Season 8, Episode 1: Winterfell

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:

Dany’s dragons being the first Westeros has seen in many generations
The Red Wedding
The Night King blows out a chunk of The Wall

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

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.

Spiral of corpses from the very first episode
Spiral of more corpses found by the Night’s Watch

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.

Aegon Targaryen

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.

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SEASON 6, EPISODE 7: THE BROKEN MAN

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

THE BROKEN MAN

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

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

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

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

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

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

KING’S LANDING

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

margaery

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

cercei

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

RIVERRUN

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

jaime

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

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

A NORTH DIVIDED

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

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

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

THEON, YARA (AND KHALEESI?)

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

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

ARYA IS IN TROUBLE

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

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

THE HOUND IS BACK

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

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

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