Game of Thrones, Season 5, Television

Season 5, Episode 3: “High Sparrow”

In the world of Game of Thrones, everyone is on a quest for revenge. With 456 deaths and counting, there are many people trying to keep faith with the dead. For them, the best way to honor the memory of the dead is to get vengeance on those deemed responsible for their death. The history of Westeros is made of up long cycles of retaliation and blood feuds among families, the present conflict not withstanding.

In “High Sparrow,” sisters Arya and Sansa further position themselves in a long game to avenge the death of the Stark family, both of them shedding some of their former selves in order to achieve this goal. Jon Snow turns down Stannis Baratheon’s offer for revenge against the Boltons in order to rule as Lord Commander. In King’s Landing, the newly-made Queen Margaery avenges the cruelty she’s long suffered at Cersei’s hand, turning the tables on her Queen Mother. Brienne reminds us of her ever-present mission to avenge the death of her friend Renly by killing the man she believes responsible: his brother, Stannis. Tyrion, on his way to meet up with Daenerys in Meeren, is involved in a plot against the rule of his own house, seeking vengeance for a lifetime of mistreatment and misery at the hands of his relatives.

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Game of Thrones, Season 5, Television

Season 5, Episode 2: The House of Black and White

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In “The House of Black and White,” Arya finally arrives at the Braavosi temple after which this episode is named. She stands before the imposing structure, which sits alone on an island in the middle of a lagoon, and knocks bravely with a purpose. She has come at last to fulfill a mission given to her in Season 2, when Jaqen H’ghar gave her the coin she carries to this day and told her, “If the day comes when you must find me again, just give that coin to any man from Braavos and say these words to him: Valar Morghulis.”

Arya’s series-long journey from King’s Landing to Braavos has been a quest to find dominion over her own fear. “There is only one god, and his name is Death. And there is only one thing we say to Death: not today,” her “dancing instructor” Syrio Forel said to her in Season 1. She repeated that phrase (“not today”) throughout the course of the series whenever she needed to master her fear. Now, standing on a deserted island before two great weirwood and ebony doors, Arya’s fear is a memory.

Fear plays a major role throughout this series, but hardly so prominently as in “The House of Black and White.” Arya’s mastery over her childish fear has been her mission, and is how she draws her strength on the unknown shores of Braavos. Other characters, like Cersei and Daenerys, have to wrestle with their own fears in order to rule. Stannis, meanwhile, uses fear as a weapon to command respect (to varying degrees of success, of course), while Daario Naharis uses his knowledge of fear to understand his enemy.

“Fear is useful that way.”

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Game of Thrones, Season 5, Television

Season 5, Episode 1: The Wars to Come

The failing state of Westeros continues to reel in the vacuum left after Robert Baratheon’s long-ago coup d’etat. The latest king (or, more accurately, Protector of the Realm) has been killed at the hands of his own son. The adolescent King Tommen and Queen Regent Cersei are left to fill the void, but for how long? Season 5, Episode 1 offers a clue in its title, based on the final words from a condemned Mance Rayder: “I wish you good fortune in the wars to come.”

“Wars,” plural.

Game of Thrones has always been a tale about power and the long struggle for succession after the ousting of the Mad King Aerys Targaryen (father of Daenerys). This season is set up similarly, only now the future is much more vague. If the first few seasons featured the dismantling of the Stark family, Seasons 4 and 5 seem to focus on the undoing of the Lannisters.

Without these two major families, few remain with a legitimate claim to power and the vassals to back it up. Who is strong enough to unite the kingdoms, to return peace and prosperity to the land of Westeros? Only Varys seems certain of the answer.

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