By Jacob Lieberman
“What’s the point in serving a god if none of us knows what he wants?” – Jon Snow
Welcome back, Quibblers, to our penultimate Game of Thrones recap of 2017. The second to last episode of each season usually features a major turning point and/or a large set piece battle, and in that respect this episode didn’t disappoint. In other respects, it left me scratching my head. Overall, it was an exciting hour-plus in which we finally drew up the curtain on the long-awaited clash between ice and fire. There were some great moments of character development of the sort that we haven’t seen much of recently, mostly between the various members of the Westerosi Magnificent Seven. And what those moments revealed were men and women desperately searching for purpose and meaning – whether it be as a soldier, a sibling, a scion, or a son.
Let’s start at Winterfell, where Littlefinger’s machinations have the Stark sisters at each other’s throats. Arya has discovered Sansa’s seemingly treasonous letter to Robb from season one, and immediately puts her sister on her heels by revealing that she has the scroll in what I can only imagine to be the creepiest way possible. (Well, this is Game of Thrones, so it probably could have been creepier.) Without ever raising her voice, she tells the story of how she learned to shoot a bow and arrow, and implying that their father let her do it even though it wasn’t lady-like, because he knew he couldn’t tame this young she-wolf (if for no other reason than she reminds Ned of his beloved sister, Lyanna). She then informs Sansa that she knows about her betrayal at the hands of the Lannisters, and that she doesn’t care if Sansa was a young girl at the time – betrayal is betrayal. She also deduces that what Sansa is really afraid of is losing the support of the Northern lords, who may already be suspicious of the Stark who married both a Lannister and a Bolton. Regardless Arya derides Sansa’s explanation of terror even deputizing Lyanna Mormont to prove how cowardly Sansa was.
Littlefinger, the master manipulator, appears to have thrown two wolves into a cage, and both Arya and Sansa are ready to pounce, whether out of anger (Arya) or fear (Sansa).
Sansa, of course, turns straight to is going straight to Baelish, just as he planned. He gives her a much-needed pep talk, while at the same time planting the absurd and insidious idea that Brienne – Sansa’s sworn sword, but also Arya’s – could be a hindrance to her safety, since she might prevent Sana from killing Sansa. I guess? It wasn’t entirely clear, but that appears to be how Sansa took his advice, because she very curtly sends Brienne off to King’s Landing, where Cersei has called a meeting of all Westeros’ high lords. Sansa won’t set foot in the city while Cersei is in charge (understandable!) and she uses that as a pretext to send Brienne to represent her interests.
We know what she’s really up to, and it doesn’t bode well for her, as she soon finds out when she goes snooping in Arya’s room. For all of Sansa’s newfound political skill, she is completely unprepared to discover Arya’s satchel of faces. As we know, Arya serves the many faced god now – the god of death – and she seems inclined to visit his retribution upon her sister. The well-trained assassin that she is, she appears out of nowhere to deliver another eerily calm speech laced with threats. She leaves Sansa unharmed (for now), but not before giving her the Valyrian steel dagger Bran passed to her earlier this season – the same dagger that was used in the attempt on Bran’s life, the same dagger that we saw in Gilly’s book, the same dagger that may have some illustrious history only Bran and Littlefinger know about.
The big question is this: are Sansa and Arya working together? They were speaking rather loudly and with lots of doors open, and it seems strange for Arya to give her sister this incredibly valuable weapon after basically threatening to kill her. It could very well be a sign of Arya’s hubris, or it could be something else.
Down south on Dragonstone, (actual South, where Tormund has never been), Dany and Tyrion talk strategy. Tyrion continues to advocate a more measured course, pointing out that a ruler whose power rests on fear is a ruler whose power is brittle, since everyone beneath them wants to see them dead. Dany retorts that her ancestor, Aegon Targaryen, got pretty far on fear. But what kind of ruler does she want to be, Tyrion asks? The kind that breaks the wheel forever or the kind that breaks the wheel and builds a shinier new one? Tyrion says that he believes in her, he believes in what she can do for the people of Westeros, and he wants to see her win. He wants her vision to endure. Which means she needs to designate a successor, because as he rightly points out, if she dies, then what? Their cause is lost. Now, there are definitely some political benefits to this strategy. It’s like picking a Vice President, a chance to show what you value in a leader, a chance to get another House or region on your side, a chance to show that you are a wise and competent leader that can be trusted to make important decisions. But Dany doesn’t want to hear of it. She won’t talk succession until after the war is won.
To Tyrion’s dismay, she immediately receives a raven asking to take an even more active (ie dangerous) role in the fight: she’s flying all three of her dragons North of the Wall to rescue Jon Snow and his compatriots, who have gotten themselves into quite the jam…
NORTH OF THE WALL
Let’s go back just a little bit, to happier times, when the Magnificent Seven were cheerily making small talk as they searched for the army of the dead. Happier indeed.
Jorah and Jon. Jon and Tormund. Tormund and the Hound. The Hound and Thoros and Gendry. I may have left one or two out. Either way, it was a lot of fun. It was also great insight into a lot of these men who have made the completely insane decision to follow Jon Snow into the frozen wilderness to kidnap a zombie. (Have I said how insane this is? I’m really hoping it happens differently in the books. If I live long enough to see the next one.)
Essentially, they’re all chasing something. Beric and Jon are chasing their destiny. Jorah is chasing his love. The Hound and Thoros are chasing their Lord. Gendry is chasing the ghost of his father. Tormund is chasing safety for his people. And Brienne of Tarth.
Unfortunately, the first thing they find is an undead bear, which mauls Thoros and kills Faceless Helper #1 before itself being killed by Jorah with a dragonglass dagger (note: dragonglass appears to kill both white walkers AND whites).
Thoros survives, but not for long. After the gang gets the jump on a group of wights led by a White Walker, and in the process seem to complete their mission by capturing a surviving wight, they are quickly set upon by the entire army of the dead. They beat a hasty retreat to a rock jutting out of the middle of a frozen lake, with Jon sending Gendry back to the Wall to send the aforementioned raven to Dany.
As Faceless Helpers drop one by one, the six survivors find themselves stranded at the center of the lake, with the army of the dead held at bay by only some thinning ice. Ice which is soon proven to be not all that thin by a bored Hound, who short hops a rock in the direction of the zombie army. It’s not looking good for the heroes, who are furiously cutting down dead men, only to have more come at them. Until Dany arrives with Drogon, Rhaegal and Viserion. As others have pointed out, this is a little Dragon ex Machina. Did Gendry really run that fast? Did the ravens really fly that fast? Did the dragons? The show is beginning to have a pliable relationship with time, and I know that’s become a problem for some viewers.
Dany and her children show off the awesome power of dragons – “fire made flesh” – by roasting the army of the dead much as she roasted the Lannister army and the Tarlys. However, unfortunately for Dany and for the dragon I found out later was Viserion, the Night King is a much better shot than Bron. Or at least, he has a much more powerful arrow. He uses a well-thrown ice spear to kill Viserion, and in the immortal words of Timon from the Lion King, our trio’s down to two. Dany is heartbroken, but does what she has to do and flies everyone out of danger on the back of Drogon. Everyone except Jon, who stays behind to heroically hold off the attacking wights. Jon survives a fall through the ice and miraculously resurfaces right in front of Long Claw, but he’s still in trouble. That is, until Uncle Benjen rides in out of nowhere, throws Jon on his horse, and dies holding off the horde of zombies. Thanks, Uncle Benjen.
Jon makes it back to the Wall (in record time!) and heads south again with Dany. On the trip down, as shirtless, scarred Jon recovers in bed, they basically confess their obvious feelings for each other, and Jon agrees to call Dany his Queen in return for her help fighting the Night King. This will be awkward when they find out she’s his aunt.
The episode ends with the Night King raising the corpse of Viserion from the bottom of the frozen lake, and then raising him from the dead. He has an ice dragon now. Game on.
- Will Arya kill Little Finger before the end of the season? Quibbl here
- Will Tyrion find out he’s actually not a Lannister before the end of the season? Quibbl here
- Will Sansa kick Arya out of Winterfell? Quibbl here
- Will Jon return to Winterfell? Quibbl here
- Will Cersei threaten to murder Tyrion next week? Quibbl here