In “The Winds of Winter,” it is not only the season that changes. Several of the major houses and characters are, by this point, nearly unrecognizable from the start of the series, killed or altered by a vicious cycle of vengeance that has motivated the events of this story since the beginning. It all started with one act—the supposed kidnapping and rape of Lyanna Stark by Rhaegar Targaryen—leading Robert Baratheon and Ned Stark to seek to get their revenge by bringing down the Targaryen crown in Robert’s Rebellion. “How many tens of thousands had to die because Rhaegar chose your aunt?” Littlefinger wondered to Sansa in Season 5, and the deaths continue to pile up to this day. This week we learned that, though many lives were lost as a result of the kidnapping or (more likely) love affair between Lyanna and Rhaegar, one very important life was gained: they had a son whom Ned raised as his own.
One of the characters who has changed the most from the beginning has been Arya Stark, propelled by her quest for vengeance. Ever since her father’s beheading and the murder of her family at the Red Wedding, Arya has literally counted off the names of her enemies on a hit list. Her quest for revenge has led her across the Narrow Sea, to Braavos, where she trained to become a deadly assassin among the Faceless Men. At first, when she presented Jaqen H’ghar the face of her enemy, the Waif, and declared herself to be Arya Stark of Winterfell, I thought she had failed his test. However, his faint smile and nod in that moment gave it away. “Finally, a girl is No One,” he said, completing Arya’s training.
Arya returns to Westeros as a Faceless Man with at least one additional face and wears it to go undercover at the Twins. Disguised among the Freys and Lannisters, she moves about as a pretty serving girl and even catches the eye of Bronn and Jaime Lannister.
At the feast, House Frey celebrates their victory over the Tullys once again, having defeated the Blackfish to reacquire Riverrun (with considerable help from Jaime’s army). Long ago the Freys made a pact with Tywin Lannister to murder their allies Robb and Catelyn Stark in return for control over the Riverlands. However, a disgruntled Jaime asks the head of the Frey house, Walder, why the Lannisters even need the Freys if they are unable to keep control of the Riverlands themselves.
Jaime is a bit salty because he resents Walder for comparing the two of them, calling them both Kingslayers. Jaime, of course, believes he killed the Mad King Aerys for noble reasons, since the Targaryen king was about to detonate wildfire beneath the city of King’s Landing, killing his father Tywin and thousands of innocents (we get a chance to see what horror Jaime prevented in this very episode). Walder, on the other hand, never really fought a day in his life and backstabbed his king to improve his own station. Jaime wants nothing more to do with this man, and we could not agree more.
When later the comely serving girl reappears with Walder Frey in an empty hall, I dared to hope. In a scene right out of Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus, the girl reveals to Walder that his two sons are baked into the meat pie she’s just served him. Then, she removes her face and reveals her true identity: Arya Stark come to avenge the deaths of her mother and brother.
“My name is Arya Stark,” she says, making this declaration her new motto (in place of “A girl is No One”). “I want you to know that. The last thing you’re ever going to see is a Stark smiling down at you as you die.”
Drawing a blade across his neck and smiling in satisfaction, Arya kills Walder the same way he had her mother killed, a karmic revenge she has dreamed of for years. Thanks to her training, she is able to infiltrate the Freys even among an army of Lannisters. With her new skills of camouflage, this is likely to be only the first of many names crossed off her famous list. Who’s next: Cersei, Ser Gregor Clegane, the “Red Woman” (Melisandre), Beric Dondarrion, Thoros of Myr, Ser Illyn Payne, or someone new?
We get our first glimpse of Oldtown, home of the scholarly maesters, through the eyes of Sam and Gilly. They arrive in time to see the release of the white ravens from the Hightower, which is the maester’s signal for the official arrival of winter. (Later, we see one of the white ravens arrive at Winterfell.) When they meet with a maester and bureaucrat of Oldtown, Sam delivers a letter from Lord Commander Jon Snow ordering that he be trained to take over for the deceased Maester Aemon.
Not only does Oldtown not know that Jon Snow is no long Lord Commander, but they also don’t know that the previous Lord Commander, Jeor Mormont, is dead. Apparently, though one of a maester’s primary responsibilities is to send messages over long distances via ravens, the lines of communication between the Citadel and the Night’s Watch have broken down tremendously. Forget any hope that the Citadel is working to meet the very real danger of the White Walkers. Looks like Sam is our only hope.
Sam gains entrance to the Citadel’s library while he waits to meet with one of the Archmaesters, leaving Gilly and baby Sam behind with little more than an apologetic shrug. Though inconsequential in the immediate episode, Sam’s purpose in Oldtown is to discover a way to defeat the White Walkers and the Night’s King, using the Citadel’s vast resources to research the last time they were defeated thousands of years ago. We are probably (hopefully?) leaving him here on his own for a while so he can complete this task.
We travel with the white raven to Winterfell, where Davos confronts Melisandre for her role in murdering Shireen Baratheon, Stannis’s daughter, whom he loved like his own. She tries to defend herself, arguing that she only did what was necessary to aid Stannis and his struggling troops, and that Shireen’s parents also lit the pyre upon which their daughter burned. In the end, however, Melisandre admits that she made a mistake in her incorrect interpretation of the flames, and looks remorseful that a child died as a result.
Davos is unrelenting in his demands that Melisandre is punished for her crime. Jon does his best imitation of Ned Stark in doing the noble thing before the pragmatic thing, banishing one of his best assets to the south.
Jon and Sansa watch Melisandre ride south and continue to awkwardly navigate in the Stark power vacuum left after they defeated Ramsay Bolton. Jon says he has Ned and Catelyn’s room prepared for Sansa, but she insists that he should take it. The two of them seem unsure about whether or not they really want to rule House Stark, but in this scene, Jon insists that she is the trueborn daughter of Winterfell and the one responsible for their victory in reclaiming it, presumably giving her the strongest claim.
Sansa, for her part, apologizes for not telling him about asking for Littlefinger’s help or the knights of the Vale. Jon insists that they have to trust each other, calling out a clear issue between the two of them. “We can’t fight a war amongst ourselves, we have so many enemies now.” While they clearly love one another, both of them are hesitant to trust the other: Jon did not listen to Sansa before the battle, and Sansa did not share news of her letter to Littlefinger. Jon brings Sansa into an embrace and they seem united in purpose, at least for the time being.
When Sansa sits alone in the godswood, Littlefinger comes to meet with her in private. She asks him what he wants from her, and Littlefinger makes his ambitions plain for what feels like the first time in the series. He admits that he wants the Iron Throne most of all, with her at his side.
Varys once said that Littlefinger would “see his country burn if he could be king of the ashes.” He has always been an agent of chaos, promoting his favorite theory that “Chaos is a ladder.” He destabilizes the world around him to take control of what’s left in the wake of the people who fall (for Lysa Arryn, this fall was quite literal). He’s gained lands, titles, money, and even an army from this chaos. Until this week, we did not know how far he wanted to test this theory, but now it’s clear he means to climb that ladder to the very top.
For this reason, he seems to be stirring up trouble between Sansa and Jon. Littlefinger has little to gain from a Jon Snow-led House Stark. Sansa, on the other hand, represents much more opportunity for him, even if she won’t have his hand in marriage. She refuses his advances in the godswood, unwilling to trust this man who pimped her out to Ramsay Bolton at great cost to herself. However, as when he told her that she should acquire her own army in the beginning of this season, he plants another bug in her ear when he wonders aloud whether the North should rally behind Ned and Catelyn’s trueborn daughter or a motherless bastard born in the South.
He’s trying to cause trouble between them, sure, but the point is also not without merit. Even before Bran’s flashback reveal about the fact that Jon is not even Ned’s son (which we’ll get to in a bit), Sansa has an arguably stronger claim on the throne, since the North follows a male-preference cognatic primogeniture (much like the English monarchy up until 2015, at which time parliament finally ruled that gender does not affect inheritance). Bastards are not normally accepted in this society, let alone given lands and titles. However, when they gather with all of the victorious parties in the Great Hall of Winterfell, Sansa is quickly forgotten in favor of her bastard brother.
At first, the various groups argue over allying with their traditional enemies, the wildlings. Jon declares that his father always used to say that true friends are born on the battlefield. One of the men, Lord Cley Cerwyn, says that the war is over and they must all return home to wait out the winter. Jon urges them to continue the fight, knowing that the war has only just begun, for now dark forces are descending on them from north of the Wall.
No one seems to agree on the next course of action until the young Lyanna Mormont goes around the room calling out all of the great men and houses who refused the call of service to their feudal lord. She is the first to declare Jon Snow the King in the North, since Ned Stark’s blood runs through his veins (or so we all assumed). It’s interesting that, as is revealed in this episode, a girl bearing the name of his mother (Lyanna Stark) is the one to declare Jon Snow the King in the North.
It is thus, with the inspiring words of a 10-year-old girl, that the traditional patriarchy of the North decides that Jon Snow has more of a claim on the title of King in the North than his trueborn sister. This is also despite the fact that it was Sansa, not Jon, who won the Second Battle of Winterfell. It was Sansa who set them on this mission in the first place, begging her brother to help her retake their childhood home when they were back at Castle Black.
The Northern bannermen leave Sansa out of it entirely and thank Jon Snow for avenging the Red Wedding. They call him the “White Wolf” (just like they called Robb the “Young Wolf”) and rise with their swords drawn, chanting “King in the North” as the Game of Thrones theme music plays. This is a great moment for him, and it calls back the scene where Robb was similarly honored.
In that moment long ago, Robb looked with uncertainty toward his mother. In this scene, Jon similarly looks toward Sansa. There’s a beat where she smiles at him, and appears to be proud and happy. But then, when she sees Littlefinger off to the side looking disappointed in her, her face falls a little.
We cannot know what she is thinking in that moment, but I think that she is conflicted. She does not realize how much she wants this for herself until Littlefinger makes it plain in the godswood. However, there are inklings of it throughout her discussions with Jon in the last few episodes, particularly when she chastised him for not asking for her input in preparing the battle. She’s happy to retake Winterfell and see one of her own reinstalled at the end of the household, but she’s also beginning to acknowledge her own ambitions, just a bit too late.
When they stood together on the ramparts, Jon told Sansa, “You’re the Lady of Winterfell, you deserve it. We’re standing here because of you.” However, he stays silent on this score in the Great Hall. Unlike Theon Greyjoy, who threw his support behind his sister when he felt she deserved it more, Jon accepts the position as it is given to him, and never acknowledges Sansa’s similar right to the title.
Littlefinger once promised her, “The North will be yours. Do you believe me?” Regrets echo across Sansa’s face as she sits wordlessly at Jon’s side. Next season, I think Littlefinger will play a key role in Sansa’s plans in the North, whatever they turn out to be. “Only a fool would trust Littlefinger,” she told Jon on the ramparts, refusing to forgive the man for selling her to the Boltons. Littlefinger is a powerful and dangerous man, but as he once told Sansa in the crypts of Winterfell, “Even the most dangerous men can be outmaneuvered, and you’ve learned to maneuver from the very best.” Having been trained by Littlefinger himself, Sansa may be the only one capable of playing him to her advantage. Maybe, just maybe, the learner will become the master.
For his part, Jon is a reluctant leader who never overtly seeks positions of power, which is precisely why so many people think he’s perfect for the job. As with his rise to Lord Commander, Jon does not ask to be named the King in the North, but accepts the role when given. Lyanna Mormont and the Northern bannermen proclaim Jon’s noble Stark blood without realizing just how much royal blood flows through his veins.
When we meet back with Bran beyond the Wall, we learn the final piece to the puzzle of Jon Snow’s parentage, which has been teased all season. At long last, the long-held fan theory R+L=J (Rhaegar + Lyanna = Jon) has been confirmed. Dozens of fan theories and videos later, Jon Snow’s Targaryen blood is proven in the latest of Bran’s visions.
When Bran follows a young Ned Stark into the Tower of Joy, he sees his aunt Lyanna Stark lying in a bed covered in blood. As she slowly slips away, she makes her big brother Ned promise to take care of her newborn son. She whispers to him, likely telling him that this baby is Rhaegar Targaryen’s son or giving his name. We can hear her when she says that if Robert Baratheon found out they baby’s true identity, he would kill the boy. She begs Ned to protect his identity, which he did until his dying day. He raised this baby as his own bastard son, accepting the disappointment of his own beloved wife, who always thought he cheated on her (which seemed so unimaginable, given his strict sense of honor in all things). This boy, Jon Snow, has not only Stark blood in his veins, but also Targaryen.
As Prince Rhaegar’s son (and Daenerys’s nephew), Jon Snow has perhaps even more claim to the Iron Throne than Daenerys, but Ned took this secret with him to the grave. Before Ned found Lyanna in the Tower, he and Robert had launched a whole war against the Targaryens assuming that Rhaegar had kidnapped and raped her. Earlier in the season, we saw Ned fight against the Targaryen kingsguard to get to his sister in the Tower of Joy, assuming the worst.
However, as Littlefinger once hinted at with Sansa, the common tale about Lyanna and Rhaegar might not have been all it seemed. Rhaegar was a beloved, albeit arrogant prince. He was known as a lover, not a rapist. Though she was promised to Robert Baratheon, and Rhaegar was already wed to Elia Martell, it’s likely that Lyanna and Rhaegar had an affair and ran off together. Even Oberyn Martell, brother to Elia and with more cause than anyone to be angry with Rhaegar, did not believe that Lyanna was raped; instead, he told Tyrion in Season 4 that Rhaegar “left [Elia] for another woman.”
Ned realizes this too late to stop Robert’s Rebellion, but at least he has the opportunity to do right by his sister and protect her newborn son. Jon Snow is the product of a love affair between two of the great houses and seems, now more than ever, destined for greatness.
The episode’s biggest surprises came in King’s Landing. We start with the trial of Ser Loras Tyrell in the Sept of Baelor. Instead of standing trial, Loras admits his guilt and confesses to his many supposed crimes. He is sworn into the Faith Militant and a seven-pointed star is carved into his forehead to mark him for life. Margaery is upset with the High Sparrow for mutilating her brother, telling him that it was not part of their agreement, proving that Margaery was negotiating off-screen to protect her brother from harm.
Not only does this mean that Loras renounces his claim on House Tyrell, leaving the great house without a (male) heir, but it also means that the Faith Militant has acquired a pretty great knight for its cause. This seemed like a massive win for the High Sparrow and the Faith, but these developments paled in comparison to what was about to come.
When Cersei sent Ser Gregor Clegane to stop her son, King Tommen, from heading to the Sept for the trial, something was clearly up. This dawns on the intelligent Queen Margaery, who tries to convince the High Sparrow to let everyone out of the Sept. Instead, he has his men bar the doors, preventing anyone from fleeing the scene, determined as he is to not let Cersei off the hook. Margaery and her family fight to get out, but it is too late.
Below the Sept, in a hidden cellar that Lancel Lannister discovers by following one of maester Qyburn’s young spies, are barrels full of wildfire. Sitting in the volatile green substance are several lit candles nearing the end of their wick. Stabbed in the spine and incapacitated, Lancel desperately crawls to attempt to put out the light, but it is too late. A giant green fireball, which we witnessed in one of Bran’s visions several episodes ago, consumes him and the Sept of Baelor in a violent explosion.
A few episodes ago, maester Qyburn told Cersei that his little birds confirmed a “rumor,” which I guessed was the presence of wildfire stored beneath King’s Landing. This cache of explosive material was left there by the Mad King Aerys Targaryen. In Season 3, Jaime told Brienne, “Aerys saw traitors everywhere. So he had his pyromancers place caches of wildfire all over the city. Beneath the Sept of Baelor and the slums of Flea Bottom. Under houses, stables, taverns. Even beneath the Red Keep itself.” Cersei and Qyburn found the wildfire stored under the Sept of Baelor and plotted to detonate it during Cersei’s trial before the Faith.
In one massive stroke, Cersei eliminates not only the High Sparrow and his fanatical Faith Militant, but also the Tyrell family, whom she has long fought with for control over the crown. Two episodes ago, Jaime foreshadowed his sister’s destruction of the Great Sept when he told Brynden “The Blackfish” Tully that Catelyn and Cersei would “burn cities to ashes” if anyone hurt their children. At the time, I hypothesized that if Cersei burned some or all of King’s Landing with wildfire, she could inadvertently cause her own son’s death. When King Tommen looks out over the ruins of the Great Sept, his queen’s body in among the destruction, he takes off his crown and calmly walks out of the window. Meanwhile, in another room, Cersei smiles victoriously to witness the Great Sept crumbling to ashes.
At the same time, Cersei’s sycophants work behind the scenes to consolidate her power over the court. She has her maester Qyburn and his little spies lure the Grand Maester Pycelle to his death. After all, he seemed to have King Tommen’s ear lately; she saw him whispering with Tommen on two separate occasions this season, including the time before Tommen’s speech outlawing trial by combats, which is what forced Cersei’s nuclear option in the first place. To maintain her own influence over Tommen, she has the Grand Maester murdered.
She also captures the infamous Septa Unella, the devout woman who took such pleasure in torturing Cersei during her imprisonment, and pours wine over her face. She confesses at last to all of her crimes, some more horrific than others, saying that she committed each one because they “felt good.” When Septa Unella says that she is ready for her death, Cersei denies her the pleasure. Instead, she has her monster Gregor Clegane torture and potentially rape her (as he famously did to Elia Martell), unmasked for the first time as the hideous zombie monster that he is (remember: Cersei’s maester Qyburn performed controversial experiments on him to keep him alive after Oberyn Martell stabbed him with a poisonous spear). When she closes the door, leaving the two of them behind it, she coldly intones Septa Unella’s trademark phrase: “Shame, shame, shame.”
Cersei is triumphant until she hears news of Tommen’s fate. She stands beside his body covered in a golden shroud (as in the prophecy) and insists on seeing his face, forcing herself to look upon the devastating consequence of her decisive action. Though I don’t believe that Cersei knew she would cause her son’s death, she has long resigned herself to the fate of the prophesy she heard as a child: that her three children would predecease her and be covered in golden shrouds. That’s why she does not mourn Tommen the same way she mourned Joffrey. It’s not for lack of love for him, or lack of remorse over his death, but out of resignation to the cruel hand of fate.
Before and after Joffrey’s death, Cersei fought to change the future and prevent Maggy the Frog’s prophecy from coming true. It motivated some of her most extreme actions. She was a vicious mama bear protecting her cubs from anyone who might do them harm. When she failed to protect Joffrey and then her daughter Myrcella, Cersei admitted to Jaime, “Everything [Maggy] said came true, you couldn’t have stopped it. This prophecy, it’s fate.” That was in the season premiere. She resigned herself then to Tommen’s death so completely that when she ends up causing it herself in an ironic twist of fate, she does not weep. The great tragedy of her life is that, in fighting so hard to protect her children, she ultimately ends up causing their demise.
The sight of his mother’s heinous act and the murder of his beloved wife was probably enough to push the poor king Tommen over the edge, but some part of him also may have acted to punish his mother once and for all. Cersei loves her children with a dangerous ferocity, but it was her own self-interest that brought down the Great Sept and everyone in it with such little remorse. Tommen knows how much his mother loves him, how much she would do to protect him; this season, he talked about it with her (“I should’ve pulled down the Sept onto the High Sparrow’s head before I let them do that to you, as you would have for me. You raised me to be strong, and I wasn’t, but I want to be. Help me.”) and with the High Sparrow (“Her love for you is more real than anything else in this world… You’ve seen her when she talks to you. It’s a great gift.”). Perhaps he realized that the only way he could truly punish her for this monstrous act of self-preservation is by killing himself.
Cersei mourns her son, but does not give up. In his death, Tommen actually gives his mother what she always wanted: to be queen. As a young girl, she asked Maggy the Frog if she would ever be queen, and of course she became the queen when she married Robert Baratheon. However, it now seems like Maggy was talking about something greater than just the ceremonial power acquired through marriage; she was talking about the throne itself, which is what Cersei wanted all along.
I never saw this coming, never predicted this moment, but boy was it exciting and frightening to see Cersei ascend the steps and take her seat on the Iron Throne. Here Daenerys is sailing to claim the throne in King’s Landing, to declare herself the first queen of Westeros (as she just discussed with Yara last week), and Cersei beats her to it!
Cersei has fumbled and blundered for so long in her bids for power. It was really something to see her be crowned queen, for even she could not have predicted this outcome. She accepts the title with the knowledge that she killed her son for it, however inadvertently. Heavy is the head that wears the crown, but it wears the crown nonetheless. As Cersei would say, “power is power.” Cersei’s story is both a triumph and a tragedy, and the actress Lena Headey has played it to perfection.
What’s interesting is that, though Cersei regards Tommen’s death as an inevitability, she thinks she has gotten the better of the rest of Maggy’s prophecy: “there comes another, younger and more beautiful, to cast you down and take all that you hold dear.” She probably still assumes that this was Margaery, whom she finally defeated in the attack on the Sept. What she fails to anticipate is that the prophecy is not complete. After all, the younger queen, Daenerys Targaryen, rides for King’s Landing as we speak.
Daenerys has spent the last six seasons gearing up to her invasion of Westeros, and it seems like we will have it at long last. First, she sheds her lover Daario Naharis under Tyrion’s advice, not wanting to bring him with her to King’s Landing when she can use marriage as a bargaining chip. She leaves him in charge of maintaining order in Meereen and the newly-renamed “Bay of Dragons” (changed from “Slaver’s Bay”).
When she meets with Tyrion, he tries to console her for having to dump her lover, but she confesses that she feels very little grief to give up the man who loved her. Tyrion rightly guesses that Daario will not be the first nor the last man to love her. After all, like Jorah Mormont before him, he has come to believe in her so much after giving up on believing in himself, or much of anything for that matter.
Daenerys gives him the gift of a familiar brooch, the same one he wore many years ago remade with a new purpose, and declares him the Hand of the Queen. Struck with emotion, Tyrion accepts and kneels before his queen. Long ago, his father installed him as the Acting Hand of the King to Joffrey, and he was admittedly very happy in the role, but his family was never grateful for his efforts. With Daenerys, he is given another chance to assume the role for which he was made, a role that made him happy when he has had so little cause for happiness in his life. Daenerys has earned his respect and devotion by demonstrating the same for him. It was a very touching moment for all of Tyrion’s fans—so, everyone.
Meanwhile, Daenerys’s other strategic advisor, Varys, fulfills his guarantee to help find friends among the Westerosi. When we left him a couple episodes ago, he apparently set sail for Dorne. This southern kingdom has long been in opposition to the current rule, since the Lannister army was responsible for the brutal murder of Elia Martel (wife of Rhaegar Targaryen, sister-in-law to Daenerys). The Lannisters had Ser Gregor Clegane rape and murder her in the uprising against the Mad King Aerys and the Targaryen crown. Varys knew that Dorne would be fertile ground for support in Daenerys’s efforts to take over the Seven Kingdoms. What he did not anticipate was the Tyrell’s additional support.
When Margaery sent Lady Olenna away from King’s Landing, after the High Sparrow threatened the matriarch’s life, she ended up becoming her family’s lone survivor. It’s not clear if she ever got to Highgarden when news reached her that the entire line of Tyrells had been wiped out. Like Varys, she heads to Dorne knowing that there she will find allies in her cause of vengeance against Cersei, united as they are with the sad reality of Lannisters murdering their beloved family members. Luckily for both of these great families now dimished, Varys arrives with a proposition: throw your support behind the invading Daenerys Targaryen and you will achieve your quest for “vengeance, justice, fire and blood” (“Fire and Blood” being the words of House Targaryen).
Later, we see Dornish ships with Martell sails in among Daenerys’s fleet, which has grown considerably larger in the last few episodes. She sails with ships from the Greyjoys, the defeated slavermasters of the former Slaver’s Bay, and now the Martells. On these ships are forces of the Dothraki, Ironborn, Unsullied, Dornishmen, and potentially Tyrells. The wealth of the Tyrell house is second only to the Lannisters, and their army is the largest in the land. In temporarily defeating her enemies, Cersei has swelled the ranks of a much greater foe on the horizon. We’ll have to wait until Season 7 to see it, but at long last, the invasion of Westeros is upon us. It’ll be months before we can behold it, but I could not be more excited.
Other Thoughts on “The Winds of Winter”:
- Apologies for this being even longer than my usually-overlong recaps; at 69 minutes, this was the longest episode ever, by a long shot. Lots to discuss!
- The direwolf sigil of House Stark is once more reinstalled in the show’s title animation, replacing the Bolton’s flayed man.
- Many people throughout the series have remarked on the unlikelihood of Ned Stark betraying his marriage vows to Catelyn, including Stannis in Season 5 (“That wasn’t Ned Stark’s way.”) and Robert Baratheon in Season 1 (“It must have been a rare wench to make Lord Eddard Stark forget his honor.”), lending weight to the fan theories that Ned could not be Jon’s father. There have been other breadcrumbs sprinkled throughout the show over the years, including a telling scene in Season 5 when Maester Aemon Targaryen told Sam, “A Targaryen alone in the world. It’s a terrible thing.” right before the camera panned up to Jon Snow entering the room. It’s fun to find these hints now that the long-held theory has been confirmed.
- This revelation makes Jon Snow the nephew of both Ned Stark and Daenerys Targaryen. It also makes him Sansa and Arya’s cousin, not their half-brother. All of this will likely have some influence on his claim to either (or both) the King in the North or the Iron Throne.
- Bran’s vision also makes a stronger case for Jon Snow being the Prince That Was Promised (the prophesied savior figure that Melisandre preaches about—she originally reads the signs as pointing to Stannis, then Jon). In the book, the prophecy states that the Prince destined to save the world from the White Walkers has to be from the Targaryen bloodline, which we now know is true of Jon Snow. However, it is also still possible that the “Prince” That Was Promised is Daenerys, instead.
- Daenerys made a point to ditch her lover Daario in order to free herself up for a political marriage in Westeros. Even without knowing Jon’s parentage, I think there is a distinct chance that Daenerys will marry him, considering that the North is the only major region that is not controlled by the Lannisters or already sworn to her cause. Marrying the King in the North would be a shrewd move. If they do discover Jon’s Targaryen roots, that won’t necessarily rule out a marriage pact. In fact, it may strengthen the case for it; after all, the Targaryens are known for marrying within the family, and a marriage between an aunt and nephew would not be unheard of.
- I’m going to go out on a limb here and make a prediction. I think Daenerys and Jon will end up together, and one of them will end up having to kill the other in order to fulfill the prophecy of the Prince That Was Promised. The Prince—Daenerys or Jon—is supposed to wield a flaming sword known at the Lightbringer. (In earlier seasons, Melisandre makes Stannis’s sword glow, but it is not the true Lightbringer.) In a featurette on Season 3’s Blu-ray, Thoros of Myr describes the Lightbringer sword as the following: “According to prophecy, our champion will be reborn to wake dragons from stone and reforge the great sword Lightbringer that defeated the darkness those thousands of years ago. If the old tales are true, a terrible weapon forged with a loving wife’s heart. Part of me thinks man was well rid of it, but great power requires great sacrifice. That much at least the Lord of Light is clear on.” I think there’s a real chance that Jon and Dany will get married, and that one of them will need to be sacrificed in order to fulfill the prophecy and save the world from the White Walkers. Start investing in Kleenex.
- It’s kind of amazing the North so readily declares for Jon Snow. He’s good at uniting people to his cause, apparently, but somehow manages to do it without displaying a prodigious personality or an overwhelming military might (he’s a great swordsman, but he’s probably not in the top 5-10 fighters/commanders that we’ve seen in the series). When he’s up for Lord Commander, it’s Sam who makes the convincing argument that puts him ahead in the vote. When he’s looking to recruit Northern houses to his cause for the Battle of the Bastards, it’s Davos and Tormund who do all of the convincing. Sansa wins the Second Battle of Winterfell for him with her Knights of the Vale. Now, he’s made King of the North, why? Because, once again, someone else—in this case, a young Lady Mormont—told everyone so (let’s pause and just acknowledge how amazing this 10-year-old is). Jon Snow gets himself declared as one of the youngest Lord Commanders ever and becomes a rare bastard-born King in the North mostly because of the people in his circle. He inspires such love and devotion from the people around him that they throw in with him with ease, overcoming historical precedence and prejudice to put him in positions of power. He never asks for it, and that makes him an attractive candidate, but still, he has yet to display really great leadership skills (other than the decision to make allies and bring the wildlings south of the Wall). He is one lucky bastard clearly destined for greatness by the great hand of fate.
- I think this will become a major plot point in the next season. That look between Littlefinger and Sansa in the end was a sign of things to come. If we accept that Jon Snow is not only lucky, but also a little thoughtless to forget Sansa’s major part in reconquering Winterfell, then we will better understand if Sansa somehow makes a play for a greater role next season—either in Winterfell or, if she joins Littlefinger, back in King’s Landing. After all, she won the Second Battle of Winterfell that Jon tried his hardest to lose, doing all the things that he was told not to do by both Sansa and Davos. She’s the trueborn heir to that house, and even though a woman has never ruled, a bastard born in the South shouldn’t automatically supersede her. Women are ruling all over the land now, but the Northern patriarchy remains strong as ever.
- However, I don’t think Sansa will do anything too extreme. They’ve made a point to emphasize the fact that Jon and Sansa love each other, even if they don’t fully trust one another. I don’t predict a violent uprising, but I do expect some Littlefinger-esque backroom dealings. In an interview, Kit Harrington (who plays Jon Snow) teases this potential plot point for next season when he points out, “I think Jon is oblivious. He hasn’t actually learned his lesson from trying to pay attention to what she’s feeling. He says he has, but he’s asking her to trust him. He’s not listening and watching and observing her.”
- With Jon Snow’s parents finally revealed, we can assume that he is more likely destined for a marriage to Daenerys and the Iron Throne, which might mean that he will eventually leave the North to Sansa (that is, if Bran does not return and take the seat instead, as the oldest trueborn son of Ned Stark).
- Alternatively, since he’s actually Sansa’s cousin, it also would not be unheard of for the two of them to form a marriage pact if the truth ever comes out; plenty of first cousins have married in the world of Westeros. The way they have been filmed together all season, I would not be surprised (though might not be particularly pleased) to see this happen. Many of the directors have shot them together like how they used to shoot Ned and Catelyn Stark.
- In the Inside the Episode, the showrunners talk about how Arya’s narrative is “worrisome” and lament the fact that she’s become a murderer. I did not really have the same reaction. I’m not concerned about Arya killing Walder Frey. It’s a medieval-era fantasy fiction. People die in war. Arya is a covert-ops assassin acting to destabilize the forces that brought her house down, which will probably prop up the Starks as one of the strongest houses in Westeros. It’s not only satisfying emotionally, it’s a smart move militarily (not that she’s necessarily thinking of that as her long-term goal). Was there this much hand-wringing over his future when Tyrion killed his father for sleeping with his girlfriend (OK, and many other bigger slights)? I, for one, was glad to see Arya take Walder Frey down, killing him the same way he had her mother killed. The Northerners cheered Jon and Sansa for defeating the Boltons and avenging the Red Wedding. Little do they know that the other party responsible for the Red Wedding, the Freys, have also been avenged by a Stark. I don’t want to spend too much time “worrying” over the state of her soul. It’s war, the sins of the Red Wedding needed to be punished in order to preserve the sanctity of the Guest right, and winter is here.
- When she’s disguised as the serving girl, Arya gives Jaime a lot of strange looks, in hindsight. Jaime is not on her hit list, but she certainly has no love for the Lannisters. I can’t remember her sharing a scene with Jaime in the series, so I don’t know exactly how she would feel toward him specifically. What do these looks ultimately mean? Is it simple taunting, or something more?
- I think it’s pretty key that the undead Benjen Stark tells Bran that the magical power of the Wall prevents him from crossing south with Bran and Meera. The Wall was constructed by one of Bran’s Stark relatives, named Bran the Builder, with the help of magic from the Children of the Forest. The magic of the Wall has prevented the White Walkers from coming south for thousands of years. However, since Bran was marked by the Night’s King in his vision, the Three-Eyed Raven’s tree lost its magical protections, allowing the Night’s King and the White Walkers to attack. I’m afraid that once Bran moves south of the Wall, he’ll also negate its magical powers. It may even fall, given some of the hints that have been dropped over the season, including Jon Snow’s joke to Dolorous Edd, the new Lord Commander: “Don’t knock it down while I’m gone.”
- Many of the reveals in this episode, including Cersei’s use of wildfire and Jon Snow’s parentage, were pretty widely predicted by some of the fans. That’s why it was so nice that there were still plenty of surprises left to be had. I had no idea Cersei would end up beating Daenerys to become the first Queen of Westeros. I also did not expect Arya to show up again until next season, and certainly did not expect to get the pleasure of seeing her avenge her mother and brother’s deaths.
- While these moments were deeply satisfying and surprising to book readers, it’s a little disappointing to learn that Margaery ends up playing such a small role in the eventual end game of the series. Now that the show is totally ahead of the books, it’s not clear exactly how similar the show will prove to be to the eventual books that are released. However, the one thing that will be mostly the same is the end game, and with Margaery dying this week, we can be pretty much guaranteed that she will play no major part in the books, either. This means that, for all her scheming and intelligent maneuvering, Margaery was only ever really a foil for Cersei. I had hoped for something more for her character, but alas.
- Now that Cersei is in charge in King’s Landing, I’m more worried about what Littlefinger will do to Sansa in light of this scene from last season. Before, I did not worry much since Cersei had no real power in King’s Landing, but now she holds the greatest power in the land. In the scene, Littlefinger promised to take Winterfell for Cersei and the Lannisters using the Knights of the Vale. In exchange he asked to be named Warden of the North, then assured her, “I’ll not rest until the lion flies over Winterfell.” Cersei replied, “And I’ll know you’re a man of your word when I see Sansa Stark’s head on a spike.” He seemed to agree, saying, “As I said, I live to serve.”
- If Littlefinger cannot become Warden of the North through a marriage alliance with Sansa, and if she is not even declared to be Queen in the North, I fear that Littlefinger might try to use his Knights of the Vale to somehow unseat Jon Snow and kill Sansa to prove his loyalty to the new Queen Cersei, who would in turn make him Warden of the North. I think he’s unlikely to be successful, but Varys doesn’t call him one of the most dangerous men in Westeros for nothing.
- I loved when Sansa told Jon, “Winter is here,” and he replied, “Well, Father always promised, didn’t he?” It’s a nice little connection to the major promise we see Ned Stark make in this episode, this time to his sister Lyanna, promising to raise Jon Snow as his own son. He did always promise.
- Poor Meereen. Daenerys leaves it to her boyfriend and takes all of her dragons and troops out of the city she has occupied for so long. You could draw plenty of parallels to times in history when a force invaded a country, defeated its despotic rulers, occupied the land, then abandoned that occupation a bit too soon and too completely. I don’t think (or hope) we’ll see Meereen again in the series, but I don’t think historical precedence bodes well for the future of that city or the rest of the “Bay of Dragons” now that the dragons are gone.
- Throughout the “Other Thoughts” of this season, I’ve worried that Daenerys was turning into a villain and a tyrant. I was nervous about her invasion of Westeros and the damage she might do to some of our favorite characters. After this week, I’m less worried about this outcome. I don’t think many will be unhappy to see Cersei overthrown, and hopefully Daenerys does not need to do much additional damage to Westeros in order to secure the Iron Throne. I also think that the war will quickly become a struggle between the living and the dead, and Daenerys is positioned to be a hero in the campaign against the White Walkers.
- Jaime sacrificed his honor to prevent the Mad King from doing exactly what his lover ends up doing to King’s Landing. That is some serious dramatic irony and will make for some complicated decisions for Jaime in the future.
- On the point of winter finally arriving: the length of seasons in this world vary in length, but they usually last several years apiece. Before we joined up with Game of Thrones, the world was in a period of summer that has lasted nine years. Fall began in Season 2, and now at last is the Stark’s promised winter. People have typically adapted to these climate changes, but there is a precedence for abnormally long winters during a White Walker attack—the last of which occurred over 8,000 years ago and lasted a whole generation.
- This time in the flashback sequence, Bran does not call out to his father, but Ned still turns around as if he had. When he first went back to this vision with the Three-Eyed Raven, he must have forever altered the past, as he did with poor Hodor. This time, and hopefully for good, he learns his lesson and does not call out to Ned or try to communicate with the past.
- The music in this episode was simply fantastic. I’ve always loved Ramin Djawadi’s work on the series, but this episode took it to a whole new level. I’ve been listening to the track “Light of the Seven” on repeat the past two days.
- Many have complained about Littlefinger, Varys, and Arya’s travel speeds. This doesn’t really bother me as much. The showrunners have said that just because scenes happen in the same episode, it does not meant that they happen concurrently in the timeline. Daenerys probably is sailing for Westeros quite some time after Cersei is declared Queen, allowing Varys enough time to get back, in reality. More than that, I think they just got tired of showing characters en route. The books will often spend the majority of the time just getting someone from one place to another. The show is certainly more economical with that… For that reason, it has never really bothered me. If you see someone making quick time of it, just remember that every minute you did not spend with them journeying was then spent on some more awesome and important scene in the zero-sum game of Game of Thrones
- Could we see Arya reunited with her direwolf Nymeria now that she is back in the Riverlands, where Nymeria was last spotted?
- As I pointed out in the recap, back in Season 3 Jaime told Brienne about there being caches of wildfire throughout the city of King’s Landing. Cersei only detonated one of many of them. This represents pretty much the only major defense Cersei might have against Daenerys’s invading forces, considering she is without any major allies or other military advantage.
- [Skip this bullet if you don’t want to read potential spoilers from the books] In the books, but not the show, there is a final line to Maggy the Frog’s prophecy for Cersei. So far we’ve covered most of the first two parts to the foretelling: her three children have predeceased her and the “younger and more beautiful queen” Daenerys is currently gunning for her with a whole armada. However, the last part of the prophecy in the books reads, “And when your tears have drowned you, the valonqar [“little brother”] shall wrap his hands about your pale white throat and choke the life from you.” Tyrion, her younger brother, is currently sailing with Daenerys and could have an opportunity to kill Cersei soon enough. Their relationship has never been strong, to say the very least. However, it could also be Jaime. Though they are twins, Jaime was born second. The look he gave her when he walked in on her coronation may support this theory.
Finally, I want to thank the Old Readers and the New for your House of the Undying support throughout this sixth season. A girl is No One, so she very much appreciates those who have read her work throughout the season. I have the most fun writing these recaps and have really enjoyed discussing the show with everyone this year. Your support and your readership means the world to me. Until next season!