In the final episode of the penultimate season, political intrigue replaced CGI-driven battles to bring us a classic episode, more of the sort that Game of Thrones made its name on. “The Dragon and the Wolf” saw siblings reunited and torn apart, alliances formed and double-crossed, monsters both living and dead, incestuous love affairs, big conversations in small rooms, and the bloody end of a major player in the game. For the last couple of episodes, I’ve been expressing some concerns about certain plot choices and how characters were behaving, but the finale was a satisfying conclusion despite some of the recent flaws.
We begin outside of King’s Landing. Grey Worm and his Unsullied forces have apparently abandoned Casterly Rock and marched east as a show of force against the Lannisters. The Lannister army, led by Jaime and Bronn, prepare for a potential siege. As they see the Dothraki join their Unsullied allies, they know that their prospects in any looming battle are not favorable. “I think we’re about to be the downtrodden,” Bronn says as he looks over the enemy.
Daenerys’s bannermen and advisers ride with only five ships (potentially the only ships she has remaining) for King’s Landing, which is surrounded by Euron’s massive fleet. Jon remarks on the size of the capital, which has a population of one million– more than the entire North combined, and a reminder of what advantages Cersei still commands.
They are heading to the Dragonpit, an ancient structure that has fallen into disuse and disrepair. (We actually heard a Lannister soldier talking ruefully about the disappointment he felt when in the capital for the first time and realizing that two of the most legendary structures– the Dragonpit and the Great Sept of Baelor– were both in such ruin.) The Dragonpit used to be a domed structure that acted like a stable for the Targaryens’ dragons, but was destroyed during a riot in King’s Landing approximately 170 years ago. Chained up, the dragons had grown weaker and smaller over time, until finally there were none left, and the pit remained in ruins.
This is an interesting location to choose for the parley, as both parties might derive their own meaning from the place; Daenerys would see it as a faded symbol of the greatness of her house and the need to win it back, while Cersei would see it as a symbol of Targaryen failure and ruin.
On the way, Brienne and the Hound catch up, after Brienne left him for dead the last they saw one another. She seems a little glad to see him all the same, especially when she realizes that they were both only trying to protect Arya. She tells him that Arya is safe and alive in Winterfell. “Who’s protecting her if you’re here?” he wonders. “The only one that needs protecting is the one that gets in her way,” Brienne replies. “It won’t be me,” the Hound says, and they share a smile of understanding.
Tyrion reunites with his old squire, Podrick, and friend, Bronn, on the road to the Dragonpit. He invites Bronn to join his side, offering double whatever the Lannisters are paying him, but Bronn is unconvinced. Tyrion does not understand why Bronn would help his old friend, now traitor, in setting up this parley, but Bronn says it was only out of self-interest: if Cersei wants to kill Tyrion and the other traitors, he’s offered them up to her on a silver platter. “It’s good to see you again,” Tyrion says, grimly.
When they get to the ruins, Bronn takes Podrick off for a drink, which first implied that Daenerys’s convoy was being set up for a surprise attack. “Am I going to die in this shit city?” the Hound complains. Finally, Cersei arrives with her team, including Jaime, Euron Greyjoy, and the Mountain (Gregor Clegane). The Hound recognizes him instantly, though he looks in rough shape. “What did they do to you? Doesn’t matter. That’s not how it ends for you, brother. You know who’s coming for you. You’ve always known.” He walks away after this threat (and an exciting promise to all fans of the Cleganebowl theory, which speculates that the two brothers would eventually fight each other in a trial by combat– though in the TV version, it’s looking less likely to be a trial and more just a combat).
Cersei is impatient that Daenerys makes them wait, and the tension is only cut with the sound of a dragon in the distance. Everyone, including Daenerys’s side, stands to look at the approaching creatures, many of them in awe. All, that is, except for Cersei, who retains her cool in the face of the display. She remains seated and unaffected by either their beauty or their terror, showing only her displeasure over Daenerys’s tardiness.
When at last the two queens set their eyes on one another, they take stock of their enemy for the first time. In the back of Cersei’s mind must echo Maggy the Frog‘s prophecy: “Oh yes, you’ll be queen– for a time. In comes another, younger, more beautiful, to cast you down and take all you hold dear.” For a while, she thought this was Margaery Tyrell, whom she took care of in the explosion at the Great Sept last season. Now, as the beautiful, youthful Daenerys sits before her, she imagines a different interpretation.
Euron immediately interrupts the meeting to taunt his nephew Theon into submitting to him in order to save his sister’s life. Jaime shares an annoyed glance with his brother, as Euron gets up to turn his ire on Tyrion. Cersei orders him to sit, and the meeting proceeds.
Tyrion makes a pitch for his truce, and Jon joins in, “This is not about living in harmony, it’s just about living.” Cersei is unmoved. “Pull back my armies and stand down while you go on a monster hunt? Or, while you solidify and expand your position?”
Using the wight they captured on their foolhardy mission north of the Wall, the Hound releases the monster on Cersei so that she can see exactly what they are up against. She seems legitimately terrified and appalled, though we’d only later learn that this was for selfish reasons (the fate of her unborn child and family being her only concerns, not humanity on the whole). For once, her poker face is cracked and her true feelings revealed in a way that not even the dragons could provoke from her.
Jon and the Hound demonstrate how the creature must be killed– with fire or dragonglass– as Maester Qyburn looks on with gleeful curiosity. “There is only one war that matters– the Great War– and it is here,” Jon declares. Jaime is genuinely terrified, shocked to see what up until then would have only been a monster in his childhood tales of horror. Euron, too, seems moved by the display. When he learns that they cannot swim, he makes a grand show of abandoning Cersei’s side and taking his navy, wanting to ride out the coming winter on the Iron Islands. This struck me as odd, given that I didn’t think Cersei would just let him take her navy away, in front of her enemies, no less. But, it seemed plausible that Euron would be selfish enough to seek self-preservation above all else. Only later would we learn that Cersei and Euron planned this display all along.
For now, Cersei makes a grand, seemingly genuine acceptance of the truce. “Until the dead are defeated, they are the true enemy.” In return, she asks for her own truce from the King in the North, which would last beyond the Great War. She asks Jon Snow to never take up arms against the Lannisters. “I know Ned Stark’s son will be true to his word.” Of course, Jon is Ned’s son (in a nurture, if not nature sense), and readily admits that he cannot make such a pledge, as he has already bent the knee to Daenerys, even though it is not politically wise to be honest in this case.
Daenerys and the advisers look on with dismay as Cersei calls off the truce. “The dead will come north first, enjoy dealing with them. We’ll deal with whatever is left of you.” Jaime looks disappointed, having hoped his sister had actually done the right thing, for once. Brienne follows him out and urges him to talk to Cersei. She plants the idea that “this goes beyond houses and honor and oaths,” which coming from the oath-obsessed, ever-honorable Brienne, clearly has an impact on Jaime.
Jon defends himself against Daenerys, Davos, and Tyrion, saying that he will not make an oath he cannot keep. “When enough people make false promises, words stop meaning anything. Then there are no more answers, only better and better lies, and lies won’t help us in this fight.” Tyrion says that while that may be true, Jon’s honesty may have cost them the fight before it’s even begun, just as Ned’s honesty cost himself his life. Tyrion is forced to clean up the honorable Jon’s mess, and meet with his sister, in great peril to himself. Daenerys is forced to watch the man who, in the last episode, she praised as being no foolish hero, plunge head-first into something which could likely cost him his life. Outside of Cersei’s chambers, Jaime even bids his brother goodbye.
Cersei and Tyrion meet face-to-face at last, with the former accusing her brother of plotting the destruction of their family. Tyrion claims that he’s the only one preventing that from happening; that he’s the only one keeping Daenerys’s worst impulses at bay. Cersei does not relent to this point, arguing that instead, by killing their father (Tywin Lannister), he laid the family open to exploitation, leading to the eventual deaths of Myrcella and Tommen. Tyrion fatalistically admits his guilt, accepting blame for the deaths of their mother (in childbirth), their father, and two of Cersei’s children, demanding that she get it over with and kill him already. Cersei looks about ready to order the Mountain to do so, until she relents.
Relieved, Tyrion pours himself a glass of wine and offers another to Cersei, who uncharacteristically refuses to drink it. It’s only later that Tyrion realizes this is because she is pregnant. He seems shocked by the news, but we don’t see their discussion after this point.
Back in the Dragonpit, Jon and Daenerys share a moment reminiscing about the failed Targaryens of the past. “Your family hasn’t seen its end,” Jon says confidently. Daenerys reminds him that she cannot have children, which he is skeptical about, considering the source was a witch who murdered Khal Drogo.
They are both surprised when Tyrion returns. Not only is he safe, but Cersei follows him to finish the meeting. “My armies will not stand down… I will march them north to fight alongside you in the Great War.” Shocked, Jon looks at Tyrion, who smiles sadly. “And when the Great War is over, perhaps you’ll remember that I chose to help.” This seemed like a great moment for Cersei, and a huge growth for the character. But of course, in Game of Thrones, nothing is that simple.
Later, as Jaime prepares for the march north, Cersei berates him for being so gullible and stupid to think that she was telling the truth in the parley. She never had any intention of riding north; the act was only just a ruse to make Daenerys’s forces head off without expecting to be double crossed. She and Euron planned their little show in advance, leaving Jaime out of it entirely, which clearly wounds him. She laid a trap for her enemies, just as Tyrion expected she would. She hopes to catch them all off-guard by having them lulled into a false sense of security while Euron heads to Essos to bring back the Golden Company, the best mercenary army in the world.
Jaime has long tried to do the right thing and still honor his sister, his family. He was forever changed by his time as a prisoner of the Starks and with Brienne on the road. He came out the other side of that experience physically and emotionally scarred, with healing coming only from the honor he learned to take and the oaths he learned to protect around Brienne. Over the last few seasons, he has gone along with Cersei’s plans with light trepidation, always seeming to worry about her state of mind as she murders her way through her problems. Earlier in the episode, Jaime looked dismayed when Cersei instructed the Mountain to kill the “silver-haired bitch,” then their brother, Jon Snow, and everyone else in any order he saw fit, should something go wrong at the parley. These moments show a gradual loss of faith, but he has stood by her nonetheless, hoping to preserve his family and the woman he loves, despite it all.
After the meeting in the Dragonpit, Jaime finally thought Cersei had done something he could be legitimately proud of, restoring his honor and the honor of his once-great house by joining the battle of the living versus the dead. Instead, she berates him into breaking his pledge and backstabbing the people she had just promised to help. “I always knew you were the stupidest Lannister.” She pushes him to his limit and tries to take him down a road that the new Jaime cannot follow. “This isn’t about noble houses, this is about the living and the dead… I made a promise,” he begs her.
He tries to get her to see reason, ultimately trying to save her from herself. “If the dead win, they march south and kill us all. If the living win, and we’ve betrayed them, they march south and kill us all.” Jaime has known they cannot win the war against Daenerys, in the end. This truce was his only hope of actually saving his sister, his lover, and now, his child. After all, if they won the Great War alongside the dragon queen, he likely hoped that they could use their position to bargain for clemency. It was their only hope of surviving the Great War and the one that might follow it; the only hope he sees for their unborn child.
Cersei, of course, sees it differently. She thinks she can win by betraying Daenerys as she’s focused on the north, by hiring the Golden Company to seize lands while everyone else is fighting the Great War.
When he tries to leave, she threatens his life, and is only one command away from having her brother, lover, and father of her children murdered. He calls her bluff with a broken heart, realizing how close she came to actually doing it, and leaves her once and for all. He heads out on the road, presumably for the North, just as snows begin to fall for the first time in King’s Landing.
In Winterfell, they have received word that Jon has bent the knee to Daenerys. Sansa sits with Littlefinger to discuss this latest development, seemingly put off by Jon’s brash act. Littlefinger correctly hypothesizes that Daenerys and Jon will likely marry to solidify their position. He suggests that Sansa unname Jon as King of the North, given his “treachery.” Sansa seems like she’s intrigued by that idea, but admits that Arya would never go along with it. “What do you think she’s after?” she wonders.
Littlefinger launches into a game to try to manipulate Sansa into turning against her sister. “Sometimes, when I try to understand a person’s motives, I play a little game. I assume the worst. What’s the worst reason they could possibly have for saying what they say and doing what they do? Then I ask myself how well does that reason explain what they say and what they do.” He wants Sansa to realize what a threat Arya supposedly is to her, not revealing, of course, that he has maneuvered Arya into threatening Sansa himself.
Sansa plays along, going through the game and imagining the worst of Arya– that she came to Winterfell to kill Sansa for betraying her family and marrying their enemies. “And, after she murders you, what does she become?” Littlefinger asks. “Lady of Winterfell,” Sansa answers, seemingly with shock. This was perhaps the first clue that something was not right, for the real Sansa would never actually believe that the real Arya would want to be “Lady of Winterfell”– she’s never wanted to be a lady of anything, ever since she was a kid. But still, given the sloppiness of the writing in this plotline up until this point, I was admittedly convinced Sansa was about to make a deadly error at the behest of Littlefinger’s scheming.
Sansa calls for her men to bring Arya to the Great Hall. When Arya arrives in custody, she sees Sansa and Bran sitting before a room full of the Knights of the Vale. Littlefinger waits in the wings, concealing what surely must be glee over seeing the Starks tearing themselves apart.
“The only one that needs protecting is the one that gets in [Arya’s] way,” Brienne foretold earlier in the episode, and for a long moment it seemed like that person might be Sansa after all. Arya looked genuinely surprised that her sister would make such a foolish mistake. “Are you sure you want to do this?” she wondered coolly. Sansa did not relent, and I was actually convinced that I was wrong about Sansa all along: she hadn’t changed, she hadn’t learned to manipulate situations from Littlefinger, she hadn’t learned not to trust him, she was truly power-hungry and not Stark-protective. I didn’t give Sansa, or Arya, enough credit, apparently, but have never been happier to be wrong.
“You stand accused of murder. You stand accused of treason. How do you answer these charges… Lord Baelish?” At last, Sansa drops the bomb on Littlefinger, and Arya backs her up. “My sister asked you a question.” They confront him, unified in their mission to tear him down. Littlefinger, normally composed, has been fooled into underestimating the Stark sisters. He sputters about like a malfunctioning bot as Sansa continues to lay out the charges against him.
“You murdered our aunt, Lysa Arryn,” she begins, having witnessed him push the woman through the Moon Door. He claims it was only to protect Sansa, but she is now too clever to be fooled. “You did it to take power in the Vale.” She then charges him with conspiracy to murder Jon Arryn, having given Lysa the poison to kill her husband. Then, he had Lysa send a letter to Ned and Catelyn Stark, accusing the Lannisters of killing Jon Arryn when really it was Littlefinger’s plan all along. She correctly deduces that Littlefinger is the root cause of the war that followed between the Lannisters and the Starks, which brought her family to its knees. The coup de grace is his betrayal of Ned Stark and his conspiring with Cersei and Joffrey to imprison him for treason. Sansa has long been wrongly blamed by many viewers who accuse her of being the reason for Ned’s death, without acknowledging the very important fact that it’s Ned’s confidence in Littlefinger, and Littlefinger’s ultimate betrayal, which lands him in jail for treason all on its own. Seeing her get to deal out this bit of justice, bringing the true culprit to trial for conspiring against her father, was particularly satisfying.
Littlefinger tries to deny it, saying that no one was there to witness the proof of what happened. But of course, this is where Bran comes in. As the Three-Eyed Raven, he has been frustratingly silent on Littlefinger’s involvement in the imprisonment and eventual death of Ned Stark– until now. “You held a knife to his throat,” he says, knowingly. This shocks Littlefinger. “You said, ‘I did warn you not to trust me.’” Arya then confronts him about the knife that was used in the attempt on Bran’s life, which he told Catelyn was Tyrion’s, further exacerbating the conflict between the Starks and Lannisters. This knife was Littlefinger’s all along, she says.
Littlefinger throws himself on Sansa’s mercy, saying that he’s protected her and loved her since she was a little girl. Finally, she gets to confront Littlefinger for selling her to the Boltons, to be physically tormented by Ramsay. He says he can explain, if only they get some time alone, to which she repeats his earlier thought exercise: “Sometimes, when I try to understand a person’s motives, I play a little game. I assume the worst… That’s what you’ve always done, turn family against family, turn sister against sister.” Sansa has figured Littlefinger out better than anyone; she realizes he sees chaos as a ladder and exposes him for trying to manipulate them into that chaos. For the first time, he is outwitted, and is there anything more fitting than being outwitted by your own pupil? “I’m a slow learner, it’s true. But I learn,” she says.
Finally, he falls pathetically to his knees, claiming that he loved her mother. “And yet, you betrayed her,” she replies coolly and honestly. (Littlefinger set in motion the events and conflicts that would lead to Catelyn’s death.) He then professes to love Sansa even more than he loved her mother. “And yet, you betrayed me,” she says, in one of my favorite exchanges yet. “Thank you for all your many lessons, Lord Baelish. I will never forget them.”
Littlefinger tries to get out one last, desperate plea– “Sansa”– but Arya slits his throat on the last vowel. Sansa passed the sentence and did not swing the sword herself, as is the Stark way, but I saw this as a symbol of the unity of these two sisters, at last; in that moment, they both passed the sentence and they both swung that blade, bringing down Littlefinger together. He collapses on the floor of the Great Hall, and no one mourns him.
Later, on the ramparts over Winterfell, Arya and Sansa bond as they were meant to this entire time. Arya commends Sansa for doing the right thing, for passing the right sentence on the man who tried to destroy their family more than once. “You’re the Lady of Winterfell,” Arya admits. “I was never going to be as good a lady as you.” She finally acknowledges all that Sansa has survived to get to this point, saying that she never could have survived all those things herself. Sansa begs to differ. “You would have. You’re the strongest person I know.”
Finally, with the charade put to rest, the two sisters are united at last. Both take turns quoting their father. “In winter, we must protect one another,” Arya says. “When the snows fall and the white winds blow, the lone wolf dies, but the pack survives,” Sansa replies. This is from a famous and favorite passage in the books, in which Ned, in speaking to Arya, says:
“Summer is the time for squabbles. In winter, we must protect one another, keep each other warm, share our strengths. So if you must hate, Arya, hate those who would truly do us harm…Sansa is your sister. You may be as different as the sun and the moon, but the same blood flows through both your hearts. You need her, as she needs you.”
This passage has stuck with me throughout my love of this series. It’s been the one thing I have turned to throughout the latter half of this season, as Arya and Sansa seemed to be so uncharacteristically at each others’ throat. I used it as evidence of the writers’ butchery of these two characters– there’s no way Arya would ignore her father in such a flagrant, murderous way. Neither would ever truly want the other dead, despite their differences; they are two sides of the same coin. But the writers kept faith with two of the best characters in the series and honored Ned’s legacy in the end. “I miss him,” Arya says sadly. Her sister echos her, saying, “Me, too.”
Newly confident of Cersei’s truce, Jon and Daenerys make a plan to sail for the North together. Jorah tries to warn her against riding with Jon for Winterfell, arguing that it only takes one man resentful of the Mad King’s rule to kill her en route, but she replies confidently that she’s not arriving as a conqueror but as a savior, and she needs to appear as such (a bonus being some alone time with Jon…).
On his way out of Dragonstone, Jon is confronted by a flattering Theon, who wonders how Jon is always so honorable when he has found it so hard to be faithful himself. “I always wanted to do the right thing, be the right kind of person.” Jon replies that Ned Stark was more of a father to Theon than his real father, Balon Greyjoy, ever was. Both men are a part of him, Jon says, even though Ned was never his true father.
This is poetic, because as we know, Ned is also not Jon’s biological father, either. Jon is a dragon and a wolf, the product of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark, finally confirmed without a doubt in a later scene between Sam and Bran at Winterfell. They were married, even, in a secret ceremony, as Gilly discovered earlier in the season (and Sam realizes in this episode). Bran goes into the past to see Rhaegar and Lyanna’s wedding. “Robert’s Rebellion was built on a lie,” he says. Rhaegar did not capture and rape Lyanna, as has long been the accepted story in the realm. “He loved her. And she loved him.”
Jon is not a bastard, but a trueborn son of the Crown Prince of Westeros. In the future, when Bran eventually tells Jon about this truth, he’ll have to reconcile the idea of his two fathers much the same way he has instructed Theon to do so. Ned will always be a part of him, his true father in the absence of his biological one. Theon has to rediscover his connection to his adoptive father, while Jon will have to rediscover his connection to his biological father.
Theon takes this advice to heart and demands that his men join him in saving their captured queen, Yara. One of the men refuses, saying that they will find an island to the east, kill all the men, and take the women for themselves as winter sets in. Theon says that they are done with the murdering, raping, and pillaging the ironborn are often known for, and instructs them once more to join him on a noble cause. The mouthy man fights “little Theon,” thinking him too weak to suffer any longer. Theon takes a bad beating, but rebounds when the man knees him in the crotch and nothing happens (thanks to Ramsay Bolton‘s sadistic handiwork). This surprising strength found in the scars of his trauma makes him giddy with relief. He turns this on the man and manages to win the fight in the end. “Not for me, for Yara!” His men shout for Yara as Theon kneels in the water, using the sea to wash his wounds.
On the sea headed north, Jon gets up the courage to knock on Daenerys’s door, as Bran’s voiceover reveals the final truth about his parents and their love for one another. We learn confirmation of Jon’s Targaryen blood just as he and Daenerys consummate their relationship for the first time. Jon is officially Daenerys’s nephew, with a stronger claim to the throne than Daenerys herself. Their union is powerful, especially since it has felt like destiny for so long for the titular “fire” and “ice” to come together. However, Bran’s words echoing in the background, and Tyrion looking forlorn– even guilty– in the shadows outside their room, fills the moment with doom and dread. How long can this relationship endure the revelations that will come next season? How long can it endure those that seek to destroy it, both living and dead?
The most imminent threat will of course be the army of the dead, as they have finally penetrated the Wall. With Tormund and Beric Dondarrion looking on, the White Walkers arrive at Eastwatch-by-the-Sea with their army. Just as the alarm is sounded, a dragon roars in the distance and the undead Viserion appears with the Night King on his back. Viserion shoots a blue flame (or is it some other magic?) at the Wall, destroying it bit by bit. The army of wights watches on with the blue flames reflected in their eyes, looking expectantly as the barrier comes down, even though we know they cannot be. With a triumphant screech, the dragon destroys the entire easterly section of the Wall, which has stood for 8,000 years. The dead army has finally broken Westeros’s best defense. I wish everyone good fortune in the war to come… next year.
Other Thoughts on “The Dragon and the Wolf”:
- As deeply satisfied as I am with the resolution of the Arya/Sansa storyline, I still think the writing was a little sloppy up until this point. There’s a way to retain the tension and fear that they might actually kill one another while also preserving the idea that they might be working together against Littlefinger, as it turned out to be. They do so much arguing in private, with Sansa acting legitimately scared. She’s clearly turned out to be a good actress and manipulator, but this story could have been easily improved upon if they did all their fighting in semi-public; that way, we could look back on their interactions and realize that Littlefinger could be assumed to be lingering in the background, as would have likely been their goal. And yet, the whole idea of trying to entrap Littlefinger seems a bit odd and implausible in the first place. Why bother? If you know of his crimes, why lead him to believe that he was manipulating you while you’re secretly doing that back at him? He did not feel threatened by Arya or Sansa in the first place, so it’s not like they needed to lure him into a false sense of security; he already had one. So really, this whole plotline sort of feels like it was written to entrap the audience, not Littlefinger. It’s one thing to come up with a plausible twist that surprises me, but it’s another to flat out trick me, which is how I feel that plot transpired. I know a lot of people hypothesized about them working together all along, but there was so much good evidence against it, so I think most people argued that point because the Stark girls’ character arcs simply could not allow it to be any other way, not because there was much evidence to support it. Anyway, I can’t complain too much, because I’ve had two of my favorite characters saved from a fate that would have doomed their arcs, not to mention their lives, and the scene in the Great Hall is one of the highlights of the season for me. Sansa was once but the learner, and now is the master. Her journey from where she started in Season 1 has been fascinating to me.
- What was the Night King’s plan to bring down the Wall, if he didn’t get a dragon handed to him with a rather convenient plot device (the disastrous “steal the wight” plan)? It’s interesting to see the Wall come down in this manner, though I hypothesized that it would have something to do with Bran having crossed south. After the Night King “marked” Bran long ago, the old magic of protected places (like the Three-Eyed Raven’s cave) was broken as soon as he crossed them. This allowed the White Walkers to enter the cave for the first time, leading to Hodor and Summer’s deaths. The Wall has stood for so long in part because of this old magic, so I thought Bran crossing through it would weaken its defenses enough to allow the Night King to bring it down. Perhaps this is still the case, but it was not explained in the current episode.
- Tormund and Beric must still be alive, since we did not see them die. I think both of them, but especially Tormund, are too important to kill off-screen.
- This episode established more about how Bran’s powers work, and explains why he did not reveal Littlefinger’s treachery earlier. Though he has downloaded memories of the whole past, he has to know where to look in order to find them; he’s not omniscient. Sam tells him about the marriage of Lyanna and Rhaegar, surprising Bran. He is able to call up that memory easily at that point, but up until he knew where to look, it was not like that knowledge was immediately available to him.
- The Theon scenes were the least interesting in the episode, but will probably have importance in the future. As I’ve discussed, the symbolism of the conversation between Theon and Jon is important given the fact that Jon is also not the true son of Ned Stark, the man he sees as his father. He’ll have to reckon with this fact next season. Also, I think Theon’s quest to rescue Yara will not only resolve his character arc in a semi-satisfying way, but may also lead to the discovery of Euron and Cersei’s plot to bring the Golden Company back to Westeros.
- What does Tyrion’s look mean, when he’s standing sadly in the shadowy hallway outside Jon and Daenerys’s room on the ship? He did make a point in the last episode of pointing out that all of the men around Daenerys tend to fall in love with her. Could he, too, be in love? I don’t necessarily buy that, since nothing up until this point has indicated that Tyrion wants to be anything other than an adviser to her. He seems to have an admiration for her and believes that she can “make the world a better place” (with his influence and steadying hand), but it’s never seemed remotely like love or longing.
- A much more frightening explanation for that look is that he is regretting something. He could be regretting the fact that he’s helping Daenerys, who is solidifying her rule by coupling with Jon (and, if a child does indeed come from it, really taking his argument about the need to establish a line of succession to heart). He might regret it especially after his talk with Cersei, in which he made it very clear that he has never desired to bring down House Lannister. Perhaps he is worrying that what he’s doing will inevitably destroy his house and he’s conflicted about that. The danger here is that he is conflicted to the point of doing something to sabotage Daenerys in the end. Why show his reaction at all, if not to establish something for next season? I’m worried…
- Even more dangerous is the idea that he may already be planning to deceive Daenerys and Jon, and that look is one of morose over the fact that he will be working against two people he seems to respect. When he was with Cersei, we were reminded of just how much these two siblings understand each other. Their scenes, though always fraught with tension and hatred, are also laced with an appreciation for each other. It’s not necessarily a happy thing, but Cersei and Tyrion know and understand each other perhaps better than anyone in the world– even Jaime. Jaime does not seem to “get” Cersei, not fully, at least not until this episode. Tyrion gets her, and she gets him. They hate each other, but they also respect each other in an odd way and always have. So, in this meeting, when Tyrion learns about her pregnancy, does his calculus shift? After all, he made an emphatic and emotional point about loving her previous children, saying things like, “I am more sorry about the children than you can ever know.” Could protecting this unborn child be his way of atoning for the decisions of his past, which indirectly led to the deaths of at least two of her children? If he wants to protect the Lannisters, not tear them down, maybe he sees this child as the hope for the future of the house and suddenly views his choices a bit differently. After all, they cut the scene at this point and we never see the final piece of their conversation. He smiles sadly at Jon when they meet again and Jon is shocked that Cersei has not only agreed to the terms, but will join them in the fight. That could be a man who is humbled and surprised by his own accomplishment, or it could be a man who has just agreed to help back stab his friends in the end. Of course, Tyrion is a beloved character and a personal favorite of mine, so this would be a sad twist. George R.R. Martin loves to play with characters’ redemption arcs, especially the Hound and Jaime (and in some respects Sansa, as well). It would be fascinating to see an arc that went in the other direction, of a popular and morally-positive character going down an unforgivable path (it’s worth noting that book-Tyrion is more morally vague than show-Tyrion, as my friend reminded me).
- Jon and Daenerys will soon have to grapple with the fact of their incestuous relationship, and I’m interested to see how they handle it. Historically, Daenerys should not be entirely bothered; House Targaryen preferred brother-sister unions in order to keep the bloodline pure. If Robert’s Rebellion hadn’t happened, Daenerys would likely be married to her brother Viserys, who even alluded to that fact when we saw him in Season 1. Aunt-nephew relationships would have been common if there were no sisters/brothers to marry. Jon, however, will likely be horrified. Aunt-nephew relationships are considered incest in Westeros, and as we’ve seen with Cersei/Jaime, incest is highly frowned upon and widely mocked by the remaining houses in the Seven Kingdoms. While the Starks would have participated in first cousin marriages, avunculate marriages (uncle-niece/aunt-nephew) would have been a no-go.
- The significance of Lyanna naming her son “Aegon” (instead of the “Jon” we’ve come to know) is that Aegon was the original Targaryen conqueror of the Seven Kingdoms. That name is interesting because it connects Jon so strongly to one of the greatest Targaryens of all time. Still, Rhaegar had another son he named Aegon with his first wife, Elia Martell, so it’s a little odd that Lyanna uses that name again, although by the time “Jon” is born the original Aegon would have been killed, supposedly. I will be interested to see if Jon accepts that new name, though I doubt he will. I think his scene with Theon established the concept that you can be more of your adoptive family than your biological one. I think Jon will still feel like he is more Stark than Targaryen, more Ned than Rhaegar, more Jon than Aegon, but it will be interesting how he handles that information when he learns of it. There may have been foreshadowing with this when Jon said, “When enough people make false promises, words stop meaning anything. Then there are no more answers, only better and better lies, and lies won’t help us in this fight.” When he knows his true lineage, he’ll probably feel forced to confide in Daenerys, and maybe even the entirety of Westeros. This will obviously be a potential source of conflict, since it will mean Jon, as the trueborn son of the Crown Prince of Westeros, will have a stronger claim on the throne than Daenerys, the younger sister of the Crown Prince. Jon has never particularly wanted power, though the people around him have always pushed him into it, seeing him as a good man and leader; it’s how he became Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch and King of the North. He did not ask for those positions, they were bestowed upon him by others, even in unusual circumstances. For example, he was relatively young and inexperienced to be Lord Commander, but was elected by an overwhelming margin. As a bastard, he should not be the Lord of Winterfell and King of the North over Bran (who abdicates) and Sansa, but he’s named as king all the same. This could be a theme in his life, of others putting him into these positions of power, even against his will. This of course would be dangerous for Daenerys’s claim, and therefore dangerous for Jon. If he’s going to insist on being honest to a fault, he may admit his lineage to the North and Westeros as a whole, and they may see his claim for what it is– stronger– and install him in the place of Daenerys, no matter what he wants in the matter. He’s the rightful king, he’s not a foreigner, he’s part Stark, and he’s not the direct offspring of the Mad King. It’s a no-brainer for the people of Westeros.
- I’m more and more convinced that Cersei is actually pregnant, though I speculated in earlier recaps that she might be lying to keep Jaime in line. Still, Maggy the Frog’s prophecy is that she only has three children, and every part of that prophecy has already come true (she’ll marry the king, Robert, she’ll be queen, she’ll have three golden-haired children, but they will all die). I don’t think there’s any way she gives birth to that child. She’s either killed before then, or she dies in childbirth. The final part of the prophecy, the one that the show does not mention (but is in the books), is that she will be killed by the “valonqar”: “And when your tears have drowned you, the valonqar shall wrap his hands about your pale white throat and choke the life from you.” Valonqar is High Valyrian for “little brother” (though, we’ve already been told by Melisandre in this season that the gender of High Valyrian is often confused, so “valonqar” may also mean “little sister”). Cersei always thinks that this is Tyrion, and it is a major reason for why she hates and fears him so much. However, Jaime is also her “little brother” since he was born after her, even though they are twins. Arya could also be the “little sister” who murders her, if she is truly able to complete her quest. But at this point, with Jaime broken up with Cersei, it seems more and more likely that it will be him. That is certainly the more interesting scenario, given the fact that she is the only woman he has ever loved. I wonder if she could die in childbirth. It would not be a literal reading of that prophecy (“the valonqar shall wrap his hands about your pale white throat and choke the life from you”), but dying giving birth to Jaime’s child could be one way to interpret that prophecy.
Thank you to all of my readers for reading and interacting with these recaps for another season! I’ve had some of the best discussions yet with you and am always blown away by all of your different insights and theories. While the show is not perfect, it’s amazing how it allows us to form such diverse opinions and ideas about what we are watching, and the community is so thoughtful in engaging with the content. It means so much to me that you take the time to read and share these monster recaps. I’m honored and humbled by it year after year, so thank you again!