Growing up can be tough. Young adults crave independence and control, but rarely have the skills they need to claim it. Game of Thrones is, among many things, a tale of coming of age. Many of the characters start as children or adolescents, but there is little room in this world for the innocence of youth.
For most, childhood is wrested from them suddenly. Sansa and Arya witness the beheading of their father and then live through the eventual murder of their entire family. Daenerys’s late brother, Viserys, sells her in marriage to Khal Drogo in exchange for an army. Jon Snow, feeling like an outsider, impulsively joins up with one of the biggest bands of outcasts in Westeros, the Night’s Watch, pledging himself for life to an ascetic military order.
All of these young people have struggled, to varying degrees of success, to learn the tools that they need to survive in the adult world they were thrust into.
This season has proven to be a reckoning for the children who remain: as Maester Aemon tells Jon Snow, it is time to “kill the boy and let the man be born.” A few episodes ago, Arya had to cast off the symbols of her childhood in order to enter the House of Black and White. This week, “Kill the Boy” furthers the coming of age theme when Jon Snow takes a controversial, but critical stand as Lord Commander. Sansa, embedded deep in enemy territory, works in more subtle ways to stop being a “bystander to tragedy” and avenge her family. And across the Narrow Sea, Daenerys sheds some youthful naivety and shows her strength as queen.
At the Wall, Sam reads a note from Slaver’s Bay detailing the exploits of Daenerys in that region. “’And though Daenerys maintains her grip on Slaver’s Bay, forces rise against her from within and without. She refuses to leave until the freedom of the former slaves is secure.’ She sounds like quite a woman,” he says.
The blind Maester Aemon comments, sadly, that she’s all alone in the world while he, her last surviving relative, is nearing death thousands of miles away. It’s easy to forget that Aemon is a Targaryen and relative of Daenerys: the uncle to Daenerys’s father, the Mad King Aerys. In his time, he was a younger son and therefore did not stand to inherit the crown. Therefore, he joined the maesters. When his older brothers passed away, he still refused to claim his title as heir and joined the Night’s Watch to punctuate the point of honoring his vows above the political chicanery of the capital. Daenerys’s grandfather took his place on the throne, establishing the lineage that would give the Mother of Dragons a decent claim on the Iron Throne.
When Jon Snow enters to seek his counsel on a move that would make half the men hate him, Maester Aemon cuts him short. “Half the men hate you already, Lord Commander.” He tells Jon to “kill the boy and let the man be born”—to find the strength to do what’s right, not what’s popular.
Indeed, Jon Snow’s proposal is deeply unpopular with his men. He has made a pact with Tormund Giantsbane, the man he assumes is in a natural position to take Mance Rayder’s place as a leader among the wildlings. Together, they will try to convince the remaining wildlings to move south of the Wall and settle in deserted farmland known as The Gift. This land is overseen by the Wall; hence, Jon Snow as Lord Commander is technically in charge of this territory and can do with it what he wishes.
In the face of impending winter, Jon believes this is not only the right thing to do, but the smart thing. “We can learn to live with the wildlings, or we can add them to the army of the dead,” he says. Every wildling who dies north of the Wall could be added to the army of White Walkers. These mystical creatures have the power to reanimate the dead, creating wights to swell their ranks.
“Winter is coming; we know what’s coming with it. We cannot face it alone.”
Jon Snow’s alliance with Tormund breaks with an eight-thousand year tradition of wildlings and the Night’s Watch living and dying as natural enemies. However, to Jon Snow, the vow he took to defend the “realms of men” indicates that the Night’s Watch should help defend all of humanity against the White Walkers and their undead soldiers. The wildlings can help the meager Night’s Watch defend the Seven Kingdoms from the descending armies, and at the same time they can deprive the White Walkers of many new “recruits.”
However, the main reason why the good farmland of The Gift was abandoned in the first place is due to centuries of wildling raids. Olly, Jon Snow’s new young steward, survived one of these raids and witnessed Ygritte kill his father (he later avenges that death by killing Ygritte at the battle at Castle Black). Many of the men object to Jon Snow’s order—their hatred too ingrained in them, memories of loved ones and comrades killed by wildlings still too fresh.
Lord Commander Jon Snow stands firm in his decision, unwavering in his conviction. He has found the strength to do what needs to be done, as Maester Aemon counseled. In the end, an older, wiser Jon Snow rides north with Tormund Giantsbane. They are followed by a fleet of Stannis’s ships, which will meet them at Hardhome (map), the coastal location of the remaining wildling camp.
In the library, Gilly and Sam talk once more about Oldtown (in the southwest of this map). The Citadel in Oldtown is the home of the maesters, who serve as doctors, lawyers, scientists, and messengers throughout the Seven Kingdoms. It is actually the oldest city in Westeros, though we’ve never seen it on screen. The bookish Sam hoped to become a maester as a child.
However, as Stannis reminds us, his father Randyll Tarly is one of the most notoriously-skilled military commanders in all of Westeros. The Tarly motto is “First in Battle” and Randyll is the only one to ever defeat the great warrior Robert Baratheon in battle; so, he was more than a little disappointed to realize that his heir, Sam, was a scholar instead of a fighter. Instead of letting him join the Citadel, Randyll forced Sam to join the Wall so that he could legally disinherit him.
Stannis is one of the few people to take accurate measure of Sam when he learns that the timid scholar managed to kill a White Walker. Sam tells Stannis that he killed the monster with a dagger made of dragonglass (obsidian), which is found in abundance on Stannis’s home island, Dragonstone. Sam is researching methods for killing White Walkers in Castle Black’s libraries.
Understanding the significance of Sam’s work in light of the impending war with the undead, Stannis instructs him to “keep reading, Samwell Tarly.” He then readies to march south with his troops, family, and Melisandre, planning to take Winterfell from the treacherous Boltons before winter descends.
Brienne and Pod, staying in an inn outside of Winterfell, get a message to Sansa via a network of old servants who have been around since the days of the Starks. Brienne correctly assumes that their loyalty still lies with the former family, not the Boltons, and manages to convince her servant of her unswerving loyalty to the deceased Lady Catelyn.
Her cryptic message gets delivered through Sansa’s maid, the same woman who quietly subverted the Boltons in telling the Stark girl “the North remembers.” This woman tells Sansa, “You still have friends in the North. If you’re ever in trouble, light a candle in the highest window of the Broken Tower. You’re not alone.”
Sansa goes out to the Broken Tower, the same tower from which her brother, Bran, was pushed and paralyzed all the way back in the first episode of the series. So much has happened since that fateful day. She considers its painful history and tries to reconcile that with its new potential as a beacon of hope.
Meanwhile, another young woman approaches her. This is Ramsay’s jealous lover, Myranda, whom he promised to marry before his father made him a legitimate heir. In the past, she’s taken part in his dehumanization of Theon and his hunting of humans for sport. In fact, she hunted the last of Ramsay’s lovers, Tansy, whom she was jealous of (Myranda disables her with an arrow to watch her be mauled by dogs). Her jealousy of Sansa is dangerous, to say the least, and though Ramsay tells her to back off, Myranda can’t help but toy with her lover’s betrothed.
Sansa is immediately distrustful of Myranda and withdraws when she tries to get close. Earlier, Ramsay calls his lover out for also finding Sansa attractive. Myranda has used her feminine wiles in the past to torture others—namely, Theon—so her physical appreciation of Sansa’s stitching is likely an attempt to get close enough to hurt her, too.
Still, of all the children in this show, Sansa is one of the last to fully “kill the boy” (or in this case, girl). A lingering naiveté causes her to think that maybe this kennel master’s daughter is another of the Winterfell servants secretly loyal to her family’s cause. After all, the old woman told her she was “not alone.”
So, when Myranda suggests that Sansa walk through the kennels to help her “remember the way things were,” she thinks that maybe this is a message from another ally. As the dogs bark and snap at her, she finds Theon sleeping in the kennels. When she says his name, he shakes his head; he is no longer Theon, but Reek—a man remade by Ramsay’s physical and emotional torment.
Theon or Reek, this is the same man who supposedly killed her two younger brothers and hung their charred bodies in the middle of Winterfell (only, we know that he killed two other kids when he lost the scent of the Stark boys, charring their bodies beyond recognition so as not to lose face with his men).
Later, at dinner, Ramsay makes a big show of forcing Reek to apologize to Sansa for these crimes. He further torments the both of them by suggesting that Theon should give Sansa away at their wedding, as he’s supposedly her only remaining kin (he grew up as a hostage under Ned Stark’s care, but was raised and treated like another son).
“It must be difficult for you, being in a strange place.” – Walda Bolton
“This isn’t a strange place, it’s my home. It’s the people who are strange.” – Sansa
Roose grows weary of Ramsay’s posturing and chooses to knock him down a peg by announcing that his wife, Walda (née Frey, the family with whom the Boltons conspired to ambush Robb and Catelyn Stark), is pregnant with what is likely to be a son. While he has legitimized his bastard, legally he could decide to choose his true son as his heir at any point, and Ramsay knows this. The idea upsets him, and later he confronts his father about the threat this unborn son poses to his inheritance.
Roose chooses that moment to share with him the story of his birth. Apparently, Ramsay was the product of a rape. When Roose found out that a miller in his lands had married without his consent as the lord, he hung the man from a tree and raped his wife beneath it. When she reappeared months later with a baby in her arms, he nearly threw Ramsay in the river (like Tywin, who wanted to throw Tyrion in the sea at birth). However, he kept the baby when he could tell that it was indeed his son—whether by the pale blue eyes or the whiff of murderous psychopathy, we may never know.
Lord Bolton uses this dark tale to inspire Ramsay to join him in protecting their family’s claim on the North in the face of Stannis’s impending attack. In his own warped way, Roose is encouraging Ramsay to “kill the boy” and become the man and heir he hopes he can be.
Across the Narrow Sea, Daenerys makes a hard decision to reinforce her rule by showing strength, instead of love. Up until this point, she has hoped that her rule in Slaver’s Bay would be accepted organically by people who loved her for freeing them from bondage. In the end, becoming “Mhysa” (Mother) and promising freedom was not enough to secure her position or prevent her troops from being attacked by insurgents.
After the murder of Ser Barristan Selmy, Daenerys realizes that she can no longer hope that justice and love will bring people beneath her banners. She grows up and makes the decision to round up the heads of each of the families of the former Great Masters, the ruling elite and former slave traders of Meereen, and make an example of them.
“…A good mother never gives up on her children. She disciplines them if she must. But she does not give up on them.”
To discipline her wayward children, Mhysa takes the former Great Masters to Rhaegal and Viserion, pushing the men slowly into the path of the two chained dragons. “Who is innocent? Maybe all of you are. Maybe none of you are.” She assumes that the insurgency has been supported by the former slave masters, who would have the most to gain from toppling Daenerys’s young regime and reinstituting slavery. One of the men is burned and eaten by the dragons, which is a little reminiscent of her father, the Mad King, and how he used to burn his own enemies alive.
However, in contrast to her father, Daenerys only uses this one as an example to make the rest of the Grand Masters fall in line. After a show of strength, she offers a compromise to Hizdahr zo Loraq: she will reopen the fighting pits, as he requested, in the name of tradition, but only for free men who choose to fight. She also says that she will marry the head of an old Meereenese family in order to strengthen her bond with the people, and surprises Hizdahr to tell him that he is the man she has chosen.
Finally, we catch up with Jorah and Tyrion as they pass through the ruins of Old Valyria. This shortcut to Meereen is avoided even by pirates because it is said to be cursed. This only makes the route more attractive to Jorah, who hopes to avoid any trouble along the way to Daenerys. These ruins are all that remains of a great, ancient civilization.
“Thousands of years the Valyrians were the best in the world at almost everything. And then?”
“And then they weren’t.”
This place was once the site of the Targaryens’ ancestors (“I am Daenerys Stormborn of House Targaryen, of the blood of Old Valyria. I am the dragon’s daughter!” – Season 1, Episode 10). Here, they learned to tame dragons found in nearby volcanoes. However, when the volcanoes erupted about four-hundred years ago, the place was destroyed. This catastrophe is referred to simply as “The Doom.” Only the Targaryens survived this disaster, which also destroyed most of the world’s dragons. Soon after, they would invade Westeros and set up a three-hundred year dynasty.
They held each other close,
And turned their backs upon the end,
The hills that split asunder,
And the black that ate the skies,
The flames that shot so high and hot,
That even dragons burned,
Would never be the final sights,
That fell upon their eyes,
A fly upon a wall,
The waves the sea wind,
Whipped and churned,
The city of a thousand years,
And all that men had learned,
The Doom consumed them all alike,
And neither of them turned.
~ The poem Tyrion and Jorah recite, about two lovers during The Doom
They are interrupted, fittingly, by the sight of Drogon flying overhead. Tyrion has never seen a dragon in his life, so the sight is mesmerizing to him. The sight holds particular significance in the place where dragons once lived.
Both men are distracted by the dragon, so they do not notice the Stone Men gathering around them. These men, their skin calcified and cracked like dry river beds, try to jump into the boat to attack Jorah and Tyrion. They are afflicted by Greyscale, the disease we’ve been hearing so much about from Shireen Baratheon. Like lepers in the Middle Ages, the Stone Men are shunned from society and sent to live among the ruins. (In the last episode, Stannis told his daughter that everyone tried to get him to send Shireen to Old Valyria, but he refused.)
As Gilly said earlier in the season, her sisters that suffered from the disease had their minds ravaged as well as their bodies; “They acted like animals,” she told Shireen. The men Jorah and Tyrion encounter are like rabid beasts, but the knight is mostly successful in fending them off.
When Tyrion goes overboard, nearly dragged down by one of the Stone Men, the screen fades to black for an agonizing few seconds. Luckily, Jorah saves Tyrion, demanding to know if he was touched by any of them on the skin. While Tyrion appears to have escaped without becoming infected, Jorah reveals to the audience a small patch of Greyscale on the inside of his wrist.
Other thoughts on “Kill the Boy”:
- One of the best moments of the episode comes from Stannis after hearing dissent from one of the Night’s Watch. Of the wildlings, the man says, “Let them die. We got our own to worry about. Less enemies for us.” Under his breath, Stannis mutters the grammatical correction, “Fewer.” This succinctly captures Stannis’s character: a man who feels he is superior and a rule-follower until the end.
- In fact, Stannis already corrected Davos on this point before the Battle of Blackwater in Season 2. As a reminder, prior to the show, Davos saved Stannis and his troops at Storm’s End when they were under siege. He smuggled in onions and other food to the starving Baratheon men. For his service, Stannis rewarded Davos with a knighthood and lands. For his crime of smuggling (the very crime that saved Stannis’s forces and kept him in the war), Stannis removed four of his fingertips. Again— he’s an obsessive rule-follower.
- Before the Battle of Blackwater, Davos joked that he had “four less fingernails to clean.” Stannis’s reply? “Fewer.”
- Since nearly every detail of this show has been heavily considered, costumes always have a lot of fun meaning behind them. In this episode, Sansa’s dark raven-feathered costume is heavily featured (and even admired by Myranda). The large necklace she has been wearing was designed to look like a wedding ring, a symbol of the power she might wield from manipulating a marriage-alliance to Ramsay Bolton. Hanging through it is a large metal sewing needle, which she plays with in the scene when she is approached by Myranda. The costumers have said that this necklace symbolizes her choice of finding power within traditional gender roles, in contrast to her sister, who finds power through more stereotypically masculine roles.
- Missandei/Grey Worm fans got a nice little scene this week, with a rare, genuine display of affection.
- If you read the “other thoughts” in last week’s recap, you saw a rundown of evidence that possibly confirms a long-held and popular fan theory about Jon Snow’s mother. If you haven’t seen it, go take a look, as it’s the best idea to come out of the community of fans that have followed this story for decades now. If you don’t want to know anything about this theory, then stop reading, since this week added another potential foreshadowing (should it prove to be true):
- As Maester Aemon laments about how no Targaryen should be alone in this world, Jon Snow walks in. Coincidence? I think not.