SEASON 7, EPISODE 5: EASTWATCH

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

EASTWATCH

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

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

THE AFTERMATH

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

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

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

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

DRAGONSTONE

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

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

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

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

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

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

KING’S LANDING

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

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

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

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

THE CITADEL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WINTERFELL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE DREAM TEAM

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

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

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

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

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

 

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SEASON 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.

snow.2jpg

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

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

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

SANSA & JON

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

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

snow rises

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

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

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

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

snow

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

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

wun

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

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

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

KHALEESI, DRAGONS AND A NEW ALLIANCE

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

dragon

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

tyrion

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

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

greyjoy

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

HEADING INTO THE FINALE…

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

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

SEASON 6, EPISODE 7: THE BROKEN MAN

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

THE BROKEN MAN

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

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

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

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

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

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

KING’S LANDING

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

margaery

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

cercei

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

RIVERRUN

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

jaime

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

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

A NORTH DIVIDED

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

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

snow

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

THEON, YARA (AND KHALEESI?)

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

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

ARYA IS IN TROUBLE

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

arya

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

THE HOUND IS BACK

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

hound

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

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

SEASON 6, EPISODE 5: THE DOOR

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.

wylis

If season five ended here and now, I could wait until next season, fully satisfied with what I’ve gotten from this season thus far. More accurately, I would be fully content with what I got from the fifth episode, entitled The Door.

There were a number of reasons that I started this blog a few years back, but the number one reason was my fascination with the Thrones world that took place long before the time in history at which the show starts. The books touched upon so much of this rich history, which dates back over 12,000 years, and includes incredibly fascinating backstories of things such as the First Men to inhabit Westeros, the Children of the Forest whom they encountered, the founding of the Night’s Watch, and so much more (to learn more about this history, refer to this timeline I created which offers context of just how far the history of this world goes). I wanted to create a blog that offered viewers a bit more insight into this incredible history, which ultimately adds context to the show we are watching today, making it more enjoyable and hopefully, more meaningful. As much as I enjoy the story that is unfolding in present day, I have always been much more fascinated with questions about things that happened thousands of years ago, way before any of what we are seeing today. For that reason, I’ve really enjoyed Bran’s flashbacks as they’ve offered a window into significant events that predate the story we are watching today. But most of his flashbacks have been to relatively recent events that have occurred within the past 20-30 years. That all changed with this episode, as Bran flashes back more than 8,000 years ago to witness the creation of the very first White Walker. Yes, you heard that right — eight thousand years ago to witness the first White Walker being created. My mind was blown, and as far as Thrones is concerned, I could die a happy man. But there was a hell of a lot more that we found out in this episode, so let’s get into it.

SANSA & BAELISH

At the Wall, Sansa receives a raven from Littlefinger and she travels to Mole’s Town to meet him. But things are quite different from the last time they were together. Sansa is no longer the vulnerable and naive child who foolishly put her trust in Baelish to keep her safe. She is now a woman that is all too aware to the evils of the world, thanks to Ramsay, whom she was given to by Baelish. As she confronts Baelish, Sansa forces him to recognize the things that Ramsay has done to her — things that she can still feel today — not just in her heart — but things she can still physically feel. Sansa forces Baelish to guess the things Ramsay has done to her — in a way, forcing him to acknowledge and own the terrible things that he is responsible for her. At minimum, Baelish is terribly uncomfortable, not only by the position Sansa has put him in, but also in the fact that for once, he no longer has the manipulative upper hand in the situation he finds himself. Even more, Baelish may actually feel bad about what has happened to Sansa, and perhaps he truly did not know what Ramsay was capable of — but we never really know where the line between truth and lies starts and ends with each word that comes out of Baelish’s mouth, which is of course the genius of his character as a whole.

In any event, it was satisfying to see Sansa’s strength in forcing Baelish to acknowledge what he had done, and also that Sansa no longer has any illusions about who Baelish really is (even though we, as viewers, are still trying to figure that one out). Before he departs, he drops one pretty sizable bomb — Brynden Tully aka Blackfish, is not only alive, but has raised an army to retake the Tully stronghold of Riverrun. Last we saw Blackfish was in the third season, during the infamous Red Wedding episode. Just before the doors of the wedding hall were locked shut and the Red Wedding massacre began, Blackfish stepped outside to use the bathroom. We never saw what happened to him, but clearly he escaped and has been able to raise an army to retake Riverrun. Well, at least according to Littlefinger.

If true, this is a huge reveal, as it presents another ally that can join the Sansa/Jon Snow alliance in their quest to retake Winterfell. And even though we never got to see too much of him from the show, Blackfish is a pretty badass character, so it would be great to see him back in action. Sansa decides to send Brienne to seek him out, fearing that a raven could be intercepted by Ramsay. Meanwhile, Jon Snow has proposed trying to win the support of the 10-12 other smaller houses of the North, who Sansa believes will support their cause. After all, the North remembers. (One interesting tidbit to note is that one of these smaller northern houses that Jon Snow named was House Mormont. Perhaps the timing will work such as that Jorah returns back to Westeros to find his cure, just in time to unite with the Starks).

THE FACELESS MEN

Arya continues her training to join the ranks of the Faceless Men, but she is still questioned and told that she is not one of them. In another juicy historical reference, Jaqen tells Arya that the Faceless Men date back many thousands of years ago and that they came from the mines of Old Valyria (the same place dragons were discovered). After fleeing Valyria, the Faceless Men founded Braavos, and much like the elusive nature of the Faceless Men, Braavos was a hidden city, completely disguised from the rest of the world, until it revealed itself only a few hundred years ago.

Jaqen tasks Arya, or better yet a girl with no name, with killing a woman that serves as an actress in a local play. When Arya goes to scout her target, she stumbles upon a reinterpretation of the death of Robert Baratheon, the rise of King Joffrey and the beheading of Ned Stark. Whereas she was forced to look away when Ned was actually beheaded, this time she was forced to face it head-on (no pun intended). No doubt, this was a test of who she really is, and if she is truly just a girl with no name, then watching this should not have bothered her. She is able to get past what she sees without much emotion, and decides that she will execute her victim by poisoning her rum. Yet still, she notes to Jaqen that she seemed like a decent woman and asks questions about who wants her killed. Jaqen tells her that servants do not ask questions and that the price has already been paid — raising a separate set of questions about what that price was and who paid it.

THE FIRST WHITE WALKER

No big deal, Bran flashes back 8,000 years ago to see the Children of the Forest huddled around an ancient weirwood tree. But that’s not all he sees. A man is tied up to the tree, and one of the Children inserts what appears to be dragon-glass into his chest, taking his life and creating the very first White Walker. Since day one, if any of you are like me, you’ve been wondering how the hell these White Walkers came to be in the first place, and what exactly they are. And just like that, we got an answer — and a completely amazing answer at that. The fact that the Children of the Forest created the White Walkers is totally twisted and ironic and amazing all at the same time.

children killing

As a quick refresher, the Children of the Forest were a magical humanoid species that lived peacefully on Westeros, namely in the forests from which they derived their magic and power. About 12,000 years ago, the First Men traveled from Easteros to Westeros, becoming the first humans to inhabit Westeros. For 2,000 years, they warred with the Children of the Forest, destroying their forests and nearly pushing them to the brink of extinction. Eventually, the Pact was signed, which brought thousands of years of peace and prosperity between the Children and the First Men. But before this would happen, in an effort to save their species, the Children used their magic to create the first White Walker. Presumably, the White Walkers were used by the Children to fight back the First Men, and at some point, things went terribly wrong and the White Walkers became their own evil order.

eyes night king

It is ironic to consider that the Children of the Forest created the first White Walker to fight off man, only for the man to eventually band with the Children to fight off the White Walkers (most notably, during the Long Night, when the White Walkers nearly pushed all life to extinction). That aside, it was just amazing to get to see the creation of the very first White Walker, who we assume to the Night King that we see today. That the Children used dragon-glass to kill the human and create the White Walker would also explain their present-day vulnerability to dragon-glass. As Thrones so often does, this reveleation also forces us to reconsider our previous notions about the Night King, whom we perceived to be the embodiment of pure and absolute evil. However, after this scene, we actually realize that the Night King was in fact once a human, and in this scene, even appeared to be an innocent one. There is always more than meets the eye, and the Night King very well may have once been a good and just human. Separately, it was also interesting to see that the tree the Children used to kill the man and create the first White Walker, is the very same tree where the White Walkers and their army are camped presently, which we see in Bran’s second vision. And the spiral rocks we see at the tree of the Children, is a similar pattern that we saw used by the White Walkers in season three (photos further in this post).

THE IRON ISLANDS

We often forget that the Iron Islands are one of the Seven Kingdoms, and undoubtedly will have an important role to play in what is to come, but we were reminded of this tonight. A Kingsmoot is taking place, which is their semi-democratic process by which a new king is selected to lead the Iron Islands. Yara declares herself to be the first queen of the Iron Islands, and when it is pointed out that Theon would be the rightful heir over Yara, he steps up and delivers a passionate speech about why Yara would be the best leader. Notice that his hair is short again, his beard gone, and he is back in the armor of the Iron Islands — in short, pretty much all signs of Reek appear to be gone.

theon

Before Yara can be selected, Euron, Balon’s brother and their uncle, steps forward to declare himself king. Even more, he openly admits to killing Balon, and justifies it by noting that Balon was leading them nowhere at all. He tells the Islanders that he’s sailed all around the world and knows what’s out there. His campaign platform is to sail to Easteros, join up with Khaleesi, and offer her the strong fleet of ships that she has desperately needed to arrive to Westeros. Not a bad plan, kind of makes sense (minus the part about him fucking her, she probably won’t be down with that part). And like that, the Islanders are won over, and Euron receives the Iron Island version of a baptism as a ritual ceremony to officially become king.

While this is going on, Theon and Yara flee the scene along with some of their best men, and steal a handful of the best ships. It’s good thing they did, because Euron’s first words when he regains consciousness are to kill Theon and Yara. But, they’re long gone and Euron demands that all of the Iron Islands get to work to build 1,000 ships. It will be interesting to see where Theon and Yara are headed, and also whether or not Euron will follow through in his attempt to provide Khaleesi with the fleet of ships she has been waiting for. One other item worth noting is that the priest on the Iron Islands with the long grey hair who oversees the Kingsmoot — that’s Aeron Greyjoy — the other brother of Balon and Euron, and also uncle to Theon and Yara. In the books, he plays a central role in determining who the next king will be. In the show, they’ve all but cut him out, and most viewers probably do not even realize that he is also a Greyjoy.

JORAH AND KHALEESI

Across the sea, Jorah stands before Khaleesi, who notes that she has exiled him twice, yet both times he returned to save her. She cannot keep him, but she also cannot command that he leaves. But he will make her decision easier, as he reveals his greyscale and tells her that he will be leaving her for good. But not before finally confessing his love for her. Khaleesi shows great emotion, and commands him to find a cure for his disease, so that he can return to her side and help her rule over Westeros. It was a powerful moment, and a reminder that Jorah has been by her side since the beginning (even if as a spy for a short while). It will be interesting to see the journey that Jorah is taken on in an effort to find a cure. Recalling back to last season, Stannis told a story about his daughter Shireen, who also had greyscale, and noted that he had every doctor and maestar from across the world brought in to treat her. Finally, they were able to prevent the spreading of the disease which kept her alive. So, we do know that there is some sort of cure out there.

khaleesi

THE HIGH RED PRIESTESS

In Mereen, Tyrion proposes that they must find a way to spread the news that it is Khaleesi who is responsible for creating peace in the lands. They turn to the High Red Priestess, who proclaims that it is in fact Khaleesi who was the one that was born from the flames to save the world from darkness, so naturally she is willing to help. While Tyrion is glad to hear this, Varys is a bit more skeptical. He points out that another Red Priestess, Melisandre, had proclaimed that it was Stannis who was the savior. And though he doesn’t know it yet, as viewers, we know that Melisandre is now putting her faith in Jon Snow as the Prince That was Promised. So this kind of muddies the waters in terms of trying to figure out who the Prince That was Promised really is. The Red Priestess responds to Varys by telling him that there is still much that he does not know, and recalls the story of his mutilation, referencing a voice that spoke words as his parts were thrown into the fire. Varys face is taken by fear and wants no more part in this conversation, leaving us to wonder what those words were. Either way, at a time when some of us might have been doubting, the Lord of Light’s power and knowledge reemerges.

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HOLD THE DOOR…

Bran embarks upon another vision, this one taking him to the very same place as his previous vision, though this one takes place in modern day, whereas his first was thousands of years ago. The below photos reveal some very interesting tidbits. First, the tree that Bran visited where he saw the Children create the Night King (first photo below), appears to be the very same tree that Bran visits in his second vision when he sees the White Walkers (second photo below). Of course, in the second photo, it’s thousands of years later and winter has made the whole landscape cold and icy. But it’s interesting to consider that thousands of years later, the Night King holds his army of the dead at the very location where he himself was turned from a human to a White Walker by the Children. Going a step further, the third photo below shows a scene from season three, where Jon Snow and the Night’s Watch stumble upon a whole bunch of dead and mutilated horses in the deep north, left by the White Walkers. You will notice that the spiral pattern follows the spiral pattern found in the first two photos, which was a pattern created by the Children and used in their magical rituals. So, in some way, the Night King and his White Walkers are still referencing the Children, which created the White Walkers in the first place.

tree children

Aerial view of  of Bran’s first flashback to the tree where the Children of the Forest created the first White Walker

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Aerial view of Bran’s second flashback. Thousands of years later, we see the White Walkers’s basecamp is the same location as where the Children created the first White Walker

Dead horses left by the White Walkers in a spiral configuration that matches the spiral of the Children

Dead horses left by the White Walkers in a spiral configuration that matches the spiral of the Children

As Bran journeys through the sea of wights, he arrives at the Night King and a few White Walkers. To his surprise, the Night King is able to see him, and eventually touches him. As he regains consciousness, we see the mark on his arm, showing that what happens in his visions can have very real effects on his present-day life. The Three Eyed Raven tells him that the Night King can now find him, and that they must leave right away. But before they can pack up shop and get out of dodge, the Night King and his army are at the door of the cave and moving in quickly. The Children dispatch their firebombs and eventually set a ring of fire around the entrance, a very literal depiction of the battle between Ice and Fire that has already begun.Screenshot 2016-05-22 at 11.37.31 PMMeera runs back to get Bran, but he’s in another vision, this time back at Winterfell, looking at his grandfather, father and uncle, with Wylis (aka Hodor) in the background. All hell is breaking loose underneath the tree, as Meera, the Children and Summer (Bran’s wolf) try to fight off the wights. They fend off the first few, and Meera even kills a White Walker, which was pretty awesome. Sadly, Summer dies, leaving just Ghost and Nymeria (wolves of Jon Snow and Arya, even though we haven’t seen Arya’s in many seasons) as the only Stark wolves still alive. The death of Summer has both literal and metaphorical meaning; literal in the sense that Bran’s wolf Summer actually dies, and a deeper metaphorical significance in showing that summer really is over. No longer can we say winter is coming… Winter is here.

Hodor needs to help get Bran out of there, but is in one of his Hodor freak-outs, perhaps sensing his imminent death. Meera shakes Bran and shouts for him to wake up, and Bran begins to hear Meera’s voice, even though he is in a totally different time and place. He hears her tell him to warg into Hodor, and he does so, taking over Hodor’s body and helping to drag Bran’s body down a long tunnel leading to an exit. What is significant to note is that Bran was now occupying several consciousnesses; not only was he himself in his vision, but at the same time, he was also controlling Hodor’s consciousness — something we’ve never seen before.

Meanwhile, the Night King finds the Three Eyed Raven, and strikes him down, but not before the Three Eyed Raven tells Bran that it is time for Bran to become him. And just like that, the Three Eyed Raven that had been waiting thousands of years and watching Bran all his life, is now gone, adding even more pressure to what Bran must become. And as if all of this wasn’t enough — the flashbacks to the Children of the Forest, seeing the creation of the first White Walker, Bran seeing the White Walkers in his vision etc etc, the show takes us for one more final, but tragically sad turn, as we learn how Hodor became Hodor.

As they escape the cave and Meera drags Bran’s body as quickly as she can, she shouts over and over “hold the door!” to Hodor. At the same time, although actually many decades earlier, young Hodor appears to see Bran in his vision, and can also clearly hear Meera shouting “hold the door,”even though this event would not in fact take place for another 30-40 years. But the damage was done. Thanks to Bran, Wylis was experiencing his own future death, and a terrible death at that. He falls into a seizure, shouting “hold the door” over and over again, as his consciousness goes into present day Hodor to experience his own death as he is ripped to shreds by an army of the dead. What we then realize is that Hodor has been experiencing his own death ever since that moment, affecting him so greatly that he’s only ever been able to say “Hodor,” a variation of the words that would change him forever — “hold the door.” All at once, we learn the cause of Hodor’s condition, watch his excruciatingly painful death and realize the sad fact that Bran was responsible for both.

hodor

There were a few very key takeaways from this part of the story. First, there is a massive amount of pressure on Bran’s shoulders at this point. At the end of last season, Jojen Green (Meera’s brother) died to keep Bran alive. In this episode alone, Children of the Forest and the Three Eyed Raven, all of whom were thousands of years old, give their lives for Bran. Not to mention, Bran’s wolf, Summer dies to protect him, as does Hodor. Whatever role he is to play in the impending war can be nothing less than huge, after all the people that have died in recognizing the importance of keeping him alive. Speaking of which, let’s recall that in the finale episode two season ago, the Three Eyed Raven told Bran that he will never again walk, but he will fly. With Hodor, Bran’s primary source of transportation, now gone, we have to wonder how Bran will get around, and if he’ll start to use his warg abilities in a greater way.

The other thing I found amazing, albeit in a sad way, is how George R.R. Martin, through incredibly powerful storytelling, was able to make us feel deep emotion for a character we’ve otherwise probably never felt anything at all. After all, Hodor was the goofy oaf who literally spoke only one word — “Hodor.” There was no depth to his character, no real emotion and overall not much for us as viewers to really connect to. If there was one character on the show that you could cast off without thinking twice about, it probably would’ve been him — he just didn’t really offer much — he was just Hodor.

But in the course of just three minutes, that all completely changed, as we abruptly learn the cause of Hodor’s condition in the past, while also watching him die in the present…all at the same time. And that was the beauty of it — the fact that we watched present day Hodor dying at the very same time he was experiencing his own future death as a kid. We now understood that Hodor had been bearing a tremendous weight his entire life — knowing that he would eventually die, being ripped to shreds by the wights. But, we only learn this as we actually watch his death come to fruition, making this sad realization so much more impactful. That one word — Hodor — all of a sudden took on such meaning, as we realize each time he says Hodor, he is referencing the event in which his life will come to an end. The (sad) beauty about how George R.R. Martin chose to reveal this was by delivering that revelation at the same time as his death, forcing viewers to take it all in at once, making it such a tragic death. Poor Hodor, RIP.

Season 5 Recap/Season 6 Primer

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

OVERVIEW

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

faces

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

THE NORTH

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

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

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The Night King raising up his wights

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

STANNIS, MELISANDRE & DAVOS

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

STANNIS

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

SANSA AND THEON

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

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

Burned_bodies

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

KHALEESI’S NEW CREW IN MEREEN

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

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

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

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Khaleesi and Drogon

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

THE MARTELLS AND THE LANNISTERS

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

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Ellaria & the Sand Snakes

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

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Jaime losing another child to poison

BRAAVOS

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

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Arya killing Ser Meryn Trant

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

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

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KING’S LANDING

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

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

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The Mountain carries Cercei

BAELISH THE SCHEMER

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

BRAN

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

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The 3-eyed raven in the form of a man

OTHER PEOPLE AND PLACES TO KEEP IN MIND

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SEASON 5, EPISODE 9: THE DANCE OF DRAGONS

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

FIRE, FIRE AND MORE FIRE

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

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

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

DESPERATE TIMES CALL FOR DESPERATE MEASURES

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

Melisandre looks on as Shireen burns

Melisandre looks on as Shireen burns

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

Shireen is tied up

Shireen is tied up

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

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

Stannis and his wife look on as their daughter burns

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

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

THE MOTHER OF DRAGONS & KHALEESI’S NEW CREW

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

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

Khaleesi and Drogon

EVERYTHING ELSE

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

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

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

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

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

Season 5, Episode 7: The Gift

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 GIFT

The most recent Thrones episode, entitled The Gift, let viewers know that we’re coming into the stretch of season 5. That is, after this episode, there’s only 3 left — so buckle up, because things are really going to start picking up. The title of the episode, The Gift, has a couple of meanings. Most literally, The Gift is the name of the piece of land that was carved out for the Night’s Watch thousands of years ago by Brandon Stark aka Brandon the Builder. This land has much historical significance and plays a role in what is happening today between Jon Snow and his attempt to unite the Wildlings… But we’ll touch on that in just a moment… But that’s not the only thing The Gift refers to… This most recent episode seemed like Hanukah, Christmas and a decade’s worth of birthdays combined into one, because gifts were being given out all over the place. Some characters welcomed the gifts they received while others were unpleasantly surprised. But one thing is for sure — these gifts have quickly changed the landscape of where each character stands — and will play a large role in what is to come in the final three episodes of season five.

JON SNOW’S GIFT

In the Game of Thrones series, The Gift is the name of the piece of land that was carved out in the North thousands of years ago by Brandon Stark aka Brandon the Builder. Forget who that is? Brandon Stark lived thousands of years ago and was not only the founder of House Stark, but also credited with building the Wall as well as Winterfell (hence the the nickname Brandon the Builder). He’s arguably the most important Start character to have ever lived and one of the most significant characters in Thrones’ history. Anyway, after the Wall was constructed and the Night’s Watch was created to defend it, in exchange for their service, the Night’s Watch was given a very large piece of land south of the Wall, not far from Winterfell, as a gift for their service. This piece of land would go on to be known as “The Gift.” In the years that followed, this land was often raided by the Wildlings, since it was the first chunk of land they would hit south of the Wall. Because of this, the land known as The Gift played host to many battles between the Night’s Watch and the Wildlings.

A map of Westeros, showing the land known as The Gift, just south of the Wall

A map of Westeros, showing the land known as The Gift, just south of the Wall

Interestingly enough, thousands of years later, it is Jon Snow who is now trying to unite the Wildlings and Night’s Watch and offering up the gift of peace. The way he sees it, without this peace offer, the Wildlings will die north of the Wall. After all, the snow is falling harder than ever before, and we feel that winter is closer than ever. And just like the Wildlings need him and the Night’s Watch, he too needs them. Without them, he does not have enough men to achieve any of what he’ll need to, such as defending the Wall or reclaiming the North lands from Roose Bolton. As we continue to see, many of the brothers of the Night’s Watch, namely First Commander Ser Alliser Thorne, do not agree with Jon Snow’s vision of uniting with the Wildlings. With Jon Snow gone, what will the other brothers do? Will they obey his commands or rebel as we’ve seen before?

AEMON’S GIFT (OF DEATH)

In life, death is usually a sad occurrence. And in the Thrones world, it is almost always a heart-wrenching fatality. Heads getting chopped off, painful betrayals, the good guys dying while the bad guys live on — death is almost always a curse in this world. And this is what makes Maestar Aemon Targaryen’s death a beautiful gift. Having lived over 100 years, Aemon Targaryen was not only the last living Targaryen that we know of (outside of Khaleesi), but he was also a man that we know lived a life full of rich experiences, which he often spoke of. He was content with the live he lived and the services he was able to offer. And when it was his time to die, he died peacefully, with Gilly’s beautiful baby by his side, who offered him memories of his baby brother, Aegon Targaryen, who he lovingly referred to as “Egg.”

Aemon Targaryen

Aemon Targaryen

If we peel back another layer, we see even further why his death was such a beautiful gift. In a world where nearly everybody is jockeying for position and battling for power, Aemon was a rare specimen — a man who did not care for power. Not only did he not engage in “The Game (of Thrones),” but when he was actually next in line for the Throne, he passed on the opportunity to rule as king. Yes, that’s right. He actually was next to sit the Throne — he didn’t have to lie, kill or scheme to win the Throne — it was his by right. All he had to do was say the words. But in his heart, he knew he was destined for a life of service, and he passed on the sitting atop the Iron Throne. When we think about this, the kind of man he was, he himself was a gift to the rest of the world, especially the Night’s Watch that he served for nearly 80 years. Though not a main character, we must not overlook what an absolutely rare and wonderful man Aemon Targaryen was, and the rare gift that we witnessed in this last episode — a peaceful death that happened exactly when it was supposed to.

SANSA, RAMSEY & THEON

Elsewhere in the North, Sansa is dealing with a far less desirable gift — her new husband, Ramsey Bolton. We learn that her situation has somehow gotten even worse, and that Ramsey comes to pay her a visit every night, while keeping her locked up by day. We are starting to question Baelish’s advice to Sansa in which he counseled Sansa to get close to Ramsey so she could exact revenge — it’s starting to look like Ramsey might be too smart for her and might not allow her the opportunity to get her revenge. Sansa pleads with Reek to help her and to simply light the candle in the watchtower so that help will come. Sansa reminds Reek that he in fact still Theon Greyjoy, and for a moment, it seemed like Sansa might’ve successfully convinced him. But like any good lapdog, Reek crawls right back to his master and tells Ramsey what Sansa had been planning. Will Sansa ever be able to get message to Brienne? And even if she does, how will Brienne be able to successfully rescue Sansa from the heavily guarded castle of Winterfell? Either way, it seems likely that the relationship between Theon and Sansa is not dead, and that Theon will likely find himself having to make a crucial decision of who to side with when the moment arises.

Sansa and Ramsey

Sansa and Ramsey

STANNIS’ GIFT

Still in the North, we see that the harsh realities of the imminent winter are taking its tolls on Stannis’ army. Horses and men are dying, food rations are low and they are already fighting a battle against the elements before they even arrive to Winterfell. Davos offers Stannis the advice that they should turn back and march back on Winterfell when the weather passes; but Stannis is wiser than this and knows that winter is near and this will be a winter unlike any seen in many many years. They must attack now or risk never being able to ever again.

As Davos exits and Melisandre comes into focus, Stannis again questions her Red God, the Lord of Light. She reminds him that she saw the great battle in the snow that has yet to take place and, more importantly, that he is the one true king that must lead the living in battle against the dead — the battle that ultimately will decide the fate of all men. But the Red God requires a gift of his own and Melisandre suggests that they must sacrifice Stannis’ daughter, Shireen, as she too has king’s blood running through her veins. Coming on the heels of last episode where Stannis declared his love for his daughter and told the story of how he protected her when others wanted to discard her due to her Grayscale as a baby, Stannis will once again have to decide whether to protect his daughter. But this time, it will be a much more difficult decision, as he may have to decide between saving the life of one versus the lives of thousands.

THE GIFT OF TYRION

Finally, Jorah is reunited with Khaleesi. And better yet, he has a magical gift for her — the gift of Tyrion Lannister. But jeez, what a terrible job the show did at setting this whole thing up. After Khaleesi banished Jorah in heartbreaking fashion last season, there should have been a much more climatic reuniting of these two characters, who deep down care for each other very much. And add the fact that Jorah is now with Tyrion, and this should have been an epic scene between Khaleesi, Jorah and Tyrion. Instead, we got a half-baked setup with a relatively unexciting reveal. Khaleesi decides to visit a local slave fight — not even the grand fight that a queen would attend — but the uneventful fight that happens before that to decide who fill fight in the greater fighting pits. It made no sense that she was there in the first place. And of course, of all the fighting pits she decides to visit, it happens to be the very one that Jorah and Tyrion were brought to. And even worse, Jorah happens to be the one guy who is not originally entered in the fight, only for him to realize that Khaleesi is out there so he can come up and kill all the other guys before removing his helmet and anticlimactically reveal himself to Khaleesi. And with an equally unexciting reaction from her, she tells him to get out of her sight, just before he reveals his gift of Tyrion. I can’t help but think of 10 different ways they could’ve set up what should’ve been a powerful reuniting of Jorah and Khaleesi with Tyrion making it all the more exciting.

Khaleesi watching the fight

Khaleesi watching the fight

And with all that said, we’re now in for a very interesting dynamic between Khaleesi, Jorah and Tyrion. First and foremost, House Targaryen and Lannister aren’t exactly buddy-buddy. It was Tywin Lannister who was largely responsible for the execution of her entire family, which would ultimately force Khaleesi on the less-than-smooth journey that she is on today. So, she probably isn’t too thrilled to see Tyrion and there’s a very good chance she jumps the gun and sentences him to prison or death, before he inevitably talks his way out of it. But as we know, Tyrion is not your typical Lannister, which should setup a very interesting dynamic between he and Khaleesi. In many ways, they are characters that share many characteristics, namely wisdom and compassion. We are also left to wonder how Jorah will fit into this — will she forgive him? And how might his Greyscale play a factor? And will Varys somehow find his way back into this situation? After all, it was he that was escorting Tyrion to find Khaleesi to support her in her claim of the Iron Throne.

BRONN’S GIFT

In Dorne, Jaime comes face to face with Myrcella, who tells him that she does not want to be rescued and she is intent upon marrying Trystane, the Dornish prince. Jaime is at a loss for words and it’s unclear how things will shape up here.

Jaime & Myrcella

Jaime & Myrcella

In another cell, Bronn engages in a seductive conversation with one of the Sand Snakes, only to learn that her spear which cut him was laced with a deathly poison. Going back to last season, we recall that Oberyn’s spear was laced with a similar poison, which badly wounded The Mountain, who is currently still on Qyburn’s operating table as some dark science experiment — will we see the Mountain before this season comes to an end? I digress… Before it’s too late, the Sand Snake throws Bronn the antidote for his poison, which will presumably keep him alive — maybe a play to win Bronn over to their side?

BAELISH, THE GREAT GIFT GIVER

And finally, we end with the greatest gift giver of them all, Baelish. And once again, there are some major reveals that expose the continued scheming that Baelish has been up to behind the scenes. As Baelish meets with Olenna Tyrell in his now-vacant brothel, she reminds him that if House Tyrell goes under, she will have nothing to lose and will expose the part he played in the murder of King Joffrey. Baelish alludes to the fact that his allegiance is in fact with the Tyrells, and tells Lady Olenna that he has a gift for her. When she asks what the gift is, he tells her that it is the same gift that he gave to Cercei, “a handsome young boy.” You might have been scratching your head trying to figure out what handsome young boy he was referring to and when he gave this gift to Cercei. Furthermore, what handsome young boy is he now offering as a gift to Lady Olenna?

Well, as for his gift for Cercei, the handsome young boy he gave her was the blonde-haired young man who had been manning Baelish’s brothel for him while Baelish was away. As we know, this young man engaged in sexual intimacies with Loras Tyrell. And for some time, Loras had been accused of being gay, but there was never any proof against him. And this — proof — is the very gift that Baelish gave to Cercei. This boy testified against Loras and confirmed the crimes that Loras had committed in the eyes of the High Sparrow. In short, Baelish helped Cercei put away Loras (and Margaery after she lied about having witnessed their sexual encounter).

But at the very same time, Baelish’s gift giving was not done. He had another gift, another handsome young boy, which would now help Lady Olenna. And, as we see at the end of the episode, this gift was Lancel Lannister, the once longhaired Lannister boy who slept with his cousin, Cercei, as she used him as a spy. Baelish facilitated Lancel turning against Cercei and providing all the dirt to the High Sparrow about her sins. And in an unexpected turn of events, we see that even Cercei is not free from judgment of the gods, and she too will be judged for her sins. Though she thought she was the cleverest of them all and was using the High Sparrow as her pawn, in reality, she misjudged the entire situation. The High Sparrow, unlike most, is indeed incorruptible, and he had every intention of judging all those who have sinned.

Lancel Lannister, before and after joining the High Sparrow

Lancel Lannister, before and after joining the High Sparrow

And just like that, Cercei gets the gift she had coming for quite some time… And Baelish emerges once again as potentially the wisest character of them all. He was able to gain the trust of House Lannister, while weakening House Tyrell by getting Loras and Margaery thrown in a cell. He was then able to regain footing with House Tyrell, while getting Cercei herself thrown in a cell. He has weakened two of the most powerful houses, all while leaving little trace of him having any involvement whatsoever. And perhaps that is the greatest genius of his character — his methodical ability to operate in the shadows — to make significant moves while nobody is looking — and to always ensure that there is no trail leading back to him. What’s next for Baelish? Who knows…But he’s taken another step closer to achieving his self-proclaimed desire of “conquering everything.”