By Jacob Lieberman
“You don’t need me anymore.” – Meera Reed
Hi everyone, and welcome back to our fourth week of Game of Thrones coverage. I’ll try to keep this recap short and sweet, much like episode four, “Spoils of War.”
This week the board has narrowed considerably. Most of our main characters are now in or around the same three locations – Dragonstone, Kings Landing, and Winterfell – and the close quarters are forcing some uncomfortable reckonings. In many ways, this hour was defined by central characters forging new relationships and rebuilding old ones in the crucible of war, discovering who they really need and thinking hard about who might just be dispensable.
Let’s begin at Winterfell, where Little Finger has a special gift for Bran: the Valyrian steel dagger used in the attempt on his life in season 1. While Little Finger claimed back then that the dagger belonged to Tyrion Lannister, its true provenance remains shrouded in mystery. There is one person, however, who most certainly knows its back story, since he now knows everyone’s backstory: Bran. So when he asks if Baelish knows who the dagger belonged to, he is almost certainly testing the honesty of Westeros’ most notorious weasel. Baelish appears to be trying to establish some sort of rapport with Bran, who is, in his mind, perhaps the last Stark capable of manipulation. But it doesn’t work. Whether Bran knows Baelish’s long-game and isn’t a fan, or he knows about Baelish’s betrayal of Ned, Bran looks Little Finger dead in the eye and quotes Little Finger’s most famous line in the show: “Chaos is a ladder.” It’s a mic drop moment for sure. An “I showed you mine, you show me yours.” The camera pulls in for an unusually tight shot on Baelish’s face, and you can practically see the sweat starting to bead on his forehead.
Their friendly chat is interrupted by Meera Reed, who informs Bran that she’s going home to be with her family – that when the White Walkers come, she needs to be with those she loves, to protect them as best she can. And as she rightly points out, Bran doesn’t need her anymore. He’s safely ensconced in Winterfell, fully plugged into the Weirwood interwebs, and, thanks to his new wheelchair, he’s even independently mobile. Bran is about to enter a new phase of his new life as the Three Eyed Raven, and the way he sees it, the time has come to put away childish things. Now, that doesn’t mean he should be a complete Dickon to Meera, but it does mean he will probably need some new allies.
Hopefully, among those new allies are his sisters. Because Arya is home! And in a scene that paralleled her return to the Red Keep after getting lost in the dungeons in season 1, she talks her way past some skeptical Winterfell guards and into the crypts beneath the castle. Shortly after Arya and Sansa are reunited standing before their father’s bones. There’s some tension at first, but they soon share some sisterly moments of teasing and affection, poignant reminders of how far they’ve come since they last saw each other – and since they last saw Ned. And after all they’ve been through, they realize that they don’t need him anymore. They’ve both grown up. They are strong, powerful women, capable of leading a people and taking a life. Good job, Ned.
Outwardly at least, Arya’s evolution is the most profound. At first Sansa thinks that her list of people to kill is a lame joke, but after watching her sister spar with Brienne it becomes very clear, very quickly, that Arya is deadly serious. Syrio Forel would be proud of Arya’s water dancing skills, but Sansa is just scared. Brienne is one of the best fighters in the Seven Kingdoms and Arya is doing more than hold her own. She might even be winning. Sansa’s little sister is now a stone cold killer, and that can’t be a good feeling (though I have no siblings, so maybe?). Little Finger, meanwhile, stands next to Sansa watching intently, perhaps with the acute awareness that this newly minted machine of death may have seen him plotting her brother Robb’s downfall with Tywin Lannister at Harrenhal in season 2. Bran and Arya have also thrown a wrench into his plans for Sansa, providing her with a comfort and emotional nourishment that he can never hope to match. I have no idea what Baelish is up to, but maybe he’s rethinking his position on chaos.
And please excuse my shoehorning this plot point in, but let’s all keep an eye on that dagger Little Finger gave to Bran, and that Bran then gave to Arya. An illustration of it shows up in one of Sam’s books at the Citadel, so it’s possible that the dagger once had an illustrious owner.
Note: During the Arya/Sansa/Bran scene in the Winterfell godswood, Bran was surprised to see that Arya came home. He thought she was going to King’s Landing based on his most recent vision of her at the Crossroads. Therefore, this is more evidence that Bran can’t see future, only the past and present.
While the Starks are regrouping in Winterfell, in King’s Landing Cersei informs Tycho Nestoris that the crown will repay its debt to the Iron Bank of Braavos in one lump sum – as soon as Jamie arrives with the Tyrell gold. Tycho practically trips over himself offering to loan her more money, informing her that the Iron Bank would be happy to back the Queen in her war against The Mother of Dragons. This could either be a huge boon for Cersei or lead to her downfall, as the Iron Bank is known for its willingness to back alternatives when royalty finds itself in arrears. As the saying goes, “The Iron Bank will have its due…”
Cersei being Cersei, of course, she treats this offer with the haughtiness and disdain we’ve all come to expect from her. After all, to paraphrase Bron’s words to Jamie, she’s just won the biggest prize in the world – all the gold and food of the reach. Why would she need some lowly banker from the Free Cities? By the time this episode ends she may see things differently (we’ll get there), but at this moment, she’s in the driver’s seat, calculating that Tycho needs her interest payments more than she needs his loans. He certainly seems to agree. For now.
And what exactly does Cersei intend to do with her windfall? She wants to hire the Golden Company. As far as I can tell, that’s the show’s first mention of this legendary band of sell swords. In the books they are described as the finest mercenaries in the world, a band of warriors as skilled on the battle field as they are honorable off of it, having never broken a contract. They are, however, also described as having a distant relation to the Targaryens, and, perhaps, an inclination to support the last Dragon Queen (or not – the history is complicated and the show might not get into it this late in the game. The Golden Company might just be really awesome fighters. And just to be clear the show is wayyy past the books at this point, so I can only speculate). Like her decision to let the High Sparrow form what was essentially a private army of religious fanatics, Cersei’s reliance on the Golden Company could turn out to be short-sighted. We’ll have to wait and see.
While Cersei plots her next move, love is in the air on Dragonstone. Missandei is pining for her man Grey Worm, who still hasn’t returned from Casterly Rock, while King Jon (or is it King Snow?) takes Queen Dany on a tour of the caves beneath Dragonstone. While this doesn’t end the same way as Jon and Ygritte’s cave tryst, it sure seems like that’s what they both had in mind.
Jon gives her the torchlight tour, revealing the massive chunk of obsidian that Sam read about, as well as some ancient ruins from the Dawn Age that depict the Children of the Forest’s alliance with the First Men against the White Walkers. Jon tells Dany an abridged version of the story, the moral of which is: we need to do what they did, and come together to survive. She agrees and says her men and dragons will fight for him, but only if he bends the knee. He can’t, of course, recognizing that his fellow Northerners have been through too much at this point to accept a Southern ruler. Given the interpersonal tension and the political ramifications, there’s a growing realization that they each stand a better chance of winning their respective wars if they fight them together. From where I sit, it looks like we are barreling headlong towards a Stark-Targaryen marriage, a literal joining of ice and fire (in this scenario, they would get access to each other’s armies on co-equal terms).
While Dany is realizing how much she might need Jon Snow, she’s rethinking her reliance on Tyrion. After being informed about the disaster at Casterly Rock, she barks at him about his failed strategy and questions his loyalty. It’s a humbling moment for Tyrion, who up until recently has been on a heck of a winning streak. But this is war, not politics by other means, and she needs a war-time consigliere. Enter the King in the North. He talks Dany down from her plan to take Drogon to King’s Landing and torch the place to the ground, reminding her that people follow her because they believe she is different from murderous regents like Joffrey, Cersei, and her father, the Mad King. He tells her that burning down the city would only prove her to be more of the same, and would destroy any chance to prove that she is different. He’s telling her, essentially, to be better.
Oh, and Theon is back to ask Dany’s help getting Yara away from Euron. Instead he’s met on the beach by Jon, who’s not exactly thrilled to see him. And the queen isn’t there…
THE LOOT TRAIN
Where did she go? Well, she’s taken Jon Snow’s advice, and rather than punish the innocent people of King’s Landing, she’s going to unleash holy hell on the Lannister army. And she sure does. Wow. Men are enveloped in flames by the dozen, literally turning to ash as Jamie helplessly cuts his way through Dothraki riders and dodges streams of dragon fire. It’s an awful, awful scene. You could practically smell the burning flesh through the fourth wall. Tyrion watches the carnage unfold with a look of horror and disbelief. But remember that giant cross-bow thingy that Qyburn unveiled earlier this season? Jamie does too, and he orders Bron to fire it at Dany and Drogon. Ash falls around them like snow as Bron takes aim and fires. Drogon is wounded in the shoulder, but still alive. And still capable of dracarysing. As Dany hops off the wounded beast and tries to pull the giant spear out of its shoulder, Jamie sees his chance to be a hero – to redeem himself – and charges headlong into the jaws of hell, only to be tackled at the last minute and thrown into the waters of Blackwater Rush, where, weighed down by his armor, he slowly sinks.
Quibbls of the Week:
- Will Jon Snow bend the knee to Daenerys next week? Quibbl here
- Bran knows Jon Snow’s parentage. Will Jon find out he’s a Targaryen next week? Quibbl here
- Arya hasn’t killed since episode one. Will Arya kill someone next week? Quibbl here
- Jaime is currently floating in a river. Will he return to Cersei next week? Quibbl here
- Bronn alluded to wanting a sizeable payment for his loyalty last week. Some speculate that he may have just saved Jaime’s life by pushing him into water and out of the way of Drogon’s flames. Will Bronn recieve a castle next week? Quibbl here