Season 8 Primer: The Beginning of the End

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

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

Targaryens Unite at Dragonstone

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

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

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

The Dream Team Goes Beyond the Wall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Winterfell Reunion

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

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

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

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

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

King’s Landing

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

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

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

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

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

Dany Strikes Back

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

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

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

The Dragonpit Summit

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

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

The End is Near

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some Final Thoughts & Theories

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

What Does the Night King Really Want?

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

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

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

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

Who is the Prince That Was Promised?

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

What’s Up with the Direwolves?

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

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

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

Samwell As The Final Storyteller?

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

Significance of the Spirals We’ve Seen

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

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

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

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

What Did Varys Hear in the Flames?

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

Other Odds and Ends

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

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

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SEASON 7, EPISODE 7: THE DRAGON AND THE WOLF

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

THE DRAGON AND THE WOLF

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

A HOLE IN THE WALL

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

In a story that centers around Ice and Fire, evil and good, light and dark, it is The Wall that symbolizes the fine line between these ever-opposing forces. The Wall was not built yesterday; or a few years ago; or even a few hundred years ago. The Wall was built 8,000 years ago — that’s right — eight-thousand years ago. And it wasn’t built by mere mortals using mundane means. It was built when The Children of the Forest, The First Men and the Giants all came together to fight for their survival against the White Walkers. During The Long Night, the White Walkers brought the longest and darkest winter that Westeros had ever experienced, and they nearly wiped out all life that inhabited the continent. However, The First Men and Children of the Forest banded together to push back the White Walkers, and then built The Wall to keep them out. It is said that Brandon Stark, otherwise known as Brandon the Builder, a legendary architect (and founder of House Stark), had the vision to build The Wall. Using magic from The Children of the Forest and the manpower from many giants, Brandon the Builder successfully built The Wall, which stretched 300 miles across and stood 700-feet tall. After the completion of the The Wall, the Night’s Watch was formed to man the wall and defend the realm from the dead that lurked beyond.

For 8,000 years, The Wall was more than a structure that kept out the dead — it was an indestructible symbol that divided good from evil, light from dark, Ice from Fire. And now, we have just seen that wall fall. A structure that protected the realm for thousands of years has finally been breached, and now, nobody is safe. As the Night King rode on the back of his undead dragon, he unleashed a fury of icy fire that was able to easily reduce The Wall to rubble. What’s important to remember is that The Wall was constructed using powerful magic from The Children of the Forest — magic that has kept the White Walkers out for thousands of years. And since The Wall is more than just ice and is also made up of this magic, it would take more than just ordinary force to destruct The Wall. Which is why the Night King, on the back of a dragon — representing the union of fire and ice — is able to destroy a good chunk of The Wall. Seeing this also again reminds us of the ties that the Night King has to the Children of the Forest. After all, it was the Children that created the Night King in the first place and he has shown to carry some of their magical powers. It then makes perfect sense that he is the one who is able to counteract the power of their magic used to build The Wall as he tears it down.

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

“THE LONE WOLF DIES”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE DRAGON AND THE WOLF

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

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

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

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

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

CERSEI AGAINST THE WORLD

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

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

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

ODDS & ENDS

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

SEASON 7, EPISODE 6: BEYOND THE WALL

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.

BEYOND THE WALL

In typical Thrones fashion, this year’s penultimate episode did not disappoint. As we’ve come to see, the second-to-last episode of each season generally accounts for some of the shows biggest and most dramatic events (i.e. Ned’s beheading, The Battle of Blackwater Bay, The Red Wedding, etc…) But this season’s penultimate episode, entitled Beyond the Wall, took us to entirely new heights. This episode was not just beyond the wall, it was beyond. Period. This behemoth of an episode featured the most significant battle we’ve seen to date — one that brought the all-important entities of fire and ice face to face for the first time. But there was much more. This installment offered the most extended look we’ve ever had into the army of the dead; the biggest dragon scene to date; and this season’s most important moment between two of its most important characters (Jon and Dany). As if all of that was not enough, there were some significant deaths, as well as an awesome surprise entrance from a character we haven’t seen in a while. There was also a crucial reveal about how team humans can possibly defeat team White Walkers in this battle for survival. Oh, and as if all of that was not enough, the Night King now has a dragon to call his own!

FIRE AND ICE

If you don’t yet know that this entire story created by George R.R. Martin is entitled A Song of Ice and Fire, then shame on you. In adapting his multi-book series for TV, HBO decided that Game of Thrones (which was the title of the first book in this series) would be more marketable. And while the latter may roll off the tongue a bit better, there is one pitfall — the importance of fire and ice gets lost. The Game of Thrones titles makes it seem as though this story is ultimately about a game whose winner will ascend the Iron Throne. And while that was the game being played in the first few books/seasons (and to some extent still is), we know that the endgame here is something much greater, which is what the title of the series spoke to. Kings and thrones are insignificant in the face of fire vs ice, light vs darkness, good vs evil. And though the show has obviously made it quite clear, especially as the story has progressed, that fire and ice is where this whole thing is headed, it still seemed unclear how and when these opposing elements would face off.

Well, heading into tonight’s episode, there were just seven episodes remaining, so we knew it couldn’t be too much longer. Yet still, I’m not sure anybody was wagering that this episode would bring a full-on collision between fiery dragons and icy White Walkers. But that’s precisely what we got as Dany flies her dragons into the deep north to save Jon and the Dream Team from certain death at the hands of the army of the dead. And boy was it a powerful sight to see.

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Hitting rewind for a moment, Jon and company venture into the deep north on their quest to find a wight. I get questions each week about what a wight is, so let’s quickly clear this one up. In the show, the wights are the undead zombies which account for most of the army of the dead. The wights are led by the more powerful and mythical White Walker creatures. If it seems confusing that the story would refer to the zombies as wights and their leaders as White Walkers, given that wights/Whites sound the same, well, it is. But, in the books, this confusion did not exist, as the White Walkers were called The Others. So, in the books, you had wights (zombies) being led by The Others. After the hit show Lost popularized the moniker The Others, referring to the other inhabitants of the island, HBO decided not to use the term The Others and came up with a new name for them — The White Walkers. So, today you have the wights and the White Walkers. But let’s get back to more important things.

Jon and squad don’t make it too far north before a run-in with an enormous undead bear. Because the bear has been turned by the White Walkers, it is uncharacteristically aggressive in its pursuit to kill the humans. But, the bear being turned does not explain its size — so it was pretty cool to see how big this bear was (more like a mini dinosaur). It was our first time seeing a creature like this in Thrones and builds on some of the other unusually large/mythical creatures we’ve seen (giants, direwolves, dragons, etc…) As the team bands together to fight off the bear, Thoros gets pinned down and The Hound is the closest one able to assist. Underscoring the juxtaposition of fire and ice, The Hound was literally frozen by the fire and we see that his fear of the flames still runs deep. As a result, Thoros gets badly mauled, though not killed, as Beric cauterizes his wound.

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Fast forward, Jon and company find themselves deserted on an island of ice, surrounded by not only thousands of wights, but also the Night King and his highest-ranking White Walkers. After Jon instructed Gendry to run back to Eastwatch to send a raven to Daenerys, the table was set, and it all of a sudden became entirely feasible that fire would meeting ice very soon. As night turns into day, the men wake up to find themselves still surrounded, only now with one less man. Thoros has not survived the night and Beric sets his corpse aflame to prevent the White Walkers from being able to turn him into a wight. I found it somewhat strange that the story had Thoros surviving the bear attack, only to die the next morning. In any event, it was sad to see Thoros go and he was definitely one of the more enjoyable characters of the show — a man who fought for those who could not fight for themselves — and a man who ultimately gave his life to serve what he believed to be a greater purpose. Most significant, this means that whatever role Beric is to play, he must make this life count as he likely will not have another to live. Thoros is no longer around to bring him back to life as he has done many times in the past, underscoring once again, that this story is nearing its end.

The Hound had already lost some points in my book for not saving Thoros from the bear. He now loses additional points for deciding that it would be a wise idea to start throwing rocks at the wights. Sure enough, the wights realize that the water has frozen back over and they can now resume their attack on Jon and company. Somehow, this single-digit group of men are able to fight off what felt like several hundred wights. While I was ecstatic to not see any more of them die, there were points where they appeared so engulfed by a sea of wights that it seemed unrealistic for them to survive, yet they somehow continued to fight them off. No doubt, we got to see the fighting prowess of each of these men — some of the realms greatest warriors, assembled together, each fighting with their weapon of choice. And though The Hound made some poor decisions in this episode, he’s back in my good graces after saving Tormund from what looked like a certain death. I’m not sure I could have handled losing Thoros and Tormund all in one episode.

Though they were able to fight off hundreds of wights, no matter how many they killed, more kept coming. Eventually, they were completely surrounded, and we went into a slow motion sequence where everything quieted down. This sequence was mostly focused on Jon and offered a slower, more focused vantage point of what it might feel like to acknowledge the imminent death that you and your men are facing. We saw a very similar sequence in the Battle of the Bastards when everything slowed down for Jon and it seemed like their defeat was certain. But just as Jon and his men were saved in the Battle of the Bastards by a surprise entrance, the same would happen in this battle, as Daenerys arrives with all three of her dragons and sets everything ablaze.

Her powerful flames engulf the wights by the hundreds, if not thousands, and in that moment, fire finally meets ice. For the first time, we see with our own eyes what we’ve been imagining for so long — how the dragons will ultimately help to defeat the army of the dead. Things are looking great for the good guys (well, I will pause on calling them the good guys, because that implies that the Night King and White Walkers are bad guys, and I believe it’s too early to determine that given that we don’t truly understand the Night King and what he is trying to achieve yet. But we’ll save that for another time). Everything changes as the Night King picks up his ice spear and takes down one of Daenerys’ dragons, Viserion, from what seemed like hundreds of yards away. The Night King must have been spending some serious bro-time with Tom Brady, because that dragon was hundreds of yards away and flying at a pretty high elevation.

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

When Jon does reemerge from the water, he is frozen stiff and appears to have no chance at fighting off the new pack of wights that are headed his way. Not to fear, Uncle Benjen is here. We hadn’t seen Benjen since last season when he had to part ways with Bran because he could not pass through The Wall. At the time, he explained that the dead cannot pass through The Wall, due to powerful magic The Children of the Forest used in helping to build The Wall, thus confirming he was in fact technically dead. When Bran asked him what he would do, he confirmed that he would continue to fight off the dead for as long as he could, and in this episode, he made good on his word. Fighting with his flaming ball-and-chain, Benjen takes out a bunch of the wights and buys Jon just enough time to escape back to Eastwatch. Benjen is consumed by the wights and the assumption is now that he is fully dead…Or maybe he will be turned into a wight… But safe to assume he’s gone as the Uncle Benjen we know. What was most significant, and also most sad about this, is that Uncle Benjen (Ned’s brother) and Jon Snow were very close. Uncle Benjen was a big reason that Jon joined the Night’s Watch in the first place, and when Benjen went missing north of The Wall in the first season, Jon tried to go after him. Ironically, Benjen’s disappearance north of The Wall so many seasons ago is what would turn him into what he is today, and set him on the track to save his nephew when it really counted. Sadly, after all these years, their reunion was just a couple of seconds.

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Jon and Uncle Benjen atop The Wall in Season 1

A SILVER LINING

Coming into this episode, the dragon count was 3-0 in favor of the humans. After this episode, the count is now much more even at 2-1. Whereas the humans once had 3 more dragons, they now only have 1 more. That’s because not only did the Night King take out Viserion, but he wisely turned him into a wight that he will now be able to use in his army. This of course begs a ton of questions about how Viserion will be used and what he will be able to do. Will he now breathe ice instead of fire? Will he be able to freeze over entirely masses of land and kill all life? Will his newfound dragon allow The Night King to quickly and easily fly over The Wall and pose a greater threats to the humans? And how do you kill Viserion? The other wights can be killed by fire, but dragons are immune to fire, so is Valyrian steel/dragonglass the only way kill Viserion? Time will tell, but it raises all kinds of interesting questions. Also, as a sidenote, to turn Viserion into a wight, The Night King placed his hand upon the dead dragon’s snout, much the same as Jon Snow had touched Drogon a couple episodes back.

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No matter which way you slice it, The Night King getting his hands on a dragon is a huge blow to Daenerys and all of humanity. Though the Night King always posed a great threat, Daenerys was always approaching the level of invincibility with three full-grown dragons. But now, the playing field is a lot more level and The Night King may have what he needs to launch a full-blown offensive. All that said, there were some very significant silver linings to be found in this episode, some of which will have huge implications on how this all unfolds.

Silver lining number one: mission accomplished. The men did not go home empty-handed and they achieved what they had set out for — capturing a wight that they could present to Cersei, and presumably anybody else who is a nonbeliever. Arguably, the biggest problem the humans have faced in the great war to come is that they simply do not know it is coming. Jon Snow and a few others have been trying to spread the word, but most of the realm still regards the entire thing as mythology. But now, they have hard proof and it will be interesting to see how people react.

Silver lining number two: a very significant reveal about how the humans can possibly win this war. We knew a few things coming into this episode: 1) White Walkers can be killed with Valyrian steel or dragonglass; 2) wights can be killed with either of those, but are best defeated with fire. What we did not know, and learned tonight, is that there is some sort of link between White Walkers and wights, and killing a White Walker can actually take out many more wights in one fell swoop. As Jon battled and eventually defeated a White Walker, we saw several wights around him collapse and crumble. The assumption is that if you take out a White Walker, so too are you killing the wights that White Walker had turned. This is critical as it implies that killing a few hundred or even a few dozen White Walkers could wipe out a huge volume of the army of the dead. But what was even more significant, was Beric’s assertion that perhaps taking out The Night King would wipe out all the White Walkers and wights at once. We don’t know if this is true, but perhaps we just learned how this entire war can be won.

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Silver lining number three: Jon and Dany are in a great place. It was no secret that something was brewing between these two, yet Dany was still quite focused on fighting Cersei for the Iron Throne and wasn’t totally sure how credible Jon’s claims were regarding the army of the dead. But now, Dany has seen the threat with her own two eyes. What’s more, she’s lost one of her children at the hands of the Night King, so she is now more invested in this war than anybody. Alignment between Jon and Dany as it pertains to them coming together to defeat the Night King is absolutely huge.

But that’s not where the alignment stops. The emotions and potential romance continued to elevate in this episode and the two even ended up in a bed together, holding hands. Jon has declared Dany his queen, after an interesting dialogue with Tormund earlier in the episode where Tormund reminded Jon of Mance Rayder, the king of the Wildlings, who refused to bend the knee to any southern ruler. Tormund reminds Jon that Mance’s pride ultimately got him killed. Jon takes this advice to heart and decides that others must see the greatness that he sees in Dany. No doubt, he will face real backlash, especially amongst the Northerners, who view House Targaryen as definitive enemies. This should set up for a very interesting dynamic in the North, and the potential that the Northerns choose to no longer follow Jon, opening the door for a new Northern leader, which plays right into the Arya-Sansa drama we are seeing unfold — but more on that in just a bit.

One other thing to point out is that it was not just Jon that is buying into Dany and declaring her his queen, but also she that is buying more into him, especially after she sees the wounds that he sustained when he was murdered. Recall that in the fist scene they met, Ser Davos mentioned that Jon Snow was brought back from the dead, and Dany took particular interest to this. When she asked about it, Jon made it seem like he was not really brought back from the dead and that Ser Davos was embellishing. Just last episode, Dany asked Jon about this again, but before he could respond, Ser Jorah returned and stole the spotlight. Now, she is seeing first-hand the brutal wounds he sustained and she realizes that he did in fact die and come back to life. Ultimately, though Viserion’s death was tragic, you could make the argument that it was a cost well worth paying if it resulted in Jon and Dany coming together the way they did, Jon declaring Dany his queen, and that queen now being fully invested in the war against darkness.

Also, one smaller but additional silver lining is that we got some more color on the “who will be the 3 riders of Dany’s 3 dragons?” As we know, Aegon, alongside his two sisters, rode their three dragons during his Conquest. Many have theorized that there would have to be two additional riders to ride alongside Dany, but that theory now seems to be out the window.

DRAMA IN WINTERFELL

Though it seems much less significant than what we saw unfold north of The Wall, the tensions building at Winterfell will have important implications. After all, don’t forget, Winterfell and The North are one of the first lines of defense south of The Wall. So, if the White Walkers do pass through The Wall, Winterfell is one of the first places they will reach. Having a definitive leader at Winterfell who can unite The North will be critical. And that’s the opposite of what we are seeing today.

Picking up on last week’s episode, Sansa and Arya are falling right into Baelish’s trap. Unbeknownst to her, Baelish planted a note for Arya to find which presents Sansa as a Joffrey-loving traitor who was willing to denounce her own father in support of the Lannisters. What we know as viewers (as does Baelish because he was there at the time), is that Sansa was forced to write this latter as she was more or less Cersei’s prisoner. Sansa attempted to plead this case to Arya, though Arya’s mind seems to be made up about who her sister is and where her loyalties lie. Interestingly, the show has seemed to present this conflict much more from Arya’s vantage point than from Sansa’s. Both girls have been through trying times and actually appear to both want to do what’s best for Winterfell, yet the show has made Arya feel like the protagonist who is onto her antagonist sister.

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Just as Baelish had hoped, he is able to find himself in private quarters with Sansa, offering her advice of how to proceed. He notes that Brienne has sworn an oath to protect both sisters, and as such, is a valuable asset to rely upon. Sansa takes this advice and sends Brienne to King’s Landing after her attendance was requested. Brienne objects to going and tells Sansa that she cannot trust the people around her, especially Baelish, even if she is home at Winterfell. Naively, Sansa believes that because she is at home that she is safe. With Brienne gone and Arya and Sansa at odds, Baelish is setting the table for him to make his next move — whatever move that might be.

Another sidenote on Winterfell — where has Bran been as all of this drama is unfolding between his sisters? After all of this time, he has finally returned to Winterfell, so where is he hiding? As an all-knowing being, you would think he’d be able to step in and drop some knowledge on his sisters to help them navigate their issues. Also, speaking of things missing at Winterfell, where the hell is Jon’s wolf, Ghost? We have not seen him this entire season, so keep an eye out for that.

HISTORY THROUGH DIALOGUE

In the first few minutes of their journey north of The Wall, there was some incredibly rich dialogue amongst the men, most of which recounted some important Thrones history. Here’s a recap:

Jon and Jorah talk further about their past as Jon reveals that Jorah’s father had given him Longclaw, a Valyrian steel sword that was meant for Jorah. Jon offers the sword to Jorah, but Jorah admits that he is unworthy. But it is not just Jon that knows Jorah’s father; Jorah also knew Jon’s father (well, he knew the man Jon currently believes to be his father, Ned. Jorah recalls that Ned wanted Jorah executed (which is why he had to flee Westeros and eventually ended up meeting Khaleesi in Essos). You can read more about why Ned wanted him executed here.

Jorah and Thoros recount their time in battle together during Robert’s Rebellion. They fought together for the rebels in a battle where they stormed Pyke (seat of the Iron Islands). History tells that Thoros rode into battle with his flaming sword and helped to win this decisive victory.

Tormund and The Hound end up discussing Brienne, though their interactions with her could not be further apart. Tormund tells The Hound of his affections for Brienne and how he hopes to marry her and have giant children together. Though The Hound does not reveal it, we know that it was Brienne that nearly killed The Hound a few seasons back.

Gendry and Thoros also recall some history as Gendry calls them out for selling him to Lady Melisandre. He tells them what she did to him though they appear to move past it pretty quickly.

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.

 

SEASON 6, EPISODE 9: BATTLE OF THE BASTARDS

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.

BATTLE OF THE BASTARDS

This may not have been the episode we wanted, but it was the episode we needed. After a week’s worth of buildup leading up to the ninth episode, and what feels like years worth of buildup leading to the battle for the North, expectations were sky-high for the Battle of the Bastards. This excitement was heightened even further by the fact that the penultimate (second to last) episode of each season is generally the boldest and most shocking (the ninth episode of previous seasons included the killing of Ned Stark, the Battle of Blackwater Bay, the Red Wedding, etc). So it was no surprise that the Thrones world was hyped like never before for the battle that would pit the beloved Jon Snow and Sansa against the hated Ramsay Bolton, with the future of the North and glory of House Stark/Winterfell on the line. In turn, it was also no surprise that the episode simply didn’t live up to these lofty expectations. But like I said, this may not have been the episode you wanted, but it was certainly the one that we needed.

snow.2jpg

This episode lacked the surprise factor that we’ve come to expect from previous ninth episodes — it was not the beheading of Ned Stark or the Red Wedding massacre, events which nobody saw coming. The battle itself was not glorious, like the Battle of Blackwater Bay that lit up the King’s Landing sky with fantastic green mysterious wildfire. This battle was down and dirty. It was bloody. It was muddy. It exposed the brutal realities of hand-to-hand combat, a form of battle that we haven’t really seen in-depth to date. And to the extent that one of the goals of this episode was to do just that — make you feel the fear, the adrenaline, the rush, the bloody nature of hand-to-hand battle, well then this episode excelled as measured against that goal.

But there was so much more than just bloody battle. In fact, you could argue that the high-points of the episode were found outside the boundaries of the battle altogether. The exchange between Ser Davos and Tormund prior to battle — the most unlikely of characters to have ended up united in their support for Jon Snow. The palpable uneasiness of it being the night before battle, and Jon Snow’s camp not having much of a strategy at all. Jon Snow and Ramsay finally coming face to face as Sansa looks on — the hatred could be felt through the TV screen. These were just some of the moments leading up to the battle itself, which evoked a range of emotion.

Then there is still so many other aspects of the episode to consider. One of the most important, the fact that Sansa totally distrusted Jon Snow and did not reveal the support she had from Baelish and the Knights of the Vale. Good thing this was the case, for if she did reveal this, it is entirely likely that they would’ve gone down with the rest of Jon’s army and the battle would’ve been lost. There was also Sansa finally getting her revenge and symbolically feeding Ramsay back to his dogs. Oh, and let’s not forget finally getting to see the Stark banner fly over Winterfell, as it has for thousands of years. Ser Davos found Princess Shireen’s toy, and is likely onto Melisandre. And then there’s everything that happened in Mereen. In truth, this episode was more important than probably any to date…So again, I remind that this was the episode we needed.

SANSA & JON

A huge piece of this episode which will likely fly under the radar is the fact that Sansa won the battle. She may not have been physically fighting, but it was her newfound attitude which lends her to really trust nobody that ultimately won the battle at a time when all hope was lost. But let’s backtrack for a moment. It is the night before battle and Jon Snow doesn’t have much of a gameplan. He’s outnumbered and even his closest advisors in Ser Davos and Tormund can’t seem to conjure up a plan that makes us feel as though they really stand a chance against the Bolton forces. Jon Snow is so desperate for answers that he pays a visit to Melisandre, who still appears to be in a funk. There’s not much she can tell him, other than that Jon Snow is here for a reason, and that she will bring him back if he dies again, if that is the Lord of Light’s command. Melisandre has been pretty absent from the show as of late, and I thought many episodes back after she revived Jon Snow, that she would fade into the darkness. But, she’s still around, so keep an eye out for what comes next, which will likely involve Ser Davos and his realization that Melisandre was behind the burning of Princess Shireen. But I digress…

Jon Snow can’t seem to muster up a plan, and it is finally Sansa who scolds him for seeking the advice of all his advisors, without turning to her. After all, Sansa lived with Ramsay and knows him better than anybody, wouldn’t Jon Snow want that insight? As it turns out, not really, and see that in many ways, Jon Snow still knows nothing. But he placates and offers her an opportunity to speak, at which point she explains that it will not be Jon Snow laying any trap, but rather Ramsay who will be setting up Jon Snow’s army to fall into his trap. She knows that nobody is better at playing these games than Ramsay, and boy is she right. She also tells Jon that if they are to lose the battle, she will not be taken alive — death is preferable to reassuming her position as Ramsay’s prisoner and play-thing. Jon Snow insists that he will protect her, but Sansa tells him that nobody can protect her…Nobody can protect anybody.

snow rises

What we are really seeing here is the coming of age of Sansa’s character, which we’ve of course been seeing unfold over recent episodes. She was once the foolish, naive little child who only wanted to marry Joffrey and become queen. Well, after years of torture at the hands of Joff and then Ramsay, any semblance of innocence or youth has been taken from her. She’s also been burned by Baelish, who she trusted to protect her after being freed from King’s Landing, only for him to be the one to turn her over to Ramsay. So now, years later, can we blame her from feeling like nobody can protect her, not even her brought-back-to-life brother?

But the depth of her mistrust runs much deeper. In the face of being drastically outnumbered and desperately needing more men, you would think that Sansa might mention the Knights of the Vale so that he could account for them in his battle plan. After all, if he knew he had them as reinforcements, he could’ve planned accordingly and stood a much better chance at defeating the Boltons. But Sansa doesn’t trust Jon. Sansa doesn’t trust anybody. Not only does she not mention the Knights of the Vale, she doesn’t even let on to the fact that she is in touch with Baelish, or that there could be any possibility of additional troops to support their cause. It’s a pretty bold decision on her part, but she did not trust anybody but herself to control these additional troops. They were her last line of protection for when everything else went wrong. And as everything does in fact start to go wrong, we see what a wise decision she made.

Jon Snow does just what Sansa warned him not to — he falls into Ramsay’s trap. Nobody should have to watch a family member die, but sacrificing Rickon would be a price Jon Snow would have to be ready to pay if he wanted to win this battle. But that’s not who Jon Snow is. So he rides out into hostile territory to save his little half-brother, only for Ramsay to put an arrow through Rickon’s heart as Jon Snow took his front-row seat to watch his brother die. At this point, Jon Snow could’ve retreated, but he takes the bait and rides full force towards the Bolton army, one man against thousands. Sure to be slaughtered, the rest of Jon’s army is forced to charge at his back. Of course, the very limited battle strategy they did have was to force the Bolton’s to charge at them — so now they’re totally screwed, all because Jon Snow fell right into Ramsay’s trap, even against the warning of Sansa. And as Jon Snow is thrown from his horse and the Bolton forces are riding full force towards Jon, it looks like he may just die again. But Jon’s army collides full speed with the Bolton cavalry and we feel the immense impact of two forces charging each other full speed to engage in war.

What happens next is about 20 minutes of bloody, brutal, hand-to-hand combat. This wasn’t the movie version of war, where things are organized and tactical, if not predictable. This was the messy, chaotic, fight-for-your-life version of warfare, which was so unbelievably intense, that it was almost difficult to watch. One of the most powerful takeaways for me in this battle was watching Jon Snow fight, free of any fear of death. We always knew Jon Snow was one of the greatest warriors and swordsmen, but like any man, a natural fear of death can inhibit you in a life-threatening war like this. But Jon Snow has died. And been brought back. He believes that he has a purpose, and he is freed from any fear of death. So he fights like no other man on that battlefield — the weight of death has been lifted from him and he knows no fear.

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But that doesn’t mean he is superhuman or supernatural. He eventually gets buried beneath a mound of bodies, and the suspense is overwhelming as we feel the very real possibility that he could die from simply being stampeded and suffocated. But his journey isn’t done, and he rises up, only to find that his depleted forces have been surrounded by Bolton men. In Greek-Trojan style, the Bolton’s form a shielded perimeter, and simply constrict what’s left of Jon’s army, slaughtering them a few at a time. Tormund was prepared to die as he fights with Lord Karstark (once-supporter of House Stark), and eventually kills him by stabbing him in the gut and biting into his throat. But all hope seems lost, and even worse than watching the good guys run almost come to an end, was feeling the emotion of this group of men who now know that their death is imminent. Jon Snow, Tormund, Ser Davos — none of them can do or say anything — they are out of options and out of time.

That is, until Sansa arrives on the scene with Baelish to save the day with the Knights of the Vale, who easily mow down the unsuspecting Bolton troops. We see that Sansa’s distrust of Jon Snow as a commander eventually wins the battle. Her insistency on keeping these resources close to the chest and not telling anybody about them, ensured that the Knights were not swallowed up by the Bolton army, the way the rest of Jon’s army was, and Sansa’s decision saved the day. And just like, Ramsay retreats to hide behind the walls of Winterfell, walls which he believes cannot be sieged. But Jon Snow advances with Wun Wun the giant, who is able to break down the doors of Winterfell, as he is wounded with arrow after arrow. As he serves his fulfills his duty and breaches Winterfell, it is none other than Ramsay who delivers the last arrow to Wun Wun, putting the giant to sleep for good. For context, giants were once powerful creatures that existed north of the Wall for thousands of years, but today there are only a handful left. So, to see Wun Wun die, like we saw some of the Children of the Forest die to save Bran in a recent episode, is sad and powerful. It also speaks to the role that Jon Snow (and likely Bran) will have to play in the greater war that is to come.

wun

With no more games to play, Ramsay challenges Jon to hand-to-hand combat, to which Jon gladly excepts. We once again see that he is totally unbounded by any fear of death, so much so that he throws down his sword and approaches Ramsay as arrows are shot his way. When he gets his hands on Ramsay, he beats him to a pulp, finally looking over at Sansa as to acknowledge that they’ve accomplished what they came for. Winterfell is theirs and Ramsay has been defeated. But Ramsay is not Jon’s to kill, and we see Sansa get her final revenge — the revenge that she has been wanting for so long — as she tells Ramsay that his house will be wiped out and his name will be forgotten. And just like that, Ramsay’s dogs tear him to shreds, as he had done to so many before him. Sansa walks away with a grin on her face, knowing that she has no doubt not only gotten revenge, but also regained some of her freedom, knowing that Ramsay is gone for good. For me personally, I would’ve liked to see Ramsay suffer a bit more. Being torn apart by the hounds is of course an excruciating way to go, but after all the torture, after all the sick and twisted games, after all the terror he inflicted upon Theon, Sansa and so many others, I would’ve surely liked to have seen him tied up and tortured for a while. But, that is not the Stark way, and they have bigger issues to contend with.

The Stark banner once again flies over Winterfell, as it has for thousands of years ago, and the Starks have reclaimed their ancestral home. But what comes next? Well, for starters, Jon and Sansa are going to have to work out their trust issues. The North is still divided, and though they will surely regain a lot of Northern support, they also still have enemies in the North, especially what’s left of some of the houses that chose to back the Boltons. But that’s small potatoes. What really matters is the fact that Winterfell is on front lines with the war against the White Walkers that is heading their way, and nobody is more familiar with this impending war than Jon Snow. Having reclaimed Winterfell, Jon Snow will now have to assemble a much larger army if they are to stand any chance.

There are a lot of question marks about what comes next. Who stays at Winterfell? Who leaves? Who becomes Lord of Winterfell? How does Baelish fit into the picture and what does he actually want? Where is Ghost? Most of this probably will not be tied up in the finale episode next week, as there are larger stories they have to turn back to (Bran, Arya, Cercei/King’s Landing). But for now, we can and should all rejoice in knowing that Ramsay is dead, Jon and Sansa have won the battle and House Stark is back where it belongs — at Winterfell.

KHALEESI, DRAGONS AND A NEW ALLIANCE

As if all of that was not enough, a totally separate and pretty intense battle rages on across the Narrow Sea in Mereen. Picking up where last episode left off, Mereen continues to be assaulted by fiery catapults as Khaleesi and Tyrion discuss their next moves. Khaleesi tells Tyrion that she will use her dragons to burn the slave-cities to the ground. But, Tyrion reminds her that her father, the Mad King, once also planned to burn the city of King’s Landing to the ground. In her father’s plan, like hers, thousands of innocent would have died. It was Tyrion’s brother, Ser Jaime, who prevented that from happening by putting his sword through the back of the Mad King, earning him the honor-less nickname of Kingslayer. In reality, had he not done this, King’s Landing and all those who inhabited it may have been burned to the ground. Drawing an interesting parallel, years later, it is once again a Lannister preventing a Targaryen from burning a city to the ground. However, unlike the Mad King, Khaleesi is receptive to Tyrion’s words, and will settle for simply killing the masters and their army, and letting word spread to the rest of Slaver’s Bay about what happens to anybody who crosses Khaleesi.

dragon

We are once again reminded why Tyrion is there and the value he brings to the table. This was a major building block for the relationship between Khaleesi and Tyrion. Following his plan, Khaleesi rides Drogon and burns the masters’ ships, or at least some of them, while Grey Worm executes two of the three masters, leaving the third to go back home and spread the word of what he has seen. In short, the time for peace-talks and half-measures is over, and Khaleesi, under advisement from Tyrion, burns her enemies to ashes. This was the first time we really see Khaleesi fly on her dragon into battle, but it certainly won’t be the last. We also see her other two dragons join as Khaleesi and her three dragons fly the sky. Wisely, they do not burn all the ships, and they claim many of the masters’ ships for themselves.

tyrion

Speaking of ships, Theon and Yara arrive to Mereen and stand before Khaleesi to plead their case. They explain that they come with the offering of 100 ships and their support for Khaleesi’s claim to the Iron Throne. All they ask in return is that they are allowed to remain leaders and Lords of the Iron Islands. Khaleesi agrees, but explains something very powerful: they will leave the world a better place than they found it. This means that the Ironborn will not be able to go back to their savage ways of raiding the mainland, stealing, raping and pillaging. Yara reminds Khaleesi that this is their way of life, but Khaleesi does not budge on her terms. She also reminds them that all three of their fathers (the Mad King, Lord Tywin and Balon Greyjoy) were ruthless and power-hungry men who brought much evil into the world. The parallels that were drawn between the previous rulers of their powerful houses and the next generation of rulers is very important to consider. What’s more is that this scene is a direct allusion to Aegon Targaryen and his Conquest of the Seven Kingdoms, during which he made very similar pacts with the powerful houses of Westeros. Like Khaleesi did, he granted them lordship and autonomy over their regions of Westeros, so long as they pledged their allegiance to him — the new Targaryen king that would unite all of Westeros for the first time. Those who refused ultimately suffered catastrophic losses. Those who bent the knee (House Stark, House Tully, House Greyjoy, etc) were allowed to live in peace and oversee their lands and smaller-houses autonomously.

Going even a step further, as mentioned above, House Greyjoy was one of the houses that pledged their fealty to Aegon Targaryen. At the time, the evil King Harren Hoare otherwise known as Harren the Black ruled over the Iron Islands and the Riverlands. House Hoare had ruled as kings of the Iron Islands for hundreds of years, and had invaded and conquered much of the western coast of Westeros, including the Riverlands. An oppressive leader, King Harren ruled from his newly built castle, Harrenhal, the strongest castle that Westeros had ever seen. When Aegon Targaryen arrived to Westeros, the first kingdom he sought to overthrow was King Haren and the Iron Islands. At the time, House Greyjoy was a smaller house, but pledged their allegiance to Aegon if he would help them overthrow the oppressive King Harren. When King Harren refused to bend the knee, Aegon and his sisters flew their dragons right over the walls of Harrenhal and destroyed it with fire. Not only did they burn Harrenhal, but they incinerated King Harren Hoare and the entire Hoare bloodline. To this day, Harrenhal appears burnt and black from Aegon’s dragons. As a result of House Greyjoy pledging their allegiance over 300 years ago, Aegon raised House Greyjoy up as lords of the Iron Islands. With this in mind, it is all the more powerful and significant to consider that 300 years later, the Greyjoys are once again pledging their allegiance to a Targaryen leader who is pledging to retake the Seven Kingdoms and award them lordship over the Iron Islands.

greyjoy

This is of course a big win for Yara and Theon, who face a great threat from their Uncle Euron. But, it is also a coup for Khaleesi, who has made her first significant alliance with a major house of the Westeros. With her loyal council, three dragons, armies of the Unsullied and Dothraki, and now the support of House Greyjoy and 100+ ships, things are starting to look pretty good for Khaleesi. My guess is that we won’t see her depart for Westeros until next season, though.

HEADING INTO THE FINALE…

So, heading into the finale, there’s a lot of unfinished business. And unlike previous seasons that had great penultimate episodes with disappointing finales, I think this finale episode will be extremely exciting. So here are a lot of open-ended items, some larger than others, but all good to be thinking about:

  • Bran hasn’t been in quite a few episodes and we’re not quite sure what he’s been up to with Meera and Uncle Benjen. I think we’ll see a major development in his storyline that might shed some more light on the ultimate direction he’s headed and the role he’s to play in the war to come. He’s not all that far from Winterfell, so a possible reuniting with Jon and Sansa is possible, though it seems unlikely.
  • Arya is another character that was not in this last episode, and while I don’t think Khaleesi will yet sail across the Narrow Sea, my guess is that the finale episode will feature Arya returning back to Westeros. It would be pretty special to see her finally make it back to Winterfell and to reunite with Jon Snow — as Jon and Arya were always very close.
  • Perhaps the most important development in the finale episode will take place in King’s Landing, where Ser Loras and Cercei are both due to stand trial. Things will have to come to a head, with Margaery deciding whether or not she will continue to play the High Sparrow’s game, Tommen likely being faced with some important decisions as well, and these very important trials unfolding. After all, let’s not forget the House Tyrell is arguably the most powerful in all of the Seven Kingdoms right now (as measured by wealth, land, standing army, etc) and Ser Loras is heir to Highgarden, so even though he’s been locked up in a cell and off-screen for a while, he’s a very important character. And of course, so is Cercei, but things are looking pretty bleak for her after Tommen outruled trial-by-combat, eliminating her advance of the Mountain. Let’s also remember that Jaime is not in King’s Landing to protect her either, not that he necessarily could anyway. My prediction is that Cercei’s road will come to an end in this finale episode, freeing Jaime from the very thing that has always held him back from being a truly good man — his devotion to Cercei. With her out of the picture, Jaime would be liberated to become the good character that we’ve always wanted him to fully become, and go on to play a larger role in the story to come. It just feels like the days of Jaime and Cercei as a duo are coming to an end.
  • The Hound has joined the Brotherhood Without Banners, and it would be nice to see what direction they’re heading in.
  • There are still two living Stark wolves out there; Jon’s Ghost, which I would’ve expected to see in this battle, and also Arya’s Nymeria who we haven’t seen in many seasons. With Arya headed back to Westeros, expect her to be reunited with Nymeria at some point.
  • I also noted in the primer I wrote before this season started that Gendry is still out there somewhere. Ser Davos risked an awful lot to save his life, and considering he does have King’s Blood, I think we’ll have to see him at some point, though very possibly not in this finale episode.