Tonight Game of Thrones pulled no punches, revealing the mystery behind the gentle giant Hodor and the not-so-gentle White Walkers. How did it all shake out? Fasten your seatbelts, Thrones fans, it’s going to be a bumpy night! (And by that, I mean your heart will be ripped from your chest. Possibly literally. You never know.)
Spoiler Note: This post is for those who have read the A Song of Ice and Fire series. The post and the comments section will contain spoilers from the novels! Because no, we are not all Unsullied now. If you haven’t read the books yet, please check out our non-book-reader recap. Thanks!
Have you recovered sufficiently from that all-time classic episode finish? Done freaking out over whether it’ll play out that way in the books? Whether you are or not, it’s time to go back through “The Door,” and start at the beginning. Let’s see what everyone else was up to this week in Westeros and beyond.
At the Wall, Sansa is plying her needle (I like to think of it as her reclaiming one of her lady weapons) and receives word that Littlefinger is near and would like a meeting.
First things first- Littlefinger does not have a jetpack. What he does have is a very fast ship making express, nonstop trips to wherever he likes, unlike poor Sam and Gilly who are probably stopping in every port from the Wall to Oldtown.
Now, last week was an incredible high, with the reunion of two Starks, Sansa and Jon. This week there was bound to be a comedown, and there is one as the reality of the future sets in. Wary as she should be, Sansa brings Brienne with her to the meeting with Littlefinger in Mole’s Town, and doesn’t give an inch to the man who handed her over to Ramsay Bolton.
I’m reminded of a famous Sansa quote- of how her skin has turned from “porcelain, to ivory, to steel.” This is who Sansa is now: steel. Facing down Littlefinger, she doesn’t allow him to slither away from her questioning about the abuse she suffered. Still, Littlefinger does offer up useful information- Sansa’s great uncle Brynden “The Blackfish” Tully has retaken Riverrun and something of an army. (Yes! Siege of Riverrun, here we come!) He also slips one of his sneaky-bastard ideas into her head, planting the concern that Jon’s army is not her own. And dammit, he’s not wrong.
It’s understandable that a traumatized Sansa wouldn’t truly trust anyone at this point, except perhaps Brienne, the woman who has pledged herself to her completely and has no potentially conflicting self-interest. She’s learned to hold her cards closer to her chest- perhaps one of the lessons she did pick up from Littlefinger, at a steep price, and that she may ultimately use in tearing him down, when that day comes. I certainly hope so. We know that she can trust Jon, but who can blame Sansa for wanting to have an army that is loyal to her?
Later, Sansa meets with Jon and Davos, and assesses the Northern families who might support them against the Boltons. Sansa knows the North, but Davos knows men. Jon suggests gathering the smaller houses of the North to form one army to match the larger one of their opponent. Sansa brings up the Tully army that Blackfish now has at Riverrun, but lies about how she learned the information.
Sansa decides to send Brienne to Riverrun to recruit the Tullys to their cause. Brienne doesn’t like leaving her lady alone. Sansa says she trusts Jon- but can’t explain why she lied about Riverrun. Perhaps lingering guilt is why, along with the wolf-sigiled dress she made for herself, Sansa fashions a Ned Starkish cloak for Jon.
The group departs the Wall, heading out to recruit more families to their cause.
“That wildling with the beard…” If you keep eyeballing Brienne that way, Tormund, I’m pretty sure you’re going to lose a few body parts you’d really miss. (Admittedly, I laughed my ass off.)
Oh, and Dolorous Edd is the Lord Commander whether he wants to admit it or not. You’re stuck with that damn Wall, Edd.
“Does death only come for the wicked and leave the decent behind?”
Across the sea in Braavos, Arya finishes another bout of grim training with the Waif and is given a new opportunity by Jaqen. Before getting around to sharing the assignment (bumping off an actress), the Faceless Man shares the background of the House of Black and White, and the people who founded it. The Faceless Men were once slaves who prayed to the Many-Faced God, and were rewarded, able to share the gift, eventually killing all the overseers and masters. As a reader of ASOIAF, I found the slight divergence interesting, as the version from the novels is that the first Faceless Men brought the gift of death to the slaves who were suffering. It wasn’t the masters’ turn until later. Death was a gift to relieve pain, not just retribution. This streamlined version of the story dovetails with the show’s depiction of Daenerys freeing the slaves.
Now, the upside of this new job assignment is that we finally get much-needed levity in Arya’s storyline. She finds her target performing at a charmingly crude theater. Richard E. Grant is obscenely funny as the theater troupe’s leading man, and Essie Davis as Lady Crane, the assassination target, joins him in the political pantomime.
The troupe plays out a grotesque version of the events in King’s Landing, from Robert’s death to Ned’s execution, reminding Arya again of who she is. She’s certainly not “No One” when she sees the play version of her sister Sansa being stripped, and her father killed, standing in the crowd as she did that day in “Baelor.” After the performance, Arya determines how she’ll kill the actress, and sees she is simply a normal, seemingly kind enough woman. Jaqen again reminds her of her obligation to serve.
The scene serves the dual purpose of bringing Arya back to herself fully, and demonstrating that the good are chosen for death as easily as the wicked. As we’ll see later in the episode, the greatest of innocents can suffer and fall too.
Oh and Benioff and Weiss? “I feel the winds of winter as they lick across the land!” Yeah, we see you.
Will Arya go through with poisoning the actress? Personally I don’t think so. At this rate, she’s just as likely to poison the other actress who hired the Faceless Men. And her spats with the Waif are far too pointed to not reach a fever pitch very soon, and blood will be spilled.
In the Iron Islands, the time has come for the Kingsmoot, when the Ironborn choose their king- or queen. It seems as though Yara has a clear path to the throne, with Theon throwing his support behind her. But we knew it wouldn’t be that easy, not with Euron Greyjoy around.
Yara stakes her claim, speaking well, and Theon refuses to be considered as a candidate, loyally speaking out for his sister as the rightful ruler. Though reluctant to embrace a woman as leader, things are going her way- until Euron struts to the forefront.
Right off, I have to say- the resemblance between Pilou Asbæk and Alfie Allen is uncanny. They really do look like family, so spot-on casting.
The long-missing Greyjoy points out Theon’s shortcomings and knocks Yara’s claim to the Iron Islands throne. He doesn’t even try to deny Yara’s accusation about Balon’s death, and the pirates don’t mind too much after he talks his way out of it. (Some readers will hate that but I don’t- I’ve always found the Ironborn morally reprehensible. It’s one of their charms.) For his platform, Euron proposes a bold plan- to build the Iron Fleet and to bring it to the dragon queen, and take the Seven Kingdoms together. He wasn’t born king, but he intends to take it the Ironborn way, paying the iron price. He has the crowd, and he has the throne.
In a beautifully handled sequence, Euron is baptized by Aeron Greyjoy as Yara, Theon and their men flee from Pyke with the best ships. After the new king of the Iron Islands has proved his godliness by rising from drowning, the driftwood-crowned Euron chases after his brother’s children, only to find them gone. Euron commands his subjects to make more, to make good on his promises.
The Kingsmoot scene was condensed a fair amount compared to A Feast for Crows‘ version but that’s understandable because even cut down, it’s still a long and complex scene. I do have a bone to pick here and it’s that, I doubt any show-only watcher has a clue who that white-haired man is, or that he’s supposed to be related to the Greyjoys. He’s Aeron Greyjoy officially, but they don’t have him acting like it. He could be any Drowned Priest. It’s very odd.
And hey new rule, Game of Thrones– if we have to listen to some guy brag about his big cock, you have to show it. Or shut up.
Euron’s moment appropriately brings us to the woman he’s sworn to find- Daenerys. Above Vaes Dothrak, she stands with Daario and Jorah, wondering what to do with the knight she has been forced to exile twice.
This time Jorah embraces exile, and reveals his affliction- the greyscale crawling up to his elbow. Acknowledging his love for Daenerys, the knight turns away from her, not wanting to expose her to the illness. A teary Dany reminds him of his vows to her, and commands him to find a cure and heal himself, and return to her. She needs him by her side when she returns to Westeros.
They part ways, with Dany riding out of Vaes Dothrak with her new khalasar and Jorah heading the other way once again.
I straight-up cried during this scene. Some of Emilia’s best work, I honestly think so. No fire and blood, just simple affection and need.
Back in Meereen, the queen’s council meet to discuss the tentative peace achieved by Tyrion’s Meereenese Compromise. While the treaty is effective for the moment, Tyrion knows it needs shoring up with other voices that the people listen to- in this case, we learn, the Red followers of R’hllor. (Side note, I dig the callback to Varys’ season 5 line, “Who said anything about him?”)
In the pyramid, Tyrion and magic-hating Varys meet with the Red high priestess Kinvara, who surprisingly agrees to help out right away. She then sets about spooking Tyrion and Varys with her knowledge of them- has she seen their past in the flames, the horrible childhood trauma that haunts Varys?
I have to ask: Tyrion, is throwing in with religion a good idea? Let’s ask Cersei how that worked out. Fanaticism and logical progress do not go hand in hand.
I did enjoy Varys being horrified and frightened by Kinvara’s power to see into his past. It was yet another reminder that in this world, magic is everywhere…and no kidding, it’s actually fucking terrifying.
The real star storyline of tonight’s episode was clearly beyond the Wall. In the official episode synopsis, it said, “Bran learns a great deal” and I have to give that description the Understatement of the Year Award.
In his first vision, Bran dips into the long-ago past, seeing the Children of the Forest at the same tree and ring of stones where they live now, only thriving and green with summer. He and the Three-Eyed Raven witness the playful Children gathering, and then shockingly approaching a human man tied to a tree. Plunging a magic knife into his heart, his eyes turn icy blue, and we realize we’re seeing the creation of the Night’s King, the first of the White Walkers.
In present time, Leaf explains they were at war, and created the first White Walker to defend themselves from the enemy- Man.
I see now. The White Walkers are the nuclear weapons the Children lost control of, and now they’re marching south to annihilate everyone. Because you can’t control a weapon of that magnitude, and the Children have paid for it dearly.
Later, while the Three-Eyed Raven sleeps, Bran enters a vision on his own, returning to the same stones and tree outside, now frozen over with winter ice. From the overhead view, we see that the black stones and the tree covered in snow form a particular design. The spiral is identical to the pattern of body parts discovered by the wildlings in season 3. “Always the artists,” Mance Rayder observed then.
Sinking into the vision and turning around, Bran finds a wight army, still and waiting to be commanded.
In a sequence worthy of any horror movie, Bran moves between the corpses. On the other side of the crowd, he finds White Walkers, including the Night’s King…who looks down and sees him.
The wights now see him too, turning around to face Bran. He spins around, and as he spins back, we see the Night’s King behind him. The King reaches out and grabs Bran, leaving an icy mark on his arm, even as Bran is yanked from the vision.
The Three-Eyed Raven warns Bran that the Night’s King can now enter the cave, the protection has been lost because of the mark, and that ready or not, it’s time for Bran to become him- the Three-Eyed Raven.
With Hodor, Meera makes preparations to head out now that the cave has been compromised by Bran’s actions. Spotting their cold breath, she realizes what must be happening and runs outside to see the wight army has arrived. The Night’s King, the White Walkers and all the wights- they’re right outside the cave.
They attack, with the Children of the Forest fighting them off as Meera tries to wake Bran up. Unfortunately, he and the Three-Eyed Raven are stuck inside another warm vision of Winterfell, where the child Ned is saying goodbye to Benjen. Little Ned is off to the Vale.
The Children are throwing fire and fighting but the White Walkers are undeterred, even as the wights are shattering and blowing up around them. The Night’s King parts the fire and the White Walkers stroll on through. The wights swarm over the cave’s hill.
In the vision, Bran watches Rickard Stark say goodbye to Ned, as the wights break into the cave and Meera fights for her life. The direwolf Summer joins the fray, tearing up wights as the Children of the Forest fight. Meera pleads for Bran to wake up, because they need his help with Hodor who is terrified and can’t even move. Meera’s voice is beginning to seep into Bran’s vision, but he’s unable to pull away. He can only hear her voice calling for him, talking about Hodor. He zeroes in on young Hodor in his vision, the stableboy Wyllis. And then Hodor’s eyes go white and Hodor rises.
The White Walkers enter the underground caves, killing a Child. Continuing to be utterly boss, Meera kills a White Walker with a dragonglass spear. Summer holds off the wights and gives his life doing it, as Meera gets Bran and Hodor out of the central cave area finally. As far as metaphors go, this wasn’t subtle, and it was twofold. Bran has to become the Three-Eyed Raven now- part of that will involve letting go of his Stark nature and his corporeal attachments. Summer’s death also means simply, “Summer’s over, Winter is here, and my god is it ever.”
The Night’s King enters and find the Three-Eyed Raven still in his tree, still inside the vision. He raises his long blade even as the Raven warns Bran that “The time has come.” The blade falls and the Three-Eyed Raven disintegrates in the vision, killed by the Night’s King.
Meera, Hodor and Leaf push Bran down the tunnel, chased by wights but Leaf stops, deciding to hold them off as the others escape. She readies her fireball like a grenade, lets the crowd of wights focus on and swarm over her, and blows them up. (Made me think of Toni in Red Dawn, but I digress.)
Hodor, Meera, and Bran are the only ones, and they’re almost out, pushing through the door. Hodor gets them out, and is able to close the door behind them as Meera drags Bran away. The wights are pushing to get free, but the door holds them in. As Meera drags Bran away, she yells “Hold the Door!” and Bran hears it in his vision, as he stares at young Hodor.
“Hold the Door!” she screams again.
Young Wyllis convulses on the ground, caught in a seizure, yelling “Hold the door!” Over and over, over and over, until the words start to run together.
Hodor remains at the door, keeping it closed even as the wights start to bash through, stabbing and cutting and ripping at him. He bleeds and cries out, but he holds the door as Meera takes Bran away.
The words blur.
Meera and Bran have escaped, but Hodor, the most decent of them all, has fallen.
Time is a loop, a closed one at that. Bran created Hodor, warped him to his purpose in a terrible accident that led back to the moment of his creation. The ramifications of this demonstration of Bran’s gifts are far-reaching and bring a host of crackpot theories into the realm of the possible.
Except for that one about him driving King Aerys mad. C’mon now.
But this is an episode we’ll be chewing on for ages, it’s safe to say.
Last thought: are we going to see wight-Hodor? Probably not, but it would be undeniably cool and heartbreaking, all at once.