Whew. Heavy episode. Depending on whom you ask, and how many tears they cried, this was either the best episode of the season or the worst one. Some people will focus on the big ending, and the answering of the mystery behind Hodor’s name that people have been asking for two solid decades. (That’s right, friends. A Song of Ice and Fire was published in 1996. That’s twenty years that people have been waiting for an answer and last night they finally got it, to their great relief and boundless dismay). Other people will point to another relatively uneventful episode that was largely saved by an emotional final scene.
I’m probably somewhere in the middle. I was moved by the ending, though I wasn’t moved to tears for some reason. Probably because of all the mental gymnastics I was trying to do to figure out what the hell is going on with the Bran and time travel subplot. Hours later, I’m still not sure that I fully grasp what happened.
Be that as it may, we are now, officially, halfway through the season, people. Remember five minutes ago when we were excitedly awaiting the season six premiere and then we had Brienne kneeling before Sansa and everything, for once, was okay in the world? Yep. Well, that’s all gone, and a pallor has settled over the Known World. It’s a waiting game in many places, and while I enjoy every episode, you may notice that I poke a little more fun at this one. Some of what happened was fantastic and some of it was just batshit insane, and not in the membrane.
Castle Black and Mole Town
We open with Sansa getting a note from Littlefinger. Meet me in the town where Gilly washed the sheets in that brothel! Let’s start by establishing a time frame between episodes. Not that everything happens at exactly the same pace in every part of the world, but in Meereen they mentioned that a fortnight had passed since the last episode. That’s fourteen days to the good people of Earth. So, we can roughly assume that two weeks, give or take, have passed since Littlefinger traded a bird for the Knights of the Vale. Now let’s take a look at where Mole Town is.
Well, it’s part of The Gift, which is right outside Castle Black. Obviously, you can’t have Sansa roaming around The North willy nilly with Boltons about, so the hovel right outside Castle Black is the place for the meet. This is where Mole’s Town is:
At the meet, where Sansa shows the intelligence to bring her mauler with her, but not to partition Littlefinger’s tongue from his body, Lord Baelish informs her that he has come to save her, and he has the Knights of the Vale standing by. Hoorah! Problem solved! Let’s just have the Knights Who Say Ni roll in and F Ramsay in the A, right? I mean, it’s kind of weird that no one has noticed a huge army of knights rolling across the countryside, but okay. I mean, how far can Moat Cailin be?
Aha. So, that’s like Paul Revere riding through the streets of Boston yelling “The British are coming!” And Littlefinger is like “Don’t worry! I have the Knights of the Vale ready to go. They’re literally around the corner. In Chicago!”
If we dig a little deeper, we see that in the intervening two weeks, assuming that there’s zero way that douchebag Walder Frey gave them a pass through The Twins, the Knights sailed to Moat Cailin and Petyr Baelish sailed to Mole Town.
Um, here’s a question Petyr. Can I call you Petyr? Why not bring the uh, Knights, WITH YOU? Somehow, as nutty as it sounds, I feel like Baelish was expecting a booty call. Have we ever seen him unprotected? Have we ever seen him without backup? Not accounting for all contingencies? This was just straight up weird.
But the scene with Sansa was a step in the right direction. Last week I worried aloud that Sansa might be becoming the Cersei of the North and I felt bad about it afterward. But now? She could have chosen to end Littlefinger right there, and she didn’t. When he asked to say one more thing (I was like NO! NO!) and she allows him? He plants the seed about ‘her’ army. His last words to her are ‘half-brother.” What a louse. What a brilliant, conniving louse. And how young Sansa still is, at the end of it all.
I chuckled out loud when I saw Arya sparring with The Waif again.
“What?” Lady Castleton asked.
“People are going to be pissed. When Arya finally beat The Waif last week, and did it blind, lots of people were happy to be finally rid of this extended, season(s) long training montage.”
You know, we make fun of Daenerys and how she’s been in limbo for seasons (plural) now, but Arya has barely left one building except to go like half a mile away to shuck oysters, kill Meryn Trant, beg, and then come back.
I don’t know how you swing a big fucking staff and miss a person. Arya went from using the force last week to getting her ass handed to her in a major way. I felt this punch in my soul.
Ooof. Wow. Fantastic fight choreography in that scene and Faye Marsay, who plays The Waif, continues to impress. You’ll never be one of us, she says. And behind Arya, Jaqen seems to agree.
“She has a point,” he says.
Okay, so that’s it! It was a nice run! Let’s pack it up, people. Go dig out Needle, let’s try to find Nymeria (or not, actually, since D&D love to kill wolves). But I guess Arya’s not going to be one of them…
You are one of us, says Jaqen.
Um, okay? When did that happen? Because Ayra just got her ass Fedexed to her in a box packaged entirely in whoop-ass. Did I miss something?
Jaqen goes on to say that she must kill a certain actress, and that’s that. If the actress dies, her face goes on the wall. If Arya messes up again, it’ll be Arya’s face on the wall. I’m just going to say that the thought of one’s disembodied face ending up on a wall somewhere to be worn like a commedia dell’arte mask at an Elton John New Year’s Eve bash feels uniquely disturbing. It’s not a pleasant concept. And apparently Arya doesn’t love the prospect either, so she goes to scout the actress.
This is the most interesting part of the scene. The players are chronicling the last decade of Westerosi politics in a misappropriated, bawdy comedy. Arya starts out smiling and as we see her reliving the moment of her father’s beheading, we see her struggling to keep her composure. Ned Stark is portrayed as an ignorant, power hungry hayseed. That pissed off just about any fan of the show, and Arya’s face was the face of the fanbase at that moment.
This is obviously a test from Jaqen to see if she really has divorced herself from her past, or if she still is the ‘Lady Stark’ that The Waif called her. Myself, I was just hoping she’d flip out and pull a William Munny.
“You better bury Ned right…or I’ll come back and kill every one of you sons of bitches.”
Arya finds a way to poison the actress, but has reservations, which are quickly shut down by Jaqen.
And I guess this is where my head has kind of been wrong about The Faceless Men, because I’ve been kind of thinking that they’re the Jedis of this story. That their creed is ego-less and selflessness. No want. No need. No possessions. And in that role, they seemed honorable. They euthanized people in pain. They seemed to be held to a higher standard. But after the last episode, they seem more like The Dark Brotherhood from the Elder Scrolls series. Just super highly trained borderline ninja assassins. You pay the Dark Brotherhood and whoever you want kilt gets kilt. I guess I kind of felt like there was more method to the madness with The Faceless Men.
ARYA: The actress seems like a good person.
JAQEN: Oh fucking well.
ARYA: Seems a shame, especially since it’s probably the younger actress.
JAQEN: Money’s been paid. Not my department.
ARYA: Just saying. Too bad is all.
JAQEN: Yo, you want to be a servant or not?
ARYA: Yes! Totally. Servant. I’m all about it.
Arya has done a masterful job at answering all of Jaqen’s trick questions like a good Buddhist, but did this situation have the feeling of an exit strategy for Arya at all? It just feels too easy at this point. Poison the rum. Bam. But you get the sense that to succeed at this task, Arya will have to refuse it, or somehow alter it before things go south in a hurry.
Last note on this scene: I promise you the full screen shot of the dong was a doff of the cap to the parts of the fanbase who complain about the imbalance in gender nudity. You want more dongs and balls? How’s one that fills your entire screen? Ask and ye shall receive.
The Weirwood Tree
The big reveal we get here is that the Children of the Forest stuck an obsidian shard into a young Roger Daltrey to make White Walkers. There’s a Teenage Wasteland joke in there somewhere.
Bran is like “WTF?” And Leaf (the main Children of the Forest girl) is like “humans were wiping us out, we had to do something.”
Pretty safe to say, that wasn’t the greatest idea. Before I get into the Bran stuff, I just wanted to point out that Leaf doesn’t get much press, but she did a great job. She’s played by actress Kai Alexander.
The Iron Isles
It’s the Moot, y’all! The Ironborn might not be particularly interesting, but they are stylish as hell. No other race of men could pull of that rotting kelp look with such swagger. And maybe it’s just me, but that priest is the single most irritating person on the show. Cleanliness is literally next to Godliness, homes! It’s the next parking spot over. I doubt the Drowned God is going to dock your pay if you rub a little Biolage into that ropey stankfest you call your hair. Jesus. You’re my least favorite character, pretentious future Jared Leto.
Anyway, there’s a lot of drama in the Moot. Yara claims the Salt Throne. Some repurposed mall Santa barks that it’s not happening while Balon’s male heir lives. Theon steps up and backs his sister. She looks at him with appreciation and love. I mean, last week she yelled at him for when she went to save him and he was too emotionally destroyed to leave his kennel and so she left him behind, but okay. I love a good brother sister story that doesn’t create Joffreys.
So fine. Mall Santa backs off, but a new problem arises. Fat Peter Sarsgaard, their uncle, also claims the Salt Throne. He is the Donald Trump of the Iron Isles. He calls Theon “Little Theon” (Little Marco) right off the bat, and then mocks him and Yara every chance he gets. Low blow after low blow. Theon’s use of a polysyllabic word - which indicates intelligence -should be something that people demand in their leader. Fat Peter Sarsgaard derides him for it, mockery which is met with blissful approval by the Ironborn, who are comprised almost exclusively of Non-College Whites. And to top it all off, he’s going to build a wall. Of ships. And he’s going to make Mexico pay for it. That’s what puts asses in seats, people! They grunt their simian approval and Yara is out.
Next, they drown Fat Peter Sarsgaard. While the dumb-ass simpletons are doing that, Yara and Theon steal 84 ships. AHAHAHAHAHA. I counted them. How does not one idiot at the drowning ceremony know that their shit is being taken? Fat Peter Sarsgaard wakes up from the drowning and with his first official act, he decides to murder his niece and nephew. Too bad they’re already in international waters, idiot.
He stands there, with the biggest theft in Ironborn history as his backdrop (Shouldn’t it be waterborn? Or maybe filthborn? Where’s the iron? These aren’t miners. These are pirates. It’s all so confusing.) And Fat Peter Sarsgaard is like “check out my kick ass crown! A seven year old made it for craft day and it’s been the pirate symbol of power ever since! I don’t have time to go sit on what I’m assuming is a giant brick of salt that we call a throne, so listen up! All fourteen of you, go back to your houses and cut down every tree on these tiny islands! All twenty three of them that are left. (Because guess what we haven’t seen in any shot of the Iron Isles since season one? A -singular- tree.) Use all that wood to build me A THOUSAND SHIPS! MAKE THEM STARSHIPS! CUT DOWN TREES AND USE THEM TO INVENT A WARP ENGINE! Now that I’m king, every one of you will work like an animal. Your wives will sew. You will shit woodchips you’ll be planing so much fucking wood. But give me a thousand galaxy class starships and I’ll give you the world!”
And that’s when Mall Santa realizes he’s made a grave mistake.
Fat Peter Sarsgaard is very clearly the leader the ‘Ironborn’ deserve.
Dany, Dreamy Daario and Jorah stand up on the ledge where Jorah and Daario first scoped out their ill-conceived plan of attack on the Dothraki stronghold. Dany is in a tough spot. She’s kicked Jorah out of the party twice and like a bad check he always returns. He’s also saved her life one and a half times. There’s that. What to do…what to do…
We never find out what she was going to decide because Jorah shows her his rock skin and she’s devastated. I know many people want Jorah to die but I actually like his story, and I admired that he told Daenerys he loved her and then left. Ballsy move.
Of course, nobody walks away from the Breaker of Chains! You turn your ass around this instant, Jorah THE ANDAL! Shit gets all formal in a hurry. She commands Jorah to get thee to a doctor, stat, and then to come home to her. She needs him by her side when she conquers the world. Daario is like “do I have to be here for this?”
If you like the Jorah story, it’s a rewarding validation for him. If you dislike the Jorah story, you’re groaning that this prick has more lives than Jon Snow. In either case, it doesn’t matter. Daenerys may be now in charge of a vast army of uneducated rapists, but they’re still nowhere near the meat of the story. She does get to wear a lovely brown alpaca sweater ensemble that perfectly matches the color of her eyebrows, so there’s that. She’s also taken to wearing her ring around her neck on a strand of rawhide. Maybe it was too cumbersome to wear with her fingerless riding gloves? No one knows.
You know what else is a mystery? Who carved those two giant horses outside Vaes Dothrak? Because last time I checked, the Dothraki weren’t exactly a cohort of traveling Rodins.
Hellooooooooo to the new Red Woman, Kinvara, played by Isreali actress Ania Bukstein.
Hummana hummana. Holy shit this show knows how to do Red Women. Jeeeeeeeezus.
The real takeaway from this scene is Varys’ contempt for organized religion and how Kinvara scares the shit out of him with it. She shows him that she knows something she cannot possibly know - something no one but him could know, and that she questions his loyalty to Daenerys.
“We serve the same queen.” She says with a smile. “If you are her true friend, you have nothing to fear from me.”
If you’re not her true friend…
We’ve seen Varys challenged before, but we’ve never seen him truly afraid. Truly shaken. As much as he attacked the fanaticism of the Red Woman and those like her, she contends that Varys’ mutilation by a second rate sorcerer was all part of the Lord of Light’s master design. And how could she be wrong, when she has the ability to see things that no one else could possibly see? What will that do to Varys’ belief system going forward? And ultimately, how can Kinvara be right that Daenerys is the Prince that was Promised when Melisandre has already decided that Jon Snow is the one? Hmmm. These Red Women need a Moot like you read about.
The Weirwood Tree
So Bran decides to take dad’s car out for a midnight joyride and on the way, of course, the local undead king permanently marks him, casting all the Three-Eyed Raven’s protections asunder.
“He will come for you! You must leave at once!”
“But fuck it, let’s warg out together one last time first.”
That’s how it went down. The Three Eyed Raven says it’s time for Bran to take his place.
“Am I ready?” Asks Bran.
“No.” Quoth the Raven.
OH HEY, THANKS FOR THE VOTE OF CONFIDENCE! I WAS STARTING TO THINK MY TIME HERE WAS WASTED.
Then The Raven Wargs out and we’re magically in Castle Black
Back at Castle Black, Melisandre yawns her way through the tactical briefing. Ser Davos continuously makes the most sense to me, and part of me just hates the fealty system where he has to kowtow to teenagers, instead of everyone being like: um yeah, you’re the boss. You have actual wisdom. But it’s cool. Tormund manages to go six minutes without eyefucking Brienne. But he comes back to it later with aplomb.
There are a few troubling beats here. Sansa lying to Jon is crazeballs. That seemed like a direct result of her conversation with Baelish. Also, was she suggesting that she be the head of the War effort? Is that what happened there? “Jon is as much Ned Stark’s son as Ramsay is Roose Bolton’s son.” Huh? Was that a comment to convey Jon’s lineage? Because it sure as hell didn’t feel that way. Is she just so beaten down by life, still feeling the actual pain of what Ramsay did to her, that she can’t trust even her own blood? In a way, that’s very empowering, and a lesson that seems to have merit in Westeros. But in another way, especially considering the words of Ned in season one:
Tough to make out Sansa’s play here. Sending Brienne to Riverrun, which is here, by the way…
…seems like the kind of bullshit manufactured decision designed to artificially push a plot point forward that I raved about last week (in that Game of Thrones was better than most about avoiding them). If you look at what Sansa has endured in the last five and a half seasons, and you tell me that she’d willingly divest herself of the FIRST true safety she’s had since Ned died? Well, in the words of Sansa, you’re either lying or you’re my enemy.
But, damn can that girl sew! Sansa comes out of Castle Black in her new Wolf gear, and she’s made Jon a set, just like Papa Wolf used to wear. Jon is pleasantly surprised. It’s something the ‘old’ Sansa never would have done. Especially modeled after her father’s gear and bearing the Stark sigil. It’s a positive development, but it’s tough to shake the image of Sansa coming out of the Eyrie in that kick ass Raven gown, portending a change in her demeanor, only to return to capture and victimhood. One hopes that donning her own family’s sigil will ward off the rain clouds that have plagued her.
Last note: Sansa actually broke Littlefinger’s seal in half, foreshadowing the breaking of her trust.
Last week Jon slid Ramsay’s seal off the end of the parchment. What might we read into that? That Ramsay will slide off something? Possibly Longclaw?
You laugh, but remember when Littlefinger commented about this?
Joffrey died at his table.
Shae died in her bed.
Tywin died on the shitter.
I’m not above digging for some creative foreshadowing.
The Weirwood Tree
Now we’re back North of the Wall, and while Bran and the Raven are having one last trip on Thunder Road, the Night’s King shows up with every wight in the North.
Inside the vision, Bran is once again in the past, watching a young Ned be sent off to the Vale by his father, Rickard Stark, where, presumably, he forges his lifelong friendship with Jon Arryn. Inside the vision, we hear Meera screaming for Bran to warg into Hodor.
“Listen to your friend, Brandon.” Instructs the Three-Eyed Raven.
And then, inside the vision, Bran looks at young Wylis and wargs into him. In the present, a very important thing happens: Hodor’s eyes roll back and go to warg-state, but then they come back. This is key.
As Meera and Bran flee the cavern, both Leaf and Summer give their lives to buy them some time.
Self-sacrifice for the good of all is a noble gesture, and Leaf took out a ton of wights with her sacrifice. Summer, I’m saddened to say, went out with a less impactful final moment. He (she?) basically did the Jean-Luc Picard lunge where you take a standing position against an opponent and lunge at them so you end up on your back with them on top of you. It’s not the greatest move.
Why did this happen? Why does it seem like this show is hell bent on eliminating the dire wolves? Because it is. I actually have a teeny-tiny bit of insight into it. I’m not friends with Benioff and Weiss, but some of my friends are and they told me this: the dire wolves are the most difficult part of the entire show. The wolves themselves cost a fortune, never do what they’re supposed to, and they have to be digitally re-sized from normal wolf size to dire wolf size. The showrunners know that people love the direwolves, but they’re such a pain in the ass that they shut down production for hours at a time. It takes forever to get the ‘right’ shot of them, a shot that can be resized without people like us groaning about the obvious shitty CGI. So if it feels like the show is out to get the dire wolves it’s because they truly are. If you ask these guys what the toughest part of the show is, it’s not the scripts or the leaks or the locations. It’s the wolves. Period. They’re the biggest pain in the ass and they’ll write them out any time they can, so those of you hoping Arya reunites with Nymeria? Maybe rethink that wish.
So summer is dead and Leaf is dead. Meera did manage to kill a white walker with what appeared to be an obsidian-tipped spear. So that was good. And we bid a final adieu to Max Von Sydow as The Three-Eyed Raven. Is was a pretty cool effect that marked his passing.
And now we come to the moment that took the collective wind out of our sails.
That was a powerful moment. Possibly the most noble and heroic in the entire history of the show. Where other beloved characters died in lackluster or pathetic ways, Hodor held back an entire army of dead. I’m getting a little emotional just writing about it.
It was shot and acted beautifully. Both by Kristian Nairn as adult Hodor and Sam Coleman as young Hodor. I mean, Sam Coleman, holy shit. This is his FIRST CREDITED ROLE.
Jesus, I’m in love. What pressure, to have to make that verbal transition on screen in the midst of a seizure on a show of this scope. Wow. Just wow. Sam Coleman has a bright goddamn future.
I’m just going to take a second for us to watch that last beat.
Powerful stuff. The kind of moment Game of Thrones seems to deliver like no other show.
Now, when you’ve wiped away the onions, let’s talk about Bran. Because by not following Doc Brown’s laws of time travel, didn’t he basically destroy young Wylis? By warging into him in the past, didn’t Bran condemn Wylis to live out his life constantly in a state of Holding the Door?
We’re going to have to have an honest talk about Bran at some point. Because, as much as he’s a Stark and I like him, he seems to be the point of the spear in a number of fairly important events in Westeros. And the fact that he’s both a warg and a ‘greenseer’ and can affect the past really contorts everything. Like, I heard some people suggesting that Bran goes back into the past and is the one that makes the Mad King mad. Or that the great builder who built The Wall, Bran the Builder - who Bran Stark is named after - is actually Bran.
Whew. It’s going to take some time to wrap our heads around who Bran is and isn’t, and why the manipulation of the timelines can’t be sort of open to anything. And how, on a very basic level, Bran enslaved Hodor inside a lifelong vision of impending doom and perpetual psychological torment.
It’s a talk we should have.
We’re halfway there, friends. Next week it looks like we get a little more Gilly and the entitled side of Daenerys returns as she conquers what is hers. And it’s all hers, folks. In her mind it’s all hers. Not sure that mindset is a particularly appealing character trait, especially juxtaposed against someone like Tyrion who, when asked if he wanted to be worshiped and obeyed, responded “I’d settle for obeyed.”
But Dany’s gonna be Dany. And we’re gonna be back. Next week. Same Bat time. Same Bat channel.