Game of Thrones, Season 6, Television

Season 6, Episode 9: Battle of the Bastards

otIn a glorious triumph of cinematic television, “Battle of the Bastards” gave us a rare victory for the “good guys”—the Starks and, for the time being, Daenerys Targaryen. While the audience has a clear rooting interest in the Starks, Daenerys is more of a wild card these days. For now, we can applaud her victory. However, I wonder if by the end of the series this is the moment we look back on to mark the start of a tyrant’s campaign to brutally conquer the Seven Kingdoms. Only time will tell if Tyrion can continue to smooth out her fire-and-brimstone, “return their cities to the dirt” edges.

In the eponymous battle, the Starks unseat the nasty Boltons and reclaim supremacy in the North. Before he is mauled by his own dogs, Sansa reminds Ramsay, “Your house will disappear. Your name will disappear. All memory of you will disappear.” Will Daenerys be delivering that same speech to Sansa in a season or two? What will conquering the Seven Kingdoms look like for the dragon queen? Tyrion looks horrified when she promises to raze cities in Slaver’s Bay and unsure when she grants the Greyjoys their independence. It felt so great to see the Stark banners unfurled over the walls of Winterfell once again, but how long can these fleeting moments of triumph last with dragons looming on the horizon?

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Game of Thrones, Season 6, Television

Season 6, Episode 8: No One

In this latest episode, ironically titled “No One,” characters throughout the land reclaim their identities and humanities. Over the years, inspired by Brienne, Jaime has found a sense of honor worthy of his true name, not the Kingslayer moniker that labeled him with disrepute. In this episode, Jaime may pretend to be the Kingslayer in his words to Edmure Tully, but his actions fulfill a long-held duty not only to Cersei, but also to Brienne and the late Catelyn Stark.

The former queen Cersei chooses not to give up the fight for her life and the life of her last remaining child. Even as her son outlaws trial by combats, she makes a clear choice: “I choose violence,” she tells Lancel and the Faith Militant, and though we only see one of their deaths, we can be sure that Cersei will continue to choose violence if it means protecting herself and her son. “Catelyn and Cersei… they’d do anything to protect their babies: start a war, burn cities to ash, free their worst enemies,” Jaime tells Edmure. Cersei has been pushed aside for too long. This is the episode where she reasserts the only kind of power she believes in: power, pure and simple. “Power is power.”

In Meereen, Greyworm and Missandei find their humanity in humor, laughing and smiling for what feels like the first time in their lives. Both of them—Greyworm especially—have been deprogrammed of their selves for their whole lives. Over time, with the help of Daenerys and now Tyrion, they are figuring out how to become someone more than a mindless cog in someone else’s machine.

Sandor Clegane is still searching for his larger purpose, but rediscovers his true nature as the Hound. For some time now, he has ignored his instincts and sought to live in peace, chopping wood for a rural septon and his followers. After last week’s massacre, the Hound emerges once again as he uses his superior skills of violence to get revenge on the rogue members of the Brotherhood Without Banners.

Finally, Arya has at long last stopped pretending to be anyone other than Arya Stark of Winterfell, running from her family and her past. She refuses to be No One, as the Faceless Men (seemed to have) wanted. She reclaims her true identity and sets on a path towards home.

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Game of Thrones, Season 6, Television

Season 6, Episode 5: The Door

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.

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Game of Thrones, Season 6, Television

Season 6, Episode 4: Book of the Stranger

In “Book of the Stranger,” brothers and sisters are united across Westeros, all of them changed in some profound way by what has happened in the absence of one another. Sansa reunites with Jon at Castle Black, Yara with Theon on the Iron Islands, and Margaery with Loras in the cells of the Great Sept. Times have changed so completely since the beginning of the series; when once it was the brothers who were on top, it is now the sisters who are the strongest of the pair. Up until recently, Jon was Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. The last time Theon returned to the Iron Islands after a long absence, he rode in cockily telling everyone he saw he was the only living son and heir of Balon Greyjoy, and even tried to seduce his own sister (before realizing it was her). Loras was once one of the greatest knights in the land, charming everyone with his manner and delighting people with his prowess in tournaments.

Over time, and for different circumstances, the brothers have all surrendered the fight. Meanwhile, in “Book of the Stranger,” their sisters continue playing the game. Sansa begs Jon to help her reclaim Winterfell, though he’s broken by the fact that he was murdered by his own brothers for doing what he thought was right. “I want you to help me, but I’ll do it myself if I have to,” she says. This time around, Theon returns to the Iron Islands to surrender his claim to his father’s throne so that his sister might rule instead. Loras, a knight so rarely beaten, lies defeated in his cell as Margaery urges him to stay strong and survive as the future of the Tyrell house.

The title of the episode, “Book of the Stranger,” is named after one of the key books in the religious text, The Seven-Pointed Star. In her discussion with the High Sparrow, Margaery realizes that the man is quoting from the holy book and finishes the verse from memory: “And one day you walked through a graveyard and realized it was all for nothing and set out on the path of righteousness.” The brothers Jon, Theon, and Loras have all walked through that graveyard and are ready to surrender. It’s up to the women in their lives to help them regain their sense of purpose.

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Game of Thrones, Season 6, Television

Season 6, Episode 3: Oathbreaker

In “Oathbreaker,” Game of Thrones continues to explore the theme of multiple perspectives, challenging conventional assumptions of right and wrong, good and bad. The show has never focused on the single-sided narrative, but it has leaned heavily on the notion that the Starks and their noble history is largely unassailable. In this episode, the writers challenge even that history, showing how all characters exist in a grey area—even the honorable Ned Stark.

When Varys captures an agent of the Sons of the Harpy, he listens to her side before offering his own. “Well, that makes perfect sense from your perspective. I have a different perspective, of course. I think it’s important that you try to see things from my perspective, just as I will try to see them from yours,” he says. The High Sparrow does something very similar with King Tommen, mollifying the innocent young ruler by showing sympathy for his point of view without yielding an inch.

Among the Dothraki, the high priestess of the dosh khaleen reminds Daenerys that she, too, thought of herself as the khaleesi to conquer the world; from her view, the mother of dragons is simply another widowed khaleesi who has broken the rules.

Meanwhile, Jon Snow reawakens to confront his murderers and their hatred of him. “I did what I thought was right and I got murdered for it.” He is shaken by this fact and the notion that many of his brothers view him as a traitor, not a savior. If his murderers already regard him as an oathbreaker, Jon decides to assume that mantle completely and end his service to the Night’s Watch.

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Game of Thrones, Season 6, Television

Season 6, Episode 2: Home

In the second episode of Season 6, “Home,” we return to the Iron Islands, home of the Greyjoys. “What is dead may never die,” they say on the islands, and in Jon Snow’s case, they could not be more right. At the end of “Home,” the once-dead Jon rises again with the help of the forlorn priestess, Melisandre (in perhaps one of the least-surprising “twists” in the show’s long run).

To me, “Home” is the culmination of a long and slow shift Game of Thrones has undergone over the years, transitioning from a show of political intrigue to one of fantasy and magic. The political conflict at the center of this show, the War of the Five Kings, officially ended this week with the death of the final would-be king, Balon Greyjoy. Game of Thrones was once primarily dominated by the machinations of many players vying for the Iron Throne; but now, as the true conflict is revealed to be the eventual battle between the living and the dead, magic and prophecy play a much more prominent role.

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Game of Thrones, Season 6, Television

Season 6, Episode 1: The Red Woman

“The Red Woman” is the premiere episode of Season 6 and the first to air without book material to back it up. In fact, some book readers have decided to opt out of the show at this point, saving it until the original source material is finally released (if it is ever released) by George R.R. Martin. I love the show for its own merits, so it was an easy decision for me to continue watching the series. However, it will make for a slightly different take on these recaps. I won’t have quite the same background material to include, and all speculation should be consider just that—not spoilers. At this point, book readers know just about as much as TV viewers going into each episode. If your theories ever differ from mine, I encourage you to include them as a comment to any of these posts.

In “The Red Woman,” women across the lands struggle and succeed to take power in the wakes of dead men like Eddard Stark, Tywin Lannister, and Jon Snow. In Dorne, Ellaria and the Sand Snakes lead a successful revolution against Doran Martell. Sansa finally assumes the mantle of the Stark household after her father and brother’s deaths, accepting the first banner(wo)man into her charge. For Brienne’s part, she finally finds a lord worthy of her service, whom she has been searching for ever since the deaths of Renly Baratheon and Catelyn Stark.

Meanwhile, Daenerys, Cersei, and Arya all struggle to regain the power they had acquired over the last few seasons, setting up the potential for a vengeful (and violent) season among them. Finally, Melisandre, the title feature and subject of the episode’s biggest twist, is revealed to be so powerful she’s able to disguise her centuries-old appearance and, potentially, bring a man back from the dead.

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