In one of the most tragic episodes yet, Game of Thrones explores the cost of war. We see it with the Children of the Forest, whom we learn created the White Walkers in a desperate attempt to fight back against the encroaching settlement of men. This was their nuclear option, and as we know now, it likely causes their own extinction. To secure his place on the Salt Throne, Euron Greyjoy murders his own brother and, in this episode, sets out to kill his niece and nephew. Tyrion forges an alliance between Church and State (much like his sister did, to disastrous effect) by inviting the High Priestess of the Red Temple to Meereen, offering her fanatical ministers free rein of the city in order to spread the great word of Queen Daenerys. Arya has to give up her past, her identity, in order to train to become an assassin, though it clearly still haunts her, and her sister Sansa confronts Littlefinger about her rape and torture at the hands of Ramsay Bolton.
Ultimately, though, it is the sacrifice of Summer, the Children of the Forest, the Three-Eyed Raven, and especially Hodor that brings this point home to devastating effect. All along, Hodor’s very life has been enslaved to saving Bran from a certain defeat. In trying to win the battle against the White Walkers—or, at least, not to lose when they’ve only just begun the fight—Bran’s actions lead to the unintended consequence of destroying his friend’s mind, and eventually his life. For Bran, Hodor was probably the greatest cost of war yet, and now he must bear the weight of personal responsibility for his friend’s decades-long psychological maiming and death.
In war, the ends are often used to justify the means, but the costs and consequences of waging war have far-reaching and devastating effects.
In one of the biggest reveals of this episode, we follow Bran into a vision of the past to discover the origins of the White Walkers. We see Leaf (one of his current companions) and other Children of the Forest talking amongst themselves before Leaf stabs a captive man with a Dragonglass dagger. Instead of dying, his eyes turn icy blue, implying that he becomes the first White Walker who would come to be known as the Night’s King (the leader with the crown-like skull). In the books, the story is that the Night’s King is the 13th Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch who falls in love with a woman with cold, white skin and blue eyes (presumably a White Walker). It looks like the show is abandoning that legend, hiring the same actor to portray the captive man and the Night’s King (who was portrayed by a different actor last season).
Leaf admits to Bran that the Children of the Forest are responsible for the White Walkers. “We were at war,” she says. “We were being slaughtered, our sacred trees being cut down. We needed to defend ourselves.” Clearly, the Children of the Forest created something that soon grew beyond their control.
The Children of the Forest were native to Westeros until the First Men settled on the continent about 12,000 years ago. Like when the Europeans colonized America, the Children of the Forest were forced to watch as their land was invaded and destroyed. They needed a new weapon to use in their fight against man, and from this the White Walkers were created.
Somewhere along the line, they lost control over the monsters of their own making, and allied with men to defeat them 8,000 years ago. After the war, the Children used their powers to help Bran the Builder (the founder of House Stark) build the Wall, a 700 foot tall solid ice line of defense against the White Walkers. But, more on the potential significance of that later…
In addition to learning the origins of the White Walkers, we also learn the origins of the Faceless Men and their band of assassins. In Braavos, Arya continues to train with the Waif. Both the Waif and Jaqen still believe that she is not yet ready. “You’ll never be one of us, Lady Stark,” the girl mocks her. “She has a point,” Jaqen agrees. He then tells her about the first Faceless Men, who were slaves in Valyria until they assassinated all the masters and slavers, then established the Free City of Braavos and the House of Black and White.
Jaqen then gives Arya a mission to kill an actress known as Lady Crane. In scouting her out, Arya is forced to watch a play re-enacting the death of her father. Other than Tyrion, the Lannisters are portrayed with the most grace. Tyrion is shown scheming with a bumbling, backstabbing bumpkin, Ned Stark—suggesting that Ned be king so Tyrion could be his Hand. Tyrion then betrays Ned Stark, much like Littlefinger did in real life, and the crowd claps gleefully to see Joffrey crowned king (perish the thought). Sansa begs for Ned’s life, then is forced to marry the evil Tyrion, who strips her bare (something similar to what happened on Joffrey’s orders – and, of course, the marriage to Tyrion was real). It’s interesting that, though the play has glimmers of the truth, much of it is confused. Like history, the story that gets told is fragile and susceptible to the forces of propaganda, geography, prejudice, and time.
Though it is inaccurate, the play is close enough to the truth to make it painful for Arya to watch—perhaps made even worse by the fact that the public memory of her loving and loyal father is so far from the man she knew. It’s interesting that she sits in almost the same position to watch the play as she sat in to watch the actual execution. Also, the woman she is supposed to kill plays Cersei in the performance.
Both of these facts lead me to believe that this mission is another elaborate test to prove her loyalty to the Many-Faced God. When Arya asks who wants Lady Crane dead, Jaqen tells her that it does not matter, “the price was paid.” She tells Jaqen that she suspects the younger actress, Bianca, of ordering the hit, but Jaqen cuts her off by reminding her that “a servant does not ask questions.”
The Faceless Men are supposed to be the world’s best assassins, and they come with a hefty price tag; are we really to believe that an actress has the ability to purchase a hit on her rival? Sending Arya on this particular mission, with this particular play, could hardly be coincidental. Finally, Cersei was one of the most prominent members of Arya’s hit list. Is Jaqen trying to see if Arya Stark reveals herself in murdering this “Cersei”?
Sansa once refused Brienne’s help under Littlefinger’s protection; in this week’s episode, she refuses Littlefinger under Brienne’s. First, she calls out the glaring inconsistency of Littlefinger’s matchmaking: “If you didn’t know, you’re an idiot. If you did know, you’re my enemy.” She then forces him to imagine what she went through, telling him that she still bears the physical and emotional scars of her abuse. “You freed me from the monsters who murdered my family, and you gave me to other monsters who murdered my family.” Despite the best efforts of her many abusers, Sansa remains unbroken and stronger than ever, and she won’t let Littlefinger get away with his part in it.
She is wise enough to mistrust Littlefinger (after all, it seems like he set her up with Ramsay only so that he might rescue her—I have never bought the idea that Littlefinger can “underestimate a stranger”). However, she wants to believe him when he says that her great uncle on her mother’s side, Brynden Tully, recaptured Riverrun and has an army for her.
It’s not clear whether this is true or another one of his manipulations (or, both). Brynden the “Blackfish” is a respected and proven commander last seen in Season 3. He was at the Red Wedding, escaping death only because he had to go outside to pee. Roose Bolton was concerned about this at the time because he knew the Blackfish could prove to be a formidable enemy. According to Littlefinger, Brynden has succeeded in taking the Tully family’s home, Riverrun, back from the Freys, and Sansa sends Brienne to find out.
Before Littlefinger leaves, he plants the seed in her head that she should not fully give over her power to Jon Snow—her “half-brother,” as he so helpfully points out. He suggests that she would be wise to have an army of her own. This thought may have had some impact on her actions when they later meet to formulate a plan to unite the Northern houses against the Boltons.
Though she does not make outright mistakes in this meeting, Sansa shows a little of her inexperience. For one, she probably gets the Karstarks and Umbers backwards; she guesses that the Umbers are truly their enemies, since they gave Rickon up to Ramsay, but that the Karstarks could be turned to their side since they joined Ramsay “without knowing they had another choice.” As I discussed in my recap of Season 6, Episode 3, the Umbers may be using Rickon and, formerly, Osha to overthrow Ramsay from within. Ser Davos rightly reminds her that the Karstarks have a lingering hatred for the Starks after Robb beheaded the head of their household.
“How well do you know the North, Ser Davos?” she asks him, telling him what her father always told her: that the Northernmen are somehow more loyal than the rest. Davos again gives her good counsel by reminding her that, though they may be more loyal, no one rose up against the Boltons after they murdered her mother and brother.
Jon says that if they convince the other houses of the North, including Glover, Mormont, Cerwyn, Mazin, Hornwood, and two dozen more, they may have a chance. Sansa slightly undermines Jon by claiming anyone who doubts his claim to the Stark name will at least have her, then compares him to the bastard-made-legitimate, Ramsay Bolton—not the kindest of comparisons. Finally, she withholds information about Littlefinger’s offer of troops from the Eyrie, likely because she does not want her unilateral decision questioned. Surely Davos would have questions about the practicality of turning down such an offer, no matter how suspicious Littlerfinger’s motives. To preserve the lie, Sansa also tells them that she overheard of the Tully troops in Riverrun when she was still at Winterfell, not from Littlefinger.
Later, Brienne interrogates her about the lies and counts it among her many misgivings, including the fact that Sansa is sending her off to the Riverlands to meet with her great uncle. Brienne does not want to leave Sansa alone because she mistrusts Melisandre and Davos, but reluctantly agrees to seek out the Tully troops for her lady.
As everyone prepares to set off to recruit their armies, Sansa shows up in a new black dress with wolf embroidery. She also presents Jon with a fur and leather coat she made for him to look like Ned Stark’s. It’s a touching gesture after her earlier slight, and brooding Jon even dares a small smile. Both of their uniforms should signal to the armies they hope to win over that Ned Stark’s rule is not dead, but lives on through his remaining children.
On the Iron Islands, Yara Greyjoy tries to claim the Salt Throne. The succession of kings among the ironborn is not hereditary, but based on the vote of an assembly of lords and captains in what is known as a Kingsmoot. At first, the men question her claim, since they have never had a queen as ruler. However, when Theon throws his support eloquently behind his sister, the men seem swayed. She is, after all, an exceptional captain and a popular leader of men.
Suddenly, their long-lost uncle, Euron Greyjoy, shows up to lay his own claim to the throne. He admits to killing Yara and Theon’s father, Balon, an unpopular king. He says he paid the iron price for the throne by violently defeating his brother, which appeals to the ironborn gathered for the Kingsmoot. When Theon counters that Yara was there all the time while Euron was out sailing the seas doing god knows what, some men seem persuaded back to her claim.
However, it is Euron who ultimately settles on the most appealing narrative: there is a dragon queen in Essos who could use their ships to invade Westeros and reclaim the Iron Throne. He wants to seduce her with his fleet, making himself the king to her queen, and potentially installing an ironborn on the Iron Throne. Always the forgotten underdogs in Westeros, this narrative appeals greatly to the proud ironborn, who install Euron as their king after a ritual drowning ceremony.
Meanwhile, Yara and Theon sneak off with the best ships of the Iron Island’s fleet (and, presumably, several thousand of their best men). Euron orders the building of a thousand ships and the murder of his niece and nephew, though one seems infinitely more plausible than the other.
It’s unclear where Yara and Theon are sailing, but there are several possibilities. They could be headed north to Jon Snow and Sansa Stark if Theon convinces Yara that an alliance with the North is their most immediate and advantageous option (perhaps with the condition that the Northern forces help them unseat Euron from power once the North is secured). Or, they could be taking Euron’s information for themselves and sailing off for Slaver’s Bay to woo a dragon queen to their cause with a new fleet of ships.
In the Dothraki Sea, that dragon queen meets with her loyal knight, Ser Jorah, and thanks him for saving her once again. Though she has banished him twice, he has saved her twice, so she says that she does not quite know what to do with him at this point. Revealing his greyscale infection to her, Jorah confesses his love openly now that he is sure it can never be returned. Daenerys is heartbroken and commands him to find a cure so that he might be at her side by the time she conquers Westeros. He sets off on his solo quest for healing while Daenerys and Daario Naharis lead their new Dothraki cavalry onward.
In Meereen, a temporary and fragile peace appears to have descended upon the city, thanks to Tyrion’s adept maneuvering. However, he feels that they still have a problem with their narrative. Daenerys is still missing, with a foreign dwarf and a eunuch ruling in her stead. Tyrion wants to be sure that the common people understand that the peace that has been brokered is the direct result of Daenerys’s rule. He feels that there is a risk of the masters using the narrative of “foreign invasion” to stamp out whatever good they have been able to accomplish.
To help spread their narrative of the great dragon queen, the Breaker of Chains, and “…all that,” Tyrion makes a bold and potentially foolhardy move. He invites Kinvara, the High Priestess of the Red Temple, to help him promote Daenerys’s greatness. She is more than willing to help their cause; after all, she believes that Daenerys is the Prince That Was Promised (the other Red Priestess we know, Melisandre, believes it to be Jon Snow) and that the dragons were a gift from the Lord of Light.
Kinvara reveals a mystical power when she says she knows that Tyrion has heard all this before from a sermon in Volantis. On the Long Bridge of Volantis, Tyrion and Varys watched the sermon of a Red Priestess declaring the Dragon Queen as the savior of the world. “We’re going to meet the savior, you should’ve told me! Who doesn’t want to meet the savior?” Tyrion told Varys with sarcastic irreverence during this Season 5 scene. In that moment, the priestess turned and looked at him knowingly, and here Kinvara is recounting the moment with equally unnerving precision.
Varys is immediately and rightly skeptical of this move. He tells Kinvara that Melisandre once thought Stannis was the Prince That Was Promised, only to be defeated twice in battle and, ultimately, killed. Kinvara readily admits that humans, even red priestesses, make mistakes. To prove her own powers, she reveals the story of Varys’s mutilation, including details that Varys is stunned to hear her speak. She says that Varys heard words in the flames when his parts were tossed on the fire and offers to identify who it was that spoke to him. Varys himself told Tyrion this very story back in Season 3, right down to hearing a voice answer the sorcerer’s call.
“I still dream of that night,” he said to Tyrion back then. “Not of the sorcerer, not of his blade—I dream of the voice from the flames. Was it a god, a demon, a conjurer’s trick? I don’t know. But the sorcerer called, and a voice answered, and ever since that day I have hated magic and all those who practice it. Well, you can see why I was eager to aid in your fight against Stannis and his Red Priestess as symbolic revenge, of sorts.”
Varys is understandably chilled by this Red Priestess’s knowledge of one of his few haunting fears. It is the only time I can remember seeing Varys fully out of his depth, and that feels like a dangerous place to be.
By aligning Church and State, Tyrion could be making the same mistake as his sister, Cersei, when she empowered the High Sparrow in King’s Landing so as to punish her rival, Margaery. We all know how that plan is going. Kinvara looks forward to the day when “the dragons will purify nonbelievers by the thousands, burning all their sins and flesh away.” Let’s hope that she is not as prescient of the future as she is insightful of the past. In the meanwhile, she promises Tyrion that her best priests and priestesses will descend upon Meereen to preach the glory of the Dragon Queen and her faithful ministers.
Later, Bran sneaks back into the roots of the weirwood tree without the Three-Eyed Raven’s permission. (Or did he? There’s an argument to be made that the Three-Eyed Raven knew that all of this was going to happen, as Hodor’s upcoming scene implies that it was fate.) Bran has been impatient to learn and use his powers, and probably also just likes the feeling of being able to walk on his own two legs again, not be crippled and trapped in the dark roots of a tree.
He revisits the same weirwood tree from the earlier vision, only this time in the dead of winter. When he turns around, he sees the army of the undead wights. He goes unnoticed among their ranks, as he has in all of his journeys into the past. However, this vision is different. When he comes upon the White Walkers at the back, the Night’s King looks directly at him and grips his arm.
When he wakes from the vision, the Three-Eyed Raven already knows that the Night’s King touched Bran. The mark on Bran’s arm means that the Night’s King and his army can find them, and the magic that protected them in the weirwood is no longer effective at barring their entry. He tells Bran that they must leave, and that it is time for him to take over as the Three-Eyed Raven. When Bran asks if he is ready, the old man replies simply, “No.” Then, he takes him immediately back into the past, despite their immediate danger. I read this as one last attempt to download his memories into Bran, and/or one last lesson that needed to be learned before they left the weirwood tree.
“We can go home now, Hodor,” Meera says, but Hodor can never go home. In one of the series’ saddest moments yet, we learn that Hodor has been stuck in a time loop for his entire life. Decades of his life have been leading up to one moment, where he is meant to perform one action: “Hold the door.”
When the White Walkers and wights invade the weirwood tree, Hodor is once again frozen with fear. Hodor has been afraid to fight several times in the past. Bran warged into him to calm him down in Season 3 and to kill Roose Bolton’s man in Season 4. This time, Bran controls Hodor in the present while also observing him in the past, creating a link between past and present. He does this under the Three-Eyed Raven’s insistence, as if the old man knew that this was meant to happen. The Three-Eyed Raven is struck down by the Night’s King, vanishing to dust in Bran’s vision in the past.
As Meera, Leaf, Hodor, and Bran all run to escape out of a back door, Bran’s direwolf sacrifices himself to slow the zombies down. First, Summer is cut down, then Leaf also sacrifices herself with a suicide bombing.
In Bran’s vision of the past, the young Hodor (then named Wylis) appears to see Bran across the courtyard. His eyes roll up into his head, just like what happens when Bran wargs into him. It’s not clear whether Bran wargs into him in the past, as well, or if there is simply a link opened up between the past and present, which breaks young Hodor’s mind. Wylis hears Meera’s command, “Hold the door,” ringing through the link. As he experiences what looks like a seizure, his frantic repetition of this phrase slurs gradually into the familiar refrain, “Hodor,” and the character we have known and loved all along is born through much more horrific circumstances than we could have ever imagined.
Alternatively, Bran being in both the present and past, while also controlling Hodor in the present, may have linked past and present Hodor through time and space. In this second scenario, Wylis experiences the terror of the moment holding the door against the wights. As his adult form is being killed, the younger Wylis starts to slur his speech. It could be that Wylis became Hodor because he experienced his own death in that formative moment, holding the door with Meera screaming the command at him—his mind breaking from the trauma. It could explain Hodor’s crippling fear whenever there were loud noises or threats of violence; he could have been living his whole life in anticipation of this moment when he would once again experience his own death.
I’ve been grappling with the rules of Bran’s time travel and Hodor’s transformation for the last couple of days. I think while this makes it appear like Bran can go back and change the past, it seems like he may only have enough influence to lead the past towards events that we have already seen in the present. For example, though we see him create the Hodor we have always known, we probably will not get to see him go back and save his mother, brother, or father’s lives. He may, in fact, be at fault for some of the things that have happened in this series so far, just as we have only now discovered that he was at fault for Hodor losing his senses and ability to speak. Only time will tell.
What I do feel confident about is that the Three-Eyed Raven knew this was supposed to happen all along. He is the one who takes Bran back to a memory about a young Ned Stark (and, consequently, a young Wylis before he was Hodor) just when the shit hits the fan. For the setting of his last lesson, this is a rather inconsequential memory: Ned Stark being sent to the Vale. The Three-Eyed Raven then encourages Bran to warg into Wylis, which does him real harm and brands him forever in the name of this one moment’s sacrifice to Bran.
As the Red Priestess says to Tyrion, “Everyone is what they are and where they are for a reason. Terrible things happen for a reason.” This may have been the Three-Eyed Raven’s final lesson to Bran: changing the past can have horrible consequences.
In that final vision, Ned Stark’s father tells his son, “Try to stay out of fights… But if you have to fight, win.” As Bran watches his faithful friend and companion’s brain be savaged by the power he uses to save himself from a certain death, he is forced to face the unintended consequences of war. “Does death only come for the wicked and leave the decent behind?” Jaqen asks Arya in the House of Black and White. No, death comes to both the wicked and the decent, the guilty and the innocent—especially in war. Is the cost of war worth the price you have to pay to try and win it?
Other Thoughts on “The Door”:
- I’ve been thinking about the broader title of the series: A Song of Fire and Ice. There are many allusions to fire and ice in the series, with the dragons and White Walkers being the most obvious. After this episode, I now see both as their own form of “nuclear options”—both are untamable superweapons, as we have learned. The Children of the Forest could not control the White Walkers and ultimately had to ally with their enemies to fight against the monsters of their own making. Is this in the future for Daenerys? Will she be able to control her dragons, or will they come to burn thousands of “nonbelievers,” as the priestess Kinvara predicts? Will she have to ally with her enemies to destroy the weapon of her own making? It could be an interesting parallel.
- How does Euron know that Daenerys needs ships? I guess it could be a simple assumption about an upstart queen. However, he has been sailing all over the world and only just returned. Could he have been the one to set Daenerys’s fleet on fire in the beginning of the season? The timeline would obviously be tight for such a long journey back to the Iron Islands. However, I don’t think that the separate storylines are all aligned temporally as they appear in the show, so it could be possible.
- There was no visit to King’s Landing for the first time in a while, but I was okay with that. It was great to spend so much time with three of the four remaining Starks.
- I loved the performance of the play in Braavos. It was a clever way to show how the rest of the world views the events in Westeros, and yet another reminder not to take the histories you read at face value. For example, Shakespeare wrote historical plays demonizing the Plantagenet rulers and praising the Tudors, Richard III being the most salient example. The actual King Richard III was hardly the deformed villain of Shakespeare’s plays, but the Bard’s telling of the history has impacted people’s view of the last Plantagenet ruler for centuries. If the play in this episode is to be believed, Joffrey was the just and rightful heir to the Iron Throne in the minds of many Braavosi.
- Where will Jorah go to find his cure? In the same scene that Kinvara referenced to Tyrion, when he watched a sermon on a bridge in Volantis, Tyrion made a quip about the futility of praying away Greyscale. The Red Priestesses said the Lord of Light “hears the Stone Men in their misery.” Maybe Jorah will find his cure with the High Priestess Kinvara in Meereen, and he won’t have to leave Daenerys’s side after all. Or, he’ll go to the Red Temple of Volantis to do the same. He could also seek out whomever was able to cure Shireen, though that might take forever; Stannis brought every maester and healer from both sides of the Narrow Sea to try to cure his daughter, and some combination of their efforts worked. He could also try to find the mysterious woman named Quaithe in the far east beyond Asshai. He first met her in Qarth back in Season 2. Back then, he saw her painting a sailor to protect him for a journey through the Smoking Sea. “All who travel too close to the Doom must have protection,” she said. The Smoking Sea was where Jorah contracted Greyscale, so perhaps he will remember Quaithe and seek her out to see if she offers cures as well as protections.
- How can Euron and the ironborn build ships fast enough? Not only would it take forever to do, but it will also require a hell of a lot more trees than the iron islands seem to possess. Really hoping he doesn’t accomplish this task by the next episode, though many have accused the showrunners of running afoul with the timeline on multiple occasions.
- Throughout the series, Hodor has sometimes been used as a source of gentle humor or levity. All of those moments are now forever clouded for me. I never expected such a powerful reveal about Hodor’s backstory, though George R.R. Martin has confirmed that the show will match the book’s eventual reveal and was what he was planning all along.
- Let’s all give a major hand to Sam Coleman, the actor who played young Hodor in the flashback. His performance in this scene is a huge part of what makes it so affecting. I think this is one of the scenes that will be more moving on screen than on the page, and it’s thanks to Coleman.
- This episode showcased some equal opportunity nudity, for once. Though the STD-ridden penis is not quite on par with the breasts, but it’s a step in the right direction… I guess?
- I don’t think Arya is going to be able to fully shed her past and complete her training with the Faceless Men, but that’s just me. I wonder if she’ll do what Bruce Wayne does to the League of Shadows in Batman Begins. In it, he finds out that the same organization that trained him also plans to commit a horrible atrocity in service to the “greater good” (Jaqen = Ra’s al Ghul). In this episode, Arya already appears skeptical about the purpose of her mission to kill an actress she seems to think is a pretty decent person in service to a god she does not yet believe in.
- Is Bran “marked” permanently—will the Night’s King be following him constantly? The mark made the magical powers protecting the weirwood moot. Could the mark have a similar effect on the Wall if Bran and Meera travel south? Remember, the Wall was constructed with the help of the Children of the Forests’ magic. The mark of the Night’s King made their magic ineffective in the weirwood; it’s plausible that it could do the same to the Wall. I hate to think that Jon’s playful jab at Edd (“Don’t knock it down while I’m gone.”) was instead horrifying foreshadowing…
- Was Leaf the last of the Children of the Forest? Or are there more out there? That scene is even sadder if we witnessed the extinction of a species.
- “A bit brooding, perhaps… I suppose that’s understandable, considering.” – Brienne once again slaying the comedic timing, in reference to Jon Snow. He’s SO brooding, thank you.
- This week on Tormund and Brienne FOREVER (my latest and greatest OTP): this gif.
- Brienne heading to the Riverlands is more in line with where she is in the books. Could this finally mean an introduction of Lady Stoneheart? (Warning: Lady Stoneheart is a spoiler from the books for something that may or may not happen in the show, though it’s seemed unlikely up until this latest development. Still, if you’re curious to know what this might be about…. Click here)
- In the aerial shot of the stones surrounding the heart tree, I noticed a striking similarity to another shot from Season 3. Mance Rayder and Jon Snow found the bodies of dead horses and Night’s Watchmen arranged in a similar pattern. Mance even said “Always the artists,” implying he’s seen something like this before. Could it be a message from the White Walkers for the Children of the Forest, who laid out their stones in a similar fashion?