Season 8, Episode 6: The Iron Throne

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.

What Just Happened?

Shocked. Confused. Disappointed. Baffled. There is no shortage of adjectives to describe the way I feel after the final installment of Game of Thrones, but simply put, it was an emphatic explanation point on an utterly disappointing season. At its best, Game of Thrones took us to highs that few stories have before; and as we saw in this finale episode, at its worst, Thrones was capable of reaching equally extreme lows. With each episode that passed this season, the simple (and terribly sad) reality became more and more apparent: the folks producing this show simply were not going to be able to deliver a successful end to this story. And despite a season defined by poor story telling, inexplicable character development, pacing of events that often made no sense — despite all of that — I still held out a bit of hope that the final episode would have one final magical twist or turn that would help to make things right. After all, this is Game of Thrones we are talking about — this was the one show that simply would not, and could not, mess up the end to its story the way so many other shows have.

But the truth is now plain to see and there is no hiding from it. The reality is that the magic of this world we became so captivated by — the characters, the history, the locales, the families, the lore, the mythology — all of it — it all lived in a series of books. And while HBO did an absolutely masterful job at adapting the magic of those books to TV, the reality is that we were always destined, to some extent, to end up exactly where we did. George R.R. Martin took the better part of 20 years to create the enthralling world that we fell in love with over the first six seasons. But those six seasons were based on the five books he had written — two short of the seven books that will (hopefully) be published to bring the A Song of Ice and Fire saga to a close. Writing for the sixth book, The Winds of Winter, began over eight years ago, and is still not out. It’s anybody’s guess when final book, A Dream of Spring, will be published, but it likely will not be for another 10 years or so.

So what does this tells us? It tells us that the homestretch of this story, a story that has taken over 25 years to write, simply does not yet exist, and likely won’t for many years to come. There is a reason George R.R. Martin takes so many years to write each book and it’s not simply because the writing itself takes so long. It’s because he is actually taking an incredible amount of time to continue to create and develop the story itself. And as the story starts getting towards it’s final chapter, it becomes increasingly more challenging to think about how each character’s journey comes to an end, how various storylines converge, and how this epic saga ultimately reaches its finale.

The predicament we find ourselves in is that while George R.R. Martin will take as much time as is required to finish this story the right way, HBO could not. So, what we were left with for the last two seasons, was a story that was based on loose directional feedback provided by George R.R. Martin, which left Thrones writers and producers filling in some very large gaps. Sure, George R.R. may have been able to tell Thrones producers what the singular endpoint of this story was, but he simply hasn’t yet conjured up and all the intricate subplots and character journeys that lead us to that endpoint. And without having his story to tell, we were left with a watered down, overly simplified, dumbed down version of what I believe the ending to this story will be when he tells it through the books. To some extent, the show was always destined to end this way, only I don’t think anybody thought it could ever get this bad.

The finale episode, entitled The Iron Throne, was riddled with one cringe-worthy cliche after the next. As has been the case throughout most of the season, the pacing felt totally off, with certain moments being totally rushed, and other less significant ones dragging on. The writing, specifically much of the dialogue, landed somewhere between embarrassing and comical. The aftermath of last week’s total destruction of King’s Landing simply felt totally contrived, with writers bringing rather abrupt endings to each character’s story. So much so, that it almost felt as if this finale episode was disjointed from the entire story that preceded it. It was as if this finale episode was given to a brand new team of writers that knew absolutely nothing about the story that has spanned the last 10 years, and were asked to do their best to synthesize some sort of close that forced endings for each character. One moment I felt I was watching a soap opera, the next I felt I was stuck in a bad SNL skit. How could this be? I mean I wasn’t expecting a whole ton after how disappointing this entire season has been, but really, I never could have imagined the new lows that were reached. There was absolutely nothing interesting. Nothing unique. No twists or turns. Very little emotion. Only cheap storytelling that made this episode feel like it was an obligation — a chore to get this thing wrapped up — rather than a vehicle to truly end this story in a meaningful way.

A Mess in King’s Landing

The episode begins as we see Tyrion and others taking in the aftermath of Dany’s fire and blood escapades. King’s Landing has now become a wasteland, with only skeletons and ash to speak of, which further underscored the ridiculousness of how far Dany took things last week. As Tyrion continues through King’s Landing, he eventually makes his way below the Red Keep where he finds Cersei and Jaime’s final resting place. Despite all his efforts, Tyrion could not stop all the death that was to come, and all he can do now is look on at his last remaining family members, gone forever. As Jaime and Cersei lay together, it was a poetic reminder that Tyrion really has been alone in this world most of his life, and even though Jaime cared about him a great deal, he was always an outsider compared to the twin bond that Cersei and Jaime shared.

Continuing her plunge into madness, we see Dany standing over a ruined King’s Landing, delivering an impassioned speech to her army, in which she basically tells them that this was just the beginning, and she plans to take her show on the road. While we all saw her evolve into The Mad Queen last week (at a pace that made absolutely no sense), the door was still left open for her to show some remorse in this finale episode. But that door shut pretty quickly and it became evident that no amount of death and destruction would be too great a cost for her to “break the wheel.” In reality, Dany herself sounded like a ruthless tyrant, one capable of committing devastating acts — the very type of ruler she has so badly wanted to rid from the world. It continued to be frustrating to watch just how cruel and vicious she has become so quickly, and it felt totally contradictory to who Dany was for the better part of the last 10 years.

Realizing he was on the wrong side of things, Tyrion gave Dany a big “f you” as he denounces her slaughter and abandons his post of hand to the queen. He’s quickly taken as her prisoner as Jon can only look on. Jon then goes to visit Tyrion, where they continue to go back and forth about whether or not Dany must be stopped. In their exchange, Jon references something Maestar Aemon told him all the way back in season one, “Love is the death of duty.” At the time, Maestar Aemon was explaining to Jon why brothers of the Night’s Watch could not have families — love would interfere with their duty to protect the realm. In response, Tyrion flips the idea that Maestar Aemon presented, and tells Jon that “sometimes, duty is the death of love.” No doubt, a suggestion that Jon’s duty to protect the realm might bring about the death of his love with Dany. Before Jon departs, Tyrion urges him that he must decide and he must decide now.

Moments later, surprise surprise, we see Dany in the Throne Room, a replay of basically the same vision she had in an earlier season where we saw the ruined Throne Room that she is now walking through. Once again, a reminder that she has become nothing more than queen of the ashes. If you asked me a few years ago what one of the most powerful moments in this story could have possibly been, I would have told you that at the top of the list would be the moment Dany finally reaches the Throne Room and ascends the Iron Throne that her ancestor, Aegon Targaryen, built 300 years before her. Sadly, the realization of this moment felt plain and unemotional, probably because of how little was left of the Throne Room itself, thanks to Dany’s temper tantrum that brought about the destruction of King’s Landing on the whole. She had finally reached the Iron Throne — the powerful symbol of all she had wanted — all she had sacrificed so much to achieve — and all for what?

Duty Over Love

The predictable and soap opera nature of the episode continued as Jon arrives, right on cue, and reprimands Dany for the slaughter she carried out. The two go back and forth about their differences of opinion, blah blah blah, which once again ends in a Dany/Jon kiss. But then, out of nowhere, Jon puts his dagger through her heart. And by out of nowhere, I mean everybody saw that coming from a mile away and it was totally unsurprising. The whole thing felt like “okay, everybody knows this is coming, let’s just get it over with.” But worse than this moment’s predictability was how emotionless and fleeting the scene was as a whole. Out of a 90-minute episode, much of which was filled with gratuitous and irrelevant banter, we can only spare 60 seconds to the death of the show’s most powerful character? I mean come on. Just like that, Dany is gone, and before we even have a moment to really soak it in, I’ve got this dragon in my face…again.

Talk about a botched opportunity. You have Daenerys Targaryen, one of the most beloved characters ever created in any fictional format; opposite her, the equally beloved Jon Snow; and between them, a magical story that intertwines the ideas of power, morality, duty and love. And though many people saw it coming, even so, that this story would end with Jon choosing duty over love, and sacrificing the woman he truly loved, is incredibly powerful. So why didn’t I feel that way watching it? And then just like that, Drogon scoops up Dany and flies her out of there. Oh, but not before melting the Iron Throne, the very throne the Targaryens created in the first place. I’m not sure there’s any real explanation for Drogon flying away with Dany’s dead body, other than a setup for somehow bringing her back to life for some future Thrones spinoff, which seems highly unlikely. The end to Dany and Jon’s story was a total miss of epic proportions.

One Strange Council

Just a moment later, we’re past the emotionless death of Dany, and we’re now all business as the “who’s who” of Westeros have gathered to determine the fate of the realm. It kind of felt like all the unimportant remaining characters were scrapped together and this is when the episode went from bad to just silly. First of all, half of these characters had absolutely no business being there. Edmure Tully, Catelyn’s brother is all of a sudden making a return after having had zero role in this story for many seasons? Yara Greyjoy is back, without anything from her since she went back to The Iron Islands? Oh and let’s not forget about introducing a brand new Dornish prince (who doesn’t even speak) to join this mish-mosh of a crew. And perhaps the absolute funniest of all is Robert Arryn, the sickly son of Lysa Arryn, who previously didn’t know how to do anything other than breastfeed…He’s now got a seat on this council? There were a few others that I did not even recognize, furthering the ridiculousness of this gathering.

The group goes back and forth about what to do next, and apparently after all that has transpired, after King’s Landing has basically been totally destroyed and the world of Westeros has been turned upside down, this silly council is going to solve for the future of the realm in one simple conversation. And all of a sudden Grey Worm is mr chatterbox, driving much of the direction of the council’s decisions. In this one episode, Grey Worm speaks more than he has in the past seven seasons combined. After the death of Dany, he wants revenge, but Tyrion reminds him that it’s not his decision to make, which leads to the debate of who should take power next. Comically, Edmure Tully stands up to state his case, before Sansa tells him to sit down. Why? Why would the writers choose to include dialogue in this final episode that sees Edmure Tully, a completely irrelevant character, stand up and make a claim for the throne? Unless they were going for some sort of comedic relief, it just doesn’t belong. But the comedy didn’t stop there. Samwell suggests they consider a more democratic election where the people have a say, and for some reason, others found this to be comical, poking fun and sarcastically asking if their dogs and horses would get a say. The whole thing felt like a bad SNL skit.

Finally, we arrive at the moment that pretty much caps this entire story — the reveal of who would end on the throne. And to be quite honest, I couldn’t have cared less at this point. The realization of who would take the Throne was not decided by any significant final moment in the story, but rather by a cast of irrelevant characters making forced decisions, so the reveal of who would end on the Throne simply felt like an anticlimactic “who cares” moment. But the only thing that could have been less sensible than everything that has already transpired would be to make Bran the one to end on the throne. And of course, that’s precisely what happens. The logic behind it makes sense — Tyrion paints the picture that the most powerful thing in life is a story and we know Bran is keeper of all stories and memories. So we get it. But, we are talking about a guy that has totally lost his human mind. He’s been on a multiyear journey where his entire life has been dedicated to an existential evolution, which saw him become the Three-Eyed-Raven. In doing so, he has experienced all kinds of visions, past, present and future, that revealed powerful moments which changed him forever. We’re talking Children of the Forest, White Walkers, The Night King — Bran was in the thick of it all. When all of those mythological elements of the show died along with The Night King in an unbelievably disappointing fashion, it definitely created some question marks for what was left for Bran in this story, if anything. I mean we haven’t even seen the guy in several episodes. Now, all of a sudden, he’s being named the king of Westeros? Talk about delivering a cheap ending to this story — did nobody working on this show stop to realize how senseless this was? We are talking about the character who had reached total enlightenment, so much so, that he didn’t even really know how to be a human anymore. And now we are going to plunge him into the politics of being the ruler of the realm?

But he won’t be the king of the Seven Kingdoms. He only gets six. Sansa had to get her two cents in and tell Bran that she wants The North to remain its own independent kingdom as it had been for thousands of years before Aegon’s Conquest. And that’s fine, but the only problem is that ALL the kingdoms had been independent prior, so why would the representatives of Dorne and The Vale and The Iron Islands all be okay with The North not bending the knee while they have to? Also, given that it was another member of House Stark ending up on the throne, Sansa’s desire to annex The North just makes that much less sense — it’s her own brother on the throne. Totally illogical storytelling and it just felt like a forced way to be able to show Sansa as the queen of The North, without regard for the fact it did not make sense to the story itself. But hey, not much has to really make sense anymore, so let’s go with it.

Back to The Wall

So that’s that. Bran is some sort of Three-Eyed-Raven king and Sansa is queen in the North. But we’ve got to come up with some sort of contrived ending for Jon, right? How about we send him back to The Wall, where his story began. That sounds like a cheap, easy and poetic ending for his character — so let’s go with that. I also found it strange that while the council was trying to figure out who should take the throne, Jon wasn’t mentioned once. True, he had just killed Dany, but if we subscribe to the idea that he was the rightful heir, then it was Dany who was revolting and trying to claim a throne that was not hers. That would provide some justification for Jon having to kill Dany, to eliminate a usurper. So, with her gone, and everybody grasping at straws to figure out who should be next in line, why is nobody bringing up Jon, the actual rightful heir?

Anyway, just like that, he’s back in his Night’s Watch garb, hair back down like it used to be in the old days, and headed back to The Wall. Another character with a massive arc that gets a senseless ending. We are talking about the guy that was arguably the most important character; the guy that became Lord Commander of The Night’s Watch; the guy that risked it all to put the world on alert about The Night King; the guy that fought and won in countless fate-determining battles; the guy that was brought back from the dead; and the guy that made the ultimate sacrifice as he took the life of Daenerys Targaryen. And after all of that, we just send him to The Wall? I mean what an unbelievably disappointing, unsatisfying and silly way to end his story.

But before he departs, we get a round of cliche goodbyes with each of his siblings, the best of which reveals that Arya is now channeling her inner Christopher Columbus/Dora the Explorer. She’s off to explore the world, whatever is west of Westeros. I mean how cheesy do we want to get here? If they wanted to set up Arya for her own spinoff, they certainly left that door open, but man, after all that Arya has gone through and all her incredible character development, that’s where we end her story? Sending her to cheerfully explore westward made her feel more like a Disney character than anything else. A Cheap and easy cop-out, just like all the others. It’s also confusing to consider how central she was to last week’s episode, with no follow up in the finale. She was a major point of view character last week, running through the streets and the episode ending with her riding out on her white horse. It seemed like she was being set up for some major ending to her character. But it ended up being all for her to play basically zero role in the story’s end. If you think about, since killing The Night King (which was another big screw-up), she basically had zero involvement in the story since — just noise.

Before the episode comes to a close, we get to see the new council that will support King Bran, and it’s a total joke. Tyrion as hand; Davos a Master of Ships; Bronn as Master of Coin; Samwell as archmaestar; Brienne as commander of the King’s Guard. It felt like the writers threw darts at the wall to see who they’d randomly choose to fill each of these roles. The council meeting itself was so comical that it’s hard to believe writers were going for anything else. In the finale episode of this entire story, we have to listen to their light-hearted banter about what their first objectives will be and whether they’re going to rebuild ships or brothels first? And what about Samwell Tarly, casually presenting Tyrion with a book of recent history called A Song of Ice and Fire. Talk about forcing something into the script and an egregious namedrop. Embarrassing stuff.

Assembling a hodgepodge council like this simply disrespects the greatness of the history of the council, one that was once comprised of characters like Tywin Lannister, Varys, Littlefinger, etc… Now we’ve got Bronn and Davos joking about where they’ll allocate their funds first, as if King’s Landing wasn’t only recently completely decimated. Speaking of which, Bran asks if anybody has heard about the location of Drogon, but nobody has. In another weird moment, Bran tells them not to worry and that he’ll take care of figuring out where Drogon is. My first question: given the entire series is about to come to a close, why are we wasting time talking about where the dragon went? My second question: Bran, you are the Three-Eyed-f*cking-Raven — why are you going to this council of C-listers for advice in the first place — aren’t you the all-knowing one? What a total mess.

Finally, Jon returns to The Wall, where of course there will be a couple more cliche reveals. Tormund and Ghost are both waiting for him there, and eventually, they continue north of The Wall, presumably to live a life with The Free Folk. As they enter into the depth of the forest, the show comes to an end, and the confusion reaches its climax. Why is that the final image of this entire story? Jon walking into the forest with the Wildlings hardly seems like the final takeaway to leave viewers with.

And just like that, it’s all over. It was an ending that was obvious, uninspiring and simply silly in many ways. It was so beneath the greatness of Thrones and I cannot think of many ways they could have delivered a more disappointing end to this story. All that said, it would be a mistake to overlook the greatness that this show offered for so many years. Game of Thrones took television to heights it had never been before and captivated a global audience with its magic. Though I will forever be confused and disappointed by how the show brought closure to this story, I will also be thankful for all that it offered for so many years. I would highly encourage each of you to consider picking up the books and starting this journey over the right way, setting yourself up to experience the true ending to this story once it is properly told by George R.R. Martin himself.

Finally, thanks to all the fans and readers of ThronesLife. It has been great to share the passion with so many of you. Keep an eye out for what comes next : )

— Jacob Kent, ThronesLife Creator & Author

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Season 8, Episode 5: The Bells

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

The Bells

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

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

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

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

The Bells

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

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

Dragonstone

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

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

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

The Mad Queen

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

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

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

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

King’s Landing

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

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

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

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

Arya & The Hound

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

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

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

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

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

What’s The Deal with Arya?

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

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

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

Jaime & Cersei

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

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

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

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

Who’s at Fault?

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

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

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

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

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

Queen of the Ashes

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

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

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

Season 8, Episode 4: The Last of the Starks

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.

Moving On

After significant tragedy, many experience the five stages of grief and loss, which are: 1. Denial and isolation; 2. Anger; 3. Bargaining; 4. Depression; 5. Acceptance. Safe to say, after last week’s episode, I went through almost every one of these five stages. Denial was stage one; I simply couldn’t believe what I had witnessed. Truly, I actually had trouble believing that after all this time, after everything we had been conditioned to believe about what The Night King represented, that in the blink of an eye, he was gone…just like that. Next came stage two: anger. Had I wasted the better part of the last decade enveloping myself in a story that I wholeheartedly trusted was destined for an ending that could be nothing short of greatness? Stage three kicked in soon thereafter with bargaining. Wasn’t there something that could have been done differently? If only the writers knew what they were doing to us, wouldn’t they have offered a more satisfying ending? Stage four: depression. The black cloud lingered, and normal life moments would be interrupted by that depressing reminder that this had actually happened, and there was nothing I could do to change it. And finally, stage 5: acceptance. Unfortunately, I’m not quite there yet, but this week’s episode has helped me to take a step, if only a little one, towards accepting the disappointment of epic proportions that was thrusted upon us last week.

First, the bad: whatever hope was being held out that this week’s episode would offer some closure to the abrupt death of Westeros’ ultimate villain, was likely met with great disappointment. After The Night King’s unspectacular slaying, which was surely unbefitting of the world’s most terrifying villain, many hoped there would be more to his story in the follow-up episode. Of course, this was not an unreasonable hope, given that the Thrones story conditioned us to believe The Night King and all the mythological components tied to him were central to the ending of this story. Who was The Night King? Why, of all the humans, was he chosen by The Children? Did The Children know what they were creating when they inserted dragonglass into his heart? Sure, we were told of his desire to wipe out the world’s memory, but was that truly his only motivation? Was there no deeper connection between he and Bran/The Three-Eyed Raven? The list of questions can go on; but the answers do not. The story has moved on, and moved on quickly, from The Night King and all his legend…almost as if he never existed at all.

How could that be? How could we move on so quickly from the greatest villain known to mankind? Well, the answer presented tonight was quite simple: the greatest threat to mankind is not any singular individual, but rather the complexities and identities that live within each and every one of us. Don’t get me wrong, I will not defend this idea or the show’s decision to end The Night King’s story the way they did, leaving so many intriguing questions totally unanswered. In fact, I am now altogether dubious of an ending to this show that will satisfy the desires created within me to understand the more existential themes presented in this show that I thought underpinned the story’s true meaning (i.e. Ice vs Fire, gods and religion, light vs dark, The Children of the Forest, etc..). But, we all must move on. Even though when compared to the battle for humanity’s existence, a battle between mere mortals for a throne feels like the wrong battle to be “the last one,” I have to admit that this episode started to reinvigorate some excitement. After last week’s episode, I felt completely deflated; after this week’s episode, only partially.

I am also rather dissatisfied with the overall soap-opera feel of the show. There’s no question that the writing has gone considerably downhill, ever since the show surpassed the books in season six, and writers have more or less been on their own. The speed of various character journeys and storylines has felt jumbled and bumpy at times. There’s a bit of drama that I feel is beneath this story, and certain characters have just started to feel a bit too winey.

All that said, I generally try to measure the quality of a story, or a given episode, not by how much or little I “liked” it, but rather by how well it succeeded at whatever it was trying to achieve. Following last week’s Battle of Winterfell, this follow-up episode had one clear goal: to turn our attention towards, and build suspense for, the final battle to come. And to that end, this episode was a great success, certainly achieving its intended purpose. So much so, that The Night King feels like old news, and I’m inching closer to that fifth stage of acceptance (well, only sort of).

A week ago, it felt like intra-human dynamics were irrelevant, and all that mattered was humanity banding together to preserve its existence. It was a homogenous and uniform view of the human race — that is, all humans were basically the same, coming together as one massive force to. One week later, and we are at the opposite end of the spectrum — the varied and often divergent spirit of human nature is highlighted. We are quickly reminded of the complexities of the human way, and the way these complexities can cause great divide amongst characters in this story. And while we can analyze each of the last two episodes independently, the true beauty is realized when taken in tandem. Only when forced to band together to fight for its existence could mankind show union and cooperation. The moment that threat is eradicated, we are back to seeing the truth of human nature — one that reminds us of mankind’s inherent propensity to create, perceive, and rationalize reasons for divide. The human inability to stand together unless out of necessity is indeed a sad reminder of the world we live in today. Nonetheless, bravo to the success this episode achieved in highlighting the often flawed nature of humanity, while building a wonderful sense of suspense for the final two episodes of this story. Let’s dig in:

Identity

As grave a threat as was brought about by The Night King’s army, it allowed most characters to temporarily suspend their more intricate cognitions and individual identities. Whose side will I take? With whom can I create an ally? How can I advance in this game? None of these questions mattered as fighting to live took precedent over all. But as that threat abruptly disappeared, characters were immediately thrusted back into decision-making mode. Allegiances, loyalties, secrets, love — all of these behavior-shaping ideas — immediately came back into play. And as they did, we saw several characters navigate the complexities of their “humanness,” in an attempt to make a decision that felt right to them.

We saw this theme start to play out after Dany names Gendry Lord of Storm’s End, the historic great castle of House Baratheon. Without hesitation, Gendry asks Arya to be his wife so that he can share life’s offers with the woman he loves. True to her self, Arya turns down his proposal, reminding us that she has never been a lady. In a Thrones world where so many characters are battling to figure out their true identity, Arya knows hers quite well. This, of course makes great sense, given the years she spent training in Braavos, when “a girl had no name,” and was forced to examine the truth of her identity. She emerged more connected to her truth and sure of her identity than probably any character in this story, giving her the strength and resilience to do great things.

But while Arya’s perception of self might be iron-clad, the same cannot be said for all. Jaime’s character continued along his complex character-journey, one that has been marked by a conflicting self-identity. As Jaime reminded us in this episode, he did terrible things in the earlier days of this story, including crippling Bran and murdering innocents, all in the name of love. But then something changed. His identity, which was largely built upon a representation of him being a great warrior, was torn down when he lost his fighting hand — and lost it as a result of him protecting Brienne. Literally and figuratively, his identity changed overnight, and we started to realize that perhaps the handsome knight willing to do anything for Cersei was just a mask that he wore, and there was a lot more to the truth of his character. In a powerful scene between he and Brienne, we saw great pain and vulnerability, and realized that there was a lot more to the man we had come to know only as The Kingslayer.

Eventually, Jaime fell back in the hands of Cersei, and it was unclear whether the “good guy” or “bad guy” Jaime would prevail (though, in reality, the point is that there really is no good or bad to human nature, only the complex makeup of each human, as we see in Jaime). This week, Jaime and Brienne finally lay together, which seemed to have cemented the side that Jaime would ultimately fight for in the battle to come. But after hearing word that Cersei had killed one of Dany’s dragons and realizing the imminent attack that Dany would bring to King’s Landing, Jaime decided he must return to his sister (or at least, that’s what he tells Brienne).

Brienne begged Jaime to stay, reminding him that he is a good and honorable man, only for him to remind her, in heartbreaking fashion, that he is in fact, anything but. This was devastating on so many levels. First, it was painful to hear Jaime profess how low he truly thinks of himself. Often, identity is less about how others perceive you, but more about how you perceive yourself. Of course, many are not even aware of their true self-perceptions, and if they are, often struggle to acknowledge them. But in this moment, Jaime is not only true with Brienne, but true with himself. He tells Brienne, and himself, that he essentially believes himself to be a terrible person. In this Thrones story, Jaime is the closest thing to a Greek Tragedy. In so many ways, he is a tragic hero; his greatest flaw, his massive vulnerability that prevents him from realizing the good man that he is. And can you blame him? After being casted out as “Kingslayer” and “Oathbreaker,” for so many years, is it really any surprise that his self-esteem is nonexistent? Sure, on the outside, he has worn the mask of knight in shining armor well, but beneath it, he is deeply pained by the wrongs he has committed, so much so that he believes there to be no good in him at all. The worst part? All the crimes he committed were to protect the ones he loved; at no point did he do any evil out of malice or selfish motives.

And while Jaime’s story is incredibly tragic, perhaps this moment is even more heartbreaking for Brienne’s character. For as long as we’ve know Brienne, her identity has been defined by a total lack of femininity. For all intents and purposes, Brienne has been characterized as a man, from her appearance to her desires. This very episode highlighted that idea by calling out her virginity — after all of these years, she had never even lay with a single man. Yet, Jaime changed all of that. And while their sleeping together certainly has significant physical meaning for Brienne, it really underscores the emotional tie between the two characters. If Jaime was the tragic hero unable to see the good in himself, Brienne was the one person who understood his vulnerabilities, and truly knew the honor that lived within Jaime. Coupled with the fact she truly loved him, it was not enough for her to know he was a good man — she needed him to know it as well. Several times throughout this story, even when on opposing sides, Brienne has reminded Jaime of his goodness. Often, it almost felt like a plea, like she was begging him to realize the same.

And finally, as the story is headed towards its closing moments, it seems as though Jaime has settled into the idea that he is in fact a decent man. He has chosen the right side, he is going to remain at Winterfell, with the woman who loves him — all is well. Absolutely nobody could be happier about this than Brienne herself, knowing that not only has she received love back from the man she loves, but she has finally gotten him to realize his goodness. But, in typical Thrones style, everything changes with the flip of a switch, and Brienne’s world is turned upside down as she finds Jaime set to depart Winterfell in the middle of the night.

A character who rarely displays any emotion, Brienne is devastated, tears streaming down her face, as the man she loves is leaving her, and reminding her of what a horrible person he believes himself to be. His words go in the face of everything she has believed; in many ways, her world is turned upside down. For the first time, Brienne let herself be vulnerable; vulnerable to love, vulnerable to her femininity, vulnerable to emotion — and it all came crumbling down. How truly heartbreaking. I can only hope that Jaime ends up on the right side of this fight, if not to see his story end realizing his own heroism, than at least for Brienne’s sake, so that she doesn’t lose the man she loves to a false sense of identity.

The complicated nature of the human makeup and identity continues to shine through elsewhere in Winterfell. Sansa continues to display a mistrust for anybody outside of her family, putting her at great odds with Daenerys. When we size up Sansa’s identity, it’s a pretty simple diagnosis. Her trust was betrayed by so many at such a young age, from Cersei and Joffrey to Ramsay Bolton to Littlefinger. At this point, how could she ever trust anybody other than her own? In an exchange between her and The Hound, he tells her that she should have left King’s Landing with him when she had the chance — had she done so, she would have avoided all those that wronged her along the way. Sansa responds to The Hound, telling him that had she left with him, she would still be “a little bird” today. You can watch the video below, from season two, when The Hound tried to save Sansa from King’s Landing.

Sansa’s response to The Hound makes it clear that she understands who she is and has grown smarter from all those that have wronged her. But, one must ask the question: is it advantageous to be guided by a general distrust for all those around you? Sure, being able to outsmart others is a good thing, but not being able to trust anybody outside of your family, maybe not as much. And this is the very conflict that will soon reach climax, between her and Jon. While Jon wants to honor his Queen Daenerys, Sansa is unable to trust Daenerys, or even trust Jon who is willing to vouch for her. Interestingly, Arya has picked her side in this conflict, and strongly voices her distrust for Daenerys as well.

And, all of that is before they even learn that Jon is not in fact their brother, but rather their cousin. Though the scene cuts away, Jon tells Bran to reveal the truth of who he really is to Sansa and Arya. This news only serves to embolden Sansa’s distrust for Daenerys, as learning Jon’s true identity also reveals that he, not Daenerys, is the rightful heir to the throne. Sansa’s identity, largely defined by her inability to trust anybody, is at odds with her loyalty to family, and she is going to have decide between the two. From her conversation with Tyrion where she reveals she thinks there is somebody better than Daenerys to to rule, it seems as though she will not be able to shake her achilles heal, and this is going to set up a very tricky dynamic in the final episodes, where Jon and Sansa may actually find themselves in direct opposition.

As the episode continues, we see Jon’s secret quickly starting to spread — a secret that Dany begged him to keep. But, Jon, being the honorable (and sometimes foolish) man that he is, decided he must tell his sisters. Sansa broke her oath to keep this secret, by telling Tyrion, who then told Varys. Rightfully so, and as Dany predicted, this news is already starting to cause greater divide, at a time when Team Dany/Jon can ill afford it. Sansa and Arya are not the only ones starting to defect from Dany’s claim to the throne. Varys, pointing out that Jon is the rightful heir, a male, and more even-tempered, also now believes Jon is the one to be backed, not Dany. Though Varys and Tyrion have generally seen eye to eye, their sense of identity will bring about an abrupt departure. While Tyrion is defined by his ability to see and support the best in others, Varys’ identity is centered around protecting those who cannot protect themselves. Born a pauper and sold to a sorcerer who committed terrible acts to Varys when he was just a boy, Varys now uses his cunning to try and “protect the realm.” He and Tyrion now have differing views of who is best suited to do this, and Varys makes it clear that he will do what he must to protect those in need. Keep an eye out for what Varys’ next move will be.

Fire and Blood

And just as the episode was starting to feel like it was going to be another setup for next week’s battle, things go haywire. Things go from bad to worse for Dany, and out of nowhere, Rhaegal is taken out with three harpoons. Dany can do nothing but watch as she loses yet another one of her children. In a state of blood-seeking fury, Dany flies her dragon straight into the danger, but eventually retreats as she cannot risk losing her last dragon. Euron’s fleet destroys Dany’s ships, and in doing so, takes Missandei prisoner.

At this point, Dany has had enough. Her plan to show restraint and minimize the loss of innocent life is not working. In the span of days, she lost Jorah, one of her most loyal advisers; her entire Dothraki army; half of her Unsullied army; the second of her three dragons; and Missandie, her most trusted adviser. Things have gone from bad to worse, fast. Though Tyrion and Varys beg her to continue to show restraint and to not pursue Cersei at the cost of killing thousands of innocents, Dany is at her breaking point. She agrees to offer Cersei the opportunity for surrender, so the people of King’s Landing can know that it was Cersei who refused surrender.

In a powerful final scene, Tyrion makes one last desperate plea, first with Qyburn, and then directly to his sister. In this plea, we can feel just how badly Tyrion truly wants to avoid the loss of innocent life — something we can see he knows is imminent. But even Tyrion’s clever words are not enough, and Cersei gives him a big “f**k you” by not only refusing surrender, but beheading Missandei first. The pain felt by Dany and Grey Worm was palpable; and the look on Dany’s face was clear as day: all bets are off. Fire and blood is coming, which begs the question, will she become The Mad Queen, just as her father was The Mad King? Clearly, this is Varys’ concern, but which side of Dany will prevail? The one that has defined her identity for many years — the one that wants to leave the world a better place than she found it? Or will her Targaryen wrath prevail and will her desire for revenge get the better of her? With just two episodes remaining, things are more up in the air than ever before, and great battle is upon us.

Odds and Ends

  • Jaime and Cersei: It’s worth pointing out, that it’s possible Jaime was tricking Brienne in order to get out of Winterfell, perhaps to get to King’s Landing to kill Cersei himself.
  • The Hound and Arya: The ultimate duo are back together again on their way to King’s Landing. They both have unfinished business, namely killing their ultimate foes. Arya will surely want to be the one to take out Cersei and cross that name off her list. At the same time, The Hound will want to take out his brother, The Mountain, who burned him as a young boy and is responsible for all the identity issues that The Hound suffers today.
  • Other Allies: Though Dany’s forces have been significantly diminished, there are other allies out there. In this episode, it was mentioned that a new Dornish Prince has declared for Dany. Dorne has not played much of a role in this story as of late, but it’s safe to assume that they will show up in the final battle. It’s also worth remembering that Cersei still has Ellaria Sand and her sandsnake daughter locked in a cell beneath King’s Landing. Presumably, they are not yet dead, and could have a role to play as well. Yara Greyjoy is also still alive and has retreated to The Iron Islands — additional allies for Team Dany.
  • Bronn: A character I’ve generally enjoyed throughout the show, I was disappointed to see Bronn turn on Jaime and Tyrion. I’m not quite sure how his story finishes up, and with only two episodes to go, and it doesn’t seem very relevant that Tyrion promised him Lordship over Highgarden if they win the war. But, we’ll see how this one develops.
  • Cersei’s Baby: It’s unclear what’s happening here. Question 1: Is Cersei pregnant? Question 2: Who is the father? Neither answer is very clear, but it seems this will be somewhat important as the story comes to a close. Cersei first told Jaime the baby was his, but this could have been a lie to keep him close. In this last episode, Cersei tells Euron that she’s pregnant with his baby — again, unclear what the truth is. Going back to season five, we saw a flashback of Cersei as a young girl, encountering Maggy the Frog, a witch who offered Cersei a prophecy. She basically told Cersei that she would have three children, all of whom would eventually die. We saw this prophecy come true, as all three of Cersei’s children were eventually killed. Again, this prophecy stated Cersei would have three children (not four), so if we believe this prophecy to be true, than Cersei is either not actually pregnant, or will have her baby killed.

Season 8, Episode 3: The Long Night

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Odds and Ends

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

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

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

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

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

Season 8, Episode 2: A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms

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 end of an era. The dark before the dawn. A preamble to death. Call it what you’d like, but make no mistake, the end is here. Now.

The thing is, we always knew this moment was coming. It’s been clear for some time that the finality of this story was lurking around the corner, perhaps just out of sight. But knowing that the end is near in your head, truly feeling it in your heart, are two very different things. And tonight, for the very first time, we were forced to feel the weight of the end, and all the consequences that will come along with it. What was once out of sight, is now in crystal clear focus, and there is no turning back.

After a rather slow setup episode to kick off the season, many anticipated an action-packed episode this week. I myself suspected that we might get our first battle tonight. But what we were offered tonight was more profound — more emotional — than perhaps any battle scene ever could be. In a subtle, yet powerful way, we were reminded of all that has happened over the past 10 years — intense character journeys that saw foes become friends; great sacrifice and heart-wrenching loss; glorious victory and crushing defeat — all that has led us to this very final moment. And as we processed the great journey that led us here today, we were reminded of the great fragility that characterizes the world we live in — a reminder that overnight, everything can change; life can turn to death, while the things we hold most dear can be taken away in the blink of an eye.

The great paradox, and genius of this episode, was that we were ultimately reminded of what we will soon forget. Like a montage of memories before our eyes, it will all soon be over, and most of it will soon be forgotten. The ingenuity of this concept is that it speaks true both externally, of us viewers, who likely will forget most of what we’ve witnessed over the past decade, once this great saga comes to an end and the years go by. But on a meta level, the same can be said true of the characters in the story. As the end approaches, so does the very real possibility of human extinction, which would bring about the end of all recollection and memory. And, as we learned from Bran in this episode, that is precisely what The Night King is after (we’ll get to that more later).

The last night of sleep-away camp where you stay up all night, knowing that morning will bring about the moment where you’re forced to say goodbye to those friends who you may not see again until the following summer. Those last moments leading up to college graduation before you close the chapter on your college days and embark upon that next phase of life. This was all of those goodbye moments rolled into one and amplified times 100. We were readied for what may be the final goodbye. Life is not guaranteed. Death is imminent. Loss is certain. And tomorrow may not come at all, which forces us to reflect back upon the most magical of journeys, which in concert, create what we have come to know as A Game of Thrones.

All You Need is Love

To date, character relationships have often been complicated and unpredictable, but as the end nears, all of that has begun to change. Staring down the face of death, what we saw in this episode was characters mostly stripped of all the layers that no longer matter. And when you peel back all those layers, we’re left with relationships that are defined by one simple constant: love. And it is the power of this love, combined with an awareness of how quickly this love can come to an end, that made this episode so sad, yet beautiful. Characters coming together, knowing full well that this might be their last sip of wine together; their last laugh; their last kiss. Their realization of the impending finality allowed us to view these characters stripped of what has defined their very existence in this story for so many years — the lies, the schemes, the deception, the games…None of that matters anymore, and we got to see the true essence of these wonderful characters.

This theme starts early in the episode when Jaime is reunited with Brienne, one of the few people in all of Westeros who got to hear his side of the story regarding his slaying of The Mad King. Their journey was intensely powerful, and it was Brienne’s character that served as the foil for Jaime’s first evolution. It was through her that we first saw a different side of Jaime — a more vulnerable character that had been carrying the burden of being unfairly labeled Kingslayer and Oathbreaker. Below is a clip from season three in which Jaime breaks down to Brienne and she learns who he really is. This scene is hugely important as it allowed Brienne to understand what Jaime had been through and the truth of his character — the very character she would come to the defense of all these years later in his moment of judgement.

As we heard Brienne recount in tonight’s episode, it was Jaime that saved her life, and lost his hand for it, back in season three. Years later, it is now Brienne saving Jaime. And if all that is not poetic enough, with death at Winterfell’s doorstep, it is Jaime who is able to give Brienne what she wants most in the world, her knighthood. Underscoring the importance of this moment, Thrones producers chose to name the episode after it, A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms. Whether it is a love of romance or a love of loyalty and admiration (likely the latter), the feelings displayed between Jaime and Brienne offer a shimmering light before the darkness that is just around the corner.

The moments of love continued between many other characters, again offering reminders of the richness and depth of experiences that have shaped these relationships in seasons past. The reunion between Theon and Sansa proved that even a short-lived exchange can be powerful and emotional, when delivered the right way (something the premiere episode seemed to be totally unaware of). Theon’s return to Winterfell only lasted about 30 seconds, but his pledge to fight for Sansa and Winterfell brought things full circle for him. His character has been tormented for years as to who he should try to be: a Greyjoy or a Stark. He has made some excruciating decisions along the way as he battled this identity crisis, but his return to Winterfell signals that he has found some closure and realizes who he ultimately wants to be in the final moments of this story.

But what made this scene even more emotional was the embrace shared between Sansa and Theon. Both characters have been through some unimaginable circumstances, and their experiences intersected at the hands of the sadistic Ramsay Bolton, who held both of them prisoners. At the end of season five, the two came together to escape Winterfell, a moment that liberated them both literally and figuratively. They went separate ways shortly thereafter, but they will forever share a powerful bond built upon a shared understanding of what it meant to endure Ramsay’s torturous ways, as well as knowing that they came together to escape. Their present-day reunion is a reminder of all that they had been through, and their embrace reminds us of the ways in which shared adversity can bring us closer together, perhaps more-so than anything else.

Lastly, this scene reminds us that perhaps Theon’s tale is ultimately about one thing above all else: redemption. Lost in the fray of hating so many others (i.e. Ramsay Bolton, Joffrey, Walder Frey, etc), you may not remember it, but there was a time when you hated Theon more than anybody in the entire Thrones universe. This was the guy that turned on the family that raised him as he brought destruction to House Stark and Winterfell. Some time thereafter, he was taken prisoner by Ramsay and turned from Theon into Reek, and became such a broken man that there was nothing left to hate. And then for some time following his escape, he vacillated back and forth, trying to figure out whether he was Reek, Greyjoy or Stark, and as viewers, it was unclear where his path would lead. But, after rescuing his sister Yara, and now returning to Winterfell to fight alongside House Stark, Sansa’s embrace reminds us that redemption is possible, almost always. Looking back, Theon’s character offered viewers an unbelievably complex and rich character journey. Given that he’s arguably not even one of the top-ten most important characters in the story, this is just another testament to the absolute genius of George R.R. Martin. In any other story, a character of such complexity would be the main star of the show — but in George R.R. Martin’s world, each character, no matter how prevalent or how peripheral, is exceptionally well-developed and never overlooked.

The theme of characters coming together in their final hour did not stop there. Arya made it clear that she’s all grown up and did not want to die a virgin, as she took control of Gendry. I guess one needle wasn’t enough for her. (For anybody who didn’t catch that one, the name of her sword is Needle). Before seducing him, he presented her with the weapon she’d been asking him to make — a fighting stick adorned with Dragonglass on either end. Again, even in a small detail such as the presentation of a singular weapon, we are reminded of the incredible journey that Arya has been on — one that will be altogether forgotten if darkness prevails.

Back in season six, Arya endured great sacrifice, including total loss of vision, as she trained to become a Faceless Man under Jaqen H’ghar in Braavos. This part of her journey, more-so than any other, ultimately shaped who she would become, so it is powerful to see that in what might be her final moments, she chooses to fight with a weapon similar to that which she trained with in Braavos. In this scene, we also heard that mysterious Braavosi music in the background, which once again begs the question: will we ever see Jaqen H’ghar again?

The unions continued throughout the episode, including one last kiss between Missandei and Greyworm. I must say, I am still puzzled by this part of the story. I never understood what the significance of their relationship is or what purpose it serves. Nonetheless, we are reminded that in the face of darkness, this might be the last kiss they ever share together. Same goes for Sam and Gilly as they are shown laying in bed with their baby boy between them, perhaps the last time they will ever be united as a family.

Finally, on the topic of this episode bringing characters together that remind us of the past, I’d like to point out one other scene that hardly anybody will talk about, but I found emotional: the scene between Ser Davos and the little girl in the square of Winterfell. For many seasons, Davos’ one true love was Princess Shireen, the daughter of Stannis Baratheon. Because she was afflicted with Greyscale, Stannis kept her contained to a cell beneath Dragonstone, where Davos would often sneak down; he would tell her stories while she would affectionately teach him to read. It was a loving and heart-warming relationship, which ultimately ended with her death at the hands of her own parents, who sacrificed her at the advice of Lady Melisandre. This was heartbreaking for Ser Davos, and ultimately led him to depart from the service of Stannis, and brought him to where he is today. Make no mistake about it, the girl in this last episode with the scar on her face was not randomly placed. The intent was to remind viewers of the love Davos had for Princess Shireen, a love that will fuel him to continue to fight for life against the army of the dead.

After a disappointing and underwhelming reunion last week, Arya and The Hound had another moment together, which did a slightly better job at recognizing the history they had together. Arya questions what The Hound is doing in Winterfell, asking him “When have you ever fought for anybody but yourself?” He looks back at her, and responds, “I fought for you, didn’t I?” In this simple dialogue, we are reminded of the great journey Arya and The Hound shared together, and that neither would be standing where they are today if not for that journey. After all that they’ve been through together, it’s painful to consider that we have witnessed their very last exchange. I could see The Hound making one final sacrifice, giving his life to save Arya in battle.

Last, but certainly not least, towards the end of the episode we see another wonderful reunion which reminds us of an important past that we cannot forget. Jon is reunited with what you could argue was his first true love — his brothers of the Night’s Watch. Standing beside his brothers, Sam says “Think back to where it all started,” before they repeat their words, probably for the last time, “And now our watch begins.” After having spent years defending The Wall and building a bond that most could never imagine, it is unlikely that these three will ever stand together again. What a sad thought.


The King and I

If the planned Thrones spinoff proves unsuccessful, HBO could always pivot to a Thrones satire featuring The Night King and Bran, entitled The King and I. All joking aside, in this episode we got a bit more color on The Night King’s intentions as well as his connection to Bran.

For starters, Samwell flat out asked the question we’ve all been asking for quite some time now: what does The Night King want? Bran provided a fairly direct response: “He wants an endless night. He wants to erase this world, and I am its memory. He’ll come for me, he’s tried before many times with many Three-Eyed-Ravens.”

So while Bran provides some more color on what The Night King wants, I can’t say it was a real “ah-ha” moment. I still don’t quite understand what The Night King wants to achieve. Or better yet, maybe I just don’t understand why he wants to. Sure, he wants an endless night where the world is erased. But why? Say he wipes out humanity and gets his endless night, then what? I still believe, and really hope, that there’s more to the Night King’s true ambitions than what Bran has divulged. There has to be more to what he’s after and why he’s after it. I am hoping we’ll still have a big reveal of who The Night King really is, why The Children of the Forest created him, and what this eternal battle between Ice and Fire is really about.

What’s also interesting to think about is that Bran alluded to the fact that The Night King has tried “many times with many Three-Eyed-Ravens before.” How many Three-Eyed-Ravens have there been before Bran? And does this dispel the theory that Bran was the earlier Three-Eyed-Raven all along, essentially the future version of himself guiding the present-day version of himself? What has happened to the other Three-Eyed-Ravens, and what has their role been compared to Bran’s? No answers for you on these questions, but interesting to think about.

Another takeaway from this scene was that Bran was speaking to a room filled with all the key players in the story (Dany, Jon, Tyrion, Arya, Davos, etc). Of all these characters that could have responded to Bran’s declaration about what The Night King wants, it was Samwell who responded, stating “That’s what death is…Forgetting, being forgotten…If we forget where we’ve been and what we’ve done, we’re not men anymore, just animals. Your memories don’t come from books, your stories aren’t just stories. If i wanted to erase the world, I’d start with you.”

What’s interesting about this is that it ties back to an idea that we’ve spoken about in earlier posts — that perhaps Samwell will be the ultimate storyteller — perhaps the very person narrating the story we are being told today. This idea has never held more weight than after this episode, in which Bran declares that The Night King’s entire mission is to erase the world and its memory. If that is the case, than the Night King’s ultimate opposition would be the storyteller who possesses the power to perpetuate the story of humanity. As we know, there is nobody that has embraced the power of books, story and recorded history more-so than Samwell Tarly. You can read a more detailed account about that theory here, but I found it very telling that Samwell was the one to respond to Bran in this scene.

After learning that The Night King will come after Bran, team humanity decides their best play is to set him out in the weirwood forest as bait in an attempt to lure in The Night King. Theon offers to protect Bran, though alone, he’ll be no match for The Night King. This raises the ultimate question: how do you kill The Night King? It’s unclear whether Valyrian steel, Dragonglass or even dragon fire will work.

The Crypts of Winterfell

The crypts of Winterfell were mentioned no less than a dozen times in this episode. And each time, they were mentioned as the “safest” place to be. I get the sneaking suspicion that perhaps they are not as safe as everybody assumes. Or that there will be a major reveal about the crypts in the coming episode(s).

After Thrones producers chose for the location of the season eight teaser to be the the crypts of Winterfell, I dedicated a post to a theory about these crypts and their very mysterious history. Given how much these crypts were mentioned in tonight’s episode, I would highly recommend reading that theory here.

Discord in Winterfell

As the story nears its end, everybody in Winterfell seems to be on the same page. Well, almost everybody. Sansa and Dany have a heart-to-heart and it seems as though they are going to emerge the better for it, until Sansa asks the difficult question: what are Dany’s intentions if the war against death is won? Dany makes it clear that she intends to reclaim the Iron Throne, and Sansa makes it clear that The North does not intend to bend the knee again. With just four episodes to go, it seems unlikely that we ever see this conflict play itself out, but what’s important to note is that the very fact this conflict is lurking in the distance could cause enough discord between these characters as to affect their much-needed union today.

Making matters even more confusing, Jon reveals to Dany his true identity, and she quickly realizes that if true, he would be heir to the Iron Throne, not her. Her first reaction was one of disbelief, but she told Sansa just moments before that she knows Jon is a man of his word, so it will be difficult for her to deny the truth of his identity. The question is, will she be able to accept it. Unfortunately, this is not something she’ll have much time to ponder, as their conversation gets interrupted by the war horns that signal the army of the dead have arrived and the battle is just moments away. Without time to further discuss, how will this impact Dany’s loyalty to Jon, House Stark and her prioritization of this battle versus the battle for the Iron Throne? In short order, we will see Dany’s true colors, and while it feels unlikely, it is possible that she could turn on Jon if she now views him as a threat to the Iron Throne.

And just like that, The Great War is here. As the episode comes to an end, we see the front line of The Night King’s army, and he’s not messing around with any wights out there. His front line is comprised of all White Walkers, many more of them together than we have ever seen. Expect next week’s episode, all 82 minutes of it, to be edge-of-your-seat battle action. A word of advice: prepare yourself mentally and emotionally, because many great characters will die.

Odds and Ends

  • With The Great War upon us, will The Prince That Was Promised finally emerge to lead the war against death and darkness as the prophecy states? If so, who will it be? If you aren’t familiar with the theory of The Prince That Was Promised, read here. Lady Melisandre originally, and incorrectly, believed Stannis to be The Prince, while the popular theory then became Jon, and more recently Dany. With Jaime back in Winterfell and Bran alluding to the role he has to play in The Great War to Come, Jaime could in fact emerge as The Prince That Was Promised. And with Brienne’s recent knighthood, it could even be her.
  • If you didn’t catch it, Jon’s wolf, Ghost, is back. This begs the question of whether or not we’ll see Arya’s wolf, Nymeria. I say yes.
  • In the scene between Jaime and Bran under the weirwood tree, Jaime asks Bran what will happen afterwards, to which Bran responds “How do you know there is an afterwards?” An ominous response to say the least, which highlights the very real possibility that darkness does in fact prevail.
  • Samwell gave Jorah Heartsbane, a great Valyrian sword that has been in House Tarly for centuries. Jorah would have been in line to receive Longclaw, the great Valyrian longsword that belonged to his father, Lord Commander Jeor Mormont, but because of Jorah’s exile, the sword instead went to Jon. We know that Jorah was one of Westeros’ greatest warriors, and now he has an epic sword with which he can slay some White Walkers.
  • Where was Varys in this episode? We know he was in Winterfell, but it was peculiar that he was not involved in any of the key scenes or dialogues. Keep an eye on this. And remember that we still do not know what he heard in the fire all those years back.
  • Which major characters that have been killed off will we see reemerge as wights in The Night King’s army? I think it’s safe to say we’ll have to see at least one or two characters that have been turned into zombies. Stannis would make a pretty wicked wight.

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 7, EPISODE 4: THE SPOILS OF WAR

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 SPOILS OF WAR

Clocking in at a duration of 46 minutes, the shortest episode in Thrones history felt anything but. In just one short episode, Arya makes it back to Winterfell after an impossibly challenging journey; things heat up between Jon Snow and Dany in the caves below Dragonstone; and last, but certainly not least, we see Dany ride a dragon into battle for the very first time. Oh, and let’s not forget about the ancient inscriptions we saw in the caves below Dragonstone. These symbols are thousands of years old and point to some of the most significant hidden truths of this world — truths that may just determine how this entire story ends. But we’ll get to that. Any of these developments were meaningful enough to carry an entire episode, so getting all at once was quite a bit to process. So let’s begin.

TO THE VICTOR GOES THE SPOILS

In an episode entitled The Spoils of War, there were many “spoils” of recent battles revealed in this episode, both good and bad. The most obvious spoils were those won by Cercei in her siege of Highgarden, which we see as the episode opens up with Jamie sending all of Highgarden’s gold off to King’s Landing. Cercei is seen moments later talking with Tycho of the Iron Bank, reminding him that his gold is on the way and that a Lannister always pays their debts. But Cercei mentioned something else — something many may have missed — something which revealed a part of her future plan. Cercei tells Tycho that she has reached out to the Golden Company to help her secure some of the things that belong to her.

As a quick refresher, the Golden Company is an Essos-based army of sellswords who do not fight for any house or ruler, but rather for whoever contracts and pays them. We’ve heard of the Golden Company in the past as Daario Naharis once fought for the Golden Company, prior to pledging his allegiance to Khaleesi. (Speaking of Daario Naharis, what’s he been up to and when will we see him again? I digress…) Anyway, it was a very quick nugget of dialogue, but not one that was coincidental, so it’s worth considering what Cercei is hiring the Golden Company for and what it is that she hopes they can return to her. But back to Jaime and Bronn at Highgarden, as they send their newfound gold back to King’s Landing, they instruct Randyll and Dickon Tarly to collect all the farmland produce of Highgarden, an additional spoil of war (remember, Highgarden has the most fertile lands in all of the Seven Kingdoms). Little do they know that those carts of food are never making it back to King’s Landing…

A MYSTERIOUS DAGGER

Things have been quite busy at Winterfell as of late and that trend surely continued this week. We arrive at Winterfell as we see Bran sitting in his new wheelchair, looking just as distant and aloof as he did last week. Knelt before him is Baelish, who presents him with the Valyrian steel dagger that was used in the attempt to kill Bran back in season one. Bran asks Baelish if he knows who the dagger belonged to and Baelish tells Bran that he does not. For starters, this is inconsistent with what he told Catelyn Stark back in season one, so Baelish was either lying to Catelyn or is now lying to Bran. Let’s do a quick recap of what we know about this dagger — because my bet is that there is more to come on this.

Back in season one, Bran was climbing the walls of Winterfell and saw Jaime and Cercei sleeping together, at which point Jaime pushed Bran from the wall to protect the secret of their incest. But when Bran survived the fall and lay comatose in bed, somebody came to finish the job — a man with the Valyrian dagger we saw this week. Catelyn tried to save Bran, but it was Bran’s direwolf, Summer, who killed the assassin and saved Bran’s life. Catelyn then left for King’s Landing (with the Valyrian dagger) to inform Ned (who was already at King’s Landing at the request of King Robert) of the attempt to kill Bran. In a scene at Baelish’s brothel, Catelyn presents the dagger, at which point Baelish tells her that the dagger had belonged to him but that he had lost it to Tyrion in a bet. Believing this to be true, Catelyn had Tyrion arrested when she encountered him on her trip back to Winterfell (this led to Tyrion being held prisoner at the Vale, before demanding a trial-by-combat, at which point Bronn fought for Tyrion and won, gaining him his freedom). After Ned was arrested in King’s Landing, Baelish retook possession of the dagger and has presumably had it ever since. Now, years later, he chooses to present it to Bran, but tells Bran that he does not know who it belonged to, which is quite different from what he told Catelyn years prior.

Going one step further, a few episodes back, we saw a dagger that looked quite similar in one of the books that Sam Tarly was reading. My guess is that they were not showing a different dagger that looked very similar to this one, but rather that they were the same dagger, which further amplifies the significance of the dagger we saw today. There are some definite question marks around this Valyrian steel dagger, but it seems to be a safe assumption that it is of moderate to major significance.

After Baelish presents Bran with the dagger, he tries to appear empathetic to the “chaos” Bran has returned home to. However, Bran cuts him off and reminds him that “chaos is a ladder.” Bran is referring to the “chaos is a ladder” speech that Baelish gave to Varys in the third season. Baelish’s face turns stern and he appears threatened by the fact that Bran is aware of these words he once spoke. After all, if Bran knows this, what else might he know about Baelish? But looking one layer deeper — what does this “chaos is a ladder” reference tell us? After all, if the sole intention of this scene was to expose Baelish and show us that because Bran is now the Three-Eyed Raven, he is aware of something Baelish once said, well then writers could have chosen any of Baelish’s wise words for Bran to repeat. But they chose these words for a reason. Baelish’s full quote follows, with the video below: “Chaos isn’t a pit. Chaos is a ladder. Many who try to climb it fail, and never get to try again. The fall breaks them. And some, given a chance to climb, they refuse. They cling to the realm, or the gods, or love. Illusions. Only the ladder is real. The climb is all there is.

Now, let’s piece that quote together with present-day context. Baelish has been lurking around Winterfell, often hidden in the shadows, leaving all of us to wonder what he’s up to and what his true intentions are. Well perhaps these words — the words he spoke many years back — words the all-knowing Bran chooses to repeat — sum up Baelish’s true intentions. For him, the climb is all there is. It is not so much about the endpoint, as much as it is the climb to get there. In short, it is all about the game and how you play it — to him, that is the very purpose of life. If the words he speaks are true, then he is not interested in love or the gods or the good of the realm — his only interest is the climb itself and Bran appears to be aware of this.

And yet, there is another interesting layer to this scene, one that can only be understood when considering Baelish’s history. About 20 years ago, it was Brandon Stark (Ned’s oldest brother and heir to Winterfell) who was set to marry Cat. Baelish, a young boy in love with Cat, challenged Brandon to a duel to win the hand of Cat. Brandon agreed to the duel, promising Cat that he would not kill Baelish. Brandon was a powerful warrior and Baelish was far from a fighter, so as one would assume, Baelish was badly beaten and severely injured. Brandon would later ride to King’s Landing to free his sister Lyanna, and would be killed by the Mad King, which resulted in Ned marrying Cat instead of Brandon. In any event, this experience would forever impact Baelish, as he was severely humiliated, physically beaten and also lost the woman of his dreams. Though he would not admit it, he developed a strong jealousy and hatred for the Starks as a result, and many believe this is why he would betray Ned and have him arrested in King’s Landing many years later.

Now, in this scene, Baelish tells Bran “Anything I can do for you Brandon, you need only ask.” When assessing the authenticity of Baelish’s statement, it’s significant to note that he refers to him as Brandon instead of Bran. Very few have referred to Bran as Brandon. Couple that with the fact that it was Brandon Stark (Bran’s uncle) who badly defeated Baelish, and there is some definite undertone to Baelish’s choice to refer to Bran and Brandon. And going back to Baelish’s earlier quote: “Many who try to climb it fail, and never get to try again. The fall breaks them.” Baelish’s fall was his defeat at the hands of Brandon Stark — a fall that would not break him as it has broken so many others. For Baelish, it was that very fall that serves as the driving factor for him to keep climbing the “ladder of chaos.”

HOMECOMING

Elsewhere in Winterfell, Arya finally makes her return home. After years separated, the reunions of so many of the Stark children so close together seems a bit odd, but let’s look past that. Let’s reflect upon all that Arya has been through to lead up to this moment. Witnessed your father’s beheading? Check. Present for the Red Wedding when your mother and brother are ruthlessly murdered? Check. Spent years getting beaten, blinded and tortured in Braavos? Check. Arya has been through enough pain and torture to last 10 lifetimes, yet she has overcome it all and prevailed as an incredibly powerful character who has willed herself back to Winterfell against all odds.

But, similar to the reunion last week between Sansa and Bran, the reunion this week between Arya and Sansa was less than emotional. After all the time these family members have spent apart, we all assumed their reunions would be wonderful and emotional and joyous. But, the reality is that these characters have experienced an incredible amount of hardship and have been reunited as very different people. That said, what is interesting about the reunion between Sansa and Arya is that the juxtaposition of their characters is still quite similar to what it was all the way back in season one. At that time, Sansa only wanted to be a lady and Arya was the rebel who wanted to fight with the boys. Fast forward years later and they are reunited with Sansa being the lady of Winterfell and Arya being a ruthless assassin. Ironically, in many ways, they’ve both become the people they always wanted to be — albeit neither forecasted the pain they’d experience to become those people.

While it is nice to see these characters reunite, there are giant question marks around what comes next for these siblings and whether or not they are even truly on the same team. As they stood in the crypts of Winterfell, Arya tells Sansa about her list — the list of people she wants to kill. Sansa laughs this off, assuming her sister must be joking. Yet, moments later, she sees the skilled fighter Arya has become as she is able to best Brienne, one of the most skilled fighters in the land. Interestingly, when Brienne asks Arya who taught her, she cleverly responds, “Nobody.” As Sansa witnesses this, she realizes the truth of what her little sister had revealed about her list and the person Arya has become. She seems displeased to say the least, and she walks away, Baelish looks on with a grin, perhaps identifying a new opportunity that he can leverage.

Out in the Godswood, Bran, Sansa and Arya are all reunited together, in a place that is most sacred to House Stark (and now, especially to Bran). Sansa casually reveals to Arya that Bran is able to see everything that any person has ever experienced. Moments later, Bran gives that mysterious dagger to Arya, furthering the significance of this weapon. Given Bran’s wisdom, it is unlikely that he gave it to Arya simply because he did not have use for it. Rather, it is more likely that Bran is aware of the significance of this dagger and the role it may play in the hands of Arya. Looking on, Sansa seemed somewhat displeased, furthering the tension that exists between the two.

IT’S ALL ABOUT THE SPIRAL

At Dragonstone, Jon Snow has discovered the cache of Dragonglass and takes Dany into the cave to see it. The scene (intentionally) felt intimate and steamy, with Jon and Dany alone in a dark cave — a familiar setting to Jon Snow (it was in a dark cave that he first got it on with Ygritte many seasons ago). It felt as though there was potential for Jon and Dany to get it on right then and there, and though this never would have happened that quickly, the stage is certainly set for the possibility of it happening in the future. Yes, they are blood and she is his aunt, but they don’t know that yet. And even if they did, remember that the Targaryens practiced incest for thousands of years to keep their bloodline pure. And while the alone time Jon and Dany had was a nice buildup to what might come, there was a much bigger takeaway from this scene.

First, Jon discovered the Dragonglass — enough of it to presumably make weapons for an entire army to fight off the White Walkers. But even that was not the biggest takeaway here. Imagine that — supplies were just discovered which will enable the humans to possibly fight off an army of the dead that threatens the very existence of humanity — and that wasn’t even the most important discovery! So what was the biggest takeaway here? The answer is the inscriptions on the walls, more specifically, the spirals. Though we do not fully understand what the spirals represent, we do know they are extremely significant and possibly represent the ultimate clue to how this entire story will play out.

So here’s what we know. The inscriptions on the walls were made by the Children of the Forest thousands of years ago. As we know from this story, the Children were the very first inhabitants of Westeros, having lived off the land for thousands of years before the First Men ever arrived. You can read more about the Children of the Forest and the First Men here — and if you aren’t fully clued in on this history, I would highly recommend you refresh yourself. Though the Children lived without humans for thousands of years, the inscriptions on the wall show the Children and the First Men together. As Jon explains to Dany, they banded together to fight off the White Walkers, which we also saw on the wall. But that wasn’t all we saw on the wall. Perhaps most significant were the spirals — a symbol we have seen throughout the show since the very first season — and one that is going to be extremely important. So let’s recap where we’ve seen this symbol to date.

In the very first episode, a ranger of the Night’s Watch stumbled upon some dead bodies north of the Wall. When he returned, he saw the corpses mutilated and rearranged in the below orientation.

A few seasons later, again north of the Wall, we see a bunch of dead horses arranged in an even more definitive spiral (below), again the work of the White Walkers.

But things get a lot more interesting, because we later learn in season six, that it is not just the White Walkers that deal in these spirals, but also the Children of the Forest. In one of Bran’s vision, and in an incredibly important reveal, we learn that it is actually the Children of the Forest that create the very first White Walker (who is probably the Night King we see today) by inserting Dragonglass into his heart (see below for a refresher).

What we also see in this vision is a bird’s-eye-view of the tree where the Children created the first White Walker. At this very important location, we see a similar spiral (below).

And last, but certainly not least, the teaser trailer for this season culminated with another similar spiral, before it is engulfed by the blue eye of the Night King (below). The importance of this spiral and what it has to do with the White Walkers could not be made any more clear.

So what does all of this tell us? Well, we may not know exactly what the spiral represents, but we know it is important. Perhaps the spiral represents some sort of balance between dark and light, good and evil, fire and ice. Whatever it represents, what we do know is that it was something significant to the Children of the Forest, who were a magical species. What’s more, we know that the White Walkers learned this truth from the Children and are referencing it today. Bringing it full circle to tonight’s episode, we see that these very same spirals were carved into the cave thousands of years ago. And not just in any cave — into the cave which shares the story of the Children banning together with the First Men to fight off the White Walkers — and the cave that also contains the Dragonglass needed to fight off the White Walkers today. In short, these spirals are extremely significant and could contain the secret to what is really going on here — a fundamental truth shared between the Children and the White Walkers — and one we will likely find out before this story comes to an end.

FIRE AND BLOOD

It was only a matter of time until Khaleesi flew a dragon into battle, and after being dealt several decisive blows in the last few weeks, she decided to take matters into her own hands. Khaleesi, on the back of Drogon, flew into battle with her Dothraki army and decimated the unsuspecting Lannister army. For the first time, we saw the full impact that a dragon can have in battle, burning men by the hundreds with each breath of fire. And we saw the destruction that Targaryens have inflicted for hundreds of years, scorching alive those who defy them, watching their flesh melt and burn. This battle was a direct allusion to the Field of Fire — perhaps the most famous battle of Aegon’s Conquest.

As Khaleesi approached, Bronn encouraged Jaime to flee but Jaime refused to abandon his men. Incredibly, Jaime and Bronn both managed to remain unscathed (at least for most of the battle). One of the more powerful moments of this battle was Tyrion ascending over the hill to look on at the Lannister army being destroyed, men being burnt alive. Though he is obviously not a typical Lannister, the reality is that these are still the people that he called his own his entire life. It is one thing to strategize about how to defeat your family when they are halfway across the world; it is another to come face to face with the realities of your decision, especially when those realities result in the death and destruction of your people. As much hate as Tyrion had for Tywin and still has for Cersei, a part of him had to be questioning his decision as he watched the Lannisters forces being burned alive.

And then he sees Jaime, who he can only hope is smart enough to flee. The timing could not be more poignant, as just last week, Jaime learns that he made the right decision in saving his brother Tyrion, who was in fact not responsible for the death of Joffrey for which he was accused. Yet one week later, Jaime’s life is at risk, in large due the brother he saved. Jaime sees a vulnerable Khaleesi within striking distance, and decides to go after her, no doubt willing to risk his life to eliminate the principal threat to his sister’s reign. Just feet away from taking out Khaleesi, who has been grounded after Drogon was harpooned, Drogon turns to Jaime and breathes fire in his direction. Jaime is all but dead, until he is tackled off his horse and into a body of water, just in the nick of time. It appears to be Bronn that saves Jaime, but this is not definite. It also appears that Jaime avoided the fire, though the nature in which he continues to sink deeper, seemingly lifeless, brings question to this. Assuming that he is alive, will the tables now be turned, with Tyrion having the opportunity to save his brother, the way Jaime once saved him?

Above all, one thing is abundantly clear. The world will soon know of the fire and blood that Khaleesi’s dragons can bring. How will the people of Westeros react when they hear this? Will they support the return of a rightful ruler or fear the madness of a Targaryen?

ODDS & ENDS

  • Meera informs Bran that she must return home to her family. She knows the White Walkers are coming and she must be there to protect her family. (Though the show does not really touch upon it, House Reed is a major house in the North and it will be interesting to see if we get to see Meera’s family). Much like when he was reunited with Sansa last week, Bran once again shows no emotion as he says goodbye to Meera. Meera reminds Bran of all the people that died to save him, and though he understands her point, he reminds her that he is no longer Bran, but rather the Three-Eyed Raven.

 

  • Though Drogon was wounded, he will likely be okay. A non-lethal wound might turn out to be a small price to pay for Team Khaleesi to have learned about the secret weapon Cersei has been working on.

 

  • When Brienne asks Arya who trained her, she responds “Nobody.” She could have been referring to Jaqen H’ghar, the Faceless Man who trained her quite some time. But the man who truly taught her what we witnessed in this scene, was Syrio Forel, the man who taught her the Water Dance (a Bravoosi way of fighting) all the way back in season one. While Jaqen was a Faceless Man and it would make sense to refer to him as “nobody,” the same cannot be said of Syrio, unless Syrio was in fact Jaqen H’ghar all along. It is entirely possible that Jaqen was training Arya since the very beginning, pretending to be Syrio Forel in the first season.

 

  • Dany again asks Jon Snow to bend the knee and the next thing we see is the two walking out from the cave. It is possible that he bent the knee without us seeing.

 

  • Jon Snow comes face to face with Theon and does a pretty good job at composing himself.

Season 7 Primer

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.

SEASON SEVEN PRIMER

With just about one week until GoT Season 7 kicks off, the wait is officially over.  Though this year-long delay between seasons has felt like an eternity, it’s safe to assume that this wait will be well worth it. The seventh (and penultimate) season is sure to be nothing short of epic, spectacular, heart-pounding action from start to finish. Producers took an extra three months on this season, namely to wait for the right climate in the areas around the world they are shooting. After all, winter is here, and producers wanted to make sure the geographies they were shooting in were colder than ever before.

Before we jump into recapping where last season left off and where season seven will pick up, it’s important to step back for a moment and consider where we stand in this seven-year journey. It’s hard to believe how quick time flies and that it was seven full years ago that good old Ned was preaching that winter was coming, Daenerys was just a young girl with no dragons or army, the Starks were living peacefully in Winterfell, and the only battle that seemed to matter was the one for the Iron Throne. How things have changed. Fast forward seven years and Ned is dead, winter is here, Daenerys is now a Khaleesi with three full-grown dragons, and some of the much larger impending battles that are soon to unfold make the battle for the Iron Throne seem petty and insignificant.

So here we are…the the beginning of the end. With 60 episodes behind us, and only 13 episodes to go, it’s important to realize that we are truly embarking upon the final chapter of the Thrones saga. Everything we have witnessed over the last seven years has led up to this very moment. It’s the final act, and boy are we in for a treat. This season will consist of just seven episodes, and though that seems like we are being shorted from an already-brief 10-episode season, you can be sure that each of these seven episodes will be nothing short of spectacular. There will be no filler episodes and no time to waste. Each second of each episode will be carefully calculated and masterfully executed. Producers have even gone as far as to confirm that there will be two episodes that exceed the ordinary 60-minute airtime, one of which will be as long as 90 minutes! In short, you can think of each of these episodes as a full-fledged movie, and with a budget of approximately $15 million per episode, these 7 episodes actually far exceed the cost of producing an average Hollywood film (this season’s 7 episodes cost about $100 million, compared to average Hollywood budget of $60 million per film). Pretty incredible to consider.

So, my advice to all viewers in the coming days before the seventh season kicks off and we head towards the beginning of the end, is to spend some time appreciating thinking about all that has transpired to bring us to where we are today. Prepare mentally for the epic saga which is coming to a close. Think about all the magic we have witnessed over the last seven years. The powerful stories that have been told; the incredible character journeys and transformations that have unfolded before our eyes; the joy, the pain, the shocks and laughter we have experienced. For then, and only then, will you truly be able to savor season seven and the precious few moments we have left before Thrones comes to an end.

And now, let’s kick off the recap…

KING’S LANDING

The last few episodes of season six were action-packed, and things progressed very quickly around the world, but perhaps nowhere more so than King’s Landing. The final episode of last season was to include Cercei’s trial, where she would be tried for the sins she had confessed to the High Sparrow. Heading into the trial, the Tyrell’s appeared to be on top, with a weakened Cercei more vulnerable than ever. Many thought that she would be found guilty and perhaps even executed…boy was Cercei underestimated.

Cercei cleverly used her trial as an opportunity to secure all of her enemies in one place. She used stockpiles of Wildfire (which Tyrion previously used to fend off Stannis’ attack on King’s Landing), and blew up the Great Sept of Baelor, killing Margaery, Loras and Mace Tyrell, along with the High Sparrow and Faith Militant. In one fell swoop, Cercei took out her most immediate threats, once again showing that there are no lengths she won’t go to in order to eliminate her enemies and remain on top. However, there is another death that Cercei is responsible for — that of her last remaining child, Tommen. Realizing all the people that have just died in the explosion, and no longer able to handle the pressures of being King, Tommen jumps out of the window to his death. Without question, Cercei is directly responsible for her son’s death, ironically fulfilling the prophecy that Cercei had been told as a young girl (which was revealed to us nearly 20 episodes prior, in the first episode of season five), which stated that she would eventually lose all of her children.

With her enemies eliminated and the king now dead, Cercei takes the Iron Throne for herself, underscoring what she has demonstrated from day one — that she is the most cunning and capable, even as a woman in world ruled by men. And even though we’ve seen some evil kings to date (i.e. Joffrey), the Throne Room has a whole new darkness to it as Cercei ascends the Iron Throne, dressed in all black. Though she has always had an evil side, the one thing that humanized Cercei was her extreme love for her children. Having now lost not one, not two, but all three children, Cercei takes the Iron Throne, colder and more evil than ever before. With nothing left to lose, now more than ever, there is nothing Cercei will not do to avenge the deaths of her children. We know that at the top of her hit list will be the Martells of Dorne, who were responsible for the death of her daughter, Myrcella.

It will be interesting to see how things play out in King’s Landing with just 13 episodes to go, and whether or not season seven will end with Cercei still on the Throne. Moreover, there are big question marks around how  Jaime will fit into this new picture. Once willing to do anything to protect one another, Cercei and Jaime have become more and more estranged over time. Jaime’s character evolution and seeming desire to do good is fundamentally at odds with Cercei’s plans, and he will soon need to decide the man he wants to be.

THE NORTH

The North… Home to the Starks, Winterfell, the Wall, and the first line of defense against the impending White Walkers. There is no part of the world more significant to this story, so let’s recap where things left off.

For quite some time, House Bolton has claimed the North and Ramsay was calling the shots. Things started to take a turn for Ramsay and House Bolton when Sansa escaped (aided by Theon), who eventually reunited with her brother, Jon Snow. After being resurrected by Lady Melisandre, Jon is faced with the enormous task of taking down House Bolton and reclaiming the North. He is supported by the few remaining loyal brothers of the Night’s Watch, Tormund and the Wildlings, Ser Davos and Sansa.

In the penultimate episode of last season, we witnessed the Battle of the Bastards, where Jon’s army defeats Ramsay and reclaims Winterfell. In truth, it was Sansa that won this war and not Jon. Having been exposed to Ramsay and his sick games, Sansa knew their enemy better than Jon, and tried to warn him not to fall into any of Ramsay’s traps. Sure enough, Ramsay baited Jon into a trap by putting his little brother, Rickon, in between their armies, where Jon had the chance to ride out and save him. Sure enough, Jon Snow took the bait and fell into the trap. After a bloody and brutal battle, Jon and what was left of his army, was surrounded by the Bolton’s with death just moments away. Then, Sansa, Baelish and the Knights of the Vale appear, taking down the unsuspecting Bolton army. Ramsay retreats behind the walls of Winterfell, where he is eventually beaten by Jon Snow, before Sansa feeds him to the hounds.

There are a few very significant takeaways here leading into season seven. First and foremost, the Starks have reclaimed Winterfell and a good chunk of the North. They have gotten many of the Northern houses to pledge their allegiance, an effort that was led by the young Lyanna Mormont. In the final episode, Jon was hailed as the King in the North, much the same as his older brother Robb was years before. However, unlike Robb who faced battling an army of men, Jon knows all too well that there is an impending war against the dead, and the North will be the first line of defense in protecting the rest of the realm against the darkness that is coming.

Another important takeaway is the relationship between Sansa and Jon and the role that Baelish will play in the near future. Sansa could have told Jon that she had written Baelish and secured the Knights of the Vale, but she chose not to. Through all the traumatic experiences she has endured (Joffrey, Ramsay, Baelish, etc), she has become wiser and learned to play the game. She trusts nobody, not even her own blood, and would not let herself be vulnerable as she has been so many times before. The Knights of the Vale were her last line of defense — her safety net — and she would not tell anybody about this, not even Jon. Although they reclaimed Winterfell, Sansa did not appear too pleased that Jon was being hailed the new King in the North, and she had subtle interactions with Baelish which alluded to the fact that she may have other plans in mind. Those plans could include joining Baelish on his quest for the Iron Throne. When Sansa finally asked Baelish the question we’ve all been wondering — what exactly it is that he wants — he finally came right out and told her that he wants “everything there is,” including to marry her and rule over the Iron Throne together. Keep an eye on Baelish’s role as he has been a master manipulator behind the scenes and still likely has a few tricks up his sleeve.

BRAN KNOWS R+L=J

On the topic of Jon Snow and the Starks, the season six finale had arguably the biggest reveal in Thrones history, though many had seen this coming for quite some time. That reveal is a simple equation: R + L = J, short for Rhaegar (Targaryen) + Lyanna (Stark) = Jon Snow, the theory that Rhaegar and Lyanna were Jon’s biological parents. In the final episode, we witnessed one of the most famous scenes from the books — The Tower of Joy — and learned what Ned Stark found out 20+ years ago. What is most interesting is that it is Bran that found out the true identity of his brother, and not Jon Snow himself.

After the three-eyed-raven that had been guiding Bran dies and Bran is told he now must become the raven, Bran’s vision takes him to the Tower of Joy, where the younger Ned ascends the tower to find his sister Lyanna, bloody and dying. After many years of hearing about Lyanna, we finally get to see her. Before she passes, she tells Ned that he must take her baby and protect him. If they figure out who he really is (a Targaryen), they will kill him, she says.

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

So, looking back, it’s pretty powerful to think of everything Ned did to protect Jon Snow. But, looking forward, there’s even more to consider. First, like we said, Jon is a Targaryen. Moreover, he’s half Stark as well, which is quite genetic makeup, arguably the two greatest families. He could be the link between uniting the strength of the North with the power of his Aunt Khaleesi and her Targaryen bloodline. Yes, Khaleesi is Jon’s aunt (her older brother, Rhaegar, was Jon’s father). And perfect timing as Khaleesi is headed to Westeros with her dragons and all. Naturally, this begs the question of when Jon will find out who he is and what type of union might follow between Khaleesi and Jon.

ARYA

Sticking with the Starks, Arya went through quite a journey in season six, and seems to have emerged as the person she will be for the final stretch of the story. For what seemed like an eternity, Arya trained to become nobody. She was instructed that in order to become nobody and learn to become a Faceless Man, she would have to strip herself of her identity as Arya Stark. She spent years in brutal training, only to realize in the end, that she was Arya Stark. If you think about the transformation, it feels like a waste of time, but then again maybe Jaqen H’ghar was pushing her to become nobody in the hopes that it would actually make her somebody — Arya Stark — and a stronger version of that somebody.

Having now reclaimed her identity and appearing stronger than ever (not to mention trained in the ways of the Faceless Men), Arya appears back on Westeros and crosses another name off her list. She slits the throat of Walder Frey, the man responsible for a good chunk of the Red Wedding that killed her brother Robb and mother Cat. What’s next for Arya is anybody’s guess. Now that she’s in the Riverlands of Westeros, she’s not terribly far from Sansa or Jon, and with Winterfell reclaimed, perhaps she’ll go reunite with her siblings. Or, even better yet, perhaps she’ll reunite with the Hound, who is also not far away. Which takes us to…

THE HOUND

After Arya leaves the Hound for dead in the finale of season four, I was heartbroken. Not just because the Hound was my favorite character, but because the bond that had developed between these two characters was unlike any other, and I couldn’t believe it was coming to an end. So I refused to believe the Hound was dead, and 17 episodes later, it was magical to learn that the Hound was still alive! He had fallen in with a small religious village and living a simple life, removed from the violence with which we have come to associate him.

That quickly changed though as a few rogue members of the Brotherhood Without Banners slay the village. The Hound eventually catches up with them as they are being held by the leaders of the Brotherhood Without Banners, Thoros of Myr and Beric Dondarrion, whom we had also not seen for several seasons. In the end, they grant the Hound his wish of killing these murderers, and the Hound agrees to join them in their mission. It is interesting to see the Hound join Thoros and Beric, as these were the very men he fought in a trial-by-combat many seasons prior. Worth noting, in that trial-by-combat, he killed Beric, though Beric was quickly brought back to life by the Red Priest, Thoros. We know that Thoros has been able to bring Beric back many times before, once again demonstrating that the Lord of Light does in fact have true power, and also highlighting the importance of the role that Beric, Thoros and likely the Hound will have to play in the coming episodes.

KHALEESI & CO.

So after five seasons of wandering through the desert and freeing a bunch of slaves, my least favorite story line, Khaleesi’s, finally advanced to where we all had hoped it would. But before we dive into that, let’s quickly recap the squad that she has assembled overt he years. Khaleesi has Grey Worm, in command of 8,000 Unsullied soldiers and Daario Naharis, in command of 2,000 Second Sons soldiers. On top of that, she has thousands of Dothraki soldiers that she won over after defeating the Khals and walking through fire. Her original advisers, Ser Barristan Selmy and Ser Jorah Mormont are both gone, with the former dead and the latter banished to find a cure for his greyscale disease. In their place, Khaleesi has received new counsel in the form of Tyrion and Varys. Tyrion has quickly become Khaleesi’s most trusted and wisest adviser, and in the finale episode, she names him Hand of the Queen. Khaleesi also has Missandei, who has has a slow-developing romance with Grey Worm, which has seemed like a waste of time, but could impact things as they unfold.

Adding to this crew that she had for most of season six, Khaleesi strikes a pact with Yara and Theon of House Greyjoy. Yara and Theon pledge their allegiance to Khaleesi and promise her their support and 100+ ships, if she will allow them lordship over the Iron Islands when she sits upon the Throne. 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 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, while 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. 300 years later, Khaleesi is once again striking similar pacts as Aegon Targaryen did before her.

But back to the Greyjoys for a minute — it is important to remember that the reason Yara and Theon struck this alliance with Khaleesi is because they are on the run from Euron Greyjoy — their uncle who killed their father and is now on the quest for power. From what we’ve seen of him, and what the books have also described, he is a crazy man that will do anything to achieve what he wants. It will be interesting to see what alliances he forms, and one can only guess that he may join up with the Khaleesi’s number one enemy — Cercei and the Lannisters.

And if 3 dragons, tens of thousands of soldiers, and a new fleet of ships is not enough power for Khaleesi to storm Westeros, let’s not forget that it looks like she will also be backed by two more very powerful houses — House Martell and House Tyrell. In the finale of season six, we see Lady Olenna meeting with the Sand Snakes (who have recently killed Prince Doran and taken control of Dorne), telling them that all she has left in this world is the opportunity to avenge the deaths of her son, Mace Tyrell, and grandchildren, Margaery and Loras. She has come to the right place, as the Sand Snakes too have longed wanted revenge against the Lannisters for the role they played in murdering several Martells.

As a refresher, during Robert’s Rebellion, after the Mad King was overthrown, Tywin Lannister ordered The Mountain to kill any remaining Targaryens in King’s Landing. At the time, Prince Rhaegar (The Mad King’s son/Khaleesi’s oldest brother) had been wed to Elia Martell (The Red Viper/Prince Doran’s sister) and had two babies, which were half Martell and half Targaryen. Following Tywin’s orders, The Mountain raped and killed Elia Martell, before killing her two babies. House Martell has wanted revenge against House Lannister for many years, and most recently, The Red Viper had a chance to avenge these deaths when he battled The Mountain in Tyrion’s trial-by-combat. Unfortunately, he lost and was killed by the Mountain, only furthering the revenge that the Sand Snakes and House Martell seek against the Lannisters.

So, Lady Olenna, representing House Tyrell, the largest and arguably most powerful/wealthy house in Westeros today, is banding together with the Martells in their quest for revenge. Conveniently, Lord Varys joins the scene offering “fire and blood” if they join Khaleesi, who also wants revenge against the Lannisters. Assuming they join her cause, Khaleesi now not only has dragons, a fleet of ships and likely the largest army in the world, but also backing from two of the most powerful houses in Westeros (and partial backing from a third, House Greyjoy). It’s hard to imagine that anybody will be able to stop her.

SAM TARLY AND THE CITADEL

In the final episode of last season, Sam Tarly arrives at the city of Oldtown which is the second largest city in all of Westeros, and by far the oldest, dating back thousands of years. The most important feature of Oldtown is that it is the home of the Citadel, where the ancient Order of the Maestars train and study to become wise scholars. So, what is the significance of Sam finally arriving to the legendary Citadel? Well, for starters, we know that the Citadel houses tens of thousands of books which cover the history of the known world. We see the massive library that Sam walks into and it is magical to consider the rich detail of the history of the world that is contained inside those books.

In the war that is to come against darkness and death, humanity will certainly need to band together. But having a chance to win this war will require more than just soldiers — it will require wisdom and knowledge. This is likely where Sam will come into play. First, we already know that Sam killed a White Walker back in season three, using the Dragonglass that he found. Not only does this make Sam one of the very few humans alive to have killed a White Walker, but it provides him with the knowledge that Dragonglass can be used to kill the White Walkers. He will likely be able to use this knowledge, and other wisdom that he’ll need to discover from the Citadel, in order to support Jon Snow and the rest of humanity in their battle against the White Walkers. There was another very interesting reveal in the finale episode last season regarding Sam and the Citadel, and what we might have seen when he entered the library — you can read more about that here.

THE BIG PICTURE

As this recap comes to a close and we’ve recapped where things left off in season six, let’s quickly look forward to “the big picture” and the stage that has been set for season seven. The biggest takeaway is that many smaller sides are coming together to form larger alliances, and we are likely to witness some very big battles this season — bigger than anything we’ve seen to date. In the past, there were so many different games being played by so many different players. There were fights for land, houses, religion, and of course the Iron Throne. But now, as we approach the end, these smaller and less significant games will all start to come together, as will the players involved. And, as this recap has more or less outlined, we can already see the teams that are coming together.

The biggest battle that seems imminent is that between Cercei, who holds the Iron Throne, and Khaleesi, who is coming for it. With her, Khaleesi will likely be joined by houses Tyrell, Martell and part of Greyjoy. On her side, Cercei will have the power of the Lannister army, possibly the other half of House Greyjoy (if Euron joins with Cercei) and likely some other players that will join Cercei’s fight to keep the Targaryens away from the Iron Throne. In short, most of the great houses of Westeros have picked sides and a massive battle is in store.

In the North, Jon Snow is rebuilding his own northern fleet and gaining the backing of many northern houses. It will be interesting to see what role he and the North play in the battle that will take part in the south, and if they get involved at all, or solely focus on the larger war that he knows is coming — the war against death and darkness.

There are of course tons of other players to consider and it will be great to see how they pick sides, as it seems inevitable that eventually, as the many games narrow down to just one or two, everybody will have to choose a side.

OTHER THINGS TO KEEP AN EYE ON

As we know, Thrones and it’s story arc is quite detailed and intricate. Characters and plot-points are sometimes introduced in certain episode, and then not touched upon again until many episodes, or even seasons later.There have been countless instances of this, and it is this depth of plot development that is so unique to Thrones. So, as we come into the home stretch with just 13 episodes left to go, you can bet that we are going to have a bunch of “Aha! moments” where something from a long while ago, that we probably forgot about, comes back into focus. So here are some interesting tidbits to keep your eye on:

  • Gendry, who we’ve not seen in many seasons, could turn out to be a very significant character that will reemerge at some point in the near future. We have not seen Gendry since Lady Melisandre and Stannis held him prisoner in the third season so that Melisandre could use his King’s Blood (remember, he is the son of King Robert Baratheon). After Melisandre convinced Stannis that they must execute Gendry as a sacrifice to the Lord of Light, Davos undermines their efforts and sets Gendry free. Gendry took off in a small row boat, never to be seen again. But here’s what we know. First, Gendry has King’s Blood which is in important. Second, Ser Davos went through a lot of trouble and risked his life to save Gendry, so it probably wasn’t for us to never see Gendry again. Third, and arguably most important, with the recent death of Tommen (who was actually a Baratheon), Gendry is officially the last living Baratheon that we know of. When the show started, House Baratheon was one of the most powerful, with many important players (Robert, Stannis, Renly, etc). Historically, House Baratheon has been one of the most powerful houses for hundreds of years. Yet today, it has become all but extinct. Enter Gendry, the last living Baratheon who represents the possibility of reviving this once powerful house. And yet, there is one more very interesting tidbit about Gendry to consider. We were first introduced to Gendry as a bastard boy who was the apprentice to Tobho Mott. Before coming to King’s Landing and serving as a master blacksmith, Tobho Mott was originally from Qohor (in Essos), a city that is famed for producing blacksmiths that are masters in forging Valyrian steel. In an early episode, while in King’s Landing, it is mentioned that Tobho has the ability to reforge Valyrian steel. Though we never saw him do it, and it was only touched upon for a brief moment, it is entirely reasonable to consider that Tobho may have passed on this ancient skill to his apprentice, Gendry. If that is the case, Gendry would be one of the few men alive with the knowledge and ability to forge Valyrian steel, which makes him all the more significant as Valyrian steel weapons will be needed to defeat the White Walkers in the coming war.

  • Jorah Mormont is another character that is out there somewhere, though we haven’t seen him in some time and can’t be sure what he’s up to. We’ve not seen him since midway through the sixth season, at which point Khaleesi ordered him to find a cure for his greyscale, so that he can stand beside her as she retakes the Seven Kingdoms. There are some definite question marks here around whether or not he’ll be able to find a cure and whether he’ll ever reunite with Khaleesi. There is another intriguing scenario to consider — the distinct possibility that he somehow makes it back to Westeros and House Mormont, which is currently being led by the young Lyanna Mormont. Since Lyanna has pledged her support to Jon Snow/House Stark, if this did happen, Jorah could end up aligning with Jon Snow. This would be particularly powerful as Jon Snow was trained by Jorah’s father, Lord Commander Mormont, and fights with Longclaw, the Lord Commander’s Valyrian steel sword, which he gave to Jon because with Jorah banished from Westeros, he had no heir to pass it onto. It’s a very interesting scenario to consider.

  • The Prince That Was Promised: You can read more about The Prince That Was Promised here, but in short, 8,000 years ago the Long Night came, which is regarded as the longest winter ever known to man — one that brought cold and darkness to an entire generation. During the Long Night, the White Walkers came from the deep North and nearly pushed humanity to extinction. A great battle took place, led by the legendary warrior, Azor Ahai, who fought with a flaming sword called Lightbringer. Azor Ahai fought back the White Walkers, at which point the Wall was built to prevent them from ever invading again. When Azor Ahai died, it was prophesized that at some time in the future, the White Walkers would come again, and Azor Ahai would be reincarnated as the Prince That Was Promised, to once again lead the fight against darkness. Since the beginning of the show, Lady Melisandre believed Stannis was the Prince That Was Promised and destined to fight back the White Walkers, but she turned out to be wrong about that. Since then, some have thought Jon Snow to be the Prince That Was Promised, while others have noted it could be Khaleesi. Whether or not the show will definitively answer this is TBD, but it’s an interesting theory to keep your eye on.

  • Speaking of Lady Melisandre, there are some rather large question marks surrounding her and what role she might play in the future. Having once believed Melisandre was an all-knowing priestess who could interpret the words of the Lord of Light, she revealed herself last season to actually be an old decrepit woman, who has masked her appearance through the use of her potions and elixirs. She has shown clear powers many times, whether it was the ability to birth the shadow that killed Renly Baratheon or her ability to resurrect Jon Snow, but she was also wrong many times, particularly about all the faith she put into Stannis. After being banished from the North by Jon Snow for sacrificing Princess Shireen, where will Melisandre surface and what role will she play in the final hours of this story?

  • To say Direwolves are important to this story would be an understatement. After all, it was the very first episode of this series when the Starks found the six Direwolf pups, one for each child. Sadly, four of the six have been killed throughout the years. But, the good news is that there are still two living Stark wolves, one of which we have not seen since the first season!  Jon’s wolf, Ghost, is the only one that has been in the picture recently. But, Nymeria, Arya’s wolf, we have not seen since midway through the very first season. After Cercei ordered Nymeria to be executed for biting Joffrey, Arya set Nymeria free so they could not execute her (instead, they executed Sansa’s wolf, Lady). With Arya back in Westeros, and very close to the place where she originally set Nymeria free, it is worth keeping your eye out for the possibility of Arya and Nymeria being reunited.

  • Benjen Stark is also out there somewhere. After disappearing north of the Wall in season one, most of us probably forgot about Benjen altogether, and it was not until five years later, in season six, that Benjen makes a surprise return. Benjen aided Bran and Meera on their journey north of the Wall, but had to part ways once they passed south of the Wall, as he explained the Wall had ancient magic preventing the dead from passing through (thus also revealing that he is technically dead). Benjen is particularly significant because he is Ned’s brother, and thus the closest thing any of the Stark children have left to a parent. The fact that he is half-dead and has knowledge of fighting the White Walkers reveal that he will likely play a role in the war that is to come.

  • What did Varys hear in the flames? This is another important question that has been touched upon a few times throughout the seasons, most recently last season when Tyrion and Varys are visited by Kinvara, the High Red Priestess of Volantis. She asks Varys if he remembers what he heard from the flames and who the voice was that he heard, the night that he was mutilated. She is referring to what Varys revealed in an earlier season when he told the story of how he was drugged by a sorcerer when he was a small boy. As he lay helpless and paralyzed, the sorcerer castrated him and tossed his “parts” into the fire. Varys recalls hearing a voice call out to him from the flames, but adds that he was drugged and in much pain, so he could not make out what he heard. Many seasons later, this resurfaces when Kinvara visits them and tells them that she will spread the word that Khaleesi is the one who was promised (alluding to her belief that Khaleesi is the Prince That Was Promised), and the one who will fight back the darkness with her dragons. Varys is skeptical of Kinvara, as he is generally skeptical and averse to “blood magic” due to what happened to him as a child. He challenges Kinvara, noting the other Red Priestess, Melisandre, had said something similar of Stannis but was wrong. Kinvara responds to Varys, and asks “Do you remember what you heard that night? You heard a voice call out from the flames, do you remember? Should I tell you what the voice said? Should I tell you the name of the one who spoke?” Is it possible that Varys heard the voice of the Lord of Light when he was just a small boy, and has been unknowingly serving the Lord of Light ever since? It’s hard to imagine what he actually heard, but clearly it was something important, and could be something we find out in the coming episodes.

SEASON 6, EPISODE 10: THE WINDS OF WINTER

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

THE WINDS OF WINTER

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

loras

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

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

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

DARKNESS IN KING’S LANDING

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

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

sept explosion

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

wildfire

From Bran’s vision

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

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

KING IN THE NORTH

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

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

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

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

king north

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

NEW FRIENDS

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

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

ONE MORE NAME OFF THE LIST

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

arya frey

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

R+L=J

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

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

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

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

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

HOMEWARD BOUND

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

khaleesi ships

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

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.