SEASON 6, EPISODE 7: THE BROKEN MAN

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

THE BROKEN MAN

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

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

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

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

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

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

KING’S LANDING

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

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

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

RIVERRUN

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

jaime

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

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

A NORTH DIVIDED

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

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

snow

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

THEON, YARA (AND KHALEESI?)

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

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

ARYA IS IN TROUBLE

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

arya

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

THE HOUND IS BACK

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

hound

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

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

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Season 5 Recap/Season 6 Primer

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

OVERVIEW

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

faces

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

THE NORTH

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

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

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The Night King raising up his wights

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

STANNIS, MELISANDRE & DAVOS

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

STANNIS

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

SANSA AND THEON

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

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

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

KHALEESI’S NEW CREW IN MEREEN

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

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

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

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Khaleesi and Drogon

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

THE MARTELLS AND THE LANNISTERS

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

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Ellaria & the Sand Snakes

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

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Jaime losing another child to poison

BRAAVOS

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

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Arya killing Ser Meryn Trant

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

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

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KING’S LANDING

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

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

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The Mountain carries Cercei

BAELISH THE SCHEMER

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

BRAN

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

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The 3-eyed raven in the form of a man

OTHER PEOPLE AND PLACES TO KEEP IN MIND

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Season 5, Episode 8: Hardhome

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

THE ONE TRUE GAME

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

JON SNOW LEADS THE FIGHT AGAINST DARKNESS

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

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

Jon Snow approaches Hardhome

Jon Snow approaches Hardhome

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Night King raising up his wights

The Night King raising up his wights

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

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

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

A QUICK RECAP OF EVERYTHING ELSE

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

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

Tyrion before Khaleesi

Tyrion before Khaleesi

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

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

Arya's new identity

Arya’s new identity

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

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

Episode 2 Recap: Lion & the Rose

OVERVIEW

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

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

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

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

THE DWARF, THE CRIPPLE & THE MOTHER OF MADNESS

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

“YOU’RE NOT A BOLTON, YOU’RE A SNOW”

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

Theon, after learning of Robb Stark's death

Theon, after learning of Robb Stark’s death

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

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

THE COST OF LOVE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“IF WE LOSE YOU, WE LOSE EVERYTHING”

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

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

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

The weirwood tree that Bran connects with

The weirwood tree that Bran connects with

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE DEATH OF ANOTHER KING

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

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

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

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

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

Ser Dontos tells Sansa that it's time to leave

Ser Dontos tells Sansa that it’s time to leave