DISCLAIMER: THERE ARE NO SPOILERS IN THIS ARTICLE. I HAVE NO KNOWLEDGE OF WHAT IS TO TRANSPIRE IN THIS STORY. ANY VIEWS OR CONTENT EXPRESSED ARE SOLELY PERSONAL THEORIES, OPINIONS AND INSIGHTS.
Here’s an idea for the framework of a story. Let’s start off with a series of events that will initially seem like the main purpose of the story, say a battle for supremacy over a throne. Let’s weave in countless battles, twist and turns, all in the name of conquering that throne. Let’s then start to pivot a bit and make our story multi-dimensional. Let’s tickle the curiosities and spark the imaginations of our viewers by starting to slowly and methodically offer the idea that the original premise of this story is actually not the end-all be-all. Sure, that first story about the battle for that throne once seemed all-important, but what if we start to craft another story, which starts to make the first seem less significant? In doing so, we offer a powerful idea: relativity. A plot-line that once fully consumed us, may now start to feel more disposable, when considered relative to a much more powerful story we can tell. And, say, that more important story will be centered around a much more existential philosophy….Maybe good vs evil, light vs dark, Ice vs Fire.
Of course, as we start to build this seemingly much more significant story arc, we will do so in a slow and calculated manner. We will start by offering breadcrumbs, early on, maybe even teasing the villain, a mysterious White Walker, in the very first scene of the very first episode. From there, we will build slowly over nearly a decade of storytelling, consistently reinforcing to our audience that there is a much more important storyline lurking in the distance — one that will continue to come into greater focus with each passing day.
And as our story nears its ultimate conclusion and this seemingly all-important storyline appears to be reaching its climax — the point where our audience will finally be rewarded with a a more illuminated view into the true message or meaning underpinning this story — let’s do the following: In the blink of an eye, let’s completely pull the rug out from under them. Let’s offer up a huge plot twist that undermines everything we’ve been telling our audience for the past 10 years. That original story we hooked you with — the one about humans battling for a throne — the one we worked so hard to remind you is actually less significant than that bigger and more important plot-line — let’s do a complete 180′ on that and decide it’s going to be the plot-line that the ending of this story will be dedicated to.
How does this framework sound to you? Shocking? Frustrating? Downright idiotic?
The Game of Thrones was fun. But it was just the first book in the Song of Ice and Fire series. Which, as we saw in the show, meant that this story ultimately was about something so much greater than mere mortals battling for a throne — a story that’s been done a dozen times over. This story was going to explore a much deeper, more powerful theme — one that cuts to the very existential core of human nature. The eternal struggle between good and bad, light and dark, which in this story, will be embodied by Ice and Fire.
It was not long before we started to understand that the battle for the throne was small potatoes compared to The Great War to Come. You know, that war that was going to determine the very fate of human existence. The war that pitted the dark and mysterious Night King against pretty much the rest of humanity. The war that tied in elements of gods, magic, dragons, and so much more. And what this show more than succeeded at was the masterful nature in which they built this story. Visions, flashbacks, allusions to events that happened thousands of years ago — these were just a few of vehicles that allowed us to start to understand the power of this storyline being built.
First, it was just White Walkers — pretty badass creatures of darkness that certainly made it clear that there’s a real threat to humans — a threat that makes bickering over a throne quite futile. But this story became all the more intriguing when we were introduced to The Night King, the mysterious leader of the White Walkers. Slowly, we were offered breadcrumbs which built the anticipation of this story, but also generally raised more questions. In season four, we learned how White Walkers were created, when we saw The Night King touch his finger to the face of a baby.
Two years later, things got even more interesting, when we saw how The Night King himself was created. Through one of Bran’s visions, we learned that The Night King was created by the Children of the Forest after they inserted Dragonglass into his heart. This certainly raised many more questions. Why exactly did The Children do this? They mentioned to Bran it was to save their kind from The First Men who had been slaughtering them. But how does creating The Night King save their people? Wouldn’t you just want to kill the humans you are at war with? Why insert Dragonglass into his heart? Seems like a strange ritual. And did The Children know they would be creating The Night King? Was that their intention? And who was the human they chose? Was he random or a significant character? And what about those spirals? We know those spirals were used by The Children, and then The Night King started using them as well — why? What was the ultimate connection between The Night King and The Children?
So many questions to be answered, and it was never a guarantee that they all would be, but as this story approached its final hours, it became abundantly clear that at minimum, there was a major connection between The Night King, The Children of the Forest and Bran. So with just a few episodes left before this 10-year journey comes to a close, I was expecting to learn a lot more about who The Night King was, why he was created, what his ultimate motivations were, how he was connected to The Children, what was the significance between he and Bran, etc… I felt that this entire saga, A Song of Ice and Fire, would be just that — a beautiful harmony, that as it reached its crescendo, would delight me with a a moment of clarity — a moment that allowed me to understand what this whole thing really was about.
What actually happened in tonight’s episode couldn’t have been further from this. What we got tonight, in the most highly-anticipated Thrones episode of all time, was an edge-of-your-seat 80-minute battle scene, and a 2-minute mindblowingly disappointing ending. As for the battle itself, hats off to Thrones for once again delivering another absolutely epic battle — one that took 11 weeks to shoot and required over 750 actors on set! No small feat. And while it was pretty suspenseful, it was actually one of my least favorite battles to date. The Battle of Blackwater Bay, the first real battle we ever witnessed on Thrones, watching those ships light up the sky with green wildfire, will always be a special one. Watchers on The Wall, the penultimate episode of season four (and the only other episode besides tonight’s to be fully dedicated to one battle scene), was spectacular as we got to watch The Night’s Watch defend The Wall for the first time against The Wildlings. Even the more recent Battle of the Bastards grabbed me more than this battle tonight.
First, I really found the battle to be a bit too all over the place. No doubt, this is precisely what producers/directors were going for — trying to create the feeling that this was not a singular battle happening in one location, but rather spread throughout many parts of Winterfell. Yet still, I found it a bit disjointed trying to follow the many different characters battling wights in many different nooks and crannies of the castle. I also found the coloring of the episode to be challenging. Again, this was no doubt intentional, but the combination of darkness from this battle being fought at night, mixed with a lack of visibility from The Night King’s foggy mist, made a lot of simply hard to follow — a big miss in my opinion.
I also flat out did not enjoy the role of the dragons in this battle. It was hard to see who was riding what dragon, which dragon was which, and ultimately I just didn’t feel the dragons were used well in this battle. This is all the more disappointing given that dragons versus White Walkers is the embodiment of Ice vs Fire, and it’s been nearly 10 full years that we’ve been talking about that moment when we’d finally see a battle where dragons are going against the army of the dead. I can’t say I was too impressed with it. I also found it a bit tiring the number of times a main character was about to be consumed by a clan of wights, only to be saved by another. Sure, once or twice I can chalk it up to writers taking some liberties, but it happened a half-dozen times, and at a certain point, it just becomes gratuitous. I get we can’t kill off all our main characters in one episode, but we also can’t pretend that they are all capable of fighting off 10 zombies at a time, and set each up to appear as though it’s about to be their last moment, only for them to be miraculously saved just in the nick of time.
But I can put to the side the above grievances I had with the battle itself. What I cannot put to the side is the way the episode ended. It utterly and completely rocked my world, and undercut everything I thought this story would ultimately be about. This episode was the one. Bran and The Night King were likely going to come face to face, and something major had to happen. As the humans are losing the battle, and the very real possibility of The Night King winning starts to set in and the climax is upon us. The Night King approaches Bran, with nobody left to defend him (remind me why anybody thought Theon would be able to defend Bran from The Night King?), and something BIG is about to happen. On the edge of my seat, my heart was racing in anticipation, feeling as though I was finally about to learn what the hell it is that The Night King is really after.
But it just wasn’t in the cards. Arya jumps from what seemed like a solid 10 feet, but is caught by The Night King, and it looked like this might be Arya’s last moment. But she makes a nice maneuver to drop the dagger into her other hand, plunge it into his side, and just like that, poof, The Night King is no more. Nothing even special about the way he was destroyed. He able to be killed the same as all the other White Walkers, with Valyrian steel. And he exploded into glass pieces, just like the White Walkers when they are killed. This was The Night King — not just another White Walker — and not that he had any business dying here, but I was even disappointed with the fact there was nothing special about what it took to kill him or the display of his death.
The way he died also simply felt too easy, too quick, too unimportant. Not taking any credit away from my girl Arya, but a 12-inch dagger to the side and the all-evil Night King is dead? That’s it? Let’s not forget, this is a Night King that has been around for hundreds, if not thousands of years. And that’s all it took to defeat him? Big miss there.
Anyway, just like that, in the blink of an eye, everything changed. In anti-climatic fashion, all the White Walkers are destroyed, and then their wights. The great war is over, the humans have won, and I am left feeling as though this is an ending to a story I have seen 100 times over. But wait! We still get to see who is going to win the Iron Throne — totally more important than a great war intended to decide the very fate of mankind — a war that we had every reason to believe was going to reveal a great deal of what this story was ultimately all about. And now, sadly, it seems we’re back where we started, and that it’s simply about humans fighting for a Throne. Can’t wait for more blah blah blah from Cersei in King’s Landing!
Maybe it’s my fault. Maybe I gave Thrones too much credit. Maybe I shouldn’t have believed this story was about something a lot deeper. But then again, this is a story with a 10,000 year back-history, one that was referenced hundreds of times throughout the show. We were given every reason to believe that there was great magic and mystery that happened prior to the start of this story — things we were going to learn about before this story concluded — things that would underpin the true meaning of this story. One very simple example of this is in season six when the show decided to take us back in time to show us The Children of the Forest creating The Night King. That gave us every reason to believe that we were going to learn more about The Night King, who he was, why he was chosen, what The Children were trying to achieve, the connection between the spirals, etc… Why even show that scene if we are never going to unpack it further?
Now, before I conclude this post, let me acknowledge the chance that there are still some big reveals around some of these topics. Bran is still alive, which means we still have a portal into the past (and future). So, it’s still entirely possible we learn more about The Night King, The Children, and what A Song of Ice and Fire is truly about. And I really hope this is the case. But, with the entire army of the dead defeated, it seems like that is now in the rearview, and the last few episodes will go back to human vs human battle to determine who will sit upon the Iron Throne at the story’s completion.
I am saddened and shocked by all of this. I find it hard to believe that George R.R. Martin created this masterful story, the ending of which is not concerned with Ice and Fire, but rather humans competing for the throne. It seems beneath where the story was going and feels like we took 100 steps backwards to a much less intriguing storyline. I hope the next few episodes have some course-correcting surprises, otherwise Lost may have just lost its top spot as worst end to a TV show of all time.
Odds and Ends
Arya’s Dagger: We’ve touched upon this dagger in several previous posts, but the Valyrian steel dagger that Arya uses to kill The Night King has a pretty cool backstory. It was originally used by Baelish who gave it to an assassin to try and kill Bran in season one (Baelish’s goal was to blame the Lannisters for the assassination attempt on Bran, to pit House Stark and Lannister against each other, which is precisely what happened). After the assassination attempt failed, the dagger ended up back with Baelish, who gave it to Bran when they reunited at Winterfell earlier this season. Bran then gave it to Arya, telling her he had no use for it. Had he already seen the vision of how Arya would use it to defeat The Night King? (Arya also used this dagger to kill Baelish).
The Prince(ess) That Was Promised: Obviously a theory we’ve been touching upon for years now. In a recent episode, the idea of The Prince That Was Promised was being discussed in Valyrian. Missandei, who speaks this language well, corrects Dany and Lady Melisandre, telling them that in Valyrian, that word has no gender, meaning it could be a Prince or Princess. This created more speculation around who would play this prophesied roll, with many people now thinking Dany, and some more recently even believing Brienne. Looks like, after all, it was Arya.
Bran’s Warging: What exactly was Bran doing when he was warging for so long in this episode? We saw he warged into some ravens, seemingly to get a better glimpse of what was going on in the battle. But we never really saw where the ravens were going, or what Bran saw through their eyes, if anything. If nothing significant, then it felt kind of pointless that he was sitting there warging this entire scene.
The End: It’s important to remind that the show is now far ahead of the books, and while George R.R. Martin has definitely provided direction for the show to work around, they are taking more liberties now than ever before. The first six seasons were based directly off books that were written. Characters, events, even most dialogue was direct from the books. Starting last season, the show jumped ahead of the books, and as a result, it seems a lot more liberties are being taken. It’s hard to know if the books will culminate the same exact way the show does.
RIP: Rest in peace to Beric, Jorah, Theon and Melisandre. Beric’s death was not too eventful, but he served his role in The Great War and helped to save Arya who would ultimately take out The Night King. Jorah’s death was the most noble, and there is no way he would rather die than fighting to protect his beloved Khaleesi. Theon’s death was so-so. I appreciated that Bran told him that he was a good man and thanked him, giving him the closure he had been searching for, prior to his death. That said, I found it silly that he was out there in the first place trying to protect Bran from The Night King, as if Theon stood a chance. We’ve seen the last of Melisandre as well, as she harnessed the power of The Lord of Light, played her role, then faded off into the distance, dying as the old woman she is (remember, it was the necklace she removed that kept her youthful).
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.
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.
At long last, the wait is over. Don’t feel totally satisfied? That’s okay, don’t beat yourself up over it. While the season eight opener was devoid of any major jaw-dropping moments, it achieved exactly what it set out to — it laid the ground work for what will no doubt be a massive conclusion to this epic saga.
Sure, after waiting almost two years, we all would have enjoyed a classic Thrones battle scene. We even would have settled for a more subtle reveal that perhaps would shed light onto any one of the many burning questions we have. Be patient, young grasshoppers — all of that will come.
What the premiere episode, entitled Winterfell, lacked in big moments, it made up for in powerful (and often awkward) reunions. These reunions paid homage to the past; they served as a subtle reminder of all the story’s twists and turns that have led these characters to where they are today. But these reunions also starkly foreshadow the future, reminding us that it is the present-day configuration of characters that will likely determine the very fate of mankind. The past, present and future are all here, now. So before you tell all your friends and co-workers how disappointed you were with the season-opener, take a moment to appreciate it for what it was — the quiet before the storm. There will be no shortage of action to come in the remaining five episodes, so let’s take a moment to analyze and appreciate all the nuances from the season premiere.
A Credit to the Credits
The opening credits are an often overlooked and under-appreciated facet of most TV shows. In the past decade or so, HBO has started to change that in a big way, as productions of some of their biggest shows have brought the opening credits to the forefront. From True Detective, to Westworld, to Game of Thrones — opening credits have morphed from obligatory bore to masterful pieces of art. None more-so than Game of Thrones. Could there be a more triumphant blend of imagery, music and motif? I say not. Thrones transformed the way we think about the opening credits altogether. No longer just a static introduction to offer information about the show’s cast and crew, but rather an immersive vehicle to enhance and evolve the storytelling itself.
So as the final season approached and you asked yourself what Thrones producers would choose for the very first scene, you likely overlooked considering the opening credits themselves. And that is where, once again, Thrones delivered in a way we could have never seen coming. In short, the opening credits were completely revamped, in just about every way possible. The scope of locations presented? Different. The sequence in which they were presented? Different. The looks and feel? Different. The astrolabe that offers up Westeros’ biggest historical events? Different. With all this change, before you even think about breaking down the show, you must dive deeper into the credits themselves to truly appreciate the first episode.
For starters, the opening credits simply looked a lot cooler. They looked newer, shinier, sleeker — almost as if this version of the credits was produced 10 years after the original version. Oh wait, it was. But the “coolness” of the credits is just the beginning. There were a bunch of very material changes, the first of which can be seen on the astrolabe, an object that has served as the central motif to the show’s opening credits since day one (and likely has a great significance that I hope will be revealed before the show’s culmination). If you’re not sure what the hell an astrolabe is, see below.
As you’ll see in the above photo, which features an astrolabe from the older credits, we can see images recorded on it which tell the story of Westeros’ history. The major historical events that have always been displayed are The Doom of Valyria, Robert’s Rebellion and the rise of House Baratheon. These three events, the fall of the greatest civilization, Valyria, (~400 years ago), the great war that would see the Targaryen dynasty overthrown (~20 years ago), and Robert Baratheon usurping the Iron Throne (~20 years ago), would set into motion the story we would then begin watching. So, it made sense that the astrolabe in the opening credits captured these three major historical events — they clued us into the important moments that transpired before our time.
But in the course of the last 10 years, there have been entirely new events, ones that will likely change the course of history, so it was only right that the opening credits of season eight featured a much-updated astrolabe. As you’ll see in the photos below, three new historical events are highlighted: the reemergence of dragons into the world, The Red Wedding and The Night King using his undead dragon to tear down a chunk of The Wall. Check them out below:
If you were too hyped up for the opening scene and overlooked the show basically telling you that history has been rewritten in front of your very eyes, not to worry, you weren’t alone. But the magic of the opening credits continued from there. One huge change in approach is the direction in which locations were presented. Historically, viewers were always taken on a journey from south to north, generally ending around The Wall. The new credits did a complete 180, starting at The Wall (which now has a huge hole in it), and working down south. For one, this was an out-of-the-gate reminder that The Night King and his army have done something that has never been done before: they have successfully destroyed a chunk of The Wall, a magical structure built over 8,000 years ago. And as such, they are now on the loose, making death and destruction imminent.
As we continue just past The Wall, the opening credits used a new technique to offer viewers a glimpse into where the Night King and his army are lurking. The terrain they present is made up of tile-like pieces, which they flip from normal snowy white to icy White Walker blue to show the march of the Night King’s army. As the story evolves and their march continues, my guess is that we’ll see a lot more of these icy blue tiles being flipped.
Speaking of the Night King’s descent south, we are introduced to a brand new location, The Last Hearth, which was a castle belonging to House Umber. We see the army of the dead’s tracks leading right up to this castle, and to no surprise, we find out by the end of the episode that The Night King had definitely been there (we’ll get more into that later). What you also might have missed in the opening credits, is that they showed this castle built upon a small spiral mountain — the same spiral that has been synonymous with The Night King/White Walkers (we’ll get more into that one later as well).
The opening credits just got better from there, as we were offered new perspective into some of the most important castles, locations we now know will be central to the end of this story. At Winterfell, for instance, we got so much more than the castle exterior we have seen the past seven seasons. The opening credits took us deep into the interior of the castle, through the Great Hall, and more importantly, deep below, into the almighty crypts. (As an aside, before the start of this season, I wrote a deep theory about the significance of the crypts of Winterfell. That theory is only underscored by the opening credits choosing to show them once again. If you haven’t already, I would recommend reading it here).
Similarly, our arrival to King’s Landing took us deep into the castle, from The Red Keep to the Throne Room. It is no surprise that the locations ended there — a reminder that the majority of Westeros’ other locations are no longer as relevant to this story, one that has become acutely focused around just a few locales. What’s also worth noting is that the credits end in The Throne Room, with a final glimpse of the good ole’ Iron Throne. As of late, we’ve been told time and time again that the Iron Throne simply doesn’t matter all that much when compared to the war to save the human race. But the opening credits, which come to a close at the foot of the Iron Throne, perhaps would tell us otherwise…
If nothing else happened in this episode, I was enthralled by the magic of these newly revamped opening credits. Take a minute to soak it in one more time. Bravo…
A Melodrama in Winterfell
If I had one knock against this episode, it was not the lack of entertainment or action, but rather that it often felt more like soap opera than epic fantasy. I appreciate the nuanced conflicts presented by the many character reunions that took place in this episode, but the ensuing drama felt a bit tiresome, especially given the backdrop of fire-breathing dragons patrolling the skies and a freakin’ army of the dead at the doorsteps of Winterfell. Given these fantastical elements, the absolutely dire situation that every person in The North (and beyond) faces, I found it frustrating and childish some of the melodrama that took place. Sansa, there’s no time for you to be a whimpering child just because you are not as pretty or powerful as Daenerys. Northerners, there’s no time for you all to continue to be stupidly naive in condemning Jon for joining forces with Daenerys. Yet, this is the drama that I felt consumed Winterfell, and I simply thought we were past it.
What quickly became clear is that a story once characterized by a plethora of teams all trying to out-strategize each other, has condensed into just two sides. And what we quickly see from the opening scene is that it seems like just about everybody not named Cersei is on team Dany/Jon. Characters from all corners of the world, entangled by a complicated series of events over the years, have now all united where it all began: Winterfell. The once-enslaved Unsullied soldiers, the nomadic Dothraki warriors, even Dany and her dragons — all of which would have otherwise existed thousands of miles from Winterfell, have come together to fight back the army of the dead (who are just miles away).
As so many of the story’s main characters descend upon Winterfell, awkward reunions are inevitable. For starters, this couldn’t have been the homecoming Jon Snow was hoping for. All he did was put aside his King in the North crown in an attempt to forge an alliance with allies that could help protect The North. Oh, and he also ventured north of The Wall (again) and led a battle against The Night King’s army, while successfully capturing a wight and proving to the world that the army of the dead exists. No big deal. What should have been a hero’s welcome was anything but.
Sansa continues to be a whiny pain in the a**, continuing to chastise Jon for “abandoning” The North, despite the reality that he was trying to save it. But it doesn’t stop there — Sansa has something new to be upset about — a prettier and more powerful female. She makes clear her distaste and distrust of Daenerys, despite the clear facts: 1) Daenerys has the strongest army in the world; 2) Jon risked everything to forge this alliance; 3) Nothing else matters other than the fight against the dead. But still, Sansa is having a tough time backing Jon, and as a result, Jon is left having to continue to argue with Sansa behind closed doors. Their conversation culminates when she asks if he bent the knee because he believes in her or because he loves her. They are interrupted before he can respond, though the answer is likely both.
Jon’s reunion with his younger brother, Bran, whom he had not seen in many years, was also nothing to write home about. He wasn’t able to get more than a stoic word or two out of his younger brother. Even his reunion with Sam, his closest friend, was pretty quickly soured by Sam informing Jon that Daenerys had executed Sam’s father and brother. The poor guy, Jon risks it all, only to return home to a temperamental sister, a younger brother that has now turned into a Three-Eyed Raven, and a best friend whose family has been executed by the woman he’s brought into the fold. Not exactly a storybook homecoming. But if there was a silver lining, it was his long-awaited reunion with Arya. Of all the Stark children, Jon and Arya were always the closest, sharing the bond of being the outsiders of the family. Standing beneath the sacred weirwood tree, we are reminded of the Northern blood that runs through their veins, and that in many ways, they are all that’s left of House Stark.
Jon aside, there were a handful of other reunions, none of which offered much satisfaction. The one I have been waiting on for so many years finally happened between The Hound and Arya. Their storyline together was always one of my favorites, and I was hoping for more, if and when their paths crossed again. Comprised of just a few meaningless words, their reunion was short-lived and unmemorable. Arya also reunited with her longtime friend, Gendry, who to no surprise, is using his smith skills to oversee the construction of White-Walker-killing weapons made of dragonglass. There wasn’t much to this reunion either, again, a bit disappointing. After storylines that spanned several seasons and characters that developed deeply rich relationships, I couldn’t help but feel the show really missed capturing the power and emotion that should have been present for some of these reunions. But then again, compared to the impending war to preserve humanity, how important are any of these relationships really?
Last, but not least, we had a couple Lannister reunions worth mentioning. Tyrion and Sansa, once man and wife, shared a brief exchange, in which Sansa continued on her mission to let everybody know how displeased she is. After Tyrion mentions that Cersei is sending the Lannister troops north to join the fight, Sansa insults Tyrion by telling him that he was once the cleverest man she knew. In fact, Sansa’s instincts are correct, and we know as viewers that Cersei does not intend to send her troops north. The only other person who knows that, is the person she told it to: Jaime, who makes an appearance at King’s Landing in the final scene.
Speaking of awkward reunions, the first person he makes eye contact with is Bran, whom he pushed off the ledge and paralyzed all the way back in season one. If that’s not enough for all of the Starks to want to execute him, Jaime is all the Kingslayer, the man who killed Daenery’s father. It’s safe to say he hasn’t exactly stumbled upon an audience of allies, and he’s going to really need some good defense if he’s to stay alive. Lucky for Jaime, Brienne cannot be too far (strange that we did not see her in this episode), and she knows a side of Jaime that few other do. During their travels together, Jaime opened up to Brienne in a way that we had never seen before, and we started to realize the impossible situation he found himself in (sworn to protect the Mad King as he served in his Kingsguard, yet also sworn to uphold the honor of his father, Tywin, who was plotting to overthrow The Mad King during Robert’s Rebellion). I imagine Daenerys will want to execute Jaime for these crimes, while Brienne will come to his defense. Given Bran’s visions of the future, perhaps he too will come to Jaime’s defense, especially if he has seen a role Jaime will play in the Great War to Come.
Before we move on from Winterfell, there was one more scene that really rubbed me the wrong way. Jon and Dany riding their dragons together felt more a scene out of a Disney kids movie than it did a serious fantasy drama. It also felt incredibly rushed and contrived. I get it, Jon is a Targaryen, and he’s the one that is meant to ride one of Dany’s dragons with her. But anybody other than Dany mounting a dragon for the first time should be an incredibly powerful moment. It should be slow. It should be thoughtful. It should be emotional. This was anything but. One minute he’s talking to Daenerys, the next he’s full blown riding this dragon like it’s no big deal. And the way they swished and swooped through the air together just undercut what should have otherwise been a major moment in this story — two Targaryens riding their dragons together, something that has not happened for hundreds of years.
To top it all off, they made an already cheesy moment cringe-worthy as Jon comments “You’ve ruined horses forever for me,” before he and Dany kiss, while their dragons look on as two parents would look onto their teenage kids kissing for the first time. Eek. If this is the kind of thing I’m looking for, I’ll tune into the Disney channel. Disappointing stuff for what should have otherwise been a monumental moment in this story. Also, for what it’s worth, there are many characters I would be okay with mounting Dany’s other dragon, but Jon Snow just isn’t one of them. There is no person in this world that more strongly defines the character that rides a horse, sword in hand, ready for battle, than Jon Snow. The idea that he will abandon that to now fly through the skies on a dragon just doesn’t feel right.
King’s Landing feels quieter than ever, but there are still some things brewing in the country’s capital. Most notably, Cersei (via Euron Greyjoy), has secured The Golden Company, a paid army of 20,000 soldiers. This will certainly get her a lot closer to leveling the playing field against Dany’s army, though no amount of soldiers truly pose a threat to dragons that breathe fire from the skies. After Euron secures this army for Cersei, he pursues the prize he has been after. While Cersei initially shuts him down, she appears to have a pretty quick change of heart, and just moments later, the deed is done. Again, the pacing of this felt a bit off, and something about Cersei sleeping with Euron feels a bit forced, but maybe that’s the point. The two have a strange exchange, which culminates with Euron rubbing her belly and telling her he is going to impregnate her with a prince. Not exactly sweet nothings in her ear, but hey, to each his own.
What was peculiar about this exchange is last season Cersei had led us to believe she was pregnant with Jaime’s baby. Was that perhaps a lie to try and keep Jaime’s loyalty and make others believe she had something to live for? Note that in this very scene, she is drinking wine, which points to the fact that perhaps her pregnancy was nothing more than a manipulative ploy. In any event, with five episodes to go, I find it hard to believe that her pregnancy, or lack thereof, will have a material impact upon this story.
While Euron was off sexing up Cersei, Theon was able to rescue his sister, Yara. It all felt like a bit too easy of a rescue given this is Euron’s prized prisoner, but we’ll let that one go. Yara plans to reclaim the Iron Islands and mentions it could be refuge should the army of the dead take the land of Westeros. Yara gives her blessing for Theon to return to Winterfell to fight alongside the Starks.
In other King’s Landing news, Bronn, one of the few remaining characters in the city, is approached by Maestar Qyburn and asked to hunt down Tyrion and Jaime. He is given the very same crossbow that Tyrion used to kill his father, Tywin, several seasons back. It feels hard to believe that Bronn would kill Tyrion or Jaime, the two people he forged bonds with throughout this story, though perhaps for the right price he would. More likely than not, this is a plot-point to get him to Winterfell, where perhaps he will have another role to play. Before he departs King’s Landing, does he save the Sand Snake that Cersei still presumably has locked up in a cell?
The Mystery Spiral
In what was the most entertaining sequence of the episode, Tormund, Beric and several brothers of the Night’s Watch arrive to The Last Hearth to find that The Night King has made mincemeat of whatever humans were at the castle. But before he departed, he left a very clear message, which centered around a symbol we have now seen numerous times throughout the show: the mystery spiral.
So what does this spiral signify? Well, it’s hard to really know at this point, but there are a couple important takeaways. First, the spiral is connected all the way back to The Children of the Forest who were the first inhabitants of Westeros, before The Night King, or man even existed. This spiral arrangement was significant to them. In the image below, from one of Bran’s vision, we can see the spiral arrangement that they created:
In the image below, we can also see an inscription in the caves below Dragonstone, which Jon discovered last season when mining for dragonglass. He explained to Dany that these inscriptions were made thousands of years ago by The Children of the Forest. One of those inscriptions again shows this very same spiral:
So we’ve established that this spiral was significant to The Children of the Forest. The other key thing we know is that it was these very same Children of the Forest that were responsible for creating The Night King in the first place by inserting dragonglass into the heart of a human (see below).
From there, we know The Night King adapted the spiral and this marking started appearing throughout the show, generally associated with death.
So while we don’t know exactly what the spiral represents, we do know it underscores the connection between The Children of the Forest and the Night King. There are major questions to be answered, which have significant implications around what this story is ultimately about. The first question is why did The Children create the Night King as we saw above? Was there some type of balance they needed to create between good and evil, light and darkness, fire and ice? The next question is who was the human they turned into The Night King and why was he chosen? As mentioned in a previous post, that scene takes place in The North, so it is likely a Northerner, and perhaps even a Stark, which would further explain the connection between The Night King and Bran, who is now the Three-Eyed Raven. This all leads to perhaps the most important questions, which is: is The Night King actually evil? My money says no. I believe he was a human that was turned into The Night King against his will and he has been in some eternal struggle to accomplish something we are not yet sure of. I don’t believe he is killing humans to just kill humans — that’s too simple. I think there is a greater task at hand, one we will learn more about in this season. And the spiral may be a major clue to unearthing answers to some of these game-changing questions.
Before the first episode comes to a close, Jon finally learns his true identity, thanks to Samwell. Sam breaks the news that Jon is in fact the son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark, and that his real name is Aegon Targaryen. This means that he, not Daenerys, is the rightful heir to the Iron Throne. Sam asks Jon, “You gave up your crown to save your people — would she do the same?” In addition to dealing with the psychological baggage of learning that his entire life has been a lie, Jon also must now figure out how he is going to play his cards with Daenerys. Does he establish that he is rightful heir to the throne and ask her to step aside? If so, is she willing to? Furthermore, how does this impact their relationship? Jon’s father, Rhaegar, was Daenerys’ older brother, making her Jon’s aunt. Do they continue their romantic relationship after learning of their aunt/nephew connection?
Lots of questions to be answered here and lots of different ways this could play out. Yet, like many other parts of this episode, I felt this was another moment that should have been a lot more powerful than it was. This storyline has been building for years now and was one of the most popular fan theories. Once we learned the truth of who Jon really was, it was just a waiting game until he himself found out the same. I imagined something more impactful than a quivering Sam Tarly just coming out with it. And Jon’s reaction rubbed me the wrong way — he seemed to be more focused on the fact that Ned had been lying to him than the fact he just learned he was half Stark, half Targaryen, has two totally different parents than he’s thought his whole life, and is also heir to the Iron Throne. I would have hoped for more from a scene like this, period.
Disclaimer: There are no spoilers in this article. I have no knowledge of what is to transpire in this story. Any views or content expressed are solely personal theories, opinions and insights.
So, here we are. The beginning of the end is less than one week away. This awe-inspiring, magical journey that has been part of our lives for the better part of the last decade — it all comes to an end in just six short episodes. It’s hard to imagine such an unbelievably rich and complex story actually coming to a singular endpoint, but that is what is about to happen, so it’s time to get caught up on everything that should be top of mind as we head into the final season. Heads up, this post is long, so don’t try to rush few it in a few minutes. This is the end of a saga, so give it the time it deserves : )
Targaryens Unite at Dragonstone
For nearly 5,000 years, The Targaryens lived in Old Valyria, capital city of the Valyrian Freehold, which consumed almost the entire continent of Essos. Approximately 400 years ago, The Doom occurred, obliterating Old Valyria and forcing the few remaining Targaryens to migrate westward. Fleeing their homeland, a select few Targaryens arrived at a small island off the coast of Westeros, where they would go on to build the great castle of Dragonstone. It was from this castle that Aegon Targaryen, alongside his two sisters, would plot their conquest of the kingdoms of Westeros (which at that point were independent kingdoms with separate rulers). After living the Targaryens lived at Dragonstone for about 100 years, Aegon and his sisters launched Aegon’s Conquest, about 300 years ago, as they rode their three dragons across Westeros and eventually united all the kingdoms under one king. Aegon Targaryen would be the first Targaryen king to rule over Westeros, and his Targaryens descendents would rule over the continent for the next 300 years, until Robert’s Rebellion.
Understanding that Dragonstone was home to the last remaining Targaryens and their dragons after they fled Valyria, and that it was from this castle that Aegon plotted his conquest of Westeros, makes Daenery’s arrival to this castle in the first episode of Season 7 an incredibly powerful moment. To no surprise, like Aegon before her, Dany spends much of season seven plotting her strategy to conquer and unite the lands of Westeros, focusing on the removal of Cersei Lannister from the Iron Throne. To start the season, Dany and her advisors (primarily Tyrion and Varys), have assembled what appears to be an unstoppable force. She already had the powerful armies of the Unsullied and Dothraki, as well as three full-grown dragons at her disposal — likely enough firepower to conquer Westeros in short order. But Dany’s army got even stronger in season seven as she forged an alliance with Ellaria Sand and the Sand Snakes of Dorne, while securing some of Iron Island the naval forces through an alliance with Theon and Yara Greyjoy. And let’s not forget that Ser Jorah Mormont returns to Dany’s side at Dragonstone after his greyscale disease is cured at the Citadel by none other than Samwell Tarly (who served under Jorah’s father, Lord Commander Jeor Mormont, when Samwell was still a brother of the Night’s Watch).
But the various key players from many of the Great Houses uniting on Dragonstone would not end there; there would be one more character to join, and though unknowing, he too would be a Targaryen. After receiving a raven from Samwell Tarly who had learned that Dragonstone was built atop a mass of dragon-glass (which can kill White Walkers), Jon Snow travels to Dragonstone in an effort to try and secure dragon-glass and convince Dany to join the Northern forces in the Great War to Come. However, Dany has other ideas and is focused on winning the Iron Throne. Though he refuses her request to bend the knee, Dany does ultimately agree to allow Jon to mine for dragon-glass, and in doing so, Jon discovers ancient cave images from thousands of years ago which depict the First Men and Children of the Forest banding together to fight the White Walkers — a chilling reminder of the Long Night and the the threat of darkness has been present since near the beginning of time. Though Jon is starting to win over Dany, she is still unconvinced of the White Walker’s existence, as is most of Westeros, and Jon soon realizes he must find a day to prove to Dany and the rest of Westeros the real threat that everybody should be focused on.
The Dream Team Goes Beyond the Wall
Once again, Jon shows his heroism and understanding of the risks he must take to preserve humanity as he decides to lead a raid beyond The Wall to capture a wight (reminder: the wights comprise the army of the undead, led by the White Walkers and Night King). He is join by a cast of some of my absolute favorite characters who come together through a random (or perhaps not so random) series of events — I like to call them The Dream Team.
The Dream Team starts to take form when Ser Jorah, who recently joined Daenerys at Dragonstone after being cured by Samwell at The Citadel, joins Jon and his trusted advisor, Davos Seaworth. But before they head into the deep North, Tyrion must meet with his brother, Jaime, to ensure that they will have an audience with Cersei if they are able to successfully capture a wight as proof of the army of the dead. Ser Davos offers to travel to King’s Landing alongside Tyrion, and while Tyrion is off meeting with Jaime, Ser Davos’ true intentions for returning to King’s Landing are revealed as he seeks out Gendry, Robert Baratheon’s bastard son who Davos saved many seasons earlier. All the way back in season three, it was Gendry who was being held at Dragonstone by Stannis Baratheon and the Red Priestess Melisandre, who used his King’s Blood (remember, he was the son of King Robert Baratheon), and eventually planned to sacrifice him to the Lord of Light. Not agreeing with Melisandre’s blood magic and unwilling to stand by while the innocent Gendry was sacrificed, Ser Davos defies Stannis and risks his life to set Gendry free. The last we saw of Gendry, he was rowing away from the shores of Dragonstone in a tiny rowboat, and it is not until all these years later that Davos rediscovers him, still working as a smith in the streets of King’s Landing. Without hesitation, Gendry joins Davos and volunteers to join the Dream Team in their quest beyond The Wall. It is worth pointing out that unlike most characters, Gendry does not choose to fight with a sword, but rather a warm hammer. Going back many years, it was his father, Robert Baratheon, who is described as a legendary warrior who swung a powerful war hammer (with which he defeated Rhaegar Targaryen, Jon Snow’s father, during Robert’s Rebellion). It’s also worth pointing out that given Jon’s newfound stockpile of dragon-glass, he will need a skilled smith to help craft White Walker-killing weapons, and Gendry may likely play this important role in the final season.
Elsewhere, the remaining Brotherhood without Banners, Beric Dondarrion and Thoros of Myr, unite with The Hound, bringing together three of the show’s greatest characters. Despite his extreme fear of fire, The Hound starts to believe in Lord of Light, after he sees in the fire the army of the dead marching south, past Eastwatch by the Sea (the most eastward castle of the Night’s Watch). After seeing this, The Hound agrees to venture north with Beric and Thoros, to fulfill their purpose in the Great War to Come. At the same time, Jon, Gendry, Davos and Jorah also head to Eastwatch by the Sea, where Tormund Giantsbane, who had been manning the castle for Jon, reveals to Jon and company that he’d been holding prisoner Beric, Thoros and the Hound after their capture.
In this moment, many characters are reunited which reveals a great mistrust amongst many of them. Gendry tells Jon not to listen to anything Beric and Thoros have to say, since they sold Gendry to the Red Priestess, Lady Melisandre, all the way back in season four. Similarly, Tormund does not trust Ser Jorah, since his father was Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch and battled Tormund’s people, the Wildlings, for many years. Despite all the history and many of these characters having been on opposite sides at times, Beric and Jon remind the group that none of this matters and that they all share a common cause — to serve their purpose in the Great War to Come as the Lord of Light commands. And just like that, their differences become a thing of the past as the Dream Team unites to head north of The Wall.
As they march into the frigid depths of the deep North, the group comes upon a band of wights, led by their White Walker master. As a small battle ensues, Jon eventually eliminates the White Walker, which causes all the other wights to fall like dominos. This was not the first time we have seen a White Walker killed, but it was the first time we were exposed to the idea that if you kill a White Walker, the wights that White Walker has turned also perish. We know that the army of the dead numbers in the hundreds of thousands, so the realization that you need not kill each wight individually, but rather you can take them out in much bigger numbers by killing a White Walker, is critical to know in the war to come. It also begs the question: if killing a White Walker ends the existence of all the wights that White Walker has turned, does killing the Night King end all of the White Walkers he has created? If so, and killing the Night King destroys all White Walkers, which then destroys all wights, then killing the Night King could bring an end to the entire army of the dead.
But this battle was a mere scuffle compared to the fight that lays ahead for the Dream Team. As they continue deeper into the North, they are eventually discovered by a massive army of the dead, led by several more White Walkers, and the appearance of the Night King himself. Despite being vastly outnumbered, the Dream Team fights valiantly, and destroys hundreds of wights — a reminder that we are watching an assemble of some of the greatest warriors Westeros has ever known. But eventually, the men are outnumbered and their deaths appear imminent — until Daenerys arrives with her dragons, and for the first time, we see a direct face-off between Ice and Fire. Remember, this entire story is entitled A Song of Ice and Fire, and seeing these powerful elements go toe to toe is a signal that the end is near. Dany and her dragons burn the wights by the thousands, but not before The Night King lands an icy spear into one of Dany’s dragons, Viserion, sending it plummeting to its death.
And just like that, the tables are dramatically turned — Daenerys can only helplessly watch her beautiful dragon fall from the sky like a plane that has been shot down out of the air. Her other two dragons let out a painful cry as they watch their sibling fall to its death. Seeing this, Jon Snow advances for the Night King, who attempts to take down Drogon, the dragon that Daenerys and the others are aback. Jon is attacked by more wights and pulled underwater, and Daenerys is forced to abandon Jon, though reluctantly, in order to save her two remaining dragons.
When Jon does reemerge from the water, he is frozen stiff and appears to have no chance at fighting off the new pack of wights that are headed his way. Not to fear, Uncle Benjen (Ned’s brother) is here. Fighting with his flaming ball-and-chain, Benjen takes out a bunch of the wights and buys Jon just enough time to escape back to Eastwatch. Jon had not seen his Uncle Benjen since the very first season, when they were together at Castle Black (remember, Jon was very close with Uncle Benjen and he was a big part of the reason why Jon joined the Night’s Watch in the first place). When Benjen went missing north of The Wall in the first season, Jon tried to go after him. Ironically, Benjen’s disappearance north of The Wall so many seasons ago is what would turn him into what he is today, and set him on the path to save his nephew when it really counted. Just another ingenious example of how Thrones sets a character on a path at a certain point in time, for them not to be seen for many years, and to ultimately reemerge in the distant future to play a major role. Sadly, after all these years, the reunion between Jon and Uncle Benjen lasted only a couple of seconds, but Uncle Benjen served his purpose and saved Jon when it counted most.
We also must say RIP to one of the story’s greatest (even if not most popular) characters, Thoros of Myr, who does not make it out alive. He too served his purpose, bringing Beric Dondarrion back to life many times over the years. With Thoros finally gone, Beric is likely now on his last life, again a reminder that the end is near.
A Winterfell Reunion
As Jon departs Winterfell to meet with Daenerys and eventually go north beyond The Wall, he leaves Sansa to look after Winterfell and maintain order in the North. Had he stayed just a little while longer, he would have found out his true identity, as it was not long after he left that Bran, who knows the truth of who Jon is, returns to Winterfell. Only Bran is no longer Bran — he is now the Three-Eyed Raven, seemingly devoid of all human emotion or feeling. After years of travels throughout the North without having any contact with any Stark family member, Bran finally returns home to Winterfell to be reunited with sister, Sansa. What would be expected to be an emotional and heartfelt reunion was anything but; Bran lacks the human emotion to even hug her, as he tells her how he can remember what it felt like to be Bran, but now he remembers so much else… He even dismisses Meera, who had been traveling with him for the last several years, who lost her brother, Jojen, and risked her life many times to keep Bran alive. What’s clear is that Bran is completely gone at this point, consumed by his all-knowingness, and we will likely never see him again.
The Stark sibling reunion continues from there, as Arya too finally makes her way back to Winterfell after a harsh and long journey. Like Bran, she returns home as a totally different person, no longer a young and innocent girl, but now a hardened assassin trained by the Faceless Men. While Arya and Sansa are happy to see one another after all these years, their differences and distrust quickly reemerge. It is important to remember that Arya and Sansa did not get along when they were younger, and one of Arya’s last memories of Sansa was her older sister sucking up to Prince Joffrey and the Lannisters in an attempt to become princess. Years later, Arya believes that Sansa has not defended the honor of their brother, Jon, and that Sansa has again made a play for power as the acting Lady of Winterfell.
Conversely, Sansa does not recognize the sister that has returned home, and starts to believe that perhaps Arya has intentions of killing her. Baelish, who has been hanging around at Winterfell, does not miss his opportunity to capitalize off this discord and attempts to strengthen his position by driver a further wedge between the sisters. Knowing that Arya has been following him, he plants an old note that Sansa had sent back to Winterfell all the way back in season one, when she was being held by Cersei in King’s Landing. In the note, Sansa notes that Ned has been a traitor and urges her family to pledge fealty to the Lannisters. What’s not clear from reading this note is that Sansa was forced to write this note under duress, and Baelish purposely plants this note for Arya to find, in an attempt to further Arya’s distrust and hatred for Sansa. At the same time, Baelish speaks with Sansa and furthers the idea that Arya has perhaps returned to Winterfell to kill her so that she can become the lady of Winterfell. Baelish’s plot dates all the way back to season one and is incredibly intricate — see the bottom half of this episode recap which provides a lot more detail about what Baelish went through to set up this scheme.
Throughout several episodes, it appears as though Baelish’s schemes are working perfectly, leading up to a final scene where Sansa calls Arya into the great hall in front of all the Northern lords. Sansa, prepared to pass judgement, states “You stand accused of treason. You stand accused of murder.” All appears as though Baelish has pulled off another epic manipulation, and that Arya will pay the price, until Sansa looks over towards Littlefinger and adds “How do you answer to these charges…Lord Baelish?” The tables are quickly turned, and we realize that Sansa and Arya had actually been working together to outsmart Baelish. Littlefinger does all he can to beg Sansa for mercy, but his many years of lies, schemes and manipulation have finally caught up with him. He cannot talk his way out of this one, and though Sansa passes the judgement, it is Arya that plays executioner.
What’s interesting to note is the weapon she uses to take his life. All the way back in second episode of season one, an assassin almost takes Bran’s life, though Bran’s direwolf, Summer, jumps in to save him. At the time, Baelish tells the Starks that it was the Lannisters who sent the assassin, which is what sends Ned Stark to King’s Landing and ultimately leads to his death and many of the events that would follow. What we later find out is that it was not the Lannisters that sent this assassin, but rather Baelish himself, in an attempt to pit the Starks against the Lannisters (which he succeeded in doing). It was Baelish himself who equipped the assassin with the dagger, which ends up back in Baelish’s possession after the failed assassination attempt. All these years later, Baelish gives the dagger to Bran as a reminder of the man who attempted his life. In a later scene, Bran gives this dagger to Arya, telling her has no use for it. In his all-knowing wisdom, perhaps Bran already saw the future and knew Arya would use this dagger to kill Baelish, which is exactly what happened. Again, this is just another example of how Thrones does such a masterful weaving plot-points that span from the first season to the seventh. Baelish gives a dagger to an assassin to kill Bran; the assassination goes wrong and Baelish recovers the dagger; Baelish gives the dagger to Bran; Bran gives the dagger to Arya; all comes full circle as Arya uses this dagger to end the life of the all-cunning Littlefinger. RIP.
Though King’s Landing and the Iron Throne is becoming increasingly less relevant in comparison to the Great War to Come, there is still quite a bit happening in the capital of Westeros, with Cersei at the helm. Just as Daenerys has made alliances with other great houses, Cersei too has forged a union with Euron Greyjoy, who strengthens her army with his naval prowess and strong fleet of ships. As a reminder, Euron is the uncle of Theon and Yara, and killed their father, Balon, back in season six, in an attempt to take control of their homeland, the Iron Islands. Theon and Yara fled the Iron Islands with their forces (and forged a union with Daenerys), while Euron sailed to King’s Landing to secure an alliance with Cersei.
This alliance quickly proves valuable for Cersei, as Euron strikes first blood in the war between Cersei and Daenerys. Carrying out a battle strategy devised by Tyrion, the Greyjoys are en route to escort Ellaria Sand and her three Sand Snake daughters back to their home of Dorne to rally the Dornish troops with the plan to lay siege to King’s Landing. However, Euron is one step ahead of them and shows his naval strength as he intercepts their ships with an attack in the night. His men kill two of the three Sand Snakes, while capturing the third, along with her mother, Ellaria Sand. As well, Euron captures Yara Greyjoy, while Theon jumps ship and leaves his sister behind.
Euron returns to King’s Landing and delivers Cersei the gift he had promised her — Ellaria Sand along with her daughter, Tyene. Back in season five, it was Ellaria that killed Cersei’s daughter, Princess Myrcella, by kissing her and poisoning her with a poison called The Long Farewell. This was Dornish revenge for the Lannisters killing Elia Martell (Rhaegar Targaryen’s wife), during Robert’s Rebellion, as well as the more recent death of Oberyn Martell (aka The Red Viper) at the hands of The Mountain. Now, Cersei has her daughter’s murderer right where she wants her, and kisses Ellaria’s daughter, Tyene, with the same poison that Ellaria used on Myrcella. Only whereas Myrcella died far from Cersei, Ellaria will have to watch her daughter die right before her eyes as they are locked up in a cell together.
That said, we did not see Tyene die, which in the Thrones world, often hints that she may yet survive and have a role to play in the days to come. One prediction is that perhaps she will be saved by Bronn. Why you ask? Well, back in season five, when Bronn ventured south to Dorne alongside Jaime in an attempt to rescue Princess Myrcella, Bronn himself was poisoned with the same Long Farewell poison. And, as you will see in the video below, who was it that saved him? None other than Tyene Sand, the Sand Snake who he says is the most beautiful woman int he world. So, is it possible that Bronn will return to King’s Landing and save Tyene who is poisoned in a cell, much the way she did for him? Time will tell. Let’s not forget that Dorne is still a major part of Westeros and it’s hard to imagine the Dornish not having a role in the final season.
But Ellaria and Tyene were not the only captives Euron secured during his attack — they were just the gifts he presented to Cersei. But, he kept a gift for himself, Yara Greyjoy. It is unclear what his plans for her are, but in one of the final scenes of the season, Theon comes alive and is hellbent on saving his sister. In brutal hand-to-hand combat, he defeats one of the other Ironborn who was opposed to saving Yara, takes command of a small crew and sets sail to rescue Yara from Euron.
Dany Strikes Back
Back at Dragonstone, Daenerys has been letting Tyrion act as military strategist, only to find that his first two plans have backfired miserably. After losing several of her alliances as well as her naval fleet at the hands of Euron Greyjoy, Dany suffers a second defeat after Tyrion advises her to have the Unsullied attack Casterly Rock, the castle of the Lannisters. He believes that if they can take Casterly Rock, they will be in a stronger position to eventually take King’s Landing. However, the Lannisters are one step ahead of Tyrion’s plan, and while Dany sends her troops to attack Casterly Rock, the Lannisters have already pulled their forces from Casterly Rock and sent them to lay siege to Highgarden, castle of House Tyrell. While there is not much left of House Tyrell, besides Lady Olenna, Highgarden has the most fertile land in all of Westeros, as well as plenty of gold. While Dany’s forces are attacking an empty Casterly Rock, the Lannisters successfully sack Highgarden and all its riches. During this siege, Jaime kills Lady Olenna, but not before she admits to being the mastermind behind the death of his son, King Joffrey. Though many, including Cersei and Tywin Lannister, accused Tyrion of being behind the murder of Joff, we knew it was actually Lady Olenna who orchestrated his murder, to prevent her granddaughter Margaery from having to marry such a monster. However, not many were aware of this, and Lady Olenna reveals this to Jaime just before she dies. And with her death, just like that, one of the noblest and greatest houses of Westeros is all but wiped out.
But for every one of Cersei’s moves, Dany has had a counter. No longer willing to sit back and listen to Tyrion’s conservative military strategy, she decides to take action into her own hands and show the Lannisters the true power of her dragons. As the Lannister forces are traveling from Highgarden to King’s Landing, Daenerys unleashes her dragons in a southern battle for the first time. Dany roasts the Lannister army by the hundreds, showing just how devastating her dragons can be in war. But, she does not kill them all. She gives the remaining men the chance to bend the knee and pledge their fealty. Two men in particular choose to defy her and refuse to bend the knee — Randyll Tarly and his son, Dickon (Samwell Tarly’s father and brother). Though Tyrion cautions Daenerys to show restraint, she ignores his advice and burns them alive, showing the others what is to come should they not pledge their fealty. This scene is an allusion to The Field of Fire, a legendary event 300 years ago when Aegon Targaryen battled the Lannisters and forced them into bending the knee.
In addition to seeing the sheer power of dragons in battle and the devastation they can cause, this scene was critical in that was the first time that anybody in the south of Westeros has seen a dragon. Jaime and the rest of the Lannister forces now know what they are up against, and he rides back to King’s Landing to warn Cersei that they do not stand a chance. Daenerys has put the world on notice, and though she chooses not to take Westeros with fire and death, she has shown that she is willing to when she must.
The Dragonpit Summit
After such extraordinary recent events, all sides are trying to figure out what their next move is. Daenerys, once focused on taking out Cersei and restoring rightful Targeryen rule to the Seven Kingdoms, has now seen the army of the dead and understands that this is the only war that matters. Yet, if she invests her forces into fighting the war in the North, she allows Cersei to strengthen her position and reclaim more of Westeros. So, the only way Daenerys can focus on joining Jon in fighting the Night King is if Cersei agrees to a temporary armistice. Even better would be if Cersei agrees to lend her troops to fight in the Great War to Come.
So, Dany, Jon and their team risk it all by traveling to King’s Landing to meet with Cersei. Of course, they do not arrive empty-handed, and they bring the wight that they captured during their raid north of The Wall. Cersei now sees what few others in the world have, and must decide whether she wants to continue her war against Dany for Westeros, or put aside their differences and focus on the much important war to come. After much deliberation, Cersei agrees to a temporary truce and offers to direct her troops north to join in the fight against the dead.
The End is Near
Just as it looks like the good guys humans are banding together to fight the dead, things go a bit haywire and reach an absolute climax as season seven comes to a close. To start, we learn that Cersei was full of sh*t and lied to Jon and Dany when pledging her troops to join the fight against darkness. After they depart, she tells Jaime that she intends to continue to fight against her true enemies, even if it leads to their death. Jaime attempts to reason with her, explaining that if they do not do all they can to fight back the dead, everybody in King’s Landing will eventually die. Yet, Cersei is blinded by the only thing that she has left to live for — revenge against those who have wronged her. No longer able to stand by the madness of his sister, Jaime rides off from King’s Landing, just as the snow begins to fall. Snow, all the way south over King’s Landing? The end must be near…
But before season seven comes to a close, we see the two elements that this story has already centered around, Fire and Ice, take center stage and set up the Great War to Come in season eight.
First, we see Fire emerge stronger than ever, personified by who we once believed to be Jon Snow, but now know to be Aegon Targaryen. Thanks to one of Bran’s visions, for some time now, we have known that Jon was birthed by Lyanna Stark after being impregnated by Rhaegar Targaryen. This was an absolutely massive reveal in season six, when Bran sees a young Ned Stark sitting over his dying sister, Lyanna, with baby Jon in hand. The implications were huge as we realized that Ned had sacrificed his honor, the thing he valued most, and pretended to have an extramarital affair in order to explain the birth of his bastard son, Jon. This false understanding of who Jon really was led to a series of events, too long to lay out here, so the reveal of who Jon’s true identity was massive. But even with Bran’s visions and wisdom, he only got half the story — the half that allowed him to understand that Jon’s parents were Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark. But, since Rhaegar was married to Elia Martell, Bran incorrectly assumed that Jon was a bastard born out of wedlock, and since he was born in the south, his bastard name would be Jon Sand instead of Jon Snow (each region of Westeros has a different last name that bastards take, in the North it’s Snow, in the south it’s Sand, etc).
However, there was another half to this story that even the all-knowing Bran had not figured out. Earlier in season seven, Gilly was reading through an old Maestar’s record at the Citadel, and she came across a passage that talked about a Maestar performing an annulment for Prince Rhaegar Targaryen and performing a secret wedding ceremony to another. Unknowingly, Gilly came across a passage that contains one of the most confidential and important secrets across the entire continent of Westeros — one that changes everything. Gilly uncovers the fact that Prince Rhaegar annulled his marriage to Elia Martell, and then remarried to Lyanna Stark in a secret wedding ceremony.
The implications of this reveal are massive. First, Robert’s Rebellion was built upon a complete lie. As we know, Robert was in love with Lyanna Stark, and launched his rebellion against the Targaryens primarily under the premise that Rhaegar had kidnapped his beloved Lyanna, rode off with her and raped her. He joined forces with her brother, Ned, and together they led much of the North to King’s Landing to overthrow The Mad King and usurp the Targaryen dynasty. Before taking the Iron Throne for himself, Robert killed Rhaegar during The Battle of the Trident. With Lyanna and Rhaegar both dead, the truth of Jon’s parents could only be found within the pages of this old Maestar’s private journal, discovered by the unlikeliest of characters.
Perhaps more important than the fact Robert’s Rebellion was built upon a lie is what this reveals about Jon’s true identity. He is not a bastard as Bran assumed, but rather the true and lawful son of Rhaegar and Lyanna who were in love and legally married. As we later hear when Bran revisits his vision, Jon’s true name is Aegon Targaryen. No big deal that he’s named after the man that conquered the Seven Kingdoms and the first Targaryen king to rule over Westeros. This also makes him one of the first, if only, throughout history to have both Targaryen and Stark blood — some would argue a mix of Fire and Ice. Most of all, this means that Jon (or Aegon), not Daenerys, is the rightful heir to the Iron Throne (Rhaegar was the older brother of Daenerys, so after their father, The Mad King died, the throne would have gone to Rhaegar, not Daenerys. And after Rhaegar, it would go to his son, Jon/Aegon). Of course, Jon still does not know any of this, but it now appears only a matter of time until Bran/Samwell fill him in on who he really is.
In the Thrones world, Targaryens equal fire, so learning that Jon is one of the last remaining Targaryens, and arguably the most powerful, amplifies the existence of Fire heading into the final season. But the season does not end without Ice making its counterpunch. In the final scene of the season, we see the army of the dead reemerge once more, this time looking to get past The Wall, something they’ve been unable to do for thousands of years since The Long Night.
In a story that centers around Ice and Fire, evil and good, light and dark, it is The Wall that symbolizes the fine line between these ever-opposing forces. The Wall was not built yesterday; or a few years ago; or even a few hundred years ago. The Wall was built 8,000 years ago when The Children of the Forest, The First Men and the Giants all came together to fight for their survival against the White Walkers. For 8,000 years, The Wall was more than a structure that kept out the dead — it was an indestructible symbol that divided good from evil, light from dark, Ice from Fire. And now, we have just seen that wall fall. A structure that protected the realm for thousands of years has finally been breached, and now, nobody is safe.
As the Night King rides on the back of his undead dragon, Viserion, he unleashes a fury of icy fire that is able to easily reduce a portion of The Wall to rubble. What’s important to remember is that The Wall was constructed using powerful magic from The Children of the Forest — magic that has kept the White Walkers out for thousands of years. And since The Wall is more than just ice and is also made up of this magic, it would take more than just ordinary force to destruct The Wall. Which is why the Night King, on the back of a dragon — representing the union of fire and ice — is able to destroy a good chunk of The Wall. Seeing this also again reminds us of the ties that the Night King has to the Children of the Forest. After all, it was the Children that created the Night King in the first place and he has shown to carry some of their magical powers. It then makes perfect sense that he is the one who is able to counteract the power of their magic used to build The Wall as he tears it down.
Some Final Thoughts & Theories
As we reflect back upon the last seven seasons, there are so many storylines that feel unfinished, characters whose destinies have not been revealed, and plot-points that lend to certain theories which or may not come to fruition in the final season. I thought I’d call out just a few that I have found most intriguing.
What Does the Night King Really Want?
I often get asked who I think is going to win the war and how this story will end. I generally respond that I think darkness will prevail. Unlike most stories, George R.R. Martin has a proclivity for reminding us that in real life, good does not always win and life can be full of darkness and hardship. For that reason, I am intrigued by the idea of evil prevailing and the “good guys” not necessarily winning.
But this leads me to the realization that the Night King and White Walkers are not necessarily evil. Sure, that’s how we’ve perceived them thus far — I mean anytime you have an army of zombies led by an evil Night King trying to destroy humanity, you are going to assume they’re pretty evil, right? But that’s a simple interpretation of what we’ve actually witnessed. If you go a layer or two deeper, you start to realize that things are not that simple, and the line between good and evil may not be that clear.
For starters, the Night King did not choose to be the Night King. He was not born into being the Night King, nor did he decide for this to be his life. It’s important to remember that he was a human, who against his will, was turned into the Night King. And by who? By the Children of the Forest, the ones who are supposed to be “the good guys.” You can rewatch the scene below in which the Night King is created. Of course, we don’t know exactly why The Children did this and what they were actually trying to achieve. Presumably, they were not trying to create the Night King, but who knows. We also don’t yet know who this human was and why he was chosen — was he just a random sacrifice or perhaps somebody more significant? From the context, we can see this happened at a weirwood tree in the North, so it’s safe to assume he was a Northerner, perhaps even a Stark? If you believe that, it leads to further theories around the close ties between the Night King and the Starks, and the possibility that the Night King could even be Bran Stark, who we now see as the Three-Eyed Raven. But that’s another theory for another day.
So, as we saw above, the Night King didn’t set out to become the Night King. He was turned into what he became, and once he became it, presumably has some objective he is trying to accomplish. I do not believe for a second that it’s as simple as killing humans for the sake of killing humans. I believe there is something greater he is driven to accomplish. Perhaps he is fighting for the preservation of his people, much the same way the humans are. Perhaps to survive they must get south of The Wall to accomplish some unknown feat. It’s hard to know exactly what his motivation is, but without knowing, and considering the fact he was forced into becoming The Night King, can we really call him evil? My money says that in the final season, we will learn a lot more about who he is and what he is trying to achieve, and that perhaps our perception of him being evil will change. George R.R. Martin has an uncanny ability to constantly force us to reassess our perception of a given character (i.e. consider how many times we have reassessed how we felt about a character like Jaime? First he was bad, then showed signs of being good, then got sucked back into Cersei’s games, and now has reemerged as a potential good guy). I think something similar might happen with the Night King, and we might be reminded that the lines between good and evil can often be unclear.
Who is the Prince That Was Promised?
As we’ve talked about many times throughout the seven seasons, during the Long Night, Azor Ahai was an ancient warrior that led the fight against darkness and saved humanity from the White Walkers. He was known as The Prince That Was Promised and there is a prophecy in the religion of the Lord of Light that has stated The Prince That Was Promised will be reincarnated to fight back the darkness once more. In the first few seasons of the show, Lady Melisandre incorrectly believed Stannis to be The Prince That Was Promised, but things did not end up well for him (although we never actually saw him die, and it’s still theoretically possible he is alive). So, the question remains, will The Prince That Was Promised once again reemerge? This question may never get answered outright, but it seems like it may be either Jon or Daenerys. One interesting callout: In the second episode of season seven, Daenerys is speaking in High Valyrian with Lady Melisandre, who once again references The Prince That Was Promised, the person that will fight back the darkness once more. Missandei, whose native language is Valyrian, interjects and corrects them, stating that the word they are using in Valyrian actually has no gender, meaning it can be a Prince or Princess. This of course leads us to believe that perhaps Daenerys could be the Princess That Was Promised. (See video below, starting at 1:10).
What’s Up with the Direwolves?
The Starks’ direwolves were very present in the first few seasons, until things started to go haywire for the Starks, and so too for their wolves. You probably don’t recall exactly where things left off and which wolves are still out there. Well, sadly, only two of the original six direwolves are alive, and I’m guessing they’ll have a role to play in the final season. With everything else going on in the show, and the wolves being absent for the better part of the last few seasons, it’s fair that we’ve forgotten about them. But don’t overlook their significance as the story comes to an end. Remember, direwolves are not just big wolves — there is a magical connection they have to their Stark owners and they should reemerge into the story in the final season.
The two wolves left are Nymeria and Ghost, belonging to Arya and Jon, respectively. Last season, Arya actually encountered Nymeria, who had grown quite large and was leading a pack of pretty ferocious wolves. It’s fair to assume that this pack of wolves will fight for Arya/the Starks at some point in the final season. We last saw Jon’s wolf, Ghost, before The Battle of the Bastards, at which point Jon held Ghost back to avoid him being harmed. The assumption is that Ghost has been hanging around Winterfell ever since, though we have not seen him.
One other interesting thought to consider is that thus far, the Starks that have been killed who have wolves that have also been killed, have been killed by the same people. Robb Stark was killed by the Freys at the Red Wedding, as was his wolf, Greywind. Rickon Stark was killed by the Boltons, as was his wolf Shaggydog. If we are to believe this pattern will hold true, this means that Bran, if killed, will die at the hands of the White Walkers (who killed Summer when they attacked the cave he was in with the Three-Eyed-Raven), and Sansa will die at the hands of a Stark (Ned swung the sword that killed Lady after Cersei demanded Lady’s death for attacking Joffrey, even though it was actually Arya’s wolf, Nymeria, that attacked Joff).
Samwell As The Final Storyteller?
When Samwell arrived at The Citadel in season six, I was fascinated by those giant astrolabes hanging in The Citadel. What were they? What purpose did they serve? Most viewers probably did not realize that we have been seeing those astrolabes since the very first episode, and in every single episode since. Yes, that’s right, they appear in the opening credits of every episode. As you can see from the image on the right below, the top half shows a more detailed view of the astrolabe from the Citadel, and the bottom right shows a strikingly similar image from the opening credits. This is not something that can be overlooked, and upon digging deeper, it lends some very interesting insights as to what Sam’s role in this story may end up being. One thought is that if darkness prevails and humanity perishes, there will need to be somebody left to tell this story — the very story that we are watching unfold before our eyes. We know Sam has always been obsessed with books, preserving history and storytelling, and it just may be Samwell Tarly that is telling the very story we are witnessing today. For more color, read the full post on this theory here.
Significance of the Spirals We’ve Seen
Throughout the show, we’ve seen a specific spiral design that seems to be shared by both The Children of the Forest and the White Walkers. It’s unclear what these spirals signify, but given that some of the images we’ve seen date back thousands of years, and that they’re shared by two of the most significant/magical groups of beings in the show, I am willing to bet it’s something significant. It may even lend a clue to the link between The Children and the Night King. You can see below for a few examples of these spirals that we’ve seen, and read the episode recap here that explains this theory in much greater detail.
Are Syrio Forell and Jaqen H’ghar the Same Person?
Another theory we’ve talked about for many seasons on this blog, and another burning question that may or not get answered in the final season of this story. But there’s a lot of credence to the fact that Syrio Forell, Arya’s Braavosi fighting instructor, could have been Jaqen H’ghar all along. For starters, back in season one, the last we see of Syrio is when he is attacked by Lannister guards and Arya is forced to flee. It is assumed that he will be killed, but we never see him die, keeping the door open for the fact he may be alive.
After Arya flees, she cuts her hair to look like a boy and joins a group heading North. In that group, there are several men locked up in a cage, one of which is Jaqen H’ghar. If you think about this for a moment, it makes no sense. We go on to learn that Jaqen H’ghar is one of the most cunning, nimble and outright magical assassins in all of the land. We seem him perform incredible feats that few others could. Yet, this same man finds himself locked up in a rickety cage as a prisoner? It doesn’t add up, not one bit. An entirely more plausible explanation would be that Syrio Forell was Jaqen H’ghar the whole time, just wearing the face of Syrio. He never got killed and was able to escape after Arya ran away, and to avoid being detected, he changed his face to that of the Jaqen we saw throughout most of the show, and allowed himself to appear as a prisoner. He continued to look over Arya as she continued north, and at the right time, revealed himself to Arya as the Faceless Man we came to know. For several more years, he would continue to train Arya, just as Syrio (who was really Jaqen) had been doing since the very beginning in King’s Landing. If you compare the two men, they are quite similar. Both were excellent fighters, both hailed from the secret land of Braavos, both spoke of the Many-Faced God and saying no to death. The list goes on. Again, who knows if this is something that will be addressed in the final season, but at minimum, it would be great to see Jaqen reemerge before the story comes to an end.
What Did Varys Hear in the Flames?
Back in season six, Varys and Tyrion are visited by The High Red Priestess, Kinvara, one of the highest ranking officials of the Lord of Light. Though her appearance was brief, she dropped a pretty big question that has never been answered. As Varys is typically skeptical of religion, he questioned The Lord of Light, to which Kinvara references a voice that Varys heard in the flames when he was castrated as a young boy. Usually cool and collected, Varys’ face becomes flush with fear, making it clear that he knows what she is talking about. Will we ever learn what Varys heard in the flames? As we’ve highlighted many times, it’s rare that Thrones inserts these kinds of plot-points if not to come back to them at a later point in time, so I would hope to learn more about this. But then again, with only a handful of episodes left, it’s entirely possible that we never learn what Varys heard in the flames.
Other Odds and Ends
The Three-Eyed Raven told Bran that he will never walk again, but he will fly. Will we see Bran fly? Perhaps he will warg into a dragon?
Is Stannis definitely dead? Seems like yes, but I’m always wary when we don’t see the character actually die.
What is the connection between Bran and the Night King? Every time the Night King sees Bran in one of his visions, Bran is pulled from his vision. It seems like there is a deeper connection between the two.
In season seven, I wrote an interesting theory about The Eye of the Giant. You can read more about that here.
More recently, I wrote a theory on the significance of what’s beneath the crypts of Winterfell. The teaser for the upcoming season focused on the crypts of Winterfell, so I think it will have significance on the season eight. You can read that here.
That’s it folks. Enjoy the countdown to season eight and savor each minute!
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.
After what has felt like an eternity of an offseason, the end is now in sight as we are just 2 months away from the final season of Thrones. Hard to believe this epic journey that has consumed us for the better part of the last decade will all boil down to just six more episodes. The early word is that the first two episodes will each clock in at the standard 60-minute length, while the last four will each be 80 minutes long. And so, as we set our sights upon the beginning of the end, HBO recently released an official Season 8 teaser, and boy was there a lot to take from it. In this post, we will break down the teaser and some of the significant takeaways. So, if you haven’t yet seen it, watch it below. And if you have seen it, watch it again!
For starters, let’s reestablish something we’ve talked about before: HBO and the Thrones writers/producers do not do anything by accident. There are no random choices in this show; from each character and location, down to every word that is spoken, everything is thoughtfully chosen to serve a purpose. Remember, Thrones producers are tasked with cramming nearly 7,000 pages worth of George R.R. Martin’s story into what will amount to a total of 67 episodes when all is said and done — that’s over 100 pages of super rich text packed into each episode — so there is absolutely no reason for the show to incorporate any fluff or irrelevant content. Every single thing you see and hear is carefully selected to be there for a reason.
With that in mind, it would be foolish to casually gloss over the above teaser and not give it a thorough examination. After all, this is the very first footage that producers are choosing to expose you to — and not just footage to tease any season — it’s to tease the final season. Again, consider that everything you just watched in this teaser has great significance, especially as we embark upon the conclusion of this epic saga. So, let’s jump in and analyze what I found to be two extremely important takeaways from this teaser: The first, a bold reminder that the Starks of Winterfell have always been, and will always be, at the center of this entire story; the second, the significance of the crypts of Winterfell, and what might be hiding within.
Let’s begin by breaking down the first 50 seconds of the teaser, in which we see Jon, Arya and Sansa walking beneath the crypts of Winterfell. For starters, this is a powerful reminder that the remaining Stark children (not including Bran, who has now turned into the Three-Eyed-Raven) are all reunited at their home of Winterfell. It’s hard to believe, but for the entirety of this story, we have only witnessed the children together at Winterfell for just one episode — the very first one! In just the second episode of the series, Jon leaves for The Wall, and the other Stark children start to go their separate ways from there. So, if nothing else, seeing Jon, Sansa and Arya back together at Winterfell, where it all started, and perhaps where it will all end, is incredibly significant.
But the teaser quickly reminds us that House Stark is made up of so much more than just the three children we see; the crypts of Winterfell lay rest to some of the most important Stark family members — ones that the teaser quickly brings back to life by replaying some of their most important quotes. Though they may be physically dead, we get the feeling that their influence and impact is very much alive, and it is this very idea that gives such great drive and power to House Stark. What we can also take away is that three of the most influential members of House Stark (Lyanna, Ned and Catelyn) sacrificed their lives so that the present-day members of House Stark could serve their future purpose in the great war to come. As we see the statues of each of these dead members of House Stark, accompanied by their words, we are reminded of a rich history of Stark lineage, filled with great death and sacrifice, all of which is presented in a way that makes us feel like everything that has happened has been leading up to this very moment. Particularly, leading up to Jon’s final moments, given that all three quotes we hear in this teaser relate to him. So let’s dig a bit deeper into the statues we saw and the words we heard from some of the late great Stark family members.
The first part of this teaser shows Jon passing the statue of Lyanna Stark, who we know (though he doesn’t) to be his mother. As a quick refresher, in the finale of season six, Bran travels back in time to the Tower of Joy, where we see Ned arrive to his dying sister, Lyanna, who has recently given birth. In season seven, through another one of Bran’s vision, we see the joyous wedding between Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen, confirming that Jon is half Stark and half Targaryen (and also debunking the idea widely spread across much of Westeros that Lyanna was kidnapped and raped by Rhaegar; rather we see that they were in love. This is hugely significant as it was Robert Baratheon who was in love with Lyanna and used the false premise that Lyanna had been kidnapped by Rhaegar Targaryen as the main justification to launch Robert’s Rebellion and overthrow the Mad King, setting the entire Thrones story into motion. But I digress…)
While we as viewers, as well as Bran, know the truth of Jon’s parents, he himself does not. As he walks past the statue of his mother, we hear the words she spoke to Ned, as her soft and dying voice tells him, “You have to protect him.” Honoring the last dying wish of his sister, Ned does just this, and fools the world into thinking that Jon Snow is his bastard son. Ned was willing to sacrifice his own honor, the very thing he valued most, by making others believe he impregnated a whore who birthed his bastard son. All of this to conceal the true fact that Jon was not a bastard, but rather was half Targaryen. Had Robert Baratheon (or many others who believed the Targaryens to be a threat) learned this truth, he likely would have killed Jon. Thinking about the great lengths Ned went to in order to protect Jon, the impact it had on Catelyn Stark who hated Jon because she incorrectly believed him to be a reminder of the affair Ned (never) had, and then listening to Lyanna’s words one more time “You have to protect him,” provides such meaning to the opening of this teaser. And that Jon does not even realize this is his mother provides all the more poetic irony.
One other interesting thing to call out here is the feather that we see fly out of the hands of Lyanna’s statue (go back and watch the beginning of the teaser if you did not catch this). For one, we have to ask ourselves what is the significance of this feather? As we spoke about earlier, absolutely nothing is random or by chance in this story, so why show a feather flying out of her hand and landing upon the ground? (Later in the teaser, at about 1:04, you will see the feather again, this time starting to freeze over as the frigid air creeps in, but we’ll get to that later). So where did this feather come from?
Well, the answer is simple. In the very first episode of the entire series, we see Robert Baratheon place this feather into the hand of Lyanna’s statue. See below:
Of course, eight years ago, in the very first episode of this story, when we saw Robert place this seemingly insignificant feather in Lyanna’s hand, we thought nothing of it. And therein lies the genius of this show — eight years later, as we near the end, things come full circle as we once again see this feather.
But that wasn’t the only time we saw this feather. Four years later, halfway through the fifth season, we again see this very same feather. This time, it’s Sansa down in the crypts of Winterfell, and she comes across the feather which must have fallen out of Lyanna’s hand. She picks it up, dusts it off and places it back in her aunt’s hand. See video below at about 35 seconds in (feel free to watch the entirety of the video, in which Baelish and Sansa talk about Lyanna Stark, and Sansa repeats the incorrect theory that Rhaegar had kidnapped her Aunt Lyanna, to which Baelish smirks, insinuating he knows that is not the truth of what happened).
We need not spend any more time talking about the feather, but it is worth pointing out that there is likely a significance to it, given that we saw it in the very first episode, midway through this series in season five, and now again in the teaser for the final season. But while the feather may have a significance, let’s not forget Lyanna herself, one of the most significant Starks of all time — the one who forged a union with House Targaryen, gave birth to Jon and gave her life in doing so. Now, all these years later, we are reminded of her contribution to House Stark and hear her last dying words as her unknowing son walks past her statue.
Next, we see Sansa walk past the statue of Catelyn, as we hear her words, “All this horror that has come to my family, all because I couldn’t love a motherless child.” This quote comes all the way back from the beginning of season three, where Cat is talking with Lady Talisa. As a quick refresh, you can watch the clip below:
What’s most interesting is the juxtaposition of seeing Catelyn’s statue and hearing these words right after seeing the statue of Lyanna with her words. It was actually the first set of words we heard (Lyanna asking Ned to protect Jon) that caused the second set of words we heard (Catelyn believing she caused all the death that had fallen upon House Stark because she couldn’t love a motherless child). As we talked about above, Lyanna asking Ned to protect Jon led him to pretend Jon was a bastard child birthed out of wedlock. This lie caused Catelyn great pain, and as she talks about in the clip above, she even wished Jon death as a sick baby. But she soon changed her mind, and prayed to the gods to save him and swore that she would love him as her own if they did. Well, Jon did not die, but she confesses to being unable to hold up her end of the promise as she was unable to love him. She talks about him being a reminder of the affair Ned had. Again, this is all actually not true and she was completely mistaken in her belief of all of this (as most people were). In the end, like Lyanna, Catelyn died trying to protect her children, and seeing both their statues with some of their last words serve as an important reminder of the sacrifices they made to House Stark.
As the first two quotes both pertained to Jon, so does the third, as we see Jon walk past the statue of Ned and we hear “You are a Stark. You might not have my name, but you have my blood.” Of course, these are the final last words Ned will ever speak to Jon, all the way back in the second episode, as Jon says goodbye to Ned and departs for The Wall. In this scene, Ned also tells Jon that the next time they see each other, they’ll have a talk about Jon’s mother. But, as Ned gets killed at the end of this season while Jon is still at The Wall, they never get a chance to talk again, and Jon never learns the true identity of his mother. As we see the Herculean grandeur of Ned’s statue, it is again a strong reminder of the influential Starks that have come before, many of which gave their lives to lead up to this very moment. While the show started in The North and centered around House Stark of Winterfell, things quickly went awry for this honorable house, and as viewers, we probably lost sight of the importance of House Stark. In fact, after all the turmoil suffered, many of us probably wondered if we’d ever see House Stark really come together again. This teaser put that thought to rest, and then some. It boldly reminded us of the deep and rich Stark heritage — one that cannot be forgotten — and one that continues on within the living Starks of today. No doubt, just as the story started with the Starks of Winterfell, so too it shall end with them.
So, we’ve covered the first major takeaway from this teaser: House Stark and Winterfell have always been and will continue to be central to this story, particularly as we near the end. And, we were reminded of the strength of House Stark — much of which is derived from the deep lineage of Starks that have come before those alive today. But there’s another, perhaps more interesting, topic to dive into. The question is: What’s the significance of the crypts of Winterfell? After all, this teaser could have taken place in 50 other locations and still stressed the importance of House Stark — but it took place in the crypts. There must be a reason why.
From the past seven seasons, and even more so from the books, we know that the crypts of Winterfell are extremely important to the Starks. It’s the place where they bury their loved ones. But it’s certainly seemed as more than just a resting place for the dead — the crypts of Winterfell have always been wrapped in a veil of mystery — why? And why now, as we near the end of this story, would HBO choose to make this the only location that we see in the teaser. And perhaps the most important question is, what’s with the freezing air that starts to creep into the crypts towards the end of the teaser? Sure, at first glance, it could just be symbolic that Winter has come, that the Night King is near, that the White Walkers are coming, etc… Or, is there an entirely deeper and more revealing explanation? By starting to add up everything we’ve learned about the crypts throughout the seven seasons thus far, much of which was via character dialogue that viewers likely skipped over, and also sprinkling in some excerpts about the crypts from the early books, we start to see an entirely different view of what the crypts might be. The hypothesis: perhaps the crypts were built not just as a resting place for deceased Starks, but perhaps as a prison to keep darkness locked within. Let’s start to unpack this thing.
In order to consider the true purpose of the crypts of Winterfell, we must first reexamine their origin. That would require us to go back in time to The Age of Heroes, about 8,000 years ago (if you want some quick context on The History of The Known World, see here for a great timeline). It was at this time that The Long Night swept across Westeros — the longest winter that Westeros had ever seen — and with it came the White Walkers, who nearly wiped out all of humanity. Azor Ahai (aka The Prince Who Was Promised), led the great fight against the White Walkers, pushing them back into the deep north. It was at this time that Brandon Stark (aka Brandon the Builder, founder of House Stark), along with the help of The Children of the Forest and Giants, built The Wall, a defense to keep the White Walkers out. Subsequently, The Night’s Watch was founded to man The Wall and keep the realm protected from White Walkers.
So after humanity is almost wiped out and Brandon Stark builds a great magical wall to keep the realm safe, what does he do next? He builds the first line of defense south of The Wall: Winterfell. And what part of Winterfell does he build first? You guessed it — the crypts! If the very first thing the legendary founder of House Stark did after building The Wall was build the crypts of Winterfell, there must be major significance. In trying to understand that significance, it’s important to realize just how big the crypts were, which is hard to tell from the few scenes in which we’ve seen the Starks walking its corridors. But the second book in the series, A Clash of Kings, offers some more color on the crypts: “The crypts were located beneath Winterfell and contained the tombs of the members of House Stark. The cavernous vault is larger than Winterfell itself, with older Starks buried in the deepest and darkest levels. The lowest level is said to be partly collapsed. The statues have large stone direwolves curled at their feet. According to tradition, iron longswords lay across each lord’s lap to keep vengeful spirits within the crypts.”
Let’s break that description down for a moment. First of all, it’s remarkable to consider that the crypts themselves are larger than the entirety of the Winterfell fortress. From the show, it’s always seemed like the crypts was simply a long hall lined with statues. But, the description above paints an entirely different picture and presents the crypts as an absolutely massive cavern of tombs that goes many levels beneath the earth. Surely, something this large and magnificent would not have been built solely to house the tombs of deceased Starks.
But, the last sentence of the description is perhaps most intriguing — that iron longswords lay across each lord’s lap to keep vengeful spirits within the crypts. It is this breadcrumb that makes me wonder what vengeful spirits George R.R. Martin was referring to? And the fact that it reads that they wanted to keep these spirits within, presents an entirely new vantage point as to what these crypts may have been built for — not just a resting place for the Starks, but perhaps as a prison to keep dark spirits, perhaps those of the White Walkers, within. After all, remember that Brandon Stark built these crypts right after The Long Night. He would have just been returning from a long war in which humanity was almost wiped out by darkness — is it possible that he could have had White Walkers or other evil darkness that needed to be locked up somewhere? Perhaps it was even the Night King himself that needed a place to be buried. It’s hard to say for sure, but the description of the crypts in conjunction with it appearing to have been such a high priority for Brandon Stark to build, as well as the sheer size of the crypts, certainly makes it plausible that this was a place used to keep darkness locked up. But that’s just the beginning of evidence to support this theory…
The description above also reveals one more important piece of information — it talks about iron longswords being laid across each lord’s lap to keep the spirits within. But why iron longswords? Was there any significance to iron being in the crypts or did the longswords simply happen to be made out of iron? Well, later in that very same book, Bran has a quote where he states, “The door to the crypts was made of ironwood. It was old and heavy and lay at a slant to the ground. The door was located in the oldest section of Winterfell.” And just like that, we have another mention of iron in the crypts, seeming to demonstrate that there’s something to this whole iron thing. What’s more, Bran’s quote calls out that this ironwood door was located in the oldest section of Winterfell, which means it was the part that was constructed first by Brandon Stark, builder of Winterfell. So there you have it — iron longswords that sit across the statues to keep evil spirits within, as well as an ironwood door to the crypt that was built in the oldest part of Winterfell. So, clearly there’s a great significance to the iron in the crypts, and possibly as a means to keep evil within, but why iron? Have we ever heard that the White Walkers are averse to iron? Well, actually yes, we have — but I’m sure none of us caught it at the time.
You may recall Old Nan, the very old lady who used to sit bedside with Bran and tell him old tales. In many ways, she was a conduit to a lot of the ancient mythology of the Thrones world, and it was never clear how much of her tales were fact and how much were fiction. In one of those tales, she tells Brans about The Long Night, “In the darkness, the White Walkers came for the first time. They were cold things, dead things, that hated iron and fire and the touch of the sun, and every creature with hot blood in its veins.” Of course, none of us could have known at the time that her reference to iron meant anything. In fact, without reading this post, even if you went back and watched that scene 100 times over, you still would not know that there was any significance to her reference of the White Walkers hating iron. It’s only when we start to put the pieces of the puzzle together does this dialogue seem to be significant. So combining this information from just a few parts of the books/show, we know: A) the statues in Winterfell had iron longswords across them to keep evil spirits within; B) the door to the crypts in the oldest part of Winterfell was also made of iron; and C) the White Walkers hated iron. Piecing this all together and it surely does not seem coincidental that the Starks had so much iron in the crypts, and it starts to become a real possibility that the crypts of Winterfell were some type of prison for the dead and the iron was there to keep them within.
So let’s go with this theory for a minute and assume the crypts are some sort of prison for the dead. What’s the significance and how does that tie back to what we saw in the teaser? Well, the back half of the teaser shows that winter frost starting to creep into the crypts. First thought is to assume that just represents that winter is here, the Night King is coming, etc… But what if there’s a greater significance that ties back to this theory? What if rather than this symbolizing the Night King or White Walkers coming into the crypts, it’s a foreshadowing of these dark prisoner spirits coming out? Just a theory, you might say. But what if I told you that Jon Snow had one dream and Ned had two, both of which alluded to this very idea? Again, let’s not forget, George R.R. Martin would not include characters’ dreams in the books without some purpose.
In the first book, George RR Martin tells us of a dream Jon had: “He was wandering the empty castle, searching for his father, descending into the crypts. Only this time the dream had gone further than before. In the dark, he heard the scrape of stone on stone. When he turned, he saw the vaults were opening, one after the other. As the dead kings came stumbling from their cold black graves.” In this dream, Jon flat out sees the dead kings coming out from their graves. Sure, this could just be a reference to past Stark kings that are coming alive, but it could also be a reference to Night Kings or kings of darkness. After all, the dream does mention “cold, black graves,” the type of grave an ancient White Walker would be climbing out of.
But it doesn’t stop there. In that very same book, Ned has a dream: “He was walking through the crypts beneath Winterfell, as he had walked a thousand times before. The Kings of Winter watched him with eyes of ice.” First, let’s point out the significance that there is yet another dream happening in the crypts. Second, let’s acknowledge the dark and ominous tone to the dream, similar to that of Jon’s. Lastly, it’s worth noting that George R.R. Martin calls out “the Kings of Winter” and their “eyes of ice.” Again, the Kings of Winter could refer to past Stark kings, or it could refer to previous Night Kings or Kings of the White Walkers. After all, why would Stark kings have “eyes of ice”? We know that it is the Night King/White Walkers that have these eyes of ice. Speaking of which, let’s rewind to the very first pages of the prologue of the very first book — the first words any Game of Thrones reader would have read — which is also the very first scene of how the show started. If you recall, Will, a deserter of the Night’s Watch, encountered a White Walker, and the book starts “Will saw its eyes; blue, deeper and bluer than any human eyes; a blue that burned like ice.” Interesting to consider that the series of books (and show) begins with Will seeing the icy eyes of a White Walker, nearly identical to the way George R.R. Martin describes the eyes of ice on the statues of the Kings of Winter that Ned sees in his dream in the crypts.
But if there really were some dark White Walker-esque spirits buried down in the crypts beneath Winterfell, why would they be creeping free now? After all, we established that they hate iron and the iron longswords + iron door should keep them contained. Well, what if that iron was starting to fade? Turns out Ned has one more dream in the first book that speaks to this very idea: “By ancient custom an iron longsword had been laid across the lap of each of who had been a Lord of Winterfell, to keep the vengeful spirits in their crypts. The oldest had long ago rusted away to nothing, leaving only a few red stains where metal had rested on stone. Ned wondered if that meant the ghosts were free to roam the castle now. He hoped not.” Another rather eerie dream which notes that some of these very old iron longswords had started to fade, which led Ned to wonder if the vengeful spirits were able to roam free. If Brandon Stark did in fact bury these first evil bodies 8,000 years ago when he built the crypts, it makes perfect sense that the iron would have started to disintegrate, possibly allowing these spirits to break free. Which again begs the question of the wintery ice we saw creeping into the crypts at the end of the teaser: was it a simple reminder of army of the dead that is soon to arrive to Winterfell, or was it an allusion to something more — dark spirits that have been prisoner to the crypts of Winterfell, that are finally breaking free.
Only time will tell, and perhaps the crypts will not turn out to be as significant as this theory assumes. But if I had to bet, I would say that there will be some sort of major reveal tied to the crypts of Winterfell before this story comes to an end…
Disclaimer: There are no spoilers in this article. I have no knowledge of what is to transpire in this story. Any views or content expressed are solely personal theories, opinions and insights.
BEYOND THE WALL
In typical Thrones fashion, this year’s penultimate episode did not disappoint. As we’ve come to see, the second-to-last episode of each season generally accounts for some of the shows biggest and most dramatic events (i.e. Ned’s beheading, The Battle of Blackwater Bay, The Red Wedding, etc…) But this season’s penultimate episode, entitled Beyond the Wall, took us to entirely new heights. This episode was not just beyond the wall, it was beyond. Period. This behemoth of an episode featured the most significant battle we’ve seen to date — one that brought the all-important entities of fire and ice face to face for the first time. But there was much more. This installment offered the most extended look we’ve ever had into the army of the dead; the biggest dragon scene to date; and this season’s most important moment between two of its most important characters (Jon and Dany). As if all of that was not enough, there were some significant deaths, as well as an awesome surprise entrance from a character we haven’t seen in a while. There was also a crucial reveal about how team humans can possibly defeat team White Walkers in this battle for survival. Oh, and as if all of that was not enough, the Night King now has a dragon to call his own!
FIRE AND ICE
If you don’t yet know that this entire story created by George R.R. Martin is entitled A Song of Ice and Fire, then shame on you. In adapting his multi-book series for TV, HBO decided that Game of Thrones (which was the title of the first book in this series) would be more marketable. And while the latter may roll off the tongue a bit better, there is one pitfall — the importance of fire and ice gets lost. The Game of Thrones titles makes it seem as though this story is ultimately about a game whose winner will ascend the Iron Throne. And while that was the game being played in the first few books/seasons (and to some extent still is), we know that the endgame here is something much greater, which is what the title of the series spoke to. Kings and thrones are insignificant in the face of fire vs ice, light vs darkness, good vs evil. And though the show has obviously made it quite clear, especially as the story has progressed, that fire and ice is where this whole thing is headed, it still seemed unclear how and when these opposing elements would face off.
Well, heading into tonight’s episode, there were just seven episodes remaining, so we knew it couldn’t be too much longer. Yet still, I’m not sure anybody was wagering that this episode would bring a full-on collision between fiery dragons and icy White Walkers. But that’s precisely what we got as Dany flies her dragons into the deep north to save Jon and the Dream Team from certain death at the hands of the army of the dead. And boy was it a powerful sight to see.
Hitting rewind for a moment, Jon and company venture into the deep north on their quest to find a wight. I get questions each week about what a wight is, so let’s quickly clear this one up. In the show, the wights are the undead zombies which account for most of the army of the dead. The wights are led by the more powerful and mythical White Walker creatures. If it seems confusing that the story would refer to the zombies as wights and their leaders as White Walkers, given that wights/Whites sound the same, well, it is. But, in the books, this confusion did not exist, as the White Walkers were called The Others. So, in the books, you had wights (zombies) being led by The Others. After the hit show Lost popularized the moniker The Others, referring to the other inhabitants of the island, HBO decided not to use the term The Others and came up with a new name for them — The White Walkers. So, today you have the wights and the White Walkers. But let’s get back to more important things.
Jon and squad don’t make it too far north before a run-in with an enormous undead bear. Because the bear has been turned by the White Walkers, it is uncharacteristically aggressive in its pursuit to kill the humans. But, the bear being turned does not explain its size — so it was pretty cool to see how big this bear was (more like a mini dinosaur). It was our first time seeing a creature like this in Thrones and builds on some of the other unusually large/mythical creatures we’ve seen (giants, direwolves, dragons, etc…) As the team bands together to fight off the bear, Thoros gets pinned down and The Hound is the closest one able to assist. Underscoring the juxtaposition of fire and ice, The Hound was literally frozen by the fire and we see that his fear of the flames still runs deep. As a result, Thoros gets badly mauled, though not killed, as Beric cauterizes his wound.
Fast forward, Jon and company find themselves deserted on an island of ice, surrounded by not only thousands of wights, but also the Night King and his highest-ranking White Walkers. After Jon instructed Gendry to run back to Eastwatch to send a raven to Daenerys, the table was set, and it all of a sudden became entirely feasible that fire would meeting ice very soon. As night turns into day, the men wake up to find themselves still surrounded, only now with one less man. Thoros has not survived the night and Beric sets his corpse aflame to prevent the White Walkers from being able to turn him into a wight. I found it somewhat strange that the story had Thoros surviving the bear attack, only to die the next morning. In any event, it was sad to see Thoros go and he was definitely one of the more enjoyable characters of the show — a man who fought for those who could not fight for themselves — and a man who ultimately gave his life to serve what he believed to be a greater purpose. Most significant, this means that whatever role Beric is to play, he must make this life count as he likely will not have another to live. Thoros is no longer around to bring him back to life as he has done many times in the past, underscoring once again, that this story is nearing its end.
The Hound had already lost some points in my book for not saving Thoros from the bear. He now loses additional points for deciding that it would be a wise idea to start throwing rocks at the wights. Sure enough, the wights realize that the water has frozen back over and they can now resume their attack on Jon and company. Somehow, this single-digit group of men are able to fight off what felt like several hundred wights. While I was ecstatic to not see any more of them die, there were points where they appeared so engulfed by a sea of wights that it seemed unrealistic for them to survive, yet they somehow continued to fight them off. No doubt, we got to see the fighting prowess of each of these men — some of the realms greatest warriors, assembled together, each fighting with their weapon of choice. And though The Hound made some poor decisions in this episode, he’s back in my good graces after saving Tormund from what looked like a certain death. I’m not sure I could have handled losing Thoros and Tormund all in one episode.
Though they were able to fight off hundreds of wights, no matter how many they killed, more kept coming. Eventually, they were completely surrounded, and we went into a slow motion sequence where everything quieted down. This sequence was mostly focused on Jon and offered a slower, more focused vantage point of what it might feel like to acknowledge the imminent death that you and your men are facing. We saw a very similar sequence in the Battle of the Bastards when everything slowed down for Jon and it seemed like their defeat was certain. But just as Jon and his men were saved in the Battle of the Bastards by a surprise entrance, the same would happen in this battle, as Daenerys arrives with all three of her dragons and sets everything ablaze.
Her powerful flames engulf the wights by the hundreds, if not thousands, and in that moment, fire finally meets ice. For the first time, we see with our own eyes what we’ve been imagining for so long — how the dragons will ultimately help to defeat the army of the dead. Things are looking great for the good guys (well, I will pause on calling them the good guys, because that implies that the Night King and White Walkers are bad guys, and I believe it’s too early to determine that given that we don’t truly understand the Night King and what he is trying to achieve yet. But we’ll save that for another time). Everything changes as the Night King picks up his ice spear and takes down one of Daenerys’ dragons, Viserion, from what seemed like hundreds of yards away. The Night King must have been spending some serious bro-time with Tom Brady, because that dragon was hundreds of yards away and flying at a pretty high elevation.
Just like that, the tables are dramatically turned, and Daenerys is helpless as she watches her beautiful dragon fall from the sky like a plane that has been shot down out of the air. Her other two dragons let out a painful cry as they watch their sibling fall to its death. Seeing this, Jon Snow advances for the Night King, who attempts to take down Drogon, the dragon that Daenerys and the others are aback. Jon is attacked by more wights and pulled underwater, and Daenerys is forced to abandon Jon, though reluctantly, in order to save her two remaining dragons.
When Jon does reemerge from the water, he is frozen stiff and appears to have no chance at fighting off the new pack of wights that are headed his way. Not to fear, Uncle Benjen is here. We hadn’t seen Benjen since last season when he had to part ways with Bran because he could not pass through The Wall. At the time, he explained that the dead cannot pass through The Wall, due to powerful magic The Children of the Forest used in helping to build The Wall, thus confirming he was in fact technically dead. When Bran asked him what he would do, he confirmed that he would continue to fight off the dead for as long as he could, and in this episode, he made good on his word. Fighting with his flaming ball-and-chain, Benjen takes out a bunch of the wights and buys Jon just enough time to escape back to Eastwatch. Benjen is consumed by the wights and the assumption is now that he is fully dead…Or maybe he will be turned into a wight… But safe to assume he’s gone as the Uncle Benjen we know. What was most significant, and also most sad about this, is that Uncle Benjen (Ned’s brother) and Jon Snow were very close. Uncle Benjen was a big reason that Jon joined the Night’s Watch in the first place, and when Benjen went missing north of The Wall in the first season, Jon tried to go after him. Ironically, Benjen’s disappearance north of The Wall so many seasons ago is what would turn him into what he is today, and set him on the track to save his nephew when it really counted. Sadly, after all these years, their reunion was just a couple of seconds.
Jon and Uncle Benjen atop The Wall in Season 1
A SILVER LINING
Coming into this episode, the dragon count was 3-0 in favor of the humans. After this episode, the count is now much more even at 2-1. Whereas the humans once had 3 more dragons, they now only have 1 more. That’s because not only did the Night King take out Viserion, but he wisely turned him into a wight that he will now be able to use in his army. This of course begs a ton of questions about how Viserion will be used and what he will be able to do. Will he now breathe ice instead of fire? Will he be able to freeze over entirely masses of land and kill all life? Will his newfound dragon allow The Night King to quickly and easily fly over The Wall and pose a greater threats to the humans? And how do you kill Viserion? The other wights can be killed by fire, but dragons are immune to fire, so is Valyrian steel/dragonglass the only way kill Viserion? Time will tell, but it raises all kinds of interesting questions. Also, as a sidenote, to turn Viserion into a wight, The Night King placed his hand upon the dead dragon’s snout, much the same as Jon Snow had touched Drogon a couple episodes back.
No matter which way you slice it, The Night King getting his hands on a dragon is a huge blow to Daenerys and all of humanity. Though the Night King always posed a great threat, Daenerys was always approaching the level of invincibility with three full-grown dragons. But now, the playing field is a lot more level and The Night King may have what he needs to launch a full-blown offensive. All that said, there were some very significant silver linings to be found in this episode, some of which will have huge implications on how this all unfolds.
Silver lining number one: mission accomplished. The men did not go home empty-handed and they achieved what they had set out for — capturing a wight that they could present to Cersei, and presumably anybody else who is a nonbeliever. Arguably, the biggest problem the humans have faced in the great war to come is that they simply do not know it is coming. Jon Snow and a few others have been trying to spread the word, but most of the realm still regards the entire thing as mythology. But now, they have hard proof and it will be interesting to see how people react.
Silver lining number two: a very significant reveal about how the humans can possibly win this war. We knew a few things coming into this episode: 1) White Walkers can be killed with Valyrian steel or dragonglass; 2) wights can be killed with either of those, but are best defeated with fire. What we did not know, and learned tonight, is that there is some sort of link between White Walkers and wights, and killing a White Walker can actually take out many more wights in one fell swoop. As Jon battled and eventually defeated a White Walker, we saw several wights around him collapse and crumble. The assumption is that if you take out a White Walker, so too are you killing the wights that White Walker had turned. This is critical as it implies that killing a few hundred or even a few dozen White Walkers could wipe out a huge volume of the army of the dead. But what was even more significant, was Beric’s assertion that perhaps taking out The Night King would wipe out all the White Walkers and wights at once. We don’t know if this is true, but perhaps we just learned how this entire war can be won.
Silver lining number three: Jon and Dany are in a great place. It was no secret that something was brewing between these two, yet Dany was still quite focused on fighting Cersei for the Iron Throne and wasn’t totally sure how credible Jon’s claims were regarding the army of the dead. But now, Dany has seen the threat with her own two eyes. What’s more, she’s lost one of her children at the hands of the Night King, so she is now more invested in this war than anybody. Alignment between Jon and Dany as it pertains to them coming together to defeat the Night King is absolutely huge.
But that’s not where the alignment stops. The emotions and potential romance continued to elevate in this episode and the two even ended up in a bed together, holding hands. Jon has declared Dany his queen, after an interesting dialogue with Tormund earlier in the episode where Tormund reminded Jon of Mance Rayder, the king of the Wildlings, who refused to bend the knee to any southern ruler. Tormund reminds Jon that Mance’s pride ultimately got him killed. Jon takes this advice to heart and decides that others must see the greatness that he sees in Dany. No doubt, he will face real backlash, especially amongst the Northerners, who view House Targaryen as definitive enemies. This should set up for a very interesting dynamic in the North, and the potential that the Northerns choose to no longer follow Jon, opening the door for a new Northern leader, which plays right into the Arya-Sansa drama we are seeing unfold — but more on that in just a bit.
One other thing to point out is that it was not just Jon that is buying into Dany and declaring her his queen, but also she that is buying more into him, especially after she sees the wounds that he sustained when he was murdered. Recall that in the fist scene they met, Ser Davos mentioned that Jon Snow was brought back from the dead, and Dany took particular interest to this. When she asked about it, Jon made it seem like he was not really brought back from the dead and that Ser Davos was embellishing. Just last episode, Dany asked Jon about this again, but before he could respond, Ser Jorah returned and stole the spotlight. Now, she is seeing first-hand the brutal wounds he sustained and she realizes that he did in fact die and come back to life. Ultimately, though Viserion’s death was tragic, you could make the argument that it was a cost well worth paying if it resulted in Jon and Dany coming together the way they did, Jon declaring Dany his queen, and that queen now being fully invested in the war against darkness.
Also, one smaller but additional silver lining is that we got some more color on the “who will be the 3 riders of Dany’s 3 dragons?” As we know, Aegon, alongside his two sisters, rode their three dragons during his Conquest. Many have theorized that there would have to be two additional riders to ride alongside Dany, but that theory now seems to be out the window.
DRAMA IN WINTERFELL
Though it seems much less significant than what we saw unfold north of The Wall, the tensions building at Winterfell will have important implications. After all, don’t forget, Winterfell and The North are one of the first lines of defense south of The Wall. So, if the White Walkers do pass through The Wall, Winterfell is one of the first places they will reach. Having a definitive leader at Winterfell who can unite The North will be critical. And that’s the opposite of what we are seeing today.
Picking up on last week’s episode, Sansa and Arya are falling right into Baelish’s trap. Unbeknownst to her, Baelish planted a note for Arya to find which presents Sansa as a Joffrey-loving traitor who was willing to denounce her own father in support of the Lannisters. What we know as viewers (as does Baelish because he was there at the time), is that Sansa was forced to write this latter as she was more or less Cersei’s prisoner. Sansa attempted to plead this case to Arya, though Arya’s mind seems to be made up about who her sister is and where her loyalties lie. Interestingly, the show has seemed to present this conflict much more from Arya’s vantage point than from Sansa’s. Both girls have been through trying times and actually appear to both want to do what’s best for Winterfell, yet the show has made Arya feel like the protagonist who is onto her antagonist sister.
Just as Baelish had hoped, he is able to find himself in private quarters with Sansa, offering her advice of how to proceed. He notes that Brienne has sworn an oath to protect both sisters, and as such, is a valuable asset to rely upon. Sansa takes this advice and sends Brienne to King’s Landing after her attendance was requested. Brienne objects to going and tells Sansa that she cannot trust the people around her, especially Baelish, even if she is home at Winterfell. Naively, Sansa believes that because she is at home that she is safe. With Brienne gone and Arya and Sansa at odds, Baelish is setting the table for him to make his next move — whatever move that might be.
Another sidenote on Winterfell — where has Bran been as all of this drama is unfolding between his sisters? After all of this time, he has finally returned to Winterfell, so where is he hiding? As an all-knowing being, you would think he’d be able to step in and drop some knowledge on his sisters to help them navigate their issues. Also, speaking of things missing at Winterfell, where the hell is Jon’s wolf, Ghost? We have not seen him this entire season, so keep an eye out for that.
HISTORY THROUGH DIALOGUE
In the first few minutes of their journey north of The Wall, there was some incredibly rich dialogue amongst the men, most of which recounted some important Thrones history. Here’s a recap:
Jon and Jorah talk further about their past as Jon reveals that Jorah’s father had given him Longclaw, a Valyrian steel sword that was meant for Jorah. Jon offers the sword to Jorah, but Jorah admits that he is unworthy. But it is not just Jon that knows Jorah’s father; Jorah also knew Jon’s father (well, he knew the man Jon currently believes to be his father, Ned. Jorah recalls that Ned wanted Jorah executed (which is why he had to flee Westeros and eventually ended up meeting Khaleesi in Essos). You can read more about why Ned wanted him executed here.
Jorah and Thoros recount their time in battle together during Robert’s Rebellion. They fought together for the rebels in a battle where they stormed Pyke (seat of the Iron Islands). History tells that Thoros rode into battle with his flaming sword and helped to win this decisive victory.
Tormund and The Hound end up discussing Brienne, though their interactions with her could not be further apart. Tormund tells The Hound of his affections for Brienne and how he hopes to marry her and have giant children together. Though The Hound does not reveal it, we know that it was Brienne that nearly killed The Hound a few seasons back.
Gendry and Thoros also recall some history as Gendry calls them out for selling him to Lady Melisandre. He tells them what she did to him though they appear to move past it pretty quickly.
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 QUEEN’S JUSTICE
It seemed like just moments ago we were gearing up for season seven to kick off. In the blink of an eye, we are nearly halfway through the season with a full-blown war underway. And as the game rages on, it’s hard to even know what winning looks like anymore. Lines have become blurred, characters have become severely intertwined and what the future holds is less clear than ever before. In this week’s episode, entitled The Queen’s Justice, team Cersei delivered several more crippling blows to the efforts of Daenerys, likely backing the Mother of Dragons into a corner. And we all know what happens when a wild animal, much less a dragon, gets backed into a corner.
But this episode was about much more than the “justice” Cersei served. This episode saw several important characters come face to face. After years apart, Bran returned home to Winterfell to be reunited with his sister, Sansa. And let’s not forget about ice and fire, aka Jon Snow and Daenerys. The meeting of these two is arguably the most important moment we’ve witnessed to date. As Lady Melisandre states, she did her job and brought together ice and fire. To understand the significance of this, you need not look any further than the title of this entire story — A Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones was merely the title of the first book in this series, which HBO adapted for the show as it was easier to market than ASOIAF). Jon and Dany coming together has massive implications not only upon the future of this story, but also the future of all of humanity. So let’s jump in.
A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE
If this story is about A Song of Ice and Fire, then we just met our two main characters. Or better yet, they just met each other. No time was wasted as the episode opened with Jon Snow’s arrival at Dragonstone, Ser Davos by his side. No doubt, the last time Davos was at Dragonstone, things looked a lot different — there were no dragons flying overhead nor was there a Targaryen on the throne. But one thing remained the same — Melisandre was present, playing an influential role in what is to unfold. This time, she points out that she has fulfilled her duty to bring ice and fire together. Wanting to avoid punishment from Jon Snow, who banished her for the role she played in sacrificing Princess Shireen, Melisandre tells Varys that she will return to Volantis. Varys tells her that she should stay in Essos, but she responds that she will return to Westeros again, to “die in this strange country.” Building on what has been alluded to several times over the course of the last few seasons, Melisandre tells Varys that he too will die, casting an ominous shadow around his future. Could she be referencing what Kinvara, the High Priestess of Volantis also mentioned to Varys when she came to see him last season and said “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?” It is clear that whatever Varys heard in the flames many years ago is quite significant, and the Red Priestesses seem to have some idea of who that voice was and the words that it spoke.
But back to the main attraction here — Jon Snow and Daenerys. What was most interesting about their meeting was how similar their positions actually are, yet how little either of is able to realize it. For the better part of the show, both have been fighting off evil in one form or another. Both have made tremendous sacrifices (Jon Snow sacrificed his life, Daenerys sacrificed her husband, son etc). At their core, both characters are guided by their morals and principles — they are driven to do what they believe to be just and necessary for the greater good. Yet neither of them realizes this as neither really knows what the other has been up to the last few years. If Jon and Daenerys sharing important similarities but not realizing it sounds familiar — that’s because it is. Let’s not forget that they are both Targaryens, related by blood, yet neither is aware.
Like ice and fire, on the surface, Jon and Daenerys meet as stark contrasts — polar opposites. But the main components of both ice and fire are carbon dioxide and oxygen — so look a little bit closer and you will see that these things are actually not so dissimilar at all — in fact, they share some of the most fundamental characteristics. And now, it is just a matter of time until Jon and Daenerys start to realize this. But until then, Jon will have to settle for the Dragonglass that Daenerys has allowed him to mine at Dragonstone, in hopes of turning this into weapons to be used against the White Walkers. In return, Daenerys is hoping to secure a new ally, one that is needed now more than ever.
There were some interesting things to point out in the dialogue between these two. First, we get another historical reference as Daenerys reminds Jon that Torrhen Stark bent the knee to Aegon Targaryen 300 years ago. At the time, each of the kingdoms were independent and Torrhen was the king of the Kingdom of the North. However, when Aegon arrived with his three dragons, Torrhen bent the knee and pledged the North’s fealty to House Targaryen. Though it was likely the wise decision, history would remember Torrhen as The King Who Knelt, and House Stark would become wardens of the North under Targaryen rule for the next 300 years. Daenerys brings this up to remind Jon Snow of the oath that was sworn — one that she urges him to honor. However, Jon Snow has some history of his own to point out — specifically that Daenery’s father, the Mad King, was responsible for the death of his uncle and grandfather (Brandon and Rickard Stark, killed leading up to Robert’s Rebellion). Jon tells Daenerys that if she does not want to be beholden to the actions of her father, then he too should not be obligated to an oath made by his ancestors. An additional sidenote that is particularly interesting to consider is that the Mad King he speaks of who killed his family is actually his grandfather. Jon’s father is Rhaegar Targaryen and his father was the Mad King, which makes the Mad King Jon’s grandfather. And since it was the Mad King who killed Jon’s grandfather on his mother’s side (Lyanna Stark’s father, Rickard Stark), what this means is that one of Jon’s grandfathers (the Mad King) actually killed his other grandfather (Rickard Stark). Lots of interesting stuff here to consider once you realize that Jon ties together Houses Stark and Targaryen.
Back in King’s Landing, Cersei scores another win as Euron returns with not one, not two, but three of her enemies. He brings Ellaria and her daughter, the last remaining Sand Snake, as well as Yara Greyjoy. Cersei decides that the most cruel punishment is to force her to watch her daughter to die a slow and painful death. Cersei knows the pain of losing a daughter, having lost Myrcella at the hands of Ellaria. She chooses to force that same pain upon Ellaria, while making her watch each step of the way. We’ll have to wait to see what Cersei has in store for Yara Greyjoy, another one of her enemies that Euron has brought back to King’s Landing.
Speaking of Euron, he has proven to be a more than valuable asset, particularly on the waters. And now, Cersei has named him head of the royal navy, while Jaime will command the army. While Euron is keen to wed Cersei now, she tells him that he will get his wish once the war is won. In meantime, she chooses to focus her lust towards Jaime, a strategic play to increase her influence over him and keep her brother right where she wants him. And if you thought Euron and Jaime were enough for Cersei, you were wrong. She is finding time to also manipulate the man sent from the Iron Bank of Braavos. As we’ve learned in previous seasons, the Iron Bank of Braavos is the wealthiest bank in the world and has backed the winning side in most all of history’s wars. This man has arrived to call in the crown’s debt as they no longer believe Cersei can win the war. Though, she quickly flips the script and points out that she is in fact the most likely to repay her debts, and requests that the Iron Bank maintain support of her cause for a while longer.
At Winterfell, Sansa has taken ownership of her new duties and quickly shows the valuable insight she can provide. At the same time, Baelish continues to try and put in work, though Sansa remains less penetrable than ever before. Baelish imparts another Baelish-esque piece of wisdom and tells Sansa that rather than focusing on one game at a time, that she should “Fight every battle, everywhere, always.” These words seems to have an effect on her and time will tell how things play out with Baelish and Sansa.
Moments later, Bran shows up on the scene, to a rather unemotional reunion with Sansa. As viewers, we long for an emotional moment here, especially considering all that the Starks (and we) have endured over the seasons. And, in most shows or movies, this would be a storybook reunion full of scripted emotion. But this is not any show — and in this show, a story is put forth that aims to mirror real life. And in real life, not all reunions are happy and joyous, as the realities of life can take their toll on people. And that’s precisely what has happened here. While Sansa is full of emotion to see her brother, Bran looks off into the distance as he is embraced by his sister. It appears as though he doesn’t even value this moment enough to put forth the effort to try and hug her back. Which of course makes perfect sense. Bran is not Bran. Bran is now the Three Eyed Raven. He has lost a lot of himself in his travels through space and time, consuming his mind with everything that has ever happened. He knows what is to come and in the battle for the survival of humanity, a reunion between two people is irrelevant.
TRUTH IN DEATH
Last week, Tyrion’s plan to send their fleet back to Dorne to pick up the Dornish army went terribly wrong after they were ambushed by Euron. As a result, they lost most of their fleet as well as significant allies. This week, things went from bad to worse, as the other part of Tyrion’s strategy went sideways. His plan was to take Casterly Rock, the stronghold of House Lannister. However, Cersei learned that they were coming, and decided to concede the castle, as it is of little importance to her at this point. Rather than sacrificing thousands of Lannister soldiers that she will desperately need in the coming days, she decides to send these men to Highgarden. At Casterly Rock, the Unsullied realize that much of the Lannister army is not present, but they realize too late. Euron’s fleet has attacked the precious ships that Daenerys had left, not only destroying her naval force, but also leaving the Unsullied stranded at Casterly Rock. This is another decisive blow against Daenerys, whose forces are being diminished by the minute. If Daenerys was questioning Tyrion’s judgement before, she must be considering finding a new Hand altogether now. One can only assume that Daenerys will take matters into her own hand and be the dragon that Lady Olenna told her to be last week.
Speaking of Lady Olenna, her time has come to an end. Killing two birds with one stone, by pulling the Lannister army out of Casterly Rock, not only did Cersei avoid losing more of her men, but she also laid siege to Highgarden and eliminated yet another enemy. After easily ridding of the Tyrell forces, Jaime descends upon Lady Olenna who knows the fate she is facing. Yet, before she dies, she will make every last word count, as she often does. She reminds Jaime how truly crazy Cersei is and admits that she regrets the role she played in enabling Cersei to spread her disease. She tells Jaime that he too will regret his involvement. She observes that Jaime is helplessly in love with his sister and is sucked into her madness, to which he does not disagree. I find it hard to believe that this is the final path that Jaime will ultimately go down, being a henchman to Cersei, especially after how far we saw his character come in previous seasons.
In her final moments, after drinking the poison and knowing that death is imminent, Lady Olenna makes her last words count as she informs Jaime that it was her that was responsible for the death of Joffrey many years back. As viewers, we knew that Lady Olenna had slipped poison into Joffrey’s wine during his wedding to Margaery, but few others knew. Cersei immediately blamed Tyrion, which set off a massive chain of events. Tyrion was thrown in a cell and eventually put on trial for the crime he did not commit. This led to a trial by combat where The Mountain eventually killed Prince Oberyn. And on and on the game went. What Jaime finds out all this time later, and what he may or may not tell Cersei, is that it was in fact Lady Olenna, not Tyrion, that was responsible for Joffrey’s death. Though Lady Olenna is the one that ends up dead, it felt more like she was the one who put her dagger into Jaime (and Cersei).
ODDS & ENDS
We got a quick glimpse of Bronn, riding alongside Jaime. It’s worth pointing out that Bronn had a fling with one of the Sand Snakes when he ventured with Jaime to Dorne (to save Myrcella). It is also worth pointing out that this is the Sand Snake that is still alive in King’s Landing. With Bronn close to Jaime and there being a decent chance he makes it back to King’s Landing, is there any chance he saves the Sand Snake? Probably a long shot, but it’s worth noting.
It looks like Jorah is cured and now off to try and sync back up with Khaleesi. If he does meet back up with Khaleesi, this will only strengthen the Jon Snow/Daenerys opportunity, as the people once closest with Jon and Daenerys (Sam and Jorah) are now strongly intertwined.
When Sam is asked by the archmaestar how he learned to cure Jorah, he simply states that he read it in a book. We once again are reminded of Sam’s strong love for books. What else will he discover in his readings? And will Sam be the person to eventually write the book and retell the story that we are seeing today?
In the first episode, Jon sent Tormund to Eastwatch by the Sea. We’ve not seen him since but we know that this is where the army of the dead is marching. We should see his arrival pretty soon.
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.
Since the end of last season, one thing was clear: Winter Is Here. Now, just as quickly, war is here. The premiere episode last week more than set the stage and made clear the alliances that were being formed in the war to come. Just one week later, first blood has been drawn and the war is officially on. The first battle came rather abruptly and it is clear that there will be several more battles to unfold before this war is decided. And while the epic sea battle might be what is most remembered from this episode, there were several other significant developments, from Arya turning back for Winterfell to Sam Tarly attempting to save the life of Ser Jorah. Another consistent theme throughout this episode was past events and relationships affecting present day decisions, from Jon Snow’s decision to head to Dragonstone because of the relationship he developed with Tyrion in the first season, to Samwell’s willingness to risk his life to cure Jorah because of the relationship he had with Jorah’s father, Lord Commander Mormont. The dots continue to be connected as characters continue to move closer and closer towards one another. And as these characters continue to be pulled towards one another, the stage is set for several key reunions and also some powerful first meetings.
The episode opens up at Dragonstone as a powerful storm sends waves crashing upon the towering Targaryen castle. It is this storm that the episode, entitled Stormborn, derives its name from. The opening dialogue of the episode have Varys and Tyrion talking about the storm 20 years ago that came across Westeros as Daenerys was birthed at Dragonstone. Now, 20 years later, another storm is upon the land as Daenerys and her advisers plot their next move. Daenerys shifts her attention to Varys and attacks him for the manner in which he has conspired behind the backs of previous rulers. In response, Varys delivers an impassioned speech to defend his actions, telling that he has always been a man of the people who refuses to pledge blind allegiance to incompetent rulers. Daenerys seems to work past her distrust of Varys after he pledges his loyalty and promises to tell her directly if he ever disagrees with the manner in which she rules.
Moments later, The Red Lady, Melisandre, arrives at Dragonstone to speak with Daenerys. We saw her last in season six, ordered by Jon Snow to ride south after having learned about the role Melisandre played in sacrificing and burning Princess Shireen. Ironically, it was Jon Snow’s order that would send Melisandre to Daenerys, where the topic of conversation would be Jon Snow himself. Melisandre tells Daenerys that she believes she is the Prince (or Princess) That Was Promised. As we’ve discussed before, The Prince That Was Promised is a prophecy in the religion of the Lord of Light, which says that the ancient warrior, Azor Ahai, who fought back the White Walkers during The Long Night, will eventually be reincarnated to fight back death and darkness once more. At first, Melisandre believed Stannis was the Prince That Was Promised, which turned out to be incorrect. Since then, many have argued that it will either be Daenerys or Jon Snow that will turn out to be TPTWP.
Beyond this, Melisandre tells Daenerys of Jon Snow and how he is now the King in the North. She also tells Daenerys of how Jon Snow has done something nobody else has ever done — he let the Wildlings south of The Wall and successfully united the Wildlings with the great houses of the North. Melisandre encourages Daenerys to summon Jon Snow to come to Dragonstone so that she can hear first hand of the things that Jon Snow has seen. So, while Jon Snow may have banished Melisandre, in reality, it is Melisandre who is advocating for Jon Snow and setting up the meeting between the two. While she often slips off our radar, it is important to remember that Melisandre, perhaps more so than any other character, is well aware of the war against darkness that is coming and will do anything within her power to win it. She knows that Daenerys and Jon Snow must meet, and thanks to her actions, it seems as though this will happen sooner than later.
Right on queue, Jon Snow receives not one but two ravens, each carrying an important message. Samwell Tarly has passed along the valuable information that Dragonstone is built upon a cache of Dragonglass — an important material that they will need to turn into weapons to battle the White Walkers. This message is juxtaposed perfectly against the next, which is raven from Tyrion, inviting Jon to meet Daenerys at Dragonstone. To no surprise, his supporters react adversely, stating that neither a Targaryen nor a Lannister is to be trusted. What they do not realize is that Daenerys and Tyrion are outliers — they are not typical Targaryens or Lannisters. Jon Snow argues that he must go to Dragonstone, as they are in great need of both Dragonglass and a powerful ally. So just like that, after six years of Thrones, in just one episode, Daenerys is made aware of Jon Snow and Jon Snow is made aware of Daenerys. What neither of them have been made aware of yet is that Daenerys is Jon’s aunt and Jon is Daenerys’ nephew. Of course, Jon is not yet even aware that he is half Targaryen. But, with the way ravens have been flying around and dropping knowledge in these first two episodes, it might not be much longer until he finds that out.
As I often try to do with these recaps, let’s dig a little bit deeper into this plot-point and acknowledge some of the amazing development that has led us to where we are today. Rightfully so, the Northerners argue against Jon Snow going to Dragonstone as they do not trust a Targaryen or a Lannister. But Jon Snow does not listen to any of them, not even to Lyanna Mormont who has been his strongest advocate to date. Why doesn’t he listen? Sure, in part, it is because he knows the threat they are facing and is willing to take a risk to acquire the Dragonglass and the powerful ally that he needs. But it is more than that. It is also because he trusts Tyrion, the very man who sent him this raven. And six years ago, we witnessed the establishment of their relationship, the very basis for why Jon Snow will decide to trust him and head to Dragonstone six years later. In the very first season, Jon and Tyrion travel to The Wall together and develop a real bromance. In many ways, they were both bastards, even though in fact, neither actually are. At the time, Tyrion empathizes with Jon Snow and tells him, “All dwarfs are bastards in their father’s eyes.” Six years later, these are the same words he adds to the raven he sends to Jon Snow, referencing the connection they made many years back. Now, at the time, not a person in the world could have thought the casual trip they made together could have had any sort of significant impact upon the future. But as we’ve seen time and time again, it is this kind of development that makes the Thrones story so beautiful and ingenious. That George R.R. Martin had this kind of foresight to establish a relationship between the two unlikeliest of characters, only for it to turn out to be extremely meaningful so many years later, is nothing short of brilliant.
So now, Jon Snow is headed to Dragonstone, despite the pleas of everybody around him, including his own sister. Sansa reminds him of what happened to their grandfather the last time a Stark was summoned by a Targaryen. She is referring to an event that was the catalyst for Robert’s Rebellion. After Rhaegar Targaryen “captured” Lyanna Stark and rode off with her, her brother, Brandon rode to King’s Landing to demand her release. The Mad King arrested Brandon for treason and sent raven to Lyanna/Brandon’s father, Rickard, demanding that he ride to King’s Landing to answer for his children’s crimes. When Rickard arrived at King’s Landing, he was also arrested and then burned alive, while his son Brandon was forced to watch, before eventually being strangled to death. With this in mind, it is no surprise that Sansa does not want Jon to RSVP ‘yes’ to the next invitation that has been extended to a Stark by a Targaryen. But Jon knows the odds they are facing and departs for Dragonstone, leaving Sansa in charge of Winterfell. This of course leaves the door wide open for Baelish and whatever his next move might be.
At King’s Landing, Cersei continues to develop her army and has assembled many of the powerful lords to the Throne Room. She manipulates them with a fabricated story of another mad Targaryen that is coming to bring destruction to Westeros, and asks them to join her fight against Daenerys. Most of these lords have pledged fealty to House Tyrell, so while they may be willing to join Cersei’s side to oppose a Targaryen invader, this will by default also position them against House Tyrell. One man that appears unwilling to break his oath is Randyll Tarly, father of Samwell. He is a proud and powerful man who has known Olenna Tyrell since birth. Jaime tries to persuade him to join their side by offering to appoint him as a key general of the Lannister army, and also offers him position of Warden of the South after the war is won. It’s unclear whether Randyll will join or not, but it seems as though he can be convinced. Separately, we see Dickon Tarly, Randyll’s son and Samwell’s younger brother. He is heir to House Tarly and will likely have an important role to play. Again, this is another example of sides being chosen, and this decision will have interesting implications down the road. One thing we know is that Samwell will not be on the side of Cersei, and it is entirely possible that at some point, Samwell will come face to face with his father and brother, potentially in a time of war.
SAM & THE CITADEL
Randyll is not the only Tarly who has a critical decision to make in this episode. Again proving to be one of the more knowledgable characters in the story, Sam shares with the archmaestar his awareness that Princess Shireen was cured of her greyscale disease as a baby. However, the archmaestar dismisses Sam and gives Jorah one more day before sending him off to Old Valyria to join the others afflicted with greyscale. Looking over at his sword, Jorah considers taking his own life before accepting the archmaestar’s scenario, and we see Jorah preparing what was likely a goodbye letter to his Khaleesi. But then enters Sam, with a plan to perform a risky procedure to save Jorah’s life. Once again, we see a relationship from many years ago having significant impact upon the decisions being made by characters in present day. Years ago, Sam joined the Night’s Watch and served under Lord Commander Mormont, for whom he developed tremendous respect and admiration. When Sam learns that Jorah is the Lord Commander’s son, he is willing to risk not only being exiled from the Citadel, but also his own life, in the attempt to save Jorah’s. We do not see how things play out, but it seems as though Jorah may have found his lucky star and could be back in action sooner than later.
At the end of last season, when Samwell finally reached the Citadel, I wrote an interesting piece about the significance of the Citadel and what Samwell’s role could be in the future of this story. You can read more about that here. In that piece, I explored the idea that it is possible that it is in fact Samwell that is the narrator of the entire story we are being told today. First, we know that Sam is obsessed with books and storytelling, so if there is any character that recognizes the importance of recording and retelling history, it’s Sam. His arrival at the Citadel only strengthens this theory, as this is the very place where history is recorded and eventually retold to those who care to listen. When you consider this, coupled with the fact that we know the war against darkness is coming, this theory starts to seem even more possible. If you are open to the idea that it is possible that the humans lose the war against darkness, or at least a large percentage of humanity is wiped out, then it follows that somebody will need to be around to tell the story we are seeing today. Who better than Sam? And, in this most recent episode, there was another tidbit which strengthens this theory. When the archmaestar told Samwell of the book he was writing about Robert’s Rebellion, Sam responds that he would personally choose a title that was “a bit more poetic.” Perhaps something like “A Song of Ice and Fire” or “Game of Thrones.” As we have seen time and time again, there is no coincidental dialogue in Game of Thrones — things are said for a reason, even if we don’t find out that reason for many years to come. The writers would not choose to randomly include a line in this episode where Sam comments on the title of a story which recounts the events of recent history, unless it was supposed to mean something. I believe that this is a subtle hint which points to Sam eventually recording and retelling the story that is unfolding before our eyes today.
THE WOLVES REUNITE
On her way for King’s Landing to take out Cersei, Arya stops at the inn where she last split with her good friend Hot Pie. The relationship that developed between the two many years ago would prove to be quite valuable, as Hot Pie informs Arya that the Boltons no longer occupy Winterfell. He tells her of how Jon Snow defeated Ramsay and reclaimed Winterfell. Learning she now has a home to return to and family possibly waiting for her, Arya looks ahead at the road to King’s Landing, before deciding to turn back to head home. This moment again speaks to the ongoing development of Arya’s character and the question of who she wants to be. Is she Arya Stark of Winterfell, or a cold-blooded assassin whose sole purpose is to cross names off her list? With each episode, it appears more and more that she is some combination of the two. In this episode, we see that she values being Arya Stark and returning home to Winterfell more than she does the pursuit of avenging those she has lost.
In one episode, Arya reunites with her old friend Hot Pie, and the information he presented her with now presents the opportunity for her to reunite with her family. But the reunions did not stop there. Sitting over a fire in the woods, Arya is surrounded by a pack of wolves. She is outnumbered and out of luck, until the leader of the pack emerges. Two or three times the size of all the other wolves, this must be a direwolf and Arya immediately recognizes her to be Nymeria. Nymeria was Arya’s direwolf who she set free all the way back in the first season after Cersei ordered for Nymeria to be executed for biting Joffrey. For many years, Arya and Nymeria have been separated, and just like Arya has emerged a much more powerful version of herself, so too has Nymeria. Demonstrating the clear connection the Starks have with their direwolves, Nymeria appears to recognize Arya and looks deeply into her eyes. Arya pleads with Nymeria to come back to Winterfell with her, but Nymeria backs away with the rest of her pack. Arya whispers “That’s not you,” maybe trying to convince herself that it was a different wolf, but we all well know that it was in fact Nymeria. And though they did not immediately join together, Nymeria is out there, with a pack of wolves and it’s a safe bet that we’ll see them again.
“BE A DRAGON”
At Dragonstone, we see Tyrion’s role continuing to grow by the week, as too is his influence over Khaleesi. Tyrion tells her that she is not meant to be the queen of the ashes, a line that she directly repeats to the Greyjoys and Martells who are encouraging her to attack King’s Landing now. And when these allies question her, it is Tyrion that puts forth their military strategy. His strategy is for the Tyrell and Martell armies to surround King’s Landing, while Greyworm and the Unsullied attack the Lannister stronghold, Casterly Rock. The Greyjoys, Martells and Tyrells are amenable to this plan and it appears to be a sound strategy. But while Tyrion continues to put forth a more diplomatic and peaceful plan, Lady Olenna has other advice for Khaleesi.
Sitting alone, the wise Lady Olenna tells Khaleesi that Tyrion is a very clever man and that she has been around many clever men in her life, all of whom she has managed to outlive. She has done so by simply ignoring these clever men, a strategy she is subtly encouraging Khaleesi to employ with Tyrion. More explicitly, she tells Khaleesi that all the others are sheep, but that Khaleesi is a dragon. She tells her to “Be a dragon.” As usual, Lady Olenna shows her wisdom and offers a new vantage point. Khaleesi has been so concerned with being a fair, peaceful and diplomatic ruler, that she has perhaps suppressed the dragon inside of her. While nobody wants to see her repeat the madness or cruelty of her father, at the same time, it is important that Khaleesi remembers who she is. She is the Mother of Dragons, and to get to where she needs to be, she will have to be willing to embrace the fire, even if that fire produces ashes.
WAR HAS BEGUN
Without warning, battle breaks out and the Cersei vs Khaleesi war has officially begun. As the Greyjoys and Martells follow Tyrion’s plan and ride to Dorne to bring the Dornish army back to King’s Landing, Euron Greyjoy attacks and all hell breaks loose. Suffice it to say, nobody does battles scenes like Game of Thrones, and the last few minutes of this episode delivered heart-pounding action. First, it was very cool to see a landless battle. We’ve all seen dozens of portrayals of battles that have taken place on land, but much less have we seen battles that have taken place on the sea. It was powerful to see Euron’s fleet descend upon the unsuspecting Greyjoy fleet and the all-hands-on-deck (pun intended) battle that would ensue.
We got first look at Euron’s fighting skills and see that he not only talks the talk, but can walk the walk. He takes down dozens of Ironborn, followed by taking out two of the three Sand Snakes. He was badly wounded several times, but continued fighting and seemed to embrace the bloody chaos — a true pirate. We also saw the Greyjoys, both Theon and Yara, show off their fighting skills. Below deck, Euron’s men surround Ellaria and the remaining Sand Snake, at which point Ellaria begs for death. But Euron has other plans for her, and she will likely be the gift that Euron promised to bring Cersei. Above deck, Euron has his blade to the throat of his niece, Yara, giving Theon the opportunity to protect his sister as he has pledged to do. As he looks around and sees death and destruction all around him, he is reminded of the torture he inflicted at the hands of Ramsay. He reverts back into his oldself — Reek — and jumps overboard.
And just like that, Euron has delivered the decisive first blow, weakening Khaleesi’s position. In one battle, Khaleesi has lost both of her Greyjoy supporters, their Iron Fleet, as well as her Martell supporters. Tyrion’s proposed strategy is now in serious jeopardy. They do not have the ships to bring back the Dornish army, nor do they have the Martell leaders to lead the Dornish army. Additionally, she’s lost the Greyjoy support and ships she had. Nobody is feeling too bad for Khaleesi with her three dragons and thousands of soldiers, but this definitely was not the start she wanted. As the episode comes to a close and Theon floats away like a piece of driftwood, Lady Olenna’s advice rings loud and true. Khaleesi must be wary of listening to the wise advisers around her and instead must embrace her inner dragon.
Missandei and Greyworm finally get together. Not sure what this is about.
Qyburn has worked up another one of his mysterious inventions and shows Cersei a giant dragon-killing weapon.
Through two episodes, we’ve still not seen much from Bran, other than his brief arrival to The Wall.
Last, but certainly not least, there is a very significant reveal in the season seven intro segment. As you can see in the pictures below, The Wall was built to span the entire width of Westeros, blocking off the White Walkers from traveling north to south. There are seas to the east and west of the land, where the Night’s Watch has castles to ensure the White Walkers cannot pass by water. But now that Winter Is Here, the White Walkers have actually frozen over the seas, allowing them to simply walk around The Wall. This revelation can be seen in the new opening segment. (See below) The White Walkers have brought winter and frozen the entire sea!! This is what The Hound saw last week in the fire when he said “It’s where The Wall meets the seas. The dead are marching past it. Thousands of them.”
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 ONE TRUE GAME
In the Game of Thrones world, for better or worse, there are so many games being played all at once. For the first few seasons, the most significant and end-all game that was being played was the battle for the Throne. At the time, this appeared to be the defining game of the show and the only one that really mattered. And though five seasons later, this game is yet to be resolved as Stannis and Khaleesi are both still major players battling for the Throne, we continue to see so many additional games that are introduced. Whether it be a game of love or a game of revenge; a game of truth or a game of deception — the Thrones world has done something that few stories have ever done before, creating so many different layers of plot-lines, all occurring simultaneously. And with each game comes its respective players, its location of play and so many other details that make each game so interesting and enjoyable to watch unfold. But the multitude of all these games all being played at once also proves to do one other thing very well — it distracts us from the one true game being played — the only game that matters — the game of Ice and Fire. And in the 48th episode to date, we were abruptly and violently reminded, more so than ever before, of the game that we should all be focused on — the one that will likely determine the fate of all mankind.
JON SNOW LEADS THE FIGHT AGAINST DARKNESS
As Jon Snow approaches Hardhome, the basecamp of the Wildlings, alongside his new ally Tormund Giantsbayne, the mood is colder than ever before. The mission at hand is a nearly unthinkable one — to unite the Wildlings and the Night’s Watch — two clans that have been warring for thousands of years. Yet is is also clear that Jon Snow has no choice — he must unite all men if they are to have any chance at fighting off the White Walkers and avoiding a fate of death and darkness.
After a hostile welcome from the Lord of Bones, Tormund beats him to death, showing the other Wildlings that he means business, while also making it clear to viewers that his allegiance to Jon Snow is true. After Jon Snow and Tormund make their pitch to the leaders of each Wildling clan, some agree to join their cause while others stubbornly refuse. And as Jon Snow starts to look a lot like Moses, leading an exodus of Wildlings onto the sea to the promised land of Castle Black, all hell breaks loose as an avalanche of wights (the army of dead led by the White Walkers), descends upon Hardhome.
Jon Snow approaches Hardhome
Once again, Jon Snow shows that his bravery and leadership is unparalleled; where most men would have fleed, Jon Snow stays back to defend the Wildlings and fight off the wights. But perhaps he regretted that decision just moments later, as he looks up to see a band of White Walkers on a cliff, looking down at the battle below. And not just any White Walkers. These appear to be the leaders of the White Walkers, the ones we saw just once before, in a season four episode when they took one of Craster’s babies into the far North and turned it into a White Walker, by touching a finger to the baby’s face and turning its eyes a deep blue. It was assumed that we had just witnessed how a White Walker is created (which begs the question — how was the first White Walker created?), and we also learned what the White Walkers have been doing with the babies Craster had been leaving for them.
Season 4 episode where we saw a White Walker king turn a baby into a White Walker
Unlike other White Walkers we’ve seen (such as the one killed by Samwell Tarly), which do not wear any clothes, carry real weapons, and generally appear less advanced, the White Walkers that Jon Snow looked up at wore dark black clothes, carried weapons and clearly appeared to be the leaders and/or more advanced White Walkers. And just a few moments later, Jon Snow finds himself in a one-on-one battle with one of these White Walkers. But first, we saw one of the Thenns attempt to fight this White Walker, but his battle axe is shattered when it meets the icy sword of the White Walker, and he is of course then killed. Jon Snow is up next, but cannot find the dragon-glass, and is getting his ass handed to him by the White Walker. But just as it’s looking like he might not win this fight, Jon stumbles upon his sword, Longclaw, the Valryian steel sword given to him by Lord Commander Jeor Mormont. And whereas we’ve seen and heard that all steel swords are shattered when they meet the icy touch of a White Walker, Longclaw in the hands of Jon Snow, stands up to the weapon of the White Walker, and Jon Snow is then able to but his sword through the White Walker, joining Samwell Tarly in the White Walker kill club.
Jon Snow, with his Valyrian steel sword, slays a White Walker
Things get even worse as hundreds more wights descend upon Jon and whatever’s left of the Night’s Watch and Wildlings, and they’re forced to retreat to their boat and head back to Castle Black. But not before we saw what was one of the, if not the single most powerful and revealing scene in the five seasons we’ve been watching Game of Thrones. It was a single image that epitomized what lies at the core of this epic story created by George R.R. Martin — a series entitled A Song of Ice and Fire. Martin named this series A Song of Ice and Fire for a reason…after all, at it’s core, it’s a story about Ice, darkness and evil versus Fire, light and good. But viewers often lose sight of these themes and the true name of the series itself, since HBO for its TV adaptation chose to use the name of the first book in this series, A Game of Thrones, presumably because it was a more marketable title. But the Game of Thrones was merely the title of the first book — and as we know — a much smaller game compared to the greater game of Ice versus Fire.
And now, as Jon Snow exchanges a long, cold, hard stare with one of the White Walker’s leaders — we see these very themes personified. Ice, darkness and evil versus Fire, light and good — two opposing forces that have been in a constant struggle since the beginning of the world. And as Thrones history tells us, during the Long Night, thousands of years ago, a great battle transpired between these two forces, and darkness almost prevailed as all of mankind was pushed near the brink of extinction, until Azor Ahai, with his burning sword called Lightbringer, fought back the White Walkers. It was at this time that the Wall was built to keep out the White Walkers and defend the realm from the darkness that lived beyond. In the religion of the Lord of Light, it was prophecized that at some point in the future, Azor Ahai would be reincarnated as the Prince that was Promised, to once again fight back the White Walkers in a battle that would determine the fate of all mankind. And, as we know, Melisandre has often spoke the words of the Lord of Light, telling that there is only light versus dark, good versus evil and Ice versus Fire. As we’ve seen before, the religion of the Lord of Light seems to be the most legitimized, the most rooted in truth and perhaps the most significant to the outcome of this world. And now as Jon Snow stares down a White Walker leader, it appears that prophecy about Azor Ahai being reborn to once again fight back the White Walkers might be true and that this battle is more imminent than ever; Fire and light will oppose Ice and darkness, with the prevailing side determining the fate of all mankind.
The Night King raising up his wights
And yet if we dig a bit deeper, there are additional layers of significance to what we saw in this episode. First, this is the most screen-time we’ve gotten with the White Walkers, by far. And not just any White Walkers, but what appeared to be the more advanced White Walkers — and the spikey-head White Walker who appears to the king of the White Walkers. Additionally significant, we saw him raise up all the dead corpses and turn them into wights. While we knew that wights were dead corpses that the White Walkers turned into zombies that march in their army of the dead, this is something that we had never seen happen before this episode. We’ve now seen this White Walker (the one with the spikey head), turn a human baby into a White Walker, as well as turning dead corpses into wights to serve in his army of the dead. We now have a lot more color on the White Walkers. The spikey-head White Walker appears to be the king and perhaps the purest of all White Walkers. The other White Walkers with the long hair are possibly the White Walkers that the king turns from human babies. And finally we have the wights which are dead corpses that the spikey-head White Walkers are able to convert into zombie foot soldiers to fight in their army.
Still, perhaps the greatest takeaway is one regarding Jon Snow, his ability to kill a White Walker and what this tells us about who he might be. For five seasons, we’ve heard quite a bit about dragon-glass being the only weapon to be able to kill White Walkers, but haven’t heard much about Valyrian steel being able to do the same. And apparently, most of the Thrones characters had ever heard about Valyrian steel being used as a weapon to kill the White Walkers — after all, if they had, Jon Snow would have reached for his Valyrian steel sword before going for the dragon-glass. So it was quite a revelation when Jon Snow’s Valyrian steel sword stood up to the White Walker’s sword of ice, and then was able to destoy the White Walker altogether. For starters, this reveals quite a bit more about Valyrian steel itself. To date, we knew it was the strongest and sharpest steel around, while also being the lightest. We knew that it stayed razor sharp without being tended to. More or less, it just seemed like the best steel sword that money could buy. What we didn’t know, and what we just learned, is that perhaps there is more to Valyrian steel — perhaps an element of magic. After all, we’ve been told that only the Valyrians knew how to forge this great steel and that this knowledge was lost when Old Valyria perished in the Doom. We also know that dragon-glass, the only weapon we knew that was able to kill White Walkers, also comes from Valyria. So, perhaps Valyrian steel has some magical elements from the ancient days of Old Valyria, that allow it to destroy the White Walkers, just like dragon-glass. This all plays right back into the greater theme of Ice versus Fire; the White Walkers, which can be defeated only by dragon-glass and Valyrian steel, represent the Ice; the dragon-glass and Valyrian steel, each of which are said to have been forged using the magic of Valyrian dragons and fire, represent the Fire which can defeat the Ice of the White Walkers.
What was also interesting was the combination of the Valryian steel sword being in the hands of Jon Snow himself. After all, we know that Targaryens come from Valyria — so if Jon Snow is in fact a Targaryen, as hypothesized in my recap three weeks ago, this would make him a descendant of Old Valyria. Which would mean that we just witnessed a very rare Valyrian steel sword being swung by the even rarer Valyrian. Of course, this is just conjecture, but that the Valyrian steel sword, Longclaw, ended up in the hands of Jon Snow, could be another hint at the idea that he is in fact a Targaryen.
A QUICK RECAP OF EVERYTHING ELSE
Compared to the final scene which brought us back to the only game that matters and to the title of this series itself — Ice versus Fire — evil versus good — dark versus light — the other scenes of this episode appear almost insignificant. But, in the greatest game that is yet to unfold and the great battle that is yet to take place, the other smaller games will decide the roll each player is to play in the greatest game of all. So here’s a quick recap…
In Mereen, we see how things play out between Jorah, Tyrion and Khaleesi. Tyrion quickly establishes his cunning and intelligence before Khaleesi and after she seeks his advice regarding what to do with Jorah, Tyrion counsels that she should show him mercy because Jorah is devoted and loyal, yet he cannot be seen marching by her side after he betrayed her. Jorah is banished from the city and goes back to his previous master in hopes of fighting at the great pit before Khaleesi. Behind closed doors, Tyrion and Khaleesi chat about Khaleesi’s quest for the Throne and Tyrion suggests that she should consider remaining in Easteros, where perhaps she can do more good for the common people. But, Khaleesi reminds him that Easteros is not her home, and refers to all the powerful houses of Westeros as spokes on a wheel that go round and round — one day this family is on top — the next day another family is on top. Tyrion tells her that many before her have tried to stop the wheel — to which she powerfully responds that she is not going to stop the wheel, she is going to break the wheel.
Tyrion before Khaleesi
In King’s Landing, Cercei remains in a cell without any tricks or schemes to get her out — she appears completely powerless for the first time. But, Qyburn, one of her few remaining loyalists, reminds her that he is “still working,” probably referring to the Mountain, whom remains in his lab as some sort of evil science experiment. With only two episodes left this season, will we see what kind of freakish monster Qyburn has perhaps turned the Mountain into? And will he help free Cercei?
In Braavos, Arya continues with her training as she begins to assume a new identity. Jaqen tells her that she will study “the gambler” and learn everything about him, before giving her a vile assumed to be poison. We are left to conclude that this will be a test to see if she is capable of committing her first assassination and joining the Faceless Men.
Arya’s new identity
In Winterfell, after an exchange between Sansa and Theon/Reek, Sansa learns that her brothers Bran and Rickon are in fact alive. She joins the Boltons and Samwell Tarly as the only people who are aware of this powerful information. Elsewhere in Winterfell, Roose and Ramsey discuss the impending battle with Stannis and Roose suggests that they stay behind the newly mended walls of Winterfell, while Stannis’ men freeze and starve in the winter cold. However, Ramsey says that they should take the fight to Stannis and that he only needs twenty good men — leaving us to wonder what kind of plan he’s got that would only need twenty men to defeat Stannis’ army.
With only two episodes left, things have accelerated exponentially and it will be interesting to see how much is wrapped up in the final two episodes. One major battle looks to be just around the corner between Stannis and the Boltons, while the greater battle between light and dark doesn’t appear to be too far behind. In King’s Landing, the Throne is more vulnerable than ever before, with major houses Lannister and Tyrell both weakened as their principal house members are locked up in cells. Across the world, Khaleesi might just have found the counsel that she’s been waiting five seasons for. Elsewhere in Easteros, Arya is taking steps closer towards joining the Faceless Men. Sansa has learned some major information that her brothers are still alive and let’s not forget Brienne is not far away, waiting to help her at just the right moment. Baelish is somewhere behind the scenes scheming and Varys is out there somewhere as well. Most importantly, it no longer appears that Winter is Coming — winter is now here. And with just two episodes until the 50 episode mark, buckle up because the home stretch of season five is sure to be a bloody, brutal and bumpy one.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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?
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.