SEASON 7, EPISODE 1: DRAGONSTONE

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.

DRAGONSTONE

The wait is over and we can all take a deep sigh of relief — we’re back in the game. Aside from an opening scene that nobody could have predicted, the premiere episode, Dragonstone, picked up right where last season left off. There were not many surprises or curveballs to contend with, but rather an obvious progression of the powerful alliances being formed and impending wars on the horizon. Now, what we are seeing more than ever before, is an awareness amongst most characters — an awareness of what is to come. As a result, and what we saw in this episode, is quite a bit of strategic planning. Cercei is turning a King’s Landing courtyard into a map of Westeros to plot out her enemies; Sam is trying to ascertain whatever information he can to help with Jon’s game-plan in the North; and perhaps most powerfully, the episode ends with Khaleesi at Dragonstone, ready to start mapping out her own game-plan, she asks “Shall we begin?” The game being played has evolved, and to stand a chance in this new game, people are realizing that wit, strategy and knowledge will be more critical than ever before.What is also interesting, and particularly unique to this premiere episode, is the many different dynamics that were presented. A typical Thrones episode feels more unified from scene to scene — even if they are halfway across the world, characters feel as though they are participating in the same game. But, in this episode, things felt disparate from one scene to the next, particularly because of the varying dynamics offered. Arya is committing a mass murder while The Hound is having a major transformation; Sam feels alone and isolated at The Citadel while Khaleesi arrives to Dragonstone with her massive army. It felt like people were on very different pages, but not in a bad way. Each character is inching closer to realizing the roles they will play in the great game that is to come, and episode one did a wonderful job to set this stage. So, without further ado, let’s dive in.

THE NORTH REMEMBERS

Am I watching the wrong episode? Are we seeing a flashback to show the moments prior to Arya killing Walder Frey? What is going on here? Don’t panic — Walder Frey hasn’t come back to life and this is not a flashback. Rather, it’s good old Arya continuing to utilize the ways of the Faceless Men, and this time taking out pretty much all of House Frey. Killing Walder Frey in the finale episode of last season was not enough — Arya has now devised a plan to get all the men of House Frey into the hall, before orchestrating a mass execution. No amount of revenge will ever make us feel better about The Red Wedding, but this was pretty damn good. More satisfying than watching the Freys die were the words that Arya left them with, “Leave one wolf alive and the sheep are never safe.” This is a powerful reminder that Arya will always be out there, a lone wolf, with the potential to take out her enemies at any given moment. Before the scene ends, Arya instructs the remaining Frey girl, “Tell them winter came for House Frey. The North Remembers.”

After leaving The Twins, Arya stumbles upon a group of young Lannister soldiers that have headed into the Riverlands after hearing about the massacre. (Yes, that was Ed Sheeran, and he definitely felt out of place). No doubt, the Lannisters are enemies to Arya, and it appeared that she was originally joining the unsuspecting group to add their names to her kill list. She looked over and saw that none of them were carrying their swords and we got the feeling that she might make her move. But then emotion set in. Often in the Thrones world, characters are defined by the house they fight for the colors they wear. And based on this, Arya would have, and almost did kill these men. But we saw something more — we saw that they were people, just like you and I, with emotions, families and desires. For so long, Arya has been living in a very black and white world. She has names on her list and an objective to cross those names off. This scene was significant in that it blurred those lines for a moment and also offered a more human side of Arya — one where we saw her smile, laugh and seem to enjoy the company of the people around her. This goes back to the larger question — the one that asks who is Arya really? Is she nobody — a cold, ruthless killer? Is she Arya Stark — the girl that was raised with strong values and morals? Likely, she is somewhere in between, and in a short period, we saw both sides of her — the side capable of ruthlessly killing those who deserved it, mixed with the side capable of judging it wrong to take the lives of these innocent men just because they were wearing Lannister colors. It will be interesting to keep an eye on this as Arya goes after bigger kills (i.e. Cersei) — to what extent, if any, will Arya be willing to sacrifice her morals to get the kills she so desperately seeks?

KING’S LANDING

The game of strategy plays on as Cersei creates a larger map to be able to visualize all her enemies. She points out the obvious — they are surrounded by enemies on all sides. The Martells to the south in Dorne, the Tyrells to the west in Highgarden, the Starks to the north in Winterfell and now Khaleesi to the east at Dragonstone. The irony is that Cersei finally holds the Iron Throne, but is perhaps more weak and vulnerable than ever before. Jaime points this out and appears more realistic to their weakened position, but Cersei, as always, is out for blood. At this point, it’s anybody’s guess how things will play out with Cersei and Jaime and whether or not they will stick together.

As predicted, Euron Greyjoy shows up to King’s Landing to try and strike a deal with the new queen. He will offer her the Iron Fleet, presumably the most powerful naval force in the world, in exchange for her hand in marriage. On paper, it sounds pretty good. In their eyes, they’ve both been betrayed by their family members, they both want revenge and they share a common enemy. Together, they could accomplish a lot — but Cersei points out that she cannot trust him — not yet at least. He promised to come back with a present to show his good intentions. One can only assume that he will now be on a quest to take out one of Cersei’s enemies and maybe bring her back a head or two. In all likelihood, Cersei and Euron will join forces as it seems like neither of them have great alternatives.

A HOUSE DIVIDED

After defeating the Boltons and reclaiming Winterfell, things were looking up for Jon Snow in the North. But through a more discerning lens, one could see that Sansa was displeased with her brother becoming King in the North and Baelish doesn’t help that situation one bit. Things picked up right where they left off in the North and tensions are running high between Jon and Sansa. As Jon addresses the northern houses, a difficult question is presented — what is to become of the castles of House Umber and House Karstark, the two northern houses that betrayed the Starks and fought for Ramsay. It is proposed that they be stripped of their houses and that the land should be presented to other, more loyal houses. However, Jon points out that the Karstarks and Umbers have fought alongside the Starks for thousands of years and that he will not disregard this history because of a few traitors. He is correct and noble in his decision, but so too were Ned and Robb when faced with similar decisions, and they both ended up dead. Realizing that maintaining the loyalty of your men is more important than being fair, Sansa challenges Jon and does so publicly. Jon is firm on his decision and lets Houses Karstark and Umber back into the fold.

Behind closed doors, Jon and Sansa bicker some more. Jon does not want Sansa to undermine him publicly and Sansa wants Jon to listen to her more. #SiblingProblems. Realizing an opportunity to capitalize on this discord, Baelish swoops in and tries to further his agenda with Sansa. However, having become much wiser in recent days, Sansa is not interested in hearing it. However, she must keep him around as he controls the Knights of the Vale and they need all the men they can get. Baelish is of course still a major X-factor and it is challenging to figure out what it is that he truly wants. In the finale last season, he came right out and told Sansa that he wants her and the Iron Throne, but it’s hard to take anything Baelish says at face value.

Elsewhere in the North, Bran and Meera arrive at the Wall, just after Bran sees the White Walkers continuing to march. As if an army of the dead wasn’t enough, they’ve now got three of the giants on their side as well. To defend against the White Walkers, Jon dispatches Tormund and the Wildlings to Eastwatch-by-the-Sea, the easternmost castle of the Night’s Watch. Originally, the Night’s Watch built and manned 19 castles along the Wall, but as the White Walker threat dissipated over the years, so too did the perceived importance of the Night’s Watch. As a result, they’ve gotten less and less men and slowly abandoned most of the castles they were once guarding. Today, Castle Black is the only real castle the Night’s Watch maintains, but Jon has now sent men, led by Tormund, to guard Eastwatch-by-the-sea. Because it is the easternmost castle along the Wall, it is very isolated, and should be very eerier to see for the first time.

THE CITADEL

At the Citadel, Sam has gotten more than he bargained for. After how things left off in the finale episode with Sam arriving at the magical Citadel, one might have thought he’d be knee-deep in all kinds of ancient books, learning the secrets of how to defeat the White Walkers. The reality could not have been further and Sam has been given the most disgusting responsibilities at the Citadel. As a sidenote, it was interesting (and out of place, in my opinion), to see the way the director of this episode delivered this sequence. Typically, Thrones is shot and cut in a very classic and formal manner. For this segment, though, the director offered a 30-second montage of repeated quick cuts to show the monotony and ridiculousness of Sam’s unenviable responsibilities. This style of shooting felt totally out of place and not something we’ve ever seen in an episode of Thrones. But don’t let this choppy segment distract you from some of the key takeaways here.

First, let’s not forget the very first thing that producers chose to show us inside the Citadel — those astrolabes. We still don’t know exactly what they do, but they seem very important. I wrote a piece on this after the finale last year, and it’s very interesting to consider. Moving on from the astrolabes, Sam had a very interesting conversation with the archmaestar, in which Sam was basically told to stop worrying. As the archmaestar explained, there have been many times throughout history where people thought the end was here. He referenced the Long Night, the coldest and darkest winter that ever came, and brought the White Walkers with it, threatening to wipe out all of humanity. He also referenced Aegon’s Conquest, when Aegon arrived to Westeros and presented the possibility of wiping everybody out with his dragons. It was interesting perspective from the archmaestar, who made it clear that he did believe Sam that the White Walkers were coming. To his point, though, winters come, winters go and life moves on. But he may be wrong about this one. What was also interesting was his reference to the Citadel serving as “the world’s memory.” Over the thousands of years, there has been a tremendous history of events, and it is the maestars of the Citadel that record, preserve and ultimately retell this history, truly acting as the world’s memory. Will it be Sam that will record and eventually tell the story that is unfolding before our eyes?

Tired of washing poop buckets, Sam takes matters into his own hands and steals a few of the locked up books. To no surprise, he learns that there is a lot of dragonglass to be found at Dragonstone. This will be invaluable information to Jon, who already told his men at the beginning of the episode that they must find as much Valyrian steel and dragonglass as possible. Will this dragonglass be the very thing that gets Jon to Dragonstone? Will this be the basis for Jon and Khaleesi to meet? But back to Sam… While making his rounds for pickup, he is nearly grabbed by a man with a disfigured arm. We quickly realize that this is Jorah and his greyscale disease has gotten pretty bad. The assumption is that he’s come to the Citadel to try and find a cure, but it’s unclear whether he’s being held against his will. He asks if Khaleesi has arrived to Westeros yet and it is unknown whether he will reunite with her.

IN THE FIRE

In the Riverlands, The Hound continues to ride along with Thoros and Beric Dondarrion and they stumble upon a small farmhouse that The Hound stayed at with Arya. As a refresher, a farmer and his daughter lived in the house, and provided food and shelter to The Hound and Arya. On their way out, the Hound wounded the man and stole his gold. Arya hated The Hound for doing this. Of course, nobody was thinking about this so many seasons later, but Thrones once again shows its masterful storytelling, as this comes back to haunt The Hound years later.

His character evolution in full swing, The Hound immediately recognizes the house and suggests that they stay away. He was obviously troubled by the memory of what he had done, which was only worsened when he saw the two dead bodies. The old Hound would not have cared — killing and dead bodies was a way of life for him. But the new Hound is showing that he can still be human. As Beric said to him last season, there’s still time for him to do some good.

Later, The Hounds looks into the fire with Thoros and sees not only The Wall, but also White Walkers marching. This is significant for several reasons. First, it reaffirms that validity of the Lord of Light and those that are following it. If The Hound, a man that has shown no interest in religion and has cursed the gods his whole life, is now seeing visions in the flames, then there’s something to the Lord of Light. Second, there is a great irony here, in that The Hound absolutely hates fire after his brother, The Mountain, burned his face as kids. The Hound has stayed away from fire at all costs, and his willingness to now not only get closer to the fire, but to accept the flames and see visions in them, speaks great volumes to the changes he is going through. Moved by what he has seen, The Hound decides to bury the two bodies and he even makes an attempt at a prayer. The evolution we are seeing of The Hound is spectacular and though it still seems unclear what role these three will play in the coming wars, it is clear that it should be a big one.

DRAGONSTONE

And so we end at Dragonstone, in many ways the place where it all began. To appreciate the enormity of Khaleesi’s arrival at Dragonstone, it is critical to understand the history of this castle. For hundreds of years, the Targaryens lived in Old Valyria and ruled over much of the land with their dragons. However, about 500 years ago, a Targaryen girl named Daenys had a dream that Valyria was going to be destroyed. She told her father, Aenar, about the dream and he decided to relocate his family to a small island off the coast of Westeros, naming it Dragonstone. Aenar became known as Aenar the Exile, a nickname given after he deserted Valyria. History would remember his daughter as Daenys the Dreamer, after her dream proved to be true. 12 years after relocating, Valyria was wiped out by The Doom. Just like that, all of House Targaryen (and their dragons) was wiped out, except for Aenar and his family who had moved 12 years prior and built Dragonstone. Over the next 100 years, the Targaryens strengthened their bloodline from the seat of Dragonstone.

After 100 years on Dragonstone, Aegon Targaryen had a plan that would change the world forever. Along with his two sisters, they flew their three dragons from Dragonstone to the Westeros mainland with the mission to subdue all of the independent kingdoms and unite them into the Seven Kingdoms. Aegon’s Conquest was successful and after conquering Westeros, he became the first king of the Seven Kingdoms. Aegon decided to build a new castle to rule from, and symbolic of the first location he landed when he flew from Dragonstone, the new capital city of Westeros he built would forever be known as King’s Landing. And while Aegon’s Conquest is arguably the most important historical event this world has ever seen, the important takeaway here is that it was from the castle of Dragonstone that Aegon planned his entire takeover of Westeros. 300 years before Stannis did more recently, it was Aegon that stood over the wooden map table and strategized how he would conquer each kingdom of Westeros. It is incredible to imagine Aegon Targaryen, standing over that map and figuring out how to conquer Westeros. Now, 300 years later, it is Khaleesi that has arrived at Dragonstone, the ancestral seat of House Targaryen, faced with very same task of figuring out how to conquer Westeros.

It is also significant to note that Khaleesi was born at Dragonstone, making her return all the more powerful as she is truly coming home. During Robert’s Rebellion, as the rebels got closer to King’s Landing and the Targaryens were at risk, the Mad King sent Khaleesi’s mother to Dragonstone for protection. She went with Khaleesi’s older (and now dead) brother, Viserys, and during the night of a great storm, gave birth at Dragonstone to Daenerys. The storm was so legendary that it earned her the nickname Daenerys Stormborn. Now, years later, things have come full circle as Khaleesi returns home to the place she was born, the place her ancestors built.

What was also quite special about Dragonstone in this episode was the way it was presented. We’ve seen Dragonstone many times throughout the years, but it’s always been a very zoomed-in version of it. We’ve really only gotten to see Stannis in the map room, along with a few other rooms here and there, and it has generally been a dark presentation of it. But, what we’ve never gotten is context. We’ve never zoomed out to understand the enormity or grandeur of this castle. But, that’s exactly what we got in this episode. As Khaleesi takes her first step onto Westeros, we see the full context of the island and castle, with its extravagant architecture. As Khaleesi’s dragons fly overhead, we finally get the feeling that they are exactly where they are meant to be. And as the episode comes to a close, Khaleesi stands over the table, ready to get to work, she asks “Shall we begin?” With Dragonstone being quite close to King’s Landing, Khaleesi is within definite striking distance of the capital. The Iron Throne has never been closer.

 

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Season 7 Primer

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

SEASON SEVEN PRIMER

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

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

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

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

And now, let’s kick off the recap…

KING’S LANDING

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

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

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

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

THE NORTH

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

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

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

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

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

BRAN KNOWS R+L=J

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

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

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

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

ARYA

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

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

THE HOUND

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

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

KHALEESI & CO.

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

Adding to this crew that she had for most of season six, Khaleesi strikes a pact with Yara and Theon of House Greyjoy. Yara and Theon pledge their allegiance to Khaleesi and promise her their support and 100+ ships, if she will allow them lordship over the Iron Islands when she sits upon the Throne. Khaleesi agrees, but explains something very powerful: they will leave the world a better place than they found it. This means that the Ironborn will not be able to go back to their savage ways of raiding the mainland, stealing, raping and pillaging. Yara reminds Khaleesi that this is their way of life, but Khaleesi does not budge on her terms. She also reminds them that all three of their fathers (the Mad King, Lord Tywin and Balon Greyjoy) were ruthless men who brought much evil into the world. The parallels that were drawn between the previous rulers of their powerful houses and the next generation of rulers is very important to consider.

What’s more is that this scene is a direct allusion to Aegon Targaryen and his Conquest of the Seven Kingdoms, during which he made very similar pacts with the powerful houses of Westeros. Like Khaleesi did, he granted them lordship and autonomy over their regions of Westeros, so long as they pledged their allegiance to him — the new Targaryen king that would unite all of Westeros for the first time. Those who refused ultimately suffered catastrophic losses, while those who bent the knee (House Stark, House Tully, House Greyjoy, etc) were allowed to live in peace and oversee their lands and smaller-houses autonomously. 300 years later, Khaleesi is once again striking similar pacts as Aegon Targaryen did before her.

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

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

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

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

SAM TARLY AND THE CITADEL

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

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

THE BIG PICTURE

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

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

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

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

OTHER THINGS TO KEEP AN EYE ON

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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