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 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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Game of Thrones, Season 5, Television

Season 5, Episode 10: Mother’s Mercy

In war, death is arbitrary and knows no bounds; the likable die as easily as the unlikable. Though a fantasy, Game of Thrones often draws better historical parallels than true historical fiction; it is raw, real, and complex, just like true times of war. Too often in fiction, protagonists are protected from any real harm even in times of chaos and danger. The risk to them is minimal, the stakes relatively low. One of the greatest conceits of Game of Thrones was established in the first season with Ned Stark’s surprising death: Valar Morghulis, “all men must die,” even your favorites.

In “Mother’s Mercy,” the Season 5 finale, the death toll soars, with many major characters offered up to the God of Death. Ironically, there is no peace or mercy of the Mother in this episode—not for anyone. Viewers were left reeling when the credits rolled on this season as one beloved character’s blood stained the snow, but there may be more to some of these deaths than meets the eye.

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Game of Thrones, Season 5, Television

Season 5, Episode 3: “High Sparrow”

In the world of Game of Thrones, everyone is on a quest for revenge. With 456 deaths and counting, there are many people trying to keep faith with the dead. For them, the best way to honor the memory of the dead is to get vengeance on those deemed responsible for their death. The history of Westeros is made of up long cycles of retaliation and blood feuds among families, the present conflict not withstanding.

In “High Sparrow,” sisters Arya and Sansa further position themselves in a long game to avenge the death of the Stark family, both of them shedding some of their former selves in order to achieve this goal. Jon Snow turns down Stannis Baratheon’s offer for revenge against the Boltons in order to rule as Lord Commander. In King’s Landing, the newly-made Queen Margaery avenges the cruelty she’s long suffered at Cersei’s hand, turning the tables on her Queen Mother. Brienne reminds us of her ever-present mission to avenge the death of her friend Renly by killing the man she believes responsible: his brother, Stannis. Tyrion, on his way to meet up with Daenerys in Meeren, is involved in a plot against the rule of his own house, seeking vengeance for a lifetime of mistreatment and misery at the hands of his relatives.

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Game of Thrones, Season 5, Television

Season 5, Episode 1: The Wars to Come

The failing state of Westeros continues to reel in the vacuum left after Robert Baratheon’s long-ago coup d’etat. The latest king (or, more accurately, Protector of the Realm) has been killed at the hands of his own son. The adolescent King Tommen and Queen Regent Cersei are left to fill the void, but for how long? Season 5, Episode 1 offers a clue in its title, based on the final words from a condemned Mance Rayder: “I wish you good fortune in the wars to come.”

“Wars,” plural.

Game of Thrones has always been a tale about power and the long struggle for succession after the ousting of the Mad King Aerys Targaryen (father of Daenerys). This season is set up similarly, only now the future is much more vague. If the first few seasons featured the dismantling of the Stark family, Seasons 4 and 5 seem to focus on the undoing of the Lannisters.

Without these two major families, few remain with a legitimate claim to power and the vassals to back it up. Who is strong enough to unite the kingdoms, to return peace and prosperity to the land of Westeros? Only Varys seems certain of the answer.

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Game of Thrones, Season 4, Television

Season 4, Episode 10: The Children

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In its fourth season finale, Game of Thrones writer-producers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss set several characters on brand new journeys. We’ll have to wait almost a year to see Arya and Tyrion reach their destinations, to see what Stannis does on the Wall, or to see Bran fly.

This episode was appropriately titled “The Children” for several reasons, though it relates most directly to the “young” girl that Bran, Meera, Jojen, and Hodor encounter north of the Wall. In this episode, Jon Snow uses his relation to his father, Ned Stark, to win the trust of Stannis Baratheon, who has saved the Night’s Watch from wildling attack. Cersei, a fierce protector of her children, fights for the right to stay by her only remaining son’s side. Daenerys is shamed into locking up two of her own children, the dragons Rhaegal and Viserion, after the child of one of her subjects is murdered by Drogon. Brienne fights the Hound for the right to protect the young Arya Stark, though Arya herself is trying to gain independence from her status as the unfortunate child of Ned and Catelyn Stark and set out on her own. Lastly, Tyrion finally acts as ruthless as his father, Tywin: “I have always been your son,” he says as he shoots his father with two bolts from Joffrey’s murderous crossbow.

“This whole season’s about learning hard lessons from your ruthless elders,” says writer-producer David Benioff. “The Children” focuses primarily on how two pupils, Arya and Tyrion, apply their lessons in mercilessness and set off on their own in the world.

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Game of Thrones, Season 4, Television

Season 4, Episode 7: Mockingbird

When Arya and the Hound come upon a dying stranger in Sunday’s episode, he expresses regret for the way the world has changed: “Fair. A balance. No balance anymore.” It’s hard to imagine that this is possible, that the world shown in Game of Thrones has ever been fair or balanced. He has seen, at the very least, four kings in his lifetime. Several wars have been fought over the throne, the current War of the Five Kings being only the latest of many.

Even on a personal level, few adults in Westeros have made it out of childhood unscathed. It’s almost impossible to imagine that a fair and peaceful society made any of these characters. These people seem to have been “born to woe,” as historian Barbara W. Tuchman writes in her book A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century. Like the medieval man, the characters of Game of Thrones have grown up in a world where a “habit of violence” and adversity rule more effectively than any government.

In “Mockingbird,” we see several adults who have survived a childhood of violence, abuse, and misery, but not without scars, both physical and emotional. This episode shows how these adults revert back to childishness to cope when present traumas aggravate old wounds. Meanwhile, the actual children, Arya and Sansa, continue to experience the brutality that has already begun to make them into scarred adults.

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