SEASON 7, EPISODE 7: THE DRAGON AND THE WOLF

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 DRAGON AND THE WOLF

24 months. 104 weeks. 730 days. This is roughly how long we will have to wait until we embark upon the 8th and final season of Thrones. That’s right — it will be approximately two years (if we are lucky, it could be as little as 18 months) until Thrones returns to bring this epic saga to a close. The good news is that this finale episode left us with so much to think about as we enter the Thrones off-season. In just one episode, the army of the dead has finally broken through The Wall; a fairly-major character, Baelish, is killed off; Jon Snow’s legitimate Targaryen identity is confirmed; and the dragon and the wolf finally come together. If it hadn’t already, after tonight, this story has definitely reached its climax and with just 6 episodes remaining, we are truly approaching the end.

A HOLE IN THE WALL

In an episode filled with monumental moments, the most significant was the (partial) destruction of The Wall at the hands of the Night King and his newly turned undead dragon. At first glance, this was a crucial development for obvious reasons — it allowed the White Walkers and their army of the dead to pass The Wall and begin their march on the Seven Kingdoms. But digging a bit deeper and considering the full context of The Wall will allow you to consider the magnitude of this moment in a whole other perspective.

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 — that’s right — eight-thousand years ago. And it wasn’t built by mere mortals using mundane means. It was built when The Children of the Forest, The First Men and the Giants all came together to fight for their survival against the White Walkers. During The Long Night, the White Walkers brought the longest and darkest winter that Westeros had ever experienced, and they nearly wiped out all life that inhabited the continent. However, The First Men and Children of the Forest banded together to push back the White Walkers, and then built The Wall to keep them out. It is said that Brandon Stark, otherwise known as Brandon the Builder, a legendary architect (and founder of House Stark), had the vision to build The Wall. Using magic from The Children of the Forest and the manpower from many giants, Brandon the Builder successfully built The Wall, which stretched 300 miles across and stood 700-feet tall. After the completion of the The Wall, the Night’s Watch was formed to man the wall and defend the realm from the dead that lurked beyond.

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 rode on the back of his undead dragon, he unleashed a fury of icy fire that was able to easily reduce 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.

In just a few minutes, the Night King was able to completely eradicate a good chunk of The Wall and also took out Eastwatch by the Sea, the Night’s Watch castle built into that portion of The Wall. If he was able to destroy that much of The Wall that quickly, one could deduce that it would only be a matter of weeks before he was able to take out The Wall in its entirety. But perhaps he won’t have to — perhaps all he really needed was a singular entry point for the army of the dead to march through. Now, that is exactly what he has and the army of the dead have reached the other side of The Wall. And what will be the first meaningful destination they arrive at? More likely than not, good old Winterfell.

“THE LONE WOLF DIES”

“When the snows fall and white winds blow, the lone wolf dies, but the pack survives.” These were the words originally spoken by Ned Stark, and repeated by Sansa to her sister Arya, as the finale episode comes to a close. How poignant these words are. Though it has become more and more of a distant memory as the years have passed, the death of Ned and Catelyn Stark still remain a major driving force behind the actions of each Stark child. After all, they were both betrayed and brutally murdered at the hands of people they trusted. Arya realized a measure of revenge in the premiere episode this season as she killed Walder Frey, the man who colluded with the Lannisters to kill her brother and mother during the Red Wedding. And she seeks further revenge for the death of her father, which is why Cersei Lannister remains at the top of Arya’s kill-list. Yet these were/are the obvious enemies — the ones who boldly claimed responsibility for the deaths of several Stark family-members. But there were others; there were snakes in the grass who’ve continued to slither along, concealing their true motives.

Of course, there was no greater snake in the grass than Baelish — the master manipulator and ultimate schemer. Sure, Joffrey (and Cersei) ordered the beheading of Ned Stark, but it was Baelish that played such a pivotal role in setting that stage. Even worse, it was Baelish that the Starks had trusted, namely because Catelyn had been so close to him since a young age. And now, all these years later, the Stark children are enacting their measure of revenge. The scene is set up beautifully, as viewers are led to believe that Baelish’s plan to drive a wedge between Sansa and Arya has reached its tipping point. That is, it appeared as though Baelish had successfully manipulated Sansa into believing that Arya was going to kill her and that she must execute her sister first. As Arya is brought into the great hall of Winterfell and stands before her brother and sister, Sansa declares that “You stand accused of murder and treason,” before turning her focus to Baelish and shifting these charges from Arya to he. That’s right — it was not Arya that Sansa is charging these crimes to, but rather the unassuming Lord Baelish. With the help of Bran’s visions and knowledge, Sansa is finally able to piece together the whole puzzle. What she reveals is significant not just because it renders Baelish the guilty party, but rather because it shows the immense role that Baelish played in triggering many of the show’s most important events.

So, let’s rewind for a minute to recap the full extent of how far back Baelish’s scheming actually goes. The show began with Catelyn Stark receiving a raven from her sister, Lysa Arryn, stating that her husband, Jon Arryn had been killed. At the time, Jon Arryn war Lord of the Vale and was serving as Hand of the King to Robert Baratheon. Though he died before the show started and we never got to see him, Jon Arryn was revered as a great man and father figure to both Robert Baratheon and Ned Stark. The raven that Lysa Arryn sent to Cat went on to state that she suspected the Lannisters were responsible for Jon Arryn’s death. When Catelyn shared this message with her husband, Ned, he of course immediately became suspicious of the Lannisters. He set out for King’s Landing, and upon his arrival, he started digging into what he thought Jon Arryn may have discovered — the possible reason why the Lannisters may have had him killed. This led to Ned’s discovery that Joffrey (and his siblings) were not the children of Robert Baratheon, but rather the products of Cersei and Jaime’s incest. This was an important learning for Ned as it illegitimized Joffrey’s claim to the Throne. In King’s Landing, without many trustworthy peers, Ned confided in Baelish and shared with him the damaging information he learned about the Lannisters. Ned made a big mistake in trusting Baelish, who went back to Cersei and warned her that Ned was uncovering some of the Lannisters biggest secrets. With the help of Baelish, Cersei was able to get one step ahead of Ned and had him arrested, which led to his eventual beheading.

However, very few people knew that role Baelish played in getting Ned Stark killed. Now, thanks to Bran’s visions, all the Stark children are made aware that their father’s blood is all over Baelish’s hands. But that’s not all that Sansa revealed as she berated Baelish with a recount of the elaborate scheme he put into place many years ago. You see, it wasn’t that Ned simply became suspicious of the Lannisters, at which point Baelish betrayed Ned’s trust and informed Cersei of Ned’s suspicions. Rather, it was Baelish who purposefully deceived Ned by supplying him with false information. As we mentioned above, Lysa Arryn sent her sister Catelyn a raven stating that her husband Jon Arryn had been murdered — probably poisoned by the Lannisters. The problem here is that Jon Arryn was not murdered by the Lannisters, but rather by Baelish himself, who supplied Lysa with a poison to slip her husband. Baelish would then persuade Lysa to mislead her sister into thinking the Lannisters were responsible, which set Ned down the path that would eventually lead to his tragic demise. But it doesn’t stop there. What was also revealed/confirmed is that Baelish was responsible for the attempted murder of Bran back in season one. In an attempt to further implicate the Lannisters, Baelish told Catelyn when she supplied him with the dagger that the assassin used, that he had lost that dagger in a bet to Tyrion. Again, Baelish is attempting to make the Starks believe that the Lannisters are their enemies by painting the picture that Tyrion had something to do with the attempt on Bran’s life.

As Baelish stands before Bran, Sansa and Arya — the judge, jury and executioner — we are able to look back and realize the incredible impact Baelish has had upon a good chunk of the story that we’ve seen unfold to date. He fabricated a completely fictional context which would serve as the backdrop for some of the show’s most important events. And this fictional reality that he created would not only lead to the death of Ned, but it would serve as the foundation upon which much of the story’s conflict was built. Ned’s beheading led to Robb Stark declaring himself King in the North with the intention to seek revenge against the Lannisters. Of course, that then led to the Red Wedding and many more Starks dying. You can continue to unravel the storyline and attribute many more major events to the master manipulator — Petyr Baelish.

But the deception has come to an end. The Stark children finally pieced together all of his manipulations and have found him guilty. As Baelish drops to his knees and begs for his life, we see the truth of his character. He is out in the open, exposed and totally vulnerable. There are no more games to play or stories for him to whisper. His attempt to drive a wedge between Arya and Sansa would prove to be less successful than his attempts to do the same between Houses Stark and Lannisters. And just like that, Littlefinger’s time comes to an end as Arya cuts his throat. The irony — she takes his life with the very dagger that belonged to him — the one used in the assassination attempt on Bran’s life in season one.

Most rewarding is that the season comes to a close with House Stark in a good place. For the last few episodes, things seemed very shaky and the possibility of Arya or Sansa turning on the other seemed very real. But, the tables were quickly turned and the children are reminded that when winter comes, the lone wolf dies while the pack survives. These were Ned’s words, repeated by Sansa after his death was avenged. And it’s a good thing that the Starks were able to come together, because the White Walkers are just a hop, skip and a jump away.

THE DRAGON AND THE WOLF

From Bran’s previous visions, we learned that Jon Snow was not the son of Ned and Catelyn Stark. It was confirmed that Jon was actually the son of Lyanna Stark and that Ned was protecting Jon’s true Targaryen identity. However, what was not clear at the time was whether or not Jon was a legitimate Targaryen or if he was still a bastard, just of a different father. In other words, did Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen legitimately birth Jon, or was Lyanna raped by Rhaegar, making Jon Rhaegar’s bastard? Well, a couple episodes back, when Gilly was stumbling through a book, that question was answered. In reading the High Septon’s personal record, she discovered that the High Septon had performed an annulment, followed by a secret wedding in Dorne. In short, this confirmed that Rhaegar’s marriage to Elia Martell was annulled, and that he was legitimately married to another (safe to assume Lyanna Stark).

Though Bran was aware through his vision who Jon’s parents were, he assumed him to be a bastard of Rhaegar. After all, the scene he saw of Lyanna laying bloody and dying, seemed to confirm the idea that Rhaegar had raped and harmed Lyanna. However, Samwell Tarly offered to Bran what Gilly had discovered, and all of the information was pieced together. Rhaegar and Lyanna were legitimately wed, making Jon Snow a true Targaryen. What’s more, we are taken back to Bran’s vision and we are able to hear the name that Lyanna whispered to her brother Ned — the true identity of the man we’ve known as Jon Snow. AEGON TARGARYEN. As we know, the original Aegon Targaryen is arguably the most important Targaryen of all time. He is the man who conquered the independent kingdoms of Westeros and united them under his rule as the first Targaryen king. So, Jon not just being a Targaryen, but named after the most important Targaryen ever, is quite the reveal. As a result of Aegon’s Conquest, the Targaryens would rule over Westeros for the next 300 years, until Robert Baratheon usurped the throne during Robert’s Rebellion.

Speaking of Robert’s Rebellion, what we saw tonight answers one of the most important and controversial questions around the entire Thrones story. Was Lyanna wrongfully kidnapped by Rhaegar Targaryen or did she choose to ride off with him to follow their love? As we know, Robert’s Rebellion was the multi-year war that would put Robert Baratheon, Ned Stark and the Northern rebels against the Targaryen armies, as the rebels sought to overthrow the Mad King and the Targaryen dynasty. But what caused Robert’s Rebellion? Why did they want to overthrow the Targaryens after 300 years of rule? Well, the biggest catalyst for Robert’s Rebellion was the disappearance of Lyanna Stark. She was betrothed to Robert Baratheon and was the sister of Ned Stark, so both men had a deep love for her. When she disappeared, Robert and Ned clung to the idea that she was kidnapped by Rhaegar Targaryen. They rallied the North behind this idea and launched Robert’s Rebellion. However, there has also been plenty of whisper that has alluded to a contrary idea — one that paints Rhaegar as a great man and contradicts the idea that he would kidnap Lyanna. This version of the story says that Lyanna and Rhaegar were madly in love and rode off together to tie the knot. The truth of this debate has been hidden until tonight.

Through Bran’s vision, we saw that Rhaegar and Lyanna, the dragon and the wolf, were truly in love. Learning that Rhaegar did not kidnap Lyanna is so significant because it invalidates the very justification for Robert’s Rebellion. Had Ned and Robert known the truth, it is entirely possible that this rebellion never would have even taken place. Which means that Rhaegar would probably still be alive (he was killed in battle by Robert), the Targaryens would likely still be on the throne, and Jon would have grown up as Aegon Targaryen, son to Lyanna and Rhaegar Targaryen. It is absolutely incredible to think that an entire multi-year war which shaped the entire story we are seeing today was built upon a lie. It is even more incredible to consider we are finding this out so many years later.

But here’s what’s not a lie. Jon Snow is a Targaryen — a legitimate one. And because his father, Rhaegar, was next in line for the Throne, Jon is now the legitimate heir to the Iron Throne. He supersedes Daenerys’ claim to the Throne, as he is Rhaegar’s son while she is Rhaegar’s sister. But they’ll have plenty of time to figure that out down the road. Right now, Jon and Daenerys have more important matters to focus on as they finally come together intimately. In an episode entitled The Dragon and the Wolf, we learn of Jon’s true identity as we see the original dragon and wolf that came together (Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark), while simultaneously seeing another dragon and wolf (Daenerys and Jon) also getting together. So, now it’s official. There is no Jon Snow. There is no bastard. There is only Aegon Targaryen, son of Rhaegar and true heir to the Iron Throne. Bran tells Samwell, “He needs to know, we need to tell him.”

CERSEI AGAINST THE WORLD

In King’s Landing, we get almost all of the story’s most significant characters together at once. To date, we’ve never seen anything like this. Once again, there are all kinds of reunions between characters that have great history with one another. Jaime is reunited with Brienne, who he was on an epic journey with a few seasons ago, which culminated with him risking his life to save hers. Tyrion was reunited with his longtime squire, Pod, as well as Bronn, with whom he fought closely in the Battle of Blackwater Bay. The Hound comes face to face with Brienne, who left him for dead a few seasons back. He us also reunited with his zombie-brother, The Mountain, and reminds him that death is coming for him.

As Tyrion and company enter the dragon-pit and are surrounded by Lannister soldiers, the suspense begins to set in. It is entirely possible that they could all be killed and if anybody is capable of such a thing, it would be Cersei. Despite coming face to face with a wight, Cersei is unwilling to join their cause to fight the army of the dead. Tyrion risks his life to talk some reason into his sister and it appeared as though his attempts were successful. Cersei returns to the dragon pit and declares that she will join their fight. It seemed as though this was a big moment for Cersei who finally saw the bigger picture, and that the stage was now set for basically all of humanity to band together to fight back the army of the dead.

However, moments later, behind closed doors, Cersei reveals to Jaime that she will say anything to anybody to win the war against those who have wronged her. She does not actually intend to lend them any men, even though Jaime proposes the very obvious lose-lose scenario for them if she does not. Once known as the Oathbreaker for killing the Mad King, Jaime refuses to again break his oath and tells Cersei that she will have to kill him to stop him. Unable to do so, Jaime leaves King’s Landing and rides off to join the fight against darkness. Seasons ago, when Jaime was on his journey with Brienne, it appeared as though his character had gone through a major transformation. But then, he got sucked back into Cersei’s wicked games and it was unclear whether he would finish this story by her side or not. Now, he has finally left King’s Landing and is off to join the war that everybody seems to realize is most important, except for Cersei. And not a minute too soon. Snowfall has made its way down south and begins to descend upon King’s Landing. If the southerners didn’t yet know, they will now see that Winter Is Here.

ODDS & ENDS

  • We as viewers were not the only ones who saw the Night King take out a chunk of The Wall. We actually saw this through Bran’s vision as he warged into the crows that sat atop the wall. So, the good news is that Bran is well aware of what just happened and Winterfell can prepare accordingly as the first line of defense.

 

  • Cersei confirms she has secured a contract with the Golden Company, an army of 20,000 men who will fight for her. How will this army help her against Cersei’s forces? Perhaps they will end up being more manpower for the fight against darkness.

 

  • Theon receives forgiveness from Jon Snow and is now off to save his sister, Yara. I think the show did a pretty poor job at demonstrating what happened to make Theon strong again. Last we saw him, he had reverted back to being Reek and jumped off the ship, leaving his sister stranded. Now, all of a sudden, he’s once again back to being the Theon that wants to save his sister? Seems very wishy-washy.

 

  • With Baelish now dead, that’s another face that Arya could possibly use. We know her goal is to kill Cersei — could she possibly use his face to get back in front of Cersei at King’s Landing?

 

  • At Eastwatch when the Night King attacked, did Tormund and Beric survive? The obvious guess is yes, but worth the thought.

 

  • With Jaime having fled King’s Landing, what will Bronn do? We mentioned in a post a few weeks back the possibility that Bronn will save the Sand Snake who he had a fling with in Dorne, who is now locked in the dungeons below King’s Landing. With Jaime now gone, it’s entirely possible that he does save the Sand Snake and flee King’s Landing.
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SEASON 7, EPISODE 2: STORMBORN

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

STORMBORN

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

DRAGONSTONE

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

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

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

WINTERFELL

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

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

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

KING’S LANDING

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

SAM & THE CITADEL

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

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

THE WOLVES REUNITE

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

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

“BE A DRAGON”

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

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

WAR HAS BEGUN

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

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

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

 

HONORABLE MENTION

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

SEASON 6, EPISODE 10: THE WINDS OF WINTER

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 WINDS OF WINTER

Put in the books…Season six is officially over, which means we have about a full year to wait until the return of Thrones. But if there was ever a season which delivered enough magic, enough surprise and enough excitement to last us until next season, this was it. And putting an exclamation point on this incredible season was the finale episode, The Winds of Winter, which delivered enough major plot-twists for multiple finale episodes. In past seasons, we would’ve gotten one major event in the finale episode to make us go “wow, that was amazing,” and hold us over until the following season. In this episode, we got four or five of those moments, seemingly one after the next. Cercei blowing up the Holy Sept of Baelor and killing all her enemies in one fell swoop, including basically all of House Tyrell. Oh, and doing it with wild fire no less. Tommen casually jumping out the window to his death. Jon Snow being declared King in the North. Cercei assuming the freakin’ Iron Throne. Arya revealing she’s already back in Westeros and taking out her enemies. After six years, Khaleesi is actually leaving Easteros to take what is hers — the Iron Throne of Westeros. Oh, and did we mention that Winter is officially here?

loras

Any one of these events could’ve been enough to end the finale on, especially after last week’s epic Battle of the Bastards. But as season six came to an end, we didn’t get one major event, we got them all. Because whereas the objective of past seasons’ finales was to wind the show down and bring things to a close, the purpose of this finale was the exact opposite: to propel the show to all-time highs and position characters for the final lap ahead. That’s right, there’s not much left and the end is near. Likely split over two more seasons, we are looking at 12-14 more episodes total, and that’s it for Game of Thrones, folks. So there is no wind-down at this point. There is no deliberation or hiatus. We are in the thick of it now, full force, and The Winds of Winter pointed us in the direction we are headed.

But before we jump into a recap of the episode, let’s explore what the show is really about at this point. To date, Thrones has been about a lot of things: power, loyalty, war, love, vengeance, deception, to name a few. But as the show has evolved through the years, and now nears its end, what is it really about? As I asked myself this question and reflected back on the finale episode and this season as a whole, I thought about thing: survival. It was once about who could play the Game of Thrones, now it’s about who can survive it. In this finale episode, we saw three major characters who have survived and now risen to the top: Khaleesi, Cercei and Jon Snow, each of whom is now a King/Queen.

What is also interesting when thinking about the survival of characters is how dominant the females are as season six comes to a close. For a show that was often-criticized about the subjection of its female characters (which hit an all-time high last season after the rape of Sansa by Ramsay), it is now the females who are in positions of power and dictating the outcome of this story. Cercei has ascended the Iron Throne and is the Queen of the Seven Kingdoms. Khaleesi is the Mother of Dragons and commands an army of loyal followers that appears to be growing by the day. Yara, not Theon, is calling the shots for House Greyjoy and has joined up with Khaleesi. Arya is crossing names off her list in Westeros. Sansa won the battle against Ramsay and got her revenge, and also pushes off Baelish in this episode. In Dorne, it is the Tyrell and Martell females that convene to discuss their revenge against the Lannisters. Even Lyanna Mormont, an 11-year-old girl, appears more powerful than all the men of the North, as she reminds that House Mormont stands with House Stark and that the North remembers, ultimately swaying the other Northern houses to support the Stark cause. Even once-powerful men like Tyrion and Varys have now abandoned their personal endeavors to support the greater cause of a female character. In fact, when you stop and look around, it’s almost hard to name the major male characters that are really in the picture, other than Jon Snow. We’ve come a long way since the earlier seasons which covered the Battle of the Five Kings, mostly all males fighting for the Iron Throne. And now, winter is no longer coming. Winter is here.

DARKNESS IN KING’S LANDING

Many people, including myself, were predicting a possible death for Cercei in the finale episode. She was weakened by her walk of shame, never seemed to quite recover from it and appeared relatively powerless this entire season. And when trial-by-combat was ruled out, it looked like the end might be near for Cercei. Boy, were we wrong. The episode opens as we see various characters dressing for the trial. Margaery and Tommen both dress in regal garb, fit of a king and queen, while the High Sparrow throws on his minimalist robes. But Cercei is preparing for something entirely different, as she dresses in an all black piece that almost resembles armor. This entire segment, which was one of the longest we’ve seen, was accompanied by a beautiful piano arrangement called Light of the Seven by Ramin Djawadi, which can be heard in the video below. It was unlike any other music that has ever been played in an episode before, and captured a particular eeriness, hinting that something terribly out of the ordinary was going to happen. It was masterfully executed, and though I don’t think it’s worthwhile to compare the books to the show, since they’re both genius in different ways, this was an example of how music, and visuals and directorial vision can setup a major event that was to come in a way that the books never could.

As everybody stands around the Sept of Baelor, it is Queen Margaery who realizes that something is wrong after Cercei and Tommen both no-show. She warns that everybody must leave the Sept, but the High Sparrow’s stubborn faith gets the best of him as he instructs the Faith Militant to prevent anybody from leaving. Elsewhere, Maestar Pycelle is tricked into entering the tunnels below King’s Landing, as is one of the Faith Militant, Lancel Lannister, both of whom are stabbed by Qyburn’s little birdies. It’s unclear what Qyburn has done to these little peasant children or why children were needed to do the actual killing, and maybe we’ll find that out down the road, but we did see Qyburn with these children in an earlier episode this season, so we knew he was up to something. What we also saw a few episodes back, after Tommen declared that trial-by-combat would be illegal moving forward, was Cercei asking Maestar Qyburn whether the rumors were true, to which he responded that they definitely were, more so than she could even imagine. We now know that she was asking him about the wild fire, which she would use to blow up the Sept of Baelor and kill everybody inside.

sept explosion

Beyond the power of this scene and the way it unfolded, there are some very interesting takeaways. First, we got a glimpse of this wild fire explosion many episodes back in one of Bran’s visions, which very quickly showed the green flames engulfing the tunnels below King’s Landing (see photo below). So, Bran saw this before it actually happened, and so did we. This speaks volumes to other visions he may have of events that are yet to unfold, with the potential to stop them before they happen. Next, it is very powerful to consider that Cercei did the very thing that her brother killed the Mad King to avoid from happening. Going back to the Mad King Aerys Targaryen (Khaleesi’s father), when Robert’s Rebellion succeeded and the rebels arrived at King’s Landing, rather than surrender, the Mad King kept saying “Burn them all.” He was obsessed with wild fire and wanted to use the wild fire to blow up all of King’s Landing and burn everybody alive, rather than let the rebels usurp the Iron Throne. Though he was sworn to protect the king, Jaime put his sword through the Mad King’s back, and would forever be known as Kingslayer. He broke his sworn oath to protect the king in order to save tens of thousands of innocent lives who otherwise would’ve been burned alive. Ironically, years later, it is his own sister who ends up doing this very same thing, albeit in a more controlled fashion as to eliminate her enemies in the Sept of Baelor and not all of King’s Landing.

wildfire

From Bran’s vision

As Tommen looks on and sees the Sept explode into the sky, realizing everybody has just died, including his Queen Margaery, he is in total disbelief. He is just a boy — a boy that watched his older brother murdered when he was king and who then lost his sister to murder as well. His mother was locked away and then forced into a humiliating walk of shame. The High Sparrow and Margaery have been in his ear telling him to follow the Faith. Rumors swirl around about who his true parents are. Talk about stress — the things Tommen has dealt with since being a little boy are enough to drive anybody to suicide. So now, after watching the Sept explode, he’s had enough, and in an indifferent fashion, decides to simply fall to his death. This marks the third child that Cercei has lost, and unlike the murders of her first two children, Cercei has nobody to blame but herself for the death of Tommen. Interestingly, in the premiere episode of season five, we saw a flashback of Cercei as a child as she wanders into the woods to find a witch. The witch tells her of a prophecy in which all of her children would eventually die (see video below). Now, decades later, this prophecy has been fully realized and Cercei has lost all of her children. Well, at least most of the prophecy has been realized. The witch also tells Cercei that she will eventually be replaced by another queen, younger and more beautiful. It’s safe to assume that this will be Khaleesi.

Perhaps, in some ways, Cercei wanted Tommen to die, even if subconsciously. After all, as she stated so many times, her purpose in life was to protect and defend her children. Well, clearly she wasn’t so good at that. Or maybe, it was a greater drive that she had which outweighed her ability to truly protect her children. Maybe it was her undying quest for power. And after losing two-thirds of her children and sort of already losing the third to all the madness of King’s Landing, she was ready to rid herself of all her motherly baggage, which is in fact what happened. And now, free of any responsibility or burden to her children, Cercei is able to ascend the Iron Throne and take what is hers. Dressed in all black, the Throne Room looks darker than ever before, nobody daring to question her claim. She appears cold and ruthless, hardened by the deaths of her children and the torture she experienced at the hand of the Faith. Now that Cercei has taken the Throne, she’ll be free to pursue vengeance against the murderers of her children, namely the Martells of Dorne. But how will Jaime fit into this? He looked rather unpleased, if not shocked, at the scene he saw upon arriving back to King’s Landing. Perhaps, Cercei and Jaime’s union is starting to unravel, and maybe Jaime resists Cercei’s pull to the dark side.

KING IN THE NORTH

We get first glimpse of Jon Snow in the halls of Winterfell as he stands with Melisandre, moments before Davos storms in commands Lady Melisandre to tell Jon Snow what she’s done to Princess Shireen. Davos is more emotional and angry than we’ve ever seen him before and it is clear that he truly loved Princess Shireen like a father. Melisandre confesses to her crimes, but adds that she has only done what the Lord of Light commanded. Once again juxtaposing Melisandre’s faith to her god against Davos’ commitment to morality and reason, Davos exclaims “If your god commanded you to burn an innocent little girl, then your god is evil!” Davos appeals to Jon Snow and demands that Melisandre be executed, to which Melisandre tells Jon Snow that her work is not done. Clearly, Jon Snow believes this, and knows that he may yet need her down the road. He commands her to ride south, rather than executing her.

As Melisandre rides off, Jon Snow and Sansa stand atop the ramparts of Winterfell. Jon Snow acknowledges that it was Sansa who won the battle by securing the Knights of the Vale, but notes that they must trust each other moving forward. He tells her that he is not a Stark, and wishes for Sansa to be the Lady of Winterfell, rather than he. Sansa also tells Jon that a white raven has come from the Citadel and the Maestars have determined that winter is officially here. As if we didn’t already realize that the show is really reaching an all-time highpoint, we just got explicit confirmation — after six years of waiting, winter has now come.

Standing beneath a weirwood tree, Sansa tells Baelish that she no longer prays and is done with the gods. As they discuss what it is that Baelish really wants, a question we would all love answered as well, Baelish tells Sansa that he wants to sit on the Iron Throne as king with Sansa as his queen. As he goes into kiss her, she pushes him off and tells him that it’s a “pretty picture.” Again, we see that Sansa is not a naive child and will not be easily manipulated. But more importantly, we finally hear Baelish explicitly reveal what he wants, which is ultimate power. Throughout the last six seasons, there have been breadcrumbs along the way which have pointed us in the direction of Littlefinger’s true intentions. In the very first season, Baelish has a conversation with the keep of his whorehouse in King’s Landing, and he retells the story of how he challenged Brandon Stark (Ned’s older brother) to a duel, to win the love of Catelyn Tully. He lost that duel to the much fiercer Stark warrior and was badly embarrassed and injured that day. “You know what I learnt losing that duel? I learnt that I’ll never win. Not that way. That’s their game, their rules. I’m not going to fight them: I’m going to fuck them. That’s what I know, that’s what I am, and only by admitting what we are can we get what we want.” When she asks him what it is that he wants, he responds “Oh, everything, my dear. Everything there is.” Littlefinger has also often referenced investments he has made, some good and some bad, in an effort to achieve his means. In an earlier season, Varys also noted “Baelish would let the whole country burn if he could be king of the ashes.” And finally, years later, he comes right out and tells Sansa what he wants — the Iron Throne with her beside him.

Later, in Winterfell, the remaining houses of the North gather and Jon Snow makes his case for their support. Winter is here and the North will be the front line against the White Walkers that are coming — nobody knows this better than Jon Snow. Still, the Northern houses have doubt and express uncertainty about once again supporting House Stark. Lyanna Mormont, not only the only female in the room (besides Sansa), but also youngest in the room, delivers a passionate speech noting that House Mormont stands with House Stark and that the North remembers. Houses Manderly and Glover are moved by her words and pledge their support of House Stark, declaring Jon Snow the King in the North. Before long, the whole hall is shouting for Jon Snow as King in the North, much the way they once did for Robb Stark — hopefully this one has a better ending.

king north

Certainly, Jon Snow will be a much different kind of king. He has no interest in the Iron Throne or petty battles — his eyes are set on defending humanity from the army of the dead. Moreover, he’s seen a lot and experienced much more than his brother Robb ever did, including dying and being brought back from the dead. Jon Snow now has the beginning of an army, but it’s unclear how Sansa feels about this. Just moments before, he was telling her that it should be her who leads House Stark, not him. Sansa exchanges a glance with Baelish, who quietly observes like a fly on the wall. The look they exchanged was almost as if Baelish was saying “Hey, my offer is still on the table. I am still on the quest for power and you can share that quest with me, rather than going back to being the sister of the King in the North.” We’ll have to wait until next season to see how this all unfolds, but to see Jon Snow brought back from the dead, defeat Ramsay to reclaim Winterfell and now to be declared King in the North with House Stark finally supported again by the other Northern houses, is a welcomed and long-awaited turn of fortune for the Starks. And let’s not forget, both Bran and Arya are not not too far away from Winterfell.

NEW FRIENDS

After not having seen Dorne since the first episode when the Sand Snakes executed Prince Doran, we are taken back to the southernmost region of Westeros, where Lady Olenna Tyrell is convening with the Sand Snakes. Lady Olenna has basically lost everything, including her son and two grandchildren, with no apparent heir to Highgarden. She makes it clear that all the world can offer her is revenge. Perfect timing, as Varys enters the scene, offering fire and blood. The Martells and Tyrells both have a common enemy in the Lannisters, namely Cercei. Luckily for them, the Lannisters are also the enemy of Khaleesi (it was Jaime who killed her father and Lord Tywin who orchestrated much of the rebellion). So, Varys offers the Martells and Tyrells to join Khaleesi’s cause, with the promise of imminent revenge.

This is an extremely significant development for Khaleesi’s camp, which was already in great shape with three dragons, a wise and loyal small council, armies of the Dothraki and Unsullied, support of House Greyjoy and 100 ships to travel to Westeros. Now, Khaleesi has landed the support that she’ll need when she finally arrives to Westeros. And not just any support. House Tyrell is the wealthiest and largest house in all of Westeros, making them an incredibly important asset to Khaleesi. The support of the fierce Dornish people is also very valuable, but not as valuable as their land. Dorne is the southernmost region of Westeros, isolated from all the other kingdoms, making it a great landing place for Khaleesi, her dragons and her army. Outside of Dorne, there are not many places on Westeros Khaleesi could land without being thrown right into conflict with other houses. But because Dorne is so far removed from the rest of the continent, it makes the most ideal landing place. It is also interesting to note that during Aegon’s Conquest 300 years ago, Aegon was able to conquer and unite six of the Seven Kingdoms, with Dorne being the only one he was unable to hold. The reason being that it was too far from the rest of the continent, proving too difficult to conquer. It wasn’t until many years later that Dorne became the seventh kingdom through an arranged marriage between Houses Martell and Targaryen. Unlike Aegon, the first Targaryen to conquer the land of Westeros, Khaleesi is now entering Westeros with an alliance with the Martells of Dorne, which should prove hugely valuable to her conquest of the Iron Throne.

ONE MORE NAME OFF THE LIST

As Walder Frey continues to gloat upon his recent successes, Jaime reminds him that it was House Lannister that was responsible for these victories, and that House Frey is dispensable. Proving this true, moments later, we learn that Arya is not only back in Westeros, but is crossing names off her kill list. And, even more, she made sure to grab some faces from The House of Black and White before she left Braavos. Arya killed the two Frey sons and cooked them into a pie that she fed to Walder. She reveals all of this just moments before slitting his throat.

arya frey

Besides the awesomeness of seeing Arya back in Westeros and avenging the deaths of her family murdered in the Red Wedding, there was another layer to the way she did it, which goes back to a season three episode in which Bran told the story of the Rat Cook. According to legend, thousands of years ago, a King once visited a castle of the Night’s Watch. During his stay, the King offended members of the Night’s Watch, and as revenge, the cook killed the king’s son, baked him into a pie and served the pie to the king. The king enjoyed the pie so much that he asked for a second helping. The gods punished the cook by turning him into a giant rat, forced to run the halls of the castle and eat his own offspring. According to Bran, the gods were not offended by the murder or even by the cook feeding the king his own son. Rather, the gods could not forgive the ancient law of guest right which the cook had violated. This scared law dictates that a person shall commit no harm to any other person who’ve they’ve taken in as their guest. Bran tells, “It wasn’t for murder the gods cursed the Rat Cook, or for serving the King’s son in a pie… he killed a guest beneath his roof… that’s something the gods can’t forgive.” Many years later, Walder Frey would commit this very same crime as he brutally murdered the Starks who he had taken in as his guests. Rather than just killing him, Arya feeds his sons to him, an allusion back to the story of the Rat Cook and the violation of guest right. It will be interesting to see what comes next for Arya. She is as close to home as she has ever been, but something tells me she’s not quite ready to journey back to Winterfell just yet.

R+L=J

Still north of the Wall, Benjen tells Bran that he cannot join him south as he cannot pass under the Wall. He reminds us of what we’ve heard before: the Wall was built with powerful magic of the Children of the Forest, preventing the dead White Walkers from passing through. Benjen confirms that he is in fact considered dead as he cannot pass under the Wall. So, he will go his separate way and continue to fight off the dead for as long as he can. The reunion between Bran and Benjen was short-lived, but we will likely see Benjen again at some point.

As Bran looks up, he sees a weirwood tree, the magical trees of the Children of the Forest, and he goes to connect with it. Before he does, Meera questions if he is ready, to which he responds that he is now the Three Eyed Raven and he must be ready. This statement can be taken figuratively, as he is now taking on the responsibilities of the Three Eyed Raven. But, maybe it can also be taken literally. What if Bran actually is the Three Eyed Raven? What if they are the same person? The Three Eyed Raven that we saw in the show could be Bran thousands of years in the future, coming back to guide a younger version of himself along his journey to save the world. After all, The Three Eyed Raven stayed propped up in his tree and we never saw him move, just like Bran cannot move. So, maybe Bran and the Three Eyed Raven literally are the same person.

In any event, Bran’s vision takes him to the final reveal of the Tower of Joy, where the younger Ned ascends the tower to find his sister Lyanna, bloody and dying. After many years of hearing about Lyanna, we finally get to see her. Before she passes, she tells Ned that she must take her baby and protect him. If they figure out who he really is (a Targaryen), they will kill him, she says. And just like that, we get confirmation of the most popular fan-theory, R+L=J (Rhaegar Targaryen + Lyanna Stark = Jon). This might not have come as a shock, since it was in fact such a popular fan theory. But, this is arguably the most important reveal that we’ve seen in the entire six seasons. The implications of this reveal are huge.

First, we now understand that Ned raised Jon to be his own, even though he in fact was not. This point backs to the nobility of Ned’s character and what a great man he was. So much so, that he made up a story which reduced his character, claiming that he had a relation with a whore who gave birth to the bastard Jon Snow. Of course, when you consider Ned’s character, this story never made any sense, as his defining characteristic was his moral character. What’s more, his wife Catelyn always resented Ned for this, and every time she saw Jon Snow, she was reminded of this “affair” that Ned had. She hated Jon Snow so much because of this. In reality, none of it was true. Ned never had an affair and Jon wasn’t a bastard. But Ned had to protect Jon Targaryen. If anybody found out he was Targaryen, especially Robert Baratheon, he would have immediately been killed.

So, looking back, it’s pretty powerful to think of everything Ned did to protect Jon Snow. But, looking forward, there’s even more to consider. First, like we said, Jon is a Targaryen. Moreover, he’s half Stark as well, which is quite genetic makeup, arguably the two greatest families. He could be the link between uniting the strength of the North with the power of his Aunt Khaleesi and her Targaryen bloodline. Yes, Khaleesi is Jon’s aunt (her older brother, Rhaegar, was Jon’s father). And perfect timing as Khaleesi is headed to Westeros with her dragons and all. Naturally, this begs the question of when Jon will find out who he is and what type of union might follow between Khaleesi and Jon. But, this also debunks the idea that Jon is Ned’s son, which weakens his claim as King in the North. It was this very episode that Lyanna Mormont stated that Jon had Ned’s blood running through his veins, which we now know to be false. All in all, this was a mind-blowing reveal which will have a huge impact on what is to come.

HOMEWARD BOUND

In Mereen, Khaleesi makes the difficult decision to leave Daario behind to protect the city of Mereen. She notes that in order to make allegiances, she may have to marry, and having him around would be a liability. Even after a heartfelt plea, she remains stone-cold and commands him to stay behind. As she convenes with Tyrion, we learn that this was his advice, to which she once again listened. Quicker than anybody before him, Tyrion has had a major influence on Khaleesi and she continues to value his counsel. Tyrion and Khaleesi have a wonderful exchange, in which she expresses doubt and fear for what is to come next, but he reassures her that he believes in her more than anything in his life. She formalizes their relationship by naming him Hand of the Queen. In a world where nothing is as it seems and peoples intentions have to be constantly questioned, the support that Tyrion and Varys were offering Khaleesi was not necessarily 100% pure. But now that Tyrion has become Hand, we get the feeling that Tyrion is going to be by her side until the end, as one of the wisest strategists and politicians in the world.

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And as if all of this was not enough to end the episode on, we get one final truly epic scene, in which Khaleesi and her entire following finally departs Mereen. For six seasons we have seen her endure to build the army and following of loyalists that she has today. She never forced anybody to join her cause; rather they all saw her greatness and made the decision to follow. And now, all united, they head for Westeros, stronger than ever before. Fire and blood will surely be coming….

SEASON 6, EPISODE 6: BLOOD OF MY BLOOD

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.

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The Mad King, Aerys Targaryen, seen for a glimpse in Bran’s vision

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

Well, six episodes in and we can definitely confirm the above to be true. Things are moving faster than ever, with major advancements in each episode of many of the storylines. Most of the episodes have been action-packed, and each seems to get better than the one before it. After such a busy episode last week that included the major reveal that the Children of the Forest created the first White Walker (the Night King), and learning the reason behind Hodor’s condition while simultaneously viewing his tragic death, I figured that this episode would be an opportunity for the show to pull back a bit and offer up a slower-moving episode. After all, that’s how the show has always been in the past — generally following up an action-packed episode with a more subdued one. But not this season; not when we are so deep in the thick of things like we are now. And with four episodes to go this season, don’t expect things to slow down now. The show’s foot is pressed to the gas pedal and it’s not coming off anytime soon.

BRAN’S VISIONS & UNCLE BENJEN

Bran’s storyline continues to be the most facinating and enjoyable for me as it continues to offer a glimpse into scenes and moments that predate the start of this story. In short, Bran’s visions are allowing us to see things that we’ve only heard about through other characters. And we aren’t just seeing any old scenes — we are seeing flashes of hugely momentous and history-changing events. And while it’s quite interesting and exciting for us to see these as viewers, it’s important to remember the person these visions are really intended for — Bran. As Bran now continues along his path towards becoming the Three Eyed Raven, he is being downloaded on more knowledge than ever before. If he is to fulfill his destiny and play a major role in saving the world, he’ll have to be equipped with a weapon greater than all others — the knowledge of everything that is happening all around him, past, present and future.

So let’s freeze-frame some of the visions Bran saw, most of which only appear on the screen for one second, and could be easily missed. Let’s start with the things Bran saw, that we as viewers had already experienced. Bran got first-hand glimpse of Khaleesi and her dragons, the execution of his father Ned in King’s Landing, the executing of his mother Catelyn at the Red Wedding and the Night King turning a baby into White Walker — all pretty significant learnings (see below). And not only is Bran getting to learn about these happenings, but he’s getting to experience them…He’s getting to relive them…

So now that Bran has seen a lot of the things we’ve seen, let’s talk about the visions he had of things that we had never seen before…Most of which were extremely significant events in recent history. For starters, we got first glimpse of the Mad King as he sits on the Iron Throne and screams “burn them all!” To date, we have heard a lot about the Mad King (Khaleesi’s father), and know that he began to lose his mind and became obsessed with fire, to the point he was burning a lot of people alive. He was the object of Robert’s Rebellion and overthrowing the Mad King was really the event that set in motion most of the story that we are watching today. After all, it affected so many characters so greatly (Jaime murdered the Mad King, Robert/Ned were central to overthrowing him and Robert became king, Khaleesi and her brother had to flee King’s Landing, etc…) So after all of this time, to get first glimpse of the Mad King, to see the last Targaryen king that ever sat on the Iron Throne as he screams to “burn them all” was powerful to say the least. In conjunction with seeing the Mad King, we see his maestars pouring the green wildfire that he often used to burn people alive (the same wildfire that we saw Tyrion use to fend off Stannis during the Battle of Blackwater Bay). And as if all of that was not enough, we actually got to see the moment that Jaime earned his infamous nickname of Kingslayer as he puts his sword into the back of the Mad King.

These were pretty incredible images to see and it cannot be understated the importance that these events had upon setting in motion the story we are seeing today. The overthrowing of the Mad King changed everything for just about everybody, and set up the Game of Thrones. One last image we saw that was less clear is an image of what looks to be a bloody hand touching a wounded body. We saw this image just after Bran saw the young Ned Stark ask where his sister was at the Tower of Joy. I’m guessing that this is an image that we’ll see more of, as Ned arrives to his sister Lyanna to find her dying. This would also add more firepower to the R+L=J theory, assuming that Ned may find his sister dying (along with the baby that she had with Rhaegar Targaryen), and decides to save the baby that will go on to be Jon Snow.

Another significant vision that Bran has, which we’ve seen before, is the shadow of a dragon flying over King’s Landing (seen below). We’ve seen this in Bran’s earlier visions from seasons past, so it seems like it’s just a matter of time until Khaleesi makes her way to Westeros and sees her dragons fly over King’s Landing.

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And as if all of that amazingness isn’t enough for the opening scene, there’s much more to come. Bran regains consciousness and tells Meera that they’ve been found. What I loved about this moment was the calmness with which Bran tells Meera. He was not panicked or scared — those are mere human emotions. And while Bran is of course still human, he’s on his journey to becoming something much greater. He is taking steps towards becoming all-knowing, and even as they are found by the wights, Bran is calm and seems to know that everything will be okay. And boy was he right.

Just like that, a dark figure wielding a fire-mace weapon comes out of nowhere to fight off the wights and save Bran and Meera. And who else could it be but Uncle Benjen — or at least a semi-alive/semi-wight version of Uncle Benjen. But before we get into what happened to Uncle Benjen and what this might mean, let’s refresh on who Benjen was. Benjen Stark was the younger brother of Ned, and in Bran’s visions we’ve recently seen him and Ned as young boys. After Ned came of age and became Lord of Winterfell as the eldest Stark, Benjen joined the Night’s Watch to protect the realm. He quickly rose in the ranks and became First Ranger, a position responsible for leading explorations north of the Wall. 63 episodes ago, in the third episode of the first season, Benjen goes north of the Wall to investigate claims of White Walkers, but he never returns. He is presumed dead after this much time, though many of my posts have hypothesized that he is still out there somewhere and will return at a significant time. 63 episodes later, Benjen makes his return to save his nephew Bran…Though he’s not the same Benjen.

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This Benjen has a cold, white face, looking semi-dead. Well, that’s because he is kind of somewhat dead. He explains to Bran that he went north of the Wall to find the White Walkers, only the White Walkers found them first. One of the White Walkers plunged his icy sword into Benjen, which would’ve resulted in his death and his turning into a wight. But the Children of the Forest intervened and saved Benjen by inserting dragonglass into his heart (the same magic in reverse as when we saw them create the first White Walker by inserting dragonglass into his heart). This is a very important piece of information, because it teaches us that there is a way to perhaps stop the White Walkers from growing their army of the dead, and to even perhaps bring those who are already dead back to life. The Children’s magic resulted in Benjen staying alive, and presumably working with the Children of the Forest and the Three Eyed Raven over the last five years to become some sort of White-Walker assassin. Benjen seems to know what’s going on, and tells Bran that when the Night King comes for Bran, Bran will be ready.

Finding out that Benjen is still alive all this time later was a huge reveal. Finding out what happened to him, and learning that he will now join Bran in his mission is even bigger. It’s also very significant, as it comes at a time when Bran really needs some support besides just Meera. I am very excited to see Bran and Benjen join forces to take down the White Walkers. But before we totally move on from Benjen, let’s talk about Cold Hands. For non-book-readers, you’ve never heard of Cold Hands, so allow me to share this tidbit with you. And for book-readers, seeing Benjen emerge and appearing to be Cold Hands gives his presence in this episode whole new meaning.

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Very early on in the books, a character emerges in the deep north called Cold Hands. He is a dark, shadowy figure that appears to be somewhat dead, and earns the name Cold Hands…well due to his cold, deathly hands. He is a significant character as he helps Bran on his journey much earlier in the story, assisting him in finding the Three Eyed Raven. He also intercepts Sam and Gilly early in the journey north and helps them as well. He was one of the more mysterious characters in the books, but the show completely left him out altogether. Bookreaders have often wondered who or what Cold Hands was, and if he’d ever return. Some hypothesized that Cold Hands could be Benjen, as it would make sense since Benjen disappeared in the deep north and could be this dark mysterious character that is helping Bran in his journey in the north. Well, it seems like there were some pretty clear answers here. Though the show did not mention the name Cold Hands or explicitly connect the dots, Benjen’s appearance and also the fact that he is semi-dead matches the description of Cold Hands perfectly. Maybe Cold Hands will turn out to be Benjen in the books. Or, maybe the show, as it often does, is taking some liberties and blurring the lines between the two characters by turning them into the same one. In any event, it’s pretty clear that the show is confirming Benjen as cold hands, that dark and mysterious character that had helped Bran along his journey much earlier on in the books, and is now doing so in the show. I am very interested to learn exactly what Benjen has been doing for the last five years and how advanced his White-Walker-killing powers are.

SAM & GILLY

Further south, Samwell and Gilly arrive to Sam’s home of Horn Hill. As Sam had mentioned many times throughout seasons past, his father is a powerful man and House Tarly is a prominent house of Westeros. Things appear well at first, with Sam’s mother pleased to see them both. But everything goes sour pretty quickly as Sam’s father does indeed appear to be the hateful and cruel man that Sam had cracked him up to be for many seasons. Watching him treat his own son with such cruelty reminded me scenes between Tywin and Tyrion, where it was unfathomable how a father could loathe their own son to such a great extent. I was really hoping that Sam would stand up for himself — after all, as Gilly pointed out, Sam killed not only a Then wildling, but also a freekin’ White Walker! What have you done Lord Tarly? Hunt a few boar?

Anyway, that didn’t happen, and Sam got chewed out pretty bad by his dad. But at least Sam took a stand, and decided that he would not split with Gilly or the baby, and that they’d stick together. Before leaving Horn Hill, Sam made a bold move and decided to take Heartsbane, the Valyrian steel sword that has been in his family for many centuries. As we know, swords in this show are very significant, especially ones that have names (and are generally Valyrian steel). Ice was Ned Stark’s sword, which eventually ended in the hands of Lord Tywin, who melted it down into two smaller Valyrian steel swords, one of which Brienne now has (Jaime gave it to her). Longclaw was Lord Commander Mormont’s Valyrian steel sword and he eventually gave it to Jon Snow. Heartsbane is one of the other significant Valyrian swords, and these swords should become all the more important as the war against the White Walkers becomes more prominent (we know that Valyrian steel can take down a White Walker after Jon Snow killed one at Hardhome last season). So, keep an eye on these beautiful Valyrian steel swords, and take not of who possesses them.

KING’S LANDING

In my least favorite storyline, things take an interesting turn in King’s Landing, as Margaery comes around to the High Sparrow and starts to see things his way. What’s more, she is able to convince Tommen to do the same. My money says that Margaery has not actually become a devout woman, and that she is manipulating Tommen to buy into the High Sparrow’s rhetoric. By doing so, and bringing the crown and the High Sparrow together, Margaery is weakening the position of House Lannister, which ultimately still remains an enemy to House Tyrell. Her reasoning worked out well for her, as we see Tommen relieve Jaime of his rank of Lord Commander of the King’s Guard. Needless to say, Jaime is furious and wants to kill the High Sparrow, though Cercei reminds him that he will probably die if he does this, and they need to stay alive for each other so they can strategically take down their enemies and restore glory to House Lannister.

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Cercei reminds Jaime that her trial is coming up but that she will demand a trial by combat and the Mountain will be her champion. The trial by combats we’ve seen to date have all been highly entertaining, most notably the last one that included the Mountain (vs the Red Viper), and actually was the reason that the Mountain is the way he is today. It should be quite exciting to see the Mountain fight in another trial by combat, assuming he does. It will also be interesting to consider who the hell would step in to fight against him?

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Last, but not least, Cercei tells Jaime that he should follow the orders of King Tommen and go to retake Riverrun from the Blackfish. We also see Walder Frey, in the same hall where he executed the Red Wedding, telling his sons to do the same and to take back Riverrun from the Blackfish. Walder Frey also mentions that the Brotherhood Without Banners has been raiding the Riverlands, causing additional difficulty for House Frey. We haven’t seen the Brotherhood Without Banners, led by Thoros of Myr and Beric Dondarrion, in quite some time, so it was exciting to hear their mention and hopefully we’ll see them soon.

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Thoros of Myr, saving Beric Dondarrion, both of who lead the Brotherhood Without Banners

The Frey sons tell Walder Frey that they do not have enough men, so it’ll be interesting to see just how large Blackfish’s army is. In any event, it seems like the Freys and Jaime are both headed for Riverrun. But they aren’t the only ones — let’s not forget that in last week’s episode, Sansa sent Brienne to Riverrun to speak with Blackfish and to hopefully unite forces. Which makes us wonder — will Jaime and Brienne reunite at Riverrun? If so, it should be quite interesting, consider that they’ll be on opposite ends of this fight. Brienne will be going to Riverrun as an ally of Blackfish, while Jaime will be going there as an enemy to retake Riverrun from him. Brienne and Jaime became quite close, Jaime even risked his life to save her, so perhaps there will be a middle-ground that can be found and the microcosm of the relationship between these two characters can bring a greater good to the sides that they represent. Oh, and one more note — we saw in this episode that Walder Frey still has Edmure Tully alive and has been holding him prisoner since his wedding night (the Red Wedding).

WHO IS A GIRL?

Talk about an identity crisis… Is Arya more confused than ever? Or has she perhaps finally found clarity as to who she wants to be? It seems like the latter. For a very long time, Arya was having trouble shaking her identity of Arya Stark, even as the Faceless Men trained her to do so. And finally, we saw a major breakthrough, as Arya was offered her vision back if she would say that she was Arya Stark, but she refused to do so, insisting that she was nobody. Then, going even a step further, to truly become nobody, Arya was willing to drink the poison and risk her own life. So, it seemed like after so many seasons of training to rid herself of her identity, she finally had done so and was willing to become nobody.

Then, just like that, Arya decides otherwise and doesn’t go through with her orders to execute Lady Krane. The dialogue between Lady Krane and Arya was very important and made Arya realize who she truly is. When Lady Krane asked Arya how she would change the play, Arya responds that the queen (Cercei) wouldn’t just be sad at the the loss of her son — she would be angry and want revenge against those who took him from her before she got to say goodbye. Of course, we know that Arya is really relating this back to herself, and the father, brother and others whom were taken from her before she got to say goodbye. Lady Krane then tells Arya that she has “very expressive eyes” and asks her if she likes to pretend to be other people (alluding to becoming an actress). Arya, who for quite some time had lost her eyes due to the Faceless Men, is now realizing the power of seeing things through her own eyes. And perhaps Lady Krane’s question about whether Arya would enjoy being other people made Arya realize that she did not want to wear other peoples faces and pretend to be other people. She wants her own face. She wants to see things through her own eyes. She wants to be herself — Arya Stark.

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I am definitely not complaining. Arya was one of my favorite characters and it was Arya’s identity — her sense of self — and her desire to avenge those who wronged her, that made her such a great character. Slowly, most of that had been stripped away from her as she stepped closer to becoming nobody. But who wants to be nobody? So now, it seems like Arya is on track to become Arya again. Maybe a different, smarter Arya — but Arya none the less. An Arya that now has more advanced training in the ways of the Faceless Men. And what could be more symbolic of this than Arya going back to retrieve her trademark sword, Needle. As Jaqen learns that Arya has failed in her mission, he gives the girl the green light to kill Arya, but tells her not to make her suffer. Little do either of them know, that Arya is waiting in the dark with Needle, prepared to take down the girl that has beaten her for so many seasons now. It seems that the real Arya has reemerged and remembered who she truly is — after all, she still has names on her list and Stark siblings in Westeros that could use her more now than ever.

KHALEESI THE CONQUEROR

In the final scene, we see Khaleesi riding next to Daario, with all of the Khal’s at her back. Each Khal leads thousands of Dothraki, and you add that to the army of Unsullied and Second Sons that she already has, plus three dragons, and you can’t blame Daario for telling Khaleesi that it is time for her to be the conqueror that she was meant to be. But, Daario also points out that Khaleesi wasn’t meant to just sit on a throne, which begs the question — what will Khaleesi do after she conquers? In any event, Khaleesi mentions riding across the Narrow Sea to arrive at Westeros, and Daario tells her that she’ll need about 1,000 ships, the  same exact number that Euron Greyjoy has set out to build. Maybe they will join forces after all, as Euron has planned. Khaleesi’s time on Easteros could be winding down, and my guess is that we may see her cross the Narrow Sea this season, perhaps in the finale episode.

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Before the episode comes to a close, Khaleesi rides off, seeming to apparently sense that Drogon was nearby. And after a moment, she returns, on the back of Drogon who appears larger than ever. I’m not quite sure where Drogon came from, or how Khaleesi knew he was nearby. And I was kind of left scratching my head, thinking to myself “why now?” We’ve seen Khaleesi ride on the back of Drogon before. We’ve also seen Khaleesi give a similar speech to inspire her followers. Both times we saw these things, they seemed to have more purpose. So why show us all of this again? It was kind of an anti-climatic finish to an action-packed episode. But, I guess the fact that Khaleesi is getting closer than ever to reaching Westeros was the main takeaway here. I hope she doesn’t take anymore steps backwards or get sidetracked with the slave cities of Easteros — time to look to the west.

SEASON 5, EPISODE 9: THE DANCE OF DRAGONS

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

FIRE, FIRE AND MORE FIRE

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

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

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

DESPERATE TIMES CALL FOR DESPERATE MEASURES

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

Melisandre looks on as Shireen burns

Melisandre looks on as Shireen burns

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

Shireen is tied up

Shireen is tied up

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

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

Stannis and his wife look on as their daughter burns

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

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

THE MOTHER OF DRAGONS & KHALEESI’S NEW CREW

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

crew

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

Khaleesi and Drogon

EVERYTHING ELSE

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

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

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

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

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

Season 5, Episode 5: Kill the Boy

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

OLD VALYRIA!!!

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

The ruins of Old Valyria

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

Screen shot 2015-05-11 at 2.25.23 AM

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

Valyrians use magic to tame dragons

Valyrians use magic to tame dragons

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Doom of Valyria

The Doom of Valyria

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

Drogon flies over the Valyrian ruins

Drogon flies over the Valyrian ruins

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

tyrion

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

The Stone Men

The Stone Men

EVERYTHING ELSE

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE TRUTH OF EACH CHARACTER

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

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

ARYA IS MORE FEARLESS THAN EVER

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

coin

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

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

titan

Arya arrives to Braavos, passing under the Titan of Braavos

BRIENNE THE OATHKEEPER

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

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

Brienne and Baelish

Brienne and Baelish

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

KING’S LANDING

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

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

Jaime and Cercei

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

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

DORNE

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

Prince Doran Martell of Dorne 

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

MORE PROBLEMS FOR KHALEESI

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

The dead Son of Harpy

The dead Son of the Harpy

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

The ex-slave Khaleesi executes

The ex-slave Khaleesi executes

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

Drogon returns to Khaleesi

Drogon returns to Khaleesi

TYRION AND VARYS

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

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

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

Tyrion and Varys travel to Volantis

Tyrion and Varys travel to Volantis

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

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

THE SMALL COUNCIL GETS SMALLER

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

Cercei and her new Small Council

Cercei and her new Small Council

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

SOME BIG EVENTS AT THE WALL

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

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

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

Stannis offers to make Jon Snow a Stark

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

A GIRL MUST BECOME NOTHING

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

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

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

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

Episode 9 Recap: The Watchers on the Wall

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 WATCHERS ON THE WALL

The episode leading up to a season finale is often more significant than the finale itself. Whereas the finale is tasked with the focus of bringing an end to season, the episode prior has the opportunity to still deliver a some poignant messages, before things come to an end in the finale. And in The Watchers on the Wall, the second to last episode of this season, a powerful experience is exactly what we got as we were immersed in the greatest battle scene of Thrones history.  So powerful a battle that it commanded every second of the episode, quickly making most of us forget about the extraordinarily heart-wrenching death of Prince Oberyn from last week. But why was this battle so significant that it needed to consume the entire 50-minute episode?

For starters, battle scenes are extremely rare in the Thrones world. Although battle may always seem present and the prospect of war is always lurking, it is is a very rare occurrence to actually see the battles that go down. In fact, in nearly 40 episodes, we’ve only seen one true battle — the epic Battle of Blackwater Bay, when Stannis nearly sacked King’s Landing. So, when we do see battle, it is a rare, and generally massive experience.

And all the more so when the battle has been building up for such a long period of time. In this case, the progression of the Wildling siege on the Wall has been developing for dozens of episodes — dating all the way back to early last season when Jon Snow infiltrated the Wildlings to learn of their plans. Compared to how immersed we are in other plot-lines, perhaps we felt removed from the build-up of this battle, probably due to the fact that this entire season we have not seen or heard from Mance Rayder or the army he has been uniting.  Yet, episode after episode we were reminded that war was coming as the Wildlings inched closer to the Wall. And tonight, the multi-season development of the Wildling attack on the Wall reached climax and quickly became very real.

But, beyond the rarity of actually seeing a battle scene in this world, and beyond that this battle had been building up for so long, this episode was meaningful for more profound reasons. As with most everything in this world, the significance of this battle was not the battle itself — but rather the ways in which each character was exposed by the battle. Whether revealing men as cowards or providing them a platform to become heroes; whether demonstrating a man’s purpose or taking from them the person they love — this battle provided a lens through which we were able to see deeper into the soles of each character.

IN THE FACE OF DEATH, WHO WILL WE BECOME?

Most of us will never face imminent death. But what if we were faced with the prospect of realizing that death was so likely and so close for us, how would we react? Who would we become? Death is the great revealer and for the brothers of the Night’s Watch who faced imminent death, these were questions they were forced to answer. And, in the face of death, we saw who each man became — we saw the truth of each character. And therein lies the magic of this episode.

Men like Jon Snow proved their heroism and bravery — the prospect of death was unimportant compared to the duty of protecting the Wall. Fear was not an option and Jon took lead from atop the Wall as he shouted out his first commands. And when it was time to join the fight at the bottom of the Wall, we saw just how skilled a warrior he has become, taking down many Wildlings including Styr.

Ser Alliser Thorne was another of the episode’s heroes, proving himself a worthy commander of the Night’s Watch, at least in battle. As unlikable of a character as he has been, perspective is offered in an episode like this and we see the truth of his character; we quickly forget about his unlikability and only care to respect him for his valor in leading the Night’s Watch and courageously fighting back in the face of death. He took the fight to the much larger Tormund Giantsbane, though he sustained a deadly wound before being dragged away.

Grenn was another hero of the episode, serving Jon Snow loyally and obeying his orders to protect the inner gate. Facing down a giant, Grenn quelled the fears of his brothers and kept them united to fight. And though we do not see the fight scene, we learn that Grenn and the others fought valiantly and gave their lives to protect the gate, while also succeeding in killing the giant. In the face of death, when everything else was stripped away, we saw true greatness in the soles of these men.

On the other hand, we saw the ways in which certain characters were completely crippled by the fear that overtook them. Truly believing that death was so close for him, Pip was unable to fight, and as result, he took one of Ygritte’s arrows to the throat before dying in Samwell’s arms. Even worse, Ser Janos Slynt, a man who was once Lord Commander of the Kingsguard, completely deserted the fight and took cover behind a locked door. He abandoned his vows and his brothers, showing the truth of what he was made of.

THE WILDLING ARMY

For nearly two seasons, we have been hearing about the Wildling army that Mance Rayder has assembled. And we finally got to see it, or rather a small portion of it. We see the giants that Mance was able to get to fight for him and the giant mammoths that they ride. To unite over 90 clans of Wildlings to fight together as one united army is something that nobody has ever been able to do before Mance Rayder. We are reminded of the dialogue last season when Jon Snow asked Mance how he did it, to which he responded, “I told them we would all die if we didn’t get south. It’s the truth.” So, while this battle for the Night’s Watch was about fighting back the Wildlings, for the Wildlings, it’s not really about fighting the Night’s Watch, but rather doing what is necessary to get out of the North. That Mance was able to unite all the Wildlings of the North in their quest to march south is an alarming reminder that Winter is Coming and perhaps the threat of imminent death is coming on a much larger scale.

DEFENDING THE WALL

Another layer to the episode that was particularly gripping was getting to actually see the reality of being The Watchers on the Wall — the absolute last hope and line of defense between the Seven Kingdoms and all the threats that lurk north of the Wall. It was amazing to see the intricacies of the top of the Wall — intricacies that were built by Brandon Stark over 8,000 years ago, using the help of giants and the magic of the Children of the Forest. It was equally special to actually witness the way the Night’s Watch defends the Wall, using tactics and strategies that have been practiced for thousands of years. Prior to this episode, we had understood that this Wall was a defense structure and that the Night’s Watch defends the wall, but we had no idea exactly how the Wall was constructed, especially atop, or the way the Night’s Watch actually protects the Wall. We finally got to see the Night’s Watch defend the Wall from the rare position of being 700 feet in the sky.

LOVE IS THE DEATH OF DUTY

Even in an action-packed episode depicting a bloody battle, love finds its way in. Samwell is discovered reading about the Wildlings, fearful of what they have done to Gilly after they raided the brothel in Mole’s Town where she had been staying. Maestar Aemon tells Samwell that “Love is the death of duty,” suggesting that one cannot love a woman and also be dutiful to the Night’s Watch. Maestar Aemon goes on to speak of a girl that he once loved and the vision of her that he still holds on to. As a man who cannot see the world around him, Maestar Aemon tells Samwell that the visual memory of the girl he once loved is in fact more real to him than is Samwell. Maestar Aemon also re-reveals that he is a Targaryen and that he was next in line to be a Targaryen king, yet he passed to become a maestar. Though this had been subtly revealed to viewers already, most were probably unaware that he was a Targaryen. Maestar Aemon was the uncle of the Mad King and is great uncle to Khaleesi, but he is so old and has been so far away at the Wall for so many years that most are completely unaware that he is a living Targaryen. For viewers, previously, it was thought that Khaleesi was the last living Targaryen — it is interesting to consider the potential implications of the reveal that she in fact has a great uncle alive on Westeros.

At that moment, Samwell has chosen love over duty. Or rather, love had chosen him. But perhaps Maestar Aemon’s wise words change this, as he tells Gilly that he must go join the fight after the two reunite. What is most revealing is his reason for joining the battle with the rest. He tells Gilly, “I made a promise to the brothers of the Night’s Watch. I have to keep it because that’s what men do.” In this one line, the entire truth of Samwell’s character is established — he is merely a boy on a quest to become a man. He does not join the fight out of bravery or wanting to defend the Wall. He joins because honoring an oath is what men do. And he is desperately trying becoming a man. Once he has this realization and kisses Gilly, everything has changed for him. He tells Pip that in the moment he killed a White Walker, he had no fear because he was nothing — and when you’re nothing, you have nothing to lose or fear. But now, in this battle he has fear, as he tells Pip, “I am no longer nothing.”

Unlike Samwell who at moments chose love over duty, Jon Snow has chosen duty over love. Sadly, Ygritte has chosen love over duty, and for this love, she gives her life. Despite all her talk of killing Jon Snow, when faced with the opportunity, she was unable to kill the man she loved. And with the kind of irony that can only be found in the Thrones world, we see that the arrow that kills her is shot by Olly, the unlikeliest of people — the young boy who had picked up a weapon on Samwell’s recommendation. And as Jon Snow holds the woman he loves and she takes her last dying breaths, the entire scene makes a powerful shift from a massive battle being fought by hundreds, to the world of just two people. We are brought into Jon’s consciousness as everything around him is faded out and we must watch the sadly beautiful scene of him holding the woman he loves as she dies in his arms, telling him that she wished they just stayed in the cave.

The death of Ygritte is particularly heart-wrenching because of how special the love was between her and Jon Snow, and the opportunity they had to act on their love and leave everything else behind. After meeting her, Jon Snow could have, and should have disappeared to spend the rest of his life with the woman he knew he loved. But, in a world where most people would fight for love, Jon Snow’s nature was to fight for duty over love. Sadly, Ygritte would have abandoned her duty to the Wildlings in a heartbeat to live a life with the man she loved. Though brave and valiant, Jon Snow was naive in the way he believed he needed to honor all the codes and oaths — things that Ygritte viewed as just words. How could these words be more important than love? And it was this naivety that Ygritte was probably referring to all the times she said, “You know nothing, Jon Snow.”

A DEPLETED NIGHT’S WATCH

In the aftermath of this bloody battle, we see just how undermanned the Night’s Watch truly is, and how unprepared they are to fight back the Wildling army. Once a great and powerful order, at the time of its formation, the Watch is said to have had 10,000 men that manned 19 castles along the Wall. Today, their numbers have dwindled down to less than 100. Though the Wall was built after the Long Night, over the next 8,000 years, the White Walkers never really came. Over time, people began to doubt the true existence of the White Walkers and the danger of their threat. The Long Night became more myth than truth and the Night’s Watch found themselves defending the realm from Wilding raids, rather than a White Walker invasion. The Seven Kingdoms began to forget the true purpose and importance of the Watch and they received less and less support each year from the rest of Westeros. And now, today, the Night’s Watch, with less than 100 men, is tasked with keeping out the Wildling army of over 100,000. Jon Snow tells Samwell that Mance Rayder was merely testing their defenses and that they have no chance at defeating the Wildlings, who will attack again at nightfall. Jon Snow leaves the Wall to seek out Mance Rayder, as he believes this is the only chance of defeating the Wildlings. Before he leaves, he gives his sword, Longclaw, to Samwell for safekeeping.Where he is going, his sword will do him no good, and he wants to protect the family sword given to him by Lord Commander Mormont.With Jon Snow gone and Ser Alliser badly wounded, who will take leadership of the Night’s Watch? And what is even left to lead?