SEASON 7, EPISODE 5: EASTWATCH

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.

EASTWATCH

Without question, Eastwatch was the most important episode in Thrones history. Yes, you read that correctly — let it sink in for a moment. Tonight’s episode was so critical for three reasons: 1) It sets the stage in a major way for the great war that is to come — the only war that matters — the event that will dictate the outcome of this entire saga; 2) There were some HUGE reveals which brought to light some very important things from the past — things that most viewers likely did not register in this extremely fast-paced episode; 3) There were some incredibly important reunions in this episode which bring back events from the past, but also point to what is to come in the future.

If we know anything about Thrones, we know that the penultimate (second to last) episode of each season is the one in which big things go down. Season 1 — Ned’s beheading; Season 2 — The Battle of Blackwater Bay; Season 3 — The Red Wedding; Season 6 — The Battle of the Bastards. All of these major events occurred in the second to last episode of their respective seasons. So gear up, because in this shortened season, the second-to-last episode will arrive next week and we are in for a huge adventure as Jon and Co. venture north of the Wall.

THE AFTERMATH

Last week we saw fire; this week we saw ashes. The episode opens with Jaime and Bronn emerging from the water (surprise, surprise). Jaime immediately realizes the magnitude of the enemy that the Lannisters are facing and doesn’t seem to like his odds. Bronn tells Jaime that he will be long gone before Khaleesi’s dragons burn King’s Landing.

Not too far away, Tyrion surveys the battlefield, or what is left of it. Last week, Tyrion looked on as Khaleesi’s dragons brought fire and blood. Now, this week, Tyrion experiences the ashes and ruins — the death and destruction. To say the least, he doesn’t seem so comfortable with it. But things are about to get worse. The remaining Lannister soldiers are rounded up, offered the choice to bend the knee or face death. Of course, this is a significant event, as it mirrors Aegon’s Conquest, in which he offered the same choice to one kingdom at a time, before eventually uniting them all and establishing the Seven Kingdoms under Targaryen rule.

Most of the men wisely bend the knee, but Randyl Tarly, as well as his son, Dickon, choose honor, even at the cost of death. This is somewhat ironic in that just a few episodes prior, Randyl Tarly objected to serving Cersei and did not want to break his oath to House Tyrell. Now, just a few weeks later, he is willing to die for for Cersei — or better yet — he is willing to die if that is the price of refusing to bend the knee to a foreign invader. His son makes the same choice and Khaleesi lines them up for imminent death. Looking increasingly uncomfortable and wanting to save the lives of these men, Tyrion tries his best to provide an alternative to Khaleesi. He proposes that they send them to The Wall to serve out their days on the Night’s Watch, followed by suggesting that they lock them up in a cell until they agree to bend the knee. His clever words bear no fruit and Khaleesi is firm in her decision; she will give all men the opportunity to bend the knee or die — the choice is theirs.

Just like that, Drogon unleashes a massive ball of fire, engulfing the Tarly men in flames. Just like that, Samwell becomes heir to House Tarly. But there is a bigger takeaway here. The Tarly’s perception of Daenerys as a foreign invader underscores a major issue she will have to face as an overwhelming majority of Westeros will likely see her as the same. If this is the case, it begs some questions: How many people will Khaleesi have to kill, or threaten to kill, in order to secure the fealty of Westeros’ citizens? And is offering somebody the choice to bend the knee or die really much of a choice at all? The actions required for Khaleesi to become queen seem to be at odds with the queen she wants to be and her M.O. of leaving the world a better place than she found it.

DRAGONSTONE

Back at Dragonstone, Khaleesi casually pulls up on her dragon as Jon Snow watches on. As Drogon lands and Khaleesi remains on his back, Drogon locks eyes with Jon and slowly inches closer. One wrong move and Jon could have been set aflame, but he stood his ground and looked deep into the eyes of the dragon. As Drogon comes face to face with him, Jon removes his glove and slowly places a hand against the dragon — a physical connection to cement the deeper connection we see in this scene. In the Thrones world, dragons are said to be extremely intelligent creatures with a keen sense of awareness to the people around them. With this in mind, it is a powerful moment to see Khaleesi’s main dragon see something in Jon Snow.

What’s more, Khaleesi witnesses the entire encounter, and is drawn even closer to Jon Snow as a result. After all, these dragons are Khaleesi’s children, so seeing them connect with Jon is an emotional moment for her. Following this, we see the way she looks at Jon — a look that speaks to a combination of admiration, attraction and possibly love. She seems captivated by Jon, something we’ve not seen from her before, even with Khal Drogo who she married or Daario Naharis who she became intimate with in Mereen. As viewers, we are left scratching our heads and wondering when Jon will find out what we all know — the reason Drogon recognized him is because he is in fact a Targaryen. And not just any Targaryen, but Khaleesi’s nephew. The show is doing a masterful job of building this up and it will certainly be a magical moment when the truth comes to light for Jon and Daenerys.

In an incredibly fast-paced episode, we didn’t even have a moment to let the Drogon/Jon/Khaleesi moment fully sink in, because just like that, Ser Jorah is on the scene. Yes, that’s right, after all this time, Jorah is back in the presence of his beloved Khaleesi, cured and ready to serve his queen. While it was great to see Jorah back where he belongs, I was more interested in the significance of Jon and Jorah now meeting. As we know, Jorah’s father, Jeor Mormont, was the Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch when Jon arrived at The Wall. To say the Lord Commander trained Jon would be a major understatement. From the very moment Jon arrived at The Wall, Lord Commander Mormont knew there was something special about Jon. He believed in him and instilled in Jon the importance of believing in himself — a quality that drives Jon on his challenging journey today. Jon saved the Lord Commander’s life early in season one (against the attack of a wight), and the Lord Commander later gave Jon his epic Valyrian steel sword, Longclaw. At the time, Lord Commander Mormont mentioned that the sword would have gone to his son had he not been exiled from the Seven Kingdoms (Jorah was banished from Westeros for his involvement in slave trade). Little did we know that six years later, Jon, with Longclaw at his side, would meet this son that the Lord Commander had spoken of. In many ways, Lord Commander Mormont was the father Jon never had, which in some ways, makes Jorah the brother he never knew.

Sitting in the Throne room, Tyrion and Varys talk about Khaleesi’s recent victory. Only, it doesn’t feel like a victory. Tyrion has seen too many people die and Varys has no stomach for the destruction that Khaleesi has recently brought to Westeros. Varys implores Tyrion to find a way to make Khaleesi listen to him, underscoring the importance of Tyrion’s role. Khaleesi is walking a fine line between being an inspirational figure and a ruthless invader, and there are very few people that can influence which side of the line she lands on, Tyrion being one of those people.

Later, Khaleesi gathers her entire cabinet as they contemplate their next move. After receiving a raven and learning that Bran and Arya are not only both alive, but home at Winterfell, Jon informs Khaleesi that he must return back to the North. The show moved past this revelation so quickly that it felt entirely unimportant. So to restate the significance — after all these years of thinking two of his siblings were dead, Jon finds out that they are in fact both alive and safe at Winterfell. Though it may have felt like this learning was unimportant to Jon, another way to look at it is that it puts into context the massive significance of the great war that he knows is to come. In other words, it’s not that learning his sibling were alive is unimportant, it’s just that the great war to come is so much more important. How excited can Jon actually get about Arya and Bran being alive, if he knows of the war to come that could quickly take the lives of not only Arya and Bran, but also the rest of humanity.

Jon is now committed to return back to Winterfell to fight the impending war with whatever men he has. He offers Khaleesi to join, but she notes that she cannot join this fight and open up the country for Cersei to retake. Enter Tyrion with a clever strategy. He notes that Cersei believes White Walkers to be nothing more than myth, but if she could be convinced of the imminent threat to the realm, perhaps she can be won over. This sets into motion the mission for Jon Snow to venture north of The Wall to capture a wight so that a soldier of the dead army can be presented to Cersei. But first they would need to know they have an audience with Cersei, something that Ser Davos and Tyrion will work on. But, before Tyrion departs Dragonstone, he reconnects with Ser Jorah, just another one of several meaningful reunions in this episode. Like so many things in this episode, the significance of this moment was quickly glossed over, but don’t look past this moment between Tyrion and Jorah. They spent the better part of an entire season on an adventurous journey together, including their passing through Old Valyria, where they came into contact with the Stone Men (and Jorah contracted Grey Scale). They eventually became separated, and now all of this time later, they are reunited in a position to serve their queen.

KING’S LANDING

Back at good old King’s Landing, Jaime returns to tell his sister of the defeats they’ve suffered at the hands of Daenerys. He reveals that their odds to win this war do not look good and that they should reconsider their position. Cersei makes it clear that she will die fighting before she gives up. Having faced near-certain death, Jaime feels differently, and as viewers, we sensed that a split between Jaime and his sister could be imminent. And then she tells him that she is pregnant with his baby. If there was one thing in the whole world that could be used to bind Jaime to Cersei, it was this — the idea that they are bringing another child into the world — and that Cersei would tell the world it was Jaime’s. Joffrey, Tommen and Myrcella were all Jaime’s children as well, but they were presented to the world as the children of Cersei and Robert Baratheon. As a result, Jaime had to watch his kids grow up, unable to influence their lives in any meaningful way. Though the show does not go into this subject, the books elaborate on the struggle Jaime dealt with, unable to be a father to his own children. So now, learning that they are bringing a new child into the world, and one that he could tell the world is his own, is perhaps the greatest gift Jaime could have ever asked for. And this will be the glue that holds Jaime and Cersei together. Of course, there is the possibility that Cersei made this up, or that there is in fact a child, but that it is not Jaime’s. Either way, for now, Cersei has Jaime exactly where she wants him.

As if we didn’t have enough reunions so far, we see another huge moment when Tyrion comes face to face with his brother, Jaime. There is so much built-up emotion inside both of these characters around what has transpired over the last couple years. Jaime is relieved that he saved his brother years ago, after more recently finding out that it was Lady Olenna who killed Joffrey, not the wrongfully-accused Tyrion. At the same time, some part of him has to regret setting Tyrion free, as that led to Tyrion being able to murder their father. Even more, it led to Tyrion joining sides with Daenerys and becoming Jaime’s de facto enemy. But still, in this moment, Jaime knows, as he always has, that Tyrion has lived a difficult life, one in which he has been punished for things out of his control (the death of his mother at birth and being a dwarf). With tears in his eyes and passion in his voice, Tyrion shows a side of himself that we rarely see, as he pleads his case to Jaime, explaining that their father, Tywin, would have executed him for a crime he knew he did not commit, all because he was a dwarf. In another life, Jaime would have probably loved to have been the caring older brother to console Tyrion in this moment, but in this life, at this moment, that was not possible. In this life, Tyrion is the enemy to Cersei — and Cersei is the mother of Jaime’s unborn child. We do not see how the conversation ends, but Jaime later tells Cersei of his encounter with Tyrion and that Daenerys has requested an audience to present them with proof of the army of the dead. Cersei seems to agree to grant this audience, and notes that if they want to win the war, they will have to outsmart Daenerys. It sounds like she has a trick or two up her sleeve.

While Tyrion, Jaime and Cersei are engaging in their Lannister drama, Ser Davos has other plans in King’s Landing. He heads to Flea Bottom, the slums of King’s Landing, where he lived most of his life. Knowing how to navigate these parts of the city, he quickly finds Gendry, who is back at work crafting swords and other weaponry. It was just a matter of time before we saw Gendry, and I had a million ideas of where he might be since Ser Davos saved him in season three, but King’s Landing never crossed my mind. After Ser Davos risked his life to set Gendry free from Dragonstone (because Lady Melisandre and Stannis were going to sacrifice him), Davos once again risks his life to find him. As if he has been waiting all these years for the day Davos would come back for him, Gendry grabs a bag and is ready to join the fight. But a bag is not all he grabs — he also grabs a war hammer — his preferred weapon of choice. Though we never got to see it in the show, we know from stories that Robert Baratheon also fought with a legendary war hammer. In fact, Robert used his war hammer to defeat Rhaegar Targaryen during the Battle of the Trident (the last major battle before the rebels stormed King’s Landing). As we know, Gendry is the bastard son of Robert, and rather than choosing to fight with a sword, he too will go into battle with a war hammer. Before Tyrion, Davos and Gendry depart, we see Gendry make quick use of his war hammer as he bashes in the skulls of two King’s Guard.

Robert Baratheon defeats Rhaegar Targaryen with his war hammer during the Battle of the Trident

THE CITADEL

Sitting beside a Weirwood tree, Bran has warged into a flock of ravens and has them flying north of The Wall, near Eastwatch by the Sea. It is worth pointing out that in the past, we’ve seen Bran warg into one entity, but not multiple at the same time. Bran’s abilities continue to develop, as he is now able to control an entire flock. To no surprise, Bran sees the army of the dead marching around The Wall, on the sea that has frozen over. This of course supports several things we have seen/heard this season. First, what you might not have noticed in the opening credits, is that the sea to the east of Westeros has completely frozen over. That’s right, the wintery cold that the White Walkers have brought has frozen the entire sea. What does this mean? It means that The Wall is no longer protecting the realm from the White Walkers, as they can now simply go right around it. The image below shows the sea in the opening credits from seasons 1-6, versus the frozen sea that you can see in the opening credits from this season.

Bran’s vision shows us that the army of the dead is in fact marching along this frozen sea. This vision also confirms what The Hound saw in the flames a few episodes back, when he said “I see where The Wall meets the sea. There’s a castle. The dead are marching past it. Thousands of them.” As we see later in the episode, this vision The Hound saw in the flames led them to go to Eastwatch by the Sea, but we’ll touch more upon that later.

After flying over the enormous army of the dead, Bran sees the Night King himself. As the Night King turns his head to see the flock of birds, Bran is shaken from his vision. This is not the first time we’ve seen the Night King do this. It appears as though the Night King is well aware of Bran’s presence and is able to affect Bran once he acknowledges him. As Bran comes out of his vision, he alerts the Maestar that they must send ravens to alert the Seven Kingdoms of what he’s just seen. Moments later, we see Sam at the Citadel as the archmaestar and his top advisers read over the raven they have received from Winterfell. Most believe the message to be fictitious but Sam steps in to convince them that the threat is real. Interesting to note is that these men are supposed to be the most knowledgable and wise of any men in the world, yet they themselves do not believe in the existence of White Walkers. If the most scholarly of men are not open to considering this possibility, we can imagine how the rest of the Seven Kingdoms will react. And though the archmaestar does not dismiss Sam, he also does not act with the urgency that is required.

Sam’s frustration reaching a boiling point, he decides to take matters into his own hands. He steals some important books and scrolls before departing The Citadel with Gilly and the baby. On his way out, he looks back once more to glance at that giant astrolabe object hanging in the middle of The Citadel. I still believe there is going to be a huge reveal about the importance of this object, and that Sam Tarly is ultimately going to be the one narrating the story we are seeing today.

Before Sam leaves, there is a MAJOR REVEAL, which once again, was skipped over incredibly quickly. As Gilly is reading through a book, she asks Sam what an annulment is. Sam explains that it is a process to void a marriage, and Gilly goes on to read from High Septon Maynard’s record book. The book reveals that the High Septon performed a secret annulment in Dorne for Prince Rhaegar, followed by a marriage ceremony to somebody else. What Gilly, the unlikeliest of characters, coincidentally stumbled upon in this book, is a piece of information which has HUGE IMPLICATIONS. Ironically, the implications are for Jon, Sam’s best friend, and Sam was not even focused enough to catch onto the meaning of what Gilly had read.

As we know, Prince Rhaegar was The Mad King’s eldest son (and older brother of Daenerys). Prince Rhaegar was married to Elia Martell (sister of The Red Viper, Prince Oberyn) of Dorne. During Robert’s Rebellion, Rhaegar was killed in battle by Robert, and Elia plus their two babies were eventually murdered by The Mountain (at the orders of Tywin Lannister). Had he not died, Rhaegar would have been next in line to become king of the Seven Kingdoms. But Rhaegar’s character is most significant to this story for an entirely different reason. As we’ve learned through bits and pieces of dialogue, Rhaegar rode off with Lyanna Stark (Ned’s sister) many years ago. Some say it was mutual and that the two were in love, while others claimed Rhaegar kidnapped Lyanna (the latter viewpoint was held by Robert and Ned, which would ultimately be the catalyst for Robert’s Rebellion against the Targaryens). Through Bran’s vision last season, we saw the Tower of Joy, where a young Ned finds his sister dying. She gives the baby (Jon Snow) to Ned and whispers something in his ear — presumably the truth, that Jon’s father is Rhaegar and that Ned must protect Jon. As we know, Ned went on to claim that Jon was his bastard son and concealed that Jon’s father was a Targaryen. So, while we learned that Jon’s parents were Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen, there were still a lot of questions around what happened between Lyanna and Rhaegar. More specifically, the most important question of whether or not Rhaegar raped Lyanna, making Jon a bastard (albeit Rhaegar’s bastard instead of Ned’s), or if Jon was a legitimately conceived Targaryen.

Well, all of that was just answered, as Gilly unknowingly informs us that Rhaegar had a secret annulment performed, voiding his marriage to Elia Martell, followed by a marriage ceremony, which we can assume with near certainty was to Lyanna Stark. This means that Lyanna Stark was no longer Lyanna Stark, but rather Lyanna Targaryen. And more importantly, that Jon is a fully legitimate Targaryen, born to two Targaryen parents who were lawfully married. What’s even more, after Rhaegar, this makes Jon the next in line for the Iron Throne! The normal succession would have been The Mad King –> Rhaegar Targaryen (The Mad King’s Son) –> Jon (Rhaegar’s son). Today, this means that it is actually Jon that has the claim to the Iron Throne, not Daenerys! This is a huge revelation with new knowledge about what happened in the past and implications about how this could affect things moving forward. Based on what we’ve learned, it now seems like the theory that Rhaegar and Lyanna were in love and ran off together, and eventually got married, is a lot more likely than the theory which hypothesizes that Rhaegar kidnapped Lyanna. It is insane to consider that Robert and Ned’s principal reason for starting an entire rebellion was under false pretenses, given that it looks like Lyanna was not in fact kidnapped. That’s right — an entire rebellion which would bring most of the realm into war and cause years of struggle for control of the Iron Throne, was all based on an idea that we are now finding out might be totally erroneous. You would be fair to assume that a revelation of this magnitude would be spelt out explicitly for viewers, but you would also be wrong. Rather, all of this was wrapped up in a 15-second dialogue where Gilly, who we’ve barely seen in ages, stumbles upon this fact that has such enormous meaning.

WINTERFELL

At Winterfell, tension is continuing to build between Arya and Sansa and there was another major reveal around the letter that Arya found. Arya watches on as some of the Northern lords complain to Sansa about Jon’s decisions, namely that he should be in the North and not at Dragonstone. Arya confronts Sansa for not sticking up for Jon and criticizes her older sister for caring too much what other people think. Later in the episode, Arya uses her stealth to spy on Baelish, who she first sees give a coin to an unknown woman, before then seeing him speaking with some of the Northern lords. Finally, she sees him speaking to the Maestar Kressen, who provides Baelish with a message and confirms that it is the only copy of that message. Arya, like us, really wants to know what that message is about, so she breaks into his room and finds the message. But before we go into the contents of that message, let’s remember that after Arya sneaks out of the room, we see Baelish watching on. While we initially thought Arya was outsmarting Baelish, we soon realize that Baelish in fact had the upper hand and that he led Arya to the message he wanted her to find.

Back in episode three of this season, there was a very brief piece of dialogue, which at the time did not seem important. Maestar Kressen mentioned to Baelish that Maestar Luwin kept a copy of every raven scroll. As a reminder, Maestar Luwin was the original Maestar of Winterfell, serving House Stark for many years, until he was killed by Theon when after he sacked Winterfell. In the third episode of this season, the new Maestar — Meastar Kressen — is telling Baelish that the old Maester Luwin kept a record of every raven scroll that was ever sent to Winterfell (see below).

So what does Baelish do with this knowledge? He uses it to his advantage. If only there was some raven scroll that he knew was sent to Winterfell that he could use as part of his game. Well, there is, and it is another example of Thrones incredible ability to tie back an event from many seasons ago into the current day story. All the way back in season one, after Ned was beheaded, Cersei had to decide what to do with Sansa. A young and frightened girl, Sansa of course swore to Cersei that she would be a good wife to Joffrey. Cersei orders Sansa to write a message to Robb, who was King in the North at the time, telling him that he should pledge House Stark’s fealty to King Joffrey. Because she was writing this letter under duress, she of course could not tell Robb the truth about why the Lannisters beheaded Ned or that she was being help captive against her will. Instead, she had to go along with Cersei’s story that Ned was a traitor and also had to pretend that she loved Joffrey. The full message she sent is below, as is a video of the scene from the first season. What is critical to note, is that Baelish was present during this scene and was/is fully aware of this message Sansa was forced to send to Winterfell.

“Robb, I write to you with a heavy heart. Our good king Robert is dead, killed from wounds he took in a boar hunt. Father has been charged with treason. He conspired with Robert’s brothers against my beloved Joffrey and tried to steal his throne. The Lannisters are treating me very well and provide me with every comfort. I beg you: come to King’s Landing, swear fealty to King Joffrey and prevent any strife between the great houses of Lannister and Stark.” — Sansa

Given that Baelish knew Sansa sent this raven to Winterfell, and that Maestar Kressen just informed Baelish a few episodes back that every raven ever sent to Winterfell was kept, Baelish can piece one and one together and deduce that Sansa’s message is lying around somewhere to be found at Winterfell. Then, the question for Baelish simply becomes how he can use this as a tool in his game. And right now, the objective of his game is to take advantage of the tensions he sees mounting between Arya and Sansa. You will recall last week’s episode, when Baelish and Sansa look down at Arya fighting with Brienne. After Arya defeats Brienne, Sansa walks off frustrated and Baelish smirks down at Arya, realizing his opportunity to capitalize off the tensions brewing between the sisters.

So, Baelish has Maestar Kressen bring him the scroll that Sansa sent to Robb many years ago. Though he is fully aware that Sansa sent this message under duress and that these are not her own words, Arya does not have the benefit of this context. As such, getting this scroll in the hands of Arya would further her belief that Sansa is willing to lean away from her own family to gain acceptance and status. It would make her think that Sansa was so desperate to become a noble princess/queen, that she was willing to betray their father and encourage Robb to bend the knee to the Lannisters (remember, Cersei is #1 on Arya’s kill-list, so nothing would make her more angry than believing Sansa would support the Lannisters). So, Baelish pretends that he is not aware that Arya is spying on him and sets the mousetrap for her. Sure enough, she goes for the cheese and reads the message from Sansa. She sees Sansa referring to Joffrey as her “beloved” and also calling their dead father a traitor who tried to steal the throne.

It is also important to remember that Arya’s last memories with Sansa go all the way back to season one. At the time, Sansa was trying to win over Prince Joffrey and this is what Arya probably remembers. Even then, Sansa chose to defend Joffrey over her own sister. The video below shows this, and also is a reminder of Nymeria, Arya’s direwolf, jumping in to save Arya from Joffrey. Interestingly, as a result, Cersei ordered Nymeria to be executed, and to save her wolf, Arya set Nymeria free. In Nymeria’s place, Sansa’s wolf, Lady, was executed. Looking back on this, there was a ton of early foreshadowing even in the first season of the riffs that would build between the sisters.

Now, all these years later, Arya reads a letter that essentially has Sansa throwing their father under the bus and declaring her love for Joffrey and the Lannisters. Coupled with memories from the video above, as well as just seeing Sansa’s failure to defend their brother Jon to the Northern lords, Baelish has successfully planted the perfect seed to put a major wedge between Sansa and Arya. What’s more is that Baelish is fully aware of Arya’s discovery and continues to maintain the upper-hand.

THE DREAM TEAM

Ser Davos arrives with Gendry at Dragonstone and introduces him to Jon Snow. Gendry comes right out and tells Jon that he is the bastard son of Robert Baratheon. Again, we have an incredibly important meeting between two characters. For years, Houses Baratheon and Stark fought alongside one another. Most recently, their “fathers” Ned and Robert fought together during Robert’s Rebellion. Gendry is the last living Baratheon (which is quite significant in and of itself) and he is prepared to fight alongside his “Stark” counterpart. As a sidenote, we see the backdrop of their meeting being the cave where men have begun to mine the Dragonglass that will soon be needed.

Jon, Gendry, Davos and Jorah depart for Eastwatch where they catch up with Tormund. They explain to him their plan to capture a wight to bring it back to Cersei as proof of the army of the dead’s existence. He informs them that they aren’t the only ones who want to go north of The Wall, and brings them down to a cell where Thoros, The Hound and Beric Dondarrion are locked up. And the reunions continue one after the next.

Jon immediately recognizes The Hound, who he saw back in season one when he came to Winterfell as Joffrey’s protection. Beric jumps in to tell Jon that they must go beyond The Wall and that the Lord of Light has commanded it. And yet another reunion as Gendry jumps in, recognizing Thoros and Beric, who sold him to Lady Melisandre, which almost got him killed. Gendry tells Jon not to trust any of them. But before Jon can respond, another set of characters identify each other. Jorah recognizes Thoros of Myr, and though we never saw them on screen together, in the third season, Jorah recounts to Ser Barristan Selmy the story of when Robert’s army laid siege to the Iron Islands during Robert’s Rebellion. Ser Jorah and Thoros fought together during that battle, which is how they know each other. It looks as though they will soon fight together once again. But not just yet. Once Tormund hears that Jorah is a Mormont, he jumps in, realizing that Lord Commander Mormont was his father — a man who killed many of Tormund’s people. In no more than 60 seconds, we see half a dozen characters who have been intertwined over the years, come together and recount a significant amount of history.

Finally, Beric jumps back in and says “Here we all are, at the edge of the world, at the same moment, heading in the same direction for the same reasons. There’s a greater purpose at work and we serve it together, whether we know it or not.” Jon Snow responds, “He’s right. We’re all on the same side. We’re all breathing.” And just like that, one of the greatest crews of all time is assembled. Thoros of Myr who is able to bring people back from the dead; Beric Dondarrion who fights with a flaming sword; The Hound who is just the greatest of all time; Jon Snow who needs no introduction; Tormund who is the bad-ass Wildling leader; Gendry, the last Baratheon, back on the scene with his war hammer; Ser Jorah who is one of the greatest sword-fighters in the land; and of course Ser Davos, who’s not much of a fighter, but a great addition to this already fantastic crew.

If there was ever an unlikely band of characters, this is it. To stop and think about each of these seven characters’ journeys and what it took for them to all come together in this very moment is rather mind-blowing. Yet here they are, united in their realization of the threat that is out there. They are the first line of defense, protecting an entire realm that doesn’t even know it needs protecting. Next week, they will head beyond The Wall to try and capture a wight, but as we saw from Bran’s vision, they are outnumbered by thousands. Buckle up, because there are only eight episodes left until this story comes to a close and next week’s episode is sure to be a wild one.

 

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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.

khaleesi ships

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….