Game of Thrones is finally back! After nearly two years we are back with all our favorite and less than favorite character to see how the series will play out. For those of us who read the books, it’s a bit bittersweet. As satisfying as it will be to see the show end it’s clear that there are many questions that won’t be answered. However, I do think that the ending on the show will give us some hints towards how the books may one day conclude, or at least the rough outlines of the ending that George R.R. Martin told David Benioff and D.B Weiss a few years back, and that’s what I’m trying to keep an eye on this season.
We started the series with the discovery of the dire wolves but the last thing the show wants is for us to remember that dire wolves exist, so instead we’ll mirror the arrival of Robert Baratheon and his court at Winterfell that was also in the first episode. That visit was prompted by the death of Jon Arryn, a man who was instrumental in a political plot known as “Southron Ambitions” where the great lords of Westeros conspired to intermarry and ally with each other in order to bring King Aerys Targaryen to heel under their influence. That ended up being Robert’s Rebellion when Aerys proved too pyromaniacal to negotiate with, and Rhaegar kicked things off by “abducting” Lyanna Stark who was betrothed to Robert Baratheon, a man with a famously short temper and large warhammer. I am mentioning all this ancient history for a reason, I promise.
The procession into Winterfell is not a particularly welcome one, the North is suspicious of this new Queen and her foreign advisors and army. The council scene makes it clear that Jon and Dany both did not anticipate much push back on their alliance but like, have you ever MET northerners? Sansa seems most annoyed that Jon did not properly RSVP for this large of a party. Sure, big picture ideas like “The dead are walking and it’s a good idea to have a huge army and some dragons around” are great, well done Jon, but day to day practicalities like “And what the fuck are we feeding all these people and dragons” and “You know we might lose the army that we HAD thanks to this move” are ALSO important! Remember the last time the King in the North made a personal romantic decision that ended up having disastrous political and consequences? Because I remember. Good news is that it’s unlikely Jon will be executed at his uncle’s wedding because he has no living uncles, just one MIA great-uncle who has no intention of marrying wherever he is.
There’s a lot of tension and disappointment swirling around Daenerys. I think a big part of the problem is that she’s been traveling with Jon up until now, who’s only been emphasizing how important she is to stopping the threat of the undead from the North, and her previous entrances into new territories came with a side of liberating. She’s not liberating the North. She may be helping to save it but the people there aren’t as aware of the threat as Jon is and their last experience with a Targaryen ruler from before she was born was not a great one. The big question for me will be if she can put the duty of ruling and commanding in front of her own pride, and that’s looking shaky right now. Dany is excellent at conquering, but has struggled with the day to day drudgery of actually ruling. For now, the North needs a conquerer. They won’t forever.
The next scene features a reunion I’ve been waiting for, that of Sansa and Tyrion. I always thought they were a good political pairing; his knowledge along with her skill at courtly manners and flattery. Romantically, it was terrible. But I’ve wondered how they would get along now that they’re on more equal footing. Sansa has learned enough to be a formidable leader on her own, which Tyrion recognizes. She even gets in a dig at him believing Cersei when she said she was sending the Lannister army north. Arya and Jon are another wonderful reunion to see, both of them overwhelmed to finally see each other again. Jon tells Arya the truth about his death, something he doesn’t tell most people. Arya does not tell Jon the whole truth about her history as an assassin. She may have only used Needle once or twice, but that’s not the whole story. She also doesn’t show him her Valyrian steel dagger. Arya seems suspicious of Jon, affirms Sansa’s political decisions, and reminds Jon that the Starks should stick together. It’s an interesting scene, because for as much as Arya has been waiting for this moment, she’s the one holding back more from Jon than he is from her. She knows what happened to Robb. I wonder if she’s hesitant to get too close to Jon knowing that he may have made the same fatal mistake.
One of the things I’ve been trying to track with the show is what changed drastically after David and Dan found out the ending from George R.R. Martin and what that can tell us about how the books may end. The ascendency of Sansa is one thing I’ve noticed. The interesting addition of The Golden Company, but NOT FAKEgon, here at the finale is another one that stands out. Harry Strickland arrives back in King’s Landing with Euron (ugh) who still has Yara tied to the mast in his quarters just to listen to him ramble on at her. That sounds like some of the worst torture imaginable. Especially since he’s probably been telling her all about what he intends to do with Cersei once he gets his grubby hands on her. The Golden Company, roughly 20,000 men minus a couple unlucky enough to play dice with Euron (ugh), is at Cersei’s disposal. Although it seems she only selected the Golden Company for their elephants, which they did not bring with them. How disappointing. However, the Golden Company is an interesting pick since they were founded by a Targaryen bastard.
I’m refusing to address the sexposition of Bronn with his assorted ladies and Euron (ugh) and Cersei. However, Cersei has sent Qyburn to bribe Bronn to kill either or both Lannister brothers if they get back to King’s Landing (perhaps a bit of prophecy on her mind), and Euron (ugh) grossly mentions that he’s going to “put a Prince in your belly” to Cersei who should probably be showing by now? So she’s either never been pregnant, was mistaken that she was pregnant, or has lost the pregnancy. Which seems confirmed by her pensive look as she swigs some wine.
Theon swoops in to save Yara so thank GOD we won’t have that awfulness dangling over the rest of the season. Theon intends to go to Winterfell, Yara is heading back to take the Iron Islands as a fallback point in case the North is lost. I don’t think the Iron Islands are going to play a significant role here, I think Theon making his way back to Winterfell is the big news.
Tyrion, Varys, and Davos have a little walk ‘n talk around Winterfell to work out some political maneuvering. Meanwhile, Jon and Dany go visit the dragons. Rheagal takes a liking to Jon, and Dany urges him to try riding him. Now, it’s been 150 years since anyone in Westeros had a dragon and Dany was basically raised feral, but I would think that Viserys would have mentioned that only Targaryens can ride dragons. However, Viserys said a lot of shit, he was an asshole who was frequently downright delusional, and she’s had no one else to consult so maybe this isn’t as weird to her as it should be. For me, I think they dove into this moment kind of quick, it’s as much a confirmation of Jon’s lineage as anything in Sam’s old books or Bran’s visions. It seems like they wanted a nice private moment for Dany and Jon but at the expense of playing down a huge reveal. It’s been said that the dragon’s names are meant to reflect their personalities a bit so it shouldn’t be a surprise that Drogon seems to take the most offense to Jon and Dany enjoying some private time together. It’s slightly more threatening than being stared down by Drogo himself, but not much.
Back in Winterfell the forge is up and running mass producing weapons out of dragonglass. The Hound retrieves a massive war axe with no thanks to Gendry, and Arya shows up to defend her old friend and reveal herself to the man she left to die. It goes better than you’d think! Arya commissions Gendry to make her a custom piece, after a bit of what looks like flirting. Awww, these two. Anyway, we know now that The Hound has a huge and incredibly useful weapon to bust some skulls with and Arya’s getting something cool.
Jorah brings Dany to meet Samwell, his savior. And she is appropriately grateful for his service. Until he asks for a pardon for stealing books from The Citadel… and his family’s Valyrian steel sword. This scene is pretty brutal, but I will give Daenerys credit for being straightforward with Sam that she killed his father and brother when they wouldn’t yield to her. She’s not apologetic, and doesn’t offer condolences she doesn’t feel. But she is honest, and she doesn’t demand that Sam absolve her or pledge support himself in that moment. Sam leaves, and runs into Bran who’s “waiting for an old friend.” Bran sends Sam to tell Jon the truth about who he is, and Sam goes to find Jon in the crypts in front of Ned’s grave. It’s there, in front of the man who raised him, when Jon finds out the truth about his parentage. By the way did I call Jon’s immediate reaction to being told he was the true heir or what? Jon keeps being forced into positions of leadership that he’s only half good at. (See: making a truce with the Wildlings that also made him the target of an assassination plot from the people who had actually elected him.) He can’t even be bothered to keep Sansa up to date on the FAIRLY HUGE political alliances and decisions he’s making when he left her in charge. Sam’s insistence that Jon would be a more kind ruler doesn’t ring entirely true, Jon executed a boy for plotting against him. Sam wasn’t there, of course, so Jon’s got some confessions of his own about his ruling style and decisions to fill him in on. But Jon’s right that this is not the time for a crisis of succession.
We arrive at Last Hearth, seat of the Umbers. Tormund and Beric are creeping around through the bloody but body-less courtyard observing evidence of death that has moved on. They creep through the halls, and eventually are ambushed by Dolorous Edd and some of the Night’s Watchmen. There are no survivors at Last Hearth. But there is a message. Little Lord Umber is pinned to the wall in their Hall, surrounded by a spiral of body parts. While the men discuss the logistics of beating the Army of the Dead to Winterfell, Lord Umber awakens and Beric lights the whole grisly scene aflame.
Finally, we return to Winterfell and follow a lone rider into the gates. He gets off his horse and we see Jaime Lannister in the courtyard of Winterfell for the first time in years. Bran, and this is how we know that at least some of Bran is still in there, is waiting for him. As he has been waiting for apparently the entire night. I really wish I could see the wooden conversation he had with some poor Stark servant to be allowed to stay there. “No… it’ll be worth it… trust me…. but also… get me… a drink….. and some snacks…..”
WHERE IS THIS ALL GOING: We’ll have the Battle of Winterfell in two weeks and then my guess is that whatever remains of the humans there will be making their way down to King’s Landing for a final stand. There’s no way Cersei is coming to the North so the action has to move to her. I also think that the political structure of Westeros is going to change drastically, and we may end up with something akin to what was proposed in the Southron Ambitions plot. A ruler who is bound by a legislative body of some kind. I think Sansa will be instrumental in that, which is why the show is literally telling us that she’s a smart and capable leader. I am still working out where I think Jon and Daenerys are going. Jon is the sacrificing type and doesn’t want to rule so my instinct is that he will sacrifice himself for her, and potentially for an unborn child, but everyone’s got more immediate concerns to deal with right now. See you next week.