Hello again, welcome back to the great game. With episode #61, Game of Thrones moves strongly forward into the end game of its narratives; setting up some of the last conflicts that the show will concentrate on, and moving the characters forward towards their “final” destinations. Several characters make remarks about how they can’t change the past and can only move towards the future; this seems a bit meta but maybe I’m reading too much into it but maybe I’m not reading enough into it?!?
(I assume any audience reading about Game of Thrones has read a lot about A Song of Ice and Fire and Game of Thrones and I will not be responsible for any information you may gain as a consequence of reading this. As particular plot lines for the rest of this season have been leaked, I will write this in a way that will not talk about those).
Arya, wearing Walder Frey’s face, serves poisoned wine to the whole lot of men of House Frey. She is, to use terminology that the ASOIAF book fandom uses frequently, False Walder, or FWalder; on a show that has seemed wary of portraying characters who are imitations or invented personalities, it has been interesting to see that the Faceless Men (of whom Arya is a member, even though her training seemed very abnormal) are always happy to imitate other characters. There’s an odd moment here wherein FWalder and his men give a call-response version of House Frey’s house words: they say “Stand together!” at one another even though the house words are “We stand together.” I think this is the first time in the show wherein house words are used in such a manner; the Starks never said “Winter is coming” at one another, the Lannister Army never said “Hear me roar” during a pep rally. There’s also the odd moment wherein Arya takes off her Walder mask; this is further evidence that Arya knows how to make Faceless-magic Masks of some sort. Maybe not through the highest level quality Faceless Mask magic: that probably is not Walder’s actual literal face she takes off.
But with this scene she “finishes” getting revenge for the Red Wedding: the Boltons have been destroyed, the Freys have been destroyed, the two main Lannisters (Joffrey and Tywin) who planned the RW are dead. Now she just has to make sure that none of the women at House Frey have any plans for revenge on the Starks for that one time Arya killed every man in their house.
PS Edmure, Arya’s only surviving uncle, the only remaining Tully, is downstairs at the Twins, being a captive of the Freys. I assume he gets freed by Arya? This is never touched upon in this episode so maybe he’s still downstairs at the Twins. Sorry Edmure Tully.
The opening credits no longer have to pretend to care about what happens in Essos, so they instead only show off locations in Westeros: King’s Landing (erroneously? marked with a Baratheon stag control marker, since Cersei of House Lannister is now in control and there’s no indication at all she is doing so for the sake of House Baratheon, this probably should have flipped to a Lannister lion control marker), Dragonstone (Daenerys lands here later this episode: it is not marked with any house icon, because at that exact moment it has been abandoned by what is left of Stannis’s forces), the Inn at the Crossroads (this is never visited in this episode), the Twins (marked with a Frey control marker), Winterfell, Castle Black, (still labeled as The Wall), and Oldtown.
The audience is shown (from Bran’s vision) the army of the dead on the move; we’re reminded that the dead army includes dead giants. No mammoths or giant ice spiders or polar bears are seen. Where are my giant ice spiders
Bran and Meera have made it to the northern gate to Castle Black: Dolorous Edd (!!!) and a few of his brothers show up to let them through. Bran … proves? that he and Meera are who they say by telling Edd that he knows Edd was at the Fist of the First Men and at Hardhome. Bran also drops the name of the Night King since the show has decided that that’s the easiest way for the cast to say “the leader of the Others.”
Look at him, just leaning on that wall. Jon wants the audience of Northerners he has assembled to look for dragonglass; to find mines of it and mine the heck out of those mines. Apparently everyone in the North is now aware of the threat of the Others? I don’t know when this attitude changed, since just recently “an army of the dead” was not something any of these houses were too concerned about. Jon also wants the North to train everyone age 10-60 in melee and ranged combat. Lady Mormont continues to be the best holy hells she’s so great.
Jon also wants the Wall to be defended. By the Free Folk; yes that is a much more practical solution than “send up men to join the Night’s Watch” but given the animosity between the Watch and the Free Folk (which resulted, in Game of Thrones #50, in Jon being made dead), Jon is probably creating a small future battle. Also there’s some mention of Eastwatch-by-the-Sea as being the closest Watch post to Hardhome which still means that in Game of Thrones #49 that the survivors of Hardhome should have landed there and then walked, south of the Wall, to Castle Black, instead of landing at (?) and walking north of the Wall to Castle Black. That was one of those Season 5 moments that it’s probably better to just ignore. Last Hearth and Karhold get shout-outs as the closest defensible positions to the Wall, if the Wall should fall.
Yohn Royce, correctly, points out that the houses that own Last Hearth and Karhold (the Umbers and the Karstarks, respectively) betrayed the Starks. Sansa, correctly, points out that the castles themselves did nothing wrong and that they should be given to other, loyal, houses. Jon, to be contrarian, argues that that was just a few bad eggs, and that the houses were totally loyal until recently, so it would be too much punishment to strip the houses of their lands. Jon and Sansa have a small argument over this: she’s been raised to value tradition and long-standing social norms in Westeros, he’s been raised to see himself as an outsider who can get away with actions that “more noble” people can’t because of the limitations of their nobility and heritage. Jon basically pulls rank on Sansa because the show needs to create dramatic tension between these two because it’d be too easy for them to get along.
Jon and Sansa continue to talk about this some more. Eventually Jon gets a letter from King’s Landing: Cersei knows that Jon Snow controls Winterfell and she is summoning him! Apparently this is not how Jon and Sansa learn that Cersei has seized control of the Iron Throne, since neither of them seems surprised that she is the Queen. Also the show continues to use their word “of the Andals and the First Men” which skips over the Rhoynar which is apparently the show’s wording choice.
PS who gets the Dreadfort? Are Roose and Ramsay’s troops just hanging around there?
Well Cersei Jaime did come home to find that somehow you had anointed yourself Queen, that’s a big change in circumstances. Cersei and Jaime have a chat about how Tyrion is now the Hand of Queen Daenerys; somehow they know that that event happened, and that Daenerys and her armada and are on their way to Dragonstone. Cersei and Jaime have a bit of words on whether or not Cersei is the Queen of the Seven Kingdoms, as Jaime points out that she only controls three of those, at best:
1 The North: the Starks are in open rebellion
2 The Mountains and Vale: allied with the Starks
3 The Isles and the Rivers: half-controlled by House Frey, a Lannister ally, half-controlled by House Greyjoy, who are in internal civil war and open rebellion against King’s Landing
4 The Westerlands: House Lannister controls this
5 The Reach: the Tyrells are in open rebellion
6 The Stormlands and the Crownlands: I guess the Lannisters control these following the total collapse of House Baratheon, which used to control the Stormlands
7 Dorne: the “Martells” are in open rebellion
So, yeah, three at best. Two and a half, rounded up. Oh wait Jaime then mentions that Walder Frey and his family got killed; news travels fast in Westeros. But somehow the news does not mention who did the killing? Maybe Arya should have spent more time making sure the survivors of the wine poisoning knew she did it. Anyway, anyway, Cersei knows she needs allies, so let’s go visit one of those potential allies.
Euron’s fleet shows up in King’s Landing at Cersei’s invite. Okay. Last we heard, they were chasing after Yara and Theon so … did … Cersei send a raven to the fleet at sea, in the Narrow Sea? Did she send a raven to the Iron Islands, and then Euron’s fleet sailed past the Reach (and their navy) to King’s Landing? I shouldn’t be asking these questions, I’ll stop. Jaime is busy being super bigoted against the Ironborn and why is he so judgy of Cersei’s choices it’s not like the Lannisters have better options of potential allies.
Jaime pulls the “you’re not a rightful monarch” card at Euron? While his sister is sitting right there on the Iron Throne, the one she just randomly usurped? Really, Jaime? Don’t be that guy; Euron has more of a right to “rule” the Iron Islands than Cersei has to “rule” the Seven Kingdoms. Euron makes mention of being the best captain on the “Fourteen Seas”, I have no idea where this phrase comes from. Euron pledges his (two working) hand(s) in marriage to Cersei, who declines because Euron is not trustworthy. He, like the pirate lord he is, goes to … prove his trustworthiness. Wait, what is happening here why is Euron at all interested in allying with the Lannisters he just mentioned that he has the largest fleet in all of Westeros so why does he need the Lannisters? If he defeats the Tyrell-Martell-Targaryen fleet he probably has the uncontested biggest fleet in the world, what does he have to gain from the Lannisters? Other than an heir and some kind of legitimacy?
Supposedly Euron wants to be the ruler of all of Westeros so I guess he wants to temporarily ally with the Lannisters until they defeat all of the other armies of Westeros, and then Euron himself can take over? Is that the idea? He’s a megalomaniac?
If you were worried that this episode wouldn’t involve Samwell cleaning used chamberpots, then your worries are answered. Somehow that is part of Maester training. We literally are given a montage of Samwell doing Maester training things; this might be the first montage the show has ever done, and it of course makes sense that it would be for a character who is training to not be a fighter. Samwell keeps seeing a locked door at the library and, as we all know, locked doors in library lead to the best books.
Samwell weighs a liver from a dead Maester and it weighs 147. A human liver has a mass around 147 centigrams so maybe Westeros uses the metric system for masses. Samwell and the Arch Maester have a nice chat about fatalism; I think the Arch Maester is trying to tell Samwell that he shouldn’t be too worried about the Others because as long as the Wall stays up they won’t win? Samwell doesn’t look too impressed at this conclusion, he eventually steals a key from a sleeping Maester and breaks into the locked area of the library of the Citadel.
Back at Winterfell, Petyr tells Sansa that he heard (from who?) that Brienne beat the Hound in single combat. There’s only a few people who know that happened so … seriously, who did he hear that from? Arya? Podrick? Has Podrick been blabbing about who Brienne has beat up? Anyway Petyr wants to know if Sansa is happy, because he’s a creeper, and she doesn’t say she’s happy so Petyr, because he’s a creeper, wants to help her be happy. Sansa kind of tells him to shove off, Brienne comes upstairs to make sure Sansa’s got the creeper under control, Petyr leaves and Brienne asks why Petyr is still here, being a creeper. “We need his men,” Sansa says, since Petyr (I guess?) still controls the Knights of the Vale because he (I guess?) is still controlling Robin Arryn.
Arya is apparently headed south, towards King’s Landing, so it makes some sort of sense that she would encounter Lannister troops south of The Twins. They have a nice chat, this is Arya interacting with some smallfolk, and in a show filled with primarily noble house characters it’s good to have the occasional smallfolk show up and remind the audience that the people fighting the wars for the noble houses are just people with normal everyday concerns, like hoping their parents are still alive and wondering if they recently became a dad to a son or daughter. One of the soldiers asks if Arya is old enough to drink which would seem to indicate that Westeros has a drinking age??!?!? Finally a soldier asks why Arya would be heading to King’s Landing by herself and she says she’s going to kill the Queen and after a moment they all decide that’s a joke because I guess Arya really did not do a good job of advertising that she literally killed like 50 or so Freys recently.
Thoros of Myr offers Sandor some rum, this makes sense since Thoros is from Essos, and Essos seems more like a rum-drinking place than Westeros. Thoros, Beric, Sandor, and the rest of their party arrive at a house that Sandor seems really hesitant about going into. That’s because Sandor has been here before: back in Game of Thrones #33, him and Arya stopped here, had a nice meal and sleep, and then Sandor robbed the man and his daughter before he and Arya left. I’m not entirely sure where this house is, it’s somewhere east of the Inn at the Crossroads but still west of the Bloody Gate. I am not 100% sure why Sandor and friends are here; when we last saw them in #58 they were all on their way north from the Riverlands, whereas here they are east of the Riverlands. Maybe they are heading to a port in the Vale or something.
Anyway that family that Sandor robbed is dead at their own hands; rather than starve to death the man killed himself and his daughter. Sandor and Beric have a nice chat about death; in particular why Beric seems to be the only person in Westeros (that Sandor knows of) who has been passed over by death on more than one occasion. Beric is aware that he is nothing special; he is also unsure why the Lord of Light wants him to live while letting so many others die. Sandor does not see the wisdom of a deity who would keep a man alive but not tell him why.
Thoros wants Sandor to look into the flames, and Sandor, of all people, has a vision. The army of the dead is marching past a mountain near Eastwatch-by-the-Sea. Later that night, Sandor buries the two people whose death he helped cause. He would give them the funeral rites of the Seven but he can’t entirely remember the funeral rites, so he just says he’s sorry that they’re dead.
Samwell has taken the books he stole from the Citadel back to the home he shares with Gilly and Sam. Samwell realizes that there is a big mine of dragonglass at Dragonstone and writes Jon a letter about this discovery. Since Samwell hasn’t seen Jon since he left Castle Black, is he mailing Jon at his old address? Maybe Jon left a forwarding address. Wait did Samwell ever hear about Jon being dead? I have a lot of questions here, Sam.
Later, as he’s doing some Maester training, he clears bowls of food from the doors of people suffering from wasting diseases. Here he meets Jorah Mormont’s arm, since Jorah somehow got to the Citadel. He does not look like he’s in good shape. Jorah, of course, asks about Daenerys, because he wants to know if she has conquered Westeros yet. She hasn’t. Calm down, Jorah.
Daenerys, Missandei, Varys, Tyrion, Grey Worm, and some unnamed Unsullied are on a boat. They are on a boat on their way to Dragonstone, which, as was earlier mentioned in the episode, is completely abandoned. This would seem weird in a world full of dozens of want-to-be rulers but I’ll stop pedanting for a second.
This is the first time that Daenerys has stepped on or placed her hand on “her” lands since she was a young girl, since her and Viserys fled Dragonstone when they were both very young. This is a big moment in her career as a conqueror; this is her first of many steps in taking back the Seven Kingdoms for House Targaryen. Unsullied troops open up the doors and Daenerys’s squad walks to the castle and the place continues to be completely abandoned; Daenerys pulls down one Baratheon flag but other than that there have been no signs, at all, that Stannis and his forces held this island for years.
Her squad opens up the throne room; it’s an emotional moment for Daenerys as the first Targaryen to step into this room in a generation. From there she walks to the war room? The room with a small map of Westeros, uh, we’ve seen Stannis in this room before, years ago. There’s still troop icons on the map. Daenerys and Tyrion take in the view, look at one another, and Daenerys closes the episode with her line
Which is as good a place as any to stop this episode.
Overall this episode seemed to greatly benefit from having fewer plates to spin; now that Essos is (permanently?) no longer a concern, the characters and plots merge together more easily. As usual the show is operating on a faster timeline than the books would allow; news, in particular, spreads incredibly fast. This leads to the situation wherein something which might be news to a character seems to not at all be news. Jon and Sansa already know that Cersei is the Queen, Cersei and Jaime already know that the Freys got murdered, random Lannister troops, in the field somewhere south? of the Riverlands, know that the Freys got murdered, Cersei and Jaime already know that Tyrion is with Daenerys and that they both are on their way to Dragonstone... I can’t tell how much of this is the show making sure that the audience knows these things, and how much is the characters now being much more aware of things than they used to be.
The showrunners have realized, for a few years, that they will get to tell the end part of this story first. This episode feels strongly as if they are embracing that part of their destiny; that they see the last place where the characters will stand and now they just have to get them there. That’s a strong enough reason for any and all “news travels slowly, characters more so” logic to be thrown away, even if my brain might not like it.