Thank the old gods and the new for our second eleventh-hour save in the last two weeks. We’ve gotten so used to misery and disappointment on Game of Thrones that we’re conditioned to not get too high, lest the Drowned God take a(nother) friend away.
We opened up this week welcoming Bran back to our screens. Under the tutelage of the Three-Eyed Raven (played with a certain foreboding solemnity by the incomparable Max Von Sydow), Bran has grown and matured into an intriguing young man.
They have shared visions, the Three-Eyed Raven serving as guide, that are apparently not limited to the now. With perfect clarity, Bran visits the Winterfell of his father’s childhood. It’s a choice (and a storytelling device) I’ll get more into later, but the episode scarcely could have opened with more joy than a young Ned Stark tousling the hair of a younger Benjen Stark as they drilled in a courtyard.
Then it got better, as the much mentioned but never before seen Lyanna Stark, mounted upon the back of a pristine white horse, cantered into the courtyard. She rode literal circles around the boys and Ned yelled for her to stop showing off. What an image, especially when you consider that we first heard of Lyanna in the series premiere, when Robert Baratheon came north to ask Ned to be his hand.
As a non-book reader, the story seems to be that Lyanna was promised to Robert Baratheon, but she was stolen by the Mad King’s son, Rhaegar Targaryen, which led to Robert’s Rebellion and the eventual fall of the Targaryens. We don’t know how or when she died, exactly. But Robert was uncomfortable with her final resting place. Obviously very moved, he said that she should be in the sun. And this week, we finally see why. It isn’t hard to recognize in her playful nature and her command of the saddle, the familial resemblance between a full-of-life young Lyanna and the never-say-die Stark girls who we have admired and cheered on for many years.
And if that wasn’t enough, we got to see a young Wylis. Did I say Wylis? You know who I meant.
Here’s a young Lyanna handing a practice sword and shield to a young Hodor, who A) Talks and B) is a clever bugger, in that he’s noticed that Benjen lowers his chin when he’s about to dodge.
Hodor doesn’t get the chance to fight before he’s pulled away to do his stable boy chores, and Bran is likewise dragged away from the happy scene by the Three-Eyed Raven.
“You finally show me something I care about, and than you drag me away.” Protests Bran.
“It is beautiful beneath the sea,” responds the Three-Eyed Raven, “but if you stay too long, you’ll drown.”
Bran tries to communicate with Wylis/Hodor, and tell him that he knew he could talk, but Hodor is only able to Hodor back. Bran eagerly reports his vision to Meera, also now older, but she is distant and frustrated. Bran is graced with the ability to sail off into his visions, but she just has to sit and wait. Out of the action. Biding her time, alone in a place where her brother sacrificed himself to get them to safety. She is given a pep talk by what appears to be an elven girl? I have no idea. She’s a little green-skinned female (one of ‘The Children’?) who suggests that they won’t always be stuck here, and that when they leave, Bran will need her more than ever.
I seriously have no idea who this girl is but I’m sure one of the book-readers will enlighten us in the comments.
After that we jump to Castle Black, where Ser Davos is still penned in the larder with the ice-cold body of a few stalwart men of the watch, hoping for Dolorous Edd to return with wildling help. But as we join the scene, we see they’re out of time. That mellifluous voice of Alliser Thorne is alerting them that time’s up. All they need is to open the door and everything will be A-OK. No one will be harmed, Ghost will be set free north of the Wall “where he belongs” and Ser Davos will be sent South, presumably with an ample supply of some previously arranged mutton. Sound like a hell of a deal!
But Davos is no fool. He is uniquely wonderful in the Game of Thrones universe in that he’s a realist. He’s always realistic. He always tries to think. He’s always rightly and openly afraid to die. He’s always trying to figure out strategy. And Liam Cunningham just controls the screen as Davos Seaworth. God, I had no idea he would be this important to the series. They called him The Onion Knight! What a shit moniker. He was this abused, illiterate, sometimes-right-hand-man, sometimes-whipping-boy of a narcissistic psychopath, who (by the way) took a bunch of his fingers. He got his fucking ass blowed out of the ocean in Blackwater Bay, was nearly burned alive half a dozen times for infractions real and perceived and yet, here he is, guarding the body of our beloved Jon Snow, in the frozen North. Everyone he fought with is dead. His family is dead. But he perseveres, his brow constantly furrowed, his tone always grim. Ser Davos Seaworth is the most unlikely and captivating character on Game of Thrones and send your goddamn hate mail now because I probably just killed him. But goddamn is he a thing of strength and toughness and decency. It’s a shame that that word is such a rarity in Westeros.
We’re so terrified of falling in love with characters because they can and will be torn from us at a moment’s notice that we don’t want to profess our love. But I love Ser Davos. More than the blondest Lannister, more than the bluest The Mountain, more than The Narrow Sea itself. He is amazing, and I might hold my breath every time he’s on screen. He’s the everything.
Davos, in true Davos fashion, admits that he’s never been much of a fighter and apologizes in advance for what is probably going to be a sorry display of swordsmanship and then he unsheathes Longclaw and winds up, two handed, like a batter waiting on the 3-2 pitch. Lefty, by the way. But he never gets a chance, because when all hope is lost, this episode’s Brienne - the last giant, Wun Wun - comes smashing through the rear door of Castle Black,
Wun Wun brains the one guy that has the audacity to shoot an arrow into him, and just like that, he and Tormund and the wildlings are victorious.
The brothers of The Night’s Watch stand down immediately, something that was frankly kind of hard to watch, and Alliser Thorne is foiled. He calls Edd a traitor and then sets up one of the best lines of the night.
“For thousands of years, The Night’s Watch has held Castle Black against the wildlings.” He says.
“Until you.” Says Tormund.
Awwwwwww yeah! Fuck you, Alliser Thorne! He and Olly are thrown into cells and after Tormund sees Jon’s corpse, he instructs his men to collect wood for a pyre. Because that’s the only thing left to do.
We ship, then, to the warmth of King’s Landing. Remember the guy who ran out in front of Cersei during her walk of shame and swung his pecker around at her?
So does The Mountain.
We have a brief standoff as Tommen commands his guard not to allow Cersei to attend Myrcella’s funeral.
And we eventually come to find that it’s because Tommen is terrified to lose his mother again. We have a lull in the episode here as we begin to knit the Tommen storyline, which — if you believe the witch Cersei visited as a child — will ultimately end with eye-rocks on poor little Tommen’s eyes. The real highlight of this middle is the standoff between Jaime and the High Sparrow. Jaime can’t believe the boldness of the High Sparrow, to be in his presence unarmed, and as he readies to strike the old man down, a cohort of sparrows, armed with clubs and flails, materialize around Jaime in the sept. Jaime has a choice, to kill the High Sparrow and be struck down himself, or to leave the fight for another day. The old man glances at Jaime’s hand on his sword with a smirk and walks out.
It is what it is, but I can’t help but wonder where all the Gold Cloaks are. How is it that Jaime is going anywhere without a goddamn legion of armored knights at his back? Remember when Jaime shanghai’d Ned and Jory on the streets of King’s Landing? He, more than anyone, knows the benefit of a stacked deck. So how did a situation like this occur? Either way, the goal of the scene was to set up more tension between the Lannisters and the High Sparrow, and in that it succeeded.
After that we were off to Meereen, Tyrion is drinking and knowing things.
“It’s what I do. I drink and I know things.” He says.
He’s also making more penis jokes at Varys’ expense, but is quick to apologize to Grey Worm for the slight.
“Meaning no offense” he says, gesturing to Varys. “He makes dwarf jokes, I make eunuch jokes.” “I do not make dwarf jokes.” Deadpans Varys. “You think them.” Tyrion replies.
So where are we in Meereen? The fleet is burned, a gift from the writers last week to let us know that Daenerys wasn’t going to have her D-Day anytime this season. So who burned the ships? Do we have any leads? No leads, says Grey Worm. (I’m paraphrasing).
And what about them dragons? The ones that Khaleesi didn’t fly off on? Well they’re not eating. And that’s a bad thing because dragons, y’know, will waste away to nothing if they’re in captivity.
Well, of course we don’t know! But as a show-watcher, I’m guessing that a very important element of Tyrion’s personality has been a fascination with dragons. I’ll bet there was a good deal of time devoted to that in the books. We first truly got a sense of Tyrion’s dragon obsession when Drogon roared in to save Dany last season. Remember this look? He had only read about dragons and the realist in him barely believed the stories that Daenerys had one (forget three). And then he saw it with his own eyes.
Now in Meereen, chained under the pyramid, Rhaegal and Viserion are not eating. Tyrion, dragon aficionado that he is, knows that they have to do something. Dragons, he says, are intelligent, possibly even more intelligent than humans. And they will not attack a friend.
“I am their friend.” He says. “Do they know that?” Asks Varys.
And then something magical happens. The combination of wine muscles and book learning (with probably some old fashioned heroic courage mixed in) drives Tyrion down to the pyramid, where he approaches Rhaegal and Viserion with nothing more than a small torch to light the way and some whispered niceties. I was so tense I may have strained my sphincter as he walked through the darkness toward them.
“I’m friends with your mother.” He eeks out. “I’m here to help. Don’t eat the help.”
They don’t barbecue him immediately, which is a promising sign. He then talks about his childhood, and, knowing what we know about Cersei snapping his cock as a baby and his mother’s death and father’s disgust with him, imagining a tiny little Tyrion finding comfort between the pages of storybooks about dragons is not a hard picture to create. It is at once charming and heartbreaking.
“When I was a child, my uncle asked what gift I wanted for my nameday. I begged him for one of you. It wouldn’t even have to be a big dragon, I told him. It could be little, like me.”
Then he sets down his torch and walks toward one of the dragons. (I can’t tell which one - I’m not able to tell them apart by sight YET screams the nerdrage inside of me) He finishes his story by saying that everyone laughed at him, because the last dragon had died a century before. And then he reaches out and puts his hand on a dragon. A living, breathing dragon. He closes his eyes and takes it in, a childhood wish, a lifelong dream - realized.
“But here you are.” He says, and unshackles the dragon. Tyrion. Breaker of Chains.
The Dragons get it, They get it. They know he’s a friend, and when he pulls the pin out of the metal collar of the first one, the second one opens his neck toward Tyrion, to help him reach his own collar. Tyrion pulls it and with that, Rhaegal and Viserion are out of captivity and Tyrion hurries out of the pyramid with a quip to Varys.
“The next time I have an idea like that, punch me in the face.”
It’s a tense but fantastic scene and the most important takeaway is this: TYRION IS GOING TO EVENTUALLY RIDE A DRAGON, Y’ALL!
Then we shoot over to a bloodied and bruised Arya, still begging on the steps of Braavos. She’s attacked again, and tries in vain to defend herself against Jaqen’s unforgiving female apprentice when she disappears, leaving Arya swinging her staff at no one, like a crazy person.
Then whack! A strong hand grabs her staff, and it’s the Faceless Man himself.
“Who are you?
“If a girl says her name, a man will let her sleep under a roof tonight.”
“A girl has no name.” Arya says.
“If a girl says her name, a man will feed her tonight.”
“A girl has no name.” Arya says.
“If a girl says her name, a man will give her her eyes back.”
Oooof. This is a tough one. Arya pauses for a split second, but she’s not taking the bait.
“A girl has no name.” She says.
“Come.” says Jaqen simply. Arya goes to retrieve her begging dish and Jaqen says “Leave it. A girl is not a beggar anymore.”
And with that, Arya hobbles away after the Faceless Man. It’s an incredibly short scene in the whole scheme of things, but an important one. It’s good to see Arya making progress. A girl is ready.
After that, we’re back to Winterfell, where news of Sansa’s escape has Roose Bolton worried. As he relays his concerns to his son, Ramsay, the group is interrupted with wonderful news. Lady Bolton has given birth to a son! Huzzah!
Ramsay is so thrilled he barely knows what to do with himself.
Oh, wait. No. No, he knows what to do. Then he sends for Lady Bolton and his new baby brother. This is the moment in the episode, and in your personal life, where your stomach turns and you wonder “how much can I stand?” Because while Ramsay Bolton, now Lord Bolton, is a pretty impressive bad guy, he’s also blithely cruel in such a visually psychopathic way that it pushes the boundaries of civilized culture. It’s one thing for him to maim Theon, who kinda sorta had it coming. But a little baby?
Dear god. I won’t describe in detail the slow march of misery that was the last few minutes of Lady Bolton and her child, except to say that with a death this profane and evil, you wonder if there’s even a mechanism in the George R. R, Martin universe for Ramsay to suffer enough. I thought Joffrey was the worst thing I had ever seen. Ramsay makes him look downright polite.
We have a small update scene with Sansa and Brienne where we find that Theon is taking his leave and heading ‘home,’ which is the Iron Isles. Though he’s never spent any real time there, that appears to be where he’s going.
So that’s where we jump.
We catch Yara and Balon Greyjoy in the middle of an argument. When Robb Stark marched south, the Ironborn took it upon themselves to take some of the Stark’s land on the mainland. Now they’ve been pushed out of Deepwood Motte. Aw rats! This is one of the difficulties in adapting a vast tome of information for a TV audience.
Never heard of Deepwood Motte, thus, don’t care
The Ironborn? Don’t care.
Remember when Melisandre took Gendry’s blood for that kill spell? Stannis burns the leeches with King’s blood in them and he names his enemies.
The usurper Joffrey Baratheon.
The usurper Robb Stark
The usurper Balon Greyjoy…
Whaaaa? It didn’t make much sense then and it certainly makes less sense now that we see Balon alive and well and shitting all over Yara for pretty much no reason. She seems right. He seems like an old prick who’s time has come.
And minutes later, it does.
I have no idea who this dude who kills Balon is. The internet tells me it’s Balon’s brother, Euron. Still, no idea. I don’t know if he’s real or imaginary. I don’t know if he’s sane or insane. I don’t know if he’s a Faceless Man or The Drowned God. He says he’s the drowned god and he seems to make the wind pick up and he seems to be able to balance on that asinine Indiana Jones rope bridge without holding on to the railings, but he also got cut by the knife of Balon, so I just don’t know.
More importantly, does it matter?
Yara seems like she’s being set up to be Esau’d out of her birthright by a Kingsmoot. And that sucks, because she’s pretty fucking great.
Balon is finally gone, and the Red Woman’s spell is finally complete. So what better time to hit her up for a little more magic?
Davos pushes her. Can you save him? I saw you drink poison. I saw you give birth to a demon made of shadows.
“Everything I believed, the great victory I saw in the flames. All of it was a lie. You were right all along. The Lord never spoke to me.”
“Fuck ‘em, then.” Says Davos.
“I’m not asking the Lord of Light for help. I’m asking the woman that showed me that miracles exist.”
Yessss, Ser Davos. Sell it! Sell it!
Cut to, Melisandre cleaning Jon’s cuts. Trimming his beard. Cutting his fabled locks. And BAM! He’s up! All he ever wanted was a spa treatment, people! That’s just what the doctor ordered.
Seriously though, they laid it on thick and it was easy to drink in every frame of it. Tormund’s frustration. Davos’ disappointment. For me, I feel like it was Melisandre’s half-whispered “please” that did it. All the Valyrian in the world wasn’t going to pull homeboy out of his eternal slumber. It was that reach past the bounds of desperation into a place of truth, like when Thoros of Myr pulls Beric Dondarrion out of the river Styx. It’s just truth. No pretense. He just wants his friend back.
We sat there with a sleeping Ghost for those last few beats. Hoping against hope.
And then the moment we waited for. The moment we refused to give up on, no matter how many times we’ve been burned. It finally happened.
Thank the Gods! Thank the Old Gods and the New Gods and the Drowned Gods and the Seven Gods and the Tree Gods!
Jon Snow re-enters the Game of Thrones.
Two Bastards. Two Snows. The Time is Now. The Place is The North.
And while we’re sitting back enjoying this episode, the scenes for next week kind of blew my mind. It’s easy to have missed it, but what we see here is — I believe — Bran going back and using that plot device I mentioned, to see his father and the future King Robert assailing a fortress. I could be wrong, but I think next week we’re going to get a huge clue (maybe the actual reveal) of the answer to who Jon Snow’s mother is, once and for all.
I loved this episode. Freed dragons. Tyrion a future dragon rider! The Mountain smashing a dude’s head (again). Wun Wun smashing everything. Alliser and Olly in a cage. Hodor. Roose Bolton getting his just desserts. Balon Greyjoy taking his own kind of flight through the moon door (Ironborn style). Bran coming back and Jon coming back (and his wolf knowing it first).
Whew. What an episode. What a show!