. And after Rhaegar, it would go to his son, Jon/Aegon). Of course, Jon still does not know any of this, but it now appears only a matter of time until Bran/Samwell fill him in on who he really is.

In the Thrones world, Targaryens equal fire, so learning that Jon is one of the last remaining Targaryens, and arguably the most powerful, amplifies the existence of Fire heading into the final season. But the season does not end without Ice making its counterpunch. In the final scene of the season, we see the army of the dead reemerge once more, this time looking to get past The Wall, something they’ve been unable to do for thousands of years since The Long Night.

In a story that centers around Ice and Fire, evil and good, light and dark, it is The Wall that symbolizes the fine line between these ever-opposing forces. The Wall was not built yesterday; or a few years ago; or even a few hundred years ago. The Wall was built 8,000 years ago when The Children of the Forest, The First Men and the Giants all came together to fight for their survival against the White Walkers. For 8,000 years, The Wall was more than a structure that kept out the dead — it was an indestructible symbol that divided good from evil, light from dark, Ice from Fire. And now, we have just seen that wall fall. A structure that protected the realm for thousands of years has finally been breached, and now, nobody is safe.

As the Night King rides on the back of his undead dragon, Viserion, he unleashes a fury of icy fire that is able to easily reduce a portion of The Wall to rubble. What’s important to remember is that The Wall was constructed using powerful magic from The Children of the Forest — magic that has kept the White Walkers out for thousands of years. And since The Wall is more than just ice and is also made up of this magic, it would take more than just ordinary force to destruct The Wall. Which is why the Night King, on the back of a dragon — representing the union of fire and ice — is able to destroy a good chunk of The Wall. Seeing this also again reminds us of the ties that the Night King has to the Children of the Forest. After all, it was the Children that created the Night King in the first place and he has shown to carry some of their magical powers. It then makes perfect sense that he is the one who is able to counteract the power of their magic used to build The Wall as he tears it down.

Some Final Thoughts & Theories

As we reflect back upon the last seven seasons, there are so many storylines that feel unfinished, characters whose destinies have not been revealed, and plot-points that lend to certain theories which or may not come to fruition in the final season. I thought I’d call out just a few that I have found most intriguing.

What Does the Night King Really Want?

I often get asked who I think is going to win the war and how this story will end. I generally respond that I think darkness will prevail. Unlike most stories, George R.R. Martin has a proclivity for reminding us that in real life, good does not always win and life can be full of darkness and hardship. For that reason, I am intrigued by the idea of evil prevailing and the “good guys” not necessarily winning.

But this leads me to the realization that the Night King and White Walkers are not necessarily evil. Sure, that’s how we’ve perceived them thus far — I mean anytime you have an army of zombies led by an evil Night King trying to destroy humanity, you are going to assume they’re pretty evil, right? But that’s a simple interpretation of what we’ve actually witnessed. If you go a layer or two deeper, you start to realize that things are not that simple, and the line between good and evil may not be that clear.

For starters, the Night King did not choose to be the Night King. He was not born into being the Night King, nor did he decide for this to be his life. It’s important to remember that he was a human, who against his will, was turned into the Night King. And by who? By the Children of the Forest, the ones who are supposed to be “the good guys.” You can rewatch the scene below in which the Night King is created. Of course, we don’t know exactly why The Children did this and what they were actually trying to achieve. Presumably, they were not trying to create the Night King, but who knows. We also don’t yet know who this human was and why he was chosen — was he just a random sacrifice or perhaps somebody more significant? From the context, we can see this happened at a weirwood tree in the North, so it’s safe to assume he was a Northerner, perhaps even a Stark? If you believe that, it leads to further theories around the close ties between the Night King and the Starks, and the possibility that the Night King could even be Bran Stark, who we now see as the Three-Eyed Raven. But that’s another theory for another day.

So, as we saw above, the Night King didn’t set out to become the Night King. He was turned into what he became, and once he became it, presumably has some objective he is trying to accomplish. I do not believe for a second that it’s as simple as killing humans for the sake of killing humans. I believe there is something greater he is driven to accomplish. Perhaps he is fighting for the preservation of his people, much the same way the humans are. Perhaps to survive they must get south of The Wall to accomplish some unknown feat. It’s hard to know exactly what his motivation is, but without knowing, and considering the fact he was forced into becoming The Night King, can we really call him evil? My money says that in the final season, we will learn a lot more about who he is and what he is trying to achieve, and that perhaps our perception of him being evil will change. George R.R. Martin has an uncanny ability to constantly force us to reassess our perception of a given character (i.e. consider how many times we have reassessed how we felt about a character like Jaime? First he was bad, then showed signs of being good, then got sucked back into Cersei’s games, and now has reemerged as a potential good guy). I think something similar might happen with the Night King, and we might be reminded that the lines between good and evil can often be unclear.

Who is the Prince That Was Promised?

As we’ve talked about many times throughout the seven seasons, during the Long Night, Azor Ahai was an ancient warrior that led the fight against darkness and saved humanity from the White Walkers. He was known as The Prince That Was Promised and there is a prophecy in the religion of the Lord of Light that has stated The Prince That Was Promised will be reincarnated to fight back the darkness once more. In the first few seasons of the show, Lady Melisandre incorrectly believed Stannis to be The Prince That Was Promised, but things did not end up well for him (although we never actually saw him die, and it’s still theoretically possible he is alive). So, the question remains, will The Prince That Was Promised once again reemerge? This question may never get answered outright, but it seems like it may be either Jon or Daenerys. One interesting callout: In the second episode of season seven, Daenerys is speaking in High Valyrian with Lady Melisandre, who once again references The Prince That Was Promised, the person that will fight back the darkness once more. Missandei, whose native language is Valyrian, interjects and corrects them, stating that the word they are using in Valyrian actually has no gender, meaning it can be a Prince or Princess. This of course leads us to believe that perhaps Daenerys could be the Princess That Was Promised. (See video below, starting at 1:10).

What’s Up with the Direwolves?

The Starks’ direwolves were very present in the first few seasons, until things started to go haywire for the Starks, and so too for their wolves. You probably don’t recall exactly where things left off and which wolves are still out there. Well, sadly, only two of the original six direwolves are alive, and I’m guessing they’ll have a role to play in the final season. With everything else going on in the show, and the wolves being absent for the better part of the last few seasons, it’s fair that we’ve forgotten about them. But don’t overlook their significance as the story comes to an end. Remember, direwolves are not just big wolves — there is a magical connection they have to their Stark owners and they should reemerge into the story in the final season.

The two wolves left are Nymeria and Ghost, belonging to Arya and Jon, respectively. Last season, Arya actually encountered Nymeria, who had grown quite large and was leading a pack of pretty ferocious wolves. It’s fair to assume that this pack of wolves will fight for Arya/the Starks at some point in the final season. We last saw Jon’s wolf, Ghost, before The Battle of the Bastards, at which point Jon held Ghost back to avoid him being harmed. The assumption is that Ghost has been hanging around Winterfell ever since, though we have not seen him.

One other interesting thought to consider is that thus far, the Starks that have been killed who have wolves that have also been killed, have been killed by the same people. Robb Stark was killed by the Freys at the Red Wedding, as was his wolf, Greywind. Rickon Stark was killed by the Boltons, as was his wolf Shaggydog. If we are to believe this pattern will hold true, this means that Bran, if killed, will die at the hands of the White Walkers (who killed Summer when they attacked the cave he was in with the Three-Eyed-Raven), and Sansa will die at the hands of a Stark (Ned swung the sword that killed Lady after Cersei demanded Lady’s death for attacking Joffrey, even though it was actually Arya’s wolf, Nymeria, that attacked Joff).

Samwell As The Final Storyteller?

When Samwell arrived at The Citadel in season six, I was fascinated by those giant astrolabes hanging in The Citadel. What were they? What purpose did they serve? Most viewers probably did not realize that we have been seeing those astrolabes since the very first episode, and in every single episode since. Yes, that’s right, they appear in the opening credits of every episode. As you can see from the image on the right below, the top half shows a more detailed view of the astrolabe from the Citadel, and the bottom right shows a strikingly similar image from the opening credits. This is not something that can be overlooked, and upon digging deeper, it lends some very interesting insights as to what Sam’s role in this story may end up being. One thought is that if darkness prevails and humanity perishes, there will need to be somebody left to tell this story — the very story that we are watching unfold before our eyes. We know Sam has always been obsessed with books, preserving history and storytelling, and it just may be Samwell Tarly that is telling the very story we are witnessing today. For more color, read the full post on this theory here.

Significance of the Spirals We’ve Seen

Throughout the show, we’ve seen a specific spiral design that seems to be shared by both The Children of the Forest and the White Walkers. It’s unclear what these spirals signify, but given that some of the images we’ve seen date back thousands of years, and that they’re shared by two of the most significant/magical groups of beings in the show, I am willing to bet it’s something significant. It may even lend a clue to the link between The Children and the Night King. You can see below for a few examples of these spirals that we’ve seen, and read the episode recap here that explains this theory in much greater detail.

Are Syrio Forell and Jaqen H’ghar the Same Person?

Another theory we’ve talked about for many seasons on this blog, and another burning question that may or not get answered in the final season of this story. But there’s a lot of credence to the fact that Syrio Forell, Arya’s Braavosi fighting instructor, could have been Jaqen H’ghar all along. For starters, back in season one, the last we see of Syrio is when he is attacked by Lannister guards and Arya is forced to flee. It is assumed that he will be killed, but we never see him die, keeping the door open for the fact he may be alive.

After Arya flees, she cuts her hair to look like a boy and joins a group heading North. In that group, there are several men locked up in a cage, one of which is Jaqen H’ghar. If you think about this for a moment, it makes no sense. We go on to learn that Jaqen H’ghar is one of the most cunning, nimble and outright magical assassins in all of the land. We seem him perform incredible feats that few others could. Yet, this same man finds himself locked up in a rickety cage as a prisoner? It doesn’t add up, not one bit. An entirely more plausible explanation would be that Syrio Forell was Jaqen H’ghar the whole time, just wearing the face of Syrio. He never got killed and was able to escape after Arya ran away, and to avoid being detected, he changed his face to that of the Jaqen we saw throughout most of the show, and allowed himself to appear as a prisoner. He continued to look over Arya as she continued north, and at the right time, revealed himself to Arya as the Faceless Man we came to know. For several more years, he would continue to train Arya, just as Syrio (who was really Jaqen) had been doing since the very beginning in King’s Landing. If you compare the two men, they are quite similar. Both were excellent fighters, both hailed from the secret land of Braavos, both spoke of the Many-Faced God and saying no to death. The list goes on. Again, who knows if this is something that will be addressed in the final season, but at minimum, it would be great to see Jaqen reemerge before the story comes to an end.

What Did Varys Hear in the Flames?

Back in season six, Varys and Tyrion are visited by The High Red Priestess, Kinvara, one of the highest ranking officials of the Lord of Light. Though her appearance was brief, she dropped a pretty big question that has never been answered. As Varys is typically skeptical of religion, he questioned The Lord of Light, to which Kinvara references a voice that Varys heard in the flames when he was castrated as a young boy. Usually cool and collected, Varys’ face becomes flush with fear, making it clear that he knows what she is talking about. Will we ever learn what Varys heard in the flames? As we’ve highlighted many times, it’s rare that Thrones inserts these kinds of plot-points if not to come back to them at a later point in time, so I would hope to learn more about this. But then again, with only a handful of episodes left, it’s entirely possible that we never learn what Varys heard in the flames.

Other Odds and Ends

  • The Three-Eyed Raven told Bran that he will never walk again, but he will fly. Will we see Bran fly? Perhaps he will warg into a dragon?
  • Is Stannis definitely dead? Seems like yes, but I’m always wary when we don’t see the character actually die.
  • What is the connection between Bran and the Night King? Every time the Night King sees Bran in one of his visions, Bran is pulled from his vision. It seems like there is a deeper connection between the two.
  • In season seven, I wrote an interesting theory about The Eye of the Giant. You can read more about that here.
  • More recently, I wrote a theory on the significance of what’s beneath the crypts of Winterfell. The teaser for the upcoming season focused on the crypts of Winterfell, so I think it will have significance on the season eight. You can read that here.

That’s it folks. Enjoy the countdown to season eight and savor each minute!

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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

Episode 8 Recap: The Mountain & The Viper

THE WILDLINGS ARE COMING

Episode 8 begins with another Wildling raid, this time the village of Molestown, which is not far from Castle Black. The brothel where Samwell Tarly left Gilly is attacked, but Ygritte spares the life of Gilly and her baby. It is now more clear than ever that the Wildlings are coming and an attack on the Wall is imminent. Realizing they are outnumbered by 1000 to 1, one of the brothers jokes, “Whoever dies last, be a good lad and burn the rest of us.”

It is interesting that the show this season has not yet shown Mance Rayder or the army he has assembled, something that was common occurrence last season when John Snow infiltrated the Wildlings. This season, we’ve only seen the smaller Wildling clan that is now south of the Wall. It is unclear exactly what Mance Rayder has been up to or what his army will look like, but if there is any truth to their numbers of 100,000, it doubtful that anybody in the land can stop them.

SER JORAH & KHALEESI

Still in Meereen, Ser Barristan receives a letter from King’s Landing — a royal pardon signed by King Robert, exonerating Ser Jorah of the slave trade crimes he had committed and allowing him to return home to Westeros. When Khaleesi demands explanation, Ser Jorah admits that he had originally been working in service of Lord Varys and acting as a spy, reporting back to King’s Landing updates of Khaleesi’s journey. He even knew about the poison that she almost drank in season one, although he ended up stopping this from happening and saving her. Disgusted by his betrayal, Khaleesi bans Ser Jorah from her service and tells him, “Go back to your masters in King’s Landing.”

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When one stops to consider the journey Ser Jorah has been on, it is hard to not recognize the irony and empathize with his character. The poor guy got exiled from his homeland of Westeros for trading slaves — something he was forced into doing after realizing financial ruin trying to provide for his wife the lavish life she demanded. He lost everything he had because of this and after fleeing to Easteros he came into the service of Khaleesi. Trying to find his way home and via a royal pardon from King Robert, Ser Jorah agreed to report back to Lord Varys. But, this was before he knew Khaleesi. And, as he came to know and love her, not only did he save her life, but he also shifted his undying allegiance to her at the cost of giving up the chances of returning home to Westeros. And, after all that, the past comes back to bite him and he ends up being forced to leave Khaleesi — the woman he would die for. Throughout, Ser Jorah has tried to provide and protect for those around him, yet in the end, he once again appears to be losing everything that means most to him.

Also in Meereen, Grey Worm sees Missandei naked, something for which he later apologizes. Building on previous conversations they’ve had, it appears that feels are beginning to develop between them, though the Unsullied are supposed to be emotionless. Before leaving, Missandei tells Grey Worm that she is glad that he saw her naked, and he replies that he is glad as well.

“REMEMBER WHAT YOU ARE AND WHAT YOU ARE NOT”

Tasked by his father with retaking the strategic northern castle of Moat Cailin from the Ironborn, Ramsay Snow uses Theon, who must pretend that he is in fact still Theon Greyjoy, prince of the Iron Islands. Theon convinces the depleted Ironborn that they will be granted safe passage should they surrender the keep. But, when they do surrender, Ramsay flays all the Ironborn, skinning them alive — an old Bolton tradition that had been outlawed many years ago. When Lord Bolton arrives, he rewards Ramsay by anointing him with the Bolton last name, something Ramsay values above all else. With the successful capture of Moat Cailin, House Bolton has now secured most of the North with little opposition left. Lord Bolton asks Ramsay if there has been any word back from Locke, unaware that Locke was killed at Craster’s Keep. The Boltons are still essentially the only people in Westeros that have the powerful knowledge that Bran and Rickon are still alive and out there somewhere.

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SANSA & LITTELFINGER

Suspicious of the story he has told, several highborn of the Vale question Littlefinger about Lysa’s sudden death. After they ask “Alayne” to speak of this, she reveals herself to be Sansa Stark and tells that Lord Baelish saved her from the torment of King’s Landing. She then corroborates his lie and tells that Lysa committed suicide after becoming jealous of a kiss she mistook between Lord Baelish and Sansa. Faced with the option of coming clean and being freed from Lord Baelish, Sansa instead decided to go along with his story and save him. When he asked her why she did this, she responded that she did not know what would happen to her if they executed him. Only time will tell whether she made the right decision. Before leaving, they discuss that it is time for Robin Arryn to “leave the nest” as he is now Lord of the Vale. Before setting out to tour the Vale, Sansa is seen with her hair died black — perhaps a disguise or perhaps underscoring the darkness that underlies her decision to go along with Lord Baelish’s plan.

Also at the Vale, the Hound and Arya finally arrive after a long and difficult journey, only to find out that Lysa Arryn has died days ago. Finding comedy in the irony of situation, Arya breaks out into laughter. After enduring such a grueling journey, the Hound cannot even receive ransom for Arya as her aunt is no longer alive.

YOU RAPED HER, YOU MURDERED HER, YOU KILLED HER CHILDREN

Speed and agility versus size and strength, the trial by combat between the Red Viper and the Mountain finally takes place. While the Red Viper is light on his feet and opts to wear little armor, the Mountain is a gigantic 8-foot monster with a giant sword and massive armor. The Red Viper uses his quickness to dodge many of the Mountain’s blows, and he eventually lands a blow of his own, leaving the Mountain flat on his back. Rather than finishing him off, the Red Viper demands to know who gave the Mountain the order to kill his sister, Elia Martell. As Prince Oberyn looks up at Lord Tywin, the Mountain knocks Oberyn off his feet and gets on top of him, crushing his skull as he admit to the crimes he committed against Elia Martell.

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Just as quick as he came, so too now he is gone. And it was all the more painful the circumstances under which he died. After years of seeking revenge for the rape and murder of his sister, the Red Viper was finally presented with his golden opportunity in this trial by combat. Rather than fearing for his own life, Prince Oberyn was solely focused on avenging the death of his sister. And after knocking the Mountain off his feet, the opportunity was his — he could have killed the Mountain. And just like that, in the blink of an eye, the opportunity was gone and the victor became the victim. We are now left to wonder what will happen to Tyrion, who has been sentenced to death, and how House Martell of Dorne will react to the murder of their beloved prince.

Episode 7 Recap: Mockingbird

TYRION & JAIME

Episode Seven begins with an emotional exchange between Tyrion and Jaime, Lannister brothers that had grown accustomed to their high-born lives of power and entitlement. It was not long ago that Tyrion was on top of the world — more or less running the show in King’s Landing as Hand to the king, with Shae, the woman he loved by his side, and all the gold and wine that a man could ever desire. Similarly, Jaime had everything he could ask for — namely the woman he loved, and the hand that swung his sword from which his power derived. Now, he has neither of these things. And as the two sit in Tyrion’s cell, the deterioration of their situations is more apparent than ever. Everything has changed — Tyrion is powerless to the false verdict of a murder he did not commit, while Jaime is utterly helpless to defend and protect his own brother. However, the two agree that one thing has not changed — Lord Tywin would have once again gotten exactly what he desired had Tyrion stuck to the plan of confessing to the murder. Killing two birds with one stone, Lord Tywin would have been able to get rid of Tyrion by sending him to the Wall, while at the same time securing Jaime as a proper heir to Casterly Rock and the Lannister dynasty. However, after hearing Shae’s heartbreaking testimony, Tyrion decided he had nothing to lose and deviated from the plan, leaving his fate up to the gods in a trial by combat, ruining Lord Tywin’s master plan. As the scene comes to a close and we see the despair in both their eyes, it is sad to consider the unbelievable toll that being a Lannister has taken on both their lives. Their roles and duties as Lannisters have been dictated by Lord Tywin from day one, leaving them little opportunity for any kind of true freedom or happiness. But, for the moment, that has all changed, as Tyrion has taken the power and control from Lord Tywin and placed their fate in the hands of the gods in the imminent trial by combat.

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After realizing the sad reality that Jaime is unable to defend him in trial by combat, Tyrion summons Bronn and requests that he step up as his champion. However, Cercei has successfully manipulated the situation and arranged a marriage between Bronn and the highborn Lollys Stokeworth. Bronn’s already achieved knighthood and has plenty of gold — this marriage will solidify his status and put him in line to receive the castle of House Stokeworth. There is no longer anything Tyrion can offer Bronn that he does not already have, and in a final plea, Tyrion notes their friendship as a reason to fight for him. In response, Bronn states “Ay, we are friends, but when have you ever risked your life for me?” There is nothing left to say and the two shake hands, remembering the good days they’ve had together, realizing that this may be the last time they see each other. It seems like just episodes ago that Tyrion was a free man, using his gold to achieve anything he wanted, while Bronn was just a lowly sell-sword, subject to the power of Tyrion’s gold. Now Tyrion is locked in a cell with the possibility of imminent death, while Bronn is a free man with gold, knighthood and highborn wife-to-be…How quickly things do change in the Thrones world.

“NOTHING IS JUST NOTHING”

As Arya and the Hound continue on their journey, they come across a dying man, whom the Hound kills to put him out of his misery, telling Arya, “That’s where the heart is. And that’s how you kill a man.” But, before this, Arya and the man share some final words, as the man tells her that nothing could be worse than the slow death he is experiencing. With apathy in her eyes, Arya responds “Nothing isn’t better or worse than anything…Nothing is just nothing.” These are powerful words that demonstrate not only Arya’s apathetic attitude towards death, but also her connection to nothingness. Each time Arya has killed somebody, she has appeared emotionless — almost indifferent. And now, as she looks on at a man taking his last dying breaths, it is more clear than ever that she developed a completely apathetic attitude towards the idea of death, a concept that evokes much emotion in the average person. After losing almost every person around her, she has cut herself off from feeling anything at all towards the idea of death. And as she shares these words with the dying man, we see her unique perspective on the nothingness she feels after having lost everything — it isn’t better or worse than anything — it’s just nothing.

A moment later, two men appear in hopes of capturing or killing the Hound to receive the large bounty that Lord Tywin has placed on his head. After the Hound snaps the neck of the first man, Arya recognizes the second as one of the prisoners she freed along with Jaqen H’ghar. With her razor-sharp memory, Arya recalls this man telling her that he would “Fuck her bloody with a stick.” And as soon as she learns his name, she adds him to her list, before crossing him off a moment later by putting her sword through his heart. Again appearing undisturbed and emotionless at the sight of death, even death at her own hands, Arya continues to cross names off her list as she grows her kill count.

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Later, Arya suggests that the Hound use fire to burn his wound and prevent infection. Of course, the Hound jumps back at the site of fire, before telling Arya of how he got the burns on his face from his own brother, the Mountain. As the beloved relationship between these two characters continues to evolve, we see more emotion and sensitivity from the Hound than ever before. It was not the burns that scarred him the most, but rather that it was his own brother who did this to him, only for his father to protect his brother rather than care for the Hound. We now see more clearly that perhaps these two characters are not so different after all; both have lost their families in one way or another and are now out on their own. But with a large bounty on his head as a result of the soldiers he killed to protect Arya, it is unclear how much longer the Hound is interested in keeping Arya’s company. “No reward is worth this much trouble,” he tells her. That said, Arya is likely the only person that the Hound has had any emotional connection with since childhood, and in the end, the Hound agrees to let her physically care for his wound, symbolic of the the ways that their connection has also tended to some of his emotional wounds.

BRIENNE & PODRICK

Another unlikely duo, Brienne and Podrick are on their journey to find Sansa when they encounter Hot Pie, an old friend of Arya’s. After Brienne inquires about Sansa, Hot Pie tells them that Arya is in fact alive and likely with the Hound. Not seen since Ned’s beheading, it has been presumed that Arya was dead for some time now, and it is significant that Brienne and Podrick are now aware that she may be alive. Podrick states that the Hound is likely taking her to the Eyrie where he could receive reward from Lysa Arryn. Before leaving, Hot Pie gives them a bread baked in the shape of a wolf for Arya, something he had given to her once before they parted ways many episodes ago.

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JON SNOW

Jon Snow and the others return to Castle Black from north of the Wall, only to find continued scorn from Alliser Thorne. Speaking before the brothers, Jon Snow tells that the Wildling attack on the Wall is imminent and that steel gates will not keep out their army, which includes giants. Jon proposes that they seal the tunnels which would block out the Wildlings, but also prevent the Nights Watch from going north of the Wall. Lord Commander Alliser Thorne mocks Jon Snow and rejects his proposal, while ordering he and Samwell Tarly to patrol duty on top of the Wall.

“THEY CAN LIVE IN MY NEW WORLD OR THEY CAN DIE IN THEIR OLD ONE”

Daario Naharis once again makes a play at Khaleesi, bringing her wild flowers and telling her that he only lives for two things: war and women. He begs her to let him pursue his love of war, rather than merely patrolling the streets of Meereen; when she denies his first love, she offers him a chance at his second one. She tells him to get naked and although we do not see it, it is presumed that they finally have sex. Beyond the dicey implications of how sex could affect the dynamic of this relationship moving forward, this action was significant for Khaleesi’s character evolution. Going back to the first season, before she was Khaleesi, Daenerys was just a young girl who was forced by her brother, Viserys, to marry Khal Drogo. Still coming of age, Daenerys was forced into sexual situations against her will. And later, once she warmed up to Khal Drogo, she then had to learn how to use her power of sex to truly win him over. Her sexuality was a very large part of her identity throughout — in many ways, she was powerless without it. And now, as she has become Khaleesi, the Mother of Dragons, commanding an army of 10,000 soldiers, she has more power than perhaps any person alive. And for this reason, the sexual experience with Daario, one that came from a place of power and strength, was significant to Khaleesi’s character.

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The next morning, Jorah crosses paths with Daario who is leaving Khaleesi’s chambers. Ser Jorah questions how much faith Khaleesi has put into Daario — after all, he is just a sell-sword. Khaleesi tells Jorah that she has sent Daario and the Second Sons back to Yunkai to slaughter all the masters that have retaken the city. Ser Jorah objects and tells her that this would be no better than the barbaric crimes of which the masters themselves are guilty. He also reminds Khaleesi that he himself is guilty of slave-trade, a crime for which he was shown mercy by Ned Stark. Jorah adds that he would not be standing where he is today had Ned executed Jorah for his crimes, much the way Khaleesi is planning to in Yunkai. Moved by his words, Khaleesi changes her mind and decides to offer the slave masters a choice, “They can live in my new world or they can die in their old one.”

THE RED PRIESTESS

At Dragonstone, Lady Melisandre converses with Lady Selyne about the magic potions that she has used to trick people into considering the Lord of Light. However, the Lord of Light is still very real and these potions are only a gateway to get people to see the truth of the Lord of Light. Lady Selyne then mentions that she does not think they should bring their daughter, Shireen, on their journey to the Wall. However, the Red Priestess tells her that the Lord needs her daughter — it has been seen in the flames.

“THAT’S NOT A MONSTER…THAT’S JUST A BABY”

In the middle of the night, Tyrion receives another visit, this time from Prince Oberyn. The Red Viper first tells Tyrion of Cercei’s attempt to manipulate him, but he sees through her Lannister tactics, and what he sees is an opportunity for revenge. But first, he tells Tyrion a story of the the time he traveled from Dorne to Casterly Rock to meet the monstrous baby that was Tyrion. After having been described as a terrible monster, Prince Oberyn was dissapointed to see that Tyrion was in fact not a monster, but just a baby. Tyrion’s eyes fill with tears as he realizes that even as a helpless and innocent baby, Cercei wanted him dead; so many years later and nothing has changed. As Prince Oberyn has learned that Cercei has named the Mountain to fight on her behalf, Oberyn is eager for the opportunity to avenge the murder of his sister and her two babies. The Red Viper has been waiting for this revenge for many years, and the opportunity has finally presented itself, giving Tyrion a champion to fight on his behalf. And so the combat is confirmed: the freakish size and strength of the Mountain versus the speed and agility of the Red Viper.

“GIVEN THE OPPORTUNITY, WHAT DO WE DO TO THOSE WHO HURT THE ONES WE LOVE?”

In the courtyard of the Eyrie, Sansa reconstructs Winterfell, the place she once knew as home. However, it is not long before Robin demolishes Sansa’s castle, just as the actual Winterfell itself had been destroyed. Sansa slaps Robin and he runs off, just as Littlefinger appears to reassure Sansa that everything will be okay. Sensing that he has not been completely forthright, Sansa again asks him exactly why he killed Joffrey. Petyr makes it very clear that he murdered Joffrey out of revenge as he states, “Given the opportunity, what do we do to those who hurt the ones we love?” He goes on to tell Sansa that in a world where love prevails over war, she could have been his daughter, but unfortunately they do not live in that world. And then he kisses her, as Lysa Arryn looks on.

Later, Lysa Arryn confronts her niece and becomes hysterical as she threatens to throw Sansa through the moon door. Petyr calms his wife before telling her that he has only ever loved one woman — “your sister.” He then pushes Lysa through the moon door, raising many questions about what his next steps are and how Sansa fits into those plans.

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Episode 5 Recap: First of His Name

LITTLEFINGER & LYSA

As the fifth episode begins, Littlefinger and Sansa arrive at the Bloody Gate, the only entrance to the Eyrie, and Littlefinger tells of how the Eyrie has never been sacked in its thousands of years of existence. Finally arriving at the Eyrie, Lysa Arryn is ecstatic to see Lord Baelish and Sansa meets her aunt and cousin, Robin, for the first time. After Sansa and Robin leave the High Hall, Lysa tells Petyr that she wishes to wed immediately and questions what other wife would do for him what she has done already. A major reveal, she goes on to mention that she executed Petyr’s plan to poison her husband, Jon Arryn, and then write a later to her sister, Catelyn, communicating that she suspected the Lannisters to be the culprits of this murder.

There are major implications of this information as this takes us all the way back to the very beginning of the GoT series. Up until now, we have believed that the Lannisters were indeed behind the murder of Jon Arryn, who had learned the truth of Joffrey’s illegitimate claim to the throne. However, we only believed this because of Petyr’s plot which was executed by Lysa Arryn. Littlefinger has been scheming from the onset, and taking advantage of her love for him, he has used Lysa Arryn as a pawn in his plan. Not only did she murder her own husband, but she lied to her sister about her suspecting that the Lannisters were behind the murder. In turn, Catelyn shared this information with Ned Stark, who further investigated the matter when he got to King’s Landing. His investigation, based on a false letter from Lysa, ultimately led to his death. We are once again reminded that there are many players in this “game,” each with agendas of their own, which may often be concealed and unknown.

Later, Sansa speaks with her aunt, the first true family she has been with since leaving Winterfell. Most of us were probably hoping for a warm embrace; for Lysa to pull Sansa close, hug her as a mother and tell her everything will be okay. Instead, Lysa is jealous of Sansa, questioning why Lord Baelish cares so much for her and holding against Sansa the love Petyr had for her mother. Lysa tells Sansa how even though Petyr loved Catelyn his whole life, she rejected him for Brandon Stark, who almost killed Petyr in a duel for her love. On the other hand, Lysa has loved Petyr her whole life and she resents Sansa over the love Petyr had for Catelyn. And, as if things could not get worse, Lysa tells Sansa that she will marry her cousin, Robin, and become a lady of the Vale.

A NEW KING IS CROWNED

Margaery looks on as Tommen is crowned the new king of the Seven Kingdoms. The two exchange a discreet smile, before Cercei symbolically steps in between them and makes her way over to Margaery. Cercei tells Margaery that despite the shocking things Joffrey did, she could still never love another like her firstborn. As they watch the young Tommen on the throne, Cercei speaks to the “Game of Thrones,” and the kings that have temporarily won the game, though generally undeserved. Cercei comments, “He could be the first man who sits on that throne in 50 years to actually deserve it.”

Cercei turns to Margaery and asks whether she still intends to be queen, proposing her a new marriage to Tommen. Disingenuous, Margaery states that she is still grieving Joffrey and has not yet thought about this. The character evolution continues as we now see a Cercei who is willing to relinquish control of her son. After losing her first son to the Throne, she likely now realizes that it is important that Tommen has a wife who can help him; Cercei realizes that she alone cannot control the destiny of or protect her son.

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“I WILL DO WHAT QUEENS DO…I WILL RULE”

In Meereen, Khaleesi learns that Daario Naharis has captured the Meereenese navy, 93 ships to be exact, though he did this without order. With 10,000 troops and a naval fleet to cross the Narrow Sea, Khaleesi questions if it is now time to descend upon King’s Landing. Ser Barristan notes that there is a new king and King’s Landing is as vulnerable as ever. However, Ser Jorah notes that it is not just about capturing King’s Landing, but being able to rule over the entire continent, something she likely could not do with only 10,000 men. Ser Barristan reminds that there are many houses of Westeros that are still loyal to House Targaryen and would rally behind her cause should she return to Westeros to claim the Iron Throne. However, Ser Jorah tells Khaleesi that all is not well in Slaver’s Bay. The masters of Yunkai have reclaimed the city and enslaved those that she freed who did not leave with her. And in Astapor, a butcher called Cleon has defeated the council she put in place and now rules over the city.

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As she contemplates her options, Khaleesi asks how she could rule over Westeros if she cannot be trusted by her subjects. And again, we see the composition of Khaleesi’s attributes which make her one in a million. Any other ruler we have seen has implemented a philosophy of letting the ends justify the means. That is, they want to ascend the Iron Throne and all its power and glory, so much so that they will exercise most any means necessary to do so. Never have we heard somebody question whether they deserve to be king or if they’ve earned the trust of their followers. But for Khaleesi, it is the opposite — she will let her means justify the end and not the other way around. She believes she must earn the Iron Throne, by being a powerful yet compassionate ruler. And before considering King’s Landing, she makes it clear that she will fix what she started on Easteros and do what a queen must — rule.

ARYA & THE HOUND

As they get ready for sleep, Arya reminds herself of the revenge she seeks and repeats the names of the men that she must kill. Before finishing, she rolls over and names the Hound as the final one. The Hound tells her, “Hate’s as good a thing as any to keep a man going.” It was a poignant message and speaks to the broader idea of the various things in this world that “keep a man going.” While each character has their own motives, it is important to consider the fire which drives these motives. Sure, on the surface level, we know that Arya’s motives are to kill the men that have wronged her and those around her. But a bit deeper, we see that it is ultimately hate and the desire for vengeance that keeps her going. When we stop for a moment to look at each character and consider what exactly it is that keeps them going, we gain a bit more insight into the richness of each character and the way they fit into this world.

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The next morning, the Hound wakes up to find Arya doing a water-dance, something taught to her by Syrio Forel, a great Braavosi swordsman with whom she trained at King’s Landing. Again, the Hound mocks Arya’s impracticality and notes that this sort of thing will get her killed. Arya attempts to put her sword through the Hound, though she barely dents his armor before he smacks her to the ground.

THE WELL HAS RUN DRY

Cercei and Lord Tywin discuss the impending marriages which will strengthen ties with House Tyrell. Cercei says that she believes Tommen and Margaery can marry in two weeks, and two weeks after that, she will marry Ser Loras. As they discuss the importance of the Tyrell alliance, Lord Tywin admits to a very powerful secret that few are aware of: the gold mines of the Westernlands have not produced any gold in nearly three years. The Lannisters derive their power from their wealth and their wealth from their control of the gold mines that exist within the Westernlands. Without this wealth, their power diminishes and the alliance of House Tyrell, the next most wealthy house of Westeros, becomes all the more important. Making matters worse, Tywin reveals that the royal crown has a “tremendous” debt to the Iron Bank of Braavos — a debt that must be paid.

POWER & LOVE

Cercei engages Prince Oberyn and the two discuss the idea of power and love. More specfically, they explore the irony of possessing power but still being unable to protect those that you love. The powerful Prince of Dorne was unable to protect his sister Elia, much the same way Cercei was unable to protect her beloved Joffrey. Price Oberyn states that despite this, one can still avenge the murder of somebody you loved. Cercei tells Prince Oberyn that she is positive that Tyrion killed her son and implies her desire for Prince Oberyn to find Tyrion guilty. More explicitly, she asks for another favor, that Prince Oberyn deliver to her daughter, Princess Myrcella, the ship that Cercei had built for her. Princess Myrcella is still in Dorne, since Tyrion shipped her off and arranged her to be married to a Dornish prince.

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“I SAW THE SNOW FALL AND BURY YOUR BONES”

The Night’s Watch arrives at Craster’s Keep and Locke advances to scout the location. Returning to the others, Locke tells that they can easily overtake Craster’s Keep, and notes that they should keep clear of the hut where Bran and the others are being held, but lies about the the reason why and conceals the fact that he saw them there.

At the same time, we see Jojen’s vision of the great weirwood tree that Bran also saw in his vision. Jojen tells Bran, “He is waiting for you there,” and assures them that they will know once they’ve found the end. We also see Jojen’s hand engulfed in flame as part of his vision.

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Next, Karl chains up Meera and has plans to do terrible things to her. Trying to help his sister, Jojen tells Karl that he has greensight and offers to help him. When Karl tells Jojen about the terrible things he is about to do to Meera, Jojen reveals his vision and tells Karl, “I saw you die tonight. I saw the snow fall and bury your bones.” And at that moment, the Night’s Watch invade and begin the fight. Locke makes his way to the hut and captures Bran, the only reason he was there in the first place. Calm and collected, Bran skinchanges into Hodor and uses his immense strength to break the neck of Locke with his bare hands. After Bran regains consciousness, he tells Hodor to free the others. As close to Jon Snow as he’s ever been on his journey, Bran calls out to Jon, but Jojen reminds him of his greater calling — Bran must proceed north, something that Jon Snow would not let happen if they came together.

Inside Craster’s Keep, Jon squares off against Karl and is losing the fight due to Karl’s dirty fighting tactics. However, one of Craster’s wives comes to Jon’s rescue and puts an axe into his back, before Jon ultimately kills him by putting his sword through the back of Karl’s head. As the Night’s Watch round up the dead bodies, it is realized that because Locke was killed and Bran did not get to tell his brother what happened, none of the brothers will realize what Locke was truly there for, or ultimately that Roose Bolton is on the hunt for Bran and Rickon. Jon is reunited with Ghost, and as Jon Snow invites Craster’s wives back to Castle Black, they communicate their distrust of the Night’s Watch and state that they do not wish to return with them. They spit on the ground and curse Craster’s Keep before burning it to the ground.

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Episode 3 Recap: Breaker of Chains

SANSA’S GREAT ESCAPE

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

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“AM I STILL QUEEN?”

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

ONE KING DIES AND ANOTHER KING IS READIED

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

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

“I JUST UNDERSTAND THE WAY THINGS ARE”

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

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

WE NEED AN ARMY

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

LORD TYWIN & PRINCE OBERYN

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

TYRION & PODRICK

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

THE WILDLINGS RAID

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

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

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BREAKER OF CHAINS

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

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