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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All You Need is Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The King and I

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Crypts of Winterfell

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

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

Discord in Winterfell

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

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

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

Odds and Ends

  • With The Great War upon us, will The Prince That Was Promised finally emerge to lead the war against death and darkness as the prophecy states? If so, who will it be? If you aren’t familiar with the theory of The Prince That Was Promised, read here. Lady Melisandre originally, and incorrectly, believed Stannis to be The Prince, while the popular theory then became Jon, and more recently Dany. With Jaime back in Winterfell and Bran alluding to the role he has to play in The Great War to Come, Jaime could in fact emerge as The Prince That Was Promised. And with Brienne’s recent knighthood, it could even be her.
  • If you didn’t catch it, Jon’s wolf, Ghost, is back. This begs the question of whether or not we’ll see Arya’s wolf, Nymeria. I say yes.
  • In the scene between Jaime and Bran under the weirwood tree, Jaime asks Bran what will happen afterwards, to which Bran responds “How do you know there is an afterwards?” An ominous response to say the least, which highlights the very real possibility that darkness does in fact prevail.
  • Samwell gave Jorah Heartsbane, a great Valyrian sword that has been in House Tarly for centuries. Jorah would have been in line to receive Longclaw, the great Valyrian longsword that belonged to his father, Lord Commander Jeor Mormont, but because of Jorah’s exile, the sword instead went to Jon. We know that Jorah was one of Westeros’ greatest warriors, and now he has an epic sword with which he can slay some White Walkers.
  • Where was Varys in this episode? We know he was in Winterfell, but it was peculiar that he was not involved in any of the key scenes or dialogues. Keep an eye on this. And remember that we still do not know what he heard in the fire all those years back.
  • Which major characters that have been killed off will we see reemerge as wights in The Night King’s army? I think it’s safe to say we’ll have to see at least one or two characters that have been turned into zombies. Stannis would make a pretty wicked wight.
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Episode 10 Recap: The Children

Disclaimer: There are no spoilers in this article. Any views or opinions expressed are based solely on where the Game of Thrones TV series currently is and no other knowledge or information is presented in this article.

THE CHILDREN

Last week’s episode took place in just one location and was dedicated entirely to one plot-line. At the other end of the spectrum, the season finale not only catapulted us into the plot-lines of almost every character, but also progressed each of these stories rather abruptly. Outside of Sansa, nearly every character was featured in the finale and each one had a major development in one way or another. In a world where we’ve come to expect rather slow character and plot development, this episode was a smack in the face — a major departure from any episode we’ve seen in four years of Thrones.

But, what was actually so special about this episode? Sure, lots of “stuff” happened pretty quickly, but was there something more to the finale than just tons of action? The answer is yes. There were several layers at the core of the finale which made the episode special and are worth discussing. First, the ways in which several independent plot-lines all of a sudden began to intersect. Second, the many different plot-lines to which the episode’s title, The Children, significantly refers to, and the way these children have been both imprisoned and liberated. And finally, the many ways in which this “game” has changed drastically in just one episode.

CONVERGING STORIES

The finale episode did not only offer up major progressions of each character’s story, but it also offered a taste of the way several of these previously independent plot-lines will begin to merge into one. In any other fictional world, the intersection of characters would probably not be worth mentioning. Why? Because from the onset of almost any story, even if we do not know the exact roles each character will fulfill, we have a basic understanding of the ways each character shares in the world that we are experiencing. And this is just another way that Thrones is completely unique from almost everything else out there.

Rather than a set of characters in a shared world, Thrones is composed of so many characters with story arcs that have remained completely separate from one another, existing in parallel. It’s almost as if we have been watching many different shows — each about a different character with a story unique and exclusive from every other character. Ultimately, this has left us to wonder when, and more importantly, how these independent stories would start to bleed into one another. But in the season finale, some of these questions began to be answered as we were offered a glimpse into the way several characters’ plot-lines will begin to come crashing together. And this — the way the pieces of the puzzle will start to come together — made the finale uniquely special from all other episodes.

Right out of the gate, the plot-lines of Jon Snow and Stannis meet face to face. For so long, we have experienced the independent journeys of each character. Prior to a couple episodes ago when hints began to be offered that Stannis was going to make his way to the Wall, did you ever stop to consider the story-lines of Stannis and Jon Snow coming together? Probably not. But that is exactly what happened. Stannis, a man once committed to taking the Iron Throne which rightfully belonged to him, he later realized that the war over the Throne was meaningless compared to the imminent war in the North involving the Night’s Watch, Wildlings and possibly White Walkers. And Jon Snow, a character who started as a boy and has grown into a man while overcoming his bastard issues, he has infiltrated the Wildlings before making his way back to the Night’s Watch, ultimately appearing completely willing to give his life to defend the Wall. For four seasons we have seen these two characters develop, completely independent of one another. And in the blink of an eye, just like that, their stories come together as Stannis arrives at the Wall and crushes Mance’s camp of Wildlings. The arrival of Stannis has breathed new hope into the war on the Wall, which was all but lost by the Night’s Watch. More significantly, it crosses the paths of Stannis and Jon Snow, and is one of the first hints at the way major characters might begin to intersect one another to reveal the roles they will play in the greater storyline.

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Similarly, the journeys of Brienne/Podrick and the Hound/Arya abruptly come together as Brienne stumbles upon Arya on her way to the Vale. For seasons now, Brienne has been on a journey to honor Catelyn Stark and find Sansa. Ironically, it is Arya that she stumbles upon rather than Sansa. Likewise, the Hound has been on a seemingly never-ending journey with Arya, arriving at the Twins just after the Red Wedding, and then getting to the Vale just days after Lysa Arryn was killed. And just like that, these journeys — ones that have developed over the course of so many episodes — come crashing together without any warning at all. But whereas the arrival of Stannis at the Wall gave us hope and probably felt good to watch, the clash of Brienne and the Hound’s stories was not as nice to watch. After Brienne insists on honoring her oath and refuses to leave without Arya, the Hound professes that he is a better fit to look after her. A brutal fight ensues in which Brienne is ultimately victorious and the Hound is thrown over a cliff and possibly left to die.

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In the Thrones world, we’ve seen plenty of good guys fighting bad guys. We’ve even seen bad guys fighting bad guys. But this might be the first time that we saw a good guy fight a good guy, which probably left most of us wishing the fight never happened in the first place. In and of itself, the fact that we are calling the Hound a “good guy” speaks volumes to his character development. If you go back and watch the first couple seasons of Thrones, you probably would not have guessed that you would have grown to love the Hound — but most of us have. And after we came to see the warmer, more human side of him, and the many ways he opened up to and cared for Arya, it was painful to see him go down like that — especially in a fight to protect Arya. And as he lay  there in brutal shape before the eyes of Arya, the irony of their situation could not have been any greater. Since season one, the Hound has been a name on Arya’s list — one of the people she has committed herself to eventually killing and crossing off her list. She has even told the Hound directly that she will one day kill him. Yet, when the opportunity presented itself, so much so that the Hound actually wanted her to kill him, she would not do it. As he pleaded with her to put him out of his misery, Arya looked on with cold eyes, almost immune to the immense pain you could hear in his voice. Emotionless, she took his gold and left him to die a more painful death than the one she could have offered.

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THE CHILDREN AND THEIR LIBERATION

In the Thrones series, the title of each episode is often significant and generally speaks to an underlying message or overtone within each weekly installment. Perhaps more so than ever, the title of the finale, The Children, has many meanings all rolled into one. The most literal meaning, the finale episode refers to many of the characters’ identities which have been defined by the parent-child relationship that they exist within. And generally, these relationships have been imprisoning to several of these characters. But, in the finale episode, things changed for many of “the children,” and several of them were liberated, while others were further imprisoned.

Perhaps more so than any other characters in the show, the three Lannister children have been defined by their roles as children, to none other than Lord Tywin. From the first moments we’ve encountered them, we have known the Lannister siblings as children — their identies almost completely dictated by the fact that they were Lannister children. More times than not, it has seemed that their roles as children have been already decided for them and they’ve often had no free will what so ever. Cercei was used as a tool of marriage, forced to endure King Robert in order to become queen and further the Lannister cause. Jaime was forced to serve on the Kingsguard to the Mad King. And Tyrion was forced into a life of ridicule. Each had a role to play forced upon them as children to Lord Tywin, and for the most part, it seemed as if there was nothing they could do to change this.

But all of that changed in the finale, and we begin to see some of The Children that the episode title refers to. It all begins as Cercei refuses to marry Ser Loras Tyrell, another marriage Lord Tywin is set to force upon her. However, it is not because of her personal preferences or desires that she refuses, but rather a decision dictated by the children of her own. With Joffrey dead and Myrcella shipped off to Dorne, Tommen is the only child she has left, and she refuses to lose him to the self-serving influences of Margaery Tyrell and Lord Tywin. It’s an interesting juxtaposition as the child of Lord Tywin, Cercei, stands up to one of the most powerful men and threatens to do whatever she needs to in order to protect her own child. She tells Lord Tywin the truth of her incestuous relationship with Jaime, and threatens that she will ruin the Lannister legacy by letting it be known to all. She then goes and tells Jaime that he is the one she wants; she no longer wants to hide the truth and does not care what anybody thinks. She liberated herself from the prisoner she had been as a child to Lord Tywin. And, in certain ways, she also liberated Jaime, who was forced to keep his love for Cercei a secret for so many years.

The liberating continues as Jaime frees Tyrion and saves him from imminent execution. While Tyrion was the one literally freed, this was equally liberating for Jaime, who has desperately wanted to save his little brother, but has been ultimately helpless to the will of his father, Lord Tywin, who wanted Tyrion dead. Like Cercei, no longer would Jaime be prisoner to the commands of his father, and he frees his little brother. Ironically, this leads to the death of their father and the ultimate liberation for all three Lannister children. But before he kills Lord Tywin, Tyrion stumbles upon Shae, who not only betrayed him during his trial, but is now sleeping with the very man who threatened to kill her if he found her with Tyrion — the very reason Tyrion was forced to send her away — to save her life. A bittersweet revenge, Tyrion kills the woman he loves, before killing the father that never loved him. With Lord Tywin dead, what happens next in King’s Landing? Who will claim the power that was previously held by him?

Though only in the episode for a brief moment, Khaleesi is another story-line that the The Children refers to. Once a child, Khaleesi has quickly become a mother, which has become both liberating and imprisoning at the same time. Stepping into the fire and hatching petrified dragon eggs, Khaleesi first became the mother of dragons. And much the way Lord Tywin ultimately could not control of the actions of his own children, Khaleesi was told from the onset that she would not be able to fully control her dragon children. Khaleesi used these children to become the mother, or “mhysa,” to thousands of additional children as she freed the slaves of Yunkai, Astapor and Meereen.

Khaleesi has has achieved great power, but is beginning to struggle to successfully navigate it. Freeing these children while governing them at the same time often do not go hand in hand, and Khaleesi is beginning to experience a great paradox. She conquered cities and freed the slaves, only to find out that many of them have lost their purpose as free men and do not in fact wish to be liberated. She has grown dragons, one set of children, who are causing chaos amongst her other set of children, the freed slaves. As Khaleesi learns that one of her dragons has killed the three year-old daughter of a Meereenese man, she realizes what she must do. Khaleesi became the breaker of chains, making her “myhsa” to the slaves she freed, but in order to protect these children, she now must impose another set of chains to her other children — the dragons. Just as the Lannister children had so long been imprisoned by their roles as children, it appears that Khaleesi is beginning to become a prisoner to the burdens of her role as a mother, to both thousands of slaves that she has promised to lead and protect, as well as the dragons that she birthed from the fire.

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THE CHILDREN (OF THE FOREST)

The more literal reference to the finale’s title is the Children of the Forest, a magical race of creatures that existed on Westeros prior to the arrival of the First Men from Easteros. Since the beginning of the Thrones series, there have been references to the Children of the Forest, especially in the North, where the current inhabitants are descendants of the First Men. But, it was entirely unclear, if not altogether doubtful, that the Children of the Forest still existed today. And just like that, we get first glimpse of the Children and the magic they possess.

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In large part, this blog was started to provide background on the 12,000 year history of the Known World — a history that is incredibly rich and detailed — one that can be fully appreciated from reading the books, but is pretty much incredible to grasp from the show. In each 1000+ page book, there is more detail and reference to the history that occurred prior to the time period that we are currently experiencing. In the show, at best, there are quick references via character dialogue — and if you do not already have an understanding of the history being referred to, most of these historical mentions won’t mean much. And, this history — this unbelievable 12,000 year history, it all begins with the Children of the Forest. They existed on Westeros before anybody else got there. For how long they existed, it’s unknown. But they were there when the First Men arrived 12,000 years ago. And, after a period of initial war between the Children and the First Men, they lived together in peace for 4,000 years, until the Andals arrived and pushed the Children to the brink of extinction.

Today, much mystery surrounds the Children of the Forest — they have not been seen for thousands of years and some believe them to be a myth. But, history tells that the Children of the Forest lived amongst the weirwood trees and derived their magic from the forests. The First Men eventually adapted the practices of the Children, honoring the weirwood trees and praying to the Old Gods. This explains why today, in the North, where most are descendants of the First Men, they still pray to the Old Gods and honor the weirwoods — practices and customs that were originally learned from the Children of the Forest.

Before being nearly wiped off during the Andal Invasion, the Children of the Forest played an important role, and during the Long Night, it was the Children of the Forest that fought alongside the First Men to push back the White Walkers. It is also said that the Children of the Forest lent their magic in assisting Brandon Stark, founder of House Stark, in building the Wall nearly 8,000 years ago. In short, the Children of the Forest are incredibly significant, and to learn that there are still some alive today in the deep North is the greatest reveal that we’ve seen in 40 episodes to date.

To learn more about the Children of the Forest, check out this page, which was one of the first ever published on this blog. I would also recommend checking out this timeline which will provide some context on the history of the world we are experiencing and how far back it dates.

WHERE ARE WE AT NOW?

As the fourth season comes to a close and we reach the approximate midway point of this entire magical journey, it is important to not only reflect upon this individual episode and the craziness that unfolded, but also to step back and reflect upon how this entire “game” has changed in just one episode. So, here’s a quick recap:

The episode begins where last week left off, as Jon Snow journeys north of the Wall to find and kill Mance Rayder. However, before he has the chance to, Stannis’ forces arrive and crush the small band of Wildlings at Mance Rayder’s camp. Presumably, Stannis used his funding from the Iron Bank of Braavos to strengthen his army and fleet of ships, which he used to sail back to Westeros north of the Wall. Wanting no more Wildling bloodshed, Mance surrenders, and per Jon Snow’s advice, Stannis takes Mance prisoner. Also of interest, through the fire, Jon Snow and Melisandre exchange a long glance — was this a foreshadow of something to transpire between these two characters? A lot is left to wonder, but in the blink of an eye, the entire situation at the Wall has changed completely.

In King’s Landing, we discover that the Mountain is in fact still alive, though inflicted with poison from a rare venom that was on the spear of the Red Viper. Qyburn tells Cercei that he believes he can save the Mountain; his methods are unorthodox and he acknowledges it will change the Mountain, though not for the weaker. Will he in fact be able to save the Mountain? And, if so, could Qyburn actually be turning the Mountain into a greater monster than he is already?

As one brother is saved, another is left to die. Though, we would have hoped it was the other way around. After the powerful development of the relationship between Arya and the Hound, we might have guessed that Arya would have tried to save the Hound. Or, at least have granted him his wish and put him out of his misery. But, she did neither and instead stole his gold, much the way he had done to his victims in the past. In this moment, we see Arya’s true nature. She doesn’t just talk about killing, she means it. In her heart and at her core, she has been completely hardened by all the death and despair she experienced around her, losing her mother, father and brother. She has no compassion for the Hound, even though he at times expressed compassion for her. And as she journeys on alone, she finally uses the magical coin given to her by Jaqen H’ghar two seasons ago, and says those famous Braavosi words, “valar morghulis,” meaning “all men must die.” Instantly, she is granted passage on the Braavosi ship and just like that, she is on her way to Braavos. What will happen when she gets there? And will she reunite with Jaqen H’ghar?

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Back in King’s Landing, after taking down Shae and Lord Tywin, Tyrion ends up with Varys, who he trusts to get him out of the capital city safely. Many of us have questioned Varys’ motives and whether or not he is a “good” character. During Tyrion’s trial, Tyrion reminded Varys that Varys once told Tyrion that he would never forget that he saved the city during the Battle of Blackwater Bay. When Tyrion asked Varys if he had forgotten, Varys replied, “Sadly, I do not forget a thing.” Additionally, it was Varys that attempted to get Shae out of King’s Landing, bribing her with gems. When she asked him why, Varys told her that he believed Tyrion was one of the few men that existed on Westeros who was truly capable of achieving good, and that Shae was a distraction to him. And, when Tyrion needed him most, Varys made good on his word, playing his part to save Tyrion, a man he clearly believes in. Turning back to return to King’s Landing, Varys hears the city bells erupt and realizes that Tyrion has committed a great act of murder. Rather than returning to this scene of chaos, Varys decides to join Tyrion on their journey to Easteros — Varys’ original birthplace and a location where he has many friends and resources, namely Illyrio Mopatis.

And finally, perhaps the most significant part of the episode, after a seemingly never-ending journey, Bran and company reach their destination — the great weirwood tree in the deep North. Just as they arrive, skeletons emerge from beneath the freezing snow, perhaps some sort of wights that exist in the deep North. Bran again showcases his ability to change into the skin of another human, fighting off many of these skeletons, before one of the Children of the Forest emerges, helping to protect them by shooting off magical rays of light. Jojen Reed is killed, though it is revealed that he knew the whole time it would end this way. After being led through a cavern of tree roots below the beautiful weirwood, Bran finally arrives to the three-eyed raven, who is now in the form of a mysterious old man. The man tells Bran that he has taken many different forms and has been watching each of them their entire lives through a thousand eyes. Though he will never walk again, Bran is told that he will fly. Naturally, tons of question marks are raised by this entire development. What exactly is this man and what kind of powers does he possess? Why was Bran specifically so special that he has been watched his entire life? What will his role be in the war coming and will he literally take flight, or perhaps he will fly in the skin of a dragon? Also, how many more Children of the Forest exist, if any?

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All in all, the season four finale significantly progressed the plots of most of the stories we’ve been experiencing, setting up season five in a major way. Between Stannis’ arrival at the Wall, Arya leaving for Braavos,  Tyrion killing Lord Tywin before leaving with Varys for Easteros and Bran discovering the Children of the Forest and the mysterious man, we’re in the thick of it now. For those disappointed with the lack of progression of Khaleesi’s story — don’t be. If you are watching the show through the lens of what you want it to be, rather than appreciating it for what it is, you are doing yourself a major disservice. As we’ve already touched upon, there are so many plot-lines, each which will organically develop at its own pace. Some will begin to intersect and mature sooner than others, while others may lead us down a longer and slower path. But, would you really want it any other way? If all the stories emerged at once, the Thrones world would be no different than most other shows on TV. It is the disciplined nature and meticulous development of each character that makes Game of Thrones so special. Two years ago Arya encountered Jaqen H’ghar and was given this magical coin. Did she use it in the following episode? Did she use it a few episodes down the road? Or even in the following season? The answer is no. It was not until two full seasons later that we saw that nuisance come to fruition. And when did, it makes it all the more powerful. It did not happen because the writers wanted to write it — it happened at the point it did because that is when it was supposed to happen. So for anybody getting impatient, take your eye off the destination and enjoy the ride that we are on to get there.

Episode 2 Recap: Lion & the Rose

OVERVIEW

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

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

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

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

THE DWARF, THE CRIPPLE & THE MOTHER OF MADNESS

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

“YOU’RE NOT A BOLTON, YOU’RE A SNOW”

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

Theon, after learning of Robb Stark's death

Theon, after learning of Robb Stark’s death

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

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

THE COST OF LOVE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“IF WE LOSE YOU, WE LOSE EVERYTHING”

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

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

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

The weirwood tree that Bran connects with

The weirwood tree that Bran connects with

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE DEATH OF ANOTHER KING

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

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

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

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

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

Ser Dontos tells Sansa that it's time to leave

Ser Dontos tells Sansa that it’s time to leave