The Tower of Joy is a good place to start. Rather like Bran’s previous vision, we wouldn’t know for sure that this was a flashback until we see Bran and the Raven standing on a slope overlooking the scene. He clues us in that the Northman at the head of the party of six is his father, Ned, accompanied by Howland Reed, Mera’s father.
Opposite them stand two knights of Aerys II Targaryen’s Kingsguard. They’re here at Prince Rhaegar’s command. For what purpose they will not say. Ned only asks once; “Where’s my sister?”
Despite their King and their Prince being dead, the Kingsguard don their helmets and fight. Ned kills one quickly. The other will not go down so easily, for he is Ser Arthur Dayne, The Sword of the Morning, wielder of the legendary greatsword “Dawn”. The sword isn’t mentioned by name, but we’ve heard Ser Arthur mentioned in the great book of the Kingsguard before. Bran tells us that according to Ned Stark, Arthur Dayne was the greatest swordsman he’d ever seen. As soon as the fight begins we see why.
Ser Arthur weaves two full size swords around him like a wall of blades, fending off and cutting down up to four attackers from all sides. Bran watches as it comes down to just Ned and Ser Arthur. He’s heard his father tell the tale that he won this duel but now he watches with his own eyes as Ser Arthur flings the sword from Ned’s hands. Turns out Howland Reed, who went down with a wound at the word go, got back up and knifed Ser Arthur in the back of the throat.
Reed and Ned hear the anguished cries of a woman from the top of the Tower of Joy. Ned starts to head up, but Bran calls out to him. Does Ned hear him the calls of his son echoing across time? He stops and looks around as though he heard something. The Raven looks quite distraught when Bran calls out and immediately pulls them out of the past.
Bran is furious. And so are we! How long have fans been waiting to find out what happened at the top of The Tower of Joy that day?! The Raven won’t let Bran go back, not yet. Bran says that he doesn’t want to keep coming back to being a cripple, talking to an old man in a tree. The Raven says that he won’t stay forever, but that before he leaves, he must learn everything.
Everything? That’s a tall order.
I could have expected that we might start with this scene and leave any revelation about Jon Snow for another episode. Even though Jon Snow is back, the show hasn’t explicitly brought up the question of his true parentage again since Season 1, even if it was implied in Season 5. Another episode or 2 of set up for this potentially GAME CHANGING revelation would be useful. Something worked into what Jon decides to do now, but we’ll get back to that.
In a boat sailing south on the Narrow Sea, Samwell and Gilly and baby Sam are getting along alright. That is, Samwell is puking a bucket every other minute. Gilly is just so excited to be seeing more of the sea. See the Sea? Get it? She’s so cute. Samwell finally fesses up about the Citadel, that they won’t allow a woman and a baby to stay there. He says that he’s planning to take Gilly and Sam to his home, Horn Hill, the seat of House Tarly.
Despite his father being a cruel military man (and a bannerman of House Tyrell, incidentally) Sam says his mother and sister will take care of Gilly. Gilly reminds him of his promise, “Wherever you go, I go too.” Samwell may yet decide to stay with Gilly and Sam.
Daenerys returns to the nomadic sprawl of Vaes Dothrak. The Khals escort her to the temple of the Dosh Khaleen and bow to their head priestess before taking their leave.
The Dosh Khaleen similarly care not for Daenerys’s titles and bloodline outside of Dothraki culture. Their Priestess even remembers when Daenerys ate the stallion’s heart. Kind of coming full circle here. Every one of their sisterhood has stood by the side of a Great Khal, poised to conquer the world, before fate had its way. To them Daenery’s adventures have been nothing but distractions forestalling her rightful place. Forbidden distractions at that.
The Priestess says that the Khals have gathered in Vaes Dothrak for the Khalar Vezhven. They will decide what cities to conquer and what peoples to enslave next. And they may decide to let Daenerys live out her days among the Dosh Khaleen, or they may not. But something tells me she’ll at least be safe if the Dosh Khaleen accept her.
I hope Daenerys gets something valuable, tangible or not, from this plot. If she just gets rescued by Jorah and Daario, or Drogon, with nothing gained, the whole reintroduction of the Dothraki might seem pointless.
Back at Meereen, we get the chance to see Varys in action with his unusual charms and inexplicable knowledge base. He has brought a Meereenese woman into the great pyramid. We’ve seen her before. She’s the one who’s repeatedly tricked and killed Daenerys’ Unsullied. Her name is Vala
“The Unsullied are foreign soldiers, brought here by a foreign Queen to destroy our city and our history.” In a certain sense, she’s absolutely right, as Varys concedes, but we know he believes in Daenerys’s potential and her cause. He knows about her son, and he knows that if the Sons of the Harpy find out that she told them anything they will kill her. But he’s got another one of his bags of money and discrete ships at the ready to carry Vala and her son off to a new life.
Tyrion is really not in his ideal company with Missandei and Grey Worm. Even his mention of games brings unpleasant memories of slavery and abuse to mind for them. Gods bless him he is trying to get to know them at least. Varys breaks up the awkwardness with an announcement of progress. It turns out that the Masters of Astapor and Yunkai, who have retaken their cities are funding the Sons of the Harpy to get revenge on Daenerys from within her own city. They can’t march the Unsullied off to fight them without risking losing Meereen, so the only way to beat them is in treacherous negotiations. It should be cool to see Tyrion and Missandei treat with these grubby men again in Daenerys’s name.
Qyburn, Cersei’s master of whispers, has apparently inherited Varys’s flock of spies in King’s Landing. Children. He’s at least taking care of them and their families and problems. He’s also got them hooked on sweets like candied plums from Dorne, hearing whatever whispers he can from their inconspicuous ears.
Cersei and Jaime and Ser Robert Strong enter Qybrun’s quarters. The children do indeed scatter like birds when Ser Strong walks in. Jaime voices an audience question; what exactly did Qyburn do to Ser Gregor Clegane? He gives a Jaime a “what are you looking at” glare.
Cersei is already planning to have him serve as her champion in trial by combat when the Faith calls her trial. And in the meantime, she wants to make the city of King’s Landing hers again. She wants Qybrun’s birds reporting from every corner of the Seven Kingdoms.
But King’s Landing can’t truly be hers again while Kevan Lannister serves as hand of the King and leads the Small Council. She and Jaime and Ser Strong barge in just as Grand Maester Pycelle is on his latest tirade about Qyburn’s abhorrent experiments. Would you like to say that to the experiment’s face, you miserable old creep?
Jaime, as the Lord Commander of the Kingsguard, arguably has a place on the Small Council, and the murder of Myrcella and the coup by the Sand Snakes in Dorne definitely concerns them all. Cersei is confident that Kevan can’t kick them out, but Kevan counters that she can’t make them stay. He takes Lady Olenna, Mace Tyrell and Pycelle out to hold the Small Council meeting somewhere else, leaving Cersei and Jaime stung and stuck out of the loop.
At the Sept of Baelor, Tommen has taken matters into his own hands. He bursts into the High Sparrow’s quarters with four Kingsguard behind him and demands that he allow Cersei to visit Myrcella’s las resting place. The High Sparrow is his usual, insufferably gracious self, even when Tommen gets in his face and bemoans Cersei’s treatment by the Faith. Things get pretty tense for a moment, but the Sparrow invites Tommen to talk with him without either of their guards within arm’s reach.
The way the Sparrow plays on Tommen’s love for his family, his insecurities about his own power, and his desire to be good and just, is quite impressive. You can see Tommen’s resistance ease. It’s almost like the Sparrow is providing the best context for understanding the world that Tommen has ever known. He’s not punishing Cersei, the Sparrow says, he is merely carrying out the God’s commands, urging Cersei to own up to all she’s done, telling Tommen that her motherly love is the best part of her and that the best any person can do is to bring out the good in everyone.
It would be heartwarming if we didn’t know that the High Sparrow can connive with the best of them, on top of being completely devout. If he can make a friend out of Tommen, when Cersei finally does execute the Faith, it will drive the wedge between Tommen and Cersei even deeper.
It’s a pretty dark day when I find myself urging Tommen to keep to his mother, Cersei’s ways and attitudes. Something tells me before this season is over we’re going to curse Game of Thrones for winning over our sympathies to Cersei.
Deep in the bowls of the House of Black and White, a blind girl trains. She learns to hear her opponents around her, their steps, their breath. She learns to ignore the pain, to keep her balance, to keep fighting. She learns to feel her way around the walls, to identify the materials she works with by smell.
Who is she? She is no one. Who was she? She was Arya Stark. Arya Stark had a mother and a father, a sister, three brothers and a half-brother. They may all be dead, for all a girl knows. What about the Hound? A girl traveled with him for many months, but left him for dead, why? Didn’t she mean to kill him? And the other people on her funny little list? She did. But she couldn’t, not all of them.
After endless duels and many bruises, a girl finds herself equal to the Waif’s taunts, and attacks.
Is this the first time Jaqen H’ghar has referred to himself in first person since Arya came to the House of Black and White? I think it is. For one final time, he asks a girl to tell him her name. “A girl has no name.” He coaxes her to the pool in the hall of gods, from which men have drunk and died immediately. A girl knows this.
“If a girl is truly no one, she has nothing to fear.
A girl takes the cup, brings it to her lips, closes her eyes and drinks. When she opens them again, her sight is restored.
“Who are you?”
How will Arya’s training continue now that she has her sight back? Will the Faceless Men have a new mission for her?
The new Lord Bolton and Warden of the North treats Lord Umber. It seems that with the Starks gone, the North is left with nothing but the most crass and unpretentious lords as the heads of the major houses. Lord Umber knowns right away that Ramsay killed his own father, and that the new Lord Karstark is kissing Ramsay’s ass. The Umbers are the northernmost house in the North and they are shaking in their boots over the thousands of wildlings that Jon Snow has let pass into the country. He wants the Boltons’ support to kill them all off. But open contempt and not even the most superficial pledges of loyalty, Ramsay is pretty reluctant to give favors to Lord Umber.
But Lord Umber has a gift. Osha, the wildling and Rickon Stark. Goodbye, stomach. Last we saw these two was at the end of Season 3, when Rickon and Osha went on their separate ways from Bran, Hodor and the Reeds. They went to be safe with the Umbers, those traitorous bastards. So much for being Stark bannermen. How does Ramsay know that this is Rickon Stark? Because Lord Umber has his direwolf’s severed head on a hook. Poor Shaggydog.
As far as anyone in the North is concerned Rickon Stark is the last Lord Stark. I mean, why shouldn’t Ramsay just kill Rickon right then and there? Unless he plans to use him in a manner his father might have as a political prisoner. Or as a bargaining chip against Jon. Ramsay may like his women wild, but he’s going to be in for a world of pain if he tries to put the moves on Osha. I am terrified and excited for that.
Davos may have asked Melisandre to try and bring Jon Snow back, but clearly he was not prepared to see her actually succeed. He comes upon Jon Snow, revived and naked in the cold morning. At the sight of Jon shivering beneath Davos’s cloak, Melisandre seems to get some of her old fervor back. “Stannis was not the prince that was promised,” she says, “but someone has to be”. For the second time in the series, speaking to someone who has come back from death, she hears that there is nothing at all on the other side.
Not many people get to reflect on why they died. The knowledge that his own brothers, men he commanded, murdered him for doing what he thought was right is completely disorienting to Jon. Davos, the still skeptical pragmatist, urges him to keep fighting for what he believed in.
“Good. Now go fail again.”
The reconverts of the Night’s Watch and the Free Folk gather around Jon Snow in awe. Tormund looks pretty creeped out but he’s glad that his friend and ally lives again. Dolorous Edd checks his eyes to make sure they’re not turning blue like a White Walker.
John Snow can’t in good conscience let the lead mutineers live. Ser Alliser Thorne, Bowen Marsh, Othell Yarwyck and Olly all stand atop a table with nooses around their necks and their hands tied behind them. Marsh is still incredulous that Jon is alive. Yarwyck wishes Jon to write his mother in White Harbor telling her he died fighting the wildlings. Ser Alliser Thorne accepts his fate, but warns Jon that he’ll be fighting the Free Folk’s battles forever. Olly has nothing to say, his face is taut with contempt.
Jon cuts the ropes supporting their feet and lets them strangle to death. It looks like he even gets a moment of perverse satisfaction at executing the men who murdered him. The he hands the Lord Commander’s cloak off to Dolorous Edd. “My watch has ended.”
What will Jon Snow do now? How will the experience of death and returning affect him in the long run? Hopefully he doesn’t decide to go anywhere until Brienne and Sansa arrive at Castle Black. If she tells him all that’s happened at Winterfell, and they find out that the Boltons have Rickon Stark, they could decide to try and take Winterfell back! Yes, PLEASE!