We’re five episodes into a ten episode season and we’re finally starting to see some more significant rising action. Jon Snow has officially killed the boy within, embracing his role as a grown ass man and Commander of the Night’s Watch. Stannis is finally taking his army South to attack Winterfell. Sansa has discovered that Theon/Reek is in Winterfell. Dany is taking a husband to establish her legitimacy as a ruler and to keep Mereen from falling to pieces. And Jorah Mormont is now in a race against a greyscale contagion to get Tyrion to Queen Daenerys and make his peace with her before the disease turns him into one of those crazy stone men.
The Dragon Queen Chooses King
Daenerys has just lost Ser Barristan Selmy, or Barristan the Bold, and realizes that the city of Meereen is slipping between her fingers. She has no living councilor connected to the Seven Kingdoms; she is alone in a foreign city under siege from within. She has essential created a civil war, yes, for a noble cause, but she has no sense of the politics of ruling, and thus lacks the capacity to make decisions to appease all parties involved. The Sons of the Harpy are the representatives of the great houses of Meereen. They are resisting Dany’s rule, because she has stripped them of every sense of identification of their culture and former power. And yes, while she has liberated the slave population, what has she done to help with slave reformation and reintegration into a stable society so that they may become equally educated and invested in helping the city evolve? Unlike Cersei’s purposeful desecration of her small council, Dany’s is unintentional, and now it is nonexistent.
Dany decides to use her dragons to make a point, to remind the Masters that social status means nothing to a dragon, and she is the Mother of Dragons. I really liked this part. I think after the visit from Drogon Dany was reminded that even though she doesn’t have full control over her dragons, she can use them as a tool. A tool of fear, yes, but something has end the civil unrest in Meereen. The scene in the catacombs was amazing. She was in full Targaryen mode. I love her like this. It’s like she slips in and out of Dragon mode, but she was on point in this episode. She makes an example of one of the Masters and threatens the others. She even admits that her dragons don’t always listen to her, which was clever, because she is able to acknowledge the weakness, but it doesn’t come across as a weakness in that moment. These men are in the grips of fear and facing their own deaths – her acknowledgement that she doesn’t have total control makes the whole thing that much more terrifying. I thought this was very well handled, and whether intended or not – Dany came out on top.
Her conference with Missandei is pathetic, but honest. Daenerys has no one to give her council, so why not ask the girl who has walked with her through her journey from Astapor and has seen her struggle to maintain control of Meereen. In my honest opinion she just needs to leave that place and head for the Seven Kingdoms, but it’s an important lesson on Dany’s path to the Iron Throne. She must understand what it takes to rule a kingdom. Dany needs an outside perspective; she needs to be told what it is she isn’t able to see. And somehow from this brief consultation, Daenerys decides that she will open the fighting pits, but only for free men. She will concede on that part so that the Meereenese may maintain a sense of their cultural identity. Daenerys also decides to end the violence by with the Sons of the Harpy’s by marrying one of the powerful house leaders, her former council member Hizdahr zo Loraq.
This scene reminded me of so many things that have already happened in this show, and yet, there is a very marked difference. Daenerys is sold into marriage by her brother to Khal Drogo in exchange for an army to take back the Iron Throne. Robb Stark agrees to marry one of Walder Frey’s daughters in exchange for The Twins and uniting the bloodlines of their houses; an arrangement conducted by his mother. And in the first season, in one of my favorite scenes, Cersei and Robert discuss the difficulty of ruling the expanse of Seven Kingdoms and Robert asks what it is that holds the whole thing together, and Cersei answers, “Our marriage.” And ain’t that the truth. Their marriage was cleverly arranged when Robert usurped the Iron Throne and Tyrion Lannister positioned his family into a place of power and protection. The difference between these marriages and Dany’s decision to wed Hizdahr, is that she is making the decision on her own. She recognizes what must be done to end the civil unrest in Meereen, and it is what is commonly done, as we have seen throughout the course of the show. Marriages into important families are a powerful decree, bloodlines and family names have power. Here’s the thing that Dany isn’t thinking about: she’s not even in Westeros yet. By wedding a man of Meereenese nobility, she will be removing any chance of marriage that may be deemed necessary when taking the Iron Throne.
Dany is giving her all to hold onto power in Meereen and I just don’t know if that shows how badly she wants to learn to be a good leader so that she can rule the Seven Kingdoms, or if she is just making self destructive decisions while being geographically separated from her birthright. Or perhaps it is the simple reality that she is alone. She has no family and no council connected to the object of her desire and her birth right. Maybe Dany is just doing what she has to in order to survive out in Meereen on her own.
The North Remembers
Brienne and Pod are in the North, holding up in an Inn just outside Winterfell. Brienne asks for a message to be given to Sansa, a message entrusted to a Northerner, because the North remembers. It’s always been said, but we are finding it to be true. Sansa is home now, as she asserts to Lord Bolton’s pregnant wife. She is of the North, and there is almost a French Resistance type of underground loyalty to Stark blood that seems to be working in her favor. It will also serve Stannis when he comes down from The Wall, having just defeated the Wildlings and making sure the realm is protected from what comes on heels of winter. If he rids the Boltons from Winterfell, Stannis will hold the North.
Ramsay Bolton is just as crazy as ever and the announcement of his step-mother’s pregnancy is a blow to his newly de-bastardized ego. His legitimacy as an heir could be challenged. But then Lord Bolton tells his son the circumstances of his birth. Apparently, Roose Bolton heard of a marriage that took place on his lands without his permission, he hung the man and raped the wife beneath the dangling body of her dead husband. Nine months later when she shows up with a baby, Roose considers throwing the baby into the river, but then he sees that the bastard is truly is child. I think he must recognize the crazy, because the Boltons are mad crazy ya’ll.
Roose tells Ramsay that his position isn’t threatened with the birth of a legitimate heir. Roose relies on his son in what is about to happen with Stannis Baratheon marching on Winterfell. I’m curious to see if Ramsay will be any good at defending Winterfell under siege considering his preoccupation with sadism and torture.
Sansa’s confrontation with Theon would have been so much more satisfying if Sophie Turner had a bit of the fire that Dany has. You know when Dany gets all cold and scary – I would have liked to have seen that from Sansa. Perhaps she hid the full emotional impact of seeing the boy she grew up with who ended up seizing her home and “killing” her younger brothers. Of course, she knows it’s safer to hide her feelings rather than display them and lay them out there as a tool with which the Bolton’s can use against her.
Ramsay tests this very dynamic in a terribly tense scene in which he has Reek serve as their cup bearer at breakfast. After proposing a toast to his marriage to Sansa, Ramsay calls into confrontation the very act of betrayal that Theon is actually not guilty of, and yet he must lie to Sansa and tell her that he killed her brothers. Ramsay makes him apologize for this, as if it is so easy to forgive as all that, and breakfast continues. Only, that isn’t all, because with Ramsay it never is – he declares that Theon should be the one to give Sansa away at their wedding since he is the closest she has to kin left in the world. It is an insult, a reminder, and frankly just fucked up. Sansa maintains her composure, savoring one tiny sliver of satisfaction that comes at the expense of Ramsay when he finds out that his father is going to be having another child.
Above all, in this storyline I find the most intriguing possibilities. Brienne has sent word to Sansa that should she need help, to light a candle in the tower. Stannis Baratheon may succeed in defeating the Boltons and making Sansa Wardeness of the North. Or, perhaps Theon will somehow play a role in getting Sansa out of a bad situation, because we all have to face the fact that when Sansa and Ramsay wed – things are going to go very badly for her. Like Miranda is Ramsay’s play thing, so will Sansa be, and I doubt she will please him the way he wants to be pleased. And then, there’s also squirmy Littlefinger out and about, and who knows what the hell he has planned. The thing to remember here in this part of the story is that Sansa is home now, and with that and the tutelage of Petyr Baelish, she may yet be a force to be reckoned with, but we must wait and see.
Kill the Boy
After Maester Aemon laments to Samwell about the report of a lone Targaryen at the far end of the world struggling to rule a foreign land, he says that a Targaryen alone in the world is a terrible thing. Cue Jon Snow walking in. I just want to keep pointing out these subtleties granted to viewers. If the theories are right then Dany is not alone.
Jon comes to seek the Maester’s council on a matter that has been weighing on him for some time. Winter is coming and with it death marches on The Wall. Behind The Wall are thousands of innocent people who just happen to have been born on the wrong side of the massive ice structure; the only structure that separates Westeros from what is North of The Wall. Jon knows what must be done, but it will divide the Night’s Watch, it will make some of his men despise him even more than they already do. Maester Aemon is surprising hardcore in what he has to tell Jon, assuring him that he will find little joy in his command, but with luck he will find the strength to do what needs to be done. “Kill the boy Jon Snow. Winter is almost upon us. Kill the boy, and let the man be born.”
Man up Jon Snow; do what you gots to do. Jon meets with Tormund Giantsbane to discuss the possibility of saving the free folk from becoming unwilling servants in the white walker army. There’s still a lot of distrust here, and not even a guarantee that the plan will work. But eventually Tormund and Jon reach the same conclusion; if any of them are going to survive the winter, then they need the free folk on the right side of The Wall. They aren’t enemies. The Night’s Watch has sworn to protect the realms of men, and they have fallen short of that oath by persecuting the wildlings for just living on the wrong side of The Wall. But now all of that is going to change, because Jon Snow is Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. He is taking the power at his disposal and doing what needs to be done.
When Jon unchains Tormund, he’s negotiating with a free man, and he asks him to step up into the position that Mance once held, and lead his people. To make peace with the Night’s Watch not only to save himself, but to save all of them, for they will all be needed in this epic battle yet to come. Tormund sets his ego aside and tells Jon that the free folk are at Hardhome, a place that is only reachable with ships. Jon agrees to ask Stannis for the help of his fleet, because, after all, this serves Stannis’ cause as well: he needs men to guard The Wall and fight what’s coming while he goes off to take the Iron Throne. Tormund agrees, but demands that Jon come with him to Hardhome, so that the free folk will see the Lord Commander and believe they aren’t being lulled into a trap.
Of course this infuriates the Night’s Watch. They’ve spent thousands of years killing the wildlings just for being wildlings. Bringing them to the other side of The Wall will redefine thousands of years of tradition and belief. And as we know from Dany’s experience in Meereen, bad things happen when you turn culture and tradition upside down. Jon gives the order despite the protest of the men, despite the hate that now fills Olly’s eyes when he describes what the wildlings did to his village. Jon may be dealing with a mutiny if he follows through with his plan, and even Stannis isn’t sure Jon will make it back from Hardhome alive.
Before King Stannis leaves The Wall, he asks for a moment alone with Samwell Tarly. I feel like this is an important conversation, and one that reveals a lot about Stannis, and about his feelings toward Jon Snow’s mission. Stannis asks Sam how he killed the White Walker, and Sam tells him about the Dragon glass, or obsidian, spearhead. He tells Stannis that he is researching all he can about the history of the white walkers, and has found that the children of the forest used to hunt with obsidian spears. Stannis just came from Dragonstone, an island with a massive supply of obsidian. Stannis cares about the Seven Kingdoms. If Jon Snow does fail, he needs to know how to defend the realm against the white walkers. Mining dragon glass and shipping it to East Watch is one way to help in that endeavor. Stannis is a severe man, and misguided at times by the Red Woman, but he does want to unite the Seven Kingdoms.
The Doom, Drogon and the Stone Men
Remember last episode when Stannis confessed to his daughter that when she contracted greyscale he was advised to ship her off to Old Valyria, to the land of the Stone Men? When Gilly described what the disease had done to her sisters, it had devoured them and turned them into animalistic stone creatures. On Jorah Mormont and Tyrion’s boat trip they encounter the runs of Old Valyria, the original home of the Targaryens. The two recite a poem made up about Valyria and the great Doom that destroyed the “Atlantis-esque” civilization built there. The Doom was a volcano. How beautiful was it to see Drogon fly through the mist, fulfilling Tyrion’s desire to see a dragon, and making us wonder if something exists in the blood of the dragon that knows where it came from and who its mother is – for why else would Drogon be flying around the unpopulated ruins of a city that was ruled by the Targaryens. What exists there now is a bunch of creepy ruins where people with greyscale are banished to in order to live out their lives as the ruined humans they have become. These are the Stone Men. Jorah and Tyrion are attacked, and for a second time, kidnapped and bound, Tyrion pleads to be freed so he can help fight.
Tyrion goes overboard, and while he appears to be touched by one of the Stone Men who drags him down into the water, I guess the Stone Man never made contact with his flesh, because Tyrion says that he doesn’t show any signs of greyscale. The same cannot be said for Jorah. He has greyscale, and now the clock is ticking to get Tyrion to Meereen and present him to Daenerys as his last attempt at redemption before death.
My Overall Thoughts of “Kill the Boy”
I liked it. More things happened in this episode. Jon Snow really stepped up and set upon a path that no other Lord Commander has ever attempted in 8,000 years. That’s a pretty big deal, but I’m afraid of what that means for Jon going forward. Lord Commander Mormont was assassinated. A title isn’t a shield, and he’s making enemies of his own brotherhood by basically being the biggest humanitarian in the realm besides Dany.
I think that now Dany has decided to take a husband from among the great families of Meereen as well as agreeing to opening to fighting pits, we are going to see a lot of things change in regard to her status as Queen of Meereen.
There were some beautiful shots in this episode. Drogon flying through the ruins of Old Valyria, which was an interesting visual as well; it’s a place spoken of like Atlantis, but visually reminds me of Rome. Then there is the shot of the dragons tearing one of the Masters in half, and Dany standing with the heads of her bloodied dragons just over each shoulder, where they once perched when they were just born.
Things are only going to continue to build as weddings happen, diseases progress, and peoples of different realms are united by a Lord Commander changing 8,000 year old customs because he can. I’m excited for the last four episodes. Truly.
To All You Book Readers Out There
Obviously, Lady Stoneheart isn’t happening, and so Brienne is being used in a different way to keep her storyline alive in the North. I like that they have Brienne there as an option for Sansa, should things get bad while she is with the Boltons, and if her story line follows what happens to Jeyne Poole in the book – things are only looking worse for Sansa. But who knows, they’ve already taken her story and have completely reshaped it and surpassed book material.
It looks like there isn’t going to be any Aegon or Lord Connington, who is the one who contracts grayscale upon the attack of the Stone Men. Jorah is now Connigton, and Tyrion’s story is being streamlined to get him to Meereen and quickly. We’ll see what other obstacles the two encounter.
I also find it interesting that Melisandre is going with Stannis on his march to Winterfell. In the books she stays behind at The Wall because her power is actually stronger there, which is something they haven’t mentioned in the show.
There have been a lot of deviations from the book in this season, and we knew this was coming. But I have to admit – I’m completely okay with it. I feel like each episode of this season has tightened up some stories that could have dragged on if continued as they are in the book.
Amanda Lowery lives, writes and studies in Baltimore where she is held hostage by potholes, stray cats and rats that make her watch way too much TV and rhyme unnecessarily. You can find her book reviews and pop culture thoughts at amandasthinkingoutloud.blogspot.com.