Hello, friends! It has been over a year of sitting and waiting, but finally winter is here and the show is back. It is still back without books behind it, so writing about it from a book reader perspective is growing into an increasingly abstract concept, but I’m willing to stick with it as long as you are, and I have found some SOLID themes to compare in this episode that I am very excited about and I hope you are too. Which means that I should warn you all for real that we are spoiling plot points from any and all published Game of Thrones books and they are all up for discussion in the comments.
We’ve seen a cold open on the show before, so it’s not entirely new, but it is an interesting choice here. I’ve been thinking that there would be a crisis of succession in the Riverlands after Walder Frey’s death last season, it didn’t seem like he’d taken the time to update his will before Arya killed him, but I didn’t think it would happen like this. With one fell swoop, Arya as Walder takes out what appears to be the entire male side of the Frey line. She does leave the women alive, which seems incredibly merciful and risky coming from Arya who is well aware of how dangerous women and girls can be. But it is very satisfying and with that, we head to the credits. Hey, a new model for Oldtown! I hope nothing happens to immediately ruin my excitement about seeing that!
We then head to the far north to see Bran reach the wall with Meera, reveal his identity to Dolorous Edd, and then head into the tunnel to cross The Wall. I don’t mean to alarm any of you but I am 1000% certain that it will be Bran’s fault that the White Walkers and the army of the dead make it across the wall with their thousands of zombies, including at least three zombie giants. Like, didn’t we have a whole thing last season about how the Night’s King had marked him and they’re connected and now he’s just going to go traipsing (well, being dragged) through The Wall like it’s nothing? Come on, buddy. Also, I think there’s a real case to be made that Dolorous Edd is the true hero of the North at this point even if his hair isn’t quite as nice as Jon’s.
Jon and Sansa are holding court at Winterfell and it’s pretty meaty in terms of their perspectives and development as characters. They’re both right and they’re both wrong about different things, and you can see how their experiences since leaving Winterfell have brought them back as very different people. Sansa’s right that Jon IS a bit naive about the way the courtly world works, and the fact is that, as a leader, his obsession with the White Walkers has gotten him killed once already. He needs to understand that while HE can clearly see the threat coming, it is not the only threat and it is not something that everyone he’s dealing with feels as strongly. Sansa is bringing in a hard-earned cynicism that makes it difficult for her to be inspiring, and she and Jon DO need to present a united force in front of their allies. She is also right, though, that while Ned taught them both some good values, he was not perfect and Jon needs to be aware not just of his lessons but his flaws and how to avoid them. Jon made the inspirational choice in accepting fealty from the young Alys Karstark and Ned Umber, but I had to wonder what kind of fighting force these children would be able to field from their castles. If the older heirs had taken them off to fight in the Battle of the Bastards, are there many of them left? Would new families, as Sansa had suggested, have more robust fighting forces that could take up residence in Karhold and Last Hearth? These are incredibly important strongholds as the first line of defense south of The Wall and the choice of who holds them should be mostly strategic in nature. I wonder if Jon is so desperate to make sure they’re occupied that he’s not looking clearly at how robust that occupation may be. Determining a new family to hold the castles would take time, but if they had a larger fighting force it could be worth it. However, overall I see better communication between Sansa and Jon about the forces they’re facing and what their respective areas of knowledge are than I’ve seen from a lot of other characters on this show, so I’m not going to get worried about any division between them yet.
Cersei’s quest for power has led her to accept an audience with Euron Greyjoy, who is really not doing it for me so far. He seems like a lot of bluster and slouching no matter what the size of his armada. We’ve already seen Dany’s dragons go up against a fleet of ships and the dragons won handily, so I think he’s overselling the Iron Fleet’s strength, unless all of a sudden dragons WON’T be able to burn a whole fleet in 90 seconds flat for plot purposes. Cersei rejects his marriage proposal, which is the first really good decision she’s made in a while, but he promises to make her reconsider when he returns with a gift. I’m guessing he means to either bring back Tyrion or a dragon, but I’m open to other interpretations as well. I don’t think it’s the dragonbinder horn, something I’ve seen suggested elsewhere, because the show has been very light on that particular brand of lore.
If we spend every episode watching Sam handle shit so help me god, I will leave a flaming sack of poo on David Benioff and D.B Weiss’s doorsteps. ANYWAY, after an overly long montage of what life is like for an acolyte at the Citadel, we get to see Jim Broadbent as a maester whom Sam is training with, and Mr.Broadbent is always a delight. He has a nice long speech that basically boils down to “That’s a real nice Wall that Westeros has. Been protecting the realm for thousands of years. Be a real shame if something happened to it, right?” In a later scene we see Sam get the revelation about the huge amount of dragonglass on Dragonstone so he can let Jon know about it, and he sees Jorah in some kind of quarantine unit asking if Daenerys has arrived yet. I’m saying all of this could have been learned with about 20% of that open shit ‘n soup sequence. This is not the way to use your extended running time, dudes.
Arya is cruising through the Riverlands and runs into Ed Sheeran and some other Lannister soldiers just hanging out. Most people have been focusing on the Ed Sheeran-ness of the scene, but I actually thought they took care to add some valuable shading to Arya’s perspective. My concern for her has been that both in the books and the show she’s so focused on her goal of vengeance that she’s in danger of losing her humanity. Seeing her interact with these low-level Lannister soldiers and quietly accept them, flawed as they may be, without trying to kill anyone was a nice shading to her character that lets me think she’s learning how to see the gray areas of the world and not just black and white.
This is really exciting so I’m going to savor it for a moment but, we have a GENUINE tie back to the book here with the Hound and the Brotherhood. Savor this moment, fellow book nerds, we won’t be getting many of them going forward. As most of you may know, in the books the Hound is nearly mortally wounded after a fight with Gregor’s men rather than with Brienne. We later get hints that he has been treated by monks on The Quiet Isle and has become a novice at the monastery where he digs graves. After a life of combat, he has found peace in religion. While the show has not followed exactly the same path, we see the Hound have a religious breakthrough, seeing the army of the dead in the fire, and go on to dig graves for the farmer and his daughter, whom he feels responsible for, which is a nice turn for his character to show some actual guilt and attempt at penance. It’s also gotten me more invested in the prospect of Cleganebowl. I had heard a theory that Sandor Clegane would, with his new-found religious leanings, take on the mantle of the Warrior to defeat whatever is left of Gregor Clegane in the name of The Seven. I never saw this as a natural beat in his story, given how much he had changed in a character. However, as a warrior of the Lord of Light? I could see him deciding that the flames had told him that he must go cut down the abomination that was his brother. I also wonder where exactly he saw the army of the dead in the flames. We know that Jon has sent Tormund to Eastwatch by the Sea, but I don’t remember anyone mentioning a mountain “shaped like an arrowhead” by there, we know it’s close to Hardhome which was a bay. Could he be referring to a force massing beyond the Shadow Tower, which has barely been discussed? A force invading from the far side of The Wall would be a huge surprise and could get around a lot of the preparations, however scant, that have been made to repel them.