Game of Thrones Book Reader Review: Dancing With Ghosts
This week’s Game of Thrones was probably one of the last chances we’ll have to get closure and understanding from some of our favorite characters. The Battle of Winterfell is coming in the next episode, and the odds look grim for the side of the living. The odds look grim for Winterfell itself, which has already come under attack several times since Ned Stark walked out the gate in season one. But tonight there is time enough to sit around fires, to recollect, reconnect, and to reminiscence.
The dead are marching to Winterfell. But Jaime Lannister is there now, to confront the daughter of the man he betrayed. Aerys’s crimes are not aired here, which makes sense. It’s not about Aerys. Dany never even knew her father. It’s a convenient way to put Jaime on his backfoot but he won’t take the bait, and is honest with Daenerys and the Northern court about Cersei’s intentions. Jaime also refuses to grovel, but Brienne’s intervention saves him.
Down in the forge they’re still making dragonglass weapons. Gendry is doing so in particularly photogenic fashion. Arya has come to gawk at him and chat. Arya, in my mind, is still about 14 years old because I don’t believe we’re supposed to think that more than five years have passed in the books. But time is funny on this show, roles are recast to make kids older to allow for scenes that should be more disturbing (but are still kinda disturbing, looking at you, Tommen and Margaery) and of course the atrocities Arya has witnessed and committed take her out of the realm of “child” in many ways. The important thing to watch with Arya is her relationship with death. It was “Not Today.” Then she was death’s servant. Since coming back to Winterfell she has slowly started to back away from death. I used to be certain that she was a tragic character, an innocent lost to the darkness in ways that would make it impossible for her to regain her humanity. As she prepares to fight for the living, she’s digging into the human parts of herself in a way that she hasn’t in a long time. She’s facing death again, this time as an adversary.
Jaime finds Bran by himself, and seems to look to him for some kind of answers. If he’s not going to be punished, why make any reference to the incident? Because it made them what they are today. What will they be tomorrow? That’s the wrong question. With Tyrion down in the yard Jaime inquires after how the Northmen are accepting their new queen, and Tyrion says “they remember what happened the last time Targaryens brought dragons North” apparently referring to Aegon’s conquest. But that’s not the last time dragons were brought North. Good Queen Alysanne rode Silverwing to the North, and charmed the Manderleys, the Starks, and several villages of Northerners on her way to the Wall. She also presented the Night’s Watch with the means to build several new castles by selling her own jewels, and convinced the king to double the amount of land gifted to them. This is why there was a “Queensgate” on the Wall. Silverwing refused to fly beyond the Wall. Unfortunately, Daenerys does not know her own family’s history as well as she should, but I’m surprised Tyrion wouldn’t know enough to advise her of this connection. He’s been seriously off his game lately, and it’s frustrating to see. Perhaps his fate is to join the undead before killing Cersei, but I doubt it. Jaime, on the other hand, has found his fate; to fight under Brienne if she’ll have him. It’s not the last time tonight she’ll be at a loss for words because of him.
Daenerys takes some advice from Jorah regarding Tyrion, who probably doesn’t deserve the help. I do wonder why Dany doesn’t look to Missandei for advice anymore. It would help her to have a better rapport with other women, something she needs now that she’s working with other women in positions of power. She’s trying here, with Sansa, but Sansa’s been around Queens before. Cersei and Margaerey and even Olenna have taught her a lot about when to flatter, when to speak frankly, when to be courteous and when to hold your ground. Daenerys knows almost nothing but conquest. There’s no diplomacy with slavers. But that’s not what’s happening here, in the North. They’re in need of saving, but not in need of a savior. Sansa holds her ground, not an enemy to be challenged but not a subject either. The tension is broken with the arrival of Theon and the Ironborn. All the control Sansa had in the previous scene is gone. Theon once dreamed of being married to Sansa, in another life, so he could be a Stark. This isn’t that. But they are bonded now, in a way that goes beyond family.
We have the final arrival of the episode; Tormund, Beric, and the remaining members of the Night’s Watch have arrived to start the clock on when the dead will arrive at Winterfell. How do you strategize defeating death? With guesswork and sacrifice. Bran is willing to use himself as human bait for the Night’s King. It’s a very philosophical conversation about forgetting and what it means to live. Arya, who has only recently remembered who she is, looks uncomfortable at the conversation. Theon will stand with Bran, Tyrion is convinced to stay in the crypts, and we find out that no one has ever brought a dragon against the White Walkers. The room disperses, leaving Bran and Tyrion alone to discuss whatever it is a walking library and an ancient all-seeing tree god have to discuss.
Speaking of Missandei, she and Gray Worm are in the yard having the “I’m two weeks from retirement” conversation which is not worrisome AT ALL. Missandei wants to go back to Naath, but doesn’t warn Gray Worm about the deadly butterflies. Seems like maybe she’s not too worried about him getting there.
We finally see Ghost which just makes me ANGRIER that the show never gave the Stark/Dire Wolf bond the proper consideration AND that they rushed Jon riding a dragon. Jon can warg into Ghost which gives them a special bond above and beyond a typical dog/owner relationship. This is a firmly Stark trait as both Bran and Arya have displayed explicit warging abilities and the personality bonds between the other siblings and their dogs imply heavily that all the Stark siblings had some kind of special relationship with the dogs. Yes, even Sansa and Lady. Lady was trained the fastest for a reason, and the reason was that her Special Stark was a master of courtesy. Jon had that bond with Ghost and now has a lifelong bond with Rhaegal, dragons can have more than one rider but a rider can only ride one dragon. This should be a huge identity deal! Instead it’s like “oh, right, he has a dog.” WHATEVER, Sam asks Jon if he’s told Dany about his duel identity yet. He has not. There’s some more pressing concerns at hand after all.
Tyrion and Jaime have started the gathering in the great hall by the fire. They think back to themselves what life was like the first time they visited Winterfell, before they’re joined by Brienne and Pod. Davos and Tormund drift in as well, Tormund with a clearly unwelcome come-on to Brienne. Jaime mostly looks bemused by all this, and gets the full Tormund Giantsbane legend and some threatening, uh, milk drinking? Some Wildling displays of dominance don’t really translate south of the Wall.
Arya comes to asks Sandor why he’s chosen to fight with others now, after fighting for himself for so long. He doesn’t have an answer. Beric does, that it’s the work of the Lord of Light, but Sandor isn’t about that life. I don’t know if we’ll get Cleganebowl. The chances of the two brothers meeting on the field of battle depends a lot on the outcome of the Battle of Winterfell and it seems like the body count might be high. And there may be a Little Bird who needs saving.
Arya heads to the basement to practice her archery, she’s as good a shot as she’s ever been. Gendry brings her a new staff tipped with a wicked-looking dragonglass blade. She starts interrogating him about what he got up to after they last saw each other. Particularly his activities with the ladies. Gendry has NO idea where this is going but he just handed Arya a very sharp weapon so he plays along with her questions until she gets the answers she wants. Arya drops her defenses for the first time in a long time and expresses her most human, and most life-affirming, desires. A lot of residents of Winterfell are using tonight to remember the past. Arya is looking for something new.
While toasting to their possible last night on earth, it’s stumbled upon that Brienne is not a Knight. Tormund, ever the supportive and modern Wildling, thinks its total bullshit that women can’t be Knights. And, apparently, so does Jaime Lannister. For a moment Brienne doesn’t move. This is the most secret and shameful of her wishes. She’s been ridiculed for years just for betraying any hint of it. But these men don’t find her ridiculous, and they know she has nothing to be ashamed of. Jaime calls her over to kneel in front of him, and he Knights Brienne. With the twin of her sword, which is of course one of the remnants of the great sword Ice back in its home again. As tears glisten in her eyes, she rises to applause from the gathered men. Aside from the characters who are actually related to each other these two have one of the longest relationships on this show, and this genuinely feels like what it’s all been building to. Which makes me very VERY scared for both of them.
Out in the yard Jorah is trying to persuade Lady Mormont to keep herself safe in the crypts during the battle but she refuses to hide. Jorah is used to this kind of backtalk from very young women, and lets her lead her men away. Sam then approaches Jorah to give him Heartsbane in tribute to the things Jeor Mormont taught him. Jorah looks nearly overcome by the gesture. Back in the Great Hall Podrick takes us into the night with a song, “Jenny of Oldstones.” We watch the final preparations and conversations taking place across Winterfell.
Below the castle Daenerys finds Jon in the crypts, among his family. Daenerys has no family. Her father and brother were killed in Robert’s Rebellion, her mother died in childbirth. The man who saved her, William Darry, died when she was five. Viserys dragged her across the Free Cities making her feel guilty for her very existence up until the moment her husband killed him for her as she carried her first son. She lost that husband and son not long after. She walked into fire and birthed three dragons in the wilderness, and still had to walk through a desert to save her khalasar. She stole, conspired, and conquered to get an army. She marched that army across Slaver’s Bay to liberate the slaves. She gave up half a crown in marriage for peace, and when that peace did not hold she brought back ANOTHER khalasar and took her people to the sea to conquer the last land she had to conquer; Westeros. She is the Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, the Mother of Dragons, the Breaker of Chains, and she had accomplished all of this by her own will. All she has known of her family is Viserys, and he was no true dragon. She was the last dragon. Here she stands, looking at the man she loves in the place he calls home surrounded by the trappings of his family, and she finds out that she has been wrong about everything. She doesn’t know him well enough to know that the last thing he wants is to rule, she just knows that after all the lifetimes she has lived, all the lands she has conquered, that he could take it all away from her. No Targaryen queen has ever sat the Iron Throne. Before they can come to understand each other the horns blow, and they leave to take their battle positions.
We will lose people next week. There are different ways I could try to figure out who will live and who won’t, but it feels morbid to do so. Right now there are five Valyrian steel blades at Wintefell; they are wielded by Jaime, Brienne, Jorah, Jon, and Arya. There are countless dragonglass weapons. There are two dragons. There are thousands of living soldiers. It may not be enough. The dead are marching to Winterfell, but the dead are also already in Winterfell. The Wildlings burn all their dead, not just the ones killed by the White Walkers or their wights. There’s a reason for this. The Starks that died far from home were reduced to bone for final transportation but there are others in the crypts, the old kings of winter, and in the fields around the castle. High in the halls of the kings who are gone, it’s time to dance with the ghosts.
Header Image Source: HBO
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