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The 'Game of Thrones' Season 8, Episode 1 Deep Dive Recap

By Lord Castleton | TV | April 19, 2019 |

By Lord Castleton | TV | April 19, 2019 |


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Welcome back, friends. Welcome.

Today we begin the end, together again for six more episodes. We’ve been away from Game of Thrones since August 2017, and what jumped out at me the most upon returning is a profound sense of nostalgia about being back in Westeros. For many of us, it has been a unique destination of escape. A protected realm where we never really know how it’s all going to shake out, but we allow ourselves to fall in love anyway. We have spent the better part of a decade vacationing there, loyally and resolutely on Sunday nights. We have begun our work weeks, mere hours later, often with the taste of shock and horror on our tongues, and absorbed all manner of tweets and posts and articles about Game of Thrones throughout the week, to arrive back on Sunday nights, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, for more love, more intrigue and more carnage.

We stand upon what might be the last great monolith of weekly television in the world. And we have, now, five episodes left. Gather your rosebuds while ye may, but at least for five more weeks, never on Sunday night.

A wise man once said the true history of the world is a history of great conversations in elegant rooms. While I cannot be with each and every one of you in your own elegant rooms, I love the conversation we have together, especially when you comment. So, lurkers who read these deep dives, come out of your Jon Snow love caves and join the Freefolk on the boards. Nothing makes my day more than someone de-lurking because of something I wrote.

It has been a joy and an honor to bring you these deep dives for several years now. I consider myself wildly lucky to have been able to follow my favorite show in its heyday, as it moves past the written George R.R. Martin masterwork and into the unknown. I’ve been delighted to welcome show watchers and book readers alike here under the Pajiba virtual tent, and I hope you’ve had nearly as much fun reading them as I have writing them.

Without further ado, back to Westeros.


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HBO really knows what they have in Game of Thrones. Lady C and I got the kids to bed and turned on HBO early to make sure — perish the thought — that there were no last-minute technical glitches. We caught the newd Targaryan love boat scene from the end of last season and then the fall of the Wall and HBO throws up a countdown timer: The new season begins in 8:20. Whew. I’m amped up. But we have a small house so I can’t let out the Viking battle chant that is growing in my chest.

We coast through a bunch of trailers for upcoming content, and then we get previously ons.

But it’s when the HBO splash screen statics in that I get most excited. We are here. We are back. Everything else has been a prelude. Everything else is from the before time. Now with the HBO logo, we are officially in the world of the new. I remember being in the first audience in my area when Star Wars came back and we were scream-cheering for the LucasFilm logo in our theater.

The new is exhilarating.

And then, the updated title sequence. My jaw is open.

We begin with the image of dragons. It’s emblazoned on what appears to be the gilded ring of the hanging armillary sphere in the Citadel. The title sequence is now featuring less far-flung cities on the map (goodbye forever Meeereeen, and all your e’s I hope) and is focused on the relevant locales interspersed with these new, gilded images. Different than the ones we had seen before.

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The first is a depiction of what appears to be two dragons raining dragonfire down on a city or series of buildings. The first thing that popped into my mind was Harrenhal, where we got to see this amazing dynamic take place:

I seem to remember that place was blackened and ruined from the Mad King and/or his son Rhaegar dropping heat on it. It was the citadel gifted to Petyr Baelish in exchange for his complicity in the demise of Eddard Stark.

No, now that I see it again, it’s most likely Undead Viserion fragging The Wall.

We move on to the map from there and for the first time that I can remember, our point of view is shifted. Our backs are to true North and we’re looking at the Northern side of The Wall. There’s a huge U-shaped hole in it. Ahhh, so that’s how Beric and Tormund survived. They must have been shitting their britches over here.

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We push through The Wall itself, like the army of the dead did, but unlike them and their thousand yard dead-ahead stare, we pan up, tilting to look up the broken side of the wall itself, like entering Shawshank for the first time.

With that we’re through, and now we see a new effect. Ground tiles flip to an ice blue to signify the march of the army of the dead and the Night King’s trajectory. It goes directly for the ancestral fort of House Umber, The Last Hearth. The Last Homely House before you reach the Wall, so to speak.

Then the camera pivots up and spins and I say to Lady C, Is that the Dreadfort? I think we’re at a new location, one which might be in the path of the invaders, but no. It’s still The Last Hearth, and in the very opening of the show, the blue tiles have already reached it.

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Here’s a layout of how the North is setup, for those who may not remember. I thought maybe the Army of the Dead would tool around the larger houses, adding bodies to their mass before descending on Winterfell, but the producers have a different idea.

We fly down, low low to ground level, like Buckbeak when he dragged a knuckle in the water of The Black Lake, heading directly for the seat of power in the North: Winterfell. The camera pivots again in a hard cut and now we are flying backward, up and over the city so that Winterfell reveals itself to us below. We spin around the blooming red Weirwood tree and then, in a new twist, we’re inside the Great Hall. Inside!

The Hall where House Mormont reminded everyone of their duty and both House Manderly and House Glover admitted that they had made a mistake in not joining House Stark for the Battle of the Bastards. Da King in Da Norf still rings in our ears as we now nosedive through the floor where Littlefinger died and where Ser Davos Seaworth told The Red Woman in no uncertain terms that if he ever saw her again he’d kill her, and down below to the sacred burial crypt of the Starks: a dark, lonely, miserable place where Starks go to light candles in silence and brood and feel shitty and hang out with dead statues of people who were once lively and breathing and fun.

We can only really make out one statue down there in the dark. Is it Ned? Is it Lyanna? The statue has one hand out with a candle in it, so it can’t be Ned. His statue features two hands locked solidly on Ice, his Valyrian steel sword that was eventually stolen from him by Tywin Lannister and melted down into two new swords: Widow’s Wail, a sword named by Joffrey Baratheon after being presented to him as a gift at his wedding, and Oathkeeper, a sword made for Jaime Lannister, but gifted to Brienne of Tarth, who named it.

Ooooh. I just came up with an interesting thought about Ice. I’ll get to it later when we get to Jaime.

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So that statue is likely Lyanna, a girl whom we show watchers know so precious little about. All we’ve ever seen is a tiny memory snippet through Bran’s eyes of her wedding, a quick scene of her cantering in the Winterfell courtyard around a young, protesting Ned and Benjen, and then multiple repeat visits to the Tower of Joy, the arena of her demise. The sad, bloody, inevitable death of any mother who births a dragon.

Remember: Daenerys’ mum died at her birth. Jon’s mum dies at his birth. Aaaaaaand the one I keep lighting my own, lonely Stark crypt candle for…Tyrion’s mum, Joanna Lannister, who also died giving birth to him.

We blast past stone Lyanna and back to the astrolabe imagery. This time it appears, to my eye, to be an artist’s rendering of the Red Wedding.

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A lion roars over the scene from the left. In the center, a hung wolf, and to the right what appears to be a Lannister, holding up the severed wolf head. I am not going to dwell on this because I’ll get too angry.

Moving on!

We are now in the air above a city, again with our backs facing Northward. We drop to see Kings Landing appear below us, the Mighty Red Keep overlooking Blackwater Bay, where the Hound left the service of The Lannisters, where Tyrion incinerated the Onion Knight’s son and most of Stannis Baratheon’s fleet. Where Bronn almost faced off with the Hound in a pub before he was sent to Light It All.

We don’t see the Sept of Baelor anywhere as we get low again, and approach the Red Keep from street level, where Cersei was paraded, naked and humiliated, spat upon and pelted with feces. Shame! Shame!

We rise up above the Red Keep. The painted map floor of the open-air atrium is plainly visible as we dive down down down a spiral staircase and into the basements of the superstructure, where the skull of Balerion the Dread, or for book readers, Balerion the Black Dread, appears in front of us, intact and not sullied as a practice dummy for Qyburn’s Scorpion.

Why are we in underground crypts in both locations? What’s the significance of that? No idea at this point, and before we know it we’re up and through, to the floor of the Great Hall, where the Iron Throne itself appears before us. The throne of Cersei Lannister, first of her name, Queen of the Seven Kingdoms. The throne where, years ago, when the Battle of Blackwater Bay raged outside, Cersei sat with a young Tommen on her lap, ready to dose him with a vial of milk of the poppy to kill him if it looked like Stannis would be victorious.

The Lannister Lion is in full view in the stained glass window behind the throne. Interesting because even as recently as last season’s final episode, the Baratheon Sigil still marked King’s Landing. But no more.

We cut to another gilded image, this one at first seemed to be the iconic shot of Drogon burning the wagon train, but as I look at it there are four dragons. And there appears to be a projectile of some kind about to make landfall. Is it a shooting star? I have no idea. Maybe the book readers know. Four dragons? Hmmmm.

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With that, we get the Game of Thrones image and we’re officially in Season 8! Woooooooo hooooooo!

Who is the first person we’ll see? Will it be a closeup of Arya? Will we see Sansa on the parapets? Will Cersei be looking out to sea? Who will be the defining image of season 8?

None of the above.

A small boy is running.

Is this a flashback? A glimpse of a simpler time? Are we in a northern village as the army of the dead attacks?

No, we are outside…

WINTERFELL

…as the Unsullied army marches past. It must be a daunting, horrible visage for these tribalist country bumpkins, to see a vast, disciplined army of foreigners stepping in formation on the well-trod gravel and goatshit paths of the North. As the boy runs, he zips through the crowd and we tilt to a smiling Arya. She’s the first person we see in Season 8 and the only person, according to Lady C, who 100% will not die.

The boy begins scaling a tree to get a better look, and we realize that we’re in a bookend episode. A callback to the very opening of the series. Season 1, Episode 1. Before, it was the Southern King, Robert Baratheon and his escort, now it is the Southern Queen and her army. The climbing boy reminds us of a young Brandon Stark, always trying to get vertical until it cost him his legs.

There have been complaints, in the past, about how seasons 1-6 featured so many travel hangups. The dead moved like eleven feet. ‘Dead comin!’ We yelled for like six years. Gendry rowed forever. The Khaleesi of the Great Grawss sea couldn’t get off Essos. Then in season 7 everyone had teleporters. I get it, but it is what it is so I won’t be spending much time bellyaching about the specifics of the various distances. If you tell me Yara can get Theon to Winterfell in time, I’ll accept it.

So it doesn’t matter when, precisely, Queen Daenerys and John Snoo landed in White Harbor and how the logistics of the armies synced up. They’re here, now, at Winterfell. As the ruddy denizens glare at the newcomers, we see Dany and Jon riding side by side. Arya is elated to finally see him — how long have we waited for them to be reunited? Remember how much Arya wanted to kill Cersei? And in that defining moment at the crossroads, after Hot Pie told her Jon and Bran and Sansa were all at Winterfell? She turned her mare around and headed home. A short but powerful scene to show how much they mean to her, and how desperate she is for her family after half a lifetime of suffering, isolation and hardship.

Now she sees him. Her brother. The person she probably loves most in the whole world. And he’s right there…but the army is marching…he is not scanning the crowd as he rides past…and she opens her mouth to call out but before she can, they are past her.

The reunion will have to wait.

Behind them, the columns of Unsullied in their leather cum quilt attire shuffle past. There were a number of various woolen scarves and gloves and some spandex compression things under their quilted pajamas, but I was struck by how they were pretty much in their basic military attire. You get one of my Los Angeles friends visiting me in Boston on a sunny day in the 50s (say 13° C) and they shiver. That thin Unsullied blood is going to be a challenge in Winterfell.

Arya continues to scan the army and lo, who should appear in the ranks, mounted on horseback, but her old pal, The Hound. One thing that really jumped out at me in my most recent rewatch of GOT is how much I love The Hound. Crazy. Yarp! He’s such a good character. So so so many good lines delivered with perfection by Rory McCann. He should win a hundred Emmys for his scene after he’s beaten by Lady Brienne. What a performance. He also rides past Arya without seeing her.

Behind him, also mounted, is Gendry. Lady C lets out an AWWWWW YEAH because for some reason this is the pair that she is most invested in. Maybe it’s because it still has the whiff of innocence about it. Maybe so many of the other relationships feel somehow tainted. But Arya’s face lights up when she sees her…friend. He who said he’d call her milady. Is there even the suggestion of something more in her smirk? Tough to say. But I love Arya and I’ve been dying to see her happy for years.

I don’t know if it’s me or Maisie Williams or the direction, but going back to the Hot Pie scene, and also the fateful Ed Sheeran scene, as well as her return to Winterfell, I’ve had a really difficult time properly navigating her smirks. I’m a huge fan of the character, despite all the years of staff training and being able to magically stave off sepsis, but the various laughs and smirks sometimes leave me more confused. Maybe that’s the point. I know the smile above the dying Walder Frey was real, and I know most of the Winterfell smiles were real, but she was also smiling in the “all I’d need is your face” Sansa scene. I don’t know. Is it direction? Is it a Maisie Williams range limitation? I’m not sure. But she smiles here at the sight of Gendry and it seems genuine.

Now we’re in a wagon with Tyrion and Varys. Smartypantses apparently get a roof lest the rain spatters the shell around their valuable brains. There’s a quick bit of comedic banter at the expense of The Spider and then we’re on to Grey Worm and Missandei, riding side by side. That’s adorable. They’re both simple to adore because they don’t necessarily have to make any difficult calls. It’s easy to root for them, especially with the nasty looks they’re enduring from the locals. This is a trope I never get tired of. HE’S NOT EVEN FROM ‘ROUND HERE! That’s my second Hot Fuzz reference in three paragraphs but it’s such a universal truth. You have these Northmen and Northwomen. They’re filthy and illiterate and every beard looks like a breeding ground for lice. The women are weathered and banged up and mean looking. And they’re looking down their noses at Missandei? She speaks seventeen languages. BAHAHAHAHA. Clean, gorgeous, wildly intelligent, cultured Missandei who can isolate nuances in High Valyrian has to put up with glares from a bunch of dirt farmers. It’s both a world gone mad and a perfect comparison to the world we live in.

Grey Worm and Missandei share a look at the uncomfortable situation and we move on. Bravo to the on-location casting directors, who are different from the titled ones you see in the credits. They sub all of those out to local teams and in that, they did a marvelous job. What a bunch of mean, hard-looking bastards they had in the crowd. Surly and contemptible. Untrusting and dirty. It almost makes you realize the herculean effort it was for a bastard to unite the clans: clans upon clans upon clans of those hard, unforgiving faces.

“I don’t care if he’s a bastard. Ned Stark’s blood runs through his veins.”

We pull back to see the whole contingent approaching again. Daenerys’ fashion and braid game, which is always on point, is complemented by Jon’s dour fur game. And now we get the first lines of the show as Daenerys watches how the Northerners regard her. Not exactly Alexander entering Egypt to an ocean of thrown flowers.

“I warned you. Northerners don’t much trust outsiders.” He says with a smile.

And Dany is like, yeah, I heard you, but this is even worse than I imagined. These people are awful.

If only she had a way to knock those judgemental looks off of their unwashed faces…

A SHRIEK

As Drogon and Rhaegal, the two remaining — living — dragons, fly overhead, announcing their presence with authority.

The smug Northerners cower and duck, never having seen such a fearsome sight. Women who had been glaring in superiority now scream. Some men turn tail and run. Daenerys smiles. Those are her children. Suck it.

In a glorious shot, the dragons soar over Winterfell itself where a lone figure stands watch on the parapet. The Lady of Winterfell, Sansa Stark. As Drogon and then Rhaegal fly over her, there’s an amazing moment where the light shines through their translucent wings and perfectly matches the color of her hair.

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Sansa stares at them as they fly overhead and it’s tough to read her look. Part of me thought that she was delighted because she’s spent her life hustling and firing off her heels with limited resources and now her team has the most powerful — two of the most powerful — weapons in the world. But that look could also mean that she’s realizing their arrivals means she’s not really the Lady of Winterfell anymore. It could also be an indication that no matter how high she rises, no matter how long she scrapes and fights and survives, there’s always something bigger and meaner and nastier out there coming to possibly kill her.

Now we cut to the arrival in the Winterfell courtyard. I was looking for the two dumbass guards who told Arya to piss off but they weren’t anywhere to be seen. The similarities between the reception in season 8 and the reception of Robert and Cersei in the pilot are no accident.

In Season 1, the episode is called ‘Winter is Coming’ and every aerial shot features green grass as far as the eye can see. In season 8, winter is here, and the world is encased in snow.

As the contingent rides in, Arya is incognito in both scenes, and she watches The Hound ride past in both. In season one he wears that ridiculous Hound armor.

Jon, like Cat Stark before him, asks where Arya is.

Ned tells Robert “Winterfell is yours.” Sansa tells Daenerys “Winterfell is yours.” But in the pilot it was all smiles and warmth and Season 8 Sansa spat the line in ice.

In the crypt in the pilot, a Stark is talking to his big boned best friend. Ditto in the latter.

In the pilot, Ned is briefly speechless as he is made Hand. In season 8 Jon is briefly speechless as his lineage is revealed.

In the pilot, Jaime removes his helmet in Winterfell courtyard and all eyes are on him. In season 8 he removes his hood and no one sees him. Well, almost no one…

Side note: Jaime is no longer blonde. Back in the day when he was a major asshole, he was like a sun god. I read a theory a while back that the farther you move away from the Lannister doctrine, so to speak, the less blonde you get. In season one Tyrion himself had those godawful frosted locks.

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Now, ravaged by time and the fallout from his many poor choices, Jaime has left the Lannister name behind for good. He has no lands, no gold and no right hand. If we extend the analogy, we might say that his last moment as a Lannister was at the end of last season as he slipped a glove over his gold hand. Once he arrives in Winterfell and drops his hood, there isn’t a strand of gold on him. He is dark and bearded, like Tyrion. Life has thrown him curve balls and the evidence is written all over his appearance. I never really thought about it much, but seeing him looking so dark? It makes sense. Also, NCW is hot, yo. Damn.

Getting back to the original point, there are so many designed beats, so many ways the bookends are constructed. I’m sure I’m already forgetting some. But one curious one was the suggestion by Robert to Ned: “You have a son, I have a daughter. We’ll join our houses.” We’ve always, historically, thought that was good king Joff and Sans. But maybe maybe maybe might it be…Arya and Gendry? Eh? Eh?

Anyway, Jon rides into the courtyard and while many viewers will sort of knock Jon for failing up and being generally rather simple of thought, I still absolutely love him. One thing I noticed is that manners and decorum play such a role in the various Westerosi interactions — I especially noticed this when Tyrion went to see Sansa — that it’s refreshing when we get a character who just feels like they’re who they are. Uncomplicated. It’s why I like the Hound.

“Why are you always in such a foul mood Clegane?”

“EXPERIENCE.”

It’s why I loved Ygritte and The Queen of Thorns. Davos is a straight talker. Yara too. It’s also much of the reason I like Jon Snoo. Straight talkers. Straight shooters in a world where everyone is crooked and has ulterior motives.

That, and Kit Harington is an underrated actor. When he sees Bran, he’s off his horse and charging to his brother. Don’t forget that not long ago just outside these very walls, and probably never all that far off to him, he was riding as fast as he could toward Rickon Stark, leaning with all his might to snatch him up and into the safety of his saddle. Now he sees his brother, alive and well, and you can read it all over his face. He rushes off his horse and kisses Bran on the forehead and gives him a look of profound brotherly love. It’s not easy to get facial expressions this right.

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He expects something, anything human in return, but he’s as shocked as Sansa was. As Arya was. Bran is something else entirely. From there Jon bear hugs Sansa. Just makes her vanish in his fur. He’s real. He’s the real deal and yeah he’s not microcoding RNA but he is what he is what he is. Sansa opens her arms to receive him but keeps her eyes wide open and resting on the Breaker of Chains. Jon could have done some kind of more polite, stilted greeting since all eyes were on him and this is more of a state visit moment, but he’s not that guy. He’s a hugger. He’s a kisser. He wears his heart on his sleeve and if you like that, which I do, then you’re still team Jon.

Which is not to say there isn’t room on all of our teams for more people.

Daenerys is a character that people love to hate. In some cases, there are valid criticisms around the depth of her character, the deus ex machina effect of the dragons and how they can clean up any mess, and her desire to break the wheel even when seeming to expect the kind of insta-respect and adoration the wheel is designed to provide. She can be cold in her pursuit of the Iron Throne. She can be single-minded and easily slip into shades of erratic behavior that are reminiscent of the Mad King, or what we as show watchers know of him. She doesn’t work as well as a ruler as much as she does as a conqueror. All of those can be formed into valid knocks against her. A large percentage of the dislike of Daenerys, though, is just straight up misogyny. Usually the person - man or woman - doesn’t even know that’s what’s behind it. We as a species have not yet developed an understanding of ambition in women or female characters which supersedes gender. Man ambition = gud. Woman ambition is what? Bitchy? Shrill? Sexually manipulative? It’s sad when we see it.

For my part, I’ve been exhausted by Dany in the past. During certain seasons she was a bit extra and some of her writing felt one-note. But I’m a fan now. Now because the last thing she did was risk her own life to ride north into the very belly of the beast to save Jon. It takes true courage and true character to make that difficult choice. And she lost a child to do it.

This is not a big enough deal. I cannot stress this enough. We didn’t even glimpse that in this episode, which I’ll chalk up to time constraints. But Daenerys lost a child. She should be a huddled mess in a corner sobbing into a quart of ice cream. She should never really be okay again. But no. She has her chin up, riding north to the vale of death itself. Onward into the valley of death rode the 500! She is viewed with no love and outright scorn by the very people SHE IS RIDING TO SAVE. And she settles in, nervous to meet the sister of her love. She walks up to Sansa and is absolutely lovely. Just charming and sincere. And she’s met with ice. Frigid Stark coldness.

That’s not a knock on Sansa, per se. It’s just a fact. That’s how Sansa is now.

We like to think of Cat Stark as the grand matriarch of House Stark, but Sansa Stark, that giggling teen who for many seasons was a cork on an ocean, a victim of circumstance, pawn in other people’s games, is now the hardest mind in the North. And she has one ironclad rule: you will not burn her again. For that reason, everyone is a threat. Every smile hides danger. She learned every one of Littlefinger’s mental tricks before she snuffed his lying ass out.

It hasn’t been all that long since Sansa herself was escaping through the snow outside these very walls with Ramsey’s hounds on her trail. Now she has safety and she’ll keep it at any cost. She wasn’t technically rude to her queen, but she’s laconic and guarded and she has every goddamn reason to be. She didn’t pick this woman. She didn’t bend the knee. The North is the North for a reason. She will do her duty and honor Jon’s decision, but she doesn’t have to like it. Especially when she has personal reservations about Jon’s level of intellect and ability to command.

A few short seasons ago, Sansa would routinely turn up among the least liked characters. Now she is among the best loved. Sansa Stark survived evil in many forms. Years ago, as a child away from her home and her family, she was naive and trusting. But that girl is long gone and only a wily veteran remains. Many people can relate to that. They see the truth that they couldn’t or wouldn’t see even a few years ago. In that way, many of us have become facsimiles of Sansa Stark and her voyage. We have felt burned. Don’t come at Sansa Stark with smiles. She has seen them all. Sansa Stark has lived through dangers that would turn your hair white. Like Tyrion says later, most people underestimated her. And now they’re dead.

I admire Sansa. And I admire Daenerys. I love Game of Thrones and we have five episodes left. Despite their various imperfections, or possibly because of them, I’m thrilled by them all.

I just wish there was a minute for Sansa and Daenerys to compare stories. They have both been sold like brood mares, as Dany would say. They have been imprisoned and enslaved. They have both lost loved ones. They have both overcome staggering odds to be where they are. One wishes that there was a way for these characters to reach past decorum and find some shared respect inside of their experiences. In the masculine world, it’s the version of The Hound and Tormund nodding to each other after they captured the wight. They are bound by the shared action, as Sansa and Daenerys might be bound by a common suffering. They both came through hell. Maybe they just need to fight together.

Much of this episode and much of the dynamic between Jon and Sansa deals with their varying styles of leadership and whom to trust. Sophie Turner commented at a Comic Con that she didn’t tell Jon about the Knights of the Vale because she wanted all of the credit and the last minute arrival makes for better TV. And that she also has concerns about Jon’s intellect and leadership ability. Those are her words.

I think there’s a valid argument in opposition to Sansa’s current position which might look like WELL, WHAT’S YOUR PLAN? Jon went to get allies and he’s brought back the biggest army the world has ever seen and two dragons to boot. Worth a pat on the back or nah?

Sansa’s Original Mission: Find a way, somehow, to give us a chance to defeat an army of the Boltons. Do whatever you need to to bring more men and give us a chance at victory.

Judgement: Mission accomplished! It was Sansa’s ability to pull the 4 to 5 thousand Knights of the Vale to her cause which won the battle. Jon would have been dead.

Jon’s Mission: Find a way, somehow, to give us a chance to defeat an army of the dead. Do whatever you need to bring more men and give us a chance at victory.

Judgement: What a dick! He gave up his crooown! (Read in Groundskeeper Willie’s voice)

The fact is that when Robb Stark summoned all the banners in the North to him it came to about 18,000 men. That’s every house in the North.

The Army of the Dead is rumored to already be up over 100,000.

Jon brings in roughly 50-60 THOUSAND mounted Dothraki Screamers. An army so fierce that it used the Lannister Army — up til that point the gold standard of military excellence in Westeros — as target practice. It wasn’t even a battle.

He also brings in roughly 10,000 Unsullied warriors.

He also brings in two full-grown dragons. Who spit fire.

And lastly, he mines, transports and forges weapons out of the ONLY material that can beat the enemy.

But he still has to endure Sansa’s questioning? And the ire of the Northmen?

People can say Jon is dim. He certainly showed it at the Battle of the Bastards when he fell directly into the jaws of Ramsay’s trap. But Sansa hid her plan from him. Conversely, he’s been open and honest with her the whole time. And he has his eye firmly on the ball. I’ve seen a lot of people making fun of Da King In Da Norf and I just don’t get it. Dude is the shield that guards the realms of men. Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. This isn’t some schmuck who was given anything. He’s had to cut through hell in his own right to get where he is and he knows better than anyone how close they are to losing it all.

Sansa doesn’t know because Sansa can’t know. She has spent her entire adult life living inside of one paradigm: trying to find safety. And she knows that she has it in Winterfell. As a family, they ascended this impossible incline to reclaim their family home only to give it away? She is still living in the world of the Game of Thrones. Of noble houses and sigils and banners.

Of the three main leaders in the episode, she is the only one who hasn’t seen and fought the army of the dead. She has no idea about what’s coming for her.

Remember that moment when Ramsay lures Jon out into the middle of the field and they shoot down his horse and he realizes that he’s a dead man. It’s the iconic Jon Snoo moment. So he drops his scabbard and double fists Longclaw and gets ready to fight the charging Karstark heavy cav.

Sansa is alone in the middle of the field right now, she just doesn’t know it yet. No one can understand something as abstract as an army of zombies marching toward you. She wasn’t in King’s Landing to see the wight. It’s not her fault. She’s operating at a high level, being an excellent lady of Winterfell, holding everyone and everything together. She just doesn’t know how weak they really are compared to the foe that stalks them.

I hope it’s coming across that these are all amazing and failed characters. Like all of us, they are imperfect. But they have all had their ups and downs and they are generally well drawn and interesting. I love them all.

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One other note on the greeting in the courtyard. There’s a shot of Lyanna Mormont, Yohn Royce and little Ned Umber. Lyanna Mormont is growing up and she’s no longer the hard ass little buttkicker from Bear Island. Now she’s a teen, and she scowls like a cougar with a thorn in its paw. Goddamn she scowls. Wide eyed in every scene like you just talked shit ‘bout her mama.

And she is glaring at Daenerys who is standing alongside Jorah Mormont. That is a reunion that we just didn’t see.

Jorah sold people into slavery and disgraced House Mormont. His father, Jeor, took the black as punishment. Ned Stark was riding to behead Jorah but he escaped and made his way to Essos where he latched on with a purty young thing who would eventually be the Mother of Dragons, the Unburnt, and the Breaker of Chains. And the Khaleesi of the great grawss sea.

Lyanna Mormont is looking right at him and she has no idea who he is. She wasn’t born yet. He’s not on her radar. She would have known stories about his disgrace, but it’s doubtful that she’d know him by sight and also put him mentally back in Winterfell.

So Daenerys is polite, Sansa is abrupt and then the whole charade is broken up in Season 8 in a way it never could have been in Season One. The Three Eyed Raven barks out.

“We don’t have time for this. The Night King has your dragon. He’s one of them now. The Wall has fallen. The dead march south.”

HIYO! BUZZKILL MUCH? We were just about to get an old school Cersei with a goblet of wine style catfight here and the weird brother has to chime in?

OH! YOU MUST BE THE BROTHER. I’M DELIGHTED TO MEET YOU. WHAT A BARKY VOICE YOU HAVE. I’VE HEARD STORIES ABOUT THE PROUD, INTERRUPTY MEN OF THE NORTH BUT ITS A TRUE THRILL TO SEE IT FIRSTHAND.

Dany and Jon look immediately worried. Not nearly worried enough that her child is now a zombie, but whatever. Sansa looks like she’s slightly embarrassed about Bran. Like “he’s a little off, sorry.”

RUPRECHT! DO YOU WANT THE GENITAL CUFF?

A word on the body who used to be Brandon Stark. First of all, you’d think that people who are planning anything might, I don’t know, sort of tap into the fact that they have an omniscient deity who can see past present and future in their midst. Maybe ask him a few things? How does this battle turn out? Port into the future and tell us what we do to turn the tide? What tricks is the Night King planning?

I’ve personally had a hard time trusting the artist formerly known as Bran. I read a fan theory at some point saying he was the Night King and I’ve had a difficult time disproving it in my own mind, or eliminating it as a possibility entirely.

When, for example, the three-eyed raven tells Sam to tell Jon about his parents, later in the episode? He’s like A) I’m not his brother. Flat out not that guy. And B) now’s the time to tell him.

I was like ARE YOU KIDDING? Now’s the worst time to tell him! We’re all rolling in one direction here, dude. Why muck up the works? I was like who is the Three-Eyed Raven actually working for and why is now the quote-unquote right time?

I don’t trust the dude who used to be Bran. He gets a pass because he used to be a Stark. He said he remembers what it was like to be Brandon Stark but he’s not a Stark anymore. It’s the ultimate body snatch and I don’t know who we’re really dealing with here. I have no understanding that the Max Von Sydow Three-Eyed Raven was one of the “good guys.” And that worries me because as I said earlier, I’ve got a little Sansa in me and in the words of Pete Townshend I won’t get fooled again. We may have an interloper in plain sight, made to seem ‘lesser than’ and innocuous because of the wheelchair.

But let’s assume he’s still on the right team. How about, oh I don’t know…

Where is the army of the dead now, exactly?
Do we have time to send anyone back to The Last Hearth?
How many zombies are in the army of the dead?
How many white walkers are in the army of the dead?
How many thralls are tied to each white walker?
What is the best location to meet the army of the dead in a battle to give us the best chance of victory?
Do you see any other armies, saaaaaay the Lannisters, marching north to join us?
How will the Night King plan to use zombie Viserion?
How long does a body need to be dead before the Night King can rez it? Because last time I checked the CRYPTS UNDER THE CASTLE ARE FULL OF DEAD STARKS AND ARE WE GONNA HAVE TO KILL ZOMBIE CATELYN? AND JESUS CHRIST JUST UNDER THE SNOW LAYERS ARE THOUSANDS OF DEAD UMBERS AND KARSTARKS AND ANY NUMBER OF NORTHMEN. THOUSANDS OF THEM. Can the Night King rez them? Or is there an expiration date?
Will Daenerys turn into the Mad Queen?

I mean, I’m just spitballing here, but why are they not using the Bran Stark Almanac? AGH! I feel like I’m taking crazy pills. And don’t tell me that oh Lord C, you sweet sweet summer child, that’s not how it works! He sees everything at all times! Yeah? Well he was just pretty clear and salient about a few key bullet points. You’re telling me he sees all? Fine. You’re telling me it doesn’t work that way? Fine. But I want to see someone finding that out for realz. I want to see someone, anyone, asking the goddamn questions. What if the tide is about to turn and then the Night King, that dumbass looking accountant from last season, just rezzes everyone who died in the Battle of the Bastidges? What if he can rez all the dead Stannis soldiers that Ramsey beat? That’s not far from here either! Should they be pouring pine tar on those fields to burn them beforehand? CAN WE HAZ A PLAN?

Whew. Okay. Sorry, I’m just scared. I hate dead people who, y’know, aren’t dead. I’m still not recovered from Hardhome. When that cool ass Wildling chieftain lady, Karsi, got bumrushed by all those dead kids with hollow eye sockets? That was terrifying. And then she opens her blue eyes and now she’s marching on Winterfell with like fifty giants. And maybe Stannis’ dead army and his dead wildlings? Certainly, every dead Night’s Watch Crow who died when the wall came down. They’re all coming. Definitely the zombie Lord of Bones. Remember how badass just one Wun Wun was? They’ve got enough Wun Wuns to fill an NFL 53 man roster. Why are we complaining about Targaryens? Someone’s gonna feed us our ass over here!

Now we’re in the great hall. Sansa has called back every banner in the North to retreat to Winterfell. Apparently no word from Clan Umber. She summons little Ned Umber, who is adorable, and then sends him to his death. I’m just saying. The Three Eyed Raven is sitting right there. Could he maybe have coughed loudly or something? I mean, sheesh.

Jon comments that they need to send ravens to the Night’s Watch as well. There’s no sense in manning the castles anymore.

Goddamn that’s sad. Remember the oath?

Hear my words and bear witness to my vow.
Night gathers, and now my watch begins.
It shall not end until my death.
I shall take no wife, hold no lands, father no children.
I shall wear no crowns and win no glory.
I shall live and die at my post.
I am the sword in the darkness.
I am the watcher on the walls.
I am the shield that guards the realms of men.
I pledge my life and honor to the Night’s Watch, for this night and all the nights to come.

And now, they are no more. Now their watch has ended.

For like eight thousand years they have manned the Wall, but the Wall is no more. I know it was just a small, throwaway line, but it hit me hard. Night gathers, indeed.

Next Lyanna Mormont has her speech that Jon isn’t even a your grace anymore. She doesn’t know what he is. He has to stand up and try to explain, in like eleven words, that they’re all gonna die and that titles and all that bullshit doesn’t matter. They don’t buy it. After all, logic is fer folk with dangeruss things like book learnin. Goddamn North. There is no tougher mistress than The North. And there’s no convincing her she’s wrong until death starts to rain down upon her.

Sansa eyes Jon. She agrees with the Bannermen. Bringing this bottle blonde from the south really complicates things…

The tide is against Jon, so who better to talk to the masses than Tyrion Lannister? Goddamn I love my boy Tyrion, but he has been taking it on the chin for years now. Years! What do Northmen know about Tyrion Lannister?

He tried to kill Bran Stark
He got away with it because he cheated at a fight in the Eyrie.
He killed King Joff. With poison. A coward’s tool. I mean, they don’t care but there was a trial and everything and he lost. He tried to cheat again but his champion lost, which pretty much proves the gods were against him.
Then he killed his own father! What are we even talking about? He’s a monster!
Then he somehow escaped again only to turn up as the hand of a foreign queen.
He’s known the world over for his gluttony, avarice, drunkenness and sexual appetites.
He’s a goddamn LANNISTER. The worst scum in the known world. Liars and thieves all. And he may be the worst one. He might also be boning his sister because who’s to say where the lines are with dirty pigs like the Lannisters?
He’s a dwarf. And everyone knows they’re not to be trusted. (I’m guessing. Seems like the kind of evolved country wisdom that might pervade the North.)

But yes, by all means Tyrion, just jump right in. You probably won’t mess this up.

AHEM, GENTLEMEN, IF I MAY…

He does exactly what I do. He lists all the things Jon has done. Two dragons, people! And then he claims that the Lannister army is riding north. They scoff. Lyanna Mormont looks like she wants to use him as kindling. It’s not helping.

Sansa flashes a look. How can Jon be this gullible?

And here’s where Sansa pipes up. She has choices here, but she’s mad and frustrated and so she addresses Tyrion, whom she can abuse without losing face, but she’s really talking to her dim brother and his enabler, the Breaker of Da Chainz.

“May I ask.” She rings out. “How are we meant to feed the greatest army the world has ever seen? While I ensured our stores would last through winter, I didn’t account for Dothraki or Unsullied or two full grown dragons. What do dragons eat, anyway?”

You love Sansa. I love Sansa. But this is exactly the shit she used to pull before Jon went away. Don’t air your dirty laundry in public. She is stoking the fire. But she’s pissed and she’s confident that she’s the smartest person in the room and she has single-handedly ensured the survival of the north by requisitioning grain. But this speech is insolent and Daenerys knows it. What do dragons eat?

“Whatever they want.” She says.

Don’t trifle with me, girl. I don’t care whose sister you are. She flashes her a look. Walk this thin ice at your personal peril.

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There’s a brief scene where we establish that the mined wagons of dragonglass have indeed arrived in the North and that master smith bastard Gendry (Baratheon) is the bauce of the forging. He catches a wayward nodule of glass. Don’t lose a single piece, gents. We need every bit.

And whooosh, we’re on to Tyrion. He’s looking across the ramparts at his wife. Sansa Stark. The Lady of Winterfell. He makes his way over to her, greets Lord Yohn Royce and Sansa, and she nods the Vale knight away. She’s fine. Royce doesn’t even stoop to greet the Lannister.

Now, I’m more invested in this pairing. Forced as it was, I think Tyrion has some genuine emotion toward her. I don’t know for certain if there’s anything in the other direction. Sansa has endured such atrocities that I don’t even know if she could find the capacity to open herself up like that anytime soon. But I was rooting for this reunion. And I came away slightly disappointed.

They exchange pleasantries about their new titles.

“The Lady of Winterfell. It has a nice ring to it.”

“So does Hand of the Queen.”

Ahh, so this will be polite, then?

“Depending on the queen, I suppose.”

Ah. Okay then. Maybe not. Perhaps some common ground? To remind her of their shared bond, and y’know…that they’re married.

“The last time we spoke was at Joffrey’s wedding. Miserable affair.”

“It had its moments.”

HOT DAMN GIRL! POINT SANSA STARK. HOLY SHIT.

Then she studies him for a second, and turns to leave? The blocking is confusing. She walks away while saying “apologies for leaving like that.”

“Yes” Tyrion agrees, “it was a bit hard to explain why my wife fled moments after the king’s murder.”

17 words Sansa. But the key word is WIFE. Just hear WIFE.

Sansa shrugs it off. “We both survived.”

Tyrion nods.

“Many underestimated you. Most of them are dead now.”

Sansa raises her chin in pride. She deserves that compliment. I’m reminded of the moment she smiled in the same way, as she walked away from a screaming Ramsay Bolton being devoured by his own hounds.

Now she moves back toward the courtyard wall again, but this time on the other side of him. I really detest blocking like this. Nine times out of ten its a director panicking because he or she has a scene with two people talking and it’s visually static and they feel the need to move things around a little. Just to give the eye some play. I certainly don’t think there was a reason for her to cross behind, turn and reposition herself on the other side of him other than that.

“I’m sure you weren’t thrilled to hear the Lannister army is marching north. You have every right to be fearful of my sister. No one fears her more than I do, but I promise you-“

They have Tyrion’s voice over Sansa’s image. We’re watching her listen to him, while looking out across Winterfell. I was struck at that moment by how regal she looked. How calm and serene and wise. Eyes capturing the light and looking translucent and grey. Eyes that have seen so much. And she just stands there, stone still, and takes it all in. What a marvelous character.

She interrupts him.

“Cersei told you her army was coming north, to fight for you. And you believed her?”

“Er…uh…um…She has something to um live for…”

She has locked horns in this scene with one of the great, witty, cutting minds of Westeros. A man who spent his life reading every book he could get his hands on. But she has endured and now through experience and pain, she is his equal. And unlike him, she knows women and she understands Cersei Lannister on a molecular level. Sansa Stark’s unofficial life tutors are Cersei Lannister, Margaery Tyrell, Olenna Tyrell, Joffrey Baratheon, Tyrion Lannister, Petyr Baelish and Ramsay Bolton. She is unflappable. She knows all the tricks. She outmaneuvered Littlefinger so well that the man who thinks about EVERY SINGLE POSSIBILITY and plays it out in his mind, never saw her coming. Sansa has arrived.

She turns, squaring her shoulders to him for the first time and looking down. With a tiny, almost imperceptible shake of her head, to fend off the surprise at his gullibility, she addresses him.

“I used to think you were the cleverest man alive.”

And with that she raises her chin and walks away.

Oof.

In the same way my hackles are up about the former Brandon Stark, I worry that Tyrion might also be a monster in plain sight.

GRRM called him “the villain” in an interview at some point. And, bookreaders correct me if I’m wrong, but I think he has the most POV chapters in all the books.

So he’s a big deal.

To the author, anyway.

Yet, for several seasons now, he’s been a dumbass. A man who was so clever as the Hand of the King. I’ve heard whispers from book readers about a series of betrayals or “treasons” that Daenerys was supposed to suffer and that he may be one of them.

Is he that duplicitous? Yes, probably. I mean, in the wight scene in King’s Landing, he gets pissed at Jon because Da King In Da Norf doesn’t know how to lie.

I love Tyrion. He may be my favorite character. But is there a lurking thread here that we’re not seeing?

There are quite a few unanswered Tyrion questions…like how did the Lannisters know that The Unsullied were headed for The Rock? Varys says they know we’re coming. But how? And the bulk of Lannister forces, including Tyrion’s brother, are conveniently absent when the Unsullied come calling? Hmmm.

Remember how Tyrion looked when he was surveying the aftermath of the wagon train battle, where all the Lannister forces got turned to ash? Hmmm.

What did Tyrion agree to in that room, off camera, with Cersei? How did he get the most poisonous viper in Westeros to agree to an alliance? (Even if she never meant it). I had always assumed he had offered that her child would be in the line of succession since Dany can’t have children. (Supposedly.)

And that when he was spying on Jon Snoo and Khaleesi when they were in the Fornication Suite on the love cruise that his brow was knit with worry because if she were somehow knocked up then his plan to put Cersei’s baby on the Iron Throne would be foiled. But maybe not? Hmmmm

Is there some form of betrayal brewing with Tyrion? Man, I hope not. In this episode it certainly made him look like he believed that the Lannisters were coming. What would be the sense to out himself as a fool to the moot and then again to Sansa if it is all just smoke and mirrors? Hmmm.

If we judge Tyrion by the job he’s doing as Hand of the Queen, he’s probably like a C or C-.
If we judge Tyrion by the job he’s doing protecting the Lannisters from the Queen? He’s an A+.

I’m not sure. Food for thought.

What really worries me is that when Sansa walks away, the Three Eyed Raven is staring up at Tyrion like he knows. He knows the arrangement Tyrion made with Cersei and he knows what’s coming. He was in that room. He’s in every room. And that look says he knows and Tyrion’s look back says “oh shit, he knows” which further worries me. God I hope I’m wrong.

ARYA AND JON

I have watched this scene an absurd amount of times. I did a piece a while back asking what victory in GOT looks like to you. What needs to happen for you to feel satisfied on some level. For some it was Jon riding a dragon. For others it was Daenerys on the Iron Throne. For others it was all the living Stark kids making it back home. If that was your goal, this scene was a true joy.

It starts with Jon spinning as someone is magically behind him. No one sneaks up on John Snow! He was the commander of Castle Black. He eats breakfast three hundred yards from four thousand Cubans trained to kill him! Nevertheless, she did.

“How did you survive a dagger through the heart?” She asks him.

He smiles. “I didn’t.”

And then we get a real smile from Arya and she runs to her brother and into his arms. My god it’s wonderful.

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HOW LONG HAVE WE WAITED FOR THIS? How many times was this moment robbed from us in various ways. When Arya got stabbed in the gut and fell into a sewer? When Jon was a crow in Mance’s camp and they wanted to peel him? When little shithead Olly betrayed his commander? When Jon disappeared under the water when Viserion died? How many times was this not ever ever ever going to happen?

It’s magical.

This is probably the closest you’ll ever see to Jon Snow actually crying. Tears of joy. How wonderful, even as death itself beats a drum toward Winterfell. At least they have this moment.

And then they fall right back into it. She still has the sword he gave her. Remember when she almost dropped it into the water outside the House of Black and White? But now it has a name. He admires it.

“Have you ever used it?”

Oh Jon. Oh poor sweet innocent little Jon. She’s probably one of the few people in the known world who could take you straight up.

“Once or twice.” She says. Pain in her eyes.

What she’s endured. My goodness. And now she can’t tell her brother that she’s a primeval, faceless global assassin. I mean, she did sneak up on him, on he who cannot be sneakethed up upon. You’d think he’d put two and two together.

He pulls his sword. She admires it and for a second is probably the only human being in the known world in possession of two Valyrian steel blades. And then it all comes rushing back. The playfulness. The banter.

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He pokes fun at Sansa, like they always used to do together.

But something has changed. Arya doesn’t roll with it.

“She’s the smartest person I’ve ever met.”

HOOOOOOO BOOYYYYYYYY.

Um, you sure about that? Because you used to bring bowls of kaiser rolls to good ol Tywin Lannister. Sansa is smarter than Tywin Lannister? Is she? I mean, she did outthink Littlefinger. Well, the line struck me pretty hard when she said it, like “the writers really really want us to know that Sansa is now smart.” Smort. Noice. But I guess there’s some evidence to back it up.

And it’s not like Arya has been kicking it in the Citadel. She never met The Queen of Thorns, or Lord Varys. She never met Ser Davos or Oberyn Martell or Margaery Tyrell or Missandei or any maesters. She’s spent most of her time kicking it with Jaqen H’ghar and this genius:

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So yeah, maybe it’s true. Is Sansa now smarter than Cat was? Is she smarter than Ned? I suppose she probably is. But Tywin? I don’t know.

Jon can’t believe that Arya, of all people, is defending Sans.

“She’s just defending her family.”

“I’m her family too.” Jon grunts.

Arya goes back in for another hug.

“Don’t forget that.”


KINGS LANDING

We’re out of the North and into the sunny shores of King’s Landing, where Cersei watches Euron ferry home the Golden Company.

Qyburn walks up and tells Cersei that he has terrible news. The dead have broken through the wall.

“Good.” Cersei says.

I can’t remember a line that made me want to spit more than that one. Good? Are you crazy? Ugh. I detest Cersei. Some of my favorite Pajiba writers love her though. She horrifies me. I mean, I can appreciate her survival instinct and her willpower in a single-minded-willing-to-commit-atrocities-to-stay-in-power kind of way. But holy shit she’s a devil.

Good.

Ugh. Repellant.

Even Qyburn, a lifelong miscreant and dark wizard straight from Barad-dûr, is shocked when she says that. How awful must you be to make Qyburn clutch his pearls? I actually kind of like Qyburn these days. Damn this shoooooooowwwww!

Speaking of repellant…

Now we’re on board the H.M.S. Douchebag with Urine Greyjoy. I groan aloud.

This is a scene where Urine establishes that he’s carrying the Golden Company. A collection of mercenaries from Essos, funded by the Iron Bank, whom we have zero emotional attachment to. And they’re now working for Cersei.

I swear I read somewhere, several years ago, that The Golden Company was founded by exiled Targaryen loyalists with the goal of bringing a Targ back to power. But maybe they’re basically the Second Sons now. No idea, and more importantly, I don’t care.

Urine pops in on a tied up Yara. They talk about nothing but Yara does mention that he picked the wrong horse. The losing side she calls it. Urine doesn’t care, because he’s a disgusting pig and he wants to bang Cersei. In that, he’s not alone. There are a couple people in the Pajiba writers room who wouldn’t mind a little roll in the hay with her. I love them, but I don’t understand them.

The fact that Urine does, in fact, lay with the Queen of the Seven Kingdoms, is poetic, I suppose. I would have almost preferred to watch the Sand Snakes, but okay. I suppose they deserve each other. And you have to admire Cersei’s instincts. She had to throw him a line of some sort. A down payment, so to speak, to keep him tethered to her.

I have grave misgivings about anything and everything Cersei says, so to me the suggestion of a pregnancy is…suspicious. But if she is indeed with child, and Jaime is gone, having the King of the Iron Isles as a cover story certainly can’t hurt.

The real takeaway from this whole sordid stack of scenes is that Cersei almost broke into tears when she didn’t get her elephants.

And I have hated, I mean hated Pilou Asbæk’s performance as Euron Greyjoy because he’s so often over the top, but his delivery in the throne room when they mentioned that they lost some men on the way? It was chef kiss perfect.

“They cheated at dice! Or maybe I cheated. (pause) Someone cheated. They weren’t good fighters. You won’t miss them.”

It’s so hard to pull off jokes like that. There’s no straight man. That’s all him, baby! I was so impressed and it made me kind of pissed that we haven’t seen much range from him because my friends tell me he was great in ‘Borgen’.

“You’re insolent. I’ve executed men for less.”
← Hell of a brag by the way. Jesus.
“They were lesser men.”
BOOM! CIRCLE GETS THE SQUARE! URINE GREYJOY, EVERYBODY.

Okay fine. She nods him over. Fine. Today is your lucky day, pirate.

Okay upon rewatching, it wasn’t as bad as I thought. Like the purple noseblood of good king Joff’s wedding, it had its moments.

But we’re about to take a steep drop.

We’re in a King’s Landing brothel. Ser Bronn of the Blackwater is about to have sex with three naked prostitutes. Oh man. Hot?

Noooooo. Not hot.

This is an exposition scene, where the writers try to I.V. information to you without having you get fed up and turn the channel. And what better way to distract you than to just show people, multiple beautiful people and Jerome Flynn, having sex?

This scene was shite. Talk about the “It’s not Porn, it’s HBO parody.’ Jesus.

But here’s the information you’re supposed to glean from it:

— Bunch of Lannisters got kilt. Bunch more got burned up.
— One of them was probably Ed Sheeran, who has no eyelids.
— Bronn brags about his exploits to prostitutes.
— They don’t care.
— Qyburn is a hoot “Poor girl. The pox will take her within the year.” Bronn: which girl?!
— Cersei wants Bronn to kill Jaime and Tyrion with the crossbow Tyrion used to kill Tywin.

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Cersei isn’t an idiot. There’s zero chance Bronn kills the only two people he actually likes, and more importantly, the only two who like him.

I’m guessing Cersei just wants him gone. He can’t be trusted.

There’s another brief, post coitus scene in Cersei’s bedchamber where, again, Urine is surprisingly not horrible. She complains again about elephants. He promises to put a prince in her belly. It’s nice adjacent.

While he’s a-courtin’ the queen, his mute crew, (featuring cameos from Rob McElhenney and Martin Starr), are shot through the eyes with arrows. Yara sits up as Theon Greyjoy opens the door. He’s come to save her, when no one else would. Just like she did for him. When he cuts her free, she headbutts him, I’m guessing for when he dove overboard. Then she helps him up and we see them on the open sea with three ships.

There’s a very moving moment when they’re trying to plan their next move. Yara is advocating sailing for home. Theon mentions Winterfell. And she realizes the longing in his eyes, even though he says she’s his queen and he’ll do what she commands.

You want to fight for the Starks?

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And then there’s this great look in his eyes. Jesus, Alfie Allen. You made me care about Theon again? How is that possible? A Greyjoy! The rats of the sea. And I’m getting misty as Theon becomes a man and longs to right his wrongs in the eyes of his long dead, adopted father. Jon’s words clearly echoing in his mind: You’re a Greyjoy and you’re a Stark. You don’t have to choose.

But he has. In his heart, he has.

“Go.” Yara, the best sister ever, says. “What is dead may never die, but kill the bastards anyway.”

Wow. So moving. I never thought I’d give two shits about the Dothraki of the water again.

BACK NORTH

Refugees continue to pour into Winterfell. This time it’s young Alys Karstark, the girl Jon refused to punish for her brother’s treachery.

We see them over the shoulder of the three smartest men in Winterfell. Tyrion, Varys and The Onion Knight. Tyrion makes fun of his sigil and Ser Davos agrees with him. I take it back. Tyrion isn’t my favorite, Ser Davos is. He’s a beaut. I mean, actually — Arya is. And of course Jon. Jon the most for sure above all others and then Sansa and Arya tied. But Davos is higher than them. And Tyrion is the most. And Jaime. And wait, also Brienne. She’s up there. Right at the top with the Hound, whom I love. But not as much as Samwise Tarly. How do you not love Sam? I mean, come on!

It doesn’t matter. They’re all great.

Deep breath.

This is when the worry comes back. This is when the words of Ramsay Bolton ring in my ears:

“If you think this has a happy ending, you haven’t been paying attention.”

Pouring one out for Iwan Rheon. What a performance.

But that’s where we are, isn’t it? Five episodes left and it’s us in the middle of the field with the Karstark Calvary bearing down on us. We’re hoping against hope for a final season that we can stomach, but isn’t that just playing right into their hands?

We can’t even trust our own favorite characters. Any one of them could break our hearts.

Which is why, when the three brains are talking in the ramparts, Davos suggesting a formal proposal of marriage to unite the concerns of the North, it was Varys’ words that hurt the most.

Nothing lasts.

Come June, there will never be a new ‘Game of Thrones’ episode again. We will never wonder about what will happen in the finale because we will know. We will never wonder who won the Game of Thrones. We will know. All of this beauty will vanish. You won’t waste hours of your day reading insanely long recaps and I won’t spend days writing them. We will all diminish and go into the West. This thing we love is fading, and maybe Season 8 episode one is the final glimmer of hope before the entire house of cards comes crashing down.

I look at the image of Tyrion, Davos and The Spider watching lovebirds Jon and Daenerys from above. It’s charming to see young love. For me, it’s a bit rough because I was really taken with Ygritte, and it’s hard to imagine Jon happy with someone else. I don’t know that I’ve ever really believed or bought into the relatively chemistry-free relationship between the Targs. But young love is nice. Love is beautiful. And it’s a testament to the power of love that two people can look in each other’s eyes with a horde of undead marching toward them.

But Varys is correct. Nothing lasts.

Now we’re with Jon and Dany, walking. I’ve never been a huge fan of Emilia Clarke’s acting chops, but she can really nail a line from time to time and she’s come a long way over the years.

“Your sister doesn’t like me.” She says, and looks to Jon, hoping to be wrong.

There’s a lot of vulnerability in that expression. It’s great. And Jon tries to mollify her by saying that she didn’t like him either. Then we see the Khaleesi take the place of a girl with hurt feelings, and she gets that look in her eye.

“She doesn’t have to like me, but I am her queen.”

Fire.

“If she can’t respect me-”

DRACARYS!

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But she doesn’t have time to finish the thought because a few of her primary Dothraki trash riders trot in. I really loathe this guy. Every time I see him I want to punch the spray bronzer off his smug face. He’s the one who took Longclaw from Jon when he landed on Dragonstone and surrendered his weapons. Talk about insolence. It still pisses me off.

He reports that the dragons are barely eating.

Why?

“They don’t like the North.” Daenerys says.

I wonder why? Mayyyyybe…oh, I don’t know….because it’s full of judgemental pricks?

So they walk up on the Dragons, with the CGI wildly fluctuating in quality, and Dany pats Drogon. And then something fun happens: Rhaegal cranes his head to Jon and is like WHAT ABOUT ME? Like a dog. It’s about as cute as dragons can be.

Daenerys climbs aboard Drogon. Tally ho! She looks down at Jon, who honestly isn’t all that comfortable with dragons and says “go on.”

Jon looks at her and then at Rhaegal and says.

“I don’t know how to ride a dragon.”

I don’t know why but it made me laugh. Maybe it was the boyish delivery. Innocent. Maybe it was the way he surprised me by putting the emphasis on the word ‘dragon’ instead of ‘know’ or ‘ride’. But he’s a huckleberry and he flops on, grabs on for his dang life and we’re off! It’s kind of cool that he’s riding a dragon named after his father.

And then we get Disney’s version of ‘Game of Thrones’.

Lady C hated it. She really didn’t like Jon being used as comic relief. She wants him brooding and serious and regal and always near or at death’s door. I didn’t mind it. It’s a bit of fun, even if it’s basically stolen directly from Disney’s Cars movie when Sally takes Lightning McQueen on a wild ride to (and past) a waterfall.

It’s CGI fun, and it establishes that Jon can now ride a dragon, something that was a victory condition for many people.

You’d think Dany might pause and wonder how. But maybe she thinks she’s so plugged in with her children that they’ll forego the hard and fast ONLY TARGARYENS RIDE rule to hook up her boytoy. Characters whistle past the graveyard a lot on this show.

But now, with Jon riding in plain sight, it’s not only Dany that should put two and two together. There are some smart people watching him ride. People like Tyrion Lannister, who has read every book in the kingdom, including the ones that say only Targaryens can ride. People like the Spider, who knows the Targaryen lore.

And incidentally - if only Targs can ride, does that make the Night King a Targ? The first Targaryen? Call sign Targ1?

So they land and they make out and Jon looks over at Drogon, who is watching him like a hawk. I got a belly laugh out of it. It landed for me. Other people, I know, didn’t love it. It’s okay. I thought it was great and masterful CGI. How hard is it to forge a joke out of what amounts to a tennis ball on a stick? Pretty amazing.

Anyway, there’s not a lot to say about this scene, only that it’s so glittery and wonderful that it feels more like a punctuation on the end of a sentence than the beginning of another.

Nothing. Lasts.

Ned Stark always promised that Winter was coming. And this time, the dead come with it. So we cut to Gendry, hard at work in the Winterfell forges. They are hammering weapons. They are tapping out barbed dragonglass arrowheads out of forms. It’s a whole operation. Thank goodness Gendry is there and has become a master at his craft.

We see this when the Hound shows up to collect his custom made dragonglass battleaxe. No small feat, and Gendry is proud of the work. The Hound shits on him for it, because Sandor Clegane is a miserable sonofabitch through and bloody through.

But another voice appreciates the hard work.

Arya.

BOAW CHICKA BAOW!

“Here we go.” Lady C whispers.

Now, I get it. Everybody loves sexytime. Okey doke. They had like five total scenes together. I liked Gendry better with longer hair. Whatever.

But the reunion I’m more interested in is Arya and The Hound. It is impossible to explain the impact Sandor Clegane had on Arya. You can go back and watch their progression. A vast portion of the screen time in season three and four. People forget! The Hound was the father figure she never had after Ned was executed. He’s the one who single handedly introduced her to the world and the attitude you need to survive. For scene after scene, she rode sidesaddle on his lap, like a little thumb, and he taught her a bunch of lessons: some intentional, but mostly unintentional.

He brought her to The Twins during the Red Wedding, and saved her life by whisking her away. She kept begging for her own horse, like a daughter would, and he kept refusing. He made her hard. He made her wary. He fought on multiple occasions to protect her, most notably in the famous chicken scene where Arya got Needle back and was able to scratch Polliver off of her list. After that, he gave her her own horse.

Later on, she crossed Rorge off her list. And while she was ostensibly a means to an end for him, just someone he could ransom to make enough money to cross the Narrow Sea and join the Second Sons of all things, he absolutely cared for her. He trained her so well that she out Hounded him at the end. Though he was always on her list, when she had the ability to end him, she didn’t. Even when he begged for it like a baby.

Sandor Clegane fashioned a wayward, lost puppy of a girl into a weapon. He broke her of Syrio Forel’s waterdancing.

WHAT ARE YOU PRACTICING? WAYS TO DIE? WHO TAUGHT YOU THAT SHITE?

He toughened her up and showed her how to survive. When Brienne came to take her away you could see how much he cared for her.

“Safety? Where the fuck’s that? Her Aunt in the Eyrie is dead. Her mother’s dead. Her father’s dead. Her brother’s dead. Winterfell is a pile of rubble. There’s no safety, you dumb bitch! And if you don’t know that by now? You’re the wrong one to watch over her.”

He was the door to the world where she would become fierce and self sufficient and pants-shittingly dangerous. I remember them rolling up to a farm through the woods and he said “Could be food.” And she said “Could be soldiers.”

Eddard and Catelyn may have had had more overall influence, and Jaqen may have sharpened her into a point, but The Hound raised her from a wee baby to the woman she would become. He showed her the world — the real world — for the first time.

And so it felt a liiiiiittle bit like a let down that there wasn’t more of a moment between them. The Hound always gets the shaft. When he was dying on the side of that hill after Brienne beat him he raged that he wished he had one happy memory in his life. One. Poor The Hound. Maybe seeing Arya all grown up won’t be exactly that, but perhaps he’ll feel some sense of satisfaction about how she turned out. It certainly looked that way when he spoke about her with Brienne in King’s Landing on the wight mission last season. Now he gets to see her in person.

“Leave him be.” Arya says, and when The Hound turns, there she is.

“I heard you were here. You left me to die.”

“I robbed you first.” She says matter of factly.

He approaches her, surveying who she’s become. Strong, clean and confident. She never takes her eyes off of him. This is a huge man walking toward her with a battle axe. He’s like seven feet tall. She’s like 4’10”. In heels. And she doesn’t move a muscle. She doesn’t take a step back. She doesn’t flinch. He towers over her and she looks up at the man, a giant, with eyes that are ready for anything.

“You’re a cold little bitch, aren’t you?” He says.

She doesn’t reply. Doesn’t budge. Doesn’t move a muscle. She watches him. Unwavering. Confident.

He looks pleased as punch. He smiles.

“I guess that’s why you’re still alive.”

And with that he’s gone. Not a bad scene all in all, but I wanted more, somehow. Maybe later in the season we’ll get more. Maybe we’ll see Sandor Clegane put his life on the line for Arya? It was right after The Hound found out that Arya was not only alive and well, but actively dangerous, when he marched up to his brother and said “You know who is coming for you, you’ve always known.” Maybe Sandor saw a vision of Gregor’s death in the fire when they were children. A death at the hands of a little girl?

Anyway, the saga of Arya and The Hound still feels like it has a few chapters left to write before all is said and done.

Then there’s the Gendry stuff. It’s cute. She asks for a custom weapon. I don’t know what it is. A staff where the head pops off so if you stab someone with it they can’t pull it out? A double headed dagger/something? Fire on one side, glass on the other? A spring-loaded ballistic knife? An atlatl? No idea. Zero. All I know is that according to Joanna Robinson’s interview with the props master of GOT over at Vanity Fair, it’s a “showstopper”. Good enough for me!

We pop back in on Sansa. Jon enters the room and she reads aloud the note from Lord Glover that he’s staying in Greenwood Motte with his men.

Oh Lord Gloover. You welching sonofabitch. I hate that prick. We watched him scream King in the North front and center in Winterfell and now, like eleven minutes later he’s back to his old bullshit? That would be it for me. I’d send a raven back and say you get here asap or when this is done we’re going to Rickard Karstark your melon. Goddamn obstinate, racist bastard.

Better yet, Jon has a dragon now. He could pop over to Deepwood Motte in ten minutes flat, land on the roof and politely ask if anyone wants a quick fire bath. Really feed that Targ side.

Then Sansa and Jon have basically the same conversation I’ve been outlining. I brought armies. I brought dragons. Trust me. I’ve seen the dead. You haven’t.

Jon assures her that she’ll be a good queen. That she’s not her father.

“No, she’s much prettier.” Sansa says.

And then she asks him if he bent the knee to save the North or because he loves her.

We don’t see his answer.

And that was a good scene. Well acted. Tight. And one thing that’s nice about the Sansa and Jon relationship is that there was something special about their reunion since it was the first family either of them had seen since the old days and neither of them knew it was coming. Conversely, in the other reunions, at least one party always knew about the existence of the other so it wasn’t as much of a surprise.

One last note on Sansa: I don’t know what that giant circular piece of jewelry with a chain is but it works for her so well. We wants it, my precious.

But now we’re about to get into the real meat of the episode and some home run acting. We’re at the 42 minute mark.

Here comes the really good stuff!

We’re in a dark room. Ser Jorah and Daenerys walk in quietly. Ser Jorah motions to a man working by candlelight. We only see him from behind. He’s lost in his work and doesn’t hear them. Daenerys clears her throat.

Sam peeks out and blurts OH! when he sees the Queen there. He’s such a fantastic physical actor. The things he does with his posture and hands in an effort to “straighten” himself out for the queen is magical.

Remember the old days, when people used to light message boards on fire whenever the show wasted time on Sam and Gilly? Ain’t nobody a-screamin’ now.

Sam stands at attention.

“So you’re the man.” She says. Her face is warm and bright.

“I’m- which man am I your grace?”

“The man who saved Ser Jorah when no one else could.”

“They could.” Ser Jorah says. “They just wouldn’t.”

“I’ll have to make some changes in The Citadel when I take my throne. A great service merits a great reward.”

And then she smiles on him like the sun. It’s pure kindness and warmth and joy. I’ve never seen her look at anyone like that.

She asks if there’s anything she can do for him and he asks for a pardon.

“For what crime?” She wonders.

Arson? Murder? Grand Theft Auto?

I have some overdue library books. He says. What a peach. What a cherubic, winning peach. Daenerys and Jorah share a smile. Is there really someone this lovely and innocent left in the world? Gods, let’s hope nothing ever happens to tarnish this unicorn.

This is the last happy moment in Westeros. This, right here, is the pinnacle of Westerosi civilization, when the sovereign meets the most high quality citizen and there is an exchange of mutual affection. In an episode of reunions, preparations and smiles, this is the apex. It will never, ever again be this good.

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Because this is Game of Thrones. There are no unicorns. Everything gets tarnished. And if you think there’s a happy ending, you haven’t been paying attention.

Samwell mentions that he also took a sword, but from his family. It would have been his eventually. House Tarly.

Something passes over Daenerys’ face. Worry.

“Not Randall Tarly?” She asks.

“You know him?”

Yes, sweet cherub. Yes, sweet, kind-hearted boy of the clouds. I know him. I barbecued him at eleven thousand degrees in front of his men because he was recalcitrant and I wasn’t having it that day.

And she tells him.

The look that washes over Sam’s face. The quiver. The confusion over his situation of standing if front of the queen and having found out that said queen executed his father, prick that he was.

It’s so much.

He finds the bright side. At least he can go home if Dickon is the Lord.

And she tells him the rest.

Now we see a man buckle in plain sight. We see a cloak of sorrow engulf him and his heart makes the sound of ultimate suffering. But he’s still Samwell Tarly and she’s still the queen. So he thanks her for telling him and begs to be excused.

“Of course.” She says.

He is overcome with emotion and runs out in a petulant fury, not even sure where he’s going before he’s almost run over by a wagon. The near miss snaps him out of his funk enough for him to notice a lone figure, sitting in silence across the courtyard in the twilight.

The Three Eyed Raven.

Sam approaches him.

“What are you doing out here?”

“Waiting for an old friend.” He says.

Huh.

We don’t know who he means yet.

And then he decides that it’s time for Sam, because he’s Jon’s best friend, to tell him the truth. That he’s the heir to the iron throne.

The hell with that! Sam basically says. You do it. You’re his brother!

“I’m not his brother.” The Three Eyed Raven says, matter of factly.

SO WHO THE FUCK ARE YOU, HOSS? And why isn’t everyone up in your grill asking that? Because you look a lot like Brandon Stark but you act like a Vulcan in a k-hole. What’s your deal, yo? Yes, you’re the Three Eyed Raven. Gotcha. Now…WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT? IS IT A PERSON? A HUMAN? A CHILDREN OF THE FOREST? How do we even know the Children of the Forest aren’t still trying to kill all the men? The last Three Eyed Raven was mostly a goddamn tree. Are you a tree? WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON?

But Sam’s like “Okay.”

We cut to Jon in the crypt, where all the best brooding happens. Seriously, we can talk about how messed up the Lannisters are but how much time do Starks spend in an underground burial chamber? It’s weird. Jon Snoo is down there lighting candles like each one is going to impart some pertinent information about how to not have a dead zombie bite him in the face.

And then we hear a thud and an oof. Like someone had a side of beef dropped on them.

Jon is not worried. The last crypt interloper was Petyr Baelish and Jon nearly choked him out for sport. Policing the crypt is secretly Jon’s second favorite thing after waterfall sex.

He turns the corner to find his best friend in the world and he gives a stuttering Sam a bear hug to prove it.

If you’re a hugger and have a friend who isn’t? Just show them that hug. THAT’S HOW YOU HUG. Since the invention of the hug there have been five hugs that were rated the most passionate, the most pure. This one blew them all away.

Again, Kit Harington’s expression is perfect. He does happy well. But all is not copacetic in Whoville. Sams like “you don’t know?”

And no. He doesn’t.

When I was a little dude, maybe eight or nine, I was swimming in a shallow beach area in Kavala, which is a hop, skip and a jump north of Thessaloniki, Greece. I remember the water was aqua green and perfect and I was just relaxing and these two British tourists kind of floated over to me. They were probably in their seventies. And they started making polite conversation. I kept up as well as I could but I was only a third grader.

“What do you think of Margaret Thatcher?” They asked me. I knew her name and had seen pictures, but I didn’t really know anything about her.

“Oh, she’s good, I guess.” I said. I wasn’t going to insult their head of state by admitting I knew jack shit about her. So I gave the most vanilla answer I could.

And the man’s face changed. Lines appeared around his eyes and he looked down at me.

“We are VEHEMENTLY ANTI-THATCHER.” He declared.

It was my first holy shit that escalated quickly moment. And Sam’s perspective on Daenerys reminded me of that old man. He is VEHEMENTLY ANTI-DANY.

Jon is noticeably caught off guard by the revelation, but he’s smart enough to see an oncoming storm.

“I’m so sorry. We need to end this war.” He says.

Fuckin A right we do! Sam thinks. With the queen’s head on a spike.

Sam tries to back his buddy into a corner. Would you have done it? You wouldn’t have done it! You let people go all the time! You’re a big marshmallow! You love everybody! Unlike your mean bitch!

Jon strides away. Dude. Why does EVERYONE hate my GF?

“I’m not a king, Sam. Ah gahve oop me croon.”

Yeah but you’re the king of the seven bloody kingdoms!

Asphinctersayswhat? Exqueezeme?

“We worked it out. I had a High Septon’s diary. Bran has- whatever Bran has.”

WE DON’T ASK HIM BECAUSE WE’RE MORONS.

“What are you talkin’ about?” Jon asks.

And here it is, friends. The moment we’ve all been waiting for. Some book readers — no shit — have been waiting TWENTY YEARS to see this moment. To see Jon Snow find out who his mom really is. Here, smack dab in front of Ned’s statue, the man who promised him that the next time they see each other he’d tell him everything.

“Your mother was Lyanna Stark.”

Jon scoffs and shakes it off. Makes no sense. My dad wouldn’t have sex with his sister, idiot. This is dumb.

“Your father…your real father…was Rhaegar Targaryen. You’ve never been a bastard. You’re Aegon Targaryen, true heir to the Iron Throne.”

Jon doesn’t believe it. You callin’ my papa a liar?

No! He protected you. He gave Lyanna his word. If he told anyone, Robert would have killed you. You’re the true king. Sixth of his name. Etc etc.

A Stark and a Targaryen. He is the Song of Ice and Fire.

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The music picks up. Jon backs away. And again, fantastic acting from Kit Harington. So many things race through his mind. I wish we had a heatmap of the thoughts, but if I had to guess it’s something like:

My father lied to me
My father lied to me
My father lied to me
My mother is Lyanna Stark?
Wait, I’m not really a Stark.
How am I not a Stark?
My father lied to me.
I’m half Stark. Calm down. I’m half Stark.
My father is not my father.
My father is not my father.
Robb was never my brother.
My god. Arya isn’t my sister.
Bran and Rickon…
Sansa is…my cousin.
My father lied to me.
My father lied to me.
Who the fuck is Rhaegar Targaryen? The Mad King’s son?
Didn’t Robert kill him at the Battle of the Trident?
Did my father - I mean - did my uncle help kill my father?
What do I know about Rhaegar Targaryen?
How could I be a Targaryen? That’s impossible.
I’m not a bastard?
I’m a bastard!
I’m definitely a bastard.
How could I not be a bastard?
Who is Rhaegar’s -
Jesus christ, is she my aunt?
This is too much.
This is too much.
This can’t be true.
My father wouldn’t have lied to me.
Oh my god Daenerys
This means her whole life-
Oh my god Daenerys

“If I’m a Targaryen, how come I don’t have Ric Flair hair and black eyebrows that stick to my face like obese caterpillars?”

“That I don’t know.”

Those lines were redacted. What Jon really says is

“Daenerys is our queen.”

“SHE SHOULDN’T BE.” WE ARE VEHEMENTLY ANTI-THATCHER.

“That’s treason.”

“It’s the truth.” Thunder rolls. Lightning flashes. Or it should. Where’s Tony Scott when you need him?

We push in on Sam. Big line coming up. “You gave up your crown to save your people. Would she do the same?”

Awooooooo. A wolf howls in the distance. Or…wait. Jon’s a Targaryen. Am I going to have to give up all the Stark wolf references? Yes, he’s half Stark, but the mum half. No one talks about the mum half in Westeros. No one says, Sansa and Arya, couple’a bloomin Tullys!

Jon is not a wolf.

Aegon is a dragon.

OH MY GOD YOU KNOW NOOTHING JON SNOO IF THAT EVEN IS YOOR NAME! You’re not a wolf. All that shit with Ghost was just play acting.

Speaking of — where in the name of everything holy is Ghost? We can get a four minute Epcot Orlando theme park ride on Rhaegal and we can’t get one solitary shot of Ghost lifting a leg over Ramsay Bolton’s bones?

Would Daenerys give up her crown to save her people? That’s the question on the table here folks!

Considering that the proof is the dude who’s fam she parboiled and the character from the Ben Folds song ‘Not the Same’ who took an acid trip and never came back? Yeah man. I’m sure she’ll just hand that crown over lickety split. Bulletproof evidence.

Also, not for nothing, but Jon is the least Targy Targ who ever Targed. He’s nearly Dornish he’s so non-Targy.

We hold on Jon…errr Aegon. He’s processing. Processing…

Hard cut to dark night at The Last Hearth. Guess we’re cutting away without a Jon answer. Man, that’s twice in this episode. Somewhere, in the bowels of Winterfell, Davos Seaworth places a call to a local wedding planner to see if he can get his deposit back.

But we are miles away at the Umber ancestral home, where a certain fearsome and somehow charming ginger strides single file with his cohorts toward the darkened keep.

Cock? Dick! I like it!

Inside there’s some caution before they spring out to attack——- Dolorous Edd and The Rangers. A little known Westerosi string quartet.

I love me some Dolorous Edd. We forget how close he is to Jon. It’s one of his very best friends in the whole world. When Jon was laid up on a slab in Castle Black it was Dolorous Edd who raced miles away to summon the wildlings back to prevent Ser Alliser Thorne from breaking into the room where Ser Davos was protecting Jon’s body.

When Jon is brought back, he saves his biggest hug for Dolorous Edd.

Edd sighs and shakes hands when they realize that Tormund’s blue eyes aren’t the naughty kind. Tormund Giantsbane. Who would have ever imagined his life’s trajectory? Clasping hands with the Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch? I GUESS WE’RE THE NIGHT’S WATCH NOW he said to a moot in Winterfell and no one laughed. Tough room for Wildlings.

Now they walk through the keep, lit by Beric’s flaming sword.

Beric Dondarrion. Tormund Giantsbane. Dolorous Edd. All three of them have their beard game on point. They could be walking into an ale house in Copenhagen. But in the far room, a grisly discovery awaits.

A wheel of limbs with little Ned Umber pinned to the middle of it, like the little girl stuck to the tree in the pilot episode. It’s always jarring to see imagery of murdered children. No matter what it’s something I’ll never get used to. Especially when they open their eyes and let out the type of screech that makes your blood run cold.

Beric is johnny on the spot with his lightsaber and the wight screams itself into oblivion as the flames engulf it. Thank goodness because it might have been the end for our fiery friend from the Real North.

The fire escapes the body and burns downward onto the limbs of the artwork, as if the Night King knew they’d have to burn the Umber wight to kill it. The flame spreads outward in a planned fashion on the most jarring Rube Goldberg machine ever built, until the whole thing is alight.

It looks eerily like the Targaryen sigil.

Our friends watch the horror, this message from the Night King. Soon they will double up on the Night’s Watch mounts and try to race past the lumbering Army of the Dead to beat them to Winterfell.

Which is where we cut to for our final scene.

We are outside the walls again, where a wagon train of refugees as far as the eye can see heads toward the Stark stronghold.

Amongst them, a cloaked figure on horseback keeps pace with the masses.

We stay with him as he passes through the main gate and into the Winterfell courtyard without incident. He hitches his steed and slides off. Looking around, he slides back his hood to reveal his face. Jaime Lannister, the Kingslayer. In the same building as the daughter and grandson of the man he stabbed in the back.

He is dark now, all those Karch Kiraly boys of summer remnants of Lannister Gold in his hair are gone. His beard is dark and peppered with grey. Unlike the last time he visited, in the pilot episode when he was the Golden God Lord Commander of the Kingsguard and all eyes were on him, this time he is unseen. He is no one. His cloak is back, not gold. His golden hand is hidden under a black glove. He is nothing like the man we thought him to be when he was the heir to Casterly Rock. He is beaten and alone, a shadow of his former self, but somehow with substantially more character and purpose.

For the first time since Eddard Stark was summoned to the Crownlands, his mighty sword, Ice, is back home, albeit in two pieces. One, Widow’s Wail, hangs on the belt of Jaime Lannister. The other, Oathkeeper, is strapped to the waist of Brienne of Tarth. Might there be an eventuality where a trial by combat forces the blades to strike one another?

Jaime studies the area, where an organized chaos of sorts has set in the way it does when death looms. No one notices his arrival until-

Who is that man in the wheelchair across the way, staring at him?

Oh no.

He recognizes the face. Not the man. The boy. The boy he pushed out of a tower years ago.

His face slackens with shock.

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We push into the face of the man in the wheelchair, the Three Eyed Raven. We push closer and closer until we can almost make out the hint of a smile. Do we now know the friend the Three Eyed Raven was waiting for? Or does the show just want us to believe that it was Jaime. I mean: HE’S NOT BRAN STARK.

And then we smash to black.

Five episodes left, friends.

Five episodes which will be the television equivalent of a culling. Everyone is in danger. Everyone is vulnerable.

This episode was the last tango in Paris before the real slaughter begins. We witnessed the last pristine moment of innocence with Sam and Daenerys, and from here on out, for five more weeks, it’s going to be a maelstrom of shock and denial and misery and pain.

Can’t wait for Sunday.



Lord Castleton is a staff contributor. You can follow him on Twitter.


Header Image Source: Images courtesy of HBO


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