This week’s episode saw some big moves, gave us answers to long standing questions, and featured some extremely upsetting sacrifices. The pieces on the board are moving faster than ever, but there’s also an overhanging sense that the board is about to be completely upended by a nearly unstoppable and ancient force that’s been biding its time for exactly this moment right now. What we saw last night has been destined for decades, or maybe even centuries. It was a heavy episode for sure, so let’s take a deep, calming breath before diving back in. Spoilers after the dragons.
Sansa finally gets to confront Littlefinger for selling her to Ramsay. It’s a very satisfying moment, but I also feel like this is Sansa at her Ned Starkiest in some ways and I don’t mean that as a compliment. Yes, rip Littlefinger up one side and down another. He, of all people, should understand what a violent sadist is. He sold Ros to Joffrey after all. Maybe he thought Sansa’s status would protect her, and Ramsay would simply direct his wrath towards servants, whores, and farm girls. Maybe he just didn’t care. Either way, Sansa has more than earned the chance to unload on him. But after you unload? Use him or kill him. Littlefinger chose a Mockingbird for his sigil. He speaks with the voice and authority of others because he has none of his own. Not truly, even now that he’s apparently got an army at his command. The best thing you can do is to provide him what he’s looking for before he can get anyone else’s bid on what he’s offering. Or kill him. Mostly I’m still on the side of killing him and taking command of the Nights of the Vale anyway, but damn Starks and their Honor probably would have a problem with that path, so Littlefinger and the Knights of the Vale are still in play but we don’t know whose side they’ll end up on. But we do get the vital information that the Blackfish has retaken Riverrun so we’re FINALLY going to be heading back to the Riverlands where there’s hopefully a nasty wolfpack picking off Freys in double digits. And perhaps a Brotherhood led by a Lady, but let’s not get our hopes up too far now.
Hey, did we all think we were finally done with watching Arya get hit in the face? Apparently we’re not done with watching Arya get hit in the face. But after she gets hit in the face she gets another real assignment and heads off to do her homework, which involves watching a bawdy play mocking her dead father and lost sister. I’ve been wondering how they’d work Arya’s unbearable Starkness of being into her training since she doesn’t warg in the show, and it looks like this may be it. Ever since she hid Needle instead of pitching it with the rest of her possessions, I’ve been convinced that Arya would not complete her Faceless Man training. In the books, her warging (a firmly Stark and Westerosi) trait confirmed it for me. I am wondering if something to do with her assignment here will give us that hint in the show. And yes, showrunners, I see your petulant nod to those of us impertinent enough to point out the disparity in nudity on this show and I don’t really appreciate your cheek.
Over in the Wayback machine we get to learn the origin of the White Walkers, who were created by The Children to defend them against men. Obviously that has gone very well and no one has any regrets.
At the Kingsmoot we get the outcome we would have predicted (Euron winning) but we also get a chance to see how completely Theon has been changed in his time with Ramsay. The last time Theon had even the tiniest bit of power or influence over the Iron Born, he immediately asserted his privilege of primogeniture, discarded his orders to form his own plan, and then expected everyone to understand his brilliance and fall in line behind him. Today, he has his moment to become that same Theon and compete against his sister to rule the Iron Born… and he throws his support behind her whole heartedly. It doesn’t help, but it does show us a new Theon, one who’s willing to work with Yara, and that’s a team that Euron immediately underestimates as they steal a significant portion of his fleet out from under him while he’s being coronated/drowned on a beach in Northern Ireland. Where are they off to? Who knows! But I’m delighted to find out whether they’re going to race Euron to Dany or come up with their own mission.
We get to see what might be the final scene with Daenerys and Jorah, as he reveals his affliction and banishes himself. Dany seems genuinely distressed at the thought of her friend and most loyal warrior dying horribly, and gives him an “order” to cure himself. Likely more to assure him that she cares about him as well than because she expects him to actually do so, but Dany is fire resistant and hatched the first dragons the world has seen in 150 years so she’s kinda used to “impossible” being negotiable. And as Jorah rides into the sunset, Dany takes her new Dothraki horde back to Meereen. I’m torn on whether this was a series close for Jorah or not. It certainly doesn’t feel like one, and I’m hesitant to write off anyone on this show until we see a body, but why else would they include it in this episode? So I’m unsure whether to bid a fond farewell and hasty death to Jorah, or keep waiting to see how he manages to save Dany’s bacon again while half calcified.
In Meereen we’re finding out that Tyrion’s bargaining has won a tentative victory and he’s still on-message as far as making sure Dany is respected and revered. He and Varys then take a meeting with a Red Priestess to get her on the Dragon Queen PR team and we learn that all red priestesses use the same jewelry shop, and are all cut from the same extremely attractive and super creepy cloth. But while Melisandre has been talking up Jon as the Prince Who Was Promised, this Kinvara seems to think it’s Daenerys. I’d invite them to fight it out in the many MANY internet forums that have been debating this for years but I get the sense that wifi is hard to come by in both Westeros and Essos. But Kinvara definitely knows how to make an entrance, pulling an epic read on Varys and rattling a man who’s almost impossible to rattle.
Back in the Cave of Wonders, Bran decides to sneak out and take dad’s convertible for a spin around the block while everyone’s out. He won’t even take it out of second gear! But, of course, as with all teenagers attempting to be sneaky something goes horribly wrong and Bran has ruined everything and immediately tries to lie about it. Or was it always going to be ruined, and always going to be ruined in just this way at just this time? The Three Eyed Raven doesn’t seem too surprised. Also, notice in this scene that Three Eyed Raven says “You must leave, both of you” nodding to Meera. Summer and Hodor aren’t included.
Jon, Sansa, and Davos are attempting to strategize their move on Winterfell. Sansa keeps quiet about the Knights of the Vale, but does mention that the Blackfish is massing a force. Some have made a big deal of Sansa not being honest with Jon about where the information came from; I think this is because while Sansa KNOWS that Littlefinger can’t be trusted, Jon wouldn’t understand and would just see the benefit of having his army. And the comparison to Ramsay was to point out that a bastard named Snow can become an heir with a proper name easily enough. Brienne is being dispatched to the Riverlands, after becoming the only person on the show (or ever) to express distrust of Davos. Jon and Sansa are newly outfitted in their Stark best, and Tormund continues to gleefully ogle Brienne. Edd is left at the Wall, and here’s hoping that the Army of the Dead holds off until he’s a bit better staffed.
But they won’t be at the Wall today, because they’re getting ready to invade Bran’s cave. Of course, while Meera needs Bran to get up and get moving, he’s off watching his father as a child prepare to leave Winterfell to be fostered at the Eyrie. Zombies start falling through the ceiling as Meera and the Children desperately work to fight them off. Meera’s pleading finally gets through to Bran in the vision, and Hodor begins to take Bran out as Summer goes down in a horde of zombies. Meera and Bran are running for the door, Bran still in his vision, when the Night’s King kills the Three Eyed Raven and we see Hodor collapse in a fit, that seems to be a vision of his own violent death. The episode ends flashing back between Hodor, more clear eyed and determined than we’ve ever seen him, holding a door as the dead try to tear him apart, while a teenaged Hodor twitches in the Winterfell courtyard screaming “Hold the door!”
While the loss of Hodor in such gruesome circumstances is a complete tragedy, the flashback opened the door to discuss the Southron Ambitions plot. The day that Hodor is broken by his future is the day that Ned Stark is leaving to be fostered by Jon Arryn with Robert Baratheon. We know that this was the first step in the great houses of Westeros combining powers in an effort to restructure the governing system and take back some power from the Iron Throne. Now that the Targaryens don’t have dragons anymore, it’s a lot easier to spring a Magna Carta on them, or so the great houses thought. The plot failed, spectacularly, and Westeros is now more fractured than ever. Everything that happens in this series is fallout from this moment right here. Robert’s engagement to Lyanna, the tourney at Harrenhal, Rickard and Brandon Stark dying in King’s Landing, Robert’s Rebellion, the Tower of Joy, Bran’s accident, Ned’s beheading, the taking of Winterfell by Theon Greyjoy, the second taking of Winterfell by Ramsay Bolton; every single event that we have seen or heard of in this series begins with this day, when Ned Stark leaves home. Hodor’s fate is sealed, but so is the fate of everyone else in that courtyard, all of whom are now dead. (Sit down, Benjen truthers.) Hodor’s tragedy is freshest and most affecting right now, but no one else was spared. Some people see the message that Jon Arryn has died and the later follow up that he was poisoned as the pin on the grenade that is this series, putting the blame on Littlefinger, but in truth that pin was pulled decades earlier. This is the moment when that future became inevitable, when Rickard Stark and his friends from the War of the Ninepenny Kings decided to build alliances to try and put a mad king in check. And because of that, we are closing in on the Battle for the Dawn rapidly. From this moment Hodor was always doomed, because Bran was always going to be projecting back in time, and was always going to doom him.
I’ve seen very divided opinions on this episode. Most people I know who only watch the show thought it was terribly sad, but AMAZING. Most people I know who are book readers thought it was horrible. I feel like, as readers, our emotions are being influenced by the fact that we’re as vulnerable as the viewers now. We just learned the answer to Hodor, a question 20 years in the making, and it hurts. But it’s the answer GRRM would have given us in time. Maybe it would have been easier on the page, maybe not. Maybe Summer isn’t doomed, Castleton points out that D & D hate the direwolves for practical and not story reasons, but Hodor is absolutely canon. The night is dark and full of terrors, especially when you don’t have a guide to get you through it.